There are lots of lessons in entrepreneurship that only need to be learned once—creating a balance sheet or projecting cash flows, for example. But then there are others that we have to learn over and over again—the challenges that linger no matter how long we’re in business.
Even though we know better, we continue to do things that are not in our best interest—we check email one more time before going to bed (only to lose sleep thinking about whatever we’ve read), we say yes to an opportunity even though it isn’t aligned with our goals (only to leave ourselves overextended and unable to pursue more interesting opportunities), or we accept all the work that comes our way instead of only the work we want (only to build a reputation that isn’t reflective of what we want to be known for).
Many entrepreneurs resign themselves to being victims of this behavior forever. But, just because these bad habits are common and hard to break doesn’t mean that we should stop trying. Let me suggest a new approach.
The first step is admitting there’s a problem (isn’t it always?). Declare that these behaviors are not just circumstantial or part of the entrepreneurial experience, but bona fide bad habits. Like nail-biting and interrupting, this patterned, almost automatic behavior needs to be broken with a specific and proactive approach—one that uses old-fashioned goals, motivating tactics, and rewards.
Here are three bad habits that entrepreneurs are prone to, and guidelines for how to kick them for good:
1. Over-Committing Yourself
Why It’s a Problem: Taking on new endeavors and saying yes to new opportunities is tempting. But when you start saying yes to too much, you get overextended. When you’re too busy, your creative thinking—what you really need to build your business—gets squelched. You become fatigued and the overall quality of everything you do suffers.
The Goal: To have a clearer head. At any given time, you should have only a few main areas of focus—no more than three a quarter. Other initiatives must be declared a secondary priority, and projects or “opportunities” unrelated to your business goals must be declined.
The Motivation: Instead of crunching your workday more, commit to only using personal time to work on miscellaneous or unnecessary commitments. Chances are, you’ll be a lot more diligent about saying no to new things if you know that the time being allocated for them is outside of work hours.
The Reward: By focusing on what really matters, you’ll feel more productive and less frenzied. You’ll have more time for learning, integration, and creativity—and that’s going to have big benefits not only for you, but for your business.
2. Ignoring Your Own Boundaries and Rules
Why It’s a Problem: When you set out to be an entrepreneur, you probably set some boundaries for yourself—say, one completely work-free day each week or shutting down the computer at a certain time each night. Well, then things get busy. And your own boundaries are much easier to compromise on than are your clients’.
But when you do this regularly, you don’t properly turn off, which makes you more apt to burn out and to sacrifice opportunities to recharge and rejuvenate. You also compromise your time with family, friends, and doing the non-work things you love.
The Goal: To establish a realistic structure and routine—daily, weekly, monthly, and annually—that optimizes the quality of both your work and personal time.
The Motivation: Make a list of rules and guidelines that reflect your ideal work boundaries. Denote what is non-negotiable and what you’re OK with compromising from time to time. Put your list somewhere you can easily refer to it, or better yet, actually see it.
The Reward: By sticking to guidelines that you know work for you, you’ll be less distracted and more productive, both at work and at home. Each will get more of your undivided attention, and you’ll get more out of both experiences by being fully present, too.
3. Avoiding Meeting New People
Why It’s a Problem: Especially when things are moving a mile a minute, it’s easy to pick up the phone and call someone you know rather than reach out to someone new (who may or may not be helpful). But when you don’t continue to expand your network, you become over-reliant on a few familiar contacts. Your knowledge of best practices, trends, and innovations atrophies. You spend too much time reinventing the wheel instead of leveraging the experiences of others. You lack benchmarks and lose perspective on your own results.
The Goal: To have an increasing number of significant and meaningful relationships a year—people who are responsive, easy to connect with, and generous with their insight, feedback, and advice.
The Motivation: Each month, build time into your schedule to connect more significantly with one new person. They can be brand-new contacts, or people you already know but want to know better.
The Reward: By committing to meeting new people, you’ll have a diverse, helpful, and ever-growing network of people whose experiences you can leverage and learn from. At the end of the year, you’ll have 12 new contacts, and you can be sure that some of those will be added to your tried-and-true list.
Entrepreneurs, what are your bad habits? What habits have you kicked for good, and how?