What's Really Holding You Back From Getting Things Done

Business doesn't get done if you can't get things done. Simple as that. Every business owner knows that good time management is a corner-stone of profit and productivity. And that ineffective or inefficient use of time accounts for a substantial drain.

Sure, your schedule's already tighter than a NASA mission, and your to-do list is longer than the Health Care Bill. But still, there are only 24 hours in a day. Do you suffer from GMTD (general multi-taskcrinating disorder), meaning you can't do everything because you're trying to do everything?

There's no shortage of apparently helpful resources to boost your time management IQ: blog posts, coaching advice, productivity experts, even tips from the über-guru of Getting Things Done.

But the most popular strategies espoused by the experts above mainly look at the first three inches of why productivity falls into a gully -- too many distractions and interruptions, poor prioritizing, disorganized to-do lists, tech glitches. The fixes and work-arounds they typically offer are just as superficial.

Beyond all of those surface issues, there is much more to the problems of chronic procrastination, edge-of-the-minute task completion, and behind-the-8-ball management. My advice: Look deeper to learn what's really holding you back, and how to get -- and keep -- you and your business ticking.

Start by realizing that it's not about time; it's about your relationship to the goal. What do I mean? Consider these feet-dragging business owners (I've disguised some identifying details here):

  • Theo: He recently brought a thoroughbred creative director into his design firm. His new superstar is attracting buzz and blue-chip projects. Now, to leverage this and really take his business to the next level he needs to streamline operations and show a few duds to the door. But he keeps putting it off.
  • James: Following a dazzling attention-grabbing product launch, a new client he'd been courting for months presented him with a game-changing opportunity. To make this fly, James has to put himself and his staff in hyper gear. He knows exactly what needs to be done. But he's deferring all the preliminary activities.
These successful, high-performing CEOs can manage their inboxes, wrangle their to-do lists, and say "no" to low-priority tasks until they're as sleek and efficient as Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly. But here's why none of that will unhook them from their critical sticking points.

Theo is ambivalent about growing his business. He'll tell you he's ambitious and his success to-date is proof of that. But now that he's actually positioned to kick things up a notch or three, part of him isn't so sure he's ready-or willing-to run a hot-shot shop handling high-profile work.

The Fix: Theo's business issues are playing out in staffing and time management but to run his business better, he needs to first resolve his conflict about where he wants to go.

James is by every objective measure an admired and successful 44-year-old businessman with plenty of entrepreneurial drive. He knows how to plan and execute. Being the best is what gets him up in the morning. But privately, he sees himself as a teenage prodigy with a lifetime of potential still to realize. He's unable to relinquish the feeling that his best is yet to come. So, however irrationally, he wears gravity boots, struggling harder than necessary to reach every new brass ring, unknowingly holding himself back in the past.

The Fix: James' apprehension feels real enough. But it's an old impediment (which surfaces at crux moments) that needs to be quarantined and resolved separately from business.
In my experience, problems with time management are rarely only about the management of time. For many business leaders, procrastination and other similar struggles are usually a symptom -- visible evidence, as with Theo and James, of some personal friction or restriction about moving forward.

Bottom line: Getting things done is a completely learnable and improvable set of skills. But to really optimize your use of time, don't just grease the clock. First understand why it's off.

Entrepreneurs, what are you putting off? Email me your situation (here's my contact page) and I'll analyze it in a future blog post.

Alexander Stein, Ph.D., business psychoanalyst, is a principal in the Boswell Group, a consulting firm focusing on the psychology of business.
Photo credit: monkeyc.net (flickr.com)