All Trees And No Forest

I have a confession to make — I’m not here right now. Sure, my newsletter has just arrived in your mailbox, but thanks to the miracle of technology, it’s all happening without my actually being in the office.

But wait, it gets better. Not only am I out of the office, I’m not even working today. I decided yesterday to take this sunny, 80 degree day off and spend it wandering around downtown Boston.

So if it’s 10:15AM as you read this, I’m on the commuter train arriving at South Station. If it’s 12:30, I’m sitting outside at Post Office Square (look for the bald guy with the shorts and tie dye shirt), eating lunch with my friend Jim. If it’s 3:00PM I’m sitting in the public garden reading a book in the sun.

Why am I telling you this? Two reasons.

Reason #1: To gloat.

Reason #2 (and much more relevant to the success of your business): To emphasize the value of periodically stepping away from the work itself.

Here’s what I mean. Although it may seem that there’s a direct correlation between your effort and your financial compensation (and if you’re a bill-by-the-hour professional you may think you’ve got definitive proof), in practice, I think there’s a lot more to it. In my experience, effort only gets you part of the way there (and it’s the small part). The big leaps in profitability occur as a result of insights or refinements to your overall approach, and these big leaps are born when you step way back from the day-to-day.

Try this test. Think about your most profitable services or product offerings — the ones that really make a difference to your business. Where did they come from? Why and how did you create them? If you’re like most of the businesspeople of whom I ask this question, your answer has something to do with gaining a new perspective on your business, not with the implementation of details.

“We decided to package up our knowledge into an audio tape series and it just took off.”

“We realized that we were selling to the wrong target group, and when we made the adjustment things got a whole lot easier.”

“I decided to focus my business on the very narrow specialty of E-Newsletters rather than being a marketing consultant in general.”

When I work with a company that’s spinning its wheels — whether with respect to its E-Newsletter or with the marketing of the business overall — the answer never seems to show up in the details. It always boils up from the big questions: Who are you? What makes you different? What business are you in? Why would anybody want to do business with you in the first place?

The interesting thing about these significant adjustments in approach is that they aren’t about working harder or smarter; in fact they’re not really about working at all. They’re about seeing what you do and how you do it in a different way and from a different perspective. In my case, those insights arrive through some combination of hot sun, reading things that have nothing to do with my work, and literally wandering around. When I can manage to combine all three (like today!) I always return with a long list of big, new, fresh ideas for my business.

Bottom Line: Conventional business wisdom suggests that there’s a high correlation between effort and financial success; the harder you work, the more money you make. And while I mostly agree with this in the context of a given work day or a given project, the quantum leaps don’t come from running harder, or even running more efficiently. They come from stepping back periodically and making sure you’re still running in the right direction.

P.S. If you work for yourself, although you have an unlimited amount of “theoretical free time” you may find it even harder to give yourself permission to take a day out of the office. Believe me, I know the feeling. I’ve learned however, that when I view a day like today from the perspective of, “making my business more enjoyable and more profitable,” rather than as “just” a vacation day, it’s a lot easier to fit these into my calendar! See you in the sun.

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