June 9, 2022

The part of your time that most excites you and most helps others


Entrepreneurs are amalgamations of many roles.

The number of hats they wear on a daily basis is astounding.

There’s the financial, technical, informational, inspirational, operational, promotional, managerial and so on.

It’s particularly common when one person is the entire enterprise. At least in the early days, it’s too expensive to outsource tasks, too early to delegate them, and too scary to delete them.

Guess you may as well do everything yourself. Even if those things don’t scale in the long term.

Unfortunately, since business owners are often control freaks and workaholics, myself included, most of us never get off that treadmill. Effort remains out of proportion to impact. We spend too much time on activities that give us a poor return on their investment.

It’s one of the reasons a quarter of startup businesses fail within their first year, half of the remaining fail within five years, and thirty percent of the remaining in the last ten years.

Reflecting on my first career as a writer, consultant and corporate trainer, I assumed I had to wear all of those hats. And for a while, my publishing firm achieved steady upward financial growth.

But after about seven years, my revenues topped out. Income started declining annually. And book sales hit record lows.

Despite writing faster, waking up earlier, traveling longer and working harder, my enterprise seemed to be moving in the wrong direction. The whole equation was backwards.

Because as your company grows, what should be happening is gaining efficiencies, not losing them. Firms should ideally create more value and achieve outcomes with the least effort and sacrifice, while maximizing impact on customers and satisfaction on employees.

And that wasn’t happening in my case. Frankly, it just seemed like I was spending all my time just to make enough money to buy more time. Keeping my head above water, but not actually swimming anywhere.

That’s not only an unsustainable business model, but an unfulfilling way to spend your days.

When it finally dawned on me that reinvention was the only way out of this predicament, a friend of mine gave me some advice that hit me like a thunderbolt:

How could you make a career out of the small part of your time that most excites you and most helps others?

What a concept. Only wear a few hats instead of wearing all of them? That’s crazy talk.

It never occurred to me that I could find work in which I spent the majority of my time on things that I was uniquely qualified to do. Tasks like operations, finance, technology, managing, those were problems other people solved, not me.

My number one job was to make things and share them. Creation plus connection. That’s it. The rest was superfluous. And my bosses and coworkers respected that.

The paradox, as you might suspect, is that by choosing to wear the few hats that actually fit my head, suddenly my productivity and impact increased by an order of magnitude. By working full time gigs for various agencies and startups by day, and keeping my creative practice alive by night, there was no longer any need for me to do everything anymore.

Only creation plus connection. Everything else just went away.

It was deeply liberating to my soul, profoundly relaxing for my nervous system, and highly useful for my employers, coworkers and clients.

Compare that to putting in sixteen hour days killing yourself on high effort but low impact work. Which would you rather do?

Koch, the entrepreneur and patron saint of the eight twenty rule, writes about this pruning process in almost all of his books. He says if you are exceptionally selective and find the few things that matter deeply to you, then life acquires a purpose and meaning way beyond what it had previously. Your weaknesses don’t matter. What leads to extraordinary results is concentration on your strengths.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with wearing multiple or even many hats. There is an empowerment you feel taking ownership over your business in that way.

But let’s not commit ourselves to doing everything, when in reality, doing a few things would be much more life going for ourselves and the enterprise.

Figure out how to make a career out of the small part of your time that most excites you and most helps others, and you’ll never look back.

What if you only did what only you could do?