The Secret Entrepreneur: Dealing with the productivity ‘balance sheet’

Our enigmatic CEO on how recharging your batteries will benefit the business and why productivity dips when you hire senior people

I’m back. It’s been a little while since my last column; sorry to have left you for so long.

Sometimes it’s good to take a break though, something I see far too many entrepreneurs forget. Working incredibly hard comes with the role – that’s the real secret to making it – but it needs to be balanced with the occasional break.

A (stressed out) friend admitted last week to not having taken a break for three years – I used to be the same, but now I can’t go three months without at least a long weekend away, and I’m more effective for it.

It’s easy to get so absorbed in the business that you don’t want to leave, but without stepping away you can quickly lose perspective and start focusing on the wrong things. It’s simply not possible to be ‘on’ all the time; eventually things start to slip and you become less and less effective. Then you inevitably think the answer is to work more, and the downward spiral to burn-out begins.

Sometimes the best thing you can do, even when you’re incredibly busy, is to step away from it all for a few days (If your business really can’t run without you, you’re not an entrepreneur, you’re just self-employed).

If you’ve hired the right people then you’ll find things run just fine (probably better) without you there for a few days. It’s amazing how capable people become when they have no other options.

Don’t be tempted to work when you’re away. That defeats the purpose, and if you’re lucky enough to be with your significant other, it’ll no doubt frustrate them too. Try and make yourself uncontactable if you possibly can.

I find I get the most benefit when I switch off completely for a few days and do something completely different – wander aimlessly around a new city, look at some art, lie on a beach. Perspectives change and suddenly the challenges I thought overwhelming become a lot easier to deal with.

My current challenge is a good one, but a challenge nonetheless. We’re expanding, and have hired some excellent, highly skilled, senior people. People to really take charge of their departments and deliver excellent things.

This will, eventually, make my life easier. But right now we’re in ‘the dip’, where productivity seems like it’s slowing despite adding more resource.

Whenever you hire people, there’s a lot of work involved to ‘onboard’ them, introduce them to the culture and make sure you set them on the right path. The counter-intuitive thing is that experienced people actually require a lot more input when they join than junior people do.

Senior hires demand a lot, in a good way. They ask the difficult questions, want to come up to speed quickly and learn everything they can about the business. Then they start doing stuff, which inevitably needs me to do stuff to support them while they settle in.

They’re very expensive assets, so it’s critical to get the most from them and invest the time upfront. It’s an exhausting process though. I’ll need a holiday when all this is done!

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