BOLD recently sat down with business expert Stever Robbins to discuss his latest book, “Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More.” Stever is the director of the Babson College Collaboratory and host of “The Get It Done Guy” on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. He has been a businessperson and entrepreneur since the late 1970s. Stever co-founded the early internet success story FTP Software, and has been a part of nine high-tech start-ups, four IPOs and three acquisitions. He was COO for Building Blocks Interactive, and project manager at Intuit, where he co-led the development of the award-winning Quicken VISA Card.
BOLD: Is this book for business or personal use?
Stever Robbins: This book helps you make everything more effective, business or personal. For example, the ‘Optimize’ chapter covers hearing and using negative feedback to improve. That’s a great skill anywhere, home or work. Most examples are drawn from business, but there are several from daily life, as well. Some examples don’t fit neatly into a box. Consider building a zombie army; it’s hard to know whether that’s business or personal.
BOLD: How do you define an overachiever?
SR: We usually define ‘achievement’ as making big money or getting famous. We define ‘overachiever”‘as someone who does those things, typically by working very hard. Someone who’s lazy and gets rich or famous is rarely thought of as an overachiever. I don’t think like that.
Some people are remarkable: they get what they want from life with very little effort. Life comes easy to them. Others work very, very hard for a life they find neither fulfilling nor meaningful. Which of those is an overachiever? I don’t know. I do know which I’d rather be, however.
My book deals with concrete, everyday things: how to handle e-mail, how to organize your space and your thinking, and how to stay focused. But it’s all in the service of accomplishing your goals easily. There’s nothing noble about frantically overworking yourself when you could get the same results calmly and happily.
BOLD: Take me through a thought process if an action is geared toward your goal or not. How do you determine the difference?
SR: When we adopt a goal, we often forget the goal in favor of the path we choose to reach it. My ‘Conquer Your Technology’ chapter comes from this notion. We used technology because it promised to make our lives better. How’s that working out? Are our lives better? It’s not so clear. Technology tethers many of us to work, it’s created a culture of severe overstimulation, and recent research on multitasking suggests that it’s literally making us stupider. I’m still an over-the-top gadget freak (grin), but if I’m honest with myself, I don’t know that technology has made my life any better. Just different.
To know if your action is moving you toward your goal, stop and ask why you’re doing what you’re doing. Asking ‘Why?’ recalls your original goal. Then ask ‘is it working?’ People spend hours in PowerPoint, making text fly in from off-screen. I ask ‘Why?’ They say, ‘To give my presentation impact.’ Does flying text make an impact? Unless you’re auditioning for an animation job, spend your time making sure you have good ideas presented clearly. Spending hours on cutesy PowerPoint effects is usually wasted time. Asking ‘Why?’ helps you realize it.
BOLD: If you cannot identify a goal, how do you figure out what you want your goal to be?
SR: If you’re at work, your boss should help you figure out your goals. If not, your goal is to find a better boss who can help you understand your goals. If you’re the founder, or if you’re setting non-work goals, asking ‘Why?’ repeatedly will take you to your higher level goals until you find one that makes sense. Or, you can work top down. Ask ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ and then ask ‘How?’ repeatedly. ‘How” is the opposite of ‘why.’ It helps you find subgoals. Use Why and How to explore your goals until you find one worth adopting.
You only need to “figure out” a goal if that goal is supposed to lead you to a larger outcome. If you are setting a work goal to lead you to financial independence, yeah, you need to figure out what goal will take you there. But if you don’t have a larger purpose to fulfill with your goal, it’s not a matter of figuring, it’s a matter of feeling. That’s when you go inside, connect with your driving passion and set your goals based around what you want, since there’s no larger purpose constraining your goal-setting.
BOLD: Define your goal ladder and how it can help entrepreneurs.
SR: The goal ladder is the list of goals and subgoals you get when you take your current list of initiatives and ask ‘why?’ repeatedly. It shows the connection between your high-level goals and your lower-level goals. For example, your company vision might be: ‘to help doctors and nurses treat patients better.’ A subgoal is, ‘to develop a new type of heart monitor.’ That then has subgoals around research, manufacturing, and so on. A goal ladder would lay out the goals and subgoals so you can see how they all relate.
In business, the top goal is usually the entrepreneur’s vision: Why does the company even exist? The subgoals are strategic goals, then projects, and finally daily tasks. Writing a goal ladder helps you double-check your efforts at each level to make sure everything you’re doing is aligned around your highest goals. In large companies, the subgoals are split between layers of management who don’t necessarily know how they connect. Entrepreneurs enjoy companies small enough that the goal ladder can map directly onto a small team. With a quick review of their goal ladder, they’ll know whether everyone is working on the right set of goals.
Check back in tomorrow for the second of this interview with author Stever Robbins.