Secret to Start-up Effectiveness: Have a Mind Like Water

Start-ups are an unforgiving mistress. She will always have her hand on your back… and be pushing. She will force you to change your focus constantly. Glory is her “carrot”… time is her “stick.” Start-ups require agility and nimbleness to succeed. Rapid changes in focus are inevitable, but they do take a toll on effectiveness.

Now, I’m a bit of a productivity / effectiveness junky. I’ve read countless books, tested so many philosophies that it was counter-productive and tried every gadget possible. As I’ve become older, wiser (hopefully) and more effective, I’ve found that simple, slow and focused is better. I’m back to paper and pencil and take more notes now than I ever did in school. Although I consider myself a GTD black belt, I ultimately focus on the three things must I accomplish today. Nothing however, has improved my effectiveness and arguably been more life changing than adopting a “mind like water.”

In “Getting Things Done,” David Allen says that in karate there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. Now imagine a boulder. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriate to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or under react. It certainly doesn’t proactively worry or have an opinion about the oncoming rock.

Achieving a mind like water requires discipline. To begin, you must stop thinking about ten things at once while typing on your Blackberry while in a meeting. Just be in the meeting. If there is something more important that you should be doing, don’t go to the meeting. It is a complete fallacy that multi-tasking equates to effectiveness. Train yourself to be “in the present” and focused on the process… not the result. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t be results orientated. You should have big, hairy, audacious goals. Plan your objectives in painstaking detail. Organization should be your middle name. However, all of this is a precursor to being effective. Focusing on the process means you are aware of the mechanics of what you are doing. If you are simply walking… notice your stride, posture, etc. and not about what you have to do when you get to your destination. If you planned effectively, you already know. Planning “on the fly” never results in the best answer…

Now that you’re in the present, you must eliminate judgment and doubt as new input and requests arrive. Let’s face it, your opinion only matters to one person. Let it influence (not direct) your planning, analysis and problem solving but never input collection. The sheer tonnage you don’t hear as your inner voice is forming an opinion could stop a herd of buffalo in their tracks. Remember… be in the present. Focus on the process of hearing what the person is trying to convey.

Have a practicing mindset. Take action toward your objectives as if you are practicing to do it better the next time, observe the results and correct. Everyone has a different view of an ideal outcome. Even your own view will change as you approach your objective. Perfection is a moving target so stop worrying about how you “stack up.” Everything is possible… if you believe differently, don’t work for a start-up. This focus on practicing quiets the internal dialog of our mind of judgment and anxiety. It’s that judgment and anxiety that holds you back from the solution.

Having a “mind like water” leads to equanimity. Equanimity is the key to effectiveness ensuring you can handle any change a start-up throws at you.

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