As an entrepreneur, it’s critical that you know how to act, rather than just react.

As a child, I loved spending time at my grandparents’ farm. They had a little flock of about 50 guinea hens that I always made sure I “accidentally” encountered as I walked through the garden to the barn. All I had to say was “boo,” and they would look at me, cock their heads to the side, and go “whah!” It started a chain reaction. The first one would squawk, then the next, and then the next, until they were all “whah!”-ing and squawking and running around the barnyard in a noise-making microbial-like mass. It usually took them about five minutes before they collected themselves, calmed down, and went back to hunting for bugs. Sometimes, as human beings, we do the same thing. Someone says something, and one-by-one we start reacting and working ourselves into-a-lather for no reason at all.

I was associated with a woman who was incredibly driven and dedicated to her work, but she was prone to react instead of act. She worked extremely long days and tortured herself by maintaining incredible motion with little momentum. She was the most energetic, sincere, and inefficient person I’ve had the pleasure to encounter.

She was a wonder to watch, running here and there, sometimes jumping in her car and whizzing away just to whiz back and run around again. The police even had a hard time keeping up with her, but she had enough speeding tickets to prove that they caught her now and again.

This woman eventually ran herself into the ground by working like a guinea hen. She wore herself out and felt the need to choose a new, “relaxing” lifestyle. It would have made such a difference for this bright young woman if she would have just taken the time to organize and focus her energy and stop when other necessities (like sleep and composure time) became more crucial. (See the following section, “Urgent and Important,” for tips on organizing and focusing your energy.) This woman ignored the fact that sleep and downtime became quadrant I priorities and, instead, she burned out.

Don’t react. Plan and then take action.

In my current office suite, I have a great office with an elevated 20-foot ceiling. My window looks out over a golf course and then off to the distant snow-capped mountains. I love it and won’t leave it, but there is one problem: my door is right next to the entrance to our suite.

Everyone who stops by sticks their head in to say hello and chat for a bit. Even if no one actually knocks on the door, someone walking by is enough reason for me to lift my head and lose my focus. When I’m involved in a critical task and can’t be interrupted, I leave my office and head down to the “war room,” another office down the hall with the same beautiful view but far from any of the daily foot traffic.

This doesn’t just make me more effective, though; this works for everyone. The best way to keep a team of engineers from reacting to every distraction is to locate them in the back offices and give everyone else the directive to leave them alone (except to slip a pizza under the door every once in a while). When it’s time to get down to work, you must eliminate distractions and start acting on your project instead of reacting to whatever crosses your path.

Porter’s Points – Act or React

• Eliminate distractions. Find a workspace more conducive to concentration or a way to limit the noise around you. Do what you have to do to get done what you have to get done.
• Set a regular time each day to check and respond to your email and voicemail. Don’t react to it all day long as it comes in.
• Turn your cell phone off or put it on vibrate and set it aside when you are in a critical work mode.

As Rich mentioned, we’ll introduce the Time Management Matrix next time so you can sort tasks according to their urgency and importance.