In today’s Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about big picture thinking, its importance and some ways through which you can develop this skill. Oftentimes, we find that people are so caught up in day to day tasks that they fail to stop and prioritize. Steli and Hiten talk about being mindful in order to develop good prioritization skills. Tune-in and discover how you can cultivate mindfulness and build your prioritization skills which can help you execute tasks of greater value.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
- 00:03 – Today we are going to talk about big picture thinking
- 01:14 – Most people struggle with big picture thinking
- 01:28 – Steli is great at prioritizing and showing the bigger picture to his team
- 02:34 – Prioritizing is a skill that anyone can pick up by cultivating mindfulness
- 03:31 – Go-getters continue to attack what is in front of them
- 04:23 – Yet, there are some people who get bogged down by intense work activity and have yet to develop those prioritization skills
- 05:16 – Keep your to-do list short in order to develop your prioritization skills
- 06:20 – Important to touch every area of the business and be aware of what is going on
- 07:58 – Someone who is involved in day to day operations will find it much more difficult to see the big picture view
- 09:10 – Easier for someone not involved in day to day tasks to be MINDFUL; mindfulness is the driver of good prioritization skills
- 09:42 – Step back physically, spiritually and mentally every once in awhile to develop mindfulness
- 10:27 – If you don’t stop to ask BIG questions, you will never be good at prioritizing
- 11:17 – If you wish to create VALUE, you need to be in control of your time and mind
- 12:20 – Mindfulness enables you to take a step back and look at everything with a more clear mind
- 13:47 – Have an inner discussion with yourself or someone else who can help you see the big picture
- 15:05 – A CEO or a manager has a high level viewpoint that others simply don’t
- 15:34 – Take a step back every morning to reflect upon what you did or what you are going to do
- 16:57 – Look at the smallest items on your to-do list and think about what will happen if you do not do them
- 18:08 – Oftentimes, it is easier to keep doing things than to stop doing them; do not replace an inconsequential activity with another one
- 19:58 – Replace a mindless activity with a productive, high quality one
3 Key Points:
- Prioritizing is a skill that anyone can pick-up by cultivating mindfulness.
- Step back physically, spiritually and mentally every once in awhile to develop mindfulness.
- Oftentimes, it is easier to keep doing things than to stop doing them; do not replace an inconsequential activity with another one.
Hey, everybody. This is Steli Efti.
And this is Hiten Shah.
And today in the Startup Chat we want to talk about big picture thinking, and how to prioritize better for your startup. So here’s the reason I want to talk about this, Hiten. Ramin, big shout-out to Ramin, who is an invisible man behind this podcast and is helping and organizing a lot and is working on the marketing team. Ramin has been asking me about, or suggesting this topic to me for a really long time now. And he keeps coming back, and any time I ask him, “Hey, do you have anything you think Hiten and I should discuss on the podcast?” whenever I run out of ideas, he goes … Well, he offers a few topics, but this is the one that’s been most consistently shared. And he always goes “You know, you are amazing at prioritizing and keeping the big picture in mind”. And Hiten seems to really, really amazing at this. And it’s something that most people struggle with, and I think Ramin struggles with this directly in marketing topics. And I’ll talk a little bit about this when I join team meetings. When I join marketing calls, and Ramin is on there and I’m on there, I’m usually the one that is pushing to reprioritize some things, bring in the big picture of thinking. I think that’s an unfair dynamic and I’ll talk a little bit about that. But he experiences many, many times when I join a discussion and will help the team think differently about what is the true priority and what isn’t. He’s been dying for us to talk about this. I honestly have not been that excited about this topic, I don’t even know why, I was like “I don’t know, prioritization,” but finally I’ve cracked and I was like “all right, all right, I’ll ping Hiten, we’ll talk about this.” It’s probably something that maybe, I don’t know, maybe you and I feel that this is not that big of a topic or we don’t feel like it’s a big need in our life. But I can see that a lot of people will benefit from this, so let’s chat about it.
Yeah, you know, first of all, shout out to Ramin. I know he’s behind the scenes doing a lot of stuff for us that I don’t even have to think about. I honestly, just ’cause he wants it I’m down to do it on my end.
So yeah, let’s do it. On the prioritizing, you know, I think that it’s a skill anyone can learn. It has to do, honestly, I think, I’m gonna get a little foo-foo for a second, but you and I might be good at it ’cause I know how mindful we are. That has to do with mindfulness. I’m not saying either of us probably meditates every day religiously. But I think we are the type of people that can easily … I mean, I was walking with you yesterday for a few blocks, ’cause we happened to hang out. It felt like for a bunch of time we weren’t talking, we were both kind of like meditating, so to speak, or just being mindful of where we are. I felt that and noticed it. I think a lot of that has to do with … Everyone I know that’s not good at prioritizing fits in one or two camps today. One camp is they’re just go-getters, the just go, go, go. And they are just very good at attacking what’s in front of them. Or just what’s on top of mind. And that’s interesting. I have a co-founder who’s very much like that, very, very much like that. He’ll just go at it, and attack whatever’s in front of him, whatever’s top of mind, and he does a great job of it. But one of the reasons he’s very good at it, without actually having to prioritize as much as, I’d say, you and I probably do, is that his horsepower, so to speak, being able to do something and just get it done and pull people into it is uncanny. So the speed at which he can get people to do things, and himself do things, it’s pretty strong, pretty high when he puts his mind to it. I’d say it’s much stronger than mine. The other camp, I would say, would be someone like Ramin. And I don’t know enough about what he does, exactly, every day, but I can hypothesize, being in marketing, he’s probably just got a lot of shit going on and his to-do list is massive if he even has one. And his prioritization skills are probably just not developed. The reason is, there’s just a lot going on. So those are two different modes for me, because my co-founder Neil, he has a lot going on, but he just demolishes through everything and is very good at just being mindful, not mindful but anti-mindful. Just whatever’s top of mind for him, whatever he’s thinking about. And he has a very singular goal in mind in life. And that goal is what drives him to just prioritize, essentially, without having to think about it the way you and I would.
And then on Ramin’s hand, I think the to-do list is long. And when your to-do list is long, it is definitely a challenge to learn how to prioritize it, ’cause the short answer to prioritization is keep the to-do list short for what you’re trying to do right now. And that’s not how everyone is, so I don’t know. That’s what I got so far.
Yeah, no, this is good shit, I think. So one, I want to start with a disclaimer, and I think this is an important one. And I mentioned this earlier, with the … You know, he might feel this the most significantly when I join a call. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a fair comparison. So oftentimes, people like you and me, Hiten, if you’re a founder of a startup or the CEO of a startup, when you have some kind of a leadership position, oftentimes you, we’re a little bit of a unique case because I know that both of us are a bit more hands-on and do have some deliverables, more so than other CEOs might have. But even us, we are operating most of the times from a position that has the most context, the most context-rich position in the team, in the company, because we touch every team and every area of the business, most of them probably, any other person in the company. So you have a much better idea of what’s going on all around the company. You probably have a much better idea of what’s going on in the market in general, and you’re not as hands-on, like your list, typically, as CEO or co-founder, probably is not gonna be as long, with as many little to-do items, so when you join somebody else’s meeting, you can come in without that tunnel vision. You can come in with a little bit of a distance, which gives you the power of perspective, right? You can see the big picture because you’re just not drowning in the tasks and to-dos of every single day and deadlines. And you also come in with the benefit of knowing everything that’s going on in the overall business and market. So when I join a marketing call and Ramin might have four to-dos and I might challenge him on the four things that they are working on and I might challenge him on those and go “Why are we even doing these things? Are they really important, are they really gonna move the needle?” Or I’m bringing up something that was not on the list but that is of much greater importance, I can feel, I can easily see how after a call like that or a meeting like that, Ramin is like … And in this case, Ramin and myself, we’re just examples for this happening everywhere, I could see Ramin thinking “Holy shit, why didn’t I think about these things?” Or “Why is it so easy for someone to just walk into randomly a meeting or call and just know with such level of certainty what’s more important and be right about it?” And I think it’s an unfair comparison, because I come into the conversation with the ability to have much more higher-level, big-picture thinking, and a much easier time for me to have the distance to see what should or shouldn’t be a priority, probably, versus him, who’s in the day-to-day operational role. It’s just easier to do that. If he joined a call from another meeting, it might be much easier for him to see the big picture of what they’re missing or what they should be doing there. So I think that it’s important for anybody that has experienced this, especially with the founder or CEO-level person, to not compare yourself one-on-one, like “Why am I not acting like this other person, exactly the same way?” Because it’s easier for an outsider to have big-picture thinking sometimes, or to see what’s blatantly obvious but everybody else in that meeting or conversation is missing because they’re so drowned and buried in details and to-dos and deadlines. So that’s one thing. You need to be careful how you compare yourself with others, you need to understand that when somebody else comes into your meeting that is not doing this stuff all day long, ten hours a day, eight hours a day, and drowning in all these tasks, it’s gonna be much easier for that person to be mindful and see the big picture, have perspective, enhanced … You know, probably be better at bringing up priorities. So that’s one thing. The other thing is, I think what you said is a really killer thing, which is mindfulness, I think, is really the driver for being good at prioritizing things. And mindfulness just means, if you don’t stop frequently, multiple times a day, a week, a month, step back, physically and spiritually and mentally, to think “What is truly going on in my life, in my team, in my business, on my projects? What are really the things that drive and make a significant difference, that I’m working on, and what are the things that aren’t really?” And what would happen if I just stopped doing some of the things that I’ve been doing forever that are unfulfilling and not really driving results? Is it really gonna be that bad? Versus “What if I double down with the things that truly matter?” Or what is something that truly matters that I’m not working on because I’m drowning on all these little tasks? If you don’t find ways to slow down, to stop to take a break, to take a pause, to step away and ask some of these big questions, you will never be good at prioritizing. And to stop is much harder than to just keep going. It’s easier to just keep going, go with the flow, be interrupted, let your inbox and people emailing you and the people on your team that are chatting you on Slack and the people in your office that walk up to your office and push you and go “Hey, can you do this for me? Hey, what about … ” People come to you with their problems, with their tasks, with questions, and you just let the world around you dictate what you’re worrying about, what you think about, what you’re working on. That is much easier because it requires zero mindfulness. You just allow everybody else to dictate what you’re doing. But if you want to be good at creating tons of value, which means being good at having big-picture thinking and prioritizing well, you are forced to develop the discipline to be mindful and to be in control of your own time and your mind. I think that’s just something that most people have not yet had. And I didn’t have this my entire life. Ramin knows this directly because Ramin worked with me on a company 15 years ago, and he will tell you I was not good at big-picture thinking or prioritizing back then. I was horrible, terrible at it. So it’s not like … Going back to what you said earlier, this is not some kind of a personal gift, it’s not a personality trait, you’re not born with it or without it. It’s a skill set you can cultivate or not, I couldn’t agree more with it. So maybe for the, to end and wrap up this episode, maybe you can give a tip each on how to cultivate that mindfulness allows, particularly well, to be good at prioritizing things.
Yeah, I mean, one of the reasons I think mindfulness helps is because what it enables you to do is take a step back and look at everything you’re doing with a more clear mind, a more blank slate. You’re not so much in the weeds, trying to get every to-do list item done. Instead, what you’re doing is you’re taking a step back and actually thinking through what needs to get done, what’s the most important thing. The interesting thing is, you know, I’ll give a quick short story. I was at … I saw you yesterday, Steli, and then, I saw you with my business partner Marie, met her for the first time, and that was awesome. You came up with some ideas for the pilot cast, but we’re not gonna share them right now. And after we met you, we actually went to Cyclops Coffee in San Francisco, I guess I’m a hipster like that.
Yes, you are.
And … Or I can at least say Marie is and blame her. And we actually had a meeting, her and I over some coffee, at the Cyclops instead of at our office, which is her apartment. And we actually had one of these meetings where we prioritized. And literally, we just took a step back and said “You know, we just launched this product, there’s these seven, eight things that we actually have slated to do. What’s most important?” And so to me, the mindfulness part is more about stepping back, not looking at your to-do list, not even writing anything down yet, and having either a discussion with yourself, which is totally doable, or having a discussion with the person that can help you or is helping you, and responsible equal to you or even not equal to you, just in whatever capacity makes sense. And just talk about it. And literally, we reprioritized, in that fifteen-minute talk about this topic, and figured out “Oh, crap, what we were thinking about and all this jumble in our head about all these eight or nine things, boils down to these two things that are most important right now.” And we were able to discuss why. And I don’t think that conversation could have happened unless we were both being mindful about wanting to have that conversation and stepping back from the to-do list. Otherwise we would have went back after seeing you, ’cause you know, it was a fun meeting seeing you and we were definitely not talking shop as much, and going back to work directly and being like “All right, we’re gonna go crank out our stuff.” But I don’t think the decisions would have been the same. And so that’s what I mean by being mindful, from my perspective. It’s like when you’re in the weeds, literally I call it “in the trees,” not the forest, you’re not able to look at, from a higher level, what’s going on, what are we working on or what are we proposing to work on, and how can we just focus on what’s the most important thing? Usually that discussion just doesn’t happen in people’s heads. And like you were saying, like a founder, a CEO, an executive, a manager tends to have a viewpoint on the situation or the details or the high level of something that other people don’t. And so we have learned to manage all those inputs and prioritize and keep people on message, on task, etc. But an individual person who’s working day to day like Ramin, he’s probably not stepping back. And I can give you hacks, ’cause it’s probably about that time, right?
One big hack for me is, take a step back either every morning or every evening. This is one reason I love all the content out there. Every time I read something about this, about that dream of making your three things you need to do tomorrow, or making your to-do list in the morning or the evening before. All those things, to be honest, are very good, very, very good. We don’t do them, nobody does them, I’m sorry, but they are very good because they give you that opportunity to spend five or ten minutes to reflect upon either what you did, which is always good, or what you’re going to do. So for me it’s like, I’ll reflect on what we did or what we think we need to do to figure out what we do next, and so it’s about “Okay, what did we do, what do we need to do, or what do we think we need to do?” All the things, and then how do we make sure we’re focused on the most important things? And if you can just have that discussion with yourself either every morning or every evening before you go get at it … I actually like the evening, ’cause sleeping on it is helpful and writing it down. It’s not a to-do list, ’cause I know that formalizes it too much for most people, at least for me. But it’s more of just a discussion with yourself about it. Even if you don’t write it down it will be in your head. And so I think that can help you reprioritize and stay a little more sane regardless of what level you are or what you’re doing inside of a company.
Absolutely, love it. All right, so I’ll give a tip before we wrap this up. My tip is, do two things. One is, look at your current to-do list, especially at the smallest of items. And really challenge yourself frequently, you know, maybe once a month, maybe every two weeks. What are these things, if I stop doing them, what would really happen? And oftentimes it’s like “Wow, then this wouldn’t exist.” And the important thing is to keep asking the question “Okay, and then what would happen?” Well, then we wouldn’t have that number in our reporting. Okay, when was the last time that number really led to an insight or to an action? Are we just looking at that number because it’s interesting, or have we ever learned something or changed our behavior on this? Well, we haven’t really ever done anything with it. All right, then kill it. Right? Or, this is a small thing I do every day, but if I stopped it … There’s a lot of small things that accumulate in our lives, to-dos, that if we really challenge ourselves, we would come up with answer of like “Yeah, if I stopped doing this nothing would really happen.” Nothing of consequence would happen. And so finding ways to simplify your to-do list or to take away, especially the noisy, little, tiny tasks that really, some of them are necessary, but oftentimes we do these things out of habit and it’s easier to keep doing them than to stop them. So it’s important to once in a while just do house cleaning and stop some of these items. But then even more important than just stopping them is to make a conscious effort not to replace them instantly. So if I, every morning if I spend ten minutes doing this one small task, then my challenge to people would be, not just to kill it, ’cause when I kill it mindlessly I will just, some other small, dumb task will just fill up those ten minutes. Or I will just use these ten minutes, you know, going on Facebook or Twitter or doing something else that’s mindless activity. I will replace one mindless activity with another one that’s inconsequential. Maybe better, maybe worse, but I’m not in control of that. What I would challenge people is, kill a few of these little items, save yourself ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day, and then consciously use that time for mindfulness. So you say “Tomorrow from 9:00 to 9:10 AM I’ll go on a walk.” Right? Or every day now I’m gonna be doing a 30-minute walk or meditation, I’m gonna go out in the park and read a book, or I’m gonna have a call with a friend talking about big picture, what we want to accomplish, setting goals, or I’ll talk to somebody on my team. But not to-dos, but big-picture, creative thinking. Just take those thirty minutes and don’t instantly replace them with other small items, ’cause that’s a lot of times what happens and what I see happening is, people will reprioritize, or kill some of the items, it will create some gaps, and these gaps again will be mindlessly filled with other random shit. And then you really haven’t accomplished anything. So an important thing to think about is, when you kill something, ask yourself “What am I going to replace this with? How am I gonna fill up my time instead?” Making sure that that replacement is of higher quality, is of higher priority, and if you can’t come up with another specific item, just make sure you don’t do anything during that time, right? Rather go on a walk or drink a coffee by yourself, or chit-chat or daydream, or take a nap, than just spend another 15 more minutes a day on Twitter or Facebook or some other site. That’s my tip for becoming better at prioritization, big-picture thinking, and keeping perspective and mindfulness in life and in business. All right, I think that’s it from us for this episode.
See you later.