Finding balance between efficiency and exploration

Constantly having your nose to the grindstone of daily business leaves you no time to explore ideas that may benefit that business.

By Michelle van Schouwen

As a small business owner, you are extremely busy. Working efficiently has probably become key to your financial and emotional well being. On a daily basis, the search for efficiency often translates into operational processes to shut out intrusions that don’t move you toward your goals.

-You find yourself deleting every incoming email that isn’t absolutely necessary to read. Maybe it has become your policy to do so.

-You’ve become great at saying no – to every committee, volunteer opportunity, maybe even every industry podcast.

-You have lunch at your desk.

-You put off meeting the person from the company or organization down the street (or across the state) who thinks you may have working synergy. Hey, you don’t even take the phone call.

The fact is, you may save yourself valuable minutes every day.

But you, and we all, have lost something, too. This loss entails some measure of freedom; to stretch your mind and enlarge your base; grow your idea bank and enrich your network of people, ideas and opportunities; and to help others.

When I started my own small business way back in 1985, it was still relatively easy to get a meeting with a prospective client, even if the time wasn’t right to do business. Our early success owed a great deal to the privilege of having those meetings.

Years back, people were comfortable talking for a few minutes, and holding out the possibility that they might someday work together – or not. They read materials sent to them – even, sometimes, direct mail flyers! They accepted phone calls. Plus, they shared their wisdom with neophytes like me.

Now, many professionals find themselves the recipients of too much of nearly everything… from emails, texts, calls, and social media alerts to demands on time, talents and resources. In many professional disciplines, we’re expected to do more with less, respond faster, create better results, and to avoid mistakes and waste, at all times and at all costs. It’s hard even to take a vacation day “unplugged.”

But…again. We’ve lost something. It would be great to make room, talk with different people, listen to new ideas, have contact with groups from which we may learn, or may just enjoy.

Here’s a proposal: Where you can, and where it may add some value or color to your day or your life, I urge you to open the door, read the email, listen to the podcast, attend the meeting, or agree to volunteer. Create the time to explore new ideas, new paths, new relationships. Offer your wisdom to a neophyte, student or job applicant. 

Work and life can be a little broader and richer… even if it is less efficient by a small factor.


Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. vSA is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, vSAConsult, its executive-level strategic planning capability, and for its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B. Michelle attempts to practice what she preaches, taking time to talk with start-up business owners, students and career seekers, among others.

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