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Time is Always Running Out

September 7, 2011

Brad Svrluga

I have two personally painful stories to share.

First.  On a Tuesday back in early June, we were two days away from closing on the sale of our portfolio companies. A big, honking, bells & whistles press release type deal. An Inbox Will Fill Up with “Holy Shit That’s Great!” Emails type deal. But that evening, the other side of the deal called up and said, “we changed our mind.”

36 hours before the scheduled close of a deal that was more than 60 days in the making, they simply changed their mind.

Countless hours invested already by both sides, huge legal bills already run up, tons of time and energy already spent by both sides executing on things that you’d only do if you were 100% sure the deal was going to happen.

But they changed their mind.

Second.  My car died yesterday morning. I was driving back from a doctors appointment, took a left turn, and when I let off the clutch, the engine just stopped. And wouldn’t restart. F&@#!!!!!

This car has been an absolute dream for every one of its 118,346 miles. I’ve never put a dime into it beyond oil changes, tires, and brakes. Not a dime.

And here’s the kicker. I was going to trade it in next week. While I love it, it’s rear wheel drive, and it sucks in the snow. I just didn’t want to do another winter that way. So I’ve been half-heartedly poking around for a few months, trying to find the right replacement. I knew I needed to get it done before it snowed or I’d have to spend $1,000 on new snow tires. But I hadn’t made it a priority. Finally, realizing that the first snowflakes will fly within 60 days, I focused on it this weekend and found the right car.

So I was trading it in literally next week! I’m just waiting for my new car to get to the dealer. Everything is sorted out and ready to go, we’re just waiting for the car. And now, moments before handing this thing over, after 118K absolutely hassle and expense-free miles, I have to plow a grand or two into it and then plead with the dealer that it’s still worth what they offered me for it. I just looked up ‘frustration’ in the Dictionary, and there was a picture of me.

So why share these two stories? Because they are equally effective illustrations of the importance of getting stuff done, even when hurrying up doesn’t seem like it’s going to make a difference. If you have something important to do, even if it’s not urgent, you’ve simply got to get it done. Because if you don’t, you never know what out-of-your-control thing might pop up and get in the way.

Time is always running out. Always. Everywhere. Be it the time left on my car’s life or the time left on the unbridled enthusiasm of the counterparty of that business deal. Time is always running out for someone.

When interviewing potential employees, talking to founders of companies, or in any situation where I’m evaluating people on whom I may have to depend, I’ve always placed great importance on what I’ve heard academics and HR experts characterize as “bias for action.” Loosely translated, it’s an inclination to get stuff done, to ensure that inertia never takes over.

Of course, you don’t want bias for action at the expense of quality of that action. But you also don’t want quality to get in the way of quantity, or speed.

Prioritizing our daily or weekly tasks and to-do’s is a hard thing. Not that many people get it right. I know I often don’t. And while I think there’s a lot of things we can do to be smarter about it, like mastering the balance of urgent vs. important, we’ll always make some suboptimal choices along the way.

So I focus on bias for action. I want to work with people who don’t spend too much time deliberating. People who focus on getting stuff done. People who have a sense of urgency about knocking down barriers. Because when you’re getting more accomplished, those tough, on the margin choices about doing task A first or task B first matter a lot less – you can probably get them both done.

And if you’re making more progress towards your goals, if you find yourself frustrated that you’re having to drag other people along to keep up, you’re probably the sort of person who isn’t going to let business deals simmer so long that they fall apart, or have a car die on you a few days before you turn it in. And that’s a very good thing.

Now stop reading this and go get something really important done.

One Comment

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  1. September 7, 2011

    A “liberating” saying along these lines: “Perfect is the enemy of Good.” For those of us who tend toward further analysis and care to make sure that everything is right before acting, a dose of permission to go forward is sometimes needed.

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