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Thoughts on the Inputs and Outputs of Work and Life

Constructing, renovating, and running a home is like building a company. Those who lead with care and attention to detail build the best houses. You cannot create a house or a business simply by imagining the final product. Instead, you need to focus on the tasks that lead to the project’s completion.

When we focus on the outcome, the gap between where we are and what we want often seems large. For some, attacking this gap with a hack or taking a shortcut is tempting.

Hacks and shortcuts don’t typically turn out well if you’re building a home. The same is true when it comes to building a company. The fact is, hacks and shortcuts almost always lead to bad outcomes. When building a home you want to stay in for a decade or longer, you'd never fix leaky pipes with duct tape or skip priming your walls before painting them the perfect shade of greige.

Enhance Your Inputs

In business and life, we often focus too much on the outputs of our efforts. Examples of outputs include how much revenue your company made in the previous quarter or how high your energy bills were in the summer. Both are essential to consider in a larger scheme of data points, but they need context to make changing them in the future actionable. We gain context by understanding our inputs.

Your company generates revenue from the inputs you prioritized during the quarter and long before. These inputs include:

Understanding these inputs and others helps you generate their output.

Outcomes are immediately in the past. While you can use them to better predict the future, comprehending how your inputs led to the end result can help you refine how you allocate the required inputs that ultimately provide the sought-after output.

If we consider our other example with a particularly high energy bill, there are many actions you can take to reduce costs in the future:

  • Improve your home’s insulation
  • Use energy-saving settings on your thermostat
  • Replace old doors and windows
  • Invest in storm doors or an entryway
  • Turn off the lights when you’re not in the room

Each of these inputs becomes a leading indicator that informs the outcome — the lagging indicator. For more on finding the right indicators to measure business performance, read our Data Guide.

Identify the Next Action

There is always something we should and can do today to make progress, to move a little closer, and to put ourselves closer to our goal. In David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, he reminds us that we don’t “do” projects; we do the next action item to complete a step of the greater whole.

The work isn’t always pretty. It's not something that most will ever even see. It rarely even makes for a good story. But taking the time to perform each step, each milestone, to the best of our ability makes all the difference. This is what we call Getting Smart Stuff Done, and it’s the only way to do work that matters.

When building a company, you’re not starting with a modern colonial in a nice neighborhood. You need a plan, tools, team members, meetings, and measurables. You build the business brick by brick and day by day.

You can simplify building and running a great company, or a home for that matter, by focusing on the next action. That’s why we built tools for documenting Issues and To-Dos. We use Ninety to quickly create To-Dos while resolving Issues during meetings to ensure our solutions are always followed through.

Find Progress by Examining the Details

Everything of enduring value takes time to build. It’s not that complicated. This basic philosophy applies to all work and life. Goals are great. But the work, the journey — that’s life.

As I’m prone to share too often, the simplest ingredients associated with a well-lived life include having:

  • Something to do
  • Someone to love
  • Something to look forward to

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