Photography: David Seah
One of the advantages of being an entrepreneur — and even just a freelancer — is that you don’t have a boss. There’s no one to tell you what to do, no one to hand you an urgent project at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon, and no one to tell you that you’ve done a bad job and have to start again.
On the other hand, that also means that there’s no one to warn you when you’re about to go wrong or give you a confidence boost when you’re on the right track.
That’s a problem that David Seah, a freelance designer, hoped to solve with his Printable CEO. A colored scorecard that anyone can print and use, the Printable CEO is intended to be a motivational tool that encourages freelancers to do the tasks most important to their businesses. Points are awarded for each item completed on the list each day, and users can track their progress on a special score card.
Billable Work is Life-Sustaining
Doing “life-sustaining billable work,” for example is worth ten points. Writing a blog post brings two points while “maintaining an old relationship” scores just one point. The same task can also be scored multiple times.
“One of the beauties of the system is that cheating is not bad,” explains David. “If you can rationalize meeting a friend as social development, then you are still thinking in the right way: you are maximizing what you need to be doing to actually move yourself forward. In fact, you should count the meeting with the friend as three points: one for maintaining the old relationship, and two for social development. If you tell your friend about something you’re working on, then that’s another two points for ‘self promotion.’”
Although the scores change from day to day and from person to person, David reports that on a really good day, he might rack up 60 or 70 points. To get that though, he would need to release something that contains both code and graphics, tell a bunch of people about it, and receive a check. A bad day — such as the days when he was creating the form — would have only scored 8 or 9 points.
The list of tasks contains just ten items, with the score weighting drawn from points allocation in games: big, infrequent tasks such as winning new business or completing billable work score the highest, while frequent tasks score the lowest. The tasks themselves, David says, were based on his understanding of personal motivation and focus — as well as advice from MBAs that “revenue is number one” when starting a business.
“I emphasize tangible results in the list, which to me are either physical artifacts or interacting directly with a person. It’s too easy otherwise to award yourself a pat on the back for just having ‘done some work’ when all you did was shuffle some data around,” David says. “Supporting day-to-day activities that happen more frequently are also important. Sometimes I lose entire days just talking to people about their projects; that should count for something.”
What Drives your Business Engine?
David stresses that the list was inspired by his own understanding of what drives his “business engine” and doesn’t reflect personal values. Nor might the list reflect the tasks that drive other people.
Although David’s score card — his Concrete Goals Tracker — has been downloaded about 60,000 times and a Ruby on Rails version another 10,000 times, it’s hard to estimate how many people actually use it. The fact that other industries have taken his idea and applied it to their own sectors though suggests that the format is both strong enough to work and flexible enough to cover a range of different uses. A magazine specializing in HVAC equipment, for example, has made a small business version of the form and David has fielded requests for versions for practicing music.
“[The Printable CEO] has been a good jumping-off point for other form designs for task tracking and day planning,” says David, “all centered around my UI [user interface] philosophy of ‘maximum informational gain for minimal input hassle.’”
Perhaps the best measure of success though isn’t the number of people who have found The Printable CEO helpful but the fact that David himself is one of them. His original motivation for creating the form was wishing that he had a boss who could tell him that he was doing the right thing after one unproductive week in 2005. Since then, he says, his attitude towards freelancing has changed and he is able to tell the difference between “sustaining work” and “busy work.”
“It essentially helped affirm that I knew what was important, and that gave me confidence, which is an important part of being productive,” he says.
Download your Printable CEO form from here and tell us what you think.
[tags] Printable CEO, David Seah, gtd [/tags]