Working “IN Your Business” Too Much Can Lead to Distractions & Challenges Down the Road

Working “IN your business” is spending time on the flow of daily activities. Working “ON your business” is investing time into critical thinking about the business such as market trends, possibilities, and solutions.

As published in the February 2022 NTMA Record

Finding time to work ON your business is critical

First, let’s define the terms “Working IN” vs. “Working ON” your business.

Working “IN your business” is spending time on the flow of daily activities such as: Long useless meetings, problems with supply chain, quality issues, people issues, the pandemic, and accounting. We call it the daily grind, and it can crush a whole day and push it into NVA or ENVA territory (Non-Value-Added or Essential Non-Value-Added – i.e., non-critical and non-paid by clients). 

Working “ON your business” is investing time into critical thinking about the business such as market trends, possibilities, and solutions. In short, looking at the future and what needs to be done to develop new products, new services, grow into new territories, grow through acquisitions or organic investment, solve endemic issues, and more. When we engage with a new client to work on strategy, we have ten questions we typically ask of principals throughout the journey of working “ON the business”:

  1. Will your strategy beat the market?
  2. Does your strategy tap a true source of advantage?
  3. Is your strategy granular on where to compete?
  4. Does your strategy put you ahead of the trends?
  5. Does your strategy rest on privileged insights?
  6. Does your strategy embrace uncertainty?
  7. Does your strategy balance commitment and flexibility?
  8. Is your strategy contaminated by bias?
  9. Is there conviction to act on your strategy?
  10. Have you translated your strategy into an action plan?

Whatever the problème du jour, this checklist is an effective tool for staying on the task of thinking strategically about things.

The challenge is that most of us spend too much time working IN our business instead of working ON our business. Without the discipline to work ON your business, you may find yourself facing ever-mounting troubles by failing to see the forest for the trees.

According to research outlined in the Harvard Business Review, 85 percent of executives spend less than one hour per month working on strategy, and 50 percent spend no time at all on strategic matters. The research also revealed that 95 percent of a company’s employees do not understand the company’s strategy – long-term goals. As a result of this inattention to strategy, 90 percent of businesses fail to meet their strategic targets. Read More

The commonly held belief is that owners should spend 10% of their time working “ON the business” and 90% of the time IN. As we researched the matter deeper, the takeaway message from all the findings is that entrepreneurs wish they had more time to spend working ON the business and less time working overall.

Although the survey’s findings did not reveal exactly what entrepreneurs would gain from additional time working ON the business, the implication is that that they would be in a stronger position to notice trends and opportunities in ways that could help their companies meet their strategic objectives. Now, let’s step a little further back and look at the most valuable brands we all know: They have one thing in common – Someone thought about it somehow. Isn’t that something we should all do?

Innovation takes time. Innovation takes resources. Innovation leads to breakthroughs and tremendous success. You just need to set aside time to think about it and explain it in ways your teams can do something about it. That’s the key to all this.

Over my years in the corporate world, as a consultant, and now as a business owner, I gathered several bits and pieces of insight to construct my own quote that’s now proudly framed in my office: “Don’t Settle for the Status Quo. Innovate or be Disrupted. Think Strategically, Act Quickly and Adjust as Required.

We’d love to hear from you on LinkedIn or by email at

 Special thanks to my colleague, Todd Miller, for his contributions to this article.

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