The Two Types of Improvement Work
As I describe in The Unchained Man, when working on your business, you can spend time in one of three ways. There is Standard Work (SW), which is that grunt work that must be done but that doesn’t actually improve/grow your business or improve your income, Improvement Work (IW) which is work that doesn’t need to be done but will grow your income, and Useless Work (UW) which is work that makes you think you’re getting things done, when in fact it accomplishes nothing.
The most import of these is IW. The more hours per day you spend in IW, the faster your income grows. Historically, I’ve tried to get at least one hour of IW work done per day. This is one of the reasons my income grows every year, usually by double digits.
Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve finally been able to reconfigure my schedule to crank out two hours of IW per day, sometimes more. It’s no surprise that over that period of time, my income has increased to levels I honestly never thought I would hit, both in terms of percentage growth and in terms of actual dollar amounts.
That’s how powerful IW is.
Another bonus of IW is that IW is usually much more fun than SW. I’m always looking forward to getting my IW done, whereas with much of my SW work, my attitude is more like, “Eh, okay.”
There are actually two different types of IW. These were articulated many years ago by Peter Drucker when he said this:
The business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.
Exactly. Marketing and innovation, unlike all other types of work, are IW. Marketing is the practice of getting more customers. Innovation is designing new products and services to sell to those customers, as well as streamlining your business to be more profitable.
Both of these things increase your income. They are the only things in your business that increase your income. Everything else, as Drucker said, is costs… or in my parlance, SW.
When I track my time, I actually break out both types of these IW.
One of these is a time category I call “Product Development.” Any time I spend writing new books to sell, creating alternate versions of these books (like audiobooks), creating other new services for my readers (like my monthly podcast and coaching program or my upcoming business video course), or anything else like that goes into this category. You can’t sell a product, service, or information before it’s ready, so you need to design it first (or acquire it, in the case of selling hard products or if you hire writers to create information products for you).
The second category I call “Improvement.” This is any IW I do that is not creating new products or services. Examples of work in this category would be things like:
- Improving a sales page to increase conversion rates.
- Working with a tax attorney to reduce my taxes.
- Hiring a new virtual assistant to take more SW off my back so I can focus on more IW.
- Raising my prices (on anything).
- Launching a new marketing or sales campaign for one of my other companies. (Keeping existing marketing campaigns would be considered SW.)
- And so on.
All of this stuff increases my income, at least eventually. That’s the other part about IW that’s important to remember. It usually doesn’t increase your income immediately (though often it can). Sometimes it can take three or four months (or longer!) before you actually see the income increase after doing the IW.
When you start your first business and are in the initial phases of getting it up and running, pretty much all of the work you’ll be doing is IW. But once the business is running and money starts to come in, the natural inclination will be for you to service that business and focus completely on SW (and a little UW too).
If you want to be successful, you must, must fight this tendency and always try to find the time to shove some IW into your weekly schedule. (The only exception to this rule is if you’ve already hit all of your financial goals in life and are now just coasting or resting while focusing on other areas of your life.)
This is hard to do, but it must be done. Most men reach an income plateau and then never really increase their incomes for the rest of their lives… because they spend their lives focused on SW and UW. They don’t even think about IW.