Four School Lessons to Unlearn Now

We’ve all been told that studying hard and doing well in school were necessary for our future success. But there are some things you learned in order to do well in school that you really need to unlearn in order to successfully start and run your own business. Here are four school rules that flunk as life lessons.

1. An A is 92 or above; 60 percent and below are failing grades.

This is the biggest myth in the world of work, the trickiest to unlearn for those of us who were once good students. It prevents us from aiming high. I could make an annual plan of which I was certain that I could accomplish 100 percent. It would have to be a smaller plan than I’m capable of, though. To really achieve, it’s necessary to aim high. Reach for the stars and grab the moon. What if I plan to double my business but only succeed in increasing it by 60 percent? Am I a failure? Probably not.

2. There is an end to the term and there is graduation.

In school there is a final exam. You work, learn, build up your knowledge until at some point the subject is declared “done.” Not so in your business. You will never be done. There is no final exam. The work, the growth, the clients, and the challenges just keep coming. You can create some temporary end-points for yourself. It’s a good idea to make a plan for a limited amount of time (month, quarter, and year) and give yourself some reward for achievement during that time, kind of like the summer vacation you enjoyed as a child. Creating intermediate goals help to keep us motivated and reminds us of what we’ve achieved. Those goals help to mark off progress in an otherwise-unmarked landscape. But unless we create and declare one, there is no end of the term.

As actress and author Carrie Fisher remarked, there’s no point at which you can say, now I’m successful; I think I’ll take a nap.

3. You can be behind, and you can be caught up.

If your teacher provides a syllabus with reading assignments all laid out week by week, you know whether you are behind or caught up in your work. And there are a few things in business that operate like that syllabus.  For example, your bookkeeping might be current, and your orders may all be fulfilled within six hours. But for many of the tasks we do in our businesses, there is no such thing as that magical state of “caught up.” Too much time, energy and concern are spent wishing to get the feeling of being caught up. If you hear yourself wishing that you could catch up, try re-framing that desire. Rather than trying to “catch up,” try to “advance.” Set a schedule each day with blocks of time allocated to various tasks and projects. By the end of the day, some projects will be done, some will require more work in the future, but all will be advanced. You can move things ahead or you can leave them as they are, but you can never catch up.

4. Once something is assigned, it must be done.

One skill we didn’t need to learn in school, but one that can be crucial in life, is how to “un-assign” something – when to let go of tasks that have languished too long. If you don’t get an assignment done, it is possible in the world of work for that task to hang on literally until you die. And that is exhausting. But deciding to let go of something can be difficult. Try making a rule for yourself. If a task hasn’t been done in a month, take it off your list. Clearly it doesn’t have to be done. The proof of that is that it wasn’t done and you’re still here to tell about it. One time management system that is particularly effective at training its users to let go of undone tasks is Mark Forster’s Super Focus process, which requires that tasks be either worked on or dismissed – no loitering on the task list allowed!

For those of us who enjoyed school and were rewarded as good students, our entrepreneurial selves have a few things to unlearn once we leave the ivy-covered walls of school.

What have you had to unlearn in order to build a business you love?

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