Lessons from my Mother-In-Law

One of the thing that always amazes me when I visit my in-laws is the condition of their household.  Everything is always completely clean and tidy.  There isn’t even a stack of old mail near the door–somehow, even the products of the direct mail industry are whisked away to some hidden repository.

After observing my mother-in-law’s habits carefully, I think I’ve discovered her secret: Finish everything as soon as possible.

For example, she makes coffee for me in the morning.  As soon as I’ve poured the last of the coffee out of the coffee maker, she tosses out the filter and grounds, rinses out the pot, sets up a new filter and grounds, and pours in the water for the next batch.  Even before I’ve finished my cup, the entire infrastructure is ready to go again.  All I have to do when I want another cup is to push the starter.

In contrast, at home, where I make my own coffee, I usually remember to empty out the filter before I go to bed, though about 25% of the time, I end up emptying it out right before making the next batch.

A similar process applies to the kitchen.  Immediately after every meal (and sometimes before everyone is even finished), the cleaning process begins, including wiping down all surfaces and sweeping the floors.

There are some downsides to this approach; when I use a cup for drinking water, I usually use it all day.  Here in my in-law’s house, an empty cup is apt to end up in the dishwasher as soon as it leaves my hand.  But the end result is a pristine house where the only things lying around at random are the possessions I scatter around me.

It helps that my in-laws have been able to routinize their lives; it’s much harder for a startup that is trying different things all the time to apply the same kind of routine.  But the principle of finishing everything as soon as possible can apply, even for startup entrepreneurs.

Launched an AdWords campaign?  As soon as you have enough data, write up your conclusions and shut it down.  Interviewed a candidate?  If you’re not going to hire him or her, break the news quickly and file the resume for the future.

The more you’re able to tie up loose ends on the little things at your startup, the more energy and focus you’ll have for the big ones.

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