Wheels on, pedal down: how I decide what to focus on

Anna Talerico
Jun 28, 2015 · 3 min read

My new framework for deciding what to do everyday is “wheels on, pedal down”.

I have a laundry list of considerable weaknesses. I am not disciplined. I am inconsistent. I overcommit. I often prioritize the wrong things. I make plans then don’t execute them. I make emotional decisions. I lack focus. I have a radically short attention span.

Really, the list could go on.

But running a growing enterprise SaaS company requires that I be all the things I am not. I am constantly working on overcoming these weaknesses — I have tactics, tips, techniques and tools that help me minimize my imperfections and exploit my strengths. And I am always experimenting to fine tune it all.

One of the things that has been working really well for me this year is passing every decision, task and time commitment through a ‘wheels on, pedal down’ matrix. It’s overly simplistic, but it works for me!

Remember, I called this ‘overly simplistic’, which may mean it isn’t perfect. But it’s perfect for me, and helps keep me focused on the right things every day.

In running our company I have come to believe there are only two types of activities — those that keep the wheels on, and those that push the pedal down. You can push the pedal down with all your might, but if the wheels fall off, you will get nowhere. And, if the wheels stay on, but the pedal isn’t pressed, well, then, you also get nowhere.

Both ‘wheels on’, and ‘pedal down’ activities are important. I need to do just enough things that keep the wheels on, and I also need to be pushing the pedal down constantly. Within those categories I also have to consider if it is a ‘must do’, or a ‘nice to do’ — is the activity/task/idea likely to have high impact or low impact?

And that’s really it. I am trying to ruthlessly keep out of the lower quadrant of my matrix — both in my thinking and in my actual to do list. I have recently started asking our team leaders to do the same thing.

Of course, in practice, it’s never as simple as it appears.

A consistent focus on content marketing is ‘pedal down/high impact’. Writing any single blog post probably isn’t. Onboarding new employees , so they are trained, assimilated and retained is ‘wheels on/high impact’. Reviewing the outline of the proposed new employee welcome kit isn’t. When using this framework to make decisions about what to do, I consider where any particular item fits in the larger scheme of the strategic agenda.

Take, for instance, culture. Deliberately creating the culture we want is both a pedal down & wheels on type of thing, with potential for very high impact. But many of the tiny decisions that get made along the way could be categorized as low impact, and barely classify as wheels on. Does our employee performance review software have all the features we need, and if not, should we do something about it? Should we get a foosball table? Is the conference table big enough? How should we celebrate birthdays? We can’t ignore the tiny, easily dismissed activities and decisions and discussions, but the matrix helps me put them in perspective.

Again, I am working ruthlessly to stay out of that lower quadrant as much as I can. Viewing every decision, every conversation, every activity, every action through this “wheels on/pedal down” matrix has been transformative for me. So as I share these thoughts with our team leaders, I thought I would share here as well in the hopes that it helps some other imperfect, unfocused, undisciplined, inconsistent, overcommitted entrepreneur make a good decision that helps them keep the wheels on just enough to push the pedal down hard. Good luck to us all!

Anna Talerico

Written by

SaaS growth advisor at Beacon9. Sales, customer success & company culture. Also coffee (lots), wine (even more), yoga (not enough), and family (always).

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