Is your conscientiousness holding you back?

- April 11, 2016 3 MIN READ

Do you take a rigorous and conscientious approach to your business, or veer more towards the impulsive and free-spirited way of doing things?

Research* has shown that being a highly conscientious person is one of the biggest predictors of entrepreneurial success. Slackers, on the other hand, are neither well suited to running their own businesses nor likely to attain the personal and financial rewards of doing so.

Where do you fall on the conscientiousness spectrum? If you’re not sure, take this fun quiz from Forbes magazine, and find out whether science suggests you’re a born entrepreneur or better off sticking to your day job.

If you’re one of those soloists who’s naturally prepared to go the extra mile, put in the hard yards, burn the midnight oil and live up to all the other clichés about hard work and its role in success, then congratulations – you’ve got a head start on making your business dreams come true.

But before you get too chuffed about your personality-driven pre-destined greatness, it’s important to acknowledge that conscientiousness has a dark side too. One that can sometimes have negative effects on your personal wellbeing and profit . (And I’m pretty sure none of us started a lifestyle business with that in mind!)

Here are my top tips for fostering an attitude of conscientiousness if it doesn’t come naturally to you, and avoiding its pitfalls if it does.

Return to your vision

Psychology researchers divide the personality trait of conscientiousness into two facets, one of which is being achievement-focused. The theory goes that people who naturally turn to entrepreneurship are those who are passionate about being masters of their own destiny, and not prepared to rely on others to make things happen for them.

That’s certainly something that resonates with me; whenever my enthusiasm starts to wane, revisiting my objectives and getting clear about what I’m trying to achieve for my clients, my business and myself helps get me fired up again.

Give it a go next time you’re in a slump.

Be dependable

Dependability is the second of the two facets that comprise conscientiousness, and is a measure of how responsible and reliable you are.

Being highly dependable involves being well organised, planning your time well, and methodically completing the tasks and activities that will enable you to reach your goals and fulfil your commitments to others.

If being that disciplined is a struggle for you, my best suggestion is to actively build systems into your business to help you overcome your tendency to approach things haphazardly. Better yet, outsource responsibility for your calendar and similar tasks to someone who excels at it.

Pick your battles

In my experience, perfectionism often goes hand in hand with conscientiousness, and if left unchecked, can lead to issues like analysis paralysis and unnecessary delays in completing projects and launching new products and services.

Worse still, it can quickly erode your income, especially if you’re a service-based soloist who works on a fixed fee basis. (Take it from me, once you realise your profit margin declines with every superfluous moment spent completing a project, the allure of perfectionism soon loses its gloss).

There’ll always be times when it’s worthwhile pulling out all the stops and shoot for the stars, so reserve your perfectionist tendencies for those opportunities.

For the run-of-the-mill stuff that has limited impact on your business or your clients, borrow my favourite business mantra, ‘Done is better than perfect’ (which I originally learned from Flying Solo’s very own Robert Gerrish) and keep moving.

Set your limits

One of the downsides of being a conscientious business owner is that it’s all too easy for work to creep into your personal time, and if you’re not careful, maybe even take it over.

If that sounds familiar, start thinking about ways to devote as much diligence to your health, relationships and personal goals as you do to your work.

For example, could you motivate yourself to get up from your desk and exercise by registering to run a half-marathon or booking a trekking holiday in the Himalayas? Would you be more inclined to attend your child’s sporting matches if you committed to taking on the role of coach or scorekeeper?

Personally, I find that when it comes to setting a boundary between work time and me time, working with my natural conscientious tendencies is far more effective than trying to fight them.

Are you diligent and driven too? Share how your conscientiousness has impacted your business in the comments.


* Zhao H, Seibert SE. The Big Five personality dimensions and entrepreneurial status: a meta-analytical review. J Applied Psych 2006;91(2):259-271

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"