I used to love to read books to relax. Fiction. I say “used to” because once I started my business, my free time disappeared. A few weeks ago I was whining about this to Maria, one of my business partners. Her 12-year-old daughter had asked me to read the Twilight series of books months ago and, while I managed to read the first three books, I just haven’t had the time to even open book four. (And, yes, I know the Twilight saga was written for teenage girls, but all my friends have read it and I was feeling left out.) Maria had long ago gotten through all four books by reading “three or four pages at a time” when she could fine a spare moment. (The books are huge, well over 500 pages each and she has three kids to my none, so the fact she found spare moments while I couldn’t just frustrated me all the more.) But after thinking about it, I realized why she’d gotten through the books and I hadn’t — Maria is a “grazer” while I’m a “gulper.”
Have I lost you? Let me explain. I am a chain Diet Coke drinker. I can easily down a can in five minutes and immediately open another. Maria, on the other hand, sips her beverages. I eat a Hershey’s Kiss in one bite; she makes it last for minutes. Essentially, I’ve decided that gulping and grazing are a philosophy and the actions of gulpers and grazers go beyond how we eat and drink and read. Most of us can be characterized either as gulpers or grazers. I’ve copped to being a gulper. Which are you?
Gulpers like to think big, dream bigger, and believe in limitless possibilities. We see the big picture and all too often overlook the details. We’re positive, optimistic people who believe we can’t only do it all, but we can do it all simultaneously. Process is a foreign word to us. Rules are made for other people — we not only don’t like to follow them, we don’t like to make them either. Focus can be a problem for gulpers since we are easily excited or, as some might say, easily distracted by new thoughts and ideas.
Grazers are less impulsive than gulpers. They’re good at multitasking because they’re adept at breaking big projects into small pieces and tackling them one part at a time. They’re more disciplined then gulpers, which makes them more comfortable with rules (both making them and following them). Process and structure are their constant companions.
It is not inherently better to be a gulper or a grazer. Gulper bosses can easily overwhelm, overpower, or confuse their staffs. It can appear like they’re leaping from project to project, not waiting for one job to be completed before they jump full force into the next one. Left unchecked, gulpers (and their employees) could end up with a lot of uncompleted work.
Grazers are more apt to get overwhelmed by tight deadlines, since they’re most comfortable tackling projects in smaller doses. A truly dysfunctional grazer might never accomplish anything, since the “a little bit here, little bit there” strategy could result in missed deadlines.
You could think that gulpers and grazers are like oil and water, but that would be selling both of them short. Actually, in an ideal situation, businesses should have both types on staff. And neither grazers nor gulpers can claim to be a better business owner. In fact, the ideal entrepreneur would be part gulper and part grazer. The key is to identify which type you are and work around your strengths and weaknesses accordingly. It’s all about balance. If you’re a gulper and you have employees, make sure there are some grazers on your team. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, you may want to make sure there’s someone on your advisory team who has your opposite traits.
In business and in life, I am a gulper. My three business partners, while a bit more integrated in their tendencies, are more grazers and therefore more disciplined than I am. They are also better at details. Without their constant reminders, more things would likely fall through the cracks. Together we make a great team. When building a business, it’s really all about the yin and yang.
Be a featured guest on our weekly podcast show! We want to hear from you on the AllBusiness.com “Ask the AllBusiness Expert” podcast. If you’d like Rieva Lesonsky to answer your questions about entrepreneurship or running a small business, please send an e-mail. Or you can just e-mail Rieva directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.
Follow Rieva on Twitter @Rieva