Are You Running Your Business Like a Deer in the Headlights?
Five Steps to Get You Out of the Glare and Into the Driver’s Seat
Overwhelm. No end in sight. What’s next? Not another!
Ring any bells? As entrepreneurs, we’re unfortunately familiar with the feeling that there are a zillion things demanding our attention, even though we only have time for a fraction of them. New opportunities, programs, tools, apps, and just plain interesting ideas bombard us daily; each is a bright shiny object just waiting to pull our attention away from the important work that really deserves our attention.
What to do?
The number of potential distractions will do nothing but rise dramatically over time, so it’s up to you to figure how to stay aware of potential new business-building tools without SQUIRREL!!!! falling prey to every new thing that comes along. Here are tools that can help you in this sometimes aggravating, always important endeavor.
1. Develop clear decision-making criteria. It’s easy to jump on the latest bandwagon—and there are a LOT of tempting wagons out there. You can’t afford to dabble in all of them; you need to choose those that will best serve your objectives and then dive deep into those key activities.
What criteria do you use to decide whether or not to take on a new activity or project? While your business is unique, any of the following will give you a good starting point for creating your own decison-making touchstone:
– Can I expect a fairly quick positive ROI from this?
– Does my research indicate that this activity makes sense for me?
– Is this task truly important, or is it just urgent? In other words, does doing it (or failing to do it) have significant long-term consequences for my business, or am I just feeling big time pressure to get it done? Sometimes a task will be both important and urgent, but all too often, important tasks don’t come with deadlines; that’s why they’re so easy to postpone.
– Can I clearly identify how this particular activity will move me toward my stated business objectives?
2. Chunk it down. One of the easiest ways to feel overwhelmed is to look at a big task in all its enormous scariness. Fortunately, one of the easiest ways to get out of overwhelm is to chunk it down, or break the task into very small action steps, each of which feels much more do-able. This is one of the things I do for my clients that generates the biggest sighs of relief.
As an example, putting “revamp my website” on your To Do list is a sure way of making you want to hide in a corner. You’re much more likely to succeed in this goal if you create small action steps, such as: Review current side for good copy; do keyword research for new site; interview web designers; upgrade website platform if necessary. Notice that any one of these small steps can be further broken down. The goal is to give yourself such a clearly defined, manageable task that you know exactly what needs doing and are confident about moving forward on it.
3. Be productive in 15-minute increments. I can’t overemphasize how valuable I’ve found this one technique. I’ve found that, no matter how uncomfortable or tedious a task, I can handle it for just 15 minutes. (I recommend setting a timer for yourself. I happen to use a virtual one I found at www.online-stopwatch.com, but a kitchen timer works great, too.) The excellent news is that, once the timer goes off, I’ve got two equally good options: (1) celebrate having made progress on the task, or (2) continue working on it if I feel like I’m in the groove.
In a related vein, you might create a list of activities you can do “when I’ve only got a few minutes free.” If you’ve finished one project and don’t want to start another because you need to leave for a client meeting, or if your client shows up to the restaurant late, or you get stuck waiting in line, you can chip away at this To Do list. You’ll be especially productive if you use these little chunks of time for activities that can normally turn into long, dark rabbit holes (reading e-mails or working on Facebook both spring to mind).
4. Commit to being a groupie. Not that kind! Commit to organizing your day so that you group like activities together. There’s almost nothing that will fracture your focus and destroy your productivity more than flitting from task to another. Rather than interrupt your work on a client proposal to answer the seductive ping of an incoming e-mail, then leave that to add something to your next blog post, group these activities. Maybe you can designate a certain time of day (using our friend Mr. Timer, perhaps) to writing, which could include proposals, blog posts, content for teleseminars, and so forth. Another chunk of the day could be devoted to creating your subject-matter-expert presence online. What makes sense for you? (See #1.)
5. Regularly reassess your activities and their priorities. Your business is not static, and neither are the demands on your time. I recommend to my clients that they set aside an entire day every month to get out of their usual environment and spend some time in reflection and evaluation of what they’re doing to grow their business.
I’m guessing nearly everyone has heard of the classic approach of identifying A-, B-, and C-level priorities; it feels kind of time-worn. The fact is, though, that it’s a classic for a reason. When you’re faced with a mile-long To Do list, are you able to confidently say that the only things on it are your A-level priorities? If not, it’s time for a do-over.
One of the easiest ways I move my clients out of overwhelm is to gather all their great ideas in one place. (This eliminates the temptation to jump on a bright shiny object now “so I don’t forget it.” Once the ideas have been corralled, it’s easier to do a side-by-side comparison of proposed activities so that you can assess which truly are worth your time and energy. Those that are mission critical get on the A list; those that are merely important go on the B list; the nice ideas get relegated to the C list; then the tempting B and C lists get put away. Then the A list gets re-evaluated so that the client is crystal clear on what THE most important activity is for him/her to do today.
If it’s time to get yourself out of the headlights of overwhelm, apply one or more of these tools to your day and enjoy the experience of feeling in control.
Kathleen Watson is an implementation specialist who shows her clients how to move from big ideas to big actions to big results. You can get a free copy of her 15-page workbook, the Take Action Now System™, by going to www.SteppingIntoBig.com.