Small business owners have a lot to get done; my tasks so far this week have included replacing my office chair, invoicing, initiating a new targeted-market marketing campaign, filling the bird feeders outside my office windows, client meetings, and, well…you get the picture. Some tasks are urgent, others not urgent but important, and some – not urgent and not important. Facebook and filling the bird feeders fall into that last category. Stephen Covey, in his landmark book First Things First, popularized an idea presented by President Eisenhower; we have tasks which are urgent, and rarely important and tasks which are important, but rarely urgent. In small business terms, it looks like this:
- Urgent and important tasks: Correcting errors, fighting fires, deadline-driven projects, employee crises. In Covey terms, these are Quadrant I tasks. A clear business vision and effective business systems will eliminate time spent on these tasks.
- Not urgent but important tasks: Ahhh, The Lovely Quadrant II, my favorite place to spend time. Strategic work, tasks in line with a business vision, chosen to move a business forward. I once created a “Q2” group when I was in corporate, an employee group who focused on long-term strategy and systems. These are the tasks that are often postponed because they are not urgent and there is sometimes some fear around accomplishing them.
- Urgent but not important tasks: These tasks often help someone else, or we have taken them on to be “nice”, or if we’re not clear about our own business vision. Incoming phone calls and emails can be seen as urgent, but very few are important to our business. Other examples might include networking that’s not in line with our business model.
- Not urgent and not important tasks: Most of our time on social networks falls into this category, fantasy football, Candy Crush,as does filling my bird feeders. If you’re not sure, ask yourself what the consequence would be if you did not spend time on the task.
If you want to know how you’re spending your time, use the template here.
The “One More Thing” Time Vampire
I admit it: every time I cross another to-do off my list I get a little thrill. I feel a sense of accomplishment and the more I rack up the better. Part of my brain thinks that I’m saving myself time for later, and “later” is when I’ll get more meaningful work done. But that sense of accomplishment is not always earned. You see, I’m confusing accomplishing a task with accomplishing meaningful work. Big difference.
The “One More Thing” Vampire encourages us to squeeze just one more thing in before we start on that project we SHOULD be focused on, before we need to leave for an appointment, and sometimes before taking a break. It makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something, when often times the task doesn’t move our business forward at all. That’s the question I encourage all of my clients to focus on:
“What will most move my business forward today?”
We’re told to do those tasks that must get done first, but those tasks are often thrust upon us by someone else, created due to an error or someone else’s delay, or have become urgent because we’ve postponed them. If a task is truly urgent, though, we WILL get them done, no matter what. We’ll work late, take work home, we’ll do whatever we have to do to get those urgent tasks done and leave the less urgent tasks, the more meaningful tasks, for “later”. Focus our best time on meaningful tasks and our business will grow, become easier, more joyful. If I told you that all of that would happen if you just tackled the meaningful work first, why wouldn’t you do it? Why don’t I always do it?
The first reason is because we all love to feel accomplishment, no matter how big or small. Looking at a to-do list with everything crossed off let’s my ego say “Look at me! Aren’t I something!” Meaningful work is often multi-stepped with the result far into the future; we define success as the end result, when success actually comes with every step we take forward. To combat this, define the steps you need to take to meet your longer-term goal, and celebrate every completed step along the way.
The second reason we succumb to the One More Thing Vampire is fear; it’s easier to tackle the easy tasks, the expected results more secure. I’m confident that invoices will be produced when I choose that task to work on. I’m less confident that when I choose to spend time on my plan to secure new clients in a targeted niche that I’ll be successful. And there’s the fear that I’ll spend that time on those tasks and be unsuccessful, and then what? As long as I still have some possible tasks to do that might help me reach my goal, I can keep that dream alive.
The One More Thing Vampire wants us to squeeze one more task in, and it feels good to do them. But there’s a big difference between meaningful work, work that will move your business forward, and work that has to get done, and will get done, but doesn’t really do much for us. One feeds my ego, the other feeds my business.
Use this winter weather to plan ahead for your small business!
Much of the East Coast is STILL snowed in. (!) Schools and businesses are closed, highway speeds have been lowered. Days like this are asking for reflection and strategic planning, so consider this your nudge. To help you along, use the template I’ve provided here; not only will it help you update your 2015 goals but it well keep you on track during the year. Download it today! 2015 business planning worksheet