Astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth earlier this year after 340 days onboard the International Space Station. Since I’m a little bit of a geek, I listened to a few interviews and one element stood out for me, and that was the importance of milestones in Kelly’s work. “I tried to have milestones that were close, like when is the next crew arriving, the next [spacewalk], the next robotics, the next science [experiment]. That made a difference to me, keeping my sanity,” Kelly said.
If you’ve got a long-term goal like “understand how a long journey to Mars will affect the physiology and psychology of the astronauts on board” it’s pretty obvious why defining milestones would be important. While small business owner goals may not be quite so astronomical in actual scope, they can certainly feel it if you’re the one figuring out how to reach the goal. Here’s how to define your milestones:
- The technical definition of a milestone refers to measurement, representing an achievement not a task. For small business owners, though, milestones ought to be a task that represents a measurable achievement. Hey, entrepreneurs like to get stuff done and feel accomplishment; this lets a milestone be a two-fer.
- Be sure that when your milestones are added up, you will be at your ultimate goal. It’s easy to get distracted and off-track when creating shorter range goals.
- Consider your milestones as part of a series, not in isolation. Milestones can feel small and insignificant, especially if you are having difficulty defining your entire path or defining milestones for your entire journey. If Astronaut Kelly contrasted every science experiment with the journey to Mars goal, it would be easy to get discouraged.
- For every milestone, ask yourself “does this represent progress?” This is especially helpful if you’re discouraged at the distance you still have to go. As long as you are closer to your goal than farther away, that is progress, no matter how small. The distance between where you are and your ultimate destination is shorter than it was yesterday/last week.
In small business, there is a lot to get done and it’s easy to feel like you’re losing your sanity. If creating and tracking milestones is good enough for a seasoned NASA astronaut like Kelly, it’s good enough for me.
Business owners tell me that they feel like an employee in their own business, that they spend too much time on mundane tasks and putting out fires. At the end of the day, they wonder “what on Earth did I get done today?”. All too often, they shake their head, discouraged, because their work was not meaningful to the business progressing forward but just getting it through the day, standing still. I’ve got a couple of solutions that you can implement right away to change the course.
- Record how you are currently spending your time. You may have done this before but this time I want you to do it a little differently; break it down into 4 quadrants (this is compliments of Stephen Covey, author “7 Habits” book series):
- Important and Urgent. Crises, most often due to ineffective systems or resources.
- Important and Not Urgent. The Golden Quadrant, in my eyes. This is work that doesn’t have a deadline and no one is waiting for you to finish this work (unless you’re working with a coach J), but it sure is important. This is your strategic planning, goal setting and the focused time to achieve those goals. This work has a longer view than today, this week or this month.
- Not Important but Urgent. Some phone calls and email (okay, most email), and tasks passed on to you from someone else at the last minute.
- Not Important and Not Urgent. Candy Crush, anyone?
Go here Steven Covey’s 4 Quadrants to download a worksheet to record where your time is going. If most of your time is spent on the left side of the table, you need better systems or a change in human resources – maybe more, maybe different. If your second quadrant is empty, allocate time out of the office for strategic long-range planning.
- Let me guess: there’s no one else who has time to take out the trash or change the lightbulbs, so you do it. Or maybe you do these tasks because then you know they’ll get done. I have teenagers and I’ve learned that if I want my kids to start doing something, I need to STOP doing it. Same is true at work; your employees know that you always change the lightbulbs, resolve those sticky customer issues, or figure out that tough challenge, so why would they bother? They’re not avoiding the tasks for any reason than they’ve already got a lot on their plate that they know they’re responsible for, so they’re not inclined to add anymore. The solution is simple:
- Let your team know that you are not doing the task anymore (feel free to use me as the scapegoat);
- Assign the task to a person or let your team decide on how the task will be completed.
- Stick to the plan.
If your business is not moving ahead as you’d like, stop to look at what’s getting in the way. Tracking your time or drawing a line in the sand around your responsibilities is a good place to start.
Click here to start now: Steven Covey’s 4 Quadrants