“Let it be what it is.”
This was the response I received when I explained to a friend why I had not made further progress on a article I was working on. I’d missed several deadlines, postponed key dates and meetings, because I had not made progress. Instead of making progress, I was making excuses.
Let it be what it is? His suggestion, although simple, reminded me of a song I would hear on Sesame Street as a child. I didn’t see the relevance, and told him so.
He suggested that if the draft that I was working on needed work, so be it. “If it’s bad, let it be bad,” he said. “That’s why there are backspace keys, erasers, and white out. It can only get better once you get it on paper.”
I didn’t see it that way. In my head – I was busy. I created needless lists, asked for the opinions of people that were completely unrelated to the task, and mulled over my ideas. In other words, I had created useless work that wasn’t moving me forward. He explained that I wasn’t moving forward because I was afraid of the possibility that my work might be bad, that my client wouldn’t like it, and that ultimately, I would fail. None of this had occurred, however, because I hadn’t even reached a point where I, or anyone for that matter, could critique my work.
Fear of the “what-ifs” had me paralyzed, and instead of moving forward, I kept adding one more thing, one more reason, why I couldn’t do my project. My fear of failure had me stalled.
Download the Intention to Action worksheet.
What’s the problem?
Instead of taking decisive steps forward, I was creating needless obstacles and projects. I thought I was productive, but I was really just busy. I was masquerading as being “thorough”, “cautious” or “detailed”. In reality, I was postponing a task that I found difficult and made me uncertain.
The real problem: I was afraid. My fear of failure had me driven to add completely unnecessary steps and tasks to my writing project, even though they weren’t required or useful. While I was technically working, I wasn’t seeing the progress that I should. When it was finally time for me to share my progress with my colleagues and supervisors, I would have to make up excuses, or if there was something to share, it would be so rushed that I knew it was not my best work.
In other words, I was living a self-fulfilling prophecy: because I didn’t move forward on my writing project and take the necessary steps to meet deadlines and make progress, my final products were not up to par. I was afraid of doing poor quality work, and because I didn’t set goals and work toward them consistently, that’s exactly what happened. This same fear prevented me from being present in the moment. I found myself constantly thinking about what could go wrong, and what I needed to do in the future, that I wasn’t taking action today.
I had to draw a line in the sand. I had to remind myself to live with intention, set daily and weekly goals, and then ACT on them. Then repeat. If you have appointments to make, show up early. If you have project deadlines, work with the intention of meeting them. Sure, your work and projects will go through many drafts and revisions. That’s the beauty of it. You shouldn’t avoid it because it’s not perfect.
Let it be what it is.
This does not mean that it will be easy. But when you get out of your own way, and live with purpose and focus, the end is easier to see. Your days are busy, and you have a lot to do – we all do. If you are living a life that you love, embrace it. If you are not, make a change. What you shouldn’t do is make excuses.
A “wish list” will help you know today what’s most important to your client.
Gathering client or customer information is standard procedure in many industries: chiropractors, veterinarians, interior design, heck – even business coaches! Contact information is tedious to write and collect and, for me, a bit annoying in this age of technology. I’ve found a way for many of my clients to turn it from a chore to an incredibly valuable tool for the business owner and the customer or client:
Ditch your “Client Information Sheet”
And instead, ask for a “Wishlist”.
Beyond the basics, ask customers or clients for a wish list of items and to rank them in order from #1, their Biggest Wish, sequentially to #2, #3, and so on. For example, an eye doctor’s patients might wish for using only one pair of glasses, rather than switching back and forth to reading glasses. The wish of an interior designer’s client might be to create a gathering spot for her family to play games. Understanding a customer or client’s wishes allows you to:
1.) use their language when communicating with them, and
2.) get to the heart of how you can best help them immediately, which in turn often results in sales and a more satisfied customer.
When you speak in their terms, your customer feels understood and their concerns and ideas valued. Further, having a customer wish list gives you insight into your market’s future, it gives you marketing language and tactics, it gives you a sales’ forecast, and, if used properly, an ongoing revenue stream.
Beyond products and specific services, a wish list can tell you what your customer’s current frustrations are with product/service delivery. A financial service industry client of mine learned that face-to-face account reviews was a frustration for some, from clients who wished for “Account reviews via phone or Skype”. Another client, a high-end custom product provider, learned that the wait between their custom order and delivery was frustration. This set the company to shaving unnecessary time out of the process and to providing customers with product completion updates. Customers received photos of their products in production, which kept them excited and the provider in their mind. Customers tend to show those pictures to friends who then investigate the company. Happy, regularly informed customers became referral engines for the custom product provider.
Turning your Client Information Sheet into a Wish List is fairly simple to do (30 minutes or less!) and provides you market research, sales forecast data, and incredibly satisfied customers. That’s a wish I’d like granted to every business owner out there!
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