Entrepreneurs are dreamers. That is one of the strongest traits they have. They are always looking at changing the status quo, undeterred in the face of all negative odds, sometimes even working towards the improbable (if not impossible).
But it takes us some time to achieve the clarity we need to run a business well. Some learn from the experiences of others, others by stumbling over a few times themselves. And one of the mistakes I see many entrepreneurs make is that they tend to have the plan for just the long game. That, that is something that can hurt. And that is the reason why this question of mine becomes important.
WE ALL START WITH A GRAND VISION
You ask any entrepreneur, and they will tell you what the big plan is. What they want their business to eventually become, and how they intend to get it there. What are the different things they will be doing, and what they think would be the impact of those various activities.
What you will notice with entrepreneurs is that they have point A (which is where they are), and point B (which is where they want to get to), and all their plans are devised at getting the business from A to B. The problem? Most of the times point A would be in #1 of the chart above, and point B would be either in #3 or #4. And that is a huge mistake.
WHY A & B SHOULD NEVER BE THAT FAR APART FROM EACH OTHER?
When your current state and your target points are that far apart, you often lose sight of the fact that a lot of what you will do will not yield the desired results and you need to have the clarity to ditch those measures at the earliest in favor of things that are working for you. The further apart A and B are for you, higher are the chances that you will just keep slogging your ass off on different avenues just trying to get the business to point B. Soon, evaluating the merits of every micro-action starts taking a back seat and you start treating every positive move (no matter how minuscule) with the same importance. Because, at the end of the day, it is yielding results. And at any time during the whole process, if you ask the entrepreneur about what they are doing, they will actually explain all that they are doing, with little to no talk of where they are trying to get at by doing those things.
Actions without a clear, concise, time-bound and definitive goal often lead to failures, or at least sub-par outputs.
SO, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
#1. Smart Intention Implementation
At any point of time, focus your time, efforts and bandwidth on one goal and one goal alone. Just because it is a small, easily achievable goal, don’t make the mistake of having a goal #2. If it is a target you can easily achieve, just reduce the timeframe targets you put up against that goal. (Oh, and on that note, never have a goal without a timeframe target.)
You will find your productivity to be at the highest when you are laser-focused on one goal, and when you move from one goal to the next only after having achieved the first goal in the stipulated timeframe or sooner.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have two or three different goals working in parallel. After all, if there are three different things you find critical, you will need to figure out a system to handle them all. But, (1) You must not have more than one goal in the beginning phases/weeks of your journey, (2) You must not have more than a few different goals at any time of your journey. If you find yourself faced with 12 different list items that all look critical, you need to slice and dice through them till you are able to identify the most critical items on that list and start with those.
Why is that crucial? Because when you start approaching your bandwidth allocation with this intent and clarity, you will find yourself picking up just those things that you absolutely must do in your business for it to succeed TODAY, and move in the right direction of achieving that grand vision you started the business with. And since you are absolutely focused on winning today and today alone, you will find yourself in a much clearer frame of mind to look through the hows and whens of getting those tasks done, increasing the likelihood of you actually achieving your goals in the timeframe you allocated for them. It helps you rid yourself of everything that is non-essential and clogging up your bandwidth. Just think of a simple example, if Twitter and Instagram are not on your most critical action items right now, and it is something where your business is posting updates and engaging with consumers on a very intermittent basis, then maybe you should consider not having those pages right now at all. It is that simple.
#2. Rid yourself of multitasking
I am a strong proponent of — multitasking is a myth. If you want to be your productive best, don’t switch between activities. Instead, pick one thing up, and see it through before you start with something else. This helps you channel your creativity and intellect in a singular direction, with the specific intent of getting the immediate task done. You will find yourself getting in the right mind space to getting it done, and you will realize you are faster and more productive doing it.
Simple example? I don’t respond to emails as and when I get them. I don’t even check my mails every once in a while. I would probably open up my mails once or twice a day, go through them all, and respond to the ones that need my attention. And when I am in the middle of something, even my IM apps start getting ignored. Instant messages aren’t so instant anymore, are they?
#3. Before all else, focus on the you you have in front of you today.
Running a business is mind-boggling. You are not just solving the challenges you are presented with today, you are also planning for the future and doing things that will better prepare you for the challenges you may face someday. I won’t say you shouldn’t do that. A boy scout is always prepared, and so should you be. But when you are working just for the future, your present starts getting ignored, you tend to make mistakes in the things you need to do today, and those mistakes start piling up. The result? You just end up making that ‘someday’ even more challenging for your future self. So. Keep an eye out for the future, but always tackle the challenges of today first.
#4. Have a consistent growth plan
Your business grew 40% last month. That was an amazing feeling. You felt all pumped up. But there is no growth this month. And now you are freaking out, and just doing whatever you can think of to just grow. That is where the mistake starts creeping in. You are just striving for growth now. And growth for the sake of growth is as vague as it gets.
Focus on a fixed number. Don’t worry about it if it is just 5% month-on-month. Any number is a good number as long as you are hitting it every month. Did you outdo your growth targets? Great. Focus on meeting the growth targets again next month. Have that discipline. If and when you find yourself consistently outperforming your target numbers, maybe its time to adjust the target numbers and stick to the objective of meeting this new target every month.
PROCESS TO ENSURE YOU ACTUALLY DO IT?
So, all this sounds well and good, but how do you go about putting it to practice?
The simplest solution is to take your point A and point B, and inserting millions of tiny milestones in between. Have a point A001. Now instead of thinking of planning and executing for reaching point B, you are gunning for point A001, then A002 and so on. Let us look at the hockey stick again.
In stages 1 and 2, your goal-points Axxx would be stacked closer to each other, as compared to how they will be in stage 3. And in stage 4 they will get further spaced out. But in the early stages, you need to have the absolute discipline to stick to shorter and achievable goals — goals that have a clear objective, and that are aligned with your broader business objectives.
Follow this process, and I have a feeling you will end up finding yourself more productive as well as experiencing both gratification and accomplishment. And now, more than anything else, have fun doing it. :-)