We all have times in our business where we feel a little off track. We’re doing a pile of things, in fact our days are incredibly busy, but we just don’t seem to be making money and getting ahead financially. One of the big problems is that most of us do so much in a day that it’s hard to reflect on what we’ve actually done and how, precisely, we’ve spent our time.
When I go through these periods, I have a very simple test (or perhaps process is a better term) that gets me back on track really fast. I print out a landscape sheet of paper with four columns headings from left to right:
- Specific task.
- Is this moving me towards my immediate goals?
- Is this pulling me away from my immediate goals?
Then over the next few days, as I work I put down every task I complete in column one. And when I say every task, I mean every task – every phone call, email, meeting, piece of work, administrative task etc.
Next, I decide how I would categorise the task. The question as to whether it’s “moving me towards my immediate goals” asks whether the tasks are in alignment with what is most important in my business right now. I’ve defined these as making money, or finishing a specific project but of course you can adapt these so they reflect your priorities.
The “Neutral” column means the task is one of those things that needs to be done but it doesn’t really add or detract from my immediate goals. For example paying a bill or ordering some stationery.
The last column, the “pulling me away from my immediate goals” is a biggie. This one identifies all of the things I’m doing that I really shouldn’t be doing (you know, watching the latest cat video on YouTube, shuffling papers around my desktop, doing a project that doesn’t really align with where I’m heading and so on).
Do this for two days and any weaknesses in your business will soon become apparent. Most of the time it becomes very obvious that I’m simply spending too much time doing work that doesn’t pay, hence my billings are down for the month.
The value of this exercise is that it takes the “I think” out of the equation. It makes it very clear exactly how I am spending most of my time and of course why I’m getting the results I’m getting.
Typically for me, my results show things like “chasing butterflies”, or “freebie work that doesn’t pay the rent” as my greatest distractions.
After a while of fumbling our way through business, we have to get smarter. As soloists our time is our greatest limited resource and using it wisely is clearly very important. As simple as this exercise might sound, I would be very surprised if the results didn’t shock you a bit, perhaps enough to take action.
What might this process reveal to you? Share in the comments.