I bet you made a to-do list for your business today or this week (either mentally, digitally or on paper), and it has more than 7 things on it. And I bet all those things are in different areas of your work and life, and do not have a common goal or focus (if they do, yay for you! You probably don’t need to read the next 2000 words on the subject).
Go on, take a look, count them up… How many tasks are there on your list for today? I’d hazard a guess that it is TOO MANY, and you definitely won’t get them all done. And that will make you feel bad, even though you might have ticked off one or two things.
WHY do we do this to ourselves??
We set ourselves up to fail, by trying to accomplish too much! Even if we actually get some tasks done in a day, we can’t celebrate that fact because, shit – There’s still 10 other things to do…
This post is a long one, and for the peeps with little time (or short attention spans!) I’m going in for the quick wins right at the start. All the good, juicy “this is what I do” stuff below this is the best bit though 😉
1. MAKE SMALLER LISTS
So first up, you need to make smaller lists. Have a maximum of THREE things on your “get done today” list. Keep everything else on the master “to do” list. Trust me, ticking off those three things will be satisfying, and you’ll feel bloody amazing when you get an extra couple ticked off from the master list too.
2. STOP CONTEXT SWITCHING
The next thing is, our brains don’t like “context switching” too much (more on this further down). The more tasks you are trying to do at once, the more you are losing actual time to context switching. So having 10 things on your to-do list that fall under home errands, website maintenance, newsletter writing, product promotion and kids activities, and wanting to get them all done in one day?
Stick to just TWO areas of your life or business per day for any tasks. So if we’re talking business, group all your web maintenance tasks together to complete in the morning, and all your product promotion tasks together to complete in the afternoon. Keep your newsletter tasks and content creation for the following day, don’t even think about those things at all today. If you work this way, you’re far more likely to get into a flow with your work, and you won’t lose any time to context switching.
Of course, this can all go flying out the window if you have a baby, but at least it will give you a fighting chance!
Now, how did I realise having FOCUS is the best thing ever? Well, settle in friends…
I am the worlds BIGGEST shiny-thing-chaser. Honestly. Too many ideas, too many browser windows open, too many tasks on my to-do list. This pep-talk is way more about me than it is about you… but maybe you can relate? Remember that post I wrote last year, about getting good at failing? A lot of the issues I’ve had with growing my business over the last 2 years have cropped up because I was trying to diversify my income streams (advice I read somewhere many moons ago… I’d go so far as to say BAD advice). Instead of doing ONE thing BRILLIANTLY, I was doing 7 things fairly crappily.
A previous colleague had a favourite saying, that keeps coming back to me now, with an entirely different emphasis:
Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
It’s amazing how obvious things seem once you’ve had the epiphany, am I right? The other week I posted this on Instagram: When I look back on 2015 it’s a bit of a blur really. Sleepless nights, mushy fog brain a lot of the time, and starry eyes looking at this adorable thing daily. Sometimes I forget that I also worked really fucking hard, smashed some goals, and got shit done. I want 2016 to be bigger and brighter, but at a more relaxed pace. I want more time to just sit and be, with my loves and by myself, and do nothing every now and again, and be ok with that. And to make more art, just for shits n giggles. So here’s to working smarter, not harder, this year.
And this is something I drew to illustrate the point to my letter openers last month – what my 2015 looked like and what I want my 2016 to look like:
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My resolution / one word / intention (or whatever) for 2016 is FOCUS.
I listened to one of Amy Porterfield’s podcasts recently with Todd Herman (her business coach), and he was selling his program “The 90 Day Year”. I didn’t buy the program (I might when it opens again later this year), but I really took on board his messaging: Basically, Do ONE thing until it’s done, then go on to the next.
It sounds so frigging obvious, right??
Todd is a business coach (or whatever you want to call it) who creates programs actually based on SCIENCE. He’s done a bunch of research with some institute in the US and has cold, hard data to draw conclusions from, about what works and what doesn’t work. Now that is my kind of guy. He also talks often about “context switching”, which is basically switching between tasks during the day or a period of work, and how it costs you about 20% of your time.
So for example, you’re working on your newsletter, then remember you need to email somebody about a wholesale enquiry, then you come back to the newsletter, then remember something else you need to do. Every time you switch between tasks, it takes your brain a good amount of time to change gears back to the task at hand. Or a more accurate example for me: doing something in one browser window, clicking over to the next one for the same task but accidentally landing on the facebook tab you had open, reading your newsfeed for a few minutes then coming back to the tab you meant to click on initially…
Incidentally, the Self Control app is amazing, and I’m using it regularly to lock myself out of facebook for big chunks of time, make sure you check it out!
And then, a couple of weeks ago, I was re-listening to another one of Amy’s podcasts (whenever I drive anywhere I have her playing in the car), and she was talking about getting the foundation of your business right, and not worrying about anything else until you are CONSISTENTLY GREAT in your products and messaging. I can hear her voice in my head right now: “Your logo and especially your business card: DO. NOT. MATTER.” This really hit home for me because, being a designer, as soon as I have an idea, I’m creating printed collateral for it. Logo, Business cards, flyers, posters, you name it. Forget the fact that I really actually need to be creating instruction sheets for workshops to USE IN THE CURRENT WORKSHOP, not a flyer to hand out to people about the workshop… because they are already here! Make THIS experience great for them before trying to sell them the next one!
So this is really about getting distracted by tasks that are not at the top of the priority list – something that happens to me A LOT.
Along with these messages, I had a 6 hour chat with my business buddy bestie, Nicole from One ♥︎ By Me For You. She’s a devoted Marie Forleo fan (as am I, but I wish she had a podcast!), and we love talking all things Amy and Marie when we get together 😉 So we were at some markets where I had a stall, which I was trying to use for promotion for The Makers’ Hub. But my messaging was ALL over the place. I was trying to promote drop-in workshops, memberships, a co-working space, venue hire, kids parties AND the craft kits I was selling..
I mean, WTF? Who does that many things?!
UNFOCUSED people, that’s who. And it doesn’t work.
What our chat brought into clear focus for me, was that I kept trying to plug away at all these other things, trying to do all this cool stuff (just because I COULD), because I had started them. I had put the idea out there (I’m a total go-getter and non-tester, good for some things, bad for others), so therefore I felt like I had made a commitment and I was stubbornly trying and trying and doggedly trying to make everything work. It was a hard slog.
And nothing was brilliant.
But I didn’t want to let go. I had put a LOT of hours into those craft kits. A lot of money too. But putting those kits together every month, was a labour of love and not much else. Having the kits or not having the kits, was not going to make much of a difference at all to my bottom line, because The Makers’ Hub isn’t a shop. If the physical products were the ONLY thing I was doing, if a craft shop was where my heart and head were at, then awesome, I know I could make it amazing. I could be open 4 days a week, selling crafty stuff in the shop and online, and making a killing. But as it was, I was tacking on an unnecessary product line with a tenuous link to my main business, just because I COULD. And it was taking so many hours of my time that I should have been putting into where my head and heart truely are.
So what have I done, to regain my focus?
First, I’m streamlining the TYPE of posts I’m writing on this here bloggity blog. There’ll be more of a focus on being creative as a business owner (if you LOVE making, but are not running your own business, you might be thinking this isn’t for you… but my question to you is, why aren’t you in business? Why don’t you think it’s the greatest idea ever? Because I do, and I want to show you why and how!).
I’ll be writing more articles on creative thinking, graphic design tips and tutorials, and sharing interviews with successful independent business owners, and more posts like this one, showing the less-than-glamorous side of running a business and the shit-fight it can cause in your head, but how you can pull through anyway, keep going and make your biz and life amazing.
This means, no more 30 day creative challenges, for the time being (so incredibly time-intensive, like, crazy amounts of work). No more crafty tutorial posts (unless it’s something I’m already making, or related to market displays or something like that) for the time being. Trying to satisfy all types of crafters on top of small business owners (who might like to craft) is too much. If I were writing a crafty blog, I could go with that only, and we’d be sweet. But I’m more interested in helping people build their crafty hobby into an actual business, so I really should be posting more about that… makes sense, no?!
Lesson learnt: While other types of posts are fun and can get traction on social media and with readers, it takes time and effort and brain bandwidth away from what I really want to be doing.
Second, I launched The Makers’ Academy in December of 2015, and this is going to absolutely be my number one main focus for 2016. The Clever Foxes program has had it’s second round of registrations, and I’ve launched the Build Your Own Website e-course (are you seeing a theme here? I hope so!). Next on the agenda will be Graphic Design, teaching you how to design graphics professionally for your small business. It’s going to be SO. MUCH. FUN.
Third, I needed to work out what the hell I was doing with my studio in Canberra, The Makers’ Hub. This was probably the hardest thing to get “right” in 2015. Putting aside the fact that I had a baby and was out of action for a good chunk of the year, I could never seem to nail down exactly what the main purpose of The Hub should be. After chatting to Nicole, it finally dawned on me (and surprise surprise, it’s what I tell all my business program students ALL. THE. TIME.) … I should FOCUS all my energy into what is already working, and forget the stuff that isn’t.
So here’s what I’m moving forward with ⤵︎
Kids Parties | Parties for Adults | Venue Hire | Private Workshops
And what I’m leaving behind – for the moment at least! 😉 ⤵︎
Co-Working Space | Memberships | Drop-In Workshops | Craft Kits | Craft Supplies
It’s totally ok to let go of stuff. So I only put out one issue of the Makers Magazine. That’s ok.
So I originally wanted The Hub to be a drop-in studio space, and it’s really not that at all anymore. That’s ok.
So I put almost 2 years of work into the craft kits, and am now letting the whole idea fizzle out. That’s ok.
It’s all ok, and it’s all GOOD, because all that time and energy and brain space can now focus on the stuff that is already working, and make it better. I can make this space amazing, for every single person that walks through the door. And then I’ll design some business cards 😉
And holy shit, you guys.
I’ve seen an INCREDIBLE difference in my stress levels (lower) and basic enjoyment levels of everyday life (way higher!) since starting to implement my new strategies. Each day, I make sure the tasks on my to-do list have focus and are working towards the one main monthly goal for each area of business. I’m working faster, with a clearer head and getting SO much more done, just simply because I’m not thinking about 10 other things at the same time. Stuff that I had swimming around in my head for months has all been completed in the past week. It’s pretty amazing.
So why do you need to focus?
Why do you need to let go of all that other shit you’re trying to do, no matter how hard it is? Because it DOES. NOT. MATTER. And it’s hurting you, and your business, to keep trying to do everything at once. Pick one thing, and do it BRILLIANTLY!
Tell me, what could you (and should you) let go of in your business, to allow you to focus on something more important?
Commercial images from Shutterstock.com
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