KEEPING YOURSELF ON TRACK
Although I was planning to write about first-year decisions in this blog, let´s spend a post on indecision. Bernadette, a First Year reader commented yesterday, "I am into the 3rd month of a home business after heading a department in government for 16 years!! Discipline and time management are big obstacles, HELP!!!" Bernadette has a lot of company. Working solo at home is challenging for even the most disciplined among us. There are plenty of distractions and nobody to keep us on track.
Self-discipline and time management are really two sides of the same coin. Two different work styles display those sides:
* Procrastination mode — This is the discipline side of the problem. We know we´re spending time on
the wrong things, but can´t seem to herd ourselves back to the right activities. Email and other distractions around the house keep getting in front of the real business. It´s more interesting to spend time in appealing activities, but then we run out of time for the less pleasant tasks.
* Crisis mode — This is the time-management side. Urgent tasks have a way of pushing aside important activities, because the urgent things scream for our attention. But truly important tasks are probably the ones that will help your business succeed. Many people starting a business have a difficult time getting around to business development, networking and cold-calling. Ignoring these activities will most definitely affect our success.
In either case, we´re probably not doing some key things that will make the difference, long term, between success and failure. We need to be clear about where to put our focus, and than force ourselves to stay on track. Here are some steps you can take.
Clarify your goals — Start by getting away from all those distractions and urgencies and focus for
a few hours on what your real goals are. Next, itemize all the steps it will take to get you to each goal. Then set target dates to accomplish each step. This has nothing to do with your business to-do list. Why do this? Because you can´t prioritize your time if you aren´t clear on your priorities.
Make yourself accountable — It isn´t enough to know what steps you need to take. Write up your
success plan and then tell someone what you wrote. This is key, because it makes you accountable to someone besides yourself. If you aren´t good at goal-setting, hire yourself a coach. Many new entrepreneurs find that a coach gets them un-stuck by surfacing their priorities and goals. And having regular meetings with your coach to review your progress imposes accountability.
Prioritize your work — Now that you have a strategy, get tactical. Keep a running list of all the tasks that are in front of you, and begin each work week by reviewing your list. Rank the items on your list. One effective prioritization approach is to use a number for urgency (1,2,3) and a letter for importance (A,B,C). Some tasks will be C1 — urgent, but not very important.
Create time blocks — Estimate how much time it should take each week, on average, to do certain
functions — business development, bookkeeping, career development, etc., and allocate time for those activities. One approach is to reserve Fridays for all your "back office" activities.
Stay with the priorities — Make yourself a "hot list" of the things you absolutely must do each
week, and assign them to your time blocks. Check the list each morning when you begin your day. Cross tasks off the list when they are really completed, and congratulate yourself on your progress the next morning.
The reward for better discipline will be better management of your time in the short run, and better management of your business in the long run. You genuinely want your business to succeed, and you´re the one — in a solo business, you´re the only one — that can make that happen.