When it comes to your business, what keeps you up at night? Is it finding the next client or paying the bills or retiring on your own terms? Whatever it is, without goals and without a plan to get you there your chances of falling behind go way up.
While somewhat dated, there is a fairly well known study done in 1979 on Harvard MBAs. Basically, students were asked “have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” Ten years later, the same group was analyzed based on how much they earn (yes, a very narrow and materialistic focus). The results may surprise you:
Those who had goals, but did not document them – earned 2x as much as those without goals
Those who had goals and documented them – earned 10x as much as everyone else
But we are all too busy to set goals: too many clients, too many networking events, too many soccer games, too many headaches. I have news for you, my friend: You are successful because you are busy, not in spite of it. Everyone knows who to give the project to – the busy one. Because they find a way to get it done.
I’m a fan of analogies so here are two to set the stage: working on your business is like driving down the interstate at 70 mph and trying to change your oil. We’ve all tried it. In a similar vein, goals are not a destination – they are a GPS. They give you a direction and help you stay the course. But how do we find the time to pull over and get the GPS working properly?
Here are some ideas that I’ve collected over the years that may help you invent the time. I’ve grouped these ideas into three categories, based on three major steps: setting goals, working towards them and measuring progress. Remember, whatever you do, it must be comfortable for you and it must be habit forming – repetition over time is crucial.
Inventing Time to Set Goals
Book time on your calendar – at least annually. Treat it like a client meeting. Yes, it’s that important.
Double dip – invite a mentor or friend to lunch to catch up and help you brainstorm.
K.I.S.S – the more complex you make goal setting, the less quality time you will spend on it.
Look for “unofficial” time – get creative in the shower or bathroom, while you wait for a lunch appointment, driving to the in-laws, or Sunday nights before you go to bed.
Look for time when your head is clearest – first thing in the morning? late at night? on vacation?
Put a notebook or voice recorder by your bed – to capture thoughts when you wake or before you fall asleep.
Inventing Time to Work Towards Goals
Analyze your time – pick a week and log everything you do (from conversations to tasks to calls to bathroom breaks to sleep) and how long each takes; find pockets of time that are “under-utilized.”
Set a recurring 30 minute meeting – stick with the same time slot each week or every other week.
Break up goals and tasks into smaller parts – don’t feel like you have to do everything at once; smaller, incremental progress is better than none at all.
Avoid distractions – if clients or co-workers are likely to interrupt, turn off your email, your phone, your computer and close your door with a sign that says “Pardon Our Progress.”
Prioritize – what is more important to accomplish in the next 48 hours? (hello, 80/20 rule)
Leverage others – find employees, partners or outside vendors who can make progress on your behalf. You may want all the control, but do you really have time for it?
Group similar tasks together – goals should be broken down into tasks that will allow you to meet your goals. Bundling tasks (e.g., your QuickBooks tasks or your hiring tasks or your practice management tasks) can help you focus in a specific area and knock them out.
Working in chunks – some people prefer to sit down and knockout a task in one sitting. Others have to stop and start, especially for larger tasks. If you find windows of time that allow you to finish a task in one sitting, great. If you don’t, make sure you keep tabs on where you left off and what else needs to be done – this will minimize time lost on start/stops.
Inventing Time to Measure Progress
Organize your information – how much time do you waste looking for the right document or the right report or shuffling paper around on your desk? An organized system that speeds up the transfer of information from one program (e.g., your time keeping program) to another (e.g., Quickbooks) to another (e.g., an Excel file summarizing 5 key metrics) is crucial to inventing time.
Outsource the analysis – find someone you trust to review your data and do the analysis for you. Get them to summarize it in an easy to understand format. Spend your time focusing on this higher-level summary information.
Add it to your regular business review cycle – you should be sitting down with your partners, your team or by yourself at least quarterly to review the health of the business; make this part of that agenda.
Focus, don’t multi-task – real progress on your goals will come if it’s important to you and you actually focus on it. Studies have shown that if you work on too many things at one time, your efficiency drops.
Set time limits – just like you plan out a case, plan out how much time you can spend measuring results. Paralysis by analysis can eat away valuable minutes or hours.
Expect more out of meetings – from lack of preparation to lack of clear objectives, meetings can interrupt your daily flow and can be huge wastes time. Meetings to discuss progress should be short, sweet and actionable.
No matter what your excuse may be, everyone has the same number of hours in a day. How is it that some are able to get more done than others? Time management is a very well studied and written about discipline. The resources available online (and offline) are almost overwhelming. What we do with the hours in a day or days in a week are a simple matter of choice. How much longer can you afford to put this off?
Have any other ideas on inventing time? We'd love to hear them....