We see a lot of business owners that are really busy. So busy, in fact, that they don’t have time to work on their business - they are running from fire to fire without much control. They are keeping the ship afloat with their superhuman busy-ness.
It makes sense because this is the default. If you don’t have a clear understanding of what your priorities are, someone else will prioritize your life for you. Your customers, employees and family all have priorities for you and it’s up to you to keep them all happy. Not an easy job.
That is why I am writing about productivity. Productivity is the meta-skill that can get you off the hamster wheel that most business owners are on. It’s one of those things that’s simple, but it’s not easy. In order to get in front of all the things we need to do, we have to take a step back first.
When I talk about productivity, I mean accomplishing things of significance. For business owners, that can be a new marketing campaign, designing a new process, organizing a way to thank your customers or getting in front of more qualified leads. Special credit is given for things that you do once that save you lots of time in the future. It does not mean being at a computer responding to loads of emails or doing heaps of mundane tasks.
Enter the Compass
Knowing your priorities is the key to big productivity gains because it gives you a decision criterion to decide what you need to do next. By understanding your priorities, you can:
better deal with all the things that come your way,
evaluate what you can do that's valuable, and
identify and ignore the rest as nothingburgers.
This is where the compass comes in. It’s a one-page document that steers all of your decision making, keeps you on track and motivates you to be better. It gives you the structure to address what you will focus on each day to move closer to what you have defined as important.
You can increase your productivity immensely if you have a clear vision for your life and your business. This doesn’t have to be some spiritual quest, it can be as simple as how many hours you want to work per week, how much money you want to make and how many vacations you take each year. The point is that it’s personal to you and should be motivating and meaningful.
Here’s what makes mine up, but this is by no means prescriptive. You may add or subtract at will.
Life goals: 3 life goals that are generally unachievable. It’s the striving that counts here.
Daily actions: the daily actions that, if completed every day, support my life goals above. Again, not looking for perfection.
Reminders: Life rules that I often forget and need reminding of on a regular basis.
Affirmations: Okay! Getting a little Stuart Smalley on you here, but they work! Tell me you don’t want some of this.
Notes: A scattering of notes around my compass that I pick up that inspire me.
Again, this is not a prescription and yours will be VERY different from mine.
1. Life Goals (Vision)
Productivity decisions become much easier in the context of a clear vision about what you value. Think about it - when you sit down to decide what to do in a day, what's the basis for those decisions?
For example, if you value time with your kids, it becomes an easy decision to disappoint a client during dinner time by not answering your phone. If your goal is to be financially independent with passive income from your business, you may stay up late to write a key operational procedure, so you don’t have to do it anymore.
So, take the 10 minutes required and write out your “life goals”. The key with this type of visioning is not to drag yourself into the "that can never happen" self-talk. Be open to possibilities without having to know how they will happen.
This may sound odd, but the goal is not to fully achieve this lifestyle. Life goals require trade-offs and often cannot be realized together. When you start a business, you are not living a life of balance. You are realizing another goal to lead a meaningful, flexible life at the cost of other life goals. Write two or three of these goals down to start version 1 of your compass.
2. Daily Actions and Habits
Once you have set your life goals, list out the daily actions and habits that support them. In a perfect day, what would you do that would get you closer to those goals? How would the perfect day go? Again, this perfect day is unlikely to happen, but it's still a useful exercise. Consider breaking these habits down into morning (waking), daily, and evening (winding down) habits. What are you accomplishing? Do you get a few breaks?
Knowing your perfect day will help you:
identify when you are off-track,
have more energy to attack your day (another huge component of productivity), and
understand how to get back on track.
The point isn’t to be too hard on yourself, just to understand what’s not working and correct it.
What are good practices that you need constant reminders for? I don’t mean whether you remember to lock your doors before you leave the house. I mean in the way you live your life. Do you drink coffee too late in the day and that snowballs into a bad sleep and more coffee the next day? That’s the kind of reminder I mean here.
Where do you let yourself down? What do you preach but have a hard time following yourself? Again, the point is not to be hard on yourself, it’s to be better.
Affirmations, mantras, positive self-talk - call this what you will: there is good science behind positive thinking. I heard recently that our self-talk is overwhelmingly negative (more than 80%) and I can believe it.
We generally aren’t in the habit of talking ourselves up. Today, we’ll have enough internal monologue like, “I am so tired because I had a horrible sleep last night.” “I think I must be coming down with a cold.” And on and on. Give yourself a little affirmation. You’re a ball of energy and ready to take on the world!
5. Other Notes
This is not supposed to be a static document. Mine is the inside cover of my notebook and is revisited completely when I get a new one, but there are words of wisdom that I come across that need to be in here. I add them pretty much wherever there is space. It’s fun to see if I can integrate these into my next version.
Build it in to your daily practice
Looking at your compass daily is going to burn it into your brain. You won’t be able to help but let it affect you. I like to look at mine before I tackle my to-do list. I have looked at it so many times that I could pretty much recite it. I look at it anyways because, in a moment of reflection, I took the time to write out what was important to me. I trust that former self - he was looking out for me!
Because this is burned into my brain, I notice that I make little adjustments to my day. If I am feeling tired, I know it’s because I couldn’t help but read a non-fiction book before bed and it set my brain alight. I am confident that I will carve out some time to delegate paying off the credit card each month because it’s taking up valuable brain real estate. Stick with it - these little gains add up!
If you want to see my actual compass and get a few more productivity tips, check out my 5-Day Email Productivity Course. It’s totally free and I’ll never spam you.
If you are ready to delegate your bookkeeping and accounting tasks to smarties like us, break the ice. We’ll set up a meeting and get to know your business and how we might be able to help.