Turning the Challenges In Your Business into an Action Plan

So far as we’ve looked at goals we’ve talked about

Let me be clear, if you haven’t planned where you’re going and identified the real challenges in your business then you’re not ready for this post yet. You need your filter documents to make sure you don’t end up one of those terrible business owners that has money, and ruined relationships.

You need to make sure that you’re not spinning your wheels on things that aren’t holding you back in your business. Oh I know you want to jump right in to planning what you’re going to do, but that’s stupid. You’re not stupid right?

I had a client one time that wanted to be offline, or at least not have a requirement to be online, three days a week. The business he was building required him to be online though. He had started selling plugins and they had support requests coming in on a regular basis.

He was building a business he never wanted but it was doing well so he hadn’t even thought at all about what he was building for himself. He was blinded by the money coming in. Once we had his filter documents and then we looked at his goals for a quarter together, we made a bunch of changes so that he could start working towards his ideals.

Look at Outside Commitments First

Before we even look at the the process of developing and choosing your goals for the quarter, you need to put any outside commitments on your calendar. This is very similar to how I plan my week of work in my Bullet Journal, don’t start with work.

Do you have a family vacation planned for two weeks? Make sure you’ve got it in front of you. I like to have it visually out in front of me in some fashion. One of the best ways I’ve found is to have a huge calendar on my wall.

I like the huge 6 foot by 3 foot calendar from Neuyear. It already has quarters right on it and I can use a bunch of different colours to visualize different commitments.

You need to look at the things that will take you away from your core work, because it’s time you can’t push projects forward. When it’s family vacation, you should be on vacation without a bunch of work crap hanging over your head. I’m currently prepping two weeks of content because I go away soon to celebrate my 15th wedding anniversary. Without a grasp on the bigger picture it would be easy to feel like I have to work to catch up, and put a serious dent in my marriage.

If I hadn’t planned ahead and had a bunch of crucial activities for that week off with my wife, I wouldn’t be present. I’d increase my stress as I tried to balance work and my marriage. No matter how much time we spent together, and how much work I did in “other” hours, I’d leave feeling like I had done poorly at work and in the most important relationship I have.

So make sure that you’re looking at your entire quarter as you plan. If you’re just looking at a weekly time scale, you’re heading for trouble.

Build Your Perfect Analogue System

It's time to decide which work you'll never do again.

It's time to stop shuffling deck chairs, and start getting your awesome work done.

It's time to start building that perfect Analogue System so you can stop being distracted all the time.

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Ideation for Quarterly Planning

Your quarterly planning starts, well it never stops. As I said, have a list or Collection to hold all your ideas throughout a quarter. When it’s time to decide what you’re going to move forward on, look back at this list.

Often you’ll find a number of the ideas are components of a single project. To start 2018 I had a bunch of small tasks that fell under the umbrella of site improvements. I started a new heading in my Bullet Journal and then moved all the ideas into that heading instead of leaving them scattered.

Making sure you consolidate ideas helps ensure that you are working on a single project instead of randomly scattered thoughts. Randomly scattered thoughts very rarely move the needle in your business in any way that matters.

This is also time to engage in some extra brainstorming on ideas in your business. We’ll do filtering in a bit, so just go wild with anything you think might be a decent idea to do. Don’t stop with a few ideas. Set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and sit in silence doing nothing for a bit if that’s what you need to do. Many times, the ideas that come last are the ones that are the best.

Make sure you include any half-finished projects in this list. They don’t get a pass and get to come along into the next quarter. All projects need to qualify to continue being worked on, as we’ll see in a second.

This brainstorming is different than what we did as we identified your challenges. These are direct actions that may solve your challenges. By accomplishing one of these tasks/projects you’re stepping closer to eliminating a challenge.

Filtering my Ideas Down to the Essential Few

Now it’s time to filter your ideas down to the essential two, maybe three ideas that will make progress towards solving your challenges. I say two, maybe three because I’ve done three a bunch of times and rarely get the third project done.

The thing is, we’ve got lots of other things on the go. When I want to revamp my site, write a book, and compile some blog posts for another book, one of those is probably going to drop off the list because stuff like client work comes up.

Instead of three brand new ideas, I try to stick with two main focuses for new, longer term projects that will earn money in the future. They may not be products to sell, but better marketing on my site will mean that I make more sales in the long run.

I now reserve the third “project” and leave it blank for the client work that pays the bills in the now. This leaves me much less discouraged when I have a whole project that saw no movement in a quarter.

Now, we’ll look at the thinking exercises that I go through to ensure that I am working only on the projects that will push my business forward.

Plan to The NOW

Just because you started a project in a previous quarter, doesn’t mean that you should be working on it again. I started a project at the end of 2017, a revamp of a book I had written a number of years ago, and it’s not getting worked on in Q1 2018. It might get worked on in Q2 2018, or it might not.

Internal projects that are ongoing, do not get a pass to keep moving forward. The must qualify with the questions below to get on your list for the upcoming quarter.

I talked a bunch more about the 10 Constraints and 1 Action it takes to be awesome already. You can get the 10 Constraints Worksheet below as well.

Build Your Perfect Analogue System

It's time to decide which work you'll never do again.

It's time to stop shuffling deck chairs, and start getting your awesome work done.

It's time to start building that perfect Analogue System so you can stop being distracted all the time.

Start Building Your Filters so you don’t build a business you hate.

Make sure you’re focused on the right problems with my workbook.

We respect your privacy.

What Are Your Challenges?

You also need to know what your challenges are. If you didn’t go through the thinking exercises in the last post, you’re not ready to plan a quarter. Without knowing your current challenges, you’re wasting your time here and you’ll be wasting your time on the wrong projects moving forward.

Don’t waste your time. Grab the workbook below so you can make sure you’re working on the right problems in your business.

Build Your Perfect Analogue System

It's time to decide which work you'll never do again.

It's time to stop shuffling deck chairs, and start getting your awesome work done.

It's time to start building that perfect Analogue System so you can stop being distracted all the time.

Start Building Your Filters so you don’t build a business you hate.

Make sure you’re focused on the right problems with my workbook.

We respect your privacy.

What is the Single Thing?

Next you need to ask yourself: “What is the single thing I can work on that will make the other projects on my list easier or irrelevant?”

There is almost always a single project that if executed well, from creation to marketing, will make some other projects on your list irrelevant.

What has brings the highest value to my business?

Similar to the last question, which project will yield the highest monetary value in your business inside this quarter? We all have bills to pay, so which one will pay them in the now?

Base Your Work on What Your Customers Have Been Asking For

Which projects on your list have your customers been asking for? Which ones do your metrics show they are interested in?

Don’t have any metrics? Then your first project for the beginning weeks of your quarter is to answer this question, then you can go back and figure out which projects are the most important for you to focus on.

There are a few ways to gather this information. First, the analytics on your site will show you which content people are frequenting. In my case I consider this “external” information.

The second way you can do this is by surveying your email list, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers. This is “internal” information because many of these people have already chosen to interact with you.

Yes there will be overlap in these groups, but it’s always interesting to see what people say they value in a survey, and then what content is most popular on your site.

I recently did a survey and there was the least amount of interest in app reviews, despite the most popular post on my site being a task manager comparison.

This leads me to the assumption that I’m found via the review, and people stick with my content for the other things I talk about that are not application reviews and comparisons.

What Business Problems Am I Most Interested In?

If you don’t have interest in the projects on your list, you’re going to do them poorly. They won’t succeed and worse, they’ll hurt the rest of your business because they’ll act like an anchor pulling down the energy of the rest of your projects.

So low energy not only hurts your ability to reach high performance overall, it pervades all aspects of your life. You feel less happy. You don’t take on the big challenges. You feel as if everyone is passing you by. Your confidence tanks. You eat worse. You get fatter. You struggle to get people to believe in you, buy from you, follow you, support you. – High Performance Habits

I realize that this is easy to say, and harder to do. Sometimes we’re stuck doing the uninteresting work because it pays the bills and we need our bills paid. You’re not alone. Even as I write this, I have one super uninteresting project around that I need to complete, and I hate it.

Your goal at first is to continually cut out the projects that are uninteresting. Do less with them and more that you love. Eventually, you’ll get to a spot where you are interesting in what you’re doing and then you’ll need to start picking the degrees of interest you have in your work.

Which projects scare you?

Finally, which projects scare you? Which ones do you look at and wonder if you can even begin to do them justice? Those are likely the highest impact projects on your list.

If you choose to go with them, it may mean your first few weeks are spent learning how to deliver them up to a quality you’d be happy with.

Now that you’ve gone through the questions above to help you decide which projects are the vital ones to be working on, it’s time to get down to the actions you should be taking to launch the projects.

Build Your Perfect Analogue System

It's time to decide which work you'll never do again.

It's time to stop shuffling deck chairs, and start getting your awesome work done.

It's time to start building that perfect Analogue System so you can stop being distracted all the time.

Start Building Your Filters so you don’t build a business you hate.

Make sure you’re focused on the right problems with my workbook.

We respect your privacy.

The Rule of 2

I know I’ve said in the past that you can work on three things in a quarterly cycle, but after running that way for a number of quarters, I have never been able to push more than two projects out at once.

Let me clarify. If I had a project for this book, and a project to compile the best books I read in 2017 into a book, I would only be getting one of them done.

I can keep client services going, and write a book/blog for my site. But I can’t keep client services going, write a book, launch a plugin…at least not all at the same time.

Go for two projects at a time that have overlap. Run your client services and write that book or launch that plugin. If you want to do both in a quarter, then finish the book and start to work on the plugin after. Don’t attempt to do both at once because you’ll fail and failure is not the goal.

After going through these thinking exercises, you should have your work down to the one maybe two projects that will push your business forward best.

You’re not done planning a quarter though. You still need to take those projects and turn them into actions.

A Vital Few Actions Will Push Your Business Forward

It’s great to have a project on the list that you want to work on, but if you don’t have the actions down that you need to take, the project isn’t going to happen.

I was talking with one of my coaching clients this morning and they need leads. They knew that and said it, but they wouldn’t commit to a number of contacts they were going to make. They kept saying that if they put a number down they’d never exceed it. But, they’ve had no number of a while and they have been hitting that big fat 0 leads contacted every week.

If you need more leads then the action you need to take is to talk to people. You need to measure that action. If you don’t put a goal down for that action, you’ll do less.

After a few minutes we got down to the action, that we’ll measure. We’ll expect to see them contact 9 leads a week. Every Friday they’ll need to say how many leads they’ve talked in the week. That may mean they cold email or cold call people to talk to them about work.

That’s the type of actions you need to focus on in your work. The leading tactical things you can do to push your business forward week in week out.

To find those actions you need to cut out any ambiguity. That coaching client above started with “I need to talk to…mmm…maybe 7 to 9 people”. Well is it 7, 8, or 9? Which one is success? Where on your weekly plan is the time to reach out to these people. If you don’t have the time booked out, you’re not going to do it.

For writing series of posts based off my book Analogue Productivity, my single smallest action is to sit down 3 days a week and write 1500 words. That got the book done and the posts based on its content. Before I was ready to write, the single smallest action was to compile the resources I had around into Scrivener so I could start to sort them. Then it was build a prospective outline and finally, start to write whichever section feels easiest to start.

I only went as far as I could see to start. I know that if I had decided to start with the outline before compiling my research and getting familiar with that research again, my outline would have been mostly tossed out the window.

When I code I only build the next function I know to build. I don’t scaffold out 27 different functions that I think I’ll need. I start with the one I need next, and if it gets too complex, I build out another one to help simplify the complexity.

You only ever need to plan as far as you can see. When you’re building a quarterly plan, if you can only see four weeks into the future then only plan that far. Make week five for planning the rest of the quarter given the new information you have on the project.

Build Your Perfect Analogue System

It's time to decide which work you'll never do again.

It's time to stop shuffling deck chairs, and start getting your awesome work done.

It's time to start building that perfect Analogue System so you can stop being distracted all the time.

Start Building Your Filters so you don’t build a business you hate.

Make sure you’re focused on the right problems with my workbook.

We respect your privacy.

Mapping A Quarter of Actions in my Bullet Journal

When it comes to mapping my quarter in my Bullet Journal, I start by combing through the possible projects in the quarter and compiling them into single projects. Like I said above, a bunch of site improvements would be one project.

Then I move these projects onto a fresh 2-page spread in my Bullet Journal, along with all the tasks that will need to happen to get them done. Then I filter again and get down to the single project that when completed will make the rest of my work easier or irrelevant.

I start with this project, since I’m running a client project at the same time, and if I want to finish a second one in the quarter I must finish the first one. My goal this quarter is to finish this long book and then finish compiling my 2017 reading so I can release it as a book.

From there I use another two page spread where I flip the notebook on its side. I block out each week of the quarter and then start placing actions on the weeks.

My Quarterly Bullet Journal Collection
My Quarterly Bullet Journal Collection

Then I use my Weekly Collections to filter down to the tasks that need to get accomplished on a given week. They get labelled with the dates of the week and with the Week that corresponds with the quarter.

Usually, there is some space at the end of a quarterly plan that has no specific project based tasks on it. I leave this space there because, stuff comes up and despite your best efforts to account for life, you’ll overestimate how much you’ll get done. Leaving the last two or three weeks as light weeks, allows you to still finish your goals for the quarter without trying to work through the night for the last few weeks as you play catch up.

That’s it. Over the last 5 weeks we’ve covered my entire goal setting process. You’ve seen how I brainstorm, and filter those ideas down to the few challenges that matter in my business. You’ve seen how I use my filter documents to ensure that I’m staying on track.

Today I walked you through how I take all the various projects I could be doing and cut them down to the very few that will help my business win.

Build Your Perfect Analogue System

It's time to decide which work you'll never do again.

It's time to stop shuffling deck chairs, and start getting your awesome work done.

It's time to start building that perfect Analogue System so you can stop being distracted all the time.

Start Building Your Filters so you don’t build a business you hate.

Make sure you’re focused on the right problems with my workbook.

We respect your privacy.

Photo by: nickdm

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