If you’re like me, you have a small business to-do list that goes on and on: customers to call, contacts to contact, products or services to get out the door, and a million other things. Phew. It’s overwhelming just to look at it.
In day-to-day small business life, it’s natural to focus on tasks—pay the bills, answer email—rather than goals—develop new sales channels, increase profitability, find a strategic partner, set up a retirement plan.
When you have a long “to-do” list – and who doesn’t? – it’s easy to get such a good feeling from checking items off that it’s tempting to do the things you can do fastest or easiest, or at least the most pressing. But are those the ones that are truly the most important? Are you concentrating on your tasks and neglecting your goals?
So it’s time to put “work on my goals” right at the top of your to-do list and set aside time to seriously address your long term objectives.
Here are seven steps to make sure your small business and personal goals don’t get neglected while you’re busy working on your tasks:
1. Sit down and write out the three important goals to achieve in the next six months. Don’t choose more than three.
2. Decide on what you are going to make your number one goal for 2016.
3. Identify the one-to-five most important things for you to have achieved in both your personal and business life in the next five years.
Yes, that was difficult. It’s always challenging to have to articulate long-term aspirations. But that’s the point: to identify a focus for your activities. And that’s the beginning of creating a plan to achieve your goals.
Okay, now for each goal, I want you to start creating a road map for achieving them. Here’s how:
4. For each goal you’ve identified, indicate one-to-three major components necessary to achieve that goal. Goals are usually big targets; you need more specifics. For instance, if you identified your goal as creating more recurring revenue, one necessary component is to develop a product or service line that customers will use on a regular, repeat basis, or to identify a target market that needs your product or service on a recurring basis.
5. Now break down those components into steps, smaller manageable tasks. What are the things you would need to do to complete that component? In the example above, for example, you’d need to start doing some market research, interview some customers or distributors, to figure out which products or which customers are likely to be used on a recurring basis. Add those tasks to your to-do list.
6. Now, take some other, less important, things off your to-do list. I know you’re saying, “Rhonda, there aren’t enough hours in the day. I can’t get through all the items on my to-do list now.” Let’s face it: You’re not going to get everything done. Some stuff is going to fall to the side. Are they going to be the important things or the unimportant things?
7. Don’t take on new projects unrelated to your goals. It’s easy to see an opportunity and feel you have to grab it. Resist the urge. Give the priorities you’ve chosen a chance to succeed. Taking on too much at one time is like having quintuplets: you wouldn’t choose to give any up, but none of them will get quite the attention they deserve.
You’ll find lots of apps and software to help you keep on top of your to-do list. In my company, we use Asana to manage projects and track tasks. Basecamp is another popular project management solution. Another popular to-do list is Wunderlist.
And stop surfing the web! If Internet browsing constantly distracts you, download an app like Self Control for Mac to block the sites of your choice. One of my editors uses it, and I’m looking for a PC version.
In the press of daily business – the short-term tasks that have to be done – regularly remind yourself to take care of “business” rather than “busyness.” Put your goals right at the top of your “to-do list” and stay focused on the big picture.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on November 13, 2015