When I first started my business, I naively believed that I'd spend all my time working on the projects I wanted to work on. I didn't realize that owning a business involved learning a new set of skills and that I would spend a significant chunk of time running the business, marketing, networking or doing other activities considered important to helping you actually get people in the door.
Within a couple of months of starting my business I recognized that I wasn't spending much time working on what I loved. Instead I was doing a lot of other work and it wasn't clear to me how I could possibly get out from under that work. Eventually I experienced business burnout, that feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious because you're so busy wearing all the hats, trying to keep your business afloat.
I knew there had to be a better way to own a business, but no matter what books I read or classes I looked into, all I found was more of the same information: you have to devote a significant chunk of time to doing activities that are important for running the business, even if those same activities drain you of your creativity and productivity. It felt like I was in a factory line, doing the same work again and again, but not growing my business or getting to do the productive work that really makes my soul sing.
Being an eccentric entrepreneur, I wasn't willing to accept conventional answers and decided that I needed to discover my own method for cultivating productivity, while cutting through the overwhelm and overload of running a business. I developed the Productivity Planning Method, a 6 stage process, which freed me from spending so much time on business activities and helped me rediscover my own productivity. Now I want to share that method with you.
The 6 stages of the Productivity Planning Method
Stage 1: Simplify
The simplify stage is focused on defining the type of work you're doing in your business. What I realized is that a huge part of the overwhelm that business owners face is due to the fact that a lot of the work their doing is actually busy work, which has been passed off as priority work.
The key is to actually define the result of the work by determining what the return on investment is. For example, if I post on my Facebook group that can be a priority task that allows me to connect with my eccentric tribe. But if I spend a ton of time on Facebook, then it becomes busy work (or just wasting time on a distraction). Likewise, I can check email a couple times a day and have that count as priority work, but if I'm checking it every few minutes to respond to emails that have just come in, that's busy work.
Simplify is really about setting good boundaries around your time, by learning to differentiate between productive work and busy work. When you make that effort, you can actually get rid of some of the overwhelm and take back some of your time.
Stage 2: Prioritize
The prioritize stage is about defining the direction of your business. When I started my business I had no clue what I really wanted to do with it, beyond a vague goal of growing the business. I've noticed that other small business owners have a similar problem getting clarity on the direction they want to move their business toward.
In the prioritize stage we take a tactical approach to goal setting for your business. The focus is on developing short term goals (within a year) as opposed to long term goals (that comes later). Business owners get overwhelmed with long term goals, because they have no road map to get them to those goals. They're told to develop a strategy, when they usually don't even know how to apply a tactical approach to their business development.
In prioritize the focus is on helping you learn how to use tactics to grow your business over the short term. When you understand how to apply tactics to your business development, you've taken the first step toward being able to reach the long term goals.
Stage 3. Strategize
In the Strategize stage, you learn the difference between strategy and tactics and discover how to use your tactics to help you accomplish long term business growth goals, as well as how to start scaling your business to handle the growth.
When I created my first business plan, one of the problems I discovered was that I couldn't effectively link my tactics to my strategies. Likewise, I found that other eccentric entrepreneurs faced the same issues, which made the business plan less than valuable because there was a disconnect when it came to implementing it.
By defining the difference between strategy and tactics and at the same time discovering how the two could fit together, I was able to develop a business plan that addressed the 11 essential components of business and enabled me to plan for how each of these components would develop over the course of an extended period of time. I also started looking at what I would need to do to scale my business in order to handle the potential growth.
Stage 4. Automate
In stage 4 Automate you start learning how to set your business up to handle the growth, while still providing you time to do the productive work.
When I learned how to automate a lot of my marketing, and implemented that automation it saved me a ton of time and work. More importantly I actually got to work on what I enjoyed about marketing, instead of getting stuck on the work that could be automated. This helped me develop a closer relationship with my eccentric tribe while also giving me back time I could put toward the projects I wanted to share with them.
One of the reasons a business can become overwhelming is because when your business grows the admin, marketing, and other work of running the business also multiples. This can create a catch 22 situation, where you have to play catch up on work that drains you of your productivity, which you need in order to grow your business.
I started scaling my business to handle growth when I learned how to automate business activities, either through technology or through behavior hacking. Automation is where you begin to apply your tactics to realize your strategy, but set the tactics up so that you don't have to continually do them. You basically want to do the activities once, but have them run multiple times. When you automate business activities this preserves your productive time and inspiration, so you can do the important work of serving your tribe, instead of being caught up in the minutiae of administrative or marketing work.
Stage 5 Delegate
In stage 5 Delegate, you learn how to complement your automation with delegation of work to either the appropriate experts or people who can take over the admin task that can't be automated.
The first time I delegated work in my business to someone else, it felt like a burden was taken off my back. I didn't have to think about the work or worry about it, because I knew someone was doing it for me.
A lot of business owners are reluctant to hand work off to other people, either because of the cost of paying the person or because they worry the person won't do the work right. However doing the work themselves costs them their creativity, productivity and valuable time. They get get burned out because they're trying to wear all the hats.
In delegate you learn how to let go of the work that someone else can do and how to trust that person to do the work, with a minimum amount of oversight needed. You also learn when to find an expert and hand work off to them that would stress you out, but that they can do in their sleep.
And really wouldn't you rather do the work you enjoy instead of doing work someone else can do.
Stage 6: Optimize
In stage 6 optimize, you learn how to bring each of the previous stages together and set them up to work seamlessly so that you can focus on the productive work.
For me, it wasn't enough to just realize what I needed to change about my business. I also wanted to develop systems and processes that described those changes and how they ought to work. I wanted to optimize my business, which is really where you apply the strategy of your business to everything you do.
Part of what keeps business owners up at night isn't having the right systems and processes in place to create routines that enhance their creativity and productivity. Instead they react in the moment to whatever the latest crisis is and run their business on luck.
With optimize the focus is on creating the routines that will help you run your business proactively, using systems and processes that support your work. Additionally you learn how to set situations up so that when you do have to react to a problem, you can control the reaction and situation, instead of being controlled by it.
Want to learn more about productivity planning? Join the Productivity planning bootcamp.