I want to begin by clarifying that some of the recommendations I give in this post and the tool I’ll link to at the end are specifically designed for people juggling more than one job or role (which I’m sure is most of us. We’re all busy people amiright?). That may mean a 9-to-5 day job, going to school or parenting while also trying to begin a business or major creative project. Keeping that in mind, feel free to take the suggestions here and simply modify them so they make sense for your own specific schedule and lifestyle.
So tell me, when someone asks you what’s on your to-do list, do you often feel like the answer is, “EVERYTHING”?
I bet it feels like that a lot, right? Everything feels super necessary and important and as though it needs to be done, like…yesterday. Let me tell you, I have more than a little experience with this particular feeling!
It’s one thing when you are working for someone else and they’ve given you a real clear idea of what’s required of you, the desired outcome and the time-frame you’re expected to have things completed. But, when you’re the one whose business or project it is…the one who creates the schedule and the workload, things get a little ‘gray-area’ and all of a sudden it all seems like it’s a priority.
So, even if you know that can’t be true, how DO you figure out what to do first for the best possible result?
How to use this post for your planning:
If you’re just beginning your new business or project, I suggest you read the whole post through, and as it suggests in Step #1, begin by asking yourself some overarching questions about the big picture. Go through all of the questions in this post to help refine your “to-do” list little by little. You’ll probably want to have something to write with as you go for brainstorming.
If you already know the bigger details of the whys and whats of your business or project but you need help focusing your monthly planning then you could probably skip ahead to Step #5. Although occasionally, you may find it helpful to go through all of the steps outlined here when you need to re-clarify your bigger picture.
Let’s get started.
What IS the big picture? Here are some questions to ask yourself to give you some clarity around what’s most important.
Step #1 Why am I doing this?
What got you excited about this in the first place? Did you have a craving to cultivate your creative side? Did you want to help people overcome something you’ve struggled with in the past? Are you seeking a change in your own life, work or finances? What is motivating you in this new direction?
Getting clear on the “why” of something is a huge factor in deciding what things are the most important, and which are just extraneous, or unnecessary.
Step #2 What do I most want to accomplish?
You may want to first decide the timeline for this business or project. Do you hope to be doing this in 10 years, 5 years, 6 months from now? If you see it as a long-term, evolving thing, ask yourself what you want to accomplish in the long term, and then work backwards. Where do you want to be 10 years from now or 5? What about a year from now? Then break it down into quarters. What do you need to do each quarter of this current year to accomplish that yearly result you’re hoping for?
When you think about what you want to accomplish, consider your financial goals, but also keep in mind what you hope to gain personally and what you’d like this to be and do for the clients you want to serve.
Next it’s time to break down that annual big picture into smaller chunks. But first, let’s determine what your schedule actually has a capacity for on a monthly, weekly and daily basis:
Step #3 What available time do I have to devote to this?
What are the current non-negotiables in your schedule that you have to work around? Is there any flexibility in your current workload? Can you make adjustments to childcare?
If you are currently employed full-time, ask yourself: Can I make a change in my work schedule or go part-time? Are you able to sacrifice some of your leisure time or recreational activities for this new venture? What specific days/hours of your week would be ideal for you to use for this project/business? Do you need to be doing something daily, or can you work more intermittently?
You have to be honest with yourself early on about what you’re able and willing to devote to making this new venture a success. It doesn’t make sense to create a plan you don’t truly have the time to invest in or make room for.
Once you’ve figured out your available time, let’s get into the specifics of what you’ll be doing.
Step #4 Which things are essential for me to accomplish in this new project?
Let’s first talk about the things that need to be done. You have to decide what is truly necessary, what things would be nice-to-haves and which would simply be icing on the cake if you could do them?
For instance if you’re a ceramic jewelry artist, you may need to create molds, decide on initial materials, a color palette and choose where and how you’ll sell your pieces. You might also like to create a website, business cards, and design some unique packaging. In order to promote your business, you might want to sell your goods at craft fairs, keep up several social media profiles and collaborate with other merchants.
As you begin to think about all of the possibilities, your list could continue to exponentially grow, no matter your business. It can get overwhelming without introducing some strategic planning.
So this is where creating some refinement comes in to play. Go back to what you’d like to accomplish. It’s important to acknowledge with all of the things you’d ultimately like to do, (depending on your available time, finances and energy), that you’ll probably need to build this business or project in stages.
So let’s kick off this planning party with the first stage of most annual business planning: The first quarter or as many people say…Q1.
Step #5 What do I absolutely need to complete by the end of Q1?
Now, I realize right now you may be thinking (if you’re reading it at it’s publication date), “but we’re at the end of Q1!” And that’s ok, just start by considering the remainder of this year, and where you’d like to be by the close of it. Next year, you’ll be ahead of the game by having gotten a jump on learning how to lay down a great yearly outline.
The tool I’m sharing with you at the end of this post is a way to break down your to-do list into a focused monthly list of 5 big tasks (for the remainder of this post I’ll refer to those 5 main tasks as your “key actions”). Keeping in line with that, let’s have you come up with 15-25 key actions that must be done in your first 3-month quarter.
This in itself can be tough to figure out, so you may want to go back to that yearly outline you created (hint: if you haven’t done this yet, just go back to step #2 and start there).
In order to come up with some key actions for a quarter, it’s a good idea to take that yearly picture and work backwards; what steps must you make throughout the year to achieve that, and then prioritize which should be done in the last, 3rd, 2nd and first quarter to get you into the home stretch.
Step #6 Of all the things that must be done this quarter, which must I do myself?
Some things are essential for you to do. If you are an artist, a writer, a health coach, or a chef (as a few examples) then there are probably some tasks that only you can do best.
But there may be others, like creating your website, or managing your social media that may be delegated. Although I highly caution you to avoid delegating a lot of your business in the beginning for financial reasons (which I’ll discuss more next week), there are small investments you can make, or project for in the future, in order to take some of the time investment off of your own shoulders.
Additionally, some considerations to make are if there are things you can automate, simplify, or eliminate and save for later down the road.
Considering the possibility of deferring, delegating or automating some items take that list of 15-25 key actions and revise or remove some of them. Try to leave yourself with no more than 15 key actions for the quarter.
Now you’re ready to further drill down your quarterly planning and decide on your key actions for each month in that quarter.
Step #7 What key actions do I need to focus on each month this quarter?
To do this, take your list of 15 (or less) quarterly key actions and arrange them in order of priority.
Here are some things to consider when refining your quarterly list and breaking it down to 5 key actions for each of the three months:
What steps need to be taken first in order for something else to be done?
For example, if you are going to be starting a food business, one of your key actions may be “Get a food handlers permit.” This should probably come before “Sell my first order to a local market”, so it will likely be an action that you’d put near the beginning of your first month’s list.
Choose actions that have 3 or fewer steps to accomplish.
To illustrate this, let’s say “Set up my initial business accounting” is one of your monthly key actions. Maybe that includes opening a business account, setting up electronic payments on Paypal or Stripe and creating a cloud accounting profile. Because you are only taking three smaller steps to do this larger key action of “Set up my initial business accounting” you can reasonably consider setting up your business accounting as one key action for the month.
However, let’s say you have actions on your monthly “to-do” list like, “Write my book”, or “Create a 2-week women’s retreat” or “Build a food cart”.
While, it might be possible to do any of those things if you had a full month to devote to them, if you have additional actions on your list, other responsibilities to factor in, or another job to manage, completing more in-depth actions like these may require you to allot them significantly more time.
My general rule of thumb is, if you have one key action that requires more than three steps, it shouldn’t be considered as one of your key actions for the month. Instead, one of it’s smaller steps should probably be one of your key actions for the month.
Let me explain further by breaking down the example of building a food cart and assume some of the steps include:
- Draw up the budget for the food cart
- Locate a workspace to build the cart
- Source the building materials
- Find and hire a contractor/builder
- Help to draw the blueprints
- Design the exterior
- And so on…
There are significantly more than 3 steps for this one key action of “Building a food cart”, so instead of putting, “Build a food cart” on your big 5 monthly key action list, you might instead put down, “Draw up the budget for the food cart”. This action is much more manageable, and if there are other things besides just creating the food cart you need/want to work on in your business during the month, you haven’t created an unmanageable amount of work.
Lastly, think about things that may be reoccurring, but are major elements of your business.
Let’s go back to the ceramic jeweler example. Maybe one of your reoccurring monthly actions is “Create a unique jewelry piece to highlight this month”. Even though this is something you’ll do each and every month, if it’s something that you plan to spend significant time on during the month, make sure to include this as one of your 5 key actions when you plan out your month.
So now that you’ve gotten some guidelines around things to consider in your monthly action planning, let’s move to the final step…
Step #8 What 5 big key actions do I want to focus on this month?
I’m gonna save you some notebook paper on this one. I’ve created a freebie called The Monthly Big 5. This planning tool helps you take that list of quarterly actions and plot out the five key actions you need to take this month.
As you’ll see once you open the PDF, on the 2nd page I’ve given you space to write out up to 3 smaller steps you need to take to complete those 5 bigger actions for the month. I’ve also included a third page with a few questions to give you some time and space for reflection.
Finding ways to organize, plan and stay focused are so essential to running a business smoothly and not succumbing to burn-out and overwhelm. But, it’s about recognizing what are key actions for you to take and further breaking them down into manageable steps that fit into your life without taking it over.
If you found this download helpful, or have any tips and suggestions to share with other Arise and Bloom readers about how you used this post in your quarterly and monthly planning, I’d love it if you shared in the comments!
Thanks for reading and happy planning!
PS- Next week in this Ready to Work blog series we’re talking budgeting for a debt (and stress) free business!