Keep your head up.

Charlie's Tavern, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948

If  you ever want to figure out if you have a capable bartender there is a simple trick. Pick the busiest night of the week. Sit down at the bar and look at all the bartenders. The bartender with their head up, talking to people while they work, is the one with their act together.  The one with their head down, focusing on the immediate task at hand, is deep in the weeds.

 

I used to be the guy in the weeds. I used to hear it from my boss all the time, "You gotta keep your head up dude!"

 

I'd think, "Sure, I 'll keep my head up. Right after I make this next drink." (actually I was usually thinking "Holy crap! Please don't fire me!)

 

Then I'd go rushing around behind the bar, eyes set firmly on the drink before me. Past all the people who were desperately trying to get my attention, and I'd get deeper and deeper into the weeds.

I never understood it until I started training people. When it got busy, and the pressure was on, I'd see the new guy storming around with his eyes on the floor, shutting out everything else except what he need to do right then. 

There is something about stress and being rushed that gives people tunnel vision. You get fixated on the immediate crisis and everything else slips out of focus. If you are under continual stress (like the kind you get when starting a business) it's really easy to let the world around slip by while you over-focus on what will ultimately be an insignificant detail.  This kind of tunnel vision is dangerous because it's sneaky.

A little under a year into launching my business and I've been fairly successful. I've been paying the bills. Revenue is increasing. I'm getting a little recognition and repeat business. I quit my day job and didn't die! Considering that my entire business plan was to quit my day job and not die, I should have been  ecstatic. For some reason I have been  getting increasingly dissatisfied. The elation of being self employed still seems to be out of reach.

I chalk up part of this to a healthy entrepreneurial spirit. Enough should never be enough and any good entrepreneur should always be reaching for loftier goals.  There is something more than just that though. Then it hit me. I've been keeping my head down.

I've been so focused on making sure the bills get paid that I haven't been thinking about where I'm going. Right now I'm planning out my holiday schedule and drawing up new designs. It seems like a lot of progress but really all my planning ends in January. It's hard to be satisfied with a master plan that reads "Pay bills until January".

So I got out a sheet of paper and started to write out a five year plan. Not in the sense of what strategy I'd like for my business to follow in the next five years, but where I'd like to be five years from now. I wrote down what was important and how I thought I could get there.

I tried to avoid things like "make more money" and tried to focus on how I would like my life to look.  I wrote down things like, have plenty of family time, travel more, gain a greater sense of security, make enough extra income to pay someone else to mow the lawn (it was seriously hot that day and that lawn really needed mowing).

Once I spent a little time figuring out the direction I wanted to take my life things seemed to make a lot more sense. I started to be able to come up with post-January ambitions. I began to see how my holiday schedule was just one little part of a greater puzzle. That persistent drive came back.

So I've decided to make this a consistent part of my business planning. Every few months I plan on sitting down and going over my previous goals and then spend some serious time doing a little day dreaming.