Write it down.
After a whirlwind of a holiday season I've just stumbled out into the light of day and turns out a new year is upon us. Today is my first official day back at work. I'm recharged and filled with exciting new ideas. The workshop's siren song has been whispering in my ear for two weeks and my fingers itch.
There is still one very important thing I have to do before I get back into it and it is the main reason why I have deliberately been unproductive for the last two weeks. All this week I'll spend my time not in the workshop, but hunched over a notebook planning out what I want to do this year.
Now I know I've said I'm not one for planning, and I still say it's more important to take action than to get bogged down worrying about minutiae, but this week will be one of the most important of the year. The trick is to not try to figure out everything at once but spend some time figuring out what direction to go. It's like finding your way out of the woods with a map and a compass. You don't stop and mark out every tree you need to pass. You get a reading and say, "Okay, I'm here right now and I want to go to here. So lets head in that direction." Spending a little time figuring out what direction I'd like to travel this year can save me a lot of wasted energy.
"Okay, I'm here right now and I want to go to here. So lets head in that direction."
My method is pretty simple. I sit down and think about what I'd like my life to look like by this time next year. I write this down on the first page. I then write down the general steps I need to take to get there on the opposite page. That's all that gets written down to begin with.
I'll then take each general step and break it down into actionable steps. This is really important. The general steps are the only part of this process where I can be vague. The actionable steps are actual tasks to be completed. So my list might look like this:
Sell More Stuff Online: (general step)
-Take more product photos
-Build a better background
-Write out a list of potential topics
-Write out 3 drafts for posting later
-Look for inspiration on other blogs
-Develop wider reach on the internet
-Research other online store opportunities
-Make a list of markets I would like to develop
-Do some guest blogging
-Create some buying guides
-Look for some online collaborations
-Upload new photos
-Check and update store policies
It is important that each one of these items is something that can be checked off as done. Having an item on your list that says something like "Find more ways to sell stuff" will never get done. Worse yet, you'll feel bad about not getting it done.
The nice thing about this process is that it can get done in chunks. Once I have my direction (or my list of general steps) I can sit down and work on turning that general step into a list of actionable steps when I feel like it. Sell More Stuff Online might get a lot of attention this week because now is a good time for that. I might have a general step that says Update Pop Up Shop Setup that I won't even start on for months.
Once I have my list of general steps and a good idea of the direction I'd like to go, I stop and take a break. Here I give myself a little chance to get inspired. I'll reread some good books (I like Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The $100 Start Up by Chris Guillebeau ). TED Talks can be a good source of inspiration. Cleveland's own Weapons of Mass Creation has a great archive of their guest speakers that can be found here.
Once I'm feeling a little more enlightened I'll go over everything I've written down from page one on. Does page one still represent an accurate description of where I want to be by this time next year? Have I left out any general steps? While I'm feeling all brainy I usually try to write down a little philosophy about why and how I do what I do. These notes end up in the margins and on the backs of pages. This might sound silly but I'll reread these a lot when I'm having to make decisions about things like shop policies, return policies, describe your business to us questionnaires, and the rare pre-interview thought organizing.
When I feel like I'm done with all of my general steps I will sit down and prioritize them into what I need to deal with first. I do this by using a method I call Make Money Today/ Make Money Tomorrow which I covered here. Once I know which general step I need to take first I'll flesh out the actionable steps I need to take to work on that step.
I know this might all sound a little precious but what I'm doing here is setting a foundation for the year. It might seem all theoretical and the list will probably get changed around quite a bit as things come up. I can't tell you how valuable it has been in the past to be able to go back and reread these things when I'm in the thick of a busy season. It is the work I'm doing today that I'll look to for answers when I'm debating pursuing a new business opportunity, updating my product line, or buying more materials.
So just do it. Do it on your iPhone. Do it on a bar napkin. Do it in a fancy journal you bought just for this reason. I've tried them all. It really doesn't matter so long as you save it and reread it. First you have to write it down.