I’m almost six feet tall. And I come from a family of tall people.
Because of that, I joke that anyone below five feet ten inches is short. And only people over six feet six inches are tall.
In fact, we tease my youngest sister about her height. Because in my family, at five feet six inches, she’s the shortest one…by almost four inches.
And that’s because height is relative. Someone is short or tall based on your own height and the height of those you spend time with.
And like height is relative, what tools and tactics make the most sense also are relative.
Tools and tactics are only helpful if they help you get where you are going. Their usefulness is relative to the path you are on, and if they help or hinder your progress.
But often I see creative business owners blindly following an expert’s formula or chasing the next flash-in-the-pan trend. Rather than first assessing if it’s right. And judging if it’s going to get them one step further on their journey.
Which often is a little ironic. Because in most aspects, creative business owners celebrate their unique qualities. But when it comes to the business side, they try to cram their unique business into a one-size-fits-all box.
But formulas, tactics, and trends only help if they move your forward. And so before diving in, you need to measure them against where you are going. And decide if they will help you take the best, next, step.
Yes, figuring this out is hard work. But it’s the only way to move your business without wasting your precious resources of time and money.
Once you know where you are going and your next step, you’ve got to create a plan to get there.
Why you should create a plan (even if you don’t like to)
Often I hear from creatives that they don’t like to plan.
- I don’t plan because it stifles my creativity
- I don’t plan because I find them restricting, I want to do what feels best each day
- I don’t plan because they waste time, I’d rather be taking action
But often what you are saying is,
- I don’t plan because I’ll be disappointed in myself if I don’t follow through
- I don’t plan because I don’t know how to break this huge project into steps
- I don’t plan because I don’t know if this tool, tactic, or strategy will help my business
- I don’t plan because I don’t know what direction I want to take my business
But if you want to achieve your goals, you need to have at least a loose plan of how you’ll get from Point A to Point B.
And there’s science to back that up.
The science data
For many, a common unexecuted goal is to exercise more. Many people make exercising their New Year’s Resolution. But by the end of January, they’ve abandoned it.
Because of the disconnect between knowing and acting, exercise has been the subject of many studies. All trying to figure out how to motivate people to exercise more frequently.
A group of British researchers took this topic on in 2002. They tested if setting a concrete plan would increase exercise.
To test their hypothesis, researchers randomly divided participants into three groups:
The first group was asked to record how often they exercised over the next two weeks. Then, they read three paragraphs of a novel and left.
(This was the control group.)
The second group was also asked to record how often they exercised over the next two weeks. Then, they read a three-paragraph health pamphlet about the benefits of exercise and left.
(This group tested if knowing the benefits increased exercise.)
The third group was like the second. They also were asked to record how often they exercised and read a three-paragraph health pamphlet about the benefits of exercise.
But before they could leave, they had to fill in the blanks of the following sentence:
During next week I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [day(s)] at [time] at/in [place].
(This group tested if having a plan increased exercise.)
Can you guess what percentage of each group exercised at least once in the two-week period?
Of course, the last group did. (Or I wouldn’t be sharing this data with you!)
But they exercised at more than double the rate of the other two groups.
- 38% exercised in the group told to record
- 35% exercised in the group reminded of the benefits of exercise
- 91% exercised in the group that created a plan on when and where they would exercise
My own experience
If you don’t know, I run my business on a mini-sabbatical schedule. I work for six weeks, and then take a full week off. (I stole this concept from Sean Wes.)
And last spring, I read The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran*. After reading it, I decided to try his ideas. But tweaking them to fit my mini-sabbatical schedule.
In my version, I set goals for my business on a 14-week cycle. I work on my goals for six weeks, take a week off, then spend six final weeks working on those goals.
After taking a week off, I start the process again for the next 14 weeks.
In the book, Brian’s method follows the British study results.
First, he encourages you to set your 12 Week Year Goals.
Then he asks you to create a plan. You do this by picking a set of tasks and tactics that you’ll complete each week to meet your goals.
And then he asks you to decide when you’ll execute each of those tasks and tactics you’ve selected.
Which perfectly outlines the results of this study: pick a goal, create a plan, decide when you’ll do it.
The final piece of the 12 Week Year method is your weekly scorecard. This step requires calculating what percentage of your tasks you accomplished each week.
After reading this study, I pulled out my 2017 bullet journal.
When I reviewed my bullet journal one thing jumped out. And that is that a single factor that determines my score.
- If I scored high, I’d blocked off time at the beginning of the week on my calendar to complete each task.
- If I scored low, I’d only added the tasks to my weekly bullet journal to-do list.
Or to tweak the sentence from the exercise study, when I filled in the blanks below, I did better.
During next week I will complete [task] on [day(s)] at [time] at/in [place].
When plans go awry
You might be thinking I’m great at planning. But something always happens…
- My daughter gets sick
- I have to finish a big project for my day job
- An urgent client project comes up
- My creative well is drained
And because of that, I’m never am able to stick to my plan.
When this happens, I’ve got another piece of science to help you. And that’s the power of if, then statements.
In the book, The Power of Habit*, Charles Duhigg shares a study about healing rates after a hip or knee replacement surgery.
To measure healing, researchers looked at things like how long it took patients to stand and how fast they could walk.
And the group that healed the quickest all created if, then statements.
They created these statements around problems that they knew would arise. And pre-solved them.
And you can steal this trick to account for kinks in your plans. For example,
- If my daughter gets sick this week and has to stay home from school, then I’ll allow her 30-minutes extra screen time so that I can list this item in my Etsy shop.
- If I have to work late at my day job to finish the big project, then I’ll grab dinner on the way home so I can finish my email newsletter, rather than prepare a meal.
- If an urgent client project comes up, then I’ll skip this week’s blog post so I can spend the time creating a line sheet.
- If I can’t get started writing this week’s blog post because my creative well is dry, then I’ll set a timer for 20-minutes and allow myself to free writing on whatever topic comes to mind.
After digging into this research, I’m switching out the layout of my weekly bullet journal.
Not only am I leaving a space to note when I’ll be accomplishing each of my tasks. But I’ll be brainstorming one or two if, then statements, so I’ll have a Plan B in case problems crop up.
What’s one easy tweak you will try this week to not only create a plan but also come up with a plan B? Share your insights in the comments below.
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