How Smart and Complicated Business Owners Get More Done – Part Three

Part Three – Work in Short, Focused Bursts

This is Part Three of a three-part series about leaning into simple practices and disciplines that allow you to move steadily toward making money in fresh, new ways. This series showcases the principles and practices we use in the Monetize Your Message Action Circle.

When you are smart and complicated, you have a tendency to value the big, the grand, the elaborate, over the small, the simple, and the humble.

In terms of work productivity, that can look like minimizing the value of taking small steps or making incremental shifts, and looking down on setting the bar low for what you accomplish each day.

The prevailing thought is: If I can’t spend three hours on this today, it’s not worth spending ten minutes. And then too many days go by without that big investment of time, and your commitment to your important-but-easy-to-put-off project gets postponed so long you begin to lose the drive to make it happen.

That’s why in the action circle, we encourage the discipline of working on your projects in short, focused bursts.

A work burst means spending 5-45 minutes working on a specific, and important, project without interruption.

When you master the work burst, you start to realize that doing 5-10-15 minutes a day on a big, important project actually adds up quickly.

If you have the luxury of a full work day to do what you want, you can do several longer work bursts. But if you have a more typical day full of other commitments, you also realize that you can squeeze in a short burst here and there between things and move forward without the luxury of a lot of time.

In fact, I wrote everything in this article up to this point in the 7 minutes I had between taking my son to school in the morning and going to ballet class, which pretty much took care of my whole morning.

My favorite way to use this technique is to commit to using the first, and best, part of my day to work on a that vitally-important-but-easy-to-put-off project. That project I might be tempted to say I don’t have time for.

What that could look like for you is beginning the day doing whatever puts you in a positive frame of mind. Prayer, meditation, running, or re-reading your inspiring vision.

And then, before checking your email, or launching into anything else time-consuming or energy-draining, working on what you’ve chosen as your priority project for the week or for the month – whether it’s creating the marketing for a new program, reaching out to establish key business relationships, working on your message development, or rewriting the web copy you’ve been meaning to update for years.

Working on that without interruption for whatever time frame you choose: whether it’s five minutes or 45 minutes.

And then, you take a break. You celebrate that you put your most important work first.

If you have a busy day, you can move into your calls and appointments knowing that you are not letting things slide. If you have a more open day, you have the option to do another focused work burst on that project or move on to another one.

Doing this consistently takes practice and lots of reminders. Doing this consistently keeps you focused, strong, and moving forward even when life is throwing you curve balls.

How Smart and Complicated Business Owners Get More Done – Part Two

Part Two – Harness the Power of Projects

This is Part Two of a three-part series about leaning into simple practices and disciplines that allow you to move steadily toward making money in fresh, new ways. You can read Part One here. This series showcases the principles and practices we use in my ongoing Monetize Your Message Action Circle.

As a smart and complicated business owner, you may not have trouble accessing a big vision of what you want to create in your business and in the world. But it’s not much good having a big vision if you struggle to translate what you see into the practical steps you need to take to make it a reality.

One of the key skills for smart and complicated business owners to develop is to use the power of contraction to gradually, respectfully, narrow down the full range of options you could take, so you can see clearly the next practical step you will take.

The gradual part is important for the smart and complicated. To go from your big vision straight to what to do in the next half hour is often too big a leap. But if you gradually narrow things down, after a few goes it becomes clearer what steps are right in front of you.

How do you narrow things down?

The one I use, when I take people through the Annual Planning Process, is to start big by calling in the qualities we want to experience in the coming year. Peace. Joy. Risk-taking. Order. Those qualities inspire your themes for the year — the broad strokes of what you want to bring into being.

Then, I encourage you to brain dump every practical, concrete way you can imagine those themes coming to life.

From there, you can define your projects.

Choosing your projects, and staying focused on them, is a key to turning your creative expression into new, just-right-for-you sources of income.

What is a project? A project is a temporary effort, with a defined beginning and end, designed to help you achieve what you desire.
A project is a way to organize your activity. It is defined by the action steps that move you through the project from beginning to end. You complete the project by taking as many of the actions you’ve defined as possible, as well as new ones that emerge as you are in motion, within the time frame you’ve set, as quickly as is healthy and reasonable.

My smart and complicated clients tell me it’s much more empowering and energizing to pick projects rather than set goals.

A goal defines the end point, but a project defines the journey. It helps you put your focus on your efforts as much as your outcomes. Somehow, it feels more fun to work on a project rather than anxiously hope you’re doing enough to reach your goals.

Done right, a project builds in a point of completion. So instead of endlessly chasing the goal of two more clients, you execute your Spring-2012-Client-Boosting-Campaign, and then notice how well it worked to get you those two clients.

It’s a little different, right?

In his book, Making Ideas Happen, Scott Belsky suggest that “everything is a project.” But, if everything is a project, life can get overwhelming. So one key to harnessing the power of projects is choosing which projects are a priority.

In the Action Circle, we recommend that every month, you pick:
• One revenue project
• One business development project, and
• One personal project

If you’re in business, having revenue projects is essential.

A revenue project is simply a project intended to bring money in the door. If you are not conscientiously focused on projects that bring in revenue, you are not actually in business. A revenue project can be organized around securing a new batch of private clients, enrolling a teleclass, or selling a number of info products.

A development project is a project that strengthens your business but may not directly, in and of itself, generate revenue. A development project could include updating your web site, building referral relationships with key sources, or improving your business systems. Many new business owners get stuck in the trap of focusing only on development projects, and leaving the sometimes scarier revenue projects on the back burner.

Personal projects simply let you acknowledge that you have a life, and that moving forward there is important too.

How Smart and Complicated Business Owners Get More Done — Part One

Part One – Alternate Cycles of Expansion and Contraction

This is Part One of a three-part series about leaning into simple practices and disciplines that allow you to move steadily toward making money in fresh, new ways honoring the wisdom developed in your life. This series showcases the principles and practices we use in my ongoing Monetize Your Message Action Circle.

A lot of the clients I work with worry that being smart, and having an ease with complexity is a liability, that it’s something they have to overcome or work against in order to have a thriving business!

They may feel like they have to dumb down what they offer to get the clients and make the sales they want. They may feel they have to work against themselves to be simple enough to connect with their audience and make sales.

These challenges can show up trying to find the simple message in your complex ideas, finding the teachable or transferable process in the wisdom accumulated in your life, and finding the practical steps forward to realize your bigger vision.

The danger is that we see such a big vision of what is possible it can feel paralyzing to take the first step.

We can be so addicted to the energy and excitement of what we see in our vision that we are bored by the small steps that would move us forward.

We can get impatient with what feels like slow motion forward, so that we abandon one path for the thrill of a new one.

One of the most seductive struggles is valuing our ability to be smart and visionary so highly that we forget that that having good ideas is only a small fraction of what is needed in order to make money sharing our insights, our ideas, and the wisdom of our lifetime.

We may shrink away from words like accountability and discipline, and yet it’s these very things that free us. These very things that move us from ideas to implementation to income.

And when we understand and respect our own unique way of functioning, that complexity and intensity we bring can actually become an asset.
You learn to manage your complexity, instead of trying to abandon it.

You don’t get rid of your orientation to complexity, you add complementary skills that help you use the complexity without being hampered by it.
One of those skills is learning to move fluidly between cycles of expansion and contraction.

Ultimately, all creative acts require moving between phases of expansion and contraction.

In the expansion stage, you increase the number of options of what you could do, or you increase the scope and impact in what you do. In business practice, expansion happens during brainstorming, mind mapping, and visioning. Research. Master minding.

You want to lean in to expansion when you need inspiration and energy. When you want to bring new life to your project, when you’re stuck in a rut, or when you’re bored. Expansive practices are great when you sense there is a better, more efficient way forward.

In the contraction stage, you narrow down the options to a manageable number. You choose. You take the full range of possibilities and decide which to concentrate on.

In contraction mode, you are the fierce editor, the bold leader who chooses of all options which to go with. Contraction shows up when you choose your top three projects for the year, define the task to tackle in the first half hour of your day, pick the one marketing effort that you believe will have the most payoff.

You want to lean into contraction practices when you feel overwhelmed. When you’re frazzled. When you can’t keep up with the schedule you’ve created for yourself. When you feel pulled in too many directions. When you don’t see that you’re getting any where.

Good strategy is ultimately about doing this – seeing and considering a full range of options, then choosing the one that makes the best use of your time, your energy, and your money.

Success is about taking that one option and sticking with it over time until the plan and the vision come to fruition.

As a general rule, smart and complicated folk tend to be good at expansion, and tend to under-utilize contraction. That’s why it’s smart to build in structures that encourage you to narrow your options. To build that muscle that lets you see all kinds of tantalizing possibilities and then pick one to move with.

It’s very discouraging to see such big possibilities for yourself and for the world, but not experience forward momentum. Work with yourself in your business so that the options narrow down – so the answer to the constant question of “what should I be doing?” gets clearer. So those voices in your head get quieter because you’ve taken the time to narrow things down.

The practices that will help you do that include:
• Picking no more than 9 key projects for the year, three revenue-based projects, three development projects, and three personal projects (more on this in Part Two).
• Choosing no more than 3 key projects to move forward in a given month (same as the above – 1 revenue, 1 development, 1 personal).
• Choosing no more than 5 key actions to tackle in a day.
• Knowing your absolute top priority project and spending the first, freshest half -hour of the day on that.

And those are all things we work on in the Monetize Your Message Action Circle.

Revitalizing a Successful Business

Here is another case study of how message work can energize an already successful business:

Mark Silver called me last fall to ask for my help in solving a challenge with his messaging.

Now, if you don’t know him, Mark has a wonderful business that teaches heart-centered entrepreneurs kind and loving ways to work with themselves and to market to their clients. His work combines his training as a Sufi healer with his knowledge about building simple but effective systems to help businesses grow.

His company, Heart of Business, is well-established (multiple six-figures), and, as I like to joke, when it comes to communication, Mark is nearly as smart as I am! So why would he need my help with his messaging?

When you’re newer in business, you feel as if everything will be great once you are making regular money. But the truth is, as your business grows, so does your desire to make sure that your business is truly a reflection of the biggest, deepest message you are here to share. It’s no longer a question of how to get clients, but how to get the right clients and create the opportunity to do the right work.

What Mark told me was: “After being in business for ten years, I had a solid tag line (When you want to make a difference, but need to make a profit.), but the spiritual component of what we do was hidden. People had to really look deeper to figure it out. Even though the tagline and message were taking a stand, it felt like the current language was hampering us. The shiny-ness, relevance, and impact that I wanted to have weren’t there.”

He reported that it felt like his team was working harder to get the same results each year, and that it was hard for even happy clients to talk about them clearly and spread the word. Without the clarity in his message, he felt stuck in his decision-making and strategic implementation. Without the ability to name his essential message, he couldn’t move forward with the rebranding and website overhaul he wanted and he was reluctant to bring on team to support the effort without the confidence that he could communicate what the business was all about.

Jokingly, Mark said at the beginning of our session, “I’m hoping you can solve my challenge in about five minutes.” We laughed, though the truth is, the clearer the intention my client brings to the session, the more likely they get what they want. So, I asked him to tell me he wanted to convey that wasn’t yet being said.

The bottom line was, he wanted to be more explicit about the spiritual aspect of what he offered and the potential for people to engage in business in a way that is sacred. I listened carefully and, between knowing his work from the many calls we’ve done together, and reading his beautiful book “Unveiling the Heart of Your Business,” within about ten minutes I was able to reflect back what I was hearing and say, “so basically what you’re saying is that every act of business is an act of love.” Or rather, as we clarified, not that every act of business is an act of love but that “every act of business can be an act of love.”

Bingo! Mark knew immediately that we’d hit on it. Of course, I wanted to do my due diligence and asked a bunch of questions to make sure there wasn’t something more that needed to be said. I was impressed that when I asked Mark if his message was that if you are more spiritually connected, you have a greater chance of being successful with your business, he gave me a pretty emphatic “no!” He said it was a spiritually inaccurate message, as attractive as it might be to the audience.

Mark left the call elated that we had found the words to capture his core message. About a month later, he reported that bringing his message into focus had made a huge difference.

He was in love with the message (and the tagline that came out of it), and his team was as well. Soon after our session, he had brought on a designer and got moving with his web redesign because he could finally communicate the heart of his story. He felt the clarity and crispness of his message had improved, that his blog posts were having more impact, and that he was more on point when interviewed. He felt like he was planting a flag, saying “this is what I stand for,” without needing to hide behind other capabilities.

Curious, I later asked Mark why he’d chosen to work with me, given how well connected he is, and how many talented branding/marketing/copywriting people he knows. What he told me was that “the intersection of spirit and business isn’t easy to talk about. I appreciate your complex understanding of language and how language is used. You aren’t just about coming up with phrases, but getting to what it is we are trying to say. I knew that you could help me have a spiritual message that was also grounded and practical.”

Mark introduced his new website this fall, to rave reviews and enthusiastic comments, including for his new tag line. In fact, Mark wrote about our work together and his choice of a “rule-breaking” tagline in a recent post.

If your business has hit the wall, or you just feel ready to bust loose with a bigger, bolder expression of your work in the world, a good place to start is with your core message. Clarity is a funny thing. When you can name your bigger, deeper message, you unleash powerful energy that propels you out into the world.