Ask an Anchor: How do I make progress toward my big goals?

Dear Sarah,

It’s been a busy season for me, which is great -- I know I’m fortunate to be working rather than scrambling to get by. 

While I’m busy with clients, tasks that I know are required (like keeping up with accounting, marketing/networking, sending pitches, keeping up with my industry) aren’t getting done. I’m SO EXHAUSTED at the end of each day and my weekends feel like precious recovery time, so I’m not willing to do some of this during those hours. Getting to these extracurriculars actually feels physically impossible, and my creative juices are definitely not flowing after long days and weeks.  

I know those tasks are directly linked with my plans/dreams for the future. How do I not lose my footing on the business AND continue to work toward big goals when I’m busy?

Thank you,

Busy But Worried


Dear Busy But Worried,

A quick fix is what we all want, but that approach isn’t sustainable, sufficiently systematic, or focused enough when applied to the marathon that is running a business. 

What seems to work best, instead, is carefully analyzing the root of our problems, and working to identify the core issues and motivations in our businesses and lives. In all things: lasting change requires thought, care, and skillful use of momentum.

I honestly love working ON my business. I love planning, mapping out money, figuring out what’s working and what isn’t. If I could swing it (and I hope that I can someday), I would do it all week long. It feels like a puzzle that’s solvable but also endless. Planning eases my anxiety, and it gives me real creative fuel for the next steps in my life and business. Knowing what you want and what to look out for in those decision-making moments is the best gift you can give yourself and your business. 

Focusing on developing your business will be the way your business grows. Is that enough motivation to make the time? 

I used to hope for short days (in my past, sadder life phases) and now all I want is endless energy and 40-hour days just so I can get it all done and do more - live this one short beautiful life to its fullest. 

The joy of planning my business also gets me into trouble. I can fall into a hole of “what if’s” and “who could they be” and “how to reach them” which, when I fall into that flow (which feels SO GOOD), can get in the way of the real work that needs to be done at the moment. Your current business (your clients, deadlines, product development, etc.) are absolutely a priority. My suggestion is to create a day a week (or a few days a month) that is set aside just for the more significant projects. This is harder than it sounds, of course. 

“Your audacious life goals are fabulous. We’re proud of you for having them. But it’s possible that those goals are designed to distract you from the thing that’s really frightening you—the shift in daily habits that would mean a reinvention of how you see yourself.”
— Seth Godin

Here’s what I do…

I am similar to you. By the end of the day, I am done done. The “end of the day” might not always be at the same time either. If I start work early, the end of my creative (and kindhearted) rope will run out about 8 hours later (and those 8 hours include midday breaks, so it really looks like 6 hours of work) I have in the past executed consistent, longer days and I’ve lived off of coffee to the detriment of my health. I don’t do that anymore. In fact, I build shorter billable hours with space for breaks because I am more efficient with rest and under a “deadline.” Most people are that way.

When I have “extracurricular” tasks, I do best when I build a very large chunk of time for them rather than trying to sprinkle those essential tasks throughout the day or week. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older or perhaps it’s because of what much research is starting to show: we humans aren’t actually good at multitasking. And that flow takes time to achieve, so don’t let anything silly (like notifications on your phone) steal your attention. 

Bookkeeping and financial planning need at least two hours a week if not every other week. Create systems to cut down that time and hire the right support to make sure you’re not messing up your bookkeeping system. This effort WILL save you time in the long run. Do not hide from understanding your business’s financial health. I look at my cash flow every day. I can’t keep it all straight in my head, so I built that tool to quell my anxiety so I can quickly return to work. 

Bigger projects like marketing strategy and planning should take you a few, deeply focused days. At the very least, block off 3-4 days on your calendar every quarter. If you can afford it, take yourself to a cabin for those few days with specific goals for completion. There’s no way around this process. The reason you’re not getting to this particular task is that you’re not setting aside enough time to be a human. Humanity with a project like this means you need support in planning (other humans), time to tap into your creativity (long walks, hikes, swims), alone time and rounding it out with real action items. 

Write out the steps, figure out how long each one might take, calendar the steps, and go from there. The big picture work can be more ambiguous, overwhelming, or even not as rewarding in the short term. But your past (and future!) self are rooting for Present Day You to step up and chip away at long-term goals. 

Warmly,

Sarah

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