When you start work in the morning, what’s your routine? Do you turn your computer on and start checking email? Do you review yesterday’s list of undone tasks? Do you go through your inbox? Do you check your voice mails? Do you walk the halls, grab a cup of coffee and talk with whomever is already at the office? Do you read the Wall Street Journal? What do you do? What’s your routine?
Chances are, it’s the same thing (or a very similar routine based on the day). Moreover, you probably don’t think about it a whole lot. It’s an autopilot option. It’s a habit. And unless something intentional is done to change it, you’ll probably keep doing the same thing week after week.
But the key question is, “Does it serve you well?” And the more important question is, “Is it the best way to start your day?” In other words, if you were to do something different, would it change the outcome of your business in a significant and positive way? Of course, the only way to know the answer to that is to try something different.
So, let me encourage you to try a different kind of routine to start your work day this week. Before you check your emails. Before you read the Wall Street Journal. Before you review yesterday’s undone tasks. Before you check your voice mails, etc. I want to encourage you to try starting your day by asking four simple and yet profound questions.
1. What are my top three projects for this month/quarter?
Now, this assumes that you’ve done your planning and know what they are. However, if you haven’t done your planning, then your first task is to get clarity on what they are.
Leadership is an advancing function, not a maintaining function. A leader is always engaged in changing something, not in maintaining what is. Which means that a leader should always have a series of projects on their “to do” list-a series of projects to advance the business/organization. In fact, I would argue that a “leader” without several big projects on their list each month isn’t really leading at all.
Now, when it comes to change, there are only four options.
- You can START doing something that your company isn’t already doing
- You can STOP doing something that your company is currently doing
- You can DO MORE of what you’re currently doing
- You can DO LESS of what you’re currently doing
That’s it. So, as you look at where your business is and where you want to go, what are the top three projects to get you there that you need to focus on this month/quarter?
Then, once you have clarity of them, I would encourage you to WRITE them out by hand every day. Why? Because the physical act of writing out your top three (not your top four or your top five or your top ten, but your top three) projects, will solidify and anchor your focus-and in business focus is critical to success (Read chapter four in my book on Breaking Through Plateaus for more information on focus).
Just reviewing them in your head or reading them on a computer screen won’t accomplish the same thing as actually writing out (by hand) your top three projects for the month/quarter.
Once, you’re mentally focused on your top three projects for this month/quarter, you can move to question number two.
2. What can I do TODAY to move one or more of these projects forward?
In other words, once your mind is focused on what really matters this month, the next question is your actionable question. What specific action(s) can I take over the next 8-12 hours to move my most important projects ahead?
The key to this question really is, “What’s the next actionable item that I’m responsible for?” On any big project, there are always multiple moving parts, but for you to hit your objectives and goals for your company this month/quarter, what role can you play this day to move that agenda forward?
Note: These actions don’t need to be big bad overwhelming tasks. They could be something as simple as, “Call Sally to ….” Or, “Delegate XYZ to …” Or, “Ask Admin to coordinate meeting with …” Or, “Email George about …”
The size of the tasks is not what matters. What matters is forward movement and momentum so that the project (of the parts of the project for that month) get completed in time with the objectives/outcomes desired being met or exceeded.
Unfortunately what happens to way too many leaders (even those who create a monthly plan) is that they forget the big projects for the first few weeks and then either try to cram in everything at the end or they move this month’s project to next month.
To avoid that, make sure you ask question #2 every morning.
3. What am I avoiding/putting off?
In general, most of us prefer pleasure over pain, which means that anything that we don’t enjoy doing, we tend to put off. For example, in our personal lives, since most Americans are overweight, most of us put off eating healthy and getting the right amount and kind of exercise our bodies need. Why? Because, left to our own, we all tend to put off what we don’t enjoy doing-even if we know that doing the thing we’re trying to avoid would make our lives better.
That same principle holds true at work. There are tasks on your “to do” list and mine that we simply don’t like doing (even though we know they’d be good for our business). For some of you that might be making a sales call. For others it’s asking someone for a referral. For some it’s reconciling their bank accounts. While for others it’s avoiding a difficult conversation. We all have our issues.
However, for the vast majority of the issues that you and I tend to put off, putting them off doesn’t solve them. In fact, it often makes them worse. Avoiding letting go of an under-performing employee (or avoiding putting them on a performance plan) always costs more than the pain of the conversation … in the long run.
So rather than allowing fear to run your business, why don’t you make a daily commitment to do at least one thing that you’d normally put off. Not only will you get more done, you’ll also begin to develop a new habit-tackling uncomfortable tasks vs. avoiding them.
4. What can I do TODAY to generate more revenue/profit?
As the person at the top of your company, you need to ask this question every day. If you company is smaller, chances are you can easily get sucked into doing way too many administrivial tasks. On the other hand, if you’re leading a larger business, chances are you can easily get sucked into meeting hell and find that you have so little time to do something other than sit in meetings.
Regardless of size, the natural centrifugal pull of any business is toward the maintenance of that entity-where more and more of your time will be consumed by taking care of the organization itself.
Therefore, it is critical, as the leader of your business, that every day you arrive at work, you start by fighting against that natural pull. Don’t let your primary focus be inward. Let your primary focus be outward. And this one question, “What can I do today to generate more revenue/profit?” will help you do that.
So, do you want to grow a bigger, better, faster and more profitable business? If you do, I’d encourage you to ask yourself these four questions at the start of your workday, everyday.
- What are my top three projects for this month/quarter?
- What can I do today to move one or more of these projects forward?
- What am I avoiding/putting off?
- What can I do today to generate more revenue/profit?
Give this new routine a chance for the next 30 days and see what happens. Print these four questions out on a card and put them somewhere where you can’t miss them everyday. Ask and answer them everyday. And 30 days from now, I’m pretty sure you’ll be pleasantly pleased with the results!
Bruce D. Johnson is the author of Breaking Through Plateaus and the President of Wired to Grow. He helps owners, entrepreneurs and service professionals grow their businesses faster with less stress and more predictability. To learn more about Bruce, visit www.WiredToGrow.com.