Imagine this scenario: you’re working at a large, busy bookstore. Every day, people pick up books and put them back. Sort of. They never quite end up in the same place and “alphabetical by author” quickly descends into loosely-managed chaos.
Your task today is re-alphabetizing the Fiction & Literature section. It’s a task that takes several hours on a good day.
You set about the job and find satisfaction in not just arranging the books but in also carefully “flushing” the books (pulling them to flush along the edge of the shelf). Each shelf you complete has a certain beauty to it.
An hour into it, you look back over your shoulder. All the work you’ve just completed has been mangled by customers trying to locate the books they want!
You’re frustrated. You “complete” the job. But is it really done if customers have gone and messed it up already? Your satisfaction has dissolved into frustration.
When I was a manager for Borders Books & Music, managing this task (and many like it) was an important part of my job. It was easy to assign people a section of books and tell them to get to it. What was extremely difficult was managing the discontentment that would grow among every single employee as they realized just how futile their work was.
Once I became a business owner and a coach, I realized just how endemic this problem is. It’s not confined to odd retail jobs; it’s not confined to bookstores and libraries; it’s a universal adult experience.
In school, we have certain expectations and benchmarks. You complete your homework, or you don’t. You take the test, or you don’t. You finish the school year, or you don’t. You do what you’re supposed to do and you advance to the next grade. Everything is clear cut, and the consequences of not doing what you’re supposed to be doing are fairly severe.
But in work or our businesses, your actions are rarely tied to clear consequences or benchmarks. You show up, do work that’s assigned to you, and go home. Most of the time, you don’t know how that work is impacting the bottom line or progress towards bigger goals.
You lose faith and focus.
Your growth stagnates.
This is a serious problem.
In all the reader and customer research we’ve done this year (and it’s a lot), this problem has presented itself.
You’ve told us that you don’t know how the work you’re doing today will get you where you want to go.
You’ve told us that, because you lack focus on a particular goal, it makes it difficult for you to decide what’s next.
You’ve told us that there are so many things demanding your attention that you don’t know how to prioritize.
You’ve told us that you understand a lot of things in theory but that you have trouble when it comes to applying things because there’s just so much to do.
Yes, that’s a recipe for frustration. And, it’s also a recipe for the stagnation that leads to throwing in the towel.
The last thing I want for you is to throw in the towel on your business. I want your ideas to find a bigger audience. I want you to up-level your revenue and earning. I want your customers to experience everything you have to offer.
But you’re not going to get there operating the way you have been operating.
So what gives? How did I approach managing expectations and employee satisfaction when faced with endless tasks at a bookstore? How do I approach my own un-ending to-do list and make real progress on my business?
The key is creating benchmarks that allow you to say, “I’m done.”
It sounds simple and it is. But you don’t do it.
You say “I’m going to work on building my course” instead of “I’m going to complete Module 3 by Friday.” You say “I’m going to post more to social media” instead of “I’m going to post 5 times a day to 2 networks, 5 days a week.”
It’s the difference between telling yourself you’re going to train to run some far off race and actually counting the hurdles you clear, one after another.
What’s more: you don’t tie these ineffective action plans to things you really want. Why are you going to complete Module 3 by Friday? Because you’re aiming at a $25k revenue goal on that course that you’re launching in March. Why are you going to post 5 times a day? Because you’re growing your influence by attracting 50% more followers.
The mindset shift you need to make here is that it’s not about doing the work; it’s about overcoming the next obstacle.
You’re the kind of person who wants to see results, know you accomplished something, and raise the bar of excellence. When you’re feeling productive, satisfied, and fulfilled, you’re not just showing up, you’re leaping over hurdles.
What you see in front of you right now is work, not hurdles.
If you want to up your level of satisfaction and intensify your focus, transform your work into hurdles.
The moment you change each task or goal into an obstacle to overcome, you will accomplish more, feel a greater sense of satisfaction, and make measurable progress towards your greater vision.
You’re a problem-solver and a barrier breaker. This is in your wheelhouse.
Here are guidelines for turning your work into hurdles:
1) Start with what you’re working towards overall. Give it a number (dollars, team members, members, etc…). At Quiet Power Strategy™, we call this your Chief Initiative.
2) Then list the projects you’re currently working on to achieve this overall goal. Make sure each is either quantifiable (again: dollars, pitches, subscribers, etc…) or time-bound (has an “by” date).
3) Next, list growth actions for each project. Consider the specific things that need to be done to accomplish each project. None of these actions should begin with “start,” “continue,” “work on,” or any other word that connotes continuation and not completion. If you can’t finish the action in the time given, break it down further.
4) Finally, start tracking your progress. Each and every week, review your Chief Initiative, projects, and growth actions. Take note what of you’ve completed and what standards of action you’ve met. Mark down your progress on the metrics that are important to your goal (subscribers, dollars, members, etc…). Make a plan for the week that takes into account what worked previously and what new things you want to try to create more momentum.
If you follow these 4 steps, I guarantee you’ll make meaningful progress in your business and feel closer to your goals than you ever have before. Your sense of discontentment will start to wain and your sense of fulfillment will grow.
Now, I know most people reading this will not take these actions. Will you?