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Dec 2012

What Comes First? EVERYTHING!

I received a question on one of the Baltimore evaluation sheets asking what is the most important thing to do first to get your business moving. The answer, of course, is that it depends on the needs of your business. But often that’s the hardest thing in the world to figure out . . . especially when you are new in business.

The problem with any small business that is based on the creative output of the owner is that you have to keep SO MANY balls in the air until your business hits the right "rhythm.” A good business rhythm is impossible to explain if you’ve not experienced it . . . but you know it when it happens. For me, it would not have happened without strict adherence to goal-setting, especially for the critical issues that move any business forward. The most important of these issues for a new or growing studio are pricing, marketing and selling. But if you don't deal with workflow as part of that mix, then you'll never find the time to get to any of these critical issues. And if you don’t take the time to do Income and Expense projections according to managerial accounting (as shown in your notebook), it’s not likely that you’ll have the financial resources you need to support yourself in a full-time business. Do you see what I mean about lots of balls in the air at once? Being in business sucks away your time; that's why I hope you'll take my advice to simplify and outsource very seriously. Otherwise you'll be in constant overwhelm. Building a business truly is like learning how to fly while you are building the airplane.

So when I read this question, I thought it might be helpful to mention the crazy system of lists that I have used over the years to keep myself from going nuts while I was building a business that was terribly in debt. It’s a system that still works today in allowing me to keep way more balls in the air than I probably should. I guarantee that you will not hear about this system at anyone’s Time Management Seminar. But it works for me, and I though it might help you.

The Nag List

I keep a list on my desk of the 3 most Critical Issues I need to confront and overcome in order to push the business in the direction I want it to move. Almost always these are things that have to be accomplished over many hours and days . . . and sometimes many months. I force myself to limit the list to only 3 items. I can bump one item in favor of a new Critical Issue. But I keep it at 3 items, otherwise a long list will overwhelm and become invisible. To make sure I don’t miss it, I use 24 pt. type and print the list, which I have posted just to the left of my computer. Every time I reach for the phone I see the list. It’s almost as annoying as having my mother tell me to clean up my room. That’s why I call this my "Nag List." My current 3 items are:

  • Create samples for B&W Fine Art Pet Prints
  • Renovate camera room
  • Find new pet portrait display

The I-Want-To-Do-It List

This list resides on my computer. I used to keep it in a simple Word document, and I dated each item as I posted it. Before I moved it recently, I noticed that some of the items date back to 1998, and that’s the point of this list: Creative people cannot possibly accomplish all the good ideas they hear from others or come up with on their own. In fact time management experts say that the best the creative types can do is about one-third of the items they would like to do. But how do you decide which third to tackle?

Once you have sorted out the current items on your Nag List, add the other Critical Issues to your I Want-To-Do-It List. Next, add any other good ideas as they come up. If you can accomplish any of these tasks quickly, ask yourself if doing so will help you produce income. These items can move up the list; put them right under the Critical Issues. The rest of the items can stay put until your next review.

Another benefit of the I Want-To-Do-It List is that it relieves stress when you have a place that serves as an “idea dump.” I firmly believe that trying to carry a lot of good ideas around in your head causes stress and prevents focus; it feels like a constant nagging in your brain that you have forgotten something important. Stick it on your I Want-To-Do-It List, and poof! . . . the stress is gone! You can always go back to the list and move it to the top if it becomes relevant. Or if it's been on the list for 10 years, maybe you'll want to remove it :-). This act will prove to you that just because you want to do it, doesn’t mean you should do it or that you will have time to do it.

These days, this list resides on my Wunderlist app, which is Wunderful! This free app allows me to record ideas on mobile devices as well as on my iMac, and it keeps track of personal stuff as well. If I'm sitting at my computer and remember something that I need to purchase at Walmart, it goes on my Wunderlist shopping list, and the item is right there on my iPhone once I get to the store. The pro version looks like an excellent task manager as well, but so far I’m keeping it simple with the free version.

The “Must-Do-Now-Or-Be-In-Big-Trouble” Post-It Notes

Managing unexpected and last-minute details are the hardest business issues for me to cope with. A wonderfully planned-out day is like a super-magnet that attracts any and every possible interruption . . . some are a pain in the neck and some are great opportunities that I welcome. But in the resulting chaos, I need a way to keep from overlooking the promises I make to clients, prospects, vendors, and even friends and family.

So with items like this, I simply jot down the task on a small Post-it note, and I stick them on the bottom of my iMac. When that bottom bar fills up with notes, I queue up movies on my DVR and put in a late night. Of course I reward myself with late-night snacks that I have no business eathing :-).

True, the system isn’t pretty, but it does keep me on track and reasonably sane. There's something to be said for than isn’t there?