Are you taking a holiday in the next few weeks? Imagine you’re already there…
You feel your shoulders relax as you taste your mojito. The sun and the sea give you a new sense of perspective. Sinking deeper into your lounger, you find yourself musing on how you’d like your life to be different. With each sip, you entertain a new thought…
“When I get home, I will simplify my life [sip]. I will prioritise [sip]. I will de-clutter [two sips]. I’m going to do more of the things I want to do [gulp]. And I’m going to spend more time with people I like [drain glass]. Hell, I’m going to have more fun… Waiter!”
These vague vacation impulses may or may not survive the return to work. Yet the instincts are absolutely bang on. Just a little… muddled?
Here’s what to do if you want to turn those impulses into reality – seven tips for rocking your personal business plan.
Tip 1. Figure out your cause: what is your best work?
This is the most fundamental question of all, but don’t take my word for it. Here’s Mufasa’s ghost speaking to his son in The Lion King (the Hamlet reboot): “You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.”
Can’t say it better than that. “Look inside yourself; you are more than what you have become.” Wow.
So start by reconnecting with the true you: the things you care about, the things you believe in, the things that make you proud. The fastest way into this is to reflect on the work you have found most profoundly fulfilling.
Tip 2. Think like an entrepreneur. Get into the driver’s seat.
White collar workers have less and less “permission to think”. That’s according to research by Phillip Brown at Cardiff University. Over the past three decades, they have been given less and less freedom over how to approach their work.
It’s one thing for employers to find and transfer ‘best practice’, but to take it so far is short-sighted and self-defeating. We each have insights into better ways to do our work; much better than the ways mandated by someone in a head office far far away. Also, the lack of power makes us lethargic.
So don’t acquiesce. Get into the driver’s seat. Autonomy and mastery are two of the fundamental components of motivation. You can only acquire them if you grab the wheel for yourself. Empowerment can’t be given, it has to be taken.
Tip 3. Create a picture of the career and business you want in 3 – 5 years.
Okay, you’re in the driver’s seat – but where are you headed?
This is a fairly obvious question, but do you actually have a clear picture of your destination in mind? What sort of people will you be working with, and on what sort of work? What skills will you be using? At what level of seniority? In what industry? What will your surroundings be like?
The future doesn’t come true just because you write it down. But it’s a start. If you can get clear about some or all of the things that you want, you can then take active steps to bring them to life. So that when you come across a decision point, a fork in the road, you can make a good choice in the knowledge of your destination.
Tip 4. Stop doing stuff that doesn’t get you there.
Strategy is sacrifice. It’s one of the hardest truths in business, perhaps in life.
You’re trying to do 10 things. They each make sense, more or less, in their own terms. But in aggregate, they don’t. The big picture is that you’re all over the shop. How do you choose? Once you’re clear about your destination, you’ll find that some of the things you’re doing get you closer to it, and some don’t.
Focus means saying no. It’s uncomfortable to say no. However, out of those 10 things, 7 or more are not going to get you closer to your goal. Stop them.
Tip 5. Decide on the 1 – 3 big things that you want to be known for.
If you think about your colleagues for a moment, could you write their CV for them in any level of detail? Of course not. You could summarise them using two or three headlines – good with clients, real technical ability, reluctant to delegate… that sort of thing.
Guess what. The same is true when your colleagues think of you. They’re reducing a complex set of impressions down to one, two or three headlines.
So make those headlines count. Choose to be known for an area of expertise, or a specific type of achievement. (If you choose ethically, you should fare better than Richard Nixon, who wanted his presidency to be known for one word… China.)
Tip 6. Focus on the crucial activities and habits that will get you there.
Somewhere on YouTube, there’s an interview with two people who knew Andy Murray when he was younger. “He was kind of weird. When we wanted to hang out, he just wanted to go do his exercises.”
I once worked with a new team who wanted to launch their reinsurance business.They knew they had to become experts at pitching to prospective clients. So I helped them practice. Every day. Until they got very very good and starting winning every pitch.
At which point, did they stop practising?
Of course not.
Tip 7. Turn your plan into a story, and learn to tell that story widely.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” they say.
True, but the biggest risk with a plan is not the first step. It’s all the steps that follow. Do they lead you to your desired goal? Or, like too many plans, do they go off-track and eventually peter out?
Make your plan more like a story. Plans can peter out, but stories unfold. It’s satisfying. People don’t want to hear plans; they want to hear stories. They want to find out what happens next. Turn your plan into a story, and people will help you stick with it and make it come true.