Every small business owner goes through a phase (or many) where they’re just trying to keep up.
In the beginning, you might be trying to keep up with the vague idea of all of the things you’re supposed to be doing to get your business off the ground and functional.
Later on, you might be trying to keep up with a deluge of client work or product development so you can fulfill all of the promises you’ve made.
Still other times, you might be caught off guard by outside circumstances and just trying to keep your head above water while you navigate it all.
It doesn’t matter “how good” you are as a business owner, we all experience the feeling of just treading water at some point—and generally, at a number of points in the journey.
Unfortunately, a lot of business owners stay stuck just trying to keep up.
They keep going through the motions—trying to do a little more here or there to make their move out but never quite escaping the grind of just keeping up.
So how do go from just trying to keep up to making meaningful progress toward what you really want for your business (and life)?
In my experience, the key is to do more of what matters most and less of pretty much everything else.
What is the work that matters most?
It’s the work that helps you create what you ultimately want to create and become who you want to become. It’s the work of stepping up to lead your business and personal development.
It’s the work that transforms your business and life from what it is now into what you really want.
The work that matters most will take on different forms at different times. Sometimes it might look like documenting systems, building a new offer, or hiring a team member. Other times it’ll look like taking time away to think and plan. Still other times it’ll mean reviewing and refining work you’ve done before.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you drop the ball on serving your clients or your customers. It doesn’t mean you ghost on your team or your family. And it certainly doesn’t mean you work yourself into a burnt out shell of a small business owner.
It means you get clear on what matters most and you incorporate it into how you plan for your business, what you commit to, and what you focus on on a daily basis.
I’ll break it down.
First, you have to figure out what matters most.
“What matters” is subjective—it depends on what impact you want to have, who you want to help, how you want to structure your business, and what you want your role to be in all that.
In other words, you need to have a clear vision of what you’re creating.
Having a clear vision doesn’t mean you know all the whos, whats, and hows that go into making it happen. It doesn’t even mean that your vision might not change or evolve.
Having a vision means you know why you’re here (and why the business is here) and what you’re working toward. It means you know what you want based on the information you currently have.
And if your vision is still on the fuzzy side? That’s okay. Having a fuzzy vision that you use to guide your plans and decision-making is so much better than having no vision at all.
Once you’ve spent some time getting clear on your vision, you’ll want to commit to a few steps in that direction.
In The Commitment Blueprint, I lead people through choosing those next steps in the form of your Commitments (personal) and your Strategic Priorities (business).
Your Commitments & Strategic Priorities are wayfinding signs that help you orient your decision-making and action-taking in the direction you actually want to move. They’re purposefully broad and intentionally decisive.
They are short, easy-to-remember imperatives that constantly remind you to make the choice that helps you move forward toward your vision.
I like Commitments & Strategic Priorities over goals because I find them to be less rigid while simultaneously more compelling. They can adapt as circumstances change in a way that goals can’t and they tap into my own intrinsic sense of motivation.
Once you have your vision, Commitments, and Strategic Priorities in hand, you have a much better idea of what matters and you can use that to get specific about what you’re going to do next.
Second, plan out what you’re going to do next far in advance.
Look, I know this can be hard especially when things are changing fast and furiously.
But each time you put off planning further in advance because you want to focus on what’s happening right now, you choose to focus on keeping up over doing what matters most.
I’ll concede that there are legitimate times when urgent needs require your attention more than long-term plans. But it’s less often than you think and just because you’re focusing on urgent needs doesn’t mean you completely take your eye off of the future, otherwise you’ll dig yourself into an even deeper hole as you “solve” the problem at hand.
I start out by looking out at the next year.
Each year, I have the opportunity to work through projects that get me closer to my vision for my life and business—the work that matters most.
Even in a year where wild curveballs are thrown your way, knowing the projects you ideally want to tackle helps you to stay focused on what matters most.
The projects I choose for my plan are guided by my Commitments and Strategic Priorities and they have a clear scope, set of actions, and desired results. Each project takes 4-6 weeks to complete.
I lay out the projects over the course of the year and take into account any other commitments I have for each month (vacations? sales campaigns? back to school? holidays?). I also consider the ongoing work I have to do—things like podcast interviews, email newsletters, monthly events in our community, etc…
My goal is to avoid overcommitting to too many projects or too much work so that I don’t end up undercommitting to what matters most.
The projects I actually work on throughout the year might change or evolve—that’s okay. But having the plan from the get-go helps me know what matters most at any given time.
As I plan out each week, I incorporate my routine work with tasks that need to be completed to move my current projects forward. That way, I know I am always making at least some room for the work that matters most alongside the work that helps me keep up.
Third, prepare for self-sabotage.
One of the reasons I’ve often been stuck just keeping up instead of working on what matters most…
…is that I get in my own way.
I have habits and behavioral patterns that stop me from doing the important stuff.
To make sure I do more of what matters most, I need to create a preemptive plan to stop self-sabotage.
Self-sabotage is any behavior that stops us from getting what we actually want.
We self-sabotage because we want to stay comfortable, avoid conflict, and bypass failure. Over time, we have developed habits and patterns that have made it harder to grow but that have also made it easier to maintain safety.
Here’s the thing—doing what matters most is risky.
Doing the important stuff carries with it a distinct potential for failure, for conflict, for discomfort.
But with that risk comes the potential for growth and impact.
My habits are hiding (disappearing with the perception of risk becomes too great), perfectionism (waiting to give it my all until there’s no risk that the end result will be less than perfect), and letting myself off the hook (looking for all the reasons that I don’t have to fully confront the risk of failure).
And those are 3 common self-sabotage habits! But yours might look different.
No matter what your habits of self-sabotage are, in order to do what matters most, we need to be prepared for them. We need to practice noticing them, stopping them, and pushing through.
When you’re prepared for self-sabotage, you can stop it when it starts—or even before.
Do more of what matters most.
Businesses depend on consistent development—just as our lives do.
When we get stuck just “keeping up,” we end up losing the joy we can experience and missing out on the impact we could create.
And while—absolutely—your client work matters, your admin work matters, your routine marketing work matters, actively working to fulfill the vision you have for your business matters most because it’s the work that is going to have the biggest impact for all of your stakeholders (you, your customers, your family, your community) in the long-run.
Before I wrap up, I want to acknowledge that doing this work can be truly difficult.
Doing what matters most might require you to confront unhelpful habits or make some challenging choices. It might require you to step up in a way you haven’t before.
But I promise that it’s worth it.
There were times when I truly didn’t believe that I was cut out for the challenging work of creating what I wanted to create (and becoming who I want to become) but every step of the journey has been worth it. Doing what matters most has changed my life and business—and I know it will change yours.
And if you’re ready to do more of what matters most and create a flexible plan for the next 6-12 months? Join me for the next LIVE cohort of The Commitment Blueprint.