Business owners have so many distractions that it’s easy to… where was I? Oh yes, to lose focus. But there’s a way you can keep yourself on track.
No doubt you started your business for a good reason. It might have been to get rich, to escape the rat race or to challenge yourself. It might have been to change the world for the better. It might have simply been to generate a regular income while being your own boss instead of having other people tell you what to do.
The reason isn’t really important. What’s important is that you had a reason at all – an ambition, a drive, a long-term target.
But it’s easy to lose focus. Once you get into the everyday detail of running a business, your long-term business goals may take a back seat. There are demands on your attention from all sides. Sales, marketing, customer queries, accounts, inventory management and more.
All of these are important aspects of your business, of course. But while you’re spending time on them, you may be losing focus on the big picture.
Driven to distraction
In my case the big distraction was coding. My first business was a website that published computer hardware and software reviews. The goal was to build the business, but I found myself diverted into writing the code that ran the website. This was in the late 1990’s, before the convenience of off-the-shelf content management systems such as WordPress.
So I wrote my own CMS, which was both interesting and challenging. It took up a lot of my work time, but it wasn’t my ultimate business goal. I was losing focus.
Once I became aware of this, I knew I had to refocus on the core requirements of my business goals. After all, I hadn’t set out to become a programmer. I’d set out to… actually, what had I set out to do? I was no longer sure. So I took the morning off and thought carefully about what I had really wanted to achieve. What had been my goal when I launched the business?
The trick to narrowing in on your business goals
In my case it came down to money. I was quite young at the time. I wasn’t aiming to be rich and didn’t aspire to a luxurious lifestyle. I just didn’t want to have to worry about money any more.
Quite by coincidence, at the time I was reading a book by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. He wrote about an affirmation technique that he had used to keep himself focused on what he wanted to achieve. He started with a business goal and wrote it down every day. In his case the goal was to become the number one syndicated cartoonist in the world.
I decided to try something similar. I considered what I wanted to achieve, and what I thought was practical to achieve. Then I wrote down my own business goal: “IT Reviews will make me financially independent.”
I wrote this down every day, sometimes ten times a day. It kept me focused on what was important. Not the programming, the design, the marketing, the accounts, the advertising, but the whole thing – the business.
How it works
Writing down a goal is deceptively simple. But before you start to back away from this blog post while shaking your head, there’s no magic here. It’s psychology.
Thoughts in your head are nebulous, vague, partially formed and often contradictory. That’s true for all of us. We often have thoughts that don’t make sense or are illogical. As long as they stay in our heads, they remain that way.
But writing down a thought forces us to confront it and structure it logically. The thought becomes real, tangible and hard to ignore.
Psychologists use writing to combat mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is based on this approach. But you don’t have to be suffering from a mental illness to make use of writing.
And your business goal doesn’t have to be as far-reaching as mine or Scott Adams’. You could break it down into monthly or annual goals. For example, “I will sell X units of product this month” or “Turnover this year will be 15 percent higher than last year.” Write this down every day, perhaps several times a day.
The act of writing down your goal places it more prominently in your mind, making you more likely to remember and focus on it. You’ll then unconsciously steer your actions towards your written goal. In short, affirmation improves focus.
IT Reviews didn’t make me rich, but it did make me financially independent. And Scott Adams became the world’s number one syndicated cartoonist. In return for spending just a few minutes each day writing down your goals, perhaps this approach will work for you too.
Alex Cruickshank has been a business writer since 1994 and a serial entrepreneur since 1996. He owns Ministry of Prose, a writing agency based in New Zealand.