I promised a follow up to my previous article about how deadlines work for me.
The truth is that they work well for me. Having deadlines helps me focus and get jobs done. If I do not have a deadline, my ideas/projects/whatever just linger out there in the nebulous land of “I will get to that.” As time goes on, the list of “I will get to that” grows. When I have deadlines, I accomplish.
I also like challenges. Deadlines give me that. In November, 2011, I participated in NaNoWriMo. This stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is a contest where people write 50,000 words toward a work of prose during the calendar month of November. Believe me, cranking out that many words, in addition to fulfilling your daily responsibilities is a challenge! The challenge heightened my focus, and I got it done. It was exciting, rising to the challenge. I am sure that, without the deadline, I would not have just written 50K words in that month.
I do have problems with deadlines. The problem is simply that I do not hit all of them. This causes me no small amount of frustration. I almost always hit the deadlines with my clients. My company is considered to be extremely reliable because of years and years of this. My problem comes in with the personal deadlines I set for what I feel is important to accomplish.
Why do I struggle in this area?
My wife has made the observation–one that I am a little hesitant to admit, but one that I think is true never-the-less–that I make sure I look good to those on the outside of me (my clients, my bosses, my teachers, etc.) while I am not so diligent when dealing with myself or my family. I don’t want to embarrass myself with others, so I break my neck to get it done. The embarrassment for personal deadlines not being met is more internal and private. I do not like public failure of any kind.
Another reason I struggle is that I overestimate what I can do. I have times of intense focus (like writing for NaNoWriMo) where I get an unbelievable amount done in a short period of time. I then come to believe that this should be the norm. Other times, I am not so focused or driven. Honestly, that level of focus is only possible for bursts. My problem is that I feel that I should be able to duplicate it consistently and at will.
Also, I tend to not properly account for problems and interruptions. These come up and seriously throw me off my game. I am always putting out fires. I am actually pretty good at it, and everyone around me knows I am good at it. This is a good skill to have, but it can have a way of pushing deadline achievement to the back-burner.
Some problems are not a result of emergencies I can fix and are not affected by my choice. The weekend after Thanksgiving, I came down with the flu and walking pneumonia at the same time. This slowed me down severely for the entire month of December. The frustration (one of several) with this was that I had organizational goals I wanted to hit for MrKleanze (my business) by the end of the year, and my reduced ability to perform made hitting these impossible. This was most disturbing, but out of my control. I fatigued easily, and had work for clients that had to be done. Once I had done that work, I was finished for the day, period. There was no waking up extra early to get things done. I was constantly exhausted, and that was all there was to it.
So, what do I do with the deadlines I do not achieve.
1. I realize that by pursuing them, I am further down the road than I would be if I hadn’t.
2. I accept that I did not hit my deadlines, re-evaluate where I am, and figure new deadlines that will work.
3. I get back on the horse and work on it until it is done.
I think the trick is learning what works for you and then doing it. Deadlines are a part of life and business. Hitting them can be the difference between success, mediocrity, or abject failure. Giving up because I don’t hit all of them guarantees abject failure. Carrying on gives me a chance at success. I very much want to be in that success category, and I am sure you do to.
I want to pose a question to my readers: Do deadlines help you, personally, to perform?
Remember, back in the day, when you worked for someone else (perhaps you still do), and you were given deadlines by your boss. You had to complete whatever project by then, or else . . .
Now, you work for yourself. You are the boss–I use that term loosely. Do you give yourself deadlines? If you do, do you achieve them? Does it put pressure on you to perform? And is that pressure helpful, or does it weigh you down?
For me, it is helpful, under certain circumstances. I will talk about how using deadlines does and does not work for me, but first, I want to hear from you. What is your experience as an entrepreneurial-minded person?
I look forward to hearing back from you.
A friend of mine once shared this as a tool for goal-achievement. FOCUS stands for
Those of us who have achieved any goals whatsoever in our lives know this to be true. We have to keep to the path, not quit, and not get distracted off of it, until we get there. It may take a while, and a lot of effort, but if we do this we are very likely to get where we want to be. The important thing is to not lose FOCUS on what we want.
If we are honest with ourselves, it is very easy to lose FOCUS, though. Things come up that knock us off of our path, our FOCUS. Precious time is lost. Sometimes we drop the goal altogether–”It wasn’t really achievable”–we say to ourselves.
So what are some of the things that sidetrack us? I can think of two primarily:
1. Emergencies. This is obvious. Something huge comes up that demands a large portion of our attention and energy. It may take some time to deal with. In doing so, we are not pursuing our course. When it is all over, we have lost time, and we are drained from the effort.
2. Discouragement. This is when negative thoughts about the goal you are pursuing kick around in your head, making it harder and harder for you to press on. These thoughts can come from things other people say and do that you internalize, or they can come from your own personal doubts. This is also draining of energy and motivation. In fact, this is far more devastating on your goal-achievement than emergencies. Sometimes the time and energy lost on emergencies can lead to discouragement: “Something will always come up to stop me. I will never get to my goal.”
So, here you are, off course and stuck in the mud. What do you do?
Well, you can quit. But that will guarantee you will never get to your goal.
Alternatively, you can get back on course. Here’s what I recommend:
1. Revisit your goal. Why is it worthwhile? What were you going to get from accomplishing it? Thinking about these things will help motivate you to try again–assuming your goal was worthy to begin with.
2. Forgive yourself. Let go of the guilt and stupidity you feel for having wasted time and gotten off the path. Shake it off. Determine that you are not going to let your past failures determine your future success.
3. Start back on the path. You may have to adjust your timetables, because you want your goal to be attainable, but get started. Remember that while it may take a long time to achieve your goal walking down the path, you will NEVER achieve your goal just sitting and thinking about it.
Are you on FOCUS? Keep there by recognizing the pitfalls, and making allowances for them before they knock you off.
Are you off FOCUS? It is OK. Figure out where you got off, follow the above steps, and get back on track. You will get there. Be patient, and don’t give up. You will enjoy the rewards.
A friend of mine and fellow small business owner, Keith Bass, recently shared the following story on Facebook:
Three people, two men and one woman, were going through assassin training with the CIA. At the end of their training, their instructor said to them: “You have one more test to pass. We need to know that you will follow our instructions, without question, no matter what they are.” Then, the three were separated.
The first man was given a gun and told his wife was in the next room. He was to go into the room and shoot her. The man was furious. “There is no way I am going to go in there and shoot my wife.” The instructor nodded with understanding and said that he would not become a CIA assassin.
The second man was given the same scenario. His head hung down, but he went into the room. After a period of time, he returned, crying. “I wanted to do what you asked, but I just could not kill my wife.” Once again, the instructor said that he could not be an assassin, and dismissed the man.
Finally, the woman was given the same scenario–her husband was in the next room, and she was to go in there and shoot him. She grabbed the pistol, got up from the table and walked deliberately into the room. The door had barely closed when she shot the gun repeatedly. Then, there was a moment of silence, followed by screaming, cussing, and crashing noises. Once again there was silence as the woman emerged from the room, sweating and disheveled. “Who knew?” She stated, “The gun was loaded with blanks; I had to beat the sucker to death with his chair.”
This story, while humorous, demonstrates one of the key elements to accomplishing a goal: commitment.
Goals are relatively easy to set–even good goals do not require a whole lot of work. You have to think about them to set them. Getting there, however, is an entirely different story. That requires that you DO very challenging things. A goal requires you change your behavior–otherwise you would already be there. That is hard! You will be tested on your commitment to your goal regularly, even at the end. Only goals that you have truly determined that you will achieve are realized.
Your ability to commit significantly to a plan has to be connected to something deep inside you, because pursuing one goal may eventually put you in conflict with another goal. (This actually is part of the hard part of making goals–setting ones that really hit you where you live, ones that you TRULY want.)
This is what happened in our story.
The two men’s desire to become a CIA assassin had gotten them almost there. They were completing their training. One problem: There was another goal that superseded and conflicted with their path. When that happened, they had to decide. For one, the choice was clear and easy. For the other, it was a struggle for whatever reason, but, as the first, he was unwilling to go on.
The woman also faced the same decision, but chose a different outcome. Her determination to achieve even exceeded her instructions. She was told to “shoot” her husband. When that did not work, she went above and beyond. This is the kind of behavior that gets you there. She was definitely committed to doing what she was instructed. One might suspect that the task connected with her on some deeper level–something that is essential for a goal to work for you.
As a married man (who has more than once driven his wife to mind-numbing anger), I cannot condone this woman’s actions; however, it is illustrative of what is necessary for success.
I had a conversation the other evening with a fellow entrepreneur, Rick. He owns a service business as I do, although the scope of his is much larger than mine. We were discussing expansion opportunities and whether they were a worthwhile risk or not.
Toward the end of the conversation, Rick shared with me an area in which he was challenging the key players in his organization. In the process, he challenged me. He presses his people (and himself) to be working on replacing himself in the position in he is currently working, to focus on the position he seeks next, and to never get sucked back into his last position. What a way to avoid getting stuck!
How many times do we get sucked backward? Maybe, it is due to staffing emergency. Maybe, we haven’t properly prepared our replacements. Maybe, we are just more comfortable “back there.” Whatever the reason, it minimizes our productivity. It’s not our job anymore to “do it.” It is our job to make sure it gets done. “Doing it” is a last resort and only very, very temporarily.
When I was in college, I washed dishes in various restaurants and dorm cafeterias. It was boring, even mindless. My last corporate job before starting my business was running restaurants. When I ran restaurants, sometimes my dishwasher was late. Sometimes, he did not show up at all. For the restaurant to operate, we had to have clean dishes and cookware. Once or twice, it was necessary to wash a few myself while we waited for the replacement to show up. My question is this though: Would it have been a valuable use of my skills and position to lock myself in dishland throughout a busy Saturday night shift just to make sure we had clean dishes instead of doing whatever necessary to cover the position so I could do my job of overseeing the overall performance of my restaurant to make sure all went well. Could I possibly run my operation with my head buried in the back corner of the kitchen washing dishes? Obviously not. I had to quickly get someone else in there and get back to doing MY JOB–the one that the restaurant would sorely miss if I didn’t do it.
When it is your own business, at least in my case, it seems to be very easy to get sucked in to positions that bury your head in doing the job to where you cannot possibly oversee the entire operation. This can have devastating results. At the very lest, it stalls growth.
I choose–take care of my level while replacing myself to go to the next one and avoid getting sucked back to where I used to be.
What is your experience with this?
How many of us entrepreneurs have ADD tendencies? Are ADD people drawn toward having their own businesses or does having your own business with all the hats you must wear draw out ADD patterns?
I definitely am one of those with ADD. I do not medicate it (officially). I try to use it to my advantage while trying to mitigate the down side. Because I know the down sides are there, I can do this. I have learned to get enough sleep. I have learned to exercise almost every day. I have learned that sugar does not help me focus. I have learned that caffeine does. While some people need that glass of wine to unwind and write, that glass of wine will just make me mentally lazy and absolutely incapable of writing or thinking deeply at all. I need my coffee. I have learned that I can be creative early in the day, that in the afternoon I can tackle more mindless tasks, and that in the evening my brain is good for little.
One thing that I have learned is that scheduling and organization are the keys to everything. Unfortunately, the gap between knowledge and application is huge–just ask my poor organized wife who has encouraged me in this direction for years, with little visible effect.
Today, I read an article by a fellow entrepreneurial blogger about working on multiple projects at once. He seems happiest when doing this. He likes to intensely focus on a project for a period, then move on to another on which to intensely focus.
I like this too. This plays to what I consider a strength of ADD–the ability to hyper-focus. When I am hyper-focused, I am very creative and think at what I consider a higher level and can accomplish an immense amount in a short period of time. It
cannot be maintained for a long period, but it is very useful for its duration.
The problem is when I don’t have a plan for what I am going to do, all the myriad of demands upon my attention lead to lack of productivity. I become like a deer in the headlights and end up accomplishing nothing.
I believe the answer lies in planning your many tasks. Use your Outlook (or whatever other planning system you have) to break down your day into segments into which you will devote your attention to a matter, then move on when the time is up. This doesn’t work for everybody, but when I have used it, it works well for me. Plan your work according to the natural rhythms of your body/mind, and be effective. Be specific when you are planning. Do an entire week’s worth of planning at one time, that way you can make sure you pay attention to the big picture and not just what seems important at the moment. Plan according to what you determine your goals are and devote time to actually accomplishing those goals and not just taking care of the daily tasks you must do to survive.
When a fire crops up that DEMANDS attention, take care of it, then get back to your plan.
Being ADD has plenty of attending problems, but when you figure out how to work with it, you can accomplish much.