Simple = Hard

Sometimes the simplest recommendations are the hardest to follow.  Perhaps you are familiar with some of these simple words of advice?

  • Adults should spend 20 minutes per day exercising, according to the S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • When it comes to diet, we should “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants,” says best-selling author Michael Pollan.
  • Walt Disney’s business advice is simply “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
  • “The one who listens understands,” so says my teabag, offering suggestions for being a better person.

“Simple can be harder than complex,” Steve Jobs shared in an interview in 1998.  He added, “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.  But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there you can move mountains.”

Simple ? Easy

This is not really earth-shattering information – but it is so very true that simple is not the same as easy.  As business owners, we all know that there are some relatively simple things we should be doing more often, but we can’t seem to find the time to do them.

Some of the “simple” things the business owners I have worked with struggle to complete include things like writing job descriptions, setting up Google Analytics, asking customers where they heard about your business, or finding the time to learn more about trends in your top customer markets.

These business owners all know how to do these things, but they don’t seem to get to them.  They will even acknowledge that these tasks are easy to do and important, but still they don’t seem to find the time to get them done.  The urgency of dealing with daily fires ends up taking precedence over goals that are longer term.

Short Term > Long Term

Harvard Business Review believes that most companies are too focused on the short term.  Some reasons for this include the way we have structured publicly held businesses, decisions to bring in outside CEOs to make a difference, the stock market focus on quarterly profits, and businesses not recognizing the value of research.

The business owners I work with all agree that they tend to spend more time working in the business than on the business.  It’s easier to focus on the day-to-day tasks – hiring a new employee, closing the latest contract, invoicing clients (or paying invoices) and dealing with employee issues.  These are all important tasks to maintain your business.

However, the tasks that help drive the long-term sustainability of your business focus outward a bit more.  These include goal setting, continuing education for you and your team, strategic planning, and an awareness of how the world around you might impact your business in the future (changing demographics, increasing automation, etc.).

Making a Change

We all acknowledge the importance of stepping away from the day-to-day operations to spend time on more strategic activities like marketing planning, product development, research and so forth.  But that doesn’t mean we actually succeed at that.

I see this problem firsthand as a market researcher helping small businesses with strategic planning through research.  The research my clients hire me to complete for them doesn’t do any good just sitting on their desk (or in their In-Box).  But it doesn’t seem to take precedence over the everyday fires to put out.  By adding Business Owner Roundtable Groups to my services, I am working to address this.  The Roundtable groups help to add some peer accountability with a longer-term focus, and then the research seems much more valuable.

While some topics discussed in a Roundtable group are more operational in nature (hiring, marketing budgets, employee communication issues, etc.), the real value comes when the conversations start to get more strategic in nature.  And just the exercise of setting aside half a day for a meeting with their peers helps them to step away from the minutiae of the daily grind and think a bit more strategically.

The First Step

One of the business owners in one of my groups has given himself the title of “Visionary”, rather than the more standard options like Owner, Founder, President or CEO.  This is intentional on his part.  Does a visionary get wrapped up in the drama of employee spats?  Or monitor the daily Google alerts?  No of course not!  A visionary is meant to focus on the company vision – the future not the present.  And that title serves as an excellent reminder of where his value lies as a business owner.

Another way to look at the same situation is what I call the “Hit by a bus” conversation.  If you were hit by a bus today, would your business be able to continue without you?  Or would everything come to a grinding halt?  Are you doing the job of an employee of the business you own, or as the visionary?

That first step is to acknowledge that your role is different from that of your employees.  They are counting on you to make sure this business is sustainable so they can keep working there.  But part of that process is for you to step away and delegate some of the operational tasks to your employees.  That frees up some time so you can focus on the future.

Make it a Habit!

And that takes me right back to where I started.  Just because this sounds simple doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.  How do you start to extract yourself from the daily operations and find the time and energy to be more forward thinking?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Focus on your strengths and delegate or outsource the rest
  • Join a Peer Group or an Accountability/Mastermind Group to help with focus and accountability
  • Turn the planning tasks into an ongoing habit that gets easily incorporated into your routine

But creating a habit is not a simple process.  James Clear, the author of the book Atomic Habits provides some excellent suggestions for creating a positive habit, for example, the habit of finding time each week to think a bit more strategically.

Habit Creation

First you need to have a clear time and location for accomplishing this goal.  Perhaps you decide that every Thursday afternoon is your Strategic Planning Time, and you’ll do this from your home office, rather than at work, to avoid distraction.

Next, you need to make this habit attractive to you.  Maybe you reward yourself for setting aside this time with a special treat, which could be your favorite cocktail or candy bar, a bike ride or dog walk, or maybe some time with your family or friends.  Ultimately, like Pavlov’s dog, as you start to pair the time to think strategically with the reward you are giving yourself, you begin to crave this time.

If that trick doesn’t work, then try the “two-minute rule” – make a commitment to spending at least two minutes at this goal.  Once you set aside some time for strategic planning, even just two minutes, you’ll find it’s easy to continue to spend more than the two minutes.  Each week, just work up your time commitment to be a little more than the last week until you hit your goal.

Reward Yourself!

Finally, make sure that you keep track of your progress, reward yourself each time you follow through, and don’t let one failure keep you from trying again the next week.  And one of the best ways to build a habit – find an accountability partner.

At the start of 2021, I decided I needed to make time to do yoga twice a week.  So, I set the goal – every Monday and Friday morning I would do 30 minutes of yoga from home using an app to work out from my living room.  Then I made the habit attractive AND created accountability by telling a friend my plans.  She agreed to also do yoga at the same time, and we would reward ourselves with ½ hour of Face Timing to catch up. I didn’t always do the yoga, and sometimes I only found time for 15 minutes, but by the summer, it had become engrained into my schedule and now I do yoga even if I don’t get my reward of time with my friend.

Now I recognize that yoga is nowhere near the same as strategic planning, but the same process applies.  Think of a reward that works for you, set aside the time, and find someone to hold you accountable.

It’s so simple!

Here is my simple advice:

  1. Set aside one afternoon per week to read news relevant to your industry or your customers’ industries and consider how those news stories might impact you or your customers.
  2. Set aside one day per month to work on your business. Consider re-locating to a spot where you won’t be interrupted.  See if you can connect the dots on some of the stories you’ve been reading with your own business goals or those of your customers.
  3. Find a Business Owner Peer Group or Mastermind or Accountability buddy to help hold you accountable to making these simple changes to your busy schedule.

Looking for news that could impact business planning?  The first 50 business owners to join my online community get free access to weekly curated news every Friday!

Looking for an accountability buddy?  Get to know other small business owners in the online community and partner with one to help you focus on your goals. 

Contact me for more information.


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