“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work." Stephen King
Here’s a “nice problem to have”: when you work for yourself, no one tells you what to do. So sometimes you just don’t know what to do. And you’re likely to fall into one of these traps:
- You’ve got a business idea in mind (and may have even started your business), but you’re stuck on what to do first, or how to proceed further, or how to know if what you’re doing will work.
- You’ve got a million different business ideas, and you can’t choose between them.
- You chose a business idea and went full steam ahead with it. But after you’d created a multi-coloured mindmap, set yourself a list of tasks in Trello, synced everything with Google Calendar, and bought a whiteboard and written inspirational things on it, you got tired of the whole idea and realised it’d be much harder work than you originally thought. So now you’re really excited about a brand new business idea, and there’s a fair chance it’ll get the same treatment as the first one. And on it will go.
Whichever of these describes you, you’re stuck in a productivity rut. The chief symptom of a productivity rut is no discernible progress whatsoever. (And by the way, “progress” includes finding out that your idea really does stink and you should definitely try something different.)
And we need to get you out of it, because a productivity rut is so much worse than a business failure. Failures give you all sorts of insights into how businesses work, as well as fantastic inspiration for future business projects and/or ways to “pivot” your existing business to make it more successful. Productivity ruts give you nothing. You’re not doing anything useful. You’re just sitting there. Waiting.
What you need is a process that will help you honestly assess your ideas, put together a plan of action for the best one, and execute.
So first, ask yourself this: what motivates you? Is it important that you’re deeply passionate about the product or service you’re selling? If so, forget about creating a niche AdSense site around blue ski boots.
If you’re motivated more by the process rather than the product then that doesn’t matter so much, but think about the “on stage test”: when you’re mega-successful, will you feel embarrassed to stand on stage talking about what you’ve done?
Then validate your idea by talking to some real potential buyers of your product or service – because if no one else thinks your great idea is that great, it’s better to know now than in six months’ time. Just Google “customer development” for more about why it’s so important, and some ideas on how to do it. The #1 thing to know is this: the only true validation is someone giving you money. If you can persuade three people to pay you for a product or service before you create it, that’s worth 3,000 of your friends saying “that sounds neat”.
Think you’ve got a winner? Then protect yourself against flaking out by writing a plan. An inability to see things through often comes from a failure to plan: you knock out all the fun, easy tasks, get to a sticking point and don’t know what to do next, then end up skipping over to something completely different to resolve the pain of being stuck.
So list everything you need to do, in order, then work through the list. And give each item on the list a deadline. At every point you’ll know exactly what you need to do next – and even if the next thing looks hard and painful, you’ll see that it’s something you have to get through to keep moving forward.
When making your plan, remember to 80/20 it: focus on what’s going to give you the maximum results with the least effort. Designing a fancy Twitter background, for example, isn’t going to make or break your business (unless your business involves making fancy Twitter backgrounds for people).
Remember: it won’t be easy
Nothing worth doing is easy. If you’re finding it difficult, reframe it as a positive thing: you’re improving yourself, and putting distance between you and people who aren’t willing to put the work in.
You know what else isn’t easy? Dealing with people who “just don’t get you anymore”. We get to grips with that bad boy in the next email.
Speak to you soon,
Mish & Rob