Often when I start working with a new client, they have a lot on their plate, and they’re feeling scattered and overwhelmed.
And one of the first things they ask is, “What should I be focusing on?”
Usually what they’re really asking is:
Here’s a bunch of stuff I could work on…which option is going to work out the best?
That’s the wrong question.
For one thing, outcomes aren’t within our control. So even if I dig out my Magic 8 Ball, I can’t predict what will work out the best (and neither can you).
For another thing, you’ll always have options. There will always be more opportunities than there is time available to work on them.
But even more important than those two things is this:
Remember why you’re asking the question to begin with.
Presumably, you’re asking because you want to create a work life that’s fulfilling to you. You want work that you enjoy doing. (Imagine that!)
Yet if you start by comparing available options, the chances of winding up with fulfilling, enjoyable work are slim.
It’s like getting in the car, getting on the nearest highway and just driving.
How do you know you’re going the right way? You don’t, because you didn’t choose your destination before you started.
Starting with the end in mind
That’s where working backwards comes in, starting with the right question:
What do I want in my life and business?
(Or some variation thereof.)
You have to know the end-result you want before you can know which steps to take to get you there.
I first learned this during my database design days.
I had to make sure the client was telling me all the information they would want to get out of the database, so that I would make sure to include a way for that information to get entered into the database.
If they wanted to know which zip codes had the most repeat customers, I had to design the database to track customers’ zip codes as well as who ordered what. If either of those bits of data were missing, they couldn’t find out which zip codes were the most profitable for them.
A tiny example
Maybe you’re considering partnering with someone to do in-person workshops, and it means you’ll have to go out of town once every couple of months.
And maybe you’re also considering investing in equipment that would allow you to offer a new kind of service in your business, which would mean more late evening appointments.
If you’re just comparing those two options, most likely neither will feel like a No-Brainer to you, but it might not be clear why.
How does the answer change when you ask, “What do I want for my life and business?”
Maybe, if you’re being honest with yourself, you want more time at home, and your evenings free.
If that’s the case, it doesn’t make much sense to invest money into equipment that will increase your evening appointments. Nor does it make a lot of sense to commit to a partnership that will mean more travel than you want.
Once you know what you actually want, you can work backwards to build your life and business around those desires.
It’s still a process
Might there be missteps along the way? Of course.
Sometimes the step you take will seem like a great choice, but it won’t work out. (We don’t control the outcome, remember?)
Maybe you’ll commit to teaching an online course and discover that you prefer face-to-face communication. Or maybe you’ll hire a web designer who doesn’t work out (and then disappears after promising a refund).
The steps that feel like mistakes still contain valuable learning you can use when you get back on track. (Even though they feel like a kick in the nuts.)
Step or misstep, you’re a hell of a lot more likely to head in the right direction if you know where you want to go.
Not just for big-picture stuff
This same process of working backwards applies to projects, too.
You have to know what you want to create – what end-result you want – before you can make good choices about how to get there.
It’s one of the things I’ll be teaching in Project Prowess in March. If you want to learn how to choose, start and finish projects that will grow your biz, sign up for my advance notice list to receive an email when registration is open. During the program, you’ll get clear on what you want to create, and then we’ll develop a manageable, enjoyable plan to make it happen.
Image credit: PinkMoose