Starting a business, you begin with a big idea, a fair amount of ambition and loads of motivation.
Solving the early challenges feels like great progress and it’s a lot of fun to see your baby come to life. I equate the early strokes of a new venture or job to diving into a pool and swimming through the tranquil water.
Then at some point, those ripples reverberate off the edges to make the water a bit more turbulent and your progress becomes a bit more encumbered. As you knock out laps, the distance left can feel more daunting as motivation is eroded by fatigue. Progress feels more challenging.
This is what I call the “dip”.
The dip is that point where you’re deep in it and feeling a bit overwhelmed or a bit drained. Progress is harder to see and you’re not even sure you recognize the big idea you started out with. Odds are, your day is now filled with things you didn’t expect you’d be doing and probably not the things that bring you the most energy. You need something to shift the momentum. You need something to change up the game.
For me, I knew that any change I wanted to make started with me.
I also understood that whatever was going to get done was going to require my attention. Easier said than done. It’s really difficult to just say “pay attention” and have it work. It’s not that you don’t want to, it’s that us humans are prone to distraction and are masters of rationalizing and self-bargaining.
This is just part of our paleolithic behavioral programming. So I needed a new tool to “hack” my own behavior and get on track with the things that I wanted to accomplish.
I knew there would be no quick solution to what I wanted to do so I focused on cultivating motivation as the key to sustained effort. We all start diets, exercise programs, daily planning approaches, new “resolutions” based on high motivation. Then motivation dips and our propensity to stick with it drops as well.
There are many sources of motivation, but the simplest form is FUN. We do what we enjoy. Better yet, we are more likely to do things we enjoy that are easy to do. Enter the minimum enjoyable activity (MEA).
Before I get to MEA, a word about habit.
Habit is an activity you do with little or no conscious thought. Habit is different than routine. Habit is easy because you don’t think about it. To form new habits, you need to start simple.
I wanted my new tool to be like a good habit. This is where MEA comes in. I needed the minimum enjoyable activity I could do to keep me on track so I focused on one thing I could do no matter what that had a critical impact on my success.
Turns out, the one thing I had total control over wasn’t my day or even what was on my to-do list. It was when I would decide to look at it. Of course, “able to do” and “doing” are two different things.
So the secret building block to my tool wasn’t organizing to-do lists or happy stickers, it was the simple act of being intentional about when I would next sit down and review my plan. Actually picking a time on my calendar each day (as appropriate) when I would set aside at least a moment to take stock and set the next date.
What I found was the simple act of being intentional gave me control and brought a greater sense of accomplishment. Prioritizing is critical, but if you are mushy on when you review it doesn’t matter because what seems urgent or easy tends to trump anything else and those priorities get pushed down the road.
The other funny thing that happened was I noticed myself racing to close out the day. We’ve all felt overwhelmed and work seems to go on continuously. But when you incorporate your non-work priorities like health, family and community you find those things actually become part of what you pay attention to which helps your overall well-being and energy.
So I packaged all this up into a notebook I call the Game Changer. It was modeled after the same process I used to get our business going and still use today. Whatever process you settle on, it’s important to remember that any impact or change you want to make begins with you. So it makes sense to incorporate a process that plays to your behaviors and helps you build the business and life you desire.
Roy Lamphier is Founder and CEO of Excelerate America, the fun, smart service for small businesses. Roy's passion for entrepreneurship, tech and helping small enterprises succeed are central to the Excelerate America ethos. If you'd like to hear more about the Game Changer, reach out to Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.