Think and plan before taking action – Part 1

This is one of a series of blogs written specifically for those people in small businesses who are responsible for winning sales.  These people will often have other roles and responsibilities which requires them to be very time-efficient during their selling activities.  Larger businesses are likely to employ one or more full-time salespeople and this blog series is also written to help these people.

One of the most challenging problems encountered by small business owners is deciding how to spend their time.  Some will struggle with procrastination, which is the art of looking busy without actually ever achieving anything of significance.  There is a risk with procrastinators that whenever they follow the “Think-Plan-Do” process (see below) they will spend all their time at the Think and Plan stages and never Do anything.

The other risk to your business is launching into action too soon, without proper thought and planning. If the activity you choose to undertake is unnecessary, or of low-value, in relation to what actually needs to be done, it represents a waste of time and money.

It is pointless undertaking a task to completion and doing it really well, only to find that it is the wrong task.

20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results.  The Pareto Principle (or the 80/20 Principle) highlights the ease at which low-value tasks can leave you busy, but achieving little.  The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your results come from just 20% of your activities.  Put slightly differently, this means that 80% of your achievements are generated from 20% of your time.  You spend the remaining 80% of your time achieving just 20% of your output.

Logically, you need to analyse your activities and categorise them as high impact (the 20%) and low impact (the 80%).  Then, you should focus on trying to do twice as many of the “20% tasks” and drop as many of the “80% tasks” as possible.  By doing this you can quickly become twice as productive.  The 80/20 Principle is incredibly powerful.

The Think-Plan-Do approach is the most effective way to reach your goals.  The thinking and planning stages are crucial.  During these stages, you identify the high value tasks that you need to do if you are going to reach your goals.

Brian Tracy, in one of his many books, wrote that every minute spent in the planning stages of a project could save up to 1 hour in the execution or implementation stage.   The time you invest in analysing and planning ahead can save a huge amount of time in the implementation stage.

If, however, your planning is poor and you end up doing the wrong (low value) activities really well, you have wasted valuable time that could have been spent doing high value tasks.  Rushing into action too soon can ultimately be a great waste of time.

Don’t rush tasks.  When you do take action, be sure you allocate enough time for the task to be done correctly, first time.  How often have you seen a job that is rushed due to lack of time, only to see things go wrong and find the job has to be repeated?

In this situation, the overall completion time will extend way beyond original estimates.  Remember the saying ‘There’s never time to do it correctly, but there’s always time to do it again’.

Here’s the basic Think-Plan-Do approach to successfully completing any task or achieving any goal:

  1. Understand what you are trying to achieve.  Write it down clearly and unambiguously.
  2. Think about all the action steps you will need to take to complete this task.
  3. Write down all the steps.  The process of writing will help you spot any additional tasks.
  4. Review each step and break it down into smaller “bite-sized” steps
  5. Put all the action steps into sequence, by priority and required completion date
  6. Start with the first action step.  Work on it until it is completed, then tackle the next one in sequence.

If you start to procrastinate, just commit to work on the next action step for 15 minutes.  This gives you some momentum and moves the project forward a little.  Keep working on the most important task you can identify.

Next time I will continue with this theme and look at ways to getting started on the most daunting of projects.

Posted in Time Management