As I write this, it’s mid-October. That means we’ve just passed the 80% mark on the calendar year.
And the remaining 20% includes several holidays. Probably some travel. Maybe even an actual vacation?
In other words: Next year will be here before we know it. So it’s a great time to conduct a quick review of your year so far, and to decide how you’ll close it out.
Today, I’ll offer you a simple, three-step challenge. It’s something you can complete in about 45 minutes, and it will sharpen your focus for the rest of your year.
Ready? Here we go.
STEP ONE: REVIEW
A thorough, top-to-bottom analysis of all the factors that contributed to this year’s outcomes is undeniably valuable.
It’s also beyond the scope of this quick challenge.
Here’s a quick way to review your year:
- Refer to the key objectives you established for this year. “Key” means there should be no more than three, and they should be ranked in declining order of importance.
- Analyze how you’re tracking relative to each of your key objectives. Are you at least 80% to your target for each? Can you realistically expect to achieve each objective by the end of the year?
You should be able to describe each of your three objectives by one of the following five descriptors:
A. Already there
B. Not there but very likely to achieve
C. Not there but somewhat likely to achieve
D. Not there and somewhat unlikely to achieve
E. Not there and very unlikely to achieve
At the end of this step, you’ll have a clear take on your progress toward your key objectives.
You may now check the Review box and move on to Diagnosis.
STEP TWO: DIAGNOSIS
As a guy who makes his living as a strategist, believe me when I say:
Diagnosis is the most overlooked aspect of strategy.
People always want to jump right into the “doing” – initiatives, projects, tactics. (Maybe you’ve had clients like this?)
But when you take time for diagnosis, you’re identifying underlying causes and drivers. You’re asking not just what happened, but why. Only then can you identify the best steps to take. Better diagnosis leads to better plans, which leads to better execution.
You’ve probably heard the term “post-mortem” in project management. It’s a valuable (but often overlooked) step in which we review an initiative in detail, to identify what worked and didn’t work.
So think of this step as an “early post-mortem.” No matter which of the five descriptors you assigned to your three objectives, take a few minutes to jot down some Whys and Whats:
- Why did I hit or miss this objective? What are the underlying factors that contributed to this result?
- If I missed (or believe I will miss) my objective, was the objective unreasonable, or was my approach to it unsuccessful?
- If I hit (or believe I will hit) my objective, was the objective too safe, or was my approach to it particularly successful?
- What went well? These are good things to double down on.
- What didn’t work? These are good things to fix or eliminate.
At the end of this step, you’ll have a blend of facts and hypotheses that explain why you hit or missed your key objectives.
You may now check the Diagnosis box and move on to Commitment.
STEP THREE: COMMITMENT
This is the core of the challenge.
Think of the following two questions as individual doors. As a matter of focus – a soloist’s best friend – you can only choose one door:
- What is one thing I can focus on to finish the year strong?
- What is one thing I can focus on to set myself up for success next year?
How do you choose a door? Here’s how I do it:
If I’m close to my objectives, I choose Door 1. I want to focus the rest of my year on getting the ball over the line.
If I’m way ahead or way behind my objectives – they’re either a done deal or a lost cause – then I choose Door 2. With this year a foregone conclusion, I want to get a jump on next year.
And how do you choose your “one thing” to focus on? It will hinge entirely on your Review and Diagnosis. Choose one initiative that will move your business meaningfully forward.
What are some examples?
To finish this year strong, you might:
- Triple your cold-outreach efforts, blocking time on your calendar to do so. (For something this crucial, I recommend first thing in the morning.)
- Be more proactive about communicating your specialty and your availability on social media. If you’ve already been giving away value on those platforms, your audience won’t mind a few “hire me!” posts.
To start next year strong, you might:
- Conduct a deep-dive on a social media platform that would be beneficial to your business by Nov. 3; develop a step-by-step plan for that platform by Nov. 10; and begin executing.
- Create a list of definitive blog topics in your area of expertise. Publish at least two long-form pieces that are related to your area of specialty by the end of the year. Look for ways to repurpose this content in Q1.
Whatever “one thing” you choose, put it at the center of your planning program, your morning reflection, or whatever tool you use. Give it the attention and priority it deserves.
I think you’ll also find that identifying this “one thing” takes the pressure off to do “everything.” It’s mentally freeing.
Again, everything described above can be finished in under an hour. I think you’ll find that’s a time investment with a solid return.
Here’s to a strong finish to this year and a strong start to next year!
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