How to keep all your spinning plates from crashing


Do you have an inordinate amount of things rolling around in your head right now, including what you should have done yesterday, what you need to do now, what you want to do in the future, and what you were born to do but never seem to get it together to make happen?

Welcome to the plate spinning club!

As creative people, we have the wonderful (and sometimes terrible) capability of generating all kinds of ideas that hang out in our head.

When you run a business, sorting through all of these ideas can feel really overwhelming.

It is critical to have habits and frameworks that allow us to process the ideas, put them in categories, discern which are the truly strategic, and toss the rest.

Three of my latest awesome clients have come to me with this challenge, and here is how we are working through it:

But first: a Lego metaphor

Last night, as I was working on the process I will take my clients through, I glanced over at the bookshelf of my home office and saw the perfect metaphor. It was easier to make a video about it than to write it, so here is a 2 minute visual metaphor to get us in the mood:

(Here is the direct link in case you want to view it on YouTube:

How to work the process

First of all, know that there is a process!

You do not have to give up creative freedom or great ideas in order to feel more peaceful and in control of your business.

You do need to make some time to sort through your many ideas and discern which you need, want and desire to do.

Here are the steps to make sure you don’t drop all the plates you have spinning in the air, and actually feel joy and accomplishment in the creative process:

1. Dump it all out

Get all of your ideas out of your head.

This includes:

  • What you should have done
  • What you need to do
  • What you want to do
  • What you dream of doing

If you are a visual person, you can create a mind map.

Or if you are a kinesthetic person, you can use post-it notes or notecards to put a project or idea on each card.

If you are more of a list person, you can make massive bulleted lists.

The important thing is to get all your project ideas out, even the most mundane.

2. Categorize

Once all your ideas are out of your head, let’s categorize.

Depending on where you are in your business or career, your categories might look different.

Here are four easy labels to start with:

  • Financial tasks (Bookkeeping, taxes, analysis, etc.)
  • Creative tasks (Making new stuff, writing a book, redesigning your website to look better, etc.)
  • Business development tasks (Writing email sequences, sales process improvements, creating a core talk to get new clients, etc.)
  • Operational tasks (Automating business processes, streamlining the way you produce/hire/
  • Client (or project) tasks (Producing the work you are paid to do)

Don’t worry yet about the sub-order of tasks, since we are going to roll them through some decision criteria to find out what you want to keep on your list to do in the short-term, keep on your list to do in the longer term, or get rid of altogether.

3. Set decision criteria

What is most important to you in your business right now, in this particular season?

It is critical to be very honest with yourself so that you don’t make decisions based on past assumptions or circumstances.

Set decision criteria that strengthen the good things you are currently doing, and position you for success in the future.

Criteria could be:

  • Increase revenue (amping up marketing and sales activities)
  • Streamline and automate operations (business is good, now you need to prepare your business to grow)
  • Grow your brand (make more ideal clients aware of your expertise)
  • Create great meaning and impact (do work that is deeply gratifying, and tied to your roots)
  • Build partnerships (expand your community and build opportunities for future growth)
  • Mitigate risk (take care of critical things that put you or your company at risk if not addressed, like taxes, legal agreements, trademarks or insurance)
  • Scale your operations (look for people to delegate work to, develop licensing or train the trainer programs)
  • Balance your workload (carefully examine your role in your company and ensure you are not working crazy hours)
  • Other (add your own criteria)

Charlie Gilkey has a classic post that talks about the 3 goals of any business activity)

Usually, there are at least 2 core priorities in a business in any given season. Be conscientious about your choices, and realize that you cannot do everything at the same time.

4. Create Yes, No, Delegate and Later Buckets

This is where sorting through your projects and priorities becomes a lot like cleaning your garage, or junk closet.

You only want to keep things that are adding true value to your life, and are serving strategic business priorities for this season (season could be a quarter, or the rest of the year, depending on how broadly you scope your planning timelines)

Run each task or priority through your decision criteria.

  • This task matches my strategic priority for the season: Assign YES
  • This task doesn’t match my strategic priority for the season? Assign NO
  • This task matches match my strategic priority for the season but I should not personally do it? Assign DELEGATE
  • This task doesn’t match my strategic priority for the year but it is a good future project: Assign LATER

5. Block by Quarters

Of the items you have left on your YES list of priorities, not all need to be done this week.

An easy way to sort through timing is to block your projects by quarters. I did a video a couple of years ago that explains the quarterly planning process in detail.

For those projects in this quarter’s docket, Scope, block and tackle them so that you have a super clear idea of what needs to get done in which order.

A lot of people spend too much time scoping out every last detail of a project that won’t take place for a few months. I like to only detail the projects that I have to get done in the current quarter so that you have exact short-term deadlines and clear tasks. Once you ship this quarter’s projects, you can step into the detailed scope block and tackling of the next quarter’s projects.

6. Give thanks, congratulate yourself and move forward!

Now that you have a fresh perspective and a more manageable workload, you can jump into the fun part of your job: making great things, doing great work and changing the world.

If you get stuck, grab a relative or friend to help you out. I am always here too if you need a hand!

Happy shipping!

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