When your approach to your creative outlet and product is uniquely yours, no one can tell you how to succeed, how to measure, or make your way toward success. So how can you measure your success? While no one can tell you what you must do to succeed, there are things you that will slow or wipe out any chance of success. This series of articles discusses the top 10 traps to avoid when measuring your success:
- No clear picture of what success is.
- No objective or unrealistic objectives.
- No strategy.
- Projects are too big or too small.
- Tasks don’t align with the strategy or project.
- An Unmanaged calendar.
- No system to track your progress.
- No feedback.
- No projects completed.
- And no plan for failure.
Each of those traps could be a separate blog post. Instead, this series of blog posts will introduce a few at a time. The first post in this series discusses the first three traps. Part 2 describes the traps when projects are too big or too small, when tasks don’t align with the strategy or project, and when you have an unmanaged calendar. Part 3 takes on the trap of having no system to track your progress and how a focus on perfection is a trap. Today’s post covers the traps of no projects completed, no plan for failure, and a bonus trap to avoid, no plan for improvement. This is the fourth and final post in this series.
No Projects Completed
This is a tricky trap. There are skills that are innate. Some of you are task-oriented thinkers and doers. Others are project-oriented thinkers and doers. A small percentage of you are both task-oriented and project oriented.
What is a Task and a Project?
In the early 1900 to the 1950s, industry, technology, and communications grew and went through a lot of rapid change, making speedier production possible. With the speed came snags in all areas. Out of that change came a systematic way to approach production that is known today as Project Management.
Project Management defines a project as a series of tasks that need to be completed in order to reach a goal. A task is a single unit of work that needs to be accomplished with a project. Yes, it’s a circular definition. Let me give an example. Writing a novel is a project. There are many tasks, or steps, that one must accomplish in order to finish a novel. Those tasks include: have an idea, create the protagonist, create the antagonist, choose a theme, create an outline, write chapter one, write chapter two, and so on.
Each of those tasks is an individual chunk, part, or step that in the construction of a novel.
A person who thinks in terms of projects, sees the big picture. They may have a long list of novels or paintings, or knitting projects they want or need to finish. If this person is not also task-oriented, they will have difficulty completing a project because they get overwhelmed by the size of the project. Or they plow ahead with the project but forget different tasks. Because they missed a step, they keep having to stop, figure out which one they missed and how to fix it. It takes much longer to complete their project.
People who are task-oriented thinkers often think they are accomplishing a lot. They flit from one task to another without a plan for their project. This usually means they get a lot of tasks done, but they rarely complete a full project.
How to Avoid the Project Not Completed Trap
- If you aren’t completing your project, what prevented you from getting it done?
- Do you have the right environment?
- Do you have the right equipment?
- Do you have the right skills or training?
- Have you allocated the right amount of time and tasks to the project?
- Are your strategy, objective, project, and task all in alignment with each other?
If You are a Project-oriented Thinker
Make time to break down your projects into all its smallest parts. Plan for each of those parts so that you have the tools to complete the project. Make certain you have the right environment, equipment, skills, and time. Finally, track which tasks you’ve completed and which still need completed. Keeping track helps you stay on task and get the project completed in a timely manner.
If You are a Task-oriented Thinker
Make time to group tasks into projects. Then prioritize which projects need to be completed first. Track which tasks you accomplish and keep yourself on task.
No Plan for Failure
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. “Benjamin Franklin
From humongous to tiny, life is full of failures. We don’t learn to walk as toddlers without a lot of falling down. Why do we assume we will never fail in other areas of life?
Your journey as a creative entrepreneur will have failures. Far more failure than you would like. It’s inevitable. Failure doesn’t mean you have to crash and burn, but you must have a plan. You need a plan for how you will evaluate your spectacular and your minuscule failures and a plan for how you will move forward after failing.
Isn’t it Risky to Plan for Failure?
If you’re asking yourself this, you probably consider contingency planning to be a waste of your time. In the unlikely event that none of the failures you plan for ever happen, you might waste some time in making those plans. However, the time you spend planning, compared to the efforts of trying to avoid a disaster for which you had no recovery plan, is worth it.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”Thomas Edison
Everyone makes mistakes. Acknowledge your mistakes. Own them. Embrace them.
Failure embraced can grace us with wisdom. Study the steps that took you down that path. Figure out what you could have done differently. How could you have planned for that misstep?
Sometimes failure is beyond our control. The unexpected COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on many small businesses. Some businesses pivoted and provide delivery or curbside services. Other businesses faced obstacles they couldn’t overcome and couldn’t pivot. Sadly, they had to close their doors. Note, I didn’t say they failed. It’s what you do after that kind of “failure” that is an important predictor of your eventual success. That bears repeating.
What you do after failure is an important predictor of your eventual success.
What if the failure was someone else’s fault? As long as it wasn’t malicious, give them the grace you want when you make mistakes. Don’t berate them. Help them see what happened and how to learn from it.
When you look at reframe failure as “a way that didn’t work,” it becomes a learning opportunity and you allow yourself to gain wisdom. Document what happened. Evaluate each step. Was failure avoidable or not? Did you have an alternative plan? What other choices or steps were possible? Figure out why you followed the path you did. And finally, how would you plan for this situation in the future?
The Benefits of Planning for Failure
There are at least three benefits to planning for failure.
Identifying certain types of failure may help you avert those failures.
Clarity in what your risks are may help you clarify exactly what you want to do in your creative career.
If you have a plan, failure isn’t as overwhelming because you know what to do next.
How Do You Plan for Failure?
The first thing you must do is give yourself permission to fail.
Too often we (particularly here in the States), see failure as a dead end. Yet, there may be alternatives to giving up. You can only know those, if you brainstorm.
Make a List
List all the ways you might fail. Maybe your list will include things like:
I’ll be embarrassed.
I’ll disappoint ____ (fill-in-the-blank).
I’ll never be able to do this creative thing again.
I’ll lose money.
I’ll lose the patent or copyright or trademark.
Listing them doesn’t make them real. It gives you a look at things you can work on. You may need counseling to help you overcome emotional pitfalls. Maybe you need to scale back or slow down your plans so you don’t face bankruptcy. You may simply need to do more research. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Knowing is the first step to identifying potential problems and charting a course around those.
With your list in hand, brainstorm potential solutions. Don’t limit yourself to the “practical” answers. List every possibility. Once you have done that, you can winnow down the list of solutions to ones that are most likely to help you in that situation.
Keep records of your plans for every scenario. Keep those plans in a specific location that is accessible to you. If you never need it, thank your lucky stars.
If you need it, you’ll be grateful you had the wisdom to look ahead and make a plan.
No Improvement Plan
No matter how small or how large, every business needs an improvement plan. Success isn’t a once and done, forevermore successful.
What kind of improvement plan? Not necessarily to keep putting out more and more product. (If that’s your goal, you do you.) But every business needs to respond to their market, grow and change in response to the changing marketplace.
Look at Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and McDonalds. They’ve all changed over the years. They’ve offered more varieties, changed their packaging, changed management styles, and much more. Why did they change? They kept their eyes and ears open to the market. Their management and their research and development teams saw the market shifting and changed to meet that new need.
Continuing research and development is essential to maintaining a long-term successful business. No matter what your market is, it will not stay the same forever. It won’t even stay the same during your lifetime. Be ready to pivot. How?
Keep Learning About Your Business
Continuing education is another part of an improvement plan. As an entrepreneur, there’s a lot you need to know. How to create your product, how to replicate that process, how to run a small business, and many more skills and abilities than most of us possess. Make a list of the things you don’t know. Make a list of things you need or want to know or understand better. The ones that will help your business today are of the highest priority. Ones that will help you tomorrow are the next highest.
Keep Learning About Yourself
This is especially important work if you are self-employed and the sole proprietor of your business. It’s hard work. It’s emotional work. Therefore, many people avoid this part of building their success. Knowing what your strengths are, what you want, what you fear, what makes you happy, and what you cannot do is immensely important. With that knowledge onboard, you will make better decisions, avoid more disasters, and ultimately be more successful.
How to Avoid These Traps
When planning what projects to take on, asking yourself these questions will help you make better decisions.
- How does this project align with my core values, my business goals, and my strategies?
- Will doing this project will help my business?
- If I don’t do this, will it hurt my business?
- Is the size of the project and the size of benefit worth? If the benefit is greater than the size of the project, you may have a winner. If the benefit is smaller than the size of the project, even if the project is tiny, set that project aside or avoid it. (Unless you know the risks and want to do it anyway.)
- Does this project over-step any limitations I or my business have?
- Will this project fit in my calendar?
- Is there a way to track the progress of this project?
- On a scale of one to five, how important is this project to my business? Focus on the top three projects that are most important. When you finish one, you can add another project.
Is this the ultimate and complete list of traps to avoid when measuring your success? No. These are common ones.
Can you avoid all traps? Not at all. You will make mistakes. We all do. A mistake does not mean you failed. Even if you cannot recover your business immediately, that doesn’t automatically mean you failed. If you tried and you learned what to do and what not to do, you’ve won a very important game. Give yourself time to recover. Then pick yourself up, evaluate where things went wrong, and start over. Start over knowing you’re ahead of where you were the last time you started over. Keep going. Keep learning. Start over knowing that even if no one else is rooting for you, I am. You can do this!
Are any of these traps familiar to you? How will you (or how do you already) avoid them?
Top: Public Domain image courtesy Animated Heaven on Flickr
Remaining images purchased from DepositPhoto.