Ever heard the old joke, when a woman asks an old man for directions to the local theatre? He looks at her for a long moment and says: “Well, I wouldn’t start from here!”

Funny thing is, people often make decisions or judgement calls in their businesses without actually knowing where ‘here’ is!

While summer can be very busy for many of us, it is also a time when lots of us have some down time and get the opportunity to do some thinking and assessment. With this in mind it’s an excellent time to find some quiet space, grab a pen and paper and start to jot down all your achievements over the last 12 months - and I mean everything!

How far have you come?

Get out old diaries/action points/work lists and go through them. You may be surprised how much you have done that you’ve forgotten about. I’m not just talking about work but any activities where you acquired skills and made contacts. Perhaps you helped a friend out or got roped into some unexpected experience. What did you gain from it? Include interesting things you tried, even if you felt they weren’t successful, because you will now have information and insights into another area.

Gather up all this information and give yourself a pat on the back for all you have achieved, worked around and/or overcome. Remember where you were at the beginning of that time and recognise what you have learned and how far you have travelled in the last 12 months. Take some time to appreciate your own efforts and achievements.

Throwing out the trash

Now take time to check out the things that didn’t go so well. Maybe have a list headed ‘lessons learnt’.

Look at any negative experiences or ones that didn’t go to plan, recognise what you’ve learned and how valuable that information is to you now. Think about what you could do differently in a similar situation in the future, then, let it go. Don’t waste any more time or emotional energy thinking about it. Take the useful stuff, then send the rest of the experience to your mental trash file, then empty it! It is not useful or helpful to keep raking over the bad stuff for no reason other than personal torture. So don’t do it!

Show me the money!

Get your accounts up to date. Make summaries of your income over the last three years along the lines of:

  • Amount earned per month
  • Proportion earned on core work
  • Proportion earned on ‘work to eat’ activities.

Look at your outgoings and assess them along the lines of:

  • Business expenses
  • Personal development
  • Living expenses
  • Luxuries

If you have ever done any analysis of how you spend your time, split that into similar categories. If you have not done this, it’s really useful to do now, so you can track how you spend your time over a month, to assess your actual productivity.

Lay this information out in an ‘easy to see’ summary. See if there are any patterns that might needed changing. For example, maybe you have been caught out financially every year by a particularly fallow month. Having this knowledge can help you to make plans and take extra steps to find suitable work in advance. Or you could plan to take a holiday then, getting extra work lined up for the month before or after.

Some work might be in the ‘work to eat’ category, but is easy to do, and takes care of all your living expenses. In which case, how can you fit this around work you prefer to do?

Seeing your finances set out like this can make things that need to be addressed obvious.

  • Where do you spend your time, compared to what generates the majority of your income?
  • Could you make economies on your business expenses?
  • Have the decisions you have been making strategic or knee jerk?

What needs to change?

Finally, it’s time to work out what it is you want. Maybe you are happy with the status quo, if not what would you like to change? Here are some questions to help you work this out:

  • Is there work you want but aren’t getting because you need skills or experience?
  • Do you need more down time?
  • Do you need more money?
  • Do you want more work in a specific area?
  • Do you need to make better contacts?
  • What do you want more of?
  • What do you want less of?

Take time to answer these questions carefully. This will give you a set of challenges to start the next part of this process.

So when you start to look for direction in your business, you will know exactly what your starting point is and this will make it easier to head in the right direction and make the most use of your time.

Watch out for the next blog, which will take you through the next step in the process!

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