I don't know about you, but there are days - especially in the lazy days of summer! - when I really struggle. It'll be approaching 4-o'clock and I'll be wondering where the time has gone and what I have to show for close to a day's work (and then panic at the thought that I only have a few hours left to "catch up" before my daughters get back from nursery).
There are times when I feel so swamped and buried in the "stuff" that I am terrified that I'm not actually moving forward in any meaningful way, and wonder if I am doing enough. And it's during these moments of (mini) crises that I go back to my data.
See, a while ago (7 years to be exact), I got sick of wondering and wanted to know. I remembered a fantastic New York Times article (I highly recommend reading) that talked about the data-driven life. So I started to track my stats. I set myself daily, weekly, and quarterly targets and then tracked how I was using my time against those targets (in the early days, I used Excel, now I use Toggl and can't recommend it enough).
And doing so changed everything. It gave me a concrete and objective picture of where my time was actually being invested. I could look back at a day, a week, a year, and see exact percentages and numbers of minutes being invested in business development, marketing, speaking, admin, etc. And I could use those stats to hold myself accountable against the targets I had set.
Simple and powerful. And most important: objective.
Because, the thing is, we are often the worst at assessing ourselves. And we often get it wrong when we are guesstimating or appraising off the top of our heads. We suffer from recency bias. And availability bias. And self-preservation bias. We judge our performance based on what has just happened, what we can recall (and we forget a LOT), and we tell ourselves stories to make ourselves feel better ("I have been working soooooo hard and soooooo much!").
But the reality is often different to what we imagine. When I started objectively measuring what I was doing each day, what I learned surprised me. It still does. In some instances, I was way ahead of my game (a few years ago, I was having a really bad week so wanted to see where I was going off track... and you know what? I wasn't off track at all. I had hit 50% of my targets for the YEAR by May!). And in other cases, I was doing far less than I thought (when I was starting my first business, I was making shockingly fewer calls to partners and clients than I thought I was. No wonder things weren't moving as quickly as I wanted back then).
The data changes everything: practically, emotionally, and energetically.
When we are ahead, wouldn't it be great to know that? We can breathe a little easier, we can stop stressing (a bit) about how much always needs to be done, and we can maybe even celebrate our successes or pat ourselves on the back (crazy, I know!).
And when we are behind, isn't the data morale boosting in a counterintuitive way too? If we aren't seeing progress, isn't it better to use the data to tell us whether that's because we're not investing enough time on the important things or if it's because we're spending too much time on "low value" things? Isn't it better to know if the flaw is with the process or with the execution?
The data gives you answers. The data helps uncover solutions. And the data makes it easier to know, instead of guess.
Business and success and growth don't happen by guesswork. And that's the beauty of the data-driven life: you swap the confusion of wondering with the power of knowing. And knowing is half the battle.
We've all heard the saying "A penny saved is a penny earned", but in my family, my mom often reminded us that "A penny saved is two pennies earned..." What she meant by that, I think, was that earning is the hard part so saving what we earn and being smart about how we spend/invest it is worth twice as much as simply earning more. (She may also have been thinking about pre-tax and post-tax money, but I never clarified!)
And I think of that Patel-family wisdom often, especially whenever I am looking to grow, introduce something new, or "do big things" in my businesses. Because it's so easy to chase after shiny new-ness for shiny new-ness's sake, but I've found that it's usually better to focus on protecting what I already have before I go looking for more.
Now as business owners, we all know that it takes money to make money. There's no escaping that. But there is a difference between spending money (throwing it at something new for new-ness's sake, for example) and investing it (protecting what you already have). The trouble is far too many people do the former instead of the latter.
When was the last time you sat down with your P&Ls and looked at where your money was being spent or invested? When was the last time you looked carefully at all of the big and small costs and worked hard to eliminate the unnecessary or negotiate the price of the essential? When was the last time you reviewed your prices? Or chased up missed payments? Or went to the bank to cash that check sitting on your desk? Or simply decided NOT to throw money at a problem and think about a better solution instead?
I get it. There is always so much to do and there are so many pulls on our time and attention and energy, but if we're not careful, we can start to take our business for granted and neglect the important things. As in all relationships, our relationship with our business and our money and our customers needs to be nurtured and attended to ALL THE TIME or it will suffer. Protecting what we already have means closing the door on Neglect's smug little face.
Neglect wants you to think it's okay not to review your financial statements because that's what your accountant or bookkeeper is paid to do. Neglect wants you to think new customers are sexy and seductive unlike your boring old customers at home. Neglect whispers oh so sweetly in your ear about expansion and growth and new-ness that your body tingles at the thought... But what Neglect fails to confide while slowly courting your business brain is how potentially deflating and expensive and fruitless all of his advice could be! (Who put Neglect on your Board of Advisors anyway?)
When I sat down and regularly started reviewing my costs and P&Ls, my profits almost literally exploded. Because I am committed to keeping my existing clients happy, they are great brand ambassadors who stay with me for years. And due to the focus I put on treating my suppliers like equals and partners, I get priority service in return.
All of these things took time and effort, sure, but it is time and effort invested, not spent, in protecting what I already have. I front-loaded the hard work of building a business, getting customers, establishing great service delivery mechanisms, finding reliable suppliers, and building relationships and consistently told Neglect to hit the road.
So the next time you find yourself itching to run a new marketing campaign to get more customers, or reaching for the phone to buy a new asset because the old one just won't do, or strategizing how to do more, more, more in your business, stop yourself and consider whether you could do more with what you already have (make more profit from the income you already have, offer more to the customers you already have...) and whether your business wouldn't be better off if you did.
Less sometimes really is more. And protecting what you already have is often the best, smartest, and easiest thing to do.