What buying the wrong cable at Best Buy taught me about valuing my time and working toward my goals

When I moved to NYC from London in 1996, I considered myself to be pretty worldly. After all, I had just spent the last 8 years living in a still-very-dodgy East London area.  How much tougher could New York be?

I quickly realized that the culture in NYC was very different and I was out of my depth.  This became painfully clear in my first real job working at a small creative representation agency. 

It was a completely new industry to me, and there was so much to learn. It was like drinking from a fire hose. While generous with her knowledge, my boss’s expectations were high, and that first year was a baptism of fire. Every day felt like do-or-die!

One day, she asked me to go to Best Buy to get a cable we needed for a computer. It was before the Amazon days when, if you wanted something quickly, you went and got it yourself (or sent someone like me).

Anyway, I got the wrong one and in the face of my boss’s obvious displeasure, I stammered “It’s OK, I’ll go back now and get the right one.” To which she responded, “Your time is more valuable to me than having you wasting it going to Best Buy twice.”

Boom!

This was a huge revelation for me. Even in those early days at $10/hour, my time was better spent doing something that would grow the business such as making a new business call, putting together a portfolio for a meeting, or printing out a press packet (like I said, it was the late 90’s!).

It was a good lesson to learn early. It helped me think about where my efforts would yield the best results (which meant planning and focus), what I needed to outsource (even on a shoe-string budget), and what to simply let go.

But in order to grow your business, you’ve got to know what you want to achieve, why it matters, and what you need to do to get there.

If you find yourself running ragged in your business without the great client list and bank balance to make it all worthwhile, here are three things you can do right now to focus on what matters.

1) Figure out what matters in your business

One of the pitfalls of building a creative business is looking at what other business owners are doing, assuming it’s working, and trying to do the same in your business. In short, judging a business from the outside without knowing what’s going on in the inside. 

The beauty of launching and growing YOUR business is that it can be tailored to your values, purpose, and talents. Knowing what you want to achieve in your business is the first step to taking intentional actions towards that goal.

I’m loving this method right now:

  • Write down the answer to the following question: It is one year from now, and you and I are having lunch. Your business and life are thriving, and you couldn’t be happier. What three things have happened to make you so happy and why?
  • Now break that vision down into three defined goals that you can aim to achieve over the next 12 months to move you measurably closer to your vision.
  • Now assign projects to those goals. What do you actually need TO DO to make them happen?
  • Lastly, break those projects down into daily, weekly, and monthly actions that will keep you on track.

2) Harness the power of three

It is just me, or does this quote resonate?

We often overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year.

                                                                                                -Glen Smith

For me, one of the best antidotes to this is planning my day before I get into it and limiting myself to the three things I want to achieve that day.

Here’s how it works:

  • Spend a little time on Sunday planning out your week. I’m using the bullet journal right now and at the top of that page I write down the three things I want to achieve that week.
  • Spend a few minutes each morning mapping out your day. I do the morning pages and it’s here that I prioritize my three things based upon the day I have ahead of me.
  • Fit the smaller to-do’s around the big things. So, for example, at lunchtime I’ll take 10 minutes to book the kids’ dental appointments, call the mechanic, etc. Once I’m back at my desk, it’s back to my three things.

3) Identify what to outsource

If you’re having a tough time limiting yourself to three main areas of focus, chances are you’ve got too many things on your plate. Welcome to the world of entrepreneurship, right?

While this is a huge topic, you can start changing your reality with the following simple exercise:

  • List all the things that need to happen in your business on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis (you can put it in columns if that helps). Include everything from writing proposals and doing the creative work, to buying supplies, sending invoices, and doing your taxes.
  • Look at each of the tasks and assign each one to a zone: your zone of genius, your zone of excellence, your zone of competence, and your zone of incompetence. The goal is to have you operate in your zone of genius as much as possible, but for now, let’s say that anything that’s in your zone of competence or incompetence (or is clearly just not a good use of your time) needs to be outsourced or let go.
  • Review those tasks and think about how they might be handled by a contractor, virtual assistant, piece of software, hire, or intern.
  • Now take action. Ask your network how they handle such things and who they know. Figure out what the investment would be. Start envisioning what your business and day could look like if this were in place.

The universe rewards action, so put it out there. A new business reality could be closer than you think!

Justine Clay is a speaker and business coach for creative business owners and freelancers. A version of this post was originally published on Justine’s blog.

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