Change Catalyst with Shanna Mann: Strategy & Support for Sane Self-Employment

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Week 6 – The Mindset of Incremental Improvement

The final piece of the puzzle is mindset. You’ve done what you’ve done these past six weeks because it was a challenge. Limited scope, limited time investment, you felt it was something worth trying. What was there to lose?

But in that sense, a six week challenge is kind of like a weird diet, like an egg fast. To actually maintain the weight loss, you’re probably going to have to change certain things FOR EVER.

Singular Focus on a Large Scale Tends to Fail

I was talking recently with the fellow who is asking me about my top priority for the moment. I gave him the two or three projects currently residing at the top of the pile. He seemed surprised. I offered an explanation, “Personality-wise, I don’t seem to do well when I focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else. It tends to make me neurotic.”

He reflected on that for a second. “Hmm. It does that to me, too.” No word on whether that realization will change his habits at all. <grin>

What I find that singular focus does, is that it creates a kind of tunnel vision that strangles open-minded, creative thought. And it absolutely stops on curiosity and noodling. You become like the Terminator. And while sometimes that can be wonderful, mostly it just disguises the fact that everything around you is going to hell in handbasket.

Focusing on a Small Handful Of Improvements Works Better

But the good news is that I’ve never seen a solopreneurial business that could healthily operate that way, and no bonsai business owner who attempted to force it to.

Mostly people made this decision from the negative side of things (i.e. “this singular focus thing doesn’t work.”) But I’m arguing that you should orient your multifaceted focus as a positive decision — as in, “A multipronged focus, when properly managed, blends the best creative thought habits with the constraints that produce results.”

The mere fact of solopreneurship means that you’re constantly thinking, “How can I…?” “Would it work if…” etc. But again, most people seem to be in the habit of asking these questions from a negative and stressed frame of mind. As in, “Help! How am I going to do everything?”

The mindset of the Master of Cumulative Effects is a little more relaxed, but still purposeful. The Master notices points of friction, inefficiencies, stumbles into implementation and cracks in the system. Then she asks “How would this work, ideally? How could this work better? I wonder if it’s possible to…?”

The statements of intellectual curiosity combined with the focus and enthusiasm of the kid taking apart a radio, is the mental state you are seeking to achieve.

And sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you look at the stack of broke and crappy systems waiting to be fixed by you, as you struggle to stay on top of the necessary work and you feel like you’ll never claw your way out of that hole.

And when that happens, I want you to do two things.

  • The first thing is to reflect on the parts of your business that are working. Your clients are happy, I bet. What else is working? Good social media interactions? Pristine bookkeeping? Meticulous track record fulfilling customer orders? You’re doing a lot of things right. Therefore a lot of systems are working. Maybe they could be better — what can’t? — But the point is, they are working right now.
  • When you made that list and you feel more like yourself, I want you to return to the basics: what’s one thing you can do right now, in fifteen minutes to make a system work better? You might even go meta, in decide that the thing you need to do is just park some of your systems for checklist close at hand, like putting them on your desktop or printing them out so they’re tangible and in-your-face. (A lot of the time it’s not the system that breaks, it’s your implementation system.)

So write your list. Make your fifteen minute improvement.

You’re making music, but you’re in the putting it together stage. Soon it will smooth out.

“A multipronged focus, when properly managed, blends the best creative thought habits with the constraints that produce results.”