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

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What To Do When You Can Do Anything: The Business Edition

Another great post from Abigail Markov, who is hard at work under the Christmas rush, but still managed to take the time to detail the various ways she pares down the list of things she could be doing.

Raise your hand if you usually have more ideas than you have means to act on them. Hand up? Repeat after me:

I, (your name), hereby affirm that I am a qualified to become a member of the My Imagination Is Bigger Than My Resources Club.

Welcome to the club! Shanna and I both are lifelong members of this club; and never was this more beautifully obvious the last time we sat down to chat. There we were, talking and brainstorming, and (this time) she was throwing out excited ideas about things I could make, and I was totally getting into how I could make those could work, and how much fun they’d be to do, and how they’d make neat product lines… and then I told her I wasn’t going to do ANY of them, as much fun as they sounded.

It’s not because they weren’t great ideas. They really were, and they’d work well for a LOT of businesses. I mean, c’mon, I love purses, and I have a pretty good design sense. But purses just won’t be a design line I do. And enameled cell phone charms ARE cool, but it’s a different brand direction than the one I want to take.

I hated having to explain this. I didn’t want her to feel like her ideas weren’t good ones (because they were) – they just didn’t fit for me. Thankfully, Shanna is totally cool with this – she’s explained to me how she knows her people will take or leave her advice, and she loves them for that. But Shanna being, well, Shanna, we ended up talking about how it was I knew those things weren’t for me, or my business, and how I managed to figure it out that fast.

And because Shanna and I both love us some metaphors and stories, I explained the story of my system, the story of how ironing, Pinterest, and four boxes turned into the most indispensable decision making tool I have.

What To Do When You Can Do Anything_ Business Edition

Box 4: Ironing, Not My Kind of Hot Metal

It all started with ironing. Not that I was ironing when the business gods gave me this tool as a reward for being a good little laundry do-er. (Gods, that is just No.) No, “Iron!” is the answer I give when people ask me “Is there anything you CAN’T do?” (I have a lot of hobbies.) And it’s true. I can’t iron. I can plug the thing in, set the board up, get the clothing on the board… and then it somehow goes from there to second degree burns, profanity, and steam-set wrinkles.

For a while, I felt like a complete slackass for not ironing. Like I was some kind of failure as an adult. After a decade or two of fighting with it, I finally, joyously, gave up on ironing. I hated doing it anyway, I didn’t NEED the skill, and if I wore jeans and No Wrinkle shirts, no one would be the wiser. Hooray! No Ironing!

I’m pretty sure you have your own versions of Ironing – things we hate doing, that we feel like we HAVE to do, but that if we tried, we could find a good alternative to, or don’t really need at all. Maybe it’s bookkeeping. Maybe it’s cooking. Maybe it’s getting up early to work out. We all have them. I bet you could come up with a short list of a few of them right now.

Go ahead, make a really short list of a few. Draw a box around them. This is Box 4.

Box 4 holds the things you don’t, won’t, can’t, and hate to do.

Things that go in my Box 4 include ironing (obviously), running, extensive home organization systems, anything involving the PTA, throwing parties, and any and all networking events. If I could get all forms of phone calls in this box too, I would. (I can’t. Yet. Give me time.) Commission and custom creative work also fall into this box.

(We’re going backwards, by the way. It’s more fun going downhill than up.)

Box 3: Pinterest Is Wishful Thinking on Amphetamines

So, having explained how Box 4 came to be, I was somewhat obligated to explain the rest of the boxes. A humorous story about my domesticity failings is amusing, but not the important part here.

Enter Pinterest. See, I have a thing for Pinterest. It’s visual bookmarking, and it makes the very visual person that I am quite happy. I have boards for recipes I’d like to try, for Studio tools I want someday, for jokes to tell the kids, for home design ideas, for tutorials, and no shortage of boards for smart ass quotes that I liked.

This said, I will be the first person to tell you that Pinterest is Wishful Thinking on amphetamines.

The vast majority of the pins (which is what each bookmark is called) are for deceptively difficult food-home-craft-wedding DIY type things that the blogger proposes is “so easy you can even do it with your toddler!” This is a lie. These homesteading, garden-growing, hipster-styled, charity-marathon-running, internet Martha Stewarts of whatever gender with clean faced never fighting children are some kind of anomaly that so many would like to be, but never will.

And you know why?

Because while meeeeelllions of people LOVE the idea of living that kind of lifestyle (or whatever their lifestyle of Pinterest Choice is), while they relish the idea of being the kind of person their friends would stand in awe of, the idea is way better in theory than it is in practice. In practice, for the vast majority of people, it’s a ton of work they don’t really enjoy doing. So it gets pinned, and left there for them to daydream about and show off how tasteful they are to friends.

Pinterest is visual Fiction with you cast as the main character that you can share with other people. Or, put another way, Pinterest is the place to put things you wish you wanted to do, but don’t actually want to do the work needed to, you know, actually do those things.

Meet Box 3: Things you wish you wanted to do.

This box is for things that sounded GREAT in theory, but if I know myself worth a damn, I know they’d suck to do in practice. The reward won’t be worth the work involved.

Thankfully, I’m pretty good at picking these out without trying them out now. There is this gut feeling I get when they are mentioned that feels a bit like visiting someone you should like visiting, but always leaves you feeling uncomfortable and grumpy when you finally escape. That feeling is important. Listen to it.

My Box 3 includes pretty much anything with baking, sewing, regular exercise routines, beauty routines involving more than a shower and 2-in-1 shampoo, and planning Steve’s and my wedding. Learning to dance and cruises and doing local craft fairs are also in this box. Cell phone charms, purses, fashion design, and getting back into the gallery circuit are all business ideas that get shoved in my Box 3.

Box 2: The Good Stuff

This is the good box. Box 2, oh, Box 2 is the things you WANT to do. You love the idea of doing them, and you’d pay to do them if you had to.

You’re not doing them now because you probably don’t have the money to do them, or maybe the time. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re scared. Maybe you’re scared you’ll fail, or you’ll find out that it’s not as great as you had hoped it was.

Hard Truth Time: Yes, sure, we could totally find out that doing this Thing sucks. You may find out you were WAY off and hated every minute of it.

The good news is that you can’t fail. The great news is you will learn from it and come away with an awesome story to tell.

Word of advice on putting things in Box 2: Box 2 is ideally a taking-action box. Either an item is in there and it’s heading to Box 1 because you’d regret not trying it, or you’re probably going to make yourself feel crappy for saying you’re going to do something you don’t really want to do. In that case, it needs to go to Box 3. Box 2 things are important to you, but you haven’t quite worked out how to make doing them a reality yet.

PS: Fear is no excuse. Or, to quote an old master: “Do… or do not. There is no try.” -Yoda.

If it’s in Box 2, start making hard and fast actionable plans on how to do it… or move it to Box 3. Stop being a chicken shit.

My Box 2 has things like learning metal casting, metal clay, lapidary work, glass blowing, visiting the Maldives, learning to sail and fly, getting my motorcycle license, installing solar panels as a roof, building my own house, and learning more about Buddhist philosophy. (Go ahead, ask me my plans for any of these things. It may be a rough 10 year plan, but I have one. 😀 )

Box 1: Really Important Stuff You Probably Ignore

Box 1 is the toughest box of them all. These are the things you already do, and probably enjoy doing. (Ideally, you enjoy doing them.) That’s exactly what makes this box so hard. We tend to get so wrapped up in what we want to do or should be doing that we tend to ignore the important stuff that we already do, that makes up our lives as they are now.

I realize that most of the things in this box you’re going to have to work to think of initially, because if you’re anything like me, you take for granted that you do these things. But figuring them out is really important. The things in this box give you clues on other things you might like to do, things from other boxes that should be in Box 1.

This is the box for things like posting on social media for your business, networking, cooking, showering, books you read, e-courses you teach, blog post schedules you maintain, product lines you continue, websites you maintain. Spending time with friends and family, hobbies you love, you name it.

Again, this box is important.

Just because you are already doing it does not make it less. Far, far from it. What you already do is very important. Acknowledging that you do all of these things keeps you sane. My Box 1 has things like gardening, maintaining and expanding four jewelry product lines, two websites I maintain, social media, systematizing bookkeeping, teaching my kids as much stuff as I can, spending time with Steve, learning enameling, making chains, photography, the list goes on.

TL;DR So that’s how I streamline my decision making. Four boxes, in a neat little grid in my head. Each one with a purpose.

I’m pretty ruthless on what makes it from Box 3 into Box 2, and if it’s in Box 3 or 4 and it’s something I probably NEED to do, I’ll find an alternative method of doing it. And, that’s my system in a nutshell. I can’t promise it will work for anyone else, but Shanna said it’d be something someone would probably find interesting, or maybe you can cannibalize it and add parts to your system. Either way – as they say elsewhere: YMMV, so enjoy the ride. )

How do you decide what will make it onto your plate?

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