By James Butler, Your Business Your Future Tutor and Coach

As an owner manager, you’ve probably come to realise that your task list will never be completed. There’s always something else that could be done – a potential customer to chase, a process to improve, a member of staff to encourage. Facing that reality, you may have noticed that it’s difficult to get round to some tasks, because of the day-to-day stuff.

I’m working on my next book (due out in the second half of the year), and finding the time and the “head space” to get down to write it has been an ongoing struggle. I’m lucky to be blessed with a flow of client work in the business and I have other opportunities to follow up all the time. This creates the risk that the book would never get written – it’s been on my job list for years!

I decided the only way I could make it happen, was to prioritise making it happen. So, I kept last week clear in my diary, took myself away and focused almost 100% on the book. I kept up with emails and LinkedIn, and had no other projects or client work – the first time in years I’ve had a clear week.

When I resurfaced, the first draft was 90% written and I’m confident I’ll get to the review stage within a few weeks. I’m also confident that without the focused week, I’d still be at the conceptual stage. So, what are the lessons?

Know your priorities – seemingly obvious, and often neglected. With competing priorities, the management task becomes deciding which of your priorities is a priority! If you have a wider plan, and know how each of the priorities fit within your plan, it should be easier. And yet, I still found it really hard to make the book a priority. My greater focus in the last year or so helped bring this to the top of the list.

What are your true priorities, and which ones need moving up the list?

Clear the decks – the book would never have been started without a clear week to get it going. Once free from distractions, and physically removed from my usual working environment, it became easier to make the book the sole focus of the working week – which enormously helped the creative process.

If something is truly important, clear the way for it to be done without ongoing disruption. You may not need a week. You may just need a day, or a morning. You may need a morning every week. Whatever you need, clear the decks.

Stick to the plan – as the week I’d kept clear loomed closer, an ironic problem faced me. We’d lost a major contract, so a week of work that was not directly fee earning looked like an increasing luxury. By the same token, I’m in my busiest period ever, so there was a lot of pressure to “free-up” the week for the fee paying work. At the same time, I knew that my plan for 2011 and beyond included the book – and when else would I get it done?

What’s in your plan for the year, and what needs time scheduled to make it happen?

Get back to work – when the scheduled clear time comes to an end, it’s time to get back to the normal day-to-day activity - until the next time you set aside space for something other than the day-to-day. Hopefully, your day-to-day is part of the plan too. Just don’t stay stuck in the daily muck and bullets too long.

I’ve learnt from this experience – whether it is a week, a day or just an hour, we need to create the space for us to pursue our goals. We need to know our bigger picture so we can properly decide our priorities. We need to stay true to the bigger picture, even when short-term noise threatens to deflect us.

And I still have work to do on the book!

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