For many, December is sort of a wash in terms of operating a business. When I was in the music business many years ago, getting the last two weeks off in December was a “given,” and I don’t quite recall what I was doing during the first 2 weeks of December other than cleaning out my office and going to holiday parties or hosting one for the label I worked for.
I’m sure those holiday parties did not help in sharpening my memory… Those darn parties…
As an entrepreneur, though, it is incredibly difficult to draw a clear line to be able to say to oneself, “Okay, since no one is really working, I’m turning everything off in December.” In your mind, there is always something to do, and there is always something to fix.
The reason I’m writing this post now, in August, is to tackle this challenge. The only way to achieve this goal of “taking the entire December off” is to start early, if only to avoid the panicky feeling in your belly come January of next year. Giving yourself ample time to strategize is the biggest gift you can give to yourself.
Using this method, you are not going to treat the month of December as just “business as usual” or a “slow season.” The number of things you can accomplish during this time can be truly magical, if you intentionally decide to limit yourself from working during the entire month.
Imagine yourself doing things that truly interest you other than your business. Things you always wanted to go back and try again, or maybe something completely new that you’ve never done before.
These are the activities that help you shape your business the way you originally envisioned, because they offer insights and inspirations you don’t get from your daily business activities.
Before getting down to nitty-gritty of the guilt-free method I’m going to share, there are a few things to clarify:
1. Since the holiday season (in the US) starts from Thanksgiving weekend, let’s make a daring goal to say, “Let’s take the entire December off by starting from Thanksgiving weekend” to make it extra special. (What the heck, right?) This would motivate us even more to do the work required beforehand.
2. This method is not designed for retail or eCommerce business owners. However, it can be easily implemented by just pushing everything back by one month, and planning to take January off, instead.
3. Here, the definition of taking December off means you don’t do anything in your business, minimize the amount of work you work on your business, and knowing exactly what you will be doing when January 2nd hits.
Moreover, since you just had guilt-free December off, your energy should be recharged. You should feel that December was a meaningful month, instead of returning to work and feeling pressured to come up with a plan for the new year.
The third point is extremely important. I called this method “guilt-free” for two reasons: 1) You get to eliminate all day-to-day tasks without feeling guilty, 2) You don’t need to bum-rush the task of planning out the coming year in December.
Are you ready for this? OK, let’s get started.
***Because I sincerely want you to give this a try, I have created a “no brainer” playbook for you to download and get started right away!***
Click the button below to gain an access to Take the Entire December Off: The "Guilt-Free" Playbook now!
Identify What Your Business Can Achieve and Cannot Achieve in Q4. (August & Sept)
If you are reading this post shortly after it was published, you are still in Q3. It is the best time to gradually assess how your business has performed so far this year, and to course correct for Q4.
Just because you plan to take a chunk of time off in Q4, does not mean your business can’t achieve the short-term goals you and your team set out earlier in the year. Needless to say, accomplishing as many goals as your business can in 2017 will allow your business to take on new and more challenging objectives in the coming year. However, keep in mind not to compile a long list of overly ambitious to-dos.
Here is the list of questions that you will go over with your management team to figure out what to focus on in Q4:
1. How are we doing with our KPI metrics? What can we achieve and cannot achieve in Q4 to compensate for the failing areas? Examples of KPI that you can use to measure your business performance is included in the playbook you can download.
2. Where are we at with all five areas of our business? What can we achieve in Q4 to bring all areas up to speed? What can’t we achieve? The five areas are:
- Business Value and Vision
- Business Model
How to assess your business by using this tool is also included in the FREE playbook.
3. Review your revenue streams, as well as the sales processes that sustain your business. How healthy is your lead generation workflow? Does your business already have a list of confirmed projects for the coming year? Is your client roster diversified? If that is not the case, what can you do to improve this in Q4?
4. Are there tasks that make sense to finish this year that would help your business get ahead of the game in the coming year? Example: Finalize SOP (standard operating procedure), reorganize your team, hire/fire outsourced service providers (i.e. payroll provider, insurance, SEO agency, etc).
After going over the above, choose three items you and your team identify as “achievable” during Q4, draft a game plan focusing on exactly how to go about them. Just listing what these goals are isn’t helpful. You need a strategy and a roadmap in place to tackle each of them. Check out the FREE playbook which shows how to put your roadmap together.
Why three? Even if you divide and concur with your team, completing more than three goals for the last quarter of the year isn’t realistic. For this reason, make sure that the items you choose are absolute must-do tasks.
Next, pay close attention to the ones that are identified as un-achievable. How did you and your team arrive to this conclusion? A lack of manpower? A lack of time? A lack of available funds? Are any of these not helpful to grow your business? It helps to set this list aside for a week then revisit.
By looking at the list with a fresh set of eyes, you may find some of them still essential enough to give them another go this year. Or, you may want to consider swapping them with items that are “achievable, but nothing that moves the needle.”
This helps you and your team stay laser-focused on identifying the tasks that you must do to exponentially grow your business for the remainder of this year.
The criteria for choosing what to prioritize and what not to prioritize should be based on the following:
1. Why now? (Or why later?)
2. Is this aligned with our long-term business vision?
3. Are we avoiding harder, time-consuming but critical task that matters and replacing it with an easy, “nice to have” task? (Your team needs to be honest here.)
Look at the entire list once again just to be sure that what you plan to accomplish during Q4 is relevant, timely, and helpful to continuously grow your business, without being side-tracked.
Shift the Gear and Plan for the Coming Year by Going Wild (Sept)
If the first part (Q4 planning) put you to sleep, you’ll enjoy the next part.
As far as planning the upcoming year goes, don’t want to use the logical side of brain to start. Instead, go wild! Come up with the most ambitious projects you want to complete, without overthinking. Don’t worry about budget, don’t worry about how long it takes, and don’t worry about whether they are aligned just yet.
This is because logical thinking can get in the way of free and creative thinking process. Here, you may want to start with an idea you may have had before, but didn’t execute. Here are some examples:
1. Attend larger conferences
2. Move to a new location
3. Expand to other locations
4. Start content-packed, regularly scheduled eNewsletter (YouTube, podcast, etc.)
5. Overhaul your website
6. Finish writing a book
7. Switch over to a higher priced, all-in-one workflow solutions
8. Establish new joint-venture deals and partnerships
9. Finalizing all SOPs and add video instructions
10. Offering training courses in your niche
11. Start your own live events or conference
12. Book you and/or your team speaking and presentation engagements
Including your team in this discussion by using sticky notes is highly encouraged. Warning: they might come up with something like “remodel our kitchen area by adding a larger fridge.” Whether you take that on is totally up to you.
What’s great about this exercise is it makes your team feel that they are included in this process. Setting basic ground rules such as: any suggestions must be directly tied with growth of your business, each suggestion must be backed with a reasonable plan, etc., would help keep this conversation meaningful to all parties involved.
Once all ideas are written out, set them aside. Sleep on them for a few days, at least. Leaving them aside will help you to come up with more ideas without even trying.
Because you have just established an open mindset to generate new ideas by doing a brainstorming session, subconsciously, you will be thinking about new ideas in the back of your mind. As a result, you will experience a flood of interesting ideas of your own. Have fun with it!
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Invite Back Your Logical Self (Oct)
Not to be a buzz-kill, but I have to break it to you – you need to put all your crazy ideas to the test to see if any of them are feasible, before you make them your priority for the upcoming year.
Step 1: Rearrange them in order of priority
How do you define “priority”? Look no further. What you want to avoid here is to getting yourself into decision fatigue. What if you just had a check list which you simply go over to decide which project is more imminent? That’d be great, right? I thought so. The check list is part of the FREE downloadable playbook.
Step 2: Keep the top three and set aside the rest
After that, it should be crystal clear which are the top three ideas you’ll be moving forward with. That doesn’t mean to throw away the rest – you will want to go back to this list during the new year or the next. So, set the ones that did not make the cut aside.
You may have noticed by now that “setting aside the list of ideas or tasks” has shown up a few times at this point. That’s because it takes time to solidify good, effective plans.
Sometimes you need to walk away in order to gain new perspectives on the list of ideas you have compiled. This is the reason you want to start this process early: to be able to take the entire December off from your business without feeling guilty or rushed.
Step 3: Pick One that Your Team Will Work on.
Technically, you are going to keep the top three ideas, but you and your team will not execute all three right out of the gate. You will start from the first one. The ideas that were generated from this exercise, by default, will require a long game.
That’s why these ideas are big and audacious.
Each one of them will call for your full focus and consistency to make it happen. For this reason, as hard as it may be, you must pick just one that truly matters and takes up the entire four quarters.
It is okay to ladder the top three throughout the new year, ensuring each of them get your full attention in the beginning, to get them off the ground. What you want to avoid is not being able to generate any positive results for all three of them.
If you simultaneously work on all three, most likely you will not finish any of them. Instead, you want to tackle one at a time until each gains the traction and momentum it needs to succeed.
Finalize Your Q1 / Q2 Must-Do List (Nov)
When I say “finalize,” it does not mean that the list is set in stone. You are temporarily finalizing it so that you will not make any more changes this year. Things change all the time. Therefore, once Q1 starts, you can adjust accordingly. But for now, you finalize the list, so that you get a sense of closure.
While you strategize for the big, ambitious project you picked for the new year, you also need to work on things that you were not able to complete in Q4 this year. Most likely these left-over items will remain important in order to drive your business. It is in your best interest to keep a healthy balance between new/big goals and your left-over items you may work on continuously in the new year.
Take the unfinished tasks for Q4, and combine them with the list of unachievable tasks you have from part one. Take another look at the newly updated list and prioritize. Then pick the top three to work on during Q1 and Q2.
Be sure everyone involved understands clearly what the objectives are for the coming year. Make the list visible either on a whiteboard or blackboard in the office. It would be even more effective if you have your team indicate the milestones reached and deadlines for each objective.
This is to keep these objectives top of everyone’s mind. Something simple like visualizing them, and writing them out on a wall actually helps everyone stay motivated. Doing so makes it highly likely that your objectives will be completed on time.
So, that’s it. At this point, you are clear on:
1. What you and your team can accomplish in Q4. You are monitoring the progress.
2. What your big & bold goal will be for the coming year and how to tackle it.
3. What items need to stay on the remaining Q4 task list that you need to continue working in the new year, and why.
How do you feel? Do you feel 1000 lbs. lighter? You may have thought reading about taking the entire December off in the middle of the summer is insane. But, I hope you are now convinced as to why it is actually a timely topic. As with anything in our lives, front-loading work helps eliminate unnecessary stress later down the line.
So… What Do You Do with Your December Off? Create Something Special for this Month.
Remember the whole point of doing this is that you get to design your December in the most meaningful way. Here are some examples you can use to create your own plan:
1. Wholeheartedly make yourself available to your loved ones.
Go along with their holiday plans without questioning whether this is the optimal way to spend your time (as you would normally do). If you do the entire exercise above, you won’t have to worry about it.
2. Dust off your old, unfinished projects and immerse yourself in them.
It is best that these projects are not related to your business at all. They could be a hobby you gave up because your business was too demanding. They could be reading up on classics that you never got to read. You will be surprised to find that these are the activities that will give you sparks of inspirations for your business.
3. Set aside a couple of weekends that are completely unplanned and unstructured.
Intentionally do not schedule anything. You do whatever you want as you go along. You can purposely decide not to do anything at all the entire day. As long as you are intentional with what you do (or don’t), you won’t feel guilty.
4. Become a tourist in your own town.
You can take friends or relatives with you, or you can do it just by yourself. Discover the places in your town that you have never visited, just because you live there. You might find something that was always there but that you never noticed, and gain a new appreciation for the place you call home.
5. Batch up on your content.
I can almost hear you say, “Ugh! This is work! I thought this was all about not working in December.” You are right. This is totally optional, but I still wanted to list this as one of the things you can do. Why? When you do all the real work, I mean, the hard work upfront, all of a sudden, you find yourself being more creative because you are not shackled down with “things you feel like you should be doing.” This is when you can jot down your ideas for your business blog or just outlining your editorial plan for the new year.
You could split the month of December in half. You can dedicate half of the time to your loved ones, then the rest can be all to yourself to get away from it all. This is the best way to recharge and reflect. Especially if you are an extrovert, you would want to set aside some quiet time to examine your life not just things evolving around your business.
Don’t Forget to Journal or Video-Tape Your Experience
The last thing… the most important part is to video-tape your experience. You can do it on a daily basis, or make weekly summaries. This is not for you to post on Facebook or Instagram. This is just for yourself.
This reflection helps you have an even more meaningful time off in December. After it’s all over, the videos can come in handy when you are at the crossroads of your business, or find yourself having a hard time during the upcoming year.
Looking back can offer some answers to your current issues. At the very least, they can boost your motivation to press on, so that you get to do it all over again next December.
I would welcome your feedback for the playbook. Also, if you need help working your way through with this exercise, contact me here describing your challenges.