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There’s a slew of potential goals and activities you could pursue in 2021. The key is concentrating on the ones that will have the most significant impact on your business.
by Brian Margolis, founder of Productivity Giant
Trying to create 2021 goals can feel overwhelming. In addition to new business goals, do you beef up your virtual meeting skills, overhaul office safety protocols, or upgrade team collaboration software? This list could go on and on. But having too many goals can get you focused on too many things, which can hurt results. Fortunately, there’s a way to simplify your goals, gain control, and attain better results.
What We’ll Cover
- The myth of hard work
- Goal-setting questions to ask
- Goals you can control
First, the Myth of Hard Work
We all know that hard work leads to better results, right? Why is it, then, that some of us stay busy all day without moving the needle, while others seem to make leaps and bounds without breaking a sweat? Because people in the latter group identify high-leverage activities and focus on those above everything else. But those in the former group spend most of their time “doing” and “reacting.” Whether it’s intentional or not, they prioritize activity (i.e., hard work) over results.
Sure, meeting your 2021 goals will require hard work, but hard work on the right activities, as opposed to busyness. Figuring out what those activities should be starts with asking the right questions.
Second, Goal-Setting Questions to Ask
There’s a slew of potential goals and activities you could pursue in 2021. The key is concentrating on the ones that will have the most significant impact on your business. Otherwise, you could end up doing one activity for a while, then jumping to a different one if you’re not seeing any changes. This inconsistency will prevent you from making significant progress and cause discouragement.
Instead, you need to formulate a few specific goals that can drive results. We’ll call these goals “pillars.” Pillars are weekly goals that are so concise they’ll fit on an index card. Note: This article highlights key aspects of creating pillars; for more details, check out the Pillar System content on our website.
You can determine your pillars by asking yourself the following questions:
Question 1: “What’s one thing I already know how to do effectively that, if I executed more consistently or frequently, would have the biggest impact on my business—even if nothing else changed?”
When you answer this question, think about bottlenecks in your practice. For example, if you have a great prospecting approach, product offering, and closing ratio, but haven’t scheduled enough quality appointments, you have a bottleneck. You can excel in other areas, but you’ll always be limited by not having enough appointments. In this case, a pillar could be scheduling three appointments with prospects per week.
This question requires a very specific answer, so be careful not to respond with a generality. For example, you might initially answer the question with “I need more referrals.” However, to identify potential pillars, you must thoughtfully answer the question as it’s stated. You’re looking for activities you already know how to do that, if done more frequently, can move the needle. In the case of referrals, it could be consistently asking current clients and other professionals in your network for referrals. Thus, a potential pillar may be to ask for two referrals a week.
How to Identify Your Pillars
The Pillar System reduces everything you could be doing with your time down to those activities (pillars) that, when executed consistently, have the greatest impact on the health and/or growth of your business.
Question 2: “What’s one skill that, if I significantly improved on it, would have the biggest impact on my business—even if nothing else changed?”
Often, an activity that would positively affect your business is something that’s not currently one of your stronger skills. Continuing with the earlier example, if you don’t know how to effectively ask for referrals, asking for two referrals a week won’t be productive. In this scenario, you need a “learning pillar.”
A learning pillar requires dedicating time each week to develop a skill. There’s no shortage of articles, training, or books on how to increase referrals. If you dedicated two hours a week to learning and practicing this skill, you’d accumulate roughly 24 hours of concentrated learning in just three months. If a lack of referrals is holding back your business, implementing this type of learning pillar would be a great investment of your time.
The key to the learning pillar is selecting the right skill around which to create a pillar. You can learn many things to help boost your business, but you want to choose skills that will have the biggest influence relative to the time you’ll spend improving them.
Question 3: “What’s something I could organize, plan, or create in advance that would make the action much more effective?”
If one of your pillars is prospecting, you could establish another pillar to support your prospecting efforts. For example, creating a targeted prospecting list that considers dates, times, and circumstances to determine the best prospects to contact during the upcoming week. When you get into action, you won’t have to decide who to call or email, or when. It’ll already be done, allowing you to concentrate on making the connections. Creating this targeted list may take only 30 minutes, but the compound effect of consistently calling on prospects each week will be much more constructive than winging it.
After asking yourself the three questions, you should have plenty of ideas for pillars. Next, we’ll discuss how to choose the ones to work on in 2021 and tips for implementing them.
Third, Implementing Your Pillars
Ideally, you want three to six pillars for 2021. Three to six is a manageable number of goals that provide the ideal focus. If you need to reduce your list of possible pillars, rank them according to their potential impact on your business by asking: “If I can complete only one pillar from this list each week, which one would have the most positive impact on my business?”
Ask the question repeatedly until you’ve ranked all of your potential pillars. When answering it, disregard the time that will be needed to complete the pillar. After all, a 30-minute pillar may have a bigger impact than a two-hour one. The rule for trimming down your list of potential pillars, ranked in order of impact, is simple. Working from top to bottom, cut off the list at the point where you know you can complete your pillars, even during your busiest week.
Remember, your three to six pillars should fit on a business card.
Choose Pillar Activity Levels
Some pillars will be pass or fail. You’ll either complete the activity or you won’t (e.g., create a targeted prospecting list). Other pillars must be assigned activity levels, such as time spent on the activity or the number of actions that must be completed (e.g., send 15 prospecting emails).
Many people overestimate what they can accomplish in a week. Thus, it’s best to start at the low end. If you complete your pillars consistently, you can gradually raise your activity levels. It’s better to hit a smaller activity level (three for three) than to miss a larger one (five for six). Activity levels are minimums and you aren’t penalized for exceeding them.
“What if I Start Slipping on Completing Pillars?”
It would be frustrating if you go through the work of creating pillars, beginning to implement them, but lose focus and start falling short. To help avoid this scenario, find a peer or business partner to hold you accountable for completing your pillars every week. Just knowing that you’ll have to share your progress with someone each week can increase your motivation.
Remember Three Things When Setting Goals for 2021
First, realize that hard work alone isn’t always the secret to success. If you work hard on the wrong things, your results will suffer. Second, ask yourself the three questions to create potential pillars. Don’t rush. Take your time when answering these questions. Third, narrow your list of possible pillars by ranking them by their potential to help you achieve your goals—then select three to six.
Finding Focus During Times of Complexity
Complexity has been on the rise in our projects, practice, and industry. It’s challenging to reverse this, but the rewards are extraordinary. Use the pillar system to identify goals you know you can achieve and identify the activities that can lead to predictable results.
- Download the Pillar System white paper Simplify Your Strategy—Magnify Your Results on our website
- Within a week, ask yourself the three questions above to identify your pillars for 2021
- Within two weeks, choose three to six pillars for 2021
Brian Margolis and Productivity Giant.com are not affiliates or subsidiaries of Hartford Funds.