Obsessing over making our businesses work better, trying to “figure it all out” in our heads, staring at a computer screen until our eyes glaze over, forgetting the simple act of stepping outside or getting a bit of exercise to jumpstart our creativity...
But as we approach the Winter Solstice, the quietest, darkest day of the year... let us take advantage of this moment in the natural cycle to truly slow down.
(And when I say ‘slow down,’ I really mean STOP).
I mean it’s hard not to, right? I know I’m pretty darned tired this time of year!
Lucky for us, winter is the natural time of year to stay inside, get cozy, sit by the fire, reflect and dream (as opposed to going frolicking in a field of wildflowers).
So embrace it! Give your mind, spirit, and body the rest it craves. You will surely be more productive on the other side (as opposed to working working working all the way through your tiredness... ‘cuz we know that doesn’t work very well, right?).
And after you’ve had some rest, it’s time to plant some seeds.
Because as dark as it is outside right now, it’s also a very hopeful time.
As each day grows longer, the light shines on your intention, growing it like a tree, bringing you closer and closer to what you want to create.
So here’s the plan:
Below, I’ve shared a Winter Reflection and Planning Process with you in three parts: Reflect, Realign, Reactivate.
You’ll find here a series of inquiries intended to help you Reflect on what you learned in the last year, Realign yourself to where you’re truly at now at this time of threshold, and Reactivate yourself and your business with a plan to create what you want in the New Year.
I recommend finding anywhere from two hours to two days over the next few weeks for this soil-enrichment process. You will come out of it clear, confident, and excited to create in 2018.
So let’s dive in.
Let’s start by reflecting on why you are working so damn hard to begin with. Because you can learn the best practical tools for organizing and planning and prioritizing, but if you carry a belief you have to be perfect, or do it all, or keep up with the business Joneses, then none of the fancy tools or apps or calendars will help (at least not for very long).
Journaling Question #1:
What drives you to try and get so much done? What motivates your busyness? Is it a fear of “not doing/being/having enough?” A desire to look good or appear successful? Do you have unreasonably high standards for yourself? On the other hand, you might be driven by purpose, by providing for your family, or a desire to make a difference. It’s probably a mix. We’re complicated people :)
Journaling Question #2:
Write a list of 40-50 accomplishments, celebrations, things you learned, and stuff you’re proud of from this year, from all areas of your life (but make sure at least half of them are from your business). If you need to jog your memory, look back at your calendar, to-do lists, and if you have them, your last year’s goals, intentions, and plans. Highlight your top three.
Review your list from above and draw out three to five principles, trends or lessons you can glean from these accomplishments. You might circle similar types of accomplishments to find these patterns, or they might be totally obvious. Put big hearts next to things you experienced or created this past year that you want to offer thanks for and have even more of in the coming year!
Journaling Question #3:
Ok, so probably not everything last year was so great. But even if something totally sucked, I bet you can learn from it. So here we go. Write down at least three things that didn’t go so well last year in your business. They might have been things that didn’t go as planned, stuff you wish you’d done, or downright disasters. They may also be habits, patterns, or ongoing challenges.
Next to each item above, write down what you learned from this challenge.
Journaling Question #4:
Yes, there were challenges, even mistakes perhaps. But, you know what? I bet you accomplished a lot this year. And while it’s helpful to explore the lessons you learned from things that didn’t go so well, let’s skip the part where you beat yourself up for not doing what you said you would, or for doing something “wrong,” or not getting “enough” done, and cultivate some self-compassion instead! Running your own business takes a ton of courage and a lot of work. Read over your list of accomplishments and lessons and let them sink in. Do any self-judgments come up? Where could you be a little easier on yourself? Are your expectations overly high? Are you comparing yourself to others?
Write a statement here about how great you are. Fill in the blank: “I am so awesome because...”
Journaling Question #5:
When we let go of what’s no longer needed, we can prioritize what’s important and in alignment with our visions and values. Ultimately, by letting go, we focus and accomplish more. What do you need to let go of from this past year? They could be habits, aspects of your work, logistics, relationships, projects, or even qualities of being. They could be things you do not enjoy, that waste your time, or that simply don’t serve your larger goals or purpose. They may be non-work commitments. List at least ten, and then prioritize three that you are ready to let go of now.
Is there anything you didn’t let go of because you think you “should” do it? Take a minute to examine the “shoulds” more deeply... do you really need to do it? Is there someone else who could do it for you? Could you let go of it completely? What’s the worst that could happen if you stop doing it, and is it really that bad? Give yourself the space to consider actually NOT doing what you don’t want to do (or finding someone else to help you do it!).
Write each thing you want to release on a separate piece of paper. Make a fire in your fireplace or outside, or you can even use a bowl (just do it outside so you don’t set off the fire alarm). One by one, speak what you are releasing, and drop your pieces of paper into the fire and watch them burn. Take a deep breath and say aloud what you’re grateful for.
Clarify your key lesson: Take a deep breath and close your eyes. If you had to summarize your key life lesson is from this year, what would it be?
This section begins with journaling, sends you out into nature, and ends with more journaling around your intentions for the New Year.
Journaling Question #1:
Gut check – what is the most important thing in your whole life right now? (This may or may not be your business!). What needs to come first? Just write a few words here about what first comes to you – don’t overthink it.
Journaling Question #2:
Where do you feel aligned in your work? Are your gifts being well used? Are you enjoying yourself? What’s ripe and juicy? Where do things feel out of alignment? What’s ready to fall away?
Journaling Question #3:
Since the last time you did big picture business visioning and planning, has anything changed in terms of what you want from your business and in your life? Have new needs or desires arisen? External or internal? Have some needs disappeared? Is there a new vision, inspiration or idea forming for your business?
Journaling Question #4:
What kinds of changes might you make in your business to account for these shifts? This is just a brainstorm.
It’s Time to Go Outside.
Plan to spend at least an hour with no plan except to be quiet and open. The longer the better! At the Replenish Retreat we spend the better part of a day outside in a guided process to help you get quiet and listen to nature for guidance on your next steps.
First, choose a sacred question for your walk related to alignment and purpose. For example, you could ask, What is most aligned for me at this time? OR How do I find alignment? OR What do I need to let go of? OR What is most important?
Now head out on a wander. On your walk, remember three things:
1. Slow down to half your usual pace
2. Be super curious and follow where your intuition draws you to wander
3. Feel your body through your senses (before you set off, spend a few minutes to tune into each one of your senses)
When you return, journal on any epiphanies or wisdom you received while on your walk related to your question, what feels aligned for this coming year, or anything else that came up.
(Before doing this exercise, read about the difference between intentions and goals).
Intentions let the Universe know of your deepest desires. They also help you get clear on the vision you’re aspiring towards, and they’re the fertile soil from which your goals will grow.
You can set multiple intentions... I set a broad intention for my whole life, as well as intentions specifically for my business.
Intentions are best stated in the present tense, as if they are already happening. For example, “My business continues to grow, supporting me financially and nourishing me personally.”
What are you stepping into this year? What do you want to create? Write your intentions here.
Next, who do you need to be in order for these intentions to become real? Complete the sentence, “I AM....” compassionate/strong/vulnerable/receiving/focused/abundant/etc. Pick one to three qualities to guide your year.
Make a little piece of art out of your intentions and place it on your desk or somewhere else that you’ll see it. A small collage, painting, or simply your words written out in colored markers if you want to keep it simple. I always add glitter : )
Now it’s time to step boldly into the New Year and get practical. Building on the fertile soil of the last two segments, now you’ll craft an aligned plan to help you create what you want this year in your business.
Exercise #1: Money
Let’s start with money. While I’m guessing that your goal is not “make gobs of money no matter the cost to myself, other people or the planet” (cue evil cackle), I do know that your business is likely how you sustain yourself and perhaps your family, earning money is what makes your business a business (and not a hobby), and you deserve to be paid for offering your beautiful gifts to the world (just in case you were doubting this).
So... What is your financial goal for the year? Find the balance between realism and aspiration. It’s not fun setting crazy goals we can’t reach, but a little stretch is always good. Look at your past revenues and future possibilities, and choose a number that feels good in your gut. Like close your eyes, say the number and see how it feels. Good? Keep it. Too high or low, adjust it.
This is a process, and the second part of this exercise may influence what you just wrote in the first part, so don’t be afraid to go back and adjust. How will you achieve this financial goal specifically? In other words, what programs will you offer, how much will they cost, how many will you sell of each one, and does that all add up to your financial goal? If not, this is where you need to get creative and strategic with your revenue model... can you increase clients? Prices? Change the structure of a program? Shift into a group program model? Hire a new staff person?
Exercise #2: Goals
Goals get a bad rap because most people hold them too tightly and feel like failures when they don’t achieve them. The reality is that goals, outcomes, or milestones, whatever you like to call them, help steer us in the right direction. But, we don’t actually have control over whether we make a certain amount of money or how many people we add to our email list. But we do have control over the actions we take that can help move us toward our goals. So relax! Let your goals be your guide, not your slave master.
Based on your revenue model above, what specific major outcomes would you be totally psyched to see next year at this time in your business? For example:
- I have 15 regular private clients paying $400/month (6K/month total)
- Program A has 10 people and generates 10K
- Launch Program B beta version and generate 3K
Are there other measurable milestones to aim for that will help you reach the above goals? For example:
- Increase email list size to 1000
- Send out a twice monthly newsletter
- Reach out to 50 people individually to invite them to group program
- Do 6 consultation calls per month with potential clients with a 50% yes rate
What other goals do you have that are not directly revenue-producing? For example:
- Get bookkeeping or other organizational systems set up
- Make a new website
- Deepen skills/craft through training
- Take a month off over the summer
- Develop materials/exercises for existing clients
- Tighten up client intake process
Next to each goal, write why you want to achieve it. What would it provide for you if you had this?
Try to narrow your goals down to 5-7, depending on how big they are.
Exercise #3: Projects
Now we take our goals, and break them up into a series of specific projects that will help us actually achieve them. We’ll get even more granular later in the task section.
For each of your goals, write down the three to ten projects that will help you achieve them. For example:
Sample Goal 1: Launch Program B beta version and generate 3K
- Design the program specifics
- Write the web page copy
- Make the webpage
- Write newsletter marketing copy
- Market (send emails to list, reach out to current and former clients, do interviews with three colleagues for their communities)
- Create the modules
- Teach the program
Sample Goal 2: Make a new website
- Refine niche and message
- Define site architecture, flow and purpose of site
- Clarify which offerings/programs go on website and which don’t
- Write copy for each page
- Hire designer for branding and colors
- Create actual site
Start with Self Care
Let’s change gears for a minute. I think you probably know that when we prioritize rest, exercise, nature time, spiritual practice, healthy food, community, family and other ways of nourishing ourselves, we tend to be much happier and way better equipped to be of service to others. The problem is the most of us tend to forget this, prioritizing pretty much everything else before our own wellbeing, which can be super stressful and even lead to burnout.
So let’s start this year off right. What do you need to do on a daily or weekly basis to feel sustained and nourished, strong and ready to serve? What is your ideal self-care regimen, and what is your bare-bones regimen? In other words, even on your busiest day, what’s one simple thing you need to do to take care of yourself? (For me, it’s a brisk 20-minute walk in my neighborhood).
What are the monthly or annual acts of self-care you are committed to? How much vacation and when are you taking it? How long are your weekends? (You will put these in your calendar in a minute).
Create Your Ideal Calendar
Now take a step back and create your ideal calendar. This is the schedule you aim for on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. You may not stick to it everyday (that’s normal!), but again, it’s a model to move toward. When you create an ideal schedule, you’re actually starting to design your ideal lifestyle, while simultaneously getting realistic about what’s actually possible to do in the time you have. Creating these boundaries is so important for business owners; otherwise life and work can start melting together like a big blob, which can lead to exhaustion (and hating your business).
Create or refine your daily, weekly, monthly and annual schedules. For example, what days do you see clients and what days you do business-building activities like marketing or financial administration? Which days are reserved for large projects, writing or creating? Here are some examples from my ideal calendar: From 8-10 I eat a nourishing breakfast, meditate, and do other self-care, I work for 2-3 hours, break for lunch, work another few hours and go for a walk around 5 (most days). I see clients every other Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday between 10 and 5 only. I do my finances every other Monday morning. Create the schedules that follow your rhythm and feel good to you (this is why you have your own business, right?).
Add the above blocks of time to your actual calendar. Make sure to include the vacations from the self-care section, social and family commitments, and appointments... put them all in your calendar in now! I have my client days mapped out for the next six months so I know when I’m available for people. And right now, make sure to mark your calendar every three months for a review of your goals and to plan the next season. At that time, open up this document, assess where you’re at, realign, and make necessary changes. In other words, schedule a mini reflection and planning session like this every season (or join one my coaching programs and we can do it together).
Exercise #5: Mesh Your Projects With Your Calendar
Here’s where the rubber hits the road. Most people STOP before getting to this point. I hope you don’t!
It’s time to map your projects onto your actual calendar for the next three-month period. I don’t plan beyond 90 days, other than my big-picture goals for the year, because things change quickly in the life of an entrepreneur! But this is also why it’s SO important to have time set aside each quarter for planning.
Using your projects above and your actual calendar for the next quarter, map out which projects you plan to do week by week during this quarter. Schedule around all your existing commitments (vacations, etc.) and stick to the ideal calendar you’ve created. Be realistic about what you can complete. You can do this planning right in your calendar, on a spreadsheet, on this piece of paper, or whatever other method works for you. Assume a project or task will take twice as long as you think it will, because either it actually will and/or life will get in the way. As you do this, you may find that you still have bitten off a little more than you can chew. See if you can get really streamlined, and let go of even more. What’s truly necessary for your success? Finally, know that you will likely not finish every single thing, so you can just let go of that now!
Exercise #6: Tasks
Now we’ll go from the three-month plan to what you’re going to do tomorrow.
Go to the first week of your 90-day plan and write down the projects you intend to complete.
Now, break each of these projects down into smaller tasks. These are the nitty-gritty details that you can easily check off your to-do list that will help you complete the projects that are lined up to help you achieve your goals and visions.
Transfer these items to your to-do list for next week, and then write your top three priorities for tomorrow (whether you use an online app or a notebook).
You can do this every week, or you can transfer a few weeks at a time from your 90-day plan to your task list.
I hope you found this process useful (or if you haven’t done it yet, I hope you block a day in your schedule to dive into over the next few weeks).
I’ll leave you with one bit of wisdom:
Whether you loved this process, had a hard time getting through it on your own, or you simply want to take a deeper dive with a group of incredible women entrepreneurs in beautiful Sonoma County (complete with hot tub, nature wandering, and nourishing organic food), please join me this January for:
Replenish Winter Reflection and Strategy Retreat for Women Entrepreneurs
It’s everything here and so much more.
You’ll spend four full days and nights renewing yourself, your creative spirit, and your business at the charmingly luxurious Westerbeke Ranch.
You’ll learn exactly what questions to ask so you know what to prioritize first in your business, plus I’ll show you what skills and strategies you need to take your business to the next level.
Email me if you have any questions about this process or about attending Replenish.
May your vision come to fruition this year!