Getting to the Action

Freelancers and self-employed business owners can choose from a huge number of conferences to attend in any given year. There are hundreds of industry podcasts, a constant stream of published books, and a never-ending supply of sites all giving advice. It is very easy to spend a lot of valuable time and money just attending, watching, reading, listening and hoping that somehow all of this good advice will take root and make our business a success.

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However, all the good advice in the world won’t help you if you don’t act on it. While you might leave that expensive conference feeling great, did your attendance create a lasting change to your business? I was thinking about this subject while listening to episode 14 of the Working Out podcast, hosted by Ashley Baxter and Paddy Donnelly. They were talking about following through, and how it is possible to “nod along” to good advice but never do anything with it.

If you have ever been sent to a conference by an employer, you may have been expected to report back. You might even have been asked to present to your team on the takeaway points from the event. As freelancers and business owners, we don’t have anyone making us consolidate our thoughts in that way. It turns out that the way I work gives me a fairly good method of knowing which things are bringing me value.

Tracking actionable advice#section1

I’m a fan of the Getting Things Done technique, and live by my to-do lists. I maintain a Someday/Maybe list in OmniFocus into which I add items that I want to do or at least investigate, but that aren’t a project yet.

If a podcast is worth keeping on my playlist, there will be items entered linking back to certain episodes. Conference takeaways might be a link to a site with information that I want to read. It might be an idea for an article to write, or instructions on something very practical such as setting up an analytics dashboard to better understand some data. The first indicator of a valuable conference is how many items I add during or just after the event.

Having a big list of things to do is all well and good, but it’s only one half of the story. The real value comes when I do the things on that list, and can see whether they were useful to my business. Once again, my GTD lists can be mined for that information.

When tickets go on sale for that conference again, do I have most of those to-do items still sat in Someday/Maybe? Is that because, while they sounded like good ideas, they weren’t all that relevant? Or, have I written a number of blog posts or had several articles published on themes that I started considering off the back of that conference? Did I create that dashboard, and find it useful every day? Did that speaker I was introduced to go on to become a friend or mentor, or someone I’ve exchanged emails with to clarify a topic I’ve been thinking about?

By looking back over my lists and completed items, I can start to make decisions about the real value to my business and life of the things I attend, read, and listen to. I’m able to justify the ticket price, time, and travel costs by making that assessment. I can feel confident that I’m not spending time and money just to feel as if I’m moving forward, yet gaining nothing tangible to show for it.

A final thought on value#section2

As entrepreneurs, we have to make sure we are spending our time and money on things that will give us the best return. All that said, it is important to make time in our schedules for those things that we just enjoy, and in particular those things that do motivate and inspire us. I don’t think that every book you read or event you attend needs to result in a to-do list of actionable items.

What we need as business owners, and as people, is balance. We need to be able to see that the things we are doing are moving our businesses forward, while also making time to be inspired and refreshed to get that actionable work done.

4 Reader Comments

  1. What I like to do is with a new project, not everyone, is that I will select a book that is highly rated and related to the project and read it while Im working on that project. I read as much as the book as needed, that being until I can apply something new or seems to be a better way to do the particular part of the project at hand. It’s a fun way to keep fresh and is very open to what area you would like to improve on your business/project approach.

  2. Nice post.

    One of the things I personally struggle with is managing the lists. Usually I end up with lot of things. I believe I need to curtail the todo lists and transfer the tasks to someday/maybe list. Any thoughts would be helpful. Thanks

  3. Thank you Rachel for the post. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting things done for not only entrepreneurs but also business owners. I think it is also very important for entrepreneurs and business owners to set correct values for their business at beginning. Without any doubt, we are running business because we want to make profit. There is nothing wrong with this idea. It is great that some of us are successful and become millionaire if not billionaire. What we need to keep in mind is that our business is not all about money. We also want to make a difference in the society and help people in need. Correct business values can guide you to the right path, which is particularly important. In business or in life, we are all willing to deal with people with good personalities, and we will hesitate to further develop business or personal relationship with someone who is rich and talented but has awful personalities.

    Furthermore, it is also essential for entrepreneurs to have a practical and achievable goal. Here is a story I heard from two young entrepreneurs who were seeking for investment. They proposed that their online business would be able to generate one billion revenue within two years with $10,000 investment. It is clear that there is something wrong with their idea. Entrepreneurs need to have practical and achievable goals instead of fantasy. You may be able to generate one billion revenue in several years. But how could you achieve this with such little investment in such short time? Plus, there was no thoughtful business plan with it.

    All in all, I believe setting the right business value and having plans done step-by-step will finally make us successful.

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