Are Your Actions Advancing Your Dreams?

by Annie

in ruthless productivity, strategery, systematic

Image of man doing way too much with too many armsSo – I’m curious. What do you see in that image to the left?

‘Cause when I uploaded it to the site for this post, it came with a pre-populated “Title” field of …

(Are you ready for this?)

“Efficient employee.”

Hand to God. That’s what it was.

See, I don’t see an “efficient employee” in that image.

I see a fiction. A complete fiction.

Or, I see a guy doomed to an early heart attack that will take his life before he’s ever lived.

“Multitasking,” my ass.

See, I have this theory …

Annie’s Boiling Frog Theory of Un-Productivity

You’re undoubtedly familiar with the parable of the boiling frog, right?

It goes like this:

If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump right out. But if you put a frog in a pot of water that’s at room temperature, then gradually  heat the pot to boiling, the frog will stay right there until it’s dead.

OK, so, apparently, according to biologists, it’s utter bullshit. At least for frogs.

For people? I know with total certainty that it’s absolutely true. 

And it’s true especially of solo business owners and entrepreneurs.

Here’s how it happens, usually:

  • Genius biz owner prepares, studies, and plans …
  • GBO launches biz …
  • GBO starts cranking out marketing content, learns about taxes & legal stuff in spare time, creates website, orders biz cards …
  • GBO starts getting clients …
  • GBO starts sliding on content creation, on administrative tasks, on marketing in general …
  • GBO gets overwhelmed and shifts into reaction mode …
  • GBO now spends days putting out fires, wondering how in the hell he got into the same insanity that prompted him out of the W-2 workforce to begin with. In short …
  • GBO becomes That Guy Up There In The Picture. Except that smile on his face is actually the brittle, shaky sign of insanity.

Ultimately, we all slide into bad habits, or at least out of the good ones we intentionally created way back in the beginning, and before you know it, we’re that guy up there, growing separate arms just to get shit done, and ending our days exhausted as we crawl into bed wondering why in the hell we’re so tired all the time and where is the freaking JOY, damn it?

Here’s a hint, buttercups: Joy comes when our dreams and our daily actions are in near-perfect alignment.

Yet what happens, almost invariably, is that we shift out of true productivity and into checklist mode. And before we know it, we’re doing all this stuff but nothing’s happening … no results, no goals achieved … goals … can you even remember what they were?

So last week, I asked y’all to track your time for a week, and promised that if you came back today I’d show you how to do something really super-cool with that log.

And here it is. The something cool. In fact, I think it’s so cool that it’s almost magical. And like most magic spells, it requires a little effort … so grab your log and a few pieces of paper and a pencil and come on back.

We’re gonna do a little crystal-ball work.

The Crystal Ball: Analyzing Your Time Log

Each hour in your past seven days should now be accounted for. Perhaps not down to the minute, but on a basic hour-by-hour basis, you have a list of where your time actually went.

Now, if you’re like me and 99% of the rest of the species, you’re a little appalled at some of the entries. Try to mentally gloss over those parts that make you want to crawl into a hole, and instead first remind yourself that no one — no one — will ever be wholly, 100% aligned between dreams + actions. (Well, unless they have absolutely no life and nobody IN said nonexistent life.)

Step One: Classify Your Actions

Put every single action into one of the following categories:

  1. Marketing — creating content, working on your website, social media (business-related only!)
  2. Selling — one-on-one work with specific clients to close the deal
  3. Doing client work — what you actually do in your business
  4. Business planning — concentrated work on designing, creating, or growing your business through planning and strategy
  5. Business administration — anything related to running your business, other than marketing, selling, planning, or actually doing the work
  6. Learning — anything related to learning new skills, brushing up or keeping current in your field (again, related to business – personal learning would go under category #11)
  7. Health and well-being — anything other than sleep that would be considered personal care (i.e., showers, exercise, eating, grooming, meditating)
  8. Sleep
  9. Personal obligations — relationships, committees, volunteer work, chauffeuring the kids around, etc.
  10. Home obligations — housework, repair, etc.
  11. Everything else — television watching, internet browsing, game playing, etc.

There’s no need to be anal about this. Just put every single hour in one (and only one) of the above categories. (You can also do this at a smaller incremental level — the smaller the increment, the more accurate the result but, honestly, half-hour periods are plenty specific for our purposes, and sixty-minute periods are just fine.)

Write a total beside each category. (Hours are fine.) Add them all up. If they don’t equal 168, go back and figure out why. Adjust until they do.

Step Two: Remember Your Dreams

Now, put that log down. Step away from the numbers. Take a walk if you can. Seriously, go get out of the house, and while you’re walking, or pacing, or whatever … think about this question:

What are (or were) your dreams for your business? 

Did you have any?

Do you remember what they were?

It’s totally cool if you don’t, by the way. Dreams change. So dream a few new ones. What is it that you really want here? A certain amount of money? (Nothing wrong with that.) A certain kind of work or client? A particular impact in the world or in your field?

Doesn’t matter if these dreams are fuzzy, vague, non-specific. (We’ll work on tightening them up later in the week.)

Write them down. (Y’know, after you get back from the walk.)

Step Three: The Magic Happens

OK, so it’s not technically magic. It’s still pretty damned cool.

Take the list of dreams you just made, and the breakdown of your hours spent last week by category, and the log itself.

First, we’re gonna look at the hour totals per category. Does anything shock you? (It probably will.) Does anything seem way out of proportion to what you remember actually getting “done” last week? (It might.) Note any initial impressions you have in writing about your hourly breakdown.

Next, take a look at the log and the list of dreams, side by side. Go through your log item by item and ask yourself one — and only one — question for each and every item on that list that falls under categories 1 through 6 above. Ready? Here’s the question:

How does this action advance one of the dreams I listed?

If the answer is “Directly — here’s how: ____________” — GREAT.

If the answer is “Indirectly — by doing _X_, then later on _Y_ happens and _Z_ will ultimately result” — ALSO GREAT.

If the answer is “It … doesn’t” — PROBLEM. Circle that task.

Move on to the next item.

When you’re totally done with the log, go back and look at all the tasks you circled. How many hours did you spend doing things that didn’t directly or indirectly advance your goals?

This is how we get used to boiling water, my sister and fellow froggies. Ribbit.

True confessions time: The first time I did this exercise, I cried. I mean, literally. I wept. I was so far off. NOTHING on my log was in furtherance of any goals — business or personal — except for two hours I’d managed to scrape out to read Proust, ’cause I’d promised myself I’d get through In Search of Lost Time.

Two. Freaking. Hours.

Out of 168.

It’s OK, is the thing. Awareness is the first step, and there is so much power in it. After all, nobody will have 100% alignment here. As long as we have personal lives, personal relationships, other people who matter to us, then sometimes we will be engaging in things that don’t advance our goals but maybe advance theirs … and that’s totally groovy.

So, breathe through that number, whatever it might be, and move on to the last analysis.

Here, we’re going to start picking out areas where repetitive tasks are taking up significant amounts of time. Go back through the log with a yellow highlighter and mark items that show up more than once. When you’re done, take a look at all the pretty yellow.

Each of those items represents a system that’s just waiting to be discovered and implemented, to save you time and money and energy.

Make a separate list of those repeated actions. Don’t worry if your only thought during this is “How on EARTH could I make a system out of THAT??” Just write the potential target tasks down first. Worry about the systems tomorrow. (No, seriously, tomorrow’s post is about systems.)


OK. That’s a shit-ton of work and you’ve earned a break.

Frankly, so have I.

So put it all up, and come back tomorrow. IN THE MEANTIME: you are forbidden to kick yourself over any of the knowledge this exercise gave you. You may, however, pat yourself on the back and be all “OH YEAH I ROCK.” You can do that all you want. None of the self-flagellating shit, though. NONE. OF. IT.

Come back tomorrow and we’ll create a much prettier picture for you + your business. Sound good?


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Becky October 15, 2011 at 10:59 pm

This speaks SO loudly to me. It’s so easy to get bogged down and think that you’re being productive when what you’re really doing is just procrastinating or suffering the dreaded, but addictive, Google drift!


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