Are you an action figure?

Thomas Edison said: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

This is one of my favorite quotes. It so clearly expresses the gap between successful people and unsuccessful ones.

It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how well connected you are, or your timing on a project… the most successful people are driven to start tasks and complete them. The most successful people are action figures. They act.

The ability to act far outweighs many other factors in your success.

I’m remodeling my house and I’m willing to pay a premium for a professional who I know will show up and do a good job. There is a baseline expectation of quality, of course, but one of my buying “hot points” is whether or not the person will show up and act.

I see it all the time in the freelancing industry, too: There are millions of freelancers out there. There are only a surprising few of us who have reached a level where we can live and work comfortably, charge what we want, and be choosy about our clients. And invariably, the reason we’ve reached this level is not because we are more talented or we work longer hours. Those things might be true but the ultimate reason is because we act. We start jobs and finish them. I have acquired customers and kept them because of this. In fact, some of them have told me that’s the reason they keep contracting me for work.

I met a friend of mine for lunch today. He’s a good guy getting started in the very tough, very competitive financial services industry. Right now, he’s struggling with earning any kind of sustainable income and when we talked about why, the reason is because he can’t act. He said so himself: He’s having a hard time picking up the telephone and making those introductory cold calls that need to be made.

I’m also frustrated by the number of clients who have great ideas for businesses, and who pay me a (not small) sum of money to write for them… and when I follow up with them later to see how my work performed for them, they’ve moved on to another project and never actually implemented my work. That’s money wasted for them, not because it was a bad idea or an ill-timed idea, but rather just because they started but didn’t complete the task. They didn’t act.

So, what can you do to become more successful in your business? Forget investing in the latest technique or strategy. Forget coming up with new ideas or pursuing the latest fads. Those things are okay and you may want to implement them in your business.

Rather, the number one thing that will make your business successful today, tomorrow, and in the long-term is your ability to act: Your ability to select a few smart tasks and start them and finish them… and then do it again.

HERE’S WHAT I RECOMMEND

  1. Make sure you have some kind of strategy or objective for yourself or your business. (You probably do already, even if it’s not articulated. You’ll want to write it down).
  2. Turn that strategy into a series of goals — something measurable. Make sure your list of goals is comprehensive enough that when they are complete, you’ll have achieved your strategy. This may require “tiers” of goals — bigger goals broken into a series of smaller goals.
  3. Turn your goals into tasks. Your list of tasks should be comprehensive enough that once you’ve completed them, you’ll have achieved your goal. You might end up with only one or two tasks or you might end up with several tasks. Overall, you could end up with dozens of tasks. That’s fine.
  4. Look at your list of tasks and delegate or automate as many as you can.
  5. With the remaining list of tasks, schedule them into your calendar. Schedule start dates and end dates. Schedule reminders a day or two before you need to do the task.
  6. Now here’s the most important step: Do the damn task.

If you find that you are getting bogged down and not getting your tasks done (and assuming that you have the time and resources to do the task) then you may be looking at a motivation issue. You could be someone who either fears starting a task or who starts well but fumbles toward the end. In my experience, everyone is generally one or the other. (Full disclosure: I tend to be the latter).

To solve both of these problems, make sure your tasks are really small. Break down larger tasks into smaller ones. That way, the people who are hesitant to start may feel less hesitant because the project isn’t very big, while those who aren’t strong finishers can finish quickly before they lose interest and fumble the end of the project.

Identify your repeating tasks and turn them into habits. Reward yourself for regularly performing that task. Find an accountability partner to check up on you and see how you are doing. Set time-specific reminders to do the task.

Rather than investing money into some other aspect of your business, invest time, money, and effort into becoming an action figure first. This will become the foundation on which you can enjoy initial success and then you can invest in other areas of your business later. Investing in action-oriented tools include:

  • Finding the perfect schedule/calendar/agenda tool for you
  • Building templates for each project
  • Creating good habits and rewarding yourself each time you create a new one

Successful people may have talent or timing or a great network, but ultimately they are the ones who have the courage and discipline to start and finish something. They are the ones who act. They are the action figures.

Are you an action figure? What’s stopping you from being an action figure in your business today?

[Image credit: Fuyoh!]

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