From the December 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

When you run your own business, December is usually the month you close your books and promise to establish positive habits for the new year. Unfortunately, it's also the time of year when you're likely to join the ranks of the overwhelmed. You start the day with good intentions to grow your business and attend to your personal obligations, but at day's end, you may find you have accomplished very little.

To stop becoming overwhelmed, first congratulate yourself on your achievements. Then forgive yourself for what you haven't finished. Balance comes from not letting the magnitude of the work get the best of you.

To achieve success, planning is the ultimate tool for increasing productivity and reducing stress. Move forward positively by working smart with these steps:

1. Remember happiness is your end game. Of all the retirees I've met, the happiest are those who have treated their lives and businesses like a journey of discovery. Instead of stopping when you become frustrated, simply decide on the best action you can take, and take it. Your willingness to deal with all obstacles, no matter what, gives you the confidence and strength you need to achieve success.

2. Create specific short-term goals. So much changes so quickly in today's world that your long-term goals will have to be modified as you learn what works and what doesn't. Break your larger goals into realistic short-term goals. If you want to get a book published, for instance, start by writing articles on your area of expertise.

3. Develop a nightly to-do list. Keep yourself on track by breaking short-term goals into realistic steps you can take immediately. In a to-do notebook, focus your intentions by writing down the tasks you want to achieve the next day. Don't set yourself up for failure by putting too many items on your list. Break major tasks into even smaller components that are easy to accomplish.

4. Prioritize your to-do list. Order each item on your list from most to least important according to how each one helps you accomplish your goal. You may or may not complete all the tasks in a single day, but at least you can recognize that you're accomplishing the most pertinent ones.

5. Accomplish each task in its order of importance. As you approach action items on your list, make a decision about how to accomplish the task, and act on it. Check these tasks off your list as you accomplish them. Take action, and your frequent successes will motivate you to push forward.

6. Evaluate and learn from your actions. At the end of the day, congratulate yourself for what you've accomplished, and let go of what you have not. Review what you have learned, and decide on the next best action to take to reach your short-term goals. Develop a new to-do list every night by transferring your unfinished items and prioritizing the new list.

7. Realize you don't have to do this alone. As you grow your business, many tasks become routine (such as creating a newsletter and bil-ling) and can be accomplished by someone else. Develop a list of these tasks, and delegate them. Hire an administrative person or a family member-even if it's just once a week-so you can concentrate more on growing your business.

You can also partner with other entrepreneurs. If you have a goal and aren't certain about the best action to take, reach out to your colleagues. One of them has likely been there before and will often recommend a simple action you can take to move forward.


Speaker and consultant Romanus Wolter, aka "The Kick Start Guy," is author of Kick Start Your Dream Business. Write to him at romanus@kickstartguy.com.