At Digital Commerce Summit earlier this year, Rand Fishkin, the Wizard of Moz, shared the three lists he uses to evaluate his progress and plan for the future for himself and his SEO company, Moz. Making these three lists, he said, allowed him to take a hard look at the mistakes, successes, and evolving unknowns.
"I believe it's a worthy exercise to regularly re-evaluate," he said in a blog post expanding on the presentation. I agree.
I'm prone to reflection, analysis and evaluation, something I've talked about on Inc before. I like looking back to find lessons for the future hidden in my past. But diving into reflection and nostalgia can sometimes feel like going down rabbit hole. To keep is structured and make it actionable, a framework helps, and Rand's spoke to me.
And as much as I love lists, I've shifted it slightly, to frame them as questions (which might say more about my search for answers than mental models for reflection), but I hope that this system will prove helpful for you too as you evaluate your progress in the past year and begin your 2017 planning.
"What Would I Change?"
Rand noted that he wished his investors had been tougher on him, and that he'd spent less time focused on hiring and building.
A lot of my "To Change" list is filled with logistics. I detailed some of those lessons in a recent post on travel lessons learned the hard way, but there are others, too. I'd prep my tax paperwork sooner so it didn't cause so much stress, keep more organized records so save myself search time, and create contract templates sooner than I did.
But I'd also say no to a few clients who weren't the best fit, take fewer "for exposure" gigs, and stick up for myself in a few instances where I didn't. I'd raise my rates sooner, and not be afraid to ask for more time when I need it in order to do my best work. And I'd probably drink less coffee, get more massages and go to bed earlier, because you've got to take care of yourself, you know?
"What Would I Keep The Same?"
It's also important to focus on the wins, the things done right and the accomplishments.
Rand noted that he wouldn't change Moz's "Marketing First, Product Second" approach, or the core values expressed in the acronym TAGFEE. But the number one thing he'd keep the same is his wonderful partner in crime, Geraldine. (He's definitely right on that one!)
I'm lucky that this year brought so many amazing things that I would keep the same. I'd get every single one of those passport stamps again (despite the jet lag), and I'd take almost every one of those "let's grab coffee" invites that turned into friendships and business opportunities. I'm planning to keep teaching for Syracuse's Online Master's Program. I'm going to keep writing, hopefully even more, and keep running the amazing native ad newsletter -- The Overlap League -- that's brought me so many new friends and connections.
"What Don't I Know Yet?"
Not everything question in life has an answer, or at least not an answer that's become clear yet. I like that Rand's framework acknowledges this, leaving room for reflection (and revisiting) the things that can't yet be put into a neat category. For him, one big unknown focuses on his the co-mingling of his professional and personal lives.
"Is my historic level of investment and obsession with Moz the right (or only) way to build a startup?," Rand asks. "Is it even wise? Does the connection I've made between my self and Moz the company smart, because it helps build a personal relationship between people and the brand? Or is it foolish because it makes it harder for me to build an identity outside the company, and restricts the brand's growth and scalability because it's tied to a person?"
This is one of my big questions too. How sustainable is my business and the model by which its powered, and how long can I keep up this marathon, hopping from airport to airport and client to client at all hours of the day and night? Will I need to cut back to settle into a more stable life? When do I do that?
I'm not sure, but I'm keeping an eye on my pace and my commitments and constantly trying to find that magical balance. If it exists at all, I'm slowly getting closer.