How Do You Balance the Short Term and the Long Term?

Many of my colleagues and clients continue to focus on the short-term right now. They need to make money to keep their businesses afloat. I understand and empathize. And, they need to manage their family’s various pulls on their time.

Some of my colleagues have moved to one parent in charge of home and schooling. (Most often, the women, because someone needs to manage everything that’s not work, so the other parent can work in relative peace. See Managers: Make Work Easier for Working Mothers.) Other colleagues have stopped getting takeout and are cooking every single night. Some brave colleagues have added new offerings to their work.

I know of several colleagues who are “retiring” for the short-term. They’re waiting out the pandemic. Why? They think they can “return” to their pre-pandemic work. (I don’t think their work will be the same, but that’s a different conversation.)

Instead, I choose to use a combination of short-term and future-based planning. I want both: achieve enough in the short-term to make money and serve clients. And, to be able to achieve what I want in the long-term.

That’s the balance problem: both planning and execution for the short-term and the long-term.

Choose for the Short-Term

When I think about the short-term, I mean the next few weeks, say four-six weeks. When we narrow our vision, we often don’t consider options that create both short-term and long-term business health.

I can’t create a viable business without an idea of where I want to be in the future. Without a future purpose, I make these mistakes (for me):

  • Stop investing in my learning.
  • Don’t always consider whether I should do this work.
  • Continue to do what I always do.

While it looks like “do-the-same-for-now” thinking works, the world continues to change. I need to adapt to those changes.

Even with short-term thinking, I need to consider options that will allow me to thrive over the long-term. I’ve suggested these questions to my clients:

  • What’s the shortest or smallest or least expensive experiment that will offer us options?
  • How can we learn together to consider new ideas?
  • What can we stop doing to create more space for new ideas?

Those questions help me consider options for the long-term.

Create Long-Term Options

I much prefer to create both short-term and long-term options. I ask questions about purpose:

  • Why do you work? (Your purpose)
  • What fulfills you in your personal life? (another purpose question)
  • How can you fulfill your home obligations and keep your sanity?

Yes, I ask the “why” questions for my entire life.

Answering the “why” questions helps us decide when to make which tradeoffs. The short-term tradeoffs help us to make our lives work through the next bit of time, such as my female colleagues who’ve decided to step back for a bit to manage their family’s needs. And, the long-term options help everyone see the choices we want for the future.

With short-term options, we keep the business afloat even if those choices aren’t sustainable over the long term. The long-term options help us see a future we want, not the one we have. 

I make sure I’m not engaging in wishful thinking. Instead, I use both kinds of options.

How I Use Both Kinds of Options

As with every other business owner, I use short-term and long-term options. Here’s how I use both options:

  • Create the big picture for where I want to be when we have a vaccine. This long-term thinking creates my strategy.
  • Decide what I can do this month, week, and day. This mix of short and long term thinking helps me decide what to do every week and day.
  • Create options for the week. Select one thing to finish today. What one thing will give me more options in the future? This is short-term planning and delivering.

I see my strategy for the long-term. What do I want to publish/complete this month? That’s the monthly plan. Then, each week, I choose three to five things to complete. Not start. Complete.

Notice that I create short feedback loops for myself every day and every week. I use those feedback loops to replan the week and the month. What I accomplish helps me refine my long and short-term plans. Because I plan at both levels every single week, I have more resilience and more adaptability.

This week, I’m choosing to finish books, presentations and workshops. I’m not starting more workshops or books, although I have many, many ideas.

Finishing more will free me up to consider more alternatives, especially for the long term.

Note, I’m a top-down thinker, so I start with the big picture. You might start at the “bottom” and ask yourself, “What can I finish today that both sustains my business and offers me more flexibility for the future?” Top and bottom are relative—you noticed I used both kinds of thinking because it’s all about the feedback loops for me.

That’s the question this week: How do you balance the short-term and long-term?

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