30 minutes of your time could save you 30 days of work

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How many times has an excited colleague burst into your office requesting a meeting to discuss a great new idea they have? How many times have you had your own ideas for a new project or initiative that could be a bona fide game-changer for your firm?

And how many times have those great ideas come to fruition? Not many, right?

Most of the time people start working on something exciting without knowing where they are going or why they are doing it. Inevitably they run out of time, energy and support from colleagues. Sound familiar?

In the old days, firms would assign someone — usually the champion of the idea or an outside consultant — to write a business plan or to conduct a feasibility study of the idea before moving forward. But, in today’s fast-paced world, the window of opportunity might close (or a competitor might have already moved in) by the time the business plan or feasibility study is completed. Fortunately, there is something called an Impact Filter that can rapidly crystallize your thinking about an idea or initiative and quickly arrive at a go or no-go decision.

Source: The Strategic Coach, Inc.

The Impact Filter, developed by renowned entrepreneur coach Dan Sullivan, may look like a simple one-page grid on the surface. Trust me; it’s not simple at all. One thing I really like about filling out an Impact Filter is that it prevents you from meandering. It forces you to “filter out” all the noise and distractions in your day-to-day life so you can focus 100 percent on your idea or opportunity. You have no choice but to stop and think carefully about what success really looks like before you start working on a new project or initiative. Isn’t that a lot better than the alternative — just winging it — or even worse, “analysis paralysis”?

If you, or someone on your team, is not willing to fill out an Impact Filter before starting a project, that’s a pretty good “acid test” that the project is not worth doing. Spending half an hour defining what success looks like on a project will really help you understand it and make you better able to communicate your vision of a successful project or initiative to others at your firm. That type of communication is essential for building support and commitment.

How CPA firms can use Impact Filters

Sure, filling out an Impact Filter will be a little more work on the front end, but it will save you tons of time, effort and confusion on the back end. That’s why Dan Sullivan’s company, Strategic Coach, Inc. uses the mantra, “30 minutes saves you 30 days.”

The Impact Filter has a wide variety of uses. It can be used to evaluate the merits of a new website your firm is considering. It could be used to assess the viability of a new client onboarding process you’re considering, a new hiring plan or marketing plan, new tax software or a new branch office.

Let’s take a new marketing plan. Instead of just saying, “We need to post more on social media,” the Impact Filter helps you answer big questions such as:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What does it look like when it’s completed?

Or suppose your firm is deciding whether or not to open a new branch office. The Impact Filter will help you decide why you really want to expand, what you’re really trying to signal strength to the marketplace (i.e., “we’re growing fast and we’re prosperous”), and whether or not you really need a more convenient location for the staff.

If the answers you come up with are not compelling, you might realize you shouldn’t be spending time, effort and money expanding the office after all.

At our firm, everyone from partner to administrative assistant is required to fill out the Impact Filter before taking on a new project. In fact, we won’t hold a meeting to discuss a new project until an Impact Filter has been completed. More often than not, the person with the great idea will answer their own questions about the project’s feasibility just by completing an Impact Filter — the team meeting to discuss the merits of the idea often becomes unnecessary.

Guardrails, not brakes

Impact Filters were originally developed for entrepreneurs and business owners — notoriously scattered creatures who are certainly not CPAs. Most entrepreneurs are so busy working in the business they don’t have time to work on the business. They typically have a host of unfinished projects, or the projects have been completed, but haven’t been implemented. Think of the Impact Filter as a tool for getting organized around projects. Again, the Impact Filter is not for higher-ups at an organization to shoot down a project. It’s for getting the champion and the project crystal clear on what success looks like.

Let’s say your firm does a quarterly planning meeting. What are these big hairy projects that always come up? Do an Impact Filter for each one. It will help you understand which ones will be most valuable for your organization, or more importantly, which ones are most valuable but need more time to be unpacked?

Thirty minutes will save you 30 days, but don’t get hung up on the 30-minute rule

Half an hour might be pretty aggressive for completing an Impact Filter thoroughly, especially for new users. I generally set aside an hour, sometimes two hours, to complete it. The key is to let your brain decompress first and make sure you can carve out some undistracted deep-thinking time. No phone calls, no email, no social media.

Filling out an Impact Filter will get easier each time you do it. The reason it’s so hard for many people at first is because they’re not used to thinking. That’s right. We don’t spend much time actually thinking during the workday. We spend the majority of the day reacting — putting out fires and racing to meetings and deadlines. Thinking and reacting are very different things.

Don’t be a perfectionist

As CPAs, we tend to be highly detailed people accustomed to rigid rules, best practices and deadlines. The Impact Filter is an iterative, ongoing exercise that has to keep evolving. That’s a big mindshift for many CPAs. But I can tell you for certain, if you commit an hour of uninterrupted thinking to the Impact Filter, it will be a lot better than anything else you had before. You can always make adjustments. Just get started and get your next project documented and on the right track.

Give the Impact Filter a try. Feel free to send it over to me for a complimentary assessment. After reviewing your Impact Filter, I’ll give you three follow-up questions to think about.

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