As we come to the end of March, it’s time for the usual quarterly review of my annual theme. I share this process in the interest of transparency as to what I’m up to and to help you if you want to go through the same review on your own theme. Three months, or 12 weeks, is a good length of time – in fact, it’s the time frame I’ve put on my most popular coaching package, and it’s also the subject of several books, such as The 12-Week Year.
My theme for 2017 was “impact”. It felt like a powerful and important direction to set for the year, albeit an ambitious one and something that is quite tricky to measure!
What does “making an impact” even mean?
Before getting to my own definition of impact and how I’ve been getting on, I thought I’d explore what lies behind this idea and why it’s something that I think a lot of us strive to achieve.
Essentially, having an impact means making some kind of difference, contributing to the world in a positive way. And when we think of making a difference in the world, I believe we naturally think of professions such as doctors, teachers, firemen, social or charity workers; or, more globally, working in the United Nations or in a non-governmental organisation. However, there may be other ways to even make a bigger impact, via career paths or roles that are less obvious and also a better fit for you personally.
A fantastic resource that I’ve discovered to in this area is the 80,000 hours website. Their advice on how to make an impact with your career – 80,000 hours is the time they estimate that you’ll spend in your life working – is based on research that’s been done at Oxford.
How can you make a big impact?
When it comes to making a real difference, the 80,000 hours team recommends looking for problems that have the following qualities:
1. Big in scale
For maximum impact, you’ll want to find a problem that’s large in magnitude and with a significant effect on people’s lives, and ideally a corresponding solution that will really have long-term benefits. A powerful example given on the website is the comparison between the effect of leaving your mobile phone unplugged (a saving of perhaps 0.01% of personal power usage) versus installing home insulation (with a potential impact on climate change of 100 times as much).
If it’s a high-profile area, it may be that a lot of people and resources are already allocated to working on it and the impact you as an individual will have may be minimal, as a result of diminishing returns. On the other hand, if it’s a neglected area, are there sound reasons for why resources aren’t being allocated to try to address this problem?
You’ll need to do some research here, and perhaps talk to experts, to understand whether it’s feasible to make a real difference and to make progress in this area. Are there effective solutions available already with strong evidence to support their efficacy and will you be able to implement them?
4. Personal fit
This last one is of course what we’ve been talking about in the last sections, and ultimately what the whole book is about. Are you motivated to work on this problem? Is the nature of the work a good match for your skills and experience? Does the day-to-day routine of this type of work fit with your “hygiene factors” such as commuting, travelling, and so on?
Of course, this is not to say that problems that don’t have these qualities are not worth working on, and you may have a very strong personal reason for wanting to dedicate yourself to something smaller and more local; but when it comes to making the biggest possible impact on the most pressing problems in the world, these are interesting criteria to consider.
Another (better) way?
However, the easiest, and the most effective, way to make an impact in the world might be unrelated to what you do at work. The most straightforward approach to making a difference could be to take a job that is a good match for you in other ways – consistent with your values, a fit with your basic requirements, a good use of your skills and strengths – and then to donate money to a good cause.
The guys at 80,000 hours recommend donating 10% of your income to that cause – using those criteria above to work out what the cause should be. This may sound like a lot but if you are doing a well-paid corporate job, for example, then giving away 10% of that salary will still leave you with a lot more disposable income than choosing to work in a less well-paid sector and role such as teaching or charity work – all the while actually having a larger impact, according to the numbers.
“In fact, if everyone in the richest 10% of the world’s population gave 10% to whichever problems they think are most pressing, that would be $3.5 trillion per year. Just 4% of that would be enough to raise everyone in the world above the $1.25/day poverty line by simply giving them cash. We could then provide universal education, increase scientific research spending 50%, fund a new renaissance in the arts… and still have more left over.”
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can start contributing some of your salary, then do check out the Giving What We Can website, which also has a quiz that will tell you how rich you are compared to the rest of the world (- if I earned just £10,000 per year, that would still put me in the top 12% globally).
My quarterly review: 2017 Q1
Now coming back to my own New Year’s Theme, I must admit that I wasn’t really thinking in these global terms back in January. Instead, I was rather looking to make sure that the work I was doing was the right kind of work, and that I was effective in doing it.
I defined “impact” in three ways. Here’s how I’m doing on each one:
1. Get clearer on my message in terms of my vision, the real value that I bring, and who exactly I help
When you’re a solopreneur or freelancer, it’s easy to think that you don’t need a clear brand pyramid or business model. However, if you don’t have a vision for your business, or a clear idea of what value you’re creating and for whom, then it’s likely that you’ll be doing a lot of busy work that isn’t really creating any real results. With that in mind, I’ve been doing a lot of mind mapping and business modelling by myself as well as bouncing ideas off with my coach and other trusted friends.
It’s also very easy to fall into the trap of wanting to help everyone and therefore ending up with quite an all-encompassing and, therefore, generic plan, and so I’m doing a lot of work on really tightening this up and keeping the focus on where I know I can make, and want to be making, the biggest impact.
2. Make choices and really focus on the priorities that will make the biggest difference, create real forward movement and have the biggest impact
I haven’t made huge changes to what I’m working on – I still have my blog posts, my individual coaching, my article writing, my book, my workshops, and so on. Instead, what has changed is the way in which I’ve approached it all and how I’ve structured my week. I have a much clearer plan of the outcomes I’m aiming for each month, and what I need to do in terms of actions in order to achieve those outcomes. This has meant focusing more consciously on business development and exposure-generating activities, alongside the income-generating projects that I’m doing. Tracking this on a monthly and quarterly basis is helping me to really stay on course and pick up on any red flags before it becomes a problem.
In terms of reaching more people with my message, one way in which I’ve been doing this is via speaking at schools. By sharing my career journey to date as well as giving my advice to them, I’m hoping to be able to make an even bigger impact in these young people’s lives as they go out and make their first career decisions. I’ve done three events so far, with one more to come next month, and the feedback has been incredibly positive (plus, I’ve had fun!).
3. Work with other people who want to, or are already, making an impact
I have of course been continuing my career coaching, through which I support individuals who are looking for more meaning in their work. In addition, I had the opportunity to come in and work with participants on the Police Now graduate programme, a scheme based on the Teach First model, which encourages smart graduates to give their time to low-income communities at the start of their careers. I’ve also been applying my marketing expertise via business consulting and coaching to solopreneurs and startups who are working on making their own impact in the world.
I’m far from having a massive impact either locally or globally, but I feel like I am making progress on the very small scale of my personal impact; and I will maintain the focus over the rest of the year!
Over to you
So how have you been getting on with your theme so far in 2017? Did you define exactly what you meant back in January and, if not, can you do so now? Do you feel like you’re on track considering the results you have so far in the first three months of the year? What do you want to, or need to, do differently next quarter?
I’d love to hear how you’re doing on your theme this year, either in the comments here or you can send me a note directly if you’d prefer to keep it confidential.
Good luck with Quarter Two!