Someone recently told me about a study which found that when a playground is surrounded by a fence, children tend to use the entire playground area. With the fence absent, they are much more likely to restrict themselves to the playground equipment and do not use the full amount of space allotted to them.
Not something I ever thought about much, but I realized she’s absolutely right. And the more I considered the phenomenon, the more relevant it seemed to be – both in terms of how we relate to customers and how we manage our businesses and personal lives.
It’s all about creating structure
People tend to think of fences as being limiting and constricting. And of course they are. But when you consider their effect on playground behavior, you begin to see the value of the fence in terms of structure.
Human beings, like most creatures, have an innate need for and appreciation of structure. It’s reassuring to know that there’s some framework behind any given situation we may find ourselves in. On the fenced playground, the monkey bars, swings and fences provide a quite literal structure which encourages and influences the children’s play. Within the bounds of the structure, they feel free to run and explore. Take away the fence and they become more cautious. They draw in and restrict their activity to the known structure of the playground equipment.
Thus in a very real sense, the fence, rather than being simply an instrument of constraint, becomes one of liberation!
Using structure to create freedom
Now, some of you may be sitting there going “duh!” We all know things work better with structure. But as an admittedly very right-brained freedom-loving person (traits I’ve noticed in many other entrepreneurs as well), the idea that adding structure can actually be less limiting came as a real revelation.
Here are a few “fences” you can build around your own business and life that will help free up your time and energy for the things you want to do:
Corralling Yourself: Learn to say “No.” It’s great to be enthusiastic. And the ability to take immediate action often separates successful businesspeople from their not-so-prosperous peers. But when you find yourself jumping ahead with so many projects that you end up going nowhere, it’s time to build yourself a fence. Sit down and honestly ask yourself which of your projects is the most important in terms of your health, wealth and happiness. You will likely have multiple ones you feel very strongly about, but try to narrow it down to the most important one. Then when a new opportunity presents itself, ask yourself if it will strengthen or weaken your pet project. If you think this project fits in with your goals, next ask yourself what you’re willing to give up in order to take it on. Lastly, if it still seems so important you’ve got to go ahead with it, don’t. Sleep on it first. The extra time will allow reality to set in, so you can tell if this project represents free play within your framework, of if it will just dump you out into busy traffic.
Fencing In Your Employees: Are your employees happily productive, or do they always seem to be either wasting time or pestering you for guidance? If they’re not working effectively, it may be time to take a good look at the systems in your business. Are all procedures well documented and easy to follow? How do your employees hold themselves accountable for their work? What systems to do have in place to motivate your employees? Are the systems you have in place clear not just to you but to them? When your employees know just what to expect and how to accomplish their tasks, they’ll be more confident and effective at what they do for you.*
Building a Chute for Sales: Do you depend largely on “word of mouth” or hit-and-miss advertising? Or do you have a well-planned marketing funnel which leads prospects gently and steadily towards the sale? Are your sales procedures choreographed?* When every piece of your marketing integrates with every other, and each is written or scripted with precise language to overcome objections and tell your prospect exactly what to do next, it sets your prospects at ease and allows them to more readily explore how, instead of whether, they will do business with you. And when that happens, the sky’s the limit!
These are just a few examples. Perhaps you’ve experienced for yourself how limits can be liberating. How have “fences” led to greater freedom in your life? I’d love to hear it!
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Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer who helps Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.
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