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  • Aspire » Productivity

    09 Sep
    photo by R/DV/RS via Flickr

    photo by R/DV/RS via Flickr

    We all have tasks, to-do’s, duties, and responsibilities that fill our daily schedule.  If you own or manage a business, that daily list can be long before you start and multiply without blinking by mid-day.   Effectively managing it is not always easy, but there is a better way.  Read below for 6 simple questions you can ask yourself over the course of your day that will help you keep it prioritized to what matters most.  It will help you focus and it’s a great way to build personal accountability.

    Looking for an expert help!

    A contact of mine here in Kansas City recently commented they were fed up with listening to all the professed “Experts” tell everybody what they should be doing. He was specifically frustrated that many of these “Experts” seldom point out any solutions to the problem.   He’s been looking for help and was tired of being lectured. He’s looking for something more concrete.  He’s looking for something that can help him now.   There was a lot of frustration in his voice and it wasn’t a stretch to come up with several examples of the kind of noise he was talking about; between local events, talk radio, webinars, you tube and cable news channels, there are a lot of people proclaiming to be….experts but not really helping anyone.  As a business coach / consultant the conversation definitely struck a nerve.

    “Intentions don’t matter. It’s the end result we’re all judged by.”  Sherrilyn Kenyon

    Although the original rebelling comment about the ineffectiveness of experts was a generalized statement, I saw a gauntlet thrown at my feet and a quest to respond was eminent.   At Aspire, our goal with every business to help them be more successful; the process can be complicated but the goal is plain and simple. Yes we give ‘expert’ advice, but our clients need to see results or what is the point?

    So this week’s business blog is a something concrete.   Print is out, cut and paste, make it a screen saver, whatever works for you, but refer to it regularly.  This is a simple tool a colleague, George Hedley introduced in his book Get Your Business To Work.  Literally every owner or manager can use this to help better prioritize their time.  We all know time is an equalizer in business and in life; we all work in the same 24 hour day. It is the use of that time that varies, especially during the hours they are normally focusing on running their business. The difference between success and failure is often based on how well you prioritize your time. (Tweet This)

    Start Using This Daily!

    Put these 6 questions in a place where you will see them regularly and ask yourself them continuously.  It will keep trivial things from consuming your day and help you make quicker decisions on what is a priority and what isn’t.

    Priorities: What matters most (regularly ask yourself as you’re working)

    1)      Is this the best use of my time and talent?

    2)      Is this activity helping me achieve my targets and goals?

    3)      Will this activity maximize our bottom-line profits?

    4)      Will this activity help get my business to work?

    5)      Am I doing what I should be doing?

    6)      Am I getting a return on energy?

    What is great about these questions is they are short and do not require a lot of thought to answer yes or no. The answer will quickly help you decide if the current activity you are doing is worthwhile or not.   With a couple “No” answers many of your priorities will earn spots lower down on your list.  Multiple “Yes” will clearly rise to the top.  You will be focusing your time on things that truly impact your business.   If you find yourself answering a lot of these “No” but they are still fires that need to be put out, there is a strong possibility you may not be delegating effectively or a policy/procedure needs to be refined.

    Of course there are some implied assumptions here: You know what your talents are (and what you should delegate). You have clear targets and goals. You understand your profitability and what drives it…and you are consistently aware of what you’re doing and how you’re feeling (not always easy). If these assumptions aren’t true – then perhaps that should be one of your top priorities!!! 😉

    With little effort these 6 questions can help you improve the use of your time and build a priority list that is getting your business to work and providing you positive results in the process.

    What do you think? Is this a process you can see yourself using? Is this a good example of tangible, concrete help? As always we appreciate your comments.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    11 Mar
    Great Flower Clock picture by David Paul Ohmer via Flickr

    Great Flower Clock picture by David Paul Ohmer via Flickr

    Did you feel it this past Sunday morning at 2AM, that magical moment where we spontaneously transport ourselves one hour into the future, yet nothing else around us has changed?   It may be the closest thing we have to time travel; even it is only an hour.

    Who knows, maybe that was George Vernon Hudson’s goal all along when he first suggested the idea of Daylight Savings Time in 1895!

    Whether you consider yourself a time traveler or not, one thing is certain, when the annual “Spring Forward” event happens you are hard pressed not to start thinking about warmer weather and all the change that comes with spring.  But that precious hour you lost at 2AM is gone (at least for 6 months) and I sincerely hope you weren’t up working at that time.

    In your business, losing hours here and there throughout the week is something we all deal with; even the best of best struggle with it at times.  I understand, sometimes life simply gets in the way.

    But…what if you could get that hour back and then some?

    This past week, I had a couple interesting conversations about time management.  In fact, it is regular topic for discussion with our clients, in our workshops & presentations, and the educational material we produce.  Let’s face it, we all have the same 24 hours in each of our days and schedules today are more demanding than ever.  Efficiency is king and if you aren’t productive rather than just busy; those who are, are going to leave you eating their dust.  It’s imperative you manage your time effectively.

    Spring your Business Forward….3 things you can do today.

    1)      Have a 15 minute planning session every day. 

    Depending on your business, this may be a short managers meeting or a private meeting with yourself.  The goal is to create a targeted, concise and prioritized “What Matters Most”  list for the day.  It will create a laser focus for the important tasks at hand that day.  Staring at a list with more “To-Do” items on it than is humanly possible to complete is emotionally draining.

    2)      Delegate away 2 things you’re currently doing.

    Make a list of the top 10 things that steal time from you on an average week.  Which two could you most easily delegate to someone else (in house or outsourced) allowing that business function to be executed properly without you doing it.  This may take some training, but the reward is well worth the effort.

    3)      Check your Email, text, social media, and Voicemail on a set schedule.

    Schedule specific times of the day to check your email and check in.  If you absolutely must have your email open, turn off the notifications so you aren’t getting interrupted every few minutes with an audio sound.  A recent study found it takes up to 20 minutes for someone to refocus after being interrupted.  In this world of instant messaging, tweets and updates, it’s a wonder anyone can concentrate!

    We would love to hear how you plan to Spring Your Business Forward this year and get back that hour you lost last Sunday night or eliminate some you have been losing during the day.  If you have any other simple suggestions to share please we’d love to hear them.  We appreciate all comments and your input could likely help someone else out!

    Chris Steinlage   Kansas City Business Coach

    25 Feb
    Kansas City Snowstorm 2013

    Picture by Jan Tik via Flickr

    If you were in the Kansas City metro area on Feb. 21, 2013, you now know what snow falling at 3 inches (+) per hour looks like.   If your business requires using any mode of transportation you also know what snow at that rate does to the expression “Business as Usual”.

    Businesses that regularly rely on the highways for delivering goods or services are severely delayed or many cases completely suspended.   And if you were trying to get out of town for business or pleasure at KCI your plans were abruptly changed.   Even if you home office, chances are your day was anything but normal.

    Businesses in manufacturing are one of the hardest hit.  Many plants are forced to completely shut down production.  One plant Operation’s Manager told me that they only had about 10% of their work force in the plant on Feb. 21st.   When the plant employees several hundred, it is safe to say, production is basically at a standstill.

    As a business owner what can you do?     

    “You can’t always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach, and response. Your options are to complain or to look ahead and figure out how to make the situation better.”     Tony Dungy, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices & Priorities of a Winning Life

    There are always going to be events that happen in business and in life that you have little or no control over.   The weather is one of the best examples of something you can do little to control.    You can plan ahead to minimize damages, but you can’t prevent the event.    For example, when airlines know a traffic disrupting storm is approaching an airport, they do everything in their power to get their planes out of that airport before the storm arrives.  And, they will often divert inbound planes so they don’t get stuck at that airport, effectively taking them out of service.    Are travelers going to be inconvenienced? Yes, but by not having planes physically trapped by the snow at one airport, overall they have kept a lot more of their customers on schedule.   It is actually a very astute productivity plan and overall it greatly reduces the number of people who are affected by the inclement weather.

    Does your business have a plan for productivity when adverse weather conditions hit?  If you’re able bodied and healthy, maybe part of your plan is to simply grab a shovel and get out and help as many people as you can.   The number of Good Samaritan stories is countless.    I was particularly inspired by the story of the General Manager of a company who helped dig out one of his employees who was fighting his own battle with a rare form of cancer.    Even though he was encouraged to stay home; for the employee, getting to work was one way he lets cancer know he is not backing down, so his GM made it happen.

    A Productivity Plan…your homework

    So knowing that this will probably not be the last time a weather event is going to impact the productivity of your business.   Gather your team and brainstorm a list of the top 10 things your business can do to remain productive if events beyond your control are interrupting your business.

    Depending on your business these may or may not apply but hopefully a couple will stimulate the thought processes to build your own top 10 list.

    • Spot check inventory
    • Hold a mini-kaizen event with the people who are there
    • Clean up mail, email
    • Review your quarterly goals
    • Reach out to clients you have been having a hard time contacting
    • Review your top prospects and develop a plan to reach out to them
    • Perform a thorough cleaning in a key area
    • Call your Insurance Agent and review your policies
    • Call your Financial Advisor and review your 401K plan/retirement plan
    • Perform preventative maintenance on equipment

    Depending on your business, you may be able to create separate lists for different departments, but the end result will be the same…you’ll be a lot more productive than complaining about the weather!   Are you going to replace all the revenue when it is not “Business as Usual? No, but you will have some useful things you can do to minimize the financial impact of the event that you have no control over.   And, I assure you that GM who dug out his employee along with the other 1000’s of Good Samaritans who helped assist stranded motorist gained something the financial impact will never match.

    Does your business have a plan for productivity when events like snowstorms affect regular business?  We would love to hear your thoughts and feel free to share any stories you have from the storm.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    12 Feb


    New Orleans King Cake pic by smoorenburg via Flickr

    New Orleans King Cake pic by smoorenburg via Flickr

    As with most traditional holidays, Mardi Gras has religious roots that date back over a thousand years, long before north America was even on a map.    It marks the start of Christian Lenten season in preparation of Easter Sunday.   In America, most historians trace the first Mardi Gras back to a couple French explorers, Iberville and Bienville shortly after they landed at what is now Louisiana on March 3rd, 1699.

    The definition of Mardi Gras is “carnival” and it has evolved into an event that stretches over a number of days with the climax of Mardi Gras being Fat Tuesday.   For the devoted Mardi Gras partygoers, Fat Tuesday is the day to go overboard on everything, (just in case you hadn’t already!).   It’s all about parades, parties, costumes, music, food, beverages and 10,000 calorie King Cakes.  You eat and drink more than you normally would, knowing you are not doing anything to help yourself or your body, but in the moment you’re having a great time.

    “Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, and of course, this being America, it will be followed by Even Fatter Wednesday, Obese Thursday and Fat-A$$ Friday.” – Jay Leno

    Thank you Jay, for providing the segue of how Fat Tuesday is going to help a business be more successful; I couldn’t pass on the dollar signs!

    On to business…..

    For Christians, after Fat Tuesday, Lent begins and the excessiveness is supposed to stop.  Most use it as a time to give up something or do something extra as they prepare for Easter.  With that in mind, if your business had a “Fat Tuesday” what would that event look like?

    Where in your business are you going overboard on things that aren’t good for you?  Can you identify the areas where you routinely spend too much time or money for the return it gives to you.  On business Fat Tuesday you would do it even more! Imagine all of the time wasters, efficiency drainers – sucking the profits out of your company.    If you’re having trouble thinking of some here are few common culprits we find in business:

    • Poor email management or time management
    • Poor communications – the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing…
    • Cyberloafing
    • Over analyzing insignificant decisions
    • Wasting time on redundant tasks
    • Lack of systems

    Time sucks and productivity indulgences…all of them.  Taken to the extreme they can kill your business (just like one of those King Cakes everyday would put you under).

    However Fat Tuesday ends and you need to get better – the excessive waste has to stop.  You want your business to be successful and you know continuing to waste time on all of the items you listed is costing you.  It isn’t helping your employees be the best that they can be and you are making it easier for your competitors to take market share from you because you aren’t staying on top of your game.  Your prices may not be competitive and your services or products lack that uniqueness that once commanded higher margins.

    A Fat Tuesday for your business may be just what is needed to get you and your employees to see where you need to make some changes.   Take the list of all the activities you did on Fat Tuesday and decide which ones are costing you the most in terms of lost revenue or missed opportunities.  Starting Wednesday give the top candidates up completely or at least set some clear boundaries on how you are going to reduce the negative impact they are having on your business.  In keeping with the Lenten Season and to make it easy to measure, stick with the changes until Easter Sunday.  You may be surprised by the results this could have on your bottom line.

    But first you need to enjoy Fat Tuesday, so live it up!

    As always we welcome any and all comments.   Any activities you have curbed that were fun but time wasters?  Have you had success making a policy change overnight?  Want to share any great Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras memories?

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach 

    14 Jan
    Ideas to get you Rocking

    Picture from lutty moreira via Flickr

    It’s a new year and if you’re like most people, you’ve got a plan (or at least a hope or a dream) that 2013 will be better than last year.  Of course the only way it’s going to be better is if you actively do something different – in other words you have to change what you’re doing to get different results.

    But what changes to make?  Here are 3 ideas that you probably haven’t thought about and every one of them could have a significant impact on your business in a short amount of time if you really give them a shot.

    Give First

    Obviously this isn’t a new thought – in fact the great motivational speaker and author said it quite clearly:

    “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

    It’s a great idea…and very motivational, but the thing is that very few people actually do it.

    Try this:  What if you went into every meeting with the idea that you are going to actively look for some way to help whoever you’re meeting with?  Maybe you can give them an introduction to a prospect or a potential partner.  Maybe you can share some insight or expertise to get them moving in the right direction.  There are a lot of ways to help people.  Whatever you do, you will make an impact on that person and you can be sure that they’ll be likely to help you sometime down the road.

    Commit to Learning New Ideas

    One of the primary keys to long term success is a commitment to continuous learning.  The world is changing faster than ever and if you’re not trying to keep up then you’re being left behind – it’s as simple as that.

    Try this: Commit to reading at least one great book a month.  And if you struggle with finding the time to read, consider checking out a Business Book Review (it’s an in-depth summary of a great business book, without having to read the book…plus you get great discussion on the ideas as well).

    Not only will you be better informed overall, you’ll have new things to talk about and the act of learning primes you for all sorts of new, often unrelated ideas that would have never occurred to you otherwise.

    Plan Your Week

    I’ve had a lot of discussions lately with clients who are feeling overwhelmed.  They have a million things to do never enough time to do them.  My first suggestion to them is to implement a weekly planning session – a time to plan out your week.  The key is to make sure you focus on what’s really important for your business.

    Try this:  Schedule a regular weekly meeting with yourself (literally schedule it on the calendar so that you’re more likely to keep it).  You could do it on Friday afternoon, over the weekend or on Monday morning – but whenever it is, set aside at least ½ hour (an hour is more likely) and take the time to really think through all the things you have going on, where you’d like to be and what’s likely to make the most impact if you get it done.

    With all of that in mind, what can you realistically achieve in the coming week and what’s the best way to make sure that work actually gets done (instead of just reacting to phone, email or other fires that come up)?  You can create a focused and prioritized list for the week (as opposed to the huge to-do list you may have used in the past) or I like to actually schedule and block out time for specific tasks.  Either way – by taking the time to really focus on what’s most important for the week, you are guaranteed to get more of the right things done, which will make a huge difference in the long run.

    If you’re interested in a more in-depth view of a Weekly Review Session, Lifehacker has a great article that might be helpful:  The Weekly Review: How One Hour Can Save You A Week’s Worth of Hassle and Headache

    Three ideas that you probably hadn’t considered as you thought about how to make 2013 rock.  Do any of these ideas resonate with you?  Are you already doing them?  What’s your best idea for a great 2013?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach