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  • Aspire » Productivity

    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

    20 Aug


    Most of us are running pretty hard…but the question is are we getting anywhere?  Productivity is a tricky business – no matter how much you upgrade the wheel or add shiny attachments to it – running faster (working harder) won’t move you forward.  If you really want to be productive, you ultimately have to get off the wheel.

    I had the opportunity to do a Productivity workshop for a division of a larger company the other day and a few things quickly became apparent as we talked about their frustrations in terms of being able to get things done.

    The first thing that became clear is that as a group, they were pretty efficient…they just weren’t very effective.

    “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

         – Peter Drucker

    This is a team of very competent professionals and their job is to support the rest of a very large organization.   Unfortunately for them, they collectively report to and support about 5 other groups within the company…and they have little to no say over their priorities.

    In that kind of environment, your best bet is to continue to be as efficient as possible and just recognize that you’re not going to be very effective without a more coordinated leadership effort.  Effectiveness comes from focus and that focus has to be aligned and come from the top down.

    Good news – you can be effective (and get off the wheel)!

    If you’re an entrepreneur, small business owner or a solo professional you have a great advantage over those larger corporate teams, you have full control over being both efficient and effective.  It all starts with this:

    Can you quickly list the 5 most important things your company needs to achieve this year? 

    If you can answer that…and if all of your employees can answer that, then you are well on your way to being effective…and getting off the wheel!  When everyone is on the same page in terms of what’s most important in terms of winning, then everyone can prioritize their efforts accordingly and the most important things are going to get done.

    If you can’t answer what the 5 most important things are…and if your team can’t answer that question quickly and succinctly, then you have built yourself a lovely hamster wheel and you’re not going to make much progress this year.

    In fact as Amber at Brass Tack Thinking points out – you’ll be wasting your time on productivity trying to fine tune your efficiency, look for apps and shortcuts, but all you are really doing is making the wheel prettier or faster.

    Try This:

    If you don’t feel like you have the focus of your top 5 things, carve out a couple of hours in your schedule to think about what you want to achieve. (Note – this is a great exercise to do with a coach or an advisor)

    Step 1 – pick a timeframe.  Typically I’d suggest 12 months, but if it’s easier just start small and look at the time between now and the end of the year.  Or if you want to look farther, maybe it’s now and the end of next year.

    Step 2 – pick a big goal…something like ‘Grow revenue by 25% for the year’ or ‘Launch a new product by January’.  This should be something that you’re excited about and that you think is going to have a significant impact on where you want to take things long term.

    Step 3 – ask the question “what will it take to achieve that big goal?”.  If you want to grow 25% this year, it’s likely not going to happen if you just repeat what you did last year, so what new things are you implementing that will make that happen?  Pick the top 1 to 3 things that will help you achieve this goal…and those become the starting point for your Top 5 list.

    Step 4 – Continue steps 2 and 3 until you have a top 5.  It’s likely that going through this thought process will generate a bigger list than 5 major things.  You will be tempted to make it a much longer list.  Don’t!  That’s the whole point, you have to simplify and focus if you want to get off the wheel.  Once you finish something, then you can add something new, but you’ve got to maintain a narrow focus.

    Step 5 – Publish your top 5 onto a single piece of paper, so it’s clear and easy to read.  Share it with everyone who has a stake in making it happen.  Hold yourself and your team accountable to staying focused on your top 5.

    Do you feel like you’re running on the hamster wheel?  Are you productive or just busy?  Have you tried narrowing your focus before?  What happened?  How did it go?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    03 Jul


    One of the biggest challenges of owning your own business is trying to fit everything in (Who needs sleep?).  On a typical day you’ll probably spend a few hours dealing with current customers, a few hours trying to land new customers and a good chunk of your time managing your employees and worrying about money.  Your day is full…and you still haven’t figured out how you’re going to get to the really important stuff on your to-do list.

    Here’s the key – you need to STOP doing some things.  You need a stop doing list!

    Author Jim Collins popularized the concept of a Stop Doing List several years ago, here’s the gist of the idea.  If you’re going to be effective at work you need to prioritize and focus on what’s really important – what you should be doing.  That’s common sense…but what’s equally important and not nearly as common…you also need to routinely focus on what to STOP doing.  There’s only so much time in the day and a big part of prioritizing and doing the right thing is to build some room by stopping things that don’t fit.

    The Stop Doing list is not one size fits all – everyone is going to have their own list.  In general you should focus on stopping those things that drain you of energy, that you really don’t enjoy or that aren’t aligned with where you really want to go.

    Here are a few ideas to consider based on talking to business owners for the last few years:


    Dealing with your most difficult customer – most business owners have 1 or 2 customers that just wear them out.  Fire them and free up your time and energy to work with someone you enjoy.

    Wasting your time on bad networking -  if you dread going, if it’s consistently been a waste of time in the past or if you know there’s no one attending who can really help you, then do yourself a favor and drop it.  (Note – don’t stop networking, just drop the bad events / groups)

    Rolling out ineffective marketing – If you’re spending money on marketing or advertising, you need to see a tangible return on investment.  If you don’t see a positive payout (after a reasonable amount of time) then you need to stop.  Take some time, rethink your strategy and your message and try something different.

    Doing the grunt work – As the business owner, your job is to lead, that doesn’t mean you won’t do day to day work, but to succeed in the long run, you’ve got to get the work that can be done by someone else off of your schedule.

    Chasing prospective customers – You’re really good at what you do and assuming you have a viable business model, there are a lot of people out there who need what you do.  If you’re spending any significant time chasing someone, you’re wasting your time.  Move on and spend your time with people who want to work with you.

    Being vague -  If you want to be effective and make good things happen you must be exceptionally clear about what your priorities are.  What are the 5 most important things you need to do to win this year?  How about in the next 90 days?  If you can’t quickly answer those questions, you’re not clear enough.

    The RollercoasterMarketing really only works when it’s consistent, that means you have to build marketing tactics that happen over and over consistently.  When you don’t do that, you get the rollercoaster effect and end up chasing opportunities when you finally slow down.

    Overscheduling – Yes you have a million things to do but scheduling yourself back to back all day every day isn’t going to make you more effective.  Build in some down time, carve out time to think big…to refine  your stop doing list…or to just catch your breath.  It won’t happen unless you make it happen.

    Making quick, bad hires – As a business owner, one of the worst things you can do…ever…is to hire someone quickly who turns out to be a bad fit.  Depending on how bad it is, you may end up leaving yourself in a bigger hole than you had before you made the hire.  You could alienate other employees or customers and waste a lot of time and money cleaning up the mess.  Remember – slow to hire, quick to fire…!

    What are the top 2 or 3 things you need to stop doing?  What would it take to actually stop?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – what are you going to stop?  Leave us a comment below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    photo by Afroswede

    12 Mar


    I’ve got a weakness for chocolate.  In fact, I’ve developed a bad habit of finding something chocolate to eat pretty much every day.  It could be one of those Ghirardelli squares (love the ones with caramel), a cupcake…even a few M&Ms will work.

    As habits go, this one is fairly harmless – sure it’s not good for me, but it’s not a huge amount and it’s reasonably controlled.  Still…it would be good for me to break this particular habit.  Which ties in well with conversations I’ve been having with several clients lately on how to create (and break) behaviors and habits.

    Habits are critical to success, because once you’ve established a healthy habit, it’s like getting stuff for free – there’s really no willpower involved at that point.  Ask anyone who works out all the time – maybe inherently they enjoy going to the gym…but realistically all that did was make it easier for them to build the habit of going to the gym.  Now if they miss going to the gym it bothers them and they will find a way to make it happen.  That’s the power of a positive habit – it starts working for you rather than normal behavior that works against you.

    I love the quote attributed to Aristotle:

    We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

    As a business owner there are lots of habits you need to get into if you want to succeed over time.  It should be a habit to invoice on a regular basis.  It should be a habit to do marketing activities on a regular basis (networking, blogging, interacting on LinkedIn, etc.).  It should be a habit to communicate regularly with your clients…and your employees…and your referral partners.  You get the picture – there are a lot of regular activities you need to excel at if you want to be successful, which means they should be habits!

    How do you build (or break) habits?

    The good news is there are a lot of powerful resources out there to help you figure out what might work for you.  Here are a few that I found helpful:

    Check out ZenHabits

    There are a lot of top notch ideas on personal effectiveness and creating positive habits on Leo Babauta’s blog ZenHabits and from his book The Power of Less.

    For starters check out this post on 2 Simple Ways to Create New Habits.

    Listen to Jerry Seinfeld

    Beyond just being a funny guy, Jerry has also developed (or at least made popular) a process that can help you follow through on an important activity every day.  There’s a story behind it, but essentially the recommendation is to identify the behavior you want to create and then use a visual aid to help you track your progress – specifically Jerry used a large wall calendar with red X’s marked when he did his daily writing.  Once you get a chain of X’s you won’t want to break your streak and you’ll be motivated to continue.  Repeat until you’ve created a habit.

    Here’s a much more detailed write-up from LifeHacker:  Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret

    As an added bonus, there’s a really cool (and free) online app that can really help you apply this idea across your most important activities – check out irunurn.com

    Apply some science to it

    Finally – you might want to look into a new book called: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  This New York Times writer did a lot of research and worked with scientists to pull together why habitual behavior occurs and what you can do to change it.

    He simplifies it down to a simple process that starts with a cue, or a trigger which leads to the behavior itself…which is followed by a reward.  In order to change a habit, you have to understand all 3 components and then identify the right change(s) to make.

    Here’s a good summary on the book from Brain Pickings – The Power of Habit.

    What behavior do you need to start doing on a regular basis?  What do you need to stop doing?  Have you found a great way to make changes that stick?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    Photo by Snowy*******