Big Changes & Little Adjustments

My daughter got her license a few months ago, and with a dad that’s a bonafide car guy (he buys them, rebuilds them and races them), together their working on “building” her very first dream car. It’s a (used) Jeep Wrangler – 4 door, hard top, all black – just as she requested. 🖤

Once she got the hang of driving it and passed her test (in a Mini Cooper 😂), the first big change was the tires. And when I say big, I mean big. She picked them out, dad swapped them out, and back out onto the road she went.

As she was driving around, turning left and right to navigate the roads and back out of parking spots, she noticed a rubbing sound she hadn’t heard before. So back to dad’s shop she went only to discover the new and much bigger tires were rubbing up against the fenders. So what’s the solution? Lift the car a bit. This was on her wish list as well, and was added sooner rather than later to eliminate the sound and the extra wear on the new tires.

What’s the point of my story you might ask?  If you’ve read more than one of my blogs so far, you’ll notice that I like to tell stories and then “connect the dots.”

When it comes to growing our businesses, it’s often easy to spot the big changes that need to be made to continue to grow and reach our goals. But in the midst of figuring it out, executing and getting everyone on board with the big change, we often forget that big changes almost always require small adjustments.

There are very few things in life that work perfectly out of the box, and we’ve all learned to tweak and adjust things as needed in our day to day life. Somehow though, we seem to forget that similar tweaks are often needed within our businesses. Like the old saying goes “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

So the next time you’re considering a big change in your business, be sure to give it time, pay attention to any hiccups you encounter, ask your team for input, and adjust as necessary to reach the best final version – which is very rarely achieved on the first attempt.

What Tools Might You Be Overlooking?

“Smart business owners use tools.”

I was on a podcast with a handful of other coaches earlier this week and one of them said this in the midst of our conversation. He then went on to give a few obvious examples. Here are a few of my own….

If you’re going to plant a garden, you’re not going to dig the holes by hand… you’d use a shovel.

If you’re going to change a tire, you’re not going lift the car with your hands… you’d use a jack.

If you’re going to paint a house, you’re not going to do it with your hands … you’d use a paint brush.

In “real world” scenarios, we have no issues with picking up a shovel, a jack, a paint brush, etc., but when it comes to “business tools” we are often reluctant to add something new to the mix.

Here’s the kicker though, tools are actually designed to make tasks easier… once you’ve learned how to use them properly, of course. By passing up on taking the time to learn how to use a new tool that could potentially save you an exponential amount of time and effort over the next few months or years, you’re basically saying “I’m going to keep digging my holes by hand because I don’t want to stop and learn how to use a shovel.”

So here’s the million dollar question …. well, two actually

In what area(s) of your business are you struggling with efficiency, consistency, or both?

What tools might be available to help you address the issue and make the process smoother, easier and more consistent?

They’re out there, you just have to be willing to take the time to identify the areas of your business that would benefit from the addition of a tool and then find the right one for the task at hand.

Rule Your Day – A To Do List For Maximum Productivity

Stephen Covey, Brian Tracy, Daniel Pink – these are all names we know, and for many of us, who we aspire to be more like when it comes to productivity… but how do you get there when organization and time management don’t come naturally to you?

Short answer – find a tool to help you simplify the process and work it into your daily routine. My tool of choice – a simple Daily To Do List.

What I do naturally (thanks to a 98% ranking for time management and productivity)  is combine the strategies of these three experts into my personal to do list to maximize my workday. And now you can too. 😎

Here’s a quick overview of how the Rule Your Day method works:

If you’re familiar with Brian Tracy and “Eat the Frog” you know that starting with your biggest and most important to do (or sometimes the most dreaded) is the best way to ensure you have a productive day.

#1 – It gets your highest priority item checked off of your to do list early (and before you get hit with endless interruptions and distractions).

#2 – It makes the rest of the items on your to do list feel that much easier to complete now that the weight of the BIG TO DO is done.

BUT…. how do you avoid going down the rabbit hole of putting out fires and slapping on band aids once your big ticket item is taken care of?

That’s where Stephen Covey comes into the picture. Most of us are aware of the “4 Quadrants.” Unfortunately, business owners wearing multiple hats tend to spend the bulk of the day in quadrants 3 and 4. By focusing on Quadrants 1 and 3 (in that order) AFTER “Eating the Frog”, you can increase your overall productivity for the entire day before you take a break for lunch.

 

“Lunch break? What’s that?” 😂 If this is you (and it was me for YEARS), and you haven’t already read about or listened to Daniel Pink’s theory on “Timing”, taking a break is a critical factor in accomplishing your daily goals. Essentially, we are all subject to the “3 Stages of Timing” and it affects our overall daily productivity.

How so?…

If you’re a morning person, your “peak” comes early and you most likely do your best work at the start of the day. If you’re a night owl, mornings can be tough – you most likely get off to a slow start and “peak” a few hours into your day. And at some point, everyone “hits the wall.” – Pink calls this the “trough” – and this is the perfect time to stop for lunch and reset. We all enter a “recovery” period as well, but our productivity will not hit a “peak” again for the duration of the workday.

Knowing this cycle allows us to map out our to do lists and get to the end of each day without feeling completely burned out. And taking a break to eat lunch (and take a walk) gives our brains a chance to regroup and reset for the second half of the workday.

So, if you’re ready to start working “Smarter, not Harder”, you can grab my free basic to do list here and start mapping out your day using my method, OR you can purchase a Rule Your Day Notepad, (including detailed instructions) to make it that much easier to re-train your brain for maximum productivity. Either way, here’s to finding the best way to Rule Your Day. 🙌🏼🙌🏾

 

The Truth About Checklists

I’m not sure when or why or how, but I feel like somewhere along the line checklists got a bad rap and are being used less and less these days. Maybe it’s a generational thing, or coincides with all of the technology and apps at our finger tips, but whatever the reason, I’m all about bringing them back…. and here’s WHY.

As busy business owners or managers or doers, delegation is critical to our continued growth and success, but many of us shy away from delegation out of fear.

What’s the most common fear when delegating a task?

That it will not be completed correctly and/or meet our expectations (or those of our other employees and customers).

And what’s the biggest fear of the person you’re delegating this task to?

That it will not be completed correctly and/or meet our expectations (or those of our other employees and customers).

So what’s the solution? … A simple checklist.

Do you know what happens when you give someone a clear and concise checklist for a task or assignment that needs to be completed? You eliminate their stress and your stress from the delegation process. Following a conversation that includes the what, why and how, they now have a tool to reference to make sure they don’t miss anything and complete the task as expected.

 

And what happens when they have to do the task again? While repetition does build “muscle memory”, having the checklist on hand also ensures that they can double check the process without having to come back to you and ask you to be sure each and every time they have to repeat it.

 

And what happens when you hire a new employee that will also need to learn how to complete this task? Either you can start with the checklist and train them yourself or you can have the person you originally delegated the task to teach others how to correctly complete it as well. I’d call that a win-win-win for a business owner looking to work ON their business more and IN their business less.

 

So what tasks in a contracting business might benefit from a simple and concise checklist? Here’s a short list to get you started….including the WHY (which is critical for understanding and buy in).

  • Job Sequencing Checklist – so everyone involved knows their part and the process is completed in an order that makes sense
  • Job Start Checklist – so your Crew Leader can ensure that things get off to a smooth start with each and every project
  • End of Day Checklist – so your Crews can be sure to wrap up each day consistently (clean and neat) and deliver an exceptional customer experience
  • Job Completion Checklist – to ensure nothing was missed or left behind, and the customer is fully satisfied with the finished result
  • Hiring Checklist – to ensure that you’re gathering all of the information you need through the interview and on-boarding process (download my free checklist here)
  • Skills Checklist – to measure the growth and progress of your employees as they “climb the ladder”
  • New Project Intake Form – this isn’t a traditional checklist, but you should have a script for answering the phone and gathering all of the information you need for new leads

What would you add to the list to make your daily operations run more smoothly? I’d love to hear from you and maybe even create a custom checklist together to eliminate some of your daily operational stressors. 🙌🏼🙌🏾

Vacation Mode – Conquering Your Inbox – Bonus Post

My daughter was off from school a few weeks ago for Spring Break and we decided to take a much needed break and head out of town for a long weekend. Thankfully, since we live on the East Coast, there are lots of beaches within a few hours of home so we chose one of our favorites, loaded up the car and the 8 month old puppy, and hit the road.

While gathering up everything I needed for the trip, she saw me grab my laptop and notebook from my desk and said “You’re not going to work while we’re away, are you?” …..

So, here is some bonus advice for handling email while on vacation and making sure you truly relax and enjoy your time with family, friends, or even yourself if you opt for a solo getaway.

 

  1. DON’T schedule any meetings the day before you leave. No matter how good your intentions are, the last day in the office always tends to get crazy. Make sure you have the time to deal with last minute issues and wrap things up so you can actually exhale when you walk out the door knowing that all critical tasks have been handled.
  2. TURN ON your out of office reply. I’m guilty of skipping this step myself sometimes, and while you may have time and end up answering emails while away, let that be the exception, not the norm. If you’re away for business and will be checking your email, say so … “I’m away for business and will be checking my email periodically. If you need immediate assistance, please contact [ fill in the blank  ] …” And if you’re going away with your family like I did, tell the truth … “I’m on vacation with my family and will not be checking my email very often. Please contact [ fill in the blank  ] for immediate assistance or I will be in touch when I return on ….”
  3.  CLEAR THE CLUTTER on your phone using the delete/forward/quick reply (if your kid’s not watching and/or still asleep 🤫) / save for later method.
  4. DON’T schedule any meetings on your first day back. While I often say taking a long weekend just means “cramming five days of work into three”, you’ll want a clear calendar that first morning back so you can A – clean out your inbox and B – check in with your teammates to get caught up on anything important that happened while you were gone. Plus, the whole point of taking time off is to rest and relax, and if you fill your first day back up to the brim, you’ll most likely end up feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the end of the day, which defeats the purpose of you taking time off in the first place. 😳

Now that I’ve got you thinking about a getaway of your own, I’ll share one final tip. Whether you end up hitting the road or just sitting at home, check your calendar and schedule an “OFF” day in the coming weeks. When life gets crazy (which seems to be the norm these days) just knowing you have a day off coming up can help you find the strength to push through. Plus I’m sure you’ve earned, and could use a day off by now.

 

Nights & Weekends – Conquering Your Inbox – Part Three

While many of us small business owners use the quiet “after hours” time to get caught up on things that we weren’t able to take care of during the peak of our workday, having some true downtime away from work is critical to your successful rest and recovery before a new day begins. And with so many more of us working from home or having additional access to work files from home due to the pandemic, it’s all too easy to “just keep working”…. but we really do need to take a break.

 

Here are my final tips on how to check your inbox on nights and weekends to stay on top of things, but without getting fully sucked back into work by doing so.

 

On Weeknights:

Do another quick rundown on your phone and delete junk, reply to easy emails, forward as needed and then leave the bigger to do’s for the morning (see blog #1 for a recap of this process). This is also a great way to catch any potential changes to tomorrow’s schedule early on (i.e. – a customer needs to move or cancel an estimate, etc.) and avoid being surprised in the morning. The critical thing with the nightly clear out is to do it early enough so that it doesn’t affect the rest of your evening routine (which should include something to help you decompress before turning in for the night), but late enough to still make a quick phone call if needed to adjust for the next day. I’d suggest somewhere between 7 – 8 pm.

 

Over The Weekend:

I still clear my inboxes over breakfast of all the junk, reply and forward as needed and then … wait for it … I leave the rest. 😳 This has been a challenge for me – seeing that red number on my mail icon ticking up – but we all need to rest at some point, and Monday has a way of showing back up pretty quickly anyway.

If you normally dedicate part of your Saturday to work, then go ahead and answer your emails as you would on any other workday. Otherwise, I encourage you to resist the urge to check your work email more than 3 times a day over the weekend. While it may seem harmless to check your phone while waiting in line, hanging out with your family, or relaxing on a Sunday afternoon, it’s all too easy to head down the rabbit hole and get caught up in something that was “only going to take a minute.”

And just because we all carry our inboxes around in our pockets now, doesn’t have to mean your office is open 24/7. As a “customer”, I send emails and leave voice messages over the weekend because that’s when I’m home and have the time to do so, but I do so knowing that I most likely won’t hear back until Monday, and that’s perfectly acceptable. If you’re fielding incoming leads and have a way to schedule appointments electronically without too much hassle, go for it. Otherwise, remember that almost every other professional service industry has established working hours that we’ve all grown accustomed to and accept, and your business doesn’t have to be any different. Decide what works best for you, make the parameters clear to your team and your customers, and then most importantly, honor them. 😊 And if you don’t want to leave emails “unanswered” over the weekend, set up a auto-responder with a short message to confirm receipt and that you’ll be back in touch on Monday.

Now, go relax and enjoy the weekend to the fullest. 🙌🏼

 

Bonus Post – “Vacation Mode” – Yes, I had the nerve to go on vacation. Read more here about how I handle email while away.

 

Avoiding Email “Interruptions” – Conquering Your Inbox – Part Two

So you’ve made it through your morning routine and are now at your desk and in front of your computer. And if you’re anything like me, you have a to do list a mile long waiting to be tackled (more about to do lists later)…

Do you know what the biggest killer of productivity is? Interruptions. And do you know what your inbox becomes while you’re sitting at your desk trying to get through your prioritized to do list? A never ending stream of interruptions. Here are my suggestions for conquering your inbox over the course of your actual work day.

1. Hide your dock. If you see the little counter on your email ticking up as your working on something else, that little voice in your head is going to keep pestering you to “just check and see if it’s important.” In reality, nothing in your inbox should be so urgent that it wasn’t proceeded by or followed up with a phone call to alert you of it’s arrival. And as a habit, you may want to determine how you would like to receive “urgent” messages and relay that to your team and others you communicate with on a daily basis (I prefer text messages myself).

2. Decide WHEN you’re going to check your email over the course of the day (again, this is NOT every time you see a notification that you have a new message). If you used the morning clear out method from part one of this series, you may choose to deal with the remaining emails first thing when you get to your desk and then close your inbox for a few hours and get to your own to do list OR you could tackle your most important MUST GET DONE TODAY item first and then come back to your email once that task is complete. Generally speaking, you should aim to work for 1-3 hours between checking your inbox, (unless your primary function is to monitor incoming leads, and then you’ll want to get back to people asap).

3. Decide HOW you’re going to handle the emails that can’t be answered right away and require some additional work on your end. If you’re using iMail you can use the Flags feature and label one “To Do’s” so you know what you have to come back to. If you’re using gmail you can use the Task List feature and create a running list of emails you need to come back to. If you’re using Microsoft Outlook you can create categories and tag emails accordingly.  You can watch my free tutorials here.  And if you’re really old fashioned, you can print the email out and add it to your pile of to do’s on your actual desk. Either way, you’ll need a system to ensure you don’t forget to come back to any emails that can’t be dealt with in the moment.

4. Do One Final Check. Before you head out for the day, check your inbox one last time and use the delete/forward/quick reply/save for later method from the morning clear out. Again, the goal is to get as close to zero as possible, but you don’t want to spend an extra hour at work on an email that came in right before you were going to wrap up for the day.

In part three I’ll share some some tips for dealing with email “after hours”, so when you’re ready click here to read more.

The Morning Clear Out – Conquering Your Inbox – Part One

You know those people that have 321 unread emails and 73 unopened text messages on their phone? I’m not one of them. 😂 I’m the person that needs to have zero emails in my inbox when I leave my desk for the day and as few messages as possible still showing up on my phone when I finally call it a night.

So how do I manage to pull this off you might ask? I’ve established a consistent routine that I use daily to keep my inbox (and my brain) from getting overloaded. And to avoid overloading your brain with too much information all at once, I’m breaking it into three parts. Here’s part 1:

The Morning Clear Out

After feeding and walking my dogs, I sit down for my own breakfast and clear out all of my inboxes on my iPhone.

#1 – Delete – Most junk mail comes through late at night or early in the morning, and clearing it out on my phone gives me the opportunity to delete a whole slew of messages without ever having to actually open them. I love the Edit – Select feature on my iPhone that allows me to tag the emails I don’t need to open and then Trash them in one fell swoop. 👍🏼

#2 – Forward – If the email came to you, but could or should be handled by someone else in your office, forward it along with a quick note and now it’s off of your to do list.

#3 – Quick Reply – Answer any emails that only require a short reply and now they’re off of your to do list as well.

#4 – Save for Later – Anything that will require a longer reply or where checking/gathering additional information is necessary should be saved for when you do get to your desk. However, now that you’ve seen it, you know what’s left in your inbox and will need your attention before the end of the day.

This clear out shouldn’t take more than 3-5 minutes to complete, and now you can relax and enjoy the rest of your breakfast.

In part two I share my strategy for keeping your inbox under control through the course of your workday, click here once you’ve conquered part one and established a morning routine that works well for you to move onto part two.

Every Small Business Owners Dream – A True Vacation

“I’m writing this from the beach in Bali…” I’ll never forget clicking on an article link that opened with this line and how much it rubbed me the wrong way. Here I was, sitting at my desk slugging away, obviously looking for help with something, and the person who claimed they had “all of the answers” was thousands of miles away on a beach I will most likely never set foot on. This was not the greatest place to start if the goal was to convince me to keep reading.

 

But isn’t that every small business owners dream? To go on a true, and maybe extended vacation? Without having to answer the phone every day to put out a fire, or have their company in shambles when they return?

 

Backing up to the early days of my career in our family painting business… While on an early morning flight to San Diego for a work conference, one of our men fell off of a ladder. I landed from the six hour flight to a slew of voicemails from the office, all which basically boiled down to “we don’t know what to do.”

 

As the HR person for our company, I was the one to handle workplace injuries and no one else knew the procedure. So what was supposed to be a relaxing afternoon before the start of a four-day conference turned into a flurry of phone calls and information gathering and forwarding to make sure everything was sorted out by the end of the day. Thankfully the gentleman who fell did not have any major injuries, but the stress on everyone through the whole ordeal lead me to create and share a workplace injury procedure upon my return.

 

Now, if someone happens to get hurt on the job, all of our Foreman have a copy of the injury procedure in their Policies and Procedures Manual (which lives in their truck). And everyone in the office has a copy as well, along with the contact information for our Workman’s Comp Company and an Injury Reporting Worksheet that covers all of the information needed to report a claim.

 

Fast forward to last year, when my step-daughter graduated from college with honors and we planned a once in a lifetime trip to Greece – which would mean being out of the country for twelve days. Prior to this, I had never been away for more than a week, and usually scheduled my vacations from Wednesday to Tuesday to accommodate running our weekly payroll.

 

This time however, with over fifteen years in the business under my belt, I had created and shared all of the systems I had put in place with regards to my job responsibilities. And while I was still nervous about being away for the longest I’ve ever been, I felt confident in boarding the ten-hour flight and landing without any voicemails on my phone. Aside from running payroll in the mid-point of our trip (there was no one to delegate it to), we had a wonderful time with no business interruptions.

 

So what’s the key to making this a reality for yourself and your company?

 

  1. Hire the right people to complete your management team.
  2. Create systems that everyone can follow and make them easily accessible to all.
  3. Delegate appropriately and empower your team to make smart decisions when you’re away by including them in the process when you are in the office.

 

Need a little help with one, two, or all of these three items? Join me for one of my Webinars or Workshops starting in a few weeks and let’s get you on your way to a true extended and relaxing vacation.