Important vs Urgent: Using a Default Diary

Default Diary Template and Example from ActionCOACH Rob Pickering

One of the most effective ways to improve your time management is to create and use a “Default Diary”. The majority of us struggle to make the best use of our time. We all have the same amount, yet some achieve a lot more than others. Our days are busy, yet surprisingly few significant goals are achieved! Where does the time go? Well, it’s a symptom of things that appear urgent taking over and dominating our day. So what’s the alternative? 

If you consider the things that make the really significant impact on our long-term progress, they tend to be the things that are rarely ever urgent. For example, creating a business plan is never urgent, but it is very important. Other examples might include regular 1-to-1 meetings with our staff, checking progress on long-term projects, updating the website, and more. All these things actually tend to have a big impact on our success in the long-term, but there’s rarely any given day when one of them is drop-dead urgent! So consequently these things get deferred… and deferred… So how can we make sure we get these things done regularly? The answer is to identify these important activities and reserve time in our diary to deliberately work on them.A “Default Diary” is a plan of specific times in a week or month that are dedicated to important activities. It’s not your main diary, it’s a plan of what you will do by default or, to put it another way, what you would ideally do when your week goes according to plan. Do this however works best for you, but what I do is to have a printed sheet on the wall next to my desk showing my default dairy for a typical week. On a Friday, as I finish the week and plan next week, I plan as many of the default diary activities into my main (electronic) diary. Sure, I don’t always get to fit them all in, but mostly I do. And just by having it on the wall I know it all off by heart. If it’s Tuesday at 2pm it’s time to call a past client and just check how everything’s going. Ten minutes is all it takes, and you’d be surprised what I get out of it (and them too!). It’s the kind of thing that’s never urgent but makes all the difference. What’s in that category for you? What are the activities that, if you spent time on them regularly - even though they aren’t urgent - you and your business would progress much better? Some ideas include:

A “Default Diary” is a plan of specific times in a week or month that are dedicated to important activities. It’s not your main diary, it’s a plan of what you will do by default or, to put it another way, what you would ideally do when your week goes according to plan. Do this in whichever way works best for you, but what I do is to have a printed sheet on the wall next to my desk showing my default dairy for a typical week. On a Friday, as I finish the week and plan next week, I plan as many of the default diary activities into my main (electronic) diary. Sure, I don’t always get to fit them all in, but mostly I do. And just by having it on the wall I know it all off by heart. If it’s Tuesday at 2pm it’s time to call a past client and just check how everything’s going. Ten minutes is all it takes, and you’d be surprised what I get out of it (and them too!). It’s the kind of thing that’s never urgent but makes all the difference. What’s in that category for you? What are the activities that, if you spent time on them regularly - even though they aren’t urgent - you and your business would progress much better? Some ideas include:

  • Create/update your business plan
  • Create/update your marketing plan
  • Review the standard info on your website
  • Write a staff newsletter email
  • Write an update email to your key suppliers
  • Have lunch with an employee/supplier/customer
  • Review your own personal training plan
  • Learn a new skill
  • Read a trade/industry journal
  • Look at what your competitors are doing and learn from it

If any of the activities are very specific, use a more general description and each week do something different under that broader heading. To get you started, you might like to download a template that I’ve shared at Default Diary

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Who’s Stealing Your Time?

It’s not about having enough time, it’s about how you use the time you have. Most “time management” tips will tell you how to save some time. My view is different - when you know clearly what you should be doing and feel motivated by it... you’ll do it. Rather than trying to save time, focus on USING time in the most effective way and they greatly reduces the chances of you misusing minutes and hours on things. So here are my top 5 tips to use your time most effectively.

1. Have a plan Create a plan for the next five years, then for the coming year as part of it, and then for the next 90-days. If you don’t think you have time for this you should seriously question your commitment to running a successful business. This is a non-negotiable - you MUST have a plan. Everything else flows from the plan. 

2.  Schedule the goals for the next 90 days In your 90-day plan you need to identify a few goals that will be completed. For a sole-trader this might be one or two big goals and for a company with lots of staff it might be five or ten goals, but I recommend having one main theme per quarter (eg lead generation, training, sales, cost reduction, recruitment, or whatever). Allocate ownership of each goal to ONE person. Have that person create a calendarised plan containing a “what, when, who” breakdown of the tasks necessary to complete the goal. Agree milestones and review dates. Now here’s the most important point - put all the review dates and key actions into each person’s diary so that time to work on the projects is reserved ahead of time. Do this and you’ll be massively productive, fail to schedule the time and the goals will not be achieved and everyone will tell you “we didn’t have enough time”.

3. Follow-up and manage - top priority! As the business owner or manager, recognise that your most valuable time will be spent following-up with everyone assigned to achieve goals. Schedule meetings early in each goal and then part way through and before the end. A common mistake is to say “do this in a month’s time” and then leave them to it. After a month you find they haven’t started or they went down the wrong track! Don’t leave it so long that you catch them failing - it’s your job to ensure they succeed.

4. Productivity = Knowledge x Skill x Motivation Check that each of your assigned goal owners have the necessary knowledge. And also check that they’ve had the necessary practice and guidance to develop the right skills. Let me explain - you could read a book about brain surgery and work at understanding it, but the skill to actually perform it comes with guided practice. In the workplace, just because you’ve told someone what to do or even how to do it does not mean they will be able to do it! Then comes motivation. If someone is assigned a task that they lack motivation to complete, or lose their motivation, there’s little chance it will be completed to deadline or with quality. Check at the outset and continually check on the motivation of the team leader and team. If you think you’re not very good at motivation... a vital business skill... there’s a great goal for next quarter - get good at it! Give yourself the role of CMO (Chief Motivation Officer).

5. Show Gratitude Too many business owners and managers believe that their employees should be grateful that they have a job and almost never say thank you, let alone demonstrate gratitude in more imaginative ways. On the contrary - if they’re good team members you should consider yourself lucky to have them in your team and constantly show your gratitude. And if they’re not good team members - you either need to be better at recruiting or at training. Thank team members for arriving on time. Thank them for attending meetings on time. Thank them for completing projects even if they’re late (in which case you need to apologise for letting them down - no team will deliver late if you managed them well). When you show genuine gratitude, you’ll definitely have a lot more to be genuinely grateful for.

So who’s stealing your time? In case you hadn’t guessed, the uncomfortable answer to the question I posed at the start is that no one is stealing your time. The reality is that you’re giving it away. Focus on the important goals and let everything else be squeezed out.

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By: Rob Pickering

Grow Your Team with Virtual Employees

One of the biggest hurdles in a start-up business is recruiting a team, especially the first team member. Often it starts with one person doing everything and responsible at the same time for generating all the income. Once their weeks are full, they need to build their capacity to handle the finance, marketing and perhaps sales. Once those foundations are in place, it’s time to add people who generate income for the business. 

Often it goes wrong with recruitment of the first team member, usually to handle admin. The Business owner knows they spend too much time on invoicing, chasing payments, placing orders, paying suppliers, doing marketing, handling enquiries and so on. But it’s hard to give up hard-earned cash to start paying someone, so they go cheap! They get someone who lacks experience or accuracy or motivation, and the owner ends up spending so much time managing that they might as well not have the employee. Added to that, frustration levels go sky high, as does the stress level, and sometimes that results in upset clients.

There are two other, better, alternatives. One is to employ someone who’s really good. Whatever the going rate for the job - look for someone who is earning at least 20% more and recruit them with 25% more, or the same money but a better opportunity. Think about why someone really good would work for you. If you offer minimum wage to work in a broom cupboard and motivation from the school of shouting loud... you won’t attract a good team. But economics do come into it, and if the best admin person can’t save enough of your time that you can pay their salary, it’s probably the wrong solution.

A good solution that is low-risk, low-cost, and can generate high results is to outsource or to use virtual employees. Just to be clear, what I mean by virtual employees is basically someone who can provide the skill and capability you need while working remotely as an occasional service. They aren’t on your payroll and they don’t need your office space, desk, computer, NI contribution, and so on. When you need a bit of what they do... you pay them to do just as much as you need. Sometimes as I’m telling someone this they now ask “Do such people exist?” - yes. And most of them are really good. Many are people who are top quality, but don’t want to work full-time in an office for one employer. They charge more per hour than they would get as an employee, but it’s still cheaper for you to pay for a few hours of someone brilliant than pay for all the hours of an employee that you don’t need full-time.

Whether your business is one person or a team of 20, you could probably benefit from using an external expert. We often employ the first virtual staff without even realising it. No start-up business needs a full-time accountant, so we appoint one who does an occasional hour’s work and a few hours at the end of the year. They’re a virtual accountant - they provide a valuable skill and they’re mostly available as and when we need them. It may be a little controversial, but I include bank managers in this same bracket - provided you have a good one. I often refer to them as the ‘extended team’, because they can help you best if they also know your common goal and buy in to your success.

As a Business Coach, I recommend you look at which important tasks you can outsource to a virtual team. Not only does it free-up your time to do what you are most valuable doing, it also stops you feeling dragged down by tasks you don’t enjoy or do poorly in comparison to an expert. The kind of things I’d look at outsourcing would be bookkeeping, marketing - especially social media, annual accounts, business development (eg telemarketing), IT support, and more obvious things like cleaning. Financially these should all be profitable decisions for all but the lowest value businesses. In the majority of cases you can earn more from selling the time you save than it costs to get an expert doing the job.

Even if you think you charge less per hour than a person you’d outsource to, you’ll very likely find that it takes them less time! When I outsourced most of my marketing to an excellent Virtual Assistant, I was thinking I was swapping an hour of my time for a paid hour of her time. But despite my years of marketing experience, she was actually considerably quicker than me - so what took me an hour of procrastination and fiddling only took her half an hour! Choose well, have very clear and measurable objectives and standards, then outsource whatever you can. Monitor the return on investment (ROI) and as long as it costs less or generates more than doing it personally or in-house - keep going! If it doesn’t give the right ROI, change to a better virtual provider. It’s a fast way to reduce inefficiency and grow your business. 

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By: Rob Pickering

Create a Leveraged Business Model

Create a Leveraged Business Model

Some businesses have a fundamental model that means they end up working hard all the time, often for relatively little money. This typically involves getting paid by the hour: No matter how hard they work, they can’t earn any more because they don’t have any more hours in the day.

The concept of leverage is about multiplying the effort you put in, to get a greater amount out. For example, if you spent a hundred hours writing an e-book and publishing it, the number of times you get paid for those hours could be many thousand. If you invent something and then keep selling it, again you get paid many times over for the original time and effort. But businesses can’t see how to leverage in that way, so the alternative is to create leverage through a team.

Many self-employed businesses grow by taking on more clients then increase their prices. They start out charging £20 per hour for their service and eventually they’re booked solid every month. So they put up their prices and lose some of the customers that aren’t prepared to pay the higher price, but quickly replace them with some who want the quality and reliability. So they increase their prices again and that cycle can continue successfully until the price is at a level where others offer the same quality for less, and growth stagnates.

Once a business owner is charging as much as they can for their own time, leverage starts by employing people. Often they employ someone to handle admin and free up more of their own hours to sell. (A Virtual Assistant is usually a better solution, but that’s another story!). There’s less profit because the employee is now an added overhead. Eventually they employ someone to do what they’re doing, but pay them less than clients are charged for the service - that’s the gross profit. If this stage is left too long, the business owner is already so busy servicing clients that they don’t have time to train and manage the employee(s) and the business performance is poor. Or more often they just haven’t developed the knowledge and practiced the skills of leading and managing staff, so much of their time and the employee’s time is wasted.

In a business where the leverage is about people, the profitability depends upon good leadership and management. Suddenly the self-employed person doing the work has taken on the role of leader and manager, but often fail to realise how different their role should now be. They feel frustrated with their staff and with the business they created. They need to get some training and support, in planning, leadership, delegation and general management.

The purpose is all about leveraging their own time through their employees: Training a team and then getting paid over and over again for the work that the team does. The successful business owner recognises that the way to grow is through their team. It’s about recruiting the right people, training them (and continuing to train them regularly), and putting in place the systems and structures.

They understand that if they have an hour to spare, it’s better to use that hour to motivate and manage an employee and send them off to generate ten hours of valuable work - not to do an hour’s work themselves. Leverage through a team means making that team better and better so that they continue to multiply the business owner’s input. As a business owner, the job should increasingly be about setting the direction, setting clear goals, hiring and training good people, and motivating them to achieve the goals. The more effectively this is done, the more successful and profitable the business.

In fact once this is working well enough it can actually work without the business owner having to be there. That’s when they’ve successfully created a leveraged business through a team. And that’s what a Business Coach guides a business owner to do.  

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By: Rob Pickering

Create a ‘Stop-Doing’ List

As you identify more and more things you need to do, you soon run out of time. At some point you need to stop doing some things so that you can do other things instead. What would you add to your ‘stop-doing’ list? We’re continually have ideas that we want to accomplish and our normal reaction is the add them to our list of things to do. I regularly hear the remark “I seem to finish the day with more things on my list to do than I had at the start!”. Read my blog entitled “The 3D Rule” for more help on this, but there’s another practice that helps create more time. 

Once a month or once a quarter sit down and spend 30 minutes writing a Stop-Doing list. You can’t just keep adding more and more things to the list of what you need to do every month. Start by analysing what you do. If you struggle with that, focus on working out what you do by studying a few of your days with a time-tracking sheet. Contact me if you’d like a free template, but basically it’s just a sheet listing the hours of your day broken down into 15 or 30 minute intervals.

Print it and put it on your desk. Set a reminder on your computer or phone to beep hourly and record what you’ve worked on (or been interrupted by!). But be warned - you’re very likely to feel disappointed and annoyed with the result! But don’t worry, it’s all part of the learning process. As an aside, one thing often amuses me when I ask clients to do this exercise: They cheat! Yes, they omit things and change the duration of activities. A phone call that turned into an hour’s chat gets written down as 15 minutes. The hour and a quarter for lunch is written down as an hour. Then time on more virtuous things like planning or calling prospects is extended.

If you wonder how I can know this... it’s because I’ve found myself doing all of these when I was first asked to complete one! When I ask clients, they admit it. None of us really likes admitting that at times we can be rubbish with our time. It’s probably worthy of a blog on its own. Anyway, make an honest time log when you do this, because otherwise there’s not much point. It can also help to keep a sheet handy for one week or one month - without time divisions - to record all the main activities that you do regularly.

Most people start out telling me this is pointless because they know what they do, but then they’re surprised by the length of the list. You need to do this to create your Stop-Doing list. Once you have a list of what you’re doing on a regular basis, you should go through it and identify some of them that you’re going to stop doing. Be ruthless! You might be able to delegate some things, but on the whole it’s better to completely stop doing a few things. Think about each task in terms of how much you’re earning by doing it, or how much you’re saving, and think too about how much you enjoy it? Dump the ones that score the lowest. Because you know what? You wouldn’t be getting everything done anyway, so it’s better to choose the least worthy tasks to drop.

Be proactive about your Stop-Doing list. Every time you identify something new to do, add another item to your Stop-Doing list to make room for it.  

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By: Rob Pickering

You Get What You Tolerate

At times we all slip into Blame, Excuses and Denial. But in reality we can change just about anything if we start by taking Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility. WE GET WHAT WE TOLERATE, in business and in life generally. If that thought doesn’t make you uncomfortable enough, here’s another one: YOU”VE GOT THE BUSINESS THAT YOU DESERVE. Or if you’re an employee, you’ve got the job you deserve. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t change it and deserve something better. What it means is that our business is a reflection of our own attitude and behaviour. If we want different results, we need to take ownership and take some different actions.

Back to getting what we tolerate - take a few moments to think about something or someone that you continually complain about. The complaining could be when talking to other people or it could be in your own head - eg “I wish they wouldn’t keep doing that!”. This is a sure sign that you’re tolerating something. Tolerating undesirable behaviour is bad for business, and it’s bad for us on a personal level. The first time we see undesirable behaviour is ideally the time to address it. You ask someone to arrive at 8:50am. They turn up at 9:05am saying traffic was bad and you think “they should have set off earlier, but it’s not worth the hassle to make a big deal out of it”, so you leave it. A few days later they arrive at 9:06am and this time the car wouldn’t start or there had been an accident - not their fault so not worth a confrontation.

A few months down the line and you’ve lost control. Trying to fix this unreliable person is now an annoyance that crosses your mind on a daily basis, but never quite serious enough that it’s worth dealing with today. What happened in the above scenario? If you choose Blame, Excuses and Denial - this person has poor self-discipline, they should be able to organise themselves and it’s not your job to chase them (that’s all three: blame, excuse and denial in case you didn’t notice). And I could agree with that analysis. The trouble is... it isn’t very useful, it doesn’t achieve anything other than a feeling of self-righteousness. But it is what I would class as the ‘normal’ response. If instead you’re prepared to look at things in a different way, as a business coach I might ask if you have trained this person to be unreliable? If you had addressed the issue - in the right way - on the first occasion, would it have developed into an ongoing problem? Is addressing something like this an area where you lack the training and skill and need to develop personally? After all, that would be understandable if you’ve never had any training - how could you expect to know? Yet most business owners or managers have this nagging thought in the back of their minds that they ought to be able to manage staff effectively.

Actually like the vast majority of business skills they need to be learnt and practiced. If you run your business on the basis that everyone and everything around you should be perfect, you’re going to be disappointed and frustrated. You’ll end up tolerating bad behaviour and get the results that naturally follow. Instead, my suggestion to you is to stop tolerating unacceptable attitudes and behaviours and take ownership. Be very clear about the attitudes and behaviours you expect. State it verbally and state it in writing if and when it helps. But congratulate in public and criticise in private - don’t make casual remarks - deal with people confidently, head-on. State what is unacceptable and what you require. State consequences, but in a suitably pleasant manner. “In order to work here I require staff to arrive no later than 8:50am” is better than saying “If you arrive after 8:50am I’m going to fire you!”. State the behaviours and attitudes you want, and do everything possible to reinforce them. Don’t let it slip, discuss issues in private and straight away. You’ll soon discover that an environment where everyone knows what is expected of them and nothing else is tolerated is a good one. It creates success - for you and for your team.

What are you tolerating that you shouldn’t be? What action do you need to take? And what skills do you need to develop to take responsibility and be the best leader and manager that your team has ever worked for? Would this be an area that a Business Coach could help?

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By: Rob Pickering

Are you a Business owner or just Self-Employed?

Many people who believe they own a business are in reality self-employed. Now, if you’re self-employed by choice it’s fine by me. However, make sure you fully realise the risks and negatives:

  • It’s hard to take holidays and days off
  • Your business has no value - no one will buy your ‘job’
  • You need to make sure you’re fully insured against being too ill to work
  • Be sure you have an exit strategy and strong pension/investments
  • Keep cash in reserve - you need to be able to weather a storm
  • Beware - if you aren’t working, you aren’t getting paid!

If you have all the above covered and choose to stay self-employed that’s great! It’s good to be doing exactly what you want to with a secure future.

But if you’re working alone and don’t have all the above covered, you might want to build a business. Our definition of a Business is a profitable commercial enterprise that can work without you.

If you’ve set up a limited company and call yourself a Business Owner, just consider whether you really own a business or you’re actually self-employed with a business name. The vast majority of ‘businesses’ consist of one person and don’t meet our definition, don’t have all the above points covered, and the owner runs in circles trying to do everything. Many tell me confidently that they don’t ever want employees. The reason they don’t want employees is because either they can’t afford them yet, or they don’t want the responsibility. Isn’t that interesting? If you employed someone and, as a result, the business made less additional profit than was being spent on the employee... it would be a bad choice of employee! Let me be clear - the reason you employ staff is so that the business makes more money.

Say you spend £25,000 per year on a new employee, you’re going to want to see the business generating £50,000 or more additional profit per year as a result. This might seem obvious, but I continually speak to people who haven’t got their head around this and think that an employee is a cost they can’t afford. In terms of employees being an extra responsibility or hassle, I understand, but it’s often a feeling or a fear that comes out of a bad experience or misunderstanding. Someone recently commented “I’m not sure I could generate enough extra business to cover the cost of one employee, let alone a team!”. My question in response was “would they be working for you, or would you be working for them?”. I admit there are plenty of bad employees around who will sit and do nothing unless you’re hassling them. But if that describes someone who works for you - why did you employ them and why do you continue to? Deal with it, you get what you tolerate. When you think of employing someone, consider whether there is potentially enough business out there that your company can gain to more than cover their cost?

Next, consider who’s going to get that extra business. Do you need to prioritise employing a salesperson or marketing person to get more business before or at the same time as an employee that will generate more work or handle more admin? Then, when you’re interviewing and certainly when you recruit someone, make certain that among other goals they know exactly what they need to be generating to keep their job and maybe to achieve a pay rise or promotion. If you have work that isn't yet or never will require a full-time employee, consider the alternatives.

You could employ someone part-time, or you could use a Virtual Assistant (VA). Using a good VA can be an excellent solution because you can contract as little as an hour at a time as needed, and get the specific skills you need at the time. What takes you three hours might take a good VA only an hour, so the saving potential is excellent. The necessary skills to manage employees are relatively easily learnt - there are hundreds or probably thousands of books on the subject and endless training courses. But first you need to start with a clear understanding and belief that you employ people to generate more profit for the company and that you don’t do the work for them. If someone has to work late... it’s the staff. If someone needs to get more money in to pay the bills... the staff need to do it. Your job is to set the direction, employ the team, make sure they know what they have to achieve, then make sure they’re constantly motivated and achieving the goals.  

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By: Rob Pickering

Outsource: Maximise your hourly earnings

What is your time worth per hour? Unless you’re in a business charging per hour, this might seem hard to know or even irrelevant. But even if you do charge an hourly rate, chances are that not all your hours are billable. If you focus on using more of your time to earning a higher rate per hour, your business will be more profitable - or you’ll be able to work less hours - whichever is more important to you. income = hourly rate x billed hours  

Most business owners are busy running the business and don’t bill per hour, and don’t consider how much their time is worth per hour. You should! If you like being the person who opens the mail, just be aware that you’re doing a job that should probably pay minimum wage and you’re reducing your profits by doing that. So what kind of things could you do that are most valuable? If you went looking for and found a new top-ten customer, how much will they be worth over the next few years? How many hours of work would that take and how much per hour does that work out to be? You could also look at the value of time recruiting a new member of staff, training staff to be as good (and valuable) as you, working on better marketing, and so on. Most business owners I encounter agree that these are all incredibly high-value activities... but then tell me they don’t have time to do them!

It takes a while to really get the connection - the higher the value of the work that the business owner does, the more profitable the company. I know it can appear difficult to find time for high-value activities that don’t have someone pressuring you to do them. So here’s a good approach I’ve found very successful. Look at what you regularly spend time on each week or month and make a list, for example:

  • Answering the phone
  • Doing quotes
  • Making sales calls
  • Bookkeeping
  • Marketing
  • Staff issues
  • Purchasing
  • Shipping
  • Customer support...etc

Next to each activity, write what you think would be the hourly rate of pay for someone who could do that work. Now here’s the interesting part: If the hourly rate is less than you can be worth when doing your most valuable work... employ someone to do the lower-paid work. “But I can’t afford to employ someone” I hear you saying. This is the point, and this is what keeps most business owners struggling. If you choose to do work that’s worth minimum wage, that’s the wage you’re choosing for yourself. You have to pay someone else to do the lower value work so that you can do the more valuable work and earn more money for the business. Please, don’t look at all the reasons why this is “not possible”. Instead, focus on just one question: What would we need to do to make this work? It’s surprising how many hours you can gain even without taking on an employee. Modern technology has made it easier to outsource. You can outsource your bookkeeping easily. If you don’t want to lose control, use one of the cloud-based accounting software packages so that you and your bookkeeper continually can see and work with your accounts. There are lots of brilliant Virtual PAs around who can often do things more efficiently than you’re doing them!

Take action. Make a list today, identify one thing that you can outsource and ask your coach or other trusted advisor to recommend someone to give the work to. Don’t do work with a lower hourly rate than you could be doing.

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Finish today by planning tomorrow...

At the end of every day make it a habit to plan tomorrow. Most people don’t plan their time at all and many of those that do, start the day by writing their “to-do” list. It’s actually much better to do it at the end of the day when it’s all still fresh in your mind, so it takes less time to think of what has to be done tomorrow. Ideally keep a list during the day so that tomorrow’s list is mostly done anyway. Do you ever find it hard to ‘switch off’ from thinking about work when you get home in the evenings? It’s very common. We worry about things and think “must remember, must remember” and it turns into a worry! By reserving fifteen minutes at the end of the day to plan tomorrow, you get it all written and off your conscious mind. Those things that otherwise become a nagging worry that you daren’t forget about suddenly become OK - it’s already written down. 

Another thing that happens is that your subconscious mind automatically gets to work on the tasks you’ve written down for tomorrow. This may sound a little odd if you’re new to the study of the subconscious! But just give it a go. When you start work the next day, everything just feels a bit easier and ideas spring to mind more readily. There’s a certain motivational feeling that’s created by sitting down at your desk and already knowing what you need to do for the day. Sure, the plan may need to change during the day, we all know that ‘shift happens’ and we need to accommodate. But at least you’re just dealing with changes, the plan as a whole is there. If you manage a team of people, make it standard practice that no one leaves without first writing their plan for tomorrow. Have them leave it on top of the desk so that you, and everyone else, can see that everyone is organised. Don’t believe this is possible? I know offices where it happens, and it works. The staff there consider it entirely normal and don’t have to be forced - they know the advantages and like the culture it creates. Go and create a great culture in your company today.  

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Recruit based on Attitude and Behaviour

Have you ever noticed that most recruitment is based upon skills and experience, but that people are fired due to poor attitude and behaviour? Think about really great employees that have worked for you… and then consider whether you’re reflecting on their level of skill, experience, knowledge, even intelligence? Or is it more about their attitude? In most cases you’ll find it’s very much the latter. I would suggest that the things that make a great employee include: 

  • Positive attitude
  • Eager to understand and learn, and fast learners
  • Accept new challenges readily
  • Willing to do whatever is asked of them
  • Reliable - do what they say, when they say
  • Trustworthy
  • Tenacious, don’t give up easily
  • Proactive - recognise what needs doing and do it

Now consider typical job adverts and interviews. They’re full of “Must have…” requirements for specific skills and “Minimum three years experience of…”. Having observed the process managers go through when writing a job recruitment spec, they sit and think really hard about these skills and amounts of experience and create a shopping list. It’s way too formulaic.

Experience is always a criteria that I find somewhat questionable. By all means take it into account, especially as evidence that someone can actually do a particular job and will stick at it. But just remember that experience means they know exactly how to do things, without even having to think about it… someone else’s ‘right way’. Chances are that you’re going to spend months getting them to un-learn old habits (“We always did it THIS way at me previous company”). And also remember that ten years of experience might in reality be one year that they repeated ten times without ever getting better or learning anything new!

So what’s the alternative? Identify what are the absolute minimum you could accept in terms of knowledge, skills and experience. Yes, there’s usually going to be a minimum or they can’t actually do the job on day one or even day twenty-one. But be honest, the minimum is often not that much unless you’re hiring into truly professional roles.

Focus on good behaviours and attitude. The most important one is an eagerness to learn - if someone is eager to learn and proactive about it, they’re going to progress rapidly. Make sure they can and will follow instructions (or you’ll regret it when they’re working for you!). The way to attitudes is to ask good open-ended questions and then listen to what they say AND what they mean. When prompted with the right questions, will they complain about their old boss, about their co-workers, about how their company didn’t do this or that… When they list hobbies and interests, ask about those “so what was the most recent book you read?”, “When did you last play that sport”, “Your creative writing sounds interesting, where can I look at some examples?”. You’ll soon see a picture of the real person emerge. That’s the person you could have in your organisation - will you be thinking in years to come how lucky you are to have them in your business? Or regretting the day you hired just on skills and experience?  

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The Four Stages of Delegation

Why don’t we delegate more? The reasons I often hear are:

  • “I tried it, and it didn’t work…”
  • “It takes longer to delegate than to just do it myself…”
  • “They just don’t listen so they do it the wrong way…”
  • “If I want something doing, I’m better off doing it myself…”

…and so on. The good news is that delegation is quite straightforward and ef fective if you understand that it’s all about a process and developing trust. Yes, it takes time, but the time invested will pay you back many times over and you’ll develop a great team too. 

Stage 1: Do this task, this way, and show me before you issue it

Stage 2: Here’s the task, tell me your recommendation, do it, show me afterwards

Stage 3: Here’s the objective, work out the best way to do it, tell me when it’s done

Stage 4: When you see an issue, deal with it as you think best, report routinely

At stage 1 you have no confidence that the person you’re going to delegate to understands the task or knows how you’d want it done, so you need to be very prescriptive. You explain the task and say how it should be done, and ask to see the finished result before it’s implemented. If the result at the end of a stage 1 delegation is how you want it, and you’re confident they can do it again, you’re ready to move to stage 2. But until then you’re going to continue being very prescriptive and leaving very little room for error, and you’ll catch any errors before they really matter.

At Stage 2 you’re checking that they will go and do the task the way you want it done. “The task is this… what are the steps you would go through to complete this task?”. If they confidently get it right, they’ve learnt, so demonstrate some trust and let them go and do it and show you after it’s completed. And say that if they feel unsure, come and ask for guidance. But if they keep coming back, tell them you really want them to achieve this without checking and get them to have a go. It’s important to build their confidence.

At stage 3 you hand over an objective (the outcome you want, which might entail several smaller tasks) and ask them to work out how best to achieve it and tell you when it’s done. Again, encourage them initially to seek further guidance if they feel unsure of what you’d want. When they consistently do things the way you want several times, tell them clearly that you’re confident you’re doing things the way you want (well done!) and they’re ready for the final stage.

Stage 4 is where you stand back and watch things happen, stepping in only if the situation changes, or if you see problems occurring. Only step back to stage 3 if you really need to. If you follow the process, you WILL reach stage 4 with most people. Never take back a task once delegated! Unless, that is, you want to forever do all the work for the staff you’re paying! Yes, mistakes will sometimes happen! When they do, it’s probably because you failed to describe the task sufficiently well, or failed to mention something about how you like it done. Or maybe you tried to jump past one or more steps - don’t. Delegation is the key to your business running efficiently. Start working toward Stage 4 today!  

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3D RULE: Do it, Delegate it, or Drop it!

I’m often asked for help with time management and it usually starts with “I haven’t got enough time!”. That’s interesting because we all have the same amount, but some people use it better than others. In reality we can’t do everything, and the more we focus on the things that are not done, the more overwhelmed we feel. Ironically that feeling can also reduce the enthusiasm and productivity rate to get things done! 

When faced with this problem, stop, make a list of the things you need to get done. Next, apply the 3D rule. Go down the list and decide which of three choices you’re going to apply rapidly - Do it, Delegate it, or Drop it. Write your decision next to each one. If you’re a procrastinator, give yourself two minutes and also apply the rule that any you can’t decide on means the same as Drop it (that’ll scare you into deciding!). Where you’ve chosen to Delegate It, go through and write next to it the name of the person you’re delegating it to. If you find it hard to delegate to people, you probably get caught up in thinking “How will they do this?”, and unless you know the answer, you won’t usually delegate. Well, it’s possible you’re the only person on the planet capable, but often there’s someone else just wishing you’d give them the space to get on with it. But if you still struggle, The Four Stages of Delegation. Do it now… make that 3D list and clear your list of guilt today!  

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Create a Business that can work without you

A principle we often discuss with owners is getting your business so well organised that it will work without you. I’m sometimes asked if this is really possible? It is! By creating the necessary systems and processes, accompanied by the staff training and motivation. But how to achieve it is not the topic here… When talking to an ex-business partner and friend of mine about his business working without him, he responded “but I don’t want my business to run without me! I love what I do – why would I stop?” It’s not the first time I’ve been confronted with this response, so I promised to think about it; here are my thoughts… 

Some owners feel that their business is tiresome, or even torture! They’d like nothing better than to stop doing it – provided that they kept getting paid. But there are also people out there who really love what they do, and would continue doing it even if they didn’t have to. And maybe now is a good time to say this includes me!

Some people just love the work they do, so why would they want to stop? The point is, although we talk about getting the business to the stage where it will work without you, we’re not saying that’s what everyone should do. If your ideal is to get a little more freedom, that’s OK. But before you set your sights on that, I’d like you to think about the alternative.

Think beyond your company needing you. Imagine your business is running without you, either because you’ve got it organised or because you’ve got a great manager in there? You’d be free to ‘work’ as and when you choose. If your business were carpentry, for example, and you could think of nothing better than making wood-shavings all day, how would it be if you suddenly had the time and resources to make anything that you want to, not just what customers are willing to pay for. Or maybe you like passing on your skills, so imagine if you could now take the time to train an enthusiastic apprentice.

This brings to mind my brief career as an author, being paid to write. I like writing, but let me tell you – when I have to write something the way someone else wants it, to their deadline, and I’m trying to force words onto paper when there’s no inspiration, I absolutely hate writing! Yet here I am now, writing for the pure pleasure. Maybe you feel the same way I do – taking off the pressure can allow us to create our best ‘work’ and to enjoy it more too. Then it doesn’t feel like work. But to get to that point… you really need to have the business at a stage where it CAN run without you. It’s not about stopping work, it’s about freedom.

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Work harder on yourself...

“Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”-  Jim Rohn INCREASE YOUR CAPABILITY & YOUR VALUE Do you work hard at your job? Most people do. A lot of people work incredibly hard and long hours. However, working hard in a job is being like the little hamster running round in its wheel, working hard but getting nowhere at all by any real measure. Early in my career I was fortunate to have a wise manager ask me “How good do you want to be in business?”. My answer was “Good”. OK, I wasn’t great with words back then! He pointed out to me that to be better than average I would need to work at my own learning and development. Which is what I’ve done ever since. 

If someone works a thirty-five hour week that’s 1,645 hours each year. But if they pay little attention to personal development then they could end up at the same level, worth only the same pay, as the previous year. Some companies push training on their employees which will help some of them, but as a business owner you have to take care of yourself. Just 10% of the time learning would be 164 hours a year, or about half an hour a day. These days as a Business Coach I invest a day every week on my own development; it’s an investment. Occasionally it will be a whole day but usually it’s a series of planned hours. On average I read a business book every week. It’s easy to find excuses not to do this. “I don’t have the time!”. OK, get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later and gain 7 extra hours per week. It’s all about discipline. FEEL MOTIVATED The more you do, the more you feel like doing. You recognise that you’re making progress and look at things differently, with more drive and enthusiasm. Push yourself - the hardest step is the first one. BE COMMITTED It’s important to set yourself goals. I hear many people talk without commitment, with vague intentions that I know won’t happen unless they get a push. My clients know I’ll stop them in their tracks if they use the language of non-commitment. The banned words “try”, “hope”, “want”, “wish”… all indicate lip-service rather than true commitment. “I’m going to try and find a training course sometime this year” is a typical example. What I hear is “going to” means a vague intention; “try” means have a go at it, but maybe it won’t happen; “sometime this year” again means deferring any action. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it and fool yourself. Make real commitments. “I’m going to identify a training course today and book it to attend before the end of next month”. No get-outs, no ‘try”, no “hope to”… just do it. Now! Make a commitment to spend some time every week on your own personal development. If this seems hard in your schedule, start with finding just one hour per week. It’s a start and will make a difference. But I recommend daily or every other day so that the progress is more noticeable and consequently you’ll feel more motivated. If you struggle, think about when you feel most motivated - a walk, listening to music, whatever it takes - put yourself in the right frame of mind and do it. WHAT SHOULD I DO? There are many things you can do, so do what works for you and motivates you. If you don’t like reading books, try audio books on an iPod, especially if you have long journeys. If you can’t get to seminars then try ‘webinars’ where you can attend online. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Read Books or listen to audio books
  • Think where you’d like to be in 5 year, and what it would take
  • Attend a seminar or workshop - there are good free ones available
  • Join a relevant trade association
  • Read magazines/journals related to your business
  • Contact like-minded professionals and suggest a meeting
  • Get out of your comfort zone: Identify an opportunity to present or teach
  • Surround yourself with positive influences
  • You-tube is an increasingly good resource - search a topic of interest
  • Search the web in your field of interest and follow key people - or publish yourself!

What are you doing for your personal development, or to develop your staff? Leave a comment and let me and other readers know.  

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