blocks that spell both success and process

Invest in systems

I am a big believer in systems and processes.

I don’t mean buying the latest and greatest CRM or multi-function tool.

I mean sitting down as a business owner and thinking about how your business does run and how you want it to run and then working out how to get from point A to point B.

That tends to get treated as something that just means documenting what you’re doing now and being done with it.  That’s a great start – knowing where you are is the first step in developing and refining your processes, but that’s all it is—a start.

I recommend that owners set aside time, scheduled in their calendars, to work on their business. It is as simple as setting aside an hour a week to look at some portion of your business and tease it apart and confirm that it is how you want it to be, or if it’s not, figuring out what is missing or needs to be changed.

Once you’ve spent the time to review your process yourself, take another look at it:

  • If you’re a person who works better when you talk, find a trusted confidant and talk them through your process. Have them poke holes if they can and test your assumptions. If it is good, it will hold up. If not, you know it can stand some refinement
  • If you work better with visuals, graph it out. Microsoft Visio, Google Drawings, or even just pen and paper. Look for where the assumptions lie and decide if you’re happy with them or not. Refine as needed.
  • If you work with a team, review it with them. Take advantage of the institutional knowledge you have in your people and involve them in the process. When they’re part of the development, they’ll be more invested in it.

When it comes down to it, investing in the systems that run your business is some of the most important work you’ll do, because it will make your company run smoother, you’ll have the foundation to grow, and when the time comes, you’ll have that as yet another asset in the company that makes it that much more valuable.

One last thought – this is not a “one and done” exercise. You’re going to need to adapt as you grow and to be able to adjust as the world changes around us.  Having the habit of examining your processes and systems and doing it deliberately means that you will be able to not simply stick with codifying what is already being done, but to proactively adapt and develop. It means you can choose your path, not simply react to what happens.

How to have more effective meetings

Have more effective meetings

Common phrases I’ve heard are “I hate meetings” or “that was a meeting that could have been an email”. Much maligned, meetings can be productive, with a little preparation.

6 Tips for running an efficient meeting:

1) Have an agenda: Provide it beforehand so if anyone needs an item added, they can do so

2) Every agenda item has a time: That time should be listed by the person who needs that item on the agenda

3) Do the math: As a group, decide what items need to have their own meeting (if running long and it’s urgent) or can be pushed to a subsequent meeting.

4) Who needs to leave first and when? That decides how much time you have for the meeting total.

5) Have a timer: Both literally and a person. Someone who’s responsible for tracking the time for each item.

6) Stick to it: Once the timer goes off, make a decision. Either you know what you need to know to decide, you know what action items must be done to get you there, or you know you need to do more discussion to be able to effectively decide.

Meetings that go over time, be it 30 minutes or 2 hours, waste the time of everyone in the room. Which wastes money. Which no business should do.

Notes to Future You

Notes to Future You

One of my clients has what she calls “The Five-Second Rule”, and no, it’s not that one.

Her rule is “Spend five seconds now making the next guy’s job 10 minutes easier.”

I’ve tripped over variations of this rule in various jobs throughout my life:

  • working in a restaurant, you did prep and cleaned before you left, so the next person on shift wasn’t scrambling
  • working in IT, a little clearer documentation meant happier end-users
  • working in a charity, taking time to quality control the database meant that when you went to create reports for the Board of Directors or the Philanthropy Manager, it was faster and easier

Notes to Future You is my homage to that rule. Spending a little time now to make Future You’s job easier.

For example?

For years I ran publicity and promotion for a set of a local theatre’s productions. I would make notes with each show, documenting what businesses would take promotional materials, what companies were willing to offer the theatre a discount on supplies, who would give me a break on printing costs in exchange for their logo included on the poster. I created a set of documents in Google Drive and with each production, it was revised and refined.

Eventually, I created a spreadsheet that had every task I knew that needed to be done along with a not-too-complicated-but-complicated-enough set of calculations. I had only to plug in the opening night and closing night dates and it would give me a schedule with every task. I could then import that into a Google Calendar I would create just for the production and could share with the cast and crew.
In a matter of minutes, thanks to the work Past Me had done, I was able to know exactly what needed doing and by when.

Take 5 minutes today and make yourself a note of what you learned or who you need to contact for the next time you’re working on a project you did today. Put it somewhere that’s intuitive to you, so, a little time now makes Future You’s job easier.

calendar schedule

Setting Better Routines

Covid has many of us working from home and a phrase I hear a lot is “I don’t even know what day it is anymore.” When you’ve had years of a routine, having to change cold turkey is hard. Don’t downplay it, it is going cold turkey.

So how can we deal with it?

I worked for 30 years in various offices. My day was very much driven by a routine – get up, get ready, eat, drive to work, do my job, have lunch, finish my job, drive home, make supper, dishes, chores, entertainment, sleep – then lather, rinse & repeat.

I started my own virtual administration business 4 years ago. Some things remained, but that portion that was my workday drastically changed. I no longer had the adjustment times of the drives to and from work. I no longer had a prescribed time that I was going to be taking as downtime to eat and recharge. My waistline got to face a regular test of my fridge being much closer if nothing else.

Being someone who has run projects before, I treated it like one.

Write It Down

On a monthly, weekly and daily basis, I started making lists. Writing down what needed to happen and when that had to happen. Once a month, I would take time to itemize my priorities, both my own and my clients, for the coming month. Weekly, generally on Friday afternoon, I’d look at the coming week and do the same thing on that shorter timetable. I would do the same every evening. What is tomorrow going to look like?

Schedule It

After I had that list of what needed to happen, it went on the schedule. For me, that’s an electronic schedule, but if paper works better for you, then use paper. Block out your time. Make sure you’re including breaks and personal time as well as your work. One, that stops you from overcommitting yourself and overextending yourself. Two, it can act as an incentive. You can see your time commitments easily and can focus without wondering what’s next.

Track It

Pay attention to the time you’ve allotted. Make notes for yourself. Did you over or underestimate the amount of time it would take to do a task? Is it one that you’re just learning, so it took longer but will decrease with experience? Is it something you thought should be routine, but this time, you ran into a snag that caused issues? Make notes on what worked and what didn’t.

Correct It

This brings us to our last point. Part of why I review my lists on three different timetables is because the allotment I assume on a monthly basis may not apply when I get into a project. I may be slowed down because of communication with a client. I may dive into a new software tool that winds up being much simpler because of transferrable skills from another tool which wind up being a near-perfect match. Adjust and correct your time blocks. That also counts for the personal ones. If you’re feeling yourself burning out, make more of them. If you find that you’re having more productive mornings, try to figure out why the afternoon is less so and if you can, add something that helps. For me, a 20-minute break to meditate helps me clear my head, is nearly as good as a nap for refreshing me and gives me the energy to continue with a busy day. So, it is in my schedule for the day, around the time I usually hit my own wall.

What Day Is It?

Can I promise this will clear up the feeling of “Jantembuary” that we’ve been dealing with as the days and weeks and months in Covid seem to blur into a single mass? Not completely. There are still days where I’m sure it’s Friday in the middle of the day only to realize that no, no, it’s Wednesday. But overwhelmingly, it helps give me a structure that means those days are few and far between (and usually precursored by a bad insomnia night) and I can get things done and adapt to emergencies and changes as they come.

What About You?

What tools and techniques are you using to help you keep the days straight? We all work better when we support one another.