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  • Aspire » Productivity

    22 Sep


    The world has permanently shrunk itself now that we are all connected 24/7.  But the reality is you can’t be on all the time. Even the energizer bunny’s batteries eventually run out.   Traditionally we have thought of the weekend as our downtime, but even there, flexible work schedules and home offices have shifted much of the modern world onto a more fluid calendar.  And though we might feel like we have more freedom, 24/7 access is impacting our productivity and ultimately your success.

    Now for a disclaimer…It is true that when you find a job you love you never really work a day in your life.  But that doesn’t make you immune to natural rhythms. Let’s just assume everyone has found their perfect job.  That eliminates anyone from thinking these three suggestions don’t apply to you.

    1. Take Your Blinders off so You can See more

    When you force yourself to step away from your work it gives you the opportunity to see the bigger picture.   Think about how many times you step away from something that is stumping you and come back to it later to find the solution right there in front of you and you simply didn’t see it.

    When you aren’t nose down buried in your business you are more likely to see things from a broader viewpoint and perspective.  Often new ideas come from a completely different industry than your business.  Think about how many companies have benefits from the initiatives Toyota pioneered in lean manufacturing? You have to take the time and make the effort to step away.

    2. Your Body needs Sleep

    There is lots of research that supports the negative effects of not getting enough sleep. Despite all of that data, we are all sleeping less and less each year.   There are lots of contributing factors to this and probably the most obvious are our smart phones, tablets and other electronics.   Though we have been watching TV for years before going to bed, research now suggests that today’s brighter screens are actually tricking our brains into thinking it is day time and making it harder to actually fall into a restful sleep.

    Lack of sleep contributes to a host of drainers not only on your business but your health.   Being forgetful, clumsy, cranky and short fused are not qualities that build a successful business.  Worse yet things like depression, diabetes, hypertension, and a weak immune system could have life threatening impacts above and beyond business impacts.  Lack of sleep contributes to every one of these and more. We can all function on different amounts of sleep but somewhere around 6.5 hours seem to be the minimum.  If you are getting less than that you might want to make some adjustments. If you’re having troubling making that happen – try treating it like an experiment for a month and see if it makes an impact for you.

    3. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

    Bobby McFerrin had everyone singing or whistling this tune over quarter century ago.  In business there are always going to be issues that cause stress.  But as a business owner or leader you can’t allow those issues to consume you.  You have to make some time to not worry and just be happy.  Do something fun.  Take up a hobby you have been thinking about.  Go for a bike ride or long walk on a regular basis.  Block some extra time with family or friends you enjoy spending time with.

    Intentionally committing to some extracurricular activities that are outside of your work environment makes it much easier to reflect on all the things you can be thankful for.   Too often we are so wrapped up in thinking about what isn’t working perfectly we block out all the things that are working in our businesses and in our lives.

    The resulting bump in your positive attitude can have immense impacts on you, how you think and on the people around you.

    These are only three suggestions to boost your odds of being more successful when you work.   I am sure there are many more, but these seem to resonate with many of the business owners we come in contact with.  “All Work and No Play” may make Jack a dull boy, but the real impacts are a lot bigger – don’t let it affect your life and your business too!

    What are your thoughts on this?  Is there a big idea we’re missing here?  Which of these resonates with you most?   As always we appreciate your comments in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    10 Aug


    With summer vacation mode still running at warp speed, we wanted to share a few thoughts on how to make the most of your time away from your business. If you have already logged your annual summer excursion and are now sorting through the 500 digital photos you took, read on and let us know if any of this is familiar.

    How many times have you heard someone say they are looking forward to vacation and some “relaxation” and then proceed to tell you about 20 recreational events they are going to do over the course of their one week vacation?   It can be exhausting just listening to their schedule.  Yes, for some people these activities can actually recharge their batteries, but for many it leaves you returning home feeling more like you are wiped out than rested up.

    There is nothing wrong with having a vacation that includes a lot of recreational activities, but don’t confuse recreation with relaxation.  Consider scheduling some time for relaxation.  We live in world running at break neck speed.  If you don’t intentionally schedule some relaxation into your life (vacation or not) you probably aren’t going to get it.  Research has shown if you want to be at your best mentally, emotionally, and physically you need adequate rest and downtime.

    Some great ways to schedule Relaxation on your Vacation….(or at home)

    • Getting a massage
    • A relaxing warm bath or pool
    • Listening to soothing music
    • Reading a calming book
    • Scenic Drives or Train rides
    • Fishing (relaxing along a lake or stream)

    It seems most vacations are filled with Recreation and that is probably better aligned with Leisure Activities than something that was meant to recharge your batteries.  Certainly physical activities are good for the mind and body, but done in excess, it can leave you feeling drained.  

    Recently, I had someone inform me they were taking the following Monday off after their 10 day “vacation” just so they could rest up and be ready for work on Tuesday.    Though I don’t think there were any regrets in the 10 days, it was filled with a lot of driving, family activities, and packing and unpacking suitcases multiple times during this “vacation”.   Who wouldn’t need an extra day to rest?

    These would all be Recreation on your Vacation….(or at home)

    • Attending a Sporting Event or Concert
    • Strenuous Hikes or Bike Rides
    • Horseback Riding
    • Amusement Parks
    • Water Sports:  Skiing, Snorkeling, Swimming, Rafting
    • Outdoor Camping

    Two other variables about vacations are nutrition & sleep.   It seems even the healthiest eaters tend to “go on vacation” with regards to eating habits.   Hey, why not order that Deep Fried-Bacon Wrapped-Triple Cheese- Tatter Tot Sandwich for breakfast?   And often the evenings are filled with events that extend well into our regular sleeping hours.   So if you have a regular sleeping pattern you may experience the equivalent of jetlag once vacation is over.

    What is best?  If you don’t want to return from vacation feeling like you need to take a few days off, the best option is probably a blend of relaxation and activities.  But try to intentionally schedule some relaxation time into your trip.  Don’t let it just be the afterthought at the end of the day.    As a business owner or manager your business needs you to be 100% when you return, don’t come home with your energy level running on empty.

    So what does (or did) your summer vacation align with most?  Recreation or Relaxation?   Did you return feeling charged up or drained out?  We would love to hear your thoughts in the space below.  

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    15 Jun

    Picture by Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

    People are busy these days…and most business owners are crazy busy to the point where it’s not a surprise to miss out on family, friends or things they would just enjoy doing. There’s a desperate need to be more productive, more efficient with time, to get more done.

    What if being more productive, more efficient isn’t really an answer?

    Think about it this way – what if you compared your challenge of needing to get more done with the challenge of having a long commute every day to and from work (which might contribute to you not having enough time).

    Studies have shown that long commutes are devastating – even a significant risk to your marriage so it’s a problem worth solving. But the typical thinking when people try to address a long commute is to nibble around the edges: find a better route to work, try to travel during non-peak traffic times, consider mass transit, get a better/faster car. If you can shave 15 minutes off of an hour long commute, you’ve done something pretty amazing.

    But you still have a 45 minute commute (probably with increased risks of traffic safety and tickets) – yes it’s better, but did you really solve your problem?

    To put it into the context of productivity – maybe you implemented some great time management techniques and now you can get 25% more stuff done. You’re more efficient but you may or may not be more effective. You’re still working 60+ hours and there is always more  to do.

    Maybe you need to consider the commute problem in a completely different way.  When it comes to your long commute you do have other choices – ones that change the game:

    • You could move closer to where you work
    • You could change jobs to something closer to where you live
    • You could push for telecommuting

    None of these will make you more efficient at commuting – but all of them would have a MUCH bigger impact on the problem that you’re trying to solve (more effective).

    Changing the Rules for Productivity

    If we take the same approach to the challenge of being truly productive – what options do you have?

    The good news is that as a business owner you actually have a lot of great options (although you might not believe it).  In his book The One Thing, author and entrepreneur Gary Keller (he’s the co-founder of Keller Williams Realty) makes a great point that your success is driven by the vital few…a very small number of activities that have a disproportionate impact on your outcomes. Also known as the 80/20 Rule, the concept is pretty simple – figure out what you do (that others can’t do or don’t do as well) that drives the engine of your business – and just do those things.

    Stop doing all the other stuff you spend your time on – either delegate it, automate it or literally just stop doing it.

    Let’s say your special skill is selling – but as the owner of the business you currently only spend a few hours a week on selling (and yet you’re still the rainmaker for the company). Hire a great general manager – someone you can trust, who has the administrative, management and leadership skills to do a lot of the other stuff that takes up your time and spend the majority of your time selling.

    Your initial thought might be: “I can’t afford to hire someone like that” – if you could sell more…say 30%, 50% or even 100% more, it’s likely that you could afford to hire someone else.

    You might also think: “They won’t be as good as I am when it comes to running the business.”  You might be right (although none of us is great at everything).  But even if that’s true, if someone else can be at 80% of your level for most things…and if you hire right, even better than you at some other things, then overall you’ll be fine.  Plus it’s not like you’re leaving – you’ll be around to train, coach and help out when it’s needed.

    Imagine cutting back your responsibilities to the one or two things that you not only are really good at, but really enjoy.  Imagine cutting back your hours and just working 40 or even 50 hours a week maximum…getting enough sleep…having the time to really think and plan and be proactive for a change – that’s when your business really has a chance to become something.

    This isn’t easy – but it will solve your problem of working too much…which by the way is a symptom of a business that’s ultimately in trouble. In order to successfully scale your business you will have to find some way to make a big change like this – or eventually end up closing down your business. If you’re looking for more ideas or details on this – check out 15 Ideas to Make You Super Productive.

    The hardest part isn’t all the work and planning around how to make a change like this, the hardest part for most business owners is breaking the pattern of how they’ve always done things. Opening up to new ideas and being willing to let go of key responsibilities. If you can get your mind around this new idea – you’re way more than 1/2 way there.

    What do you think? Have you figured out how to focus on your strength? Your sweet spot? Your One Thing? Are you trying to find ways to drive faster or are you getting rid of your commute overall?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach


    04 May


    To-Do List Everything Dry Erase Board Overworked Stress

    Ask almost any business owner or professional how they are and the most likely answer you’ll get is “Busy”.  The problem with ‘busy’ is that it doesn’t equate to productive (as in getting the most important things done) – it generally just translates to busy.

    Busy makes you feel like you’re getting a lot done. Busy makes it look like you’re getting a lot done. Busy makes you work longer hours…according to a recent Gallup study the average work week is now 47 hours and almost 40% of workers are working more than 50 hours a week (despite the fact that the data clearly shows that longer hours don’t equate to more productivity).

    But ‘busy’ actually makes it really hard to think…to prioritize…to focus deeply and come up with new ideas, and if you’re not doing those things, then no matter how hard you work or how busy you are, you’re not going to be productive in the long run.

    Over 100 years ago Vilfredo Pareto discovered what’s commonly called the 80/20 rule,  the Pareto principle or the law of the vital few…the idea that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. Whatever you call it – the gist of it is that not all work is created equal. In fact there are only a handful of things that you do that really make a difference – and real productivity comes from understanding and focusing ONLY on those things that move the needle.

    Why are we all so ‘busy’?

    If we know about the 80/20 rule, then why are we so busy?  Constantly improving technology and connectivity (always on and available) are part of the problem, along with a society that has equated success with long hours of hard work.

    But even more than those reasons, there are 3 deeply held assumptions…myths really, that drive us to embrace being ‘busy’ over being productive. According to Greg McKeown – author of Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, those 3 myths are:

    1. I have to.
    2. It’s all important.
    3. I can do both.

    Let’s take a look at the impact of these myths:

    I have to…

    How many times have you been faced with a pile of work that you either didn’t know how to do or didn’t want to do and yet you were still thinking “I have to get this done.”?  As a business owner or a manager the buck stops with you and it’s easy to fall into the trap that stuff just has to be done and it’s easiest if you just do it.

    The reality is that you always have a choice – you may not like all of your options, but you still have a choice and it’s critical to remember that. It’s your ability to choose that ultimately allows you to be productive. Strategically some things are much more important than others and only the power of choice will enable you to steer towards the right things (and stop doing the less important things).

    It’s all important…

    As mentioned earlier, Pareto made it clear that some things are much, much more important than others, but the average work environment doesn’t operate that way. Go into almost any team or business and ask them what’s important and they’ll come back with a laundry list of their top priorities – but if everything is important…then nothing is important. The reality is that you can’t do it all.

    According to McKeown the Essentialist believes that almost everything is non-essential and works hard to distinguish the vital few from the trivial many. Spending more time and effort up front, really understanding a situation in order to drastically cut back on work, effort and time from the back end.

    Get it right up front and stop wasting time on all of that stuff that’s actually not important. (Easier said than done, but critical if you really want to be productive).

    I can do both…

    The last myth is probably the most pervasive in today’s society. It’s the idea that we are somehow wired to be able to do multiple things at the same time…and at the same level of competence and execution.  On a personal level, this is the myth of multitasking (it’s been shown that someone multitasking is effectively operating as if they were drunk…about 40% impaired).  For a business the idea of “I can do both…” results in trying to please everyone – which as you likely know results in really pleasing no one.

    We truly believe that we can do both because the alternative is making a difficult trade-off. Should I engage fully in this meeting or should I respond to these emails? It would save a lot of time and effort if you can just do both…but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

    Southwest airlines made the choice and the important trade off of being the low cost airline. When passengers and the press pressured them to offer more flights, or meals on the flights they stuck to their choice of being THE low cost airline even though it alienated a few people. That trade-off allowed them to focus on what was really important for them – and be great at it.

    The path of the Essentialist is challenging but fruitful

    If you really want to be productive, Essentialism recommends the disciplined pursuit of less…which includes the following ideas:

    • You always have a choice about where you spend your time and efforts,
    • Most things are NOT important…so you need to find and focus on the vital few and,
    • When you choose (and you must choose) there is always a trade-off because you can’t do both, even if you really, really want to.

    Do these myths resonate with you? Do you find yourself working really hard and still not really getting things done? Maybe it’s time to start thinking differently.  What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach


    22 Sep
    photo by Kenny Louie via Flickr

    photo by Kenny Louie via Flickr

    Good bye Summer, the first official day of Fall has arrived, another year is flying by.  Soon the leaves will be falling.  Just as leaves need to be raked (or mulched) so you can see what they are hiding, you can benefit by applying this same principle to your business as well. (Think of it as a second round of spring cleaning…).

    Clean your desk or work space

    At least a few of our clients struggle with keeping their desks organized.  (No Names, to protect the innocent 😉 )  Even at a time when most companies are trying to “Go Green”….one pile becomes two,  two becomes three,  and pretty soon it looks like a paper mill.   A lot of people struggle with this one, so don’t beat yourself up if this sounds like you.

    Working with your team, suggest starting by creating a system to process what’s currently on the desk.   The first step is condensing, toss what is trash, file what can be filed, and prioritize the rest.   A great goal with paperwork is to try and touch it only one time, two times if it is something you will complete later.

    You always see a look of accomplishment on someone’s face when they report their desk or work space has been cleaned.

    Clean the vehicle you use for work

    If your only mode of transportation is public, then this may not apply to you.  But if you drive to work, drive for work, be it company owned or personally owned, this does apply to you.   Not only does it improve the image you present of yourself, it also improves the resale value of the vehicle and reduces maintenance costs (because you are more likely to notice issues in advance).   This is paramount for businesses with fleets.  Every customer who sees your vehicles is judging your business by the way the vehicles are maintained.  They don’t have to be new, but there is no reason they shouldn’t be clean.

    No one sees the car you drive for work?   Clean it any way, and see if you don’t feel better driving it to work the next day.   Plus getting rid of that 3 week old half eaten Big Mac under the seat can really improve the air quality!

    Clean the area your customers/clients see the most

    This may be a meeting room, waiting room, store entrance, view from a curb, a drive up window,  or maybe it is just you.   The point is you never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression.   So although the ultimate goal is have your entire business spotless, the baby step approach is what actually works (most fail from trying to do too much at once).   So start with the area that your customers or clients see the most.

    Have you ever walked into a restaurant when there is a line and you end up sitting on that bench near the entrance waiting for your table?   If this area is filthy, do you ever wonder what the kitchen may look like where they are preparing your food? Would you want people thinking anything like that with your business?

    What about a hotel lobby?  Which hotel would you feel more confident about having clean rooms, one with a clean lobby or dirty lobby when you are checking in?   Do you get the picture?  Where is your #1 spot that customers see all the time? Every business has one.  Identify your risk spot and give it good cleaning.

    Finally, enjoy the fall weather.  There is no better time of year to get outside than the Fall – especially in Kansas City; some or all of these may allow you to do that.   You may even have fun with it.   As always feel free to add additional thoughts in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach