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  • Aspire » Productivity

    28 Jan
    Photo by Elsie esq. via Flickr

    Photo by Elsie esq. via Flickr

    We are often asked where inspiration comes from for our blog posts…this one should be self-explanatory. 😉    Reducing unnecessary distractions continues to be one of the most significant opportunities for improving our client’s productivity at work and in their personal time.   Imagine having an Auto-Flush for these unwanted distractions…! What would be the top 5 things you would flush first?   How would it improve your productivity?

    This is somewhat unscientific, but observation and experience has shown these to be perennial distractions in 21st century business that would be better served on the receiving end of a high powered Auto-Flush.

    Email Management:  Frequently, this is one of the biggest opportunities for an automatic flusher to go to work and keep correspondence organized and prioritized.    You may enjoy reading Newsletters, checking groupon offers, and reading up on your favorite sports team feed, but when you’re allowing them to interrupt your day, it’s not a productive way to work.   If you want to watch some great “how-to” videos, here are links to three of the more popular email providers; Outlook, I-Cloud, and Google.   Let the system (auto-flush) organize them as they come in.  When you do access them, they are presorted so you’ll be more efficient reading them as well.

    Involved in issues others are responsible for:   If you have ever been asked a question that clearly should be directed to someone else, you are aware of this distractor.   For the Auto-Flush to work in this case, you must refrain from answering the question, even if it is the quickest “short-term” solution.   Instead, redirect it to the appropriate person. Start training people who to go to and don’t allow them to use you as the short cut.  Getting the right people in the right seats on the bus has to be more than lip service and a name on an organizational chart.  It has to be implemented.  Once your employees understand who is responsible for what the Auto-Flusher will take over.

    Scheduling: Trying to schedule meetings going back and forth using email or playing phone tag can be exhausting.  Certainly there is a place where more formal communication is appropriate. But implementing a clear shift of scheduling between acquainted business contacts, company employees, and family members to google calendar, outlook, iCal, or a professional scheduling software like Timetrade will create an Auto-Flush that cuts out a lot of time confirming who, when, and where.

    Getting Paid: Cash is King, we say it all the time.  If you aren’t getting paid timely, your business will struggle.  Today, there are so many great electronic options available; the excuses for not having this on Auto-Flush are getting limited, yet we continue to see business struggle with getting paid.  You’re probably familiar with PayPal. But that is just one of many.  We are big fans of IPN (Intuit’s product).   Also check out SquareDowalla, and Square Cash.   More directly needing e-commerce?  Check out cubecartwoocommerce, and shopify.   Take some time to research the security level of these products.  Not that they are not safe, but depending on how you set them up the level of security can vary.   If plugging one of these into your business appears daunting, we would be happy to refer you to someone who can help.

    Data Backup:  If you still haven’t installed an Auto-Flush on this function of your business, I hope this is the catalyst to call the plumber (figuratively speaking)!  I heard two different stories again this past week of businesses that had harddrives/servers fail without having current backups.  The cost to try and correct these mistakes is costly and regardless how hard one tries, you will still be missing information.  Can you answer this simple statement?


    ____________ is responsible for backing up our company data.


    With so many inexpensive options out there, don’t be someone’s backup horror story.    If you find yourself confused with the options, we will be glad to connect you with a professional.

    Do any of these sound familiar in your business?  What are you doing that you would like to see automated to the point that is did not require effort on your part or the part of your employees to get completed?   Take a few minutes and think about it.  At your next staff meeting, challenge them and see where an Auto-Flush just might be the answer to improving a step that is costing your business money and wasting valuable time.

    Chris Steinlage    Kansas City Business Coach

    06 Jan
    Picture from Official US Navy Imagery via Flickr

    Picture from Official US Navy Imagery via Flickr

    Tell me which of these scenarios is more likely:

    1. Small business gets a call out of the blue and is offered a huge distribution deal – instantly growing their top line (assuming they can deliver) by 10X what it was before.
    2. Small business focuses on getting the little things right, gets a little better every day and over the course of 3-5 years grows by 10X.

    We’ve all heard anecdotes about the lucky strike, the cool business that gets profiled on Oprah and takes off like crazy – but unfortunately it’s the equivalent of winning the lottery.  Yes it can happen, but it’s not something you seriously plan on and if that’s the extent of your long term strategy, you’re in trouble.

    Overnight successes almost never actually happen overnight, regardless of how they’re portrayed in the news.

    In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell shared his theory of the 10,000 hour rule – that is, it takes at least 10,000 hours of focused practice for someone to truly excel and become a master at whatever it is that they do. To put that into context, it’s about 5 years of FULL TIME effort in order to reach that threshold. Most ‘overnight’ successes have put in at least this much time before they’re ‘discovered’.

    But we’d all like to change, to succeed now! Every year most of us write down a big resolution or two and end up disappointed and frustrated…usually within a few weeks.

    Why the failure?

    One of the problems with resolutions is that we try to take on too much. We ignore the 10,000 hour rule and attempt to jump directly to mastery. We try to run too fast and end up running out of gas instead – because success, especially meaningful improvements are hard and don’t happen overnight.

    A Better Way To Change

    The good news is there is a better way. A proven technique that will, if followed with discipline, almost guarantee that you can achieve great things.

    A few caveats before we get into the heart of this ‘secret’:

    • You have to want…I mean REALLY want the change.
    • You MUST take responsibility for yourself and the outcomes in your life. It’s up to you and no one else.
    • There are no shortcuts or silver bullets – change requires time and effort and there’s no way around it.

    What’s the ‘secret’? It’s likely that you’re going to be disappointed, but the best way to change and improve personally and professionally is to get a little better each day.You’ve likely heard it before – slow and steady wins the race. It may be a cliche, but it’s still true.

    Financially a lot of books have outlined this theme for success – starting with The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. After interviewing U.S. millionaires for a number of years, they developed a list of 7 rules that can help anyone achieve Millionaire status.

    The first rule?  Always live within your means.  

    Profoundly simple, yet clearly not a rule that a lot of people follow…at least not on a consistent regular basis (based on the Average Credit Card debt of $15,000+).

    Start Small

    Whether you’ve done your New Year’s Resolutions or not, if you really want to change, the best bet is to start small.

    The first step is to figure out what you want to change – because you’re starting small, you need to be focused and intentional. Identify 1 area that you feel is really holding you back –  it could be your health, finances, or your relationships. There’s not a right answer, but pick the area that most often come to mind as holding you back…or pick the area that you think you have the most control over. The important thing will be to make progress over time, build up confidence and momentum and that will enable you to address other areas of your life.

    Once you’ve identified the area of your life that you want to change, then come up with a small change that you could start doing immediately and consistently. It should be really easy to do, but still be meaningful. Here are some quick ideas that might give you a starting point:

    • Start a savings account and religiously put $100 in it every week / month (obviously the amount and timing depend on what you could afford).
    • Every time you want to eat potato chips, have some fruit or vegetables instead. Don’t change anything else, just make this 1 switch and do it every day.
    • Start reading great books to broaden your mind. Commit to 10 pages a day…or a book a month…something that’s easy to do but meaningful.
    • Schedule lunch/coffee/dinner once a week with someone on your list of friends who you don’t see often enough. Be consistent and don’t miss a week for any reason.

    Imagine if you really committed to any of the changes above (or something along those lines that was more important to you). Imagine sticking to your new rule for a full year…you will be better off than you were before and because it should be easy to do (by definition based on what you picked), it should be something that will become a habit going forward.

    Do you feel like you need a bigger change than what’s outlined above? There are no shortcuts – but if you start small, then you can roll in another change on top of what you’ve already started to master.

    Remember – slow and steady wins the race.

    Want some more insight into these ideas?  Check out The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson or The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy.

    What small change could you make this week? Have you tried this approach? Did it work for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    09 Sep
    photo by R/DV/RS via Flickr

    photo by R/DV/RS via Flickr

    We all have tasks, to-do’s, duties, and responsibilities that fill our daily schedule.  If you own or manage a business, that daily list can be long before you start and multiply without blinking by mid-day.   Effectively managing it is not always easy, but there is a better way.  Read below for 6 simple questions you can ask yourself over the course of your day that will help you keep it prioritized to what matters most.  It will help you focus and it’s a great way to build personal accountability.

    Looking for an expert help!

    A contact of mine here in Kansas City recently commented they were fed up with listening to all the professed “Experts” tell everybody what they should be doing. He was specifically frustrated that many of these “Experts” seldom point out any solutions to the problem.   He’s been looking for help and was tired of being lectured. He’s looking for something more concrete.  He’s looking for something that can help him now.   There was a lot of frustration in his voice and it wasn’t a stretch to come up with several examples of the kind of noise he was talking about; between local events, talk radio, webinars, you tube and cable news channels, there are a lot of people proclaiming to be….experts but not really helping anyone.  As a business coach / consultant the conversation definitely struck a nerve.

    “Intentions don’t matter. It’s the end result we’re all judged by.”  Sherrilyn Kenyon

    Although the original rebelling comment about the ineffectiveness of experts was a generalized statement, I saw a gauntlet thrown at my feet and a quest to respond was eminent.   At Aspire, our goal with every business to help them be more successful; the process can be complicated but the goal is plain and simple. Yes we give ‘expert’ advice, but our clients need to see results or what is the point?

    So this week’s business blog is a something concrete.   Print is out, cut and paste, make it a screen saver, whatever works for you, but refer to it regularly.  This is a simple tool a colleague, George Hedley introduced in his book Get Your Business To Work.  Literally every owner or manager can use this to help better prioritize their time.  We all know time is an equalizer in business and in life; we all work in the same 24 hour day. It is the use of that time that varies, especially during the hours they are normally focusing on running their business. The difference between success and failure is often based on how well you prioritize your time. (Tweet This)

    Start Using This Daily!

    Put these 6 questions in a place where you will see them regularly and ask yourself them continuously.  It will keep trivial things from consuming your day and help you make quicker decisions on what is a priority and what isn’t.

    Priorities: What matters most (regularly ask yourself as you’re working)

    1)      Is this the best use of my time and talent?

    2)      Is this activity helping me achieve my targets and goals?

    3)      Will this activity maximize our bottom-line profits?

    4)      Will this activity help get my business to work?

    5)      Am I doing what I should be doing?

    6)      Am I getting a return on energy?

    What is great about these questions is they are short and do not require a lot of thought to answer yes or no. The answer will quickly help you decide if the current activity you are doing is worthwhile or not.   With a couple “No” answers many of your priorities will earn spots lower down on your list.  Multiple “Yes” will clearly rise to the top.  You will be focusing your time on things that truly impact your business.   If you find yourself answering a lot of these “No” but they are still fires that need to be put out, there is a strong possibility you may not be delegating effectively or a policy/procedure needs to be refined.

    Of course there are some implied assumptions here: You know what your talents are (and what you should delegate). You have clear targets and goals. You understand your profitability and what drives it…and you are consistently aware of what you’re doing and how you’re feeling (not always easy). If these assumptions aren’t true – then perhaps that should be one of your top priorities!!! 😉

    With little effort these 6 questions can help you improve the use of your time and build a priority list that is getting your business to work and providing you positive results in the process.

    What do you think? Is this a process you can see yourself using? Is this a good example of tangible, concrete help? As always we appreciate your comments.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    11 Mar
    Great Flower Clock picture by David Paul Ohmer via Flickr

    Great Flower Clock picture by David Paul Ohmer via Flickr

    Did you feel it this past Sunday morning at 2AM, that magical moment where we spontaneously transport ourselves one hour into the future, yet nothing else around us has changed?   It may be the closest thing we have to time travel; even it is only an hour.

    Who knows, maybe that was George Vernon Hudson’s goal all along when he first suggested the idea of Daylight Savings Time in 1895!

    Whether you consider yourself a time traveler or not, one thing is certain, when the annual “Spring Forward” event happens you are hard pressed not to start thinking about warmer weather and all the change that comes with spring.  But that precious hour you lost at 2AM is gone (at least for 6 months) and I sincerely hope you weren’t up working at that time.

    In your business, losing hours here and there throughout the week is something we all deal with; even the best of best struggle with it at times.  I understand, sometimes life simply gets in the way.

    But…what if you could get that hour back and then some?

    This past week, I had a couple interesting conversations about time management.  In fact, it is regular topic for discussion with our clients, in our workshops & presentations, and the educational material we produce.  Let’s face it, we all have the same 24 hours in each of our days and schedules today are more demanding than ever.  Efficiency is king and if you aren’t productive rather than just busy; those who are, are going to leave you eating their dust.  It’s imperative you manage your time effectively.

    Spring your Business Forward….3 things you can do today.

    1)      Have a 15 minute planning session every day. 

    Depending on your business, this may be a short managers meeting or a private meeting with yourself.  The goal is to create a targeted, concise and prioritized “What Matters Most”  list for the day.  It will create a laser focus for the important tasks at hand that day.  Staring at a list with more “To-Do” items on it than is humanly possible to complete is emotionally draining.

    2)      Delegate away 2 things you’re currently doing.

    Make a list of the top 10 things that steal time from you on an average week.  Which two could you most easily delegate to someone else (in house or outsourced) allowing that business function to be executed properly without you doing it.  This may take some training, but the reward is well worth the effort.

    3)      Check your Email, text, social media, and Voicemail on a set schedule.

    Schedule specific times of the day to check your email and check in.  If you absolutely must have your email open, turn off the notifications so you aren’t getting interrupted every few minutes with an audio sound.  A recent study found it takes up to 20 minutes for someone to refocus after being interrupted.  In this world of instant messaging, tweets and updates, it’s a wonder anyone can concentrate!

    We would love to hear how you plan to Spring Your Business Forward this year and get back that hour you lost last Sunday night or eliminate some you have been losing during the day.  If you have any other simple suggestions to share please we’d love to hear them.  We appreciate all comments and your input could likely help someone else out!

    Chris Steinlage   Kansas City Business Coach

    25 Feb
    Kansas City Snowstorm 2013

    Picture by Jan Tik via Flickr

    If you were in the Kansas City metro area on Feb. 21, 2013, you now know what snow falling at 3 inches (+) per hour looks like.   If your business requires using any mode of transportation you also know what snow at that rate does to the expression “Business as Usual”.

    Businesses that regularly rely on the highways for delivering goods or services are severely delayed or many cases completely suspended.   And if you were trying to get out of town for business or pleasure at KCI your plans were abruptly changed.   Even if you home office, chances are your day was anything but normal.

    Businesses in manufacturing are one of the hardest hit.  Many plants are forced to completely shut down production.  One plant Operation’s Manager told me that they only had about 10% of their work force in the plant on Feb. 21st.   When the plant employees several hundred, it is safe to say, production is basically at a standstill.

    As a business owner what can you do?     

    “You can’t always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach, and response. Your options are to complain or to look ahead and figure out how to make the situation better.”     Tony Dungy, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices & Priorities of a Winning Life

    There are always going to be events that happen in business and in life that you have little or no control over.   The weather is one of the best examples of something you can do little to control.    You can plan ahead to minimize damages, but you can’t prevent the event.    For example, when airlines know a traffic disrupting storm is approaching an airport, they do everything in their power to get their planes out of that airport before the storm arrives.  And, they will often divert inbound planes so they don’t get stuck at that airport, effectively taking them out of service.    Are travelers going to be inconvenienced? Yes, but by not having planes physically trapped by the snow at one airport, overall they have kept a lot more of their customers on schedule.   It is actually a very astute productivity plan and overall it greatly reduces the number of people who are affected by the inclement weather.

    Does your business have a plan for productivity when adverse weather conditions hit?  If you’re able bodied and healthy, maybe part of your plan is to simply grab a shovel and get out and help as many people as you can.   The number of Good Samaritan stories is countless.    I was particularly inspired by the story of the General Manager of a company who helped dig out one of his employees who was fighting his own battle with a rare form of cancer.    Even though he was encouraged to stay home; for the employee, getting to work was one way he lets cancer know he is not backing down, so his GM made it happen.

    A Productivity Plan…your homework

    So knowing that this will probably not be the last time a weather event is going to impact the productivity of your business.   Gather your team and brainstorm a list of the top 10 things your business can do to remain productive if events beyond your control are interrupting your business.

    Depending on your business these may or may not apply but hopefully a couple will stimulate the thought processes to build your own top 10 list.

    • Spot check inventory
    • Hold a mini-kaizen event with the people who are there
    • Clean up mail, email
    • Review your quarterly goals
    • Reach out to clients you have been having a hard time contacting
    • Review your top prospects and develop a plan to reach out to them
    • Perform a thorough cleaning in a key area
    • Call your Insurance Agent and review your policies
    • Call your Financial Advisor and review your 401K plan/retirement plan
    • Perform preventative maintenance on equipment

    Depending on your business, you may be able to create separate lists for different departments, but the end result will be the same…you’ll be a lot more productive than complaining about the weather!   Are you going to replace all the revenue when it is not “Business as Usual? No, but you will have some useful things you can do to minimize the financial impact of the event that you have no control over.   And, I assure you that GM who dug out his employee along with the other 1000’s of Good Samaritans who helped assist stranded motorist gained something the financial impact will never match.

    Does your business have a plan for productivity when events like snowstorms affect regular business?  We would love to hear your thoughts and feel free to share any stories you have from the storm.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach