I recently sat on a panel of small business experts and my job was to let the entrepreneurs in the audience know what kind of systems they need to have for their businesses this year. I wanted to share the advice I gave them here on my blog because I think it can help you too. If you’re lost or wondering what’s really essential, here’s my two cents:
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that over the last few years, January has been known as “Get Organized Month.” Ever year, as we turn over a new leaf, millions of people around the world resolve to get more organized in the year ahead.
I think there’s no bad time to get organized, but if you resolved to do it this year, I’m here to help you ride the wave and create a fresh start for the year.
Here are some quick tips to help you get started:
To-do list got you down? If your list is a mile long and nothing seems to be getting done, here are a few tweaks you can make to feel more accomplished:
- Break it down – make your tasks specific AND action oriented. Start each task with an action word like “email,” “call,” “research,” etc. That way, when you quickly scan your list, you’ll have an idea of what’s required of you.
- Chop it up – separate the NEEDS and the WANTS. Know what you *have* to do (and get it out of the way) while also being aware of your wish list. If neglecting something will bring negative repercussions, you know you need to prioritize it over something that would just be “nice” to do.
- Cut it out – Keep it real. If your list is consistently overwhelming you, you may need a shorter list each day. You may also need to look at the list and decide what you need to delegate.
- Check it off – make sure to check off things as you complete them. There’s a certain satisfaction gained from knowing you got something done or crossed a mini milestone off the list. Honor that and your efforts – check things off and all the motivation to push you forward.
- Use it for appointments. Yes, this seems obvious, but even if you keep a Google Calendar, it can be nice to visualize your appointments alongside all of the other things you have to do. I like to plan my day every morning and that includes transferring the appointments from my Google Calendar to my planner. It really doesn’t take much time at all. Logging your appointments also helps you see what remaining time you have to work with.
- Keep a to-do list. Hopefully your planner has space for this! Make sure to jot down the things you need (and want) to do each day. Don’t let the ideas get stuck in your head. The minute you get that phone call you weren’t expecting, it all goes out the window…
- Capture the details of the day. If your planner has space for it, jot down the highlights of the day or next actions. If you spoke to a prospect, note that they want you to shoot a proposal over to them later this week. At the end of the day, look at your notes and next actions and move things to your calendar or to-do list as needed.
- Keep track of expenses. Lots of planners these days have space to jot down expenses. I also like to write down how much I’ve billed and received – its encouraging!
- Don’t over do it. Make sure your list is realistic. Move some tasks to later dates or delegate to someone who can help you.
I like to plan. I never thought I’d say that. I don’t always stick to a plan the way it was created, but when it comes to my business, I always have one. Setting goals and having a plan gives me a path to follow. There are many things I want to create and do. If you’re like me, you can relate to this entrepreneurial idea factory. So, here are my suggestions to find success with the plans you create:
Straight to the point (the too long; didn’t read version):
- Spend 5-15 minutes each morning planning for the day ahead and reviewing scheduled appointments. After this becomes a habit for you, I’m confident you can get this down to 5 minutes a day.
- Choose 1-3 priority tasks each day that you consider “must-do” activities. Schedule time on your calendar to get these done, or make sure to work on them first thing, before you get distracted with other matters.
- Keep a running list of “One day I’ll…” ideas. Continually add to the list. Move these things to your active planning/to-do list once they become more of a priority.
- Keep all of your notes in one notebook or system whenever possible – you’ll always know where to find what you wrote down
I don’t know why, but finding a great planner these days hasn’t been easy for me. There are a lot of excellent options out there, and even though I’ve recently purchased a few, they still weren’t giving me what I needed. So, after supporting a few business owners by buying their products, I ended up at at a big box business – Staples – looking for solutions.
As I walked down the planner aisle and looked at the same traditional options that haven’t worked for me in a long time (which is why I stopped buying planners for a while), I found myself frustrated. Then it finally hit me – I could hack together my own and make it (practically) perfect.
Here’s what I picked up:
- 5.5″ x 8.5″ binder (I wanted something that would fit in pretty much any bag I carried) – 1/2in.
- Day Timer daily view planner pages (Size 4)
- 5.5″ x 8.5″ filler paper (who knew this existed?!?)
- 5.5″ x 8.5″ plastic dividers
- 5.5″ x 8.5″ binder pockets
- 5.5″ x 8.5″ Sheet protectors
- Month tabs (cheaper at Staples, but for some reason, not listed on their website)
- Post-it Pockets
- 5.5″ x 8.5″ plain paper (not pictured)
I went a little wild, but I couldn’t help myself.
Ah! 2015 is here. I’m feeling good – how about you?
Part of what’s got me feeling so good about the year is that I feel like I have a sense of direction. At the end of 2014, I created a goal planning guide for my At the Helm community. I’m happy to say, I tested it on myself (and another small group of people) and it was ridiculous helpful! Creating the guide and working through it really helped me determine what I want to focus on in 2015. Check it out if you’re still unclear about your goals for the year. You can even download a few sample pages.
Even though the economy is in the process of recovering from the downturn, many companies and employees are increasingly turning to remote offices to cut down on costs. Through the use of video, companies are able to keep their employees engaged and informed, particularly due to the prevalence of laptops and mobile devices. These technologies allow for office-to-office collaboration in a way that is simple and efficient.
2014 has come to a close. What a year! I wanted to take some time to highlight a few of my favorite things of the year.
MoviePass – My latest discovery and the one I’m currently most excited about. MoviePass allows you to visit participating theaters and see a ton of movies for $30 bucks a month. I don’t know where you live, but movies here run from about $10-15 bucks a pop – so if you’re someone who sees at least two movies a month, the price is well worth it. Now that I have a pop culture podcast, it’s a good excuse to get out of the house and catch a good movie while it’s still in theaters. You can see one movie per 24 hour period. Sign up for a two week trial and see if it’s for you!
Favorite thing about it? No blackout dates. See any 2D movie you want, when you want – even opening weekend (as long as tickets are still available)
Club W – One of my goals for the year was to learn more about wine. There are very few kinds of wine I like and before I felt safe making the blanket statement “I’m not into wine,” I wanted to do some exploring. I found out about Club W and decided to give it a try. To be honest, I didn’t like most wines I tried – but I could always skip a month when I wanted to, and usually I took the wine to a party or threw some Sprite in it and turned it into a spritzer (oh-so-classy). I picked wines that *sounded* delicious, but there’s clearly still more education needed. So, still not a wine lover (just a Moscato/Stella Rosa Rosso/White Merlot lover), but it was a great way to try new things and get my feet wet in the world of wine. And I DID discover a few gems that I put in repeat orders for.
Favorite thing about it? Skipping months. I’m hardly a drinker, I don’t need 3 bottles of wine a month. It’s also great to give as a gift to wine lovers you know!
Miquelrius Organization Notebook. This one is tough to find! I had a Miquelrius notebook several years ago and loved it. I stumbled upon this version at The Container Store earlier this year and its the only place I can track it down these days. This version of the notebook has 3 removable tab pages if you want to divide up your book, a few stickers for labeling pages and tabs and a few plain white pages at the back – I went a year without using them, but when I needed to bust out a mind map or two, they came in handy. It’s got a durable cover, so I can toss it around (unintentionally of course) and it holds up really well. I’ve already made my trek to The Container Store for a fresh book for 2015. Tip: If you search for “Miquelrius” on TCS’s website, nothing comes up. Don’t ask me why. Search “organization notebook” and you’ll be in business.
Favorite thing about it? Everything.
Blinkist – If you’re like me and can’t seem to read all the (nonfiction) books you want to read fast enough, Blinkist may be for you. There are books I really want to own and spend time reading. There are others where I’m fine just pulling the nuts and bolts from them. “Blinks” are the best bite sized bits. You can get through the “blinks” of a book in about 15 minutes. Even I have time for that. They offer a 3 day trial – check it out and see if Blinks are your thing. If not, there’s always your local bookstore!
Favorite thing about it? I can access it on any device. So, whether I’m sitting at home, on a train or killing time somewhere, I can access the entire Blinkist library (on or offline). They have over 500 titles and add a few dozen new ones each month.
Kindle Unlimited – I told you I was a reader, didn’t I? I still prefer physical books 90% of the time, but there are times I want something specific and I want it NOW. Suitcases around the world are becoming lighter as well, now that we can leave some reading material on our nightstands. If you’re like me and you’ve purchased too many Kindle books on a whim (a brand new book in less than 60 seconds while I’m laying in bed in my pajamas??!!??), Kindle Unlimited is worth checking out. While the library isn’t huge (authors have to opt in), it is growing. I mostly read business and professional books and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many I was poised to purchase that were available on Unlimited. After a 30 day trial, the service is $10 bucks a month. Worth giving it a shot to see if its worth the bucks. If you buy and read a few books a month, I’d say that it is. In addition to the nonfiction that I’m so fond of, there are also tons of kids books and popular fiction.
Favorite thing? Saving money on impulse book buying.
creativeLIVE – I didn’t actually discover creativeLIVE this year, but I did get the chance to sit in the audience for another class (Podcasting with Kris Gilbertson), purchased a few classes and really took time to dive in and explore the material. I actually discovered cL in late 2012 and sat in studio for the first time in 2013 (Networking with Porter Gale). This year, I made an effort to organize the material I’ve purchased over the years and schedule time to work through it. I also discovered some new classes this year that have been right on target with what I wanted to learn for the year. I wanted to share creativeLIVE with you because it seems like every time I mention in a group of people, at least half haven’t heard of it. When you visit their site, you can check out their upcoming list of classes. You can watch classes live and hop in the chat room (if you want) and connect with other people watching the classes. This year, cL has been fantastic with ’round the clock replays, so there’s a good chance you can catch something you missed. Most of the classes come bundled with bonus materials – so you can purchase the class you want to get access to the videos and those bonuses to use as you please. I watch move classes live than I actually purchase, but each class I’ve invested in has been well worth it. I typically watch the business classes, but there are tons of great classes on art, design, photography and more.
Favorite thing? I choose two – 1) the caliber of instructors. I’m rarely disappointed. 2) The great people I’ve connected with in the chat rooms when watching live.
Explore and enjoy! Try something new in 2015.