Actions that Work

writing ideas, taking notes and doing the right things

Every week you have the opportunity to move the needle and get your business notching up a level. Not only do you have to get the necessary work you committed to others done in your projects and tasks, but you have to make space and time to work on your business in addition to in your business.

It’s why your weekly checklist needs to have the important stuff to get attention as well as the known urgent items.

So, if you want to move your business forward, here are actions that work and should be scheduled into your week to be able to execute:

  1. Read and think. Check out how Ramit Sethi made this a priority in his own business to develop new strategies, products and direction. He learned, “But at a certain point, you can’t just “hustle” your way bigger. You have to completely change your thinking, your strategy, and even your team. This is what separates constantly hustling entrepreneurs…from true CEOs.”
  2. Write on legal pads. I’ve been moving a lot of time to legal pads, not just for taking notes, but to think and have time for creativity. It has worked wonders to get back to the brain-paper connection and watch ideas flow freely. There’s science in the handwriting act and how it develops and clarifies thinking. I’ve come to learn the keyboard is for productivity and output; the legal pad and pen is for creativity.
  3. Enjoy action-oriented people. Getting out for times of fun, relaxation and conversation with people that like to move to action motivates me and opens up opportunities. When ideas are flowing and people actually want to entertain and explore something more, new projects emerge. I like taking action. And it’s more likely to happen when there are people that are focused on future opportunities. Talkers may be entertaining and social to hang out with. But, doers tend to make ideas happen quickly and decisively. Find those people and hang out more.
  4. Eliminate commitments. Most things don’t work out. And working on yesterday’s commitments, as we are constantly doing, needs continual re-evaluation. You can always be more busy. That’s not the point. It’s to do less, not more. Every week, eliminate a commitment or project. It makes space for the new. You just have to be clear and decisive. That’s what good executives do. And in our work, we must be good executives to avoid allowing second-rate options to overtake our time and energy.

I have integrated these habits into my weekly workflow because they get above the noise beyond the obligations I will already get done with my time. These regular actions get me thinking about the direction I am heading. Too often, we are simply reacting rather than taking action on what we have defined as important. That can be stressful and disorienting.

What do you think about using some of these strategies for your own work?

Find Businesses That Already Have Demand

waitnginline.jpg
What do people already want to buy?

It’s far easier to meet demand than create demand.

I have been in businesses that are innovative and the proof of concept, go-to-market strategy and target customer all have to be identified. This approach takes a lot of commitment to discovery and gathering feedback. You have to see what sticks and makes sense to a person you are in conversation with.

If you simply identify and meet existing demand, you spend little time in R&D trying to figure out what people want. People already buy services like accounting, HVAC, furniture moving and marketing. You are helping people with what they are already wanting. Helping people is the focal point and doing it pleasantly, consistently and with excellence is enough to drive revenues.

If you have a new service, then see if you can tell the story in terms of what is known. If you have to spend a lot of time educating people, it can be expensive and frustrating. We buy things we know.

Perhaps your invention does a better job cleaning a room than vacuums and disinfectants. You can spend a lot of time educating people on why your invention is innovative or you can open up a cleaning service and sell monthly service plans.

The idea is to look for existing markets that your use case markedly performs better with. Maybe make your are offering a tool to use within the business rather than a product everyone has to understand.

Convincing people they need something they have a hard time understanding can drain your bank account fast. Leave that to the infrequent world changer that comes along.

We have a ridiculously crowded market place. People are buying things all the time. Simply give them what they want.

Take Risk and Give

rohan-makhecha-jw3GOzxiSkw-unsplash.jpg

I like businesses where the need is obvious. People line up because they need a solution. Dentists, divorce attorneys, grocery stores and gas stations will always have demand. We have a problem and they are a known solution. The challenge for them is to meet the known demand with delightful service and care. That’s a known way to stand out.

But if your offering is less than obvious for having built-in demand, a strategy to apply is to take give generously. Share insights and content that is valuable. Give real answers to real problems. This may feel like you are giving a lot away or taking uncomfortable risk.

But, the world is filled with a lot of generic, safe information online. If you have real answers that stand out and work, you get through the noise. Teasers, generalizations and saying a bunch of platitudes will not create engagement.

Truly helping people with strategies and insights that work will do far more than creating some kind of funnel manipulation.

Can you solve my problem? Can you articulate my problem?

Take the risk of being overt and generous to see what opportunities might open up that would otherwise never arise. It’s your chance to be helpful, contribute and a person of great value.

You Need Strategy

blurry .jpg

Many times when we are working in the grind we get so busy that we can’t see the forest from the trees. You may be working hard, but your hard work may be on things that don’t contribute to the bigger priorities.

It’s why having a regular and focused time for strategy keeps you from wasting energy on the wrong things.

If you are growing a business, you can’t afford to be unclear. It becomes costly quickly.

And if you have had much experience in business, you realize that there are not any shortcuts. The reality is that two things matter: strategy and hard work.

Knowing what to do and doing it consistently moves the needle. There’s no gimmick, magic or back door that hands you success on a platter.

You have to work just as hard at clarity as you do the actual work. And clarity is not free. It comes with thinking through the competing priorities, opportunities and constraints that are part of your mix.

Has the work you have been putting forth the last month mattered?

How can you make space for strategy regularly?

Most People are Almost Fits at Best

almost fit heads.jpg

Business problems are largely people problems. And, in the same vein, business is people.

Yes, you can automate. That’s easier than dealing with people. Machines, software and automation follows rules, logic and functionality.

But people don’t fit what the job usually requires. They are almost fits at best. They don’t come in the specific shape, size, function and consistency your jobs require.

This is why it is critical to gauge a person’s preferences and strengths. At least you will start with an understanding of the likely behaviors and bents that you can come to expect to see.

If your business has critical roles to fill and a lot of risk for non-performance, then evaluating a person’s inclinations is a small investment. It’s costly to discover the nature in a person further down the road and realize the almost fit you were hoping for is not even a fit at all.

I am not sure people change much. Most people are characteristic. When you talk about your friends, you don’t see them becoming a 180 of themselves. They behave consistently. So it is with the talent you recruit and manage. There’s a latitude to their growth and change, but not something dramatic altogether.

When it comes to getting work done – sales made, projects out the door, ideas that stick, etc. – you can lose a lot of money and time if your team members don’t fit what’s required.

It’s painful. And it’s real. I’ve heard the story repeatedly from business owners.

Expect most people are almost fits at best. But test to see how misaligned they are for the requirements you objectively have for your business. Hope is a poor strategy. A little foresight, process and quantitative evaluation can go a long way towards seeing if you have a close enough fit vs. someone far off the mark.

Can you be a better hirer of talent?

Be a Person of Great Value

rescuing and helping.jpg

How many caller id calls have you ignored? How many emails simply go unanswered?

We are all suffering from attention deficit and most people have to keep the noise out and focus just to survive and get what they think is important done.

If you are not a person of value in someone’s busy workday or life, then you are wasting their time and attention. And we have many ways to simply ignore what does not compel us to pay attention.

Deals get done with a lot of the important ingredients we know, but have to remain disciplined and focused on creating:

  • Attention. You have to matter.
  • Pain. What is it that your customer wants to improve or get rid of? What is it specifically?
  • Solutions. How do you make the pain go away or get resolved?
  • Conversations. Buying is largely done with human beings connecting and creating understanding and agreement. How many of these interactions are you having a day?
  • Value. You have to pay attention carefully and help people get what they want. Everyone’s different. Some people have kids. Others have health problems. Still others need a great networking connection.

Being a person of value means you are valuable. And you become valuable by continually growing personally. You know things that others can use. You apply your knowledge. You also know people that can help. You connect the dots and you proactively make connections.

When you start your days, say, “I will be a person of great value.”

Commit to being someone who gives continually.

And if you want to stay consistent, be sure to review the resource I share on using Gmail as a simple CRM. It can make your commitment happen day in and day out consistently with the people you want to be valuable towards.

Manage By Outcomes

clutter and outcomes.jpg

How do you know most of your work matters? There are probably a few things that matter to produce the outcomes important to an organization. Most work is simply effort and cost and does not produce meaningful results. You can see this with the ridiculing of office politics and people doing busy work in cartoons and TV shows.

If you are a manager, getting results starts with a system that focuses on outcomes. You have to be clear about what the key metrics that matter are. Then build your system to output those results.

It’s not easy because getting people doing what you need takes pig-headed determination. Furthermore, creating clarity is hard without clear strategy and vision. This often takes dialogue to get clear on what really matters to your business. Your attention and day-to-day is pulled by a ton of distractions and things that don’t matter.

If you’re not moving the needle lately, then think about how all the work that you and your team do contributes to the outcomes you want.

Maybe you’re working on outdated priorities. Or you have not refreshed your near term and long-term goals based on what you know today.

Anyone can work and be busy. But, getting the right things done requires taking pause and managing to the right priorities.

What outcomes are important to you now? Is your work set up to support those outcomes?

Do You Have Thousands of Emails in Your Inbox?

ZeroInbox Book for ProductivityI wrote the book, ZeroInbox, a few years ago to help business clients with a fundamental bottleneck in their workflow, their inbox.

I have trained executives, teams and workshop attendees on this methodology to increase speed, clarity and consistency in managing the relentless flow of email in business.

I think a lot of people simply give up because they feel overwhelmed and end up having thousands of emails in their inbox.

You miss a lot of opportunities, become unreliable, and bottleneck projects when you can’t manage your inbox effectively.

I would say that email is our work when it comes to knowledge work. It’s ubiquitous and a tool that each person knows how to use without extensive training in a specialized system like a CRM or ERP software tool.

And the better you can manage your inputs and outputs, the higher impact you can have getting things done.

Furthermore, you can take advantage of opportunities that you just can’t seem to get to or entertain because you are clear, ready and action-oriented.

When you are cluttered, it’s hard to make space for the bigger opportunities.

If you feel stressed or can’t seem to get on top of your email, then you have a process problem. It’s solvable. But you have to want to solve the problem.

Take a look at my productivity resource page to set up the process for your inbox and start the daily habit of speed, responsiveness and mise en place.

Peace of mind is possible. This is a fundamental piece of getting to the higher level good stuff in your work. Don’t let it get in the way.

Help, I’m Never Getting to the Important Work

unclear and urgent.jpg

I understand. It can be really comforting to do what is urgent and stay in the groove of knocking out tasks. In a given day of work, there’s always the tasks that have to get done to keep pipelines moving, make customers happy and ensure our teams are motivated and productive.

However, that nagging feeling, for those business owners and executives that need to move the needle, will be there. Being busy can keep you from giving attention and focus on what really can 10x your business. You feel busy. You are getting things done. The problem is that you may not be getting the right things done.

It’s out of reach because distractions and busy work give you that dopamine hit and attachment to the work that simply has to get done.

If months have gone by, then consider, like someone who realizes that a personal trainer helps them get fit, to get clear and get the important work done. Get above the noise of your business and see what matters and does not matter.

The reality is that most things do not matter and a very few things matter immensely to help you grow your business. And if you are working on the low-level, have-to-get-done items, at the expense of the most essential opportunities, you are not being effective. You are allowing urgent demands to numb you into feeling busy and productive at the cost of big growth.

You do have to be productive so you don’t bottleneck your commitments to your customers. That’s worth making an established, reliable habit in your work.

However, if that is all you do – get busy work done – then you will struggle to grow your business. You are only refining and making what already exists optimized and at some point, it’s a diminishing return.

Are you getting the right things done consistently?

Why You Need a Knowledge Base

processes on wall.jpg
Where does your knowledge reside?

When you are small, you can run and grow your business in your head. In the early days, it’s hard to think that you play many different roles because you do different jobs yourself. You can be the salesperson, accountant, marketer, product development manager, HR administrator and many other roles without calling these out as you move from task to task.

But, when your demand grows, you can’t do it all. You need more people to help grow the business and make your customers happy.

If you are under $1M, most of your effort should be on selling. If you are past $1M, you have to make the business work. Either way, your business is about knowledge. How things get done to create a customer and deliver your product or service consistently becomes harder when you scale up.

A knowledge base is a place that organizes the knowledge that’s in your head. It helps everyone on your team understand how to do their job clearly and interact with other people doing their respective jobs.

Furthermore, a knowledge base has the following benefits to growing a business:

1. Facilitates Onboarding and Training

It is a systematic way to help a new person get started and be productive in their hired job. It also provides professionalism, job satisfaction and clarity for new employees that could otherwise be disoriented, overwhelmed and frustrated in a new role.

2. Makes Information Sharing Efficient: 

A place that is structured and searchable makes it easy for your team members to get what they need, when they need it. If you have to keep answering the same question many times, rather than allowing people to find answers for themselves, you are the bottleneck in your business. It’s not a great use of time. Document it once and let it be consumed many times.

3. Increases the Value of Your Business

If you want to sell your business, what will you sell? Having systems that are clear and a methodology for growing easily and rapidly is extreme value to a buyer who wants to know how to operate the business. If you don’t have a knowledge base, then the information required to execute consistently is in your head. You can’t step out. You are the business.

4. Forces Clarity

How you do things now may change later. Having a system that is continually living and updated helps everyone stay clear for their own job. And information that is documented and does not make sense in context of your business goals or handoffs to other jobs can be debated, clarified and updated. You can push on refining your methodology as new realities emerge during business growth.

5. Helps You Lead

A large complaint of employees is that they see dysfunction from management or ineptitude. You can lead with clarity and conviction when your team sees commitment to systems, process and order. Furthermore, you can open up ideas and ways of doing things through continuous improvement to a knowledge base that should welcome better ideas and ways of executing from the people doing the work. Your leadership can center around knowledge rather than charisma. It takes the pressure off you and focuses it on business systems, where it should be.

Growing Your Business

The more people you get involved the more complexity you have to manage in your business. Clarity becomes a bottleneck to growing your business because you have to take time to explain, manage and oversee how things get done.

Furthermore, the jobs that have to get done are continually changing. You want the best ideas and approaches available and clear for everyone in a system that is repeatable and continually improving.

Here’s a resource to help you get started on building your knowledge base. It can help you start a critical piece to effectively growing your business.