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?

How To Manage Projects

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You have the whole world at your fingertips, and if you want, you can get people to help you get work done, build systems and grow your business. The challenge is to be clear and manage projects with the desired outcomes articulated and identified.

It can sound obvious, but there are plenty of stories of unmet expectations and missed delivery. It’s why you can’t just hand off. You have to lead the whole way when you want a project meeting expectations.

Here are strategies to help you get projects done without the heartache:

  1. Define the requirements. Too many times, projects get started without true clarity. Spend the most energy being clear with the outcomes. Outline clearly what your software is supposed to do, how your machine is supposed to perform or your people are supposed to collaborate.
  2. Get the How. For those that are to deliver what you want, ask what their approach and strategy will be. Break down the work into a checklist of tasks that help you see the solution path. Set milestones for when you want updates. This way you have a feel for the progress.
  3. Review often. Daily updates are helpful to ensure you don’t get off track with expectations. You don’t have to micromanage. You just want to understand if there are any obstacles that would miss expectations, deadlines or the anticipated solution.
  4. Test the solution. When you have your project delivered, there are likely some nuances or gaps to how your solution will work in real life. Test quickly, give feedback and iterate.

If you work with employees or freelancers, they are executing based on the clarity and leadership you provide. I always assume that what’s in my head is not what’s in someone else’s head. So, the vigilance to keep communication flowing is critical. It keeps you from creating wasteful work.

The bigger the project, the more clarity has to be created and clarity is not free. It’s part of the hard work of getting things created in the real world.

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

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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?

This is More Productive

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“It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve a problem – Which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.” ~ Peter Drucker

I am a sucker for solving problems. And I have to take heed to the wisdom in this quote. Which one makes more impact? A new opportunity or an old problem?

If my goal is to contribute, be useful and make an impact, then making space in my life for opportunities to present themselves and be acted upon is the priority. Busywork, noise, outdated commitments – these have to be pruned out decisively. Otherwise, like weeds, they clutter the landscape and opportunity for new growth.

Creating value for others comes down to solving the right problems. And the right problems tend to be coupled with timeliness.

Perhaps you have a lot of balls in the air as well. Simply cutting out what doesn’t make sense creates space for the new.

Maybe you’re measuring success by how busy you are rather than how much free time you have. The latter can be an indicator of your capacity for taking on new opportunities.

I have found that there are plenty of opportunities that cross one’s path. But working on old problems allows no space for those to be recognized, entertained and acted upon.

Technology Darwinism

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Automattic, the makers of this blogging platform, WordPress, bought Tumblr for less than 2% of it’s previous acquisition price of $1.1B. The hype has  died with another platform. And technology darwinism, survival of the fittest, the tried and true, is brutally pervasive.

Social can make you feel like something is happening. But, it’s hard to find a lot of testimonials of a complete stranger doing business through a social post.

We don’t have 5 different Facebooks with equal power. We have one that dominates. It’s still to be seen if it persists or if the world flips from privacy issues or attention fatigue to sink the ship.

Automation can be alluring and you can bring in so much technology that noone buys into using it in your company. Whether you move the needle of ROI can become overlooked by technology and the perceived power it holds.

Anyone can make their world more complex. And most people do. What if you could take a step back and remove what you have built up in your life. See what matters and doesn’t matter? The guys at Yes Theory deleted social media for 30 days and the outcome was life changing.

Maybe you find out that you can consolidate platforms. Perhaps you see a lot more time returned to you so you can put it to things like creativity and strategy.

We tend to like to add things to our lives rather than subtract. As technology consolidates and some platforms die or limp along painfully, I think of it as natural evolution on a hyperspeed pace. Our collective groupthink helps to filter and see what matters and doesn’t matter – what adds value and what does not.

In our own work and lives, we should speed up our decision-making so we can enjoy the outcomes of what is better at the end of the long cycle of technology darwinism that eventually weighs itself into our lives. Whether we are strategic or intentional can make the difference on reaching our goals faster.

Don’t Hold the Hot Potato

We remember the game as kids. The hot potato moved around the group and your job was to touch it and pass it. You were part of the game of movement. You lose if you hold on too long.

When you are dealing with information, you are holding the hot potato. The next person needs you to pass it. Your team member, boss, customer, vendor, or consultant needs the information you have.

If you hold on, you affect getting paid, creating opportunities or making customers happy. You become the bottleneck. And bottlenecks jam up the flow of deals and projects that keep moving despite your productivity or lack thereof.

Whether we like it or not, the game of hot potato never stops. We can just get better so the flow keeps going. It’s harder when you have to add more creativity to the flow of the game. It takes time, deliberation and accuracy if you have to come up with a creative solution to a problem.

If you are simply clerical, it can become boring. Getting paperwork processed, bills paid or HR forms filled can be tedious. That’s the temptation of letting robots do what we get bored of so human beings don’t hold the hot potato on critical path work.

Think about where you are in the game and how you handle information flow. The great news is that you can get better. You can become more effective by anticipating the work coming your way this day, this week or this year. You can be ready to execute.

Then when you get the pass, you can get the work to the next person that needs it quickly.

That’s how you play and win. It’s how you contribute when you are in the knowledge game.

How to Be a Resource Maven

Today, we have too much information and technology, not too little. And information and tools are cheap and accessible.

You can create value for others by curating information and sharing it specifically and personally. Sure, people share on social media, but it gets drowned out and is hard to consider in the scrolling sea of noise.

Here is what I like to do to provide value to the people I seek to help:

1. Save Helpful Content Using the Google Keep Chrome Extension

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I am a heavy user of Google Keep. It’s part of your Gmail or G Suite setup. It’s searchable and can easily hold lists, notes, links and research in a virtual sticky pad environment. It’s also now in your sidebar of Gmail to search as well.

The Google Keep Chrome Extension installs on your Google Chrome browser. When you are reading anything on a website, simply click the extension to save the link so you have it to recall anytime. You can also add notes on the fly and label those notes for categorizing. It’s fast, convenient and you are able to keep moving through information quickly.

When you want to find old information, simply search for what you are looking for. You can do this in your browser or your mobile app. All your knowledge, research and gathering ready to be found.

When you are seeking to be helpful to a prospect, client or friend, review content in your Google Keep to share. Be sure to share personally. If by email, add your insight, opinion or advice.

2. Read Blogs on Feedly

Feedly became the go to RSS feed reader after Google shut theirs down. It’s convenient in your web browser and mobile app. I like Seth Godin’s exhortation to Read more blogs and what the value is for you personally.

Blogs are deliberate, thoughtful and keep you current on your interests in your industry and in the world. Save articles. Share them with people you care to connect with and help. It’s easy to do with the social sharing or email controls in Feedly.

Organize your Feedly by topics and carve out a few minutes each day to gain insights and read powerful articles. You can add my blog from my RSS feed.

3. Keep a List of Article Ideas

When I am in conversations, engaging the world or reading, new article ideas pop up all the time. I keep a list on my Gmail Tasks called “Articles” and add to it regularly. It keeps me attentive to what is going on around me. I am a writer and I love finding insights and creating content around those insights.

I like Anne Lamott’s thoughts on being a writer, thus an observer in the world:

If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days – listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold.

You notice more by keeping thoughts in a convenient, accessible place. Letting your eyes observe and your mind wander and make connections happen when you are out in the world. Having a system where you keep ideas for content is powerful for keeping a pipeline of worthy content going. You can write an article or an email to someone elaborating on your thoughts.

Being Valuable to Others

There are a few ways to create value, but having resources that you can share in personal ways does require a process that is easy to manage. I keep my resources continually building and try to match those in timely ways for my clients and friends. I try to add a bit more than might be reasonable to each interaction with people.

You can share resources in one-to-one emails, newsletters, blog articles and on social. In a crowded world, it is valuable to bring solutions, insights and focus to people’s problems. Be that resource and you become valuable. You become that person people know help them and not waste their time and attention.

Be a Ruthless Pruner

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We are always working on yesterday’s commitments. And when we have committed, it’s so easy to make those decisions sacred. Such reverence for our past commitments builds up continual clutter, drag and mediocrity in our work and lives. Without knowing it, we are managing many subpar projects, possessions and relationships at the cost of what could be the best. We don’t have room to invite, entertain or adopt the best.

Pruning cuts out what is less than optimal so the main part of what matters can grow stronger. It’s a habit that has to be practiced daily in order to make room for the best.

If you find yourself in a slump, prune. You will gain energy from getting lighter.

If you need new creative direction, you don’t simply get inspired with more creativity. I don’t think there’s even a lack of creativity. In fact, creativity shows up when you make more time or free up resources.

Ruthlessly prune projects that simply don’t have a payoff anymore. Your brain wants to fill that time and space with new options. The brain can’t help it.

Nature hates a vacuum and when you prune, you create a vacuum to be filled.

In the process of pruning, you might also discover the things that really matter. Double up on those commitments, projects and relationships. The pruning revealed what is gold and truly matters. Frittering away your life, energy and resources on things that don’t matter or create high value simply spreads you thin at the cost of what is best.

It’s a hyper-competitive world with millions of people. You likely have a few things that you can go big on and add real value to carve out a place for yourself or stand out. How can you get there managing, struggling and emotionally attaching yourself to commitments that don’t have any potential of big payoffs?

What’s one thing that doesn’t matter right now you can ruthlessly prune? 

The Weekly Checklist

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I like to keep two checklists that I execute to keep my business moving:

  1. Weekly Checklist – Actions that have to get done each week for operations
  2. Daily Checklist – What is foundational to my personal and business goals

Business tends to run on a weekly cadence. The ritual of keeping a weekly checklist ensures that you have attention on items that keep your cash flow, project delivery, relationships and key metrics met consistently. It is an opt-out approach for things that are important. You want to pay attention to these items and choose to ignore them intentionally, if that is what makes sense in your priorities.

Here are a few items I have in my Gmail Tasks for a weekly checklist:

  • Accounts Receivables
  • Blog article writing
  • Proposal Follow-ups
  • Team Skills Training
  • LinkedIn article writing
  • Client Project Updates

After I check off each item, which I like to get done on Mondays, I uncheck the items the following week to start the cycle over again.

This ensures I keep what is important moving along in a habit and don’t miss both the mundane and important details.

In my daily list, I do the same and focus on critical daily activities such as:

  • Exercise
  • Share value with target prospects
  • Read
  • Write

Those are items that keep me locked in on effectiveness.

Again, I check them off and uncheck them with a new cycle.

Winging it is hard. If it’s important, you should make it an opt-out.

What kind of weekly checklist and daily checklist would make you more effective?