All posts by Jon Bradshaw

5 Tips for Making Time for Your Big Goals

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You know just how easy it is to get caught up in the daily grind of life. When you spend all day putting out fires, it’s easy to lose sight of those big, long-term goals.

Although some of those more tedious daily tasks may never go away entirely, you can start organizing your days with time carved out to work on those larger dreams and priorities. Here’s how to do it:

1. Begin with the end in mind.

Steve Jobs famously spoke about prioritizing his daily tasks based on what he would want to be working on if it were the last day of his life. He defined his long-term goals and then made sure that his to-do list was aligned with what he ultimately sought to accomplish. 

How does what you are working on today fit with your big picture goals and priorities? If your tasks at hand aren’t helping you arrive at that end goal, it may be time to scrap what you’re doing and work backwards. Start with those long-term dreams, and figure out what you can do today to ensure you will get there.

2. Organize your tasks based on urgency and importance.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a time-tested method for dividing your to-do list into four categories: urgent and important, urgent but not important, important but not urgent, and neither urgent nor important. 

Prioritize urgent and important tasks to be the first things you accomplish. If you’re able, delegate the urgent but unimportant tasks to someone else, leaving you plenty of time for your important but not immediately urgent items. These items will often include your larger business goals that transcend your daily tasks that can so easily bog down your day. 

If a task is neither urgent nor important, either delegate it, scrap it, or save it for a space in your day when you need a mental break from your main tasks. Re-evaluate your matrix at the beginning of each day to ensure you are focusing your energy and attention on what is most valuable.

3. Schedule everything.

It’s easier said than done, but strictly scheduling your day will boost your productivity and give you the time to work on those bigger goals. You may not be able to avoid all of the more mundane tasks of your day; some of them are part and parcel with running a business. What you can do, though, is to place your tasks on a calendar rather than letting them sit on a simple to-do list.

Account for every minute of your work day. Then, stick to your calendar. If you have constructed it to be a reflection of your priorities, do not let yourself get sidetracked. Own your time. 

When you schedule each of your tasks for the day, you have a defined start and finish time for each item, giving yourself control of your day. That ensures you have time to work on both your necessary daily tasks as well as your big picture goals.

4. Take advantage of your commute time.

You’re a business owner: There’s no way around the fact that you have a lot of work to do. Even after prioritizing your tasks as much as possible, they will still inevitably take up a fair chunk of time each day.

To make as much time as possible to chip away at your big goals, make use of your commute time. If you commute 20 minutes each way five days per week, that’s more than three additional hours of work time.

How you decide to use your commute time will vary based on your situation. Perhaps you can knock out some of those smaller, more tedious tasks: replying to emails, checking your voice messages, or scheduling meetings. Alternatively, you may find that your commute is the perfect opportunity to brainstorm or listen to podcasts that will inspire you to reach those long-term goals. Make your time work for you, even if it is your drive to work.

5. Keep your big ideas visible.

When your whiteboards are covered in sales and marketing metrics, you may easily lose track of what your long-term goals really are. It pays to write down your most important ideas and keep them in a place where you will see them and remember to keep them central each day. 

How you do it is up to you. Hang an inspiration board with quotes and plans in your home office. Put sticky notes on your desktop. Let your big dreams and plans motivate you in the midst of all the small tasks necessary to get there. Don’t lose sight of the end you desire.

Organize each day, and even each hour, with your big goals in view. Work backwards from those goals to choose how you spend your time. As you take charge of each day, watch the future you want becomes less and less distant.

5 Ways to Improve Office Communication

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At work and in life, communication is key. Open, efficient lines of communication make companies more productive and keep employees happy. Twisted or broken ones produce mistakes and burnout.

But good communication is about more than talking to each other regularly. To communicate well, companies need clear processes and effective tools. Here’s where to start:

1. Minimize drop-in chats.

What’s wrong with walking down to a co-worker’s office to ask a quick question? Not only does it interrupt what he or she is working on, but it tends to spiral into unrelated conversation. As important as the outcome of last night’s game is, it’s irrelevant to work.

Encourage your employees to reduce the small talk by using Slack for small questions and comments. For longer conversations, or those that require multiple people, schedule a meeting. Small talk can be healthy for office relationships, but precious work time can quickly go down the drain when employees are visiting each other’s work spaces throughout the day.  

2. Share calendars.

The practice of sharing calendars allows employees to schedule meetings with each other and gain insight into their co-workers’ projects and daily schedules. Many calendar apps allow workers to share tasks, view what’s been completed by each party, and send messages back and forth.

To choose the best online calendar for your business, take into account usability, integrations, and features. Look for a low-cost or free option that provides insight into who you’re spending your work time with. If you work across time zones, be sure your calendar can automatically adjust the time depending on where each user is. 

3. Send out meeting agendas ahead of time.

Meetings can be valuable, and face-to-face communication is still the foundation of strong relationships. But without a clear agenda, meetings can run long or be dominated by side conversations.

At least a day in advance of each meeting, compile an agenda and send it out ahead of time. Ensure everyone knows what the meeting’s goal is, who is involved, and what they might need to bring to the table. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for fun in meetings, but an agenda helps you respect your workers’ time by making the best use of it. 

4. Encourage personal relationships.

Efficiency is hugely important for good communication, but do not let it get in the way of office camaraderie. Carve out time for your employees to get to know one another on a personal level. Host office lunches and holiday parties. If a meeting involves new faces, do a brief icebreaker activity at the start.

The better your employees know each other as individuals, the better they will be able to communicate with each other and work as a team. If anyone feels left out, the whole team’s efficiency will suffer. 

5. Avoid over-communication.

We’ve all had the experience of coming back to work after a few days out of the office and having 1,000 unread emails in our inbox. Not only does going through those take time, but it adds unnecessary stress and risks miscommunications. With over 281 emails sent and received every day around the globe, over-communication is a real risk.

Be careful not to create an environment where people’s inboxes are constantly flooded with unnecessary or irrelevant messages. Instead of sending out multiple informational emails throughout the week, perhaps you can send out one concise weekly email that summarizes the team’s progress.

Be sure, too, to consider your audience. Does everyone on your team need the information you’re sending? It’s better to over-communicate than to under-communicate, but your workers will start to tune out mass quantities of emails in their inboxes. 

The same principle holds true for meetings. To the best of your ability, invite only the people to each meeting that need the information you’re presenting. Present only the information that those people need. 

Poor communication is frustrating and costly. Be a model of good communication. Put the right processes in place, and you’ll achieve that ideal blend of efficiency and strong relationships.

5 Tools to Slice Distractions From Your Work Schedule

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Distractions are everywhere. Whether you’re working from home, at your company’s office, or from a coffee shop, loud noises and tech-based temptations are there.

As attention spans reach an all-time low and schedules get busier, in-office and at-home workers need new tools to stay focused. The following resources and software are great picks:

1. A physical or digital to-do list

I’ve always been a believer in using to-do lists to stay on task, but it’s taken me years to figure out the format that works best for me. While writing down tasks in a paper planner works well for some people, it’s easy to lose that planner at home or in the mountains of paperwork on your desk.

Give Trello a test drive. The board-based project management tool is great for collaboration, but it’s also an ideal way to organize your own schedule. Create columned lists that correspond to project status: I use “now” “pending” and “completed” lists to organize my tasks. Plus, Trello has Android and iOS apps that make it easy to take your to-do list anywhere you take your smartphone.

2. An online calendar

To-do lists are great, but they’re not the only tool you need to keep distractions at bay. For one, they don’t display appointments, a key part of your schedule. Keep an online calendar to know at a glance what you should be working on when. Update it in the morning, over lunch, and before you leave work each day.

Like digital to-do lists, online calendars make sharing easy. Most of your work projects involve at least one other team member, right? Use a digital calendar to set up appointments with them, show them when you’ll be working on each project, and keep deadlines top of mind for everyone.

3. A web-limiting app

It happens to the best of us: One moment, you’re doing important research online; the next, you’re stuck in a spiral of social media, YouTube videos, and cat memes. Use a tool like SelfControl or Mindful Browsing to keep yourself off distracting sites when you’ve got other things on your schedule.

What if you use sites like Facebook and YouTube for work? Set your web-limiting app to allow five-minute sessions — enough to find the information you need but too little to fall down a rabbit hole. You could also take a softer approach with a tool like Momentum, which reminds you to stay on task whenever you open a new tab. The Google Chrome extension displays your day’s main goal, motivational quotes, and upcoming tasks.

4. A timer

There’s something about knowing the seconds are counting down that keeps you on task. Although you’re technically on the clock any even when you’re working from home, it may not feel that way. Hold yourself accountable to your schedule and get a better sense of where your time is spent by setting a timer whenever you begin a task.

A timer doesn’t need to be fancy to get the job done. Timer Tab has stopwatch and countdown functionality, displaying the current count in a browser tab, but little else. There are no eye-catching ads or extras that might distract you. Use it to put just the right amount of pressure on yourself.

5. A music streaming service

If you are lucky enough to work from home or in an office that lets you listen to music, use a streaming service like Spotify to improve your focus and motivation. Set up your own relaxing-yet-energizing playlists, or try one of Spotify’s suggestions: Workday Lounge, Deep Focus, and Your Favorite Coffee House.

Isn’t music just one more way to lose sight of your schedule, though? Not according to workers. A Robert Half survey showed seven in 10 workers say music makes them more productive, while eight in 10 say they enjoy it. Listen to what you like, but avoid songs with lyrics: Humans are hardwired to tune into spoken communication.

Distractions don’t have to rule your schedule. In the age of tech, you have access to more tools than ever before to stay focused and be productive. Embrace them, and watch the things that distract you during work melt away.

7 Tips to Develop the Perfect Morning Schedule

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Ask any entrepreneur how they do it, and they’re bound to tell you it starts with their morning schedule. “If you win the morning, you win the day,” business guru Tim Ferriss likes to say.

What does it take to “win the morning”? While every entrepreneur has a different routine, they all know the importance of maintaining a healthy, consistent morning schedule. Here are their secrets:

1. Improve your sleep regimen.

The most important part of any solid morning routine is what happens beforehand: sleep. To build the energy, focus, and stamina you need for the day, get between seven and nine hours of uninterrupted rest each night.

How can you maintain that when there are so many demands on your time? Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Keep technology, bright lights, and anything that makes loud noises out of the bedroom. If you experience uneven or poor sleep, keep a sleep journal and ask a medical professional.

2. Wake up early enough.

Although some entrepreneurs swear by waking up before sunrise, not everyone is a morning person. What’s important isn’t necessarily waking up at 5 a.m., but rather waking up early enough to focus on yourself and prepare for your day.

Determine how early you need to wake up by writing down your morning habits. Include everything from brushing your teeth to eating breakfast to taking a jog. Note how much time each task typically takes you. Then, work backward from when you need to leave the house, leaving a five- or ten-minute cushion in case everything doesn’t go as planned.

3. Meditate on the day ahead.

Many health conditions that working professionals suffer from can be traced back to stress. Entrepreneurs have high-stakes meetings with investors, budget reviews, HR matters, and more weighing on their minds.

One of the best ways to start the day well is to meditate. Meditation is proven to reduce stress, fight depression, and increase energy. Some people simply listen to their breathing, while others pray, and still others chan a mantra. Whatever helps you find calmness and clarity for the day ahead, go for it. 

4. Squeeze in quality time.

The proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” has stuck around for a reason. Almost 10 million Americans work 60 or more hours per week, including a good number of entrepreneurs.

Rather than get to work as soon as you wake up, treat your mornings as time away from it. Write in your journal, read a book, go for a walk, or eat breakfast with your family. Whatever is fun for you first thing in the morning, make time for it.

5. Eat a healthy breakfast.

Work days are long. To ensure you have energy for the whole thing, start your day with a glass of water and a healthy breakfast. Even if you’re not a “breakfast person,” water will wake up your body and flush out toxins. Follow it with a banana, a couple of eggs, or a cup of yogurt. Avoid foods heavy in simple carbs, such as sugary cereals and fruit juice.

6. Do more with your morning commute.

Between work and family life, there’s never enough hours in the day to get everything done. If you have a daily commute, use it to your advantage: Accomplish minor tasks, such as online scheduling and answering emails, on your commute so you can focus on the big tasks during your scheduled work hours. If background noise is an issue, use ear plugs to preserve your focus.

7. Know your most productive hours.

Balancing work and life doesn’t necessarily mean that you must work a 9-to-5 job. Think about the hours when you feel sluggish: Is that post-lunch lull a problem? Do you struggle with mid-morning meetings?

If you’re an entrepreneur, simply tell your team that you’re shifting your schedule. Otherwise, talk to your manager about it. If you really shine during the 6-9 a.m. period, she might let you come in early and take off before everyone else. Just be sure you’re available for your work appointments and meetings.

Entrepreneurs who succeed maximize their time. Set up your morning schedule for success, and watch everything else follow in its footsteps. 

6 Tips for Smart Multitasking

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Multitasking isn’t the monster it’s made out to be. Although studies have demonstrated that multitasking can harm your overall productivity, moving between tasks can also keep your mind energized and creativity flowing. 

What’s the key to effective multitasking? It’s about being intentional with your tasks, the order in which you tackle them, and the amount of time you allot to them. Here’s how to do it:

1. Prioritize tasks by value.

Multitasking hurts your productivity most when you use it as a strategy for working on all those smaller, less significant tasks in place of your big projects. Sort and schedule your tasks by importance: Which projects will bring you the most value upon completion?

Major projects take time, meaning you need to take breaks. Use those breaks as opportunities to switch, making a little progress on each project. After you’ve fried those bigger fish, you can reward yourself by knocking out several of those easier items on your list.

2. Set a timer.

Another way multitaskers shoot themselves in the foot? Spending too little or too much time on each project. Devoting five minutes to a major initiative before switching isn’t likely to move the needle. Sinking five hours into it when another deadline looms isn’t a great idea, either.

Instead, set a timer. The amount of time you spend on each project is up to you; the important thing is to be deliberate. Some productivity experts suggest the Pomodoro technique, which calls for 25-minute work sessions bookended by 5-minute breaks. When the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and either rest or move to a lighter task to give your brain a break.

3. Tackle hard tasks in the morning.

Research suggests that most of us are capable of the most productivity in the morning hours, usually 2.5 to four hours after we wake up. Your mornings are the ideal time for multitasking between difficult tasks.

As the morning ends and your energy dwindles, shelve those heavier tasks until the next morning. Using your mornings well can take away the pressure to work on cumbersome projects in the afternoon, when most of us are less energized and effective. If you must multitask in the afternoon, switch between things like scheduling appointments, responding to emails, and returning calls.

4. Block out multitasking time on your calendar.

Because multitasking requires more material to be stored in short-term memory, it takes more mental bandwidth than tackling a single task at a time. That leaves less brain power for distractions like random questions from colleagues.

Rather than let come what may, block off time on your calendar. Schedule “do not disturb” hours to be spent multitasking on those major projects. Hang a sign on your door, and set yourself as “away” on Slack. Ask your coworkers to send you a text or give you a call if something is truly urgent.

5. Group related tasks together.

As you add tasks to your calendar, sort them not only by importance but also by subject. You will find it much easier to jump from task to task when each project is related to the next. That way, you aren’t having to completely switch gears every time you start to work on something else. 

Don’t worry if your categorization method doesn’t make sense to others. Someone else might not understand why, say, you’d switch between social media content development and sales follow ups. But if you need to find a groove to write in a conversational style, go for it.

6. Disconnect from digital distractions.

Especially when working from home, technology can be distracting. From the ping of incoming emails to the temptation of your favorite television show, these small-but-strong interruptions can seriously damage our concentration.

When you sit down to multitask, turn off all your notifications. Better yet, shut down your devices and put them away. If you want to write on paper and later type up your work, go for it. Don’t allow yourself access to your digital devices until you’ve reached a scheduled break.

Everyone multitasks. The question is, are you doing it in a way that slows you down? Know your priorities, conquer your most difficult tasks first, and give yourself mental space. That’s all there is to it.

Organize Your Calendar Like You Organize Your Life

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Living an organized life lets you get more done with less stress. By structuring your days, you keep your business running smoothly without letting your family or social lives fall apart.

But to truly maximize your time, you need to organize your calendar like you organize your life. To squeeze more out of every day:

1. Create a zero-based calendar.

Your day might feel like it’s full of meetings and calls, but in between are breaks that you could use to get more done. A zero-based calendar means that you make a plan for every minute of your day. If something isn’t important enough to deserve a spot on your calendar, then replace it with something that does.

The key is to be exhaustive. Add everything you need to do in a day to your calendar. Your meals, workout, commute, and family time should all be on there. Estimate how long each time should take. Note any blank spaces in your day, and ask how you could use those productively. Remember, you control your calendar — not the other way around. 

2. Accomplish your toughest task first.

What’s the thing you’re dreading most in the day? To make sure that you get it out of the way, put it first on your calendar. Once your most difficult and time-consuming task is out of the way, you’ll feel more motivated and ready to complete the rest of your day’s work. 

Productivity expert Brian Tracey calls this “eating the frog.” Identify your “frog” first thing in the morning, before you even get to the office. Hack at it until you’re finished, forgetting about everything else until that point. Many people do their best work in the morning, so why not spend that time on something you know will be a struggle?

3. Share your calendar with others.

Chances are, most of your tasks involve others. Your team needs to know when you’re available to meet. Your project manager needs to know when you’re working on key initiatives. One huge advantage of using an online calendar is that you can allow your colleagues, clients, and family access to your schedule. That way, there are no surprises or double-booked appointments for anyone. 

Using an online scheduling tool lets you provide times when others can request meetings. By opening your schedule to others, you retain control over it while staying accessible to your team. 

4. Link your personal and professional calendars.

Especially for business owners, schedules don’t always fit into neat little “home” and “work” buckets. Some workdays, you might have a dentist appointment or a parent-teacher conference to attend. On Saturday, you may need to meet an out-of-town client.

To avoid surprises, be sure your professional and personal calendars are integrated. Color-code them to make it easy to spot each event’s type at a glance. And again, give your team access so they know not to disturb you during your daughter’s mid-day dance recital.

5. Group meetings for bigger blocks of free time.

You probably already “chunk” your tasks to a degree: When you’re at the office, your mind is on work. When you’re off, you’re at home enjoying time with family. Manage your calendar the same way by scheduling appointments back-to-back.

Scheduling meetings next to one another creates larger blocks of uninterrupted time for you to accomplish your daily tasks. Try setting meeting days so that you know ahead of time that those days might be less productive. On the flip side, give yourself at least one day per week with no appointments so that you can double down on your work and slim down your to-do list. One more tip: Make sure your appointments or meetings end five minutes before the hour to ensure plenty of time to get from one to the next.

6. Schedule time for yourself.

Just because you schedule each minute of your day doesn’t mean every one of them should be spent on work. Make sure that your calendar accounts for “you” time, whether that means a coffee break, time with your family, a cat nap, working out, or all of the above.

Whatever your priorities are, make sure that those are reflected in the way you schedule your time. And don’t beat yourself up when you take time off. After a long day at work, sometimes the most productive thing you can do is rest. 

Don’t let anyone own your schedule but you. You know how you should be spending your days, both at work and at home. Set your calendar up that way, and watch your productivity grow. 

6 Tips to Respect the Time of Your Team

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Time is precious, but it’s also easy to squander. When you’re an entrepreneur or business owner, you can’t afford to waste your time or that of your employees.

Here’s how to respect your team’s time so that your employees can be as productive as possible:

1. Message First

Interrupting someone mid-task is never a good idea. When you distract someone, you bump them out of their flow, and impact their productivity. In fact, according to this survey 50% of people feel less productive because of workplace distractions. If you need to ask a quick question, or if you realize you need a longer chat with someone, take the time to shoot them a quick message. Learn whether they’re knee deep in a big project, or whether they have time to talk. 

Whether your team uses Slack or some other messaging tool, a quick message goes a long way. Your team will see that you respect their time and care about what they’re working on as much as what you’re working on. 

2. Schedule Time

If you know you need to have an extended discussion with someone, make sure to schedule an appointment with them on their calendar. This allows an employee to not only prepare for the conversation ahead, but also helps them schedule their day accordingly rather than scrambling for a last-minute meeting. 

Being respectful of their calendar and their current workload will help your employees prioritize their work and fit in any last-minute tasks you may have to throw at them. Make sure your team understands best practices for calendar sharing so they respect one another’s time, too.

3. Consolidate and Save Questions for Work Hours

Although it’s tempting to reach out whenever a question arises, try to keep your employee contact within work hours. Sending that 9 p.m. work email makes your recipient feel like they need to be on call at night. We all know how important it is to disconnect, and after-work communication makes it that much harder for your employees to relax after work.

Gather any late-night questions or concerns you may have on a spreadsheet, and shoot your employee a note in the morning about them. Plus, gathering them for one email means fewer interruptions for everyone than if you reached out to them multiple times. 

4. Know Their Prime Work Hours

Everyone has those times of day when they are the most productive. Some get to work early and are most productive before anyone else gets into the office. Others are hyper-focused in the afternoon and knock out their best work then. 

Know your team members’ prime work hours so you can avoid distracting them during those times of day. Ask workers to block off time on their calendar so you can easily check to see when their prime working times are. You’ll know to avoid random chats or tasks during those hours, and your team will have the opportunity to be as productive as possible.

5. Have a Discussion

What’s the best way to know how and when your team prefers to work? Talk to them. Have a discussion with new employees about their working habits, and share your personal habits as well. Open communication with your employees early on will help you get a better grasp on how you can all work efficiently together.

Beware that schedules change. To help everyone be as productive as possible, discuss communication and work habits at least once a month. The more you learn about your own working habits and those of your team, the better you’ll all work together.

6. Be Generous With Time Off

When you show workers that you respect their time, they’re all the more likely to use it wisely. Unless you have a pressing business reason to deny a PTO request, don’t. Default to trust. Let them take time off to care for their sick relative. If someone says that they need a vacation to keep their stress levels in check, encourage them to take it.

While they’re away, apply the same “pressing business need” standard when deciding whether to reach out. Aside from needed passwords and do-or-die client communications, help them keep their mind off the office. Once they’re back at work, they’ll be more productive than ever.

From your CFO to your front-desk associate, everyone’s time is valuable. Recognize that in your office policies, and watch your team’s productivity grow.

Appointment Recognized as Top Scheduling App For Small Business by ReadWrite

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More small business owners, startup founders, and enterprise executives recognize that scheduling and appointments are a critical element necessary for providing an exceptional customer experience. They seek proven tech solutions that can help them deliver on these expectations without killing an often limited available budget for software investment. 

 

Recognizing this need, ReadWrite, a top tech review and news site, recently tested and reviewed numerous appointment scheduling platforms and apps. In a recently published article, ReadWrite named Appointment to the top of its list of the 10 best appointment scheduling software for small businesses. 

 

Among the accolades listed, Appointment was praised for its robust platform and comprehensive set of features ideal for service-based businesses with high volumes of appointments. 

 

Other standout features noted in the article included the ability for Appointment to handle multiple departments, locations, and categories. SSL encryption, fine-grained access controls, reporting capability, and customization further set Appointment apart from other appointment scheduling apps. 

 

ReadWrite also highlighted integration with PayPal, powerful API capabilities, gift certifications and discount cards, reminders and waitlists, and calendar syncing with Outlook, Google, and iCal.

Appointment was in good company with many other notable appointment software solutions listed, including Square Appointments, Appointy, and Calendar.

Read the entire article here.

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