Category Archives: Knowledge Base

4 Covid-19 Changes to Keep for the Long Haul

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4 Covid-19 Changes to Keep for the Long Haul

Covid-19 has forever changed our work, our social interactions, and even how we view ourselves. We’ve come to understand our own limits better, even as we’ve learned the importance of self-care. That doesn’t mean, however, we’ve enjoyed the experience. 

Let’s be honest: Plenty of those changes we’ll be happy to discard once it’s safe to do so. Which of them, however, should we consider keeping for the long haul?

While you’re likely sick of social distancing, there are a few changes beyond more frequent handwashing that you should keep long after the pandemic has ended:

1. Setting Your Own Schedule

Covid-19 turned our world upside down and turned our days into a grey fog of sameness. We learned, intentionally or not, how to clear the haze by controlling our schedule. 

We need our work time, our quiet time, and our family time. As Calendar suggests, we thrive on routine, and losing it can leave us feeling lost and disoriented. 

Make a point, if you don’t already, to separate your work and play spaces. Set clear work and “office” hours. When it’s time to put one down, take the other up with a vengeance. 

To be clear, you don’t need to have every minute of the day rigidly scheduled out. But if there’s one thing you should hold on to once the pandemic is over, it’s the importance of making time for all aspects of your life. 

2. Embracing Mental and Emotional Care

You’ve likely heard the phrase “collective trauma” more than once over the past year. You may have even experienced its symptoms: chiefly irritability, frustration, and depression.  

For many of us, this has required making a conscious effort to cope. It’s meant figuring out what keeps us sane in a world that has, too often, seemed like it’s gone mad. 

Maybe you need to schedule in gym time, some counseling sessions, or even a Covid-safe spa day. Or, to the point above, it might just entail making sure you have uninterrupted family time on your calendar.

Do what you need to take care of yourself. Make your mental and emotional health your top priority this year.

3. Taking Being Sick Seriously

Too often, we treat common colds as annoyances we have to push aside and power through. It’s understandable: colds aren’t, generally speaking, serious illnesses. Covid-19 reminded us that some infections, however, are. 

According to LinkedIn, workers took an average of just 2.5 sick days in 2018. Sick employees aren’t only less productive, but they risk infecting others and affecting their productivity. 

The bottom line is, overextending yourself when you’re sick doesn’t help anyone. Focusing on what’s important and taking the time to recover, on the other hand, helps everyone.

That might involve staying in when you want to go out with friends. It might mean rescheduling a meeting or moving an in-person appointment to a virtual one. Realize that your being ill affects others. So stay home and focus on recovery. 

4. Telecommuting

This change should catch no one by surprise. Over the past year, “telecommute” has become almost as familiar a word as “pandemic.” 

To be sure, not every job or industry is suited for at-home work. Not everyone will have the option to work remotely once Covid-19 has passed. 

For those who can telecommute, however, the arrangement can be a godsend. Remote workers are as productive as, if not more productive than, their in-office team members. Leaders can leverage the perk to expand their talent pool and to save on office costs. 

Make no mistake: offices, gyms, and schools will reopen once the pandemic is over. But at the same time, telecommuting is here to stay. 

Although it can be difficult to see silver linings in something like a pandemic, Covid-19 has its share. The challenge, of course, is seizing them at the same time you steer your life back to “normal.” Fortunately, you have the entire world as company. 

Self-Service Your Customers Will Actually Appreciate

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Self-Service Your Customers Will Actually Appreciate

Reliable customer service is at the center of your business’s client retention strategy. When your team is available for real-time support, customer satisfaction will follow. 

However, 24/7 customer support requires significant resources and isn’t always sustainable. The solution? A comprehensive self-service platform. 

Recent data shows that 67% of customers prefer to self-serve rather than talk to a customer service representative, so now is the time to implement this strategy. 

Self-service allows customers to book appointments and find answers on their own, which in turn saves your business time and money. A robust self-service framework paired with traditional customer service features can help businesses streamline client support, boost customer satisfaction, and allocate resources more effectively. 

The real challenge, though, is getting your customers to use these tools. This guide will cover the basics of self-service and offer some tried-and-true methods for bringing your customers on board. 

Prioritizing Efficiency: The Basics of Self-Service 

Before diving into the how-tos of customer self-service, it’s important to break down this popular approach. In a self-service framework, the client is able to find the answer to their question without contacting customer support. Self-service also applies when customers quickly make online appointments rather than calling or emailing your business directly. 

The benefits of self-service are twofold: clients find the answers they’re looking for without picking up the phone, and your business saves money on customer support personnel. This cuts down on wait times and boosts customer happiness, while allowing your business to focus on everyday operations. 

There are a few self-service options that businesses should keep in mind when building out their framework. 

Online Booking Systems 

In traditional customer support models, clients call or email a business to make an appointment. However, this method can lead to phone tag, long wait times, and simply too many calls for the business to manage. Online booking platforms are a highly effective way to streamline appointments and provide accessible scheduling to a diverse customer base. 

Knowledge Bases 

If your customer service lines are routinely flooded with the same types of questions, a knowledge base can be a useful tool to implement. This page on your website will include answers to your most frequently asked questions, as well as multimedia features like video tutorials and graphics. You can organize the questions by topic and use this page to point customers toward other self-service features, including your online appointments platform. 

Automation 

One of the most common ways that businesses automate customer service is through chatbots — an industry that’s projected to be worth $9.4 billion by 2024. AI-powered chat features can answer questions automatically and point customers to the tools they’re looking for. You can also set up the chatbot to funnel customers to service representatives when necessary. 

Self-service will look different for every business. Appointment-based businesses will benefit greatly from online booking systems, while businesses that sell products might focus more on bolstering their knowledge base. Pinpointing the services that will best serve your customers will set you up for success. 

Leading Your Customers to Self-Service: 5 Key Steps 

When it comes to creating useful self-service tools for your customer base, developing the platform is only half the battle. You also need to get your customers to use it. 

The reality is that many of your clients will tend to stick to what they’re used to. With a bit of persuasion, though, you can change that. Here are a few key ways to show your client base the value of self-service. 

1. Promote Your Self-Service Features 

Customers won’t use self-service tools if they don’t know they exist. So be sure to market your self-service features just as you’d market your product or service. 

Email marketing, onsite pop-ups, and social media posts can be effective ways to highlight the service. Remember that it can take time for customers to adapt to these changes, so plan to keep marketing your new platform long after its launch.

2. Incorporate Multimedia 

New online services can be intimidating. However, you can make these platforms as accessible as possible through multimedia promotion, incorporating videos and graphics when marketing your self-service tools. 

For example, you might create a pop-up video that guides customers through the online booking process. This technique brings the self-service feature to the client’s attention, while showing them exactly how to use it. 

3. Create Clear Navigation 

Ask yourself these questions: Are our self-service tools easy to find on our website? Is our platform easy to use? Can customers easily jump between services? 

Keeping your customer on the site and encouraging them to self-serve starts with clear website navigation. Be sure that your self-service tools are in your header and footer menus. It can also be helpful to route customers to these tools through onsite buttons. 

4. Make It Social 

With over 1 billion Facebook Messenger messages flowing between brands and consumers every month, it’s clear that social strategy and customer support are often one and the same. 

Consider how your business can use your social platforms to guide customers to self-serve. This can involve setting up automated message responses that include a link to a self-service tool. You can also link directly to your online appointments system through your social media pages. Your messaging should promote the idea that your new services are available 24/7 for your customers’ benefit, not yours.

5. Gather Feedback 

Self-service should truly serve your customers’ needs, so it’s important to collect feedback from them and assess whether these tools are effective. You also need to watch your data. 

Keep track of how much traffic these tools are generating, how long customers are staying on the self-service pages, and how your sales numbers change after implementing these platforms. This information will help you adjust your self-service tools to better support your clients. 

Self-service is a user-friendly and scalable solution for customer support. As more consumers flock online, your investment in a self-service platform is likely to reap fast dividends. Once you direct your customers to these tools, your business can renew its focus on providing a better product or service.

Want to Get More Done? Organize Your Thoughts

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Want to Get More Done? Organize Your Thoughts

I’m dragging today because I woke up at 3 a.m. and couldn’t fall back asleep because my mind was racing.

At some point, this happens to all of us. You may be thinking about an upcoming deadline, vacation, or just how much the world has changed. Obviously, not all of these are bad thoughts. But, they can prevent you from getting a good night’s rest to being productive — it’s impossible to focus when your mind is preoccupied with something else.

The answer? You need to organize your thoughts. In addition to improving your sleep and output, you’ll also become more positive, able to absorb information better, and finally, achieve your goals.

But, how exactly can you stop thinking too much and bring order to your thoughts? Well, here are 7 strategies that you can try today.

1. Choose your preferred thought-collecting method.

The first step in organizing your thoughts is figuring out how you want to get them out of your head. If you don’t do this, they’re just going to occupy valuable real estate in your mind. And, even worse, they’re just going to and you until addressed.

The method that you rely on is totally your decision. But, as a general rule of thumb, here are some pointers:

  • Anything that requires action, like scheduling a meeting or picking-up items at the store, could be placed on a list, calendar, or both. After all, we love lists since they bring order to chaos, relieve stress, help the mind focus, and prevent us from procrastinating.
  • Ideas, thoughts, or wishes can be placed on a sticky note, whiteboard, or organizational app like Evernote.
  • Numbers and contacts need to be added to your address book or phone.
  • Household responsibilities can be placed on your to-do-list, Evernote, or shared family calendar or apps like Cozi or OurHome.

Ways to organize your thoughts.

Rashelle Isip, aka the Order Expert, goes even more in-depth on how to organize your thoughts. Here are some of her excellent suggestions:

  • Practical ways for “those times when you need to take stock of the thoughts in your mind,” she writes. “Simply transfer thoughts from your mind onto sticky notes, index cards, or a piece of paper, and you’ll be able to analyze, evaluate, and manipulate your thoughts and ideas as needed.” Other suggestions are drawing a mind map or making a pie chart.
  • Unleash your creative side, and shake things up, by composing a handwritten letter or making a collage. Isip also says that you could create a table of contents, develop a timeline, or voice record yourself. Or, you could just take a shower.
  • “You may not have realized it yet, but you can ‘organize’ your thoughts through a variety of less active methods,” she adds. Examples include working on repetitive tasks, meditating, or sleeping on them.
  • Physical activities that “force you to step out of your mind and express your thoughts through body movement and interactions with others.” Spending time outside and exercise are obvious. But, you could also vent to a friend or family member or become a storyteller.

Personally, when I need to sort things out, or just slow down my racing mind, I take my dog for a long walk. Of course, being outside is awesome. But, I engage in a little self-talk to work things out in my mind.

Regardless of what method you use, just know that you need some sort of system to gather and catalog your thoughts.

2. Add thought-collecting to your daily routine.

Sometimes, you just need to get a thought out of your head as soon as it pops up. For example, while writing this article, I randomly remembered to add pears to my shopping list. I made a note of that and immediately got back to the task at hand.

Other times, you need to strike when the iron is hot. Let’s say you met a contact at a networking event. You should scan their business card or add their contact right there on the spot. And, definitely add a calendar reminder to follow up with them in the very near future.

In most cases, however, you want to be consistent with organizing your thoughts. For me, that means making this a habitual process.

During your morning and/or evening routine, spend 5 or 10 minutes dumping everything out of your head via your preferred method. You don’t have to be overly detailed here. The jest is that you need to free these thoughts and decide what to do next with them.

For instance, you reserve Friday afternoon to plan for next week. You list everything you want to get done. However, you notice that most of your list aren’t priorities meaning you can outsource or eliminate them.

3. Chunk it down.

Have you ever wondered why Social Security numbers are in chunks, such as 123-45-6789? How about why there are hyphens in phone numbers? According to Mike Byster, Founder of Brainetics, LLC, “it’s much easier to remember information when it’s grouped into smaller chunks.”

“I find that my brain prefers to remember things in groups of five, but maybe groups of four or eight will be your magic number, he states.

“Groupings allow you to organize information and sometimes apply other memory strategies, such as keywords, or a code you totally make up using your imagination,” clarifies Byster. What’s more, “this method can be used for a wide variety of tasks,” ranging “from recalling lists of items to remembering basic concepts.”

“In a studying environment, if you’re trying to figure out how to commit to memory a long batch of notes, see if you can break down your detailed notes into chunks of five main concepts,” he suggests. You may find that this can “help you mentally organize all the material and recall the important facts.”

4. Make your ideas work together.

In addition to chunking, you can also sort your ideas by categories. Why? It’s a quick and easy way for you to notice a common theme or how they’re related.

You can even come up with subcategories. “For example, if you’re a fiction writer, you could group some of your ideas under ‘Stories’ and the form you think the story should be told,” writes Lifehacker Founder and CEO Leon Ho. “A drama script, a novel, or short story, etc. Then with separate subgroups for genre such as historical fiction or sci-fi.”

Ho also recommends that you “kill your darlings.”

“‘Kill your darlings’ is important advice for writers,” he adds. “It means that you have to get rid of your most ‘precious’ ideas and words.”

“Not all ideas are equal,” he continues. “In your notes, there could be a truly brilliant original idea, but the chances of them all being like this are unfortunately slim. There is no point wasting your time on an idea that will never work.”

“Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell which of your ideas are great and which are not,” adds Ho. “Trusting your gut can be a good way; talking to people about your ideas and seeing how they react can also be a good idea.”

Just remember to be honest and not let emotions cloud your decision. If that’s a challenge, ask for feedback from someone you trust.

“Once you’ve trimmed your ideas down to the very best, you can work on making them a reality.”

5. Reframe anxious thoughts.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more anxious. And, thanks to COVID-19, my anxiety is now through the roof. And, that’s a problem since anxious thoughts can be hard to shake — even if you’ve written them down, gone for a walk, or tried to categorize them.

Even worse? They can be paralyzing. And, they will certainly warp your view of reality.

How can you deal with these types of thoughts? Reframe them so that you can change your perspective and remove what’s not true.

To get started, here are some therapist approved tips courtesy of SELF:

  • Fact check yourself by making factual statements as opposed to emotional ones.
  • Switch from asking “Is this true?” to “Is this helpful?”
  • When engaged in negative self-talk, think about what you would say to a friend if they had the same thoughts.
  • Focus on being realistic and not just positive.
  • Swap “finding the bright side” with “finding meaning.”
  • Turn a thought into action.
  • Experiment with various techniques until you find what works best for you.
  • If reframing isn’t working, try something else, such as breathing exercises.

6. Take breaks and set shifts.

“Our brains and bodies simply aren’t wired for prolonged periods of work,” notes author and cofounder of TalentSmart Dr. Travis Bradberry. “While it might seem as though sitting at your desk for eight hours straight is the best way to get all of your work done, this can work against you.”

“Research has shown that the most productive work cycle tends to be fifty-two minutes of uninterrupted work, followed by seventeen-minute breaks,” he adds. “While it probably isn’t realistic to structure your schedule this rigidly, for most people, the battle is won by just remembering to take breaks.” I’d add that creating calendar reminders or using the Pomodoro Technique can encourage you to take frequent breaks throughout the day.

If that is too regimental for you, I’d say that you take breaks whenever it’s convenient for you. For example, if you’re trying to focus on your work, and your mind is racing, it might be better to stop what you’re doing and go for a walk to clear your head.

“Once you’ve taken a break, you must shift your focus back to your task,” advises Dr. Bradberry. “No matter how ‘in the zone’ you were before taking a break, you’ll sometimes find that you’re back to square one when it comes to focus.”

How can you do a proper set shift? “You have to reorganize your thoughts by:

  • Making sure that the task at hand isn’t too challenging or easy.
  • Controlling and managing your emotions.
  • Sustaining your focus by removing distractions.

“You’ll find that getting back into flow quickly after a break is very doable, he says. “But it must be done purposefully.”

7. Master the art of letting go.

Anger, frustration, and worry are all natural emotions. But, they’re not healthy or necessary. Furthermore, they consume your valuable time and energy.

If you can, let these feelings go. I know, easier said than done. But, it’s possible by trying tactics like:

  • Accepting what’s true and being thankful.
  • Focusing on what you can control.
  • Living in the moment through mantras and meditation.
  • Admitting that perfection doesn’t exist.
  • Finding creative outlets, like drawing or writing.
  • Being authentic by embracing vulnerability.
  • Seeking moments of solitude and silence to reflect and develop a plan.

What’s next?

After getting your thoughts out of your head and organizing them, you can pursue those that have value. As for the rest? You can toss them aside like yesterday’s trash.

15 Ways To Kick-Start 2021

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15 Ways To Kick-Start 2021

2020 was definitely something else. And, like every other person in the world, I’m happy to be done with it. Here are 15 ways to kick-start 2021.

How am I saying good riddance to this terrible, no-good of year? By trying to make 2021 the best year possible. Obviously, the virus isn’t in my hands, but I do have control over the following.

1. Reflect on the past year.

John Maxwell, the author of The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, has an annual tradition. During the week in between Christmas and New Years’, he revisits his calendar and reflects on how he spent his time.

“The seven days I spend reviewing my year are the most productive days I’ll have in any 12 months,” he writes. “They help me focus on what I’ve accomplished and have yet to do.” And, they aid him in identifying “habits or patterns that need attention.”

Additionally, this assists him in refining his daily schedule to continue his personal growth journey. “Nothing else I do compares to the return on investment my year-end review brings me,” Maxwell states.

How can you put this into practice? Well, here’s what Maxwell does every year:

  • Set aside time to review. “Good intentions aren’t enough here—you have to make time for the process,” he stresses. “If you’re just starting out, you won’t need a full week; a solid half-day (4 hours) will do.”
  • Gather the right materials. “You can’t review how you spent your time without a record of that time.” Have your calendar, journals, and even checkbooks handy.
  • Ask the right questions. Maxwell “interrogates” his calendar by asking tough questions. These can include, “Was that a good use of my time?” “What’s there that should’ve been deleted?” and “What will I do differently this year?”
  • Write down what you learn. Maxwell says that this a crucial step. “You need to record your thoughts as you have them, or else they’ll get away.”
  • Look for the patterns. “Between your calendar and what you write down, you will notice patterns emerging from the data,” he adds. “Grab onto them because they become your roadmap for action.”
  • Plan out next year. “Once you’ve had time to interrogate, think, write, and discover, it’s time to put everything you’ve learned into motion,” he adds. That means putting “your biggest priorities and put them into your calendar first. ”

2. Define (and schedule) your priorities.

Let’s piggyback off that last piece of advice from Maxwell. Why? Because, in the timeless words of Stephen Covey, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

But, what exactly are your main priorities in life? Well, that’s different for everyone. However, in a previous Calendar post, Albert Costill suggests that “they should be the things that don’t cause you pain. And, they should “assist you in becoming the best possible version of yourself, such as the following areas:”

  • Your MBS. “Your main priority in life, without question, should always be your mind, body, and spirit,” writes Albert. “Maybe it’s because we perceive this as being selfish that it’s often taken for granted. But, take a second and really think about it.” Do you neglect your well-being? If so, “then how can get the most out of life, be productive, or be of service to others?”
  • Healthy relationships. Close relationships, mainly friends and family, are vital for a healthy and happy life.
  • Dreams and aspirations. “Whether you want to call this your calling, passion, purpose, or why, if you want to have a fulfilling life, then you need to identify what makes you tick,” says Albert. “Then, you need to pursue it no matter what.”
  • Self-development. “Continuous learning and growth are essential,” he adds. “Whether if it’s enhancing your hard and soft skills and knowledge, this will make you a more well-rounded individual personally and professionally.”
  • Time and productivity. Reviewing your calendar and journals, as Maxwell does, can help you conduct a time audit to see how you spend your time.
  • Happiness. Life is way too short. Always make the time to do what you enjoy.
  • Security. “Finally, you need to attain a level of security,” says Albert. “At the minimum, that means having a job that can put a roof over your head and food on the table.”

After you have defined what’s more important to you, block them out in your calendar so that they always come first.

3. Plan your goals.

Without fail, we make resolutions because we get swept up in the spirit of the season. Here’s the reality, though.80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by February.

If that’s the case, then we do keep setting ourselves up for failure? “By establishing objectives, resolutions create an end result to center your goal-making on,” explains team Tony. A goal, on the other hand, “is a series of calculated steps designed to help you achieve the resolution.”

“Goals, not resolutions, are the key to long-term growth and success,” they continue. “And the secret to setting compelling goals is knowing why it is you want what you want – finding purpose and meaning in your goals.”

With that in mind, forget about making New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, replace them “with objectives that work.” And, you can achieve this by:

  • Decide and commit to making a change. “Make the decision now that you’re going to change some aspect of your life, and then commit to making it happen,” recommend Team Tony.
  • Document what you want. Jot down exactly what you want so that you’ll remember. You can also refer to this if you get off-track.
  • Find absolute certainty and take action. When starting out, it’s OK not to know how you’ll make it a reality. “But regardless of how far along you are in your plan to achieve your goal, you must operate from a mindset of absolute belief and faith that you can accomplish it.”
  • Measure your progress. “Set a reasonable timeline for your goals, and measure your progress along the way,” advises Team Tony.
  • Keep going. Setbacks are to be expected. Don’t throw in the towel, though. Learn, grow, and continue moving forward.

4. Organize your activities for the next 6 to 12 months.

There’s another benefit of reviewing your calendar that Maxwell didn’t include. It’s able to spot recurring events. It could be anything from weekly meetings, fundraisers, birthdays, vacations, or your kid’s school schedule.

Obviously, the exact dates won’t line-up. But, it will give you an idea of what activities to anticipate this year. And, if there’s one lesson I remember from G.I. Joe, it’s that knowing is half the battle.

In other words, if you know that during the first two weeks of July, your family goes on a trip, then put that in your calendar so that nothing else will get scheduled. More importantly, this gives you enough of a head’s up to plan accordingly, so that you won’t worry about work when away.

5. Fine-tune your routine.

Compared to the beginning of last year, your routine has been disrupted. Don’t harp too much on this. After all, none of us foresaw a pandemic that would change the world.

While you might have made do to get through this tumultuous year, it’s time to get back on track. Ideally, this means setting morning and evening rituals to refill your emotional gas tank. And creating a schedule that allows you to follow through on your goals and priorities.

6. Take out the trash.

Before you can move forward, you need to let go of what’s holding you back. Think of it this way. You want to ride your bike more often to get in shape, but your garage is so full of junk you can’t reach it.

In the scenario above, you might just throw your hands up in defeat. But, if you clean and organize the space, you can finally get to your bike. And, since you removed the obstacle, there’s no longer an excuse for not going on a bike ride.

Give the new year a fresh start by decluttering your home, workspace, and vehicle. You don’t have to do this in one marathon session. Just tackle one area at a time, like spending a weekend in your home office and the next in your kitchen.

Next up? Digital clutter. Organize your inbox, electronic files, and remove unnecessary apps from your phone. And, don’t forget to go on a social media cleanse.

Also, remove toxic people from your life. Rather than continuing to waste your time and energy on these types of people, connect with those who will support and inspire you.

7. Commit to doing something new — every day.

Personally, I enjoy learning. It’s probably my favorite pastime. This is a proven way to gain new perspectives, foster innovation, become more self-confident, and reduce stress.

But who actually has the time to do this daily? Truth be told. We all do.

When it comes to learning, it doesn’t mean spending a couple of hours each day or week taking a class. It could be as simple as listening to a podcast while exercising or subscribing to feeds like Did You Know.

Other suggestions? Read a book right before bed, sign-up for newsletters, or just talk to people. For example, you could have a weekly phone-call with an elderly family member or team member and just listen to their past experiences.

8. Find your focus.

If you’ve already begun taking out the trash, then you’re well on your way. For instance, those with an organized desk are less stressed and more focused. Moreover, studies have found that smartphones, the internet, social media, and email are the most common distractions at work.

Again, clean, organize, and spruce up your workspace. Furthermore, uninstall apps that you no longer use. And, when you’re working, silence your phone or block apps/websites during this timeframe.

Since you’re probably working from home, try to work in a quiet area of the house. If that’s not an option, be transparent with your housemates. Let them know when you don’t want to be disturbed and when you’re available.

9. Give yourself more time.

This isn’t exactly true. I mean, we all have the same amount of time each day. And, it’s not like a genie is going to grant us the wish of having more than 24-hours.

Instead, brainstorm ideas on how to find little nuggets of free time throughout the day. For example, you could set your alarm 20-minutes earlier so that you can meditate, write, or exercise. If you wake-up in the middle of the night, this might be an ideal time for creative work.

Another idea would be to take a work call when taking your leisurely walk. When organizing your workspace, invite your kids to join in on the fun. Or delegate and outsource less important tasks to others.

10. Make your mental and emotional wellbeing a priority.

“Mental health is the silent pandemic that is also happening right now,” says Uma Naidoo, M.D., nutritional psychiatrist, chef, nutrition expert, and author of This Is Your Brain on Food. “With lockdowns, quarantine, physical distancing, and ongoing uncertainty—loneliness is at its peak for many. The individuals who are thriving are few and far between, as the majority of individuals are lonely and isolated with limited supports.”

In fact, research shows that the prevalence of depression symptoms was three times higher during the COVID-19 pandemic than before. More troubling? In August, the CDC surveyed 5,412 adults, and 10% admitted they seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days (compared to 4.3% in 2018).

“2020 has taught us that instead of sticking metaphorical Band-Aids on things, escaping from symptoms, or simply chasing temporary relief, we have to look at the source and redesign a life,” Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, a psychologist and executive coach.

Right now, it’s OK not to be OK. You’re not weak if you need to reach out for help. Once you admit that and remove the stigma, find ways to attend to your mental and emotional wellbeing.

While this will vary from person-to-person, you can use teletherapy or your support system. You can also schedule a time for self-care or physical activity. It’s also recommended that you strengthen your emotional muscles by reflecting on positive feedback.

11. Start a 30-day challenge.

It’s not uncommon for us to overindulge throughout the holidays — especially during the year, we just survived. I can tell that I’ve put on a couple of pounds between not exercising as much and enjoying one too many sweets. And that’s exactly why I’m getting back into the swing of things in January.

A popular way to get back in shape and drop a few lbs is to partake in a month-long challenge, such as Whole30 or Dry January. There even challenges, like the 52-Week Money Challenge, to help you get your finances in order.

What’s appealing about something like a 30-day challenge is that they’re pretty much mini-goals to encourage healthy habits. As such, they seem more attainable than those lofty and time-consuming New Year’s Resolutions — which, again, we don’t stick with.

Here’s the thing to remember, though. Building new habits take time. In fact, research shows that it usually takes 66 days to form new habits.

What a 30-day challenge can do is at least get the ball rolling. To ensure that you succeed in making a lasting change, choose a challenge that is realistic and aligns with your goals.

And, tye a new habit to an existing one. James Clear calls this habit stacking. An example of this would be, “After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute.”

12. Find (or become) a mentor.

Regardless of what stage of life you’re in or the level of success you’ve achieved, finding a mentor is more important than ever. After all, they are here to coach, challenge, motivate, and protect you. They can also pass along advice, as well as help you set goals and grow personally.

Of course, finding a mentor and working with them in-person is a challenge during the era of COVID. But, you can still connect with them virtually, like through social media or webinars. And, you can meet with them consistently through video calls.

What’s more, a mentor doesn’t have to be someone you personally know. Let’s say that an entrepreneur like Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, is someone you look up to. Reading her books and watching YouTube speeches could count as being a mentor.

And, when you feel like you no longer need to be mentored, pay it forward by mentoring others. You may think that you don’t have the availability. But, if you recall, it’s all about work-life integration. You could catch-up with your mentee for 3-minutes every Friday while on your afternoon walk.

13. Keep connecting with others.

Between lockdowns, social distancing, and remote work, most of us feel lonely and isolated. Personally, I was able to make it through the year. But, the holidays were tough since I couldn’t be around friends and family.

While certainly not the same, block out times in your day to connect with others. It could be a text to a friend, a nightly phone call with your parents, or a weekly virtual lunch to check-in with your team.

14. Go easier on yourself.

One of the most important lessons to come out of 2020 was going a little easier on yourself.

Remember those extremely high expectations you set? You probably didn’t achieve them — in no fault of your own. There was a pandemic surging, and you had no control over how they would impact your plans.

Are you still holding on to past failures or losing sleep over the “shoulds”? Are you striving for perfection? None of that matters at the end of the day.

In the new year, cut yourself some slack. Learn from past failures and mistakes. Let go of the things that you can’t control. And, practice daily affirmations, such as Stuart Smalley’s, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me.”

15. Slow down and enjoy life.

“Slowing down is a conscious choice, and not always an easy one, but it leads to a greater appreciation for life and a greater level of happiness,” writes Zen Habits founder Leo Babauta. After the year that was 2020, I think truer words have never been spoken — or written in this case.

How can you actually slow things down in 2021? Leo suggests that you do the following:

  • Do less. “Focus on what’s really important, what really needs to be done, and let go of the rest,” he advises.
  • Be present. Focus only on what you’re doing at the moment.
  • Disconnect. Find opportunities to unplug, like leaving your phone in another room when you’re reading or playing with your kids.
  • Focus on people. When you’re talking to someone else, be fully engaged with them.
  • Appreciate nature. Even if it’s cold outside, spend some more time hanging out with Mother Nature.
  • Eat slower. “Instead of cramming food down our throats as quickly as possible — leading to overeating and a lack of enjoyment of our food — learn to eat slowly,” writes Leo.
  • Drive slower. Let your foot off the gas a bit to appreciate your surroundings and contemplate your life.
  • Find pleasure in anything. “Whatever you’re doing, be fully present … and also appreciate every aspect of it, and find the enjoyable aspects,” he states.
  • Single-task.Stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time.
  • Breathe. “When you find yourself speeding up and stressing out pause, and take a deep breath.”

So, those are my suggestions on how to kick-start 2021. Do you have any other ways on how to get the new year started on the right foot?

9 Gadgets to Warm Up Your Waiting Room

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How to Handle Appointment Scheduling When Schedules Change

While some people love winter, no one enjoys being cold. Customers who are freezing in your waiting room won’t be very happy during their visit. And if they’re not happy with their visit, they aren’t likely to come back. 

Although it might sound like a small consideration, it means a lot to your customers: Keep your waiting room warm and toasty. If your HVAC system isn’t up to the task, these gadgets can go the distance:

1. Smart Thermostat

The No.1 problem with keeping a waiting room warm is the constant opening and closing of doors. Each new customer brings with them a chilly breeze, preventing those already in the room from getting comfortable. You can solve this dilemma with a smart thermostat. 

A smart thermostat sense uses predictive technology to crank up or down the heat. Yours might signal to your HVAC unit that it should preheat the office at 9 a.m. to account for how frequently your front door opens. To save money, you can lower the office temperature when people aren’t there, perhaps from 5 p.m. until the next morning. 

2. Space Heater

Remember how your family kept that back bedroom warm in the winter? A small space heater can make even the chilliest of offices comfortable.

Space heaters come in many shapes, sizes, and price ranges. Do your research to find the right one for your waiting room. Smaller waiting rooms can get away with smaller heaters. Rooms that are larger or draftier, or have doors that are constantly opening and closing, may need a larger model. 

3. Electric Fireplace

Why not take the power of a space heater and add some holiday flair? An electric fireplace provides a cozy atmosphere that creates psychological comfort as well as actual heat. 

The one drawback to an electric fireplace is that it requires more setup than a standard space heater. You can’t just plug a fireplace into the nearest outlet and call it good. 

Look for a place where a fireplace would be appealing. If you buy a wall-mounted unit, pay for professional installation. Not only will doing so save you a lot of work, but it will reduce the risk of fire. 

4. Hot Chocolate Machine

Some days are so cold you need to warm yourself from the inside out. When layers of clothes and space heaters just won’t cut it, a mug of hot chocolate will do the trick. This delicious solution can liven up any waiting room. 

When installing a hot chocolate machine in your lobby, be sure to keep COVID-19 in mind. Use disposable cups. Clean the area as frequently as possible to prevent the spread of the virus. 

5. Draft Stoppers

Even when your company’s doors are closed, chilly air can still slip through the cracks. Stopping those winter winds will keep everything inside warm while cutting your heating bills down to size.

Best of all, draft stoppers are easy to install. A simple door skirt takes only five nails and five minutes to attach. A crack-sealing foam takes all of 30 seconds to spray. Give stoppers and filled cracks a fresh coat of paint to improve their visual appeal. 

6. Heating Pads

Many businesses provide little treats for their customers, like a doctor’s office with a jar full of lollipops. Who’s stopping you from doing the same with hand and feet warmers? Little personal heating pads would make a great addition to your waiting room for those customers who just can’t seem to warm up.

One difference between heating pads and treats is that the latter doesn’t need a warning sign. Encourage customers to be cautious with heating pads, especially on direct skin. Provide towels for them to wrap heating pads in. 

As with any shared office item, be sure to clean heating pads and towels after use. Look for ones that are machine washable to make this easy. 

7. Heated Massagers

A waiting room with a massage chair is an instant winner. Plus, back and feet massagers often come with a heating setting to melt away stress and sore muscles. 

Providing enough massage equipment for a full waiting room can be a tough bill to foot. Consider providing a few and placing a time limit on how long each customer is allowed to use it. That way, every customer gets a chance to de-stress and warm up. 

8. Drying Rack

Snow, hail, and freezing rain leave customers not just cold, but wet as well. Don’t make customers sit in their wet clothes. Provide a rack near the door so they can hang coats and gloves up to dry.

Unlike the massage chair, this is an inexpensive upgrade. If you want to do something unique, offer a shoe-drying station where customers can put their cold, wet feet until their name is called.  

9. Face Masks

This two-for-one solution might already be in place. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many businesses are requiring all customers to wear masks. While their goal is to reduce viral transmission, face masks also provide warmth.

To feed two birds with one scone, provide masks at the entrance of your business for all visitors. Doing so will keep everyone healthy and warm up noses that have been nipped by Jack Frost.

A warm customer is a happy one. Be careful not to bake them, but do make them as comfortable as you can. That way, as soon as they leave your business, they’ll want to go back. 

Good Leaders Don’t Surround Themselves With “Yes” People

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When you’re hiring, your initial instinct might be to build your company full of people pleasers. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to have people who are more than willing to help? You probably also like the fact that your new hire wants to explore new opportunities and they are extremely reliable.

If you’re fortunate, as you suppose, your new hire will probably even share similar backgrounds and interests. And, you probably won’t have to worry about them causing any trouble — like questioning your leadership skills.

Sure. In theory, that sounds like a good deal. Realistically, though, only surrounding yourself with “yes” people is a terrible, no good idea.

The dangers of “yes” people.

The major drawback of people pleasers is that they have problems with time management. Because they’re willing to lend a hand or take new responsibilities they fall behind deadlines. Also, since “no” isn’t in their vocabulary, they end-up stretching themselves way too thin.

Eventually, that reliability that made them an asset is out the window — they may even become resentful of you. They’re now scrambling to catch-up. And, that’s just a one-way-ticket to Burnoutville.

What’s more, they also have difficulty maintaining a healthy relationship with work and life. Everyone, no matter who you are, needs time away from work. It’s a proven way to rest and recharge so that you can be at 100% peak productivity.

Being on all of the time may also cause problems with their personal relationships. Instead of attending a family gathering, they’re trapped in the office working on next week’s presentation. That may not seem like a bid deal, but relationships are the key to happiness — and if you’re not happy, you’re not productive.

As if that weren’t enough, they are unwilling to share with you critical feedback. As a consequence, this may prevent you from correcting workplace operations. They may also be hesitant to make suggestions on how to improve the products or services you offer.

Also, if they aren’t transparent with you, then don’t expect them to critique you. I understand that hearing constructive criticism is never easy. But, it’s essential if you want to grow as a person and leader.

The solution? Well, as industrialist and founder of Wrigley Chewing Gum Walter Wrigley Jr. once said, “When two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

In other words, don’t surround yourself with “yes people.” Instead, have a diverse team that challenges you. And, you can do that by…

1. Fill in the blanks.

Take a good look at your team. What skills are lacking? How diverse is your current staff?

Answering these questions is a great starting point. Hiring someone based on specific needs is obvious. For example, if you need a coder, then you’re going to go out and find the best one available But, the second question can be tricky.

“Although you own the business, don’t be fixated on hiring people from only particular backgrounds,” recommends Choncé Maddox in a previous Calendar article. “After all, the business world is very dynamic. To ensure you are adaptable to inevitable changes, get employees from as many backgrounds as possible.”

“As much as where the concerned employee is coming from is important, it is their potential to grow with your business that really matters,” adds Choncé. “In just about five to ten years, your business is going to change. Ask yourself where the concerned employee fits in the whole picture.”

If need further assistance hiring a diverse team, here is a 6-step process from Ideal:

  • Conduct a diversity hiring audit on your current hiring process
  • Pick one metric to improve for your diversity hiring
  • Increase your diversity hiring in your candidate sourcing
  • When candidate screening, look beyond criteria like their prior company, school, or personal connection.
  • Increase your diversity hiring in your candidate shortlisting using technology to remove bias
  • Evaluate your diversity hiring metrics

2. Grant autonomy.

While there are times when you might have to micromanage your team, most of the time you need to grant autonomy. For control freaks, that can induce a panic attack. However, it’s one of the best ways for your team to learn and grow.

More importantly? Giving your peeps this type of freedom keeps them motivated and engaged. And, on your end, you’ll have less on your plate.

Simply put. Autonomy is a win for everyone from the top to the bottom. And, despite your fears, it’s easy to implement if you do the following:

  • Clearly communicate why the work they’re doing is important. Don’t forget to also frequently share your mission and vision as well.
  • Allow them to speak their minds. Solicit feedback on your performance. You could also leave room at the end of meetings for them to share their opinions. Or, you could go old school with a suggestion box.
  • Let them choose how, when, and where to work.
  • Allow them opportunities to showcase their strengths and pursue their interests.
  • Give them the right tools and resources to succeed.
  • Make sure that you’re delegating the right job to the right person.

3. Listen effectively.

“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say” — Andy Stanley

Arguably, one of the most important traits leaders can have is to actually listen to what others are saying. Sometimes that can be as easy as speaking less and asking lots of questions. Other times you may need to utilize techniques like not going into the conversation with an agenda.

Overall though, getting back to communication basics is your best course of action. I’m talking about making eye contact, not looking at your phone, and responding accordingly. You may not like what you’re hearing, but that’s no excuse to lose your cool.

4. Let them fail.

As someone who has experienced failure, I can tell you that it’s never a pleasant experience. At the same time, failure has pushed me to become more resilient. I’d even say that it’s been the greatest teacher I’ve ever had.

With that in mind, let your team have an occasional setback. I know that just the thought of this may keep you up at night. But, it will encourage them to grow as individuals and think innovatively.

In the immortal words of Micheal Jordan, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

5. Seek out different perspectives.

Outside of work, you should also surround yourself with people who challenge you. Besides helping you embrace this at work, it will help you become a better person. And, you can do so by:

  • Joining an exercise group that pushes you and holds you accountable.
  • Attending conferences, after-hour meetups, or mastermind groups outside of your niche.
  • Finding a creative community, to learn something new or discover a new interest.
  • Networking and engaging with people who have diverse opinions on social networks.

9 Easy Website Changes to Enhance Your UX

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Freelancer working

For a solid online appointment system, you need a website with a good user experience, or UX. The more easily a customer can navigate your website, the more likely they are to book an appointment. On the other hand, UX difficulties can frustrate customers and drive them away.

The good news is, you don’t need to tear down your website entirely to improve your UX. Small changes in the right places can make all the difference. These nine website adjustments are bound to improve your site’s UX:

1. Clearly Display Your Call to Action

If the goal of your website is to guide customers toward booking an appointment online, make it easy for them. Finding where to make an appointment shouldn’t be a treasure hunt; it should be front and center. 

Place your appointment CTA in an obvious place, if it isn’t already. A large button with bold lettering will attract attention and make it abundantly clear where customers need to go to book appointments

2. Adapt to Mobile

Not all of your potential clients will visit your website on a computer. More and more consumers rely on their mobile devices to do research, make purchases, and book appointments. If your website isn’t optimized for a mobile experience, you’ll be missing out on a lot of traffic.

There’s no need to create a whole app for this. Optimizing your website for mobile should only require a couple of tweaks. The layout will need to be slightly different for smaller screens, but the design and content can likely remain the same. Most content management systems will make sure your site is easy to navigate no matter the device.

3. Optimize Loading Speed

Run a test to check how long it takes for pages of your website to load. In particular, see how your online appointment system’s buffering time stacks up against your competitors’.

Long loading times discourage customers from sticking around and booking. They’ll either look for options elsewhere or opt to walk in instead.

A simple way to optimize your load speed is to compress any images you use. This is one of the leading causes of slow response time and one of the easiest to fix. More in-depth solutions, such as backend optimizations, can further improve your site’s performance.

4. Smooth Out — and Punch Up — Your Writing

Websites with beautiful designs and images immediately catch attention. But to persuade potential clients to book an appointment, you will need — as any preschooler can tell you — to “use your words.”

Headings and bodies of text should be easy to read, both in design and content. Text that is difficult or tedious to wade through will render your website almost useless.

You know the strengths of your business better than anyone, so express them in clear, engaging language. By laying out the benefits of an appointment with you in a concise and attention-grabbing way, you will guide customers to their first booking. 

5. Tighten Up Your URL

On a scale from 1 (booknow.com) to 10 (supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.com), how long is your website’s URL? While bookmarks and autofill settings certainly help out with long links, short and sweet is usually the way to go. Customers can discover your website much more easily and can commit your site to memory when the URL is a manageable size.

There are many companies that buy and sell domain names you can use for your business. If your .com choice is already taken, consider a .biz as an alternative.

You can also use a service that shortens existing URLs when including them in online promotions. Whatever you can do to make your URL more manageable and memorable for customers is a must. 

6. Keep It Simple

Customers attempting to navigate your website shouldn’t be forced to jump through hoops. Information and resources should be easy to access and locate. A complicated website will lead to a poor user experience.

That’s particularly the case when your goal is encouraging clients to schedule appointments. If setting up an appointment takes too many steps to complete, customers will bail out. Keep things simple, and you’ll encourage customers to return in the future. 

7. Include Communication Tools

Want to click with your customers? Adding communication features to your website can really reel them in when they visit your site. The right tools can quickly guide visitors to exactly what they need. When you reduce the time it takes site visitors to find what they’re looking for, you increase user satisfaction. 

For example, a chatbot can be programmed to respond to customers’ basic questions. These rapid responses will set the user up for success as soon as they access your site. If you get a lot of website traffic, you can even consider hiring live customer service agents to handle questions and concerns.

8. Add a Form

Forms are a simple yet effective tool for generating leads. Not only can you gather new customers this way, you can get feedback that reveals improvements you can make to your business.

Site visitors can use a form on your homepage to do something simple, like request email updates with promotions or coupons. You, in turn, can attach a survey to the form asking customers about their user experience. Act on their feedback to improve your UX and your general business operations based on their responses.

9. Incorporate Analytics

All kinds of website-related activity will yield useful data. Clickthrough rates, landing page hits, and conversions are all metrics that have value to your business. They also tell a story about your website’s user experience.

Set up an analytics tool that can start tracking key data for you. As you gather data, it will guide you to changes you need to make to your site. Whether the data points to some of the steps above or something entirely different, data-driven decisions are some of the most effective. 

Customers are the lifeblood of your business, and these days, they increasingly come to you through your website. Ensuring your site offers a good UX is key to encouraging that first appointment and prompting repeat visits. So conduct a website audit and identify ways you can improve your user experience today.

Operations Team Productivity: What They Do (and How to Build and Improve Yours)

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Even with the most competitive offerings or the most capable people representing them, it’s almost impossible for companies to achieve great things without reliable operations.

Not all small and mid-sized businesses have dedicated operations support, of course. Until they grow more sustainable, smaller companies might integrate operations into other divisions instead. But the danger there is allowing your teams to work in silos. And “by denying the opportunity to collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas,” says The 20 Media founder Pratik Dholakiya, “businesses contribute to their own speedy demise.”

Guess what helps reconnect those dots to keep everyone working toward the same goal? A dedicated operations team.

If you think it’s time to scale your operations workforce, you’re in the right place. In this post, you’ll learn how ops teams run businesses like well-oiled machines and the best ways to build your own.

First, the basics: What are operations, and how does this business function work?

The Operations Team Productivity: Roles and Responsibilities

Would you climb Mount Denali without a guide?

It’s a little easier to climb a behemoth like Denali with a trained mountaineer who can plot the course, gather all the right supplies, and plan for emergencies like bad weather.

In a company, that’s the operations team’s job.

An ops team’s #1 mission is to manage and optimize the details that keep its organization running profitably. That means delivering the resources that enable other departments to do their job – at peak efficiency and effectiveness – and cost-effectively converting their efforts into products and services that meet customers’ needs.

Phew. Let’s break that down a little. Here are a few examples of how the team supports each of the company’s stakeholders:

Employees

Operations might be responsible for keeping plenty of talent in the recruitment pipeline, promoting interdepartmental communication, supervising other teams’ activities, and figuring out how to best leverage resources to prevent and solve problems.

Executive team

Operations also lead business predictability by helping the C-Suite plan KPIs and holding them financially accountable. Some ops professionals are specifically trained to neutralize legal issues, too.

Customers

Ops teams rarely come into direct contact with customers, but it’s still their responsibility to make sure the company delivers the right products to the right customers on time. The product team relies on operations to recommend improvements, as ops are best positioned to weigh customer feedback against the company’s capacity.

Vendors

As any great ops professional will tell you, ensuring quality output means ensuring value at the source. To do this, the ops team focuses on acquiring inventory and services that maximize productivity, minimize risk and costs, and deliver on customer expectations.

You might have noticed a common thread here. For just about all activities, operations teams prioritize quality management. Not necessarily Steve Jobs-level attention to every detail of the business, but enough to:

  • Produce what needs to be produced without delays, errors, or rework.
  • Drive down failure costs, both internally and externally.
  • Find the best possible solutions to problems in any situation.
  • Ultimately inspire all stakeholders to champion the company’s value.

Before it can manage the quality of other business units, of course, operations must first manage itself. What’s the best set-up to achieve all these goals?

How to Build an Effective Operations Team

Step 1: Start from the Top Down.

A functional and well-run operations team relies on great support from the top down. Beyond the usual traits of great leaders, your ops manager will need a solid grasp of:

  • Various processes across the company, so your team can confidently coordinate and develop new methods.
  • Supply chain management, including knowledge of manufacturing, logistics, and transportation, if you’re a product-based company.
  • Problem-solving means pulling information from both an analytical and creative perspective.
  • Learning how to communicate effectively with all stakeholders.

Sure, all leaders need to communicate and solve problems. But an ops manager uses these skills on a bigger scale to unite people and processes seamlessly across the entire organization.

TIP: You can make your ops manager’s job much easier by making lines of communication easy to access. Digital channels (like project management or messaging apps) should be accessible for your ops teams to use on the go when they’re on a call, for example, while regular meetings can be a powerful way to sync up teams (as long as they’re not too regular). A written manual on communications processes can help clear up any confusion.

With those resources in place, you’re ready to think about the structure of the rest of the team.

Step 2: Organize Your Operations Team Structure.

In their book, The Practice of Cloud System Administration, three Silicon Valley-based authors describe the three sources and categories of operational work:

Sources of work

  1. Life-cycle management or the functional work — means to run a service within the company.
  2. Stakeholder interaction means meeting the needs of the people who use the service.
  3. Process improvement and automation mean the operational work needed to improve and upgrade various processes continually.
 

Categories of work

  1. Emergencies like power outages or emergency requests from other teams.
  2. Standard requests include questions about how to use a service or reports of the problems users experience.
  3. Project work, or the projects that automate and optimize team/company systems.

“It can be tempting to organize an operations team into three subteams, each focusing on one source of work or one category of work,” the authors write. But that creates those dreaded “silos of responsibility.”

Luckily, there’s a much simpler way to organize your team: Make project work the priority.

If you want to run your ops team at peak efficiency, you’ll need to focus most of its bandwidth on projects. Projects save them running from emergency to emergency until they burn out, or from slowing down to deal with interruptions (a big productivity killer).

How do you prioritize project work while responding to emergencies and requests promptly? There are two ways:

  1. Assign an emergency response team. If one person owns emergencies, and other standard requests, means that the rest of the team is free to focus all its energy on projects. TIP: Make sure the ERT emails out reports to the rest of the team, including alerts logged, action taken, trends noticed, and recommendations going forward.
  2. Take turns. Using a useful calendar management tool, you can move the team through a rotation for on-call duty (emergencies) and ticket duty (standard requests). TIP: Schedule each shift for no more than a week. Say you had a team of eight people; this would give each member a full six weeks of the cycle to focus on projects.

Depending on the size of the team’s workload, your ops manager might want to assign both on-call and ticket duty to one person or multiple people to one task. As long as they cross-train all team members, you’ll always be able to cover unexpected absences.

Bear in mind, though, that it’s best to limit each rotation to one person for a smoother hand-off to the next. Involving entire teams might lead to unnecessary meetings. It’s also good practice for the ops manager to include him- or herself in the rotation so they can keep tabs on what’s going on.

Step 3: Optimize Your Teamwork.

Congratulations: you now have a well-organized ops team.

But team-building doesn’t end there. It’s a journey – starting with every team member’s commitment to using the following six practices.

A knowledge bank

By documenting and sharing processes and templates across the team, you can streamline project management, cut time and effort wasted on reinventing the wheel, and ultimately ensure customers get the best results.

TIP: As with your communication channels, make it as quick and easy as possible for everyone to find these resources – using a tool like Box, for example.

A system of delivery

Take a standardized approach to deliver high-quality products and services by establishing bite-sized, repeatable processes in which everyone knows their role.

TIP: Projects are best accomplished in small teams. While solo projects disconnect team members and inhibit feedback, large teams face setbacks from decision-making challenges.

A system of measurement

Collect objective data on everything you do. How else can you improve your team’s output?

TIP: Google’s Objective and Key Results (OKR) is a great model to use. The aim is to set aggressive quarterly or annual targets, create incentives for your team to hit them, then stack up against your results against your forecasts.

(Keep in mind that because they’re so aggressive, you should only run 70% of your OKR goals.)

Productivity tracking.

To meet their many demands, operations teams should focus on getting the most done with as little time and resources as possible. Enter: time-tracking and productivity tools.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Team building.

Team-building activities are beneficial for many reasons, including productivity. Think of opportunities to bring the team together to take a break, reconnect, celebrate wins, and have a little fun.

Team sports are a simplified example and one of the best ways to foster teamwork and personal connections.

A safe space to vent.

Operations are one of the most complex and demanding functions of the business. That’s why it’s also the most in need of transparency.

There will be times when team members need to deliver criticism, hold others accountable, and admit their own failures to reach goals. The most important lesson they can learn, though, is that effective team performance isn’t always about hitting numbers. It’s about being agile enough to deal with missing them and confronting sensitive issues for the collective good of the team.

Is everyone on board with all six practices? Remember: Feedback makes the dream work.

Final Thoughts

By now, you should have all the ideas you need to build a capable operations team, assign smart roles, and streamline operations over time.

That leaves us with one last important question: What happens when challenges arise?

Nobody enjoys finding shortfalls in their teams or processes. But especially in operations, where one mistake sets off company-wide chains of events, it’s the name of the game. As the leader, your goal should be consistency: bringing underperformers up to standards, encouraging top performers to keep doing their very best, and keeping burnout at bay.

Does your company have a small operations team? What other best practices do you use to improve team performance? Share with us what worked for you in the comments.

How to Kick Yourself Out of a Slump

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How to Kick Yourself Out of a Slump

We all get in slumps. Sometimes it’s because you’re under the weather. Or you’ve got that summertime sadness feeling. But, what if you’re really in the gutter and you don’t know why?

It happens to all of us from time-to-time. However, that doesn’t make it any easier. When your mood plummets, everything from your health, relationships, to career suffer. Even worse, you may not want to get better. It’s just easier to close yourself off and stay down. But, that’s no way to live. Instead, you have to kick yourself out of your slump so that you can enjoy your life and get back to being your bad-self.

Saying that from the outside, though, is easier said than done. But, I’ve been there more times then I would care to admit. And, through some trial and error, I used the following tricks to break free of my downward spiral.

Be on the lookout for red flags.

I’m going to tell you all an embarrassing story. Not that long ago, I was walking my dog before going out for the night. In my hurry, I didn’t pay attention to where I was going and tripped over a flowerpot. It happened so fast that I didn’t realize I was falling until I crashed to the ground.

Sometimes, that’s the case with slumps. There’s so much going on that you don’t realize that you’re down in a hole until you’re already in it.

Now and then, check-in with yourself so that you can spot any potential warning signs. While this varies from person to person, here are some of the more common symptoms that you may be in a slump:

  • You’re bored day, in-and-out.
  • You’re stuck in the past.
  • Daydreaming eats-up too much of your time and energy.
  • You refuse to get out of your comfort zone.
  • You continuously don’t feel well.
  • No one asks for your advice or feedback.
  • You put others ahead of yourself.
  • Business isn’t thriving.
  • You’re searching for an escape, like vacation deals or selling your business.

If any of these ring true, then it’s time to admit that you’re in a slump. From there, you can begin to get to the root of the problem so that you can dig yourself out. For example, if the main culprit is your business, then maybe it’s time to consider selling it and moving on to a new venture.

Prioritize yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with helping others. Helping others is a proven way to increase your happiness. Which, in turn, can pull yourself out of your slump. But, you still need to take care of yourself.

Always putting others first is exhausting and can impair your work performance. What’s more, “when you put yourself at the bottom of your to-do-list, you’re more stressed and less energetic and creative,” writes Angela Ruth in a previous Calendar article. “Your sleep is impaired, and you may turn to other vices.” Overall, without engaging in some self-care, you’re harming your physical and mental health.

So, how can you prioritize yourself so that you don’t drive yourself into a rut? Angela suggests:

  • Take a “me” moment, like blocking out specific times for you to something that you enjoy.
  • Increase your emotional intelligence.
  • Swap out the negative self-talk with more positive and supportive language.
  • Take a social media break.
  • Recite empowering mantras.
  • Remove the toxic elements from your life.
  • Get comfortable setting boundaries and saying “no.”
  • Remember your “why.”
  • Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Schedule downtime.

Decline your invite to the pity party.

Have you ever received an event to a function that you really don’t want to attend? You probably don’t hesitate to decline the invite.

Take the same approach whenever you have the urge to throw yourself a pity party. I know that it’s easy to fall into this trap and wallow. But, as Helen Keller correctly put it, “Self-pity is our worst enemy, and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in the world.”

Get your fill of inspiration and motivation.

Being in a slump sucks. There’s just no other way to put it. You’re not in a good mood. Energy and productivity have been drained. And, the things that you usually enjoy doing just don’t cut it anymore.

A simple way out of this? Surround yourself with as much inspiration and motivation that you can.

Inspiration and motivation are different for everyone. For me, I know that when I’m down, I might watch a comedy like “Step Brothers.” No matter how many times I’ve viewed it, it busts my guts every time. And guess what happens next? I’m in a slightly better mood and want even more. The next thing, I’m climbing out of my descent.

Whether if it’s a movie, song, podcast, book, or going for a hike, turn to the things that lift your spirits and give you a zap of energy.

Shock your system.

One of the easiest ways to get yourself in a rut is by staying within your comfort zone. You know how it is. Every. Single. Day. Is.The. Same.

The best way to counter this? Change things up. For example, instead of going to your office every day, try working somewhere else — even if it’s just one or two days a week. Try out a new exercise program or restaurant. Wake-up a little earlier so that you try out a new morning routine. Try out a new hobby, or do something that scares the crap out of you.

In short, shake things up so that you don’t get stuck in the same routine. And, if this is too nerve-racking, start small and work your way up. For example, instead of going to the same grocery store every Sunday morning, visit a local farmer’s market on Saturday morning.

Reach out to others.

The worst thing that you can do when you’re down is to keep it to yourself. As long as you’re reaching out to others because you’re looking for a way out of your slump — you’re not going to be bothering anyone. They are probably more than willing to listen and offer advice.

Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and calling a trusted friend or family member. In my experience, a family member or best friend should always be your go-to. If they’re not around, consider reconnecting with an old friend. If that’s not an option, then please consult a support group or mental health professional.

Practice gratitude.

Research has found that gratitude has the power to change you and your brain for the better. Most notably, because it comes with psychological benefits like unshackling us from toxic emotions.

Best of all? Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be a complicated activity. It’s a simple activity that you can do daily. Examples are writing in a journal, saying “thank you,” and spending quality time with your nearest and dearest.

Play hooky.

Of course, you don’t want this to become a frequent occurrence. But, everyone could benefit from taking a mental health day now and then. It’s most beneficial when you’re feeling rundown or don’t have any time off planned.

Whether you feel guilty about taking the day off, or don’t want to pry yourself from the couch, make the most of your day-off. You don’t have to go all-in like Ferris Bueller. But, definitely go out and have some fun. Indulge in a little self-care. You might take a moment to catch up on some cleaning or reading. Or, meet-up with a friend for lunch.

You’re going to survive, and work will be just fine without you for an hour or two or half a day. When wake-up the following day, you’ll find yourself refreshed and in a better state of mind.

Squash the ANTs.

And, finally, get those pesky ANTs out of your mind. Coined James Phu, these are Automatic Negative Thoughts that ruminate and prevent you from getting out of your rut.

The first step is to try to keep those thoughts from occurring in the first place. James suggests you can do this by avoiding toxic people, office gossip, and the news.

The next step is to become more self-aware so that you can catch any negative thoughts as early as possible. Some techniques that James has used are meditating, breathing exercises, and checking-in with yourself throughout the day. He also recommends using the rubber band trick. Whenever a negative thought pops in your head, “pull that elastic band and release.” That small amount of pain reminds you to stop and focus on something more positive.

Finally, find ways to defeat the negative. Gratitude, mindfulness, and keeping yourself busy are all great options. You can also try putting things in perspective and challenging these thoughts. For example, let’s say that you gave a presentation and made a couple of mistakes. You may tell yourself that it was a complete disaster. But, in reality, you got a standing ovation.

The Relationship Between Confidence and Productivity

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When it comes to productivity, there are hundreds of ways for you to step-up your game. You could learn how to prioritize, manage your energy, or spruce your workspace. Unfortunately, we often neglect to discuss the role that confidence plays in this game. Here is the relationship between confidence and productivity.

But, what exactly is confidence? Well, depending on your ask, that definition can vary. However, I think that Kathy Kay and Claire Shipman have a solid explanation in their book The Confidence Code; “confidence is life’s enabler – it is the quality that turns thoughts into action.”

The authors add that being confident “isn’t about throwing your weight around or talking over people or always being the first to jump in.” It’s not even an attitude of faking it until you make it. Instead, it’s all about taking action — even if you stumble along the way.

Richard Petty, a psychology professor at Ohio State University who has studied confidence for decades, told Kay and Shipman “that confidence is essentially the stuff that turns our thoughts into action.” Or, to put it another way, “it greases the wheels for action.”

What’s more, research from Cameron Anderson, a University of California, Berkley professor, found that confidence improves a person’s social status. It also provides them with psychological benefits. These include self-esteem, task motivation, and persistence.

Additionally, a lack of confidence can hold us back from succeeding and forging forward. That’s because this keeps us locked-up in our comfort zones. We also ruminate about failing, what we can’t control, and how we measure against others. As a consequence, we procrastinate or obsess over being “perfect.”

The good news? It’s totally feasible to become more confident. And, when you build this up, you’ll bolster your performance and productivity.

1. Commit to fear and failure.

In his book, The Mindfulness Solution, Harvard Medical School professor Ronald Siegel recommends:

“Think about your worst fear. Spend time with it. Now make your fear worse by getting closer to it. Imagine the worst that could happen. Now focus on your breathing. Feel your body relax. See, you didn’t die, did you? You’re on your way to conquering your fear.”

You don’t exactly have to dive in headfirst. The idea is to do something that scares you in implemental steps. For example, if you’re petrified of public speaking, take a class, improve your communication skills, and practice in front of friends or family.

As for failure, you don’t want to make a monumentally bad decision. Instead, start small. For instance, send an email without proofreading it. Just like facing your fear, you’re still alive to fight another day.

More importantly, failure allows you to learn and grow from your mistakes. In my personal opinion, failing is the best teacher you’ll have in life.

2. Pay attention to your speech, posture, and body language.

Close your eyes and visualize someone whom you consider to be confident. They’re probably well-dressed and have a clean workspace. What’s more, they don’t slouch and seem to always remain calm, cool, and collected.

That’s a tall order to fill. But, you can follow in their footsteps by:

  • Dressing for success. What you wear definitely affects your productivity. That doesn’t mean that you always need to be dressed to the nines. But, if you need a little confidence boost, putting on your “power” outfit can do the trick.
  • Keep your workspace clean and organized. Besides emitting a sense of professionalism, this is simple to reduce stress. The reason? You aren’t scrambling around searching for misplaced items.
  • Speak slowly and loudly. It gives the impression that you know what you’re talking about. And, it ensures that everyone hears what you have to say.
  • Strike a pose. If listening to the Madonna song helps, go for it. Additionally, studies show that open, expansive postures make you feel more powerful.
  • Pay attention to your body language. Stand up straight, make eye contact, and control your breathing.

3. Focus on the bright side.

“Thinking positive can manifest itself in several ways.” For starters, change your focus. The reason, according to Tony Robbins is because “Where focus goes, energy flows.”

The thing is, we have a tendency to harp on what could go wrong as opposed to what could go right. “Think about how you’re going to nail your presentation and how pleased your coworkers will be to hear it,” adds Robbins. “What you focus on becomes your reality – and that includes what you focus on within your own mind.”

To start, scrap negative words from your vocabulary. Next, replace them “with positive ones and start seeing the bright side of situations,” he suggests. “By changing your focus, internally and externally, you’re changing your state. And by changing your state, you’ll change your life.”

4. Raise your curiosity.

“Curiosity is at the base of all intelligence — without the desire to learn things, there is no advancement, innovation, or growth,” writes Laura Winter over at Thrive Global. “It drives creativity and innovation, fills us with wonder, and is a source of intrinsic motivation,” adds Winter. And, this “desire to know pushes us beyond fear and towards our goals.”

How can you achieve this? Ask questions and be open-minded. Find opportunities to learn and experience new things on a daily basis. Meet new people. And, dabble with different interests.

5. Manage confidence-killing thoughts.

It’s normal to be paralyzed by negative emotions when stepping out of your comfort zone. However, Angie Morgan, cofounder of the leadership consulting firm Lead Star and co-author of Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success, suggests that you challenge these negative feelings.

“If it is real, decide how you would manage it,” Morgan says. “If you’re manufacturing the danger, let it go.” The best way to go about this? 20-minutes of daily meditation.

6. Take care of your health and well-being.

In my opinion, taking care of your health and well-being is self-explanatory — but it’s not self-explanatory to some people. If you don’t feel good emotionally, mentally, or physically, then how can you be confident in your performance?

Mainly this is because physical activity releases endorphins. It also boosts your energy and reduces stress. And, one study found that it can improve body image and self-esteem.

In addition to exercise, make sure that you get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. You also need to eat a healthy and nutritious diet. As an added bonus, this will can also improve your mental health.

7. Rethink your inner circle.

How can you become more confident when you’re surrounded by negative individuals. You know who I’m talking about. Those toxic, naysaying folks who hold you back.

Instead, spend more time with those who are supportive and inspiring. They should also be the ones who will build you up instead of tearing you down.

8. Implement a “Daily Success Review.”

According to Meg Sigler in a piece for Psychology Today, this is similar to the gratitude exercise “Three Good Things.” For those unfamiliar, this is where you list the awesome things that you experienced during the day. To make this stick, however, you also need to explain why.

In this case, though, you want to “focus on three successes, large or small, that you had on a particular day.” Next, set aside just 3-minutes to reflect or write down your accomplishments.

Sigler clarifies that you should bask in both major accomplishments and small wins. “By focusing on daily victories, you reinforce your constructive actions and thoughts,” writes Sigler. As a result, you’ll be more likely to repeat this behavior and become more confident along the way.

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