8 Steps to Planning Digital Content in Less Time

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I’m a planner. I love writing things down and preparing myself for the work week in advance. Still, as a content producer myself, planning website content isn’t always an easy task.

When you do finally force yourself to sit down and start planning content for your website, blog, email list, etc. it can be a very time-consuming process. If the major brain dump method doesn’t work for you either, check out these 8 steps to planning digital content in less time.

Step 1: Use Current Copy as a Foundation

The best place to start is to look at your existing content for your business. Even if it sucks, you have someplace to start. Look at analytics to see which content resonated well with your audience and what didn’t.

For example, if you’ve been getting some great feedback on social media for a particular article, see if you can expand on the subject and plan to produce some follow-up content in the future. Keep a running list of topics whenever you gain inspiration or think of ideas that could be useful. It only takes a few minutes to do this each week and it’s the best way to jumpstart the content creation process.

Step 2: Make Sure You Understand Your Audience

Don’t waste time planning digital content before you get to know your target audience. Interact with them on social media, ask your email list questions, save helpful feedback, and ask your audience to a short market research survey every few months. 

This will help make the content planning and creation process much simpler because you’ll know who your audience is and what they want. Sometimes, I practically drive myself crazy trying to brainstorm content ideas. Ever since I started asking my audience what they wanted to see and listening to their recommendations, the digital content planning process has been pretty painless and quick.

If your audience is telling you multiple things, segment your website visitors into the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences and determine how you’ll address their needs in future content types.

Step 3: Use a Calendar to Map Everything Out

If you’re planning digital content without a calendar, you’re doing it all wrong. Using a calendar tool can help you stay organized and begin to work ahead.

I like to set up days dedicated to brainstorming, outlining, creating/scheduling, polishing, and promoting. Yes, the content production process is pretty tedious, but having a solid plan laid out in writing can make all the difference.

Coming up with headlines and outlines at this stage is very important. It’s interesting to note that doing this in advance will literally cut a lot of time out of the content creation process and keep you focused so you can finish and release your content more efficiently.

By storing everything on a digital calendar, you can set reminders to hold yourself accountable for meeting specific deadlines and allowing yourself enough time to prepare what you need to complete the content.

Step 4: Work With Others

Ask others to help you research, edit and review when you’re planning digital content. This will save you a ton of time. For example, if you’re writing for search engines or trying to rank some of your web pages, you may want to have someone do SEO research. 

If you’re producing social media copy you may want to have a consult with a social media marketing expert to help you come up with a clear strategy so you don’t waste time making rookie mistakes.

This can be ongoing or just a one-time thing depending on your needs.

Step 5. Storytelling vs ‘Storyselling’

You don’t have to use your website to merely tell your own story. The stories that matter are those of the people who have used your products and services and found them beneficial.

Nobody is interested in knowing how wonderful a business you have. Give your audience results and evidence. The language you use should speak to them. Offer your products as the solution to their products.

One of the easiest ways I work storytelling into my digital content planning process is to simply be authentic. When I experience things or have conversations that I believe could be pivoted into inspiring content for my audience, I add the idea to my content calendar with a date and a brief outline. In less than 2 minutes, I have quality content planned that I can produce quickly.

Step 6. Write For Search Engines and Humans

SEO is important. However, crowding your content with too many keywords can only render it unreadable. Include the keywords as naturally as possible to avoid coming out as a robot. If anything, you don’t have to stick to your specific keywords. Use variations that will still give the same meaning.

As you’re planning your content for the web, it helps to determine a focus keyword ahead of time so you know what to base your content around. I like using the Google Adword Keyword Planner tool because it’s free and easy to use when you’re researching keywords and narrowing them down.

Step 7. Have an Action-Oriented Copy

All of your content should have a goal behind it. It’s likely that you want to help turn readers into leads and paying customers. To do this, you need to make sure you plan out content that has a clear call to action.

This will prompt your audience to do something. This is something I failed to do in the beginning stages when planning content for my business and I regretted it. It’s important to focus on providing value, but you also want to let people know what you want them to do. Is it to call you, email you, or make an online purchase? Show them the step they need to take next. Provide links or email address so that they can find it easy to reply and take action.

Step 8. Make It Visually Appealing

Content and visuals go hand-in-hand. When you’re planning digital content, be sure to include ideas for illustrations, charts, and images to support the text. Alternatively, use testimonials, bulleted lists or larger pull quotes. Divide sections with subheadings and use short paragraphs.

Again, planning all this out on a calendar will help you stay organized and on track. Remember, you don’t have to actually follow through will all of your ideas for content, images, SEO, etc. All you have to do is jot them down and organize them. 

The whole process can be done in under 20 minutes weekly or once a month as a huge content overhaul.

Do you plan out your content at all for your business? If so which one of these steps to you find most valuable?

 

Originally posted here.

How To Market A New Business More Efficiently

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After starting a new business, you’ll need some way to spread the word about your existence. Marketing involves improving your brand recognition and visibility while attracting new clients. Most entrepreneurs turn to digital marketing. It’s an accessible way to market and advertise your business. Your success in this area isn’t a guarantee.

If you want your business to be successful, you’ll need to think about the efficiency of your marketing strategies. In other words, how much are you getting compared to the time and money you’re investing? Doing this calculation is called your return on investment or ROI. It’s affected by many factors, including the strategies you choose and how you execute them. Most marketers focus almost exclusively on how much they are paying versus how much they are getting in new revenue. But, tt’s also essential to think about how you’re managing your time.

What steps can you take to make sure you’re marketing your new business as efficiently as possible?

Understand Your Goals

First, it’s crucial to identify and understand your goals. Obviously, marketing and advertising are all about raising awareness and attracting new customers. But, what are you specifically trying to achieve, and what are your highest priorities? For example, is it more relevant to you to increase brand recognition, or is it better to get new paying customers as soon as possible? A new source of revenue can play a significant role in which strategies you choose and how you execute them.

You’ll also need to think about your timeline. Some marketing strategies have a very high ROI. These strategies are useful for a wide range of businesses, but they take a long time to develop—sometimes months to years. Other strategies take effect immediately. Sometimes, they guarantee traffic to your site or new leads. Yet, they tend to be much more expensive. What balance would be most appropriate for your business? And, is a short-term or long-term focus more important for you?

If you don’t understand your goals initially, you won’t be able to come up with an effective marketing plan.

Work With an Agency

Thanks to the abundance of content on the Internet, it’s possible to learn the basics of how to market a new business on your own. However, for most businesses, it’s better to work with a digital marketing agency.

According to Crown Media Tech, “Agencies have access to more resources than the average business owner can gather on their own. It’s the only way to make sure your campaign funds are being used efficiently.”

Digital marketing agencies tend to have access to many different niche experts. Rather than hiring a generalist or tracking down a network of your own niche specialists, you can rely on the specialists within an agency. Digital marketing agencies tend to have extended networks. They also have more flexibility when it comes to workloads and service provision. Then, you’ll never have to worry about shortfalls or gaps between availability and needs.

Even more importantly, marketing agencies tend to hold themselves accountable to high standards. They want to keep you as a client. If results are lackluster, they’ll usually go the extra mile to troubleshoot the campaign and make things right.

The flip side is marketing agencies usually cost a few hundred to several thousand dollars a month to employ. The cost depends on the services you’re using. Compared to the results you get, this is still cheaper than what you’d pay for an in-house team.

Learn What You Can, When You Can

Even if you’re delegating most of your marketing work to an external agency, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about marketing and advertising. The crucial knowledge about marketing will help you make recommendations for your campaign. It will also be useful for evaluating new angles to try. You can get a critical lens through which you can understand your agency or employee actions.

Start With One Core Strategy 

If you’re trying to manage your marketing strategy on your own or if you’re coordinating with a small team, start with one core strategy for your campaign. The core strategy doesn’t have to be your only strategy. But, it should be the focal point of your campaign.

In terms of how to market a new business, a core strategy is beneficial for several reasons:

  • Specialty expertise development. If you and your team are focusing almost exclusively on one strategy, you’re going to learn at a much faster rate. Over a period of weeks to months, you and your team members will grow to be much better versed in this strategy. Then, your expertise will start paying off.
  • Noise reduction. If you’re new to the world of marketing analytics, focusing on one strategy will help reduce noise in your measurements. You won’t struggle to figure out which of your sub-strategies is having the most impact on brand recognition. Instead, you can focus on the effects of your core strategy.
  • Min/maxing. In most marketing campaigns, it’s better to spend a lot of time and money on one, high-quality strategy than to distribute those funds amongst multiple, lower-effort strategies. In other words, this is a focus on quality over quantity. By starting with one core strategy, you can give it your full attention instead of half-heartedly pursuing a dozen strategies simultaneously.

Establish a Clear System for Communication 

Much of your marketing success will be dependent on your ability to communicate your ideas and collaborate with others. The principles of communication applies to most situations. Whether you’re meeting with an agency regularly to discuss new ideas and provide direction, or you’re coordinating with a team of writers to ensure your content is relevant.

For starters, establish a clear hierarchy and a precise arrangement of responsibilities. Who is responsible for organizing and coordinating meetings? Which marketing items require your approval, and which ones can be managed independently? You’ll also want to decide which mediums are most appropriate for each type of communication. For example, in-person meetings tend to be counterproductive, primarily when a group email could have accomplished the same goals.

The idea here is to improve the level of transparency and the clarity of communication between groups while minimizing the time spent communicating those ideas. Much of your communication is going to depend on the abilities of the individuals in your network. You may have to mentally translate, as they may not be able to express their ideas and needs as concisely as possible.

Experiment and Make Cuts

As you become more comfortable with your marketing campaign, start to experiment with how you market a new business. That could mean gradually incorporating new marketing strategies with which you’re unfamiliar or trying new angles with your existing focal strategy. Either way, experimentation is all about trying new things, measuring their outcomes, and keeping the angles that work.

It’s easy to become complacent with a marketing strategy. If it’s earning you decent results, you’ll be inclined to keep it running as-is. However, this blinds you to the possibility that there may be a different angle or different combination of strategies that can easily outperform it.

It’s also essential to cut consistently underperforming strategies. You may feel inclined to keep a strategy around indefinitely because you worked hard to understand it, or you’ve already invested so much in the “how-to.” This action is known as the sunk cost fallacy. In some cases, it’s best to cut your losses and move on with something else.

General Productivity Habits

If you’re trying to accomplish more in the marketing and advertising space, you can also focus on strategies designed to improve your bottom-line productivity in general. For example, you could invest in an app (or multiple apps) designed to increase your productivity. You could spend time physically exercising or meditating in the morning, clearing your head, and readying you for the day ahead. A different tactic is to invest in a better project management app or a task management system. Then, you can enforce new rules in how projects and tasks are assigned.

Another strategy is to develop a better hierarchical system for prioritizing your own responsibilities during the day. There isn’t a right or wrong way to approach this since different strategies will have varying levels of effectiveness on different individuals. However, it’s vital to give multiple ideas a shot. Then, see how your productivity is affected.

Practice How to Market a New Business

Marketing a business efficiently isn’t the result of a binary decision; you can’t flip a switch and suddenly start spending your time and money in a highly efficient way. Instead, it’s a gradual process. You’re going to make lots of mistakes as you try to better understand your business and its target demographics, but every mistake you make will bring you closer to an “ideal” setup.

Be ready to fail and ready to learn from your errors. As long as you’re actively trying to improve and make things more efficient, you should be able to succeed.

How to Manage Time and Stay Productive During a Conference

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Conferences can be a great way to connect with people in your industry, build real relationships, and even grow your business. It’s the perfect place to meet new people who are in a similar situation, and there are often many opportunities to learn new tactics and strategies. But how doe you stay productive during a conference?

As with all networking events, you’ll want to get the most bang for your buck. You also want to stay productive and get something accomplished while you’re at the event. Expect your schedule do be all over the place during a conference.

Tips to manage time and stay productive during a conference.

Have Someone Handle Emails and Urgent Messages

You probably won’t have a ton of access to email while you’re away at a conference. Sure, you’ll have WiFi, but do you want to be logged on and responding to emails and questions the whole time? Probably not.

Instead, ask someone from your team to handle emails and urgent messages to keep things flowing. Work ahead so that critical deadlines are met and use a detailed auto-responder to help with emails.

Include essential links and FAQs in your auto-responder so that people emailing you during the time you are out of town — can take basic steps on their own. With essential links, your clients can schedule a future call with you or communicate with your assistant.

When you return from the conference, you’ll be grateful that you have a more manageable workload and inbox situation.

Don’t Just Sit in Sessions All Day

Don’t get me wrong; conference sessions can be super helpful and eye-opening. However, you can watch presentations at any time thanks to webinars and YouTube videos.

What you can’t do often is interact with a wide variety of people all at once. Take advantage of the opportunity to chat with people and build connections.

Add a few critical sessions to your itinerary and take good notes. Remember that some conferences will allow attendees to review recordings of the sessions so they won’t miss anything. Setting your schedule up to attend meetings and connect with more people in person will help you stay productive during a conference.

Meet People on the Way

Don’t underestimate the opportunity to meet people at every stage of the conference. You may want to introduce yourself when you’re volunteering, waiting at the elevator, or in line at the hotel restaurant.

Strike up a conversation with people and learn more about what they do and what they’re looking for at the event. Who knows, you may be able to work with them in some capacity in the future.

Also, if there is an expo hall, be sure to network with the vendors seeing as how they likely sponsored the event. It never hurts to know credit sponsors and build relationships there.

Set Up Meetings and Coffee Dates

If there’s someone that you want to meet at the conference, take advantage of the opportunity and set up a meeting or quick coffee date with them. You don’t have to sit together for hours, but just a 20-minute chat can make all the difference.

Sometimes conferences can be overwhelming and so busy that it’s hard to sit down with someone one-by-one. The best thing you can do is email people in advance to get on their calendar and meet up.

That way, you ensure that a connection is made and you can follow up after the event with the next steps.

Take Breaks When Needed to Stay Productive During a Conference

As an introvert, I often need time to take breaks and rest at long networking events like conferences. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially if you’re getting tired, overwhelmed, or groggy. Retreat to your hotel room for an hour or two and take a nap, check emails, or do something to revive your energy.

If you have light work to do, you may even find it helpful to check emails and complete short solo tasks. Taking time off to refuel will allow you to stay productive during a conference and avoid burning out too soon.

Realize that you can’t do everything and be everywhere during the experience and prioritize your time and energy.

Go to Bed at a Reasonable Time

Sure, some great connections can be made at night or during evening events, but you don’t want to overdo it. It’s essential to wake up at a decent time so you can start your day off strong and get enough sleep that you feel energized.

Try a Walking Meeting

Running around from one place to the next during the conference? It can be super busy but if you want to chat with someone, try a walking meeting or a quick catch up.

If the person you want to talk to is headed somewhere, offer to walk with them and strike up a meaningful conversation. A quick connection can be a great way to get questions quickly answered, get a new lead, or offer some help from your end.

Overall, conferences can be a great way to learn new things, catch up with old friends, and make new contacts. Being able to manage time well and stay productive during a conference is still vital. It’s not a vacation. Conferences can be quite expensive, so you want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck

7 Creative Ways Companies Are Making Meetings Less Boring and More Productive

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It’s common to find yourself trapped in a two-hour meeting, discussing irrelevant topics and losing sight of your day. However, if you do them correctly, meetings can be productive, to-the-point and engaging. While it can be a struggle to check off all three of these things, a number of companies are getting creative in the ways they approach making meetings less boring.

Ways to Make Meetings Less Boring

From Pixar’s “Note’s Day” to Buffer’s “Masterminds,” check out these seven out-there ways companies are revamping their meeting methods.

1. Note’s Day

It’s no surprise that one of the most creative companies in the world also has some of the most creative internal strategies as well. In order to keep employees engaged and create an open dialogue of idea-sharing at every level, Pixar created “Note’s Day.”

On Note’s Day, the entertainment company puts things on pause in order to facilitate company-wide brainstorming sessions. On this day, Pixar employees gather in small teams to share ideas and discuss relevant issues and company challenges. Leaders from various departments drop into other teams’ meetings to understand and hear the varying viewpoints.

2. Goalfest

When it comes to reaching goals and tracking performance, it can be tricky to find an effective method. However, cloud computing platform DigitalOcean discovered its own way of doing so: “Goalfest.” In an hour-long meeting once a week, the small team at DigitalOcean joins a shared Google Spreadsheet, where they each set and share their goals for the following week, and publicly score how well they did on achieving the previous week’s goals.

Not only is this a good way to keep employees accountable for their work, but it also opens up discussions for improvements, recognitions, and challenges.

3. Masterminds

At social media management company Buffer, their program “Masterminds” has been one of the forces behind their happy and effective workforce. Because the Buffer team works entirely remotely, the company came up with a creative way to connect employees.

Dubbed Masterminds, the internal program pairs up two team members who provide regular support and advice to each other. The pairs connect once a week and typically share their progress and achievements, as well as their top challenges and setbacks.

4. Talks at Google

It’s not always about bringing people together within a company—sometimes bringing influential figures and industry professionals in is also a surefire way to boost employee morale and engagement. At Google, the tech giant launched its own speaker series for employees called “Talks at Google,” where it invites a variety of guests to speak on a range of topics.

Whether you’re a Google, a million-dollar startup, or a six-person team, bringing in influential speakers and resources outside of the company is a great way to keep things fresh and innovative within the company. Suddenly, your team sees meetings as less boring.

5. Hackathons

Hackathons have become highly popular amongst today’s startups and tech companies. Now, they are a way to make meetings less boring, too. Businesses have started to organize company-wide hackathons where employees collaborate intensely on tech-related projects over a certain period of time. Facebook has become particularly famous for its hackathons.

In fact, they are basically a part of its DNA and one of the network’s oldest traditions. Facebook holds hackathons throughout the year, and they have not only become a great way for employees to interact and work together, but a plethora of beneficial things have been invented as a result of them like tagging friends in Facebook comments and “Liking” friends’ posts.

You don’t have to be Facebook to host a hackathon either. Today, a number of tech companies are hosting their own hackathons, discovering the abundance of benefits that come out of them, from teamwork and relationship-building to new products and innovations.

6. Moment of Zen

Amidst all the chaos, Poll Everywhere manages to find some balance in attempting to make meetings less boring. At the end of every internal meeting, the tech company has a “Moment of Zen” where they take time, as a group, to learn something new or reflect on their day. At this time, leaders will share inspiring quotes or stories and team members will discuss wins and highlights and give compliments to their co-workers.

7. The Swear Jar

No one likes a two-hour meeting that was scheduled to be 30 minutes. Lost time from meetings is a common phenomenon in the workplace. The team at Tripping.com found a fun a solution: using a stopwatch, anytime a meeting goes over 30 minutes, the person who called the meeting must put $5 into the company’s “Swear Jar” (AKA happy hour fund).

Are you ready to make meetings less boring? Grab one or more of these tools now!

5 Surefire Tactics for Boosting Employee Productivity

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As a leader, it can be easy to let the morale of an office slip away. However, to get it back, it’s not as hard as you think. And if one thing’s for certain it’s that happy employees translate to a more productive work environment, and thus, a thriving business. The core of every business is its employees. That’s why, as a leader, it’s more important than ever to go the extra mile when it comes to boosting employee productivity. Of course, you can’t expect every employee to be at peak productivity every hour of the day, but there are things you can do to help them get there. From implementing incentive programs to organizing social outings, take the time to develop ways to motivate employees — you’ll thank yourself later.

To learn more, here are five surefire tactics for boosting employee productivity around the office.

1. Give regular feedback.

Feedback is critical to the success of a company — and that doesn’t just mean feedback to employees, but from them too. Developing a comfortable work environment that fosters open communication, honesty and two-way feedback will help make your entire company more effective and productive. Regularly giving feedback provides guidance, an opportunity to learn and makes people feel valued. When employees know they can also give feedback to their managers, this helps to develop a more cohesive team. In an earlier Gallup survey, 67 percent of employees whose managers focused on their strengths were fully engaged in their work, while only 31 percent of employees whose managers focused on their weaknesses said this. Of course, while not all feedback is good, be sure to balance the negatives with positives.

2. Organize social outings.

Work hard, play hard. And that applies to the office too. One of the best ways to boost employee morale and productivity is by spending some time outside of the office. Get to know your employees as individuals and not just employees. Organizing social outings is a great team-building tactic. This will also get your employees away from their desk and give them some time to recharge. Recreational sports, retreats and happy hours are only a few ideas to get your employees mingling and getting to know each other. According to an article published in Inc., “Work performance depends on recreational activities — or at least, can be boosted with it.”

3. Implement incentive programs.

Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest motivators for most employees is money. That’s why offering incentives with awards in the form of money typically boost employee performance by 22 percent, according to a large-scale study by the Incentive Research Foundation. Not only that, but these monetary incentives, on average, boost team performance by a whopping 44 percent. Of course, it depends on how you create and implement an incentive program. The study also found that longer-term programs outperformed shorter-term programs.

4. Offer flexible work options.

Flexible work options are not only a great way to boost employee productivity, but also job commitment and happiness. A recent study analyzed and compared employee well-being at a Fortune 500 company over a nine-month period where half of the employees were given flexible work options, while the other half kept their regular 9-to-5 office hours. In the end, employees with flex schedules were happier at work and less prone to burnout than their 9-to-5 counterparts. They also found employees with flexibility to be sick less often, achieve more and work longer hours.

5. Celebrate the small wins.

Everyone likes to be recognized for something positive they’ve done, whether it’s big or small. However, despite size, every success should be celebrated. In an article published on Harvard Business Review, researchers examined what motivates people and the answer was simple: progress. When employees know they are progressing at work in some way, even if it is just the slightest bit, they will in turn be happier, more motivated and continue to keep up the great performance. That’s why celebrating the small wins is an effective tactic to help employees feel like they are progressing. Which in turn will boost performance and productivity.
Originally published here.

The Smartest Entrepreneurs Keep From Losing Momentum

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You just launched a business. It’s exciting, exhilarating, and nerve-racking all-at-once. I would even go so far as to say that it’s one of the most exceptional experiences in your life. Can you maintain those feeling day-in-and-out? Well, no, but here’s how the smartest entrepreneurs keep from losing momentum.

Entrepreneurs Keep From Losing Momentum

Between setbacks and doing the same tasks over-and-over again, you can eventually lose that momentum. The good news? It’s not gone forever if you do the following to keep that momentum going.

“Why?”

Your alarm goes off at 5:15 am. Maybe the weather isn’t pleasant. You’re not feeling 100 percent. Your startup has had better weeks. What’s driving you to get-out-of-bed and tackle the day head-on? If you answered “money,” then it may be time to reevaluate whether or not you have it in you to continue the entrepreneurial journey.

There are many reasons why we start our own businesses, like being your own boss. Yes, money does a play role. However, successful entrepreneurs should always ask “why?” Try to be clear on your why — it helps.

Why did you start your business? Why do you wake up before everyone else every morning? Why do you keep forging ahead when everything seems to be going wrong? The answer? You know your purpose.

Take a moment and discover your own “why” whenever you feel like you’ve gone off track. If you need help getting back on track, ask the following questions:

  • What makes you feel alive?
  • What are your natural strengths?
  • Where can you add the most value?
  • What are your core values?

The answers help entrepreneurs keep from losing momentum.

In the words of the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, “He who has a why can endure any, ‘how.’”

Some say, “set the bar low.”

Think about all of the advice you’ve been given or have read. I bet one of the most common has been that you dream big and shoot for the stars. While there’s some truth to that, sometimes you have to set the bar lower, or at least think in different terms. The goal is to get there — not demoralize yourself.

If you say that you’re going to lose 50 pounds, there’s an excellent chance that you won’t achieve that goal because the ambition is stated in those terms. Instead, you’ll follow-through if you commit to doing five minutes of cardio and five pushups a day.

According to Stanford University researcher B.J. Fogg, that’s because if you want to develop a lifelong habit, it’s more effective to start with small and simple adjustments. As we begin successfully making progress, we’re more driven and confident of keeping going.

As Steve Jobs once said, “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Celebrate success.

At the same time, making progress in small ways don’t always make it appear like we’ve established that much of a difference. It may not seem entrepreneurs keep from losing momentum by using this technique. There are times when it looks like we’ve hardly made a dent. But research from Harvard University shows that recognizing these small wins is the key to productivity and happiness.

To get started, first identify the wins you want to celebrate. Typically, this is by identifying measurable “wins” that are aligned by your core values — for example, earning a specific amount of five-star reviews on Yelp because of your outstanding customer service. If so, then reward your team with a pizza party or night-out-on-the-town.

I like to review positive customer feedback and share it with my team. It’s a simple but powerful way to show that our hard work is recognized and appreciated.

Keep the body going.

You’ve probably heard this a million times. You need to make your health a priority. But, there are several excellent reasons why you should exercise every morning:

  • Gives you more energy, stamina, and endurance to power through the day.
  • Boosts your immune system.
  • Puts you in a better mood.
  • Relieves stress.
  • Sharpens your cognition.

Besides exercising, don’t forget to eat a well-balanced diet. It’s pretty challenging to be productive when you’ve just consumed a triple-bacon cheeseburger with fries and shake for lunch. Instead, eat foods that boost your energy and focus, such as almonds, salmon, kale, and eggs.

And, make sure that you get six to eight hours of quality of sleep each night. You can’t keep the momentum going when you’re yawning all day.

Keep a “did it list.”

Calendaring you to-do-lists come in-handy. But, research has found that seeing your progress and how much you’ve accomplished will inspire you to keep pushing forward. That’s why you should start creating a “did it list,” or at least have a place you can check tasks off.

With a “did list” you’re not only able to view your accomplishments, but they can also be used to review and reflect on your year when you are establishing your new goals.

Build a great team.

Paul Allen wrote in an article titled Microsoft’s Odd Couple that, “Bill never wanted to lose talented people. ‘If this guy leaves,’ he’d say to me, ‘we’ll lose all our momentum.’”

Put your ego aside for a moment and realize that you can not succeed alone — no matter how intelligent or talents you are. You need to surround yourself with others who can help enhance your skills and compensate for your weaknesses.

Don’t forget to have fun.

“Fun is one of the most important — and underrated — ingredients in any successful venture,” Richard Branson wrote in “The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership.” “If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and try something else.”

Final Thoughts on How Entrepreneurs Keep From Losing Momentum

Of course, there are days when that doesn’t seem like the case. But, instead of harping on these setbacks, make being an entrepreneur as enjoyable as possible by trying out the following:

  • Make the activities used to achieve your goals more fun, like using gamification, writing an “eff yeah” list, or creating a vision board.
  • Change how you think by thinking more positively and developing a growth mindset. Gratification, reflection, and being in the present are great places to start.
  • Give yourself a small reward after you’ve achieved a small goal.
  • Delegate tasks that you either don’t enjoy or are not skilled at.

By doing so, you’ll be able to illustrate how entpreneurs keep from losing momentum.

Schedule Your Day this way to Increase Calendar Productivity

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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you may not be the best at calendaring your day. Technology is moving at breakneck speed, and we’ll have tool advances to enhance our time usage along with new and advanced advice. For now, schedule your day this way to increase calendar productivity.

Create your daily plan the night before.

The first place to start when scheduling your day to increase calendar productivity is by actually planning your ideal day. Best, for me, is to prepare the night before. This way when you wake-up, you know exactly what your day is going to look like and where you’re going. You’ll be less sidetracked by minor emergencies or indecisiveness.

There’s no right or wrong way to map-out your day, but here’s what you may want to include:

  • All of your appointments, phone calls, and meetings for the day.
  • The top three priorities that you want to complete, or make progress-on, by the end of the day.
  • Take time for self-care, such as exercise, meditation, or learning something new.

When planning your day, make sure that you’re realistic. You may have ten items you consider as “priorities,” but you most likely will not accomplish all of them. Some people feel disappointed because they didn’t accomplish everything on the to-do-list.

Once you’ve narrowed down your top three priorities, jot down the practical action steps that will help you cross these items off on your to-do-list. The list can help you remain focused and ensures that you have everything you need for the day.

With your daily plan in order, you can go ahead and schedule it into your calendar.

On a final note about your evening routine: You may want to consider the timesaver of preparing your meals and clothes for the next day. Laying everything out the night before can be done at the same time. Ideally, you can do all this on a Sunday night or a couple of days in advance. The forethought saves you time and decision-making energy.

Jumpstart your day with a morning ritual.

A morning routine encourages you to get into the right flow as soon as you wake-up. It sets up your mind and energy so that you’ll have a productive day. Best of all, you’re not wasting energy thinking about what you need to do. It’s automatic.

While everyone has their own ideal morning routine, here’s what you should add to your morning routine if you want to have a productive day:

  • Wake-up before everyone else so that you have time to yourself without being disrupted.
  • Drink a 16 oz glass of water (I drink a bottle) upon awaking. Then after your morning routine, grab one more of these drinks, so that you remain hydrated throughout the day. Don’t lounge through this drink — just chug it down — and be done.
  • Avoid your phone and use this time for deep thinking and reflection.
  • Exercise so that you have the mental and physical energy to power through the day.
  • Consume a healthy breakfast. Like exercise, this will keep you mentally and physically sharp.
  • Read for around 15 minutes so that you learn something new or keep up-to-date about your industry.
  • Meditate for around 10 minutes. It can help improve your ability to focus.

Eat your frog first thing in the morning.

Mark Twain once famously said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Since then, time management experts have embraced this idea. The idea simply means that you should tackle the most important or challenging task first thing in the morning. Believe it or not, science backs this up.

According to Dan Ariely, a Duke University professor of psychology and behavioral economics, people are usually most productive within the first two hours after becoming fully awake.

“One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don’t require high cognitive capacity (like social media),” Ariely wrote during a Reddit AMA. “If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want.”

So let’s say that you wake up at 6 am. You should identify your frog and schedule it into your calendar at eight or nine am at the latest. No exceptions — okay unless you get off-track. If you get off track; use your trusty “I’m getting back on track mojo.”

After you’ve eaten that frog, you’ll have a sense of relief. I think of it as “logging in on life,” and “powering-up.” These mental images give a great start to the day — then you can devote your remaining energy to soft tasks like answering emails for an hour. OR, if you’re having a great day — decide, “today I’m going to dive into my productivity-hacks.”

Schedule your days in blocks.

When planning your daily tasks, use time blocking. Block out specific times to accomplish specific tasks in your calendar. For example, you could block out nine to 11 am to eat your frog. The calendaring and the blocks allow you to know precisely how you’re going to use your time and the time frame to complete each task.

According to guru Cal Newport:

“Sometimes people ask why I bother with such a detailed level of planning. My answer is simple: it generates a massive amount of productivity. A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.”

To get the most out of time blocking you should schedule 90-minute chunks of undistributed work. You’ll turn off notifications on your phone or computer and possibly placing a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door.

Since our office is open — we have specific cues for code. No earphones mean. “okay to bother, I’m on a soft task.” The white earphones mean “approach with caution.” The noise-canceling headphones mean, “stay the hell away; I’m busy.”

Why 90-minute intervals? The human brain can only focus on a task for 90-120 minutes. A 20-30 minute break is needed afterward for the brain to recharge so that it can focus on the next job.

Batch same-type tasks together.

When filling-out your calendar, start batching tasks together. As explained by Amanda Abella in another calendar article, “Batching refers to a productivity hack where you only focus on similar tasks. For example, if I have to take meetings, I’ll take them all the same day. If I have several articles to write for clients, I will do that all the same day as well.”

“The idea is simple. If you’re not jumping around doing different tasks, your brain doesn’t need to take the extra time to adjust.” It helps to remain focused on the task at hand and make your time blocks as productive as possible.

Don’t forget to schedule breaks.

It’s just not possible to be at peak productivity 24/7. You need to schedule breaks throughout the day so that your brain has time to rest and recharge. This way, when you jump back to work, you’ll be refreshed and refocused.

As Tim Ferriss wrote in The 4-Hour Workweek, “Alternating periods of activity and rest is necessary to survive, let alone thrive. Capacity, interest, and mental endurance, all wax and wane. Plan accordingly.”

How to Improve Your Own Morale When Working From Home (and Why You Should)

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Improve Your Own Morale

If you’re working from home, you’re probably working by yourself, in a vacuum. This is especially true if you’re self-employed, running your own business or freelancing. There are some major benefits to this arrangement, allowing you to focus on your work without interruptions and giving you more flexibility to handle the demands of your personal life, but there are also some drawbacks.

Notably, your morale can quickly decline. If you’re working for yourself, there isn’t anyone above you to monitor and improve your morale; there won’t be a supervisor to throw your team a congratulatory party when you reach a goal, or a boss to give you a bonus when you achieve exceptional performance in a given year. And even if you are working for an organization, working in a solitary environment can get depressing after a while.

The solution is that you have to take charge to improve your own morale. But why is this so important, and how can you do it?

Morale and Productivity

There’s a positive correlation between morale and productivity, which makes intuitive sense, but the data verify this effect. Employees who believe they have a good work-life balance are 21 percent more productive than those who don’t. Employees who work fewer hours end up getting more done in each of those hours. Those who feel good on a regular basis, and report positive or neutral mental health end up taking fewer sick days, which means more time to commit positive work.

Whatever your goals are, productivity is going to be a part of them. If you can increase your morale, you won’t just feel better, you’ll work better, and you’ll be more likely to achieve your vision.

What steps can you take to improve your own morale?

1. Invest in a Better Workspace 

If you’re going to be happy at work, you need to be happy with your workspace, and if you’re working from home, that means investing in a more enjoyable home office. You’re going to spend hundreds or even thousands of hours in this space, so you need to be comfortable in every dimension.

For starters, make sure your home office is separated from the rest of your house; you need to separate your work life from your home life, even in the context of your home. Designate a specific room to use only for work, or segment a section of a room with a door or curtain to give yourself some professional privacy.

Then, splurge on some furniture and equipment that can make your job easier. Having an ergonomic chair, a beautiful desk, and a sufficiently powerful computer can make any job easier to deal with even on the worst days. You can also add little touches, like an oil diffuser for your favorite scent or good speakers to play your favorite background music.

2. Venture Out to a Coworking Space 

Coworking spaces are becoming more popular, in line with the increase in remote working opportunities, and they’re valuable opportunities to boost your morale. Working in the same place over and over can leave you with a feeling of ennui or a lack of stimulation, and working by yourself can leave you feeling lonely (even if you like the idea of focusing on your solitary work). Coworking spaces give you a nice change of scenery (usually with a lucrative work station setup) as well as the opportunity to engage with other like-minded professionals. There might be a fee involved, but it’s usually worth it. For more periodic changes in scenery, consider heading to a café.

3. Work Outside When Possible

Working outside can also provide a hearty boost to your morale, given the weather is suitable to do so. Like going to a coworking space or café, working outside gives you a chance to your typical environment. It also gives you a chance to feel the warmth of sunlight upon you, and breathe fresh air. People who spend more time outdoors are at reduced risk of depression and tend to report higher feelings of happiness and optimism. Just bring a mobile hotspot or be prepared to do some offline work while you’re out.

4. Mind How You Collaborate 

If you’re part of a remote team, either as a leader or collaborator, consider refining how you collaborate with others. Much of your morale is going to depend upon how you engage with other people (and whether you engage at all).

When it comes to the actual work you’re doing, you can improve your morale by choosing communication channels that are as clear and appropriate for whatever message you want to convey; for example, phone calls and teleconferences are better for hashing out complex issues, while emails are better for relaying instructions or documenting new changes. Using a mix of both can improve the efficiency of your communications and leave you feeling more satisfied.

Outside of work, you may boost your morale by having more personal interactions with your team. For example, if you work in the same city, you can have periodic in-person gatherings for dinner or drinks. If you don’t live in the same city, you could arrange an occasional meetup at some point central to all of you.

If you work mostly alone and don’t engage with many other people, it’s important to find some other way to collaborate with other people, such as a social hobby. Excessive isolation, even for the most introverted among us, will eventually result in lower morale.

5. Take Time Off 

This is one of the most essential strategies you can use since it will help you avoid burnout, reduce stress, and spend more time doing what you want to do. When working from home, you’ll often have some degree of control over your schedule, so make sure you specifically schedule breaks and vacation days.

If you’re self-employed and highly motivated, you’ll be tempted to work as long as possible. When you have the option for a break, you’ll convince yourself you can go just a little bit longer, and you’ll avoid vacations since if you take one, your income could temporarily plummet. However, it’s vital that you treat your breaks and vacations the way you’d treat a work meeting or crucial industry event; schedule them proactively, and prioritize them above your other work.

There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to take breaks or a minimum number of breaks to take, but do try to take at least one full-fledged vacation, with multiple days off, every year. And try not to work more than a few hours at a time without at least a few minutes to decompress.

6. Exercise

Physical exercise is remarkably beneficial for both your physical and mental health.

Committing to just 20 minutes of exercise a day can help you reduce stress, increase your energy, and stay in good mental shape. Even better, try to exercise in the middle of your workday, so you can get the short-term benefits of the energy boost while also having a good excuse to take a prolonged break.

Exercising before work (for the energy increase) or after work (to relieve stress) may also suit you well.

7. Shake Things Up

Repetition and lack of stimulation will almost always result in decreased morale; if you do the same things every day, and in the same way, it’s eventually going to get to you, even if you thrive on predictability and order. Accordingly, you can keep your morale high by shaking things up on occasion.

How you do that is entirely up to you, and dependent on what kind of work you do. You could, for example, change the types of tasks you usually delegate, take on different types of clients, or rearrange your schedule occasionally.

8. Keep a Journal

In the course of your work, it’s also wise to start keeping a journal. It doesn’t have to be in-depth or complex; sometimes, even a simple record of how you felt throughout the day is enough to be valuable.

This serves a few important purposes. For starters, writing about how you feel is a form of catharsis;

  • By specifically acknowledging your stress and negative emotions, they become less powerful, and you become more capable of understanding them.
  • Second, you’ll keep tabs on how your thoughts and feelings develop in response to certain variables. For example, when you have an increased workload, do you feel hopeless and tired of your job? If so, that’s a sign you need to spend more time delegating, or evening your workload across multiple weeks. This is especially important if you feel yourself struggling with low morale.

Morale is a tricky business, especially when you’re managing it for yourself, but once you master the fundamentals and learn which strategies work best for you, you’ll find yourself working with renewed vigor—and little to no risk of eventually burning out. Even better, you’ll be able to get more done every day and feel better about your work at the end of your shift.

How to Improve Your Own Morale When Working From Home (and Why You Should) was originally published on Calendar by Abby Miller

7 Time-Saving Tips for Business Travel

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From overcrowded airports to lost luggage and long lines, travel isn’t always easy. However, with a bit of planning and adjusting your travel tactics, you’ll discover plenty of things you can do to save time and avoid any travel-related stresses.

By becoming a loyal airline customer and joining a frequent flier program, you’ll receive priority treatment and perks like early boarding or TSA pre-check. By making it a habit to travel only with a carry-on, you avoid wasting time at bag drop or baggage claim. Not only that, but you won’t be at risk of the airline losing your luggage either.

When it comes to business, it’s important to be cautious of your time and reduce your risks from any travel hiccups. To learn more, check out these seven time-saving tips when traveling for business.

1. Avoid peak travel times

If your schedule allows for it, when booking travel, try to avoid peak travel times like before the weekend or during rush hour. According to research, airports are typically busiest early in the morning or early evening, and slowest on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Therefore, if you can manage to take an afternoon flight or a redeye, or get out of town mid-week, you don’t have to worry about any airport chaos.

2. Join a frequent flier program

Committing to one airline is a great way to relieve travel-related stress and elevate your overall experience. If you’re a member of a good frequent flier program, you’ll receive special perks and benefits. For example, if you’re stuck at the airport due to a delay, you’ll be able to enjoy the airline’s VIP lounges. Or, when checking in, going through security and boarding the plane, you’ll typically get priority over passengers who are not part of that airline’s frequent flier program.

3. Plan ahead

Don’t just assume you’ll be able to quickly hail a cab or hop in the car two hours before your flight. In order to avoid traffic or any unexpected delays, do your research ahead of time. By checking and comparing various types of transportation methods, you’ll be able to figure out which is the fastest, most convenient and cost-effective mode for you. Not only that, but you’ll alleviate any stress that might come with last-minute panning.

4. Only travel with a carry-on

For smooth-sailing on and off the plane, never check a bag and pack smartly in a single carry-on bag. By using a carry-on, you’ll avoid the hassle of dropping your bag and picking it up at baggage claim. Additionally, it will also force you to pack smartly and efficiently.

5. Sign up for Global Entry

If you typically fly internationally, signing up for Global Entry is a no-brainer. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program gives qualifying travelers an expedited customs process. According to the Dept. of Homeland Security’s website, the program allows “expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival into the U.S.” All it takes is a background check and interview in order to join.

6. Download your ticket to your phone

Gone are the days of printing paper plane tickets. Today, nearly every airline allows passengers to download e-tickets directly onto their smartphones. By downloading your e-ticket, you skip the hassle of printing your boarding pass and you don’t have to worry about misplacing it either.

7. Ask yourself if travel is really necessary

Before you go through the hassle of coordinating a business trip and spending days outside of the office, make sure that a trip is essential. Thanks to today’s technology, it’s incredibly convenient to conduct business across the globe using apps like Skype and Hangouts. In fact, apps like these reduce the need for in-person meetings because they allow us to have virtual video calls. So, before you start planning your trip, assess if a face-to-face meeting is really necessary.

7 Time-Saving Tips for Business Travel was originally published on Calendar by John Hall

How to Motivate Yourself to Finish Big Tasks

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How to Motivate Yourself to Finish Big Tasks

Is your to-do list so long it’s running off the table and down the hall? Having a to-do list and a schedule for tasks can be helpful, so long as you’re doing the work.

Often, we let our to-do list pile up as we procrastinate on certain things. Usually, it’s the toughest, big tasks that get passed over as we take care of the smaller easier things first.

The problem is that when it comes to working, those significant and sometimes mentally challenging can have a considerable effect on your business and lead you to make substantial progress. While being your own boss means you have individual freedoms and flexibility, it also means that you have to buckle down and motivate yourself to finish big tasks.

This can seem overwhelming at first, so consider using these tips to help you get started.

Set a Deadline

Deadlines can be extremely useful when trying to motivate yourself to finish big tasks. If you thrive on deadlines, you’ll feel motivated to get your assignment or project completed by the assigned time. It’s no longer good enough to have tasks on your list.

You need to fill in your calendar with projects and responsibilities by assigning a deadline. Even if you don’t thrive on deadlines, setting one will put some pressure on you to get it done.

Also, be sure to prioritize the deadlines you give yourself as a commitment. Too often, we don’t value the commitments we make to ourselves. Promising to do something for your business is just as important as a commitment that you make to someone else.

View your deadline as firm and just get started even if you don’t have much motivation. It will come.

Break It Up

If a task or project seems too big or overwhelming, break it up so you can complete it over time. This is what I do with very time-consuming projects. For months, I had told myself I was going to work on a project, but I just never got around to it.

I realized I was unintentionally dodging the work because it knew it would be time-consuming and I didn’t think I had the time. After deciding to break the task up, I was able to get it completed in a single weekend.

Start by determining how long it will take you to do the task. Then, break it up into chunks and fill in your calendar. For example, if you think something will take you five hours, break it up into three-time chunks on three separate days and get it done.

Who knows, you may even be able to complete the task quicker than anticipated.

Choose a Reward

Adults can still thrive with a rewards system. You probably had one at your last job, and you may even have one in your business today. In one of my previous jobs, we could earn bonuses if we accomplished certain things.

To motivate yourself to finish big tasks, choose a reward that you’ll obtain once you finish. It always doesn’t have to be a monetary reward.

You can reward yourself by taking an afternoon or morning off. Or, you can treat yourself to a nice meal or catch up with an old friend. When I was setting weight-loss goals for myself, I decided to reward myself with a professional massage when I hit a particular milestone.

Rewards give us something to look forward to once we put in the effort and hard work.

Change Up Your Environment

Sometimes, switching up where and how you can be exciting and motivating. If you usually are working from a desk at home, head to a coffee shop for a few hours, or an outdoor patio.

Surround yourself with other people who are working hard and are motivated. Motivation will rub off on you. I started going to a coworking space, and even though I don’t know most of the people in the office yet, the change of scenery helps me eliminate distractions and stay motivated.

Plus, since I work from home most of the time, I feel I do get too comfortable with my work setting and procrastinate on specific tasks. Working outside of the house for even a few days can help you motivate yourself to finish a big job and move on to the next thing.

Just Get Started

This is one of the simplest ways to jumpstart your motivation. Sometimes, we let our thoughts and mindset psyche use out of working on a project. Maybe we think it’s too hard, too boring, or will take too long.

In reality, those are just thoughts, and you never know until you get started and try. Commit to starting a task and working on it for at least 20-30 minutes. Stay focused during this time and ignore all distractions.

When time is up, you’ll likely have more focus on the project and be willing to continue working on it. Even if you aren’t, you’ll have made progress during the 20-30 minute time streak.

The thing is, once you get started, it’s not too hard to keep going and finish up. You’ll often transition to a state of intense focus, and even if it’s not for long, you’ll get closer to finishing the big project nonetheless. Also, if getting started means doing 10-15 minutes of research and outlining, it’s better than nothing and will push you forward in the right direction.

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