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Category Archives: Getting Things Done

Why you must make your big projects a priority

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Prioritizing your work is one of the most important things you will do at the start of each day. Those big projects you have will never get done unless they are first on your list to do.

I love the illustration David Allen provides in Getting things Done. A professor fills a jar full of rocks and asks his class if the jar is full, they reply yes of course. He then takes tiny rocks and fills in the gaps between the larger rocks. He asks the question again, is the jar full? His class then replies, of course, now it is full. Next, the professor pours in fine sand and fills in all the gaps between the smaller rocks. He repeats the question again, and this time the class is unsure. Next, the professor pours water into the jar that takes up the extra space be tween the rocks and grains of sand.

The point to the story is not, that there is always room for more, it’s that if you don’t get the big rocks in FIRST, you will never get the rest in! The jar is your schedule, the larger rocks are your major projects, the smaller rocks are the daily tasks necessary to run your business, the sand is the little things that always seem to pop up, and the water is every thing else you didn’t expect. If you don’t make room for the rocks first, then you will never even get them in the jar (on the schedule). Had the water gone into the jar first, not even the sand would have made it in.

The larger rocks are your big important projects – they are the things that will have the biggest impact on your company when it comes to growing your business. If you don’t take time each day to make those a priority, they will never get done.

I make it a point to work on my rocks every single day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Your day will always be filed with unexpected things that fill your jar, so make sure you have the rocks in first, otherwise they will never get the attention the deserve and need.

The Forced 4-Hour Work Week

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It’s a bit ironic that I have been forced into my own 4-hour workweek as I’m reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. I have been enjoying the book quite a bit, but at the same time I think a lot of his ideas are far fetched, stupid, and immature. I do however see a lot of value in things like, automation, limiting the time you check emails, and empowering employees.

I have long wanted to find a job where I can work limited hours and have more time to enjoy life, and not just WORK. Since starting Bearded Brothers I have been very disciplined to limit my work to around 40 hours a week on most weeks, but I still dream of working remotely in Colorado during the summer to escape the brutal Texas heat. Yet I have not seen this as possible for several reasons, until now.

These past few weeks have been a forced experiment of a 4-hour workweek. Three weeks ago my wife and I welcomed my son Joshua into the world. I took paternity leave the following week. The week after that started with a holiday, so the week was short, and I limited my time in the office to be with my wife and newborn. The week following my wife got sick, so I was spending yet another week away from the office.

I never stopped working completely during this time, but my work was limited. I only really checked my email a couple times a day – although force of habit had me checking my phone on occasion, but far less than usual. I only took phone meetings if absolutely necessary, and I put a couple projects on the back burner and spent a limited amount of time on them.

This experiment has taught me several things:

    1. I don’t have to be in the captain’s chair at the office for things to flow smoothly. I have known this for a while now, but after three weeks of being absent, or having a limited presence in the office, it is even clearer…. My team ROCKS! This wasn’t always the case, but the main lesson I have learned is to hire slow, and spend time finding the right people. You don’t want crazy working for you – THAT will stress you out and you will never feel like you can step away for a long period of time.
    2. Checking email several times throughout the day is NOT necessary. I’ve recently achieved the infamous “Inbox Zero,” and having a well-managed inbox has helped with this. During my time out of the office I limited my time responding to email to a couple times a day. I did however glance at it several times a day, out of habit, but even that I began to see was unnecessary. Moving forward I plan to only spend time in my Inbox a couple times a day.
    3. My business is much more automated than I thought. It took a long time to get there though. There was a point in time I was making the energy bars, delivering them, cutting checks, placing orders, getting new accounts, and running the payroll. Now, I’m more of a backseat driver. I’m not outsourcing anything, but I have put into place my own “in-house automation.” Bearded Brothers has built a solid reliable team that can be trusted in the absence of management.
    4. The concept of Lifestyle Design and Mini Retirements are not out of reach. My dream to spend my summers working remotely is a very likely reality next summer. Being away these past few weeks has shown me that I have a solid crew working for me that needs very little supervision. Any problems that arise can be solved with a simple phone call or text message.

When I first started reading the chapters in Tim’s book about outsourcing and automation, I was thinking there is no way my business can run like that, but in a way it already is. Just not in the sense of foreign outsourcing. I honestly have to say in the most humble way possible, it feels amazing to have built a business with the help of my amazing business partner that can run in our absence.

The only hard part about pulling the trigger on more remote working is being absent from my team. I love the relationships I have built with them, and love being available for them. But, the reality of it is, I’m more than likely using that as an excuse to not do something bold and exciting. More than likely, I will walk back into the office next week, my team will be happy to see me and things will continue to operate the same as always, which is the same with me in the office or out.

How to achieve Inbox Zero

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Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero. It is possible!

I used to scoff at the notion of achieving Inbox Zero. I thought that was only for extreme type A personalities that are also obsessive compulsive. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that having a clean Inbox isn’t just about keeping things tidy, it’s about being productive and getting more things done in a more efficient manner.

First of all I would like to clear up a misunderstanding about Inbox Zero that I think a lot of people have. I know it was one I had. Inbox Zero doesn’t mean you have checked and read every single email. It means that you have screened every email that has come in and moved it over to a designated folder that will allow you to attend to the email at the appropriate time.

Essentially, Inbox Zero is mastering control and organization over your Inbox. I used to sit down at my email and scroll through old emails in fear that I have missed something. This is what essentially pushed me towards email management. Being at a constant state of Inbox Zero essentially lets you control your email, rather than your email controlling you.

Here is how you can achieve Inbox Zero

First of all, you need to have at least five folders or labels in your email system. I recommend the folders: Needs Attention, Delegated, Waiting for Reply, Reference, and Archived. These folders are essentially holding places for your emails and allow you stay on top of every project and process you currently have going on.

Let me explain. You typically may sit down to answer email and start scrolling through your emails. The first one you read may require a bit more attention and require some research before answering, so you skip it and go to the next email. This one is a asking for a simple piece of information that will take you less than two minutes to reply to, so you immediately send off the reply. You also have several other miscellaneous emails such as newsletters, solicitations, and other emails that are not relevant to actual work. Several other emails may be items you can delegate to another team member, so you send the request their way and forget about it.

The problem with this method of checking emails is that you are constantly getting more emails, and important emails often get lost (like the one you skipped over), and emails you may have delegated to somebody else never get followed up on. Email management allows you to have better control over your email and ultimately helps you get more stuff done.

I mentioned five different folders earlier: below is how I utilize each folder. As emails come in I moved them to the appropriate folder, thus keeping the main Inbox uncluttered. At Inbox Zero and my other folders are essentially acting as a task/project management system.

Needs Attention: Essentially any emails that I don’t respond to right away, or that requires a detailed response I move to this folder. These emails range from simple questions to request to complete complex tasks. Any email in this folder needs to be responded to or acted on.

Now, lets say I responded to an email in this folder. My next action is to move it into another folder. If I’m expecting further follow up, I will move it to my “Waiting On” folder, if no further follow up is expected, I will have it to my Archived Folder. If it’s something I ended up delegating to another team member, it gets moved to the “Delegated Folder”.

This is perhaps the most important folder to have. Having this folder helps me sleep better at night and work more productively through the day because I’m not wasting time hunting through my Inbox to make sure there was something I missed.

Waiting For: The waiting for is the placeholder for emails that have been responded to and are likely to receive further feedback or correspondence, or emails that have been sent out and require a reply. Once the conversation related to that particular emails are over I will move the email to the Archived folder in case I need to reference it again at a later time.

Delegated: This folder is use to place emails that have been delegated to other team members. I will CC myself when I forward on the delegated task, and then move the email over to the delegated folder. This way I know who is now responsible for the task and I remember to follow up with that person a few days later. Once I know the delegated task is complete I will transfer the email to the Archived folder.

Reference: This is pretty much a catch all folder where I place newsletters, industry news, trade show solicitations, and other emails that I may want to read or look at later, but are just going to be time wastes at the time I’m checking email.

Archived: The graveyard for all emails that have been responded to! The nice thing about moving your emails to an archived folder is that you can reference them later if you need to. Simply put, any emails that are no longer active conversations go here.

You may find it helpful to have other folders as well in order for you to quickly access important information. I have a couple folders for some key accounts that we work with frequently, as well as one for invoices and receipts. The number of folders you will need to effectively manage your Inbox will depend on the nature of your work. The folders mentioned above are key to having effective email management.

You should make your system tailored to your specific needs. Email management is a way to achieve a higher level of productivity and get more stuff done. During the first week I started truly managing my emails I couldn’t believe how well it was working. It was working so well I kept thinking there has to be something I’m missing, but there wasn’t. The more I use this system the more my mind feels free, which allows me to focus on other more important projects.

What color is your toothbrush?

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Every day we are faced with decisions. From the moment we wake up and walk into our closet to decide what to wear for the day, we are making decisions that will affect our day, and our life.

When we get to work this morning we have to decide how we will structure our day, what phone calls to return, and what emails to respond to. Nearly ever minute of our day we are using valuable brain power to move projects forward, serve customers, relate with people, and make extremely important decisions, like, what color toothbrush should I buy.

The other day it dawned on me that we probably waste loads of valuable brainpower on decisions like what color toothbrush to pick. I was in the grocery store the other day browsing the shelves to replace my wife and my ratty old toothbrushes, and was overwhelmed with the number of colors, types, and brands to choose from. Ultimately I grabbed two brushes that most closely resembled the ones we had before in the colors green and blue. I would later let my wife decide who gets what color.

A few days later I found myself in the store again, tasked with getting a birthday card for my mother. I eventually became so overwhelmed with the amount of cards and messages and just walked away. Thankfully we had a nice blank card at home that we wrote our own message in.

It made me think, of ways I could cut down on the use of brain power to save that energy for more important tasks, like making important business decisions, and having enough mental energy left in the tank at the end of a long day to connect with our spouse and family.

I had once heard that Thomas Edison wore the same outfit every single day, in order to eliminate the decision making process of what cloths to wear every day. I have a friend in my hometown, Denton, that was known for always wearing blue jeans and a denim shirt. He could ALWAYS be seen wearing the same outfit. Whether or not Glen was trying to conserve brainpower is a question I can’t answer, but I’m sure it freed up some iota of creative juices to contribute to his musical endeavors.

This led me to think of ways to conserve precious brainpower so that our mental energy can be directed at things that truly matter.

1. Eat the same breakfast, and possibly lunch, every day. I have a smoothie every day for breakfast, so this one is already pretty easy for me. About the only time I ever change that up is if I am meeting somebody for breakfast. If you eat at work, pack a salad every day, or eat the same sandwich. It may sound boring, but if you pick a healthy lunch you will probably also benefit from the nutrients you are getting on a regular basis.

2. Simplify your wardrobe. Maybe wearing the same outfit every day is not for you, it’s definitely not for me. But, make it easier on yourself by removing shirts you don’t wear so that you don’t have to peruse by them in your selection process. Maybe become a t-shirt and jeans guy (or gal), like myself. Anything you can do to simplify your wardrobe will help.

3. Have a mind dump. We always have little things that pop into our heads, like an errand we have to run, or phone call we have to make. Stop trying to remember those things, because you probably can’t and will likely waste mental energy trying. Carry around a small note book, or app on your smart phone that will allow you to quickly record, and forget, any random idea that pops into your head, just make sure you go back and review this list later.

4. Develop an organizational system that will let you visually see your workflow. I am a huge fan of the Kan-Ban method, which I have mentioned before. And, I use LeanKit to manage my projects, and other important tasks. The better your organizational system, the less stressed you will be, and the more brain power you will have to put towards actually completing the projects, rather than stressing over what to do next.

5. Don’t fret over simple decisions like birthday cards, and tooth brushes. It can be easy to allow the marketplace to over complicate your decision making process, but for something simple as a greeting card, keep a stack of blank cards at home that can be used for any occasion. When it comes to a toothbrush, just pick the same one every month, or join a Toothbrush Subscription and never have to think about it again. The same can be said for razors if you shave, just join the Dollar Shave Club.

6. Don’t spend even one second looking for a pointless photo of a toothbrush to put into your blog post.

Some of these things might require a bit of extra brain power to get going, especially setting up an efficient organizational system, but the end result will be an overall more relaxed you, with the mental capacity to make smarter decisions and love your family. I can speak from personal experience. Before implementing the Kan-Ban into my work-life I couldn’t keep track of anything and I was always super stressed, and could never rest easy when I was away from work, but now that I have a good system in place I can breath a sigh of relief when I’m away from work because I have an amazing handle on exactly what is going on. My brain is at rest!

6 productivity and time management tips

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Time is finite!

Time is finite!

You have heard somebody say it before, or you have said it yourself, “I wish there was more time in the day.” We all experience this at some point in our life. It doesn’t matter whether you desire more time in the day for personal projects, or work projects. Here are six practical ways to make you more productive and get more done in the day.

Baby steps: Realize your limitations

My first and perhaps most important time management tip is, realize you CAN’T get 10 things done in one day, much less an evening when it comes to personal projects. Come to grips with the reality that time is finite. Figure out what is a truly realistic amount of tasks that can be accomplished in a day. When it comes to projects, think in baby steps. Each day focus on a few things that help you get closer to finishing that project or task.

Utilize a project management system

I’ve recently touted the KanBan method of organization, and recently found a website that lists 10 different tools available for that system. I had only known about three of them when I started using this. But, it really doesn’t matter what system you use. Just use something that helps you stay focused and get more done.

I do recommend going beyond the typical task list. I have found that looking at a lengthy task list can just be overwhelming. It helps to at least break up your tasks in order of importance. Dave Ramsey recommends 4 quadrants; urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent and not important, and things that are not important and not urgent.

The advantage of the KanBan method is that it allows you to visualize your entire workflow, rather than staring at a long list of tasks and projects. You can visually see which things are merely a task that gets done quickly, and which things are a project that are ongoing, as well as projects and tasks that are pending; it essentially turns your laundry list of tasks into a workflow chart that is always moving forward.

Learn to say no

Time is precious. We have to learn to say no to things, especially things that fall into the Dave Ramsey quadrant 4, not urgent and not important. I’m probably most guilty of not saying no when it comes to meeting with people. My nature is to want to help everybody, but I have to remember it’s important to guard my time. So, now I make it a point to only schedule one meeting a week with people that are asking me to invest in them. I also have to be cautious about what calls I take. Too many times I’ve given in to taking a call that I know is a sales person, and 20 minutes later the sales person is still rambling and has wasted his time as well as mine. Learn to say NO, and you will free up more time for productivity.

Close your email and especially turn off notifications

Notifications are the king of distraction. And by king, I mean that annoying little kid that keeps throwing his toy on the ground and wants you to pick it up for him, all while giggling and stomping his feet.  Notifications are nothing more than a pointless distraction. My phone has zero notifications, other than calendar notifications and actual reminders related to life and work.
Turning off email notifications on your desktop email are also super important. It can be VERY easy to get distracted by a seemingly important email when you are right in the middle of working on a project that really is important. Better yet, when you are not emailing somebody, just close your email client completely. If you are able, I would even recommend only checking your email at set times throughout the day.

Delegation

This was hard for me when I first started growing my team. I was used to doing literally everything, and I wanted to continue to do everything despite my growing list of responsibilities. I always felt nobody is going to do this as well as me. This feeling is common amongst entrepreneurs and managers. But, I’ve heard it said, once you can find somebody able to do the job 80% as well as you can, it’s time to pass the torch. Some people will even go as low as 70% effectiveness.

Either way, you have to realize you are human and can only do so much. If having more time is important to you, you have to learn the art of delegation, and don’t be afraid to spend some time training a team member. The time you spend now will free up more time for you in the future. You just have to make it happen. Sure, there will be some bumps along the way, but when is running a business ever smooth sailing?

Cut the cable and kill your television

When it comes to finding more time in the day for productivity, one of the easiest things you can do is kill your television. The result is lots more free time in the evening that can be spent on being productive, as well as more quality family time and time for personal projects. Just about anything has more long-term benefit than watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad.

Literally adding more hours to the day is, unfortunately, not possible. But, you can make better use of the hours you do have. It just takes developing some time saving disciplines: realize your limitations, utilize a project management system, learn to say no, turn off notifications, delegate, and kill your television are the ones I feel are most important. Another great blog for time management skills I recommend is Time Management Ninja. There you will find loads of good content on time management – something we can all get better at.