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Focus is purposeful and planned

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November is National Novel Writing Month: although I have no intention of writing a novel, I do aspire to write a book one day. So, rather than spending November working on a great novel, I will focus on writing blog posts every day for the entire month. I have missed two days already, but that was mainly because I spent much of my weekend battling a raging beast that screamed, hit, clawed and jumped about like a lunatic: also known as my teething two-year-old. So, here we go – one month of writing.

Seeing as how my weekend was full of distractions I thought it would be fitting to start with focus. As an entrepreneur focus is one of your biggest allies. As I write this post I am doing so with purpose, planning, and focus. I woke up before everybody else in the house. I attempted to wake up before everybody else in the house (I’m a husband and father of two), I opened up Word and began writing; I have yet to check Twitter, Facebook, or email. Essentially, I planned to be here this morning at this very moment, with little to no distractions so I could write this post.

The same must be true when pursuing important projects in your business. Intentional chunks of time must be set aside in order to get them done. It can be really easy to let the small day-to-day operational things in the business drown them out. Sure, running pay roll, paying bills, reviewing the books, and keeping track of sales are important, but the truly important projects are things that will help your business grow and move forward. It’s those things you must apply focus to.

When you have focus you have true steadfast determination to get a tasks or project accomplished. This determination includes cutting out the fluff: anything that distracts or prevents you from quality work. Some examples include: emails, phone calls, social medial, staff interruptions, unplanned meetings (which should never happen), and a general failure to plan.

I have found the most important method to focus on projects and important tasks is to plan them. I use the KanBan system for work flow/to-do management; I schedule critical components of projects in my calendar, as is it were a scheduled meeting. I will even work remotely at times to avoid random in-office distractions.

Essentially I have found that focus is 100% purposeful. If you find your day constantly filled with distractions it might be time to make some intentional changes that will help you focus and master the art of productivity and getting things done.

Top Five Productivity Apps and Their Specific Purpose

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Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, although not my top pick is very useful for helping with productivity. It has very useful purposes, and keeping track of your to-do list is not one of them. I am not an Evernote expert by any means, so I’m sure the app has use beyond what I even know, but below is what I find most useful about the app.

1. Using it is a mind dump. If I think of something I need to do, a bill I have to pay, a phone call I need to make, or even a project idea, I will quickly open up Evernote and jot a quick note. I will later come back and reference it when I’m actually ready to put it into my more robust system for managing work. It’s very important to have a place you can mind dump, so ideas and work related things don’t continue to float around in your head.

2. Storing important information. I keep a note that contains important information such as my UPS shipping account, my insurance policy number and customer support numbers. Anything I may need to access on a regular basis I put in here for easy access. This is a valuable time saver and has probably saved me countless hours since I have created the “Important Stuff” note inside my Evernote.

3. It’s great for logging ongoing data; such as mileage for tax write offs, as well as taking photos of receipts to go paperless, pretty much anything you want to store long-term.

4. The app is very helpful for brainstorming, researching, jotting down random business ideas, and keeping that information in the cloud for you, so that you can come back to it later. The nicest thing about Evernote is you can have several different “notebooks”, and several different “pages” within that notebook.

Reminders/Siri (iPhone)

Okay, don’t laugh… Lets say I have something super urgent unexpectedly come up that I have to take care of later this afternoon. Rather than go through the long process of adding it to my calendar I will simply put my phone up to my ear and tell Siri to remind me to do that important thing at 4 p.m. and then I’m done. I can forget about it until I get the reminder, and I saved myself about a minute of having to manually add something else to my calendar. Reminders can be scheduled as well, but really you should be doing this in your calendar.

Calendar, the digital version with notifications

Don’t underestimate the calendar. Nobody can keep track of all their appointments in their head. I don’t care who you are, you have too much going on and that is just not possible. If you have ANY appointment at all that is scheduled at a specific time, it needs to go in your calendar app. I also highly suggest setting two notifications. One an hour before, and the second five to ten minutes before. I recommend the first one because you never know where you will be or what you will be doing an hour before your appointment, and you may need extra time to get situated, or prepare for the meeting. You should also use your calendar to mark important project deadlines and other action items that have to be completed by a certain date.

KanBan, LeanKit

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 5.49.38 AMI have talked about the KanBan system for organization and productivity in previous posts, but I can’t stop telling you about how amazing and life changing this system has been for me. Even if you don’t use KanBan, at least establish some sort of system, other than the standard “task list” that will help you visualize your entire work flow. The specific App I use is called Lean Kit, although there are several KanBan programs on the web.

KanBan is essentially a visual representation in column format of your workflow. My columns are: Choices (To-Do), Next, Today, In Progress/Waiting On, and Done. This allows me to see my entire to-do list, but not get overwhelmed with all that is going on. This visual way of viewing your work will relieve so much stress and will give you a peace of mind you didn’t know was possible.

I encourage you to move beyond the standard task list. I used to use Evernote to keep track of my to-do’s, but spent so much time just reading my list, of which half the projects were in progress or were awaiting information/action from other people. Plus, I’m not having to spend the start of every day re-organizing and re-prioritizing things.

Pen and Paper

Moleskin Journal

Moleskin Journal

Lastly, but definitely not least is the pen and paper method of taking notes and making reminders. I carry a Moleskin journal around with my everywhere. I use it for brainstorming, strategic planning, taking notes in meetings, crunching numbers, and just random doodles here and there!

There is something to be said for the tactile. I find I am able to focus a lot more during brainstorming sessions when I am using pen and paper, and there is an ease to note taking that a computer just doesn’t provide.

I’m also still a huge fan of the Post-It Note, even though I primarily utilize Evernote and KanBan for any mind dumping I need to do. I still occasionally will write something on a Post-It-Note, usually messages for other team members, or a simple action item I need to take on something.

Bearded Brothers was planned in Moleskin journals, so don’t forgo paper for a 100% digital life. If you are afraid of losing your notes, just make sure you take pictures of those pages and store them in Evernote. It does a great job at taking photos of documents, and making your hand written notes searchable.

These are just my favorite apps though. I’m sure there are loads of other useful productivity and business apps out there. What are some of your favorite apps, and why?

Tips for building brand recognition without spending much money – Part 3 of 4

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Think like a drug dealer

First of all, I can’t take full credit for this analogy. I first heard it from the book Rework, by the founders of 37 Signals. The idea is to think like a drug dealer and give out small samples of your product. If you have an amazing product the consumers will come back with money in hand.

Mini Bars - Sample sized energy bars.

Mini Bars – Sample sized energy bars.

Ever since the start of Bearded Brothers we have given out tiny samples of our bars. This saves us the cost of handing out full sized bars, and we still get people to sample our products. Sampling is the best way to gain new customers. This is evident by the spike in sales we get when we do a product demo. While in some cases a store might only sell four cases of energy bars in a month, but during a demo they will sell 4 cases in a three-hour period. Those same customers are likely to come back and buy the product again, and increase the monthly sales to 6 cases per month. It may not seem like much on a small scale, but multiply that by hundred of locations and you have quite the impact.

Sponsoring events is another great way to get people to try your product. For Bearded Brothers our primary target market are athletes. So providing samples for race packets, and handing out samples on race day is a great way for us to get our product in front of our target audience.

We are selective about where we give out samples though. We are not likely to give samples to an event in Wyoming where we don’t have any locations to purchase the product. It’s important that the consumer be able to buy your product in the store. Sure, we live in the day of online sales, but when you have a small business you have to be selective about how much free stuff you give out, thus the reason why it’s important to tie in your donated product to an area you have an established retail presence.

I have also found that sponsoring events in an area where we did not have a presence did not generate any online sales for us, even though we included an awesome coupon code. Most people are impulse buyers when it comes to trying new products. They are more likely to use that coupon code if a friend forwarded them an email, or if they saw a Facebook or Twitter post. People are not likely to take a coupon code home and use it. It’s just the facts.

Event sponsorships are great for brand awareness. Going on four years now we have been sponsoring 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell in Arkansas. This brings in climbers from all over the country. We provide coupon codes in all the participant packets (but will not do so again this year) but have not had a single one redeemed. Yet we have people coming up to our booth each year and telling us how much they love our product, and that they eat our bars all the time. This tells us we have built brand awareness with them, and that they are buying the product locally, rather than online.

This concept works with any type of business, even if you don’t have a tangible product. People providing services such as consulting or career coaching can provide free advice in the form of high quality blog posts with truly valuable content, free e-books, or podcasts. The most important thing is, to get people to try your product or service, it helps you earn their trust and makes them feel better about spending their hard earned money on YOU.

My final installment will be on, “Building and army.” How you can leverage Twitter to help spread the word about your brand.

Part 1 of 4 (Social Media)
Part 2 of 4 (Tell your story)

Part 4 of 4 (Building an army, social media continued)

The motivation for everything – Hump Day Motivation

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Greg McEvilly of Kammok talks about the two primary motivators behind all our decisions…love, and fear.

I can really resonate with what Greg has to say here, even having a baby in the midst of starting up a business. I met Greg and the rest of the Kammok crew at Outdoor retailer, a couple years ago. These guys have a huge passion for what they are doing, and I have to say I am AMAZED at how much they are doing, being such a young company. It really is mind blowing what you can accomplish when you are motivated by love, and not fear

The happiness advantage – Hump Day Motivation

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So, I thought I would start something new this week. We live in a culture that dreads Monday, lives to get to Friday, and rejoices when Wednesday is here because it’s a sign we are half way through the work week. It’s a sad truth, but something I hope to change. There is no reason we can’t all be doing work we love. So every Wednesday I will post something motivational: a blog post, video, photo, or podcast. The point of this weekly post will be to spread encouragement, as well as to give myself weekly reminders of how awesome life is, and how blessed we are that we are able to work, and have work that is fulfilling and enjoyable.

So, today I present you with a Ted talk by Shawn Anchor on, “The happy secret to better work.” I even took one of his pieces of advice this week about journaling about a positive experience, and sending an encouraging email. It really made a difference in my day