Posts tagged - business

Turn you New Year’s resolution into a SMART goal for a better chance to be successful

It is the first week of January. We all are back at work trying to recover from the holidays as the new year kicks into high gear out of the gate. Many of you likely made New Year’s resolutions. It could be one of the standards such as losing a certain amount of weight, starting an exercise program, drinking less soda, eating less candy, etc. Maybe it is something different and more personal to you. Or maybe it is work related such as meeting new professional contacts, listening better to others, or having more balance in your life.

The problem is resolutions are hard to keep. How many times have you had a resolution and it last for a week? Or maybe it lasted a month? Odds are you were not keeping the resolution by the end of that year (assuming it was something that would take a year to accomplish or was a permanent change you were trying to make to a behavior or habit).

If you made a New Year’s resolution, I propose you try something new. Have an action plan on how to stay on task to meet your resolution. To do so, make your resolution a SMART goal. I know many of you have heard this acronym before, and maybe even have set SMART goals in the past.

For those that haven’t, it stands for:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Realistic

Timely

Resolutions generally fail because trying to do something or stop doing something by sheer force of will is a recipe to fail. If your resolution doesn’t fit within the SMART goal parameters, revise it so that it does – you will have a much better chance of success.

Know that your SMART goal/resolution may be achievable in less than year – remember one element is the time you think it will take to reach your goal. If you meet your resolution, come up with a new SMART goal. It doesn’t matter if it is January 1 or May 22. You should constantly look to improve yourself, your business, your life – well, you get the idea. Try it and see what happens.

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The 2017 version of why it is time for an annual “checkup” for you and your company

Over the past few years many of you probably read my blog regarding having a checkup for you and your business. This does not involve the doctor, but it does involve all the other professionals in your personal and business life. Since that time, I decided to make this topic an annual tradition. This is based in part on the range of feedback I receive every year.

Some of you said “What a great idea. I am definitely going to do that.” Other said “Sounds like a good idea, maybe I will look into that.” Most of you were busy with the holidays and all that they entail, and probably ignored my advice. To be honest, any of these responses is okay and ignoring my advice may not have had detrimental effects to you or your business.

The point of the advice is that you only know what you know. If you do not check in with your professionals and, for example, make sure contracts or your estate plan remain enforceable and up-to-date, that is where the risk comes in. For example, I always check in with my accountant at the end of the year to ensure that all is right with taxes.

This year I had a reminder related to a different item you should check in on annually, auto insurance. We have two teenagers on our policy and a number of vehicles, and the premiums always seem so high to me. But my insurance person knows me and shops the policy every year looking for the best rates rates for policies with similar coverage from quality insurers. He did this again this year and we have a new insurer as of yesterday. And the savings were pretty significant.

With the time constraints of life, it is sometimes hard for me to move beyond the higher-level checkup, but when I do I usually end up with some benefit. Unfortunately, in our time-crunched world, the question of who to check in with at year end is expansive, from your estate planning attorney, to your investment person, to your insurance person, to vendors you may use such as a yard or pool maintenance company, or your cell phone carrier or your Internet provider. You may be surprised what a company will do in lowering monthly costs to satisfy a current or longtime customer. Try it and see what happens.

I know, I know, who has the time? None of us do, which is why the choices yours. Are your contracts up to date? Did you pay enough estimated taxes or withholding? Are you paying the cleaning service at your office or your lawn service for your home too much? The choice of what professionals to consult, what costs to check or compare and what services to put out to bid is yours. Choose wisely!

And for those of you seeking a reminder or who did not see it in years past, here is my original blog post on getting an annual checkup:

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of where you are personally and professionally. This can be checking in with your personal accountant to make sure you have withheld/paid enough taxes during the year or planning for deductions to planning for large corporate expenditures on things such as upcoming projects, planned corporate initiatives or planned equipment purchases. But the one thing that is a constant is that we all should be doing this.

In the past I have mentioned why it is good to sit down with various professionals you or your company work with just to check-in, be they attorneys, accountants, insurance professionals, financial planners, investment professionals, etc. The list depends on you and your business.

This does not have to be a formal appointment unless you think that is appropriate depending on the nature of the planned conversation. Instead, it can be you offering to buy them lunch or a drink. The point is the better the professionals you work with know you, the more they are able to make recommendations aimed to benefit you or your company.

So don’t wait, start making plans today to meet with these people this year, or at least first thing next year. We all are busy this time of year, but if you take these actions it will help you now and in the future.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Never underestimate the handwritten thank you

Most of you remember when “the usual” was sending anything and everything by mail. People do things for you, oftentimes going out of their way, all the time. Do you acknowledge these people? If not, why not? If so, how?

If someone does something meaningful, you need to let them know. I understand not all people are doing things to receive thanks, or even comfortable with praise at all. But you know when someone deserves your gratitude, and an email or a text may not be the most appropriate way to express it; they can be low-impact and quickly forgotten. Thanking someone in person may work well, especially if you know you’ll see the person. Other times, you won’t be seeing the person for a while and that’s when you should go with the handwritten letter: a high-impact personal touch that won’t be forgotten in a digital age.

I will admit I don’t handwrite thank yous as much as I should, but I try. I was recently in New York and my aunt and uncle, who live northeast of Philadelphia, took a train to Manhattan to go to dinner with me. That was above and beyond given the amount of time spent traveling in one day, not to mention, they’re not exactly young. When I got back to Phoenix the next week, I bought a card and sent them a heartfelt personal note of thanks. People appreciate this sort of thoughtfulness.

The point is to try and let people know when you appreciate them or their actions, and you don’t have to buy a card. You can write a letter on lined paper, computer paper, or sticky notes. It doesn’t matter how you do it and won’t to the recipient, who will be touched because you took the time to personally pen your thanks and acknowledge what they’ve done for you.

To me, it’s like volunteering for a non-profit. Even though the point is doing something for others, it makes you feel good. Try it and see.

 

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Try to be different not better

I know you may be thinking I want to be seen as different by my peers. But showing people you’re different will go a long way to proving you are better. For instance, I’ve written about my firm’s intentional culture known as the JW Way because it makes us different than most other law firms.

What I’ve found is that most potential clients and referral sources are attracted to the JW Way and what it says about my firm. We understand that the JW Way may not be for every client, but that just means they should be working with another firm or a different attorney.

So think about differentiates you from your competitors; it’s also likely to be what makes you better. Letting people know why you’re different is more intriguing than telling someone you are better. The former is interesting and the latter is cocky. How do you want to come across? And it goes without saying that speaking about your company’s values will come off better than slagging your competitors.

 

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Read all the time

Sometimes it is what you know, despite the universally repeated cliché “everything is who you know, not what you know.” Who you know is important, but what are you going to speak about with the people you know or meet? What you know, of course. The more you know, the more topics you can speak intelligently on with those you know and meet. This is important in the real world.

And what should you read? The answer is what you like. It helps if that includes being up on the news, at least generally. Read the headlines, whether from the New York Times, msn.com, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, etc. If you read articles that interest you and skim the other headlines and articles generally, it will allow you to participate in more conversations with others.

You may not be a sports person, but skimming most news sources last week would have told you the Houston Astros won the World Series.  Even knowing this bit of information can help you make your way into a conversation with someone you want to meet at an event. Of course, it will be up to you to turn the conversation to where you would like it to go, or at least to a subject on which you know more than the headline and are more comfortable.

Reading other things also is helpful. It can be fiction or non-fiction, which hopefully provides you with books you can recommend to others. Maybe you will find one that impacts you deeply enough you should be sending copies to certain people you know, including clients or business partners. Unexpected gratuitous gifts are a good way to be remembered by others who you hope keep you in mind.

Reading is the equivalent of investing in yourself. Aren’t you worth the time and investment?

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Invest time in yourself to lower your stress level

There is the old proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Hundreds of years ago when this proverb came into use it meant that if you only work you would be bored or boring. My point to you is different: All work and no play makes Jack a stressed boy or Jane a stressed girl. This is something you know, but are you willing to try new steps to lower your stress level?

Many activities can help you lower manage stress. Your choice may depend on the time you have available each day to invest in yourself. And I know this is a function of the business you are in, what is going on with your children or family, the demands of your spouse, etc. so the hour and a half hike or bike ride might be out, but you probably have time for 20 minutes of yoga. Again, the idea is to find something to fit into your busy day and the time to do it.

For instance, I have figured out that if I fit things in first thing in the morning it is much more likely they will happen. I have two main things that I try to fit into my daily and weekly routines that lend themselves to the time I have. The first is hiking and the second is meditation.

This morning, before doing anything else, I meditated and then went on a hike. I know some you are thinking meditation is not for everyone, and maybe specifically not for you. I used to think that way too. After learning about it more through a program at work a few years ago, I tried unsuccessfully to incorporate it into my routine a few different times. This summer that changed.

I have meditated almost every day since June. Two things helped me do this. The first was the resolve to make time and see if I found benefits from the activity. Second was the app Headspace, which has guided meditations, including on different topics that you may find interesting such as productivity, stress, etc.

I won’t lie and say that it’s been easy to fit in 10 minutes every day. It’s not. And I know it sounds as funny reading that as it is for me to write it. How can it be hard to find 10 minutes in your day? Trust me, it is. But the benefits I think I get from meditation have focused me on continuing to make it a part of my routine and it is now something I look forward to doing each morning.

Interestingly, I think the hiking I do is an extension of and  related to the meditation in that it puts me in a happy place. For instance, this morning I came up with ideas for blogs, including this one. Before doing that, I finished a podcast involving an interview that I was interested in. Sometimes I listen to the news. Sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I do think about work, but if I have something such as a trial or deposition that day, odds are I am at home or work preparing and I have changed my routine because of the nature of that day.

These activities together help keep me better centered and less stressed than I would be if I did not do them. And I am not suggesting that each of you should take up meditation and hiking, though I do think you should try meditation. Instead, I think you need to figure out what will help to focus on yourself for even a short time each day to see how it improves your life. Once you do, try to make it a routine and I think you’ll be happy with the results.

And if you want to try meditation, I suggest you go here: https://www.headspace.com

 

 

 

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Routine Makes You More Productive

You know this intuitively. If each day you have to do the same task(s), figuring out the best time of day, time frame and way to do those tasks will help you be more productive. The more you get done, likely the less stress you will have, which is good for you and everyone you deal with.

For instance, when I first get into my office each morning I address my email inbox to determine who I need to respond to, what projects I need to work on and go about adding these items to my to do list. I do this before starting any project and before getting on the phone because if I wait until later in the day, my email tends to get out of hand and matters I should be dealing with may roll into the next day. When that happens, I am not as responsive as I want to be and reflects badly on me and my firm. That clearly is not something I want happening.

Of course you have to be able to bend your routine at times. Sometimes I have something on my calendar or an emergency situation for a client and I have to alter my routine. In doing so, I always know that I am going to have to deal with it later, which can mean, in my case, continuing to work through email that evening or early the next morning while still at home. I highly value work-life balance, but I also value my sanity upon arriving at the office in the morning…

You may not deal with a high level of email in your business, but there are other tasks that certainly can be put into the category or routine or repetitive. Think about how you deal with these. Is it the same each day? If not, be honest with yourself about whether the way you deal with it wastes time and makes you less productive.

I suggest picking one task to turn into a routine. Try for four weeks and see how it goes. This will take discipline and focus. If you can create a routine for and stick with it for even one repetitive task, it will help you and your business.

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Helping others succeed is in your own best interest

Successful people want others to succeed while unsuccessful people secretly hope others fail. I read something like this a while back and it stuck with me. The point is we are all in it together. Rarely does someone succeed alone and even when it appears they did, they probably had someone (or a number of people) helping them along the way.

Athletes have coaches. And so do many business people and professionals. Musicians rarely are self-taught. The same is true for business people and professionals. Most of us were students who had teachers, whether in school, an apprenticeship, etc. You get the idea; it is rough going on your own and makes it much more likely you will make serious mistakes teachers and mentors can help you avoid.

I have been lucky enough to have formal and informal mentors along my road. Without them it would have taken me much longer to achieve many things I have personally and professionally. Or maybe I would have missed opportunities because I didn’t even know they were there, or not made it as far as I have.

So leave your ego at the door and help people in your life succeed. Not only will it probably end up benefiting you at some point (but you can’t count on that and it’s not the reason to do it), but it will make you feel good helping others. Plus, success really is contagious. Try it and see.

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Answer the Question

Listen to what people ask you and answer their questions directly. Too many people either do not listen fully to the person they are speaking with or ignore what is being asked. In almost all situations, conversations will go better, and definitely take less time, if the person answering answers the questions instead of going off based on their own agenda.

I know many of you are thinking “this does not apply to all circumstances.” True. But it applies to most. When people sidestep a question and start rambling on it usually looks like the person is being defensive, has something to hide or both. And I admit that some questions are confusing, but if you do not understand the question, you should say so and ask the person to ask again until you do.

In my world, this comes up in court. Judges ask questions and attorneys usually respond in whatever way they believe will help their client and case. Sometimes they remember to come back at the end and address the actual question, but many times they do not. Speak with any judge and you will learn one of their biggest pet peeves is attorneys not just answering what the judge has asked. As with other situations, it makes judges question that attorney’s position because they can’t or won’t answer the question directly, instead addressing their own agenda, i.e. it is looked at as being defensive and coming from a point of weakness.

So how do you want to be perceived by those you deal with professionally and personally? I am sure you want to be believed and not thought of as defensive or hiding the ball. If so, remember that part of listening fully is to directly answer questions you are asked.

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Organization is important

  • Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. ~ A.A. Milne

 

Yes, I just quoted the author of Winnie-the-Pooh. And he is right, which is both obvious and apparent, especially to those of us trying to stay organized. Let’s be honest, it is a constant struggle. You have your business life and your personal life. Some people keep separate calendars for each. Others are like me and keep one calendar for everything lest they miss anything.

And what works for me to stay organized and focused may not work for you, and vice versa. At home, I am having this challenge with my perpetually disorganized twelve year old daughter. At this point in time she fits the old saying “she would lose her head if it wasn’t attached.” In trying to advise her on organization, I have been speaking with her about what I do, and what others have told me they do, because I do not know what will work for her.

So, if you are not naturally organized, do you have a system? For instance, I use calendar reminders that are synced across my work and personal computers and devices, as well as using hand-written “to do” lists or lists I email to myself. What about you? Do you use a different method or combination of methods? Maybe certain software or an app?

As with most things, you should take time every so often to assess your state of organization….or lack thereof. Maybe you are reading this and realizing that your system or methods are failing you and you really are not as organized as you thought. If that is the case, you need to take action because disorganization leads to wasted time and lost money or opportunity. It could be forgetting to connect with the great lead you met last night at an event. Or it could be it causes you to have less time to spend with your family. Whatever it is in your life, disorganization is equivalent to loss.

Don’t let this happen to you. Take time to assess your level of organization. It might be working fine, or maybe it needs a tweak. Or maybe it needs an overhaul. If so, do it sooner than later because it will save you time and lead to time better spent personally and professionally.

And if you think you have a great system or method, please share it with me.

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