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You know that feeling at the end of the day, when you’ve worked and worked and have nothing solid to show for it?

Let’s get rid of that feeling.

Here are seven simple but powerful techniques to help you stay on track, focused, and organized at work.

1. Limit Your To-Do List

An overwhelming amount of tasks waiting for you has a negative effect on your productivity. It tends to, well, be overwhelming.

We see the whole long list as one big, intimidating project, and it’s difficult to get started on something intimidating. So rather than produce, we procrastinate. We’re overwhelmed and intimidated by the volume and confusion, so we shy away fr om dealing with it.

The solution?

Severely limit the size and scope of your daily task list. Focus on one to three important things per day. Allow minor tasks to fill the in-between times, and don’t worry about the rest.

2. Work in Time Segments and Take Breaks

You can find a dozen suggestions for the optimum “time segment” you should work.
It really doesn’t matter.

The point is to use a timer. Set it for a designated number of minutes. Choose one item fr om your (short) task list, start the timer, and do nothing but work on that item until the time is out. Then stand up, stretch, walk around. Take a break for five to fifteen minutes.

Come back, reset your timer, and then either a) resume work on that task or b) if the previous task is complete, choose a new task from your list.

3. Create a Space-Use Hierarchy for Your Stuff

Here’s how it works: the stuff you use most often should be closest to you, preferably within arm’s reach. But how often does that work out?

It’s time to arrange your workspace to match how you actually work.

Think of your workspace as a series of concentric circles. Three, to be exact.

Put the stuff you use daily closest to you, in that first, center ring.
Put the stuff you use weekly in the next ring.
Put the stuff you use monthly in the third, final ring.

Anything else? The stuff you use annually, or every few months, or never? It goes right out the door. Get rid of it, or store it elsewh ere.

4. Use Containers and Labels

Follow this simple rule for any physical item you keep in your workspace: put it in a container and
label.

Group small items together. Maybe you’ll get a set of those plastic drawers, stick them in the closet, and label them: paper and printing supplies, reference materials, so on.

Label things that you file. They go into a container (a folder in the file drawer) and that folder has a label.

Label things that you save digitally. They go into a container (a folder in your digital filing system, or your digital inbox) and they get a label (a tag, a color code, or a label via the file name itself).

5. The Inbox Habit and the 2-Minute Rule

The inbox habit works like this:
Designate two important inboxes. One is physical and one is digital.

Take all inputs - whether it’s mail, information, your own notes, voicemail, email, business cards - and you put them in the appropriate inbox.

Physical stuff goes in the physical inbox, digital stuff in the digital inbox.

Set a regular time to go through your inboxes. This is a great practice for low-energy times.

To keep your inbox stuff from piling up, employ the 2-minute rule.

When something comes in, glance at it; if it takes 2 minutes or less, then do it, answer it, schedule it, delegate it, or delete it right away. It doesn’t even need to go into your inbox.

6. Assign Days to Particular Projects or Areas

Perhaps you have three big projects currently going. Plus you have all the regular, non-project stuff, like keeping up with communication, team meetings, client follow-up, and maintenance work.
Assign a particular day to a particular areas, something like this:
Monday is for planning and Project #1.
Tuesday is for communicating and Project #2.
Wednesday is for meetings and Project #3.
Thursday is for client follow-up and non-project work.
Friday is for maintenance, plus wrapping up whatever didn’t quite get done on the other four days.

Assigning a day a particular focus will give you an automatic filter for what should get your attention on that day and what should wait.

7. Identify and Control Your Distractions

There are two primary types of distractions: external and internal.

The external distractions are the ones you don’t directly cause; they are people-powered interruptions.

The internal distractions are the ones you cause yourself: the internal voices that cause you to procrastinate, the piles of disorganized clutter that drive you crazy, the Internet addictions like social media and mindless surfing.

For external distractions, follow your inbox and 2-minute protocol for most inputs. For the people interruptions, it helps a lot to be using time segments. When someone pops during your work time, just say, “I’ve got to work on this for the next [x] minutes and then I’ll be happy to chat.”

For internal distractions, either designate a time to deal with it (clutter) or implement a lim it on it (installing a blocker software that keeps you from social sites during certain hours of your day).

As you start using these techniques in your work day, you will see a difference. Remember that the first few days are the most difficult. Stick with it, and you will build productive habits that will save you from the frustration of wasted time and lost opportunities.

Bitrix24 is a free TBM (total business management) and business automation platform. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

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Not all small businesses are the same, of course, but there are a few money mistakes that are common to many types of small businesses. Check them out, and make sure these are not happening in your small business.

Mistake 1: Not Documenting Your Financial Foundation

This means doing your due diligence. Running a small business requires more than a great idea and some agile folks. It requires thought, planning, and documentation.

Yuck.

You’re good with the thought and the planning, but the documentation? Most of us don’t really like it.

It’s important, though, and if you think that you can lead your small business to financial viability without keeping track of things - like your money - you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.

Do you have a business plan? Do you have written goals for the short-term and long-term? Do you have the legal documents needed to run your business? Contracts for your employees, projected expenses, and accurate estimates of growth expenses and overhead as your business increases?

Though it’s easy to think that winging it will work, especially at first, it becomes more and more difficult to keep track of what’s happening financially as your business ages and grows. You need financial documentation for sales, expenses, taxes, employees, contractors, and, really, anything that involves money coming into or going out of your business.

Otherwise you really can’t know what’s happening with the money in your business, and not knowing is the most common and most dangerous mistake of all.

Mistake 2: Thinking that the Small Leaks Don’t Matter

In a small business, the small leaks do matter. And you know what? In a big business, they matter, too. Small leaks add up to make a big difference.

If you are seeing your business lose money in small quantities in any area, you need to find out why it is happening and what you can do to stop it.

Is it part of the process?

Then the cost needs to be calculated in the overhead, operating expenses, or other designated costs of running your business. If it’s not tracked and estimated, you won’t be able to make a good estimate of your profits.

Mistake 3: Losing Control of Inventory

With frequent fluctuations in volume and/or type of inventory, it’s easy to lose track of what is happening. Inventory represents money for your business. Perhaps you haven’t paid all the inventory off, in which case there is a lot of potential lost money if you don’t pay before the interest starts accumulating.

One of the most basic things a small business must be able to do is track its inventory. Find a system that works: an app, software, a dedicated system.

Make sure that your employees are trained and able to track inventory as counts change, and that there is a periodic overview (quarterly or annually) to make sure that the inventory counts are accurate.

Mistake 4: Letting Disorganization Create Financial Chaos

If you have all the documentation but you can’t find it when you need it, it’s not going to help you out very much.

Is organization an issue in your small business? If so, it’s time to tackle this issue so that you can get your hands on the paperwork and information you need when you need it, not three weeks or three years later, when you find it hidden at the bottom of a stack on your desk.

Organization may not be a fun activity, but having things organized and accessible will make your work so much easier. Invest the time. Get help if you need it. Set aside a weekend and tackle one area of your business at a time until you have papers filed, supplies categorized, and documents accessible in a way that works for you and your business.

Mistake 5: Skimping on Your Employees

What’s the bread-and-butter of your business? Is it your product? Your flagship service? Your brand? Your customers?

Wrong.

It’s your employees.

How many do you have: 5, 50, or 500? It doesn’t matter. If you’re a tiny business, a small business, or a medium business, your business is only as good as the employees in it.

And if you’re skimping on your employees, you are hurting your business.

Pay a decent salary, enough to attract the good employees who will do great work for your business. Put appropriate benefits in place. And invest in employee training, whether that investment is in terms of hours or dollars, or both. The best and most talented employee cannot do a good job if you haven’t provided the right training.

Get the most out of your employees by investing more into them.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Isn’t that the basic question that every small business owner wants to answer? What’s the bottom line: what are we making, and can we keep making it, and is it enough?

The bottom line is that keeping track of money in your small business is something you can do and must do. And when you build that good foundation, handle the small leaks, get organized, and invest in your employees, you’ll be building a sound financial future for your business.

Bitrix24 is a free TBM (total business management) platform. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

See also:

- How we improved our ROI for PR tenfold
- 5 Ways Your Business Can Save by Moving to the Cloud
- Taking the First Steps to a Paperless Office
- 4 Copywriting Techniques to Remember for Better Email Marketing
- 3 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Boost Workplace Productivity
- Want Innovation? Embrace Constructive Conflict, Says Innovation And Creativity Guru Jeff DeGraff
- Free Nimble CRM Alternative 

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Overseeing a team can be tough work at any time, because it involves moving multiple people toward a common goal. Personality clashes, work styles, varying ideas, and everyday stress can make forward movement difficult.

What do you do when your people can’t mesh and make progress toward the goal?

A Healthy Team Has Conflict

Conflicts happen when you have a difference of opinion, but they’re not a bad sign. It’s simply a sign that a lot of opinions and ideas are being discussed, which is exactly what you want in a team.

If you have zero conflicts happening, it’s probably because one dominating personality is squashing everyone else’s ideas before they can even grow to the point of conflict.

The key to having a good team is helping your team members to understand how to handle conflict when it does arise. Outlaw personal insults, emotional tirades, and manipulation. Guide discussions. Make sure every team member gets a chance to speak.

Determine the Underlying Cause

If you’re dealing with a team which is having continual issues, then there’s something at the bottom of it. There are three main causes for ongoing team conflict:

- interpersonal
- current project or goal
- situational

What’s going on with your team?

Interpersonal conflicts often arise when you have two or more dominant personalities on the team. Or perhaps your team members simply have very different work styles and are feeling the tensions when those styles don’t mesh. Interpersonal conflicts can also arise when communication isn’t clear on who is in charge of what.

Conflicts over current projects or goals are common. Don’t assume the team all knows or agrees on the main goals. Have a meeting and make sure everybody knows why the team exists and what the priorities for the team are.

Demanding projects or clients can also cause stress that bubbles over into team conflict. Disagreement over which approach or methodology to use in reaching a goal can lead to stalemates between team members.

These disagreements can be dealt with and don’t mean something is wrong with the team, just that they need help working through the conflicts.

Situational conflicts can be the most deceiving, because the situation causing the conflict may not seem directly related to the team or the team’s current project. But a situation that involves change or stress, even in a general sense, can trickle down into heightened tensions which become unresolved team clashes.

A change in leadership or location, a limitation on resources, a particularly demanding client, or ongoing questions about the future of the company can all cause situational stress that doesn’t go away easily.

Get It Out in the Open

The worst thing to do is to pretend everything is okay.

It isn’t, and the sooner you start having honest discussions about the issues, the sooner you can resolve them.

Call a team meeting; moderate it actively. This is not a venting session, and you should make that clear at the beginning.

Nor is it necessary, or even wise, for your team to attempt to solve all the problems that they face in working together. The only goal for this preliminary meeting should be to identify the main issues and agree to work on them together.

Be careful not to let any one person or inner group dominate the discussion. Ask people to wait, take turns talking, and call out the quiet ones. They often have plenty of insight but don’t like getting into the fray, so ask for their input and require the talkers to take a break.

Follow Up with One-on-One Meetings

For issues which need to be addressed at a deeper level, it’s usually wise to do so with private, individual meetings. These meetings allow you to get honest feedback from individuals, without group talk or peer pressure influencing or hiding what might need to be said.

One-on-one meetings aren’t always necessary, but if they are, it’s best to have one with each member of the team. Leaving one or a few people out of these may create resentment.

Create an Action Plan

Meetings, meetings, more meetings.

Enough of that.

Time for action.

Whatever you’ve identified as an issue is a problem that can be solved. To solve it, you need to take action and make changes.

Present the problem(s) to your team and work together to create a plan of action to solve it. In all cases, the primary objective is team unity.

Team unity is worth the time it takes to achieve. With a cohesive team, creativity and conflict can happen, but they will move the team forward toward their common goals.

Bitrix24 is a free TBM (total business management) platform. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

See also:

- How we improved our ROI for PR tenfold
- 5 Ways Your Business Can Save by Moving to the Cloud
- Want Innovation? Embrace Constructive Conflict, Says Innovation And Creativity Guru Jeff DeGraff
- The Top Money Mistakes that Small Businesses Make
- Best Basecamp Alternative 

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As the saying goes ‘what gets measured gets improved’. So why are so few companies (outside sales, perhaps) measuring performance?

Companies do measure many things. I often say that for some data hungry companies “If it moves, they measure it!” But what they are typically measuring daily operational processes and their outputs. That is fine to do, but your question is about “performance measures” often referred to as key performance indicators (KPIs). There is less measurement of KPIs especially when one defines the purpose of KPIs as “to monitor the progress of accomplishing the causally related strategic objectives of the executive team’s strategy. These are ideally displayed in a strategy map with its companion feedback mechanism, a balanced scorecard. Obstacles that slow the adoption of reporting these measures are the absence of creating a strategy map and its scorecard and managers’ fear of being held accountable and measured. You can read more about this from this chapter from one of my books at:

http://www.garycokins.com/images/pdfs/Cokins%20JCAF%20Promise%20Perils%20of%20Balanced%20Scorecard.pdf

What are the most common mistakes do you see when companies choose their KPIs?

One common mistake is to place excessive emphasis on the financial outcome measures. They are a consequence of customer-centric and end-to-end processes which require non-financial KPIs. Another common mistake is to not initially derive the KPIs from a strategy map. KPIs should be tailored to the executive team’s strategy. Another common mistake is to neglect project-based KPIs intended to measure a project’s percentage of completion or its milestones. Strategy is about changes and not simply about getting better with its processes. Projects and initiatives are the source for making changes.

Which business processes that people view as difficult/impossible to automate are, given your experience, actually absolutely doable with the right approach?

One business process that deserves to be automated is the annual budgeting process. It is typically produced in a bottom up way of consolidating manager’s cost center spreadsheets. A superior method is top down accomplished with modeling. It begins with forecasts of the independent variables such as unit level sales demand, purchased material prices, and labor rates. When the costs from past period expenses (e.g., salaries, supplies, energy) are calculated through modeling to report product, service-line, channel, and customer (typically using activity-based costing principles), then the unit level consumption rates are derived. This allows for resource capacity planning for headcount and spending which can be monetized. Since most budgets are often obsolete a few months after the fiscal year begins, then rolling financial forecasts take over. With top down modeling based on forecasts, then the automation facilitates calculating the rolling financial forecast. Another process which can be automated involves business decision rules to generate higher profits from existing customers. Examples are rules based on business analysts’ research for the optimal amounts related to deals, offers, and price discounts.

What business processes in your view should not be automated or standardized? I.e. when it makes more damage than good.

Almost all processes are candidates for automation, but if I had to sel ect one that should remain as manual it would be wage and salary compensation incentives. Although many managers prefer to have a Newtonian style (i.e., the world is a big machine so all I need are levers, pulleys, and dials) when it comes to motivational theory, they also need a Darwinian style. That is, human nature applies requiring a sense and respond judgment.

How does an organization create and instill ‘continuous improvement’ mindset among managers and employees? It’s fairly common for companies to introduce KPIs, start measuring, get a quick boost in performance the then stop improving (‘mission accomplished’).

Related to my prior answer “continuous improvement” involves motivational theory. Part of this comes from financial and non-financial incentives, rewards, and positive feedback recognition. Another factor comes from leadership that creates a culture for discovery, investigation, and tolerance for errors to learn from one’s mistakes. Today the best leaders are no longer the ones who succeeded by having the best answers based on their experience and intuition. There is too much volatility and complexity. The best leaders ask the best questions to seek answers from their workforce.

If someone wants to read about different methods and techniques for automating business processes, improving performance, standardizing operation and related subjects – which online resources do you recommend?

Of course it would be self-serving to point them to the last page of my website with free downloadable articles. It is at:

Since I serve as the part time Executive in Residence for the Institute of Management Accountants, I would point your readers to its website at www.imanet.org . Other sources are professional societies that I belong to such as The Institute of Operations Research and Management Science (www.informs.org) and the Association for Operations Management (www.apics.org) . A thought leader I follow on decision making is James Taylor whose website is at www.decisionmanagementsolutions.com .

About Gary Cokins, CPIM
(gcokins@garycokins.com; phone 919 720 271)
http://www.garycokins.com

Gary Cokins (Cornell University BS IE/OR, 1971; Northwestern University Kellogg MBA 1974) is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in enterprise and corporate performance management (EPM/CPM) systems. He is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC www.garycokins.com . He began his career in industry with a Fortune 100 company in CFO and operations roles. Then 15 years in consulting with Deloitte, KPMG, and EDS (now part of HP). Fr om 1997 until 2013 Gary was a Principal Consultant with SAS, a business analytics software vendor. His most recent books arePerformance Management: Integrating Strategy Execution, Methodologies, Risk, and Analytics and Predictive Business Analytics.

Linkedin.com contact:
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/gary-cokins/0/15a/949

Bitrix24 is a free TBM (total business management) and business automation platform. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

See also:

- How we improved our ROI for PR tenfold
- 5 Ways Your Business Can Save by Moving to the Cloud
- Want Innovation? Embrace Constructive Conflict, Says Innovation And Creativity Guru Jeff DeGraff
- The Top Money Mistakes that Small Businesses Make
- What to Do When Your Team Isn’t Working Together
- Free Clarizen Alternative 

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To run an efficient business, it’s best to take the guesswork out of day-to-day operations. The easiest way to do that?

Implement systems.

Systems can help you cut down costs, streamline tasks, and effectively train team members.

Does your business have these essential systems in place?

Inventory Tracking System

If your business deals with physical products, then tracking the physical components needed to make the products, as well as the final products, is not optional. If you don’t know what you have in stock, you cannot manufacture and fill orders effectively. You’ll end up losing money on shipping costs, interest and financing fees, and lost sales when you can’t fill orders in a timely way.

Get a digital, searchable inventory tracking system in place and train your employees how to use it. Keeping up with inventory by department should be something every Department Manager knows how to do.

For digital products and services, inventory tracking may seem like an exercise in futility. How can you “count” the inventory of a digital product that has no limitations of number?

You count it in a different way: by type, and by sales. What various types of digital products do you offer, and what are the sales numbers on them? If you keep track of your “digital inventory” in this way, you’ll be able to make smart decisions about how to expand your digital offerings based on what customers are already purchasing from your stock.

Customer Service System

Every business survives on customers, and that’s true whether you are running a B2B or consumer-side business. Ultimately, customers are individuals making decisions about a purchase. Whether the purchase if for a business or not, the purchaser is still a single person, a human, an individual.
And individuals? Well, they don’t like to be ignored. They don’t like to have their problems overlooked. They don’t like to waste time or money, deal with unnecessary hassles, or feel like they’re not important.

Do you have a customer service system in place that makes your individual customers - whether business or personal - feel important?

A good customer service system, at minimum, involves several contact options (phone, email, online form, physical address) as well as a dedicated individual or team to handle customer service inquiries quickly.

The other three keys to a good customer service system are 1) scripts that your individual or team can follow, 2) authority to make decisions in order to solve customer problems and 3) a clear guide for when and how to send customer service issues to higher management.

Employee Training System

No business can survive without customers.
It’s also true that no business can survive - for long, anyway - without good employees.

How do you fill customer orders, handle customer service, track inventory, come up with new ideas, and keep day-to-day duties done?

Employees.

Your team of people will determine the failure or success of your business. So why would you throw new employees into the demands of the business without proper training? That’s a poor use of one of your main investments, your people.

And why would you neglect ongoing training for your long-time employees? Business grow and change, and so should the people within them. Get that untapped talent refined and polished. Get those skills in place. Get your people the training they need to keep getting better at what they do.

The best way to keep both new and ongoing training in place is with a system for each. Department heads can build a training system for new hires: mentor-apprentice methodology, video courses, hands-on learning, online training, company manuals and quizzes, or any combination.

You can use any combination of those methods for ongoing training. Make it systematic by building reminders into your calendar and setting up recurring training sessions. As you get feedback from employees, you’ll be able to determine what training produces the best results for your business, and establish a standard ladder of training for each employee to climb.

The beauty of systems - in any application or area of your business - is that once you put them in place, maintaining them becomes simple. The benefits become automatic. Put a little initial work into building good systems, and you’ll reap the rewards for a long time following.

Bitrix24 is a free TBM (total business management) and business automation platform. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

See also:

- How we improved our ROI for PR tenfold
- Want Innovation? Embrace Constructive Conflict, Says Innovation And Creativity Guru Jeff DeGraff
- The Top Money Mistakes that Small Businesses Make
- What to Do When Your Team Isn’t Working Together
- Gary Cokins - Automate everything, but not salary and incentives
- Best Free SharePoint Alternative 

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