Productivity Hacks To Keep You On Track

Whether you work at home or in a co-working space, Freelance consultants will not see payment for our work until key milestones are reached or the project is complete.  Pay day will come around as scheduled only when we have the discipline to do our best work and get the job done.  Productivity equals a pay check for the self-employed.  Productivity also means that one is able to devote adequate time to activities that enhance the consulting practice, such as professional development and networking, as well as having time to enjoy a personal life.  Here are a few things you can do to maintain peak performance every day.

Define your work schedule

In general, Freelancers need to be available when clients expect us to be available. Answering client emails within an hour and calls as they come in demonstrates that we’re responsive and trustworthy.  Define the hours that you’ll be on the job and commit to working within that time frame.  Unless you’re on a very time-sensitive project, being “open for business” from approximately 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM Monday through Friday, with the exception of holidays, will seem reasonable to your clients.

Perform one task at a time

Multi-tasking has lost its luster.  Productivity experts now realize that we perform better when we work on one task at a time and give it our full attention.  Attempting to work simultaneously on more than one task can easily result in errors that require do-overs that undermine productivity.

Schedule time for content marketing and social media

Investigate social media aggregators such as FlockBuffer and Hootsuite , so that you can manage your blog, newsletter and social media accounts all from one dashboard.  Aggregators allow you to efficiently schedule and focus on this aspect of your consulting practice, whether you check in every day or once a week.  Some of these services offer a free, but limited, option that might meet your needs.

Organize your work space

Followers of Feng Shui understand the importance of maintaining a clean, neat desk and office space, as do devotees of Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2011). De-cluttering is good for the soul and good for productivity, too.  For more information, please read my post Feng Shui for your office .

Be proactive

Every day, create a to-do list for the next day.  Rank the list into A-Tasks (high priority), B -Tasks (important, not urgent) and C-Tasks (do them when time allows).  The A-Tasks are what you start with each day.

Do not allow yourself to be controlled by non-business related incoming calls and emails. Put your ringer on silent and keep an eye on caller ID, so you’ll know if you must answer a call and do the same with emails—answer what pertains to business immediately.  You may want to devote the early morning and evening to answering non-urgent calls and emails.

Take breaks

Every 90 minutes to two hours, take a brain break.  On a nice day,  you might take a walk around the block.  If it’s cold or wet, leave your desk, find a comfortable place to put your feet up and meditate for 15 minutes.  Recharging your energy stores is important for promoting concentration, focus and creativity.

Invent deadlines

Decide how much time you should spend on a particular task and make yourself follow the time you allot.  Creating a bit of urgency can be a useful tactic to keep yourself motivated and working.

Eliminate distractions

Close your office door when you are not home alone, or signal that you’re engrossed in work if you’re in an open plan co-working space, to discourage others from dropping in to gossip or otherwise ease their boredom at your expense.  However, make yourself available to your child during your break times or when s/he has an urgent need and be available to take important work-related questions posed by your co-working colleagues.  It is unrealistic to hermetically seal yourself off from your environment, but nevertheless imperative that you have the ability to work undisturbed.

Exercise

Numerous studies conducted over the past 20 years have shown a positive correlation between regular exercise and productivity, in addition to the benefits for one’s physical and psychological health.  Create a physical and psychological foundation that supports your productivity by hitting the gym, going for a run or swim, or participating in the team sport of your choice, at least four times a week, for a minimum of 30 minutes per session.

Review and evaluate your day

At the end of the day, evaluate how well you measured up to the items on your to-do list. Did you accomplish what you set out to do? Identify what helped, or hindered, your performance and make any necessary adjustments.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Gleaners (1857) Jean-Francois Millet (1814 – 1875)                                     Courtesy of La Musee D’Orsay, Paris

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Follow the Winners

In one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite movies, The Godfather Part II (1974), Michael Corleone (youngest son of the Godfather) says “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” That advice was quickly adopted by those in business, who interpreted the line as a warning to keep a sharp eye on competitors.  No one wants to be blindsided by the competition and made vulnerable to the loss of revenue and market share.  That fear can keep one awake at night.  But how much time and effort should be spent looking over one’s shoulder and how often does such behavior result in anything that’s actionable or profitable?

Some business experts recommend that rather than obsessing over competitors, perhaps wondering what you might copy, instead study successful business leaders in other industries. When looking to keep your organization relevant and vital, strategies implemented by leaders at successful companies in industries other than your own can provide lessons and inspiration that will benefit you and your business.

To launch and sustain a profitable business, it is essential that you offer products or services for which there is a growing market, that you recognize and articulate a strong value proposition that attracts customers and that you devise a smart and efficient business model to put it all in motion and deliver the goods.  It makes sense to study innovative entrepreneurs from a variety of industries, so that you can learn what worked for their organizations and think about how certain of those strategies and tactics might be applied to your venture.

You might start this unique form of competitive intelligence by walking into a bookstore and browsing through the business section. You’ll be certain to find at least one or two interesting books, perhaps in memoir form, written by entrepreneurs who overcame significant obstacles and setbacks, only to prevail and build multi-million dollar organizations.  You might also look for speaker programs at nearby colleges, local chambers of commerce, or other business organizations that from time to time are known to host speakers who tell the story of how s/he built a successful enterprise.

Finally, since so much in life hinges on relationships and developing a strong and supportive network, remember also to reach out to those whom you know.  When you stop and think, you’ll realize that you cross paths with business owners and leaders on a regular basis.  We see and interact with these smart, successful professionals at neighborhood association meetings, at the garden club, at our place of worship, while at the gym and when serving on a not-for-profit board.  I’m willing to wager that you’ll be able to develop a friendship with at least two of these individuals and find opportunities to talk business now and again.

So extend yourself and get to know a little better the people with whom you regularly interact.  Start with some friendly small talk and and work your way toward having real conversations that lead to developing relationships.  At some point, you may be able to segue into a conversation about business, at your organization and theirs.  If you reach the level of trust that includes sharing stories about business challenges and tactics, you’ll be fortunate to have found a friend and perhaps also a mentor.  The experience will be much more satisfying, and effective, than spying on and obsessing over your business rivals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Nike, goddess of victory, awards Heracles (Hercules) with the prize of a laurel wreath for his win at the 776 B.C. Olympics. Courtesy of the British Museum in London.

Knowing How to Delegate Is a Productivity Plus

Those of us who work alone frequently need to at least maximize, if not increase, our productivity and hiring part-time or temporary help may be what it takes to get us there.  Sometimes, you need to ramp up to take on a big project for which you’ll need specialized competencies that are not in your skill set, prompting you to hire subcontractors.  In that case, you’ll lead a team and coordinate numerous tasks that drive completion of the project deliverables.  In other cases, you need administrative help to free you from routine tasks like bookkeeping and invoicing, or following-up with customer service requests.

In each scenario, the ability to effectively delegate will be instrumental in creating a positive working environment, where your hired help will strive to do their best work, so that desired outcomes are achieved.

Delegating can be considered both an art and a science and with practice, it can be mastered.  An unwillingness or inability to delegate indicates poor leadership.  Leaders who insist upon having their hands tightly on the wheel of every initiative are often perceived as controlling micromanagers by those who work with them. Such behavior telegraphs a lack of trust or even respect.  It is demotivating and ultimately counterproductive.  Here’s a checklist to help you perfect your delegating skill.

  1. Learn and assess the skills and interests of team members/ employees                                                                                                                        Consult with and observe your team members or employees when putting together a working group or assigning tasks and accommodate, to the best of your ability, their strengths and preferences, according to the project needs.  This could be a skills development opportunity for some and the wise leader will enable that process whenever possible and reap the benefits.
  2. Choose the right tasks to delegate                                                                                     You, team leader, are responsible for understanding and communicating the strategic, big picture view of the work.  Subcontractors and part-time help are responsible for their area of specialized skills.  You coordinate all tasks and ensure that milestones are met and the deliverables are provided within the project deadline and budget.
  3.  Provide the tools and authority to do the work                                                    Ensure that your employees or team have the resources—information, time, budget, equipment— and the authority to do what you’ve asked of them.  Don’t make them run to you whenever they need to take action.  Rather, empower them and let them apply their intelligence and creativity to making you look good.
  4. Be clear about expectations                                                                                           Explain the goals of the project or tasks and how they support short or long-term plans.  Explain how results/ success will be measured. Confirm that those who work for or with you understand their individual responsibilities and the collective goal. Make sure that the goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
  5. Provide feedback, guidance and encouragement.  Acknowledge success.     Monitor performance and quickly correct any misunderstandings or problems. Find teachable moments and provide training or useful suggestions when needed.  Encourage and enable excellent work to keep people motivated and productivity high.  Team members and employees will appreciate that you recognize and diplomatically call out both superior and weak performances.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: A Goldsmith in Baghdad (1901), Kamal al-Mulk (1847-1941) courtesy of the Islamic Consultative Assembly in Tehran, Iran

Speeding Up Your Sales Pipeline

How wonderful would it be if your prospective clients would just hurry up and make a decision about if and when they’ll give you a sale? Even if 80% decline, as predicted in Pareto’s 80/20 rule, think of the time and aggravation that you’d be spared.  There’d be no more chasing so-called prospects who either can’t or won’t green-light a sale for you.  Your numbers would probably increase, if for no other reason than you’d stop wasting time on lost causes and look for better possibilities.

Getting a commitment to either fish or cut bait in maybe a week or two is a fantasy, but learning how to get better at qualifying prospects is within reach and here are four tips to help you do just that.  Implement these tactics and you’ll move prospects through your sales pipeline faster than ever before.

1. Sell to the decision-maker

Is the person who you think is the prospect really the prospect? Does this person have the authority to make the decision and approve the budget? If not, there will be no sale until and unless you get in front of the real decision-maker.

Especially in B2B sales, a gatekeeper or other lower-level employee could be enlisted to find out the details and then report back to the actual decision-maker.  Alternatively, the decision could be made by a committee of senior staff members, one of whom may be speaking with you, but s/he alone cannot give the green-light without getting agreement from other committee members.

In either case, you’ll need to get around the stand-in, learn the identity of who has the most influence and focus your attention on addressing that person’s hot buttons, so that the sale can move forward at a faster pace.

Step One in ferreting out the identity of the real decision-maker is noticing the job title of the person with whom you’re speaking.  If s/he ranks lower than Director or Vice President, most likely there’s someone in the background pulling the strings.  Unless you’re selling office supplies, ask the stand-in if s/he is able to directly approve the budget and if there are others who might like to directly ask you questions about your product, service, or project.  Be respectful of feelings, but do encourage the participation in the sales process of the one who can sign the check.

2. Discover what worries your prospect

Get a big-picture understanding of your prospect’s most urgent and top-of-mind challenges and near-term objectives, as they apply to what you can bring to the table in terms of a product or service.  What does your prospect think will happen if the product doesn’t get purchased or the project doesn’t get done?  How will company leaders feel when the problem is resolved and objectives are achieved?

Learn as much as possible about what your prospect wants and how committed s/he is to achieving goals and resolving issues.  Ask “what” and “how” questions to discover these key insights.

3. Confirm that your solution is a fit 

Ultimately, all salespeople want to close deals. But ironically, it’s sometimes better to walk away from a potential sale if the product or service isn’t a good fit for either you or the prospect.  Pushing for a sale that won’t bring about the best outcomes never ends well and it should be avoided, even when you’re desperate to do business.

In these situations, your objective is about getting to “no” faster.  Then you can move on and pursue other prospects who may be better positioned to buy from you.  It’s  preferable to speed inappropriate prospects through the pipeline and devote the time saved to identifying and meeting with qualified prospects who might say “yes.”

To ensure that your product or service can solve the problem or help the prospect meet a goal, ask pointed questions and listen well to determine whether your solution will produce the best results and be cost-effective in the long run.

4. Learn the prospect’s timetable

Is there an urgent need or deadline that compels your prospect to take action and implement a solution quickly? If you know that to be true, you can most likely expedite the sale (and get the price you want, as well).  Ask questions to help yourself evaluate whether the prospect could be ready to do the deal in a week or two, or in months.

One important line of questioning should concern available funding for the proposed sale or project.  In some cases, the prospect would sincerely like to move forward, but there is insufficient political support in the organization for his/her agenda.

The information will allow you to adjust your expectations for the sale and decide if you should continue to pursue, pick up the thread in a few months, or close the book on a pipe dream.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Portrait of Evdokiya Nickolayevna Chesmenskaya (1780) by Jean-Louis Voille (1744 – 1806) courtesy of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow