How to get more done in less time

July 7, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Surprise! There just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to get done. But you already knew that. Like virtually everyone in business today, you begin each day jammed-packed with stuff that needs to get done – then find yourself bombarded with new stuff all labeled “urgent.” Checking and responding to the emails that accumulated overnight takes an immediate bite out of your day. Then come the phone calls, meetings, interruptions, questions and cries for help. Of course, we can’t forget time spent consoling that one employee who meanders from one life crisis to the next. Isn’t it amazing how something like breaking up with a boyfriend can bring an entire department’s productivity to a grinding halt? At the end of the day, your to-do list not only looks the same – it got bigger. If I captured a day in your life, read on.
I always like to use the phrase, “manage what’s on your plate” as a means of avoiding the stress that comes living in a perpetual state of feeling “overwhelmed.” For most leaders, that’s easier said than done. Overcoming bad work habits, poor time management and the inability to quickly filter out priorities, gotta-do’s and hot opportunities from the busy work, nice-to-do’s and rabbit trails, requires more than good intentions.
Here are some red-hot strategies to take control of your time and get more done:
* Step off the hamster wheel: Give yourself some time to gain perspective on what needs to change in your daily approach to work. You can’t do this while you’re immersed in your self-inflected chaos. This may require a few hours or a few days of self-discovery. It all depends on how chaotic your days are. Simply put, if you’re not getting stuff done now, stepping back for a bit to reorganize is a better use of time to become more productive.
* Filtering and processing your plates: It’s so easy to have projects and problems creep onto your plate. So why not think in terms of two plates? There’s your main course plate that contains high-value, high-priority projects and tasks. This plate contains the gotta-do’s. Nothing gets added to this plate if it doesn’t fit the high-value, high-priority criteria. The second plate is dessert with low-value, low priority projects and tasks. Like dessert, you may not always have room or you just may pass on it entirely. Finishing what’s on the main plate is non-negotiable. Dessert can wait.
* Organize and prioritize tomorrow’s work: The brain does amazing work while you sleep – as long as you give it stuff to work on. If you organize and prioritize your plates at the end of the day, your brain essentially begins working on tomorrow’s tasks. The next day, this subliminal head start gets you into a productivity mode quickly. The key is working your plan. Yes, interruptions will occur. It’s your job to filter them into high or low priorities to avoid heading off on rabbit trails.
* Assess your progress: At the end of the day, your reward for getting organized and focused is being able to assess what you’ve accomplished. View assessing progress as your commitment to personal accountability. Simply put, your goal is to achieve measureable progress at the end of every day.
Sure, there will be days you’ll find yourself back on the hamster wheel. It happens to the best leaders. No-compromise leaders regain focus and quickly shift back into productivity mode.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

Surprise! There just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to get done. But you already knew that. Like virtually everyone in business today, you begin each day jammed-packed with stuff that needs to get done – then find yourself bombarded with new stuff all labeled “urgent.” Checking and responding to the emails that accumulated overnight takes an immediate bite out of your day. Then come the phone calls, meetings, interruptions, questions and cries for help. Of course, we can’t forget time spent consoling that one employee who meanders from one life crisis to the next. Isn’t it amazing how something like breaking up with a boyfriend can bring an entire department’s productivity to a grinding halt? At the end of the day, your to-do list not only looks the same – it got bigger. If I captured a day in your life, read on.... Read More

Surprise! There just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to get done. But you already knew that. Like virtually everyone in business today, you begin each day jammed-packed with stuff that needs to get done – then find yourself bombarded with new stuff all labeled “urgent.” Checking and responding to the emails that accumulated overnight takes an immediate bite out of your day. Then come…
Read More

Categories: Monday Morning Wake-Up

Gotta take care of you

June 30, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Being the leader of a business pretty much means that you live in a perpetual pressure cooker. You’ve got stuff coming at you from all sides while juggling a dozen business balls. You’re constantly thinking about cash flow, making sales goals, employee issues and delivering world-class service to customers. You’re even trying to understand the thinking of that one employee who invests more time and energy figuring out how to avoid work – and is still looking for a raise. Yes, it’s controlled craziness and it’s all part of the leadership game.
But here’s the catch. When all this day-in-day-out craziness eventually becomes the norm, the stress can take its toll on both your mental and physical health. I know because it happened to me last year. I was fried and out of gas. I needed a break. So much so, with the support of my team, I took a three-month sabbatical from June through August. The very first thing I did was read a book called Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, MD. Following the book’s recommendations, I committed to going to the gym every day rather than my usual every other day. Wow, within a week I could feel a difference.
After a few weeks, I decided to kick it up a notch and started doing spin class in addition to weight training. I thought I was going to die at that first spin class – but kept going back. Since I live in the beautiful Connecticut River Valley and Long Island Sound area, I decided to buy a road bike to enjoy my workouts outside. I did 10 miles, then 20, and worked up to 30 miles per ride. Six months later on New Year’s Eve, I had racked up 901 miles on that bike. During the winter, I did spin class four to five times a week. On weekends, I worked out on my bike mounted on a trainer. And if the temperature went over 40 degrees, I’d go for a 30-mile ride.
I was hooked. Last April, I bought a carbon fiber road bike. Three weeks ago, I did my first 75-mile ride. Tomorrow, July 28th, at 7:30am, I’ll begin a 150-mile ride for MS from Boston Harbor to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. (In the process, I raised $5,600 for MS.) As you read this Monday Morning Wake-Up, I hope to be basking in the glory of my personal victory of completing a successful ride.
So what’s the point of all this? At 58 years old, I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m more productive and more on top of my game than at any other time in my career. My thinking is clear and I have the energy to do what ever comes my way. My attitude is purely positive. Strategies is having our best year in its 15-year history. Problems don’t wreck me – I wreck them with action.
It all began with a commitment to take care of me so I can take care of everyone and everything else. Working out is key to managing stress. (A fine wine or a Bombay Sapphire doesn’t hurt either.) If you say that you don’t have the time to workout, my response is simple, “Stop compromising. You’ll have the time if you make time.” No compromise.
And here’s what makes it all worth the effort. In the past year, more people have said to me, “You look great, you look younger.” Younger next year – that was my goal. This no-compromise stuff works.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

Being the leader of a business pretty much means that you live in a perpetual pressure cooker. You’ve got stuff coming at you from all sides while juggling a dozen business balls. You’re constantly thinking about cash flow, making sales goals, employee issues and delivering world-class service to customers. You’re even trying to understand the thinking of that one employee who invests more time and energy figuring out how to avoid work – and is still looking for a raise. Yes, it’s controlled craziness and it’s all part of the leadership game.... Read More

Being the leader of a business pretty much means that you live in a perpetual pressure cooker. You’ve got stuff coming at you from all sides while juggling a dozen business balls. You’re constantly thinking about cash flow, making sales goals, employee issues and delivering world-class service to customers. You’re even trying to understand the thinking of that one employee who invests more time and energy figuring out how to…
Read More

Categories: Monday Morning Wake-Up

Are you keeping your promise to the customer?

June 23, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

These days, terms like “brand promise,” “exceeding customer expectations” and “the customer is always right” are so overused that their message is barely audible above the daily activities and routines at your business. Of course you and the rest of your team know how essential it is to deliver amazing customer experiences all day, every day. In fact, strategically placed at the core of your business thinking there is a promise you’ve made to your customer. That promise is something special and unique that only your business can deliver. That promise says your business is committed to delivering extreme value with extraordinary consistency. It doesn’t really matter what your price point is or what segment of the market you cater to, it just matters that you deliver on your promise to the customer to be your best.
The question I pose to you is simple. Is your business keeping its promise to your customers? It’s a “yes” or “no” answer. An answer like, “Most of the time,” is unacceptable because it’s a compromise to your promise. Actually, the reality at your business may be that some people believe in and deliver on the promise – the rest of your team delivers something less. That’s breaking your promise. That’s compromise.
Here are three red-hot strategies to keep your promise to the customer:
1. You need to commit first: If your business has compromised on its promise, as the leader, you watched it happen. It will take a major initiative and a lot of pushing to get your entire team up to speed. You must be resolute.
2. Define your promise: Create a two- or three-person team charged with the responsibility to define every aspect of your promise. What does it look like, feel like and sound like from a customer perspective?
3. Skill certify EVERYONE: Build skill-certification training modules that address phone skills, greetings, consultations, client interaction, service closing procedures, client assistance procedures, problem procedures, ending-the-visit procedures… you name it, train and skill certify everyone how to do it all perfectly.
4. Across the board accountability: This is where no-compromise leadership needs to engage and stay engaged. It’s 100% keep the promise or it’s compromise.
All too often, customers are at the receiving end of a company’s indifference and apathy. And sadly, too many customers have gotten used to inconsistent service and breaching of a company’s promise to deliver amazing experiences. The winners invest the time and energy to master the disciplines of customer service and respect. By doing so, the no-compromise winners stand out like shining stars in a sea of compromising mediocrity. Can you deliver on your promise?
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

These days, terms like “brand promise,” “exceeding customer expectations” and “the customer is always right” are so overused that their message is barely audible above the daily activities and routines at your business. Of course you and the rest of your team know how essential it is to deliver amazing customer experiences all day, every day. In fact, strategically placed at the core of your business thinking there is a promise you’ve made to your customer. That promise is something special and unique that only your business can deliver. That promise says your business is committed to delivering extreme value with extraordinary consistency. It doesn’t really matter what your price point is or what segment of the market you cater to, it just matters that you deliver on your promise to the customer to be your best.... Read More

These days, terms like “brand promise,” “exceeding customer expectations” and “the customer is always right” are so overused that their message is barely audible above the daily activities and routines at your business. Of course you and the rest of your team know how essential it is to deliver amazing customer experiences all day, every day. In fact, strategically placed at the core of your business thinking there is a…
Read More

Categories: Monday Morning Wake-Up

You want to be the best – but will you do the work?

June 16, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

When you say that your company is “the best,” it means that it has little or no tolerance for anything that’s done below standard. Simply put, any activity or work that falls below standard that is not quickly addressed and resolved is compromise. And compromise of any sort has costs attached to it. True, even the best-of-the-best skip a beat every now and then, but their ability to consistently execute at superb levels in all business disciplines keeps them part of the elite few.
So, if your vision is to be the best, are you prepared to do whatever it takes to be the best? I ask this question because “the best” is the recipient of more lip service than it is of measurable action guided by no-compromise leadership. For example, while your touting how great your business is, are there customers not receiving the experience promised? Are there employees that regard rules as something for everyone else and not them? Are there employees that work harder at killing time than producing results? If any of these questions make you squirm, then a gap exists between your current reality and your vision of being the best. The next question is, what are you going to do about it?
Here are three red-hot strategies to be the best:
1. Lock in the right systems and procedures: Tiger Woods has one heck of a golf swing. He wasn’t born with it. He was coached. He practices relentlessly to perfect it. When it stops working, he goes though the complex and exasperating process of reinventing a better swing. Getting better is not an option – it’s the only option. Settling for status quo is a compromise.
2. Everyone learns, masters and plays: Double standards, playing favorites, or invoking the “grandfathered in clause” is pure compromise. It can wreck a business culture faster than you can say, “Accountability will get a lot of people upset.” It is the leader’s job to hold employees accountable to do the work they are hired to do. To be the best, everyone shows up and plays to win. Anything less is compromise.
3. Hold yourself accountable: If you reported to a no-compromise leader, would you be playing the business game with more intensity? Would you be getting more done and producing better results as a leader? Would you stop avoiding the tough conversations or decisions? If you were being held accountable by a higher up, chances are you’d be saying, “yes,” to these questions. So, hold yourself accountable. If you don’t, you compromise.
I believe there is growth and opportunity beyond your wildest dreams just waiting for you and your company. All that stands between achieving those wildest dreams are the three strategies I just presented to you. That’s all, just three disciplines to master and being the best will become a reality and bring with it all the just rewards that come with outstanding success.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

When you say that your company is “the best,” it means that it has little or no tolerance for anything that’s done below standard. Simply put, any activity or work that falls below standard that is not quickly addressed and resolved is compromise. And compromise of any sort has costs attached to it. True, even the best-of-the-best skip a beat every now and then, but their ability to consistently execute at superb levels in all business disciplines keeps them part of the elite few.... Read More

When you say that your company is “the best,” it means that it has little or no tolerance for anything that’s done below standard. Simply put, any activity or work that falls below standard that is not quickly addressed and resolved is compromise. And compromise of any sort has costs attached to it. True, even the best-of-the-best skip a beat every now and then, but their ability to consistently execute…
Read More

Categories: Monday Morning Wake-Up

Tuff Stuff: Leave nothing unsaid

June 9, 2008 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You’re getting ready to do a performance evaluation with a key employee. There have been behavior and performance issues that have surfaced a while back that you had hoped were temporary and would just fade away. But, as they often do, the issues continued and now they are beginning to impact other members of your team. You know this employee is highly sensitive to constructive feedback and the process often produces all kinds of drama, emotions and funk. Because of this, getting into the tough stuff with this employee always produces a knot in your stomach.
So, the evaluation begins. You navigate through the process until you reach that point where all that remains is the tough stuff. You feel like you’ve cornered a wild beast and you’re just trying to find the best moment and angle to capture it without getting mauled. And then it happens – you ask the employee if she has any questions and you end the evaluation. You hesitated. You left essential things unsaid. You wimped out. You compromised.
This scenario gets played out in business every day. You see behavior and performance issues and for some reason, you just fail to engage. Interestingly, it only occurs with certain individuals when your pre-conceived mental picture of the process and the immediate fallout cranks up your anxiety levels high enough to hit the compromise button. To make matters worse, you beat yourself up for missing the opportunity to address a growing problem that will only continue to escalate.
Here are some red-hot strategies to ensure that you leave nothing unsaid:
* Just get it over with: When it comes to confronting reality and dealing with the tough stuff, if you hesitate you lose. That’s it. Address it and move on. Lingering issues do more damage to the performance of the business. More importantly, allowing issues to linger means you’re allowing contamination to infect your culture.
* Focus on the desired outcome: It’s easy to get stuck in the emotions and stress of addressing highly sensitive and seemingly explosive issues. Help yourself and the employee by focusing attention on the desired outcome. Doing so gives purpose to the process and that addressing the tough stuff today will create a better tomorrow.
* How bad did it get before you engaged? Here’s the real kicker. If you’ve observed and even acknowledged that a behavior and performance problem exists and did nothing, you compromised your leadership role. Had you engaged when the problem surfaced, the probability of it going critical is greatly minimized.
* What’s the worse that could happen? OK, the employee may get so upset that he or she quits. Is that a bad thing? Typically when behaviors and performance head south, the ripple effect can degrade performance and create distractions throughout a department or even the entire company. If your respectful efforts to help an employee grow and prosper are met with a resignation, consider it a favor. Accept the resignation and open the windows to allow fresh air in.
One of the most challenging aspects of being a no-compromise leader is the ability to engage in open and constructive dialog with employees on behavior and performance issues – and to do so when the issues surface. Hesitate today and you’ll just have a bigger problem tomorrow.
Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends They’ll appreciate it.
Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO

You’re getting ready to do a performance evaluation with a key employee. There have been behavior and performance issues that have surfaced a while back that you had hoped were temporary and would just fade away. But, as they often do, the issues continued and now they are beginning to impact other members of your team. You know this employee is highly sensitive to constructive feedback and the process often produces all kinds of drama, emotions and funk. Because of this, getting into the tough stuff with this employee always produces a knot in your stomach.... Read More

You’re getting ready to do a performance evaluation with a key employee. There have been behavior and performance issues that have surfaced a while back that you had hoped were temporary and would just fade away. But, as they often do, the issues continued and now they are beginning to impact other members of your team. You know this employee is highly sensitive to constructive feedback and the process often…
Read More

Categories: Monday Morning Wake-Up

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