All posts by toddluhtanen

Spring Cleaning your Inbox

Increase productivity by eliminating your #1 distraction

Spam, junk mail and sales pitches that we don’t need.  The endless stream of email never seems to ending. Its 2014 and living without email is impractical and for most professionals it’s impossible.  Email is an invaluable tool and has transformed communication both inside and outside of business but at the same time has become the bane of our existence.  We are often slaves to our inbox instead of using this incredible tool to make our lives and professions more efficient and productive.  Consider just 30 years ago the idea that you could send an electronic document from your computer to anyone in the world and most people would think you were crazy.  Now we do it from our cell phones sitting in Starbucks and are irritated if we don’t get a response in 3 minutes.  The invention of email was quickly followed by junk mail, spam and viruses hidden in those messages.  But, the world was hooked, we can’t live without email, the value is so great that we tolerate the irritation and inconvenience of the message noise in our inbox as we sort through looking for the valuable information hidden like a needle in a haystack.  And even when we find all the important messages they sit there staring back at us, reminding us of projects that need our attention, distracting us for our current work.  This cycle quickly can add up to dealing with email for several hours a day or more killing our productivity and efficiency.

It’s clear that productivity and efficiency require moments of focus. Sometimes those moments are 15 minutes and other times several hours are necessary.  While writing this article I’ve been distracted 3 or 4 times and have had to regroup, collect my thoughts and then continue the process.  This is not efficient and proves that we need to continue the fight for focus and efficiency with our time every day.

So what can we do?  First of all work diligently to eliminate junk from ever getting into your inbox.  Depending on your email provider (e.g. Google Gmail, Yahoo, Microsoft Exchange) and your mail client software (e.g. Gmail Website, Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, various smartphone apps) you already have some of your junk mail blocked.  There are also third party tools that can aid in blocking the worst of the offenders.  Google does a pretty good job of this and so do the other major mail services.  To get into all the specifics would be a whole series of articles.  Consult your provider for more options.

Once the mail reaches your inbox it up to you to deal with it.  This is where we need to develop habits that allow us to stay efficient and manage our inbox not the other way around.  I use a 3-pronged approach to inbox management:

  1. Unsubscribe, Unsubscribe, Unsubscribe
  2. Folders
  3. Keep inbox empty (Inbox Zero)

 

Unsubscribe: When you come across spam and junk mail you have a few choices.  First you can simply delete it.  If you find yourself regularly deleting email from the same company you can unsubscribe.  Often we subscribe to thing we find interesting but then quickly realize its better to go looking for the information when were ready rather than be bugged by it every day.  At the bottom of most messages of the informational type will be an unsubscribe link.  Click on it, follow the instructions and get the flow of junk slowed down.  Note: Stop subscribing to stuff!

Folders: Folders are critical to efficient use of email.  Each mail system you use has the ability to separate saved messages in sub folders.  Its important to have a few key folders that you use to manage your messages and enough archive folders to stay organized.  Keep it simple.  You should use no more than 3 to 5 folders for active. I use a 3-folder system; ACTION, READING and TO BE FILED.  The ACTION folder is where I spend my day, these are the items that I decided are a priority and need my attention.  The READING or READ LATER folder is used for causal reading that is interesting but non-critical and the TO BE FILED folder is for archived items.  Let me be clear I have dozens if not hundreds of folders sorted by the various business and personal activities that I’m involved in and sub divided as necessary to organize all the activity.  The difference is this is where I file away messages after I have acted on them.  The 3 primary folders are my daily activity folders.

Inbox Zero: This is often the most difficult for most people to get their head around.  They can’t imagine having 0 messages.  Many people let their inbox manage their day.  If they move a message they would never remember to act on it.  But if you are diligent and have a system then you can manage your priorities and your mail instead of the other way around.  The idea of Inbox Zero is to daily purge your inbox of all messages.  Simply go through every message and delete, move it to one of the three action folders or act on it.  You start from the top and go one by one through every item.  The easiest are the junk that can be deleted immediately.  The more difficult are the interesting items that can distract us for hours but are not a priority. Do not get sidetracked for an hour looking at a new car that you’re not going to buy anyway. You have 5 seconds to decide if its something you want to save for later or just needs to be deleted.  If you’re not sure then delete it.  Most email systems allow you to find delete items anyway.  If you want to save it for later move it to a READ LATER folder.  This should leave us with the items that are legitimate items for us to act on.  Use the two-minute rule that says if you can complete the action in two minutes or less do it now and get it done.  If it will take longer then move it to your ACTION folder.  That’s right don’t work on it now, now your focus is on your inbox not browsing your mail for something to work on.  This is where you will go to look for your work priorities not your inbox.  Finally, anything that is complete or doesn’t require an action then move it to the appropriate archive folder or to a TO BE FILED folder that can be filed later.  I use a TO BE FILED folder when I’m purging from my smart phone.  Then I can archive these later when I have a few minutes of down time or I need to take a break from bigger projects.

I usually purge my inbox at least once a day, although it doesn’t last very long.  New mail is flowing in 24/7 but my attention is on my ACTION folder not my inbox. The key to managing your inbox and achieving inbox zero is being intentional.  Schedule time each day to go through you inbox. The ACTION folder is what you should work from.  You are now deciding your priorities not the entire world. If you need to have a CRITICAL folder to differentiate priority that great but use caution because if you have too many folders you will just shift the chaos from your inbox to your folders.  Getting back to the inbox, if the next message is junk delete it, if its informational but doesn’t require action move it to the TO BE FILED folder or directly to the archive folder.  I use the TO BE FILED folder primarily for when I’m purging my inbox from my smart phone.

Start today and stay true to your ACTION folder.  Don’t let your Inbox set your priorities.  You are on your way to more efficiency and effectiveness.

Working Social – Organic Networking

The right way to network and build your business

I walk into Starbucks and I see the usual suspects.  The hipster group is well represented and the soccer moms are getting their energy to gear up for the afternoon cycle of pickups and drop-offs. Then I see them, you know them, and you might even be one, one of them, the business guy with his laptop/briefcase/coffee and newspaper.  He’s setup shop and is settling in for a long stay.  He looks content but then I notice something off.  He seems a little uncomfortable, too muck noise, too many people too close.  These aren’t business people. These aren’t his peers.  He wants to have his own office but keeps justifying this overuse of ‘free’ Wi-Fi as being frugal.  The scene continues like this through out the morning, different faces but the same situation.  It looks like is social but its not, its just frustrating.

What he really wants (even if he doesn’t realize it) is to be Working Social. Working Social looks somewhat like a coffee shop but with less grinders and blenders and cash registers; with plenty of coffee and with more desks and more business people and conference rooms and a copier.

When you are Working Social you are working with your peers, other business professionals who can appreciate your need for isolation and exposure, camaraderie and candid conversation.  The level on conversation can range from “how’s the family” and “is it really snowing again” to “did your client accept your proposal” and “thanks for the referral” and “I met a guy who needs your services”.  Through natural conversations people Working Socially naturally get to know each other.  They get to know each other’s business and family and along the way get to know each others character and come to build trust with each other.  Referrals happen naturally among trusted peers, among friends. This is not a forced referral environment but more like, I know you and respect you and want to refer people to you.

Working Social can’t happen at Starbucks or Panera or in an individual office.  It can only happen is a shared environment intentionally designed to bring like-minded individuals together.

“Hey, what do you say we both be independent together, huh?”
– Hermey (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

Coworking shops and true “shared offices” are some of the only places to find people Working Socially.  Without this daily interaction among each member it’s impossible to build the relationships that will blossom into trusted referrals, peer-to-peer business deals and a genuine caring about each other and each other’s success.

So, go out there and find a good coworking shop; there are plenty to choose from. Junction 440, Bamboo, and Grand Circus are some of the choices in the city of Detroit, and there is Metro Work Space (my office) in Livonia and Farmington, Byte and Mortar in Troy, and Workantile in Ann Arbor, to name a few. These offices provide something more than what is listed as amenities—something more than you can find in any coffee shop, and something you will never get from a traditional office. Coworking is not a fad; it’s not just a cheaper office. It’s a new way to work, supported by sites like http://www.commerciallightingcompany.co.uk/, and a better way to work. It’s working socially.

Business Success: Take you Foot off the Break
car rain

When your business is struggling, pressing on the breaks and holding back seems to be the best strategy but sometimes you need to let up on the break to regain control of your success.

We are often the most cautious when thing aren’t going well.  Our first reaction to a weak economy or other downturns in our business is often to pull back, reduce expenses and prepare to weather the storm out.  This is not a bad idea and those who miss identify a downturn and go about business as usual are often much worse for wear, and if you have business and a store getting the right shop front shutters can be essential for this.  But how long do we hold back,  how long do we keep our foot on the breaks.  You don’t want to act foolish or be in denial of reality but you can’t cut you way to prosperity.  Eventually you have to let up on the break and regain control of your business which can also be achieved by implementing new tools like the one described in this guide about understanding pay stubs.

Many years ago while driving in the rain I suddenly encountered traffic quickly coming to a standstill.  Understand, this was before anti-lock breaks or at least before I could afford a car with anti-lock breaks or a car with good tires for that matter.  As I slammed on the breaks my car began to slide.  Moving forward and seemingly speeding up as it hydroplaned on the wet blacktop.  The cars ahead were growing closer so I attempted to steer to the open lane on the right but without any traction the car continued straight ahead.  I was slowing down but not enough to stop before a collision so I decided to lift my foot off the peddle and then I instantly regained control of my car and at the last second it jumped to the right avoiding a crash and coming to a stop without incident.  I was then able to continue my journey down the road.

What “breaks” are you afraid to let up on?  Is it the marketing budget breaks?  Is it the hiring breaks?  Is it the new market or new location breaks?  These are all legitimate concerns but there comes a time when we need to take our foot off the peddle and regain control of our business and steer it in the direction we need to go.

-Todd A. Luhtanen
President at Talan SBS, LLC
Consultant and Coach to Small Business

Evolution of an Entrepreneur (infographic)
Stick to your core strengths

Small businesses that experience success and growth need to abandon the mantra of doing it all.  But far to often, they take on ancillary activities that distract from the core strengths that made them successful.  They find themselves mired in back office processes and either work 16 hour days or the business start to slip.  Success is a great thing, it is after all the point of our business, but success is a very poor teacher.  “I’m a Doctor for goodness sake, I should be able to run my business!” Replace Doctor with any other profession and you have the mindset that get many business owners in trouble.  My advice is stick to your core strengths and outsource the rest. If you want faster expansion for your growing business, click here to learn more about Asset Finance companies..

Don’t get nervous, you don’t have to abandon your patriotism or defy your union brothers.  What I’m talking about is hiring business specialists to perform the tasks that they are specially trained in and you are not.  These can and should be local businesses many of which are also small businesses.  Why have a receptionist turned bookkeeper doing the CFO job when you can hire a CFO on-demand for the two weeks per year that you need them.  Your bookkeeper and bottom line will thank you.  Financial, Marketing, Human Resources, Employee Training and even Sales are areas that can and should be outsourced.  The main benefit for small business owners is the ability to focus on the core business.  The cost of being distracted (sleepless nights, missed deadlines and limited resources) is enough to make the difference in profit and loss.  So now,

get more sleep, make more money and outsource everything that is not your core business.

Is Overfunding Holding You Back

The idea that you need to be well funded to succeed in business is a myth. In fact it can be what’s holding your company back. This is specifically true for small business and often is the cause of lethargic behavior on behalf of the leader and the staff. Have you ever seen a successful entrepreneur who has build up a successful company from nothing to a thriving business only to fail at doing to again? This happens more often that you think. It’s like the second album of many bands that flops. It’s based on the misconception that you can shortcut the hard work of building a business. A struggling band puts there heart and soul into compiling a set of songs that reflect their personal struggles and drive for meaning and success. This is intertwined with odd jobs to pay the rent, buy food and pay for studio time. Out of necessity they neglect sleep and stay up all night writing songs, practicing or playing gigs. The struggle enhances the process and the challenge reveals their character. Then when success is achieved they feel they can repeat that process in a few months in the studio without the late nights and odd jobs and other struggles.

In business it’s the same, the late nights and underfunded processes force you and your staff to dig deep and find a way to make it work. This process is the hard work that makes it worthwhile. It gives you that feeling of accomplishment that cant be explained but lifts you up and makes you feel like you can take on the world. This is your character being revealed .

So don’t envy those that are overfunded or don’t seem to work as hard. They are either working just as hard and you don’t see it or they are coasting their company into ruin. You may not be overfunded but the idea that you need more capital in order to succeed or grow can be what’s holding you and your company back from the very success and growth you are looking for.