Are you really in the weeds?

I’ve discovered a solution to one of the most nagging tasks on my list. I’m going to take a cue from a neighbor and park a sign that says “Native Planting” in my weedy perennial bed. I think I just might pull this off. Not to brag, but my “native plants” are taller and much more impressive than his.

Just like that, one of the biggest to-do’s on my list gone. Not really a miracle – just a change in perspective.

If you find yourself in the weeds:

  • Ask yourself what someone else would see if they looked at your “garden”. Would they be looking at the detail, or would they see the big picture? And how does that big picture look?
  • Pull the big weeds first. It will improve the picture considerably. If all you pull out is the small stuff, when you stand up you’ll still be knee-deep in greenery.
  • Start in one area and work on that area until you’re done. If you’re like me, you find yourself jumping from task to task and when you step back, the impact isn’t that great because nothing is actually “done”. It’s a lot more satisfying to clean up one area and then check it off your list.
  • If you can, enjoy the disorder. I decided to let a large group of milkweed stay because it looked gorgeous. How is anyone else going to know it’s not supposed to be there? (Until now, of course.)

I confess, I do get caught up in the weeds sometimes, and this isn’t the first time I’ve taken up native landscaping. One year as I cruised through the beautiful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, I saw a rambling bed of greenery marked “Creeping Thyme”. It was the same stuff I’d been pulling up out of my garden path for days.

“If they can embrace it,” I thought, “Why can’t I?”

But in the end, I couldn’t stand it. A decade later I’m still pulling the darn stuff up.

Need to sort out the big weeds from the small ones? See my previous post on how to prioritize tasks. And while I’m on the subject, I think I’ll dig up some other tips for productivity. Stay tuned.

Relax and enjoy? How?

When I started my practice of yoga many asanas ago, the hardest thing for me to do was the end-of-class relaxation exercise. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be doing something else. It’s clear I don’t have a restful mind. I’ve been known to craft limericks during meditation. I don’t think I could manage even a desktop zen-garden. You know, the ones with the tiny rakes? Too concerned one of the cats would use it as a litter box.

So here it is, July in Minnesota and six weeks into my experiment with the no-nanny summer and I just can’t seem to relax and enjoy it. Whether I’m working in my office, copywriting at the bowling alley (the kids bowl, not me) or taking a few hours off at the beach with a good read, I can’t shake the feeling I should be doing something else. Really, isn’t this what the self-employeds among us strive for – the flexibility to take life as it comes? So why doesn’t it seem like enough?

This is where I usually offer my take on ways to manage so I’ll attempt it again with this caveat – I’m still working on them myself:

  • Prioritize. Every task has its place in the hierarchy and honestly, some can wait until fall. If this is a struggle, see my nifty method for bouncing items off your to-do list.
  • Enjoy it while you can. As every parent knows, the endless soccer games, summer camp programs, and recorder concerts will be over before you know it, and you’ll miss them when they are. (OK, maybe not the recorder concerts.)
  • Relax your standards a little. Summer throws every parent off-base, regardless of how your work and life are structured. So what if the kids watch a little too much TV (there, I said it) or we don’t seem to have the laundry done? It’s not like that laundry is going anywhere.

So once again, I resolve to enjoy our fleeting summer. The alternative isn’t any fun, is it?

Happily, I’m now able to indulge myself in the end-of-yoga-class relaxation. Perhaps I’m aided by exhaustion. I sometimes fall asleep, so soundly I actually dream. Just hope someone nudges me if I start to snore.

How do you relax and recharge? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them I’ll feature your business.

Of laundry, and other things I won’t finish

Last week I attended an online nonfiction writers conference which was fabulous, but consumed a lot of time. Because I’m too antsy to sit for several days (and because I am perpetually behind on the laundry) I decided to multi-task. It seemed reasonable to me that in the course of three days I could sort, wash, fold and put away whatever laundry life threw at me while listening to the conference speakers and taking notes.

Turns out it wasn’t reasonable at all.

I washed sheets, towels, uniforms for two sports, dark clothes, light clothes and assorted socks and underwear. But at the end of three days I had laundry everywhere and I wasn’t close to “done”. And, of course, the uniforms were dirty again.

This is yet another example of how I set myself up for failure, by taking on more than I can accomplish in the time allowed. Or maybe I should say I set myself up for feelings of failure because who am I really measuring myself against, anyway?

To counter this, I’m trying out a new technique for sorting my tasks. I’m calling it Now-Later-Never.

Now tasks are pretty self-explanatory because they require immediate action – cleaning up cat vomit, taking a phone call from a key client, digging a dirty baseball sock out of the utility room 20 minutes before the game.

Later tasks are things I can put off for some amount of time without negative impact – scheduling routine appointments, filling out summer camp forms, outlining a presentation I’m not giving for two months. Admittedly, over time, some of these will become Now tasks.

Never tasks are my favorites. I just don’t do them at all because:

  • I miss the events or deadlines (so how important could they have been?)
  • The level of activity in my life ratchets up, so some things don’t seem as important anymore
  • Someone else can do them – provide dinner, empty the dishwasher, submit my business tax forms

It’s true that by subscribing to this method there are times when I’m doing only what is required to get by. For those you in start-up business mode, think minimum viable product. Not very ambitious, perhaps, but it gets me by.

And granted, this doesn’t always work with the laundry – I’ve only opted to throw clothes out instead of washing them a couple of times. I’ll spare you the details.

What’s the Never task on your list? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

Please, help me solve my turkey dilemma

I grew up with a mother who was largely indifferent to the holidays. As a kid, I could not understand this. Time off school? Gifts? Holiday food? Gatherings of family and friends? What’s not to love?

Of course, my siblings and I were largely indifferent to the huge amount of work that went into the holidays. Most of it performed by my mom.

I certainly get it now. Like it or not, and as much as I anticipate the holidays, most of the work falls squarely in my lap. Dragging the non-allergenic tree out of storage. Shopping with hundreds of other harried holiday planners. Trying to decide between a too-small turkey and a too-large turkey because I’m so late to the game. And yet somehow, it just seems easier to do it all yourself than to seek help from others.

Anyone who’s ever worked for me knows that I am a five-star delegater but every business owner I know struggles with that feeling that if you want to produce quality output it’s just so much darn easier to do it yourself than to try to explain your expectations to someone else. It’s a nasty trap at home and at work but if you struggle with delegation there are ways to lighten the load a little:

  • Double check expectations. Sure we want to deliver the best product and service we can but as with anything, there is a point of diminishing returns – and at some point the curve gets pretty steep. If you don’t know where, ask your customers (or family members) what’s important to them and what they can do without. They’ll tell you.
  • Take a second look at your task list. I guarantee some of your tasks are duplicative and some of them will take twice as long as they should because you don’t have a plan. Take a “time out” to prioritize, group, and reassign tasks. It’s likely some will come right off the list – I know the closer I get to the holidays the less of a perfectionist I become.
  • Rid yourself of clutter. It’s distracting and much of it is probably unnecessary. One quick fix – look around your home or office and pick up 50 things before you move on to your next activity. This is easy to do in a house full of kids and goes a long way toward freeing up your brain for other tasks. More on organization in my next post.

Of course the ever-earlier holiday hype doesn’t help the strain. This Halloween, when I ran out late in the day to pick up treats to hand out I was met with a display of Christmas candy.

Do you opt for the too-small turkey or the too-large turkey – and why? Send your opinions to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

How I spent my extra hour

This morning when my husband and I woke up we realized we’d forgotten to turn the clocks back to reflect the end of Daylight Savings Time. But rather than reset them then, we decided to wait.

As I said to him, “I don’t need the hour right now, but I’m sure I’ll need it later in the day.”

So we waited until around noon. When I started to ask myself where the day was going I set the clocks back and suddenly, I was back on schedule.

Tells me a lot about how I spend my days. I start out with lots of energy and good intentions but as time wears on and the to-do list gets longer I start to lag behind. And I hate getting to the end of the day and feeling like I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do.

So this worked for me – so well, in fact, that I think I’ll do it every year. Wish I could find a way to do it more often than that.

A secret revealed: the Two-Ask rule

Well, it appears that at least one of my readers is hauling around not large baggage, but dozens of shopping bags loaded with fun and exciting ideas. Here is what professional organizer Maureen Heinen of Send in Maureen had to say:

I’m an ‘idea’ collector. I have so many great ideas I want to implement in my business, but the truth is, there’s only me. And rather than choosing one or two ‘really good’ ideas and seeing them through to completion, I keep collecting more and have gotten caught in a hamster wheel that goes like this: get excited about a new idea, investigate it, feel a sense of urgency to do it, get distracted by the day-to-day of operating my business, fail to make sufficient progress on said idea, lose momentum, feel frustrated that I’m not accomplishing any ‘development’ in my business, end up tired of the day-to-day…and on and on it goes.

In my experience, this is incredibly common of those with entrepreneurial minds. One way to deal with it might be my Two-Ask rule. Read on for the secret.

Years ago, I worked for a wonderful boss with a great deal of drive, energy and commitment. One of the by-products of this were the dozens of ideas he came up with – and passed on to me for possible implementation. There were more ideas than we could reasonably pursue so I developed what I call the Two-Ask rule. The first time he mentioned an idea to me I would note it on a piece of paper and toss it in my in-box. If he asked me about it a second time, I would pull it out and do the necessary investigation to see if it was worth implementing. If he never mentioned it again, I would toss it at a reasonable interval and never speak of it again. The rule was simple: If it was important enough to stay on his mind, then it was important enough to pursue. If not, I was better off spending my energy elsewhere.

A family friend used a variation of this with items she wanted to buy. She put a picture of the item on the refrigerator for a few weeks and if the item lost its lustre in that time, she’d toss the piece of paper and keep her money.

As an entrepreneur (especially a professionally organized one) you might be able to implement a self-imposed Two-Ask rule of sorts – park your ideas for a specified amount of time and then review them again. You’ll find that some of them will have lost their lustre and some, hopefully, will still incite the same passion they initially did. If this is too simplistic, see my post entitled “I can’t throw out the artwork” for a more complex prioritization exercise.

Have another system that works for you? Send your thoughts to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use it I’ll feature your business.

More help with prioritization

I had so much feedback on my post last week  that I thought I’d follow up with some additional thoughts on prioritization.  If you didn’t see the post, I suggested you start to prioritize tasks by sorting them into the following categories:

  • Low Impact/High Cost – These are the projects that require huge amounts of time, energy and money and have little impact on your long-term business. Kind of like those weekly fencing lessons for the kids – fun to watch but it’s not going to get them into college.
  • Low Impact/Low Cost – These projects have little impact but at least they don’t cost much! It’s like the exercise video you bought on sale and used once. Don’t bother.
  • High Impact/High Cost – These are the things you dream about. The family trip to Hawaii. The backyard pool. High impact but high cost. Worth doing, but make sure you plan – and budget – ahead so you can really implement them.
  • High Impact/Low Cost – Bingo! You’ve hit the jackpot. It’s the $1 winning lottery ticket. These are the things to focus on first. High impact to the business but relatively easy to implement.

If you’re struggling to sort your tasks, here are some questions you can ask yourself to help decide the categories in which they belong:

  • Should be doing this task right now?
  • Will the task bring me money if I do it right now?
  • Is the task necessary to my business?
  • Do I want to do this task?
  • Do I have to get it done?
  • Can someone else do it instead of me?
  • Can someone else do it better than I can?
  • Is my failure to do it affecting someone else’s ability to get something done?
  • Is it affecting my ability to get another task done?
  • What would happen if I didn’t do it at all?
  • What will it cost me if I fail to do it?

Can you think of other questions we should be asking? If yes, please comment or send them to me at sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com and I’ll include them in a later post.

Happy prioritizing!

Setting expectations…and the Christmas that almost wasn’t

One year, in what I can only assume was a state of extreme sleep deprivation, I invited six relatives and a dog to stay with us over the Christmas holiday. The fact that I had a colicky newborn, a 3-year-old and a full-time job did not factor into the equation. As Christmas approached I somehow managed to buy gifts and get my house in order. But I never made it to the grocery store.

Christmas morning, I awoke to the sinking realization that I had nothing to feed the family of ten for Christmas dinner. The afternoon found me searching the freezer in a near panic trying to come up with dinner out of thin air. And then my eyes lit on a large bag of frozen meatballs bought for a party that never materialized. Voila – spaghetti and meatballs!

Although I felt pretty sheepish about it, we had a relaxed and enjoyable celebration. No one seemed bothered that we were eating such a pedestrian dinner. It was only years later when I mentioned it to one of my relatives that I realized that no one knew that I had punted dinner. They thought it was dinner as planned.

The lesson here is about expectations – are the people you serve setting them or are you? Throughout my management career I have seen an awful lot of people struggle to fulfill an expectation no one actually has. The result is a lot of unneeded work and a fair amount of resentment when the work is not ultimately appreciated as much as the effort warrants. Give yourself a break this holiday season – focus on what the people around you really expect – whether it’s kindness, competence, warmth or a reasonably good meal. And punt the rest.

Happy holidays!

Have a story about setting expectations? Send it to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com. If I use it I’ll feature your business.