This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC.
If you had all the time in the world, would you ever get much done? The British naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson would say unequivocally that you would not. After all, you had as much time to complete things as you wanted, so what’s the rush? Parkinson’s Law, named after Mr. Parkinson for his extensive observations of working at the British Civil Service, states that work expands to fill the time allotted to complete it. As Small Business owners we all need to recognize the value of our time, and more importantly the effectiveness of the skills, strategies, people, and tools that influence our outcomes. In doing so, we harness the power of not just our personal productivity but also that of the success of our businesses. Every month, Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosts the Business Development Roundtable, where Small Business owners and their representatives come to talk about topics that make a difference in our business and professional lives. November’s Roundtable was all about using productivity tools (that you already have) to use our time and energy better. We had a great turnout and the group started with a discussion of the virtues of their own personal productivity. Where do you struggle with personal productivity? Where do you excel with your time, team, task and project management skills? People had a wide range of struggles and areas of prowess in their own work worlds; we honed in on time and email management in this Roundtable.
The Roundtable participants shared their calendar and time planning tools. Several attendees keep digital and analog calendars. Some keep a calendar planner that they carry with them or have at their office desk, so that they can quickly and easily capture events and appointments in their planners without additional technology. Others need the connectivity to share their calendars with others, and like that they can carry their calendars in their smartphones, so they choose to use software-based calendars. And yet others keep a dry erase board-style calendar that helps them map out their weeks, months and more, to get a higher perspective on their time planning.
The question was asked about how to invite people to events (such as a sales meeting, or to lunch), and whether text (SMS) messaging was appropriate. I took the question, since I actually have a strong opinion on the subject. While I regularly communicate via SMS with my family, friends and staff, I connect infrequently with clients, colleagues, vendors and other work-related contacts via text messaging. It is still primarily via phone and email. And, I need to really look at my calendar and look at other planning documents to usually decide on when something might be a good time to meet with a prospective vendor, partner or other business contact. That said, I would very much rather a phone call followed up by an email, or just an email, explaining why one wants to meet with me. That’s just me. And, that’s my point. I believe that you must ask people how they best like to be communicated with in order to be most effective in getting in someone’s calendar. Sometimes you don’t need to ask directly, as you can find out from others, but you need to find out how a person best plans and communicates. This puts them in the right mindset to make the best, most favorable decision to meet with you.
Also, I mentioned during the discussion section about calendars a really awesome Kickstarter project called the Pivot Calendar. Pivot Calendar is an adhesive, repositionable project management tool for your Small Business. You plan by the quarter, so you can have one, two, three, or four quarters up on the wall in your business. What makes it really unique (as you can see in the video above) is the ability to create a horizontal timeline as well as plan within the weeks vertically. It’s a very flexible planning tool for any business or organization.
When it comes to the number one productivity drain people in American corporate and small business talk of, it’s email. Email is a double-edged sword because it’s also an amazing technology that has revolutionized the way businesses and consumers alike communicate. It can be the most productive tool in your business arsenal, or the bane of your professional existence. Thankfully, most of that is up to you! At the Roundtable, several people asked and answered questions about the specifics of their email tool.
One cool tool that was discussed was Sanebox, an email management tool that works with any email system. The way it works is that it connects to your email service (such as Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo, AOL, Outlook/Live) and on mobile devices (i.e., iOS and Android) so you can manage through Sanebox. It creates “smart filters” that separate unimportant email messages from the important ones for you. As well, it categorizes, spam proofs your email, unsubscribes email newsletters with one click, defers email you want to read or respond to later, and can even save email attachments to your Dropbox file storage account for you. It’s a pretty powerful tool for the Small Business owner looking to maximize their time spent on email.
Because of the success of our discussion this month, we resume the Roundtable program in January (as we don’t meet in December) with a follow-up to this month’s topic. We will cover the areas we didn’t get to discuss at this session: task, project, and team management productivity tools. As a productivity enthusiast, these topics speak particularly to me personally, professionally and intellectually. More importantly for you, these productivity tools help you make more money, have more time for your family and friends, increase your quality of work and life, and decrease distress (the negative kind of stress) overall in your daily life. There are countless other granular benefits, but I’m sure you can think of those yourself. In the next month, I offer you this wisdom from the group—make time to take time to consider the productivity tools you use already and how well you use them. You don’t need more tools to become more productive most often. It is usually a matter of making better use of the tools you already possess, digitally and physically.