We’re All So BUSY … Is That A Good Thing?

If you want something done, give it to a busy person.

I’ve been giving that quote a lot of thought lately. We run three businesses in our household. A few months ago, we decided to buy some land and build a new house. I’m spending huge amounts of time jumping through government hoops to secure various permits at the same time as prepping our current house for a Spring sale. Oh yeah, it’s also year end and tax season both personally and for two of our businesses.

Despite juggling an insane number of balls, I have found myself taking pains to be more organized, so I can manage my time effectively and meet all the competing deadlines. Here’s what’s surprising to me: I’m getting more done.

While waiting for a colleague to join me on a call, I thought I’d dig into this phenomena and see if there’s any truth in the idea that busy people can get more done.

Are you Busy or Productive?

It seems like everyone I talk to is scrambling around from one task to another and doesn’t have enough time in the day. I hear about bottomless to do lists and schedules that are packed to the rafters so finding time for coffee is scheduled weeks out.

Is all this frantic activity making us productive, or just busy?

I think we need to distinguish between the busy and product and for that, I want to share a quote from John Spencer:

“Being busy is about working harder while being productive is about working smarter. Being busy is frantic while being productive is focused. Being busy is fueled by perfectionism while being productive is fueled by purpose. Being busy is about being good at everything while being productive is about being great at a few important things.”

What do you think? Are you productive or just plain busy?

Prioritizing Productivity

Research like this one tests the theory that being busy increases your motivation to be as efficient as possible with the amount of time you dedicate to each project to ensure you don’t miss deadlines. It found that busier people do seem to organize their time in a way that ensures deadlines are met.

I remember taking a time management course in the late ’90s that had us categorize all activities based on whether they would help you achieve the primary goals you set. While I don’t use the system today, some of the lessons have stuck. I am ruthless about adding “tasks” to my day or week that aren’t critical to what I have prioritized. Extra tasks (that aren’t mission critical to my goal) get relegated to the end of the week and if I don’t have time, guess what, they don’t get done … but I also don’t promise anyone that I will get those tasks done because I am someone who will beat myself up if I don’t meet deadlines or deliver on what I’ve promised.

I’m extremely deadline driven. I blame my years as a reporter … after all, the paper won’t wait for you to finish a story. I set deadlines for everything (whether I’ve been given a timeline or not). This is my way of ensuring I don’t fall into the trap of productive procrastination – which essentially means keeping busy doing things that aren’t critical (and I am a master at the art of productive procrastination).

Be Realistic

An important caveat to all these discussions about being productive and meeting deadlines come down to a few cardinal rules.

1.      Set reasonable deadlines. We know how long it takes to complete specific tasks and there’s no point in setting yourself up for failure. If you’re getting pushed to complete a project in an unreasonable timeframe, something has to give and other priorities will need to shift accordingly.

2.      Say no. There are a lot of things I don’t do, or I will hire out. For me, housecleaning is not an effective use of my time (and if I’m honest, I don’t love cleaning). If I hire someone to clean the house, that’s hours of time I can spend on other things. When it comes to entertaining, if I’ve had a busy, deadline-filled week, we’re going out to dinner or ordering in. I’ve no driving desire to be seen as Superwoman Martha Stewart, and I think trying to balance work, home and unrealistic standards is detrimental to our well being!

3.      Control your destiny. I know, this sounds lofty but we have to be able to take control of our time and the demands being made on that time (from work colleagues, family and, in my case, clients). Too often days spiral out of control because of outside forces. How you handle those demands could make a big difference in how you manage and control your time.

4.      Examine what’s keeping you busy. How many things on your packed schedule do you really need to do? If you enjoy it … keep it up. But, if they are just activities that are keeping you running around and not letting you focus on what’s really important, say no and find a way to stop doing it. Saying no isn’t easy but it is a skill we all should master.

I remember reading how top entrepreneurs and business owners leave large blocks of time open in their calendar to think and plan. I think it’s a smart idea. Overscheduling your day doesn’t give anyone your best.

Now, before I get back to my assignments for the day, here’s a piece of advice (and a short assignment): Take a good hard look at your to do list. How much of it is essential or helps you reach a specific goal? Next, look at your calendar. Is it packed to the rafters? It might be time to re-evaluate how you’re spending time and see if you can move the marker from busy to productive and get some of your life back!

What We Learned in the Fire: 3 Traits to Beat the Odds

Volvo 240 after the fire

When you’re running a business, there are always challenges: Some are little ones and some are big ones that have the potential to change the direction of your company (and your life).

We recently faced one of these pivotal moments and it made me realize that how you respond to adversity, and your actions in the moment can shape future success or failure.

Any entrepreneur knows the odds of success aren’t in your favour. Success rates for new businesses are less than 50% and often quoted stats say only 30% make it 10 years. Despite the odds, 543,000 new businesses launch every single month … few survive. Construction businesses face even worse odds with only 36% still going strong after five years.

Pete (my partner in crime) has run a construction business since 2001 so I guess he’s one of the few to beat the odds. We’ve enjoyed economic booms, survived a global recession, have had to rebuild in new locations a few times, and even faced the unprecedented challenges of 9-11 and figuring out how to move (and insure) a piece of heavy equipment internationally for a multi-year project building a golf course in St. Kitts at a time when the world was reeling from an unprecedented terror attack.

When you’re in the moment, you don’t stop and think about how difficult the task you’re undertaking might be. You just keep pushing forward and, eventually, you will get the breakthrough you need.

My random musings have a purpose: We recently faced a new challenge. One of Pete’s excavators (the one he was running at the time) caught fire. After trying to put out the flames with the fire extinguisher we keep in the cabs of all our equipment, he had to make the decision to walk away from the machine, call the fire department and watch it burn to the ground.

It is devastating to see a piece of your fleet on fire and you’re powerless to do anything about it.

But here’s what I realized from that moment: They way you react, and what you do next will make the difference between a business that remains viable and those that begin the spiral into failure.

  • Assess then Act: When Pete noticed the flames, he shut off the machine (stopping the fuel flow) and tried to put out the fire, but he quickly realized the fire was moving too fast and too hot. The hardest thing to do is walk away but risking injury or worse for a piece of equipment would have been a bad decision. You don’t have a lot of time to ponder the options, you have to assess then act quickly.
  • Analyse the Situation: It’s very easy to make excuses for why something happened, but I think when we make excuses, we are missing the lessons. In the hours after the fire, we were already thinking about what happened and how we can do things better or differently to avoid this kind of thing ever happening again.
  • Keep Moving: When the fire struck, the work Pete had lined up for the next months was immediately put on hold. While we have more equipment, none of it is well suited for land clearing. Instead of feeling sorry for himself and lamenting the situation, Pete picked up the phone and started lining up work for the next day … and the days after that. Too often people retract in on themselves or wallow in their misfortune and that stops them from moving forward.

What does it take to succeed where others fail? Hard work is a given and you won’t find anyone who works harder than Pete, but it takes more than hard work. I think the difference between those who make it and those who don’t is their ability to troubleshoot a situation, push the ball forward when everyone is telling you that you can’t and to make sure you learn the hard lessons.

The #1 Skill for Today

It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, just starting your career, a seasoned veteran, or retired, you’re never too old or too young to learn something new. And, in today’s rapidly changing world with the massive transformation driven by technology, if you stop learning you’ll get left behind.

We’re calling it the fourth industrial revolution but if you look at the time it took for previous industrial revolutions to transform the world, the current one is hitting harder and faster than any we’ve experienced to date.

I know this is troubling news for some people who feel they can’t keep up but that is precisely why I think the #1 skill for today’s world is learning.

Learn Something Every Day

When my nieces and nephews came home from school, I’d ask them “what did you learn today?” Nothing was not an acceptable answer. I would probe and ask questions until they told me one thing they learned or found interesting (even if it wasn’t in the classroom but something they heard from a friend or read). It was important to me that they recognize they’re learning something every day and to start embracing the idea that new thoughts, ideas and information can come from a wide range of sources.

One of the things I love most about my job is that I am constantly learning new things. For every interview and every article, I have to learn about a new topic so that I can understand it enough to ask the right questions and then write coherently about it.

Does that make me an expert? Not even close! But I know a little more today than I did yesterday and that’s exciting. I believe everyone knows something I don’t and by asking questions, listening more than I speak and taking an interest in a wide range of things, I get to expand my knowledge every single day.

Informal or Formal – It Doesn’t Matter

A lot of people think they don’t have time to “go back to school” or take courses. While we can all sympathize with the fact that the speed of life today leaves little downtime, I promise you this – you can always find time for the things that are important to you.

I left Concordia University in 1990 with my Bachelors (and figured I’d never darken the doors of an educational institution again). It’s not that I didn’t enjoy university or learn a great deal, I’m just not well suited for this kind of highly-structured learning environment. Shows you how much I knew: Two years into a new career in PR, I realized my Journalism degree and reporter experience didn’t give me the background I needed. I hit the books and earned my Certified Advertising Agency Practitioner Designation.

The great thing about the world today is you don’t have to go back to school.

You can listen to a podcast on your commute, read a few chapters (or even pages) of a book before bed, cut the time you spend on Facebook and Instagram in half and dedicate that time to learning something new or even ask an extra question about something a colleague tells you to deepen your knowledge.

Experts in anything you can imagine offer courses and seminars (in person and online). Some are paid, some free, but all of them will teach you something you didn’t know, if you’re ready to listen.  I should note that I am not talking only about learning skills for the business world, I think learning any new skill is important whether it’s business management or quilting.

Exercise the Grey Matter

How many people hit the gym regularly and work out to keep their muscles in good shape as they age? Your brain needs the same kind of exercise.

A few disclaimers for you – I’m not a doctor or a neurologist and I haven’t studied the brain in my spare time, but I can share a few observations about the people I encounter every day. They’re people who come from every walk of life, educational background and age group, and what I’ve found is the ones adapting the best to the current environment are those who aren’t afraid to learn something new and don’t resist the changes around them. Those approaching or in their senior years might find the time it takes to learn new skills is longer, but those who are willing (and interested) get it eventually and once they do, they’re not only proud of their accomplishment, they reap the benefits of the newly earned skills.

So, what did you learn today?

Finding Your Voice

Social media has changed the world we live in dramatically – and I’m not talking about duckface selfies.

We use social media to connect with the people and businesses around us, get news and information through our feeds and tap into a worldwide network for reviews of companies and products.

How important is social media to B2B?

75% of B2B buyers use social media to support purchase decisions.

B2B buyers are 57% through the buying process before meeting a representative.

It is a powerful medium to start connecting with your customers, but if you didn’t grow up in an era where your every action gets captured and shared online for posterity, it can be a struggle to know where to start.

Everyone faces the same questions, fears and confusion so I thought I’d share some quick tips to you get started.

Collect Your Thoughts

“I know I need to start talking with customers through social media channels, but I don’t know what to say”

“Why will people want to read what I write or hear my opinions?”

I hear this all the time when I start working with a client. Here’s the funny part: I’m usually talking with someone with extensive experience in their field, is regarded as a subject matter expert and, is often fascinating.  At least, that’s my impression. When I start listing off areas where their experience could benefit others, they’re a little surprised.

Being humble is a good thing but don’t under estimate how your experience could help someone else or how the lessons you’ve learned could really benefit someone in a similar situation or how applying your tips could help someone’s project succeed.

Everyone has something to teach. What do you want to share?

If you’re struggling with ideas, think about a question a client asked recently, a conversation you had at lunch, something a colleague mentioned in the hallway, your perspective or opinion on an issue of the day, or something you’ve read recently that resonated with you. You can find inspiration in unexpected places.

Drop the Corporate-Speak

I remember reading George Orwell’s 1984 when I was in high school. A world where all news is government propaganda, Newspeak is a limited language designed to restrict freedom of thought, and speech and ideas are monitored and controlled, was terrifying to a future writer/journalist.

My reflections on 1984 aren’t a tangent (although you might think it is if you know me well).

When people get ready to talk with me about an article they want to write, a blog post or a newsletter, they immediately dive into corporate lingo, read a paragraph from a press release, pepper in industry jargon and rhyme off sentences that string together so many acronyms I have trouble understanding what the person’s really trying to say.

Stop Doing That!

The best interviews (or as I like to call them conversations) are much more natural. They should feel like a chat with a friend over coffee.  Yes, I’m asking questions, but I’m also sharing ideas and perspectives to get people to relax, which lets me draw out the best information to use in the piece.

In my experience, the most valuable content comes through when people are talking through an idea or a thought without trying to formulate the perfect sentence or lace in the latest buzz phrase.

Be Authentic

The best “voice” is your voice.

If someone reads something you’ve written or published, they shouldn’t feel a disconnect when the meet you in person. The way you “talk” in your articles should mirror your speech patterns in real life.

For example, you can tell by my company name (ACME), the logo (an anvil) and even the notification on my phone (the roadrunner’s meep-meep) that I like cartoons. I don’t take myself too seriously, and my writing isn’t formal, because I’m not.

I recently finished Kevin O’Leary’s Cold Hard Truth and I loved how the book was written – it sounded exactly as I expected having heard him speak and watched interviews and tuned into episodes of Dragons Den, Shark Tank and the Lang & O’Leary Exchange.  But he also shared personal experiences and gave us a glimpse into the man behind the “Mr. Wonderful” personality. It felt authentic.

Don’t be afraid to let people get to know your professional self.  People like to do business with people and companies they think they can trust and connect with.  Give them a reason to connect with you and be your authentic self.

Start Making Connections

Social media is here to stay and its importance for the B2B segment isn’t going away. Embrace the opportunity to build a new kind of relationship with your customers, start a new conversation and look for reasons to connect and engage with them.

It’s not just a tool millennials use to check out a product, IDC says 75% of B2B buyers and 84% of senior executives use social media for purchasing decisions.

Are you being heard? Let’s get your voice into the conversation.

“Gig” Be Gone

freelance writer

What do you do?

It’s a common question when you’re meeting new people and it’s one I’ve never mastered answering. Here’s how the conversation usually goes.

Take One

What do you do?

I’m a writer

Oh, that’s cool. Are you published? Have I read anything of yours?

[Pregnant pause while I try to compose the correct response.] Yes, I am published. Yes, you may have read my work. But, deep down, I know the person I’m talking to wonders if they can find my name on the spine of the latest thriller. That’s not the kind of writer I am.

Take Two

What do you do?

I write for corporations and executives … or I’m in PR and marketing …

… Crickets … and, inevitably, the person I’m talking to starts looking around for someone else to talk to, preferable someone with a cooler job.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I have a very cool job. I learn new things every day, and I love helping people find their voice, tell their stories and create content that helps them advance their business goals.

I don’t need credit for the work I do. I don’t need my name on a byline … been there, done that.

I’m happy to work behind the scenes and remain a ghost. I’m ecstatic when my client tells me someone close to them loved their posts and didn’t realize it wasn’t written by them.

Growth of the Gig Economy

There’s been a lot of focus lately on the growing “gig” economy and how it’s changing the workplace. Gallup reported late last year that 36% of Americans participate in the “gig” economy.

Gallup defines these “alternative work arrangements” as “non-traditional, independent, short-term working relationships”. Anyone who’s not a traditional “employee” is lumped into this category.

Let me be blunt: I hate the term Gig.

In my opinion, piling “non traditional workers” together in the same bucket and slapping a snappy label on it is doing us a major disservice.

What’s a Gig, Anyway?

A gig is defined by Collins Dictionary as a job, esp. a single booking for a musician, comedian, etc., to perform at a concert or club.

Well, I can’t play an instrument. My singing voice would leave me a pauper, and while I do have some “single bookings”, my business has been built on long-term relationships lasting years and even decades.

I have often described myself as a freelancer (or a ghost writer) but I’m also an employee of my own company, ACME Group Consulting. My work schedule is, well, erratic. I might be insanely busy one minute and looking for a new reno project to fill my time the next. (Anyone who knows me knows I like to keep busy.)

Am I part of the gig economy? Technically, yes, but the term gig has always bothered me. It implies a part-time occupation that someone takes on while they’re waiting to “make it big”.

I don’t see my career that way. I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, how I want to do it, and I’ve been successful.

And, while I’m being honest about my views on the current vernacular, I equally dislike the term “side hustle”. Do you really want the person you’re working for to feel like you’re hustling or conning them? I know I don’t.

Let’s Cut the Cute Labels

As a writer, I love a good turn of phrase or a catchy title. What I don’t like is terminology that demeans what I do, and that’s what I think the idea of a “gig” economy is doing. I am a serious professional, with skills that are in demand, and I’m proud that I’ve been able to do what I love, on my own terms, for more than 15 years.

This is not a gig. It’s a career. It’s a profession and not some a temp assignment until I can get a “real job” or land my dream job – I’ve already got a dream job.

New Blog Coming Soon

You know what they say about the shoemaker’s shoes … it’s true.  I spend so much of my time creating content for my customers, I rarely have time to write for myself or my company.

All that is going to change.  Stay tuned!