Guest Post on Indezine

Presentation PlanningGeetesh Bajaj of Indezine – the PowerPoint Expert Site – just put up a guest blog post from me, Planning Makes Presentations Effective.

Large and small companies today express themselves in many ways, including presentations. Sometimes well, sometimes not. The best way to make sure ideas are understood is to organize goals and thoughts before attempting to create a presentation. As any good builder would tell you, you need good plans to create a good home. A simple process helps you get your presentation started off right. You’ll organize and unify thinking about what must be accomplished. The output of the process makes an excellent “creative brief” to pass on to non-staff production and writing people to make sure the desired result makes it through production and to the audience. The time spent early in the planning stages of a project creating solid answers to these questions yields better chances of meeting your presentation goals.

Read the entire article here.


Time Management Tips – How to Handle All Those Distractions

Knee_Boo_BooOf course, we all want to keep focused on our work and stay as productive as possible. But we all know that life happens – all the time, every day. So here is a bit of counter-intuitive time management advice – when life does happen, don’t fight it, too much. Working in a home office will many times bring a cut finger that needs attention, or a child home with the chicken pox. Working in an office, last minute challenges will ALWAYS come up. Everyone tells you to put aside the interruptions. But for those distractions that just won’t wait, put the work aside, handle the interruption, and then come back to the project with a clear mind – a mind that can actually focus better because the problem won’t be worrying at you.

“But what about getting stuff done?” you ask. Yes, if you let too many little things distract you, your output will suffer. So let’s look at some time management techniques to keep productivity up, and still deal with life, “As it Happens.”

Make Your Schedule Flexible

Either at the end of the day or the beginning of each day, a good time management technique is to make a good working schedule of what you need to accomplish that day. Assign times and durations for each task. Now the challenge: stick with this schedule as much as possible, but here is where flexibility comes in. We need to be ready to, “step away from the schedule,” if the need arises.

Naturally, this is very hard to do. We always want to get our work done and be productive, but we need the patience and freedom to stop when necessary. As I said, when you get back to the task later, you’ll focus better than if you’d tried to ignore the distraction.

Prioritize… Because Life Does Happen

So what occasionally happens is a task or two that you don’t accomplish. If you have prioritized well, the ones you miss will be ones that can be put off for tomorrow. As I said before, create categories. Things that must be done, things that should be done, and things that might well be put off. Or prioritize tasks that require the most concentration and brainpower up front. Save less demanding tasks for later in the day, or when you might be trying to regain focus after an interruption.

When you have skipped tasks, get them back on the schedule immediately so they don’t get lost – not good for business.

Record the Interruptions

If you keep track of your interruptions – and how long they took to resolve, you will know just how much time gets wasted each day. You don’t need a lot of detail (takes up too much time!), just enough to remind you of what the distraction was. Even if you feel that interruptions are taking too much of your day, you may find that the distraction breaks aren’t as big as you thought. Review your, “interruption log” at the end of the day to see how you might handle some of them more productively.

Budget for Interruptions

Looking at your interruption log leads to a great way to deal with these time wasters. Budget for them! Sneak in an hour of “distraction time” to your schedule. Your eight hour day may become a nine hour day, but if you finish with everything done, you’ve done your job! Now you have time to get stuck in traffic or bandage a boo-boo. Budgeting for interruptions makes them nothing more than simple breaks in your day. And if you have one of those miraculous days with NO interruptions, celebrate your extra family time.

Flexibility is Key. As General – later President Dwight Eisenhower said, “Planning is everything, the plan is nothing.” The act of establishing your plan gives you the flexibility to adjust when distractions and interruptions pull you off plan – and still keep you goals in sight. Your work day will be less stressful for it!


Time Management – 6 How-To Tips to Organize Your Workspace for Greater Productivity

Tidy_DeskWhether you work in an office location or your office is in your home, you need a workspace that helps you day run smoothly and efficiently. How you organize your workspace powerfully affects your mind… and your productivity.

Many people think they like their workspace disorganized and cluttered. And usually they can find just about anything in the mess… except when they really need it – how much will that slow down an otherwise productive day? But when people organize their office and, “clear the decks (desks) for action,” they see a vast improvement in productivity. Liking your clutter means you are not working at your most productive!

  1. Seating
    Head for your local office store and find a comfortable and durable swivel chair with wheels. Though the exercise getting up to get things is good, the productivity boost of just being able to, “glide” to what you need speeds your day. Because you will spend many hours in this chair, the other major criteria to look for is comfort, which should include lower back (lumbar) support. As you equip your workspace always keep comfort top of mind – any discomfort is, really, a distraction.
  2. Lighting
    Get bright, energy saving (my desk lamp has a compact fluorescent bulb) adjustable lighting that’s suitable for daytime or nighttime. It should illuminate your working area smoothly without hotspots or glare. The natural light from nearby windows make great energy saving light sources (as I write this, my desk lamp is off as I am getting lots of light from outside), but never try to work in low light – make sure your work area is well illuminated to save eye strain and productivity draining fatigue.
  3. Scheduling
    A bulletin board or whiteboard in easy view lets you display positive affirmations, motivational quotes, and quick reminders where you can see them easily. Your daily planner (Organize your life with FranklinCovey!) should be conveniently viewable on your desk to keep you on track for your day. This combined with alarms on your smart phone or computer will keep you on track, focused, and not missing a thing.
  4. De-Cluttering
    Ideally, the only thing on your desk at any one time is what you are working on at that moment. Everything else is stored away until you need it. You should only have things you use daily out on your desk. Most desks have a pencil drawer… use it to get rid of the unsightly pencil cup. Current projects should be in folders in a drawer beside you. Take ONE project out of the drawer when you’re scheduled to work on it. When you’re done, put it back in the drawer, and take out the next project you have scheduled yourself to work on. You’ll be amazed at the focus you can bring to projects if they are the ONLY THING YOU CAN SEE. That also includes, “might use” items. If you don’t use it all the time, put it away. This is one of the advantages of properly scheduling your work… you can keep distractions from – distracting you.
    If you feel that filing all your papers will make them impossible to find, there is a better way:Sign up for Paper Tiger Online – The Simplest Filing System in the World!
  5. Cleaning
    Schedule clean-up time at the end every day. You’ll be amazed at how coming into a clean office in the morning improves your outlook on the day. Since no one can possibly be clutter-free all day long, schedule a quick tidying up of your work area at the end of each day. Then, a weekly clean to dust, empty the trash, and vacuum. Again, seeing a clean office is a great, fresh start to each day.
  6. Eating
    Though I have been guilty of this often, eating at your desk really isn’t the best. First, getting out of the building, or at least to the kitchen, to grab you mid-day meal gives you a head-clearing break that will help you be more productive in the latter part of the day. AND… food and drink detrimental to computer health. Crumbs in the keyboard and coffee in the monitor can quickly bring your thinking, or even a full day to a halt. The best way to avoid this problem is avoid eating at your desk – so take the break.

Once you get your office and desk cleared for action, you’ll find you actually need less time to organize – and that’s as it should be. And don’t use organizing as another word for procrastinating. Once you have your desk cleared, and your work scheduled, you’ll find that your productivity increases – dramatically. Make organizing your workspace and scheduling your work a habit, and you’ll find your productivity increasing automatically.

Time Management Skills – Up Time/Down Time – Managing Your Energy Cycles

Human_EnergyAs we improve our time management skills and increase our productivity, usually we depend on time management tips, or a time management strategy or tool for help. But we really have one of the major time management tools built into our bodies. We all have natural energy cycles called our “Circadian Rhythm” (from the Latin; circa, around or approximately, and dies or diem, day – approximately a one day cycle) and learning how to work with it rather than against it helps improve productivity.

Our Personal Energy Cycles

We’re not machines. Our energy levels constantly go up and down throughout the day. Energy level at its highest? That’s the best time to schedule our most important tasks. Energy level at its lowest? That’s the best time for breaks or more routine tasks that don’t require as much mental or physical energy to accomplish.

Research shows that most people have “energy patterns.” The research reveals that during the morning hours, our minds are sharpest… leading to the natural lunch break to “replenish.” Early afternoon, with the fresh fuel for thought from lunch is good for analytical activities that use verbal skills and reasoning. After that, our minds starts slowing down again, but our bodies are at their peak.

What do we do with this? Schedule mentally demanding tasks earlier in the day. After lunch is time for problem solving and communications. Schedule mentally undemanding tasks or physical work (maybe this is the best time for your workout?) for later in the afternoon.

Mapping Our Own Energy Cycles

Though this pattern is common, we’re not all the same… each of us has our own unique body cycles. So step one is to discover how you work.

Your daily planner or a chart or journal is a good tool for this. For several weeks, pause several times throughout the day. Record how you feel. Just a quick note, but be consistent in your descriptions so you will be able to spot patterns later as you analyze your notes. The point is simply to identify your own key energy times. For instance, you might create your own rating system from 1 to 5. A five… you’re ready to climb a mountain. A one… you’re ready for a nap. Simple statements or phrases help you remember how it all fits together later.

One of the indicators is what you are actually doing. When, during your day, would you REALLY like a cup of coffee or a candy bar? That’s probably a low energy point – note that in your record.

Use Your “Energy Cycles” for Your Own Time Management

After a few weeks, information you’ve recorded in your time management planner will show the pattern of YOUR “Energy Cycle.” Merge this information with your planner as you make the time management schedule that works best for you. Demanding tasks belong in peak energy times. But for low energy times, routine tasks and breaks are best. These low energy times may also be good for reflection, daydreaming, even a quick catnap… I’m sure you have experienced the “flash” of inspiration to a problem that occurs as you just, “let your mind wander” for a few minutes.

Your energy cycle certainly should drive your schedule, but stay flexible. As the name Circadian Rhythm implies, it is approximately a day. Your high and low energy times may shift a bit as time goes on, so learn to identify these shifts and adjust your schedule accordingly. Once we discover our cycles, we can make well adapted time management schedules that needs only minor adjustments. But if our minds aren’t there, we need to change what we’re doing to make sure that our minds are sharpest when they are needed most.

A final note: Working a little bit of moderate exercise into our days generally increases our overall energy levels. Sometimes, even a brief pause for some stretching can help clear our minds, enhance our thought processes and make our, “high energy” times last a bit longer so we get more done each day… and then we can have more time outside of work.

Hiring an Online Reputation Management Expert? What to Look For.

Excellent_ReputationAs our online world gets more and more complicated and challenging to navigate, online reputation management experts and consultants are becoming more and more common. A business confronted with reputation damaging issues may find that hiring an expert can be the best solution. As with any time you put your company’s work in the hands of an outsider, caution and due diligence are very much in order. Follow some simple, but critical, steps to help assure you get what you are looking for and what you, and your reputation, need.

  1. Do They Have the Reputation Management Experience You Need?
    Carefully check the consultants’ level of experience in online reputation management (not just internet experience). Evaluate how many years they have been in business – one year, five years? The experienced practitioners may do a better job, but may cost more. If they are new, what did they do before that qualifies them to handle your reputation (hint: public relations is a good background for image managers)? Also, a less experienced person with a good background may cost you a bit less, but may require more involvement from you – your time.
    Also look at what types of jobs they’ve done in the past. How big – or small – were their reputation repair clients, and how many are still with them as ongoing clients? What did they have to accomplish for these prior clients? How much of their past projects were simple Search Engine Reputation Management, and how much used newer methods like social media?
  2. How Much Time Would Be Yours? Do they have the staff? If not, how many hours can the expert devote to your needs? This relates to how quickly your company reputation and business reputation can be brought up to where you need them. And would they provide online reputation management tips to help you avoid problems in the future?
  3. Be from Missouri: “Show Me!”
    Always get and check recommendations and referrals. As you would when hiring any other worker, staff or freelance, talk directly to the company’s clients, current and past. Print or video testimonials won’t do – you MUST talk to people directly to find out what those clients liked and what they didn’t like – there are always negatives to go with the positives. Make sure those negatives are not deal breakers for your business – they may have been OK in another industry, but in yours, they may hurt a lot. So judge, yourself, how well you feel that this person would handle YOUR reputation – the only one that counts.
    Look at the service’s own online reputation. If they haven’t done a good job promoting themselves on the web, how can they possibly do it for you?
    Find out the time it took for the expert or company you are considering to get their prior clients’ reputations restored. Depending the problems the other clients had, this can give you an idea of the level of difficulty they can handle.
  4. Always Get it in Writing
    Before hiring anyone, but especially someone so critical to your business, require a detailed, written Online Reputation Management proposal. Your expert should outline how they plan to manage or repair your reputation, and how long they estimate it will take… and how much is should cost. Whether it’s a flat charge for internet reputation repair to fix one incident, or and hourly charge for ongoing online reputation monitoring, you must know what to expect so you can budget accordingly.
  5. Get a Guarantee!
    What happens if it doesn’t work? What do they guarantee in terms of rankings and time frame? What if they don’t achieve those results? Do you get your money back? If not, how will they make it right? Lesson here, don’t pay the full projected cost up front – retain partial payment so you retain control.

As it is your reputation and you company’s reputation on the line, when you are hiring a reputation management expert, use the same care you do when hiring any other professional consultant or service… only more so. Inexperienced consultants often cause more harm than good – so carefully research and thoroughly check the individual or company. It’s the only way you can know what you should get for your money – and make sure your reputation gets back where it should be.

Time Management – How to Estimate the Value of Your Time

Time Management WatchWhether you’re working for yourself or someone else, it’s often difficult to know how well you’re doing financially without an in-depth look at how much you earn vs. how many hours it takes you to earn it – effective time management. It’s especially tough to know if you are getting the hourly rate that you’re expecting. Project time management shows you how much you actually earn each hour, then you’ll know if it’s a job you should do, or if is something you would be right to pass on to your virtual assistants or freelancers.

Conscientiously  Log Your Hours

To quickly find out how much you really make each hour, you must carefully log your time on each project. You can do this on a simple spreadsheet… or a piece of paper… but you will be better served by using a software time management program. For every project, use a timer (or the time management software program) and carefully record the time you actually work on it… for your own convenience, use hours and tenths (every six minutes = .1 hour) – it will make your calculations easier later. Another way to keep track is from the opposite direction, time budgeting. For instance, budget two hours per day for a particular project – but you must be careful to only work the budgeted hours… otherwise you will not get an accurate picture of how much your time is worth.

Do the Math

When the job is completely wrapped up, add up the total time you worked (the time management software makes this simple). Divide the project income (minus expenses) by the number of hours you worked. This shows you what your real hourly earnings were for this project. Many times, this will be a complete surprise – for good of for bad. You may think you were earning a great hourly rate only to find that you might have collected cans for recycling and earned a better hourly wage! Or you may find that you’re doing all right – but now, you know!

Now You Know… Now What?

Once you know the real value of your time, you have hard data on which estimate the value of future projects. And you can set your rates more accurately. If you’ve been in business for a while, you know that it is pretty much impossible to accurately predict how long a job will take. But when you log your time and make real cost calculations, you’ll quickly get much more accurate at project estimating. And you’ll get a real “sense” of what your income will actually be for different types of projects.

Your new knowledge of your actual cost – and value – will help you decide whether you should take on future projects yourself, or take the project in with a plan to use your freelance or virtual assistant crew. You may also find out that some clients are just not worth your time, and, if you can’t raise your rate with this client, it is time for both of you to move on. Also, these time management techniques may show you ways to work more efficiently so you may be able to actually increase the number of projects you can support – for more income without extra time.

Tips on Estimating Your Time Value

Honesty is critical as you evaluate the time you spend on a project. Do not short yourself here. If you spend the hours, account for them – it’s the only way to know your real value to your company.

You also have the opportunity to slightly overestimate time needed for a project, for instance by rounding up projected fractions of an hour. This gives you a slight pad to allow for production snags that you really couldn’t foresee (for instance, recently a lot of independent work came to a complete halt during Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent power outages). Extra time budgeted in you proposal may offset some of this type of lost time… just be careful not to set those extra hours so high you lose the bid.

Once you establish your hourly cost, set a chargeable rate, and stick to it. Reducing your rate only devalues your time to yourself, and to your clients, and you don’t want to do that. However, you may occasionally decide to charge slightly less to get other benefits, like additional exposure or a shining item for your portfolio.

To correctly value yourself for your business and your marketplace, you must track and value your time. And once you’ve established your rate, based on real analysis of your time, you must monitor your figures to make sure they keep current with the times.

Building Businesses within the Internet

Internet_WorldIn the mid-1990s, I was fledgling webmaster for Minolta. As I studied how internet service would be affecting business, I quickly saw that, in the old days, businesses were strictly one building operations – one building housed everything needed to operate the business, and all the people were together and pretty much available during normal working hours. And everyone in the building was connected as, “nodes” within the building by telephones with their attended PBX or switchboard, and in later years, computer networks… even, in some more advanced companies, the internet.

But that very same Internet has completely changed the old business model. Though many businesses still operate on the “one building” model with everyone connected inside the building, a new model has emerged. I call it the “Inside Out” business model. Now, the human and technological “nodes” of the business can be located anywhere… across the hall, or across the world. People are no longer tied to the central building of the business. Through the internet, the building walls have been removed and people can be, literally, anywhere This is the world of the Virtual Assistant and the Freelancer.

Telephone systems have been one of the great benefactors of this process. No longer does a business need a central “pbx switchboard” with and operator/receptionist. Now, entire businesses can be built with no central building or central phone system. Users can, indeed, be spread, across the hall, or around the world.

Inexpensive Virtual Phone System for Small Businesses from Phones.com is one of the companies that are using the new technology of VOIP, voice over internet protocol, to expand the concept of virtual assistants even to the, “Virtual Office.” Your personnel can be in your building or in another part of the country… your customers and clients won’t know as, it is all one internet.

As you build your business, look at innovative virtual office solutions to provide more service to your customers while keeping your costs under control.

Do Use PowerPoint? Do You Know Indezine? You Should.

geetesh-bajajJust a quick post to introduce Geetesh Bajaj. He’s been running a superb PowerPoint information web site for about 10 years (I’ve been a subscriber for just about the whole time), and, if you use PowerPoint, you should really know about Indezine and subscribe to their newsletter (ours also!).

Indezine is about PowerPoint techniques, tutorials, reviews, interviews, etc. It’s also home to the bi-weekly PowerPoint ezine. Their tutorials are top notch, and, especially for those just starting out, a great way to get up to speed quickly.

In addition to their outstanding tutorials, Indezine has over 5000 free PowerPoint templates for you to download. I’ve used some at church, and some for business. Either way, the price is excellent, and they are top quality.

Indezine is highly recommended!

Reputation Management Strategy When the Worst Happens

Number_OneNo matter how much you do to build up and protect your image, you still may get attacked. A damaged online reputation needs immediate action to repair it and keep it from becoming an unmanageable problem. Here are two possible reputation management tools.

First – What is the Source of the Negative Information

Before you can start the reputation repair process, find out where the bad news or attacks are coming from. The major search engines and social networks can help you spot what is coming up in search results for your name, your company’s name, etc. The negative sources most likely will be on the first two or three pages in Google. Also look deeper – search Twitter and the other social networks to see other places where the bad news may be.

Option 1: Repair it Yourself

If the comments are few, or you budget is limited, you may have to implement your online reputation management strategy yourself. If it all started with an article or comment you made to which people are acting negatively, by all means, delete it, or better, replace your negative comment with an apology. As it may take several days for Google to re-crawl the page, you can also use Google’s Webmaster Tools to remove the URL of that nasty comment from their search results. Their Help Pages will tell you how to do this.

If the negative comment is on someone else’s site, or otherwise not under your control, talk to that site’s owner and request that it be removed. This is a great opportunity to turn a negative into a positive – which is better than just deleting a negative. Respond politely, directly, and publicly to the negative comment or complaint. This kind of positive reaction will show you and your company as concerned about your customers’ satisfaction… and this is what future customers and clients want to know.

This is also, as I previously mentioned, where all of your own constant reputation management online will pay off. All of that positive information that you have been putting out will still be visible in the search engines, and, most likely, help to overwhelm and help quickly disappear the negative search entries. So keep regularly posting articles, comments, blog posts, social updates and other information that can push the damaging content down in the search results. By keeping this information SEO friendly, you will keep your information higher than the bad news.

Option 2: Call in a Reputation Management Expert

Online Reputation Services are available to help us repair a heavily damaged reputation. Extensive damage may cost a lot to repair. However, if your budget allows, it may be the fastest and most effective. These types of firms can also monitor your reputation on an ongoing basis.

Here is the big caveat. Be very careful about who you hire to repair and manage your reputation – check their reputation first. There are plenty of inept and/or inexperienced consultants who can do more harm than good. Get a recommendation and check references.

Whether you repair your reputation yourself or with the help of an online reputation management expert, quick response is essential to repair your internet reputation, company reputation, or personal reputation when it has been attacked – fairly or not. A simple negative statement about you or your company can quickly spread throughout the internet. By diligently keeping a watchful eye on your reputation, you can spot potential damage before it gets unmanageable.

Time Management – 7 Tips for Creating More Time in Each Day

Looking at WatchDo you often feel there aren’t enough hours in the day? You know the answer… there are 24 and that should be enough to do what needs to be done. You’ve heard the old saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” The truth is, as business owners, we always have to work harder… the trick is to use time management skills to make the hours we do work “smarter” for us so we get more out of each hour Here are seven time management tips to make the hours we work “Smarter, not Harder.”

Make Your Work More Efficient

Does everything you do each day get results? Find out which ones are working, and which ones that aren’t, and take steps to get rid of the time wasters that don’t benefit you or your business. The actions that aren’t making a difference to the results you want should either be cut out or streamlined so that they don’t take as much of your time. In an earlier post, I mentioned the value of YOUR time vs. the value of a Virtual Assistant’s or Freelancer’s time. Good time management says that, if you can hire someone to do some of your tasks for less than your time is worth, by offloading these tasks, you will actually be raising your profits – and have more time for the things you need to accomplish… and being with your family.

Automate

Many times, if you can’t offload a task to an assistant, you can find a software program (many of which are free to use) or web site that can automate it for you. The most obvious is emailing your client list. Good time management tells us to use programs like iContact or Constant Contact to handle this. You create a newsletter or email notification (or have a freelancer do it), then upload it to the mailing program, and… voilà, the mail is sent out when you want it, and your time is freed up. Examine your daily tasks… start with the ones that are the least mentally challenging. Move the ones out that need to be moved out, automate those that can be automated, and save yourself for the important tasks that are really worth your time.

Delegate

As with automation, look to outside help. Online virtual assistants are available around the clock and around the world. Work at home parent – hire a young person from the local High School to pick up your youngsters after school, bring them home, give them a snack, and make sure they start on their homework. There’s a couple more hours for you. As you find the jobs that you can offload, make sure you carefully define what the job entails – so you can instruct the person you get to help.  Find your flexible workforce at Elance. Post your job today, or better yet, ask people to recommend those they trust.

Break

Believe it or not, taking a few extra quick, mind clearing breaks during the day will actually make you more productive. Working for long, uninterrupted stretches taxes your mind, and you lose concentration on the task at hand. That loss of concentration costs you productivity that you really don’t want to lose. But a quick get up and stretch can give you a mental, “shake of the head” that knocks loose some thoughts that had been hanging you up. Stand up – stretch your body… it will stretch your mind also. These quick breaks will actually help you work longer and maintain the focus you need to get your best work done as quickly and productively as possible.

Stop the Interruptions

Some people look at interruptions as, “breaks” because they force you to change your thinking. The problem is that you, and your thought processes are not controlling these breaks – they are controlled by outside sources. When you control the break, you take it when you need it. Interruptions will usually interrupt you when you are in a critical thought chain – which you then may lose for good! So lose the distractions, not your thoughts. If you work in an office, use a, “Do Not Disturb” sign. Work at home – close off your work area and tell your family, “When the door is closed, I am not here!” Only answer the phone at scheduled times. Same for email… and no Instant Messaging! You actually create more time in your day by cutting out activities that waste it.

Change Your Schedule

Most people have certain times of day when they operate at peak efficiency. For instance, I am writing this paragraph in the morning… and am finding it much easier than I did late yesterday when I started on this post – mornings are my productive time. Others work better in the afternoon, or after exercise. Find your productive time and schedule your critical projects then… don’t answer the phone or email, focus just on what needs to be done when you will do your best. A bit of trial and error will help you find the “sweet spot” in your day. Find it and exploit it.

Don’t Push Your Limits

Using these simple steps will help you manage time and, “create more hours in a day.” But working more hours is not the right way, it just gets you burned out quickly – working without interruptions in your most productive hours will get you where you want to go… more done in less time – so you have more time for life outside of work, like your family.


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