Category: Planning

Not So Good At Scheduling Your Time?

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Many of us struggle with managing our time effectively, or to put that another way, to be effective as each second ticks by. There are some simple habits that you can develop, and after that managing your time will be a breeze.

Is this you?You’ve probably already heard about keeping a To Do list and/or a Diary. They are the tools you use, but – what do you put in them? The rest of this article describes what to record, and what to do with that information once you have it written down.

First, let’s recognise that there are two types of tasks – those that must be done at a certain time, for example a medical appointment, and those that just need to be completed as soon as possible, for example writing an article for today’s blog!

Your diary is used to record tasks that have to happen on a specific date and time, and to schedule time to allow you to work on the items on your To Do list.

In simple terms your To Do list is a list of tasks that you must complete. Obviously some tasks are more important than others, and it makes sense to move them up near the top of the list where they can be easily seen and therefore managed.

A task can always be high priority, or it can start off low and increase in priority as a deadline approaches. Be prepared to add and delete tasks from your list every day, and to move tasks up and down to reflect changing priorities in the real world.

The important factor is: what makes a high-priority task? Here is one way of determining the relative priority of tasks.

In general there are two aspects that apply to every task – simply how important the task is to you, and the urgency or factoring in the time component.

It we combine these, we have a two-dimensional map that looks like this:

Important Not Important
Urgent Important and Urgent Urgent but Not Important
Not Urgent Important but Not Urgent Not Important and Not Urgent

It’s pretty obvious that tasks that are both important and urgent are the highest priority, and they need to be at the top of your list. Use the relative importance and urgency to actually sequence the tasks.

Only when you have completed these tasks do you consider moving to the next section of your To Do list. That section contains the important but not urgent tasks. (Some people question why we don’t move to the other urgent tasks – and that’s simply because they are not important.)

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Your next priority are the urgent but not important tasks. These tasks may not be important to you (and if they were, they would be in one of the earlier sections of your list) though they probably are important to somebody. Note that sometimes tasks that start in this category become important to you, and so ‘migrate’ to be both urgent and important. Buying a birthday or anniversary present for your significant other would be important but not urgent unless you have not managed to buy the gift and it is now the day before the event! At that point buying that gift would be both important and urgent!

The last category are those tasks that are neither important nor urgent. Some people do not even record these tasks, they don’t even make it onto the list! I accept that some or even maybe most of these tasks may not be completed, though I do like to keep a record – but that’s just me.

What is certain is that if you prioritise your tasks in this way and you always work on your most important task then you will achieve far more, and experience far more gratification at the end of each day.  To help you with this, here’s an extra bonus that describes how to work your list.

We already know that at the beginning of the day you start working on your top priority task. As you work on that task, one of two things will happen – either you will finish it, or you will reach a point where for whatever reason you can’t continue on this task. It may be that you are waiting for some component item to arrive, or maybe you now require some additional information, or any combination of the other 1,001 reasons why tasks ‘stall’.

Obviously, if you finish the task you record that in the appropriate way, and move to your next priority task. If you are only stalled you arrange the task so that it is easy to recommence work – that may be to record what you have just completed, what you are waiting for and why. You will know what you need to record, and then you “put the task down”, you move on to your next most important task.

As you work on that task, one of three things will happen: you will finish it, you will come to a point where you have to momentarily stop actually working on it, or the blockage relating to the higher priority task will be resolved. You already know what to do if either of the first two events occurs. If the blockage from a higher priority task is resolved then take a moment and if it makes sense to continue (for example because you are nearly finished it) then continue with the task and then instead of moving to the next lower priority task, recommence work on the now unblocked higher priority task.

Here’s an example, using “Task 1”, “Task 2”, “Task 3” and “Task 4” to represent your top priority tasks.

You start on Task 1, and reach a point where you now require additional information. You package Task 1 so it is easy to pick up again, and put it to one side. Now you start on Task 2, and in time for whatever reason you find that you must also stop work on it. You package Task 2, and put it to one side. The problem with Task 1 has not been resolved, so you start work on Task 3.

You now receive the information you need to continue with Task 1, so you package Task 3, put it to one side, and then recommence work on Task 1. You do not start work on Task 4 at this time.

When Task 1 is complete (or when it reaches another block) you first check Task 2 and Task 3 and only when you can’t work on those do you start work on Task 4.

That might sound more complex than it is, and I can assure you that it really is a simple strategy that will ensure that you are always getting the absolute best value out of every passing minute at any given time. Trial it for a month, and feel free to modify it to better suit what you do and how you work – and be sure to tell us about your experience! Just drop us a line at

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Can Maquette Help Your Business?

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Maquette (a game by Hanford Lemoore, who retains all rights) is a game based on recursion, where the player is in a world where the only visible items are a smaller version of this world, with an even smaller version visible inside that. Think of the view when two mirrors are placed in front of the other or when you first look at your screen capture program. So how does that help your business?

MaquetteThe concept in Marquette is, I’m told, to move things in the ‘middle’ world and watch them move in the other worlds. In other words the real world is controlled by manipulating a representation of it.

In business we have the real world and our plan for the future. The parallel between the smaller world and the plan is obvious, but t hat’s not the real lesson here!

Recursion is defined as “ the process of defining a function or calculating a number by the repeated application of an algorithm”. The point for business owners and managers is that sometimes you don’t get it 100% right the first time.

Often you need to “try that again” with an improved feature – maybe a different close, or a different headline for an advert for example.

Once the new concept works the way you want it to you can implement it and bank the rewards, until then be prepared to revise and try again, measuring each iteration of course, and then selecting the one that performs best.

Then you only need consider any improvements that can be made over time to maintain your place in the market. That just means that you take more time between revisions!

Do you already review and improve your business on a regular basis, or do you avoid any change at all? Tell us about your experiences in improving your business results.

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Can You Spot A Good Opportunity?

Every business needs to be able to take advantage of any good opportunities that appear – but how do you recognise one in time to do anything about it?

You are equipped with a system that filters out extraneous information, allowing you to concentrate on the important stuff. Look up ‘Reticular Activation System’ (RAS) if you would like more information. The relevance for this topic is that often we filter out things we really wanted to know about – have you even made a major purchase, thinking at that time that this is an attractive and unusual item only to see several on the way home immediately after the purchase?

If so then you have experienced your RAS suddenly allowing sightings of that item through the filter. Obviously they were around before you bought one, you just were not aware of them.

OpportunityThat helps us today because the first step to recognising an opportunity is to make sure that the information is not filtered out by your RAS. You achieve this by making sure that you have a list of your goals and by reviewing them on a daily basis. If you do that correctly then anything relating to your goals will make it through the filter and you will at least become aware of it.

Then the real business of spotting the opportunity starts! You should develop your own list of questions, so what follows is an example to get you going.

First, ask “What” – What can this new opportunity do? What can it be used for? What caused it? What can be done to improve it? These questions will help you start identifying the basic opportunity.

Next, ask “Who” – Who would benefit from this? Who might help you develop the idea further? Who do you need on your team? Most opportunities need more than a single person to implement.

Then as “Where” – Where will this be best received? Where would it makes sense to place the factory, the sales centre and the remainder of your ‘location infrastructure’? Bear in mind that ‘location’ includes the real world and the internet.

Now consider “When” – Is there a limited window of opportunity to sell this? How long will it take to get to market? It might be a good idea but if you can’t get it to market in time then you would be better off putting your efforts into something else.

Finally, consider “How” – How will you source the raw materials? How will you deliver the goods or service? Which payment methods will you accept? How will you reward those who assist you? There are probably more ‘how’ questions than any of the other sections, and every new opportunity will have its own unique list.

A little practice will enable you to see and react to opportunities in record time. Don’t be discouraged if you discover that you missed an opportunity – instead figure out why you missed it and what you can do so that in future you will be able to see those kinds of opportunities in time to do something about it.

I hope this helps, it can’t be the exact list you need for a specific opportunity, though if you’d like some help then please get in touch. These ideas are intended to give you the background that you need to be able to build your own list of questions, and to develop your own habits that will enable you to identify every opportunity in a timely manner.

Has this helped? Do you have any other ideas that others would benefit from? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Succession Planning

Very few like to think about ‘Succession Planning’. That’s why the term ‘Exit Strategy’ was invented! Now – what do YOU need to know about it?

Whatever you call it, it just means that you, as owner, need to put some things in place to make sure that the business can continue after you leave it. Doing so means that the business can and will continue while you work on your tan, your golf handicap, your holiday travel schedule or all of the above! Not doing so meanSuccession2s that you are involved in a coin flip.

The first real question might be “When” or “Under what conditions” would you leave the business? For some of you this questions generates the response “Never!”, and for others it might suggest “As soon as possible”! It is however a serious question, and one that deserves your consideration.

You may currently be the best at what you do, you may currently be the ‘only one who can’, but sooner or later someone else will have your job. It will be better for the business (not to mention family and friends) if the handover is as smooth as possible.

So take some time to clearly identify the answer to “When, or why” you will leave your current role. Make sure that someone you trust knows what your plans are, and write them down in a formal document that carries legal ‘weight’.

Now you know the conditions that will trigger you leaving the business you also need to identify the person or people that will be stepping into your role, and what prior training and experience they need to be able to succeed. Obviously you also need to make sure they have that training and experience, and that their skills are kept current. You need not tell them until you are happy to tell them that they will succeed you, but ideally at least six to twelve months before you retire or leave they should know so that they have the time to grow into the position.

In the months leading up to when you leave you will take more of a mentoring role and less of a hands-on role, giving your successor the advantage of your knowledge and experience. You might also consider being available for mentoring after you leave, especially if you still own the business and you have merely stepped down as an active manager.

One last thing to consider if you do still own the business, or a substantial shareholding – what might trigger you coming back? A woman built a substantial cosmetics empire, starting from her kitchen table and ending with an organisation that spanned the globe. She then retired from the business, leaving it in the hands of professional managers. Well, not so professional managers, as it happens. Inside five years they had reduced her lifetime commitment back to what it was after the first couple of years, and for the first time in its history the company now owed money that it couldn’t pay. She had to come out of retirement to ‘resuscitate’ the company that was still her passion. Doubtless she will be a lot more careful about the people she hands the business to next time she retires!

What plans do you have about handing on your business, or are you expecting to be the beneficiary of someone else moving on? What factors do you think are important in terms of succession planning?

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A Dilemma–What Would YOU Do?

What follows is a story that you will be asked to finish. We present the characters and the final scene is set – but – how does it end? That’s what you tell me!

QuestionHere is the story. An old farmer has borrowed a lot of money from an unscrupulous money lender, and has been unable to repay the debt. The farmer has an attractive daughter, and the money lender wants her hand in marriage – so far neither the farmer nor the daughter are willing to agree.

The money lender suggests that they let ‘chance’ determine the outcome. He will place two pebbles in a sack –one white, one black – and the daughter picks one without looking.

If she picks the white one then her father’s debt will be eliminated and she will not have to marry him. If she selects the black one then again the father’s debt will disappear, though this time she will have to agree to marry the money lender. If she refuses to select a pebble then the money lender will exercise his rights under law, and her father will be imprisoned for not paying his debts.

They have no real choice, so they agree. The path outside the farmer’s house is covered in pebbles, so the money lender bends down and picks up two, and places them in the bag. The daughter notices that he has picked up two black pebbles!

You are now going to finish this little story – if you were the daughter, what would you do? You can’t not pick a pebble from the bag, and yet you know that there are only black pebbles in the bag – there seems to be only one possible outcome!

Leave your ending in a comment, and next week I’ll give you the answer my wife gave when she first heard the story. (And to be fair, you only have the same 2 seconds to think that she needed!)

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