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Time – a non-renewable resource

Have you heard the time management aquarium analogy? A time management guru places rocks into an aquarium at the front of the class. She asks the class if the aquarium looks full. Everyone points to the spaces in between the rocks. She smiles as she adds stones, which fall between the rocks to fill up the bigger spaces. People then point to the space between the large stones and pebbles.

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She sprinkles in sand, which seems to fill up all the spaces. When everyone agrees that the aquarium is full, she pours a jug of water into the aquarium. Every drop of it is absorbed between the rocks, pebbles and sand. The moral of the story is NOT that you can always fit something else in – it’s that this is the only way we can fit all this into the aquarium. If we place the rocks into the aquarium first, everything else fits in around them. If we try any other order, we would have leftover things at the end of each day or week.

What are your rocks? This is a question worth pondering for a moment each week. Sunday evening can be an appropriate time to review the upcoming week. We know that there are only so many “rocks” or “chunks of time” we can fit into each day. Time management improves when we accept this reality. It’s crucial to make room for the important things. Can you remember the disappointment you felt when an important “rock” was overlooked? Optimal time management happens when we choose the “rocks” that are important to us. The interruptions and other distractions will fill in the time around our “rocks”.

This becomes a bigger issue when we’re juggling multiple priorities. Our pressures tend to overlap and compete. The children are ready to be picked up when our biggest client calls back. The cell phone is ringing while we’re making our business calls and it’s easy to get distracted with other issues. Our boss asks for back up when we had planned to spend the afternoon writing a report. Tough choices. Competing priorities.

It can become easier when we standardize office hours and put a structure in place to guide us. Your daily planner is the most effective tool to use as you build a plan for your week. It helps to work toward weekly goals that are in place to build and maintain the business. These goals are specific and measurable.

These can include phone calls, meetings, and serving clients. We may need to package and ship products. Another block of time is spent at the computer, producing reports and articles, or tracking the administrative details of running a business. This leaves time to network, do the banking and do some research.

Family and friends are also very important and we must make time for them each week. Don’t overlook the priorities of your personal life. These are important aspects to maintaining a better balance in life.

What are the rocks in your life? Try to become more aware of the priorities, and make conscious choices. Think about what needs to be done each week to keep things on an even keel. What weekly goals can you develop to build upon your plans of last week. What action lays the groundwork for future business? And, the pressing work of the week persists, of course.

When you plan goals for your week, think of the jobs that may get overlooked. Plan in some reading, thinking or quiet time. Take time weekly to reflect on the next seven days, and you can avoid some of the problems you face when you rush headlong into the fray of your week.

Aim to become an architect, rather than a firefighter. The architect plans ahead and identifies problems on paper; the firefighter gets notified after the crisis has happened. With advance planning, you can shift your reality, one week at a time.

What’s your carrot?

Reward yourself for meeting your own goals! What’s your carrot? What would tempt you to move forward? It’s time to take action! So, it’s time to figure out which reward would bribe you to take action!

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Setting goals at the beginning of the year is a common practice in Canada. If you’ve been making steady progress on your January 1st goals – I want to congratulate you! If you’ve been stumbling around with a hit and miss approach, read on! It’s time to bribe yourself!

A common mistake when we set annual goals is to set only the big picture goals. (“Lose weight” or, “make more money”). We can be more successful when we set specific goals (ie. Lose 10 lbs in 10 months or make $9,000 more this year). And, it works best when we take another step – to break these goals down into manageable steps (Lose 1 lb per month or make $750 more per month).

After we know what we need to do, we can begin to make a detailed plan. If we want to lose weight, we can choose to eat less or exercise more. Or, we can choose to take a dual approach for best results. When we want to make more money, we can identify which specific work we’d like to do to earn that money. We may even be able to identify how much effort we need to make to net those results.

When we have a plan ready, we can try to identify some of the challenges that may arise, and develop a plan to get past them. By this time, we know exactly where we are headed, and we can start to get things done, one thing at a time. We begin where we are today – or at the beginning. It’s a very good place to start.

Another useful step is to set up a reasonable timeline for these goals. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that “life is what happens while we are making other plans”. It is a good idea to be conservative when you map your specific goals onto a timeline. Accept that other things will get in the way – and don’t set yourself up for failure. Set out reasonable goals on a manageable timeline.

Let the real work begin! Write out your plan, step by step. Post your goals where you’ll see them daily. I also recommend that you share your goals with a friend or associate. Now it’s time to get things done, one step at a time. This suddenly seems like a manageable task. Success is within your grasp – at last.

But wait. There is an additional layer that I add when working with clients. They plan a reward for themselves – for reaching their own goals. So, review your plan, and I’ll tell you more about planning your own reward – or – a micro-vacation. It’s a break from your own reality. Here are the steps to be taken:

  1. Set specific goals
  2. Break them down into reasonable chunks of work
  3. Post the steps where you’ll read them daily
  4. Identify problems and troubleshoot to get past these blocks
  5. Begin at the beginning
  6. Set up a timeline
  7. Get things done, one at a time
  8. Reward yourself in a meaningful way – what’s your carrot?

A meaningful reward is the important step to keep you on track towards your planned goals. What’s your carrot? Will it be a massage, a visit with a friend or a fun gift? It could even be a short break from your day-to-day pressures. Do you want to take a Micro-vacation?

Micro-vacations are a wonderful way to reward yourself for making steady progress. A micro-vacation is a break to refresh yourself which is anywhere from 4-24 hours. Defining what is a good break from your own reality is a very personal choice. If you schedule micro-vacations monthly, your motivation can remain high. Procrastination can go out the window as you wrap things up for your next break – or micro-vacation.

Good luck meeting your own goals this year. Try this detailed approach to assist you in making the most of the coming months. Steady progress against your goals will net results for both you and your business.

Body Surfing in Vero Beach

Didn’t catch that wave quite right. Head over heels, I go. My head hits the sand while my feet stick out of the foam. Sand and salt water bubbles swirl all around me.

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Caught the next wave though, and surfed back to shore. Wow – what fun! As I wade out again, I feel the pull of the wave that brought me in, heading out to form a new wave. This wave crests as I decide that it’s worth catching. Another long ride into shore on a beautiful wave. Childhood memories flood my mind. So many wonderful days were spent on beaches.

In the middle of all this, it occurs to me how being self employed is a little like body surfing. We must learn to recognize the subtle signs above and below the surface. We need to monitor the level of the ocean floor, which shifts constantly. We need to keep an eye on the changing landscape of the surface and examine each wave that comes our way. There are many choices to make.

The next wave takes shape around me. There are conflicting pressures. There’s a push, pull of water going in two directions. I feel another wave breaking on either arm. It crashes towards the middle and lifts me off my feet. It’s an exhilarating feeling – to be in the eye of a break in a wave.

That last one really got my adrenaline going and made me want even more excitement. It’s such an addictive drug, adrenaline. I wade out again, looking for a bigger wave. The satisfaction of riding each wave into shore is exciting! Just like being an entrepreneur. There are many options to choose from in a single day.

The salt water and sand are in every pore of my body. It took days to wash all the sand out of my hair. The thrill of this trip came home with me. It has recharged me to work in a focused manner on my business.

Mentoring Success

It’s impossible to read enough reports and articles to remain current in our field. Reaching out to others for information and support is an important trait to nurture.

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We all benefit from having a mentor or establishing a co-mentoring relationship with another business owner, sales professional or entrepreneur. It’s the best way to gain knowledge or pass along wisdom from one professional to another. The information we receive will be current and practical. It’s easier to keep our nose to the grindstone and get the work done when there are people interested in what we’re doing.

We can get invaluable advice from a mentor. We need to choose well and listen carefully. Much like when we move to a new city or encounter new life circumstances. We benefit greatly from trusted guides in our new situation. They will offer tips and shortcuts in this new landscape to help us save time and money.

In a survey of entrepreneurs and small business owners we conducted, we learned that over half of the participants had an early mentor who was a family member or friend. Most of those mentoring relationships were informal and lasted over several years.

Most of the people surveyed felt that they currently received mentoring, yet more than half of them did not feel that they provided mentorship to others. That perception does not ring true.

My conclusion is that we are often unaware of how we help others. It may be that while we are stating a fact or telling a story, others are learning and feeling mentored. Why else did this group of entrepreneurs and business owners feel mentored by others, but did not feel that they were mentor’s themselves?

Mentoring can be a symbiotic relationship. Years ago, I called an experienced entrepreneur who had written several business books, and he was open to meeting for tea. My hands were sweating when I knocked on his door. We had a wonderful afternoon and he enjoyed brainstorming with someone in the field who did not have the same experience he did, but was currently consulting with business owners. I delivered the word on the street, as it were.

We can reach out or try to become more aware of the chance opportunities that show up. Accidental mentors reveal themselves in our lives and we gain wisdom when we recognize valuable guidance from an acquaintance, neighbour, or even a story in the newspaper or a cookbook.

Be on the lookout for accidental mentors and try to reach out to others for whom you can become a mentor. You may be surprised by what you can learn from someone you are mentoring. A young entrepreneur was learning at the knee of a wise sage recently, when she complained about her monthly cell phone bill. He suggested a solution and this one idea has saved her hundreds of dollars, monthly. She was able to guide him through negotiating a rental agreement for his new store that saved him time and money too.

Bring awareness to your business relationships and how you can help one another grow and gather more information on which to base solid business decisions. Notice when you’re learning from others and comment on what you gained from their comments or stories. Other people may be unaware of their impact.

Take some time to assess each business decision with a trusted source. Checking the facts and your assumptions with another contact may enhance the information you have already gathered. You will discover that there are different contacts to turn to for specific information and others who have more general knowledge. Both can help you assess specific situations.

Five tips for nurturing your mentors:

  1. Ask questions to learn more about others’ point of view.
  2. Listen carefully and attentively. Seek to understand.
  3. Take notes to increase recall and allow you to reflect on new information.
  4. Acknowledge the learning with a comment or a note of thanks.
  5. Assess the guidance that you want to follow.

Ultimately, it’s your business and you get to make these decisions. It’s useful to gather information to make an informed decision. Speak to an experienced entrepreneur today to find out what you need to know.

Freedom @ 55

Do you remember the ad campaign called Freedom 55? It was about achieving financial freedom. People tell me now that it was actually their financial planner who achieved financial freedom by 55 years of age. On my 55th birthday, I decided to re-write that campaign to free myself of the fears that no longer serve me. I started by making a list of the things I feared. It’s quite a list. Each item on my list has restricted my life in some way or another. 

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The first fear I wanted to tackle was my fear of heights. When I was up high, my legs turned to jelly and my stomach got queasy. My eyesight dimmed and I didn’t notice the details of a given view. While on holidays, I regularly stayed grounded while my family went on helicopter rides. If I could close my eyes, I could better cope with heights. But I’d ask myself, why pay for an adventure if you can’t see it?

I was listening to the radio when I heard about the CN Tower Edge Walk. As I thought about it an icy terror seeped into my stomach. In my brain, I realized how safe it must be for them to get insurance to do this. I rationalized that it would really be a situation of mind over matter. If I could control my mind, the height would not matter.

I decided right then to do the Edge Walk at the CN Tower to mark my birthday. For those of you who have not heard, you walk around the outside of the CN Tower in Toronto. On a 1.5 metre wide walkway on top of the restaurant – 1,168 feet up. Really. It sounds pretty radical, I’ll admit. And, I knew that if I could work up to that, it would help me look my fear in the face, and prove something to myself.

I see the Tower from my shower window each morning, and I’d greet it and think about what it would feel like to walk around the outside, today. I watched the You Tube videos to imagine what it would look like. I looked over my balcony. I’d stand as close to the glass doors as I could when my subway crossed the Bloor street viaduct on my ride home. Even when it made me nauseous. And, it did.

On the evening before my event, I went out to my balcony and looked over to test my reaction to the height. I saw things I had never noticed before. I saw big planters that had always been there, but my eyes had not registered them. My legs weakened, but did not turn to jelly. I felt certain that I could do the Edge Walk.

The next day, when I was being suited up for the Edge Walk, a guide came down from the top to announce that he saw rain moving towards us and that we needed to put on rain gear. My brain became concerned and my stomach reacted. They got us into rain gear and I was wondering how slippery the metal walkway might get in rain. I’m pleased to say that the rain did not arrive. We were gifted with wonderful weather and a fine view. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The most dramatic moment for me was walking out through the sliding glass doors, onto the edge walk. It’s about the width of an average city sidewalk. When I saw that the edge had no fence, the feeling that I could just keep walking overwhelmed me. I couldn’t, of course. I was securely harnessed and quite safe. Each harness had been triple checked. And, I had to remind myself many times how safe I was, throughout the challenges they provide during my time on the edge.

We started with a simple challenge called “Toes over Toronto”. We went close to the edge and put our toes over the edge. Then, things got a little more daring. Leaning out over the edge and stretching our arms out felt like I was getting ready to dive. My final fear barrier was broken when I leaned over backwards, with arms out, with only the harness to hold me, and looked down. The view was quite amazing. And, I was excited not to feel the fear that I expected.

Helen Keller’s quote came to me. “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” I had not felt more alive or as daring in a long time. It was an adrenalin rush to tackle this challenge and I was also thrilled when the adventure was over. It was great to get downstairs and see the pictures and video. They were proof that I got past my fear of heights, at least for a while. It was wonderful to feel so free. And, I have bragging rights.

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