Brought To You By Emily Parks
Productivity Consultant at Organize For Success, LLC...
Helping You Make Every Minute Matter!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Celebrate Mom & Pop Business Owners Today

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, fueling our country's prosperity in many different ways. In 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, there were 5.73 million employer firms in the U.S., and firms with fewer than 500 employees accounted for 99.7% of those businesses while companies with less than 20 workers made up a whopping 89.6% of all in existence. These small businesses employ many of our neighbors as they put a good deal of income back into the local economy to benefit all those living, working and playing nearby.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are more than 27 million small businesses in the United States. Still, as many of us small business owners can attest, it is not easy to own your own business; it takes long hours, lots of hard work, a good deal of dedication and a quality team supporting your endeavor, whether your company has been handed down from one generation to the next or is a brand-new start-up that you've created to pursue your passion. Today's National Mom and Pop Business Owners' Day is an excellent time to show appreciation for the vital role small businesses play in the U.S. economy.

As Grasshopper shares, small businesses have a big impact locally. "If you spend $100 at a local business, roughly $68 stays in your local economy. If you spend the same at a large business, only $43 stays in the local economy," which adds up for major effect.

Please take time today and every day to support the privately-owned small businesses in your own community. Share your positive experiences with others and give feedback to the companies themselves when your visit does not meet or exceed your expectations. It is through healthy small businesses locally that the entire U.S. economy thrives, benefitting us all now as well as far into the future.

Friday, March 25, 2016

10 Commandments to Have Productive Meetings

Whether one-on-one or with a group, many of us spend a good deal of our working hours in meetings. Since time is such a limited resource, it is important to make good use of all that time we are investing in meeting with others, and there are steps we can take to positively impact the productivity of our meetings. Follow these 10 commandments to have meetings that truly make every minute matter:

1. Thou shalt have a clear purpose. Many meetings mistakenly focus on simply updating those in attendance; however, there are plenty of alternative means for conveying updates that are less intrusive to attendees' valuable time. Instead, meetings are most productive when they focus on one of two purposes: (a) discussion or (b) decision-making. If your meeting's purpose is not one of those, could the goal be achieved in an alternative manner?

2. Thou shalt be strategic with scheduling. Often, when meetings are set, we indicate a starting time but forget to set a specific ending time; attendees can better plan the remainder of their day if provided an end time in addition to a start time. Further, be cognizant of vacation plans so meetings are not scheduled when many who need to attend will be gone. Plus, avoid scheduling a meeting in the days leading up to a big deadline if the meeting is unrelated to the project coming due as well as during times when there will be too many distractions for folks to focus.

3. Thou shalt trim the fat. Shorten how long you plan to meet and, then, push yourself to accomplish everything on the agenda within that shorter duration by using a timer or having someone serve as timekeeper. Try to end meetings at least 10 minutes before the next hour, i.e. 12:50, 1:50, 2:50, etc, or schedule your meetings in 15-minute blocks, like running from on the hour to quarter 'til the next hour. Attendees will appreciate those few minutes before the next hour to return a quick call, run to the restroom, grab a beverage or gather their thoughts.

4. Thou shalt invite the right people and only the right people. Whether having a discussion or making a decision, it is important to include those whose contributions are necessary for accomplishing the meeting's goals: those with the authority to make decisions, those with enough pull in the organization to advocate for meeting decisions, those with the expertise needed to make informed decisions as well as the plans necessary for successfully executing said decisions and those who will be needed in executing such plans to accurately complete the plans resulting from the meeting. On the other hand, the Rule of 7 states that "everyone in a meeting over 7 people reduces your ability to make decisions by 10%." Therefore, include only those whose contributions are necessary for accomplishing the meeting's goals as too many attendees will deplete productivity.

5. Thou shalt have a plan to achieve the stated purpose. Create a realistic agenda, listing what you truly believe can be accomplished within the scheduled time allowed. Structure that agenda to address the most important issues first. Try to indicate how much time is being allocated for each element listed. Solicit feedback from attendees to ensure anything important is included while lower priorities and unrelated topics get removed.

6. Thou shalt prepare beforehand. Distribute any supplemental items for review to all attendees beforehand. Share necessary updates via email before the meeting date. If there is legwork that can be done in advance, completing that beforehand will allow the meeting itself to run more efficiently. As explained by Dana Manciagli in The Triad Business Journal, "proper planning prevents poor performance". Take time to get your ducks in a row before, allowing the time during which folks have come together to be devoted to discussion and / or decision-making.

7. Thou shalt communicate expectations clearly. If you are leading the meeting, set expectations on how those attending should behave and share those with attendees, whether in writing prior to the meeting or at the start of the meeting. Here are a few suggestions: come prepared, contribute to the discussion with feedback, share your insights as applicable, make sure to ask whatever questions you have and limit technology distractions. Additionally, specifically state guidelines for interjecting during the agenda, like when to ask questions, how to pipe up for brainstorming or at what point is it appropriate to share feedback during a discussion. Think proactively about what situations might arise related to each meeting and be specific with standards set.

8. Thou shalt take notes. This shows your commitment to the topic, helps you pay attention and enables you to refer back to items covered earlier as the meeting progresses. If you have the agenda beforehand, use that agenda as a framework for filling in notes from the meeting. Highlight what is important, whether via a different color of ink or by blocking that content off separately. Designate each task that must be done as it arises in conversation during the meeting. Then, end your meeting notes with a recap, including the highlights, action items and timing of next meeting.

9. Thou shalt stay focused. Denote on a separate list any tangents or issues not on the agenda as they arise. If there is extra time at the end in which attendees want to address those items, feel free to attempt it; however, it is often the best use of everyone's time to schedule another time for discussing or resolving those issues on a later date.

10. Thou shalt be accountable for completing tasks. When it comes to moving items from to-do to done, my rule of thumb is "every what assigned a when is more likely to get done", which means each action item arising from the meeting needs a deadline for its completion. Further, ensuring tasks get completed is more likely when there is someone accountable for that task's completion, hence why there needs to be someone assigned to the completion of each task that results from meeting discussions.

What tactics do you utilize for successfully having productive meetings? What are your success stories? What issues have you faced in keeping your meetings on track?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Clients Are The Foundation of Every Business

This Client's Day, we show gratitude for our customers because, without customers, there would be no business. Whether the customers of your products and services are visitors to shopping centers or e-commerce website visitors, they are each company's most valued partners. Since 2010, companies and government institutions alike have had March 19th as a dedicated day for showing gratitude to those clients who are the foundation of our businesses.

Celebrate today by making a client smile like never before. Here are ideas from to get your creative juices flowing but do what's best for your clients:

- Post a sign by your entrance to share "We love our clients!"

- Add a banner to your website showing your appreciation

- Have your CEO call smaller clients for a brief chat

- Volunteer locally to share your social responsibility

- Bake a big cake for anyone stopping by to enjoy

- Send a letter expressing your appreciation

- Distribute postcards with a big, smiling emoji on the front

- Share happy-face stickers with everyone in your offices

- Offer tea and cookies to all customers

- Invite your clients to lunch or dinner

- Provide clients with a useful and personal gift item

- Let your client pay a bill after its due date

- Organize a "behind-the-scenes" tour of your company so clients see how things work and that about which you are passionate

How will you share with your clients how unbelievably important they are to you and your business? I'm off to write a few extra thank you notes and to take today's client a tasty treat!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Schedule Meetings More Easily With Better Tech Tools

There are many different commitments and responsibilities vying for our time… Clients, family and friends, business development, volunteering, personal growth, exercise, meditation, eating, sleep and more! When scheduling time with others, the back and forth communications can be overwhelming. What if there were tech tools to simplify and streamline this process? Well, you are in luck!

If you are scheduling a one-on-one appointment with someone, whether that's an individual or a team you are consulting, these tools will help:

- Acuity Scheduling --- automate client bookings, cancellations, reminders and payments as well as offer online sales of gift certificates

- Booking Bug --- multichannel bookings, event ticketing, customized booking journeys, appointment outcome analysis and CRM integration

- Calendly --- clean, simple, beautiful way to set your availability preferences and share a link to your calendar; then, after others pick desired times, they appear automatically on your calendar immediately

- --- beyond simplifying scheduling, allows accessing meetings on-the-go to view details, respond to requests, receive notifications and connect via teleconferencing, Skype, Google+ Hangouts or Lync

- Pick --- compare calendars, regardless of email domain, and choose to share calendar link or use iOS app to schedule meetings on-the-go

- SchedFAST --- integrates receivables; provides email and text notifications for appointment confirmations, reminders and payments received; can import entire customer list and allows for multiple team member activity

- ScheduleOnce --- easily integrate booking page into your website, from which customers can book directly to your calendar from any device

- Setster --- include confirmations, reminders, cancellation and rescheduling options; allows requesting payment via PayPal; integrates with FreshBooks

TimeBridge --- integrates with Outlook or Google, including maps; handles unlimited changes, rescheduling, cancelations, notifications, reminders, location details, conference calls, video conferencing and time zone sync

- Time Trade --- schedule appointments through any channel, like website, email, phone and social media; can include concierge and analytics

- Vcita --- much more than simply online scheduling with live portal to cull together inquiries, CRM, online payments, document sharing, widget with dynamic call-to-action for website, custom forms and tons of integrations

- --- see invitees' availability alongside your own; can suggest places directly from calendar inquiries; invitees don't need to have own account

- --- integrates with Google and iCloud calendars via your own personalized scheduling page; bookings go straight into your online calendar with reminders, payment options and rescheduling available

If you are pulling together a group of individuals for a meeting, team practice or volunteer session, there are plenty of tech tools that can help... In each of the following solutions, whoever will be hosting the event, meeting or gathering goes to the website, enters date and time options and gets a link for soliciting feedback from potential attendees; then, those being invited click through the link provided to indicate which of the options provided will work. I highly encourage anyone hosting to specify a deadline for providing feedback when sending out the indicated link, after which you can go with whichever option got the most votes. No back and forth. No email overload. It's a simple and direct way to save time and limit stress in scheduling.

Why waste time going back and forth with folks to simply set time for later? Why reserve time for something that will end up happening at some other date and time? Let technology aid your efforts so you can use your time for that which better aligns with your goals and needs, boosting your outputs and enhancing your peace of mind. Add these links to your email signature or website, and you'll move towards simplified scheduling immediately.

Have you tried any of these tools before? What technology do YOU utilize for setting appointments and scheduling meetings? 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Online File Repositories Are Not Cloud Backup Solutions

Too many of my clients have mistakenly implemented an online file repository in lieu of a cloud backup solution instead of utilizing both in tandem. Together, they can better help you and will boost your productivity more significantly.

Let us get started by examining Dropbox as an example of the many available online file repositories. As Wikipedia explains, "Dropbox is a file hosting service... that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, personal cloud and client software"; however, nowhere in that description is there any notion that it automatically backs up all your computer's data. Instead, Dropbox allows users to create a special folder on each of their computers, and Dropbox synchronizes the documents that the user puts into that folder so their accounts appear to contain that same content regardless of which device is used to view it, including laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets and itself.

Other options for online file repositories include Box, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, OneDrive, SpiderOak and SugarSync, all of which function similarly but with some variations. The bottom line is that each of these solutions will save the documents you select to the cloud. Period. That's it. They do keep those documents easily accessible across all your devices, but the file syncing is limited to documents and only those documents that you specifically choose.

Alternatively, a cloud backup solution provides you with a different set of services. When you create your account, you are walked through installing the solution on your computer, at which time you tell it which types of content to save for you, including photos, music and all your irreplaceable files. Then, all your files will be backed up automatically to the cloud; it's a set-it-and-forget-it solution for automatic and continuous backup of all content. Nothing to remember, no scheduling and no need to plug anything into your computer for saving your data. With your files safely stored in the cloud, should your computer crash, get infected with a virus or be stolen, you can get your data back anytime with a simple restore, and you can access your content anytime via any Internet-connected computer or mobile device.

Options for cloud backup solutions include Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan and Mozy, all of which function similarly but offer varying deals so you can get the solution that saves you the most money while meeting your needs for amount of data to be saved. The bottom line is that each of these solutions will enable you to safely and securely keep an automatic backup of all content on your computer running continuously without your manual involvement.

There are reasons to utilize both of these types of resources. Actually, many of my clients use multiple online file repositories so they can maximize the amount of free storage offered by each and, then, search between their databases with Citrix ShareFile Quick Edit or CloudCube. No matter which approach you choose, please keep in mind the differences between these tech tools and don't implement an online file repository as your cloud backup solution.

Do you use an online file repository? If so, which do you prefer? Do you use a cloud backup solution? If so, which do you prefer? How do you see these solutions differing from one another, and how do you see them complementing each other? Share your experiences.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Is Your Team Filled With March Mania?

Whether you are not a fan of basketball at all or you are wildly cheering for your favorite team, you're probably well aware of the fact that March mania is here, which means college basketball is heating up and folks are getting their office pools started. As conference champions are crowned and the madness of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tourney nears, I see many parallels.

If you're asking what successful businesses have in common with winning basketball programs, here are a few of their similarities:

- Teams need strong leadership. For sports programs, that leader is the head coach, and Coach Mike Krzyzewski is a shining example of how strong leadership creates a winning environment. The leadership lessons from Coach K are limitless, like "Make people feel you, not just understand you", "Be responsive to the short-term goals, but never lose sight of your long-term mission", "Empower others to scale and sustain your impact", "Meet your people where they are" and "Your platform is a gift... Use it wisely"; however, there is no question that leadership is needed to succeed, and that same principle applies to any company's team.

- Team is defined as "Together, Everyone Achieves More". Each individual is human, which means our abilities are limited; however, if everyone is contributing to the same goal, the sum of those parts creates a much larger impact than any one can do individually. Larger goals can be achieved when everyone on the team is working together, associated in a joint action. For a college basketball program, that would be an NCAA Tournament championship; however, for your company, that success comes in achieving whatever "big, hairy, audacious" goal your team set for itself. Loftier goals are achieved only when working together, like the members of a crew rowing in sync and in the same direction.

- Teams succeed when members skillfully fulfill their roles. Throughout the history of basketball, the most successful teams pass the ball more on each possession than their opponents, trust their teammates to be in the right position at the right time, communicate clearly as to what is needed of each role player and have team members that dedicate themselves 100% to the specific roles asked of them. Whether asked to play point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward or center, each member of the team knows their role and how it meshes with the other roles to achieve the team's greatest goals. Winning teams pull together groups of stellar athletes to win against schools that have "the best player" but no one on the same page to fill the other roles.

Whether a basketball team or business entity, when each member does an assigned part and carries the associated workload, the combination of those roles is a winning team, where the synergy from working together creates bigger, better, stronger results.

Do you have a favorite sports team? How does that team exhibit principles of teamwork to make it more successful? How can your company implement the teamwork tactics of your favorite sports team to achieve greater success?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

How Can Emily Parks Help Me Organize for Success?

If you are out and about, networking across Raleigh, the Triangle, North Carolina or anywhere in the nation, chances are good you've met several productivity consultants and professional organizers. With so many specialties and niches in the professional organization industry, I frequently get asked, "Don't y'all do the same things?" or "What makes you different from XYZ?".

Here are a few points of differentiation for me (Emily Parks) and my company (Organize for Success, LLC):

I partner with busy professionals and corporate teams. Although some challenges are alike in residential environments, I have a skill set fine-tuned for the distinct needs of workspaces, whether in four walls, a shared space, a vehicle or an airport.

I specifically said "partner" because I serve as someone working with you to help you succeed in your endeavors. Together, we determine your unique needs and create a game plan specifically for attaining your desired results.

I help you make every minute matter. In each day, there are only 1,440 minutes; when you invest your limited resource of time in doing something, you are inherently saying no to doing something else. I help you use all available resources for best investing your time in each of these ways:
- efficient workflow processes;
- an organized and streamlined workspace;
- using the best technology in the most appropriate way;
- planning strategically to proactively address your priorities;
- thoroughly utilizing delegation and automation options; and
- communicating skillfully.
Be amazed by what you can do in 15 minutes!

I believe it is through work-life integration that we are our best, developing harmony, efficiencies and lower stress. Many people speak of the elusive "work-life balance"; however, when I hear that, I think of a see-saw, where success in one area of life leads to failure in another. I do not believe my "work" competes with my "life"; instead, I see how they complement each other. Life encompasses many different elements: work, home, community and the realm of mind, body and spirit. As stated by Stew Friedman of the Wharton Leadership Program, "you don't have to sacrifice, tradeoff or balance to have sane, productive and meaningful work life and home life." As human-beings, we wear many different hats and fill many different roles all the time; the emphasis on each is constantly evolving and rotating so I help you create systems and implement tools for the fluid system needed to address all appropriate elements of life and living.

Productivity is focusing your actions to achieve your desired results for work-life integration as efficiently as possible so you can make every minute matter. I am driven to make a difference in this world, helping you and your team stop treading water so you can start attacking more of what is really important.

Do you worry that you're missing opportunities? Do you feel buried in email or simply unable to keep up? Are you constantly in a frenzied or stressful state? Do you wonder how many commitments are falling through the cracks? Does it feel impossible to get anything accomplished amidst the distractions? If so, let me help you organize for success.