The Art of Time-Blocking: A Simple Tip to Revolutionize Your Productivity

time calendarMost people just aren’t that good at multitasking. Trying to remain focused (and organized) is one of the most significant time wasters, especially in the life of a business professional. When you try to do too many things at the same time, you become a “Jack of all Trades, Master of None.” Just when you’re trying to get work done on that big project, another email comes in that you have to respond to. You hop over to your email client and suddenly the phone is ringing, or you realize that you have to proof a new design before it heads out the door. It’s maddening.

Thankfully, there is a better way. By adopting the fine art of time-blocking, you may have just found the simple, yet effective technique you’ve been looking for to unlock a bold new era of productivity in both your personal and professional life.

What is Time-Blocking?

At its core, time-blocking is the idea that you should segment your day into clearly defined (and strictly adhered to) blocks of productivity. Organize the tasks you need to complete by category and set aside a specific amount of time for those categories each day.

If you feel like you’re spending an unfortunate amount of time responding to emails every day at the expense of everything else, set aside 9:00 am to 10:00 am every morning to just focus on emails. Devote every ounce of your attention to this one task and when it’s over, move onto the next one. Outside of the occasional emergency, don’t respond to emails for the rest of the day. Get it done, and then move on.

The Benefits

The beauty of time-blocking falls into two distinct categories. First, it’s an incredibly effective way to eliminate distraction. Instead of trying to divide your attention between ten little tasks, it’s almost like you’re tackling just one big one (i.e. emails, and nothing more). Not only do you get those initial tasks done faster, but the ultimate quality of your output is also much higher because you’re no longer trying to do too many things at once.

Next, time-blocking is also an excellent way to build up a strong sense of momentum that will carry you through the rest of your day. As you begin to move from block to block, you’ll constantly be surprised by just how much you’re getting done. This wave of productivity (not to mention the wave of euphoria) builds on itself, driving things home towards the finish line (and the end of the work day).

Success Comes When You Look Ahead

Another one of the keys to success regarding time-blocking is a little bit of forward thinking. This isn’t something you can make up on the fly. You need to consider the types of tasks you need to do each day and what you have to get done by week’s end. Look ahead a little bit and make a list of your top priorities. Then, separate those into categories and get down to business.

Remember, it’s important to be honest with yourself. Time-blocking won’t suddenly create an extra hour in your day, but it will help you make better use of the hours you already have. If you try to add too many things to your list to the point where it becomes unrealistic, you’ll end up working against your goal and not towards it. You’ll quickly begin to feel overwhelmed, which is something that you do not want.


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The One-Trick Pony Syndrome

One trick pony.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “a one-trick pony?”

Researchers believe the “one-trick pony” phrase comes from an entertainment background. According to research, the earliest reference was associated with circus ponies used to perform a trick or feat that impressed audiences. The ponies involved could do an amazing act, such as walking on their hind feet, but that was all they could do. Eventually, the audiences got bored with the show. In one version of the story, a pony had a dog partner that would ride on it. While the audience got sick of seeing the pony do the same thing every time the circus was in town, the dog gained fame because it learned and began to perform new tricks. In time, the dog became the star, and the pony was relegated to hauling circus carts.

Is Your Business A One-Trick Pony?

The moral of the story here is not to allow your business to get stuck on only one good thing. It’s tempting to think that if you have something good going, why ruin it? Well, over time that good thing will become less and less popular. The number of customers who want it will diminish and the business will have to start cutting prices to keep it attractive. Eventually, the product or service won’t sell at all.

Palm PDAs and Blackberry were both perfect examples of the one-trick pony mistake. They both had a really good product for a while, but both companies failed to upgrade and develop new products. Eventually, someone else did, and their customer base walked away. Those text screens on a Blackberry and similarly on a Palm PDA simply looked old and obsolete versus smartphones like the original Apple iPhone. The world had changed.

It’s Time to Diversify

Is your business riding the wave right now of a star pony? If so, now is the time to be looking for and generating a new path. Diversify into a new product or new service. Not only does it protect your business’ longevity, but multiple revenue streams from different customers will eventually offset each other when one of them starts to weaken.

Companies that map out their product/service life cycle and plan for eventual loss with replacement “ponies” are the firms that survive and grow. Don’t let all your energy, money, time, and effort go down the drain with a one-trick pony. Instead, use the initial success to be your springboard for the next one.


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What Happened to Summer? Back-to-School Marketing Starts Earlier Than Ever

Back to School Marketing
The temperature is soaring, steaks sizzle on the grill, and kids play in the pool, but not everyone is thinking summer. Back to school season is starting earlier than ever for big retailers and the impact trickles over into all aspects of marketing. Both Office Depot and Land’s End launch back to school campaigns at the start of summer – in some cases before school even ended in some parts of the country.

This is a change even from last year; according to AdAge, 2016 saw back to school marketing head into full swing around the middle of July. Time magazine cites the need for retailers to make as many revenues as possible during the highest spending periods as the reason Black Friday, Halloween, and Back to School promotions are being scheduled earlier than ever before.

When does Back to School Begin?

Big retailers working on the premise that earlier is better have begun pushing back-to-school marketing back each year. Back to school is big business for retailers, since it is worth about 78 billion; it is second only to the major holidays for revenues, according to AdAge.

How Early is Too Early?

Office Depot’s back-to-school advertising rolled out June 25 of this year, a full three weeks earlier than 2016’s July launch. Other retailers are following suit, but there is some consumer backlash against the early push. Lands’ End received public criticism on social media when their back-to-school catalog dropped while kids in many parts of the country were still in school.

“We got your #backtoschool catalog in the mail. Our kids still have two weeks of school left this year! #fail #marketing,” tweeted Greg Magin.

@GregMagin helpfully tagged his rant with #fail, #backtoschool and #Marketing, so it was seen by far more than just his followers. This backlash from consumers shows that a too-early launch can backfire. Right now, the sweet spot for back-to-school marketing seems to be right after the 4th of July through the end of the month.

Back-to-school marketing is all about timing. Being aware of this pitfall, and of the enormous potential of this busy season, can help you make the most of Back to School season for your brand and ensure your organization has a visible presence during this often overlooked marketing opportunity.

Make Back to School Time Count for your Brand

Positioning your Back to School promotions in July and working to build not only sales but also awareness can help place you in front of consumers when they’re ready to outfit the kids for the next school year. Since most consumers begin searching online well before they part with actual money, building awareness ahead of this busy season can help you get the results you want without irritating consumers.


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Why You Should Never Cut Corners in the World of Print Marketing

In business, to say that you should make every dollar count is an understatement. When dealing with uncertain economic times, budgeting decisions matter a great deal. Improving your profit margins and increasing your bottom line is always a top priority, which is why the instinct to try to cut corners to save a few dollars here and there is a natural one.

It’s also an instinct that you would do well to fight, especially when it comes to your print marketing.

Marketing is About Communication and Communication Matters

People who feel like it’s okay to cut corners with their print marketing are probably not understanding what their marketing collateral is supposed to do. If you look at a flyer or another piece of print material as only an information exchange, things like paper stock and print quality probably aren’t going to be high on your list of priorities.

However, those things should make the top of the list because print marketing is about more than just an information exchange. It’s about opening up a line of communication with your audience that will be mutually beneficial to everyone involved. It’s about creating a meaningful experience with a person, one that doesn’t just inform them about your product or service but that also gives you a competitive advantage.

As a “top-of-the-funnel” medium, print is important because it guarantees you the nearly undivided attention of your readers – the same attention they often give to magazine and newspaper content, as per the American Marketing Association. Why, then, do you think it’s a good idea to get someone to focus their attention on something that isn’t the best quality it can be? Is that the impression you really want to make?

That’s precisely the decision you make when you try to cut corners when talking about something as mission-critical as print marketing. If you can only make one first impression, it serves you well to make it the best one you can. Nothing makes a worse first impression than a low quality, easily ignorable piece of print marketing making their way into someone’s mailbox (or worse – your store window).

How to Save Money Without Sacrificing Quality

Instead of cutting corners across the proverbial marketing board, consider cutting out certain elements wholesale if you’re trying to stretch your budget as far as it can go. Take a look at your existing marketing channels and see what is working and what isn’t. Cut anything at the bottom of the list and funnel some of those funds back into your marketing so that you can double down on the print materials that are striking a chord with your target audience.

Not only will you still be able to save a little money, but the remaining print collateral that you’re using will come out all the better for it. Even one incredible piece of print collateral is more effective (and more important) than ten low-quality ones.

Investing in Marketing is an Investment in Your Business

A solid piece of print marketing collateral will not just get someone down off the fence and turn them from “potential buyer” to “customer.” Nurturing that line of communication at the right time can turn someone from “one-time customer” into “brand advocate” and beyond, too.

But that’s not going to happen if you cut corners on something this important. According to Quickbooks, inadequate marketing has been proven to stunt your business’ growth. Is that a chance worth taking, all in the name of saving a few bucks in the short-term? We certainly don’t think so.


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Veterans Use the Internet to Expand Skill Set and Boost Income

Happy Veteran US Army
As a war veteran, Shane Thomason knows firsthand what it feels like to experience victory in battle. After being home for nearly ten years from the Iraqi War, Thomason now spends his time giving back to the community and expanding his occupational skill set via the internet. Owning more than 250 websites, including RandomVeteran.com, Thomason enjoys working from home and has found much success in being able to sell unique t-shirts and other novelty items online.

Thomason isn’t the only veteran taking advantage of the internet to boost his annual income. There are veterans located all across the globe who sell items and services online as a way to supplement their earnings, and for many of them, they simply do this for the same reason Thomason does — to pass the time and keep their minds occupied.

A former civil engineer for the US Navy, Zachary Scheel, says, “Veterans are comfortable operating in high-pressure environments that are changing rapidly, where they’re constantly forced to make decisions with incomplete information.” And while many common internet users may not think of the online world as being high-pressure, Thomason is sure to tell you different. From selling websites at exactly the right moment to creating content on a consistent basis, operating businesses and sites online is a full-time job that requires much attention, and more so, much intelligence.

There are many skills learned through the military and overseas that can be used in business. Six of the most valuable skills veterans can carry over from the battlefield are integrity, dependability, sharp decision-making, the initiative to go above and beyond, tenacity, and adaptability. The capability to take advantage of technology is also another skill that veterans are familiar with, making them all the more apt to find success. Whether it be learning new software or performing website coding, veterans often have a knack for training themselves.

Thomason wrote articles for his local newspaper, the Grayson County News Gazette, while serving in Iraq, which greatly improved his ability to write and has translated into an exceptional skill for being able to create web content, including home pages and product descriptions, which he uses to sell t-shirts and other items on RandomVeteran.com.

One of Thomason’s most valuable pieces of advice to other veterans who are considering using their skills for work is not to become a recluse. Thomason says, “helping the community by being actively involved is the primary way I am able to sustain peace in my life. Sure, working from home is great, but getting out in the community and working with the children and other veterans is what keeps me moving forward from one day to the next.” Thomason is the Commander of American Legion Post 81 and spends a great deal of time giving back to his community when he is not working.

Generating business is simple when veterans take advantage of the existing skill set that they acquired while serving in the military. Veterans can also find an abundance of resources available to them. From online training courses to website builders, many of these resources are available free of charge because they have served in the military.


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Social Media and Your Marketing Strategy

Women sharing social media images.

When you are trying to reach a wide demographic for your business, you must get on social media. By developing a following on social media and learning how to use text messaging to get customers interested in your brand, you’ll be on your way to building up a solid customer base.

Do You Have Followers on Your Facebook Page?

Most businesses use their Facebook page to post links to informative blog posts on their website or to share relevant news about their industry in general. To gain followers, you will need to get people to share the posts that you create and to gain interest by advertising your page. You can also gain followers by creating printed marketing materials that provide information on how to find you on Facebook. Almost all of your printed marketing products should contain information on all of your social media accounts to encourage customers to sign up.

Utilizing an Opt-In Texting Campaign

Think about how you currently communicate with your customers. In any business, the ability to ask questions and to get those questions answered quickly is important. When you create an opt-in texting campaign, you build a list of subscribers that you can send marketing materials to through text messages. You can grow this list of subscribers by creating a short code and printing it on your marketing postcards. For example, “To learn more about our business, text the word SHOP to 12345.” You can send text messages that point people to your social media pages and share links to your social media accounts that will allow them to sign up for your campaign.

Consider Trying Twitter

Twitter can be a very useful platform for your industry once you can gain an audience and you learn how to strategize hashtag phrases. If you’ve ever seen a person write a status on Facebook such as “I love my dog, #labsrule, #dogsarethebest, #familypet,” these hashtags do more than confuse people who don’t know what they are. Hashtag use started on Twitter, and this is one way people follow industry news. People can search hashtags on Twitter. Anyone that types in “#labsrule,” or any of the other hashtags written, will see the post written by the Twitter user that wrote the hashtag after their post.

Try to engage your customers by asking questions or sharing interesting news either through social media links or text messages. If customers start commenting on posts, keep the conversation going by responding. The more you can get your customers interested in your brand on social media, the larger the following you will create.


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How To Improve Your Organizational Skills With Technology

Taking Technology Notes
If you’re the type of person who wants to improve your time management skills, there’s a good chance that what you really need to do is improve your organizational skills. We spend so much time each day trying to remember where we put that important memo, when that upcoming meeting got rescheduled to, or simply trying to get our heads around what obligations we have today. All of this is wheel-spinning certainly isn’t driving your productivity forward in the way you need.

Thankfully, modern technology can be a huge benefit in terms of improving your organizational skills. You just have to keep a few important things in mind.

If You Can Add A Digital Version, Do So

One of the most important ways to use technology to help improve your organizational skills involves finally embracing some of the “digital” versions of “hard copy” techniques you may be holding out on. Case in point: an astounding amount of American adults own a smartphone, a device that is literally more powerful than the equipment used to pull off the NASA moon landings in the 60s. Yet many are still only using them to send and receive calls, respond to emails and send text messages. These are communications benefits, not organizational ones.

As an example, some people still like using a paper desk or wall calendar not only because of the intimacy, but because nothing can really go wrong with it. You make an important appointment, you write it down on your calendar, end of story. That information is always there. However, there’s also a chance to go one step further.

Your paper calendar doesn’t travel with you – your smartphone does. Get in the habit of using both a paper calendar for the tactile quality it excels at AND a “Calendar” app for the organization and especially the travel benefits. If you make an entry into your “Calendar” app on your iPhone, that data is automatically synced to your iPad and MacBook Pro, too. The same is true of data you enter into your “Reminders” app, your “Notes” app, your… well, you get the point. Making a habit of keeping both the paper and the digital version of something in this case creates a “best of both worlds” scenario.

The Cloud Is Your Friend

Along the same lines, let’s get one thing straight: it’s time to move as much of your daily life into the cloud as possible. Cloud storage isn’t just a “virtual hard drive.” If you’re only thinking of the cloud like a digital version of something like a flash drive, you’re not even hitting the tip of the potential iceberg.

When you upload a document into the cloud, it’s instantly available on all of your devices. It can be shared with anyone – both other employees and clients – in a mouse click. Anyone can edit those documents and you have complete visibility over all changes and access permissions. It’s also protected from things like hard drive failure and even theft. Thanks to both the military-grade encryption that services like Dropbox use and techniques like two-factor authentication, your data has never been more secure or accessible at the same time.

The most important benefit of all is that you always know where your data is – available, end of story. You don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do if you can’t take your laptop on a plane with you because you can be just as productive and have access to all of the same information on your smartphone.

These are just a few of the simple ways you can use the technology you probably already have access to. Once you take the time to setup something like cloud-based storage, the hard part has already been done. You won’t have to spend an hour or more each morning trying to remember where you put this or that. You’ll just know. You won’t need to wish there were more hours in a day because it’ll be easier than ever to do more with the ones you already have.


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5 Tips for Effective Direct Mail

Guy checking the mail.

Every day but Sunday, the mailbox delivers surprises. Of course, much of what arrives in the mail is expected, but that element of surprise never wanes. The mail might contain a card from a loved one, a check you didn’t expect, or a great offer from a local company, via direct marketing. Successful direct marketing campaigns don’t happen by accident, but a small business doesn’t need to pour substantial amounts of money into such an endeavor to achieve a good result. That means rather than mass marketing, modern direct mail campaigns concentrate on targeted marketing. When businesses use effective direct mail marketing, they not only boost their bottom line, but add excitement to the routine of picking up the mail.

1. Set Your Goals

As a business, what do you expect this mailing to accomplish? Have a firm plan in mind ahead of time. What is your budget for this mailing? What kind of ROI do you think you’ll receive? Crunch the numbers before embarking on a direct mail campaign.

Have a projected number of new customers in mind. For small businesses doing much of the work on their own, one of the best measures is sending out a mailer-only coupon for a percentage off a purchase or free item with purchase. Ensure that keeping track of the number of people who redeemed the coupon, including new customers, is quite simple.

2. The Mailing List

When it comes to an effective direct marketing campaign, nothing is as crucial as the mailing list. That seems obvious, but too many companies waste time and money sending direct mail to people with little interest in their product or service. You want a “Goldilocks” mailing list – not sending too many or too few mailers, but just the right amount.

While you will need to purchase some lists, focus on your own lists of previous customers. In fact, if you don’t have a solid database of customer names and addresses as well as strong prospects, avoid direct marketing until you do.

3. The Demographic

Who are your customers? What is their primary age and income level? Where do they live? This information is essential for a small business conducting a direct marketing campaign. You’re looking for your ideal customer, whether that person is a senior citizen, millennial, parent of young children, individuals with X amount of disposal income – that’s necessary information before you start your campaign. The more personally you can delineate the target, the better the response rate. You can then consider the type of mailing list you want to purchase.

4. Clarity Rules

No matter what type of mailing format you decide to go with, the potential customer must instantly “get” what you offer. All the fancy graphics in the world won’t make up for a confusing message. That doesn’t mean your direct mail has to be boring – far from it. You only have a few seconds for the recipient to decide whether your offer is one worth saving or throwing in the trash. Funny, clever copy can help get the message across, but it must be absolutely clear. The person must instantly recognize they can get a special deal on your product or service and understand exactly what they must to do to take advantage of the offer. For best results, repeat that call-to-action a few times.

5. From Direct Mail to Online

Social media and direct mail marketing are not mutually exclusive. A direct mail campaign is a good way to get customers to follow you online. The cheapest form of direct mail, the postcard, can get you more online customers and followers. You want to drive traffic to your website, and direct mail is a useful vehicle. A coupon code on the postcard for online sales or some other promotion can gain you the customer info that you can then follow up on via an email or social media marketing campaign.


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4 Essential Tips for Time Management On-the-Go

Woman Checking Her Phone

It happens to the best of us: you’ve worked hard to build a daily routine that lets you maximize every second of every day. You’ve mastered the fine art of working smarter, not harder, and everyone in the office is jealous of your productivity skills. Then, that upcoming business trip (or even vacation) gets slotted on the calendar and threatens to jeopardize everything you’ve built up to this point.

Take a deep breath and relax. Staying as productive as humanly possible while on-the-go is a challenge, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you want to make the best use of your time while you’re out of the office, here are four simple, yet essential, tips you’ll want to focus on.

1) Beware of Those Time Zones

You know how it takes everyone a few days to recovery from the hour gained or lost due to Daylight Savings Time? Time zones are even worse for your productivity, especially if you’re not a frequent traveler. If you’re going to be headed across the country (or even across the world), the first thing you should do is update all of your devices to local time. You’re the one out of the office, so the burden is on you to adapt, not everyone else. Most “smart” devices have a feature in the “Settings” application that will update to local time automatically as soon as you connect to your first Wi-Fi network once you arrive.

2) Cloud Storage Is Your Friend

If you’re not already embracing the wonders of cloud-based storage services like Dropbox, now would be the time to start. Not only does it make sure that all of your documents sync to all of your devices, but many services (like Dropbox for Business) include built-in collaboration features that let multiple people edit the same documents at the same time. Whether you’re on a business trip or are on vacation, if something needs to be approved or modified while you’re waiting for your flight to take off, you’ll still have the opportunity.

3) Don’t Try to Adapt Your Routine. Make a New One

Regardless of where you’re headed, your instinct may be to take your daily routine, the one you worked so hard to build and hone, and cram it into a travel-shaped box. This is an instinct that you should fight at all costs. Don’t pretend that nothing has changed just because you’re going to be away from the office for a few days. That’s how mistakes are made. Instead, think about the obligations you have on your trip and find opportunities to remain productive around those scheduled demands. You’ll have a much better chance at building a new, temporary routine that works for the specifics of the situation you find yourself in.

4) The Devil Is (NOT) in the Details

When you’re hard at work in the office, you tend to have more time to pay attention to the little details of the task at hand. It’s something that goes hand-in-hand with being a career-driven professional. The problem is that this is almost always a bad idea. Striving for perfection 100% of the time is a great way to get less done in a day than you need to.


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Top Five Ways to Work Less and Enjoy Life More

Child and a father

Everything today is about “more”: more money, more time, more pressure, and ultimately, more stress. However, does this rat-race life leave you feeling flat and defeated and constantly chasing an ideal you’re no longer sure exists? If this sounds like you, it’s probably time to downshift and find ways to work less and truly enjoy your life more. Working less sounds like a scary prospect, but once you see how achievable it is and how much peace it will return to your life, you will be sold!

1. Make Changes at Work

We often get caught up in the tidal wave of rushing to get to the next level at work. So caught up, in fact, that we don’t realize we are no longer enjoying the work that we do and aren’t even sure that we’re adding value. How do you make an honest shift towards happiness while not letting down your co-workers or your boss, and continuing to pay your bills? Fortunately, there are more options available than ever before. There are simple steps that you can take such as walking at lunch as a way to get away from your desk or more drastic options such as requesting a lower-stress (and likely lower-paid) position. However, there are some great middle ground opportunities at businesses today as long as you get creative. Have you ever considered flex time? More than ever, organizations are allowing their employees to work one day a week from home or create a more flexible schedule that doesn’t inconvenience office mates or negatively impact work.

2. Pick Your Battles

Think of everything that you need or want to accomplish in the next five years. Maybe it’s saving up for a big trip, or getting that huge promotion you’ve had your heart set on. Physically write down what is most important to you in the short-term and the long-term, and those are the things that you don’t want to compromise on. Everything else is up for negotiation. If a short jaunt with friends comes up that will require you to skip a vacation day with family later in the year, just say no! The same goes for things like eating out on a weekly basis. The costs associated with feeding a family of three or four outside the home can really mount up, and keep you from reaching longer-term goals for a short-term convenience. This trade-off may not be worth it and may cause you to have to work overtime to support your fast-food habits.

3. Stop Multitasking

Taking the time to focus on one topic at a time truly does pay off. While multitasking feels efficient, a recent study at Stanford University showed how productivity can plummet when your brain attempts to focus on more than one thing at the same time. Instead, be intentional about what you need to accomplish — focus, complete the task, and then move on.

4. Automate Your Savings

Ever find it difficult to get enough money together at the end of each month for savings? If so, it’s time to outsmart yourself! Even if it’s only ten to twenty dollars per week, start sending a small chunk of change from each paycheck to a savings account that you can’t easily access, and do it automatically. The theory being that if you never see the money, you’ll never miss it. Before you know it, you’ll be able to buy something you’ve really wanted without having to work overtime or take on extra shifts to make it happen.

5. Get Motivated

Sometimes, the way to do your best work is simply to have fun! When you are energized and enjoying what you do, work just comes more naturally. Creative juices flow, relationships with co-workers have more synergy, and life is good. When you’re at work, look for ways to enjoy it! The positive mood will spill over into your personal life, and you’ll find yourself enjoying life more every day.

These are just a few of the ways you can find more peace and joy in your daily life, simply by finding the balance between hard work and hard play. Multitask less, focus more, and bring fun to everything you do!


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