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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Indra Nooyi: A Story in Being Yourself and Persistence

happy woman

Have you ever heard of Indra Nooyi? Maybe not, but you’ve probably bought her product at one time or another in the past year. Ms. Nooyi is the CEO of Pepsi-Co., the makers of the popular and well-known Pepsi soda brand. However, her position at Pepsi is not necessarily what is the most amazing fact of her story. Granted, reaching the status of being a Fortune 500 company CEO is huge and significant, but how Ms. Nooyi got her start is the real story. That’s because she risked everything with no safety net to fall back on.

Some Compelling Advice

Indra Nooyi came to the U.S. like so many other great minds, arriving as a student immigrant. Ms. Nooyi jumped to a slot in Harvard’s master’s degree program in business. However, graduating wasn’t her biggest challenge. It was translating her academic success into a result: getting a job. Ms. Nooyi’s first real interview was total failure – no connection, no rhythm, no job. However, she received a piece of advice from a professor that Ms. Nooyi has carried forward since then to her role as a CEO. She was told to simply “be herself.”

Ms. Nooyi clearly took the advice she received to heart. Not only has she been herself as intelligent, smart, persistent, and daring, she has also scored an enviable position of 75 percent plus support by her own employees worldwide. See if you can find a politician with as much support even when winning a national election.

What Makes A Person Successful?

For business owners and leaders, the lesson from Ms. Nooyi is to never forget what really makes a person successful. It’s not the suit, it’s not the past laurels, and it’s not the school degree. What makes the difference that catches people’s attention and gets their support is one’s personal confidence and persistence. Ms. Nooyi gambled everything with not just coming to the U.S. to succeed but to also establish herself in a highly competitive arena: business consulting. Had she failed, Ms. Nooyi would have had to return back to India and likely would have disappeared into a vast number of IT companies there; everything for her was on the line. But she persisted. And Ms. Nooyi, with her new advice on being herself, was quickly hired. That in turn became her path to eventually becoming Pepsi-Co.’s latest CEO.

A Better Choice

Business leaders trying to keep a company going will at some point face a challenge where everything has to be put on the line to get to the next level. Many don’t take that leap. It’s too risky, it’s too costly, or it’s too unknown. Yet from Ms. Nooyi’s example, the last thing anyone should be doing is trying hard to fake their way through the issue. Be yourself. Trust your skills and trust your gut to make the right the decision. That’s what got a person to a leadership role in the first place, so why should he or she be any different at the moment that counts the most? Risk, responsibilities, fears of what-if can all combine to make someone think behaving differently may be the best path forward. Clearly, from Ms. Nooyi’s example, there’s a better choice.


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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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How To Craft More Compelling, More Emotional Presentations Today

Business Presentation
The major goal of any piece of marketing collateral is to connect with your audience in a deep, meaningful way. This is true regardless of the specific type of marketing you’re talking about – from that terrific new flyer you just designed, to a banner, and beyond. Presentations are a particularly valuable format in this regard as they give you a nice opportunity to really dive a little deeper into certain subjects in a way that other mediums don’t allow.

However, the format is only a means to an end. If you really want to make sure that you’re crafting the most compelling, emotional presentations possible, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Find That Theme

Because presentations tend to be long form documents (at least in comparison to something like a flyer), you always want to make an effort to keep your “eye on the prize,” so to speak. Every presentation has a topic. That topic should be reinforced again and again by your primary theme. This is the main idea you’re trying to get across or the idea that you’re trying to help someone understand.

Once you’ve settled on your theme, EVERY component of your presentation needs to feed back into it. This will form the basic spine of your piece. Anything that isn’t directly related to that theme or the topic at hand has to go – no exceptions.

It’s a Visual World; We’re Just Living In It

Another essential step you want to take in your quest to craft more compelling, more emotional presentations involves including as many visual elements as possible. Remember that a presentation is not a white paper or a blog post – it is a medium that is perfect for relevant images and other visual content.

Human beings tend to be visual learners. We can’t help it; it’s just the way our brains work. One study revealed that once someone had heard a piece of information, they usually only remembered about 10% of that content three days later. When that same information is paired with a relevant image, however, that number jumps to 65%.

In terms of presentation success, it’s hard to find a tip more valuable than relying on visuals. Visuals give people something to latch onto, something to break up big blocks of text and (more importantly) are naturally engaging. People even follow directions better when the content they’re reading is filled with pictures, so this is one of those major tips that you definitely don’t want to avoid.

These are just a couple of the major tips that you can use to craft more compelling, more emotional presentations. Remember that one of your top priorities as a marketer is always to get the right content in front of the right people at the right time. However, doing that is only half the battle. Making sure that the content is as striking and as engaging as you can is another major component when it comes to getting people to make that ever-important sale.


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Personalization Matters: Why Going the Extra Mile is Always Worth It

Personalized graphics and advertising
When people talk about the decline of “mom and pop” businesses in favor of the giant, national retailers, one of the things they bring up is that it’s hard to find a store that you can walk into these days where the person behind the counter actually takes the time to learn your name. You can’t walk into a national brand and expect someone to go “Hey, Phil – how did that new garden hose you bought last week work out for you? I’ve been thinking about you, and I thought you might like this other new product, too.”

But the fact of the matter is that these days are not over – not by a long shot and especially not in the world of marketing. You absolutely can inject this much more intimate, fulfilling level of personalization into your marketing collateral – provided that you’re willing to go the extra mile.

Personalization in Marketing: By the Numbers

If you ever wanted a clear cut example of why “going the extra mile” is an investment that pays off in more ways than one, look no further than the following statistics:

  • According to a recent study from Digital Trends, an incredible seventy-three percent of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to help create more enriching, more relevant shopping experiences.
  • According to a completely separate study from Infosys, eighty-six percent of consumers said that the level of personalization (or the lack thereof) absolutely plays a role in their purchasing decisions.
  • If you think that personalization is only a game for digital and internet-centric businesses, think again: direct mail success rates are continuing to trend upwards because, you guessed it, people find actual mail that they can hold in their hand much more personal and rewarding than something that is easily ignored like an email.

It’s About “Walking the Walk”

The major benefits of personalization in marketing extend far beyond just statistics like these, however. It all comes back to the values that your brand represents and the promise that you’re making to each and every one of your customers. Simply put, it’s one thing to say that you care about all of your customers – it’s another thing entirely to do the types of things that turn this from catchphrase into irrefutable fact.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you get two pieces of marketing collateral in the mail – one of which is addressed “Dear Sir or Madame” and another that has your name and maybe even specific information about past purchases that you’ve made – which one are you going to put more faith in? Which one would you bet cares about you more? Which one would you believe has a vested interest in making your life better?

Your customers have made their opinion loud and clear – they don’t just want you to sell to them. It isn’t just enough to have a product or service that is objectively better than anyone else’s. They want to be a part of something larger than a single purchase. They want something that they’re not going to get anywhere else – a true relationship with the people they give their hard-earned money to. Personalization and going the extra mile are just among the many, many ways that you can now do that in the modern era.


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The Long-Term Benefits of Making Leisure Time a Priority

Leisure Benifits
Listening to the waves as they cascade against the sand, feeling the warm breeze against your face, understanding that all is right with the world, at least for that moment, that is what vacation is for most people. Perhaps you would trade the ocean waves for the sound of an eagle soaring through resplendent mountaintops covered in evergreens or snowcaps. The idea, though, is that you are away from your everyday world. You stop clocking in. You aren’t dealing with the stress that encompasses so much of your everyday existence. You are on vacation.

What do you think about this vacation time? Is it well deserved for your hard labor? Is it perhaps frivolous? Do you wonder if you will ever get to realize this dream, this break from your life? Well, read on to learn why vacation is not only an excellent way to rejuvenate your body; it has also been proven to be something you shouldn’t put off:

You Can’t Possibly Get More Done After a Break: Or Can You?

In essence, yes, you are more apt to be productive when you take the time to rejuvenate your body, soul, and mind. A report by the New York Times showed that your body “needs” the break vacation provides. There is even evidence that you become more productive once you get back from your vacation than you would have had you simply skipped your break. The Times reported the following about this aspect of the study findings:

“The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.”

Other Benefits Besides Increased Productivity

In addition to being more productive and focused when you return from vacation, there is also evidence that you will garner a whole new perspective on things once you get a break. A CNN report stated that workers who took a break from their jobs enjoyed a new perspective on their lives when they were away from the stresses and problems of their daily existence. Family relationships are also strengthened when vacation is made a priority as family members are able to spend large amounts of non-distracted time together when away from their regular responsibilities.

Do Americans Get it Right?

In most cases, Americans don’t get vacation right at all. In fact, other countries handle this issue much better. The average French worker, for instance, takes more than twice the vacation time of an American worker. Americans typically use only sixteen of their eighteen vacation days according to a 2010 study. An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S. report revealed an average of 3.2 paid days off left unused by workers, amounting to around 429 million unused vacation days.

Why It’s so Difficult For Americans to Relax

There are many studies just like the ones listed above that show vacation as a way to improve employee morale, increase productivity, and create a healthier working class, so why don’t Americans make vacation a priority? Most of those who were asked simply said they felt they had too much work to do to take time off. Do we as American workers really feel that our European counterparts aren’t also busy? No. Instead, we feel the world will fall apart if we don’t keep it spinning. Workers in other countries simply don’t have this belief. Therefore, if we as Americans want to make our lives better overall, we have to begin to understand that we don’t personally keep the world in orbit. We can leave for a few days here and there, or a week once in a while. Our country, workplaces, and families will not only survive, but they’ll be the better for it.

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Learn How to Communicate on a Case-by-Case Basis for Better Results

Listening is important

To say that communication is important in the workplace is an understatement. This is true regardless of the type of business you’re running or even the industry you’re operating in. One study from McKinsey Global Institute found that not only does active communication bring people closer together in the workplace but in these types of situations productivity tends to improve between 20% and 25% on average.

At the same time, there is no “silver bullet” method to communication that will instantly get everyone on the same page. Only by looking to your employees as individuals, and playing to their own individual strengths and preferences, will you finally be able to see the communication gains that you so richly deserve.

Let the Employee Be Your Guide

Perhaps the most important thing for you to understand is that communication no longer means face-to-face conversations, -or at least it doesn’t exclusively. This is particularly the case regarding introverted employees, a staple at any organization.

Just because Ryan from Accounting doesn’t like to speak up in meetings doesn’t mean that he lacks communication skills. It just means that speaking in front of a group isn’t necessarily his forte. Instead of trying to force Ryan to adapt to your wishes, consider how Ryan would prefer to communicate.

Emails, memos, texting, one-on-one meetings, phone calls: these are all viable options regarding getting ideas across in the modern era. As a business leader, it’s not your job to get everyone to communicate the way you want to just because you prefer looking someone in the eyes when you tell them what they need to do next. It’s your job to make a note of the conditions that a person excels under and then do whatever you can to facilitate those needs whenever possible.

The Larger Implications of Communication

Consider the fact that according to one survey, an incredible 46% of employees said that they “rarely, if ever” leave a meeting knowing exactly what they’re supposed to do next. This is the danger of a “one size fits all” approach to communication. You end up becoming something of a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

One study revealed that 26% of employees think email is a major productivity killer. But when you reverse that, it means that 74% of employees think email is just fine. But it’s important not to create an “either/or” situation where one doesn’t have to exist. If you know that Robert is going to get the information he needs from an email, send away. If you know that Brenda is the type of employee who needs to sit down and talk out her next objective in person, be sure you make time for her in your schedule.

It’s up to you to find the right communication method that works for the individual so that everyone can be on the same page when it comes to contributing to the whole.

It’s important to remember that according to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of employees in the United States said that they just weren’t engaged in work anymore. Creating an environment of open and honest communication is one of the keys to combating this issue head on. But you must also remember that no two employees are created equally. An approach that works great for getting one employee to open up and become engaged in their work may be woefully inadequate for the next.

Only by making an effort to communicate on a case-by-case basis will you be able to generate a workplace where success is no longer a question of “if” but “when.”


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