The Dark Side of a JEDI culture

JEDI, JFDI, NIKE.
The underlying message from leadership is the same – Just Do It.
Just do whatever is needed to get the new product launched, to get the customer into service, to win that deal. Just get it done and worry about the details later.

Most people will get a directive like this at some point during their career. It can often be a good thing! Challenging the way things have always been done. Allowing creativity to flourish as people rise to the challenge without being fettered by established process. Unlocking the potential to delight customers with enhanced products or services. Securing that big win that makes a difference to the future of the company.

Can you remember when you worked on something out of the norm like that and how it felt? I have experienced several JEDI projects during my career and vividly remember the exhilaration of creating new ways of working on the fly, a passion for making sure the project was a success, a sense of being in the thick of things with the project team. These projects stand out in my memory significantly more than the countless other projects which followed standard delivery processes. Each came with a massive learning curve that tested me, stretched me and resulted in me growing as a person. If you haven’t experienced a project like this then do take the opportunity when it comes up as the personal development you will get in return is worth it.

If the concept of JEDI projects is a good one, shouldn’t we do more and more of them? Unchain ourselves from process, keep our staff challenged, increase our service offerings, do more new things to keep our customers happy?

Sound good? A word of caution – where there is JEDI there is also a Dark Side.

The JEDI projects I have experienced that have been truly successful are the ones where the “worry about the details later” part was addressed right after the project was delivered. There was a chance to digest what had been done and capture lessons learned. Do post-project wash-ups with all the teams involved to ensure all their key needs have been implemented so they know how to work with, support and manage the new thing that has been delivered. Project delivery processes can be adjusted to take the best of what worked and create greater efficiency for all projects that follow. There is a period of adjustment, consolidation and business as usual to allow everything to settle.

However, in many organisations today, time pressure, lack of resources and lack of effective leadership leads to JEDI projects becoming the norm rather than the exception. The Dark Side starts to take over when one JEDI project follows another, then another, then another. There is no consolidation time; the details are left to fend for themselves, and will often come back to bite. The business struggles to scale due so many bespoke processes being in place to manage day to day operations. Efficiencies are lost, teams are over-stretched just carrying out their normal tasks, morale takes a nose-dive, people start to look for other opportunities.

JEDI projects do have their place in today’s organisations but take care not to be seduced by the Dark Side and sacrifice long term business success for short term gain.

How can your business survive change?

Change is happening.

Mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs and downsizing are commonplace these days. Budgets are squeezed, people are stretched. You need to make savings, find efficiencies and make more bang for the company’s buck.

Sound familiar?

Alongside the financial challenges you need to manage, change also introduces uncertainty for your people. Uncertainty will split them into two camps – those that embrace change and those that fear it.

The Fear Camp will slowly start to disengage from the business. Initially hiding behind process flows, procedure documentation and job descriptions. Clinging to the familiar. Enthusiasm for the job is shelved, waiting to see what happens next with the change. No point in expending too much effort before everyone knows what they are doing is there? In the extreme, this becomes settling for doing as little as possible, just waiting for a redundancy payoff.

The Embrace Camp will see the change as an opportunity. An opportunity to fix things they know don’t work very well, to try new roles or learn new things. Brimming with enthusiasm for the future, surely there’s no need to work in the ways we used to? Everyone knows that our processes weren’t perfect anyway but we can fix all that with our shiny new Future Mode of Operation. If left unchecked, all eyes look to the horizon; immediate concerns all but forgotten.

People in both camps exhibit the same behaviour trait which will damage the performance and effectiveness of the organisation. The trait is best described in 3 simple words: “Why should I?”

Why should I be responsible for dealing with this customer issue? It isn’t in my job description.
Why should I be responsible for this key step in our service offering? My team is moving onto dealing with more strategic things, another team will need to pick this up.

Lack of ownership. Lack of focus. Lack of care. And it can be contagious…

So how can you combat this as your organisation moves through change?

Communication.
Absolutely key but so often done so badly. Tell your people what the destination looks like. Share where the company is heading and what the journey might look like. Not just once, often. Remove the uncertainty. Ensure the messaging gets all the way through your organisational hierarchy – do not assume each management level is passing the information along as most likely they aren’t.

Conversation.
Your organisation is made up of experts in running your business. They know the ins and outs of how to get stuff done, what works and what needs fixing. Don’t ignore the knowledge you have at your fingertips. Speak to and listen to your people. Help them use their skills and ideas to help the company reach its destination.

Commitment.
Do the job properly. So many organisations set a new strategy and then do not invest to manage the change across the business. You have enough people working for you that really care whether the business succeeds or fails. Show them that you care too and give them the time and resources needed to successfully create change.

Focus on your people as people, not just as headcount, and you will find your organisation more capable of thriving through change.

Time

Time.

Sometimes you wish it would speed up.

Sometimes you wish you could stretch out a moment forever.

But time keeps its own relentless pace.

You cannot change the past, or predict the future. All you can influence is the present and what you choose to do with the time you have today.

2 years ago today my dad passed away.

His time had run out. It bugs me that he spent a lot of his life working towards retiring, waiting for the time when he could relax, get out and see things and spend more time with mum. He only made it to 63 years old so didn’t have a chance to retire or live to do all the things he wanted to do. All his future plans and dreams came to nothing.

2 years ago today was the catalyst for change for me.

I learned a harsh lesson – if you want to do things, just go and do them, before your time runs out.

Sounds like a really easy decision to make, right?

In reality it is far from easy to implement.

Fear of change is a massive hindrance. Lack of self-belief is another. Worry about what people might say if you start to do things differently can stop you in your tracks. So what do you do? Rejoin the ranks and be like everyone else? Or embrace change.

I said “yes” to change by going from sofa to Everest Base Camp last year for the Steve Prescott Foundation. Not a natural mountaineer, I was driven on by the hope of leaving my comfort zone far behind me, and being that much closer to the cheery cloud I imagine my dad looking down from.

I have made a new habit of saying “yes” to changing things that will move me closer to the life I imagine. I am not continuing to file my dreams in a box labelled “Tomorrow” as one day, tomorrow may never come.

Go dust off your own “Tomorrow” box and imagine how much richer your life could be if you did some of tomorrow’s things today.

Love you dad – continuing to inspire me from wherever your cloud takes you. Sleep tight x

Debut on a podcast!

A couple of weeks ago I was invited onto a podcast by Staying Alive UK to discuss my business journey so far.  First time I have been interviewed like that so I was a little nervous but the host, Michael, couldn’t have been more friendly and I soon got into it.

Do have a listen and let me know what you think!

Link to Staying Alive UK

Or listen directly here:

 

Build on What You Know

You’ve made the decision and are joining the ranks of people running their own businesses with dreams of leaving the 9-to-5 behind. You have a great idea, know you want to make money and need to start finding customers and selling them your stuff.  So what do you do next? 

For me, that was the hardest question to get my head around.

In my day job I have many years of experience and would class myself as an expert in what I do, however, as a new business owner I feel like I am very much at the other end of the learning curve.  I love to learn and have made good use of some great tips and tricks I found in books, blogs and Facebook groups but am also conscious of the risk of “information overload” if I spend too much time on Google.  There is so much information out there on every conceivable topic which could easily lead to me spending precious time learning about loads of things that I can’t immediately apply (it may be a bit ‘advanced’ for where I am at the moment) and then spinning on the spot doing nothing with what I have learned.  If this sounds like you too, then hopefully the following basic things that have worked for me so far will help you move forward – without the overwhelm!

Having been an employee for the last 18 years, there was loads of business knowledge locked up in my head already – the trick was working out what I could reuse for my own business and actually make a start rather than just continually planning (aka procrastinating!) and making no progress.

What was most useful for me at the very beginning of my journey was:

1) Getting myself a business email. 

At work my email addresses have always been name@companyname.com so for minimal cost from Gmail/Gsuite I got myself a new email address just for my business. This keeps things separate from my personal stuff which stops me getting distracted when responding to my business emails, and looks professional which helps me build trust with clients. It also weirdly made having a business real for me – something tangible to prove it existed when I was getting off the ground.

2) Setting work hours.

A big selling point of working for yourself is that you can choose when you work right? Flexibility is great but you need to treat it as you would office flexitime – set yourself some core hours and make them non-negotiable. Even if you commit to just 1 hour a night and 2 on a Saturday & Sunday afternoon you will be surprised how much that will move your business forward. You can then choose to add more or less hours in each week depending on your schedule.

3) Turn up each day.

If you had a heavy night out and didn’t turn up for work the next day there would be trouble.  The same is true of not turning up for your own business. You may not think it matters as it is just you working on it so what harm can taking a few unplanned days of here and there actually do. Loads. Your employer wouldn’t survive long if staff failed to turn up and put the work in and neither will your business. Employ yourself in your business, work it like a second job and hold yourself accountable to turn up and work.

4) Planning your work tasks.

In your day job I am guessing you don’t arrive at your workplace each day and then sit there thinking up something to spend your time on? You have a list of things you need to do so you will have developed a routine to get them all done in the time available. Do the same thing for your business. Look at the work hours you have set and plan what each one is for – this could be a mixture of writing content, delivering your thing, making new contacts – whatever is right for your business. Make your plan of daily, weekly and monthly tasks and get them done.

5) Identify YOUR customers.

Your employer will operate in a niche market – doesn’t matter if this niche is plumbing services in a particular town, B2B consulting, people going on holidays – it is still a niche. You need to find your niche rather than treating everyone with a pulse as a potential customer. Who does your particular business speak to? Who would be your ideal customer? What benefit would they get from buying your thing and working with you? Get clear on this and it makes things a whole lot easier. For example, writing a successful email pitch or blog article aimed at all people everywhere of all ages about getting in shape is a lot harder than writing for a 40 year old woman with 2 kids who wants to get fit for a beach holiday in 3 months.

6) Get you/your thing/something out there!

Are you that person who has already decided on their full palette of brand colours, had business cards made, has bought all the stationery and has a beautifully arranged home office but not actually done anything else with your business yet? Still waiting for the timing to be right or the stars to align or to fit in around other things you have going on (I will definitely start on Monday!), or for things to be perfect? Colour coordinated paperclips does not a business make.

Again taking a look at your day job, you will see that it revolves around selling goods or services to make money. The truth is that you also need to have something to sell to your niche market or you are just going to hone your skills in the art of getting ready.  You need to make something! Create a course, a plan, a blog you can share and get it out there. Once you make a start it gets easier. Think of it like getting into a chilled pool on a hot day – you can inch your way deeper and dislike the cold water creeping over your skin or you can just plunge in and soon find the water is warmer than you thought.

Take some time to go through the above steps and also think about what you can reuse from your own past experience to help you in the next step of your journey.

 

 

Beginners Guide to Productivity

Making the most of your week

Everyone following the path of starting their own business is primarily looking to make money from it.  There will inevitably be other goals – helping people, making great products, doing what you love – but even not-for-profit businesses need to make money to cover their costs if they are to achieve their goals.  There are a raft of books, articles, training materials and experts (some good, some bad) that offer to help teach you the who, what, why and how of starting and growing your business.  This article does not fall into that category.

Most people starting up a new business venture are not blessed with a calendar free of commitments, expert knowledge around everything they need to know, funding to cover their expenses whilst they get established, a personal assistant to arrange everything and some home help so they can wholly focus on getting their business off the ground.  If you are anything like me, you are a one-person show who has to take on learning how to be a business owner, creating the stuff you sell, marketing and growing your business, serving your new clients, oh and working full time at your day job, raising a family, charity work, running a household and trying to find something resembling downtime, fun and actual life in there somewhere!

I can’t help you with the specifics of your business and how to get that working in the right way for you but what I can help you with is how I managed to organise my life to give me the time to spend on getting my business up and running without putting in 20 hour days or letting the other areas of my life suffer.  Below, I have shared the top 3 things I changed in my life below and how they made a real impact on me and my personal productivity; I hope you also find them useful.

Getting started

Around 15 years ago, a typical week day for me would be get up, get showered & unearth something to wear, grab some toast or cereal and then jump in the car to drive to work with a bit of music to set me up for the day.  Lunch would be walk out to a local sandwich shop for food.  Finishing work for the day would mean sitting for an age in commuter traffic. Getting home in the evening after a long day would start with my husband and I rummaging in the fridge to see what we could make for dinner (occasionally highly unique and unforgettable combinations of ingredients – I may feature those in a future “what not to eat” article!).  Finally sitting down to eat around 8pm, collapsing on the sofa for a couple of hours then heading to bed just to start over again tomorrow.  Weekends would be unplanned apart from laundry and the weekly trip to the supermarket which usually involved buying the same things week-on-week out of habit.  There never seemed to be time to do anything other than work, nothing was getting done at home (we had bought a house that could politely be described as a “fixer-upper”) and both of us were getting stressed out not able to progress sorting the house out, finding time for hobbies, going out etc.  Something had to change so I got my thinking cap on and tried a few things to see what might work. 

Tip 1: Meal Planning (aka remove small decisions)

This may sound like an odd place to start, but this really is the cornerstone of my productivity method and was the first thing to make a real difference for me.  The amount of time wasted each week for us around how we ate and shopped for food was astounding – lunch breaks were spent out buying food (2.5 hours a week), at least 2 hours a night working out what to eat and then cooking it (14 hours a week), plus a meander around the supermarket having a browse for a couple of hours on a Saturday means we were spending around 18 hours a week just feeding ourselves – which is equivalent to having a part time job!

So I sat down one Saturday morning with a rectangular post-it note and planned out what we were both going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next 7 days, compiled a shopping list based on the meal plan, and stuck the week’s menu onto the fridge.  Whoever was home from work first in the evening had the meal plan and could start preparing food without having to expend brainpower on thinking up something to eat first.  That first week of running with a meal plan was a massive change to routine but we could already see benefits from doing it.  We’d finished eating by 7pm so had an extra hour free each evening to start reconnecting with the things we used to do.  By the end of week 4, not only were we hooked, but we realised we’d saved over £300 that month not buying lunches each day and shopping more efficiently.

I have been doing the same thing now each week for 15 years and adapted and refined my plans to meet the needs of my family as it grew. It was massively helpful when we had kids, planning things like weaning in the early days, through to now when the kids have various activities on after school so I plan whether we need to have a quick early meal, put the slow cooker on, make on-purpose leftovers for lunch the following day and so on.

The key thing that organising meals has given me is to remove the need to make decisions about small things several times each day.  This frees up both thinking space and time each day that I can use to focus on getting other things done to move me forward towards my goals.  What could you do with some extra hours back each week?

Tip 2: Everything has its slot (aka time block)

The second thing that has made a real difference on my productivity is time-blocking.  I had been doing variations on this in my day job for years and decided to apply the same to my home life to enable me to make more effective use of what time I did have available.  There are many ways of doing this – apps, planners, google calendar, etc so find one that you will actually use and stick with that one.  I personally try and keep my time-blocking quite simple or I will end up with something convoluted that I don’t then keep up to date and I’ll get in a mess.  I don’t attempt to time-block tasks, just the themes that those tasks relate to.  An example week for me looks like the below:

Weeklytimetable

Commute learning is typically listening to podcasts, audiobooks or other training I have downloaded to my iPod whilst enjoying the inevitable traffic jams each morning and evening.

Daytime tasks during the week are limited to emails, messages and follow ups on my phone on my lunch break when I need to do those, or can also be jotting down ideas for things I want to do whilst munching my lunch.  At the weekend I’ll set aside a couple of hours each on Saturday and Sunday to get things done, and plan for the week ahead.

Evening tasks are blocked out in a similar way but may vary week to week depending on what additional training I want to do or how many coaching clients I have ongoing at that time.  Sunday night always features a planning session to map out the following week.

The key thing that time blocking has given me is visibility around what my week looks like in advance so I can plan better.  The routine also allows me to get right into that day’s topic and not waste time working out what I need to do.  Knowing how much time I have to get various things done also helps with the next step.

 Tip 3: What to do today (aka my running list)

Once I have my time blocks sorted for the week and I have done my Sunday night planning, I am ready to set up my to-do list for the week.  Once again here there are many, many ways you can construct and manage a list of what you need to do.  My preference is to keep a ‘running list’ in a journal that I use as a paper-based planner.  I have put together an example below: 

RunningList

The running list has the tasks that I want to get done during the week in a long list and a checkbox aligns to the day of the week that the task is scheduled.  Longer tasks (like ‘finalise course slides’ above) would get 2 boxes.  Using this method I can see at a glance what I need to work on, easily migrate tasks to later in the week – e.g. put another box in on Thursday if Fred isn’t available on Monday.  As tasks complete I tick the box.  It is as simple as that.

The key thing I get from using a running list is that it makes sure I am not overloading days with tasks as I can see at a glance how my week balances out.  Vital for me as I can get tempted to cram too many things into my week in a fit of optimism and then end up disheartened when I don’t tick off 85 tasks by Wednesday…

I hope this has given you some useful tips to take away and use to make your weeks more productive so you can focus on the important parts of your business and go on and make it a success.