Tag Archives: interruptions in workday

Small Business Strategy: The Power of Reflection

It’s amazing what you can get done getting still. Most small business owners, myself included, spend most of their days moving as fast as possible, getting things done, checking things off the list. But the most important work happens faster when we stop.

Once a year, my business partner and I go to Arizona for several days to think about the business. We take a thick workbook filled with questions about every aspect of the business, from our business development strategy, to how we define our company brand, to how we think each employee is doing.

For the first few days, it may look like we’re not doing much that’s productive. We go on hikes, have massages, take yoga classes, take naps. This year, Arizona had an unexpected cold snap and we spent a lot of time in our rooms sitting by the fire.

Then, ideas begin to surface. New-found clarity pulls everything into focus. Suddenly, we see business opportunities that we hadn’t noticed before. We notice things we need to change that we’d been moving too fast to see.

These annual trips are where we set our vision for the company. There are all sorts of important milestones in our company’s growth that can be traced back to an idea we had during Shiatsu or sitting by the pool on our Arizona retreats. If we hadn’t done these trips consistently through the years, there are plenty of times we would have veered off course and not caught it.

The trick is taking the time, even when you think you don’t have it. Or when you think the company can’t afford for you to spend money going away somewhere to loll around.

Our trips are definitely expensive, but I’d say they’re one of the most important items in our annual budget. My business partner and I were talking yesterday, after our most recent Arizona trip, about how we could have spent that same amount of money on an executive coach for the year, or joining a CEO roundtable group, or any other sort of professional development that most business people would find a reasonable investment.

But for my money, the best bet is giving yourself a chance to sit still until you begin to see where you need to go next.

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Friday Afternoon Feng Shui Ritual

photoHow do you like to end the work week? I have this thing about clearing everything off my desk and either filing or tossing all the stuff stacked on my credenza. Then I wipe it all down to remove the week’s accumulated coffee circles and other debris.

Our Feng Shui consultant got me started on this, years ago. She said it was important to clear out all the old energy of the week, to make things ready for a fresh week to come. She advocated the use of Clorox Wipes, and suggested leaving a blank pad of paper square in the center of your work space to signal to the universe that you’re open to receive more business.

I swear, I think this weekly ritual helps. I love coming back to my office Monday morning and seeing that wide-open expanse of uncluttered desk space. And somehow, it lets me leave Friday afternoon feeling like I’ve got everything squared away, with no loose ends hanging.

Lately though, I’ve started to notice  how action-packed that 4:00 to 5:00 PM hour is in the social media world. Tweets are flying back and forth, Follow Friday is in full force, people are posting on Facebook, checking their LinkedIn account. Twitter, particularly, is like a weekly 60-minute cocktail party you don’t want to miss. Maybe it’s people killing that last hour of the week when they feel like they should be at their desk, even though they’re not about to start something new that close to the weekend bell.

So either I’ve got to start my little OCD clutter-clearing ritual a little earlier, or I’ll miss some of the fun online. What do you guys do to close out the work week? And what’s your must-click time of the day or week on social media?

Small Business Strategies: Simple Feng Shui for your office

Guy in suit meditatingMaybe it will increase your financial success and maybe it will just make your office a more pleasant place to work, but a little Feng Shui certainly can’t hurt. At Tribe, we hired a Feng Shui expert to help with our new office when we were in the middle of its design. She nixed a few things I’d planned, like putting the accountant in a tiny office with no windows and cool blue paint in the lobby and common areas. (We made the windowless office a meditation room instead and chose a warm adobe clay color of the lobby walls.) I can’t say if it’s had an impact on Tribe’s success, but I know that when I’m there, I generally feel both relaxed and productive.

Here a few things you can do to add a little Feng Shui to your workplace, whether you work at home or in office space:

1. Make sure your desk is positioned for power. That means you don’t want your back to the door or a hallway. You should be able to see people coming, so that symbolically, you can’t be attacked unawares. You also don’t want your back to a window, which is too exposed and doesn’t offer strong backing behind you.

2. Activate your wealth corner: The far left corner, as viewed from the entrance to your office, is considered your area of wealth, symbolically. Put something green and growing there, like a tall potted plant, or maybe wind chimes, to create movement. Same goes for the far left corner of your desk. Place something there that means financial success to you. In that corner on my desk at home, I keep a paperweight that used to sit on the desk of a friend of mine, who not only enjoyed great wealth, but also used her financial resources to benefit many people. 

3. Activate your helpful friends: The near right corner of your desk, and of your office, symbolizes helpful friends. That’s a great corner of your desk for the phone. If cords and phone jacks make that problematic, try your Rolodex or your Blackberry or a stack of business cards for key contacts. 

4. Choose the power seat in meetings: For a client presentation or any meeting where you’ll want as much power as possible, choose a seat about midway along the side of the conference table, facing the door. Many people assume the head of the table is the power spot, but trust me, the middle of the table puts you in a more powerful position. 

5. Get rid of the clutter: This one is perhaps less interesting than the preceding tips, but it’s hugely important. Do whatever you have to do to keep your surfaces clear of clutter, especially old, inactive clutter. If you’ve got stacks of paper on your credenza for a project you’re actively working on, that’s one thing. Piles of old mail or unread reports or other inactive clutter are surprisingly draining. Get rid of them, and you’ll feel a surge of new energy.

When you work at home, do people think you aren’t really working?

home office woman cell phoneOne downside of working at home is that sometimes people forget that you actually work for a living. When you don’t have that visible demarcation between work and home, when you don’t set off each morning to an office across town where you’re largely unavailable to family and friends, it seems to blur the lines for people. 

My mother still doesn’t get that my sister has a successful and demanding career in ad sales. All she sees is that Amanda’s at home all day, so she assumes her daughter is at her beck and call to drive over and do whatever an old lady might need at the moment. She’ll call in the middle of the workday to get Amanda to accompany her to Costco or come catch a cat and stick it in the pet carrier to go to the vet. 

I have a friend who’s an awesome realtor, with an office at home. She schedules showing houses and closings around her kids’ schedules, so she’s able to pick them up after school and be around in the afternoon. But sometimes her family has a tendency to forget she’s not a stay-at-home-mom. Her daughter forgets that she can’t volunteer at school quite as much as the moms who don’t work. Her  husband occasionally has to be reminded that she works too, so he’s going to have to pitch in with the grocery shopping and other tasks that keep a household going. Friends, too, seem to think they can drop by in the middle of the day and have her available to hang out. I can’t imagine that happening if my realtor friend worked in an office off-site.

When my husband first moved to his home office, I was guilty of the same mistake. Because he was there, I would just assume that I could leave for an early meeting before the nanny arrived, or that I could be a little late getting home at the end of the day. He was actually much more easy going about it than I would have been if the tables were turned, but eventually he called me on it. How did I know he didn’t have a breakfast meeting himself that day? How could he know whether he could fit in a bike ride after work if he had no idea what time I was coming home?

Here are a few thoughts on how to help your family and friends understand that your workday is not optional for you:

1. It’s up to you to mark your boundaries: If you always give in to whatever anyone asks of you during your workday, then it will be much more difficult for them to get the idea that you’re sometimes off-limits because of work. 

2. Practice some non-martyr-like reminders: Try not to make a big emotional deal out of it. You can offer gentle reminders that you’re busy too by saying things like, “I’ve got a conference call at 9, so I’m going to get in the shower now,” or “I have a deadline that afternoon, so it might be better if you pick up the kids.”

3. Respect your own work hours: If someone asks you for a lunch you know will be a long drawn-out affair and you usually power through lunch at your desk with a quick sandwich while you’re working, you can say that you don’t take a real lunch so you can be finished up with work before your daughter’s soccer practice. When you get an invitation to one of those parties where you’re supposed to buy the clothes on display in your friends’ home, it’s perfectly fine to say you’re so sorry, but you can’t take that afternoon off work. 

4. Use the same language you would if you worked for a boss in an office: If someone calls and asks what you’re doing, say “working” instead of “hanging out here at the house.” When someone asks you to do something, say you’ll see if you can “take that time off.” Call your office your office, even if it’s a corner of the den. 

5. Don’t forget that this downside is also an upside: One of the great things about working from home is that you are able to blur those lines between work and home sometimes. Let’s say your son wakes up with the flu. It’s really great to be able to stay home with him and not have to explain that to your boss. Once in a while, you might even want to blow off the afternoon to go to a movie with a friend. It’s nice to have that flexibility.

How to work with a kid in the office

mom with baby office doorSure you can. You’re the owner; you can do whatever you want. Will it be easy? Probably not. But there are times it’s well worth the trouble.

I took my baby to the office until he was one. At the time, the ad agency I owned with a friend was housed in an old turn-of-the-century plow factory. The place was drenched with character, from the soaring ceilings to the distressed brick walls to the wide-open space. Too much open space is not good when you have a crying baby. So we turned the only office with a door into the nursery. Sam’s nanny met us there every morning, and I would take breaks to nurse him every few hours.

We’d always brought our dogs to the office. How much harder could it be to have a baby? I remember a friend predicting it would be more stressful for me than anyone else. I sat through every client meeting terrified that Sam would start wailing at the wrong moment, and that the noise would assault the conference room.

But it was worth it. For me, it was much better to have my baby in the next room than a commute away. For Sam, he had me nearby for that critical first year. Shortly before he turned one, when he was suddenly mobile and could toddle over to an employee’s keyboard and erase a day’s work, my business partner and I agreed that we needed to figure out something else. 

Older kids can learn a lot from your business. The guy who owns our pest control company brings his preteen daughter along when he comes by to spray during the summer months. She may not have as much fun as she might at sleep-away camp, but she sees what her dad does all day and how he interacts with his clients. I’ll wager she’s learning a good bit about professionalism, business ethics, and building client relationships.

TIPS FOR TAKING YOUR CHILD TO THE OFFICE

Occasional is better than perpetual. Bringing your kid to the office on a teacher workday or an odd bank holiday is much easier for your employees to tolerate than having a kid parked in the conference room all summer. When your child shows up only rarely, he or she will be greeted like a V.I.P. If you drag your kid in every single day, the novelty will wear off pretty quick, even being the boss’ kid.

Manners count. When you bring your kids into the work environment, it helps tremendously if they treat people in the office with courtesy and respect. Please and thank you are musts, and grabbing things off people’s desks verboten.

Don’t assume your employees will double as babysitters. In a small company, it’s not uncommon for employees to pitch in to help the boss with personal tasks, even when it involves watching your kids for a few minutes. But they’ve also got their own work to do. If your assistant offers to run them down to the cafeteria downstairs, great. But don’t let the kids wear out their welcome.

Give your kid some work to do. It could be something that really does need to be done, like making photocopies or running mail through the postal meter. Or it could be a stack of copier paper and some colored pens for drawing. Just keep the kid busy, and before you know, it will be time to go home.