Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

Finances: a quote

A quote for the day:


Some debts are fun when you are acquiring them, but none are fun when you set about retiring them.

— Ogden Nash

QuickBooks, brain-dead simple

Are you a micro-business owner struggling to manage your financial data with QuickBooks? Two people feel your pain: me and Susan Tiner.

qb-pro367005Susan, owner of Tiner Financial Services, has begun a new but already meaty blog, Financial Organizing News. Her early posts are devoted to helping those who do their own bookkeeping to get to a place of comfort and ease, with all transactions entered promptly (no more marathons  on April 14!)

Later posts inform readers about upcoming classes of her “Brain Dead Simple” webinars, so you can learn from her no matter where in the world you call “office”.

Susan is a great online resource for QuickBooks help, with a real knack for helping the solo entrepreneur get a grip on the accounting. Do pay her a visit.

Update: The blog mentioned above closed as of May 15. A new, redesigned WordPress blog is available at

Productivity: how much is enough?

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

“In that first month, this client actually reached and exceeded her goal for results, even though she hadn’t reached all her goals for actions”

How do you assess your own productivity?

Some people follow the lead of their schoolteachers: all answers are either right or wrong, and any performance below 65 percent spells failure. This method works well enough when a child has limited time to learn the material and advancing requires substantial mastery – we can’t go on to calculus until we’ve grasped all of algebra.

Recently I was coaching a private client through my Get Clients Now program, and noticed that she was taking this “schoolteacher” approach. As we worked together to organize her time and projects to effectively market her business, she felt frustrated and overwhelmed when she reached her daily goals only 40 or 60 percent of the time. She hadn’t noticed that only a few weeks earlier she had no goals at all, just the depressing conviction that she wasn’t doing enough. She had been, in effect, reaching zero percent of those goals. Her progress in one short month was excellent.

If this sounds familiar to you, take a moment to notice how the all-or-nothing attitude can undermine your progress.

During the first 20 years of his retirement, my father showered his family and friends with the results of his projects: hand-made furniture, cuckoo clocks, toys, home renovation projects, a boat. As he prepared to exchange the house he had built by hand for an assisted living community, I asked him whether there was anything he still wanted to do but had not yet done. He replied, “Well, you can always think of more things to do in a day than you can get done.”

Outside of school, far less than 100 percent often gives excellent results. In that first month, this client actually reached and exceeded her goal for results, even though she hadn’t reached all her goals for actions.

Of course, there are many related issues worth considering:

  • Should this business owner trim her schedule to make it more manageable?
  • Is she over-committed?
  • Are her goals achievable?
  • Wouldn’t reaching 100 percent be much better?

These are all good questions, and I’ll address them soon. For today, though, I’ve done enough.

Your turn. How do you assess your own productivity? Leave a comment here.

Happy Valentine’s Day: a quote

A quote for the day:
If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?
— Author Unknown

Products: laptop stand

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

We often accumulate “tolerations”, those small annoyances that interfere with our concentration and productivity but never seem to rise to the level that inspires us to take action. Like barnacles collecting on a ship, they weigh us down, imperceptibly at first, then dramatically. The new year seemed like a great time to “scrape my hull” and clear out some tolerations.

higher, cooler, safer, gorgeous

mStand by Rain Design: higher, cooler, safer, gorgeous

My monitor height was one of my tolerations. Loving my MacBook Pro, I’ve made it my only computer. But placing the computer atop the 200+ year-old wide-board walnut tavern table that serves as my desk, built in a time when no one imagined anything more technologically advanced than a clamp-on manual meat grinder, left the 5’10” me in a state of permanent hunch as I viewed the monitor. How best to raise the monitor to eye level without spending for a separate Apple monitor to use with my laptop?

My local Apple store offered the Griffin Elevator, which has received scads of loving reviews for its near-invisibility bestowed by minimal design executed in clear acrylic. However, a small- though-significant number of users complained that their laptops slipped off the sloping arms of the stand, despite its non-skid surface. The thought of hearing my laptop crash to the floor when I left the room was too much to bear. No matter how beautiful and affordable the Griffin Elevator is, I had to pass it up.

The Belkin Cushtop notebook stand keeps your laptop cool and protects your lap from heat, but raises the laptop just a little over 4 inches — not enough to cure my hunch. It’s primary function was to prevent “quad scorch” that can result from actually putting a laptop in your — who would have imagined? — lap.

A friend whose San Francisco office is a model of chic and functional design, reported that she favors a laptop stand that’s designed for cooling, not elevating; she uses a separate monitor.

A quick check of the Apple store offered the LED Cinema Display. It’s gorgeous and green, made for exactly the purpose I had in mind, it’s the ultimate MacBook accessory, but it costs $899. Maybe next year.

After some searching, I chose the mStand by Rain Design. Its brushed aluminum finish matches the MacBook, but it hardly matters, because the stand is all but invisible. Slipping is ruled out by an unobtrusive “lip” that holds the laptop in place. And the angle of the stand gives me a full seven inch elevation on my laptop — my massage therapist is already singing its praises, as am I. Combined with a wireless keyboard and mouse, I can continue to use my laptop as my one and only computer, without doing permanent harm to my posture.

Total cost for stand, wireless keyboard and wireless mouse: under $200

One of my small goals for 2009 is to improve the ergonomics in my office. I can already check this one off my list.

Meetings: stand up

As described in my organizing colleague John Trosko’s blog, one Los Angeles-area company found an effective way to keep its meetings “right sized” — they shed their chairs and held meetings standing up. Meetings that had been 30 to 60 minutes shrank to about half their former time. Think of the value to your business of all that productive time freed up!

Want to try it?

Meetings: a quote

A quote for the day:

But above all, meetings have to be the exception rather than the rule. An organization in which everybody meets all the time is an organization in which no one gets anything done. Wherever a time log shows the fatty degeneration of meeting — wherever for instance, people in an organization find themselves in meetings a quarter of their time or more — there is time-wasting malorganization.

Peter Drucker, from “Know Your Time” published in The Essential Drucker

2009 marks the Drucker Centennial at Claremont Graduate University, a celebration of his work in effective management and ethical leadership.

Meetings: what Warren Buffet found

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

The January 18 issue of USA Today included an interview with former Coca Cola president and Berkshire Hathaway board member Don Keogh, which contained this revealing item:

Out of Time

Out of Time

Speaking of Berkshire Hathaway chairman and America’s second richest man Warren Buffet, Keogh observed, “Buffet bought a company a couple of years ago. In three months, they eliminated 54 committees and 10,000 man hours of monthly meetings.”

Many of us who have worked in large corporations (and some small companies, too) have experienced the sinking feeling that results from viewing a calendar clogged with too many unproductive meetings.

Reid Hastie, Robert S. Hamada Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, sounded the same theme in the New York Times job section that same day, with an article entitled, “Meetings Are a Matter of Precious Time”.

Hastie points out that the main reason we don’t make meetings more productive is that we don’t value our time properly. The people who call meetings and those who attend them are not thinking about time as their most valuable resource.

When I ask clients to consider which of their tasks may not be as productive as they’d like, meetings usually surface as a prime time-stealing culprit.

Hastie offers specific suggestions for making meetings productive, two I endorse and one I emphatically do not:

1. Whoever calls a meeting should be explicit about its objectives.

The meeting’s leader should ensure that objectives are in writing well before the meeting. My clients who value their own time and their company’s resources learn to “push back” when summoned to a meeting that lacks a clear purpose. Either agree to a clear and worthwhile goal for your participation, or don’t go.

2. Those who call a meeting and those who attend should think carefully about the opportunity costs of a meeting.

Too many meetings are called without a firm agenda in place, allowing the conversation to swell to fill whatever time is available. And many (most?) meetings include too many participants.

3. After productive or unproductive meetings, assign credit or blame to the person in charge. Then, if people have track records of leading ineffective meetings, don’t let them lead future sessions.

I strongly disagree with Hastie in this instance. There is no special skill involved in leading a productive meeting that cannot be coached and learned. Establishing a clear objective and keeping to the declared task are two organizing skills that everyone needs to practice to be effective in their work. Assigning blame is largely counterproductive.

I would add a fourth productivity practice:

4. Develop a practice for recording all decisions to be made, so that notes can be easily shared with those who didn’t attend. This makes it easier to keep the “guest list” down, too. Those involved in the project or whose work will feel the impact of any decisions can get the critical information they need without spending an hour sharing the whole process.

Learning to make the best use of your time is one of the foundational productivity practices I cover in my GO System workshops. To learn more, contact me by phone or email here.

Do you have a meeting triumph or tragedy to share? Let’s hear it. Leave a comment here.

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