ARE YOU WILLING TO CHANGE?
In this chapter, we’ll tackle what might be the most difficult task of them all – actually changing your habits. It takes many years to acquire habits. Are you willing to take a few months to change them?
If not, nothing will change.
Read all the books you want, listen to all the CDs you can find, and immerse yourself in the most positive affirmations out there. Make lists and design spreadsheets and charts until you’re half blind – all of that’s worthless unless you make the conscious decision you’re going to do things differently than you’ve been doing them. Altering habits is difficult but mandatory if permanent change is the goal.
Most people in business need to work on changing a handful of common bad habits in order to take control of their time and their thought process. In the next chapter, I’ll deal with time management Ron’s way and talk about my strategies for remembering – or, more accurately, for never having to remember – things, as well as for keeping promises and holding others accountable for theirs. Setting aside a larger time management strategy for now, I’d like to focus on five key, closely related areas where most business owners must change their habits if they want to get ahead. These are positive, practical steps you can start taking tomorrow – or better yet, right now! – To achieve quick results by freeing up time. The most common bad habits in business involve:
• Managing information flow
• Managing calls and emails
• Resisting the urge to do it yourself
• Limiting your accessibility
• Thinking bigger
Now let’s take a look at each of these areas, which might seem small but, in fact, eat up hours the way a deceptively skinny champion downs hot dogs at a competitive eating contest.
MANAGING INFORMATION FLOW
Are you consuming valuable, pertinent information, or is junk information consuming you? In this day of constant information flow from endless sources, it’s not hard to see why solicitations and requests from the people around you – both business and personal associates – consume so much time. If you’re not careful, incoming info can consume most of your day – perhaps it already is, without your even realizing it.
The first conscious step in changing the bad habits you’ve developed around information flow is to delegate it. In my case, this job falls to my personal assistant, who regulates the flow for me and drains off most information before it ever has a chance to reach my desk. Yes, I have email and I get emails and texts just like everyone else, but I’m very selective about who gets my email address, which in itself cuts down on a lot of my personal email traffic.
Nonetheless, when I get to the office on the days I work, there’s always paper in my basket and business emails that my personal assistant has determined need my attention. There’s always somebody wanting something, whether it’s from outside my business or my own staff. I have a very simple system to handle paper as it comes in.
I FART on it.
Before you think I’ve gone off the deep end with a vulgar comment, let me explain. As I’m sitting behind my desk, to my left are two trays. One is for incoming papers and one is for outgoing papers. When I get to work, there’s always a pile of papers in the incoming tray. My goal is to dispose of that paperwork as quickly as possible and thereby dispose of all tasks related to it, so I can get on to the things that I’ve scheduled for the day.
First let’s look at how paper gets into the inbox, because let me assure you, most candidates for that receptacle don’t make it past my office door. My personal assistant looks at everything that comes through, both paper and electronic mail, and determines whether it’ll even need my attention. If it does, she prints it and puts it in the pile for me (she only forwards email to me electronically if it’s important enough that I need to see it right away – most emails that aren’t deleted get printed and put on the pile).
This process alone eliminates probably three-quarters of the paperwork that I would handle if she weren’t managing it for me. Having a good gatekeeper also means I don’t even see more than three-quarters of the emails from people I have no reason to respond to. Many of them have sent emails unsolicited, and all of them seem to want something. If you’re human and operate in the world of business, I’m sure you get these sorts of emails and solicitations, too, and you probably don’t want to see them any more than I do.
Once my personal assistant has assembled a pile of paperwork and put it in front of me, one of four things will happen to every item in that pile: I will File it, Act on it, Reroute it, or Trash it…FART on it
For me, to “File” a paper simply means I put it in the out-basket and write the word “File” on it. My personal assistant either files it then, or has someone else file it. Caution: be careful what you file. If you put everything you receive on paper into a filing cabinet, pretty soon you’ll need four filing cabinets, and the reality is, 90 percent of their contents is better suited for the trash can. If you feel you couldn’t face a major problem without a particular piece of paper being available, put it in the file. If that’s not the case, put it in the trash can.
The paper I will “Act” on are items needing further attention. The required action might be to write a note or letter, or to take some physical action. If the paper requires action on my part, I put it in a pile that I spread vertically on my desk in front of me with the intention of acting on it as soon as I’ve processed the pile. I try not to leave until the pile has been processed so my desk is clean
The third option is to “Reroute” a piece of paperwork. To reroute it, all I do is jot the name of the staff member, virtual assistant, or personal assistant who I want to take care of it and then drop it in the outbox. Sometimes I scribble instructions on it, but often, even this isn’t required.
Finally, we come to my favorite option – “Trash” it. This is where probably 90 percent of my incoming paperwork winds up, in the trash. Most of it is just stuff I need to read, and once I have, it’s disposed of. Again, be careful not to keep paperwork that really has no significance. My trash can is a favorite destination for paperwork on my desk.
Again, my goal is to leave a clean desk behind me every single day. It bothers me to leave junk on my desk to be dealt with later. If you can’t figure out what to do with it, trash it. The world will not end. You will likely never need it again.
This simple system has served me well for a lot of years. It can serve you, too, keeping the clutter out of your way and in front of you. Even more important, it will improve your mindset. A cluttered working area reflects a cluttered mind. Clutter kills focus because you feel overwhelmed and never know what to do next.
MANAGING CALLS AND EMAILS
The second haven for bad habits is in managing calls and emails. I described how I handle most emails above, but I have another stream of emails flowing to me through my iPad, too. We all have junk files, and mine is just as loaded as your but I don’t even open my junk mail folder. Managing the other emails that fill my inbox each day is pretty simple because so few people have my email address. I’m so selective about who I give it to, I likely don’t get more than forty or fifty emails a day. If those don’t require action, most get instantly deleted.
I devote very little time to handling email. Yes, we all have breaks we can take to catch up on our emails but don’t let them control your life. My dinger is turned off, so I don’t know when I get an email. I don’t want to know because I won’t allow incoming emails to interrupt my thought process or a task I’m trying to accomplish.
The same is true for my text dinger. If you read a text every time your phone dings – and these days, plenty of people do – consider how long it takes you to get back into the thought process interrupted by that text, likely a message with no value for you sent by someone with no legitimate reason to text you. If you’re going to control your time, you must immediately control your incoming calls, emails, and texts. I know it’s a major undertaking to turn off the dingers that seem to structure our lives, but changing this one bad habit could add an hour or more to your day, and it’s an important step in taking control of your time.
When I’m teaching a seminar, I absolutely insist that all phones be put away – no vibrating, dinging, or flashing – completely off and out of sight. I also alert my students that if they’re looking down, I know exactly what they’re doing. They’re reading incoming texts or emails, and it’s not allowed. When people pay me money to hear what I have to say, I demand enough attention to get my message out. After that, they can do with it as they see fit. To me, looking at text, reading emails and even looking at a cell phone during a meeting is downright rude, and it won’t happen in any meeting I’m conducting.
RESISTING THE URGE TO DO IT YOURSELF
The third habit to change is the urge to do it – whatever it is – yourself. This is going to be a big and very difficult habit for you to break if you’re like most folks. Most of us, especially in business, think we have to have our hands in every little thing going on because we think it can’t get done without us. We’ve discussed why this notion is false in previous chapters and we’ll continue to discuss it because it is the heart of this book. If you can’t train yourself to not do every little thing, this book can’t help you. Nothing can help you if you don’t work at changing this egotistical practice, the mother of all bad business habits.
In the back of this book is a section full of resources for just about anything you’d want done in your business and / or personal life, and that’s just a start. Obviously, there are thousands more out there.
Virtual assistants are easy to find and can do most of the things you currently do. Personal assistants are a choice I strongly recommend, and I’ll explore why they’re vital in Chapter 7. I would never be without a personal assistant, or PA, because they take a tremendous load off my back and manage my affairs without my presence. Yes, this is a full-time employee, but all the time you’ll free up to focus on making decisions and driving revenue in your business should quickly justify the expense. The revenue increase needed to pay for a personal assistant is small, but the lifestyle change is huge when a PA takes over the grunt work, giving you the time to work on your business and not in it.
Every single time you sit down to do a task, ask yourself, “Is this the best use of my time?” Almost always, the answer will be “no.” Create a little sign for your desk asking this key question if this helps, or take a picture of the cover of this book, The Less I Do, the More I Make. Or write out in bold letters, WWRD – “What Would Ron Do?” Many of my students do exactly that and cure themselves of the worst of bad business habits: trying to do every little thing. Changing this habit takes time, but I can promise you, it’s worth the effort.
LIMITING YOUR ACCESSIBILITY
No law requires you to be available every time someone wants your attention. You own your time. You’re not obligated to other people, and they don’t have the right to use your time unless you grant it to them. When you make yourself constantly accessible, you’re at the mercy of others. Your time is their time – it’s no longer yours – and, of course, in that case, most of it will get wasted. Do you take calls from folks when you don’t know what the calls are about and there’s no reason for you to believe they’re in your best interest? Do you agree to meet folks simply because they ask, with no real purpose? Do you respond to texts and emails simply because you get them?
Let me repeat, you will not go to jail for ignoring requests to waste your time. If you train people they can interrupt you at will, that’s what they’ll do. If you train them they can’t interrupt you at will, they won’t. If you do not accept calls just because the phone rings, pretty soon, people understand you’re not going to answer it, and in my experience, they quit calling, which is the whole point.
Of course, you’ll take the calls, texts, and emails relevant to your business or to your personal life. But try an experiment. Track all of your communications on any random day, noting the time spent on each. You will be flabbergasted to see how few of those texts, calls, emails and meetings matter. Now, think to yourself, what if I eliminate all of those time wasters? What if I put the world on notice and tell it, “I’m not your slave?” What if I return calls at my discretion? What if I return emails when I feel like it? What if I text back only when the mood strikes me or when it’s necessary?
Yes, I know, this requires a major change of habits for most people. I get it. But I can tell you, once you establish the reputation that you’re not openly accessible, most people gradually get the message: if they want to reach you, they have to go through proper channels. For me, that channel is my personal assistant or virtual assistant. You’ll have to decide how easy you want to make it for people to get through to you. I get almost no calls from my hundreds of thousands of students, yet I’m listed in the phone book. I get almost no emails from them, and I get no texts from them, unless I’m working on a joint venture deal of some sort. All of that comes through my personal assistant before it has a chance to get to me.
Incidentally, my personal assistant is at the office. Yours does not have to be. Your personal assistant can be anywhere in the country with today’s technology and be just as accessible as if he or she was ten feet away. I spend so much time out of the office, the truth is, and almost all of my communications with my PA are remote and not face-to-face anyway. Recently, I was gone five days in a row, and my PA and I had only a few communications during that whole time. That was all we needed to get everything done. And I could make a pretty long list of what got accomplished during this absence.
The last habit to cultivate is the habit of thinking bigger. If you are the owner, the entrepreneur, the boss, you must decide what you’re worth. If you think small, your business will remain small. If you set your standards and income goals low, that’s where they’ll stay. Set your standards higher. Create a revenue goal that scares you a little, and you might trick yourself into actually making it. Do you want to earn a million dollars a year, or do you want to make a half a million dollars a year? If you set your goal at half a million and achieve it, is that as good as setting it at a million and only getting half way there? Why not set the bar higher? Why can’t you make more? What’s stopping you?
Make a list. In my planner I have a page called “Things I can do to create revenue.” Most of those things are checked off, and I’m constantly adding new ones. If, in fact, your whole life is not focused on minutia, running your business day in and day out to make a meager living, you’ll actually have time to think up ways of creating more revenue. Make a list and systematically work on it, trying the ideas that make sense and eliminating over time the ones which are not going to work or which don’t fit into your lifestyle or plan.
Ted Turner said the biggest mistake he ever made was not setting his goals high enough. I find this to be true in most folks’ lives. They just don’t think they’re worthy of making a lot more money. When people come to me to learn how to buy and sell houses, they come for the same reason. It revolves around money and financial freedom and retirement. First, I have to train them in real estate, but I spend more time training them on how to run the business behind the real estate and in raising their expectations. The biggest problem for many is they just don’t feel worthy of making a lot of money. They haven’t up to this point in their lives – they’ve been trained to be broke. We can just as easily get trained to be rich (by the way, rich is better).
To get rich, you must first take control of your time and get the grunt work off of your back. You’ll get there a lot faster when you’re focused on making decisions and driving revenue. You’ll likely never get there if you don’t find the will to change bad habits and start taking your life back on a daily basis. Many of the habit changes I’ve recommended are small, but together, they create large results.
Changing the habits we explored above is life changing but time management is also a critical ingredient to growing your business and taking control of your life. – We’ll devote the entire next chapter to it.