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In this episode, Elizabeth Larkin, managing editor of Small Biz Ahead and small business owner and columnist Gene Marks discuss the article:

How I Manage Myself So I get Stuff Done

Gene: Elizabeth how are you?

Elizabeth: I’m great how are you?

Gene: I’m doing good so far but the day is early yet.

Elizabeth: The coffee is not done yet. Whether you’re operating as a sole proprietor you’re managing a team of employees your business’s most valuable asset is your time and Gene you recently wrote an article for us detailing how you get stuff done and most of it is really about how you manage yourself.

Gene: Correct.

Make Your List Your Way

Elizabeth: So let’s go over some of your tips from the article. The first one is that you make a list every single day. Now what do you like about making a list?

Gene: And remember Elizabeth when we you know we talk about people that are managing themselves and trying to be productive sometimes it’s like the person it’s like you’re almost like born with the ability you’d like to have that trait about you. So I like I’ve always been a list maker so whoever’s listening to this podcast you have to look at yourself and ask am I a list maker as well as at the kind of person that I am because that’s what I am. I mean I have I have two lists that I followed every day. I have a manual notebook that I carry on with me it’s a composition book and throughout the day as like things come up I’m constantly adding to like his running list of things that need to be done. I’m following at all I’m always referring back to that list of things I need to follow up on. And the second list I have Elizabeth is I have a CRM system so I use a product called gold mine my company sells five CRMs so you should have a CRM system or even just if using outlook or Gmail something where you have tasks that you can schedule you because I have my lists my CRM system of people to call back and emails to send. So I have these two lists of sort of things to do when other words like projects to follow up on things not to forget and I have this other list in my CRM system of calls and emails that I’m sending. Sometimes when I’m using my manual list I’m like I’m talking you Elizabeth and your like hey Gene make sure you give me a call next week I may make a note of that of my manual list then when I get back to my CRM system I’ll put it in there as well so that it never falls through the cracks, but it’s lists, lists, lists there is always like stuff your to do you I’ve always got things that are sort of pending I’m so I know nothing falls through the cracks for important to me.

Prioritizing Your Task List

Elizabeth: Now how often do you go back and prioritize that list because calling me next week might not be the most pressing project that you have for that day.

Gene: Yeah it’s a really good question I mean you know it’s funny different people different ways of prioritizing their own lists. I don’t. I mean what happens is that whatever ends up on my list at any given point of time I’m always scanning that list you know or even if I’ve actions for the day in my CRM system my phone calls and my emails. And t’s not like I have that many I mean okay maybe at fifty or a hundred things to do, emails and phone calls to send during the day, I it it’s OK you I scan it and also definitely wanna make that call and want to need to make that call and I wanna call that, and then whatever I don’t in my CRM system it just forwards to the next day. So I don’t have to worry about completing everything all at a time. Now that doesn’t mean it’s not important for some people to prioritize what they do and I maybe you work better that way but I things change all the time. So no offense Elizabeth you know you say “hey call me you know next week” in like it’s really important the moment and the like next week comes by and I’m like Elizabeth can wait a couple of days so it’s just a constant re-evaluation, that’s all.

Elizabeth: Would you ever consider moving from analog to digital?

Gene: What do you mean analog to digital?

Elizabeth: Well you’ve got your notebook right now would you consider using a system like I use Wunderlist which I love or like Evernote I know a lot of small business owners like live in Evernote.

Gene: I do too actually I use too now Evernote since that you bring that up I do a lot of writing and speaking so I keep all my writing and speaking ideas in in Evernote.

Elizabeth: It’s great for notes.

Gene: It’s fantastic. First of all I don’t really care or fault whatever people use to keep their lists I mean. You know it’s its 2016 there are plenty of people that read the newspaper and plenty of people to get their news solely online. If you’re the type of person Elizabeth that you are efficient and productive using a tool like an Evernote or some type of a list application on your iPhone then by all means go and do your thing. I’m like fifty years old so my whole life I’m used to carrying a composition note and making notes in that. That works for me so I’m sticking to it. My answer is really whatever is working. I’m in the technology business but it annoys me when people jam technology down your throat just for the sake of it. The whole point of using technology even like Evernote is if it does help you get stuff done faster. If it doesn’t, if’ you’re good with existing system, don’t change it. Change other stuff that might need more attention.

Elizabeth: Yeah I agree I actually also use a paper list for my like really urgent things and I need to do every day and that’s the stuff that I think yeah I’ve got to get that done in a couple weeks that I end up putting in Evernote.

Gene: Yes

Elizabeth: Because I feel like opening the program typing and it almost takes more time than just jotting it down on my notebook that’s right.

Crossing Something Off Your To-Do List is Therapeutically Awesome

Gene: I agree and I think that a couple things about lists as well that on the paper list: crossing something off the list is therapeutically awesome, you know, if you like I got that done right. And the other thing such as at the end of the week I will transfer that list, I’ll create a new list so sometimes I’m rewriting things from the old list and then adding some stuff but the act of re writing something on a piece of paper is making me think about it a little bit more and it again it’s sort of a it’s sort of a therapeutic thing to do.

The other lists that I make which is has been over the years has been so helpful to me Elizabeth is you know sometimes you have those days were like things just stink and you’ve got you know good customers yelling at you, your boss yelling you, know where things are at whatever. I’m a really good list that I make periodically is I’ll make a list of like the five or ten things that are like sucking today like that are really like you know why my day is crap here’s my years here are six reasons why this day is gone and I’ll literally put that in the list not to do anything with it but you’d be surprised at a month or two later I’ll look back at that list because it’s in my composition book and I’ll be like ugh what was I worried about back then. I mean it’s all you know you know to me it’s two months later it all seems like it’s minor at this point. So that’s another therapeutic thing about making less that’s been kind helpful.

People Who Make To-Do Lists and Then Ignore Their To-Do Lists

Elizabeth: Now what about the people, I want to address this group of people because I’m one of them and I know there’s a lot out there, that you wake up in the morning or the end of the day the night before you make your list right at the end of the day. You’ve worked all day but you have not touched anything on that list. I want to move on to your next point which is blocking off time which I think is so important.

Gene: It is and I can tell you how I how I do that and it’s not as hard as it sounds. I mentioned earlier that I have like a list of tasks in my CRM system. And again if you use Outlook or Google tasks anything like that same concept and I’ve calls and I have emails right so I mean during the course of the day I will say okay look for the next hour I’m gonna make calls, that’s what I’m going to do. So you can filter your list on any CRM system is just show me my calls for the day so that well over eighty seven calls show up whatever it might be right you look at the list and you start prioritizing okay let me start calling these are this is an important call to make that’s never and you just do it. I don’t know when I hear people say oh I get distracted I get other calls I get. That’s it that’s it your fault I mean you know you don’t look at your other emails. If somebody is at your door they want to come in and talk to you. You wave them away “I’m making calls and this is what I’m doing right now I’m sure whatever you have is important but it just has to wait until I’m done and I’ll be done in about twenty minutes” and you know you just you kind of stick to what your what your priority is.

Same thing with email.

I’ll take an hour until you know what the next hour I’m just going to be replying to emails, doors shut and that’s what I’m going to do. It just feels good when you’re done you can say I got that done this past hour and it moved me a little bit forward so deftly that I did a lot and did a lot.

Avoiding Distractions

Elizabeth: Yeah I think a lot of times people let kind of distractions or things that aren’t as important distract them or crowd out the time to do the stuff they really need to get done by blocking that time off you really don’t have an excuse you’ve gotta do your emails.

Gene: Yep you really do now in my job and I don’t know if you Elisabeth or anyone else has the same kind of flexibility sometimes if I want to do emails I’m I’ll grab my laptop and leave and go to like a Starbucks or somewhere like a public place I’ll stick on my you know my ear buds and listen to some music it’s just crank out you know emails for an hour because then I know nobody’s going to be knocking on my door.

I can’t really do that for phone calls you know in a Starbucks but and you know that’s something that I do for email. I do that for writing as well. I’m like so I write something every day, and I get up early in the morning and and I block off you know an hour and a half to write so it’s important to me plus it’s fun.

What if You Get a Bad Night’s Sleep?

Elizabeth: So another one of your tips was that kind of leads into this is you know when you’re smart and when you’re dumb. So you figured out when you’re really good at writing, which is early in the morning, right, and when you don’t really have the patience for that or your creativity may be a little lower so then you make all of your phone calls you reply to emails. But what happens if you get knocked off kilter like I know you travel a lot for business or let’s say you get a bad night’s sleep.

Gene: Right yeah you know this happens to everybody. The bottom line is this is that we are we are just smarter sometime during the day than other times that’s just the bottom line and we have to be able to recognize when we’re not feeling so smart and to do something about it. Ronald Reagan used to take a nap as President for something like twenty or thirty minutes a day in the oval office and that was you know that’s just what he did and a lot of senior executives say that like your recharging your batteries that ways is a good thing to do.

Elizabeth: Going to the gym or something like that.

Gene: Just breaking it up and just get sometimes you’re just stupid. So it depends on the task that you’re doing you know like if it’s just. So that’s why when I’m feeling stupid and I know that I just got a like respond to some emails and I don’t have to think that hard I’ll save my stupid tasks for that you know for when I’m feeling stupid but then when I need to like sit down and write and I know that I got a kind of try and be smarter and you know a little bit more on my game then I will set you know I will set aside time for doing that.

Like early in the morning because I know I’m the best in the morning some people are best late at night. I will say if you get the ability to push off an important task to another time when you feel you’ll be smarter, if you’re just not feeling it than do that. If you have the flexibility to do that. Do it don’t just say well let me just get this done because I got so many other things to do try and say look this is I I really do need to think about this and I am clearly not in the right frame of mind to do that right now. If you got the flexibility try and push it off.

Elizabeth: I actually keep a list of tasks for days like that when I’m just not feeling it and I’m not creative I can concentrate you know my focus isn’t there. Just tasks that kinda need to get done at some point but not right now that are kind of monotonous like updating like an excel spreadsheet or something. I’ll do the same thing I’ll put my Pandora classical station on and just sit there and then I feel like I actually accomplish something and the weird thing is if I do that for twenty minutes I might be able to do the harder task after that.

So You Do Classical Music Too?

Gene: Yeah it’s funny you know. So you do you do classical music as well you’ll put on? Because I do the same thing I put on. I use Spotify and I’ll put on like classical music because I can’t have singing in my ears while I’m trying to.

Elizabeth: That’s why I do classical.

Gene: Yeah which is which is great and then sometimes you know I’ll put on your regular pop music you know that if I’m like you’re walking around or doing something that does not need a concentration. Yeah sometimes I do the same exact thing as you. I know on my list getting back a composition book that there are certain things on it that don’t require a lot of thought it’s more like a task to just do and like you kind of push them a little bit aside because I know I’m gonna be stupider later on in the day I’ll just. You know I’ll use that stupid time to do that there’s more mundane tasks.

Elizabeth: As a small business owner, as you know, you pretty much need to be good at everything when you’re a sole proprietor where you’re working for yourself or even if you just have a small group of employees who are doing very specific tasks but eventually you might need to outsource something you’re not good at or hire someone else to do it. So how did you come to accept the things that you are not that great at and then really focus on the things you are really good at.

It’s Time to Stop Micromanaging

Gene: People that I meet that are older than me or smarter or more experienced, the more they admit that they don’t know because you realize as you grow older, how much you don’t know. You know whenever I meet people that seem like they they’ve got it all figured out they’ve got all the answers and they’re all whatever. I always kind of raise an eyebrow because I’m like I don’t know I mean I’ve raised three kids and I don’t have all the answers you know I mean you’re so much is just not.

So figuring out what you do best and what you don’t do very well I think is a key part of being productive and growing your business. and having the self-confidence to delegate the work to somebody else who might do something better than you in your company and not letting your ego get in the way is really an important step that you need to take and if it’s not just for therapeutic or something that will make you feel better. Think of the money.

I mean I have a guy in my company, his name is Corey and he’s just you we implement CRM systems Elizabeth you know like salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics and a few others. He’s just better at it than me. I used to do it but he like he is better training he gets along with clients better I mean I used to be like “the guy” and I thought I was really good at it and then as work got too much I needed him to do more and more and he’s just better at it than me and I’m like you know this is ridiculous he could be doing more of that implementation while I do more sales and marketing because I’m good at that I really like doing that and it was sort of like I don’t know a moment for me saying like you know okay I’m cool with that.

More importantly I can make money off of this guy because he’s yeah he’s really good and clients like him and I’m billing him out by the hour and I’m profiting so he’s happy and I’m happy and there’s nothing wrong with that. So I just think that as you get older and you have a few more resources those business people that I meet we have a lot of clients that are just a micro managed too many things and they worry about too many details that the more that you give your employees the chance or outsiders or partners the chance to do stuff for you the more self-confidence you have to do that the more money you’ll make. Not just about it which is why when you talk to senior executives make millions of dollars because they’re managing hundreds of people. You know at a time so there’s a reason for that there is an art to managing a lot of people and that’s why they make so much money. The sole proprietor makes only certain amount of money because a person just managing themselves. So it makes sense.

I’m A CPA, but I’m like the World’s Worst CPA

Elizabeth: I really liked in the article that you said that you’re actually a CPA but you don’t do your company’s tax returns.

Yeah because I’m like the world’s worst CPA ever. I like I miss you guys I’m and I still have my CPA certificate in fact I just finished last week my CPE credits for this reporting period which is agony for me but I’m very proud of being a CPA but you do not want to hire me Elizabeth as yours.

For me if it’s close enough its good enough and that’s not the way you want to be if you’re a CPA just telling you right now. But I maintain it because we do sell some financial software and we do some financial our consulting work and that is sort of like and you know it’s a nice thing to have. I realized early on that and I’m not very good with details. But for me if I felt like “that’s close enough is good enough” so you know I mean it’s a certain point of like yeah its but would you don’t want me building an airplane so I can tell you.

So yes I realize that and luckily I did so I’m you know I was able to and I had my story there is I remember I did a project for a client Elizabeth. About fifteen years ago when I was doing accounting work and I remember he had so many questions about the work that I did was I did such a lousy job spreadsheet analysis and had so many holes in it I just well I don’t and I kept making up excuses and deferring and playing you know like I’ll get back to your whatever it was every time the guy called I was getting like nauseous to my stomach and I just I’ll never forget that guy.

I was like you know what I’m never going to I’m just not good at this. And this is crazy I’m I’m good at other stuff so whenever we have stuff like this to do I got to have somebody else do it for me and I’ll focus on what I do best.

Elizabeth: Well I think knowing what you’re good at and knowing what you’re lousy at, it just saves you time and get you more efficient.

Gene: And makes you more money.

Elizabeth: And that and that’s the goal. So we can wrap up now maybe with your I don’t know three or four bullet points you have with people for people let’s say you’re a new small business owner you’re trying to do everything you have too much to do too few hours in the day.

I mean what are some of your do you have any like hard and fast rules do you say like don’t work when you know after ten or you know do you have. I know that you actually left your full time job because you want to spend more time with your family but as a small business owner you’re working probably more than during your…

Wrap It Up

Gene: Yeah but I’m going to be able to define the hours a little bit. One of the biggest benefits of running your own business is that you can control your time at a bit more and I kind of like life is all about control I mean how much time he can balance between yourself and your family and all that which is which is good. When it comes to productivity Elizabeth I mean I mean number one you really need to be honest with yourself. You know it you really you sometimes if you are a procrastinator then admit that you’re a procrastinator I don’t think people change very much. I mean at their core I think people and yet if you’re a procrastinator it’s fine because I’m sure that you have got a lot of other strengths that you can use that can make you money but if getting tests done are not something that you’re you know you can be relied on to do very good because you’re a creative person you go off on a whatever. You need to you need to budget for that meaning that you need to get help and get somebody that will help you get tasks done because I think that’s really important. So number one is you gotta be honest with yourself.

Number two is gets back to what we were talking about earlier is on. I strongly recommend that you make lists. I just you know to me people walk around the area.

Even CEOs of large companies they might be making it may not be making a list of a composition book but I guarantee you they’ve got some administrative assistant that’s doing it for them and keeping them up to date on that last. So yes it’s lists are very important because it’s just things that you need to do that day, in that week, will keep you very very productive. And finally even if you are not a procrastinator if you’re a doer and you’re a task person know your good times and bad times. So when you’re you know when you have a week you know when you know you don’t work that well in the afternoon or if you know like me I’m like smartest in the morning and then I start you know. Depreciating throughout the day you readjust your schedules that you’re doing stuff when you’re in the most important stuff when you’re sharpest. I mean you should know that about yourself. By the time you hit college you start figuring out you know what your strengths and weaknesses are you should be able to figure that out. You work much more productively that way.

Elizabeth: Okay great. Alright well that’s going to wrap up our first Small Biz Ahead podcast.

Gene, thanks so much for joining me this week this was great

Gene: Elizabeth thank you did a great job.

The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only and solely those of the podcast’s participants, contributors and guests and do not constitute an endorsement by, or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates