That Ben Franklin – he was one smart chap. Franklin invented bifocals, streetlights, swim fins (yes, swim fins) and electricity. As if that wasn’t enough, Big Ben was willing to prove his worth by flying a kite with a key on it during a lightning storm. Talk about scrappy?
As entrepreneurs and creators, there are a lot of lessons to learn from Ben Franklin. One that stands out here at The Disciplined Entrepreneur is Big Ben’s ability to balance creativity with intense planning. His quote, like his creative genius, was no joke:
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
As a management consultant for Fortune 500 companies, I noticed most of my clients were excellent when it came to long-term planning.
Twenty-year BHAG? You bet.
Five-Year Strategic Plan? Check.
One-Year Operating Budget? You better believe it…
Start-ups are no different. You create detailed plans that feed investor sharks and motivate your team. Armed with one, three, and five-year plans that invariably show the infamous hockey-stick growth, start-up leaders create a vision and a direction for what the company will become – key for any business success.
I’ve seen both big businesses & start-ups “get it” when it comes to long-term planning. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen that most professionals are unequivocally terrible when it comes to planning on a daily and weekly basis.
All too often I see smart people fail to plan and prepare for meetings. People concede their day-to-day focus by jamming too many meetings in a day, drifting into the distraction that is the internet, spending too many hours with the inbox, and letting the urgent get in the way of the important.
If you’re ready to take back your day, it’s time to be more thoughtful in terms of how you manage each day. Here’s how to jump-start your productivity right now:
1) Write the Email Before the Meeting
Have an important meeting that’s likely to require follow-up? Go ahead and write the follow-up email BEFORE the meeting. This simple practice will force you to clarify your perspective and increase focus during your meeting. Whether your meeting is a sales call, a feedback session with an employee, or a discussion with an investor – take the time before the meeting to compose the email.
This process allows you to visualize success in the meeting and it’s particularly important you take the time to do this for tough conversations, like when you’re sharing areas for improvement with someone on your team. Athletes visualize success on the playing field; disciplined entrepreneurs prepare and refine their talking points before meetings.
2) Never schedule a meeting without scheduling time to prepare
For leaders in any business, the single most valuable asset we own is our time, so think through every meeting before they appear on your calendar. Anything that makes it through your filter and onto your calendar is worthy of adequate preparation.
As a starting point, block off 30 minutes of prep time for every meeting you have on your calendar. Use the 30 minutes to document your personal objectives for the meeting, the stated meeting objectives, potential questions and responses, plus one new point of connection between you and each person in the meeting.
3) Find One New Commonality
People give their business to individuals that they know, like, and trust. Every interaction you have is an opportunity to develop relationships. By extension, every meeting is an opportunity to grow your business. Whether you’re meeting with a team member for the 200th time or a new client for the first time, identify one potential commonality before the meeting.
For your foodie team member travelling to Charlotte – ask your friend in Charlotte for a great restaurant recommendation. For a new sales call, take the time to identify a common contact, common interest, or a major trend that’s relevant to their company and position today. You may not ever use the connection, but simply identifying the point of connection will make you more comfortable and confident in your interaction. And of course confidence leads to better outcomes.
4) Consume The News
Whether you’re heading to a holiday party or a key meeting with a supplier, don’t forget to be a citizen of the globe and know what’s happening around you. I cringe when I hear people default to the topic of weather on a daily basis. A few basic minutes consuming news (I personally love Flipboard) will allow you to stand out and be seen as someone who is in tune with the world – never a bad thing.
5) Create a Personal Agenda
While we often hear “personal agenda” in a negative light, there’s a huge positive benefit to taking the time to synthesize your meeting goals and objectives. Your goal may be to let a junior employee lead the meeting or take on the role of an observer rather than a contributor. Perhaps you really want to emphasize the quality of your product or determine what someone’s opinion of the competitor may be? Whatever it is, be purposeful in your agenda.
A reader recently shared a great example with me about multiple meeting agendas. During interviews, Mike takes the candidate on a brisk walk to view real-life products in the sign industry. The stated objective is to review and discuss signs, but there’s also another objective that’s important to Mike – observe whether the candidates have the hustle and energy to keep up the brisk pace required to succeed at the job on a day-to-day basis. By taking a few minutes to understand the situation, Mike is maximizing the value of the meeting.
6) Don’t Book Back-To-Back Meetings
There’s a reason most calendar applications warn you if you’re scheduling back-to-back meetings: It’s a terrible idea. While it’s efficient to schedule blocks of time for meetings and blocks of time without meetings, scheduling back-to-back increases the odds of you disrespecting the time of someone else or not taking the time to review your meeting preparation notes and visualize success. It’s hard to do, but avoid the temptation…keep a minimum fifteen-minute gap between meetings.
7) Meetings Don’t Have to Be Scheduled in 30-minute intervals
Too often we default to scheduling one-hour meetings and find ourselves filling the entire meeting period. Don’t fall into this trap. Push yourself to be as efficient as possible. As discussed in Build a Culture of Discipline in Your Startup, commit to changing this habit NOW and compress your standing one-hour meetings to forty-five minutes. Go Ahead…try it now.
8) Set the Context
One thing that we often forget is that we are industry experts in our chosen field. In meetings with customers, we often feel the need to prove our worth so we quickly dive into the details, ask questions to understand our client’s challenges, and share how our solution can help. Lost in the shuffle is the high-level context of the problem that’s shaped by macro trends, previous conversations with related parties, or the history and relationships between organizations.
Don’t assume the investor across the table knows the incidence of cancer in Asia is increasing, insurance reimbursement rates are increasing, and there are more and more doctors practicing modern medicine over traditional medicine. Before you start belting out the words to Hymn #401, be sure that everyone has the same book. You’ll sound a lot better if everyone is singing from the same hymnal.
9) Plan Your Day
We’ve talked a lot about planning for individual meetings, but it’s even more important to plan your entire day. At the start of each day, take the time to summarize the following:
List the main things you will complete today no matter what.
List of People You Need To Reach Out to Today (and the people you’re waiting on)
List the Top 3 Projects you are working on and the 3-5 big things you must do to move the project forward
As my friends at High Performance Academy have outlined, if you do this every single day you’ll be shocked at the positive difference in your career.
10) Decouple Priorities and Email
If you listen to nothing else I’ve said, at least consider this – don’t open your email until you have taken the time to clearly document your top priorities. If you let email be a cancer, it will eat significant time out of your day. Manage your day properly and email is a great tool for efficient communication.
I don’t care where you work – successful execution requires you to take control of your day-to-day activities. If you take the time to care about where you’re heading tomorrow, you will increase your ability to hit the long-term goals your team has painstakingly developed.
Remember, creating a long-term plan is worthless if you don’t plan to succeed tomorrow.
Go forth…be disciplined, be purposeful, Be Amazing.