Are your New Year resolutions SMART?

SMART goals improve your odds of success

It’s that time of year again!  The beginning of any period is an opportunity for renewal, but somehow nothing gets our juices going quite like the new yearMany people will make resolutions, but the real question is – will they be successful, or will “resolutionary fervor” dissipate in early February?

A strategy I’ve used is taken straight from the business world – setting SMART goals.  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound goals tend to be completed, and the SMART structure allows you to quickly put together a draft and track your progress.  Let’s take a quick look at the elements.

  • Specific.  The goal is not “squishy” – it is very focused.
  • Measurable.  The goal can be quantified and progress tracked.
  • Achievable.  The goal can be done – it is not beyond the capability of the individual.  This is important, since it improves stickiness.  If the individual doesn’t believe it can happen, they will quit before they get started.
  • Relevant.  The goal has connection to the individual.
  • Timebound.  There is a start and stop period.  This aids in measurement, too.

Let’s take a typical example from this time of the year – improving your health by losing weight.  Using the SMART format, it might look like this:  “I will lose 15 pounds by the end of May.”

  • Is it Specific?  Yes – losing pounds/weight.
  • Is it Measurable?  Yes – we’ve called the number of pounds at 15.
  • Is it Achievable?  Yes – for a person over 150 pounds, it is less than 10% of their body weight.
  • Is it Relevant?  Yes – it connects to health, and there are subroutines that can be built (exercise, eating, etc.) to support it.
  • Is it Timebound?  Yes – by end of May gives us 5 months to complete the task.

This is a simple example of using the SMART structure to set and achieve goals. To make it even more “sticky” and improve the odds of success, share your goal with an accountability partner who can help you track against it.

Do you have others?  What’s your top goal for 2016?

Ways to work to start the new year

A strategy to get the most of your day

Time is the great equalizer. No matter how wealthy you are, or whether The Man is keeping you down – each one of us is granted the same amount of time in a day as Edison, Einstein, Sun Tzu or Martin Luther King, Jr.

The urge to stretch that time, and get more out of it, is the basis of a billion dollar industry. I’m simply amazed at the number of time management systems and strategies there are out there. Many are great – the FranklinCovey system & Getting Things Done by David Allen are perennial favorites – and all offer the promise of “pack more into your busy day.”

An often overlooked component, though, is the concept of personal and mental energy. A great, though dated, book on this is The Corporate Athlete. By being “in training,” the author reasons, you can keep your body in peak condition to handle the day to day stresses of the workplace.

But – how can these two concepts come together? Being a quantitatively driven guy, I always remember the equation:

Productivity = time + energy

Every day – whether at work, school or home – is an opportunity to “get things done.” Defining what needs to be done is another story…so let’s unpack the time and energy components.

Time. Though many complain “there simply isn’t enough” – there is. Remember the Edison observation, above? Focus on the important, and the urgent, and delegate everything else. One trick I use to keep myself on track is my calendar. If it is on my to-do list, I schedule time on the calendar to tackle it. Simple, and it reinforces itself…I’ve found that when I don’t, that important project becomes an urgent fire, simply because I didn’t handle it earlier in the week.

Energy. There is a body of work around being active and mobile to keep the body engaged and the mind refreshed. Whether it is as simple as the “standing” 10 minute meeting that Lencioni writes about, simply taking a walk every day in the morning or after dinner, or scheduling (and completing) workouts 3-5 times a week in the gym – move. Additionally, watch what you eat, and when. I’m not a dietician, and I don’t “play one on TV,” but I can definitely tell the performance difference when I’ve eaten a good breakfast. With the rise of Fitbit and other biometric monitors, it’s easy to keep track of your activity level. Make this a focus, and invest in yourself.

How does this show up for me? With few exceptions, I start my day at 5 AM with a workout of some sort (even if it is just a walk) while listening to a podcast or a “book on tape,” eat a good breakfast and then begin the commute. I do the hardest things of the day first – before 11 AM – when my calendar and my energy levels are at their best. I wrap up the day with the commute home, while doing conference calls with friends and colleagues in other time zones. In bed between 9 and 10 PM. Every chance I get, I walk around the office – keeps me connected to my colleagues, enables me to get some activity in, and opens up my brain.

Even though I travel frequently, if I don’t keep some kind of physical activity and watch what I eat & when, combined with leveraging my calendar to get tasks done – I can feel it in the workplace.

What about you? Do you have a life hack like this that enables you to get more done, and feel good about it? If not – try this for a couple weeks and see if it works for you. You have nothing to lose.

Working with the VA

They are not the inefficient bureaucrats you hear about

You don’t often hear this about a government agency, and the Veteran’s Administration in particular – but I’m impressed.

I submitted my business for certification as a Veteran-owned small business…and was contacted the next business day by the VA, asking for clarification on a form.

Pleasant, quick and effective.  I was surprised.

I’ve had two exchanges this week so far.  The only complaint is – though the VA case manager will call you and leave a voicemail, to return the call you have to go through a main switchboard after a phone tree.  And they only leave their first name.  That’s the only piece of bureaucratic weirdness I’ve encountered so far.

Again, I’m impressed so far.  I’ll keep you advised as I journey forward.

Merry Christmas, and let me know if you’ve been surprised by good service from a bureaucracy.

Conquering fear and ambiguity at work

Communicate, but don't be needy

Let’s face it. We all work for someone. Whether it’s your “boss”, the board, The Man…we all report to someone else. And we don’t know what they think of us, or whether they know what we do every day.

That’s what creates ambiguity, dampens productivity and can generate fear.

How do you deal with it? When you’re unsure of where you stand? Here are a few tips:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Whether it is a weekly email of accomplishments, or a daily 3 minute conversation on what is going on in the business or the project – do it. If your supervisor is a walk around type, use that “drive by” time to do the 3 minute drill on what’s going on. And for heaven’s sake, if there is bad news – get it to your supervisor as quick as you can. Bad news doesn’t age well. Just don’t be needy.
  • Have a career plan. Unlike the 1950’s, or the government, odds are you will not work for the same company, doing the same thing, your entire working life. If you work in a corporate environment, you’re familiar with the annual budget and business plan. What about having one for you? If you know where you are going, and actively work towards that goal, it can give you inner peace – since you are working your plan, and not worrying so much about the day-to-day ambiguity that your supervisor, or company, may be generating.
  • Find a mentor. This doesn’t mean enroll in the company program, or appear needy and tell your supervisor that you need a mentor – I mean, look around your company, the local community or social media and find a role model. With today’s technology, you can strike up a conversation with nearly anyone…or follow them on CNBC, WSJ, or industry press.

It’s all about having a plan, working the plan, and growing and developing yourself. If you are working your plan and communicating your good work to your supervisor, you don’t need to worry so much about the ambiguity and short sightedness of your company, your supervisor…or, if you are unfortunate enough to have one – The Boss.

Ultimately, no one is responsible for you – other than you. Go get it! I’m cheering for you!

Veteran Owned and Minority Owned Business verification

As I set up as a vendor with my first client, I was asked if I qualified for a number of different categories. As I looked at the long list, I did qualify – as a veteran owned and minority owned business.

Why would you “check the box?”  Upon researching it further, it became pretty clear:

  1. There are government set-asides for these classifications
  2. Corporate entities want to do business with other companies that carry these certifications
  3. There are support opportunities, like networking, mentoring and lead generation, through the VA, small business administration and other groups

Checking out the requirements, it looked like a daunting list. Here’s what I found:

  • For veteran owned businesses, as a start up, you need:
    • To own at least 51% of the business, and run it
    • Incorporation documents (if you are one – I’m a corporation, and the documents were sent by the state Secretary of State)
    • Resume for principals (that means you)
    • A DUNS number (it’s a database, takes 5 minutes to fill out the form, and they promise turnaround in 1 business day)
    • An EIN or your social security/taxpayer ID number
    • Be in the VA database – they refer to it as BIRLS – if you’ve registered for VA benefits at any time, you’re in it.  I also think it is part of your outprocessing.
    • At least 60 days to process
    • There were counseling services and pre-application information available.  I checked out the pre-application resources – very helpful.
    • It’s free
  • For minority owned business certification, you need:
    • To own at least 51% of the business, and run it
    • Many of the above documents
    • Business cards of the principals of the organization, with titles
    • At least 90 days to process, and there is a periodic recertification
    • There’s a fee, but I haven’t gotten that far in the process yet

As I continue down the path, I’ll post my progress.  Right now, I’m waiting for my DUNS number, and then I’ll start the VA process.

UPDATE:  I got my DUNS number in 8 hours.  Emailed to me overnight.  Fantastic.

Have you gone through this process?  Any tips, or tricks?