December 29, 2011

Pancake Session: Creating Systems that Stick

“Unhappy with Now? You can choose to be better or wallow in worse.” -Carrie Wilkerson, the Barefoot Executive

I saw this quote a couple days ago from Carrie Wilkerson, the Barefoot Executive. Carrie is a very inspiring small business strategist, and she also happens to be from Texas. So the advice she gives tends to be really no-nonsense, straight-shooting, and just has this way of cutting right to the heart of the matter. And then shaking you to your very core. In the absolute best way possible. :) “You don’t like where you are? Good, then go do something about it.” And I LOVE that about her.

As the year winds down I know a lot of us are turning our attention to what 2011 brought us, and what we want to be & do better in 2012. We talked quite a bit in our J&M LIVE chat about “what worked, what didn’t & what’s next.” But goals, resolutions, bucket lists, 101 in 1001….whatever you call it, this is the time of year for hope. To celebrate the closing of one year and to look forward to the next with what Oprah called “another chance for us to get it right.” I love that. The prospect of a blank slate for us to keep doing more of what worked and to set about to fix what didn’t. To choose to be better rather than continuing in worse.

For the rest of this week and into the new year as you think about what you want to change in 2012, I’m going to challenge each of us (myself included) to not merely hope that things get better, but to use this time to actually set about creating and writing out the workflows & systems that will cause them to be. Better. Stronger. Faster. Freer. More Remarkable. Because hope is a great thing….but it only carries us so far. And our dreams will only work if we do.

So in the interest of getting things started, we’ve put together our top 7 tips for Creating Systems that Stick. In the hope that 2012 is the best year yet. For all of us.

1. Look for the bottlenecks.
Maybe one of the hardest parts of creating systems in your business or life, is just figuring out what needs a system in the first place. And the more we’ve been implementing systems in our lives, the more I can tell you the answer is pretty much everything. But where do you even get started? To figure that out, I want you to take a look at your business and your life and ask yourself: where are the bottlenecks? Where do things tend to get backed up time after time? These are your problem areas. For us personally, that tends to be laundry and meal planning. We always have way too much laundry and never enough food. :) And in our business this year it was data transfer. A major bottleneck for us was just in the time it took putting things on to drives or burning discs. And from the constant wear & tear, the problem was compounded when our computers, drobo & disc drives all slowed way down. But now that we’ve identified it, we can do something about it.

2. Eliminate.
The very next step should be to ask yourself if this bottleneck or problem area is something you should even be doing in the first place. Is it actually moving you or your business forward? Is it necessary? Or is it just something that you’ve always done & continue doing out of habit. Use this time to eliminate outdated or inefficient steps. For us, this is going to mean upgrading to drives with thunderbolt connections for the fastest data transfer and eliminating discs (replacing them with customized flash drives and PASS). Maybe for you it’s eliminating the proof book step when the online proofing works just fine. Or narrowing your four part wedding posts down to just one of only your very best stuff. Whatever it is, commit that this will be the year where you only take steps that move you forward.

3. Automate.
Once you’ve eliminated all the bottlenecks that aren’t even really necessary or helpful to your life or business, now look to the ones that can be automated. Yes, they still need to be done but do you need to be the one doing them? A prime example of this for us is using Shoot Q to send out our info sheet one month before the wedding. This is an absolutely necessary step that has been so great for our business and serving our clients on the wedding day, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be the one physically sending the email every time. Shoot Q gives me the capability to input that questionnaire and it will schedule & send it out for me. Amazing! :) Going along with automation is of course outsourcing. Yes it needs to be done, but does it need to be done by you? Is that actually the best use of your talents? If it’s not then it’s a waste of your best resources. Commit to only keep the things you absolutely love doing (for me, blogging) or absolutely have to be there for (like for us, shooting).

4. Write it out.
Now that you’ve determined whether you’re going to keep it or hand it off to someone else, either way create a workflow and write it out. It sounds really silly, but we have a workflow for how our prints get packaged up and sent out. Brown box, tissue paper in, prints, tissue paper sealed, card added, box sealed, teal ribbon tied slightly off center, white uline envelope, sealed with J&M packaging tape, J&M shipping label on the front. It’s completely OCD, but it allows us to hand off that area of our workflow and still ensure that our level of attention and standard for our brand is being represented. Even for the things we keep like blogging wedding images, there is a very clear protocol that we follow every time. And having such a specific sequence of events allows us to look for micro bottlenecks within our workflows. So that, for example, we could discover that by merely replacing Bridge with Photo Mechanic we could shave three hours off every job. Whether it’s your grocery list or your album workflow, write it out and have a way to track it.

5. Bundle
Now look for ways you can bundle tasks. We, for example, don’t make a run to the post office every time we have a package to go out. Instead, we create a mail pile and have one big mail run once or twice a week. But we now know we need to apply that same logic to our grocery shopping. We tend to get very overwhelmed in the store trying to put meals together on the fly, so we’ll just buy enough to get us through the next day or two and then we’re right back in the store with the same problem a few days later. Or worse yet, we get discouraged by the empty refrigerator and end up spending massive amounts of money eating out all the time. That’s a major bottleneck for us, so we know we need to write it out (meal plan for the week and come prepared with a written list) and bundle (shop once for the whole week rather than making a bunch of smaller runs).

6. Make it easy on yourself.
Remove as many barriers to success as possible. If, for example, one of your goals for being better in 2012 is getting fit but you’ve always struggled with getting started, maybe you don’t want to sign up for a gym twenty minutes away. I’m just speaking from personal experience here. For about a year we had a fancy gym membership that was costing us $70 a month for the two of us, but it was twenty minutes away. And there was a starbucks in between. :) It was basically the most expensive cup of coffee. Ever. Because we never made it farther than that. So we ditched the membership, and I instead invested in a treadmill that sits right beside my desk staring me in the face every day. Forcing me to do something about it. Now I know the treadmill isn’t for everyone, but the point is just to remove as many steps as possible that tend to get you off track.

7. Make time for it.
The final tip is to carve out specific, focused time for each thing you want to work on. When I go into a day flying by the seat of my pants, I am chaotic, scattered, and I get very little done. On the other hand, when I spend just five minutes the night before writing out specific tasks for the next day and designating time to work on them, I get about ten times as much done and I end the day feeling like I’m getting it right. This is what Stephen Covey calls “Quadrant II” planning. Only he recommends that you do it for an entire week at a time. And I couldn’t agree more. Set aside one morning or evening a week to do your grocery shopping. Know that every morning at this time you’ll work out. Plan that if you shoot a wedding on Saturday, you will have Sunday off to rest, manage your life on Monday, edit on Tuesday and blog it on Wednesday. If you want to start working on that personal project, carve out two hours on Thursday afternoon and devote all of your focus to that. The point is, when you carve out specific time for your to-do’s not only does it all get done….but you actually find yourself with free time to just dream and breathe and be.

And that sounds like a whole lot of Better. Stronger. Faster. Freer. More Remarkable to me! Cheer to 2012!

PS: If one of the things you want to make better in 2012 is your branding, I wanted to let you know about the branding workshop we’re going to be putting on at our place in CT on January 14, 2012. It’s called the J&M Brand Camp, and basically it’s a one day intensive for anybody struggling with finding their brand & anyone who wants to make 2012 the year they finally create a brand that feels like THEM. We’ll start off the day talking about what real “brand power” is and how to put that to work in your own business. Then we’ll work with every single attendee one on one on honing your personal brand and evaluating/ giving feed back on your online presence & portfolio. The seats will be very limited to make sure each attendee gets as much personal attention as possible & leaves with a clear cut next action plan for putting that brand into place. If you want to sign up, just fill out the shopping cart below. We will be taking a few out of town attendees who can Skype into the workshop. But hurry, there are just a few seats left to grab!

  1. Angelesa Urban

    Totally bookmarking this post! Thank you!

  2. Tiffany

    Brilliant as always. And I definitely laughed out loud at never making it past Starbucks because that is so me. love it. :)

  3. Stephanie Stewart

    Juuuust the push I needed this time of year! I’ve been slowly creating systems this past year, but they can always use some tweaking, and I’ve come to the conclusion several times that I definitely need to outsource. Editing a wedding is a major bottleneck for me! I’m going to sit down in the next few days to iron out my 2012 plan! And I’m excited about it now, thanks to you!

  4. Christa

    I actually just started doing a similar weekly schedule just last night for the new year. Tying in business workflow with family time and personal time.
    I LOVE meal plans and grocery shopping…I know I’m weird like that :)

  5. Rupa

    Great stuff as always! I am shocked as to the difference a year has made for me since coming to your workshop this past spring to really digging into how I want to run my business but then focusing on it and doing it! One thing I did do since I also had issues with meal planning and we were either eating out too much or spending too much ‘cuase it was always on the fly like you said, is I subscribed to E-Mealz – so affordable that I couldn’t afford NOT to do it! I still mess up sometimes and don’t plan but honestly, they make it so easy (a week’s meals and it includes recipes & grocery list & all!) that I need to get back on track with that as well! Anyway, just thought I’d share…hop you guys had a wonderful holiday!! xoxo

  6. Meridith

    This is a perfect post for me right now! I am struggling to find a balance working at home and I know I need to create schedules but I just haven’t done it yet so I find my self spending hours online or on FB getting nothing done work wise. I’m going to change all this in the new year! Thanks for posting these tips.

  7. Karen Bonar

    I couldn’t agree more! I’ve started to do this with household cleaning and meal planning/shopping. Gives me more time for fun, and for bizzzness. :)

  8. Emilia Jane

    Systems for the win! This is honestly how I am staying sane with my day job. I think it’s definitely setting me up to be successful once I go full time as well!!

  9. rich

    this post is full of so much we need to chew on! Whenever you guys share we learn so much! Thank you so so so much for being so open!

  10. Kathryn Denelle Stevens

    So well put, Mary! Thank you for sharing what you know! I am in the throws of "creating systems" (though I guess it’s never-ending) so this is exactly the list I needed to move forward in the process!

  11. Regina Marie

    Though I’m just really starting out, this is something I’m already working on for my business. I’m looking into how to streamline everything as much as possible so I can both provide good service AND do it with as little time investment as possible.

  12. Katelyn James

    First of all, I’ll admit sometimes I’m lazy and when I see long posts I decide to "jus read them later" and I did that with this post! GAH! I’m so glad I remembered to come back because who knew shootq could automate questionnaires?!!I should have known that, they automate everything else!!! haha This post was SO helpful. Not just for business systems but Michael and I struggle with the same FOOD issue! Thanks for this!!!

  13. Kirstie

    Thank you for writing this! Would you mind sharing where you are getting your personalized flash drives from and what is PASS?

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