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I’ve read a number of blogs and articles recently about how successful people start their day or the habits they follow.  As I reflected on the insights in those articles, two things became apparent.

First, people want to implement simple changes to make them more productive.

Second, helping businesses improve their processes is enhanced by helping individuals make the most of their time.

In light of those “aha moments” here are some easy-to-follow habits to help you use your time well.  Not everything will work for everyone, so try them and see what works for you.  The important takeaway is for you to feel more organized, in control, and less stressed by adjusting your routine.

Take control of your email.

  • Don’t leave messages unread when you leave for the day. Otherwise you are starting off the next day already behind.
  • Respond, file, or delete email when you read it the first time. If you need to take action later, flag it or leave it in your inbox.
  • Create rules for emails you receive on a regular basis, especially ones that are informational only. Let your email client help you keep the important ones front and center.
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists you no longer value to eliminate clutter.

Start your day right.

  • Check your email first thing in the morning when you get up. Reply to the ones needed and send any new messages on items that are on your mind.
  • After your morning check-in is over, get some exercise and eat a good breakfast.

Build a routine and eliminate unnecessary decisions.

  • Eat the same thing each morning or prepare breakfast in advance the night before.
  • Pack your bag for the gym the night before.
  • Put the items you need for the day together so you can grab them all at once as you head out the door and not have to track things down (or forget them altogether).
  • Take a 5- or 10-minute break in the morning and afternoon to walk around. Getting away from your desk helps clear your mind re-energizes your body.
  • Keep a To Do list and mark off items as you complete them.
  • Give yourself deadlines.
  • Periodically clean your desk by throwing out or filing items that have accumulated.
  • Put time on your calendar to reflect on your business or job and what you need to do to make it more valuable or profitable.

These may be the two most important – and least-asked – questions.  “Why?” makes you think about purpose.  “Why not?” opens you up to new possibilities.

Let’s start with why. The answer to this question identifies the reason behind a decision or an action.   It is purpose.  Motivation.

If you are making sound decision, your why for anything you do is based on your values, your passion, and your goals.  A trifecta of motivation.  The reason for doing something is due to your strong belief that it is right and good to do based on what is important to you, and it helps you reach an objective or milestone.

In business, why has huge implications.  Every action your team performs, every product or service you sell, and every decision you make should move you toward your goals and be in line with your values and purpose.  If not, you are wasting both time and resources.  Can you afford to do something simply because you’ve always done it that way without considering a new approach?  Should you even be doing it at all?

Of course, to answer these questions you must know your purpose, values, and goals.  Not in some vague way but with specificity and clarity.  If you can’t do that, this is your starting point.

Let’s move to why not.  Asking this question forces you to consider new ways of doing things.  It gives you freedom to think of alternatives, to try new methods, to reinvigorate your team, to reach your goals faster.  It helps you stay relevant.  It allows you to dream and try new things.

Why not keeps you from becoming stagnant, stuck in the same place.  Markets, customers, technology, and trends are always changing, and your business must adapt.  You must find new ways to be more efficient and effective.  You must reach new customers.  You must stretch yourself and your team.

Author Louise Penny says, “Life is change.  If you aren’t growing and evolving, you’re standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead.”  Asking “why not?” can be scary but it is necessary.

When you do consider new options, your why and your why not must be in alignment and compliment each other.  In other words, your new possibilities should reflect your passion and goals.

I encourage you to take the time to reflect on your why and consider your why not.

The calendar has flipped to a new year, and that means one thing: businesses and individuals have set goals and made resolutions, all with good intentions. But good intentions alone won’t get you to your goals.

People innately want something to strive for, something to make us stretch and grow, something to make us better, something to let us know we won, that we achieved something. However, all too often we don’t set ourselves or our businesses up for success.

You can change that this year. And it all depends on what you do first. We usually don’t fail because the goal is unachievable or too big; we fail because we don’t plan well.

Yes, like many things, your preparation is key to reaching your goals. No doubt it will take hard work and perseverance, but you won’t reach the point where hard work and perseverance matter if you don’t start off right.

So what steps can we take to improve our chances for this year being the year we hit our goals?

First of all, set a goal and make sure everyone on your team knows what it is. You may be thinking to yourself that this is basic and we should be beyond it. But check yourself before moving on. Can your team clearly articulate what your goal is for 2017? Do they know what their individual contribution toward achieving the goal should be? If the answer to these two questions are “no”, then one of two things happened: you didn’t set a goal or you didn’t communicate it well.

Ask yourself if your goal is clear and not some vague idea or mushy feel good statement. You can use the SMART goal approach as a guide. SMART goals are commonly defined as those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. There are resources you can find online to dig into that topic if you need a more detailed explanation.

Once you have a clear goal, make sure you have communicated it clearly to your team (even if your team consists only of your significant other and their only role is to cheer you on and hold you accountable). The most experienced manager can’t help you hit your goal if they don’t know what it is.

Second, create a plan that moves you toward your goal. We’ve all heard “hope is not a strategy” and it is not. If you want to reach a goal or destination of any kind, you have to know how you are going to get there. Write down specific actions you will take to achieve your goal and then do them.

Next, make sure you have the resources to achieve your goal, and make sure your resources are focused on the goal. Your goal is important or you wouldn’t have committed yourself to it. If it is important, make sure you invest the effort and money it deserves. Do you need different tools or software? Do you need to change your processes? Do you need to learn a new skill or hire people who have experience in certain areas? Like a car with no fuel, a goal with no resources is going nowhere.

Finally, report on your progress. Reaching a goal of any worth is a journey; you won’t do it in a day. (If you do, your goal wasn’t significant enough.) You and your team both want to know if you are winning the game. Celebrate your progress as you move closer to hitting your goal and hold yourself and your team accountable when you don’t.

Taking all these steps won’t guarantee you will hit your target – very few things are certain in life. You can be certain though that there are things you can do to make this the year you make progress toward your goals.