Gung Ho Blog

3 Tried-and-True Business Tactics to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

I’ll be honest: I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions. In Scotland, where I’m from, our New Year’s tradition is to clean the house so you’re ready for the next year, and I still try to do that (although my wife might argue that I’m slipping). But I have been hearing from a lot of friends lately about their own resolutions, which got me thinking about why these commitments so often fail, and whether there might be a business-minded solution there.

I think I’ve come up with something.

1. Stop being ruled by the calendar.

The calendar is the most inefficient way to manage your time. Here’s why: What’s due this week or this month may not be the highest-priority item on your list. Organizing your to-do list by priority first ensures that you’re always on top of what’s truly important to you. If your resolution is to work out at least three times a week, instead of slotting that workout into dates plucked at random, hoping that every week will go perfectly (you know it won’t — and the first thing to get chucked will be your workout), put that rendezvous with the gym on your priority list, and make it happen.

2. Remember that it’s more about time management than commitment.

The reason most resolutions fail isn’t because people are weak willed so much as the fact that most people aren’t great at time management. That’s probably why whatever they’ve resolved to do isn’t getting done in the first place.

So, think about your time realistically. Continuing with the workout example, do you find it easier to squeeze things into your mornings or evenings? And, if the answer is “evenings,” will you actually have the energy to work out then, or are you likely to be burnt out from work and just say forget it?

People set themselves up for failure all the time, simply by scheduling things at inconvenient times. Really look at where you might be able to make time — is lunchtime an option? Is there a task you can put off for a while so you can build up a routine around your workouts? Can you get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later without losing much?

3. Quit separating work and ‘life. ‘

I should probably have made this No. 1 because I think it’s one of the most important things. Here’s what happens in most people’s lives: You’ve got a “work” to-do list and/or calendar, and a “life” version. You consult your work list daily and generally stay on top of it. Your life list, on the other hand? Mostly you just look at it when you’re adding yet another task that’s bound to be ignored for weeks.

But you have only one life, so you should have only one list. Otherwise, your work tasks will almost always take precedence and your life management will suffer. My priority list is a mix of business and personal items, and while it’s still heavily weighted toward work, the important life stuff is on there and getting done a whole lot more efficiently than it was when it was off in the life-list ghetto.

5 Ways to Get Your Home Running as Smoothly as Your Business

I spend a lot of time thinking about all the ways that successful business strategies can be applied to other areas of our lives and recently — thanks to the arrival of my second son — had occasion to apply those strategies at home. Here are five things that helped get our chaotic household running efficiently.

1. Use data, not your gut.

Most people (and small business owners for that matter) will proudly say that they follow their gut on major decisions. And that’s generally a good thing. But, did you know that the world’s top CEOs are actually trained precisely not to follow their gut? They’re taught instead to manage with data and that’s a good lesson in the home, too. Case in point: it’s easy for both moms and dads to feel like they’re the ones doing the bulk of the childcare or chores, or feeling like the other person doesn’t know all they do. Capturing those tasks on a shared list not only ensures everything gets done but also gives your partner visibility into everything you’re doing and vice versa.

2. Don’t rely too heavily on the calendar — prioritize!

Our days are often driven by the calendar but that means only the most pressing, not the most important, things get done each day. Instead of letting the calendar rule the roost, set priorities for yourself. We do this using an app, and it’s great to set not just monthly or ongoing priorities, but also daily ones: what are the three things I absolutely have to get done today? This helps ensure the important stuff gets done and also lets you off a hook a bit for not conquering your entire to-do list.

3. Use pictures.

In Lean Management we always try to use images to convey a message because the brain processes images faster than text. Images are especially useful in a workplace with international clients or coworkers whose command of a given language can vary. For our household, it’s a way of communicating with our toddler, and it’s working like a charm.

4. Daily Management.

Daily management is a lean tool that encourages a daily stand up at a whiteboard to talk about what needs to get done. It keeps everyone on the same page and helps keep progress going since it’s daily. Software developers adopted this concept more recently, and may refer to it as kanban boards, daily scrum, or agile development but it’s basically the same thing. My wife and I do the same thing with our schedule board so we know from one week to the next who’s got a meeting coming up, what childcare we’ve got scheduled, any unusual events happening, etc.

5. Get the whole family involved.

Getting everyone involved is a key part of this, so it’s not just one person’s job to keep the household schedule; everyone knows what’s happening and everyone takes responsibility. Just like team projects in an office setting, making sure that each person feels shared ownership is vital to getting 100 percent effort from everyone.


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3 Proven Strategies for Running a Great Business that Will Also Work in Your Personal Life

Even some of the most savvy business people I know often check their management smarts at the door when it comes to their personal lives. But while it may sound hopelessly practical and boring (hey, I’m an engineer after all), there’s quite a bit that good business management can teach us about optimizing our lives, too.

Following are three ways to apply the same strategies that have made companies like General Electric, Toyota and Siemens great to improve your life outside of work.

1. Continuous Improvement
The great Taiichi Ohno, a Japanese professor and businessman, and the father of “The Toyota Way” and Lean Manufacturing, once said, “The greatest problem is having no problems at all.”

At its root, Continuous Improvement is all about accepting that you will fail and striving for success, anyway. It uses failure as a learning experience to move on from, rather than letting it derail you. It’s not an unfamiliar idea outside of Japan. Plenty of Western business cliches can be traced back to it: “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” for example. Or, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Related: Fight Overthinking, That Destroyer of Decision Making

Here’s how to go from the platitudes to a process that actually benefits your life:

First, set yourself a big, seemingly unattainable goal. People often limit themselves, right out of the gate, by setting only what they see as achievable goals. Get out of that mindset and really go for something you’ve always dreamed of. It might take you years to get there. Heck, you may never reach it, but I guarantee you, every day in the process of moving closer to it your life will improve exponentially.

Figure out your immediate first three steps to move you toward that goal. Then be brave and take those steps. If those steps successfully move you forward, great. Move on to the next three steps. If you fail, treat it as a learning exercise. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and then try again. Maybe you need to adjust your steps to focus on smaller tasks that will move you forward. Keep trying until you succeed, then move on.

Don’t get hung up on a bad day or even a stretch of several bad days. Just take it as a learning experience. Even when the obstacle blocking your path seems beyond your control, think about how you can change or adapt or somehow work around those obstacles. If you can’t take it head-on, how do you get around it?

Focus on your day-by-day progress. Get better each day and know that, over time, those incremental improvements move you closer to your ultimate goal. If you set a goal and accept that you’ll fail sometimes, and just learn every day, you can feel successful on a daily basis even though you’re nowhere close to your ultimate goal.

2. Turn one overwhelming project into several simple tasks
The most successful companies approach major transitions or initiatives by distilling what needs to be done down to several distinct tasks. This approach is just as effective when you’re facing an overwhelming project in your personal life, as well.

First, divide the task at hand into several smaller tasks. If there are items on that list that you know exactly how to tackle, do them first. Then, if you’re not sure how to proceed past a certain point, try to establish tasks that will enable you to figure out what to do next. If you need to renovate your kitchen, for example, and you don’t know where to begin, then your first task is go talk to a contractor or go to Home Depot and look around.

Related: The 5 Pitfalls of Decision-Making, and How to Avoid Them

If you’re feeling really overwhelmed, don’t wait until you’ve figured out every detail. Just start. This approach can be particularly helpful for big life changes that have an emotional or stressful undercurrent to them. If you’re expecting your first child, for example, it can seem completely impossible to imagine all the things you’ll need to be prepared for, and to organize and accomplish all of them. Breaking it down into small, practical tasks can remove some of the panic, helping you not only to get everything done, but also to feel a little less stressed in the meantime.

3. Data-based decision-making
The best companies decide things like whether to focus on growth or cost-cutting on actual data, not just the arbitrary decision of whoever seems like the smartest person in the conference room. Taking a similar approach to life decisions can really help to not only guide you to the right choices for your life, but also to remove some of the emotion and stress that often cloud big life decisions.

How you feel about things is an important data point but combining that with other information tends to improve decision-making. I’m not just talking about basic data points from a quantified self app, like how well you’re sleeping or how much exercise you’re getting. Although those things can be helpful, I’m talking more about gathering a variety of data points until you have enough information to make an educated decision.

If you’re thinking about buying a house, for example, there may be emotional components to it — you’re tired of renting, you want to set up a home, you just like the idea of owning a house. Those are all valid data points, but most people could benefit from adding things like housing trends, market fluctuations, interest rates, historical data and neighborhood news like whether there’s a new development breaking ground soon or the school district is about to be redrawn.

A big decision people grapple with is whether or not to leave a job. A more objective approach to your subjective feelings about your job can help you work through that question. Set a baseline – ask yourself how satisfied you are with your work, how many hours you spend working, how much you like your boss, how likely your job is to help you meet your long-term goals. Track those feelings over the course of one to three months.

Look also at more objective data like your cost of living, what sort of salary you need to live and how likely you’d be to find another job should you leave this one. You could even take one of a handful of self-administered workplace happiness surveys (this one was developed by the Zappos folks, and these were developed by famed psychologist and Flourish author Martin Seligman).

Armed with that data you’ll be able to make a decision that not only makes logical sense, but also makes you feel good.


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