The Organized Photo Retailer

The Organized Photo Retailer

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Paul Schneiderman, like most photo industry business owners today, often finds himself with more tasks than time. He’s the first one at his store, MotoPhoto & Portrait Studio in Stamford, Connecticut, and the last one to leave. The days are filled with customers, projects, invoices and employee management, and by the end of the day, Paul finds he still has things on his mental to-do list that haven’t been addressed. “It can be frustrating,” he offers. “I’ve got a lot to do but not everything gets done.”

Paul’s predicament is so common as to border on cliché. This doesn’t change the fact that this familiar quandary can affect a store’s bottom line. If you find yourself walking in similar shoes, we’re here to offer you some strategies you can begin using immediately. A combination of old school tactics and leveraging today’s technology can help you tame your to-do list—and more important—make sure the most important things actually make it on that list in the first place.

Do You Know What You Want?

Most people have a general idea of what they want. “I want to stop feeling stressed,” they may lament, or “I want to make more money.” While both desires are completely valid, it’s critical to quantify what these statements entail and how to clarify specific needs.

The old adage, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there,” applies to many of us juggling multiple business demands today. We tend to bounce from one request to the next without any clear idea of how our time should be best spent and thereby creating barriers so that our most important tasks are never completed. For example, Schneiderman concedes that he has a hard time starting and executing his marketing projects, “and I’m a marketing major!” he adds. Here is someone who has some very valuable and specific marketing skills who isn’t in a position to leverage that experience and convert it into completed projects that create revenue. His time needs to be best spent using his talents; everything else needs to be transferred to an employee who can handle less critical tasks.

So, if you want to get better organized, it begins with clearly identifying the specific challenges so you can create an action plan. In Schneiderman’s case, one of his biggest challenges is keeping current with invoicing. “I always plan on spending a half hour at six o’clock when the store closes on this task,” he explains, “but I’m so tired from the day that it often doesn’t get done. I feel behind on it, and invoicing is very important to my business.”

In speaking with Paul, it became clear that he had an ongoing challenge. He also had a system that wasn’t serving him as it should. Handling something as important as invoicing at the end of a busy work day wasn’t working. It was time to try a new approach.

Tame Your E-mail

This one tip alone can turn a day of wheel spinning into a day of task-mastering. Never Check E-Mail in the Morning (Fireside, ISBN-13: 978-0743250887), written by New York Times Bestselling Author Julie Morgenstern, gives us some fantastic advice right in the title. Handling e-mail the first thing in the morning is one of the fastest ways to derail your day and substitute others’ priorities for your own. Your day should begin by handling the most pressing issue of the day. Once that issue is complete, it can create positive momentum for the rest of the day, allowing you to continue down the productivity path. For Schneiderman, completing his invoices proved to be a difficult task so he decided to change his approach. Instead of leaving invoicing as an end-of-the-day task that loomed large, he decided to come into the store an extra 30 minutes early to handle invoicing when his mind was still fresh and he was free from other daily demands. No morning e-mail for Paul—invoicing first then the other tasks can follow.

Another important issue regarding e-mail is to only read it once or twice a day, and never read e-mail if you can’t address the issue at that moment. How many times have you filled your brain with random e-mail requests and tasks by reading the communications but not giving yourself enough time to address them? In the future, sit down once or twice a day and handle email in blocks of time. Some of the most effective CEOs in the country check e-mail only once per day. It seems they’re on to something.

Start Your Day the Night Before

Many of us start each day the same way—we hit the ground running, coffee in hand, and begin our daily trek through e-mail and employee requests. By taking 30 minutes the evening before to organize your day, you’ll be much further ahead in your daily task list and be able to use that saved time to further other projects. For example, if you need to return three phone calls and check with a vendor about a shipment, make sure you have all the phone numbers and the vendor’s information (including issue and other relevant facts) all in one place the night before. You can enter the information in your planner or in your online calendar (such as Microsoft Outlook), but make sure it’s where you can get to it first thing in the morning. You might give yourself whiplash by knocking out these tasks so fast!

Creating Systems and Processes

Being able to clearly identify specific systems and processes can add tremendous benefit to your business. For example, do you find you have to re-learn certain tasks because you don’t do them every day? Maybe working on your new email newsletter, linking YouTube videos to your blog or adding autoresponders in your online shopping cart? If so, create a page for each process and write down every step, including login information, password, and steps taken to complete the project. Having these things documented will help you finish these tasks faster in the future, will help you teach others to take over these tasks and will eliminate the mental barrier so you actually tackle the task in the first place.

Leveraging Technology, Leveraging Time

Does technology serve you or do you find yourself bending to its will? Sometimes technology isn’t always the best solution. For example, you might lose three days in e-mail responses trying to clarify a point when a simple ten minute phone call would close the issue. On the flip side, we don’t always use technology to its full potential. For example, many people have online shopping carts for their Web sites but don’t use autoresponders or don’t use them well. By creating three or four autoresponders for customers that include extra tips, bonuses or incentives to purchase more, the time spent just writing these messages one time will be effectively utilized in every online customer order. These autoresponders can help you keep connected with your customer, but in order to be effective, they must be leveraged.

Sites such as lifehacker.com, davidco.com (David Allen, author and creator of Getting Things Done) and 43folders.com provide productivity ‘hacks,’ or shortcuts, designed to help people in all aspects of their personal and professional lives. Remember that any resource is one that you should approach as you would a buffet…take what works for you and forget the rest.

Know What to Ignore

This tip is a personal favorite. Not everything that is on your to-do list deserves to be there. It is there at the expense of something else. Just because someone asks you to do something doesn’t mean it automatically becomes your task. Did your manager give you a task that he really should handle himself? Have you been fielding requests for projects and are worried about saying no? If the task isn’t critical to your business, community goodwill or employee/customer relationship, nix the task immediately.

Remember that your time and expertise are two of your most important assets. How you spend them will determine how your business grows this year so treat your waking hours as the valuable resource they are by re-designing your workday so it actually works for you. Carpe diem! yy

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