Ten Tips to Help You Focus — And Get More Done

Last week, I contacted several late-blooming entrepreneurs and asked them to share time-management tips that help them run their business.  As the responses began arriving, it wasn’t long before a theme emerged.

Focus is king.

“Establish your goals and objectives and then focus like a laser on accomplishing them,” said Bill Cheeks of ABBA Associates, which conducts personal finance seminars. “I do not get confused or sidetracked.”

That’s easier said than done.  A client pops in. Your computer freezes. A big product order arrives suddenly. The overnight delivery guy needs a signature. Interruptions and the unexpected are inevitable for entrepreneurs.

And then there’s the never-ending list of tasks associated with running a business. “Trying to do too many things at once can scatter your focus and make you feel as if you’re just bouncing around, unsure of the best direction to take,” said Sharon Dillard of Get A Grip, a franchise company that refinishes kitchen countertops and bathtubs.

How can you maintain the focus needed to get things done?  Start by borrowing some ideas from people who know how.  Here are ten of their tips:

1) Limit your to-do list. “I keep lists of no more than 10 items and cross them off as they are finished,” said Licorice International’s Ardith Stuertz. Some people prefer lists that are even shorter.

2) Break down tasks. Sharon Dillard’s advice? Start with one major goal or project — then break it down into small, bite-size steps.

3) Get organized. Avoid the annoyance and distraction that comes from being unable to find things when you need them. “I take meeting notes and place them in separate folders – online and/or file folders for each client or project,” said Bruce Summers, a personal historian.

4) Plan in advance. “I’m a big believer that poor planning leads to poor performance,” said Patemm’s Grace Welch, whose company specializes in baby changing pads. Welch, a mother of four, also uses check lists and a white board to keep track of family activities.

5) Have a separate home office. Some home-based entrepreneurs can concentrate while working at a kitchen table or in another high-traffic area. If you aren’t one of them, take action.

6) Share your calendar. This is another tip that’s important for home-based operations. “Keeping my schedule known to everyone in the house helped tremendously in concentrating on my business tasks at hand and minimized interruptions,” said Mike Kane, owner of Michal Austin Kane Photography.

7) Prioritize. Elizabeth Erlandson, Ardith Stuertz’s business partner at Licorice International, sees this as an essential skill. “I don’t waste time on things that I am not good at or that others can do much better than I can,” she said.

8) Keep it simple. RetiredBrain’s Art Koff limits his use of tech-based time management tools even though he considers himself “very net literate and technically savvy” for an almost 80-year-old entrepreneur. But he does like to meet with his business partners via online meeting hosting sites, which streamline document sharing and save time.

9) Don’t procrastinate. Dreaded action items can be distractions when they’re hanging over your head. “Start with the hardest task on your to-do list,” advised serial tech entrepreneur Jim Kelly. “If you leave the hardest to the last, you’re sure to run out of time.”

10) Delegate fully. “Leaders want to give responsibility, not authority,” said SavvyRest’s Michael Penny. “I try to give both.” Ultimately, this increases focus because people don’t have to interrupt you to ask permission to do something.

Have other time management tips to add to this list?  Please feel free to share them below.

 

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A Couple’s Calling: Gourmet Marshmallow Treats

Judy Soldinger was a registered nurse. Her husband, Steve, worked in broadcasting for more than 40 years. Now the Portsmouth, Virginia couple is busy producing Crispycakes — soft and gooey marshmallow treats that are making their way into locations ranging from airports to book stores.

Last year, the Soldingers bought The Crispery, the company that makes Crispycakes. The handmade goodies come in more than 20 flavors, including mint chocolate chip, chocolate caramel and banana chip, and usually sell from $4 to $6 each. “One bite and you have entered the Crispery Zone of always soft, never hard and sticky,” says the Crispycakes website.

Judy is the owner. Steve is the president. They were among the late-blooming entrepreneurs featured in this PilotOnline.com article back in November. In it, Steve Soldinger mentions the accumulation of wisdom as a big plus of waiting to go into business. “I can size people up much easier now and not waste time with ineffective people,” he tells PilotOnline.

On the other hand, a later start means it’s more difficult to recover from a financial setback than at a younger age. “Every decision we make is more critical,” Soldinger says in the article.

The Soldingers have plans to “greatly expand” their business throughout the country. That means working 12-hour days and putting out brush fires constantly. But apparently they’re having a good time. Says Judy Soldinger, “We knew that this is what we had been looking for.”

 

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Learning from Entrepreneurs Who Have “Been There”

One way to test the waters of entrepreneurship is to talk with people who have started a business. Where better to get advice, technical help or a real-life perspective than from entrepreneurs who have lived through the startup process?

Social media provides plenty of opportunities to find entrepreneurial types who enjoy helping others. This week, I hosted an online interview about my book, Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40. The interview was for Yabbly, an “Ask Me Anything” site where readers can find interviewees of interest and ask them questions about, well, anything.

While interview hosts come from all walks of life, a large percentage of them are entrepreneurs, career changers or others connected to business. The interviews aren’t in real time but readers who ask questions usually get answers from the hosts within a few hours.

Here are five Yabbly interviews that readers of this blog might find especially interesting:

I started my nursing career at age 46

I had my startup exit & was never more scared for my life

I help people land their dream jobs

From entrepreneurship professor to inventor of consumer product now on Kickstarter

I’ve helped 10 bootstrapped technology businesses sell or raise capital

Other “Yabblers” include the cofounder of the Xbox and a top executive with Bing. They’re are on the site because they’re willing to share what they know. Why not ask them a few questions?

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Why Leaders Get Better With Age

Companies prize young talent. And rightly so. In an era of instant communication, they need young, tech-savvy leaders who can help them to get things done faster.

Still, speed by itself doesn’t equate to business success. Sydney Finkelstein wrote about this in a recent BBC article. In it, he recalls the classic Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare. It’s the plodding tortoise, and not the speedy hare, that crossed the finish line first.

Experience may not bring speed – but it does bring wisdom and other traits/abilities. Among them:

Perspective – Age brings a greater ability to reflect and put into context what is happening around you.

Deeper compassion – This extends to the people in your life, both at work and at home.

A dose of reality – The illusion of perfection has long gone.

Empathy – “Once you’ve live a little, it becomes harder to go about your work without paying closer attention to colleagues and empathizing with those around you,” writes Finkelstein.

An ability to motivate others – That’s because you better understand what makes them tick.

An appreciation for details – Leaders who have been around the block a few times can’t help but see the nuances and subtleties of work that less-experienced managers do not see.

Acceptance of life’s ups and downs – As Finkelstein puts it, “You’ve seen bear markets and not just bull markets.”

Experienced leaders don’t always make the right calls, of course. But they have a lot going for them. Remember that as you plan your entrepreneurial endeavor.  A plodding tortoise isn’t a bad thing.

 

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Opening a Law Practice at Age 72

When Pennsylvania resident Carolyn Newsom decided to go to law school at age 68, she wasn’t the only one there who was making a midlife career change. A half-dozen women with her at the Widener University School of Law were at least 40 years old. They called themselves the Ladies Justice.

“It was great to have a group of women to be supportive of one another,” said Newsom in this article appearing in The Intelligencer. She passed the Pennsylvania and New Jersey bar exams in 2012.

At age 72, she’s started a law practice that focuses on estate planning. It’s her third business venture.  Previously, she had two consulting practices based upon expertise she cultivated during her earlier careers with IBM and an international consulting firm.

“I sort of reinvent myself every seven to ten years,” said Newsom, who also volunteers Wills for Heroes. The nonprofit, born from the September 11th tragedies, caters to first responders. Newsom was on the 44th floor of the North Tower when the first plane hit it.

By all accounts, Newsom has earned some time to relax. But apparently she has no plans to do so.

“My goal is to never retire,” she said. “I can’t imagine what retirement would be like.”

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Centenarian Cyclist Breaks World Record

Late bloomers of all types often can find inspiration from the world of sports. For living proof that age is just a number, look no further than 102-year-old Robert Marchand. This guy is amazing.

Marchand, who’s from France, broke his own world record in speed cycling a few weeks ago when he rode 26.927 kilometers (16.7 miles) in one hour. That time beats his previous record by more than 2.5 kilometers and keeps him at the top the 100-plus age group.

Marchand set his new record in France’s new national velodrome, whose official inauguration was one day earlier. Spectators gave the cyclist a well-deserved standing ovation when he reached the finish line.

As reported in this New York Daily News article, Marchand — a retired firefighter and logger — also holds the record in the age 100+ category for riding 100 kilometers (62 miles). He did it in four hours, 17 minutes and 27 seconds in 2012.

For a glimpse of Marchand’s latest accomplishment, check out this video.

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Help is Out There for 40-and-Older Entrepreneurs

Looking for third-party support or guidance to launch your startup – but aren’t sure where to turn? Here’s a list of organization, programs and publications that may be useful for aspiring or new business owners. Many of these resources are from Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40.

Organizations:

AARP – Has an entrepreneurship resource center on its website. www.aarp.org

Center for Productive Longevity – Serves as a bridge between employers seeking needed talent and people age 55 and older who have the capabilities and desire to continue working with employers as well as in entrepreneurial or other activities. www.ctrpl.org

Cycle of Success Institute (COSi) – Educates, coaches and transforms small to mid-sized companies into profitable, innovative, high-growth businesses that fuel job creation and wealth. www.cycleofsuccess.net

Encore.org –This group “is building a movement to make it easier for millions of people to pursue encore careers – second acts for the greater good.” www.encore.org

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation – The world’s largest foundation dedicated to entrepreneurship. www.kauffman.org

Franchise Direct – An online portal of franchise opportunities and information. www.franchisedirect.com

National Federation of Independent Business – Includes resources on starting a business, financing and accounting, etc. www.nfib.com

RetiredBrains.com – An independent job and information resource for boomers, retirees and people planning their retirement. www.retiredbrains.com

Senior Entrepreneurship Works – Helps those age 50 and older build sustainable businesses, create jobs and stimulate economic self-reliance. www.seniorentrepreneurshipworks.org

SCORE – Provides free counseling, resources and advice to people who are in business or want to start a business. Website materials include templates for business plans and financial statements. www.score.org

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Nation – A community that “was founded on the open exchange of information and ideas, while creating the opportunity for small businesses to speak with a unified voice.”  www.uschambersmallbusinessnation.com

U.S. Small Business Administration – Provides loans, loan guarantees, contracts, counseling sessions and other forms of assistance to small businesses. Website materials include templates and step-by-step guides for writing a business plan. www.sba.gov

Programs:

eProv Studio – A training workshop that combines the methodology of entrepreneurial thought and action and the art of improvisation. http://www.eprovstudio.com/

Kauffman’s FastTrac for the Boomer Entrepreneur – An entrepreneurial course for those age 50 and older.http://fasttrac.org/en/Entrepreneurs/FastTrac-Courses-for-Boomers.aspx

Publications:

Mature Entrepreneur Planning Guide, NYS Small Business Development Center, The State University of New York.  www.nyssbdc.org/resources/Publications/09_mature_entrepreneur_planning_guide.pdf

BoomerPreneurs – How Baby Boomers Can Start Their Own Business, Make Money and Enjoy Life, M.B. Izard. www.consultach.com/boomerpreneurs

Second Acts – Creating the Life You Really Want, Building the Career You Truly Desire, Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine. http://www.amazon.com/Second-Acts-Creating-Really-Building/dp/0060514884

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Know about other resources that could be added to this list?  Please leave a comment below.

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