‘Winging it’ just doesn’t work for me anymore

Attitude is everything.

Being organized is one of those life lessons I haven’t quite mastered yet, but I keep trying.

I’ve always considered my ability to multi-task a talent, until I started taking too long to finish projects. I often felt like I was spinning my wheels and I knew something had to be done to change that.

Most women are natural multi-taskers. As wives and mothers, we tend to take on several task simultaneously. We do what we have to do to keep the family unit functioning. Sometimes we have no choice.

It was easy for me to stay organized when I was a single mom with 4 kids. I was forced to learn how to become more efficient in everything I did. I expected the unexpected and did what I needed to do to make things work.

It was something I became good at.

For years I worked in a job that was flexible and challenging. Being a server helped me practice a variety of skills, including multi-tasking, public relations, and attention to detail, and how to smile through my tears. I loved being a server because I didn’t really need to be organized. I just winged it.

But now that I’m in business for myself, “winging it” just doesn’t work for me.

A couple years ago, I started forgetting things. They were little things and I wasn’t too worried about it. Then a few months ago, I missed an important appointment, and it made me panic.  A friend assured me it was probably because I had too much on my plate. I’m sure it was said in good faith and probably to ease my fears, but it made me aware of how I was struggling to maintain control. If I was spreading myself too thin, maybe I needed to learn to manage it before it got out of hand.

So this is how I, an unorganized person, became organized.

  1. I decided to use one calendar and make sure I looked at it on a daily basis.

My problem wasn’t so much writing my appointments down, but remembering to look at them. I had at least 3 appointment books that I used, but it was pointless if I didn’t bother to look at them. I relied too much on my memory and thought I didn’t need it.

I decided that since I was on my computer all the time anyway, I would create an online calendar and stick with it. Now I make it a habit to look at it every morning. I made a schedule of the daily activities and stuck it on my bulletin board and left little notes for myself to remind me to look at my calendar.

  1. I learned how to prioritize and manage my time.

This was difficult for me because everything was important to me. A friend showed me how to use a chart that listed those items that were important and needed to be done on a deadline, and those items that were important but could wait. My lists started showing me what I needed to do and helped keep me on-task.

My time became easier to manage and I’m working on bad habits, such as being late to appointments, an important issue in my line of work. Someone once told me if I’m late all the time, some people may see it as a sign that I don’t value their time. Now I leave the house 10 minutes early, no matter where I go. Besides, you can’t always predict what the traffic will be like. If there is one thing I have learned, it is to expect the unexpected.

  1. Do I need to keep my workspace clean?

I’m not a neat freak. When I come in my room, I’m usually in a hurry and tend to throw things on my desk. When I have time, I organize the piles, but that’s as far as it gets. I know where everything is, so there isn’t much point in putting everything in folders and stick them away in a place I won’t be able to find them.

Once a month, I sift through the piles, and if the project is complete, only then do I put them away in their respective folders. In other words, I believe everyone has a system that works for them, and it’s probably best not to mess with that. I like to think a cluttered desk is the sign of a creative genius.

  1. I practiced saying No.

I have a serious problem saying No. There are several reasons for this, but I think the biggest reason is because I like to help people. I am dependable and people know I won’t let them down. I can also do a lot of different things well.

“Hey, do you have time to show me how to make a video?” or “Can you look at my grant proposal and let me know if it sounds okay?” And even the infamous, “Mom, can you do me a favor?”

And I would really love to do it all, except I can’t. If I helped all the people who needed help, I wouldn’t have time to do my own thing.

When I do say No, it’s because I have other obligations. In the split second it takes for someone to ask me if I can help them, my mind becomes a computer, searching through my schedule, setting my priorities, to see if I might have a few  extra minutes.  It’s a great system, but a “few minutes” can easily turn into a few hours, and I end up over-committing and run into time management issues. It’s a vicious cycle that could have been avoided if I had only told them, “As much as I would like to, I have other obligations.”

It sounds good in theory. I think it’s something I’ll have to practice the rest of my life.

  1. Procrastinating.

I never thought of myself as a procrastinator until it became apparent that I wasn’t getting things done. I once prided myself on being able to juggle many things in my life. When I didn’t have the time to get things done, I thought I was just being flexible. “It can wait,” I used to tell myself. I can’t do that anymore.

They say that the first step in changing anything is to be aware that it needs to be changed. I wasn’t aware that I had a problem until it became apparent that if I didn’t become more organized, my business wouldn’t be successful.

So instead of winging it, I am using my new organization plan-scheduling, time management, and prioritizing skills-to create new habits.

Like anything else, it’s a work in progress.  No one said it would be easy, but it is definitely worth it.

MarkIt CR

Meis Communications, LLC

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When free is not free

I don’t usually use my blog to rant, and I hope readers won’t be too quick to judge. But I am getting frustrated with businesses who use “free” as a ploy to get you to sign up for a product or service. Especially when it’s not free.

Borrowed from goodhousekeeping.com

Borrowed from goodhousekeeping.com

Some say, “Nothing is free.” I know; it’s something that was ingrained in me since I was a kid when mom and dad had to work magic to pay their bills.

But that’s not really true either, because some things are free. Free samples, free promotion items, and other freebies can be found if you look hard enough.

What bothers me most is when businesses advertise “free” products and services, and then require payment information so you can start your “free” trial. If you forget to go in and cancel the service, they automatically deduct it from your account or charge your credit card.

That’s a complete turn-off for me. I’ve been taken a few times, so if I’m asked me for financial information right away, I click out of that site and look for another. With so many online businesses, I can usually find what I need without the hidden costs and rules.

Some people believe that anything goes when it comes to running a business. They do whatever they need to do to attract customers to their website, even if it means deceiving them.

Maybe it makes me frustrated because I’ve been burned so many times. When I was a naive internet user just starting out, I trusted that businesses were my friend, who had no intention of screwing me over. Now that I know better, it just makes me angry.

As a business owner, I am always looking at different ways to attract customers, but deceiving customers is not one of them. I am upfront with them because that’s how I would like to be treated. I tell them exactly what they’ll be getting and how much it will cost so they will trust me. A good customer relationship is crucial to any business.

I know…business is business. Everyone is trying to make a buck. And now that the internet makes it easier to conduct business online, the competition is more fierce than ever. I’m sure someday there will be “rules” for businesses on the internet, but for now, they can do pretty much whatever they want.

But now that customers are getting smarter and aren’t as trusting as they once were, internet business owners need to look at that trend and ask themselves what’s more important; getting customers the reputable way, or making money unethically.

 

 

(My) Office Space

For the first time in my life, I have an office. With a real door.

My new office, which is also my first.

My new office, which is also my first.

And not just one in my house, either. This is an actually office with a desk that takes up half the dimensions and a couple of chairs and shelves. True, it doesn’t have my name on the door yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

I have been going back and forth with the whole “owning a business” thing. I have it in my blood. My grandpa owned a grocery store for years in Cedar Rapids, where I grew up. And as a kid, I was the one who wanted to play “store” or “restaurant” when others wanted to play “house.”

But I have a lot of fears, as I’m sure most  entrepreneurs have. (If they don’t they should have some, anyway). As I have found out, there is a lot of comfort in going to a 9 to 5 job and being able to leave your work there.

And I could do that, if I could get one, but as it is, I have had countless rejections in as many months and I’m getting tired of it.

It’s not a lack of skills,but I think employers look at my resume and see that I have only been out of college two years. It doesn’t matter f I started my own newspaper or if I have published a book. I am 51 years old with two years experience, but a lifetime of street-smarts.  Doesn’t that count for something?

So I decided to run with my online marketing idea, MarkIt CR. My niche is that I help small businesses get online at an affordable price. I am a small business owner. I know how tight money is. And I know how valuable my time is. If I were the owner of a small shop and was the only employee, I would love it if I could hire someone to do the dirty work (who happens to like doing it.)

It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

But then I realized that I needed my own space, a place where I could work and NO ONE would bother me. I needed an office.

The building where my new office is belongs to a friend of mine. I asked him if he knew someone who wanted to share office space and said, “As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Can two friends share the same office space without driving each other crazy?”

I think in this case, we can. He and I are both advisors for Venture Crew, an organization that is associated with the Boy Scouts of America. Our group is specifically for special needs boys and girls, and he and I both have sons who are challenged.  The other person who is sharing the office is on the committee for the group.

It’s so nice having my own space, and I couldn’t ask for better office mates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep reaching for your goals

I have reached the 10-week mark for my very own “Live Healthy Challenge.”  I lost 25 pounds, but who’s counting? My goal wasn’t a number-it was a challenge to see if I could stick with it.

I lost 25 pounds in 10 weeks! As I have heard many times, exercise and healthy diet are both needed to maintain a  healthy lifestyle.

I lost 25 pounds in 10 weeks! As I have heard many times, exercise and a sensible diet are both needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I did a lot better than I thought I would. It wasn’t difficult staying away from the sweets and fats, but I found it much more difficult to find time for exercise. I tried going to the workout room after work, but there was also something higher on my priority list to do.

“I’ll walk later,” I told myself, or, “I’ll work in the yard.”  Or even, “I’ll work double tomorrow.” It didn’t happen. I was mindful of it, and always tried to do better. However, I know that’s one of those things that I need to work on.

My kids had a surprise party for my birthday at a local bowling alley yesterday. Of course, there was cake. But the pieces were small and we were burning calories by bowling (217 according to myfitnesspal.com-but still not even to account for the 330 calories of that little piece of cake!) But hey-it was my birthday. As the saying goes, “Life is too short not to eat cake.”

I am also excited to announce that my new business is off to a good start. Markitcr.com, an eMagazine, is just a part of the overall online marketing consulting business that I have created in the past few months. My parent company, Meis Communications, encompasses several aspects of the media/marketing world, including web creation, business promotion, public relations, writing and photography projects.

Late last year, I started asking myself how I could utilize everything I have learned. After a little soul-searching, I realized that I shouldn’t limit myself to one or two services. Instead, I decided to do something totally different and embarked on a new venture that included all of my talents.

I want to help my community by keeping them informed of what’s going on around them. I love being creative, letting my mind wander, and I am always entertained by where it takes me. I want to be my own boss, and I think I will get there someday. But I think what motivates me the most, the drive that keeps me going, is that I know this is going somewhere. I’m not exactly sure where, but I know it’s building on something great.

Patience and faith just might be the key to my success

My blog writing is suffering. I knew it would. I’m noticing that every minute of every day are accounted for, and even then, its seems like there’s never enough time to do what I want to do. But I knew that would happen, too.

I put my 6th issue out yesterday and even though there are still a few mistakes, every week it keeps getting better and easier to put together.

I tried a new flag, which I don’t really care for, but I’ll get feedback and adjust accordingly.

I have 30 (yes, 30!) subscribers, which is awesome, considering I started with zero.

I also received my first two advertising customers this week. As I have said before, I knew advertising would be my biggest challenge, but I didn’t realize that it would take so long.

People keep telling me to have patience, but for someone who is naturally impulsive and impatient, it’s very tough. (But, patience is my virtue.)

There is also the matter of being a good leader and taking responsibility for my decisions. I have had some experience with that, but this is a little different because if something goes wrong, it’s all on me; I can’t go running to my adviser and ask for help.  I’m realizing that it’s all about having faith in myself and my ability to make the right choices.

I now have two new student writers; one from Kennedy and one from Xavier. Terin, from Kennedy, is on the newspaper staff, but is only a freshman and is not very experienced in writing, but she is willing to try. Cassie, who is from Xavier, is a writer and photographer for the Xpress, and is in for the running of editor next year. She is thinking about going to Drake after she graduates next year. They will both be great assets to my paper.

So I’ll just keep going, getting more subscribers, putting the paper out every week, and figure out a way to get more advertisers. It’s tough when I work all day, because many businesses close at 5.

Yes, it is everything I had dreamed it would be. It’s still hard to see that sometimes because I’m right in the middle of it. But once in a while, I’ll pause and look at what I’ve accomplished.

It’s a great feeling, indeed.

Hiawatha Advocate

You have to be a little crazy to move the world

Lying in bed Saturday morning, I mentally took note of everything I had to do that day, and the next, and the next.

I must be crazy, I thought. How do I think I’m going to accomplish all this?

I started working again last week, as an office temp in a local trucking company. I wasn’t expecting to work a full-time job, but I have to do what I have to do. My student loans are coming due, and I will do anything to see this newspaper succeed.

But I do have to be a little crazy.

Another person asked me last week how I do it. My reaction was, “I don’t know.”

But I do know. I just put one foot in front of the other and keep going, no matter what.

Maybe that’s what it takes, to just keep moving forward.

Putting out the paper every week is not the problem. The only problem I can see is getting enough advertisers to pay the bills. I still have a lot of Faith and of course, a lot of Hope.

The same person who asked how I do it every week also said, “Well, if it doesn’t take off, it sure won’t be your fault.”

I guess I have to take that comment for what it is; a sincere compliment to my abilities. Besides, as I have said before, I have already succeeded. This is just icing on the cake.

All in a daze work

Even when I was working full-time, going to school full-time, and was the editor in chief of the Mount Mercy Times, I wasn’t as tired as I am right now.

Granddaughter Lily reads the Hiawatha Advocate at our open house Feb. 29. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

I’m not complaining, just making an observation.

But I am tired. Going into my third issue, I have come to the conclusion that I can’t do it all on my own. Until I can hire some writers, editors, photographers, and delivery people (With the state of the economy, you would think it’d be easy!) I’m going to adjust the size of the paper a little so it can become manageable; for the time-being, anyway.

The local businesses will come around, I’m sure of it. It may take them a while to make sure I’ll be staying in business, but I’m confident that they’ll be knocking on my door soon.

The subscribers will come, too. I just have to find a better way to get the word out, and convince the community that they need the paper to stay up to date with what’s happening in Hiawatha.

Until that actually happens, I will just have to keep plugging away, and realize that the craziness probably won’t last forever. Sometimes I just need to be reminded of that.

“If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

Sigh.  I think I just need to get more sleep.

I don’t remember much of the past two weeks. I’ve spent most of it just trying to get my bearings and find a balance. But I know someday I’ll look back at all the hard work that’s gone into this…

…and smile.