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The most common productivity advice is to begin with the easiest tasks first and then move to the more difficult ones. This is to help create momentum to push us to become more productive.

But is it really the most productive way of tackling our to-do list? In this video, I explore what productivity experts are saying and why doing what is contrary to the commonly held advice might lead to better productivity.

People tackle different types of tasks every day. Some tasks are more important than others. People make decisions on what tasks to tackle first in their daily to-do list. Some tasks are easily accomplished, and some are more complex and take a bit more time.

As we go through this list, we make the very conscious decision on how to prioritize the tasks so that we can get as much done as possible. The goal is not to appear busy—the goal is to be productive and to get as many tasks ticked off the list as possible.

The question now is, what is better for productivity? Do we tackle the easy tasks first, then proceed with the more difficult, more complex ones later? The short answer, according to productivity experts, is to address what is difficult first. Doing so is better for the long term.

Now you might ask: if the goal is get as much done as possible, why tackle what takes a long time to do? Let’s take this step by step.

We already know that tasks aren’t created equal. If we go by the urgent-important matrix, more commonly known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, there are 4 kinds of tasks.

  1. Tasks that are both important and urgent
  2. Tasks that are important, but not urgent
  3. Tasks that are not important, but are urgent
  4. Tasks that are neither important nor urgent

How do we prioritize these tasks?

Productivity experts say that if the task is …

  1. … neither important nor urgent, you should stay away because these are distractions.
  2. … not important, but urgent, you should delegate to someone else.
  3. … important, but not urgent, you should do this later.
  4. … important and urgent, you should do this immediately.

To understand why we should focus on the difficult tasks first over the easy ones lies in understanding the last two tasks. Important but not urgent tasks are usually tasked long-term tasks, while the important and urgent tasks are short term tasks.

However, we also need to be mindful that some tasks become urgent today because we didn’t plan out for or didn’t accomplish them yesterday or last week or last month or even last year, when they were clearly not urgent.

The problem with prioritizing urgent tasks today is it makes us more reactive, than proactive. I will acknowledge that there are some factors that are out of our control that contributes to the urgency of some tasks, and so we need to focus on these urgent and important tasks immediately. But the context of our discussion is on the important tasks that we have set aside because they were not yet urgent at that time and because they were probably difficult and complex that we decided to put it off for another day.

Why do we do this? Why do we favour the easy over the difficult?

We tackle them first because they are easy and getting these tasks out of the way gives us a sense of accomplishment—we get more done in half the time. The problem is when we hide behind these tasks because we are procrastinating on the more important and more complex tasks—focusing on the easy tasks now become counterintuitive. We think we’re accomplishing more, but it takes time away from tackling what truly matters.

If you feel that this is you, you are not alone. A lot of us do this for many reasons. One significant reason why we put off the difficult but important tasks is that it takes us more time to do, and we’re more likely to make mistakes in the process vis-à-vis doing what is easy.

So what should we do?

The first thing we need to keep in mind is to focus on what is important. You don’t necessarily need to ALWAYS choose the difficult over the easy—but you need to be conscious about what is important for you and your business both in the short term and in the long term. Then find a balance so that you can address both needs.

You also need to change our mindset about how much time it takes to finish a difficult task. Yes, it takes more time than usual. Yes, we’re likely to make a mistake or two (or even more). But don’t think of that extra time as a wasted resource. Think of it as our time investment towards learning the task. Mistakes are great teachers—and if we learn our lessons well, then we’re likely to do better as we progress in the task.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

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Zig Ziglar famously said, “People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.” How do you keep yourself motivated, day in and day out, no matter your mood, no matter what comes your way?

In this video, I explore how you, a business owner or entrepreneur, can keep your drive and push on.

What is motivation?

Motivation is defined as “a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.” Put simply; motivation determines WHY you do things that you do.

Why does the business owner start on the business in the first place? What is the business for? Many of you will say that the business is there to provide the owner with something.  What that something is the what motivates you to get up each morning and work on your business. In business speak, your motivation is your WHY.

How do I keep myself motivated every single day?

Point 1: Have a North Star.

Simon Sinek says that motivation starts with your WHY. Sara Blakely also starts with WHY, and advises to continue leading with WHY.

Your WHY is your North Star. When things don’t work out or when you need to make important decisions for your business, remember and hold on to your North Star. Remember why you’re doing this in the first place.

In my video, Understanding your WHY—and why that matters (URL link forthcoming), I discuss why it matters for business owners and entrepreneurs to recognise their why. I also explore what determines our why and give examples of the more common whys that many business owners and entrepreneurs share.

Point 2: Be clear about what you want to achieve.

Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

Once you establish your WHY, figure out how to translate that into a SMART goal. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

A SMART goal can sufficiently answer this question: How do I know that I have achieved what I want to achieve? In one of my videos, I discuss why SMART goals are important—in fact, the absence of SMART goals is one of the reasons why many business plans fail.

Point 3: Establish a routine.

Studies have shown that routines help everyone become more efficient, feel more in control, and supports overall well-being. More importantly, it helps keep one motivated by focusing on the things that you can change or have control. Routines are very important that many of the

world’s successful entrepreneurs and business executives have established morning routines and even evening rituals.

Apple CEO Tim Cook starts his mornings at 3:45 a.m., and Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Indra Nooyi have been known to rise at the crack of dawn. Some entrepreneurs, like Warren Buffett, start their morning by reading.

Many successful entrepreneurs also have established evening routines. Bill Gates reads an hour before turning in at night, while Sheryl Sandberg turns off her mobile phone.

Establishing a routine also ensures that you make time to take care of yourself and recover from exhaustion, which is common among entrepreneurs. In my video, Overcome entrepreneurial exhaustion, I discuss the many ways that entrepreneurs and business owners can take care of themselves and recover from exhaustion to help them stay motivated.

So, in summary, what should we do to keep ourselves motivated?

Know why you do what you do. Have a North Star. Know what you want to achieve and how you are going to get there. Then establish a routine that will not only improve yourself but will bring you step-by-step closer to your SMART goal.

Just as Zig Ziglar said—just as we shower everyday to make sure that we don’t stink—we wake up with our purpose in mind, and we use that purpose to guide us throughout the day. 

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Small businesses can do big things. In this new series of videos, we will look into small businesses in Australia—their humble beginnings, their growth story, and the lessons that we can learn from them.

Today, we will look into the story of Whole Kids, a family-owned organic snack small business based in Melbourne.

Their story

Whole Kids launched their first organic snack range in 2005 in response to a gap in the market. The couple, Monica and James Meldrum, who at that time were not yet parents, could not find delicious and healthy snacks to buy for their nieces and nephews. They found that the range of “healthy” snacks available in the market at that time were not necessarily healthy—they thought many of them were filled with potentially harmful preservatives and were poor in nutrients.

They decided to create their own range of snacks that focused on nutrition and also making sure that they were free from common allergens. The Meldrums spoke to organic growers in Australia and worked with a dietitian at the Royal Children’s to understand what some allergies were.

They also decided early on about what kind of business they were going to set up. They wanted a business that focused on healthy products, on having an impact in the community, and on sustaining a small, family-run business that is fun, friendly, and fulfilling.

In the beginning, the Meldrums worked more intuitively. As the business expanded, the couple wanted to articulate their purpose and values in a statement, and so they engaged a consultant to help them formalise their statement.

Their values and purpose reflect on how they recruit talent and how they source suppliers. They recruit and source based on how they fit with their values and align with their purpose. This, in turn, helped them focus on what they are best at, which is product development and marketing. By working with competent employees and by outsourcing work to suppliers who share their values, they are able to keep their operations small, nimble and family-run—the kind of business they set out to build and nurture.

Today, after using AU$100,000 in savings meant for a deposit on a house, Whole Kids is Australia’s largest certified organic snacks manufacturer for children with an estimated annual turnover of at least AU$6 million. It exports to the Middle East, South East Asia, and most recently, China.

Monica Meldrum is considered as one of the country’s most influential female entrepreneur. And yet they still consider themselves a small, family-run business competing with large, multinational corporations. To date, they supply large orders of kid snacks to large airlines, such as Jetstar and Qantas.

What we can learn

Their business model—that is, small operations catering to large corporations—presents unique challenges, which I think that small business owners, such as you, would be able to relate to and even appreciate.

Here are three lessons that the Meldrums share about running Whole Kids:

(1) Be honest with your customers

Any business will run into supply issues—but because Whole Kids work with organic and seasonal ingredients, ensuring a stable supply of raw ingredients makes it even more challenging.

Whole Kids work with fresh natural and organic ingredients, taking into account not just overall nutrition but also common allergens. Some items are seasonal and some items need to pass certain standards—so they can run into supply challenges. This means that they may not always supply the same product in every flight or that they can deliver large batches of particular product units all the time.

What do Whole Kids do? They communicate closely with their clients.

With any supply issues you think you may run into, give your customers a heads-up – it’s much easier to work through that than be caught out last-minute.”

(2) Do the research

When launching a business, especially one that tries to cater to gaps in the market, it is important to understand what the market truly wants in order to create and supply the right product or service. In the case of Whole Kids, the founders spent a lot of time and effort in understanding not just their market, but also ingredients and processes that may affect their product offerings.

Because I spent two to three years researching the market, I understood what ingredients were available and what product gaps there were. It enabled me to launch the product and minimise the risk.”

 (3) Focus on what you are good at and delegate the rest

The founders of Whole Kids are parents to a young family. The operations of Whole Kids remain family-owned and small. In the early stages of the business, their impressive growth stretched them out too thinly. So the couple decided to focus on their core competencies, product development and marketing, and to delegate to other people who specialised in warehousing and distribution.

We immediately thought we needed a warehouse and needed a good distributor and took that on ourselves but it stretched us really thin. We realised there were other businesses that could oversee that side of the operation better than we could. At the five-year mark, we realised we could do things smarter so we could focus on the marketing and the products and leave distribution to someone else."

One other notable thing that Whole Kids focuses on is their vision. They are an example of a small, family-owned business that has a clear vision of what they want to be, what they want to do, and where they want to go—and one that keeps to that vision to drive their growth.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

Small businesses can do big things. In this new series of videos, I would like to explore success stories of small businesses in Australia and what we can learn from them.

In this video, I share with you the story of Over The Moo ice cream.

The backstory

Over The Moo is a dairy-free ice cream business and the brainchild of entrepreneur Alex Houseman. Houseman created his business out of his own personal need. He loves ice cream but is sadly lactose intolerant. While dairy-free ice cream is available in the market, he felt that there wasn’t any product that could deliver indulgent and delicious flavor at an affordable price. This led him to develop his own dairy-free ice cream made from coconut milk.

Over The Moo is Houseman’s first business. He quickly recognised that he needed money, advice, and exposure to make it a success. He decided to seek funding in Australia’s version of Shark Tank. In the show, he received three offers but eventually walked away without a deal.

One of the concerns of the judges in Shark Tank during the Over The Moo pitch was that Houseman had not yet trademarked his recipe. Seeing the wisdom in the judges’ advice about owning his ice cream recipe, he immediately worked on fixing this intellectual property issue after the filming wrapped.

However, Houseman’s main concern with the judges’ offers were that they were lower than what he was willing to accept. It was unfortunate that the show was filmed before Over The Moo began appearing on Woolworths’ shelves. Since the judges didn’t take into consideration this particularly important business milestone, their valuation for Over The Moo was lower than Houseman’s own valuation for his business.

As of 2018, Over The Moo was available in 2200 stores, that include Cole’s, Woolworths, and IGA supermarkets. Despite a wide distribution, it maintains a lean business model of just three full-time staff.

What we can learn

1. Hard work and strategic planning pays

Houseman is a former marketing consultant, but it proved to be a difficult sell in the beginning. Houseman approached every supermarket and tried hard to convince them to carry his brand on their shelves. He started with independent supermarkets and eventually made strides toward large chains. His hard work, strategy, and very good ice cream proved to be a recipe for his current success.

Houseman said in an interview, “As I have learnt, a successful business is only one per cent good idea, and 99 per cent hard work and commitment.” This rings true for any business, but moreso for a business operating in a very competitive industry.

The ice cream business in Australia is a AU$1.1 billion industry dominated by major players such as Unilever and Baskin-Robbins. While Over The Moo is considered vegan ice cream, Houseman does not consider it as a health product as it contains the same amount of fat and sugar as a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. This is to deliver the same indulgent flavor as regular ice cream to those with special dietary needs. Its product caters to a very specific niche: those who are lactose-intolerant or who follow a plant-based diet looking for a sweet, indulgent treat.

2. Check your cash flow

After Shark Tank, Over The Moo earned a gross profit of $1 million, but its net profit was zero. Houseman’s initial spending went to growing and expanding distribution.

Houseman confessed that he was lax with cash flow in the beginning. When he felt that this became an issue, he sought advice from other people and created an advisory board. He also took short courses on financial management. His efforts paid off.

Houseman consistenly advises having a tight watch on cash flow in his interviews. He says of his early experience with the business,

“I wish I’d known earlier how to forecast cash flow better. It’s terrible when you put all that effort into growing and promoting the business, then don’t have the cash flow to keep up.”

“At our worst, we had literally $45 in our bank account. All the while we have thousands of dollars in wages and product expenses every month. Being able to balance growth versus cash in the bank is the most important thing I have learnt regarding starting Over The Moo.'”

In my video, Allow Sales to Trump Everything, I share why cash flow management is important and how a fast growing business experiencing record sales could get into trouble if it does not manage its cash flow problems.

3. Fine-tune your product, and make sure you own it

It took Houseman 4 to 5 months of research and product development to get his ice cream recipe right. But despite doing all of the work developing the recipe, he initially shared the intellectual property of the recipes with the manufacturer he worked with. After failing to get a deal on the show and seeing that the ambiguity in the IP could become a costly issue, he immediately took the necessary steps to ensure that he had full ownership of his ice cream.

Houseman also knew how much his business was worth in his mind.  He was willing to listen to other people (i.e the Judges in Shark Tank) and was able to make an educated decision on the business value and decided not to take up their offer.  He probably knew that his product was going to go into the shelves of the major supermarkets, but could not yet reveal it to the judges at that time due to confidentiality issues.

Having said that, I have also met business owners who have inflated values of their business that were not based on market valuations. You need to be aware about the difference between your valuation of the business and how the market values your product—and you need to learn how NOT to get emotional in the process.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

Small businesses can do big things. In this new series of videos, we will look into small businesses in Australia—their humble beginnings, their growth story, and the lessons that we can learn from them.

Today, we will look into the story of Billie Goat Soap and its founder, Leanne Faulkner.

Their story

Leanne Faulkner, whose youngest son was born with eczema, is the creator and founder of Billie Goat Soap. Her young son used steroids to treat eczema, and she was concerned about the effects of long-term steroid use. This led her to do research on how to naturally treat and manage eczema.

Faulkner described herself as a frustrated farmer—her family owned a few acres of land and had dairy goats in the property. She researched about the benefits of goat’s milk in treating eczema, learned how to make soap from goat’s milk and natural oils, and used her homemade soaps on her son. Seeing the results on her son spurred her to start her goats milk soap company in 2005.

Faulkner used her communication and selling skills to bring the first batches of Billie Goat Soap into the market. She was very strategic on who, when, and how to approach about her product. She started introducing her products to health food stores, then farmers markets, then retail and gift stores, and finally to department stores.

Faulkner worked in organisational development and employee training prior to starting her company, and she used her background to grow her sales team. As a small company, she didn’t have the resources to put a sales consultant in every store. Instead, she trained the sales personnel in the retail stores that carried her product. She built strong relations with these sales people, even going so far as sending a bouquet of edible blooms in every counter with a personal card attached.

By working and leveraging on available resources, Billie Goat Soap grew and sold across Australia. It also successfully expanded its product line to include balms, skin care, and even a baby care line. At its peak, Billie Goat Soap turned over AU$2.4 million annually.

Unfortunately, a stress-fueled breakdown brought by a retail slump and the demands of running a small business led Faulkner to step down from her post and sell her company to The Heat Group in 2012. Today, Faulkner advocates for moremental health resources to support small business owners.

What can we learn

Not all small businesses have a happy ending, but there are lessons that we can learn from Billie Goat Soap’s story.

(1) Forecast what is needed to grow

Faulkner advices small business owners to plan appropriately for growth—specifically, having the right amount of funding to drive business development and expansion. While funding is important, I think the example of Billie Goat Soap also shows that having the right skills, such as management and leadership skills, is also very crucial.

And so, when we plan for growth, we need to also consider the resources needed to grow. In my video, When does your business benefit from seeking professional advice? (link forthcoming—not yet published), I share advice from Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, who believes that planning to grow entails planning to hire or work with people who have the skill base and experience that matches your growth objectives.

(2) Communicate to your employees, to your customers, and to your suppliers

Clear communication helps to ensure that anyone connected to the business knows what the goals are and understands how the business aims to achieve them.”

Build a relationship with the people you work with. In Faulkner’s case, she took the effort to build strong relationships with the sales people working in the retail stores who played a major part in growing the revenue of the company.

How can you continue to build strong relationships with your employees, your customers, and your suppliers?

(3) Look after yourself

Faulkner is an advocate of mental health. She has been vocal about her stress and anxiety—and how this affected her mental health in 2011.

In my video, Overcoming Entrepreneurial Exhaustion, I discuss three things that entrepreneurs and business owners can do to overcome exhaustion. That said, mental health is a medical issue. Whilst we expect to look out for and manage stress that comes with operating a business, bringing consultants and expending your team can help in many areas. But there are instances when stress starts to change who you are.

If you feel that the stress of running a business is getting to you, please seek help from a professional because they are trained to listen unconditionally and provide much needed intervention.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >