Are efficient companies as great as we are led to believe?

One of the more efficient companies

​Many of you know that I have a side business selling items on Amazon, eBay and many local channels.  While I am in no position to replace my income from my day job, I do okay.  Recently, I had the opportunity to work with one of the major shipping and logistics companies.  This company in particular was routinely lauded throughout my college career as being the pinnacle of logistics, efficient labor and customer service.  Some of the day’s events, though, have led me to question what is going on over there.

Shipping product is a process

I stumbled upon a deal on some light bulbs that I simply could not pass up.  I bought out the stock in the store, and filled my wife’s SUV completely in order to bring them home.  My goal was to list, label, package and ship everything in less than 24 hours like the efficient animal I am.  However, after bringing everything home, I decided to start the process the following morning.

Now, I have been doing the Amazon thing for months now, so I have my own efficient process down fairly well.  I have my printers configured and use a tool so the tags are printed as I enter them into the system.  Then, I tag all the products, but with these being multi-packs I had to wrap them together.  When all was said and done it took me about 6 hours to wrap, tag and pack 252 bulbs.  These were then put into 17 boxes, weighed, shipping purchased, and then everything was labeled and put into the garage.

​My first problem…

​My first problem came when I realized that I didn’t get an option to have the packages picked up.  I figured I could just log into my account and request a pickup like I have done with other shippers in the past.  I could not find any kind of option since I had already paid for shipping.  No problem, I’ll just reach out to Customer Service.  Everything is going smoothly and I give him one of the tracking numbers for the packages.  I started to tell him that there are 17 boxes and a combined weight of almost 160 lbs.  He kept talking over me, so I figured that I would just follow his script and make it a point at the end to share my info.

​Everything was booked and confirmed, so I told him that there are 17 boxes with the total weight, and he said that’s fine, and we then selected a day.  I got my confirmation number and when I confirmed it back he talked over me again.  Whatever, at this point everything I need is done, right?

​WRONG

​When I opened up the garage, the driver had that look I was worried I would see.  I knew he was thinking about how this was going to fit on the truck.  Now, I am a self-proclaimed master at all-things-efficient, sometimes, so I grabbed my hand-truck and started carting the boxes to the vehicle.  He mentioned to me that if he would have known how many boxes there were he probably would have had them pack light so he could get them dropped off sooner.  I told him that I shared with the agent exactly what to expect because I didn’t want to have this in two trips.  Turns out this is fairly common.

Why is this happening?

A simple note is all it would take to fix what could have turned into quite an inconvenience.  For the company being this efficient, effective, and exalted organization, I’m honestly quite disappointed.  However, it has led me to consider that I’m probably missing some of the more simple things myself.  Tomorrow will be a day of analysis and reflection.  After all, improvement is a continual process.

For when you are having a bad day!

Today was a bad day!

I could not seem to get out of my own way today, and it was more than what I assume a typical “funk” would be.  Rather, I felt as if I was a step behind my usual pace.  I missed out on a contract because I didn’t pursue a partner as frequently as I should have.  Additionally, I am recovering from a major cheat day on my typical eating strategy.  That would probably explain my feeling sluggish.  We all have a bad day from time to time, and mine don’t show up too frequently.  Perhaps I shouldn’t complain.

​What does the science say?

Scientific American published an article that talked about the fact that bad moods are contagious.  We as a people have a tendency to replicate the emotions we see on other people’s faces.  As we all may have heard in the past, simply smiling has the ability to improve our mood.  Is it far-fetched to imagine that the opposite is true, that expressions of anger can inspire angry feelings?  If that is true, then bad moods could truly be contagious.

​This negativity breeds further negative energy and thought.  Perpetuating the negative energy is unlikely to result in a positive outcome.  This raises the likelihood of another bad day coming up.

Why should I stop?

​​As we all know, the biggest reason behind complaining is the venting.  Everyone loves to complain to “get it off [my] chest”, but have you ever noticed that it usually results in more complaining?  Maybe you aren’t the one continuing it, but before long your entire group is discussing things they hate.  While this can be fun from time to time, in some groups, it should not be a staple in the topics of conversation for you and your friends.

​What should I do when I have a bad day?

​Some of the things that help me are to look at a bigger scale.  This is one day in my lifetime.  Even if it were to stretch itself for longer, it is still a drop in the bucket of time.  Additionally, today wasn’t a total bust, as I made some sales on Amazon this evening.  Additionally, not to be that guy, but I have a roof over my head, clothes on my body, food in my kitchen, and family that loves me.  There are many things to be grateful for.

​No one can be that positive all the time.

​This is absolutely right.  You have every right to complain about things bothering you.  This is especially true when it is in hope of putting a solution in place.  I read somewhere that being told “there are always people that have it worse than you” is just like being told you can’t be upset about smashing your thumb with a hammer because there are people out there that have lost their entire hand.  (I completely paraphrased that one…)  No one can take away your feelings, however, it is the polite thing to do to not drag anyone down with you.

A bad day is no fun…

​but tomorrow is a new opportunity to do better.  Just remember that when things get tough it is perfectly acceptable to retreat, regroup, then return!

Planning for the future… – Part 3 – Repayment is hard

So it began…repayment!

​Looking over my plan, I realized that it is so easy to get in way over our heads.  I realize, now, how bad my spending habits were.  Something has to change, and I guess it will have to be me.  My goal is to be debt free (mortgage excluded) by 2025.

​Let’s do this

​So I decided on Debt Avalanche and created my own little motivational tool.  I took a pad of paper and filled out my bills in order of their due dates.  This is purely for my own interests as these bills are all set up for automatic payment.  I used my friendly amortization tables to show, on each page, the results my payment has on the balance for each account.  This visual reminder is not too awesome at the beginning, but as things pick up steam, my repayment is going to look very rewarding.

​Repayment = Discipline

I have a personality type that likes to flirt with extremes.  For instance, I could give myself more “fun” money and just accept that I’ll be paying longer on everything.  However, I need to get rid of this debt sooner rather than later.  So I set myself a rather strict, but reasonable weekly budget for misc. spending.  Through this, there is no reason I could not double- and triple-pay on some accounts when it becomes their turn.

​I also suffer from flashy-item syndrome.  Anytime I see something cool, or interesting, I start to think of ways I could incorporate it into my life.  That is how I ended up with a smart home.  However, it is different this time.  I truly want this, and I strongly believe that when we want something badly enough, we make it happen.

​This is going to be tough.

I sometimes feel that I am not wired for this, but I don’t have access to unlimited amounts of money.  One great thing that may come as a result of this repayment process is a shift in mindset.  When I finish paying everything off, I will have a much greater appreciation for spending my money wisely as I’ll have a better grasp of the time it takes to get out from under that boulder.

The numbers may be scary at first

I have three payments before my first account will be completed.  After that, nothing until eight months go by.  Next, I sit still with my payments for another 5 months before the big ones start happening.  As you see, I don’t start tackling my biggest challenges until July of 2018.  December 2019 is when I start getting hyper-aggressive towards my student loans.  Barring anything happening, I will send my last student loan payment November of 2024.

Don’t give up

Another nice benefit will be the better feelings of knowing that I am disciplined enough to accomplish this.  Maybe I can find a way to turn my goal of getting a set of washboard abs into a system like this.

Planning for the future… – Part 2 – Debt techniques

Debt Snowballs and Avalanches

​No, I am not looking to get you further in debt.  If you are anything like me, then you’ve mastered that part.  In the last post I mentioned a couple terms that are exceptionally useful in terms of getting rid of debt.  Debt snowball and Debt avalanche are two different approaches to the same goal.  Let’s get right into this.

The techniques

Essentially, it has you pay the minimum payments on your debts for all except one.  This special debt will be known as your “focus” debt.  Where they differ, however, is what becomes the focus debt.  The debt snowball focuses on your account that has the lowest balance and pays it off.  This results in faster results to get the “ball rolling”.  Debt avalanche, however, focuses on your account that has the highest interest rate.  This method takes longer for your first win, but it tackles those ridiculous interest rates in order.

​Which is better?

​Personally, debt avalanche makes the most sense to me.  Pursuing the highest interest rates first minimizes the amount I will end up paying total over the life of the payback period.  However, I cannot discount the positive reinforcement that comes from the snowball method getting rid of your first debt faster.  I suppose it is best left up to each individual to decide.  Compare the interest in total across both methods and decide whether or not the difference is worth it.

​Why are we talking about debt?

​Student loans are out of control.  Borrowers are not finding jobs that allow them to pay as much on their loans.  Creating some kind of system that helps you get this under control is imperative.  Additionally, debt of any kind can benefit from either of these systems, assuming of course you aren’t penalized for early repayment.

​This really sounds like a lot of work…

​Well, you are in luck.  Since part 1, I have found a tool online that makes this whole process as easy as getting your account balances and interest rates.  Undebt.it is an exceptional tool for doing the very things that I wasted invested my time doing manually.  The free account has pretty much everything you need, but for $12 a year you can get some cool features.  Things that are sure to excite your next date night, such as amortization tables.  Seriously, I started the 30 day pro trial for this feature alone.

​Give it a shot and see what works for you.  If you are stuck, they site has an incredibly responsive support team.  If you want to reach out to me, feel free to.  I would love ot hear your experience with this or any tool that works.

Weathering the storm during troubling times

​Troubling times are an inevitability.

​The other day, one of the businesses I am involved in had to make a major decision that resulted in layoffs.  As with all troubling times, a great deal of uncertainty and fear rears its ugly head amongst workers at all levels.  This particular organization, however, handled it quite well by keeping communication open.  It also concerned itself with the well-being of those that were most affected by these changes.

I have been fortunate enough to not be on the receiving end of such difficult news, but I have had to deliver it.  It is never an easy time, and the best one can hope for is that the company is in a position to provide a safety net for the worker(s).  Maybe you are not in a position to make decisions like this, but knowledge is power.

What does it mean?

​Companies may refer to an event like this as any number of terms including: downsizing, rightsizing, layoffs, organizational restructuring, and many more.  Essentially, the company has decided that some of the workers are either no longer needed, or can no longer be supported.  While this sounds very cold, most business owners and decision makers do not make these decisions lightly.  I have worked at some organizations that have held out for as long as possible, offering everything from furloughs, to salary cuts, before making staffing changes.

​The danger in a situation like this, however, is the possibility of holding on too long.  What if the damage is irreparable?

​Yeah, but what about MY troubling times?

​No one wants to be the one impacted by these tough decisions.  Business owners are responsible for the lives of the workers, as well as the life of the business.  You could have everyone in the organization be an all-star, but someone will still need to be cut from the team.  By no means am I saying that you do not have a right to be upset or complain.  You have every right to feel the emotions that you do.  The only options we have in times of good and times of bad is to do our best to mitigate the risk.

​Mitigate, how?

​There are many different areas we should focus on.  One of the companies I work with is an IT Services organization.  One thing that comes to mind is a Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity (BC) plan.  A DR strategy is part of your BC Plan, but it essentially comes down to the following points:

  • ​BC is the plan that gets put in place once things go wrong
    • This is a proactive plan for when resources (money, ability, people, etc.) are lost or no longer able to provide the same services or outcomes.
  • DR is how you plan to restore the “systems” you had in place before the event.
    • In IT this typically relates to documentation and data backups.

​To apply this differently, swap a few words and end up with something like this:

  • BC is the plan you have for continuing your lifestyle.
    • You may have to adjust things down in terms of spending, or make cuts wherever possible.  Ideally you have built up some kind of emergency fund to protect yourself for a period.
    • This may also be helped if your organization offers severance, though not always possible if things are already in a major financial bind.
  • DR is your plan to get back on your feet.
    • Maybe start that business you have been thinking about
    • Call up your friends and see if anyone is looking for someone with your unique set of skills.

Many people throughout history have found accidental success as a result of shifting careers, or downsizing.  It is worth noting, however, that it is still something you will need to process.  This processing may take some time, but don’t force yourself to rush through your emotions.  Take your time, regroup, and then get to it.  Reach out to me if you have any questions.

 

I have so many ideas, but so little time!

IDEAS!!!

​So I have been sitting here today doing some work for my main job.  As it usually goes, I started thinking about some of the many things I want to spend time working on.  To simplify the idea, my life kind of revolves around three resources: time, energy, and money.  I will never have all three, so I make the most of the two I have at that time.

​How do you manage your projects and ideas?

​The problem I am running into is identifying what projects are the best for me to spend my limited resources on.  How many of you are dealing with this?  I met with my CPA last week, and he was talking to me about my “endeavors”.  One of his key points is “what are your goals?”  He asked me to list off my projects and identify the number of hours I should be applying to each in order to be successful.  Then total up the hours and compare it to the amount of time I have available outside of my primary responsibilities.

​Unsurprisingly, my current projects require more time than I have to work with.  This issue is compounded by the fact that I came up with some more ideas today.  I think I need to give up on something.  However, do not worry, I am not leaving any of you.  I am here for you, long-term.

​How do you choose between your children?

​No, seriously, how do you choose which one stays?  It is not as simple as identifying which of my projects are most profitable.  I never wanted to judge these ideas based solely on profitability.  I wanted to look at it in terms of what is most fun, as well as what is most fulfilling.  From there I started adding other variables such as time expense, number of ​moving pieces (outside variables), as well as several others.

​Did this help me?  Absolutely not!  In fact, I am still wrestling with this very problem.  I have reduced my time on a couple elements in order to free up some time and money to pursue one of my next items.  Nonetheless, I know this is temporary.  I need to sit down and make a decision.

​Why is making a decision so hard?

I read an article about Zadie Smith that spoke about her personal philosophy on editing her stories.  I will paraphrase it as it refers to more than writing a novel: take your work, and let it sit for a while.  Put it in a drawer, a case, or somewhere out of site long enough for your to remove yourself from the role of creator.  Become a consumer of your creation, and you will understand editing.  Her words, “You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel…you need to get the head of a smart stranger that has just picked it up off the shelf in a bookstore.”

​It is incredible and yet so simple in concept.  Remove yourself from the role of creator and you can derive the value your creation provides.  I’ll be using this as a guide in the future.

What do you think?

On having kids and social presence…

The (​social​) Story to this point…

My wife and I decided before we had our first son that we did not want pictures of him, or any of our kids floating around online.  We were determined to abstain from posting photos of newborn babies or any milestone moments on Facebook, Instagram , or wherever you view photos that are shared.  There wasn’t any kind of political stance, or any sort of bold statement.  We just didn’t want to do it.  Here we are, over three years later, and that still holds true.

​The only photos of my sons that the Internet has seen have been the backs of their heads.

​Yeah, but it is called social for a reason!

​Many people make use of social sites to keep distant family members “close”, and I will admit that I look to see what other people are up to from time to time.  However, my kids are 3 and 3 months.  Their activities don’t need to be put up there, right?  Well, in talking with some colleagues some time ago, they were in disbelief that we do not post anything with the boys.

​Someone even mentioned at one point that they didn’t realize we had two kids because we never posted anything.  That isn’t the only format we have for social news.  Granted, I am not walking up to people and asking if they had a child lately, but have we forgotten about what life was like before the days of facebook and myspace?  I’m not a very private person, I’ll share anything, with anyone.  However, it is different with social profiles.

​Is it really that bad, though?

I understand that the social media sites are as good, or as bad, as the people that use them.  My wife and I didn’t take this stance out of fear.  For me, a big part of it was because everyone else does it.  Those of you that know me, know that I prefer to go left when everyone else is going right.  I’m not a hipster…but I play one on tv.

​My wife, on the other hand, came to this decision out of very logical reasoning.  She saw something on the news about how people were using the location Metadata attached to the photos taken with phones to be able to identify specific locations and even map out the inside of someone’s house.  The story was meant to share how you can turn off those location services, and I recommend everyone do it unless you have a reason not to.  However, I will admit that every time I replace my phone, or wipe it to start over again, I forget to turn it off.

​Now, is there anyone perusing social sites to capture this data from my photos?  Maybe not, but what happens when I become super famous and I have to start worrying about stalkers?  Is it paranoid?  Perhaps, but these are simple steps that do not impact our lives in any way, so is it really that big of a deal?

​tl;dr I don’t post pictures of my kids online, but that’s ok.

The Danger of Negative Thoughts and Feelings

What is the Danger of Negative Thoughts and Feelings?

In the past I have covered the power of our words and the power in positive thinking.  However, today I would like to talk about the opposite end of the spectrum.  Negativity is something we can find everywhere we look.  The news, the media, and the gossip in our social environments.  It really is everywhere.  With that in mind, it is so challenging to rise above all of this and look for the good.  Perhaps that is why my post on positive thought resonated so well with readers.  Negativity, though, can have some profound effects on us as individuals.  Then by extension it can have an unfortunate impact on our family, friends, and co-workers.

Negative Thoughts and a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

The phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy” is a term used in psychology and sociology.  It refers to a condition that is ​false​ but the beliefs or perceptions of an individual make them ​true​.  In other words, someone that walks around all day saying “my life sucks,” will focus on the results that will make this an accurate statement.

Some of the downsides to Negativity:

  • You are just not a fun person to be around. (-Social)
  • Lack of focus (-Productivity)
  • Lack of faith in your own ability (-Productivity)
  • Fighting with friends and family (-Social)

Those are clearly just my opinion, right?

The truth is, there is some science behind it.  Dr. Jacobson points out that we are our own worst enemy when it comes to this.  We, as a race are pre-programmed to have an infatuation with the negative.  It is not uncommon for us to refer to situations similar to a car accident, in the sense that we cannot seem to look away from it.  Negative thoughts have a habit of inspiring more negative thought.  Another issue is that we are so used to our negative thinking that we don’t even notice when we are doing it.

​​Why are we programmed this way?

Well, I cannot say for sure, but he seems to think that it is a defense mechanism.  You may already know this, but when things don’t go the way we anticipated and we must accept failure, it bums us out.  By assuming up-front that we are probably not going to be successful, we soften the blow to our self-esteem.

But what can be done about it?
The good doctor states that we must work to become more in tune with the thoughts and language we use in our minds and even in our daily life.  Only through recognizing the messages that they carry, can we hope to change.  He further states it so perfectly when he mentions “We are the masters of our fate, whether we allow our fear or our optimism to propel us forward.”

​Life’s Hard SometimesKeep your negative thoughts in check, and you’ll find yourself better equipped to handle things as they come.

The Funny Thing about the Pareto Principle

I was reading a post on Quora this morning that I found interesting.  The overall subject was smart ways in which lazy people behave.  I think we have all heard the quote attributed to Bill Gates: “I’ll always choose the laziest person to do the hardest work because they will find the easiest  way to dit.  The downside, of course, is if you work for Bill Gates and he comes to you with a “special project” is it really a compliment?  Back on track, though, was the fact that the particular post I linked to mentions the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule.  Many people have come up with any number of translations of this to fit any number of topics.  For instance, in business you may hear things such as:

  • 80% of our revenue comes from 20% of our workforce
  • 80% of our budget is attributed to 20% of our effort this year

Let’s go through a quick learning moment.  The Pareto Principle is named for economist Vilfredo Pareto, and states an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs.  It simply states that 20% of your invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained.  Put another way, 80% of what you get comes from 20% of what you give.  Now, understanding this principle is key because it reminds us of the inequalities associated with input and output.  Pareto used this rule to explain income inequality in Italy.  It can, however, be transferred to many cases throughout our personal and professional lives.

Obviously we use up 100% of our time everyday, but is the time being spent most appropriately for us?  The principle cannot be improved by definition.  There are times where the percentages may be slightly off, but the overall idea remains intact.  A large part of the output will always come from a small part of the input.  What can be improved, however, is the actions we take throughout the day that become part of the input.  Improving our quality of life is directly related to the activities we take part in.  We don’t get to choose what 20% will be chosen to dictate our lives.  By spending more time on improving the quality of his work, this individual has less time to spend in other areas.

What I am trying to convey is the Pareto Principle works on a wonderfully macro- level.  However when you begin to look into the individual areas with which we are able to spend time throughout our day, it is enough to drive someone crazy.  How could we feasibly be “on our game” 100% of the time in order to experience success across all areas in our lives?  If you find the answer to this, please share it.  However, I find it more likely that we need to accept that we are never going to be #WINNING in all areas.  Focus your efforts where you want to see the most success, and be much better than you are today.  Want a better family life?  Invest more time there.  Vying for that promotion at work?  Spend extra time on improving your skills and showing you are capable of handling it.

Common sense, but consolidated, takeaway:  Focus on the areas in your life that you want to improve, and as they get better so does your life.  If 80% of your enjoyment comes from 20% of your input, then make sure it is some quality input.

 

The Importance of Virtual Assistants

When you think of the work that you do, personally or professionally, do you ever place a value on it?  I know this sounds rather trivial to anyone that runs their own business.  However, what if you have a typical 9-5 and no interest in anything entrepreneurial?  Do you ever think about the cost associated with your time?  Or how about the importance of that time?  This topic has actually been on my mind quite a bit recently as I have had conversations with my mentor.  We have spoken about the very limited amount of time we as individuals have, and how to overcome that obstacle.

This isn’t always the easiest exercise as I don’t place the same value on every hour.  Additionally, outside variables may increase or decrease the opportunity cost “dollars”.  Opportunity cost refers to the potential gain of various available activities that is lost when an alternative is chosen.  For instance, if I dedicate an hour of my day to reading a book.  If that hour was the only free time I had available, then I cannot use the hour to also play a game, watch TV, or draw a picture.  I decide how I want to spend a particular resource, and then accept that it is spent and cannot be re-used for something else.  It is up to me to choose the importance placed on each task.

I have, at any given time, multiple projects going on that take up a lot of time.  Also, I have the same limited number of hours, each day, to accomplish as much as I can.  Currently, I am working on identifying key areas that I could potentially offload to someone else.  Now my businesses have not grown to be able to support employees yet, but there is an alternative.  Virtual Assistants may be the answer for me.  Working with them, I can have my VA pursue items that I either don’t want to do, or may be lesser in importance.

There are multiple sites that you could get this service from, so it is a good idea to do some research.  I am still early in that process myself, but the good news is there are so many reviews from people like you and I.  Treating it like any other service is the best way to handle it.  If you don’t feel the value is there, then try someone else.  The biggest part of it though, is having things for your VA to work on.  If you don’t identify items beforehand then you will be wasting money.  This system works by providing them with things to do.  It is the only way you’ll be successful at increasing your productivity without the constraints of only 24 hours in a work day.

I know that this is very important for me to be able to focus on my projects.  I just need to finish the list of the tasks I will be offloading.  Regular and repeatable, that’s my criteria.  I know I will have to teach them what I hope to see, so that is the next step.  Do any of you have experience with anything like this?