The Pomodoro Method: The dumbest thing you should start doing today

When I hear the word, "method," it makes me think of very important and fancily complex procedures.  World-altering methods like the Scientific Method and Socratic methods come to mind. Strategies that take months or years to truly master.

Big stuff.

So when I first heard about the productivity wonderland that is The Pomodoro Method (so Italian!), I braced myself for a steep learning curve. I was in for a pleasant surprise.  

You guys, it's literally just timing yourself while you work.

It's so silly in fact, that I can't believe they had the audacity to call it a method. And yet it totally works. So even though it's insanely simple, I'm going to take the time to break it down for you here, because sometimes the simplest things in life can be the most transformational. And I believe the Pomodoro Method is one of those things. Get ready to be dazzled…

Step 1 - Pick a Task

Before you can start the Pomodoro Method, you need to figure out what task it is you want to accomplish. It doesn't work if you skip this step. Ideally, it should be something that you estimate will take about 60-90 minutes to accomplish.

Step 2 - Clear Away Distractions

Next, go to your happy productive working location away from distractions like Twitter, Amazon, and your 2-year-old. I try to work in the same place every day and the first thing I do is put in my headphones and turn on my favorite music channel on focusatwill.com. Now I'm ready to be a productivity master.

Step 3 - Start Your First Pomodoro

A "Pomodoro" is a stretch of 25 consecutive minutes. No interruptions. No potty breaks. No "quick email checks." (Like those exist.)

During a Pomodoro, you may only work on your single, designated task for 25 straight minutes. Set a timer on your phone, use an egg timer, use a Pomodoro app…whatever works best for you. The most important thing is that you hit that timer and start.

You can do anything for 25 minutes.

During your first Pomodoro, you will be tempted by the evil distractions that usually sidetrack you, but do not give in. You’re armed with a METHOD this time! It'll be all over in 25 minutes. If you catch yourself doing something other than your designated task, you're technically supposed to start the Pomodoro over, but I'm not usually that harsh. I just notice the distraction and get back to it. It gets easier with time, I promise.

Step 4 - Take a Short Break

After the 25 minutes are up, you've earned a well-deserved break. Set your timer for five minutes. You get five whole minutes to surf the internet, check your Facebook feed, refill your coffee, or do nothing at all. And because you've worked so hard to get to this point, you will actually ENJOY this slacking off, as opposed to the typical self-loathing that accompanies most Facebooking during work hours. (Side note: Tim Urban has a whole amazing riff about this concept where he refers to this unfulfilling "fun" as the "Dark Playground". But don’t worry about that, because this break was 100% earned, baby. Enjoy it.)

Step 5 - Pomodoro a Second Time

Take a deep breath…it's time to Pomodoro again. (Did you remember to hit the bathroom?) Now you've experienced the joy of making some forward progress on your task and you've recharged during your break, so this Pomodoro will be even better than the first one was! Set your timer for 25 minutes. GO GO GO!

Step 6 - Take Another Short Break

WOO! You did it again! Time to rest your mind for 5 minutes again so you can recharge for your last Pomodoro in the cycle. (Don't forget to set your timer though…it's easy to forget to come back after the break.)

Step 7 - Finish Strong with a Final Pomodoro

This is the last Pomodoro of this "cycle," and it's time to push hard to get it done. After this, you get to take a longer break, so you can use that as fuel to help you stay on task for 25 more minutes. It's going to feel so satisfying to see all you've accomplished at the end.

Step 8 - Take a LONG Break

After three Pomodoros, you've earned a nice long break! Sometimes I take 15 minutes, and other times, I take a lunch break. Either way, I make sure I give myself enough down-time to eat something, drink something, hit the restroom, and move around a bit. Maybe I even go for a quick walk or stretch a bit. The goal is to finish up this break segment feeling completely rested and ready to start a new cycle.

That's it!

Yep. That's the Pomodoro Method. I told you it was dumb. But also, it works.

You can repeat as many Pomodoros as you need to knock out the tasks you have scheduled for the day. I usually shoot for at least six 25-minute Pomodoros each day - more on days when I don't have many meetings. (I’m doing one right now as I type this!)

I'm a firm believer in experimenting with different ways of working and seeing what works. Keep what you like and toss the rest, but I'm willing to bet you'll find some little glimmer of value in giving this "method" a try.

Happy working!

There's No Trophy For Building Your Business Without Help

I just realized that this business of mine is having a birthday this week.

It’s been one whole year.

And how is that even possible, when it must have been at least 5, given everything I’ve learned and everyone I’ve met since starting this business?

A Little Background

Despite beginning my consulting career long before Process Mentors was officially a “thing,” the creation of this brand was the mark of a huge shift in the way I worked. Most obviously, it marked my pivot from focusing on curriculum development to process improvement, but the more important shift was something only I knew about: I had finally decided to make this one a “real” business. No more half-assedly dabbling - it was time to fully invest in making this happen. I reallllly wish I’d have written more back then so I’d have more evidence of what was going on for me back then. But alas - the importance of writing was also part of my learnings.

The first three weeks of my business were spent doing the usual website-prepping and trying to figure out exactly what to call the services I offered. I knew I needed to get something up and live…even if it was “wrong,” because I was about to start Seth Godin’s altMBA in January and I wanted to get the absolute most out of the opportunity. I didn’t want to spend 4 weeks figuring out what to call it and what it was…I wanted to go in with a plan and then see what kind of response I got. it seemed more productive. And terrifying. (I won’t do an explanation of this program justice, so please do check out the link above.)

I was right about the terrifying part, but I could’ve never guessed how much the altMBA would’ve changed me and my business forever. I could write a whole other post just on that, but my point in bringing it up here is that it flung me, head-first, into other people.

I am a Puzzler

I love puzzles and problems. I love to figure hard things out quietly and on my own. It’s one of the things I love most about running my own business. And that was exactly how I had been running my curriculum consulting business prior to Process Mentors. But during altMBA, I was forced to share not just my “brilliant solutions” to the puzzles of my business, but all the messy stuff that happened behind the scenes.

And these brilliant people were telling me I really had something with this business. But also…

Some of it didn’t make sense.

And maybe I was hiding or avoiding something.

And sometimes I’d missed the point altogether.

No one in my life had ever pushed me so hard. They were in it with me; helping me tear my ideas apart and put them back together again. Or sometimes just holding space for me to tear them apart and put them back together on my own. This was no longer a puzzle for me to go away and solve on my own. I could ask for help. I could give valuable help to others. Lo and behold, it worked better than my old “solo” way. As in, a lot better.

And so I leaned way into those connections I made during those 4 weeks and into every connection since then. Nothing has ever been the same.

Please Stop Trying to Do it Alone

This post is dedicated to the freelancer or entrepreneur who’s trying to build their business alone. May you also find the joy and magic of inviting others into your problems.

Maybe you think you need to figure everything out on your own for it to “count.”

Maybe you feel like asking for feedback will make you look weak or incapable.

Maybe you don’t have anyone you trust.

Whatever’s holding you back from collaborating with others to grow your business, I’m begging you…throw out the excuses. Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) has been more valuable to my business than the authentic connections I’ve made with other people. No one can do this stuff alone…not really.

Start simply: Call someone from your past whose opinions you respect. Ask for 30 minutes to help you solve a specific problem or answer a specific question about your business. Find out if there are ways you can serve them too. See what happens. As long as your focus is to learn and to give back, you pretty much can’t go wrong.

If you need your new-hire training to actually work, start with this...

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

As a teacher, instructional designer, and all-around process nerd, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to business owners about the challenges of new-hire training. We all know it’s important and we definitely need to do it, but somehow it often misses the mark. Perhaps we attempt to “fix” it by gathering our team and writing down everything a new-hire needs to know in painstaking detail. Then we file it all away inside the world’s most comprehensive and amazingly-organized shared folder entitled, “New Hire Training.”

So why are they still not learning?

Sadly, the act of writing down the step-by-step process for everything you do and then expecting your new-hires to read it all and “be trained” just ain’t a thing. (I wish it were).

Now please don’t take that as me hating on process documentation. If you’ve read any of my recent posts about the importance of writing down your processes, you know I believe in it, whole-heartedly. Taking the time to figure out the “best way” to get things done and then writing those things down is a practice that brings unbelievable clarity and value to your business. Simple. Straightforward. I love it so much.

So yes...you should write down your processes, but process documentation is not training.

I think about writing down your processes as the type of storytelling where the narrator tells the story. They tell the story of everything that happens along the way from the initial “input” to the final “output”: They explain how each person interacts with the story, they outline the hand-offs from one person to the next, they identify all of the resources and templates that are used along the way. The “narrator” explains everything from an all-knowing, comprehensive point-of view. A simply-written, yet comprehensive process document is a great tool for someone to get an overarching understanding of how a process works from beginning to end.

Soooo...isn’t that training?

Giving an overview of a critical process in your business may, in fact, be a key part of your training, but only a part. It may be helpful to think of your training as a magical and intentionally-curated first-person journey designed just for that learner’s role. No narrator required.

Ideally, such journeys have pre-determined end-points, maps for how to get there, and some checkpoints along the way to tell you if you’re making progress. Better still, the learner who is on the journey understands where they are going and wants to go there too.

Then how do you plan a training that works?

I’ll get right to it: The key to designing a training that works is to start with the end in mind. Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe call this “Backwards Design” and following it has never led me astray. In the context of a training, I can simplify it down to 3 simple steps:

Step 1 - Define the OUTCOME

Start by identifying what change or result you want to see in the learner’s on-the-job behavior.

Not what you want them to “understand.”

Not the test you want them to be able to pass.

The actual, real-life, valuable thing you want them to be able to do in their everyday role in your company. Write that thing down clearly in terms of something you can observe with your own two eyes. So, instead of “The learner will understand the importance of filing their TPS reports properly,” try, “The learner will file their TPS reports with the proper cover sheet each and every time.” (You’ll understand why this distinction is important in a minute.)

Step 2 - Develop the ASSESSMENT

Next, figure out how you’ll know when they’ve mastered it. It’s all fine and dandy that you know what you want them to do on-the-job, but what good is that if you can’t tell if they’ve changed their behavior? Instead, you need to devise what we instructional designers call an “assessment.” And I have good news…asessments don’t have to be tests. In fact, they definitely shouldn’t all be tests! In our TPS example, the desired outcome is for the learner to file their TPS report with the proper cover sheet each and every time. Well, the only way you’ll really be able to assess that would be to assess the behavior of the learner in the weeks (and maybe even months) that follow the training event once they’ve had a chance to put their learning into action.

I might decide that after 3 correct TPS submissions in a row, I could feel confident about a learner’s mastery of that particular outcome, but it’s unlikely that I could assess it through a couple of test questions at the end of the training.

And how in the world would I ever assess whether they “understand the importance of filing their TPS reports properly?” That’s right, friends..you can’t observe whether someone understands something. Not yet, anyway. (Although I think Alexa is chipping away at this feature.)

Step 3 - Build the LEARNING

Finally, design the lessons to drive the learner to the desired outcomes and ONLY those outcomes. To create a training that causes the real on-the-job changes you seek in your learners, every lesson, case study, and activity must be carefully selected to guide the learner in that role to reach that pre-defined outcome, as assessed by that pre-defined assessment.

It’s so tempting to start with a bunch of related topics, write down all the details, and call it a training, but remember, those would be a series of process documents. Instead, we are in charge of guiding our learners to the most important and relevant things they need to know and do.

I’ve created a handy guide for you so you can follow this three-step process when you design your next training…here it is:

Was all my process documentation a waste?

Oh heck no! The very process of writing down what you do and how you do it brings efficiency to the way you run your business and clarity to your team members. It’s essential.

Also, you can’t possibly create awesome trainings if you don’t actually know how things are supposed to work. So I would say that process documentation is a prerequisite to designing any good training or, at the very least, needs to be done concurrently as you’re building your training.

So the next time you need to put together a new-hire training (or any training), try first figuring out the most important things you need the new-hires to be able to do on the job, day in and day out. This makes it way more likely that you’ll be able to map out a learning path that leads them to that outcome. And that’s just better for everyone.


Want to build a different (better) kind of training this time? Click here to download my free Training Design Plan.

When You're So Overwhelmed with Your Business You Could Scream

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Overwhelm.

It actually makes me feel overwhelmed to say the word overwhelmed. (I should probably stop typing it right about now.) It’s that icky feeling you get when all the little (and big) things that are occupying the spaces of your brain seem like too much to handle. You feel unable to pull your foot out of the sticky mud of SO MANY THINGS to even take a step forward. You probably need help figuring it out, but you’re not actually sure how you would even go about asking for help because it all seems like too much.

As a small business owner, you may be very familiar with this feeling. And you’re not alone. Running a business is no joke, and it’s not like the rest of your life gets put on hold just because you’re focused on growing your business. Turns out it’s pretty important to spend quality time with your partner from time to time.

Often, when you’re overwhelmed...

  • You lose sleep

  • You don’t eat well

  • You don’t prioritize spending time with your loved ones

  • You try to keep your overwhelm to yourself and just “muscle through it”

It’s like a stress snowball - each terrible reaction makes the next one worse. Have you ever tried to negotiate bedtime with a 2-year-old who feels disconnected from you when you’re running on 3 hours of sleep and have a deadline first thing in the morning? It’s not awesome.

Yet while it’s clear that a different approach is needed to overcome overwhelm, it’s hard to know where to start when you’re in the thick of it.

I’ve been there too. Luckily, I’ve learned some strategies along the way for how to bring myself back to a more peaceful state. Since these work for me, I’d love to share 6 of my favorite tactics for overcoming overwhelm.

  1. Get all the things OUT OF YOUR HEAD - The thing that’s making you feel overwhelmed is the fact that you don’t have clarity on a plan for addressing all of the the nagging stresses in your life. Step one to fix that is to brain-dump every single thing that’s on your mind. What’s bothering you? What deadlines do you have coming up? What events are coming soon? Once you have a list of those things out of your head, you’ll instantly feel better. I’m serious. You might even see some “quick wins” you can tackle in 5 minutes or less to give you some momentum for moving forward. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop reading this and do this activity. Right now. (But come back and read the rest later, ok? Ok.)

  2. Determine “Next Tasks” - I straight up stole this one from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I don’t even feel bad. You know that list you made of all of the things that are causing you to feel out of control? Many of them will require way more than a single task to bring them to completion. They may be projects or even interpersonal situations that aren’t working and need to be resolved. For these, you need to figure out, “What is the next specific thing I can do to move this forward. If one of the things that bugging you is feeling frustrated about an employee’s negative attitude, perhaps the next action is to schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with them to discuss. Not even have the meeting...just schedule it. Or maybe your son’s birthday is coming up and your next action is simply to “pick a date” for the party. Distilling these big fuzzy ideas down to a clear and actionable next step takes away all of their power to overwhelm.

  3. Figure out today’s MIT - Now that you know what the “next tasks” are, it’s time to figure out your MIT. MIT is a strategy I learned from the brilliant and probably-never-overwhelmed business coach, Greg Faxon. It stands for the “Most Important Task” and is something you should identify every single day of your life and then DO FIRST. I can usually identify my MIT by asking myself, “If only one thing got done today, which one would make me feel best about my day?” That’s your MIT. There’s only one thing you must do today. Isn’t that freeing?

  4. Go to bed at bedtime - I don’t know what your bedtime should be, but you need to have one. What time do you want to get up every morning? Subtract 8 hours from that and you’ve got your bedtime. Honor it. Respect it. Do it daily, without fail. I like to set an alarm to give me a 30 minute warning when my bedtime is approaching. It’s a reminder that it’s time to start winding down for the evening.

  5. Nourish your body - I know those cookies give you a little hit of dopamine right when you need it most, but you’ll pay for it later in a dip in mood, energy, and motivation. Is it really worth it? I’ve found that stocking up on healthy yet satisfying snacks (I like carrots with spicy hummus or turkey slices dipped in mustard) has helped a lot because I’m fully prepared with something to grab as an alternative to the crap. And drink LOTS of water. It makes a huge difference in how you’ll feel and that will directly impact your level of overwhelm.

  6. Ask for help - I know, I know...you are a badass. And normally, that’s enough to power through hard times like these. But do you know what works even better? Inviting trusted people into your problem can shed new light on strategies you may be overlooking. Don’t worry about “organizing the problem” before you ask for help. That’s just stalling. Then later, you might be able to delegate some of your next actions and projects to free up space in your brain and time on your calendar - two very precious resources, indeed.

If you came to this article because you were feeling overwhelmed, I hope that now that you’ve gotten to the end, you’re feeling a tiny bit better. Remember…even though it feels like you’re going to be in a permanent state of overwhelm, it never lasts forever. You’ve got this.


If you’re overwhelmed with your business’s back-end operations, Process Mentors can help! Click here to schedule a free scale-up session and we’ll help you get back to your most peaceful self.




Make Your Message Clearer by Saying it Out Loud

Do you ever struggle with describing your business clearly and succinctly to friends and family? Do you have a hard time coming up with “good content” for your blog or social media? Do you wish you could do speaking gigs but aren’t convinced you could pull together a compelling talk?

Well, a couple weeks ago I attended a podcasting workshop, hosted by the brilliant Pam Slim and Rob Lawrence at the Main Street Learning Lab in Mesa, AZ (which, by the way, is perfection) and I learned a few new tricks that helped me gain clarity in my own messaging. And I’m dying to share them with you..

During this workshop, we were learning everything we needed to know to produce our own podcasts. (Yes, I’m making a podcast!) One of the exercises was for each of us to record an “Episode 0” for our soon-to-be masterpieces. We were each paired with another participant who interviewed us about our business and the podcast itself. As soon as I sat down in front of the mic, I felt a buzz of nervousness. My brain started racing about what the heck I was going to talk about and how stupid my voice was going to sound and why anyone would care anyway and...and...and.... But there was no turning back now. I wiggled my foot on the stool anxiously and awaited the hand signal to begin.

Pictured: Tamara Kemper, Joey Bellus, Rob Lawrence and Rodney Cajudo. In the downstairs studio at the Main Street Learning Lab!

Pictured: Tamara Kemper, Joey Bellus, Rob Lawrence and Rodney Cajudo. In the downstairs studio at the Main Street Learning Lab!

Guess what happened?

Magically, words that I’ve never before said and connections that I’ve never before made suddenly came pouring out of my mouth. Who knows, maybe my voice did sound stupid, but the words I was saying actually made sense! And just saying those words was helping me to understand my whole purpose for doing this podcast in the first place. It was like I was convincing myself in that very moment that it mattered.

Just plain old spoken words.

Although I learned the practical skills for producing my podcast, here were the more important (and unexpected!) lessons I took away from the workshop:

Have More Conversations

We all have conversations about our business as part of normal operations and sales, but when it comes to talking about your business, more is more. Try to find as many opportunities as you can to have quality conversations. For me, these might be conversations like...

  • Asking people questions about how they organize their businesses and where they get stuck.

  • Finding out what people’s real pain-points are related to their back-end operations.

  • Telling stories of the businesses that have made things work better

  • Helping people see why all this process stuff matters for their business (because it really really does)

What kind of conversations can you have? The more you practice talking about what you do and asking insightful questions, the better you’ll get at it. And that means you’ll be better at conveying your message to your ideal customer and helping them get to where they’re going. Kind of a win-win, I’d say.

Record Your Conversations

Once you start having conversations on the regular, Rob suggested that you start recording them too (With permission, of course) - Conversations with family, with friends, with clients and soon-to-be-clients. He talked about how many amazing insights and content gems happen organically as you go about your day doing your thing. And when you have a particularly enlightening conversation, he suggested paying a service to transcribe that conversation because you can take those little gems and turn them into social media posts, blog posts, and if you put enough of them together - even a book!

And I can totally see it. How many times have I told someone the story of what I do and how I got here?  How many times have I helped someone walk through the operational challenges of their business? And yet these messages seem to shift and morph every time...it’s never quite right. But if I were to start recording, I could also start listening. And in listening, I could craft a message that is clearer and more powerful, instead of trying my best to remember that one brilliant thing I said last time.

So here we go…

For me, these learnings all come down to being more intentional about the conversations I have every day. I’m excited to jump in, but I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous. This medium of voice is so much more personal than the written word. You can hear my uncertainty, my dorkiness, my “trying to sound professional but probably not” tone...all of it. Recording myself sharing my ideas will require a much greater level of vulnerability than I’ve ever needed to have here in my living room as I cozily type in my jammies. This will take practice.

Nevertheless, here we go. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on my podcasting journey. I hope you’ll be listening...

Why Project Management Alone isn't Enough

Often, when I tell people how I help small businesses, they say, "Oh, I get it! You're a project manager!" And while I do love a good project, that's not quite it. I live in the processes.

Processes and projects. They even start with the same 3 letters. They’re practically identical, right? Not so much.

Let’s unpack how projects and processes fit together...

Projects

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Getting Things Done author, David Allen says, "Projects are defined as outcomes that will require more than one action step to complete and that you can mark off as finished in the next 12 months."

Really, David Allen? Everything with more than one action step is a project? That seems a bit dramatic.

But it turns out, it’s not.  You might be tempted to consider something as simple as “writing this week’s blog post” as a task, rather than a project. But think of all those little steps that go into it: You pick a topic, you write a draft, someone on your team proofreads, you post it, you share it. You have to complete each and every step in the right order.

It’s a project.

And even if you still disagree, just go with me on this for now, for the sake of having clear definitions.

Processes

Comparing a project to a process isn’t like comparing apples and oranges. It’s more like comparing apples and ... fruit. Projects are completed as part of a process (and hopefully a repeatable and scalable one!).

If we take our “writing this week’s blog post” project above as an example, we would ideally be following a standardized process for how the team creates weekly blog posts. We would have already defined each of the steps that are done every time, the order in which they need to happen, and the approximate number of days needed for each step. Following the set process takes away any worry of forgetting a step or getting off-track on deadlines. You know you’ve already figured out the most efficient way to do it, and there’s no need for lots of team communication to figure out handoffs and what comes next because we’ve already decided ahead of time.

So...

A process is a framework for doing repeatable, multi-step work.

Every time you run through the steps of that process to achieve a particular outcome, you’ve completed a project.

Let’s play with this idea in a few commonplace examples:

  • You have a process for using your journal and cookbooks to do your weekly meal-planning and grocery shopping. This Sunday, you will use that process to complete a project called, “This week’s meal-plan and groceries.”

  • Your business has a process for onboarding new employees. Tomorrow, you will use that process to start a project called, “Onboard Andrea Baker.”

  • You have a process for packing for camping trips. Last weekend, you used that process to complete a project called, “Pack for camping in Flagstaff.”

What’s wrong with running a project without a process?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing a project without an overarching process. But if it’s a project you frequently do that is a core aspect of your business, you’re probably wasting precious time re-figuring-out how to do that thing each and every time. I’m willing to bet there are a lot of important things in your business you’re treating like unique projects when they really should be turned into processes. “Processified,” if you will.

So, no, you don’t always need to standardize the process. Sometimes you just do the project. But this one question will help shed some light on whether to standardize or not…

Will we need to do a project like this again in the future?

  • If so, you’ll want to work towards standardizing the process so you can do it awesomely (and efficiently!) in the future. You don’t have to get crazy about it, but jot down some notes about the steps you took. And then keep updating it as you and your team repeat it and get smarter. The future version of yourself will thank you.

  • If not, skip standardizing your process. There’s no need for you to document your small business’s process for setting up an LLC, because you’ll only need to do that once.

But even when you’re doing a one-time project, there are processes that can help:

  • If lots of other people have done this thing before, follow their process. You might as well use a tried and true method instead of re-inventing the wheel.

  • If your project is truly a unicorn, use a project-planning process like Seth Godin’s ShipIt Journal to walk you through all of the steps and considerations for your project. It’s like having a coach alongside you, asking you key questions as you create your project plan.

And don’t forget, processes are meant to evolve - don’t be afraid to edit them regularly. As Trainual Founder and CEO, Chris Ronzio says in his recent Inc article (follow him on Twitter):

“Think of your policies and procedures like the leaderboard on an arcade game. As soon as someone comes up with a better way to do something, it should rise to the top as the clear and obvious winner, and everyone should recognize it.”

The really cool thing is that after you complete a few of the same type of project and begin to standardize the process, it gets easier and easier. And that’s how you turn pro.


If you need help standardizing your processes to scale your business, Process Mentors would love to chat! Click here to set up a free initial call. 

5 Ways to Wow Your Clients with Smartsheet

I first met Smartsheet circa 2009 when I was working as the director of implementation for an educational technology company, and my life was never the same. Such a dramatic thing to say about a piece of business software, yet after spending a few days at the Smartsheet ENGAGE conference, I’ve learned that I’m not the only one.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Smartsheet, it’s a software tool that us “regular” people (not just IT folk) can use to organize and share information, manage projects, and even automate workflows and notifications.  Name just about any operational problem you can think of, and there’s probably a way you can fix it with a Smartsheet. It’s wonderful.

But I won’t bore you with a whole article full of emotional gushing. Instead, I thought I’d take some time to list out just a few of the problems I’ve personally solved using Smartsheet in my own consulting business, for the rest of you service business owners out there. Buckle up, it’s about to get real nerdy…


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1. Client Feedback Process - I built a client feedback form as a simple and organized way to get feedback from my clients on their experience working with me. And now I have an awesome list of all of my past clients and their specific feedback. All in one place. I use these to grow, improve, and get some great quotes for my marketing materials! Click here to download a step-by-step guide for creating your own Client Feedback Process in Smartsheet.

2. Client Portal - I need a way to put all of the client-facing “stuff” in one place, including high-level project status and statistics, key contact information, links to frequently-used documents, assigned to-do items, and much more. I use the Smartsheet Dashboard function to pull all of the data in automatically from their unique project plans and it’s easy to spawn off a new one for each new client. What a simple way to wow them!

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3. Manage a Remote Project - I often manage projects where lots of different people are tightly coordinated on a quick-moving sequence of tasks. I can build shared project plans where we are all able to see key milestones, due dates, dependencies, and task ownership and even share version-controlled files all in one place. All of the task-related discussion is saved right there in context with the project so there is no need to sift through emails to find the “latest and greatest” info. I even set it up so that every time someone adds a new comment or file, we are all notified via email. It’s cool.

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4. Project Milestone Sign-off Tool - It’s important to have a reliable and easy way to deliver the final project deliverables to each client, manage version control, and get their approval/feedback. This baby does just that and my clients and I are always on the same page.

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5. Client File Repository - Every client project has some element of random files, documents, and information that need to be shared with me during the course of the project. Usually, that means the client sends me 98,987 emails within the first 2 weeks of working together and then I’m constantly looking for “that one spreadsheet.” Instead, I create Client File Repositories for each of my clients so they can easily upload any project-related files and information in one place. Bye bye emails.

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And this list only scratches the surface of what you can do with Smartsheet. As a non-developer, the thing I love most is that they’ve given me extremely powerful flexibility as an “expert user” while making it ridiculously simple for my end users to work with. The combination of those two factors is often hard to come by. I’m able to creatively solve a variety of problems in an elegant way all in one system.

I encourage you to give it a try if you’ve been looking for a better way to manage the way you collaborate with your own clients. The constant emails back and forth and Excel spreadsheets just aren’t the answer!

If you ever want me to bore you to death with my Smartsheet gushing in real life (or perhaps just want some help using Smartsheet for your own small business), reach out to Process Mentors.

Why You Shouldn’t Automate Your Business (Yet)

As a small business owner, you're constantly inundated with articles and updates in your feed about the wonder and glory of automating your business. With all the tools and experts out there, it's easy to start feeling like you're behind the eight ball on all this business automation stuff. Maybe you’re even starting to feel some anxiety about what seems to be a huge undertaking. Well, if you're like most of the small businesses I work with, it's probably not time to start automating just yet.

You Can't Automate What You Can't Write Down

"If you can't write it down, it's not a thing."

That’s an annoying thing I like to say. There are so many aspects of our jobs that have evolved over the years so organically that they become second nature to us. So we think we are clear on the process. But if we were to ask three different people on the team to write down how it works, we'd likely get three different answers. And we never quite seem to get around to asking those three people. And don’t even get me started on what happens when those three people quit.

So let's say you really wanted to automate your business. How do you automate a process that you can't even write down? How do you decide what parts to automate? The answer to both questions is...You can’t.

Before you can make things work better, there needs to be a shared clarity for your team in the reality of how those things work today. And that takes time and focus. Documenting your processes may not be as flashy as that software tool that zaps data from here to there, but it's a foundation that's worth the investment.

Aside from being a necessary first step to jumping into the process automation game, documenting your processes has some pretty sweet side-effects too, including:

  • Identifying problems and inefficiencies that can be quickly resolved

  • Increasing teamwork and collaboration

  • Helping team members understand the impact of their actions in the greater process

  • Improving the training experience for new team members through better documentation

It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Getting Started With Process Documentation

If you're wondering how to get the ball rolling with writing down what your business does, look no further. Just follow the steps below...

Step 1 - Pick a Department

Rome wasn’t built in a day and your entire business won’t get documented in one either. When you try to examine the business as a whole, it can feel overwhelming. Instead, start with one functional group or department. If it’s not obvious where to start, choose the department that has the most flexible and easygoing team members who will be willing to participate fully. Their good juju will get the project started off on a positive note and propel you forward into documenting the next department.

Step 2 – Figure Out Who Does What

Process Mentors client, John Waters, defining his team’s roles.

Process Mentors client, John Waters, defining his team’s roles.

Businesses are run by people so it’s always best to start out by defining roles. No one ever has trouble coming up with a laundry list of things they do every day/week/month, so it gets everyone feeling productive and focused right from the start. My favorite way to begin is through a brain-writing exercise where I give everyone 10 minutes on their own to write down every single task they are responsible for on individual sticky notes and put them up on the walls. Then, we work together as a group to define the roles in the department, and assign those sticky-note tasks to each of the roles. There are disagreements sometimes, but that’s the point...we’re looking for a shared understanding of what we do. It’s engaging for the whole team and, dare I say, fun!

Step 3 - Name the Processes

When you look up on those fabulous sticky-note-covered walls, you’ll not only see a list of the tasks for each role. You’ll also begin to see that you can group those tasks into categories of interrelated steps. Guide your team to name those categories you discover. Those named categories will become the key processes you’ll write down. This important step will allow your team to be laser-focused on the boundaries of the specific process they’re working on, since (most of) the steps have already been identified.

Step 4 – Start Simply

Once you’ve identified they key processes you’ll focus on, it’s time to get to work documenting. You can either assign that to an individual or do it together as a group. (I recommend doing at least one together as a group first.) But there’s no reason to get all fancy about it. Often, a simple 2-column table or a spreadsheet is an un-intimidating way to begin writing down all the steps needed to complete a process.

The first step in any process is its “input.” To figure out what it is, ask yourself, “What thing happens that makes this whole process get kicked off in the first place?” After that, just braindump what your team does step by step by step. Finally, end with the “output” or the finished product that is the result of the process. Here’s a simple example of how that might look:

Process: Selling Lemonade

Step Who
INPUT: Customer requests lemonade       Customer
Collect payment and give change Cashier
Pour ice into cup Lemonade Artist
Pour lemonade into cup Lemonade Artist
Insert straw into cup Lemonade Artist
Hand lemonade to Cashier Lemonade Artist
OUTPUT: Hand lemonade to customer       Cashier

This isn’t about capturing every last detail and contingency, necessarily. But it is about coming to agreement about the order and ownership of each of the steps along the way. If you focus on those two things, you and your team will learn a lot about the assumptions each of you had about what really happens.

OK, Nowwwwww You Can Automate

With your as-is processes clearly documented (Which will have made your processes better and your team more efficient), now is a great time to start automating.

  • You know where your handoffs are.

  • You know what data needs to move from point A to point B.

  • You know which tasks are the most cumbersome and/or repeated.

In short, you have a clarity about how your business works that you could’ve never had before you wrote all this stuff down. With that clarity comes confidence and efficiency as you improve how you do things. So whether you decide to tackle the automation journey on your own or outsource it to an expert, you now have a map of exactly what needs to happen every step of the way. And journeys just work better with maps.


If you want to start documenting your processes, reach out to Process Mentors. I can help!

Are You Paying Too Much for Your Processes?

Business processes are funny; they are the backbone of how you run your business, yet small teams rarely give them any attention at all. Sure, you'll make incremental changes as time goes on and you'll fix what's broken, but when was the last time you specifically focused on evaluating your business processes to see how much time (and money) they're costing you?

When I start working with a new client, I do a cost evaluation of their key process(es) to make sure I truly can bring them measurable value before diving into their project. It's amazing how I can trim a few minutes here and there from a process and end up reclaiming hours over the course of a week and year. This time-savings can translate to tens of thousands of dollars!