Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys

There’s one thing for certain in life or business, and that’s there are only so many hours in a day.  Many forces work against us constantly, tugging at our shirt sleeves for attention and time.  I’m often asked how I manage to get so much accomplished in one day.  It’s simple really; use the motto “Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys”.  Here’s what I mean:

Eagles are your top priorities that HAVE TO get accomplished today.  No matter what.  An order has to ship; you have to call a client, send a quote, attend a meeting, write a brief, and hire a staff member, whatever.  You are dead if you don’t do it.  These are your strategic top priorities for the day.

Turkeys are time sinks.  They suck the life out of you by draining one of your most important assets…time.  Maybe you have to sort through ten pages of SKU’s, print a report, or enter pages of hand-written inventory numbers.  These may be somewhat important tasks, and they have to get accomplished too; but if you let the Turkey’s rule they will monopolize your day leaving zero time for your important Eagle tasks.

So how do you define the two and get things going?  After all, you want to be Feeding Eagles right?  Amazingly it is just as simple as writing a to-do list.  Have you ever looked back on your day and wonder “Where did all the time go?  I was supposed to get more accomplished!” Using a to-do list focuses your attention on the Eagles, and pushes the pack of gobbling Turkeys off for a bit.

There are a number of to-do list managers, methods and software that may help you with creating your list.  This article isn’t about them.  I’ve been using daily to-do lists since I was in college at Florida State University back in the early 1980’s.  It used to be a piece of scrap paper, old envelopes worked great.  That morphed into using a dedicated legal pad, and I would highlight items as I accomplished them.  These days I’m using the built in Outlook task manager, as I use that for my e-mail.  The format really doesn’t matter as long as you are consistent.  Here are some tips:

  1. Be brief.  Just a few words for each item.  This is your list.  You know what they mean.
  2. If you are creating a follow up list for items you have delegated to staff – start the line with their name.  I organize these at the top of the page and group them by staff member.
  3. Eagles rise to the top of the list.  Outlook lets you sort them by simply clicking and dragging.
  4. For Super Important Eagles, after I print the list I hand-draw a box around the item or draw a star next to the item so they stand out.
  5. Delegate the Turkeys if you can.  Give clear, concise instructions and the expectation of what you want accomplished.  Make sure you follow up.
  6. Use a calendar.  Look ahead and plan your activities.  Get them on the list with a date assigned to them.
  7. Print the list and carry it with you all day and make notes.
  8. As tasks are accomplished cross them off your list with a pen.  It is very satisfying.  You are getting things accomplished!
  9. Update your list.  Repeat.

Your Eagle tasks are your most important things that you have to do today.  Get these accomplished first.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing the work either.  They just have to be actioned first.  By “feeding” them, this means that you are dedicating time and energy into accomplishing this important goal.  You have to think strategically and prioritize what needs to be accomplished.

If you have a very large project, assign a due date on a calendar and work backwards dividing small segments of the project into chunks.  Make each chunk an Eagle task, due on a particular date.  If you are involving other staff members, make sure you discuss assignments, tasks, and most importantly due dates with them.  Be realistic.

By time “starving” the Turkeys, you make way for the Eagle items to get handled.  Once these are out of the way, you can focus on the Turkey tasks that need to be handled, but aren’t as critical.  Turkeys could be long range items, or tasks that need to be handled, but really don’t have a due date.  Updating an employee handbook, or planning on some training a month or two from now.  Important tasks granted, but not as critical as getting an order produced and shipped, or returning phone call from a client.

The key is to make it work for you. I’ve found that the best way for me is to use one list, one calendar and just update it once a day.  (the “touch it once” rule)  Ten or fifteen minutes of planning in the morning and I’m organized for the day.  Will sorting Eagles and Turkeys work for you?  It all depends on your skills with being organized and disciplined with your tasks.  Try it!

Sometimes the Word “No” is Your Friend

Quite often a lot of companies get into trouble by saying “Yes” to situations that they really should avoid.  It is harder to say “No”, as we’re wired to please, to accept a challenge, to “Get ‘Er Done”.  However, if you stop and think about the situation before you react, you might save yourself a lot of valuable time, money and effort that could be wasted on unfruitful orders.  It’s counter-intuitive, but the word “No” just could be your best friend one day.

Here are some tips to help you make a good decision:

  1. Do you have all the facts?  Quite often, by thinking about the order and writing down everything you’ll need, including a timeline of deliverables, you’ll uncover a hidden challenge that could tip your decision one way or another.  Be sure to ask thorough, detailed questions.
  2. Are you sure you have the expertise?  Accepting a job that requires a skill that you don’t possess is just asking for trouble.  Learning on the job is a great way to travel down the road to ruin at breakneck speed.  Either factor in the cost of bringing in an expert to help you with the lacking skill or just say no to the deal.
  3. Do you have an exact idea on all of your costs?  If you are the guy that just marks everything up by percentage, without understanding all of your production costs, this could mean trouble.  Sometimes extra labor, materials, or other factors are needed to complete a job and if you don’t do a good job on the estimating step you could be working extremely hard, for free.  What’s the point of that?  Use a pricing matrix or schedule (that is built on actual data based on your company) and stick to it.
  4. Do you trust your customer?  There are some clients (you know you have some) that are less than truthful with you about things.  There are just some things about them that would make a used-car salesman proud.  If that’s the case, tread lightly when accepting a deal from them, or someone like them.  Sometimes a polite “Sorry, we can’t handle that order” is better than taking an order that is going to blow up in your face.
  5. Can you fit this order into your production schedule?  Do you even have one?  Hopefully your shop is busy enough that coordinating the jobs and orders requires some planning.  When handed a challenging order request though, if you don’t have a production schedule that you can easily refer to you may be in trouble.  Salespeople are notorious for blindly taking jobs and not worrying about the repercussions.  After all, there not the ones that will have to pay the overtime.  Here’s a follow up article I authored on building a production schedule – http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/How-to-Build-an-Accu-1469.shtml
  6. Is there even enough time to do it?  If you know your capabilities per hour, you can deduce how long it will take to run the job.  Unless you can print the job on more than one press or bend the laws of time and physics, sometimes it’s best to pass.  This request is usually centered on a rush job.  Here’s a follow up article I authored on tackling rush orders – http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nielsen/impressions_201302/#/46

So how do you say NO and not lose your customer or send the wrong message?  Here are some ways you can gently break the news or turn down the order:

  1. Be firm, but not overly defensive or apologetic.  Be honest about the situation, and explain that the project isn’t in your wheelhouse and you are concerned that you will let them down.
  2. If you really would like to do the project, but circumstances are preventing you from agreeing to the proposal, rephrase the challenge by saying “I can’t do this…but I can…”  Rephrase the topic into what you need to be able to accept the deal.  Maybe it will work out in the end.
  3. You can also say NO in the present state if you need more details on how the work might have to be performed.  Have some good notes or research ready and be prepared to explain what you need or what details are unfocused.  You may end up turning down the deal as offered, but your client will be impressed that you thought of an entire series of points that they haven’t contemplated.
  4. How about saying NO to only part of the project?  Maybe you could produce part of the order, and they could contract another part to another vendor.  This could be a good solution if you have some other companies that you share business with from time to time.
  5. Don’t forget that there are only so many hours in a day.  Accepting something that you know you should say NO to, may have a domino effect on other business.  Can you adjust your production schedule accordingly?  If not, explain to the client and show them that you value all of your clients and have a responsibility to them.  After all, they wouldn’t like their order to get bumped if you accepted something else…right?
  6. Another way of saying NO is giving them the cost and time estimate for you to do the work on your terms.  This way, if it does come in you will get paid for what you are worth and have the correct amount of time to produce the job.

Saying NO is hard.  As apparel decorators we are hard wired into thinking that we have to accept every job that comes along, as every company has been through some dry spells.  However, some orders just plain stink.  You can tell they are going to be problems from the moment you hear or read about them.  Sometimes that voice in your head that says DANGER! is right.

When You Are Up To Your Ass In Alligators

There is a small sign that used to hang in my dad’s office that reads, “When you are up to your ass in alligators it’s difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp”.  He passed away a long time ago, and I have that sign now.  I have it hanging the back wall of my laundry room and it’s usually the last thing I see before I walk into the garage and leave for work every day.  Occasionally, I’ll think about that sign on my drive to work and reflect on it as I’m thinking about my day ahead.  I’d like to share some of my thoughts about that sign:

  1. Ask the locals.  I’m sure the swamp engineer didn’t take any time to discuss the project with the people that use the swamp about what dangers or challenges would materialize if the water receded.  So if you are starting a big project at your company that is going to affect other people downstream, take a few moments and discuss your plans.  They just might tell you about the wildlife.
  2. Think about “what if”.  Before embarking on a project think about any long term consequences that could arise due to an environmental change.  Planning on switching your operating system, or the way you stage your inventory before production, or the metrics of an attendance plan?  What are you going to do with your alligators once the water starts moving?
  3. You might need some help.  When I think about that phrase I’m always struck with the mental picture of myself standing there alone with dozens of hungry gators, jaws flashing, all of them circling around me for a good angle to get the first bite.  It’s a different picture if I include a team of people though.  Sure, there are all in the same danger, but we would have a better chance of success for the change if we were working together towards that goal.
  4. Does the swamp really need draining?  Swamps actually are good things, but the idea here is that maybe there’s another solution to the challenge that doesn’t involve drastic change.
  5. Rise to the challenge.  Slay the gators.  Sometimes you just have to have the inner discipline and power through the problem.  Whether it’s just you alone, or you have a team beside you, knocking off those angry gators one by one until your mission is accomplished could be the only way out of the challenge.

I hope you found my article helpful.  I’d love to hear from you on how you “Drained the Swamp” and overcome your challenge.  By the way, I like my gator tail double battered in buttermilk and flour and deep fried.  Yummy.

Fried Gator:  2 pounds gator tail cut into chunks, salt and pepper, flour, cayenne pepper, buttermilk, 16 ounce vegetable oil, seafood cocktail sauce of choice

Directions  In a large bowl, toss the gator chunks into the buttermilk, and dredge with flour that has been seasoned with cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.  Double dredge the meat into the buttermilk and flour.  Using a large skillet, heat oil to 350 degrees and fry gator chunks until golden brown, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.

Serve hot and dip in the seafood cocktail sauce of your choice.  Wash it down with a cold beer.