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Are You a Little Bit Curious?

Most people don't use their best asset - their brain.  Your brain loves looking for answers. It loves being given a project, looking for answers and solving problems.  The best way to activate the brain is to ask the right questions, but is your brain getting the right questions?

Questions such as "Why aren't I successful?" and "Why aren't I happy?" are not usually borne out of curiosity, whereas "What would make me more successful?" and "How do I go about making myself happy?" will lead your brain to explore and lead to a more genuine search for answers.  Remember, the better the question, the better the answer.

Once the right question has been posed, then curiosity will lead to thinking, planning, observing, information gathering, acting, reflecting and review.  Curiosity can be a powerful business tool and give you a competitive edge.

At Overells, we have regular meetings which cover a range of topics within our business. Everyone is encouraged to question how we do things and suggest improvements for any part of our business – from simple 'tips & tricks' that we discover while preparing accounts and tax returns through to how our website looks and functions. We do this by having an agenda which is designed to cover most aspects of our business and afford the time to allow everyone to be creative.

But why rely upon yourself (as a business owner/ manager) for all the questions?  Every employee has the ability to be curious, innovative and in the right environment, willing to take risks.  However, in most work situations, they will be discouraged to do so.

Managers may feel challenged or intimidated if they perceive that their ability, knowledge or authority is being questioned.  Curiosity can be killed in many ways:

  • concern about achievement rather than learning
  • being judgmental
  • lack of humility
  • taking things too personally
  • complacency
  • fear of change
  • stress

The successful business focuses on possibilities and opportunities which are borne out of curiosity.  Creating a work environment that is open to questions can lead to:

  • better information
  • more complete overview of systems and their relationships
  • planning more effective strategies
  • better work relationships and morale
  • increased ability to respond rather than react
  • more possibilities and opportunities

It's best to develop the ability to see things from a beginner's mind - a mind that has not been too influenced by preconceived beliefs and assumptions.  Generally, people don't like change.  We'd rather reinforce what we know even if we have a 'gut-feeling' that it could be improved or changed completely.

The best way to be a 'beginner' is by 'opening your mind' - being intrigued, fascinated and interested.  You will also need to learn to truly listen, don't jump to conclusions and investigate more - don't just follow one possible answer, consider all options available with a similar objectivity and be persistent.  Be willing to change your mind and have your points of view and beliefs challenged and enjoy the process!

Most of us aren't particularly good at asking questions, let alone the right ones.  But most of us have a 'gut-feeling' that things could be better.

Asking the right questions is a skill that can be developed - take away the self doubt, ask the question, and make sure you act upon it!

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How to get the Most out of your Weekend


Many people eagerly anticipate Friday afternoon as the beginning of a couple of days of freedom from the demands of everyday life, only to end up on Sunday night feeling disappointed and dejected that they didn't achieve all they had wanted to.  


With my return back to an office environment after nine years of flexible work hours, I've had to re think my weekends to ensure they are fulfilling and satisfying.  Here are some thoughts which work for me:

  • Make a Plan - The biggest difference between a successful weekend and an unsuccessful weekend is a plan.  I've found without a plan I am busy but don't achieve the things that are important to me.  The weekend meanders along and is filled with the demands particularly of my children and by Monday morning I look back in wonder at the past 60 hours wondering where the time went.
  • Minimise House Chores - I don't find housework and chores particularly rewarding and have very happily employed a cleaner.  Friday is a much anticipated day for many reasons and one of those is coming home to a tidy and clean house that I haven't laboured over.  Employing a cleaner is not a financial decision but is a lifestyle decision which has freed me up to focus on other things which provide far more enjoyment.
  • Spend Time with Friends and Family - Everyone is busy and if I wish to maintain friendships with people who nourish me and who I hopefully also build up, then I need to ensure I plan to spend time with them.  My favourite way of catching up with friends is to share a meal.  I check the calendar two months ahead and make sure that I have planned to have a meal with a group of friends or family every weekend.  I've read that some people enjoy a couple of catch ups each weekend.  For me, once every weekend is a good balance.
  • Start Saturday Right - Saturday morning has such a feeling of promise.  The anticipation of an entire day to do what I want.  My favourite way of starting the day is with a run with my family.  We enjoy the organised ParkRun at South Bank.  Check out parkrun.com.au as they conduct many runs around Australia.  If I've managed to fit in a run, spend quality time with my family and enjoyed a cappuccino all before 8am it has been a wonderful start to the day.
  • Do Something for Me - Usually this will be reading a book, watching a movie or baking.  These are my most favourite hobbies so I like to indulge at least for a few hours on the weekend doing something I enjoy just for me.
  • Plan for the Week Ahead - My workday week works much better when I've used the weekend to get organised.  I am the queen of whipping up meals from the pantry but there comes the point when even I have to go grocery shopping.  Making a meal plan for the week ahead including school lunches is a must for a smooth week.  I also ensure by Sunday night the children have their school uniforms ironed and hanging in their cupboards for the week ahead.  Many time management books suggest lots of other things to do.  I've tried some and have found just meal planning and ironing of school uniforms is enough for me.  Anything else added is just adding unnecessary work.  

Every person is unique and with some thought will determine what works best for them.  For some the weekend is most enjoyable by going away, being more active or catching up with friends and family as much as possible.  One consistent feature though is the need to give some conscious thought to what makes you happier and then plan to make that happen.


For some further reading you may like to check out Laura Vanderkam's book, What the Most Successful People do on The Weekend.


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How to Achieve Your Goals

Setting goals is easy but achieving them is a different story.  Here a few tips that I've discovered that have helped me along the way.

1. Break it down

One of the most common mistakes people make is setting themselves a long-term goal and disregarding the steps needed to get there.  I don't know how many times I've told myself I'm going to start exercising more or eating healthier but given no thought to how I'm actually going to do that.  Everyone loves a "quick fix" but I've come to realise that these changes aren't going to happen overnight.   

A better approach, I've found, is to set yourself short-term goals within your long-term goal, i.e. break it down.  For example, if you want to exercise more start by setting aside two days a week for the first month.  Although it may not seem like a lot, it's far more measurable than "I'm going to exercise more" and you're far more likely to stay on track.

2. Set yourself a timeline

If you didn't have deadlines for your work tasks or university assignments you would never get anything done.  The same thing goes for your goals.  For the past two years I've been saying that I am going to save money to travel overseas but never follow through with it because I haven't made actual plans to travel. So, I've finally set myself a travel date and I've actually started saving.

It's important, when setting a goal, to give yourself a timeframe in which you want to achieve it.  This will help you stay accountable and once again ensure you're staying on track.

3. Have a purpose

And finally, I've found, the most important thing in achieving your goals is remembering why you set them in the first place.  When making a change in your life it's easy to become discouraged when things get tough, and it's these times where it's most important to look at the bigger picture. 

When you set yourself a goal, take a moment to think about why you really want to make that change and where you will be when you've achieved it.  I've found a great way to capture this is to create a list or vision board of where you want to be and keep this in a visible place to keep you motivated along the way.

 

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What is Your Office Policy on Bad Breath?

 

I recently reviewed an article from a practice consultant suggesting that there should be a formal "grooming" policy in the office.  Some of the suggestions were:

  • Daily showers – Given the climate in Australia it is necessary to shower each day and to use deodorant so as to avoid body odour
  • Shirts and underclothes – it is expected freshly laundered clothes will be worn each day
  • Teeth – it is expected teeth will be cleaned and any problems with bad breath, dealt with
  • Hair – should be kept clean and tidy.
  • Beards – are to be trimmed
  • Perfume – please use only mild perfume, as some people may be allergic to strong perfume
  • Nails and Hands – It is important hands and nails clean and nails filed

And it went on from there.

I find this a bit hard to take seriously, "motherhood" statements are rarely useful in my view and I think getting new staff to read and sign policies along these lines is ridiculous.

Having said that, in years gone by we have had two instances of personal hygiene issues that caused angst in the office; one related to body odour and the second to bad breath.  These created a serious question, how should we deal with them?

The easy approach was to just let it go and put up with the situation.  Easy in the sense of not having to confront the issue and the persons involved, but obviously that does not really address the issue.

So, in each case we took the plunge and discussed the issue with the staff member.  Although it was a bit awkward for both parties, it was taken in a constructive manner and the matter was dealt with. 

The message?
  • Putting behavioral matters into a "motherhood" policy document is unlikely to win respect or get a result
  • Don't put off dealing with the hard tasks, such as behavioural matters.  Generally they won't go away by themselves, so have the courage to confront and deal with them

 

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In case you weren't aware, Brisbane City Council hosts free business excellence workshops several times a year in different suburbs of greater Brisbane.  The feedback I'm getting from small business owners who have attended is that the quality of the speakers is excellent and the subject matter diverse and extremely informative.

An example of this feedback is as follows (as advised by an experienced retail business operator who attended a recent workshop) -

"The first speaker, Stephen from Queensland Leaders spoke on developing effective business strategies.  Firstly giving an understanding of the entrepreneurial life cycle from starting at phase one- Discover, then phase two – Duplicate, and finally phase three – Re-think and Modify.  Other topics included capital raising, business planning, understanding cash flow, industry economics and profit modeling.

Stephen spoke about understanding the purpose of your business and what level of drive is required to succeed.  It is crucial to have a business plan /strategy and that the plan is clearly articulated to the stakeholders.  The plan doesn't need to be complex; a simple one-page document that can be understood by all is the most useful.  This will help you develop a positive culture within your organization and build loyalty internally and externally.

Among the common mistakes Stephen sees made in business are waiting too long to access funds, being unable to build a cohesive team, not having an effective strategy or having a plan that is unrealistic.  Most common of all with small business owners is the error of trying to do everything oneself.

Other speakers explained the different type of company structures and how vital it is to get the set-up right from the outset.  Choosing between the pros and cons being a sole-trader or partnership, company or a trust can have a huge impact legally, from a tax perspective and should you decide to sell.  Changing course later can be very expensive.  Maximize your business efficiency and your time by getting the right accounting software and considering outsourcing if applicable.

Next up was leadership and management.  Identify what your personal and business strengths and weakness are.  Don't be afraid to employ and enable people in your organization that have the skills you lack.  Create a strong culture by setting short and long term goals, and breaking these down into smaller tasks to galvanize and motivate your staff.

Another speaker from Mullins Lawyers explained the different types of intellectual property (IP) laws.  Do you need to consider protecting your service/product/name?  You should establish a strategy which includes consideration of the global market and multi-jurisdictional issues.  Will emerging technologies like 3D printing impact you?  Again getting the right advice and implementing a cohesive plan is key.

Finally, these very wise tips from the successful team at Actrua: 

  • Focus on your customer
  • Be authentic - lead with values, passion and integrity
  • Manage your cash with great discipline
  • Disrupt your business before somebody else does

If you are in small to medium business this is a great opportunity to access quality information FREE of charge.  The council also run business community forum nights where you can talk to leading government people about council government related areas including zoning and workplace health and safety etc.  You can also get free assistance from them at any time in relation to digital marketing strategy and tools that you can put in place straight away.

Upcoming free workshops being held are "Blogging and WordPress for Beginners" and "Power-up Small Business Program – Social Media."

See the Brisbane City Council website for details and take advantage of this great initiative!

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Same Words, Different Meaning!

Over the years, there have been some funny observations on the importance of punctuation, grammar and choice of words.  Sometimes, the words and structure you use to say something may be technically correct, but be interpreted in a manner that you did not intend for it to be received.

I realised how easily this can happen earlier this week when I decided to review a past university exam paper with a course coordinator.  I was unclear on a few questions I had initially been marked incorrect on and really did believe I had given a correct answer.  When I explained how I read the question, the course coordinator conceded that my answer was correct for the way I had read the question, although my answer was completely different to that on the criteria sheet.

Working in an industry where emails and phone calls are a daily routine, this interaction with my course coordinator made me really consider how what I say is interpreted and what the best way to ensure my intended point is really heard.  After considering this, I found there are a number of tips that are useful to help ensure that you are clearly understood when interacting with someone.

  • Use simple words. The problem can be creating ambiguity by using words that have more than one meaning, or using words that your audience does not understand.  Quite often, people will assume a meaning, when it could in fact be the complete opposite of what you have intended.  The way to avoid this? Use simple words, short sentences, short paragraphs and get to the point.  Also ensure that if you are requesting something, be concise and clear about what it is you need.
  • Summarise.  An effective way of ensuring understanding after a conversation (be it by phone call, in person or a lengthy email), or when giving instructions, is to repeat what you have said by quickly summarising the main points.  This will recapture in the other persons mind what it was that you have said, and gives a simplified version of the point or instruction you were trying to get across.
  • Freshen the content.  There are a lot of templates for things these days.  When someone frequently receives a letter or email that appears to be something they have read before, they may not read the guts of the content.  Suppose you send a routine email to your clients, but this time you include something vital in the middle of the email.  The chances of your client reading what you were trying to say and taking the time to understand it will be much higher if the correspondence looks to be something they have not seen before.

Forbes have recommended using the P.R.E.P. method.

P: Point – make it clear, clean and concise.

R: Reason – justify your point.

E: Example, Evidence or Experience back up your point

P: Point – restate your point – people best remember what they hear last!

These tips will assist in making sure that the point you are trying to make is heard, is clear and that it is not interpreted in a way you were not intending. There will be the occasion where you cannot help how a message has been received, but be sure to take a position where you can accept that the person has received the message wrongly and may have given you an appropriate response for what they believe was asked.  Remember to be patient and work through the process again to get across what was intended

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The Power of Networking

Networking is a powerful tool in the world of business.  Meeting people in related fields can lead to all sorts of relationships being formed, and you could gain information that you would never have had otherwise.

I recently met a Chartered Accountants Australia Careers Engagement Specialist at a networking event at the University of Queensland.  Not only did I gain valuable information about the CA program that I went to discover, we also gained an opportunity to meet with aspiring young accountants through an event that CA was running.  Had I simply looked up information on the website we would not have made this important connection.

Networking can also lead to gaining clients that require the services that you offer, making connections with other professionals that you could use to bounce off and even finding out what the culture is inside a business that you are looking to apply for a job with.

So how do you network effectively to gain these important relationships?  Here are some of the tips I have learnt the hard way!

1. Remember names!

When you meet someone take a note of their name, whether that be grabbing a business card or jotting it down on some paper afterwards.  There's not much point in meeting someone if you can't remember their name!

2. Take some business cards

It's a bit awkward when someone asks you for your business card and you don't have anything to give them.  Even if you just have a generic one that you can give them to get in contact with you later is better than nothing.

3. Ask questions

Have an idea of what you want to get out of meeting someone so that you come away with more information than what you left with.  Have a few questions in mind so that you can get the conversation rolling.

4. It's a two way street

Let them know a bit about you.  You never know, you may be able to assist the person you are meeting as well.  Don't be afraid to talk about yourself and what you do.  This is the perfect place to use your elevator pitch so have one ready!

Networking is a great way to meet new people and form important relationships but is also lots of fun.  Don't be afraid, be flexible, and you could come away with some great outcomes.  The more you network the better you will become so don't give up!

 

See here for more top tips for successful networking from The UQ Business School:

https://careerservices.business.uq.edu.au/top-10-tips-successful-networking

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Tips for Interview Success

For most people, just thinking about a job interview is enough to make nerves run high.  Fortunately, as it is such a wide reaching problem, there are numerous tips to use in order to get through the toughest of interviews:

1.     Research

Being asked what you already know about the company is a pretty common question, but it can go horribly wrong if you don't have an answer ready.  For a starting point, go to the company's website and have a look at what they actually do.  Having a quick look at a website can tell you the size, values and even staff of a company.  The more you know, the easier it will be to answer this question and give the chance to exhibit your knowledge in later stages of the interview.

2.     "What is your biggest weakness?"

This is hard a question to answer if you want to avoid cliché answers such as "I'm a perfectionist."  Employees want to see that you are able to recognize your weaknesses and make an effort to improve them.  Try to give an example of what you've done to develop these flaws.

3.     Practice!

Be aware of common and even not-so-common interview questions and make sure you have an answer ready for every question– write it down if you have to – and practice how you will deliver your answer.  If a question comes up that you've practiced, you're less likely to "Umm" and "Ahh." Make sure you don't go overboard with this, though. There's nothing worse then sounding over-rehearsed and not letting your personality shine through.

4.     Ask questions

It's a two way street, so you need to decide if you're suited to the role and the company.  Ask about where this role will lead to, what are the best and worst features of the job and any other information you may need to make up your mind.  This is also a chance to display any skills or talents you may want the interviewer to know that haven't been brought up yet.

Finally, be confident, dress appropriately and be on time!  Be familiar with your strengths and use them to your best advantage.

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Small Tips with Efficient Impact

In today's modern, technological, world we can find it very hard to 'turn off'.  The majority of us have smart phones which makes us contactable 24/7, 365 days a year, even when overseas on holidays.  It seems like there's always something to do and not enough hours in the day to do it all!

 

However, you probably don't need more hours in the day; all you need is some techniques to improve productivity.  Before working at Overells, I had no idea how you can program yourself to be more effective at work, and that there are so many little things you can do which greatly impact on your efficiency.  It's made a real difference to me, and I feel it would be a disservice not to share some tips!

 

Checking emails

 

Don't fall into the trap of checking your emails every few minutes.  Some people feel they will miss something important if they don't monitor their inbox and reply instantly, but if you find yourself doing this it will eventually seem as if you are doing nothing else in your day, and you will start to dread the new message icons. 

 

It's inevitable that you will get tasks through your inbox daily, and you can't ignore them, but you can allocate time to deal with them.  It's amazing how much of a difference this makes to your attitude. Turning off pop-up notifications is a good place to start.

 

To-Do lists

 

If you haven't already got some sort of to-do list, whether it be electronic or paper, let me introduce you!  No matter how good your memory is, without putting the high priority tasks for the day down in black and white you'll undoubtedly lose track of one or two.  It's also very easy to get distracted with small jobs that aren't high priority, and then running out of time for the important ones.  We've got multiple ways of tracking our tasks at Overells such as calendars and online programs, but I have to admit I'm a fan of the good old fashioned pen and paper.  I love the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment I get when finally able to put a big fat black line through each one!

 

If you're a fan of apps, there are hundreds of them up to the challenge (in fact we've written about one in on our innovations page called Wunderlist) but any method of task tracking will do.

 

Break the habit

 

Often there are procedures within a workplace that have been around for a long time and have become a habit.  It's important to remember there are often multiple ways to do a job, and finding the most efficient way for you is vital.  If you're feeling bogged down at work, it's helpful to take a moment and think outside the box about how you can go about your tasks without the 'bad' habits picked up or created along the way.  Possibly new software or add-ins, delegation or even an app – there's one for everything nowadays! 

 

Don't trick yourself into feeling busier than you are

 

The phrase 'mind over matter' comes into play here; one of the worst things you can do to yourself when you're busy is think and focus on how busy you are.  It's very easy to trick yourself into feeling stressed and on edge, putting yourself in a negative frame of mind and making your workload feel twice as bad as it actually is.

 

It's useful at the end of each day to sit back and recall what you actually got done (which is where your to-do list comes in handy!).  Reviewing your day is a quick and easy way of putting work into perspective and stopping yourself being tricked into feeling busier than you are.  A good web-based tool to use to track your time is RescueTime.com.  It allows you to gain perspective with detailed reports showing where you spend most of your time, weekly email summaries, goal setting capabilities and productivity scoring.

 

One of our Monday morning mantra's at Overells is "break tasks down within jobs, confirm priorities and check overall timeframes".  This prevents us becoming overwhelmed by the sheer size of the job at hand.  These steps make it a lot easier to organise our days, keep track of what we've done and what else we've got left to do, and keep stress levels under control. 

 

Hopefully using some of these tips will help you to prioritise your work life and claim a few hours of your day back!  And don't forget, when you go home for the day, leave work at work.

 

For more tips see Get Your Most Important Tasks Done Faster

 

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Colour impacts our lives in so many ways.  Even though it surrounds us physically and psychologically every day, most people are unaware of the enormous impact is has on us, our choices and decisions.  Colour has a powerful subliminal effect on people so how can you use this non-verbal communication to your advantage?

It might sound a bit like hocus pocus, but experts say that no matter the audience; clients, staff or even children, picking the right colour tie or blouse can help get your message across.  Politicians often choose red ties as a symbol of power, strength and passion.  Purple, a colour historically associated with royalty, is a subtle show of self-confidence.  So, what do other colours infer?

Red – ambition, action, power, strength, passion

Orange – optimism, adventure, warmth, motivation, enthusiasm

Yellow – knowledge, stimulation, friendly, cheerful, social

Green – growth, money, sanctuary, prosperity, safety, health

Blue – control, trust, peace, loyalty, integrity, authority

Purple – intuition, imagination, creativity, self-confident, wisdom

Pink – love, feminine, caring, sensitive, fun

Brown – friendly, down-to-earth, stability, reassurance, dependable

Grey – compromise, elegance, neutral, conformity, conservative

Black – mystery, bold, power, discipline, serious

White – perfection, innocence, cleanliness, fairness, openness

These are fairly positive connotations but there are also negative associations with colours depending on how you use or wear them.  Black suits are often connected with funerals, brown ties can give off the belief that you are boring and bright colours can distract listeners.  And don't forget there can be cultural differences too; in many Western cultures white is a symbol of brides and weddings whereas in Eastern cultures it can mean mourning and sadness.  There is no such thing as a good or bad colour; it is just that some colours are more appropriate than others in some situations. All colours have both a positive and negative side to them.

Here is a picture that shows some of the subliminal messages a colour can have together with established brands that have chosen that colour.  Do you associate any of these feelings with the brand?

Looking at the picture, what do you think your style says about you?  Does your company branding (including website, stationary, office, uniforms and advertising) give the desired impression?

Colour stimulates our senses.  As most decisions are made emotionally and then justified by logic we should grasp the chance to influence those subconscious emotions and give ourselves an advantage.  Next time you have an important meeting, interview or presentation, consider what your clothing choice will tell people about you.  Perhaps you can even help get the outcome you desire with a bit of subliminal messaging.

For further reading on colour psychology see:

Boutique Media Communications

BBC Life in Colour articles

Colour Affects

Understanding Colours

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3 Core Measurements for Success

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