Innovative thinking and time management can go together. Here Brian and Nat Discuss how.
Brian has spent the last 20 plus years helping America’s entrepreneurs realize their dreams.
Prior to starting his third company in 2012, he was the executive director of sales development at the Wall Street Journal overseeing the financial and small business markets across the Wall Street Journal franchise.
Innovative thinking and time management are both really important for business people and entrepreneurs in general. We discussed how innovative thinking can help you come up with new ideas and solutions to problems, and how time management can help you stay focused and organized so that you can get things done. Brian Moran is the CEO of Small Business Edge, and he has some great tips on how to be more innovative and how to manage your time better, especially your email. He says that innovative thinking starts with being open to new ideas and perspectives, and then it’s about taking action on those ideas. Time management is all about prioritizing what’s important and making sure you use your time wisely. Brian shared some great tips on how to do both of these things, and I’m sure you’ll find them helpful too. Thanks for listening!
And he is someone that I’ve spent quite a bit of time learning from.
He’s a very interesting individual, and I’m sure you’ll find this very valuable.
We discuss innovative thinking and time management.
So let’s dig into the show.
Well, hey, Brian, it’s lovely to speak to you again.
Brian Moran 0:58
Great to be here Nate, thank you for having me back on your show.
Nathaniel Schooler 1:02
Well, I think the amount of value you delivered last time, it would be crazy to not sort of have you back. Really. I mean, I think since since the last episode we did together, I’ve probably launched another 20. I can’t remember what number that that was. To be honest, I should have probably checked but I’m I’m quite interested to talk to you today.
Because we’re going to talk about firstly about how innovative thinking and creativity work in business, and then we’re going to talk about time management, flexibility and adaptability.
But before we do, I’d really like to hear a bit about your new business venture that you are starting.
Brian Moran 1:44
Sure. Thank you.
It’s called Small Business edge and it will launch at the end of March beginning of April. So you can go to small business edge.com and it’s a global community platform for business owners I’ve been doing this now you know, helping business owners start, manage, grow and even save their businesses for about 30 years.
And so this is a culmination of everything that I’ve learned over the past three decades and all of the great people that I’ve been able to work with and we’re going to come together you know, you can almost think of it as like Siri for small business owners.
So if you if you have questions about your business, you can come on to the site you can ask us will have a human powered search engine that will go over the top 100 websites and if that’s not good enough for you, we will have a subject matter expert that can help answer your questions.
But it’s going to be connecting with other business owners, connecting with companies that want to help you run a better business and I’m really, really excited about it.
We’re going to have podcasts, tweet chats, webinars, everything that you need to help run a better company.
Nathaniel Schooler 3:01
Sounds great. I know you’ve got masses of experience for the left from the last three decades, you know, and I always learned something from from talking with you, Brian.
What about innovative thinking then and creativity when it comes to business.
Brian Moran 3:19
So the funny thing is the, I’m gonna say something scandalous right now. And I’m going to tell you that the overwhelming majority of business owners and people in business, they’re reactive thinkers, and by that I mean, you know, something happens in it in a given day.
And they react to it as if they it came out of left field like they didn’t they didn’t see it coming and what that does is so, you know, they have to take care of the problem, they have to stop what they’re doing and then when it’s finished, they can get back to try and achieve their goals for the day.
The problem with that is when these situations pop up. It’s stymies creative. and innovative thinking. And you know, it’s almost like we become firemen. You know, we put out the same fires every single day.
And and so the question is, how do you how do you get outside that to allow yourself to be, you know, creative thinker and an innovative thinker.
And the answer is you have to step outside your comfort zone, literally.
You know, sometimes the best ideas come to me in the middle of a day when I take a break and I go walk my dogs and I just literally drop everything that’s on my mind, except for the one problem I’m trying to solve, or the one solution I’m looking for.
And you have to realize you have to when you go on that walk you take that break and you step outside your comfort zone yeah you have to look at your world and your situation from a 360 degree angle right.
So that means completely covering it so you look at it and you say okay I have a cash flow problem in business right and I keep having this cash flow problem. How do I solve it?
You’re not going to solve it sitting at your desk looking at the same problems and the same answers every time you got to get up walk out and go find a place where you can think uninterruptedly for a period of time until you come up with enough solutions that you can go back and you can test them.
And by that I mean look at all different angles from:-
Should I sell my company?
Should I get an outside investor?
And then of course, should I borrow money from friends and family?
Should I sell some of my assets?
Should I maybe reduce the number of employees?
The point is that you look at your problem from every different angle until the one that makes the most sense appears in front of you.
Nathaniel Schooler 6:22
Certainly from from where I’m sitting.
I mean, I come up with innovative ideas and creative ideas all the time, like every day and it’s like all day and it’s almost like unless I’m really focusing really hard on a task that I’m doing.
I find it difficult to switch that off. So for me as a person, as an individual.
I’m not really stepping out of my comfort zone because that is my comfort zone.
I’ve got a friend who’s who’s Britain’s leading hypnotist and he’s moved into subconscious success and he doesn’t do hypnotism anymore. But he’s used his knowledge of the mind and he doesn’t believe in comfort zones. He thinks that comfort zones.
I mean, I Anthony Robbins is always out of his comfort zone, because he likes being out of his comfort zone, you see, but there are people that that actually being in a comfort zone, they actually need to be in that comfort zone.
So that’s a whole other conversation. I think, you know, it’s all sort of dependent, isn’t it upon upon the person and obviously, the business as well. I mean, it’s very difficult to be to be thinking, innovatively and creatively if you’re sitting there and you’re in the accounts department.
So if you’re if you’re doing that, then potentially Yes, you should go by the water cooler and have a and have a think or go for a walk around the block because there might be something that your accounting software may not be delivering that you that you need, right.
I mean, all the great ideas come from innovative thinking and creativity.
Brian Moran 7:59
They do, and, and the sister to innovative and creative thinking is execution. So they have to be ideas that you can execute.
So I talked a lot about the weeds of your business and the clouds of your business, the weeds of your business is where you execute.
And I think we discussed this on a previous podcast, so I won’t go too much into it. Yeah, but that’s, that’s the day to day you know, moving the needle in your company.
So you’re getting stuff done. And, and then when you need to, you go to the clouds of your business, meaning you take a 20,000 foot view of where you are right now, where you were in the past and where you’re going to.
Because where you’re going to, you know, you need to be able to see 3/ 6 / 12 months out and say:-
“What are the trends that are coming up in the marketplace?”
You know:- “Is there a recession looming on the horizon and if there is, what do I need to
Do for my business to make sure I’m still here if that recession hits?”
Or will it be changes in the marketplace?
And if there are how will my company adapt?
You know that’s creative thinking right saying that okay I’m going to pivot my business in the next 30 days because I see changes coming and and I need to be able to adapt to those changes and so that’s that’s creative thinking outside the box. I’m not going to sell to the same customers.
I’m not going to do my business in the same fashion you know great example I have a client that does interior design work in Vermont and she had three successful retail stores and you know over the past six or seven years she saw the the the sales in the stores had dwindled to the point where she was at breaking even at best.
I said to her:-
“You know, we need to move your business into the e-commerce world.”
So she closed down the three stores. She’s in the process of selling them, she owned the buildings, and we set her up on a Shopify account and social media and that’s the way she is now running her business. And it’s a new world.
The beauty is her expenses are about 80% less than what they were and now she can compete on a broader scale.
Nathaniel Schooler 10:37
Yeah, yeah. But this, this, this way of thinking creatively and being innovative, right, being an innovator that can be in any department in any business.
It doesn’t have to just because, you know, let’s just be I mean, if you’re, for instance, you’re working in a production oriented business and you’re working in the production on the production line you know those are the people that are going to come up with the real kind of ideas, I think to actually make that more streamlined, really.
And that goes for every department doesn’t in the business, just because you do a certain job doesn’t mean you can’t be creative, right?
Brian Moran 11:16
Absolutely. Creativity is everywhere, you know, if you can, if you have the ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, namely the buyer or the customer, or the people using your product, then you and all of the different people because it’s not just one type of person who buys your product in most cases.
So if you have the ability to see what they say that allows you to then go back and make changes so that it’s more appealing to the person. And that’s and that’s if you’re if you’re selling products and services we can talk about processes and workflow, you know, looking at something and saying, you know, there’s got to be a better way to to do this.
And if you give yourself the opportunity to think outside the box, that’s typically where the best answers come from, and you’re not afraid to fail. I mean, because again, 99 out of 100 ideas won’t work.
You’re looking for that one idea that will.
Nathaniel Schooler 12:28
But also, like you say, being stuck within the business really restricts your your creativity because you’re so busy putting out the fires and dealing with the day to day and stepping outside is so so important. So important. I mean, I was talking to a CEO the other day of an insurance company.
We did a we did an interview, he’s got about 100 staff or something’s been an entrepreneur since he was 19 years old and made his first million when he was 26.
And then a multi millionaire by the time is 29. And he’s like what? I think he’s 47 now, roughly. And super, super interesting. But what he was talking about was actually thinking about your particular business or your department, as in a planet.
So for an example, it’s like, what’s going to be on the planet?
If there was nothing on that planet, right?
And it was the earth. And there was nothing on it.
What would you have on it?
Would you have a car?
Would you not have a car?
Would you have a laptop?
Or would you have a desktop, right?
So they’re all these decisions that you can kind of make and you can swap those in to that planet which is going to give you an idea and you can make that and break it down into departmental planets as well, which I thought was just a great way to open up your mind.
Brian Moran 13:55
I love I love that idea. And what you’ll find is that you know typically need a lot less than what you already have. And and in order to achieve your goals in most cases, you have everything you need right now.
And it’s just a matter of organizing it in a way that’s going to help you achieve your goals. Because remember, that’s that’s typically what we’re doing.
You know if we’re trying to think innovatively or create creatively, it’s usually to solve a problem that’s going to help us achieve our goals.
So don’t lose sight of that, right that that there’s an end game here. Everything that we do as a means to an end.
Nathaniel Schooler 14:46
So really, it’s just start with the problem in mind. Go and have a walk, sit in the bath, go and go and do some exercise or have a cup of tea somewhere quiet and just think right and make a list of the ideas and don’t, you know, don’t be afraid to fail.
I mean, I think that’s that’s definitely important, isn’t it?
Because we’re a lot of us are scared by failure and that will that will stop us by taking stuff as taking action won’t it.
Brian Moran 15:17
Absolutely. But here’s the other thing too, you know, you might want to talk to other people who are outside your comfort zone.
So if you if you work with the same type of people, and it’s the same type of thinking over and over and over again, then you’re going to get nowhere.
You know, diversity in thought is so critical to success because So, you know, picture 10 middle aged white men in a room talking about how to solve a problem.
Okay, that’s one type of thinking. But now you have, you know, men women, old, young, black, white. You know, and and everything in between, you know, you have 10 totally different people.
And what you’re going to do is you’re going to get 10 different ways of looking at the same problem. And that is where you’ll have a greater chance of success because its diversity of thought that spurs innovative and creative thinking.
Nathaniel Schooler 16:25
Nice. I like that. That’s that. I think that’s, that’s very, very true. That’s why it’s great to work with people who are a bit older, got more experience, you know, and they can they can just say. No, you know, this is what your problem is, I mean, because your cash flow problem might be might be caused by your communication with your customers.
Yeah, if you’re writing the wrong type of email to your customers to collect money, then then it’s too aggressive, it might upset them. So that could be just one thing that you need to look into.
And there is so many it’s such a complex world the business world and there are so many things to learn. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new, really.
I mean, it’s, it’s just massive, isn’t it at the end of the day?
Brian Moran 17:09
Yeah. I’ll give you a good example. So I was writing an article about Generation Z.
And I have four kids to are Millennials, and tour Gen Z, my youngest daughter’s 18. And so she’s one of the older kids in the Gen Z population.
And I said to her, I said:- “You know, what are some of the differences within the Gen Z population?”
And she said, Oh, that’s easy. She said:- “You know, when we would go to a restaurant, I would ask the waitress or waiter for crayons so that I could draw on the paper that was in front of me, you know, the younger kids in Gen Z. They go into a restaurant and they ask for the Wi Fi password.”
And that blew me away. I said, you know what that is, you know, that’s amazing. And that’s something I would never have noticed.
But, you know, talking to somebody who’s in that population who lives it every day, who certainly thinks differently than I do, you know, came up with the perfect, you know, example of some of the differences that I would have missed.
So if you want to think differently, and you want to think creatively, and you want to look at all solutions, don’t ask people who look like you talk like you have your type of background, you know, it’s it’s diversity is when I tell you it’s a key competitive advantage in business.
It’s not only diversity of background but diversity of thought, so don’t you know going out alone is a great idea.
But that shouldn’t be your only idea. Again, you know, we flip the world upside down and see what falls out.
So be open to all ideas and all angles.
Nathaniel Schooler 19:19
Yeah. Well, thanks. That’s, that’s really enlightening. I think we should talk.
We’ve got sort of 12 minutes, 13 minutes. I think we should talk about time management, flexibility and adaptability.
Because I know you’re big on time management. Brian!
Brian Moran 19:35
Absolutely. It’s the only currency that matters Nat.
Nathaniel Schooler 19:39
It’s true. It’s true.
Brian Moran 19:41
That’s all we have. You know, everybody gets the same 24 hours in a day. And most people ask, you know, how did that person become so successful?
What are they doing that I’m not doing?
They might tell you, oh, it was luck. It was timing. It was, you know, just the moon and stars align up about right or it’s hard work and all that. What they’re probably not telling you in most cases is that they really succeeded in managing every single minute of their day effectively.
So, you know, I tell people, I tell my clients, if you want to be effective, there are five things you need to do every single day.
So the first thing you need to do is plan you need to plan your day you need to take your day you know, you need to take control of it.
And that actually starts the night before so I have in front of me a list it’s one sheet and it says, you know, Tuesday the day we’re talking and I have all my appointments written at the top Yeah, and then I have my list of to do’s, right?
So I plan that the night before. So, you know, at the end of each work day, I leave 30 minutes to write down what I need to do the next day.
When I wake up in the morning, it’s all about execution, execute what’s on that paper?
Nathaniel Schooler 21:16
Brian Moran 21:18
And I prioritize it. So that’s number two. Right.
I break everything out into four categories:-
And I got that from somewhere. I’m not the originator of that so I can’t remember who did it.
But I give you credit for coming up with it. Whoever you are! But urgent, important every day and non essential, right and here’s the key before you do anything, take your everyday and non essential items and delegate them to somebody.
And if you have nobody to delegate to then just take those two folders and put them off to the side.
Because that’s not important for what you’re doing right now you focus on the urgent folder, and then you focus on the important folder.
And you start with the biggest challenges of biggest priorities, the most important priorities first.
And why do you do that? Because in the morning, that’s when you have the most energy. And as your energy starts to wane throughout the day, then you go from, you know, the hardest to the easiest.
So like we have planning, prioritizing, delegating, then the key is execution. And Nat I’ll tell you this.
A lot of people really stink at executing because they get distracted. They get distracted by things going on than a day and they lose interest and maybe things aren’t working out.
It was a little harder than they expected and so their execution is weak they’re not they’re motivated to get it done but they’re not committed to get it done right so the last thing I’ll tell you my five points.
Focus the only reason for failure is broken focus watch those time robbers during the day.
So if your pal calls you from you know that you’ve known since you were five and wants to talk about what you’re going to be doing together this weekend, say:-
“You know what can I call you back at the end of the day?”
Or you know, somebody comes into your office just chit chat you know about you know what you guys are doing or car that they want to buy or whatever say:- “Wow, that’s really awesome. Congratulations. You know what can we pick up this conversation at the end of the day?”
Nathaniel Schooler 23:59
Brian Moran 24:00
Because what those people are doing is they’re they’re borrowing your car then a boring they’re actually taking it yeah you know and and if you allow them to do it then it’s time that you cannot spend on your urgent and your important objectives and you leave less time to get them done.
So if you want to be successful, the key is to manage your time successfully.
Nathaniel Schooler 24:31
Right. So those your five your those are your five tips?
Brian Moran 24:37
If you do those five things, you have exponentially increased your odds of success.
Nathaniel Schooler 24:45
Brian Moran 24:46
If you don’t, I can almost guarantee you that unless you unless you like hit the lottery, you’re not going to be successful in business or in life.
Nathaniel Schooler 24:57
Okay, I agree with that. But what about. There’s a certain degree of flexibility and adaptability that I mean those those are two big topics that we could potentially expand on another another time.
But I think, you know, in terms of like flexibility and adaptability if you don’t have space in your calendar to be flexible and be adaptable, then you’ve got a problem anyway. Haven’t you really?
Brian Moran 25:25
Yeah. So every hour, I take a five to 10 minute break. Okay. And I get up out of my chair and I go downstairs and I’ll you know, I have a home office and and outside office.
Most of the times I work in my home office because I like it. It’s a comfortable environment.
But every hour I’ll get up and I’ll go downstairs and know you know, have a piece of fruit. I’ll talk to my wife. I’ll walk my dogs. I’ll take time every hour to stretch my legs and to kind of you know, just reset my brain and my thinking, and you know, that way I don’t burn out during the day.
Nathaniel Schooler 26:06
Brian Moran 26:07
So I have that flexibility of time. But if if you’re not, if you’re not watching your time during the day, and you don’t allow those time robbers so you’re not on your phone, texting, your friends are playing a game, stuff like that. And something does come up that you know, out of the blue requires your immediate attention. You can give it to whatever has come up because you’ve you have the time you built in the time that says:- “Okay, I can do this and still achieve my goals for today.”
Nathaniel Schooler 26:44
Right. So yeah, I mean, I had it this morning, you know, like because I had a project come in, like three days ago and I’ve had to work on it really hard. Yeah, but yeah, but I’ve actually I’ve actually managed to do quite well you’d be proud of me with my time management.
I don’t know. I think you would. I mean, it’s it is. It is one of the most difficult things, though. I mean, for me, I mean, I come from an era of having a paper diary, right.
So I try and write everything in my paper diary first, and then put it into my, into my calendar, just in case something goes wrong. my calendar, right.
But the thing is, I had a really interesting podcast arrange for this morning with someone to talk about GDPR Yeah.
And I just looked at my dough and I was like, You know what, I can’t even fit that in.
And, you know, I need to find I need to do 10 super important things, all of those needs to be moving forward, you know, very quickly in the next few days. And if I don’t do those 10 things, then what I’m doing is going to fall to pieces. So that adds focus. Like if you have to do something, it becomes urgent. It’s not important. It’s urgent, right. So it’s both isn’t it?
But it’s it’s more urgent because you know it’s important, but it will become urgent if you don’t take care of it. So, course you gotta, you gotta make space for it really, but I liked your idea of taking breaks.
I think that’s really important. Definitely. So it’s really when that comes in making a spontaneous decision. Is that urgent? Is it important? Can I move it to another time? Right?
Brian Moran 28:25
Yeah. That’s smart thinking in that you remember when we went to school, like, you know, grammar school and high school and even college or university, you know, you had your entire day planned out, you had classes, you know, at nine o’clock, I’m going to be in history at 10 o’clock. I’ll be in science at 11 o’clock I’ll be in English. Do you remember that?
Nathaniel Schooler 28:46
Brian Moran 28:47
Your whole day was planned out and and why not take that same approach to your work. So when you wake up today, I’m going to wake up to this time. I’m going to, you know, breakfast exercise, okay. And then I start my day at this time.
And then here’s, you know, if you’re in, you know, a corporation, chances are that you are, you know, more likely to have your day schedule, you know, I laughed, my daughter works at a big company and, you know, she has those back to back to back meetings and, you know, no break in between. and, you know, she thinks that that is productive.
And I said, No, you need to block out time in your day, you know, people have access to her calendar and she’ll be she’ll be in meetings from nine to five.
So you need to block out time during the day that allows you to, you know, rejuvenate your mind and your body and, you know, you go take a walk and you know, you just push things off, you know, maybe to the next day and what you find is that it’s really not that urgent or important people make it so.
But if you give people access to your calendar, they’ll take every single minute they can possibly get. Especially if you’re somebody who’s successful where you’re a team leader, you know, that’s they want to be they want to be on your radar screen. So you need to own your calendar, right?
Nathaniel Schooler 30:20
So put schedule it, just put it in there 15 minutes such and such. Doesn’t matter what it says.
As long as they don’t book it in. It’s fine, right?
Brian Moran 30:29
Yeah, Try it. Try it for my advice to your listeners are trying this for three days, right where like on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, where you book every minute of the day where you say, I’m going to take a break here. I’m going to have lunch here. I’m going to go for a walk here. And then I’m going to do this work and this work and this work at a you know, scheduled time much like your scheduling classes in school.
See what happens. See, you know, so so you have a report that you need to get done today know that report you need to get done, you’re going to work in it from nine o’clock to nine forty five and that’s when that reports going to get done not sooner than later.
And then at 9.45, you’re going to send out the report and you’re going to take a five or 10 minute break and then you’re going to come back refreshed and you’re going to see okay, what do I have to do at 10 o’clock.
And you’re watching the time robbers so when people come into your office or people call you on the phone or people text you, you know, you push it off to the end of the day, the after you spend, you know, 20 to 30 minutes scheduling out the following day. That’s when you return the phone calls. You have your personal meetings and you answer the messages on your phone.
Nathaniel Schooler 32:00
Thanks, Brian. Well, that’s really, really interesting. I’m gonna have to go because I’m 30 seconds over….
Brian Moran 32:09
fair enough. Take care of yourself. All right Nat.
Always good to be on your show. I appreciate you having me.
Nathaniel Schooler 32:17
Thanks, Brian. And it’s so it’s smallbusinessedge.com, right.
Brian Moran 32:21
Right, where we can help you answer all of the most pressing questions you have in running your business more effectively, more efficiently. Thanks, Brian. It’s always a joy. Thank you that
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