Take the Road Less Congested

It’s Thursday morning, and I’m running late for work. I scramble for my shoes, grab a banana for breakfast – don’t forget to feed the cat, oh, and remember to lock that door behind you! – I jump in my car and take off. So far so good: all the lights are green, nothing seems to be stopping me from making this the greatest late morning recovery in human history! Forget being on time, heck, I might be 10 minutes early at this rate! And then I follow the bend on to the interstate…and immediately step on my brakes.

Commuters during rush hour are estimated to spend 42 hours a year in traffic. If you have the same job for 5 years and don’t move, that’s just a little under 9 days of traffic congestion.

At this point, I realize I have two options:

  1. I can scream and honk my horn and damn the universe for having me suffer this miserable experience.
  2. I can treat traffic congestion as a perspective wake up.

The obvious lesson here is to always be prepared. Nowadays with cell phones and computers, there’s simply no excuse why I can’t just look up my workplace and find the fastest route. Often during rush hour, my phone tells me which side roads are faster at that time of day. Being prepared to identify and take the fastest route, even if it’s not the usual way, can lead to less stress about the little things in life, and subconsciously, I am more alert of my surroundings when I’m unfamiliar with the route. I notice a restaurant I’ve never seen before, a shop that looks really appealing, or maybe even a park I can take a walk in.

While making the most of a traffic scenario is one choice, perhaps I simply just need to reschedule my drive. I shouldn’t risk being late to work anyways, so maybe it’s probably time I suck it up and avoid traffic by leaving an hour earlier than usual. My work has flexible scheduling, so coming in early is never an issue. For some, work-flexibility is challenging. Could you leave early and spend that hour accomplishing hard-to-find-time-for goals you may have near or around your workplace? Need time to read that book? Interested in joining a gym? Need to do research on a job that understands the importance of flexible schedules? All of these you could make happen with an extra hour on hand.

Well, if you’ve stayed with me this far, it’s been about 4 minutes – and I’m still stuck in traffic. At this rate, being early has gone out the window and being on time is not looking so hot either. I need to accept the fact that I’m going to be late, but I also need to accept the fact that a change needs to be made not only in my work route but in my life route. I can’t keep accepting traffic and tardiness as an answer… or else I won’t be dealing with either for much longer.

Hypothetical job termination aside, it’s also important for my well-being: I don’t like traffic congestions, and I won’t accept traffic congestions. 42 hours a year is an incredible amount of time to be stuck next to semi-trucks sporting wheel spikes. I deserve better. So does everyone else in this jam. But it starts with us.

If we all choose to avoid normalcy and embrace change, even when it feels like a gamble, what’s possible? Reaching our destinations in a timely – and slightly self-improved – manner. It just might influence you to make changes elsewhere in your lifestyle.

And hey, if everyone chooses to find different routes, then some of us can maybe choose to use the interstate again!

The Video Guy hates traffic. Who doesn’t? This week, go along for the ride as he shares his advice on finding better routes – to work and in life. How do you deal with congestion? Comment below or email Andrew directly.

How to Boy Scout Your Way Through Your Day


Ever leave work and then have to return moments later after reaching your car and discovering you have no keys? Or arrive at the gym without shorts (or sports bra)? What about a quick trip to the grocery store where you failed to bring a wallet? How about a camping trip with no spatula? Or a sales presentation where you neglected to pack that projector cable? Called to order a trans and forgot to get the VIN from your customer?

At some level, we all can be forgetful, boneheaded, and arrive unprepared for life. At best, this is inconvenient and potentially humorous. At worst, we lose the sale, waste time, do poor work, or burn our fingers flipping pancakes.

My 94-year-old grandfather has pretty severe Alzheimer’s. These days, he forgets what he forgot. But for nearly all of his life, he arrived promptly and well prepared for everything. He had a very simple system. Before leaving to go do anything, he would ask himself these questions:

  1. Where am I going?
  2. What am I doing?
  3. What do I need to do it with?

I internally chant this simple mantra before heading out on an errand, task, trip, or meeting to be nearly certain I have everything I need to succeed. The magic is that these basic questions trigger me to think about my preparedness. Over the years, I have added in a question of my own:

  1. If something should go wrong, how will I handle it?

As I gain more life experience, preparedness and forethought seem to me to be the keys to success when the rubber meets the road. There aren’t many true MacGyver types out there – and I’m pretty sure he would have been even more effective with a backpack full of tools and supplies!

Your colleague that always seems to be winging it to success is probably more prepared than he or she lets on or is failing more than is easy to admit. Do you want to be known as the person who always has it together and is ready for whatever happens, the “boy scout” of your business or family? Try adding these questions to your routine. You’ll have what you’ll likely need, be more mentally prepared and confident, and ready the next time a challenge or opportunity arises.

photo credit: © wittayayut– stock.adobe.com

AVA_BSternBeing prepared usually doesn’t just happen. How does the Sales Cyclist make sure he’s ready for whatever lies ahead? What might you add to Ben’s mantra to make it your own? Comment below or share with him directly.

How Many Hats Are You Wearing?

© Depositphotos.com/ever76

© Depositphotos.com/ever76

“So, what do you do at ETE?”

These past few weeks, we’ve been in the midst of “trade show season” so this question has been pretty common. And I could answer in a number of ways, depending on the show or the person asking. But whatever I say usually involves,

“Well, I wear a lot of different hats…”

Wearing many hats, aka the ability to multi-task, lend a helping hand, or fill a void, seems to be perceived as a high value quality. I’m sure you work with someone who considers it one of his/her best skills. You’ve probably hired someone recently who lists it on a resumé.

Maybe you’re like me and you find it the simplest way to explain your job.

After coming back from the ATRA Powertrain Expo, I started thinking about this simple, oh-so-natural-to-say explanation. And as harmless, even positive, as it seems, I decided that there’s a catch:

Picture your shop. You (or one of your employees) is likely a manager, salesman, customer service rep, bookkeeper, and technician all rolled into one.

Imagine your office. You (or part of your team) is probably a meeting planner, account manager, disciplinarian, leader, or even unpaid therapist at times.

When you first put on a different hat and take on a new task, it’s exciting. What you’re contributing feels like it has a real impact. And it does. So, you might put on another hat. And another. And another. And another.

And what happens?

You end up with a head covered in metaphorical hats – and a bunch of things to do, none of which are getting your full time, attention, or skills.

Feeling stressed? Overwhelmed? Not making the progress with your customers that you’d like to be?

Take inventory of how many hats you’re wearing.

For the ones that work, keep ‘em and refocus your efforts. For the ones that are holding you back, find them a new home.

Director of Customer Experience Jennifer Porter wears a lot of hats at times (not physically, but you know what we mean.) Some of those hats are great, but some get in the way. Could you do with one less hat yourself? Comment below or share with her directly.

When No Means Yes

When No Means Yes

Working for Captain Reman, it’s hard not to be a student. Like many of my coworkers, I often find myself getting hooked on a particular social media blog, new book, or TED talk series.

Recently, a really good read from productivity expert Neen James popped into my inbox and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. And lucky you, I’m going to share….

With spring & warmer weather right around the corner, you might be like me in feeling that you’re so busy that you don’t know if you’ll be able to find the time to appreciate it…or even notice.  There are customers to help, sales goals to hit, fires to put out, and new business to be done.

Maybe you’re special and have more than the standard 24 hours in the day. But where do the rest of us start if we need to get all of our work accomplished yet still want to have time for a few “passion projects”?

You start with no.

One small word that stands on it’s own. One word that needs zero explanation. Saying it, though, is only half the battle:

No-Way #1- Have Written Priorities. Before you get crazy with saying no to any new task that comes your way, understand the full scope of what you’re working on AND what is being asked. Are you the best person for the job? Could you get it done in time? Do you understand it from start to finish? If you find that your “to-do” list is scattered between a Google calendar, a planner in your bag, and a bunch of post-its stuck all over your desk, I think you know where you need to start. 

No-Way #2- Delete & Delegate. One of Neen’s points that connected with me most is that saying no isn’t about shirking responsibility and letting it all fall to the wayside. If you don’t have time to do something because your plate is too full, are there things already on there that someone else could do? Or better yet, things that could be done better than even you could? 

No-Way #3- Be Brief. Saying no isn’t easy, especially if you’re a part of a team.  If you over-explain your reasoning behind why you can’t take on planning the company retreat or organizing your new parts area, you’ll quickly be that guy. The one who makes excuses and isn’t a team player.

Saying no means that you’re saying yes to working as best, as passionately, as productively as you can. A bunch of little no’s can add up to some pretty big yes’s in your business, for your team, and for your customers.

photo credit: © jodieasy– stock.adobe.com

So where can you find the article and more productivity tips? Check out Neen’s page. She’s smart, tough, and I owe her for becoming less of a yes-woman myself. Where in your busy schedule could you use no? Share in the comments below!

I Hate Email.

OK, truth be told, I don’t hate email. I do, however, hate that I allow email to distract me. I hate that many people do not know how to use email appropriately. I hate that I can never seem to get to the bottom of my inbox. I hate that people expect me to reply to email within minutes. I hate that I can rarely work uninterrupted. I hate that for every one email I am able to send, I seem to get three in return. I hate that I spend hours each day writing emails but can’t seem to find the time to write a blog post. And, if that’s not enough, I hate that I find myself checking email on my iPhone pretty much everywhere.

You see, email in and of itself is not the problem.

The problem is that we have become slaves to Outlook (or Apple Mail if you’re a Mac like me, or Gmail – which is a close third by now). Email is actually a great tool. It’s one of the most effective forms of marketing, it’s one of the easiest ways to stay in touch, it’s a savior when communicating complex or detailed information, it’s great for reminders, it’s fast, it’s free, and it’s, well, I could go on and on. My point here is that email has become an ever-present and necessary part of business. And, it’s not going anywhere soon. So the trick is figuring out how to leverage the strength of email as a platform without falling victim to it’s many time wasters.

Here is a list of 10 best practices that I have developed and do my best to follow:

Touch it once. This is a hard but important point. If you can train yourself to only touch each email once you’ll cut down on nearly 50% of the time it takes to empty your inbox. The moment you read the email for the first time, make a decision about what you’re going to do with it and then…DO IT RIGHT THEN. File it, archive it, respond to it, forward it, whatever. Some emails do require a more detailed response and/or deeper reflection. In those cases flag the email for later follow-up or put it in a follow-up folder. Whatever you do, don’t keep reading the email every time you scroll past it in your inbox.

Push delete! You don’t need to read every email. Once you realize that the email is junk, spam, irrelevant, unimportant, duplicative, or distracting DELETE IT right away. I’ve found the secret to reducing workload and time spent in your email program is ruthlessness with the delete button. If you’re worried that you might need that email one day set up an archive folder that you move these lesser important emails to.

Use filters. If you create email filters and rules that automatically sort and store incoming messages you’ll cut down on the time required to clean out your inbox each day. For instance, I receive about a hundred emails daily that are carbon copied to me for informational purposes only. It’s information that I rarely need, so I created a rule that moves those emails upon receipt to a folder for storage. If I ever need to go look at them, I can do that easily. You’d be surprised at how much of the “FYI” email you receive is actually not needed.

Sign up for Sanebox. This is a service that I cannot recommend highly enough. I pay $4.95 each month (which Sanebox says gives me “sanity for the price of a latte) and I get back hours of time each week. Sanebox filters my email automatically so I don’t have to. Basically, Sanebox moves unimportant emails to another folder called “SaneLater” that I peruse nightly but leaves important emails in my inbox. You don’t have to do anything to get it work. It just works. You can train it to be smarter, but you don’t really have to. Sanebox includes a host of other features for email management that I’ve found useful – and I’m sure you will as well.

Set aside email hours. One of the biggest distractions throughout the day is leaving your inbox open and attempting to reply to every email as it comes in. I have found far greater success with taking an hour in the morning, and then again in the late afternoon, to do nothing but email. It’s tough to hold yourself to that schedule but it does wonders for your productivity.

Create expectations with your signature. Include language that explains what senders should expect with a statement like, “I reply to all email within 24 hours. If you’d like an immediate response please call me direct at 414-555-1212.”

Set your download frequency to longer intervals. I used to have mine set for one minute. Then I changed it to 15. Now I’m on 30 minutes. I know people that set theirs to an hour – and still others who leave it on manual download only. I’m not quite that ready to let go, but I have really appreciated the ability to work on responding to email without the fear of another four or five pouring in at the same time.

Turn off notifications. Dings, beeps, counters, bells, chimes, badges, and even the old-school “You’ve got mail!” announcement were all created to do two things – divert your attention and distract you. Turn them all off. You don’t need them. When you open your email program, you’ll know if you have new mail.

Forward with care. Email onto others as you would like them to email unto you. Nobody really needs to see another email about cats. Or dogs. Or anything that says, “Forward this to 12 of your friends today and you will have good luck.” The way to stop the insanity is to stop the spread of stupid email by refusing to forward anything you would not appreciate receiving yourself. I’ve even responded to emails from my colleagues and friends within the industry with “Hey, pal, don’t send me crap like this. Please.” Now I only get the REALLY funny stuff.

Those are just a few tips to help you get your inbox under control. I’m sure I’ve missed a few that you’re already doing. Please share your best practices in the comments below.