Advice on finding clients, setting priorities and achieving work/life balance.

It’s that time of year when “Best of 2016” lists proliferate – best movies, best podcasts, best children’s books, best cars, best enchilada sauce … and so it goes. At INSTORE, our thing is tips. So here’s our list of the best Tipsheet items of 2016, starting with some advice on that most crucial area of all: How to ensure you get more important work done.

Save that “frog” for later in the day

You’ve probably heard the old “eat the frog” advice, which says you should tackle your most dreaded task first thing in the morning. This works well for some, but there’s a solid case to be made for eating the frog later, after building up momentum with a series of “small wins.” That was the conclusion of Harvard researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, who analyzed thousands of diary entries from workers. “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run,” they wrote in Harvard Business Review.

Fully motivated and engaged, here are more ideas from this year’s Tipsheets to improve other areas of your business and life:

Best place to meet new customers

When it comes to networking, Brad Weber, owner of Weber Goldsmith Gallery in Carmel, CA, is a big believer in involvement in anything “artsy,” citing museums, playhouses, and music events. But the best source of new customers was the local book club. “15/15 women became huge customers,” he says.

Best salesfloor tip

All good sales people know the power of questions, not just to find out what a customer really wants but as a tool of persuasion. Think of Ronald Reagan’s query, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" The reason, according to research out of Ohio State University, is that when the facts are clearly on your side, asking a question is more effective than making a statement. “People receive statements passively. But with questions, they summon their own, more autonomous reasons for agreeing,” writes Dan Pink in his irregular newsletter.

Out and out coolest thing you could do to mark Valentine’s Day in your store 

Love & Luxe in San Francisco, CA, has made a name for itself with its creative collaborations. In recent years. they’ve hosted an artisanal perfumery pop-up, teamed up with a local florist as well as a chocolatier, and — our favorite — hired an onsite poet who typed custom love letters for Valentine’s Day.

Best security tip of the year

Sadly, employee theft is one of the biggest risks a store owner faces. It’s not just in jewelry, in all organizations, staff are a potential weak spot because they know the ins and outs of the business so well. Philanthropy Today, a magazine focused on non-profits, which collectively lose billions every year to internal theft, suggested this tip to stem the flow: Sit down with all staff and ask bluntly: How would you steal from me? Citing an ex-FBI agent as the source of the advice, it noted the first time you ask the question no one may speak up, “but the second time, workers will be talking about the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the charity’s systems and suggesting improvements.”

Best number-crunching tip of the year

One of the most underrated qualities when it comes to entrepreneurship is curiosity, says Jack Welch. And that applies to your finances as much as to exploring new products or marketing strategies. “When it comes to finance, your main interest should be variance analysis  —  comparing key numbers month over month, or year over year, or comparing them to plan, to see what’s working in your organization and what isn’t. You need to be relentlessly curious about the variances that tell you how the business is doing, where it’s going, why, and how fast,” he says in his book The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game.

Best cleaning tip

Cleaning chandeliers can be a challenge; if you’re not careful a rainstorm of dust and gunk can soon cover everything down below. To avoid such a scenario, Mary H.J. Farrell at Consumer Reports recommends you open and hang an old umbrella upside down from the bottom of your light fixture. Then use a blow dryer on the cool setting or a duster to remove all the dust and the umbrella will catch it. The umbrella will also catch the drips from any cleaning products you use to wipe the fixture down.

Best best-practice tip

A lot of organizations do “autopsies” when something goes wrong. But learning from your successes can be just as important, psychologist Leslie Sherlin tells Fast Company. “Most of the time, we are just happy we finish it, so we just move on,” explains Sherlin. “We need to really think through that success. What caused me to succeed? What state of mind was I in?” When you document processes — such as a big engagement ring sale — possibly with the use of a journal, identify the methods that worked best and then build a system for your workflow, Sherlin says

Best best-friend advice

Facing a difficult question and not sure what to do? Try this technique, as suggested by the prolific Heath brothers in their 2013 book, Decisive. Ask yourself, “What would you tell your best friend to do in this situation?” Usually, the answer is clear. And if the problem is of the long-running variety, ask what your “successor” might do faced with this issue for the first time. More often than not, the answer is STOP doing the same thing you’ve been trying over and over.

Smartest way to add some urgency to your work: Unplug

Does replying to email and other office work on your laptop take way more time than it should because of the distractive power of the Internet? Then try this hack: Unplug your laptop power cord. Then you can only work as long as your battery lasts. “It’s great motivation to get important things done more quickly,” suggests Inc.com.

And while you’re cutting the cord ...

Has the sight of cell phone in the palm of a sales person or on a table during lunch with a friend ever made you feel the other person wasn’t totally “present”? It’s not just you. Newly published research by a team at Virginia Tech University suggests that the mere sight of a phone near two people having a conversation can divide attention and lessen the quality of the interaction. “The presence of mobile technologies has the potential to divert individuals from face-to-face exchanges, thereby undermining the character and depth of these connections,” the VTU team wrote in the journal Environment and Behavior. So a new rule: No phones visible on the sales floor. And if you call an employee in for a chat, move that phone off your desk.

Best hard-won-wisdom tip of the year

Asked by the Wall Street Journal what advice she had for entrepreneurs just starting out, Kathleen King, the owner of the fast-growing Tate’s Bake Shop chocolate chip cookie company, singled out removing the emotion from your choices. “When we start a business, it’s like raising a child. You start from nothing; you put everything into it; and you watch it grow. But it’s not a child. When you take the emotion out of decision-making, everything is clear. Your business will grow, and everybody will be better for it,” she recently told the Wall Street Journal.

Best contrarian tip of the year

“The best way to come up with new ideas is to get really bored,” recommends prolific author Neil Gaiman. Your brain wants to fill the void or at least entertain yourself with new ideas. Watching school plays was ideal, he told the Guardian newspaper. “You have to sit there for hours and you can’t read or use a phone or check something on the web. I’ll come out afterwards thinking: ‘Did I just plot out an episode of Dr Who there? I think I did ...’” says Gaiman, who took a social media sabbatical in 2014 to clear his head.

Best “OK enough work already” tip of the year

Start planning your August vacation in March. Why so early? Three reasons: so you get the room you want, you commit to actually taking a break, and perhaps most importantly you get the most out of it. A study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found that the most enjoyable thing about taking a vacation is actually planning it. The takeaway? Start planning early, so you have plenty of time to soak in the fun of planning it.

And while you’re on the beach ...

Are you uncomfortable with ambiguity? Do you feel a need for closure? It’s a common condition, but a potentially problematic one as it can lead to snap judgments and rigid thinking. New research by a University of Toronto team of psychologists suggests a simple antidote: Read more literary fiction. “The thinking a person engages in while reading fiction does not necessarily lead him or her to a decision,” they report in Creativity Research Journal. So, don’t feel bad about reading that sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey. Consider it a business matter.

Best tip that explains that lousy Yelp review

May 2015 was the wettest month in US history. It was probably also a month that saw an all-time high for bad restaurant reviews. A 2014 study of 1.1 million online reviews of 840,000 restaurants turned up an interesting finding: Diners consistently gave worse ratings when it was raining or snowing outside than when it was clear. And reviewers usually liked restaurants better on warm and cool days, rather than very hot or very cold ones. “The best reviews are written on sunny days between 70 and 100 degrees … a nice day can lead to a nice review. A rainy day can mean a miserable one,” researcher Saeideh Bakhshi told the Washington Post. The obvious takeaway? Move your store to California or Hawaii. Failing that, best to ask for reviews on nice days.

Tip that goes best with fries

When faced with a dearth of good suggestions on how to tackle an issue, tech blogger Jon Bell suggests his McDonald’s Theory. When applied to eating, it goes like this: “When we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s. An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge. Magic!” Bell says the same strategy can be used for just about any issue, especially creative projects, where the first step (deciding) is harder than the second.

Best “Oh, I always suspected there was a better way” tip

Apparently there’s a right and a wrong way to peel sticky notes (aka Post-It notes) off the pack. Think side-to-side, not bottom-to-top. Peeling from the bottom makes the notes curl at the adhesive strip. Work coach Martin Schapendonk shares this tip on Whitehorses: Start at the left of the pad and pull the note to the right (or vice versa). Voila, a flat-lying note. Do it this way and your notes will have better chance of sticking to the wall, your monitor, the fridge in the backroom.

Best “You knew that but it bears worth repeating” tip — Friendly Wins Over Expert 

People often lack confidence when buying diamond jewelry, so you need to ensure everything about your store puts them at ease. More than anything, your staff should express the idea that they’re there to help, says retail researcher Paco Underhill. “Often what is most poignant is recognizing they have come in and realized they have no idea even the questions they should be asking,” Underhill says.

Finally, a tip that helps with everything

Henry Ford said, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” The Navy SEALs going through Hell Week use a similar approach, says former SEAL Eric Greitens, author of Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life. “You’d say, ‘I’m just going to make it to the next meal.’ And if that was too much, you’d say, ‘I’m just going to make it for another 10 minutes.’ Sometimes it’s overwhelming to even think about getting out of bed, so what you have to do is say to yourself, ‘Can I move my toes? Yes. Can I move my fingers? Yes. Can I put one leg out of the bed? Yes. Can I put the other leg out? Yes. Can I put some weight on my heels? Yes.’ Then you’re standing up.” Facing a big challenge ahead? Bring it on!


This article is an online extra for INSTORE Online.

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