Ever heard the phrase “creative strategic planning”? Surely you have, though it may have simply been thrown around in a business meeting. Or maybe you’ve seen it scattered across the internet, a vague catch phrase get-rich-quick schemes use to lure people in. Either way, this is one thing you definitely need to pay more attention to.

Strategic planning refers to defining a specific goal and then laying out a necessary strategy to reach that goal. Basically, strategic planning makes sure your short-term decisions work in favor of your long-term goals. To begin, a strategic planner needs to answer these three questions:

1.) Where are we now?

2.) Where do we want to be?

3.) How can we move one step closer?

Sound simple enough? Almost. The first two questions should be answered with as much specifics as possible. Let’s say you own a business. Your goal is to raise profits by 10% by the end of next year. So you might say:

1.) Where are we now?
        - Our current profit margin is ___.

2.) Where do we want to be?
        - We want our profits to be raised by 10% by December 31, 2013. Therefore, we need our profit margin to be ___by December 31, 2013.

Now comes the creative part, which is question #3. There are a number of theories floating around that provide the best way to start the creative process, but we feel Wallas’s creative process makes for a great fit. There are four stages: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.

Preparation is the stage of gathering all your possible information. After all, you won’t be able to give yourself options if you have no idea of what you’re working with, right? So look at all your sources, all the people you know and all the possible pathways to reach your goal.

Next is incubation. So take a break; set the problem aside for a bit to clear your head. A disorganized mind creates a disorganized reality.

Step 3: illumination. Identify potential solutions. This is when working as a team really comes in handy, as everyone will be looking at the problem through a different perspective. Have brainstorming sessions to present as many solutions as possible.

And finally: verification. Refine your ideas. There may be a number of ideas on how to increase profits by 10% within the given time frame, but each idea needs to be refined and clearly laid out before a decision is made.

It’s completely understandable if this still sounds a bit complicated, but that’s why we’re here! Schedule a meeting with Canvas Creek today and we’ll show you how to get on track in your creative strategic planning process. We’ll even be with you every step of the way. 

 
 
With the ever expanding world of the internet, it can be quite easy to see how business relationships may fall to the wayside. After all, instead of calling customer care, people are directed to an online question and answer forum. Instead of turning in job applications directly to human resources, people are asked to submit theirs online. Even ordering business supplies over the phone is a thing of the past; sure, you can probably do it, but not without hearing about how convenient their new online ordering system is from the person on the other end of the line. Do they know a website has the potential to put them out of a job?

Nonetheless, with so many essential business moves being made over the internet, one might think we were living in a world where human to human interaction was not the preferable option. However, relationships in business are more important than ever. And no matter how much work is done online, there are a few things you need to know:

1.) Nothing can replace excellent customer service. Ever get to a website and find that you can’t find a phone number? Anywhere? It’s frustrating to have to sit at a computer and try to decipher what someone else has already deemed the appropriate response to your problem. Maybe that solution isn’t working, maybe that’s not your problem, and maybe you just have no idea what the words in front of you mean.

Having a relationship with your clients means being there for them in a time of need, and refusing to have a help number on your website is not being there (neither is requiring them to go through 46 steps to reach a human being on the other end, contrary to the opinion of Verizon, but who’s counting).

2.) Do what you say you are going to do. When a customer has contacted you with an issue, it is up to you to resolve it. Relying on them to remind you of the problem or giving them a list of things they should try and then call you back is lazy. Sure you can teach a man to fish, but in the business world it’s appreciated if you give that same man a fish or two while he is still learning. Don’t leave your customers out on a limb; once they’ve contacted you take the problem off their hands.

Oh yeah, and fix it.

3.) Facilitate connections. I work with a local photographer here in town, and one day I asked her how much money she spends on advertising for her business. Her answer: $0.00. All of her clients are from colleague recommendations, word of mouth, and social media. Folks all these client sources are facilitated through favorable relationships. If no other photographers in town respect her, if her clients aren’t happy with her work or she ignores the growing trend of social media, her business dies. It’s as simple as that. 

 
 
If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation to ask your roommate to move out, you know just how awkward it can be. Even in a good situation where both of you are on great terms and there’s a happy occasion for the change (say you and your significant other want to move in together, for example), it can still be a tough subject to bring up. So before you do, here are a few things you need to know first:

1.) Know what you can legally ask of them. If you and your roommate have signed a lease and that lease isn’t up for another three months, you and your hubby might just have to wait until then to call the place your own. Until that lease is up, your roommate has just as much right to be there as you do.

Having said that, there is often nothing wrong with just asking. Who knows, maybe your roomie has a friend that needs a place and this could be the perfect time for her to start apartment hunting with someone else. Communicate! 

2.) Be open about the situation. If there is a problem, and that’s why you feel your roommate needs to go, they deserve to have a chance to solve the problem first. They may be completely clueless to the issues you’re dealing with, so make sure you’re open with them from the beginning. Don’t ask them to move out and say it’s due to “allergies”, just ask them to stop burning incense all the freakin’ time and the problem could be solved right then and there.

3.) Do it at the right time. This is not a discussion that should be put off, of course, but it’s also not a discussion that can happen at any time. Make sure both of you don’t have to be somewhere right away and limit the distractions. And try to be sensitive to what is going on in their lives. Asking them to move out as soon as they get back from their grandma’s funeral isn’t a very good idea.

4.) Give them a realistic time to move out. Unless they’ve been absolutely unbearable (and by unbearable we mean they lit all your clothes on fire last night, or something of a similar significance), you need to give them a reasonable time to move out. They not only need to find another place, but possibly another roommate, as well as figure out how and when they are going to move all of their stuff. And don’t forget they probably have school and or a job or kids and other commitments they’re juggling too. A month is typically a respectable time period.

5.) Be compassionate. If they come to you saying they’ve found a place but they won’t be able to move in until five days after the 30 day period you’ve given them, let them stay for the extra five days. Finding a place to live can be a real pain in the neck and in the end five days is really nothing to get upset about. 

 
 
Ah yes, our passion. At times it can be so elusive, and vague comments from others (“Well, just pick something you like and do that.”) are virtually useless. So here are a few inspirational points that might help you get on the right path.

1.) Often people attempt to live their lives backwards.  They try to acquire more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier.  The way it actually works is the reverse.  You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.

2.) Don’t be normal.  Sadly, normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you financed, in order to get to the job that you don’t really like, but that you need, to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.

3.) If you are passionate about it, pursue it, no matter what anyone else thinks.  That’s how dreams are achieved.

4.) Live by choice, not by chance.  Make changes, not excuses.  Be motivated, not manipulated.  Work to excel, not compete.  Choose to listen to your inner voice, not the jumbled opinions of everyone else.

5.) When faced with two choices, simply toss a coin.  It works not because it settles the question for you, but because in that brief moment when the coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you are hoping for.

6.) It’s not about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance.  You’ll rarely be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work.  Sometimes you just have to go for it 

7.) Nothing you have that much passion for is ever a waste of time, no matter how it turns out in the long-term.

8.) Life is short.  If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.

9.) A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.  This concept can be universally applied.

10.) There are people who live in a dream world and there are people who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.

11.) If you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.

12.) When we focus on leading a passionate, meaningful life, we are also inadvertently creating a spectacular ripple effect of inspiration in the lives around us.  When one person follows a dream, tries something new, or takes a daring leap, everyone nearby feels their passionate energy; and before too long, they are making their own daring leaps while simultaneously inspiring others.

 
 
How many times during the day do you think something to yourself? Probably more than you think. The truth is, you (yes, that person in the mirror) are the biggest influence on how your life turns out. And if we can’t change our thoughts, we very well can’t change our actions, now can we? So let’s make sure the following thoughts get shut down before they even start.

1.) I can’t/it’s too late/I’m not good enough/it doesn’t matter anyway/what’s the point. Yes, all of these excuses fall under the same category and all of them are collectively number one on this list for a reason. Don’t sell yourself short because your mental guestimate of your abilities is inaccurate. You are just as capable and deserving as anyone else, and it does matter or you wouldn’t be having this conversation with yourself right now. Your body is an amazing thing; if you want it to stand up, walk across the street and talk to the cute guy in the coffee shop it will do it. The only thing stopping you is your mind. 

2.) I don’t have time. Everyone thinks they don’t have time, but then something comes up and they end up making time. So make time now! Research has shown that the average person can find an extra six hours (six hours!!) in their day if they were to prioritize their tasks and work more efficiently.

3.) I’ll do it someday. Why someday? Putting it off until “someday” conveys the idea that you aren’t able to do it now, and why? Is there really something standing in your way? Right now, at this very moment, you are the oldest and wisest you have ever been, while at the same time being as young and able as you have ever been. Don’t waste time dedicating part of your life to “someday.” Do what makes you happy now.

4.) I could make a fool of myself. Yes, you could. You could also trip and fall walking through the grocery store, so do you stop going to the store? No! And the reason: because you’ve been to the store and not tripped and fell enough times that your mind doesn’t recognize it as a realistic threat. There are many opportunities to make a fool of yourself (many of them you are enormously overthinking), but if you avoided all of them you would be a hermit. Live a little bit and let yourself make mistakes. The fear of being a fool is not keeping you from being one; it’s keeping you from living, period.

5.) It didn’t work out the last time. Circumstances change and people learn, including you. If you let your past determine your future, your future is going to be an exact replica of your past.

6.) Well if so-and-so thinks it’s a good idea… Honestly, it doesn’t matter what so-and-so thinks! It matters what you think! Granted, everyone needs a little advice from someone else once in a while, but constantly needing someone else’s opinion causes you to forget to have one of your own. After all, if so-and-so has a different opinion than you, and you always go with their opinion, what’s the point in even having your own? Do what you want to do, regardless of what others may think. 

 
 
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a bad relationship, a new venture or just a lifestyle, there are some things in life that just aren’t working anymore. Now it can be difficult to know when the time is right to walk away and try something new, so we’ve made it a bit easier on you. Here are five signs that it’s time to stop what you’re doing and move on.

1.) You’re going in circles. Have you ever heard Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? Well here it is: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you’ve already tried everything you can think of to make it work and are now trying things you’ve already tried, you need to stop. You’re going in circles and it’s time to move on. 

2.) You’ve already learned the lesson. Let’s say you’ve been in a horrible relationship for 2 years. Now let’s say you break up and move on to date an amazing person and you’re happy. You’ve learned your lesson about the bad relationship, right? Now if you had been in that bad relationship for four years instead of two would you have gained anymore wisdom? Probably not. Once you’ve learned the lesson there’s no point in hanging on. Now you’re just wasting time.

3.) You’re crossing lines you originally set for yourself. Whenever you start a new endeavor, there are always lines that are set. Maybe you don’t necessarily write them down, but they’re definitely there. Something like, “Well as long as he doesn’t cheat on me we can still work on things,” or “I’m going to run this business for six years, and if it isn’t gaining a profit by then I’ll be done.” These are good boundaries to have, but as soon as they are crossed, you’re just kidding yourself. If he cheats on you or it’s been seven years and the business still isn’t turning a profit, it’s time to cut your losses.

4.) You’re missing out on other opportunities. Here’s an easy way to look at it. If a chance for something comes along and you consider it a missed opportunity, than it probably is! Let’s say you’re a chef running your own restaurant. It’s not exactly pulling in a huge profit, but you’ve only been in business for a year. A café down the street offers you a great job and you turn it down. You’re happy with your decision. Now let’s say you’ve been a chef for five years at a failing restaurant and you’re offered the same café job. You turn it down again, but this time you wonder if you made the right decision.

In the first scenario, taking the job at the café would have meant you missed out on the opportunity to own your own restaurant. So you turned it down and continued on your path. But in the second scenario, you see turning down the job at the café was a missed opportunity to have a decent income, and you missed it. If you think you’re missing opportunities, it probably means you know longer see what you’re doing as the right choice.

5.) You’re unhappy. It’s as simple as that. If you’re unhappy in your situation (with your current job or a relationship) and you’ve tried everything to improve it (talked to your boss, been to relationship counseling) but nothing has worked and you’re still unhappy, you need to get out of that situation. 

 
 
Slumps…we all have them. They’re those little sections of life when things just don’t seem to be going right. Maybe you haven’t been to the gym in a month and no matter what you do just don’t feel like going. Maybe you’ve been behind at work lately and you just can’t seem to catch up. Or maybe it’s your mood; maybe no matter what is going on in your life right now you just feel kind of…blah. These are slumps, people, and once you’re in one it can be hard to snap out of it, but it’s definitely not impossible. Here are some of the best ways to get yourself back on track.

1.) Stop. More specifically, stop thinking. Stop thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, what you forgot to do today, how your mother-in-law is driving you crazy, how you’ve gained 6 pounds since June when you promised yourself you’d lose 10: just stop. Whatever you’ve been doing lately hasn’t been working (you are in fact, in a slump), right? Right, so stop and take a deep breath; you are about to change gears.

2.) Focus. Find a place where you can sit, with pen and paper, undisturbed for a few minutes and think clearly. That means you step away from any electronic distractions (the television, the computer, your cell phone, etc.) and go somewhere comfortable. And don’t let yourself make excuses; the world is not going to explode if dinner is 30 minutes later than it usually is for the love of God.

3.) Write it down. Our minds are constantly running (as you probably already know). Research has shown that when we write down what we are thinking about on paper (how upset we are with a loved one or what we need at the store, for example), our mind can relax a bit knowing it doesn’t need to keep thinking about that information. It’s the same thing that happens when someone gives you their phone number; you repeat it to yourself until you enter it in your phone or write it down. And as soon as you do, you stop thinking about it, right? Problems you are dwelling on work the same way. So take a second and write down what is bothering you.

4.) Refine. After you write down what is bothering you (don’t worry if it’s an insanely long list, chances are you’ve needed to get some things out), take a look at what you’ve written. Did you write “Dan won’t fix those shelves I’ve asked him to fix for 2 weeks” and “Dan didn’t pack the kids’ lunches” and “Dan made work plans on our anniversary night” the problem might not be all of those little things. Instead, the problem might be “Dan and I need to communicate better.”  

5.) Determine a resolution. If the problem is that you and Dan need to communicate better. Write down a time that the two of you need to talk, undisturbed. Not while both of you are running to your cars in the morning, not the second he gets home from work. Pick a time when you can both talk. The same goes for other issues. If the problem is that you’re completely overwhelmed at work, think of a way you can take off some of your workload. Is there a fellow employee that can help you out for a bit (they could be in charge of the phone lines for the day while you work, for example)? Can you speak to your boss about getting caught up on your current assignments before taking on any more projects? If you’ve been feeling unmotivated, think of a way to get motivated. Haven’t gone to the gym in a while? Maybe you need a new pair of running shoes.

6.) Move on. Once you’ve addressed these issues and understand what you need to do, move on. Get up, make the dinner you’ve been postponing for 30 minutes, and stop thinking about it. Enjoy your dinner, watch some television with Dan, and get some sleep. Tomorrow your slump ends

 
 
As much as we would all like it to, the concept of teamwork does not simply “happen.” Instead, it takes a great deal of time working through details to make sure a team works together effectively. But some businesses and families are one step ahead of the game; by creating a culture that facilitates teamwork, constantly, a groups’ members are already comfortable with the idea of working together. So how can you achieve this in your home or place of business? Read on!

1.) Reward and value efforts of teamwork. The lone employee has their place, but placing a large amount of reward on something an individual employee does on their own can often give the impression that an individual can be valued more than the group. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of personal recognition, of course, but try to keep larger rewards (bonuses, compensation, etc.) distributed to groups of people as a display of a team working together successfully.

2.) Build teams to solve issues. If you are constantly forming teams to resolve issues that arise, people are going to start doing it on their own. If you typically ask for a group of volunteers to solve a problem, the first time a problem comes up while you are out of town group members will follow the protocol; which is to form a team and work through the issue together.

3.) List a teamwork culture as an identifiable value. The concept of teamwork shouldn’t be inferred, it should be openly accepted. Make sure the idea of teamwork is added to employee handbooks or written agreements so group members understand that it is a priority.

4.) Bring up topics that were solved by teamwork. I used to work at Billings Clinic, and I remember when they were given a Magnet rating (the top rating for nursing in the country; very few hospitals have achieved this), credit was given to the committee that worked tirelessly to make sure the hospital met specific qualifications. No single individual was acknowledged; it was considered a group effort.

5.) Exemplify teamwork at the executive level as well. As parents, it’s tough to expect your family to run as a team if you and your spouse do not act as a team as well. The same goes with a business. If Mom is asked a question, saying “I’ll run that by your father” shows that teamwork happens at even the highest level. Make this a practice in your business as well. 

 
 
In a perfect world, all teams would work perfectly together; meetings would run smoothly, problems would be easily ironed out and everyone would be happy. However, as we all probably already know, we don’t live in a perfect world. And while one person may believe a team is functioning as well as it could be, another member may have a different opinion. The fact is, just as every other aspect of a business needs to be evaluated, and so does the collaboration process of the actual team.

So gather your team members together, provide a few snacks (a few cookies work wonders for cutting tension) and explain that a simple evaluation needs to be done. Make sure all evaluations are anonymous, and have each member rate the team against the following criteria:

1.) Clarity of team goals. Is it clear what the team is actually trying to accomplish? Is it clear who exactly is benefitting the most from the accomplishment of the team’s goals? If a member from one department feels accomplishing the stated goals only benefits members from another department, it could mean that some of the team’s goals are too narrow or that they aren’t being explained properly.

2.) Clarity of individual roles and responsibilities. A friend of mine works as a coach for a university softball team. When the university was hiring new athletic trainers, they informed her she had been nominated as the chair of the committee. However, no one explained her responsibilities. People would just call her office asking if she turned in “that review” or had completed her “recommendation rundown” and she had no idea what they were talking about. Encourage your team members to describe times they have felt like this.

3.) Efficiency of time and resources. Ever been to a meeting that was a complete waste of time? One that was simply a gathering of people so your supervisor could hear herself talk? Hopefully your team meetings aren’t like this, but if they are it’s an incredible waste of resources. Have team members list ideas to make meetings more efficient. Maybe a memo could be sent out before hand with a list of required paperwork or the itinerary could be emailed out letting people know exactly what part of the meeting will be relevant to them.

4.) Facilitation of ideas. Do your team members have a voice? If they suggest something, do you get defensive or hear their ideas? Are they constantly interrupted by other teammates? Is the environment conducive to a productive meeting or is it absolutely freezing and they can’t wait to get out of there (don’t scoff; a comfortable room temperature is actually very relevant to productivity)?

5.) Rewards and general concerns. While accomplishing a specific goal sounds like it should be enough, more often than not, it isn’t. Encourage team members to list possible incentives or ways productivity could be increased. In addition, have them list any general concerns they may have about how the meetings are run. This could be scheduling or even fairness. I worked nightshifts at a previous job, and until someone mentioned it all meetings were held at 3:00 in the afternoon. That’s great if you work day shift, but it’s an awful time for nightshift. Everyone was much happier when meetings were changed to 8:00 in the morning, right between shift changes. 

 
 
Are you a procrastinator? Go ahead, you can answer honestly…

That’s what I thought.

The truth is, procrastinating is an extremely common habit. The stress of something easily makes it seem like putting it off until later is a good idea, but we all know how that ends up. So let’s examine a few ways to get rid of that procrastinating bug. Not forever, mind you, we are realists, after all. But these tips should get you going in the right direction when you desperately need to focus.

1.) Really prioritize. Believe it or not, we all have a limited supply of willpower that gradually drains throughout the day. That’s why you see so many more fast food advertisements at the end of the day than the beginning; because that’s when they’ve been found to be the most effective at convincing people to call the number at the bottom of the screen. Focusing on tasks that need to be completed is no different. Therefore, it’s important to start with the toughest stuff first, while your willpower is at its maximum.

Plus, then you get to enjoy the wash of relief you often feel after your most stressful task is completed, making the weight on your shoulders feel just a tad bit lighter.

2.) Get rid of distractions. Distractions are everywhere (as a writer that works from home on a computer hooked up to the internet 24/7, I whole-heartedly understand), but that doesn’t mean you have to give into them. Instead of checking your email every 10 minutes, vow to check it once every 2 hours. Turn your phone on silent, keep the television off and for the love of God stay off the internet.

If you have to be on the internet or your phone has to be on, you can still screen what you’re looking at. Facebook is not essential, it can wait, just like that text from your friend wondering if she should wear the black or the red pumps tonight. Those issues aren’t important right now; you have work to do.

3.) Find what motivates you. It doesn’t have to be much. For example, when I am writing an article and feel myself draining, I’ll suddenly notice that I’m a bit thirsty. Instead of getting up and getting a glass of water, I’ll tell myself I can have one after I write one more paragraph. It’s a tiny thing, but it always works.

4.) Time yourself. Looking at your workload and thinking, “This will take hours!” will not help you reach your goals. Instead, set a timer for only 10 minutes, and vow to work feverishly straight through those 10 minutes. No excuses whatsoever. Anyone can handle 10 minutes of work, and you’ll often be surprised at how much you can get done.

5.) Break apart your work. Tackling one giant task all at once is sure to make anyone shy away, so instead think about what you could realistically do in the next 10, 30, or 60 minutes, then start there. Breaking larger tasks into smaller ones is a clever little way to tricking to the brain into thinking the workload just got a whole lot lighter.