Book Review: The One Minute To-Do List

The One Minute To-Do List: Quickly Get Your Chaos Completely Under Control

By Michael Linenberger, New Academy Publishers, Copyright 2011

Price: Softcover $12.95, Kindle version $7.95

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars, reviewed by Chris Wendel

It seems that all of us seem to have more intense workloads and having the actual time to bear down and actually get things done is a challenge.  Some over-achievers take pride in telling others how hectic their schedules are, to the point where being busy is a status symbol for our over-scheduled society. Others feel fell guilt when lamenting on how busy they are, believing that complaining about it only minimizes the time of the others we are interacting with.

It may be our collective imaginations but the cascade of information that is hurled at us in the course of a day from the multiple media sources we are exposed to is immense compared to ten or even five years ago.

Take the accelerated work pace that all of us face, combined with daily onslaughts of email messages and internet diversions and it’s no wonder that there is a desire for all of us to get us refocused by someone or something.

With these additional distractions as a backdrop, it’s hard to imagine a book that could improve on the tried and true concept of a “to-do” list. That long tested time management concept of “listing your work and working your list” is still practiced by most of us in one way, shape or form.

Michael Linenberger and his latest book The One Minute To-Do List is that person and the book. Prior to One Minute To-Do List (which the author acronyms into 1mtdl), Linenberger wrote other time management books including the popular Master Your Workday Now and Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook.

The secret of Linenberger’s success is that he never gets too complicated and that is what makes this book work. Linenberger quickly classifies to-do lists into three basic categories: Critical Now, Opportunity Now, and Over the Horizon.

Critical Now includes tasks that are absolutely due today. It is essential that these are at the top of your mind and not cluttered by the other two categories. Opportunity Now are items that aren’t as urgent as Critical Now tasks but you would work on now if you had the chance or opportunity. Our Over-the –Horizon List are tasks that require ten days or more to accomplish and will become urgent later on.

None of this is exactly rocket science but what follows next is managing these urgency zones with a series of rules that prioritize and measure urgency. As Linenberger states: “Most people create and use to-do lists incorrectly – they do this because they emphasize the wrong things. In other words, they prioritize wrong. And the common reason for misprioritizing (sic) is being confused about the right way to measure importance.”

If everything is important than we get bogged down and nothing is accomplished. Linenberger cuts to the chase with 114 pages of rapid fire advice that one can easily read in one sitting.

When it’s all consumed the One Minute To-Do List is a quick, effective way to calibrate your time management skills without a time consuming overhaul. In other words, Linenberger is not asking readers to reinvent the wheel but instead use easy to follow, common sense techniques that are worth the minimal investment of what all of us value most – time.

Will it work for you over the long haul, who knows? Regardless, Linenberger’s methods utilized even in a piece-meal fashion are worth adding to your time management regimen. Add his integration of Microsoft Outlook and newly developed android phone applications like Toodledo to and one can take the science of writing a to-do list to a whole new level. Now, what was I doing?

Chris Wendel is a consultant and lender with Northern Initiative in Traverse City. Northern Initiatives is a private, non-profit community development corporation that provides entrepreneurs with access to capital, information, and new markets.

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Book Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business

By Ed Paulson, Alpha Books (Sixth edition), Copyright 2012,

Reviewed by Chris Wendel

292 Pages,

$24.95

Rating: Four out of Five Stars

It may seem strange to be reviewing a book in the “Complete Idiot’s” series (books that provides a basic understanding of a complex and popular topic) because for many, the “Complete Idiot’s” moniker may leave the impression that the content is dumbed down for its intended audience. While there is no shortage of books for those considering the plunge into self-employment, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business” is the right book for a prospective business owner because of its overall thoroughness and lack of agenda.

When I say lack of agenda, I’m referring to author Ed Paulson’s well-presented nuts and bolts approach that is unlike many start-up primers, that are full of self-promoting stories that say more about the author’s ego then business. Paulson counters this trend with a solid overview that is honest about the risks and rewards of starting a business, while providing the details on how it can happen successfully.

The book begins in the right place with sections on assessing if you are the type of person well suited for starting a business. Choosing the right type of business is discussed at length, but is also made clear that it’s not just the type of business that will work for your personality and lifestyle that’s important, it has a lot to do with quantifying the potential market is for the concept (and if that market can generate the sales to make it work financially).

This is where so many aspiring entrepreneurs make their fatal mistake, falling in love with the product or concept and charging full steam ahead before they realize the market is not large enough. Dalton explains all of this in a logical well thought out manner that tends to not overwhelm.

For those who shy away from numbers and financial analysis, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business” does a tremendous job with estimating start-up business costs (and yes, they are always higher than you think), explaining the essentials of income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements (again without being too overwhelming).

And then there is the business plan. Another one of my complaints about start-up business books is their immediate urge to have one sit down and write a business plan. Business plans are important for the guiding a business, attracting investors, and long term success, but making it an initial priority isn’t always best. The author understands this and instead works in a more concise way to see if the business is feasible. Again are there enough customers to sell to, and will the product or service produce enough in revenue to be successful?

When it does come time to write that business plan, this book has that well covered. Perhaps that is the strength of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business”– its detailed approach that contain the Idiot’s Guide trademark definitions, examples, and anecdotes. The book also describes challenging situations that occur once a business is off the ground (employees, funding, growing pains)

The book’s only downside is its shallow dive with exploring financial resource options and the lack of connection the book makes to private and public resources that exist throughout the U.S. that provide small business assistance. Locally, these include SCORE, Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC), chambers of commerce, and Northwestern Michigan College, all of which have a strong presence in the Grand Traverse area. The assistance of these organizations is the perfect complement to the material presented in “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business”

Despite the minor deductions, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business” is an excellent starting place for those considering the plunge into business ownership. Once read it becomes a valuable reference guide to come back to, again and again.

Chris Wendel is a consultant and lender with Northern Initiative in Traverse City. Northern Initiatives is a private, non-profit community development corporation that provides entrepreneurs with access to capital, information, and new markets.

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Book Review: If I Had a Water Buffalo

If I Had a Water Buffalo

Microfinance as a Means to Sustainability

By Marilyn A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Chris Wendel

Softcover: 196 pages, $18.95

Publisher: CGS Publishing, Traverse City, Michigan, (November 16, 2011)

It’s not often that I’m able to review a book written by a local Northern Michigan author. Therefore, I looked forward to reading “If I had a Water Buffalo” by Marilyn Fitzgerald of Traverse City. Fitzgerald has traveled extensively throughout the world and provides consulting and publication services through her company, Common Ground Solutions.

The book’s subtitle:  “Microfinance as a Means to Sustainability”, suggests that it should focus on the process of lending money to individuals or smaller businesses. In reality the “If I had a Water Buffalo” is more broadly based, addressing the essentials of humanitarian aid that the author has learned through her years of education and experience.

It’s eye opening to hear Fitzgerald tell of the well intentioned service clubs and private donors that are often mismatched with the actual needs of the community and people that they are intended to serve.

The book’s title, “If I had a Water Buffalo” refers to Fitzgerald’s work in a rural village in Indonesia. Fitzgerald was on her fourth trip to this severely poor area, working with money obtained back home in the U.S. to fund children for school.

The program in this village had been relatively successful yet there were still unmet challenges including some children that desired an education. Simply collecting more money from donors in the U.S. was becoming problematic. It was about this time that Fitzgerald was given a suggestion by a man in the village named Nyoman that would change her entire approach to fundraising. Nyoman wanted…a water buffalo.

Nyoman insisted that if he had the $250 to purchase a water buffalo that he would be able to harvest the nearby rice fields three times a year (rather than one), thus tripling the capacity of the rice field and Nyoman’s income. That additional income could then be used to send Nyoman’s own children to school rather than relying on donations from Fitzgerald’s donors and others.

This breakthrough was a game changer for Fitzgerald who learned that the water buffalo example was a metaphor of sorts for understanding the local landscape before blindly solving the problem and making a small initial investment that can pay off many times over.

The book is divided into three sections that lay out the essentials to: “Learn how sustainability, relationship building, integrative negotiation, and project management are keys to stopping the endless cycle of fundraising and instead have a long-lasting, positive impact”.

Fitzgerald focuses much of “If I Had a Water Buffalo” on building models for giving that will attain lasting outcomes, which in the beginning is not part of the plan for many novice humanitarian aid efforts. This process includes serious negotiation, relationship building, and many times conflict that take considerable time and effort.

By writing “If I had a Water Buffalo”, Fitzgerald is able to combine her well vetted approach for fine tuning humanitarian aid campaigns with great stories that fit together in book that is well worth reading. At times the book is somewhat heavy in theory but that should not be a major deterrent for anyone.

I have gotten to know Fitzgerald over the years; therefore I’m not rating this book. We actually worked on a local effort to bring more financial resources to local small businesses that was initially not successful, but like the book itself, that experience was part of the winding road that needed to be traveled before a successful result was eventually reached.

Chris Wendel is a consultant and lender with Northern Initiative in Traverse City. Northern Initiatives is a private, non-profit community development corporation that provides entrepreneurs with access to capital, information, and new markets.

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Book Review: The $100 Startup

Reinvent the way you make a living, do what you love, and create a new future

By Chris Guillebeau

Reviewed by Chris Wendel

Hardcover: 304 pages, $23.00     Kindle Version: $11.99

Publisher: Crown Business (May 8, 2012)

At first glance The $100 Startup may seem more like a gimmicky give-away from a late-night infomercial than a practical business book. It is clear that this book will never be confused with any late night promise of instant wealth or government grants. Instead, it delivers a set of realistic resources for those wanting to know how a small business actually works.

Written by 30 something whiz kid Chris Guillebeau, The $100 Startup centers on the testimony of 1,500 individuals who built businesses earning $50,000 or more from modest investments (in many cases $100 or less). Guillebeau chooses the 50 most intriguing from this group of 1500 and identifies the commonalities of people starting businesses based on their lifestyle, personal expertise, and passion.

The rise of the micro-business is the new reality of many people still crippled by the economic upheaval of 3-4 years ago. Long gone are the days of borrowing to the hilt, betting the farm (or home), or quitting one’s job to test a business idea. Entrepreneurs looking to make a living on their own terms and the advent of the internet have been the catalysts to this significant new wave of small business development.

Guillebeau reinforces this idea through his interviews with his case studies. Some of those profiled are accidental entrepreneurs that had a service that consumers wanted more of. Many devised ways of doing what they truly wanted to do while prioritizing their families and other personal interests.

The $100 Startup spends a lot of time discussing the expertise that each business owner had and how they matched skill set with a product or service that people wanted to pay for. Starting on a smaller scale, an idea can be tested for feasibility in the market before larger investments (including money and time) are taken on.

It is the book’s entrepreneur profiles that provide its most interesting component. Guillebeau stresses that not everything one is passionate about is that interesting to everyone else (“I may be passionate about eating pizza, but no one is going to pay me to do it.”).

Take the Excel spreadsheet expert that built an online business of downloadable guides and trainings that nets him $136,000 annually.  Or the veteran sales executive that is laid off and then starts a successful business selling bed mattress that he delivers by bicycle.  Then there’s the woman from Omaha who makes and sells custom made wedding dresses to brides all over the world. In each case the business was built around the owner’s interests and lifestyle with limited start-up overhead.

The $100 Startup lays out how much money these entrepreneurs needed to get their projects started, how they generated funding, and key mistakes they made along the way.  Much of this start small mentality is possible because of niche demands of today’s market place. Guillebeau’s examples are easy to relate to because they aren’t all “pie in the sky”. Many are cautionary tales that readers can read and learn from. He also includes with each chapter, bulleted summaries of pivotal areas such as pricing, business plans, marketing, business expansion and a relevant summary of how to write a mission statement.

This minimalist approach to business development counters many prevailing theories of job creation. Many of these are individuals choose to live in our region, patterning their business around their expertise and families, while spending money locally, paying taxes, and sending their children to our local schools. Some of these small start-up businesses grow from home-based businesses (Hagerty Insurance and baa baa ZuZu come td) into larger companies that provide a significant employment. Either way, it is clear that the micro-businesses phenomenon is playing out in a positive way for northern Michigan.

Chris Wendel is a consultant and lender with Northern Initiative in Traverse City. Northern Initiatives is a private, non-profit community development corporation that provides entrepreneurs with access to capital, information, and new markets.

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Book Review: Ahead of the Curve, Two Years at Harvard Business School

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press
  • Four Stars (out of five)

Reviewed by Chris Wendel

The allure of a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) attracts many, as both a catalyst for career advancement and a ticket to a lucrative career. The number of MBA’s graduated from American universities has grown from 5000 in 1960, to 100,000 in 2000.

Regardless of the explosion of MBA degrees, the most revered (then and now) is the MBA program at Harvard University’s Business School (HBS). With a long list of accomplished alumni (George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Henry Paulson, Michael Bloomberg, Robert McNamara), it’s worth noting that 20% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have their MBAs from HBS.

Ahead of the Curve is an acclaimed first person narrative of Philip Delves Broughton, writer and Paris bureau chief for the London Daily Telegraph. After covering world events, Delves Broughton took a flyer with his career and applied to HBS.

Ahead of the Curve draws you in for two reasons. 1. Delves Broughton is an immensely gifted writer. 2. As an outsider, Delves Broughton enters into one of the world’s most influential global business institutions with an open mind.

The storyline follows the two years of Delves Broughton’s life as a Harvard MBA student. Thrown into the cauldron of financial case study analysis, Delves Broughton realizes he is a woefully behind his peers in reading financial statements and the simple navigation of an excel spreadsheet. To his credit, he is able to learn on the fly and adjust his technical skills to not just keep up but to also earn good grades.

It is the HBS culture that Delves Broughton struggles with. His commentary on the motives of many of the students, professors and HBS itself creates the bulk of the book’s interesting narrative.

Delves Broughton is older than the majority of his classmates at HBS, married with two very young children. His unique background and relative lack of business experience creates an insightful experience for readers. In the beginning Broughton is at odds with students that think that a Harvard MBA is a stepping stone to comfortable careers as hedge fund managers and venture capitalists than incorporating the HBS mission to “…educate leaders to make a difference in the world”.

At first Delves Broughton gravitates towards many of the foreign students who are appalled at the late party antics of the American students and take HBS’ claim as an international program as bunk. He loathes the profit motivated attitudes of students in his class projects and discussions, until late in his second year when he catches himself acting the same way. To his credit, during the two year curriculum, Delves Broughton absorbs enough to let go and critically observe both sides of the “How can I succeed without losing my soul?” discussion.

Delves Broughton’s experience with his professors is mixed. He concludes that the superior instructors have relevant business experience. The entrepreneurial course Delves Broughton seeks out is taught by a professor who has never started or run a business. When he and a colleague come to the professor with a viable start-up business concept, the professor shows nothing more than dismissive disinterest.

After his class graduates, Delves Broughton still grapples with the next steps in his own career. Most of his classmates have taken high powered jobs with luxurious salaries. To the outsider this is no surprise, yet in the end, Broughton cannot find a position that balances his professional career and his personal life.

Ahead of the Curve may be Delves Broughton’s way of finally parlaying his Harvard Business School education into a lucrative project. The book serves as the ultimate behind the curtain experience for those pondering a MBA. Delves Broughton’s money versus having-a-life discussions also make a great read for those at a professional crossroads or those seeking reassurance in the job they presently have.

 

Chris Wendel is the Regional Director for Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC). The MI-SBTDC assists businesses with business consulting, market research information, and entrepreneurial training. The Northwest Michigan Council of Governments is the host organization for the MI-SBTDC in the Grand Traverse region.

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Half-baked or True Business Concepts

by Chris Wendel

Over the years, I’ve heard all kind of business concepts. Some never made it past the scribbled napkin stage, while others had little promise. The point is frankly, no one knows at first glance if a business concept is worth its salt until its market and financial feasibility is determined.

With this in mind, we are presenting a new segment in our weekly radio show “Small Business Focus”. This new feature is called “half-baked or true business concept”, featuring a business model that is an actual functioning business –or- one that is totally fabricated. We’ve tried this twice with interesting reactions from our audience.

The first “half-baked or true business concept” was called Mobile Dolphin Tank. It was actually an idea borrowed from Kevin Wildes, a recent guest on a www.grantland.com pod cast with Bill Simmons. The concept involves an 18 wheel truck that travels from town to town with tanks of dolphins. Like a circus the Mobile Dolphin Tank sets up shop for a few days and children are able to fulfill their life-long dream of cuddling and kissing a live dolphin, similar to an expensive SeaWorld experience.

The second week’s “half-baked or true business concept” was a combination laundry mat and adult entertainment center called Dirty Laundry. The idea was that one could wash their clothes, drink a beer or two, and well…you get the idea.

 Vic McCarty, the co- host for the “Small Business Focus” guessed correctly when he believed that both concepts were made up. Join us this week from 10:30 – 11 am on WMKT 1270 AM to hear the latest “half-baked or true business concept”.

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Small Business Development Centers and SCORE, A Quick Orientation

It’s surprising how many people are in businesses that are unaware of the tremendous resources that are available to them. The obvious place that most entrepreneurs go to first is a local chamber of commerce. This is a good choice, but slightly under the radar are two organizations that offer no cost business consulting.

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) and SCORE were started by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to partner with local organizations and resources with the aim of providing “educational services for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.”

Every state has a network of Small Business Development Centers, typically based at a university or community college. In Michigan a technology component was added several years ago to assist with emerging technology, thus changing the name to the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC).

Locally, the SBTDC has a Regional Office in Traverse City with satellite offices in Boyne City, Northwestern Michigan College, and Manistee. What’s important to remember is that the SBTDC has business consulting services from qualified consultants who have owned their own businesses and have gone through rigorous training. In addition the Michigan SBTDC provides market research information, business resource centers, and entrepreneurial training.

SCORE is nationwide network of volunteers that also offer their own no-cost business expertise to entrepreneurs. In Northwest Lower Michigan thereImage are SCORE offices in Traverse City, Petoskey, and Ludington.

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