Business StrategiesLeadershipOrganization

Creating a Meeting-Smart Space

Modern conference room

We’ve all been there. You’ve been called into a meeting which does not involved your projects or is just a rehash of a previous meeting. Or maybe it’s that weekly conference call that literally is a rundown of the last week’s conference call. Are unproductive meetings weighing you down? The truth is that companies waste billions of dollars a year with unproductive meetings. Here are some ways to identify whether or not your meetings are costing your business time and money and what you can do to streamline your efforts.

Meetings with No Purpose

Meetings are necessary for communication and done right, they are invaluable. It’s common for companies to hold meetings for status updates and team bonding. Granted, these things are necessary for deadlines to be met and for a team to work well together. But what happens when meetings are held just for the sake of having a meeting?

* Meetings with no purpose drain employees of energy and lead to low morale and bad ideas.

* Fifty percent of high-level manager time is spent in meetings. Your most valuable and most expensive team members are wasting the most time.

* The money that is lost each year in an unproductive meeting could be spent furthering a company’s vision.

* People put off having inconvenient discussions by scheduling a meeting instead.

* Limit the number of meetings. Train your team to treat meetings as a time-intensive endeavor.

How to Avoid Death by Meeting

Obtain a written agenda in advance. Start with a list of topics to be discussed and make sure that material is provided to attendees at least one day before the meeting. For better results, provide background information on the agenda so that everyone attending has the same information. If you are invited to attend a meeting where an agenda has not been provided ahead of time, ask for one so that you may be better prepared.

For frequently held meetings such as a weekly status meeting on a project, save time by creating a meeting template. Once you have that in place, preparing an agenda becomes a matter of filling in the blanks.

Running a successful meeting is common sense and it begins with a facilitator setting a clear, pre-meeting purpose. Leave boring, unproductive meetings behind and use your everyone’s time in the best manner possible.

For even more tips on how to make the most of your meetings, read the full story HERE in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Tools for Success magazine. You can also pick up a print copy of the magazine at a Progress Bank location near you. Click for a complete list of LOCATIONS.

Ann Marie Harvey is Vice President of Communications at Vertical Solutions Media. She specializes in creating dynamic copy that is both genuine and compelling. Editing the written word is her passion.

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Business StrategiesOrganization

The Commitment Of Focus

Focus Image-B&W

The Commitment Of Focus

Positive constraints are crucial to development. A positive constraint is essentially a scheduling commitment that forces focus. The act of discipline brings freedom. You can’t climb a hill by dreaming about the top, you climb the hill by the discipline of walking up the hill.

We all like to imagine the artist waits for inspiration to strike and then creates a masterpiece or the entrepreneur sits and stews until a good idea suddenly appears and they start a business. The reality is things don’t happen like that. Artists wake up and force themselves to do their art. Entrepreneurs wake up and force themselves to brainstorm.

Think about where you want to be professionally, personally and relationally — then work backwards. For instance. if you want to open a bakery, you need to be able to bake, so a positive constraint could be forcing yourself to bake something everyday. Not only would you perfect your desired taste, texture and consistency, but you’d also have very happy neighbors.

Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever you want, it’s the discipline to do what you should.


Author: Ben Tanksley is the Vice President, Visual & Digital Assets for Vertical Solutions Media. Over the past decade, Ben has worked in video production, web design, graphic design and photography and has spent three years living and working in China. Learn more at

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Business StrategiesOrganization

5 Tips to Prepare Your Small Business for Tax Season

Tax written on a wooden cube

Even if you’re staying on track with your New Year’s resolutions, every small-business owner has to prepare for tax season. The major deadline may be a month or two away, but it will approach faster than you think. Here are a few tips to think about as you begin.

1. Try bookkeeping online

For all the times a cashier asked you, “Do you need a receipt?” hopefully you said yes when it was for business. Now is the time to organize all of your receipts and records from last year, whether in paper or online, and keep them all together in case of an audit. If you find paper receipts cluttering your workspace, consider storing them online using nifty apps like Shoeboxed and Neat.

When it comes to taxes and the Internal Revenue Service, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially if your business is in its early stages.

2. Separate personal and business deductions

For small-business owners especially, make sure that your personal and business expenses stay separate. As you follow the Section 179 guidelines and divide up costs, check your personal bank accounts for any business expenses or employee reimbursements.

Remember to check for any changes in the rules for deductions. For example, business rates for standard mileage deductions went up last tax year to 57.5 cents per mile, an increase of 1.5 cents from 2014. Another thing to note is the relatively new simplified option for home office deductions, in which home use for business can be calculated by square foot, not just percentage. Just be sure to know the limits of these deductions as they apply for your business.

3. Apply for an EIN

If this is the first tax season that you have employees or you recently restructured your business, you will need to get a new EIN. This is an employer identification number, a nine-digit number given by the IRS so your business can be identified consistently on taxes from you and your employees. Applying online will be the fastest way to receive your EIN.

4. Keep taxes for your employees and contractors straight

Distinguishing your employees from your independent contractors is crucial. Simply put, an employee’s work can be monitored for what and how things are done, whereas a contractor’s work can be controlled only when it’s complete. For taxes, this freedom of action makes the contractor a self-employed worker who files a Schedule SE (Form 1090), or the self-employment tax.

For employees, payroll taxes include income, Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes. Employers withhold the first, withhold and pay the next two, and pay the last. Then employees can file their W-2s.

Since contractors don’t have payroll taxes, mislabeling an employee as a contractor can look like tax evasion in the eyes of the IRS and result in serious repercussions. Employers can be charged with penalty fees and interest on the employee’s payroll taxes.

5. Know the important dates

Your deadlines will depend on your business structure. For a sole proprietorship, the deadline to fill out a Form 1040 with a Schedule C is usually April 15 (but April 18 in 2016). For an S corporation, the deadline is a bit earlier. You have to complete the Form 1120S for income taxes and pay by March 15. For any shareholders, provide them with a Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S) so they can calculate share of income, deductions and credits.

If you miss the deadline, the IRS imposes a penalty fee of 5% monthly for late filing, up to a maximum of 25%. The total penalty is calculated from your deadline to the date you filed the tax return, so it’s in your best interest to file your taxes.

Make sure to prepare your business for the inevitable, and you will glide through tax season with minimal stress.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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Collaborative Overload? How to Stop the Madness.

Business People Meeting Growth Success Target Economic Concept

Is your week filled with meetings, huddles, stand-ups and project group get-togethers? Staff meetings, feedback meetings, customer meetings? For many of us, we spend so much of our work week speaking and listening and working toward consensus, that we have little or no time to do the work that needs to be done by ourselves, in deep thought. Planning, thinking, analyzing, writing . . . all short-changed or absent due to the proliferation of collaboration. That feels like collaborative overload.

Most of us are looking to integrate collaboration into their cultures in one way or another – higher performing teams, better external collaboration with customers and vendors, and better collaboration among diverse teams for innovation and alignment. If you want to improve your creativity, leverage your resources for better results and get more engagement from every member of your company, collaboration is a powerful tool, when used correctly. However, “collaboration” has become a buzzword that simply means “more meetings” in many organizations.

Apart from regular, shorter meetings, only having the right people present, and keeping your agenda agile and focused, there are three key tools for keeping collaboration healthy and efficient:

Don’t aim for consensus. Too many times we assume that the best way of making decisions in a collaborative way is to have everyone agree to everything. This uses enormous amounts of time, and is often impossible to achieve. Instead, get a majority to agree, and the rest of the group to be able to live with and support that decision. The assumption becomes agreement unless you raise a red flag that you think a decision is a deal-breaker for some reason. (Raise the red flag? You need to propose an alternative.)

Stop having status update meetings. Many of the meetings we do have end up being a process of going around the table and hearing what everyone has done. Most of this information could be better captured in a dashboard, project document or even the dreaded email update. Sending a short summary of progress made and any issues or challenges ahead of a meeting. This allows you to focus on what really requires discussion instead of spending collaborative time passively listening to status updates. Now your meeting will be short and focused.

Schedule appointments for thinking work. If you really want to make sure you have thinking time, find a time in your week when you are least likely to get meetings scheduled. Set up a meeting with yourself on your calendar to block that time for thinking, planning, reading, writing or other work you do best by yourself. Give yourself over a solid hour or more. Most of us just use “white space” in the calendar for that work, but white space can by taken up by other meetings as quickly as sending a calendar invite. Purposely blocking some white space into thinking meetings helps you and others keep that time sacred. You get time to step back and think deeply about the big picture, planning next steps and simply being creative about the work at hand.

Healthy collaborative environments require a balance between conversation and time to think, and no one will schedule your thinking time for you. If you are feeling collaborative overwhelm, notice how your time is being used today, and apply these three ideas to carve out time to think. Spend less time in meetings listening or pursuing perfect consensus. You might even find you are better at collaboration when you have had time to digest new ideas and come up with new solutions to contribute.

Laura JenningsAuthor: Laura Huckabee-Jennings is the Founder of Transcend, which has been serving senior leaders and their teams since 2002. Transcend’s objective is to bring world-class tools and the latest scientific thinking about business and human development into a business to achieve ambitious goals. (

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