Ten ways to simplify your life.

Don't get me wrong, I love December. I love the holidays and gift giving. The spirit of the season seems to move us toward kindness and forgiveness. What a wonderful month! But sometimes I feel buried in an avalanche of social commitments, shopping, year-end work projects and nonstop family get-togethers. Too much to do. Too little time. Bah humbug!

Time To Simplify

Right now, before you find yourself in a padded room screaming ceaselessly, pare your life down to reasonable proportions. As a small shop operator, you already wear far too many hats and handle too many responsibilities.

Now is a good time to get back to basics.

Allow me to share 10 sure-fire ways to simplify your life. Consider these life-saving, time-expanding suggestions my holiday gift to you. The first seven tips will streamline your life from here on out. The last three tips will get you through December without significant hair loss or an increase in blood pressure.

  • Hire a professional cleaning service. Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, is an incredible success story. After 25 years as top salesperson for a cookware company, Mary Kay hit the glass ceiling. Her assistant, a man, was promoted over her to become the company's first national sales manager.

    Crushed, Mary Kay quit. She wrote a letter to her boss outlining all the things the company did wrong and how to correct them. Instead of sending the letter, Mary Kay realized she had written a business plan for a really great company. She tapped into her $5,000 savings and started her cosmetic company. Mary Kay Cosmetics Co. is now famous for making more women into millionaires than any other business opportunity É and for those funky pink Cadillacs.

    When she first started, Mary Kay was a divorced mother of three. She had to find ways to balance motherhood and business. In her terrific book, "You Can Have It All," she advises busy folks to delegate the house cleaning to a professional cleaner. "Don't spend dollar time on penny tasks," says Mary Kay. She's right! Find a cleaning person and pay them generously. Build the cost into your cost of doing business. There is nothing nicer than coming home to a clean house or walking into a spotless office.

  • Wear a uniform. Don't waste time figuring out what you are going to wear to work every day. Create a work uniform and stick to it. Comfortable in conventional business attire? Great. Assemble a rotating collection of well-made matching pieces in solid colors. Don't get creative É except for the tie. I am just figuring out how powerful a simple, fine quality wardrobe can be. They call them "classics" for a reason. Trust me on this. If you work in the field as well as the office, you'll need clothes that do double-duty. Embroider your logo on 10 coordinating items of clothing - stick to solids - and wear those items.

    Take your clothes to a professional laundering and dry cleaning service. Don't iron! (Remember penny tasks.) Have a set of clothes ready to go in your office closet. If you are a service manager, consider wearing the same uniform that your plumbers wear. Nice team-building touch.

  • Set aside 10 minutes each week to spend one-on-one with each of your employees. Sure, you don't have enough time as it is. But, by spending 10 minutes alone with each of them, I promise you will free up hours of time currently wasted handling petty miscommunications. Spend the 10 minutes getting caught up on the week. What's happening with this employee É in his job? With his family?

    Get to know him. Be frank. Are there some employees that you talk to only when there is a problem? Shift your focus from you to him when you communicate. These 10-minute sessions will help you avoid costly relationship problems that sap time and energy.

  • Handle all customer complaints by asking, "What can I do to make you a satisfied customer?" Then, do that. If he wants money, give him money. Ask how much and then fork it over. If he wants you to come over and talk about the problem, go over and talk. Complaints are going to happen in any business. Give everyone at your company the authority and responsibility to handle customer complaints. Ask this question, listen closely and do as instructed. It's what you'll end up doing anyway. Keep it simple and cut to the chase.

  • Use a day planner. What is holding you back? Are you afraid you'll look like a nerd? I've got two words for you: Bill Gates. Nerds are "in!" And there is no way you can remember everything you are supposed to do and everywhere you are supposed to be. You need to write it down. Using a day planner allows you to make and keep promises. Nothing builds trust like doing what you say you are going to do. Spend an hour (a half-hour?) each week laying out the important things. Separate the urgent from the important. Trim the activities that don't enhance your life and your business.

  • Use a payroll service. There is nothing worse than falling into an IRS quagmire for missing a payroll tax deposit. Payroll services - Paychex and ADP are the biggies - make sure that you are current with all your taxes. They do the deposits for you electronically. This is handy, as you will be required to submit taxes electronically in the future.

    They also offer benefits management, automatic paycheck deposits and meticulous record keeping. And they offer these services for a song. You just can't do what they do for the pittance that they charge. How do they do it? Well, they access your payroll account and snag the cash they need for your payroll and taxes a couple of days before they cut the checks. At any one time, the service has billions of dollars in float. That float generates beaucoup interest. So, the $40 to $60 per payroll that they charge is just gravy. (Gee. Wish I'd thought of that.) Anyway, it's a win-win. Don't wake up in the middle of the night wondering, "Oh dear, did I make the payroll deposit?" Simplify your life and use a payroll service.

  • If you can look it up, throw it out. Just say NO to unnecessary paper and clutter. If the government doesn't require that you keep something, ask yourself, "Can I find this information again if I need it?" On the Internet? At the library? If you can look it up, throw it out. Really, how many more brilliant ideas can you handle at this moment? Give me one great idea fully implemented for a dozen ideas that never make it to the material world. Be ruthless when you go through your mail. Do it, delegate it or dump it.

And For The Holidays:

  • Eliminate holiday traditions, except the ones you truly enjoy. I give you permission to pass on the Christmas cards this year - unless you love sending them. You don't have to throw the neighborhood holiday bash this year, even if you've done it 30 years in a row. Everyone will get over it. If you don't want to do it, don't. Tell 'em Ellen said you could skip it this year.

  • Every day, write down five things for which you are thankful. Count your blessings. Every day, jot down five of them. At the very least you can offer thanks for whatever health and wealth you have. And on a delightful, wintry night, when you find yourself safe and warm, with the family gathered round and your belly full of good food, you can write all that down, too.

  • Accept your life as a work in progress. Recently, I attended a life skills seminar given by a woman named Sister Bea. What an enthusiastic and energetic woman! She talked about her tendency to take on too much. She laughed as she shared that she wanted her tombstone to read, "She got it all done." Doesn't that sound ridiculous? Nobody gets it all done. Life is a work in progress. Even if you stay at work all night every night, well, you would never get it all done. There is always more to do.

So, what do you say you pack it in for the day? You've done enough, wrap it up. Go home to your family.

I wish you happiness and peace this holiday season.