Productivity Archives

Getting over certainty in your business

In my 5+years of working with entrepreneurs it has become increasingly clear that getting over certainty is central to running a business. Uncertainty is where the real action happens.

In the book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking author Oliver Burkeman cites a study of 45 entrepreneurs who had at least 15 years experience in starting businesses and had taken at least one company public.

The recommendations of these entrepreneurs  run counter to many business maxims out there:

Almost none of them suggested creating a detailed business plan or doing comprehensive market research to hone the details of the product they were aiming to release. (‘I don’t believe in market research,’ one anonymous participant told Sarasvanthy. ‘Somebody once told me the only thing you need is a customer. Instead of asking all the questions, I’d try to make some sales.’)

The entrepreneurs didn’t think like high-end chefs, concocting a vision of a dish and then hunting for the perfect ingredients. They behaved more like ordinary, time-pressed home cooks, checking what was in the fridge and the cupboards, then figuring out, n the fly, what they could make and how.

‘I always live by the motto of, “Ready, fire, aim” said one. ‘I think that if you spend too much time doing, “ready, aim, aim, aim,” you’re never going to see all the good things that would happen if you actually started doing it. I think business plans are interesting, but they have no real meaning, because you can’t put in all the positive things that will occur.’

The most valuable skill of a successful entrepreneur, Chris Kayes is convinced, isn’t ‘vision’ or ‘passion’ or a steadfast insistence on destroying every barrier between yourself and some prize you’re obsessed with. Rather, it’s the ability to adopt an unconventional objective, but also a willingness to change the destination itself. This is a flexibility that might be squelched by rigid focus on any one goal.

This anti-goal approach is also referred to as being “effectually” minded instead of “causally minded” (i.e. taking steps to achieve a goal). The two principles of effectuation are as follows:

1. Start with your means - Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Start taking action based on what you have readily available: what you are, what you know, and who you know.

2. Affordable loss – Don’t be guided by thoughts of how wonderful the rewards might be if you were spectacularly successful at any given next step. Instead ask how big the loss would be if you failed. So long as the loss would be tolerable, that’s all you need to know. Take that next step, and see what happens.

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The one thing you can control

“The one thing you can control in your life is your effort. Others may have more, but they don’t have more time than you. It’s always up to you whether or not you can outwork them.” – Mark Cuban

On Thanksgiving Day here in Wisconsin the temps were in the 60s and then plummeted to the 30s the next day. It was also terribly windy on Friday, adding to the cold.

Over the weekend I noticed a pair of squirrels busily stuffing leaves into their mouths and then making the long climb to the top of the tree to their nest and putting the leaves in their nest, no doubt because of the sudden cold weather, and perhaps because the wind had disrupted their nest.

Time and again, first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon, they carried leaves to their nest. They were all about effort.

Also, because of my lack of effort – we are “leave the leaves” kind of people and don’t rake and dispose of our leaves – there were leaves readily available to the squirrels at the base of the tree.

It was a reminder that not only is effort important, but your lack of effort can make your competitors’ efforts even easier.

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Bring on the information overload

Do you ever hold back on sending out email for fear of information overload?

Then I recommend this article in The Atlantic, (which reminded me I need to reread the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen).

If you are feeling overwhelmed, or don’t want to give your customers information overload, then consider this:

Information overload is not the issue. If it were, you’d walk into the library and die. As soon as you connected to the Web, you’d just explode.

In fact, the most information-rich place in the world is the most relaxing: it’s called nature. It has more varied horizons, more detail, more input of all sorts. As a matter of fact, if you want to go crazy, get rid of all your information: it’s called sensory depravation.

The thing about nature is, it’s information rich, but the meaningful things in nature are relatively few—berries, bears and snakes, thunderstorms, maybe poison oak. There are only a few things in nature that force me to change behavior or make a decision. The problem with e-mail is that it’s not just information; it’s the need for potential action. It’s the berries and snakes and bears, but they’re embedded, and you don’t know what’s in each one.

Not only that, but e-mail has a trait that fits the core of addictive behavior, which is random positive reinforcement.

What’s that?

So you get an e-mail from your mom, or you get an e-mail from your boss—they contain snakes or berries or bears, but they’re not self-evident until you look. Now, some part of you, subliminally, is constantly going, That could be meaningful, that could be meaningful, that could change what I’m doing, that might be something I don’t want to decide about … You multiply that by the hundreds, if not thousands, of items sitting there.

All those things you’re not deciding about wear you down, and decision-making functions just like a muscle. If you’ve had half a day of a lot of decisions to make, you don’t have much willpower left the rest of the day. So then we walk around with what I call the GSA of life—the Gnawing Sense of Anxiety that something out there might be more important than what you’re currently doing.

They key with email marketing and copywriting is to make your berries, bears and snakes, thunderstorms, and poison oak self-evident and decisive so that your customers don’t have to wonder if your email is important or relevant.  Either they delete it or click on the link in it. That way you aren’t adding to their Gnawing Sense of Anxiety.

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How to increase your productivity in 33 minutes

Early in my copywriting career someone in a copywriting forum mentioned how copywriter legend Eugene Schwartz recommended setting an egg timer and writing in 33 minute chunks.

He wrote in six 33 minute blocks of time every morning and took 5 minute breaks in between.

In my case, it also works when I do 2-3 blocks in the morning and the remaining in the afternoon or evening.

I’ve since learned that the six 33 minute segments should be done in their order of priority.

Do the most difficult task first,  or the thing that will most move forward your business today, whether it’s writing bullets for a sales letter, writing a blog post, prepping for an important phone call, etc.

I reply to emails and dabble in social media and Google Reader outside of those 33 minute segments.

33 minutes of concentrating solely on one particular task with pure concentration is always more productive for me than, say, three hours of writing a little, checking Facebook, writing a little more, checking email, doing some research, etc.

It helps if you choose the 6 tasks the evening before and list them in their order of priority. I list mine in Gmail’s handy little task list.

I use this free online egg timer when timing my 33 minute segments. It doesn’t have a pause button so it really keeps me on track. The buzzer is nice and loud.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to stand up and take at least a 5 minute break doing something completely different when the buzzer goes off.

Anyway, that’s my tip for the day.

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Give up on yourself

A one sentence solution to procrastination from the late Japanese psychotherapist Shoma Morita:

Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator, or unhealthy, or lazy, or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.

This applies to business, too, of course. Look at Google. They are masters of the search engine universe but can’t seem to get a foothold in the social media market (Buzz and Wave were duds). Yet they keep trying.

How are you going to give up on yourself this year?

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