Author Archives: will

Productivity is prioritization

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

“If only I had another few hours a day…” is something that every busy person laments occasionally. As a parent of three young boys it is something that I find myself thinking almost daily. I imagine that I can turn more working hours into more productivity, more money, and ultimately more success. If only it were that easy.

The difference between me and Elon Musk is…well too many things to list here. One thing that we definitely have in common is that we both have twenty-four hours in our day. (Unless he has conquered the space-time continuum which I wouldn’t put past him.) He had twenty-four hours when he started his career and twenty-four hours now. Let’s not look at the seemingly superhuman entrepreneur who is simultaneously building rockets (SpaceX), trains (Hyperloop), and cars (Tesla) while powering homes (SolarCity) and, perhaps most impressive, finding a way to beat Los Angeles traffic (the Boring Company). Instead let’s imagine him at day zero of his entrepreneurial journey.

What did he do better than other entrepreneurs?

Work harder? Plenty of entrepreneurs work hard.

Get lucky? That probably played a part of it but definitely is not the whole story.

Prioritize? Definitely.

When all entrepreneurs have the same number of hours in a day what enables some to be more successful than others? Successful entrepreneurs get better returns on their time. They understand that productivity is not a function of time management but a function of priority management.

If you were to write down everything you do in a day you’ll find that (outside of familial and work responsibilities) a lot of it does not advance your progress towards your goals. Take that hour you spend on Reddit, pick up a healthy carryout dinner instead of cooking, skip the Netflix, and you have freed up multiple hours. But the important thing is what you spend those extra hours on.

Put everything except sleep (exercise, cooking, and television watching included) on your to do list (or block out time on your calendar). Organize your to do list by return on investment (ROI) (with your investment being your time) and you will always be working on the tasks that will have the largest impact on your success.

TLDR: Only do what is on your to do list. If you want to watch Netflix then put it on the list. Order your list by return on time invested. Work from the top of the list down. Success.

Your ONE thing for your next flight

Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash

I really love Gary Keller’s book The ONE Thing. It is a little long-winded but the idea it presents is very powerful:

“What is the ONE thing you can do right now that will make everything else easier?”

Putting this idea into practice forces you to consistently work on what is important and what will drive your business forward.

Unfortunately is isn’t always that easy. When you are in the office you’re often interrupted by phone calls, emails, and meetings. (I have yet to encounter a meeting that came anywhere close to qualifying as my one thing for the day.) At home I joke that my one thing is getting my children to bed so that I can accomplish my true one thing.

However there is a magical place where those interruptions don’t exist–an airplane. When flying you are free to put on some headphones and focus. This is an opportunity to pound out a blog post, craft a new feature for your product, brainstorm, or whatever task on your to do list that jumps out at you as something you have been procrastinating on because you aren’t able to put together two or three uninterrupted hours.

To make the most of this precious time I plan ahead. I pick my one thing before I leave for the airport and make sure that I have the files and research I need downloaded on my laptop. I get myself in the headspace that I need to be in to be productive (it can be a challenge to do with with security lines, flight delays, and the general madness of airline travel). What I do not do is get on a plane and hope that inspiration strikes.

(This blog post was something that languished on my to do list and today it is my one thing for my flight from St. Louis to Chicago.)

Even as I preach this I must acknowledge that this doesn’t work for all of my flights. Frequently with late afternoon or evening return flights I make my one thing small and quickly accomplished so that I can spend the remainder of the flight letting my brain unwind with a novel.

So I propose that you make the most of you next flight and do one thing that will push your business forward.

Safe travels.

Creating processes to become a great entrepreneur

creating processes

“Great entrepreneurs don’t have better ideas, they have better processes.” – Eric Ries

This quote is not suggesting that great entrepreneurs are building successful businesses out of terrible ideas. What it is saying is that what makes businesses successful, and the entrepreneurs that found them great, is execution. Developing processes and executing them is what allows a business to scale and become more than a sum of its parts.

The first step to developing processes is to start documenting everything you do. Anything you find yourself repeating is an opportunity to create a process. This can involve anything from onboarding customers to handling bug reports to processing expense reports. (StartOpz can help you with that last one.)

The next step is to write down each thing you do to complete the task. You have now documented the process and can find ways to streamline it, outsource it, or eliminate parts of it, All will help you be able to work more on your business rather than in your business. That is what ultimately will make you a great entrepreneur.

documenting processes

Documenting processes

There is no one way to document processes. You just have to find a system that works for you. At a previous employer the office manager kept dozens (it felt like hundreds) of spreadsheets to document different processes. It was an example of the process breaking down. Nobody knew about a new process unless they were told about it and, with no built in notification on completed tasks, if a process involved multiple people you had to rely on others to notify you they had completed their step and it was now time for you to work on yours.

I like creating project templates in Asana for each process as that handles the discovery and notification problem automatically. I duplicate the template each time we need to go through a process. For simple recurring processes (e.g. daily or weekly tasks) I create recurring tasks inside Asana and sub-lists inside of them if necessary.

Identify inefficiencies

When you are in the middle of a process you rarely stop to question it. You are concentrating on the task at hand. However, because you have them documented you are able to periodically review them and identify any inefficiencies they might have.

Frequently inefficiencies are there because “that is how it has always been done” or because something changed and nobody revisited the process when it did. Examples might be recording information that is no longer needed due to a change in your customer onboarding process or rolling out a new software solution and trying to create your old workflow when the software has a different, and better, workflow built in.

Bottom line is that if you make an annual effort to review all documented processes you will likely find steps you can eliminate and steps that can be done more efficiently.

Automation

In addition to identifying inefficiencies when you review your processes you can also look for steps that you can automate with technology. Techies might do that with shell scripts and cron jobs but there are plenty of tools that all of us can use.

A few ideas on easy automation wins:

  • Inbox rules to automatically file or forward emails or to create tasks from emails.
  • Zapier/IFTTT to pass data between different software systems that you use.
  • Excel macros for automating any repetitive tasks in spreadsheets.

Easier to hire

Documented process make hiring easier and training go a lot more smoothly. Hiring is easier as you can more readily identify the skills required for a position based on what processes and steps the position you are hiring is responsible for.

Training is easier as there is no question as to what needs to be taught in order to get the hire up to speed. You can just follow the process step by step.

blank notebook full of possibilities

Clarity

Part on the premise of the book Getting Things Done is getting all to do items out of your head and into your to do list. Doing so keeps you from having to remember the dozens of little things that crop up and instead work your list based on priority.

Perhaps the biggest reason to implement processes is so that you can maintain clarity and focus on the big initiatives that push your business forward rather than getting distracted by the day-to-day operations of your company.

Most recommended books on entrepreneurial podcasts

I used to be a voracious consumer of podcasts for entrepreneurs (and took notes on many of them) and still try to listen to them as time allows. I also love reading business books and am always looking for recommendations. These books are the most recommended ones on the podcasts that I listen to.

(contains affiliate links)

Antifragile antifragile
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 4/4/13
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 5/9/13
  • Tropical MBA 2/12/15

built_to_sell

Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You

  • Tropical MBA 11/30/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 6/20/13
crossing_the_chasm

Crossing the Chasm

  • Tom Byers (STVP) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 1/18/06
  • Aaron Levie (Box) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 1/19/11
  • Drew Houston (Dropbox) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 5/13/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 4/11/13
getting_things_done

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

  • Smart Passive Income 8/2/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 3/28/13
  • Tropical MBA 8/29/13
  • Smart Passive Income 6/28/14
good_to_great

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t

  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 3/28/13
  • Kyle Forster (Big Switch Networks) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 4/22/15
Hatching Twitter
hatching_twitter
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 12/3/13
  • Tropical MBA 12/5/13
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 7/1/14

how_to_win_friends

How to Win Friends and Influence People

    • Smart Passive Income 3/17/14
    • Tropical MBA 2/12/15

mastering_the_rockefeller_habitsMastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 2/7/13
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 3/14/13

orbiting_the_giant_hairball

Orbiting the Giant Hairball

  • Frank Ricks (LRK Architecture) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 11/16/05
  • Stephanie Keller-Bottom (Nokia) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 4/26/06

the_hard_thing_about_hard_things

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

  • Startups for the Rest of Us 7/8/14
  • Tropical MBA 2/12/15

the_lean_startup

The Lean Startup

  • Startups for the Rest of Us 12/3/13
  • Jessica Mah (inDinero) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 11/30/11

the_millionaire_fastlane

The Millionaire Fastlane: Crack the Code to Wealth and Live Rich for a Lifetime.

  • The Foolish Adventure 10/20/11
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 12/27/12

the_one_thing

The One Thing

  • Tropical MBA 6/12/14
  • Tropical MBA 11/27/14

the_ultimate_sales_machine

The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies

  •  Lifestyle Business Podcast 8/9/12
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15

traction

Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers

  •  Startups for the Rest of Us 8/26/14
  • Tropical MBA 9/11/14
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15
  • Tropical MBA 3/19/15

work_the_system

Work the System

  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 12/6/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 4/25/13
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 12/20/13
  • Tropical MBA 2/12/15
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15

zero_to_one

Zero to One

  • Startups for the Rest of Us 11/18/14
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15

Three places clutter kills concentration

I’m pretty sure that people universally despise clutter yet almost all of us let it invade most parts of our life. (My brother-in-law is one exception as he keeps the cleanest house you have ever seen which is quite a feat with two children.) There is always something more urgent to do than cleaning. But it must be done eventually and why put off until tomorrow that which can be done today?

These are three things that get always get cluttered for me and have a perceivable effect on my concentration and productivity.

Your desktop

I don’t mean your computer desktop though your file organization there could likely use work and reflects your overall state of organization.

I’m talking about your actual desk. This advice might not apply those that work in cafes all day but most of us work at desks. And unless there is a company policy about it those desks are likely covered in papers and post-its. Not everybody is wired the same way but for me a creative mind does not thrive in the clutter.

This one had the easiest fix. Really it is more of a hack. If your desk has drawers then open one and sweep everything inside of it. If not then get a manilla folder (I don’t know of anywhere that sells a single one so you can steal one from somebody else or your spouse when you meet up with then for lunch) and put everything in there. You will immediately feel better.

Now block out a half hour on your calendar at some time in the next week to organize everything in your drawer or folder.

Your browser

How many tabs do you have open right now?

Each tab represents a half-finished project. Yes, even your Gmail tab is a project. You’ll be much more productive if you only check it at set, scheduled, times of the day.

(Nobody’s job is to answer email. Nobody has that job title. Rather, responding to email is a means to an end. It is a tool, and only a tool, that you use for communications with people integral to what your real job is.)

If you’re like me then it isn’t that uncommon to have tabs open for two months or more. I have one particular tab that has been open for more than four. I am not proud of that.

What I should be doing is at the end of each day creating an Asana task for each open tab. (That would be a nice Chrome plugin. And as I finished up writing this Google Inbox prompts me to install a plugin that is the exact opposite which saves links to your Inbox. I find that to be a terrible idea.)

Your inbox

Just like you spend much of your day physically at your desk, you spend much of your day digitally inside of your inbox. Each email sitting there represents something you need to do. There are a couple ways to tackle this. The first is to handle it like you did your desk and create an email folder titled “Pending” and move all your emails into it.

The second is to start tackling it right here and now. My post on Inbox Zero provides some tips on that but you can start now by identifying any email that will take you less than five minutes and then responding to it. Create filters for any mailing lists you receive so that those are automatically moved to a sub folder. And finally create tasks for any emails that will take you longer than five minutes to respond to. (For software such as Asana, Trello, or Evernote you can forward the email. For Outlook you can drag the email to the Task button and a task will be created.)

Remember that you should always use the best tool for the job. Email is a communication tool–not a to do list.

All of this clutter compounds on each other and occupies just a bit of your brain as you are trying to work on the projects that move your business forward–the projects that deserve your complete creative brain.