Today’s Friday Fun Fact…
In my Monday Morning Movie, I explained that there is tremendous freedom gained through simplifying and de-cluttering your life. While this freedom is a natural catalyst for creative thinking, the benefits of a clutter-free environment are much further reaching.
Simply Productive, an “Organizational Design” firm, compiled an extensive list of statistics related to clutter. Here’s just a small sample: (View the entire list)
- Typical US worker is interrupted by communications technology every 10 minutes (Institute for Future and Gallup)
- 80% of papers and information that we keep, we never use (Agency Sales Magazine)
- The Wall Street Journal reports that the average U.S. executive wastes six weeks per year retrieving misplaced information from messy desks and files.
- The National Association of Professional Organizers says we spend one year of our lives looking for lost items
- Office workers waste an average of 40% of their workday, because they were never taught organizing skills to cope with the increasing workloads and demands (Wall Street Journal)
- The average manager is interrupted every three minutes
- People who multitask decrease their productivity by 20-40% and are less efficient than those who focus on one project at a time. Time lost switching among tasks increases the complexity of the tasks (University of Michigan)
- Executives waste 7.8 hours each week (Accountemps Survey)
While I wasn’t overly surprised by any of these, they certainly gave me pause for thought.
In my blog post from Wednesday, I challenged you to consider what you would do if you could only work one hour per day. I suspect that many of you scoffed at the feasibility of the idea. I’m sure others tossed the notion aside immediately because it was so far outside of your realm of possibility. But if clutter alone, which is something that can be rectified, could account for bloating your schedule as much as 1-2 hours a day, perhaps you can begin to justify the notion that the one hour workday may not be so crazy.
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In yesterday’s blog entry, I suggested that (if you are an entrepreneur) putting less effort into your business would yield greater results in the long-run.
By focusing on the 20% of your business that generates 80% of the revenue, you can then invest your freed up 80% on new business models that have greater long-term potential. (please read this last sentence again…this philosophy is not about taking a pay cut in order to lounge around; it is about freeing yourself to create even greater income potential while having a more enjoyable life)
Many people (as expected) pushed back.
Their response, “That’s easier said than done.”
Well of course, everything is easier said than done! It is easier for me to say, “I’m going to tie my shoes,” than it is to actually tie them. But I still do it.
We look for excuses as to why we can’t do something. We blame our parents. We blame our circumstances. We blame the government. We blame our family. We blame our employer or boss.
Instead of finding reasons why something won’t work, get creative about how to make it work. Ask yourself, “How can I apply the underlying principles to my specific situation?” Even if you can’t apply the concept in its entirety, look for the nuggets that you can use.
Don’t put the NO in inNOvation!
The point of yesterday’s blog was to get you thinking about your business and where you invest your time, money, and energy.
According to Jeff Olson, author of The Agile Manager’s Guide to Getting Organized, “Perfectionism costs 50% or more of the total effort to squeeze out the last 10% or so of quality.” Never strive for perfection. Avoid the 100% mentality.
Ditch your worst customers - Look at your customers. Instead of trying to get more customers, ask, “Which customers should I get rid of?” Admit it, there are customers that generate less income than others, yet take up most of your time. I find that the customers that are most price sensitive are also the most difficult. I spend more time with them than I do with my best customers. The solution? Ditch the 20% that are sucking up your time. This not only frees up some hours in your day, it frees up your mental energy. Stress is created by your worst customers, not your best. Ok, I realize that when money is tight, this can seem like a risky proposition. Well, it is! But admit it, you intuitively know that attempting to keep 100% of your customers 100% happy will keep you working 100 hours a week and ultimately limit your true growth potential.
Ditch your lowest return activities - Look at the work you do. Look at your to do list. You will never get 100% of the work done, even if you had 200 hours in a week. Regardless, we still strive to get 100% done. Again, this mentality limits your growth potential. Instead of asking, “How can I get as much done as possible?” ask, “What should I stop doing?” or “What are the things I must do?” Or better yet, ask, “What is the one thing that will unlock the greatest growth potential for my business? What gives me leverage?” Be honest. What would happen if you got one less thing done off your to do list? Two less things? Find the sweet spot of where you can get the optimal return. And as mentioned in yesterday’s article, delegate, automate, or eliminate. Only do what you need to do, and get the rest off of your plate. And no, you are not the only one who can do most of your activities. It might feel that way, but it is not true. And believing it will kill you.
Ditch unnecessary clutter and belongings – Worried about money? Look at your life. Instead of keeping 100% of what you have, ask “What can I get rid of? What do I really need?” My Monday Morning Movie provided some great tips for this. And tomorrow’s blog entry will share some interesting statistics on how clutter can be sucking up a lot of your time. Freeing up your personal life frees you up professionally, which in turn further frees up your personal life.
Freedom is the name of the game. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of a good life and a successful business.
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Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom is conceptual and lays the groundwork for future blog entries where I will provide specific tactics and strategies. In my Monday Morning Movie, I discussed how simplifying your life allows you to worry less about money, freeing you up to be more creative.
As an entrepreneur, there are an unlimited number of things I could do in order to grow or improve my business. I could easily keep busy 100 hours per week, and have done so countless times throughout my career.
Unfortunately, we often convince ourselves that we MUST work those kinds of hours in order to be successful.
The reality is that there is a point of diminishing returns. Although more work might produce more results, the return on the additional effort decreases significantly.
Regardless, we keep plugging along because we are programmed to do so. I personally feel like I’m slacking off if I’m not on my computer, on the phone making calls, or meeting with people.
For some individuals, they wouldn’t know what to do with their time if their profession did not keep them occupied. There are others who become workaholics in order to avoid dealing with difficult issues in their life.
So we keep on working.
But what if you were only allowed to work one hour a day? What would you do?
I have been experimenting with this concept since the beginning of the year. During the month of January, with the exception of delivering speeches, I have worked a total of 10 hours and have been continuing along that trend into February.
Why am I doing this? There are two main reasons:
#1: It Forces Focus
Each morning I ask myself, what is the one thing I need to do today? What is the one thing that will create the most value? What is the one thing that only I can do? And that is the activity that I engage in for the day. Eliminate or delegate everything else.
Instead of keeping myself busy and climbing to the top of the “S” curve, I stop at the inflection point; the point of diminishing returns (the star). Pareto would say that 20% of the effort provides 80% of the results. Whether it is 20% or 40% is not important. The key is to find the point where more effort starts producing fewer results, and only you can decide that.
Will you achieve 100% of the potential value? Probably not. But is squeezing out an extra 20% of value really worth 4 or 5 times the effort?
The key is to focus on activities that will create leverage and will maximize results.
#2: Create a New S Curve
What will you do with your free time?
You could of course take a vacation or spend more time with family. You could engage in work that is more meaningful. You could volunteer and give back to society.
Or you could create a new S-curve.
Instead of squeezing out those few extra drops from your current business model where there are diminishing returns, start building a new business or business model that leverages your past success and creates entirely new revenue opportunities.
With the extra time created, I’ve been working on a new book that targets a completely different market for me. This will take upfront effort. But when it is done, and I have built up momentum, I will spend less time on that business model, freeing me to create a new set of revenue streams.
I am also developing new relationships that leverage my existing content. For example, my content has been licensed to a training company that is now delivering my material to their clients. It doesn’t take any of my time, yet I get residual income. And these relationships free me up even more, allowing me to focus again. Clearly this strategy requires extraordinary partnerships. And as they do more, I can do less.
To be clear, I am not suggesting you do a half-assed job. This will kill your business in the long run.
And this strategy works best for a business that has momentum; where you are already successful. Once you are successful, you can then reap the rewards. You can implement processes that others can execute. You can delegate, automate, or eliminate the things that are not critical.
If you only spent 20% of your time extracting 80% of the value from your business, this gives you 80% of your time to do something different – something more fulfilling, something more enjoyable, or something that can provide even greater long-term value.
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I am now just returning from a month sabbatical. This allowed me to reflect and spend time with friends and family.
As part of that month off, I did a two week intensive retreat where they sequestered my phone. No email, phone, books, music, or videos for a fortnight!
Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy at first. In the beginning I was jonesing for my iPhone. But after about 4 or 5 days, I forgot about it completely.
In fact, I liked being disconnected so much, I am attempting to stay less connected all of the time.
Try this for yourself. Can you go two weeks without ANY electronic communications? None. Nada. Zippo. No FaceBook. No text messages. No email. No twitter. No phone calls. No TV, radio, videos, or even newspapers. Basically cut off from the outside world, unless you can see someone in person.
How would you have to design your life in order to do this? Maybe going cold turkey would be too difficult. How could you reduce your dependence on your phone and computer?
Trust me, there is a freedom in disconnecting. It allowed me to really be connected to those around me. More importantly, it allowed me to reconnect with me. It is truly an awesome experience.
To keep the general idea alive, I am having critical emails and phone calls forwarded to someone who is connected all of the time. I am only checking my emails 2 or 3 times a day (morning, midday, and later afternoon).
I am trying to be present to my surroundings rather than having my head buried in my phone. In doing so I feel lighter, more aware, more creative, and freer. It quiets the mind, after you get over the initial withdrawal symptoms.
Give it a try. Try disconnecting and enjoy being truly connected.
I recently attended a meeting where we were going to be taught the secrets of becoming a “7-figure” professional speaker. That is, we would learn how to make $1,000,000 a year. The presenter is part of an elite group of speakers who earn at least this much every year. His presentation was based on the lessons extracted from this successful group.
In the audience, listening to him, were about 60 professional speakers, ranging in experience from novices to highly accomplished individuals.
He shared ideas like, “Be controversial; say things that others are not saying or are afraid to say,” or “Don’t just speak; have a process.”
Listening to these words of wisdom, I have to say what others were not saying or were afraid to say: “His premise on how to be successful is flawed.”
The truth is, he has no idea how he really got to where he is. He only thinks he does. And no, he was not intentionally being deceitful. Not at all. He was just not applying critical thinking to the process.
Here’s the mistaken logic of so many people…
If we study a lot of successful people (companies) we will know what to do in order to replicate their success.
This is faulty logic for so many reasons.
One reason is “the undersampling of failure.”
When trying to learn what to do, we study those who are successful. But we rarely study those who tried the same things yet were not successful in achieving the same outcome.
I bet if we studied the speakers who make more than a million dollars a year, we will find that all of them shower every day. We could potentially therefore conclude that showering is the key to making a lot of money. Although I suspect that if you never shower, it will indeed impact your success, I do not believe that showering will make you successful. Why? Because there are many people who also shower yet are not as successful. This is the undersampling of failure.
For every million dollar speaker who “is controversial and says what others are afraid to say,” there are 100 who have done exactly that yet were not successful. But we never study the people who never made it, because we don’t know who they are (unless they were colossal failures). Their “failures” were not sampled, and therefore we wrongly conclude that this attribute leads to success.
My latest book is called “Best Practices Are Stupid.” The undersampling of failure is one of three reasons why it is dangerous to blindly follow what others do.
Any time you receive advice, be skeptical. Any time you read a book, don’t follow blindly. Any time you study a best practice, carefully consider if it is right for you and if it truly will give you the results you want.
P.S. My hypothesis of why he was really success will be shared in a later blog entry (and he confirmed it without coming out and directly saying it). It has to do with how to “manufacture serendipity” as a means of creating non-linear success. And to be fair, listening to the speaker, I did gather some nice tactics for improving my business that I will be implementing. I only questioned his premise on how to be successful.
The 4-Hour Workweek (by Tim Ferris) is the ultimate book title. Who doesn’t want to work only 4 hours a week?*
I was hooked by the title, but disappointed by the premise.
In a nutshell, the book suggests that if you work 50 hours a week, you should outsource 46 hours, leaving only 4 hours of work for you. He suggests that you should find people in India or the Philippines who can do your dirty work for very little money. (I am admittedly oversimplifying, but this is not far off)
To me this is the wrong strategy.
This approach assumes that the 50 hours you are working are all worth doing. This is rarely the case. Why would you get someone to do the tasks that you should not be doing in the first place?
Don’t just do what you are doing today better, faster and cheaper. Instead, question everything.
Find the 4-hours of work that will unleash massive value. The key is leverage. Where can you invest your time that will have the greatest impact?
When working on anything in your business, ask yourself how much value is being created. It will typically fall into 3 categories (I know I discussed this in a previous blog entry, but some things are worth repeating):
- Adding no value (or even detracting from what you need to do).
- Adds a linear amount of value – one hour of work generates one hour of value
- Adds exponential value – one hour of work generates 100 hours of value
Whenever I am doing something, I ask myself, “Is this creating exponential value?”
Interestingly, in most cases, there is little that I can do on my own that will create exponential value. Leverage (or scale) typically happens through partnerships and relationships.
I have created several partnerships with organizations who have massive distribution, and large development/deliver capabilities. I invest a significant amount of time and money researching potential partners and exploring those relationships. By tapping into their reach and resources, I can generate exponential impact on my business.
Here are some simple questions/actions that will help you focus your energies:
- Who has access to the markets I want to tap into? Partner with them.
- Where are the people in my target market gathering? Go to them.
- What is it that these individuals and organizations want/need most? Deliver this instead of what I have to offer.
- Who needs something similar to what I offer? See if I can modify my product/service to meet this untapped need.
Generate your own questions. Anything to shift your thinking.
The more leverage I get from a particular activity, the more time (and emotional energy) I want to invest. Because I know that the more I invest in activities with leverage, the less time I will have to invest in the long-run.
How much value does your current 50 hours of workweek generate? 50 hours? 40? 4? Outsourcing tasks that create linear value is fine. But what if you partnered with people on tasks that generate exponential value. And what if the 4 hours you choose to work only focused on activities that creates exponential value? 50 hours of work could generate 5,000 hours of value.
No more linear thinking!
* I don’t really think that I want to work only 4 hours a week. I love the intellectual stimulation of work and the contribution I get to make. So working that little is not really a goal for me.
Richard Wiseman is the author of many great books, including The Luck Factor. I’ve spoken with Richard on several occasions, and we share a similar perspective: a myopic focus on goals can reduce how lucky someone is.
Dan Pink (an endorser of my Goal-Free Living book, and author of A Whole New Mind and Drive), interviewed Richard for Fast Company magazine. Here is a small excerpt…
What are some of the ways that lucky people think differently from unlucky people?
One way is to be open to new experiences. Unlucky people are stuck in routines. When they see something new, they want no part of it. Lucky people always want something new. They’re prepared to take risks and relaxed enough to see the opportunities in the first place.
But the business culture typically worships drive — setting a goal, single-mindedly pursuing it, and plowing past obstacles. Are you arguing that, to be more lucky, we need to be less focused?
This is one of the most counterintuitive ideas. We are traditionally taught to be really focused, to be really driven, to try really hard at tasks. But in the real world, you’ve got opportunities all around you. And if you’re driven in one direction, you’re not going to spot the others. It’s about getting people to have various game plans running in their heads. Unlucky people, if they go to a party wanting to meet the love of their life, end up not meeting people who might become close friends or people who might help them in their careers. Being relaxed and open allows lucky people to see what’s around them and to maximize what’s around them.
Much of business is also about rational analysis: pulling up the spreadsheet, running the numbers, looking at the serious facts. Yet you found that lucky people rely heavily on their gut instincts.
Yes. You don’t want to broadly say that whenever you get an intuitive feeling, it’s right and you should go with it. But you could be missing out on a massive font of knowledge that you’ve built up over the years. We are amazingly good at detecting patterns. That’s what our brains are set up to do.
Be sure to read my article from yesterday which provides mathematical “proof” for why a focus on specific goals can reduce luck.
My next article in the series on success…
You can mathematically increase the likelihood of your success when you are not obsessed with specific goals or approaches to achieving those goals.
Let me illustrate this with the famous “birthday game.” Here’s the extremely short version…
If you have a room of people…
- for there to be a 50% chance that two people have the same birthday – any birthday, you need only 23 people in the room (matching day and month)
- for there to be a 50% chance that two people have a specific (e.g., April 25) birthday, you need over 600 people in the room
These probabilities show that the likelihood of ANY event happening is quite high (e.g., any birthday), while the likelihood of a PARTICULAR event (e.g, a specific birthday) happening is quite low. This gives us insight into how to improve our odds of success.
If you are wed to things working out in a particular way, it requires a large number of events coming together in a specific way—just like looking for a particular birthday. Keeping an open mind and “increasing your peripheral vision” will improve your chances. What particular outcomes are you seeking that may be probabilistically limiting? Do you have a particular view of how your business should look? Do you believe that a particular business partner is the key to your success? Are there specific clients that you feel you must land? Are there particular milestones you must hit? Are there technologies you must develop?
If you want more details on the birthday mathematics or on how to better leverage the concept, read my American Express article on the topic.
Given my recent articles on success, I felt it was appropriate to dig up an old one (from 2007) which talks about how we never really know what made us successful….
A couple of nights ago, I gave a presentation to a group of eager individuals who are either launching or advancing their speaking careers. During our 90 minute discussion, I gave dozens of tips and techniques for growing their business.
At the end of the evening, one attendee asked, “What is the MOST important tip?” I thought about this for a minute and replied, “I don’t know.”
Although this answer may seem like a cop out, it is in fact the truth. No one REALLY knows what made them successful. More importantly, they have no idea how others can replicate their success. They may be able to look at a series of events that led to a particular outcome. But most likely the “most important tip” is something completely different than what is seen on the surface.
Last year I attended a “book marketing” conference led by a well known author who has sold millions (and millions) of books. His promise was to provide steps and tools that made him successful so that others can also reap the rewards. Thousands of people have tried his formula over the years and as far as I can tell, none have come even close to his level of success. Those that achieved some level of success did so by riding on the coat-tails of this author, leveraging his name and network. [NOTE: leverage is one key to success, so this is not necessarily a bad formula]
I am not implying that these experts are misleading or malicious. Not at all. The issue lies in our inability to find the correct correlations between cause and effect. Too many hidden factors play a major role – ones that we might never consider or notice. Most experts use anecdotal evidence to support their conclusions. “It worked for me and a few of my buddies, so it should work for you.” This is faulty reasoning. Maybe the expert’s “10 Steps to Financial Wealth” were not the true causes of their success.
There are many, harder to measure factors that often play a substantial role. Your attitude plays a larger part than you might think. Your Rolodex of contacts can be a huge part of the equation. Being in the right place at the right time has launched many businesses, including Microsoft (see my Sliding Doors Success article).
Or sometimes plain old dumb luck is the real cause. Fortunately, in the case of luck, people can create their own luck. Studies show that those who are less goal-oriented are luckier than “goalaholics” because they are open to possibilities outside of their narrow goal-focus. [NOTE: This is a significant part of my new research on innovation and success. Stay tuned.]
So the next time someone makes a suggestion – or someone tries to sell you their 5 steps to success – be skeptical. Although it may be great advice, it may also be (unintentionally) misinformed counsel. They may not know the REAL cause of their success. Then again, this blog entry is my advice to you – so it too should be taken with a grain of salt.
P.S. Notice this entry is entitled, “Never TRUST an Expert” and not ‘Never LISTEN to an Expert.” There is a lot that can be learned from others.
In an earlier article, I discussed the Sliding Doors Success model.
It is worth noting that there is a corollary to this: The Sliding Doors Failure model.
Just as an opportunity can appear that can change your life for the positive (read the Sliding Doors Success article), one event can derail a lifetime of achievement.
There are two stunning and recent examples of this.
Joe Paterno was loved and revered by so many during his coaching reign at Penn State. He was the winningest coach of all time. But by turning his back on some horrible events, Paterno will now be remembered for something other than his coaching. His statue has even been removed from the Penn State campus. He is no longer the hero he once was.
Jonah Lehrer, the author of the best selling book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” is facing a similar situation. After a meteoric rise to fame and accolades, he has fallen from grace because (amongst other things) he fabricated some quotes in his book. As a result, his book was pulled from bookstores by the publisher, and he resigned from his position at The New Yorker magazine.
There are many other examples of people who spent a lifetime doing great work, only to have that taken away due to one mistake.
Arthur Andersen learned that even large companies can suffer the same fate. They went from being the world’s largest professional services firm, to a practically nonexistent company after the Enron scandal.
Winning at all costs is eventually a losing proposition.
As you and your organization grow, make sure you are working with integrity. One mistake can erase a lifetime of great work.