February 7, 2014
I am always looking for ways to make my life simpler.
I’ve found two that really seem to keep my inbox clean.
Both work with any email client or operating system (as far as I know).
Sanebox scans incoming mail and decides if it is important or not. If it looks like spam, a newsletter, an autoresponder, a mass mailing, an order receipt from Amazon.com or anything like that, it quickly removes it from your Inbox and puts it to a separate @SaneLater folder. Of course you can train it. If something is spam, you can move it into @SaneBlackHole and it will never show up again. If something is incorrectly categorized as less important, you simply move it to your inbox and next time all emails from that person will arrive in your inbox (and vice versa). This keeps my inbox VERY clean. I can stay on top of the important messages while reviewing the less critical ones less frequently. This runs “in the cloud” so there is nothing to install on your computer, tablet or phone.
FollowUpThen is an awesome service. Once you set up your account, you simply forward (or bcc/cc) an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you will get the email back at that date/time. For example, if I get an email that I don’t want to work on now, but want to deal with in a week, I forward it to “email@example.com.” And I delete the original email. A week later that email shows up again in my inbox. If a prospect wants me to follow up with them in a month, I respond to them and in the same email I bcc “firstname.lastname@example.org.” And again I delete the original email. My inbox is no longer a list of items I need to deal with in the future. I forward the email and delete it, knowing it will arrive back in my inbox at the requested date (and yes, you can set specific dates and times). My inbox has never been cleaner. And, the customer service support is EXCEPTIONAL!
In addition, I use Spamarrest. I’ve been using this for MANY years. If an email is received from someone that is not on my “whitelist,” they get an email back indicating they need to confirm their identity. Although they only need to do this once, it is an inconvenience for people, so I don’t love this approach. I only use it on 2 older email addresses that are overflowing with spam. I don’t use this for my main email address because I want it to be easy for prospects, clients, or friends to reach me.
It is easy for email to suck up a large portion of your day. These tools have made my life so much simpler.
What do you use? Please share your best email productivity tools.
P.S. I know some people set up an autoresponder on their email saying “I only check mail once a day so call if you need to reach me.” This is an ok solution, but given how much business is conducted over email, this is not one I like. I want to be “easy to do business with.”
January 22, 2014
The way you ask a question will have a profound impact on how you answer it.
This is a fundamentally critical concept in the world of innovation. If you are working on a problem/opportunity, changing just one word can influence the types of solutions you get. I’ve discussed this concept extensively on my blog.
But did you know that the way you frame your New Year’s Resolution (if you set one) will have a huge impact on the actions you take towards the achievement of that goal?
According to a survey I conducted a few years ago, over a third of people set financially related goals each year.
For many this means, “save more money.”
Paradoxically, the goal – “save more money” – can have unintended consequences that might leave your bank account with less money in the long run.
When we want to save, we look at where we currently spend money, and how we can reduce those expenditures. For many, their daily stop at Starbucks is one of their guilty pleasures.
As a result, there are many financial advisors who will tell you to “stop buying lattes.” If a latte costs $4 a day, you could save about $1,500 a year by cutting them out. That’s a lotta lattes!
But cutting out your lattes requires a lot of willpower. And as it turns out, willpower is not an unlimited resource.
Let’s examine some scientific research on this.
Imagine individuals tasked with solving a complex problem. In the room where they are sitting wafts the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. On the table in front of them are two dishes: one with the cookies and another with radishes.
Although the combination of the olfactory and visual stimulation made the cookies irresistible, some individuals somehow managed to use their willpower to stay clear of the gooey chocolate.
Kudos to them. They win. Right?
Well, as it turns out, the people who resisted the cookies performed significantly worse on problem solving and other tasks. The willpower it took to resist the delicacies robbed them of their ability to perform a variety of activities. Researchers call this “ego depletion.”
What this implies is that the energy it takes to save $4 may in fact be robbing you of your skills required to make even more money.
What if, instead of focusing on saving $4 a day, you put your energy into finding ways of making an extra $10, $100, or even $1,000 a day? What if you used your latte as fuel for making more money?
There is of course nothing wrong with saving money. I am certain that all of us could do a better job and would benefit from it. But it is important to recognize there is a hidden cost.
As an entrepreneur, I would rather spend money on the guilty pleasures that energize me, help me stay focused, and in the long run enable me to make even more money.
P.S. Of course there are health implications of too many lattes. At 200 calories each, this may add an extra 30 pounds to your waistline each year. Other than bacon, my guilty pleasures are usually healthier (or at least lower calorie) alternatives.
December 27, 2013
But only 8% of people are always successful in achieving the desired results. 92% fail! (if you are interested in some fascinating statistics about resolutions, read this article: Interesting New Year’s Resolution Statistics)
But all is not lost. There is a better way.
Here is an article a wrote a while ago, but is timeless: Making Resolutions That Work
Or, if you prefer, you can read the variant of this article that appeared as a full-page article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago (jpg).
The general premise is that instead of setting resolutions that are specific goals (e.g., lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, exercise 3 times a week), you want to create themes that help guide you and your decision making throughout the year.
These themes get me excited about the New Year. They also make activities that might have seemed tedious, more enjoyable.
Starting today I am off for a week of reflection and contemplation. Early January I will share my themes for 2014.
What are your themes for the new year?
P.S. If you want to learn more about how to live a more “present moment” life, read Goal-Free Living
December 18, 2013
Unfortunately, for a small-business owner, this means giving up some level of control.
At the conclusion of the event, an attendee approached me and asked, “So how do you get small-business owners to give up control when this is something they typically don’t want to do?”
Who’s In Charge?
This was an understandable concern. After all, the reasons to maintain control and avoid delegation are plentiful: There’s not enough time. To do it right, you must do it yourself. You enjoy the task.
To a large extent, the desire for control is driven by ego. Let’s face it; you need a bit of an ego to start your own business–it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
However, there’s another important issue at play here: the “pain/gain” equation. The concept is simple: People first want to eliminate a pain or prevent a loss before they will be interested in generating any kind of gain.
To illustrate, here’s a simple consumer example:
Think about the last mattress commercial you heard. Most say the same thing: “Buy our XYZ bed, and you’ll get your best night’s sleep ever.” Yawn. Boring. Chances are, the commercial will put you to sleep long before you run out to buy the bed.
Now consider this actual radio advertisement. “If your mattress is 10 years old, it weighs twice its original weight due to the dust mites that accumulate over the years.” Ouch! This simple statement creates a pain, and it makes me want to replace my mattress immediately. Let’s face it, pains, whether real or created, drive action.
Pain Vs. Gain
In business, when we focus on overcoming a challenge that’s perceived as a threat, such as unfavorable regulatory changes or unexpected competition, the pain motivates us to eradicate the problem immediately. Conversely, when we focus on overcoming a challenge that’s perceived as an opportunity, we’re less inclined to take action. If you apply this same concept to control, it makes sense why most business owners struggle with relinquishing it.
Most people think about the opportunity or gain associated with giving up control: increased free time, the flexibility to engage in more meaningful activities and the ability to sleep in. It sounds logical. It sounds desirable. Yet this isn’t enough to motivate them give up control.
Why? Because, on the flip side, there’s the pain or threat associated with giving up control: increased errors, reduced quality and upset clients. If people are wired to minimize pain, it makes sense why entrepreneurs are convinced they’re best served by doing everything themselves.
Learning To Let Go
So how can you address this dilemma? One way is to rethink the situation: Don’t think of giving up control as having the opportunity for more free time. Reframe it to focus on the downside or threat of not giving up control. Answer these three questions when you’re considering the pros and cons of giving up control:
- What is the cost associated with not giving up control?
- What will you lose by not giving up control?
- What is the pain that will be created if you don’t give up control?
These questions will help refocus your attention on where it needs to be to create action—on the pain associated with doing everything yourself.
And this technique can be applied to any behavior you may wish to change. By focusing on the cost of not changing it, you’re more likely to take action.
To reframe your view, write down all the costs associated with not giving up control. Create a long list—be creative, but be honest. You have to truly believe in those pains. Keep those pains front and center, and look at them every day. Talk about them with your team. Also discuss how you can minimize the risks associated with delegating work to others.
Only when the perceived pain associated with not giving up control is greater than the pain associated with giving up control will you be able to make a shift.
This article originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum - please comment there
October 22, 2013
A technology expert friend of mine just started blogging. We discussed which topics should be the focus of his articles. He told me that he recently read about another technology blogger whose most popular blog entries (as measured by tweets, comments, and Facebook likes) were in fact the least technical topics.
My friend wondered if he should also write less technical blog entries.
My response: Don’t confuse popularity with value.
Why did my friend want to write? Because he wants to sell more of his technology consulting services. Which articles are more likely to do that? Articles on technology. Although rants about philosophy and life may appeal to a broader base of readers, it may be less likely to entice them to buy.
When I write about Goal-Free Living, a topic that is about having a more enjoyable and successful life, everyone can relate. As a result these get read and shared a lot. But my less popular innovation articles are the ones that get me hired for speeches and consulting. Of course I continue to write (to a lesser extent) blog entries that I think will be popular as it attracts more readers to my work – some of whom may be interested in hiring me someday. But I focus on demonstrating the expertise I want to be hired for rather than shooting for something with mass market appeal.
Look at your business. Do you focus on what is popular/cater to the masses? If so, you may be spreading yourself too thin and doing yourself (and your customers) a disservice.
Instead, look for opportunities to focus on what sets you apart from everyone else and is in the sweet spot of why people buy from you.
Being popular does not mean you will have a successful career. Business is not a popularity contest.
October 11, 2013
Imagine two groups of problems solvers.
Group #1 is homogeneous. That is, everyone has similar personalities and areas of expertise.
Group #2 is diverse and comprises a blend of different styles and experiences.
Which group will perform better?
In times of crisis and on simpler tasks, Group #1 will always perform better. They “speak the same language” and therefore get things done quickly. Their solutions may not be as creative, but they will be more likely to coalesce.
But what about in less time-sensitive situations or more complex tasks?
According to research and my own experience, Group #2 will still – left to their own devices – underperform.
Although diverse groups may attempt a wider and more creative range of solutions, the differing perspectives can lead to harmful disagreement. For example, someone throws out what they think is a great idea, but it quickly gets shot down by someone who has had different experiences. In this instance, it might be creativity going in a head-to-head battle with practicality.
Diversity doesn’t work naturally. It requires one key ingredient: appreciation.
Our studies find that when diverse teams are given the tools to appreciate one another, they generate solutions with higher value and have a better chance of implementing them.
I’ve found that for diverse teams to work well, each person on the team needs to:
- recognize that opposites do not attract (they repel) and therefore it is natural to avoid or disagree with those who are different
- be aware of his or her limitations (each style has positive and negative implications)
- discover where he or she contributes and detracts in the innovation process (everyone can’t do everything well; certain part of the process are handled by some better than others)
- appreciate how others complement his or her limitations (each person provides different forms of value and “completes” you)
So yes, diversity can work. But it is not a natural act.
Anyone who says that opposites attract has not been paying attention to the bickering on Capitol Hill.
But opposites can collaborate effectively when everyone appreciates the contributions of those with different perspectives, styles, and experiences.
P.P.S. Personality Poker is designed to enable diverse teams to work effectively together. Learn more about this card-based system, book, and keynote speech.
October 8, 2013
Red Adair, the oil well firefighter, once said, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”
Over the years, I’ve learned this the hard way.
When I’ve hired freelancers based primarily on price, the quality suffered. I paid dearly in terms of iterations and rework. Something that could have been completed in a week, might take 2 or 3. Instead of the work being done with limited involvement on my part, “amateurs” require a lot of handholding.
I now value my time more than anything else. Hiring talent requires less support from me. Each hour I spend helping someone figure something out, is one less hour I have to invest in something that can substantially grow my business.
I’ve found that truly gifted individuals can work magic. Their long-term value is significantly greater than those who are less skilled.
In my world, I see so many mediocre speakers. Event planners with financial constraints sometimes hire based on fee rather than quality. But the cost of the speaker is quite small compared to the time invested by the attendees. 100 people sitting in a room for an hour is a big payroll burn. But the bigger cost is the opportunity cost. Each hour they spend listening to a presentation that does not provide real value, is an hour they can’t invest in growing your business.
Or, if you hire a consultant, the real cost is not their fee. The real cost is the impact of their advice on your business. Most consultants who give you their two cents are overcharging. If you implement their recommendations, you could waste time and money. Or worse, you could negatively impact your business.
When investing time or money in anything, consider the total cost.
There’s on old Yiddish proverb, “He who marries for money earns it.”
In the world of business, I believe there is a corollary. “He who hires based on price pays for it.”
October 7, 2013
For the past year, I’ve been experimenting with the concept of working less by telling myself that I only have one hour a day to get things done. This has helped me reduce the number of hours I work from 100 a week to just 20 per month. (If you want more details on how I’ve accomplished this, read my last article, “How To Work One Hour A Day And Have A Thriving Business.”)
If you’re looking for ways to effectively cut back, think about this: Sometimes the key to getting more done is simply to do less. Think about ditching these three things in order to free up more time:
Ditch Your Worst Customers
Admit it: You’ve got customers who generate less income than others, yet take up more of your time than they should. Maybe instead of trying to get more customers, it’s time to ask, “Which customers should I eliminate?”
For me, the customers who are price-sensitive tend to be the most difficult to work with. Oscar Wilde once said, “A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” I no longer work with cynics. Instead, I give time to my value-oriented customers who prefer to focus on results rather than fees.
One strategy to consider: Ditch the 20 percent of your customers who are sucking up your time but not producing commensurate returns. This not only frees up some hours in your day; it also frees up your mental energy. I realize that when money is tight, cutting customers loose can seem like a risky proposition. But you intuitively know that attempting to keep 100 percent of your customers happy 100 percent of the time will keep you working 100 hours a week, limiting your true growth potential.
Ditch Your Lowest Return Activities
Look at the amount of work you do. Look at your to-do list. You will never get 100 percent of the work done, even if you had 200 hours in a week. And we know that, yet we still strive to get 100 percent of the work done….
October 1, 2013
I was recently interviewed by Pedro De Abreu for an article on Virgin.com. Here’s a little taste…
Every web site we visit, every book we read, every conference we attend, we are admonished to innovate, to be innovative and to disrupt the market with innovation. Stephen Shapiro, author of the international best-selling business book ‘Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out Innovate the Competition’, makes the case that instead of listening to all the noise, we should ignore all advice (including the ones he gives us in this interview).
What is innovation?
Innovation is an organization’s ability to adapt, evolve, and change repeatedly and rapidly. Although new products, services, and business models all play into this, they are a means to an end: to stay at least one-step ahead of the competition.
How can companies and individuals become innovative in their approaches to life and business?
Too often in life (and business) we have this false belief that we can predict the future. At a personal level, we set goals for many years out, hoping to achieve them using a well thought out plan of attack. But the flaw in this thinking is three-fold. 1) Our past is so limited that we really can never know what is the “best” future for us. 2) We can never predict the best path, as there are too many factors in the real world. 3) The world is changing fast, so a 5-year strategic plan is (in many cases) useless.
Instead, I suggest that you “use a compass, not a map.” Instead of a specific destination, you have a general direction. Then you “meander with purpose.” Learn by doing. Learn by experiencing. Adjust directions frequently, but still move in the same direction. To me, this is the ultimate in innovation living.
What the five rules of innovation that companies and individuals should stick by?
1. Innovate where you differentiate. Most organizations dissipate their energies by not focusing on the opportunities to set yourself apart from the competition. This should trickle down to every department and person. For any activity that is not a differentiator, you should optimize, automate, outsource, replicate or partner with others.
September 5, 2013
In the September issue of “Speaker Magazine” (published by the National Speakers Association), I have a 3-page article. It is called: Do Less, Make More: Work Only One Hour a Day by Mastering Leverage.
Here’s the beginning…
I’ve been trying an experiment. For the last six months, I’ve been working, on average, only one hour each day on my speaking business.
This wasn’t easy at first given my tendency to sometimes work more than 100 hours a week. However, what I eventually learned was that I could be insanely productive by simply shifting my mindset. Long hours aren’t necessarily required to lead a successful career.
The fact is, although there are an unlimited number of things that speakers can do to grow or improve their businesses, there is a point of diminishing returns. The upside on additional effort decreases significantly beyond this point.
THE L-WORD: LEVERAGE
To successfully work only one hour a day (or at least a greatly reduced amount of time), you need to master the concept of leverage.
Leverage is something that gives the greatest return with the least amount of energy. We typically view our work as linear. An hour of work gives us an hour of results. But what if an hour of work could yield 100 hours (or more) of results? Instead of diminishing returns, you get exponential returns.
This is leverage.
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? That is the activity that I engage in for the day, delegating, deferring or eliminating everything else. The key is to focus on activities that create leverage and maximize results.
The remainder of the article discusses why you should “stop telling people what to do,” how to “multiple your results by first dividing, how to leverage your speech, and how to create new revenue streams.