Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

It's official – we're in a recession. But you can still stay positive

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Although it probably came as a surprise to no one, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced today that the U.S. has been in a recession since December 2007. But even with bad news about the economy, it is still possible to stay positive.

This is the third and final post in this series, you can read the first two here:

10 Ways to Stay Positive when Times are Tough
3 More Ways to Stay Positive

7) Read a book. Books have been my drug of choice since I was young. That might seem like a strange thing to say, but books are the best and primary way that I alter my mood. This strategy works best if the book is uplifting, but even if it’s just engaging, a book is a great way to help you stay positive. Books are kind of like vacations – they give you new experiences, out of the ordinary, away from your routine. I remember one time when I was going through a particularly low time, I read the entire Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan. Granted, this is not high literature (or anything remotely close). But there are approximately 10 books in the series, and each of them has about 900 pages. By the end of those 9,000 pages, I had a newfound appreciation for the Fantasy genre, and I had mostly gotten over whatever it was that had gotten me down in the first place.

Girl reading a book

8) Take a longer view. Sometimes, when things aren’t going well, it feels like they will never change, like what is happening currently in your life will go on forever. But this just isn’t the case. Change happens. And if you can keep that fact in mind during the tough times, it can help you stay positive that things will get better one day, that what is currently happening won’t be the same forever.

9) Take one day at a time. On the other hand, sometimes a situation seems so overwhelming and so exhausting that the best thing to do is to take each day as it comes. Difficulties can become smaller if you just tackle one day at a time, and by focusing on today, you can help to alleviate worry about tomorrow.

10) Call (or see) a friend. When times are tough, sometimes it’s best to talk to someone who loves you and knows what you need to hear to cheer you up. I had dinner with four of my high school friends on Friday night, and the glow off the conversational therapy will last me a solid couple of weeks.

BONUS 11) Exercise! There is plenty of research that shows that exercise not only helps us be healthier, it also helps improve our mood. But even with all the data, only 22% of Americans get the recommended amount of exercise, while a full 25% live a sedentary lifestyle. You may not be used to exercising, it may be hard at first, but go do something to move your body. Start with a short walk around the block or down the street and work your way up to something more vigorous or rigorous.

You’ll stay even more positive if you can find somewhere to exercise that’s aesthetically pleasing. For example, walk near a lake or the ocean, bike down a street that you like in your town, or jog in a nice neighborhood that has beautiful flowers. Pick a spot to exercise where you feel happy to be when you’re not exercising. It will make the experience more pleasant and you more positive.

Photo by frankjuarez

3 more ways to stay positive

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

The beginning of this blog series starts with the post titled 10 ways to stay positive when times are tough. Below are reasons 4, 5 and 6…

4) Take a break from work – and life. I have often written about the importance of taking vacations from work, but sometimes it’s also helpful to take a bit of a vacation from life. You can do this by spending BSOa day doing something totally out of the ordinary, away from your regular routine. Two Fridays ago, Chris took me to the Symphony for a matinee performance. This was the first time that I had been to the Boston Symphony, and it was great. By shaking up my normal life and seeing something new, my mind started exploring all kinds of things that I don’t think about on a daily basis. For example, the day opened my eyes to the world of senior citizens (the majority of the attendees were over 70). It also brought me back to high school, when I spent many hours playing in a multitude of bands (an experience that I completely dropped after leaving high school but really enjoyed). It was also the first time that I had seen (or heard of) Leonidas Kavakos, the featured violinist, and a man of amazing talent who played a Brahms Concerto by heart that lasted nearly an hour. It was astounding.

Any event that takes you out of your ordinary life will get you thinking about new and interesting things, a very positive experience.

5) Start a new venture. Your venture might come in the form of a company or an exercise routine. Your venture could be a book or cooking club, or even an online course. Whatever you decided to do, starting new things usually comes with optimism and hope – all things that help fight negativity.

6) Do something to help resolve one negative thing in your life. On any given day, most people have a number of things that are getting them down. For some people, the list is long. Pick one item on the list that you can do something about and tackle it. I handle the finances for my family, and I recently realized that it was taking so much time that I was getting frustrated. I decided to look for an online tool that would help me better manage our money. I found Quicken Online, which has simplified things immensely and helped change my entire outlook about money management. Doing that one thing didn’t solve all my negative issues, but it did help resolve one thing that was getting me down.

Up next – ideas 7 through 10.

Photo by Rich Moffitt

Five reasons to start delegating more today

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

It is a simple fact that I am terrible at delegating.

I have a very hard time giving work to someone else to complete. Even when I’m trying to think of tasks to delegate, when I am purposely trying to trim down my workload, I have trouble delegating.

But now I have a secret weapon.

Last week, on my company’s anniversary, I hired my first full-time employee. Cara doesn’t have an official job title yet, she is a jack-of-all-trades. I hired her because she is smart, flexible, likes variety, and because she is the best delegator I have ever met in my life.

Pointing finger delegatesCara takes delegating to a whole new level, not because she is lazy, but because she is efficient. She is willing to do anything if it has a purpose, but if it is useless busy work, she’ll be happy to explain why. If she’s working on a project that can be outsourced to someone else who is not fully occupied with work, she’ll demonstrate how that makes sense. She is also excellent at training other people (which is a big part of delegating). Cara is a master delegator.

In the one week since Cara’s worked with me, her delegation skills have already begun to transform my business. And watching her thought-processes has given me some really good insight into why every person in every business should start delegating more today.

1. Teaching a job to someone else shows you where there are holes in your logic or where you’re taking too many steps. As I’ve begun to explain process-oriented work to Cara, she asks me questions that point out unnecessary steps or reveal a better way to do things. Today I was explaining how to check something from the admin section of a Web site. To do so involves a separate URL, login information and instructions on how to access the data. That process works, but Cara asked why we couldn’t just find the information from the public Website. Turns out we could, and that saved us about 10 unnecessary steps. Just by explaining the steps and having someone ask a question, we saved time and streamlined a lengthy process.

2. Feeling like you have to do something is a lot of pressure; it’s easier to think more creatively when you aren’t stressed with looming projects. I have a to do list that stretches for pages in my notebook. There are many items on that list that have been there for months. They are always on that list, always in the back of my mind; projects that I need to tackle but haven’t been able to get to. If there is a project that has been on your to do list for more than two months, think about delegating it. You aren’t getting it done, so at least some progress will be made if you give it to someone else.

3. Giving away something old and established makes way for something new and innovative. I have a number of repetitive projects that take up a portion of my week every week. These things are always there; kind of like during college on the weekends when I could not ever relax because I knew that there was a book to read or a paper to write. By delegating those kinds of projects, your mind has more room to be creative and to spend time on less process-oriented problems.

4. Establishing processes allows you to delegate and to increase your output in multiples. It’s fairly obvious that it is much easier to outsource something if there is a process for how it gets done. By creating processes around work, and figuring out how to get other people to help do the work, there is another benefit – the total amount of work that you can get done increases exponentially. An good example is the human powered search engine Mahalo. The site employs Guides who help to create pages that can be searched. There is a process to creating those Mahalo pages, and by making sure that everyone who works on the site knows the process, the site can grow faster as new Guides are added.

5. Freeing up extra time will allow you to write that blog post that you’ve been putting off for a week (or longer). More time for other work is the most obvious reason to delegate.

(BONUS) 6. Believing that you are the only one that can do a task isn’t helpful for you and isn’t helpful for your business. And it’s probably not true. This is the most common protest made by over-achievers and perfectionists who think that they can do the work the best or the fastest or without any help. And this notion is dangerous because trying to run a business completely alone will not work. And in most cases, it’s better to get 80% of the work done at 80% skill level than 40% of the work done at 100% skill level. On top of this, it’s usually not true that no one else could do the work.

When this article first came out, I printed it out and tacked it to my bulletin board at work because of this section:

“Moving into any new position requires that you get rid of the stuff from your old position. This means delegating. It means getting over the idea that you were indispensable on any of your old teams. You can’t do you new job well if you’re still doing your old job.

Delegating your old job should take three days. You find people who are taking a step up when they accept pieces of your old job so that they are excited. You give them an explanation of how to do it and tell them where to go when they have questions.

You are going to tell me that one day is not enough, that you have a very complicated job. But think of it this way: If you died today, your job would be delegated in a couple of days.

Delegating is not enough, though. You have to stop caring. If you are no longer on a project because you got a promotion, then you have to stop obsessing about how the project is doing.”

I try to keep that advice in mind, but I’ve already admitted that it’s a challenge for me. If you’re bad at delegating, try these seven tips to becoming a better delegator. But whatever you do, start delegating more today.

Photo by Mykl Roventine

What does Wi-Fi stand for?

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Wi-FiThis past week, a family member asked me a question related to my post about the better workplace coffeehouse, in which I mentioned the term Wi-Fi multiple times. The question wasn’t about what Wi-Fi refers to (wireless Internet access), but about what Wi-Fi stands for. Specifically, the question was if the term Wi-Fi was somehow related to Hi-Fi (high fidelity) and if Wi-Fi actually means “wireless fidelity.”

It turns out the answer is no. Wi-Fi doesn’t actually stand for anything. According to this article from BoingBoing:

“Wi-Fi doesn’t stand for anything.

It is not an acronym. There is no meaning.

Wi-Fi and the ying yang style logo were invented by Interbrand. [The founding members of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, now called the Wi-Fi Alliance] hired Interbrand to come up with the name and logo that [they] could use for [their] interoperability seal and marketing efforts. [They] needed something that was a little catchier than “IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence”.”

According to Internet.com, some of the losing names that Interbrand suggested were Skybridge, Torchlight, Flyover, Transpeed and Elevate.

UPDATE: Thanks to an awesome comment by a reader (Thanks MixtLupus – check out his blog here), it turns out that Wi-Fi does indeed stand for Wireless Fidelity. I couldn’t access the knowledge base (anyone who can and sends me a screenshot, I will be indebted!) but here is the small piece that I could see.

Fidelity

Wanted: A better workplace coffeehouse

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

As I’ve documented many times on this blog, I work alone, from my home office. This is usually great, but sometimes the house gets too quiet or constricting, or I’ve spent too many days in a row with the same walls around me. When that happens, I usually head to a local coffeehouse that has free Wi-Fi, usually Panera Bread.

CoffeehouseToday I’m working at Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble near my house. I needed to buy a book so it was more convenient to stay here rather than make the 10 minute drive to Panera. But here the Wi-Fi’s not free. Granted, it’s only $3.99, but instead of buying the 2-hour pass, I’m opting to do all the offline work I can, and then send everything when I can connect again at home. Not ideal.

All of this has started me thinking about the trend of remote working and the virtual company. The more wireless devices we have, the more places that have access to broadband, the easier it is to work from home, vacation…anywhere really. And companies like Sun Microsystems are even starting to make moves to dismantle entire offices in favor of the cost savings that they get from having an at-home work force.

I am clearly in favor of telecommuting and working from home. But I realized today, in my imperfect, impromptu Starbucks office, that the at-home worker is up against a number of challenges that a better workplace coffeehouse could help fix.

First, the obvious source of the trouble is that humans have issues with isolation. People are born into communities and we are geared toward being around people. Even the extreme introvert likes their aloneness more when they have recently been around people. There are days when the solitary at-home office is too much and we just need to see little kids doing handstands in line while their frazzled mom waits for her Vanilla Latte. (Yes, that is happening in front of me right now.)

Second, the current options to escape that isolation aren’t really working. Aside from the coffeehouse with Wi-Fi, the only option that I have is the library. But both of these options have problems – the library doesn’t allow the conversations and social interactions that at-home workers are craving, and the coffeehouses aren’t equipped for workplace needs (and there are people trying to enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch without having to be immersed in other people’s work).

Finally, there is another problem with the at-home worker that isn’t often talked about. There is a hole that is left by the lack of idea interchange, the constant refining and tweaking of ideas that happens in an office environment. Even with social networking tools and technology to keep us connected at our disposal, at-home workers do the majority of our thinking and planning and decision-making in a vacuum. It’s not our fault – the majority of decisions that are made day-to-day are too small to set up a conference call to discuss. But without the constant input from our co-workers, and the benefit of the collective brain of the group, our decisions are going to lose some edge, some brilliance will be lost that could have been found if we had a group around us to help us refine our visions.

My suggestion to solve this issue is a workplace coffeehouse. My imaginary coffeehouse would have:

– Free unlimited Wi-Fi.

– Coffee and food to be purchased. Perhaps also some kind of a fee structure for use (a monthly membership, like the gym, perhaps?). This business would have to be able to make money, even with a clientele that doesn’t turn over frequently during the day.

– Tables with locks to secure laptops. Nothing is more annoying than having to pack up all your stuff to use the restroom. Locks that can be used temporarily by the person at the table at the time would be incredibly helpful.

– Comfortable chairs that are meant to be sat in for long periods of time without hurting your back.

– Different areas that can be used for different things. There should be areas for tables of 1, 2, 4, 6, and 10 people scattered throughout the room, as well as a couple of glassed-in rooms that people can use for brainstorming or meetings.

– A start-up open pitch night. Once time per week, people would be able to get up and pitch their ideas and invite the crowd to give them instant feedback – this is like an open mic night for businesses.

– A schedule of speakers who would come in periodically to give advice for the at-home worker. Help desk people to answer questions about home networking issues. Financial advisors. VCs. And even management specialist, all with seminars on how to work remotely better.

– Ways for people to meet each other. Too often people look up from their computer only to avert their eyes if they accidentally look my way. These places would need to encourage communication and interaction.

– Social events surrounding the coffeehouse. The coffeehouse’s softball team could compete in the city league, bowling teams could be formed, or maybe the coffeehouse has a bocce court next to it.

Does it seem like I’m recreating the office? Maybe I am, just a little bit. But this could be the office of the future, where people go to work with other folks from their geographic area, all of whom are working on different projects, jobs and careers. Sounds like an interesting place to me.

What other features would you like this workplace coffeehouse to have?

UPDATE: Another possibility would be for bars to do something like this during the day, when they otherwise wouldn’t be making any money. Just think – WiFi during the day, vodka tonics at night. I think that the clientele would become much more dedicated…

Photo by John Althouse Cohen

My greatest weakness

Monday, July 21st, 2008

WeaknessAnyone who tried to visit any page on this site since last Wednesday already knows what I am about to tell you – my blog has been down for five days. It’s back up now, working just fine, but it appears that the damage has been done. My good SEO ranking on some good terms has been lost, 1/4 of my readers have unsubscribed.

I just wanted to send a quick note out to all of you who have stuck with me through the downtime – thank you! And I’m sorry for the technical difficulties. The short explanation is that this blog is using a technology that one of my new businesses/applications is also using, and when the developers made a change to that application, they managed to take down my blog at the same time. It appears that everything is now fixed and working like it should, hopefully there won’t be any more issues.

This outage really brings to light what I think is my biggest weakness as an entrepreneur - I am not technical enough. I know a bit about technology, definitely enough to talk about it and to understand the concepts, a smattering of HTML. But I am not a “do-er” – and so, when things like this happen, I am at the mercy of others. This fact is hard to take.

I am honestly not sure what the solution to the problem is, either. As the president of my company, I shouldn’t be the one who is doing all the nitty gritty work – that would be a waste of time and resources. I also don’t have the time to go back to school and to take classes to learn all this stuff that I wish I already knew. I could regret my college major (maybe computer science would have been a better choice than English, no matter how much I loved reading those books), but then again, if I had majored in computer science, who knows where I would be now. Maybe the influences of Maya Angelou (On The Pulse of the Morning), Sylvia Plath and Ralph Ellison are part of what has inspired me to be the person I am today, to do what I am doing right now. And regrets aren’t helpful, anyway.

So I put my lack of technical expertise in the category of unavoidable things that suck. At least for now. And I try to use this weakness as a reminder that I can’t build this business on my own, that I need help and input from a wide variety of other people to be successful. And I breathe. Slowly.

Photo by solidstate

Don't sacrifice your blog in the name of productivity

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

I have been working more than ever lately, but my blog posts have been scarce. This is no accident. But it is a mistake.

A couple of weeks back I wrote this post about productivity on Tuesdays. That realy got me thinking about my own productivity and what days of the week I am able to get work done. The initial inspiration for the post was this one by Penelope Trunk, which suggested, among other things, that if Tuesdays are the most productive day of the week, we should focus more on Wednesdays and Thursdays to try to make those days equally productive.

So I’ve been trying to consciously think about my productivity. And I have hit upon a great way to make myself productive. The past two weeks I have been picking one major (or difficult) item on my to-do list, and working on it the entire day until it’s done. That way, at the end of the week I will be able to cross five major items off my list. Any time that I have left in a given day, I work on the odds-and-ends that are left. Including my blog.

This strategy has worked great for getting those major projects done. (I finished four last week, one was so big that it took two days.) But the problem is, the other stuff – the everyday work – isn’t getting done. As evidenced by the sparse posts to this blog.

GrowingSo this week I am going to try a new tactic. I’m going to schedule only 3 major things to get done this week and see if I can get caught up on the rest of my stuff. Because sacrificing my blog in the name of productivity is a bad idea.

This blog may be fairly insignificant in the scheme of things, but as far as my business goes, it has been essential in ways that I couldn’t imagine.

1. I have gotten consulting jobs because of my blog. Multiple jobs. When I hand out my business card, it has my company Website and my blog URL. People usually go to both. When they read the Pure Incubation site, the first question is usually “What do you do?” Followed by the statement “I don’t get it.” This is understandable because what I’m trying to do is uncommon and unusual, and I am trying to be vague on my site until I launch some products. But people get my blog. And my blog gets me jobs.

2. I am more engaged with the business community because of my blog. I don’t live in Silicon Valley, arguably the heart of the Internet Web 2.0 world that I’m trying to play in. But by blogging, and commenting on other people’s blogs (and have them commenting on mine), I am able to get involved in the conversation in a way that I wouldn’t be able to be involved if I wasn’t saying something. This recent post about women technology start-up founders sparked conversation from lots of interesting folks, including two who I really admire: Sarah Lacy, who released her first book last week: Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0; and Penelope Trunk, who I mention all the time in this blog and who is really my blogging idol, if there is such a thing.

3. My family and friends read my blog. Not everyone I know reads my blog, but the people who do have a better understanding of what I’m doing. I talked to my dad last night, and he told me that he follows what I’m up to with my business through the blog. And my Aunt Mary told me that she feels like she is more connected to me because she reads what I’m up to and thinking about at work. I’m glad that my dad and aunt are reading. When I go home to visit this weekend, they won’t look at me with blank stares when I talk about my business and how things are going. I like that.

4. Blogging helps me be more creative. I love writing, I always have, so the process of coming up with a topic and writing about it helps to get all of my creativity churning. I find that the process of writing a blog post often helps me think of new things to work on for my business, and often helps me discover new business models and stuff that’s out there that I wouldn’t otherwise have found – like Gary Vaynerchuk and Wine Library TV. If you’re not watching, you should be.

5. When I write a blog post, things happen. I’ve noticed this past week that my email from random people has slowed down, my traffic stats are a bit stagnant and I feel generally down about my business. This is a normal feeling for entrepreneurs to have on occassion, but I realize now that posting to my blog helps to lessen this. Because when I blog, I reconnect with my community, get support from the other entrepreneurs out there, and things happen. And it’s that thrill of activity that keeps me going when things get hard with the business, which happens all the time.

It turns out that I learned a bigger lesson this week than just the one on productivity – I realized just how important my blog is to my business. So if you have a blog, keep writing! If you don’t have a blog, go get one today. And then check back in three months to let me know how it changed your business (or life). I know it will.

Photo by Editor B

Stop scheduling meetings on Tuesdays and get to work

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I might be the last person to know this, but Tuesday is the most productive day of the week. I was alerted to this fact by this blog post, which pointed to some research by Robert Half International. But then when I went to dig in deeper, Tuesday-is-the-most-productive-day-ever was all over the Internet. 

This article says that in 2002, 1998 &1987 the data showed the same thing – Tuesday is the most productive day of the week at work.

Here’s a piece from 2002 talking about how Tuesday is the best day to get work done.

Tuesday biology bookAnd then there’s this 1994 book: Office Biology or Why Tuesday Is Your Most Productive Day and Other Relevant Facts for Survival in the Workplace. There is a whole book about how Tuesdays are so productive. How could I have missed this incredibly important fact for all these years?

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical at first. I wasn’t really sure that Tuesday was my go-to day of productivity. Then I was reading a post by Steve Rubel on his Micro Persuasion blog about becoming an expert, and in the post, Rubel included a chart of his Google Reader reading habits. And then it dawned on me that I should check my stats in Google Reader to see what they showed.

I typically read RSS feeds from Google Reader at about the same rate every day, with the exception of the weekends. Or so I thought! Here are my trends for the last 30 days:

Those big spikes? Those are Tuesdays!

Last 30 days

Here is the day of week chart:

Day of week chart 

And just for fun, here’s the time of day chart. Anyone who knows me well – or ever worked with me – will not be surprised at the early morning lull.

Time of day 

So what does all this mean? For me, it means that it’s time to take some deliberate action. If I am more produtive on Tuesdays, I’m going to be proactive about keeping that day as productive as possible. I am not going to schedule meetings on Tuesdays, for example, because meetings break up the flow of my day. And I plan to complete one major, sticky, important-but-difficult or important-but-boring project every Tuesday. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

What do you think? And what do your *Trends* show? Is Tuesday your go-to day?

*If you use Google Reader, you can find this data by clicking the Trends link at the top of the left-hand navigation in Google Reader.