When making decisions, jumping to the price as the first mechanism for comparison is a common mistake we all make. Everybody has done it at some point already and I am willing to bet most people resort to price as their default assessment most of the time. I know I do.Read More
For the past 10+ years I've seen a wide range of projects, products, teams, and companies and every one of them worked differently. The key to success of any product, or company, depends on how the product and engineering teams work together but this relationship is often ignored.Read More
You don’t know everything. It’s as simple as that and more importantly everyone else around you knows that you don’t know everything. This very thought should be liberating. It allows you to be wrong sometimes, it allows you to make mistakes, and it allows you be honest and upfront when you don’t know something. At least that is how a strong leader sees it. But not a weak leader. A weak leader tries to paint themselves as an expert in everything without realising that they are just setting themselves up for significant and embarrassing failure. By not accepting that they do not know everything (or even just accepting that no-one else believes them when they pretend to know everything) they are forced into an uncomfortable position of always having to give an answer. Even if they have no idea what they are talking about.
The better solution is to accept that everyone has holes in their knowledge and just be honest about it. Saying “I don’t know” is a much stronger option but alas, not many people like to admit they don’t know something. The feel insecure about admitting to a lack of knowledge, even though doing so actually gives off a strong impression of confidence and self awareness.
But admitting to a lack of knowledge is only half the problem. Not only do people pretend to have knowledge in areas they know nothing about but they also tend to drastically overestimate the accuracy of their knowledge.
You could say that these people have no idea that they have no idea. Put in a nicer way – these people don’t know what they don’t know.
People don’t know what they don’t know
This has been proven in many psychological studies but a prime example is the work conducted by Alpert and Raiffa. They tested a set of Harvard MBA students by asking them to make range-based predictions of an unknown variable and to ensure they achieved 98% accuracy. The test was not to measure their actual knowledge but their individual evaluation of their own knowledge.
If we assume that everyone can accurately estimate their own knowledge then the expectation is that we would only find 2 errors per 100 people surveyed. The results, however, were vastly different.
These “experts” over-estimated their own knowledge by so much that the actual error rate was a mammoth 45%! That is to say that nearly half of the test population failed to accurately understand the difference between what they actually knew and what they thought they knew.
This problem isn’t limited to just highly-educated professionals. Similar studies have been repeated with all sorts of cross-sections of society (different race, religion, socioeconomic status etc) and the results are all undeniable. The average error rate is in the 15-30% range (not the expected 2%) and this occurs for all groups tested regardless of the makeup of the individuals within the group.
Applications for leaders (and wannabe leaders)
This has important consequences for those diligently (or desperately?) trying to look like an expert so they can climb the corporate ladder. Put simply: don’t bother.
Don’t pretend to be an expert if you aren’t one, don’t try to seem like you know everything, and don’t try to bluster your way through work (or life) with bullshit and lies. It just doesn’t make sense.
Instead, have enough courage to admit what you don’t know. Be honest and accept the holes in your knowledge. There are many benefits to doing so.
Firstly, by being honest to yourself about your level of knowledge you allow yourself to be continually learning and growing. If you admit that you do not know everything then you can actually ask questions of the real experts and start learning more. That’s right; you can actually get smarter when you don’t care about looking smart.
Another benefit to be gained from not being a know-it-all is that people won’t treat you like one. This is a good thing as it means people will actually listen to what you say. When you always have an answer (even if you’re just making one up on the spot) people will give your ideas and comments less credence. But when you are honourable enough to say “I don’t know” it changes the way you are seen. People give you more respect and are more willing to listen when you speak up later on.
Finally, the biggest and most important part of being a good leader is that your job is to manage and motivate other people to grow. A good leader is someone who knows that their main responsibility is to get the best out of the real experts. A good leader is uninterested in showing off or appearing smarter than they actually are – they only care about delivering the best possible outcomes and they do this by leveraging the knowledge of the experts around them.
A good leader is not an expert in everything. A good leader is an expert at knowing what they don't know and an expert at motivating others. Are you a good a leader?
The current system of measuring, and judging, the efficiency of most office-based work is wrong. By requiring staff to be in the office for a specific number of hours each day, and even going as far as limiting them to a specific window of time within the day to fulfill this requirement, the emphasis is on being at work longer rather than achieving better results. Focusing on time-based judgment of work is not productive. It does not allow people to work when they produce their best results, it assumes every person takes the same amount of time to do their job, and it fosters a negative psychology and atmosphere at work.
The solution is simple: the efficiency of our work needs to be judged on output, not time.
Why judging work based on time is wrong
There are many inherent problems with organising work to be solely a time-based operation. Most of these I am applying to a “standard” office-based job. There are examples in society where certain industries and organisations have deviated from the time-based assessment, but for most of the world, the norm is still to judge workers by how long they spend at work, not how much they achieve. Here are some problems with that kind of thinking:
People work better at different times
I’m a morning person which means that I am most productive in the wee hours of the morning, normally when no-one else is around and I can focus on my tasks without distraction. If I could start work early (say 6am) then I would be much more productive in my time at work. I would get at least two hours of ultra-productive work while everyone else was at home sleeping, and my overall output would improve drastically.
I’ve actually proven this in a previous job where flexible start times were allowed. It was so good for me that I was achieving more in those first few hours than I was previously doing in an entire day. By the time the rest of my team had arrived, made their coffee, and were ready to start work, I had knocked off all my critical tasks and I could attend the boring meetings without getting too frustrated.
Flexible work arrangements can go the other way too. Someone else might prefer to start at midday and work on into the evening. Maybe they are young and like to go out partying most nights, or maybe they just prefer being up a night. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, but if these people are forced into turning up to work early just to fulfill a silly time schedule then they will never bring their A-game.
Why not let people start work when it suits them? At least that way you’d be getting the best out of each employee.
Every person does not need the same time for their job
Why is it that every person in the office needs the exact same time to perform their job? Is everyone actually just robots that work at the exact same speed all day?
Even workers doing the same jobs with the same levels of responsibility within the same company can perform at very different speeds and skills. Instead of giving these workers a default amount of time to work, why not judge them based on their achievements and the quality of their work?
Judging based on output is a more accurate measure of efficiency. If you have a situation where two employees perform the same role but at different speeds then forcing them to work the same hours actually has a negative impact on the overall work environment. The more skilled, and thus more productive person will eventually reduce their output to match the lowest common denominator because there is no incentive for them to excel.
There is no incentive to excel
When everybody has to be at work for the same amount of time it creates the attitude that everyone just needs to do the bare minimum to get by. If a worker knows that they could complete a task early and then spend the rest of the day doing something they find interesting (like researching new technology to apply at work, or coming up with innovative ideas to improve their results, or even given the afternoon off) then they are likely to work harder and produce better results.
But instead of rewarding employees like this we tend to “punish” them. When someone finishes their work early the norm is to give them another (boring) task to ensure that they are working (or at least sitting at work) for the expected number of hours. The result is that the normally productive and efficient worker becomes less motivated to work harder and less motivated to produce high quality output.
When a person realizes that no matter what they do (work harder, work faster, or call in sick and go to the beach) their workload does not deviate from the expected number of hours at work then they have no motivation to produce high quality work. Because they are being judged on a time-based scale they will appropriately perform their work on the same scale. If they are given a week to do a task then you can assume that they will nearly always take a full week to do it. Even if you gave them a month to do the same task they would only finish it just before the deadline.
The employee who realises they are judged on time realises they can exploit the work environment to their favour.
It is easy for employees to exploit time-based work
At some point, all employees in a time-based environment will exploit the system. Some will do it purposefully and others will not even be aware they are doing it, but I guarantee that everyone will eventually do it.
Exploiting the time-based work environment is easy. You can continually over-estimate the time it takes to do work, you go out for “meetings” which are really just you catching up with friends, you spend half your time having coffees with colleagues, you have a long lunch because your boss is busy and wont notice, you call in sick on important days so other people get stuck with the tough work, and so on.
In a time-based work environment the employee is judged just on the amount of time between when they arrive and when they leave. In this environment there are many, many, many ways for the worker to exploit the system so that they are doing the least possible work in their allocated time. The sad part about this exploitation is that sometimes a great worker can head down this path simply because they realise that no matter how well they do their job or how much extra effort they put in, they still have to sit in that chair for the exact same time every day.
This essay could go on and on. There are many more examples of why judging work on a time-basis is wrong but these are just subsets, or combinations, of all the above points. The idea is always the same: the more a worker is judged solely on the time they spend at work, the less productive and efficient they become.
I’m speaking in generalisations here and there are always exceptions. For example, it is obviously better for an NFL team to keep playing for the entire match and not just score 40 points in the first half and then go home. But for most of society, and predominately those office workers that are bound to the desk and chair all week, this is not the case. An environment where the focus is to just work for a specific number of hours is negative and ultimately flawed. It creates the wrong attitude towards work and it fosters a culture of inefficiencies and time-wasters.
How do you judge your employees?
Time-wasting, procrastination, and a general sense of under achievement are themes that are becoming increasingly common across society. As we move further into an environment that is always “connected”, where we are always within reach of a computer or a smartphone, we are becoming less productive and less happy. The main reason for this is that our usage of time has changed. We feel that we do not have enough time set aside just for ourselves, to do what makes us happy as individuals, and then when we do finally get some “spare time” (I really dislike that phrase) we fritter it away on useless, unproductive, time-wasters.
It is not by accident that two of my most popular articles of all time are on this exact topic: Sometimes We All Need Some Alone Time and The Gentle Art of Not Wasting Time. People want more time and they want to be more productive.
I cannot give you more time in a physical sense but I can show you how to stop wasting your time and start using it in a more productive way. Here are my 3 simple ways to stop wasting time.
1. Set Goals
Goals are a fantastic way to get yourself focussed and achieving more in your life. They guide your everyday decisions, determine what you do with your spare time, and they provide a massive sense of satisfaction when you manage to achieve one.
The biggest trick to setting goals is to make them quantifiable. Your progress and ultimate fulfilment of the goal depends on you being able to measure it. If you cannot measure it then how will you know when you are finished?
But measurable does not necessarily mean that all goals have to be number-based. A yes/no goal is still measurable because you either achieve it or you don’t. As long as there is a clear end-state to your goal then you will be more likely to reach it.
Tips for setting goals:
- Set often, review often - I set my new goals, and officially review past goals, on the 1st of every month. This allows me to see what I managed to achieve last month and plan better for the current month. It also provides the opportunity to push myself by setting recurring goals higher so that I am constantly improving.
- Track progress - I track progress in a spreadsheet which tells me the percentage of progress complete for each task. Every time I do an action associated with a goal I update the spreadsheet to reflect it. It automatically tells me how much of that goal I’ve completed and whether or not that is on-track for the month. Yes, I’m THAT nerdy.
- Small chunks - I set most goals to last 1 month only. If I have a goal that will take significantly longer then I record that under “ambitions”. Then each month I pick some tasks that I can set as measurable goals to work towards those ambitions.
2. Use Todo Lists
Todo lists are the obvious next step. Once you have a set of goals that you are working towards you need to break it down into smaller tasks that you can complete during your day to start building momentum.
That’s what lists are really for. Setting goals is a great thing to do and it provides an initial burst of positive energy but if you do not take regular steps towards your goals then they will feel unattainable. Lists are used to take that initial motivation and provide regular positive reinforcement.
The best way to use lists is on a daily basis. Each day starts with a new list that contains everything you would like to get done in that day. If you didn’t complete a task from yesterday then bring it forward onto today’s list. There are no “rules”. It’s just a list of actions.
As you complete each action you then cross it off your list, put a tick next to it, or whatever else makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, because feeling that way is the real point of having a list. Each time you finish a task you get an immediate jolt of satisfactions and happiness that motivates you to keep going. That is how goals get fulfilled.
Tips for using todo lists:
- New list every day - I write a new todo list out every day. This is done either the first thing after waking up or, when I have been particularly productive, just before I go to bed the night before. I don’t spend too much time on it here (5-10 minutes) as I just want to get a basic plan for the day.
- Carry it everywhere - My todo list is now in the form of half an index card cut down to fit in my wallet. It goes everywhere with me. This allows me to have a constant reminder about what I wanted to achieve for the day, get that immediate feedback loop going when I finish something and can cross it off, and it means I can flexible. If my availability for the day drastically changes then I can update my list to remove/add tasks that I expect to complete.
- Each day is different - I plan differently each day and I only build a todo list based on how much time I will have to work towards my goals for that particular day. I make sure my todo list reflects my actual day because there is nothing more unsatisfying than ending a day with a todo list filled with incomplete actions.
3. Create a routine
Routines are the mechanism to ensure you are crossing things off your todo list and moving towards your goals. They are critical for maximising your productivity and helping push through the inevitable periods where progress feels that it has stagnated.
By creating a solid and persistent routine around your goals you force yourself into constant action. If you can get into a positive routine of productivity then you are guaranteed progress towards your goals.
Turning a routine into an ingrained habit can take about 4 weeks so no matter what the routine is I recommend committing to it for at least month. It doesn’t matter if you want to go to the gym 3 days per week, spend more time on your start-up business, or just improve your fake tan. You need to commit to doing it consistently for a month.
Tips for creating routines:
- Go daily - I find daily routines easier to maintain and quicker for them to become part of our everyday habits. If I have a routine that requires a day off then I still try to fill that timeslot each day with related activities to enforce the ritual. For example, when creating a new gym ritual I will use my rest days to read up on what's new in the world of fitness.
- Pick your best times - I create my routines for the times of the day that give them the best chance of succeeding. When it comes to writing I am at my creative and productive best early in the morning so now I get up early and I write for an hour. Because morning is my most productive time I have noticed a dramatic increase in my output which means I am way more likely to maintain the early-rising routine into the future.
- Finish your tasks - When I am creating a routine I make that time solely about being productive towards my goals. The positive feeling of crossing something off your todo list can be almost addictive, and doing it every single day means the routine is way more likely to become habitual.
There you have it. That’s 3 simple ways to stop wasting time and start being productive. Now I’m wondering, what do other productivity-fanatics like me do to help them stay focussed and achieve more in life?
The message for today is simple: Never be a suck-up. Ever.
I am sure we have all known a suck-up or two (like the guy in the cheesy picture above). These are the people that run around trying to make themselves look and feel good by getting approval from their peers, and particularly from their mangers. They might even try to call it "networking" or "making connections" but most of the time these actions are just sucking up in disguise. They are especially prevalent in the workplace where individuals mistakenly think that being a suck up (brown-noser, ass-kisser, whatever you want to call it) will propel them further and faster up the chain.
Sadly for the suckups this kind of thinking is completely wrong. Sucking up does not get you anywhere good, and it actually has a very negative impact on your career and on your life in general. In fact, the more you suckup the more detrimental it is to your life. Here are five good reasons why sucking up is stupid.
5 Reasons Why Sucking Up Is Stupid
#1 Sucking up makes you look insincere...
..because you are!
No matter how good you are at sucking up, everyone else around you will notice it. And when people notice sucking up they immediately label that person as insincere and fake. Even those you are sucking up to will think this.
Sucking up sends a very clear message about yourself:
My own ideas, thoughts, and actions are worthless and I will blindly say and do whatever I need to to get approval from others.
People will get this message loud and clear and they will see all of your actions as insincere, even if you do manage to 'grow a pair' and actually decide to have your own opinion.
#2 Nobody trusts a suck up
Consider the situation from the perspective of a manager working with a suck up subordinate. If that person is constantly acting as a "yes man" and always trying to be on the manager's side would that manager feel like they are able to trust them? Would the manager be comfortable leaving them to handle an emergency? Would that manager have confidence that the suck up would be a strong leader without the manager around?
No-sucking-way! (sorry, that was bad)
Nobody trusts a suck-up because they spend too much of their time and energy trying to impress others, rather than just getting stuck into the work and being productive.
#3 A manager that encourages sucking up is not a good manager
Sadly there are some managers who enjoy having people suck up to them and sometimes they even encourage it. But have a think about the kind of manager that would do this.
A manager who is swayed by sucking up is not a good manager. They obviously lack confidence in their ability to lead, and thus receive a small burst of positive reinforcement whenever a suck up comes along. So what do they do? They encourage the sucking up! After all we all like to feel good about ourselves don't we?
The suckup might see this as a wonderful opportunity but it is actually very limiting. A poor manager that feels like they need ass-kissers will also feel like they need to sabotage their career progression in order to always keep them one step below. They will use the suck-up to make themselves look (and feel) good but never allow them to grow to their potential.
A manager without confidence will forever be a negative and reactive manager. They will feel like they are fighting against everyone else to make themselves look good, and when it comes to the crunch time, the suck-up will not be well looked after.
The irony of all this is that a manager that encourages sucking up, or is not skilled enough to even spot it, is not a good manager to work with in the first place. Instead of wasting your time with these people, move on and find a good manager that will help you grow.
#4 A good manager is all about honesty
A good manager values integrity and honesty above all other traits. They respect the opinions of those around them and are open to, and willing to listen to, new ideas and even feedback on their own performance. This is the difference between being a manager and being a leader.
A good leader knows that their role is about guiding and supporting the team below them. A good leader knows that the people below them are the experts and the leader is there to ensure they get the best possible environment to thrive and develop their skills. And it is this thinking that means a good leader does not like sucking up.
These good leaders want a team of smart individuals that work cohesively as a team. A suckup breaks this team dynamic by attempting to make everything all about themselves - something a good leader will not stand for.
The result is that the suck-up does not last in a team with a good leaders. They will move on to another position where they hope that their brown-nosing skills will be more respected. As I've already described, the only manager that will respect such behavior is a bad manager and the suck-up ends up doing more harm than good to their career. Especially when they could have stayed and grown so much under the guidance of the good leader.
#5 People don't make friends with a suck-up
The final reason for not to be a suckup is that suckups do not make many friends. We spend a lot of our lives at work so it makes sense that we form close connections and friendships with our colleagues. But no-one wants to be friends with a suck-up.
Sure a suck-up might make many "connections" in the sense that they know a lot of people in the business world, but rarely will they develop close friendships. The suck-up is more likely to have 500+ connections on LinkedIn but less than a handful of true friends in real life.
Friendship is a massively important part of our lives. Having great friends brings so much happiness and positivity to our lives. When you have truly close friends they become like a second family that you can share your life with. I know I am blessed with an amazing bunch of friends and funnily enough I met most of them in at work.
Sucking up does not get you anywhere in life. It results in nothing but negative outcomes, both in professional and personal contexts. It is time to stop sucking up and start being honest in your life.
All business meetings are a waste of time. Got your attention? Good. Now ok I admit that maybe there is the odd rare occasion that a meeting is well executed, achieves a set purpose, and utilises time effectively but sadly that is the exception rather than the rule. All too often meetings drone on and on, seemingly without direction, and serve no real purpose other than to allow a few people the opportunity to hear themselves talk. If you need to be convinced just how much of a waste of time most meeting are all you need to do is just consider those professions that charge clients based on a set time limit of work – doctors, lawyers and so on.
Doctors and Lawyers
Do you think that the doctors at your local clinic have time for all day meetings? Hell no, they are busy trying to see as many patients as they can. What about lawyers? Do they sit around discussing the finer points of law in great detail every day? Nope, they are busy doing research and advisory work for their clients. These professions actually try to have the fewest number of meetings they can.
The reasons are pretty obvious – they make money based on the time spent doing certain activities that the client considers useful. This includes things like performing a health check-up or advising on your will and definitely does not include sitting around talking all day.
These professions are not measured on how long they sit at work but on how much useful work they can achieve in a single day. They need to ensure they are maximising their productivity in order to achieve more (and thus earn more). As a result these professions have become very clever at weeding out the useless rubbish from their workday and wasteful meetings are public enemy number one.
How to Have Productive Meetings
I like to be positive so it’s only fair I digress here to talk about how to actually have a productive meeting – an endangered and rare species that is very hard to find in its natural cube farm habitat.
Contrary to my earlier broad statement, meetings actually can be very productive if we follow a few simple rules:
- Decisions not discussions – you can discuss the pros and cons of an idea before a meeting via email or phone. Don’t waste time thrashing it out in a meeting room.
- Distribute prep material early – everyone should have read the required info before the meeting. Get it to them early and if they don’t read it they don’t get a say in the meeting.
- Set an agenda – there must be an agenda defined and agreed upon before the meeting. This should also outline the rules of the meeting.
- Set time limits – there must be an overall time limit for the meeting but also time limits per agenda item.
- Designate a chairperson – this person must run the meeting according to the agenda and the time limits and ensure everyone stays focused on the task No ifs, buts, or excuses that you were too lazy
- Record it – take notes, minutes, audio, video, whatever. Just get a record of what was said. This encourages people to only be useful
- Action it – everyone should leave the room knowing precisely what tasks are left and who they have been assigned to
It’s not hard – it’s just common sense. I bet most office-based workers reading that list would not have been too shocked by it, so it begs the questions: why do people insist on breaking these rules and having wasteful meetings?
Informal Chats, Quick Catch-ups, and Other Myths
Beware the informal chat or the quick catch-up as these are just time-wasting meetings in disguise. If you hear these words I recommend you look at your watch, screw up your face and make a series of non-committal “umms “and “ahhhs” until they leave you alone. Failing that, run.
These meetings are the ones that just drag on forever because they break all the rules listed above. They are just an excuse for people to get together in a room and be boring. These meetings have a tendency to drag on well past what represents a valid definition of “quick” and are often nothing more than an ad-hoc forum for attention hogs to get in the spotlight.
Attention Hogs: The Main Reason Meetings Suck
Next time you are stuck in a meeting that seems like it has been going for eternity cast your eye around and make a mental note on who is doing all the talking. Chances are it is the same two or three people always espousing their opinions. These are attention hogs and they love a captive audience.
Humans tend to trust and believe those who talk the most at meetings. The willingness to talk first and loudest sends a not-so-subtle message of confidence and bravado which is interpreted as competency. This was proven a few years ago in a study by Cameron Anderson and Gavin J.Kilduff (and thanks to the guys at Freakonomics who pointed this out to me), which examined how people evaluate each other in meetings. The outcome (as reported by Time) was very interesting:
Repeatedly, the ones who emerged as leaders and were rated the highest in competence were not the ones who offered the greatest number of correct answers. Nor were they the ones whose SAT scores suggested they’d even be able to. What they did do was offer the most answers — period.
“Dominant individuals behaved in ways that made them appear competent, above and beyond their actual competence.” Troublingly, group members seemed only too willing to follow these underqualified bosses. An overwhelming 94% of the time, the teams used the first answer anyone shouted out — often giving only perfunctory consideration to others that were offered.
So all people need to do to appear competent in meetings is talk lots. Are all those long boring meetings starting to make sense now? Are you suddenly identifying who is an attention hog at your work?
Next time you have a meeting try enforcing some rules to make it more productive and see if you can limit the time those attention hogs get. Otherwise your life will be spent walking from one meeting to the next and never actually working. It's hard to be passionate at your job if you never get to achieve anything.
I love starting a new project. There is something special about that energetic buzz that occurs at the beginning of each new project. It is a wonderful time filled with positive energy, happiness, and excitement. The same can be said when you finish a project too - it is a magnificent feeling to see something through to completion, where you can stand back and admire your own work and feel proud of your achievement.
Unfortunately actually finishing a project is a hard thing to do.
I know this because I am fantastic at starting new projects and making quick progress. I get motivated and the work flows easily and the project runs smoothly. At least it does at the start anyway.
I believe most things in life, including projects, follow the Pareto principle (aka the 80-20 rule). It is a basic data modelling formula which says that 80% of whatever your are measuring normally comes from only 20% of the sample population.
This rings true for most projects across all aspects of our lives. We can complete 80% of a project with as little as 20% of the total effort. This is the early stage of the project where everything progresses beautifully, but there will come a point where the ratio inverts. You will reach a time where the remaining 20% of effort will take you 80% of the total project time and it is during this time that motivation drops, progress is stagnated, and you run the risk of not finishing the project at all.
I've met this barrier many times in my life so I know how tough it can be to push through it. I've also failed to, or chosen not to, push through it many times too so I also know how unsatisfying it feels to leave a project unfinished. But recently I've developed a few questions that I use to help me stay on track and complete my projects.
Is/Was It Worth Starting In The First Place?
Sometimes your idea is actually not that good to begin with. Before starting a new project, or when struggling to maintain motivation, you need to reassess the original idea. Is it actually a good idea? Is it something is actually worth spending time on? Is it worth it?
You might realise that your original idea, which you thought was the best thing since sliced bread, is actually not so good. That's ok, because I'm going to let you in on a secret - you don't have to finish every project you start.
Is It Worth Finishing?
Re-read that last sentence. You honestly don't have to finish every single project you start. In fact I will go as far as to say that if you did so you would be wasting your time.
You're not perfect and every idea you have is not a great one. Some ideas you have are rubbish. Some of these rubbish ideas you will actually have to start working on first before you realise they are rubbish, but when you do make that realisation any more work on the project becomes wasted time.
Some ideas are not worth finishing, no matter how far you've progressed. You could be 95% complete before you realise it, but once you do it is time to let it go and move on to the next project.
How Will You Know When You Are Finished?
It may sound like a dumb question, but too many people start a pet project with nothing but a wafty idea of whatever they are trying to achieve. Naughty!
When you start something you need to make sure you understand exactly what "finished" is. Even if you have future ideas, or phases, for your project it is best to view them as separate projects with separate time frames. Each part needs a definitive milestone which signals that the project is over, otherwise it will end up feeling like one never-ending project and that can be a huge drain on motivation.
Every project needs to have a clear finish and it needs to be quantifiable. That way when you reach the end you will be 100% sure the project is finished and you can start celebrating!
Celebrate The Finish
Every project must have a celebration at the finish. The celebration is the absolute final task in the project. Without a celebration the project is never actually finished.
The celebration should be fun and relaxing with a focus on enjoying the success of finishing a project. If it was a big project then make the celebration big too. This is why smart companies have launch parties when they release a new product - it is a tangible end to finish the project, it gives employees the opportunities to appreciate some recognition for their hard work, and it also promotes the business.
The same thing happens for any personal project you do. Just finished a big renovation? Host a party with your friends to celebrate! Been working long hours at home to start your business? Take the family out somewhere special when you finish. Whatever the project is it will need a celebration when it's finished. Enjoy it.
Once you finish a project (don't forget the celebration) then it is an ideal time to use your recent experiences to look toward the future. Think about the good and bad of the last project, whether it was actually worth it, and identify what you will do better in the future. Don't spend too long at this stage though because you're next successful project is waiting for you.
A few times recently I have written about my goal to quit work and devote my time to things I actually enjoy. I have talked about how I plan to sustain this lifestyle through several income streams, one of which is my software development business - 16 Threads. Some people have contacted me saying that if I spend my time running my own business then I have not quit work at all, and that I am probably working even harder to get the business running. But I don't consider running my own company to be a job. It's not "work" as most people know it because we see things differently at 16 Threads.
Our Business, Our Choices
The majority of the 16 Threads business is self-driven. We do some work for clients (if we are interested in a project then we will take it on) but otherwise we spend our time following our passion and creating software that we want to use.
Our aim is for everyone to enjoy the work they do at 16 Threads. If someone has an idea, a pet project, or a vision then they are encouraged to follow that. Or if a project comes in but no-one is interested in it then we will happily pass on it.
Sure, like any business money is important, but we feel that the money will take care of itself because when people love what they do they produce high quality products, making them easier to sell.
Fun in the Sun
We're all about fun at 16 Threads. We have fun at work, we have fun with our clients, and we have fun amongst ourselves. We want everyday to be fun because we believe that work doesn't have always have to be serious (or seriously depressing).
We never let fun get in the way of a project but we make sure not to take ourselves too seriously. After all, life is supposed to be enjoyable and that includes work.
We measure performance on output not time. Measuring time is important for tracking how to improve (we're even building some software to help us with this) but the performance on an individual is not linked to the number of hours they spend at the office.
Everyone gets their work done but they do it at times that are best suited to their own lives. If someone prefers working at night they can. Or if we finish a project early we might find ourselves road-tripping to the beach (or pub) instead of sitting in front of our computers all day.
As long as the work gets done (and meets our very high standards) then we're flexible about all the other details.
Having fun and spending time with my close friends, whilst working on projects I love, that fit around my personal life…I don't think that sounds like "work" at all. :)
We were sitting at a local cafe, watching the sun set over the city skyline and sipping our drinks as a young and talented musician strummed away on her guitar and serenaded us with her dulcet tones. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I ended up talking to the father-in-law of the singer, a fairly successful local businessman, and after we talked about his latest exciting business venture he looked me in the eye and said "And what do you do Zac?". I mumbled a wishy-washy answer and he tried to be interested but I could tell I had lost him. It was then that I realised that I needed to work on selling myself.
Why You Have To Sell Yourself
I used to resist the concept of "selling" myself because I thought people would respect humility and honesty more than gimmicky self-promotion tricks. I wasn't exactly wrong but I definitely was not right.
Selling yourself is not about being smarmy, arrogant, pushy, or over-the-top. It is about marketing yourself, your skills, your goals, your products, in the best possible way at all times. And I mean at all times.
The world is one giant series of markets. Everything we do is an exchange of resources (time, money, energy, love etc). Obvious examples of markets are shops where we generally exchange money for goods or services. But this concept applies to everything in our life.
In relationships we exchange our time and love in order to satisfy our needs for human connection and our desire to be loved. In work we exchange our time and skills for money, recognition and experience. It goes on.
Everything in life can be viewed as a market and if you dream of greater success then you need to start selling yourself.
Confidence Is Everything
Confidence is everything when you are selling.
If you are not confident in what you are doing then everyone else will be able to sense that. And are people likely to "buy" from someone who is not confident in their product? Hell no! Imagine if you were talking to a car salesman and he started saying things like "It's not a great car but its OK…It has a few performance problems but maybe you'd like anyway?" You would not be interested.
The same happens when you are talking about yourself. If you are not confident explaining what you do, what you are about, or why your ideas are great then people will have a hard time connecting with you.
I find generating this confidence can be extremely hard especially when it is something I am new to. For example, when I started this website it was hard for me to be confident and say things "I am a personal development and motivational writer." I doubted myself because it was a new venture whereas in reality I had demonstrated all the necessary skills previously which showed that I was more than capable.
So just because you have taken the plunge and jumped into something new that is no excuse for lacking confidence. I am sure that if you delved into your past you would find many similar examples and transferable skills that you can draw on to find your confidence. Draw on them and be confident. Tell everyone exactly how good you are. Remember no-one else is going to do it for you.
Love Yourself And Everything You Do
This is closely linked to confidence but I felt it deserved a separate section because it is an important part of becoming your ultimate salesperson: You've got to love yourself!
When you look in the mirror you should see someone that you love, someone that you are proud of, someone that makes you smile. Negative thoughts are not welcome here. You must truly love everything about yourself and want to show everyone just how great you are. If you want some tips on how to get started read my article: Learn To Love Yourself
If you are not able to talk yourself up and be proud of your achievements then you will always undersell yourself. And the result of underselling? Mediocrity and missed opportunities.
Find Your Passion
Finding confidence and the ability to love yourself is not easy if you do not like what you're doing. If you have any negative emotions (be it stress, anxiety, hate, resentment) about your current position these will filter through to your attitude. They will bubble to the surface and hinder your self-confidence.
Ask yourself this simple question: "Am I doing something that makes me truly happy?" For most people the answer is no.
Too often people are not following their dreams but instead following a plan imposed by someone else. It can come from parents who want you to work a certain job, peer pressure to seem like the most valuable employee, or societal pressure and ideas about what you "should" do with your life.
But guess what? There is no should in life. Your life is about you being happy. It is about doing what you want to and not what others think you should do. So if you aren't confident in selling yourself to others, or you find it hard to love yourself, it might be time to stop and think about what you want from life. Get out there and find your passion.
The beauty of finding something that you love doing is that not only do you love every second of your life, but you will be operating at such high level of happiness, productivity and confidence that you will naturally attract greater success. People love working with passionate, happy and energetic people, so find your passion and make people enjoy working with you.
Shame is the enemy of the salesperson. Shame does not make a sale. Shame does not lead to success.
That may be an over simplification but the point is that in the area of self-promotion shamelessness is the critical. If you feel ashamed to promote yourself, talk up your good qualities, or recommended yourself to others than no-one will be interested in you. Why would people want to find out more about someone who is ashamed to talk about themselves?
Consider an example from Tim Ferriss, author of two #1 best selling books (in different genres) who in 2008 was voted as WIRED's "Greatest Self Promoter of All Time". He has done a lot of things right to go from a nobody to a very popular somebody, assisted by his awesome (and shameless) self-promotion.
If you are need to learn how to become a shameless self-promoter then I recommended reading the "Tim Ferriss' Guide to Self Promotion" article on BNET.
Refine Your Elevator Pitch
The elevator pitch is one of the basic skills a good salesperson has. The concept is that if you meet a potential client in a time-limited environment (i.e. when riding an elevator) you need to be able to clarify what you do, why you do it, and why others want it, all in about 30 seconds. Can you do that?
I can't, but I am working on it.
For a long time I held off on honing this skill because I thought it sound a bit…wanky. I didn't want to believe that the world was just a mass of markets and everyone was always selling. I thought that was a cynical view of the world and I didn't believe it so I tried to keep myself out of the process altogether. I was wrong.
The elevator pitch is crucial in our life. It does not have to be in an elevator, and it does not have to be just for you to get a job or promote a business. It can be for anything!
Written a book and trying to get a publisher? You've got one paragraph of your cover letter to explain your book in a way that gets them hooked. Working on your first album? You'd better be able to explain it to those busy music producers in 30 seconds or they wont be interested. And so on. No matter what you do, you need to be able to "sell" it to someone else, and get them interested, with just a few sentences.
Compare what I used to say when I was asked the inevitable (and confusing) question about what I do. I do a lot of things but my response was something like this:
Ummm…well I am Consultant at the moment….I also started my own IT business on the side….and I have my own personal website where I write stuff.
What the hell is that? Firstly I put what I cared about least at the start and then talked down my two other ventures as side projects, as if they barely matter. That surely does not inspire confidence and it definitely does not generate interest in what I want people to be interested in. So I've changed it:
I help people make positive changes in their life through my personal development website and I also am the founder of a software development company that builds websites and iPhone apps.
Which sounds better? :P
The second one is miles ahead. It has a wow factor to it. It summarises what I do and delivers it in a quick one-two style that leaves people asking questions. People will ask for my website address, or they will ask about my software clients, or they will ask something completely different. The point is that they are asking questions. It gets them interested in me and that is the goal of the elevator pitch.
Fake It Until You Make It
By now, if I have done my job well, you have recognised the importance of becoming your number one salesperson and hopefully you have a list of areas you can work on to get there. So my final advice is to fake it until you make it which is basically the same as saying "practice, practice, practice".
Having trouble loving yourself? Stand in front of the mirror and practice. Tell yourself how great you are and force yourself to smile and nod in agreement. I promise that it will become second nature to smile at yourself and the love will start to come naturally.
Struggling with confidence? Do a little role-play in your mind where you turn the situation around and imagine yourself with confidence. As an example, when I used to attend interviews I would pretend that I owned the building I was being interviewed in. I practiced this thought until I walked in with my head high an full of confidence. After all, they were in MY building so they would need to give me respect wouldn't they? It sounds odd but it works.
No matter what area you think you need to improve you can achieve it by practicing success. The key is that you must practice success and not failure or sub-standard performance. You are your number one salesperson already so start thinking like it.
Believe in yourself, believe in your "product", and start convincing others just how important you are. If you do it right they will always want to hear more.