Edited excerpt from How to Become Insanely Well-Connected by Chris Fralic:
1. Convey genuine appreciation — think about what they know that you don’t.
2. Listen with intent — demonstrate you’ve heard exactly what was said by the other person, and encourage them to continue.
3. Use humility markers — acknowledge your own fallibility and imperfection so you’re relatable; act in a way that implies your time is no more important than theirs.
4. Offer unvarnished honesty — in what will actually have utility for the other party.
5. Blue-sky brainstorm — with them, not for them.
6. End every meeting or conversation with the feeling and optimism you’d like to have at the start of your next conversation with the person.
7. Don’t fake it — know exactly why you care about that person or their company, based on diligent preparation.
(1) According to Chris, the over-arching principle is: Imparting energy is more important than sharing new information.
(2) Perhaps this advice applies to all relationships, not just business connections.
(3) Note Chris’ advice about how to listen with intent — “demonstrate you’ve heard exactly what was said by the other person, and encourage them to continue”. Cf. How to be a better listener.
From The School of Life, via The Difficult Art of Self-Compassion by Maria Popova:
To survive in this high-pressured, crazy world, most of us have to become highly adept at self-criticism. We learn how to tell ourselves off for our failures, and for not working hard or smart enough. But so good are we at this that we’re sometimes in danger of falling prey to an excessive version of self-criticism — what we might call self-flagellation: a rather dangerous state, which just ushers in depression and underperformance. We might simply lose the will to get out of bed.
For those moments, we need a corrective — we need to carve out time for an emotional state of which many of us are profoundly suspicious: self-compassion. We’re suspicious because this sounds horribly close to self-pity. But because depression and self-hatred are serious enemies of a good life, we need to appreciate the role of self-care in a good, ambitious, and fruitful life.
(1) “Treating yourself with the understanding, mindfulness and kindness with which you would treat a friend – leads to far greater resilience, productivity and well-being.” From Stop beating yourself up.
(2) At the management level: (i) Build self-confidence — but not your own, and (ii) A simple litmus test for great managers.
(3) At the company level: Why celebrating wins is so hard, but so important.
Edited excerpt from Eurekalert:
Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods, and had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.
“We saw that employees could get into these negative spirals where they started the day in a bad mood and just got worse over the course of the day,” said Steffanie Wilk, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “That’s why it is so important for companies to find ways to help their workers start off the day on the right foot.”
(1) How can individuals ensure they start their day happy? Eric Barker suggests: (i) ensure you have something to look forward to from the night before, (ii) ensure the first thing you do gives you a feeling of control, (iii) eat breakfast, (iv) send a “thank you” email to someone, (v) kiss someone you love, (vi) plan how you’ll deal with changes, and (vii) do something you dread.
(2) Any ideas for how companies can “find ways to help their workers start off the day on the right foot”?
Edited excerpt from Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Oprah Winfrey All Use the 5-Hour Rule by Michael Simmons:
In the article Malcolm Gladwell Got Us Wrong, the researchers behind the 10,000-Hour Rule set the record straight: Different fields require different amounts of deliberate practice in order for someone to become world-class. If 10,000 hours isn’t an absolute rule that applies across fields, what does it really take to become world class in the world of work?
Many leaders, despite being extremely busy, have set aside at least an hour a day (or five hours a week) over their entire career for activities that could be classified as deliberate practice or learning. I call this phenomenon the five-hour rule. For the leaders I tracked, the five-hour rule often fell into three buckets: reading, reflection, and experimentation.
We need to move beyond the cliché, “Lifelong learning is good,” and think more deeply about the minimum amount of learning the average person should do per day to have a sustainable and successful career.
Just as we have minimum recommended dosages of vitamins and steps per day and of aerobic exercise for leading a healthy life physically, we should be more rigorous about how we as an information society think about the minimum doses of deliberate learning for leading a healthy life economically.
(1) Thank you Karen Miller Jackson for the tip.
(2) On experimentation as a learning tool: We often don’t experiment enough because we gravitate to things we are familiar with and which we believe have a high probability of success. If we view new tasks, jobs and experiences as experiments, we can drop our requirement that they should be familiar, and worry less that they’ll be unsuccessful.
(3) In the full article, Michael Simmons shows that many famously successful people are voracious readers of books. What is it about reading books that is more valuable than reading articles online (including this blog 🙂 )?
(4) Cf. (i) How truly great entrepreneurs manage their time and (ii) How to clear time for deep thinking.
Edited excerpt from One hour of driving a day = 2.3kg more weight and 1.5cm wider waist, study reveals:
People who drive an hour or more a day are 2.3kg heavier and 1.5cm wider around the waist compared to people who spend 15 minutes or less in their cars, according to a research paper. In “Adverse associations of car time with markers of cardio-metabolic risk”, published in the Preventive Medicine journal, Professor Takemi Sugiyama from the Australian Catholic University’s Institute of Health and Ageing also found that men are more likely than women to put on weight due to time spent behind the wheel.
Professor Sugiyama, an expert on the nexus between health and urban design, concluded “prolonged time spent sitting in cars, in particular over 1 h/day, was associated with higher total and central adiposity and a more-adverse cardio-metabolic risk profile.”
(1) How to extract some redeeming value from your car commute: Think about your goals each day on the way to work.
(2) Possible antidote to excessive sitting time: Take a walk at 3pm each day.
(3) Another health tip, less obvious: Stop venting and complaining.
Edited excerpt from The reason millennials aren’t happy at work by Keith Breene:
Much of the stress and anxiety reported by twenty-somethings is caused by ruthless comparison with peers. Emerson Csorba, director of the consultancy Gen Y, reported one millennial describing the challenge like this: “If we are not doing something exceptional or don’t feel important and fulfilled for what we are doing, we have a hard time.”
Where is the pressure coming from? With millennials more connected than any previous generation, opportunities to compare levels of success are ubiquitous, creating anxiety and insecurity. The accomplishments of peers, shown on social media, are a constant prompt to examine millennials’ own successes or failures. The problem is made much worse by the fact that only positive achievements are posted – you only ever see the good stuff.
Even though everyone knows that social media is a kind of PR feed of people’s lives, when you spend so much time online, these messages can easily become overpowering.
(1) Cf. When you want a break from work, should you log into Facebook?
(2) Cf. Can you achieve great things if you’re a regular Facebook or Twitter user?
Edited excerpt from What’s the secret to success? Be nicer to yourself by Keith Breene:
Stanford researcher Emma Seppälä says that when she looked at the research she found the evidence overwhelmingly showed that if you look after your well-being first, you will do better in your job.
The key, Seppälä says, is being kinder to yourself. “Research shows that self-criticism is basically self-sabotage, whereas self-compassion – treating yourself with the understanding, mindfulness and kindness with which you would treat a friend – leads to far greater resilience, productivity and well-being.”
In times of failure or challenge, noticing your self-talk can help you replace it with self-compassion. Instead of saying things like, “I’m such an idiot!” you might say, “I had a moment of absentmindedness and that’s okay.”
(1) From my personal experience, I think there are two distinct elements to debilitating self-criticism: first, a tendency to devote too much thought and attention to negative outcomes or events; and second, what Emma Seppälä calls your “self-talk” about those items.
(2) On “a tendency to devote too much thought and attention to negative outcomes or events”, see (i) Don’t try to learn from failure and (ii) You can train yourself to think positively.
(3) On “what Emma Seppälä calls your “self-talk” about those items”, cf. How to view rejection.
Edited excerpt from Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? by Stephen Marche:
Scanning your friends’ status updates and updating the world on your own activities via your wall — what [Carnegie Mellon researcher] Moira Burke calls “passive consumption” and “broadcasting” — correlates to feelings of disconnectedness. It’s a lonely business, wandering the labyrinths of our friends’ and pseudo-friends’ projected identities, trying to figure out what part of ourselves we ought to project, who will listen, and what they will hear.
Passive consumption of Facebook also correlates to a marginal increase in depression. If two women each talk to their friends the same amount of time, but one of them spends more time reading about friends on Facebook as well, the one reading tends to grow slightly more depressed.
In one experiment, John Cacioppo [director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago] looked for a connection between the loneliness of subjects and the relative frequency of their interactions via Facebook, chat rooms, online games, dating sites, and face-to-face contact. The results were unequivocal. The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are. So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy.
(1) John Cacioppo argues that Facebook isn’t necessarily negative if you use it to increase the frequency of your face-to-face interactions with friends and family. However, I think this underestimates the addictiveness of Facebook as a product. Even if you have an agenda for how you want to use Facebook, you’re battling the company’s product resources and expertise which are deployed to maximize the time spent per user on Facebook (because that drives Facebook’s monetization). So when you log into Facebook, even to reach out to a friend, Facebook lures you into “passive consumption”. Moira Burke found that this leads to increases in disconnectedness and depression. It also crowds out face-to-face interactions.
(2) A better strategy: If you want a break from what you’re working on, go chat with a real human being. Or take a walk.
(3) Cf. Can you achieve great things if you’re a regular Facebook or Twitter user?
Edited excerpt from FOMO: This Is The Best Way To Overcome Fear Of Missing Out by Eric Barker:
The more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.
Try a simple experiment: Look around. What good things might you be taking for granted? Home? Family? Friends? Now take a couple seconds to imagine those were taken away from you. How would you feel? Bad things happen to us randomly, right? So to some degree, you are lucky to have what you do.
Does this exercise sound silly? Research shows it works. Mentally subtracting cherished moments from your life makes you appreciate them more, makes you grateful and makes you happier.
(1) If you then express that gratitude by thanking people, it also improves relationships. See “Don’t take one another for granted” in What happens if you apply marriage advice to work relationships?
(2) Cf. Genuine praise.
(3) Cf. You can train yourself to think positively.
Edited excerpt from 23 Ways to Protect Your Positive Mood from Negative Co-Workers by Laura Tong:
1. Take the lead with upbeat topics. By going first you’ll have more control to ensure the tone stays positive.
2. Avoid eye contact during negative conversations. You’ll make less connection with them and their words will carry less weight.
3. Don’t gossip. Talking about people behind their back has been shown to lower your self-esteem, even when you are not being overly critical.
4. Laugh in the face of negativity. Smile and diffuse that negativity. Refuse to take them and their gloomy view of life or your workplace to heart.
5. Read them the riot act. Explain to negative co-workers that you have a serious allergic reaction to negativity.
(1) On the damage of negativity and why you should avoid it, see Why venting and complaining are bad for your health and the health of your company.
(2) Cf. You can train yourself to think positively.
(3) An excellent, positive question to ask to people: The right question to ask to motivate people.
Edited excerpt from Complaining Is Terrible for You According to Science by Jessica Stillman:
Not only do repeated negative thoughts make it easier to think yet more negative thoughts, they also make it more likely that negative thoughts will occur to you just randomly walking down the street. Being consistently negative starts to push your personality towards the negative.
Hanging out with negative people does much the same. When we see someone experiencing an emotion (be it anger, sadness, happiness, etc), our brain ‘tries out’ that same emotion to imagine what the other person is going through. And it does this by attempting to fire the same synapses in your own brain so that you can attempt to relate to the emotion you’re observing.
“When your brain is firing off these synapses of anger, you’re weakening your immune system, raising your blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and a plethora of other negative ailments,” Psych Pedia author Steven Parton says.
The culprit is the stress hormone cortisol. When you’re negative, you release it, and elevated levels of the stuff, “interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease.”
(1) Cf. “I think the mind is like a forest floor: the more you walk paths the deeper they get and the easier it is to walk them again.” — from You can train yourself to think positively.
(2) Cf. Ideas spread inside a company due to positive energy; 8 ways to increase it.
Excerpt from Lydia Krasilnikova by Prof. Daniel Jackson:
I think the mind is like a forest floor: the more you walk paths the deeper they get and the easier it is to walk them again. When I wasn’t doing so great, there was a path falling into unhappiness, and the more I walked on it, the deeper that path got. It’s important to learn how to tell yourself, “No, I’m not thinking about that right now. As a matter of fact I’m never thinking about that; we’re done here.” Eventually, if you let it, that darker path will get covered up with leaves; the leaves will disintegrate over the winter and by spring there will be new dirt covering it. The path is still there but it’s shallow and small and you don’t have to fall into walking it. In the meantime if you build more positive paths they will become easier and easier to find.
One of the biggest realizations I had is that happiness isn’t something that happens to you. It’s a choice.
(1) Lydia was describing her experience getting out of depression, but her insights (“the mind is like a forest floor”) are equally applicable to negative and positive thinking generally, particularly for startups where vision and optimism are so important.
(2) On positive thinking, see also: (i) Ideas spread inside a company due to positive energy; 8 ways to increase it, and (ii) By the end of your talk or presentation, you should be talking love.
(3) The excerpt is from Soulstrong, a site containing photos and interviews about depression at MIT. The interviews are moving, thought provoking and beautifully written.
(4) Cf. (i) The psychology of startup founders, (ii) Startup founder psychology: Between euphoria and terror and (iii) Finally, someone understands: What it’s like to be a CEO.
(5) I’ve put this post in a new section on Work Skills and Lifehacks in my thematic index of best practices for startups.
Edited excerpt from How to Be On Time Every Time by Dustin Wax:
A lot of the time we let ourselves show up late because the event we’re showing up to isn’t all that important to us. Try this: don’t schedule events that aren’t that important to you. Use that time for things that are important to you.
I know, there are a lot of things in your life that feel obligatory, like the weekly status report meeting at work, or dinner at your spouse’s or partner’s parents. Either make those things important to you, or figure out how to cut them from your calendar.
(1) The article then lists some useful suggestions for how to be more punctual, such as: not checking your email or voicemail right before you leave; adding 25% to your time estimate to get anywhere or do any task; getting everything ready for morning meetings the night before; and entering appointments 10 mins early in your calendar.
(2) But I think the insight quoted above is more important. We’re often late to events because we’re ambivalent about whether we really want to be there (or whether they justify the time including travel). Dustin Wax’s solution is to force ourselves to decide: either attend with a full heart and arrive on time, or say “no”.
(3) Reasons to “do it right or not at all”: latecomers hurt the productivity of everyone who has to wait, and demoralize the people who turn up on time and make them feel disrespected. And in Dustin’s words, “people who are habitually late (or are late even once, when it counts) project incompetence, self-centeredness, and even a lack of integrity”.
(4) Related: How much of other people’s time do you waste?
Edited excerpt from Ten Valentine’s Day tips for a loving marriage by Talli Rosenbaum:
1. Be nice and be respectful. It may sound obvious, but I often hear the words “I just want him/her to be nice to me.”
2. Don’t take one another for granted. Remember to express appreciation for even the most mundane tasks.
3. Be curious, not defensive. If your partner seems upset, anxious or depressed, and snaps at you, don’t assume he/she is angry with you. Staying non-reactive and curious will allow you to provide the space to really listen.
4. Provide empathy. When your partner is feeling down, you may be tempted to judge, analyze, provide a solution, or try to rid your partner of his/her negative emotions. The best thing to say may just be “I am sorry you’re upset” followed by “What can I do?”
5. Fight fair. All couples fight, but it’s how you fight that matters. Do not threaten or blame. Try to be specific rather than use words such as “always” or “never.” Express remorse authentically and make sure to recover from the dispute with words of affirmation.
6. Be honest and authentic. This helps to create safety and security in the relationship.
7. Be direct. Don’t hesitate to invite your partner to hear what you want and what you need.
8. Be aware of each other’s triggers. Be sensitive to your partner’s sensitivities and what may make her/him reactive.
9. Stay un-enmeshed. Healthy boundaries, autonomy, and the space necessary for developing outside hobbies and friendships keep the relationship infused with vitality and interest.
10. Spend quality time together. Turn off your devices. Take walks, and talk.
(1) Talli wrote her article for couples. Look what happens if you apply this to work relationships.
(2) Cf. (i) Genuine praise, (ii) How to resist emotional triggers, (iii) A better way to view people, and (iv) How to deal with anger at work.
Edited excerpt from Thinking Outside the Cube by Olga Khazan:
One of VoloMetrix’s services is a personal dashboard that shows employees how much of other people’s time they consume by sending e-mails or holding meetings. The tool attempts to estimate how efficient each meeting is, based on measures like how many people attend and how many e-mails are sent during the gathering—a sign of low engagement. The dashboards reportedly free up an average of about two hours a week for each employee.
(1) Simple solution to people emailing in meetings: Stop doing large meetings!
(2) For ways to reduce excess email, see How to get stuff done.
Edited excerpt from How to get rid of anger by Eric Barker:
How can you control emotions of anger in yourself? Here’s how:
— Suppress rarely. They may not know you’re angry but you’ll feel worse inside and hurt the relationship.
— Don’t vent. Communication is good but venting just increases anger. Distract yourself.
— Reappraisal (changing the story you’re telling yourself about the event) is usually the best option. Think to yourself, “It’s not about me. They must be having a bad day.”
Sometimes someone gets under your skin and suppression is the only thing you can do. And sometimes reappraisal can cause you to tolerate bad situations you need to get out of. But that said, telling yourself a more compassionate story about what’s going on inside the other person’s head is usually the best way to go.
And what’s the final step in getting rid of that anger over the long haul so you can maintain good relationships? Forgive. Forgiveness makes you less angry and more healthy.
(1) On interpersonal relationships at work, see also: A better way to view people and Ideas spread inside a company due to positive energy; 8 ways to increase it.
(2) On managing emotions and pressure, see: How to stay calm under immense work pressure — Charlie O’Donnell and How to stay calm under immense work pressure — Jason Lemkin.
Edited excerpt from 10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman: What I Learned by Ben Casnocha:
People are complicated and flawed. Root for their better angels.
Too often, people classify someone’s competence or character in black and white terms. He’s brilliant or he’s an idiot. She’s got a heart of gold or she’s an asshole. He’s an ethical prince or a conniving win-at-all-costs hustler. It’s an unfortunate tendency. Expertise is always relative. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future, as Oscar Wilde said. People are complicated.
Reid Hoffman is widely known as the ultimate connector. One of his underrated gifts is that he maintains very complicated portraits of the people he knows. He appreciates the full spectrum of strengths and weaknesses of a particular person. He’ll acknowledge a friend’s character flaw — say, self-centeredness — but also their unique strengths. Flaws that cause others to completely disengage are, for Reid, “navigable” en route to their better side.
Reid forgives mistakes in his friends. If you make a mistake (or three) or if a weakness of yours gets exposed – you’re not dead to him. It’s just another data point in a rich tapestry in a long-term relationship. He’ll rarely let a single failure or shortcoming overshadow your successes or noble aspirations. And he’ll always root for your better angels to prevail. It’s no wonder his friends are so loyal to him.
It’s a philosophy that reminds me of my late friend Seth Roberts, who promoted an “appreciative” approach to life. When evaluating someone, instead of starting with their weaknesses, first ask what’s uniquely excellent about them. When evaluating a study, first ask what we can learn from it, instead of jumping to a critique of the study’s flaws. Let an appreciative point of view imbue everything you do.
(1) Implications for managers: Try to place each person in a role where their strengths have the biggest impact and their weaknesses and flaws don’t matter.
(2) Then, you can celebrate your team’s strengths and be forgiving of people’s flaws.
Edited excerpt from Get Better Sleep: 5 Powerful New Tips From Research by Eric Barker:
1. Avoid smartphones and devices at night. But they’re great when you’re dealing with jet lag.
2. A good nightly routine is key. No alcohol before bed, think positive thoughts, and write down worries to dismiss them.
3. Naps are awesome. Just keep them under 30 minutes. Drink a cup of coffee before you lay down.
4. Sleeping in two chunks is natural. Get up and do something for a little while and then go back to bed.
5. Your body goes through sleep cycles of 90 minutes, so plan your sleep in 90 minute blocks.
Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. We stay up surfing the net or watching Netflix. How can we behave better? Forget the morning alarm clock; set an alarm to remind you when to go to bed.
In How to Give and Receive Feedback at Work, Buffer suggests that these are requirements for giving effective feedback:
- The feedback provider is credible in the eyes of the feedback recipient.
- The feedback provider is trusted by the feedback recipient.
- The feedback is conveyed with good intentions.
- The timing and the circumstances of giving the feedback are appropriate.
- The feedback is given in an interactive manner.
- The feedback message is clear.
- The feedback is helpful to the recipient.
(1) Note the stark contrast between this and the McKinsey feedback model.
(2) The McKinsey feedback model is far more powerful because it’s a fact-based framework rather than a relationship-based framework. Feedback is about “This is what I need from you to get my job done”, rather than “I’m in a trusted relationship with you, my intentions are good, I’m doing you a favor”.
(3) Bottom line: if the feedback is irrefutable, actionable and helps you get your job done, nothing else matters.
(4) Note that giving your team effective feedback is not the same as coaching them, one of Laszlo Bock’s requirements for being a good manager.
Edited excerpt from Little Things by Ben Horowitz:
Andy Grove said: “I have seen far too many people who upon recognizing today’s gap try very hard to determine what decision has to be made to close it. But today’s gap represents a failure of planning some time in the past.”
If you are worried about the quarter, you might think that it’s a good idea to call your head of sales twice a day to get the status. By doing so, you might think you are creating the appropriate sense of urgency. In reality, you are just distracting her from closing the quarter twice a day.
While it’s correct to worry about the big issues, you must resist the urge to act on them directly. Before acting, you should first translate the big thing into a related set of little things.
For example, if you are worried about making the quarter, then you should go on a few sales calls and see if you are selling your product in the most effective way possible. Are your sales people properly trained? Do they run a process that puts your product in the very best light and sets appropriate traps for your competitors? Are you selling at the right level in the organization? Is your product truly competitive?
As you get the answers to these questions, you will develop more constructive little things to take action on. These little things might not help you make this quarter, but they will certainly help you make next quarter.
Edited excerpt from How Not to Let the Crazy In by Charlie O’Donnell:
1. Take care of your physical self.
2. Consider the worst case scenarios and have a plan for them.
3. Always try to do your best work, but know and accept your limits.
4. Try to think as linearly as possible.
5. Don’t accept other people’s timelines as your own.
6. Be extremely protective of your time.
7. Get an assistant.
8. Reverse engineer the life you want to live.
9. Let other people in.
10. Get rid of the people and relationships that drain you.
(1) The only one of these that doesn’t resonate for me personally is “get an assistant”. Perhaps that’s because scheduling is far more onerous for a VC (Charlie is a VC) than for a product-centric CEO.
(2) Cf. How to stay calm under immense work pressure — Jason Lemkin.
From Principles, by Ray Dalio:
I learned that everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses and that one of the most important things that differentiates people is their approach to handling them. I learned that there is an incredible beauty to mistakes, because embedded in each mistake is a puzzle, and a gem that I could get if I solved it, i.e., a principle that I could use to reduce my mistakes in the future. I learned that each mistake was probably a reflection of something that I was (or others were) doing wrong, so if I could figure out what that was, I could learn how to be more effective. I learned that wrestling with my problems, mistakes, and weaknesses was the training that strengthened me. Also, I learned that it was the pain of this wrestling that made me and those around me appreciate our successes.
In short, I learned that being totally truthful, especially about mistakes and weaknesses, led to a rapid rate of improvement.
(1) Thank you Guy Cohen for the tip.
(2) I often say to people in Seeking Alpha: “Bad is good!”. It sounds Orwellian, but it means this: If we’re doing something badly, there’s opportunity to fix it, and opportunity for upside. If we’re doing everything perfectly, there’s no opportunity for upside. So problems and mistakes = upside potential.
(3) The key is to ascribe mistakes and problems to weaknesses in a process, not to personal failings. The mistake is therefore a gift — it exposed a weakness in your underlying process which you can now fix.
(4) Is there a psychological similarity to How to view rejection?
Edited excerpt from Jason Lemkin‘s answer to How do CEO’s stay calm?:
1. You must fake it. You cannot let anyone see you look like you are losing control. Ever. Once they see that… they will lose faith.
2. You need help. Ideally, 1, 2, or 3 others on the management team that can really help carry the load. So you don’t have to worry about 1, 2 or 3 key functional areas, at least not at an execution level. If you don’t have true help carrying the load — stop. Do almost nothing else. Recruit someone.
3. You need a break. In fact, lots of them. Some way. I ran 26 miles a week, and took long walks to think. Coffee is good too, if you take it away from the office. Something. Get breaks.
4. You need someone to confide in. At least one. One person you can really share the things with that make you …un-calm. One great advisor, whoever it is.
5. Once the business is real, self-sustaining — you need to take a real vacation. Not just a trip where you email 4 hours a day. A real vacation. Honestly, it may be 4-5 years until you can do this. But once you can, it will help a lot.
(1) Jason was answering a question specifically about CEOs. But this applies to all managers.
(2) A key element of immense work pressure for managers is the burden of making decisions. So think about limiting decision fatigue.
(3) “You cannot let anyone see you look like you are losing control” — see Tony Schwartz’ advice on how to resist emotional triggers.
Cameron Purdy‘s answer to From the perspective of a CEO, what are the most underrated skills most employees lack?:
Ownership / stewardship – the #1 attribute for someone to be valuable to a team and to an organization.
Humility / listening ability – the #1 attribute for someone to be able to grow as a person, as a team member, and potentially as a leader.
(1) Re. ownership / stewardship: key factors (in my experience) are taking responsibility for results, ability to recognize when things aren’t working, willingness to ask for help.
(2) Re. humility / listening ability: the most important advice I give VPs in Seeking Alpha is “Ask questions more”. This is particularly true in 1:1s with me. “Perhaps you don’t ask questions enough because you feel a need to demonstrate how competent you are. Understand that I have faith in you. I’ve given you a position of responsibility (= ownership). I’m rooting for you to succeed. You have nothing to prove in conversations with me. (Your success is defined by your metrics.) So there’s no need to tell me stuff. Get from me whatever you can so you’ll be more successful. You can only do that if you ask questions and share your problems.”
(3) There are three areas where VPs should ask their CEO questions: (i) Have I understood my goals correctly? (ii) Have I understood your input correctly? (iii) Can you help me solve my problems and achieve my goals?
(4) Companies mirror their founders. If your VPs don’t ask enough questions and listen to you enough, that suggests you don’t ask them enough questions and listen to them enough.
(5) Thank you Persha Valman for the tip.
From My First $100K in Monthly Revenue: An Interview With Hiten Shah by Alex Turnbull:
I’ll never forget one time when I was struggling for weeks with a specific product design challenge; it was a boring one, but there was a UX issue that was causing a lot of friction for our users. I had our design team try everything I could think of to make the interaction smoother. But no matter what we did, nothing really helped all that much.
One day, I was having lunch with a friend and I was telling him about the issue we were having. “Yeah, we went through the same thing”, he said. “As soon as we tried [simple but non-obvious fix], it went away.” We built and pushed my friend’s simple fix that afternoon, and just like that, the problem was solved.
That was when I truly internalized something that seems pretty obvious (though I had largely ignored it before): I am not special. Every single challenge that I’ve had has been solved before, and it’s exponentially easier and more efficient to start with those solutions and adapt them to my business, than it is to start from scratch each time. That was when I started reading every business book and blog I could get my hands on, and taking every meeting I could to learn from people smarter, more experienced and further along in their careers than I am.
(1) Cf. Should you blog (or tweet)?
I apologize for this being an atypical post — it’s long, and rather than being a quote from someone else, it’s my own. The background is this. In the notes on the excerpt about the problems with collaboration, I referenced a doc I’d written called How to get stuff done in Seeking Alpha. A few readers asked for the doc, so here it is:
HOW TO GET STUFF DONE IN SEEKING ALPHA
Be clear about what you need to get done
- People who get stuff done have a clear agenda. Your agenda flows from your (or your team’s) goal and key metric. What do you need to get done to achieve your goal and amazing success in your key metric?
- You can rarely get multiple things done at once (unless you manage other people and can delegate goals and responsibilities to them). So prioritization is key. People who get stuff done always know their top priorities at any given moment. You shouldn’t have more than 3 top priorities at any time, and you should know them without having to write them down. (Though writing them down for yourself can help you to clarify and focus on them.)
- A checklist of questions to ask yourself: (1) In what way does this help me to achieve my goal and metric? (2) Why is this one of my top three priorities?
Go for quick wins
- A “Quick Win” is a small project you can get done fast which leads to tangible results.
- Quick wins are crucial because you learn from successes, not from failures. When you achieve a quick win, your added knowledge changes your perspective, and opens up new opportunities. Since the biggest goal of a startup is to “figure things out”, quick wins are the fastest way to do that as they allow you to learn the fastest.
- Quick wins are also crucial for motivation. People are motivated by making progress in meaningful work. Quick wins are the best way to achieve that.
- Practical advice: Suppose you’re choosing between a project with a low probability of success but a big impact if it’s successful, and a project with a high probability of success but a smaller impact if it’s successful. Always go for the project with the highest probability of success, not the project with the highest probability weighted outcome.
Don’t let small projects become large projects before they launch
- It’s very tempting when you have a good idea to think about all the great opportunities or features that would make it truly amazing. You can find yourself turning a small project into a large project before it’s launched.
- The problem with this is that large projects almost always have a lower probability of success than small projects, because they’re more complex. So the more you add to a project, the weaker the case becomes for pursuing it. (That’s because you should always go for projects with the highest probability of success, not not the project with the highest probability weighted outcome.) So you can find that when you add to a project, it becomes so large that you then don’t do it. In Seeking Alpha, we call this bloat and burn. You bloated the project, and then it got burned up because it was too large a commitment.
- The other reason not to bloat projects is that you succeed most by getting things “out there” and then learning from them. If you add extra features before a project launches, you might find that those features weren’t necessary, or weren’t the most important ones to add.
- So the key question to ask yourself is: What’s the minimum necessary to get this project or product launched? In lean startup terminology, this is called minimum viable product, or MVP. But it doesn’t only apply to products; it also applies to projects.
Maximize what you can get done on your own
- You have most power over your own actions. Anything which requires collaboration with other people is harder to get done and the outcome is less certain. So maximize the number of things which you can get done without involving other people. You always want to be running a sprint on your own, rather than the “three-legged race” with someone else.
- If you find you’re dependent on other people to get stuff done, ask yourself how you can decouple yourself from them. What do you need to be able to work independently of them? It’s always better to eliminate the need for collaboration altogether than to figure out how to collaborate well.
Before you ask for help from others, get as far along as possible on your own
- It’s easier to achieve things which don’t require help from others. So even when you know you’ll need someone else’s help or input, first get as much done as you can on your own.
- People in SA are amazing collaborators. They’re happy to help other people, even if doing so means spending time on things which don’t further their own goals and metrics. But you shouldn’t expect people to help you before you’ve done your own work.
- So before you ask someone else for help with something, make sure you’ve thought through the issues carefully, have written down as much as you can (see below), and have got as far as you can on your own.
- Showing that you’ve put meaningful work into the issue before you ask for help not only means you get more done faster, but it also generates goodwill from people whose help you’re asking for. When they see hard evidence of the time, effort and thought that you have put into the issue before you asked for their help, they’ll respect you and will take the issue more seriously. They’ll be more likely to give you the help you need.
Identify the key person you need to collaborate with, and don’t involve anyone else
- Minimize the number of people you need to collaborate with. It’s enough to run the three-legged race; don’t make it the four-legged race or the five-legged race unnecessarily.
- So if you need to collaborate with other people, think about the one person you most need to help you. Concentrate on them before you involve anyone else.
Be explicit about what you need from people
- When you ask someone for help, your goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to help you.
- Be as explicit as possible about the deliverables you’re requesting from them. They can’t help you if they don’t know exactly what you want from them.
Minimize your “ask” of other people’s time
- Ask yourself: “What’s the smallest amount of time I need from this person to get this done?” And then keep your ask to that minimum. So, for example, if you need someone to update your team, don’t ask them to attend your entire team meeting if they are only adding value for a fraction of that time. Ask them to come for five minutes, deliver exactly what you need them to deliver to your team, and then they can leave.
- Great people have short meetings and short phone calls, and write short emails, because they respect other’s time.
Bundles are always less efficient and less focused. So try to keep phone calls, emails, meetings and documents to a single topic.
- Meetings become exponentially less effective the more people are in them. The optimal number of people in a meeting is two. If you have to collaborate with more than one person, try to do one on one meetings or phone calls with each of them instead of a group discussion, because it’s more time efficient for them and therefore more respectful of their time. (One on one conversations will also probably be more effective for you.) Then, if you need to, circle back and tell them the results of all your conversations.
- Avoid multi-people conference calls. They’re highly inefficient, so it’s not fair to invite people to them. Most people end up doing email while they’re dialed into a conference call.
Write it down
- Documenting things helps you to think them through. Often, before you write something down, you think you’ve thought something through. And then you start writing, and lots of questions emerge that you hadn’t thought of. Writing things down is an amazing tool for achieving clarity.
- Writing things down also makes collaboration easier. Other people can read and reread a written document and think about the issues. In contrast, in person or phone conversations force people to react immediately without having time to consider the issues carefully. (In Amazon, every strategy meeting starts with time to read a paper on the topic prepared by the “owner”.)
- Sharing written materials is particularly important when you’re working with people in different time zones. They can read the document and think about it while you’re asleep, and get back to you in time for the start of your next day. Unlike a phone discussion, sharing something in written form doesn’t require that both parties be working at the same moment.
- Sharing a high-quality written document with others shows them that you’ve put the work in yourself.
- Google docs are easier to comment on than emails, are easier to format, and don’t get lost in people’s inboxes. Emails are more direct, and can get someone’s attention fast.
Tips for writing emails to get things done
- When you send an email to someone, the goal of your email is to make it as easy as possible for them to help you. So before you send the email, make sure you know exactly what you need from them, and keep your email laser focused on that.
- Try to avoid CCing people. If you really need something from someone, they should be in the “To” line, and you should write their name at the beginning of the email so there’s no doubt that the email is meant for them. If someone is only important enough to appear in the CC line, ask yourself whether they should be copied on the email at all. If you still want to include someone in the CC line, explain at the beginning of your email why you’ve CCd them.
- There’s no need to CC your manager on emails. You should update your manager about your progress on key projects in a one-on-one, not by CCing your manager on emails you write to other people.
- Subject line: put thought into the subject line to make it as effective as possible. The goal of the subject line is to help the recipient understand exactly what’s being asked of them. So be explicit about the topic, and where possible, your request of them. For this reason, don’t forward emails with a subject line which is unhelpful to the person you’re forwarding it to. Edit the subject line for them.
- Be explicit as you can in the email about what you need from the other person. You can even use phrases like “Action item for you:…”. What exactly do you need them to do, and why?
- Don’t make the recipient of your email read a thread. It’s extra work for them — and your goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to help you.
- Keep your emails as short as possible.
- Put time into drafting your emails carefully. Read over each email before you send it, and ask yourself whether it’s clear, and whether there’s anything non-essential you can cut out.
- Emails have advantages over phone calls: you can draft emails more carefully, the recipient can read them multiple times to ensure they’ve understood the email, and they enable people in different time zones to progress rapidly without requiring both people to be online together. Phone calls also have advantages: they are more personal, are better suited for anything emotional or sensitive, and can be more effective for eliminating misunderstandings. Sometimes the best approach is to use both, particularly if you keep your emails and phone calls short.
Edited excerpt from How To Be Successful: 6 New Shortcuts Backed By Research by Eric Barker:
“It’s easier to make something 10 times better than to make something 10% better” — Astro Teller, head of Google X.
When you try to make something 10% better, your brain is burdened with all the baggage that came before. You have no room to maneuver. When you say 10 times better, you have to reinvent the whole process. It makes you think big.
If you’re aiming for 10% improvement you are going to work within the conventional bounds of what normally happens in your product or industry. If you say that this has to be 10 times better, then it forces you to get down to the first principle of what is most essential. This is a way to force reinvention, which is really what innovation is.
Perhaps most importantly, when you think 10x instead of 10%, you behave differently. Research shows when you set bolder, more audacious goals you work harder than when you’re reasonable. Subconsciously, we actually push ourselves harder when we’re going after bigger, loftier, harder goals. Research shows people who set higher goals end up outperforming their peers or themselves because they push themselves harder or because they force themselves to find more creative, alternative, unconventional solutions to problems.
Excerpt (edited) from You Can’t Learn from Failure, You Can Only Learn from Success by Jerry Neuman:
Any complicated system is too complicated to learn from failure. Yes, you can learn a few tricks, like: “don’t spend all your money on fancy chairs” or “don’t hire your college drinking buddies as EVPs of Business Development.” But all you can learn from failure is to avoid that particular kind of failure. And so what? There are too many other kinds of failure for that to make any difference. You need to learn from success. You should be spending your time trying to learn from success.
The successful entrepreneurs I have known have had the ability to look at a failure, any failure, and pull out the couple of things that were done right. These are what they focused on.
If you’re going to learn from failure you need to learn how to avoid every possible way you can fail. It’s a waste of your time. You only need to learn one way to succeed.
From Why You Should Seek Quiet Every Day by Herbert Lui:
Every day at around 3PM, my brain gets weary. I’ve tried numerous techniques to counter this challenge:
– Coffee (especially when McDonald’s was giving away free smalls)
– Splashing cold water on my face
– Wandering around online
Yet I’ve found one technique to be the most effective: going for a walk. The longest stroll I’ve taken is around 10 minutes, and I just wander around the block.
(1) Cf. Walking meetings.
(2) See also: Two benefits of walking meetings.
From How Barack Obama Gets Things Done by Sean Blanda:
“I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing,” he told Michael Lewis. “Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making. For instance, judges in court have been shown to make less favorable decisions later in the day than early in the day. Decision fatigue may also lead to consumers making poor choices with their purchases.
Note: This is one of the reasons why it’s important to delegate goals, not tasks. You can’t make decisions for everyone in your company.
From The 30 second habit with a lifelong impact by Robyn Scott:
If you only do one thing, do this: Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or any significant experience, take 30 seconds — no more, no less — to write down the most important points.
I’ve been trying it out for a few months. Here’s what I’ve found so far:
– It’s not note taking
– It’s hard work
– Detail is a trap
– You must act quickly
– You learn to listen better, and ask better questions
– You’re able to help others more
– It gets easier and more valuable
Thank you Daniel Reidler for the tip.
From 7 Tips to Help You Remember Names Better by Laura Hale Brockway:
- Pay attention to the person’s name when it’s said.
- Say the name aloud as soon as possible.
- Comment on the name.
- Associate the name with something meaningful.
- Form a visual association between the face and the name.
- Keep looking at the person’s name tag or business card.
From Exhaustive lists as a reliable tool for unsticking yourself by Seth Godin:
When in doubt, or when it’s just not good enough, make an exhaustive list.
– Every successful product in this category that you’ve ever used, and why
– Every reason your current project might not work
– Every reason you can think of to use what you’ve made
The challenge of every is that it’s exhausting. You have to go to the edges, and that act, the act of going beyond the obvious, is where innovation lies.
(1) Making an exhaustive list requires you to write things down; that in itself increases clarity.
(2) Seth Godin’s posts show how you can say much with few words, if you have extreme clarity about the topic or issue.
From Confidence is a choice, not a symptom by Seth Godin:
It’s easy to feel confident when we’re on a roll, when the cards are going our way, or we’re closing sales right and left. This symptomatic confidence, one built on a recent series of successes, isn’t particularly difficult to accomplish or useful.
Effective confidence comes from within, it’s not the result of external events. The confident salesperson is likely to close more sales. The confident violinist expresses more of the music. The confident leader points us to the places we want (and need) to go.
You succeed because you’ve chosen to be confident.
But how do you get confidence “from within”? Is it as simple as making a choice to be confident? For me, confidence comes from thinking deeply about what we’re trying to achieve, and why that will benefit people. When you really believe in your vision, you’re confident — even when times are tough — that you’ll succeed.
From Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler:
In starting our outbound sales team, we didn’t get a budget for my project beyond my own compensation. In fact, looking back, if I had had a big budget or a bunch of people to tell what to do, I wouldn’t have been forced to get so creative in solving the problem of how to predictably generate new pipeline for the sales organization.
(1) In other words: We often think constraints restrict our opportunities. But in fact constraints drive creativity.
(2) Other examples:
– In team meetings he runs, HP manager Simon Lewis restricts the time allotted for each person’s update to one minute.
– Our managers have to write a monthly report which is capped at one page, forcing them to focus on what’s most important.
– Like Aaron Ross’s experience above, when we’ve adopted a tighter budget, we’ve often been more successful.
– There are extreme constraints in mobile app design which have likely produced better user experiences than on the web.
From 70% of Time Could Be Used Better by Bill Trenchard:
Not too long ago, the average human used to walk 12 miles a day. Now we sit. We sit a lot. We sit so much. It’s so bad for us that Harvard Business Review has called it the smoking of our generation. If you work in tech, you average 9.3 hours sitting every day. This is more than you sleep. As people, we’re meant to move. It’s vital to our health, but also our ability to be effective. Here are three quick hacks in this department:
1. The seven-minute workout. It’s scientifically proven. The New York Times has spoken. You do 12 exercises in seven minutes and it works.
2. Take walking meetings. Almost everyone has one-on-one meetings. Suggest taking a walk instead of sitting in a conference room or a coffee shop.
2. Ask for a standing desk. Most offices now accommodate these requests. They’ve been proven to reduce risks of heart disease and cancer and boost mood and alertness. And if you’re really committed to daily movement, try a walking desk.
From If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough by Chris Dixon:
One of the great things about looking for a job is that your “payoff” is almost always a max function (the best of all attempts), not an average. This is also generally true for raising VC financing, doing bizdev partnerships, hiring programmers, finding good advisors/mentors, even blogging and marketing. I probably got rejected by someone once a day last week alone. In one case a friend who tried to help called me to console me. He seemed surprised when I told him: “no worries – this is a daily occurrence – we’ll just keep trying.” If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough.
On which Nivi commented:
People that reject me are doing me a favor. They’re not rejecting me or my product. They’re rejecting the combination of me and them together. They’re telling me we would have a bad relationship. And they’re probably right.
Excerpts from The Surprisingly Large Cost of Telling Small Lies by Rebekah Campbell:
Recently, I caught up with one of our angel investors for lunch: Peter. “The secret to success in business and in life is to never, ever, ever tell a lie,” he said.
A study by the University of Massachusetts found that 60 percent of adults could not have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once.
Peter has invested in hundreds of businesses. Every time he sees a pitch, he waits until the end of the presentation before asking the entrepreneurs to go back through the deck and point out every lie they have just told.
Peter maintains that telling lies is the No. 1 reason entrepreneurs fail. Not because telling lies makes you a bad person but because the act of lying plucks you from the present, preventing you from facing what is really going on in your world. Every time you overreport a metric, underreport a cost, are less than honest with a client or a member of your team, you create a false reality and you start living in it.
(Thanks Yigal Grayeff for the tip.)
Excerpt from Greg McKeown:
There are three steps to it:
Step 1: Affirm the relationship. e.g. “It really is good to hear from you.”
Step 2: Thank the person sincerely for the opportunity. e.g. “Thank you ever so much for thinking of me! It sounds like such a brilliant project. I am complimented that you thought of me.”
Step 3: Decline firmly and politely. e.g.For several reasons I need to pass on this at the moment.
From Scott Adams, the famous creator of Dilbert, in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big:
Children are accustomed to a continual stream of criticisms and praise, but adults can go weeks without a compliment while enduring criticism both at work and at home. Adults are starved for a kind word. When you understand the power of honest praise (as opposed to bullshitting, flattery, and sucking up), you realize that withholding it borders on immoral. If you see something that impresses you, a decent respect to humanity insists you voice your praise.
Excerpted from Tony Schwartz:
We have all experienced a “trigger” — the feeling of being pushed into a negative emotion by something that someone says or does. A trigger is actually a perceived threat, and it prompts a physiological shift that we know as “fight or flight.” …Fight and flight are equally dysfunctional the vast majority of the time.
The first key to managing triggers is to become aware, sooner, when they begin to arise. The signs are usually physical: a flushing in the face, a tightening in the chest, a rising heartbeat, the desire to strike out or withdraw.
Whichever one you’re compelled to do, don’t. If you’re a fighter, step back. If you tend to flee, stay engaged.
You can’t think logically once you’re in fight or flight, so instead focus on quieting your physiology. Take a few deep breaths, in through your nose to a count of three, out through your mouth to a count of six. Feel your feet, to ground yourself. As your body calms down, your emotions will follow suit and your mind will begin to clear.
Once I get my wits about me, I’ve found two sorts of reflection help most. “What part of this is my responsibility?” [and] “Who is the person I want to be in this situation?” Or even more specifically, “How would I behave here at my best?”
From Working With McKinsey (via Robert Lakin):
The McKinsey Feedback Model is the approach the Firm recommends for delivering feedback… The intent of the model is to make the feedback:
- Less personal
Recommended format for structured feedback: “When you did [X], it made me feel [Y]. In the future, I would recommend that you do [Z]”
Why we reference specific, observable actions: The more specific the example, the more vivid and memorable the feedback. Being fact-based keeps the feedback from feeling too personal to the recipient. The first part is incontrovertible, as long as you remembered and communicated it correctly.
Why we include how it made us feel: Explaining how the recipient’s action made you feel [Y] is also unarguable – your feelings and reactions are your own and no one can deny them. The intent of the first two steps is to set the stage for giving the recommendation without getting derailed by debating the context.
Why suggestions have to be specific and actionable: The point of providing feedback is so that we can improve. If someone receives feedback that is too vague or beyond their control, it does nothing to help them do better the next time. Feedback should be provided in such a way that if the feedback recipient does what you recommend, it will solve the problem and prevent [X] and [Y] from occurring again.
Example: “When you checked in on my progress every 10 minutes, it made me feel like you didn’t trust me to complete the project and I couldn’t maintain my focus on the task. In the future, I would suggest we agree upon specific milestones and check-in points to ensure the project will be completed on time.”
Ben Breen quotes Von Hammerstein-Equord:
I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.
Ben then argues that clever and lazy people make good modern business leaders because they:
- insist on taking the time and space required to create, and to find new ways forward;
- are natural delegators;
- are always looking for simpler, easier ways to do things;
- focus on the essentials, and despise ‘busywork’;
But perhaps a better description than “lazy” would be “always looking for scalable solutions which reduce brute labor and complexity”. My experience is that finding those solutions requires hard work.
Eric Barker, arguing that Positive energy leads to innovation, lists the following ways to increase it:
- At work, make time to connect with others as people
- Do what you say you’re going to do
- Make it bigger than your wants
- Acknowledge the positives, not just the problems
- Criticize ideas, not people
- Be visibly and sincerely enthusiastic
- Looks for ways to allow others to contribute
- Don’t let your expertise make others feel inferior