One of the most addictive podcasts out there, in our opinion, is NPR’s How I Built This, with Guy Raz. Every episode takes you on an adventure, from the birth of an idea, whether by accident or on purpose, or even out of necessity, through trials and failures, hard work and perseverance, perfect timing and a bit of good luck here and there, and an inevitable happy ending. Because these are the successful brands we’ve all heard of.
There are tips, tricks and inspiration to be gleaned from every episode, but one of our many favorites is an interview with Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard. What’s perhaps most fascinating about it, is the fact that he truly does not want fame or fortune. In fact, he has tried many times to slow growth in order to keep the company small. But despite his efforts, Patagonia continues to grow and have record-breaking years.
So, what tips can we learn from the man with unstoppable growth and success? Below are some highlights from his episode.
7 Lessons to Adopt
**Note: This is not a word for word transcript on the various parts of the episode. The ideas themselves are from Yvon Chouinard, although we’ve paraphrased where appropriate. Listen to the entire podcast here when you get a chance!
If I get an idea, I immediately take a step forward. If that seems right I take another step. If it doesn’t feel right, I take a step back.
Try to grow slowly, because there are two kinds of growth. Growing stronger or growing fat.We wanted to grow slowly, so all decisions were made as if we would be around for 100 years.
This company (Patagonia) is the resource I have, and I should use that resource to show a different way of doing business.
Once I decided I was a businessman, I learned everything I could about it. I studied every kind of business style, from all over the world.
Hire motivated, young, independent people and leave them alone. But you can’t just decide one day to adopt this. You have to start with the very first hire. “Ant colonies don’t have bosses, they know their job and they get it done.”
If you want to be successful in business, you just have to do it differently. Do it how no one else has thought about. Break the rules. Do it better.
The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. Everything pulls you to be more and more complex. But if we go to a more simple life, it won’t be an impoverished life, it’s going to be really rich.
We love his overall approach to business and life. It seems more common these days to hear about the need to do more, consume more, or to buy one more piece of technology in order to truly succeed. But Yvon shows how success can be achieved through living simply, caring for others and the environment, and taking your time to do it right. Check out his full episode and take a moment to get inspired by some of the other amazing guests on this podcast as well!
People have personalities, businesses have them too. And they’re called ‘Core Values’.
When you started your business, you had a reason—a “why”. Maybe it was to break out of the mold, or to be the boss for once. Maybe you wanted more money, more control or saw an opportunity you just had to seize. Whatever the reason, you probably (hopefully) started by sitting down and making a business plan that included your goals, a mission and a vision statement—the “what” and the “how” that would drive every business decision you’d make.
Since then, perhaps your company has grown and you’ve hired some talented people to help you carry out that vision, and wherever there is a group of people—in this case, you may call them your “employees”, “staff” or your “team”—a culture exists. And culture is important. So important that many business owners or leaders decide to write “Core Values”. These core values are the culture deciders and drivers. They don’t claim what decisions your business will make; they claim how you will make decisions, do business, and interact as a team. They are the essence of your business’s identity.
So why does your business need them?
First, Core Values tell people what your business cares about.
This includes both your employees and your existing and potential customers.
When your employees’ values are aligned with your business’s values, “people understand one another, everyone does the right things for the right reasons, and this common purpose and understanding helps people build great working relationships. When values are out of alignment, people work towards different goals, with different intentions, and with different outcomes. This can damage work relationships, productivity, job satisfaction, and creative potential.” (Mind Tools)
Second, core values set your business apart.
According to Leadpages.net, the “About” section is typically one of the four most visited areas of your website. People care about what your business cares about. They want to know what makes your company different from the guy next door who can do the same thing. So, when your business has a set of core values that it is actually living and working out in the day-to-day, people will notice. And people will ultimately be drawn to the companies that value what they value.
So, where do you stand?
Here’s the thing. In order to be effective, core values must be more than a list of neatly worded statements. Especially in a world where we see countless headlines about companies large and small that lack integrity and accountability, your business’s Core Values must be available and known and practiced from the top down. If you’ve already written your business’s Core Values, take them out and read through them. Post them somewhere you’ll see them everyday. Re-disperse them to your employees. Talk about them in meetings. Memorize them.
If you’ve yet to write them, that’s okay! We believe it starts with where you first started out. It starts with tapping into the entrepreneur you were when you started your business—the one that wanted to do things better, differently, more honestly and with more integrity. Write down the personality that you want to see your business take on—the one that you want people to notice, not just on your “About” page but in the way you do business on a day-to-day basis.
One last thing.
We’re looking forward to sharing more about our Core Values in the coming weeks – what they mean to us, how they impact the way that we do business, and even how we’ve helped others with their core values and culture branding. Here’s what we’ve come up with and strive to live out every single day!
You take the time to make a list of goals and resolutions for the new year ahead. You care about your business and you want to see it grow and thrive. But as days turn into weeks, before you know it an entire month has flown by and you haven’t taken one actionable step towards your big goal…oh, and all of us are already back to eating carbs again.
Better luck next year, right?
Wrong. This is 2018. Twenty-GREAT-teen if you will. (Still on the fence about that one, but we’re goin’ with it for now.)
But more seriously, we get it. Life never slows down. You’re trying to keep your business running smoothly, and new goals and objectives inevitably take the back seat to the needs of your clients, making sure payroll goes out, bringing in new business, and the dozens of other tasks that have to be done each day. But you made those goals for a reason, and it’s not too late to get back on track and make them happen!
So while only about 8% of people typically keep their New Year’s Resolutions, with a few focused steps and a little motivation, we’re confident that we can easily boost that stat and be well on our way to our best year yet.
Revisit your goals
The first step towards accomplishing your business goals is the easiest one: just look at them again! So, open up that document from your New Year vision session. Bring out the notebook where you jotted down your late night hopes for your business this year. Take a moment to look at the goals that you set at the beginning of the year, and watch your motivation to make them happen reignite.
As you look at your goals, re-evaluate them using one very important filter: making sure your goals are SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
“The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something.”– Seth Godin
Take action: What are your SMART 2018 business goals?
Make your task list
“Increase revenue by 20%,” won’t get you very far without an actionable task list to help you get there. A task list takes one large, year-long goal and makes it attainable and realistic. Each item on that list is a tiny obstacle that must be overcome in order to achieve the larger goal, and checking items off a list is as rewarding as it is motivating. If this seems overwhelming at first, break up the journey to your goal into milestones. Then create your task lists to allow you to hit each milestone with ease and prioritize those tasks in an efficient way.
“I can give you a six-word formula for success: Think things through–then follow through.” —Edward Rickenbacker, World War I fighter ace
Take action: What steps are necessary to accomplish each of your goals?
Tasks are just a list of things you want to eventually do unless you set deadlines for each item on the list. Take the task list you just wrote and set realistic deadlines for each item. Making these items time-bound is especially important if you consider yourself a procrastinator. If there’s no deadline, it probably won’t happen.
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” – Paul J. Meyer
Take action: What date do you need to finish each task and milestone in order to accomplish your goal by the end of 2018?
Ask for help
We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Often, we allow our limitations to prevent us from achieving our goals. The truth is, not everyone can do everything. There are times we must get some help with checking the tasks off the list. Whether it’s an employee that you can delegate items to, or a 3rd party agency you can hire to take care of items outside of your skill or knowledge-base, make sure you are playing to your strengths and delegating when necessary.
“I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.”-Jeff Bezos
Take action: What are the items on your list that you’ll need help accomplishing? Who can help you do them?
Make it happen
Sometimes we allow fear, time limitations, or just general lack of focus or motivation keep us from doing what we want and need to do. There comes a point where we just need to do it. We can plan and dream and prepare, but none of it will happen if we don’t make it happen.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”– Walt Disney
Take action: What have you allowed to hold you back from accomplishing your goals in the past? How can you make sure that doesn’t get in the way this year?
So here’s to not giving up in 2018. Let’s do this.
The Top 5 Blog Moments of the Month from Seth Godin
Seth Godin hits “publish” on a blog post every. single. day. And it’s all, well, just really, really good. So, let’s take a break from envying his diligence or his focus or his team or whatever it is that keeps that content flowing and appreciate the top five moments from the last month.
“‘Compared to what?’ is not always a great question. It might be better to merely say, “this is pretty good.”
It’s widely understood these days that everything is airbrushed, touched up, or “photoshopped.” So much so, that when something isn’t, it gets recognized and celebrated.
A constant stream of other people’s airbrushed lives and advertiser’s airbrushed marketing ploys definitely takes its toll and if you’re not careful, “you’ll come to believe that you’re the only one with a less-than-perfect situation.”
Should we really be comparing ourselves to goldfish?
In 2015, Microsoft Canada released a study on people’s apparent shrinking attention spans. The study showed that due to technological advances, the average individual’s attention span was down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to 8 seconds —one second shorter than the attention span of your average goldfish.
I’m sure you’ve heard that statistic before, along with the goldfish reference. But what are the ramifications of that? Has this research on lack of attention span largely become an excuse for poor marketing?
We all end up playing the content marketing game, because, Content is King after all. Don’t get me wrong, we’re huge advocates of content marketing, we wouldn’t be writing this blog if we weren’t. But when that content marketing becomes about pushing out a huge quantity, or trying to be louder or more flashy in hopes of simply getting noticed, it often ends up aimlessly adding to the noise.
We’ve been told we have to capture their attention in several seconds so we throw everything against the wall and hope something sticks.
With a constant stream of noise and excitement jumping up and down for your customer’s attention, how do you get them to focus on you, your service, or your product? And then if you do get their attention on you, how do you hold onto it until they take action, or ‘convert’?
But wait, there’s more
There are differing opinions, though, that believe a shrinking attention span might not necessarily be the problem.
(Although it still is a problem.)
The issue of attention span, it seems, might actually just be a growing number of options to choose from. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
Take this, for example. It’s Friday night in the year 2000 and it’s time for your family to choose a movie for movie night. What do you do? You jump in the car and head to the local Blockbuster to see what they have. You take into account what’s age appropriate for your children, what you haven’t seen yet, and what’s left on the shelves and eventually a decision is made.
Fast forward to 2017 and the options are basically endless: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Vudu, HBO GO. They all have streaming options, not to mention that you can rent almost any movie on Apple Movies. Where do you even begin? How do you make a decision? Sometimes it seems like we take longer to choose a movie than the length of the movie itself!
Endless options and access creates new challenges and opportunities for marketing today.
It’s about accuracy and simplicity
It’s about getting your product in front of those who will find it useful, whose attention will be grabbed by it, whose focus will stay on it. It’s about reaching those who will find what you have to offer valuable.
Once you have reached this audience, it’s your job to not let them slip away. One of the most common reasons your prospect doesn’t convert, is because you’ve distracted them with too many options. Think about the one thing you want your customer to do at the moment they’ve found you, and focus on that.
Moral of the story?
Whether our attention span is actually shrinking or we’re just overwhelmed with options, we can say these things for sure. Know your audience. Don’t make the mistake of distracting them with multiple goals, calls to action, or other products or services you think they might need down the road. Take a focused approach, cut through the noise and effectively grab your audience’s attention.
Like many of you, we have had our share of trial and error experiences in gathering and implementing the perfect toolbox for our everyday tasks. And, full disclosure, I tend to be a bit of a shiny metal object guy when it comes to technology, productivity apps and awesome user interfaces. But while we have many apps and solutions in our arsenal of options, there are some tools that have become our favorite standards that our team uses on a daily basis.
Below is a list of our top go-to tools.
I’ve always said passwords are the bane of my existence. Having to think them up, figure out how to remember them, remember where I wrote them down, and worry about some hacker out there accessing my data because I used a weak password…I’m sure you all can relate. But 1Password has made them a bit more tolerable.
We use 1Password for Teams which allows us to set passwords and share them with each other within “vaults”. We have vaults for our development, marketing, and general office teams, in addition to our individual private vaults for passwords not shared with others. The password generator is easy to use and fills in the blanks automatically and then stores the password for future access. It’s a great timesaving tool that we use a lot every single day..
One of the most important aspects of our business, and what we teach all of our clients, is how to properly identify and set up customer journeys. Autopilot HQ makes this incredibly easy, with a user-friendly interface, and drag and drop functionality to connect each piece of the puzzle.
From capturing leads on your site through a heads-up display to adding appropriate delays between each optimized email, you can engage your contacts at the right time with just the right content. You can also connect Autopilot to Salesforce, Slack, Zapier and more to get a more complete view of all your contacts, map custom fields with CRM to see the actions those contacts take in real time, and then most importantly, track the data on everything.
It’s been a great tool to help us visualize our various journeys and connect the dots on many different pieces of our business!
Dropbox and Box
One aspect of our business that seems to be under constant refinement, is file management and storage. While there’s always room for improvement as existing tools are updated and new tools are released, this system has been working for us most recently.
We use Dropbox for sharing most files on a day-to-day basis. Our team shares folders set up for clients and projects and we can easily share links to those outside our team, making it really convenient as our primary folder system.
We primarily use Box to archive all our projects and client access folders. When we finalize a project, we upload all of the working design files to our own archive folder, and also set up a client shared folder. We invite the client to their download-only access folder so they can reach their files any time into the future, while giving everyone peace of mind that files cannot be removed or changed, especially on accident or without full consent.
We use Evernote all day every day. If in doubt it goes into Evernote. I am still amazed at what I easily find in Evernote that I’ve stored over the years while searching through it. Things I long ago forgot about are still ready to call up at a moment’s notice. Web clippings, code snippets, images, articles, travel receipts, various scans we’ve uploaded from SnapScan S1500, also an indispensable tool, and so much more are all stored in notebooks, tagged and shared with our team. Suffice it to say, this is an app our team can’t live without.
I must admit I was a late convert to Google Docs. But after years of struggling with multiple and confusing versions of Microsoft Word and Apple Pages documents, with incompatibility issues to boot, we made the switch. And the primary reason was collaboration. It’s truly liberating to be able to real time collaborate on a doc while on a video conference call. It’s incredibly efficient as we work together on proposals, presentation notes, and a variety of project deliverables.
We most often use “suggesting” rather than “editing” mode when giving feedback on a doc that one of our team members produces. We also love the commenting capabilities, allowing us to literally turn the doc into a conversation about a certain topic.
I personally still like moving the final text into a Pages document for my favorite document formatting templates. Proposals and many client facing reports still make their way back to Pages for final export to PDF.
This PDF annotation app is our go-to for communicating changes to our design team. It makes it really easy to mark up a print document or web page in minutes. I especially love using iAnnotate on my iPad Pro with Apple Pencil. It’s a breeze to just hand draw circles, arrows and underlines in red, type the text changes using the keyboard and then simply re-upload the doc to Teamwork for final design changes. It’s fast and efficient.
As a lifelong Mac devotee, I personally have embraced all of Apple’s native apps, including Keynote. While I continue to be disappointed with the lack of compatibility between Keynote and PowerPoint, there are reasons we are committed to this elegant presentation software. Its usefulness goes way beyond presentations, although I’ve found it much easier to present highly professional, beautiful presentations in Keynote over PowerPoint over the past 10 years.
One major reason I love it is how easy it is to mock up a UI concept in Keynote. Rather than getting lost in layers and the technical aspects of Photoshop, we can breeze through ideas with each other even in real-time collaboration in Keynote, often bouncing in and out of Illustrator or Photoshop into Keynote slides where we can continue to experiment and communicate visually with each other. I used to be slightly embarrassed to admit this until I learned that some of the top UI/UX designers in the industry also depend on Keynote for a variety of design tasks.
Slack has become the central hub of our team’s daily communication, replacing much of what we previously communicated through email with simple communication through channels. We have channels for projects or clients, “departments” within our agency like #new-business, #marketing, #accounting, etc.
We especially like some of the integrations available within Slack. One of our favorites is Zoom conference calls. Whenever we are on a call and want to start a quick Zoom conference, we simply type /zoom within a channel and it opens a Zoom call and provides a link. Instant video conference. Trello is another useful integration. We connect certain Trello boards to a channel in Slack, providing instant communication when, for instance, a new card is created. More on Zoom and Trello below.
We love Teamwork as an incredibly capable project management system. As is quite common in the agency space, we’ve tried different tools and solutions over the years, some that seemed to lack innovation or give us everything we needed, some that were just too complex, But then we came across Teamwork PM. We love the interface, and it just ticks a lot of boxes for managing our virtual workflow. There is incredible versatility of its privacy settings, making it easy to grant clients and outside contractors access to only those aspects of a project that they need to see without unnecessary details of our inside team’s tasks and timelines.
While we don’t use Trello for project management, we find it indispensable for a variety of tasks including high level project planning, client reporting and accountability. We invite clients into these boards and use them as a basis for our weekly status meetings.
We used to use GoToMeeting as our conferencing tool but discovered Zoom along the way, which allowed for more participants for less money per month. It’s super dependable for audio, video conferencing and screen sharing, which makes it our go-to app for almost any face to face collaboration meetings. The meeting recordings are conveniently stored for later reference and these have become invaluable for going back and taking notes on important meetings where note taking would have been distracting during the live conversation.
Our Tools are a Work in Progress
I’m sure we could (and we might!) do an annual update of tools we can’t live without, but this is where our agency is at currently. Hopefully this post has sparked an interest to check out a few tools that will help streamline a part of your business, and since we’re always on the lookout for ways to better our agency, feel free to comment with any must-have tools in your toolbox! We can’t wait to hear about them.
Something’s not working, and it’s affecting your whole work day..
Your tasks are taking longer than they should, but despite the extra time nothing’s quite up to your standards. There’s no need to give up on your efforts though.
The problem is that you’re wasting time and money by using a bad daily workflow.
In my more than two years working with our remote team I’ve faced the many troubles that come with an inefficient workflow. I’m here today to tell you how to solve those problems by:
Waking up early
Ditching the morning coffee
Prioritizing your tasks
Taking regular breaks
Tracking your time
Automating what you can
Whether you’re brand new to content marketing or a veteran developer, your daily workflow is what gives you consistent productivity. It’s what lets you meet your deadlines and feel good about signing off after a hard day’s work.
It’s time to sort this out.
Wake up early
It’s pretty self-explanatory that the more hours in the day that you’re awake, the more time you’ll have to do what you want or have to. Many highly successful individuals such as Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson wake up hours before they start work, but most don’t use it to power through an extra deadline or two.
The key is to use that extra time to do something other than work – relaxation is important if you want to be more productive during your work hours and leave your duties at sign off time.
Whether you spend time with your family, catch up on the news or do a little exercise (more on that in a bit), give yourself at least two hours to get into the swing of the day before truly starting work.
The first few times of doing this are always the hardest, but stick to it, and build a habit of waking up early. Once your habit’s set, it’ll be more difficult to break it than to keep going.
Eat breakfast (and drink water)
I’m as guilty as the next person for skipping breakfast, but as soon as I regularly started eating in the morning I found myself having the kickstart I needed to buckle down and produce some top notch work.
Get up, grab your breakfast of choice, and make sure that you drink a glass of water. Your body has just gone without water for around 7 hours – you’re going to need a top off if you don’t want a foggy brain.
A final note in terms of drinks that affect productivity– consider swapping out the coffee and tea for green tea. Blasphemy, I know (I love black coffee myself), but in terms of pure productivity green tea has the caffeine boost of coffee, but over a longer period and without the slump after it wears off.
Along with all of the usual health benefits, exercise also increases your productivity. You’re essentially kickstarting your day with a rush of adrenaline, blasting away any remaining fogginess and upping your motivation to tackle the day ahead.
This is also another reason to get up earlier than usual – doing so gives you time to run, swim, climb, and generally break a sweat for a good half hour before sitting down to work.
If you’re stuck at a computer all day I’d particularly recommend checking out yoga. A quick morning session can really help to open up your posture and work the cricks out of your joints from the previous day’s work.
You might feel a little silly when just starting out, but it’s well worth the effort.
Prioritize your tasks the smart way
Hands-down one of the most effective ways I’ve found to boost my productivity by altering my daily workflow is by changing the way I prioritize tasks. Take a leaf out of Brian Tracy’s book and tackle the biggest, ugliest task you have as the first item of business.
Trying to clear your task list of the smaller items first thing doesn’t work. By the time you get to your main task, you’ll have spent a chunk of your most productive time on periphery tasks that don’t actually require attention.
Sort your task list into four categories:
Things you don’t want to do, but need to do.
Things you want to do and need to do.
Things you want to do, but don’t need to do.
Things you don’t want to do, and don’t need to do.
Once you have those lists, tackle them in roughly that order, starting with the biggest task that you don’t want to do but actually have to get done. Once you start chipping away, you’ll quickly find yourself settling into a groove, and when you’ve crossed it off your list you’ll feel much better than if you’d spent time clearing some of the peripheral clutter.
Take regular breaks to avoid burnout
You aren’t a robot, and you shouldn’t treat yourself as such. You need to be taking regular breaks to give yourself time to recover between sprints – this lets you keep up a steady pace for longer, and accomplish more every day.
Having said that, you don’t have to be incredibly strict with your breaks – if you’re following a particularly productive train of thought, it might be better to wait until you’ve finished typing to take a break instead of interrupting your flow and wasting a good stream of work.
The Pomodoro Technique is a good start for planning out your breaks, but doesn’t give the flexibility to adjust without wrecking your workflow. Instead of sticking to it exactly, I’d recommend using the “25 minutes of work, 5 minute break” framework as exactly that; a guideline. If you work for longer to stay in the zone, give yourself a sightly bigger break to balance things out.
Track your time to stop missing deadlines
Nothing beats procrastination like an impending deadline, but what do you do in the day-to-day situations where you don’t have a set time limit? Why, you track the time you’re spending on each task, of course.
Being aware of how much time you’re spending on your tasks is a fantastic way to keep yourself focused – especially if the rest of your team can see those stats too.
For example, Pomello integrates with your Trello board to leave up-to-date accounts of how much time you’ve spent on a task, and when you worked on it. In turn, if the rest of your team can access your board then you’re more likely to work on what you need to be doing and not dilly dally.
After all, you don’t want your teammates asking why “email our CEO to confirm the meeting” took you 7 hours.
Automate what you can
So far I’ve mostly given tips which can help improve not just your daily workflow, but your productivity in general. However, what if I told you that instead of increasing your efficiency, you could automatically take care of a chunk of your workload instead?
Services like Zapier and IFTTT let you automate your processes, meaning you can set an “Action” to occur if a “Trigger” is detected. For example, you could automatically save email attachments you receive to a Google Drive folder.
The easiest way to get started with automations is to use IFTTT’s mobile apps (such as Do Button and Do Note). These can be installed on Android and iOS devices, and perform simple actions (press the button to perform an action, create a note, etc).
Take back your day
Your daily workflow doesn’t have to be a drag – with these 7 tips, a little creativity, and a little customization to what works best for you, you can whip your daily workflow into shape and focus on the tasks that actually need doing.
This is a guest post written by Benjamin Brandall, a content creator at Process Street.
A Lesson in Realigning Your Focus, From Seth Godin
“What we see, depends mainly on what we look for.” – John Lubbock
As we come to the end of another work week, we wanted to share a recent post on perception and where you’re choosing to place your focus, by the always brilliant, Seth Godin. While you read, think about your perceptions – of your personal life, your work habits – and what you’ve been focusing on recently.
Depth of field
Focus is a choice.
The runner who is concentrating on how much his left toe hurts will be left in the dust by the runner who is focusing on winning.
Even if the winner’s toe hurts just as much.
Hurt, of course, is a matter of perception. Most of what we think about is.
We have a choice about where to aim the lens of our attention. We can relive past injustices, settle old grudges and nurse festering sores. We can imagine failure, build up its potential for destruction, calculate its odds. Or, we can imagine the generous outcomes we’re working on, feel gratitude for those that got us here and revel in the possibilities of what’s next.
The focus that comes automatically, our instinctual or cultural choice, that focus isn’t the only one that’s available. Of course it’s difficult to change it, which is why so few people manage to do so. But there’s no work that pays off better in the long run.
Your story is your story. But you don’t have to keep reminding yourself of your story, not if it doesn’t help you change it or the work you’re doing.
We challenge you to take a few moments to reflect on the past week. Have you been aiming your lens of attention on perceived failures? Chances are, there is something much more worthy of your focus.
Monday is a new week (and a new month!). So take this time to shift your focus onto greater possibilities rather than missed opportunities, onto accomplishing your goals rather than the things that are holding you back.
We all know that time can’t actually be stopped. But there are a ton of ways to use that time more wisely, and, sometimes, even make it feel like we are stealing more hours than our allotted 24 hour day.
There are countless books, blogs, videos, articles and more geared towards helping you live your best life, be your best you, overcome procrastination, form a routine, etc. So we decided to do some of the work for you, rounding up a list of some of the best productivity advice, so you can start each day more relaxed, and end each day feeling more accomplished than ever. Oh, and be sure to stick around for an added bonus at the end of this post!
1. Set Weekly Goals
We are committed to setting weekly goals each and every Monday morning during our production meeting. It can feel necessary to dive right into tasks at the beginning of the week, but starting without having a path laid out in front of you, while it might feel productive at first, will eventually lead to an aimless workflow.
Each week we set goals for what everyone wants to accomplish that week, so we can use it as a productivity checklist. At the end of each week, we go through each bullet point, talk about if we accomplished it and if not, why not, and we set the goals for the following week. It helps keep everyone in check and moving forward.
–Mackenzie Barth, co-founder and CEO of Spoon University
Have you ever caught yourself mindlessly clicking back and forth between open tabs in your browser, to an email, to your project management window and back again? Well, maybe it’s just us, but if we’re not working off of a carefully crafted to-do list, there are far too many distractions that will flood our mind and interrupt our work-flow, instead of allowing us to check off one item after the next.
If you want to get it done, put it in the calendar. If a task isn’t in my calendar, then it isn’t going to get done.
Depending on the type of work you do, typical days will always look different. But for us, a day in the life at a digital agency must include billable time put in for a variety of clients. And when each client can tend to somehow all take ‘first priority’, it’s easy to jump from one task to another for several different clients. But come end of day, you’ve just accomplished a bunch of 30 minute increments, never allowing your brain to fully dive into any of them. Enter: time blocking.
I put everything in my calendar: meals, email, sleep. On busy days it’s easy to forget about all three of these things. Blocking out time guarantees that, at the very least, I’ll be aware of my ideal schedule when things get crazy. For bonus points, block out an hour each day for exercise.
Between social media alerts, emails, and drive-by visits, people can be distracted dozens or more times per day. Since one study found that people take 25 minutes to resume interrupted tasks (after dabbling, on average, in more than 2 other “work spheres” in the meantime), pushing distractions to predictable times can easily save hours. “Schedule time in your calendar for email/social media or when you will have interruptions,” suggests Murphy. “For example, professors have ‘office hours’ when they expect to be regularly interrupted by students. Is there a time of day when you are regularly interrupted? Plan for it.”
You might also consider more radical solutions. One study found that people spend 47% of their time on the internet procrastinating (indeed, you may be procrastinating now!) That’s why Bailey says that “Whenever I hunker down to work on something important, I almost always disconnect from the internet.”
Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project, spent a year test-driving productivity techniques on his blog, A Life of Productivity. He says that the best tactic he’s found for working intentionally is what he calls the Rule of 3. “At the start of the day, before you start working, you simply step back from your work and ask yourself: by the time the day is done, what three main things will I want to have accomplished?” Figuring out what’s most important keeps you from losing hours as you blindly respond to whatever comes in. It also encourages investing time in high-yield activities such as mentoring new employees.
By thinking through your days, you can also match the right kind of activity to the right time. Deep focused work is best done when you have a lot of energy. “People who are high achievers are ruthless schedulers,” says Wendy Murphy, an assistant professor at Babson College who teaches organizational behavior and management. “When are you most able to focus? Schedule the type of work you need to do during the times you have the most energy to do it.”
It’s tempting to sleep in on the weekend to catch up on your sleep. Though it feels good temporarily, having an inconsistent wake-up time disturbs your circadian rhythm. Your body cycles through an elaborate series of sleep phases in order for you to wake up rested and refreshed. One of these phases involves preparing your mind to be awake and alert, which is why people often wake up just before their alarm clock goes off (the brain is trained and ready). When you sleep past your regular wake-up time on the weekend, you end up feeling groggy and tired. This isn’t just disruptive to your day off, it also makes you less productive on Monday because your brain isn’t ready to wake up at your regular time. If you need to catch up on sleep, just go to bed earlier.
We all have those mornings where you’re rushing your morning routine and barely have time to brush your teeth before running out the door to make it to the office on time. It’s when the morning rush becomes a habit that there can be negative consequences to your sense of well being and your overall productivity.
When you start off your day in a frenzied state of mind, you’re not giving your brain any time to decompress, reset, and prepare for the day. Instead, you’re pumping it with adrenaline first thing in the morning, which can cause you to crash later on.
It can be difficult to get time to yourself on the weekends, especially if you have family. Finding a way to engage in an activity you’re passionate about first thing in the morning can pay massive dividends in happiness and cleanliness of mind. It’s also a great way to perfect your circadian rhythm by forcing yourself to wake up at the same time you do on weekdays. Your mind achieves peak performance two-to-four hours after you wake up, so get up early to do something physical, and then sit down and engage in something mental while your mind is at its peak.
It can be very tempting to get all the easy tasks out of the way first before tackling the tough stuff. This is especially true when you’re dreading that challenging task. You push it further and further down your to-do list … until you’ve left it untouched for days or even weeks.
But tackling the most difficult tasks on your to-do list early on in the day is actually better for your overall productivity. Researchers have found that willpower is a finite resource that steadily decreases throughout the day, according to the book The Willpower Instinct. So your brain is much better at handling the hardest tasks at the beginning of the day when you’re more focused.
Mornings also tend to lend fewer distractions, making it easier for you to get things done. My colleague James Gilbert suggests that folks “take advantage of morning hours to crank through meaty projects without distractions, and save any calls or virtual meetings for the afternoon.”
When you start time blocking and scheduling everything, this becomes easier to do. Well, maybe the task itself isn’t easier. But getting your head in the right space to be able to take the task on will be. You’ve set aside the time, and you can use that as an excuse to ignore any possible interruptions that might try to make their way in.
10. Stop Multitasking
Multitasking can seem inevitable in our modern, ever-connected lifestyles. But research shows it can make us less effective, increase mistakes and stress, and costs the global economy an estimated $450 billion every year.
Think you’re an exception? Consider this: Only 2% of the population is capable of effectively multitasking. For the other 98%, all it does is cause us to be 40% less productive and make 50% more mistakes than non-multitaskers.
Eating at your desk doesn’t just make you antisocial. According to NPR, it’s also “bad for thinking, bad for creativity, bad for productivity, [and] bad for your body.” Sadly, though, only one in five people actually leave their desks or the office for a lunch break.
To be fair, if you’re among those people who take lunch at your desk instead of taking a break, it may not be your fault. Perhaps it’s not built into your office culture, or maybe you have a deadline that’s pressuring you to squeeze every waking moment out of your day.
But research shows taking the midday break can be mentally rejuvenating — and, in many ways, more productive than plugging away at your desk between mouthfuls. The best way to take a lunch break is to remove yourself from your desk or workspace and eat somewhere else — like a cafeteria, restaurant, or public park.
One of the biggest perks of working for yourself is not having to worry about face time. You’re actions are responsible for the success or failure of your company — not when you show up or leave work or how long your lunch break is (admittedly, right now these are really early, really late, and nonexistent, respectively). Every so often I dabble in 15 min power naps in the late afternoons, and wake up so much more productive than I could have been otherwise.
One of my favorite tricks is to conduct most of my meetings standing up. I find it to be a much quicker way of getting down to business, making a decision, and sealing the deal. When given the opportunity, I often like to take things a step further–literally, with a walking meeting.
For us, while walking or standing meetings aren’t always a possibility, we never start a meeting without creating an agenda first. We use Do.com as an easy way to add agenda topics with sub-items, and it is easily shared with all participants. While we can’t say that a meeting never goes off topic, it’s definitely helpful for us all.
Disconnecting is the most important weekend strategy on this list, because if you can’t find a way to remove yourself electronically from your work Friday evening through Monday morning, then you’ve never really left work.
Making yourself available to your work 24/7 exposes you to a constant barrage of stressors that prevent you from refocusing and recharging. If taking the entire weekend off handling work e-mails and calls isn’t realistic, try designating specific times on Saturday and Sunday for checking e-mails and responding to voicemails. For example, check your messages on Saturday afternoon while your kids are getting a haircut and on Sunday evenings after dinner. Scheduling short blocks of time will alleviate stress without sacrificing availability.
You know the feeling when you search for something on the internet, then click on a “related article” or other link … and before you know it, you’ve charted the entire Russian Revolution?
Yeah … I’ll be the first to admit it: I do this a lot. It’s a dangerous side effect of having a job that requires internet research. It’s one thing to mindlessly browse the web outside of work or when you’re on a break. (In fact, I have a great list of the best sites for wasting time on the internet for times like those.) But it’s another entirely when you’re supposed to be doing actual work.
That’s what Tousley likes to call “black hole browsing,” and it’s become one of the most productivity-sucking psychological addictions out there.
The whole “easily distracted” thing goes for social media notifications, too. Turns out we actually have a psychological urge to check for social media notifications, which makes it hard to check our News Feeds “just this once” — and usually ends up in a lot of mindless browsing.
As my colleague Scott Tousley says, “We are madly in love with distracting ourselves.”
My colleague Alec Biedrzycki solves this problem by removing all social networks from his toolbar bookmarks. “Even if I don’t mean to browse them, some uncontrollable impulse subconsciously clicks on them when I experience downtime,” he says. “You can get sucked in without knowing it (or even intending to), so eliminating the gateway to those networks keeps me on track.”
Another useful tip is using social media management software for automation capabilities. While this can’t cure the addiction to deliberately checking, scrolling and posting, it can take away some of the perceived need to go on social media multiple times a day because your updates are still being published. Your accounts cannot be fully automated if you want to appropriately and genuinely engage your audience. But you can still post multiple times per day while not having to physically log on each time.
17. Stop Checking Emails As They Come In
Email is supposed to help us do our work, not distract us from our work. So why does it always feel like a productivity suck?
In an effort to stay on top of a constantly overflowing inbox, it can be tempting to check and respond to every email as soon as it comes in. Receiving email notifications in real time certainly doesn’t help. But constantly switching tasks between work and email can really hurt your productivity.
You might be surprised what happens when you pursue something you’re passionate about on weekends. Indulging your passions is a great way to escape stress and to open your mind to new ways of thinking. Things like playing music, reading, writing, painting, or even playing catch with your kids can help stimulate different modes of thought that can reap huge dividends over the coming week.
Being stuck in a rut can lead to decreased productivity. Matt Cutts argues in his TED Talk that taking a relatively short, doable 30 Day Challenge can help in some pretty big ways. You can add a new habit, or subtract a bad one, and see where it takes you even after the 30 days are done.
A few takeaways he found was that time became much more memorable, his self confidence grew, and he was able to do things he assumed he never could.
Watch the video, and think of what you could try for your 30 Day Challenge!
20. Listen, Really Listen
One of the sad consequences of being constantly distracted is the epidemic of only half paying attention — and thinking that’s OK. You might think that any time someone else is talking and you’re not, that means you’re listening. But, as my colleague Andrew Quinn wrote in his post on bad conversational habits, it doesn’t. “The real question is who are you listening to when [someone else] is talking,” he wrote. “I’m willing to bet a good portion of the time, you’re actually listening to the voice in your head.”
That, or you’re reading that email that just came in. Or checking to see why your phone buzzed. When you’re in a meeting, how much can you really be paying attention when your laptop is open?
Not only can not listening carefully cost you relationships, it can also cost you in the time it takes to make up for whatever information you missed. Becoming an active listener is a critical part of becoming more emotionally intelligent. This mean really, truly paying attention to what people are saying — and it’s a skill that’ll set you apart in both your professional and personal life.
We’ve covered the concept of a few of these tips throughout the list above, but for all you visual learners out there, here’s a beautifully designed infographic created by Hubspot that gives even more great productivity tips!
As you may have noticed, things are looking a little different around here! The past few years have been nothing but a focus on our client work and projects, but as we expand, we’ve begun to devote some energy into Fireworx, and we’re excited to share our new and improved brand with the world.
With over 25 years of marketing and Direct Response experience, we’ve pretty much done it all at one point or another, when it comes to connecting your brand’s vision to your audience. But most projects we focus on fall under one of our six areas. These are Strategy and Consulting, Design and Creative Services, Web Development and Technology, Content Marketing, Email and Marketing Automation, and Search (SEO/SEM). Check out our What We Do page to see more about each area of focus.
From giving you a new custom website, to evaluating and implementing the best marketing automation platform for your business, to designing a channel partner strategy, optimizing your content to get found on Google, or any number of other needs you may have, we approach projects and ongoing consulting work with our proven, effective process, along with a genuine desire to see your business get to the next level. Learn more about our process here.
You can also expect to see more valuable insights, case studies, tips and tricks, free downloads and more, aimed at helping you learn more best practices. We’ll base a lot on real life examples of how the vast world of marketing can work for you. We’ve learned a lot over the years, and we’re excited to share these things with you through our blog.
We work with a wide range of industries – everything from tech and telecom, to insurance and non-profits, from start-ups to companies with long heritages, and we’d love to connect with you about your business needs. Have a look around our site, drop us a line through our connect button below, or enter your email to stay up to date – we promise we’ll only be sending you relevant, beneficial insights. Check back often as there will be new content published each and every week!
One of the biggest challenges for businesses in this current market is to avoid the temptation to figuratively curl up in a ball under our desk and wish it was 2005. Sure the market is soft and customers are tentative but instead of taking a reactive position we need to be active. There are upsides to the recession- there is less noise in the market and an incredible assortment of digital tools for you to better engage your prospects in a one-on-one conversation. Seth Godin is spot-on in his blog post Death spiral!
As Tom Peters says, “You can’t shrink your way to greatness,” and yet that’s what so many dying businesses try to do. They hunker down and wait for things to get better, but they don’t. This isn’t a dip, it’s a cul de sac. It’s over. Right this minute, you still have some cash, some customers, some momentum… Instead of squandering it in a long, slow, death spiral, do something else. Buy a new platform. Move. Find new products for the customers that still trust you. Change is a bear, but it’s better than death.
Let’s make something of the time we have – cause times may not be optimal but this is the only time we have.
I absolutely love this TED talk by JJ Abrams. Now I know why I am so drawn to all of Abrams’ work, Lost, Alias, Cloverfield, Mission Impossible, Star Trek, 10 Cloverfield Lane, etc. It has to do with Abrams’ mastery of mystery.
He talks about buying a Mystery Box at a little magic shop in NYC. It was decades ago that he went there with his Grandfather and bought the box for $15, completely sealed with a big question mark on the front. I can’t imagine the discipline it took to leave the box unopened on a shelf in his office! But a few things he said really rang true for me. Here are a few highlights if you don’t have the 18 minutes to watch his talk…
• To Abrams, the unopened mystery box represents infinite possibility, infinite hope, infinite potential.
• Mystery is the catalyst to imagination, it’s more important than knowledge, and mystery boxes are in everything.
• He is an Apple fanatic (as am I) and when he sits down at his Mac PowerBook laptop, he feels inspired by the technology in front of him. His Mac asks him “what are you going to write worthy of me?”
• The blank page is a mystery box, waiting to be filled with spirit, thought, and emotion.
• Going to the movies, watching the lights go down is a mystery box.
I love what he implies about technology inspiring creative people to be creative, which inspires technology people, an endless look of inspiration.
Seth Godin is one of my favorite writers on all things marketing and business. I just had to quote his post about Dolphin Leather because it hit me between the eyes. He nailed it.
So many business owners are struggling with a doom and gloom attitude because their business isn’t working the way it always did before, and yet I am seeing and hearing about so many that are going out and reinventing themselves, getting serious about their marketing, improving their systems, rethinking their processes, and staying (or getting) excited about their businesses.
Read Seth’s post and enjoy.
There’s a story in the bible with very specific instructions for building an ark.
Included in the instructions is a call for using tanned dolphin leather. Regardless of your feelings about the historical accuracy of the story, it’s an interesting question: why create an impossible mission like that? Why encourage people who might travel 100 miles over their entire lifetime to undertake a quest to find, capture, kill, skin and eventually tan a dolphin?
My friend Adam had an interesting take on this. He told me that the acquisition of the leather is irrelevant. It was the quest that mattered. Having a community-based quest means that there’s less room for whining, for infighting and for dissolution.
Having a mission not only points everyone in the same direction, it also creates motion. And motion in any direction is often better than no motion at all. All around you, people are telling you two things:
1. whatever you want, forget it, it’s impossible, and
2. sit still, preserve resources, lay low.
And yet, the people who are succeeding, creating change and (not coincidentally) are happier aren’t listening to either of these pieces of advice. Instead, they’re on the search for dolphin leather. Frank Sinatra had it wrong. Your dream shouldn’t be impossible, but it sure helps if it’s improbable. Don’t choose your dreams based on what is certain to happen, choose them based on what’s likely to cause the change you want to occur around you.
There is no question that marketing as a whole is going through a major paradigm shift. Many long-held principles and practices that worked even five to ten years ago are now quickly becoming outdated as the world around us changes through technology and morphing behavior patterns of consumers.
The Four P’s; Product, Price, Place, and Promotion have been the basis for all marketing strategy for the past 50 years, ever since E. Jerome McCarthy invented them in his 1960 book, Basic Marketing.
It could be argued that each of the Four P’s are in fact still viable as each one still exists albeit in a more complex selling environment. But I do find Shiffman’s proposal of the Six V’s very intriguing, though slightly contrived to make the acrostic memorable. They are:
Venture–the deep integration of product, service and channel of distribution,
Value–Creating inherent “marketingness” through unique, defendable, sustainable and engaging value
Voice–The perception created and the followers gained through vision and story
Verification–Developing credibility through proof, truth and transparency
Vicinity–Harnessing the communities and myriad voices of the live web
Vehicle–Incorporating Marketing 2.0 strategies to attract and delight customers
I’m convinced enough to introduce these guiding principles into my clients’ marketing strategies and will be interested to see how mainstream her Six V’s become in the marketing community.
I guess I’m a creature of habit, for good or for bad. One good habit I’ve developed is my New Year goal setting exercise. I love the opportunity to “reset” my life for the new year, throwing out old habits and starting on some new ones.
My favorite book to read this time of year is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. He’s an undisputed authority on leadership and success principles and gives us 7 things that can improve every area of our lives in the new year. I’ve also come to realize these principles apply brilliantly when it comes to the marketing of your business. Consider reading this timeless book and follow his suggestions:
1. Be proactive. I don’t think you can be proactively reactive. And yet much of our daily lives are spent in a reactive state, reacting to emails, reacting to interruptions, reacting to our circumstances, the weather, the news, other people’s opinions. As humans, we have the freedom to choose before we respond to stimulus. Covey suggests a thirty-day test of proactivity and see how it affects your circle of influence. Let’s act on it this year.
2. Begin with the end in mind. One of the most effective ways to begin with the end in mind is to develop a personal mission statement. I’ve used and was very pleased with the Mission Statement Builder at www.franklincovey.com. It’s a great tool that I highly recommend using to start your new year right.
3. Put first things first. This is one of the hardest things for me to do consisently. I think I have a bit of a self-destruct mechanism that pulls me easily off my best intentions. This one chapter alone is worth the cost of the book as it outlines the Four Quadrants: 1) Important, Urgent, 2) Important, Not Urgent, 3) Not Important, Urgent, 4) Not Important, Not Urgent. The goal is to live your life in Quadrant 2 which is close to impossible if you are not in control of your time management.
4. Think Win/Win. Is it really possible to create win/win situations in every interaction and relationship in your life? Covey believes the answer is yes. The problem is that many of us have Win/Lose scripting deeply embedded in our internal code. How can you seek mutual benefit in each of your relationships this new year?
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. First I always laugh now when I hear this statement, ever since watching Mystery Men where one of the “Super Heroes” uses this statement and others like it ad nauseum in his comical admonishment of Ben Stiller who calls him Captain Conundrum. In all seriousness though, I believe life would be much easier if we took the time to learn and practice the art of “empathetic communication.
6. Synergize. Covey believes that valuing the differences is the essence of synergy–the mental, the emotional, the psychological differences between people. Think about people who typically see things differently than you do. Look for ways to synergize (the highest level of communication) with those people, instead of being defensive (lowest level of communication), or even respectful (compromising level of communication).
7. Sharpen the saw. The seventh habit is about renewing the four dimensions of your nature–physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional. What steps do you take to renew each of these dimensions? Exercise, prayer and meditation, reading good books or taking a course, taking time for friends, family and community…these are just a few things you can consider in your new year goals.
Good luck with your goal setting and Happy New Year!
In an online world filled with blogs and online articles by self-proclaimed marketing gurus, is there really room for one more? We believe so, since so much of what we see is either marketing industry techno-babble or online marketing-specific information, neither of which does much for the average business owner trying to cost-effectively promote their business in a cluttered marketplace.
Our blog will hopefully shed some light on tips, techniques and strategies that really help in a practical, affordable way. We’ll do our best to keep it simple enough for the layman to understand, yet cutting edge enough to keep you coming back for more.
As we see it, there is no shortage of good information out there. It just needs some filtering to bring the gems to the surface. That is what this blog is all about. We hope you enjoy it and find it helpful!