It’s safe to say that I’m a busy guy.
Between running a company with multiple businesses under its umbrella, serving as a partner in a venture investment fund, writing for Forbes, publishing books, doing TV appearances, and raising a young family, my daily schedule is typically packed.
One of the most common questions I’m asked by readers of this blog or entrepreneurs I work with is “How do you manage to get so much done?”
It’s a fair question, and one that I’m always more than happy to answer.
The first thing I always tell people is that there’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Anyone can be busy, but it takes strategy and planning to be productive.
Over the years I’ve developed three strategies that have enabled me to get more done than I ever thought possible. They’ve worked for me, and I’m confident that they’ll work for any entrepreneur seeking to achieve extreme levels of productivity.
#1) Don’t be a goldfish
Now, I’m not sure if it’s biologically accurate, but there’s an old saying that goldfish grow to the size of the tank it lives in. The larger the tank, the larger the goldfish.
The same principle applies to our lives. The more room we allow ourselves for any given task, the longer that task takes. I’ve seen it happen in my company more times than I care to recount. If you give a project to a person who isn’t particularly busy, they tend to stretch it out as much as possible.
The key to not becoming a goldfish is to impose strict deadlines and requirements on yourself for every task you undertake. You have to treat everything as though you’re under the proverbial gun. This makes it significantly easier to clear things off your to-do list with ruthless efficiency.
#2) Embrace essentialism
Now, if you want to avoid becoming a goldfish, you must embrace some form of essentialism. The concept of essentialism can be traced back to the works of Aristotle and Plato and holds that a given entity has a few core traits that define its very existence. There can be many additional traits, but there are always a few that define the core of the entity in question.
Essentialism can and should be applied to every task you encounter. For me, nothing is worse than needing to write an article or develop a presentation, only to find yourself staring at a blank screen, paralyzed by the depth of the topic at hand.
When I feel overwhelmed by a task, my natural response is to procrastinate. Procrastination, in turn, leads to stress, anxiety, and feelings of being completely overwhelmed.
I’ve learned that the solution to this is to analyze the task, identify its essence, and develop a plan to address it accordingly. When you apply an essentialist framework to tasks, you’ll quickly find that the anxiety surrounding its perceived complexity melts away.
This practice takes discipline, to be sure, and it often requires a degree of explanation when a task is ultimately completed. The reason for this is simple: people often ask for what they think they want, rather than what they actually want.
It sounds like a matter of semantics, and it is to a certain extent. However, if we take requests or tasks at face value, we often end up spending the bulk of our time working on aspects that don’t really matter. Applying an essentialist framework, however, helps you get to the heart of the issue and ultimately deliver a better and more efficient solution.
#3) Remember that what stands in the way, becomes the way
Now, you’ll still run into challenges that can halt your productivity in its tracks. We all encounter such obstacles in our lives, but they don’t have limit you. In fact, such obstacles can actually make you more productive.
I’ve made no secret of my love of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism in the past. In fact, I keep a copy of Epictetus’ classic treatise The Enchiridion on my desk in my office as a constant reminder. It influences my outlook on productivity in essential ways.
For those of you who may not be familiar, Stoicism reminds us that life and everything in it is impermanent. Focusing on our circumstances or pinning our happiness on the attainment of possessions is a surefire recipe for disappointment.
The beauty of Stoicism is that it reminds us that we alone are in control of our emotions and reactions, and possess the ability to turn the obstacles we face into opportunities.
As I work through my intense workload, I find myself returning time after time to a quote from Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, and Stoic philosopher.
“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
We would all be well served to remember that what stands in our way, becomes the way. When it comes to productivity, we must run headlong into our challenges and tackle our most dreaded tasks. We have to embrace them, relish the process, and attack them with a ferocity that robs them of their power over us.
You’re capable of more than you realize
The secret to extreme productivity is to cultivate the proper mindset. The first step is to avoid becoming a goldfish and apply constraints to the projects you take on.
The second is to embrace essentialism, identifying and pursuing the core elements and underlying purpose of the task at hand.
The third, and perhaps most important, step is to adopt the Stoic philosophy that “what stands in the way, becomes the way.”
These three strategies have worked wonders for me, and I’m confident that they’ll be helpful for anyone who has the desire to achieve a state of extreme productivity.
Originally posted on Forbes.com by Chris Myers
In the 2015 musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton is championed for furthering his career “by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter.” In a 2016 episode of Saturday Night Live, Benjamin Franklin is featured as a fictional guest at the very first Thanksgiving. And in the 2018 Netflix original Set It Up, one character assesses his finances at an upscale restaurant: “I’m no Rockefeller.”
There’s a reason why these historical powerhouses are still regularly mentioned in theater, television and film hundreds of years after their time: They were legends when it comes to wealth, philanthropy and business. Whether you’re a top-level CEO looking for advice from the greats or a first-time entrepreneur seeking motivation and inspiration, here are six iconic figures and some of their best business advice.
“My ambition is prevalent, so that I contemn the grovelling condition of a clerk or the like, to which my fortune condemns me, and would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station … I mean to prepare the way for futurity.”
— Alexander Hamilton in a 1769 letter
Hamilton was born poor on an island in the Caribbean, and he wrote this letter at age 12, dreaming of something bigger for himself and his career. By 17, when a hurricane devastated his home, the orphan — who was then working as a clerk — wrote an account of the disaster in the local newspaper. Local merchants recognized his skill and took up a collection to send him to North America for schooling. Hamilton would go on to become a founding father and champion the United States economic system, but it all started with big dreams and almost incomparable determination. Hamilton visualized himself “prepar[ing] the way for futurity,” and that type of steely resolve is invaluable in any venture.
“[I] retain[ed] only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence, never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words ‘certainly,’ ‘undoubtedly’ or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, ‘I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so’; ‘it appears to me,’ or ‘I should think it so and so, for such and such reasons’; or ‘I imagine it to be so’; or ‘it is so, if I am not mistaken.’ This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me.”
— Benjamin Franklin in his 1789 autobiography
Franklin, one of the country’s founding fathers and author of The Way to Wealth, was also an esteemed inventor, as he’s widely regarded as the father of electricity. He attributes much of his success to the fact that he was always a voracious reader, so hungry for knowledge that he would often stay up with new books late into the night. He also loved to debate, and it’s why he adopted the habit of never using absolute terms unless he was describing something he knew absolutely to be true — instead, he favored phrases such as “it appears,” “I should think,” “I imagine” and “if I am not mistaken.” Franklin said it’s important to speak in such a way; otherwise, if you speak with absoluteness and are wrong, others likely won’t correct you — meaning you will not learn. This intentionality of language is vital for any prominent figure in business, especially in meetings, statements and interviews. Speaking with caveats is widely seen as a sign of intelligence, as few things in life are truly certain.
“We assemble thousands of operatives in the factory, and in the mine, of whom the employer can know little or nothing and to whom he is little better than a myth. All intercourse between them is at an end. Rigid castes are formed, and, as usual, mutual ignorance breeds mutual distrust. Each caste is without sympathy with the other and ready to credit anything disparaging in regard to it … Often there is friction between the employer and the employed, between capital and labor, between rich and poor.”
— Andrew Carnegie in his 1889 book
In The Gospel of Wealth, Carnegie laid out why he would be donating the bulk of his earnings — about $350 million in 1889 dollars — to universities, libraries and other organizations. But in this passage, the steel magnate, business leader and philanthropist addresses the dark side of capitalism. Although Carnegie goes on to say he believes the benefits of competition outweigh the negatives, he admits that the disconnect it can create between employer and employees — and between the wealthy and the working class — is significant. Any successful executive would do well to note this and use their influence to turn the idea on its head, staying relatively accessible to both employees and customers.
John D. Rockefeller
“Criticism which is deliberate, sober and fair is always valuable, and it should be welcomed by all who desire progress. I have had at least my full share of adverse criticism, but I can truly say that it has not embittered me nor left me with any harsh feeling against a living soul. Nor do I wish to be critical of those whose conscientious judgment, frankly expressed, differs from my own. No matter how noisy the pessimists may be, we know that the world is getting better steadily and rapidly, and that is a good thing to remember in our moments of depression or humiliation.”
— John D. Rockefeller in his 1909 book
Rockefeller was an oil magnate, prominent businessman and philanthropist, and one lasting part of his legacy was his status as one of the wealthiest men in history and America’s first billionaire. In 1918, he was worth $1.2 billion, but that would amount to $21 billion in 2017 dollars. But Rockefeller didn’t build his legendary Standard Oil worrying about naysayers. He took measured criticism into account and used it to propel himself towards his goals, but he strived never to let “adverse criticism” drain him of his time or energy. Any business leader would do well to listen to every piece of advice without letting it sidetrack them from their ultimate goals — in other words, take others’ advice with a “grain of salt.”
Madam C.J. Walker
“I am a woman that came from the cotton fields of the south. I was promoted from there to the washtub. Then I was promoted to the cook kitchen, and from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations … I have built my own factory on my own ground.”
— Madam C.J. Walker in a 1912 speech
Widely regarded to be the country’s first female self-made millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) made her fortune by way of a successful line of hair care products marketed towards black women. The hair care system she developed — which utilized a combination of lotions and the use of iron combs — would later be deemed the “Walker system,” and her talent for self-promotion garnered loyalty from both her customers and the thousands of door-to-door saleswomen she trained. But Walker’s origins — as the first child born free to parents who were both recently freed slaves — meant she had to work much harder to build her business than her contemporaries, and she started with just $1.50 in cash capital. “The girls and women of our race must not be afraid to take hold of business endeavor and, by patient industry, close economy, determined effort and close application to business, wring success out of a number of business opportunities that lie at their very doors,” she said in the same speech.
“Power and machinery, money and goods, are useful only as they set us free to live. They are but means to an end. For instance, I do not consider the machines which bear my name simply as machines. If that was all there was to it I would do something else. I take them as concrete evidence of the working out of a theory of business which I hope is something more than a theory of business — a theory that looks toward making this world a better place in which to live.”
— Henry Ford in his 1922 book
Ford was a business magnate, mass production innovator and founder of Ford Motor Company. His Model T Ford is widely regarded as having brought affordable automobiles to the everyday consumer, as 15 million were sold between 1908 and 1927. While Ford enjoyed notable wealth — his 1918 fortune of $100 million would equal $1.8 billion today — he felt it vital to impart that money is only a means to freedom and, outside of that purpose, it means nothing. He felt similarly about business in general — that any venture should ultimately be about making the world a “better place in which to live.” Adopting that very value could help propel the long-term success of any business leader.
Originally posted on Entrepreneur by Hayden Field
“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball” is the most memorable line from the 2004 movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. In the film, a kid fails to dodge the heavy steel projectile and gets nailed in the face; he falls to the floor writhing in pain.
For me, this is the perfect metaphor for the American educational system, with the wrench being the future students aren’t prepared for.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can teach that kid, the ill-prepared student roaming the halls of the school in Everywhere, USA, to anticipate and learn to play — to succeed. We can teach him to build platforms, create confidence, recognize patterns and win by failing. We can teach him entrepreneurship.
Beyond skills, the ability to think critically and creatively is what often separates the most successful from the average. They are learned platforms an individual can leverage to deliver value and outperform the competition. Blogs, vlogs and podcasts, on the other hand, are examples of platforms entrepreneurs use to reach potential customers. The idea is to combine the two types of platforms to influence the marketplace and make profit.
Schools already teach content creation, but it’s often outside of the realm of useful — kids do it for a grade and little else. What if we replaced English essays with compelling blog posts? Argumentative writing supported with evidence is already taught in high school English and could be applied to a blog. With teachers no longer being the sole audience, the effectiveness of the student’s arguments could be judged by metrics such as engagement numbers, reader or viewer or listener comments, and eventually product/service purchases.
Kids know what they like but don’t always know what they stand for. They are influenced by peers and media. Marketers have developed a set of strategies to sway their opinions. Psychologist Marc Andrews describes advertising techniques such as using attractiveness, humor, scarcity, fear, social proof, sex and subliminals in his book Hidden Persuasion: 33 Psychological Influences Techniques in Advertising — all designed to influence and close the deal.
But, if a teen spends time branding herself, which involves reflecting on personal values and identifying who she truly is, she can become more self-aware and use this awareness to influence the world in positive ways. Then, she can create stories and products or services that are valuable, not superficial, because they are things she is passionate about and wants to share with the world.
Personal branding has other benefits, too. It builds confidence. It allows individuals to introduce themselves to the world and create a positive digital footprint, which is becoming essential in pursuing business and employment opportunities. Additionally, creating a personal brand differentiates one from the crowd and allows her to showcase skills and expertise.
Creating products or services.
While startup failure statistics vary greatly depending on the criteria used to define failure, a CB Insights survey of 101 failed startups found the top reason for failure was creating products consumers did not want, with 42 percent of the companies naming this as one of the reasons. Product “pricing/cost issues” and “user-unfriendly product” were near the top as well.
Renowned physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explained on The James Altucher Show that robots are “really bad at pattern recognition,” a skill that is strictly human. For now. Armed with the knowledge artificial intelligence will stink at it for decades, we can teach pattern recognition in school. And while some of it is intuitive, a 2012 study concluded that expertise in a domain greatly improves intuition. The researchers also found individuals can be trained to recognize patterns when given a set of thoughtful criteria to use.
Thus, we can teach students to develop approaches they can use to create products and services people actually need. One such strategy is design thinking — a human-centered design model developed by the Stanford d.school — currently gaining popularity in K-12 education.
Experts say the willingness to start over from scratch is one of the key traits of successful entrepreneurs. This involves skills but also mindset — the willingness to change products, adjust the marketing approach, shift industries or rebrand.
And this is an area in which American schools lack. While growth mindset has become part of educational jargon and is encouraged, many of the encouragers — school teachers and administrators — do not practice it. Failure is often final, as evidenced by the emphasis on test scores and grades. It is still uncommon for high school teachers to allow students multiple ways and opportunities to prove concept mastery. While NECAP has nothing to do with fixing torn menisci, STAR will not make your child popular among his peers and PAWS is not the title of the latest episode of Paw Patrol, every U.S. state participates in standardized testing, and a multimillion-dollar industry exists to get parents and students “ahead.”
George Couros, a well-known educator and author, writes about the need for educational leaders to “make it clear that failure is an option” and teaching students that reflecting on failure and learning from it leads to “true growth” in his bestseller The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. As a successful entrepreneur himself, Couros recognizes that status quo education is lacking in its preparation of kids for the world of now.
Perhaps this excerpt from The Innovator’s Mindset says it best: “If we are going to help our students thrive, we have to move past ‘the way we have always done it,’ and create better learning experiences for our students than we had ourselves. This does not mean replacing everything we do, but we must be willing to look with fresh eyes at what we do and ask, ‘Is there a better way?'”
Teaching entrepreneurship in schools is one way. It will help students gain transferable skills they can use to play the career game well, no matter what the future throws at them. Undertaking the entrepreneurial journey early on will prepare them for this game. They’ll still get hit by a ball here and there. But, they will always dodge the wrench.
Originally Posted on Entrepreneur.com by Oskar Cymerman
As an entrepreneur, you will consistently encounter new obstacles, both large and small. How you deal with them will either derail you from your path or push you forward. Mentors are invaluable assets to help you navigate those trials. They are the ones who have already earned their championship rings and can coach you to achieve your true potential. In fact, 70 percent of small businesses that receive mentoring survive more than five years. That is double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses.
The lessons my own mentors taught me and the wisdom they imparted are large parts of why I have been able to accomplish what I have so far.
Many people ask what makes a good mentor. The answer to that is going to change slightly from person to person and business to business. However, I feel there are three different themes of mentorship that apply universally. I would recommend seeking out at least one of these traits when looking for a good mentor:
A visionary mindset
One of my first mentors was the person who gave me my introduction into the fashion retail industry. He taught me the ins and outs of that world, and being associated with him gave me credibility working in that space.
Beyond that, one significant lesson he taught me was to always look to the future and get ahead of where technology is going. Although he was a fashion executive, he was also a CTO with a keen eye on how the internet was set to disrupt the world. Hard to believe now, but there was a time when many thought the internet was nothing more than a passing fad.
Find a mentor who can help you see past what’s directly in front of you and look to the larger picture of the evolving world — someone who always seems a few steps ahead of the game.
A distinct management philosophy
Another mentor of mine, a former Harvard business school professor who went on to build a multibillion-dollar publically traded company, showed me the absolute importance of finding the right management strategy for your business. Headquartered in Hong Kong, my mentor developed a breakthrough management system and showed me how a company could be run with a Western management style and an Eastern value system. This “three-year planning” process requires a complete overhaul of the business every three years — as if you are starting the company from scratch — along with one massive stretch goal that seems impossible to meet. I incorporate these management techniques along with many others I learned from him in how I run LegalZoom today.
Find a mentor that is a master in management — someone who can help you develop the management strategies and hone the specific types of management skills that will work for the business you are trying to build.
A perspective to push you
Over the years, one of my mentors has given me life lessons ranging from marriage advice to exit strategies. He was my first VC, and in many ways is like an older brother. Many years ago we had an investment that was doing very well; after three years it was profitable and had considerable revenue. He wanted to move on. He told me that it was a good investment, but it was like hitting a single. I could spend the next three years hitting singles with this, or within that timeframe, I could cut my investment and start a whole new company that would hit one out of the park. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of exiting a profitable business at first, but he showed me how to reach farther than I thought I could. He taught me that the enemy of incredible is good.
Find a mentor who never lets you settle — someone who will show you different perspectives that challenge what you think you know and who pushes you past your comfort zone.
The quality of a mentor is important. Research by Endeavor Insightshowed that 33 percent of companies where a founder is mentored by a successful entrepreneur went on to become a top-performing company. Having a good mentor can be helpful. Having a great mentor can change your life.
Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com by John Suh