Starting with your ducks everywhere

I was at a tradeshow a week ago selling a product that didn’t exist.

Well, more accurately I was accepting pre-orders for a product that hasn’t been made yet.

In fact the packaging hasn’t been sorted either now I think about it.

Risky? Maybe, but this was a deliberate move I made to give me the kick up the proverbial I needed to get this particular product, Nimble, into production. Afterall what better motivation than heaps of waiting customers?

Sometimes waiting until you have all your ducks in a row will slow you down, and even stop you moving entirely. Instead it might be best to just start with your ducks everywhere and play catch-up along the way.

After-all, nobody ever won a marathon by waiting until condition were perfect before taking their first step, did they?

The Mind Reboot

I’m sure many of you reach a point each day where there is just too much going on in your head. I can’t be the only one can I!?

What I mean by this is that you’re juggling several tasks at once and are constantly thinking ahead to what needs to be started next.

No amount of planning gets rid of this feeling in my experience. It’s just natural to want to know the status of things and where things are in relation to where you want things to be.

And like me I’m willing to bet these thoughts, ideas, worries (call them what you want) follow you after the end of the working day, don’t they?

What you need really is something to do on a regular basis that requires, no DEMANDS, 100% of your focus and energy. With no room in your conscious thought to worry or ponder about business stuff what happens…?

You don’t worry or ponder.

In that instant you become removed from your tasks at hand completely. This allows you to come back to things later with more clarity and focus than before. Plus it’s nice every now and then not to have your mind running at full sprint, isn’t it?

Now at what point can you reach a state where you’re completely removed from business? Just being away from your desk? Hardly. On the commute home? Doubt it. How about whilst sleeping? Maybe, but it’s not proper time away if you’re unconscious is it?

No in my opinion it has to be something you do, in your free time, when you’re awake:

Meditation?
Reading?
TV?
Football?
Running?

Maybe for some. For me the one activity that empties my mind completely is…

Swimming!

Yes that’s right. No matter how much my brain is ticking and whirring when I step into the pool all is tranquil after just a few lengths.

So what presses your mind reboot button? What helps you zone out? Make sure you do whatever it is often to help stay on top of things, retain clarity and reduce stress. It works trust me!

Now I think it’s time I went for another swim…

Ever seen fuzzy goal posts?

Have you ever watched a football, rugby or [insert sport here] match and seen the players shooting at fuzzy goal posts?

I thought not… and there’s a reason for that.

Goals that aren’t rigid and clearly defined are very had to reach… after all if you can’t see exactly what you’re shooting for where do you aim and how do you know you’ve scored?

This is as important in business as it is in sport. Setting poorly defined goals is something I’ve been guilty of many times before (and still am from time-to-time trust me) and it is often the main cause for project delays, feature creep, confusion and a whole heap of other problems.

Want something done on time or to get into a routine? Then clearly define exactly what you want to achieve when you want to achieve it and how you’ll know that the goal has been achieved.

Here are two examples from my personal time and from my business:

Going to the gym

Before: I used to set myself the goal of going to the gym three times a week. This often meant however that I kept changing my mind about which day to go, putting visits off until I had to go three days in a row at the end of the week and then ultimately not managing it because something else came up.

After: Now I go to the gym and exercise for at least 30 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 4pm. Because this is much more clearly defined I’ve had far less trouble sticking to the routine and achieving my goal of regular exercise.

My business

Before: For my first product launch I set myself the goal of “going to market” by the end of the year. Predictably I kept adding things, making changes and pushing deadlines and ultimately launched several months after I intended.

After: For my second product launch I set myself the goal of launching at a pre-booked stand at Naidex, a trade show in Birmingham on the 28th April 2015 at 10am with 10 prototypes. With this much more clearly defined goal I launched bang on time and had everything I needed in place!

So…

Do you often find yourself staring at fuzzy goal posts?

Think about what you can do to bring them into focus.

 

 

It’s not always where you look first

Just a quick lesson I learnt from another product recently.

“The largest market for your product isn’t always where you think it is.”

Or in other words the people you start out designing your product for won’t necessarily be the people who generate the most sales.

The product in question that got me thinking? Greeper Laces.

Greeper Laces are nylon shoe laces that never have to be untied and re-tied. Once they’re laced up they’re laced up. They do this using a special toggle.

Greeper Laces

 

How exactly they work isn’t that important. What is important though is who they were designed for and who is using them.

Who they were designed for

They were initially designed for the inventor’s children and other children to help them put on and take off their shoes unassisted.

Who is using them too

Greeper laces are incredibly popular in two other completely different markets: the elite athlete market and the disability market.

Elite athletes, particularly triathletes, like using Greeper Laces because they allow them to very quickly put on and take off their trainers during an event; dramatically reducing their transition times between sports (e.g. switching from swimming gear to cycling gear and from cycling gear to running gear). This isn’t what Greeper Laces were designed for but it’s something they’re very good at!

Disabled people, particularly those who have trouble reaching their feet, those with reduced co-ordination and those with the use of only one hand, also really like Greeper Laces because it makes the task of putting on and taking off shoes easier. This gives them more independence.

In Conclusion

What you consider the “main market” for your product won’t necessarily be the one in which your product offers the most value. Therefore it’s worth launching your product into as many markets as possible where there might be a fit. Otherwise people might miss out on the value your product offers and you might miss out on the extra sales that would come with this!

So ask yourself the following:

What would you consider is the main market for your product and why?

Are there other markets out there you hadn’t thought of that your product might do well in?

Mentorrific News

A few weeks ago an exciting thing happened… I got my first official business mentor!

Many business owners I know are constantly telling me how important having a mentor is so I’m glad I’ve finally found the right match for me and my business.

I can’t say who they are for confidentiality reasons but I can say they run a multi-national branding agency so they really know their stuff. I’m looking forward to having someone with experience who I can bounce ideas off, get advice from and ultimately someone who can help me make Version 22 the best business it can possibly be.

I know mentor-mentee business relationships are supposed to go both ways so I’m determined to offer as much value in return as I can in some way or another. How I’ll do this if something I’ve yet to figure out though.

So what’s happened so far? It’s early days so not much but even after our first meeting I am feeling more motivated and inspired than ever!

  • Have you got a mentor?
  • If you have how do they help you and your business?
  • If you haven’t should you get one?

Questions definitely worth asking yourself.

 

How having strangers staring you in the face can help get things done

Everyone’s been there – working on a project you have to deliver where you are the one in control of the delivery date.

And so the inevitable happens.

You give yourself an arbitrary goal; “the end of the month”, “two weeks time”, “next Thursday” something like that, and sure enough one after another things start getting in the way.

  • Something that you thought would be done in an instant takes days
  • The person you were counting on for X turned out to not be all that reliable
  • You’re just not quite happy with everything until it’s all perfect.

So what happens to that deadline you set?

It slips.

It gets pushed back, moved around and its goal posts get shifted too. Tasks get added beyond the original spec of the project, and things begin to take longer and longer than planned. Before you know it your one week task turns into a two week task, then a three week task, then a month long ordeal!

Still with me on this?

I’ve suffered from this problem several times in the past, particularly when coming up to the launch of my first Kickstarter campaign. Tasks kept growing as I added to them and fretting over details caused no one tasks to ever been signed off when intended. This meant the goal posts kept moving and ultimately…

…I over-ran my original deadline by weeks.

Why was this? Well I now know it was down to the person project managing the whole thing. Me.

Because I was the one in charge of completing the project I spent as much time on each task as I deemed appropriate. This was almost always too much time. I’d also push the deadline back if it was getting uncomfortably close and change the overall aim of the project if I had a new idea or thought I could improve something further.

The result? The project I eventually completed was very different from the project planned at the start and it took waaaay longer than intended. But was the project a success? Sure in that I was happy with the standard I’d completed it at…

…But if I measured it by how I kept to the initial schedule and whether I delivered on the goals set out at the start?

Absolutely not.

So the main lesson I learnt from all of this? Set deadlines you have to stick too. How? By letting other people hold you accountable. By this I don’t mean hiring a project manager necessarily. I mean choosing the deadlines you set, and how you set these deadline, very carefully. Here are a few examples:

 

  1. Announce a project completion/ product launch/ ship date – this way you’ve now got a captive audience waiting on you to deliver!
  2. Sign up to a tradeshow/ speaking event/ exhibition – this way you’re committing to having something to show people at the event, if you don’t it’ll be a huge embarrassment afterall!
  3. Take part in challenge prizes and other types of competitions – this way you’re competing with other people to deliver what you promised by a certain deadline.
  4. Take on another commitment set to clash in the future if things overrun– this might be something as simple as booking a holiday or saying yes to another big project. It just has to be something which you won’t be able to run in parallel with your current project. This way you’re forced to finish the one at hand first.

 

I now try and make a habit of using at least one of these 4 strategies to help me stay on target with current projects. I’m already noticing a big difference in my project management when compared to before the change!

So do you use any of these 4 techniques, or perhaps others, to help you stick to self-imposed deadlines? Let me know in the comments below.

It’s time for some time off – 3 reasons taking time out is the best way to get more done.

Sometimes people work so hard they don’t have time to take time off. I’ve been one of those people a few times before and it’s not fun!

But here’s one thing I’ve realised (albeit a little too slowly for my liking)… forcing yourself to take time out every day can make you orders of magnitude more productive in the long run. How? In 3 different ways:

1. Time out gives you perspective

This is important as it allows you to see what work actually needs to be done now and what can wait.

For example: got a product launch in 4 months? Then why start on the website that far in advance if it’s only going to take a week to build/ change? If you allow 4 months it’ll take 4 months mixed in with everything else and thus you’ll be working more hours on it ultimately spend more hours on your business that were otherwise avoidable.

In the past I have spent weeks working a disproportionate amount of time on tasks that actually didn’t require as much work as I thought, or worse, weren’t even that important!

2. Time out makes you more efficient

The dreaded burnout. Everyone has one from time to time. When you work yourself to the bone on a project until your brain turns to mush and you can’t seem to bring yourself to work properly for a week or two after.

Overworking in my opinion can be a bit of a false economy. Let’s do the maths:

Say you work 60 hour weeks instead of 40 hour. Thus gaining 20 hours of “productivity” each week. How many of these hours are you working at 100% efficiency and not losing focus or getting distracted due to lack of sleep? If you’re currently working 60 hours a week at 60% efficiency – caused by tiredness, distractions etc. – then you’d be better off working 40 hours at 90% and getting the same amount of work done. And you’d then have 20 hours extra a week to spend doing something else!


60 hours per week at 60% productivity = 60/100 x 60 = 36 productive hours per week

40 hours per week at 90% productivity = 40/100 x 90 = 36 productive hours per week


Additionally when the inevitable burnout comes after working long hours for weeks on-end you’re going to lose a huge chunk of those hours of extra work you accrued anyway, so ultimately what’s the point of overworking yourself?

3. Time out is good for you

Time out is great as it allows you to keep on top of the other things in life… it’s not all meant to be work after all!

Whether you use this time to exercise and stay healthy, learn new skills or simply spend more time with friends and family, keeping on top of your life outside of work gives you more energy and motivation to apply to your work and helps you see clearly what you’re working for.

The Solution

This is all well and good but if you’ve been in the habit of working uber long hours day-in, day-out for months on end how on earth do you break this cycle for some much needed r&r?

Simple… treat your time off every day with the same discipline as your office work or meetings. Set a time at which you’ll drop everything each day and take a few hours off to do something else. Mark it in your calendar if you have to! Start small, say stopping half an hour early each day, and build up to something more significant slowly. This way you won’t feel the sudden shock of a drop in working hours which can sometimes make you feel like you’re “cheating” or “being lazy” if you’re used to overworking.

This is a routine I’ve been sticking to for a few months now and although it can be difficult at times it has done wonders for my productivity. I also have more time to exercise, cook (one of my favourite past times) and hang out with friend and family and I no longer feel overworked! Now when I’m setting meetings and telephone calls I ensure they fall within my new working day and not my old one.

So go on, give yourself some time out and let me know how you get on!

The To Do List Lingerer (TDLL)

We all have one – the task on our to do list that just never seems to go away… the “To Do List Lingerer“.

For one reason or another the To Do List Lingerer (or TDLL) keeps getting pushed back, avoided or forgotten about. Note the key word there is “reason”, there is a reason that task hasn’t been crossed off or ticked off yet, there has to be! What’s yours?

It could be that the task is dauntingly big and you don’t know where to start, or that the task is boring and something you really don’t want to do, or it could be something you’re not sure how to do.

Whatever the reason is that that task is still hanging around there’s a way to tackle it. Here’s how to get rid of that To Do List Lingerer in its various guises:

The Dauntingly Big TDLL

The reason this task sticks around is because it’s just so big it seems you could get lost in it and that it could eat up your valuable time. The solution? Break it down into smaller bite sized chunks.

Q. “What’s the best way to eat an elephant?”

A. “One bite at a time.”

This joke, saying, whatever you want to call, it explains this approach perfectly; if you break down a task into sub-tasks you’re more comfortable with you’ll get that task done eventually. Trust me. Yes instead of one task you’ll now be left with several, but at least these smaller more manageable tasks will actually get done.

The Boring TDLL

This task hangs around because there’s always something more interesting, and therefore more important to do.

So how do you tackle it? Simple.

The next day you’re in the office don’t open your email, don’t brew a coffee and don’t chat with colleagues. Instead do nothing but sit at your desk and work on the task until it’s done. Seriously, don’t stop for a break and don’t try and multitask, just do it! If you remove all distractions and don’t give yourself an excuse it will get done, and it will be so satisfying when you finally get it ticked off.

I try and get the boring tasks done first thing if I can because then your day can only get more and more interesting as it goes on, what could be better than that?

The Undefined TDLL

This tasks stays on your to do list because technically it isn’t, well, a task. Its parameters aren’t defined, it has no clear end or output and so it is never conclusively finished. The way to handle these “tasks” is to never add them to your to do list in the first place! Instead make sure every task you add is clearly explained, has parameters and a finish. Take a look at this example:

An undefined “task” - make sales calls

A defined task – call the first 10 businesses on the current prospect list and speak to the decision maker there to determine the next course of action: follow up, sale or no further action.

See the difference? One just sits there getting you stressed because you’re not doing it, the other is easier to start and easier to finish.

 

So, take a look at your to do list and see if there are any To Do List Lingerers at the bottom that have been there a while… and get them sorted!

 

“Write blog post about To Do List Lingerers” …. CHECK.  

Be a “slacker”

Sometimes it can feel like every day is a manic race to the bottom of your to-do list.

But what if, to put it bluntly, your to-do list is full of rubbish?

  • That item you added 6 weeks ago… does it really still need doing?
  • Is the task at pride of place at the top of your agenda really that important?
  • Will these so called “critical” tasks truly further your business or could you avoid doing them altogether and not even notice the difference?

Sometimes it’s worth zooming out and viewing your business from 30,000 feet. That way you can see where you want to head and determine if what you’re working on is really helping you make steps in the right direction. Getting a clear picture like this is something that’s often only possible when viewing your business from the outside.

So go-on, give yourself a day off the to-do list and be a slacker. Have a think about your business as a whole and what your priorities really are. You might be surprised what a little time out can do.

After-all clearing your to-do list by erasing tasks that don’t need doing is much quicker than doing everything and is much more effective too!

How really needing to “go” can be great for business

Here’s something that I’ve discovered recently. Really needing to “go” can help you focus on the task at hand BIG TIME.

So what do I mean by this? Well imagine you’ve had a few too many cups of water/ tea/ coffee one morning and now nature is calling. Normally you just drop what you’re doing and go right? But what if you made yourself finish the task at hand before you went? That task would get done much quicker wouldn’t it?

This may sound ridiculous but it works, and why? Well you can think of this exercise like setting a self-imposed deadline on a task but one were your body is constantly making you aware that time is running out. This is one deadline you just can’t overrun after all! And, as we all know, without strict deadline things can take forever to finish. Just take a look at Parkinson’s Law –

“Work expands as to fill the time available for its completion”

To put it another way, if you allow yourself an hour to do a set task it will take an hour. If you allow yourself a day it will take a day. And if you allow yourself a week – you guessed it – it’ll take a week!

So next time you’re in the office and think you might need to “pop-out” challenge yourself to finish the task at hand first. You might just be surprised at how effective you become at getting it done.

P.S. – Obviously this tip only works for short-ish tasks. So if you’ve got a mammoth project that’ll take days to complete no matter what you do don’t, for the love of god, stay anchored to your desk chair for that long!