Do you ever get to the end of a busy day only to realize that next to nothing has been taken off of your “to do” list? What if you could take back some of the hours in your day? What would you do differently? The problem is that many business owners don’t know what to do about their lack of productivity. Or, like everything else, they put off their commitment to get things under control.
In 18 MINUTES: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, author Peter Bregman delivers a series of quick-hitting chapters that teach us how to navigate through the never-ending chatter of emails, text messages, phone calls, and endless meetings that prevent us from focusing our time on those things that really matter.
Today, Peter has answered some of my questions here at The Successful Soloist and he will be joining me for an in-depth interview on The Million Dollar Mindset at 2pm ET. Make sure to join us there or download the podcast at a later date.
Q. In 18 Minutes you encourage your readers to focus on things that matter to them; things that have specific meaning. You suggest exploring what matters, what’s working well, what we feel neutral about, and what alienates us. What choices do you feel a solopreneur has if certain aspects of managing his business don’t appeal to him?
A. One of the great advantages to being a solopreneur is the ability to structure the business to match - almost perfectly - what I call the 4 elements: the particular strengths, weaknesses, differences, and passions of the solopreneur. And with the accessibility and availability of outsourcing, that’s never been easier. The first thing to do if an aspect of your business doesn’t appeal to you is to ask whether it’s essential to the business. If it’s not - or if you can change the business to make it less important - then get rid of it. If it is important and it doesn’t appeal to you, outsource it if at all possible.
All of us succeed - this is especially true for solopreneurs - when we work at the intersection of the 4 elements. If you can structure your business so it allows you to leverage your strengths, embrace your weaknesses, assert your differences, and pursue your passions, you will be playing the game you know you can win.
Q. Peter, your book is filled with insightful messages intended to help the reader find the path to happiness and fulfillment. Do you believe that individuals who are productivity-challenged are simply on the “wrong” path?
A. Any of us can be productivity challenged, even when we are in exactly the right place, doing the right things, with the right other people. In fact, sometimes I become productivity challenged precisely because I have too many right things to do. It’s an interesting dynamic I’ve recently discovered - When everything is important, working on a single task becomes psychologically difficult because it means we are choosing not to work on all the other things that we know are also important. So we end up watching TV or eating ice cream or buying running sneakers instead of doing the work that’s important to us. It doesn’t make any sense and yet it’s a dynamic I’ve found myself in and watch other people struggle with all the time.
There’s another dynamic at play: the more important your work is to you, the more likely you are to procrastinate on it. This is because you have more at stake in work that’s close to your heart. Failure might leave your very identity in question. Maybe you can’t be a writer/solopreneur/online marketing maven/technologist after all. And so you don’t get started. All these are examples of being productivity-challenged while being on the right path.
The solution is in creating a system that gets you to focus on the most important things - that’s what my six box to do list and my 18 Minute process are all about.
Q. You suggest that the secret to thriving in life is to do fewer things – the things that are most important. How does a busy solopreneur determine what to choose?
A. I suggest that everyone choose five things that they most want to focus on in a year. Five things that put you at the intersection of the four elements - Strengths, Weaknesses, Differences, and Passions - and that are most meaningful. I specifically discourage people from trying to find their mission in life. If you have one, great. But if not, it can be paralyzing to try to find it. So simply focus on what you want to spend your time doing in the next year. I ask three major questions in my book - What is This Year About? What is This Day About? What is This Moment About? It’s critically important to answer the first question before the second. Otherwise we’ll spend our days frantically working but not getting us where we want to go. Once you place yourself at the intersection of you strengths, weaknesses, differences, and passions then you will naturally be working on the things you’re good at, make you happy, and have meaning to you. Choose those things to spend your time on.
Q. I appreciate your “3-day rule”- nothing stays on the to-do list for longer than 3 days. Do you find that there is any specific psychology behind allowing things to stagnate on our lists for days, weeks, even months?
A. Yes. Many of us are afflicted with a disease called FOMO or Fear of Missing Opportunities. So we add things to our list and, even though we are unlikely to accomplish many of them, we keep them there. Unfortunately, that quickly transforms our to do list into a guilt list; a list of everything we think we should be doing but can’t get to. Which then makes it hard to identify the things that are most important to us. The answer to this is to make more intentional choices about what we are going to do and what we are going to ignore. It’s hard to say “no” to something we’d like to do - but if it doesn’t reasonably fit into the areas we most want to focus on in a year, then it’s a distraction and we need to pass it by.
Q. Peter, many of my clients are faced with email overload. Can you suggest a few steps to address/manage this problem?
A. One thing is to delete liberally - If you have an inkling that something is not critical, don’t read it. Also, be very careful what you reply and to whom. You can either keep a conversation going or politely close it - choose carefully which you want to do for a particular email. Finally, I find it is much less efficient - and far more distracting - to answer email as it comes in. Instead, choose email times and go through them all at once - you’ll be much better at making decisions and responding if you’ve cordoned off the time.
Q. Entrepreneurs are notorious for losing focus. With so much information coming at us how can we avoid constant distraction?
A. It’s hard. It helps to resist the temptation to multitask. Because multi tasking simply doesn’t work - it slows us down and makes us lose focus. Apple’s new operating system has integrated full screen views into many applications - so, if you want, you can make the thing you are working on the only thing that appears on your screen. That’s a great tool to fight distraction. Another thing is to avoid interruptions. Use a timer and decide how long you are going to work on something and then, no matter what, don’t change your focus until your timer goes off.
Researchers watched people work and noticed, on average, that people were interrupted four times each hour. But here’s the interesting part - they often didn’t go back to what they were working on before they were interrupted. And here’s the really, really interesting part: the more challenging the work was that they were doing before they were interrupted, the less likely it was that they would return to it after the interruption. In other words, we’re most likely to lose focus on our most important work.
Q. Lastly, many solopreneurs work from home. What are some important factors in creating a workspace that is conducive to high productivity levels?
A. Put a lock on your home office door. I have three young kids so that helps tremendously. I also find it’s helpful to define times during the day when you aren’t going to work - breaks, lunch, errands - which creates a boundary around your work time. This way you can stay focused, knowing exactly when that break is coming up.
Also, know your rhythm. I do my best writing in the morning - so if I cordon off a few hours to write before I even look at email, I know I’ll be productive. Once you know your rhythms, schedule your day around them. That’s the key to all of this really - especially solopreneurs - know yourself well and build things around you so that you can bring the best of who you are out into the world.|
Don’t forget to tune into my interview with Peter on The Million Dollar Mindset where he reveals more about 18 Minutes and productivity solutions that could result in making you a top producer!
A sale takes two people, but not just any two people. An effective sale is most often achieved between two (or more) people who have synergy between them and understand the desired outcome for, not just one, but both parties. No matter what business you are in, you sell. You sell yourself, your product and/or your vision. And to do so with great success depends on your skill in creating synergy between you and your prospects, potential investors, partners and employees.
I recall going into an electronics store to peruse the PC inventory when I was evaluating my choices for a new computer. A sales guy approached me and asked how he could help. I began to respond but wasn’t able to get a full sentence out before he interrupted to embark upon an annoying soliloquy citing his personal comparative analysis between brands. It was as though I didn’t even exist.
With my arms crossed and my eyes searching for the fastest route to the exit I began to stew about this man’s shortsightedness. But it wouldn’t have been too late for him to save the day and sell me a computer because I really did not want to spend the day wandering from store to store. How could he not notice my body language? And my disinterest was clearly written on my face, I made sure of it. But he was too absorbed in his own interests to notice.
No matter what your personality, you can create synergy between you and another party, simply by observing their body language, tone and speech patterns. If you have only one mode of communication, odds are you are selling to only one personality type. Enhance your communication style and sell to a wider range of prospects. Here are a few basic tips, experiment with them and see how they work for you.
Body language gives us critical cues in conversation but don’t make immediate assumptions and misinterpret it. Take your time and get to know your audience. For instance, while crossed arms can often indicate strong objection, this position can also indicate another form of resistance or discomfort. Many of my clients who are dealing with forms of emotional distress will sit across from me with their arms crossed because they know that we are going to discuss topics that may feel uncomfortable to them. Don’t assume that someone is disinterested when they strike this position, their resistance may only mean that you have your work cut out for you.
It’s important to put your audience ease. If they assume a position that indicates resistance, like crossed arms, go ahead and mirror that position. Now speak in calm tones and with confidence, but not arrogance, and then slowly uncross your arms and sit comfortably with your arms on your lap or at your sides. If you’ve done your job well, your companion will follow suit. When they do, you will know that you are one step closer to engaging them completely.
The same goes for someone who is shaking their leg or tapping on the arm of their chair. Pay attention to these critical cues, subtly mimic their behavior and switch to a more receptive pose when the time is right.
You can also use mimicking and mirroring for other body language cues, just to create a subconscious connection. Crossed legs, clasped hands, crossed ankles and so on. The person will feel a connection to you, even if he doesn’t completely understand what it is. Be subtle and assume a similar or the exact body position and remain in that position slightly longer than the other person. It’s not necessary to do this during your entire meeting, only long enough to create that important bond.
Also listen for verbal cues. If you are a kinesthetic person, you will use words like, feel, touch, grasp, tap into and so on. But if you are speaking with someone who has a visual representational system these words are of a foreign language to them. They will use words like, see, imagine and picture this. So when you ask this person how it would feel to own this shiny new widget, rather than asking them to imagine owning the widget, you are not going to get their full cooperation. To determine a person’s representational system listen to the predicates they use and utilize them yourself. Now you’re speaking the same language.
The most critical point here is to step away from your own intentions and step into the intention of understanding your audience and creating a meaningful connection with them. Listen, observe, be flexible and calm. Stay in the moment instead of racing ahead to what you are going to say next. What you say is not nearly as important as what you hear and what you see.
We’ve all witnessed or experienced the affects of bullying in children, but adults are not immune to bullying characteristics. An adult bully will attempt to gain power over another person, and make himself or herself the dominant adult. The customer who refuses to play by the rules, always pushing the checkout clerk to the limits, or the guy in bumper to bumper traffic who beeps incessantly are good examples of an adult bully. Hopefully, you don’t experience this behavior in others too often and surely you do not treat others in this way – but how do you treat yourself? And, as a result, how do you treat your business?
Self-bullying is one of the most negative, destructive behaviors that we can engage in, yet it’s not all that uncommon in the uncertain entrepreneur. Do you demand perfection from yourself? Do you shoulder the burden of responsibility when things don’t work out quite as you’d planned? Do you sometimes call yourself names and entertain the voice within that constantly tells you that you “should have done this and could have done that”? Perhaps you negate your achievements and criticize yourself for not doing more, noticing the slightest imperfection in nearly everything you do. If any of these behaviors ring true, it’s time to have a chat with your inner-bully.
The inner-bully has probably been a part of you for a long, long time and if you are ready to achieve your ultimate success – you must tame the bully within! Her destructive behavior may prevent you from taking risk, presenting yourself with confidence, believing that you are capable of achieving and living your dream and more.
Think about the occasions when you verbally beat yourself up over something that “should have” turned out differently. Now think about an opportunity or project that you rejected or talked yourself out of, even though it could have helped your business. Surely, the two are related. Does that inner-bully come to the surface to bully you into believing that you are not capable? Does that nagging voice convince you that it will never change and that you are just too “this” and too “that” to succeed in something that really challenges you? If the bully within is determined enough, you have probably held yourself back quite a number of times.
Whether Mr. or Ms. Bully keeps you from the big wins or from taking on a challenge or change in your life and business, acknowledging this negative self-talk is your first step to freedom. Remember that there are varying levels of this behavior and it is wise to consider outside help in form of a therapist or life coach if it is rooted deeply in childhood experiences that still have a hold over you.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to begin to curb that bullying voice within.
When your inner-bully speaks out, evaluate the emotion that is connected to it and try to put those feelings in perspective. If you are afraid of failing, for instance, ask yourself if you can you really fail? What if you do fail; will it be truly catastrophic? What is the worst possible outcome? Will you feel better if you don’t move forward and play it safe, or if you try your hand at this and allow a bit of imperfection in your life?
You might also explore if are you afraid of letting someone else down? What do you think that person would say about that?
After asking yourself these questions and spending some time facing the facts you may be ready to identify and initiate one small step that will challenge the bully and take you toward achieving something that you can feel proud of.
If you continue to return to this routine, each time the bully within you speaks up, you will change the thought patterns associated with risk-taking and trying new things. Go ahead, step out and believe in YOU! Your business will thank you!
The other day a friend who is trying to establish herself on Twitter told me that she was giving up. She just doesn’t get it and doesn’t know what to say, she told me. I have to admit, my thoughts at the time included, “What’s to get? You just talk!” As though reading my mind she said, “I can’t stand it when people who find it easy think that it’s easy for everyone! It’s not easy at all if you don’t understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.” Oops. Busted!
So, I dedicate this post to my friend and to anyone who thinks they “should” be tweeting but just “doesn’t get it”. Here we go, Twitter usage, 101!
Think of Twitter as a party. It can be as large or as intimate as you’d like it to be. You don’t tell your life story at this party; you simply share tidbits of information about things that interest you and you receive tidbits of information on topics you’d like to know more about. And when you meet someone who interests you, you continue your conversation in small sound bites. Just as you might look forward to seeing your new connections at the next party, you continue to meet up with them on Twitter. How fun!
Every now and then you might really enjoy what one of these individuals is all about, so you invite them to “virtual coffee” – meaning an actual phone call or email exchange. I tell people that some of my best friends are people I’ve never actually met in person! When has there ever been a time in our history that opportunities like this have been possible? It’s so exciting!
One of the most common statements I hear from people who are resisting the Twitter playground is, “What do I care what someone is having for lunch.” My response? “If that’s all that your Twitter peeps are talking about you’re following the wrong people.”
Find and follow people who, a.) You can learn from and be inspired by and, b.) You may be able to help. How to find them? Well, if you’re interested in fly fishing then do a basic Twitter search on fly fishing. Check out the profiles of those who mention fly fishing and follow the people who interest you. Make sure to search on variations of the word; in this case fly fishing and flyfishing. You will notice hashtags (“#”) in some of the tweets. Hashtags are a way of creating communities around a specific topic. If you are new to Twitter don’t concern yourself with the use of hashtags just yet, but remember to research the topic further once you are ready to become a power user!
So now you’re asking, “what do I say?” Well, what would you say at your party? Remember, it’s not all about you. If you are a good communicator you typically ask questions and show interest in the life of others, right? Social Media is about what you can give, how you can help others, and learning from others as well. If you are expecting to make a quick buck you might consider another form of internet marketing. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible, but realistically most seasoned veterans are here to offer value. Don’t worry, it all comes back to you in some way; just don’t place your primary focus on how many followers you have and how it will pay off. This is a long term investment of your time.
If you write articles or blogs, simply pull an excerpt or two from them and paste them into your Timeline under “What’s Happening?” Find interesting articles and blogs on-line and post a link to them with a brief comment. One of the most helpful tools for this is a url shortener. Why? Because you only have 140 characters for your tweet and urls are long. You can also track how many people follow your link with some of these tools. Again, don’t concern yourself with tracking until you are ready to go to the next level, just shorten your urls to make it easy on yourself. I use www.bitly.com.
Ask questions that can lead to conversation. Last weekend, while enjoying my morning coffee, I tweeted, “Why is it that Sunday morning coffee always tastes the best?” It led to a fun thread of tweets with people I’ve never spoken with before. You can ask all types of questions – and don’t worry if you don’t get a response. The idea is to create thought-provoking content and questions that get people thinking.
An easy way to share information is to retweet what others are saying. When you see a tweet that interests you and that others may benefit from, click on the “retweet” feature below the tweet. You’re not only sharing information when you do this but you may build your following when your retweet catches the eye of others who are similarity interested in the topic or the person who you are retweeting. People see that you are interested in the same topics and they will follow you too!
And people may retweet your comments as well. Whenever possible I like to thank people who tweet my blogs and retweet my comments. I obviously can’t do that from this blog because there are a lot of you who tweet these posts (Thank you SO much!) but if a retweet shows up in my timeline I send a quick tweet of thanks - just as you would thank someone for saying something nice about you at the party. You can find your retweets by clicking on the “Retweets” tab above your timeline.
To learn more make sure to watch the pros. Find successful people in your industry and view them as secret mentors. See how their personality shows through, watch the value of what they offer in their tweets, note how much of what they say is personal vs. business. CAUTION: If you find yourself getting caught up in the negatives, “I-will-never-be-this-good” kind of stuff, STOP. When I first dipped my toe into social media I followed every successful coach I could find. But it backfired and became depressing and overwhelming! So I chose a few and stopped following the others. Once my confidence (and my practice) grew I reconnected and allowed myself to learn and grow with the best of them!
Let people know that you appreciate them. People who are helping people are not untouchable. If someone inspires you, send them a tweet to let them know. Depending on who it is, you may or may not receive a response, but it feels good to show appreciation and certainly to receive it.
What about those cool twitter backgrounds? My advice is not to worry about your background at first. You can create simple backgrounds from Twitter’s basic set up tools. Once you begin to tweet like a pro you can research sites that offer custom backgrounds or reach out to a graphic designer to make one for you.
You may also be wondering about what picture to use on your profile. Personally, I like to follow people who have a clear image of themselves posted. It helps me to feel more connected to them. But if you are tweeting for your company and want to put your logo up as your profile picture, that’s ok too. Try to avoid silly avatars or other images that mean something to you but not to anyone else. Let people see who you are!
So where do people find the time? It’s difficult to view Social Media as a priority when you’re already so busy. But let’s face it; if you want your business to be around for much longer, you’ve must jump in. And you may get lost exploring Twitterland for a while - yes it takes time. If someone offered you a free block of advertising on national television, would you turn it down because you don’t have the time to deal with it? Twitter alone reaches over 20 million users; a fraction of what Facebook reaches. So imagine your reach if you use just these two sites for 20 minutes a day!
And it’s ok if you spend 30 minutes on Twitter and only get one tweet out. Schedule blocks of time 2 or 3 times a week and let yourself explore. It will help you to feel more comfortable. To save time, consider writing some of your Tweets in a separate document and copy and paste one or two of them into Twitter when you visit. This process may somehow feel less intimidating and just might speed things up for you. There are also tools that will help to organize your tweets, like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, but again – don’t concern yourself with these until you are ready to ramp up on your twitter usage.
Most importantly, have fun! Make friends, learn, inspire and be inspired. It’s about building and contributing to community. Social Media is an opportunity to become involved in things that were at one time untouchable to you. It’s your connection to the global community and can take you to places you’ve never seen before. Hop on and enjoy the ride.
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