When Martijn Aslander was 17, he was running a company that had 60 part-time employees from the back of a classroom. By the time he was 21 he had two companies, and was directing 140 people. At 27 he decided to sell his companies, and ended up bankrupt as a result of the experience.
What looked like a complete disaster actually ended up being the single best lesson Martijn could learn. He woke up the next day and everything was still there. He had his arms and legs; he had his health. And the worst had happened, which meant that nothing could go wrong anymore. From that moment, anything was possible.
He then asked himself a key question: How big is the chance you will do this again? The answer was simple: There was no chance. Big lessons had been learnt. At that moment, Martijn realised that there was no point in ever getting upset when something goes wrong. It happens. The next time you will fly.
Martijn believes that we are always looking for the next challenges. Millionaires want to be billionaires. Billionaires want to win a Nobel Prize. There is always another goal. So how do you find success and happiness? By asking how you can contribute the most to mankind. In many ways, Martijn was already a life-hacker. At 17 he’d discovered a way to make money without doing much work, simply by being smarter and spotting a niche.
At 27 he learnt that possibilities are what you make of them, and the more you share, the greater your impact, and the more you will receive.
These are his rules to becoming a life-hacker, and doing more in less time, with less stress, at lower costs.
1. Don’t operate on untested assumptions
Most of the fears that people have, and particularly entrepreneurs, are based on assumptions that they haven’t tested. And most untested assumptions are simply not true. They live as ghosts and monsters in your head, but they’re not real.
We live in a very interesting time, where it’s actually risky to be safe. Safe doesn’t exist, and it never has, because you are never in charge of all the events that take place around you. Change is the only constant. For centuries we’ve operated on the notion of survival of the fittest. He who is strongest will win. This is also a faulty assumption. Success today isn’t about strength — it’s about the ability to adapt to new circumstances. Over the last ten years more circumstances than ever before have changed, and the rate is just accelerating.
You have to have an open mind; you have to learn to be flexible.
2. If you’re in the business of doing business, you will soon be out of business
How do you measure business success? Be careful that your strategy isn’t focused on possessions — fancy offices, a big building, or cars as status symbols. If you’re too focused on things, you’ll be too afraid of losing your stuff. Entrepreneurs who are focused on a higher purpose concentrate on improving themselves, their people and doing the best for their clients. They’re far less afraid of sudden changes and turmoil, because possessions aren’t as important, which makes them agile and adaptable — exactly who you want to be in a changing world.
I see it as the rise of the ‘funpreneur’. The rise of a new breed of people who are focused on doing what they love, and who aspire to a higher cause, instead of just focusing on the business side of things. It’s tough to compete with people who don’t do business models, but focus on purpose instead.
3. Give your teams the freedom to adapt
There are two types of teams — those who are flexible, have an open mind, and are willing to adapt to new conditions and environments, and those who are terrified of making mistakes and therefore seldom venture out of the established norm.
The type of team that forms the foundation of your business is up to you. Are you hiring people with flexible, open minds and giving them the freedom to make mistakes, or do you stifle innovation in your organisation?
Remember that mistakes are often the only way to learn something. If people are really dissatisfied with their own errors and performance, they will internalise the experience far more deeply. There will always be some mistakes. My advice is to create an environment where everyone learns from mistakes — their own and those that others make — and try to make mistakes that you will benefit the most from by encouraging your team to take chances. This doesn’t mean it’s okay to make mistakes on purpose, but create a safe environment and deal with mistakes in a way that shares the lessons, and instils the learnings in your business.
4. Make a ‘not-to-do’ list
We’re so busy making ‘to-do’ lists that we forget to make ‘not-to-do’ lists. Remember that you’re in charge of your life, and you can go in any direction you want. Yes, there will be circumstances that influence your life, but ultimately you can change everything. There’s less financial risk than ever before in doing business. You don’t need big offices, buildings, or cars. Everything you need to make an impact is at your disposal. The only things holding us back are our assumptions.
While you are creating your to-do lists and strategies, take some time to write down what you shouldn’t be doing — what you don’t want to do, what you should avoid — the business or person you don’t want to be. Focus on what you love, and build a great life around those principles. Don’t allow yourself to live in fear.
5. Leverage the holy trinity of dynamics
I believe there are only three things you need for success: People, information and ideas. With these three things, you can set anything in motion.
An idea in itself is worthless. It’s really nothing else but combined information; creatively connecting unconnected dots. The ability to make ideas materialise in this world however holds value, and for that you need people and information. Information is the bridge between ideas and the people who make them happen. What’s incredible is that we are living in an information society.
There are more people connected than ever before. We’re living in a network age and an information age, which means you can focus on all three, connect the dots, and unleash an unprecedented amount of ideas.
6. You don’t need a budget to innovate
The Chief Commander of the Dutch Army approached me to help him find a way to innovate that didn’t involve cutting into his budget. My question to him was, ‘Why do you need budget?’ There are 50 000 geeks in the Netherlands who dream of flying in a jet fighter or being submerged under the ocean. Simply by redeploying assets they already have, the Dutch Army can make these dreams come true.
So many organisations miss this crucial point. Money is naturally scarce, and the dynamics of money are weird. People are afraid to spend it because it’s scarce, and they’re uncertain if what they’re spending it on is a risk or not. As soon as there’s a financial risk, and you don’t know the outcome, you’re hesitant to jump in. And this ends up stalling innovation, because there’s an over-riding belief that you need money to innovate.
But what about applying other resources other than money alone? Always consider what you can do with the resources you already have. This will take financial risk out the equation, which will lead to less fear. Once fear is gone, people step in, open up and contribute. If you get rid of the risk, you enable your team. In many cases, finance is not an enabler, it’s a disabler.
Imagine if you could stop asking for money and setting your price, and instead asked your clients to pay what they believe your services are worth. You’d quickly either make more money, or realise you’re helping the wrong businesses, or not demonstrating your value clearly enough.
Entrepreneurs know this — they’re used to bootstrapping and being creative. The problem is that as we grow, we forget, and start becoming reliant on money to grow. And this stifles us.
So how do you begin to use the resources you have? Start by targeting the one percent of your clients that are able to do 100 or 1 000 fold what they are paying you in terms of money. What can you barter or trade with them? What resources can you offer each other that are actually more valuable than money? What could your clients potentially do for you that would actually save you money? Or what would they love to pay for, that you potentially aren’t offering right now?
Every single organisation has resources that they can deploy without financial loss. Start with 1% and build on it.
7. Build your social capital
Social capital builds monetary capital. It’s not the other way around, and yet so often we focus on monetary capital first. Instead, focus on achieving something that will lead to monetary capital. I give away my social capital freely. I share my books and ideas for free. It clears my mind, and I know that I can create ideas faster than you can steal them anyway. That’s how you should view ideas. Giving away social capital gives you access, and then you don’t need money — that’s the secret to success.
People are too careful with their social capital — particularly their ideas. I promise you this — the chances of becoming a millionaire with just one idea are miniscule. If that’s your strategy, it’s not only dangerous, but you’re wasting your time. If you become someone who can share ideas freely, and focus on bringing people, knowledge and ideas together instead, your chances of success have grown exponentially.
Remember, people love to share, and you want to tap into that. Look for zero plus, not zero sum.
8. Become a life-hacker
The term ‘life-hacker’ was coined in 2005 by tech journalist Danny O’Brien. He was covering a group of programmers who were very productive, and yet they weren’t stressed. They were satisfied. How did they manage to be productive and stress-free? The secret wasn’t only in what they were doing — but in how they were sharing those secrets and tools.
I personally use a few hundred tools that allow me to do a lot more in less time, and I’m happy to share the tactics that help me to work smarter. This is why I launched the lifehacking.nl website, but all the contributors on the site share the same philosophy — we freely share our insights to help others. This is a critical element to life-hacking. There is so much information out there, so many ways to access insights and information. Are you using them? Are you learning and using the tools available? There are tools that can save you hundreds of hours a year. Tap into them. We can learn so much from each other; get the best people possible in your posse and in your community.
9. Understand the dichotomies of knowledge workers
Knowledge work is something new. Traditional business systems are based on hands. You exchange time for money. But today we are working with our heads, and the reality is that you cannot work with your head for eight hours a day, particularly in artificially-constructed work hours. One third of the population work best in the evening, and yet they’re expected to arrive at the office at 8am sharp. Not only are they causing traffic jams, but they’re not working in their optimal conditions either. We need to rethink the model. We need to stop treating computers like modern typewriters. We seem to think that answering hundreds of emails is working. It’s not. We’re all just distracting each other.
Digital skills are nowhere on the strategic agenda of boards. The time and skills of your employees are the most valuable asset you have, and yet we aren’t doing anything to help our employees become life-hackers. Digital skills won’t only help your teams to work smarter and save time, but become real assets, and not just glorified typists. If you focus on digital skills, your ability to find information and ideas faster than anyone else will grow, allowing you to spread those ideas, learn faster than your competitors and entrench strategic skills in your organisation. Take these skills and invest in them heavily. It’s a true differentiator.
IN YOUR TOOLKIT
Create your own time
Life-hacking is all about learning from others and using tools and technology to do things smarter and faster. There are many ways to achieve this goal — you just need to be open to them. Take Pepe Marais, co-founder of Joe Public United, South Africa’s largest independent advertising agency.
Four years ago, Pepe decided to employ a driver. “This solution isn’t for everyone, and it took me a full three months to get used to the idea, but once I got over my own insecurities, it was a revelation. I have gained 32 hours a month — that’s the equivalent of one full work week — simply through using my travel time constructively.”
Learn from the Titans
Tim Ferriss is the master of getting more done in less time — and he’s made it his business to share these tips and lessons with others.
Read this: Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss’s epic amalgamation of hundreds of tactics, routines and habits, collected over the course of two years from the world’s most successful business people and world-class performers, and distilled into a notebook of tips and tricks to use in your every-day life and business.
Listen to this: A summary of the book is available on Audible.com (another key tool for life-hacking and a great way to maximise your time in traffic and the gym by listening to business ‘how to’ books and top biographies).
Watch for free: Accelerated learning with Tim Ferriss is a 13-minute video available on Youtube and below. If you want to maximise your ability to learn quickly and efficiently, start here.
Can A Simple Checklist Transform Your Business?
If checklists are useful for building a skyscraper or performing complex surgery, they just might be right for you, too.
What do test pilots, surgeons, architects and hedge fund managers all have in common? They all turn to one simple tool to make them more efficient: the humble checklist.
In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, renowned surgeon and author Atul Gawande explores how breaking down complex processes into boxes to be ticked off on a list can save lives and stop something as significant as buildings collapsing.
After personally adopting this simple rule in the processes at my own business, I’ve found Gawande’s simple solution of using a checklist to be surprisingly effective. So, I want to spread the word on how entrepreneurs can incorporate checklists to optimise their business operations’ efficiency. Here’s how to do that.
Break it down
No matter what the industry, professionals face more complexity in the workplace than ever before. Breaking down complex tasks into simple, verifiable steps can have remarkable effects, even when those steps appear explicit or mundane.
In The Checklist Manifesto, Gawande tells the story of Peter Pronovost, a critical-care specialist at John Hopkins Hospital. Pronovost developed a five-step checklist designed to prevent a common and sometimes deadly complication faced by patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU): the central line infection.
The steps in this list aimed at prevention are basic. For example, one calls for caregivers to “wash their hands with soap.” Despite such an obvious precaution, Pronovost’s team discovered that in over a third of patients observed, at least one step of the five recommended ones was skipped.
As part of the solution, Pronovost empowered nurses to stop doctors from proceeding if they witnessed even one step in the checklist being bypassed.
This simple regimen led to staggering results. In one hospital, over the course of just over two years, the central line infection checklist “prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs,” Gawande wrote.
Caring for patients in an ICU is extremely complex, but the wisdom of the checklist is that it breaks patient care down into incremental and verifiable steps.
Keep it short
One key to creating effective checklists is to keep them short. A good rule of thumb, Gawande says in the book, is to “keep it between five and nine items, which is the limit of working memory.”
You must also “define a clear pause point at which the checklist is supposed to be used.” Keeping the list short forces you to boil down complex processes into the essential, required steps.
“Keeping it short” also means that you will most likely end up with multiple checklists, each tailored to a clearly defined set of circumstances.
Keep it simple
Hand-in-hand with keeping checklists short is keeping them simple. Checklists should use clear and exact language. Gawande also stresses the importance of formatting. Limit your list to one page and avoid clutter and the unnecessary use of colours. Your lists should be clean, simple, and concise.
Daniel Boorman, the checklist guru at airplane manufacturing giant The Boeing Company, has suggested the use of both upper- and lower-case text for ease of reading, as well as the use of a sans serif font like Helvetica.
Boeing makes extensive use of checklists — for everything from routine processes like readying an airplane for takeoff to emergency situations like smoke in the cockpit. Every situation that a pilot might encounter comes with a corresponding checklist, as is shared in the book.
Decide between “Read-Do” and “Do-Confirm.”
There are two types of checklists: READ-DO and DO-CONFIRM. A READ-DO checklist is similar to a recipe. It consists of a set of clearly defined tasks that you check off as you complete them. With a DO-CONFIRM checklist, “Team members perform their jobs from memory and experience, often separately.”
Related: Become A Life-Hacker
But then they stop. “They pause to run the checklist and confirm that everything that was supposed to be done was done.” Before building your checklist, you will need to decide which of the following two options to use.
Use checklists to facilitate communication
Even extremely complex tasks, like the building of a modern skyscraper, can benefit greatly from the use of checklists.
Not only can the floor-by-floor construction of the building be broken down into many small individual tasks that must be ticked off as completed, but a checklist can also help facilitate problem-solving and communications when complications inevitably arise.
Gawande discovered that the builders he interviewed relied on “one set of checklists to make sure that simple steps are not missed or skipped and another set to make sure that everyone talks through and resolves all the hard and unexpected problems.”
Using checklists to ensure that the appropriate experts consult with one other to resolve any issues that come up and reach an agreement on how to move forward is one of the tool’s most valuable applications.
Despite buildings’ being bigger and more complex than ever before, creative and diligent use of checklists has significantly sped up the building process, according to the experts Gawande consulted for his book.
Where to start
Not surprisingly, a plethora of tools are available to help you incorporate the use of checklists into your business process. Here are just a few:
- Checklist. The eponymous Checklist app offers a robust free plan with unlimited checklists, team management, due dates, reminders and more. The app is available for iOS and Android, or on the web. One of Checklist’s greatest strengths is its community. You can choose from thousands of user-submitted checklist templates to help get you started.
- Tallyfy.Tallyfy is a powerful solution for automating your business processes with a particular emphasis on collaboration. If you and your team can benefit from applying the principles behind The Checklist Manifesto, Tallyfy is well worth a look.
- Manifest.ly. If your team, like mine, relies heavily on Slack for collaboration and communication, Manifest.ly is a checklist tool that boasts seamless Slack integration. You and your team can work on checklists and receive notifications without ever leaving Slack.
Checklists are a potent tool that have been shown to work in a wide variety of industries and circumstances. There are almost inevitably processes in your business that the clever application of checklists will improve.
Even the most complex tasks, such as the building of a modern skyscraper, open heart surgery and flying a commercial airliner have been shown to benefit greatly from the use of checklists. As Gawande wrote, “Checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realised.”
Using checklists to establish a higher level of base-line performance for you and your team can similarly pay big dividends in making your business more efficient and error-free.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
13 Ways to Develop Laser-Like Focus
Here are some surprising ways to help boost your focus and performance
If you want to be successful, you have to find strategies that will help you focus despite all of the distractions that prevent you from doing the task at hand. Luckily, with the help of science, developing laser-like focus is easier than you think.
To start, make sure you’re sleeping well and getting regular exercise. These are the basis of productivity, performance and focus. Next, simply look at the colour red – just the sight of red can boost performance and focus.
If that doesn’t work, turning up the thermostat in your office is another option. According to research, people who work in a room set to around 25 degrees are more successful and focused than people in colder work spaces.
There are plenty of things you can do to boost your ability to focus. To learn more, here are 13 ways to develop laser-like focus:
Here’s a no-brainer: sleep has a direct link to cognitive functions such as the ability to focus and perform. According to the National Sleep Foundation, quality sleep, which is between seven to nine hours, helps us think clearly, remember more and make decisions.
A lack of sleep can result in an inability to pay attention and focus, lower productivity, slower reaction times and forgetfulness.
2. Use the ABC method
According to Harvard Business Review, our brains are constantly distracted by “internal and external environments,” meaning thoughts, sounds or interruptions. One way to prevent distractions is the ABC method.
As HBR explains, ABC stands for: aware, breathe and choose.
To start, become aware of your options by choosing whether to pay attention to distractions. Next, breathe and relax while you choose to focus or get distracted.
From stress to anxiety, meditation has long been known as an incredible tool in managing emotions. Another advantage of meditation is its ability to help people focus.
Researchers found that after three months at a meditation retreat, people came out with an incredible ability to focus and an overall improvement in cognitive functions.
4. Get dressed up
The saying, “Dress to impress,” stands true. When people dress up in order to prep for a particular project or task, their ability to focus goes up. According to a study, students who wore white lab coats while conducting experiments made half the amount of errors as the students who were dressed regularly.
5. Don’t multitask
While multitasking might sound like the more productive thing to do, it actually has a negative effect on your ability to focus.
According to the American Psychological Association, multitasking and constantly switching between tasks will actually take away from focus because you’re not allowing yourself time to adjust to one thing.
6. Turn up the heat
According to research, a warmer workplace will help you focus better and be more productive. In fact, one study found that a group of workers in a room set to 68 degrees made nearly 44 percent more errors and were half as productive than employees in a 77 degree room.
7. Go green
Plants around the office have long been known to have a positive effect on employee morale, focus and productivity. However, it turns out you don’t necessarily need actual plants for this. In a study, a group of researchers found that by taking a 40-second break and simply looking at a computerised image of a green roof, employees’ focus on a particular task improved.
8. Look at the colour red
Whether it’s the colour of your bedroom walls or the background image on your computer screen, colour has a major effect on us psychologically. A 2009 study published in Science found that when people saw the colour red while they were focusing on certain tasks, their performance, memory and attention to detail improved.
9. Use natural light
Working 9-to-5 in a windowless room with artificial light is far from motivating and in fact can be downright distracting. A study found that people who work in offices filled with natural light experience substantially less eye strain, headaches and blurred visions, all of which deter focus and performance.
10. Get your cardio in
From better sleep to lower stress levels, exercise has many benefits, and that includes improved focus and performance too.
In an article published in Harvard Health, researchers found aerobic exercise increases the size of the area in a person’s brain called the hippocampus, which in turn results in better memory and thinking skills.
However, this was not the case for exercise such as weight lifting and muscle toning, which had little to no impact on a person’s cognitive abilities.
11. Drink some coffee
According to research, a moderate amount of caffeine – around one to two cups of coffee a day – is beneficial to a person’s focus, alertness, performance and mood. However, it’s important not to overdo it, which can result in dehydration, anxiety and headaches.
12. Take a break
It might sound ironic, but taking breaks can actually help improve focus. Research shows that short breaks restore a person’s motivation and help them achieve long-term goals.
According to an article published in Psychology Today, “Research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task.”
13. Listen to classical music
Save your favorite rock or rap album for after work. Researchers from Stanford University discovered that classical music in particular triggers the part of the brain used for paying attention and focusing.
Why classical? According to the study, people’s minds tend to wander while listening to music but because classical music features many “transitional points” where there is silence, it helps keep people aware and attentive.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
5 Lame Excuses That Unsuccessful People Always Make
You need to eliminate these five excuses from your mindset immediately.
Even the most determined and motivated entrepreneurs will come up with excuses as to why he or she cannot do something. Obstacles arise and then self-doubt enters the mind – making an excuse is the easy way out.
I made excuses in the past – several times. Looking back, those excuses resulted in missed opportunities and ultimately failure. It doesn’t matter if you want to lose weight, get an online MBA, hit a specific revenue milestone or start a business – excuses will be the cause of failure. Here are five excuses to remove from your mindset immediately – they are complete BS.
1. “I don’t have time”
Time is our most valuable asset. While we only have 24 hours in a day, we make time for things we want – people we want to see, activities we want to do, etc. The only thing getting in the way are excuses.
Have you ever been in a relationship and the other person dropped the “If you really wanted to see me, then you would make time” line? I know I have heard it several times in the past, and guess what? None of those relationships worked out because I didn’t want to put in the effort.
The same applies to entrepreneurship. Want to start a business but you are working a nine-to-five? Get up earlier or stay up late – if you want it bad enough you will make the time.
2. “There aren’t enough opportunities for me”
If there are walls or barriers standing in your way you need to figure out how to get around them, or simply plow right through them. There is nothing easy about being an entrepreneur. There is never going to be a simple straight line from point A to point B.
Saying there aren’t enough opportunities is an excuse that allows you to quit before you even start. Create your own opportunity – figure out how to solve a problem and you can write your own ticket.
3. “I don’t want to risk disapproval from family and friends”
You need thick skin to play this game and not let the opinions of others influence your decisions. If your friends aren’t supportive, then you need new friends. While you can’t get a new family, you can remove yourself from their negative energy.
I was lucky to have had very supportive parents growing up. My dad was my biggest support system when I was just starting out, and the reason I became an entrepreneur. He passed away several years ago, but still remains my number one source of motivation – I bust my butt daily because I know how proud he would be.
The odds are very high that there will be family and friends telling you that the chances of succeeding are slim and that you should take a more secure or stable path — ignore them. It’s easy to agree with them, because it gives you an easy way out. Use their disapproval as motivation and wake up each day hungry to prove them wrong.
4. “I should be content with where I am and what I have”
Life is very short – the average lifespan in the U.S. is 78 years – that’s 28,470 days. Not very long when you think of it that way, right?
You should never be content and always strive for more. I have been going to night runs lately, taking advantage of the cooler weather this time of the year in Miami. The other night while running I was paying attention to the cars driving by – Phantom, Lamborghini, Ferrari, etc. – all the exotics were well represented.
Now, material possessions like cars don’t necessarily translate to happiness, but they do indicate one thing: The people driving them – or the people that bought them – were not content with average. Saying you are content is the equivalent of saying you don’t want to work any harder.
5. “I’m scared of the risks involved”
No risk, no reward.
It’s as simple as that. You have to accept that fact that every entrepreneurial venture or opportunity comes with risk, and a lot of it.
Take a look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs and companies and you will see that there was always a lot of risk involved. Elon Musk received $180 million from the PayPal acquisition and he put $100 million in SpaceX, $70 million in Tesla and $10 million in Solar City. He then had to borrow money for rent.
Was he scared of the risks involved? Not a chance. Very few people would take $180 million dollars and roll it into new ventures – they would be on a permanent vacation. The risk was well worth it, as Musk is worth about $21.5 billion today.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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