When we first started out, we were wrestling with some problems on how to build our personal finance website, NerdWallet. I got some great advice from my friend Drew Houston (the founder of Dropbox).
“It’s okay to have growing pains, as long as you’re prioritising correctly and working to address them. Every company looks messy from the inside,” he told me.
Am I prioritising correctly? There’s the rub.
When I was working on Wall Street, prioritisation was dictated by the situation. Compared to growing your own business, prioritising on a trading floor is easy, because you’re always putting out fires but you know what the fires are. But knowing how to prioritise to ensure your business makes millions of rands in the next six months – that’s a more difficult task.
Here are some lessons I’ve learnt so far.
1. Beware the seduction of task-based lists.
The elements of prioritisation are simple: Know what tasks need to be done and rank them in order of priority. Stephen Covey of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame suggested ranking tasks across four metrics: important/not important and urgent/not urgent.
Obviously, tasks both urgent and important go first, issues not important or not urgent go last, and the rest fall somewhere in between. You’ve got your list.
This is fine, but the process can create a false sense of satisfaction: If I cross everything off this list, will I have done my best work today?
This might work for middle managers at a mature company, but for an entrepreneur this can be a Sisyphean exercise in futility. You’re never going to finish that list and would waste time each day revising it on the fly.
Galia Kerbel, founder of award winning company Greater Than PR
“Earlier in my career I worked for Marcus Brewster, who mentored me. He followed the Eisenhower Decision Principle, which basically states that what is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important,” advises founder of award winning company Greater Than PR, Galia Kerbel.
“Urgent tasks need your immediate attention, put you into a reactive mode and narrow your mind-set. Important tasks contribute to a long-term vision and mission. Operating in this mode puts me into a responsive mind-set that helps me to spot opportunities.”
2. Focus solely on themes that will drive growth.
Of the 100 things that crowd the entrepreneurial mind as things you ‘need to do’, about 98 will incrementally improve your company – but two have the potential for exponential growth. Focus on those few, and the rest of your niggling worries will take care of themselves.
A better way to think of prioritisation is not tasks but themes. What are the two or three principal things that will drive growth? You really have to understand the key drivers of your business and anything that doesn’t move those drivers isn’t a high priority.
For example, in the early days of NerdWallet, a key driver was getting the most amount of web traffic in the least amount of time. That became a filter through which we sifted every task and decision. If it didn’t meet this metric, it wasn’t a priority.
3. Forget perfectionism.
Entrepreneurs are often Type A over-achievers. It’s really hard to let things go unfinished and not be perfect. But if you’re serious about prioritisation, you need to be able to drop something midstream to focus on another task that has greater potential to drive results.
It may feel counterintuitive, but in the rough-and-tumble drive to start a company, perfectionism can be a problem. You have to be willing to do things half way just to get more done with the higher chances to yield strong results. A big ask for high performers.
4. Do the hardest thing first.
Procrastination isn’t a species of laziness, it’s avoidance – and we naturally avoid things we don’t want to do. Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, once said that the first thing he does in the office each day is the task he dreads the most.
Whatever you don’t want to do, do it first, and it eliminates the nagging dread that will sap energy away from other tasks as you postpone the inevitable.
5. Don’t plug leaky boat holes — switch boats.
If you’re spending your time spreading your fingers and toes across leaks springing up through the hull of a business venture, you may wish you had more feet and hands to cover the deck. But maybe the real problem is the boat itself.
As NerdWallet co-founder Tim Chen puts it: “Don’t spend your time plugging a leaky boat, spend your time switching boats.” Time spent bailing is time taken away from adding more profitable vessels to your fleet.
Prioritisation pressure never goes away. If things are going well in your business, something will always seem on fire. If you’ve got things under control, that’s a big red flag – it’s a sign you’re doing what’s urgent, and not what’s important.
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.
How To Work Less And Still Get More Done
How you work is far more important than how much you work.
Some people have an uncanny ability to get things done. They keep their nights and weekends sacred and still get more done than people who work ten or 20 hours more per week than they do.
A new study from Stanford University shows that they are on to something. The study found that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours, and productivity drops off so much after 55 hours that there’s no point in working any more. That’s right, people who work as much as 70 hours (or more) per week actually get the same amount done as people who work 55 hours.
Smart people know the importance of shifting gears on the weekend to relaxing and rejuvenating activities. They use their weekends to create a better week ahead.
This is easier said than done, so here’s some help. The following are some things that you can do to find balance on the weekend and come into work at 110% on Monday morning.
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