The volume of information and stimuli coming at us every day makes it more difficult to focus than ever. To do the careful thinking that decision making and leadership require, you must step back from the noise of the world. Schedule 15-minute breaks at least once or twice a day to sit quietly in your office or take a walk. Commit to these breaks as you would any meeting or appointment; if you don’t schedule moments of quiet, something else will fill the time. Use them to think about your to-do list, especially the tasks you should stop doing. Solitude gives you the space to reflect on where your time is best spent. Try to get clarity on which meetings you should stop attending, which committees you should step down from, and which invitations you should politely decline.
In the stories of Winnie The Pooh and his friends there are two diametrically opposed characters: Eeyore and Tigger. We all have Eeyores and Tiggers in our lives. The pessimist and the optimist, the two see every situation through their own perspectives.
Eeyore obviously is a pessimist. He believes there isn’t a point to trying anything. Very little makes him happy. Tigger, on the other hand, finds great enjoyment in everything. Trying new things is an adventure. Tigger has a positive mindset while Eeyore has a negative one. It is important to note, that both characters represent extremes. Tigger’s irrational exuberance makes him careless and prone to get into trouble. Eeyore is cautious, careful to avoid situations he can’t handle. They both have characteristics that would make them annoying to be around over time.
The point is that no mindset should be followed blindly. While you need to be open to opportunities and believe that you can handle whatever comes your way, you also need to carefully consider opportunities and not jump in blindly. You shouldn’t be either an Eeyore or a Tigger. You should take the best qualities of both.
There has been a lot of talk lately about data. Who is collecting it and how it is used have been discussed quite often. What hasn’t been discussed is if the data is accurate. Beyond showing an ad for something you looked at, how accurate is the data you are basing your decisions on?
Is it outdated?: It recently came to light that many pharmaceutical and medical companies were basing there work on MS on the number of patients. The report that was considered the industry standard was based on a study conducted in the mid 1970s. Is it still accurate? Not even close. More recent work has shown the number of patients grew immensely. Don’t base your decisions on outdated information.
Is it accurate?: While Facebook claims its data is accurate, the truth may be very different. I recently looked at the profile their data collected on me. According to Facebook I am a small business owner (true) who is taking care of his parents (false, both of my parents are long deceased) and is married to an African-American woman (false). It also got my political beliefs incorrect. Unless advertisers are targeting small business owners, every ad targeted to me is missing the mark. Make sure the data you are using is accurate.
Is it biased?: Most people think data is data but that isn’t true. The best example was the polls for the 2016 presidential election. These polls were biased towards Hillary Clinton. This is not because the people collecting the data were biased, but because large numbers of Trump supporters refused to participate. This caused inaccurate information to be collected because the sample was not representative of the group they were trying to poll. Data biases are hard to weed out, but it is important to do so.
Using data is critical to your success. Make sure you know the source, how it is collected, and how accurate it is.
If you believe that only senior executives need to think strategically, think again. No matter what level you’re at, strategic thinking is a critical skill — one that can always be improved. To hone your capacity to see the big picture, start by making sure you have a solid understanding of the industry context and business drivers. Make it a routine to explore the internal trends in your day-to-day work. Pay attention to the issues that get raised repeatedly, and synthesize the common obstacles your colleagues face. Be proactive about connecting with peers in your organization and in your industry to understand their observations of the marketplace, and share this information across your network. Take the time to understand the unique information and perspective that your job function contributes to the company. Thinking at this higher level will position you to be more strategic in your role.
We tend to forget that business existed before computers. Accounting, inventory, sales, etc. were all done with a pen and paper. I grew up in such a business. My grandmother ran a retail store. Not only didn’t she have a computer, she didn’t have a cash register. She ran all sales with a receipt book and a pen. Without a computer, she knew exactly what she had in stock, where every piece of inventory was and what it cost.
Did she have everything memorized? Of course not. The store was arranged with a system so she could locate anything quickly. Her sales receipts and inventory forms were filed so she could lay her hands on anything she needed on a monument’s notice. She had a process for everything. These process were repeated daily, weekly, monthly or annually, depending on when it was needed. Those processes kept the business running for over 70 years without any of the modern tools we take for granted.
What happens to your business if your computer crashes? What happens when the power goes out? Can you keep your business going? Having the right processes in place can keep you going through adversity and make like easy during successful times. Don’t make your processes dependent on any one piece of equipment. Make sure you have a back up plan. When things get difficult, think what a business would have done before computers.
A few years ago I attended an event in which most of the attendees were programmers. As everyone introduced themselves they talked about what programming language they used and why it was the best. When it came to my turn I told them something none of them wanted to hear. I said, “Your customers don’t care what programming language you use. They have a problem and all they care about is that it is solved.”
Several years have passed since that meeting and I still meet web developers who insist their websites are the best because of the tech they use. Technical people fail to understand that the end user isn’t impressed by the technical specs. They are impressed by how much easier something makes their lives. If your technology does not make an impact on the customer, it doesn’t matter. Does it make the job easier? Does it make the process more efficient? Does it make the customer enjoy the experience? Like any other service, you need to judge if tech makes the work faster, cheaper, or better. If it doesn’t do one of these things, find one that does.
Jargon doesn’t win customers. Results do.
More and more people working side hustles and moving into freelancing. It is expected that the number of people that identify themselves as self-employed will increase by 300% over the next two years. It is important for new freelancers to change their mindset from that of an employee to that of an employer. That means remembering to watch things like contracts, cash flow, and returns.
One of the most stressful things about being self-employed is managing your cash flow. It’s especially difficult if clients don’t pay you on time. You can avoid most problems by putting a contract in place before you start an assignment. Don’t believe a handshake will suffice, even if you’re working with friends. Informal agreements are the source of almost every payment problem, so be sure the scope of the project, the payment terms, and the expectations for both sides are written down. For small projects an email chain will often suffice, but for longer engagements you should get a signed contract. Having a standard contract template that you can alter for different clients will make this easier — and save you time and headaches.
Stress is a part of life. It can hinder you or it can help you , depending on how you react to it. Stress affects your body in different ways and understanding that can help you understand how you are reacting and how stress affects you. Harvard Business Review recommends the following steps to monitor your stress:
- Take an Inventory. Once a day, pause what you’re doing, and turn your attention to yourself. Ask yourself: What’s on my mind? What do I feel? Is my body calm or agitated — what physical sensations do I notice?
- Label Your Thoughts and Feelings. Once a day, tune in closely to your thoughts or emotions. Detach a bit from having the thoughts or feelings, and label them. For example, if you’re thinking “things like this never work,” you might give a label like “skepticism” or “cynicism” to the thought, and “discouraged” to the feeling.
- Ask Yourself Objectively. Once a day, pause for a few minutes and prepare to take some notes (grab your phone, paper, etc.). Ask yourself as though you were asking an outsider: What do you notice right now about me? Then write down observations objectively. For example, you might say: “You seem bored” or “You’re excited about the new client, and you’re cooking along with the project plan.”
The most recent earnings report from Apple far exceeded analyst estimates. This isn’t new. In fact it happens on a regular basis. Why are analysts surprised quarter after quarter? It’s because they fail to look at the correct data.
Apple has 100 million subscribers that each pay $10 a month for services such as iCloud storage, Apple Music, etc. The analysts are basing their estimates on what chip suppliers are saying about how many iPhone components they sold Apple. This gives analysts a partial idea of how many iPhones are sold, but it leaves out $1 billion in subscriptions (not to mention Mac sales, app sales, and several other lines of income). The reason for this is that they are still looking at Apple as a hardware company, which they haven’t been for several years.
The same applies to your business. If you are looking at outdated information about your business or using metrics they may have works several years ago but you haven’t updated, you don’t have a good picture of your business. You need to ensure you are looking at the whole picture. Looking at sales without looking at cost of goods gives you a false picture. You must periodically review what your data sources are and how accurate they are. If you fail to keep your data sources current, you won’t know what is really going on with your business.
Go online and very often you’ll see a note that says something like, “You may also like…” recommending another article or item to buy. That recommendation comes from sites tracking your activity, collecting your data and making recommendations based on it. The drawback is that the “personalized” recommendations are also based on what people who the algorithm thinks are like you have done. What the personalization is also doing is steering you in a specific direction. By sticking to that direction, you are missing out on other options.
If you’re using these personalization tools in your business, they are useful for focusing your customer where you want them go. Connecting your customers to content and products that you want them to see is useful. However, what you (and the algorithms) think will appeal to your customer is not necessarily what they want. You don’t want to overwhelm them with choices, but you want to give them enough of choice to let them find what they want.
Don’t assume all your customers are alike based on superficial data. Let them discover what you can do for them and what they will like.