Can you learn..anything? I think you can if you first care enough then put a strategy in place to gain the skills you want to gain.
Here are the steps I take when I want to learn something new.
See behind the mindset that helped make me a 6-Figure consultant with my manifesto
Can you learn..anything? I think you can if you first care enough then put a strategy in place to gain the skills you want to gain.
Here are the steps I take when I want to learn something new.
When you get questions from clients or customers, do you often default to the answers you’ve used before? I know I have, because it’s easy.
A client comes to me and wants a store. They have a few things like books, plus a bit of content that is only available to purchasers.
My first thought currently is WooCommerce and my own plugin called Easy Restricted Content for WooCommerce. One reason for that automatic response is that I sell a product — the plugin — that would accomplish a client’s goals so it’s top of mind. A second consideration is that WooCommerce powers 1 in 3 online stores so it’s top of mind.
The matching parts are obviously the top-of-mind solution. My default answer.
Yeah, that’s the question, isn’t it? Just because I’ve done something one way for a while doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to do it. What about using WP eCommerce as Chris outlines in this post? It would also accomplish the goals of the client, and I actually put more time into WPEC so I’m more familiar with how it works than WooCommerce.
For a long time I’ve used Evernote as my notebook for any little thing. I had momentum with that system until I had a few experiences trying to remember something I hadn’t saved in there. Like the name of a movie my wife and I were talking about. At the time of our chat about the movie, my phone wasn’t immediately handy because it was on the counter so I didn’t write down the movie title.
Then come Friday when we usually sit and watch a movie, neither of us could remember the title of the one we’d discussed, and we both felt a bit frustrated.
As far as I’m concerned, when faced with a problem you either fix it or learn to live with it. That means I could either just figure I’d forget stuff I didn’t want to forget or I could come up with a solution.
I’m sure you guessed that I found a solution to my issue. I grabbed a pocket notebook. Sure, I could just plan to have my phone around, but then I’d be so tempted to get out of alignment with my work and my life.
The best choice was not to go with the option that already had momentum because when I sat back and really thought about what I wanted in life, I didn’t want to be in and out of my phone all the time. I wanted to be present with my family.
Are you charging hourly because it’s easy and prospective clients seem to understand it? You know clients don’t actually want your hourly rate right?
You’re using Harvest, or Freshbooks or Asana or Basecamp or…just because that’s what you’ve always done. Have you ever tried out the competition to see if they may work better with your business?
Don’t get stuck in your default just because you’ve gained some momentum. Take time each year to evaluate your business practices and change the things that can be improved. We should all be looking to get a bit better all the time. Keep piling on a few percentage points of improvement for years and you’re going to be awesome.
If you’re one of those who complains about email, you need to understand that email doesn’t suck — it’s the way you use it that’s less than optimal. That thing where you have one email to send, and then get sidetracked by all those incoming messages — that’s what sucks.
Yeah, I could talk about willpower, but I know I don’t have it and I know that most of you don’t really have it either.
I could say set up your email client to not download email unless you force it to, but that always seems to be patchy at best. Plus, so many of you use the web interface to Google Apps where you can’t stop it from downloading new email when you open the browser tab.
QuickMailer is a great Mac App that only sends email. If you use Mail.app then it can just use the accounts in Mail. If, like me, you don’t use Mail.app because it’s terrible, then it can also accept its own SMTP credentials to send the email.
Using ⌃⌘⌥M (control + command + option + M) brings up QuickMailer in your menu bar. There you can write your email and even add attachments.
Using ⇧⌘D (shift + command + D) sends the email.
And you never had to use any will power to ignore the other emails that came in, which is awesome because then you can use that mental energy somewhere else.
Why must everything be fast? Why are we looking for continual shortcuts around being in the moment?
Do things taste better if you take more time to make them?
Making a pot of coffee is a relatively simple process. You grind beans and pour them in the filter. You put water in the tank and then hit a button. Some minutes later the machine beeps and you pour pure caffeinated goodness out into a receptacle that serves as a staging area for getting coffee to your stomach.
Maybe if it’s just you at home you simply pour that black gold directly into your mouth, and take the burning sensation on the way down as a signal that things are about to get much happier in your brain.
But then your machine breaks and you need to make a pot of coffee with an AeroPress. The steps are basically the same but require more interaction from you. When you pour the water in the AeroPress you must stir it and top it up multiple times. You set a timer so the beans sit for the amount of time you know brews the best coffee, getting proper extraction of that flavour into the water.
You stand there making coffee instead of walking away to get more things done while coffee is made for you. You get to smell the coffee brewing and see the texture of the foam on top of the water.
You hear the drips of the water as they escape, straining through coffee and filter and hit the bottom of the pot with a satisfying ‘plunk’ sound.
Does the coffee taste better when you spend the time to make it with an AeroPress due to the method used to combine coffee and water, or because the act of making it brought you more fully into the moment?
By being in that moment does the rest of the day become more real? Why does breakfast taste better then?
Why do you get to 11 a.m. and feel like the morning went just right?
Is it because of that peace spent in the moment while making your coffee? Time enjoying a mundane task that could easily have been automated out of your life, allowing you to do more ‘productive things’.
Is making that coffee a form of meditation, bringing you closer to your day and the experiences you’ll have during the day?
I say ‘yes’ to many of those questions. Taking that mundane task and putting effort into it centres you. It brings you into the moment where you can be calm and enjoy the process instead of automating it.
Why default to fast when slow and involved has so much richness?
Given society today it’s tempting to default to finding your worth in the sheer quantity of tasks accomplished. If you got 10 things done compared to a competitor getting 3 things done, clearly you’ve done so much more…right?
But to get those 10 things done, we may lose presence and rush through each one. We might never stop in a moment and enjoy the work, too focused on getting through it as fast as possible to move on to the next experience.
So we can get the next thing checked off our list.
Some task managers like the one I use — Todoist — even add ‘points’ based on how many tasks you get done in a day. Todoist gives you little rewards in the form of gaining ‘levels’ of productivity.
Of course, the fatal flaw in that system is that Todoist (or any software for that matter) has no way of knowing if the tasks you got done were actually the most effective thing you could be doing.
They have no way to gauge how the relentless acquisition of the daily total tasks is having a net positive or net negative impact on your life.
While there are benefits to playing Candy Crush, for many of us it’s an outward queue showing a deeper problem — our rush to achieve to get a reward.
A rush we undertake with little thought to the chaos we cause on the way.
Our goals should not be to get the most things done in a day/week. Our goal should be to give 100% to each task that we do accomplish, since it’s near impossible to trade volume of things done for quality of things done.
Look no further than the cost of multi-tasking to see that as you scale the things accomplished, performance suffers.
Let’s make our goal this week to slow down and experience each event to its fullest. Practice mindfulness so we can be there fully.
A while ago I talked about how Evernote took over my life, and in that post I talked about Blogo which was pretty cool but had a few holes in it. I dropped Blogo and will cover my specific frustrations with it in a future post.
I actually stopped using Evernote for my writing workflow when I dropped Blogo. As much as I love Evernote it’s really not the ideal writing interface. It’s not terrible but programs like Scrivener or Byword have much better distraction-free writing modes. Byword actually supports Markdown which is a feature not available in either Scrivener or Evernote.
But really, it’s the distraction-free writing that I truly value in a writing app.
However, after a few months of using Scrivener for all my blogging, I realized I really missed the context feature in Evernote. When I used Evernote, I could easily access articles — ones I had saved during research — that were related to the post I was writing.
So I went on a search to see if there were any new tools I could be using to write with, that included the features I used the most. Here were my wants/requirements for those tools.
With these 3 things supported, that would mean I could write in the app in Markdown, and then check back with the article in Evernote from time to time to see if I had saved any related material.
My first stop in this search has been Alternote.
Setting up Alternote is a pretty simple process. Purchase it from the Mac App Store ($6.99) and then open it. Alternote will ask you to sign in to Evernote, then prompt you to choose which notebooks you’d like it to sync with.
I was starting with a very short list of notes in my writing notebooks since most of my writing has been moved to Scrivener. As a test, I synced one of my notebooks with lots of notes of various types (e.g., web pages and audio) and Alternote pulled them all down in 30 seconds or so.
So the backend on Evernote is a go.
To enter the distraction-free writing mode in Alternote, you use the key commands ⇧⌘D and the note you’re working on will take the full width of the window in Alternote.
It’s a pretty interface as it sits, but I found the font size to be small. Changing that is a simple matter of clicking the ‘A’ in the top right corner and increasing the font size, or changing the font or the line height.
You even have the option of night mode if you prefer to write in a dark environment.
So that box is checked — I have a workable distraction-free writing zone.
Hmmm…well, you can put in Markdown so technically, it does support Markdown, but it really doesn’t do anything awesome with it. Using the standard * character for italics, or double * for bold, simply renders the text as you see it — unlike Byword, which bolds the text so you can see that it’s actually bold.
In fact, if you bold the first word in a paragraph, Alternote assumes the first * is a bullet and starts making a list for you.
Alternote does better with lists, supporting them as expected, but falls down again with block quotes. Where Byword or other markdown editors show you an indented paragraph, Alternote just shows you what you’d expect out of any text editor that didn’t support Markdown.
Headings work as expected, from H1 – H6 getting progressively smaller, but there’s no formatting at all for links, which is a minus.
Probably the biggest knock against Alternote’s markdown support is how it actually stores the data. Headings are actually converted to rich text, so that in Evernote you do indeed see the heading as a big bold heading, but it’s not Markdown.
For me, this is a terrible option since it defeats the whole purpose of Markdown in having a plain text file, with some basic markup that should be able to be edited anywhere. When I go to post this Evernote rich text file on my site, I’ve got to dig back through all the headings and reformat them so they actually come out as the heading I expect and not just some text.
That’s a super waste of my time, and for that reason alone I won’t be using Alternote, which is really disappointing since it’s so awesome in other ways.
What I’d love to see is Alternote format Markdown so I get some feedback on what the text actually is (like Byword does), and then store just plain Markdown in Evernote so that I have a plain text file to work with in the long term.
The choice they’ve made here seems the worst option for supporting Markdown. Minimal support for it, and then we store a proprietary file anyway, so you don’t get any of the real benefits.
Do you know of a distraction-free app that supports Markdown, with an Evernote backend?
Do you know why you price the way you do?
Do you know why you run projects that way?
Don’t let those holes stick around in your business. Put the time in to figure them out.
You know you should define your ideal client and filter prospects against that definition. Those ideal prospects are the only ones you want to convert into clients. Sticking to that axiom is going to help you create a business you truly love as you work for people (and on projects) that really get you fired up.
But what about those that work for you? Have you defined your ideal employee? Do you have a profile written down for the type of people you would prefer to work with?
I don’t mean just the technical skills they should have. Really, those should be some of the lowest things on the priority list. A good programmer that doesn’t yet know WordPress can learn to build a good WordPress site. Skills can be taught.
Think about the things you can’t teach. What is the personality you want? How do you want someone who represents your business to think about your clients? When an issue comes up, how should they approach it?
Do you want an employee who views a customer site as a series of technical check boxes, or as a dream they are fulfilling for a client?
How does that employee define their ideal project? Does that fit with the ideal project for your company?
If you don’t have an ideal employee profile, then take the time to create one this week. It’s likely that you’ll need to refine it a few times, but starting it now means you at least have some direction when you’re ready to hire.
Yes, it’s much easier to hire against a list of technical skills, but that’s not going to get you the employees you really want.
Remember when we talked about selling a dream? Once you get into the habit of selling a dream — as opposed to the actual product or service — your sales process will be so much easier.
Think about it your own purchases. Aren’t your quickest and easiest purchases the ones that give you a picture of a better/more fun life? That shirt you know you look good in is an easy purchase, since you see a future where you look freaking awesome.
If you’re not selling a dream, you’re pushing a new prospect to a sale. At each step in the sales process, you keep pushing the sale forward so that it actually happens.
On the other hand, if you successfully cast a vision of the prospect’s dream, that prospect will be pulling you towards the sale. They’ll want to get to that dream, and you are the one to get them there faster.
Which sounds like an easier sales process — pulling or pushing? Which sales process do you really want used in your business?
The hardest part of ‘pulling’ sales is truly understanding your prospect and their dreams. You have to listen to the prospect, no monologues. You need to engage with them and ask lots of questions so you can understand their dream and can cast that dream in your project plan.
It takes a bit more work up front (as opposed to just emailing a price quote) but doing so will yield clients who are really invested in working with you. Clients that will get the work they need to do done. Clients that you really want to work with and who will send good referrals.
That sounds like a better outcome to me.
A while ago Jeffro wrote a post about needing to achieve balance. Unfortunately for him, the post was prompted by a discussion he had with his wife about how much time he spent working. Seriously, read the comments in that post. Many of them have awesome suggestions for maintaining balance in your life.
Here are my top tips for staying productive but keeping balance.
Before we really dig into the tactics to maintaining a good work-life balance, let’s stop and consider this quote.
The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk. Why should the hen sit all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard. – The Journal 1837 – 1861 Henry David Thoreau
Tactics can only get you so far. If you’ve experienced trying to juggle 9,000 things at one time, perhaps you’ve developed some strategies for juggling those things more efficiently. But just keeping all the balls in the air does not mean you’re achieving balance. At some point you need to really stop and understand that rushing back and forth among tasks isn’t the way to be really effective. Your strategy may be efficient, but it’s not allowing you to be effective.
Efficiency is not what you should strive for — you should be effective. If you’re going the wrong way, then moving faster (more efficient) is just getting you to a bad end result, faster. In all things strive to be effective. Face the right direction and make continual progress towards your goal.
Now let’s look at some better tactics — ones that will move you towards balance/effectiveness.
No, I can’t make that deadline (which was unrealistic in the first place). Sure, you don’t like to disappoint clients, but saying yes disappoints your family and pushes you to burnout as you work evenings/weekends to meet that deadline. You can’t actually manufacture time, even though you thought you could.
One of my favourite ways to tell new clients I can’t start with them now is to say:
Well, I guess I could say yes to starting next week, but I know if I did I’d be lying. I’d end up serving you poorly and serving my existing client poorly. I don’t think that’s what either of us wants.
Said that way, clients always agree that they don’t want poor service and 99% of the time they’re willing to wait until I actually have the time to start on their project.
Get comfortable with the word no. Just because someone wants to work with you doesn’t mean you need to take the work. Just because someone sends you a Twitter direct message doesn’t mean you are required to respond right away.
If you answered no to those questions, read the posts that are linked. My ideal week starts with 25 minutes of reading, followed by 25 minutes of writing. Then I get into client work without opening my email because I planned my tasks the day before.
I only take new prospect calls one day a week and if those days are filled for weeks, then a new prospect will have to decide if they can wait a few weeks to get in touch with me. My ideal client will wait because I’m the best person for them. If they don’t wait, then I wasn’t the right person for them.
Okay, it’s great to say you should schedule your week and set boundaries, but what about clients that just keep calling outside of those work hours? Well, that’s your fault, too.
I simply don’t answer the phone for anyone that’s not friend or family outside of my regular work hours. The odd client that’s complained about my availability policy is offered more availability…at a price.
Those clients that want me around evenings/weekends for any possible thing that could come up with their site get offered a fee of $15,000/month for me to do that. Remember, me being available at all those times means I need to be near a cellular connection for them to reach me. That means no mountain runs or canoe trips or…anything that gets me away from Wi-Fi or cell service.
The charge for that type of access to me is $15,000/month, because I don’t want to do it. If a client took me up on the offer, I’d hire one person and pay them $5,000/month for four days a week, spanning the weekend. Then I’d have to cover a few weekends a year while that person was on vacation, which is doable for $10,000/month profit.
Remember — access to you is something that has value and you can charge for that value.
Sure, I could spend time reading about CrossFit or watching the latest videos posted about CrossFit. I could check Twitter 52 times in an hour just to see if something is coming up.
CrossFit is something I do outside of work and is a good thing, in context. Every time I pull myself away from client tasks or my writing tasks I’m actually stealing.
I’m stealing that time from my family or other clients later in the day, or maybe next week. Those client tasks still have to get done and if I want to stick to my ideal week that means a project is going to take longer to get done than it should. That means I won’t be able to take a new project as fast and that means I make less money in a month.
If I stay a bit late to get tasks done then that means I just stole time from my family. I should be at home helping with the kids or house chores, or sitting and talking to my wife.
Every time you get off track you’re stealing from some other part of your life. Time is not ‘found’ since it doesn’t fall out of your pockets into the couch cushions. Time is not ‘made’ either, unless you somehow invented time travel and can go back in time to do things you missed.
Stay focused and stop stealing time.
When I get home, 99% of the time I put my phone on the counter. That means I can’t just pull my phone out of my pocket to check Twitter or see if any email came in. I do use my iPad in the house but it doesn’t have any social networks on it (well, it has Goodreads if you count that), and no email on it.
All I can do with my iPad is read RSS feeds, Instapaper and Kindle, or any digital magazines I have.
If my phone rings while it’s on the counter, I don’t even go look at it. See, I set up all friends/family who do have access to me on evenings/weekends with the same ringer, and one that is different from any other call. Therefore, I know immediately by the ring if a call is from a friend or family member, without needing to go visit my phone. Then I don’t have to exert willpower around not just answering a phone call.
This discipline is a bit more than just putting that phone on the counter, though. Do you let Twitter @mentions and DMs send notifications to your phone? I did for a while, but I don’t now. If a DM goes missed for days, that’s fine with me. I have email — which I check regularly — for communication. For current clients, I use Redbooth to communicate through, so those times I’m really busy I can just ignore my email since none of my current clients should be putting anything important in it for me.
Keep that phone out of reach and cut all those notifications. It’s way too easy to get dragged into the screen again.
For those with kids, you know that kids ensure you give attention to non-work stuff. They need to get driven to skating/hockey/llama wrestling and sometimes you need to do it. For me, it means hitting an arena once a week for an hour and watching a 4-year-old skate around, while talking to other parents and maybe reading a bit.
Saturdays mean getting a baby changed for the pool and sometimes going in with her. The times my wife goes in the pool with the baby, I’m sitting on a couch at the YMCA, reading. No significant work can get done since I don’t take my laptop.
It’s more than just getting out for ‘family’ stuff, though. Some of you don’t have kids to whine at you about your phone or computer time. You need to find something to do that’s not related to work that you enjoy.
For me it’s hiking, biking, CrossFit, climbing. I spend at least 10 hours a week split up between those activities. For you, maybe it’s going to do photography, or LEGO, or building models out of popsicle sticks.
Really, it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you’re doing something that’s not work related and preferably away from your computer. Sitting on that computer after work just isn’t good for you. Find something that gets you up each day and makes you work a bit hard. Even a stiff walk is good for you.
Just take yourself to a place where you can’t do work and you’re not sitting.
Okay, some of you don’t like the word “meditate”. The Christians among you may think about some religion that’s not ‘Christian’ and that feels creepy. I hear that — I felt the same way at first.
So call it prayer time, quiet time…doesn’t really matter. I have a friend that brews a cup of tea and sits down to drink it slowly before he starts his day.
It’s all the same basic principle. Take some quiet time first thing each day, and think. Think about nothing, or the sunrise, or how awesome your tea/coffee tastes. Sit in the quiet space there and don’t dwell on the 9,000 things you think you must do today. They’ll be there in 20 minutes.
Starting your day with that break goes miles towards pacing the whole day properly.
So we talked about how to not just work all the time, but I want to say that there are times when you need to work a bunch. The year my second kid was born I spent two months working longer hours three days a week so that I could take off from December 15th to February 10th of the next year.
My wife and I sat down and decided that the short-term sacrifice of two months of me getting up early and working an extra few hours was worth the almost two months off work. It was a season of working more.
The thing is, that for most people, that ‘season’ of working more turns into a new lifestyle. If you have a season of working more then sit down and decide how long that season will last before you dive into it. When the time is up, cut the work back to where it should be.
Be ruthless with yourself, even if you feel like you should be working more still. You need that break so you can get productive again. You need at least a few weeks of less than 40 hours working to recover before you can head into another season of working extra if you need to do that.
Those seasons of extra work happen, just don’t let them turn into a life of working all the time.
Those are my main tips for maintaining a good work-life balance. Do you have any that I should be adding? Are you using any of these with success? I’d love to hear about your success stories or any tips that you have to bring balance into your life. Even stories of how lack of balance hindered your life, since I’m sure that there are a number of people reading this saying ‘not me’ — until they read your comment.
Email can mean a bunch of context switching if you’re not careful.
Allow me to illustrate. You get an email from Client 1, and of course just dive into addressing whatever they wanted. That could mean anything, from a bunch of research or some code or changes, to a PSD or writing some content.
Then you send off the work and return to your email. There will be a few messages in your inbox that can be answered quickly then you’ll hit another one that initiates another context switch.
This is the big one — the costly one — because it switches you away from processing your email.
A rule in Getting Things Done (Amazon.ca) is that if a given task takes less than two minutes you should just do it. In that case the cost of processing it for later will take longer than just addressing it immediately.
The big problem most people have here is that they don’t actually have any idea how long a task will take. Sure, you figure a task will take less than 2 minutes, but if you were to track your time, you may realize it took 15 minutes to address a single email.
My rule is that if any email is going to take more than 3-5 sentences to respond to, it goes into my system instead of getting done right away. When I’ve passed that along to people, this simple rule of thumb allows them to assess an email task more easily, by looking at how much text they’ll have to write instead of estimating how long a task will take.
When I process email, all emails that can be responded to in 3-5 sentences get done right away.
Any email that’s going to take longer than that gets pushed off to Todoist. If I’m currently working on a project for a client and they email me something that’s going to take a bit, I set up the email to be responded to during their project time.
If it’s an email from a new prospect that’s going to take some thinking or research, I push it off to the time of the day (or maybe the next day) when I’m responding to new leads.
I strive for 24-hour response to all emails, but just because someone emails you doesn’t mean you are required to respond to them. And you’re certainly not required to respond to ANY email right away, so keep to your schedule.
Remember, email is mainly a way for other people to tell you what they think is important for you today. Check your email a few times a day and then just leave it. Plan your day the night before and don’t check your email until later in the day. I leave mine until just about the time I’m leaving for the day.
Your goal each day should be to accomplish the most important things on your list, not add to your list all day based on what other people think is important. If you allow other people to define what’s important, you will never really push your business forward.