What Spinks Thinks http://whatspinksthinks.com Mon, 19 Jan 2015 11:00:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.8 11 Simple Things I Did to Improve my Productivity http://whatspinksthinks.com/2015/01/19/11-simple-things-i-did-to-improve-my-productivity/ http://whatspinksthinks.com/2015/01/19/11-simple-things-i-did-to-improve-my-productivity/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 11:00:08 +0000 http://whatspinksthinks.com/?p=3893 I’m constantly experimenting with different ways to improve my productivity.

For a long time in my career I was consistently, horribly distracted. I didn’t have any systems in place to keep myself on track and my productivity ebbed and flowed from week-to-week and even hour-to-hour.

I can’t say I have it all figured out. I go through phases where I’m really productive and phases where a fall into a rut. But lately I’ve been able to keep myself consistently productive and when I see a rut coming, my systems help keep me on track.

The entire CMX team works remotely and we often work different hours, so it’s really important that we develop the individual discipline to stay productive and get our work done.

Here are a few simple changes I’ve made that helped me become more productive in the last year.

1. Limit and condense meetings

I love meeting new people. As a result, I have a hard time saying no to meetings.

I used to just accept all meeting requests that came my way and I’d let the other person choose the time and place. This caused a lot of issues as I’d find myself hopping from meeting to meeting throughout the day, running all over the city with just small chunks of time in between to actually do work.

I realized I needed to gain some control over my meetings. I did this in three ways:

1. I try (sometimes I bend the rules) to book all of my meetings from 12-2pm every day. That’s it. I’ve been doing this for several months now and it’s completely changed the game.

2. I started saying no to meetings when I feel that we can accomplish the same goal over email. So if someone wants to grab coffee to ask me questions, I might ask them to send questions over email instead.

3. I started controlling the time and place by…

2. Using Assistant.to

In order to control the timing of your meetings, it’s important that you can be the first one to offer up potential times.

This app, assistant.to, has been the best new tool I’ve discovered in years.

Basically whenever someone emails me asking for a meeting, I can say “Sure, let me know if any of these times work”. With just a few clicks, assistant.to plugs in the times I have specified are available (12-2 every day) and the other person can simply click on one of the times to book the meeting and have a calendar invite sent.

It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 5.30.30 PM

That means I control the times that we can meet. It also means I can often control the location since assistant.to lets you put in a location.

As a result I spend less time going back and forth on scheduling, I have better control over the timing of my meetings and I don’t have to travel to meetings as much.

3. Organizing my emails into buckets (inspired by Andreas Klinger)

I’ve admittedly only been experimenting with this for a couple weeks but it’s already been working out really well.

I was inspired by Andreas Klinger’s article about how to use gmail more efficiently. I tried his system and the format didn’t work perfectly, but I was able to adapt it to work for my needs.

This is what his system looks like:

klinger email

I basically adapted this by putting the buckets below my inbox instead of the side and I changed the purpose of each bucket to fit me needs.

As emails come in I can sort them into 4 different buckets:

  • Needs a response that will take more than 2 minutes
  • I need to follow up on this later
  • This has information I need later (travel plans, event tickets, etc)
  • Reading list (articles or links I want to check out later)

The unique thing I learned from Andreas is using stars or other symbols to organize the emails instead of folders, which really streamlines the process.

4. Optimized my todo list using a notebook and my own system

I’ve tried SO many todo apps in my career and nothing has ever really stuck. Eventually I started just using a simple notebook and over time adapted my system for keeping track of everything.

I’ve now been using this system for about a year and I love it. It’s perfect for me.

Here’s what it looks like:

todo list

  • Every time I want to add a new task, I just add it to the bottom of the list
  • I add an empty circle to the right if I intent to do it today
  • I can only have 3 empty circles at a time (this is the most important part)
  • When I finish a task, I fill in the circle (feels great!) and cross out the task
  • If I need to prioritize the circles, I can fill them in with numbers
  • Sometimes if I have a lot of tasks and I want to wrap my head around how long everything will take, I’ll write a little number all the way to the right making how many minutes it will take (like where I wrote 30 in the picture)
  • Every Monday, I take all the tasks that haven’t been done and I start a new sheet in my notebook (always on the left side….the right side is used for goals, reflection and planning)

5. Writing down my ideal daily schedule and keeping it in front of me at all times

This is something new I’m trying this year that has worked as well. I wrote out my ideal daily schedule on a sheet of notebook paper, along with my goals for this year.

I keep it on my desk in my room so I see it every morning when I wake up. I need to make another copy to keep at my desk at work.

Basically, it’s my default.  I don’t always keep to that schedule exactly but when I feel overwhelmed with the day, or I’m not sure what to do next, I can refer back to that daily schedule.

Here’s what it looks like:

daily schedule

6. Taking time to reflect and plan, every day

As you can see in my schedule, every morning I take 15 minutes to just review my todo list, my goals, and set a plan for the day.

I make sure to do this before I open my computer, before I start responding to emails and before I start doing any real work.

This way, I take a proactive first step in my workday, I can identify the things I know I definitely want to get done above all else, and I don’t start my day catering to other people’s needs.

7. Start every week fresh and revisit goals

As I mentioned earlier, every Monday I take all my tasks that weren’t completed and I move it to a new sheet in the notebook.

I’ll also revisit my goals for the week and write them down. These goals are what set the priority for my tasks. So every time I add a new task to my list and I have to decide whether to do it today or put it off, I look at the goals I wrote down and ask myself if this task will help achieve that goal.

I think this is really important, starting every week with a fresh mind.

Often, I end up just crossing off tasks because I realize they weren’t that important. Or I’ll find that my goals have changed since the last week and I need to adjust my priorities.

By looking at every week as a fresh start, I’ve been able to focus on the right things instead of just doing things because they were on my list last week.

8. Write down everything looming in your head

There will *always* be something looming.

That task that you just don’t want to do. That hard talk that you’ve been putting off with someone. That big decision that you have to make but you don’t have a strong opinion either way.

It’s these things that just loom over us throughout the workday that can really drain our mental energy and cause an incredible amount of stress.

One way that I’ve been able to deal with this is to just write down everything that’s on my mind. Sometimes I’ll actually write down “What’s looming?” on the right side of my notebook and try to think specifically about the things that have been bothering me.

This way, it’s out of my mind and onto the paper. And once it’s on the paper I have the choice to face it right there or put it off longer. Either way, I can address it instead of keeping it as this vague ongoing struggle in my mind.

9. Using Slack to communicate with my team

Slack has been a huge productivity booster for our team. It’s greatly cut down the amount of email we send each other.

And if there’s any way to improve productivity, it’s to reduce the amount of email you have to sort through.

I highly recommend using slack or some sort of simple chat application for your team to discuss the smaller things that come up throughout the day. We only use email to discuss larger projects that we need to plan and structure in depth.

10. Got a consistent desk at a coworking space

For most of my career I’ve worked from home or from coffee shops. I’ve had a lot of fun with it and I’m actually really productive at coffee shops.

But recently we got a couple desks at Galvanize, an amazing new coworking space in SF. I have to say, I really enjoy working at an office.

It all comes down to creating routines and consistency. If I had to boil down all productivity advice into two words, it would be those two.

So having the same office and desk to come to every day, having a space where you can focus and not having to make a decision every morning about where to work can be a huge boost to productivity.

The CMX team has the option of working remotely and we can all work whenever we want. So for me it’s not necessarily about having to have your team in the same office. It’s more about creating consistency for yourself.

11. Meditate every day

I’ve experimented with meditation for a long time but only recently did I make it a part of my daily morning routine.

I can’t say enough about how helpful it’s been. When I wake up, my mind immediately starts racing. All the tasks I have in front of my, the decisions I’m facing, the challenges ahead all come rushing in at once. It’s a tough way to start the day.

Meditation has really helped manage that. I only take about 10 minutes to sit quietly in my room after doing a quick workout and rest my mind. I let each of those thoughts come, I acknowledge them, then I let them settle.

The best meditation advice I’ve read in a long time came in this really short story (read the last two paragraphs of that page). That’s how I think of meditation now, letting my thoughts all settle to the bottom so my mind can be clear and address them in turn.

If my mind is really going crazy, I turn to calm.com to help guide me through meditation exercises.

Those are just some of the things I’ve recently been doing to improve my productivity and mental health.

What have you tried? What worked? What didn’t?

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10 Hard Startup Lessons from Year One of Building CMX http://whatspinksthinks.com/2015/01/07/10-hard-startup-lessons-from-year-one-of-building-cmx/ http://whatspinksthinks.com/2015/01/07/10-hard-startup-lessons-from-year-one-of-building-cmx/#comments Wed, 07 Jan 2015 12:00:48 +0000 http://whatspinksthinks.com/?p=3887 It’s been almost one full year since we started CMX.

It feels like it was yesterday, and yet when I look at where we’re at, I can’t believe how much we’ve accomplished in just a year.

This is my third business, and the most successful so far both financially and in terms of clarity of direction. I feel like we’re doing a lot of things right but of course, I’m constantly learning hard lessons about startups and entrepreneurship as I go.

In this post, I want to quickly share some of the bigger personal lessons I’ve learned in 2014:

1. Conferences are a tough business to run and maintain

When we first started, it seemed really simple. Find great speakers, choose a venue, sell tickets and boom…you have yourself a successful conference.

What we’ve learned is that conferences are an incredibly difficult business to get off the ground. They’re unpredictable and there are a ton of factors that you can’t control like other conferences that launch around the same time, unexpected venue costs, speaker cancellations and unpredictable sales rates.

On top of that, the actual event has a thousand details that you have to pay attention to. And if you mess up any one of them, you will hear about it from your attendees.

If you’re going to run a conference:

  1. Hire a great event manager to run the show. We couldn’t survive without Leah
  2. Realize that the conference will probably not pay the bills for the full year unless you get a ton of sponsorship money, host a lot of events every year or are able to charge a lot (more than $1k) for tickets…so you need other forms of revenue throughout the year (which is why we started doing consulting)
  3. Be prepared to dump a significant amount of time into organizing and promoting the event

2. Transparency is powerful, but complicated

We recently sent a letter to our community, honestly sharing how the company is going, the challenges we’re facing and what we’re planning to do to overcome those challenges.

The response was tremendous. We got loads of comments, responses and business leads out of that one letter.

Some companies choose to fake it until they make it. They always want to put out the perception of success and that everything is great. That works for some companies. But for others, transparency will have a much bigger impact and frankly, it feels good to just be honest and not feel like you have to hide things from your community.

That said, transparency isn’t black and white. There are many shades. When writing that simple letter we ran into questions like:

  • How honest should we be?
  • Should I share everything? Just some things?
  • What should the tone be?
  • Should we try to sound strong or vulnerable?
  • Who should we send this letter to? How should we send it?

Ultimately, we will be following in the footsteps of Buffer and always defaulting to transparency because it’s right for the kind of business we’re building.

But as you can see here, transparency can take many forms and you have to figure out what true transparency looks like to your company.

It’s not as easy as just being honest and open. There’s a spectrum of transparency.

3. Create decision filters based on your core values

As a founder, you will face big and small decisions every day.

I’ve struggled with decision making in the past. It’s something I continue to work very hard to improve on. Here’s something that’s worked well for me recently…

By being clear about our company’s core beliefs (write it down if you have to) you can create a filter for making decisions. So every time you’re faced with a decision, you can simple ask “does this align with our values and goals?” If not, don’t do it. If yes, do it. Simple as that.

For example at CMX quality is everything. We hold all of our content to as high level of quality as possible. It’s the #1 factor when choosing speakers, writing content, choosing partners and everything we do.

So whenever I face a decision related to our content, we can look at it through that lens and ask, will doing this result in the highest quality content possible? If not, then we won’t do it.

At events, our goal is both high quality content and creating a powerful interactive experience for attendees. So every time I have to decide if we should spend money on something, I ask “Will this make the quality of our content better? Or will this help our attendees connect with each other in a meaningful way?”  If it’s not a clear yes either way, then we cut it.

4. Decision making isn’t about making the right choice, it’s about making the best choice with the information you have

This is another lesson around decision making and it’s something I learned from one our speakers and my role-models, Scott Belsky. He recently tweeted:

That really stuck with me. Basically, you’ll never have all of the information you need to make a decision, you just have to make a decision with the limited information you have. Over time, with more experience, you have more reference points to guide your decision.

It takes the pressure off of making the perfect choice because there’s no such thing. So you might as well just go with what you know and feel, then see what happens.

5. Some people (me) are good at a lot of things and not great at any one thing 

I’m a good juggler. I’m an extremely fast learner. I can get from novice to pretty good at most skills really quickly. Better than most. As a result, I’m good at a lot of things but not necessarily great at any one hard skill.

I think a lot of founders are this way. I was talking with another CEO friend recently who saw himself in the same way.

It’s why we’re good at getting things off the ground since we can wear a lot of hats and do a good job at everything (but usually not a great job).

This was a good learning for a couple reasons:

  1. It reinforced the importance of building a great team around you of people who are great at specific aspects of the business.
  2. I sometimes see other people who are really good at something and my first thought is “wow I really need to get better at that”. The truth is I don’t because ultimately I’m not the person who needs to be great at that skill.

Weight lifted.

6. It’s better to say exactly what’s on your mind, right away

One of my biggest flaws is I often care too much about what other people think.

As a result, I often don’t say what’s on my mind. Or I’ll beat around the bush without really saying it. I get worried that I might offend the person or they won’t like me.

As a result, I end up avoiding small important issues until they become big important issues and they’re a lot more difficult to handle.

I recently started doing what one of my old bosses, Loic LeMeur used to do when I was running community at LeWeb. If there was something bothering him, even if it was confrontational, he’d immediately send me an email with 1-2 sentences expressing his thoughts.

He told me that he’d rather just say what was on his mind than keep it to himself because it forced us to talk about it and move passed it. As a result it was one of the best working relationships I’ve ever had. There was no bullshit.

Say what’s on your mind. Be as blunt as possible. If there’s any awkwardness, it passes quickly and ultimately, everyone’s better off.

 7. Building a business is much easier when you stick to what you know

Community building is my thing. It’s what I think about all the time and I’ve done and written about enough in the space that all my professional friends have been calling me “the community guy” for as long as I can remember.

My last company, Feast, was a food/cooking business. I had no background in food or cooking, I wasn’t even a good cook. We just had a good idea around a pain-point that we ourselves felt. But with no deep understanding of the space, no real connections in the food space and a lack of true passion for food, it proved to be an extremely difficult business for us to build.

CMX has been the opposite. I understand the space on a deeper level than most and can talk about this stuff all day. As a result, things just move more naturally.

It’s a huge difference, like swimming upstream vs downstream.

If life is pushing you in a specific direction, going with the flow will come make life much easier, as long as you like the direction.

As a founder, look for opportunities to build something in the area that you truly care most about. A lot of things can click into place if you do.

8. There is no ultimate state of happiness or success

I’ve written about this before, but it’s a lesson that I’m constantly reminded of and wanted to reiterate here.

When anyone tells you how to become a successful or happy person, ignore it. There’s no such thing as a happy person or a successful person. There is no point in life where all of a sudden you will be permanently successful or happy.

Life is an ebb and flow of happiness, sadness, success, failure, high energy, low energy etc. You can be any one of those things at any given time, regardless of your overall situation.

When you realize that, you can stop trying to reach this ultimate mythical state of happiness and you can focus on the present. Are you happy in this moment? Are you successful in this moment? Where do you want to be right now and how can you get there?

9. Ignore people who tell you how to win the lottery

I absolutely loved this talk by Darius Kazemi at XOXO. It was a comical take on what we hear from so many speakers when they get on stage and tell their story of how they succeeded.

Darius sums it up with this line that really stuck with me:

“There’s two kinds of creative advice. There’s ‘How to buy more lottery tickets’ and there’s ‘How to win the lottery’. I think the former can be really useful and the latter is nonsense.”

What he’s saying is that “experts” will often tell you “here’s how to achieve X goal”. We see those kinds of articles and talks all the time. “How to get 10000 emails” “How to make $10Mil” “They key to building a successful startup”

That advice won’t help you. It’s nonsense.

So many factors will go into whether or not something works at any given time that it’s impossible for someone to tell you what will work. The element of luck is too large. They’re basically telling you, “Here’s how to win the lottery”.

So ignore that kind of advice and instead focus on the advice that helps you buy more lottery tickets. Focus on the advice that teaches you the process for taking shots, experimenting and learning.

Don’t try to learn from someone’s results.

Instead, learn from their process for experimenting with different approaches that ultimately led them to find an approach that worked.

10. Money is important

Anyone who tells you that money isn’t important has never been broke and has never bootstrapped a business.

I had a shift in mentality recently around money. I realized for my entire career as an entrepreneur I chose not to take on opportunities to make money if it took time away from building my companies.

I’d make financial sacrifices in the short run in the hopes that a company would take off and pay off in the long run.

Then I’d justify being broke by thinking, “the pressure of being broke will make me work harder to succeed.”

That was dumb. You need money.

You need it to eat. You need it to pay other people to work with you. You need it to fly to see your family. You need it to keep clean clothes on your back.

I will always work hard to build successful businesses with long term value that makes the world a better place. But if I have opportunities to make money in the short run, I will strongly consider taking them. Money will enable me to do more, to build more and I won’t be distracted by constantly not having it.

Business shouldn’t be all about money. But it should be a little bit about money.

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The Biggest Mistake Founders Make when Building an MVP http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/12/11/the-biggest-mistake-founders-make-when-building-an-mvp/ http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/12/11/the-biggest-mistake-founders-make-when-building-an-mvp/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 12:40:34 +0000 http://whatspinksthinks.com/?p=3881 We just started inviting people into the alpha for a community product we’re developing called Groop. It didn’t solve any of their problems. It wasn’t supposed to.

The product is a community platform so it needed a decent amount of features even for an MVP, but we did the absolute bare minimum. We kept it so minimal that there was no way people would actually want to use it.

I knew that when we started invited people to try it out that the feedback would be pretty harsh. It’s so simple, and people have high standards for community platforms. There are a lot of features that people just expect to be there because they’ve seen them on forums or Facebook groups. We didn’t build any of them.

The biggest mistake founders make when building an MVP is they try to solve the problem instead of just starting a conversation.

They end up over-engineering the product because they don’t want to put it out in the world until it actually solves the problem. It’s rare that right off the bat, a product you build will solve a real problem. It’s like if you walked onto a beach with a metal detector and expected it to find something  as soon as you turned it on.

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” – Reid Hoffman.

With our MVP, my goal was to make people say “Really? That’s it?!” so that I could respond with “What did you expect?” and “What would you need to see here in order to use this community platform for your company?”

It started a conversation that’s already leading us to really important learnings about what people actually need. Things that we never would have learned by just asking them.

Now we can continue to develop the product and figure out how to solve the problem based on what people actually want.

People will always tell you what they need to see in a product. They’ll never tell you what you should take away.

So we’re starting as simple as possible, so simple that it actually doesn’t solve a problem. Hopefully that leads us to the right solution. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you’re a startup or a company launching a community for the first time and want to join the Groop alpha, email me. It won’t solve your problem, but it might one day. 

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The State of CMX, a Letter to Our Community http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/12/03/the-state-of-cmx-a-letter-to-our-community/ http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/12/03/the-state-of-cmx-a-letter-to-our-community/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:48:56 +0000 http://whatspinksthinks.com/?p=3873 Today we shared an update with the CMX community on everything that’s happening behind the scenes at CMX. I wanted to share it here as well for anyone who’s been following along with our story.

We want everything with CMX to be transparent, especially within our community, and we’re excited to hear any and all feedback you have on our direction.

I’ll share a bit about where we’ve been, the big challenges we’re facing now, how we plan to overcome those challenges, and how you can help.

First, where we’ve been:

We’ve had a roller coaster first year in business. In the past 10 months, we’ve:

  • Hosted three summits, bringing together over 900 community professionals and founders in SF and NYC, and we hosted the first CMX Series event with another 75 attendees

  • Launched the CMX Hub publication, which will reach over 100k total visitors by the end of this year and is currently at 1,937 email subscribers (growing at 11% monthly)

  • Grew the Facebook group to over 800 members with high engagement levels at ~500 interactions per week

  • Helped dozens of companies find and recruit community professionals to join their teams

  • Built the prototypes for our first two software products (currently in alpha tests, more on that soon…)

In pursuit of our mission to fuel the community industry, we’ve also seen a clear shift in the conversation around the definition of community, the legitimacy of the community industry, and the rising number of companies who are hiring for true community roles.

Things have moved extremely fast, and we’re proud of everything our small team has accomplished in such a short time.

This progress hasn’t come easily, and we face some legitimate challenges in the months ahead.

Everything we’ve done to this point has been aimed at creating lots of value and resources for the community industry while building a strong long-term brand and community around CMX. But we learned that while conferences are amazing for building brand and community, they can be unpredictable and carry a lot of risk. Some conferences make a lot of money, usually by selling tickets for thousands of dollars and selling speaking slots. CMX does neither of these, since it’s extremely important to us that CMX is unbiased in its content and is as affordable as possible for members of the growing industry.

Basically, while everything we’ve done has created a lot of long-term value, in the short run, we’re going to need more sustainable, regular revenue to keep this train moving.

There are also some recent changes to the team. Max Altschuler, my friend and co-founder in CMX Media, also runs the Sales Hacker Conference. That’s his baby and it’s taking off quickly, so he will be switching his full focus over to Sales Hacker while remaining on as an advisor for CMX and stepping in for specific projects when needed. We’re incredibly excited for him and for Sales Hacker, and we’re truly grateful for his help in getting CMX off the ground. It never would have happened without him.

That leaves me and the unstoppable Carrie Jones to drive this ship (with Leah continuing part-time on events). A team of two. While it will be a challenge, I couldn’t imagine a team better suited to make this thing happen. We’re extremely clear on what needs to be done and how we’re going to do it.

So… What’s in store for the future?

Our short-term goal is to develop more consistent revenue that will give us the resources we need to continue to host CMX events, publish content on CMX Hub, and build out our software products. With that, we’re going to be highly focused on two areas over the next few months:

1. Consulting and Services:

We’re constantly asked to help companies with their community strategy, but we haven’t made that a focus, so we’ve always passed on those opportunities. Now it will be a focus. We will take on a limited number of consulting contracts with companies we care about.

We can’t wait to work with exciting companies with unique community challenges. It keeps our blades sharp and gives us many more success stories and case studies to share.

2. Training and workshops:

The first CMX Workshops sold out three weeks before the event. It’s clear that there’s a strong need for more specific, hands-on community training.

CMX will now develop online and offline training programs to help community professionals take their strategy to the next level. You’ve already received our survey for the “Coding for Community Managers” course, which we’ve partnered with Make it With Code to develop. There will be many more to come.

How can you help?

  1. If you or someone you know is in need of help with community strategy, community recruiting, or advisement, send them our way.

  2. If you’re interested in community training and workshops, tell us what you want to learn (take 60 seconds to fill out this form: http://bit.ly/1HTOLz6).

  3. Just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s your energy and involvement in this community that keeps us going. It makes it all worth it. If you’re happy and successful, then we are too.

So here we are… many challenges ahead. But I can honestly say we’re not nervous. I’ve never had as much clarity with my previous businesses as we do with CMX. It’s clear what we need to do, and we’re more motivated than ever to keep pushing this forward.

Let the roller coaster continue.

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Stop Asking “Am I Happy?”, That’s Not How it Works http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/06/05/stop-asking-am-i-happy-thats-not-how-it-works/ http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/06/05/stop-asking-am-i-happy-thats-not-how-it-works/#comments Thu, 05 Jun 2014 10:00:24 +0000 http://whatspinksthinks.com/?p=3838 siberian

I’ve always had this vague idea in my head that happiness is this point in life that I can reach.

If I work hard enough, make lots of friends, make money, travel, check off all the boxes…then I’ll be a “happy person”.

Other people seem to think the same way because I’ve been asked many times “Are you happy?”. I always struggle to answer them. Happiness just doesn’t seem to work that way. I start thinking…

  1. It’s not that black and white. There’s a spectrum of happiness
  2. What is happiness? Is it excitement? Is it being motivated? Is it laughing? Is it finding meaning?
  3. In this moment, I can be happy about some things and unhappy about others. I can be happy with my life in general, but unhappy about the gum I stepped on that day.

What I realized is that I don’t think happiness, however you define it, is a point in life that you can reach. There’s no one in life who’s achieved level 5 happiness and now they’re just happy all the time. Even the ones who seem to have it all, or always seem positive…they aren’t always happy.

Actually, if I was happy all the time that might not be so great. The moments of sadness in life are tough, but they make the moments of happiness that much better. There’s a spectrum of human emotion and happiness isn’t the only one that’s okay to have. You’re not broken if you’re not happy.

Whenever I feel stressed, angry or sad I try to accept it. They’re normal human emotions. Life is a crazy adventure and your emotions will ebb and flow with it.

So instead of thinking about how much I hate being stressed, I think about why I’m stressed and realize that given the situation this is a perfectly normal reaction.

And instead of asking myself, “Am I happy?” I try to ask myself things like…

  • Why am I doing what I’m doing?
  • Am I proud of what I’m doing?
  • Who do I want to be and am I working toward that goal?

Happiness isn’t a phase in life you can reach. Happiness is in the moment. And when it’s not there, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It just means you’re human.

Thanks to Mike Hrostoski for inspiring the post.

Photo cred: Angelo González

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How I Got Fired from a Hot Startup http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/05/06/how-i-got-fired-from-a-hot-startup/ http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/05/06/how-i-got-fired-from-a-hot-startup/#comments Tue, 06 May 2014 11:00:46 +0000 http://whatspinksthinks.com/?p=3806 4344170733_aae7ef8e32_o

I wrote this article over three months ago. It’s taken a while to hit publish.

I’ve wanted to share my story and be truly transparent but getting fired is a hard thing to talk about. Not just because it’s a bit embarrassing and might hurt my reputation, but because it involves other people. I don’t want those people to think I’m just airing dirty laundry.

I’m writing this because it’s an experience that a lot of people go through every day but it’s so rarely discussed. As a result, people miss the warning signs like the ones that I and my managers should have seen.

If you know me, you can probably guess what company this is but this post isn’t about the company, it’s about me and my experience.

This is the article I wish existed for my former self at the time I was fired. I can only hope that by sharing my experience, anyone else who’s going through the same thing will be better prepared to handle it.

So let’s start with my experience… 

When I’m at my worst, it’s because I feel like I’m irreversibly behind. I’m constantly catching up, treading water, taking sips of air but never quite getting my head above water.

In the last month before I got fired, I found myself in that scary place while working at a well-known startup. It’s hard to say how I found myself there exactly. Lack of communication, my own inexperience, confusion around direction, loss of motivation, focusing on the wrong things, taking on way too much work, the way I managed others, the way others managed me…I could go on.

I was in a funk. My alarm would go off and I would snooze for as long as possible. I’d wake up with 15 minutes to get out the door, take a speedy shower, grab a banana for breakfast and rush to the office.

I loved my team and the best part of the day would be saying hi to everyone when I walked in, but as soon as I got to my desk, the daily downfall ensued. I had so much to get done that I would start every day completely overwhelmed. The length of my todo list would be comical. I’d let the tasks I disliked most remain on the todo list day after day. I’d have 40 tabs open, occasionally browsing Facebook and doing what James Clear calls “half-work“.

I was in a perpetual state of distraction and constantly playing catch up. I’d start my day late, I’d get my work done late and it would keep piling on so I could never get ahead of it. I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. And I couldn’t communicate my situation with anyone because it was a fast moving startup, and I felt like everyone was too busy for my problems.

I was stuck in a downward spiral, unable to step back and gain perspective. It became impossible get back on track. I was just in over my head working on whatever fires I saw first. I got stressed, depressed and eventually I crashed.

I got fired

I remember the moment vividly, every word, every emotion. It felt like the world was crashing down around me. I had failed.

The couple months after that day, I became even more depressed, questioned my abilities, my motivations, my work ethic…everything I strived for felt like it was swept out from under me.

I blamed myself more than I should have. Later on, Dr. Hindsight showed me that while there were certainly a lot of things I could have done better, this was clearly a bad cultural fit for me at that time. As soon as I picked myself back up and starting working again, I felt much better.

Very few people are honest about getting fired and I was no different. When asked why I no longer worked there I’d usually say something like “we parted ways” or “it just wasn’t a good fit”. The company would say the same thing when asked.

Today when people ask, I’m usually honest. I don’t feel ashamed anymore. I realize now that it happened as a result of those countless compounding variables, some in my control and many not.

Fast forward to today and I’ve successfully worked with several companies and have started my second and third companies. Both through my experience getting fired and all of my professional experiences since, I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with situations like the one I found myself in before getting fired.

Should you find yourself in this position where you’re in over your head on a path to get fired, what can you do?

Hopefully these tips help…

1. Force yourself to take a step back and reflect

I felt like there was no way I could waste an hour to reflect. I felt like if I wasn’t working, I was doing something wrong.

But I wasn’t really working. I was distracted and tried to juggle multiple tasks, working at 50% efficiency at best.

I should have taken more time to reflect, which makes the rest of these tips possible.

Now that you’re committed to reflecting…

2. Get better at reflecting

Reflection can come in many shapes and forms.

Today, I try to maintain a habit of writing down answers to these 7 questions every Sunday.

You can take walks once each day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.

Unplugging on weekends and getting out to nature is another great way to reflect.

Or taking a longer vacation may be what you need.

I also like to use calm to clear my mind every day in the morning or at the middle of the day.

3. Think about the bigger questions

Sometimes when in over our head, we reflect on the wrong things.

Before I got fired, I was only looking at the short term challenges in front of me. How can I make this manager happy? How do I get this task done? How can I quickly make a big impact and prove to everyone I’m awesome?

Instead, I should have asked bigger picture questions like:

1) Is this environment healthy for me? Am I happy?
2) What are the goals of the company and is my work helping them achieve those goals?
3) What are my personal goals and is my work here helping me achieve them?

Look at yourself, the environment and the people around you while thinking about the long term vision for yourself and your company. Often you’ll find that the problem isn’t just you, but the environment you’re in or the path you’re on.

4. Ask for help

I was an idiot and just wanted to do everything myself. I wanted to look like a badass and didn’t want people to think I didn’t know what I was doing.

I should have asked my teammates for help more often. I should have asked my mentors. I should have been more honest with myself, accept that I was deep in the shit and ask for help.

5. Accept the possibility that it’s a bad fit

I’m really bad at quitting stuff.

When I was in over my head, I was still convinced that I was in the right place. All the obvious signs just escaped me. The culture, the team and the product were all so attractive at the time but in hindsight, they weren’t right for me.

For me, all the problems seemed to lie in myself. I blamed myself for everything. The thought that the environment could be impacting my situation never crossed my mind.

It’s hard, because I felt like I was given great opportunity and I didn’t want to squander it. Now I know, there will always be more opportunities, and the face value of an opportunity isn’t always what it seems.

Sometimes quitting is the best thing you can do to move forward.

6. Change up your system 

My system was clearly flawed. I needed to change something up in order to get out ahead of the game.

Back then I had no idea what to change. Since then I’ve become a bit more patient and aware.

Here are some things that have worked for me in my more recent experiences where I’ve felt overwhelmed:

1. Prioritize

There was no way I was going to get out ahead of things while trying to do everything at once. I should have sat down with my manager and prioritized. It would have been hugely helpful to make sure we’re all on the same page about what needs to get done.

In startups it’s not often what you do, but what you don’t do that will decide how well your companies does. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the get shit done mentality and make sure the “shit” you’re getting done is of highest priority to your team’s goals.

2. Plan

Today I like to create timelines to accomplish each of the projects I prioritize. If I did that back then, I could have shared my timeline with my manager. I could have showed them that I was thinking strategically about what needed to get done and give them a system for holding me accountable.

Make it easy to track your progress both for yourself and for your team to see you’re getting your work done.

3. Embrace teamwork

As I mentioned before, I felt like everyone else in the startup was too busy, and it was all up to me to figure my issues out. I was wrong. I should have asked my team for help.

It doesn’t matter if the person you ask for help doesn’t have expertise in your field. They’re probably smart people who can help you think logically through any challenges you’re facing.

7. Take a stand

I was hired because the founders and team respected me, not because I’d blindly do what others tell me to do.

But that’s not how I acted when I was in over my head. I disagreed with the way some things were being handled but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have the courage. I just went with the flow.

If you find yourself in that position, say what’s on your mind.

Be blunt. Be honest. Tell it how it is. Either they’ll respect your courage to speak up and address the challenges you bring up or they’ll condemn you for speaking your mind (which probably means you shouldn’t be working there anyway).

8. Remember that getting fired isn’t the end of the world

I remember the time leading up to that moment when I got fired. I had a feeling it was coming, and I thought that getting fired would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me.

Do you know what happens to most people who get fired? They end up being grateful because they learn from their mistakes, they realize that it was a bad fit in the first place and they become motivated to find a place where they can thrive and prove everyone wrong. Getting fired shakes things up, forces you to reflect on your path and makes you more self aware. It can also light a fire or create a chip on one’s shoulder to propel you toward whatever it is you do next.

I was blowing the situation out of proportion at the time but that’s pretty natural. I was so deep in the situation that I had very little perspective. I felt like getting fired would be the end of me.

It’s not, I promise. And if you had the perspective to see this moment in the grand scheme of things, you’d realize how little it means.

So if you’re in this position and you are deathly afraid of getting fired, change your paradigm. Think of it in a different light. Look at getting fired as a positive opportunity to reflect and grow. An opportunity to find a place where you can thrive. A reason to kick even more ass in the next thing you do.

When you no longer fear getting fired, you have nothing to lose. The funny thing is, that might be exactly what you need to save your job.

Thanks to Nadia, Max and Hiten for feedback on this post.

Photo Credit: photolibrarian via Compfight cc

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Make People Happy by Understanding What Freedom Means to Them http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/03/13/freedom/ http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/03/13/freedom/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 13:00:18 +0000 http://whatspinksthinks.com/?p=3790 freedomI had a really interesting discussion with Hiten Shah and Nadia Eghbal the other day about freedom and what it really meant for each of us.

Freedom is something many of us strive for. It can affect where we choose to work, who we date, who we live with, where we live and probably a lot of subtle things we don’t realize.

But what does freedom mean?

My knee jerk reaction would be that freedom is having control over what I’m doing at any given moment.

In reality, freedom can look different for everyone. For some it’s important that their entire life feels free. For others, they just want to control certain aspects of their life in order to feel free.

Freedom can be…

…making decisions for yourself.

…not having to answer to others.

…autonomy.

…working on a team.

…working less.

…being mentally challenged.

…being able to spend more time with your kids.

…doing physical activity.

…working from home.

…working in an office.

…vacation time.

…money.

People find a sense of freedom in such a wide range of things and probably a combination of things. As entrepreneurs, managers or leaders, it’s important to understand what freedom means to each person individually instead of creating overarching standards that apply to everyone.

Note that freedom is different from motivation. A lot of people seek to improve someone’s productivity by figuring out what motivates them. Some of the things listed above can be considered motivation as well, but it’s not about finding out what will drive someone to do good work. It’s about understanding the environment in which they’ll be truly happy and in turn, do good work. There a subtle but important difference there.

I think sometimes we don’t even pay attention to what brings ourselves a sense of freedom. We just assume it’s time, money, autonomy…all the things that society says should make you happy. Maybe if you take a step back and think about the moments in your life when you’ve felt completely free, it had nothing to do with those things.

What brings you a sense of freedom? What brings the people around you a sense of freedom?

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Just Hit Publish http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/03/11/just-hit-publish/ http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/03/11/just-hit-publish/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 11:00:46 +0000 http://whatspinksthinks.com/?p=3781 I’ve struggled to keep up with my writing lately.

I started writing a post every day for over 100 days. I accomplished that goal and things were humming along.

Then all of a sudden, I started to falter.

What happens when you write that much is a lot of awesome stuff:

- I started being asked to contribute to other publications

- I had a few post really explode, driving a lot of traffic to the blog

- I actually built a following of people who read most of my posts

Now all of these are really good outcomes, but the problem is when I started writing, I was just doing it for myself to get my thoughts out. I could whip up a post quickly and just get those ideas out there. Now after these outcomes, I’ve felt a large amount of pressure to write really epic posts every time.

Posts like this where I can just write and hit publish have become much harder for me to publish. They’re not good enough because they may not reach the heights of some of my other posts.

I feel like my posts have to be thorough, compelling and super high quality in order to publish. But that feeling is wrong unless you’re writing for another publication or you’re writing for a living.

Here on this blog, I can write whatever is on my mind and hit publish without feeling like I have to make it perfect. If people like the post, great. If they don’t, I still get value out of getting the words flowing.

Sometimes, you just have to hit publish. It’s more important that you keep the flow of ideas going than to make sure every idea is perfect.

That probably applies to other parts of business too. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect or epic. It just have to be something, anything to keep things moving forward.

Plus, you should keep in mind that you have no idea which topics will hit a nerve and explode, and what will fall flat. I’ve had posts that took me 5 minutes to write reach tens of thousands of people. I’ve also worked on posts for hours just to have 50 people read it.

You never know, so just hit publish.

 

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Learned from Failure – Why You Should Never Send Negative Emails http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/01/28/learned-from-failure-why-you-should-never-send-negative-emails/ http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/01/28/learned-from-failure-why-you-should-never-send-negative-emails/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 14:00:08 +0000 http://whatspinksthinks.com/?p=3759 I’ve learned a lot about what makes for good communication in business.

I’ve also learned about what makes for really poor communication that results in anger, drama and failure.

There’s one philosophy that has consistently proven true for me, in multiple jobs, over multiple years with many different kinds of people.

Negative emails make for very poor communication and should always be discussed in person (or at least on the phone) instead.

I’ve learned by making the mistake several times (I still do today). And I’ve learned from other people making the same mistake with me.

Every time I’ve sent an emotional email, I’ve regretted it. Every time someone sends me an emotional email, I get stressed.

It’s not because they’re emotional. I think it’s absolutely essential that when you work closely with people, that everyone feels comfortable sharing their feelings, both good and bad. I have just found that email is the wrong place for it when it’s bad.

If you’re sending negative feedback, that might be okay as long as it’s presented in the positive light of your mutual goal to be better and improve. But as soon as emotion comes into it, take it off email.

This post is based on my own personal experiences so maybe others would respond differently. But in case you’re like me, I figured it’s worth sharing.

Here’s why negative emotional emails are bad news bears…

1. Lack of tone, body language and eye contact

Are they being sarcastic? Angry? Sad? I have no idea.

What often happens is I’ll end up assuming the worse. I assume they’re livid, full of anger and disgust.

It doesn’t matter how descriptive you are or how many emoticons you use, when you write something emotional, how the other person perceives that emotion is completely out of your control.

2. It can create a battle to win out

Written debates are brutal. You can pick apart every single word and phrase of the opponent and you read over your response 17 times before sending it over.

That’s not a conversation, that’s a battle to win out. You’re just trying to shoot down all angles of the other person’s argument rather than come to an understanding and move forward.

I can’t speak for others but when I used to receive emotional emails, I’d overanalyze that thing until I turn blue. Then I’d overanalyze my response, trying to cover every angle.

As a result, everyone loses, the problem never gets settled and it can cause bad juju amongst teammates.

3. Ready, Set, DWELL!

Emails also leave a lot of space between messages. Unlike a conversation where you keep working through the issue together live in real time, an email just sits there, festering.

When I receive emotional emails, I dwell. For days or until I finally talk to the person, I obsess over the email, what it means, how the other person is feeling and how I’ll deal with it. It’s depressing, really.

Passive communication like that is great for coordination and general information exchange. But when you start bringing human emotions into the mix, save it until you can actually have a live conversation about it.

4. We can be irrational in the moment

Most emotional emails are written in the moment of emotion.

Our emotions are strong and can make us say or do things we regret. Forcing yourself to take it offline and talk it out in person will also give you time to reflect and approach the situation rationally.

At the very least, save it as a draft and come back to it later after you’ve had time to calm down, reflect and think rationally.

So here’s what you can do instead of sending emotional emails:

1. Just take it offline

When I want to send one, I’ll write out the draft and then not send it. Then I’ll send something like, “hey, can we hop on a call, had something on my mind” and set up a time to talk through it.

When someone sends me a negative email now, I simply respond with something along the lines of “let’s get on skype and talk this out”.

That simple change in how I deal with communication has vastly improved both my sanity and my ability to work well with others.

2. Set up a regular time to share emotions

Another good strategy that has worked for Nadia and I is to set a specific meeting up at the same time every week that’s dedicated to sharing your thoughts, feelings, fears, excitements etc. We’d go for a walk, go get bubble tea, sit in a park, away from computers, and just talk. This way, if we had something weighing on our mind, we knew we’d have the chance to share it at the meeting and didn’t have to email to bring it up.

Turns out when you have conversations like that, you gain a lot of perspective about yourself and your company as well. Some of our biggest decisions for Feast have come from these talks.

3. Write it out but don’t send it

A friend of mine does this every time he feels angry. He’ll write out the email but never send it. Writing it out makes him feel better and lets him think through the situation. Then he just deletes the draft.

I’ve done the same, sometimes actually writing letters to people in my private journal. Just writing things out can make you feel much better.

If you have no other option than to email, then do that. It’s better than not expressing your feelings at all. But if you can, hold it until you can talk it out live in real time.

Photo Credit: Anita Robicheau via Compfight cc

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How to Make Other People Feel Good About Themselves http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/01/27/how-to-make-other-people-feel-good-about-themselves/ http://whatspinksthinks.com/2014/01/27/how-to-make-other-people-feel-good-about-themselves/#comments Mon, 27 Jan 2014 12:00:02 +0000 http://whatspinksthinks.com/?p=3761 piggybackrideWant to make friends and build a strong network?

Want to be the person that people want to spend time with?

Want to earn someone’s trust and respect?

Want to be that manager that everyone loves and enjoys working with?

There are a few people I’ve met in my life that I have a deep respect for, more so than anyone else I’ve met. They’ve proven their ability to do all of those things above time and time again. Everyone loves them, they’re incredibly successful and they just seem to live a good life.

Some time ago I noticed there’s something very consistent about what makes them all so successful and well thought of.

They make other people feel really good about themselves.

Every chance they get, whether with friends, strangers, in public, in private, whatever…they make you feel awesome.

There are a number of ways that I’ve seen them work their magic. Some are simple and very obvious. Others take a little more work and aren’t so obvious.

1. Compliment people even if it feels awkward

The simplest most obvious thing you can do it compliment them.

Complimenting can feel awkward and take some willpower sometimes. I catch myself wanting to compliment people but then feeling embarrassed and just keeping it to myself.

I learned from watching these people who are really good at complimenting how effective it can be.

If you like someone’s shoes, you think they’re funny, you respect them…anything good, tell them! By keeping it to yourself you’re missing an opportunity to make someone else feel really good about themselves. That in turn will make you feel good for making them feel good. And your relationship will strengthen.

Take Action: Think about someone you know and care for. What’s one thing you like about them? Have you ever told them that? What’s stopping you from texting it to them right now or telling it to them next time you see them?

2. Make other people successful

This one is harder but more powerful.

I haven’t been so great at this in my career. I remember the first time I was put in a managerial position, this concept didn’t even cross my mind. Instead of focusing on making others successful, I thought they were there to make me and the company successful.

It was a shallow understanding and one that resulted in a brilliant failure, but a memorable lesson.

I’ve tried to adjust my thinking to a new idea: I work for everyone else in my life. My job, is to make them successful. If I can do that, we all win.

Take Action: Look at your todo list for the next week. Look at each item and think about who it’s helping. Is it making someone else successful or just you? Are there other things you can add in there that will make someone else successful?

3. Shine the spotlight on other people

Make sure credit is given where it’s due every chance you get. This is another thing I haven’t been so great at in the past. Turns out I’m decent at finding spotlights and I haven’t always thought about pointing it at the people around me.

There’s a difference between internal and external recognition as well. Just because you’re very grateful and tell the person that all the time, that won’t have the same effect as recognition in the public eye. If you can give them both, that’s ideal.

Take action: Look at your twitter feed. When was the last time you bragged about someone else? When was the last time you put the spotlight on someone else? Who can you tweet about right now to put the spotlight on them?

If you focus on those three things, you’ll make people feel good about themselves. When they win, you win.

 

Photo Credit: Fujoshi via Compfight cc

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