Jan 13

If you get behind…

…you have choices:

Work harder to catch up.

Create a hack and do it differently.

Give up on the goal.

Carry on as if nothing happened.

The right answer isn’t always the same answer. Decide based on the situation, not what you did in the past.

Dec 12

Learning By Example – Local Heroes and Role Models

It’s easier to believe that something can happen if you’ve seen it happen before.

It works with negative things – you’ll drive slower round the icy corner if you see a car in the ditch at the side of the road. For positive things, one person’s achievement is often the spur for others to better it.

If someone has done it before, it’s easier to believe that you can do it too.

We live in a world where so much has already been achieved. It’s pretty easy to find examples that your goal has been achieved before.  Somehow, that doesn’t actually make it any more realistic for you personally.

It’s far more powerful if the person that’s gone before you is someone you can identify with.

If someone you know launches a successful business from scratch, you’re more likely to believe it’s achievable than if you look to people who’ve been doing it for years as role models. When people who you identify with succeed, it instantly increases your own confidence.

Surrounding yourself with people on a similar path can do wonders for your own progress. People who share your goals will face similar problems and will overcome them. They will motivate you to do more of the same. In the connected world we’re in now, there is no excuse not to find the community of people who share your vision, no matter how geographically distant they are, or how niche your chosen field is.

Find your community – people just like you. Connect with those who are right where you are, and those who are a little further along.

Find the “local heroes” of your community. Make them your role models.

You’ll see that they can do it, and that they’re just like you.  Remember that even those who now appear impossibly successful are human, and had to start somewhere. Although they started in a different time and place to you, they started, and went through the same set of emotions that you have right now.

Two quotes I’ve heard a lot recently  go something like

Don’t compare someone’s outside to your inside.”

In other words, what appears to be plain sailing success, is likely to have some struggle, difficulty or other problem on the inside. It’s just not visible from your viewpoint.

“Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”

Or, when starting out, it’s easy to feel intimidated by others who are further along than you.  It’s easy to forget that these people were once in your shoes. Reach out to them and connect. You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to help.

Finally if you’re planning to get into a similar field to a role model, don’t worry if they seem to have the market already sewn up. They may have their exact section of the market cornered, but you’re different. You bring something else to the picture. Something unique that they don’t have. Make sure that stands out for you. There is always a slightly different set of customers who’s needs you can address just that little bit better.

Provided you’re doing your exact thing brilliantly, then there will always be a market for you to delight.

Who do you seek inspiration and example from? Who are the local heroes of your community?

Let me know in the comments – I’m putting together a series of interviews with local heroes for next year, and I’d love to feature the people that inspire you.

Dec 12

Biting The Bullet

It’s possible to make huge progress by doing tiny acts regularly.

Doing the right 20% of your tasks can bring amazing results.

There is, however, one other type of work you can do which can bring results hugely disproportionate to the time invested.

I call this type of work biting the bullet.

That isn’t a new phrase. I think most people know what it means – it’s steeling yourself and doing sometime that might not be pleasant. It’s holding your breath and plunging into the icy water. It’s doing something that you know needs to be done, but you think might be unpleasant.

You know what needs to be done, but you just don’t want to do it.

You’ll do anything to avoid it. You’ll make excuses to do it later. You’ll pretend it isn’t important. You’ll slowly shuffle it down your to do list.

These bullet biting moments are different for everyone, but they share some characteristics. They usually fall into one of these four categories:

1 – Admitting

Telling a customer you can’t deliver at the price they want. Telling your boss that you don’t think he’s right.

2 – Connecting

Making the call to the person who can help you but doesn’t know you. Arranging the meeting with the potential investor or partner.

3 – Shipping

Pressing publish on the controversial blog post, launching your product to your customer base, submitting your report.

4 – Asking

Closing the sale you’ve been working on. Asking the boss for a pay rise. Asking your customer for a reference.

All of these are the work of a moment, bring the possibility for success or failure, and involve the judgement or input of someone else.

They are things that cannot be 100% controlled. So the same lizard brain that you need to convince to do great work tells you to prepare a little more, find something safer to do and avoid the possibility of failure.

A good test is to take a look at your to do list, and see how many fall into one of the four categories above. Should there be more? Try consciously lining up bullet biting moments, and forcing yourself to go ahead

Make yourself scared and just do it anyway.

It’s like betting with high stakes – if you win then you really win big.

The difference is, though, that the deck is often stacked in your favour. A true bullet biting moment has odds where you win big if you’re successful, but lose virtually nothing if you fail. If looked at objectively, these are the moments of true leverage, which boost your success in the way that no other type of work can.

Most of us turn down these moments, or put them off, because we’re afraid. It takes experience to learn how to evaluate them properly and figure out what the worst that could happen is. Once you learn that the down side is often small, or at the very least over with quickly, real progress is but a few bitten bullets away.

The ability to take these opportunities can only come with practice.

And there is no practice – only real doing, in the real world.

So – line yourself up some bullet biting moments, face them head on and just do it. The more you do the better it will feel, and the more often you will succeed.

What’s your next moment to bite the bullet?

Dec 12

How To Get More Done By Doing Less

For a long time, I saw productivity as the ability to do a lot of work. I would regularly stay at the office until 8 or 9 pm and churn through prodigious amounts of stuff. This went down well with my bosses, and I saw it as necessary to progress.

When I started my first business, I did the same – worked all hours, and got so much done I forced it to be a success. Increasingly though, I find that isn’t what works for me. I now achieve more by doing less.

The art is working out what not do.

I now deliberately constrain the amount of time I can spend on something, so that I’m forced to focus on the most important tasks – the ones where my effort will have the most impact.

You’ve probably heard of Pareto’s principle, or the 80:20 rule.  It basically states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

In the field of getting things done you can adopt this principle to mean:

80% of the results come from 20% of the things you do.

Understanding this is so powerful. By actively choosing to ignore some tasks, you can be done in a fraction of the time. I like to try to use this rule in two ways:

1 – Do the right work

Try to work out what the 20% of tasks are that will deliver 80% of the results. Do them first and then evaluate progress.

2 – Want the right results

Try never to chase the last 20% of results from something. The returns from this are usually diminishing, and the rule says they will take four times more effort than those already achieved.

This may look simple, but it’s hard to do. The most impactful tasks are usually the hardest, and take most mental effort, so they aren’t always the most appealing.

The trick here is to know when you’re putting off doing the 20%.

Is adjusting the position of your logo more important than writing some great content? Is researching how to do something on yet another site better bang for buck than just doing it?

Maybe, but probably not. Just be honest with yourself and act accordingly.

My favourite way to bring all of this together is a four step process

  1. Identify upfront the tasks involved with the project you’re about to start
  2. Pick the top 20% must do tasks
  3. Set aside specific times to do them.
  4. Actually do them.

Watch out for step 4 – It’s critical and the others are useless without it!

A major advantage of adopting this strategy is that you will see great results more quickly. This then becomes guaranteed motivation to do more important work. You can also stop when the 20% is done and know that you’ve got serious output from your effort.

Try it – actively do less and watch your results increase.

Let me know how you get on.

Dec 12

How To Be Luckier

Parris. and I have been discussing some of our projects over Skype recently.  It’s a great thing to have someone with a totally different background to talk things through with, but recently we’ve been finding many more in common than we first thought.

A couple of serendipitous meetings happened because of things we’ve talked about. We’ve discovered that whilst it’s seems to be luck making these things happen, it’s actually perfectly possible to increase the quantity of luck that you experience.

If you ask Google to define luck it says



Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.

The bolding of apparently is mine – because that’s exactly it – it seems like it’s by chance, but it isn’t entirely.

Another way to think about luck is that it consists of being in the right place at the right time. The simple way to increase your share of luck is to be in more places at more times. The chances of you experiencing good fortune whilst sitting watching TV are far far less than if you’re out in the world connecting with people.  Luck has to notice that you are there.

Being present can mean both virtually and physically. Creating things and sharing them dramatically increases the the chances of fortune finding you. The more great, meaningful work you do, and the more you put it into the public domain, the more likely someone will “luckily” stumble across your work and do something nice for you.

Parris recently gave a presentation about this. He planned to call it “Do the work”. It’s not as sexy as teaching people how to get lucky, but it’s basically the same thing.

You can’t put “Get lucky” as a line in your business plan, but “Do lots and lots of great work” – absolutely.

That you make your own luck has never been truer.

Dec 12

How to Achieve Anything In 15 Minutes – A Final Challenge For 2012

Breaking things down into small chunks is very important in the art of getting things done.

The saying goes that to eat an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time.  I’m not a big fan of that as an analogy – Elephants have enough problems without us trying to eat them, and I’m not sure they’d be all that tasty – but I agree with the sentiment.

Culinary analogies aside though, that type of small step is about making something seemingly unmanageable into something more easily contemplated. This is a great way to progress and I use it all the time. If you prioritise those small steps and do the ones with the most impact first, then it’s even better.

There is another use for taking small steps though – creation by stealth.

By steadily applying a small amount of effort regularly you can create a substantial body of work, almost without realising. For example, fifteen minutes per day over the course of a month adds up to the equivalent of a full workday.

You can get a lot done in a day of highly concentrated effort.

This has approach has two notable effects:

Firstly, pretty much everyone can carve fifteen minutes per day out of their schedule without even noticing it. If I said you could have an extra day per month to work on your project, how much more do you think you could get done? Well try it, and see how you too can have a free day, crafted from scraps of time.

The second impact is more subtle, but possibly more important. By only doing very small amounts of work at a time, you can trick your lizard brain into daring to do far more great, boundary pushing work than you could if you set out do do an audacious project in one go.

If you’re just writing down a few of your thoughts, it’s not as daunting as setting out to write out your memoirs. If you just walk for a mile in the morning, it’s not as overwhelming as setting out to cover a marathon.

The key here is that you don’t see what you’ve accomplished until you look back. Then all of a sudden you can see how far you’ve come. And you’ll probably be surprised, but the evidence is there in front of you. Well, actually it’s behind you, but that’s not the point.

You’ve tricked your lizard brain into doing something amazing, and created a built-in motivation to do more: Once you see what can be achieved, it’s even more motivating to make sure you find those 15 minutes.

But make sure to tell your lizard brain that it’s OK – it’s only 15 minutes, You’re not going to achieve anything in that time are you?

So now for the challenge

From today until the first of January, commit to spending 15 minutes per day on the project you really want to accomplish next year.

Throw in an extra hour during the time when the rest of your family is sleeping in front of the TV over Christmas, and hey presto, you’re a full EIGHT HOUR DAY ahead of schedule for your 2013 project before you even start.

What are you going to do with your 15 minutes? What project will you be ahead on by January first?

Nov 12

Getting Picked in the Age of Internet Celebrity

In some of Seth Godin’s recent work, one of his key messages is to “pick yourself“. He urges us not to rely on others, to reject gatekeepers and make it happen ourselves.

I’m bought into this concept, and think it’s fast becoming the only option to make an impact.  The days of getting picked by a publisher or a TV show are finite. The tools are there on-line for anyone to reach a vast global audience.

The problem is, this is easy for Seth to say. 

It’s easy to use the power of the internet, when you have a blog that’s read by millions. When you have thousands of true fans who’ll get behind whatever you make, it’s easy to suggest going direct to those fans. Whilst success isn’t guaranteed, it’s odds on.

I’m the first to admit that Seth has earned this following by providing quality writing since before most people, me included, even knew what a blog was. It doesn’t however take away the fact that he has a huge advantage.

Building a platform like that is hard. It’s Incredibly hard.

There are a sea of voices out there on the internet, and the vast majority of them are shouting not very much at no-one. It’s no wonder most people give up early, and stand in line to get picked again.  It’s not just difficult to build a following, it can be down right demoralising.

There’s also a delicious irony brought about by the nature of sharing on the web. Whilst you might not need a publisher to pick you any longer, getting a link or a tweet from an established “name” can have a similar effect. When Chris Guillebeau tweeted about The Hundred Dollar Club, it was enough to send my traffic from virtually nothing, to “crash my whole site” levels of visitors in a day.  That post got picked and there was no denying it made a difference.

Does this mean that nothing has changed? Are the medium and pickers just different?

My personal take on this is “no”. I see two fundamental differences:

1- Pitching to get picked doesn’t work

Sending emails saying “Please mention my blog”, or begging Internet celebrities for a retweet, is unlikely to get a response.

You have to have something worth talking about for anyone to talk about it.

That means working hard it it, and providing something worthwhile, whether or not it gets picked. I didn’t start The Hundred Dollar Club in the hope that it got a lot of attention, I started it because it made sense to me, and I wanted to do it.  I hoped it would get a response, but frankly I didn’t expect it.  When I emailed Chris to thank him for organising an amazing conference and inspiring me to start the club he said:

“Your Hundred Dollar Club project was fun and meaningful – two things I especially appreciate.”

In other words, something resonated with him – I didn’t pitch it, or expect to have his backing, it was just something that was worthwhile anyway.

2 – Getting picked is only kindling, not the whole bonfire

This is really important from my own experience.  How many of the people Chris sent my way come back regularly?  Less than 5%.  And If I don’t post anything interesting for a while – they’ll head off too. There needs to be something worthwhile and meaningful there to maintain people’s interest.

Both of these points lead back to the same place: Doing something worthwhile anyway, regardless of whether it’s likely to get picked or be popular.

Creating something that delights a small group of people regularly, is far more valuable than one which attracts a lot of attention once.

It’s better to have a plan for how to build your platform than to leave it completely to chance, but the lesson is definitely to focus on building something meaningful. Have something to say over something that that shouts pick me.

Worrying that no-one is listening is not such a big deal. If ten people love what you do, that might be enough to start a revolution.

So whilst it might be easier for Seth to say pick yourself – he’s still right.  You don’t need a huge platform to make the tools work for you. Create something worthwhile. Have something to say.

Nov 12

The Credibility Cliff – And How To Climb It

When you’re starting something new, or wanting to take something to a new level, there’s a curve which almost all progressions follow. My handy sketch here illustrates that curve:

The Credibility Cliff

At first, powered up by inspiration, things happen, you make a start, and the world is great.  Then, after your inspiration hit has worn off, you look towards the future and see an enormous way to go until you reach a credible level of success at point X.

You can see that after point X, progression happens quickly and relatively steadily. You can think of all sorts of campaigns, tactics and strategies which will push things forward for you once you have the initial credibility.

But credibility seems so far off, that you couldn’t contemplate being there. That’s where other, successful people are, not you.

I call this steep part of the progression curve the Credibility Cliff. 

It’s an exceptionally discouraging thing. When you see the long flat part of the curve, every action you envisage seems too small to make a difference. Conversely, steps to scale the cliff in one fell swoop seem way too big to be achievable, and probably are.

Contemplating the Credibility Cliff is what stops most ventures in their tracks. It’s the cause of millions of pages of digital flotsam and jetsam strewn across the internet. Things put out into the world in a flurry of excitement, only to turn around and go home at the sight of the steep climb to the point of credibility.

This is especially true for people trying to break into a something new.

If you’ve put in the hard yards to become credible in one field, the thought of doing the same again is doubly off-putting.

The traditional way to beat this, is to work and work and work some more until eventually you achieve credibility. The sheer volume of effort pays off in the end.  It’s certainly the story many successful folks tell. It has been proven to work and is a fair strategy if the work you’re doing is for the love of your art.

Even though it works, for every tale of success from this approach, there are many others telling of a life’s work unnoticed. Fine, but not good if you’re aiming for success.

The stories of A listers “making it” the hard way put off even more people.  If they couldn’t see the Credibility Cliff from where they currently stand, It’s certainly visible after reading about Chris Brogan taking 8 years to get to 100 blog readers, or the many similar stories out there.  Some people will give up before they even start, because they know how hard it’s going to be.

I believe there is another option.

I’m not proposing a short-cut. There definitely isn’t one. There is though, a choice about how you approach the climb. You can head at it unprepared, and try to bludgeon your way up it, likely with a lot of falls and failures. Or you can turn the climb into a well planned expedition – a project if you will.

A project which you’ve prepared for, selected the right tools for, planned for, mapped out clearly and are certain you will deliver.

I believe very strongly that having a defined project with a clear well researched plan is the most effective way to be successful in scaling the Credibility Cliff. I believe it so strongly, that I’m developing a course to prove how it can be done. This course will be highly personalised, limited in availability and launch in early 2013. I think you’ll want to be a part of it.

Sign up here if you want to be the first to know more.

Nov 12

12 Simple Rules To Make Your Project Successful

Starting a project?  Want it to be successful? Here are 12 rules to keep you on track. Ignore them at your peril. Break them only if you’re really sure you know better.

1 – Every Project needs a one sentence goal

Why are you doing this thing? What’s the point? Everyone involved needs to know what it is.  If you can’t explain it in a sentence, try harder.  Still can’t?

It’s probably either not worth doing, or more than one project.

2 – Choose to ignore some people

You can’t please everyone, that’s just a fact.  Decide who’s important and please them. Make a list of who you’ll ignore, and actively stick to this.

3 – There is no substitute for starting

Too much planning will slow you down far more than a few mistakes. Plan less than you think you should.

4 – There is no excuse not to have a plan

To counter number 3 – starting without any plan at all is madness.  A plan can begin by clearly articulating your end goal, and evolve from there. But you must have a plan. It will almost always have to evolve as you progress, and it’s probably bad if it doesn’t.

5 – There is always a simpler way to do something

Always.  No exceptions. Look at your plan, and make it half as complicated.

6 – Distractions are everywhere – prioritise ruthlessly

Refer back to number 1. Does what you’re about to do bring you closer to achieving your one sentence goal? If not, don’t do it.

7 – There are a finite number of things one person can focus on

Figure out your number. You can probably count them on one hand, and you can keep them in your head.  Put everything else on a list, and don’t worry about them until one of the things in your head is finished.

8 – Work will expand to fill the time available.

If you’re unsure how long something will take, allocate less time to it, not more.  It will take at least as long as you allocate. Probably longer.

9 – Keep up along the way

Never plan to make up time lost later. If you plan to catch up, you never will. Make it up now.

10 – If you miss a deadline, reset it immediately.

Figure out when you can complete the task now. Set a new deadline, make it clear and stick to it. Don’t let unfinished tasks hang without a completion deadline.  That would be a recipe for never completing them.

11 – It’s never too late to do the right thing

No matter how under pressure you are, if you know something is wrong, fix it or you will pay later.

12 – If it’s too good to be true it usually is.

Not always, but usually.  What makes this the one time that it isn’t?  Really?


Do you agree with any of these? Violently disagree? Have a golden rule of your own?  Let me know in the comments.

Nov 12

Why inspiration sucks, and what you should do about it

Inspiration Sucks. There. I’ve said it.

Not all inspiration is bad, but it can be really bad for you. I think of it a bit like sugar: Having some is fine, and can power you up to go and do things, but if you eat it all the time, you gradually get fatter, slower and less able to do things.

Inspiration works the same way. If you watch a TED video and it fires you up to go and build something, that’s awesome. If you have a vicarious hit of dopamine thinking about how great your life could be, and all you’re inspired to do is daydream for a while – not so good. Continuous consumption of inspiration is living your life through what other people have achieved.

It’s easy – you can sit there and let it wash over you. You can consume it. It feels like you’re making progress, but when you look back, you’re no further ahead.

Inspiration is useless unless you’re inspired to actually do something. If it just makes you seek more moitvational content, you seriously aren’t going to progress. You can test this – are you “feeling inspired” or are you “feeling inspired to _________” big difference.

To really harness this power, try inspiring yourself by making progress. If you can look at what you’ve done and be motivated to do more, then that’s the sort of virtuous circle that really makes things happen.

What’s inspired you today? What did it inspire you to DO?

Hat tip to Joel Runyon’s Impossible manifesto


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