In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike answer a number of listener questions on topics including which signals matter, staying on task without external motivation, and how they manage their time.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: Hey, Mike. Do you know what the Exeˈcutor is in Star Wars?
Mike: Yes. It’s one of the Star Destroyers but I don’t remember which one. I figure whether it’s the Super Star Destroyer or is it just one of the other ones?
Rob: I believe it’s Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer.
Mike: Yeah? Okay.
Rob: Exeˈcutor. What’s funny is I used to call it the Eˈxecutor when I was I kid because it’s spelled like that but I learned it’s called the Exeˈcutor. Here’s my question for the day. How many bounty hunters are on the Exeˈcutor when the rebels are hiding in the asteroid field?
Mike: Bounty hunters? Geeze.
Rob: This is The Empire Strikes Back.
Mike: Yup. They’re all standing around and he says like, “No disintegrations.”
Rob: Exactly and Robot Chicken has done a great parody of this. If anyone has not seen that, go type it. ‘Robot Chicken Star Wars Bounty Hunters.’ How many?
Mike: Oh gosh. How many exactly? There’s between four and six. If I had to guess, I’d go on the higher end. There’s probably six or seven, actually. I’ll go with seven.
Rob: Final answer?
Rob: It is six. Very close, sir. I was at five, but Boba Fett, Dengar, Zuckuss, 4-LOM, Bossk, and IG-88.
In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I discuss determining which signals matter, staying on task without extrinsic motivation, and more listener questions. This is Startups for the Rest of Us Episode 443.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve build your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. Where this week, sir?
What sucked even more is I created this 30-minute video and then I went to basically dump it unto YouTube, because of course you can’t submit it in any other way except by putting the video on YouTube, and I found out that there was no sound so I had to do it all over again. I had to re-record it. I was like, “This sucks,” and I tested the sound before like the first time, too. I tested it, it worked, then I did the video, and no sound. I was like, “Come on.”
Rob: That is no good. So, you basically just […] a bunch of times on something that really did not move you business forward.
Mike: Exactly. Of course, this whole thing does not really move my business forward, but I don’t know. I still have concerns about the whole thing because they say that depending on what you’re doing, you may need to go through a third party security review and I’m like, “Oh and that will cost anywhere from $15,000–$75,000,” and I’m like, “Uh, yeah. I don’t know about that.”
Rob: Interesting. They must have an exception, I’m guessing, for small companies? I mean, that seems like an odd thing to saddle you with.
Mike: Yeah, I don’t know.
Rob: It’s like it’s PCI has self-certification. There are often things like that where it’s a pain in the neck to do but there is some out. I guess it gets serious backlash. If there’s not, that’s not good because you’ve had this in place for a while and then they’ve changed policy?
Rob: Huh? Google changing something and hurting someone’s business? That’s news. Shocker.
Mike: The sad part about that is that I specifically built Bluetick using IMAPS so I wouldn’t rely on their API, so that if they decided to change things on me then I basically wouldn’t be affected. Guess how that is working out for me right now?
Rob: Yeah, sorry to hear that. It’s tough to rely on any third-party. I talked about when I had HitTail, how we were reliant on Google keywords, and then they did not provide it. Then we got into the Webmaster Tools and then they broke that. They break that every six months. It was really frustrating.
That was a big reason that when I wanted to start my next startup, I didn’t want to be reliant, and then you just wound up being reliant. You’re relying on somebody at some point. You’re relying on Amazon or Google for hosting and it’s hard to switch. Yes, there are options but it’s a tremendous amount of effort to switch.
Even just sending emails, as you and I know, getting in spam, inboxes, and on blacklists like that, you become reliant on them, and then you have to go build all this infrastructure to keep you from spamming people. This is another example. You do something, it makes sense, it makes it easier for your customers, and in this case it kind of get you into a bunch of extra work to just maintain this thing.
Mike: It is a double-edged sword, though, and it creates this hurdle that if anyone wants to come in after the fact and try to build that, it just makes it more difficult for them. Just by virtue of building your app and making it better over time, that does the same thing, certainly so. I don’t know. Still trying to work through it. I sent it off to them. I send the video to them and in less than an hour later, they got back to me and said, “Okay, now this other thing needs to be fixed.” I’m like, “All right.” I fixed that and burned another three or four hours fixing that because they’re like, “You can’t have non-production systems using the same client ID.” I’m like, “Dear God, it’s the same thing.” So, I’m like, “All right.” I don’t know. I have to switch everything over, modify my build server and everything else.
Rob: Anything else beside from technical and integration challenges going on with old Bluetick?
Mike: I’ve got my webinar that I’m doing which, by the time this episode comes out, it will have been yesterday. I’m doing that for hr.com and we’ll see how that goes. I got to get them the final PDFs to the slides so that they can post it in the website and then get the presentation on Monday. It ought to be good.
Rob: Sounds good. On my end, just opposite pushing forward with TinySeed and things are going well there. I’m having a great time and I’m very excited about the batch that’s coming together quickly. We have almost all of the startups you selected, made offers, sent paperwork and that kind of stuff.
There’s a bunch of stuff I think I’ve said on the podcast in the past, like legal is the bottleneck and had been now for a month of two. We’ve been selecting and making offers but without the final paperwork, which is […] third party who isn’t moving nearly as fast, isn’t moving with the same urgency that we are, put it that way, has been a little bit frustrating.
I’m looking forward to getting past this point because not only did we have to incorporate and set-up multiple, where now all I see is a limited partnership in all this stuff, which takes time. Then we have to have all these docs drawn up and we won’t next time. Batch number two will not have the same level of foundation-building and will have a lot more way. We’ll know more of what we’re getting into and have better systems to do it. But realistically, the systems are not what are holding us back at this point. It really is this reliance on a third party who is moving at a glacial pace compared to us. So, I look forward to being out from under that here pretty soon
Mike: It’s interesting that you say that because it reminds me of, don’t know the inside story on this but my guess is that, that’s probably the exact reason why Stripe came out with Atlas was to help founders get past all of that stuff, so that they just didn’t have to worry about the pace of getting all the legal stuff taken cared of. It just reminds me of that.
Rob: Totally. It’s friction and it’s something, specifically with Atlas, that every company that’s not a sole proprietorship has to do. They just want there to be more of those companies. They want to have that rising tide so they can remove that friction. I remember the first time with […] I was like, “Wow, they’re really going outside their core competency,” but now I get what their long-term vision is, is that they just want more businesses that are able to get online. Of course, that’s what Stripe Atlas allows you to do super easy.
I said it before. I wish there was Stripe Atlas for accelerators and for funds. There are some pre-made things for it. They’re ridiculously expensive to the point of being a non-starter. So, we get to do it from scratch. Good thing I’m used to doing that, huh? No one thinks from scratch.
In other news, we have a few more podcast reviews. I’ll just read one of them. From wking-io, he said, “I could listen all day. I do not own my own SaaS but I work for a small info product startup and this information is so valuable. I’m able to see this information in practice and know that I will have a head start whenever the moment strikes for my own app from all the info Rob and Mike shares.”
Thank you for that review. We love a five star rating or if you’d prefer spending more time writing review, either one is fine, in […], Apple podcast, wherever greater podcast are sold, we appreciate it. Mike, when is the last time that you got something useful from Twitter?
Mike: I connected last week when somebody had lunch with them and we connected over Twitter directly. So, we coordinated that […] as you could say.
Rob: That was a very long pause. The editor edited that out but to the listener, Mike was silent for about seven on eight seconds. Number two, did you have each other’s email or did you literally meet and connect? If Twitter had not existed, would you guys have been able to coordinate that?
Mike: We probably would have. It was somebody who joined the MicroConf Academy years ago and he’s been eyeing MicroConf. It’s Josh from […]. We did lunch maybe Tuesday. Monday or Tuesday. It was Monday this week. He was in town from Maryland and just wanted to say hi, so we got together and chatted for a while about our businesses and how things were going.
It was a good time but other than that, it’s been a while since I’ve ever gotten any real value from Twitter. You’re right. Evidently, there’s a huge pause because quite frankly, I don’t log into Twitter very often anymore because it’s a lot of noise. I guess that’s what Twitter is for is for noise.
Rob: Noise and arguments. I’m not a hater but I’m been trying to figure out how do I get myself off of it because I find it a bit more of a distraction than anything. With that said, I haven’t gotten anything valuable from Twitter in a for a very long time except for yesterday and today. I knew we were recording this episode. We didn’t have enough questions to fill out a full episode and with one tweet, got frankly enough for probably two episodes or more. So, I want to give a shout out to Twitter for bringing the thunder once every six months for me or whatever.
Anyway, enough of the Twitterating. Our first question was posed on Twitter. It wasn’t even directly to us. It was probably a few weeks ago when I emailed it to my Trello board and got it over here. Justin Jackson posted on Twitter and he said, “One challenge I’d had as a founder, tracking and trying to triangulate thousands of qualitative data points. Somehow, you have to decide which signals matter. But even then, plotting all those data points on a map and deciding on a direction is tough.” Then Alli Blum replied then and said, “Same. I think about this pretty much all day, everyday.”
I think we should discuss because I have thoughts on this. Basically, how do you do this? That’s the question here is how do you as a founder do that? Probably the best question is, you have a bunch of qualitative data, how do you decide on a direction when there are conflicting signals?
Mike: I don’t like this answer. I’ll tell you that before I give it.
Rob: It depends? No, just kidding.
Mike: No. Even worse than that. It’s like a lot of gut feel. You go with what feels important at the time because it’s hard to take some of that data and say, “This is justifiably more important than that,” really based on whatever rules you try to put in place. It’s hard to put rules down on paper that are immutable. There’s always things that are changing and there’s always stuff that’s going to factor in to those decisions.
For example, the video that I had to do for Google. It wasn’t really all that important and I pushed it off for a long time because it just wasn’t important. Then, there was a deadline where it’s like, “Okay, you got a week before we just outright reject your application.” It’s like, “Okay, I have to do this now.” It’s because the priority has bumped up, because there’s a hard line in the sand, and it has to get done by that time or there’s consequences.
I feel like a lot of my decision-making around priorities tends to be driven by negative consequences of not doing something, as opposed to there’s going to be positive outcome for X, Y, or Z. There’s so many things that are going on at any given time and you have to try and juggle them all at once. It’s hard to do that.
Rob: I actually think that’s a good answer. I think gut feel is the first thing that came to my mind. I think rules of thumb are something that, if you could possibly apply rules of thumb or expertise from other people who’ve gone down before it, then start there. If not, it’s a ton of gut feel.
Justin has identified the edges of where we can have a startup blueprint and where you’re drawing your own map, with a map ends in essence. I actually have a tattoo on my shoulder that is a map and there’s a hand drawing at the edges. It’s a metaphor for exactly this, of going off the beaten path. Originally, it was like, “Well, I’m not going to work 9–5, a salary job. I’m going to go be a contractor,” and people are like, “Woah. that’s risky,” and then, “I’m not going to do salaried work anymore. I’m going to build products.” “Wow. that’s really risky. You’re hard. Can you even do that?” Then while you’re building those products, there’s no map anymore or very little map.
Frankly 10–15 years ago there was almost no map. Things like this podcast, even lean startup, customer development, SaaStr, and MicroConf have enabled us to develop a mental model. There are books that come out on the topic as […]. It helps all of us have kind of a lose map or a lose blueprint, but there’s always an edge to that. This is the point where you have a bunch of data points to decide another action. There’s no map and this is where what separates the, I would say, a poor founder from a mediocre one, a mediocre from a good, a good from a great, is how well they’re able to make these decisions.
I would also say that this is, at least for me, gotten easier over time. I feel like I’ve gotten better at it because here’s what it is. It’s making decisions without sufficient data. You don’t have all the necessary data to actually make the decisions, so you have to fill the rest in in your head. I believe there’s almost never a right answer to these things. There’s always multiple right, multiple tough, wrong answers.
I also believe that most decisions are reversible; almost all decisions. There are very few that are not. To some, you may think are not reversible. They may come with a monetary cost. They may come with a relationship cost. They may come with agony, pain, time, whatever, but almost every decision is reversible. The ones that are truly not are the ones that I now agonize over and everything else. I tend to make a pretty quick gut feel decision, realizing that if we need to change course later, you can.
Mike: I’ve looked at all these different data points and see them as signals that point at a certain direction. But some of them are more important than others, and based on the situation or timeline or things that you’re dealing with, some of them are going to come out on top. If you have rules on paper, it’s very hard to create a set of rules that say exactly what to do or how to track those things and to determine what matters.
As you said, I think that that’s a really good point about the fact that there are these guidelines and rules of thumb that you can follow. But at the same time, they’re just signals. That’s all it means. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, unless you’re looking at it in retrospect. In retrospect, there is always a right answer, or a best answer, or an optimal answer. But because you probably are working with only about 30%–40% of the complete picture at any given time, I call it guessing a little bit. It’s more like educated model recognition of what’s going on.
That’s why MicroConf is just so important and these conferences and communities where other people have seen those types of things. They can recognize it essentially on your behalf, if you have not been there before and you are not able to directly recognize it. That’s why mentors help. that’s why accelerator programs work. Like Paul Graham, I would imagine who walk into just about any startup and give pretty solid feedback about why it will or won’t work, and probably be very reasonably accurate on it, just by virtue of having talked to 1500 to 2000 or 3000 startup founders, and helping them through all those different situations.
Rob: There’s a book called Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s about how to make decisions. I believe Ruben Gomez from […] turn me onto that. I listened to it a couple of years ago and something they say in that book is, just because the outcome turns out bad doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. Those two things are not linked. You make the best decision you can, with the data you have, and with the information, the gut feeling or whatever else, the intuition, whatever you want to call it, and then you do the best you can. You reverse it if you need to or you correct-course as you move forward.
Mike: I think that’s actually a problem for a lot of people, myself included. A large extent is trying to figure out, “Can I just make a decision and move on?” or even just recognizing that you’re a reasonably smart person, you’re going to make the best decision with the information you have at the time, and it may turn out to have been a sub-optimal answer or solution to whatever it is that you’re trying to do.
Waiting is not necessarily going to help you very much. You’re basically just wasting time at that point when you could have been trying to move something forward in one direction or the other. Maybe it was the wrong direction but, as you said, those types of things tend to be reversible. It could take some pain but if you wait around for enough information, you have wasted so much time and then you still have to do it. So, moving is better than not moving.
Rob: Yeah. Opportunity cost of postponing, or agonizing, or waiting, procrastinating, whatever word you want to look for of a decision. It’s hard and that’s why most people don’t do this, don’t start companies because it’s too uncharted, it scary, it takes a while to get used to, and it’s uncomfortable. I think that that’s when you know that you probably want to doing things right, but you know that when you’re in a zone of personal growth, is when you’re doing things that are making you feel not comfortable. That’s when you’re going to get better. So, cool. Glad that Justin threw that out on Twitter.
Our next question is about how to stay on task with no extrinsic motivation, no external motivation. It’s from Mike Manfrin. He’s @manfrin on Twitter. He says, “How the hell do you stay on task when you have no extrinsic motivation? I’ve been letting myself spiral out second- and third-guessing design decisions and getting absolutely paralyzed with choice and scope, that I end up doing no work towards my startup.” Ken Wallace chimed in, “Think about having a mastermind because those folks can guide you,” and I actually think that’s a good thing we should throw out. I mean, that’s often with the bigger decisions. That’s where I rely on is someone in a mastermind. What other thoughts do you have here for Mr. Manfrin?
Mike: It’s interesting that this question comes out because I just talked about it. It’s very easy to run into that situation where you are not sure what to do, so you wait and you second-guess yourself. You don’t do the work because you’re second- and third-guessing your design decisions, thinking that if you look at the problem more or you try to gather more data is going to help you in some way shape or form, and it usually doesn’t. I think that’s a very different problem than not having motivation, whether it’s intrinsic or extrinsic. That’s a different problem than being in a situation where you second-guess yourself and you’re not sure what to do, so you try and gather more information. I think those are two completely different problems.
Rob: I agree. He says, “How do you stay on task when you have no external motivation?” I definitely had time especially when I start to burn out, or when I’m feeling depressed, or when I don’t get enough sleep, there are seasonal times when it’s dark outside and cold and stuff, where I am unmotivated to do things, and I really struggle just to stay on task. Those are the times where I strategically break out caffeine, I turn on bright lights, I turn on loud music. I use all the sensory options that I have to try to get myself into a zone. I try to get into a routine where when I hear this playlist start or when I hear this single song and listening looping start, that I force myself to get in and do things. Now, the nice part is it’s probably been a year or more since I felt that way, but I’ve gone through months and months of stretches of that. That’s how I do it.
He’s also then asking, he’s spiraling out second-guessing design decisions, getting paralyzed with choice and scope. This does tie into that first question or first proclamation that Justin made of how do you make these decisions and not get paralyzed with choice. That’s where we said this is hard, it’s gut feel, you can undo things later. I think a lot of us as developers don’t want to make the wrong choice because we feel like we’ll have to rewrite all this code. Refactoring’s a pain in the butt and if we make this decision decision in the database, then we’ll never live it down, never be able to correct it.
While it will be painful to correct, these things are reversible. That’s where I tell myself actively if I find myself being hung up and for the first thing is to identify that you’re doing this, and being like, “I’m not being productive right now because of this, because of this decision, or this item in my Trello board, or this email. Why am I not doing that? Am I stressed about it? I just don’t want to face it, am I scared that I’m going to make the wrong decision?”
There’s a bunch of things that I will try to identify and then I’ll say, “Okay, if I’m stressed about it, then why? And then why? And then why? Keep asking the whys to get to the true source of it, to figure out if I’m actually stressed, or if it’s a design decision then I will either think to myself like, “Well, I’m going to call up XYZ person, who I know has a great design and usability sense, and I’m going to ask for 15 minute of their time and say, ‘Can you help me with this?’ so that I have some sense of calm about the decision.” Or maybe I just make a gut feel, I go forward, and hope it’s the right decision.
These are tactics that I would use trying to get other people involved. I do think Ken Wallace’s suggestion of having a mastermind so that you can bring these things to people on a regular basis, is a good one. Can of course run MastermindJam, which matches people up in the startup space into a mastermind.
Mike: But I think that those are also with two different pieces. One was recognizing it and then two actually addressing the problem. I think the recognition of it is something that tends to take much longer than it probably should for most people. I found that myself. I mentally know that I’m not making progress on something, but I don’t necessarily allocate time to analyze my productivity at noon, for example. I don’t have 15 minutes of this to decide and say, “Am I making progress today? Am I doing what I expected to do? Am I procrastinating doing stuff or just not doing things because I don’t want to or I’m afraid to make mistakes?”
I think the identification pieces, the part that creeps up on us, and it last fast longer than it should if we aren’t on the lookout for it at all times. What I do, for example, I do a lot of journaling. I have an app that sends me an email and says like, “Hey, write into this little thing here and you can explain what your day is supposed to be like,” for example. I do that on a fairly regular basis. I’d say probably at least three or four, if not five days a week. Then I will notice the following day if I’m not making progress on something because I’ll be a little annoyed, usually my sleep will be suffering, and I’ll say, “Oh, I didn’t get a good night sleep last night because I was thinking about this,” and it makes me think about that stuff.
So, it’s kind of a forcing function. That’s something that people can think about. I won’t say journal your way out of it. I don’t look at it as full-fledged journaling. I might write a couple of sentences or maybe a paragraph or two. It’s usually the stuff that bothers me and that just brings it to my attention. Maybe if I start writing a lot, I know that I need to pay attention to it, maybe take a step back, but otherwise I could easily go a couple of weeks or a month or two without really noticing, and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh I’ve burned two months and I’ve got nothing done.”
Rob: That’s a good point. The faster you get basically knowing yourself at noticing that you’re having negative thought patterns, or negative behaviors, or behaviors that are causing you to procrastinate, or go in circles or whatever, the faster you’re able to do that and identify it, the faster you’re then able to actively attack it, get through it, and make progress. I think this is something that all of us struggle with in one form or another and I think this is something that you get better at over time if you focus on it.
This is so much of what my wife, Sherry, does on the ZenFounder podcast and in her writings and such, is looking at how these thought patterns come about, how to identify them, how to get through them. I’ve been saying for quite a while that I think 60%–70% of entrepreneurship is mental. I think more than half of entrepreneurship is purely just dealing with your own psychology, your own things, that self-sabotaging behavior, procrastination, whatever it is that you struggle with, if you can learn to overcome that, you will have such an easier time and make so much more progress so much faster.
I’m saying this from personal experience, that getting into you own psychology, whether that’s with a spouse, or a mastermind, or trained professional who is either a therapist or business coach or whatever, I think it’s invaluable. Thanks for the question. I hope that was helpful.
Our next question is from @GregDigneo on Twitter. He says, “My question revolves how you and Mike manage your time. Rob you’ve built and exited a company. You guys are both parents, you run a conference, you have the podcast, you write books. My loose question is, what is your day/week look like?” He’s asking in a couple of different ways. It’s like, how do you manage your time and what is a typical day/week look like? I think he’s probably looking for the days or the weeks where we’re more productive, not the ones where I stare at my computer for three hours, don’t get anything done, and then just wander off to go for a walk because I realize I’m not actually focused.
Mike: I tend to look at it on a weekly basis. My week’s, for the most part, are pretty similar. I work from home and the weeks that I tend to get screwed up is when the kids are home from school. Let’s see here. If I’m starting on Monday, Monday is usually my heavy work day, so I have it blocked off from my calendar. Even if somebody wants to schedule time with me using Calendly, they simply can’t. I have a hidden calendar that I can send them a link if I really needed to talk to somebody on a Monday, but typically I don’t hand that out to people and it’s usually on a case-by-case basis.
Tuesdays is not blocked off but I tend to get a fair amount of work done on Tuesdays as well Monday. I usually will work late, so seven or eight o’clock at night just because I tend not to have anything else going on. Tuesdays is a little bit lighter. In the evenings on Tuesday night, I have a D&D game that I play every week and then Seeker Wednesdays, I probably do less work. On Thursday, I do less work. Fridays, I try to get things done and set up for the following week. Saturdays, do a bunch of stuff around the house and take the kids to whatever they have, music lessons, or soccer, or what have you. Saturday night I have another online D&D game that I play and then Sunday is usually do whatever, usually cleaning up around the house and stuff like that. My week is pretty straightforward for the most part. How about you? Do you do it on a daily basis or a weekly basis?
Rob: I tend to think about things on a daily basis. Most of my days are different from one another. Sherry and I collaboratively home school one of our kids. He’s older, he’s almost 13, so it’s not like we’re sitting there teaching him stuff. He’s online taking courses, making progress on his own, and then we just have to monitor and poke in.
Some of my days I’m on and I know I can schedule fewer calls that day because I don’t want to be interrupted, and then other days I’m just completely focused on work. I look at it at a day-by-day basis. What I’ve noticed about myself is that I used to code. When I was writing code, I could sit and write it for 12 hours straight. I used to do that. That was actually my optimal way of functioning is to sit down, get momentum, break very briefly to eat or use the bathroom, and then get back. I would do 12-, 14-hour code days and get two or three days worth of progress done in that amount of time.
I don’t know if it has since I’ve gotten older or if it’s that I don’t code anymore because the coding was a very logical left brain. There’s some creative in it, but compared to what I’m doing now where I’m actually actively producing content, having to think things through, and these higher-level decisions, they’re a lot more taxing on my good glucose, so to speak. There’s only so much good brain functioning that you can have.
Writers who write books, Stephen King, these highly productive writers, they don’t write for 10 hours a day. They tend to get up, write in the morning between three and four hours tops, and then they spend the rest of the day doing other things because there’s only so much good focus you have.
Now, what I’ve found is that I’m highly productive in short bursts of, say, one to two hours. I try to have a forcing function that forces me to stop, because if I don’t, I will tend to just work two, three, four hours straight, and I feel my productivity just descend over the subsequent last one or two hours that I’m working. I have different forcing functions. Oftentimes, it is a child getting home from school or I take two of the kids to Jiu-jitsu. It’s only about an hour that we’re sitting there and I get so much done in that hour. And it’s the worst working conditions. It is terrible. I’m hunched, I have no plug, I have no chair. I’m literally hunched against the wall like I’m in junior high gym or something. I’m sitting almost like Indian style with my back to the wall, terrible posture, I have a laptop there, and I get more email done in that 45–60 minutes than I do two hours sitting at my house. I have no external monitors, I have nothing. It’s loud but there’s something about that space and the fact that I know my time is so compressed that I just hammer through to-dos and I hammer through emails.
That’s just one example but I have a bunch of times like that during the week that I’m finding there’s kids’ music lessons, there’s other things where I find that if I force myself to only have this much time, that I get the work done faster. That’s kind of a personal hack that I’ve been doing lately.
I think another thing is these are low-level how to get things done quicker on a higher level. I say ‘no’ to everything except for what’s on my goal list for the year. If you look at running a conference, you and I just do that. That’s on the to-do list. I feel like I’m pretty efficient about it, I feel like I focus on it when I need to, and then I make it a priority. The podcast is something that we’ve essentially automated almost all of it. You and I show up for two hours every other week and that’s two episodes. We walk away and the next two episodes go live. We don’t do anything else. We’ve automated, we paid for years. Since 10 episodes in, we paid for an editor who post the episode, who writes the show notes, who does all that stuff.
Writing the books. When I’m going to write a book I will make that a priority and I will work on it everyday. If I was writing or revising my book right now, I would probably do at least an hour of that once a day and then I would continue to do my other stuff. I wouldn’t say ‘yes’ to a bunch of things. I say no to some interviews. I say no to a lot of opportunities to jump on a call with someone to explore this or that. I say no to speaking at some conferences. Not all, but if I don’t think it’s a valid use of my time, I save the two travel days and the time to write the talk and all that. I push that towards things that I feel like are my highest priorities, that are in my goals, and things that hopefully will bring the most value to me, but also most valuable to this community that we’ve built and more value to more people.
That’s something else that I had to tone down is I don’t do as nearly as many as one-on-one things because I find that I can be more valuable by writing a book, or recording a podcast, or writing a conference talk that is going to be distributed to thousands or tens of thousands of people. I also don’t like things that are ephemeral, things that don’t stick around. To me, a blog post is better than a tweet because a tweet’s gone. A book is better than a blog post because a book sticks around for a long term. This is a lesson I that I’ve learned over the years is to focus on those things that help more people, that stick around longer, that have deeper meaning, and that bring more value to both yourself and people that will be consuming it.
That was a longer answer than I thought. It was more than I had thought to say on that topic but I think that was a good question. I think at a higher level it’s about priorities and saying no to everything else, number one, and then number two it’s about staying motivated over the long term, showing up every day, and getting […] done. Relentless execution is this phrase that I’ve used. It’s a personal moniker that I have adopted. Relentless execution.
That doesn’t mean you go crazy and work 20-hour days. I haven’t work more than 40 hours a week during the decade. There may have been these short stints like when I was revamping HitTail. I worked 60-hour weeks for about six weeks and then I pair back. To me, a 35- to 40-hour a week schedule is ideal, sometimes 30 depending on the season of the year, but I find that I get more done when I actually have shorter weeks and I’m forced to make quick decisions and get stuff done.
Mike: I do as well. You know at the back of your mind that you have as much time to work on something as you want, when you can just take as much time as you need, then it will take forever. I think it’s, what is it? Taylor’s Law that the amount of work will expand to fill the available time. I find the same thing. I will hold off on making decisions because I know that I have time to ruminate on it, or I will take longer to do something just because I have the time available. That’s actually what makes my Mondays a little bit tough is that, because I get myself a lot more time on that day, sometimes I’m not necessarily as productive. Then I find that sometimes on Tuesdays I will be more productive even though I have less time available to me to do work.
Rob: I can totally see that. To come back to Greg’s question, he says, “What is your day or week look like?” I feel like everyday for me tends to be different. I do like hitting things hard Monday morning by getting up and I ask myself the question, what has to get done today or what has to get done this week? What will move the business forward the most?
When it was Drip it was like, “Well, it’s getting everyone on the whole team on the same page and getting this decision made about what feature to build or this big deal we’re trying to close.” Now with TinySeed, it’s choosing the batch and it’s getting that forward. Those go right to the top of the list even if I get in my email box and it has 50 things, the things that are on the topic of what I have to get done that day, I skim through it. I take care of all that stuff first and everything else is on the side.
I would say that my days probably don’t look like you think they do. I start work a bit later than you probably think and I end it earlier that you think. I didn’t used to do that. Again, I think that’s where we’re coming back to is forcing yourself to get stuff done on a shorter time frame. It comes back to the cult of the Silicon Valley startup hours where they’re like, “I’m working 80-hour weeks or 90-hour weeks,” or whatever.
Your productivity plummets. There been a bunch of studies that have shown that it plummets after 40, 50, 60 hours a week. They’ve done it in construction, with construction workers when they go to 610s and 710s. When you were estimating those jobs, you have this major markdown factor. There’s books published by the electrical contractors who say, “These are guidelines and it will drop 30% over 50 hours and it drops 40% over 60 hours. It’s not just for those last 20 hours. It starts to fatigue and then your entire 70 hours that you’re working become 60% as effective.
It’s this crazy thing and that’s where the Silicon Valley startups who say or the founders who say, “Oh, I’m just working all these hours.” I’m always thinking, “What are you doing? What are you actually accomplishing during that time?” I find that I’ve been able to get quite a bit done in my career and my life. I don’t do that, really never have, even when I was coding. When I talk about coding, there’s 12- or 14-hour days. It was my early 20s, we had no kids, and what I would do as a contractor-consultant I would code that long day and I take the next day off.
It wasn’t that I was working long weeks. It was that I prefer to batch my work into a single stint, so to speak. I felt like it was more productive once I’ve got everything loaded up into my head—the mental model—I hated stopping and losing all of that, and had to regain that the next time that I sat down.
Mike: I would agree with that. I do wonder about some of the studies and stuff where they say, “Oh if you’re working more hours, then it’s not as good. You’re not nearly as productive.” I do find that there are times when you just get into a rhythm and you’re in the zone. If you break out of it, take breaks and shorter days or something like that, it’s kind of hard to load your brain up with all the stuff and all the little details that need to be there in order for you to get certain types of work done. I’m not necessarily saying that it’s broadly applicable, but there are times especially when it’s coding, taking a break is extremely disruptive. It’s so much easier to just down there and bang that stuff for four or six hours or eight hours, and if you’re still being productive then there’s not a great reason to stop except for those forcing functions.
Rob: Thanks for the question, Greg. I hope that one was helpful. If you want to connect with Mike or I on Twitter, I am @robwalling and he is @SingleFounder. I feel like that probably wraps this up for the week, Mike.
Mike: I think it does. If you have a question for us, you can call into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for ‘startups’ and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript to each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
Episode 394 | Soft Skills for Entrepreneurs
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about soft skills for entrepreneurs. They define what soft skills are and list 5 of them that you need to develop as an entrepreneur.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike: In this episode of the Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about soft skills for entrepreneurs. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 394.
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching and growing software products, whether you built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: I’m Rob.
Mike: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. How you doing this week, Rob?
Rob: I’m doing pretty good man. I was thinking if folks were ever interested in having two episodes of Startups For The Rest Of Us each week, they can’t quite get that. You and I don’t have quite the time to do it, but I’ve been guest hosting on The Art of Product Podcast with my good friend, Derrick Reimer.
While Ben Orenstein is in Hong Kong, we’ve done, I think, two episodes live but we’ve recorded a third. There’s three episodes in a row where it’s us talking about launching products, theories, how to stay creative, how to build the right features, and how to validate an idea.
Derrick’s in the middle of building and validating his Slack competitor, called Level, so I want to call that out, Art of Product Podcast if you are interested in hearing more in the same vein. Obviously, it’s not the same because Mike’s not on, but it is in the same vein as this type of show.
Rob: How about you? What’s going on?
Mike: I was talking to Frank Denbow. I don’t know if you remember him. He came to the first MicroConf and he was the subject of the hot sauce incident all over his laptop.
Rob: That’s right.
Mike: I need to remind him of that. I had a call with him earlier this week. He is putting together a small conference in New York City called Inflection. It’s aimed in helping people build a profitable company. I thought that I’d mention it on the show just in case there was anybody who is interested.
It’s a one-day event. It’s on Saturday, June 16, starts at 8:00 AM. I think it’s in the lower east side of New York City. If you’re interested in that, go check it out. You can find the website over at inflection.splashthat.com.
We’ll link that up in the show notes just in case anybody’s interested in going to check it out. It’s very cheap to go to it, I think it’s only $100 for the tickets. He’s really trying to put together—he’s got a great speaker line up already.
It’s really aiming at taking a business that is either just getting off the ground or already has some level of funding whether it’s the founderse or they’ve taken a first seat round or something like that and getting them to profitability. I think he’s really doing a good job for that.
Rob: Frank’s been kind of a longtime friend of MicroConf. He’s been there several times and I’ve always enjoyed having conversations with him. That’s cool that he is setting that up. I wish him the best of luck with it.
This week for me, my brother is in town for California. Sherry and our 11-year-old went out of the country. She’s doing some volunteer work in Central America. There’s some good friends down there that they’re staying with and hanging out with.
I was kind of like, “Oh man, I’m going to be home all week with two 7-year-olds. What should I do?” Of course, Sherry and her infinite wisdom was like, “Find somebody out. Have your dad come out or someone who doesn’t come out very much.” I asked my brother who’s pretty busy right now. He has his own family. They’re actually relocating from the Bay Area down to the Monterey area. He was able to carve it out. It’s been super fun.
I have intentionally gotten very little done this week because I just cleared the schedule aside from this podcast. It’s Thursday morning, I think this has been the first work I’ve done this week. I checked email once or twice. It’s nice to have that flexibility and have been having a great time.
The one big thing that kind of happened this week is I’ve been working with a designer and a WordPress guy to redo softwarebyrob.com. I was using a blog theme. I think it was the original original copy Blogger theme from 2007 or 2008 on there. I just never carved the time out with all the stuff I’ve been doing to update it.
A new version just went live this morning and it uses updated pictures, not the ones from six years ago. The site barely mentioned—I didn’t even know if it did mention MicroConf before this. It was just so out of date, it was embarrassing.
If you go to softwarebyrob.com now, it’s more of a legitimate like, “Oh, this guy is not a clown.” How can I be in technology and have a site that look liked it. It was embarrassing.
Rob: Is that what mine’s said?
Rob: What browser are you in? Because we did all this Q&A last time on three different browsers and it works on my machine.
Rob: Are you on the homepage?
Rob: Let me make a note of this real quick. This went live 10 hours ago at midnight. I Q&A’d for a few minutes and then I’m glad you’re able to find that.
Mike: Yeah, no problem. Just busting your chops on that.
Rob : Of course. How about you? What else is going on?
Mike: I’m kind of poking around at how to do basically a product launch because I’m looking to put Bluetick out on Product Hunt in the very near future. I’m thinking about possibly doing it as early as this coming Tuesday, which would be when this episode goes out, but it might not be until the following Tuesday.
Just kind of poking around of what it takes, and I’ve done stuff on Product Hunt before, but I would say that I wasn’t probably necessarily as up to date on all the things that needed to be done at that time and how to capitalize on the traffic. I’m looking pretty heavily into those kinds of things right now.
Rob: It’s always good to do a little research on these things because these things change. Every six months, it seems like there’s new techniques, new tactics, and new ways to kind of rank well on these sites and to kind of do it “the right way.” Whether you get the maximum impact from another or not, it’s nice to at least try, and at least try to push it up the rankings there.
Obviously, I’d like to up vote and tweet when you do the Product Hunt launch and I’m on your email list, is that the best way for someone to know about this? Like is it bluetick.io and they can get on your list there or is it singlefounder.com?
Mike: Over at bluetick.io, there’s a mailing list that you can sign up for. I think to get on that, you have to go and sign up for the email course. Justin Jackson has said that the easiest way to basically be notified of stuff like that is to go over to Product Hunt and then follow Single Founder over there, that way if I launch something, then you’d get a notification from there.
Rob: Cool, anything else?
Mike: I don’t usually do this, but I totally blew off last Friday to go fishing.
Rob: Yeah, why’s that?
Mike: Because I felt like it.
Rob: Well, the weather is nice, right?
Mike: Well, a friend of mine and I get together about once a year or so and we usually–we’ll either go out or go fishing or something like that, and last Friday, he reached out to me and said, “Hey, do you want to go out?” I was like, “Sure.” We went out and we went fishing, rented a boat. I think we caught two fishes over the course of five hours which kind of sucked. It was a good day to just go out.
We went to Tree House Brewery, which is a local beer brewery which they have their own local beers. They have about half a dozen to a dozen different things that they’re working at any given time. You basically have to stay in line, for some cases, people standing there for upwards of one and a half to two hours because they don’t use distributors.
They’re brewery is the only place that you can get their beer. You basically have to wait. They’ve used distributors like a couple of times in the past and then they just got rid of them. I think it’s because they’ve realized that they can charge a heck of a lot more for the beer. They make just so much more money.
I was kind of doing some mental calculations, and it’s for every hour that they’re open there, they’re probably making like $10,000-$20,000. It’s ridiculous how much they’re charging. You just see people coming out with cases and cases.
It’s an interesting business model, but you also have like an hour and a half or so to sit in line and talk to the people around you. I actually ran into a guy who is in the software space here in the Boston, Massachusetts area.
Rob: Oh, that’s cool. That’s always nice to do. Those businesses are a trip to me. It’s kind of the Cinderella story of the lightning in the bottle. They do exist, but if you and I started a brewery, it’s very unlikely that we would have that much pent up demand.
But the ones that do, it’s fascinating. You’re right, I imagined they’re minting money to a certain extent at least while they’re popular, because you don’t know, are they be going to be popular for 10 years? Or is this kind of something where they’re popular for a few years?
Mike: Yeah, I don’t know. I think it’s a total crap shoot as to whether–you could engineer that type of thing. I think that you could reverse engineer certain things and say, “This is why I think that this works.” But it’s hard to say exactly why everything happens the way that it does. You can’t say for sure whether it is going to continue to be like that for 10 years.
Rob: Very cool. What are we going to talk about today?
Mike: Today, we’re going to be talking about soft skills for entrepreneurs. I wanted to give a shout out to John Sonmez from Simple Programmer where I’m pretty sure that I got this idea from one of the emails that he sent out. I think one of the emails had said something about soft skills for developers. I just wanted to kind of give a little bit of attribution there.
I kind of put it in context as an entrepreneur, what are the soft skills that you need or that you should try to cultivate and what do they mean to you as you’re trying to run your business?
I thought we’d kind of run through a short list of things that I came up with. I kind of aggregated them from a bunch of different sources based on entrepreneurship, software development, and various other aspects of running a business.
Rob: Cool, let’s dive in.
Mike: To start with, I think it kind of requires a definition of what exactly is a soft skill? According to the definition that came up when I typed it into Google, they say that it is “personal attributes that enables someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” Seems a little nebulous, I guess, in certain aspects.
The basic idea is that these are the things that you have to probably practice and it’s not that you can’t learn them in school, but it’s probably not that they’re typically taught at a college or a university. There are classes and certain things that could can take, but you’re probably not going to get a degree in any of these things.
Rob: Soft skills are hard to quantify. I think when I was younger, when I was in my late teens and maybe in college, I kind of blew them off. I remember being like, “If I have solid engineering skills, it’s just black and white. I know the answer and I can accomplish what I need to.”
But as you get older, you kind of learn that a lot of people who do really interesting things and can really impact the world, or at least start companies and run them, it takes both. It takes both this left brain and also this right brain, or at least these interpersonal skills. Oftentimes, we’re not taught these even by our parents, I know that I really wasn’t. It took me until my middle late 20s before I picked up a lot of stuff we’re going to talk about today. I think, it’s pretty valuable.
Mike: I think the other thing is that you learn a lot of these things very indirectly. You’re probably not going to go and take a course on time management, for example, but there are things that you can learn or books that you can pick up about the topic. It’s not going to be like a core focus of whatever it is that you do especially if you’re going into entrepreneurship.
Rob: Yeah, that’s right.
Mike: We have five things on this soft skills list and the first one is empathy. With empathy, it really helps you to relate to your customers and understand what challenges you’re having. Some of the different things that I thought would be helpful in terms of trying to develop that empathy is to at least understand what it is and what it is in the context of your business.
When you’re having conversations with people, the first thing is to listen to them more. Instead of trying to talk and get your ideas out there, empathy is actually the reverse. It’s understanding what other people are thinking and where they’re coming from. By talking less, you’re going to just by default, listen more.
It gives them the opportunity to talk and you get to hear what their thoughts are, where they’re basing their opinions on or what they’re basing them on. Maybe some background about how they developed those opinions.
Rob: For those who are fans of the Hamilton Musical, you’ll know Aaron Burr’s line where he says, “Talk less. Smile more.” It’s actually seen as a negative thing because he won’t take a stance and he’s being a politician. But I have changed that line for my kids and I will say, “Talk less. Listen more.” It’s fascinating advice. It’s easy to give and hard to implement for all of us especially people who are smart, ambitious, tend in a lot of circles to be the person driving the ship.
If you’re a founder, you’ve probably been one of the smarter people in the room for most of your life. But just because you’re smart doesn’t mean that you should not listen to other people. Other people have really good ideas, but if you just take the time to listen to them, you can implement them.
The other thing where this really helps is if you get that angry customer email, angry tweet, or whatever it is, to be empathetic as a superpower, to be able to understand where they’re coming from and realize, “Hey, they’re probably just frustrated today. They’re not really personally attacking me even though it feels like they are right now.”
The best customer support reps and the best customer success folks that I’ve worked with really are able to dial in this empathy aspect.
Mike: The other interesting piece of developing empathy is that you can be right and still give off the vibe that you don’t care because you come across as arrogant or that you know everything. Part of empathy is sometimes you already know the answer to a question that somebody is going to ask and empathy is simply listening to them anyway instead of saying, “Here’s your answer,” or talking over them or trying to say commands to them like, “Hey, you need to listen to me and you need to do this.”
Some people just want to be heard and then you can give them whatever the answers are because then it sounds like you have or it appears to them that you have listened to everything and you fully understand.
Even if you already know the answer in advance, you can ask a couple of prodding questions, I guess. It positions the conversation differently in their mind. As long as you’re conscious of those types of things, then it allows you to not only project that empathy, but also to get people to go along with you; whereas if you were to come from that source of authority or commanding authority, they may take offense to it and tune out and not want to listen, regardless of whether you’re right or wrong.
Rob: If you want to see an example of that happening, exactly what we’re saying, go on Twitter and watch people discuss maybe a controversial topic or just an often misunderstood topic and you’ll quickly see that people in this world don’t have enough empathy for one another. That’s a good example of kind of what not to do as you’re running a business or in conversations is jump to conclusions and start attacking.
Empathy was the first soft skill. The second one is time management. Bottom-line is you’re never going to have enough time or enough resources to do everything you need to do and you want to do in business. You have to learn how to prioritize.
The first thing that I’d recommend is–you don’t need to do this forever, but in the early days, track your time. I literally used to use a time tracker where it had categories. Even when I wasn’t being paid, didn’t need to track my time, but I was tracking it either based on the task I was doing or the product I was working on when I had multiple products.
It was just a little desktop timer and I would select the project. At the end of the week or end of the month, I could look back and I was like, “I pissed away a bunch of time working on this product that isn’t even profitable. Should I sell that thing, should I shut it down or do I just need to be more deliberate and more disciplined about not spending that time doing that stuff?”
It’s kind of like budgeting. I believe you should budget or look at your budget for a certain amount of months until you get a feel for it. I’ve always stopped after that because I kind of have this stuff in my head of where we are and where we should be.
I believe that tracking time is like that. I didn’t track it for 10 years, but I tracked it for probably the first six months I was an entrepreneur, and it really helped me see that pie chart of where I was spending a lot of time and where I was spending a little. It helped me evaluate if that was the right mix.
Mike: One thing I really like to do in terms of time management is blocking off my calendar so that on Mondays, for example, I tend to not take calls of any kind whether they are with customers, doing demos, or anything like that. There’s just a time block on my calendar so you can’t schedule a meeting with me unless it’s super critical or important or I feel like I need to.
But generally speaking, that time is mine, so that I can actually get work done. I do that on occasion where I’ll throw a calendar block in there as well. It just marks my time as “busy” so that I can get other things done.
I do see people who have calendars where they will have like a very regimented schedule and they’ll say, “From from 6-7 I’m doing this, 7-8 this, etc.” I can’t do that as much. I feel like there’s a lot of things that I’m working where if I try to do that, I’m probably going to run over my time or going to be too conscious about what that time frame looks like or those hour blocks. It’s just going to conflict with my brain. I’m just not going to be able to pay attention to it or it’s just going to be distracting. I don’t like to do that as much but there are some people that that really works well for.
Rob: After time management, the third soft skill is negotiation. This overlaps a lot with sales skills. If you understand someone else’s objections and their motivations, you can identify ways to overcome the objections. Whether it’s convince or encourage them kind of down the path that you believe is correct for them. Hopefully, your product being at the other end of that will benefit them in the long run.
I think that’s the difference to me between someone who is an ethical salesperson versus someone who just wants the commission and is going to force someone into something they don’t like, is the ability to truly look and say, “Wow, we actually suit your needs better than your current provider or better than the alternative and here’s why.” And to be able to say that.
Negotiation/sales skills, I think, kind of fall into this same one. The one place to start if you’re going to get into either a sales conversation or negotiation. Negotiation could be with a vendor that you’re sending tons of emails through a company like SendGrid or Mandrill or something and you’re at an enterprise level, maybe you’re trying to negotiate a price there or maybe you’re negotiating the sale of your company. Maybe your negotiating the price of your enterprise plan to someone who is wanting to buy.
The first thing to do is to learn everything you can about the other person like what they’re trying to achieve, what’s important to them, what parts of the deals are deal breakers and which are not. Finding out what a win looks like for the other person is critical probably to your own version of what a win is because you know or you should know what a win is for you, and hopefully you can figure out what it is for them and try to merge those two things.
Mike: Surprisingly enough, I have said it earlier in the episode that there are not very many soft skills where you can take a college course on it. Negotiation and conflict management is actually a course that I took in college, which was taught by a professor that I know and respect, but he unfortunately passed away several years ago, but it was honestly one of the best courses that I had ever taken. I learned a heck of a lot of things in that. Not least of which was the fact that there are certain types of styles of negotiation that I prefer, which generally involves a win-win scenario.
We went through all of the different styles of negotiation and we practiced them in that class. One of the books that was a resource for that was one called Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, which you can get on Amazon. It’s only a couple of dollars, but I don’t know if they have a Kindle version of it. It’s like $5-$6 for a used paperback version. I definitely recommend picking that up.
With negotiation, part of it is figuring out what it is that you want and knowing in advance what you can and can’t live without. If you are blindsided by a negotiation and you end up in one, the best thing to do is walk away and regroup and say, “Let’s schedule this or talk about it some other time.”
I have been in those situations where I was scheduled for a meeting. It was more of just come in and say “hi” and ended up in a negotiation for like what is this contract going to look like and what are going to be the dollar amounts? I was completely unprepared for it and basically did not negotiate very well.
I think that that is very common if you’re not prepared. If you haven’t done your homework on it, then you’re not going to understand where those different lines are for you. You’re not going to be able to keep them in mind and pay attention while you’re going through the course of that negotiation.
Along with that, make sure that you keep in mind what your emotions look like. Don’t let winning a negotiation get so far in a way of everything else that is going on that you can’t pay attention to the things that are the most important.
Rob: Yeah, I agree. Those are really good tips. Another book I’d liked to recommend that I haven’t read yet, but it’s on my wish list and I heard an interview with this guy and the interview was awesome.
It’s not often that I listen to a podcast interview and I’m instantly trying to find more from that guest. The book is , Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. The guy was a hostage negotiator for years. I forget if it was with the SWAT team or for if it was with the FBI or somebody. Just really brilliant insights. Again, it’s on my wish list. I haven’t listened to it yet, but the 30 or 40-minute snippet that I’ve heard of him made me want to really dive in. It was another take.
I’ve also read Getting To Yes and it’s very good. I’ve read as I’ve sold multiple companies and software products, I have read at least half a dozen books on negotiating and Getting To Yes was one of the best ones. I’m glad that you called that out.
Mike: I picked up the book that you mentioned as well, Never Split the Difference. I haven’t read it either.
Rob: Yeah, it’s in the queue, am I right?
Mike: The one other thing I would comment on negotiation is that what’s important to you or what you think is important to the other person is not necessarily always the case. There’s times where you can negotiate for something where you may think or feel like it would take a lot to get the other person to agree to it. Based on the situation the person is in, it may take very, very little because they have other things going on, and have to learn what those are throughout the courses of the conversation.
Rob: Yeah. The last thing I’ll throw in is when you’re negotiating, there’s times when you’re negotiating and you’re going to have a relationship with this person after, then there’s times when you’re not.
An example of not is when you’re selling or buying a car. You’re only going to interact with this person at this point and there’s really no relationship past it. You can really go for the highest dollar or the lowest dollar as the case may be depending on which side of the deal you’re on.
But if you are selling a company and you’re going to work with that person for the next year or two afterwards, or you are selling an enterprise deal and you know that your company is going to have a relationship with that person for at least the next 12 months. You can’t just push it so far that you burn the relationship. That’s kind of a final thing. It’s like negotiating, you’ve heard this expression, “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” That expression means, if you push for every last dollar and I’ve worked with people like this who just want every last nickel out of everything so that they feel like they got the best deal, but then you don’t want to do business with them anymore.
I’ve totally walked away from people like that where we cut a deal and it’s obvious that they wanted it extremely one-sided. If you’re always that way, you’re not going to have that many people who want to do business with you.
Just something to keep in mind is oftentimes, the best deal is not the best deal for you. It’s the best deal for everyone. It sounds like we can do a whole episode on this.
Mike: I was just thinking that. We could probably do an entire episode. We should do that some time.
Rob: Yeah, cool. How about our next one? What’s our fourth soft skill?
Mike: The next one is management and teamwork. I kind of lumped these together in terms of the management is managing other people, assigning tasks, and making sure that things are on track.
Teamwork is also putting yourself in a position where you have somebody else managing the piece of it and you’re acting as a teammate for them. It’s kind of two sides of the same coin.
The bottom-line here is you can do everything in your business, but it’s really hard to do all of it in a timeline that is efficient and gives you the ability to make money and turn a profit and do all the other things that you want to do.
Outsourcing or hiring or bringing on teammates helps to move things faster. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you hire somebody you might just collaborate with another person or do a joint venture of some kind, which you may negotiate some things there, but you’re still going to need to work with them moving forward to get whatever that joint venture is done.
A lot of management I find comes down to empowering people to make decisions, so that you don’t need to be in a position where you have to micromanage them. Tell them what is it you want to achieve, tell them why you want to do it, what’s important to you along that path, and then let them do it.
If you try to micromanage everything, it’s going to take so much time, work, and effort on your part that a lot of times it’s just not even worth trying to outsource it. You may as well just do it yourself because you have this vision in your head of exactly how everything needs to be done. If you’re micromanaging it, you’re just basically wasting your time. You’re having somebody else do it, and then you’re double-checking everything anyway. It’s not going to work out for you in terms of the time that you’re trying to gain from in and then out.
Rob: I think that’s a mistake that most beginning managers or delegators make. They’re used to doing things themselves and they want the control. I know that I made this mistake in the early days of hiring people that probably weren’t that good. I felt like I needed to give them a lot of instruction.
It wasn’t that they weren’t that good, but maybe they just didn’t have the experience, but I hired them because they were cheap and I didn’t have a lot of money. Like you said, it was probably not worth doing at all. I should’ve tried to find someone with the experience, waited until I had some budget, maybe had them work fewer hours and just on fewer tasks, but have someone who’s more of a fit.
I think one of the things that I’ve discovered about management and teamwork over the years, building this companies, is that a big part of it is getting the right people on the bus. It’s hiring people who work with your work style and hiring people who work well together.
If you do that, even if you don’t have a tremendous amount of budget, you can really get a lot of work done.
Mike: Something else that goes into managing a team is knowing when it’s not working out. Not everything is going to work out. There’s times where you have to cut your losses and move on whether that’s with a contractor an employee, you can do everything in your power to try and make sure that things go well and that you are managing them in a fair and effective way, and that they understand what is it that they’re supposed to do.
Ultimately, there are times when it just doesn’t work out. You need to be able to recognize those and move on in a way that is best for everyone involved.
Rob: The fifth soft skill, which kind of covers or applies to almost all the ones that we’ve talked about already is communication. In every interaction with someone else, it is critical that you have the ability to communicate clearly, to communicate effectively, and frankly, to communicate with empathy with the other person in mind, what their mindset is.
It is not just drilling down, “You need to do this!” But it’s like, “What do I know about this person that I’ve worked with for a year and how they think about things?” “How much control do they want? How much control am I willing to give?” “What kind of instructions do they need?” And kind of tailoring that message, so learning to communicate effectively with people is huge because it saves time and prevents misunderstandings.
This includes, when we think about communication, there’s written communication. It’s your emails; essays, if you’re writing blog post, or anything like that. It’s presenting. It is verbal communication both in meetings or in planning sessions or in brainstorming sessions.
I think a big part of this, I don’t know if this is the whole thing, but a big part of it is figuring out which mode of communication that works best for you and potentially, and I don’t know if it goes as far as to build a team around that, but to realize, “Wow, I really am better at verbal stuff that needs to be part of our culture of our team. They can take a voicemail from me or a voxer, or are willing to jump on a call and chat something really quick because I’m a 10x verbal processor, but my emails really suck,” or vice-versa.
If you’re really good at writing, then build a culture where it’s around Slack or it’s around email. If you’re going to build a company of 200 people, then that won’t work. You can’t dictate it. But if you’re going to build a team of 3-10 people, then a lot rotates around with the founder being effective at what they’re doing.
I do think that are discovering that and knowing it about yourself and potentially improving the other ways as well which is something I’ve done along the way. I’ve traditionally been a good writer. I’ve traditionally not been someone who was good both at public speaking or verbal interactions, in general.
Something that we’ve done in the podcast has made me much more able to process my thoughts verbally and to get stuff out there that’s kind of in my head, and then doing all the public speaking. Early on, it was at conferences from 2007-2010, and then we started MicroConf. Now you and I are in a good way, forced to speak basically two times a year. That just keeps your chops up. It keeps your ability to communicate a message in a way that’s really effective.
Mike: The ability to practice those types of things in some ways, it’s force, but at the same time, you also learn to enjoy it at some point, or at least, I would hope that you would enjoy it if you have to do it enough.
Those types of skills—the presenting skills and the public speaking—those really help when it comes to things like sales presentations or trying to go through an interview process and explain to somebody why it is that they should join your team, or when you’re negotiating with somebody about their salary requirements or what their needs are for them to on-board onto your product and determine what it is that’s holding them back and what their objections are.
All that stuff that goes along with the communication is extremely critical whether you need to follow up with an email or you need to explain it to them in person. Being able to recognize what the preferred mode of communication is for other people, and then adapt to yourself to their preferred mode of communication is really going to be helpful for you to be able to achieve your objectives within the context that they are comfortable in.
You can’t also go via email. I can speak for most introverts who are listening to this. My preferred mode is email, but that doesn’t mean that it works for everybody. Some people actually like getting on the phone and you have to be able to do that. If you want to do a demo of your product, then clearly, you have to get onto a call and do that with them.
There are ways around that. There are some exceptions where you can have videos and things like that, but for the most part, you still have to adapt to the world around you and put things out or present them in a way that other people are able to and willing to consume them.
Rob: That’s really a good point. It’s really hard to hide in a corner if you do truly want to be introverted and do everything via email. You really need a low priced self-service SaaS offering and you’re only going to be able to grow that to a certain size.
That’s not terrible. That’s what I did in the early days, to be honest, until I felt like I needed to force myself out of the shell. It’s not to say that’s something you can’t do, but you’re definitely going to limit—it’s a self-limiting behavior, to not want to improve on the modes of communication that you don’t necessarily enjoy.
One thing I want to touch on, as you mentioned having hard conversations or just having important conversations and there was a really good book recommended to me by Ruben Gomez from Bidsketch that’s called Crucial Conversations.
I’ve read it. I like it. I think if you want to improve your ability to have not just difficult conversations, just important conversations with people, I think it’s a really good look at framing how you should approach them and how you should view them.
To recap the five soft skills we looked at today were empathy, time management, negotiation, management and teamwork, and communication.
If you have a question for us, you call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or you can record an MP3 on your phone or your computer. You can email us at email@example.com.
Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control, it’s by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups. You can visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
Episode 361 | Planning for Better Productivity
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about how to plan for better productivity. Based on a blog post by Noah Kagan, they discuss some different tactics including organizing time by energy level and value.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about planning for better productivity. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us Episode 361. Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: And I’m Rob.
Mike: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. Rob, I’m back, your coup failed.
Rob: Aw man, I was going to ask if you listened to the episode last week. That’s funny. Did you listen to it or did someone…
Rob: You made it back. I figured I’d exiled you and this is my show now.
Mike: No, you know what, it’s funny because for whatever reason, it reminded me of the very first Micro Conf that we ran and the survey that I sent out afterwards. I don’t know if you remember this but the last question on the survey was who’d win in an arm wrestling match, Mike or Rob?
Rob: I don’t remember that.
Mike: You don’t remember that? 75% said that you would go down.
Rob: I would go down, yeah, well that makes sense. What do you think of the episode?
Mike: It was good. It’s probably always awkward to record something completely by yourself. I’ve listened to podcasts before where it’s just one person talking but I think there’s a lot to do with delivering content. Sometimes, it works out really well, sometimes it doesn’t. I think it depends a lot on whether or not the topic or the content resonates with you, and then there’s also the appeal of listening to the person who’s speaking.
Rob: Right. I did realize that I talk fast normally, but for some reason when there’s no one else on the podcast, I talk even faster. I just string the sentences together. I was listening to it at 1.5 speed and I was like whoa, you need to pause, dude, you need to have some space between the sentences.
Mike: Well, that actually also plays into when people are doing public speaking, they get excited and nervous. People tend to talk fast when that’s the case. But people, I’ve noticed, also talk fast when they are extremely knowledgeable about a particular topic because they want to get everything out as much as they possibly can.
Rob: Yeah, it’s like excitement and passion for this stuff.
Rob: That’s cool. Good, I’m glad you enjoyed it. What else is going on this week?
Mike: I’m in the middle of finishing up implementing [OWAF 00:02:20] inside of Bluetick in an effort to basically streamline the onboarding process because right now when somebody signs up, the first thing you have to do before anything else is set up a mailbox. If you’re using Gmail, it can be problematic at best. I’ve been getting on a call and essentially walking people through manually. It sucks. It’s not just that it sucks because I have to talk to them, the problem is that sometimes it doesn’t always work or you have to go into admin settings or each situation can be different based on how your G-suite account is set up or what admin settings are and which ones aren’t set.
It can be very difficult to figure out, and users will probably never be able to figure it out on their own. I’ve had a few go through and have no problems, but then there’s ones where settings were all over the place or they’re not an admin and the [OWAF] should just completely get rid of all of those things and just take care of it.
Rob: That would be really nice. That sounds like a nightmare when you talk on the phone like that, you can’t just have a single KB article or some type of walk through and you got to almost trouble shoot it, custom consulting just to get on boarded is pretty rough.
Mike: I do have a KB article for it. If I were to print it out, it’s probably five or six pages, which sucks. You can go through it, but I’d rather the person not have to. If that’s their first experience with it, it’s not a great experience. I really try to avoid that. Plus, I’ve had people who even I couldn’t get them on boarded because it just did not work. We couldn’t figure out what the settings was. Things worked for a little bit, and then Google has this algorithm in the background that if they think that it is hacks, it will just block access. You got to be kidding me, but [OWAFs 00:03:55] gets around that kind of stuff.
I’ve got it mostly working right now, mostly just going through some testing and making it so people can convert their existing mailbox over to using [OWAFs 00:04:05] instead of the app passwords that they have to use right now. But yeah, open to employ that out in the next couple of days and move on because that’s just been a nightmare.
Rob: It’s one of the few cases where you may actually have a silver bullet. Most of the time, it’s like oh, this is still not going to solve it. But if it actually does, that’s a big deal.
Cool, well I want to talk about MicroConf. We have save the dates for MicroConf Started Edition and Growth Edition next April in Las Vegas. Tickets are going to be available in the next few weeks. Mark your calendars now for Growth Edition is April 23rd and 24th, it’s a Monday, Tuesday. Of course, we have the Sunday evening reception on the 22nd. Started Edition follows that, much like last year, it is April 25th and 26th. If you are interested in hanging out with a couple hundred successful or aspiring to be successful bootstrap, startup founders, you can get on the mailing list at microconf.com. Historically, MicroConf has sold out pretty quickly. You will want to be on that mailing list if you want to get the first grab at tickets. In addition, MicroConf Europe is happening here in about five weeks in Lisbon, Portugal. Tickets are still available for that, microconfeurope.com.
Other than that, in terms of work, we’re doing a lot of scaling stuff. We have gotten out ahead, it’s so nice. Remember how several weeks ago I was talking about how cues and scaling were just a big issue. They’re perpetually going to be a big issue but we’re well out ahead of them now, it just feels like you have breathing room. Basically, I put together, it’s called a platform engineering team. It’s people, they’re just going to be working constantly on the scaling now.
Typically, every four to six months, we would turn our attention to it and then we go back to building features. It’s at the point now where we just have a staff of—it depends how urgent it is—between five and eight engineers who are just constantly going to be looking at how to 2X this and how to 5X this. We’re doing a chunk of it in a sprint for Black Friday, even though our volume is historically not gone up that much on Black Friday, we do just want to make sure that we can send emails very quickly. I think the other day, they 2X or 3X our email throughput with three, four weeks of work. They re architect something and they decoupled something, doing something asynchronous. You just slowly make those wins, that’s a big one. If they can 2X or 3X it again, we will be sitting pretty even based on our most pessimistic estimates of the volume that we’ll need to send.
Mike: That’s awesome. Sounds like things are firing on most, if not all, cylinders at this point.
Rob: Yup, it is good. It will be nice to get past that. We’re still working on features but we definitely have slowed feature development just a tad in order to make sure that we’re well equipped for it and then got some good stuff cooking for the end of the year.
Mike: Very cool.
Rob: What are we talking about today?
Mike: Speaking of optimization, we’re going to be talking about planning for better productivity. This episode is based off of an article that I read over on Noah Kagan’s blog at okdork.com, we’ll link it up in the show notes. It was a series of time management tips. We talk about time management tips a couple of times on this podcast but we haven’t gone in depth into anything in probably 100, 150 episodes or so. I’ve went back and made sure that we hadn’t done that recently.
I wanted to take some time and dig into a process that he outlines on this blogpost because the title of the blogpost is Time Management, Tips of Insanely Busy People. Because of a lot of the things I’m doing, more or less juggling back and forth between all these different activities for Bluetick, it’s been difficult to prioritize things properly and make sure that I’m spending enough time in a way that allows me to move forward in every direction as opposed to making too much progress in one direction and not enough process in others.
I took the time to actually read through this and start applying some things already. So far, this week, it’s actually worked out really well. I’m getting up early and reprioritized when I do certain things. What its helped me do is essentially helped me put myself in a position where I make time for the important stuff and then rearranged the time where I’m making poor decisions or my glucose levels are low and not able to make good decisions and push that off to times where I know that that’s more of a recovery time for example.
We’re going to go through this. The thing that jumped out at me the most in this particular article is that there was a line in there that said success is fundamentally about how you spend your time. If you think about it, conceptually, if all of us had the same amount of time in the day but some people are much more successful or much more productive than other people. Kind of want to take a look at this to see if there are ways that I can apply some of the stuff that we learned and wanted to share some of that stuff.
Rob: Indeed, let’s dive in.
Mike: The first thing that comes out of this article is the recommendation to list all of the different categories of work that you need done. There’s a screenshot in this article where he’d list out all the different activities that he does into the different categories. He’s got green for gym, salmon color for Sumo work, purple for podcast planning, recording, and brainstorming, and then he has grey for growth or learning or consuming, whether that’s reading, or podcast, or whatever. Then, red is all sorts of random stuff that he likes to do. His calendar is—I won’t say it’s completely full—but there’s a lot of places where there are areas of time that are blocked off for these different activities.
The basic idea here is to figure out what things you need to be doing and then categorize them and figure out what times of the day that you are spending time on those things. If you have five different things that you need to be spending your time on, are you actually spending the time there and what times of the day or what days of the week are you spending the time?
Categories might be marketing, engineering, or support. Another category might be your downtime, rest or recovery time, which is really winding down for the evening. That’s the way I look at it. Shutting down your computer at 7:00PM or 8:00PM to put you in a position where you can actually go to sleep at night.
Rob: Yeah, I think this is an interesting exercise to do. I’ve never thought—you have work in quotes, a list of categories of “work” you need to get done because you include sleep and social time and exercise. I think it is good to think about those things as something that you have to have on your calendar because although we don’t think of sleep as being a form of productivity, it’s something that allows you to be productive the next day.
I’ve never calendared something this specifically, I have done time blocking during the day where I’ve blocked out tasks to work on whatever it is, writing, or eating. I’ll put lunch in there or obviously meetings are time blocked, but I haven’t gone outside of my 9:00 to 5:00 schedule. I don’t time block stuff in the morning or after work. I don’t know that I would do that permanently, but I do think it could be an interesting experiment. It kind of reminds me of I don’t have a personal budget, but I did at one point. I tracked it for a couple of months and it gave me a decent sense of what we were spending. That allows me to have a ball park now.
That’s what I feel this would do, I wouldn’t want everything time boxed all the time but I do think doing this one or two weeks could give you a better idea about where you’re slipping and give you the discipline, that reminder dings and it says which task, that if you’re not getting stuff done, either you’re not giving yourself enough time, you’re not realistic enough about estimates, or maybe you’re getting distracted and it can be a reminder to get back on task. I like the discipline and just the idea of tracking everything for a period of time just to see what it actually looks like on your calendar and how it feels to work like that.
Mike: One of the things that I found when I was going through this was something that I haven’t done for a while now. Pay more attention or pay enough attention to exercising and going to the gym. Part of that was because my shoulder was all messed up for a while, but I also recognized that when the end of the day came along, 6:00, 7:00, 8:00 at night, I lost the decision making ability to actually go to the gym. I would think about it and I would say no because I didn’t have the willpower to actually go to the gym at one point. It’s like I’ve been making decisions all day long, some of them were very difficult, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I think that a lot of people fall into that category, and I’ve done this myself in the past where after a hard day at work, you come home, you eat dinner, and then you sit on the couch and watch TV, but then you also snack which is a universal problem almost but you’ll sit there with popcorn or potato chips or something like that and you’ll veg out in front of the TV. You can’t stop yourself from eating those potato chips or the popcorn or whatever, and it’s because you don’t have any decision making capabilities left, you’ve lost the willpower.
What I do for example was I switched my schedule around and I put gym very first thing in the morning. The past four days, I’ve gotten up somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning and gone to the gym which is not normal for me. I do not do that, but I’ve actually found it very easy to get up and go to the gym first thing in the morning just because it’s the first thing I have to do. I’ve had a decent length of sleep, go to the gym, and it’s hard to discount going to the gym that early because I’ve made no other choices at that point.
Rob: Wow, that’s impressive. I have heard that exact thing that you slowly lose willpower during the day and that’s why midnight snacking and making poor decisions, buying things on Amazon late at night or whatever, are so much more common than when you have the energy.
It’s interesting, a big part of this I think is knowing yourself and how you work. There are certain times of the day where you are going to be more productive. The majority of people are most productive in the morning when you’re fresh. I find that I get a second wind often around 10:00PM and I used to work from 10:00PM to 2:00AM was when I’m ultra productive, like in college, at that time. That’s when I would do all my homework. And then even when I got out, I would write a lot of code when I was consulting and didn’t need to be in a day job, I would write a lot of my best code at night.
Over time though, having kids wrecks that. I learned to try to adjust back to mornings. I do think that knowing what constraints you have and knowing your own personal body clock is another big thing that you’re going to want to know before you start putting things on the calendar during the day.
Mike: One thing you mentioned there was doing code late at night and getting that second wind. I can do that as well but for whatever reason, you’re walking out the door and going to the gym at 7:00, 8:00, 9:00 at night, that takes a lot more effort and willpower for me to do it than sitting down and coding does.
Rob: I agree. I’m on the same boat.
Mike: I think that it’s partly because of how interested you are in what it is that you are trying to get as a goal. I think there’s a lot of things that factor into that, but I recognize that I was not going to the gym and it was because I was pushing it off until later in the day. I didn’t have the willpower to make that decision anymore. It really helped.
Rob: I’m actually reading a book right now called Sleep Smarter, 21 Essential Strategies for Better Sleep, or something like that. In it, he talks about how they’ve done studies and that exercising in the evening is actually not good, that it amplifies stuff and it can negatively impact your sleep. Some people say I exercise in the evening, it makes me tired and then I go to sleep, but the studies have shown that that doesn’t tend to be the case in general so it is actually better to work out—I think he said no caffeine after 2:00PM in general, and you get the most sleep benefit if you worked out in the morning. If you worked out in the afternoon, it was a wash. Then if you worked out in the evening, it was a detractor to your quality of sleep, so something else to keep in mind.
Mike: Let’s move on so we can get into some of the different experiments that Noah had gone through in this article. The next step is after you’ve listed all the different categories of where you think you should be spending your time, your ideal workload for the week, then track how much time you’re actually spending in these areas. It’s very easy to put yourself in a situation where you think that you’re spending an hour on something and you actually spend two, or three, or four because one we’re not very good at estimating our time, but two we’re also not very good at looking back retroactively on oh, how much time was it that I spent on that yesterday? Unless you’re tracking it right at that point, it’s very easy to mis-estimate how much time you’ve spent on something.
Rob: Mis-estimate? Remember that bushism, mis-underestimate? That was good.
Rob: I think it’s really easy to go through your day on autopilot, and especially with ADHD inducing tools like Slack or Twitter or Reddit, if those are your jam. Even your email inbox. You can just wonder from thing to thing, checking them every 10 minutes, and that could be your whole day and you never get anything done. I think this entire thought process is a way to help you not do that and also looking at a calendar and actually slapping an hour on something and saying I only have an hour to do that, it’s a great way to force yourself to get stuff done and to focus. I think especially, I would pair this with my most productive times of day, I would pair it with a small amount of carefully titrated caffeine, I would have a playlist like deep focus or I have some punk playlist that I put on loop. I think that is the way you’re going to eek out the maximum productivity, but it’s the first step here as you’ve just said, becoming aware of where you are spending your time versus where you think you’re spending your time.
Mike: That’s exactly right. Once you have figured out where you are actually spending your time, you start to compare it against what your ideal time would look like so that you can analyze that and figure out where you need to make adjustments in order to improve it.
The first experiment that Noah had done was he went through and organized his time by what he called energy level. There were a couple of different things that he classified some of the work as. He has manager time, maker time, which he was talking about on this podcast before where manager time is you’re doing things that require management capabilities. For this type of stuff, you need anywhere from 30 to 60 minute blocks of time to handle that stuff. Whether it’s taking phone calls, or meetings, or checking email, or managing people, or doing certain types of planning work. Those are all essentially manager time.
Maker time, he says block off two to four hour blocks of this time so that you can really get into something. That includes writing, coding, any sort of creative activities where you need a couple of extra hours of uninterrupted time in order to work on it. If you’re interrupted, it’s going to throw off your schedule and you’re not going to be able to be as creative and be as productive on that stuff.
Rob: In my opinion, I’m kind of a self identified maker in general. I hate manager schedule, I’ve happened to have had a manager schedule for the past several years as I’ve been running Drip and I still do. When you’re a manager, you need to be constantly interrupted because you have to keep other people unblocked. You can’t make them wait 30 or 60 minutes to hear from you in general. But as someone who is strictly, since I was 8 years old, has been a maker, whether that’s writing books, writing blog posts, writing code, building things, I think the entire point of this should be to protect your maker time and to make it predictable and make it something that is deliberate and something that will not get interrupted.
The work environment these days, especially with tools like Slack, I’m going to say it again, I’m a little bit of a Slack basher. As much as we use it and it’s helpful, it is like being in a meeting all day with people. It has real pluses and minuses, obviously it improves communication for remote teams, but at the same time it’s just a constant interruption stream. I wind up snoozing. I’m snoozing Slack more and more. These days I’ll do one hour, sometimes I’ll do two hour blocks. I’ll tell people look, if it’s really urgent, you break my snooze. It’s easy enough to do that with just a click. All that to say, I think that maker time, it’s really easy in today’s work environment to lose your maker time unless you’re extremely deliberate about blocking, essentially snoozing or blocking all your notifications and then not allowing yourself to wonder off into the abyss of time suck.
Mike: One of the things I noticed when Noah was talking about the results of this planning exercise and going through this experiment where he organized his time by maker time versus manager time, you look at the proposed schedule that he wanted to do and it was very repetitive from day to day. There’s reading at the beginning and then morning rituals and then writing for several hours, that was his maker time, and then back to some manager time task. And then in a couple of places he had more maker time schedule.
But if you look across that, it’s very repetitive from one day to the next and it assumes no interruptions. It assumes that nothing is ever going to change in your schedule, there’s no other meetings that happen to come up on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning, and it forces everybody else to work around your schedule which I think depending on who you are, that can work in some cases and not in others.
Rob: Yeah, depends on how much control you have. I think if you are a founder or the CEO and you can dictate your schedule, I think you’re in a pretty good position. I think if you are working for a small startup where communication is fairly easy let’s say, or on an eight-person team and the culture is to just allow people to be makers, I think you probably have a pretty good shot at this. I have worked at places where that isn’t the culture, marketing driven cultures and sales driven cultures, I’ve worked at companies that are both. They’re all about this interrupt driven thing and it’s all real time.
The space that you’re given both in terms of time and in a lot of times in terms of how offices are set up are not super conducive to allowing you to actually create stuff, allowing you to have that maker time makes it really hard and you have to go out of your way to do it. It’s going to depend on how much control you actually have but I do think that odds are pretty good that if you’re a knowledge worker and either a founder or even just someone working at a startup, I would bet you could pretty dramatically improve your ability to carve out that maker time.
Mike: Something else that I found interesting about this was that one of the lessons he learned about this particular experiment was that how he spent his time was not necessarily how he spent his attention. I kind of draw an analogy between that and going to the gym for example where you can go to the gym and it’s time that you have to spend but you don’t necessarily have to pay attention very much when you’re at the gym.
If you’re just on a treadmill or elliptical machine or lifting weights or whatever, you tend to not have to pay that much attention to it. You just mechanically do those things, but you can listen to audio books or podcasts and things like that. One of the big benefits of that actually has been my ability to get through a lot of my backlog of podcasts that were queuing up that I hadn’t listened to that I wanted to but I just hadn’t really found the time because I was spending so much time doing all of these other tasks. I didn’t have the time available to sit down and just listen to a podcast, I couldn’t pay attention to it. I just didn’t do anything with them.
The second experiment that Noah had done in this was that he organized some of the different tasks that he needed to do by what their value was. I really liked the way that he separated out the different types of activities. What he did was he created this little spreadsheet that essentially classified all of his different activities as either $10 an hour, $100 an hour, $1,000 an hour, or $10,000 an hour activities. He categorized them into each of these by saying if it is incompetence activities, then that’s $10 an hour, these are things that you constantly encounter failure and frustration or conflict, you’re stressed out about them, you just do not like doing them.
Under those, he put things like running errands, working on social media, cleaning and sorting things, attending meetings, stuff like that. I think that for each of us, our list is going to be different for what is going to fall underneath each of those buckets. I think the point here is to make sure that you understand what the value of those activities is not just in your personal life and in your business but you personally. Because if it’s something you don’t like doing, you’re probably going to push it off, and then it becomes more of a cognitive overhead because it’s going to be in the back of your mind and it’s going to interrupt your thoughts when you’re doing other things.
Rob: And the next rung up are the $100 per hour tasks. Just as a note, Noah pulled this list from Perry Mashalls’ book 80-20 Sales and Marketing. $100 per hour tasks are things like solving a problem for a prospective or existing customer, talking to a qualified prospect, writing an email to prospects or customers, creating marketing tests, outsourcing simple tasks, customer follow up. It’s that next level up where you’re not essentially doing the work that is kind of one-to-one stuff but it’s either revenue producing—I guess some of it is one-to-one but it’s more about revenue producing or bulk stuff like writing an email to a group of prospects where it’s one to many and there’s some leverage here, or it’s like you said, outsourcing, which is something that is gonna really give you quite a bit of leverage.
And just as a note, Noah calls the $100 an hour work competent activities. It’s tasks where you meet the minimum standard but they cause you anxiety and they feel repetitive. I think that’s a good way to think about them.
Mike: The next rung up on the letter is the excellent activities which are classified under the category of $1,000 an hour work. These are tasks where you have superior skill and reputation but you don’t necessarily enjoy them, you just don’t have the passion for them. Under his list for these, these are things like planning and prioritizing your day, negotiating with prospects, building your sales funnel, creating pay per click campaigns, delegating complicated tasks, writing sales copy, other things fall into that bucket. Again, those tasks are specifically for him. These may move around for you.
Rob: And then the top rung of this ladder are unique ability activities and these are the $10,000 per hour work tasks that you can do. Noah defines them as tasks which you show superior skill, energy, passion, and desire for never ending improvement. I guess this is actually yeah, it’s Perry’s list and then Noah says he used a four tier system from Dan Sullivan to group them. He’s kind of combining the two things, the dollar per hour and then the rungs of the ladder, the incompetence all the unique abilities.
$10,000 per hour stuff may be things like improving your unique selling proposition, creating new and better offers, repositioning your message and your position, negotiating major deals, selecting team members, public speaking. These are really high value, high impact tasks that frankly, you’re probably one of the only people in your organization who is capable of doing them and they’re within your zone of genius.
Mike: What I like about Noah’s assessment of this is that it’s not important that you actually make $1,000 an hour or $10,000 an hour doing these things, but the relative value between the different tasks and those different categories, that’s the important piece. Those are the things that you need to pay attention to and make sure that you’re spending enough time on the stuff that would provide a heck of a lot more value than the things that are low value that perhaps you enjoy doing them but they don’t provide a lot of benefit to the business and they really don’t move it forward.
If you’re spending an exponential amount more time on support tasks, you really enjoy doing it, that’s greta but it probably doesn’t move your business forward because there’s other things that it is taking time away from that you need to dedicate some of that time towards.
Rob: What I’ve noticed is that if you’re a solopreneur, then it’s likely you’re going to start off doing all of these and then you slowly outsource the lowest ones on the totem pole. The higher you get up in this ladder, it’s harder to find good people at a cost that you can afford if you’re a boot strapper. What I’ve seen is that as my team grew and then post-acquisition, that it is so much easier with a, a larger team, and b, more resources, more money to be able to find people who can do these things very well and find someone whose zone of genius is outside of yours, who’s not a co-founder but actually hiring a director or a VP or a whatever who can really level up and do $1,000 an hour and $10,000 an hour tasks.
It’s pretty unique to find someone like that. It is very expensive. In general, it’s expensive. Obviously, you can find a unicorn somewhere, a diamond in the rough. These are things that are more of a challenge to do with a small team and/or a bootstrap team, but it’s still something that I think you should strive to do.
Mike: I think one of the things that Noah’s getting at in terms of assigning the dollar amounts to these is that it’s not necessarily how much it is of value to the business but if you were to do those things, what would you want to be paid for them, or what could you potentially get paid for doing those things? The $10,000 an hour work, you could potentially get paid a lot more for them versus the $10 an hour stuff. It’s stuff that you don’t like, it’s stuff that you’re not good at. Those are the things that you can mentally classify as oh, I need to outsource these, oh, I need to delegate these tasks to somebody else, not just because you’re not good at them but also because they don’t bring you any joy or fulfillment in your daily life. Chances are really good that you’re probably going to push those off to the future or just simply not do them. That’s where you get out of balance in terms of the amount of work that’s getting done in some of the different categories. Does that make sense?
Rob: I think it does.
Mike: Once you’ve classified all these different things and looked at the different ways you can cross section them, you look at when these different activities take place in your schedule and then adjust your schedule to fix what’s not working and then optimize what is working. If the things are not working, if there’s a balance that is completely out of whack for example, the activities you should be spending a lot more time on you’re not, those need to either get delegated or you need to dedicate the time to do those things. That could be by pulling away time from those activities that you really simply do not like doing or you’re not very good at. Take those things, offload them, outsource them, and move on to doing the things that you are really good at because you can provide yourself or your business a lot more value by doing those rather than those lower level activities that you just simply don’t enjoy.
Rob: Realize that Noah ran two experiments. One, he organized his time by energy level. The other one, he organized his time by the value. It’s a different way, it’s a different lens through which to view the tasks that you have to do. He had different takeaways trying both of those. It doesn’t come out at the end and say you should do one of these and the other one didn’t work, it wasn’t like that. I kind of feel if you’re going to do this that you should try both of them and see which one works better for you, but I also think just doing each of them will be a learning process for you to figure out which tasks you should no longer be doing, which ones are at your $10, or $100 levels, that you didn’t even realize you were doing. I think that’s a big part of tracking your time and running through these experiments is going to do.
Mike: I think if you’re really strapped for time, the title of the article as I said is Time Management, Tips of Insanely Busy People. He has a 80-20 version of the article at the bottom that you can go take a look at. It’s only a couple paragraphs. It gives you all the different highlights, and some of them we talked about in this episode. It’s a very interesting read, I would definitely highly recommend going through and taking a good, long look at this, especially if you’re strapped for time and find yourself juggling a lot of different things.
Rob: I think that wraps us up for the day. We have zero questions right now in the queue. No voicemails, no written questions. If you have a question for us, you can call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or you can email email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.
Mike: Isn’t saying you’ve got no questions kind of like announcing on Twitter that you’ve got no emails in your mailbox which is going to let people comment on it so then you get more emails?
Rob: I don’t know, but that would be good if people send us questions then we’ll have them for the next Q&A show. Man, we were doing Q&A shows every other week trying to get through those. It was pretty cool the volume of the questions that were showing up. I can’t remember the last time we’ve literally had zero questions in the queue. I think it may have been a couple of years ago.
Mike: Yeah, I think so. Oh well. Hopefully we’ll hear from people and we can answer more questions on the show.