Tim Ferris and Tony Soprano


Most people reading this blog will have heard of Tim Ferris. Best-selling author of the 4 Hour Work Week, The 4 Hour Chef and The 4 Hour Body. Angel investor in and/or adviser to a host of companies including Facebook, Uber, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Evernote and others…

Ferris has been described by New Yorker Magazine as ‘this generation’s self-help guru’ and as ‘today’s equivalent of Napoleon Hill.’ (Remember him? The author of the first self-help book any of us ever read.)

But Ferris is also accused of manipulating his 5* reviews on Amazon, he’s Wired Magazine’s ‘Greatest Self-Promoter of All Time’ and The 4 Hour Work Week has been described by one reviewer as “A disquieting insight into the world of the 21st Century snake-oil salesman.”

But whatever your view on Tim Ferris, one thing is undeniable. He is hugely quotable. Like anyone who’s quoted extensively, there are plenty of clichés in the collection – but there are also some seriously valid points.

I’ve picked out four (an appropriate number!) which both underline the perennial themes running through this blog, and which are highly relevant as we finally get Christmas out of our systems and focus on our goals for 2016.

Here’s the first one:

For all the most important things, the timing always sucks. The stars will never align and the traffic lights will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.

How many times have I written that – or words to that effect? There’s never a perfect time to get married, have children, quit your job or start your own business. Neither is there a perfect time to expand your business or – ultimately – sell your business. As Ferris says, ‘Just do it and correct course along the way.’

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He’s backed up by that other great business guru of our age – Tony Soprano. “A wrong decision is better than indecision.” Spot on, boss. A wrong decision can be acted upon and corrected. But as Ferris says, indecision takes you and your dreams to your grave.

What we fear most is usually what we most need to do.

A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he’s willing to have.

OK, I’ve cheated slightly by treating these two as one quote: I’ve allowed myself some leeway as they’re so similar.

How many times have you come into the office, looked at your to-do list and seen one job screaming at you? One job that’s metaphorically in 72pt font bold? That’s the job you absolutely need to do – and yes, it may very well involve an uncomfortable conversation.

What’s your to-do list look like two hours later? Fantastic. Loads of jobs crossed out. Except for the one in 72pt bold – the one that would really make a difference to your day/week/month/year. And what was Mr Soprano reading last time I re-watched an old episode? Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.

I often think back to my ‘first big sale.’ “Yes you can, Ed,” my sales manager said to me. ‘No, I can’t,’ I thought. This was a serious client: I’d only been in the job six months. It would be a two hour grilling. Complex, technical questions that I’d struggle to answer.

You know what happened. My competitors were no better than I was. He asked less difficult questions than almost any other client I’d met. I was in and out in no time. “Will you deliver?” “Yes.” “Will you look after me?” “Yes.” We shook hands.

‘Bigger’ never means more difficult or more complex or ‘you’re not worthy.’ It just means ‘bigger.’

Remember – boredom is the enemy, not some abstract ‘failure.’

Over the years I’ve seen so many people running businesses make mistakes because they were bored. Tim Ferris is absolutely right: boredom is the enemy. Now, more than ever, you can’t stand still in business. As the world swirls around you your business has to change and move forward – and you need to be constantly challenged. Beware the temptation to stand still; to think, ‘we’re in a good place, let’s consolidate.’ Boredom will inevitably follow – as will mistakes, both personal and professional.

Fortunately, there’s an antidote. I refer, of course, to your colleagues round the TAB boardroom table. A group of people that will most certainly challenge you, and who’ll give you courage – to do what you fear most, and to go through a few lights that may not be green.

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Sixteen Weeks and Counting…


As I mentioned last week, there were 17 weeks to go until the end of the year. Inevitably, that’s now 16 weeks and – as Rudyard Kipling would have said – we need to fill them with 90 days worth of distance run.

…And we all need to make sure we hit the ground running on Monday January 5th. You have two choices on that morning. You can go into your office knowing exactly what you need to do and what you’re aiming for in 2015. Or you can sit at your desk trying to remember what you do for a living. The choice you make will define – at the very least – the first three months of the year.

So as promised last week, here are five key strategies to follow between now and the end of the year that will help you finish 2014 in a blaze of glory and start 2015 in exactly the way you’d want to start the year.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, remember the mantra of Stephen Covey. ‘Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.’ What’s the One Big Thing you really need to do before the end of the year? What’s the OBT that would make all the difference to your business? Keep that front and centre of your agenda in the next sixteen weeks: share it with your fellow Board members. Don’t worry: they’ll make sure you keep it front and centre…

And yes – if the One Big Thing is simply ‘get all the nasty stuff done’ so you can really start 2015 focusing on exactly what you want to focus on, that’s fine. But the key word there is all. If you’re going to clear the decks, do it thoroughly. Write down everything that needs to be done and out of the way by the end of the year – and sit down to your Christmas dinner with it all done.

Go Away. I absolutely mean it. The Northumberland coast is wonderful in the Autumn. Take yourself off for a couple of days, walk on the beach, come back to wherever you’re staying and sit and think. What do I really want from my business? What could we really achieve if we put our mind to it? And most importantly, is my work/life balance as balanced as I’d really like it to be?

Spend a morning with excel as well – and you need to prepare two cash flow forecasts: the best of times and the worst of times (sorry, I’m still hooked on my Dickens quotes…) Prepare a worst case scenario cash flow forecast: don’t gloss over expenses, assume you’ll lose a major client and assume you’ll hit 80% of your targets. And then dare to dream. What would your business, your bank balance and your life look like if you hit all your targets? Even the ones that you think are well out of reach.

Get your tech up to date. Do you have a social media plan? Can you edit word documents on your iPad? How out of date is your website, Facebook page and Twitter profile? Take the time to do a proper audit of the tech and digital changes you need to make to help you achieve your goals – and I guarantee you’ll be able to find a lot of the answers simply by asking Google and investing some time.

Lastly, find your perfect client. There’s a client or customer out there that you really want to work with in 2015. We’ve all got one, and I’m no exception. So what makes them tick? What do they really want from their business? And why are you the perfect person to supply it? Start the charm offensive now – and you may be pleasantly surprised. They may become a customer or client well before 2015.

Of course, if that happened the killjoys round the Alternative Board table would simply demand that you chose another perfect client, but that’s the price of progress!

Oh – there’s one more thing you need to do well before the end of the year. You know it and I know it. None of what we do or achieve would be possible without the support and understanding of our wives/husbands/partners and families. So don’t leave the Christmas shopping until December 24th. Get it done, cross it off your list and give them the Christmas they deserve…

Short, Sharp – and Successful?


‘Medical experts’ have just announced that short, sharp bursts are the answer. As you get older it’s not long spells of exercise you need: it’s short bursts of concentrated, maximum effort. That’s the key to staying healthy and getting the most out of life.

…And according to an article I’ve just been reading by American entrepreneur Chris Winfield, the same is true in business. If you want to get more done – or the same amount done in half the time – the answer isn’t to work slowly and methodically down your to-do list. It’s to blitz it with short, concentrated bursts of effort where you’re 100% focused on your work: no internet, no making a coffee, no re-arranging every pencil on your desk.

This was the article I alluded to in last week’s post – and thank you for all the feedback to that one. I’ll be collating all the tips and tricks in a future post (and obviously leaving out a couple of the too-easily-distracted confessions).

To business for this week – and the idea Chris Winfield is using is the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late eighties (and as the seasoned travellers among you will know, named after the Italian word for tomato).

It’s an incredibly simple technique and works on the principle that frequent breaks can improve mental agility and make you more – not less – productive.

If you haven’t come across it before you break your work down into intervals known as ‘pomodori.’ Traditionally these intervals are 25 minutes long, and are followed by a five minute break. That said, I know someone who uses 15 minute intervals and someone else (obviously a three Weetabix man) who uses a 45 minute interval. Whatever works for you.

During your 25 minutes the idea is that you work on one task, without distraction, and then – after four pomodori – you take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

I like this technique, and in some ways it reminds me of the traditional advice steel magnate Andrew Carnegie was dispensing over a hundred years ago: work on your most important task until it’s done – and then move on to number two…

Where Chris Winfield’s adaptation of the Pomodoro Technique varies is in the way he chooses the tasks for his concentrated bursts:

The reality is that I’m a human being, living in a world full of other humans. I have emotions I don’t control and I often get tired. Some tasks I simply don’t feel like doing, even though I know they’re important and possibly urgent. To make this work long term I had to learn to accept these things, working with rather than against them.

He also moved from a five day working week to a seven day week, accepting that not everything could – or should – be done between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday. The net result? Winfield claimed to have cut his working week to 16.7 hours whilst achieving just as much as he had done previously – and to feeling a lot less stressed.

The Pomodoro Technique might not work for everyone – but it’s worth trying. The two Board members I mentioned above absolutely swear by it. And as the old saying goes, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. That holds good for your to-do list and your personal organisation as much as it does for your sales techniques and your stock control.

Next week is the last week before I go on holiday – when I come back we’ll be more than half way through August and the end of the year will be in sight. So I’ll be looking at what you (and I) still need to do in the remaining four months of the year – and considering what’s the best period of time for business planning. A week? A month? A year? Or do we go really long term and look at three to five years…

The Unforgiving Minute


There you are, 13 or 14, having a game of cricket with your mates or fixing your bike – or plucking up the courage to talk to the girl next door.

“Edward,” your mum says, “Time to come in and write your thank you letters.”

You sigh. Was there ever a bigger waste of time? After all, your auntie will cough up again next year. And at Christmas. She has to: it’s in the rules.

What’s emphatically not in the rules is taking time out of your day to wish someone happy birthday nearly thirty years later. But several of you did – so thank you. I had a lovely day on Wednesday and I really appreciate all the messages – even the less complimentary ones, pointing out that the years may have taken their toll…

I was going to write about testimonials this week but somehow the words wouldn’t come. I managed the electronic equivalent of a great many screwed up pieces of A4 – so let’s consider wasting time instead.

Shortly after I started my first job the sales manager took me to one side. “You want to be successful, Ed?” he said.

“Yes. Absolutely. Definitely. Yes. Obviously,” I said, eloquence not being my strong suit at that point in my life.

“It’s simple,” he said. “Do a full day’s work every day – including Friday. And that’ll put you ahead of 98% of the people out there.”

At the time I didn’t pay too much attention. I may even have been a little dismissive. ‘Do a full day’s work every day?’ That was obvious. How did you become a manager if all you could do was trot out the obvious?

Over the years I’ve realised that ‘do a full day’s work’ is probably the best business advice anyone ever receives. It might even be the best advice for life in general – as Rudyard Kipling pointed out:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…

…Which was fine when If was written in 1895. It was even fine when my sales manager gave me the advice a hundred years later. But it’s not fine now – because since then the internet has come along and the ‘unforgiving minute’ has very definitely become the distracting minute.

Had the Dark Lord spent a large slice of eternity on a project to disrupt your work he could hardly have come up with a better plan than the internet. It will be there all the time in the background, my Lord. With everything on it that they’re interested in. Instantly. At the click of a button. ‘Have a look at this recipe. Why not check the cricket score as well? Here’s your favourite song: it’ll only waste three minutes…’

I’m as guilty as anyone – my particular bête noire is online banking (how many times, Ed? You do not need to check the cash flow every day). Then there are everyone’s updates on LinkedIn, the cricket scores, football, the BBC Sport site…

Staying focused shouldn’t be a problem. But, increasingly, it is. So I’m always interested in articles that look at time management, productivity and getting things done – and last week I came across this one, promising that we can all get the same amount done in half the time.

It’s a subject that I haven’t written about for a long time, and maybe I should return to it – especially as “finding the time to get it all done and still see my family” is such a recurring theme round the TAB boardroom table.

So let me finish this week with two very simple questions. What’s the website that wastes the most time for you? (Please remember this is a family blog – and yes, of course there’s a prize for anyone who replies TAB York.) And what’s the technique/trick/habit/act of will power that most helps you stay focused during the working day?

I’ll look at one very simple technique next week, and then I’ll pull all the collective wisdom together in the following post. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend and please rest assured that sitting back with a glass of wine very definitely does count as ‘sixty seconds’ worth of distance run…’

Saying ‘no.’ But saying it effectively…


Well, I must say I could have stayed in Ireland over Easter. Somehow the fact that it was so cold outside made staying inside with the Guinness even more attractive…

But duty calls – and on Wednesday I found myself having a very typical conversation with a Board member.

Sorted out my to-do lists over Easter, Ed
– And…
– They’re too long. Way too long. I got quite depressed
– So…
– I’m going to have to find a way to cut them down. I simply cannot keep on getting up earlier and earlier in the morning
– No, you can’t
– And there were too many jobs on there… I don’t know – that were there just to make me feel good
– Did they earn you any money or advance your business?
– No, none of them
– Well then…

In truth he knew the outcome of the conversation before it had even started. He needed to say ‘no’ more often – and the simple fact is that most people reading this blog will need to say ‘no’ more often.

I wrote the other week that certain business facts are fundamental, and they bear repeating over and over again. Saying ‘no’ is one of them – and we all need to be reminded from time to time. I’m certainly no exception to that rule.

The trouble is we all want to be liked and we all want to help people – and the easiest way to do that is to say ‘yes.’ And damn it, it’s nice to be asked. Whose ego doesn’t need stroking occasionally?

But you can’t do it. There are only so many hours in the day. You cannot go on “getting up earlier and earlier.” And there’s also the small matter of your family to think about. So you need to learn to say ‘no.’

But I don’t think that’s enough – I think you need to learn to say no positively, in a way that builds your authority and leaves the person asking actually feeling good about hearing ‘no.’ Here are some suggestions and phrases that might help you do that:

• Don’t ever give the impression that you might say ‘yes’ if you think the answer will be ‘no.’ If you’re not absolutely sure you can commit to something err on the side of saying no, even if you have to check first.
• Say ‘no’ quickly. Everyone likes a ‘yes’ – but a quick ‘no’ is infinitely preferable to a long, drawn-out ‘maybe.’ From everyone’s point of view
• Suggest someone else. “I’m sorry, it’s just not possible at the moment. But have you thought about asking …”
• “I’d love to do it. But I’m busy with my clients at the moment and I simply couldn’t do it justice.” I like that phrase. It builds-up, rather than diminishes, what you’re being asked to do. You’re not saying ‘no’ because you can’t be bothered; you’re saying ‘no’ because the job is important and demands more than you can give at the moment.
• “I’d love to do it but I’ve got some major commitments coming up that I need to focus my attention on…” That’s fine – again the job is important, but you have to prioritise your time.

I think there’s an interesting parallel here with the recent blog about having the confidence to promote yourself. Once you realise that you’re actually doing someone a favour by saying ‘no’ you’ll become much better at it. No-one gains if you are simply too stressed to think straight. So learn to be ruthless with your time and everyone will benefit.

To go back to a point I’ve made many times in this blog and to quote the late Stephen Covey: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is your business. Saying ‘no’ – but learning to say it effectively – may well be one of your most productive ways to build that business.

Doing the Dirty Jobs


No-one likes unblocking the toilet. Cleaning the floor. Climbing up the damn ladder and trimming the hedge. But those jobs can’t be put off for ever. They’re an essential part of running a home. Sooner or later, they have to be done.

And it’s the same in business. There are certain jobs that just can’t be ignored. Last week I mentioned the conversation I had with Rob Blake from the Law Wizard. That was one of the points Rob made:

It’s very easy to focus on the bits of running a business that you like, and neglect the bits that you don’t like. TAB challenges us on how we’re doing on the bits we don’t like each month and makes sure that we actually get on with it.

Everyone, in every business, has jobs they don’t like doing. The trouble is, there’s that irritating, but tried and tested, quotation. ‘Successful people do the things unsuccessful people don’t want to do.’ In my experience one of the main causes of business failure is neglecting the jobs you don’t like – whether it’s credit control, hiring and firing or simply asking for the order.

Want to make a new year’s resolution that will really impact positively on your business? Then resolve to do the jobs you dislike, and do them on a regular basis.

To get you started, here are the six ‘dirty jobs’ that crop up most frequently when I’m speaking to TAB members and clients…

1. Chasing outstanding money – essentially you’re ringing up and saying, “Can you please send me the money you owe me?” It’s not easy but it has to be done. And a customer that doesn’t pay isn’t a customer. I have never seen a successful business that didn’t have an effective credit control system, or one that didn’t clearly explain to both new and existing customers how and when they expected to be paid.

2. Asking for the business – again, it’s not easy and none of us like rejection, but sooner or later you have to ask for the business. Why did that kid in your class with acne still have more girlfriends than you? Because he asked more girls out. Simples.

3. Charging what you are worth – if I had a pound for every time I’ve seen a business owner shrink from increasing his prices because he’s afraid of losing business, I’d have…well, hundreds of pounds. In my experience you very rarely lose clients – and remember, you can be too cheap. Everyone is now familiar with Sybil Fawlty’s view on why something is cheap.

4. Making plans – you’d be disappointed if I didn’t mention making plans for next year at some point in December. But very few small businesses really take the time to plan properly – unless, as Rob said, someone is making sure that they “actually get on with it.”

5. Hiring and Firing – if I had to point to one area where owners of SMEs delay making a decision, this would be it. I wrote a few weeks ago about the misgivings many of my members had about taking people on in the current economic climate, and there’s an equal reluctance to get rid of underperforming staff. But sometimes a member of staff is underperforming. Sometimes you simply can’t afford them. You’re not in business to make easy decisions and, tough as hiring and firing are, they have to be done.

6. Taking risks – similarly, you’re not in business to avoid taking risks. But make sure that they’re calculated, managed, well-thought out risks. And remember that if it was easy and everything was guaranteed there’d be no need for entrepreneurs like you.

Inevitably, some people take too many risks: some don’t take enough. In fact we all perform well on some of the points above and poorly on others. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses – just as everyone has dirty jobs they don’t want to do. For me, that’s where TAB scores: there are other people round the table who’ll compensate for your weaknesses – and make sure you don’t overplay your strengths. Just as importantly, they’ll make sure you do the jobs that unsuccessful people don’t do.

Breakfast in (America) South Milford


I read a great article the other day. It was called ‘What successful people do before breakfast’ and it was in www.fastcompany.com– here’s the link if you’d like to read it in full.

By the time I’d finished reading I felt slightly inadequate. Here’s my morning routine. You’ll see why:

• Some time around 6:30 woken up by unhealthily exuberant child
• Stumble into shower
• Get dressed: turn computer on
• Breakfast mayhem for boys
• Agree with my wife when she tells me whose turn it is to take the children to school or bus-stop
• Check phone for sick-notes from TAB members
• Print off anything I need to print off if the computer has cranked into life. Wonder why I don’t have a Mac
• Engage brain, press ‘go,’ start another day and grab breakfast before a meeting…

So no… I don’t do three miles on a treadmill, I don’t take an online class, I don’t read professional magazines and I don’t ‘do art projects with your kids.’

If you haven’t guessed, the article was in an American magazine and it was written by a lady called Laura Vanderkam. You can find her book, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, here.

Of course, ‘stumble out of bed, get dressed, breakfast mayhem etc etc’ isn’t going to sell many books – and it’s easy to think my pre-breakfast shortcomings would be typical for most of us. But are they? Maybe we’re doing ourselves a disservice.

Apart from the online class and the art project with the kids, here are three other key recommendations which Laura makes;

1. Track your time: make sure you’re spending it wisely and that there’s no wasted time. Writing down how you spend your day is a fairly frightening exercise – how much of your time is actually spent productively can be a worryingly low percentage
2. Picture the perfect morning – ask yourself what your perfect morning would look like. Then make it happen.
3. Think through the logistics – a little bit of planning goes a long way, and ten minutes spent planning at seven can pay big dividends at eleven. If I’m working at home I find planning the morning absolutely essential: somehow time seems to ‘escape’ far more easily at home!

And now I’ve read through that list I’m slightly less critical of myself. No, I don’t track my time specifically, but when I leave home in the morning I do have an exact idea of what I’m doing and what I’m aiming to achieve that day. And somehow among the Cheerios, the lost gym kit and the school run I do find ten minutes to do some planning – and yes, it does pay dividends later in the day.

I chatted with a couple of very successful people about their early morning routine. Both of them – amid the noise and haste – found time to plan their day and to focus on what was really important. One of them claimed early morning as his most creative time of the day. “To be honest, Ed, if society and my wife and clients would allow it I’d start work at five in the morning, go straight through until twelve and then take the rest of the day off.”

We’re traditionally told to get a good start to the day – a healthy breakfast and all that. Having read Laura’s article I’m more convinced than ever that a bit of ‘you-time’ in the morning is as vital as the orange juice and the wholegrain. Planning, focus and a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve is ten minutes very well spent in the morning.

So what do you do before breakfast? Don’t think you’re going to escape – what’s the key thing you do – or that you like to achieve – before you set off for work? There will, of course, be a prize for anyone providing concrete evidence of ‘an art project with the kids…’

Why you need more time off…


It may seem ridiculous to say it – but I think you need more time off work.

Yes, I know you’ve just had a four day weekend. Immediately preceded by er…another four day weekend.

But let me ask you a question. How much did you get done in the three days between Easter and the Royal Wedding? If you’re anything like me the answer is, a lot. How much do you get done in the couple of days before you go on holiday – when you’re really focused, when you’re crossing things off your to-do list so fast your pen is a blur? Is it possible that you could achieve as much in a really focused four day week as you currently do in a sometimes-not-very-focused-‘cos-there’s-plenty-of-time five day week?

There’s a Canadian business coach called Dan Sullivan – www.strategiccoach.com if you want to take a look. Sullivan advocates a system of focus days, buffer days and free days. Focus days are what you’d expect – at least 80% of your time that day is focused on your business and on what brings you income. Buffer days are essentially admin days – and free days are precisely that. Days where you do no work – days that are specifically there for you to re-charge your batteries.

So let me ask you another question – this time about free days. When was the last time you had one? When was the last time you had a day that was absolutely dedicated to recharging your batteries? When you pleased yourself and said, ‘Friday May 6th – that’s a day exclusively for me.’

I’m not advocating living your life selfishly. What I am saying, is that occasionally, you need to take some positive time off. So was your last free day:

A) in the last month
B) in the last three months
C) in the last 12 months, or
D) I can’t remember…

Let me know your answers, and let’s hope we don’t get a majority of D’s…

I’ll also be interested to see the differences in the sexes. In my experience, women are better at taking positive time off than men. When we lived in London Dav would periodically announce that she was going to the Sanctuary in Covent Garden. Last month she disappeared off to Thorpe Park Spa for the day. Somehow men seem to find this idea of having an indulgent day off a bit difficult. That said, I’ve just spent three days playing golf (in Blackpool!) and I feel wonderful – revitalised, re-charged and ready for anything. (Although that may have had something to do with the result…)

So with the summer here and the met office confidently forecasting unremitting good weather through to September, grab your diary and cross a few days out. Book yourself some free time – and then positively plan what you’re going to do with those days. If you don’t do that you’ll drift into the office to open the post, or switch your laptop on and start checking the cash flow. And then the day will be gone.

Remember this: success is a product of what you achieve – not how long you sit at your desk. If you’re running your own business, you’re in the results business, not the ‘time spent’ business. Taking positive time off will benefit you in the long run – and that’ll be reflected in your bottom line. Besides, as the old saying goes, no-one lies on their deathbed muttering “I wish I’d spent more time at the office…”

On that cheerful note, I’ll leave you until next week – absolutely confident that there won’t be a single D…

How to Win the Information War


As you know, we have two boys. From time to time – like all children – one of them will be spectacularly sick. Occasionally this happens when I’m in charge. And being a typical man, I need to give my wife a graphic description when she comes home, so she’s in doubt as to how hard I’ve had to work…

“Blimey, Dav, it was spectacular. And I’m pretty sure there were carrots in there…”

At this point she holds her hand up to stop me. “Ed,” she says, “Too much information.”

Too much information…Right now, that’s how I feel when I look at my laptop. Because in the bottom right hand corner I have a word document, ominously called “To read.” And in that folder are all the articles – well, links to all the articles – that I really should read.

In the olden days, it was simple. Everything you needed to read came through on a piece of paper – and all you had to do was wait for a train journey. Then, instead of getting frustrated while you were parked in a siding at Newark, you could plough through your ‘to read’ pile. And by the time you reached Peterborough you’d have it all ripped in half and filed away in the British Rail rubbish bin. Then you could turn your attention to the spectacularly dull magazine (Livewire?) that BR fondly imagined was adequate compensation for missing your meeting.

But not these days. Everything arrives electronically – and relentlessly. And with technology and social media changing so quickly it seems there’s more and more that I feel I need to read. So I have my word document – and when I see something that I think I should look at, I write a one-line description, then copy and paste the link.

Clearly, this situation is not going to improve: in fact with the relentless growth of webinars-that-I-think-I-should-watch, it’s going to get a lot worse. So what can we do about it? Here are my tips for coping with TMIS (Too Much Information Syndrome) – but please, I can’t be the only one suffering from this newly diagnosed condition. Let me know your ideas – because TMIS isn’t going away…

  • Use your mobile phone. OK, this possibly qualifies me as The Saddest Man in North Yorkshire, but if I’m early for an appointment, I can access the dreaded word doc on my phone, click the links and read a couple of the articles in say, ten minutes. Which I’d otherwise spend doing nothing much at all.

 

  • Set some time aside. Easier said than done when you’ve a family, but I do try and grab an hour on Monday evening to plough through the virtual pile.

 

  • Be ruthless. As any competent time-management guru will tell you, if you haven’t done it inside two weeks the chances are that you’re not going to do it. So if you do keep a list of virtual links, delete anything that’s more than a fortnight old. It’ll come round again – or it’ll be overtaken by some even newer technology.

 

  • Rely on a single source. Limit yourself to reading a site like www.mashable.com and rely on them to make the choice for you.

 

  • Not quite cutting-edge tech (and slightly off-topic), but if you really like reading business books but simply can’t find the time, try a site like www.summaries.com – 8 page summaries of the best business books with a new one added each week. A year’s subscription is $100, which at the current exchange rate is just over £1 a week.

 

As I say, those are my suggestions – but they’re not foolproof (my word doc keeps growing) so I’d love to hear what you do…

But finally, ladies and gentlemen, a bizarre case of life-imitating-art. First of all, thank you to everyone who responded to last week’s April Fool blog (and yes, most of you saw through it.) BUT it appears that there are grants available for mentoring – from the EU, no less. Oh ye of little faith – looks like it’ll be just Rich and me on the tennis court in Marbella. Your serve, fella…

Tackling the To-Do List


Right now there are 18 jobs on my to-do list. (That’s the work one – don’t ask about the domestic version. ‘Fix bathroom cupboard’ has been there so long there’s a danger my wife might do it herself.) Make that 23 if you add the personal ones.

I’m constantly astonished at how many people keep their ‘to-do’ list in their head, but on the assumption that there’s at least a spark of rationality in your life and your list is written down, how do you tackle it?

Start at the top and work down? Score a few easy victories by knocking off five or six not-very-important ones at the bottom? Or prove you’ve read the time management textbook by ranking them in order of importance and tackling the most important?

I’ll tell you what I do in a minute, but my first thought is that my list is getting too long. 18 (or 23) is too many. Because you stare at a list like that and think, ‘Oh hell, I’ll never get through that lot today – or tomorrow.’ And occasionally, a sort of paralysis sets in. You look at your list, and there’s so much to do that you don’t do anything. There are so many jobs that none of them stand out as important enough, and somehow, you never get started.

Then suddenly you think, ‘I’ve got to get some jobs crossed out – so I’ll do these few at the bottom.’ The trouble is that they’re not terribly important. ‘Tidy desktop’ isn’t going to advance your business one iota, but sometimes you end up doing it just so you can at least draw a line through something on your list.

For the same reason, I’m not a fan of starting at the top and working down. Unless you wrote your list in order of importance – and most people tend to jot things down as they think of them – ‘top down’ too often means that you’re tidying your desktop again.

It doesn’t matter who you are – or what your job is – work has to be prioritised. If you don’t do that you’re going to be inefficient and if you feel inefficient it’s going to lead to stress – which will make you more inefficient.

But how you do prioritise? I have some questions I ask myself. Is this moving my business forward? Is it going to make me some money? And there’s a third one: is this something I don’t want to do? Because nearly always, the job you don’t want to do is an important one. And what do you always find? It wasn’t as painful as you thought, and it didn’t take as long.

Let me take a step backwards though. There’s something before my ‘to-do’ list, and to me, this is crucial. Point number one, I’m working from a proper strategic plan. So I know what my business goals are for this quarter, this month and this week. And yes, planning takes a little bit of time – but I promise you, for every minute you spend planning, you save ten writing and re-writing ‘today’s jobs’ on a stray piece of A4.

Knowing what I want to achieve lets me come up with a series of action points – things I simply have to do – and they’re the core of my to-do list. Then I can add in the people-specific jobs (phone Tim, sort out Rob’s paperwork) and the list is complete. Nearly.

Because then I rank everything. It’s a tried and trusted method – I use an Important/Urgent matrix. So if it’s high importance/high urgency I get on and do it. If it’s low importance/low urgency I’ll park it until I set aside half a day for admin.

But that occasional half-day for admin is important. They may be low importance/low urgency now, but they won’t stay that way for ever. Virtually every big problem I’ve ever seen in business started life as a small problem that wouldn’t have taken much time to fix.

And one final tip for keeping the ‘to-do’ list under control. Just occasionally, say “no.” We all love to feel wanted, but it’s too easy to fall into the trap of saying “yes” to everything. And besides, three months from now you’ll need the afternoon off to watch the nativity play…