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Getting The Work-Life Balance Right

27 Aug

When I made the decision to work for myself again, the demands of getting a start-up off the ground and the unpredictability of my days really took a toll on my work-life balance.  My family and social life suffered and the home gym equipment became another convenient place to hang clothes.  Thankfully, things have since improved.  Whereas I still can’t log off my lap top at 7pm everyday (I’m working on this too), I’ve started working out again on mornings and I try to shut down on weekends and focus on family and friends.  This blog by Mike Figliuolo was therefore an interesting read and good advice for many of us.

How To Keep Your Life In Balance

by Mike Figliuolo 

Achieving personal balance is as important as achieving work balance and it is especially hard for people who love their work. If you love what you are working on, it is hard to step away from it. You must achieve a state where your energy is balanced between work and life. If you restrict your hours at the office by working at a furious pace that saps all your energy, you will have no energy left to live your life away from the office. That approach defeats the purpose of trying to achieve balance.

I know a fellow entrepreneur who struggled with the “life” part of work-life balance. He dedicated every last ounce of energy he had to building his business. He could not stop talking about all the fantastic things going on in his business but when I asked how things were at home his tone became more reserved. He explained how tired he was when he got home at night and how his son regularly said he missed him. The entrepreneur had not been sleeping well and he had put on about fifteen pounds because his physical fitness regimen had lapsed.

I asked if he had experienced similar challenges when he was a “corporate guy” and he said no. He had no problem making time for his family in the evenings. He would get in a solid workout every morning. He slept better and was generally happier despite not particularly enjoying his corporate job. I asked him what had changed since he went out on his own. He said he was much happier with the work he was doing but the variability in his schedule made it unpredictable and he found it difficult to establish a routine. He also felt a great deal of pressure to work on everything in front of him because he was solely responsible for the success of his business. He believed that if he did not drive hard and tackle every project, his business might fail.

“Why don’t you try shutting the computer at 7:00 PM every night for the next few weeks then let’s grab coffee and find out how things are going. You have to promise to hold yourself to that standard. Also, start your workouts again and don’t open your computer until after you have finished working out.”

Initially he looked at me like I was crazy when I offered him this guidance. But he reluctantly agreed to try the new approach. After several weeks we reconnected.

“I’m getting to spend time with my family now at least. I feel better too because I’m working out again. I even lost a few pounds in the past few weeks. At first I panicked at the thought of not getting all that former ‘evening’ work done but it’s been weird. All those things I used to do at night don’t seem to get done the next day. The odd part is it isn’t a big deal if they don’t get done.”

We discussed how the approach of walking away from the work at 7:00 PM was forcing him to prioritize. In the past he had no time constraints therefore he did not have to make a choice about what work got done. His choice was instead one of what time he would finish. His limiting factor was the work, not the time. By being rigorous about holding time as fixed he naturally began working on the most important things first to ensure he completed them by his self-imposed 7:00 PM deadline. Lower priority work automatically fell to the bottom of the list. His time with his family and his new workout regimen reduced his stress and helped him sleep better. The extra sleep made him more productive during the day and a virtuous circle ensued.

How do you keep yourself in balance? What reminder will you use to tell yourself it’s time to go home?

– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

http://www.thoughtleadersllc.com/2013/08/how-to-keep-your-life-in-balance/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ThoughtleadersLlcBlog+%28thoughtLEADERS+Blog%29

Ten Common Errors When Starting A New Business

7 Aug

Congrats on your new business.  This can be the beginning of the most amazing and fulfilling period of your career.   However there are some common errors you need to avoid.  In their blog “Ten Mistakes To Avoid When Starting A New Business”, wix.com provided this list of (10) most common mistakes new entrepreneurs make and should avoid:

1) Not Researching Your Target Market – You need to know their habits and behavior as consumers. The more you know about the people you want as your clients, the more focused and cost-effective your marketing plan will be.

2) Sketchy Business Plan – You must have some type of financial forecast for expenditures, an initial marketing plan, a breakdown of your target audience and your competition, and most importantly some idea of how you plan to be profitable.

3) Getting Loans from Friends and Family – If you have a great idea and a well-organized business plan, you should be able to receive loans from institutions that specialize in these matters. Do you want to risk the relationship with people that you love? Be smart and resist the temptation, even if they offer.

4) Expecting Immediate Profit – New businesses usually take two years to become profitable. Make sure you have enough capital to carry you through, because in the beginning you will mostly be spending money, not making it.

5) Not Focusing on the Customer – You need to focus on offering solutions.  That is where your real profit lies. If your business provides something of substantial value you will get loyal clients that happily recommend your services.

6) Disregarding Controlled Testing – The only way to find out exactly what works for your business is to plan, test and analyze.  Do this in a controlled fashion and on a small scale. Don’t blow all of your investment money on random advertising or mass marketing. Test out different strategies on a small group and obtain feedback before you make any major move.

7) Relying on Your Own Legal and Accounting Skills – Do not trust yourself with something so critical as your own business. Experts are considered experts for a reason

8) Trusting Verbal Agreements – When money is involved, you need to have a written agreement to secure your interests. Contracts are not just a formality. When you sign one, make sure you actually understand and agree with its content.

9) Trying to Do Everything Alone – There are so many things to look after with a new business. Even if you’re planning a small operation, you will find yourself in need of assistance – even on a part-time basis. Seek out people whose abilities balance out yours, so that you can focus on developing your ideas and making deals.

10) Sacrificing Personal Relationships for the Biz – Most entrepreneurial efforts require around the clock attention, and can strain family and close relationships if you allow them to. You need the support of your loved ones, so don’t neglect them. Maintaining a healthy private life is crucial for your well-being. If you don’t, eventually, your business will also be affected by it.

You may read wix.com’s full article here http://www.wix.com/blog/2013/07/common-business-mistakes/

 

Taking My Weekly Technology Break….Why Don’t You Join Me

5 Jul

Time off mouse

There are serious personal benefits of taking time away from the constant hum of technology. So why wait for your next vacation? Take a device hiatus every week. On Friday night, turn off everything with a screen — your computer, tablet, and phone. Put them in a drawer to keep them out of sight. And don’t turn them on again until Saturday night.

Knowing you won’t be able to connect for 24 hours can be unnerving, so prepare in advance. Print out your schedule, along with any maps or phone numbers you need. Let people know that they won’t be able to text, tweet, email, use Facebook, or web chat during that time. Then enjoy — be present and focused on whatever you do — spend time with your kids, go for a hike, read a book. You’ll likely find the day is longer and when you power back on, you’ll feel recharged.

– Courtesy The Harvard Business Review

Take A Weekly Technology Break

21 Jun

Time off mouse

There are serious personal benefits of taking time away from the constant hum of technology. So why wait for your next vacation? Take a device hiatus every week. On Friday night, turn off everything with a screen — your computer, tablet, and phone. Put them in a drawer to keep them out of sight. And don’t turn them on again until Saturday night.

Knowing you won’t be able to connect for 24 hours can be unnerving, so prepare in advance. Print out your schedule, along with any maps or phone numbers you need. Let people know that they won’t be able to text, tweet, email, use Facebook, or web chat during that time. Then enjoy — be present and focused on whatever you do — spend time with your kids, go for a hike, read a book. You’ll likely find the day is longer and when you power back on, you’ll feel recharged.

– Courtesy The Harvard Business Review

Take A Weekly Technology Break

14 Jun

Time off mouse

There are serious personal benefits of taking time away from the constant hum of technology. So why wait for your next vacation? Take a device hiatus every week. On Friday night, turn off everything with a screen — your computer, tablet, and phone. Put them in a drawer to keep them out of sight. And don’t turn them on again until Saturday night.

Knowing you won’t be able to connect for 24 hours can be unnerving, so prepare in advance. Print out your schedule, along with any maps or phone numbers you need. Let people know that they won’t be able to text, tweet, email, use Facebook, or web chat during that time. Then enjoy — be present and focused on whatever you do — spend time with your kids, go for a hike, read a book. You’ll likely find the day is longer and when you power back on, you’ll feel recharged.

– Courtesy The Harvard Business Review

Your Start Up Not Performing As Well As You Planned? Focus On Success!

14 Jun

Working for yourself isn’t easy.  It takes a lot of perseverance and self talk to keep going and keep believing in yourself and your company.  It is also important to put aside time at planned intervals to reflect on where you’re at and determine what if anything needs tweaking.  I therefore found this blog by Ellie Cachette to be inspirational as she recaps the various professional and personal challenges she faced since starting her company.  It’s a reminder to all entrepreneurs, that even when things aren’t going as well as you wish, “the greatest thing a founder can do, is make sure his start-up doesn’t die”….that is….. Focus On Success!

.What To Do When Your Start Up Doesn’t Fail, But Also Doesn’t Succeed

By Ellie Cachette, June 11 2013:

There were so many times our start-up almost failed, we joked it was a cockroach, a life form in its own right that, simply put, would never die.  There were times when we barely could pay our Rackspace bill, and one time I distinctly remember our blog being down because we forgot to pay that bill. There was also the time one of our investors cut our credit line in half, unexpectedly, right as we made a huge payment. And then the time our lead customer, two days before integration, committed suicide. Then the time a few weeks after that when our CTOs wife committed suicide.

There are so many things privately and publicly known about ConsumerBell that its nearly a miracle that we’ve made it where we are today. Any person close to us will say we have had no shortage of miracles and most startups that really make it far have similar stories; years where founders did contract work, or full teams were let go. We even moved my full apartment into the office hallway for a day while I was 24 hours between a lease, and experienced two hurricane blackouts in NYC and an earthquake that rocked our Park Ave office one summer.

Many of these things happened in our first year as a startup when our sole focus should be product. I remember after a trip to D.C, a water pipe exploded above our printers. We just went around the corner to a cafe. There’s always a wifi spot, a cup of coffee or an employees apartment to stakeout. ConsumerBell just would not die.

Similarly to a recently engaged couple and the way grandparents always ask, “When are you having kids?” there reaches a point where for a startup people are wondering, when you are going to IPO or raise the next round? Or have rocket ship growth? And sometimes it just never happens or even worse, sometimes like with Pandora or Tumblr it takes a while. There is this correlation between staying alive and rocketship growth. To get there the first part is staying alive and many other variables added to rocketship growth. Simply put just breath.

Yet at some point something changes: the founder gets bored, the company starts making money in a pivot that wasn’t part of the original vision or even funds run low but not low enough to justify shutting the doors – especially when there’s revenue involved. Sometimes a startup is well funded but just can’t seem to see a path of success like it thought and returns its money to investors, sometimes the market changes or the industry changes and now what was a “big” idea is only a feature but something need and so is true for the opposite when what was once a feature in time becomes a company.. Not every startup becomes a huge success like Facebook but not every startup fails either. There are plenty of startups in the middle, in purgatory of success waiting for the right VC or new CEO or market environment to change.

In the meantime what is a team or founder to do?

1. Sabbatical

From what I have heard, founders who take sabbaticals or vacations actually come back refreshed and with a new sense of balance. There’s a couple reasons for this: after massive sleep deprivation and zero separation between work and personal life, taking a step back often reminds a founder of the things that they want in their personal life and gives motivation to the work life and while in a lull this can upset investors or look like avoidance, its in almost every case helped the company and lets be honest, if a company is going to die it isn’t going to die in one week but be surprised at how much sleep a founder might need and you probably wouldn’t want many friends around. Stories of founders sleeping for days straight are not uncommon.

2. Reflect and Document

Having a lull or time for reflection can also be inspiring, its a good time to document all HR files, product road maps, organize digital assets, clean up email boxes and media content accounts like YouTube, upload missing content, re-share content on twitter. In many cases potential acquirers will be want to know many of these things like how many digital assets (files and images) to taxes and press lists. It never fails that when the acquisition opportunity arises founders are usually too busy with other things so doing it when possible is not only therapeutic but efficient. Also in the process you might find a gem or two of inspiration.

3. Help Other Startups

Dedicate a portion of time to help other startups in different phases. This will be refreshing to transfer knowledge and also help spread the word of what you are working on in a way that could spark new ideas or allies. When all seems lost helping others often reminds a founder of the world outside its own startup and can give perspective.

4. Do Something Different

One thing founders certainly give up is their personal lives and can albeit even forget what a personal life is making decision one sided. Take a class, do something random, spend a week with family somewhere far. Do something totally different and step out of the founders role.

5. Don’t shut down

airBnb had to sell cereal at one point to keep their company alive, in the early days of FedEx their CEO gambled his money at blackjack to win and make payroll. Evernote the night before closing its doors received a $500k investment from a user in Sweden and Blogger (which sold for rumors between $20MM and $50MM) to Google had to lay off every single employee before finally getting acquired. That founder, Evan Williams went off to start what is now Twitter today, so the greatest thing a founder can do when their startup isn’t failing is to make sure it doesn’t die. Timing is everything.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/what-to-do-when-your-startup-doesnt-fail-but-also-doesnt-suceed-2013-6#ixzz2WBzIJkw6

How To Moderate A Lively Panel Discussion

5 Jun

I recommend this blog by Scott Kirsner on how to moderate a lively panel discussion.   However, presentations do work for some panelists and under certain circumstances such as when the panel is addressing a complex or poorly understood topic.

panel

How To Moderate a Panel Like a Pro

by Scott Kirsner  |   1:00 PM May 30, 2013

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/05/how_to_moderate_a_panel_like_a.html?referral=00563&cm_mmc=email-_-newsletter-_-daily_alert-_-alert_date&utm_source=newsletter_daily_alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=alert_date

The panel discussion was invented by someone who liked to sit three feet above his audience, talk with five of his closest friends for an hour, and barely acknowledge that there are 100 other people in the room, usually sitting in uncomfortable chairs.

But until the panel discussion disappears from the agendas of conferences and networking events, you may be asked to moderate one. Lucky for you, the bar is very, very low. If you can find a way to deliver a few fleeting moments of entertainment or interaction, you will be regarded as a rock star. If you can toss in some insight and controversy, they may erect a statue of you at the convention center.

I’ve moderated more than 300 panel discussions at events like the Consumer Electronics Show, the Sundance Film Festival, and various Harvard Business School conferences. Here are a dozen guidelines to put you on the right track when you’re tapped to run a panel.

Don’t prep with your panelists. Many moderators imagine they are running a Congressional hearing, not a panel discussion. They hold pre-panel conference calls, and write lengthy e-mails back and forth hashing out the terrain each speaker intends to cover. Avoid that as much as possible. Your goal is to be a group of smart, funny people on-stage having a dynamic conversation. That doesn’t mean that you as a moderator shouldn’t research your panelists and their work so that you can come up with appropriate questions. My advice is to send your panelists a single pre-event e-mail, listing three questions you plan to open with, and asking them if there are any other issues they think are important to cover. At the event, socialize with your panelists and make sure everyone has met one another, but resist the urge to talk about what you’re going to talk about on-stage.

Sit with your panelists. It’s just not possible to run a good panel discussion by standing at the podium. Sit in the middle of your panelists, so you can easily make eye contact, and if needed, tap someone long-winded on the elbow and say, “Janet, those are fascinating examples, but can we get Bill’s take on this topic?”

Moderators can’t also be panelists. Just as an orchestra conductor would never whip out his viola to play a solo, your job is to encourage your panelists to give great performances. Once you start chiming in or rebutting panelists, the balance gets thrown off. You just can’t play both roles at once. (And just as a conductor would, you also need to be firm about not letting certain panelists dominate the discussion.)

No slides. Letting panelists show slides is almost certain death, and it radically reduces the role of the moderator. Exceptions: If panelists are talking about a visual topic, like retail store design, you can let each speaker bring the same number of example photos to show. If speakers are movie directors, letting everyone show a clip from their latest film, of a similar length, is fine. But letting speakers bring PowerPoints will usually gobble up your time and prevent any kind of interesting interactions from happening.

State your objective at the outset. Don’t write a long-winded introduction. Two sentences will do. Why is this topic important now, and what do you hope to accomplish within the next hour. “With all of the publicity around Google Glass, everyone is thinking about wearable computing. Our objective with our time today is to share some of the thinking about how wearable displays like Glass will change the way we interact with others.”

Never let the panelists introduce themselves. That’s the moderator’s job. Be as brief as you can, especially if the audience is holding a program guide with lengthier bios in it. Three lines is the absolute longest anyone’s introduction should be. No one cares where each panelist worked 27 years ago, or how you first met them.

Involve the audience within the first five minutes. This lets your audience know that you’re aware of them, and it keeps your panelists from acting as if they’re in a bubble. You can ask a few people to introduce themselves just by name, title, and company, to get a sense for who is in the audience. I sometimes ask audience members to applaud or boo in response to questions. “Have you ever had a great idea for improving a process at your company? Please applaud.” “OK, now, have you ever found it difficult to get the necessary resources or support to actually improve the process? Please boo.” It livens up the room.

Don’t go down the line every time. By the time the fifth panelist is answering the same question as four other people have answered, the odds they will contribute something interesting have dropped almost to zero. When you ask a question, two answers is plenty, unless a third person is dying to jump in. Instead, ask a related question, ask for a concrete example, or simply shift gears and ask your other panelists about something else.

Invite panelists to ask each other questions. When you send out your pre-panel email, or when you chat with panelists on-site, ask them to think of one question they’d like to ask their fellow panelists. Often, these questions are sharper or more provocative than the questions on your list — and panelists are often more candid when one of their peers asks them a question, as opposed to the “official moderator.”

High Altitude+Specifics+Audience. As you plan out what you want to do with your time, divide it into three roughly equal categories. “High altitude” are those questions where you give your panelists a chance to discuss what is happening in the world at a 30,000-foot level. Specifics are where you invite them to share funny anecdotes, war stories, or concrete examples — things that the audience can really relate to. Audience means not just leaving time for Q&A, but also coming up with creative ways to bring the audience into your conversation. After you’ve asked panelists about the worst hire they ever made, for instance, you might ask people in the audience to share their stories. If you have a panel of venture capitalists and an audience of entrepreneurs, try asking a few bold entrepreneurs to deliver their elevator pitches and get the VCs to suggest ways to improve it.

Don’t ask panelists for “one final thought.” The lamest way to conclude a panel is by giving each panelist an opportunity for a concluding oration. Typically, they’ll recap what they’ve already said, or look to their notes and cough up some uninteresting musing they didn’t have time to get to (usually for good reason.) Use the time instead for a last question from the audience, or for something forward-looking. “What important new trend will we be talking about at next year’s conference?” “What’s your counter-intuitive, half-crazy prediction about the next five years in our industry?”

You are an airline pilot. It’s your job to land this baby on time. Once you push past your scheduled end-time, audience members will get restless, and you’ll start getting dirty looks from the conference organizer. If you don’t have anyone in the room to flash you the “five minutes left” sign, set your mobile phone to vibrate in your pocket when the end is approaching.

If you attend enough panel discussions, you already know that the worst ones feel like a plodding public access TV show — and you can’t switch the channel. The best feel like a fast-paced, unpredictable conversation between smart people on stage and smart people in the audience. Keep that goal in mind, and you’ll soon be modeling for that heroic statue.

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Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column and blog for the Boston Globe, and is a founder of several conferences, including the Nantucket Conference on Entrepreneurship & Innovation. He’s a regular speaker (and panel moderator) at events related to startups and corporate innovation. Scott is also co-founder and editor ofInnovationLeader.com, an information service for corporate innovation officers.

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