This is so good, I had to share. A big shout out to Leo Babauta
The Little Handbook for Getting Stuff Done
There’s a ton to be gained by getting good at Getting Stuff Done (GSD).
While I don’t think that productivity and efficiency is the answer to life, nor should it be your only focus … there are still a ton of benefits from Getting Stuff Done. A ton.
Some of the benefits:
You start accomplishing more
You begin to believe in yourself more
You waste less time procrastinating and distracting yourself
You become more trustable — when you tell people you’re going to get stuff done, they believe you
You become more hirable, as people love to hire someone who gets stuff done
You are less held back by this dimension of your life, which will allow you to go deeper in other areas — understanding what’s important, being curious, playing, learning, making deep connections with people, retraining old mental patterns that are getting in the way, and more
You start earning more
You might be able to found a successful startup or create a great organization
You might be able to spread your ideas further, as you prove yourself worthy of listening to (because you’ve accomplished something) and as you get the things done that need to be done to spread ideas, like writing a book or blog or giving a talk
And on and on. You get the benefits — you just want to know how to get better at Getting Stuff Done.
This is the guide for you. First we’ll look at the stuff that gets in the way. Then the skills you need to get good at to Get Stuff Done. Then how to get good at Getting Stuff Done.
Stuff That Gets in the Way
Executing is not difficult, if there are no obstacles. Just like moving great distances isn’t difficult if you don’t have gravity or things in the way.
So let’s look at the obstacles, before we look at how to get good at the skills.
These are the most common obstacles to Getting Stuff Done (with some recommended fixes):
Habit of putting off starting, because it’s uncomfortable. This is procrastination — you putt off starting a task because it’s hard or you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about the task. The fix is to make the start as small as possible, create conditions that make you more likely to start, and then to practice starting over and over until you get good.
The switching habit. Maybe you get started, but then constantly switch to other tasks. This is for the same reasons as procrastination — discomfort and uncertainty make you want to do something else, so you go to an easier task or your favorite distractions. Switching, switching, switching, leads to a lack of focus and constant busyness. The fix: create focus sessions, where you practice staying focused on one task for a short period of time (10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc.) until you get better at staying, at least for a little while.
Perfectionism. You put off starting (or finishing) because conditions aren’t perfect, or the work isn’t perfect. For example, you want to start a blog but can’t until you find the perfect platform, perfect theme, perfect schedule, and have all the time you want, a list of great ideas, and a perfect understanding of how to be a great blogger. Good luck with that! Or you write a blog post or article but don’t publish it because it’s not perfect yet (hint: you’re just experiencing uncertainty). The fix: commit to starting imperfectly, just starting even if things are messy, creating that shitty first draft, and cleaning things up later. You might need some accountability to commit to this.
Other people. Other people frustrate you, holding things up with their delays, making things more complicated, complaining, messing things up, being irritating. In truth, it can be hard to get things done when you rely on other people. But this is often a rationalization. The fix: take complete responsibility for your part, get good at doing your part, and step into a bigger leadership role where you help the whole team succeed, stretching yourself to be positive and whole-hearted with other people despite their shortcomings.
Distractions & interruptions. You get pulled away by constant distractions and interruptions. Some of those are under your control, others aren’t. The fix: create focus sessions of distraction-free time, where you turn off the Internet or get a site blocker and commit to just focusing on one thing for a short while. Talk to others about interruptions during this time (tell them if you have headphones on, they shouldn’t interrupt you). Turn off notifications during this time (it might only be for 20 minutes at a time). Finally, practice dealing with interruptions (that you can’t control) by letting go of what you were doing, turning mindfully and gratefully to the person interrupting you and giving them your full attention, then returning to your task and giving it your full attention again. This takes practice.
Being tired. You’re tired, hungry, low on energy, frustrated, lonely. These kinds of difficulties can make it hard to focus and get things done. Fix: Recognize when you’re in one of these states, and do what you need to get recharged (a short nap, walk, or meditation might help). Or do tasks that don’t require great energy and focus (answering emails, doing routine admin tasks, etc.). If it’s a long-term problem, fix your sleep and eating.
Fear, uncertainty, feeling overwhelmed & self-doubt. Lying at the heart of most of the obstacles above are these mental conditions — fear and uncertainty, which are really the same thing. Fix: Getting good at staying in fear and uncertainty without needing to shut down, run, avoid, get in control or lash out (the usual responses), is a key skill. More on this below.
This might feel like an overwhelming list of obstacles. But the fixes are relatively simple, and I’ll talk more about how to put together a simple program for getting good at overcoming these obstacles, and getting good at Getting Stuff Done in the process.
First, let’s look more at the skills you want to get better at.
10 Skills to Get Good At
With our list of obstacles, we started to come up with some fixes … and they mostly have to do with skills that we want to get better at. Let’s look at those here:
Picking one important thing (prioritization). If you focus on important tasks a majority of the time, you’ll be getting stuff done. If you focus on getting the small stuff done but not the big stuff, or switch between tasks all the time, you’ll be less effective. It’s useful to pick one important thing to focus on at a time, learning over time what tasks and projects are of higher value to you than others. Is answering this email more important than writing that article? What would move the needle more, for your career, your team, your happiness and health?
Starting. Procrastination is one of the most common obstacles to Getting Stuff Done … so if we get good at starting, we’ll have conquered a huge obstacle. Starting is best done by focusing on the smallest first step, and practicing just launching into that. When I wanted to form the habit of running, I focused on just getting my shoes on and getting out the door. An art teacher I know tells students to just focus on getting the pencil to paper. Meditation teachers say to just get your butt on the cushion. Pick the tiniest first step, and launch into it.
Focus sessions. Switching to other things is also very common, so I’ve found huge value in focus sessions (also called the Pomodoro method by some). Basically, you pick a short interval (10 minutes, 15, 20, or 25) and practice focusing on one task during that session, until the timer goes off. Then take a break, and try another focus session. I recommend just doing a couple focus sessions a day for a week, and expand from there.
Managing task list. Choosing a todo program, finding the perfect system for it, and managing all your tasks and projects … it can be overwhelming. I know a lot of people who don’t even bother. But it’s a great skill for keeping yourself focused and Getting Stuff Done, and if you keep it simple, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I recommend picking just a simple todo program (lately I’ve been using Todoist, but I switch every now and then) and not overthinking it. The real skill is throwing all your tasks into your todo program (into the Inbox), and every day just picking a few tasks to focus on — I recommend 3 important tasks and 3 smaller ones per day. Your exact number will vary on how long you work, how hard the tasks are, how fast you are, etc. Once you have your tasks picked for the day, simply pick the first one and do a focus session with that task. It might take several focus sessions to get a task done.
Shitty first draft. Perfectionism gets in the way of Getting Stuff Done. So adopt the attitude of the Shitty First Draft, not worrying about perfection but just getting it out. Then go back and revise. But don’t overthink it, just focus on doing.
Being in uncertainty. There will be fear, uncertainty and discomfort in all of your work, and it’s a great skill to learn to be in uncertainty without running, avoiding, complaining, lashing out, hiding. The practice is to notice when you’re in uncertainty, when you’re feeling insecurity … and to just stop and be with it. Notice how it feels, physically, and be present with the feeling. Be gentle with the feeling, even friendly with it. Notice that you’re OK even when you’re in uncertainty and discomfort, and find gratitude for being in this moment. Love it just as it is, even with the feeling of insecurity. It takes practice!
Stepping back into the big picture. It’s one thing to be deeply focused on a task, but it’s another to step back and taking a look at the overall picture. I advocate doing that at the beginning and end of each day (a morning planning session and a brief evening review of your day) but also checking in during the day with how things are going and how you might need to adjust your plan and refocus yourself. We all get distracted, interrupted, waylaid by unforeseen difficulties. And those are all fine, if we can refocus ourselves as needed.
Taking full responsibility & leadership. This would be more of an advanced practice, but taking full responsibility means not blaming others for your difficulties in getting things done. Recognizing the obstacles but taking responsibility for finding a way, or accepting what needs to be accepted, or recognizing your part in the dynamic you’ve created. Taking leadership is taking responsibility for creating a better dynamic, creating structure if needed, even if you are the subordinate or not the official leader of the team.
Communicating. Another advanced skill — this is about communicating clearly and honestly, so that everyone is clear on responsibilities and boundaries and consequences of not honoring those responsibilities and boundaries. This kind of communication is leadership and structure, that helps everyone function better.
Creating structure. I do not advocate rigid structure and overplanning. It’s not conducive to Getting Stuff Done, and rigidly planned days are just a fantasy anyway. Instead, having a minimal structure is good: how will you start your day so that you’ll work on the important stuff? How will you do your focus sessions so you won’t be too distracted? How will you review your day so that you’ll learn from what happened? How will you create accountability? When will you get email done, and have meetings? Some simple answers to these kinds of questions helps you create structure. But don’t worry about getting structure perfect — if you have reviews, you can adjust and get better at creating structure over time.
It might feel overwhelming that there are 10 skills on this list — but you don’t have to get good at all of them at the same time. I would focus on the first four first, then expand slowly to practicing the others.
A Simple Program to Get Good at GSD
With all of the above in mind, let’s simplify things and create a five-step program for getting good at Getting Things Done:
Create a daily practice structure. Have a simple plan for practicing Getting Things Done — 1) a morning prioritization session; 2) a couple of daily focus sessions; 3) uncertainty meditation when you’re feeling fear, doubt, uncertainty and discomfort; and 4) a review at the end of the day to iterate and improve. Give this plan to someone else, and commit to reporting to them every day for a week. Then commit to updating them weekly after that, telling them your successes, obstacles and how you’ll adjust for the coming week. This daily structure plus accountability will help you get better over the coming weeks.
A morning task list session. This is part of your daily practice structure mentioned above, as are all of the items below. Basically, just spend 5-10 minutes going over your task list, and picking the tasks you want to focus on today. Keep it short, so you aren’t tempted to skip it. Look over what tasks are on your list, and move 3 important tasks and 3 admin tasks to your Today list (or whatever number works for you). This is the time to check your calendar to see if there are any appointments to account for. Basically, it’s a short planning and prioritization session, so you know what to focus on for today. Related skill: add things to your task list and calendar when you think of them!
Focus sessions. Use this to tackle the items on your Today list. Three important tasks on your today list? Pick the first one first (no putting it off!), and do a focus session with it. It might be a tough task, so just do 10-20 minutes of the task, as tiny a start as you can. In this way, you’re practicing starting and staying focused. Take a break when your timer goes off (after 15 minutes, let’s say), walk around, stretch. Then do another focus session, finishing the task if you can, or moving on to the next one if you are done with the first task. You can do the same kind of thing for less important tasks — a focus session for processing your email inbox or paying bills, for example.
Uncertainty meditation. This is a bit trickier to remember, but I believe you can do it if you put a visual reminder around you (like a little note to yourself) … basically, any time you’re feeling like shutting down, procrastinating, distracting yourself, etc. … notice that you’re feeling uncertainty. Then pause and do a meditation for just a few moments: drop your awareness into your body, notice the physical feelings of the uncertainty, open your heart to feeling it, notice that you’re OK in the middle of uncertainty, and stay with it with gentleness and friendliness for just a little longer. This kind of practice will transform your relationship with uncertainty, fear and discomfort — you won’t get rid of them (that’s not the goal), but will train yourself to be OK in the middle of them, without needing to run, avoid, shut down, control, exit or complain. That’s huge, and worth a little practice
Review: To iterate & improve. Each day, take 10 minutes to review how your day went. How did you do with your structure? Did you do your morning task list session? Your focus sessions? Your uncertainty meditation? Make a few notes, about what victories you had, what got in the way, how you can adjust going forward. If you have an accountability partner, send them a few lines with that review. Doing a short weekly review is a good idea too. These reviews serve as a way to understand what works for you and what patterns get in the way, and to adjust so that you’re constantly getting better and better over time.
Expand: Over time, the focus sessions, uncertainty meditation and other structure will get easier. Then try practicing some of the other skills above, including embracing the Shitty First Draft, taking full responsibility, working and communicating open-heartedly with others, improving your structure as needed.
OK! This little handbook, if put into practice, will take you a long way to getting better at Getting Stuff Done. But you have to put it into practice. Get an accountability partner so you don’t neglect the practice.
Take action. Enjoy the process. Be mindful in the middle of the chaos of your day. And don’t forget to appreciate the miracle of the day you’ve been given.
Growing Fast? Here's What's Likely To Kill Your Company
If your goal is to grow your business fast, you need a positive cash flow cycle or the ability to raise money at a feverish pace. Anything less and you will quickly grow yourself out of business. A positive cash flow cycle simply means you get paid before you have to pay others. A negative cash flow cycle is the direct opposite: you have pay out before your money comes in. A lifestyle business with good margins can often get away with a negative cash flow cycle, but a growth-oriented business can’t, and it will quickly grow itself bankrupt.
Growing Yourself Bankrupt
To illustrate, take a look at the fatal decision made by Shelley Rogers, who decided to scale a business with a negative cash flow cycle. Rogers started Admincomm Warehousing to help companies recycle their old technology. Rogers purchased old phone systems and computer monitors for pennies on the dollar and sold them to recyclers who dismantled the technology down to its raw materials and sold off the base metals. In the beginning, Rogers had a positive cash flow cycle. Admincomm would secure the rights to a lot of old gear and invite a group of Chinese recyclers to fly to Calgary to bid on the equipment. If they liked what they saw, the recyclers would be asked to pay in full before they flew home. Then Rogers would organize a shipping container to send the materials to China and pay her suppliers 30 to 60 days later. In a world hungry for resources, the business model worked and Rogers built a nice lifestyle company with fat margins. That’s when she became aware of the environmental impact of the companies she was selling to as they poisoned the air in the developing world burning the plastic covers off computer gear to get at the base metals it contained. Rogers decided to scale up her operation and start recycling the equipment in her home country of Canada, where she could take advantage of a government program that would send her a check if she could prove she had recycled the equipment domestically. Her new model required an investment in an expensive recycling machine and the adoption of a new cash model. She now had to buy the gear, recycle the materials and then wait to get her money from the government. The faster she grew, the less cash she had. Eventually, the business failed.
Rogers Rises From The Ashes With A Positive Cash Flow Model
Rogers learned from the experience and built a new company in the same industry called TopFlight Assets Services. Instead of acquiring old technology, she sold much of it on consignment, allowing her to save cash. Rogers grew TopFlight into a successful enterprise, which she sold in 2013 for six times Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) to CSI Leasing, one of the largest equipment leasing companies in the world. Rogers got a great multiple for her business in part because of her focus on cash flow. Many owner think cash flow means their profits on a Profit & Loss Statement. While profit is important, acquirers also care deeply about cash flow—the money your business makes (or needs) to run. The reason is simple: when an acquirer buys your business, they will likely need to finance it. If your business needs constant infusions of cash, an acquirer will have to commit more money to your business. Since investors are all about getting a return on their money, the more they have to invest in your business, the higher the return they expect, forcing them to reduce the original price they pay you.
So, whether your goal is to scale or sell for a premium (or both), having a positive cash flow cycle is a prerequisite.
How To Lure A Giant Like Facebook Into Buying Your Company
A great business is bought, not sold, so, if you look too eager to sell your business, you’ll be negotiating on the back foot and look desperate—a recipe for a bad exit.
But, what if you really want to sell? Maybe you’ve got a new idea for a business you want to start or your health is suffering. Then what?
As with many things in life, the secret may be a simple tweak in your vocabulary. Instead of approaching an acquirer to see if they would be interested in buying your business, approach the same company with an offer to partner with them.
Entering into a partnership discussion with a would-be acquirer is a great way for them to discover your strategic assets, because most partnership discussions start with a summary of each company’s strengths and future objectives. As you reveal your aspirations to one another, a savvy buyer will often realize there is more to be gained from simply buying your business than partnering with it.
Facebook Buys Ozlo
For example, look at how Charles Jolley played the sale of Ozlo, the company he created to make a better digital assistant. The market for digital assistants is booming. Apple has Siri, Amazon has Alexa and the Google Home device now has Google Assistant built right in.
Jolley started Ozlo with the vision of building a better digital assistant. By 2016, he believed Ozlo had technology superior to that of Apple, Amazon or Google. Realizing his technology needed a big company to distribute it, he started to think about potential acquirers. He developed a long list, but instead of approaching them to buy Ozlo, he suggested they consider partnering with him to distribute Ozlo.
He met with many of the brand-name technology companies in Silicon Valley, including Facebook, which wanted a better digital assistant embedded within its messaging platform. They took a meeting with Jolley under the guise of a potential partnership, but the conversation quickly moved from “partnering with” to “acquiring” Ozlo.
Jolley then approached his other potential partners indicating his conversations with Facebook had moved in a different direction and that he would be entering acquisition talks with Facebook. Hearing Facebook wanted the technology for themselves, some of Jolley’s other potential “partners” also joined the bidding war to acquire Ozlo.
After a competitive process, Facebook offered Jolley a deal he couldn’t refuse, and they closed on a deal in July 2017. Jolley got the deal he wanted in part because he was negotiating from the position of a strong potential partner, rather than a desperate owner just looking to sell.
Are you setting yourself up so you can negotiate from a position of strength?
How do you avoid not being disappointed with the money you make from the sale of your company?
Perhaps you’ve heard that companies like yours trade using an industry rule of thumb or that companies of your size sell within a specific range, and you want to get at least what your peers have received.
While these metrics can be useful for tax planning or working out a messy divorce, they may not be the best ways to value your company.
The Only Valuation Technique That Really Matters
In reality, the only valuation technique that will ensure you are happy with your exit is for you to place your own value on your business. What’s it worth to you to keep it? What is all your sweat equity worth? Only when you’re clear on that will you ensure your satisfaction with the sale of your business.
Take Hank Goddard as an example. He started a software company called Mainspring Healthcare Solutions back in 2007. They provided a way for hospitals to keep track of their equipment and evolved into a slick application that hospital workers used to order supplies.
Goddard and his partner started the business by asking some friends and family to invest. The business grew, but there were challenges along the way: Goddard had to fire his entire management team in the early days, product issues needed to be solved and operational issues needed to be resolved.
At times, it was a grind, so when it came time to sell in 2016, Goddard reasoned that he had invested more than half of his career in Mainspring and he wanted to get paid for his life’s work. He also wanted to ensure his original investors got a decent return on their money.
He was approached by Accruent, a company in the same industry, who made Goddard and his partners an offer of one times revenue. Accruent had recently acquired one of Goddard’s competitors for a similar value, so presumably thought this was a fair offer.
Goddard brushed it off as completely unworkable. Goddard had decided he wanted five times revenue for his business. Even for a growing software company, five times revenue was a stretch, but Goddard stuck to his guns. That’s what it was worth to him to sell.
A year after they first approached Goddard, Accruent came back with an offer of two times revenue and, again, Goddard demurred.
Mainspring had developed a new application that was quickly gaining traction and he knew how hard it was to sell to the hospitals he already counted as customers.
He told Accruent his number was five times revenue in cash.
Eventually Goddard got his number.
Being clear on what your number is before going into a negotiation to sell your business can be helpful when emotions start to take over. Rather than rely on industry benchmarks, the best way to ensure you’re not disappointed with the sale of your business is to decide up front what it’s worth to you.
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