A few months back, I surveyed my audience to figure out their biggest challenge.

The survey choices included:

  1. not enough time
  2. not enough money
  3. not enough connections
  4. I don't know how to sell more of X
  5. I don't know what to prioritize
  6. all of the above
  7. other

As I examined the results, I found the most interesting thing below the surface...

What I mean is this:

If you look at the results, you'll find that more than 60% of respondents struggle with how to best use their time.

survey results

Naturally, "not enough time" is pretty clearly a time-related issue...

But "I don't know what to prioritize" is also about time; prioritization is about where you and I ought to spend that finite (and most important) resource called time, so that we can create the biggest impact in the least amount of energy.

And of course, if you include "all of the above" - in a not ironic way, this is also a time-management issue. After all, if everything is a challenge, it most likely means you don't know where to spend your resources, the most important being time.

Why You Should Track Your Time

So the question is this:

Is there something you and I can do to improve our time-management, to make sure we spend time on the RIGHT things (not on wasteful, energy-draining, trivial tasks), and to make sure we're optimizing our life and business through better use of our time?

I  believe there is.

And it starts with tracking your time, analyzing it, and then making educated decisions on how to use your time.

In this blog post, I want to share 3 reasons why you should track your time, some of the tools I use to track time, and some of my personal "best practices" when it comes to both time tracking and time-management.

Ready?

Let's do it:

#1. Time tracking is the best way to find out if (and how) you’re wasting time

How much time do you spend on social media every day?

How about on your favorite news or sports sites?

Or what about reading that guilty-pleasure blog or listing site?

Chances are: more time than you realize.

Of course, there’s no way to know unless you are actively tracking your time.

When you track your time, especially if you’re diligent about tracking every time you shift tasks (even if its to social media, that guilty pleasure blog, etc.), you’ll recognize how much time you spend on non-essential activities.

And like G.I. Joe says, knowing is half the battle...because then you can find ways to reduce time-wasting activities.

Last October, I decided to see where I was wasting time, and started tracking my time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a month. What I found was that I spent at least an hour a day on news and blog sites during my work day. Not the worst thing in the world...except that this 1 hour was split up over multiple occasions. This meant I was switching tasks more frequently, and the more frequently you shift tasks, the longer everything takes.

Here’s a nifty graph I made to demonstrate this point visually:

distraction and productivity

When I stopped to do the detailed analysis, I found that I wasted about 1.5 - 2 hours a day perusing my favorite news outlets and blogs - not because I was actively on them for that long, but because distraction produces a ripple effect.

Once I started tracking my time, I became cognizant of the time I was misusing, which encouraged me to remove this waste (by creating social media newsfeed blockers, website blockers, and more).

#2. Tracking your time will allow you to determine the actual ROI of your work

Here’s a hypothetical: which project is more profitable for you:

Project A that generated $20,000 in revenue, or Project B that generated $30,000 in revenue?

The answer?

It’s a trick question.

You don’t know unless you know how much time and money (and time is money, amiright?) was invested into each project to generate that amount of money.

For example, this past year, I worked on a project (we’ll call it Project X) that generated $15,541.65 in revenue.

A few months later, I worked on a project (we’ll call it Project Z) that generated $3,000.00 in revenue.

After project-specific expenses (wages of employees based on their hourly-equivalent salary), Project X generated about $8,820 in profit. Not bad.

(note: these are rough numbers, and technically that’s not profit because I have other overhead business expenses, but for illustration purposes, let’s go with it).

Using the same formula as above, Project Z generated about $1,950 in profit.

$8,820 in profit is better than $1,950 in profit, right?

time tracking - revenue on project

If you said “trick question” - you’re catching on.

Because Project X cost so much to deliver, it actually had a LOWER return on investment than Project Z.

Here’s what it looks like when I break it down:

everhour - project x

Versus:

everhour - project z

Using Investopedia’s formula for calculating ROI (gain from investment - cost of investment / cost of investment), it’s pretty clear that while Project Z didn’t generate as much profit as Project X, because I was also able to invest less to produce that profit, Project Z has a better overall ROI.

Here's another way to look at it:

According to a 2015 CNN Money article, the average full-time adult employee in the U.S. works 47 hours per week.

So let's say you work 47 hours every week for a year with no vacation, that would be 2,444 hours per year.

If you filled all 2,444 hours with projects like Project X, you would make $122,811.00.

Not bad...

If you filled all 2,444 hours with projects like Project Z, you would make $257,427.00.

Much better.

In this context, taking on more “Project Z’s” will produce literally DOUBLE the profit in a full year.

time tracking - yearly revenue

By tracking your time, and associating a dollar amount to each hour you work, you’re better able to figure out the true return on investment for the work you do.

#3. Tracking time will increase focus, attention, and performance (personally, and in your business)

In the 1920's and 1930's, Elton Mayo conducted a series of experiments at Western Electric's factory at Hawthorne just outside of Chicago. The purpose of the studies was to determine workplace productivity - what aided and contributed to it, and what hurt productivity.

For example, Mayo wanted to find out if things like a certain amount of light in the work-space increased or decreased productivity.

I won't go into details about the experiment, but suffice it to say, Mayo found that employees “[alter] their behavior when they are aware that an observer is present.”

Most of us would probably find that to be common sense...

Here's the kicker, though: actual changes to the environment were negligible when it came to productivity; what mattered was that the employees were being observed and engaged about their performance.

In other words: the best way to increase productivity has little to do with environmental changes (like open office space, or whatever), and much more to do with being observed and engaged about productivity.

This later became known as The Hawthorne Effect.

You can read more about the study here: http://www.economist.com/node/12510632

So let me make a non-scientific reach here:

Whether you're in a remote team, or working by yourself, it's tough to create an atmosphere of observation and engagement.

That's why I love time tracking: tracking your time is a way to put The Hawthorne Effect to work for you.

If you have your team track their time, then engage them about the best use of their time, I believe you can create a "virtual" environment that is similar to what Mayo perceived at Hawthorne in the 1920s.

Yes, this is anecdotal (so take with a grain of salt, please - and test for yourself), but I have found that I work better when I'm aware of how I'm spending my time, and I have seen my team improve their individual and collective productivity because this is something I do care about, and engage with them about (the last thing I want to do is waste people's time with low-value activities, and my team knows this).

Bottom line: tracking time can increase your personal (and business) productivity.

What Time Tracking Software Should I Use?

Okay, so you're sold on tracking your time, but what tool should you use to track your time?

Because there are a lot of tools and software for time tracking, I’m not going to cover them all.

My intention with this article is merely to share my experience with you based on what I have used (so please understand this is not exhuastive).

That's why I wan to highlight two of my favorites: Toggl and Everhour.

Toggl

Toggl is time tracking software that allows you to easily track and report time through their website, desktop and mobile apps. Toggl is clean and simple to use, which is why I’ve been using it for the past few years to track my time.

Here are some of the benefits of using Toggl:

  1. The free version is robust. There are lots of good reasons to pay for Toggl Pro, but it’s nice that you can use the software for free and it’s not so limited as to be useless.
  2. Project and task creation is intuitive. You are able to create projects in Toggl which allow you to label and sort your time tracking entries. In addition to the overall project, you can also add description of the particular task you were working on.
  3. Creating reports is simple, and you can download your reports as a CSV files for further analysis.
  4. Team time tracking is relatively simple. You can examine total time spent on a project (even across your whole team) to help you identify ROI.

However, for me, there is one big downside to Toggl: it doesn’t integrate with Basecamp 3 (which is what my team and I use for project management).

Seems minor, but if your time tracking software is not integrated with your project management tool of choice (whatever you use to create and assign tasks), then the best you can do is attempt to mimic your time in something like Toggl.

Not only does this take more time to track (thus reducing the main benefit of time tracking in the first place - which is to save you time in the long run), but the data can become less detailed and less accurate.

In the end, this affects how well you can optimize your time, thus limiting the usefulness of time-tracking.

That’s when I stumbled across Everhour...

Everhour

Everhour is a powerful tool for time tracking. It integrates with project management and CRM tools such as Basecamp 3 (woohoo!), Asana, Trello, and more.

Like Toggl, Everhour’s software allows you to create tasks, track time, run reports, etc. But thanks to the integration with Basecamp 3, every single task in my Basecamp has a time-tracking button right next to it.

Here's what this looks like inside Basecamp 3:

everhour - time tracking - basecamp3
Example of Everhour and Basecamp 3 time tracking integration

I can then click that button as I start work on a specific task, and Everhour will automatically populate it’s reporting with that task, the project, and current and accrued time on the task.

Here's what this looks like inside Everhour:

everhour - time tracking
Time tracking inside Everhour

You wouldn't think this is a game changer, but for me, it feels like it.

Here are the two major reasons I like Everhour;

  1. You can save more of your time (by wasting less time tracking in separate software). Because Everhour integrates directly with Basecamp 3, I save time by not having to duplicate or create new tasks in a separate program...and that also means I don’t have to switch between software / screens / programs to start and stop tracking my time (less transition = less wasted time).
  2. Awesome reporting tools. Everhours reports are incredibly robust and flexible. I can track by team member, project, task, and more. I can easily create and save simple reports for quick reference (like an employee daily / weekly report to see what time was spent on which projects), and more elaborate reports for business development purposes (like which projects were actually worth our time and attention?).

Basically, in a click of a button, I can see how much every person on my team has spent on a project today, this week, this month, and all time:

everhour - time tracking - project - team report
Super handy way to see time spent on a per-project basis with Everhour

How to Get the Most Value Out of Time Tracking

Regardless what you use to track your time, here are some of the techniques I use to get the most from my time tracking effort.

#1. Determine your goal and work backward

What’s the goal of your time tracking? Is it to maximize your work hours? To get more done in less time? To make sure your team is working productively and at capacity?

Based on your goal, you may want to track and analyze your time tracking in a certain way.

For me, I want to know how much time my team and I are spending on projects, and specifically, what tasks take the most amount of time so I can figure out ways to streamline and improve our process.

This means I want a granular look at every task completed by every team member, every day, for every project. This also means I want to review this weekly, monthly, and quarterly to aggregate data to make educated decisions on where to improve our processes.

Here's an example of my Everhour at the project level,  but I can break each of these down into tasks lists and individual tasks, by team member:

everhour - reports - monthly team

If you're tracking your personal time to reduce time-wasting activities - you may not need something that tracks in as much detail as I shared above, and you may want to review your reports daily so you can incrementally improve your productivity and time-management every day.

Your goals should determine how you track and analyze your time.

#2. Create detailed (and useful) task lists and track time by task

Here's the deal: If you are too generic with your time tracking (e.g. "working on Project ABC"), it will be hard to use that data to improve your systems and processes.

Conversely, getting TOO detailed (e.g. "open up new tab" "type in URL" "scroll down sheet"), will kill productivity and is just as useless as the former.

The key is to create detailed, useful task lists, where you can see time spent on specific parts of a project, so you can identify bottlenecks.

For example, because Everhour integrates directly with Basecamp 3, I can associate a time to every task. That means I take time to make sure our task lists are clean, clear, and useful. And because I want to be able to improve our processes, I do get pretty detailed.

For example, I don't just create a task that says "networking" - instead I break it down by the person I'm connecting with, and further break it down by preparation (how long does it take me to research someone? how long does it take me to prepare for a call?), the connection (how long did the call take?), and post-call follow up (how long did it take me to follow up on any promises I made to them? and if they end up being a good fit for a project, how long did it take me to schedule and coordinate next steps).

Yes, it seems like a lot - but this granular detail has helped us to change the way we collect, input, and share data across the team.

And once people get in the rhythm of creating useful tasks and measuring them, it becomes second nature.

Oh, and if you want more detail on how to create detailed (and useful) task lists, you should read my book "Collaborate"

#3. Create and implement new strategies to reduce waste and increase productivity

What's the point of all this great time tracking and analysis if you don't change, modify, and improve what you're doing?

Like with everything in life: knowledge is step one, but then you need to make the hard choice to change.

Here are some things I've done to improve personal and business productivity, thanks in large part to time tracking:

  1. I have specific times for email (and use a tool called "Hide Inbox" to keep me out of email when I'm doing creative work or project specific work that does not require email)
  2. I installed "StayFocusd" and blocked websites I routinely visit out of habit
  3. I removed phone notifications (to reduce distraction)
  4. I plan out my week in advance with the major projects I'll be working on, giving myself chunks of time to work on them

And then there are many more that are systems and process related that I won't go into, but have had an amazing positively effect on my team and our work.

Making changes based on analysis isn't always easy, but it's definitely the most valuable thing you can do.

Your Turn

So I just shared some reasons you should track your time, and my software preferences for doing just that.

Let me know if the comments below whether you track (or don't track) your time, and why?

And I'd be particularly interested on how tracking your time has improved your personal or business productivity.

Share below!

I've been doing this "online stuff" for the last few years.

(full time since I left the Army at the end of 2013)

In that time, I've tested a LOT of things.

Some worked:

  1. I've written and published my own books
  2. Launched my own infoproducts
  3. Published other peoples books
  4. Created and sold my own ecourse
  5. Consulted on and launched 30 books and other products / services in the past two years, including a half dozen 6-figure launches

And some didn't work:

  1. I started a magazine...and then shut it down after two issues (too expensive to create, not enough growth early on to keep going).
  2. I started a "service as a service" to help people get exposure for their book. I called it Bookblitz, and it actually worked...but after a few weeks, I analyzed sales stat, onboarding stats, cost to produce results, etc., and it became clear that I could charge about 10x more with different packaging and positioning and not too much more work, so I shut it down.
  3. Collaborated on several websites that went well, but we didn't hit the growth we wanted, and either phased them out or shut them down.

In this time, I've learned many important lessons.

None more important than this:

When you cut through all the bull****, there are only two ways to make money online. You must either:

  1. Build an audience and sell to them
  2. Get access Other People's Audiences and sell to them

That's it.

Note: when I write "sell to them," I mean this in the broader sense of generating revenue from an audience; you could sell a product or service, or if you have a big enough audience, you could generate revenue through ads, affiliate marketing, and more.

Don't get caught up in the "sell to them" piece.

That point is trivial.

I've worked on dozens of projects, and the things we sell change.

Instead, I want you to focus on the AUDIENCE piece:

You either have an audience, or you need to pay for one.

That's it.

Simple, right?

Option 1: Build an Audience and Sell to Them

I've written about how to generate sales by building your own audience and selling to them before.

This option takes time, money, and energy.

A lot of people get into business, or writing, or art in the hope they can build an audience and live the 4-hour workweek lifestyle.

Unfortunately, most of these people throw in the towel 12 months later when they realize the online space is hyper competitive, and nothing comes easy (or free)...

While this course of action is neither free nor easy, it's by FAR the most lucrative investment you can make.

Regardless if you have an audience or not, you should build one (or grow the one you have); it will always be the safest play...

"But Tom, what if I have no audience, but I still want to make money!"

That sounds like a question someone as lazy as me would ask, so here you go:

Option 2: Get Access to Other People's Audiences and Sell to Them

The second option is to get access to Other People's Audiences, or what I call "The OPA Method."

The OPA Method generally requires more money (although there are ways to do it on a budget - see below), but less time and less energy (when done right).

There are several ways to access Other People's Audiences...

The OPA Method: How to Get Access to Other People's Audiences

In no particular order, here they are:

1. Pay.

I've never done this, so i don't believe I can give good advice about it. But I do know people who will pay to post sponsored content on a blog, or pay to sponsor a newsletter, or pay to get on a podcast or whatever.

I'm sure it works, I just don't know how to make it work best, so I'll leave that for you to explore on your own for now.

2. Barter.

Do you already have an audience? Tons of people with online platforms do email swaps with one another, which can help get your content in front of a new audience (and the person you're swapping with, it gets them a new audience as well).

This is especially effective for affiliate and joint venture webinars and workshops, and something I've helped coordinate for dozens of clients. This is the fastest, cheapest way to get access to Other People's Audiences, but it also means you HAVE an audience to begin with (hence, why you should build your audience even if you don't think you need to!)

Of course, if you don't HAVE an audience, then this won't work, so the next option might be up your alley...

3. Trade Your Time and Energy.

Tons of people with big names and giant platforms are looking for people to help them generate new business.

These same people are busy. Very busy. And they rarely have the time or energy to train up a new employee, especially on a speculative project...

That's where your creative hustle comes in.

If you can approach these influencers, creators, and business owners in a way that will help them generate new business (e.g. "Hey, I know you work on X. I can help you sell more of X by doing Y"), you can most likely work a deal; your sweat equity (time and energy) for a chance to access this persons list (to do a joint venture webinar, or guest post, etc.).

The key is being able to deliver on your promises, and making it painlessly easy for big name people and business to (1) notice you and (2) say yes to letting you work your magic.

(then, of course, you must work your magic)

I write about this in much more depth in my book Collaborate, but in a very general way, this is all about trading your time and energy for access to someone's very profitable name, brand, or audience.

4. Create and Host an Event.

This is both simple to understand, but difficult to get right.

What I'm proposing here is being what Seth Godin calls the "impressario."

Guess what?

It works.

Last March, I hosted The Authority Super Summit, and brought together 100 speakers in business, marketing, self-development, and more. I also brought together sponsors and resources, and I tied it all together in an amazing event that got rave reviews from event attendees and the speakers themselves.

I DID put money into this (I hired a writer, designer, note taker, and more), but the reality is anyone can do this on a tight budget, while still doing a professional job.

This is an advanced tactic, because, as a host, you ipso-facto become an AUTHORITY in your space, which is incredibly important if you want people to notice you.

At the end of this event, I was then able to connect again with many of our speakers, and coordinate to have them share or promote something with their audiences.

Awesome, right?

All I had to do was make sure anyone who works with me wins, and then I can win too.

Next Steps to Apply the OPA Method

There are more tactics when it comes to the OPA Method.

I share many of these tactics on this blog, in my book, and a bunch of the super secret stuff in my free newsletter (definitely subscribe if you like the juicy insider stuff).

If you find any of this useful, or have an idea that you've used that has worked, please share in the comments below!

Wow, so it's been a long time coming, but Collaborate: The Modern Playbook for Leading a Small Team to Create, Market, and Sell Digital Products Online is almost finished!

Today, I want to share some of my lessons learned (the good, the bad, and the ugly) from writing this book...

But first, a bit of background:

I started this project a year ago this month. I actually ran the Publishizer.com crowdfunding campaign in November and doubled my funding goal by early December, 2015. To be honest, with my small audience of about 1,500 subscribers, I wasn't sure I'd be able to hit my goal...but somehow we made it happen (thank you to all my early adopters - couldn't have done it without you).

The problem with crowdfunding campaigns, though...especially successful ones...is that you now have to make good on the promise.

While the campaign was hard work, writing and creating a book worth reading was the REAL hard work (young Tom would later come to find out).

And now, what started as just an idea about 360 days ago, has finally become a 352 page, beautifully designed and formatted book published by Insurgent Publishing, and is almost ready for hardcover printing and distribution.

Here's a mockup of what the hardcover will look like when it gets into your sweet little hands in January, 2016:

Collaborate Hardcover

To say I'm thrilled to see this come together is an understatement.

And I couldn't have done it without you, the reader (nor would I have wanted to).

As a way to say thanks, here are 7 of my biggest "lessons learned" from writing a business book:

7 Lessons Learned From Writing a Business Book

Lesson #1: If it's worthwhile, it will be hard to write

To be clear, Collaborate is not my first book and not my first business book, but it is the biggest, most bold book project I've undertaken , and dwarfs the other books I've written in terms of raw content and scope.

The idea for Collaborate has been incubating in my brain for the past 3 to 5 years. I wasn't ready to write this book for the longest time. Ironically, even after finishing it, I still don't feel ready to write it in a lot of ways...

Why?

Because I'm writing something that hasn't been written before...not in this way, not in this style, not for this purpose.

It's (generally) easy to regurgitate what others have said - it's much more difficult to develop a new framework by collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing hundreds of seemingly disparate ideas, perspectives, case studies, research, and more...and do so in a way that is easy to follow, to understand, to use, and to embrace.

Harder still to make sure that the majority of readers will actually benefit from the book (in other words, to avoid writing fluffy drivel...I HATE fluffy drivel...).

I pulled my hair out for the past twelve months writing and rewriting Collaborate.

I seriously felt like this:

I think I went through at least 5 unique drafts, totally different from one another. The current iteration, the one you will see in your hands in a few weeks, went through over a hundred iterations as the writing progressed.

Writing is hard.

Writing something worthwhile is even harder.

The pain of creation can seem insurmountable at times.

If you're not up to the task, scrap the idea before you start; it will save you a lot of time, money, and pain.

Alternatively, if you're committed to your idea - if you know you have to turn this thing into reality....and you have the grit and hustle to make sure it comes to fruition, then make sure you finish and ship. Anything else is half-stepping (and nobody likes a half-stepper).

Learning Lesson: doing anything worthwhile is hard; don't run from the discomfort, embrace it.

Lesson #2: Whatever your estimated timeline, quadruple it

Humans are terrible planners.

I know this from heuristics, but academic studies have confirmed it. From Wikipedia:

"The planning fallacy, first proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979, is a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias (underestimate the time needed). This phenomenon occurs regardless of the individual's knowledge that past tasks of a similar nature have taken longer to complete than generally planned."

The funny thing is, no matter how well I "know" myself, I still make huge timeline mistakes on just about any project that will take more than a week to create and ship.

I expected to finish Collaborate in 3 months.

I was all like:

But then I started writing...

And the project became much more complex than I expected...

And I had to do a lot more research, analysis, and work than I anticipated...

And I ended up not finishing Collaborate until November 2016, one year later, or 4x longer than expected.

At this point I'm all like:

...and I'm just happy, that, somehow magically, Collaborate is finished.

Why, knowing we are bad at planning, can we not mitigate this reality?

I honestly have no idea.

Neither does science.

Learning Lesson: The only thing I can say is that if you're starting a new project, use this rule of wrist:

Whatever your estimated time to complete a project, quadruple it.

Lesson #3: Nobody will write your book for you

I write, although I don't consider myself a writer.

And I'm certainly not one of those people who wears the word "writer" proudly like a piece of Chotchkie's flair.

That said, I recognize that writing is an important part of what I do - and an important part of what any notable entrepreneur, creator, or politician does.

I also learned pretty quick that, regardless of how much you might hate the writing process at times, nobody can write your book for you.

I learned this the hard way. Here are just a few of my missteps:

Mistake 1. I tried using old blog posts as the foundation for my new book. I really liked the idea of re-purposing useful, old (but still relevant) content. However, blog posts are blog posts and are not chapters in a book; they are written a different way with a different purpose. I ended up scrapping everything I pulled from my own blog and rewriting everything from scratch...this set me back several weeks.

Mistake 2. I looked for a co-author. I actually found a great one, a good friend of mine, actually, but after a few sessions, we parted ways because we realized the vision for the book didn't quite align. I could have looked for another, but after spending a couple weeks trying to make this work, I decided that the particular vision I have for this project is probably only one I can bring to light (no one else will see the things the way you do). While I love the idea of co-authoring a book, for something like this that had been incubating in my brain ball for so long, it was hard to work with anyone else on it (my mistake for not recognizing this from the start). In the end, I was left writing the book by myself.

Mistake 3. I hired someone to transcribe my interviews into working pieces of content. In other words, I didn't just want the pieces transcribed (well, I wanted that to begin with), I wanted them edited into a book-like style (with intros, properly quoting the interviewee in the context of the topic, etc.) so I could more easily place them into the context of the book. I put a lot of money toward this and what I got back were "articles" that were so incoherent with so many spelling and grammar mistakes that I literally laughed out loud. This was from a professional ghost writer, mind you. I tried to rectify the situation by asking for a rewrite...which I got, but the articles were still terrible...so I asked for a rewrite, and got back another terrible article, just with less spelling and grammar mistakes...

When I got back the third iteration of terrible, expensive articles, I was all like:

But regardless of how upset I was, there was still work to be done...and I was still forced to write everything myself.

Learning Lesson: If you're a picky writer (and you should be if you're writing something worthwhile...see Lesson #1 above), nobody can write your words for you. Suck it up and get to work.

Lesson #4: Create in the proper sequence

After my crowdfunding campaign I spent a lot of time organizing design notes, prepping my live webinars, outlining my course...

Which is all great, and still stuff I need to do, but these weren't CRITICAL PATH items, which means working on them in the beginning slowed my progress.

I would explain the critical path, but Seth Godin is much smarter than me:

"The longest string of dependent, non-compressible tasks is the critical path.

Every complicated project is the same. Many people working on many elements, some of which are dependent on others. I want a garden, which means I need grading, a bulldozer, a permit, seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, weeding, planting, maintenance and time for everything to grow. Do those steps in the wrong order, nothing happens. Try to grow corn in a week by giving it a bonus or threatening to fire it, nothing happens...

Critical path analysis works backward, looking at the calendar and success and at each step from the end to the start, determining what you'll be waiting on.

For example, in your mind's eye, the garden has a nice sign in front. The nice sign takes about a week to get made by the sign guy, and it depends on nothing. You can order the sign any time until a week before you need it. On the other hand, you can't plant until you grade and you can't grade until you get the delivery of soil and you can't get the delivery until you've got a permit from the local town.

Which means that if you're the person in charge of both the sign and the permit, do the permit first." - Seth Godin, Understanding critical path

Bottom line, whatever you are creating needs to be created in a particular sequence. That particular sequence should be developed by creating a critical path plan. That critical path plan should be developed at the start of your project by working backward from the ship date.

So...

If you're writing a book, stop looking at interior design inspiration before the book is written...

If you're building a startup, stop analyzing competitor logos before you have an MVP...

If you're building a membership site, stop reading about "scaling" until you have at least 10 customers...

I know all this,  but I broke my own rules (for the first couple months at least).

Eventually, though, I defined the critical path and stuck to it. And finally, I was all like:

Learning Lesson: the hardest work you can do as a leader (solo or collaboratively) is defining the critical path and sticking to it. It's the hardest because it's the most important. Don't skip it.

Lesson #5: The Enemy will try to make you fail

Seth Godin calls it the lizard brain; Steven Pressfield calls it resistance; Winnie the Pooh calls it Heffalumps...

I like to refer to those things that keep us from doing our great work as the Enemy.

The Enemy takes many shapes:

All the ups and downs of writing Collaborate came from the Enemy; it was never any external forces that kept me from writing faster or better - it was the Enemy trying to stop me from reaching, expanding, and stretching my boundaries.

Luckily, I took care of the Enemy every time I saw it rear its ugly head:

Lesson learned: if you're trying to do something new, different, outside your current status-quo or paradigm, the Enemy will sabatoge, prevent, and slow your progress every step of the way. Accept this. Keep moving anyway.

Lesson #6: Every book is a collaboration

I mentioned earlier that nobody will write your book for you. That's still true. But, if you're a writer (and if you're the author, that's what you are), then stick to writing. Get experts to edit, design, market, and sell.

I leveraged an amazing team of experts to bring Collaborate to life.

I had multiple editors, a great designer, and have a team that's ready to market and sell the book when I pull the trigger. I would not attempt any of this alone.

Lesson learned: make sure you're not going it alone. No matter how small your project, it could benefit from creative collaborators. If you aren't sure how that works or where to start...hey, look at that! A new book on the subject:

In Collaborate, you will learn:

Learn how to assemble, organize, and lead a small team of creative collaborators by signing up for the Collaborate early notification list here.

Lesson #7: I'm never writing a book again...until the next one

And my final lesson learned is that I don't want to ever write a book again because it's hard. Really hard. So hard I think I started to go a bit crazy:

But it's also crazy rewarding...

Which is why I'm already working on my next book: The Tao of Nicolas Cage: A memoir of my time thinking about Nicolas Cage losing his s***

Lesson learned: once you finish your first book (or 50th), start on the next one; momentum is on your side - take advantage.

In Summary

Writing Collaborate has been an adventure with a bunch of ups and downs, but the book is finally (almost) ready to print and ship (finalizing the design right now).

My hope is that you've enjoyed this article, and found it useful enough to:

  1. Sign up to be notified when Collaborate launches
  2. Share with you friends, family, and social network.

I've made some clicktotweets to make this easy (they may or may not be appropriate, I'll leave that to you to decide).

Thanks in advance for your support:

What Nicolas Cage epic freak-outs can teach us about writing: http://bit.ly/1Ran0Zj [CLICK TO TWEET]

What do Nicolas Cage epic freak-outs and writing a business book have in common? http://bit.ly/1Ran0Zj [CLICK TO TWEET]

7 lessons learned from writing a business books (hat tip: Nicolas Cage): http://bit.ly/1Ran0Zj [CLICK TO TWEET]


Hat tip: Nicolas Cage for the inspiration and giphy.com for all the amazing Nicolas Cage gifs

"Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Archimedes was an Ancient Greek mathematician, scientist, engineer, philosopher, inventor and all around badass.

Among hundreds of inventions and discoveries, it is Archimedes who is credited with defining the principle of the lever. (source)

You probably know what a lever is, but just to clarify (thanks Merriam-Webster):

Today, the idea of a lever seems pretty ordinary, but in 200-300 BC, it was groundbreaking.

Archimedes clarified mathematically that a lighter, smaller object can move a much larger, heavier object, given the right circumstances.

More importantly, it showed us that effort and results are not linear; that we can put in less effort and get better results with the right tools applied the right way.

The Lever Isn’t Enough

Here’s the thing:

The lever by itself is not enough.

For a lever to unleash its power, it requires a fulcrum.

What’s a fulcrum?

Merriam-Webster once more:

If we have nothing to set our lever against, the positive effects of the lever disappear.

So what if we have all the tools, all the drive, and all the technology at our disposal if we have nothing to set it against; nothing that supplies the capability for action?

The lever becomes a paperweight, our work - just more noise...

The Lever and Fulcrum in War

In the military, I was Logistics by trade (88A then 90A for the three people in the world who want to know that).

But when I deployed to Iraq, instead of running logistical operations, I served as a Convoy Security Platoon Leader for my Battalion. Instead of organizing and hauling supplies, I led over 10 guntrucks and 30+ soldiers with a mission to protect the convoys that went out every night.

guntruck platoonThe purpose of these missions was always the same: to resupply the combat arms units in our Brigade so they could continue their mission.

In the context of warfare, combat arms units (infantry, artillery, armor, etc.) are the lever. They are the units that we use to achieve a desired action.

But combat service support units (transportation, logistics, etc.) are the fulcrum. They supply the capability for action.

Without resupply, combat arms units can’t accomplish their mission. The lever is useless.

Without combat arms units, there’s no purpose behind combat service support. The fulcrum is irrelevant.

The Lever, The Fulcrum, and Creation

When we take a step back to examine anything in life, it’s clear that just about everything in nature has this relationship: the lever and the fulcrum.

We don’t live in a closed-loop, linear world; everything impacts everything else, directly and indirectly, often disproportionately.

So why would entrepreneurship, art, or writing be any different?

While you may have the tools, drive, and technology (the lever) to create and ship whatever you want, what effect can it have without a fulcrum?

If you write but nobody reads your work; if you build but nobody buys your product; if you start a movement but nobody follows…

If you attempt to serve others but only serve yourself...

Are you really hitting the mark?

Are you really creating the impact you set out to create?

Are you really doing work that matters?

***

The tools are important, yes. We can do much more, with much less effort and in much less time than we ever could before.

Wifi, professional grade free software, 8 core processors - I am thankful for these things...

But if we don’t have a fulcrum to supply the capability for our actions…

If we don’t have a team to support, compel, and compound our work…

If we don’t have people around us to turn our noise into a signal, to spread the message, to help us serve those who need it…

Can we really do great work?

Maybe...

But certainly not as fast, effectively, or with as great an impact in the world as we could with a fulcrum.

Don't go it alone.

Assemble a team.

Find your fulcrum.

COLLABORATE - orangeOn Monday, November 11th, I’m launching a new book about collaboration.

I’ll be using a platform known as Publishizer.com to crowdfund the book.

Publishizer is a lot like Kickstarter, but for books.

If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a crowdfunding platform that allows artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and creators of all types to pre-sell their idea before they build it.

Crowdfunding is powerful because it allows creators to put an idea out into the world, and if our happy readers like it, they can choose to support us and help us bring our ideas to life.

The benefit to the creator is obvious: no more spending months or years working on a project just to find out nobody cares.

With crowdfunding, we know immediately if this is a project worth pursuing.

But crowdfunding on a platform like Publishizer doesn’t just benefit the creator. (more…)

It’s so simple but so often neglected:

 Care about your customers and they’ll care about you.

If you care about your customers, you will spend much of your spare time thinking about how your products can improve their lives.  That kind of thinking will lead directly to thoughts about how you can increase efficiency, improve quality, expand customer service – all of which will lead to increased revenues. – Michael Masterson

Or, as Gary Vaynerchuk puts it: give a $%&# about the customer (and employees) and develop a relationship with each customer.

Now, more than ever, developing a meaningful connection with each and every customer is essential for business survival.  Why?  Because the internet and social media have transformed the business-customer interaction.

While big companies were lifeless, anonymous robot factories throughout the 20th century, now social media allows that same business to put a face to a name and deal one-on-one with each customer.

Because the internet allows us to reach globally and cluster based on interest, it has created a small-town mentality for every niche.

The advent of the internet and social media has facilitated the convergence of two very powerful concepts:

  1. Immediate feedback
  2. Word of mouth as power

In 1984, if your Sony Discman didn’t work as advertised, you would complain to those around you.  Your complaints might influence the purchase of a few close friends.  Word of mouth had very little impact.

In 2012, when the newest iOS update has a map glitch, you can blog or tweet to thousands of listeners, and they can push the message even further.  The word of mouth impact is magnitudes greater.

Depending on the reaction, this can be a positive stepping stone towards deeper, meaningful conversation, or it can kill the relationship between the customer and the business.

This phenomenon has helped many small, but passionate businesses become game-changers (Zappos).

It’s also destroying bigger companies that can't wrap their heads around why we don't want to deal with a robot or a labyrinth of menus in the (vain) hopes of speaking with a human being (Comcast).

And while big companies can get away with second-rate service for a while, the stage is set for new businesses with personal connection at their core to disrupt the status quo.

Why?  Because people will pay a premium for service.

How can you (or your brand, company, gang, tribe) build that connection?  Below are 4 ways to improve your business:

1) Act like a human being

2) Be a human being 

3) Tailor the experience to the individual 

4) Actually care 

 

One last thing: building a relationship takes YEARS.  This isn't a quarterly marketing campaign - it's a lifestyle of caring.

That takes heart and perseverance.  It takes grit.

So here's the question: how do you create real, deep connections with your customers (and do you think it's even worth it)?


If you enjoyed that blog post, you might enjoy this:Join the Resistance

 


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