Category Archives: productivity

My Three Words for 2010

Taking a cue from the forever brilliant Chris Brogan and his post today, below are my three words for 2010.

My 3 Words – Revere, Ship, Daily

My Three Words for 2010

Revere – I am not using the traditional definition of revere here, but rather a reference to Paul Revere, the revolutionary who successfully warned an entire region that the British were coming. In Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book, The Tipping Point, he illustrates why Paul Revere was successful in his famous ride (the message tipped and spread), while William Dawes, a different man trying to accomplish the same goal, was not successful.

From Gladwell’s The Tipping Point:

Paul Revere’s ride is perhaps the most famous historical example of a word-of-mouth epidemic. A piece of extraordinary news traveled a long distance in a very short time, mobilizing an entire region to arms …
At the same time that Revere began his ride north and west of Boston, a fellow revolutionary — a tanner by the name of William Dawes — set out on the same urgent errand, working his way to Lexington via the towns west of Boston. He was carrying the identical message, through just as many towns over just as many miles as Paul Revere. But Dawes’s ride didn’t set the countryside afire. The local militia leaders weren’t altered. In fact, so few men from one of the main towns he rode through — Waltham — fought the following day that some subsequent historians concluded that it must have been a strongly pro-British community. It wasn’t. The people of Waltham just didn’t find out the British were coming until it was too late. If it were only the news itself that mattered in a word-of-mouth epidemic, Dawes would now be as famous as Paul Revere. He isn’t. So why did Revere succeed where Dawes failed?
The answer is that the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. Revere’s news tipped and Dawes’s didn’t because of the differences between the two men.
[Revere] was gregarious and intensely social. He was a fisherman and a hunter, a cardplayer and a theatre-lover, a frequenter of pubs and a successful businessman. He was active in the local Masonic Lodge and was a member of several select social clubs. He was also a doer, a man blessed — as David Hackett Fischer recounts in his brilliant book Paul Revere’s Ride — with “an uncanny genius for being at the center of events.”
It is not surprising, then, that when the British army began its secret campaign in 1774 to root out and destroy the stores of arms and ammunition held by the fledgling revolutionary movement, Revere became a kind of unofficial clearing house for the anti-British forces. He knew everybody. He was the logical one to go to if you were a stable boy on the afternoon of April 18th, 1775, and overheard two British officers talking about how there would be hell to pay on the following afternoon. Nor is it surprising that when Revere set out for Lexington that night, he would have known just how to spread the news as far and wide as possible. When he saw people on the roads, he was so naturally and irrepressibly social he would have stopped and told them. When he came upon a town, he would have known exactly whose door to knock on, who the local militia leader was, who the key players in town were. He had met most of them before. And they knew and respected him as well.
But William Dawes? Fischer finds it inconceivable that Dawes could have ridden all seventeen miles to Lexington and not spoken to anyone along the way. But he clearly had none of the social gifts of Revere, because there is almost no record of anyone who remembers him that night. “Along Paul Revere’s northern route, the town leaders and company captains instantly triggered the alarm,” Fischer writes. “On the southerly circuit of William Dawes, this did not happen until later. In at least one town it did not happen at all. Dawes did not awaken the town fathers or militia commanders in the towns of Roxbury, Brookline, Watertown or Waltham.”
Why? Because Roxbury, Brookline, Watertown and Waltham were not Boston. And Dawes was in all likelihood a man with a normal social circle, which means that — like most of us — once he left his hometown he probably wouldn’t have known whose door to knock on. Only one small community along Dawes’s ride appeared to get the message, a few farmers in a neighborhood called Waltham Farms. But alerting just those few houses wasn’t enough to “tip” the alarm.
Word-of-mouth epidemics are the work of Connectors. William Dawes was just an ordinary man.

I am a Connector by nature but in 2010, I want to up my game, meet more new people, introduce other people, earn trust, build bridges and create value. In short, I want to emulate what Paul Revere did long before his famous ride and become the type of Connector he was.

This will help me personally and it will also help me build and scale my new media consulting firm, Tribes Win.


Don't wait for perfect, just ship

I spent six months in 2009 learning more than I thought possible from one of my heroes, Seth Godin. The most important thing I learned was the importance of “shipping”.

Seth has had many successes in his prolific career but before those many successes, he had many failures. Seth’s failures paved the way for his successes. He just kept shipping (including over 3,000 blog posts over the last ten years) and eventually the projects he shipped became more and more successful. The

From when we are young, it is drilled into our head (in our education system, at home and at work) that failure is terrible and something to be avoided at all costs. Seth taught us that failing is OK and shipping is what matters.

In addition to building Tribes Win, I have a few important projects I’m working on in 2010, including fear.less, an online magazine that I’m launching with Ishita Gupta, Carpe Defect, a new blog, e-book and book that I’m writing and a new type of social game that I am developing.

I will ship these projects in 2010.


Photo courtesy of ©

This is a simple reminder of improving daily in two specific categories:

    Daily Sense – Post here on at least once every day in 2010.
    Health – Eat healthier and workout in 2010.

I have tied each of these words to a more specific set of SMART goals with dates and specific measurements of success.

Chris Brogan inspired me. Hopefully I can amplify his inspiration. Give this some thought and consider sharing your three words here or back on Chris’ original post.

Revere. Ship. Daily.

Fried Green Insight

Jason Fried_compressed

Full disclosure…

I’m a huge fan of the team over at 37 Signals. They bleed simple brilliance. David Heinemeier Hansson gave one of my favorite talks ever at Startup School 08 and in May, Jason Fried delivered another gem at Big Omaha 2009.

Everyone should make time to watch Jason’s video, but if you can’t carve out 20 minutes my summary is below.

Jason Fried @ Big Omaha 2009 from Big Omaha on Vimeo.

Failure is not cool
The phrase “fail early, fail often” is overused. Failure is actually not necessary. Failure is not a character-building thing and it’s not a prerequisite to success. Focus on the things that are going right and parlay that.

Planning is overrated.
Business plans are just guesses. You can’t predict what’s going to happen. What matters is what you’re doing right now. You know more about something after you’re done with it.

Interruption is the enemy of collaboration.
A big open loft space does not necessarily mean more collaboration and higher productivity. With so many interruptions, workdays become work moments.

Try this in your company or department. Every Thursday, nobody can talk to each other. Email and IM and other tools are fine but no talking. See if it’s the most productive day that week. Or that month.

You create valuable byproducts.
When you make something, you make something else. We are all making byproducts.

When building houses, the sawdust created from all the lumber was initially thought of as waste. Then, people found multiple useful applications for it and it ended up being a valuable byproduct, sold for money.

When 37 Signals built Basecamp, the byproduct was Ruby on Rails and they didn’t even know it at the time.

Sometimes the valuable byproduct is knowledge.

Share like a chef.
Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay. They share what they do on TV. They tell you exactly what ingredients they use and show you step-by-step how to do what they do. If you want to do it at home, you can buy their cookbook for a fraction of the cost of a single meal.

This doesn’t make them less money, it makes them more. More people know about them. More people buy the cookbooks. More people eat at the restaurants.

Traditional business thinking would shut down this blatant sharing of intellectual capital.

The best thing you can do is share your knowledge.

What is your cookbook? Publish it. It helps you…

Build an audience.
Every company has customers. Great companies have fans. At the least, you need an audience.

90,000 people read the 37 Signals blog everyday. It takes time to build but it doesn’t cost them a penny to reach this large captive audience.

Focus on the things that don’t change.
What are the core, important things in your business that don’t change?

Amazon invests in distribution. Shipping. Customer service. Price. These things will be important to their business in 10 years.

37 Signals makes web-based software. They focus on making it fast, easy and usable. It may not be sexy but that is what will be important to their business in 10 years.

Ideas are immortal. Inspiration is perishable.
We all have ideas. Ideas are immortal.

Inspirations however, are like fresh fruit or milk. They are very perishable. If you’re lucky enough to be inspired, do it. Do it now. The most energy you’ll ever have about an idea is at the beginning. You can’t sustain it.

Thanks to Jason and the whole crew over at 37 Signals. Keep leading, guys.

Capture everything

You can’t schedule great thoughts.

Sometimes they come while driving.

Sometimes they come in the shower.

Sometimes they come in a dream in the middle of the night.

Sometimes they come in a movie theater.

Sometimes they come at a wedding.

The point is, if you don’t capture the great idea, quote, blog post or song lyric, it’s unlikely you’ll recall it later.

The solution is to always have a method to capture your great thoughts on the spot. I’ll list my coverage strategy here. Yours will be different of course, but my goal is to get you to make the minute changes necessary so you never again lose another great thought.

I keep my small Moleskine and a pen next to my bed. I rarely wake up in the middle of the night with great thoughts but the moment I open my eyes, my mind is a blender of tasks, meetings and ideas and having a way to capture them immediately helps me start my day in a relaxed and organized fashion.

If I’m in front of my computer, online or not, I use a great application called Remember the Milk. It works well with David Allen’s GTD system and provides enough flexibility to implement your own methodology for tasks & reminders. They also have an excellent iPhone app that in my opinion is well worth the $20 per year.

As a backup, I always have my small Moleskine in my briefcase when I am away from my laptop.



**Always focus on the road and never write, text or call while driving.** If there is a passenger in the car, I’ll ask them to write the idea in my Moleskine or shoot me an SMS message reminder. If I’m alone, I’ll wait until I’m stopped, then write it down myself or use a service like Jott or, if I want to immediately tweet my idea or question, Audioboo.


Movie Theater
If the movie is so bad that my mind is wandering (or if watching Freida Pinto inspires some poetry) I’ll quickly and silently make a note in my iPhone.

I’m usually so focused (frazzled?) when cooking a big meal that my mind is dialed into making sure everything finishes at the same time but if a great thought pops into my head, I’ll quickly scrawl it on the refrigerator in puttanesca sauce.

I’ll tell my fishing partner to remind me. Unreliable but cheaper than dropping my iPhone in the bottom of the lake.

This is the one exception in my “capture everything”. My mind is always clear when surfing. Mostly because it’s peaceful and I’m one with nature, but also because I’m trying not to drown.

What tools & systems do you use to capture everything?

I, Pencil


My friend Dan passes along the great essay “I, Pencil”, originally published in 1958 by Leonard E. Read (the founder and president of the Federation for Economic Education).

(Compared to my typical posts, this is a longer read but an important one.)

I agree with Dan’s assessments:

1) it is quite simply one of the greatest things ever written on any subject.

2) It highlights my faith in the natural tendency of individuals to unknowingly self-organize for mutual benefit.

3) It makes it completely apparent that central planning could never hold a candle to the organizational power of millions of individuals acting solely for their self betterment.

In the words of a subsequent president of the FEE Donald Boudreaux:

“No newcomer to economics who reads “I, Pencil” can fail to have a simplistic belief in the superiority of central planning or regulation deeply shaken. If I could choose one essay or book that everyone in the world would read, I would unhesitatingly choose “I, Pencil.” Among these readers, simplistic notions about the economy would be permanently transformed into a new and vastly more subtle—and correct—understanding.”

Some comments on the piece from Milton Friedman included at the end.

I, Pencil
My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read

I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.

Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do.

You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery—more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, the wise G. K. Chesterton observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Especially when it is realized that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the U.S.A. each year.

Pick me up and look me over. What do you see? Not much meets the eye—there’s some wood, lacquer, the printed labeling, graphite lead, a bit of metal, and an eraser.

Innumerable Antecedents

Just as you cannot trace your family tree back very far, so is it impossible for me to name and explain all my antecedents. But I would like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness and complexity of my background.

My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors; the growing of hemp and bringing it through all the stages to heavy and strong rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls, the cookery and the raising of all the foods. Why, untold thousands of persons had a hand in every cup of coffee the loggers drink!

The logs are shipped to a mill in San Leandro, California. Can you imagine the individuals who make flat cars and rails and railroad engines and who construct and install the communication systems incidental thereto? These legions are among my antecedents.

Consider the millwork in San Leandro. The cedar logs are cut into small, pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. These are kiln dried and then tinted for the same reason women put rouge on their faces. People prefer that I look pretty, not a pallid white. The slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many skills went into the making of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the light and power, the belts, motors, and all the other things a mill requires? Sweepers in the mill among my ancestors? Yes, and included are the men who poured the concrete for the dam of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company hydroplant which supplies the mill’s power!

Don’t overlook the ancestors present and distant who have a hand in transporting sixty carloads of slats across the nation.

Once in the pencil factory—$4,000,000 in machinery and building, all capital accumulated by thrifty and saving parents of mine—each slat is given eight grooves by a complex machine, after which another machine lays leads in every other slat, applies glue, and places another slat atop—a lead sandwich, so to speak. Seven brothers and I are mechanically carved from this “wood-clinched” sandwich.

My “lead” itself—it contains no lead at all—is complex. The graphite is mined in Ceylon. Consider these miners and those who make their many tools and the makers of the paper sacks in which the graphite is shipped and those who make the string that ties the sacks and those who put them aboard ships and those who make the ships. Even the lighthouse keepers along the way assisted in my birth—and the harbor pilots.

The graphite is mixed with clay from Mississippi in which ammonium hydroxide is used in the refining process. Then wetting agents are added such as sulfonated tallow—animal fats chemically reacted with sulfuric acid. After passing through numerous machines, the mixture finally appears as endless extrusions—as from a sausage grinder-cut to size, dried, and baked for several hours at 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. To increase their strength and smoothness the leads are then treated with a hot mixture which includes candelilla wax from Mexico, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated natural fats.

My cedar receives six coats of lacquer. Do you know all the ingredients of lacquer? Who would think that the growers of castor beans and the refiners of castor oil are a part of it? They are. Why, even the processes by which the lacquer is made a beautiful yellow involve the skills of more persons than one can enumerate!

Observe the labeling. That’s a film formed by applying heat to carbon black mixed with resins. How do you make resins and what, pray, is carbon black?

My bit of metal—the ferrule—is brass. Think of all the persons who mine zinc and copper and those who have the skills to make shiny sheet brass from these products of nature. Those black rings on my ferrule are black nickel. What is black nickel and how is it applied? The complete story of why the center of my ferrule has no black nickel on it would take pages to explain.

Then there’s my crowning glory, inelegantly referred to in the trade as “the plug,” the part man uses to erase the errors he makes with me. An ingredient called “factice” is what does the erasing. It is a rubber-like product made by reacting rape-seed oil from the Dutch East Indies with sulfur chloride. Rubber, contrary to the common notion, is only for binding purposes. Then, too, there are numerous vulcanizing and accelerating agents. The pumice comes from Italy; and the pigment which gives “the plug” its color is cadmium sulfide.

No One Knows

Does anyone wish to challenge my earlier assertion that no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me?

Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Now, you may say that I go too far in relating the picker of a coffee berry in far off Brazil and food growers elsewhere to my creation; that this is an extreme position. I shall stand by my claim. There isn’t a single person in all these millions, including the president of the pencil company, who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how. From the standpoint of know-how the only difference between the miner of graphite in Ceylon and the logger in Oregon is in the type of know-how. Neither the miner nor the logger can be dispensed with, any more than can the chemist at the factory or the worker in the oil field—paraffin being a by-product of petroleum.

Here is an astounding fact: Neither the worker in the oil field nor the chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes the ships or trains or trucks nor the one who runs the machine that does the knurling on my bit of metal nor the president of the company performs his singular task because he wants me. Each one wants me less, perhaps, than does a child in the first grade. Indeed, there are some among this vast multitude who never saw a pencil nor would they know how to use one. Their motivation is other than me. Perhaps it is something like this: Each of these millions sees that he can thus exchange his tiny know-how for the goods and services he needs or wants. I may or may not be among these items.

No Master Mind

There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work. This is the mystery to which I earlier referred.

It has been said that “only God can make a tree.” Why do we agree with this? Isn’t it because we realize that we ourselves could not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable!

I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies—millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human master-minding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.

The above is what I meant when writing, “If you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.” For, if one is aware that these know-hows will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into creative and productive patterns in response to human necessity and demand—that is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive masterminding—then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this faith.

Once government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely. And here is the reason: Each one acknowledges that he himself doesn’t know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery. He also recognizes that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are correct. No individual possesses enough know-how to perform a nation’s mail delivery any more than any individual possesses enough know-how to make a pencil. Now, in the absence of faith in free people—in the unawareness that millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and miraculously form and cooperate to satisfy this necessity—the individual cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that mail can be delivered only by governmental “master-minding.”

Testimony Galore

If I, Pencil, were the only item that could offer testimony on what men and women can accomplish when free to try, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; it’s all about us and on every hand. Mail delivery is exceedingly simple when compared, for instance, to the making of an automobile or a calculating machine or a grain combine or a milling machine or to tens of thousands of other things. Delivery? Why, in this area where men have been left free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any person’s home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to one’s range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboard—halfway around the
world—for less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!

The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society’s legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.

Leonard E. Read (1898-1983) founded FEE in 1946 and served as its president until his death.

From Milton Friedman:

Leonard Read’s delightful story, “I, Pencil,” has become a classic, and deservedly so. I know of no other piece of literature that so succinctly, persuasively, and effectively illustrates the meaning of both Adam Smith’s invisible hand—the possibility of cooperation without coercion—and Friedrich Hayek’s emphasis on the importance of dispersed knowledge and the role of the price system in communicating information that “will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.”

We used Leonard’s story in our television show, “Free to Choose,” and in the accompanying book of the same title to illustrate “the power of the market” (the title of both the first segment of the TV show and of chapter one of the book). We summarized the story and then went on to say:

“None of the thousands of persons involved in producing the pencil performed his task because he wanted a pencil. Some among them never saw a pencil and would not know what it is for. Each saw his work as a way to get the goods and services he wanted—goods and services we produced in order to get the pencil we wanted. Every time we go to the store and buy a pencil, we are exchanging a little bit of our services for the infinitesimal amount of services that each of the thousands contributed toward producing the pencil.

“It is even more astounding that the pencil was ever produced. No one sitting in a central office gave orders to these thousands of people. No military police enforced the orders that were not given. These people live in many lands, speak different languages, practice different religions, may even hate one another—yet none of these differences prevented them from cooperating to produce a pencil. How did it happen? Adam Smith gave us the answer two hundred years ago.”

“I, Pencil” is a typical Leonard Read product: imaginative, simple yet subtle, breathing the love of freedom that imbued everything Leonard wrote or did. As in the rest of his work, he was not trying to tell people what to do or how to conduct themselves. He was simply trying to enhance individuals’ understanding of themselves and of the system they live in.

That was his basic credo and one that he stuck to consistently during his long period of service to the public—not public service in the sense of government service. Whatever the pressure, he stuck to his guns, refusing to compromise his principles. That was why he was so effective in keeping alive, in the early days, and then spreading the basic idea that human freedom required private property, free competition, and severely limited government.

Milton Friedman (July 31, 1912 – November 16, 2006) was an American economist, statistician and public intellectual, and a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

A traffic jam of ambulances

traffic jam

Imagine a traffic jam of ambulances and fire trucks. As far as you can see in front and behind you, all with their lights and sirens wailing.

Very stressful. Not very productive.

So why do so many people wait until the emergency is present to take action?

When you have a report or a presentation due on Friday morning, when do you spend the bulk of your time on it? Thursday? Thursday night?

When managing yourself, work hard to eliminate emergencies.

Set artificial deadlines for yourself. Create a buffer. Finish early. Submit early.

When managing other people, do the opposite. You often have to create emergencies to get them to get things done.

(the good news? You can, honestly and transparently, set early deadlines for the emergencies you create for others, creating the same buffer you do for yourself.)

Doing both well is an art, not a science.

Getting started is half done

Dad and me

I’ve never packed my gym bag, drove halfway to the health club and then talked myself out of the workout and turned back around.

I’ve never chopped all the ingredients for a big dinner, preheated the pan and then changed my mind and ordered pizza.

I’ve never hauled the boat to the lake and then decided not to fish.

I’ve never left a half full cart in the middle of the grocery store.

I’ve never mowed half the lawn.

My dad always used to tell me, “getting started is half done”. I’m old enough now to know that he didn’t invent the phrase but I’m experienced enough to know that he’s right.

Thanks, Dad.

Take advantage


First, a simple business school review of comparative advantage…

Assume that a lawyer can charge her services out at 300 dollars an hour. Also assume that she happens to be a very quick typist, and can type 80 words a minute. Her secretary is fairly good, typing 60 words a minute. The secretary is paid 30 dollars an hour.

The lawyer has an absolute advantage in being a lawyer and being a secretary. But she is much better at being a lawyer and only a little bit better at typing. She has a comparative advantage in the law and her secretary has a comparative advantage at typing.

If the lawyer decides to type a letter, or a report, because she is a bit quicker than the secretary, she would lose out overall. Let’s say that it takes her 15 minutes to type a report. The secretary types 25% slower, so it would take her 20 minutes. It costs the lawyer ten dollars to hire the secretary for 20 minutes, but if she types the report herself, she has wasted 15 minutes for which she could have earned 75 dollars being a lawyer.

The lesson? Do what you’re relatively better at than others. Hire the rest.

The concept is simple but I see many smart people fail often. I’m also guilty of this more often than I care to admit.

Usually, it’s a control issue. Few people have an easy time letting go of control.

The second main reason for this is that people don’t hire, communicate or specialize their employees effectively. In all but the smallest companies, coders shouldn’t test. Top strategists shouldn’t make Powerpoints. Top salespeople shouldn’t spend much time organizing their own travel. They should have a top-notch internal travel agent on speed dial who takes care of that, so they can focus on selling.

It’s a simple concept.

It’s often difficult to get started.

But it’s self-fulfilling. The lawyer knows that she types faster than the secretary, but she just billed 8 hours at 300 dollars an hour. Her desire to type anything is gone.

Look at your business. Are you only doing the things where you have a comparative advantage? The combination of the Internet and the current economy have opened up a huge supply of talent, either to hire or to outsource to.

Take advantage.

What time is it?


What time is it everyday when you’re done doing the stuff you ‘have to do’?

– the monotonous stuff
– the stuff your boss wants you to do
– the stuff your spouse / partner asks you to do
– the stuff you do to distract yourself (like surfing the Internet)
– the ‘deliverables’
– taxes
– payroll
– meetings

When you’re done with all that, what does the clock say? How much time do you have for the stuff you ‘want to do’?

– creating a new product
– testing a new market
– identifying and rewarding your best customers
– thanking and inspiring your employees
– taking your spouse / partner on a date
– reading to your kids
– starting that blog

You have a few options to change this.

1) It’s easier than ever to re-prioritize or delegate parts of the ‘have to do’ list.

2) You can mentally approach the ‘have to do’ stuff more like the ‘want to do’ stuff. Change your perception. How much effort does it take to transform running an errand for your spouse from ‘have to’ into ‘get to’?

I would argue that the people that are most productive and most happy do both.

Take 5

Take 5

Here is a simple productivity tip you can implement immediately.

Soon after you wake up, during your morning coffee (or morning cartoons), take out a piece of paper (or just a Post-It note) and write down the 5 most important things you need to do that day.

Just 5.

Not 2.

Not 10.

Just 5.

They need to be things that you can accomplish in a day. ‘Cure cancer’ or ‘fix relationship with cousin Jimmy’ aren’t things you can finish in a day. Put those on a longer term list.

Then (and this is critical), finish the first two before you open your email. For me, that’s extremely difficult but since I’ve started doing it, I’ve become much more productive.

Now you have the rest of the day to complete the other three things. Set aside time to do so. Often, you need to build in time away from your regular work ‘tasks’ and away from your email inbox.

It seems simple, but it’s so easy to head down so many rabbit-holes everyday. Facebook. Twitter. Email. RSS readers. It’s like reading a “Choose Your Own Unproductive Adventure” book. By the time you realize what page you’re on, you are a long way from where you started.

If you do this everyday, I guarantee you’ll become more productive. 5 x 5 = 25. Most people do not accomplish their 25 most important tasks every week.

Try it for a week. Let me know how it goes. If you hate it, I’ll refund you the cost of the Post-It notes.

NB: If you liked this tip, there are thousands more over at, the amazing and wonderful blog by Leo Babauta. If you actively follow Leo’s blog, you will become more productive, achieve your goals more quickly and easily, be healthier, richer, happier and more at peace. Seriously.

NB2: If you want some great, simple web software to help you (or your team) do this, check out TaskFive from the very cool, very smart and very funny guys over at Contrast.

Now go write down your 5 things, on a Post-It, in TaskFive or on your hand. Then do them.

After pictures

As I went to workout with two friends tonight, I remembered that I hadn’t taken the “before” pictures as recommended by P90X, the workout program.

The analytic (read: nerd) in me eats this stuff up. Whenever I do a workout program, I like to track everything, reps, weight, distance, # of stairs, heart rate in target zone, bodyfat %, before pictures, etc.

While tracking this data is important, occasionally the analysis and setup in doing so distracts me from what is most important, which is just doing the damn workouts. The only two things I should track is “workouts completed” and “drops of sweat”.

I thought back to the Cult of Done manifesto and happily decided that the before pictures aren’t important.

It’s the after pictures that matter.