Negative Words That Hinder Progress

i'm bored“I’m bored.”

Those are two of the most negative words you can say – and think. There are so many things in this world to do. So many places you can go. So many people you can help. There is no reason to ever be bored.

A study reported in the Journal of Neuroscience reports that negative words shut down higher level mental processes in your brain.

When I hear someone say they are bored, it always surprises me. Lazy Sunday mornings are a great time to catch up on reading, learn something new, practice an instrument or go for a stroll.

If you find boredom setting in, don’t say those poisonous words “I’m bored.”  Instead, reset your thinking. Get your bucket list out and pick a goal you want to achieve before you die. Take action at that very moment to make strides toward that goal.

Don’t have a bucket list? Then it’s a great time to write one – it’s a lot of fun since it is a painting of words that describe experiences you want to have in your life.

Avoid turning on the television or hopping onto Facebook. Take a slow moment in your life and turn it into a deliberate pause, one that gets you thinking and taking action.

You will feel a dramatic change, one of accomplishment and not boredom.

Business Threats and How Leaders Adapt

Business threats are everywhere. At the beginning of the dot com bust years ago, an acquaintance, I’ll call him Sheldon, asked me about a business problem he was facing. His company specialized in consulting services for a large-scale e-commerce product that had just gone belly up. Many organizations had deployed this product so there were maintenance contracts that Sheldon’s company could take over.

We met for lunch to talk about his woes. He opened the conversation with this statement:

“So, if you know any companies that are looking for maintenance or consulting work related to this product, let me know.”

I didn’t know of any. So, we discussed ways he could find organizations that had invested in this expensive product and ask to take over their maintenance efforts. That would sustain his company – at least for for a little while.

The Perils of Ignoring Business Threats

To me, the writing was clearly on the wall. He was encountering a major business threat. The fact that the product company was going out of existence meant that the organizations who had invested in it would eventually switch to something new. Any support contracts that Sheldon could get would be short-lived. Adapting to change had to become top priority.

We spent a lot of time talking about ways to adapt his business. If he didn’t adapt, his business would become extinct. He had one really big thing going for him: several smart people on his staff.

When you provide consulting services, you need to stay on top of the latest trends, tools and so on. The product they specialized in was on its way out, but his team could learn about newer products and offer consulting services for those. Adapting to this business threat was going to be critical if he wanted to survive.

Sheldon appeared to be absorbing a lot of the dialog. We outlined his next steps and I felt good about his prospects.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, he closed with this comment:

“So, if you know any companies that are looking for maintenance or consulting work related to this product, let me know.”

I was floored. What did he just say? He was still focused on the dying product. Didn’t he listen to everything we talked about?

Soon after that lunch, Sheldon and I lost touch. The product he serviced is a distant memory to those who bought it. He is now working for another company, no longer running his own.

Sheldon ignored all of the warning signs. He wasn’t committed to adapting his business so the markets ate him up with his head still buried in the sand. His inability, or unwillingness, to react to imminent business threats also cost his staff their jobs.

Get Help to Spot the Warning Signs

Reacting to business threats is the difference between a thriving business and one that will die. Sometimes, we aren’t the best ones to see threats to our businesses – or careers.

Stay in touch with colleagues you trust and ask them these three questions periodically:

  • What threats do you see to my business?
  • What changes do you think I need to make to stay competitive?
  • Where do you see my industry going in the next 2-3 years?

Don’t ignore their comments. They could be sharing red flags just in time. Be sure you acquire the skills you need fast so you can adapt to the market before you become a casualty to changing tides.

Benefits of Vacation

No time for the benefits of vacation? Many of us work long hours and take little time off to unwind. The thinking goes like this: the more I work, the closer I will get to my goals. One of those goals may be to earn more money.

Think back to a morning when you had a good night’s sleep and ate the right foods for breakfast so your body was full of energy. How productive were you at the office that day? You were probably crushing it! No obstacle could get in your way. You made the calls you needed to make, your enthusiasm on the phone was contagious and you probably made significant strides to accomplishing your goals.benefits of vacation

Now think back to a time when you didn’t get enough sleep or perhaps you ate something that didn’t agree with you which caused your mind to be distracted. Your productivity was low. You probably procrastinated on some important tasks and you definitely didn’t feel like you made progress toward your goals.

But I’m Running a Company

Senior positions often require an intense amount of work. I used to think that the “go, go, go” attitude was the only way to success. I found myself burning out and not being able to focus, then wondering why I wasn’t achieving the things I had hoped.

It was all caused by stress. I didn’t give myself permission to relax. Yet the moment I took a step back and allowed myself to not think about work, the moment I let go of the pressure of performing, I very quickly became more productive and full of ideas.

One key is to make sure you don’t spend vacation time being as busy as you are at work. You’ll be more tired when you’re done and will feel that to get the benefits of vacation, you need to go on another vacation.

Benefits of Vacation

A vacation has a way of restoring energy just by changing your environment. Taking time out for summer reading, relaxing on the beach or under a shady tree and letting your mind wander enables your thoughts to go beyond the confines of your office.

It is, as my old colleague, Larry Robertson, says, a deliberate pause. This break allows you to decompress so that when you return to work, you think entrepreneurial thoughts. It allows you to imagine scenarios that you can pursue. It allows you to spend structured time day dreaming, connecting dots and slowing down.

Even if it takes you a little time to adjust back into the work day, that’s okay. Vacations are as important as breathing.

So relax. Work will be there when you get back.

Passion and Work

I hear a lot of people say the old saying about passion and work: “love what you do and you’ll never work another day in your life.”

That’s hogwash.

The bottom line: if you have a passion and pursue it, that’s a wonderful thing to do in your life. You will be happier. But that doesn’t guarantee that you will make money from it, which means you may still have to “work.” To make a career out of your passion, you need customers. Otherwise, your passion is a hobby.

Passion by itself doesn’t make money

I know a lot of people who love to paint or write music. There is no question they should pursue their talents. It will make them happier and feel more satisfied.

When you have a stack of your paintings in the basement or a library of your own music on your computer, what’s next? If you want to monetize your passion, you must think like a business person.

You may have heard stories of famous actors losing all of their money because they were not financially savvy. They were remarkable at their art, their passion. Yet their lack of business awareness led to financial insecurity. Dancers, pottery makers and others start studios only to have their business of passion fail within a few years.

For passion and work to go hand in hand, you should not only learn how your industry operates, but also explore alternatives to traditional ways of earning a profit.

For example, if you love writing music, being a famous performer isn’t your only path to success. Many artists now license their work to stock music libraries where they earn a small royalty for each use. Some even give their music rights away for free to companies to use in their marketing because the exposure helps them leverage their other work. Got a friend who runs a company? Offer to write a jingle for them. Want to be a movie maker? Make a video for a company – if your video goes viral, you’ve got a promising way to make money from others who want the same results.

Separate passion and work

There is a myth that if you pursue what you love, then money will follow. That is largely untrue. To see money from your passion, you need to actively pursue it. And if you don’t enjoy the money-making part of selling your passion, then well you’re back to working, right?

If your passion doesn’t involve business or pursuing money in some way, a more liberating mindset is to separate passion and work. Acknowledge that you will have to work to earn money. A dancer has to promote her studio. This requires marketing and sales skills, plus bookkeeping and management to operate the business (the IRS doesn’t care about your passion, just that you paid your share of taxes).

Hire people to support the skills you don’t have, but don’t think for a minute that you can only focus on your passion and not your business. Someone will take you for an uncomfortable ride if you only pursue your passion.

A Personal Policy That Creates Good Luck

I know you’ve had this experience: you talk to someone at customer service about an issue you are having and they are not being helpful. Then, they drop the bomb: “That’s just our policy.” Just your luck.

Those words probably elevated your blood pressure. Unless you were being unreasonable with your request, this unwillingness to help the hand that feeds them will eventually lead the way to fewer customers.  It’s the corporate way of saying that they really don’t care about your issues and that profits (i.e., the company’s issues) come first. The company is not creating good will, which leads to good luck.

Your Personal Policy

Companies aren’t the only ones with policies that shun people. Individuals can have a personal policy that can be a turn-off, too. These policies don’t have to be written. They are conveyed through our actions.

People will interpret our behavior as a personal policy. If we shut out others, it can have a negative effect on our own good luck. Examples of personal policies you might have, but might not be aware of:

  • I wait until someone else says hello first
  • I don’t look people in the eyes when speaking to them.
  • I comment on difficult discussions by email or online, preferring to avoid face-to-face conversations when possible.
  • When I attend business networking events, I find someone I know and hang out with them instead of meeting new people.
  • When my colleagues go out for lunch, I don’t offer to drive.

These seemingly innocuous behaviors send a strong signal to others about you. Those who don’t know you typically won’t understand the nuances of your personality during  your first interaction. Introverts might have a bigger hump to overcome than extroverts when it comes to engaging people. Make sure you are sending the right message.

How you come across matters. Your body language and actions convey your personal policy. Just be sure it adds to your good luck and doesn’t take from it.

Why You Should Always Have Problems

Problems are good.

I’m always running into problems in my business. Our product needs a design tweak, a bookkeeping process has a hiccup, the latest insurance renewal changed the available options – there is always something, which also means there is always room for improvement.

That’s the opportunity!  It gives us a chance to review what we have and ask ourselves what we can do about it.

The Gift of ProblemsPulling hair out

In 1999, I was fortunate to sell my first company, GovCon. I wanted to start another company, but I didn’t know what to build. So, my partner and I looked at the problems we faced at GovCon. The biggest one was doing our email newsletter. Nobody at the time offered a simple email newsletter solution for small companies. We figured many companies had the same issue so we created MailerMailer, an email marketing service just for small businesses. The New York Times included our story in a piece they did on making mistakes.

MailerMailer is now a thriving business and we are about to launch a new product based on a problem that many companies face when doing their newsletter: writing the content. Our new tool, Presstacular, includes a library of click-and-use articles so our clients can just pick the articles they like, edit them if they have time and they’re done. It makes creating a newsletter very easy. We saw the opportunity in the problem.

Problems are Opportunities in Disguise

Several years ago, my company started a 401(k) retirement plan. We wanted to make sure all of our staff had something for retirement so we set up an automatic contribution from the company for everyone, regardless of whether our staff contributed to their own accounts.

A year later, the company that set up our plan had some staff changes and our rep was assigned to a new region. We were assigned a “Vice President” level person who never followed up with phone calls or took the time to make sure we were taken care of. After a year of non-responsiveness, we were ready for a change. But 401(k) stuff is, at least to us, pretty boring. Changing who manages the plan would mean more research, more meetings… ugh, just not my thing. So, we kept it as is.

Six months later, I received a direct mail letter from a broker who worked at a very large investment bank. He said that he could take over the plan and provide the kind of service we were looking for and he described in one simple page how easy it would be for us to do. His timing worked out well for us – and for him. We had a problem and he had a solution. We switched to his company and I am very glad we did. We now get to experience the high level of service we were missing all these years. Our issue was fixed, our process improved and our staff significantly happier – all because we had a problem.

Take Advantage of Your Problems

If you had no problems, you wouldn’t know what to fix. Problems help us take a fresh look at a situation and see what can be done to make things better. Problems shed light on things that we can improve. Ask yourself questions regularly so you can identify problems that you can do something about.

And the next time you face a problem, look at it a different way: it’s an opportunity!

5 Successful Executives and Their Work Habits

Inc. Magazine has a section that profiles entrepreneurs’ work habits, The Way I Work. Every person they highlight shares a common theme: all of them spend a large amount of time looking at issues at a high level. They want to make sure that the activities they and their staff work on are aligned with overall goals.  In other words, their habits allow them to work on their business, not just in it.

Here are 5 good work habits from successful entrepreneurs:

1. Always keep your biggest dream in focus. Inc’s piece about social media celebrity Gary Vaynerchuck highlights his obsession for one-to-one engagement and how everything he does is directed at achieving his ultimate goal: acquiring the New York Jets.

2. Use email filters and folders for screening. Your Inbox is probably flooded. David Karp, founder of Tumblr, had trouble managing his emails. He let emails pile up, forgot to reply to important messages and got overwhelmed. Now, filters route messages into folders so he stays organized.

3. Obsess over metrics. LivingSocial CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy checks his company’s aggregate revenue, number of units sold and other data every morning before getting out of bed – that’s at 5:00 a.m. He is constantly looking for patterns in numbers. They give insight into what to improve and where new opportunities exist.

4. Don’t obsess over work hours. Jason Fried, CEO of 37Signals, reports that he has no idea how many hours his staff works. He just knows that they get the work done. And isn’t that the most important part? Stop clocking yourself. It’s irrelevant.

5. Feel okay about making mistakes. “Don’t overthink” is Rashmi Sinha‘s matra. The CEO of SlideShare makes a good point when she says that if you spend too much time thinking about something before you execute it, you still might make a mistake. It’s better to roll out software faster than to overthink it worrying that something isn’t quite right.

Say Hello First

I see you over there on the other side of the room. I know you looked at me because our eyes connected for a moment before you quickly looked the other way. So, who’s going to say hello first?say hello first

Me or you?

Maybe we’re too shy. It’s easier to be approached than it is to do the approaching. Or maybe we’ve imposed a price tag on who makes the move to say hello first.

Who loses in this situation? Everyone.

Years ago when my son was one year old and just learning to talk, he would say “hi” to everyone. As I pulled into the line at the grocery store, he would shout “hi” in a happy voice to the clerk. It always put a smile on their face and many would engage in a conversation.

Saying hello first creates a sense of being approachable.  That reduces the anxiety the other person may be feeling.  Your smile creates a feeling of warmth and joy. It is welcoming. And all of us – even the curmudgeons – gravitate toward the things that bring us joy and make us feel welcome.

If you are shy, you can overcome shyness by putting on a smile and taking the initiative to say hello first to someone in the room that you think is also shy. You will be surprised at the warm response you will get back. This will give you confidence to do it again. Don’t risk losing the opportunity to connect with someone and build a relationship, whether it’s business or personal.

Spread the love. Say hello first. Every time.

Thomas Edison’s 2000 Ways to Make Progress

While Thomas Edison was working on inventing the light bulb, he encountered many methods that did not work.  When asked about his “failures”, he quipped that he did not fail.  He now knew 2,000 ways not to make a light bulb. In his mind, he was making progress. It’s a good thing he didn’t give up after the first 1,000 attempts.Thomas Edison

If you make a list of quarterly goals to hold yourself accountable for your progress, you might find that in some months you nix an idea or goal because you will not pursue it further.  This is not a set back.  You now have the information you did not have earlier.  It is one of the ways you identified that will not help you achieve what you want.  You are still making progress.  The experience is your version of Edison’s light bulb invention process.

As you identify your “to do” list items that will help you get to your next milestone, be encouraged when you run into a dead end.  It means that you found a way that will not work. Don’t give up. Just try something different. You will soon make progress that will light your bulb.

Get Out of Your Own Way

A major key to success is knowing when an opportunity exists. Many times, it is right in front of you. You just have to notice it is there.

The reason we often overlook opportunities is that we instinctively make a decision about something based on self-imposed limits. We have already decided that there is a certain way to cut an apple. We have already decided whether four activities on a weekend is too much, just right, or too little.  We have already decided how much we should get paid (in other words, how much we are worth).

The truth is that there are no real limits. It’s all in our head. We have to get out of our own way.

Writer Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, shared a story about women entrepreneurs all over the world who are breaking out of these preconceived molds and helping others in their community to prosper, too. My favorite line in her speech: never import other people’s limitations. Listen to her inspiring words in this TED video:

[ted id=1339]