Is impatience the real enemy of reaching your goals?

If you are like most writers, the excitement of writing a book can very nearly be everything you need to finish and publish, to reach your goal. In many ways, this is true of all goal-setting behavior. I was lamenting the other day that I really wanted to be done with Sixth Prime (seriously, click and give it a read) because I think it will resonate with readers. Even though there is still another draft to go before several rounds of edits, and then design, I wanted it now.

Why is that I wonder?

The impatience paradox. I talk a lot about starting goals and setting goals, but very little about completing a goal when you have stalled in the middle. I like to call this the impatience paradox. This is the overwhelming feeling that creeps in mid-goal, which is usually accompanied by fatigue with the process and a burning, irrational desire that people should already be supportive of the finished product (or goal). For writers, this is often the moment when you think this book could be “the one,” and you really just want everyone to be sharing and reading and writing and freaking out over it. As normal as that sounds (impatience happens to everyone in pursuit of a goal, especially if that goal is within reach), it can be a productivity and discipline killer. It can make you switch your focus or collapse beneath the weight of wanting it to be done. So what can you do?

Overcoming impatience. Don’t let impatience keep you from reaching your goals. In order to get past impatience, you need to recognize it for what it is: fear. More than likely, you are having anxiety about the outcome of your goal, or how achieving your goal will affect you. Once you publish that book, people will react to it. What if they hate it? What if they love it? What if it doesn’t sell? What if people want more? Regardless of how it makes you feel, you need to remember that you started down this path for a very good reason. You had a goal; don’t give up now.

Reaching your goals. So, how do you get back on track? Simple: remember why you started down this path in the first place. Return to both the long-term goal you set in the beginning and the smaller goals in support of it. Rebuild those behavior-reward dyads once more and trend toward discipline; make the goal more important than the smaller roadblocks you put in your way. Use the simple formula of pairing the behavior that needs to be completed (writing every day) in order to reach your goal (finishing your novel) with a reward you only get when you perform that behavior (writing every day, just in case you forgot).

Being able to embrace that you are impatient, and can still reach your goals, sets you up for success in the future. The real enemy is giving up.

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Procrastinate Procrastination (Or How I Learned to Love Setting Goals)

Procrastination_(No_Wall_Uncovered_VII)There are countless articles spread across the vast universe that is the internet on how to eliminate procrastination; to put a finer point on it, all that has been said on the subject has been studied, collated, optioned, and opined about. We all know that procrastination is kryptonite for successful business practices (and not to mention writing goals). But what can we do about it?

I love talking about time management; no, seriously, that was not meant as joke. (Stop laughing.) Being productive means growth, and I am all about growing early and often. Here are some of my favorite methodologies:

Chunking. This method is often used to memorize numbers and names. If you wanted to remember a phone number, remember it as two numbers: 434 and 7133 (instead of 434-7133). For tasks in a given day, put a few different tasks together as a block and complete all of them together before taking a break or rewarding yourself with something salient or moving on. (More on behavior modification in a bit.)

Momentum and motivation. Motivating yourself can be difficult; often, people hide behind a lack of motivation when explaining away why they didn’t complete a project r finish that novel. The easiest way to overcome this is to give yourself some motivation: do something you really want after completing the task. Even better, once you get some momentum, knock out some more goals!

Location. Some places lend themselves to procrastinating more so than other places. Sitting in front of your TV binge-watching a show is not the best place to get some work done (or meet your writing goals). Relocate to a distraction-free zone (as best you can) and set yourself up for success.

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Establish rewards and consequences. Behavior modification remains one of the few tried and true methods for creating behavior change (like procrastinating less). For the purposes of simplicity, let’s say that it is building a contingent relationship with clear rewards and consequences. For instance, if you wanted to write a certain number of words a day, say 2000, then you would want to reward the action of writing 2000 words with something you can only get from completing the task; you don’t write the words, you don’t get your reward. Pretty simple, right? Building your day out of a series of contingent relationships like this can pay real dividends in terms of getting things done.

Create and adhere to deadlines. Setting deadlines has been proven to help people reach their goals. Knowing that there is a finish line helps you to think about your time in a meaningful way. Adhering to those deadlines, over time, makes you averse to procrastinating in the future.

Share your goals for increased accountability. Sometimes, letting other people know about what you need to do can create a network of accountability: people asking you throughout your day whether or not you finished what you intended can keep the task on the top of your mind. Fair warning: this can be very exhausting, especially if you are have difficulty adhering to your plan (or if you are easily upset).

Adapt your goals accordingly. In many ways, this might be the most important tool. Things change, and it is important to change with them. Too often, we just keep doing things the same way to reach the same goals with little real success. We become accustomed to doing something because we have always done it this way. If you want different results, think about doing things a different way.

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Cut the Spam and Offer Value

CTA_mailinglistWe have all experienced the deluge of spam emails from companies we have subscribed to with the good-faith idea that we would be getting value, not fluff. On the other hand, many business professionals have been in the unenviable position of knowing that an email marketing campaign converts (and they really do), but not really know what to include in order to get subscribers engaged with the material. No one wants to receive spam, and no one sends out subscriber emails wanting them to end up in a spam filter.

Often, the difference between spam email marketing and good email marketing is minimal. However, if you can’t learn to recognize the difference, then your subscriber base will taper off and potential clients will start to tune you out.

Spam email precludes a relationship with your subscriber base. It demonstrates a lack of understanding for what they want to read, how often they want to read, and how they like to consume information. Whenever your instinct is to send something out in bulk or as unsolicited, then I can almost guarantee you either are meaning to spam or, at the very least, are being an unintentional spammer.

There are plenty of instances of digital communication that qualifies as unsolicited without necessarily being spam, like an email to a potential client or reaching out to a blogger or journalist for an interview even though you had not previously networked with them. Unless you are being very negligent in your prospect research, you will at least address it to the right person, use the correct name, and have a real reason for contacting them.

However, the moment you drop a slew of captured emails into a newsletter and blast a generic sales pitch or clickbait article, you’ve adopted the questionable practice of spam email marketing. Try to remember why people come to your blog (or website) in the first place. Why did they even bother signing up for a newsletter? I can be fairly certain it was not to read generic sales pitches sent to their email with alarming frequency.

So what can you do?

Offer value. A growing trend in content marketing (and digital marketing in general) is offering meaningful networking that nurtures relationships, as opposed to hammering the sales goal relentlessly in each and every communication. Generic content just makes sure search engines pick it up; you want to cultivate content that people read who use search engines to find it. More than half of folks will not even bother reading an impersonal and irrelevant-looking email sent to their inbox. If that doesn’t scream caution when sending out your newsletter, then perhaps spam marketing is for you.

Keep it honest. If they signed up, then, at least initially, they felt like you were someone they could trust. By staying true to your initial focus for creating a newsletter or email campaign in the first place, your subscribers will be more likely to open and engage with your content. Don’t overwhelm them with erroneous or unrelated information that does not speak to why they signed up in the first place.

Keep it simple. There are basic email practices for a reason. Don’t barrage the subject line with titles where all the letters are capitalized or relies on an over-usage of spam-like keywords that people believe work all the time. Learn your email client so that instead of a generic salutation, you can actually include the subscriber’s name. Relevancy rears its ugly head again; don’t bother sending them content that tries to trick them into a sale. The simple math is if you keep sending things people don’t want, there will not be any subscribers to send content to.

Content and email marketing is all about making a real connection with your readers. Why would you bother with spam if you can offer something meaningful?

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The customer is not always right

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One great colloquialism has ruled business as long as there has been commerce: the customer is always right. While being exhaustively customer-facing can be lucrative, there is a real possibility for burnout and creating distance from your core values. The long-term success of a business depends on emotional and financial currency, though not always in equal measure.

So why has this catchphrase stood the test of time? Fear.

Fear of lost opportunities, fear of lost sales, and fear of failure have driven a business culture afraid to do something novel: question the wishes of the customer. I can imagine a collective gasp at such a notion, but let me take a step back and explain what I mean. I will start with a simple question: why does your customer purchase from you?

Are they looking for sales or administrative support? How about a trusted thought partner? Are they looking to generate more productivity, or perhaps replicate the practices of top performers in their industry? Are you providing an invaluable service? Regardless of the specific reason, I would venture to say they have to come to you because you differentiated yourself in your space and have become an expert, even if only by degrees.

It is in this expertise that your social currency has grown to create traffic, allowed you to source leads, and helped you close new business. Your customers have come to you because you have provided a solution to a problem, often a solution or a problem they didn’t realize they needed or had (respectively) until your reach overlapped with their search. So if they are looking for the best possible service, why would you settle for only reaching the very low benchmark of what they want?

I want to stress that I am not advocating for ignoring customer needs; instead, I am saying go beyond the bare minimum and find out what they really want. Ask questions, actively listen, and empathize with their position in order to create a smoother process to offer the greatest possible customer experience (or product).

It leads you away from taking ownership. Always assuming the customer is right sets up a situation where ownership of the core values of your process, service, or product has becomes about a customer’s emotional state during the sale. For you to continue to provide a high level of service, you need to understand what took you there in the first place: ownership of your process, product, or service. If a customer thinks the best way to do something is in direct contrast to your best practices (that have continuously yielded results), then own that and sell them on the value of your approach; after all, they need help and you are there to provide it (not the other way around).

Always assume innocence. Try not to see something nefarious where there is nothing; remember that hoof-beats mean horses, not zebras. If a customer wants to do things a certain way, it doesn’t mean that they are doing so to be purposefully belligerent. They might not understand why you have a process in place. Being empathetic to their position and assuming ignorance in lieu of belligerence will keep you from feeling marginalized or resentful of a customer request. You can learn a lot from listening to an angry or dissatisfied customer with an open mind.

Look for teaching opportunities. Realizing that the customer might not always be right opens up opportunities to teach your process or the value of your product. The reason why people dislike salespeople who pressure them is because they feel like they are being sold to; there is no real connection to speak of. Seeing the sales process as educating a lead or potential client on the value of what you provide not only makes them feel like the sale is a discussion, but helps you to better understand what you are doing. Really understanding yourself and your process pays dividends: it makes you both a better person and a better businessperson.

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Excellence is a habit

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The notion of excellence transcends culture; every nation and tribe has a concept of what it means to have unusually good talent, or being possessed of extraordinary talent. It is not just hyperbole. These precepts were predicated on surpassing measurable standards of performance, whatever the domain.

When you talk about excellence in your company (or in your everyday life), are you talking about something that is an action or how something looks? Are you creating moving targets that create the illusion of expansion and productivity and distinction? Or are you merely removing the ability to turn excellence into a habit?

Excellence has become the parlance of marketing, indie, and business startup culture, and it has been reduced to meaninglessness; to a great abyss full of words meant for statistically improbable situations. Excellence, in fact, is not an act; it is a habit. Engaging in this verbal anemia has diluted the ability to recognize achievement, resulting in new jargon to describe states that were previously subsumed by ideas of excellence.

So what?

A discerning thought leader (jargon alert) needs to understand not only the meaning of the word in the context of their industry, but as well as how one reaches the state they have lavished with overuse: excellence. Habits are created over thousands of hours through a careful and organized approach with a goal in mind.

Excellence is not achieved in the moment; it is earned over time.

Repetition reinforces pathways. Dendritic activity arises from novel situations: taking a new way home, learning to play an instrument, writing a book, or taking a run in the middle of your day. However, repeating activities reinforces the neural pathways that govern that behavior, making it easier to perform. Repetition quite literally makes it simpler to accomplish behaviors over time.

Habit formation depends on the task. The ease with which a behavior becomes a habit can often depend on the difficulty of the task and how much familiarity you already have with it. The broadly touted “10 years or 10,000 hours” colloquialism is not far off for the concept of mastery, and therefore excellence, but it could be more or less depending on the manner in which you practice and the quality of that practice. So the next time you are worrying about perfection, cast aside that fear. Concentrate on knowing what you are doing, why are you are doing it, and how you are going to reach your goal.

Fail forward. Failure is work toward a goal; inaction is just noise. Falling down one time or a hundred times does not make you a failure. Walking away from your goals because it hasn’t happened yet ignores the most important fact: failure hasn’t beat you. It is not worth the fear or anxiety, because you are still standing despite the failure. It is inaction that destroys excellence. Forge ahead undeterred by failure; use it as fuel to drive an unstoppable train toward your goals.

Behavioral chains. Behavior modification conjures images of training a pet or Orwellian measures to guarantee compliance. It is a tool, plain and simple. Textbooks and theses have been written on the subject, and psychological theory driven by innumerable discussions. What matters for habit formation and excellence? Pair a salient reinforcer (reward) with something you want to do (behavior): repeat ad infinitum (I’m speaking metaphorically, of course).

Keep it simple. If you try to master a hundred different behaviors, it is going to take more than 10 years. In what aspect of your life does excellence matter? Commit and doggedly pursue it, falling down and getting back up thousands of times along the way. The process needn’t be complex: I want to be great at (x); therefore, I will approximate doing (x) in the following way (y) for as long as it takes. Simplicity is your friend.

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Show me your network, I’ll show you your future

Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network event - NYCWhen we are younger, we are the sum total of the people we interact with; we are labelled according to the group we inhabit. As we get older, this doesn’t really change. For entrepreneurs and business-savvy people, your network accurately represents your ceiling, your floor, and your future. I realize that can be a paralyzing idea; I chose to see it as a liberating idea. If we can come to understand the people who influence us, then we can change the strength, value, and direction of that influence and get a better bead on who we want to be 5, 10, 25 years.

So what exactly do I mean?

Specify who and why, its health, and how they interact with your goals. When you look around at your peer group, your network, who is in it? Do you feel like you have healthy interactions and relationships? Are any of them toxic? Do they cramp your productivity, your ability to reach your goals? The first step is to decide who is in your professional network and who is in your personal network. I’m not advocating doing a comparative list for friends you still talk to from college (at least not here); what I am talking about here is the professional contacts you interact with frequently, who enter into your personal narrative. With that in mind, make a list of who they are, why they are in your network, and what their goals are. If you can’t answer those questions, then that in and of itself might be an answer.

Go through your networks and analyze. Alright, you’ve made your lists. So what? Well, now comes the critical reflection. I’m hoping you have some ideas of your goals. They can be soft ideas, but they should be clear. How do the people in your network stack up? Are they flagging on their goals? How can you help them? Can helping them help grow your network? Could some of these folks become warm leads if you only followed up and resuscitated the network?

What does all this amount to? Well, a lot of questions. Being able to answer these questions will allow you to see your network for what it is, a living outline for future. You can adapt and change your direction, but if you are always carrying weight without knowing why, then you set yourself up to be dragged down, often without notice or warning.

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Become a Productivity Ninja

Product_NinBeing productive is at the top of nearly every list for entrepreneurs, students, and writers alike; it is the holy grail of success, as it is the turnkey solution to just doing more. There are volumes upon volumes of books available for you to jump on board the latest trend that is touting productivity hacks or how to be a growth junkie; alas, this post, in many ways, shares a frightening number of similarities. There will be jargon galore and, of course, a list.

You came looking, so here they are:

Map out your day. How does a typical workday look to you? Knowing the answer to this simple question can offer structure, which can then turn into the scaffolding for a well-designed day. Break up your day into hour-long segments and figure out what happens when. Getting the lay of the land will allow you flexibility you didn’t known you had. As the saying goes: know the rules, so you can break them.

Set deadlines. There is a lot of evidence to support that setting deadlines increases productivity and efficacy. Knowing the finish line and how long you have to reach it gives you the subtle push you need to make the time to get things done. Do you have something that needs to be done by the end of the day? Set a deadline and hold yourself accountable, perhaps even reward yourself with something when you meet that goal.

Manage your inbox. The dreaded deluge of morning emails that never quite gets gone through, and then the inevitable carryover that follows you like a specter all week. We have all looked at our emails and thought: where did they all come from? A large percentage of the emails we receive are by no means relevant to our day-to-day operations, which the playing field for improving productivity. All of the subscriptions to blogs and websites, forwarded emails, and benign cold emails clutter this precious communication channel. There are great tools out there that will optimize your email contacts and turn that pile into a pipeline. A simple solution for someone who wants to see less in their box every day: learn to use folders and unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t want.

Plan the night before. I know, no one wants to do more work outside of the 9-5 grind; however, making a task list for the following day, even if it is only a few items, sets you up for success the following day. Really, it needn’t be right before you go to bed. It could be in the last few minutes at work. As you take a moment to collect your thoughts and things, jot down some tasks you would like to make sure you finish the following day. See, there are still uses for all those Post-It notes in the supply closet. For the tech savvy, make a note on smart phone and set a reminder for when you usually get to your desk in the morning.

Know what you’re doing. It’s important to know why you are working on something. Building on previous items, you can ask yourself if you are working on the items that will lead to completing the items you set out to complete. This is all about have the right items on your to-do list; and if you planned ahead and mapped your day, this should be a breeze.  

Automate what you can. We all have some tasks that do not exactly rev our engine; these are the things that we would rather hit the snooze button on if we could to have a lazy Sunday morning. Part of mapping out your day and having an accurate to-do list is so that you can automate what can be automated, and save that precious creative energy on tasks worthy of it.

Fall in love with reminders. None of us want to be reminded of what we aren’t doing, but checking in with your goals will keep them forefront in your mind. Reminders can come in all shapes and sizes: a co-worker acting as an accountability partner; a Post-It note on your computer screen; a flow chart on your whiteboard; or a push notification on your smartphone.

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Organization is your friend. Clutter and organized chaos are two entirely different beasts, and are too often confused for one another. One lacks basic organization and another represents productivity despite a mountain of tasks. Organizing what you do is an important step to getting that black belt in productivity ninjitsu. Have a rhyme and reason for why you are working on task, and organize your day in a way that makes sense to reach your goals. Do you have a particular task that you need done by noon? Schedule in small tasks from the moment you start your day to when the task needs to be completed.

Focus. This is particularly difficult when you are simply floating from task to task without any real plan. Focusing will be much easier if you simply stopped switching between tasks without completing anything. Buckling down and pushing ahead with one task at a time will make it easier to move through that to-do list; provided, of course, that you made that list (I’m looking at you, serial procrastinator).

Avoid digital distraction. Let’s face it, we live in a digital world (and I’m a digital…never mind). Between hungry apps that want all of our attention and the immediciacy of social media and messaging, we are primed to look at our phones and other devices every few seconds. As you can imagine, this is the antithesis is of focus and productivity. You have my permission. If you’re not using the device, turn it off.

Manage your time. I left the best for last. Time management (something we excel at it) is at the intersection of productivity and success. Not managing your time effectively are the little goblins that steal time and misplace it such that you always feel like the day got away from you. The best thing you can do is follow everything up until this point and then introspect on what makes you tick. How do you work best? When do you get most excited? Perhaps a noon lunch-hour slows you down for the rest of the day and you are better suited an early brunch and then a brief coffee break to reinvigorate that innovation. A rule of thumb that has returned dividends is to work 45-50 minutes of each hour, focusing on whatever task you have set forth, and then meditate and reflect in the remaining 10-15 minutes to recharge.

Master these simple behaviors and you will be on your way to being a productivity ninja!

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