April 13, 2015
by Serg Koren
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Part 42 – Five Ways To Boost Productivity

We often feel overwhelmed by the amount we have to accomplish or complete. This feeling moves from our business lives into our personal ones. We are always looking for ways to get more done without looking for ways to get more time in which to do it. This leads to stress and usually results in a drop in productivity, which leads to a vicious cycle as we try to catch up.

Here are 5 ways of boosting your productivity and reducing stress that I have found work for me.

1 – Don’t multitask.

Contrary to what most people think, trying to work on more than a single task does not improve productivity. Humans don’t multitask, that is, the mind can’t work on more than a single task at any point in time. What the mind does is switch from task to task very rapidly. This feels like you are accomplishing a lot. In reality all you have done is worked a little on a lot of tasks, and you haven’t made any real progress on any one of them. It is better to focus on a single task and clear it off your plate. This frees up time for you to move on to the next task, and so on.

It is better to finish a single task than to work on a hundred you may never finish.

2 – Gain knowledge

If you feel you are overwhelmed because you have been thrown into the deep end of a task, perhaps you should get help or take a break and get some training that will help you complete it. Education and training is often thought of as a waste of time by a company, and a common outlook is “If you’re training, you’re not producing.” Education and training are always an investment in the future rather than a cost. Even the most task-specifc training can yield ways of solving other problem sets which will help make you more productive overall.

It is better to learn how to do something once, than to struggle over and over trying to solve a problem.

3 – Take breaks

How many times have you spent long hours or even days working on a single problem late into the night without taking a break? The longer you work, the more tired you get, and your productivity drops off. If you complete the task, you are spent and either collapse or come down with a cold or flu. Then you need to take time off to recover, which may put you further behind on other tasks. It may seem that whatever you need to accomplish is the top priority, but the real top priority is your own sanity and health. Your productivity is zero when you are either sick or dead. If this is your normal way of working, I would recommend looking into the Pomodoro Technique™ http://pomodorotechnique.com as a way of maintaining a rhythm rather than a downward spiral.

It is better to take a lot of quick breaks than to push yourself to exhaustion.

4 – Learn to say no

Saying to no to a request to do “one more thing”, is not a failure. Saying no is a sign of character and understanding your own capabilities and limits. If you can’t say no, then you need to prioritize and as you add a new task, remove one you are currently working on and either put it aside or let someone else handle it. If you have more than three things you have to complete in a single day you are overbooked regardless of how quickly you think you can clear your plate. If you clear your tasks for the day only then consider taking on a new task.

Adding more tasks does not improve productivity, completing tasks does.

It is better to say no than say yes and fail.

5 – Stop thinking and start doing

Too often in business, time is spent over-analyzing, over-meeting, over-talking, over-getting consensus. Thinking and talking about a problem is required, but conversely time spent this way is not completing the task  If you find yourself in analysis-paralysis it is better to take a leap of faith and just try something. You may not succeed, but you at least you have learned something and eliminated an option you were discussing.

It is better to do something than not to do anything.

Remember that the root of the word productivity is “produce”.  It’s not “work”. Just because you are working, you may not be producing. Working harder doesn’t mean you are producing more.

 

 

March 30, 2015
by Serg Koren
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Part 41 – 5 Ways The Internet Of Things Will Disrupt Your Business

In this installment, I’m going to provide a few ideas on the coming Internet of Things, or IoT as it has been called. We are just entering the early stages with wearables, home security, and controllable color-changing lightbulbs.

Startups and entrepreneurs will have many ways of taking advantage of the IoT.

1 – Security

It’s difficult enough keeping smartphones out of areas or businesses, or at a minimum keeping them turned off. Wearables and small devices make the issue of security more urgent.  The IoT will need to worry about devices that not only collect data but transmit as well. It’s just a matter of time until we see audio and video pickups embedded into clothing or smartwatches; a few already do.

Miniaturization of IoT devices will make them ubiquitous.

Technologies will need to be developed to detect these wearable components, and at some point “damping” technologies will be required  and commercially available to jam reception and transmission in a localized area. This will become more cost-effective than specialized detectors in public areas such as airports.

2 – Competition

Devices will follow the evolutionary steps of the computer industry.  At first, vendors will create proprietary devices with proprietary  data stream protocols  There will be a need to create gateways and routers that allow disparate devices to exchange data.  As the IoT evolves, payload protocols (note, not the connection protocols) will become more “standards-based” allowing devices from different vendors to seamlessly interoperate.

The Internet of Things will see an uptick in the number of established companies and new companies entering this arena. The cost of devices will be high initially but will plummet quickly due to increases of scale and improvements in process and manufacturing.  The goal should be low-cost, disposable, environment-friendly wearables and devices.

Why disposable?

3 -Support

Supporting and fixing a broken computer, car, or toaster is still possible. Swapping a watch battery is still possible, but even that is a dying business. The sheer number , variety, and small size of coming devices will make fixing these objects a nightmare.  Support of these objects will come down to answering questions and at most replacement. Again this points to a low-cost, disposable approach.  There will be exceptions.

4 – Opportunities

The IoT will provide new opportunities for infrastructure, products, companies, software, security, and data management. At some level every business will need to take the IoT into account if not directly involved in it. A lot of startups will come and go. A few will be able to outlive the rest and will be the Apples and Googles of the future.

The IoT is currently focused on the individual and home. The IoT will move into manufacturing, medicine, and other business arenas.

5 – Data Overload and Interference

Providing connectivity and bandwidth may become problematic. Devices of the IoT will easily outnumber the current plethora of smartphones and “smart devices” given their future ubiquity and small size. All of these devices will be streaming data that will need to be collected and analyzed.  This will be seriously “big data”.  Companies will develop dedicated “collection point” devices that collect and forward data for analysis, react to control other devices, as well as to update device firmware.  At some point the F.C.C. in the U.S. will become involved to help manage security and inter-device interference complaints.

There are a lot we can’t predict about the IoT, but if things keep moving as they have, the IoT will change a lot at every level of life and business.

 

 

March 17, 2015
by Serg Koren
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Part 40 – Five Ways Small Companies Can Be More Successful Than Huge Corporations

You can be successful when you’re a small company. You don’t have to be a huge corporation. In some ways being small gives you advantages. Here are five.

1 – Small companies tend to have better internal communications

A small company with few employees has fewer layers of bureaucracy. Employees in a small company tend to be more aligned along goals and work efforts as a result. Communication is more direct. There is less internal politics. Better communications can lead to more rapid deployments of products and services.

2 – Small companies tend to be more agile

Large corporations have a lot of inertia. They are driven by long-term marketing efforts, deadlines, and their own history and legacy. Upsetting any of these is painful and costly. Additionally, the corporate policies and workflows are in place to protect the company from legal and stockholder issues. A small company can ofter pivot within a week and can offer solutions that a large corporation in the same industry will not or can not. Fewer people and less red tape can allow a smaller company to outmaneuver a large corporation.

3 -Small companies tend to be less costly to deal with

Small companies have fewer costly investments. Small companies may have no quarterly numbers their workers or stockholders need to meet. Small companies can focus on delivering services and products with less overhead. This allows them to set prices more aggressively.

4 – Small companies can provide more customized options

Large corporations tend to sell pre-packaged products, and allow for little or no ability to customize what you can buy from them. If customized solutions are offered they are priced higher. Being more agile, small companies may not charge for customization, as it may already be part of their core work-flow. Small companies can provide better tailored solutions at lower cost.

5 – Small companies have better focus.

Large corporations tend to have highly diversified product sets, with thousands of employees all working in distinct groups. Resources and funding for any given group is diluted and dependent on whether the group makes its quarterly numbers, not necessarily how good the product or service is inherently. A small company has few products or one or two services. This allows them to focus all of their efforts into their core business. A small company doesn’t have to compete with itself. This can lead to faster improvement and better overall quality.

So, if you’re a small business and you’re successful, be careful, as you try to grow.

March 10, 2015
by Serg Koren
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Part 39 – Five Easy Ways to Improve Quality

It doesn’t matter what sort of business you are in. The quality you provide is always a key selling point and one reason your clients and customers will come back.  Quality is a differentiator. Here are five ways anyone can improve the quality of their product.

1 – Don’t Assume Someone Else Will Fix Quality Problems

If you discover a quality issue, it becomes your problem and responsibility to deal with. If you can, fix the issue yourself.  If you’re in a large or complex environment, it is your responsibility to make others aware of the problem. However, when possible, fix it yourself.

2 – Don’t Defer Fixing Quality Problems

If you detect a quality issue, don’t put off fixing it.  Doing so may lead to bad products leaving your business. Deferring quality issues in project environments may cause the problem to be forgotten or overlooked.  Solving a problem immediately allows the benefits of the fix to trickle down the process chain. Quality problems are never minor.

3 – Take Your Time Fixing Quality Problems

Your instincts regarding how to fix an issue are probably correct..  However, you should take your time and think through what you are going to do and take your time in doing it.  Fixing one problem may cause new ones. Think about each step of the fix and the possible consequences of that step.  Fixing a problem is a process, not an immediate miracle.

4 – Be Positive About Fixing Quality Problems

Looking for problems shouldn’t be depressing or frustrating.  It’s just a fact of every business. There are always quality issues and quality can always be improved.  If you detect a problem, it is not a personal attack on you or your company. When you detect a problem, come up with a solution and get feedback from others about the fix before you implement it. Don’t compound the problem by being too close to it; you need objectivity.

5 – Document Fixing Quality Problems

It is important you document the problem and the fix.  This not only raises awareness to your management and coworkers but can also act as documentation in case the problem reoccurs Don’t reinvent a successful fix.

 

Quality is easy to overlook in the heat of pushing a new product out. Being Lean and delivering frequently doesn’t mean you skimp on improving quality.  To every customer and client, quality is always an implicit requirement.

 

March 2, 2015
by Serg Koren
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Part 38 – Five Ways To Deal With The Snow And Start A Business

[This post is somewhat serious.  The point is, try to look at problems in a different way to find solutions you may not normally consider.]

A lot of our country is in the grips of winter and multiple snow storms.  Many of us are bemoaning the cold and piles of snow (with more on the way).  Some cities are trying to figure out what to do with those piles.

1 – Melt It

Snow takes up more space than snow and ice.  Start a snow melting business.  You’ll have to deal with the water, but you could filter,or distill and bottle it, to sell it for non-potable uses. Sell the recovered salts back to the city.

The west coast is in the grips of a major drought. This would have a secondary benefit of alleviating the flooding that comes with snow melt off. They might welcome water for agricultural uses.  A further enhancement to melting may be to evaporate it.  Use the steam to power something, or sell the power.

2 – Compact It

Speaking of ice, you could take snow, compress it and create ice to store perishable foods in what used to be known as “ice boxes”.  If nothing else compressing snow would reduce the amount of space snow occupies. Compressed snow bricks could be used to build temporary structures such as the hotels built from ice.

3 – Promote It 

Create the world’s largest snow-person or snow maze and charge admission as a tourist attraction.

4 – Use it to make beer or candy

Both beer and candy making require rapid cooling.  Use the snow to cool your wort or harden your candy.  NOTE: You shouldn’t use snow as an ingredient.

5 – Sell It

Someone is actually doing this on eBay.  Pack up the snow in insulated containers and sell it to people who want it for parties, or souveniers.  People are buying.

 

So, you’ve been handed lemons (or snow), make lemonade (or Italian water ice).  And remember the snow when you are complaining about the heat of summer.

 

February 24, 2015
by Serg Koren
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Part 37 – Five Reasons To Quit Your Job And Work For Yourself

Most people are afraid to take the plunge and quit their job. Fear of losing a steady and somewhat guaranteed income is probably at the top of the list of reasons. Here are five reasons to help alleviate the fear and why you should work for yourself.

1 – Follow Your Dreams Not Someone Else’s

When you work for yourself, you get to set the goals, deadlines, and process. We have all worked for someone and said, “I can do a better job.”  Working for yourself lets you prove you can. If you have a vision few companies will let you follow yours over theirs. Starting your own business lets you set the rules and move your own priorities to the top of the list.

2 – Leave the Corporate Machine

A lot of people hate being trapped in the cubicle world where the corporation takes priority over the individual. Starting your own business immediately flattens the management structure and you can start with a small, more personal, and interactive environment. If you are a “people person” leaving your company may be a good way to get back to what matters to you.

3 – Learn to run a business

One of the best ways to learn something is by doing it yourself. When you are working for a company, you rarely get to see what goes on in the upper echelons unless you are already part of the structure. By starting your own business you may be thrown into deep end of the pool, so to speak, but you will learn fast. The satisfaction  in being able to succeed on your own will soon overcome the fear.

4 – Get Out of Your Rut.

Nowadays there are few real chances to rise in the ranks of a corporation. People tend to move laterally rather than upward. So if you have been employed for any length of time you have been doing the same thing for a long time and are set in your own ways. Leaving your job and starting your own business are a good way to take your expertise into a different arena. It is also a good way to try something completely different.

5 – Money Isn’t Everything and You Can Always Get Another Job.

As I mentioned money is usually the primary reason why people don’t quit their job. The reality is, if you fail in starting your own business, you can always find another job. It won’t be the end of the world. True, a steady or comparable income may be difficult to get again, but it can be done.

Leaving your steady job in order to start your own business may be stressful, but will you regret not trying? If the answer yes, you need to seriously consider doing so.

February 17, 2015
by Serg Koren
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Part 36 – Five Things You Should Never Do In A Meeting

I’ve been in more meetings than is probably healthy. Here are five things that you should not do in the meeting if the meeting is to have value.

1 – Never Answer the Phone, Text, Browse the Web, or Play Games

I’ve been in a lot of meetings where a person, or even the person driving the meeting answers their phone and worse, sometimes takes the call in the meeting room. This not only shows a lack of respect, but if it is your meeting, shows the meeting is not that important. If it is less important than a phone call, then why hold it at all? Don’t waste people’s time with your calls, personal or not.

Many people use a meeting to text, or surf the web, or play games.  Usually this is because the person doesn’t know why they are part of the meeting, doesn’t feel invested in the subject, or have been forced to attend. Make sure the people attending are really needed in the meeting.

2 -Never Expect To Remember What Was Said

Nowadays meetings are less formal than in the past. There is no one taking “minutes”, and rarely are there set topics.  However, there should be some sort of record of what the meeting accomplished and what needs to be done as a result.  You may think you’ll remember, but odds are you won’t. Recording lets you replay the meeting.  This can help in clarifying your thoughts or how you interpret what was said. Distance in time can help understanding.

3 – Never Nap

Yes, I’ve seen this. This usually occurs after lunch in a crowded room with poor ventilation or all day meetings.  Make sure the room is well ventilated.  The other reason may be due to the meeting’s content or discussions not applying to the napper.  If you feel yourself dozing off, ask for a bathroom break, and head outside for a minute for some fresh air and to clear your mind.  If you’re dozing off, odds are others are as well and would welcome a break.

4 – Never Try to Build Consensus

Often a meeting starts out as planned, and then devolves into members trying to come to agreement amongst the stakeholders.  This may even progress to arguments.  Some of the people in attendance are not decision makers or stakeholders.  A consensus building meeting is fine if everyone attending has an interest and has the power to implement the outcome.  A targeted meeting isn’t the place or time. If you are a decision maker, don’t waste ever one else’s time.

5 – Never  Leave Without Your Own Action Items

Again meetings are lot more informal now.  If nothing results from a meeting, the meeting was useless.  A lot of times there is either verbal direction or agreement as to what needs to happen as a follow up.  At a minimum you need to write down what you are expected to do.  Follow up with an email verifying your understanding of what is expected of you.  A written commitment is always better than a verbal agreement, and sets the proper levels of expectation.

Paying attention and focusing in a meeting will make it worthwhile and make you more productive as a result.

February 2, 2015
by Serg Koren
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Part 35 – 5 Things To Do On A Weekend To Improve Your Business And Your Life

If you improve your life, you can do a better job of improving your business without focusing on the business. Here are five things anyone can do to help reset after a stressful week.

1 – Get Outside

We all spend way too much time indoors. This tends to impose physical and mental constraints on us. If you live in a box, you think in a box, and think the world outside is just a big box. Getting outside will open up real horizons and improve your well-being by removing the pressure of having walls around you. Exercising outside will help as well, if all you do is spend time in an enclosed gym.

2 – Read Non-Business Related Content

This includes ignoring emails, texts, and business documents of all sorts. There is more to growing your mind and business than solving business issues full-time. Reading a novel, or something humorous will lift your spirits and help align your priorities and perspective. Even reading a comic book can help with new ideas and relieve stress.

3 – Eat Something You Don’t Normally Eat During the Week

Business lunches, bag lunches, fast food, and candy from a machine tend to be lunch during the work week and full of stress. Go out or cook and really enjoy a meal with friends or family during the weekend. This helps you reconnect and relax. Just don’t talk business. If you’re on a diet, consider this a reward for doing well the rest of the week.

4 – Protect Your Health

Destress, relax, exercise, and get some restful sleep. Just because you’re in bed with your eyes closed thinking about next week’s meetings doesn’t mean you’re resting.

5 – Be A Kid Again

Do something silly. Act silly. Have fun. Enjoy life. You’re the serious adult and business person the rest of the week. Do you even remember how to have fun and be a kid? Relearn if you need to. Spend time with pets and your kids.

You’re working to improve your life, you’re not living to improve your business. But by improving your life you will improve your business as a by-product.

January 19, 2015
by Serg Koren
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Part 34 – Five Places To Find Inspiration and Product Ideas

Having inspiration and ideas allow you to maintain passion and energy while on the job and give you new product options. So where do you find inspiration and new product ideas? Here are five places you may not have considered.

1 – Co-workers

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Your co-workers and their varied backgrounds, experiences, and interests can provide new perspectives and approaches to your business and performing routine tasks. New product and marketing ideas can originate here as well.  Don’t dismiss your co-workers out-of-hand just because you see them all the time. They can see problems you may not admit to having and give you ways to solve them.

2 – Customers and Clients

The people who use your product or service are a great source of new ideas. If you pay attention and listen closely you will find that they often mention a need or a desire in passing. This is a good source for new products or services.  They will also tell you about their interests. Incorporating their interests into a product or service may provide new opportunities and show you pay attention. Similarly, pain-points and problems encountered in using your product or service are an obvious way to improve it or create a better one.

3 – Nature

Nature is a great place to find design inspiration as well as ways of looking for green solutions.  Spending time in nature also relaxes many, and may provide a way to convert an outdoor hobby into a business or product. Nature may also give you a solution you can apply to technical problems.

4 – Your Personal Pain-Points and Interests

This is a great one because it is close to you and can motivate you.  If you have a problem dealing or working with something, many other people probably also do.  Find a way to solve the problem and leverage it into a product or service.  Being close to a problem gives you first-hand information about how well our solution works. Having a vested interest always helps drive passion.

5 – Repetition

If you experience having to do something over and over, you have found a process that can be improved or replaced.  For example, something as trivial as having to take your keys out, find the right key, insert it into a lock, then turn it, is being replaced by smart locks.  Look for repetition, simplify and replace it.  That’s a great way to find new products.

Finding product ideas isn’t very hard. It comes down to keeping an open mind and paying attention to the people and things around you.

January 12, 2015
by Serg Koren
0 comments

Part 33 – Five Ways To Improve Your Productivity

A Minimally Viable Startup needs to produce and deliver products rapidly and efficiently if it is to grow and survive. Improving individual productivity isn’t as much about making more time, but about using the time you have better.  Here are five things everyone can do to improve their personal productivity.

Some of these ideas may seem counter-intuitive or controversial.

1 – Do Less Planning

Planning is obviously required, but developing a perfect plan for the perfect product takes time.  You can never plan for every contingency, and something will arise to disrupt your perfect plan.  A plan is a route to a product, it’s not the product itself. Have a well-defined plan to produce a product, but don’t spend more time than necessary in the planning phase.  A minimally viable product doesn’t require a perfect plan.

Along the same lines, don’t waste time trying to get complete buy-in from everyone involved. In this early stages of a product it’s more about proving you can deliver value quickly than deliver something everyone wants. Produced value will help get additional buy-in.

2 – Do Less Emailing and Printing Or Copying

Only create emails and print documents when essential. First, these activities are non-productive. Writing an email when you can make a phone call or walk over to someone and have a chat introduces filters and distance between you and what you want to accomplish via the email.  When you’re composing an email, you’re talking to yourself and not to the person involved. One-sided conversations are not productive. A good reason for an email is to provide confirmation.

Printing or copying documents is an obvious waste of time and non-productive. You either stand around next to the printer/copier or you’re waiting for someone to do it for you. Sometimes copies are required, such as for a meeting or a class. Ask yourself, are you copying something that is better transmitted verbally or via a whiteboard?

3 – Prioritize Tasks By Difficulty

Are your tasks prioritized by duration or value?  Prioritize by value and then sort the top 20% of those items by difficulty.  Execute the most difficult items first. Throw away the bottom 80% of the items.  Once you’ve handled the top 20%, repeat the process with a new list. Yes you may have some of the same items you threw out, but creating a new list is faster than reevaluating all the old items to see whether they still apply.Focus on what you need, not on what you may or may not need.

4 – Help Someone Finish A Task

If possible, leverage your time by helping another person finish one of their tasks. This has several advantages. First, it helps another person’s productivity, which helps your company as a whole. It also helps build community within the organization. Finally, the person you help will be more likely to help you when you need it most.

5 – Learn To Do Something New

This is an important one.  Get training mentoring, or take a class.  Doing so will allow you to be more efficient, open up new options, reduce your need to ask for help, and allow you to help or mentor others.  Productivity is related to your ability to find  and implement solutions. The more knowledge you have the more options you have. Remember the old axiom: When someone hands you a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Put more tools in your toolbox.

There are many other ways to increase your productivity. Remember, work smarter; working harder will just make you more tired, not more productive.

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