Do More in Less Time

I recently read an excerpt from the book, “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Copyright © 2016), shared it with a client group for discussion, and I’m now reading the book. BTW, my clients really identified with the topic and had positive feedback.

The title of the excerpt is: “Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too – Many famous scientists have something in common—they didn’t work long hours.

In simple terms, the book (and article) explain why some of the most productive people ever to set foot on the planet only “worked” (or work if they’re still alive) about four hours a day. The opening of the book is about the science behind this (proving it) and is a bit deep as the author describes the various brain tests and similar.

Charles Darwin is a perfect example of this as he put in three intense 90-minute segments a day of work. The rest of his day was filled with correspondence (email to us), walking, napping, family, etc. During this time, and on this schedule, he wrote 19 books including the famous, “The Origin of Species.”

Other interesting tidbits:

  • Studies have shown there’s an “M” curve of productivity, which peaks at between 10 and 20 hours of work per week. After that, it’s lower productivity. In fact, 60-hour per week researchers were the least productive of all.
  • Great performers (music, dance, sports) didn’t practice more than the average but they practiced more deliberately. This means, “engaging with full concentration in a special activity to improve one’s performance.” It’s more than repetition, it’s focused, structured, and has clear goals and feedback.
  • The biggest factor was rest. The best scientists, musicians, dancers, and athletes, made sure they got enough rest, sleeping an average of one hour more per day than those not as good.

Interestingly, a few weeks ago I returned on Tuesday from a long weekend of fishing and other things, got in my office Wednesday morning about 8:00, at 10:00 I took my first break, realized how much I had accomplished, and noted I needed a break. It hit me how subconsciously I was doing as described in the book.

“I’m at the point where naps are a necessity not a luxury.” My best friend’s dad to my dad when both were in their 70’s

Pace Yourself with Urgency

The Seattle Mariners, like quite a few teams, started their 2017 season very slowly, going 2-8 at one point. The press and the casual fans started to panic, then they won 4 games in a row.

You see, the baseball season is like a life, it’s long and has many ups and downs. A baseball team with a 50-50 record at the All-Star break has plenty of time, there’s still a lot of season left.

By contrast, football is like a year of life. There’s 10% of the games (in football versus baseball), and a bad few games, like a bad few months in life or business, can wreck your season/year. A football team that is 5-5 at the same 5/8 point of the season better go at least 5-1 the rest of the way or they’re in trouble.

It’s why, in life and business, we need a balance between the short and long term. We can’t panic every time we lose a deal and we can’t get overly excited when we do get a deal. Our focus should be on what we need to do every day to keep a steady stream of customers coming in our door, which means long term strategy implementation.

However, we can’t lose urgency. Some things need be done now. You can’t put off phone calls for a month and expect potential customers to still be there. I can’t miss three weeks of this memo and then have four come out in one week.

For years I’ve told all my clients (buy-sell, coaching, mentoring, etc.) if they keep doing the things they are supposed to do, good things will happen. Of course, it usually takes someone who knows what the heck they’re doing to make sure the things they’re doing are the right things being done the right way.

“Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in’.” Ronald Reagan


Leverage Our Instant Communication World

We live in the age of instant communication. We also live in the age of someone with a microphone just about everywhere. Mitt Romney found it out in 2012 and recently in the Seattle ares two fire district commissioners got in hot water when they made comments about controlling the budget by hiring Mexican firefighters because they can pay them less.

What we can learn from this is any communication can travel fast. I recently posted an article on LinkedIn and within an hour I had a call and an email about it (and more later).

It shows that even though there is so much information out there, if it’s of value it gets noticed. Why so many newsletters, like this one? Because people get them, read them, like them, etc. Why a lot of comments on LinkedIn posts (and especially Facebook posts, even the inane ones)? Same answer.

You sustain this by providing value. Posting someone else’s catchy saying or inspirational message online takes nothing more than perusing the Internet and doing some copy and paste. Taking the time to offer value makes people realize you know what the heck you’re doing.

Whether you provide advice as I do, sell an industrial product, or provide a service, stand out in a noisy world by giving people worthwhile information. It’s worth the little bit of extra time versus copying someone else’s work.

“Diplomacy is the art of telling plain truths without giving offense.” Winston Churchill


Let Your Employees Handle the Trophy

The front page of the Seattle Times sports section on March 20, 2017 had a picture of Seattle Sounders co-owner Drew Carey carrying the MLS Championship Cup as fans and he marched to the game. On the radio that day I heard a discussion that included:

  • How one of the announces was at the game and pre-game march and said the trophy was passed around amongst the fans.
  • One of the other announcers comparing this to when the Seahawks Super Bowl trophy was and is on display there’s a “guard,” he was the only one allowed to handle it, and he only touched it while wearing white gloves.

Think about this as you create policies for your employees. Is your company one where the owner is involved in everything (being the guard)? Is the owner a bottleneck because everything goes across his or her desk? (This also applies to any department head and his or her reports.)

Or is your firm one where the employees get to handle the trophy? Meaning, the employees get responsibility, the ability to make decisions, and the ability to learn from those decisions.

I’m going to state how it’s better policy to have the employees involved versus a bottleneck, which we also call a dependency. Whether you believe me on this or not realize if it’s ever time to sell your company the buyer will be interested in this. They want a competent management team and employees who can get things done without babysitting.

If you’re skeptical about this, here’s a short example. A client owns a firm in the trades, is looking to buy a smaller firm, and we found what appeared to be a good target. However, one of the supposedly experienced tradesperson can’t be sent to a job on his own. The owner must take him to the job, go over the job with him, and then he’s okay. This was a deal killer as my client doesn’t have the time or inclination to babysit like this. Let your employees “handle the trophy.”

“If I don’t go into work a little scared, I don’t have any interest in it.” Mary Tyler Moore

Estimates and Misclassifying Will Hurt You

It’s March and that means college basketball tournaments aka, March Madness. It’s your typical tournament in that all the number one and two seeds won their first games and by the end of the second round a number one, two number twos, and a number three had been upset. Also, the “experts” proclaimed some teams had been seeded lower than they should have been and therefore got games too tough too early.

Recently I wrote a very well received post about how projections are mostly meaningless. The same applies here but we should give credit to those seeding these teams as 75% of the “Sweet Sixteen” are where they’re supposed to be. Of course, even the experts brackets were busted by these and other upsets.

Those teams upsetting the much higher seeds got hot at the right time and these factors the same in our day-to-day businesses. Think about how often a “for sure” client doesn’t become a client. Or how the longshot customer buys from you without (what you perceive to be) too much effort.

We all misclassify the likelihood of someone doing business with us (both ways) and every so often we get “hot” at the right time, say the right thing, etc. That’s life, and it’s part of what makes life and business interesting. Of course, if, like sports teams, we practice what we do (and practice correctly), we reduce the chances of upsets and increase the chances of getting hot.

“The man who says his wife can’t take a joke forgets that she took him.” Oscar Wilde

Scare Tactics Selling; Just Like Fake News and Alternative Facts          

I guess it’s the era as it seems we’ve regressed to the days of misleading everything. Let’s ignore the political stuff even though it seems worse than ever (maybe it’s the speed at which things travel these days).

I’ve been hearing ads for a tax mitigation firm saying, “The IRS is unleashing an army of enforcers….” In other words, only we can save you from having your house, car, and first born taken by the IRS.

Yet at the same time the Seattle Times had an article titled, “Fewer Americans face income-tax audits as IRS loses more agents to budget cuts.” Now which is it, an army of enforcers or fewer employees out there? My guess it’s the latter.

Scare tactics selling. I’m sure it works or they wouldn’t do it. Sounds very 1960’s selling to me (think the reputations of used car salespeople).

Contrast scare tactics selling with what I heard at a workshop last week. A wise sales trainer told us the most important thing he learned from a corporate buyer was “buyers want to be sold.” Not manipulated, not pressured, not mislead, but sold with solid information.

Why? Because this allows them to justify their actions to their boss, the board, a committee, themselves, and, most importantly (if a personal decision) their spouse. Everybody reading this sells something – okay, bankers actually rent money not sell it. J As I tell the students at my class at the SBA, if you ask good questions, understand the issue, and present a solution that provides value the qualified buyer will buy from you.

“Like a narcotic, rudeness offers a sensation of glorious release from jailers no one else can see.” Rachel Cusk

Projections are Useless

At the end of the third quarter of the February, 2017 Super Bowl the announcers were saying viewers should go online and vote for the game’s MVP. With the Falcons ahead by a few touchdowns I’m guessing all the early votes were for Falcon players. I said to my wife, “What if Tom Brady completes a gazillion passes in a row and the Patriots win?” Guess what happened?

Projecting a game’s MVP two-thirds of the way into the game is meaningless. Most business projections are meaningless, especially if over one year. Customers come and go, employees turnover, etc. One of my clients had a couple customers tell him near the end of Q3 they had over-ordered early in the year and there would be no more orders until January. The customers’ projections were off and therefore my client’s projections were off.

Yet I see businesses for sale put out nice five year projections. And guess what, they all show steady sales growth and escalating profit growth. When is the last time you saw a business grow at the same rate every year for five years?

Just like picking an MVP in the third quarter of a football game business projections are usually nothing more than an (optimistic) guessing game, and are usually off base, especially when for longer than 12 months.

“Behind every failure there is an opportunity someone wishes they missed.” Lily Tomlin

Dependencies Will Kill Your Valuation

As I write this, and as you read this, I’m in Antigua, West Indies on a Rotary service project, “Improving Education Through Technology.” This means installing computers, Wi-Fi networks, and training teachers on how to teach better (reach the kids) using technology.

This is our 12th project and it’s much like a small business. Our annual cash budget is over $100,000 and the total value including in-kind, donations, and discounts is about $250,000. It’s also like a small business in that it’s top heavy.  My friend Jeff Mason with the Bellevue School District’s Cisco Networking program, technology side, and me, business side, are true project dependencies.

If I couldn’t secure funding, write the Rotary matching grant application, deal with the bureaucracy, and the politics there would be no project. If Jeff wasn’t around to procure equipment, get it ready, pack it, load it, and train our team of students, who do the on-the-ground work, the project wouldn’t happen.

Compare this to a business, and not even micro-businesses doing hundreds of thousands a year in sales. Compare it to a business doing $1-10 million in sales where you can fill in the blank, “The owner is the only one who ________.” It could be she:

  • Can program the machine
  • Can finalize the bids
  • Has the customer relationships

Or a myriad of other tasks. The chances are these owners can’t go to New Zealand for a month and have the same business when they return.

Business owners need to get others to do what only they now do. It won’t happen on our project, and probably shouldn’t, but it needs to happen in a business if the owner wants the value to increase.

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” Stanislaw Jerzy Lee

Deal of All Kinds Get Disrupted

In the business news at the end of January were stories about how the Walgreens deal to buy Rite Aid had the price drop because Walgreens, as per a government edict, can’t take over as many Rite Aid stores as planned (someone will have to find a buyer for those other stores).

Things happen all the time to derail deals, and not just buy-sell deals.

Jobs – a good friend was in the job market, had “the perfect” job lined up, an offer was out, and, boom, the parent company did a reorg and froze all hiring.

Customers – a friend’s company went through hell when some changes at their top customer put the emphasis on price and nothing else. They lost a big contract or two, for very little money, even though the customer’s people who use the product hate the competitor, say they have poor quality, and don’t deliver on time. I guess the number crunchers won this round.

Buy-sell – A few years ago I went through a stretch where three deals disintegrated after signing a letter of intent (LOI). It had been a long time since even one went south after there was a signed LOI (when the Great Recession hit six weeks before closing is all I can remember). Two of these deals had legitimate reasons for not happening, i.e. something happened that changed the company.

The other one (and one from about 1.5 years ago) went bad for the reason most good businesses don’t get a deal done with a good buyer, and the reason is trust, or the lack thereof. The deal from three years ago had a seller who wouldn’t sign a contract representing and warrantying what he had told the buyer about the business was true and correct. At this point any trust evaporated.

The more recent one was more complicated but it centered around the perception the seller wasn’t interested in the buyer’s success. When the seller wouldn’t take interest, or offer much help prior to closing it became evident once he had his money he’d be hard to track down.

Things happen, and if there’s trust those things are overcome. As in a case from about 10 years ago when the selling business had a sales decline (the seller took his eye off the ball) and he did what he had to do to keep the buyer on board. In this case, it was hiring him to learn the business while it was being “fixed” and prior to closing.

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it – good and hard.” H.L. Mencken


Ethics and Good Business

A client called me last week to discuss the following and keep in mind my recent post about how some firms don’t pay enough (good) attention to their people. He told me:

A key manager with one of our competitors called, she said her employer takes her for granted, doesn’t treat her with respect, and she wants to come and work for me. (This is what happens when you create the right culture.)

She also mentioned she was sure some of her customers would come with her because she has the relationship and there is no non-compete or no non-solicitation clause with her employer.

My clients question to me was, if and after he hired her, is it was ethical to go after her customers?

My reply was “That’s business.” They didn’t have her sign a non-solicitation agreement so if you do it positively and above board it’s okay. And I reminded him that after his second acquisition one of the firm’s employees left and did the same thing.

My example was, if she goes to her customers and says, “I’ve found a better opportunity for you and me with XYZ company and I’d like to talk to you about why I feel it’s better for you” it’s okay. If she goes and badmouths her previous employer it’s wrong, it won’t impress her customers, and it could damage his culture.

What do you think? Would you handle this any differently?

BTW, he has all his people sign a non-solicitation agreement.

“Truth exists; only likes are invented.” Georges Braque