Focus time & cruising altitude

Earlier this week, I quoted a software developer who posted this comment on Twitter:
Surgeon: This procedure will take three hours. Manager: Ok, I can give you from 9:00 to 10:00, 11:00 to 12:00 and 2:00 to 3:00. The rest of the day you’ll be in meetings. Ridiculous, right? Now, imagine the surgeon is a software developer.” 

Someone on LinkedIn suggested that this was OK since the three hours needed (in the software context) were still available that day. I wasn’t sure if their assertion was serious or not, so I offered the following analogy to clarify why these two schedules are so different.

Not all three hour lengths of time are the same. If it takes three hours to fly from NYC to Chicago, you can fly non-stop. However, you can also get there if you fly from NYC to Buffalo, then from Buffalo to Cincinnati, then from Cincinnati to Chicago. You still spend roughly the same three hours in the air, but it’s far less efficient. Getting into the work (not the same as starting it), then stopping to change focus for the meeting,  then switching back to the focus work and getting into it again (twice) is much like the three sets of climb out, cruise, descend.

Three hours in a single block is a bit different than three hours scattered across a single day. However, there are a few other considerations for anyone doing work that requires focus.

Non-stop is better for focus

If you flew for three hours from NYC to Chicago, you might have two hours at cruising altitude to get some work done or watch The Office.

If you flew from NYC to Buffalo, then to Cincinnati, then to Chicago, each of those three short flights are going to consist mostly of climb out and descent. You’re going to have very little focus time thanks to the short flight length and the hectic nature of a rushed in-cabin service. It’s likely that you’re going to find that time useful for reading, light analysis and little else.

In addition, you have to spend time boarding, getting off the plane, changing gates, and waiting for the next boarding window. If things go well, you won’t have a delay caused by a mechanical issue, weather, or the lack of a crew (it happens). Even then, you still have to “prep” for the flight: get on the plane, wait, fly, wait a bit more, then get off the plane.

It’s a lot like going to a meeting. Exit current task, meeting prep, meeting,  debrief / summarize, move to next task / meeting. 

Focus killers only need a toehold

The other thing about these breaks between those precious one hour segments is that they open the door to chaos. In other words, someone pulls you into a meeting, or you get distracted by someone who needs help with a problem, etc. 

Got a minute?” never takes a minute – and there are plenty of opportunities for got-a-minutes on the way to/from a meeting. Even if you work remotely,  the fractured time between your focus sessions are subject to this. 

One way to avoid this during your focus work sessions (even the short ones) is to put yourself in do-not-disturb (DND) mode on your phone, email, etc. Not everyone can do that, but if you can, do so. Despite that, there will be occasions where something serious could require your involvement. The big ones are tough to avoid. The little ones that wait… those are the ones you want to defer / delay during focus time. 


Meetings aren’t bad, but…

Meetings are often essential to make sure everyone is well informed, “on the same page”, and / or coordinated for the next effort. Yet meetings are often looked upon by the attendees as unproductive, expensive, & wasteful of employee time. 

Effective meetings have these characteristics:

  • Have an agenda.
  • Have one person keeping the meeting on agenda.
  • Include only those folks who need to be there.
  • Begin on time.
  • End on time.
  • Allow a few minutes to transition to the next meeting if attendees have back-to-back meetings.
  • Are summarized at the end to make sure there are no misunderstandings, misreads, or “I missed that”s. 

If the meetings you call don’t fit this profile, see if you can improve them one characteristic at a time. Meanwhile, do what you can to help your team get blocks of focus time. 

Selling someone else’s products

Have you ever thought about selling someone else’s products? When you sell someone else’s products,  parts of that vendor’s business obviously become a part of yours: their products and services. However, the reality is a good bit more complicated.

Be sure what business you’re in

When you consider selling someone else’s products, it’s critical to assess whether the product is germane to what you do.

For example, it isn’t hard to find stores selling fidget spinners. They’re an impulse buy that could add a small bump to daily sales, so grocery stores, convenience stores and the like could justify selling them back when they were hot.

However, it makes little sense to see these gadgets advertised on outdoor signage at pawn shops and musical instrument stores – which I’ve seen lately. The logic behind advertising out-of-context impulse items on a specialty retail store’s limited outdoor signage escapes me – particularly on high traffic streets.

Will it confuse their market? Will they lose their focus by selling a few $2.99 items? Doubtful. While they’re trying something to increase revenue, the emphasis on an out-of-context, low-priced impulse buy product is the reason I bring it up. It makes no sense for a specialty retailer.

When you start selling someone else’s product, there are questions you don’t want your clients and prospects asking. They include “Have their lost their focus?” and “What business is my vendor really in?”  These questions can make your clientele wonder if another vendor would serve them better.

Should you sell out of market?

I had this “Is it in context?” discussion with some software business owners this week.

One of the owners (not the tool vendor) is asking the group to sell the development tools they use to their customers & other markets. Ordinarily, this would be a head scratcher, since most software development tools generate their own momentum, and/or are marketed and sold with a reasonable amount of expertise. That isn’t the case with this tool vendor.

However, the discussion really isn’t about that tool vendor, even though they’re at the center of the discussion being had by these business owners. The important thing for you is the “Should we sell this product?” analysis.

Start the conversation by bluntly asking yourself if makes sense for your business to sell this product.

Adjacent space or different planet?

If your company sells to businesses that develop software internally or for sale to others, then you might consider selling a vendor’s software development tools to your customers. It might make sense if you sell into enterprise IT.

However, if you sell software to family-owned, local businesses like auto parts stores and bakeries, it makes no sense at all. You’re going to appear to be from another planet going to these customers to sell software development tools.

If you try to sell these tools in an unfamiliar market, then you’re starting fresh in a market your team probably isn’t used to selling and marketing into. The chance of losing focus is significant unless you’re leading your current market by a sizable margin and have plenty of extra resources.

Ideally, a new product line feels congruent to your team, clients and prospects. Even when it’s a good match, the work’s barely started as selling and supporting a ready-to-sell product requires a pile of prep work.

Your sales team needs training to sell the product and know how/when to integrate it into multi-product solutions. You need to include the product in your marketing and training mix. Your support team needs training to provide the level of support that your customers expect. Your infrastructure team needs to incorporate it into your CRM, accounting, website, and service management systems. Your deployment team may need training as well.

What if the new product’s vendor has problems?

Reputation damage is one of the biggest risks when selling someone else’s products, particularly if you have to depend on the other company to service and interact with your customers.

Does the product vendor provide support as good as yours? Do they communicate in a timely & appropriate manner? Do they service things promptly? Are they a good citizen in the developer community? These things are important in the software tools market. In your market, they may not matter.

The actions of the product’s creator reflect on you, since YOU sold the product to YOUR client. Carefully consider the risk/reward. Your entire clientele will be watching.

Twelve Days of You

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Creative Commons License photo credit: gagilas

Think about your day.

What did you do yesterday?

Were you productive? When I ask that, what I mean is this: Can you reel off a list of high-priority things that you accomplished?

Did you waste any time?

How much of each hour did you spend on real, focused, dedicated work that actually produces a profit (either directly or indirectly)?

Let’s go on the assumption that you are one of the most productive people around and spent 50 minutes of each hour doing work of a nature that I just described.

That leaves 10 minutes to stretch, hit the restroom, and do whatever.

The Price

What’s that cost?

At a billable rate of $50 per hour, that ten minutes is only worth $5.00.

Or so it seems.

If you only work 40 hours a week, that 10 minutes consumes 400 minutes (about six hours) a week, worth $200.00.

In terms of time, that seems like a lot. In terms of money, maybe not so much.

Until

Until you multiply that times 50 weeks a year, when it becomes… Ten grand. 300 hours. 12 days.

Yet, you’ll assert that you don’t have enough time.

If you were focused and organized, what could you get done in twelve days?

Just One Thing

One of my favorite movies – and a scene that every business owner needs to consider.

What’s your business’ one thing?  What’s yours?

Is that what the bulk of your current efforts are working towards?

If you need some help figuring that out – or just staying focused on it – check out The Power of Focus.

I am a slacker. Are you?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: striatic

Yes, me.  I am a slacker. I admit it.

A year ago, I was planning to release my first book, “Business is Personal”.

You probably don’t remember me doing a launch promotion on it. That’s cuz I didn’t launch it.

As you might suspect, stuff happened and pushed it out of my immediate view and soon enough, a year went by.

Bet that never happened to you.

It’s still sitting in my authoring software, laughing at me: “You can’t finish me today, bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa” (yeah, that’s supposed to sound like an insane creepy laugh).

Enterrrrrr theeee excuuuuuuuuusee zoooooooonnnnnne (you can figure out how that is supposed to sound).

The Excuse Zone

See if any of this sounds familiar, even if you have to adjust the facts.

  • Before first light today, I headed out to Melita Island to help teach the 2nd part of Boy Scout Wood Badge. WB is an adult leadership course for Scout leaders and I am part of the instructor team.
  • The morning after I get back from Melita, I leave for Scout camp for a week.
  • The next week is 4th of July week and I have to go to a swim meet that will be a lot about remembering a dear friend who in her last 18 months of life literally willed a small town into getting a new swimming pool suitable for swim meets – all while battling pancreatic cancer.
  • Meanwhile I have client work, coaching sessions, blogging, writing my newspaper column, working on my own product development work, doing family stuff, visiting with that awfully cute granddaughter you see in that photo on the blog, a week in Missouri with the in-laws and such right after the 4th, out of town swim meets every weekend till August, then (not 100% sure on this one) 10 days in the backcountry on a wilderness pack trip.
  • That gets me to August 16 and doesn’t count other troop activities, Rotary (yes, I’m still club president), a few other volunteer gigs here in town and again, more of that client work stuff.

All the while… it sits there and taunts me. The book, I mean. You can probably hear it giggling.

Choice

You probably think “Heck, no wonder you didn’t get it done, with all THAT stuff going on.”

And you would be completely missing the point.

It has nothing to do with how much other stuff I have to do. It has to do with making a choice about the stuff I AM doing.

Each day since the Spring of 2008 when I started “Business is Personal” (the book), I’ve made a choice – several times a day.

These choices were made to do something else other than chip away at the book, even if I chose to do something that might have seemed important at the time.

No one else made these choices. Just me.

A few of my favorite Jim Rohn quotes come to mind:

  • “When you say ‘No’, you say ‘Yes’ to something more important.”
  • “Learn to say ‘No’. Don’t let your mouth overload your back.”
  • “We can no more afford to spend major time on minor things than we can to spend minor time on major things.”

What did you not get done today that you should have gotten done, if only it wasn’t for that “really important” thing you did instead?

Say “No” to the not-so-important so that you can say “Yes” to the really important.

PS: Stay tuned for the book. If you’d like to help with it, take one minute to slide on over to http://www.businessispersonalbook.com and enter a question (someone will win a pair of free consultations, may as well be you).