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Op/Ed

Looking for more focus in your life? We’ve got a book for that [Interview]

(Opinion Editorials) Here are some actionable items and considerations on how to focus in such an unfocused world.

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The Focus Project book with author Eric Qualman

In a crazy year of serious health concerns and many shifts in priorities, many of us have been grappling with where to focus our attention. Personally, I am a wife, mother of a toddler and two dogs, a full-time employee, and have a side business with consistent clients. I also was leading a women’s group monthly and have a couple of freelance/contract projects. Upon losing daycare in mid-March, I was drowning.

I felt like nothing was being given full attention and my to-do list was running away without me. I also realize now that all of the above is too much and I NEED to make time for rest and figure out where to focus my time and energy. I also was sad about losing some much needed human connection.

As a Career Coach, I’m constantly preaching the power of networking. While some think that word is icky, I want to share how I met Erik Qualman in a pretty cool networking way. He was a keynote speaker at a conference I attended in 2019. He had an interactive way with the audience where he asked you to email him the one word you wanted to be remembered for.

I wrote compassion (if you were curious). He ended up writing back later and we were able to coordinate a coffee meet up since we both live in Austin. Erik hires many of the students I work with as interns and this was a great opportunity for me to ask about his interview process, what skills he looks for in students, and any other nuggets of insight that could help me coach them better.

In the meantime, he’s been a very kind and generous person to answer my entrepreneurial questions. I’ve also enjoyed his podcast, Super U. It’s full of great insights about finding and living your super powers from a variety of people and backgrounds.

When I saw that Erik’s new book, The Focus Project, launched (a bit early than he had planned), I had to order it. I am currently working through it and emphatically believe this will help many people with solid advice and immediate and long-term action ideas.

The book also covers lots of food for thought on how you are living your life and where you may want to consider adjustments. Erik has also been kind enough to answer some of my questions while I’m working through the book. I truly hope these inspire you to check it out and work on your own priorities of focus.

1. In your own experiment, you took a month to focus on each of these categories in this order: Growth, Time Management, Family + Friends, Health, Relationships, Learning, Creativity, Empathy, Mindfulness, Giving, Gratitude, Your Story and Life. At the end of year after reflection, which one (or more) surprised you the most by focusing on that area? Did it have positive ripple effects to other areas or maybe seemed easier than you originally thought? Would you change the order after going through it?

The first month surprised me the most. I’d attempted to do the project 5 times over the course of a year, so I knew how difficult that first month could be. However, once it clicked I couldn’t believe the results! The focus was on growing our revenue so that I could afford to take the time to test the rest of the project for 11 more months. Just by focusing all of my and the team’s efforts around keynote speaking, we not only had a record sales month, but we almost made a year’s worth of revenue in that one month, leading us to our most successful year. In terms of order, I wouldn’t change the order, but a lot of thinking went into the order before I began.

2. Focus in 2020 is great because it is a metaphor for perfect vision. Do you think there’s any hindsight for individuals that would be important to consider as to why maybe they are feeling so unfocused right now (values they hold to be true, work hard/play hard messaging, etc.)?

Our inability to focus on what matters most is silently killing us inside. This silent killer is similar to the fable of the frog in the pot. Recall that the frog happily sits in a pot of water, unaware of the slowly rising temperature. The premise is that if a frog is dropped into boiling water, it will immediately sense the danger and jump out. But if the water is at room temperature and slowly brought to a boil, the frog will not perceive the danger until it is too late.

Our goal is to ensure that we don’t end up like the frog. Our goal is to leap out of the boiling water—immediately—and never look back.

How many times do we find ourselves thinking: “Oh, tomorrow I’ll start my exercise program, tomorrow I’ll start spending more time with my kids, tomorrow I’ll start writing my screenplay, tomorrow I’ll start my fashion company, tomorrow I’ll start spending less and saving more, tomorrow I’ll ask for a raise, tomorrow I’ll look for a new job, tomorrow I will finish that report, tomorrow will be better.” This is the slow boil! We are in danger of wasting our most precious commodity—our individual lives.

3. Can you share your philosophy/how you balance social media so that you’re able to make the most of it in a positive way versus it being a total time suck?

The key in digital leadership is always a balance between having digital tools work for you rather than you working for the tools. These digital tools should not replace face-to-face experiences but are designed to augment it when time and distance are an issue.

Essentially you need to strike a balance. In order for me, and many other digital leaders, to strike a balance we set time limits on the amount of responses on social media we will tackle personally.

We now have a method, a method we named cowboy scheduling: A calendar with wide-open spaces and fences. I still can’t ride a horse to save my life, but I can now schedule like Annie Oakley or John Wayne.

This week give it a try — try scheduling like a cowgirl or cowboy by fencing off specific times for certain activities and leaving wide open spaces for creativity, relaxation, and deep thinking (or in this case allotting yourself a set amount of time for social media).

4. If you could change one small thing in your community/neighborhood, what would it be? (Think about examples of small changes we can make for positive impact.)

It would be wonderful if your closest 52 neighbors each wrote one nice note per week to a different neighbor each week. This would be a small change with a tremendous impact.

5. You share lots of additional books that inspired The Focus Project. Do you have recommendations for people that may read all the things but have a harder time taking action?

One reason I started writing The Focus Project is that, in some strange way, it will serve as an antidote for my book, Socialnomics ®. It is an antivenom to the poisonous habits technology can manifest in us. For the purposes of this book, I’m most interested in BJ Fogg’s research and philosophy about developing powerful habits via small steps. Fogg, a Stanford psychologist and researcher, specializes in captology – a captologist studies the effect of computers and mobile devices on human behavior. Fogg first appeared on my radar when I was writing Socialnomics. Fogg’s work was relevant to Socialnomics because many of us using social media are unknowing participants in the world’s largest social science experiment—one being controlled by the data scientists at Instagram, YouTube, Weibo, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and others.

Fogg argues that we mistakenly try to will our way to habits around activities we don’t enjoy. For example, we get up early and drag ourselves to the gym to ride a stationary bike for an hour. Eventually, since we don’t like it, we stop doing it. We don’t develop the habit. Fogg believes this mistake is more detrimental to a major change in our lives than doing nothing at all. Instead, Fogg explains that we need to start with small adjustments that lead to little victories and to celebrate these victories.

Fogg’s formula involves a trigger. An example of a trigger might be doing 25 sit-ups every time you wash your hands. Washing hands = sit-ups. We normally associate triggers with a negative cause-and-effect relationship. In Fogg’s formula, however, instead of negative triggers, the triggers are positive influences.

Here’s the simple formula for identifying triggers.

“After I Establish Habit, I will New Habit.”

Fogg’s best-known example of this formula is:

“After I Brush my teeth, I will Floss One Tooth.”

This sounds preposterous—who would floss just one tooth? This is exactly the point! Once you put into motion the flossing of one tooth you might say, “What the heck, why not floss a couple more?”

Neil Armstrong got it right, small steps lead to giant leaps.

FAQ about the book from the Author

How would you describe your book in 2-3 sentences?

The Focus Project teaches us how to focus on what matters most in this digitally unfocused world. In some ways it’s an anti-venom to my first book, Socialnomics.

Explaining The Focus Project in 7 seconds: The Happiness Project (by Gretchen Rubin) and Essentialism (by Greg McKeown) have a baby with Amazon Alexa as the surrogate mother.

What distinguishes your book from others before it?

The Focus Project is unique in that each chapter is designed to provide a new area of focus, so the reader does not necessarily need to read the book chronologically. Each chapter is a month of the project. The blend of case studies and anecdotal elements are relatable and designed to help people at any stage in life, both personally and professionally. One main differentiating factor is Erik’s personal first-hand studies and stories. Due to his speaking schedule (55 countries and 35 million reached) and exposure to some of the world’s top thought leaders the book is less “dry” than most business books.

What problem will this book solve for the reader or what significant benefit will the reader get from the book? Why should the reader spend their valuable time reading this book? Why is the message of this book important?

The Focus Project doesn’t offer an overnight cure, but with time, patience, and persistence, significant progress is possible. This book will help to provide answers and solutions to the challenges of:

  1.  Focusing on what matters most.
  2.  Focusing in an increasingly unfocused world.
  3. Becoming a focus ninja.

The following is a guide to help lead us on our individual paths of personal development—pursuing less in order to achieve more: More happiness, more love, a more fulfilled life. We will realize that leading an overly busy life is a choice, but it’s not a wise one. Despite the perceptions of many, being over scheduled isn’t something to be proud of—it’s something to avoid at all costs. Instead, we should choose to focus on what matters most. This choice determines our success, happiness, and fulfillment.

The Focus Project solves the problem of prioritizing what matters most and confronting digital distractions to get the most out of life. Using both clinical science and street science this book helps the reader to better focus which, in turn, helps us reduce our stress and achieve our goals.

Some main ideas in the book:

  1. What items if I focus on them will bring me fulfillment? What’s preventing me from focusing on them? How can I focus on them first?
  2.  The power of saying no and how to say it.
  3. Making a Not-to-Do List is more important than your To-Do-List

You can learn more about Erik and the book here.

Erin Wike is a Career Coach & Lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin is fueled by dark roast coffee with cream AND sugar, her loving husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the Co-Founder of Small Business Friends ATX to help fellow entrepreneurs + hosts events for people to live a Life of Yes with Mac & Cheese Productions.

Op/Ed

Don’t just set and forget your succession plan – update it regularly!

(EDITORIAL) You may think that once you have a succession plan in place, you’re set for life, however, it’s recommended to continually update them!

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Older man looking out of window representing a need for a succession plan.

We’ve written before about how the everlasting success of the business will need to outlive you, and this is best conjured up in a succession plan. This is especially true for small business owners and entrepreneurs that have built an empire for themselves but aren’t sure what the future will hold beyond their passing. This is the exact reason that succession plans shouldn’t be set and forgotten, but instead consistently updated.

What are some of the obvious reasons that you may need to update your succession plan?

  1. Health Issues
  2. Marriage or Remarriage
  3. Changes in health in executors or guardians
  4. Changes in the law
  5. Changes in Residence

Now, for the not-so-obvious reason: It should be updated when any personal circumstances changes, which most likely happen often. This is why a will is like your home, an investment that needs to be properly maintained, and if it is, it will last a very long time.

Examples include changes in economic or parental status, as well as designations or fiduciaries. Elders could be aging, siblings may be having their own life changes, as well as if any dependents are born with or develop special needs.

“Every state has different laws regarding the administration of a will,” he said.?“For instance, states vary regarding the required residence of an executor, inheritance tax laws, and whether a child can be disinherited by omission.”

The recommended procedure is to review wills and powers of attorney at least every five years.

Lastly, when should a will update to a trust?

  1. When you have some significant assets (more than $500,000) in your own name.
  2. If you have special needs beneficiaries.
  3. If you have properties in multiple jurisdictions (multiple states or even counties).
  4. If you have beneficiaries you want to control distributions to (e.g., distribute at ages 25/30/35).
  5. If you have kids from a previous relationship you want taken care of.
  6. If you may want asset protection (special trust needed).
  7. If you are a big dog (over $22M if married), to save taxes.

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Op/Ed

Tips to identify & minimize employee’s ‘invisible’ tasks in the workplace

(EDITORIAL) Often meaningless, invisible tasks get passed down to interns and women. These go without appreciation or promotion. How can we change that?

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Two women in the office discussing invisible tasks.

Invisible work, non-promotable tasks, and “volunteer opportunities” (more often volun-told), are an unfortunate reality in the workforce. There are three things every employer should do in relation to these tasks: minimize them, acknowledge them, and distribute them equitably.

Unfortunately, the reality is pretty far from this ideal. Some estimates state up to 75% or more of these time-sucking, minimally career beneficial activities are typically foisted on women in the workplace and are a leading driver behind burnout in female employees. The sinister thing about this is most people are completely blind to these factors; it’s referred to as invisible work for a reason.

Research from Harvard Business Review* found that 44% more requests are presented to women as compared to men for “non-promotable” or volunteer tasks at work. Non-promotable tasks are activities such as planning holiday events, coordinating workplace social activities, and other ‘office housework’ style activities that benefit the office but typically don’t provide career returns on the time invested. The work of the ‘office mom’ often goes unacknowledged or, if she’s lucky, maybe garners some brief lip service. Don’t be that boss that gives someone a 50hr workload task for a 2-second dose of “oh yeah thanks for doing a bajillion hours of work on this thing I will never acknowledge again and won’t help your career.”  Yes, that’s a thing. Don’t do it. If you do it, don’t be surprised when you have more vacancies than staff. You brought that on yourself.

There is a lot of top-tier talent out there in the market right now. To be competitive, consider implementing some culture renovations so you can have a more equitable, and therefore more attractive, work culture to retain your top talent.

What we want to do:

  1. Identify and minimize invisible work in your organization
  2. Acknowledge the work that can’t be avoided. Get rid of the blind part.
  3. Distribute the work equitably.

Here is a simple example:

Step 1: Set up a way for staff to anonymously bring things to your attention. Perhaps a comment box. Encourage staff to bring unsung heroes in the office to your attention. Things they wish their peers or they themselves received acknowledgment for.

Step 2: Read them and actually take them seriously. Block out some time on your calendar and give it your full attention.

For the sake of demonstration, let’s say someone leaves a note about how Caroline always tidies up the breakroom at the end of the day and cleans the coffee pot with supplies Caroline brings from home. Now that we have identified a task, we are going to acknowledge it, minimize it, and consider the distribution of labor.

Step 3: Thank Caroline at the team meeting for scrubbing yesterday’s burnt coffee out of the bottom of the pot every day. Don’t gloss over it. Make the acknowledgment mean something. Buy her some chips out of the vending machine or something. The smallest gestures can have the biggest impact when coupled with actual change.

Step 4: Remind your staff to clean up after themselves. Caroline isn’t their mom. If you have to, enforce it.

Step 5: Put it in the office budget to provide adequate cleaning supplies for the break room and review your custodial needs. This isn’t part of Caroline’s job description and she could be putting that energy towards something else. Find the why of the situation and address it.

You might be rolling your eyes at me by now, but the toll of this unpaid invisible work has real costs.  According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace Report* the ladies are carrying the team, but getting little to none of the credit. Burnout is real and ringing in at an all-time high across every sector of the economy. To be short, women are sick and tired of getting the raw end of the deal, and after 2 years of pandemic life bringing it into ultra-sharp focus, are doing something about it. In the report, 40% of ladies were considering jumping ship. Data indicates that a lot of them not only manned the lifeboats but landed more lucrative positions than they left. Now is the time to score and then retain top talent. However, it is up to you to make sure you are offering an environment worth working in.

*Note: the studies cited here do not differentiate non-cis-identifying persons. It is usually worse for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community.

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Op/Ed

Technology gurus thrive on marketing you bullshit, here’s what really works

(EDITORIAL) Technology gurus have fun tools to sell you and tricks to teach you, but I can tell you firsthand that it’s mostly bullshit.

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woman holding phone representing technology

I am known as a technologist. An avowed geek. An unapologetic adopter of shiny new objects. My passion is finding out how technology – specifically the internet, can make my job better, faster, and more profitable. It is also figuring out how the consumer intersects with the internet and how I can leverage this to create more business.

In years past, I bet heavily on internet lead generation, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and video email marketing. I researched the best platforms and practices, sought the counsel of the foremost experts and hired the best talent.

I had some great wins and surprising losses this year. I’ll get into that in a bit… but I realized that the real estate industry often markets tech on the internet as a replacement for human connection, as a convenience for the agent, and as a crutch for a basic lack of knowledge and expertise. In the real estate industry, technology is marketed as a shortcut to profits and that is complete bullshit.

Fair warning- this post is likely to get you riled up and deny that any of it applies to you. That’s cool. It probably doesn’t, so move along. I am not trying to derail your successful train. But this category of business tools creates stress for a lot of agents who feel left behind or “less than.”

About those gurus on stage at your favorite conferences

Listen to the gurus on stage and the vendors hawking their wares. According to them, the internet can provide a never-ending source of people who want to buy and sell (leads). It can eliminate the need to chase signatures or show homes. It can sell homes without the need to open it to strangers or tell you a home’s value instantly and automatically.

Wow. Get clients without dealing with real-time rejection. Show and sell homes with no physical effort. Find values with no expertise or local knowledge. Makes you wonder what human Realtors are going to do. Flip burgers, maybe?

Internet-based tools are an amazing enhancement to traditional skills and techniques, but it is often promoted as the miracle cure and wholesale replacement of skills and knowledge. I call this bullshit – but our industry is buying it.

The enticement of internet lead generation

Let’s start with internet lead generation. The surface promise is very enticing. Write a check and get a never-ending stream of people interested in real estate who have given up their contact information. No physical effort. No skill is required. No face-to-face rejection. Who wouldn’t sign up for that program?

But here is the problem. It takes a lot of money to do internet lead generation effectively. It takes a lot of resources to follow up and it generally takes time to create a sale. When you factor in all of these resources, internet lead generation is far sexier on paper than in practice.

Now, this does not mean lead generation isn’t a viable way to run a business. But it is best done in a team setting with proper resources to handle these leads effectively. In a team setting, internet lead generation is less likely to divert attention away from relationship building. And, for a single agent, it is a very dangerous place to “bet the farm”.

So I can pay more but get the same results?

The number of portals and agents competing for attention increases every month, so the resources required to stay level will also increase. This means it continually takes more money to get the same result… and this is where I call bullshit. The average agent is only seeing the tiny fraction of people making a profit from internet lead generation and they have no clue how costly internet lead generation actually is.

And that is another problem. How many agents use internet lead generation as a replacement for the much less “sexier” work of face-to-face prospecting? My guess is quite a few. I’ll confess. I tried replacing my traditional prospecting with a lead generation site. It was bullshit.

Another bullshit problem: social media

Here’s another technology coming between the consumer and the agent. Facebook, Twitter, and email marketing- loosely categorized as social media. When used as an easy, thoughtless, broadcast machine (as most agents do) the agent is following the idea that being seen- frequently- is the way to make the phones ring.

Agents have been doing this sort of “look at me!” advertising with postcards and print advertising for years. However, print costs lots of money and most will give some thought and attention before doing each piece. Social media is essentially free and nearly effortless, allowing agents to completely alienate their audience with their avalanche of tone-deaf posts and emails.

Now, at least this stuff is nearly free and the agent has resources left over for traditional relationship building. But, how much damage is done to potential real-life relationships with poor and uninformed social media tactics? The bullshit part is that free and easy should not mean tacky, thoughtless, and loud.

E-sigs aren’t the next coming of Christ

Here’s another thing. I thought electronic contracts and e-signatures were the best technology tool since sliced bread. And, used properly, it still is. Contracts can be signed at the consumer’s convenience and that can be a huge benefit for busy lives. All too often, though, e-signatures serve the agent or brokerage more than the client. There are situations where the client is best served with an in-depth explanation of the documents, but they are given an e-signature package instead.

This was one of my hardest realizations – I was completely guilty of choosing convenience over great representation. I told myself it was for the convenience of the client, but it really made my job a lot easier. This is not cool, it is bullshit.

I love technology, but…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still the technology fan girl you know and love. But with each passing day, I am convinced that a lasting and enduring business is made with an authentic connection to the people in my community. Technology simply gives me the opportunity to make more of those connections.

I meet and interact with hundreds of people on local Facebook groups and these interactions have led to wonderful real-life meetings and lasting relationships. It is an amazing and efficient layer to my traditional community building and prospecting. But it is a layer. Nattering on Facebook all day long does NOT create enough engagement to create a business.

So, what were my wins?

I used technology to publish my internal checklists to my clients, bringing a new level of transparency and accountability to our transactions.

I went deep on an unreasonable number of CRM systems and I am getting close to having a system that enhances both the creation of business as well as the transaction.

I went even deeper into the concept of the paperless office. There are a lot of benefits to a paperless office, but for the consumer, it means anyone on my team can answer any question, anytime, anywhere.

And my losses?

What were my losses? The biggest loss was my investment in internet lead generation, and that was a real surprise. I invested heavily in the platform, in the tools, and in the human resources necessary to make a profit.

I learned what it takes to make this business strategy work, but I also learned that I would rather use my resources to build a local community.

Another “loss” was the lesson learned on e-signatures. I have retooled my process to make sure that certain critical points in the process- the purchase contract, escrow instructions, and going over disclosures, are no longer a simple e-signature packet.

Moving forward – join me?

As I enter the next year, I am focused on a few principles. Belly to belly rules. Technology done right is invisible. Build a community to build long-term trust. Make a difference.

Wanna join me?

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