Routine Sets You Free

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“Routine sets you free.” ~ Verne Harnish

Your routines set you up for performance, creativity and peace of mind. We have this long road ahead to accomplish projects that matter day in and day out. And if we simply go with the randomness and urgencies of the day, we don’t win the long game. We are at the mercy of many things that simply do not contribute to our bigger goals.

That is why routine is a powerful way to overcome the traps of those temptations that would pull on our energy and attention.

If you depend on will power to help you do what you want to do, then I think you have already lost. I can tell you that will power becomes the red zone for me. I don’t have enough of it to tap into to get the things done I want or resist what I don’t want. And, there’s only a limited supply in a day. It dwindles as the day progresses.

Your productivity and creativity are scarce resources that run out and in knowledge work, we have to be excellent managers of these limited resources if we want achievement. I think from conversations with clients, being overwhelmed and constantly spun around the relentless demands of work gets them off course. Routine helps to set up habits that move what is important further along.

Habits are powerful to keep momentum going. My own habits include reading, writing, hiking, prayer, taking vitamins, saying a kind word and sleeping enough. I also do simple things like morning showers, push-ups and sit-ups. It’s remarkable how these simple routines point me towards execution each and every day.

You can even use an app like Streaks to set up and keep a habit going. If you wanted to run a race, simply set it up and don’t miss a day. The same goes for building a family culture or writing a book. Our brains are wired for habits and this can create the routines you need to move the ball.

Don’t rely on will power, emotion or hype. They are short-lived. The long game requires something more forceful and consistent. Routines set you free.

I Like the Boring Business

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When it comes to business building, I like boring. I like creating outputs from inputs. I like throughput. Drama, inconsistencies, high stress and heroics are fantastic for movie plots. But they don’t contribute positively to profit and loss in a business. Boring helps cash flow. Cash flow makes customers, vendors, employees, and owners happy.

I am not sure why a certain level of craziness persists for so many operations. Here are my guesses:

A business owner thinks a bit of chaos is normal.

Employees have completely different incentives. Chaos and disorder might reward them with a sense of relevance (and dependency).

Growing so fast with headcount and lacking a solid culture has newcomers confused.

The business owner only cares about money and doesn’t realize the importance of strategy to get money long-term.

There’s not enough drama going on in people’s personal lives.

When I see a boring business that has cash flow working like a machine, someone prioritized making the business work and keeping first things first. They simplified as they grew. New systems, processes and people create complexity. And they were intentional to inject strategies, culture and execution to overcome the complexity. It was more than a money grab.

With the ridiculous amount of competition out there, the last thing you need is chaos and drama when it comes to operations and selling. Making customers happy requires alignment internally on all fronts. Perhaps certain niches can hide for a bit. But, someone is going to eat your lunch that comes along and builds that boring business that reliably executes day in and day out.

Are you operating on systems or charisma?

Do you have consistency or failure points that keep showing up?

Are customers leaving you regularly?

Are employees leaving you disgruntled?

Do you think chaos is normal?

The marketplace is moving so fast and commoditizing every sector. Focus on building the boring business so you can be agile enough to react. It’s hard enough out there.

Overcoming The Valley of Death in Growing Businesses

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From the book, Scaling Up, and their commentary on the challenges of business growth.

The idea of growing a business is romantic. That spirit of entrepreneurship, leadership and scaling have a wonderful image of adventure and nobility. In the trenches, when a firm decides they want to grow, it is messy. It is hard work day in and day out to get the strategy clear and the people and systems moving in the same direction.

That is why the graph above on the valley of death growing firms experience is so vivid and real.

4% of firms reach $1M in annual revenue. Then it only gets harder to scale from there.

Essentially, the hardship comes from complexity. Growing revenue often requires growing teams. Teams of people need to collaborate. This growth may be linear as far as headcount goes, however, the complexity grows disproportionately in an exponential fashion.

One strategy to keep complexity lower is to use technology and systems rather than headcount. Information systems are ridiculously powerful and cheap today. And for growing businesses, they create extreme leverage. You can create information flow and access to make decisions and get things done in an unprecedented way.

Another strategy to grow is to implement strong leadership and use management approaches to foster alignment around clearly defined goals that are important to your company. This takes time. People take a lot of nurturing, repetition and trust, thus the HR systems have to be built, reinforced and robust to create the culture for growing a business past the valley of death.

The pain comes when trying to grow a business to support or create demand and the systems or leadership do not keep pace. Complexity inevitably grows and there needs to be a corresponding counterbalance of simplifying the business. Otherwise, the valley of death at each stage can crush the business. The weight of success becomes too heavy.

When you think about your business, you are never safe. Every comfortable niche is threatened today by technology and competition, which relentlessly pushes you towards commoditization. If you are a commodity, you lose relevance and profitability. Someone is, effectively, eating your lunch.

If you move from your comfortable, or deteriorating, position towards growth, you face the valley of death as you grow headcount. The task of simplifying as you take on exponential complexity becomes critical to manage as you climb.

It’s a tough world out there. But the game of business growth, while fraught with challenges, can be attained when you know where the pain is coming from. Your leadership and systems become your tools for increasing your rewards.

Are you in a valley of death?

Don’t Limit Yourself

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Too often we are mired in the circumstance we chose thinking we are limited. This is not necessarily so. You can always choose differently, and that is the opportunity to grow and become bigger than your circumstance.

Perhaps you hate your job, your life or even a bad deal you are currently in. The stress of it has you in a vortex of emotions. It can be overwhelming.

But, one of the best strategies is to start moving. Create more options. Become a person that creates again, rather than resigns to what you have. If you hate your job, move to action and find three more gigs that could be more promising.

If you want a more fun life, start looking at new locations.

Creating more options and continuing to move forward is something that is in your control. You are not limited by anything but your choices. Choose differently and make yourself better.

Why I Blog and Share

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First blog post circa 10/15/2005

My first blog post was on October 15, 2005. I was exploring what blogging meant. At that time, the blogosphere was exploding to tens of millions, and I started that humble process of writing and sharing to help my friends and clients with things I was learning.

I used to gift books that I liked when I would meet people. I believed the quote found in that post,

“The only difference from where you are right now, and where you’ll be one year from now, are the books you read and the people you meet.”

Well, it’s been 13 years and about 1,500 posts later and I am in a completely different place because of the books I have read and the people I have met. They are a part of me, and I am grateful.

I wanted to have a place to solidify my thoughts as well as help people that are trying to grow their businesses and improve their lives.

Blogging has been a wonderful, simple medium to focus the strategies, approaches and insights I gained not only from what I have learned, but also from what I have put into practice in the trenches. There are lessons about business, people, strategy and execution I have been able to test and tweak over the years. And those articles simply capture some of those learnings for those that are trying to grow as well.

I consider it a shortcut. You can skip the figuring out part and grab the good stuff.

For me, I can clarify my thinking while sharing.

I do agree that reading blogs is, “The last great online bargain,” as Seth Godin stated. With the Delete Facebook calls and social media fatigue, reading, writing and testing in the real world has fundamental value as we push for what we want in life.

I am grateful there are still simple ways to think, share and reflect on what is happening in this immense world of opportunity. It’s all continual learning and I blog and share to keep on that journey.

Doing What You Want to Do

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There’s a big consequence for winging it. If you allow your days to be dictated by the demands of others or the urgencies that days tend to push on us, it is difficult, if not impossible, to do the things that you want or matter to you.

Furthermore, your own energy levels and resistance to work on the important parts of your life take a backseat.

Living intentionally with conviction takes focus because everything is working against you. Your brain and emotions are looking for the path of least resistance. And days can bleed into weeks, then into months and then into years without much being accomplished towards your goals.

If you want to do what you want to do, then you must gain conviction. You know what you want. You want it badly.

This can come from setting up a few strategies for yourself:

  • Routines. I have a morning routine. It’s been said, “Routines set you free.” It sets the stage for me to focus on the day ahead and align myself mentally, physically emotionally and spiritually. This is critical to win the day.
  • Ritual. You may know things because you heard them or discussed them. You may know that it’s important to read every day or show gratitude. But the ritual of reviewing why you think this is true pushes it deeper into your convictions. I use Google Keep to collect quotes, articles, rules and important thoughts. Your brain can’t remember everything. But if you have it, keep a list of notes that you review every day. This ritual will help the thoughts you collect become a part of you.
  • Reflection. Think often and regularly about what has been happening around you. Is it what you want? What are the obstacles? What are the opportunities? Taking long walks, sitting quietly in the dark and writing in a journal are different ways I like to reflect. Your brain is a problem solving machine and having time and space to connect the dots furthers your clarity and convictions on what you want and what you are doing in contrast.

Routines, rituals and reflection are powerful tools that work with our natures. If we want to change ourselves and how we approach the craziness of life and the world, these become our anchors for doing what we want to do despite all the forces working against us in a day, externally and internally. It’s how conviction is built.

The Only Answer is Repetition

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At some point, there’s nothing more to change or create. You know what to do and only dogged determination and repetition with accountability will work. This is the part of scaling that moves the ball inches at a time and is quite painful.

Repeating what everyone has agreed to can seem tedious, but it is critical. Articulating your core values until everyone buys in is indispensable. Reviewing what steps need to be taken to make customers happy cannot be compromised. These rituals are relentless and are daily mantras that are part of execution.

Repetition is an age-old habit that gets groups moving in the same direction. While I wish that people could simply download instructions once and execute perfectly thereafter, that is not the case when it comes to scaling. You have to say what you want many times and do it repeatedly until a task, process or habit sticks.

Our temptation is to go back to what we know or did before. Growing is hard and we resist it because our old embedded habits have a grip on us.

The new tasks or habits are there for the taking. We are not necessarily fighting an information misunderstanding. We are fighting ourselves. We have anchors that have been established and something new is a disruptor.

If you are in the business of growing, you undoubtedly will run into the reality of execution. You have to do what you have agreed upon is the new way. And that kind of implementation will come down to saying it and doing it over and over until you see what needs to happen materialize consistently and become the new normal.

What are you trying to execute repeatedly?

Instead of Complaining Become Better

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One of the sobering and honest parts about the marketplace is that you might try any philosophy or approach you like, but it may not work. Your great intention does not necessarily mean that others have to go along.

That can be quite a shocking realization for a generation that may have been given and expected anything and everything. Perhaps a silver spoon makes some believe everything is done for them without cost or consequence.

Others might even have a world-class invention they believe everyone in the world must have.

Entitlement, passion and conviction are powerful tools of persuasion. But, in the end, noone has to do anything with you or for you. You can’t make someone buy, cooperate or work with you.

The marketplace, because of the availability of options and choice, places the burden on you as a seller to be convincing and attractive.

Forget complaining, insisting or appealing. Put all that energy into being better. If your calls are not being returned, how about thinking of what can make someone want to call you back? What’s going on in their world and how can you be worth their time and attention? Again, be better.

We are all needing better ideas, strategies and ways to improve our businesses. There is no shortage of this need.

How about spending a bit of time seeing how you can meet all those unspoken, continuous needs? You’ll be a player of value this way.

The Value of Bookends

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Starting something means you committed in some way. You gave a, “Yes,” and now you are in. Your new yes is one of the items that are in your life and now demands attention, whether small or large.

The temptation is always there to commit on the front end. A moment of inspiration, someone else’s request or a legitimate priority can solicit that easy response.

Starting a thing is highly asymmetrical compared to ending something. It’s easy to get into something and because of our desire to please others or our inability to decide on a good thing vs. a bad thing. We jump in too easily.

Our bias towards the status quo overwhelms our sense of a good thing vs. an irrelevant thing as well. A commitment may have made sense previously, but today’s priorities and reality have changed. However, we find ourselves with a sunk-cost bias still working on something that doesn’t make sense today compared to a week ago.

This is where having bookends can help, something that holds up and defines your boundaries. On one end, you want to let few, but great, things in. On the other end, you want to cross-off or get rid of commitments that simply don’t make sense.

Letting go is hard for many reasons, largely emotional. But burning out, living with a heavy burden of work or relationships, can be costly. How do you get to your goals if you are holding up many commitments by not having clear bookends? It’s not scalable. You’ll simply keep letting half-hearted things in and not letting go of the things you should.

Bookends work because they are clear and defined. You don’t hold onto some clothes you may wear. You get rid of them and get something you love. The same goes for projects, relationships, business ventures and all the pursuits you have built that are part of your life.

Allowing things to stick around because once upon a time you made a commitment is costly. The best things are subservient to the mediocre.

If you can be discriminate about what comes in and vigilant about getting rid of things that don’t matter, I have no doubt you will live a little lighter and a lot clearer.

Pay the Price

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Crumpled One Dollar Bills On The Dial Plate.

“The good things in life cost what they cost. The unnecessary things are not worth it at any price. The key is being aware of the difference.” ~ Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic

This is a fantastic reminder in today’s Daily Stoic reading. We all pay for things and what we spend on becomes part of who we are.

Frivolous trinkets can be entertaining. A quick promise for success can feel like we are doing business. Expedience without consideration for others can feel efficient.

However, paying the real price, what things are worth, is good long-term practice to moving the needle towards goals that matter to you.

I like paying the right price for the right things. Having the wrong things in my life – activities, stuff, relationships, ventures, projects – these can completely drain me of energy, joy and free time.

Finding the right things to invest in and putting all I have into them has a much better payoff when it comes to long-term success and happiness.

Take inventory. What are you paying for that is not worth it?

What should you pay for but have not committed?