Speaker | Entrepreneur | Author

Sam Davidson's blog

If you'd like to get more ideas like these sent to you each day, it's easy: sign up here.


 
Posts tagged productivity
The Power of No

I'm beginning to learn more and more the power that comes with saying "No." I detail how (and why) to say "no" in Simplify Your Life, but I'll admit - turning down opportunities and offers is a constant struggle of mine. But, the feeling of saying "no" at the right time is powerful. Doing so can free you to focus on what matters and focus your energy on the tasks and events you're most exited about.

I wasn't sure whether to detail the following scenario here or in my Speak UP newsletter, but after much thought I concluded that the lessons I learned by saying "no" recently could benefit all my readers.

Last week, I turned down an all-expenses-paid trip to India. To speak. With entrepreneurs. Thousands of them.

I know what it looks like. I still can't help but cringe a bit as I type. I said "no" to a free trip to India to do what I love.

When the offer appeared in my inbox and I followed up (which was then followed by a bit of online research and poking around in my network), I was excited. But then the details began to shake out.

The event was at a time when I really need to be home with family. The travel - while paid for - would be long and not so glamorous. The time I'd actually have in India would be very limited. I wouldn't be compensated for speaking. The media opportunities promised might not work out in the best way. All in all, to have said yes would have been a significant cost in terms of money, time, and relationships.

After digging, it became easy to politely say "no" to this opportunity.

As soon as I hit send on the email declining the host organization's offer, I waited for the onslaught of regret to wash over me. But it never came. I thought I'd soon kick myself for wasting a chance to speak in India, but I never felt it.

I didn't feel regret because saying "no" was the right decision. My mind and body and heart and soul were at peace. I said "no" and moved on.

And here's the power of saying "no" to the opportunities that don't fit. There is no regret when you make the right decision. If the opportunity doesn't fit, doesn't help you, doesn't play to a strength of yours, or isn't all it seems to be, then declining it is okay. In fact, saying "yes" to it could be detrimental to your career, your sanity, or your family.

Best of all, saying "no" reinforces your values, both to others and yourself. When you say "no" to something, you're making a claim about what's important. In my case, saying "no" reinforced my commitment to my family and the time I'm spending to grow my speaking career. Many times, saying "no" conveys what we believe as much as saying "yes" does.

The main trick when we say "no", however, is to move on. Not all decisions will be as easy as mine. Some decisions will be much tougher and we could feel some pangs of remorse after turning someone or something down. In order to fight through that, we have to put the instance out of our minds. We said "no" and the case is closed. We can't look back and wonder.

If we do, we might inadvertently ignore that perfect "yes" that's coming our way.

When have you said "no"? Any stories about saying no and it being the perfectly right decision?

Photo credit

10 Things You Can Do To Live Longer

If you want to be happy and healthy for longer, try any of these things, all proven to help you live longer:

Shorten your commute

Doing so by 20 minutes lessens your risk of heart attack by 300%.

Smile regularly

Frequent smiling could add seven years to your life.

Volunteer

Lending a hand to genuinely help others can help you live longer.

Get married

Being in a consistent relationship for a long time can help you live longer.

Walk daily

Walkers live longer.

Work standing up

Sitting for more than six hours a day increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Have a close group of friends

Close ties with friends can boost your health.

Drink wine or coffee

Moderate drinking of either could help lower your risk of death.

Get religion

Going to church or spiritual gatherings could help reduce your risk of death by 20%.

Stay positive

A positive attitude and sense of humor can help you live longer.

Photo credit

Clutter is Holding You Back

The reason you're not happy or able to nimbly chase down that big dream of yours may be right in front of you. Take a look around your living room, office, or bedroom. How much crap do you have? Are you offended that I called your stuff crap? Are your things not junk? If you're labeling a general mass of objects as stuff, things, junk, or crap, then it probably doesn't mean that much to you. And if it doesn't mean much, why do you have it?

Watch any episode of "House Hunters" (they're all the same). Every person hunting for a home wants the same thing (other than an open floorplan and space to entertain): plenty of storage.

Is this what it's come to? Our quest for a place to live now includes a place to put our crap as a chief priority?

But don't worry; if your new house doesn't have room for your stuff, junk, or crap, just rent a storage unit. It's perfect for all the crap you still want, but don't want to look at.

Clearly, we need to do something about all of our clutter. In my mind, the answer is simple:

Get rid of it.

It's time. Your clutter is holding you back. Here's why:

It gives me something else to do before I start.

Sometimes, I feel motivated to sit and write for hours or begin that project idea that's been brewing in my head. And just when I'm ready to start typing or dreaming, my crap calls to me and begs me to organize it, move it around, or rifle through it. As long as I have clutter, I have a distraction. There willl always be something to look at, something to take my mind off of what matters. Eliminating clutter will keep me focused.

I waste time looking for stuff.

The bane of our modern existence is that we all own six pairs of scissors but never know where any are when we need them. Are they in the junk drawer? What about the shelf with all the stuff? No? In that other drawer? Having places full of clutter means that we're spending valuable time looking instead of quickly getting what we need to do what we must. Organization won't just make your house look like a catalog; it'll save you time.

Stress increases as it feels like the walls are closing in around me.

Didn't your house seem so much bigger before you put all your stuff in it? The easiest way to junk up a room is to put a bunch of crap in it. And when you do that, the room feels smaller, which could even lead to increased anxiety for you, as you get the impression that the walls are closing in around you. Tear down those walls by eliminating what you don't need.

Crap is worthless unless I sell it.

If $500 is all that's standing in the way of you and a dream, I'm willing to bet that you can find that $500 as soon as you start selling your crap. Whether you plan a yard sale or do it online, your crap can quickly become someone else's treasure. Remember: we have to sacrifice what can be sold in order to earn what can't be bought.

What about you?

How do you deal with clutter so you don't put off accomplishing something big?

And, as a shameless promotion, my book Simplify Your Life has many practical ways to clear clutter out of your life. Best of all it's only $3.99 on the Kindle (which won't add to your already overflowing bookshelf)!

Photo credit

The Only Agenda You Need for Every Meeting Ever

Meetings suck. I try to go to as few as possible. If a meeting is called and as best I can tell the only point is to give status updates, then I won't go. Some may argue that the point of meetings is to build camaraderie and get to know one another. I've never seen this happen well around a big board room. If you want to do that, go to lunch, go camping, go on a walk - just go. Staying in the office and building teamwork rarely works.

If I call a meeting, I always use the following agenda. You can personalize it for your specific needs. If these three things don't happen, then you don't need to meet.

Discuss

Facing a problem or big decision at work? Use a meeting to discuss what the issue is and solicit input. Some of this can be done via email, but meeting lets you hear from people verbally (as well as gauge emphasis and body language). It also allows for spontaneous conversation and up-to-date ideas and information. Use meetings to discuss the issue at hand.

Decide

Make a decision. Sometimes, you'll need to retreat away after the meeting and reflect on all the input before you decide. But, forcing yourself to make a decision in the meeting (or at least arrive at a preliminary consensus) makes the time more useful and the situation more urgent (which should generate a better discussion). Meetings are for deciding something.

Do

Whatever you decide, put in place a plan of action to get it done. Assign tasks. Determine responsibility. Announce deadlines. Put the wheels of action in motion while everyone is in the same room and their focus is fresh since the topic and action steps are in the forefront of their minds. The time for doing is now.

If your meeting agendas don't look like this, either stop meeting until they do or revamp them so that your meetings can be more productive.

What do you do to make your meetings more productive?

Photo credit

How I Travel

I'm hitting the road today, heading to Texas for a few days to keynote the National School Foundation Association annual conference. Next week I head to Alabama for a day. Between now and the end of the year, I'm headed to Las Vegas, Florida four times, and probably Texas again. In other words, I get around. While others are much more warrior-like than me when it comes to being on the road, here's a snapshot of how I travel in order to save money, take what I need, and save time:

One rolling suitcase and a small bag

No one likes checking bags. You'll usually pay extra fees and you only add time to your journey as you wait for bags to pop up on the carousel. If you travel often, invest in a good rolling suitcase - something lightweight yet sturdy, with a large exterior pocket and expandable zipper when you need the extra storage.

A good, small bag is also a necessity for your laptop or smaller items that you'll need when in your destination city. It'll also fit under the seat in front of you on a plane for easy access. When walking through the terminal, it can sit on your rolling bag for an easier walk to/from your aircraft. Bottom line: your luggage should make travel easier, not more difficult.

My SCOTTEVEST

I got a SCOTTEVEST last year for my birthday and no single item has made travel easier. The vest has multiple hidden pockets for your iPhone, wallet, keys, headphones, travel documents, or quite literally anything else you want on your person. The best part is that when you go through security, you just slip off the vest and you're done. No need to empty your pants pockets and then pull your phone out and then your change and then remember where you put it all.

PowerBars

I think they're delicious (some people don't), so I usually pack 3 or 4 PowerBars for each trip. When in a bind (delayed flight, no good places to eat, restaurants are closed), they can serve as a meal replacement or a hearty snack. Find out which energy bar you like and take a few. It beats paying $3.00 at the airport for a Snickers, and it'll keep you happy during a layover (McDonald's won't, trust me) or after a long day at a conference.

One pair of shoes, one outfit per day

Some people can't fathom fitting everything for a trip into a single rolling suitcase. These people pack too much. I understand that some days, you don't know what to wear until you get up and look in your closet, but that shouldn't be the case on the road. Just pack one outfit per day. Then, when you wake up, you'll know what to wear because you won't have any choice but to wear what you packed. Limited choice can be a good thing sometimes.

Also pack only one pair of shoes that can go with every outfit. People who go somewhere for three days and bring 12 pairs of shoes aren't allowed to travel with me. I wear a comfortable pair of shoes for transit and walking around; I take another for the event, most often my brown, sturdy Kenneth Coles that go with jeans, khakis, and corduroys.

A good rule of thumb: count how many days you'll be gone and pack that many shirts. There's no need to bring extra. "But what if I spill something?" you ask. You have two options: 1) Get better at not spilling; 2) Look for the nearest one-hour dry-cleaners.

Tripit

As I've said before, Tripit is the best app when it comes to keeping track of travel plans. Go get the free version. Now.

Magazines

If you subscribe to magazines, save them for when you travel. I've got a stack of four I'm taking with me today. They're the perfect thing to read when taxiing or below 10,000 ft. And they also come in handy when stuck in an airport and can be a welcome diversion from staring at a glowing screen. What else am I going to look at? Skymall?

Rewards cards

If you are not earning rewards with every purchase or reservation while away, you are wasting money. Did Ryan Bingham teach you nothing? Even if you only fly once a year, start earning frequent flyer miles. Get hotel and rental car points. Those things can be redeemed, people. And even if you travel rarely now, things can change in an instant and you'll be up the air more often before you know it.

What about you?

What do you travel with (other than a dozen pair of shoes)? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below.

Photo credit

How to Take Notes at a Meeting

One of the reasons that meetings are such a time-suck is that few of us know what to do afterward. Even if there is a follow up meeting scheduled, knowing how best to parlay our time in the meeting into concrete action can be a challenge. Therefore, I think it's essential to take the right notes at a meeting. Whether I'm typing on my laptop or writing notes out with a pen, I do so in a way that lets me know what I need to do after the meeting to keep a project moving forward. Whether I'm leading a project or serving in a strategic implementation role, here's how I take notes in order to be more productive.

First, I divide my sheet of paper or screen into four sections. As items are discussed during the meeting, notes go under a particular heading so I know what to do with the information discussed during the previous hour (or two).

Information

This section is for newsworthy items - things that were shared that I may need to share with others. This is also where I put quotes said by other attendees that could be used later as some form of copy or that might be used as continual motivation towards some end goal. If the information is shared elsewhere (like on a handout), I don't write it down here. This space is for what people say and is a good place to capture it and compartmentalize it for future reference.

Ideas

Sometimes, ideas come more quickly when someone else is talking. When you focus on the subject of the meeting at hand, you'll find your mind racing in a very specific direction. The ideas section is where you put the ideas that come to you mid-meeting so you don't forget them, especially if you need to share them. This is also a good place to look back after the meeting and see what ideas still seem good and are worth spending time on.

Questions

Every meeting should beget questions, whether they are internal ones for you to consider afterward or big questions you need to pose to the group. Having a running list of questions will also serve as a reminder of what needs figuring out before launch or what needs to be prioritized. Once a question is answered, mark it off the list and keep going.

To Do

This is where I keep the list of immediate action steps to follow up on after the meeting. People to email, things to write, stuff to research - it all goes here so I have a nicely organized and highly relevant list of tasks.

A lot can get shared and said in a meeting. I've found these categories to help as I sort through the data and ideas shared in any brainstorming meeting. Give it a shot; it may work for you, too.

How do you take meeting notes? What format do you use in order to be productive once the meeting is finished?

Tools of the Trade

Grace Boyle recently wrote about what tools she uses or has had recommended to her to better manage her work or life. Read her post for a full list of new, cool apps and online tools. I thought I'd follow suit and make a list of the stuff I use regularly to do what I do (write, speak, travel, and help run two companies and advise a handful of others). Click around and who knows? You may find something that saves you time, money, or both!

  • Evernote - I tried it a year ago and it didn't catch on. Then, I read an article about the company and was intrigued by the possibilities. Now, I use Evernote to keep track of everything from blog post ideas, articles and stats for speeches, and even gift lists for family and friends. Most useful is the iPhone app for notes on the go.
  • Gmail and Google Apps - I still use and love Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Reader. Both of my companies (Cool People Care and Proof Branding) use the Google suite, including Google Voice.
  • TripIt - No better travel app exists to keep track of all my plans. It's as easy to organize as forwarding an email.
  • Wordpress - My personal blog, CoolPeopleCare.org, and ProofBranding.com all use Wordpress.
  • Wufoo - Contact forms are easy (and cheap) to build and maintain. The days of contact pages just listing email addresses are over.
  • Rafflecopter - Thanks to Grace, I found this beauty and have suggested it to many people. If you run contests on your site, use Rafflecopter. Setting up, running, and picking a winner for a contest has never been easier, especially if you want an easy way to include entry options like tweets or people who follow you.
  • HootSuite - This is how I manage two Twitter accounts and three Facebook pages. I plan out tweets and posts sometimes up to 30 days out. I still use the free version.
  • Shopify - Cool People Care's store is built on Shopify, which keeps improving. It's an easy and efficient way to set up your own online store.
  • Dropbox - Hands down, the best way to store files in the cloud. I put my large presentation files here so I can get to them no matter where I am or what machine I'm using.
  • Flipboard - If you have an iPad or iPhone, get Flipboard and you'll marvel at how fun it is to read nearly anything online, including your Facebook news feed.
  • Alice - You can skip trips to the store because Alice delivers home goods to your door. Best of all, they keep track of the brands you use and can send you reminders when they think you're nearly out.
  • OpenTable - Want to make sure you have reservations to your favorite restaurant? OpenTable can handle it.
  • Kayak - The easiest way to search flights, especially if you have tight travel windows like I do and takeoff/landing times are important.
  • Uber - It's not available in all cities, but if you're in a city with Uber and you use it, you will immediately wish that all taxis were the same.
  • Pandora - Because when I write, sometimes it's a Jay-Z kind of day, and sometimes it's a Taylor Swift kind of day. Seriously.
  • MailChimp - The easiest, most affordable, most foolproof way to send emails. Cool People Care uses it to send over 125,000 emails a month, and at Proof, we recommend them to nearly every client.
  • QuickBooks - I started using it because my accountant prefers it. I keep using it because it's a fantastic web-based way to track all financial records and invoicing.
  • Square - Selling books at a conference is super easy (and sometimes fun) with Square. It's also easy to take a credit card payment over the phone.

What about you?

What tools do you use in your personal or professional life to be more productive and keep track of stuff? Share in the comments below and let's get a good list going together.

Photo credit

Pause More

At some point, we started rewarding motion more than achievement. Being busy (or at least looking busy) became as important as accomplishing something. We cared about input more than output. What was lost in all this hustle and flow was the idea of the pause. We missed out on the chance to take a rest, refuel, and then carry on with a renewed sense of focus so that we could actually do more and be better after resting a spell.

My daughter is now starting to figure out the remote control. She's learned that Mommy or Daddy can fast forward through the scary parts of Finding Nemo or Tangled. She's also learning that the pause button can stop a film in its place, and that lots of things can happen during a pause.

Leo Babauta recognizes the power of the pause and recommends pausing before giving into any urge, whether it's to smoke or work more. Taking time to ask oneself "Why"? can recenter us and refocus our efforts and prevent behavior we don't find beneficial.

Once, during an interview, I paused for 10-15 seconds after each question asked. I announced before the interview began that I'd be doing this because I wanted to be sure to give thoughtful answers. It was me versus a team of five and because I called my shot, these didn't feel like awkward silences. And, it was the best interview I've ever given. I didn't get the job, but I left feeling great about my performance (and in the end, it's a great thing I wasn't offered the gig).

A pause can be our friend. Your urge to rush towards frenzied action is actually your enemy. Your pause is the awkward friend that may not always be cool, but is always right. Listen to her.

Photo credit

Why You Should Say "No" More

Saying no is tough (it's so hard that I've provided a template before on how you should do it). Saying yes gives us an adrenaline rush, as Tony Schwartz points out in this article. Saying yes is easy, convenient, and makes us feel good. But, it's time we stopped saying yes so much. Each time we overuse it, the value of our yes decreases. We need to say no more - for the sake of our companies, our progress, and our sanity.

Before you go declining every opportunity that comes your way, here are three scenarios in which you should say no:

If the opportunity does not play to a strength of yours, say no.

If someone wanted me to sing at an event, while I may enjoy being on stage, the act of singing (when I do it) has been known to clear a room.

If the opportunity does not align with your company’s strategic goals, say no.

Nothing will get your business off track faster than doing work that is not helping it grow or succeed.

If the opportunity is not mutually beneficial, then say no.

Many times, you’ll get requests to work together or to form an alliance only because the person asking is looking for a free ride. If you get this feeling say no until the other party is willing to put in equal effort to bring about success.

Better yet, before you say yes or no to an opportunity, first pause to ask "Why?" The answer to that question should shape your yes or no more than the request itself.

What tips do you have for saying "No?"

Photo credit

Time for Work. Maybe.

For most of us, the working day isn't working for us. From what I hear from many of my educator friends, the school day isn't working for students, either (I'm guessing many people don't do their best work at 7:30 AM, like we ask teenagers to do; seriously - whose idea is/was that?). Because of tradition and convention, it seems like many of us are spending our creative hours not creating and our productive hours not being productive. And this is a shame. If you have job that demands creating, then you need to do the hard work of figuring out when you're at your creative best and then protect that time fiercely. If there are certain times when you're in "the zone," then block off that amount of time and work on your biggest problems.

In fact, go read this by Sarah Peck. Right now. She shares how she works and why the 9-to-5 doesn't suit her. Rest assured, she's putting in her 40 hours (or more), but those hours don't fit nicely within our normal mindset of when someone should be at "work."

Or, check out this post on the 37 Signals blog about how a remote worker in Spain was able to get more done because of the time difference. You don't need to move to Madrid or Paris to get the same effect, but the idea has to make you wonder.

Remember, the goal of our work - especially as entrepreneurs or business owners or leaders - isn't to work a schedule. It's to create. To take risks, innovate, or be bold. It's about forward motion, as Matt Cheuvront emphasizes here. If we're stuck in work or life, it may be because we need to shake up our schedule.

Some jobs don't make this easy. Based upon who our boss is or where we work (like in regimented shifts), this may not be feasible. Yet.

The world of work is changing and I think you'd be surprised about how flexible a place may be. With a little finesse and a compelling case of numbers, you may get to come in and stay an hour later. If you worked for me and could show that a shifted schedule makes you a better worker (meaning I get more value out of you), then I'm all ears.

Many companies are understanding this in terms of location and are seeing the benefits of letting people work from home (or the coffee shop or the beach or Spain). It's only a matter of time before we see the same with time.

What do you think?

Do you work an unconventional schedule in order to get more done? What does that look like? And did you have to sell anyone above you on it? 

Photo credit

What Leaders Do

Leaders, no matter their industry or business size, must answer one fundamental question to truly stand out:

Where can I add the most value right now?

This means that leaders don't only do certain things, like delegate, have important meetings, or review numbers. Nothing should be beneath a leader's pay grade, as long as it's adding the most value right then. Leaders must use their brains and brawn in any given situation to add the most value to the project, product, team, company, or idea.

Sometimes, then, the most valuable thing a leader can do is bring doughnuts to her team.

Sometimes, the most valuable thing a leader can do is retreat for two days to brainstorm a strategy for next quarter.

Sometimes, a leader needs to go on that sales call to land the big client.

Sometimes, a leader needs to do nothing.

If a leader isn't adding value, he needs to be replaced. If a leader isn't willing to do that which is necessary, then she isn't necessary. There is no shortage of potential leaders in your company, and the best way to vet them is to find out if they're willing to do what it takes to add the most value in any and every situation.

Leadership isn't meant to be glamorous; it's meant to be valuable.

Photo credit

What To Do With An Found Hour

We all wish we had an extra hour. Right now, I'm sure that there is something (or a list of somethings) you want to do but have told yourself you can't. Longingly, you hope for an extra hour to accomplish these things, lowering your stress and giving you that feeling of accomplishment. Of course we can never literally make more time. There technically is no such thing as "extra" time since hours can never be added to any day.

So the question, "What would you do with an extra hour?" should be replaced by "What would you do with a found hour?"

I found myself with an extra hour on Monday. I drove to the gym at 5:30 to get in my weekly half-hour run only to find that it was closed (due to it being a quasi-holiday). Instantly, I had found an hour.

I came home, brewed coffee, and got to writing, focusing in on my big goals for this year. That found hour allowed me to write, mark some things off my to-do list for the week before I leave town, and get ready for a busy week.

Here's a list of things you could do with a found hour:

  1. Watch TV (while relaxing, this may not give you a sense of accomplishment)
  2. Take a nap (again, relaxing, but you may actually feel groggier afterward)
  3. Call someone (a great way to finally dial the digits of that person you've been meaning to connect with)
  4. Plan something (take out pen and paper, or even your phone)
  5. Write something (many a book has been written in hourlong spurts)
  6. Read something (expand your horizons)
  7. Dive into your hobby (edit videos, scrapbook, fly a kite)
  8. Go for a walk (the benefits of which are overwhelming)

Unless your circumstances demand it (you're overworked or sick), I say skip options 1 and 2 and get on with the rest of this list. That found hour is not an extra one unless you're disciplined. 

What would you do with a found hour?

Photo credit