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Toxic Culture in a Company of One

In the past couple of weeks since the big story about Amazon’s broken work culture, the web has been abuzz with stories of big companies with long hours, demeaning politics and impossible standards.

As you may have read in the articles like Work Hard, Live Well, “the research is clear: beyond ~40–50 hours per week, the marginal returns from additional work decrease rapidly and quickly become negative.Long hours backfire for people and for companies.

In other words, working more than 50 hours a week can lead to negative productivity.

Many big companies have a BIG problem when it comes to culture. That’s the main reason I left the corporate world over a decade ago.

However, the same culture problems can and do affect tiny companies as well, all the way down to companies with just one person.

Maybe this describes you. Are you building a business all by yourself? How honest are you being about the culture you’re building for yourself?

Don’t fall for the idea that you can “out hustle” everyone else month after month. Even hustlers need a break, and when you don’t take time off, your business pays the price when you eventually burn out.

Work hard, but be smart. Be honest with yourself about how much time off you’re taking, and how much you need to perform at your peak.

Respect the research and your limits. There’s an optimal amount of time to work, and that amount is much less than the “hustle” crowd preaches.

Don’t Find Yourself. Create Yourself.

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.
– George Bernard Shaw

This is so true.

It’s ridiculous to think each of us has just one perfect passion in life, or that there is only one thing that we’re on this planet to do.

Finding yourself or finding your passion is a misnomer. You can find a passion or a version of yourself, but ultimately you have to create the person you want to be. You have to pursue something deeply before you know if it’s right for you.

If we’re lucky, each of us will have many things we’re passionate about in our lifetimes.

Finding yourself is the result of working hard, and creating the person and the life you want. Don’t worry about getting it right, just worry about doing interesting, important, epic, valuable work. The work will lead you.

Don't Find Yourself. Create Yourself.

Don’t Find Yourself. Create Yourself.

Little Wins Matter

When you’re in the middle of a big audacious project, it’s easy to get down on yourself. The feeling of finishing is renewing. Delaying any chance of finishing for too long feels like defeat. This is why it matters so much to break your projects down into bite-sized pieces.

If your project is feeling too long, take a minute to set yourself up for a little win. Could you ship a sneak preview? Could you take a quick detour to get something done from your list that matters? Little wins matter, if only because they make you remember how good it feels to ship something.

See You at Pioneer Nation?

I’ll be a speaker/coach/”trail master” at this year’s Pioneer Nation retreat, hosted by Chris Guillebeau and team on October 1-3, 2015. This year’s event is at The Resort at The Mountain, about an hour from Portland, OR.

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Pioneer Nation is for independent entrepreneurs, small business owners and freelancers. It’s a 3-day business retreat focused on what your business needs next, whether you’re just starting at or have been working at it for a while.

Tickets aren’t cheap, but that’s because this is a true retreat, with all 250 participants staying at the same resort for the duration. I’d love to see you there. This is the perfect kind of event to make a real breakthrough in your business. Tickets just opened today and look to be selling fast.

Oh, and October 3rd happens to be my birthday, so you can help me celebrate :)

Full registration details for Pioneer Nation here »

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How to Create a Vision for Your Life

I used to think it was a silly waste of time to think about a vision for my life. Who does that? It seems to touchy-feely, too Tony Robbins-ish.

But then, as I started learning how to change my life and my habits, I realized something: people avoid creating a vision for their lives because they believe the exercise is futile. Why make a vision when it’s impossible to accomplish those things anyway?

I’ve also noticed something over the past several years: the most interesting, accomplished people I know all have a vision for their lives. They seem to know what comes next, like they’ve seen the future.

On the other hand, people I meet or know who are stuck and have that hopeless look in their eyes, like they’re just passing time in life without joy or aspiration, those people don’t have a vision. In fact, many of them don’t even have long-term goals. This was painfully clear at my recent high school reunion.

Does having a vision make you better able to change your life, or does being able to change your life make having a vision possible?

Being able to change your life and having a vision for it are the yin and yang of living a great life. They’re interdependent and complimentary of one another. One will jump-start the other. Find the motivation to change your life, and you’ll be able to create a vision for it. Or, create a vision for your life and then learn how to change it.

What’s the difference between a life vision and long-term goals?

Goals are individual experiences and accomplishments you strive for. A vision is the bigger picture. Your life’s vision defines who you want to be, what you want to be known for and the set of experiences and accomplishments you aim for. Your vision helps define the goals by giving you a framework to evaluate those goals.

Your vision becomes your why.

Your vision should aim to answer questions like:

  • What life do you want to have lived at age 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 and 80?
  • What kinds of people do you want to be surrounded by?
  • What do you believe you’re capable of in life? What are the greatest things you could accomplish, given the right circumstances, resources and motivation?
  • What do you wish you could change about the world? What could you contribute to the world that would make you feel proud and content?
  • When you die, what would you want people to say and remember about you?

In fact, start by answering those questions and your vision should be easy to create.

How to Create Your Life’s Vision

First, you need to identify what matters in life. This is where that college philosophy class should come in handy. You need to go deep and existential here. What is the real meaning of life? How should you live your life?

Your answer to “what matters in life” won’t be perfect, and that’s OK. The point is to put a stake in the ground to work towards, and you can change your answer whenever you review your life’s vision.

Regardless of your answer, there will be things you want to do or be, and there are resources needed to support those experiences and accomplishments.

Next, make a list of the categories of things that matter to you.

Here are the categories currently on my list:

  • Health — exercise, diet, mindfulness, perspective
  • Ability — skills, knowledge, character
  • Relationships — curate and cultivate them
  • Time — using what time you have wisely
  • Wealth — creating the value necessary to support goals
  • Experiences
  • Accomplishments
  • Contentment — being happy with who you are, perhaps the ultimate goal

Your list can and should look different. It’s all about what matters to you, and what you want out of your brief time on this planet.

Now, for each of your categories, write down what you want or need from each. Think about the things you want to accomplish or experience, and work backwards to understand how the other categories should support your life’s vision.

Finally, craft a statement that describes what your ideal life looks like. I know, it might seem cheesy, but this entire exercise can be incredibly fun and rewarding. I just refreshed my life’s vision while on vacation in Hawaii for 10 days. It was the perfect setting to get all introspective.

Your vision statement will consist of an overall description of your ideal life, combined with a list of areas that matter most, and high-level goals for each area.

What’s next?

If all you do is this exercise, you will likely see some benefits, as your vision will stick in the back of your mind and you’ll unconsciously work towards it.

However, if you want the best chance of making your vision happen, you’ll need to go further.

You need to build a system for yourself, where you review your vision and goals regularly, and update your action plan for accomplishing those goals.

Your main priority should be making your system a habit, something that you do no matter what, that you don’t have to think about or remind yourself about. Start with calendar reminders and task list items and build life planning time into your daily and weekly routines until it becomes habit.

Further Reading

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.
–Marcus Aurelius

When Your Product Doesn’t Sell, Here’s Why

When you launch an online product, like an ebook or a course and get no real sales, the first step is to diagnose the problem.

Generally, either:

  1. You didn’t have enough people visit the sales page, or
  2. People visited your site, but they weren’t convinced enough to buy, or
  3. Some combination of the above (not enough visitors combined with low conversions)

From a totally-ballpark-sales-conversions-perspective, you might expect 1 out of every 50-200 people who visit your sales page to purchase something (a 0.5% to 2% conversion rate).

If your numbers were better than that, you just need to drive more visitors to your sales page (via blogging, podcasting, social media, advertising, press, etc.).

If your numbers were worse than 1 out of 100, you need to improve your sales page/offer and your product. Learn about effective copywriting and sales page conversions. Talk to prospective customers about what they like and don’t like about your product. Consider installing a “live chat” service on your sales page so you can find out what objections or questions people have that your page might not be answering.

If your product doesn’t sell, it really boils down to one of these two problems. Think systematically about solving your low sales problem and you should be able to earn some sales by addressing these two issues.

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8 Standing Desk Options Under $639

I have used some form of standing desk for a little over four years now. I wrote about my experience for Zen Habits back in 2011 in this article: My Standing Desk Experiment.

My “standing desk” always consisted of some half-assed desktop solution, first just stacked boxes, then a clever device called The Stand Stand. I got the benefits of standing, but the setup was always a little bit of a hassle.

This week I found a much better solution on Craigslist. It’s a motorized desk that extends anywhere between 22″ and 48″ in height:

Being able to raise and lower my entire workstation at once (including monitor, microphone, etc.) is amazing. Now I find myself switching between sitting and standing much more naturally, instead of either staying seated (laziness) or standing (fatigue). 

This particular desk came slightly used out of a corporate environment. It measures 29″ x 70″ and gives me plenty of room.

highly recommend standing if you haven’t done it before. I feel much less sluggish during the afternoon if I stand instead of sit. It helps thoughts flow more freely and I just feel more fit/active in general after a day of mixed sitting/standing.

If you’re looking for a similar standing desk, the UPLIFT is pretty close to the version I found on Craigslist, for around $650. This Erector Desk also looks pretty nice, but doesn’t include an electric raise/lower motor. If you’re super budget conscious, you can buy a kit to build a model similar to the Erector.

IKEA has an electric version called BEKANT, although I saw it in-store and thought it felt a little flimsy. One issue with bigger standing desks is stability at full height.

Here’s the full list of options mentioned in this article, and a handful of others from cheapest to most expensive:

  1. Stacked Boxes — whatever you have around the house (free)
  2. The Stand Stand ($69)
  3. The UpStanding Desk ($199)
  4. DIY Pipe Desk Kit (~$250 + table top)
  5. Used corporate desk like mine ($250 to $600 on Craigslist)
  6. IKEA BEKANT Desk ($489)
  7. The Erector Desk ($599)
  8. The UPLIFT Desk (starting at $639)

While you weigh your options, someone else is already taking action.

Here’s the problem with carefully considering your options. No amount of thinking or research can ever ensure an outcome.

We play this story in our minds, that we’re searching for answers and looking for the right path. But what are we really doing? Thinking can’t take you very far without action.

Some people take a more action-oriented approach. Instead of waiting to feel 100% certain about a decision, they take action sooner, realizing that taking action is the only way to know for sure. Instead of trying to arrive at the perfect mental answer, these people say “let’s try it and see what happens!”

While you weigh your options, someone else is already taking action. Action isn’t always the right answer, but most of us could use more doing and less thinking.

That yearning you have to be better and accomplish more? It never ends.

On the Fizzle team, we often find ourselves in a collective state of mind where we’re frustrated with our business and all we haven’t been able to accomplish yet. Yet I know people look at our business and just *wish* they could have built a fraction of what we already have. And at the same time, I know entrepreneurs who are 100x more successful than we are, and *they* feel the same frustration. 

This yearning feeling we have as entrepreneurs — it doesn’t end. It’s something we have to learn to recognize and manage. Striving is good, but we’ll never be satisfied with goals we reach for long. Other goals are always around the corner. You have to take satisfaction from the journey itself if you ever want to feel good about what you’re doing

The System

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle

Most anything worth improving or accomplishing in life requires repetition and sustained focus. You probably have several things you want to improve right now related to health, wealth, career, or relationships.

How many times have you committed to changing something in your life, only to watch that ideal life fall by the wayside weeks later?

The key to lasting change and the sustained focus it takes to make those changes is having a system. You need a system that gives your priorities the attention they need daily. Your system has to become a rote part of your day.

No single system works for everyone. Personally, I adapt mine a couple of times a year (see my complete calendar and experiments with the Balanced app for modifications I’ve recently made, and have since moved on from).

Your system can be as simple as a daily planning routine and review, based in a spreadsheet or note taking app.

The important thing is that you recognize the importance of having a system. Without one, your intentions are too easy to lose sight of over time.

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