20 Apr 2009

Purge and Simplify

And so it begins: 136 feeds slashed to 99, 54 follows tumbles to 26. Perhaps it had something to do with me being in a quaint little town in central Utah earlier this evening to realize one huge thing that has been really frustrating me lately: I am on information overload, and it is driving me crazy. So it was that after a good chat with my wife on the way home tonight that I decided I was going to clean house a little.

Step 1: Take my feeds to the pool

My Google Reader subscriptions have been getting a bit out of control as of late. You may remember a while back when I posted about how I "stay in touch" with technology and the outside world through the use of feeds. Problem was, I got into a terrible habit of subscribing to a feed simply because I liked one or two posts from the site/blog. Just mere weeks ago, I had 96 subscriptions (I'm sure many of you rolled your eyes at that), but this evening I checked to find I had 136! That was just ridiculously out of control. I've been noticing that it has been taking upwards of a full hour each day (or more for some days) to get through all the news items that came through the feeds.

So, needless to say, Reader got a bit of a trim tonight. I carved a full 37 feeds from the routine. There were a few feeds in particular that will make the daily reading much easier. KSL.com was providing an average of 30.1 stories per day. The next highest per-day-amount was from Major League Soccer News at about 12 per day. I chopped both of those right off, as well as all but two soccer feeds: Soccer by Ives and Behind the Shield. I then went through all my tags and cleaned house. I had previously subscribed to a bunch of the google blogs about Ad Sense and Webmaster Tools, but realized that when those posts came through I was completely skipping them because I just wasn't interested. That was really the crux of the situation: I had subscribed to an enormous amount of blogs assuming that I even cared about what they had to say, or perhaps that I should care about it. The fact of the matter came down that I just didn't care, or didn't have the time to care. And as we all know, time is money. CHOP.

By the way, I can't tell you how liberating it feels to have sliced so much out. I'll report soon on what I find based on the surgery.

Step 2: Noise-cancellation

A few months back I decided I would finally give Twitter a try (this came on the heels of finally giving in to facebook last year, just to see what all the fuss was about (FYI: it's about nothing at all)). For those of you who have no idea what Twitter is, here is their one liner:

Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

It sounds conspicuously similar to facebook or myspace, and while it does have the flavor of social networking, it's far simpler. The only thing you can really do on twitter is just that: tell people what you are doing. What's more, you only have 140 characters to relate your sordid tale, even if you have links or pictures to share. There are link shortening services that help with this, but still, short and sweet is the Twitter mantra. Now, this all seems like a bash on Twitter, but I must admit that it absolutely can serve an enormous purpose for people trying to have their company or product go viral. Just go ask Amazon, or Jet Blue. They've had customer service nightmares blow up in their faces from Tweeters that send a maelstrom of angry one-liners at the companies for minor slip-ups. To put it bluntly, Twitter provides power to the people.

As you can tell, I've been studying Twitter as much as I can lately. As such, I've discovered quite a few people/companies to that I am interested in to follow. People like Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office), Imogen Heap, Real Salt Lake, and common squirrel (my personal favorite). Over the last week or two I've been following 54 tweeps (like peeps, but not) and one thing I've realized. Just because someone is a supposed expert in their field does not mean they are interesting enough to hear about all the minutia they come up with each day to enchant their followers. My experience with following people that I don't know on Twitter (no matter how high of regard I had for them before) is pretty much an enormous waste of time. People like Jeffrey Zeldman (Design Guru), or Alex Smith (Twitter API Lead), among others. Love the work they do, but I just don't know them well enough (read: at all) to really have any point in knowing that they had a jamocha milkshake and that they think that the local diner is weird for serving potato lasagna.

So it was with un-heavy heart that I chopped the majority of my followings from 54 down to 26. The majority of the people I still follow are friends, with the occasional company or sport tweeter. Interestingly enough, I find that Twitter is a much better outlet to getting quick news info than RSS. With a strict requirement to limit each tweet to 140 characters, you've got to be short and sweet, and to the point.

Step 3: Breathe the fresh(er) air

While the purging and slashing I did tonight on my tech info overload was significant, I'm sure there will be room for improvement and more slashing in the coming weeks. What's important is that I realized what was going wrong and took the steps necessary to begin changing it. I'll still have to work on suppressing the urge to subscribe to new blogs, doing so only when I am certain the content is worth the amount of time it takes to consume it. The Twitter bug won't be as hard to shake, as I'm still forming those habits and ways to deal with them as we speak.

What are you doing to purge and/or simplify in your life?

16 Apr 2009

Our Regularly Scheduled Program Will Return Shortly...

Just passing word along that I'm on a brief post-writing hiatus due to a big project at work we're trying to close out. No, that doesn't mean I write my posts while at work (at least, not all of them), but means that I'm so burned out by the end of the night from having worked 10 or 12 hours that I have no desire to use the computer at all.

Our regularly scheduled program will return shortly, but in the meantime, have a cocktail and enjoy this random video I just dug up for you... going to youtube to find something random

31 Mar 2009

Soccer Unites

I just came across this amazing video of how soccer unites people around the world. It's a bit long, but it has absolutely been the highlight of my day.

The Soccer Project from Rebekah Fergusson on Vimeo.

Did it make me shed a tear? Maybe.

UPDATE: I got Pelada (the name of the documentary) for Christmas in 2010 and it is EXCELLENT. Go buy it today.

29 Mar 2009

A Fatal Flaw

Rarely a day goes by where I do not think about or act on my business ideas. Most of the actions/thoughts are centered around formulating a system or product that will create an Automated Income Stream, or pave the way to such opportunities. Every so often I'll break from the norm and formulate ideas about business philosophies in general, how would I set things up in certain circumstances.

So it was that this past friday I was out to lunch with some developer friends from work and we got to talking about our current work load. One friend mentioned how he was tired of doing overtime (we've been ultra-slammed with a large project for the past 8 months) and had made a commitment to "only work one or two overtime's per week from now on". I rather rudely laughed in his face. Had I been drinking something, it would have been sprayed all over the backseat of the car. It should be noted now, that I have a highly disgusted opinion of that little thing that business owners love to promote: Overtime.

Mandated Overtime should be illegal.

I don't know who would enforce that law, maybe some employee police who show up at business places after hours looking for people who were "asked" to "put in a few extra hours this week" because of a "big deadline coming up" for "client x". Punishment for violation of this law would be placed on the business owner or manager enforcing the overtime work, punishable by revoking that person's managerial duties for a certain amount of time (determined upon severity of the given offense). Managers with company ownership would be required to divvy up their share of the company with all harmed workers (those doing the overtime). Ya, maybe that's how I'd do it.

Okay, but seriously, it should absolutely be illegal. It is my opinion that the business owner or manager who "asks" or "requests" overtime from a peer employee has a misplaced perception of reality, one in which their employee has lesser rights or privileges than that of their own. They think that the employee should do so for "the good of the company", and too often, the employees buy it. "You see, we've got this really really big project that is coming down the wire, and we just can't miss." I don't buy it. I strongly believe that Mandated (requested or required) Overtime is a sign that your boss or employer doesn't understand a few important things about business and life in general. I present here two questions that owners/managers should consider when thinking about mandating overtime.

  1. Is the employee a person? I'm serious about this one. I truly believe that some managers don't really see their employees as people, just drones to carry on a task and get paid for it (which means they are also an expense and a liability). Seriously, employees are people to. They have friends, family, and separate lives from work. Let them maintain those other relationships, rather than letting them crumble due to workplace stress and time away from home. The answer is that, Yes, employees are people.
  2. Does the employee want to work Overtime? Now, 99% of all employees "asked" to do overtime will say yes. When asked if they "really" want to do overtime, most will say, "sure, it's no problem." That's because most people are too afraid to say No, fearing that (in a down economy) they will be looked down upon by their employer and could possibly be jeopardizing their jobs by appearing not to be a "team player". The answer to this point, No, your employee does not want to work overtime, whatever they may say to the contrary.

So what's this really about? Why am I making such a fuss over Overtime? It's like I said before: Overtime represents a flawed perception of reality. So, let's stomp it out. What does overtime really mean? In one definition, Overtime means that there is more work (sometimes far more) than we have the ability to do during normal work hours, or throughout a carefully planned project schedule. This usually means one of two things:

  1. Whoever signed off on the project did not understand the amount of work required to get it done.
  2. Whoever signed off on the project understood the amount of work required, but signed the deal anyways, knowingly committing to more work than the company or team was capable of performing.

In either case, the problem is that the project was over-sold, and will likely under-deliver, though at great cost to those involved in doing the work. In one case, it is Ignorance; in the other, Indifference. Often times it's a mixture of both that get them in trouble. I've heard CEO's and managers talk about how "Project X will make or break this company. We deliver on this one, and none of us will have to work again in our lives, unless we want to. Sure it will be hard, but that's how it's supposed to be, and it'll be worth it. By the way, if we fail, we'll all need to go find new jobs." In short, Overtime is simply the result of someone making a deal that they probably know will be too much for the team to handle, but is too lucrative in some way to pass up. So how do you avoid the Overtime trap?

First: STOP SELLING VAPORWARE.

Stop selling something you don't have. Stop promising to that client that you have this ultra cool widget that whistles like a monkey and dances like a ballerina. All of your employees know that the widget actually honks like a goose and trips down the stairs, or worse, that there is no such widget at all. If they knew what you were promising, 90% of them would be on Monster before you could count to five, and you might get a few that will up and walk out on you.

Second: Stop trying to be something you're not.

You are an orange, not an apple. If Client X wants an apple, they certainly won't get one by biting into your orange. So stop pretending to be something that you aren't. Instead, focus on the truly novel concept of doing and being what you are. You will likely find that there is a viable market for oranges that you can build into and be just as happy. Oh, and you have the added benefit that your employees will absolutely love you for this.

Third: Turn Demand into a path to success, not a death march.

Don't have a rotary-girder, but Client X really really wants one? Tell them the truth. Then, when you get back from the meeting, talk to your top people and figure out if building that rotary-girder would be a viable arm to grow into for the business. If one client wants it, are there others that would be looking for the same thing? How long would it take to put together? If this client were gone when you actually created the rotary-girder, would it have been a waste of resources, or would there be other opportunities available? If this new path is viable (and doesn't stray too far from the focus of what you do best), then go for it. But by all means, do it right. Do your homework, plan it out, create a sensible approach to creating the product or service, and then execute with your team. But by all means, do not agree to building the product or service if you don't have it. Build it first, then sell it to your hearts content.

The moral of this long-ish story? Mandated Overtime is something that should be avoided like the plague, as it is an indicator of something far scarier about your business: you are creating an unsustainable environment for your employees. So reel it in, stop the Overtime, scale back your ambitious selling that is putting all your employee's that much further from their spouses. Go back to your initial focus that made you successful in the first place. Your employees will be more loyal, and you won't have to give up parts of your company because the overtime police came calling at 10 o'clock at night to find your senior developer chest deep in production system compile errors.

20 Mar 2009

The Impetus of Inspiration

AHA!

Just over two months ago I made a promise to you. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, that's probably good and bad. The promise I made at the end of the article Turning off the Corporate Cruise-Control was that I would within a day or two provide a followup post detailing actions one could take with the knowledge. I have since utterly broken this promise for which I profusely apologize. As promised, I'm continuing the thread where I pointed out the obvious benefits that can come from building an Automated Income Stream, or simply, AIS.

This time around I'd like to focus mainly on what it takes to create one or more AIS's. Ultimately, the desire and determination will have to come from within you, it's not something I can provide for you. If you've read the previous post and agree with even half of what I said in it, then continue reading. If not, I truly hope that you can achieve your life goals by working for someone else, though I have found it difficult to do so. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, and neither is the corporate 8-to-5 model. Let us carry on.

Have you ever had that spark? I know that you have. It's an experience I'm convinced everyone has had (likely) many many times during their lives. I'm talking about the time when you were minding your own business when "out of the blue" an idea came to you that was so absurdly amazing that you stopped everything you were doing just to think about it. Depending on how consumed you were with whatever it was you were doing, you spent anywhere from 15 seconds to several hours thinking about this idea. Sometimes, the idea was so good you talked about it to friends or colleagues. You might have written about it in your journal or blog, or perhaps kept it in the back of your mind for another time that was more appropriate to explore and/or act upon your initial thoughts.

You can call this process of discovery whatever you want, dumb luck, happenstance, Inspiration & Insight (wink), revelation, etc. Regardless of what you call it (though I would have to argue that it is not happenstance or dumb luck), it is Powerful. I'm sure that many people have these "Aha! moments" and simply let them slide by, or keep them around just to keep conversation. Assuming you are an entrepreneur or would like to be, DON'T let them go by! Write down your inspirations as they come. Keep a notebook or similar on you at all times, ready to take this inspiration as it comes. Write and do not edit. A sheer brain dump will always be more powerful than if you stop and think. Go on autopilot for this.

Lately, I have had a very specific biological clock regarding when my inspirations come. I either receive amazing inspirational ideas in the dead of night (generally from 1 to 4), or while showering in the morning before heading to punch the clock. My two most-recent examples:

1. Typical Programmer

For nearly a year I've had a specific idea kicking around in my head about a certain business product I would love to find or build. The initial idea was fairly ambiguous in nature, not like the sudden inspiration we're talking about here. For several months I would think of it randomly, without much inspiration surrounding it. Then one night a few months ago I woke up at 3:30, the idea had finally reached inspiration status. At first I mulled the new concepts over in my mind hoping to go back to sleep and I could think about it in the morning. This was obviously not working by 4, so I decided to do something about it. I popped open my laptop, sat up in bed, and went to work. By the time I needed to start getting ready for work, I had a fairly good working copy of the application in Rails. I hadn't dealt with specifics like design or branding, but just focused on building some of the core features that had come during the night. Since that time the idea has again taken a back-burner role while I sniff out some potentialities regarding some of the more high-level features. Even then, I have a fairly solid base to work from when I decide the time is right to come back and work on it. Lesson learned: you can get an incredible amount of work done in the middle of the night because there are zero distractions.

2. Singing in the Rain, er, Shower.

I take really long showers. Like, 30 or 40 minutes sometimes. Ok, so lately they're usually more like 15 minutes, but still, I love hot water. The funny part is that I basically just stand there under the water the entire time, washing my hair only when I'm ready to get out. Weird quirks aside, I've noticed that I get quite a lot of inspiration just standing and not really thinking about much at all. It gives my mind time to wander and think about random things, rather than when I'm at work or with my wife and kids where I have to keep up some level of logical thought and concentration. So it was about a month ago when I was taking a shower, thinking about something random when the inspiration struck. For the past 9 months since the iPhone SDK has been out and available to developers, I've always wanted to come up with some app ideas to build and sell through the App Store. Up until this particular day, I had basically come up with a lot of really lame ideas that would be so wildly unpopular apple would surely send its thugs to break my fingers to prevent me from ever writing a line of code again. Then the inspiration came, and within a 10 minutes shower I had well over 20 new app ideas that were absolutely feasible, dare I say profitable. When I got out of the shower I immediately wrote down the bare minimum for each idea that came, then throughout the next few days gathered feedback from developers and colleagues alike regarding supposed feasibility of the apps. Since that time I have steadily been growing my knowledge of Objective-C and the iPhone SDK (many thanks be to Jason Barker on this), as well as lining up business contracts to make this a viable income stream. Lesson learned: don't give up if the ideas don't seem to be coming. One day they will flood you out if you are looking for it.

I was hoping to be able to contain this into a single post, but it is clear to me that I can write pages and pages about creating income streams and entrepreneurialism in general. So, I will let your eyes rest for now, and promise that a new post will come soon with more good things. I part with a query from Ryan Byrd, leave your comment below:

What are you doing today to break free?