Stop what you are doing and remove half of your product

I love words. Probably too much. I love words so much that often use too many words when only a few are needed. It’s not because I want you to know about all the words. It’s that I want you to understand better.

Sounds a little silly, right? Yet often we make the same argument to customers when we present them with all of the choices they could make in our app. Don’t make just one choice – we persuade – make any choice you need to make!

By presenting too many choices, we run the risk of overloading the customer. You can hold 5-7 items in your active memory (you are probably using at least 1-3 of them right now). The chances of a customer remembering to do more than the next single thing you want them to do are pretty low.

Please, make it easier for the customer by picking the next thing you want them to do, telling them how to do it, and letting them know when they’re done. This might not mean telling them exactly what to do at the beginning of the process (though you should give them a suggestion).

If you provide a safety valve for the customer to let you know when things go wrong (a big “call us” or an “email us” button), you’ll win friends too. Make it easier for people to tell you what’s wrong. If they need you to add something, they’ll let you know – and they have a harder time telling you what to take away.

Try it – remove half of the choices on the front page of your app and see what happens. If no one complains, you probably removed things that didn’t need to be there. A good editor works wonders, whether editing a speech, and article, or an app.

You are the product


Be outraged. Facebook is no longer allowing you to hide and not be found in searches. Instagram is including ads in stream and getting rid of the ability to stop auto-play. LinkedIn is selling your “endorsements”. Google is reading your email and serving you ads based on those emails. WordPress shows ads in exchange for free hosting in content to the world.

If these things bother you (and I believe they might) you must also acknowledge that all of these products and services do not cost anything upfront to use. Yes, you can argue that we are subsidizing them through our subscriptions with network providers like AT&T and Comcast, yet those companies have a more traditional business model than those in the online ether.

In the old economy, you pay for services and products in a lump sum or monthly, in cash or by financing a purchase. In the new attention-based economy (and yes, I do think it’s new), you pay incrementally with data, behaviors, and transactions over time.

Because we’re not used to the idea that we are the product, when we find our providers selling this data, we get upset. We wonder how this data (ours) could be sold to the highest bidder. Yet we created this data asset on a free platform (and willingly).

Some will say that the techniques used to get us to participate are coercive, manipulative, or downright evil. I think that the root of the issue is that we don’t control access to our own data. Today, the only way to avoid becoming a product is to avoid participating in this economy. Yet more and more economic models and businesses are being hybridized to include elements of *free* – it’s hard to opt out.

What should we do? Build alternate models: a model based on identity (and a paid one) is a good incentive to control how that identity is used and sold. Companies should offer this in the market as an alternative to *free*. If we all had an API of Me and a way to share some data that companies want to use to make us the product, we could know how the data is being used. We are the product, and now we need to learn how to shape that product in the new economy.

Where do you want to spend your time today?

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Yes, I agree, we don’t have enough time to do all of the things we want to do. Here’s a thought exercise that might unblock you from that way of thinking. You need a map to point you where you want to go today.

First, think of all of the things you need to do (if it helps to have a limit, list 20). Now ask yourself: which of these things would really hurt if they didn’t get done? Your definition could include work, home, or life priorities or could blend the three.

Next, pick the top 5 projects from this list and stack rank them to find your most important projects. If you have challenges with the top 5, pick the top 10.

When you stack rank your projects, you force yourself to make decisions about where to spend time. If certain ideas never make it into your list, make an effort to change the priority or remove them from your list.

This list of projects is not very useful without an overall goal. The BHAG – or Big Hairy Audacious Goal (thanks, Tom Peters for this vivid image) helps to see where you are going. A goal that’s so big it is scary also forces you to think in new terms to solve a new problem.

As you solve these new problems, you will need help. Consider building a personal board of directors made up of amazing people with different strengths. Like the baseball manager who can bring in the superstar reliever, you need to find the people in your network who can give you unique insights when you need them.

Stack ranking your list of projects is clearly not the only way to organize your time. But it forces you to state what you are doing, arrange that list into priorities, and orient the priorities so that they point toward a “North Star”: your big goal.

Read more books (please)

Read a fiction book. Read a non fiction book. Read a cookbook or a comic book for all I care. Just spend more time reading.

I should say that I am very much in favor of a good blockbuster movie, an exciting football game, or a taut detective thriller. And I am also asking you to try turning off the show you didn’t mean to watch, the extra 20 minutes you didn’t realize you spent on Facebook, or that part of your life you lost to Candy Crush.

Because books are every bit as good at stimulating your brain, and more.

Great books take you away to another place for a while. Great books give you perspective. Great books make you laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. And great books make you wonder, are we alone in the universe?

When you get back from spending time alone in your head with a book, you are better suited to be with other people. You might have new insights to share with others. You may look at your life a little differently.

Whether you read the book out loud, info-snack using a Kindle, stay in bed with a flashlight under the covers until the book ends, or read in other ways and places, great books inspire. Great books stay with you and don’t let go. Great books remind you of good and bad times and those yet to be. Make sure you read some more this week and you’ll see what I mean.

Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock


Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock. Use a plain old alarm clock instead. Pick a time and put your phone in the other room. Ideally, with enough time to think for a while before you go to bed.

Why? Doesn’t this make you less productive during the time of the day when you could be catching up? Yes. But you need to catch up to what your body needs to be more productive during the rest of the day.

Blue light – the kind emitted by all those screens you use – is not good for you during the time you should be sleeping. To fight this do a few things: 

  • Turn the devices off or get then out of your bedroom
  • Don’t watch TV for at least an hour before you go to bed
  • Read a book

We all need to decompress in this hyperactive, always-on world. While you can’t slow the world down, you can carve out space where you can respond differently to that world by pausing. By reflecting. And by thinking.

So tell yourself how much time you get after dinner to answer that email, tweet that tweet, and watch that show. And then turn the screens off. 

With the extra time. Make sure to read a book. Spend time with your spouse or partner or pet. Meditate. Stretch. Be in non-electronic space for a while. Then, in the morning when you reach for your non-electronic alarm clock, just see if you feel more awake.

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