Customer Development, Productivity

Tiny Habits Build into Great Behaviors

I signed up this week for the TinyHabits program from BJ Fogg at Stanford. The program – a way of training yourself to take small steps that will build into specific behaviors – intrigues me because it mirrors a few practices I’ve done over the past two years that have made a huge difference in my life. Keeping a daily and weekly log, trying to answer all of my email promptly, and always asking people how I can help them are three small habits I’ve followed that have delivered big benefits.

What did I do? (Keeping a daily log)

I can’t take too much credit for this one – it’s T.A. McCann who introduced me to it – but simply keeping a list of the major things that you do each day and who you did it for can give you great insight into how you’re spending your time. I don’t get much value from logging every tiny thing that I do – but I try to capture any activity that takes more than 30 minutes of time. Keeping this log (in Evernote) gives me access to what I’m doing today, what I did last week, and keeps that list with me wherever I go. It’s also a great place to plan – just ask yourself 3 things: “what did I do?”, “what am I doing next?”, and  “where do I need help?”

How can I answer all of my email as fastly and efficiently as I can?

There are plenty of ways to manage email and to be productive, and I don’t claim to have reinvented the wheel on dealing with email. The key thing is to spend less time finding the emails that need action, and then to act on them with deliberate speed. I use a modified GTD approach to manage my email load, identifying each piece of mail to file, forget/delete, or to act upon it immediately. And if there is a quick item that I can send as the action and it will take less than a minute or two, I do it now. Added to this is a quick sweep in the morning and evening of any emails that are lingering in my inbox (yes, I know this is ferboten for some, but I use my inbox (and Gmail’s priority inbox) to let me know how I’m doing.) I never make it inbox zero, but on most good days I’ve maintained the email equilibrium and don’t have more than I had at the beginning of the day. Also, consider using the excellent email filtering tool Sanebox to make it easier to go through all of the bacn that would otherwise clog your inbox.

How can I help you?

This habit has produced the most divergent and interesting answers and opportunities. Simply asking “how can I help you” yields nothing … and everything. It’s really cool to just ask people a question and to see how they respond – it opens up opportunities to really help people. So just make a habit of the question that works for you, ask it to the people in your life, and see how it changes things. Good luck!


3 Things We Can All Do To Make Our Emails Better

I hope that you’re enjoying a pause right now and thinking about the people and things that matter most to you.

A friend shared this article with me about Volkswagen’s effort to limit after-work conversation and it struck a chord with me – that we should all think about ways to improve our communication style and that there are simple, concrete things we can do to improve this communication.

Tell people what you’d like them to do, not how you’d like them to do it

The better you can share what needs to be done and to make it factual, the more likely you’ll be to get the results you want. To that end, keep emails short and to the point – emotional conversations should happen using the phone or in person. There are lots of great resources to help you do this, including the Three Sentences technique.

Ask for what you want

In each email, make it very obvious what you’re requesting. If you ask for one or two things in each email – detailing who you expect to do the thing, what it should look like when it’s done, and by when it should be completed – you’ll have a task blueprint that should be pretty clear to another person (and not just to you.) There are many frameworks for these goals – one common one is the SMART goal.

Be a Great Copywriter

Finally, imagine that your email (just like your blog post) is competing for attention with everything else someone might be doing in a day. To that end, you really need to write a great headline or subject to your email to make sure it gets read. It’s best if that subject line is actionable – giving a call to action, a hint at the result, and seems bite-sized enough to represent the smallest big thing that someone might decide to do today. To that end, please try to implement these three suggestions in your next email.