For the past few weeks I have had task upon tasking piling up in my to-do list and have just been putting a specific one off. I set up my list to have a recurring reminder to write a blog – at this point I have four list items to write posts. Well, let’s see how I can succinctly summarize everything I’ve learned over the past two months.
Prioritize and Say No
I have always had a problem saying no to tasks, I’m a do-er and I want everything done the right way so I hate passing off tasks or dropping some. When it comes right down to it, though, I have too much going on: I am currently working with MassChallenge, running the Husky Startup Challenge, taking classes, leading Startup Massachusetts and trying to have some fun as well. With such a full-plate, I don’t have a choice but to say no to some additional things. To be honest, it actually feels good telling people that I can’t do things. It makes me realize that the weight of the world really isn’t all on my shoulders and there are others who can help lighten my load.
Think about how you buy your groceries
I recently came across a new startup in Boston named TaskRabbit. They are a mobile and web platform to pay other people to help do your tasks. I was overwhelmed with tasks and thought about having someone on there help with my grocery shopping. But then I thought about something – I don’t know how to make a grocery list. When I go shopping, I just go. I walk through the aisles and buy things that I see and know I need. I couldn’t use TaskRabbit because I can’t plan the task efficiently in advanced to have someone else buy my groceries for me. Okay, so what does grocery shopping have to do with productivity? Well grocery shopping is just one example of how I execute tasks in a way that maximizes my productivity. If I work best just walking through the aisles and buying what I need, then I need to apply that method to the rest of my life. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Recently I had to rearrange the space layout at MassChallenge to make it a more productive work environment that can accommodate more people. I spent hours planning the layout, taking to people to get input, having meetings to figure out the logistics, drawing diagrams to decide the new map. I planned and research and went into the move with a very specific “grocery list” – but it didn’t work. When I was in the moment changing the layout (or walking through the store aisles) things came up that made more sense, ideas arose that were easier. I threw out my plans and just executed. All the time planning and researching was a waste of energy. If I had reflected prior to this how I preform best, how I buy my groceries, maybe I would have realized that I had to just go to the store and buy things without planning and listing what I needed.
You often here the mantra “work hard, party harder”. This is so true. I work harder than any of my friends, balancing a million things and trying to execute every task on my plate with above average performance. Well there are two important things that I have learned – love what you do and reward yourself when it’s done. Something important I have had to do is think about the value of everything that I do on a given day and find a way to make it fun. One of the worst tasks I have had to do lately at MassChallenge is to build cubicle. If you’ve never done it before, building cubicles is not fun and requires a lot of time and energy. But what I have to think about is that I am not just building a cube – I’m building someone’s office, making a location for them to develop their products and build their business. It’s exciting, it may be an irritating task but it accomplishes a rewarding outcome when a company can work efficiently in a collaborative environment. And the other important part is to reward yourself. Working 14-hour days isn’t healthy. It’s not what any person should do. But when I am working that hard I need to take a day or two off and spend time with friends to just let loose and have fun. Working hard is useless if you have no one to enjoy your success with.
Just do it
I recently had the opportunity to lead Startup Massachusetts and for some reason found it a really hard decision to make. I was handed an opportunity to own something I was passionate about and wasn’t sure what to do. I don’t know why I couldn’t make a decision. It was really a no brainer. It literally took an invitation to the White House to convince me I should do this. Nike says it best – Just do it. I had no reason to be hesitant, nothing to lose, I just needed to accept the unknown, be entrepreneurial, and just do it.
Seize the moment – life is good
As I said, it took an invitation to the White House to make me decide for certain that I should lead the effort for Startup Massachusetts. This is one of those Carpe Diem moments – I am a kid in college who has just taken the right opportunities and now is going to represent the state of Massachusetts on a national stage. It’s surreal. And really just makes me realize that life is an amazing thing and that people simply need to seek opportunity and rejoice in success. I was back in my home town for Thanksgiving and saw a few friends who weren’t doing what they wanted in life – they were at schools they didn’t like, working jobs they hated and not reaching their potential. It made me realize how fortunate I have been with the opportunities provided for me.
Send cold emails
This is more of a tactical lesson I’ve learned compared to the other ones but it’s a valuable lesson. For the Entrepreneurs Club I have identified people I would like to come speak to the club, personally I have identified people I would like to form relationships with, for Startup Massachusetts I have identified people who would be strong partners. Most of these people I don’t have relationship with and most are high-profile individuals. At first I was hesitant to cold-email most of these people, but why? Looking back, almost every person I’ve emailed asking for a meeting or if they would come to speak have replied to me. Almost all of them have said yes to my requests. What is the most you can lose from a cold-email? Realistically, nothing. So do it. Even CEO’s check their email and want to expand their personal network. If you don’t get a reply, email them again. Don’t be annoying, but be persistent and ask directly for what you want – it will usually pay off.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
This is a weird learning from an entrepreneur, but it’s so important. Innovation should be catalyzed from problems that people encounter, but if there are no problems, there is no reason to innovate. If someone has perfected a skill or is an expert in their field, reach out to them, learn from them. If possible, duplicate what they do and make your life easier. There are too many things that you need to improve focus on in a given day to teach yourself an already perfected science.
Keep it simple, stupid!
For all of us who use gmail, you recently realized they had a huge layout overhaul. At first, I was confused, unhappy with it. I felt the text was too big and there was too much white space and it didn’t support email the way I had been using it. Well, I learned something quick – I was using email wrong. My dad always said to me KISS – Keep it simple, stupid! No one wants to read long emails (and if you’re reading this I’m surprised you want to read a blog this long) but what everyone needs to do is make things shorter, simpler, straight-forward and to the point. I now email more efficiently with one-sentence replies and get more things done without focusing on being over comprehensive with my word.
Live your passion
I am stealing this motto from the Northeastern Entrepreneurs Club but it is truly something I believe in. Right now, I can genuinely say I am happy. I am happy because I am focusing my energy on things that I am passionate about. I have lately enlisted a paradigm of rating my success on my happiness and all of that simplifies down to one question – am I doing something I am passionate about? Everyone’s passions vary, some people are passionate about defying gravity and building bridges or tunnels, others are passionate about improving health and become doctors, some people are passionate about executing on justice and become lawyers. I am passionate about making dreams a reality and work with entrepreneurs to build innovative new businesses
Remember what you learn and try to document it
This is the one piece of advice that I have failed at – I haven’t kept up with my blog these past couple of months and have had major experiences without digesting the key learning’s. Every experience in life is a learning opportunity and you must take advantage of every small skill that you may learn. And, not only take advantage of it, but document it. I don’t know if these lessons will help anyone or teach anything but I feel they are important to share if only for me to look back on in a few years and see how naïve I currently am.