Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

That’s not the way you debate! My thoughts on the Presidential debates

Old-School-Debate-Meme

Yes, I watched the presidential debate instead of watching Monday Night Football, even though I had 3 guys on my fantasy team playing in that game. My team wound up winning. :)

I’m no wonk, and I didn’t fact-check, but here are my thoughts on what went down during the debate.

Let’s start with Hillary.

She was pretty much what we all expected. Very factual, very calm, and not at all inspiring.

We know she has the experience, we know she can get the job done, but is anyone excited about her becoming president?

It might not be fair to compare her to President Obama, who did an amazing job in moving the nation during his campaign.

But does anyone believe that Hillary can energize this country? This debate didn’t change that.

Now, Trump.

As much as his supporters say that he’s a straight shooter, he did nothing of the sort last night.

He deflected and avoided every tough question that came his way. His answer to the Obama birth certificate issue was horrible, and his thoughts on race relations and “law and order” were barely thoughts. He basically admitted he has avoided taxes and doesn’t have as much money as we think he does by not answering those questions directly. He talked about not allowing companies to go overseas yet didn’t elaborate on how. He really didn’t speak his mind because he knew that he would get chastised for it.

He interrupted Hillary Clinton many times and failed to respect the time limits and debate process.

Overall, he continued to show why he isn’t fit to lead this country.

I would have loved to be able to say “That’s the way you debate!” like Will Ferrell in Old School, but unfortunately this debate didn’t warrant it.

Can we get Gary Johnson in the next debate?

What are your thoughts on the debate? Talk to me in the comments!

How do you deal with distractions from your smartphone?

driving with smartphone

Distractions are all around us, and most of them can be blamed on that tiny supercomputer in our hands – the smartphone.

Obviously, work is where you can be most distracted.

Constantly checking your phone for emails, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or whatever app du jour you’re using can be so detrimental to completing your tasks. Push notifications make concentrating nearly impossible.

One second, you start a task in the morning. The next second, your friend sends you a message on WhatsApp about the slate of NFL games played yesterday.

Next thing you know, you’re checking on how your fantasy teams did. Then you’re researching a trade for a running back. Then negotiating said trade with other owners.

Oh man, it’s 5PM already? Time to go home!

What did you get done that day? Maybe a fantasy football trade, but maybe not even.

(BTW, that’s not me I’m talking about, it’s a hypothetical story, I swear).

I’m not only talking about work, though.

I walk my dog everyday and many times check my phone while doing it. Next thing I know, she’s eating some food scraps off the ground, and I have to worry if she’ll make me pay for my lack of attention by pooing somewhere she isn’t supposed to.

Sometimes when I play with my daughter, I’ll get distracted and check my phone. While I’m not looking, she’ll run toward our deck and lick the screen door. Or go to my dog’s water bowl and stick her hand in it. Or do something else she isn’t supposed to do.

And of course, we can’t leave out the distractions of the smartphone while driving. Dangerous.

As magical as the smartphone is, it is probably the biggest distraction ever created.

We can turn on airplane mode to avoid any incoming communications, but do we?

We can leave our phones at home when we go out for a short amount of time, or place it in another room so it’s not always with us. But do we?

How do you deal with all of the distractions that the smartphone brings? Do you ever put your phone in airplane mode, or leave it in the other room? Talk to me in the comments!

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Ever feel like you’re an impostor? That can be a good thing.

impostor girl in glasses

I had a conversation with my co-worker Rob yesterday and he was worried that he was an impostor. I said that in some scenarios, that’s actually a good thing.

Here’s the backstory.

Rob is a huge Pokemon Go fan and awesome iOS developer, and built an iPhone and Apple Watch companion app for the game called GoTypeChart.

The app helps you quickly figure out what type of Pokemon to use for Gym battles in Pokemon Go.

I don’t play the game, so I don’t know much, but apparently there isn’t always a right answer for which Pokemon to use in each scenario. And some other “experts” said that some of the recommendations in Rob’s app were wrong.

Due to the negative reactions to his app’s suggestions, he felt that he was just an amateur Pokemon Go player and didn’t deserve to have an app like this in the App Store.

Rob felt like an impostor.

I said that’s OK.

The word “impostor” has negative connotations that typically include fraud and trickery. It doesn’t always have to be viewed that way.

Everyone is an impostor at some point.

Any time you learn something new and try to apply what you learned to a problem you’ve never faced before, you’re an impostor. You don’t really know what you’re doing, but you’re giving it a shot.

If you pre-sell a product that doesn’t even exist yet, you’re an impostor. Kickstarter? Full of impostors. But that’s a damn good thing that you were able to do that.

If you build an app but aren’t really sure what you’re doing, you’re an impostor. But you’re building something and putting your skills out on display, and that’s brave.

Impostors may lie and say that they know what they are doing, when they really don’t. But if you give it a shot and learn along the way, being an impostor can be a good thing. It means that you’re trying new things and growing.

So go ahead and be an impostor (the good kind).

Have you ever felt like an impostor, and what did you do about it? Talk to me in the comments!

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Image courtesy of Jason Eppink on Flickr

3 ways to set artificial deadlines to get sh*t done

 

deadline

As an entrepreneur, you may not always have a boss breathing down your neck, client demands to meet by certain times, or hard deadlines that you need to adhere to.

Many times, it’s up to you how much work needs to get done and by when.

Thus, there may be times where you slack off every once in a while.

What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t finish that blog post by the end of the day? You’ll get to it tomorrow, right?

So what if you don’t work on your online course today? It’s not due until December!

Does it really matter if you don’t take that programming lesson today? That shit is too hard anyway, and you’ll never become a good software developer.

We’ve all been guilty of that mindset every once in a while (I hope I’m not the only one), and it really sucks when that happens.

You miss one deadline, then you do it again the next day, and then it’s a slippery slope.

So I’ve learned a few ways to set artificial deadlines to be more productive and get shit done. Check out these techniques that I’ve used.

The Pomodoro Technique

I’ve written about the Pomodoro Technique in this blog post and in my productivity ebook. It’s a great technique to enhance productivity.

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management approach where you concentrate solely on your work, with no distractions, for 25 minutes. This is one Pomodoro. After that 25 minutes is up, you take a 5 minute break and do whatever you’d like. You then repeat this throughout your work day.

I try to complete one task by the time one Pomodoro expires. Then I do it again and again for other tasks. If I have a large task to complete, I break it down into smaller tasks that I can fit into one Pomodoro.

For instance, I write a blog post like this one every morning. On most mornings, I try to complete the entire set of blogging tasks – which includes writing on this site, finding an image, including outbound links, republishing on LinkedIn and Medium, and posting to social media – all within one Pomodoro. It’s tough and I sometimes rush in the end, but it gives me that artificial deadline to meet.

For a longer blog post like this, I will split it up into one Pomodoro + 10 minutes, or  two Pomodoros, depending on my progress.

However many Pomodoros it takes, having that 25-minute deadline and countdown clock (I use tomatotimer.com) staring you in the face helps immensely. Setting that artificial deadline and meeting it feels awesome and gets me going for my next task.

The “Don’t Bring Your Computer Battery to the Coffee Shop” technique

If you have a task that you really need to complete within a 2-4 hours (depending on how long your computer battery lasts), head to your local coffee shop with your laptop, but leave your charger at home.

Need to write a blog post you’ve been putting off? Do you have to crank out that research report? Gotta finish that proposal or presentation?

Leave your home or office with your laptop sans charger and head to the coffee shop, library, or co-working space.

Without a charger, you will be absolutely helpless when your battery runs out, so you’ll need to complete your task or project in the time before your charger conks out.

Even though this deadline is “artificially” set by you and your computer’s battery life, the desperation and helplessness you feel when your battery gives you a warning is as real as it gets.

I love this technique.

Paying up for missed deadlines

This is one that we’re trying here with our team at Thorn Tech.

We each set reasonable deadlines for content that we need to create, such as blog posts, tutorials, case studies, whatever.

If I don’t meet my deadline for the first draft of my piece of content, I have to pay $50 to the pot.

I then reset my deadline, and if I don’t meet that one again, I owe another $50. And so on and so forth.

We are paying cold hard cash if we slack off.

Proponents of positive reinforcement will shit all over this idea. But those who understand Prospect Theory and loss aversion will understand that many people will choose to avoid losing something of value than gaining something of equal value.

The money will go to something fun, like a company happy hour or new toys for the office, so it’s not all bad.

The idea behind this experiment is to see how fear can be a motivator, and how the deadlines that we set can be held up with consequences.

We’ll see how it goes!

Combine all three!

You can combine all three of the above to create one super-powerful artificial deadline.

Pick a task that will take under 4 hours (your laptop battery life), come to an agreement with someone to pay them some money if you don’t finish the task, head to a coffee shop without your laptop charger, and use the Pomodoro technique to crank out your work.

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

What do you think of these artificial deadlines? Are there techniques you use to get shit done? Talk to me in the comments!

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Why I started posting blog articles to Facebook again

Post to Facebook

I never used to post my blog articles to Facebook.

I thought that my Facebook friends wouldn’t care to read my blog posts and that I’d be clogging their news feeds with my business-y jibber jabber.

I’m sure many ignore my posts in their news feeds, and that’s to be expected. But some of the articles that I’ve posted to FB have been the source of great conversation and debate, at least compared to other distribution channels.FB alma mater blog post

And that totally makes sense.

My friends and I chat about similar topics in real life, so why not talk about these topics on FB?

Certainly some blog posts will resonate more than others. Some will be hits and others, misses.

Regardless, I’m glad I started posting to FB again. And I’ll continue to do so with hopes to have great conversations.

If you’re reading this and found this article on FB, help me out by submitting a comment there just to validate this post. :)

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I love when things just work

Good products just seamlessly work, with no problems. I love when that happens.

My Macbook, even though it’s old, still works just fine. My Android Nexus 5 phone has lasted almost three years (a lifetime for smartphones) without being buggy. My thermos keeps my tea hot for hours, just like the label said it would.

Comcast cable and internet works half the time (thank God I have Fios now). The Bluetooth connection in my car sucks. The Hootsuite Android app, while valuable to someone who manages multiple social media accounts, sometimes doesn’t listen to me. My dishwasher is the quietest dishwasher I’ve ever used but the dishes don’t always come out clean.

If you can depend on a product just doing its job as advertised, that’s a good product. The other bells and whistles are just gravy.

Some of the best products are the ones we don’t have to think about. It’s pretty simple – build something that works, do what you say you can do, and everyone wins.

I love when things just work.

What are some of the products that just work for you? Talk to me in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

How do you create your To-Do list?

to do list

I still haven’t figured out the best way to organize my To-Do list. How do you organize yours?

I’m not just talking about the apps that you use. I’m talking more about the process in which you lay out what you need to do each day or each week.

I use Trello to organize all of my projects, tasks, and ideas. It’s very visual and flexible, and has everything I need to stay on top of all of the tasks that I need to complete.

But when it comes to those tasks making it to my daily or weekly To-Do list in a way that I get the most done, that’s where things sometimes fall off.

I just haven’t found the right process to stay as productive as I can on a daily or weekly basis.

I’ve tried creating a “Today’s To-Do” board on Trello, and listing only the tasks that I need to do that day. That seemed to work for a while, but it didn’t help me see the bigger picture of what needed to be done that week. And there would be times where a larger task due that week wouldn’t make it to my daily to-do list until the day before it was due, when it was pretty much too late.

I’ve also tried creating a “Weekly To-Do” board that had a list for each day of the week, and the tasks due each day. In this case, I would overload each day with too many tasks that I couldn’t accomplish in time. Thus, I would move the incomplete tasks back each day. This would actually be pretty discouraging, as my Friday would have a list of 10-20 tasks that I didn’t get done, and probably won’t.

So I’m trying something new. I am going to create a “Weekly To-Do” board, but instead of having a list for each day of the week, I am just going to have the typical “To-Do,” “Doing,” and “Done” lists. Then for each day, I am going to input and assign a specific time slot for each task into my Google Calendar.

I think this may provide a balance between daily and weekly To-Dos, and put more of a time structure around each task. This will also help me schedule my day around meetings and calls and makes sure that I’m not overloading my To-Do list for each day.

I’ll report back in a week or so to see how this works.

How do you create your to-do lists? What are the process and tools that you use to stay organized each day? Talk to me in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

Two topics – being sick sucks, and NFL on Twitter

I’ve been sick the last couple of days, so I didn’t write a blog post yesterday. To make up for it, I’m going to write about two topics today. Yay!

Being sick sucks

First topic – being sick sucks. Not just because it physically doesn’t feel good, but it makes me feel worthless.

As much as lying on the couch watching Band of Brothers and other TV shows sounds great, being sick makes me feel that I am shirking my other responsibilities, inconveniencing others, and disrupting people’s schedules.

First, I got no work done the last couple of days, and that work is piling up. Doesn’t make me feel good.

And I’ve had to move a bunch of meetings around. I had to cancel a podcast interview (I would have sounded like shit), and postpone some other calls and meetings. I don’t like to disrupt other’s schedules like that.

Also, I typically get my baby Maya dressed in the morning while my wife walks the dog. She and my mother-in-law have had to cover for me the last couple of days while I slept in. I’m inconveniencing them.

So while rest and relaxation is necessary to recover, my mind just didn’t rest well knowing the residual effects of my sickness.

I just won’t get sick next time. :)

NFL on Twitter

Yesterday, the NY Jets played the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football, and it was the first NFL game ever live-streamed on Twitter.

I watched some of the game and it was pretty awesome (both the game and the live-stream).

Here is what it looked like (courtesy of Recode, that’s not me in a supermarket):

NFL on Twitter

No buffering, no delay, and tweets right below the stream so you can engage with other viewers.

Twitter has been skewered for slow user growth and a confusing value proposition to new users. On the other hand, avid users love the platform for real-time discussion of current events.

That’s why streaming NFL games is perfect for Twitter.

Sports is the most real-time content that you can get. Sports are essentially DVR-proof and discussions and debates about games being played are already happening on Twitter.

And the NFL is the king of US sports right now, so this should bring in many NFL fans to the Twitter platform.

And I see Thursday Night Football leveraging tweets in their broadcast more often in the future.

I think live streaming sports and other content will be the future of Twitter and it’s a big step in turning the company around for the better.

What are your thoughts about being sick and the NFL on Twitter? Talk to me in the comments!

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Good design is all about empathy

design

I don’t pretend at all that I’m a designer.

I can’t create a logo, lay out a brochure, nor design a website. I don’t have a portfolio to show anyone.

But I think I know the difference between good design and bad design, primarily because I have empathy.

I’m sure designers of all types are rolling their eyes right now.

I think anyone who has empathy with a user of a product or anything where design is important (which is pretty much everything) can be a good judge of design. We may not know the techniques or secrets of how to properly design something, but as an end user, we know when we experience good or bad design.

Sure, Apple makes beautiful products. They are certainly amazing at product design.

They’re also very good at experience design. Walk into an Apple Store and you’ll see.

The interior design is striking. The product displays are interactive. The Genius Bar experience is great.

That’s the thing – design doesn’t have to be limited to products.

Design is everywhere, from physical products, to online interfaces, to waiting to check out at the supermarket. The best designs are the ones that empathize with the user, while bad designs prioritize other factors over user experience.

Case in point – I was in Austin a few weeks ago and waited on a line for 1.5 hours to buy brisket, pulled pork, and other barbecued goodies at La Barbecue.

Good design was when they provided umbrellas to shield customers from the hot sun and rolled out a keg to serve free beer to everyone on line. They know that waiting on line isn’t a pleasant experience, but they empathized with the customer and provided services to make the experience less painful.

Bad design was only having two people work the food truck. That may have been an economical decision; regardless, it caused the wait to be unnecessarily long and detracted from the experience.

Additionally, the guy who prepared the meat was also taking orders and writing them down with a fat sharpie on the paper on which he served your food. Not efficient.

And after you got your food, you had to walk to another window toward the back of the line to pay. Then you had to cut through all of the people on line to get to the tables to eat. Really bad layout and flow design.

Design can be as complex as designing a software operating system and as simple as the layout of a queue.

You may not be able to always prioritize design, but when you do, make sure that you empathize with the user as much as possible.

What are your thoughts about empathy and design? Tell me about them in the comments!

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How important is alma mater when assessing job candidates?

graduation cap

Over the weekend, my buddies and I had a conversation about how much it matters where a candidate attended college when he or she is applying for a job. The context was that if I were to review a stack of resumes, how powerful of a signal is their alma mater?

One of my friends said that the university attended is a strong differentiator. He works in the pharmaceutical industry, and his argument is that many of the candidates have worked for other strong pharmaceutical companies, and that work experience is essentially equivalent. Thus, the college degree from a place like Stanford will trump the one from Rutgers. (Sorry, Rutgers.)

The other friend, who works in advertising and creative, argued that work experience trumps all, and that this experience will almost never be equivalent across candidates. Where the candidate went to college carries very little weight, and the companies where the person worked prior and the quality of work that he or she produced is a much stronger signal that can be defined.

I agree with both of them, because both situations are so different.

In the first scenario, I think where the candidate went to college is more important in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. These “hard” subjects are more clear-cut and objective, and the differences in formal training and education can be vast from college to college.

Also, it may be more difficult to differentiate the work each candidate has done in prior pharmaceutical and other scientific companies. Many times the work contains research that may not come to fruition or management of drugs that have been around for decades, so the impact of a single candidate can’t be determined accurately.

In the other scenario, I love the fact that employment can be based solely on the quality of worked that is produced – a pure meritocracy – and pedigree is a much less influential factor. A job really comes down to how you perform, so why shouldn’t your selection be based solely on your performance in prior jobs?

I do think this may be a bit easier to execute in “softer,” more creative jobs, those where you can actually produce an end product. If you’re a graphic or web designer, you can have a portfolio to display your work. If you’re an advertiser, you may have ad campaigns that you’ve worked on that can be seen, heard, and assessed, even if that assessment may be subjective.

Startups align more with the second scenario; if you are a co-founder, your success is judged solely by the performance of your company.

On the other hand, I think that some venture capitalists will look at the founders’ pedigree as a strong signal of whether to fund the company or not. A software engineer from Stanford or MIT may be more likely to be funded than a business major from the University of Central Florida. (Sorry, UCF.)

I can certainly see both sides. I have degrees from Lehigh, Georgia Tech, and NYU; nothing elite, but very respectable schools. So I can probably get by on my pedigree in certain situations, but chose the route where merit rules.

I just hope that I don’t ever have to apply for a job again. :)

Regardless, like many other things, the value of an alma mater comes down to the specific situation.

How important is alma mater when you’re assessing who to hire? And how important has your alma mater been in your career?

Tell me about it in the comments!

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