Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

Blog Has Been Moved

Dear Reader,

I have recently switched my blog to www.usmansheikh.com. Please visit my new blog site and update your RSS feeds and subscriptions. I apologize for any inconvenience during this migration.

If you have any questions or queries please send me an email or leave me a message on my new blog.

Thank you for your continued readership and patronage. I greatly appreciate it.

Wishing you a very successful and exciting new year.

Best Regards

Usman Sheikh

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Filed under: Change

What do you do when you fall?

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.” Alfred (Batman Begins)

I was having an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday about the economic climate and the alarming rate of business closures in multiple sectors. We were sharing personal stories about how we had dealt with difficult times in our respective businesses and what things kept us plugging away even when it seemed to be the end of the road. I am sure you understand that problems are part and parcel of starting a new business or being part of a new venture. Some problems will be larger than others but you never really quite run out of them. When you solve a specific challenge in a particular segment of your business it does sometimes manifest itself in another aspect of it.

For example, suppose your business is struggling with sales generation. After brainstorming and overcoming that problem, the next challenge is often managing the inflow of new orders which the business may not be equipped to do. This forms a cycle where it is possible to continue moving forward and facing new challenges as they appear. However, it is not usually as simple as that. There are three potential stages we can go through when facing a challenge.

1. Ignore it: How many times have we been faced with a problem either of a personal nature or in a professional aspect of our life and chosen to ignore it. There have been many times that I can personally recall where we knew something was wrong with the way our business was doing a certain process yet we never changed it. Wanting a different reaction from the same action is unfortunately something that many of us find ourselves doing when we do not want to move out of our comfort zones. We pretend that our problems do not exist or are not affecting us and hope for a miraculous change. Unfortunately that usually never comes and most of the time we just end up amplifying the problems.

2. Blame somebody: This is probably the most used excuse whenever we are faced with a problem. The economy is bad, my partner cheated me, we lost our star sales person, we do not have the funds or I am not skilled enough. This is another easy way to deal with problems. We shift the blame to anyone we can, including ourselves sometimes in the face of problems we cannot pass on. This creates a detrimental and negative cycle that ends up sapping all motivation and drive we may have left in ourselves and we let our environment condition us in whatever way it deems fit. This is giving up  control in our lives by burying our head in the sand.

3, Solution: The most productive thing we can do for ourselves whenever we face a problem is to correctly identify it, document where it is stemming from, brainstorm with individuals who will be able to pinpoint pain areas and develop a set of options that can help us deal with them. As start ups, we go through some tough challenges such as getting your first big reference customer, securing funding or convincing a star player to join your team. We have to look at each of these problems with an open mind and no matter how many times we fall down, we must learn the lesson inherent in the fall, then learn to pick ourselves up again.

Most of the things discussed in this post may appear extremely obvious. I mean who wants to admit that they are actually not dealing effectively with a problem that they may have in their life. I recommend getting a piece of paper and writing down all the major problems that you may be facing in life right now whether of a personal or business nature. Next, identify how you are dealing with these problems. We are often surprised to discover that we focus so much on the fact that we have these problems, that we forget to think of  necessary solutions. In order to move forward we need to understand that problems are a natural part of life, the quality of our lives however depends primarily on how we deal with them.

Filed under: Advice, Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Focused Are You?

“Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” Anthony Robbins

The pace of our lives is increasing on an almost daily basis. Sometimes I just don’t know where the day goes between phone calls, emails, blogging and dealing with customers. What happens though is that we tend to begin autopiloting a lot of daily tasks and instead of working towards our goals we get stuck in just maintaining the state we are in. I have seen people maintain this state for years, months or weeks on end without realizing that they are just not making any significant progress in their lives. Yet when you talk to them and ask about their schedule and business it is usually packed. I have gone through several periods like this myself and I think one of the most significant changes that I made to my daily schedule was adopting the GTD methodology. For those of you not familiar with the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology please click on the link below to a series explaining it.

The GTD methodology has helped me tremedously in keeping my eye on bigger goals while making sure that all the mini steps that need to be completed are clearly marked out as well. Early last year I started reading Leo Babauta’s  Zen Habits blog seriously. He also follows the GTD methodology and has modified the original methodology in some places. One of the modifications that really helped me was his concept of setting the three most important things that one needs to accomplish in a day. Instead of having your usual to-do list which can often be a little overwhelming, he trimmed it down to 3 things that would have the greatest impact on your day, week, month and year. This has helped me prioritize my action items and has helped me in getting a lot more of the critical things accomplished, sooner rather than later. 

Focus is a key success factor that is found in all great individuals. Whether they be entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers or even bloggers. The ability to concentrate our energies on activities that yield the highest output will result in accomplishing our goals faster and with greater efficiency. This being the start of the new year I would highly recommend integrating the ‘3 most important things list’ to your daily schedule and see whether it makes an impact on your life. I wish you all the best of success in 2009. 

Related Posts:

5 Steps to Get Things Done

Filed under: Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , ,

Looking Forward to 2009

“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” John M. Richardson, Jr.

As I look back at 2008 it seems a bit of a blur. Everything moved so fast I can’t believe the year has already come to an end. I can clearly remember setting up this blog exactly a year ago and posting my first entry in the early hours of 2008. A lot has happened in these last 365 days. I am really happy that I was able to keep my resolution of blogging everyday and to tell you the truth, I am quite relieved that the pressure has finally been lifted today. However, what I have gained is hopefully a lifelong habit of documenting my thoughts in writing and also sharing them with the rest of you. The act of writing down your thoughts on a regular basis has been therapeutic and a great learning exercise. A lot of things have become much clearer and more importantly my thoughts seem to be much more structured.

Looking at 2009 I have not really had the chance to sit down and think about the resolutions I want to make for 2009. My life has been a bit of a tizzy these last couple of weeks with a lot of traveling and more recently being down with a nasty bacterial infection. However, I plan to use the next couple of days to reflect and think about what I want to achieve this year. There are many new ventures I have planned for the coming year which I will be sharing with all of you in greater detail in the coming weeks. There is an e-book I want to publish this year. Lastly I want to really improve this blog in 2009 and actually convert it into a profitable one with strong growth prospects. What I need to do with the goals listed above is to convert them into SMART goals. Ones which I will be able to measure and be specific about in order to reach them.

Unlike last year I do not plan on making any one major commitment without giving it adequate thought and research. This year my resolutions are going to be well thought out and be formed on the basis of some larger goals I want to achieve in the next couple of years. Keeping the bigger picture in mind when developing your goals is essential. We need to take these small steps in order to finally reach our destination. Expecting to make huge leaps is possible, but that is associated with enormous levels of risk. One of the things that this year of blogging has taught me is that slow and steady wins the race. We need to begin our journey somewhere to be able to make a impact. I will keep all of you updated on resolutions in the next couple of days. I want to thank all my daily readers for their continued readership. I look forward to serving all of you in 2009 and if there is anything I can do to help improve your experience on my blog please let me know. Happy New Year to everyone.  I wish all of you the very best of luck and success.

Filed under: About Me, Advice, Change, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Steps to Change a Habit

“When you sow a thought you reap an action, when you sow an action you reap a habit, when you sow a habit you reap a character and when you sow a character you reap a destiny.” Anonymous

Embracing change poses a challenge to most of us. Our comfort zones have the ability to make us feel just that, comfortable and at peace. Stepping out of these zones is a frightening experience, at the best of times.  Venturing into spaces where you need to find your bearings all over again is daunting . The task is arduous at the onset, it doesn’t get much easier along the way either, however, when you have successfully enlarged that comfort zone, the feeling of accomplishment is unparalleled. This week, I talked about a couple of steps which can be used when wanting to change or develop a new habit. I felt it was important to talk about this, because being an entrepreneur requires you to be flexible and open to change. It requires you to change limiting habits and beliefs, which may be pulling you back. Listed below are five steps which may be of help in this process:

1. Identification: Before we commit ourselves to “change”, we need to make sure our unconscious desires connect with the conscious ones. Clarity about what you want to change is essential. Asking yourself what you want to change about yourself is a powerful question, use it to crystalize your thoughts. To read more about identification of limiting habits/beliefs please click here.

2. Ask yourself why: Once you have identified the change you want in your life, the next question is, why do you want to change? This discovery process is essential, to grasp the fundamental reasoning behind the change you want to see in your life. Without this process of understanding , you may discover that you approached change in a particular habit, for the wrong reasons. You may discover that you never really wanted to change this particular habit, hence, you had not found a strong enough reason to motivate the change. To read more about asking yourself “why” please click here.

3. Make a plan: To successfully start a transformation process, you need to outline a plan. One which will be documented, and have clearly marked time lines. It is important you take into account any triggers which may lead to lapsing back to old habits.  To read more about making successful plans for changing  habits please click here.

4. Taking action: We can plan all we want, in the end, it all boils down to taking action. This step requires courage, determination, and above all, belief in your capabilities to bring about change. Life is too short to expect those around us to change, or, to stand still and hope that things will become better. The first step towards wanting to bring in change, is to take responsibility for your life. It boils down to you, and how committed you are, to wanting change in your life. To read more about taking action please click here.

5. Maintaining change: Once we have taken that first step towards bringing change into our life, we have begun a journey. To help us maintain the change that we have brought into our lives some of the things which can help us are, keeping a daily log, developing a support system and rewarding ourselves whenever we reach small milestones. These activities will help keep you motivated when the going gets tough. To read more about maintaining change please click here.

Time is the most precious asset we possess. Everyday is an opportunity for you to bring about the change that  you want to see, in your life. In the end, it boils down to your level of determination and persistence to be the change you want to see. I love the Adidas quote “impossible is nothing”. Maybe that could be a mantra for your next habit change? Best of luck!

Filed under: Advice, Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Maintaining Change

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

Once we have taken that first step towards bringing change into our life, we have begun a journey. Like most journeys, this one will have its share of ups and down. There will be times, when you will want to go back to the way things were, and there will be others when you feel lost and alone. Embracing these feelings for what they are, is an important step on this journey. If we let our emotions hinder our capabilities to move forward, we will find ourselves trapped, and unable to bring about the changes we want to see in our life. There is no doubt, we will fall many times, to fall is only human. What matters is whether we have the courage to pick ourselves up, and keep moving on.

Listed below, are a couple of pointers which have helped me carry on, when the going was tough:

1. Keep a daily log: This simple activity does not require you to write pages of detailed specifics. Its primary purpose, is to help you understand the transformations which are taking place in your life on a daily basis. As a secondary purpose, it serves as an outlet which allows you to express your thoughts and emotions.

2. Support systems: When we are undergoing drastic changes in our life, we need to identify an individual or a group of people, to rely on to help you through this period. Better yet, taking someone on board who also wants to change or inculcate the same habit, is ideal. This way there is someone to identify with, who also understands what you are going through. This emotional bond sometimes creates a force strong enough to overcome just about any obstacle.

3. Reward yourself: This is a tip I use a lot when going through change. It provides incentive to push yourself further. The sense of accomplishment when you are rewarded for your efforts, is a great boost as well. This also helps create a momentum that is infectious, and soon you find yourself hitting goal after goal. Choose your rewards carefully,  they play a major role in motivating you to go further.

Sustaining change is a challenging task. We have to constantly keep reminding ourselves why we want to change, and what we hope to achieve, once we have changed. The rationale behind the reason for change must be based on solid foundations. Without this base, reverting to older habits is more likely, and no one likes to admit failing. However, after having said that, there will be times, when although the reasons for change are based on the strongest of foundations, we still fail. At this point, it is best to go back and understand the reasons again. Was a trigger missed ? Does the plan need changing ? The minute we start blaming our inadequacies, is when we lose hope. Look for reasons , not blame.

Remember there is no such thing as failure only feedback!

Filed under: Advice, Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Taking Action

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

We can plan all we want, in the end, it all boils down to taking action. This step requires courage, determination, and above all, belief in your capabilities to bring about change. Life is too short to expect those around us to change, or, to stand still and hope that things will become better. The truth is, once you sit on the fence for too long, it becomes comfortable, and taking a decision becomes a lot harder. In my own life, there have been times when I have been guilty of such behavior, we all have. However, what has happened in the past remains there, what is important is, that we don’t make the same errors today. If you have decided that something in your life needs changing, and have figured out what it is, and how you plan to change it, then you need to do, just that.

The first step towards wanting to bring in change, is to take responsibility for your life. It boils down to you, and how committed you are, to wanting change in your life.  For example, we are constantly bombarded about the side effects of smoking, in Singapore, they even have gruesome photographs on cigarette packs of what it could potentially do to you. The mind however, is such a powerful thing, that these images are subconsciously blocked. By remaining undecided and continuing to sit on the fence,  it may well be too late when you decide to take action! I accept that it is lot easier for me to say such things because I don’t smoke, I realize that giving it up is a very difficult process and one which requires a lot of discipline and determination. I believe however, that to find courage to take action, sincere and convincing arguments need to be understood with an open mind. Fully comprehending the negative impact of this habit is vital.

Along the way, curved balls will be thrown at you undoubtedly. Certain triggers will appear repeatedly, the urge and need to revert back will often be too strong to resist. However, if you have been strong enough to take that first step, with all the right reasons and intentions, half the battle has already been won. The theory of “Ready, Fire, Aim” is one which I believe in completely, it forces you to take action. There will always be fears and doubts regarding the outcome of an action, the important thing is, that you have taken that first step. Once you have begun to take consistent action, it is now, only a matter of maintaining a momentum to help you reach your goal.

Filed under: Advice, Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Planning to change?

“Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire.” Napoleon Hill

After we have identified the change we want to bring in, as well as the reason for it, we need a road map on how to implement this change into our lives. This is another critical process which requires substantial time. It is easy to wake up one day and tell yourself, you are going to change from tomorrow. This is easier said than done, whenever I have used this technique, it takes around 3 days to go back to old ways. What your mind needs, is direction. It knows the reasons to change, it also needs to be told how to get this change going.

 An effective plan for habit change, is better for the following steps :

1. Documented: A transfer of ideas and plans onto paper is essential. This is an obvious first step, however, most of the time we neglect to do so, thinking it to be trivial. Before starting any change, write down what you want to change and why you want to do so.

2. Time Specific: Setting yourself targets spread over extended periods of time (months, years) is not an effective strategy. Commit yourself to a realistic but challenging timeline, to help you start seeing results.

3. Identify Triggers: Most habits are triggered by specific activities or emotional states. Do your best to identify these triggers as soon as possible. Once you have list of triggers, you will need to compile a list of alternative actions that need to be taken in place of this habit. For example, if your smoking is triggered by the completion of a meal, replace the cigarette with some nicotine gum or green tea. This is a key component in developing your strategic plan.

4. Create Mini Goals: As humans, we need to be constantly motivated, to continue moving forward. Therefore your plan may be broken down into mini goals, which can be rewarded when acheived. This will help keep your motivation at a higher level.

Using these basic components, plan how to go about your day. This doesn’t need to be very detailed, it just needs to be specific enough, so you can monitor your progress. By developing a plan, you will have a guidance system, which helps keep you on track, and provides you with the necessary motivation to wake up the next morning, fully aware of the steps you have to take, to change that habit!

 

 

Filed under: Advice, Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why do you want to change?

“Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.” Anonymous

Once you have identified why you want a change in your life, the fundamental question is, why do you want to change? This discovery process is essential, to grasp the fundamental reasoning behind the change you want to see in your life. Without this understanding process, you may discover that you approached change in a particular habit, for the wrong reasons. You may discover that you really never wanted to change this particular habit, hence you had not found a strong enough reason to motivate the change. This inconsistency in thought and action , starts to manifest itself in different aspects of your life. 

A few questions you need to ask yourself once you have decided on what changes you want, are:

1. Why do I want to change?: When answering this question write down your responses. This will help you visualize all your unconscious thoughts. The number of responses and reasons will vary depending on the type of habit and how deeply it is ingrained in your system. 

2. How is this habit negatively affecting my life?: This question seeks to re-affirm all the negative aspects of the habit. For example, if you continuously lose your temper, visualize how it affects your work, relationships, personality and outlook towards life?. We tend to forget that the repercussions of our habits, affect every aspect of our lives. It is only when we consciously bring their impact to the fore, do we realize the damage we are doing by continuing with them.

3. How will changing this habit benefit my life?: This question should help you visualize what life would be like with a change in place. This is a powerful visualization exercise, it re-enforces certain messages into your subconscious. For example if you have made a vow to stop smoking, visualize how this will benefit your lifestyle through better health, having more energy, not having a dependency, saving money, not having to run to the gas station in the middle of night, being more confident and just generally feeling better about life. These could be some of the things you could have on your list.

These questions will help you put more thought into why you want to do change a certain habit. Waking up one morning with a hangover and vowing to stop drinking is not adequate. When you want to make any sort of transformation in your life, there needs to be concentrated thought behind your rationale. Without this we will continue to make half hearted commitments which will only further reduce our ability to believe in ourselves and bring about positive change.

Filed under: Advice, Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What do you want to change?

“Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.” Keri Russel

The process of identifying habits and mannerisms that need changing is a tricky process. The unconscious level continues to repeat the process, over and over again, this process eventually leads us to a conscious realization. This realization takes place when this repetitive activity is getting us results we do not desire. For example, over the last couple of years you have wanted to lose some weight. Every time you get motivated to start a diet, it goes well for a short period, then you return to your old eating habits. What appears an obvious pattern is not so obvious to the person on the diet. They feel their diets may be wrong,unsuitable for them, unforeseen circumstances keep coming up, eventually they lose their initial motivation.

The reason why such individuals find it difficult to follow through, is because of a disconnect between their conscious and unconscious desires. Before embarking on changing aspects of your life, there needs to be a process to identify in detail, what you want to change. In the case of the above example, identify if it is your figure, your health or your overall lifestyle that needs a change. Without this identification we are bound to return to our old habits due to a lack of connection between the conscious and unconscious. I mentioned my sleeping habits as an example yesterday. For some time I struggled with the fact that I needed to get up early. There would be periods when I would stick to the plan, and there would be longer periods where I would not stick to the plan. It is only when I told myself that I need to change my sleeping habits to balance my lifestyle, did I begin to make a connection and eventually made progress.

Before undertaking any major change in life, remember you first need to make sure the unconscious desires connect with the conscious ones. There needs to be clarity about what you want to change. It is only after you have identified a particular habit, that you can go to the next question which involves, why you want to bring about this particular change.

 

Filed under: Advice, Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,