Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Steps to Get Things Done (GTD)

“Contemplation often makes life miserable.  We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live.” Nicolas de Chamfort

Every passing day signifies 24 hours of our life, which we will not be able to get back. Very often, days pass by so quickly that they turn into weeks, months and years before we know it. We often complain about the day not having enough hours, and yet, we tend to lose precious moments every day. It is only when we look back and think of what could have been, do we realize how vital it is to use the time we have to the best of our ability. I do not believe in regrets and beating myself up for what could have been. What upsets me however, is seeing myself waste time. It can be procrastination, day dreaming or the fact that I was overwhelmed with everything that needed to be done. Either way, I know I will not be able to get that time back. When searching for ways to organize my life and use time wisely, I found the GTD system, which has introduced accountability as part of my days. Listed below are 5 steps to use, and implement a system to get things done.

1. Collection: This begins with picking up pieces of our lives scattered all over the place. This includes cluttered desks, messy drawers, loose papers, over flowing inboxes and over loaded thoughts. We have to begin by collecting all these “open loops” and putting them into a system where we can process each and everyone of them. It requires much discipline and hard work to get all this stuff into one place initially. The key is to have a system in place which allows us to record these open loops as and when they are created. This takes a huge load of one’s mind, and allows it to focus, rather than be confused with all the happenings in your head. To learn more about how to get started on the collection step, please click here.

2. Processing: After step one, there will be much information to be processed. This means we need to go through each item and open loop, sort out which needs to be acted upon, those that need to be archived, and most importantly, those that need to be trashed. We have to make a conscious effort to minimize the number of items our system will hold as much as possible. Items which require 2 minutes or less of action, must be acted upon instantly, and those loops closed. For example, the expense sheet that needs your signature, sign it now, and send it to the required person. To learn more about how to process all your items please click here.

3. Organizing: Once we have the information after processing, it needs to be organized in a manner to enable us to refer to it, as and when needed. This means each item needs to be allocated specific buckets to slot into. These buckets can be projects or reference topics, in which to organize all the necessary items under one file. For example if you are launching a new corporate website, all the items and thoughts for that project need to be filed together. It is important to label all these action items with contexts that allow you to focus on them when required. Examples of contexts are “Phone Calls”, “Emails”, “Errands” etc. This way you can batch certain activities together. To learn more about how to organize your data please click here.

4. Reviewing: This is a critical step which refreshes your mind of commitments, and closes loops on projects taking up more time than they should. I use three reviewing cycles which are a daily, weekly and monthly review. In these review cycles, I ensure that my daily schedule is structured to maximize my time. Weekly reviews give me a higher level view of everything accomplished during the course of the week, and the progress made. Lastly, the monthly view provides me a snapshot of the larger picture. Without these constant reminders it is easy to get side tracked, and revert to old ways. To learn more about my review cycles please click here.

5. Doing: Very often it comes down to taking action. Lists are only useful, when the items on them are periodically checked off and progress made. Without action we could use the most sophisticated technology in the world to collect, process and organize our data; without seeing any improvements at all in our lives. I use the four criterion model where the task I choose depends on the context, time available, energy and priority. For example if my commute to work everyday is 30 minutes and I have access to my phone during that period of time, I use my “Phone Calls” list and make all the calls during this period of time. Likewise the task I choose depends on the time available, the amount of energy I have and most importantly how important the task is. To learn more about the four criterion model please click here.

There is not just one way the GTD system can be implemented into your daily lives. Everyone has different needs and requirements, each step can be customized. What is important is that we create a system which is reliable and all encompassing. We need to take the load of our minds and put it down on paper, where we can process it more efficiently. As David Allen says, the aim is to reach a “mind like water” state. Where we will be able to move seamlessly from one activity to another, while maintaining a high level of productivity and efficiency. I hope this simple guide serves as a helpful starter for those wanting to begin using this system. I would appreciate your comments, feedback and experience using the GTD system.

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GTD Step 5: Doing

“Success will never be a big step in the future, success is a small step taken just now.” Jonatan Mårtensson

Going through steps one to four, can be a liberating experience in itself. Through these steps, we have I believe, brought some structure to our often chaotic lives, and now have access to a system with a broad overview of happenings in our lives. These steps must however be executed on a daily basis, in order to bring about a reliable system. We are the main engine for making this system work. The minute we stop inputting our commitments, action items and thoughts into the system, the reference angle is meaningless. Hence, we have to set-up the system in a manner that is easy to use on a daily basis. There are several methodologies used to keep the wheels spinning in a GTD system. Outlined below, is the one I prefer to use.

Four Criteria Model

1. Context: All my action items are always grouped according to context. Therefore, depending on where I am, and the tools currently available, I select a context to work in. For instance, if the commute to my office takes 30 minutes, and all I have access to at that time is my phone, I bring up the list of calls I need to make. If I am able to work on multiple contexts at the office, I will use the remaining three criterion to help make a decision.

2. Time Available: I am at the office and have a meeting scheduled in the next hour, I can use this time to come up with an agenda for a proposed meeting, or review the presentation I have to give on my computer. If I only have five minutes before the meeting, I can scan my list of short phone calls or emails, and deal with them  using this period of time. This way, I am able to maximize the awkward 5-10 minutes in between meetings, calls and appointments.

3. Energy Available: Some tasks require more physical and mental effort than others. Let’s say it is 7:30pm after a long day at work. I have a list of low energy tasks which I could do at this moment. Depending on the time and tools available, this is a great time to fill in expense sheets, data entry or another task which requires minimal effort. For tasks requiring more energy, I work to place them in the earlier part of the day when I feel fresher and have a clearer mind.

4. Priority: We all have critical tasks which need to be given a higher level of priority. These tasks are usually flagged in my task lists, and are completed as soon as possible. If an entire day goes by, and these tasks are left undone, it often feels like the entire day has gone to waste. It is essential that your task list clearly marks priority, to ensure that you see these flagged tasks first and get them done as soon as possible.

Using this model I am able to collect, process and organize my action items throughout the day. It is undoubtedly not the most structured approach out there as compared to other methodologies. I like to be able to switch between projects depending on external factors. Other people that I know have more structured approaches, where they complete certain types of work at predefined times in the day. It is important to select a methodology that you are comfortable with. The primary objective must be to make it easy for you to use the system regularly and refer back to it whenever required.

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GTD Step 4: Reviewing

“People love chopping wood.  In this activity one immediately sees results.” Albert Einstein

Steps one through three, involved the gathering of data, putting it into appropriate buckets, and ensuring it was placed in a system to enable us to know what to do next. The fourth step in the process is a critical one, it puts a review system into place. The purpose of a review system is to analyze whether we are on track, as also gauge the progress we are making. A common case  in need of such a review system is, making lists of things to do, and then never getting around to doing them, because of inadequate and irregular review system . A review system helps to refresh your mind of commitments and closes loops on projects taking up more time than they should. I use three main review cycles, they are outlined below:

Daily Review: The first thing I do when I get into office is to open my calender, and review the tasks allocated for that particular day. This helps me plan accordingly for the rest of the day. The next task is to review my project lists, and determine the next action and it’s context. Depending on this list, I plan my day to maximize completion of tasks.

Weekly Review: This is by far the most important review cycle of them all. My weekly review is scheduled for Sunday morning, for those who work a 5 day week I suggest keeping it on Friday when things are still fresh in your mind. During this review I have a couple of key tasks which I now do habitually.

Emails: During the course of the week, I make sure my inbox remains as empty as possible. However if there are unprocessed emails which require thinking about, this is the time I usually clear them. I also identify emails that I am expecting, but which have not been received yet. I then create reminders, to ask the concerned individuals during the course of the week.

Calender: I review last week’s calender and see which tasks need to be moved forward to this week if required. I schedule appointments and action items for the coming week in advance if required. This way I ensure nothing is left unprocessed from last week, and move into a new week being aware of the workload to expect.

Project Review: Next, I review all the projects labeled for weekly reviews. In this manner I can monitor fairly adequately how much I got done during the week. If I have fallen behind schedule on certain tasks, I identify the reasons, and make sure that greater time is allocated to get them sorted out in the coming week. This project review helps close many loops on concurrent projects and helps me stay afloat with the activity, without getting overwhelmed.

Monthly Review: This review is carried out on the last Saturday of every month. I use this review to monitor progress of the macro goals I have set for myself. They  include growth of a businesses, personal finance, personal development and health. These are some larger goals which a weekly review does not cover. Through this review I get a perspective on the larger picture, without feeling bogged down with smaller projects running simultaneously. This is a very important review cycle, I recommend it’s use to everyone.

Incorporating a review system into my schedule has greatly increased my productivity and focus in life. The feeling of being bogged down with simultaneous project rarely occurs now. This provides a degree of control which is calming and reassuring at the same time. Without this vital step the GTD methodology will impact in a less meaningful manner. A disciplined review system, is a foundational building block, and helps this system unlock its true potential.

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5 Steps to Write a Customer Value Proposition

“The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy. The essence of trust building is to emphasize the similarities between you and the customer.” Thomas J Watson

A customer value proposition (CVP) is a direct reflection of how your organization brings value to your target segment. It helps them answer the fundamental question “Why should I buy from you instead of your competitor?” A well developed CVP has the ability to transfer your target segment’s attention to the distinctive advantages of your product/service, and the reason they should select it. If the CVP is generic and abstract, with fancy words which do not translate into tangible value for the customer, it is of no consequence. Listed below are five steps to help you develop a winning CVP.

1. Customer Identification: Who is your target customer? Instead of answering this question with generic answers such as multinational companies, teenagers or women, be more specific in your approach. An analysis outlining the customer’s needs and their current pain points is the need of the hour. If your product/service does not fulfill a need, it will be difficult for your organization to generate substantial traction. Therefore, the first step requires understanding your target customer and ensuring that the essence of your CVP reflects an unfulfilled need. To read more about customer identification please click here.

2. Distinct Advantages: What makes your product/service special? If your product/service is homogenous in comparison to the rest, chances of getting lost in the crowd are, high. Your product/service must provide customers with a simple and clear reason to choose your organization over the competition. This being a vital component of your customer value proposition, it is essential that substantial time and effort is put into identification and development of these edges. To read more about discovering your organization’s distinct advantages please click here.

3. Measuring Value: If your product/service does not bring tangible benefit to your target customer, chances of recurring business is diminished. During customer research, you will discover pain points for your customers. These need to be addressed by adding metrics to monitor positive changes through your product/service. Once the customer understands the value you bring to their organization, they are able to select you with greater ease and provide recurring business. To read more about measuring the value brought by your product/service please click here.

4. Sustainability: With the claims made in a CVP, an organization is making a promise to its target segment. This could be in the form of creating efficiency, increasing productivity, stimulating sales or even making life easier. When the customer selects your service, they expect to receive the benefit promised to them. It is critical that organizations understand what it takes to keep those promises, and to continually make good on them. Making big claims is the easy part, delivering on those claims is what sets the winners apart. To read more about sustainability of your CVP please click here.

5. Competitor Comparison: Every company has their strengths and weaknesses. However most companies are so engrossed internally, they forget to pay attention to their competition. For a CVP to be most effective, it must clearly provide the prospect with a reason to be selected over another competing product. It must bolster its strengths and play against their competitors most exposed weaknesses. With the constant changes taking place in our world today, do not lose sight of the competition, always remain vigilant about all potential and major changes. To read more about competitor comparison and your CVP please click here.

Developing a good CVP takes time and effort. It is not something which can be done in a single day. It requires a thorough analysis of your industry, competitors and yourself. A comprehensive understanding of market dynamics and the industry’s pain points will help construct a CVP which addresses market concerns and bridges it with solutions. A well developed CVP can be a great source of inspiration and motivation for the entire organization. Make sure you allocate adequate time and resources for its construction.

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Competitor Comparison

“Concentrate your strengths against your competitor’s relative weaknesses.” Paul Gauguin

Your customer value proposition (CVP) needs to be benchmarked against your competitors. Prospects will always ask the question “Why should we choose you over them?”. As mentioned in earlier posts, ensure a distinctive advantage, tangible metrics and a proposition which is sustainable over a period of time. When formulating a CVP the competition must always be kept in mind. Irrespective of whether you have experienced success relatively quickly or whether it has taken a longer period of time, the tendency to become complacent  is always there. It is at these moments that we are at our weakest, and our vulnerabilities exposed.

When initially constructing your CVP, it is vital to do a sweep of all the local competition. This will enable you to:

1. Position yourself: It is important to position yourself correctly in relation to your strengths and the competition’s weakness. We are always looking to operate in that sweet spot where our competitors are at a disadvantage, and target customers are able to make a clear and easy choice about whom to choose and why.

2. Focus: There are areas, where our competitors have clearly developed strong competencies, which make it difficult for new entrants to penetrate. After a thorough analysis, the aim should be to collect all the vulnerabilities in the competition’s defense and amplify them. This is best done by focusing marketing and research efforts to ensure development in areas where the competition is at its weakest.

3. Understand trends: By continuously monitoring the competition, a keen insight into future trends in your industry is developed. This enables developing core expertise in those areas before the competition and can put you in a strong position to potentially disrupt the market. 

Once the analysis is complete, the wordings in your CVP should reflect the strengths of your organization in comparison to those of your competitors. With the constant changes taking place in our world today, do not lose sight of the competition, always remain vigilant about all potential and major changes. 

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Keeping Promises

“Never promise more than you can perform.” Publilius Syrus

Imagine if FedEx did not get your package to its target destination overnight! Would you use or recommend the service to anyone again? Probably not. As customers of products/services, we expect them to deliver on their promise. Inability to match expectations, results in unhappy customers, and more importantly, negative word of mouth publicity. Such publicity is viral in nature, can spread like wildfire, and could well mean the end of the road for your organization. Deciding to play it safe and not putting anything on the line, chances are you will never really stand out in a crowd. A fine balance has to be maintained to ensure customer satisfaction, while ensuring your organization is able to stand out in a crowd.

Look at renown brands in the market place today, notice the promises each is making. Volvo promises safety, Energizer batteries promise to last longer, Domino’s promises to get you your pizza in less than 30 minutes and Disney promises entertainment for the entire family. Each one of these companies makes a commitment, then ensures they deliver on the promise. Anyone of them, failing to consistently deliver on their promise, would not find their name on the list above. Many companies however, make big promises these days, come through initially, but are not able to make that commitment a sustainable one. 

When developing your customer value proposition (CVP) and committing to increase efficiency, boost productivity or bring a smile to your customers, it is critical to lay a solid foundation to continually provide those experiences. Making big claims is the easy part, delivering on those claims is what sets the winners apart. Carefully think through promises to your clients, ensure the ability or develop the capability to deliver on those promises on an ongoing basis. Remember, all it takes is one major fall to bring down everything you have worked hard to build. 

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Measuring Value

“The trouble with measurement is its seeming simplicity.” Anonymous

If you have ever pitched a product or service to a prospect, there is no doubt you have heard the question “How is this product/service going to help my organization?”. If the reply to this question is abstract, vague and includes words such as speed, efficiency or productivity, without any tangible figures or results, closing the deal will be a challenging proposition. When I say tangible results, it does not mean they have to be precise, they should however provide the prospect with something to create a frame of reference. For example, Domino’s Pizza gets your pizza to you in less than 30 minutes, FedEx gets your packages to its target destination overnight and M&M say, their milk chocolate will melt in your mouth and not your hands. Three world renown companies, each with a differing degree of measurement attached to their product/services. 

The bottom line is, if your product/service does not have the ability to bring tangible benefit to your target market, chances of success are slim. The question coming to mind now, should be, “What sort of tangible benefit can my product/service provide my target market?” Entire books, courses and seminars have been created around this one critical question. If a company is able to answer this question with a tangible benefit of great value to its target market, success is not far. However, answering this question is not as straightforward as it appears.

These are a couple of pointers to help start discussions around this particular question with your team:

1. Identification of pain points: An organization’s product/service is developed in order to address a certain pain point that the target market may have. Initially national post offices promised prospects that they would get their packages to their destination. The process was slow but efficient and there was no alternative. FedEx comes along, and addresses this pain point by promising to get your package to it’s target destination, over night. This example shows,  to get faster traction your product/service has to address correct pain points.

2. Establishing metrics: Once you have addressed a particular pain point, measure how it is superior to the  alternatives. FedEx aims to get your package to its target destination overnight. The stress is on the speed  of package delivery. Identify key metrics to ensure, that prospects will be able to clearly measure the benefits of using your product/service. There are many examples in the market place, mutual funds offer specific returns, sports cars tell you how fast they can go and some software promises specific increases in productivity. 

3. Case Studies: Actions and results speak larger than words. If you are a new company and have a product/service which has not been commercially tested, I strongly suggest you find your first pilot customer as soon as possible. Most established companies look at start-ups with suspicion, at the back of their minds, they wonder if you can actually deliver. I believe it is a justified stance and one which we need to learn to live with. To counter it, find a customer, do a commercial implementation and track just about everything you can. Afterwards, analyze which metrics have value and focus on those.

This is by far one of the most challenging steps one has to take in the development of a good customer value proposition (CVP). Much time needs to be spent in identification of correct metrics and related data collection. However it is well worth the effort. The next time you pitch your product/service to a prospect remember to tell them exactly how you will be benefiting their organization. It will clearly increase the probability of closing the deal, the incremental increase however will depend on how well you have mapped out your CVP. 

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Distinctive Advantages

“Strategy used to be about protecting existing competitive advantage, but not any more. Today it is about finding the next advantage.” Vijay Govindarajan, Chris Trimble

A customer value proposition without a distinctive competitive edge is an incomplete one. If your organization can sell books online just like any other seller why should customers buy from your store? When you create a distinctive competitive advantage, it sets you apart from your competitors and gives your organization an edge. For example Amazon has this brilliant one click ordering system, huge variety, and an intelligent reviewing system. Put it all together, and that is a most compelling reason to buy books from Amazon as compared to other online book stores. 

When FedEx started out they promised getting your package to its target destination overnight. Suddenly all other courier companies were scrambling to put together the resources required to offer the same. However, only very few have been able to come close, and today FedExing a document or package has become the norm. FedEx was able to leverage on this distinctive advantage and used it to create a high entry barrier. This clearly demonstrates how an organization can strengthen its position in the market place with a distinctive competitive advantage. 

Identification and development of your organization’s distinctive advantage entails:

1. Internal review: Do a thorough scan of your organization’s strengths and capabilities. Do a function by function analysis which includes looking at your, management, production, sales, customer support, finance, operations, marketing and Information technology functions. Analyze which ones are helping you most in promoting and expanding your business. 

2. Developing: Once you have identified a function or process which sets your organization apart from the rest, you need to develop it further. This is done by strengthening the advantage with a greater allocation of resources as well as developing complementary assets around your competitive edge. This will not only widen your edge it will make it much harder for the competition to replicate it quickly. 

3. Reviewing: To remain competitive in today’s dynamic market place requires your organization to be extremely vigilant about changes taking place. Many organizations become too comfortable and in their complacency allow competitors to catch up. Constantly innovating and reviewing your edge is an expensive exercise which does not show immediate results. However to ensure that your organization keeps its position in the market place, it is a must. 

Distinctive advantages do not necessarily have to be unique. They must however provide customers with a simple and clear reason why they should choose your organization over the competition. Being a vital component of your customer value proposition, it is essential that substantial time and effort is put into the identification and development of these edges. Without them, the probability of long term success is greatly reduced. 

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