In Dan Pink’s Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself he closes the book with a long, excellent list of “Work Smarter Not Harder” type advice for people who want to start working for themselves.
Frankly, the list is so good I think everyone would benefit from it.
Below are my favorites.
- Make a “to don’t” list. Another gem from the inimitable Tom Peters. Prepare a list that contains all the things you shouldn’t waste your time on – useless tasks, unnecessary meetings, worthless phone calls, and so on. Then place it next to your “to do” list – and stick to it.
- Carry a notebook and pen. Thomas Edison did it. Virginia Woolf did it. And so did Charles Darwin. They toted a notebook with them everywhere and wrote down ideas that popped into their heads… Page through the notebook occasionally. Trust me: This is a fantastic way to spark ideas and to weave creativity into the fabric of your life.
- Hone your elevator speech. Be able to explain who you are, what you do, and why someone could benefit from your unique talents – in 30 seconds. Then cut your pitch to 15 seconds. Practice it. Sharpen it… Caveat: An elevator speech shouldn’t sound like an elevator speech. It’s really an exercise in being honest, concise, and interesting.
- Establish an opening ritual. Try to begin your day the same way. If you work at home, maybe take a short walk before you go to your office. Have a cup of tea or read or meditate before starting your work. An opening ritual will ease your mind, body and soul into the day.
- Establish a closing ritual. Know when to stop working. Try to end each work day the same way, too. Straighten up your desk. Back up your computer. Make a list of what you need to do tomorrow.
- Get used to the three “-ty’s.” Ambiguity. Uncertainty. Volatility…Projects collapse. Money evaporates. Customers go wiggy. Get over it. That’s the way it works.
- Learn. …Become a learning machine. Ask questions. Take smart people to lunch. Read. Read some more. Listen to audiobooks. Take classes. Go to conferences (which are also great places to network.) Added benefit: This makes life more interesting. Yet another benefit: Studies have shown that people who make constant learning part of their lives end up living longer.
- Failing is OK. Not failing is not OK. If you don’t flop every so often, you’re not trying hard enough
- Guard your calendar. Make sure your time is focused on your one or two top priorities. Ask yourself: “Is this how I want to be spending my time right now?” Remember: you are your calendar. So treat your calendar with respect.
- Be paranoid. The good times won’t last.
- Don’t be paranoid. The bad times won’t last.
- Never say up front that you can beat a deadline. Just turn your work in early and look like a hero. Related advice (which is ancient but unassailable): Underpromise, overdeliver.
- Be quick. But don’t hurry. This one isn’t mine. It comes from the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Read it again. Think about it. Make sense, huh?
- Respond to calls and e-mails quickly. Even if you response is. “I’ll get back to you,” try to get back to people within 24 hours. They’ll appreciate the courtesy. Reality check: sometimes you’ll violate this rule.
- Spend 10 minutes today laughing out loud. Turn on Comedy Central, read a funny book, look at photographs of yourself in junior high. Laugh. Fully.
- Take a “Sabbath.” Choose one day during the week when you don’t work… Respecting your own “Sabbath” will be good for your soul – and better for your business.
- Take the Sunday night test. If you’re like 99 percent of the population, you’ve experienced “Sunday night dread.” This ailment begins creeping up your spine around 4:30 on Sunday night and reaches a crescendo around 11PM, as you realize you’re going to have to go to work the following day. (My own research has shown that Sunday night dread begins forming around third grade and eventually dissipates around age 70.)… So this Sunday night, when you go to sleep, ask yourself: “Am I suffering from Sunday night dread?” If so, you might be doing something wrong. But if you’re not getting it – if you’re lying there in bed thinking, “You know, I sorta like this. I’m not dreading tomorrow. I’m actually looking forward to it” – then you’re probably on the right path.