What is (business/financial) security and how do you achieve it?

One of my clients is a large corporation that contracts a lot of consultants. I had a recent conversation with an employee there who was wondering about life of a consultant. We were “comparing notes” about the difference between being a consultant and an employee. They said that even though there were drawbacks to employment (such as being at the mercy of a manager, as well as having little control over increases in pay), they mentioned that the comfort and security of employment far outweighed the uncertainty of being a consultant.

They wondered how I can sleep at night, knowing that once the project ended, I would need to find more clients. They pointed to other consultants who were contracted by the company who struggled through “boom/bust” careers and sweated the days leading up to the end of a contract.

I mentioned that I didn’t lose a wink of sleep at night. With or without this large corporate client, I’m fully booked through 2016 and have a waiting list of people who would hire me once I have some availability.

I’m not relating this conversation to you to boast. Rather, to make a point about security: Employees think they have security because they are part of a union (at least in the case of this particular company) and because there are many other people involved in the longevity of the business… and perhaps there’s some value to their tenure at the company. And entrepreneurs (and consultants and writers, etc.) seem to have less security because they are not only responsible for delivery but they’re also responsible for client acquisition. And it seems like they live from project to project.

Security is a funny thing: As an entrepreneur, I’ve had my share of sleepless nights in the very beginning of my business; those sleepless nights came from the gnawing question of “will I find enough clients to pay the bills this month?”. Today, I sleep well because my business is in a different place now.

But even more than the list of clients I’m fortunate enough to have, I recently realized that there’s something else that makes me feel secure.

SECURITY IS EVEN MORE THAN HAVING A JOB OR CLIENTS RIGHT NOW

What inspired this realization came from an old podcast I stumbled over in a forgotten folder on an external hard drive I was cleaning up. There were several podcasts — some of them too old and irrelevant to be valuable — but one of them was quite interesting, compelling, and inspiring. It was an interview with Jay Abraham. In the podcast, Abraham was describing his own journey in his career and how he got his start. He admitted that he started as a clerk and didn’t really contribute anything to the company he worked for. Deciding to change that, he immersed himself in becoming an expert in business and sales.

And then he said this about business/financial security: “I realized that security is nothing more than the faith, the confidence, and the trust you’ve got in yourself and your ability to perform.

I’ve been thinking about that statement pretty regularly ever since I heard it. I think most people believe that security comes from having a specific dollar figure in the bank and a job and a decent insurance policy.

And that might be true for some but it’s not true for me. Or for other entrepreneurs I’ve met. For me, a sense of security doesn’t come from those things. I’ve had them and I know that they can disappear.

Rather, Abraham’s statement revealed to me a reason why I feel very comfortable living the life of the self-employed: Because I know without a shadow of doubt that if everything came crashing down around me today, I could be up and running right away, serving new clients and building a profitable business from the ground up… even if I had to start with new clients and zero dollars and no website. My sense of security comes with my knowledge that I can deliver something of value to people who need it.

HOW TO GET SECURITY FOR YOURSELF

Jobs come and go. Money comes and goes. Clients come and go. Technologies come and go. Strategies come and go.

So how do you get security? Regardless of whether you want to work for someone else or for yourself, you need to build up in yourself the disciplines and knowledge and skills and mindsets that will allow you to deliver.

You need to know your strengths and understand who needs whatever you bring to the table. And you need to always sharpen yourself — to become better and better so that your employer or your clients or your target market consider you indispensable.

Indispensability comes from just what I’ve described above: A combination of disciplines (focus and willpower), specialized knowledge (in whatever category you work in), related skills (sales, negotiation, and others), and mindsets (positivity and opportunity-seeking, and probably others).

Whenever you want to build an even bigger foundation of security, you need to increase those elements of indispensability — either by deepening your existing ones or broadening them to acquire others.

The one sentence that will make you more productive immediately

When I tell people that I’m a writer by profession, one of the things people commonly reply with is “I’m going to write a book someday.” Although I grin and nod enthusiastically as if to say “wow, that’s amazing!” I secretly think in my mind: “Sure. Whatever.” Many people say they will write a book but never do. They say they want to write a book but, in reality, they are content to watch So You Think You Can Dance every week. What’s important to them? I can tell you that the book is not as important to them as relaxing in front of the TV.

Of course, this is not the only time this happens. Here are a couple of other scenarios that might be familiar to you:

One of my clients works with aspiring entrepreneurs to educate them about how to start a business. He offered a webinar recently and I sat in as a silent observer to do some background research on his target market. I was fascinated to see the interactions of the many attendees who aspired to start their businesses but, when pressed by the host about why they hadn’t, provided a series of excuses about being too busy with work or trying to find a job. They say they want to start a business (and certainly some people from that webinar will) but most of them are content with the security of a regular paycheck.

Another entrepreneur I know is working on her business plan and asked me about how she can get unstuck on a particular section of it. Since the information was very specific to the municipality she was lives in, I gave her the website, phone number, and address of the government agency she needs to visit to get her answer. Months later, she is still stuck and hasn’t visited because she feels she can’t take a day off of work to do it. She says she wants to finish her business plan to start her business but she really just likes the predictable daily routine of her current job.

I’m not just picking on other people here. I’m equally guilty of this same “disease”: Although I’ve ghostwritten books for others, my first and second books took a LOOOOOOONG time to write because I was busy with other things. And although I did a lot of work in the real estate investing industry and desired to invest in real estate myself, I took a LOOOOOOONG time to pull the trigger. I said I wanted to write a book and invest in real estate but I loved the cash flow of serving clients instead of giving up that time to focus on these other goals.

We all have goals and dreams and aspirations but only some people will achieve some of those goals/dreams/aspirations.

Why?

Why do people desire to write a book or start a business but never cross those things off of their bucket list? Why do people set the goal of working out daily but fail to do so? Why do people commit to dieting but gain weight? Why do people set resolutions and dream dreams but never see those things come to fruition?

Because of this one sentence.

“You invest in the things that are important to you”

You invest your time, money, attention, focus, and effort on the things that are truly important to you. Forget what you say you want to do or what you dream of achieving. That investment of time, money, attention, focus, and effort is where your real desires are.

This sentence encapsulates everything about productivity, goal setting and achievement, time management, and success. It optimizes every single time management system or process ever devised.

This is a grim wake-up call to… well… every single one of us. We all HATE hearing this sentence, especially when we realize that our words and our actions do not always line up. We might say we want to get out of debt but we’re buying grande mochachinos at Starbucks everyday. We might say that we wan to write a book but the TV is on every evening. We might say that we want to start a business but we’re not willing to get out of our comfort zone or risk our regular paycheck.

(The critiques will read this and say: “But my family is important to me so I can’t give up my paycheck, which means I have to pursue my goals in my spare time”. This is true. In this case, family is important to you — more important than your other dreams, apparently. There’s nothing wrong with that. But now it’s time to take a very clinical look at how you spend your spare time and how you can get more of that time to help you pursue the other goals you claim are important).

The people who we hail as successes — whether in business or in life or as someone who has achieved a goal or dream that we share — they gave up something and invested in the thing that was truly important to them.

Remind yourself daily that you invest in the things that are important to you. If your investments of time, money, attention, focus, and effort are not on the things you desire then they aren’t as important to you as you claim they are.

Ask yourself these questions hourly: What did I invest in last hour? What do I want in life and how can I invest the next hour in those things?

Aaron Hoos’ weekly reading list: ‘Focus on focusing’ edition

Aaron Hoos: Weekly reading list

I watched 2 NASCAR races this weekend — the Sprint Cup race and the Canadian NASCAR race. To get to that level of performance (rising above the years of amateur Saturday night racing) takes focus. And then to rocket around a track for a couple of hours while driving a couple hundred miles an hour, inches from another car, takes a ton of focus.

Focus, discipline, determination, willpower. These are topics that fascinate me. I think what interests me is that many of us can focus on some things so naturally, happily spend hours on that activity. But try to focus on a difficult but necessary task? Yikes! Suddenly minutes seem like hours and we remember that we need to dig out the vacuum cleaner from under the stairs and vacuum every room in the house.

So I’m always reading about focus (and its synonyms), trying to hack my own ability to do more in the limited time I have available. Here are some of the focus-related articles I’ve read lately:

  • How to focus. Leo Babauta’s article is a good start to read about focusing (which is why I listed it on my 30 days of focus essential reading list about 8 months ago). It lists some good best practices to get started. This post is really about staying focused on a particular task instead of getting distracted or procrastinating. And while you’re on ZenHabits, why download the free ZenHabits Focus book. It’s a good read.
  • 10 ways to use laser-sharp focus to get more done. The link above is Babauta’s post about focusing through specific tasks. This article, also at ZenHabits, seems to be more about focusing for the long-term — like through your day or through a major project. In my opinion, it’s a related but slightly different skillset.
  • How to do things that matter most. Although this article isn’t explicitly about focusing, it addresses the topic implicitly, urging readers to make changes in their life that will allow them to focus… and to focus on the right things.
  • How to focus is Scott H. Young’s more advanced take on focusing. He spends a bit more time talking about the need to focus and the benefit, and outlines how to focus more effectively. Also, be sure to read another blog post — Self-discipline comes first; another great read.
  • And, if you’re interested in reading some of my earlier writing on focus, check out this post: Tiger Woods’ trick to improve focus during his game. It’s a trick originally taught to golfers but in my blog post I’ll show you how it can apply to your business as well.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when setting goals

Don't make this mistake when goalsettingI love to set goals.

I’ve been that way for my entire life.

Whether or not I actually reach those goals is another story, although I’m always being reminded of the importance of acting on your goals (which is why I write stuff like the Massive Action Checklist and Are You An Action Figure?).

I’m okay with setting more goals than I achieve (well, to a degree) because I figure that I still accomplish a lot in spite of hitting only a fraction of the goals I set.

But in the last year or so I’ve started to notice something else and it could be the key to unlocking a better level of achievement in my goals. I’ve also learned that other people face the same challenge too. (Whew!) In fact, my friend Warren Wooden of PLR Internet Marketing mentioned this very same thing in the recent interview I did with him for the third anniversary of his business.

Here’s the mistake most people (including me and Warren) make when goal setting:

Goals of varying timeframes are set but they don’t tie together.

You might set daily and weekly and monthly and quarterly and yearly goals… but the goals you work on for your daily goals might not contribute to your weekly goals, and the goals you work on for your monthly goals might not work on for your quarterly goals.

So instead of focusing on just a few projects, you end up spreading yourself too thin. You work for a bit on project X goals to meet your daily goals and then you work for a bit on project Y goals to meet your weekly goals and then your project Z goals to meet your monthly goals. Working on one goal will not contribute to a larger goal.

It sucks because you increase your workload, spread your focus dangerously thin, decrease your productivity, and then fail to achieve more goals.

HERE’S HOW YOU SHOULD SET GOALS

Start at the high level and work backwards: Set some big-ass goals — perhaps goals for your professional life (for example). Let’s say that you create a series goals for your career and you expect your professional life to last the next 30 years at which point you plan to retire.

Now you can break these goals down into three 10-year goals. But it’s important to note this: Instead of creating new goals, just create smaller versions of that over-arching goal. For example, maybe you want to retire with an annual passive cash flow of a million dollars in thirty years. So you divide that into three 10-year goals. Maybe you have the goal of earning a $333,000 annual passive cash flow by the end of the first decade and $666,000 annual passive by the end of the second decade. Whatever. These are just examples.

Okay, now that you have those 10 years goals hammered out, make them smaller. Again, don’t create new goals. Instead, create smaller versions of these goals. So your first decade of working toward an annual passive cash flow of $333,000 might mean trying to add $33,000 each year for the next 10 years — $33,000 in the first year, $66,000 in the second year and so on.

Now that you have annual goals created, then divide those goals by 4 to get quarterly goals. Now you’re trying to add $8250 per quarter in passive income.

Those same goals can be subdivided further — divide them by 3 to get monthly goals each quarter, then divide by 4 to get weekly goals, then divide by 7 (to get daily goals for a 7-day week) or 5 (go get daily goals for a 5-day week). Heck, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t divide your goals by 8 to get hourly goals based on an 8-hour work day.

Now you have real goals to work with… goals that will build on each other over time. Goals at the microscopic level that, if you work on them, you’ll contribute to your larger goals.

THREE NOTES TO CLARIFY

Goals are not actions. Dividing these goals down to that tiny level won’t make them magically come to fruition. Rather, it turns a seemingly overwhelming career-long goal into something that you can actually work on right this minute. So once you have these goals, assign actions to them. Some actions will be daily, some weekly , some quarterly, etc. But assign actions to contribute to those goals.

Not all goals work on the same timeline. I used passive cash flow as my example because I wanted to use some numbers that could be divided from large career-long numbers down to much smaller numbers. But not all goals will work that way. Some won’t take your entire career. Some can’t be divided down into hourly goals. Owning a Lamborghini in a decade is a worthwhile goal (especially if you cruise by my house and we can drive around in it for a bit). But it’s hard to subdivide a Lambo into annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals. (Well, not if you’ve heard Johnny Cash’s song “One Piece At a Time“). So use some common sense here, people. Figure out how to make it work. Maybe you set a goal to have enough money to buy a Lamborghini — that can be divided down.

Not all numbers are easily divisible. I hope what I’m about to write makes sense. Here goes: Not all numbers can be easily divided by the number of time periods in the smaller sub-set. Sometimes, you can’t just quickly divide your decade goal by 10 to get annual goals because the goals build on each other to create an exponential increase rather than a straight line increase. (Similar in concept to the different ways that depreciation is calculated — straight line or declining balance). It might be easier to make a larger jump later in the goal than earlier.

 
Image credit: TALUDA

How to handle ongoing projects in GTD

I’ve been using David Allen’s GTD system for a few years now and I’ve been very happy, less stressed, and extremely productive. (I use Evernote to manage my projects, project support files, and for incubation, and keep my Next Actions list on my mobile)

But one area I’ve struggled with has been how I handle the ongoing projects that I have to do.

By GTD’s definition, a project needs to have a specific, achievable outcome. If there’s no outcome, it goes against the philosophy of GTD and it will feel like you never accomplish something because the project is never crossed off your list. I like this philosophy and embrace it, and most of my project have a specific, achievable outcome… and it feels GREAT to cross them off of my project list when I complete them!

But I also have ongoing projects that need to be done and don’t have a specific, achievable outcome. Specifically, I try to blog daily in my business and I have a dozen or more client content commitments to write each week (like articles or blogs, etc.). These are multi-step activities that often require some research, brainstorming, a first draft, editing, and publishing… and sometimes a bit of time to think about them.

I have been happy with GTD overall but have struggled with handling these ongoing projects because they never feel like they get crossed off my list.

I researched for an answer online about how to handle ongoing projects in GTD. I found 4 solutions that haven’t worked for me…

WHY ONGOING PROJECTS IN GTD AREN’T EASILY DEALT WITH

Solution 1: Schedule them in your calendar: Many of the uber-GTD superstars have said that there is no such thing as an ongoing project — it’s an action that needs to be scheduled in your calendar. Some were quite adamant in their assertion that any ongoing activity needs to be scheduled.

Yes, for any ongoing activities that require me to show up and do something, scheduling them into my calendar makes the most sense. That’s how I handle activities like working out, doing my weekly GTD review, and invoicing clients. The note pops up on my calendar and I do it. And it will pop up again in a couple of days or at the end of the month or whenever I’ve scheduled it. Easy; and I don’t have to think about it. But these activities are generally one-step activities that are done on a specific date and don’t require preparation.

But it doesn’t work for all ongoing activities because not all of my ongoing activities are one-step actions that can be performed on a specific date. The content I write each week requires some preparation, several next actions, and it needs to be done plus-or-minus a few days; I can’t always do it on a specific day.

Solution 2: Make it an Area of Focus: Another solution suggested by the uber-GTD supestars is to make my blog and each of my clients an Area of Focus and then make each piece of content its own project.

This doesn’t work either.

Of course my blog and my clients are each Areas of Focus. But it goes against the philosophy of GTD to create as many as 20 or more projects each week on individual pieces of content. I’ll spend more time creating projects than I want to and GTD will cease to be useful to me. I don’t want to fill my project list with “AaronHoos.com blog post – Monday“, “AaronHoos.com blog post – Tuesday“, “AaronHoos.com blog post – Wednesday“, etc.

And I would be screwed if I ever wanted to work ahead or if I’m pre-writing a bunch of content prior to taking a vacation. The number of projects I would need to create for that would not be practical.

(Clarification: I actually do like this idea of creating projects for individual pieces of content, and if I wrote less ongoing content each week then I would definitely do this. And I do use this method for my one-time projects. But the sheer volume of content I do each week makes this impractical because it fills my project list with more detail than I find useful).

Solution 3: Leave them on one list as ongoing projects: This was my default method for a long time but I ended up only ever cycling through 75% of my project list. The other 25% never felt “completed”. Since I love to cross stuff off, and I get really motivated to put new projects onto my project list, this kept me from enjoying a sense of productivity.

Solution 4: Create 2 project lists: Another solution (often suggested by the GTD upstarts who hack their own methods into GTD) is to have a list of achieveable projects that can be crossed off when completed, and a list of ongoing projects that are never crossed off. I tried that for a while but wasn’t as happy with handling two project lists. I prefer one list with everything on it… and again, I love to cross things off, so the ongoing project list isn’t as appealing to me.

HANDLING ONGOING PROJECTS IN GTD

The solution I desired needed to accomplish a few things:

  • Be handled as projects instead of scheduled activities because of the complexity of the task
  • Be handled in a way that didn’t overwhelm my project list with individual content pieces
  • Help me to work ahead without overwhelming my project list
  • Kept everything to one list
  • Be achievable — I want to be able to empty my project list!

The solution that has worked really well for me is to create a content-related project in which the desired outcome is a number of pieces of content tied to a specific time frame. The time might be weekly, monthly or quarterly. Here are some examples…

  • 7 AaronHoos.com blog posts for the week of December 9th-15th
  • 4 articles for ABC client for January
  • 6 articles for ABC client (2/month for January, February, and March)

The desired outcome is a quantity of content for a specific time period. It’s really a group of small-ish projects. Basically, you’re creating a project from an Area of Focus and even though you might do a similar project in the future, you are placing a measurable limit on your project to make it achievable.

Of course, you might have a different type of ongoing project that isn’t related to writing but I think this solution could work for other professions as well.