Weeklongs 7 | Meals Are Not A CheckBox

This post is part of my Weeklongs Project.

This week was about letting internal signals direct eating instead of external cues.

As an undersized college football player, I ate constantly. My 5’10 frame was not going to stop me from trying to look like Lattimer from The Program. I didn’t stop eating when I was full and didn’t wait until I was hungry to start. I’d end up eating 4-5 meals a day. In retrospect eating seemed almost more like part of a regimen than an act to satiate my hunger.

Despite the fact that I’ve hung the cleats up, I’ve noticed I still behave this way. Between the hours of 12-2 I’ll go eat lunch – not always because I’m  hungry but because you’re supposed to eat lunch then. Old habits die hard? I think my proclivity towards efficiency also compels this behavior. If I have a free 20 minutes between two calls during lunch hours I’ll “get lunch out of the way.” It’s almost like I pre-empt hunger. It’s easy to rationalize because when unaddressed, hunger is inevitable. Why not take care of it when you have some down time?

This week was about letting my body dictate consumption instead of the external cue provided by meal-time. Practically, this meant eating only when I was truly hungry and stopping consumption when my body told me I’d eaten enough. I was amazed by the degree that paying to my body changed my behavior. In general, I ate later, slower and less than usual.

I think these changes occurred due to the shift in how I framed meals. This week meals weren’t just a checkbox that I happen to enjoy – they were a response to an internal signal that was continuously calibrated throughout my day. When something is not viewed as a task, you give yourself permission to enjoy it vs. the need to execute it as fast as possible.

Other things I learned about myself

  • My love for efficiency is why I’m not a foodie.
  • I can easily last till 2 before I need lunch – I did not think that was possible.
  • Anytime I put something on a list or bundle it as a to do, I’ll unconsciously attempt to execute it as fast possible.
    • This one reason I eat really fast
  • Sometimes I eat just to feel like I’m doing something productive because it’s on a list.

Practically eating like this moving forward will be impossible to pull off. However, it was cool for a week and it’s beneficial to have in the back of my mind moving forward.

My No Thanks List

Fact: Any decision that requires self-control drains your energy.

Not buying ice cream I just saw in the deli = -1 energy
Writing this post instead of cruising facebook = -2 energy
Going to the gym instead of drinks = -3 energy | +5 energy tomorrow

 

 

Regardless of  the choice I make, so long as I’m struggling with temptation, I’m exerting energy.

As our energy diminishes, so does our willpower because it requires energy to exercise self-control. Think it’s coincidental that people eat sweets, skip the gym, or overindulge in alcohol at night vs. the morning? It’s partially because a day of decision making causes the tides to fall in our energy reservoir. And when we lack energy, we opt for the path of least resistance as to preserve the little we have left.

So how do we stay on track and avoid succumbing to temptations like eating ice cream, skipping the gym, or cleaning your room instead of doing something hard?

Two ways to approach conquering this:

  1. Enter the battle-dome with more energy in order to promote self-control
  2. Make each difficult decision more doable so that you can accomplish it with less self-control and when willpower is diminished

One practice that draws upon both approaches to increase self-control is creating a “No Thanks List”. I learned this from Peter Bregman’s book 18 minutes. His list outlines a set of scenarios where he’s determined that saying “no thanks” is the best response. His goal is to eliminate distraction and help him maintain his focus.

My “No Thanks List” consists of things which I have decided I will try to never do. Mine is more focused on cultivating willpower. The goal of the list is to create good habits and strengthen them by repetition.

Habits take an if-then form. If I encounter X, I will react by doing Y. Decisions become automatic eliminating the mentally taxing cost-benefit analysis. Thus, a habit requires far less energy than having to make a decision, especially when the optimal choice requires greater resistance.

Building habits around what were previously challenging decisions accomplishes two things:

  1. It leaves you with more energy, thus more willpower following the interaction
  2. It makes things that were tough more doable which means you can accomplish them when you have less willpower
Here’s my list so far that I’ve been trying to build habits around:
No Thanks Item    Reason Why
Standing on an escalator when there is room to walk  More exercise, quicker, and its just looks like you’re in no rush to get where you’re going. If that’s really how you feel you have bigger fish to fry. Carpe diem people!
Indulging in free food or beer when I didn’t intend on eating or drinking The things I consume in these instances are usually total crap from a health standpoint. I shouldn’t justify consuming it simply because it’s free. If I’m hungry that’s one thing, but otherwise it’s just excess that I pretty much always regret 
Checking my phone while I’m in a conversation with someone  Despite the fact our world accepts this, it’s generally rude thing to do. 99.9% of the time, whatever I’m looking at can wait. Live in the moment! 
Skipping a rep when doing an exercise or stopping my runs short of the time I set out to go for (excluding injuries)  If you don’t finish in even just one part of your life, you won’t finish everywhere else. Routinely doing this not only cheats my workouts, but more importantly, is a recipe for developing the incredibly bad habit of not finishing. 
Putting sugar or an artificial sweetener in my coffee  Yeah it tastes good, but I enjoy the coffee just fine without this crap. All sweeteners really do is cause me to drink it way faster which makes me want more coffee = $, less energy over time
Eating or cleaning instead of doing something hard This is a textbook example of opting for the path of least resistance. Doing this not only hampers getting important things done, but again risks poor habit creation.
Taking free swag I’ll never wear or use   This creates clutter. I hate clutter. If I didn’t have it already and am doing just fine, I probably don’t need it. Because it’s free doesn’t mean that’s a good reason to take it. 
Opting in to email offers to save trivial amounts of money or be “entered to win something” The juice never ends up being worth the squeeze. And seriously, has anyone ever actually won something from one of these?
Shopping around for items less than $20   Spending lots of time for a minimal return. 

The general theme for all these items is that abstaining from the action serves my long term best interest. Ideally you get to a point where you won’t even consider opting for the less beneficial decision – you just react. Getting there is not easy though. Its reminds me of when someone first told me drinking water is better than soda as a kid.  Whether I was out to eat or had my paws in the fridge, choosing water was so hard in the beginning…dude where’s the bubbles? But eventually the pain that came from that decision became an afterthought, and the decision to order water felt pretty automatic. Ordering water went from a challenge to just something I did.

Is it really necessary to make a list? Yes, it is, because it establishes rules. Even when the consequences lack enforcement, rules make it incrementally easier to stay the course versus than when things are ambiguously defined. And again, consistently staying the course makes it easier to…well, consistently stay the course : )

Unique Cultural Traditions and Why They’re Important

One thing I love hearing about is unique cultural traditions within companies. They provide a window into the actual “company” beyond just the product. This is usually pretty opaque and far more interesting to me. Building a good product is cool, but building a company that people love to work at  is way cooler. Ideally you want both.

It’s easy to lump cultural traditions as a gimmick to make work seem more fun or interesting. But I think they’re so much more than that.

One aspect that separates one company from another are the people and the things that you do together. When you do fun, rewarding things as a company, it’s awesome. And when those things feel unique to your company, I think they’re all the more powerful. Just like a distinctive uniform, uniqueness emphasizes that you’re part of a team. No one gets to wear Yankees pinstripes on the diamond unless you’re a Yankee. And when you feel part of a team, it inspires the feeling that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. This cultivates a far more authentic allegiance than a fat paycheck and pushes you to press on when faced with adversity. That’s why engendering a sense of  team is so important.

Unique Cultural Traditions -> Greater Sense of Team -> Serves Employees Both Individually and as a Team Well -> Serves the Business Well

I wanted to highlight a couple of unique cultural traditions I think are pretty cool:

SinglePlatform

We do a lot of cool things at SP, but there’s no doubt the staple is our Gong. Every time a team (Product, Sales, BD, etc) hits one of their monthly goals, they get to hit the gong. A new employee’s first sale or exceptional accomplishment also warrants hitting the gong.

Unique Cultural Traditions
 

Celebrating each other’s success is something we all really enjoy and has definitely brought us closer together as a team.

We’re also starting a guest speaker series. Each month, a guest speaker who is doing some cool things will come in and speak to the company…A few of us also do pushups.

Greatist

Fittingly, every friday the good folks over at Greatist do a fitness, health, and/or happiness activity together as a team. Examples of this have included ice skating, parkour, crossfit, tai chi, dyeing easter eggs, and even a hike with intermittent wine tasting. They call these  “gractivities.”

This pretty cool version of a happy hour that aligns with their goal to live the life they champion. Pretty cool stuff.

Tough Mudder

When they’re not building kickass mud runs, Tough Mudder employees get to partake in the “Tough Mudder University.” Each month employees read a Harvard Business School case study then come together to as a company to have an intellectual discussion in the style of an HBS classroom.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKXzw01_xSs[/youtube]
 

You can read more about Tough Mudder University here.

Savored

One cool thing about being in the MLB is that your theme song plays when you step up to the plate. Turns out you don’t need to be able to hit the long ball to have a theme song.

As a member of the savored sales team, you get to pick a theme song and every time you get a sale, they play your song for the company to hear. They might have a gong too…

Signpost

Every Friday the Signpost team has an all hands on deck meeting. At the beginning of the meeting they hand out small pieces of paper for people to write notes or props to each other. They fold up the papers, put them in a hat, and at the end of each meeting, two people read the “Signpost Snaps” aloud. They can be serious or jokes.

Lawline

The entire Lawline company holds a “Huddle” to start the day every morning. A different employee each morning is assigned to present something motivating or interesting for 5 minutes to their fellow employees.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRAC7G_Pcrk[/youtube]
 

I believe they also have a quick Q & A for the presenting employee in order to promote transparency within the company across departments. More about the lawline company culture can be found on their awesome company culture blog here.

Cultural traditions can yield benefits beyond simply progressing the sense of “team”. As evidenced in the examples above they also be used to:
  • Motivate employees to excel
  • Encourage personal and professional development
  • Recruit employees

Creating a place where people love to work may be the most important thing you can do. And cultural traditions are one way to enhance this.

I’d love to hear other examples of unique company traditions or elements of culture. Please share in the comments if you have any.

 

Big thanks to Nicola, Derek, Andrew, and Sam for their help with this post.

How to Ask for An Email Introduction

There are effective practices when asking for email introduction that respect the time and circumstance of all parties. I’ve really come to appreciate these and wish more people approached introduction requests this way.

 

How to Ask For An Email Introduction
 

Here’s how I approach asking for an email introduction:

Step 1: Preliminary Request for An Introduction

You’ve identified that someone in your network is connected to the person you’re trying to reach. Send them a brief preliminary intro request to gauge the strength of their relationship and willingness to connect.  An example script:

Hi X,

I was looking to get introduced to Johnny Dealmaker from Project X and saw you were connected to him. Not sure how well you’re connected to him, but if the relationship is strong, I’d really appreciate an intro to chat about ways to work with my Project Y. Please let me know if you feel comfortable doing this and I’ll forward over a proper request for introduction that you can forward to him.

Thanks!
Scott

Key elements of this email:

The Ask – “I was looking to get introduced to Johnny Dealmaker from Project X and saw you were connected to him

If you’re asking for an introduction, skip the dog and pony show and ask for it in the first 2 sentences. A clear understanding of how someone can help is always appreciated.

Consideration of the Connecting Parties Relationship – “If the relationship is strong; Please let me know if you feel comfortable doing this

As the person being asked for an intro, I never like to make introductions when I don’t know if both parties will benefit.

There are people that I’ve met for 48 seconds at a networking event who connected with me on LinkedIn. When someone asks to be introduced to these people, I lack the context to asess how mutually beneficial an introduction will be. As a result, I don’t feel comfortable making introductions to them.

Alternatively, maybe I do know them well, but I just had an awkward interaction with them. The last thing I feel like doing is emailing them for an intro request.

The bottom line is I appreciate when someone acknowledges that not all connections are people I feel comfortable making an introduction to. Framing the request with this in mind makes the ask a whole lot more manageable and is just a courteous practice.

The Why – “I’d really appreciate an intro to chat about ways to work with Project Y

The why gives me the ability to determine whether both parties will benefit. Everyone has demands on their time, so its important as a brokering party to make sure you’re adding value when connecting someone.

Make It Easy for the Connecting Party – “I’ll forward over a proper request for introduction that you can forward to him.”

The connecting party is doing you a favor by making an introduction. The least you can do is make it as easy as possible for them to do this.  Making them formulate in their own words why they’re connecting you guys requires effort. Sending something that they can forward along with appropriate context limits the work.

Step 2: Proper Request For An Introduction

After you’ve got confirmation that the connecting party feels comfortable making an introduction, it’s time for the proper request for an introduction. This email contains similar elements to the first one, but with some additional context because it will be forwarded to your target. An example script :

Hey X,

Was hoping that you might be able to introduce me to Johnny Dealmaker at Project X?

I wanted to connect with him because our email list targets a similar demographic with limited overlap. Seeing as our products are non-competitive, I wanted to touch base to see if he was up for brainstorming ways to leverage our existing user bases to grow both of our lists.

We did this with Company R in the past, and both parties received a 15% lift in new subscribers.

Any help is much appreciated.

-Scott

Key Elements:

Explicit Ask – This indicates to the target that someone approached them about connecting.

Compelling Context Why – Here you should expand upon why this person should spend time connecting with you. This serves to legitimize the ask from the connecting party and provides context for the target to assess whether connecting is worthwhile. Your goal is to put your best foot forward in a concise manner.

Strengthening Example – I think it’s always effective to mention a past success or current partner. It provides credibility. In an era of cyborg spam filters, this is very important even when an introduction brokers an interaction.

Appreciation – Again this person is doing you a favor.

At this point, the hope is that the target indicates they’re interested in connecting and you’re mutual connection proceeds to make the introduction.

I like this methodology because it respects the time and circumstances of all parties. Because you’ve given each party the option to opt in, obligatory feelings are limited (to the extent they can be). This makes for a better conversation with the target and relationship with the person you’re asking an introduction from.

 

 

*If you’ve pulled the ol shotgun intro on me or asked me for an introduction with little to no context, don’t feel bad! I simply thought I’d share what I find to be a more effective practice for everyone involved. Big ups to Kenny Herman for helpen me tighten up this practice by teaching me how to ask for an email introduction when I started at SP.

Like How To’s? You might enjoy these posts as well:

How To Find Anyone’s Email Address

How To Ask Someone To Meet  For Coffee

Weeklong 6 | Do I Really Need This?

This post is part of my Weeklongs Project.

The first week of this project I wrote about my experience getting rid of 5 things a day. In the spirit of shedding materialistic tendencies, a reader Brandon Rennels suggested I put a sticker on my wallet that forced me to think about the necessity of my purchases.

I took his advice and ordered some “Do You Really Need This” stickers from Zazzle. Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve had one on my credit card and the inside of my wallet.

I never buy myself “things” like clothes or gadgets. Most of my discretionary income is spent on experiences like going out with friends or skillshare classes. I also make some what I call “convenience purchases” – things that I enjoy and make my life easier, but don’t necessarily need. Coffee brewed by someone else, bottled water, and taxis fall into this category.

My hope was that these stickers would inspire greater self-awareness and help me reduce my convenience purchases. I’m disappointed to admit that I didn’t really see much of a change in my behavior. I still bought that coffee I didn’t really need and took a cab or two home when I could have hoofed it back to my apartment.

What I realized was that in most cases this self-awareness mechanism was too late in the purchasing funnel to be effective. By the time I’m in the checkout line the cost-benefit analysis for a purchase has already passed. I’ve made up my mind that I need this.

A product that made me ponder the necessity of a purchase earlier in the decision making funnel might be more effective. It’d have to know my behavior or location to a degree that allowed it to pre-empt these decisions. It’s not that far-fetched considering location aware technologies such as Shopkick omit push notifications when you enter stores.

…Or I could just improve my willpower and forget all these band aid solutions. Working on it ; )

The Elusiveness of Virtual Currency

I just booked a flight with points and it reminded me how virtual currency can alter our feelings and decision making. Whether we’re talking about a rewards program or monetary exchange, separating the currency from a dollar value can be a powerful framing tactic.

When multiple units of virtual currency are assigned to a single dollar it can inflate the amount of value we perceive. Getting 100 points for every dollar spent seems better than 10 points even if they possess the same purchasing power. This phenomenon is the crux of why virtual currency alters our spending behavior.

 

Here’s a few behavior changes I’ve noticed when I’m dealing with points instead of dollars:

Allocation

The inflated perception virtual currency inspires can change spending allocation. Specifically, when we have a greater number of units to spend, we’re likely to engage in a greater number of small transactions (vs. fewer more expensive ones). This is rooted in both practical and psychological grounds.

A specific example that comes to mind is the first time I used my buddy Adrian’s philanthropic platform GoodKarma. On GoodKarma, users can purchase 100 Karma Points for every $1 to donate to their favorite local charities.

The first time I took GoodKarma for a test drive I purchased 1000 Karma Points ($10). I donated 600 points to RestoreNYC and 400 points to StartSmallThinkBig. Outside this site, I’d never cut a check to a charity for $4.00 or split $10.00 amongst two.  I’d feel like Cheapo Felipo. But with a war chest of 1000 Karma points, I felt good about each contribution…so much so that I wanted to spread my points out.

In this instance, virtual currency changed my allocation preferences from 1 to 2 transactions. The greater volume of monetary units distracted me from the true value which facilitated the additional transactions. It also made me feel better about a micro transaction which is pretty sweet.

Less Attachment

I don’t play Facebook games but I’d venture a guess that part of the reason people are spending $20 on digital tractors has to do with the departure from dollars to points. Points are less tangible. I never subject myself to viewing the leather fold of my wallet pocket because I spent all my points last night. Less tangible => Less attachment => Blowing $$ faster on less meaningful purchases.

An alternative explanation for the decreased attachment is that points are later in the purchasing funnel. I spend $20 to get points to spend on something. Though the actual exchange of currency for the final good hasn’t occurred, people may already feel “bought in” after they’ve purchased points. The cost-benefit analysis of the purchase, which is where we endure feelings of attachment, may be long gone by this point.

The Need to Spend Them All

Regardless of whether points are refundable or transferable to cash, I can’t help but notice my desire to spend them all when I’m cashing them in. Yet when I have $100 and spend $70, I’m perfectly content saving $30 for a future purchase. I can save leftover points for when I actually need to buy something just like dollars. But for some reason, I always want to immediately spend them all. Many times this results in impulse buys. I’ll even buy something that needs supplemental dollar spending just to use the points…what’s a few extra bucks right? So stupid, yet so hard to resist! Make sense why corporate rewards programs work with virtual currency instead of dollars.

*This may revert back to decreased attachment, but hey, 5 bullet points looks better than 4.

Spaving

As consumers, users, and players, we’re incentivized to relinquish a resource  in order to earn points.

If you’ve ever hung out with management consultants odds are you’re familiar with the allure of credit card/travel points. Credit card providers tell consumers they use points to “reward” their customers. This is true. But they also use points to maximize the amount of value they extract from customers. Spend $1,000 for the next 3 months and get 50,000 points! These type of offers sound amazing. Sometimes they are. Other times our inflated perception of value distracts and convolutes our perception of return. We end up justifying extra and unnecessary spending by saving on future purchases. Spend to Save = Spave = A definite No No

Do you ever feel better about spending an extra $50 to to get $.05 back? Probably not. Five points however, definitely helps ease the pain.

Influencing Purchasing Decisions

In the same way that points are used to extract value from existing customers, they’re also used to attract new ones. At times  we don’t really understand the scale or value of points when making a purchasing decision, but we know we want them and whichever offering provides the most.

I’m guilty of this with credit cards. I’ll forgo a slightly lower APR for an additional 10,000 points without a comprehensive understanding of the points value and/or the scale which I’m comparing them on. The funny thing is usually the point scales aren’t the same. Maybe I’m the only one out there who feels this allure. As a consumer, I guess I like feeling like I got a deal and points are very effective at engendering that.

Prior to a transaction, we initiate a cost benefit analysis. Is giving up X amount of currency going to be worth Y return? It’s really interesting to me that our assessments can change so much by manipulating the unit of currency  holding the value constant. There’s no shortage of entrepreneurs and big companies that have realized this and are taking advantage of it. As consumers it’s important to be aware how this can affect our choices.

Anybody else have additional observations about how points affect our behaviors?  I’d love to hear them

Blogging: The Best Posts Are Shortcuts

My belief is that most (not all) successful consumer web products do an excellent job of feeding your ego, saving you money, or saving you time. I was taking a look at some of my most popular posts and noticed a clear trend that is in alignment with this thesis; at a high level, the most popular blog posts are shortcuts. They save readers time.

Originally I noticed that many popular posts contained a personal anecdote as part of a non-obvious, overarching insight. Posts fashioned in this way are like cliffnotes to writers’ lives.

But even these posts can be encapsulated under the more ubiquitous theme of shortcuts:

Stories or Perscriptions that Contain a Personal Anecdote – a shortcut to wisdom forged over the seasons of life.

The Best Way How to Do X – A shortcut to determining best practices again, typically forged through experience.

The Best Examples of Y – A blogger curating the best examples of something takes less time than if I were to do it myself = shortcut.

Sprinklings of inspiration, quantified evidence, numeric prescriptions (10 things I wish…), and humor, amongst other things, all enhance a post. But for aspiring bloggers, the foundation is simple – produce content that saves people time.

In general, making information more easily accessible serves the function of saving us time. Whether that be finding a YellowPages listing through a search bar instead of thumbing through the pages or providing transparency to knowledge in a medium less exclusive than conversation like blogging, people appreciate the value created here.

Does anyone else have observations around popular content themes?