March 27, 2012


time keeps slipping into the futureWhat matters gets measured.
What’s measured gets done.

Five months ago, we looked at three gadgets that boost productivity. Now we look at tracking. Do you know how you're using your time? Do you know how long repetitive activities take?

I started paying more attention since I'm part of a Pick Four goals program. Here are three tools that work work together
  1. time awareness
  2. passive tracking
  3. active tracking

Time Awareness

In his new book, How Your Best Got Better, Jason Womack makes an observation that's “obvious” in retrospect. If you divide your 24 hour day into 15 minute chunks, you get 96 blocks. That means that each block is about 1% of your day. Waste 30 minutes and you've wasted 2%. This simple observation made we understand the importance of time.

Can you focus for 15 minutes? Yes. If you have a 2 hour project, you have 8 blocks. You don't need to work on them consecutively but doesn't 8 blocks look more manageable than 120 minutes?

Jason recommends using a simple egg timer. If you're at your computer, you can use the free website (try it). I didn't want to look at a computer screen because there are too many distractions. I got a physical digital timer from Wal-Mart for $9. It counts down or up.

I've been amazed at how my productivity improved.

Some activities can suck up time. Your trap might be web surfing, Facebook, LinkedIn, videos or gaming. Allocate 15 minutes and stop when you hear the buzzer.

Passive Tracking

RescueTimeThere's an amazing web-based tool called RescueTime (affiliate link) that runs in the background on your computer and Android phone. RescueTime silently tracks where your time is going. A simple gauge shows how you compare with other people. A graph shows how productively you use your time. Users are said to save 3:54 hours a week.

My snapshot for today

You can improve your results by setting some parameters. The paid version ($6/month if you pay for a year) will even tell you which applications were running. I started with the free version and upgraded to paid within a few days. There's  a free trial.

If you're mobile, you can run track using a mobile app on your Android phone. The results get logged and consolidated online.

Active Tracking

TogglYou probably work on repetitive activities or projects. For instance, you might prepare proposals. I blog but wasn't sure how long writing a post really took.

I started using a web-based tool called There's a nicely-equipped free version. I got hooked and upgraded to the full version which costs $5 per month. This puts your activities on your calendar and has other features. Besides, you’re supporting the developers. There are apps for iOS and Android.

If you charge for your time, Toggl lets you set different projects for different clients. You can specify what's billable and what's not. You get reports too.

If you're mobile, you can run track using a mobile app. The results get logged and consolidated online.


I was surprised to find that I use my time more effectively than I expected. The timer makes a huge difference. There's so much that we can get done in 15 minutes.

As a minimum, try using a countdown timer (even the free Next, try one either a passive or active time tracking. Or both.


PS How do you measure what matters to you?

March 20, 2012


a better brainDo you have trouble meeting your goals? Do you want to discuss issues but don't know with whom? Do you want perspectives from outside your company?

A large company might have an external Board of Directors. There's a practical solution for smaller businesses too: a mastermind.

With a mastermind, you get peer support and are held accountable for meeting the goals you set. The idea comes from Napoleon Hill in Think And Grow Rich (1937). You only need two participants. He had three, including steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and his stepmother. (I finally got to use "steel magnate" in a sentence!)

Last year, I helped establish and run three masterminds updated for today. Two fizzled. One is going strong.

The Agenda

Each group followed this simple three step agenda.
1. Victories:  What's working?
We start with good news. What are you bubbling to share? Your achievements could be personal or professional, minor or major. Avoid bad news.

Duration: 1-2 minutes each
2. Challenges: What needs work?
Have you met your commitments since the prior session? What challenges are you facing that you’d like our input on? This is the time to raise bad news.

Duration: 15-30 minutes each, depending on the group size (includes the group discussion)
3. Actions: What will you Ship?
What will you commit to complete by the next session?

Duration: 1 minute each

The Trio

Each mastermind is described in chronological order.
I. Online Mastermind (2-9 members)
Travel time in Toronto is lengthy and unpredictable. Selecting members based on proximity is suboptimal. After the initial session, this mastermind met online via free Skype videoconferencing.

To work out the kinks, this experiment started with two participants. The process worked well. There were glitches with video due to Internet congestion but audio worked well as a backup.

Meetings were originally weekly, then each two weeks and then never. There wasn't enough happening for two people to discuss. This group may start again.

Pro: Eliminated travel time; designed the format used in the other masterminds
Con: Didn't grow beyond the two initial participants

II. Mastermind Meetup (5-10 members)
This monthly mastermind was the most ambitious and had a Meetup group. The original members were going to help others by running other masterminds. Members of all the masterminds were going to meet for social events.

Each session included a meal. Gatherings became social. Members didn’t set goals or work towards them. Others wanted to join but weren’t suitable. The usual crowd selling real estate, investments or insurance.

Pro: designed to scale via
Con: members didn't set or meet business goals; became social; irregular attendance

III. Peer-To-Peer Mentoring (2-5 members)
This monthly group is the sole success.  We meet in person at a coffee shop. Originally, sessions were during the day but shifted to evenings to accommodate more members.

Pro: equal participation, high support, visible progress, experimental/open-minded
Con: progress on some goals has been slow

Keys To Success

A successful mastermind, requires the right participants. Chemistry is essential. They must also be committed, open and trustworthy. Competitors can’t be admitted. What's discussed in the group remains strictly private. Complementary skills lead to better discussions and better results.

The Price

The above masterminds were free and member-run.

You may benefit from a paid mastermind run by an experienced facilitator if you
  • have more serious issues and don't want private coaching
  • can't find a suitable free group and don't want to start one
  • want the administration done for you
Sessions seem to run once a month for half-day or full-day. You might also get private coaching.

Pick Four

If you have goals you want to finish within 12 weeks, Pick Four from Zig Ziglar and Seth Godin may help you. I'm currently in week 8 of this peer-supported program. The experience has been positive.


PS Would a mastermind help you?

March 13, 2012


Promod Sharma live on Liquid LunchThis is the year of video as a marketing priority. I just had my first interview on camera. This was on Liquid Lunch, an Internet show.

There are advantages over regular TV, especially for a beginner:
  • longer interviews (about 20 minutes)
  • more relaxing: like a living room, not a studio
  • less intimidating: "normal" hosts, not TV newscasters


You can buy the recording of your segment for re-use. That's probably the business model. There are several options. I got the raw footage since I'm learning to edit. You can see the results for yourself.

The Studio

The studio is just south of the Toronto bus terminal at Bay/Dundas. The building has character. I walked up four flights of stairs to the large open-concept facilities. One corner has the recording studio with a green screen to allow fake backgrounds.

There are lots of video cameras — at least four. These aren't the big ones you might find on a movie set or in a TV studio. These looked like the ones you might buy for yourself. The cameras were set to different spots and angles. There were no camera operators but there were three technicians. Two sat behind the controls. They applied the backgrounds and did the magic of live broadcasting.

To my surprise, the audience wasn't ordered to stay silent during the recording. We were but the microphones seem oblivious to distant sounds.


The hosts are the key to a great interview. If you feel comfortable, you'll come across better. Two hosts are better than one. Hugh Reilly and Sandra Kyrzakos were excellent. They had rapport and seemed like nice genuine people. There were no off-camera tantrums about having too few red Smarties. In fact, I saw no Smarties at all. If there were any, they'd already eaten them.

I was concerned about how to sit. Sandra suggested I make myself comfortable while still able to speak. I followed her advice and didn't pay attention to my body. I sat back in my chair and crossed my legs at the ankles. .

Improvement Ideas

Liquid Lunch broadcasts at 480p, which is not very crisp by today’s standards. An upgrade to 720p or 1080p would be better. Maybe the lower resolution is an advantage since no one applies make-up to guests?

The sound quality could be improved too. The background hiss is noticeable and distracting. We’ll watch poor video with crisp sound but not crisp video with poor sound. Before publishing, I applied noise reduction to my clip and switched to 720p. This improved the sound but couldn’t do much for the video.
Perhaps upgrades are on the way.

Videos Of You

Have you seen those video bios where people describe what they do in a couple of minutes? The results often look choppy and unnatural. It’s as if the clips came from an assembly line using a standard formula and fill-in-the-blank scripts. Next, please. Reading from a teleprompter doesn’t help since we don't know how.
What’s the alternative?

You could get interviewed instead. There's much less for you to do. You're bound to look natural because you’re chatting with friendly interviewers who are on your side. When you focus on them, you won’t notice the cameras. You’ll also get much more usable footage.

If you're in the Toronto area and have something to say, you can apply to appear on Liquid Lunch. The experience is worthwhile.


PS Prepare a list of potential interview questions and your answers. This list wasn't used but helped me think of what I wanted to say. That's a blend of impromptu and prepared.

March 6, 2012


Comparing orange and appleApple faces a marketing dilemma. Steve Jobs had enough charisma to make the mundane and predictable look innovative. Look, the iPad 2 has a camera ... which the iPad 1 should have had.

Steve is gone but Apple fans will still camp out to buy the next new thing for the sake of having it. They’d camp out even if they didn’t know what they were getting.

Yet Apple is lagging in innovation. Instead of the wished-for iPhone 5, Apple released the less-than-groundbreaking iPhone 4S. It doesn’t even have 4G. Android devices are improving more quickly. For instance, Samsung with the Galaxy S II and beyond.

In the world of tablets, the iPad still reigns. Again, Android devices are getting better. I've talked to several iPad lovers and they have no plans to buy the iPad 3. That's partially because the prior models are so good. I haven't upgraded from my iPad 1.

The Hurdle

Apple's big hurdle is continuing to meet growing expectations. The next thing needs to dazzle (especially if the current one didn't). That strategy is tough to maintain indefinitely.

Another approach can win over the long run: incremental improvements. This isn't as splashy but works, especially with apps. Do you remember The Little Engine That Could? “I think I can ... I think I can” ... becomes “I did”. There's also The Tortoise And The Hare. Pacing won the marathon.


Microsoft also follows the next-big-thing model. Windows 8 gets touted as a big deal. I see no compelling reason to upgrade. I'll get Windows 8 preinstalled when I replace my computer, which isn’t imminent. Imagine if Microsoft made continual improvements to Windows 7 instead: 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 8.0.

You can't make incremental changes to gadgets like iPhones that you’ve already sold. You can with software that's designed for revisions. Windows isn't. Google services, iOS and apps are. Changes take place continually. There might not even be a charge.

If an app isn't quite good enough, you can still buy it without much worry since upgrades are likely. That's reassuring. You can make suggestions, which might change the developer's priorities.

Your Model

Which model do you follow: splash or incremental? Is that the best approach for your clients and your company?

Now that Steve Jobs is gone, I’m less compelled to buy Apple products. I only got the iPad 1. It's still my favourite gadget ever. Yet, next time I could easily get an Android device. The ThinkPad Tablet (review) has a stylus and looks well-designed for business. The next version may be compelling.

The Future

Apple is hardly a has-been. Yet hype gets ho-hum over time. There's the pending risk of getting overtaken. That’s not impossible. Samsung is getting better at designing products that work better and look better.

Do you remember when Sony was the company to watch? The Trinitron TV. The Walkman. The CD player. Samsung was second rate but kept improving and has become the company to watch. Imagine transparent, flexible bendable, foldable displays due this year (see the Daily Mail, Dec 2011). The tortoise may lack flash but can still win the marathon. And take a bite out of Apple.

Apple's next big announcements take place tomorrow on March 7, 2012. The frenzy keeps building. MSN says Apple could be the first company worth a trillion dollars. Maybe. Predicting the future based on the past is risky. Preferences change. Tomorrow’s Apple may be an orange.


PS Keep working on incremental improvements.