1. Five Habits of Moderately Effective People

    Let’s be honest. We’re not all capable of attaining the skills and discipline of the GTD, business mavericks of our day: Tim Ferriss, Guy Kawasaki, etc. Even the title of this post is a play on the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in recognition of the fact that not everyone is an overachiever. Consider this the advice for average people.

    Of course, if you can attain even half the discipline that the overachievers have and become moderately effective, it might give you the skills needed to take your life to the next level.

    1. Write Things Down

    It never ceases to amaze me out how much information people trust to their memory alone. Memories are the worse enemies a business-person can have. They don’t always remember details, or specifics, and when you need them the most, they’re likely to be on vacation, only to show up at 1 AM in the morning, days late and needing a bath.

    I use a combination of to-do lists, grid-paper notepads, and GTD software to track notes, and items that I need to respond to later on. I rarely walk out of a meeting without filling 2-3 pages with scribbled notes and stick-man figures to help me remember important items that I need to either follow up on, or for future brainstorming.

    Tools of choice: Basecamp, Things (iPhone, OSX), Ampad Easle Pad.

    2. Communicate like a pro

    Many “connected” business-people today overextend their communication options to the world. They advertise that they are available through their cellphone, landline, facebook account, twitter, linkedin, and email — only to be angry when a client contacts them at an inconvenient time or through a less convenient platform.

    This is a mistake, and I’ve got two solutions that when used in tandem will make you much better at communicating with your customers.

    Set rules & expectations

    In the above example, the “business-person” has advertised that they are available for communication through just about any possible method available today. However, you can’t possibly track all messages and organize them effectively.

    It’s not that you need to go out and delete all your accounts on LinedIn or Facebook, however, you do need to let customers know that even though you’ll connect with them on certain networks, you need to channel your communication via “x method”. When working with a new client, or connecting with people on LinkedIn, I will typically send them a short message detailing out the best ways to get in touch with me.

    Often, clients will forget, and try to contact you via some rarely used method, I try to handle these gracefully, remind them of the best ways to reach me, and move on.

    Learn to follow through

    My email inbox is stuffed by 7 AM most mornings. By 9 AM I have sorted, scheduled responses, or delegated tasks from the emails so that I am nearly at a inbox-zero status.

    We’ve ported all our company emails through to Google Base, so all email, docs, and calendars are easily accessible to the team. By using their labeling and filtering system there is no excuses for letting an email slip.

    One technique that helps you stay on track with your communication is to make yourself accountable. I will often call or email a client back after recieving their message, let them know that I can’t talk at the moment, and then schedule a time to either email them back with an answer or a time to talk on the phone. Once that time is set, I put it right into my iCal for the day, set a reminder that gives me time to actually produce a response, and move on with the tasks at hand.

    3. Establish a routine

    No matter who you are, having some type of routine in your life can help you reinforce behavior. This is ofcourse a two-way street. If you can use routine to reinforce positive behavior and avoid the negative (getting in a rut), you’ll find that new challenges are less of a road block.

    By learning to establish and keep a routine, you can learn to process your day’s work very effectively.

    For example: I have specific times of the day where I break from work, go to the gym, and clear my head, focusing on a “ideas time” where I brainstorm ideas, and in general, think of anything but the tasks on my to-do list. This break from creativity does wonders for my mind and body.

    Word of warning, most people have difficulty using routine effectively because they don’t see it as something that is flexible. When something new comes up that throws them out of their routine they get frustrated, or become inflexible, which is just defeating the purpose of having a routine.

    Instead of having a routine that forces you to a specific time-schedule, I have a routine that acts more like a “guideline for daily activities”. I try to eat a meal before 9 AM, I try to go to the gym before 9 am, but if that doesn’t work, I have a snack, and go to the gym at 10 AM, it’s more about getting tasks done than when you get them done.

    4. Be an idea machine

    I read copious amounts of blog posts, newspapers, tweets and emails throughout the day. These sources of information and thought tend to generate ideas… most of them are crap, but sometimes, I can really develop an amazing product, or service all from a single tweet, or thought.

    Again, it’s important that you have good note-taking skills, write down as many details of your idea as possible, archive it for later when you have a clear mind that can review your thoughts in a more analytical process.

    For me, this is more than a way to make money. It’s a way of keeping my brain fresh, agile, and healthy.

    Tools of choice: Ampad Easle Pad, Idea Organizer (iPhone).

    5. Stop living in your comfort zones!

    I’ve learned over the years that many connections that I’ve made over the years were built on nothing but the fact that I made a good impression. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the most qualified candidate, or wasn’t the most affordable, but rather that I came off as a trustworthy, smart, adult.

    It never ceases to amaze me that people can treat themselves like complete trash, neglect their health, appearance, and demeanor, and then are surprised when someone treats them like the person they appear to be. People go through their life, insecure about their looks, personality, and capabilities, missing out on opportunities both professionally and in their personal life. The lucky few figure it out early, but the majority, waste 20-30 years of their life, passing up on things because they don’t respect themselves enough to get over their insecurities and step outside their comfort zones.

    The next time you feel uncomfortable at the prospect of trying something new, don’t look at the situation with fear, but with excitement; it’s just your brain’s way of telling you that you get to experience something new and exciting!

    6. Bonus: Get off your ass, get out there, and crush it.