Wasting Time on Productivity


Wasting Time On Productivity - Brass Tack ThinkingFor the most part, we all really think we’re busy, and that our work is important.Ask anyone you know how they are, and their likely response: “Busy!” I’ve been guilty myself.We talk about slaying the inbox dragon and achieving “inbox zero” (which is a terrible objective, incidentally, but that’s a different discussion). We scramble for the latest productivity apps, shortcuts, or new-shiny methods, lamenting how over-communicated and over-connected we are all the time and hungry for something, anything to help us feel less overwhelmed. We tweet about it and Facebook about it, sharing our busy with everyone so they know we’redoing a lot of stuff.To an extent our overwhelm is a product of our environment, but mostly it’s a monster of our own making. Too often, what we’re really doing is focusing on our “busyness” because we feel desperately powerless over the actual things we need to achieve or get done, or we’ve no idea where to start and we think that being more “efficient” is the answer. Continuar leyendo «Wasting Time on Productivity»
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Sometimes The Answer Is Giving Up


Sometimes The Answer Is Giving Up - Brass Tack Thinking

This week’s handwritten posts are part of the Power to the Pen project, and I’ve got some nifty pens and a small check for my time and handwriting. It’s been a super fun project, and I appreciate Pilot Pen for including me!

I’m Not A Good Boss


I'm Not A Good Boss - Brass Tack Thinkingbrasstackthinking.com

There are so many articles and books and even seminars out there about how to be a better boss. What makes a good boss. What makes a crappy boss.

I have a confession to make: I’m not a very good boss at all.

This isn’t link bait or some kind of clever turn of phrase in which I’m going to turn the whole thing around and make it into the ways I’m really a GREAT boss. I’m not.

Managing people is my weakness, actually. I’ve managed teams up to 30+ people, but I really don’t think I excelled at that at all.

I’m really, really good at setting out a vision. I’m really good at building and presenting a strategy, or even mapping out a path to get from point A to point B with sharp clarity. I’m really good at interpreting a bunch of complex concepts into concrete, understandable ideas. That’s what makes me great at the consulting and advisory work I do, because it emphasizes the work within which I absolutely excel.

What I’m not good at is mentoring people, dealing with the day to day nuances of managing a team of individual people. I get frustrated when there’s petty and personal differences between people that distract from their work. I get impatient with people who need to be coached and cheered on from the sidelines, because I suck at that kind of encouragement. I’m not warm and fuzzy, so when people management requires that of me, I’m not good at it. At all.

I think this is an important topic to discuss because not everyone is great at everything. Nor should you be. Continuar leyendo «I’m Not A Good Boss»

Better Business English: 16 Confusing Words and Phrases Clarified


Brass Tack Thinking - Better Business Englishbrasstackthinking.com
Ah, English.

That pesky language that trips us all up from time to time. The emergence of short form communication like texts and tweets isn’t helping our cause here. Neither is a decline in reading and reading comprehension.

Truly, how you speak and write leaves an impression, even if you’re only using 140 characters. No matter how much language evolves (and I agree that it does), some mistakes just make you sound sloppy at best and ignorant at worst.

Call me a word nerd or a grammar snob if you must, but I maintain that business communication is vital and doing it well is still important. That includes communication in email and on the web. And while all of the following examples are applicable to any kind of writing or speech, I’m especially keen to improve what I see and hear on the business front day in and day out.

So here are 16 words and phrases that seem to get misused and abused a great deal.

Have more? Add them in the comments.

Hear, Hear.

The phrase isn’t “here, here”.

“Hear, hear” originated in the British House of Commons and is a short form of the cheer for “hear him, hear him”. They don’t do applause much in Parliament, so this phrase is a substitute for that.

For all intents and purposes Continuar leyendo «Better Business English: 16 Confusing Words and Phrases Clarified»

How I Blog at Brass Tack Thinking

How I Blog at Brass Tack Thinking

So my friend Mitch Joel wrote a post a week or so ago about how he blogs, and he tagged a few of us misfits in hopes that we’d write one of our own. So because I’d hate to do anything to let Mitch down — he is charming, after all — here’s a post about my blogging process, which amazingly enough has stayed pretty consistent over the years.

My Philosophy

I write to discover what I think.

That’s a paraphrase of a quote from esteemed and outrageously talented writer Joan Didion. She’s amazing, but this philosophy really resonates with me and it’s been at the core of my blog from day one. Sometimes I have a definitive idea and the exercise is putting that into words. Other times I have a question I don’t at all have an answer to. Writing is as much an exploratory thing for me as a declarative thing.

My blog has certainly been helpful as a qualifier for people who want to work with me, including a big part of what landed me the gig with Radian6 back what seems like forever ago (and was actually in 2008) and my book contract. It’s a powerful marketing and positioning tool, and I deeply appreciate and value its place in my work.

But it’s never been a deliberate, crafted exercise in “what will make people hire me or buy stuff?” when I write. I suck at SEO, I don’t follow blogging “rules”, I don’t agonize over headlines like I should and I rarely pitch my stuff or write about the hot new thing or create controversy to stir some traffic. I couldn’t tell you what my traffic numbers are if you asked me, and that’s not humblebrag false humility BS, it’s seriously that I don’t know, because it’s not what I write for.

Writing is a form of exploration and expression for me that happens to also have business benefits because I’m moderately good at it. Blogging is a wonderful, shorter form outlet for thoughts. A testing ground for ideas, a way to communicate with colleagues and the community, a platform to have a voice (or the tiny illusion of one) in a very restless and noisy world.

Capturing Ideas

Evernote is my go to app for capturing ideas on the fly, because I can get to it from my phone or my iPad or my laptop and never forget where I wrote something down. It can be just a post idea, or a few full-blown paragraphs that come to mind.

Sometimes I do turn to my trusty Moleskine, because my brain works like this: In the early stages of a concept when I’m still brainstorming or thinking, I *have* to do it on paper. I don’t totally understand why. But once I get something to a place where I can outline the major bits, I can start typing. Before that, it’s got to be pen on paper.

I have 202 drafts in my blogging notebook in Evernote as of today.Most of them will never see the light of day, they were shards of ideas or aimless wanderings down dead-end paths. There’s a few hotheaded rants in there that aren’t worthy of publishing but were particularly helpful for purging a bit of energy in the moment (they sound downright silly now). Some drafts will die in the notebook. Others I’ll rediscover months from now and I’ll surface them again thanks to a spark of inspiration.

I find ideas everywhere. Sometimes it’s carrying forward with where someone else’s idea leaves off. Other times it’s sparked by a conversation started on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll think of something on a plane, in the shower (thank heaven for bathtub crayons when that happens), in the midst of reading a book, during a totally unrelated movie. I’ve learned from experience that if I don’t have a place to put it, I’ll forget it, so I write it down.

Sometimes I forget what I was trying to tell myself, or my own notes read like hieroglyphics. That’s ok. It’s better than losing the really good post idea because I was half asleep when it showed up.


I’m built on WordPress, but never EVER ever ever EVER write straight in the browser. I’ve lost too many drafts that way. I write in Evernote, then move it to the blog to format and post.

It takes me anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to compose a post, depending on its complexity and whether it’s a concrete thought or an exercise in making a thought concrete.

Sometimes I sit and write a post in one shot. Others I have to come back to a couple of times to get them clear. I wish I was the kind of person who could claim a writing discipline that manifests in a metered fashion, but I’m a bit different than that.

When Jay and I wrote The Now Revolution, he wrote 1,500 words a day, period. I write something everyday, but sometimes it’s personal. Sometimes it’s work work. And for the book, I would go days on end with nothing written and then bang out 15,000 words in a sitting (which drove poor Jay nuts when we were close to deadline). As a result, when I get in a writing groove for the blog, I’ll often write a handful of posts and bank them or schedule them for later. Because I know I’ll have days where writing for the blog just isn’t in my brain stream.

Once upon a time I was pretty disciplined about publishing 3 times a week. That’s softened a bit as I get a new business up and running, and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to a rigid schedule here or not. I like the freedom that comes from publishing when I’m inspired, though I know my blog gets more consistent growth when I publish predictably. My goal for this blog isn’t growth, though. It’s something different now. That’s another post.

Post…uh…Post Continuar leyendo «How I Blog at Brass Tack Thinking»

Social Media: Quality or Quantity?

Quality – of information, of leads, of interactions – helps us focus our efforts and energy in the right places. It makes relationship development a more scalable activity, because we can reach one-to-one or one-to-few more personally than we can one-to-many. It provides a richness and depth of experience, or the feeling of a worthwhile investment, and helps us conceivably derive a better value-to-effort ratio for the things in which we invest our money or brain power.

Quantity, on the other hand, provides us with the field of information, leads, or interactions to draw from. More isn’t always better; 10 outstanding blog posts is arguably better than 50 mediocre ones, and a representative sample is better than a whole pile of garbage data. But some is often better than none, and quantity (even a minimal one) gives us a starting ground for most things. That can be the potential reach of an audience, a field of data with which to at least begin some analysis, or simply a diversity of perspectives upon which to make an informed choice or decision.


Social Media: Quality or Quantity? - Brass Tack Thinking

In social media, is it quality or quantity that matters?


Here’s what I mean.

Quality and quantity, in the cases of many goals and objectives, are inextricably linked. They’re relative, and one can outweigh the other or the scale can be different. But it’s a rare case in business when it’s actually only one or the other.

Quality – of information, of leads, of interactions – helps us focus our efforts and energy in the right places. It makes relationship development a more scalable activity, because we can reach one-to-one or one-to-few more personally than we can one-to-many. It provides a richness and depth of experience, or the feeling of a worthwhile investment, and helps us conceivably derive a better value-to-effort ratio for the things in which we invest our money or brain power.

Quantity, on the other hand, provides us with the field of information, leads, or interactions to draw from. More isn’t always better; 10 outstanding blog posts is arguably better than 50 mediocre ones, and a representative sample is better than a whole pile of garbage data. But some is often better than none, and quantity (even a minimal one) gives us a starting ground for most things. That can be the potential reach of an audience, a field of data with which to at least begin some analysis, or simply a diversity of perspectives upon which to make an informed choice or decision.

The key is to find the point of diminishing returns: when the quality of outcomes is offset or even negatively impacted effort of collecting additional quantity .

That’s not going to be the same for my business as it is for yours. It’s not going to be the same in B2B as it is in B2C or for a nonprofit as it is a Fortune 100 consumer brand. Questions to ask yourself might include:

  • What constitutes a valuable use of one hour of my time consuming content? Is it one big idea that I can implement in the next year? Three small actions I can take next week? Entertaining myself or taking a break from work to rest my mind?
  • What’s the cost (time, technology, or a combination of the two) for me to collect 1,000 email addresses, or 100? How much money do I need to make back from those addresses to have made it worth my while, or is there another outcome or cost savings that I can count as a return?
  • Can I further worthwhile discussions of my cause or point of view if I don’t have a platform upon which to spread them? How big does it need to be to gain traction? How small does it need to remain to feel focused?
  • How much “engagement” can I generate via my social profiles before maintaining that level of interaction won’t scale and will frustrate my community? If they had to choose, would my community prioritize individual attention over speed of information?
  • How many months of data do I need to track to know if my campaign is having the desired results? Am I tracking the data points that tell me something useful, or just tracking lots of them? Continuar leyendo «Social Media: Quality or Quantity?»

The Simple Complexity of Outstanding Customer Service

But she could get by with the bare minimum. She could be pleasant but not super friendly. She could wait to be asked before providing a bunch of helpful information, or extras like looking at the availability of upgraded seats. She could seem like she’s doing her job competently, but she likely doesn’t get paid based on going above and beyond to be enthusiastic and proactively helpful.

Yet, she was. She clearly gets satisfaction out of being outstanding and helpful. And she absolutely MADE my morning of travel, putting me at ease and putting a smile on my face (which is a feat before I’ve had caffeine, as anyone who has encountered me in the morning can attest).

Outstanding customer service is not complicated. There was nothing particularly fancy here, no tricks or gimmicks or whizbang technology. But Fran was helpful, friendly, clearly enjoyed her job, and made me feel like she was glad I was there.

The problem is that these concepts are exceedingly simple, yet so few companies set the bar there. It’s not cheap nor easy to find the Frans of the world and keep them motivated, happy and continually rewarded for being exceptional, much less to have Fran at scale (it’s far easier in a concierge-like environment like this one). The basics aren’t necessarily sexy, or “viral”, or likely to make the media.

Moreover, when we find people like her, we promote them into management and remove them from the places where they can make an outstanding and direct difference, because our companies aren’t built to create authority, career development, and prestige in front-line roles.


The Simple Complexity of Outstanding Customer Service - Brass Tack ThinkingSomeone at American Airlines, please give Fran a raise.

I travel a lot, so I fork over the cash each year – about $500 – to be a member of American’s Admiral’s Club. It’s a nice little airline lounge that they have in a lot of major airports, including my home base of O’Hare, and it makes waiting for a flight easier with some snacks and beverages, free wifi, comfortable seats and plentiful outlets. Way worth the money in itself.

I walked in yesterday before my flight to Austin, and was greeted by Fran at the desk. I handed over my card so she could check me in, and she asked my destination.

With a big smile, Fran went on to say:

“Well, welcome Ms. Naslund. Flight 3600 is departing out of gate G13 today, and I currently show an aircraft on the ground and a crew checked in, so you should be all set for an on time departure. We’ll be boarding at about 9:15 and we’ll announce the flight as it comes up, and if there are any delays, I’ll let you know.

Now let me see if there might be any upgrades available….ah, unfortunately not today, but I do have a bulkhead seat held if you’d like that instead of your current seat assignment.”

(I accepted with gratitude…) Continuar leyendo «The Simple Complexity of Outstanding Customer Service»

The Fluidity and Demands of Social Business Work

Part of the adaptation resistance we feel in businesses trying to become more social is that they’re taking an old model – the 5 day week fit into a daytime 40 hours – and desperately trying to fit it around the inconsistent and differing patterns that define a connected, networked and vastly more nimble global network. Strapping hours on your Twitter bio will not forever meet the needs of customers, employees, partners, supply chain, and the people who deliver on the work we’ve ultimately promised.

Here’s where I have some questions for you.

What do you think defines a professional commitment in today’s era? As a worker of any kind, what should you expect to commit? Is it different than it has been? If so, what will make that commitment worthwhile?
How can companies adapt an industrial-era mindset into a modern one while surmounting the challenges of sheer scale and cost of having a larger, more distributed and flexible workforce? Or are there savings in there instead of costs?
What does that mean for the education and induction that we’re giving to the next generation of workers, whether skilled or knowledge based or both?


The Fluidity And Demands of Social Business Work - Brass Tack ThinkingFew of us work a 5-day, 40-hour week anymore.

So if that’s true, and we’ve largely accepted that, why are we still trying to force social business evolution into the bounds of those days and hours?

Fluidity is a continually emerging reality in business. I struggle mightily with this personally, because I don’t believe that even the most entrepreneurial of us are winning medals when we get out there and flaunt our exhaustive, 80-hour workweek and lack of weekends as some kind of masochistic badge of honor. In fact, it tells me that we simply aren’t being smart with how we work, not telling us that we should just keep working and working and working until we break.

Stack that, however, against the ever-present reality that the online world does not tick according to the industrial era clock. We had metered, 8-hour days for a reason. Assembly lines needed to meet quotas and factories needed to meet the demands of their customers but without endangering their workforces.

Yet, the web is a fluid thing that rarely collectively sleeps… Continuar leyendo «The Fluidity and Demands of Social Business Work»

The Social Media Time Suck Is Our Own Fault

The tools aren’t the problem, we are.

The tools are inert in and of themselves but we, the people operating them, are the catalyst that can realize their potential or turn them into spinning wheels and dead ends. Adapting how we work isn’t easy, but it’s necessary and it’s not new. We adapted to the phone. We adapted to the emergence of the web and email, and learned how to integrate these things into how we build and operate our companies. There’s good uses of all of those things, and there are complete wastes of time.

Social’s value is still partially hidden in – or hindered by – our adaptability and vision.

If there’s a waste of time involved, it’s based in errors of human judgment and not in the nature of social itself. But if we can envision things strategically, quit hitting the panic button, and breathe social into our businesses gradually and with some critical thought, the business case might just become easier to illustrate.

Accountability counts in business, too.


The Social Media Time Suck Is Our Own Fault - Brass Tack ThinkingContinuing to talk about social media as a “time suck” instead of focusing on how to better manage the investmentof time is just one way we’re going to keep marginalizing it and wondering why the leadership of organizations doesn’t take it seriously or discuss it strategically.

Everything worthwhile in business requires time. And just about anything on earth can become a waste of time if the person doing it isn’t accountable for the purpose behind it or if the strategy and implementation is considered in isolation, apart from the ripple effect it can and will have through the rest of the business. Every process, every technical solution we use from email to CRM to the telephone on our desk can be a time sink or an absolutely critical investment of effort.

We are in danger of abusing social, both in terms of asking it to shoulder the burden of our misdirected business models and in being horrifically short sighted about its gradual role in business’ overall communication evolution rather than treating it like something we desperately want to shortcut, set, and forget. Continuar leyendo «The Social Media Time Suck Is Our Own Fault»

Change Is Sexy, Until it Costs

If a short term marketing gimmick is all you’re after, that’s fine (and it’s still going to require investment). But if you are really trying to adapt your business to the demands and pressure that social communication and culture is creating, and ensure that you’re integrating social horizontally as well as vertically, it’s a long-term play – think years, not months – that will require you to commit effort and resources, and embrace the discomfort that comes with change.

If those things don’t interest you, you aren’t ready to be a social business. That’s the uncomfortable truth. Change is a sexy idea, until it costs. But the result of that change is what eventually defines you and the future of your business. The companies investing in their business models will win, every time.


Brass Tack Thinking - Change Is Sexy, Until It Costs“I’d like to better use social to build my business.

But I don’t want to spend anything because we don’t have a budget, and we can’t cut anything else. I don’t want to have to hire anyone or spend any extra time on this, and no one else can take it on right now, so we’ll need to outsource it or perhaps put the intern in charge of it. We like our culture the way it is and don’t see anything wrong with it, and we’ve always done things this way so we’re not really keen to change any of our processes or people. Some rhetoric around developing a positive culture would be great, but we really don’t have any intention of putting any of that into practice if it involves significant effort or any kind of substantial change that might disrupt the way that we work or how we work with our customers currently.

So we’re really looking for some free strategy guidance, but we’d like to reserve the right to reject it outright if it feels uncomfortable or unfamiliar. We’d like some viral content that’s easy and cheap to create, and we’re really not interested in investing any time or people long term on this. Just looking for some some proven, guaranteed best practices that we can implement immediately, get immediate return on, set on autopilot, call ourselves “social” and not worry about integrating into the rest of our business because we’re looking for a quick win here that doesn’t really require much from us.

Can you help?” Continuar leyendo «Change Is Sexy, Until it Costs»

Name Your Price

What are you trying to get?

A break?
A job?
A book deal?
A feeling of control?
Of power?
Of peace?
More money?
More love?
More fame?

Okay. Another one:

by Tamsen McMahon

I have a question for you:

What are you trying to get?

A break?
A job?
A book deal?
A feeling of control?
Of power?
Of peace?
More money?
More love?
More fame?

Okay. Another one: Continuar leyendo «Name Your Price»


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