The Urgent vs. Important Matrix – Handling Interruptions

That incessant blinking light!

As a former investment banker, I have a very, well… unique relationship with my email. For those that aren’t familiar with the life of a banking analyst – email is treated as IM, text messaging, and a pager all rolled into one, with a 24/7 expectation of response. I once had an actual nightmare about that blinking red light on my Blackberry. Accordingly, I developed somewhat of a compulsion about checking email at all hours of the day and night, an affliction I feel is shared by many in corporate America. Many of us keep our Outlook open all day and our Blackberries at hand all night, just waiting to be interrupted by that little “New Mail” popup or blinking red light. Not only is that stressful, I think it’s killing our productivity.

A study by Microsoft showed just how lethal interruptions are to productivity. The researchers taped 29 hours of people working in a typical office, and found that they were interrupted on average four times each hour. Sounds like a day at most offices. Here’s the kicker – 40% of the time, the person did not resume the task they were working on before the interruption. The more complex the task, the less likely the person was to resume working on it after an interruption. That means most of us are getting derailed from our work four times each hour, maybe more if you work in a high email traffic office.

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30 by 30

Bill at Breckenridge, staring down a double black diamond

I travelled back to my hometown for Christmas this year and took the time while I was there to enjoy the company of old friends over drinks in familiar pubs. I spent one such night with a former colleague and great friend whom had always provided me with a sounding board and personal “level” during our time together in banking.

As we sat alternating rounds at one of our old haunts, he described to me a renewed outlook he had developed over the past several months of particularly long hours at work. He had come to the realization that in addition to professional success, personal zest for life was an equal contributing factor to one’s happiness. Accordingly, he resolved to inject some life back into his waking hours, and that began with a definition of what living meant.

When he sat down to define the things that make us happy, it became apparent that so many of us think that happiness is defined by “having”. That is to say having a 56″ TV, having a nice car, having an arbitrarily high account balance. What my friend realized is that “having” is a poor substitute for “doing”. Thinking back, I realized he was right. The happiest times in my life have not stemmed from things I had, but from things I did. The state championship my senior year of high school. The spontaneous overnight drive with roommates to Florida for a weekend in college. A wild weekend in New York City with my brother and a close friend. Experiences pay dividends far richer than possessions.

So, rather than medicating with shiny toys, we resolved to spend money “having” remarkable experiences with friends. We sat down to write out 30 things we each wanted to experience while we are still young and relatively unencumbered by family, mortgage, and age. We made plans to accomplish at least three of them in 2010 together. My list is titled “30 by 30”, and these are the things I wrote down.

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Use your “What” to find your “Why”

Recently, Philip Kaplan (aka “Pud”, founder of Adbrite and was emailed a question by a single mother looking to get her life back on track. Philip answered the question on his blog, and I found his answer particularly fascinating and relevant. The full text of Philip’s answer is replicated below:

Some people know what their passion is. Unfortunately, you do not. But I’m going to help you find it.

Here’s what you do:

Ask yourself, if you could do ANYTHING in the world, what would it be? What’s the ultimate fantasy that you’ll probably never actually achieve, but would be awesome? Rock star? Movie starlet? Teacher? Birthday party clown? Brad Pitt’s wife? That’s the “WHAT.”

Now ask yourself, “WHY?”

For example, my “WHAT” was “be a rock star heavy metal drummer!” Upon further analysis, my “WHY” was “I want to do something creative. I want freedom. I want to affect lots of people.”

As it turns out, there were about a million different more tangible things I could do, that would satisfy my “WHY.” That’s why I became a freelance web programmer: creativity, freedom, and the opportunity to reach the masses.

What’s your “WHAT?” What’s your “WHY?” You’ll be surprised how easy it is to satisfy your WHY, once you’ve figured out what it is.

I found that, as a college student rapidly approaching graduation, Philip’s advice to identify your “why” instead of focusing on your “what” was especially pertinent as I considered my long term career and happiness goals. I also think that his advice is helpful to entrepreneurs casting about for some direction in life. Many are so focused on becoming the next Web 2.0 darling, that I think they may have lost sight of why they embarked on an entrepreneurial career path in the first place.

Do what you love. Follow your why. The rest will fall into place.

What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur?

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Hours of banter, pages of writing, and thousands of dollars of research have been devoted to answering one of the most popular and elusive questions about entrepreneurship: “What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur?”. Is it a personality trait? Can entrepreneurship be learned? Can it be taught? What kind of person does it require? Can anyone become this kind of person, or are certain people born for the entrepreneurial life? These questions can be answered by examining anecdotal evidence, industry trends, and scientific research. And in short the answer is – it depends.

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Costs and Benefits of Taking Venture Capital Funding

To begin, I will direct you to a study done by Wells Fargo entitled “How Much Money Does it Take to Start a Small Business?”. The study found that the average small business needed only $10,000 to launch their venture, an amount easily attainable via bootstrap financing, without giving away any equity in your company. In fact, the Wells Fargo survey shows that 73 percent of entrepreneurs funded their startups primarily with personal savings. This indicates that you really don’t need a lot of money to start a small business, and the money you do need is probably within your personal reach, through personal savings or credit cards.

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