One Weird Productivity Hack

One Weird Productivity Hack

I get distracted. Not only ipso facto do I have mild case of attention deficit disorder, but I am also what one calls in marketing an “early adopter”. Early adopters love new shiny things, as do I. Most of time the connotation is that of people of love gadgets and camp out outside of Apple stores 2 days before the release of its new phone. Not me, not really a material guy. What’s my poison? Web based business or marketing apps, news and social networks.

A Partial Fix

It’s really quite bad. At work I find that the open space in which I work drags my attention away from doing what’s needed… colleague talk, a barking dog, someone making popcorn, etc. As such I have been using different coping mechanisms:

  1. Time tracking – reminds me when my mind wanders, asking what I’m working on and tracks my time.
  2. Task lists – I use Trello to see what tasks I and my team need to do (everyone can see this), append a time and date to them and place them in the order in which they should be done. I use the weekly, not monthly, calendar view to de-clutter.
  3. Notepad – one which has dates, each day is a page for notes, thoughts so I can trace back to what was going on in that day in sequence.
  4. Weekly planner – mapping out the week ahead of time, which is private (as opposed to Trello), its nice quality and accompanies me in daily meetings to make sure the team is on track for its weekly goals.
  5. End of week report – by the end of the week I submit to myself and my team to me a report which outlines: what was accomplished this week, what is planned for next week, what issues we ran into and what is a recommended remedy for them.

All these items are a great structure for me, which has made me over time much more productive and reduced stress from my work.

Get High for Productivity

However, the most interesting hack I have found is in getting high. As in sky high. As in flying. What did you think I meant? I find that when you fly, somehow – you get more done than ever before. I have seen this in myself and I have seen this reported by friends and witnessed it first hand when flying with colleagues.

The conditions are quite different than a normal work environment. For starters, you are trapped. You can’t go anywhere, there is very little chance of a distraction blowing through your work environment. You can’t get up and walk, or make popcorn, or have a small snack. There is no water-cooler chatter, or coffee to be made. Walking around isn’t appealing and well, if you paid for Internet you feel you put money in and thus need to make a return on it? Also, while I’m writing this post, there is not electrical socket for my laptop to charge… so for some reason I have been extremely prolific, finishing many tasks I have been putting off. Yes, on a 4 hour battery.

Go Nuts, You Have To

As such, to use a metaphor the best weird little productivity hack is to use a metaphorical straight jacket. Limit your motion, sensory stimulation (sit in front of a blank wall), auditory variance, that you are not connected to the Internet (use outlook, no need to be connected) unless completely needed to answer Internet specific tasks and that you stay seated for 50 minutes at a time.

I wish I was airborne all day long for the work yield I get out of flights. For the time being, I will just have to re-create that unpleasant, yet productive work environment.

The Paradox of Tactics

The Paradox of Tactics

A two year writing hiatus is best broken by this note – “Tactics will make you soar, but will not keep you air-born.”

Trough-out my career, I have noted, is that tactical work can be contrasted from strategic one in the following way:

Imagine a wheelbarrow, one person inside it, another outside – ready to push it downhill. That push, the construction of the wheelbarrow, the decision to take the leap these will all get you down the hill and moving forward. However, strategy would actually be plotting the path as you hurtle downwards and realizing, mid way, you don’t have a steering wheel.

The truth of the matter is that if you’re not willing to push, there will be no movement. However, without a plan the movement will be short lived as you crash into a ditch.

Build It, Then Tear It Down

The way I have been working to reconcile both of these realizations as of late is via the use of standard operating procedures (SOPs). The purpose is to decide on a:

  1. Workflow – high level
  2. Document tasks, owners, allotted time
  3. Roll it up, simplify the workflow and tasks – editorial work
  4. Quantify (use a reporting system)
  5. Optimize

Once you have a SOP (established flow, clear task ownership and timelines) and a way to quantify the steps and bottlenecks (CRM, Task Management, etc.) you have mapped your tactical tasks.

These quantified tactical lists are now applied into the strategic plan to see if projections are on point or not and how far off we are to reaching the fulfillment of the strategic plan.

Are We There Yet?

After the SOPs are live and performance on them is quantified, it’s time to see what’s wrong. If numbers are off by 20% the path to iterate with the SOPs is clear.

Iterating is done by altering a SOP or product feature, while keeping a control (a/b testing) to see if we are moving forward. To do so, you must plan an experiment which validates or invalidates an assumption you have made, and so:

  1. Write assumption
  2. Define experiment (tweaked SOP, or feature)
  3. Measure results against baseline
  4. Rinse and repeat

If you do not see growth via this method keep in mind that there might is a product to market fit issue.

Listening To The Market

In order to understand your experiments fully, qualitative research must be used. Asking a customer who is experiencing the control or new experiment what they were expecting is useful. Using the “five whys” method, in which you ask “what  were you expecting to see here” once and with each ensuing question ask “why?” will reveal a lot about the value you drive to customers.

What Do I Use?

  1. Task Mapping –
  2. SOP Creation –
  3. Strategic Plan –
  4. Market insight –
  5. Interviews –
Israel Advocacy at Rimon Club JCC

Israel Advocacy at Rimon Club JCC

I was invited by Masha Merkulova , a powerhouse of Jewish education and a fantastic person in general, to give a talk to the awesome Rimon Club she founded several years ago. The concept? Provide a social group where kids can learn about their Jewish heritage and their ties to Israel. In a few years Masha has amassed a loud cheerful gaggle of teens to learn about their history. The kids seem to love it and they seem to enjoy a sense of identity and purpose, beyond the usual rubbish they and I liked during our teens.

Intresting questions about how to defend their link to Israel, while being constantly attacked at school.

Intresting questions about how to defend their link to Israel, while being constantly attacked at school.

Masha forwarded me this note about one the kids enjoying our talk from one of the parents:

I have never seen … so excited after club Z as he was yesterday. In fact I have not seen him excited about anything for awhile.
Ben has to give  a speech in his English class next week (part of the curriculum). He chose Middle East conflict from Israel perspective as his topic. What he wrote over weekend was quite mediocre. He came home last night and worked until pass 1am to rewrite it. I liked the final product 🙂
His English teacher is a Berkeley graduate… We’ll see what grade he gets 😉


Israel 101 at Santa Cruz University, CA

Israel 101 at Santa Cruz University, CA

Amidst the fighting in Gaza with IAF air strickes against Hamas missiles, 1.5 million Israelis dodging missiles lobbed at them I gave a talk in UC Santa Cruz. I was invited by the fantastic “SLUGS” AKA as the “Santa Cruz Israel Action Committee”. The event took place in the Stevenson Fireside Lounge in Stevenson College. My benevolent hosts: Barry Jacobs and Danielle Maimon. They were fantastic. The session lasted 2.5 hours with over 50 attendees.

You can listen to the session, attached as a podcast.

Heavy Gates of Gaza – Moshe Dayan 1956

Heavy Gates of Gaza – Moshe Dayan 1956

As relevant today as it was back then. Truly my personal “I believe” when it comes to Israel.

Moshe Dayan in Tel Aviv (09), Photo by Guy Eisner

“Yesterday at dawn Ro’i was murdered…

…The quiet of the spring morning blinded him and he didn’t notice the ambush in the field… let’s not accuse the murderers today… for eight years they have been sitting in their refugee camps while we build our country in front of their eyes on a land of their old villages and forefathers… a group of Jewish youngsters, sitting in Nahal Oz, are carrying on their shoulders the heavy gates of Gaza…. This is our destiny and this is our only choice of life here: to be ready, to be armed and to be tough… we have to be able to defend ourselves…. Let’s face it: If the sword falls out of our fists, our lives here are cut off.”
Translated by Itai Dewar
Presentation: Netivot Shalom, Berekely

Presentation: Netivot Shalom, Berekely

I delivered a presentation in Netivot Shalom synagogue in Berkely, CA.

The flyer made me laugh:

“Peace Between Intifadas: Challenges to Public Opinion in Israel”

Nico Black, 31, served in the military in a unit composed of Palestinians and Israelis as a liaison to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza.  With a country jolting violently between hope and terror, he recounts how coexistence, peace and war have pushed many Israelis his age into confusion and some to apathy.

Growing up in a hyper-political family from the Israeli left, his family’s’ political outlook contrasted sharply and violently with the realities outside his doorstep. His childhood and teen years were jolted by the first Intifada, “the knifing period”, First Gulf War, the murder of Rabin, and the suicide bombings of 1996.

Ultimately Nico’s experience as a liaison helped him to bridge the cognitive dissonance he experienced between pro-peace dogma and right wing extremism. Through relationships with his Palestinian colleagues, he developed understanding into the fundamental schism between the Jewish and the Palestinian national movements, from the ground up.

Nico advocates for the liberal, centrist position for Israel and the Palestinians while rejecting partisan extremism.  He obtained an MA from Tel Aviv University and currently works as an online marketing strategist. He lives in Alameda with his wife.

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear an Israeli who grew up and worked with Palestinians and has been a PERSONAL friend to the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister.

Nico Black gives a talk on Israel peace process in Netivot Shalom

Nico Black gives a talk on Israel peace process in Netivot Shalom

This was the very gracious letter I got from the organizer after the event:

You overwhelmed our attendees today. Your presentation was so well prepared and so powerfully delivered. I was really moved as were so many others. Thank you so much for all your efforts in preparing such an impressive talk. I hope that you are open to working with SWU and repeating your presentation for college groups; it is so mesmerizing. Many more people need to hear your story and presentation. I hope that you recognized the impact you were making. I can’t recall seeing such rapt attention from our group. Your personal anecdotes made it so real and the way you constructed your slides with the movie titles and with the “peace index” drove your message across very clearly. You seem to be a natural marketeer.

I was very particular about who we would have as our first speaker for our Israeli Speaker Series – I wanted to set the tone for a dynamic, powerful series. You exceeded all my expectations and I received so many positive comments from those who attended.

Todah Rabah not only for the talk, but also for being willing to share your story and reliving so many difficult memories.

All my appreciation and best wishes for success in your new position. I hope we get to see you again.

AdWords as a Research Tool

AdWords as a Research Tool

So many companies have become allergic to using AdWords. The reason? With the ability to track exactly what ads and keywords one uses in their campaigns via tools like SEMRush maintaining an advantage over time is highly difficult. A winning approach is to use AdWords as a competitive intelligence research tool.

By the time one stops a campaign with adwords they would have accrrued a lot of useful data. On the content network, using conversion tracking, you will have found websites that generate sales. With the search network, you would have found keywords that provide revenues.

Because Google Adwords are a competitive marketplace, every time you bid on a placement or keyword you are limited. You are limited to the rules of the game that the AdWords supply and demand market creates. This market place merely replaces two other marketplaces that are significantly less competitive. Those are: search engine optimization and media buying.

By using AdWords as a research tool and not as a channel, one can fine out what keywords are worth hunting and what ad placements one should acquire with niche websites by going for a direct media buy.

The Branding Coefficient (BrandCo)

The Branding Coefficient (BrandCo)

The only way you can really optimize an online business is work against a single metric. That metric should be the one your business is judged by, whether it is leads, downloads, sales, etc.

I had a very interesting discussion this week with an online retailer. This retailer was concerned about the intrinsic tension between performance based marketing and branding.

Generally, performance based marketers cringe at the mention of the word “brand”. They care about hard conversions, returns on investment and cold cash.

The brand fanatic has a vision; they see where the company is headed. They see that in order to capture the vision they can’t wallow in mud too much. They cannot sacrifice their brand for one off sales. They want to build a relationship, nurture a community and build brand equity.

Being a like  fan junkie will kill your business

The Likeoholic by Assaf Hanuka: Being a like fan junkie will kill your business

So how does one reconcile the brand with the science of online marketing? Well, I thought it over and decided to call it: “the branding coefficient” or “brandco”. This coefficient is something for the brand owner to decide on. It should be a percent. This percent is how much of pure performance marketing they are willing to sacrifice for the brand. So while the performance based marketer will naturally aim for positive ROI, their results should be judged by an ROI coefficient. This might represent 10% of their ROI, so if a campaign is 95% ROI (so a 5% loss) when adding the brandco the campaign now swings into a positive ROI of 105% (whether or not to keep that campaign is another question entirely).

Additional metrics that must be considered with the brandco are: email signups (relationship building), time on site (indicators of engagement), bounce rate (relevance) and social sharing (enthusiasm, endorsement). Each one of these metrics can comprise the brandco. This helps avoid the undoing of an online business: pure intuition based decision making.

Dangers of Not Outsourcing

Dangers of Not Outsourcing

Public outcry about jobs being shipped abroad? That’s because outsourcing isn’t done right. Let’s take an example from Apple. Apple has outsourced its manufacturing to China and was crowned the richest company in the world today. Not bad considering that 15 years ago they were 90 days away from going bankrupt. Outsourcing has allowed them to create more jobs where it matters.

How has outsourcing helped so many forward thinkers in industry increase their bottom line, growing both profits and jobs? it all started with the concept of JIT: Just in Time. This Japanese auto manufacturing principles helped march Japan into auto manufacturing primacy in the 70s. The concept? Order critical parts of your process production by pitting vendors against each other. Then select the one that matches your tender fastest and closest to budget. Bad results? Move on to another vendor willing to take your business.

This process allows you to test and build new parts to your process. It also creates a process and company mindset to optimize the vendor selection process by “split testing” them. Thus, the capacity for improvement is endless (only limited by budget / cash-flow / technology).

The Near Far Dichotomy

One of the challenges of not outsourcing seems like a non issue for a traditional business: location. Real story: my friend needed a personal assistant to help his budding credit card processing business a few months ago. And so he tapped into his social network, acquiring a personal assistant. This provider shows up at his home office once a week on Sunday for 4 hours to help him out. But here are some questions:

  1. What if he needed more than 4 hours on Sunday? What if he was on a road-trip? (which it was, he went cross country with family). Can the business afford to stop due to the limitations of an established physical meeting work process?
  2. What if he quickly needed to scale? He needs say not 4 hours a week, but 180? Where would he find the resources to do that?
  3. Is his assistant really the best match or value? His social network is limited to a couple hundred people (judging by his Facebook + linkedin connections). What are the chances he’s getting the best bang for his buck?

It is my experience, that being bound to the physical realm is a serious hindrance for flexibility and scaling of a business. Those are not the kind of shackles you need moving forward.

You Talking To Me?

Unlike relationships, lack of communications doesn’t ultimately get cast aside in the form of a disillusioned spouse. In business bad communication cost both heartbreak and money (although that can be argued to be the case in marriage as well). Imagine conducting your current relationship as is, but without the ability to communicate face to face. Sounds like a nightmare right? Well, it is.

The solution, like managing any relationship is in training and procedures. With outsourcing being very detail oriented is key and the use of lots of examples via screenshots and hyperlinks to illustrate your points.

The procedure, the standardization of the communication process requires the use of the right tools. No, email won’t cut it. Too many threaded discussions, to many lost files, etc. The use of software like / / pivotaltracker will help make communications fluid (I use all three: trello for top level planning, yammer for seamless discussions across time zones and teams, pivotatracker for software development).

The worst a communicator you are, the more tempted you get at keeping communications on a face to face basis. Face to face is indeed easier, but you lose out on a ton of benefits.

In House Talent Outsourced Talent

Mazel tov! By building a flexible set of contractors you have tapped into the endless potential of optimization. While the conventional wisdom is to allow your own in house team to develop in your firm, there is a significantly more robust alternative.

Assuming each one of your employees has a metric or metrics they perform against, you can perform a simple test. The test is: take our “regular” employees output and test that “against” 5 other outsourced providers. The winner in terms of cost divided by metric is your new “functionary”.

Your dear trusted employee? Well, don’t worry – they are still critically important. They can now become an overseer of the outsourced providers to ensure quality, provide documentation and training. If the function that has now been proven is something that you may want to scale, having that employee now manage 20 of such providers. Optimizing and scaling can really help you grow your business fast. You can also let your employee go, but that’s usually a bad use of organizational knowledge. It’s also demoralizing for the rest of your team.

The Low Risk Product Launch

The Low Risk Product Launch

So here it is: that idea that’s so epic that it will have Zukenberg grovelling at your feet. The vision is grand, the solution is needed and so, the chances of getting it to work are close to nil.

Why is the world changing, grand solution such a huge risk? Mostly, in my experience, its because executing it will be so time consuming. As a matter of fact, if you can’t get a version up and running in 2 weeks, don’t bother. And when I say 2 weeks I mean 180 hours.

If your product, solution can’t provide value and entice feedback after 180 hours of work, something here is wrong. Its not that the idea is wrong, its that the risk involved in a long development cycle is going to throw everything off. The market will move, economics will shift, competitors will join and the earth will make one too many a rotation and will throw you off course.

Saw a video by Josh Kopelman seems like a VC with First Round Capital that also invested in my old company His metaphor is that an entrepanuer needs to be like a heat seeking missile, it has a clear path but can also move and shift based on the targets movements. Well, I agree with Mr. Kopelman, but say this… your chances of hitting are much increased the shorter the distance you need to traverse.

Two weeks do that, they set a very actionable, very tight and very effective time-frame to plan, build execute and gauge response from your market. No point building the world largest crossbow when gunpowder is right around the corner, right?

This is my new principle with projects… productivity has certainly improved so far… now I am waiting for the results…