A deadline is looming

A deadline doesn’t really feel like a deadline until it’s inches from your face.

That’s unfortunate–by that time, you’re about to get punched. That feeling quickly spreading is called panic.

You should always feel like there is a deadline looming. “Looming” sounds ominous, but it’s not. It’s the realization that you’d better be moving forward each day.

There’s always a deadline coming up. Even when you think there isn’t, you’ll soon realize there is–when you’re grasping trying to make something happen quickly overnight.

Every time I think I can rest, something comes up that reminds me that there’s more to be done. If you are looking to do work that matters and in a hurry to grow, a deadline is always looming.

It doesn’t have to be a deadline that your boss sets. From what I’ve noticed with people making a splash, it’s usually a self-imposed deadline.

When everyone is hoping the boss will set a lower growth target, you’re setting a higher one that will raise a brow.

When everyone is thinking how they can space out their wins so they won’t have to anniversary these numbers next quarter, you’re launching as soon as you can. You trust that you’ll find something else to launch when the time comes.

When everyone is thinking “How can I do this next year? I’m too busy right now…”

You’re thinking, “How can I make the time right now? The sooner I’m smarter, sharper, stronger, the more fun all of this will be. It only gets better from here.”

Each day when you’re not moving forward is a day the deadline is moving closer to you.

If you know a deadline is looming, you can proactively throw the punch instead.

Threshold of happiness

If you’re on a small team and trying to do a lot with what you have, you have to be smart about how you spend your bandwidth. Decision fatigue is real, and so is the idea of spending your emotional labor. You want to be highly leveraged.

If you put more time and attention into anything, of course it will be better.

We don’t have unlimited time and attention, though. I rarely hear people complain that they have too much budget, or too much time.

It’s a popular idea to delight your customers. We all agree that delighting customers is a good thing. But is there a point when you reach diminishing returns? Is there ever a reason to choose intentionally not to delight customers?

I like to think about customer happiness like a jar that’s being filled with goodness.

Imagine a line on the jar. You get to mark where that line is. That line marks when a customer is really happy with you–overjoyed, wowed, and speechless because you over-delivered.

Once the threshold is reached, the customer is thrilled.

You can keep filling the jar until it overflows. At that point, the extra delight doesn’t make the customer much happier. If the stuff you added weren’t there, they’d still be thrilled. When your customers are ecstatic, the gain from adding more delight is incremental.

If you have finite time, it might be better to invest the attention elsewhere to make another area better. This could mean investing in guardrails, setting up processes, or building out areas that you normally don’t have time for when you’re sprinting to please the customer. If the customer is pleased, you should maintain your spot on the Jar of Happiness, and spend the additional effort to strengthen other areas that will help in the long run.

The idea of choosing not to delight your customers almost feels selfish. But the selfish thing is running out of resources or burning out. If that happened, you wouldn’t be around to serve your customer at all.

The jar analogy and hitting a threshold should be a relief. It means that not everything about your product has to be perfect. There are probably a bunch of things contributing to the Jar of Happiness. You don’t have to get everything right or perfect, not all the time.

If you hit the threshold of happiness, there’s plenty of good reasons for your customer to continue working with you.

Active thinking verus osmosis

If we’re immersed in an environment, will we learn by default?

It’s easy to think that we can absorb through osmosis, that we’ll hum along and improve simply because we’re present. I think intuition develops from deliberate thinking, not from osmosis.

You can live in France for years, and not speak French fluently (or at all).

You can hang around blacksmiths, and not learn how to work with metal.

You can talk every day with a colleague who’s a great salesperson, and not be able to command a room like she can.

You can hover in your parent’s kitchen, and still not know how to recreate any of the recipes they’ve made over the years.

You can work with a bunch of creatives, and not become more creative yourself.

You’ll of course pick up some nuggets along the way. You’re more familiar with the vibe than a layperson who isn’t immersed.

But when we’re actively thinking, we’re on the hook–if only in our own minds–and that changes everything.

It’s one thing to watch an artist paint on a blank canvas, and imagine you know how the process works. It’s another thing to be the one holding a Winsor & Newton hog bristle brush, deciding which color to dip into first.

If you agree that learning doesn’t happen through osmosis, how can you dial up the active thinking?

The next time you’re in a situation that makes you stop and notice, think about how you could apply that concept to your own work. Think about how you would reverse engineer it. Think about how you would deconstruct it. Think about why it works now and when it wouldn’t work.

You stopped and noticed for a reason.

It could be your gut telling you there was something worth perking up for, and thinking about for an extra beat. Let your mind linger on it a little longer.

If learning by osmosis sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.

On the bright side, if you think you’re learning a lot just by being exposed, imagine how much further you could go if you actively tried.

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The tool isn’t in your toolbox yet

When you read great advice, it hasn’t actually changed anything in your life…yet.

There are dozens of times each day when you might notice something. You might think,

“I should try that.”

“That was well-said.”

“I want to handle tough conversations the way she did.”

In the moment, you’re excited to learn something new. You think, “This is another tool in my toolbox. This is fantastic!”

But the tool isn’t in your toolbox yet.

You’ve picked up the tool, held it in your hands, looked at it.

Then, you put the tool down and walked away.

You see another shiny new tool, so you go over to that table, pick up that tool, and set it down. The cycle continues. Meanwhile, you pat yourself on the back for learning a lot.

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When product features are merely a justification: why people buy $200 trash cans

Years ago, I had a roommate in San Francisco. He was a 6’1” software engineer and marathon runner.

One day, I heard him squeal. I ran outside to see what was going on.

He was jumping up and down that a big cardboard package arrived. What was it? I thought it would be a new iPad, Bose speaker, Patagonia jacket, flat screen tv…

It was a vacuum cleaner.

When a vacuum cleaner becomes a luxury good

I couldn’t believe that a grown person was that excited about a vacuum cleaner. Was it from a generic brand? Of course not. It was the holy grail.

It was a Dyson roller-ball. This is the Maserati of vacuum cleaners.

Now, flash forward years later:

I’m in New York and I get a giant package. It takes two people to carry, and if I hadn’t been in the office, I would have gasped in the glory of this thing.

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