Don’t be Scrooge McDuck when it comes to investing in your business

My Whole Life Has Been A Waste

For a long while, I was adamantly opposed to anything that cost WTF Marketing money.

Seriously. I was all Scrooge McDuck up in this joint, sans the giant swimming pool full of money and tophat.

Even when I started up my first business banking account and had a ridiculously awesome bank card that said “WTF Marketing” on the front. I had it in my wallet for those “No shit, that really IS your business name…” moments, but it was collecting as much metaphorical dust from disuse as my equally awesome WTF Marketing checkbook.

My first WTF Marketing computer was a 15″ MacBook Pro I’d purchased while working at HP, which was not a popular move in the eyes of my long-time HP co-workers. It lasted me for 3 years – and the only other computer I bought during those exceptionally lean times was a $500 Mac Mini. Keep in mind: I was building street cred and business experience by building websites and doing social media work for around $350 a month.

Clients got their websites and social media, I got my experience, my landlord got rent. Everybody was playing their part.

Around April or May 2010, one year into WTF, my MacBook Pro decided it would be a good time to go on strike until I procured a new motherboard. Bribes, outright begging, incredibly clever and cutting “Yo Mama” jeers – nothing could get it to cross the picket line.

Luckily, I was still under Apple’s awesome extended warranty. It would take a total of 3 weeks to fix (for free) and this was the height of my project season. I had 3 websites due that week, and my only other computer was less than up to the task of handling the work. The computer itself was fine, but my only available monitor was the television in my living room, and that’s not a winning setup.

I knew I had enough in my bank account (thanks to the summer influx of projects) to make the purchase of a new 13″ MacBook Pro possible, but actually spending that money was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was convinced, even after I drove the one and a half hours down to the Park Meadows Apple Store to buy the new computer, that I’d just taken the first step to bankrupt WTF.

As it turns out, it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made – as investing wisely in your business often is. I didn’t buy another computer for two years after that… and now I buy a new one annually. I have not one, not two, but THREE backup computers for my primary workhorse.

When the Zombie Apocalypse comes, I’ll be there – live-blogging the harrowing aftermath.

I had a similar eye-opening moment the first time I hired an accountant to do my taxes. Every year was a struggle. Every year, a guess, a wild “I know I earned money from these guys, they should send me a 1099, right?” and then a hunt for the PDF or printout.

Without the struggle of doing my taxes year after year, the week-long setup followed by the week-long filling out forms and making sure everything was correct, I was able to add two new billable weeks to my availability.

Later on, when I added a bookkeeper, I knew I was on the right path. My expenses were documented, my taxes more accurate, my employees were getting paid automatically without me having to write a damn check every time…

So now, I have very little trouble spending money on things that save me time, effort, mental energy (frustration), or provide leverage so I can do better work or more complicated tasks.

  • That meant a paid Dropbox account so I was never without synchronized files.
  • That meant BaseCamp and then TeamWorkPM to handle my project management and client updates.
  • That meant paying for Signals so I could tell when clients had opened my emails or not.
  • That meant paying for Adobe Creative Cloud so I had access to the best design tools I needed.
  • That meant paying for Skillshare courses to learn how to use those damn design tools.
  • That also meant learning how to use what I already had – and making the most out of it and culling what I didn’t need, relentlessly.

Little by little, bit by bit, I figured out that investing in myself and in WTF was a great thing. As long as I did my homework into the investment, it usually turned out great, though I’ve had plenty of times where I felt I wasted my money (I have a whole folder filled with gigs upon gigs of elearning products).

The one elusive bit that remained was productivity. I love the thrill of delivering on a big project. I love the look on a client’s face the first time they browse their newly created website or hear their newly created marketing plan. In short: there’s nothing more satisfying to me than over-delivering and hitting a deadline with a sledgehammer of awesome completed work.

More often than I liked, I’d get mired dicking around on Facebook or Twitter. I’ve wasted more time than I care to admit Liking/Sharing/Surfing on useless cat videos, memes, and delving into way too many political discussions.

I got so pissed off at myself that I actually turned off all my notifications on my devices – first social, then email – just to reduce the chances of getting distracted.

Even so, I still found myself going off on tangents, avoiding writing, avoiding reading, avoiding exercise – just because I felt like I “didn’t have time”. I managed to kick those habits with two tools, both under $10 (in fact, they’re both free, if you want). Since this post is part of the Word Carnival, and we’re covering our favorite tools under $10, I just had to roll these out.

The first is a little method I like to call the “Stable Wormhole” Method. I’m making it up right here on the spot.

I’d quote another popular productivity technique, but did you know it’s trademarked, copyrighted, and creative-commons licensed to all nonsense? Seriously. Look it up. Then look at the legal terms. You might need some coffee to decipher it – it wasn’t even clear that I could write about it without advanced permission. Instead, I created a parody, cuz that’s how I roll.

In Stargate, a standard artificial wormhole connection from one Stargate to another could last 38 minutes. It’s kitschy because the average episode length was about 38 minutes including commercials. You know, “Look guys, we only have 38 minutes of TV time to solve this problem”.

Here’s the basic gist: you set a countdown for 38 minutes focusing on getting to done. No editing. No distractions. No research. When your 38 minutes are up, you can spend the next 12 minutes editing, reviewing, or nitpicking. The last 10 minutes of the hour are a break. Relax, line up your next task, and rinse/repeat as needed.

Here’s the funny bit: what you set the clock to doesn’t matter. It’s totally arbitrary. Just chunk your time. Like most things in campy Sci-Fi, the rules are flexible to meet the budget, time constraints, and whimsy of the writers. So set the countdown to whatever you fucking want, got it? Just chunk your time and focus on doing one thing (and “email” doesn’t count as ONE thing).

You have to be patient with yourself because you’ll often either get sidetracked during the 10 minute break or not want to stop – chugging along is fine as long as you take a longer break when you either are done or hit a wall.

Make no mistake about it: on the surface, this sounds pretty dumb. C’mon, I hear you saying, Anyone can focus on one task for just 38 minutes… and to that I say: go ahead and fucking try it.

After 2 minutes, you’ll remember that your coffee is still sitting on the Keurig, so you’ll go upstairs to get it. After 4 minutes, the dog will ask you to go outside. After 9 and a half minutes, your kids will show you what they did to the dog for the last 5 and a half minutes while he was outside (hint: it involves something very sticky and blue that will take up your remaining 22.5 minutes to clean up).

Sound familiar? OK, so you sip your lukewarm coffee and try again.

After 4 minutes, you get a text message from a client asking why they can’t log in to their site. You spend 5 minutes sorting out that somehow they changed their password, but uh… they don’t remember to what. You have to dig through your project management system to find your original password before you see a notification that worries you from your graphic designer, so you check your email to make sure you hadn’t missed something really vital and… BEEP BEEP BEEP, motherfucker.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

What I’m getting at is this: it’s not as easy as it sounds. You are CONSTANTLY getting interrupted. You, me, anyone connected and running an online business. And on average, studies show that it takes about 15-20 minutes to get re-engaged in your original task.

And that is a big fat load of disappointingly unproductive day sitting in your lap by 5pm. Nobody likes that. Take a shower, you stink.

The “Stable Wormhole” method, combined with focus and – you know, shutting off the phone, social media websites, alerts, notifications, pings, and carrier pigeons for 38 minutes – can go a long way toward allowing you to be the badass you know you are.

Next: if you’re trying to change your work habits (or really, any habits) you MUST gamify. The long and the short of it is: habits are hard to create and maintain unless you make them fun with games. It’s why I highly recommend HabitRPG. My friend Brianna from Nerdette Designs tuned me in to it.

Here’s how it basically breaks down: Habits (things you want to do more or less of), Dailies (things you must do daily to gain more points, gold, etc), Tasks/To-Dos (projects which can have sub-tasks), and Rewards (things you can get – either game defined or defined by you – with the fruits of your labor).

Nick - HabitRPG

Some of my Habits – get up early (in bright red because I suck at getting up early), finish work by 5PM (in green because I’m pretty good at that), learning things, finishing books, etc.

Some of my Dailies – Read to Kiddo, Read 30m, Write 30m, and Updating HabitRPG.

My To-Dos are mostly client work, but also my own for WTF – I’ve hidden the client information. They’re mostly red because I loaded up HabitRPG with a TON of stuff, and they get redder the more time they take (they start at Yellow).

HabitRPG comes with pets, mounts (ridable pets), quests, guilds, parties, and more features commonly found in role-playing games. In short: if this doesn’t gamify your to-do list and help you grow and maintain new habits, I’m not sure what will.

You can tell me in the comments if you found something better!

While I’ve got your attention: if you’re tired of all the focus on bigger, better, more expensive tools and list-building as a way to grow your business, you’re not alone. There’s a reason the Word Carnival folks picked tools under $10.

Sure, we all need to think about smart, fun ways to generate new business, but all that hype around making six figures a month blows – especially when the promise of that huge paycheck comes hand-in-hand with a, “Oh, by the way, this software/webinar/elearning/trained garden gnome makes the process much easier…”-type sales pitch.

Tea Silvestre of Prosperity’s Kitchen fame invited me to help lead a new kind of 30-day challenge: The Bloom Your Online Relationships project.

You can join me and 29 other non-douchebag business leaders as we share our best actionable tips for deepening the online relationships we’ve already got.

Participation doesn’t cost any money. Just a few minutes each day to take a small step toward richer, more meaningful interactions with those you’re already connected to online. You can get all the details and follow along here:

And my actionable step? You’re gonna love it. I hope you join us.