Keeping time aside in your schedule to speak to several customers a week is time well spent.
Fiona Adler is the founder of Actioned.com – a productivity tool for individuals and teams. Actioned is the third company Fiona has built and it addresses a problem she’s experienced in her last two companies – getting teams to work together effectively. Actioned is an online tool that teams of any size can use. It works on the simple principle of getting everyone in the team to enter their plans for the day (3-5 priorities that they will work on), and having that information visible across the team. Having a focus of just a few action items for the day, plus the accountability from colleagues means that people get more of the important things get done. It’s far more simple than project management software and it gets enormous productivity gains for almost all kinds of teams.
Fiona also writes at DoTheThings.com – providing tips for entrepreneurs in the thick of it. Here she combines the practical insights gained from building multiple businesses with the theory from her MBA. In 2006, Fiona also became the 3rd Australian woman to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. In 2015, Fiona and her family moved to the Alps in France where they are enjoying learning French and experiencing a new culture. She enjoys pushing the envelope to get the most out of life and loves helping others do the same.
Where did the idea for Actioned come from?
My last business was an online reviews directory – similar to TripAdvisor but for local businesses like hairdressers, tradespeople and restaurants. Along with my cofounder, I built this up over 9 years and eventually sold it to a larger business in a similar industry. I decided to sell partly because I felt I had taken it as far as I could, but also partly because I wanted to start a new chapter in life and move our family to France.
My intention was always to start another business, but what? I decided I wanted to start a Saas (software as a service) business as that would give me location flexibility and I like businesses with subscription revenue. Plus, I also enjoy designing products and working with developers.I’ve always been fascinated by productivity and goal setting – probably since I first read “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey when I was in high school. For me, there’s always been a chasm between high-level goal-setting, and the practicalities of “what do I do today?”. It’s not enough to have grand plans and vision, if you can’t translate those into actions. And there’s also nothing to be proud of if you check off a whole list of to-do’s if they’re just low-level tasks that don’t really add up to much.
The idea of Actioned.com struck me as I was watching my husband work remotely with his team and I thought back to my own experiences of working with remote staff. Some days I’d be chatting closely with one team member and know intimately what they were doing, but I wouldn’t have any idea what other team members were doing. When you work together in an office, it’s easy to have this visibility across your team but remotely, it’s a lot more difficult. I then thought of all the tools available and realized that none of them worked for me personally. I had come to use a very simple system of outlining my top actions for the day. This is different from a to-do list, as it’s only the things that I really intend to do that day. There was no tool that really met this need either.
I started sketching out ideas for how the screens would look and eventually came up with the core concept of Actioned. This is the actual framework I use for getting the important things done, plus it helps teams work together a lot more effectively.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I work from home and have developed a schedule that fits around my family. I try to get up early so that I can do an hour of work before the kids get up. Then I take a break for an hour or so while I help them have breakfast, get ready, and walk them to school. I’ll usually work for another few hours and then, once I’ve done my top 2 actions for the day, I’ll take a break and go for a run or attend a yoga class. These become the “treats” I use to reward myself for getting things done! After that, I’ll work for another couple of hours and then pick up the kids from school, help with homework and prepare dinner. Hopefully by now I’ve got the big things dones for the day, but usually I still jump back onto the laptop after dinner – but that’s when I allow myself time to explore things that have interested me.
The most important thing that I do for productivity is to write out my Action List for the next day. This contains 3-5 items – each I’d expect to take less than an hour. (If there are bigger tasks, I’ll break them into smaller actions.) I do this every night and it makes such a difference!
How do you bring ideas to life?
Often, things can seem intimidating but once you figure out the first step and actually start, you gain momentum and the project takes a life of its own. If I’m struggling to work through something, I like to think about the people it will help and suddenly I feel I have an obligation to get this working! I also remind myself that ‘perfect is the enemy of done’ and try to focus on getting a first version actually done.
Accountability partners can also help enormously. I’m part of a mastermind group with two other business women and we always leave each meeting by committing to something important we’re going to get done before the next meeting. Knowing that you have to report back to someone is enormously motivating!
What’s one trend that excites you?
I really love that so many businesses are embracing remote work these days! It excites me that businesses are no longer restricted to finding talent in their local area and instead can truly choose the best person for the role. I also love the idea that smart people can be supporting their families and contributing at a high level – all while working in ways that suit their desired lifestyles. I think that long-term, remote work will be a great equalizer and eventually salaries across the globe will become more standardized.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Aside from writing the daily Action List, it’s forcing myself to sit with a problem and really work through it. If I’m making a decision on something, I’ll start writing out pro’s and con’s for each option. If I’m looking for a solution to something, I’ll list possible ideas – even when I know they won’t work. I think the hard part is often starting and getting your brain thinking about the problem helps clarify the situation.
Most of us don’t realize that we need dedicated time and space to actually think! We’re constantly bombarded with distractions and information coming at us, but we need time to process and prioritize things. My daily action list will often include things like; decide on x, brainstorm ideas for y, or map out process for z.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would somehow like to give myself advice that would have helped me be more confident. For a long time I felt unsure of whether I was missing some vital piece of knowledge and thought that people around me knew a lot more than me. This eventually led me to study my MBA at one of the top business schools in my country. With this under my belt, I could reason with myself that I had at least as much knowledge as other people! I’m glad I did my MBA but it does make me a bit sad that I felt I needed it!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Don’t read the news. Seriously, when was the last time that you made a decision based on something you’d read in the news. Staying on top of current affairs is a false economy. It just wastes a lot of time and generally makes us feel bad about the world. Read industry trends and articles that interest you, but forget the news! (Not many people agree with this though!)
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Stay close to your customer! As your business grows, it can be easy to become removed from customers. But this is dangerous as you can quickly lose touch with what the market is wanting and how your business is delivering. Keeping time aside in your schedule to speak to several customers a week is time well spent.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Content marketing has been an important part of growing all my businesses. In part, this is because it’s a solid strategy, but also, it suits my style. I think it’s important to choose strategies that play to your natural strengths and that you enjoy doing.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Over the years, I’ve made lots of mistakes so it’s hard to pinpoint just one! Something I did early on with my last business is that my partner and I went about outsourcing the wrong way. We initially tried to get our platform built by a software house in India. There is nothing wrong with this in itself, but we went about it totally the wrong way. Instead of defining the most basic functionality and working closely with the team to release that, we wrote a huge specification document for the finished version of the site and then, essentially left them to it! Needless to say, it didn’t work. This scared us away from outsourcing for a while and we took the development inhouse. I now realize that it wasn’t so much the outsourcing that was the problem, or even the company we chose. Instead, it was the way we approached this role.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I am someone that is a bit lazy with my self-grooming and always frustrated with how long it takes at the hairdresser. I wish someone would create a salon where you could have your hair done and at the same time, you could have a manicure and pedicure, facial and other services. Maybe a stylist could even recommend some new clothes too!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I love my Philips wake-up light. This was actually a gift (and maybe slightly over $100) but it helps me wake up a lot more refreshed and ready to start the day.
I also love my Spotify subscription – I’m a bit late to the party with this but it allows me to use playlists for working time (eg Deep Focus), energetic ones for getting the kids up and going in the mornings, and dinner party music is sorted!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Working remotely with developers and designers, I’m always needing to discuss specific things about the screens I see. Lightshot Screenshot is a great product I love for creating screenshots, annotating them, and messaging them to other people.
I also love Pocket. I subscribe to a lot of blogs and love to read good articles I come across. But instead of letting them interrupt my workflow, I save them to Pocket and then read them when I’m in a mood for reading.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?S
Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. It’s an old one, but it made a strong impression on me! So many truths in here that we all still need to focus on.
What is your favorite quote?
“If it were easy, everyone would do it!” This seems to be attributed to Tom Hanks in the movie; A League of Their Own. It often speaks to me when things are difficult. It makes me remember that it’s actually a privilege to have the opportunity to deal with difficult problems!
- Before you start each day, take a birds-eye view and write a Daily Action List with 3-5 small but important things you are committing to getting done today.
- Play to your strengths. Find a way of working that suits your personality, preferences and skills.
- Believe in yourself! You know just as much as anyone else in the room.
- Plan your work to fit your lifestyle and family. Be deliberate about how you spend your time and allocate time specifically for thinking.