Just like optimizing production in a factory, we should all be thinking about our own personal production and how it can be improved. I always ask myself, what am I going to do differently in how I work next year?
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
By habit and personality, I’m an early riser. I like to get up early, and that’s served me well with a career in financial markets and trading. I have a tendency to get in early, so I can see if anything important happened over night with the markets, and begin to set up for the day. I don’t hang around for breakfast but rather have my coffee and croissant at my desk while I quietly read the news, check my inbox, and prepare for my first task of the day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
What I have learned is that you can’t chase forty tasks at a time. Each task that is important to me needs my focused attention. If it’s really important, you ask one person to take responsibility for it, even if that person is you. As you’re progressing through your day and something new needs your attention, it’s important to take time to really get into the details. If it’s important, you say can you please look after this assignment. You’re better off assigning people with tasks based on what’s important to you and your team. But I think the most important aspect of bringing ideas to life is what you say “no” to. We have a finite amount of time and bandwidth. You can only do so many things, and you’ll be asked to do much more than you can handle at once. You make progress by choosing what to prioritize and what to ignore. I bring ideas to life by focusing on priorities and asking my team to work full-time with me on those priorities while ignoring the other stuff.
What is one trend that excites you?
I’ll give you two examples. One business and one personal. First, I’m fascinated by climate change. I see effects and implications already, and I’m anxious to see how it will impact our world. If we talk about finance and business, I think about the future of robo advisory. Robo-advisors are exactly what they sound like. They’re financial advisors that provide investment management online with relatively little human intervention based on complicated algorithms. The money in your account will be managed by machines rather than people. Technology could change everything and make us far more efficient. It’s going to be a huge change to the way people save money and look out for themselves financially.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive?
I’m a very organized person. If you saw my desk, you’d laugh. I have no emails in my inbox. Even during the work day, as busy as I am, I deal with them as they come in. My inbox is famous. People will sometimes come up to me to see if it’s true, and request to see my email. They’ll have four hundred in their inbox while I have four. If I email you regarding a topic, and you email me back, that’s it. After that, I’ll never email you on that topic again. After our initial email discussion, we go to the phone. It only takes a few minutes, so I’ll take calls in the car, on the street, or anywhere else if I’m out and about, so I can maximize my work time. Good email communication is important, but don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.
Another thing that helps me stay productive is that I particularly like short meetings with multiple people. Together we’ll work through all the topics in a short period of time. I stay organized by staying on top of my emails and having these short productive meetings with multiple colleagues.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d say this to everyone. You should focus on some things deeper than you intend to do. There are people all over the world kicking themselves because they didn’t spend more time thinking about cryptocurrency. In finance, we dismissed it, instead of thinking about it. We all tend to be very task orientated. That is much easier than stopping and thinking. I wish I would have stopped and thought about the bigger picture more. People will spend eight hours of work just focused on accomplishing tasks, and they could miss both sides, depth and understanding how technology impacts our lives.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
With technology these days, you typically have two things. You have your workflow and the processes behind it. For example, I have the British Airways app on my phone. It does all my workflow and processes all my information automatically. I just pull up the app, and it feeds me all the information I need. It’s great. I think most people in the world don’t think about process and production enough. I can tell you, in the car industry, Mercedes-Benz focuses on it. When I was in banking, we always talked about being more like Mercedes and less like Citibank. Mercedes has perfected production. It could produce 5,000 cars per day if it wanted to, while a very smart guy, Elon Musk, has trouble getting Tesla to produce 5,000 a week. He is a great innovator of technology but, when building a car, he was not accepting enough of the tremendous challenges in the production process. In my opinion, he hasn’t focused on the processes enough. Another example is the toy company Lego. Every so often, they have production difficulties because they make too much or too little of an inventory.
Banks are finally trying to make progress on reforming their production, but can still do a lot to catch up to where they need to be. It’s not just banking; there are so many other industries that don’t have discipline around production or processes to optimize their process like the car industry has. They invested huge amounts of money in robotics. They have people performing less and less of the production, with more machines running around the warehouse. They thought about everything and perfected the process.
What is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I’ve noticed people have a tendency not to close things out. We all do it at work. As we go through each day, we should be calling our tasks complete, and moving on. I prefer to close things out in work and my personal life, or you end up getting yourself in an endless loop. Closing things out and moving onto the next thing is something I do in my personal and business life, so I can focus on what is most important.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow the companies you’ve worked for?
The one thing I think people don’t do is think about their internal processes and how they work. Just like optimizing production in a factory, we should all be thinking about our own personal production and how it can be improved. I always ask myself, what am I going to do differently in how I work next year? I like to use technology as a lever for how I work. I know I’m not an expert with every new platform, but I take time to learn the platforms that help make me a more proficient provider. I try to incorporate different or new technology each year as a small way to improve my efficiency. This may sound silly, but this year I’m learning how to use iCalendar to sync every part of my life. My family can now check my schedule, and we can better coordinate with each other. It took some time to set it up properly, but that small step has dramatically improved my work/life balance.
What is one failure you’ve experienced, and how did you overcome it?
If I look back over personal and commercial experience, my failures have always come when I’ve not dug deep enough in certain ideas. I’ve been in the right place at the right time many times, but didn’t take the time to look at the idea in detail. Cryptocurrencies come to mind again. It’s very easy to overlook incredible ideas and innovations. If you don’t slow down to look deeply enough at those ideas, you end up missing special opportunities.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The robo financial advisor I was telling you about will be huge in the future. Young adults should think about these firms as they come out of college. The changes they’ll make will have huge impacts.
What is the best $100 you’ve recently spent? What and why?
Easy, it’s my running shoes. I love running. It’s good for your health and fitness. It’s mentally relaxing for me. The day I don’t run, I notice a difference in myself. Each year, I pick up a new pair. Considering my running shoes cost about $100 each year, that’s an easy question for me. That investment pays for itself so many times over the year. It keeps me healthy and outside, where I can think clearly. I’d recommend a good pair of running shoes to anybody.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
As I mentioned before, the British Airways app is outstanding. It’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. It’s in your pocket on your phone. I always have it with me when traveling. It counts down my flight with reminders, gate info, boarding time, and even my ticket. I check it in the car on my way and the ticket pops right into my wallet. It couldn’t be easier. I’m also learning a lot about iCalendar on the Mac. I had never used it before, but I’m doing lots with it and Siri now.
What is one book that you would recommend to our community?
Patty McCord’s Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility. She is excellent.
What is your favorite quote?
“The truth is incontrovertible . Panic may resent, ignorance may deride it , malice may distort it, but there it is.” – Winston Churchill, 1916
I also like this one from Churchill: “The Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all the other possibilities have been exhausted.”
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Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.