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Maintaining productivity in the age of quick and easy distraction

jason-kulpa-productivityDistraction is essentially the bane of productivity. You can’t get anything done if you can’t concentrate, and you can’t concentrate if you are constantly being distracted. This is the key reason so many people complain about the constant noise being made by their phone, the constant drip-drip of e-mail notifications and the endless rabbit holes of the internet, which is only a click away.

But there is more to this problem. If you examine the dynamics of it long enough it is not hard to notice that loss of productivity is a symptom of a bigger problem, and that is overreach. It’s not necessarily the fact that a person can’t accumulate enough productivity at the end of the day, it’s more a function of the fact that no amount of productivity will overcome the burden they have placed on themselves. They simply have too much on their plate. At that point, distractions aren’t necessarily preventing productivity, they are an escape from the impossible.

Simplify

Work that can be done — and done well — is both more engaging and capable of mitigating distractions. The human mind is more than capable of engaging fully with a task and tuning out distractions if a person really wants to do what they are doing. On the contrary, when the work itself is distracting because it is disorganized, unclear or obviously pointless, then practical distractions have a much easier time derailing the productivity train because the person attempting the task is looking for a reason to quit. Some tasks must be completed regardless of their desirability, but those less desired can usually be made more approachable via simplification or consolidation of efforts.

Planning

Authors have a trick for reaching their writing goals each day, and that is to plan out what they are going to write in advance. It does few authors any good to sit down to a blank screen and try to compose on the fly unless they are very good at weaving a compelling narrative out of nothing but imagination. In this vein, it is far easier in most cases to make some plan and then try to adhere to the plan along the way.

Planning is the natural enemy of distraction because it is likely to produce a list of actions that will engage the person performing the work. Since workers are authoring the plan in the first place, they can avoid the kinds of distracting tasks that will derail their own efforts.

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Fostering Employee Productivity: What Not to Do

jason-kulpa-productivitySuccessful business managers know that there are many ways to accurately and efficiently foster employee productivity, but the best ones also recognize that there are just as many ways to botch this process. Productivity can be a delicate trait to hone at first, and your approach will almost exclusively depend on the unique strengths and weaknesses of the employee in question. Avoiding common pitfalls will make this process much easier — especially if you have just stepped into a managerial position.

That said, here are several mistakes to avoid en route to creating stronger employee productivity.

Being too formal all the time

As a manager, there is a time and place for formality; it is the backbone of your company, the foundation that all workers must adhere, in some capacity, to keep the workplace exactly that: a workplace. That said, too much formality can be detrimental to employee productivity if unhealthily implemented. Make sure you take time to humanize interactions with your direct reports; ask them about their lives, schedule bonding activities when appropriate, and maintain a demeanor that will keep them feeling comfortable and supported. If you can achieve this type of relationship, everything will likely go much smoother for everyone involved. Work is work, but that is not to say work has to be cold and emotionless.

Not being transparent

Perhaps a subsection of the previous point, transparency is a huge variable in any healthy manager/report relationship. By not being forthcoming about important feedback, you jeopardize the growth of your employees while creating an unnecessary divide that may create additional issues in the future. Specifically, be as direct as possible about mistakes, conflicts with office policies, and general areas of improvement; these are the talking points that will make your workers stronger and more cognizant of what it takes to succeed in their role. You will create another layer of approachability along the way, too.

Forgoing individualization

Individualization is one of the most important factors to consider in employee development, so forgoing it essentially chalks up to lazy management. As previously mentioned, the pursuit of employee productivity encircles the process of constantly pushing the envelope and testing employee thresholds. In this same sense, push yourself as a manager to learn as much as you can about your workers, and tailor your development plans based on this information. During new employees’ first weeks of work, schedule one-on-one meetings to tease out immediate strengths, weaknesses, concerns, fears, points of confidence, and any other relevant factors that will help you individualize their work experience. Not only will this approach help with productivity, it will generally help your employees feel supported at a personal level from day one.

 

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Five Management Styles and Why They Work (Pt. 1)

jason-kulpa-stylesEffective business management is subjective in that every managed employee is different, therefore requiring a unique approach in terms of their productivity, adherence to office structure and policy, and overall learning pace. 

To get the most out of your direct reports, you will need to identify and leverage an appropriate management style that will foster their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. Bad management costs businesses billions of dollars each year, so it is imperative that you put your best foot forward as a leader and maintain a healthy management culture.

That said, here are several effective management styles commonly observed in offices spanning countless industries.

Result-Based Management

All management styles are, in a way, result-based, but some managers embrace the long term as a complete basis for success and failure. In this sense, it is not so much about how things are done, so long as they are done quickly and efficiently. This approach may seem cut-and-dry on the surface, but it actually welcomes quite a bit of experimentation; results-based managers are usually open to new ways for employees to accomplish a task, and this openness keeps both the manager and employee focused on what will streamline the work in front of them. When committed to habit, this subconscious problem solving should prove to be a huge asset to the company as a whole.

Inspirational/Extroverted Management

Though not a required characteristic for good leadership, many successful managers are both extroverted and charismatic. These traits can be infectious to subordinate workers; they help to maintain a warm working relationship while humanizing interactions that may otherwise feel mechanical and by-the-numbers in terms of corporate functionality. You want to foster productivity, but you also want to keep the process accessible and comfortable. This boils down to a healthy injection of compassion and consideration, paired with any opportunity to inspire and rally your workers around a goal. In many cases, these workers will perform better throughout the year.

Example-setting Management

Just like results-based management, example-setting management entails characteristics that should technically be observed in all management scenarios; after all, you cannot hope to lead your peers if you are setting a poor example within the context of company demands. However, example setting can be formed into a full-fledged management style depending on how much of an example you are willing to set. Employees will most likely respond more to examples that are both unconventional and healthily over-the-top — those leaders who continuously push the bar and go above and beyond baseline expectations. As a manager, you should already have a knack for ambition and forward thinking, so fully embrace this trait to set the strongest example possible.

 

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What Does it Take to Start a Tech Business in 2018?

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With technological advances becoming more prevalent in society, more and more businesses have been cropping up to deliver new or better technology products and services to the consumer market. Flourishing tech businesses address growing demands within targeted demographics and find their success in efficiently solving real-life problems in ways that haven’t been addressed, or that are better than solutions the current market offers. Thinking of delving into the industry? Here are five pieces of advice to help you launch your tech business in 2018.

 

Choose a Location

If you’re currently living in the U.S. or have aspirations to move, Silicon Valley may pose an appealing location for establishing your tech business. However, you might want to refrain from buying into the hype too early in the game. Silicon Valley is already saturated with larger, more established tech companies and the cost of living may prove too expensive for business businesses to sustain themselves. Instead, look to other places that boast good soil for high-tech startups and industry talent and that will set your business on a greater trajectory to success.

 

Develop Your Product

While it may appear obvious, among the most important steps in starting a tech business is to actually develop a product that interests people. In the case of most business software tech companies, coding is free, so establishing the foundation of your business is a crucial step that won’t put a dent in your pockets. A product can be an entirely new and innovative product, or one that improves an already existing product or process. Regardless, it’s important to actually begin building up your business before your ambition carries things too far out of your hands.

 

Establish and Source Talent

To supplement your product, ensure you or a partner has the technical knowledge or background to appropriately sustain your business. In the same vein, refrain from outsourcing work and focus your efforts on finding apt talent who will help grow your company.

 

Start Small

When first establishing your business, don’t immediately file to become an LLC or C-Corp if you don’t have a product, customers, or revenue. This will cost you valuable money you might not have or can put to better use to grow your company, such as licensing and hiring quality talent.

 

Advertise

Once you have a finished product, don’t forget to advertise. Starting off, you may not have much money to put toward an advertising campaign, but you can always host your own website using free-to-use sites, or advertise on social media sites such as Facebook or Reddit. If possible, launch your product. While launching your product free-to-use may appear counterintuitive, it may earn you the publicity to begin catching the eyes of organizations or investors.

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Starting a Business During a Recession: Five Questions with UE.co CEO Jason Kulpa

UE.co was established in 2008’s recession. Forbes once suggested that economic downturns can actually be great opportunities for startups — would you say this was the case for UE?

Charlie Munger said, “My idea of shooting a fish in a barrel is draining the barrel first.” My interpretation of that is that when others leave a market, there is opportunity.  In 2008 there was a panic in the market, and capital left the ad-tech space. This created an opening to step-in and pick-up all the fish out of the barrel.

 

With the previous question in mind, what kind of setbacks did the recession present for UE (if any)? How did it impact UE’s progress as an up-and-coming entity, and how were these challenges addressed at the time?  

It was challenging raising startup capital, and the debt markets were bone dry.  This meant that the only way to get the company started was to fund it with my savings. Having to write the check yourself as an entrepreneur makes you reflect on if the business idea is really thought out and ready for market.  That doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs discount the value of outside investment, but it hits close to home when the founder’s signature is on the check. This pressure drove me to long hours, and work-filled weekends when I might have pushed it a bit less knowing there was a safety net if things didn’t go as planned.

 

Innovation is a huge part of starting a new business, regardless of economic stability. What would you say allowed UE to innovate in a time as turbulent as the recession, and how has it continued to innovate today?

When economic stability is disrupted there is a consolidation in most markets.  This created sizeable competition and economies of scale we were not prepared as a start-up.  The only way to compete was by building a more efficient mousetrap than fighting a war of attrition.  Tough times bring out the most creative and innovative parts of the human brain, and we were fortunate to face this adversity early in our business cycle.

 

UE started as a small business, but has clearly grown into a full-fledged staple of the San Diego business community. As the company’s CEO, what are the biggest lessons you have gleaned during this growth process — especially during UE’s early phases?

The biggest lesson we learned was that the company culture has to mature along with the business cycle.  This is difficult when you launch a start-up from your garage with friends. That same casual attitude can create cultural challenges when you take the next step in growing the business.  The best way to manage this is to self reflect along the way and take in consideration the larger picture.

 

In turn, what advice would you give new entrepreneurs — especially those facing unforeseen obstacles right out of the gate?

The best advice is to learn to really enjoy working — and then spend lots of time doing what you like to do. Believing in your idea and business, with enough time and pressure, just about anything can be solved.  The difference is that you have the ability to stick it out until that happens. Good luck!

 

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Tips for Balancing Business Ownership and Philanthropy (Pt. 2)

 

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There is no question that philanthropic involvement can be both enriching and beneficial to recipients and benefactors alike. By reaching out to a charitable cause, a business leader can expand his or her presence in the community by forging vital new relationships — all while raising awareness for an issue or bringing attention to an individual or entity in need. Now, perhaps more than ever, businesses have shifted paradigms to include a blend of profit and societal impact.

Still, however, it takes a fair amount of organization and tact to successfully balance business ownership with philanthropy. Speaking from experience in my own philanthropic involvement with UE.co, both endeavors must be handled with care so that they may co-exist in a constructive, successful manner. I recently explored this notion in a previous blog post, but here now are several more considerations to keep in mind as you work to effectively your entrepreneurial and philanthropic lifestyles.

 

Utilize smart marketing

Marketing, in most cases, is a crucial component of any successful business strategy. However, many business leaders fail to leverage marketing for their philanthropic programs. This fact is not surprising, as the promotion of any charitable activity can feel uncomfortable and awkward. After all, you don’t want to come off as self-serving in attempt to serve others.

The key is to exercise your marketing with a steady hand, and this means keeping two important points in mind:

  • A successful philanthropic initiative will serve a charitable purpose, but should not be pursued for selfish financial gain and advertisement alone.

  • In many cases, a corporate philanthropy program must garner a considerable audience in order to endure for years to come.

In other words, your marketing campaign should reflect a balance of modesty and promotion. Look at it this way: your best philanthropic intentions will probably be fully realized if your initiative is given healthy exposure. Tip too far in one direction, however, and you run the risk of dooming your cause in terms of longevity and/or public perception.

 

Never stop networking

Given the growing emphasis on social media and widespread interconnectivity at large, it is no shock that networking has become a clear asset to business professionals worldwide. Still, despite this notion, some businesses find themselves lagging on networking in order to focus on other seemingly more important parts of their daily workload.

Instead, networking should sit at the front of every leader’s mind, and this is especially true of those leaders hoping to expand their presence in the philanthropic community. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone in meeting new people, establishing new relationships and partnerships, and ultimately laying the roots necessary to bring new and exciting initiatives to fruition. This approach allows for increased efficiency and less redundancy for both organizations and donors alike.

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Tips for Balancing Business Ownership and Philanthropy (Pt. 1)

jason-kulpa-philanthropy

There is no question that philanthropic involvement can be both enriching and beneficial to recipients and benefactors alike. By reaching out to a charitable cause, a business leader can expand his or her presence in the community by forging vital new relationships — all while raising awareness for an issue or bringing attention to an individual or entity in need. Now, perhaps more than ever, businesses have shifted paradigms to include a blend of profit and societal impact.

Still, however, it takes a fair amount of organization and tact to successfully balance business ownership with philanthropy. Speaking from experience in my own philanthropic involvement with UE.co, both endeavors must be handled with care so that they may co-exist in a constructive, successful manner.

 

Exercise foresight

It is crucial to have a plan when venturing into business philanthropy; this is common knowledge. Still, though, fallout from ill preparation is an unfortunate commonality, and depending on its severity, it can lead to misconceptions and poor representations that can subsequently create backlash from the public. An aged, yet enduringly relevant observation is that there are two types of philanthropic failure: constructive ones and unconstructive ones. The former refers to failures providing clear evidence as to what went wrong, while the latter results from an inability to “inform future practice.”

By studying high-profile instances of constructive philanthropic failure, we can extract a number of important lessons:

 

  • One must have a strong, or at least working, knowledge his or her chosen cause — not to mention passion. If you truly care about housing the homeless, for example, do not focus on another cause simply because it is convenient or trendy.

 

  • The aforementioned point in mind, a philanthropic initiative should not be driven by marketing performance and public image alone; this is immoral and stands as the antithesis of genuine philanthropy.

 

  • At the same time, a lack of proper knowledge can lead to a breakdown in your philanthropy’s effectiveness, and it can quickly lead to additional problems that knock the wheels of the entire process despite your best intentions.

 

Build lasting relationships

Most successful charitable partnerships yield the potential for a continued working relationship. This longevity can be instrumental in ensuring the success of future initiatives, which in turn can also make the ownership/philanthropy balancing act easier to approach. A philanthropic relationship allows both participating parties to learn about each other in a different way, which can lead to longer standing interaction as a result of mutual loyalty.

Building this trust and intimacy not only aids in the preservation of the cause in question, it can also strengthen employee engagement, build up the brand of both the business and the philanthropic recipient, and ultimately foster a stronger sense of community and cohesion.

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Tips for Transitioning into a CEO Role

The role of Chief Executive has been romanticized in most cultures, sometimes to the point where the reality of day-to-day responsibility and the actual impact of a leadership role are frequently overlooked.

Taking the highest office in any organization is a major step in anyone’s career. It is important to understand the proper path to both effectiveness and success. Here are some things to consider.

 

Command

While it may be apocryphal, Admiral Halsey’s admonition to his fellow naval officers is instructive. “When you’re in command, command.” This is advice that should be heeded, especially on a new CEO. The natural tendency for the average person is to try and get along with others, but this can lead to all kinds of problems when “a” manager becomes “the” manager

Ultimately, a chief executive’s main responsibility is to give orders and to see to it they are carried out. Few tasks are personally carried out by a CEO for a number of reasons, not the least of which is if the CEO is doing basic tasks, nobody is in charge.

 

Delegate

A leader’s second major responsibility is to assign tasks to subordinates. These tasks can be both basic day-to-day jobs or the responsibility to be in charge of others. It is not a mistake that most every king in history had a considerable retinue of underlings to carry out their wishes.

Delegation is vitally important. CEOs who do not learn to properly delegate can often find themselves overworked and/or spread too thin to be effective. More than a few well-known chief executives have had their companies and careers damaged by over-reliance on their own talent and skill. One person can only do so much.

 

Communicate

Being in charge and delegating only work properly if a leader is available and listens to his or her subordinates. Without the necessary information from other managers, employees, consultants, ownership and governance, a CEO has little to no contemporary knowledge upon which to base their decisions.

When complaining about their bosses, nearly every employee brings up communication as a chief reason they do not approve of management. A leader must be willing to listen, or they will find it is impossible to be effective or efficient.

Being a CEO is without a doubt one of the hardest jobs in the world. It isn’t for everyone, but even those who have little to no experience will find their task much easier if they learn the fundamentals and put them into practice.

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The best texts on leadership

In today’s world, leadership is needed more than ever. If you want to stand out and achieve success as a leader, you should try reading the following texts:

 

“Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton

This groundbreaking work is based on the Harvard Negotiation Project which was a 1981 book. The strategies for dealing with conflicts in personal and business life set William Ury apart from the industry in terms of teaching negotiating by focusing on interests instead of positions in a deal.

 

“Getting Things Done” by David Allen

If you are having problems staying organized, then David Allen’s text is the first thing you should read. The way to get your ideas and papers in order is to have a framework. This system that Allen lays out is easy to follow and simple to understand. Anyone can turn around their life if they read through to the end and put the tips into practice.

 

“Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman

In today’s world, it is less about what you know and more about how you can control your emotions. Those that have a solid emotional intelligence score can communicate and progress in work and life more easily.

 

“Crush It!” by Gary Vaynerchuk

 

Gary Vaynerchuk has quickly gained recognition for his ability to cut through the excuses and help people take action in their lives. His book is all about getting through obstacles and never quitting in your pursuit of success. It’s a book every leader should read.

 

“Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill

This classic on leadership and wealth should be a desktop reference for anyone looking to lead in their lives. The tips are timeless and the writing is succinct and to the point without speaking down to the reader.

When it comes to leadership, it is a process not one event. You must always be looking to get better in your life and career. Reading is a powerful way to do that. Don’t fall behind your peers. Instead, capture opportunity by reading the texts above and taking your ability to lead to the next level.

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Red flags to watch out for during the hiring process

It is easy to experience mixed emotions during the hiring process. On one hand, you may feel stressed out as you search for a candidate that perfectly fits your expectations. On the other hand, you might be excited at the seemingly endless possibilities; for all you know, your next hire could have exceptional work ethic and a likeable personality.

Generally, with the latter in mind, hiring should remain positive and optimistic. However, you must still keep your eyes peeled for a variety of red flags in candidates that may be weak, risky, or simply unfit for the role in question.

Here are a few crucial red flags to watch out for during the hiring process.

 

Negative demeanor

Though this warning sign may seem vague at first, it is important to identify candidates exhibiting a negative or unhealthy demeanor. Common traits of this nature include, but are not limited to dismissiveness, condescending tonality, excessive self-deprecation, and pessimism. You want to focus on candidates that are confident, but not too confident. At the same time, be sure to avoid the common trap of perceiving a insecurity as modesty. In most cases, neither of these candidates will serve your business well.

 

Lack of research

Put simply, your ideal candidate should not only be familiar with the advertised position, but also well-versed in your company as a whole. A lack of proper research will be easy to spot as you ask necessary questions related to both the position and company culture. These candidates present an added gamble in terms of their ability to perform their jobs efficiently, and they are best avoided for this reason alone.

 

Late arrival

Weed out poor candidates from strong ones by disregarding those who showed up late for an interview. This tactic may seem nitpicky at first, but in most cases, a late arrival is extremely telling of a potential employee’s reliability. A job interview is normally an urgent and delicate opportunity for interested candidates, and being late essentially undermines the seriousness of the situation — not to mention it is a telltale sign of carelessness and irresponsibility. Aim for candidates that you can put full faith in as they work to meet deadlines and contribute to corporate goals.

 

Unpleasant surprises

Another obvious red flag in the hiring process is a lack of cohesion between a candidate’s interview and resume. For example, a candidate may include an impressive, albeit short stint with a company in your field, only to surprise you mid-interview by telling you he or she was fired for excessive tardiness. In these situations, it is best to move on to other candidates.

 

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