How to Stay Focused and Be Productive

Have you ever had a day where, although you stayed busy, you ended the day feeling like you didn’t get anything done? Each day, we are presented with a lot of choices of what we want to do and accomplish, but we have limited time to do them all.

We are a lot more distracted today than we have ever been before in the past. Tools like Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media all demand little bits of our attention, which add up quickly through the course of a day.

It is also a lot easier for people to interrupt you now, than it has been in the past. In addition to email, there are now lots of free instant messaging apps that make it even easier for people to contact you.

Browsers (even mobile ones) all have tabs, allowing us to switch back and forth between multiple websites with ease.

The end result is that it’s very easy to spend a lot of time doing a lot of small things, without getting anything important accomplished.

So how do we stay focused?


Start at the beginning of each week (or plan ahead at the end of the week) and make a list of all the goals you expect to accomplish that week. Then split up these goals into a list of tasks that need to be accomplished each day of the week, in order to hit the weekly goal.

As you complete tasks, check them off. It is a very satisfying feeling of accomplishment to check off tasks that are completed, as you can now feel real progress being made. There are many free task management programs available to help you do so. Teux Deux is a popular web-based one to get you started.

Keeping a system like this allows you to track how much progress you want to make in the next one month – three months and six months, and then split that up into manageable chunks, so that each day you have something meaningful to do.

You can now go home feeling much better, knowing that you are one day closer to reaching your goals.


How to Create your own Luck – 5 Steps to Success

When people look at someone successful, they often attribute it to luck or circumstance – being at the right place at the right time!

Is it all luck though? Pure, random, coincidence? Or is there more to it?

What if there was a way to create your own luck? A way for you to be at the right place at the right time, just when you needed to be! Well, my friend, you’re in luck, because there is such a way! Today’s your lucky day (good thing you chose to stop by!). Here is my patented (I wish!) 4 step system to creating all the luck you want!

Before we begin, let me define what I mean by luck. I’m not talking about winning the lottery here (although you could try!). I’m talking luck like someone developing a silly game for the iPhone about flinging birds at pigs. WHAM! #1 game on the app store for how many years now? How lucky is that?!?

I’ve had my share of luck over the years. A couple of years after I started CLO, the dean of the university I was studying Chinese at, asked me to introduce my site to her. She then discussed what it would take for me to create such a site for her language center. 6 months later, my new site for her was launched.  And 3 years later, I still earn a monthly revenue from it. How lucky was I to be at her language center right when she wanted someone to create such a site!

Well if you’re following along, you’ve probably guessed that there is more to that story than I’ve told. And you’d be right. Just like there is more to the Rovio story of how they got “lucky” with Angry Birds.

What you didn’t hear in those stories was about all the years of preparation, rejection and failures that happened before luck struck. Let’s take a look at the 5 principles and how they apply to my story and Rovio (not that I could compare my itty bitty success with them otherwise!).

Step 1: Know what it is that you want. Really clearly!

What is it that you hope to get lucky with? Before you do anything, take the time to figure this out. Write it down if you can. The more clear you are in this step, the luckier you can get later. Luck can’t help you if you yourself don’t know what it is that you want.

In my case, while CLO was doing well internationally, I was looking for a way to tap into local foreigners in Taiwan who wanted to learn Chinese. The only way to purchase access on CLO was by using a credit card, which was something that many local foreigners didn’t have.

Their needs were also different. Since they already lived in a Chinese speaking environment. I would have to create a new product for them with a new payment system. So I was on the lookout for such an opportunity. Had I not been, the opportunity would have slipped by without me ever noticing.

In the case of Rovio, they are a games company in Finland that was started in 2003. The had launched 51 titles (yes you read that correctly) before having their first hit with Angry Birds. In fact, just prior to the launch of Angry Birds, business was not very good.  They had reduced their staff from a peak of 50 to just 12. They needed a hit, and they needed one fast!

Their problem in the years prior had to do with distribution. Any time they came up with a new mobile game, they had to negotiate deals with each mobile carrier and phone manufacturer separately to distribute their game for them. So they were on the look out for a better distribution model.

When Apple launched the app store for the iPhone in 2008, they pounced on it!  Their goal was to create a popular app for the iPhone first, and then use that success to expand to other platforms later.

© by hashmil

Have you ever been in the market for a new car, and then suddenly noticed that same car being driven around you by so many people? How did that car get so popular all of a sudden?

Well of course it didn’t. It just seems that way. The cars were always there, you just didn’t notice them before. It’s the same thing with luck.

Opportunities are always around you. You just need to be aware of them. Knowing exactly what you want helps you become aware.

Step 2: Do your homework.

Ok, you know what you want, and you’ve written it down. Good job! Now it’s time to do your homework.

When opportunity does come along, will you have what it takes to take advantage of it? If you’re looking for that dream job, do you have the qualifications for it, if an opportunity opened up tomorrow?

In my case, when the university wanted their site, I already had CLO to show them. I also already had a plan of what I could create for them that would meet their needs. If I didn’t have this ready, the deal wouldn’t have gone through.

In Rovio’s case, they researched what types of apps were successful. As Wired reports:

It should be physics-based (popular on Flash websites at the time); there should be no tutorial; loading times should be minimal, so that you could play happily for just one minute; and it needed an icon which would stand out in the App store.

Angry Birds was created to match all the criteria they had researched for successful apps. Their homework paid off!

Step 3: Make Connections.

Now that you know what you want and have done your homework on it, it’s time to find the people to help you make it happen. These could be the people who help you create the product on the back-end, or the connections on the front end who introduce you to the right people.

In my case, I already had a programmer on standby who had helped me create CLO. He later implemented the changes for the new site for me. I also had a teacher who became one of my biggest supporters. She introduced my site, and later me to the dean. Without her, this project wouldn’t have gone through.

To give their app maximum opportunity, Rovio used an independent publisher Chillingo, who had several successful titles under their belt already. Chillingo also had a good relationship with Apple, which set the stage for Angry Birds to be a front page featured app.

Make a list of the type of people you need to become lucky. If you can’t reach them directly, find an intermediary to help you make the right connections.

Step 4: Be prepared.

© by WordRidden

Once you have gotten to this stage, make sure you’re able to follow through. The last thing you want is for opportunity to come knocking tomorrow, but you’re too busy to answer the door!

The dean was ready to use my site, if I could have it ready for the fall semester. That didn’t leave me much time to get a prototype ready, and have students try it out and give feedback before the final version was ready. However I did what it took to make it happen.

In Rovio’s case, they made sure they too were prepared for their eventual success.

On February 11, 2010, Apple agreed to feature Angry Birds on the front page of the UK App Store as game of the week. In preparation, Rovio made a YouTube trailer, only the second ever for an iPhone game, which has now had over 17 million views. The company also created 42 new levels, which went far beyond those of the simplistic first episode in imagination and design. Finally, Rovio made a free, Lite version. All three were released within three days. After it was featured, the app jumped from the around 600th to first in the App Store. “The sales hit a different level,” says Mikael. “It was April when we went to number one in the US.” It hasn’t budged from the top-ten since. Rovio had their hit.

Step 5: Maintain Momentum

Congratulations! Lighting struck, and you took advantage of it. Now what? You could sit back and relax on a beach somewhere. Or you could maintain the momentum you’ve earned so far and try to take it to the next level.

Having one university under my belt gave me the credibility to approach other universities in Taiwan since then. I have since been approached by one other university and am currently working on an even bigger project for another educational institute.

Rovio has gone on to expand Angry Birds to other mobile platforms, the web, TV and even offline to books and toys. Something tells me they’re not done yet!

Hopefully you got something from the above. Yes, some people certainly seem luckier than others. But if you go behind the scenes, you’ll usually find that there was a lot of work that went on to create that luck!

The good news is that you too can create this same luck, with a bit of effort and preparation. As they say, you have to be lucky to be good, and be good to be lucky!

Baby Steps

„Master painter takes baby steps!“ © by Михал Орела

Do you know where you want to be a year from now?

(If the answer is no, determine that first, before reading the rest of this post).  Are you closer to that vision today, than you were yesterday?  Are you closer this week than you were last week?

While we may not know the exact path we need to take to get where we want to be, keep an eye on what you accomplish on a daily basis and make sure it is taking you closer to your vision.  Even small steps accomplished each day, like making contact with that key someone, or making slight progress in a progress are all steps in the right direction.

I have tackled some seemingly huge projects in the past, that looked quite daunting when I first began.  However through little progress day in and day out, milestones slowly got hit and projects eventually got completed.

Stay focused and break huge tasks down into small, bite-sized, manageable bits.  Getting through a lot of bits will eventually add up to a lot.

This way the next time someone comments how fast time flies, you’ll have progress to show for it.

How to Write the Perfect Business Plan (Hint – don’t!)

This post is going to seem a bit contrary to the advice most people give you.  Whenever you start a new venture, you are advised to write a detailed business plan to get you where you want to go, and keep you on track.  The trouble is (especially in the online world) most businesses don’t go according to plan.  New technologies are coming out all the time that render previous ways of doing business obsolete.  In order to succeed, you’ll need to remain flexible and be open to changing paths where necessary.

Instead, I recommend setting a clear vision of your company and where you would like to be six months from now, a year from now, two years from now etc.  However keep the paths that get you closer to your vision open.  Be on the lookout for new ideas that can get you to where you want to go faster.

When I first had the idea to teach Chinese online, I had no idea what a podcast was, leave alone that it would form the hub of my business model.  Later, mobile apps became a big part of my business strategy.  In both cases, I was able to get on board fairly early, which played a big part in my success.  Had I been a few years late to get on board, the results might have told a very different story.

Keep tabs on your biggest customers (especially early on).  Find out what they like about your business, and what they think can be improved.  Strive to keep them happy.  Set up a Google alert on your company name, to find out what others are saying about you or your company.  Many times, such alerts have led me into forums that were talking about me that provided extremely valuable insight.  Such feedback was then used to tweak the system, keep improving and take me closer to the goals I had set for the business.

If you have written a business plan already, make sure it’s a living, breathing document that can be altered and changed where necessary.