Sami, I know this post is long past... but looking at your Sub-9 hour secret sauce article... I'm interested to know what's up with all those < 20' runs?
Practically speaking, it’s typically either run to pool(+swim) or some other “commuting”. I do them for two reasons: (1) it’s incredibly time efficient, (2) frequency, even if short runs, is a way to build muscular endurance for long running events without damaging yourself with 2hr runs.
Twenty nights in a hotel, two nights in my own bed, three in a hotel, two in my own bed and tomorrow again three more in a hotel. That’s the last 30 days. In fact, I’ve slept more nights in a hotel than in any of my “homes” since 2007. That’s not something to be proud of, but that’s how it goes.
My keywords for choosing a business hotel are convenience and frugality. I think I can handle almost anything and even as a business traveler have seen it from a basic 1 star to shared bathrooms to plastic sheets to the non-business overly lux, but one aspect has become a true showstopper for me: there must be a gym for training
Unfortunately this great idea and anticipation of a gym often fails to deliver its promise. So for the benefit of hotel general managers and other health-conscious business travelers, here are seven reasons (or questions to ask prior to booking!) for the above-mentioned failure. And in my case, that failure means no future stays in that hotel:
1. Gym opens at 8AM or later with no exceptions.
This is surprisingly common. I could understand this rule at a beach resort, but how many business travelers can workout 8-9am and still make it to their flight or first meeting? Sometimes I’ve managed to talk myself into an off-hours gym through a janitor or by climbing through a window, but those are happy exceptions.
2. False advertising: one treadmill or a 1 mile walk does not equal a gym
Half of the 1-2 star hotels fall into this group. That single treadmill is additionally often broken or already in use by someone walking 20minute miles on it. Some nicer hotels have a “partner gym” which means hiking a couple miles to another location for a workout. These and many similar “false-advertising” cases shouldn’t count as an in-house gym listed in the amenities
3. Equipment doesn’t work and nobody was aware of it
Treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical machine, cables – yes, they all require maintenance. Countless times I’ve “checked out” the gym during check-in, but once you step on your piece of equipment, it doesn’t work and the front desk had no idea about it. Pedal is broken, no electricity, treadmill belt is stuck, and so on. I’ve unfortunately seen it all.
4. Access to the gym is through the lobby, restaurant or a FINE restaurant
I’m sure there are people who are slightly sweaty in a cute way after their work out. In my case, I emerge from the beating looking, feeling and smelling like I had been submerged in a sweat pool, several times. I know I should apologize the hundreds of people who’ve been fine-dining when I’ve crawled through the restaurant back to my room, or the fellow elevator passengers in their suits, but no, I think this is just bad design.
5. No bathroom access from/at the fitness room
This might sound trivial, but after you hydrate well, then hike down from the 20th floor and find the gym from the maze and get to the half point (30-40mins) of your workout, you will NEED that bathroom badly. I should not share this, but not too long ago I was staying and working out at a relatively nice hotel in Geneva, Switzerland and went looking for bathroom outside the gym room. After a few minutes of searching with no luck (my room was a 5min hike away from the fitness room), came back to the empty gym and I had no choice. Those drinking cups came in very handy. Convenient storage for liquids. I am sure that if I have any political aspirations in my 60’s, those security camera shots will be dug out and that’s the end of my political ambitions.
6. No towels or paper towels at the gym
The results of this design failure can be seen or felt on the floor and the sticky surfaces everywhere.
7. No temperature control or a “negative” temperature control
The extreme version of this failure was evident at a Swiss hotel where a sauna(!) was installed into the gym room, next to an elliptical machine. The temperature was well above 100F +(40C+) at the gym room. The lesser version was an L.A. hotel where the gym had a single window straight to the sun, no fan, no A/C and I had to stop running on the treadmill after 30minutes when the sweat went through my running shoes and the belt became dangerously slippery.
With that, happy travels and better designs for the future!
Beautifully curated flash sale sites, “post-Amazon” e-commerce companies and monthly “retail” subscription services, such as Gilt Groupe, Fab, One Kings Lane and Shoedazzle have made big headlines with their reportedly crazy fast revenue growth. Some people think they’re a credible threat to Amazon. And investors are making a case that’s the future of online retail. To me, it appears that the main attraction of these retails sites is beautifully curated retail content, pleasure of discovering new things and to some extent (perception of a) low price.
But my own frustrating holiday shopping experience made me question the future viability of these next gen e-commerce sites as I see them.
I was blessed with a couple gift cards to some of these curated retail sites and finally had to try to buy something. I found it impossible to search and find a product I needed. I literally couldn’t spend the free money I had (and still have) in my hands. I kept asking, who actually buys all this fabulous stuff and where are we headed in online retail and commerce?
Conclusion #1: There will always be need for the “accidental” discovery of new things – maybe not for me and maybe not for all products.
- First, my wife was quick to point out that “You don’t get it, people love to buy stuff for the sake of buying and this is how almost all women shop. We find or are offered things we don’t really need and buy it. That’s how magazines, bazaars, night markets and even malls have always worked.” Fair enough, I just don’t get it, I just search and find.
Furthermore, I looked at the stats for size of U.S. home sizes AND storage business over the past several years. Both growing and expanding fast, per below chart. This seems to support my wife’s claim that “I don’t get it”: Most consumers like to buy stuff they can then stuff into boxes and store and repeat. I would predict this absolute madness will continue, even if this n=1 only buys for specific needs. I believe you can’t “search and find” your way to that madness, you have to discover stuff you didn’t know you needed.
- Second, all buyers are of course in different phases of the purchase funnel (planning/discovery/inspiration vs. transactional/ready-to-buy), so it seems obvious this need for new discoveries won’t change in the future either. Heck, even I look for accidental inspiration for certain things, like these travel and life experiences sites.
Discovery (rather than a specific search) will likely serve well all of the following user needs in a broad range of categories from clothes to movies to travel to cosmetics to furniture to dating.
— Consumer early in the purchase funnel
— Design based or complex rather than a commodity product
— Pure entertainment (window shopping homes, anyone?)
Conclusion #2: Discovery will get more fragmented online and online retailers either need to become an original design product company OR build massive scale off- and online.
So the need for discovery is here to stay in most e-commerce categories, save for simplest commodity products like toothpaste. But will beautifully curated sites and these “discovery services” consolidate online and become the profit driver in e-commerce, at the expense of boring “Search and Find” sites. I think not. (Maybe if there’s a 10X radical supply chain innovation for price or mass customization that others can’t replicate. I just doubt that.)
- First, the paths to “accidental” discovery online will likely continue to be extremely fragmented and people stumble on new products via individual bloggers (Cobra Snake!), niche industry blogs, online forums, tweets, news articles, facebook updates, instagram photos, youtube videos, Pins etc. I don’t see strong forces consolidating discovery online, just the opposite and new cool discovery services are popping up all the time. I would predict that soon you’ll be able to discover and purchase items conveniently from distributed media content, such as pictures and videos.
- Second, Magazines like Elle, Popular Mechanics, CAR’n’Driver or Conde Naste Traveler didn’t morph into manufacturers or retailers of their respective products for a reason: you need massive scale for your store/marketplace and building a huge offline supply chain for physical products is very expensive. And that’s even more expensive if you compete against Amazon.
Who then, will win in the online commerce. is it search or discovery driven retail sites?
Neither. Native “Search and find” will be absolute essential to all online retailers and discovery will consist of dozens of small paths like the thousands of little side rivers feeding the real river Amazon.
Most importantly, I would predict that any retailer must either have massive scale (Amazon) or become an original design product company (Warby Parker, Bonobos), but companies in-between will be squeezed over-time by one of the above two categories. Discovery alone won’t make it (unless you’re a pure media company with massive scale like Pinterest or a niche discovery site e.g. for travel) and Amazon could well “power” all the retail transactions and order fulfilment on product discovery sites.
But one thing, sadly, will remain the same, people will continue to buy crap they don’t even need.
Hi Sami - Love your content, you're an inspiration! I wanted to ask - how do you go about planning your tri season? Also, once planned/mapped out, how do you maintain an overview of the big, 'season-long' picture - by diary, big white board on the wall, calendar? Look forward to hearing back. Thanks Ioan Rees.
I try to create an annual plan by end of mid January each year with the following simple steps:
1. Map my life goals for next year.
2. Schedule vacations, physical adventures and big work commitments for the year.
3. Decide what (triathlon) race(s) matter for the year in light of (1) and (2).
4. At this point, I start to think of the training program (with my coach and/or myself), which has quite a few constraints from 1,2 and 3.
5. Map out the type of workouts at a weekly (not daily) level in 3-4 week blocks leading up to the key events.
6. The end result is a simple spreadsheet with each line representing a week and the main focus (of training) for that week e.g. “recovery” or “Vo2max” or “race like intervals”. It’s pretty easy to stay on track if you have a plan like this….which always must be iterated a few times during the year, though.
I'm very inspired by your training and results. Do you have a typical buildup period in number of weeks to a half ironman or ironman? Interested to hear how your buildup compares to the more traditional buildups that typically range 12-18 weeks or so. Does your training vary during this period (eg a periodisation style) or are the intervals you are doing fairly constant throughout your whole buildup? And do you build on the intervals each week (eg intensity, number, mileage). Great blog
For the most part, when I’m training in a focused way — which certainly isn’t the case 3-4 months of the year — I’m “always” ready to race and fresh&fit enough to do that. I have less of a focus on a specific build up during which I beat myself.
However, towards the most important race(s), my training becomes more race specific 4-6 weeks out from the race. For example, the longer the race, the longer the intervals, etc.
Lastly, of course you want to have progression: body only reacts to increased stress to super compensate. That could be volume and/or intensity. In my case, I don’t want to increase hours invested into training so mostly it means gradually faster/harder (assuming your fitness improves each week).
I bet you’ve had a day or two, during which you’ve said to yourself “I wish I would have just stayed in bed all day”. At least I have.
Over the years I’ve started to pay more and more attention to and tune into my mood as an indicator of my well-being. Anecdotally, I’ve also noticed that my mood is a two-to-four day leading indicator of almost any kind of sickness. Of course, it is easy to confuse your inner signals if your brain is marinated with several shots of 5 hour energy or espressos throughout the day.
More than a year ago I started tracking my mood on a scale of 1 to 5 within two minutes of waking up – every morning. The scale is simple and subjective - unlike the more sophisticated mood states used by people in white coats - and generally for me:
- 1 equals to “I’m pretty sure I hate the world and the world hates me”
- 5 equals to feeling “I’m ready to change the world and take on any physical or other challenge today. Bring it on!”
My hypothesis was that within 2 minutes of waking up, I would know what and what type of effort I would be ready for that day; whether to double down or take it easy, especially in physical efforts, such as exercise. (Note, though, there’s a meta study that tells a bit of an opposite story that athlete’s top performance could not be explained by the sophisticated mood state scale)
Now that I have almost 450 days worth of valid data about my wake-up mood and the same day workout performance (using a 1 to 5 scale, relative to my baseline fitness; 1 meaning “I wish I had not tried to exercise at all” and 5 “off the charts records”) I took a look at the results.
Interestingly, there was a pretty clear correlation between my immediate wake-up mood and physical performance. (R^2 = 25%) Furthermore, if I ran the analysis after eliminating the middle mood values (=3), there was a stronger connection between performance and mood (R^2 = 34%). Arguably, I have mornings when I don’t know or have time to really tune into what’s going on and mark it as “3” or maybe good, maybe bad, which seems to make the predictive power less effective.
What had no correlation was hours slept and my physical performance, or my wake up mood and hours slept the night before. Of course, several nights of bad sleep started to have impact on mood.
What’s the take-away?
Especially as an athlete, mood seems to be a quick and easy predictor of how rested and ready my body and mind is for training or other physical performance. And even more importantly, a leading indicator before things really get bad, such as injuries. That’s a very cheap and time efficient way to determine what kind of exercise or rest your body is ready for that day. In other words, if I’m at 1 or 2, I should just rest or skip any big challenges until I’m back on track. Ignore these signals and you’ll be making backwards progress before you know.
In the future, I’d like to test (or if someone knows good research on these, please send my way!) whether wake up mood also correlates well with things like:
- brain performance
- mood in the evening (i.e. how likely are you to bounce back during the day)
- creativity and effectiveness during the day
My hypothesis is that “wake up mood” could be an effective (and cheap, easy, non-invasive and very low tech) indicator for optimizing one’s business performance. This should also help avoiding prescription drugs and doctor visits before it’s too late to slow down and take it easy for a day, or a week.
Hi Sami. I really enjoyed your interview with Ben Greenfield. As a result I have started using RestWise. You said something to the effect that you generally workout well rested. Do you shoot for a specific RestWise number? How do you use RestWise to know when you should workout or not? Thanks, Craig.
If I have a very easy or full recovery day in front of me, I don’t change my plan no matter what the “recovery score” is. However, if I have a hard training session that day and my score has dropped below 70-80 or even worse, it’s been coming down a few days and now well below 70, I’ll likely turn that “hard session” into a super easy recovery workout or just a day off. It takes several weeks to calibrate the score for yourself and I don’t use it as an absolute go/nogo anyway. E.g. I might have a 3-4 day harder training block (followed by more recovery) and expectedly I’m getting more tired the 3rd or 4th day. That’s part of the plan and I don’t get alarmed unless I’m really falling apart (that’d be ~40-50 score on Restwise for me).
I am one of those unlucky people who have a very sensitive stomach. Give me a tiny bit milk, travel to a new time zone, sleep in a new environment, too much stress or a slight change in diet and my stomach is ALL messed up like Swiss clockwork, so I can sympathize with those people who I see running to a bush or port-a-potty for number 2’s or 1.5’s during a marathon or triathlon. A couple of weeks ago at Ironman Sweden I (unfortunately) had to witness a guy pulling his pants down for “immediate pressure release” in front of me by the road on the run!
No offense, that used to be me too, but I’ve perfected an approach to pre-race nutrition in order to avoid these GI issues and I now have exactly 10 years of bush-free half marathons, marathons and (Ironman) triathlons - meaning, not a single stomach issue or run to a bathroom/ bush/ ditch during 50 or more 2h+ endurance events. Here’s how:
My approach is based on two principles and assumptions:
- Create a systematic process that is repeatable time after time once proven to work.
- If there is nothing solid in your digestive system at the start line and you eat nothing solid during a race, it is unlikely that something other than pee and sweat comes out of you.**
The result is what my wife calls the patent pending Sami Liquid Diet, which can be summed up in one sentence: From 20 hours before the start until you cross the finish line, only eat liquids. Really.
In more detail, this is the process that I use:
- Normal eating plus carb loading to fill up glycogen stores using the more recent scientific evidence.
- I aim to leave this day with my glycogen fuel tanks filled up, so the day before a race I can just maintain. Glycogen has not been shown to “leak” out of muscles, so once its there, it’s there until you exercise again. Other than this, no liquid tricks during this day.
- Breakfast: Fiber heavy clean food (e.g. apple, oatmeal, rye bread, etc.), about 500-800kcal
- Pre-race workout: 200-400kcal liquid carbohydrates to fuel most of carb losses
- Post-workout meal (by 10am or so): Fiber heavy clean food (e.g. oatmeal, bread).
- Rest of the day: Strictly only liquids in about 25%/25%/50% ratio of fat/protein/carb by energy content. Potentially add some sodium to the drinks.
- The first challenge with an all-liquid diet is there is no fiber and other insolubles in your stomach to provide automatic caloric pacing for absorbing energy slowly over several hours post meal. In other words, you can’t rely on 3 big meals without fueling your fat cells (which you want to avoid). Secondly, you might not be able to rely on senses such as hunger to control your eating. Therefore, I do two things (1) I count all calories during this day, (2) I drink small amounts (200-300kcal) every hour until bed time.
In my case, I know my base metabolic rate is about 2100kcal/day and my pre-race workout is about 900-1000kcal, so I focus on getting 2100kcal + 1000kcal + 400kcal(buffer) = 3,500kcal during this day.
- Immediately after waking up: 10dl or more water, 50mg caffeine (that’s about a cup of black tea) and some sodium (that’s accessible e.g. in table salt).
[After the water, caffeine and 20hrs of liquid diet, it is likely that you’ve cleaned out the ole’ pipes, so there shouldn’t be anything solid in you now.]
- Race day breakfast (2-4 hrs before start): 100kcal(25g) protein, 100kcal(10g)fat, 300kcal(75g) carbohydrates from fruit/veg juice and maltodextrin.
- DURING last 90min before start: 200kcal(50g) carbohydrates from maltodextrin and fructose in a bike bottle (7.5dl).
The three most common responses to the idea of a liquid diet I get are:
- Q: Dude, I knew you were crazy!
A: I’m sorry I can’t respond, maybe my wife can.
- Q: Aren’t you hungry all the time?
A: No, you should get the same nutrients, just liquid. The key is to “drip feed” yourself like you were getting an IV, but through your mouth! This way your blood sugar remains somewhat steady.
- Q: So what do you drink for liquids?
A: Protein I take from pure whey, casein or soy powder, depending on what is easiest available. Fat from oils or oil capsules, which are standardized and available everywhere. Carbohydrates I get from a combination of fruit and vegetable juices and maltodextrin powder (or in the worst case scenario, from energy gels). It might sound crazy to eat maltodextrin gels (e.g. GU) during the day before a race, but if you truly want to eliminate GI issues, one of the most important things is to rely on proven food and not experiment with “local cuisine” within 24hrs of your race. While packaged fruit juices are readily available in any country or city, you should limit fruit juice (since its mostly fructose) intake and make sure to get a mix of carbohydrates. Other examples of drinks that are available anywhere in the U.S. are Muscle Milk, V8 vegetable juice, Almond/Rice milk from which you can easily get a mix of carbohydrates as well as fat and protein.
It goes without saying that this is based on my own 10 years and 50+ races of experimentation and I’m sharing this only as a thought and not taking any responsibility if this protocol screws up your A race!
**) Of course it is possible to still create conditions for gas or pure water absorption in your digestive system, but that’s a matter of race time nutrition. Avoid eating or drinking too much fructose (aka fruit sugar) or drinking a gallon of sea water, for example.
Most of my friends know that I have a tracking spreadsheet and diary that covers many areas of my life from happiness to body and brain performance for the last 10+ years, but no one really knows what’s in it. Which is probably a good thing. And since the Triathlete magazine re-published their entertaining article about my quirky habits, I’ve received several emails EACH DAY from strangers asking for “your tracking template”. That’s all nice and good. But given the – what seemed to me – very high interest in this geeky topic, and strangers’ time spent emailing me (and my time responding to most of them), I thought to share my thoughts about tracking and how to make it effective.
First, similar to the benefits of learning an underlying phenomena vs. memorizing formulas in physics, I think it is much more impactful to think and understand the purpose and benefits of tracking, rather than pick up a (spreadsheet) template from someone else or another company in business setting. In fact, if you were to take my spreadsheet, you’d track completely useless things, such as number of pushups each morning (see below).
STEP #1: Purpose and benefits of tracking? Why?
I have no idea why you might need tracking, but here’s why I do it and why I think it can be applied to many areas, from corporate performance to your own life:
1) Tracking, especially manual rather than automated, brings attention to an important issue
- As an example, I track and write down the number of hours I slept each night, because I suck at getting enough sleep, but I’ve learned – the hard way – that sleeping is the single most important performance factor for me athletically and at the office in the form of creativity, short term memory and attention span.
- Another thing I conveniently avoid is doing functional strength and core exercises, but I know from experience that I won’t be able to stand up and run relaxed after a long triathlon “time trial” race bike ride unless my lower back and some other core muscles have been trained well before a long race. So: I write down the minutes of “core exercise” every morning.
- And last year my co-workers challenged me to a push up competition and despite my bulky build, I didn’t have the endurance to do more than 35 pushups in a row. After less than two months of tracking pushup reps every day (and consequently doing it 6 days a week), I easily did 100 non-stop.
- If your goal is to drop weight e.g. for a race, weighing yourself every morning and writing it down will already make a big impact in getting to your goal (search for academic studies on this if you don’t believe me)
- Ask yourself: what is it that I know I, my team or my company should be doing, but I/we don’t. Start tracking it every day and you’ll have a new level of focus tomorrow!
2) Tracking and diary can help find patterns and cause–effect relationships
- This is probably the stuff the quantified self movement talks most about. Someone found that if he stood minutes on one leg, he slept better the following night. This correlation and cause-effect relationship was found with simple tracking and analysis (although it probably does not stand scientific scrutiny).
- As an example, I simply write down the minutes of each exercise each day and a qualitative description of my workout. That has helped me discover why I got injured: I ran too many days in a row (easy to forget unless you have a record of it), my bike seat was too high and destroyed my lower back the day after a ride. Or, I can go back a year or two and study the pattern leading into Ironman Hawaii triathlon or my best race, and simply copy the 7 days preparation leading into my next race.
- Ask yourself: Assuming a successful / unsuccessful event (whether at work or something else), what success ingredients would you like to study afterwards to better understand the ingredients of success.
3) Tracking and historical data is the proof and takes emotions and politics out
- Is your business unit growing, shrinking, catching up a competitor? Are you truly getting fitter or just “feeling” better or worse? Data brings objectivity and democracy into decision making (how often does the highest paid person’s opinion win in a corporate debate?) and performance evaluations.
- For example, I have separate section in my spreadsheet where I write down my Heart Rate, Power/speed/time and Perceived Effort for certain standardized workouts, every 1-2 weeks. I don’t have to guess whether I’m fitter or not, data tells me. That could be 20min all out effort on a bike trainer, 15minutes of running at 6min/mile on a treadmill or 5x200yds in a pool with average best time.
- Ask yourself: What are true markers of success in what you’re trying to achieve and track it in a standardized way on a regular basis.
4) Tracking hacks for personal wellness and happiness
- I happen to be a happiness-seeking person. (some argue there are 6.97Billion of us on the planet with that disorder). Turns out happiness is a choice and there’s research that says writing three things you’re grateful for and excited about each day, rewires your brain to be happy. Well, I do just that on my spreadsheet.
- Last and maybe least, a little diary detailing your life adventures is a convenient way to remember what happened, say, on August 20th in 2010 in your life. (I got married).
The reason for all the things I track – from caffeine intake to daily mood to resting heart rate to heart rate variability to running KMs to “feeling 1 to 5” – fall into one or more of those above four categories. If you ask yourself the questions I listed above, you should be able to come up with a list of things that might be worth tracking.
STEP #2: How to track to make it all work at minimum cost with maximum impact?
If you have listed all the things you want to track, you might want to consider a few things that actually make you successful in tracking:
- Make your tracking “platform” accessible from anywhere, anytime. For personal use, I use a Google Spreadsheet that I can access anywhere with GSM or CDMA cellular data coverage even if there’s no WiFi.
- Avoid platforms that easily disappear or are tough to port to the new new thing. In other words, paper diary is not very convenient when you want to do it all through Google Glasses and voice recognition in 2014.
- Use a platform and template that easily allows you to manipulate and analyze your data afterwards, whether to look for correlations or change units, formats or add new data fields. I’ve found a simple spreadsheet with rows as dates and columns as data fields to be best for this reason.
- Create a habit to track your data every day. For me this is 30-45seconds immediately after waking up every morning and another 30-60seconds every evening as part of my wind down routine.
- There’s a big difference between measuring “Outcome Goals” and “Success Ingredients”. In general, the latter is much more actionable and more useful for tracking. For example, your or your company losing a competition is an outcome, but increasing your running mileage or increasing customer retention might be a much more actionable Success Ingredient that you can affect on a daily basis.
- Lastly - and very importantly - structure your tracking habits and template so that you can be as actionable as possible with minimum effort and (time) cost. For example, avoid tracking things that you obviously will not use for any actionable future benefit, avoid checking or tracking your data more frequently than needed (e.g. a CEO is unlikely to make new actionable decisions every hour based on the same data stream, while a consumer Internet user acquisition hacker might need to track data every 30 seconds. At home, tracking your resting HR or weight 6 times a day isn’t going to help you make any actionable decisions about it.) For me personally, I track things on a daily basis and mostly make bigger decisions about my habits (or athletic training) on a weekly or monthly basis based on the data.
- (potentially) Automate some tracking and reporting or alerting; although, this may not help you bring attention to what you’re tracking.
I hope that helps you to build your own tracking template that works for you. If requested, I’m of course happy to share my template, but you may just end up doing hundreds of pushups each day, when you should be sprinting on a track, learning to speed read or increase your revenue per visit!
World’s leading mobile photo sharing site just sold for one billion dollars. Awesome and congratulations! I think they might have sold themselves short because of how our brains fool us: we often obsess over arbitrary numbers and outcome goals.
People – myself included – get easily obsessed over an arbitrary number or outcome goal that they think defines success and/or ultimate happiness. Take your pick: Build or sell a cool $1Billion-dollar-company, get $10Million in cash, run a sub 3 hour marathon, bench press 400 pounds or finish an Ironman under 9 hours, win an Olympic Gold or Super Bowl. How often have you thought of that specific number or outcome to be your ultimate goal (in life) or the right to finally celebrate and live happily ever after?
I want to make a case that our typical obsession over a specific “number” as the ultimate goal or almost any outcome goal leads to suboptimal performance and not achieving one’s (or a company’s) full potential, and most importantly, creates unnecessary feelings of loss and sadness. I’ll also propose a better way that will help you achieve more and have more fun and enjoyment in the process.
I was recently at a fantastic technology company founder conference where a successful under 30 year old entrepreneur – who had sold his company for deep nine figures (read: for hundreds of millions of dollars) in the recent past and made deep eight figures himself – looked a bit dissatisfied and told me with a straight face that he wants and he must sell his next company for “a billion dollars – that’s the new benchmark”. Now, it’s fantastic to create a lot of shareholder value. And Billion is more than a few million and $1.1Billion is more than a Billion . But there is no special value in $1B relative to $1.1B or $0.9B other than the +/- $0.1B difference. But isn’t it great to be so ambitious to set the goal of building and selling a company for a cool $1Billion?
It might be cool, but I think that there are at least three problems that will lead to suboptimal performance:
- First, you are focused on an outcome that is difficult for you or your team or the company to relate to or improve on a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. If your stated goal is to “build a $1B company”, is that something you or your team can get excited about and build towards every morning they wake up? Most likely not.
Furthermore, most “outcome goals” are partially or entirely out of your control. For example, company valuation is highly dependent on current multiples in the overall equity markets, competitive environment and even inflation, which you or your team can’t do anything about. Measuring your performance or letting your happiness depend on that kind of measure out of your control is pure waste of time and energy.
- Second, if you make decisions based on that arbitrary number, you’re likely to not be objective and fall short of your potential. For example, your company may have come to a dead end in a highly competitive market and three bidders offer $900M for it. You say no because “it’s billion or nothing” and the next thing is your three bigger competitors destroy your business and are left with nothing. Obsessing over an arbitrary number just cost you all.
Or, your goal may sell you short, as I’m guessing with Instagram: you’re so obsessed over a cool $1Billion dollars that you say yes because it’s a shit load of money for a company with no revenues and only a dozen+, although amazing, employees. Yes, it is. (note: I have no insider information on these particular negotiations or offers or sellers’ motives, so I’m absolutely building this case based on napkin math and for illustrative purposes only). On the other hand, Facebook is mainly a social photo sharing web site and most of our daily digital communication and media consumption is going mobile. At the same time, Instagram is the leader in mobile photo sharing. Assuming Facebook is truly worth $100Billion as reported, their $1B purchase price is 1% of the company stock. Would you pay 1% for the future of their (entire) company? Sounds like a bargain to me. I would have asked for 1.9% or $1.9B or $900M more. If your brain has established billion as the ultimate goal or “outcome goal”, you - with your brain marinating in dopamine and other feel good neuro-transmitters - may make a decision that sells you short and completely fails to achieve your potential as a company. Whether that is true or not in that case, I don’t know. What we do know is that Mr. Zuckerberg did not obsess over a cool $1Billion in 2007 when Y! wanted to scoop the company.
- Third, if that is the personal goal for “making it” or the “right to be happy in life”, it is most likely going to fail you. Fail you badly. What happens when your buddy sells a company for $2B? Is the new new hurdle to be happy at $2Billion? What if the company absolutely fails and you’re back to eating Ramen noodles: Free meal and and an apartment would probably make you extremely happy and you’d stop thinking $1Billion as the bar for happiness. (btw. Research also shows that big time lottery winners quickly revert back to their base level of happiness and so do quadriplegics after their accident. So much for “the number” being your source of happiness).
Using outcome goals and arbitrary numbers is no better in sports. Three weeks ago my wife decided to run the New York Half Marathon. In just a couple of short months she had improved her running interval pace from 7min/mile to close to 6min/mile with some high intensity training. That’s an absolutely massive improvement in that short time. But due crazy international work travel a week prior to the race weekend, she got very sick, but decided to run anyway. She finished in a good form, although sick, and took more than 5 minutes off her PR. After the race she was crying and depressed, because she was about 30 seconds short of making the NYC Marathon qualifying time. All this, although she wasn’t even going to run the NYC Marathon. She was short of that [arbitrary] qualifying time and absolutely destroyed by it. For several days she was frustrated about the wasted entry fee, time spent for the run, despite her PR and massive gains in running fitness in the past several months. She lost her interest in training for a running event and continuing on the path of improvement. This week she got an email from the race organizers: “We apologize there were some issues with the race timing, you have qualified for the NYC Marathon from the half marathon run.”. With this new information, was the half marathon now worth all the time, a huge success and a legitimate source of joy and happiness even though she had zero interest in actually qualifying for the NYC Marathon?
So I argue that our typical obsession over a specific “number” as the ultimate goal and most of the “outcome goals” lead to suboptimal performance and not achieving one’s (or a company’s) full potential, and most importantly, creates unnecessary feelings of loss and sadness that further limit your potential.
But there’s a better way.
Instead, focus on improving the actual ingredients of success with relatively short term goals and set a vision that is hugely ambitious but not tied into a specific, arbitrary number or outcome goal. Find enjoyment from the continuous process and improvement and celebrate your outcomes (those numbers) as milestones along the way to achieving your full potential.
How does that work in practice? In the case of an athlete, improving the actual ingredients of success would mean obsessing over continuous improvement in technique, strength, VO2Max, lactate threshold, gear, etc. and measuring them religiously and celebrating continued progress in each area. You would also set specific performance goals, such as a 5% improvement in running pace by end of next month (Vs. an outcome goal “winning my team’s 5K race” which is partly out of your control and not something you can train for day in, day out).
For example, a triathlete who obsesses over a specific end time or podium spot in training or in a race, will likely either go too fast or too slow (e.g., due conditions such as wind or terrain or a new competitor who goes way too fast) in a race or fail to improve each aspect of his or her fitness.
With continued obsession and enjoyment over each detail and their improvement based on short term performance goals, all records will fall and competitors will be left behind. But if your only goal is to “break X hours in a race of Y length next year”, you’ll have many unhappy moments and fail to achieve your full potential that might actually be a MUCH faster time.
In fact, research shows that one of the differences between the very best (those who win several Olympic gold) and the best (who compete in Olympics) is the very best’s focus on continuous improvement rather than an outcome goal, a medal or a specific result. You can find several studies that support this for sports specific goal setting.
Similarly, in building a company, I would not pay attention to outcome goals that are out of your or your team’s control, although I continue to see articles where people talk about building a X Billion-dollar-company. (How about a $100Billion dollar startup that’s not Facebook?) Instead, I would focus on two things:
(1) identify and obsess over the true ingredients of success and set SMART or SMARTER relatively short term goals to continuously improve these drivers of your success, and;
(2) set and communicate a clear, inspiring and meaningful vision that is ridiculously ambitious.
Then celebrate both the continuous improvement in your success drivers (“our customer net promoter score increased +2 points!”) AND the outcome goals/milestones (“we just hit the first million in revenues” or “we just passed our competitor in downloads!”) as you drive by them and fly by a million, a $1Billion, $2Billion, and so on. But don’t obsess over or stop at any of the numbers or outcome goals - they’re just arbitrary numbers on your way achieving your or your company’s full potential. That, I believe, is the recipe for achieving ones full potential and more.
A great management book somewhat related to this philosophy is The Score Takes Care of Itself by Stanford and San Francisco football coach Bill Walsh.
Does this mean it’s not ok to sell a company for $1.0Billion dollars? Well, board members of a company have a fiduciary duty to shareholders and if that means selling a company for a cool $1Billion dollars at a given point in time, then that’s great.
Enjoy your way onwards and upwards!
My company Trulia just recently finished January 2012 with more than 40 Million user visits to our mobile and web services. That’s a long way from high hopes, big ambitions, but zero users on September 25th, 2005 when we launched our Beta service. I’ve always maintained the view and belief that creating a successful company is about a continuous journey, not about a specific milestone, outcome or end. It still is, and always will be, Day One for us.
When Pete and I co-founded Trulia more than seven years ago, we knew that we could dramatically redefine the real estate experience for consumers as well as real estate professionals. The consumer problem was obvious and we had a good sense of the direction to go. We believed that as long as we hired the very best people, nurtured a unique company culture and worked very hard, it would all be possible even if the economy threw a curve ball … as it did in 2008.
In fact, the part of our business that makes me most excited about our future is the IMPACT culture we created and the 300+ Trulian strong team that we have assembled. In the last 24 months, we’ve significantly built out our senior management team, attracting some of the best talent in Silicon Valley. The accelerating growth in the last two years is a true testimony to the strength of our core business and expanded leadership team, including my COO successor Paul , who joined the team a year ago. This makes me very confident about the future ahead of us!
It is still Day One and I believe we are in a unique position to further accelerate our growth for the benefit of our users and customers, given our team, scale and the momentum in our business. Personally, after 7+ exciting, busy and fulfilling years building Trulia, I’ve decided that I can best help Trulia achieve all of this in the future as a board member. Practically speaking, this means that I will step out from my operational role at the end of Q1.
When we decided to build this company we knew together we could accomplish great things. I will miss working with all Trulians day-to-day but I am looking forward to helping our teams succeed in my role as a board member!
What’s next for me? First, and most importantly, I’m excited to continue to help Trulia expand and grow in my new role. Second, I will take some time to travel, learn new things and spend more time advising the next wave of entrepreneurs both in Europe and in the U.S. I have had amazing mentors along the way and I look forward to giving back to the next generation. But before all of that, I will need to rest and recover a bit. In my case that means I will be mountain biking with my wife to the base camp of Mt. Everest in April.
I just recently – finally – finished reading Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness book, which I liked a lot. With my first company I didn’t think much of employee happiness; if something couldn’t be solved with spreadsheets, it didn’t matter. And something as fuzzy as happiness certainly couldn’t fit into that framework.
The approach that we’ve taken at my current company Trulia since the 2005 beginning is quite different and we had the hypothesis that if we can even try to measure Employee happiness, it will always be front and center in our minds, and possibly we can even improve it as a result.
I thought to share a few insights about our very own Happiness Project.
First, on a quarterly basis we send out a simple anonymous survey that has multiple choice (1 to 5 points) questions around three areas:
- How happy employees are?
- How well are we living up to our stated culture as a company?
- How well we are aligned as an organization (i.e., does everyone know what/why/how we are trying to achieve something)?
The basic idea is that if we truly are what we say (as an organization) and if we are all working towards a well stated goal (that everyone knows and buys into) and if we enjoy the process ,we ought to become very successful! Here are some of the questions we use to try to get into the heart of those issues:
On Organizational alignment:
- I understand company’s top business priorities?
- I believe the company is heading in the right direction?
- My manager keeps me informed about relevant information that helps me do my job?
- I would recommend Trulia as a place to work?
- Trulia provides the flexibility needed to balance work and personal responsibilities?
I’m sure we’ve got a long way to go to make our system world class, but here (chart) is a good example how we’ve step by step improved our metrics, from 2010 to 2011 while doubling the size of the organization.
Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned along the way:
- It’s easy to create survey fatigue unless the loop is closed with consistent reporting of results back (to all employees) and action plan to improve things. In other words, there’s little incentive to offer feedback, unless participants get something tangible in return.
- Our thoughts about happiness seem to be influenced very heavily by the very recent memories. A raise is the 3 days leading into the survey, will surely spike the results! To get consistent results, it is important to measure results at the same time, e.g., just before quarterly reviews.
- Averages are useful, but I’ve typically found the open ended feedback and business unit (or by function) results most actionable. If, for example, engineers are loving the company every moment, but sales is having tough time, they both average out the results and you obviously can’t draw many conclusions.
- I’m (still) a huge believer in measuring employee happiness and drawing insights and actionable improvement ideas from the results.
I’d love to hear more ideas and resources how to improve this. Feel free to shoot me an email sami at trulia (dot) com.
(If you’ve never heard of Trulia where we do all this magic, check out http://www.trulia.com/about for reference)
Through my early experience at McKinsey&Company, I – unfortunately - learned that time is almost an unlimited resource in getting things done: after all, there are 7 nights a week that exist as a flexible resource you can always tap into. But we’ve always been focused on Impact at my company Trulia, not just getting things done or pure output. After having a growing feeling that maybe I’m not maximizing my impact despite lots of to-do’s (and what I thought was a high output), I decided to do what one of my friends, Ron, encouraged to do: take an inventory of time use.
I decided to track my time use by 15minute intervals for three weeks. I used a simple and quick approach:
- Define three things: (i) activity (e.g., desk work, meeting), (ii) area of impact (e.g., HR, strategy, sales), (iii) specific work (e.g., interview candidate) and (iv) perceived impact on business (1 to 5).
- Use an always-on spreadsheet to track all activities several times a day to keep an accurate track. This only took <5minutes per day to complete and worked universally across all devices, which was better than some of the time tracking applications I found.
The results were quite interesting and different from what I expected. Most shockingly, of my 70hr and 6-day work week, about 3.5 hours each day went into low-quality meetings and unnecessary emails. So much about being super effective!
Hours worked per day
Turns out my weekly input at work was about 67 hours, typically 6 days a week with Saturday off and a “short” day of about 6-8 hours on Sundays. While this is far from the 100hr weeks, I felt a bit overworked at the end of the period with limited time for “white space” and more creative thinking.
Type of work
The first eye-opener came from the high-level split between type of work: 84% or more than 9 hours of my average 11hr work day went into email and meetings, which seemed like an obvious area of focus to have a bigger impact.
Most shockingly, a deeper look revealed that a total of a quarter (26%) of my total time went into uncategorized email aka “Inbox work”. That’s 17 hours a week cranking email mostly for the sake of email.
I was glad to see that I was spending a good amount of time on other areas that were actually real focus areas for the quarter:
- - Clients, partners, sales, other external relationships: 25% of my time, which was important given my focus on growing revenue top line and cultivating client relationships.
- - Recruiting top talent: (only) 15% of my time. I’ve always considered recruiting as one of the most important roles of a founder (and any senior leader in a company). I thought I was making a huge effort to recruit top talent, but I should spend way more than 15% of it; Clearly an area for improvement for future.
- - Strategy work: 12% of time. This was longer term planning, things beyond current quarter. Seems too low for a founder. Staring at your feet when running fast is the easiest way to stumble, so another area of improvement.
- - Logistics/prep includes travel, driving to meetings and other “hanging out at office kitchen” type of time use, which was only 4%.
It is clear to me that if I want bigger impact, I need to focus on eliminating or getting more out of meetings and email, rather than adding more hours to a 70hr work week.
When I looked at the actual use of meeting time, the good news was almost 45% of it was in client/external meetings, close to 20% in recruiting and the average Perceived Impact Measure (1=low, 5=high) was about 4.1, so I wasn’t totally wasting the time. However, 1.1hrs/day was wasted in low impact (<4.0) meetings, or almost half a work day per week.
I’ve decided to implement the following improvements to my meetings in the future:
- - Stop participating in “nice to know” –meetings.
- - Define my personal meeting goals and contribution before a meeting. If impossible, skip.
- - Stop scheduling 1 hour meetings, instead 15, 30, 45minute meetings.
- - Try to do 5 minute “meetings” at the water cooler without scheduling them
Email was the biggest time sunk with almost 3.5hrs per day, of which most was uncategorized “stuff”. I’m now focused on getting rid of that by doing the following:
- - Outlook/gmail always offline, only sync it a few times a day
- - Batch process email: flag anything that seems to take more than 15seconds and reply/delete the rest immediately. Flagged emails I batch process at least once a day (end of day). Keep inbox always empty.
- - More effective use of BCC and stop (or limit) sending unnecessary “ok” , “thanks”
- - Encourage everyone to write short emails with a clear summary and next steps in the beginning.
- - Fast delegation of tasks and responsibilities to one (or more people) to stop huge group emails and chains in the beginning
- - Sort long chains by subject at the end of day: either delete, make a decision or delegate after reading only the last email in the chain
This exercise confirmed again that the best gains for bigger impact come from more effective use of time rather than adding more hours to work week.
In addition to re-engineering my meetings an email use, I am trying to implement more white space and proactive and long-term planning/thinking to minimize reactive work (aka firedrills). One way of achieving that is to have mini-breaks between meetings and focused work periods. These guys have some good principles that I’ve been using for some times: Energy proj. Of course, sleeping helps too.
Another change I’ve already implemented is better weekly planning: I try to allocate time for the really important things each Sunday, before the start of each week. For example, to be more effective in recruiting, I define specific tasks for each day or week that drive towards that goal.
I plan to repeat the time inventory exercise in the next 6-12 months to keep myself accountable and track progress…
I’ve had an obsession with the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug, caffeine, since I had to perform caffeine extraction in my 10th grade chemistry club. In the last couple of years this obsession has turned into a frustration for two reasons:
- shopping caffeine FREE products has become increasingly difficult, and;
- too many people are getting ripped off by ridiculously over-priced caffeinated products that are marketed as magical innovations when in fact they only “work” due to their caffeine content.
First, for reasons I don’t understand, FDA does not require listing caffeine content in any products. It is enough to mention “caffeine” or any of the sources, such as cola nut, green tea extract or guarana in small print and most people don’t even know that means a source of caffeine. I was hoping we had reached the limits of imagination with caffeinated soda, energy gels, energy bars, mouth spray, lip balm, “5 hour energy”, chewable sheets and caffeinated beef jerky. But no. Today I stumbled on a product to snort caffeine called Turbo Snort. Yes, snorting caffeine. It must be easier to profit from Turbo Snort than from selling a good night sleep.
Most of these products are obvious buzz generators and marketed as such, but many other (sports) drinks and snacks have purposefully hidden caffeine. The immediate buzz and feel-good that comes from ingesting the product creates a quick feedback loop: “this works!”. When in reality you are just paying for ridiculously over-priced commodity product: caffeine. All the other ingredients and herbs, for the most part, are just for confusion. For example, 5-Hour-energy’s “2100mg Energy Blend” would do little pick up without the 138mg of caffeine the tiny bottle has. Go to any well stocked sports store and it is quickly clear that it is now harder to find a caffeine FREE energy gel, energy blocks or a bar than with doses of caffeine. The most recent addition to the list of caffeinated sports products: salt tablets with caffeine. Brilliant innovation.
Second, those who actually are proactively looking for more buzz, more caffeine, are increasingly getting ripped off financially. Case in point: SaltStick’s new salt tablets with caffeine, are a combination of table salt and caffeine (for the most part). Both are commodity products that cost nothing; however, this product has a 3,897% market-up compared to caffeine retail price sold at Walgreens. Similarly, 5-Hour-energy sells at a 8,575% mark-up. The “snortable caffeine” tops the list though: 13,357% markup! Many Internet entrepreneurs dream of these kind of (gross) margins.
If you need a safe, strong and economic buzz: buy pure store-brand caffeine tables from Walgreens or any other convenience store. That “cup of coffee” costs less than 4 dollar cents. (Or: sleep more and better.)