1 Tool to Increase Your Productivity

3 weeks ago a co-worker of mine introduced me to Trello. When he told me about the online software I thought it was called Jello. I was massively disappointed when I realized that it was not named Jello.

After showing me the software I saw how powerful it could be. With our collective endorsement our company slowly but surely adopted Trello at work.

I have been using Trello in the weeks that have past. It has been instrumental in helping me be more organized, focused, and productive. (I have no affiliation with Trello, and their software is free to use.)

What is Trello?

The Trello help website sums it up best.

Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.

The interesting and captivating aspect of Trello is how simple it is. You use the software and create “boards”. With each board you make “lists”, and within each list you make cards. Inside of a card you can write notes, create checklists, and upload files. Trello is fundamentally simple. There are no confusing features – it is refreshingly easy to use.

What makes Trello powerful is how you can customize it for any situation. Currently I use Trello at work in a small team setting. I use it at home as a personal organization tool. And I use it with others outside of work to collaborate on ideas. Trello is extremely versatile.

Trello at work

When working in small teams communication is priority number one. Number two on that list is organization. Trello serves as a platform where both can interact seamlessly.

Before Trello our workflow from account managers to developers was complex. It involved dozens of emails back and forth, searching for scattered files across Google Drive and DropBox, and occasionally having to sit down one on one to address confusion.

With Trello we now have everything organized on a single board.

Developers have lists with their name on it. Account managers place cards on these specific lists. Within each card is a file with a project brief. There is also a checklist for what needs to be completed, and a due date assigned for when it must be finished. Upon completion developers place their cards in a review list. Account managers then move that card to a final done list.

Although it may sound like a more convoluted system it is actually much simpler and easier to work with.

Another benefit comes from writing notes within cards. Many times I have been asked if I completed client work and could not remember. I would then look back through emails and saved files simply to determine if something I thought I had completed had actually been done.

Writing notes within a card creates a documented trail of what has been completed.

Trello for personal use

Trello extends beyond work. At home I use Trello to stay on top of my personal tasks.

I have a Trello board called “weekend to-do list”. Throughout the work week I write down what tasks I want to accomplish over the weekend. When and idea pops into my head on Tuesday it get’s put on this board.

Before Trello I would wake up on Saturday morning and spend an hour writing down a list of tasks I wanted to do. Or, more frequently, I would wake up and create no list.

Although my weekends were more spontaneous a month ago, they have been much more productive as of late. I have found myself more focused, attentive, and dedicated. I follow through on my “weekend to-do list” , and accomplish more than before.

Trello also serves as a platform where I can share ideas with my friends and family.

I have created boards for different business ideas. On each board I add a friend or family member who might be interested in collaborating. My Trello board shows them what I have been working on, and also lets them contribute easily.

Trello has replaced and improved upon my previous attempts to be organized. It is the one tool I would recommend to individuals and teams that want to organize anything and everything.

Thinking About Goals Isn’t Enough

In ten days I will turn 20 years old. And, as with every birthday, I will reflect on the year past.

On my birthday I set aside time to think of goals that I would like to carry out over the next 365 days. In the past, these objectives have ranged from personal to professional, entrepreneurial to academic.

This year, unlike the 19 preceding ones, I intend to write down my goals. As I have recently learned from a mentor, writing down your goals is a difficult but necessary step towards achieving them. Thinking about something you want to do is easy and pleasurable. Writing it down, although more difficult, makes that thought more concrete and feasible.

How to write goals

Fortunately for you and I, many smart men and women have figured out a fairly straightforward formula for goal setting. I’ll be sharing the techniques that I have recently been taught, but keep in mind there are plenty of other good resources for goal setting (I’ve listed some at the end of this post). The most important thing is that you go a step beyond thinking about your goals and take the time to write them down.

Here is the 5 step process I have adopted and use for my personal goal setting.

  1. Visualize your life 3 years from now, 1 year from now, 90 days from now. Write a short paragraph about where you are, what you are doing, what a typical day in your life is like. Describe what you see and feel.
  2. Take your 3 year visualization, 1 year visualization, and 90 day visualization to build goals. Write an affirmative, present tense, quantifiable, and specific sentence (or two) that correlates with the short paragraph you have already written. Start with your 3 year goals, then 1 year and 90 days. A 3 year goal should build on a 1 year goal which should then relate to a 90 day goal. Write down 3-6 objectives for each time frame.
  3. Write down why you want to achieve the goals you have outlined above. Do this for every 90 day goal, 1 year goal, and 3 year goal. What benefit will be achieved?
  4. In a few brief sentences describe what achievement will look like. How will you know you have hit your goal? Again, do this for every time period.
  5. Create a list of steps required to meet your goal. What is the deadline for each step? Do this for every 90 day goal, 1 year goal and 3 year goal.

You will now have an outline for how you can achieve your goals.

Writing down these goals, and the steps that you plan to take to meet them is surprisingly challenging. Yet, it is by writing your goals down that the next step, actually implementing them into your life is made easier.

By planing and attaching deadlines to specific actions you will find yourself more dedicated and focused while being less stressed and worried. Going beyond thinking about goals is not easy, yet the long-term reward is well worth the struggle.

Goal setting resources

Groove blog

UC Berkeley – goal setting

NPR – writing down goals

Michael Hyatt – goal setting

Ted Talks – goal setting

SMART goals

Reading List for Young Entrepreneurs

Next week I am going on a short vacation. Which, after six months of working full-time, has allowed me to understand why adults have always loved taking time off at the beach.

The beach is a place where you can lay out, read a book, and do nothing. You can simply relax. Now more than ever have I looked forward to this prospect.

Relaxing and taking time away from work presents the perfect opportunity to focus on personal development. For a few days you can forget about the client project you need to build and solely concentrate on yourself. For me, this means reading.

Books are great (I would have never said this while I was still in college). Taking a few down to the beach while on vacation is a must, and for the past week I have been researching, reading reviews, and deliberating on what books I would purchase and take with me this year. Finally I came up with a list – the theme, entrepreneurship.

Zero to One – Peter Thiel

During my research I found a variety of different reading lists. On every list that was geared towards start-ups, entrepreneurship, or business Thiel’s Zero to One was on it.

After researching further, this book seemed like a must read. A paragraph from the websites about page sealed the deal;

The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Copying others takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace; they will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.

How Breakthroughs Happen – Andrew Hargadon

Hargadon is a graduate professor of technology management at University of California, Davis. Reading his How Breakthroughs Happen will serve as a substitute for no longer attending college classes. A short summary of his publication convinced me to purchase the book;

How Breakthroughs Happen takes us beyond the simple recognition that revolutionary innovations do not result from flashes of brilliance by lone inventors or organizations. In fact, innovation is really about creatively recombining ideas, people, and objects from past technologies in ways that spark new technological revolutions.

The American Challenge – Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber

Published in 1967, The American Challenge is by far the oldest book on my summer reading list. I came across it while reading an article on Peter Thiel’s book recommendations. Thiel said of the book, “[it] got a lot things right, but certainly there were things that didn’t quite happen, and you always have to ask yourselves why they didn’t. This whole category of past books about the future is a very interesting one, and that is one that I always recommend very strongly.”

Hooked – Nir Eyal

I came across Nir Eyal’s Hooked while researching books related to product development. Eyal is a successful business man who presents the “hook model” of engagement. A short summary of the book says;

Hooked is based on Eyal’s years of research, consulting, and practical experience. He wrote the book he wished had been available to him as a start-up founder—not abstract theory, but a how-to guide for building better products. Hooked is written for product managers, designers, marketers, start-up founders, and anyone who seeks to understand how products influence our behavior.

Resources

There are plenty of places online to find other reading suggestions. Here are a few tools I used to help create this reading list for young entrepreneurs.

GymBro Progress Report

About two weeks ago my company, GymBro processed more orders than our cash flow could handle. This was really, really cool. For anyone who has started up a company this is the type of problem you never want to run into, yet are somewhat accepting of. I’m here today to outline the path we’ve taken to grow GymBro to this point.

Background

A little background about myself before we begin. I am a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, I’m studying Business Information Systems and Information System Design. I’m not really sure what all that means but I work on programming and business, win-win right? My partner, Martin is a Pitt sophomore as well, finance major, I think. We co-founded GymBro in our dorm room during the second semester of last year, January 2014 to be exact.

Developing our idea

We didn’t really see a problem that we set out to fix, rather I pitched the idea of a subscription service for bodybuilding supplements to Martin. He liked it, kind of. Neither of us were really sure if people wanted a subscription service, but I built a website to test it out. This was our assumption, and we had to try to get real people to either validate it or prove to us it was false.

Three months of testing on our MVP proved that there might be potential. We initially laid out our website like any other supplement website (check bodybuilding.com if you are unfamiliar). It was cluttered, there was sensory overload, cognitive dissonance at every turn, and then when you wanted to buy something you had to enter extra information such as the length of your subscription, how frequently you wanted it to come, etc. The whole process of ordering a product from our website took too long, too many clicks involved.

At this point our customers were my mom, Martin’s friends from high school, and a few of my buddies at Pitt. Seriously, we sold product to maybe 15 people. The number is irrelevant, it is the feedback you get from these people that is invaluable. We learned the following…

  • People want simple
  • Our subscription service suggests “convenience”, our website needs to emulate that
  • People want the truth
  • People buy supplements with goals in mind
  • People want quality

For us, as college freshman we went into this process with hundreds of assumptions. It is only through talking with your early adopters and initial customers that you can learn how to refine your product or service. This is an ongoing process. The list above is a short summary of what we learned from our initial launch. The next step was to take this information and apply it. We freelanced out to a Pitt Senior who is an extremely impressive back end developer. This was a mistake. We trusted a college senior to build our website on a freelance contract. What we didn’t think about was the fact that he was a college student, and (no offense to other college students reading this) he didn’t care. He didn’t share the vision that Martin and I had. He made a website, essentially another MVP. There were errors, bugs, issues left and right, but somehow, someway we increased our customer count close to 100 over the next five months. This was more friends and family, we had yet to get a customer that we didn’t know through someone.

Gaining traction

That all changed about two weeks ago. Martin and I both knew that if GymBro was ever to scale we would need a different website, something simpler, easier to use, more convenient. We decided to have a promotion on a new product in the market to drive a lot of traffic to our design prototype and watch in real time how users reacted. The result was our highest grossing two days of sales ever.

Our objective with this new design was to give customers the opportunity to checkout and complete their purchase in under 5 “clicks”. On our old site, the minimum was 17 to just get to checkout… We watched in real-time as people went from the homepage to checkout, to confirmation email. We had people checking out, giving us their hard earned money in under 5 clicks, and it worked.

Again, the same process as before with my mom would occur after a purchase-we asked all these people about their experience. I actually gave people my personal phone number in the confirmation email, and I ended up having multiple conversations about what we did right and what we did wrong. We are currently taking all this information, which was surprisingly positive, and applying it to what we do next.

That is the process, learn from your customers and adapt.

Where we are at today

We have refined our concept and vision. GymBro started out with no problem to solve. We have learned from all of our interactions with users, and customers that there is a problem, a problem that we are getting closer to solving every day. People want what was outlined above, they want a service that is simple, modern, and honest, not Bodybuilding.com, not GNC.

Martin and I are college sophomores who are working a field we are extremely passionate about, learning everyday about how to better our service and fill the void that our target market sees. It helps that we love supplements and that we love working out-we want to create this solution for ourselves as personal users as much as we want to as businessmen.

My bedroom serves as our warehouse, we have had freight trucks come to our college house to deliver goods. Martin and I spend a few hours each week working on GymBro, either packing boxes, calling sales reps, or sampling products. We love doing this, it’s fun, and it keeps us out of trouble.

What’s next

AlphaLab is a startup accelerator in Pittsburgh, PA that Martin and I plan to apply for the winter term. I have already gone to a few information sessions and met with the program manager. The response we get when we talk to people about GymBro and our philosophy is resoundingly positive.

The hope and goal is to get a seed investment to put towards improving our distribution channels, branding, and our online infrastructure.

Hopefully this time next year I will be writing a post about our series A round of funding, but until then this is all I have to share.