TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Things You Should Basically Never, Ever Say

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Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury—Getty Images


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

What you think and say definitely shapes your behavior. So don’t be your own worst enemy. If you want to succeed – whether as an entrepreneur or in any other professional and personal endeavor – here are ten things you should never say to yourself. Sometimes a small shift in perspective can make a huge difference… if you let it.

“All I need is one great idea.”

Everyone has great ideas, but the only ideas of value are the ideas you execute. If you’re searching for that one big idea that will change your life – or change your business – take a step back and regroup. Spend a few minutes each day searching for a revolutionary idea and put the majority of your focus on developing ideas that help your business execute better. Fix what isn’t working and think of better ways to serve your customers. Those are the ideas you really need.

“I deserve it.”

Sure, you work hard. You sacrifice a lot. But hard work and sacrifice isn’t a result; each is just an element in a process. The only thing you deserve is what you earn. So for example, don’t pull cash out of your business simply to reward yourself because you’ve worked hard and you “deserve it.” Reward yourself after your business has generated – and is likely to keep generating – significant cash. Deserve is not a function of your effort, it’s a function of your bottom line.

“If I could just get my hands on more capital.”

No business has enough capital. According to the Census Bureau 30% of small businesses were started with less than $5,000, and 10% of small business owners used a credit card to partly or fully fund the business. You may have little control on how much cash you have on hand, but you have a lot of control over revenues and costs. Stop worrying about the capital you don’t have and focus on leveraging what you do have – especially your “effort” capital.

“We’ll be fine after we cut a few costs.”

If you’re like me and your background is in operations it’s natural to focus on increasing productivity and minimizing costs. Often it’s impossible to save your way to profitability, though, and sometimes making cuts – especially in marketing and sales – makes it even harder. Sometimes Randolph Duke is right: The answer is to, “Sell, sell!”

“I can count on our customers staying loyal.”

Loyalty is hard to earn and easy to lose. I’m so loyal to my local bike shop I’ll even pay more; otherwise I’d feel guilty. But say I want to buy a bike they sell for $3,000. Would I buy the bike elsewhere for $2,900? No. $2,800? Probably not. $2,500? Absolutely. As it should be, customer loyalty is primarily based on customer self interest. If your prices are higher your service can outweigh those price differences, but only to a point. Plus even as we speak your competitors are working hard to deserve the loyalty of your customers.

“Let’s focus our marketing on building awareness.”

Conventional wisdom says people need to see an advertisement multiple times before they will act. Yet no startup can afford that slow – and costly – an approach. Always work to crafting direct advertising campaigns that work, at least to some degree, the first time. Then tweak and tweak and tweak some more. Besides, “awareness” is almost impossible to measure – but actual revenue always is.

“I want my company to be like one big happy family.”

While you should certainly try to create a friendly, caring, and supportive work environment, your business should neveroperate like a family. Employees, like customers act, from self-interest. When their interests no longer align with your business, they leave – as well they should. Always be friendly and caring, but never let trying to create a family atmosphere overshadow running a profitable, sustainable business. Without profits, no business “family” can stay together.

“I’m just one small piece of the puzzle…”

True, but only to a point. All employees are important, but you are more important… if only because you have the greatest authority and therefore the greatest responsibility. Ultimately your business is a reflection of you; fail to recognize that fact and you give up the responsibility that is naturally yours.

“Word of mouth will definitely grow our business.”

Word of mouth is relatively passive and largely outside your control. No matter how many incentives you create, most of your customers won’t become raving fans and spread the “gospel of you” to everyone they meet. Except in rare cases the only way to grow a business is to actively market and sell. Someday word of mouth and referrals may drive significant business, but until that happens, focus on hunting, not gathering.

“If we just leave it alone… things will eventually get better.”

Sometimes you can’t afford to let others struggle. Allowing employees to learn from their mistakes is fine, but sometimes you have to step in. Before you delegate a task, decide how far you’re willing to let an employee go. Then track their progress and take over when necessary. Employees can still benefit from an abbreviated experience as long as they stay involved after you take back some of the control. Learning experiences are great… but never at the expense of results.

Read more from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

TIME Careers & Workplace

20 Awesome Things to Say That Will Radically Improve Your Life

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Karan Kapoor—Getty Images


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

The biggest problem with deciding to do something is deciding to wait to do it. Why put off doing something you really want to do? Anything worth doing is worth doing now. Here are 20 things you need to say to yourself this week – not because you plan to do something but because you’ve already done it. And each is a lot easier to accomplish than some grand, sweeping, hopefully-life-changing-but-in the-end-you-never-manage-to-accomplish pledge. So let’s get started!–Jeff Haden

“I finally got started!”

You have plans. You have goals. You have ideas. Who cares? You have nothing until you actually do something. Every day, we let hesitation and uncertainty stop us from acting on our ideas. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure often stops me and may be what stops you, too. Pick one plan, one goal, or one idea. And get started. Do something. Do anything. Just take one small step. The first step is by far the hardest. Every successive step will be a lot easier.

“It’s totally my fault.”

Everyone makes mistakes. That makes it easy to blame others for our problems. But we are almost always also to blame. We did (or did not) do something we could have differently or better. Instead take full responsibility, but not in a masochistic, “woe is me” way, in an empowering way. Focus on being smarter or better or faster or more creative the next time.

“You’re awesome!”

No one receives enough praise. No one. Pick someone who did something well and tell them. And feel free to go back in time. Saying, “I was just thinking about how you handled that project last year” can make just as positive an impact today as it would have then. Maybe a little more impact, because you still remember what happened a year later. Surprise praise is a gift that costs the giver nothing but is priceless to the recipient.

“That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought…”

The most paralyzing fear is fear of the unknown. (At least it is for me.) Yet nothing ever turns out to be as hard or as scary as you think. Plus it’s incredibly exciting to overcome a fear. You’ll get that “I can’t believe I jumped out of an airplane!” rush, an amazing feeling you haven’t experienced for too long. So go do something you were afraid to do. I promise it won’t be as bad as you thought.

“I’ll show you, —hole.”

One of the best ways to motivate me is to insult me — or for me to manufacture a way to feel insulted. I use rejection to fuel my motivation to do whatever it takes to prove that person wrong and, more importantly, achieve what I want to achieve. Call it childish and immature. I don’t care — it works for me. And it can work for you. So next time don’t turn the other mental cheek. Get pissed off, even if your anger is unjustified and imaginary — in fact, especially if your anger is unjustified or angry — and use it for fuel to shake you out of your same thing, different day rut.

“Can you help me?”

Asking someone for help instantly recognizes their skills and values and conveys your respect and admiration. That’s reason enough to ask someone to help you. The fact you will get the help you need is icing on the achievement cake.

“Can I help you?”

Then flip it around. Many people see asking for help as a sign of weakness so they hesitate. Yet we can all use help. But don’t just say, “Is there anything I can help you with?” Most people will automatically say, “No, I’m all right.”
Be specific. Say, “I’ve got a few minutes, can I help you finish that?” Offer in a way that feels collaborative, not patronizing or gratuitous. And then actually help. You’ll make a real difference in someone’s life and take a solid step towards creating a real connection.

“I did something no one else is willing to do.”

Pick one thing other people aren’t willing to do. Pick something simple. Pick something small. Whatever it is, do it. Instantly you’re a little different from the rest of the pack. Then keep going. Every day do one thing no one else is willing to do. After a week you’ll be uncommon. After a month, you’ll be special. After a year you’ll be incredible, and you won’t be like anyone else.
You’ll be you.

“I don’t care what other people think.”

Most of the time you should worry about what other people think — but not if it stands in the way of living the life you really want to live. If you really want to start a business but you’re worried that people might think you’re crazy, screw ‘em. If you really want to change careers but you’re afraid of what people might think, screw ‘em. Pick one thing you haven’t tried simply because you’re worried about what other people think — and just go do it. It’s your life. Live it your way.

“I’m really sorry.”

We’ve all screwed up. We all have things we need to apologize for: words, actions, failing to step up, step in, or be supportive. Pick someone you need to apologize to — the more time that’s passed between the day it happened and today, the better. But don’t follow up your apology with a disclaimer that in any way places even the tiniest amount of blame back on the other person. Say you’re sorry, say why you’re sorry, and take all the blame. Then you’ll both be in a better place.

To read the rest, click go to Inc.com.

Read more from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

TIME Careers & Workplace

20 More Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Horrible

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A.L. Christensen / Getty Images / Flickr Open

Easy to get wrong. And easy to get right


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

My recent post, 30 Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Horrible, sparked a flurry of emails requesting more examples.

So here they are. While there are hundreds of incorrectly used words, I’ve picked words commonly used in business settings.

Here we go:

1. Anticipate

“We anticipate earnings will increase by $1 per share.”

No you don’t. To anticipate means to look ahead and prepare. So you can anticipate increased sales, but only if you are also making preparations to handle that increase in sales; for example, “We added staffing in anticipation of increased sales.”

If you’re estimating or wishful guessing, use estimate or expect instead. Or, if you live where I live, use “reckon.” It’s good enough for Clint.

2. Arbitrate

Arbitrate appears in many contracts. An arbitrator is like a judge; she hears evidence, reviews documents, etc, and then makes a decision. That’s different from mediate: a mediator doesn’t make decisions but tries to help two opposing parties work out their differences and reach a compromise or settlement.

So if you agree to enter mediation in the event of a dispute, you and the other party will try to hash out your problem the help of a neutral party. And if you can’t reach an agreement that usually means your next step will be to go to court.

If you agree to arbitration a neutral party will make a decision that you will have to live with. Normally there are no next steps. (Except maybe disappointment.)

3. Behalf

The problem with behalf isn’t the word itself; it’s the word that comes before.

A person who acts on your behalf is acting as a kind of representative, like a lawyer or accountant or agent. On behalf of denotes a formal or professional relationship. A person who acts in your behalf is acting as a supporter or friend, so the relationship is assumed to be less formal.

“The customer needed an answer so Jenny spoke on your behalf,” means that Jenny stood in for you and (hopefully) represented your position. “The customer was upset with how you treated her and Jenny spoke in your behalf,” means Jenny took up for you and your clearly deficient customer service skills.

4. Bottleneck

A bottleneck is a point of constraint or limitation, like a machine in an assembly line that runs slower than the preceding equipment.

That means a bottleneck can’t grow. A bottleneck can’t get bigger. A bottleneck can’t expand. A bottleneck can cripple productivity, but it can’t spread to overwhelm your shop floor.

5. Can

Can is used to indicate what is possible. May is used to indicate what is permissible. I can offer kickbacks to certain vendors, but unless I’m ethically challenged I may not.

Telling your staff, “You can not offer refunds without authorization,” sounds great but is incorrect. They certainly can even though they shouldn’t.

6. Collusion

Many people use collusion as a fancy way to imply cooperation or collaboration. Collusion does mean to cooperate or work together–but towards a result that is deceitful, fraudulent, or even illegal.

That’s why you probably never want to refer to yourself as colluding in, well, anything.

7. Defective

A machine that doesn’t work properly is defective. A process that doesn’t achieve a desired result is defective. When a machine doesn’t work properly because it’s missing a key component, it’s deficient, just like a process with a gap is deficient.

So feel free to say, “His skills are deficient,” when an employee is lacking specific skills (because you’re focusing on the missing skill and not the employee), but leave defective to discussions of inanimate objects.

Even if an employee doesn’t work properly, in context it sounds pretty harsh.

8. Germane

Germane is the same as relevant. Each shows that something applies.

But don’t mistake germane (or relevant) with material. A material point helps make a position or argument complete; it’s essential. A point germane to the discussion may be interesting, and even worth saying… but it’s not essential.

Think of it this way. In meetings we often get bored when people raise germane points/ they’re (mildly) interesting but often unnecessary. We listen when people raise material points–because those points matter.

9. Invariably

This word gets tossed in to indicate frequency: “Invariably, Johnny misses deadlines,” is only correct if Johnny always, always, always misses deadlines, because invariably means in every case or occasion.

Unless Johnny messes up each and every time, without fail, use frequently, or usually, or even almost always. And then think about his long-term employment status.

10. Irregardless

Here’s a word that appears in many dictionaries simply because it’s used so often.

Irregardless is used to mean without regard to or without respect to… which is what regardless means. In theory the “ir” part, which typically means “not,” joined up with “regardless,” which means without regard to, makes irregardless mean “not without regard to,” or more simply, “with regard to.”

Which is clearly not what you mean.

So save yourself one syllable or two keystrokes and just say “regardless.”

11. Libel

Don’t like what people say about you?

Like slander, libel refers to making a false statement that is harmful to a person’s reputation. The difference lies in how that statement is expressed: slanderous remarks are spoken while libelous remarks are written and published (which means defamatory tweets could be considered libelous, not slanderous.)

Keep in mind what makes a statement libelous or slanderous is its inaccuracy, not its harshness. No matter how nasty a tweet, if it’s factually correct it cannot. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation–you might wish a customer hadn’t said something derogatory about your business, but if what that customer said is true… you have no legal recourse.

12. Literally

Literally is frequently used (all too often by teenagers I know) to add emphasis. The problem is literally means “actually, without exaggeration,” so, “That customer was literally foaming at the mouth,” cannot be true without the involvement of rabies or inaccurately applied Scrubbing Bubbles.

The only time using literally makes sense is when you need to indicate what is normally a figurative expression is, this time, truly the case. Saying, “He literally died when he saw the invoice,” only works if the customer did, in fact, pass away moments after seeing the bill.

13. Majority

Majority is another emphasis word used to sound authoritative and awesome: “The majority of our customers are satisfied with our service,” makes it sound like you’re doing great, right? Nope–since majority is defined as “the greater number,” all you have said is that 51% of your customers are satisfied… which means 49% are not so thrilled.

Majority can get you in trouble when accuracy is really important. “The majority of our investors support our plans to pivot,” sounds like almost all of them are behind you… when in fact nearly half might not be. “The majority of our shipments deliver on time,” sounds like you’re the king of meeting deadlines… when in fact you could be missing delivery dates on what a prospective customer would find to be a depressingly regular basis.

Here’s a better approach. Use statistics or facts. Or just say “most” or “nearly all.” Then you won’t have to worry about giving the wrong impression.

14. New

Thank advertisers for the over-use and frequent redundancy of this word. “Acme Inc. announces breakthrough new product.” By definition aren’t all breakthroughs new? “Acme Inc. sets new sales records.” By definition aren’t all records new? “Acme Inc. creates new social media sharing platform.” By definition aren’t all creations new?

“New” might sound impressive, but since it can also sound like hyperbolic advertising copy, it may cause readers to tune out what is really important about your message.

15. Obsolete

Obsolete means no longer produced, used, or needed. But since lots of things are out of date but still usable–think flip phones–they are obsolescent, not obsolete. Obsolete is the end point; obsolescent is the journey towards.

16. Percent

The difference in percent and percentage point could leave you feeling cheated. Say you’re negotiating a loan with a listed interest rate of 6% and the lender says he’ll reduce the rate by 1%. Strictly speaking that means he’ll reduce the interest by 1% of 6%, or .06%. That means your new interest rate is 5.94%. Yippee.

Percent refers to a relative increase or reduction, while percentage point refers to the actual change in rate. If you want a 5% loan instead of a 6% loan, you’re hoping for a reduction of 1 percentage point.

Most of the time the difference isn’t a big deal. If you see a new report saying interest rates rose 1%, you can safely assume it means 1 percentage point. But if you’re signing a contract or agreement… make sure you know the difference in meaning–and approve of the difference.

17. Successfully

Here’s the king of redundant words, often used to add a little extra oomph: “We successfullylaunched our new product.” Wait: in order to have launched, you have to have beensuccessful. (Otherwise you unsuccessfully launched.)

If you create, or develop, or implement, just say you did. We know you were successful. Otherwise you wouldn’t tell us.

18. Total

Total is another word used redundantly to add emphasis. “We were totally surprised by last month’s sales,” sounds more significant than, “We were surprised by last month’s sales,” but a surprise is either unexpected or it’s not. (I suppose you could be a little surprised, but that’s like being a little pregnant.)

The same is true when total is used to refer to a number. Why say, “A total of 32 customers purchased extended warranties,” when, “32 customers purchased extended warranties,” will do?

And one last point: make sure you get the verb tense right. “A total of six months was spent developing the app,” is wrong because “a total of” refers to all six months, which is plural, which requires “were.” (As in, “A total of six months were spent developing the app.”)

If you refer to “the total of,” use “was,” as in, “The total of employee benefit costs was $10 million last year,” because in that case you are referring to the actual total and not all the different costs that make up the total.

In short: The total of gets a “was.” A total of gets a “were.”

Or you could just say, “Employee benefits cost $10 million last year.” Doesn’t sound as dramatic, but does sound better.

19. Waiver

When you sign a waiver you give up the right to make a claim. When you waver you aren’t signing it yet because you’re hesitant.

So hey, feel free to waver to sign that waiver. Your instincts just might be correct.

Read more from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

TIME Careers & Workplace

30 Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Horrible

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Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

Easy to get wrong. And easy to get right


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

While I like to think I know a little about business writing, I often fall into a few word traps. For example, who and whom. I rarely use whom when I should. Even when spell check suggests whom, I think it sounds pretentious. So I don’t use it.

And I’m sure some people then think, “What a bozo.”

And that’s a problem, because just like that one misspelled word that gets a résumé tossed into the “nope” pile, using one wrong word can negatively impact your entire message.

Fair or unfair, it happens.

So let’s make sure it doesn’t:

Adverse and averse

Adverse means harmful or unfavorable; “Adverse market conditions caused the IPO to be poorly subscribed.” Averse means dislike or opposition; “I was averse to paying $18 a share for a company that generates no revenue.”

But you can feel free to have an aversion to adverse conditions.

Affect and effect

Verbs first. Affect means to influence; “Impatient investors affected our roll-out date.” Effect means to accomplish something; “The board effected a sweeping policy change.” How you use effect or affect can be tricky. For example, a board can affect changes by influencing them, or can effect changes by implementing them. Use effect if you’re making it happen, and affect if you’re having an impact on something someone else is trying to make happen.

As for nouns, effect is almost always correct; “Once he was fired he was given 20 minutes to gather his personal effects.” Affect refers to emotional states so unless you’re a psychologist, you’re probably not using it.

Compliment and complement

Compliment is to say something nice. Complement is to add to, enhance, improve, complete or bring close to perfection. So, I can compliment your staff and their service, but if you have no current openings, you have a full complement of staff. And your new app may complement your website.

For which I may decide to compliment you.

Criteria and criterion

“We made the decision based on one overriding criteria,” sounds pretty impressive but is wrong.

Remember: one criterion, two or more criteria. Although you could always use reason or factors and not worry about getting it wrong.

Discreet and discrete

Discreet means careful, cautious, showing good judgment; “We made discreet inquiries to determine whether the founder was interested in selling her company.”

Discrete means individual, separate or distinct; “We analyzed data from a number of discrete market segments to determine overall pricing levels.” And if you get confused, remember you don’t use “discreetion” to work through sensitive issues; you exercise discretion.

Elicit and illicit

Elicit means to draw out or coax. Think of elicit as the mildest form of extract or, even worse, extort. So if one lucky survey respondent will win a trip to the Bahamas, the prize is designed to elicit responses.

Illicit means illegal or unlawful. I suppose you could “illicit” a response at gunpoint … but best not.

Farther and further

Farther involves a physical distance; “Florida is farther from New York than Tennessee.” Further involves a figurative distance; “We can take our business plan no further.” So, as we say in the South, “I don’t trust you any farther than I can throw you.” Or, “I ain’t gonna trust you no further.”

(Seriously. I’ve uttered both of those sentences. More than once.)

Imply and infer

The speaker or writer implies. The listener or reader infers. Imply means to suggest, while infer means to deduce (whether correctly or not). So, I might imply you’re going to receive a raise. You might infer that a pay increase is imminent. (But not eminent, unless the raise will be prominent and distinguished.)

Insure and ensure

This one’s easy. Insure refers to insurance. Ensure means to make sure. So if you promise an order will ship on time, ensure it actually happens. Unless, of course, you plan to arrange for compensation if the package is damaged or lost — then feel free to insure away.

Number and amount

I goof these up all the time. Use number when you can count what you refer to; “The number of subscribers who opted out increased last month.” Amount refers to a quantity of something you can’t count; “The amount of alcohol consumed at our last company picnic was staggering.”

Of course, it can still be confusing: “I can’t believe the number of beers I drank,” is correct, but so is, “I can’t believe the amount of beer I drank.” The difference is I can count beers, but beer, especially if I was way too drunk to keep track, is an uncountable total — so amount is the correct usage.

Precede and proceed

Precede means to come before. Proceed means to begin or continue. Where it gets confusing is when an “ing” comes into play. “The proceeding announcement was brought to you by …” sounds fine, but preceding is correct since the announcement came before.

If it helps, think precedence: anything that takes precedence is more important and therefore comes first.

Principal and principle

A principle is a fundamental; “We’ve created a culture where we all share certain principles.” Principal means primary or of first importance; “Our startup’s principal is located in NYC.” (Sometimes you’ll also see the plural, principals, used to refer to executives or (relatively) co-equals at the top of a particular food chain.)

Principal can also refer to the most important item in a particular set; “Our principal account makes up 60% of our gross revenues.”

Principal can also refer to money, normally the original sum that was borrowed, but can be extended to refer to the amount you owe — hence principal and interest.

If you’re referring to laws, rules, guidelines, ethics, etc., use principle. If you’re referring to the CEO or the president (or the individual in charge of the high school), use principal. And now for those dreaded apostrophes:

It’s and its

It’s is the contraction of it is. That means it’s doesn’t own anything. If your dog is neutered (that way we make the dog, however much against his will, gender-neutral) you don’t say, “It’s collar is blue.” You say, “Its collar is blue.” Here’s an easy test to apply: Whenever you use an apostrophe, un-contract the word to see how it sounds. In this case, turn it’s into it is. “It’s sunny,” becomes, “It is sunny.” Sounds good to me.

They’re and their

Same with these; they’re is the contraction for they are. Again, the apostrophe doesn’t own anything. We’re going to their house, and I sure hope they’re home.

Who’s and whose

“Whose password hasn’t been changed in six months?” is correct. “Who is [the un-contracted version of who's] password hasn’t been changed in six months?” sounds silly.

You’re and your

One more. You’re is the contraction for you are. Your means you own it; the apostrophe in you’re doesn’t own anything. For a long time a local nonprofit had a huge sign that said “You’re Community Place.”

Hmm. “You Are Community Place”?

Probably not.

Read more from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

TIME

15 Revealing Signs You Genuinely Love What You Do

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Love it Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

See where you stand--and whether you need to start making changes


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources, and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published atInc.com.

Passion and purpose–in short, doing what you love–can be difficult to find. Some people search forever. Some gain remarkable skills and talents only to think, I’m great at this. So why don’t I feel successful? Others, even after building successful businesses, suddenly think,Hold on. This is just not me.

Though we would all like to be happier at work, at times it’s easy to miss the work-we-love forest for the irritation trees. So I asked Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot (No, 666 on the Inc. 5000 in 2013) and a guy who has spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about doing what he loves and creating a company his employees love, how he knows he loves his work.

See what you think. Though some of the following may not be true all of the time, when you love what you do, many should be the case much of the time. There’s a results chart at the end, so keep track of how many apply to you:

1. You don’t struggle to stay disciplined; you struggle to prioritize. Your problem definitely isn’t staying busy and on task. Getting going isn’t an issue. Your problem is you have so many things you want to do, you struggle to decide what to do first.

2. You think, I hope I get to… instead of, I hope I don’t have to… When you love your work, it’s like peeling an onion. There are always more layers to discover and explore. When you hate your work it’s also like peeling an onion–but all you find are more tears.

3. You don’t talk about other people; you talk about the cool things other people are doing. “I hear Chad just invested in a startup. What are they working on?” “I can’t believe Angie won their business back; I’d love to know how she did it.” “Cecilia developed a new sales channel. Let’s ask her how we can best leverage that.”

When you love your work, you don’t gossip about the personal failings of others. You talk about their successes, because you’re happy for them (which is also also a sign you’re happy with yourself.)

4. You think about what you will say, not how you will say it. You don’t have to worry about agendas or politics or subtle machinations. You trust your team members–and they trust you.

5. You see your internal and external customers not as people to satisfy but simply as people. You don’t see customers as numbers. They’re real people who have real needs. And you gain a real sense of fulfillment and purpose from taking care of those needs.

6. You enjoy your time at work. You don’t have to put in time at work and then escape to “life” to be happy. You enjoy life and enjoy work. You feel alive and joyful not just at home but also at work. When you love your work, it’s a part of your life.

7. You enjoy attending meetings. No, seriously, you enjoy meetings. Why? Because you like being at the center of thoughtful, challenging discussions that lead to decisions, initiatives, and changes–changes you help make happen.

8. You don’t think about surviving. You think about winning. You don’t worry much about your business failing. You’re more worried about your business not achieving its potential. And you worry about whether you’re making as big an impact as you can. Those are good worries.

9. You’re excited about what you’re doing, but you’re more excited about the people you’re doing it with. Why? They’re smart. Passionate. Confident. Funny. Dedicated. Giving. Inspiring.

10. You hardly ever look at the clock. You’re too busy making things happen. And when you do look at the clock, you often find that the time has flown.

11. You view success in terms of fulfillment and gratification, not just money. Everyone wants to build something bigger. Everyone wants to benefit financially. Yet somewhere along the way, your work has come to mean a lot more to you than just a living. And if you left your business, even if for something that paid more, you would miss it. A lot.

12. You leave work with items on your to-do list you’re excited about tackling tomorrow. Many people cross the fun tasks off their to-do lists within the first hour or two. You often have cool stuff–new initiatives, side projects, hunches you want to confirm with data, people you want to talk to–left over when it’s time to go home.

13. You help without thinking. You like seeing your employees succeed, so it’s second nature to help them out. You pitch in automatically. And they do the same for you.

14. You don’t think about retirement, because retirement sounds boring…and a lot less fulfilling.

15. Your business is a business you would want your children to run. There may be aspects of your business you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, much less your kids: insufferable customers, unbearable employees, difficult working conditions, uncertain long-term prospects.

If you would say to your child, “No, I would never want you to have to deal with that,” why do allow yourself to continue to deal with that?

Naturally, you want your kids to be happy. You also deserve to be happy. List the problems and then fix the problems.

How many of the above statements apply to you and your business?

If you said:

0-4: You need to find a line of work. Life is too short.

5-8: You don’t hate your work but don’t love it either. What can you do differently?

9-12: You really enjoy your work and the people you work with.

13-15: You are deeply, madly in love with your work! (And your friends are jealous!)

More from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

TIME

5 Small Changes You Can Make to Be Way More Productive

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Reza Estakhrian—Getty Images

Little changes, big results


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources, and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Regular readers know I definitely believe in the power of hard work. As Jimmy Spithill, skipper of Team Oracle USA, says, “Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.”

But we can all work smarter, too. And clearly we all want to, as evidenced by the popularity of this recent post, 5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder.

The tips were provided by Belle Beth Cooper, content crafter at Buffer, the maker of a social-media management tool that lets you schedule, automate, and analyze social-media updates. (Cooper is also the co-founder of Exist.)

That post was so popular I asked Cooper for more ways anyone can make a workday more productive without putting in extra hours. Here are five:

1. Rework your to-do list. I’ve written about the history of the to-do list before, and how to write a great one.

One of the most counterintuitive but effective methods I’ve found for increasing my productivity is to limit how many items I add to my to-do list.

One way to do this is by choosing one to three most important tasks, or MITs. These are the big, tough tasks for your day that you really need to get done; the ones that will keep you in the office past the time you planned to leave, or working after dinner if you don’t get through them.

Leo Babauta advocates doing these before you move on to other tasks:

“Do your MITs first thing in the morning, either at home or when you first get to work. If you put them off to later, you will get busy and run out of time to do them. Get them out of the way, and the rest of the day is gravy!”

The rest of your to-do list can be filled up with minor tasks that you would do as long as you complete your MITs. Make sure you work on those before you move on to less critical tasks and you’ll find you feel a whole lot more productive at the end of the day.

Another to-do list tip that can reduce work anxiety is to write your to-do list the night before. I often end up in bed not only thinking about what I need to do the next day but also planning the day; obviously, that makes it difficult to sleep. Writing my to-do list before I go to bed helps me relax and sleep better.

And rather than wasting time in the morning because I don’t know what to work on first, I can jump straight into my first MIT the next day.

One more to-do list tip: Focus only on today.

My most recent and favorite change to my to-do list has been to separate my “today” list from the master list of everything I need to get done.

I often feel anxious about all the things I know I need to do at some point. I need to write them down somewhere so I don’t forget them, otherwise I worry about when or if they will get done. But I don’t want those items cluttering up my list for today; that will just make today seem even busier than it already is.

My solution is to make a big list of everything I need to do. Then, every night, I move a few things to my to-do list for the next day. (I use one big list with priority markers so that anything “high” priority moves to the top and becomes part of my “today” list.)

That lets me focus on what I must do today, but it also gives me a place to dump every little task I think of that someday must get done.

Take it from David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done: “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” Park your ideas on your to-do list, but make sure you create a “today” list and a “someday” list. That way you won’t waste energy trying to remember important ideas and you’ll ensure today won’t feel overwhelming.

2. Measure your results, not your time. The whole idea of working smarter rather than harder stems from the fact that many of us put in more and more hours only to findwe don’t get more done. That’s why we want to find methods to be more productive in less time.

One way to do this is to adjust the way you measure productivity. If you evaluate yourself by what you actually get done rather than the time it takes to get something done, you’ll start to notice a difference in how you work.

For example, if you have a big project to complete, try breaking it down into “completable” sections. For instance, I like to break down my blog posts into sections and small tasks like adding images. With a set of smaller tasks making up a big project, I can check off what I get done each day, even if it takes me many days to finish the whole project. I get a nice little rush every time I check off a task within a blog post, even if it was just a 200-word section. It helps me maintain momentum and keep going until the whole post is done.

Another way to measure what you get done each day is to keep a “done list,” a running log of everything you complete in a day. I scoffed at done lists for a long time until I joined Buffer, where we all share what we’ve done each day using iDoneThis.

If you start keeping a list of everything you get done in a day, you might be surprised how much more motivated you are to do work that matters and stay focused so you get even more done.

Focus on measuring by results, not by time on task, and you’ll definitely get more done.

3. Build habits to help you start working. If I don’t have a plan for what to work on first, I tend to procrastinate and waste time in the mornings. You might have a differentdanger time for procrastination, but getting started seems to be a hurdle for most of us.

One way to overcome this problem is building a routine that tells your brain and body it’s time to work.

Your routine could be something as simple as your daily commute or grabbing a coffee on the way to work. I usually sit at my desk with my coffee and check up on my favorite sites to see if there’s any news. Once my coffee is finished, that’s my cut-off point: It’s my trigger to start working.

Other ways to get into a working mindset can include sitting down at your desk or workspace, turning off your phone or putting it away, exercising, stretching, or eating breakfast. You could even have an album or playlist that gets you in the mood to work and listen to that as part of your routine.

The same technique works on weekends, too. Although you might be tempted to let go of your routine entirely on your days off, our CEO has found that maintaining a weekend routine that doesn’t differ too much from his weekdays works well: The more he let go of his routine on the weekends, the longer it took him to pick it up again during the week.

Routines aren’t a sign of boring, regimented people. Routines are a sign of people who have goals and have found the best way–for them–to actually accomplish their goals.

4. Track where you waste time. If you’re struggling to be productive, it’s tempting to change your routine or try new solutions before you uncover the real problem. (I’ve done this in the past and found it never leads to a long-term solution.)

The first step in becoming more productive is to identify your regular time-sucks. Start by tracking what you do every morning to get ready for work. You might find you’re spending time on things such as choosing your clothes, something you could do the night before. (Or like our co-founder, you could just wear jeans and a white t-shirt every day.)

Then, keep going: Track how you spend your time during the day and look for patterns. A tool like RescueTime can help. Maybe you’ll find you’re getting caught up on Facebook too often. Or that what should have been a two-minute work conversation regularly turns into a 10-minute chat session.

Once you know what takes up your time or leads you to procrastinate, start making specific changes around those habits.

I used to waste a lot of time in the mornings checking out my favorite sites for news or updates. Now I factor it into my routine; as I mentioned, I do it while I drink my coffee, and when the coffee is gone, it’s time to start working.

5. Build habits to help you stop working. This one might seem a bit strange, but it really works. Some of us struggle to stop working, rather than (or as well as) start working.

It’s easy to just keep going for another hour, or to get your computer out after dinner and work until well after bedtime. The worst thing about these habits is that they encourage us to put off our MITs; we figure we’ll be working long enough to be sure to get them done. (But, of course, we don’t.)

Here are a few ways to switch on at-home time and leave work behind:

Quit while you’re ahead. Take it from Hemingway: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day…you will never be stuck.”

His advice can apply to all kinds of work. Stopping in the middle of a project can work well: You know what you’ve done, you know exactly what you’ll do next, and you’ll be excited to get started again.

Set a firm cut-off time. Sean Ogle wrote a great post about this. Most days he has a (pretty extreme) strict cut-off time of noon. You could make this work with an evening cut-off time to get you out of work by, say, 5 p.m.

Ogle gets up early, so he has five to six hours of work time before his midday cut-off point. But because he’s strict about stopping work at noon, he still needs to be ruthless in prioritizing his tasks.

Another benefit of a strict cut-off time is you’ll be a lot more motivated to complete your MITs first; the pressure of a looming deadline will help keep you focused.

Another way to limit your work time is to unplug your laptop power cord. Then you can only work as long as your battery lasts. It’s great motivation to get important things done more quickly.

Plan something cool for after work. Another tip from Ogle is to plan an activity or event for after work. In Ogle’s case, he plans to catch up with friends or attend events around 12:30 or 1 p.m., which helps reinforce his noon cut-off time.

If you want to get out of the office around 5 p.m., you could set up a dinner date, a quick after-work drink with a friend, or a family visit. External forces and peer pressure can give you motivation to get things done within the time you have.

Create a wind-down routine. Having a routine to help you wind down from work can be helpful if you often struggle to switch off. Light exercise works well for me, so I like to walk home from the office or take a walk after work. Our CEO goes for an evening walk as part of his going-to-bed routine because it’s such a good winding-down activity.

Journaling can be really relaxing, as can talking through your day with a partner or friend. Something Benjamin Franklin used to do was ask himself every night, “What good have I done today?” Writing about your day can be a good way to reflect and keep a log of what you’ve done, as well as to transition out of your work mode. If you’re getting into the habit of planning your day the night before, this can be a good way to cap off your workday: Pick out your MITs for tomorrow and create a task list, so you can relax once you leave work.

More from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

TIME

10 Quick Ways to Lose All Your Friends

friends
Getty Images


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources, and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Want to win friends and influence people? Here are 10 things that ensure you won’t:

1. You thoughtlessly waste other peoples’ time. Every time you’re late to an appointment or meeting says your time is more important. Every time you wait until the grocery clerk finishes ringing you up to search for your debit card says you couldn’t care less if others have to wait unnecessarily. Every time you take three minutes to fill your oversize water bottle while a line stacks up behind you says you’re in your own little world–and your world is the only world that matters.

Small, irritating things, but basically no big deal? Wrong. People who don’t notice the small ways they inconvenience others tend to be oblivious when they do it in a major way.

How you treat people when it doesn’t really matter–especially when you’re a leader–says everything about you. Act like the people around you have more urgent needs than yours and you will never go wrong–and you will definitely be liked.

2. You ignore people outside your “level.” There’s an older guy at the gym that easily weighs 350 pounds and understandably struggles on the aerobic and weight equipment. Hats off; he’s in there trying.

Yet nobody talks to him. Or even seems to notice him. It’s like he’s invisible. Why? He doesn’t fit in.

We all do it. When we visit a company, we talk to the people we’re supposed to talk to. When we attend a civic event, we talk to the people we’re supposed to talk to. We breeze right by the technicians and talk to the guy who booked us to speak, even though the techs are the ones who make us look and sound good onstage.

Here’s an easy rule of thumb: Nod whenever you make eye contact. Or smile. Or (gasp!) even say hi. Just act like people exist.

We’ll automatically like you for it–and remember you as someone who engages even when there’s nothing in it for you.

3. You ask for too much. A guy you don’t know asks you for a favor; a big, time-consuming favor. You politely decline. He asks again. You decline again. Then he whips out the Need Card. “But it’s really important to me. You have to. I really need [it].”

Maybe you do, in fact, really need [it]. But your needs are your problem. The world doesn’t owe you anything. You aren’t entitled to advice or mentoring or success. The only thing you’re entitled to is what you earn.

People tend to help people who first help themselves. People tend to help people who first help them. And people definitely befriend people who look out for other people first, because we all want more of those people in our lives.

4. You ignore people in genuine need. At the same time, some people aren’t in a position to help themselves. They need a hand: a few dollars, some decent food, a warm coat.

Though I don’t necessarily believe in karma, I do believe good things always come back to you, in the form of feeling good about yourself.

And that’s reason enough to help people who find themselves on the downside of advantage.

5. You ask a question so you can talk. A guy at lunch asks, “Hey, do you think social-media marketing is effective?”

“Well,” you answer, “I think under the right circumstances…”

“Wrong,” he interrupts. “I’ve never seen an ROI. I’ve never seen a bump in direct sales. Plus ‘awareness’ is not a measurable or even an important goal…” and he drones on while you desperately try to escape.

Don’t shoehorn in your opinions under false pretenses. Only ask a question if you genuinely want to know the answer. And when you do speak again, ask a follow-up question that helps you better understand the other person’s point of view.

People like people who are genuinely interested in them–not in themselves.

6. You pull a “Do you know who I am?” OK, so maybe they don’t take it to the Reese Witherspoon level, but many people whip out some form of the “I’m Too Important forThis” card.

Maybe the line is too long. Or the service isn’t sufficiently “personal.” Or they aren’t shown their “deserved” level of respect.

Say you really are somebody. People always like you better when you don’t act like you know you’re somebody–or that you think it entitles you to different treatment.

7. You don’t dial it back. An unusual personality is a lot of fun–until it isn’t. Yet when the going gets tough or a situation gets stressful, some people just can’t stop “expressing their individuality.”

Look. We know you’re funny. We know you’re quirky. We know you march to the beat of your own drum. Still, there’s a time to play and a time to be serious, a time to be irreverent and a time to conform, a time to challenge and a time to back off.

Knowing when the situation requires you to stop justifying your words or actions with an unspoken “Hey, that’s just me being me” can often be the difference between being likeable and being an ass.

8. You mistake self-deprecation for permission. You know how it’s OK when you make fun of certain things about yourself, but not for other people to make fun of you for those same things? Like receding hairlines. Weight. A struggling business or career. Your spouse and kids.

It’s OK when you poke a little gentle fun at yourself, but the last thing you want to hear are bald or money or “Do you want fries with that?” jokes. (Bottom line: I can say I’m fat. Youcan’t.)

Sometimes self-deprecation is genuine, but it’s often a mask for insecurity. Never assume people who make fun of themselves give you permission to poke the same fun at them.

Only tease when you know it will be taken in the right spirit. Otherwise, if you feel the need to be funny, make fun of yourself.

9. You humblebrag. Humblebragging is a form of bragging that tries to cover the brag with a veneer of humility so you can brag without appearing to brag. (Key word is “appearing,” because it’s still easy to tell humblebraggers are quite tickled with themselves.)

For example, here’s a tweeted humblebrag from actor Stephen Fry: “Oh dear. Don’t know what to do at the airport. Huge crowd, but I’ll miss my plane if I stop and do photos… oh dear don’t want to disappoint.”

Your employees don’t want to hear how stressed you are about your upcoming TED Talk. They don’t want to hear how hard it is to maintain two homes. Before you brag–humbly or not, business or personal–think about your audience. A gal who is a size 14 doesn’t want to hear you complain that normally you’re a size 2, but you’re a size 4 in Prada because its sizes run small.

Or better yet, don’t brag. Just be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Let others brag for you.

If you’ve done cool things, don’t worry–they will.

10. You push your opinions. You know things. Cool things. Great things.

Awesome. But only share them in the right settings. If you’re a mentor, share away. If you’re a coach or a leader, share away. If you’re the guy who just started a paleo diet, don’t tell us all what to order.

Unless we ask. What’s right for you may not be right for others; shoot, it might not even turn out to be right for you.

Like most things in life, offering helpful advice is all about picking your spots–just like winning friends and influencing people.

Read more from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

TIME

5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder

Make your boss happy by demonstrating enthusiasm, gratitude, and respect, among other things.
Alex and Laila—Getty Images


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources, and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

You work really hard. In fact, you might not be able to work any harder. But you can still work smarter.

Here are five ways anyone can work smarter from Belle Beth Cooper, content crafter at Buffer, the social media management tool that lets you schedule, automate, and analyze social-media updates. (She’s also co-founder of Exist.)

Here’s Beth:

One of the things I love about the culture at Buffer is the emphasis on working smarter, not harder. Our team is all about getting plenty of sleep, exercise, and recreation time, so our time spent working is as productive as it can be.

Working harder can be an easy habit to slip into, though. Sometimes it’s hard to switch off at the end of the day or take time out on the weekend and stop thinking about work. With a startup of my own to run, I find this even harder to manage. Whenever I’m not working on Buffer I’m working on Exist, and it’s easy to fall into a pattern of “always working” rather than working smart.

Here are five ways to avoid that trap:

1. Take more breaks. In one of my favorite books, Stephen Covey tells a story about a woodcutter whose saw gets more blunt as time passes and he continues cutting down trees. If the woodcutter were to stop sawing, sharpen his saw, and go back to cutting the tree with a sharp blade, he would actually save time and effort in the long run.

The analogy is an easy one to remember but harder to put into practice. Here’s what Covey says about sharpening the saw in our lives:

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Sharpening the saw is a great habit to get into in all areas of our lives, but I think it can be especially beneficial when it comes to work and helping us avoid burnout.

On average our brains are only able to remain focused for 90 minutes; then we need at least 15 minutes rest. (The phenomenon is based on ultradian rhythms.) By taking period breaks roughly every 90 minutes you allow your mind and body to renew–and be ready to fire off another 90-minute period of high activity.

For some people, 15 to 20 minute breaks might be tough to pull off, but taking short breaks throughout the day can still help you to refresh your mind andreset your attention span.

2. Take naps. Research shows naps lead to improvement in cognitive function, creative thinking, and memory performance. In particular, napping benefits the learning process by helping us take in and retain information better.

The improved learning process comes from naps actually helping our brain to solidify memories. According to Max Read, “Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain–in the hippocampus, to be specific–it’s still ‘fragile’ and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping, it seems, pushes memories to the neocortex, the brain’s ‘more permanent storage,’ preventing them from being ‘overwritten.'”

One study into memory found that participants did remarkably better on a test following a nap than those who didn’t sleep at all.

Not only are naps beneficial for consolidating memories and helping us remember new information (handy if your job includes a lot of research during the day!), they’re also useful in helping us to avoid burnout, since research shows burnout is a signal that says you can’t take in more information in this part of your brain until you’ve had a chance to sleep.

3. Spend time in nature. Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Power of Excellence, suggests spending time in nature to help us reset our attention span and relax our minds.

One experiment he mentions tested how relaxed people were when taking a walk down a city street versus in a quiet park. The study found that the level of attention needed to navigate a busy city street is high enough that the walk doesn’t let the brain relax enough to reset our focus levels:

Unlike natural environments, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically and additionally requires directed attention (e.g., to avoid being hit by a car), making them less restorative.

Spending time in nature, however, allows your mind to fully relax and unwind and helps you focus longer when you return to work. Plus, other research has found that for students, motivation to learn is higher when they are outside instead of in a classroom.

4. Move and work in blocks. I recently read a blog post by Joel Runyonabout a method he calls “workstation popcorn” (which is basically what our back-end developer Colin does.)

The idea is that you set up at various cafés, workspaces, or, as in Colin’s case, pubs to get chunks of work done throughout the day. Workstation popcorn starts with a clear, thought out to-do list: you create a plan for what you will accomplish at each location so you can immediately jump into those tasks.

Joel breaks up his to-do list into sections–one per café that he plans to visit–and each section into three clear tasks. Once he gets through the group of tasks he has set, he moves on to the next café on his list.

Of course, you can sort out your task list however suits you best, but the important part to note is having a clear finishing point based on your task listrather than the time you will move to a new location. And when you move, cycling or walking is a good way to go, according to Joel:

Use this time to practice your Zen, take a break from your screen, and get some movement into your day. Keep your phone in your pocket, and move. Take a break away from work for at least thirty minutes.

I know Colin often finds this break period helpful for thinking through what he’s working on or what he will do next. Joel also noted in his post that he has been more productive, more active during the day, and is working fewer hours since he started this process.

5. Check your email first thing. This one is fairly counterintuitive; basically everyone says not to check email right away, but I do and find it extremely useful. Here are some ways checking email first helps me to be more productive during the day.

If you work in a remote team like we do at Buffer, a business trend that isincreasingly more common, you’ll know what it’s like to have half of your team (or more) working while you’re asleep. If you need to work closely with others, it’s important to check in before you start your workday and make sure you’re on the same page as everyone else.

Since I started working at Buffer, I’ve woken up to emails saying I had typos to fix, a new blog post published, and even that Buffer had been hacked. Dealing with important issues first thing helps me make quick decisions about whether my day needs to be adjusted to fit in with what everyone else is doing or whether I can proceed with the tasks I already had planned.

What tips do you have for working smarter?

Read more from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

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