TIME Business

Uber’s Engineering Director of Growth: This Is the Secret to a Productive Day

Do fewer things well

Answer by Pedram Keyani, Engineering Director of Growth at Uber, on Quora.

Having a productive day starts off by generally understanding the important goals you are working towards and blockers that will get in your way. This doesn’t start on the particular day but actually days, weeks, and months beforehand by doing a few things well.

Break Down Goals
What are the important goals you are working towards? This sounds simple, but it is not always easy to distill goals cleanly. Once you have your 3-4 goals, then you need to break them down into sub goals, tasks, and projects that then get sequenced.

Know Your Priorities
As time moves forward, the priorities for your tasks and projects increase. You should have a list of things that are important and urgent (fires) and things that are important and not urgent. Ideally, you don’t have many fires to deal with (though they always come up) so that you can allocate your time to reduce fires going forward. My goal is to get so good at this that I can spend most of my time being proactive and less time being reactive.

Identify Your Blockers
Any goal is going to have challenges associated with it. If not, it would be trivial and not worth setting as a goal. Writing down your blockers turns them from vague stress-inducing problems into challenges that you can think through.

Make Lists
The night before, start a list of things that you need to accomplish. At the end of the day, see how much you accomplished and also look for things that seemed important the night before but weren’t so important today. Use this process to see how well you plan ahead prioritize and refine that process over time.

Do Fewer Things Well
It is easy to get in a state where you are doing a lot but don’t feel like you are accomplishing anything well. This oftentimes causes more work over time and is a common trap. I make the mistake sometimes where I get proud of myself for how many things I can handle and how much I can multitask. Don’t mistake motion for movement.

Tackle Your Distractions
Take a hard look at what triggers you to get distracted and develop a coping mechanism. These distractions can be loud coworkers, a messy workspace, foot traffic, etc. Sometimes I forget to eat, and when my blood sugar goes down, I lose focus and take a long time to accomplish basic tasks. Sometimes I’m able to catch myself in that state and I get up and grab a snack. Ideally, you don’t get a sugary snack or anything heavy, because that will give you a rush and then drop you pretty hard, but sometimes we all need comfort food.

Ultimately being productive boils down to knowing what you are trying to achieve, knowing what order you need to get things done and committing to doing the work. Identify and aggressively remove barriers that keep you from making forward progress. These are all simple steps that take a lot of work to tune for great results.

This question originally appeared on Quora: How can people organize themselves for a productive day?

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TIME Business

James Altucher’s Career Advice: Always Focus on Your Strengths

James Altucher
Natan Dvir—Quoracast Mr. James Altucher in his hotel suite at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Midtown Manhattan on Feb 21, 2013.

"They are your strengths for an important reason"

Answer by James Altucher, author and blogger, on Quora.

Let’s say Michael Jordan at his peak was on your basketball team. There are ten seconds left in the game and you have the ball and you are down by one. Do you throw it to Michael Jordan or do you throw it to the worst player on your team? Both are wide open and ready for your decision.

If I were your coach I’d fire you if you threw to anyone other than Michael Jordan at that moment. He’d take the ball and score and you will win.

Always focus on your strengths. They are your strengths for an important reason. At one point you were passionate about them (and perhaps still are) and so dived into the subtleties enough to make yourself a master of those strengths. That’s why you are strong in them. The weaknesses are there because you have no interest in them, are no good at it, and for many reasons, may never be good at it. You may have new passions in the future. And those passions will turn into strengths eventually. But weaknesses don’t turn into strengths.

In business, for example, I have problems focusing on just one thing. Which is probably why I will never again try to be CEO of a company where that company becomes my only focus in life. Is that a weakness? Sure. Do I care? No, because I like spending time on many interests.

Also, I know I am not the best investor, to be honest. I like to invest where people smarter than me have invested. And where CEOs who are smarter than me are running things. I’m good at understanding big demographic changes. So I pick those. Then I find the CEOs and co-investors within those demographic shifts that are better than me at what they do.

In other words — delegate your weaknesses. Then for all practical purposes, your weaknesses and strengths will side by side make you an enormous success.

This question originally appeared on Quora: Should I invest in my weaknesses or keep on focusing on my strengths?

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TIME Business

This Is What It’s Like to Work in Silicon Valley as a Teen

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It can be socially isolating — and I've struggled with impostor syndrome

Answer by Alexandr Wang, Performance Engineer at Quora, on Quora.

I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop for a few hours writing an answer to this question. The short answer is that it’s not that different from being a 20-something-year-old working in Silicon Valley. Only a few years separate an 18-year-old and a 21-year-old, and in most respects, they’ll have a pretty similar experience working in tech. But, for this answer to be interesting and meaningful, I’ll mostly be focusing on the differences. Of course, I’ll mostly be speaking from my own experience, which could be very different from other teens working in Silicon Valley.

As with most things, it’s not easily describable with the adjectives taught in school. It’s exciting, interesting, challenging, rewarding, confusing, and 20 other words I could rattle off for you which all seem meaningful and meaningless at the same time. But, bear with me, and I promise it’ll all make sense.

First off, working in tech immediately out of high school was liberating and forced me to change my perspective on a number of things. All of a sudden, I gained a large amount of optionality by getting a full-time job in tech. I could afford to travel at my own discretion and make my own financial decisions, and in general I had much more freedom than I would at college. I was asking myself questions like “What would I gain out of college?” and “Do I need to attend college?”, when before it was obvious that I needed to go to college, at the very least for the sake of my career. It forced me to examine my motives more carefully and make much harder decisions than before, rather than just following the default path. (See my answer to Should I take a gap year from MIT? for an example)

Additionally, working in tech, and at Quora specifically, has given me the chance to have a pretty significant impact and scope, probably at least as much as any other opportunity I could’ve had at my age. And by impact, I mean both impact within the company and impact on the world in general (this might seem like a bold and somewhat nebulous claim, but Quora is becoming more and more ubiquitous in a way that I’m confident saying this). Coming out of high school, where I was doing things for the sake of doing things, it was pretty incredible to be working on something which actually has the potential to change the world. It’s both invigorating and frightening at times; on the one hand I’m basically helping to build the internet, on the other I’m inexperienced and young, and I have the ability to screw everything up.

One thing I’ve personally struggled with while working in Silicon Valley has been impostor syndrome. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s basically this feeling that you don’t really deserve what you’ve accomplished, and your achievements have only come as the result of luck. Before working in tech, I had essentially no experience in computer science other than competitive programming (at which I was good, but nowhere close to being the best). It was hard for me to believe that I actually deserved the offers and opportunities I was getting, especially compared to thousands of other applicants who certainly had more experience and knowledge than me. On the other hand, it was easy for me to believe that I simply got lucky on the interviews and was able to slip by, naiveté and inexperience undetected. Oftentimes people expect a young person who’s “succeeded” in tech to be haughty and pretentious, but we’re just teenagers, and we face the same internal struggles as our peers (MIT students, for example).

Unlike a college setting, though, tech can be pretty socially isolating as a teenager, especially when it’s not the summer. Essentially all of my coworkers are 21 or older, many of them married and some have children. Because of the age and maturity gap, it was difficult to relate to my coworkers initially, and even harder to socialize with them. Over time I was able to be more integrated within the company, but even then, it’s hard to build friendships as strong as those from high school or college. I initially tried to overcome this by spending time at Stanford or Berkeley, but it was sometimes equally difficult to relate with students because I was not also a student. I fit imperfectly between two worlds, making it near impossible to latch onto any social graph.

Closely related to impostor syndrome, it was sometimes frustrating to be an unproven teenager in a workplace of adults. You’re constantly fighting against the default and almost subconscious expectation your coworkers have of you, which is an inexperienced and risky teenage hire. You won’t have any ethos to begin with, and the only way to overcome the initial teenager stigma is to perform much better than people expect you to. Even then, if you make a mistake, it can hugely affect how coworkers perceive you because the implicit expectation is that you’re not as experienced or knowledgable as an employee with more schooling or experience. The magnitude of this effect varies between companies, and I’m thankful to say Quora doesn’t suffer much from this because many of the teenage hires have been really successful.

I’ll close with a few realizations I’ve had from working in Silicon Valley over the past year:

  • You (and I) are not special. Working in Silicon Valley as a teenager doesn’t make you special. It doesn’t matter if you were a wunderkind who managed to get offers at 12 companies and start a startup at 16, your age is only relevant to the headlines. Your success will be determined by what you accomplish, independent of your age. Being a teenager in Silicon Valley doesn’t entitle you to any special attention or treatment. The bottom line is you’re not too different from everybody else working in tech, unless you prove it through your actions and endeavors.
  • Tech isn’t Wonderland. After reading about Silicon Valley in the news, and maybe after one’s first few onsite interviews, one might think that Silicon Valley is this glamorous place where thousands of incredibly smart people come together to solve some of the most interesting problems humanity has ever faced. In some sense, this is true; Silicon Valley does have a lot of very smart people, and there are a lot of interesting problems being worked on. But, just like any industry, there are also incompetent people, arrogant people, and malicious people. Sometimes these people are even very successful. You should expect to encounter these people, and you should be prepared to realize that many companies and projects are not actually interesting, innovative, or revolutionary.

Overall, being a teenager in tech can be extremely rewarding or frustrating depending on the opportunities you have. I would not say that it is always glamorous or exciting as is sometimes portrayed, and one should be aware of the trade-offs and caveats of working in Silicon Valley as a teen.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What’s it like to be a teen working in Silicon Valley?

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TIME health

4 Life Lessons a Doctor Has Learned From Patients

We never have as much time as we think

Answer by David Chan on Quora.

I’ve taken care of cancer patients for several decades and they’ve taught me something about life.

1. A job is just a job. I often get into discussions about life and living with my cancer patients who have a unique outlook because they are face to face with their mortality.

Not one single patient has told me that they wished they had worked more. I’ve taken it to heart and have made it a point to be there for important events for family and friends and to take vacation days.

2. I’m reminded daily to have a big picture view of life and to understand what is a real problem. It’s so easy to be caught up in day to day dramas that we lose sight of what is a real problem.

A real problem is finding a big lump in your neck, getting a scan, then a biopsy, and being told that it’s cancer. Virtually every other problem then goes away.

3. True wealth is measured in family and friends. I’m not talking about numbers. What I’m talking about is the small group of people that will really be with you when the shit hits the fan. I’ve had very wealthy patients with big families and a large group of friends that all disappeared when things went south. Nothing could be sadder to see. And I’ve had other patients who had 2 or 3 people in their lives that made incredible personal sacrifices of time and effort to help them through. I think of it as proof of a life well lived.

4. A corollary to #1 is that we never have as much time as we think. I’m reminded of a patient who was a young and very successful executive with pancreas cancer. He wasn’t curable and it was poorly treatable given his situation. His life expectancy went from 40 years to 6 months within the week of his diagnosis.

He’d never taken a vacation with his family; his wife and 3 school-aged kids.

We reviewed the pros and cons of treatment and he decided to forego treatment, rented a sailboat and took his family through the Caribbean Islands for about 3 weeks. Because of his cancer, he didn’t feel physically great but he told me that it was the best 3 weeks of his life.

I’m grateful for the lesson he and many other patients have taught me.

This question originally appeared on Quora: If you’re a medical practitioner, what revelations have you had about health and mortality since you’ve been working in this field?

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TIME Business

These Are the Most Underrated Skills That Many People Lack

Be reliable and keep track of yourself

Answer by Auren Hoffman, CEO of LiveRamp, on Quora.

Two skills are incredibly rare: (1) Doing what you say you will do (be reliable); (2) Keeping track of yourself

Doing what you tell people you will do

If you can teach your kids a useful skill that will always help them with their career: teach them to be reliable — to do what they say they will do. (It is harder than it sounds.)

If you consistently do what you say you will do, you will almost certainly be someone people desire to have on their teams. It is so rare that when you work with someone who is reliable, you never ever want to work with anyone else. You will do anything to keep that person on your team.

Doing what you say you are going to do starts with setting the right expectations. If you tell someone you will get them the deliverable by Tuesday, you need to understand that it can actually be delivered by Tuesday. If you are good, you are probably factoring in slack in case someone in corporate slows you down or your child gets sick.

And so if your boss wants something done Monday and you think it cannot be done until Wednesday, you need to be up-front. Because once a date is agreed to, you’re on the hook for accomplishing it.

On the less-skilled end of the job spectrum, many people cannot commit to showing up to work consistently and on time. There are many external factors in their life that make even these commitments hard to achieve.

So do everything you can to be reliable — because there are very few people that one can rely on.

Keep track of yourself

The corollary to being reliable is to make sure you manage yourself.

If you can manage all your tasks and deliverables without reminders, you will be treated like the golden child.

If your boss or colleagues never need to remind you about a project, deliverable, an answer to an email, etc., they will be able to take a load off their mind and be allowed to focus on other areas. And they will appreciate not having to have the uncomfortable conversation with you (“where is that item that was due yesterday?”).

This takes a lot of hard work and organization, but most people can do it. You don’t need a PhD (or even a college degree) to be on top of everything. You just need to be organized and prioritize its importance. Of course, while most people CAN do this, most people DON’T do this — so doing it will be a huge differentiator for you.

The underrated skills

If all you do is be reliable and keep track of yourself, you will be indispensable to any company.

This question originally appeared on Quora: From the perspective of a CEO, what are the most underrated skills most employees lack?

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TIME Business

This Is the Most Important Thing You Can Do at Your First Job

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Get on the right path

Answer by Auren Hoffman, CEO of LiveRamp, on Quora.

The most important thing to optimize for on your first job is growth. Growth is king, queen, and emperor combined. Optimize for growth above compensation, above location, above lifestyle, and above anything else.

Getting a young person on a high growth path will set that person up for success much more so than even the quality of the university they attended. That’s because so many super talented people grow way more slowly than their potential.

In your first job, you should be growing at least 25%/year. That means at the end of the first year, you are at least 25% better and by the first three years you are roughly twice as good. Unfortunately, most people grow way slower than that.

When you are old (like me) and presumably at a much higher base, growing at 10%/year is very acceptable. But early in your career you need to grow much faster to get to that very high base.

Your compensation change should lag your growth — but there will likely be a correlation. If you are growing at 30%/year you likely are getting a higher percentage raise than if you are growing at 10%/year.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What’s the best advice for someone looking for their first job?

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TIME Business

Uber Engineer: This Is the Most Important Tool for Productivity

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Control your calendar

Answer by Pedram Keyani, Engineering Director of Growth at Uber, on Quora.

If you think of your time and attention as the most scarce resource then your calendar is the most important tool in your arsenal. You must make sure you control your calendar and that it doesn’t control you.

Alignment
This may sound obvious but is worth saying anyways. If you have goals and a mission that you are responsible for (all of us do) and you don’t have time allocated in your work week to accomplishing those goals then you aren’t aligned with yourself. Block off times to dedicate yourself to the things that matter.

Defragmentation
Be thoughtful of how you string together meetings and calls so that you have big blocks of time and aren’t just scrambling around from meeting to meeting.

Say No
Every single meeting request adds up. If you look out at your calendar for a month from now it is probably pretty clean (with the exception of repeating meetings) but your current week is probably a mess. The reason it gets that way is because of all the small little meetings and requests that pile up to become a “lost” week. Learn to say no. Better yet, learn to ask “what is the goal of this meeting? Is there a way to accomplish that without taking 30 minutes?” and then if the meeting still needs to happen make sure everyone is engaged and that the output is what you were hoping for.

Reboot
Certain meetings continue to live on out of habit. Evaluate them and make sure they are adding value to everyone and/or that the right people are in the room (yourself included.) If a meeting is on there but no value add be the brave person who asks “Is this meeting still worth having?” It is worth looking over your calendar and how you spend your time on a regular basis. Ineffectiveness is not a state that you step into all at once, it happens over a thousand small decisions over many weeks and months.

Decompress
The most effective people are not the ones who work 100 hours a week. They are the ones who know how to make the best use of their time. A part of that is being fresh and having a sharp mind. Using your brain is just like exercise, you can’t sprint and sprint and sprint without taking a break otherwise you will collapse or your “sprint” will actually look like a crawl from the outside. Most people get sidetracked with the Internet, Facebook, online games, etc. at some point in the day and usually they feel guilty about it which adds more stress and tension and doesn’t serve the benefit that it is supposed to. Schedule a few times throughout the day to read a book, listen to music, take a walk, take a nap, go for a run, etc. Investing 15-20 minutes a few times a day will ultimately make you more effective during the rest of the time.

Controlling your time is the key.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some little-known productivity tips from various professions?

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TIME Education

How My High School Lunch Lady Helped Me Get Into Princeton

Be nice to your lunch ladies, people

This is the story I tell whenever someone asks me how I got into Princeton, mostly because that question is always awkward and begets SAT score questions, which isn’t a very exciting topic. Anyway, back to 2003.

We had an array of hall monitors in my high school, most of whom were older women who had retired or wanted a relaxing not-quite full-time job. Some were moms of classmates, others locals. They were all generally friendly, some a little cranky and more on the disciplinarian side.

One though, Rose, was the sweetest woman. She would always chat us up at lunch, make sure we were staying out of trouble, ask how classes and sports were going. Just a really friendly lady who knew we were good kids and cared about our success. We didn’t know much about her other than that she was the “cool” one and took a liking to us. We appreciated that.

Come spring semester senior year, everyone is waiting on college admissions and Rose knew that I had applied early to Princeton. Around the week or so that you’d expect to hear back, she would ask me every single day. “Lev, did you hear from Princeton? Did you get in?” Without fail, every single day. She took an interest, but this was a bit much for me. “Rose, I’ll tell you when I know.”

One afternoon that week I came home early because I had a few free periods toward the end of the day and didn’t have sports practice or anything after school. I peeked in the mailbox and found a big fat letter from Princeton. Good sign. Open it up and the first word is “YES!”

Naturally, I was a pretty excited 17-year-old and drove back to school to tell everybody. It was still the middle of a class period so nobody was around. Except, of course, Rose, hanging out by the main hallway door.

“ROSE! I GOT IN!”

“I know! I’m so excited for you!”

“Huh? What do you mean, you know?”

“It’s been killing me these last few days not telling you, but I’ve known for the last week. That’s why I’ve been asking you every day.”

Ummm…what?! You’re the lunch lady, the hall monitor. What could you possibly know about my college admissions before I do? Isn’t that kind of sensitive information?

Turns out, before Rose retired she was the executive assistant to an important and wealthy business person who also happened to be a Princeton alumnus and had some power in the University.

When she found out I applied and it was around admissions time, she made a phone call to her good friend and former boss. He made his own phone calls and reported back that I got in, apparently on my own. I’ll never know if I got in on my own or not, but Rose and everyone else are convinced I did. I get the feeling that if I hadn’t, this guy would have changed that for Rose.

Either way, when people ask how I got into Princeton I tell them my lunch lady got me in. Or at least she would have had the need arisen.

Be nice to your lunch ladies, people. They’ll get you into college.

Lev Berlin graduated Princeton in 2007 and runs the food software business ReciPal.

This article originally appeared on Quora.

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TIME psychology

How to Improve Your Memory Skills

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Focus on what interests you

Answer by Kevin Horsley, author of Unlimited Memory, on Quora.

Many people are focusing their energy on concern about memory loss, but few focus on how to keep their memory. What you focus on will dominate your reality, so rather focus on what you want and not on what you don’t want.

Nobody has ever taught you how to use your memory. I believe that there is no such thing as a good or a bad memory, only a good or bad memory strategy.

Many of the things you call memory problems, like forgetting your car keys etc, are quite normal and can be solved with a bit of attention and a better memory strategy. To keep your memories you need to store them effectively and if you follow these few principles then you will be able to remember more:

1. Catch your memory doing things right — Too many people become members of the ‘Bad Memory Club’ and focus on the 5% of the time that their memory fails them. If you think you have a bad memory, it means you have a good one because you can remember where your memory has gone wrong. Think about how much data you already have stored in your memory. Think about what an incredible memory you need just to have a conversation. You have to listen, create meaning from your store of millions of references and then search your memory for a response. Your memory does a lot right, so ask yourself, “How does my memory serve me – how did it serve me today?”

2. Get interested — As you get older you narrow your focus of attention. You know what you are interested in and therefore focus more on those things. Uninteresting things are not attended to and therefore not remembered.

3. Practice single tasking — To create a memory we first have to pay attention. In this day and age we are filling our lives up with interruptions, like social media, and we are dividing our attention and we wonder why we can’t hold onto information for long periods of time. We are training ourselves to become scattered by creating a state of ‘busyness.’ When you multitask, you divide your attention and you will never be as effective as focusing on only one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth!

4. Bring information to life — Our mind never wonders away, it only moves towards things and to information that is outstanding, important and interesting. We want to make information ‘sticky’ and the only way to do that is to surprise the mind by turning information into an exciting movie or image. Just because you have seen or heard something doesn’t mean it will stick, but if you use your imagination the information will become more outstanding. My surname is Horsley and if you just repeat it over and over, there is no guarantee that it will stick, but if you see a Horse putting on Lee jeans and you make it vivid and alive then it is hard to forget.

5. Connect to what you already know — If you wanted to remember that the Zulu word for dog is inja, then you could think of an injured dog. The Zulu word for Snake is inyoka, so imagine a snake in your car. If you connect the new information to what you already know then you will strengthen your memory network. If you consciously do this then the more you know the easier it will be to get to know more. The older you get the more general knowledge and references you acquire. So theoretically if you apply this principle, the older you get the better your memory should become.

6. Review — As we get older we don’t review enough. The average person will only remember about 18% of information just 28 days after studying it. That is why it’s important to go over information that is stored in your memory in order to keep it fresh in your mind. If you haven’t thought about someone in years you can’t be expected to recall information about them instantly. We have to review our memories to keep them alive. No matter how many times you learn something, you will have to start over from the beginning if you let yourself forget it. Review your memories over longer and longer periods of time and keep them ‘alive.’

There is so much you can do to keep your memory and improve your concentration. I hope this helps.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What is the fastest and best way to improve my memory, cognitive skills and span of concentration?

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TIME Business

4 Basic Principles of the Art of Negotiation

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Ask questions and really listen

Answer by Mira Zaslove on Quora.

I’ve spent the majority of my career negotiating. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I’ve also learned from some great negotiators. Something surprising: better negotiators focus more on the other side, than they do on themselves. Instead of telling other people what to think, they ask questions, and really listen.

Following are some basics:

1. Once someone says yes, shut up!

You’d be surprised how often smart people make this mistake. What usually happens is that they are trying to prove their point, not to negotiate. Great negotiating is more about listening than talking. Once you’ve said something, you can’t take it back. Be careful with your words. I’ve gone into negotiations prepared to give the other side something, only to have them talk me out of it.

2. Be respectful

When you get an objection, don’t get defensive. Instead, ask for clarification. For example, if someone says they don’t like the strategy, ask them why. Ask for specifics. Seize objections as an opportunity to listen carefully, not to fight back. Don’t interrupt. Trying to win an argument rarely gets you what you want. Don’t be rude or pushy. Don’t negotiate if you are feeling emotional. Similarly, if the person you are negotiating with is in a bad or unreceptive mood, table the conversation. Respect people’s time.

3. Focus on common ground

Don’t assume you know what matters to the other person. They may view the situation completely differently than you expect them to. And great negotiators craft their negotiation based on what the other person wants, not on what they want. Do your research. However, don’t shove all your opinions down your counterparties’ throat. They may disagree with most of your analysis, and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost. Focus on where you agree. Changing somebody’s mind is difficult and exhausting. And it rarely works. Spend energy building on where you already have agreement.

4. Know what you want

I once managed someone who was very charismatic and likable. People wanted to help him. However, he rarely collected on this goodwill because he didn’t know what he wanted. Good opportunities are missed when you are unprepared. It’s hard to get what you want if you don’t know what it is. The best negotiators know what they want at every step. Negotiations are often give and take, so aim high. Give yourself some wiggle room.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the basics of the art of negotiation?

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