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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TIME Business

This Is How Successful Leaders Spent Their Teenage Years

Apple CEO Steve Jobs at the 2011 Apple World Wide Developers Conference at the Moscone Center on June 6, 2011 in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple CEO Steve Jobs at the 2011 Apple World Wide Developers Conference at the Moscone Center on June 6, 2011 in San Francisco.

Spending time alone is really, really important

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

Note: I don’t think I have ever before been compared with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc. I am no where near as successful or accomplished as most of the people on this list. But for what it is worth, I’ll give you a trait that I think is common among most of these people (including myself).

Lots of alone time
Most of these people spent a massive amount of time alone when they were kids and young adults. And most of these people still spend a much larger percentage of their time alone today than most outsiders would think.

Especially when people are growing up, spending time alone gives one the space to explore, to be weird, to learn, to imagine, and to dream.

Reading is really (REALLY) important.
Read a wide variety of books and articles that stretch your imagination. Don’t just read easy books (like Harry Potter). Read difficult texts that really stretch your mind.

Read fiction and non-fiction. Read wonderful novels written by authors from far-away lands. Read things that challenge your political thought. Read the Bible, the Koran, Buddhist texts, and ancient mythology. And don’t just read conventional things assigned to you in school (like Hemingway, Shakespeare, and more) but try to seek out authors on your own.

Because most of the people mentioned grew up in a different era, they spent a big portion of their time just reading the encyclopedia. Many of them would eventually read every encyclopedia volume letter. These people had an insatiable need to learn new things.

When these people walked to class, they were probably reading a book or a magazine (in those days, it was a paper book). Some of these people even got injured walking into things because they were reading.

Most of these people had parents that asked them to read less.

Today the encyclopedia is free and on the internet. But today the encyclopedia is so big that it would be impossible to read in a lifetime — so today choices about what you read could be a bit harder. But reading is still really important.

Play acting
At an early age, most of these people spent more time play-acting than others. Very few of these people spent their time playing organized sports … they instead were in their bedroom, backyard, or nearby park playing by themselves. They were letting their imagination run wild.

They were imagining themselves as secret agents, slaying dragons, marshaling their toy soldiers to do battle, starting businesses, dealing with family situations, and more.

Experimenting
It is amazing how many successful people lit things on fire, blew things up, captured and studied bugs, built bird nests, and more. My guess is that every single one of the people listed subjected themselves to multiple electric shocks (some on accident, some on purpose).

They were building, creating, viewing, and observing. And they were the ones in charge of the experiment — they were the prodders.

Lots of creative activities
While most of the people listed are known for their right-brained prowess, most spent a very large percentage of their childhood and adolescence doing very creative things. They were writing short stories and plays, painting, sculpting, writing poems and lyrics, writing computer programs, and more.

Creating versus consuming
Reading, watching wonderful movies, listening to music, etc. are all great ways to spend time. But they are passive — these are consuming functions.

Most of these successful people spent a large percentage of their time creating vs. consuming. They were building things, starting things, etc. This is really important.

Today it is harder to spend time creating because there are so many more options to consume. In the days when most of the above people grew up, one would get bored pretty quickly of the consuming options (usually the best option was to read a book or watch bad television) where today there are just so many more options. In fact, the tablet is essentially designed to maximize consumption (unlike the PC which is a better tool tool for creation).

Get away from the social pressures of school
School, especially middle school and high school, is socially incredibly high pressure for everyone. People are jockeying for position and cliques are forming and unwinding constantly. There is a Game of Thrones aspect to the social standing within high school that is ultra competitive and hard to escape.

By spending time alone, people get needed breaks from the high school Game of Thrones. Alone-time allows you to spend time actually exploring yourself (rather than spending time conforming to some sort of norm).

Today, alone-time is frowned upon
Something happened in the last 30 years to encourage parents to spend more time with their kids. Another huge trend has been for parents to give their kids opportunities by enrolling them in lots of sports, weekend classes, summer learning retreats, and more.

While there are so many good things about the trend of more involved parenting, one of the very important unintended consequences is that kids have significantly less alone-time then they once did. And even when they are alone, they have the means to be a part of of the larger group through social networks, SMS, and more. So it is harder of them to escape the social pressures of school.

So we should expect the best strategy for kids today to not be the same as the best strategy for past generations. But most everyone (young and old) — especially those that have good social lives and have been reasonably successful — could use more time alone and more time to themselves.

This question originally appeared on Quora: How did successful people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Max Levchin, Steve Jobs, Peter Thiel, Vinod Khosla, Oliver Emberton, Gayle Laakmann McDowell, Auren Hoffman etc. spend their time when they were young, between ages of 10 and 22?

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TIME Business

Optimize These 3 Areas in Your Life for Highest Productivity

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Optimize your environment, mind, and process

Answer by Justin Rosenstein, co-founder of Asana, on Quora.

I’m a software developer, designer, and entrepreneur. I’m the co-founder of Asana, team productivity software that many great companies (e.g. Uber, Pinterest, Dropbox) use to run their companies. Back when I was an engineering manager at Facebook, I designed the internal team productivity tool that the company still relies on.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been obsessed with productivity for a long time.

Here are the tips that I’ve found essential to my creative output. Each tip relates to optimizing one of three areas: your environment, your mind, and your process.

Optimizing your environment

Turn off all distractions. The verdict is clear: “multitasking” makes people feel more productive, but research shows that it makes us less productive. The temptations of email are strong. But frequent interruptions make us dumber and it takes much longer than expected to get back on task. So when it’s time to focus,

  • Set your phone to Do Not Disturb. On iPhone: swipe up from the very bottom of the phone, and then hit the Moon icon.
  • Close all browser windows that aren’t directly related to the task at hand.
  • If part of your work is composing emails, get into a state where you can write them without seeing new ones come in. In Gmail, bookmark Gmail (filtered to show nothing)
  • Turn off email push notifications on your computer.
  • Log out of chat.

Find your flow time. If your day is constantly interrupted by meetings, it’s very difficult to get into flow, a state where you’re really jamming and go deep on complex tasks.

  • Add 3-hour “meetings” to your calendar where you’re the only attendee. Coworkers will schedule around these busy times, and you can get uninterrupted work done.
  • If you can, get your whole company to agree to a day per week where there shall be no meetings. At Asana, we have No-Meeting Wednesdays.
  • Track what times of the day work best for you for different activities. Do your hardest work during your “Superman time.” Here’s the process I used to determine that mine is from 10:00a-noon: Finding Your Superman Time.
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Justin Rosenstein

Master your tools. If you use a computer all day, every time you reach for your mouse, it slows you down a little, and you lose a little bit of flow. You want to interact with your computer at the speed at which you think. Doing so requires learning the keyboard shortcuts of the software you used most.

  • Every time you find yourself using your mouse, see if there’s a keyboard shortcut. Usually it will appear right next to the menu item, or on the little tip that shows up when you put your mouse cursor over a button. On a Mac: ⌘ means Command, ⌥ means Option, ⇧ means Shift, and ⌃ means Control.
  • Use SizeUp to quickly rearrange your windows without a mouse.

Optimize your mind

One of my favorite books on this topic is Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Even the book’s name is a powerful reminder.

Take regular breaks. Common sense tells us that the more time we spend working, the more work done we’ll get done. But that’s just not true. Humans are not robots. Our minds need time to recharge. Research suggests that a 15-minute break every 90 minutes is a good rule of thumb for accomplishing more by doing less.

Meditate. Here’s how I picked up a daily habit.

Take care of your body.

  • Hydrate. At the beginning of the day, I put 5 tall glasses of water on my desk. I drink them all by the end of the day. Seeing them sitting there is a good progress indicator.
  • Eat well. A carb-heavy lunch is often a disaster for afternoon energy.
  • Take supplements. According to the book Power Up Your Brain:

• Vegetarian DHA: 1000mg daily
• Olive oil: 1tbsp daily
• Alpha-lipoic acid: 600mg daily, 30minutes before meals
• Coconut oil: Virgin, organic; 1 tbsp in morning
• Pterostilbene: 50mg morning & evening
• Sulforaphane: 30mg morning & evening
• Curcumin: 200mg morning & evening
• Green tea extract: 200mg morning & evening

  • Fast. One day a month to one day a week.
  • In short, make sure you’re using your time outside of work to get nourished, so that you have the energy to give it your all when you’re at work.

Overcome procrastination by facing discomfort. I don’t procrastinate because I’m lazy; I procrastinate because my highest priority task makes me subtly (or not-so-subtly) uncomfortable. When this happens you should:

  • Be honest about what’s making it uncomfortable. Explicitly, compassionately write down (or share with a friend) the exact source of the discomfort. Why does this feel so dreadful?
  • Identify one easeful next step.
  • I’ve written more on this technique at How to Overcome Procrastination by Facing Discomfort.
  • If you don’t have the energy to face the fear right now, then at least do the second-highest-priority thing on your list, rather than switching to Facebook. Prolific Stanford professors John Perry calls this “Structured Procrastination,” and attributes most of his success to it at StructuredProcrastination.com.

Optimize your process

Get clarity of plan. A lot of un-productivity arises from a lack of prioritization. It being unclear what you actually need to do to achieve your goal, and what’s highest priority.

  • Don’t do any more work until the next steps are 100% crystal clear to you, and agreed upon by everyone on your team.
  • Start by grounding in: What is our goal? Why do we want to achieve it? What are all the steps required to achieve it? Who’s responsible for each step? What order must they be done in?
  • Here’s more on how to get clarity of plan.

Buddy up. Some people love working alone, but, for complex tasks, I generally find it painful and prone to distraction.

  • Find a teammate who would enjoy collaborating. Sometimes tasks that would have taken me 2 days can be completed in 2 hours with the right partner. “Pair programming” is common in software engineering, but it works for anything.
  • Alternately, you can have a conversation with yourself by buddying up with a text editor or journal: start asking yourself the big questions and write out your answers. I’ve had long, strategic, and productive dialogues with my computer by simply writing out questions and answering them in free-flow form.

Publicly commit to a deadline. Harness peer pressure to your advantage. If an important task doesn’t have a natural deadline, I’ll tell people confidently, “I will send you a copy by end of day Friday.” Now I don’t want to look ridiculous in front of my teammates, so I will naturally make damn sure it’s ready for them by Friday.

Use software to track your work. Unsurprisingly, I believe Asana is the best place for this. Not only does it keep track of your own to-do list; it also manages the flow of work among the entire team, so you don’t need endless meetings to stay on the same page. And it keeps the conversations alongside the work, so you’re not constantly wading through emails to get the information you need.

Take time to reflect. Budget just a few minutes at the end of each day, and consider what went well and what went less well. Are there improvements you could make in your workflow next time? If every day you could get 1% more efficient, then by the end of the year you’d be 15x as productive.

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

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TIME Culture

5 Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Game of Thrones

Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister in HBO's "Game of Thrones."
HBO Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister in HBO's "Game of Thrones."

“Any man who must say, I am the king, is no true king”

Answer by Mira Zaslove on Quora.

1. “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. — Eddard Stark.

Don’t shy away from making tough calls. And just as importantly, do the unpleasant work to follow through. As Ned reminds us, “He who hides behind executioners soon forgets what death is.” Leaders who spend time in the trenches, doing the tough work, will take making tough decisions more seriously.

2. “A Lannister always pays his debts.” — Tyrion Lannister

In the workplace, the quickest way to lose respect, and power, is to promise things you can’t deliver. The surest way to get people to do things for you is for them to trust that you will do what you say you will in the future. Leaders follow through on their word. When they say they are going to do something, they do it.

3. “Any man who must say, I am the king, is no true king.” — Tywin Lannister

True power comes from where people believe it comes from. Not from where you say it comes from. The best leaders are followed based on the collective will, not because they say, “I am the boss.” Power and influence, often come from unexpected places.

4. “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.” — Littlefinger

Chaotic times reveal a leader’s strength. When times are good, it’s easy to be the leader. Only when chaos reigns, do many leaders rise. Effective leaders aren’t thwarted by challenges. They use challenges to foist them higher. As Littefinger, highlights: “Many who try to climb fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them.” Leaders are not broken. They continue to climb.

5. “Winter is coming.” House Stark

Leaders remain vigilant. The world is uncertain. The best leaders always innovate, stay strong, and plan for the future. Being prepared for the unexpected is essential. Embrace winter, especially when everyone else is distracted and basking in the sun.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the best leadership lessons you can learn from Game of Thrones?

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TIME Business

These 2 Questions Will Help You Stand Out in an Interview

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They will help you get a sense of the inherent quality of the company

Answer by Jason M. Lemkin, co-founder and CEO of EchoSign, on Quora.

As a VC, I try to understand what’s really happening behind the scenes at start-ups from a similar perspective. And I need to find out quickly.

I’ve learned you can can find out a lot about the real prospects of a prospective company, that you can’t otherwise scour from the web or from standard interview Q&A, from just two slightly (only slightly) nonstandard questions:

#1. What will the company look like in a year? From any and all perspectives — product, people, team, revenue? You’d be surprised how well you can discriminate a team that has true vision and their act together from one that doesn’t just by the answer here. Is it rambling? It is delusional? Does it all make sense and tie to the data and learnings you have so far?

Take it out more than a year, it’s just Powerpoint-level. Take it in 90 days, that’s just tomorrow.

But you’re being hired really to make an impact 9-12 months out. The answer will help you learn a lot.

#2. What do I need to accomplish in my first 90-120 days to be a success and have an impact? You’d be surprised how many hirers can’t answer this question. They just want to fill a slot. Is that all you want? Or do you want to have an impact? If it’s a great opportunity, they’ll know exactly how someone great (a great sales rep, a great engineer, a great customer success) can move the needle — at least some needle — and make an impact within 90 days.

And if you listen a lot to these answers, I think you’ll also get a sense of the inherent quality of the company beyond what you can tell from AngelList and TechCrunch.

Go Columbo style. Ask these two leading questions.

They work for me.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are great questions to ask about a startup company during a job interview?

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How to Achieve Extreme Success Like Richard Branson and Elon Musk

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Do not fear failure

Answer by Justine Musk, (@justinemusk), blogger and fiction writer, on Quora.

Extreme success results from an extreme personality and comes at the cost of many other things. Extreme success is different from what I suppose you could just consider ‘success,’ so know that you don’t have to be Richard Branson or Elon Musk to be affluent and accomplished and maintain a great lifestyle. Your odds of happiness are better that way. But if you’re extreme, you must be what you are, which means that happiness is more or less beside the point. These people tend to be freaks and misfits who were forced to experience the world in an unusually challenging way. They developed strategies to survive, and as they grow older they find ways to apply these strategies to other things, and create for themselves a distinct and powerful advantage. They don’t think the way other people think. They see things from angles that unlock new ideas and insights. Other people consider them to be somewhat insane.

Be obsessed.

Be obsessed.

Be obsessed.

If you’re not obsessed, then stop what you’re doing and find whatever does obsess you. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you (and make no mistake, you will need them). That “something bigger” prevents you from going off into the ether when people flock round you and tell you how fabulous you are when you aren’t and how great your stuff is when it isn’t. Don’t pursue something because you “want to be great.” Pursue something because it fascinates you, because the pursuit itself engages and compels you. Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an insane work ethic, so if the work itself doesn’t drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.

Follow your obsessions until a problem starts to emerge, a big meaty challenging problem that impacts as many people as possible, that you feel hellbent to solve or die trying. It might take years to find that problem, because you have to explore different bodies of knowledge, collect the dots and then connect and complete them.

It helps to have superhuman energy and stamina. If you are not blessed with godlike genetics, then make it a point to get into the best shape possible. There will be jet lag, mental fatigue, bouts of hard partying, loneliness, pointless meetings, major setbacks, family drama, issues with the Significant Other you rarely see, dark nights of the soul, people who bore and annoy you, little sleep, less sleep than that. Keep your body sharp to keep your mind sharp. It pays off.

Learn to handle a level of stress that would break most people.

Don’t follow a pre-existing path, and don’t look to imitate your role models. There is no “next step.” Extreme success is not like other kinds of success; what has worked for someone else, probably won’t work for you. They are individuals with bold points of view who exploit their very particular set of unique and particular strengths. They are unconventional, and one reason they become the entrepreneurs they become is because they can’t or don’t or won’t fit into the structures and routines of corporate life. They are dyslexic, they are autistic, they have ADD, they are square pegs in round holes, they piss people off, get into arguments, rock the boat, laugh in the face of paperwork. But they transform weaknesses in ways that create added advantage — the strategies I mentioned earlier — and seek partnerships with people who excel in the areas where they have no talent whatsoever.

They do not fear failure — or they do, but they move ahead anyway. They will experience heroic, spectacular, humiliating, very public failure but find a way to reframe until it isn’t failure at all. When they fail in ways that other people won’t, they learn things that other people don’t and never will. They have incredible grit and resilience.

They are unlikely to be reading stuff like this. (This is not to slam or criticize people who do; I love to read this stuff myself.) They are more likely to go straight to a book: perhaps a biography of Alexander the Great or Catherine the Great or someone else they consider Great. Surfing the ‘Net is a deadly timesuck, and given what they know their time is worth — even back in the day when technically it was not worth that — they can’t afford it.

I could go on, it’s a fascinating subject, but you get the idea. I wish you luck and strength and perhaps a stiff drink should you need it.

Disclosure: The author is the former spouse of Elon Musk.

This question originally appeared on Quora: How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson?

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How to Build Lifelong Habits for Success

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Surround yourself with go-getters

Answer by Julian Reisinger on Quora.

Building lifelong habits starting right now is the way to become superhuman.

The list below might seem overwhelming, that’s why I suggest you only pick one or two habits at first and increase the number once you know what works and what doesn’t.

Health & Fitness

  • Floss every day.
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • Find a sport or other physical activity you enjoy and practice it at least twice a week. Preferably a team sport.
  • Use PH-adjusted shower gel or soap without perfume.
  • Use sunblock! It is the best thing you can do to benefit your life
  • Drink water instead of sodas and juices.
  • Stay away from addictions of any kind.
  • Cultivate a morning routine that involves physical activity, gratitude, showering and getting dressed right after waking up.

Learning & Career

  • Study a small amount of time each day instead of learning everything right before the exam.
  • Read one book per week. Switch between fiction and nonfiction from time to time.
  • Learn programming, Photoshop, Illustrator and Excel as well as you can. These skills alone can open up a world of possibility for you. Tutorials are a great way to start. Learn to code.
  • Always have a project you are working on and finish it. Choose something creative that excites you instead of something you think is useful, like these two kids who remade Indiana Jones shot for shot.
  • Write down your goals for the next 3 months, 1 year and 5 years. Write down small action steps that will gradually get you there.
  • Always try to solve problems on your own before asking someone for help.
  • Use every possibility to speak in public. Great public speaking is one of the most valuable skills one can acquire.

People Skills

  • Be honest. More specifically don’t lie and don’t exaggerate. This can destroy your self-esteem.
  • Speak with people everywhere you go.
  • Surround yourself with go-getters. People who strive to become the best version of themselves and act on it. Stay away from “too cool for school” kids. Popularity fades quickly.
  • Call your friends (especially the ones you don’t see often) instead of texting.
  • Look people in the eyes. Sounds obvious but I was oblivious to the fact (I avoided eye contact until I was 18.)
  • Remember names. Ask how the name is spelled or repeat the name immediately. “Hi I am Robert.” “Hi Robert, nice to meet you.” (How do you feel if someone always forgets your name?)
  • Stop dwelling about what you can’t change. Catch yourself each time you are doing it and tell yourself it’ll be OK. Then think about something else.

Money

  • Start saving right now! Lay aside 10% of whatever you make and don’t touch it for now. Trust me, you can use it much better in a couple of years.
  • Earn money on the side by applying your best skills. This will teach you a lot about life and will hopefully spark the entrepreneurial spirit within you.

Confidence

  • List all your fears, insecurities and unhealthy idiosyncrasies. Eliminate them one by one. I suggest you use systematic desensitization.
  • Travel as much as possible. Later it will be much harder to do when you have a job and a partner.

Resources to help you cultivate your habits:

This question originally appeared on Quora: What can I do now (at the age of 16) that my future self will thank me for?

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These Uncommon Habits Will Help You Work Smarter

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Make time for mania

Answer by Nicolas Cole on Quora.

I’m going to list a few of my uncommon work habits:

1. Prep Before Bed

I know that whatever I focus on right before I go to sleep, I’m going to be thinking about as soon as I wake up—usually.

To make the most of my morning, I make sure to prep myself the night before. As soon as I wake up, I know where I’m going to start, I know what project I’m diving into, I know which problem I’m going to be tackling first. If you can set these firmly in your mind before you go to bed, you’ll wake up with far more energy and drive to tackle them—because they’ve been marinating in your subconscious.

2. The Coffee Game

Whenever I have to get a lot done, and I mean a LOT, I reward myself with coffee. Coffee coffee coffee. But only if I can move with the momentum.

For example, I might start with a small cup right as I’m sitting down to work, but I will only allow myself refills as long as I feel I am making steady progress. By gamifying my love for coffee, I’m motivating myself to work harder and more efficiently in a desire to drink more coffee. And of course, the more coffee I drink, the more focused I become. More focus, more productivity.

This might be less of a work habit and more of an addiction but it works well for me.

3. Make Time For Mania

You aren’t going to be able to do multiple big projects back to back to back. You’re just not. It’s one thing to demand 7 hours of focus on the same project, but the difficulty usually arises when you have to go in and out of different problems, different projects, different clients, etc.

Make time between each project to clear your head—in my case, I thoroughly enjoy running around my apartment debating (sometimes with myself) the ramifications for having pancakes for dinner for the third night in a row. I often times get my roommates involved, encouraging them to debate me on the topic (as loudly as possible). Maybe we decide to make fruit smoothies. Maybe it’s snowing outside and snowballs must be thrown at the window. I don’t know. Just go do something random and pointless and fun and I promise you when you sit back down at your desk you’ll feel like you gave yourself a nice break and it’s time to get back to work.

4. Tell Yourself You Have Way More Time Than You Actually Do

There have been many times when I’ve been so busy I didn’t have a free hour to call my own, and I felt like I was on vacation. And there have been times when I haven’t really been all that busy and I’ve felt like I was being enlisted in the coal mines and I wouldn’t see my family for the next 20 years.

It’s all state of mind.

The more you tell yourself “I’m so busy, I don’t have any time,” the more you trap yourself in that mindset. Conversely, the more you tell yourself “Sure, I can make time for that,” the more time you actually have. And if you feel like you have no time, you get stressed and your work suffers and/or takes longer.

Trust me, you always have more time than you think you have. The hard part is remembering that.

5. Work Smarter By Hiring Smarter

I feel like this is the most obvious one, but one that is often forgotten. If you want to get something done faster or better, then ENLIST THE HELP OF SOMEONE BETTER THAN YOU.

If it takes you 3 hours to do X, and you value your time at $Y, then find someone who can do X in less than 3 hours at a $Y rate below yours.

The single best way to work smarter instead of harder is to value your time and delegate/outsource anything and everything that you don’t absolutely have to do yourself, that can be done by someone else—especially someone better at it than you.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some uncommon ways to work smarter instead of harder?

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This Is How MIT Rates Applicants

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It's about both the abilities and character of an applicant

Answer by Tom Stagliano, MIT Education counselor, on Quora.

While I currently still interview freshman applicants, this metric I am going to describe was used a number of years ago, and I believe that it is still used today in some format.

MIT would “grade” an application with two “grades”:

  • Quantitative from 1 to 10
  • Qualitative from 5 to 10 (I once asked why not qualitative from 1 to 10, and I was told that’s what we do, but anyone below a 5 is a “corpse.”)

So the Quantitative is based upon where the people fit on the overall standard of being able to do the work at MIT and be able to graduate within four years, based upon ranking of the high school, GPA (if available), transcript, test scores, recommendations, etc. The Qualitative is based upon what the person offers as a person to the MIT community based upon the interview write-up, the essays, other parts of the application (things they do), and the recommendations including the secondary school report on the individual.

As one can expect the applicants who are in the 10,10 grid all get an acceptance letter. And a 9,10 (where second is qualitative, the person) will get in over a 10,9. Indeed an 8,10 will probably be admitted over a 10,8. MIT, like all elite colleges, wants people who can contribute to the community more so that academic single-focus people. Those single-focus academics, if they can truly survive getting a bachelors degree at any college, will show up in graduate school.

In order to break “ties” or assist in moving someone from a 8,7 to an 8,8 (for example), MIT awards “bonus points.” Bonus points will come from:

  • Regional or national or international excellence. (For example I once interviewed the fifth best male figure skater in the U.S. and who was on the U.S. national team. That was worth bonus points.)
  • If there is an especially good fit with a club or organization or sport at MIT. Bonus points may be awarded for basketball or track or orchestra or drama, etc., where MIT believes that the person can and will come on campus and contribute to that group.
  • If the interviewer ranks the applicant a “one in million.” With appropriate justification, that person will get a bonus point.

Note: Things like National Science Fair or Math or Physics Olympiad medal will contribute to the Quantitative score, but not as a bonus point. So, an International Physics Olympiad gold medal winner could be a 10,5. Quantitatively excellent but barely a human being. MIT may not accept that person as a freshman and wait for that person to re-apply as a graduate student years later. MIT is very cognizant of the Qualitative score because high numbers there, especially with bonus points, mean the person has a high likelihood of surviving MIT’s intense academic fire hose without getting overly depressed or spiraling away.

I hope that helps to make people aware that the elite universities are looking for human beings who can do the academic work and contribute to the community and not academic automatons.

This question originally appeared on Quora: How do admissions officers rate applicants?

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How Anyone Can Become a Good Public Speaker

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If you can talk to one person, you can talk to an audience of thousands

Answer by Jim Moore on Quora.

What qualities are needed to be a public speaker? I have observed the following attributes common to most successful speakers:

  • Confident
  • Organized
  • Outgoing
  • Engaging
  • Flexible
  • Unflappable
  • Light-hearted
  • Gracious

Here are some of the tips I shared with speakers I’ve coached over the years:

To begin with, do not for a moment think you cannot give a speech. You give speeches every day to your family, friends, colleagues, and, yes, even to strangers. Your daily conversations are nothing more than mini-speeches in casual clothes. If you can talk to one person, you can talk to an audience of thousands. Really.

When you are speaking to a large crowd, you are still talking to one person at a time, just as if you were chatting to the cashier at the food store or a fellow passenger on a plane. Whether the topic is the weather or a description of a favorite camping trip or an answer to the airborne time-passing question, “What do you do?” you are giving an abbreviated speech, complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

You may have given an “elevator” speech—a short (usually no longer than 30 seconds) statement of purpose or plans to a colleague, boss, or client that conveys key information in a few moments to a captive audience while in transit. Or you may have delivered a “cocktail” party speech (assuming cocktail parties are still in vogue), which is really nothing more than a three-minute burst of information sufficient to enlighten, but short enough to stay within the attention span of an easily-distracted listener. In both instances, sans podium, you have already given many speeches. Now, wasn’t that easy?

Okay, maybe not so easy when you envision a conference room filled with people whose attention is focused on you, up there on that stage, and you wonder in sleepless nights leading up to the big day, “How in the world did I get myself into this?”

So let’s start with some preparation:

1. Know your audience. I cannot stress this enough with my clients or employers for whom I have written or coached. You don’t have to have expert knowledge of the audience, but you should know enough to reference their interests, or mission, or leadership, if, for example, you’re speaking to a trade association. You should have some audience-centric remarks that show you are not just showing up to speak, but that you actually considered the audience’s perspective. There is nothing wrong with calling your host and asking questions about the group. You might learn about an important member of the organization who will be in the audience and can be singled out for podium praise; perhaps there is a charity that has benefited from the group’s work—always a good point to mention. The bottom line: Do your homework!

2. Keep your remarks brief and to the point. In speech writing, we have a mantra:

  • Tell them what you are going to say;
  • Say it;
  • Tell them what you told them;
  • Say thank you and sit down.

3. Do not attempt humor unless you are, a) a noted humorist, b) an experienced toastmaster or, c) well-acquainted with the humor that will make your audience laugh and not wince. Poking a bit of fun at yourself is fine; sharing a light moment with the audience is good; just keep in mind that pulling off a comedy shtick, even a single joke, is a lot harder than it looks when coming from an experienced speaker.

4. Keep your sentences short, your words shorter. This simply means you should not tax your audience by forcing them to follow a long, convoluted sentence, or interpret a fancy, but unnecessarily long word. Apply the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Short.

5. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. The more you rehearse, the less likely you are to shuffle your notes, look down at your speech, stumble on key phrases, or “um and ahh” as you try to recall the order of your words. Some people rehearse in front of a mirror, some go over their speeches with a spouse or friends, some record their speech and play it back over and over. You don’t have to memorize your remarks, but you should know them well enough to just glance at your notes or papers. Whatever works for you, do it.

Once you know your audience and know your remarks, and you’re about to step up to the podium, consider these points:

  • The audience is actually rooting for you to succeed; the fear of public speaking is second only to the fear of death, and most people, when faced with a microphone and a crowd, usually wish they were dead. No one in the audience wants to take your place. So, you have lots of company in front of you.
  • Take a deep breath and don’t push yourself; take your time, organize your thoughts. A good speech is not a sprint or even a marathon; it should be a pleasant, calming walk—for you and for the audience.
  • The podium is not a crutch; don’t cling to the sides of the podium as if you are on a stormed-tossed ship. Use the podium as a base of operations, staying in touch with it, but giving yourself some room for movement. Think of “one hand on the wheel” as a way to keep from becoming a rigid speaker.
  • Give your audience—and yourself—a break from time to time. You needn’t give all your speech all at once. Think of how you normally converse at a small party; there is a natural give and take, pauses in thoughts, breaks for breathing. The same applies when giving a speech. Build in a few quiet moments in your speech, places where you can step back for a few seconds to give yourself and the audience a moment to contemplate what you just said, and to regroup for the next part.
  • The “eyes” have it. The old rule about looking over the heads of the audience to avoid eye contact is rubbish. It only makes you look aloof and disengaged. Before you start speaking, find a few faces in the crowd that you can cycle through as you speak. Return to each one as the speech progresses—only a glance is needed.
  • Be gracious. At the end of your speech, be sure to thank the audience, the host, and the organization.

There are many more tips and strategies for speech makers and speechwriters, but if you apply these tips to your next speech, you will have a foundation for a more enjoyable podium presence. Good luck!

This question originally appeared on Quora: What qualities are needed to be a public speaker? How do I speak among a huge crowd?

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