Keith Cowing

Keith Cowing

Product guy. Entrepreneur.
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January 8, 2015

These 9 tips will help you focus on your priorities, dominate your email, and take control of your schedule.

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1. Have a digital inbox for “things to read”
People send you interesting links all the time. But if you read them when they arrive, you cede control of your schedule. So flag them to read later and do your reading in batches (on your couch, on a train, or waiting in line at Starbucks). I use Pocket and highly suggest it.

2. Have a searchable dumping ground for notes
You can save hours every week by having a single place to dump notes and a quick way to retrieve them. I use Evernote. The most important thing is that it’s searchable from any device.

3. Create a simple system for tracking goals, projects, and tasks
My current tool of choice (after LOTS of testing) is Asana. The most impressive thing is that I actually use it, unlike most tools I’ve tried. Keep it open during the day and get your tasks out of your inbox and into here.

4. Number your priorities
You would be amazed how much value you get from writing down the priorities in your life and literally ranking them. It gives you a simple framework for managing your time and makes decision-making much easier. Here are my top 6. I spend a lot less time on items after 4, and that’s how it should be.
1 – Family
2 – Work
3 – Health/Fitness
4 – Education (learning, teaching)
5 – Cooking (playing chef and BBQ pitmaster)
6 – Watching football (the only TV I watch these days)

5. Dominate your email before it dominates you

There are 3 components to properly managing your email:

  • Don’t check your email, process it (Long live GTD)

For every message, you should either deal it with immediately, archive it for future reference, flag articles for future reading (Pocket), schedule something on your calendar, or create a new task (Asana). Easier said than done? Yes, but aspire to one touch per email and hold yourself to it as frequently as possible.

  • Choose your email SLA and block time to deal with it

I like Tony Hsieh’s method, which involves creating a goal every morning of clearing out yesterday’s email. This means you have a 24 hour SLA (I modify his approach by also checking for urgent items throughout the day). This does something important – it gets you off the endless treadmill. If you’re processing today’s email, then as soon as you clear out 4 messages, 4 more come in. It’s a constant mind fu$k. But yesterday’s emails are finite and only decrease. You can track progress to the end and it feels great when you get there.

  • Send less email.

Priceless tip from Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn – the less email you send, the less you will receive.

6. Take advantage of commuting time
Commuting sucks. It just does. But many of us do it every day, so use your time productively. I highly suggest using this time to learn by listening to audiobooks (Audible) and podcasts (Stitcher). You can also do work if you ride on a train and get to sit.  In that case, email tends to become the default behavior.  But I find it’s better to focus on one critical task that involves writing and doesn’t require Internet access (project plans, blog posts, code, important communications…).  I’m writing this post on a train right now.

7. March 20 miles every day
In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Sean Covey tells the stories of two explorers. One holes up with his crew when it’s raining or snowing, then pushes hard when the weather’s nice (sometimes going 50+ miles per day). This ends in failure and sometimes death. The successful explorer goes 20 miles every single day, no more, no less. Rainy, cold, disgusting? Get your butt up and go 20 miles. Beautiful day? Get your butt up and go 20 miles but don’t go 50, use the nice day to refresh and get ready for tomorrow.  You don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but you know you’re going 20 miles again. Consistency over time is 10X better than pockets of brilliance riddled with stagnation.  Make incremental, but visible progress every single day.

8. Exercise, eat, and sleep
You’ve heard this so many times, but it’s 100% true. Prioritize these things so that you feel good today and have 20 miles in your tank for tomorrow.

9. Adopt mentally intense hobbies
I’ve noticed that successful executives tend to have intense hobbies: ultra-marathons, rock climbing, competitive cycling, etc. The point is not that they’re physically intense but that they’re mentally intense. If you are skiing down a slope at 80 mph, you can’t think about anything else. If you’re “unwinding” by sitting on the couch and watching television, your mind can torture you with thoughts about work. Your body may be resting, but your mind is NOT. It’s counterintuitive, but more intense hobbies are better at rejuvenating you.  They don’t have to be crazy, they could be swimming, chess, painting, or playing the guitar.  But choose something that requires mental focus. Marching 20 miles every day means finding ways to fully distract your mind so you can come back fresh.

December 17, 2014

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If you are looking for a job and a recruiter or hiring manager says “tell me about yourself,” there are two sentences that you should always lead with.

In order to craft those sentences, you need to first realize that hiring managers fundamentally care about two things:
1. Your commitment to a specific industry and function
2. Proof points that show you will succeed

Your first sentence should succinctly describe the focus of your job search. Let’s run through some examples.

The Ugly: “I’m looking for work”
This doesn’t specify an industry or a function, assumption -> you have no skills or direction.
The Bad: “I’m looking for work in the tech industry”
This is a very broad industry and does not specify a function, which means that you care where you work but don’t care what you do. Assumption -> you have no passion.
The Good: “I’m looking for a business development role at a consumer web company.”

If you’re looking for a job that is very similar to the one you already have, you can simply describe yourself: “I do product marketing for enterprise software.”

Your second challenge is to prove that you will succeed (better than all other candidates). Here are some ways you can do that:

Describe the impact that you personally had on an important project: “I launched a new product that increased our company’s revenue by 5%.”

Name-drop reputable companies you’ve worked at: “I have spent the past 5 years as a marketer at Google and Apple.”

Describe vertical progress in your career: “I have been promoted twice in the past 3 years.”

Describe specific skills you have learned (a decent backup until you can describe meaningful impact): “I have learned a lot about how to optimize marketing campaigns across different social media channels.”

When all else fails, simply rely on your passion for the role: “I have been building high-performance bicycles for the past decade and absolutely love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

One final note – the shorter the better. True ballers do it with only a few words. Here are some you can aspire to:

Steve Jobs: “I am a product designer. I created Apple.”
Walt Disney: “I am a storyteller. I invented Mickey.”
Abraham Lincoln: “I am an honest and tenacious leader. I abolished slavery in the United States.”
Neil Armstrong: “First man on the moon.”
‘Nuff said, he doesn’t need a 2 page bio to describe his impact and results. He has plenty of stories to dig into when probed, but the intro line is what gets everything rolling.

December 1, 2014

whiteboard

Product Managers understand the key metrics they’re trying to drive
Product Leaders move the metrics

Product Managers inspire the marketing team to work hard and drive awareness
Product Leaders inspire their users

Product Managers identify the best way to climb the hill
Product Leaders identify the best hill to climb

Product Managers understand their team’s constraints
Product Leaders recruit world-class talent and transcend constraints

Product Managers learn best practices from the industry
Product Leaders teach best practices

Product Managers are constantly in motion and handle a busy calendar
Product Leaders differentiate motion from progress and optimize for the latter

Product Managers add features and make the product 10% better
Product Leaders remove features and make the product 10x better

Product Managers focus on the top 10 things that will improve their product
Product Leaders focus on the top 3

Product Managers write specs so that designers can build mocks
Product Leaders involve design from day 0 because design is everything, not a phase of the project

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