A Big Ol’ Batch of Resources for Public Speaking

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that one of my goals over the next 12 months is to present more regularly on product strategy, development, and leadership.

Since then I’ve booked two spots and have submitted proposals to six more. Fingers crossed that at least one of those comes through! 🍀

What follows is the basic action plan I’ve followed (as outlined by Karen Cohen) along with links to the resources and tips I’ve found useful in each step of the plan.

My purpose here is twofold: first, it’s helpful for me to get this organized and all in one place, second, I hope to demystify the process and make the steps concrete enough that if you’re interested in public speaking but haven’t yet jumped in, perhaps you’ll read this post and take the leap!

Action Plan

1. Pick a Topic

This may come naturally. Maybe you’ve already got a “thing” you’re known for around the office or there’s an area of your field you’re already passionate about. If so, carry on.

If not, here are a few thoughts on discovering a topic where speaking at length could come most naturally.

  • If you’ve already got a blog, the lowest-hanging fruit is to consider turning one of your posts into a presentation.
  • Scan your “Sent” email over the past few months for a thread that was particularly controversial or that you were especially outspoken or passionate about. What was the topic and why was there so much energy around it?
  • What do your friends come to you for advice on?
  • What’s the most difficult problem you’ve solved in the last six months?
  • Did you make a leap into your current job from another industry? How did you do it and what lessons or principles are you applying to your current job? For example, I used to teach Middle School and I’m tinkering around with a “What Teaching Middle School Art Taught Me About Innovation” presentation. The title needs work, but directionally, the topic might have something interesting.


2. Pick a Format

For each topic you’re going to prepare, decide if you think it is best suited as a Talk (typical allotments are 20 min, 40 min, 60 min), Lightning Talk (5 min), or Workshop (half-day, full-day).

3. Prepare to Submit Your Talk

First tip. Either:

– Create a papercall.io account, or
– Create a Google Doc and write your abstracts there

Don’t put any content in the Conference’s Proposal Form that you don’t have recorded somewhere else. I made this mistake on one of my submissions and ended up having to rewrite the abstract later. A rookie move that you should avoid.

Include in your Google Doc:

– Your bio
– Headshot of your gorgeous mug (some conference organizers want a link rather than an attached file, so have both ready for your own convenience)

For each talk you prepare, you’ll need a brief abstract and a more detailed description.

Which brings me to my second tip. Read through a few of these proposals to get a sense of how a good abstract and description are crafted.


It was in reading through just a few of these that I realized the “description” I had submitted for one of my talks was way underdeveloped. I knew what the outline of my talk would look like and the narrative I would use to thread it all together, but the organizers would have no way of knowing how fully-formed my thought process already is because I didn’t bother to show an outline as Nadia does so well in this proposal.

4. Finding Conferences and Events

Once my Papercall account started coming together, the overhead for submitting my talks came way down. Of course, I still tweak the abstract and description to be sure the content is relevant and tailored to each conference’s audience, but it’s better than starting each submission from scratch.

The hardest part is obviously finding events to approach. So let’s start small.

Lunch ‘n Learn at Your Workplace

Hey, you gotta start somewhere! If you’re ready to test out your talk but can’t find anywhere to present, pull a group of your colleagues together over lunch and show them how brilliant you are.

Meetups & Startup Week

I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a number of Meetup and Startup Week events and they’ve all been great experiences. In many cases, the organizers of Meetups are looking for new speakers with fresh content to keep things lively for their community. They want you to reach out!


This is a growth area for me that I’m focusing on very, very specifically.

I’ve got some links below that I’ve used to find conferences with open calls for papers, but the first thing I’d suggest you do is to create a Trello board to keep track of your workflow.

I was able to find the conferences you see on that board through a mish-mash of the following:

5. Create Your Presentation

It’s 2017. Nobody needs to be told that people love stories and hate PowerPoint bullet-list-read verbatim-off-the-slide talks.

I’ve found the following sites to be really helpful for inspiration, guidance, and practical resources (beautiful, royalty-free images).

6. Get Out There and Be a Bad Ass

Ideally, some more of those “Submitted” cards on my Trello board will move over to “Accepted” and yours will do the same as well!

As I’ve been writing this, I’m very aware that most of these resources are completely geared toward technical conferences. It’s been much harder for me to find resources that aggregate Product and UX conferences as efficiently as Technical conferences. I mean. It makes sense that developers are more likely to organize around a Github repo and pull requests for sharing CFPs, right? 😂

If you’ve got anything to add or know of some resources that might be helpful, please let me know and I’ll be sure to add it.

Getting Started in Speaking at Technical Conferences: A Few Helpful Resources

One of my goals over the next 12 months is to speak on product, development, and leadership on a more regular basis.

(Some of you know this, but right out of college, I was a middle school art teacher before jumping back into tech. So, presenting and speaking feeds the teacher’s heart inside me. 🤓 )

I’ve presented at Meetups, several Startup Weeks, facilitated a few workshops at accelerators and Galvanize, and every single time, I leave feeling energized and the feedback is mostly positive.

If this resonates with you and you have a goal to speak more regularly at tech conferences as well, here are a couple of links I’ve found extremely useful to start devising a plan. Hope it helps!

Karen Cohen: How to start speaking (in tech conferences): Great overview piece with a basic checklist on what to prepare, tips on picking a topic, and submitting a Call for Proposal.

Technically Speaking by Chiu-Ki and Cate: “Technically Speaking delivers call for proposals (CFPs), speaking tips, and inspirational videos straight to your inbox.” Very useful, I’ve submitted three proposals that I learned about by subscribing to this newsletter.

We Are All Awesome: Seven articles to give the inspiration and encouragement you may need to get over the inner voice telling you that you don’t have anything to say.

Kano Model (Part 2): Creating Your Survey

Creating a Kano Model Survey

This is part two of a three-part series exploring the Kano Model and how to go about uncovering where your users would place your product’s existing and considered features. For a better understanding of the Kano Model, start with part one.

Now that we understand what the Kano Model is attempting to explain – and assuming we agree – how do we go about determining which features are 😍 delighters, 😐 must-haves, etc.?

Obviously, the answer will come by “getting out of the building” and asking your customers and potential customers what they think.

What to Ask

In chapter 4 of her book, Lean Customer Development, Cindy Alvarez offers some good advice on focusing on actual current behavior from potential customers, versus aspirational future behavior. It’s pretty well established that asking people, “How likely would you be to use ___” will lead to a disproportionate number of false-positives and wasted development cycles building features people don’t adopt.

During qualitative, face-to-face interviews, we can ask questions framed as, “Tell me about the last time you ___.” to ensure we’re getting at actual behavior and aren’t leading the witness.

So, with a Kano-based survey, we mitigate against aspirational “Oh, sure I’d totally use that!” responses by asking both a positive and negative question about the same feature or requirement.

For example:

“If you are able to sort your search results alphabetically, how do you feel?”

  • I like it!
  • I expect it.
  • I’m neutral.
  • I can live with it.
  • I dislike it.

and then:

“If you are not able to sort your search results alphabetically, how do you feel?”

  • I like it!
  • I expect it.
  • I’m neutral.
  • I can live with it.
  • I dislike it.

Interpret the Responses

We then use both responses to identify the feature type according to that user like so:


So, in the case where a respondent answered “I expect it” to the positive question and “I dislike it” to the negative, we can see that for this particular user, that feature is a 😐 Must-Have.


Quick aside. You’ll notice that four of those spaces have a new category: 😳. This indicates a Questionable response because the user shouldn’t really like it when a feature does not exist but also like it when it does exist. We won’t necessarily say they’re lying, but it certainly leads us to believe that maybe they weren’t paying close attention to the question 😉

Record the Responses

We’ll record that response in our handy-dandy response tracker table – also known as a spreadsheet.


Feature A got one response of “Must-Have”

Then, we repeat that two-part question for each of our features with a batch of customers and let them tell us where each feature belongs.


In this hypothetical example, Feature A received:

  • 13 Must-Haves
  • 2 One-Dimensionals
  • 1 Delighter
  • 4 Indifferent
  • 0 Reverse
  • 0 Questionable

So, it’s a Must-Have! Build that thing!

How Many Responses Do I Need?

When it comes to qualitative interviews, it’s easier to go on feel and base it on something like, “When we’re no longer hearing new things that surprise us, we’ve probably got enough actionable info from this batch of interviews.”

But with this quantitative measure, we want to be sure we’re not drawing conclusions from too small a sample size. I haven’t come across a well-documented standard for a minimum number of responses, but several trustworthy practitioners have suggested that between 15-20 responses usually starts to reveal some truth.

And use your judgement, of course. In the example above, we can be pretty certain that Feature A is a Must-Have (13, 2, 1, 4), but Feature E isn’t as clear (8, 2, 6, 4). If you see that kind of “close call” pattern emerging, consider digging in on the use case of that feature in your next few customer interviews and perhaps you’ll have a better sense for where it may belong.

Get Started!

Alright, that’s all you really need to know to get going! There’s also a part three where I go a little deeper in to charting your results, but it’s entirely optional.

For now, identify your feature set, create a survey, gather responses, and be open to what the data tells you!

If you’ve learned something from these posts and put this in to practice, please drop me a line! I’d love to hear from you, learn from your experience, and update these posts to be more useful to future readers.

Kano Model (Part 1): Understanding the Kano Model

Credit Where It’s Due

Bits of what you are about to read comes from this Jared Spool talk at Mind the Product and this Folding Burritos article. I highly recommend them both!

What is the Kano Model?

Developed by Noriako Kano in the 1980’s, the Kano Model says that your customers will react in one of the following ways about each of your product’s features:

  • 😍 Delighters: “Nice! I didn’t expect that, and I love it!”
  • 😎 One-Dimensional: “I like that. I’ll have a little more please, and don’t take any away.”
  • 😐 Must-Haves: “Well yeah. Of course it has that, it’d be stupid not to.”
  • 😴 Indifferent: “Meh. Whatevs.”
  • 😡 Reverse: “WTF. This new crap complicates things and the old way was better. Can you take this out?”

You can determine which features belong in which categories by asking your customers about each one. And then, you’ll have a better sense of what to build, improve, or kill.

Taking the raw data from that questionnaire and charting it is a little more difficult than you might expect, but I’ll share some of my work that will hopefully make things faster for you to implement than it was for me.

But first.

The Model

Don’t freak out and don’t get stuck trying to dissect it. It’s confusing at first, but help is coming!

It looks like this:

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kano_model_showing_transition_over_time.png

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kano_model_showing_transition_over_time.png

Or this:

Source: http://foswiki.cs.uu.nl/foswiki/MethodEngineering/UserExperienceGradingviaKanoCategories20112012

Source: http://foswiki.cs.uu.nl/foswiki/MethodEngineering/UserExperienceGradingviaKanoCategories20112012

If you’re smarter than I am, those images make sense at first glance.

But, if you’re like me, you’re thinking:


Let’s take it apart. And remember those five primary user reactions from a second ago:

  • 😍 Sweet!!
  • 😎 Cool, keep it up.
  • 😐 Well, yeah.
  • 😴 Meh.
  • 😡 Dafuq?!

We’ll start with the X-Axis, which indicates level of implementation.

Way over to the left, the feature may not even be conceived of, let alone added to the product.

On the right, the feature is signed, sealed, and delivered.

The Y-Axis indicates how satisfied your customers are with the feature.


Up top, we’re happy. At the bottom, we’re pissed.

Pretty simple.

Delighters 😍


When Delighters aren’t implemented (far left), nobody is dissatisfied. Nobody cares that it doesn’t exist because it isn’t expected. But, once it gets to a certain degree of implementation, they’re blown away.

Delighters are pretty much what Disney does for a living.

If you fly in to Orlando and are staying at a Disney property, this is what happens:

  • You step off the plane.
  • You can skip going to baggage claim and instead head straight to ground transportation where a charming bus (they call it a motorcoach) is waiting to take you to your hotel.
  • Your bags? Disney collects them for you and delivers them to your room.

That’s the sort of thing that you don’t expect on your vacation, but when it happens, you make hyperbolic claims like, “This is the best thing ever. From now on, every vacation, we come here.”

One-Dimensional 😎


You’ll also see these referred to as “Performance attributes”, but I prefer one-dimensional. Add more, I like it. Take it away, I dislike it. Companies compete head-to-head on these attributes.


  • Megapixels
  • Miles per Gallon
  • Thread count
  • Monthly data allowance

Unlike Delighters and Must-Haves, these are attributes that are typically stated and are top-of-mind for your existing and potential customers.

Must-Haves 😐


You don’t get credit for implementing Must-Haves and you will take serious heat if you fail to provide them.

Like Delighters, these are attributes that your customers are unlikely to mention in a survey or focus group. In the case of Delighters, they wouldn’t mention them because it would never occur to them to ask for it, but in the case of Must-Haves, it’s because it’d be unthinkable that you wouldn’t provide it.

Nobody writes a hotel review that says, “This place was great! The bed had a comforter and the bathroom came with toilet paper! Definitely stay here!”

Follow the yellow line to the left towards Not Implemented and you can imagine what that hotel review would sound like if the hotel room didn’t have proper bedding or toilet paper.

Now follow the yellow line to the right and notice the diminishing returns. If the hotel room has zero rolls of toilet paper, it’s anarchy. One and maybe it’s fine, but two would be better. But you’re not earning any additional customer satisfaction by stocking the room with eight rolls compared to five. At a certain point, the customer’s basic needs have been met, and “over-implementing” doesn’t earn any points.

Indifferent 😴


These features don’t register in your customers’ minds. A great example I read somewhere would be a vending machine that accepts $1 coins. Doesn’t bother me that it’s there, but I also don’t care that it is.

This makes me think of my microwave.

Here is my microwave’s control panel.

Here are the buttons I press.

I would probably prefer that everything else wasn’t there for simplicity. But I’m not necessarily annoyed. As far as I’m concerned, Popcorn, Keep Warm, and the others fit right inside of that boring grey circle in the middle of the chart.

Reverse 😡


A Reverse feature is the opposite of a One-Dimensional feature. The more you add, the more angry your customers become, and the more of it you remove, the more they enjoy your product.

If my microwave had ten more buttons that I never used, then it’d start to be seriously cluttered and I’d be bothered enough to want them gone.

I recently bought a great new card game. It’s a ton of fun, and my wife and I can play it with our kids who are equally entertained. The only problem is that the cards aren’t like regular playing cards, they’re super slick and slide all over the place. They don’t shuffle well, it’s hard to keep them stacked, and they don’t “handle” the way playing cards typically do. This slickness feature of the cards reduces my enjoyment of the game, and I wish it wasn’t there. If the next version of the game has even slicker cards, I’d like it less, and if they went to regular old playing card finish, I’d consider buying that version because I would consider less of that feature to be an upgrade.

The Model. Again.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kano_model_showing_transition_over_time.png

Hopefully, this makes more sense now.

And the two big arrows and thin red lines? You may have already guessed this, but as time passes:

  • Delighters become One-Dimensionals
  • One-Dimensionals become Must-Haves

Think back to the hotel room example. Every single thing we expect to see when we arrive was at one point in time utterly delightful, but is now a basic expectation.

So, whether this pattern is a good or bad thing for society in general is for someone else to tackle. I’m just pointing out that it’s a thing. (Aside: If you’re of the mind that’s it’s inherently unhealthy, allow me to recommend you explore Stoicism.)

Anyway. Now that we’ve got a better understanding of what that chart means, how exactly do you go about discovering which category your features belong in?

Devs, stop complaining about recruiters. You sound like an asshole.

Every so often, my Twitter stream – and probably yours – will include some annoyed (or perversely-entertained) developer sharing a tale of sorrow and woe. The tragedy? They’ve been spammed by a recruiter. Horror!


Are many technical recruiters clueless*?


Are you glad you have your job and not theirs?

Also yes?

Then try gratefulness as a response instead of complaining/showboating to Twitter.

Do you make over $60,000?

Yes? Then you’re in the top 0.19% richest people in the world.

No? Then respond to the recruiter!

Either way, be grateful that while millions upon millions of people are looking for work (and in many parts of the world, actual fucking water), you find yourself in the midst of a thriving industry at a point in time when your skills are valuable and demand outweighs supply.

That will not always be the case.

When the tide turns and you find yourself knocking on doors, brushing up your resume, and sending custom cover letters to position your background as remotely relevant in the brave new world, you’ll remember rolling your eyes at another email from yet another clueless recruiter and you may think, “What an asshole.”

* Note: I love @dhh. I read everything he writes, I watch every talk he posts, and I agree with almost all of it. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would place him among my top 10 most influential authors. What I have never agreed with him on is how hard he is (very publicly) on recruiters.

Yes, it is comical that recruiters approach him for mid-level Rails positions considering that he, you know, invented it. But publicly mocking and embarrassing an actual human being who wasn’t good at their job (when nobody was actually harmed) is uncalled for.

More Time for Future You

I recently stumbled on a really great interview with Rory Vaden about self discipline and personal effectiveness. While Rory Vaden may sound like a Sith Lord, he is actually a NYT bestselling author and the guest on Episode #124 of the Art of Manliness podcast.

The entire episode is littered with brilliant one-liners that at first sound like bizspeak yawners, but are actually legit nuggets of advice.

For example:

The Amount of Our Endurance is Directly Proportionate to the Clarity of Our Vision


Success is Never Owned, Success is Rented and the Rent is Due Everyday

So sure, that’s exactly the sort of lameboat blah blah you’d expect to hear from a New York Times bestseller, or from Michael Scott who would then look at the camera in search of affirmation, shocked at himself for saying something insightful. But, it’s solid, applicable stuff if you can get past the Sales Conference Keynote vibe.

If you’re looking for a catalyst to get your 2016 in to focus, I’d recommend giving the podcast a listen.

Also, women, don’t be put off by the fact that it’s an “Art of Manliness” episode. Much of AoM is stuff dudes ought to know but probably don’t: “How to Pick a Cologne”, “How to Use a Straight Razor”, “How to Clean Your Gutters”. But this episode is not gender-specific at all, so dive in.

In case you don’t feel like listening to the whole thing, there is one section in particular that I want to share.

Five Permissions to Multiply Your Time

Vaden thinks we can create more time for our future selves by making better choices about how we spend our time today. To get a sense of what he’s talking about, we start with Covey.

Covey’s Time Management Grid

You may have seen this grid before. Popularized by Stephen Covey, the x-axis is Urgency (“How soon will something matter?”) and the y-axis is Importance (“How much does something matter?”).


Source: http://magazine.sae.edu/2015/03/17/get-things-done-creatively-coveys-time-management-grid/


Avoid doing the Urgent & Not Important crap in the bottom left. It presents itself as urgent, but is a waste of your time. Stop doing those things and don’t feel guilty about not doing them. This is your life, you only get one, and time is running out.

The Not Urgent & Not Important bottom right is healthy in moderation because everyone needs to veg from time to time. Too little of this quadrant and you’re kind of a chore to be around (“I don’t watch television. I prefer to settle in to a longform article about the ill-effects of globalization and some kale chips instead.”) Too much of this quadrant and you may find yourself unfulfilled when the time comes to reflect on how you’ve spent your life. Easy short-term choices, difficult long-term consequences.

The Urgent & Important upper left are the things that truly need to be done and need to be done soon. Vaden has some suggestions on how to identify and prioritize these tasks, and that is what the bulk of this post is about. We’ll get there in just a second.

The Not Urgent & Important upper right is full of things that our bodies and our (extremely persuasive) lizard brain don’t value because biologically we’re optimized for survival and instant gratification, not long-term success. On the one hand, that’s a drag, but on the other, we probably wouldn’t be here if it were otherwise. So, that being the case, we have to hack our wiring today to work towards a future we’ll enjoy.

It’s worth noting that the Avoid quadrant contains “somebody else’s problems and needs” and the Focus quadrant contains “relationship building”. I point this out because viewing “somebody else’s problems” as a waste of time sounds self-absorbed and generally asshole-ish. My interpretation of this nuance is that some relationships are healthy, and some are not. Investing in the problems and needs of someone with whom you have a healthy relationship is a good thing; investing in the problems and needs of someone with whom you have an unhealthy relationship probably isn’t. Your mileage may vary.

What Gets In?

Ok, all good. I get it, and I agree. But how do I know what’s important and what isn’t?

In my personal experience, I’ve found that in a given day, week, or month where I was less effective than I could have been, it’s because a bunch of Urgent & Not Important nonsense made its way in to my Urgent & Important day-to-day grind.

This is a bit anecdotal, but you know that “Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” book that’s taking the world by storm right now? I think it’s the tangible, objects-in-our-home reflection of what we do with our time. “There’s all this crap taking up space, and it’s keeping me from appreciating the things that bring me actual joy. What do I do?”

Trash it. Kill it with fire. And when possible, don’t let it in to begin with.

I think the “gate” between the Urgent & Important and the Urgent & Not Important quadrants is the most prone to failure, and so we should take extra steps to make it as airtight as possible.


The Focus Funnel

In the podcast and in his book, Vaden introduces the (bizspeak alliteration alert!) Focus Funnel. I suppose the publishers thought the “Will This Lead to a Fulfilling Recollection of My Life?” Funnel just didn’t have the same ring. The Focus Funnel is the obstacle course that every incoming task competing for your time should have to go through.



The obstacles and their associated permissions are:

Eliminate: Permission to Ignore

Automate: Permission to Invest

Delegate: Permission of Imperfect

If you can’t eliminate, automate, or delegate the task, it falls out of the bottom of the funnel and there is one question to ask yourself, “Can this wait?”

If yes:

Procrastinate: Permission to Procrastinate on Purpose

If no:

Concentrate: Permission to Protect

Let’s take a closer look at each of these five steps.

Eliminate – Permission to Ignore

The first thing to ask is, “Does this matter?”

If it doesn’t, don’t do it, and give yourself the emotional permission to ignore it.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which shouldn’t be done at all.”
– Peter Drucker

I think doing inefficiently that which shouldn’t be done would be even more useless, but I take his meaning.

The host and Vaden banter a bit about how a lot of people (including themselves) have trouble saying, “No.” If you’re a people-pleaser, or a kind, reliable person in general, you’re probably thinking this about yourself at this very moment.

But as he points out, when you say Yes to one thing, you are simultaneously saying No to something else.

This is a big deal.

If you say Yes to something unimportant, you might be accidentally saying No to something that matters.

There’s a great talk by a guy I really admire, Des Traynor. It’s called, “Product Strategy Is About Saying No”. The gist is that in considering any new feature request, any bug fix, any fresh idea, the product manager should default to no, and the request should have to make a really good case for itself to get on the roadmap.

Default to no, and the truly worthwhile things will be obvious over time. You’ll also be surprised to realize how many things weren’t worth doing in the first place.

Automate – Permission to Invest

Create a process today that will save you time tomorrow.

“Automation is to time what compound interest is to money.”
– Rory Vaden

What are some things that can be automated?

Bills, common email responses, packing list, wardrobe, etc. Anything that can eliminate “Think Time”.

Do you find yourself writing the same email over and over? Look in to using a Text Expander.

Find yourself making a new packing list every time you go on a trip? Create a packing template in Trello that you can use and reuse next time.

Trello Packing Template

Not sure what to wear today? Always wear the same thing.

So, if you have a task come your way that can’t be eliminated, ask yourself if it can be automated. And if it can, give yourself the emotional permission to invest today in order to create more time for yourself in the future.

Delegate – Permission of Imperfect

The old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself” is not only wrong, but is also insanely limiting.

Is it sometimes applicable? Sure. But are they words to live by? Not remotely.

In the workplace, if you’re in a position to delegate tasks to your team, then you already know there’s a stack of books to the moon and back about the importance of nurturing personal growth rather than micromanaging to your specification. It’s ok if the result isn’t perfect (yours wouldn’t have been either), and it’s ok (and probably better) if the method is one you wouldn’t have chosen.

And of course, there are ways to delegate at home, too.

If a couple dozen people are going to be walking through the door in a half hour, I have no idea how the four pans on the stove, the whatever in the oven, the drinks on the island, and the kids’ activities downstairs are going to come together.

Laura does.

So the last thing she should be doing is slicing tomatos. We’ve learned this over the years, and as a result, I’m pretty good at slicing veggies.

If you’ve got kids, give yourself permission to accept imperfect and delegate like crazy. They’ll get better over time (our five year-old prides herself on being the best bathroom cleaner among her siblings) and you are litcherally adding minutes to your day. To add some structure to chore delegation with the kiddos, we’ve recently begun using ChoreMonster with great success.

Other resources for delegating tasks that can’t be eliminated or automated:

Procrastinate – Permission to Procrastinate on Purpose

In the unfortunate circumstance that you can’t eliminate, automate, or delegate the thing, you get to decide if it can wait.

If it can, you give yourself permission to procrastinate on purpose.

Don’t panic, you aren’t putting it off for forever, you’re just sending it back to the top of the funnel to wait around for a while.

Eventually, one of the conditions it just fell through will apply. You’ll be able to eliminate, automate, or delegate it; or the question of “Can this wait?” will be “No.”

When you decide that a task can wait, and then it gets eliminated on a future trip through the funnel, you have scored a major victory. Going back to Covey’s grid, you’ve protected some space in the Urgent & Important quadrant and avoided the psychological stress that comes from over-crowding.

Concentrate – Permission to Protect

When it can’t wait, you do the thing. Concentrate, give yourself permission to protect your focus, and do it.


Not much to say about that.

Actually, there’s quite a lot to say about doing things efficiently. But that’s another post for another day.

Any Advice for Me?

I hope it goes without saying that I’m not writing this from the position of an expert or someone who perceives themself as an expert. I’m not much better at applying these things than the average person. But, I am better at applying them to my own life than I was five years ago, and I hope to be better in five years than I am today.

So, do you have any thoughts or advice about self discipline and effectiveness that you’ve seen work in your own experience? Leave a comment below or let’s schedule a 15-minute Hangout. I’d love to hear from you.

Fear of Failure

People are afraid of a lot of things:

  • Public Speaking
  • Failure
  • Success (a little baffling, but apparently, it’s a thing)
  • Leadership
  • Making Decisions (and more to the point – living with the consequences)
  • Spiders, Wasps, Snakes, etc.
  • Socializing and Networking

For me, it’s wasps, networking, and failure. I might have thought that after my years at TMC of being knocked down and getting back up, that I was well-prepared for the notion of accepting that some amount of failure is inevitable.

So, fail early and fail often! After all, success is the act of standing on a pile of failures, amirite?! High five!

Top Gun High Five

“Hang in There” Kitty.

All that crap.

I mean, I get it. That’s all kind of true.

But man. Failure feels so personal. It can feel like a passing of judgement. It can make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, that you’re in over your head, that you’re not good enough.

“You’re not good enough.”

“You’re not good enough.”

Maybe one of these days that voice will go away, but I’m starting to think that’s unlikely.

Instead, I try to remind myself that I will fail, I will fail often, and sometimes I will fail publicly.

I will be wrong and people who report to me will be right. I will miscalculate. I will underestimate. I will royally fuck up.

And all of that is the lamest of sauces.

But what’s the alternative? To never take any risks. Never assume any responsibility. Never lead anything. Just sit on the sideline of Life and try to make it from cradle to grave without any scars.

What a waste.

I hate failing, and it keeps me awake at night. But I want the thrill that comes with taking some risks.

So. I’ll make lots of small bets instead of a few big ones to reduce my exposure to large failures, push off high-risk decisions for as long as possible to keep collecting information (“just in time decision-making”), and I’ll resist the temptation to worry about and invest in failures that haven’t even happened yet so that I’m dealing with what has happened more often that what might happen.

And importantly, I give myself permission to fail so that I am less fearful of it.

I will invest heavily in myself so that I am less likely to fail.

I am allowed to hate failure.

But I am not allowed to be afraid of it.

High five, guise.

High Five Fail

To Work with a Team So Stunning, I Constantly Feel Dumb

When I started at Mocavo, I was working remote from Dallas because we were still trying to get the house sold and the family moved. I ended every day of my first two weeks with my head hung low. I’d Charlie Brown from my desk over to Laura and say, “They’re going to fire me. They’re so smart and fast, I just can’t keep up. I suck.”

Her reaction was appropriate. Somewhere between, “You’re being too hard on yourself.” and “Well then why aren’t you at your computer right now, bruh?”

Over time, the paranoia associated with feeling ludicrously outmatched subsided, but the respect and admiration for the other people I worked with on a daily basis never did.

And that’s what I want from here on out: To work with a team that’s so stunning, I constantly feel dumb.

It’s a scary (and intimidating) feeling to look around and realize that you may be the weakest link, but it also means that you’re well-positioned to learn and grow. And learn some more.

Bizspeak aphorisms can be simplistic and exhausting, but I’ve always liked this one:

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

– A Smart Person

For me, the hardest obstacle to overcome in those situations where you are in “the right room” is finding the courage to ask for help.

Asking for Help Looks Like:

Literally asking for help. “Hey yo, I have no idea how this works. Explain like I’m five.” That’s easy when it’s a big hairy monster, but when it’s one of those things you think you should know by now – and you can usually tell – it’s harder, but don’t waste half a day running in circles, just ask.

Speaking up in a meeting when someone makes a reference that you don’t get, but everyone else in the group is nodding yes. “Wait, wut? Sorry, what’s a KPI?” Chances are decent that someone else who was just nodding thought, “Oh-sweet-sassy-molassey-thank-you-for-asking-that.”

Admitting you don’t know what to do. Sometimes all the research in the world leads you to a coin flip at best or a roulette wheel at worst. If that’s all you’ve got, then present that and talk it out. Decisiveness is productive, yes. And assuming that you’re right when you’re in doubt is a good way to force yourself towards action. But, when I’m stumped, and I know I’ve got a team of brilliant people willing to jump in to a problem with me, I’ve found that good things happen when you say, “Peeps. I’m stumped on this one. What do you think?”

The Golden Rule Applies

(as it is wont to do)

I think having the freedom to admit gaps in your understanding without janking up your reputation leads to a team where trust, growth, and mutual respect are a given. If I believe that, and if I want that freedom from my co-workers and friends, then I’d better be sure I’m always communicating the idea that asking me for help or exposing some ignorance to me is a safe thing to do. I’m afraid I’m much better at this at work than in my personal life.

Anyway, never say stupid shit like:

  • You didn’t know that?
  • I’m surprised you didn’t know that.
  • Really? You haven’t heard of that?

You see the pattern. The regular life analog is the dude who can’t believe you haven’t heard of his new favorite band (who opens for the opener and has sold about two-thousand-and-four albums isn’t even on Spotify Apple Music). I’m susceptible to this one and want to be way better.

It’s always ok to not know something and admit it. Especially if you’re grindstone committed to getting it right from here on out.

Good luck, and here’s to being the dumbest person in the room.

Using Multiple Inboxes and Keyboard Shortcuts with Gmail to Get to Inbox Zero

If you have hundreds or thousands of messages just hanging out in your Inbox, there is a better way to live my friend.

The steps I’ll demo below make use of Gmail’s web client, and it’s the same process I helped my wife implement to get her Inbox down from many thousands to the magical and totally achievable Inbox Zero.

If you’re still rolling with Sparrow or in love with Postbox, I probably won’t convince you to change; but it’s worth considering the switch. I haven’t used a mail client in years and I don’t miss it one bit. If you’re stuck with Outlook at work, I am so, so sorry.

GTD Basics and Your Email

The method I’ll demonstrate makes use of GTD or “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

You don’t need to dive in on his books or talks to get going, we’ll cover the basic foundations along the way.

We’re going to use Gmail’s labels to assign every email you receive to one of the following categories:

  • Actions (something you need to do)
  • Waiting On (something you don’t want to forget about, but get it out of sight and out of mind for now. This is probably the sort of message that’s taking up the majority of your Inbox space today. There’s nothing you can do about it yet, but you also don’t want it to slip through the cracks. But, when you have over 100 messages in your Inbox, that’s usually what happens anyway.)
  • SomedayMaybe (you might do this, probably not, but get it out of here for now and you’ll think about it again in a week or two)
  • Delegated (something that you’re responsible for following up to ensure it happened. More responsibility on you for the outcome than a “Waiting On”)

The Promised Land

When you’re all done, your Inbox will look something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.17.38 AM Setting Up Multiple Inboxes

“Wait What?”

What’s with those sections on the right? How did those get there?

Those are a hidden feature of Gmail and setting those up is the first thing we’ll want to do. This method is a variation of the one I first saw described by Andreas Klinger in a great post. He makes use of Gmails stars, bangs, and guillemets for labeling, but I prefer this route. Your mileage may vary.

Alright, let’s get those multiple inboxes created. Follow the steps, or follow along with the video below:

  1. Open Gmail
  2. Click the Settings cog in the upper right and select “Settings” Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.35.06 AM
  3. Under General, go ahead and turn Keyboard Shortcuts On. You’ll want it later.
  4. Go to Labs
  5. Enable “Multiple Inboxes”Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.37.31 AM
  6. Go to Inbox
  7. Uncheck “Social”, “Promotions”, “Updates”, and “Forums” if any are selected.
  8. Go to Labels
  9. Scroll down and click “Create new label”
    Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 10.44.21 AM
  10. Create a new label called Actions and click “Create”
    1. Repeat that step to create labels for: Waiting On, Someday, Delegated
    2. You should have created four labels and should see the followingScreen Shot 2015-01-25 at 10.47.39 AM
  11. Now Click Save. This will take you back out to your Inbox, but you aren’t ready just yet. Go back to the settings cog and click Settings
  12. Go to the new “Multiple Inboxes” tab that should appear to the far right!
  13. We need to tell Gmail which messages should go in these new Inboxes. Use the image below to update your settingsScreen Shot 2015-01-25 at 10.50.06 AM
  14. Choose “Right side of the inbox” for Extra Panels Positioning
  15. Click Save.

Triage Your Way to Zero

Now you should be looking at an Inbox full of messages and four empty panels on your right.

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 10.54.12 AMWell big fat lot of good this has done you, right?

Not to worry, this is where the fun begins!

Now you can start to actually deal with those hundreds of messages that are sitting in your Inbox either collecting dust, or pestering you and making you feel guilty every time you see them.

I wish I could just demo my actual Inbox; instead, I’ve loaded up this sample account with a couple dozen emails that need to be handled.

Handy Dandy Keyboard Shortcuts to Keep in Mind

  • ? – Shortcut List
  • x – Select
  • e – Archive
  • o – Open Conversation
  • l – Show Labels
  • gi – Back to Inbox (from reading an email)
  • ` – Move Cursor to Different Inboxes
  • j – Older Conversation
  • k – Newer Conversation


Ok. There you go. Now you can get on with the hard (and fun) work of getting down to Zero. Just remember the basics:

If an email is counting on you, then its an Action.

If it’s in someone else’s court, you’re Waiting On.

If you’re game, but not this week, then it’s Someday/Maybe.

And if you’ve passed it along but you’ve got some skin in the game and need to stay invested, you’ve Delegated.

You can do it! Inbox Zero is just around the corner!

What I’ve Learned Through My Jobs (So Far)

The path I’ve taken has been meandering and circuitous. It’s not what I’d imagined, but it’s been an incredible ride thus far, and I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way.

When I was a teenager, my dad (who owned his own business, an Internet Service Provider called StarNET) encouraged me to get in to web development and design. I worked for StarNET in high school and through college, building sites for local businesses. I loved it and it’s because of that early intro that I’m doing what I do today (thanks, Dad). In school, I gravitated toward the design side of things, so I explored graphic design in college, and ended up majoring in art education.

I wasn’t able to find a teaching job right away, so my first full-time job out of college was designing hats for an apparel licensing company in Dallas.

Bioworld Merch

“Think Bigger”

I worked mostly in the beer and Looney Tunes categories starting in Feb 2004.

I was a good employee because I was dependable, I showed up, worked hard, and didn’t cause any drama. But, I wasn’t exactly adding a ton of value to the company.

If, for example, the Design lead wanted a suite of Coors Light hats for Target, that’s not the sort of thing he could have handed off to me with any sort of confidence that I would run with it to the end. I would get an overview of the requirements, create an initial round of designs, and then I would need (too) many rounds of critique and tweak before my work was suitable to send off to the factory for samples.

I look back on it now and think about all the creative designs I could’ve made by experimenting with combinations of materials, colors, and cap structures; but I never even got close to doing anything original because I was too timid to think big.

Navy, low-profile, six panel, unstructured.

Fitted, structured, brushed cotton in primary brand color.

Brown, high-profile, foam structured trucker, white mesh.

Boring. Safe. Average.

I didn’t realize yet that I should be thinking creatively on behalf of the business. A smart company doesn’t want employees who are sitting around, waiting to be told what to do.

For a lot of reasons, I didn’t have the confidence to act boldly and take the risks required to make outsized contributions. It was my first job outside of my hometown and I just didn’t see myself as a peer to the other designers. I showed up, but I was timid, and I was waiting to be told what to do.

I undershot my upside potential in that job by miles because I was afraid to Think Bigger.

Ted Polk Middle School

“Be Organized to Be Effective”

While at Bioworld, I continued to look for teaching jobs. I was fortunate enough to find a great position as the Art Teacher at Ted Polk MS in Carrollton, Texas from 2004–2008.

It’s hard to give individual attention to every student in a class of thirty when the class is only fifty minutes long. It’s actually impossible if you waste half of that time looking for misplaced materials, re-explaining unclear instructions, and redirecting misbehaving students.

Unfortunately, I spent way too much time during my first couple of years doing those very things (and more). That’s time that I could have spent getting to know my kids better, answering questions, and offering personal instruction.

What’s more, is that for me, my disorganization lead to a vicious downward cycle of almost zero effectiveness at times. Because after thirty minutes of corralling off-task students, finding everyone’s in-progress work, I didn’t have the energy to spend the time I had left to do what was actually most important to me – investing in one-on-one relationships.

Instead, I’d often retreat back to my desk to grade assignments or write lesson plans – work that could easily be done during my planning period. But as an introvert, I wouldn’t feel like I had the energy to invest in instruction or conversation. It’s terrible, I know.

Being disorganized absolutely exhausted me.

Finally, I managed to start getting my shit together by using bulldog clips that were color-coded by class period and numbered by table (my kids sat in pods of four) to collect and pass out student work. This way, at the beginning of each class I was quickly passing out just eight items sequentially, rather than 30-something individual items and making a dozen trips back and forth across the room.

If I was really on my game, I’d have a laminated example of the assignment along with guidelines on every table to help add clarity and reduce the number of times I had to repeat myself.

That’s just one small example of many, but the point is that when the logistics of transitioning from one class to another began to happen in just a minute or two, it felt good and helped me preserve the mental energy I needed to be present for my kids.

I’m at my best when I’m organized, that’s not a much of an insight. But what I need to remind myself is that the systems that help me be organized always decay over time. Always. They need attention, care, and revision; but I should remember that the effort to keep them up-to-date is a fraction of what’s needed to reign in utter chaos, and everything wants to move in the direction of chaos.

The Miller Company (not the beer)

“You Can’t Sell What You Don’t Know”

I loved my students, but I wanted control over my destiny in a way that I just didn’t see happening as a public school teacher. So, I brushed up on business fundamentals (many of which I’d learned through osmosis by watching and working for my dad), sharpened my design chops, and landed a job in sales & marketing with a company who designed and operated employee engagement systems.

DISH. Qualcomm.T-Mobile. Payless. Xcel Energy. Dolex. HEB. Luminant. The Scooter Store. The list of whiffs is even longer than that, but the point is that in sales role at TMC I was 0-fer. I batted an (im)perfect .000 in closing deals for which I was the lead account executive.

Not a one. Ever.

I played an important part in some very interesting F500 accounts in a communication design role, but always for deals that another account exec had closed and won. I learned a lot in those years and it was time well spent. The .000 avg doesn’t mean that time was wasted, but I was definitely learning some lessons.

The fundamental problem is the fact that I hadn’t fully internalized what I was pitching. I think my contacts could smell that, and I guess I’m glad they did. I bet during their deliberations as they were narrowing down vendors, the conversation was something like:

“The Miller Company. Hm. Yeah, I like Brian, he seems like a really nice guy for sure. He’s sharp enough and we’ve seen him work hard to get to the table. But … do I feel good about putting our program in his hands? At the end of the day, no.”

We were selling employee recognition programs as value-add consultants, and looking back now, I wasn’t qualified enough in that position at the time to have considered myself able to add value at the price we were quoting.

Without a knowledgable person to guide the design and implementation of a recognition program, it’s just a utility. Utilities trade at commodity prices, and my utility was priced as if it were a premium. That’s not a formula for closing deals.


“Preparation Trumps Passion”

While at TMC, my wife and I decided that we wanted her to quit her job and stay home with the kids. To bridge the gap, I started doing freelance web development on the side. It was a giant breath of fresh air and I fell back in love with the web. Over time, projects became more frequent, then they overlapped, then they stacked up on top of one another, until finally it was its own business and I struck out on my own on Independence Day, 2011.

I wanted to quit TMC long before I actually left, but laying the foundation for Viscos for a little over a year drastically reduced the risk. By growing it slowly over time (rather than carelessly “following my passion”) there was never a three month rolling average that saw a stagnation or reduction in revenue.

Staying committed and confident is going to be difficult no matter what. But the slow and steady march of earnings up and to the right let me know I was on the right track. This allowed me to spend my energy working on the business, rather than second guessing myself and waffling on what to do next.

Passion is easy because it requires exactly zero actual work, so there’s a lot of it in the market. Preparation is hard because it requires patience and determination spread out over time, so there’s much less of it to be found. It’s basic supply and demand that preparation is almost always more valuable than passion.


“Know Your Audience and Be Yourself”

We had wanted to move to Colorado for years, but it had never really come together. But in May of 2012, my wife and I said to each other, “Sooo … Colorado?” So, I built a resume site and to our great surprise, it went viral.

Maybe the single-most successful thing I’ve done in my career was conceiving of and executing hirebrianrhea.com. It’s kind of weird to think about how that might be true, because it was relatively easy to do.

Well, “easy” in the “overnight success five years in the making” sense. Laura and I were spending hours on my resume, and cover letters tailored specifically to the companies I was applying to when it hit me: “You know what? I should buy hirebrianrhea.com and just build a resume site. In the end, I bet that’s what will get the job, not my resume.”

I wrote all of the copy for the site in one night, spent a couple weeks developing and tweaking the site, emailed Brad Feld, and then our world turned upside down when he tweeted it to his followers and sent it to a mailing list of Boulder CEOs.

Because I’d been following startups and dev shops in Boulder for years, I knew exactly who I wanted to talk to. I understood their language, their tolerance (preference, really) for candor, personality, and humor. It came naturally and simply to write the copy in a way that would appeal to them. Not because I was born knowing how to or because it was simple, but because I didn’t have to fake or overthink anything.

If any part of the site was too cheeky or informal, then the sort of person who would be put off by that represented exactly the sort of company I didn’t want to work with anyway.

I can’t remember the first time I ever heard the name “Brad Feld”, but you don’t have to be interested in the Boulder startup community for very long before you learn that he’s the guy. The. Guy.

I had been following Brad (and many other Boulder influencers) on Twitter for years, reading their blogs, and just generally stalking the Boulder start-up community from Dallas. So, I sent Brad this email:


This is a long shot. There is no bigger voice in the Boulder tech community than yours, and that is exactly why I would be grateful for your help.

I’m currently in Dallas and I would love to get my ass to Colorado. I present those reasons with a (hopefully) entertaining narrative at:


What I hope to have done is to present not only my creative and technical skills, but also demonstrate my ability to tell a story, to understand my audience, and to capture their attention.

In short, I hope to present myself as someone Colorado’s entrepreneurial community would love to add its fold. There is not a doubt in my mind that a simple mention from @bfeld: “Someone in Boulder should hirebrianrhea.com” will get my work in front of the leaders and teams I would love to join. I want to help Boulder continue to grow its reputation and I’m asking if you’ll help me do just that.

Thanks for your time; I know it’s valuable.

Brian Rhea

I also don’t remember where I heard that when you’re asking for a favor, don’t be cute, don’t be timid, and never, ever be vague. Influential people are too busy for fluff, so cut the crap.

This is who I am. Here is what I want. This is how you can help me. So, will you help me?

I think I may have learned that from Shark Tank. Seriously.

Anyway, that email was also easy to write because I’d been passively learning how to write it for about an hour a week over the previous five years. Two hundred and sixty hours of context doled out over two hundred and sixty weeks.

And then Brad tweeted:

“Someone in Boulder should hirebrianrhea.com – the dude is seriously creative.”

When the site went viral and the job offers started coming in from San Francisco, Toronto, and most importantly, Boulder, I found myself in the very strange position of interviewing the companies who wanted me to join them, rather than the other way around. It was ridiculous. But it also felt like the culmination of years of reading, studying, and practicing. When the initial shock faded away and it was time to perform, I felt like I was in The Zone.

I should have been overwhelmed and scared that I was going to drop the ball and waste this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Instead, I felt prepared and completely in my element, because all I had to do was keep being myself. After all, that’s exactly what I’d done to be in this position to begin with.

When you’re full of shit or trying to be who you think “they” want you to be, interviews are hard. When you’re just being yourself, pitching is cake.



Through the hirebrianrhea madness, I connected with Mocavo. They were a Boulder-based startup, a Techstars alum, and were backed by the Foundry Group. I was crazy impressed by the team and I knew it was the sort of place that I could grow because I could tell I’d always be the dumbest person in the room.

Just ship it. It isn’t perfect and it never will be. You’re not Steve Jobs. Quit being precious about #333 vs #222. Ship.

Defeat the resistance.

Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.

Skip meetings. Often. Skip them with impunity. Ship.

– Seth Godin, “The Truth About Shipping

I had read and reminded myself of this article many times over the years before joining Mocavo, but I had never practiced the mantra of “Ship.” so relentlessly as we did here.

What is “the resistance”? It’s people who say “you can’t do that.” It’s yourself when you wonder, “What if I’m wrong? Won’t I look dumb?” It’s “Meeting over Making.” It’s excuses and the status quo.

It’s your prehistoric lizard brain that is only good at being afraid. Kill it with fire.

Since becoming of Chief of Product, I’ve heard objections like, “That feature isn’t ready.” “People will complain.” “The reviews will be awful.”

To which my response would be, “Define ready.” “Maybe so.” and “Well, then we’ll take the feedback and make it better.”

Now, did we ship too early more than once? Absolutely. But erring on the side of “Ship.” creates a momentum over time that usually outweighs whatever snafus might have been avoided by being cautious.

But wait, what if you screw up and make the wrong call? It’s ok. This isn’t brain surgery, it’s a web app. Accept that mistakes will happen and realize it’s no big deal as long as you can correct them quickly. Execute, build momentum, and move on.

– “Getting Real” by Jason Fried and DHH

“Ship.” is a little too flippant for some. They might argue it’s disrespectful to deliver anything less than the very best to your customers or that it sets too low a bar for yourself and your craft.

That’s fair, and there are detail-oriented leaders and teams who find success in obsessing over the edges. If you’re one of them, high-five, yo.

But when it comes to web-based software, the ability to ship and iterate is one of our biggest advantages (over hardware, traditional publishing, and brain surgery). It’s ok if it isn’t perfect the first time (or ever). Your product is more likely to fail if nobody ever uses it than if their first use is something less than a flawless experience. Accept that it’s flawed, that it will be flawed, and just get on with it.

Shipping relentlessly is exposure therapy against fear-based indecisiveness and inaction.

The more you ship (even when you’re scared or less than proud) the more you realize, “Oh ok. The sky didn’t fall down on top of us.” And all that time you might have spent fixing edge cases, writing tests for 100% coverage, or moving that button 3 pixels to the right … no 1 back to the left … is time that you can spend working on Big Rocks.

Now What?

So, those are the major themes I’ve come away with so far.

Think Bigger, Get Organized, Believe or Leave, Preparation Trumps Passion, Be Yourself, and Ship.

What about you? If you had to identify one thing you’ve learned from each of the stops on your career, what might they be?