I admit, Part 1 was quite theoretical and perhaps too much about me personally – hey, it was you who decided to read it after all, so don’t blame me too much. But I aim to make it up to you now: I believe that true valuable blogs come with easy insights on ‘what to do then’, and do not stop at drunken bar discussions at 3am. So here are ’10 brain tools’ that I continuously use – or try to use – in my life:
1. Earning more; needing less
If I would still be needing to become rich, it would affect my thinking capacity. I have organized my life in such a way that I do not need too much of an income to survive. Of course, I sometimes have my expensive cash-out moments, but I make a big distinction between fixed and variable costs: one-off cash-out items are perfectly fine, but repeating high-level living expenses would affect my thinking capacity. So now my ambition to keep on earning more comes from a healthy driver: because I can, not because I need to.
2. Problems don’t exist
Problems don’t exist – really. Either there is a solution, or you simply must accept the fact. In my view, this phrase is too often used to just accept what is happening though. If a ‘problem’ pops up, you should really use your thinking capacity to reflect on it to see if you can solve it, before you accept it. Our portfolio companies at Peak Capital know this very well: e.g. not selling is not an option, there is always something to change ;-).
3. Must I Do This Now?
My favourite sentence only contains 5 words: Must I Do This Now? The great thing about this sentence is revealed if you stress each of the words independently:
- Must I do this now? => is it a need, or a nice-to? Makes it easier to say ‘no’.
- Must I do this now? => am I the person who should take action, or who should?
- Must I do this now? => is it an action to be taken, or perhaps just FYI?
- Must I do this now? => is this the right action, or should something else be done?
- Must I do this now? => it this the right moment, or can or should it wait?
By answering these questions, one can prioritize what matters. Great for emptying your brain.
4. Multi-tasking vs micro switching
I do not believe in multi-tasking. I know my wife tells me she can, but I cannot. What I am good at is what I call micro-switching. By focusing on one thing at a time, I can remember most and use most brain capacity for that one thing. If something comes in between, I ‘store’ what I was doing and switch in a micro-moment to the other thing. The sentence ‘must I do this now’ greatly helps with this switching: it defines whether something is allowed to come in between or not.
5. Allow yourself to have been wrong
In any decision one has to make, many complex factors can play a role. Accept the fact that when you have made a decision, it could have been the wrong decision. I often see that people then try to find excuses. Sometimes rightfully so, but please also accept if you simply could have made the right decision but unfortunately you did not. Try to objectively look at your decisions and their outcomes: use data, because usually data is right – I am sure I will write about data someday – I just like it too much.
6. Thinking time vs execution time
If you think too much, you’ll start doubting and hence you end up postponing decisions. If you execute too fast before thinking, you might create ‘problems’ to solve which you could have gone without. By actively deciding when it is thinking time and when it is execution time, you can optimize this process. Think what you need to know before you can decide, then decide and start executing, and build in moments of reflection to re-address your initial thoughts and decision. And simply accept that you could have been wrong. The thinking time also allows you to oversee bigger ‘problems’, and cut them down into smaller steps, identifying what you need to do first.
7. Disconnect your job from your personality
Taking your job seriously is a great asset. Taking it too seriously negatively affects your thinking capacity, and causes your performance at your job to degrade. Letting your job affect your sleeping time is a serious issue that many people suffer from. Simply don’t let it interfere: before you go to sleep, tell yourself that your job is not you.
8. Need to haves vs nice to haves
In everything I do, I aim to think whether it is a need-to-have or nice-to-have. The more I do not need, the more independent I am, and the more thinking time I have for the things that are really relevant at a certain moment. This is also the reason why I prefer to invest in companies that tap into the need-to-haves of many people: e.g. Studocu: people need education; OneFit: people need to be healthy; Channable: webshops need to sell; InvoiceFinance: SME businesses need funding. Nice-to-have products are simply harder to sell.
9. Communicate by thinking on behalf of the other
In any communication, you should try to fully connect to and understand the person you are talking to. It will create a better choice of words on your end, a better understanding on the other side, hence a more efficient communication process and better outcomes overall. If you know what a person’s knowledge level is, what his background is, what his needs are, you will be able to connect, and get your ‘needs’ fulfilled optimally.
Negativity destroys a lot: it influences people’s thinking capacity and hence destroys the potential outcomes. Sometimes it is necessary to be direct, sharp and even unfriendly to convey a message to the other side of the table, but it should never affect your personal emotions inside. My business self can be hurt by people, but my personal self is not connected.
Also, expressing yourself in a (too) negative way to people will hurt your relationship with them. You can be negative about a situation that requires fixing, but you can always add a compliment on other things; or professionally explain why, and actively state this relates to the situation but not to the person himself.
Positivity allows people to be receptive to different views, creates a bond between people (even between people that hardly know each other) and hence causes great things to be created. And as venture capitalists are obsessed with large outcomes, I must be drained with positivity. (Thankfully, a decent dose of scepticism also holds me back sometimes – greatly supported by data to analyse before investing).
For those of you who think after reading this that I am perfectly balanced – I am sorry, but I am not. I merely try to live my life in this balanced way, and I am sure I often fail. But still: trying to improve myself is always better than accepting not to change it while I can.
And I promise: next time I will write about data, sales strategies or fundraising for your startup.