Lawrence He Doing more stuff en-us Thu, 27 Jul 2017 14:37:54 +0000 Sett RSS Generator How I got decent leads from Google Adwords for my Video Agency **SETT%IMAGE**]]> I've since paused my Adwords campaign because the CPC is too high (going to wait until I set aside time to optimize my quality score to turn it back on) but last year about a third of our closed projects came in from Google Adwords.

Here's a few pictures:

Quick note about why I'm writing this blog post: This blog is mostly about me doing stuff and sharing the results; for those of you who already know Adwords you can pretty much skip this post, but for many it could be a fun tactic to try out.

My motivation to try Adwords came from understanding that one of the keys to business success is to reach out to someone who is more successful than you, ask them what is working for them, and try the tactics they give you.

Two years ago I sent an email to Ryan Spanger, who runs a video agency in Australia called Dream Engine and asked him for advice, one of the tactics he recommended was Adwords.

Notice the brevity of his email.

Shortly after, I somehow stumbled onto Local Client Takeover, which I recommend checking out. They have really good free tutorials on SEO and PPC. I followed the seven-part tutorial by Jan Schroder, and basically slapped it together following his directions without really understanding Adwords. I just dumped all the keywords I thought people would search for into one campaign, and wrote very basic copy.

A big lesson I learned early on is the importance of setting negative keywords. Not knowing about negative keywords is the reason I think many people who try Adwords for the first time fail and get mad thinking Google trying to suck their pockets dry.

What you do is you click on the search terms tab to see what searches your potential audience is making, and add all of the search terms that don't make sense into your negative keywords.

All in all Google Adwords is worth it but its expensive. When I first implemented it two years ago it was $5 a click, now its about $8-$15 at least for keywords like "San Francisco Video Production".

If you provide a niche service that has little competition (or if the competition is likely to be unsophisticated at marketing) I would definitely recommend trying Adwords, for example I feel like a florist would do really well running Adwords. If you're thinking about trying Adwords for the first time I recommend setting aside $800 bucks and following the guides in Local Client Takeover. Once you get it working and you see some progress, one of my friends Guillaume wrote an in-depth knowledge base on Adwords, and I would follow that to optimize.

Lastly, reading and understanding Adwords is kind of arduous if you're just getting started I'd recommend taking a look at different blog posts for different perspectives. I recommend this post by Patrick Mckenzie since he's very good at writing about technical things and making them understandable.

Also, thought it would be worth mentioning I've run Facebook, Yelp and LinkedIn ads, they haven't worked for me at all.

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Sat, 17 Jun 2017 04:47:58 +0000
How My Video Agency Is Doing It's been a while since I last posted and it's because I've just been so focused on trying to grow my video production agency. Looking back I can't believe it's been three years since I posted this blog post about moving out of being a beginner. I don't feel like a beginner anymore these days but I also don't feel full confidence that I have what it takes to succeed as a entrepreneur.

It is quite a journey looking back at when we first started doing small business videos, we we're paid just a couple hundred bucks; now moving up the value chain, we've closed projects in the five figure range, which is exciting because it allows us more resources to put into the craft and creativity of the video. For example, one of our most recent projects involved renting out a large cross-fit gym and then setting up a 15 ft dolly track, and a fog machine. That was super fun and I really got to experiment with carrying out my directorial vision. One of the most exciting opportunities last year was the chance to pitch to Sandisk. We had always dreamt of having enterprise clients so we we're really eager for the opportunity. The pitch went really well and was accepted, but we found out that many enterprise clients don't pay deposits; Since we're too small of a company we had to turn that project down. It was sad mainly because these past two years I've been so gung-ho on my dream: Making videos for fortune 500 companies -- for Nike, Apple, and shooting television / Super Bowl commercials; and its sad because we had been so focused on growth in the form of high-value clients (which is riskier) rather than growth in client base and while that trajectory looked promising it is abruptly halted by this ceiling.

All of this sounds like I'm getting a ton of traction -- and I think I am, but from a financial standpoint it sucks. Sure, I've cut my expenses down and can survive but I'm not making much money at all. All of our profits go back into the business, and we have super low margins because we use so much budget to make the video look good. The project budget gets spent on equipment, crew, actors, and set dressing, so at the end, there's barely any profit left for the three of us. I wouldn't mind it so much if I felt I had a good grasp of marketing, but I can't seem to find consistency. Certain things have worked. I'm running Google Adwords, and that's been a good source of leads for us for far, but it's not consistent enough and the cost per click is insane.

The hardest part of marketing is knowing that the biz dev responsibility lies on my shoulders. I didn't mind it at all when I first graduated out of college, but now that it's been a few years, I can't help but question myself: Am I just playing around? Am I in the wrong market? Maybe I should do something else

With each passing year the pressure grows. The pressure of making this a sustainable source of income. Like I mentioned before, I personally don't mind a low income because I believe in the Early Retirement Extreme philosophy, but It's hard not to be envious of your friends working at tech companies making such-and-such. And it's not just my employed friends either, I have entrepreneurial friends who are also young and in their mid twenties with growing businesses, and while I'm super happy for their success I can't help but question the lack of my own. I look at my progress from when I was 23 to 24, from 24 to 25, and 25 to 26 and I wonder if this is sustainable going into my late twenties and thirties.

The worst part -- well it used to feel like the worst part but I don't necessarily feel that bad about it anymore -- is giving up my dream of being a digital nomad. I remember reading Tynan's blog in college and knowing that I'll follow the same path. I planned my mid twenties to be traveling across Southeast Asia working from my laptop with all my gear in one backpack. When I first moved back to San Francisco I still had that dream. I'll just build the business and systemize it so I can work on it while traveling, I thought, It will probably just take six months. Six months turned to three years and I'm still nowhere near that goal. I feel kinda sad about this, but I know it's the right thing to do. Adventure would be nice, I see all my friend's travel pictures on instagram, but now is the time to work. Now is the time to put my head down and do something. So long as I'm working, I'm not thinking about how my twenties should be. But If I take my head up for a second to see where I'm at, the anxiety of expectation sets in.

Expectation has a pretty big impact on your self-esteem. On an episode of Gary Vee this girl Taylor called in. She's 22 was telling Gary how she was going to be a millionaire by 25 even though she hadn't done anything. It's laughable, and obviously, Gary rebuked her... yet I relate. For some reason I had always had an expectation of myself to accomplish something of significance, in my current case: building a successful video agency, and I had always reasoned it as, oh of course I'll be able to accomplish that in the future, I have plenty of time, if I just believe in myself enough, future me will take care of it, something will happen. But when you have that expectation, and the inputs aren't aligning with the outputs, it leads to anxiety. It's odd to feel anxiety. I've never really had emotional health problems before. I hear about people having panic attacks, depression, or trouble sleeping, and because of my lack of experience, I wasn't able to really be empathetic. This past winter I had anxiety to the point where there was pressure building on my chest. It sucks. It sucks because I've always had a care-free, worry-free personality. I didn't stress even during final exams in college nor did I stress when I volunteered at a summer camp and had to work 11 hour shifts in the kitchen with the pressure to feed 500 people. But now I'm filled with this sinking looming feeling: the feeling that I only have a few years left of my twenties.

At the end of the day I have to remind myself not to dwell. To stay objective and move forward, and be thankful of what I have. I remind myself that that I've learned a lot in my pursuits and delivered a lot of value to my clients. I value the skills I've built in sales, digital marketing, copywriting, and project management. Just keep moving forward, no point dwelling. I know that businesses takes a long time to grow and scale, that it's dependent on my ability to make decisions and execute, so I hold on to why I started this agency in the first place: It's place to put into practice the information I'm consuming about business and to really test my abilities to get results in the real world. So with that I put my head down and grind.

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Tue, 18 Apr 2017 18:53:55 +0000
Maker / Manager Schedule and how to choose tasks for the day Choosing tasks for the day is somewhat of an overwhelming process. With so many opportunities and so many things we can be doing, how do we make the most of our limited willpower? In this post I'm going to cover some familiar productivity concepts, introduce new concepts, and show you how I'm applying these concepts to make my workday easier.

The concepts: Popular concepts you've either heard to not heard of, but have already been written about:

1. Maker Schedule vs. Manager Schedule -

2. Design vs. Marching -

3. GTD vs. Deep work -

Some concepts I've been thinking about that are important for consideration:

4. Task on-ramp vs. Marginal Endurance:

Task on-ramp basically takes the idea that for certain tasks, its easy to be in the mood of working once started, but the initial effort of getting yourself to start that task requires a lot of inertia. So we want to find ways to on-ramp us into a particular task that otherwise might be hard to get started. Cal Newport's book Deep Work gives examples where some authors go for a walk in the woods in order to spur their creative minds for writing.

Marginal Endurance is the idea that certain tasks we have no problem getting started on but we can easily get bored of doing. For example, washing dishes -- I have no problem starting the task of washing dishes, but if there's a lot of dishes, I would get really tired of washing 20 minutes in.

5. New Task vs. Routine Task: Many times a particular task is really difficult to do, not because it takes a lot of time and effort, but simply because its a new task we've never done before. Because of this, a routine task would require way less will power to execute. Tactically if you're swamped with work, it might not be as effective to push yourself to do a task you've never done before. you've probably heard the advice of breaking up a large task into smaller chunks, but its helpful think about only setting aside a huge chunk of time and expectation to do a large task if you know its a routine task you've done before. For example setting aside a Saturday afternoon to start and finish an oil painting sound super doable if you're already familiar with oil painting, if you've never finished an oil painting before it might be better to break up that project into chunks by just set aside an hour of time to paint the background.

Quick note on my thought process after learning these concepts:

My entire thought process on these concepts begins with thinking about Design vs. Marching (concept #2). A few months back I was going about my days relatively smoothly, until I told myself I should be more productive and that I should march and use more will power to get more things done. During that time, I did notice myself being more productive, but it felt pretty brutal (at least compared to my happy-go-lucky style of not constantly pushing myself to do work). Upon reflection, I decided that my quality of life would be better if I just focused on doing things through design. And this blogpost is basically the way I'm thinking about leveraging the concepts listed above to design a productive day as much as possible. If I'm to utilize willpower, I think it'd be better spent marching on habit building than task crunching.

A few things we should agree on:

1. Maker schedule vs. Manager schedule has the biggest impact: As you've read in Paul Graham's article, it just takes a ton of effort to switch momentum when you're in the mode of making something vs. being in the mode of a manager.

2. A small amount of Deep Work is more valuable than finishing a ton of shallow work: You really need read Cal Newport's book in order to fully understand the argument, but I think his reasoning is pretty easy to agree with.

Application (How I'm applying all this):

The first thing I do before I put tasks onto my daily task list is to decide whether it'll be a maker day or a manager day. I usually only classify it as a maker day if I see that my calendar is free from scheduled calls or events, which means there will be a strong likelihood that I'll probably classify the day as a manager day. I like to assume that all events, meetings, calls should automatically have a task that requires two things: (1) planning and prepping beforehand and (2) notes/analysis/debriefing to be logged and organized afterward. Other types of manager schedule tasks include teaching / managing / leading / sharing, basically anything where you schedule a set time for an activity, even measure activities, like head to yoga or the gym mid-day.

This puts me in a nice groove of just following my schedule. You might think, well how does this differ from maker schedule? I'll explain my reasoning in a little bit when I discuss maker schedule.

So if I'm arranging my schedule, I would try to time it to pack anything communications related into this day if I can. This applies to sales meeting or calls, but also if there's anything I need to explain or clarify to the team, I try to schedule a specific time to do this. The main emphasis I want to add here is the scheduling. In "Getting Things Done", David Allen recommends only scheduling things you know you're going to do, not things you hope you'll do.

Manager schedule entails management...clearly, so its management of the team but also project management and routine operations. A manager-schedule-themed day would be a good time to check in on metrics, cashflow, and dragging Trello cards around. Other stuff of similar grounding include emails, networking, browsing on social media, FB groups or forums. And depending on how mentally draining the day is I would also group in mindless tasks like cleaning, organizing, or looking for useful software and tools.

If there's a lot of extra time that day, the rest of the day I'll spend on very light work. Dreaming, setting vision, decision making, thinking, strategizing, watching content to hone my craft, journaling, reading, gathering resources for the future, or systemizing and documenting processes.

Now if you notice, aside from the calls and meetings, most of the tasks are pretty non-intensive tasks that don't require a lot of concentration to do. This is intentionally so that I can jam pack the rest of my day with this type of work in between my calls and meetings. The extra five minutes here and there all add up to getting a lot of small things done, and these are things I'd rather not spend time doing from my precious maker's schedule. I want my maker-schedule-themed days to be devoted to creating things and executing things.

I feel like manager's schedule is pretty easy because it's pretty much laid out. If you watch Dailyvee and you wonder "how the heck does Gary Vaynerchuk work so hard?", well his entire day is a manager schedule day. Its blocked out and all he does is take calls, have meetings, and give speeches. These aren't things that people tend to procrastinate on. Not to downplay his hardwork, I think its still a lot of work, but these are things that he enjoys doing and is already familiar with. Remember the new task vs. routine task concept I wrote about earlier? Well Gary Vaynerchuk doesn't have any new tasks. He might have new ideas for projects, but the tasks he's responsible for are things he's done for over 10 years; VaynerSports might be a new thing, but his tasks within is role like leading his team, giving speeches, and checking out new social media platforms to advertise and develop content in isn't new for him at all.

Okay, let's get into maker's schedule.

Maker's schedule is much harder and I feel like its also rare to get pure maker schedule days because it's so easy to get caught up putting out fires and the plethora of small tasks that nag at our attention.

If i've decided that the particular day is a Maker-schedule-themed day the first set of tasks I put on my task list are tasks that have a due date. Its important for me to do the urgent tasks first, even if they're of low importance because I've found that knowing I have nothing due (or that the things that are urgent are going according to plan) frees me up to work on the big project. I've noticed that when I try focus on that one main project that if I have small urgent tasks, even if they're not that important, they keep popping up in my mind and distracting me. When your mind is free from nagging things, it tends to be a much less overwhelming process to focus on the priority.

Oh, I'm going to go on a slight tangent here and bring up a few other concepts that I didn't mention in the concepts portion earlier:

6. 1-3-5 Task list -

7. Eat that frog -

If I'm on manager's schedule I almost always set 9 (1+3+5) tasks to do that day. If I'm on maker's schedule, it really depends on how I'm feeling, some days I choose 9 tasks some days I aim to put work into 2-3 really important projects.

So picking back where we left off before that slight tangent, I usually pick a task I'm excited to do and put that on the top of my task list. The reason is, I want a warm up task just to get me in the groove of work-mode. Then I start putting in work on eating the proverbial frog. This is where the task on-ramp concept comes into play. Only you know what gets you into deep work mode fastest and like I mentioned before Cal Newport has a whole book written on this, but it's strategically beneficial to be intentional with your on-ramps and to put them into practice. For me, I do video copywriting and if I ever feel a ton of inertia preventing me from writing or editing copy, I can watch Apple or Nike commercials for inspiration, and I can also print out the rough draft I've written and make notes and comments onto that print out. Of course I could use pure will-power and force copy out of myself, but being aware of what reduces inertia just smooths out the day.

There's a lot to explain so I'd like to end this post with questions that might have arisen as you were reading this and to answer and clarify.

How does morale and willpower play into my workday?

A lot. On days with high morale and high willpower, none of this matters. For most of us, during those types of days we just push through and get done what we want to get done. However, those days don't happen to be as common as I'd like them to, so I rely on structuring my days where I'm most likely to get those tasks done, and if I plan it like this then I won't beat myself up when I don't do a task because I'd have properly planned when to work on that task. I'm aware that there will be days where you need to get something done and utilize willpower to do so, and I think the best way is to develop the awareness to sense when those days are coming up and plan ways ensure motivation though igniters and also to failure proof those days with firebreaks.

What if my days are mostly somewhere in-between maker's schedule and managers schedule?

I only explained Maker schedule and manager schedule with dichotomy so that its easy to see the distinction. I'm aware that most of the time, there's going to be a lot of overlap between the two schedules. When there's a day of overlap I'd recommend still trying to set a distinct point that separates one schedule from the other and add a buffer time so you can mentally shift. For example, If my last call of the day ends at 3pm and I have up till 7pm to still do work I can mentally assign morning to 3pm as manager schedule, an hour of buffer time to chill, and then 4pm-7pm to be maker's schedule.

You mentioned a lot of types of tasks for manager's schedule, what types of tasks are there for maker's?

There's nothing wrong with doing small manager-schedule type tasks on a maker-schedule day especially if you think it can help you on-ramp to a maker-schedule task, but just know that the focus of this day is on focused creation, execution or deliberate practice.

Woah, I think this might be the longest post I've written, and If you've read to the end, thanks for tuning in. If you have any questions or if any of this is confusing to you please write in on the comments section. This is a lot and I know some of this can sound convoluted, but thanks for reading, and really as much as I'm writing this post to internalize all of this into my productivity, I hope my writing is clear and readable enough that you can find these ideas useful for your own daily productivity.

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Sat, 10 Dec 2016 22:31:05 +0000
They’re both important, next question After sitting in as the audience member on many talks and listening to a lot of Q&A’s from experts both live and digitally, I’ve noticed that many people end up asking the same question. Not just the same questions, but the same type of questions, usually in the format of: what’s more important? this or that?

What’s more important passion or hardwork?

What’s more important product or marketing?

What’s more important? idea or execution?

find new opportunities vs capitalizing on current opportunities?

charisma vs authenticity?

what’s currently working vs. future trends and predictions?

The answer varies. Sometimes the answer is heavily in favor of one, sometimes its the other. If its a question posed in a forum, a Facebook status or a Youtube comment, a debate will soon follow.

Guys, we’ve already spent years listening to people’s opinions on these matters. What’s more important ...the idea or the execution of the idea? The answer is both, let’s move on. I’m not ranting on these types of questions, I’m just surprised that people are still asking these types of questions after they’ve heard different people give different answers to the same question for years.

To be fair, you might ask me, how can you say its both, sometimes it’s one or the other. And well, you’re right. It is sometimes one or the other, but we get so caught-up on on trying to maximize our actions for one or the other that we get stuck. So, my opinion is that if you have the question of “is one more important than the other”, you run through that question mentally and you feel like the answer is likely both; then it will save you a lot of time to just assume so.

You’d do well if you worked on both things at the same time maintaining a one-to-one ratio and basically putting equal effort on both fronts.

There will be a time when its more lucrative to maintain an unbalanced ratio and put more effort into one. But I think you should only do so when you recognize the timing and the context strategically.

For example, let’s go back to the product or marketing question. If you recognize that timing is a big factor, then you’d want to put more efforts into marketing during a boom economy and more efforts into product when the economy is down. The reason why is that during an economic boom, more people are willing to spend money and you should maximize revenue — when it’s down, materials and labor are cheaper so you can do more R&D.

This is just one contextual factor, and there could be a million situations and factors that impact what’s more important. But in the end, having good balance means maintaining awareness of the ratio of effort and strategically choosing to put focus toward one or the other. If you don’t know where to strategically put focus to, then just assume both and move on.

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Sat, 19 Nov 2016 23:05:08 +0000
A time I felt embarassed and the lesson I learned on domain of expertise A year and a half ago I was invited to sit at a workshop and be a guest expert at a conference. The event was Hardware Con, and because I had just been invited briefly before, and have never been a “guest expert”, I had no idea what to expect. So, because I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t think much of it until I got there. While sitting in the room 5 minutes before our workshop session started a small feeling of anxiety began to creep into me.

Thoughts popped up like: What kind of answers would I give that would even be helpful to these guys? Am I gonna tell them what camera to buy or what the difference between a grip and a gaffer? Would it benefit them for me to give feedback on the videos they’ve made?

Nothing out of the ordinary happened. They didn’t ask me questions that we’re related purely to the technical aspects of video production as I had initially worried about, but instead asked me to give feedback on some video ideas or to give feedback on their video strategy. This is all good and logical enough, but for some reason I felt like the advice I could in this domain wasn’t enough and wanted to give higher level advice, so I asked them about their overall marketing and what their funnel looked like. This was 2014, mind you, and internet marketing was still somewhat an obscure thing to learn, and because I was so interested in it at the time (still am) I felt like there was a lot I could give input on.

As so, when I transitioned the conversation to talking about internet marketing, things started to go south. People started getting uninterested and confused. One person even felt provoked by his skepticism and and asked, “Wait, what expert are you a field of again?"

“Video production"

“So why are you talking to me about internet marketing?"

“Um. Because your internet marketing determines how you should strategize your video and what kind of concept your video should have depending on what channels you’re promoting it on"

This sounds like a good answer because its true, I still believe in this answer that I gave him, but he didn’t like my answer.

“Okay, but, what makes you an expert? Why should I listen to you?"

“I don’t claim to be an expert. I could know less about this stuff than you, I was just invited to be here"

He let out a sigh of dissatisfaction and left the room.

After this incident I had an older gentleman ask me about my services, but as I left the conference, I still couldn’t help feeling like I f’ed up somehow. I drove an hour and a half to get to this conference, and now I felt like a fool. Am I regretting this? I thought to myself as I drove the hour and a half back home. The entire rest of the week I would think back to that event and feel embarrassed. This feeling slowly, slowly dissipated as I comforted myself telling myself It’s okay, you will realize something important one day and it will be because of this failure.

And finally, a year and a half later I did realize something important. I can accept that people will label you and box you in to the domain that you’re in. And this makes complete sense because this is the domain you’re known for. If you try to force your expertise on them outside of your positioned domain, people will be thrown off, so you have to connect with them where they’re at first, earn their trust and then transition to a different domain.

Very tactically, it looks like this:

  1. Connect with them on what they want to talk about
  2. Provide a “crunchy solution"
  3. Transition to a still somewhat relevant but different topic
  4. Qualify the transition you’re making
  5. Transition to a still somewhat relevant but different topic (this time closer to the topic you actually want to talk to them about)
  6. Qualify the transition you’re making
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you’re talking about a topic that you actually want to talk about (authentically, either because you think this will help them, because you can add the most value to them in this area, or just because you’re interested in this topic)

Why is this important enough to write about? Because when you start to understand this you start to understand how to get someone to let you do higher level work rather than the current work you’re boxed in to. This pain point seems to be very common among people who are very good technically, but want to move onto having more influence strategically — Personally, I want my area of expertise to move from video production to video strategy and then to advertising campaign strategy — Additionally, you begin to recognize this in marketing content everywhere. I remember going to a Creative Live class about “Getting more trust from your customers” and the speaker transitioned it all the way to what the talk was actually about: “Setting up your website’s privacy policy”. Here’s the link if you don’t believe me. I was kinda mad at the end, but my friend that I went with didn’t catch this at all, and said “yeah she made a lot of sense, I want to work on our privacy policy now”.

To take this post full circle and tie it to the story, it was because of that experience at Hardware Con that emotionally compelled me to pay attention to this stuff. Had I not been as embarrassed as I was at the time, I’m not sure this concept of “being boxed into my domain” and “transitioning out” would have really stuck out. So I’m glad for it. And I write this hopefully to inspire you to keep faith in the failure experiences you’ve had and to encourage you to keep an eye out for the revelation that that experience can give you years down the road.

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Mon, 24 Oct 2016 17:25:06 +0000
Using If then statements to trigger pattern a protocol Principles by Ray Dalio is basically a collection of all the wisdom Ray Dalio has ingrained. Halfway finishing the book I thought This book is amazing, but it has too many good lessons. How am I going to remember to apply these lessons when the situation arises?

The typical route for developing your own principles is to make a mistake, feel the pain of that pitfall and think, how could I have avoided that error? At which point your brain replies, You developed a wrong opinion about this person. Didn’t Ray Dalio say something about opinions in his book? At which point you flip back to the page and read:

Ask yourself whether you have earned the right to have an opinion. Opinions are easy to produce, so bad ones abound. Knowing that you don't know something is nearly as valuable as knowing it. The worst situation is thinking you know something when you don't.

This is nice to keep in mind for the next time a similar problem occurs, but wouldn’t life be easier if you didn’t have to go about making mistakes and learning from them — if you could see the situation and apply the right protocol?

The problem isn’t that we don’t have foresight, the problem is that when we’re going through life events, we don’t have a mental clarity to consciously remember to apply the right protocol to the right situation. If we were robots we could. If we we’re robots we could just set an IFTTT trigger event (or a Zapier) that pops up in our mind and tells us what to do. Obviously we’re not robots, but I think there’s something that clues us in on how to move toward this, and that something is If / Then statements (Conditional Statements).

Conditional Statements are already known for being really powerful for habit building. According to an article by Psychology Today, you’re way to more likely to succeed by setting an if / then statement beforehand:

Amazingly, you are two to three times more likely to succeed if you use an if-then plan than if you don't. In one study, 91 percent of people who used an if-then plan stuck to an exercise program, versus 39 percent of non-planners.

Yes this is really cool stuff, but I want to take this one step further: by utilizing conditional statements in a similar way to how I use IFTTT.

Okay so, first let me explain my process, then I’ll give you some examples of how I applied to to my life.

Step 1: Keep a list of all of your conditional statements. If you think of a useful conditional statement, add it to your list. I use evernote

This is similar to the recipes analogy of IFTTT. You want them all in one place so that you can easily keep track of what things you're currenting setting a trigger for. I have two lists on the same document; one for the things I'm currently trying to pattern, and the other is a list of conditional statements that I've fully hooked.

Step 2: Decide which ones will act as reminders and which ones require either habit building or patterning/conditioning

Example 1: I noticed that whenever people ask me “do you mind if I…(do this thing)”, I get nervous for some reason and immediately respond, “yes”. The correct reply however, and the wording I would rather answer with is, “I don’t mind, go ahead”. So I set this as an if / then statement in my Evernote. I noticed that this situation is likely to occur at the gym when people ask to borrow weights or use a machine. So I wrote this statement out and taped it onto the back of my gym scan-in card. Every time I scanned my card at the gym I would remember to utilize the right protocol: “I don’t mind, go ahead”. After this patterned at the gym, it naturally spread to the rest of my life.

Example 2: I only have one copy of my car keys, and If I locked those keys in my trunk it was an ordeal to get out. So I set the statement: If I’m closing my trunk lid, I will hold my car key in hand. I wrote this onto a flashcard and put it into my trunk so I that I would naturally see it if my trunk was open. I also added to the flashcard: If you’re parking on the street, check for street parking signs. I haven’t gotten a parking ticket or locked my keys in my trunk for a long time.

Step 3: If you’re trying to trigger a protocol that’s more conceptual, you’ll have to take more time for entrainment and conditioning. I haven’t quite fully figured this out, and I intend to write a blog post on this when I do, but my current guess is to use some kind of mnemonic device to help you immediately think of the protocol that you’re patterning a trigger to. Another idea I had is that, according to the book The Power of Habit, it only takes 5 occurrences of a trigger-protocol to begin building a habit. Based on this, my advice is to proactively set a situation, and practice the right protocol for that situation five times as a minimum effective dose.

I’ve started thinking about this 2 years ago, and its been immensely useful to me over the past years. Because not only does it steeply shorten the path to solving reoccurring problems, it’s an easy way to get clarity on how to start solving a reoccurring problem. The last if / then statement I hooked was: If I say um, uh, or like, I will pause take a breath and continue talking slowly. I set a trigger event by having my close friends tell me whenever those words slipped out. And I’ve drastically reduced my “umms”, “uhhs”, and “likes” in less than two months with minimal effort — some people go their whole lives “umming” and “uhhing”. Its so powerful man, so powerful.

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Thu, 22 Sep 2016 18:56:25 +0000
How to make sure you’re not stuck in theory I like to think a lot, and as a result of thinking a lot I come up with a lot of theories and mental models. When I was younger I was one of those “Why don’t you believe me!?” types, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that I had been wrong so many times, that just because a theory I came up with made sense to me, it could very likely be false.

But if I immediately dump my theories, then I think I could be dumping a lot of value. Because all high level work — anything conceptual or longterm lives in the realm of theory.

So how does one make sure they're not stuck in theory, and that they're actually getting results that apply to the real world?

In my opinion, the easy answer, and the answer you hear most often is: "take action”. While this is accurate advice, I think it’s one of those simplistic pieces of advice that doesn’t really get you anywhere.

I want this post to be helpful to you, but in order to do that, I need to quickly explain what I think theory is.

Theory is what the scientific method says it is. It's a guess. That sounds quite obvious, but I think I missed this understanding for two reasons:

  1. As humans I think we tend to believe that our theories are true because they’re our theories, and we believe in ourselves.
  2. When I think of theories they’re usually in the realm of business or art, so I never connected it to how scientists or statisticians looked at the word theory.

The scientific method is a universally agreed upon method, and while learning about the scientific method in high school I remembered the instructions were to develop a hypothesis and to come up with an unbiased way of testing them.

Again, I’d like to reemphasize that similar to people who like to smoke weed and develop theories on life, scientists like to develop ideas too — they just happen to use the scientific method to make sure that they’re ideas are accurate.

Unlike scientists, however, I’m not necessarily concerned with proving mental models on how the universe works, I just want my ideas to be accurate enough that I can make long term decisions and get results.

Below are things I’ve found helpful in guiding me to accurate thinking.

Test assumptions:

In order for a theory to exist, assumptions have made. For example in Wing Chun, a martial art popularized by the movie Ip Man, there’s the assumption that because the shortest distance between two objects is a straight line, the most effective punch is the straight punch from your chest area to your opponents chest area.

This assumption makes sense in itself, but If you examine this assumption, you could be opposed to this assumption and argue that a longer armed person throwing a hook will have the advantage over your straight punch.

Back a couple years when I was really into martial arts I would spar my friends and try to practice wing chun; I could deal with their jabs well, but would always get punched in the face when I moved in for an attack and was a beat too slow — I would get punched in the face by their hook.

This is why its important to test the assumptions and the results of the theory put in practice. Knowing that the assumption you’re making is missing clarity, you can go back and rework your theory: If an opponent’s curved line of attack is longer than your straight line, then you need to find a straight line attack that’s even longer. The straight line theory still works, but the best way to deal with hooks isn’t necessarily to develop a faster step, its to utilize the straight kick.

I saw this playing out while watching Lyoto Machida fight. He forced his opponents to be wary of distance with the straight kick, and only when his opponents got frustrated and over reached did he close in quickly with punches. Although his fighting style was Karate and not Wing Chun, because I thought about the assumption I was making, I was able to relate it back to the martial art I was practicing. Slightly unrelated, I found this youtube video that breaks down Machida’s technique to be really interesting.

Set Metrics:

I talked about testing assumptions first because it transitions well from talking about the scientific method. But the main to getting results is to be able to see results, i.e. setting metrics. This is often talked about so I won’t really go into depth, but the most obvious example is that if you have a theory about how the market will play out in the next couple years, you set revenue metrics so that you know you’re actually making money on the bets that you’re making.

Again, not really going to talk about this much since its talked about a lot, but I do have to say that I have a lot of friends that are into poker, they all differ in opinion on poker theory, and many of them don’t know how much they’re up (or down) from playing poker. Just sayin.

Both quantitive and qualitative:

Setting metrics is easy for business related results or things that are easily quantifiable, but what about things that aren’t so easily measured? Ideally, it would be to estimate your ability in a certain area and record those estimates overtime — Sebastian Marshall writes about this in the “Unit of Account” issue of The Strategic Review:

My friend Nick Winter, who wrote the terrific book The Motivation Hacker, tracks his experiential happiness every day on this scale –

“Here is my happiness tracking scale:

1: Suicidally depressed.

2: Majorly depressed or in tons of pain.

3: Frustrated or annoyed or sad or hurting or generally unhappy.

4: A little down.

5: Okay, I guess.

6: Happy.

7: Happy to the point of smiling or rocking out.

8: Excitedly happy; awesome.

9: Everything is just perfect.

10: Contender for best moment of my life.

I like to think of it as a logarithmic scale, or rather two logarithmic scales, where each point above five doubles my happiness and each point below five doubles my unhappiness.

You can make your own scale with the bright lines that most clearly delineate different moods for you. The most useful one for me is that a 7 requires me to be smiling or rocking out or something like this--if I'm not physically reflecting the happiness, it's a 6 at best. My scale is nothing special, but having some sort of scale helps prevent drift.”

– entry from the Beeminder blog

Nick is a wonderful guy who has done a lot of terrific things in his life – and I think a big part of that is that he actually has a good unit of account for his happiness-over-time is.

Seriously, think of that! Winter developed a scale that works for him to account for precisely how happy he is!

It’s realistic, too – his “highly ambitious goal” during a summer project was to “…try to raise my average happiness from 6.3 to 7.3 out of 10.”

I think this is a wonderful approach, but in the beginning, its easy to be inaccurate with your own estimates. Also, trying to think about what areas to record can cause overwhelm. In situations where the area that you’re developing a theory for is a new area for you, I’ve found that a qualitative approach works well, and by qualitative I mean journaling. Journaling let’s you look back on your progress and see improvement or notice patterns, which is the whole point of setting metrics.

Eventually I think you’ll be able to estimate your own stats. Like its a sports video game where all characters have stats on speed, agility, defense etc. And you can see these improvements go upward.

Last thoughts:

Work on developing short term, low level theories first. Once you’re comfortable testing assumptions, setting metrics, and proving to yourself that your estimations are unbiased, you can move up to mastering higher level concepts.

Come back down too; once the higher level concept clicks, come back down and tweak / adjust the lower level stuff to reinforce your understanding.

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Thu, 08 Sep 2016 17:52:57 +0000
It takes experience to value strategy I remember when I first wanted to get good at basketball. Like anyone of course, I Youtubed Kobe Bryant moves and tried to learn them. I remember thinking that his advice was generic and inapplicable. His advice, however, is actually really good advice, it was just that it was inapplicable for me. That’s how many people view strategy; their inability to value it isn't because the strategy itself is bad (although sometimes it is) but because they don’t have the referential compression to understand it and see how they would apply it. With those Kobe videos, I was still new to basketball, I could barely shoot the ball let alone do a post up—fadeaway jumper...

This perception of generic advice was very similar to my early days of attending business conferences. At the end of the conference I would ask my fellow friend/audience member what he thought of the keynote and they would say something like, “Wow, it was so good. Thinking of retargeting pixels as a form of long term branding, that’s going to be amazing for my business”, and I would be thinking What? why can’t he tell me something that I can actually do today.

Only after I got better at basketball and learned fundamental movements, could I appreciate Kobe’s strategic choice of moves. Since I now know how to do a spin or finish with a reverse layup, I can string them together. I can appreciate the strategy behind that combo: your defender thinks you’re going to drive hard baseline, so instead you spin back into the paint, since you’re in the paint the big will come in to block your shot so you reverse layup using the rim as protection.

And as for my understanding of business, back then I didn’t even know what retargeting pixels were, and I still don’t really know what they are. But I’ve practiced running Google ads and Facebook ads, and I know how to use the Divi theme for Wordpress, and I’m decent at writing copy so basically I just write three ads and copy and paste the script that Google gives me near my contact form. Quick note: I haven’t actually done that yet, and I intend to implement it soon.

And the result, well, it’s not perfect, and will take refining, but the point is I can scrap something together, and when I can do that I can appreciate simplistic advice that sounds heady and do higher level work.

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Wed, 04 May 2016 23:44:49 +0000
Quick Wins Are Empowering I walked up to the front desk and asked, “I have some questions about my account, can I speak to a manager?”. I was at the gym, and my plan was to ask about why they charged a $30 fee, and a mailing I got saying they offered a $7 membership. I wanted to see i]]>

I walked up to the front desk and asked, “I have some questions about my account, can I speak to a manager?”. I was at the gym, and my plan was to ask about why they charged a $30 fee, and a mailing I got saying they offered a $7 membership. I wanted to see if there was leverage in negotiating a waiver of the $30 or my membership fee ($15) down.

The manager explained that the $30 fee was a yearly fee and that the $7 membership is a special membership that allowed you to only go 3 times a week. So, I didn’t get a negotiation win from that —

If you know me, I’m a big fan of Ramit Sethi and one of his main financial teachings is to have you negotiate a lot throughout the course of your life. When I first read his material I immediately agreed with his advice, but the thought of negotiating things seemed weird and out of the norm. I mean, I’m Chinese so I naturally inherited a lot of my Mom’s skills, but I didn’t know how to apply these skills outside of flea shops or Craigslist.

But since for the past year I’ve been playing the credit card signup bonus game, and incurred credit card fees and bank fees, I’ve made many attempts at applying Ramit’s negotiation techniques. His blog posts basically walk you through each step, and by following it, I’ve experienced how easy it is to win at these things. For example, I lost track of my Amex card and didn’t realize I didn’t pay the card for 3 months. This resulted in late fees of over $100. But Amex’s customer service is so good, all I had to do was call in and ask for them to be waived, and they did. When you experience wins like that, success can be addictive.

I get the same addictiveness to success feeling from fixing my car. My car had a lot of maintenance problems and it was a headache to fix. But with the help of one of my friends, I fixed one issue, then another issue, and now I just want to keep fixing, cleaning and maintaining my car (actually I’ve kinda become obsessed, I go on the forums and I watch youtube videos on what other people do...).

What stood out to me this morning as I talked to the gym manager wasn’t whether or not I got lower fees on my membership, but noticing how empowering quick wins can be. Moreover, while I was nervous in asking about my account, I still wanted to ask about my account. Like Ramit, I’ve become the type of person who negotiates. I didn’t become this type of person through pushing myself to negotiate at places like Macy’s or Krispy Kreme donuts in order to decondition myself out of the “its weird and not a social norm to negotiate” mentality — although I have tried to negotiate at Krispy Kreme before -- I became this type of person because the feeling of winning $100 just by asking is awesome and I want to win again.


Picture is of me at Sightglass Coffee in SF

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Tue, 05 Jan 2016 02:41:22 +0000
Hard tasks always become easy tasks in a few months I remembered when I first got out of college. I spent half my time building my video production agency and the other half doing content marketing for Fuzed. Once I got the hang of managing the podcast, Jake, my boss, gave me the project of creating feature release landin]]>

I remembered when I first got out of college. I spent half my time building my video production agency and the other half doing content marketing for Fuzed. Once I got the hang of managing the podcast, Jake, my boss, gave me the project of creating feature release landing pages with an accompanying explainer video for each new integration that came out. (Fuzed makes integrations similar to how Zapier works)

At the time, it was such a struggle to write the copy for the video, then write the copy for the landing page, then go into Wordpress and put it together. It took me days to get one done, and was painfully frustrating. This frustration lead me to think I would be much better off putting my time building my agency, why am I working for Jake? My agency work is creative and fun and these copywriting tasks are a pain. Of course, this attitude lead to a lack of initiative on my end, leaving Jake with disappointment.

When we parted ways, my initial thought was Yes now I have the free time to work on what I want to work on. But It’s been a year since that time and I regret dropping the ball and allowing Jake to be disappointed in me. It's not that I feel regret because of a loss of opportunity to work at Fuzed, but because I went from being an A player to being a C player once I was assigned set of projects that I wasn’t excited about.

If I think about completing the same project now, I could knock out a feature release landing page + video in a few hours. It seems so easy now.

Since the projects I’ve worked on at Fuzed, I’ve completed a lot of random freelance projects and many of them had really frustrating tasks. Tasks that weren’t fun challenging, but boring challenging. Many of them I felt underpaid and undervalued. But I acknowledge that this will continue to happen in life. You’ll always run into hard tasks that feel uninspiring. Grind through them. Tasks that seem mountainous now will feel really easy a few months later.

Yes, I can still see the the other side of this argument: It would be good for you to craft your life and career in a way that's free from tasks that suck energy from you, and fill it with tasks that give you energy and that you’re eager to do, but that’s something to strategize and tweak as you choose paths to take in the future. If there’s a current deadline and a project that needs completion, grind through it first. It’s not worth it to disappoint people, and definitely not worth it to see yourself as incompetent.

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Wed, 23 Dec 2015 21:11:47 +0000