How to Leverage Executive Summaries to Learn More in Less Time

Learning more in less time: all you have to do is decrease the noise and increase the signal.  You can improve the signal to noise ratio in many areas of your life.  This is done by setting up amplifiers and creating filters.

Filter provided by summaries:
Filter books before buying them – Executive summaries the perfect way to filter books before buying them.  They will save you time and money!

Amplifier provided by summaries:
Increase comprehension and retention – We learn in layers and an executive summaries help your mind prepare for each chapter and the entire book, and they also help crystallize the information when used for post chapter review.

Background

I am not a fast reader, but I still make the time and invest about 15 hours every week to further my understanding of business and marketing.Since I was about seventeen years old, I have averaged about two books per week. On a side note, my reading speed and comprehension has started to increase, now that I schedule time to improve it. I supplement the books I read for videos and DVDs, when possible and appropriate, to increase my comprehension and retention of the information.

Going to the library is time prohibitive and therefore cost prohibitive for me, due to the hourly rate I assign to my activities. I also tried using a runner to pick-up books for the local library, but quickly found that the new releases and many of the esoteric works I was after were not available or currently out of stock. Buying lots of books was my only option until I discovered how to leverage executive summaries.

Discovery

Here is what I discovered: executive summaries can be leveraged to improve the process. The end result, I can learn more in less time, and save alittle bit of money as well.

It takes me about twenty minutes to read an executive summary. This means I can read forty-five executive summaries in the time it takes me to read two books. I do not read forty-five summaries per week though, not even close. I use them as a filter, and then make the decision on whether to listen to the audio summary and/or buy the book.  This method of reading the summary as a successor to the blurb puts an additional filter between the blurb and the book. The blurb is still useful, but it becomes one of two decision making factors. I can choose to delve deeper into those books which seem interesting, even if they have totally rubbish blurbs; it happens! The executive summaries can also be leveraged on the backend as well, as the basis from which to build notes to improve comprehension and retention. After all, it’s not how fast you can read but how much you can retain and then apply.

Research

Not all executive summary services are created equal. I know this because I have tested several executive summary services. I compared them to each other and choose summaries of books I had already studied. While the framework of the summaries was constant, the quality of them was not.

  • Some services missed key points and concepts that I felt were key.
  • The amount of summaries in their library, type of summaries, and the number of new ones that are created each week is another area where the services could be differentiated easily.
  • The number of summaries in their library and number produced each month was also a major decision making factor after quality.
  • Another area that I used to differentiate the services was value added services (e.g. audio summary, eReader file, and more).
    • Most offered service’s like these, but the quality of the audio presentation both in presentation and fidelity varied, provider to provider; for some the audio summaries felt like a complete after thought.

After completing my research, I purchased a subscription to GetAbstract whose tagline is fittingly ‘compressed knowledge’. I also called and chatted w/ one of GetAbstract’s founders.  It may interest you to know that, one of the main reasons they started the company is to make business knowledge more accessible around the world aka for people who don’t speak English or America which ever you prefer.  This is a noble goal that reminds me of just how lucky those of us that live in America are.

In my opinion, GetAbstract is hands down the best quality executive summary service.  They produce 50 new summaries of the best business books each month, and have over 6000 summaries in their library.

We have since entered into an affiliate relationship with GetAbstract and are in the process of adding a banner to the jiveSYSTEMS Blog.  Currently, they are 1 of only 3 businesses we recommend.  Infusionsoft and Web Video University being the other 2.

Free Executive Summaries

You can acquire 2 complimentary executive summaries from GetAbstract by visiting their homepage.

I also negotiated to be able to offer you a three summary packet to help you quantify the value proposition of their service.

In addition, I handpicked 3 of their best summaries!  The summaries are entitled:

  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High;
  • Email Marketing by the Numbers;
  • and The Customer Rules.

You can download them here.

I hope this post contributes to you building a system that will help you learn more in less time. If you have a strategy for learning more in less time, please feel free to share it in the comment section below. Also, I will gladly answer any questions you may have about this post; if you have a question, you can leave it in the comment section below as well.

The Problem Box: A Way to Keep Yourself and Others Focused

In the past few months, I have been using problem boxes to keep my business’ clients and team members focused on the important issues.

What is a Problem Box?

A problem box is a simple and effective way to isolate a specific problem and stay focused on solving it at that point in time, or to come back to it in the future. All the data is put into the problem box, organized, and then used to find the best solution. The better the input data, the more effective the solution will be.

Why do I need to use a Problem Box?

Large corporations spend months, even years, putting data into problem boxes; paying top executives to crunch the data and design solutions for their board of directors to review. Small businesses tend to solve problems on the fly. Neither of these solutions is optimal. When you invest a lot of time, the data gets blurred and as a result, the solution becomes compromised and in some cases unnecessary, due to other changes in the company. Solving problems quickly tends to produce patch type solutions and your business starts to look like one big band-aid.

How can I use a Problem Box?

Let’s say, for example, your website isn’t generating enough traffic. Gather all the data you can quickly and put it into one document. Then, get a brief outside opinion from key members on your team and anyone else’s feedback that you value. State the problem clearly, give them a link to the page, and ask for some input. In the case of a low traffic web page, it would be wise to list your current promotional efforts related to the page and add links to the collaterals or an outline of what is being done at present.

Bonus: Once you have clearly defined a problem box in a conversation, you can easily gauge other people’s understanding of it by how close their responses in conversation relate to the actual problem. Most people are 2 to 3 levels removed from the actual problem. This means you need to adjust the conversation by refocusing people on the matter at hand. Now, if it’s your superior that is digressing, you will want to sandwich the adjustment by acknowledging their comment, suggesting your ‘idea’, and asking for their thoughts. Simple: Acknowledge their idea, suggest your ‘idea’, and ask for their thoughts.

When do I use a Problem Box?

You should use a problem box for any situation that arises in which you cannot definitively determine which decision will lead to the continued success of your company.

TAKE ACTION AND IMPLEMENT

  1. Write down the 3 biggest problems you face in your business.
  2. Ask yourself how much time you spent solving them in the past month, in relation to the time you have spent on other tasks.
  3. Clearly identify each problem and list all the related items, and email the information to key members of your team, along with 3 trusted friends.
  4. Stop any and all activities you and your business perform that are not critical to your daily operations. Minimize all your company’s other activities as much as possible – close for two days (or more if you can) to achieve this , tell your clients you are overhauling a major system [aka holding a company wide meeting to solve your problem boxes].
  5. Identify the best solution for each of your three biggest problems, design an action plan to make the necessary changes, and implement them as quickly as possible.

How to Increase ROI without Spending a Dime

If you are looking for tricks for increasing your ROI, you won’t have to look as far as you may think.  In fact, if your company currently has 200 or more prospects on its list, there are litanies of easy ways to generate more business by making little adjustments to the systems you already have in place.  These small changes will yield big returns.

Start by tracing each of your lead generation funnels back to the point of sale.  If you have several, focus on the ones that have the greatest number of leads running through them.  By putting yourself in a cold prospect’s shoes and navigating through the tunnels that lead back to your order forms, you will gain the perspective you need to make the proper adjustments that will increase your ROI.  Usually, the areas where the most leads are being lost are the conversion points (e.g. free test drive or demo landing pages).  Adding a video to your free trial pages and demo registration pages is a surefire way to improve the number of names you capture, but you still have to turn them into sales.

Personality profiling is a massively underutilized method for improving the way you and your company communicate with both your prospects and members.

Personality Profiling 101

Here are the four primary ways you can identity someone’s personality.

DRIVER – Dominant.  Their element is fire.  They’re direct, a leader, decisive, they dominate and get things done.  Powerful.  If a driver could choose an animal that represents them, they’d choose a bear.  If they were a shape, they’d be a triangle because it’s the pointiest, most angular, and most aggressive two-dimensional shape you can have.  If a driver were playing a video game character, he’d be the barbarian, the tank, or the warrior.

EXPRESSIVE – Social, chatty, a story teller, spirited, excited, romantic.  They’ll promise the world, because that’s the friendly thing to do.  Gets along well with others. These people are the entertainers. Element – air. Popular.  Animal – Monkey.  If they were a shape, they’d be a squiggle because of their jovial and jumpy nature. If he was a video game character, he’d play the buffer, the dps, the agility, or the spy.

AMIABLE – Laid back. Easy going, nonchalant, relaxed, neutral, spiritual.  Peaceful. Element – Water.  Shape – Circle, because in the world of 2 dimensions, circle is God.  If they were an animal, they’d be a dolphin. If he was  playing a video game, he’d play the healer, the witch doctor, or the priest.

ANALYTICAL – The mental person.  Think, assess, make lists, evaluate, analyze.  Element – Earth.  Perfect.  If an analytical person were an animal, he’d be an owl.  If they were a shape, they’d be a square because a square has four perfect, equal angles.  If an analytical person were playing a video game, he’d be an engineer, a support character, or a sniper.

Summary: A driver likes it “my way”, an expressive likes it “the fun way”, an amiable likes it “the easy way”, and an analytical likes it “the right way”.

Everyone embodies all of these characteristics, however most everyone can be narrowed down to the two that they most exhibit.

None of these types are inherently good or bad.  They each have their upsides and downsides.  These classifications are for observing and chronicling our customers.

This classification system is another simple yet effective trick for increasing your ROI.  Armed with this information and insight you will be better equipped to understand, relate to, and most importantly interact with your prospects and customers.

Take Action and Implement

  1. Create eight tags in your CRM or Email Marketing System – two sets one for each of the four personality types; one set is for the dominant characteristic, the other is for the second most.
  2. Establish a protocol to update contact records after every call with what you’ve learned about the contact’s personality.
  3. If you have a list of warm leads that you have spoken with a couple of times, aim to tag everyone in it.  Now, instead of sending one marketing email, send four – one geared toward each dominant personality type.
  4. Leverage these tags when you call or interact with someone.
  5. Get creative and find a way to leverage this simple and easy to implement strategy in every area of your business.
  6. Watch your sales skyrocket!

What ways do you classify personalities? Let us know in the comments below.

This post was inspired by Jim Cecil who is the founder of the Nurture Institute.  He has become a dear friend, trusted mentor, and a roll-model for us at jiveSYSTEMS.  He has lived a breathed his life-long passion, one that consists only of nurturing others and helping them succeed.  Here is a link to Jim’s Blog which is ranked #1 on my blogroll.

Essential Computer Maintenance Tools

Everything needs maintenance: vehicles, houses, bodies, and your computer.  I bet that the day you bought your computer, it was a lightning fast machine – slicker than reindeer slobber.  After the honeymoon was over and the new computer smell wore off, most likely your boot up times increased, your shut down times increased, and the computer seems bloaty.  In the same sense that we need to change our fluids and tires on our car, we need to occasionally perform proper maintenance on our computer.

There are a few ways to keep a clean computer.  It all starts with keeping a clean desktop.  From there, we have to delve deeper into the roots of the cause of a slow computer.  Let’s look at some of the general reasons for a chunky computer:

  • Built up temporary files
  • A registry that is too cluttered
  • Any virus, spyware, malware, or whatever virus makers are calling them these days
  • Fragmented hard drive
  • Too many background programs running

In this article, we’ll explore the first three problems listed above and the Propellerhead’s solutions to them.

Clean Built-up Temporary Files

First of all, let’s look at some examples of temporary files:

1. Internet caches
2. Leftover fragments from an uninstalled program
3. Website cookies
4. Your recycle bin

Propellerhead, what is a “cache”?

When you visit a webpage or install a program or save a file, most likely a temporary file was created somewhere along there in that process.  On a webpage, your browser will save the info that took the longest to load (such as the images) in a “cache” file.  That way, if you visit the site again it can load it up quicker.  This is nice, but as internet speed increases, this function is needed less and less.  Every so often, we want to clean out these files.

How do programs leave fragments of themselves behind, even though I uninstalled them properly?

When a program is installed or uninstalled, it usually creates some temporary files necessary to perform the action.  When the program is finished installing or uninstalling, sometimes it won’t delete all of the temporary files there.  Over time, these files will add bulk.

Now why would files such as unkempt caches and leftover temporary files actually slow down your computer?

In an extreme circumstance where your hard drive is very full, they could rob it of its last amounts of free space, not allowing the HD to work properly.  In a more common case, they’ll force your HD to fragment large files or programs.  Fragmenting occurs when there’s not enough space on the drive to write a large file, so the computer has to break the file into smaller pieces located at different physical locations on the HD.  Then, when we want to access that file, it takes slightly longer to access it.

Okay, so how do we clean this all up?

You used to have to perform all these maintenance tasks manually, but I’ve found a wonderful program called CCleaner that does it automatically for you.  I’ve used CCleaner (which stands for crap cleaner) for over 2 years now, and I love it.  Once you install the very small (3MB) program, open it up and click the analyze button. Don’t change any of the settings that are checked on the left, they’re all set properly by default.  It will do its scanning and spit out how many MB it can clean.  Normally, the first time you run CCleaner, you’ll get a lot of HD space back — I deleted half a gigabyte  my first time, and I’ve personally cleaned someone’s computer and recovered 13GB worth of space simply by running CCleaner.

A word of advice for CCleaner: when it installs, it will ask you if you want to install Yahoo Toolbar too.  Please deselect this, because this is junk.  Uncheck everything except “Add Start Menu Shortcuts”.  The window should look like this before you install:
CCleaner Install Window

Here’s a video I made that goes over the installation process:

Reclaiming hard drive space isn’t the only way to un-bloat your computer.  We need to be on the lookout for any kind of infection and be proactive about its removal.

Install a Background Anti-Virus Program

If you still have the Norton trial version of anti-virus that shipped with your computer, get rid of that.  If you’re paying for an anti-virus program, that’s fine, but we can get a great program for free.

Two anti-virus programs that I’ve been studying over the past few years are AVG Free and Panda Cloud Antivirus.  Each tackles the solution in slightly different ways, but they both achieve stellar results.  I can say without a shadow of a doubt that AVG Free is a reliable anti-virus program.  I’ve used it for over three years, and I’ve installed it on most of the computers I work on.  However, the Panda program is an interesting new contender in the free anti-virus market. The main differences are that AVG also has a paid version, so they do try and get you to buy the paid program.  Panda does not have a paid version, so there are no announcements that recommend you buy anything.  Also, Panda has an interesting cloud computing method for its virus protection — it is a community looks out for all the most recent threats.  However, Panda also requires you submit your email to them, while AVG does not.  That being said, Panda has never emailed me in the 4 months I’ve had their program.
Both of these programs are great, and much better than whatever came with your computer.  Check them out!

Do you have any other tips for this type of computer maintenance? Any other great free anti-virus solutions that you use? Let us know in the comments.

Think-Automate: Do it, Automate it, Delegate it, or Ditch it

At jiveSYSTEMS, we teach small businesses, sales professionals, and online marketers how to leverage the tools and strategies that put them in the driver’s seat of their businesses.

.
We teach you how to automate repetitive tasks like:

  • Following up a first phone call with a new prospect or using an evergreen video
  • Recording evergreen videos to respond to the questions you get asked the most often
  • and a lot more…

The key to success is to know which processes can be automated and how to do so, without eliminating the human touch.   We must recognize tools and software, in most cases, serve to streamline human contact, not eliminate it.  Automation, in the way we are referring to it, only works when it creates a better experience for your prospects and clients!

The term I have coined to help people connect with our method is “Think-Automate.”  We leverage our video email and web video marketing system to build trust and rapport – to nurture relationships. Next we utilize our all-in-one business automation machine (Infusionsoft) to automate the appropriate customer-company interactions.

The old school mentality is “Do it, delegate it, or ditch it.”

We supplement this tried and true formula with our home-grown version of processing automation.

Our new skool approach is “Do it, automate it, delegate it, or ditch it,” or “Think-Automate.”

This methodology definitely presents the small business world with a vastly improved system to manage their daily operations so they can focus on growth.

If you would like to learn more about our company, visit www.jivesystems.com

Desktop Psychology: Declutter your Desktop, Unclutter Your Mind

Software companies pay computer manufacturers to put trial versions of their programs on your computer.  While this is a somewhat effective form of advertisement, these programs slow your computer down and clutter your desktop.

There is a reason that the home screen on your computer is called a desktop.  It’s a place for all the items you’re currently working on.  On an office desk, no one likes it when there are a hundred different items and miscellany spread across the work area of the desk.  The same goes for your kitchen counters and table.  We don’t leave partially eaten food on plates lying around for days (at least I hope not!).  The same goes for your computer desktop, anything that’s non-essential will distract you.  Studies show that productivity is inversely proportional to the amount of things that are on your workspace.  That’s what Desktop Psychology is all about — keeping your desktop free and clear of anything that you don’t use.

In order for us to keep our desktop proper, let’s look at some criteria that define what deserves to be kept on your desktop:

  1. Any program or file you use daily
  2. An internet browser
    1. Word processors
    2. Email clients
    3. Documents or folders you refer to daily
  3. Essential computer shortcuts
    1. My Computer
    2. My Documents
    3. Recycle Bin
  4. Recently downloaded temporary files, such as an .exe file to install a program.  The reasoning being we can keep track of them and so we don’t forget to delete them after their purpose has been served.

Following these rules, there should only be a few items (the essentials) on your desktop.  Now how do we properly identify and remove the unessential items?  Again, let’s define.

Some examples of unessential items are:

  1. Installation files that have already been used to install their respective programs
  2. Files and documents that could very well be put away into a proper hierarchy of files in your My Documents folder
  3. Shortcuts to programs that you do not ever use
    1. Your antivirus program. [It’s already running when you turn your computer on, no reason to have to click on it.
  4. Preinstalled bloatware, or programs that you do not use anymore

Installation files are simple enough to get rid of.  All you need to do is drag them to your Recycle Bin after making sure that you do not need them anymore.  However, there are some rules to follow.  If you see a file that says something along the lines of “install acrobat reader.exe”, or an iTunes installer, then you can feel safe deleting that.  Any file that is the installation file of a program that you already know is installed can be deleted.

The second step listed above is to move files and documents into a proper folder, sorted away.  If it’s a Word document, put it in My Documents.  If it’s a video file, put it away in My Videos.  Keeping your files put away into proper folders and keeping them properly named will help you find them when you need them.

To get rid of shortcuts that you don’t need on your desktop, (ask yourself: do you use them daily?), simply move the shortcut to the Recycle Bin.   The program still exists on your computer, except now you’ll have to go into your Start Menu to access it.  Not a big deal if you don’t use it every day.

Preinstalled bloatware and other programs that you do not use anymore need to be uninstalled properly.  To uninstall a program from a Windows machine, go to the Start Menu and click on Control Panel.  Then click on the icon that deals with uninstalling programs.  A list with every program you own will populate, and uninstalling is as simple as highlighting the program you do not want anymore and clicking the “uninstall” button.

Propellerhead’s rules of thumb for uninstalling programs:

  1. Never uninstall a driver.  Drivers are what allows two pieces of your computer to communicate with each other.  For example, your mouse needs a driver to properly communicate with your computer hardware, and your sound card and graphics card need drivers to communicate with the motherboard.
  2. If you don’t know what it is, DON’T TOUCH IT.  It may be a driver, or it may be an essential part of a program you use often. My best example deals with iTunes.  When iTunes installs on a PC, it installs a few extra helper programs that don’t have the iTunes name on them, such as one called “Bonjour”.  Before I was a certified Propellerhead, I was cleaning out my computer and thought to myself, “Self, what is this program ‘Bonjour’? I have never seen that before, and I certainly don’t use it.”  Unfortunately, that program is an essential part of iTunes, and I had to reinstall iTunes after my mistake there.
  3. If you haven’t used it in about a year, you probably don’t need it.  With everything migrating to online storage and management, you probably don’t need the same programs that you did 5 years ago.  Money management used to be done by programs such as Quicken or Microsoft Money, but now it’s more likely to see someone using their bank’s online system or websites such as mint.com to manage and track their assets.

After all is said and done, we should have a desktop that’s more or less like mine, shown here:

Video Email Coach Desktop

You can see that the only items on my desktop are a link to My Computer in the top left, my home folder titled “Reed”, the Recycle Bin in the bottom right, and a folder I’m temporarily working with, shown at the bottom next to the Recycle Bin.  I have a clean workspace that doesn’t hinder me when I’m sorting documents or trying to find an item. Everything is filed away properly in a hierarchy of folders.

Do you have any other imaginative ways to keep a clean desktop? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Big Monitors Improve Productivity: The Facts

Study after study has shown that larger monitors and multi-monitor displays increase productivity, especially when doing complex, cognitively loaded tasks .  Research also indicates that large displays can reduce stress.
.

You can buy a 24 inch monitor for a couple of hundred bucks.  If you are working off anything smaller than 22 inches, you are wasting time!

A study done by the University of Utah indicates that you would save around 2.7 hours per day when using a 24 inch widescreen monitor in comparison to a 18 inch standard monitor.

My laptop has a 14.1 inch widescreen display!  I upgraded to a 24 inch external display.  I don’t run dual-screens, quite frankly it confuses me.  I have been using my external display for around 3 months now.  The additional freedom provided by the vastly greater work area allows me to open more windows and switch between them easily.  I normal have around 30 browser windows open, along with several other programs.  On my 14 inch screen I can have 7 tabs open in Firefox per browser window.  When using my external display, I can have 19 tabs per window.  This is especially useful when I am doing research for articles and interpreting our monthly reporting (e.g. spreadsheets).

pic_of_my_monitor_and_desk

I like my external display so much that I think I am going to take it with me, when I go on my next holiday; smuggling it in the boot of my car [they won't find out until it's too late; hehehe!].

Lastly, the Utah study indicates that increases in productivity start to decrease, when you go above a 26 inch widescreen display.

Closing Thoughts

I would hazard a guess that once you acclimatize to a large display, you will be able to incrementally increase the size of your monitor and your productivity would increases.  This is because the eye limit has not yet be reached.  I believe that as the peripherals we use to interact with our computer change and improve – and as the actual interface starts to morph – we will be able to make huge leaps in productivity by using massive monitors or total immersion virtual displays.

Do you use a large monitor; do you feel it has improved your productivity?  Are you using a small monitor and possibly have questions about upgrading?  Also, this is the first blog post I have published using footnotes; do you have any suggestions or comments about them?

Don’t know which monitor to buy?  The ASUS VH242H 23.6-Inch Widescreen LCD is very good and costs only $200.  I got one for our office through Amazon.com, but you can buy it from NewEgg.com, PriceGrabber.com, and most other sites.