Monday, September 29, 2008

The Official To-Do List

Hipster PDAImage by BigBlue via FlickrIt's 3am and you've just woken up from an entertaining, yet extremely confusing dream.. you can't find any pants, but you're pretty sure you're wearing a bathrobe and it might even be on right-side-out today. You have to start effective working in less than 5 minutes or else you'll be losing precious moments that you need to use to get things done. If only you could remember what the hell that was supposed to be.

In order to hit the ground running at any given moment I find it critical to have a to-do list and to keep it constantly updated. When you are just about to fall asleep at night and your tasks are fresh at hand make sure you've captured everything you need to on your to-do list. I like to pick one task to start off with and I usually highlight it, or put a start next to it, so that when I look down in the morning all I have to read is one thing; the one with the star by it. No matter what else is going on around me, (or not going on around me) I know what I'm supposed to do, and sometimes it takes some forcing to get the hand and brains to do it, but I know I've got to do what I need to do to get it done.

If this kind of list is not present, it can sometimes take a while to hit the ground and pick up where you left off. Especially if you're groggy and can be easily distracted. To have a defined task to check off makes ignoring work much harder because it gives you a direct short term goal to look forward to.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Time for work and time for play

Something my father always used to tell me,

There's time for work and time for play.

This comes into play in a big way in this discipline. Last weekend was time for play; we went apple picking, spent time with friends, visited family in Maine, went to a local theater show and didn't get a lick of work done for most of the weekend. But we had fun. During the week I plugged along at my usual pace, which is basically 2 hours of work before leaving for "the job" in the morning, quick details and phone calls at lunch and 2-3 hours in the evening usually broken up by diner, the gym, reading, and Wii MarioKart.

This weekend we really wanted to start our initial sales push out in the field, so there were a lot of details to button up and things to prepare. So this weekend was the time for work. I got an especially early start at 3am Friday morning to get 3 hours of work in before the "job", and cane right home to plug away for another 4 strong hours.

By "strong hours" I mean that they were very effective hours.

When working, work; when playing, play.

To stay effective, at least for me, it is critical that I spend the extra 5 minutes a day updating the official to-do list. It helps me stay on track by giving me something to come back to in times of aimlessness.

Saturday was squeezed for all it was worth as we neared a milestone in the assembly of our new product. Packaging was assembled and verbiage was finalized for some supplemental materials. We did get in a walk in the rain and about 40 minutes of video games, but we switched off playing games and doing assembly, I considered this to be "play time" but while still getting work done. Sunday was much the same as we worked steady all morning together and went out selling in the afternoon. After 3 straight (successful) days of working and not a lot of sleep, we transitioned out of work mode, stopped by the Redbox to rent a movie, (We got the Forgotten Kingdom which was very good) and had some dinner and apple pie to follow.

Dinner was leftover soup. We've been trying to cook a lot of one thing so that leftovers are plentiful and we don't have to do as much cooking.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Portability of the Chicken

LONDON - NOVEMBER 28:  PETA (People For The Et...Image by Getty Images via Daylife If you're working to create a business it better be something that excites you, (IF IT'S NOT, STOP RIGHT NOW!) and since that is the case, it's likely that it will be on your mind ALL the time at one level or another. So thoughts and ideas are will come to you when you least expect it. Make sure you're prepared for the thoughts when they come. If you're on the road, a soccer game, or a movie make sure you've got some tool that you can use to record your ideas. It's good to keep them all in one place so that you don't lose them at the end of the day.

If you have a PDA or Blackberry, these can be good tools. I have an antiquated PDA that was given to me a few years ago. It doesn't have any bells and whistles, but it records my ideas and that's all I need. The best part is that it has voice recording too, so if I'm in the car (as I often am) I can still record my ideas without crashing and dying. When I get home I plug it into the base and it syncs with my computer so that all of my files and tasks are in the same place.

I think it's important to take a few minutes (or hours even) to get these conveniences set up. It can save oodles of time if you have a nice system in place, even if it's one small notebook that lives in a certain pocket or is accessible to you all the time.

The point is, if you're trying to do things you enjoy, you're going to have to be able to get some amount of work done away from your desk. And in this day and age that's not too hard to accomplish, and it makes a huge difference for productivity.
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Monday, September 15, 2008

Working while on the job

ThingsImage via Wikipedia

It’s immoral and unethical to do side work while someone is paying you to do your actual job. As difficult as it is to get to work at forget about your moonlight endeavors, it MUST be done. Learn to focus on what you’re “supposed” to be doing and not what you might rather be doing. The reason you’re moonlighting is so that you can keep your job and security, but if you’re get caught doing side work you might not have your security much longer. Besides the fact that it’s just not the right thing to do.

However, subconsciously you will be thinking about your moonlighting endeavor(s) and it’s important to keep them within a “second or third level of consciousness” (behind your actual job) so that when you come across something that is relevant both to your day job AND your moonlighting, that you recognize that and put a placeholder in your mind as not to forget about it when you get home. Such things like company websites, software applications, online tools and calculators, etc. are a few examples among many other that can be useful to you in both vocations, and might be worth a quick email to yourself with a link, or if you use an online bookmarking tool like Google Bookmarks it’s really easy to just hit the “bookmark” button and then you’ll have it for later!

Also, don’t forget that despite what your job may require for work load, you are still legally entitled to a couple 15 minute breaks throughout the day during which (depending on the leniency of your job) you might not be able to directly work on side projects but you can at least think about it and be planning your next tasks in your head so that when you get back home you can hit the ground running.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Going to the lake

I'm headed up the family lake today for some "R&R". I've asked my wife to drive so that I could do some proof-reading of my new provisional patent application. A great free tool to use if writing a provisional patent application is PatentWizard. (there is a $300 version that offers more functionality, but I used the free one which seems to work.)

Try to use every free second you can to think about or work on your new business, BUT DON'T forget about your priorities and obligations you have aside from work. At least in my case family always takes priority, so don't forget to relax once in a while and have fun with the people you love!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Don't litigate over meaningless details

I ordered business cards the other day. I probably spent 1 hour total doing the graphic design for them; fairly basic stuff. Nothing to get hung up on now. What I'm looking for is just something that I can hand someone and it will be something official so that they will take me seriously, and it will be functional so that they know who I am and how to contact me.

I only ordered 250 cards so that if I do get more serious about the design and want to make it more impressive, it's not a big loss. And I'll have to re-order within the next 6 months anyway and if the company has evolved at all that will be reflected in my business cards during the upgrade.

The cards I got aren't even that great, I'm not super impressed with how they look, but they are professional enough. They are NOT printed on Avery paper with perforations and floppy paper, but they are only one step above that.

  1. Would I change them? Yes.
  2. Do I think it is worth it to change them right now? No.
  3. Am I glad I only spent an hour designing them? YES!!
Don't let yourself get hung up on these details, there are more important things to worry about.

First Tip: Don't start a BLOG!!

Whenever you find yourself doing something new, taking on a new task, getting distracted, etc., take a minute... (sometimes several are needed) and ask yourself:

  1. What is my end goal and is this going to benefit me in the long run?
  2. Will the outcome of this task be worth my time to myself and my new company?
  3. How can I complete this task most efficiently?
  4. Can this somehow be a tax write-off??
I'm justifying creating this blog because I really don't have any idea how to start a company and I'm much better at communicating and formulating thoughts via written language so it will be a benefit to me to get my thoughts into writing so that I can go back on them later and more easily discuss them.

Playing Catch-up on the last 3 months...

Since I just got the idea to start the blog I think I should recap some of the key items that I have gotten done over the past few months.

The concept for my company is not new. Like I said, the childhood dream is being an "inventor" so that's where this idea comes from. And seeing my creations come to life, as well as the prospect of independence is the enduring motivation.

Now for the fun details...

My Flagship Product!
My first product I had the idea for while I was taking a break at work and trying to find something to take my mind off the job for a few seconds. So it is a game, and like I said I'm not going to be able to divulge what it actually is until it's actually released and I'm comfortable, but it is a novel 3-D board-game that (I hope) looks absolutely stunning when set up so that it will make a great desktop game, coffee table game, conversation piece, etc... So this product is giving me the motivation to start a company and will be my flagship product that will get most of the attention in the first year.

The Name Game! (I've finally got one!)
The first thing I did was write down lists of abstract words and concepts, (shapes, sounds, colors, etc. that pertain to the product) philosophies that I'd like to retain, my name and my wife's name and all anagrams thereof and anything else that sounds good. Then reading through them a second time gives you a pretty good idea as to whether they are actually good or whether you were just tired and silly when you wrote it.

Don't forget to check if the domain name is available, and also don't forget to check if the trade name is already registered with the state. If you want to trademark, don't forget to check the trademark office either.

The first name I came up with was a short one-syllable anagram of mine and my wife's initials followed by the word "design". I purchased the webspace (it had a "-" in it... oops..) and I sent in my trade name request to the state. ($50)

send the trade name request (and get it approved) FIRST! Or do your research on whether or not it is available.

Needless to say, after creating a simple logo in Photoshop (on which I probably spent no more than 1.5 hours), implementing the logo onto the product packaging, starting a bank account in the new business name, and purchasing the domain name, I got the trade name request back and it was denied! There was a company with a similar name and apparently even if the name is slightly different and the function of the company is different, they can still deny you the name.

So the second time around I did a little more research, didn't find any similar names, sent in the trade name request and got it approved!

I found that the Citizen's Bank at Stop & Shop is open late so I can go there to change the name at 6pm when I get home from work.

I'll have to keep playing catch up in a later post. And at some point these posts will get much shorter so that I can give you a briefer update (so you don't have to read as much) and still get some work done.

Enter: The Chicken Entrepreneur

A "Chicken Entrepreneur" is a term I recently came upon that describes my current endeavor. This is a person who would like to start working for themselves, but is just a little too chicken to quit their job and take the leap into uncertainty. I'd like to start this blog as a detailed account of my entrepreneurial attempt to create my own company during the wee hours of the night and in any spare moment I can snatch up.

I'm a 27-year old mechanical engineer with a wife and probably a young one within the not-so-distant future. So I will be juggling, for your entertainment and education:
  1. Family life
  2. Romance
  3. Finding a house to settle down in
  4. Eating, so I don't perish
  5. A full-time job (a one-hour commute from my apartment)
  6. And everything that goes along with starting a business
  7. Oh yeah... and writing a blog.
FIRST TIP for the chicken entrepreneur:
These are precious moments that I could be getting work done, but I'm going to try it so that I can document my progress and also attempt to give YOU a first hand account of what really goes on, and some tips from things I've learned along the way (usually the hard way).

My company and products will go nameless until I've reached a comfort level that I'm not yet at, but they relate to and support my childhood dream of being an inventor. As an engineer I'm pretty close to fulfilling that dream, but there's something lacking, some degree of independence that I don't have and will never have working for someone else. I work on consumer, medical, and military products for a small design firm in Massachusetts. But the projects are inherently not my own and that's what I'm looking to gain. That, and the financial and temporal independence that everyone wants these days, at least us "Millennials" that can't stay put for more than a few years and incessantly strive to improve our lives any way we can. Which means that no matter what, we always ask for and expect just a LITTLE bit more than we have.

So stay tuned and hopefully we'll all learn something through this!