It's tough to sum up Nilofer Merchant in just a few sentences because she's accomplished so much. The "Jane Bond of Innovation" has helped launch more than 100 products, worked for the likes of Apple and Autodesk, written two books, given TED talks and she just received a Thinkers50 Award for "Future Thinker." So it's no surprise that her personal network numbers in the thousands. Here's how she manages to maintain productive relationships—and how she keeps making new ones.
6 or 7 a.m.
Besides brush my teeth? Coffee! Every friend of mine is so jealous because my hubster brings a cup of java to my bedside, along with my iPad, in the morning. (He is an Early Bird and always wakes up before I do.) I need the first 30 minutes alone to remember how to be civilized.
I do a quick review of news sites and Twitter. Then, I turn my attention to email to answer easy/short ones right away and triage the inbox. A little while ago, I was getting 300 emails a day; luckily I found a way to reduce the volume and to be more efficient at it, because that deluge of incoming was sapping all my energy.
Apps And Other Assets
I've fallen head over heels in love with Mailbox. I really need a UI that lets me cue emails. Emails are my running to-do list. If I know I'm going to write a particular piece on Wednesday and I have clippings from the webs and snippets of ideas in different emails, I just cue them to all arrive at one set hour on a set day. It lets me triage much faster and thus see the forest for the trees. When I'm traveling and I know I need to write back a more considered response, I can simply move it out of my inbox into a time slot where I am more likely to be near a full keyboard/computer.
There are three parts: 1. I am clear about what I want. I'm almost obsessive about returning to my "true north" and being clear with myself what it is I most seek. Productivity is a measure of how well to achieve a goal, so you've got to get really clear on what you want. Right now, I'm furiously developing the thesis of what creates "advantage" in these modern, social times. It's an alternative and more progressive view to Michael Porter's work—the Harvard strategist that shaped the governance and models best suited for the industrial era. I wrote the hypothesis in my second book 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era (which got named by Fast Company as one of the best business books of 2012), but I am now completing the research and formula so that more people can adopt it. This informs a lot of what I put my attention into today.
2. I surround myself with fellow travelers. Networks are the new companies. None of us create value all by ourselves; it's our connectedness that let's us create work. We’re doing stuff with other people. And these people—a network, using the more technical term—in our lives shape who we are (by influencing what you think about) and what we make (by helping us get things done). So I am pretty thoughtful about who gets on my calendar and making sure to stay in touch whose opinions and ideas I want to shape mine.
3. I eliminate all the negativity and draining work. Every six months or so, I'll pause, look at what's working, what's not, and then simply problem-solve. Later today, I'm going to be moving all my financial stuff to Freshbooks. I need a way to do invoicing from wherever I am, and I was finding things used to wait until I got back to home base, and so spending an hour or so today should buy me more writing time later. This idea applies to relationships too. Honestly, don't hang with people who don't feed your soul. Life is too short.
After I tuck my kiddo into bed—which always takes longer than I want it to but is always the sweetest moment of any day—I always close my eyes and say the same prayer, "I am restless until I rest in you." It's from Saint Augustine. It reminds me to be driven by things other than my own ego.
On a good day, I rack out at 10 or 11 p.m. Sometimes I am more restless than that.
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[Images courtesy of Nilofer Merchant]