I used to think multitasking was great, but it creates more hours, more stress and less productive work.
Keeping my projects in zen-like sync across devices and geolocations
I’m visiting my in-laws in Galicia and the items on the desktop of my (old) MacBook match those on my iMac that’s my main machine. In fact, the amount of sync between my devices is pure bliss; I don’t bat an eyelid picking up where I left off on Friday, thanks to the following setup. [Read more…]
Designing for a state of flow
A while ago, I went nuclear on every notification on my desktop and iPad. I killed them all, apart from one slack channel, which by default is not open. I check into it at intervals that work for me.
I did this because I realised these notifications were a constant distraction – I was either:
- trying to ignore them and complete my task
- Interrupting what I was doing to reading them then complete my task with a mind to reply at a good time
- or replying immediately and forgetting what I was last doing.
In all cases, the mere presence of that red circle was enough to break my flow.
The value of flow
Flow is the state of mind where everything comes together and ideas and solutions just seem to “pop” into your head. You’re working efficiently and productively without effort. It is the state of work bliss that all of us who love what we do wish to get into as quickly as possible, stay in for as long as possible and from which come our best ideas.
And flow only happens when you’re not being distracted or under pressure.
Since each distraction is said to result in an extra 20 minutes work after the distraction has ceased, the loss of productivity came with additional billable time (or working later hours, depending on who’s pain point you care most about in this story).
I realised if I was to deliver what I was paid to in the best possible way, in the best possible time, I had to be less available and make a calm state of flow my number 1 priority.
The value of focus for apps
If you want your users to get the most out of your products (assuming the product has an end goal that’s not “taking a break”), you need to promote focus and flow while inside your product. Game designers understand this, creating an immersive experience that doesn’t allow distractions from outside the game.
Outside of games, products that understand the value of flow include:
- IA Writer and Atom code editor, and even Word are now adding full-screen, “distraction free” modes to their products.
- Balsamiq has it’s own inbuilt soundtrack (timed at 25 minutes to match your pomodoro breaks) to help designer get into the flow and stay focused.
- Insight meditation timer has the option to mute all sounds outside of the app while you use it, which is main reason I use that now instead of Calm.
- Slack has a snooze and ‘Do not disturb’ feature
- There’s even a project management app called flow which lets your colleagues know when you’ll be available to talk in your status.
The anti-flow: alerts
Unfortunately for your product, it feels like every developer on earth decided that app notifications is the holy grail to increased daily interaction.
I have 80 apps on my mobile alone. And almost the same number on my desktop.
That’s 160 daily distractions at a minimum that are interrupting my focus when I’m using a new product for the first time or a complex product.
Not including email alerts.
So if you ever find yourself wondering how someone didn’t see the help section, or how they keep getting confused between the “sign in” and “sign up” button, remember that every other app we have is competing for our attention, all the time.
Browsing the app store for “focus” on Mac shows over 200 products. There’s something wrong when buy products to block other products we bought.
Moving away from notifications, some ideas:
- Allow users to choose for themselves what notifications are red-circle-worthy. When someone includes a user in a conversation, adds them to a group, a chat channel, or tags them into a task, allow them to decide what priority these alerts are, perhaps using an amber or yellow circle to indiciate “there’s new stuff here, but nothing urgent”.
They might be interested in the conversation, but not every message or update is red-circle-worthy. When everything is important, nothing is.
- Instead of alerts in task managers and work communication apps like Slack, Workplace and Asana, how about a summery feature at intervals the user sets?
Why? Many people in companies get tagged in conversations or tasks just to keep “in the loop” of what’s happening and not really expecting to comment.
A summery would give them an overview how many things had changed and allow them to drill down into the full details of the alert IF it warrants their interest. If not, the summary and it’s associated alerts can be archived. This is not the same as swiping away all the alerts at once. The process of reading 15 alerts is more time and cognition intensive.
And wouldn’t you rather your business communication tool act like a personal assistant, giving you the gist of what happened while you were in meetings all day and letting you find out more, rather than acting like an insecure intern needing approval for every small accomplishment?
I’m not pretending to have the solutions here, but I am interested in us thinking and discussing how to achieve a more calm, focused experience- both for our tools and for our work culture – to help us all put out our best work.
Don’t wait for launch to get users. Customer acquisition is part of your entire startup lifecycle.
Before launch, before testing, before development, before design. That’s when you begin to get users for your app.
It starts with your business plan.
This will include an outline of:
- The problem your product solves
- Who it’s aimed at and
- What they are currently doing to solve that problem.
This gives you a basic outline of who your audience is and where they might be online or in the real world (e.g. people who need to send money overseas might visit places with “great western union” stickers or ethnic food stores).
Look at support forms for the products and services they already use and see what they are saying for more snapshots of their problems and their current workarounds to the problem.
There’s a free business plan canvas downloadable at the bottom of this page if you don’t have one.
Setup a holding page right now
After your business plan, set up a simple coming soon page, describing
1. the problem you wrote in your business plan
2. that your solution will change that (don’t explain)
3. it’s coming soon and
4. sign up to be alerted.
Don’t get bogged down in branding or design at this stage. All you need today is a name and the text from your business plan.
What matters is the mailing list. That’s what needs to be in centre focus. Keep that super simple, to fill in, so only an email field.
That’s all you need for now. Less text, even.
You can get a page up today using wordpress and seedprod coming soon plugin. You’ll need an email list tool to connect the signup to, so if you have zero budget and no plans to upsell or use content marketing, go with MailChimp. If you do, use drip.
Why a mailing list?
This email list will help you out a lot as your design and development lifecycle continues.
- If you list blows up, you’ll know the product has validation.
- When you’re ready to launch, you’ll have a list of people waiting to sign up.
- the list allows you do to something really amazing: talk to those strangers who’ve signed up. You can ask them questions. Invite them to be your research subjects and/or beta testers and refine your plan and design even more.
There’s a research survey to copy and customise in google forms at the bottom of this page you can send them.
Narrowing your audience makes them easier to find
As I said in the Quirky Truth About Churn , you need to choose your audience early, narrowly and really get inside their heads in order to keep them using your product over the years. Otherwise, you’ll rely on continuous churn of new customers developing for the many needs and workflows of “everyone”. This results in complex, bloated software which nobody is passionate about using nor proud of creating. If you have enough money to spend on sales, marketing and support teams, that model can work, but most startups don’t have that kind of reach.
So, that leaves us with designing for customer retention, and that means getting to know your chosen audience. Interviews at the research stage mean you can solve your customers’ real problems and not just what our problems are when doing this task. These interviews can help give you an idea of where to target similar people for marketing and advertising.
For example, other than competitor support forums, are there:
- Facebook groups
- web forums
- LinkedIn groups
For audiences like your ideal customer?
What about ICQ groups? Skype groups? Twitter or Instagram hashtags?
Do they attend a real world event, like ComicCon, Yoga or CrossFit classes, industry conventions or local meetups? I’m not suggesting you spam online lists or hashtags or be that awkward person at Madrid Dog Lovers who has no pet but hands out business cards, but I am saying:
- A question on a forum or facebook group can inspire a blog post that works as inbound marketing
- That guest blogging on a platform your audience reads is possible if you have something relevant to say (and if your business is innovative, I imagine you do)
- Sponsorship of events and flyers at venues are not a bad place to start.
Is there an open slack group they hang out in? Some of those have announcements or collaborations channel.
Facebook, Instagram, and youtube ads are another great way of being able to target your audience based on what you know they like, and other demographic variables, which can be as granular as you like.
Tip: It’s better to be too specific than too vague in your demographics. Don’t be that person who thinks any unmarried woman over the age of 35 anywhere in the world wants to see wedding ring ads, and any married woman over that age wants to see diaper ads. Get specific, then a/b test and loosen up if you don’t see results.
If I only had the budget for two ads today, they’d be Instagram and youtube.
Put together a press kit
Everyone’s always looking for the new Instagram-killer to report on, so help them do that. How to create a press kit.
But how do I get people to overcome platform fatigue and try a new app?
I’ve said before that when a product doesn’t really solve your problem, people will be curious about what else is out there.
First, you need to find your audience. Then you need to get them to your site.
Your landing page – when it’s no longer a holding page- is what is going to sell them on the benefits of change. And it’s going to do that not with huge lists of features and technical details.
It’s going to do that by being mysterious.
And with giant high-res product images.
Take a look at this collection of landing pages. Notice anything?
Some product homepage examples
None of the screenshots are showing the groundbreaking things the text next to them promise. But they are gorgeous and big.
The text tells you what pains this new product solves, but leaves you wanting to know “how?”.
All you have to say is “most products that do __ are tied down by __. But not ours.”
And then “Try now free”. The “how” is for the FAQ under the pricing page.
Promote your product on startup discovery pages
There’s a lot of sites out there dedicated to showcasing new startups, digital products and apps. Sign up and submit to as many of them as you can.
Startuplister has a directory of industry specific blogs.
Now you tell me
Do you have an email list already? If not, why not? What’s stopping you from setting one up right now?
What are you currently doing to get customers? At what stage did you start?
Free downloads for you
(and Theresa May)
This article was inspired by a small article in the The Times a while back (I’m not able to find it today) which claimed that it was “bad data” that cost the conservative party votes in the snap election. I’d been joking about how the Evil Queen from Snow White was the most metric driven villain for a while, so without further delay 7 things I learned about “bad data’ from the Evil Queen (and Theresa May)
1. Start with a goal
In both Teresa’s and the Evil Queen’s case, their goal was the same: to rule the land. This is the step everyone is good at.
2. Fairest in the land: the vision of success
This is the stage where it starts to go wrong.
Often for businesses, the vision is a target number that seems pulled out of the air, such as “double our revenue in X timeframe”.
For the Evil Queen, being the fairest in the land seems pretty abstract from the goal of ruling.
For Theresa, it was to hold a snap election and get a mandate.
3. The five why’s
If step number 2 is where people start to go wrong, then step 3 is your safety check.
It’s worth taking a moment to check your assumptions with the five why’s.
- Q1. why does being the fairest of the land matter for ruling?
Because people associate beauty with goodness.
- Q2. Why is being seen as good matter for ruling?
Because people will be more loyal to me.
- Q3. Why is people being loyal to you important for ruling?
Because I inherited this kingdom from my dead husband, have no heirs, and my position is very weak. Therefore I need loyalty of the people to remain in power.
We’ve actually gotten to a really important point before even getting to question number 4, so lets turn it around:
Is being the most attractive in the land the best use of available resources to making your position more solid?
Not really. Maybe drop an email to queen.Isabella@castile.es for hints and tips.
The five why’s applied to the Tories would have gone something like:
- Q1. why now the best time to hold an election?
Because Corbyn’s unelectable and may be out soon so now is the best time.
- Q2. Why is he unelectable?
Because he’s a jam making socialist with an allotment.
- Q3. Why is being a socialist unelectable?
Because people are insecure about jobs and money.
- Why are people who are insecure about jobs and money opposed to socialism?
The assumption is flawed, and it’s flawed about enough of the UK population to result in a hung parliament, as it turned out.
Some people get defensive about being asked these kinds of questions because they think their target goal is “obvious”.
I was having an informal conversation with a friend of a friend, a lady who runs a small business. She didn’t like being asked why having a message board was important to success. But a message board needs sensitive and perpetual moderation, clear community standards, and community building efforts to keep it active as well as additional hosting costs, which is a lot of additional time and costs for a one woman outfit.
Before undertaking a “Self-evident” strategy, you need to drill down and ask the questions, because there might be a more direct, inexpensive solution.Before investing in a 'self-evident' strategy, drill down and ask the questions. Click To Tweet
4. “and so?” : The strategy
If the five why’s aren’t followed, you’ll roll ahead with a strategy that may yield the opposite results.
For Queenie, her unchecked “and so?” lead to “kill the prettiest girl in the land”. For Teresa, it was to encourage labor voters to vote, since Tory HQ were sure that Corbyns’ unlectability would equal votes for Tories.
5. Check your goal alignment
Does your vision align with your strategy?
The queen’s answers to the five whys showed that her underlaying need was to win hearts and minds to secure loyalty. Hunting teenage girls does not align to that need.
But I can’t blame the Evil Queen too much. It’s not like she had two advisors and campaign strategists at hand.
6. The Metric: how will you know the goal has been achieved?
Finally, we get to the part where metrics come into play.
I have to give it to the Evil Queen because in a day and age of fuzzy goals, “heart in a box” is as black and white as you can get.
For the Tories it was higher voter turnouts in Labour areas.
In both cases, you have to ask “can this metric be misinterpreted?”
- “Does higher voters in Labour areas really mean they’ve voted for you?”
- “Are you going to DNA test that heart, love?”
7. Test often and change strategy until you get results.
When the Evil Queen received Snow’s ‘heart’ in a box, I like to imagine she drank Cava, played Dancing Queen on loop, and had a monologue to imaginary Snow White in the mirror. We’ll never know.
What we do know for sure is that the next morning she checked in with her magic mirror, same as always.
And when she saw the heart-in-a-box metric was flawed, did she ever change track, testing her methods with her mirror each time until she got results.
First, there was a magic belt that cut off snow white’s breathing. Then there was the poisoned comb, and finally the poisoned apple. That’s adaptability and data driven results.
In this department, it’s Evil Queen 1: Theresa May 0 because tory MP’s and May herself knew the strategy wasn’t working, but they didn’t – were not allowed to- change track.
The take-home about ‘bad data’:
It’s easy to blame ‘bad data’ from opinion polls and magic mirrors, but both are is just one step in a chain of decisions and strategies made by people. People can interpret data wrongly because they’re too invested in one outcome. People can set flawed strategies and metrics to measure the wrong things.
In other words, if you want “good data”, get good data people. That means people not too clouded by a particular “need” for a specific outcome, or strong beliefs in how things are or “should be”, “will be” or “always have been”.You need an open, curious mind to interpret data fully — and to hear it’s interpretation– without delusion. Click To Tweet
It seems too much of the world prefers to downplay their role in bad strategic decisions and regard data as only so much smoke and mirrors that lead them astray.
This article first appeared on medium under the title “Everything I learned about “bad data” from the Evil Queen”.