Progress, Plans, Problems: Sync Your Team with Updates

If the daily challenge of communicating with your co-workers is driving your crazy, you are not alone. Between all of the different tasks and moving pieces on your schedule, keeping your team members informed about your progress can be a frustrating challenge. It’s equally overwhelming trying to stay up-to-date on what your co-workers are doing. There is a huge amount of information to sift through.

Some companies implement strategies like progress reports and extra meetings to facilitate communication. But these are often time-consuming and they only add to the white noise. It’s time to clear your head. The key to successful communication is clarity, not buzz.

If you want to maximize the efficiency of your team’s status reports, think about using PPP.

PPP Streamlines Communication

Progress, plans, problems is an approach to communication that enables you and your team members to share what you are working on in a friendly and efficient way. The three P’s stand for “progress, plans and problems.” This technique is used by companies like Skype, Ebay, Facebook, and Seedcamp to streamline communication channels between managers and co-workers.

Every week, people report their top 3-5 achievements, goals and challenges in an email memo that is easy to read. It saves time and it helps keep everyone on the same page. The template looks like this:

  • Progress: What were your three biggest accomplishments this week?
  • Plans: What are your top three priorities for next week?
  • Problems: What are three problems you are facing? Problems usually require the help of other people to solve.

Rachel Veroff

It’s important to encourage your team members to give each other updates about their progress on assignments because it allows everyone to see the larger picture. These updates can happen daily, weekly or monthly, depending on your company’s needs.

The three P’s outlined above provide a de facto template to start from. Depending on what your company does, you might decide to add extra categories as you go along. The point is to keep everyone on the team informed and in sync, without wasting a lot of time with lengthy progress reports or meetings.

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The Definitive Guide to Daily Standups


When the business world seeks new productivity tools, it often turns its gaze to Silicon Valley, an industry famous for its ability to eliminate the cruft of the workday. But there’s one productivity tool that has its roots not in open-plan offices, but in military strategy boardrooms: the daily standup meeting.

The daily standup has its instructions in the title. It’s a daily meeting where participants stand. That’s it.

Ideally, the lack of chairs promotes a quick and effective meeting. If the conversation prompts a deeper discussion about a specific topic, it’s tabled for after the daily standup.

It’s a technique that American General William Pagonis used during the First Gulf War, where he served as director of Logistics. Each morning, he had 40 officers meet together in a conference room without a table or chairs. It minimized the need for pleasantries and unnecessary comments. Even military officers, it turns out, have a tendency to digress. Pagonis found that the format maximized productivity crucial to military success. Norman Schwarzkopf, in fact, salutes Pagonis as the “logistical wizard” of the Gulf War.

After hanging up is uniform, Pagonis brought this military precision to his corporate job as a Sears executive. He brought workers into a conference room sans chairs and had a quick run-down of the day. Under his leadership, Sears streamlined its business model, cutting delivery times in half. The standup, Pagonis says, was crucial to Sears’ success. When asked why the daily standup was so effective, he said, “When you sit down, a meeting goes for over an hour or an hour and a half, and you lose everybody. When people are standing, they talk faster or they say I don’t have anything to add.” It’s that simple.

The daily stand-up takes a lot of forms. Some offices do it once a week—others, twice a day. Some use chairs, some do it electronically. Some, as it turns out, are more successful than others. This guide looks at how and why daily standups are so effective, and the best way to implement one into your workday.

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Why Google Got Over Brainteasers

You’ve probably heard stories about Google’s interview process. The web is littered with examples of brainteasers interviewers have posed, including “How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?” and “How many piano tuners are there in the world?”

Brainteasers were another one of Google’s trailblazing company culture quirks essential to its “Googlieness,” like casual dress or napping pods. These head-scratching puzzles were touted as a meritocratic way to hire. The logic was, no matter where you went to college or what your SAT score were, if you could solve one of these questions, you deserve to work at Google.

But Google’s brainteasers are a thing of the past.

“We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” Laszlo Bock, senior VP of Google’s people operations stated. “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.” In fact, the people who succeeded at brainteasers were often the opposite kind of employee Bock wanted to hire.

While buzz-worthy, brainteasers have been abandoned for straight-edge processes and questions. Interviewers ask boring questions that you might hear from any other company. And they get better results.

Bock overhauled the quirky interview process in favor of hiring policies that yielded employees who would work hard and work smart. Here’s what he did.

Setting the Right Filters

Google receives 2 million applicants per year, and only accepts a couple thousand. Its huge applicant pool makes it 25 times more selective than Harvard.

In order to make sure they accept the right people, they needed to set the right filters.

Brainteasers, Bock found, were setting the wrong filter. He recognized that the brainteaser process represented a kind of macho one-upmanship. It asked interviewees to overcome intimidation and immense pressure, which often prevented creative thinking and embarrassed people.

Candidates who could talk their way out of an intimidating puzzle, then, were often over-confident in their abilities—the exact opposite of what Bock wanted in Google employees.

Bock values intellectual humility. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure,” he says, “and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” Bock says. He’s found that ego matters a lot in the workplace. To filter for people who with both intellectual chops and humility, Bock places a high premium on candidates’ ability to work in a team.

Here are some of the questions Bock asks now:

  • Tell me about a time when you effectively achieved a goal. What did your approach look like?
  • What were your targets and how did you meet them as an individual and as a team?
  • How did you adapt your leadership approach to different individuals?
  • What was the key takeaway from this specific situation?

Questions about teamwork help Bock find employees who are humble and can work autonomously.

Set specific goals for hiring:

Of course, companies value different traits. Zappos, for example, only hires candidates who are passionate about working there. To ensure that they’re getting the right people, they offer new hires $2,000 to quit. If they take the money and run, good riddance. If they’d rather be at the company, it’s a good fit.

It’s important to think about the qualities that differentiate your company and your team. By doing so, you can tailor your interview process to your brand.

Thinking Beyond the Resume

Bock also found that candidates’ college GPA had no correlation to job performance. “After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school,” he said, “because the skills you required in college are very different.”

More importantly, he notes, the skills a candidate needs now might look a different from the skills they’ll need a couple years down the road.

This is because Google is constantly evolving. And Bock looks for dynamic candidates who can evolve with it. To do so, he formulates questions that evaluate a candidate’s adaptability. This doesn’t mean asking them to design an escape plan for the city of San Francisco. It means talking to them about how they behave in numerous situations, and confirming this with references.

The big picture

Chances are, your company is also evolving. You’re growing, adapting, or scaling. And you need to make sure your employees are too. What do you want your team to look like in three years? Where do you see this candidate in that picture?

Considering long-term outcomes of a hire allows you to ease your company’s growing pains.

Auditions Trump Resumes

Another trick Bock uses is the active interview, or giving the candidate real work in addition to a sit-down interview. A lot of hiring managers are turning to a process of auditioning for a job rather than simply submitting a resume. They find it invaluable to have candidates try their hand at the job they’d be performing.

As Uber CEO Travis Kalanick says, “Simulating what it’s like to work together is the best way to determine whether somebody has the raw talent to not just do the job but to grow into something bigger.”

Automattic, which made the open source software WordPress, swears by the audition. They give applicants real work to do, and pay them for it at a rate of $25/hour. CEO Matt Mullenweg said, “There’s nothing like being in the trenches with someone, working with them day by day. It tells you something you can’t learn from resumes, interviews, or reference checks.”

It also gives everyone a sense of what it would be like if they joined: both employer and employee. Mullenweg continues, “It’s a mutual tryout. Some people decide we’re not the right fit for them.”

It’s similar to the advice Jeff Bezos famously gave in 1998: “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”

Tailor the Interview to Your Company

There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to finding the right employees. It will take extra time out of your day to review candidates’ work, or to develop an interview process that accurately predicts employee output. But as Bock’s example shows, it’s well worth the effort. Even if it’s boring.

And those pesky brainteasers? Use them to test yourself, or take a peek at the answers.

P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.

Your Employees Are Underperforming…They Just Don’t Know It

As an executive, criticism is an essential part of your job. Your role is to get your team working as efficiently as possible. This means reminding employees of impending deadlines, hounding them to finish tasks, and firing off nit-picky memos. It’s important work, but it comes at a high cost: employee confidence.

Hard and fast criticism might seem the quickest way to get your team to work better. But if negativity is all they hear from you, you’re harming your company’s productivity.

Unconfident employees are less likely to approach you with out-of-the box ideas, teach themselves a new coding language, or apply for that promotion where they would excel.

Confident employees are productive employees. The problem is, most people aren’t as confident as they should be, since they don’t accurately perceive their abilities and competency.

If they’re not cognizant of their capacity, they probably aren’t working at it. If they’re under-confident, they’re underperforming.

Here’s the good news: confidence isn’t fixed. By applying a couple of positive psychology tools, you can boost their confidence and their productivity.

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Want To Get More Done? Make Communication Harder

Of all the problems the country faces, very few of them make their way to Oval Office.

Yes, there are many problems for the president to solve. There is a lot on his plate. But for every one problem the president is briefed on, there are hundreds — maybe thousands — that never make it to the West Wing. They are intercepted along the way, solved or deemed not critical enough for the Commander in Chief.

It’s hard to communicate with The President. It’s hard to get in touch with the President. Politicians campaign on the promise of addressing everyone’s concerns. But that’s not what they do in office, not even close. It would be impossible. The flood of information and data flying in would crash the whole operation.

So they make it hard to reach the president. Any problem that actually gets there has been vetted and analyzed by many layers underneath him. This happens on purpose. It makes things work. Communicating with the president is hard.

Maybe your organization should take the same approach. Maybe your open door policy is making it too easy for people to hijack people’s time. Maybe adding a little friction to communication could be exactly what you need.

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5 Ways Using Daily Goals Helps You Level Up Your Productivity


This is a guest post from James Sowers.

The MBA programs at Harvard and Yale are widely known as some of the most competitive in the country, if not the world. Acceptance rates have hovered between 10-15% since the 1970’s. Those who complete their program can expect to receive salary offers starting at $100,000 or more with generous signing bonuses to help them make the transition from academia to the workforce. But, despite having a pool of the country’s best and brightest young business minds, a small selection of these graduates have made anywhere from two to ten times as much money as all of their classmates combined! What’s the difference? According to a series of studies done from 1950 – 1980, having “clear, written goals for the future and plans to achieve them.” At least that’s what the internet would have you believe.

As it turns out, despite being cited in hundreds of books, those studies never actually happened. They have since been refuted by social scientists, investigative journalists, and representatives of the universities involved. Turns out, the whole thing is just one long-lived urban myth. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that regular goal setting is still one of the most effective ways to level up your productivity.

Dr. Gail Matthews, a researcher at Dominican University, received over 149 responses to her study that attempted to arrive at a result similar to the previously mentioned ivy league interviews. Participants were divided into five groups, ranging from those who simply thought about their goals to those who not only wrote them down, but also shared them with others and engaged in weekly progress reports. After four weeks, participants were asked to rate their progress. Here are some of the results:

  • Those who wrote down their goals and were responsible for submitting progress reports to someone else where the most accomplished.
  • Every group that wrote down their goals (Groups 2-5) significantly outperformed those who simply thought about their goals (Group 1).
  • When writing down your goals, there was no statistical advantage to sharing your goals with someone else.

In the end, there was enough scientific evidence to support that writing down goals, committing to those goals over time, and having some method of holding yourself accountable all lead to improved performance and greater achievement. So, we can agree that writing down goals is a good way to be more productive, by why?

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Why Nature Should Be Part Of Your Working Space

What’s difference does your physical environment have on the work you do? Quite a bit.

In a 2002 study, two groups of high school students were asked to spend some time making creative collages. One group made their collages in a setting with direct sunlight and natural wood surrounding them. The other group was in a room built of manufactured materials not found in nature, like drywall and plastic.

When a panel of six independent art critics viewed the students’ finished work, the results were overwhelmingly clear. The students who worked in the natural environment produced more innovative and creative pieces.

It makes perfect sense, our species was designed to wake with the sunlight. For millennia we’ve worked outside, hunting and farming and building societies. We lived in nature and then build shelters of wood and stone.

Then, everything got all … artificial. Synthetic walls, plastic, poly- this and carbon- that. Nature stopped being something we live in and started being something we vacation for. But you can’t pack a year’s worth of nature into a week-long vacation. Natural environments need to be part of our everyday lives. That includes the workplace.

Here are some ways to get started.

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How To Start Real, Meaningful Conversations With Your Email List Subscribers

Startup Stock Photo

By now you’ve heard all about the benefits of building an audience over an email list.

Let say you’ve even set up a Mailchimp account and built an awesome landing page for capturing emails. You’ve targeted the people you want to reach and aggressively marketed your landing page. You’re even starting to see some emails coming in. Your list is growing.

Now what?

One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs and marketers have with their email list strategy is figuring out how to connect with people once they’ve signed up. Too boring, people unsubscribe. Too sales-y or pushy, people unsubscribe. Bother people too much and they’ll unsubscribe.

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12 Awesome Infographics To Help Grow Your Business

Constant learning is one of the the best habits an entrepreneur can build. Thankfully there is no shortage of information available. More than ever before, in fact. From books, essays, Ted Talks, email newsletters, even entire college curriculums. Not to belabor a point that everyone is making — but there’s a world of information at our fingertips.

Sometimes, you need that information fast. The world is recommended a 5-course meal, and all you’ve got time for is a protein bar. Especially if you’re hard at work growing a business. Enter the infographic, Web 2.0’s comic book, magazine, pamphlet and business card all rolled together.

Why Everyone Will Have to Become an Entrepreneur

Shaking off the office grind to chase entrepreneurial dreams is more common than ever before. This infographic from San Francisco-based startup organization Funders and Founders breaks down just how important entrepreneurship has become. And it shows exactly why so many companies prefer to hire contractors over employees.

How to Never Give Up on Becoming an Entrepreneur

Another smart infographic from Funders and Founders. This one helps you overcome the drudgery and pain of growing a business. It is quite comforting to know that Michael Jordan missed the important shot more than 300 times.

How to Increase LinkedIn Engagement by 386%

This infographic from Quicksprout will help you master LinkedIn. It’s a huge network and unquestionably valuable in the business world. Consider the stat that 94 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to screen potential job candidates.

Email Cheat Sheet

Don’t build your empire on rented land. Facebook or Stumbleupon might allow you to reach tons of people in an easy way, but those businesses will always control those channels. You’ll never be in the driver’s seat. That’s why so many companies still prefer to build their communication over email. The folks at Marketo built this great infographic that shows you how to build a killer email strategy.

How to Grow a Business: When Big Companies were Small

Everyone starts somewhere. Especially in tech, where behemoths like Facebook, were they a person, wouldn’t be old enough to drive a car. This helpful infographic from Salesforce shows you how giants like Amazon, Virgin and Facebook grew.

The Modern Small Business Owner

No two businesses operate the same way. And no two small business owners work the same way. But they definitely have a lot of things in common. This infographic from Intuit breaks down the characteristics of the modern small business owner. Did you know that running a business brings three times as much stress as raising children?

Inside The Mind Of A Startup Entrepreneur

What goes on inside the head of a startup founder? This infographic from Top Management Degrees answers exactly that. Did you know Bill Gates never took one day off in his 20s.

18 mistakes that kill startups

How do you sink a startup? Mark Vital at Funders and Founders built this helpful infographic based on the iconic Paul Graham essay on the topic. A simple infographic packed with great advice. Be sure to read the corresponding essay.

The Year in Startup Funding

Where does funding come from and flow to in the startup world? The crowdfunding platform Fundable has an excellent infographic that dives into startup land and follows the money.

The Many Paths to Starting a Startup

Starting a business can happen a lot of different ways. This infographic from Polish web development agency Naturaily illustrates a few of the most common paths.

The Staggering Cost of a Bad Hire

A bad hire can sink a business before it gets very far. Before you make the mistake of hiring the wrong person, use this infographic from Mindflash to burn in the hard truth: bad hires cost big bucks.

The 10 Commandments of User Interface Design

Is there any better medium to teach design than a well-designed infographic. The folks at Designmantic show off great principles of UI design using a beautifully-built infographic.

P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.

The 7 Best Podcasts For Entrepreneurs

Many gigabytes of text were spilled out all over the web about 2015 being the ‘year of the podcast.’ It seems like there may have been something to that. The medium is exploding. Apple last year reported that podcast subscriptions on iTunes have surpassed the 1 billion mark. And more than 39 million Americans listen to podcasts monthly, according to Edison Research.

Looking to up your podcast intake and grow as an entrepreneur? Here are seven suggested podcasts.

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