The easiest and best way to keep your business stay on track when you feel lost is to back track and think about what you did and how you did it. Ari Meisel learned this from the ups and downs of his entrepreneurial journey that eventually lead him to discover the Less Doing method of productivity. This method essentially helps you work smarter instead of harder and still get optimal results. Ari has become a productivity master who helps his clients identify the bottlenecks in their businesses and move on to the next phase. Learn how he uses restriction to force innovation on entrepreneurs.
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Ari Meisel of the Less Doing Podcast on Mastering Productivity
I'm super excited to be having Ari Meisel with me to chat about the good, the bad, and the ugly of his journey. There are lots of ups and downs, but they started with the downs. These are things that a lot of people won't talk about. A lot of people don't want to talk about the times that things are difficult and the things that are challenging. They like to paint this rosy picture of having it all together. I'm inspired by Ari, and I'm inspired by what he's done. Even though he was a successful entrepreneur before that, things have gone up and down, and now he's killing it. Welcome to the show.
Thank you very much for having me.
Can you let us know a little bit that might not be in your bio?
I have a company called Less Doing, which is like Less Doing, More Living. We teach people how to optimize, automate, and outsource everything so that they can be more effective. Through coaching programs and business consulting, I work with entrepreneurs who have opportunity and access of what their infrastructural support to set up systems and processes that empower teams to make themselves more replaceable.
Who are your ideal clients? At what point are people coming to you and being served at the highest level?
I have programs that go all the way from free up until many thousands of dollars for a day of consulting. We work with a growth company for the most part, so six figures to seven figures, seven figures to eight, and then eight and beyond. I know that covers everybody, but those subsets, when they're making that transition, is one of the challenging parts. A lot of times, what will grow a business to a certain point is the same thing that will keep it down and prevent you from moving onto the next phase. The most common things I see that we're dealing with companies that are between a hundred thousand and a million in revenue. Those companies are dealing with trying to up their level of the leads that they're getting and the ones that are converting, and then putting systems and processes in place to get a team doing what the entrepreneur does well.
You help them identify those bottlenecks where things are stuck, and then automate or outsource the system that will get them through that And it's like, “That's done. What's the next bottleneck?”
We chip away. I always think of the Michelangelo quote about the David and the block of marble that they have to chip away the excess. A lot of times, everything that they need is there and what they're doing is good, but there's things that are getting in the way, so I remove obstacles and headaches.
Let's go back in time, I believe to around 2006. I'd love for you to let us know where you are at in your life, what you were doing and how things came to a halt and that pivot point.
I was working in construction in upstate New York, in Binghamton. I was working long hours. I built this big project there. When I was 23, I was in $3 million in debt and had been living this really unhealthy lifestyle. I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Crohn's is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the digestive tract and it's very painful, very debilitating, and not very well understood, certainly not at the time. I got really, really sick and went from working eighteen hours a day to barely being able to do an hour of work a day. Through a long process of self-tracking, self-experimentation, I was able to get off my meds and eventually go on to compete in IRONMAN France and recognize along the way that stress was a big component of what was going on in my life and the illness. My response to that was to create this new system of productivity to get more done and at the heart of it, regain some control because I do believe that control is the antidote to stress.
Can we dig into that a little bit more? A lot of people don't want to talk about things that are not rosy and shiny. Especially in our world today, the messaging and the gurus and the pictures and all of that image stuff never tells the whole story. A lot of times, people feel like they're the only ones going through stuff. Even though everybody isn't necessarily diagnosed with Crohn's, there's things that are happening that feel oftentimes insurmountable and it takes a shift or a revelation or some kind of awareness in order to realize, “This is the thing that's going to launch me to the next step.”When you were sick with Crohn's, you weren't like, “I got something going on, and now I'm going to be more productive and get less stressed.” That was a process or no?
Yes, it definitely was a process. It wasn’t an immediate process either. I got sicker and sicker over the course of several months and I was sick for a couple years. A lot of times, it's a restriction that really forces innovation. What a lot of entrepreneurs don't realize is as overwhelmed as they might feel or they have a sense of they don't have time to get things done, the truth is that they're not making it a priority. They're putting it off until their body or their mind or their team or their bank account tells them they have to.
One of the big things that I teach people when we’re teaching productivity is to set artificially restrictive limits on yourself. An example would be that the average American spends $173 a week on food. Maybe that's you, maybe it isn't, but what if you were to say, “If I only had $100 a week to spend on food, what would I change? What would I give up? What will I add? What change would that require?” A lot of people don't take the time to do that in their personal lives, much less their businesses. It's easy to be like, “I'm going to hire more people.” It's like, “What if I couldn't hire more people and I had to get this done with some other system?”To me, restrictions force innovation.
Can we talk about some restrictions? I have worked with a lot of people who have lots of different hats they wear. They’re a parent, they’re a spouse, they're a business owner. Some of them are still working in corporate and doing things on the side. They're trying to write a book, they’re a podcaster. They have all these different roles that they're playing, and sometimes, it feels like they can't get a hold on any of them to show up fully and completely, and they feel really spread too thin. Personally, I go through bouts of this every once in a while, until I'm like, “You can get a hold on this.”It takes awareness, and sometimes people don't realize how to restrict things. Can you talk about a couple of other examples about how you help specifically business owners to put those artificially restrictive points in there?
It's sneakily built into the whole framework that we teach, which is optimize, automate, outsource. The problem with outsourcing is that people do it first. If you're taking an inefficient problem that you hate doing and it's a crappy task and you give it to somebody else who has even less context for it, you're setting them up for failure and you as well, and then more frustration. That's when people are like, “I tried outsourcing once but I don't want to ever do it again.”That's a problem. It's so inherent to most people to throw more bodies at the problem. How could we rearrange this puzzle essentially so that we get the result we want? A lot of times, what that leads to is people asking the question of, “What is the actual result that we do want?”
Sometimes, we're not clear on that. Vision is extremely important as entrepreneur to be able to express that not only to your team and your clients and your customers, but also to people that you would delegate it to. It's inherent in the process, but you can do some very basic tracking. If you track somebody, you install an app on their computer and it'll tell you that they spent seventeen hours on email this week and you ask them, “What if you only spend an hour a day on email? What would happen?” Set that limit. It works.
There's something called the liberty paradox, which is the idea of positive and negative freedom. Everyone talks about how they want freedom. They want freedom when they're in a9 to 5 job, they want freedom to be with their family and retire. Freedom from something would be a negative freedom. Freedom from the 9 to 5, freedom from the grind, whatever you want to call it. Ideally, you want to get to a place where you have freedom to do something, so you're going towards the thing you have freedom. The problem in that gap is that too many options leads to less freedom because we get into this analysis-paralysis situation. There's a video I saw on YouTube and this guy was at a grocery store in Minneapolis and he was marveling at how many frozen pizza options there were. It was like a hundred-foot-long freezer of probably a hundred different brands, and a lot of people would actually spend a significant amount of their time in the supermarket trying to figure that out, and that's a bad thing. Giving ourselves these limits is huge.
The freedom to, rather than freedom from. This shows up in so many different things where people want things, but it's that they're wanting from a space of not having, rather than wanting from a space of the results they're actively working towards. What is the result we really want? Unless we can answer that in everything we do, then there's inefficiency. What are some of your key things that you teach about that? About how to close the gap from inefficient to productive or efficient? How is it that once we realize, “I’ve been looking for freedom from, I realize I'm looking for freedom to. I'm going to go back to that vision.”It’s like, “This vision is so great. Now what?”How do you decipher which one thing to work on at a time, or do you not advocate for one thing at a time?
As an individual, yes; but as an organization, definitely not. Maybe that sounds obvious to some people but it's not because a lot of people will say, “We’re doing this part” When people talk about an organization that moves slowly, that's the problem, but they're not officially dividing that up or effectively dividing that up. In closing that gap, one of the things is that you want to make the process more efficient. There's going to be a lot of things that are general process that you go through on a regular basis. The one-off stuff is different. In a lot of ways, if you get into this mindset of OAO or whatever system you want, but you get into a mindset of, “We're going to do this in this way and we're going to go through the processes.” You started thinking that way as the “one-offs” come up.
A lot of times, when somebody is like, “This only happens once every three months.” It's usually wrong if you start tracking and identifying what that is. I had a webinar and somebody said, “I'm on call a lot for my job and so I don't know when the time is going to be.” I said, “Have you ever tracked two or three weeks of what on-call looks like and when you're getting called in for things?”He said, “No.” I said, “There's a pattern of some sort that you might be able to plan around to the best of your ability. Once you've identified a pattern, you might be able to preempt some of that stuff from happening.”That's a big thing. Everyone who's saying to themselves like, “I don't have time to stop and look” then you're going to get hit by a bus and then your company is going to stop working.
For this episode, I’m actually sponsoring it myself. With that, I want to share with you about my one-day business breakthrough intensive. Let’s face it, no matter what stage of business that we’re at, there are always areas that could use a little bit of outside perspective. Without which, they hold us back from our goals. That’s why the most successful people in the world have people that they turn to in order to optimize their resources and get unstuck fast. I’m Nicole Holland, host of the Business Building Rockstars Show.
This is one of the things I love doing for clients is helping them get really clear on the underlying issue that is manifesting all kinds of funky stuff in their life so that they can get more productive, more profitable and more joyful as quickly as possible so they don’t have to spend time trying to figure it all out. I have a unique way of honing in really fast on what’s going on, and spitting out a complete road map, step by step to get out of that sticky stuff. That gum that’s just holding them back. Whether it’s processes or lead generation or conversion or any number of things, that is one of my innate gifts and how I serve my clients at my highest and best.
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It's one of the things that comes up when I'm working with clients so frequently, where it's like, “Let's start tracking this and here's what you need to do.”I would love to know how you recommend. What I do with my clients is I help them have a spreadsheet. We track, and it is that resistance of, “Do I have to really write down everything? Do you want to know where you're wasting time?”It's a short period of time that you put in that effort, and it brings so much awareness. Every time after they've done it they're like, “I didn't even realize.” You can't solve a problem if you don't know the root of it. If you don't know why is this inefficient or ineffective and what are you doing that's wasting that time or energy or resource, then you can't find something better.
A lot of people tend to come to you with the solution rather than the problem. Great example of that is at least once a week, if not more, somebody says to me, “What's the best CRM these days?”I always say, “Why do you need a CRM for?”Most people are like, ” I was at a conference and I saw this thing. Everybody in my industry is using Salesforce.” If you get down to it, it’s like, “What are you going to use it for?”“I'd follow up with prospects.””We can do that with your email so you don’t need CRM.”They come with the solution, and not identify what the problem is, what they're trying to achieve.
When you go to an expert with the solution, and you want them to tell you how to do it or you want them to answer which one's best, they cannot know that without some discovery. That discovery is a collaborative process. You can't say, “Here I am, here's my problem. Can you fix it or can you give me that advice?”When people say, “I tried outsourcing and it didn't work so I'm not doing that.”If you didn't do it effectively with the right underlying information and the data before you attempted to outsource, then it's not going to work. I don't think most people recognize that.
When someone says, “I don't have time to stop and do this, it's not a priority.”If somebody put a gun to your head, then you would do it. It's about motivation and what matters. It’s the same thing for anything. If you say, “I don't have time to work out, it's not a priority.” That's okay. It may not be a priority, but it's not that you don’t have time.
When you are working with folks, what do you recommend timeline on how long they should be tracking things? Are we talking a week, are we talking a month, are we talking a year?
There's very little that you can get from a week, but there's some things that you can do in a day. There's some things that you want to track forever, but they don't require much effort on your part. It's if something pops out from the norm. You could map a process in ten minutes or maybe it takes a couple of days. I know it's not a very specific answer, but it's usually shorter than you think.
Do you have any tools or resources that you recommend for starting tracking? How do you recommend people do that?
If it's a process that you want to document, then I would say Process Street is a good tool for that. It won't do it for you, but it'll help you organize it in a good fashion. If you want to figure out how you're using your computer, which I think is valuable, Timing app is great on a Mac. There's benefits to tracking your sleep. Anything that you do starts to bring some awareness. One of my favorites, which is quick and dirty, is taking a picture of what you eat and not doing calories or macros or anything like that. I have an automation set up that will send that to me three hours later as a picture and say, “How do you feel?”It's incredible awareness because a lot of times if you're feeling funky or out of it, look back in the last three hours of what you ate and who you met with. That might be very eye opening for you.
Can we dig into this, that who you met with? There are definitely people or situations that we encounter on a regular basis in our business that give us energy and make us feel better. Then on the opposite side of the spectrum, take energy from us and deplete us. Sometimes I’ll get into a space where I'm like, “I don't even know what I'm doing.” My brain is so cloudy, I need to step away from the desk and stop. I’ve had encounters with some of those situations or folks that I feel exhausted afterwards.
If you feel that at a specific time of the day, then that’s possibly a different thing, but your boss or a coworker or a family member could be a drain on you. It doesn't mean you have to avoid that person, but if you know that going in, like you might smile before walking into a room or you might meditate before you go on stage. If you can think of it that way, “I'm going to meet with somebody who is an energy suck, so let me prepare for them in advance.”
Do you have any recommendations or ideas about how to even decipher if this is somebody who I still want to spend time with even though they're an energy suck, or is it somebody that I can find an automation or a way to serve them and to support them where I don't have to spend that time with them? I’m asking because this is something that I started implementing, and it's still a process. I'm not perfect at it, but awareness is so important.
I've found ways that people come to me and want things from me that don't feel good to me, and I was, for a long time, serving them and giving it to them without considering how that made me feel after. I've set up some systems like canned responses that I can automate or delegate or outsourced as well to other people, or that I can resolve in a couple seconds in a way that I feel good about it and they feel served hopefully. If they don't, I don't take that on.
You have to take the mindset that you control your communication. You have the ability to do that. A lot of people take it, and there's a whole psychological thing about that. They did it years and years ago, but there was a study with dogs where some were getting electric shocks, and some would avoid it and others would give in to it. A lot people do that. It's like, “That's part of my life and how it is.”No, it's not. You can start to control to some extent. You're like a polarizer, so that you get it the way that you want. If you have an annoying client, then they don't get to call you on the phone. They have to work with you through email. A lot of people are more okay with that than you'd think, because if they want to work with you in the way that you work most effectively, then they have to allow that.
When you are working with a client, and maybe you aren't doing that because you've built the business up in such a way, but what do you recommend when people have taken on clients that they recognized after the fact this was a bad match. They're not at a point where they're like, “I'm going to fire this client.” It's not that bad, but it's just a wrong personality, or the expectations weren't clearly laid out. People suffer through it rather than establishing new boundaries. What are your thoughts on that?
People have to be okay with firing clients. It's the right thing to do to protect the integrity of what you're trying to do. If you are strapped for cash and you need to make the money, then you have to make the money, and you got to do it. Sometimes, we have to wade through a lot of snow to get to the cabin. It's not that it’s not supposed to be hard. Entrepreneurship is hard. It's not about getting rid of anything that we don't like doing. It depends on the situation, but if you are in that situation, you should politely as possible explain that you're not necessarily serving their needs the best that somebody else might be able to. The best thing is if you can offer another solution, another provider for example, that even might be a competitor, but it's the right thing to do for everybody.
Do you have any other tips on the actual process of firing a client? How do you identify that? What are those things to look for before you make that decision? What's the process going forward once you make that decision?
Some of the tracking is important for that because you may not realize how much time a client is sucking from you. With the tracking, you'll be able to identify the 80/20 stuff, which clients are really benefiting you and that aren't. That's the first part to figure it out.
Tracking from the beginning of your contract with them?
If you didn't, then you can start now. If you do a three-day time study of how you're doing things and you find that 40%of your time is being spent with one client, and then you look at, “Is that client producing 40%of your income?” It doesn't work. The first thing I would say is you want to be as asynchronous as possible. This is a new concept for some people, but email is technically an asynchronous tool, whereas the video call is a synchronous tool. A lot of people think that they have to be synchronous with most of their communication, and it's absolutely not the case. For me, for example, I do business coaching and consulting and I coach a lot of individuals and I have a mastermind program that many of them are in.
Most masterminds that I know of and most coaches will offer unlimited texting or something while they're in a program. I don't do that because it's not scalable and it would frustrate the crap out of me, so I use a tool called Voxer. Voxer is a walkie-talkie for your iPhone or your Android. People can send a voice message to you whenever they want, and you can listen to it whenever you want and respond whenever you want. They get unlimited Voxer access to me and that's fine because with asynchronous communication, you can listen and digest and respond when you want and they can do the same. Everyone that I work with loves that. If you have a client that won't do that for some reason, you have to understand why. That makes them not a good fit. If you're a designer, you got to get on calls with clients sometimes. You have to be synchronous for certain things, but not everything.
You're serving and supporting them at a very, very high level, but it's on your time and it's within your boundaries. I think boundaries are something that we often, especially in the earlier stages of business, let down a lot and don't hold because we don't want to upset somebody, or we want their business or we need their business.
This does depend on your reputation and how good you are in what you do. If you are good at what you do, and you believe in what you're doing, you know your stuff, then your reputation is no longer on the table for grabs. That's why a feedback session that you do, and you should do lots of feedback and learn from it, but the feedback is for how the client interact with your program. For me, I know that my program produces results. It's not going to be that everybody that we meet will be a right fit for it. We want to be a little higher or bring in people who are the right fit but understanding that the feedback is something for you to learn from. They're the ones that are getting the feedback. Your reputation is not on the table.
That’s something that far too many people concern themselves with. It's a quote that I learned from Dr. Wayne Dyer many years ago, “Your reputation is none of your business. Your character is your business. What other people say about you when you leave the room, that's their business. It's a reflection on them and, and not you.”If you take that on, your circumstances are dictating your situation.
It’s something known as correspondence bias. If you're ever in a car and somebody cuts you off, most people assume that the person doing it is a jerk, but they could have been taking somebody to the hospital. We tend to associate how somebody is in a particular instance to their character in general. It's called correspondence bias.
You have a podcast of your own and you have lots of stuff going on. You've got Facebook community. I want to make sure that the audience know where they can go to connect with you and get support in the different ways that you do serve.
They can go to LessDoing.com to find out everything that we do. We have a podcast, it’s Less Doing Podcast, several books. We also have a community on Facebook called the Less Doing Labs. It's a free community and there is almost a thousand people in it. You can get lots of great guidance. I do a call there every month, it's a coaching call. We have several different programs we offer. In the near future we've got a few events coming. We do three events a year. Everything is at LessDoing.com.
Thank you so much for being here. Any final words of wisdom?
If something doesn't feel right, try to bring some awareness to what you're doing and how you've been doing in the last couple hours. It’s simple, but it's not easy. It is more eye-opening than you might think.
Thank you so much.
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About Ari Meisel
Ari Meisel is an entrepreneur, author, CEO, real estate developer, green building consultant, and productivity expert. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business, Several years ago, Ari encountered and ultimately overcame severe personal roadblocks and that journey transformed his life. His discoveries about personal and professional productivity have improved the lives of thousands of individuals and businesses. His proprietary process, the Less Doing More System, is the foundation of his company Less Doing which offers individuals and enterprises road-tested methods to optimize, automate, and outsource everything. The goal is to learn how to work smarter, instead of harder.
Thanks to Lou Diamond of Thrive LOUD for supporting the Business Building Rockstars Show.