Life lessons from a serial entrepreneur with Nic Haralambous

Nic Haralambous started his first business at 16 years old. Since then, he’s started 13 businesses. 

The catch? Only 3 of them succeeded.

Despite all the failures, Nic wasn’t discouraged from trying again because if you never launch, you cannot succeed. 

Now, Nic is not only a serial entrepreneur, but a best-selling author, highly sought-after business coach, and podcast host.

Tune in to our season one finale (or read below) to get his business advice, including why you should kill your ego, figure out what success means to you, and redefine productivity. 

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Listen to episode 30

 


In the episode “Life Lessons from a Serial Entrepreneur,” we discuss

  • The tough lessons Nic learned while building his second business
  • How Nic built a business in 30 days with just $300 dollars 
  • Nic’s advice on how to succeed in business: launch your product quickly, lower your ego, and accept feedback
  • Feedback 101: avoid emotional feedback and ask for detailed feedback
  • An overview of Nic’s 12 Nicisms a.k.a. the worldview he lives by
  • What Nic means by “you don’t have a time problem, you have a priority problem
  • How Nic gets things done: time blocking and making your calendar a to-do list
  • How to deal with work burnout as a leader: check on your employee before reprimanding them
  • What Nic learned from his podcast It’s Not Over: vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness and cash flow should always be the priority
  • Why you should “Plan in decades. Think in years. Work in months. Live in days.” 
  • The importance of defining what success means to you
  • What’s next for Nic: decluttering his work, planning his fourth book, and focusing on his podcast, It’s Not Over

Favorite quotes

I took $300 and set myself a six-week timeline to build the business and a 30-day timeline to turn a profit. So if I could turn that $300 into more in 30 days after launch, then I would continue on with the business. And if I didn't, I would stop and do the same thing with the next business.” - Nic Haralambous

“I started 13 businesses and failed 10 times. So I'm good at failing. And what I've learned through those failures is you have a very clear idea of what you think people are going to do with your product or service, but that is not what they think they're going to do with your service or product. So your best bet is to build.” - Nic Haralambous

Get your best people working on the most curious and interesting problems because they're getting paid to be the best at the best. So let them think. Let them be free. Don't micromanage them. Don't force them into a direction.” - Nic Haralambous

If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. The word priority means a single focus. You can't have 10 priorities. So if you are prioritizing everything, no wonder you don't have time.” - Nic Haralambous

“I'm trying to uncouple my self-worth from my output. And that helps me redefine what ‘productive’ means because being busy doesn't mean you're good at your work. Working a lot doesn't mean you're working well.” - Nic Haralambous

Nic Haralambous-1

Meet today’s guest, Nic Haralambous

Nic is an obsessive startup entrepreneur, bestselling author, and host of It's Not Over.

He has sold three businesses in the past decade and has a lifetime of startup lessons learned through failure and success over an intense and exciting twenty-year career as an entrepreneur.

Nic taught himself to code at age 11, built his first website at 12, and started his first business at 16.

Productivity resources to explore

“Life Lessons from a Serial Entrepreneur” full transcript

This transcript has been slightly edited for clarity and readability.

Ben (00:00):

This is Get More Done, the blueprint for managers to lead happy and productive teams. My name is Ben Dlugiewicz, and my mission is to help you and your team save time and get more productive so you can work on things that will grow your business. And how can innovation help your business grow? How do you create a culture that is innovative? When you unlock innovation for your company, you can unlock new ideas and ways of thinking to increase revenue and solve problems in a different way.

Ben (00:24):

In our season one finale, our guest Nic Haralambous joins us. Nic is a serial entrepreneur, author, podcast host, keynote speaker, and all-around awesome guy. Nic shares his wisdom and Nicisms that shape his way of life. We talk about the importance of allowing a team time to be bored and think of new things. And while it may not seem as productive, it can make a big impact. Nic also talks about setting priorities that will allow you to accomplish more and do better work. All of that and then some on the season one finale of Get More Done, starting now.

Ben (01:09):

Excellent. Welcome back to the Get More Done podcast where we talk about all things productivity and helping you and your team level up. On today's episode, I'm sitting down with Nic Haralambous, the serial entrepreneur, author, podcast host, and keynote speaker. So, Nic, it's great to have you on.

Nic (01:24):

Thanks so much. Good to be here.

Ben (01:25):

Excellent. Yeah, I can't wait to dive into everything about Nicisms and all the stuff you're about and share all of your wisdom with our audience. But before we get into that, we start these conversations with an icebreaker, just something I do just to break the nerves up a little bit and help the audience get to know you. So for you, what bucket-list item do you most want to check off in the next six months?

Nic (01:47):

There's so many. The one thing that I have been considering for a long time on my bucket list is doing a standup set at a comedy club, which, I mean, I'm a keynote speaker, so it doesn't scare me at all. I just have never had the time to do that. So that's on my list, but the other one, which is very strange in the world we live in, but I've never been punched in the face properly. So it is something that is on my life list. I want to get punched in the face properly and see what that feels like because I mean, what on earth does that feel like? I've never been punched, so let me see.

Ben (02:25):

I've never been in a fight either, but anybody listening, do not punch Nic in the face. It needs to be a planned thing. You need to be ready for it, right?

Nic (02:32):

Yes. Just don't greet me at a conference and walk up to me and punch me in the face. That will be a problem.

Ben (02:39):

Exactly. And I totally get the standup stuff too of just getting a bit together and having some fun and just sharing your stories. As I'm sure we'll talk about, you have so many insights and things that you experienced, the ups and downs and all the good stuff. So I'm sure there's a lot of content there. My advice is to start with a small open mic and then build up and do bigger and bigger stages.

Nic (02:58):

Yeah, just a tight five, just a tight five. That's all I want to get done.

Ben (03:02):

Yeah. Start with a tight two or three, and then you can-

Nic (03:04):

Tight two...

Ben (03:04):

...build off of that.

Nic (03:06):

Tight two. Deal. Tight two.

Ben (03:07):

That's awesome. So for our audience to give them a little bit more information and get them familiar with you, as I said, you've been a serial entrepreneur. You started your first business when you were 16. And since then you've exited a lot of businesses and started a lot of businesses. Out of all of those businesses that you've been involved with, which one has been the most challenging?

Nic (03:31):

So truth be told, they're all challenging. I generally build unnecessarily complex businesses. It's one of the things looking back on my career that I think, "My goodness, why didn't I just pick simple things like retreading tires or selling funeral insurance or whatever." But no. So my second exit was from a fashion company and building that business was exceptionally complex for a variety of reasons. The first is we decided to manufacture the products ourselves. So this first product was sustainable, environmentally-friendly socks. They were made from bamboo. It was kind of like Happy Socks, but back in South Africa, we didn't have Happy Socks. So we started manufacturing and designing them ourselves. We eventually started investing in our own sock machines. And then the online thing did well enough that we started building stores, and like an insane person, I rolled out a new store every three and a half months for 18 months.

Nic (04:33):

So we had five physical stores in South Africa distributed in three different provinces over a period of 18 months. And that was brutal and insane and the most intense learning curve of my career because I'd never manufactured a product. I'd never logistically distributed that product nationwide. And then globally, through our eCommerce platform, I'd never hired retail staff. Everything was just new. And that was a hell of a learning experience. On top of it, raising venture capital, having those VCs join our board, and then actually disbanding the board because it wasn't actually useful to me at the time. It was pulling me in too many directions. Then we had in South Africa, like the rest of the world, a bit of a mall crisis where the bottom dropped out of retail. So it was complexity on top of complexity. And luckily we managed to sell that business before COVID kicked in. Got rid of our leases. Didn't have to worry about any of that. So that was definitely the most complicated business I've ever run.

Ben (05:33):

Yeah. I could see the layered complexity of the manufacturing alone, but then also getting into retail on top of that. Oh man, yeah.

Nic (05:40):

I mean, and then if you add in eCommerce, the acquisition model for eCommerce is not the same for physical retail. The distribution for eCommerce globally is not the same for eCommerce locally. Then the distribution and logistics for getting stuck to your physical stores and managing your inventory so that you never run out of your best sellers, there's just so much in that one little decision to open a store that I wish I'd never done.

Ben (06:02):

Yeah. And I'm curious to know the kind of mindset of going into that. Were you like, "Oh, I see the socks being popular. I want to do this. I know nothing about this. Let's dive in." What led to that? What led to that curiosity or that exploration?

Nic (06:18):

So this was actually a rebound business. I had exited a previous company. It was a consulting firm to a much bigger business, and this was the rebound after that. So what I did was I set myself some very specific parameters when I was building this business because in South Africa, there is this anti-narrative to venture capital that, "Oh, you managed to build a good business because you raised venture capital." And that was my previous business. So I was like, "Okay, well this one I'm going to do something different." So I took $300 and set myself a six-week timeline to build the business and a 30-day timeline to turn a profit. So if I could turn that $300 into more in 30 days after launch, then I would continue on with the business. And if I didn't, I would stop and do the same thing with the next business.

Nic (07:04):

And it just so happened that this first business worked out. So I took the $300. I mean, I taught myself to code when I was 11 and 12, so I know how to launch a website. So I launched my Shopify site. I designed it myself. I did the logo. I did everything. And then we launched, and we sold 600 pairs of socks in the first two weeks. And my $300 had become $3,000. And seven years later, we had five stores. So that was kind of why I built this business is to prove that you can do it with $300.

Nic Haralambous Quote 1

Ben (07:30):

Yeah. And I think that should be a show that everybody watches, not Undercover Millionaire, but how can you start a business in a weekend and scale it exponentially, for sure. Now on the flip side of that, out of all the businesses you've run, which one was your favorite or which one was the most exciting?

Nic (07:46):

It's like asking you to choose your favorite child, right? I think this is kind of cheating because it isn't really a business. But my second book was published at the start of last year. It was called How to Start a Side Hustle, and it became a bestseller in South Africa. Off the back of that book, I launched a nonprofit company called the Slow Fund. And the idea there was to give away money for free, mostly my own money in the beginning, and help people build their own side hustles every day. And at the end of it, it's been 12 months, I've now personally coached 280 startup founders and invested in each of them, and coached them every single day. And I think that would probably be my favorite because it was just purely a giving experience where I used my experience to help other people start as many businesses as they could. So that's probably it.

Ben (08:40):

And I totally can understand that where a lot of people say money doesn't buy you happiness, but when you give it away and you help other people, then that definitely will, right? Building everyone else up. And I love the idea that everybody can start a side hustle. They just need the mentorship or they need those resources. And you are able to provide that. Now, is that just in South Africa that that's set up, or is that a global thing that you're reaching?

Nic (09:06):

So the book is available globally at Amazon and on my website at nharry.com. But the fund itself is currently only funding businesses in South Africa, but it is hopefully being consumed by a much larger organization that is servicing entrepreneurs throughout the African continent. So that work should probably carry on, just not with me actually doing all the coaching.

Ben (09:28):

Yeah. And that's that true entrepreneurial spirit, and even your foundation being acquired and scaled up, that's awesome.

Nic (09:36):

Yeah. I mean, it was more of, "Okay, I think I'm done now coaching every single day. Let's have somebody else do this for me." So they've been very grateful. Yeah.

Ben (09:44):

Right, right. Yeah. So in some previous conversations, I've heard you tell people that if you are waiting to launch and you are fearful of it being a catastrophe, then you're launching too late. So why is it important to launch quickly and iterate?

Nic (10:00):

So through many, many, many product launches and business launches and failures, because I'm exceptionally good at failing, not so good at succeeding. The stats are from 16 to 35, I started 13 businesses and failed 10 times. So I'm good at failing. And what I've learned through those failures is you have a very clear idea of what you think people are going to do with your product or service, but that is not what they think they're going to do with your service or product. So your best bet is to build. And I'm not so sure I'm convinced with the MVP model, the minimum viable product anymore. You've got to build the minimum viable version of this thing that people can use and experience to give you feedback. And there are so many layered issues with this particular point that you can do that successfully if you lower your ego and don't take offense at the feedback. If you're married to the product or service you're building, then the feedback's going to be irrelevant.

Nic Haralambous Quote 2

Nic (10:55):

So you have to put it out there, knowing what is going to come back is a tweak, a change, a twist, a left turn, or a pivot. And if you're open to that, then launch quickly, launch often, relaunch features, engage with your customers, put them at the center of your business, and hear what they have to say. That's not to say that the customer is always right. I do not believe the customer is always right. That is a fallacy from a bygone era. You are the product owner. You are the service provider. You have a clear idea of what this vision wants to be, but you need to take in the feedback from the people that you're servicing, and that's why you need to do it often, get it out there, and do it quickly. And the final thing on this that I want to say is the reason most people don't put stuff out there is they're fearful of what other people will say.

Nic (11:37):

And the problem with that is nobody really gives a shit about you. Nobody cares. Nobody's thinking about you. Nobody's waiting for you to fail. Nobody's waiting for you to succeed. You are not launching because you're worried it's not good enough. Nobody cares if it's good enough. Nobody knows it exists until you put it out there. Then they know. Then you build. So without that first step of actually launching, and having coached hundreds and hundreds of startup founders, entrepreneurs, and side hustlers, the number one problem is I'm scared to launch. That problem. The ones who succeed are the ones who launch.

Ben (12:06):

Yes. I totally understand that. Killing the ego, especially death to the ego, because it's stopping you from doing everything and experiencing joy. And it's the point you make that nobody really cares, and you're going to do it. And people are like, "Well, what if it fails?" And you're like, "But what if it succeeds?" Right? What if you do have success, and it can be this big thing. It totally, totally makes sense. Now within that, we talked a bit about gathering feedback. So when you are starting and that you've seen with starting the businesses, how are you gathering that feedback? What kind of process or what's the best way that you've seen to organize and aggregate that feedback in a productive way?

Nic (12:48):

Yeah, I think it all depends on the stage at which you're asking people for feedback. So if you've never launched this out into the world before, it's very unlikely you're going to get tens of thousands of bits of feedback. But if you're an established business like yours, and you put a new feature out there and you get tens of thousands of feedback, it can be overwhelming. I generally tend to get rid of the loudest, most irritating, most irate customers because that is an emotional response to a product. And emotional responses generally don't warrant much good feedback. It's just, "I hate this," and that's not constructive in any way, shape, or form. So I tend to try and scour through as much of the feedback as possible in a very high-level way to get the issues, not the feelings, because feelings don't translate. Like if I feel like the product isn't good, what does that mean?

Nic (13:40):

I mean, an example of this, a very random example, I was doing a corporate sock for a really big, I can actually say the name, it's so long ago now, and I was doing socks for Nando's. I don't know if your listeners know or not, but Nando's is actually a South African founded business. And as a side note, you can argue with me about that but the founder, Robbie Brozin, says that the greatest achievement of his career at Nando's was convincing every country that Nando's comes from their country, which I completely agree with. So the feedback I got from the team was that the yellow wasn't yellow enough. And that was the point to which I was like, "Okay, cool. I think we're done here." Because that's not feedback. That isn't feedback. The yellow needs to be more gold. The yellow needs to be closer to this yellow. Cool. But the yellow isn't yellow enough. That's like asking a designer to make it pop.

Nic (14:34):

That is not valuable feedback to anybody. So I would say, look for the most detailed feedback you can and stick to that. And then on a smaller level, if you are building a side hustle and you're getting feedback from your family and friends, you should probably ignore it. Because your family and friends are never going to be honest. They're going to want to soften the blow. They're going to want to try and mollycoddle you and make sure that they don't offend you. Unless I'm your family member, I will give you honest feedback, but you should always trust paying customers with their feedback versus family and friends because the two just aren't the same.

Ben (15:06):

Yeah. Those are amazing insights to remove those outliers of the very emotional people or that non-constructive feedback. And then yeah, your inner circle is going to coddle you and not be as honest as they should. And you have to give it in front of folks, but it comes back to just getting the courage to do that because it does take a lot of vulnerability to put something out there. But I think what a lot of people maybe get stuck on is that this is going to be what it's like forever, right? Like the thing that I'm building now is what it is. And you're like, "Absolutely not." You look at any business from where they started to where they are, even six months later, it's drastically different because they're taking in all the feedback and iterating and improving things. So, one of the things that interested me as I was doing research is your 12 Nicisms, the rules of life, essentially, that you live by. Can you give us a summary of those?

Nic (16:02):

Sure. So I've been building this kind of worldview for the last 10 years. And it's an interesting thing to me. I think lots of founders build values for their businesses and write them down and codify them. But I've spoken to a lot of founders and asked them, "Do you have values for your life, for yourself, for your own person?" And without fail, I have not met a single one who's like, "Yeah, I've actually codified my values." So I have been doing that, and that's really for me, everything is informed from a high-level worldview. So, my number one Nicism is there is nothing after this. I do not believe in an afterlife. I'm not building for that. I'm building for today. I'm building for this life. But equally one of my later on most recent Nicisms is I'm not building a future. I'm building a life today. I don't care about my legacy.

Nic (16:56):

So I'm reinforcing the fact that what I do today matters. I'm not enduring 10 years of a shitty career because I want to retire. That's not the way that I want to live this life. So that high-level worldview then trickles down and informs all the day-to-day decisions that I make. And I think it's important that you codify that worldview. So that's the summary of them. I'll give you some of my favorites, trust people until you have a reason not to. So people say trust is earned. I don't agree with that. I think trust is given and then taken away. And that's how I go into every one of my relationships. I believe that you should be honest where possible. I don't think that honesty is an ever-present situation.

Nic (17:34):

I think sometimes lies are good. Whether you believe that or not, that's on you. You can make those your codified values. I also believe that everything is easier without ego. That's number eight on my list because ego in my life historically has completely destroyed a lot of the things I've been trying to build. And then the one that I recently added, the most recent one, is to choose the path of least expectation. That was my mantra for the year. Over the last 10 years, if I would usually do and say this, what would happen if I chose the path of least expectation and did something else instead? And so I'm trying to fill my life with things that are unexpected.

Ben (18:11):

Yeah. That's really great. And we'll be sure to link your website and all those up on the blog. Because they're so profound. And I mean, they've obviously been curated and there's a lot of wisdom from your experience boiled into those 12 points. But they're really, really powerful. One specifically that stuck out to me, one of my favorites, you don't have a time problem. You have a priority problem. So tell me a little bit more about that.

Nic (18:38):

Yeah. Throughout all my coaching, one of the things that people say to me the most, and when I'm online, people shout at me the most, is that they don't have enough time in the day. And I get a lot of flack for this from parents too, because parents are often the ones who look at me because I don't have children and I have no intention of having children. And they say, "Oh, but you don't have kids." I'm like, "Yeah, but that was a priority choice. I chose my time to be my priority. You chose your kids to be your priority." Those are just choices, but we all fundamentally have the same 24 hours in a day, even though time is an invented human idea. I get that. But we all agree that we have 24 hours. I just choose my priorities in those 24 hours differently from you.

Nic (19:17):

And that's kind of what I mean is that the hard-hitting point here that I try to impart on founders when I coach them is you are telling me that you've got a million things to do but only four hours to do them in. But you just have too many things that are priorities. And if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. The word priority means a single focus. You can't have 10 priorities. So if you are prioritizing everything, no wonder you don't have time. So which of these things is actually the most important? Do that thing. And then everything else is fine because you've done one thing. So that's kind of what I mean by you don't have a time problem. Stop saying you do. You have a choice problem, a priority problem.

Copy of Podcast Quotes (2)

Ben (19:54):

Exactly. Because you can find the time to work on the things that you want to work on and not watch Netflix or binge a bunch of content or sleep in late or all of those things. You can adjust your life to fit it in and just make time and make that a priority to get those things done. You have so many good quotes. And another one that stood out to me was "Curiosity is the God particle of innovation." And that just stopped me right in my tracks. And I think it opens the door for everything. Because if you're not curious about stuff, you can't evolve into that and evolve the thinking. So I'd love to get your insights into that.

Nic (20:33):

Yeah. So I've been banging this curiosity drum for a couple of years now. The main reason is I feel like at a corporate level, we've bastardized the word innovation to the point where we don't really know what it means anymore. And the thing that I ask the clients that I consult around innovation is what exactly do you want people to do with innovation? Like when you say you need to innovate, do you want them to sit in a room on a chair in the way that they've never sat in a chair before? Do you want them to use words that they invent in that particular meeting? Because the word innovation means to introduce something new. So how do you exactly want someone to be innovative? And I think that, fundamentally, this is the problem: that we've turned innovation into a verb when it is not. Innovation is a noun.

Nic (21:19):

It is an outcome. And the action that I'm trying to get people to follow is to be curious. That's the action. And that feels like it's a little bit of a bait and switch, but the truth is if you promote innovation in your organization, you avoid confirmation bias. You get your best people working on the most curious and interesting problems because they're getting paid to be the best at the best. So let them think. Let them be free. Don't micromanage them. Don't force them into a direction. And the problem that leaders have is that curiosity isn't the most efficient way to solve a problem. It is, however, one of the most effective ways to let your people be curious, experiment, to give them the budget and time and freedom to do so. And eventually, they will evolve a solution or an innovation that you would never have thought of.

Nic Haralambous Quote 3

Nic (22:05):

And on this front, constraints are good. Constraints create change. The more you can put people under pressure and then let them explore their curiosity, the more likely they are to pop out something interesting and innovative. So I think that fundamentally what you have to remember is you have curiosity. It is innate in everybody. You've just been told that you shouldn't follow it. So follow it. Follow your random curiosities because the most interesting people I know smash together unexpected things. So a rock climber who's an accountant that does surfing on the weekend and has four children but two of them are adopted, that is an interesting human that I want to know. And I bet you they can solve problems in ways you've never thought about.

Ben (22:42):

Yeah, that's really interesting. And I mean, do you have any tactical things for teams to kind of start that curiosity, exploration, like because you said it's not super efficient, right? So obviously figuring out how to carve out the time and the budget for that. But any other tactical things that teams and managers could do to explore curiosity a little bit more?

Nic (23:02):

Yeah. The first thing is you can't expect everybody in your organization to solve problems around innovation and curiosity. There is an unfortunate trend that 12 months after somebody joins an organization, they have gone down to almost zero curiosity about the work that they do. And that's because, at a work level, we reward people for efficiency. And when you are doing a job and you become good at doing that job, you get rewarded in your company for doing that job efficiently because the more efficient you are, the more you save money and the more profit margins go up. So now you've got somebody who's done a job for five or 10 or 20 years, and you all of a sudden say to them, "We need something new. You have to innovate." But you've rewarded them for five years to be efficient in their job. How do you expect them to all of a sudden shift and become this new-age innovative thinker? It's never going to happen because you've trained them to not be curious.

Nic (23:52):

So what you have to do is find your best people and the most diverse group of people. And that is a key thing. If you've got all straight white men solving a problem, I guarantee you're going to get a straight white man solution to that problem. However, if you have a diverse collection of people from diverse backgrounds and interests and whatever, more than likely that insanely talented group of diverse people will come up with a better problem and push each other to be curious and think in different ways. On a very practical level, it's as simple as in your next meeting, if you're the leader of that meeting, ask people what they're curious about right now. Literally, that's that simple. When you're hiring people in the hiring process, ask them, "What are you curious about that has nothing to do with your work?" And actually pay attention to their answer because you don't want people who only obsess about their job because those people will burn out and they'll be in an echo chamber and they'll have confirmation bias.

Nic (24:43):

You want people with diverse interests that bring those interests into their work so that they've got unique perspectives. So just on a very simple level, ask people, "What do you do on the weekends? What are you curious about right now? What have you read that nobody else has read?" And then on an individual practical level for a couple of years, I stopped reading books that were published in the year that I was living. So if it was 2020, I wouldn't read books from 2020. And that pushed me to go back and go, "Okay, well what have I missed?" At one point I read Henry David Thoreau, an essay that's almost 200 years old. And in the essay, he opens with "I'm walking down the street, and all I see are people buried in their newspapers, not paying attention to the world around them. Busy, busy, busy, and missing out on the world." And I thought this is 200 years old and just replace newspaper with phone and we're in the same place. Nothing has changed. So if you can provoke yourself in those ways, you're probably going to open up your curiosity more.

Ben (25:38):

Yeah. That's amazing. And that stat after 12 months of people losing that curiosity or that interest, it's like getting them back into the flow and opening it up to being like here's some time for some deep work and just exploring that and really digging into some gnarly problems, for sure. So what about your personal habits? I'd love to learn how you're able to stay productive with everything that you're working with the podcast, keynote speaking, running these foundations and these mentorships, and all these businesses. How do you manage all that? What are some key processes or habits that you have in place to help with all of that?

Nic (26:18):

I don't. The short answer is I don't. The short answer is I am like every other human being. And I lie when I tell people that I figured it out because I haven't. There are days when I feel like I'm the most productive human in the world. There are weeks when I feel like I haven't done anything worth anything. Literally just yesterday I was talking to my partner while we were having lunch. I said, "I'm having a very unproductive day." And then I thought, "That's not true. I wrote a 2000-word newsletter. I edited two podcasts, and I booked three more." Just that in my world that doesn't feel productive. So I think there's a lot of perception that is problematic. So what I'm trying to do right now, and this is more of a philosophical answer than it is a practical one, I'm trying to uncouple my self-worth from my output. And that helps me redefine what ‘productive’ means because being busy doesn't mean you're good at your work. Working a lot doesn't mean you're working well.

Nic Haralambous Quote 5

Nic (27:11):

So I'm trying to refactor how I experience the work that I do so that I am focused on the thing that I'm doing. This idea that we can multitask and do a million things breaks me because I can't. So when I decide in my calendar to block out my podcast editing for two hours, I do not do anything else. That is my main productivity tip for myself is I'm so easily distracted that I've had to train myself to keep my phone on silent permanently. I never put it off silent. I never have my notifications on because if you can buzz me on my phone, I'm going to get distracted. And then TikTok is three hours of my life gone.

Nic (27:45):

So I don't do it. So that is really my main productivity tip is one to redefine what productive means to you. Does it mean sending a million emails and waiting in your inbox for somebody else to email you back? Or does it mean just focus? And then the second thing I'm experimenting with right now is I'm really shitty at to-do lists. I'm not a to-do list person. I've tried them all. And I never remember to look at them. What I do remember to look at is my calendar every day. Every day, the first thing I do is, "Hey, what's on my calendar?" So I'm experimenting right now with adding a recurring to-do list meeting on a Monday morning at 9:00 AM in my calendar. And whenever I have something for a specific week, I edit that calendar event and put the to-do list in for that week's notification.

Nic (28:29):

And that then becomes my to-do list. And then a friend of mine, Rich Mulholland, gave me the add-on to that, which is to-do lists should actually live in your calendar because if it's a to-do and you don't have time to do it, then when will you get it done? So I translate my to-do lists into calendar events and I block book my calendar and my calendar looks like a mess, but actually, it's got reading and writing. I've got two hours on a Thursday for reading and writing. Then I've got research for an hour on Thursday where I just sit and research for an hour and read something counterintuitive that I've never read before. So actually forcing my calendar to be my to-do list has helped me a lot.

Ben (29:03):

Yeah. That time blocking and setting the date for getting those things done, absolutely. I actually hijacked a YouCanBook.me page and revamped it to be a place where I can put in tasks and different things for times that I need to get done. Yeah, so it's really, really neat. But yeah, I think that this also ties back to that expectation you were talking about or just eliminating that expectation that it has to be forced into something or this practice of productivity has to be an outcome, but it doesn't have to be busy work. It just has to be that prioritized work we were talking about. What is it I needed to be doing? What am I spending my time on? And then the outcome isn't dependent on those constraints. It's just dependent on how long it's going to take for you to do it, right?

Nic (29:51):

Exactly. And I mean, just added to that, I think a lot of us think that lots of small things mean that we are busy, but I'm very happy to record one podcast a week and edit one podcast a week and then call my week a success. And then everything else after that is a bonus. If I manage to write a newsletter or an article, that's a bonus. As long as these two frogs that I've eaten are done, then the rest of my week is golden. So I mean, eating the frog is a very well-known concept, but just put your big things at the front of your week, get them done. And then everything else becomes easier. Don't wait until Friday afternoon to do the big thing for Monday because you will never get it done.

Ben (30:25):

And I think that comes back to just the conversation of burnout as well. Like not trying to do so much because you have this laundry list of things that you want to do, but take it into bite-size chunks and say, "Out of this week, I'm hoping to accomplish x." And then it is a success. And I guess, you know, on that burnout question, what do you recommend for folks and managers to kind of help keep their teams motivated and keep them from burning out?

Nic (30:52):

Yeah, there's a lot of talk about burnout at the moment. I do keynotes for corporations about this. One focused on leadership, and two focused on teams because both of them experience burnout in different ways. And what has been covered a lot about burnout is this idea that your mental health is super important. And for me, there is this thing called the sacrifice fallacy that I've coined, that we believe that we have to sacrifice our mental and physical health to be productive, to be successful. That's how we've been conditioned.

Nic (31:21):

So from a burn-out perspective, I think it's super important that managers and leaders start to understand that teams feel burnout not just because they are tired or exhausted or not slept, when they don't feel valued at work, when they're not complimented, when they don't have meaningful jobs, when they're doing repetitive tasks, when they're constantly being berated and shouted at, when they don't feel psychologically safe in the place that they're working, which means if they don't feel like they can be their authentic selves and they've got space to do that, they feel burned out. Burnout isn't just about mental health and physical health. It's also about feeling rewarding at your work. So managers need to pay attention. If somebody is always late at a meeting, isn't performing their best, and it's very out of character for them, what you need to do is stop and see if they're feeling burnout, if they're feeling fulfilled and valued in their jobs before you start giving them warnings and start reprimanding them. Just ask them if they need a two-week holiday because that might set them free.

Ben (32:17):

Yeah. And I think that's really profound that burnout is a multifaceted thing. It's not just that packed schedule. It's emotional security. It's feeling valued. It's bringing your whole self to work and all of those things. And I think you hit it on the head when you are noticing something as a manager, you need to address it right away and not let it fester. Because then it's going to be exponentially worse and you're going to have a turnover problem with folks leaving. So in that vein, your podcast It's Not Over talks with entrepreneurs and leaders about the moment when they were really close to failure, right? What it was like at that breaking point. So out of all those conversations you've had, what have been some big takeaways that you've learned so far from those interviews?

Nic (33:03):

The overwhelming takeaway, and I've now recorded 28 episodes or so with some really impressive entrepreneurs, is that most people wish that at the time they had been more open about their psychological state. They wished that they'd been more mentally able to speak to someone about what they were going through. And at the end of the episode, without fail, each person has said, "Oh wow, that felt like a bit of psychology. Like a psychological session," because entrepreneurs aren't pushed to ever be open and frank about their vulnerability. And we need to reframe vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. You are stronger when you're able to talk about how you feel, not weaker. And especially as men, it's a very bad situation for us. We're not able to do so. So that's been the first thing. The second thing on a very practical level is cash flow, cash flow, cash flow, cash flow, cash flow, a million times over cash flow.

Nic (33:56):

If you don't know what cash flow is and you're listening to this, it's really simple. If the money going out of your business this week is more than the money going into your business this week, you are bankrupt. You have no cash flow. So the simple truth is whether you are selling Facebook widgets or socks or oil, if you don't have good cash flow, you don't have a business. And without fail, every single business that I've spoken to, cash flow has either saved them or destroyed them because they weren't prepared for the moment of inflection.

Nic (34:22):

So if you are listening to this and you're a manager or a leader at a business and you don't know what cash flow is or your cash flow's standing, go figure that out. Above everything else, make sure that as the person running your business, you know the cash flow position of your company right now, because you don't know what's coming tomorrow. And right now we do know what's coming, a recession. We are hurtling towards one at a rapid clip. So if you don't know right now where your cash position is, and if you've got 6, 12, or 18 months of runway, you need to figure that out quickly and get on that bus.

Ben (34:50):

Yeah. That makes total sense with the CEOs not experiencing that vulnerability or being able to share what they're going through because it's kind of an isolated position at the top and they don't want to have that shaky ground for the whole team that they're trying to lead and being that vulnerable, that makes total sense. And then, yeah, your point with cash flow, I think that could also trickle to a personal level too of multiple income streams coming into your finances to help lift everything up, for sure. So there's one more quote that is really great, and you actually have it on your wall behind you: "Plan in decades. Think in years. Work in months. Live in days." Can you explain to me what that means?

Nic (35:36):

So the short story on that quote, I didn't just randomly think up those four lines. When I turned 30, I wrote an article on Medium giving advice from my 30-year-old self to my 20-year-old self. And I ended that article with that quote and that article exploded. It's the most well-read thing I've ever written. It's been viewed more than a million unique times on multiple different platforms. I should have turned it into a book. And that quote was particularly the most highlighted quote of the article. And the thing that I was trying to remind my 20-year-old self of, is when you’re 20 and in your twenties, you believe that the only period in your life that matters is right now, but actually, this is a Bill Gates quote, I think, "You can do more in a year than you think you can in less than 10."

Nic (36:25):

And the problem is none of us plan for that 10 years. Like I'm 38 now, but I'm thinking about when I'm 50, what does my life look like? What does success look like? What am I going to be doing? And if you can't look forward and go, "Okay, the things I'm doing today inform that ten-year vision," and then you are working in the months and the days and the years and backward from that. And this is actually a Rockefeller habit. John D. Rockefeller did this with his staff. He would get his direct reporters and he would say to them, "Cool, you all know what our five-year vision is? What are you doing this year, this quarter, this week, this month, this day to inform that five-year plan? And if you're not doing something today that directly impacts that five-year plan, why are you doing it? Are you just being busy? Are you being distracted?" Like TikTok, you're sitting three hours a day? Does that inform your 10-year plan? It might. And that's fine. But are you thinking about the decade, then if you're not, then I think maybe you're missing a trick.

Ben (37:15):

Yeah. That's really, really insightful. And I think a lot of people, myself especially, just struggle with what that ideal life is like in the future. Because you have to be a bit selfish now and take the time to figure out what that is. But back to that priority point, if it's not helping you meet that goal, then get rid of it. And just only focus on the things that are moving you towards that with just blind ambition, right?

Nic (37:42):

And I mean, I think that one of the craziest things that I've recently started to ask a lot of my clients when I coach them is, can you tell me what success looks like to you? And you'll be shocked at how few people have given any of their brain power to the idea of success in their own lives. And I just want to quickly unpack that, right? Success for some people is inherited or learned from family, the internet, TV, social media, whatever. I, for example, don't give a crap about cars. I don't care. My car is a box on four wheels to get me from point A to point B. Spending more money than I have to on a car is ridiculous. It is not part of my success triggers or my definition of success. Freedom to travel is, so that means I need to construct a life that allows me to do so.

Nic (38:28):

And if you haven't thought in the decade, plan what success looks like and then work backward from that. One day, you're going to wake up and be 60 and think, "What did I do with my life? And why do I not feel like a success?" And it's because you've inherited your version of success. And that is a big house, big car, pretty girls and guys all over, lots of money. But lots of money doesn't mean happiness and success, not to everybody. To some people it does. And then your sense of self-worth comes into check.

Ben (38:52):

Yeah. And it's trying to find that success, an external thing that's only going to kind of just make a bigger hole. So it's really important to define what success looks like for you and just to stick to that. It's really great. So with all that you have going on, what's next for you? What's on the horizon?

Nic (39:11):

I am decluttering at the moment. So having just moved to London, my partner and I are minimalist in the way we live. We rent a furnished house, so we don't own any furniture. Like I don't buy or spend on anything. So I'm decluttering the work that I do. I have the ability to launch things really easily, and that is a good and bad thing at the same time, because it means that I can launch things really easily. I have things really easy. So I have too many side projects, too many businesses, and too many things. So I've just decided to get rid of all of them and focus. So at the moment I am focused on coaching entrepreneurs in startups and scale-ups and helping them integrate their lives into their work a little bit better. I am kind of doing lots of research, planning my fourth book, and the main focus is my podcast, which you can find at itsnotover.show.

Ben (39:58):

Any teaser on what the next new book is about?

Nic (40:02):

No, I'm in such a broad way of research right now. I've got 17 different topics. I'm kind of playing around with the idea of strong opinions about nearly everything and just writing down my really random, strong opinions about nearly everything, seeing where that takes me.

Ben (40:21):

Yeah. And if it's anything about the quotes that I've quoted you today, it's going to be a profound book because there's so much wisdom out of everything that you do. And we'll be sure to put all of the links to the books on our blog post and link to your podcast, nharry.com to learn everything about you. And we'll also add your LinkedIn profile there to get more people on the Nic train and build their own Nicisms in life. And that's so important. So is there anything else that you'd like our audience to know about you?

Nic (40:54):

Nothing at all. Thank you so much. It's been such a fun talk.

Ben (40:57):

Yeah, it's been great. Thanks for coming on Get More done, Nic, and I hope you have a good rest of your day. Good luck with the decluttering and best of luck with the new book.

Nic (41:05):

Thank you.

Ben (41:08):

Thanks for listening. I hope you are as motivated as I am with all of the quotes Nic shared. As I mentioned, this is the season one finale of Get More Done. Be sure to subscribe so you can be notified when we pick things back up. Are you and your time tired of back and forth emails trying to find a time to meet with your customers? Consider setting up scheduling automation to avoid the headache. Find out how at youcanbook.me/teams.

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