“‘Tis not knowing much, but what is useful, that makes a wise man.” – Thomas Fuller, M.D. (Gnomologia, 1732)
If you want to be really good at what you do, you must do more than just work hard. You must stay au courant with your competition. If you are a ballet dancer, that might mean studying videotapes of other dancers. If you sell hamburgers, it would mean a lot of eating expeditions.
As a consultant to direct-marketing publishers, I stay up-to-date by reading the publications and promotions of my clients and their competitors. But there are hundreds of publications to read each month and at least that many promotions. If I had to read them all, I’d have time for nothing else.
I’ve found I can stay on top of things with this 15-minute-a-day program:
1. SORTING: As material comes in, I separate the wheat from the chaff immediately. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a foot-high pile of “stuff” to go through that will look intimidating and may, therefore, sit there untended. How much you throw out or keep depends on how much you get and your selection process.
2. SELECTION: I try to read the best of the best for new ideas and to use as models to show others what I mean by “good.” I also read any of my clients’ pieces that are performing poorly (with an eye toward reparations).
3. ROUTINE: My goal is to read one newsletter and one promotion per day. This can be done in 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how much skimming I do. If I keep up with this, I’m reading about 30 new promotions and 30 newsletters per month.
4. PROCESS: Since the material tends to arrive in batches, I file it in a calendar file. I put one newsletter and one promotion in each daily pocket. Once the folder fills up, I put nothing into it without taking something out. This way, I don’t give myself more than I can do.
This simple and timesaving program keeps me solidly on top of who is doing what in the industry. It also gives me a never-ending supply of good ideas. The ideas get better and better so long as I keep up the process. If I stop for a few days, the creative juices tend to slow down.
Of the dozen or so CEOs I consult with, about half of them could never, ever fix their businesses if the products or the marketing started to fall apart. They are very good at keeping a good machine running smoothly, but they don’t know how to fix one if it breaks.
Knowing how to fix a broken business requires the kind of deep and up-to-date knowledge you can get only by doing the kind of homework I’m recommending.
So if you want to get to — and stay at — the top of your field, I can’t think of a better or more necessary way to spend 15 to 30 minutes a day. The reward you get — having those you work with see you as knowledgeable and creative — will go a long way toward helping your reach your goal.[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]