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Know your focus
Control your temper
In the end of 2022 I took a two weeks vacation. Letting myself rest and be careless was the best decision of the past year.
Two weeks of not writing anything prominent. Two weeks without working like I used to. One of those two weeks I spent without my laptop in a small Azerbaijani village at the border with Iran.
I met dozens of my wife’s relatives, tried various kinds of local food, ate at least ten plates of pilaf with lavangi, and drank gallons of black tea. All I can say is that it was heartwarming and healing.
I’m glad to be back to writing as there many things I’d love to share with you.
Insight of the week. We all tell stories
If you read my previous letters, you know I love shooting on film. I don’t do it for money, just for me. It’s my way of exploring the world and telling stories without words. It’s the thing I do when I want to have a break from writing.
Every person I take a photo of leaves something in my memory. A joke, a smile, an emotion, a word, or a story. Every shot leaves a scar, a print, a sense—call it whatever you like. Everyone who I had captured on film made a change in my heart.
Shooting on film changed my perception of what communication is. Every photo is a story. A little fragment of someone's life locked up in a shot like a snowstorm in a toy pyramid. The best part is that the story will live after you're gone.
Probably that's the meaning of life we all can agree on. Leave something that will live after you're not around anymore. Something that will make people learn and feel the stories you've captured through life. In fact, we all tell stories.
The only thing left to decide is what kind of story you'd like to tell.
Leadership principle. Know your focus
For the past three years I’ve worked with and for various product and SaaS teams. They were from different industries. But all of them had one common problem—bad focus.
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen small products turn into humongous, rigid structures. Simply because founders lost their focus. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard these words: “We need to get attention of everyone on our product. Our product should be universal. Our goal is to corner the market and beat those big guys!”
Really? I believe your starting plan was to create a better user experience for a certain segment of the market, rather than corner it. But appetite comes with eating. This rising appetite blinds people and makes them lose the way.
Knowing your focus and saying no to other things is the most important lesson I’ve ever learned.
The lack of focus erodes ability to flex and accomplish your initial goals. In 99% of the cases the focus shifts to money, and here’s why.
Startups are hungry and it’s a good thing. Business should stay hungry. Hunger keeps the mind clear and the focus precise. However, you have to control your hunger and not let it become a starvation. Have a bite once in a while. Starving businesses lose their focus easily.
It’s not long before their start eating anything that comes their way, just to beat this sick feeling at the pit of a stomach. Side projects, little opportunities to make some money on the side, new feature that your customers want to see, a darn dark theme, or a mobile app. That’s how it always starts. The end is never that fun though.
You probably wouldn’t like the idea of feeding your body with crap like chips and coke. To stay healthy, efficient and strong you have to eat proteins, slow carbons, greens, and drink a lot of water, not soda. The same goes for business. You should be cautious about what you’re feeding your product with. The businesses feed with ideas, hypothesis and guesses you take. Take one and go with it. Don’t squander.
Control your hunger and know your focus. Otherwise you’ll end up creating a product that has no market, no demand, and no unfair advantage. All of that is simply because of a bad focus.
Writing trick. Be careful with bold
I ran into this thread by Andrew Nalband where he shares a technique of marking text bold and color highlights to make it easier to scan the draft. Good point, but he does it the wrong way.
Take a look at Andrew’s draft. You can see words, but they make no sense without a context. What does mean “content” in the middle of the first sentence? How is that related to “presentation” and other words marked bold below? You have to read the whole sentence to understand this text.
Here’s another example. I excerpted a few paragraphs from El Pais article and marked their random parts bold. If you read only the bold text, you won’t get a shit of what’s going on here.
Bold text in the middle of a paragraph is a bad idea. It doesn’t help a reader get to the main idea faster and doesn’t make it easier to skim through. On the contrary, it creates additional visual noise and thus hinders reading.
In the end, a reader has to do the double work: read the whole text and fight the distraction. You wanted to draw their attention to some important fact, but instead you made them read the whole text.
Fortunately, it’s easily fixable. Mark text bold only in the beginning of a paragraph. In this case, your text will look like my post about failures:
This way you don't have to jump over the text, all you need to do is to scan the beginnings of the paragraphs. It's way faster and easier to do.
It’s also more convenient for a reader to digest a piece structured this way. Even if people won’t read the whole piece, they’ll be able to catch the core idea of my post and get what they’ve come for.
Question. What challenges are you facing now?
To make my emails more useful and practical for you, I thought it might be good to ask you a question. I ask this one myself every two or three months.
What challenges are you facing now? What's holding you back from achieving more in your life than you've achieved so far?
When I typed these words, the idea crossed my mind, “Why not to make a new section out of it?” Let’s say I’ll share some thoughts on the answers of yours. Here’s how it may work:
If any of those challenges are connected to writing, management, or leadership, send them to me via email.
For each question I’ll record a short podcast or a video with my thoughts on that and publish them in one of the following editions.
But I have to warn you, I am not a mentor, a psychiatrist, or whatever you may think I am. I’m just a man who has his own view of things, his own experience, and shares it. I don’t know if my words will be of a help, but I promise to be honest and share only what I’ve learned so far.
One email, one thing you’re dealing with, and a bit of advice from me.
Email your question or situation at firstname.lastname@example.org
That’s it for today. Hope you’ve enjoyed this email. And if you have, share it with your friends and people who may like it. I’ll appreciate your support and feedback.
See you in two weeks.
Baku, 16 February 2023
Ask me anything via email: email@example.com