Brian Margolis, author of The Index Card Business plan, tees off on the shortcomings of time management and “shiny object” syndrome. The truth is our ideas can prevent us from habitually doing the two or three things that really drive results for our business. He’s productized the “Pillar System” which helps entrepreneurs identify their Pillars and turn them into habit.
“Getting things done DOES NOT drive results.” - Brian Margolis
Former environmental / fisheries scientist turned entrepreneur, Brian Margolis assists entrepreneurs and sales professionals earn more by focusing on less. He helps them create a strategy so simple, it fits on an index card. . . but so powerful it has helped create 7-figure earners and is licensed by some of the largest companies in the world to develop strategies for their sales teams.
Max Traylor: Hello folks. It's another unfortunate day in the world of beers with Max, brought to you by Corona Extra, Mexico's finest dog shit beer. Brian Margolis, ladies and gentlemen.
Brian Margolis: How are you man?
Max Traylor: I could not be better. Brian, did you bring something better to drink today to brighten our spirits?
Brian Margolis: I did actually. This past weekend I went with my brother to a local brewery and I grabbed some retail on the way out, so I'm drinking a ... They always have long names, these specialty beers.
Max Traylor: They do.
Brian Margolis: The place is called Zed's Beer, so a little plug if you're ever in South Jersey. It's called Zed's on the Liffey-Dublin Porter.
Max Traylor: Give me a view. Let me see what that looks like for the video viewers. Oh! Well, hey, pretty cool.
Brian Margolis: It's in a black and white can.
Max Traylor: Love it.
Brian Margolis: And this is what I was drinking this weekend when I was there, so I'll just continue the ...
Max Traylor: Well, cheers. Happy I could contribute. What do you do professionally besides hunt down really interesting, tasty beers?
Brian Margolis: Well, that's more of a hobby, but if I can get paid for it, I would certainly do it. But no, previous life I was a research scientist, grew up wanting to be Jacques Cousteau, as I say. And for the last two decades though I decided to go the entrepreneurial path, so I've been working for myself and had a number of businesses. And at this point in the game I am basically helping others. I'm helping other entrepreneurs, sales pros, companies basically with strategy. Simplifying their strategy to help them produce more. Earn more by focusing on less and it's something that I did for myself many years ago. It was amazing, and when I realized that I wasn't the only one who is overwhelmed and busy and screwed up as everyone else and other people were as well, I started helping others.
Max Traylor: Make more by focusing on less. I know what you mean.
Brian Margolis: Right.
Max Traylor: Clarify that for me. What was the previous state and then maybe what forced you to make the scary decision to focus on something?
Brian Margolis: For me, it was probably most people who work for themselves initially is if you're the creative type, if you're the entrepreneurial type, if you're the sales type, you have a lot of ideas. You always think there's a better way to do things, and I can do this and I can do that and there's more to do. The whole funny thing is I used to call myself a serial entrepreneur, and one of my coaches called me, "You're a guy with multiple streams of no income."
Max Traylor: I love that.
Brian Margolis: That's how he told it to me, one of my coaches. What I realized very quickly was you just you hear it all the time, but you just can't do it all. And so when I finally figured out a way, and it didn't happen overnight, it took me a long time to come up with the system that I now teach, but when I boiled my business, my week down to just a few key things that I call pillars in the book, I couldn't believe it. It seems odd, but I actually started producing more. I started earning more.
Brian Margolis: Now here's the funny part. More crap didn't get done. I wasn't crossing a lot of things off my to do list. I definitely wouldn't have passed David Allen's course or anything like that. I was just doing a handful of things and I was starting to make a lot of money doing it. And now that I'm on this side of the fence, honestly, I can't believe anyone still operates the other way, but I get it because I did it for so many years.
Max Traylor: We're the victim of our own excitement and our own ideas, but I've never heard it put, "You have multiple sources of no income." I really-
Brian Margolis: Multiple streams of no income. I can't take credit for that. That was what a coach said to me one time early on when I was ... I had one half decent business and then I started about three others. I had four things going. The first business started dropping and he goes, you got multiple streams of no income.
Max Traylor: So the company Productivity Giant and you're starting to reference your boo, so let's pre curs that by just solidifying the number one problem that you found in the industry. Was it focus? Was it that they weren't being productive because they were trying to accomplish too many things and that's what led to your current practice?
Brian Margolis: Yeah, the two problems I saw were that I think people have heard and they understand logically that you need to focus on the right things and execute on them consistently. Right?
Max Traylor: Yeah.
Brian Margolis: I don't think that's something that your audience is going to be hearing for the first time or you're certainly hearing for the first time. But what I found out was people don't actually know what the right things are, so that was the first problem. And let me be very clear what I mean. When I talk to people about, how are you going to improve your business? Here's what they tell me. Well, I just need to focus more on blah, blah, blah, getting in front of the right people, or I just need to do more of this or double down on that, and we use words that have no agreed upon definitions.
Brian Margolis: And so how do you know when you're done focusing more on something? How do you know when you're done optimizing for? These are just generalities, but they're not the things that actually have to be done. And so the first problem is people really don't know what they actually have to do. In other words, at the level where they say, I need to do this and it can actually be measured. It's in my control.
Brian Margolis: The second problem that I saw, and I know a lot of people can relate to this, is at some point you figure out that you have enough time to be successful. The evidence is all around us because there's other successful people. And so what you figured out, I hope, and if you don't, here's the lesson, but time is not our limiting resource. Focus is our limiting resource. Our ability to focus on cognitively demanding activities is the real limiting resource in our day, in our week, in our month. And so I move away from time management and I like to talk about focus management.
Brian Margolis: Meaning, if focus is your limiting resource, well, then you better be pretty careful about where you give that focus to. And so those are the two problems that I run into the most, that people actually don't know what the right things to do are. And the other part is they try to manage time, and I just think that's a big mistake. And I know time management certainly has its place, but focus management is what it's all about.
Max Traylor: Now a question about time management. Give me a little more on that and perhaps why time management ... Not that time management is better, but when does time management become a hindrance to focus management, for example?
Brian Margolis: See, most people don't have a strategy, but when they do have an actual strategy, a time management strategy says, what is my strategy for getting all these things done? So they have a strategy for getting everything done. In the mornings I'm going to do this and then after lunch I'm going to do that, and on Tuesdays I'm going to do all of my whatever calls and Wednesdays I'm going to do this. And so they have a strategy to get everything done. The problem being is that most of us don't get paid for getting everything done. We get paid for results, so that would be a time management approach.
Brian Margolis: A focus management approach says, look, I have a limited amount of focus productivity hours every day, every week. This is my strategy, this is where I need to use that focus. I need to do A, B, C, D and E every week, and as long as I do those things, everything else will take care of itself. I've got to close my door, my wing man, Jack, just walked in.
Max Traylor: Got it. Hello, wing man. Did he bring a beer?
Brian Margolis: He does not get a beer.
Max Traylor: Well, maybe a new wingman. Anyway, I'm looking at your book right here, The Index Card Business Plan. You have taken steps to productize your pillar system. That's what you're referencing. Is it your intent, is it your belief that in order for somebody to get the benefit of the pillar system, you have to physically show up and hold their hand and make sure they do it?
Brian Margolis: No.
Max Traylor: Or are you aspiring to impact more people using your intellectual property?
Brian Margolis: I definitely want to impact a lot more people. And here's the thing. It was amazing to me. When I sold my last business and I decided to start helping others, helping entrepreneurs, helping sales pros, things like that, to say I was surprised is an understatement as to even some of the most successful people I've worked with and continue to work with. People that from the outside looking in, anybody would call successful. When I brought this simple concept to them of boiling their week down to an index card, to them it was like, oh my God! See, again, I thought I was the only one.
Brian Margolis: And so as I do that more and more and more, I realize, you know what? It's not the exception, it's the rule. Most people don't know what the right things to do are including myself.
Brian Margolis: And so what I did was, listen, I don't think anyone here is going to be surprised that you can be successful by figuring out what the right things to do are, and then doing them consistently. I don't think I'm bringing any new thing to this earth. The intellectual property that I have, which has been reverse engineered over a lot of years and a lot of clients, is that I have a process now for figuring out what the right things to do are.
Brian Margolis: So when someone tells me, I need to focus more on getting in front of the big accounts, great, that's a goal, that you want to get in front of more big accounts. There's a series of questions and criteria that you can take yourself through that actually boil that down to, what are the actions that you control each week that you can take to make sure that you're actually going to wind up in front of those big accounts?
Brian Margolis: And the second, I guess, IP in there is what I call my custom accountability program, which is, now you have this index card, this index card says, look, if I do these five or six things every week, everything else is going to take care of itself. It's that domino effect, but then you have the problem of actually doing them every week. And so I've read all of the same books everyone else has about getting things done, being consistent, being disciplined, habits, all that stuff. And what I realized was long term, there's only one solution.
Brian Margolis: The only way that people are going to consistently execute on what I call their pillars is if eventually it becomes a habit. And I want to be very clear, when I say a habit, I don't use that word loosely. I mean the biological definition of a habit where your brain forms this open loop and it's got to be closed, and you're hitting your pillars more because that's what you do. You want to close this loop than for what the pillars are actually getting you, if that makes sense.
Max Traylor: Yeah.
Brian Margolis: What I talk about there in the book in the second part is I want to work with human nature, not against it, and I want to make sure that the strategy you use to develop the habit is based on your personality, what works for you. And so that's something that can also be productized, and that's something that I'm working on right now.
Max Traylor: You're at some point in this journey. You've got aspirations, but you also have a lot of validation that this process, the systems that you use do not require you. It can be put in the form of a book, workbooks. I know you've got some interesting programs, so I find it inspirational to people that are looking up at the mountain and going, "There's no way I can climb that." So if you're comfortable, maybe you could tell me some of the ways that you've packaged this and that you're hoping to contribute to people without actually being there. Like a one to 10, one to 100, one to 1000, putting together a program that is self-serve or a hybrid model. What are you up to? What's on the list?
Brian Margolis: Right now, I make money three ways with this. And I only say this because I want people to think that ... Sometimes they think we started on third base. I'm currently in the throes of, like a lot of coaches and consultants and service providers, I have one-on-one clients and they take up a lot of hours. I do a lot of training. We were just talking before the thing, I just got back from Toronto and Chicago and things like that, so I do a lot of group training and I actually sell the content. I license the content to certain companies, and we've had some success where they actually teach the system to their team.
Brian Margolis: As far as how I make my money now, that all requires my time. The validation I've gotten is that I've gotten so many emails from people who have read the book and it's funny, they all email me their pillars. And they go, "Hey, these are the pillars I came up with. What do you think?" And surprisingly, they're pretty good. And I'm like, "Wow, you were able to read my book and figured this out." Now, I usually say they're pretty good because they're not quite there. There's a couple of things that I think you just can't get from a book only.
Brian Margolis: And so what I'm doing, I'm building a product right now where you're going to get the actual one-way lessons, but I'm also doing a lot of live case studies. So I'm actually helping people over the phone, over video and you actually will get to hear the recordings of me helping them identify their pillars. And the great news is everyone hits the same objections over and over, which tells me that, you know what? This doesn't have to be custom, that you can do this process yourself. And so that's where I'm at now, which leads to another interesting thing that I know you and I have talked about offline before, which is, how does one who's currently coaching one-on-one, traveling, providing their services, doing all that, how do you also build a product?
Brian Margolis: Because a lot of people are scared. They're like, well, I don't want to go build a product or productize my IP because then I'm going to lose my main source of income. I imagine, Max, you can tell me, but that's something pretty scary for a lot of people.
Max Traylor: Terrifying.
Brian Margolis: Terrifying, I know. For me too.
Max Traylor: It's their livelihood, that's how they feed their kids. I have a seven-month old now, so I can't go back before that time and say I would've made some of the decisions that I made if I had this serious, little blue-eyed human being.
Brian Margolis: Right. And so what's interesting about the pillars though is, one of my pillars is actually spending a certain number of hours every week building the product. And so I believe you can actually do both. And the only reason me personally, that I can do both is because I have my pillar system, for me personally.
Max Traylor: Well, what I'm hearing is that there's two things that you're doing with one pillar. You're handling consulting, the delivery of value, which I look at as a one-to-one revenue generating activity, not scalable, but it's your current livelihood. So you're going to do it anyway. The question is, how can you make that effort double as product development? And that's exactly what you're doing. You're taking your lifetime and you're saying, wait, I can hit the record button and I can actually use this in my one-to-many product material.
Max Traylor: So yes, it's very difficult. It's almost impossible for someone to carve out the time to develop a product from scratch. What they ought to recognize is that they are developing the product every day, they just haven't recognized it and aren't taking advantage of all the effort that they're putting in regardless.
Brian Margolis: Exactly. The most important part of my content is being developed when I do trainings, when I do one-on-ones, when I do things like that. When I say two hours working on my product, I'm talking about the formatting, which by the way is important. That's important as well, so the analogy I like to use, and if you're listening to this and saying, Brian, you don't get it, I am every day I'm doing this and I'm doing that, I hear that.
Brian Margolis: There's two things I hear from all my clients at some point. Number one, you don't get it, it's different for me, and number two, at some point they tell me they have ADD. Every single one of my clients this is what happens. I know there's people who really have it and I'm certainly not a doctor, I can't diagnose it, but most people are unfocused and overwhelmed and bouncing around and staying busy all day. That's pretty normal actually. That's normal.
Brian Margolis: So the analogy I use is if you're running a bucket brigade ... excuse me, a bucket brigade right now, and you're running down to the stream and you're getting water and you're running down and you're getting water, now you can make that better. You can get a bigger bucket, you can clear out pads, you can get in better shape, you can maybe hire another person to run up and down with you at some point. But in the end, you're still running up and down, but that's okay because you're keeping the water-filled. People have water in the village, but at the same time, you can also spend a couple of hours a day building the pipe, drilling the well, building the pipeline.
Brian Margolis: And on day one, you're not going to get paid on it. And day two, you're not going to get paid on it. And maybe even month three you're not going to get paid on it. But when you finally turn on that well, when you finally start pumping from the river, all of a sudden, you're getting paid over and over and the bucket brigade is no longer necessary. And so what I'm doing right now with my personal pillars is I have very specific pillars that are designed to keep food on the table.
Brian Margolis: I have prospecting pillars, I have content creation pillars, I have a follow-up pillar to make sure I'm staying on top of opportunities, but I also then have this other pillar that says, this is just as important as that. This is just as important. You might not realize it right now, Brian, and in the heat of the moment, you might not feel like this is the best use of my time, but it doesn't matter because I've developed the habit of pillar execution. These are one of my pillars.
Brian Margolis: And so I think that's important for people listening that are thinking of productizing is, for someone who's so into focus like I am, you'd think, well, you shouldn't be doing two things at once. And I'd say, no, you can do more than one thing at a time. You just can't think about more than one thing at a time. But listen, I'm only working. Right now, my pillar says work two hours a week on my product and I'm working two hours on it. Two hours, two hours, it's like going to the gym.
Max Traylor: It's two hours more than 99.9% of the people.
Brian Margolis: Well, that's right.
Max Traylor: Every week.
Brian Margolis: Right, every week, two hours. And some weeks I'll have extra time and I'll put more time into it, but-
Max Traylor: No.
Brian Margolis: I think you can do both, I really do.
Max Traylor: I'd argue that you have to. The one thing that we can't escape is our bodies falling apart. Our bodies will fall apart.
Brian Margolis: Right. That's right.
Max Traylor: And we will not be traveling to Toronto and Chicago and we won't have the energy or the patience or the passion to show up and answer the same questions over and over and over. But we might have enough energy to walk to that mailbox, collect the check and take a picture of it and send it to Bank of America because we're still contributing to people because of these programs that we've developed. So I thank you so much for your time.
Brian Margolis: Can I interject one thing before we wrap it up?
Max Traylor: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Brian Margolis: The other part, obviously, we want to make more money and do less work. I'm not going to lie, I'm an entrepreneur. But the other part is I'm always scared that the quality of my services could go down over time because one of the things that happens is when you talk to so many people about the same thing over and over and over, I see the smirk starting on your face, sometimes you maybe leave out basics, you leave out assumptions, you're almost bored of it in a way.
Brian Margolis: And so I feel like if I record this and I get it down, everyone's getting everything every time. And as a human, I can't give that to them every day, every time. It's just not possible. So it's something I think about a lot. And so I think recording it to me is almost a way to guarantee that that happens. In fact, in one of my industries to work with me, you have to also listen to a series of audios first. Even though I plan on repeating myself, they still have to listen to the audios.
Max Traylor: You just described a mindset that is the exact opposite of what most people believe in, and it's a limiting belief is that because you are showing ... Number one, I'm the only one that can do what I do, that's just false.
Brian Margolis: Right.
Max Traylor: And number two, when I show up the client is getting more value. The problem is we're human beings, and there's one day where we're at our best and everyone else gets subpar treatment. So why don't we do ourselves and our clients a favor and record these really important concepts and methodologies and things?
Max Traylor: But now what you're saying is, if I don't show up and I deliver some of this stuff by video or in workbooks, it's actually more valuable, and that is 100% counterintuitive to everybody, I think, until you're looking at it from the other side of the fence going, "Oh wow, it's so much easier now and people are actually getting everything that I have to offer without me screwing it up on a regular basis."
Brian Margolis: Listen, if I have a client and they ask me to repeat something, they're spending money for me to repeat it, right?
Max Traylor: Yeah.
Brian Margolis: They're spending money for me to hear it again. They can rewind and listen, rewind and listen, rewind and listen, so I see a ton of value in it. I'm excited.
Max Traylor: Well, Brian, fantastic stuff. How do people get in contact with you if they are for some reason struggling with focus?
Brian Margolis: If they need a strategy.
Max Traylor: I couldn't imagine, why, Brian. There's no market for you.
Brian Margolis: No, no one needs this. Actually, the toughest part of my market is people don't actually believe that you can be successful by simplifying your strategy, and I think you'll learn on my website with some of the results that yes you can. But the simplest way, productivitygiant.com, everything links from that. You can email me, you can go on LinkedIn, you can download reports, you can watch videos, all that kind of stuff. So productivitygiant.com is the way to do it.
Max Traylor: Cool. I'm going to go and hang out with my grandfather and my son and my father. They've all traveled in, so we've got all four Robert trailers one place at one time, so I'm going to go do that.
Brian Margolis: Very cool.
Max Traylor: Those of you listening, tip your waitress, drive safe, do whatever you're doing a little bit more productively. How is the beer, Brian? What do you got?
Brian Margolis: Well, I cheated because I drank it this weekend. I knew it was great.
Max Traylor: All right, you knew it was great. So fine, it's great.
Brian Margolis: It's a porter. I like the darker beers. I'm not into ales, they're too bitter.
Max Traylor: Once you go porter ...
Brian Margolis: Yes, I've heard that, you stay Irish.
Max Traylor: Brilliant. Thanks a lot. See you next time.
Brian Margolis: All right.