How To Overcome Fear

Fear of not having a better year than last year.

Fear of the fifty-fifty candidate taking a counter.

Fear of what’s going on with all those processes that haven’t moved since Christmas.

Fear’s a potent feeling. And a lot of the time, an unfounded one.

But knowing that won’t stop it affecting your decision making. If you’re anxious about the time ahead – or outright fearful for what the future holds for your business – I always find it’s best to hear from someone who’s been there a few times.

Tim Ferriss knows a bit about fear.

He’s an entrepreneur best known for writing ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’, a self-improvement bible for anyone looking to “escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich”.

Given that most recruiters can only dream about a 4 Hour Lunch Break, it’s perhaps more relevant to mention Ferriss is an Angel Investor and advisor to companies like Facebook, Twitter and Evernote.

He’s been able to call himself a best-selling author every time he brings a new book out. His podcast, ‘The Tim Ferriss Show’, has been downloaded over 200 million times. He holds a Guinness World Record for tango dancing

A self-proclaimed ‘human guinea-pig’, he’s not shy when it comes to sharing his tactics. One of which involves using fear as a motivating factor to draw up simple, workable contingency plans for your business.

It’s overcoming fear, by planning smarter.

As well as this, Tim’s got tonnes of strategies – from staying on top of your inbox, to knowing when to throw the rulebook out – all of which are adverts to acting without fear in business.


Fear setting

There’s a 13 minute TED talk that shows how this works in plenty of detail. The general principle is to work out three steps:

1. Define the fear. What’s the worst case scenario if I don’t achieve what I set out to?

2. Prevent it. What specific steps can I take to reduce the likelihood of that fear becoming a reality?

3. Repair the damage. What can I do to fix the issue if I fail? How do I get back to where I was? Who can I ask for help?

It’s contingency planning 101. And the idea’s to be as detailed and specific as possible.

List every terrible outcome. And every conceivable step you’d take to overcome it.

Tim usually does this monthly and recommends listing between 10 and 20 different disaster outcomes per situation. By detailing what catastrophe looks like for your business you should be in the best place to stop it from happening.

And if the worst does happen – you miss a billing target, fail to agree terms with a new client, struggle to get a cold desk off the ground – you’ve got a step-by-step plan for how to get back on top.


Batch your emails

Outside of being moderately anxiety-inducing, Ferriss calls regular notifications from your inbox “the greatest single interruption in the modern world”.

It’s not an unfair claim. Research shows “office workers spend 28% of their time switching between tasks due to interruption, and 40% of the time, an interrupted task is not resumed within 24 hours”. 

Tim recommends two courses of action:

i) Turn off notifications and disable auto-send/receive

ii) Check e-mail twice per day, once before lunch and again later in the afternoon

You might need to gently inform a few people you’ll be out of your inbox. Managers, candidates and clients, mostly. An out of office message can even explain this for you. Just make sure it’s a good one.

If that seems like a step too far, try to start an ‘on the hour, every hour, and no more’ routine for checking emails. See if the increased productivity during the in-between time’s worth it.

Getting elbow-deep in a particularly tricky search. Finessing a piece of marketing content. Or, just getting your admin out of the way. Without interruption or distraction.

And if it’s really urgent, that’s what phones are for.


Do the opposite to everyone else

In ‘Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers’, Ferriss tells us about his first job out of college selling data storage to C-level customers:

“I was cold calling and cold emailing. “Smiling and dialing” was brutal.”

Recognising that all of the sales guys made their calls between 9am and 5pm, and that all of the gatekeepers worked from 9 until 5 as well, Ferriss started looking for anything that would make him stand out:

“What if I did the opposite of all the other sales guys, just for 48 hours?”

Instead of being on the phones from 9 to 5, he got into the office an hour early and left an hour late and kept busy with emails during core working hours. 9 times out of 10 when Tim called, the boss picked up. One nil, Ferriss.

He ran with the idea of doing the opposite. Instead of pitching, he asked questions. He studied technical material to sound like an Engineer instead of a Salesman. He signed his emails with: “I totally understand if you’re too busy to reply, and thank you for reading this far…” as opposed to “I look forward to hearing from you”.

“The experiments paid off. My last quarter in that job, I outsold the entire L.A. office of our biggest competitor”.

The take away from this is, some trends are meant to be bucked. Even if it’s only for a day or two.

There are millions of recruiters around the world.

Doing the opposite will naturally allow you to stand out. 

It doesn’t have to be drastic, but changing things up every now and then could lead to something good happening.

I’m personally a big fan of recruiters posting candidate profiles instead of job ads.

LinkedIn gets a bit boring scrolling through bullet point lists. Market your candidates well enough and the good ones will seek you out.

If you’ve got a picky client that asks for ten CVs for every role and then never hires, you can elitify your submissions by banking on one outstanding candidate. You’ve got to have them up your sleeve already but a single CV when every other recruiter is sending ten is a total power move.

Any time doing the opposite “just won’t work” because it’s not the norm is the perfect opportunity to try something fresh.

You might not stumble onto anything radical straight away, but the results could surprise you. At worst, you’ll have only lost two days and should be able to get back on course easily.

At best, you could be onto something.