Secrets of Success: The Ultimate To-Do List -
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Secrets of Success: The Ultimate To-Do List

We’ve launched “Secrets of Success,” a new weekly interview series here at the’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, innovative, successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.

Meet: Mike Michalowicz. Mike is a serial entrepreneur (he’s on his third business), a bestselling author (his most recent book is The Pumpkin Plan), the CEO of the Provendus Group, and one of the smartest (and funniest) people I’ve ever met.

Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Mike Michalowicz: I wanted to be Gordon Gekko. I saw the movie Wall Street, and just wanted to be a rich investor guy. I even studied finance in college, only to discover that I didn’t enjoy finance and I really DIDN’T want to sell my soul for money. So I started my own business like Bud Fox’s father [a character in the movie].

Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?

Michalowicz: After working for a computer company for a few years, I thought I could do the same thing, but better, and that if I owned it, I could make it into anything I wanted. It worked–but it was scary.

Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Michalowicz: I had many nights when I thought the best solution was just to give up. To quit. To go get a job. Pushing through the dark days was the most important thing I ever did to ultimately build and sell my companies.

Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Michalowicz: Don’t listen to experts. A mentor of mine told me, “Don’t listen to experts, including me, because no matter how much I support your success, I am still blinded by my bias and my experience. Gauge what you hear from me, but always reach your own conclusions.”

Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Michalowicz: My best tip is a way I’ve devised to make sure I am always working on the most important thing in my business at any time—I maintain an ongoing task list. When I have a new idea, or thing I need to do, I add it to the list. Then instead of prioritizing on due dates, I put either a dollar sign or smiley face next to the task. The dollar sign is if the task will make me money in the next 60 days, and the smiley face is if it’s for an existing client. Any task with both a smiley face and dollar sign gets done first. Then smiley faces alone. Then dollar signs alone. And then tasks without any marking. This method has more than doubled my company’s annual revenue.

Lesonsky: Do you have a 2014 small business prediction?

Michalowicz: The government will not fix its debt problems, ever. And, unfortunately, the United States will go bankrupt. Probably not in 2014, but definitely within a decade.

Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?

Michalowicz: Fiction: Life of Pi. Nonfiction: anything written by Barry Moltz.

Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Michalowicz: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde

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Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at, follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.
Rieva Lesonsky

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