Jan 132017
 

Few disagree that time is one of our most precious and fleeting resources. Yet, when I ask, I find that few people manage and more importantly optimize their time by using a better-than-average system. It is hard to be a great carpenter if you don’t use good tools and techniques.

First, time management is a strange phrase: we really can’t manage time, as it flows by no matter what we do. What we can do is decide how we use the time that we are given, which makes the challenge one of planning and decision making. That reality invariably leads to several important questions: what are your goals (and why), what is your foremost priority now, and what are other crucial and urgent tasks that are important to you. If you have no goals, your task management will often adopt someone else’s priorities.

What is the average system?

In a word, lists. The good news about written lists is that they outperform the average memory, but most people just jot things down, then look them over from time to time.

What’s above average?

While we are still working with two dimensional lists, I usually see four improvements:

  1. Lists are organized by project.
  2. Due dates are added to certain tasks, and alerts are triggered to remind the person to get things done at the right time.
  3. The user adopts the idea of writing everything (that he or she ‘accepts’ as a task) down, not just some tasks — this is very useful because it relieves one’s brain from periodically churning and worrying about forgetting key tasks.
  4. Your task / list system is available for you no matter where you are (which means available on smartphone and desktop for nearly all of us).

What if you want to be top 20%?

Four concepts must be added to your system (and your actual system must make these easy-to-do on an ongoing basis):

  1. Planning ahead is crucial, so that you know what is on your personal agenda for this month, this week, and this day.
  2. Tasks must be distilled to individual, actionable, next steps, so that when you decide to work on a task, you are empowered to take action without a new round of thinking and distilling.
  3. The one truly “next” task needs to be identified by project.
  4. You must have scheduled reviews to keep your system fresh and re-prioritized, with minimal effort.

In essence, you have the ability to view your tasks by various dimensions — not just by project and date. As your system becomes more sophisticated, you can view projects by priority, by next step, by status (for example, waiting on someone to get back to you), or by delegate.

What if you want to be top 10% in your time management?

Filters and blocks of time:

  1. The core idea is — assuming that you pre-plan every task — you can use filters so that you only see the tasks for today, or tomorrow, or this week, which helps with your focus and stress reduction.
  2. Filters should accommodate ‘context’ so that you only see the tasks that can be done given based on where you are (for example, you can’t mow the lawn or throw the baseball with Jimmy while at the airport, so why add stress by seeing those tasks out of context).
  3. Use calendar appointments to block your time for strategic progress bursts. Most people struggle with turning off the ever-present distractions but that is exactly what is needed. (See pomodoro technique)
  4. A bonus feature is if your system makes it easy to log how you spent your time so that you get feedback and become smarter in your approach over time.

How do you become a top 1%er?

To be a top one-percent time management black-belt, one must transcend just having a great system, learning the habit of aligning daily effort to short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals, blocking considerable daily time to the pursuit of what is truly important and strategic. This leads to saying “no” often, without losing valuable personal relationships, which is a difficult balance.  It also means habitually disconnecting from distractions, such as email and text messages, by setting the expectations of those who send you those frequent messages.

What system do you use now?

How does your system stack up compared to this best practices checklist? As you start this new year full of optimism, perhaps it is time to move to a better system. The system itself won’t do it alone — you need the crucial habits of pre-planning, breaking into actionable steps, writing everything down, filtration, calendaring — but never bring a knife to a gun fight either.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jan 042017
 

My gift to you for the holidays is a free app recommendation — and just in case anyone is wondering, I am not associated in any way with the developer — its just cool.

I know, I know, today is a few days after the holidays, but I purposefully waited, assuming that most people don’t check online blogs while family is visiting.

I haven’t recommended a smartphone app in several years, but found one in 2016 that is brilliant for anyone who travels often on business, stays overnight (which is 90+% of everyone on my contacts list), and eats alone at the bar or pub from time to time.

Tunity lets you listen to any muted TV over your smartphone. You simply point the phone at the TV, the app figures out the broadcast, and Voilà! — sound over your ear buds. As an added benefit, it works great at the airport or gym as well.

Hope you like it… and I hope the app stays free…

Have a great 2017!

I.M. OptimismMan

Jul 092016
 

The reality today is that lots of sharp minds around the world get left behind, missing out on the value of higher education, for a many valid reasons such as financial hardship, cultural barriers, or unfortunate domino-like events in people’s lives. Without the degree, the doors to many career opportunities remain closed, although a person might have the energy, drive, optimism, and capability to excel in a particular field.

The internet is changing everything — and it is inevitable that it will re-write the model of higher education over the coming decade. Here is a mind-opening presentation by Shai Reshef, the founder of tuition-free and yet accredited University of the People. I’m certain it is only the first of many more online institutions to come:

shai-reshef

Imagine the possibilities. They are limitless. It does take vision, grit, and optimism to pull oneself out of your current situation, but it can be done, one decision at a time.

I.M. OptimismMan

Mar 102016
 

We have often faced what seems like impossible problems. Unfortunately, 99.99% of people throw their hands up into the air and believe that impossible is impossible. But are they really impossible?

Mike Huckabee, in the recent Republican debate, sounded ‘pie in the sky’ to the 99.99% when he talked about curing the 4 diseases that are the primary expense of U.S. Healthcare, and the extraordinary effect it would have on our nation’s, our world’s financial and personal family outlook. I commend Mike because it takes leadership to help people change their question from “If we can cure Alzheimer’s to how can we cure Alzheimer’s…” — or insert another disease that has impacted your loved ones. More of our leaders must genuinely embrace optimistic leadership. JFK mobilized the nation to win the race to the moon. We need the same leadership and mobilization against disease.

Please watch Jennifer Doudna in this TED speech and then think about Huck’s call-to-action again. Perhaps he is just an optimist?
.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. Unfortunately, many diseases are not “just” genetic in nature (as though just genetic is easy, which right now, it is not) — Alzheimer’s included (see this Mayo Clinic synopsis). But, promising science, if used wisely, can make a positive impact. If we don’t set audacious goals, if we don’t believe it can happen, we will not figure it out nearly as quickly. Let’s elect leaders with vision, not politicians with egos.

Nov 252015
 

As the end of 2015 approaches, how many good ideas did you write down this year? How many did you develop from one-liners into a solid little outline? How many have grown into a short white paper?

Albert Einstein observed that imagination is more important than knowledge. Napoleon Hill said first comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The genesis is within your imagination, but imagination must be nurtured and developed into great ideas to make a difference.

foster-ideas

Be honest: How many ideas did you simply write down in 2015? Pull out your journal, or log onto your system now, and look at them. If you don’t write ideas down, in a system that will stand the test of time, they will evaporate.

If your answer is zero or just a scant few, what will you do in 2016? What goal will you set, with reminder alerts to keep idea development top-of-mind? Perhaps one idea a month, or one idea a week? Imagine 5 years from today, with one good idea per week written down and one idea per month taken to the next level of detail and development. Could it change your life? Would it make you at least 10% more brilliant? I think the answer is a resounding yes. Idea development is a cornerstone of personal differentiation.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Don’t have a good system?

write-down-your-ideas

A paper journal works and is better than nothing, but it is exposed to loss. I like the Day One journal (if you are a Mac user) with a backup email sent to my own Gmail account, using a tag like #freshideas which makes it easy to search for later. The truth is Google is unlikely to fail, and Gmail is one of its crucial products, so an email to self at Gmail is about as safe and simple as it gets. For the redundancy backup-minded, it is easy to set up two accounts — one at Google and one elsewhere (a good bet IMHO would be Outlook.com (Microsoft)) and then email your ideas to both from your ever-present smartphone.

Nov 202015
 

We all have witnessed the stellar rise of Google. One thing that concerns me is that the Millennials, many of whom are so young that they don’t remember a world before the internet, Google, and smartphones, are treating search results as a perfect source of accurate answers.

It is crystal clear that search results are not equal to knowledge, experience, or true understanding. They are limited by popularity, average “thinking”, algorithm programming, a concerted effort to hack results, a lot of false internet noise, and bias in the system and the software architects who designed it.

Here is a short 10 minute presentation that offers an excellent discussion to open people’s minds to the good and the limitations of Google (or any search engine in fact):

Always question everything. Seek to understand. Understanding leads to wisdom and making a greater impact.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. I think there is plenty of room for altsearch, a search engine that would specialize in quality answers that are always different than page one and two results on Google.

Oct 042015
 

Basic knowledge doesn’t get you far. If it did, everyone with a smartphone and access to Google would become CEO of Skynet or some other growing multi-national corporation.

Ideas are far different than knowledge. Fresh ideas — your ideas — your ideas blended with other ideas — are one of your most important assets. A great idea person is welcome in any group, whether work associates, sports teammate, or personal friends.

The problem is that ideas are often like fine wine — it takes time for them to grow in character.

wine

I have posted often about keeping journals — writing it down is helpful. But, as I personally have discovered, ideas that are inter-dispersed in chronological journals get lost — the signal disappears in the surrounding noise.

Do you keep an ever-growing, well-indexed vault of your ideas? Do you read over your ideas on a regular basis, so that they serve as a catalyst for new ones? How do you distill ideas so that they don’t get lost in the clutter? How do you improve them over time?

Imagine if you started when you were young — lets say as a middle-school student or a freshman in high-school — and wrote down every idea! you ever had in a permanent vault. What if you then re-read and added to your ideas at least once every three months?

This would constitute managing your ideas as an important asset. Do you manage your ideas as an asset?

If you have no idea how to start, I would suggest Day One if you are an iPhone / iPad / Mac person. Evernote is another possibility although I find it cumbersome to review and improve. IdeaMatrix is a good tool that I helped invent, if you are happy with text only idea management (which offers brilliant speed and ease, but gives away pictures). As I type, I realize that I have not done my homework because I don’t know how to effectively export and backup from Day One or Evernote — and it is pretty clear that most tech companies expire after a few years. Trusting one of these with your idea vault also means that you must backup / offline / in a export-import friendly format. I will update this post after I work through the backup capability investigation. [here is an update on Day One — export to an adobe ‘pdf’ file seems to be the best backup — of course, that means you should do so on a regular basis, but in general, I’m comfortable with the capability.]

A few quotes to consider:

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”
– Victor Hugo

“Ideas are great, but mostly worthless, without action and optimism.”
— Bob Sakalas

“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.”
– Alfred North Whitehead

Are you an idea person? Manage and refine your most valuable of assets. If you are not an idea person today, start a vault today — it isn’t magic.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. An article worth reading… how IBM encourages invention.

Sep 292013
 

I spend my time trying to convince people on a daily basis that true business insight, real expertise, and competitive advantage can only be found in the details and specifically, how those complex details connect and interrelate. My competitors usually argue the opposite. They try to convince companies that summarized data stores and pre-canned reports are good enough. The reason is that my competitors’ underlying technology is not good enough to a) keep one true, integrated copy of the (big) data and b) allow any user to access and analyze that one true copy of data at any time.

This is not an easy concept for everyone to understand because most of us come from a long history of working from pre-canned, summarized, much of the value washed away reports. Its all we have had and we have gotten by — we did the best that we could with what we had.

I stumbled into this TED talk that illustrates the idea that “the true insight is always in the detail data” brilliantly, although that was not the goal these speakers had. This truth applies to any industry, for every industry is complex and ever-changing. It is well worth watching this short eight minute video — you will gain understanding:

 

The more the world architects for big detailed data and asks iterative questions of the detail data, the greater the advances we will see in our lifetime. Hail big data analytics! The world will be a better, safer place. We have only begun to invent.

I.M. Optimism Man

Jun 172013
 

How could you double the rate of progress in the world?

Its a big question, isn’t it? Many uninformed pessimists think that so much has already been invented. But then you see a story like this one, and your eyes open to what is possible. If we can include more people in the exponentially growing stream of knowledge, we can inspire many more inventions and improve countless lives.

So, how can we embrace more people? Access to the internet is near the top of my list. Billions of people don’t have it yet. Loon is an innovative idea worth knowing about:

So much opportunity for the optimist!

I.M. Optimism Man

Jun 102013
 

My readers are quite familiar with my belief that time is a limited resource and that it must be invested wisely. I believe that strategic progress should be made on a daily basis: a person who decides to get one strategic “big rock” task accomplished each day will flourish. 

How do you determine if a task is strategic? When considering a task, simply ask yourself if finishing this task will matter next month. Will this step build toward something bigger and more important? If it will not, the task fails the test and is not strategic. If you have not read my base articles about strategic big rock progress, here is one article that summarizes this important mantra.

The problem is that life and the tornado of other people’s urgencies rarely cooperate by giving you pristine blocks of time to make big rock progress. Everybody seems to want something now. In this always-connected smartphone age, everyone feels that he or she has the right to interrupt whatever you are doing and expect real-time instant responses. It is far too easy to taking your eye off your goals and simply stay busy while ignoring your own true agenda. Even those who have adopted the discipline of scheduling significant blocks of time — hard and fast appointments on one’s personal calendar — to accomplish at least one big rock each day, find that they slip up on this habit-of-excellence and sometimes go days, weeks, and even months immersed in the busy-busy of daily life’s activities.

What life does give you is gaps — little gifts of time, in small little blocks — that are difficult to use well because they are unexpected. Most people shrug their shoulders and let these gaps of time flow under the bridge and out of sight unused. Others grow frustrated, realizing that these gaps offered potential that was used poorly. There is a simple solution.

A bit of advance planning in anticipation of life’s gaps is the answer. With a little bit of forethought, a person becomes prepared to take advantage of the next time a gap of time appears, like when your wife wants to detour and “just run into the supermarket for just a few minutes” — an event that invariable results in waiting 20 – 25 minutes in your idling SUV.

Create five lists in advance on your smartphone and keep them fresh and up-to-date. The five lists are task ideas that you can accomplish in 10 minutes or less, planned for whenever life gifts you a gap of time. Ideas for the gap lists include:

  1. In car waiting (gap queue)
  2. In waiting area (gap queue)
  3. At computer with network (gap queue)
  4. At home (gap queue)
  5. At work (gap queue)

On each of these lists, create a number of tasks that you can make progress on during a gap. Distill these tasks to their essence, so that each is a simple, immediately actionable item that would normally take just five or ten minutes to knock out. For example, “plan customer appreciation event” is far too broad and vague for such a list, while “call BellaFlora florist at 972-555-1234 to get the pricing on 24 bouquets for the event” is distilled and ready for action.

Now you are ready. The next time you have to unexpectedly wait, you will be able to look at your pre-planned list of good things to do and jump into action. You will suddenly see the unexpected small block of time as a gift, avoiding the frustration that comes with cooling your jets sitting curbside while your wife is carefully reading the nutritional content on a Chobani yogurt inside the store.

You might not make strategic big rock progress every time during the gaps, but your optimism and peaceful state of mind will get a great boost, if you learn to take advantage of life’s little gap opportunities.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Dec 272012
 

In the hit movie The Fugitive, a greedy pharmacuetic company, Devlin MacGregor, fakes clinical studies of their new wonder drug, Provasic, in hopes of profiting from its sales. The fraud results in the death of Dr. Richard Kimball’s wife, and creates a great tale well worth watching if you have never seen it.

One of the reasons that plot works so well is that it might not be far from the truth. While I’m quite positive that big pharma companies are not killing off the wives of surgeons around the globe, the bias toward positive drug studies vs negative drug studies is very real, and is a very real problem. What it means is that quite possibly half of the $300 B the United States spends on prescription drugs is based on, well, fraud by another name. In even worse cases, some portion of those drugs might in fact be causing more harm than good.

Please watch this video, then take a look at your own medicine cabinet. Hard to know what is real and what is a mirage, isn’t it?

There is no true problem solving, no real progress, until we actually face the brutal realities of it all. When billions and billions of dollars are at stake, there is plenty of motives to not act in the best interest of Joe Patient. I believe optimistic problem solvers can solve many issues, including this one, but we need to wake up to the realities of the problem first.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Dec 152012
 

I think most of us feel a bit stressed and harried by the standard modern day workplace — too many emails arriving minute by minute in the inbox, too many text messages, too many instant messages, too many meetings that take too long and accomplish too little, too many conversations that distract us from the critical items that must be done, and too many forays onto the internet that wind up in diverting us for dozens of minutes at a time.

In short, distractions are killing our productivity, which dominos into greater frustrations and feelings of stress.

I noticed years ago, how I usually did my best creative work of the month while sitting at 38,000 feet, bound for Boise or Jacksonville. Being cut off from other people for a few hours, has its merits.

Try this simple idea: Do not check your e-mail and don’t wander anywhere off topic on the internet until 1 pm, right after lunch, for just one week. Consider activating the auto-responder feature on your email system so that it tells those who email you that you are unable to check email until “late this afternoon” so that those folks that expect realtime responses are placated. If possible, respond to every text message with a standard message too. If you promise “late this afternoon” and then get back to someone before 2 pm, you will have under promised and over delivered, a great little benefit while reducing your stress.

I believe you will find that carving out distraction-free (or at least distraction limited) zen work time each morning before lunch, then beating back life’s little urgencies in the afternoon, will bring new order, new peace, and a new level of productivity to your day.

Why not give it a shot? You have the power to choose, to design your own life, and this is but one small step. Send me an email and let me know the results of your experiment, using the contact form above.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Nov 092012
 

I have oft said that the amount of opportunity available to us that are fortunate enough to live in this day an age is truly unprecedented and extraordinary. The human race in just the last few decades has become networked and indexed to each other in real time. The possibilities are endless.

Here is a slide show well worth reading and considering. It does a great job in sparking thought about where our interconnected planet is going in the near-term, at least in terms of interconnectivity:

Making big things happen has never been more democratic. Competition has never been keener. What a fascinating time it is.

I.M. Optimism Man

Aug 312012
 

Consider this graph:

Some basic facts and observations:

  1. Android has only been around a couple of years — iOS a bit longer but not a lot longer.
  2. You can get a small app programmed and ready for sale for less than $5 K
  3. You can get a pretty substantial app programmed and selling for around $10 K (not an action game though — that is a mega app)
  4. You can make it happen in less than 6 months
  5. Most apps are mediocre — just download any 20 yourself — so there is plenty of room for substantial improvement
  6. Marketing your app is tricky of course – 500,000 apps is a LOT of noise, making it hard to get noticed.

But… anyone that wants to try can try. The barriers of entry are very low — basically no barriers at all. All you need is a bit of money, a good idea, a good plan, and taking action. You can even keep your day job.

We live in a wondrous decade. Starting a business just 30 years ago typically involved leasing land, building a building, buying equipment, lots of permits and inspections — hundreds of thousands of dollars risked on one big bet. Today, anyone who wants to break out of their current daily rut, can. Smartphones are today’s #1 land of opportunity! There is no excuse not to dream, not to set goals, not to live large and take a half dozen shots at personal independence and financial success.

I.M. Optimism Man

Dec 132011
 

Task management and time management are complex subjects, made exponentially more complex by self-assured gurus who are happy to teach you their intricate process for efficiency. In my humble opinion, most these gurus are wrong, not because their processes do not work, but rather because they miss A) what is truly important and B) the complexity of their process often causes people to quit the system.

It is not surprising that many people ignore formal methods, confidently tapping their noggins while proclaiming that they have it all up there. After my seven years of personal focus, learning, and experimentation with task/time management and task management software, I have no doubt whatsoever that any written task system is better than “it is all in my brain and it’s a steel trap” method. People that keep everything in their head add greatly to their subconscious stress, even if they rarely drop the ball on a task.

The crux of the matter is that time is our scarcest and most precious resource. Use time well and you can accomplish great things while living a life of true quality. Waste your time and years will fly by while you spin your wheels, stuck in a rut. Therefore, optimizing where you invest your time is critical and like most things, quality and direction are more important than quantity and speed. This is the distinction between effectiveness and efficiency. Most gurus worry too much about the latter.

I believe you should have two parallel systems — one for strategic “advance my life in substantial ways” tasks and another all your other tactical “keep all the balls in the air” tasks — and the two should not mix. The truth is you will never get it all done and hard decisions must be made. Favor strategic advancement whenever possible.

One definition of genius is making complex activities as simple as they can possibly be. If you one of the noggin-only people finally deciding to do things better, I recommend implementing only the first “strategic” tasks system now. It is the simpler one and is far more important for progress. I call it BigRock Task Management, inspired by Stephen Covey’s vivid example (click for the video) from the 90s.

Do these 5 steps daily, and you will change your destiny in just a few years:

1) Every evening after dinner before you turn on the T.V. or open a book to relax, take a fresh index card and write tomorrow’s date at the top. Then, label three categories on the left margin: Work)  Family/Personal)  and Improve).

2) On the card, write the most important item — item numero uno! — the item that you know is important but its been hard to do, or to get started on — the item that will result in a “first down” in the football game of life, for each of the three categories. If your item is too time-consuming for one burst, like writing your first novel, break it into a manageable amount for one hour of time — like write 12 pages of my novel.

3) The next morning, pull your index card out and read it over with your first cup of coffee. Pick one of the three BigRocks and do it first, without checking email, without checking the news, without checking your voice mail. When done with the item, check it off, turn the card over, and jot down a few words about what you did, noting what you will do next on this same project while it is still fresh on your mind.

4) Now, manage the rest of your day such that you accomplish one more of the big items on your card before lunch, and one more in the afternoon, so that the other two BigRocks are completed before dinner. I personally like setting aside two time slots as appointments on my calendar for BigRocks, so that I have planned times to work on them.

5) Save your cards for review.  Go back to Step 1 after dinner. I would advise avoiding Work BigRocks on weekends… we work too many hours as it is, and few people wish that they had spent more time at work while lying on their death bed.

Imagine how much farther your life will be when you accomplish 260 Work, 365 Personal/Family, and 365 Improve Thyself BigRocks in one year. There may be days where you only get one BigRock done, but even so, what if your total BigRocks score is over 500 for the year? Today, many of us drift week after week just keeping the tactical balls in the air, accomplishing little real progress.

Save all your cards and review them once a month. If your BigRock score is 115 this quarter, try to beat it next quarter. The momentum of getting important things done does wonders for your energy. Get obsessed with hitting the perfect score for a month, then for three months, and then the ultimate 990 for the year. If you get there, be sure and contact me about getting a BigRock 990 t-shirt!

We put off what’s truly important because many truly important items are difficult.


Often you will find is that the BigRock on your list is a slimy, squirming frog that must be swallowed. For better or worse, strategic progress items often are difficult items to do. It is not easy to make up with your long lost brother. It is hard to call an upset client and ask for forgiveness and a second chance. It is hard to finally start on that business idea. Its a slimy frog to swallow when you have to step in and tell a friend that he is heading down the wrong path. These strategic tasks/projects are usually not urgent, making it all too easy to procrastinate. Truly successful people don’t hesitate often — they plunge forward taking decisive action with optimistic zeal.

Manage your time and tasks from a Big Rocks first perspective, swallowing the difficult frogs with reckless abandon first thing each morning, before engaging in the minutia of the typical day. You will find that your optimism grows as you build momentum, achieving one strategic first-down after another.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. BigRock Task Management is easy enough to do without technology although there are advantages to managing your strategic tasks with a smartphone — for one, you can review your entire history at any time, like when you are stuck in the waiting room of the pediatrician’s office.

Once you have mastered managing strategic tasks, the next natural step is to improve one’s process and manage your tactical tasks with software, because paper is just too cumbersome with the multitude. I believe task management is best when it is always with you — no matter if you are in the office, at lunch, at your kid’s game, or heading to bed. That requirement leads to the always-with-you smartphone as the only logical platform.

Most smartphone software packages come up short when asked to keep hundreds, if not thousands of tactical tasks well-organized in one system, following a proven process. If you embrace technology and want a smartphone-based system that can make it happen without running out of gas, I recommend ToDoMatrix for iPhone and BlackBerry. Jumping ahead, there is a full white paper on best practices for managing all your tasks, strategic and tactical, on the ToDoMatrix website.

Full disclosure — ToDoMatrix is the software I have toiled over for the last number of years.

Nov 092011
 

What gets measured, gets improved.

I’m a huge proponent of goals in certain areas of life, but you don’t always need to set specific, stress-you-out-when-you-stumble-a-bit goals to improve your daily habits.

Our minds play tricks on us. When it comes to changing bad habits into better ones, humans are usually convinced that they are doing better than they really are — it is “ostrich syndrome” — most of us stick our heads in the sand, preferring not to face the accurate reality of our daily actions. We always thing we are doing better than we are on the bad habits front.

Change is difficult and changing daily habits is exceptionally so. No matter if you want to eat more portions of healthy fruits and vegetables or reduce the number of alcoholic drinks you have in a week, the best first step is to face your current situation and understand your true baseline reality.

People often make a fatal mistake when they try to change their habits: they over-do it. They set a very difficult goal and take the drastic plunge. Many people go from never going to a gym to a goal of working out five days each week. Others decide to stop eating sweets every night to limiting themselves to one desert every two weeks. Of course many stumble, they become disappointed with their lack of will power, and they fall off the program for months on end.

When it comes to starting a new daily habit, consider not setting specific goals. I suggest keeping a tally count, with a time and date stamp, each time you “do it” or “eat it” and then review your tally weekly.

There are readily available tools that work great for this. On the iPhone, I love a little program called Tallymander (update — this program seems temporarily unavailable for some reason on AppStore — I sent the developer an email (OM)) which allows you to set up any number of tallies, then click it to record when something happens. Not only does the program keep a count but it also makes it simple to email yourself a report in a spreadsheet-ready file that includes the exact date and time you clicked on any tally. Brilliant! Tallymander is a great addition to an optimist’s technology arsenal. Of course, a tiny Moleskine booklet, making marks on your calendar, or sending yourself an email are all other efficient ways to keep your accurate log — the trick is that you must have your logging method with you at all times — in my case, my smartphone is omnipresent.

After four weeks of logging, you will notice the extraordinary magic of pale ink and optimistic, conscious thought. By simply keeping an accurate log, most people notice that they in fact start improving week-over-week without making the drastic and often unsustainable goals. The log itself becomes a motivator. The person simply gravitates to beating last week’s number by a little bit. This progress is the normal, natural gravity of the conscious mind, a sustainable way to modify one’s bad habits for the better, without all the guilt, stress, and frequent failure of “setting super hard goals and then missing them.”  The disappointment associated with letting oneself down in the hard core goals method is what often torpedoes long-term habit change success.

If you have an iPhone, download Tallymander from the Apple AppStore and start with just one item. If you eat french fries or chips, my suggestion would be track the portions that you eat — we could all afford less of both — I’m 100% sure that four weeks from today, you will eat less of this stuff and your arteries will rejoice, without the pain associated with hard-core goals.

After you focus on your first item for two or three months, your improvement becomes a good habit. Then it is time to change your tally to the next item.  If you can substitute four good habits for bad habits each year, it really adds up to serious change for the better, over ten year’s time. Most importantly, by using this tally method, your optimism grows with each success.

Logs and tallies simply work better for habit-change than hard-core goals. I personally used this method for reducing “Complaints” last year — I even enlisted my family to help point out whenever I complained a bit and faithfully recorded each event in Tallymander — in four short weeks, I was averaging less than one per day!

Nothing will make you more optimistic about life than personally getting rid of complaints. Please re-read the previous sentence twice. Imagine how different our country and the world would be if we could convince everyone in America to complain just once per day!

I.M. Optimism Man

Sep 192011
 

The amount of time people are spending on social networks is extraordinary and the pace of growth and change is incredible.

Have you heard of Tumblr.com yet? You will. Check out #3 on the chart below. Tumblr, by the way, launched less than 5 years ago. Tumblr’s About page says they now have more than 50 ((implying less than 100?) employees.

Here are the estimated minutes Americans spent on social networks and blogs in May 2011, taken from Nielsen’s Social Media Report: Q3 2011.For most people, really BIG numbers are hard to get one’s mind around (or the state lottery would no longer work). In case you don’t have your calculator handy, 53.46 Million minutes at Facebook alone is more than 100,700 years of time (in one month!). Yes, this is “wow!” moment because that means Facebook will use over 1,000,000 years of American waking hours in 2011.

It is time each of us really understand the impact of social networks. I highly recommend reviewing the 12 slides presented, because social media is a tsunami that will have a tremendous effect on the future.

It has never been easier, and never been harder to become an overnight, world-wide sensation. Easy because so many interconnections exist, moving information world-wide, instantly. Hard because everybody is playing at the party, well illustrated in the theLadders.com tennis match commercial from a few year’s back that many people have seen (but if you have not, here it is).

With change, the Optimistic Few see great opportunity. See it. Understand what you can do to help. Act on it decisively. Rock the world.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. As a side note, I continually question how much time we dedicate to certain pursuits and Facebook is one of them. It fits rather nicely with my argument that one should consider avoiding most “news” sources. But, it is also clear that social networking will continue to grow exponentially, and therefore there is great opportunity for a person that understands and sees a good opportunity to succeed in the new new world.

Aug 302011
 

As we get older, we forget some simple tricks that work astonishingly well.

All my readers are familiar with my belief in the magic of pale ink. I believe that anything worth reading, anything worth remembering, anything worth doing, is worth jotting down. There is magic in making the notes.

Back in grade school, we were asked to read books and then produce book reports to summarize what we read and learned. The small effort of summarizing did wonders on our memory. Many of us could remember these first books years later.

Today, I find that when I read an interesting article, essay, or book, it is well worth jotting just a few paragraphs down in my daily journal or in an email to myself. Even jotting just a few lines helps a lot. Pale ink is magical for learning and retention. I rarely go back and look at my notes, but I find that I can remember an article far more vividly if I did take the notes than if I just read it and moved on.

Try this experiment for one month. Buy a small journal and jot down what you learned from each and every news story and book you read during those four weeks. If you are a technology lover, check out http://www.evernote.com, which basically offers unlimited notes space and is accessible from PC, Mac, or smartphone (and is free for anyone that uses it for text notes most of the time because they only charge the people that take a lot of pictures use a lot of bandwidth). I believe you will have a small revelation as to the wisdom of book reports. Pale ink is the key that unlocks a better memory.

If its worth reading, its worth remembering. Our seemingly aging memory is not as much aging, as it is overwhelmed by distractions. Pale ink helps turn the tide. A great memory leads to better ideas and a better, more optimistic life.

I.M. Optimism Man

Apr 012011
 

Think on paper — this concept is near religion with me.  I have found that any time I commit anything to paper (or a written file on my PC, smartphone, or tablet), I produce better stuff, clearer thinking, crisper plans.

In my productivity jedi “tools” arsenal, one of my very favorite lightsabres is Mind Meister (http://www.mindmeister.com).

Mind Meister is a mind map, which is new-fangled-speak for outlining circa 2011. Outlines are fantastic for developing a concept from a few key ideas to any finished IP (intellectual property) product, no matter if it is a white paper, thoughtful letter, powerpoint slideshow, business plan, or software specification.

The world seems to have gotten away from outlining which I believe is a mistake — outlining a project is an easy way to plan — every good carpenter measures twice before pulling out a saw… plan before diving in for better results.

What makes Mind Meister really shine in my eyes is that your mind maps are available on any networked PC or Mac, on your iPhone, or iPad. Without a doubt, the PC / Mac full screen is best, but once I have an outline in development, it is easy enough to add and edit using the iPad or even on the small screen iPhone. It is built from the ground up to collaborate — so any number of people can all add and edit a mind map together — it works very well. Mind Meister also offers methods to zap ideas directly to your account via email or micro-widget — so flashes of brilliance are not lost while ordering margaritas at your favorite Mexican cantina.

Lastly, Mind Meister offers enough export and import options to make me confident that I can save off my data in case the MM guys implode or get bought out in the future.  I’m a believer in always being prepared for Murphy’s Law.

I recommend trying Mind Meister and see if it fits your world.  The best time to try it is when you are ready to produce some IP — like the next time you need to write a paper or create a presentation for work.  Having a real project really helps a person explore the potential of any technology. They do offer a free trial. I’ve used it for almost two years and am quite happy — 8.5 out of 10 stars in my own internal rating system — I only wish they would offer an alternate “traditional outline” view for the times you would prefer to see old-style outlining instead of new-style circular mind mapping.

I.M. Optimism Man