Across lots of articles and blog posts written over the last ten years, I have pointed out how important it is to set clear goals and manage your time well. Good things to do often get in the way of great things to do.
I recently had a unique opportunity to present my thoughts in a cohesive fashion to a team in my workplace, and the session was recorded. I took the recording, expanded the content a bit, and created my new SPS7.com website.
Please check it out if you want to learn about investing time wisely.
For every two hundred experts I meet in the information technology space, I’m lucky to meet one great simplifier, one great illuminator of the truth and what matters. This ratio must change, because people are getting absolutely overwhelmed with data and information, a tidal wave on an exponentially accelerating growth path.
A simple thought for you: You can create and enjoy a great career for yourself if you decide to be the great simplifier, the one who shows people what truly matters most and why “it” is crucial, because almost no one else has this goal. Distilling complexity to its essence and communicating it effectively is not easy work, and often you spend weeks just trying to think it through with little to show.
Our colleagues, customers, and partners are trying to get a refreshing drink, but this is the source:
If you can be the person that converts the information into a much more usable and concise form…
At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I observed that one of the silver linings is that the world would learn how to better handle a global pandemic. As sad and painful the number of unexpected deaths are, the world got some game-time practice with a virus that is not nearly as lethal as Ebola.
What is completely unexpected, however, is the lack of public data access. Where is the app? An app where I can ask a simple human question and see the answers for myself, from data that we all know exists. A pandemic is a public event. We, the public, elect our public servants to serve us in government. (well, kind of – watch this video and then decide). The data “should” be public (I hate the word ‘should’ but it fits here), so that I could, at a minimum, download it into my Excel spreadsheet and play with it, although a smart application that offered smart insights from the data would be better.
When something obvious is withheld, suspicions rightly grow. I’m not surprised at all that there are a lot of people doubting the intentions of the establishment. I’m no conspiracy lad, but let’s stop adding fuel to that fire!
What questions? Well, there are hundreds but here’s a few off the top of my head…
How many people had to be hospitalized within one month of their first vax shot, and their second vax shot, and their third vax booster? … and for what reasons?
I have a racquetball buddy who had never had a significant health issue but suddenly had a heart attack with a blood clot. Not reported as COVID or vax related, but it happened about a week after his second shot. Weird, huh?
How many people contract COVID by job type?
There is no doubt that risks are different for different people based on where they work. Why can’t I see my own risk profile? And my family member’s risk profile? Maybe some people would decide to change jobs?
Where does the person with COVID “think” that he or she caught it?
It might not be right, but it would be interesting. I have to believe this is a question that is asked on some form.
What are the statistics by blood type?
This came up a lot early-on and there are some small studies. But my gut feel is that there is a lot more data, perhaps un-cleansed data, that I would love to see, even with its flaws.
What are the statistics by ethnic background?
No one wants to talk about people’s heritage but I would like to see the data and if it matters.
How much safer am I from hospitalization if I had which vaccine?
With zillions of doses, a pattern must be emerging. If it is equally safe, why not let me see it, in the data.
How much safer is being boosted?
Seems like vax and boost is not stopping anyone from catching Omicron. Right now, they say its better to be boosted but where is the data.
Is it better to be vax’ed or, if you already had the original strain, or Delta, are you actually, statistically, safer than just the vax? Or vice-versa?
I am vax’ed and boosted, but the data would help make these decisions easier to make. It would help people get out of their entrenched political camps, to become independent thinkers, to make smarter decisions.
Then, overlay each question by age bracket perhaps. Or by blood-type. Or by whatever you want! That’s the idea of detailed drill-down data. See where it takes you. See if machine-learning finds correlations that the naked eye can’t see.
My original silver lining was that we would learn, and be ready for a more deadly virus, someday in the future. Well, if the data is buried in government vaults, the silver living starts to tarnish like grandma’s silverware in a drawer. What I have mostly learned, at least to this moment, is that detailed anonymized data is unlikely to be shared with the citizens.
It amazes me that the NBA offers much much better self-service stats than the free-spending government does on an issue far more important than Khris Middleton’s mid-range jumper. In fairness, Khris has a great jumper. Let’s insist on data freedom and let’s learn from detailed data.
But that is not what this post is all about. More often than not, we have painfully little time before we must present to an audience. The world of distractions conspires to keep us juggling and fighting little fires, only to find ourselves staring at a sad-looking, boring-as-hell powerpoint deck on Sunday evening, knowing we must lead a discussion at 2 pm tomorrow.
I’ve put together a quick recipe I call the Sakalas Seven Checklist to help improve and renovate any presentation by 10%, 20%, even 52%. We all would like to be strategic evangelists who become trusted advisors. The Sakalas Seven is a little easy-peasy checklist that can be used to make your presentation better in short order.
First, and foremost, you must capture someone’s attention immediately. Do not spend a ton of time introducing yourself. Do not tell people where you fit in your organization. There is always time for those snoozy details later. I often spend almost 50% of my personal preparation time on customizing those first few critical slides and what I will say in the first couple of minutes. Customize the beginning for your audience. What’s in it for them? What is interesting to them. It’s not about you.
2) Next, people can’t generally remember more than three points from a meeting. Figure out your three main points. Put them up front, talk about them throughout, make them the takeaways at the end. Success is not found drowning the audience with too much stuff.
3) Always start with a problem or challenge the people in the audience will relate to.
4) One each slide, try to limit the words to less than 20. If you have more than 20, even after you delete as many words as possible, highlight the words that a “skimmer” would need to get the main point, the gist of the slide — because the world is full of people who skim. It will also help you as a presenter, making it easy to remember what you wanted to say while on the slide.
5) Often, there are slides after slides after slides of idea-dense, busy, hard-to-understand information. An amazing, easy-hack is to add a one liner slide that illustrates the big idea, the big point you want to make. The contrast makes it magical.
6) There is lots of evidence that people more easily remember visuals than words. In fact, imagining a visual image in your mind’s eye activates the process that moves ideas out of short-term memory into long-term memory. The hack is simple — use an analogy that demands the listener “imagine a visual scene or object” — it will make your point sticky.
7) Features or simply saying “yes, it does that” doesn’t make it real, doesn’t make it memorable. But a customer success story, spoken like you were (almost) there, absolutely does.
Here is the checklist on one page.
The next time you have less than 24 hours to hit a home run during your presentation, I hope you remember // and Google for // the Sakalas Seven.
Life moves fast after you graduate. Many become so busy that they feel like are no longer steering their own lives. They find that their “prime” time vaporizes like a rain shower hitting the sunbaked Texas interstate on an August afternoon.
A college graduate recently asked me for three life-hacks that could really help him in the real world, three habits that I wished I had developed over the last decades, three disciplines that I’m 100% certain would have made a positive impact on my success.
It was a great question that really made my stop and think a bit. After sleeping on it, I came back with three that I believe in my heart would have made a remarkable difference:
1. Strategic-Big-Rock Progress:Pre-plan and then accomplish at least one task of long-term lasting strategic value each and every week.
Keep yourself on track and honest with yourself by writing it down on your calendar. Every Sunday evening or Monday morning, plan the #1 task you will accomplish this week that will have lasting value, that will serve you well, that will increase your momentum 90 days into the future. Then get it done as early in the week as possible, and most definitely before Friday, making notes in the calendar as well.
If you accomplish just one item of lasting value each week of your life, you will go much farther than most, because the world too often keeps you busy on items that are worthless in less than a month. Jim Rohn said that a person should “work harder on oneself than you do on your job” and there is a lot of truth in that observation. Improving your own capabilities is most definitely a task of strategic long-term value. What new asset did you create this week? Creating new stuff usually matters longer-term. I didn’t institutionalize this “one strategic-big-rock a week” habit in earnest until my late 40’s, but in hindsight, it would have made a remarkable difference had I started much earlier in my life.
2. Details-Matter: Write Three Details Down, without Fail
Writing details down, as they happen, is one core idea, but I would suggest implementing this life-hack with three separate email accounts, reserved exclusively for your own use. A person easily forgets 95% of their life’s details if he or she does not make daily notes. If you keep journal, you will be amazed at how much creative and wise you become over time. The act of writing it down makes it easier to remember, and when you don’t, you know where to look.
Go to Gmail and create three accounts like this (what you call them is up to you but you don’t want anyone to ever guess these addresses so you don’t get spam email): firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
I then suggest creating three accounts at outlook.com that match the Gmail accounts (so that you can have a second backup copy). For example: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Then, go into each gmail account and use the forwarding option to forward all received email from each account to the corresponding account in outlook: firstname.lastname@example.org -> email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org -> email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org -> email@example.com
As a last step, create these three gmail email addresses as contacts in your smartphone. Now, when you send an email to the gmail version, a copy will also be forwarded to outlook. The idea is that if you ever lose access to gmail, you will still have the outlook copy, and vice-versa. If Google someday makes gmail no longer free, you would have a backup with their main competitor, Microsoft.
Use each of these accounts only for its one designed purpose:
Send three emails to your perma.journal each day (an easy way to remember is to send one with every meal). Attach pictures. Create tags. A person forgets 95% of their lives if he or she does not make daily notes. If you keep a perma.journal, you will be amazed at how much creative and wise you become over time. Writing it down makes it easier to remember, and when you don’t, you know where to go. I started journalling electronically about 12 years ago, but had I started 30 years ago, I would have been so much better off.
Send every idea that you ever have, as soon as you have it, to your perma.ideas account. Inspirations grow on top of each other, and connect in wondrous ways over time. Writing it down, and reviewing all your big ideas will make you much more creative over your lifetime.
Send everything you learn about anyone you meet, in a conversation, to your perma.peoplenotes mailbox. Great relationships are the backbone of success. Remembering another person’s kids name, and that she plays soccer for the Solar Soccer Club in Dallas, matters immensely when you meet that person again two years later. We all forget 95% of what we learn about people, but the best genuine networking geniuses do not, because they write down details as they discover them. Nothing is more important than the little details – remembering those details shows that you truly care about a person as an individual.
Why email instead of apps? Email is a global standard that is far more likely to survive the test of the next 50 years while smartphone apps and the companies that publish them are way less likely to survive the test of time. Even if email changes a lot, I’m certain there will be universal import/export mechanisms to move the data forward if need be. If you want to create a secure, heavily encrypted mailbox, Switzerland based Protonmail is a smaller company alternative to Google and Microsoft. Lastly, it doesn’t hurt that email is mostly free at this time.
3. What Gets Measured, Gets Improved:Measure and log your progress on the fronts that matter most.
Measure your net worth (assets – liabilities) every month and write it down, without fail. What gets measures gets improved. A growing, positive net worth = freedom. Freedom is the most amazing of luxuries, far more amazing than anything you can buy at the mall.
Measure your health and fitness. I have successfully lost weight my simply taking the time to write down my foods and calories on the MyPlate app. The measurement help make you conscious of what you are consuming.
If it is important to you, measure it in writing. I find the easiest place for these notes is on my calendar, but where you store the logs is up to you.
My three life-hacks for the college graduate are all about writing it down. No matter if your are planning a project of strategic value, writing down the details about a new co-worker or customer that you just met, or tracking your net worth over time, the act of writing it down, even if you use the palest of ink, is still 1000% better than trying to keep it exclusively in your head.
Becoming all that you can be requires smart choices, thoughtful discipline, and unbridled optimism. Best of luck.
Many of the most successful people focus and make progress, a first down, on their #1 top priority goal each and every week. There is an underlying dragon hiding in the back of our minds that tries to sabotage this all important life habit: Almost everyone struggles with procrastination. If a person learns the right disciplines and builds the habits to overcome procrastination, his or her chances of escaping average skyrocket. Understanding this dragon and how it is becoming stronger in our tech-fueled world is important to keeping it on a leash.
We love our smartphones. They have given us the power to do so much, to stay connected to others wherever we are, to take pictures, to get dates, to buy tickets and make reservations at any given moment. But there are two sides to every coin. The apps on the ever-present smartphone have taught us to become hopelessly distracted, as though we have attention deficit disorder even though biologically 90%+ do not. Texts, Snapchats, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, email alerts, breaking news alerts, and every other pop-up from millions of apps, train us to stop what we are doing and turn our attention back to the app-of-this-minute. We have been trained by Silicon Valley’s developers and AI algorithms to learn a bad habit that resembles ADD. Once we have willingly allowed ourselves to be reprogrammed by our electronic collar, we continue to flutter our attention from one thing to another, even during the rare moments when the smartphone is out of the room. Just try writing a paper on your PC or Mac and count how many times you jump around to look at something in a different browser tab in just 30 minutes.
Changing an existing habit is much harder than adding a new good habit, but it can be done.
The great news is that you now recognize the pattern and you have all the tools that you need to build a habit of getting stuff done, especially the stuff that is of strategic importance. I struggled with procrastination for decades of my life. My procrastination dragon is always lurking and can strike at any time, stealing a day, or a week, or even a month away if I let down my guard.
The cold hard truth is no one is great at multitasking. The people who say that they are great at it are also the people who are most likely to stress themselves out, doing less than their best on everything in their lives. Even computers don’t multitask but rather quickly switch between multiple things, doing one task at a time. The difference is that a computer “knows” exactly the next step when it efficiently switches back and forth while the human mind takes a much more ponderous path to get focused on the next. Even when you are not falling prey to multitasking, ‘good’ things to do are often the very things that get in the way of ‘great’ things to do. Great things to do are the ones that are supporting your strategic priority, the one goal that you have decided to accomplish which will yield long term value. Often, accomplishing greatness takes getting into a state of flow, when your mind gives the task at hand 100% commitment and you completely lose track of time.
Step one is to take a hard look and turn off every superfluous notification that you can. Getting notified of every email and social post torpedoes your focus. I set up a second “high priority” email box that no one knows I have. I then create filters in my main email account to forward emails I want notifications for to that extra email box. This proactive filtering puts me in charge of what matters to me. That second box is the only one that sends me a notification. Unfortunately, text messages are harder to prioritize but putting some percentage of conversations on silent / do not disturb is an idea worth considering.
After you have reduced the bings and the buzzes, the habit that you need to beat procrastination and distraction is to reserve a time slot where you put the rest of the world aside, an hour where you don’t multitask. Start small with 30 minutes a day, then work your way up to 60 minutes and then 90 minutes per day. The 90 minutes might be three independent 30 minute sessions on three different strategic tasks but that’s perfectly fine. The key is to only focus on the one important thing that you have planned and decided to do during that time slot.
Reward yourself after your zen timeslot. I personally write it down as a “great time invested” note on my calendar, so that I can see the steps I’ve taken toward one of my top goals and then I refill my cup of coffee. Remember Aristotle’s golden rule: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
By leaving my smartphone in another room and by working in one full screen window, I have found that my 30 minutes of commitment sometimes magically transforms into 60 or 90 minutes of focused “flow” time. This doesn’t happen every day and it is not always easy, but you get better at it over time. If you are writing a book, you often struggle and write something that is obviously shitty but, if you refuse to open a new tab and look at random stuff on Amazon or Facebook, you are slowly but surely building the muscle memory to retake control of your life.
Procrastination is the gravity that keeps most people down. You can adapt and overcome because procrastination is a bad habit, not a genetic aspect of your DNA. Our minds are reprogrammable. Start by figuring out your top goals and priorities. Make specific plans, distilled down to specific next steps, so that you have decided what exactly needs to be done. Train yourself to stick to the important task for an uninterrupted 30 minutes and you are well on your way. Write your successes down and be grateful when you overcome distraction temptations. Building great habits takes effort and patience.
If I could beat the procrastination dragon, you can too, because my dragon had a death grip on me years ago. To defeat it, I raised the stakes: I decided to not look at my work email in the morning until I finished my first 30 minute “focused” time block, no matter how late in the morning that was. That was a heck of a motivator, since I could easily miss a conference call or meeting by not checking email. To avoid the ugly risk of missing meetings, I forced myself to focus and make progress during the 6:30 – 7:00 am slot, hot coffee in hand. It was an interesting way to start each day, but I now can “disappear from the urgent world” for an hour or two, with a well-established ‘focus’ habit that I know helps me succeed.
If my suggestions don’t get you over the top with procrastination, Tim Urban, the smart, funny, and fresh creator of the WaitButWhy.com blog, writes about the evils of procrastination, the concepts of never wasting a week because life is shorter than you think, and working on the strategic, important stuff as much as possible.
You can beat the procrastination dragon if you believe that you can.
Most of us write emails on a daily basis. Some of us write more lasting stuff, such as project briefs, white papers, blog posts, and even books. The more we write, the harder it becomes to spot tiny mistakes such as using a properly spelled word like “in” when it should have been “is” within the sentence.
I have discovered an easy-to-use hack that makes short work of finding 95% of your mistakes.
Simply take your text and copy / paste it into a new doc in Google Docs (docs.google.com) and into Microsoft Word. I have discovered that the latest versions of the included grammar engines catch a lot of the mistakes that are so hard to spot. It also is obvious that Google and Microsoft use different engines, resulting in Google Docs sometimes finding different problems vs. Microsoft Word, and vice-versa. Brilliant!
By investing an extra 3 minutes with copy and paste, your written work gets proofread twice and you appear to be 50% more professional.
Humility used to be (and still is) one the finest aspects of being a good human. It has been on the endangered list for some time, but social media may send it the way of the dodo bird or the Tasmanian tiger.
Social media networks, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, have taken on a life of their own: we know have the digital twin of ourselves online, but these digital recreations are exaggerated. While the good side of social media is that it helps people stay more connected, most only post the best moments of their lives, because the regular moments are often, too average, too regular. This candy-coat-my-life phenomenon seems to have a natural gravity of its own. People seek the extreme and pictures are often retouched and filtered to the point that no color reflects reality. No one has a blemish, everyone is tan, and a number of people look slimmer than they are in real life. The only exception to candy-coated is the other extreme, when someone goes public with a torrid affair or an egregious deception, perhaps in a fit of rage or revenge, but these posts are few and far between. 95% of normal life never appears.
Other catalysts that warp the digital picture are FOMO (fear of missing out) and the human inclination to competition. The result is that many posts highlight trivial items like the new Louis Vuitton just purchased, or the truly excessive vacation while it happens. Others see this and begin to think this is normal, so they join in, spending their savings or credit card limits with over the top purchases and vacations too, followed up with the obligatory posts.
The end result is that nearly everyone appears to be bragging about themselves and their fabulous lives on social media, which is extremely efficient at popping up the brags on everyone else’s smartphone.
In the middle of all the consumerism and braggadocio, being humble is crucially important to live a good life. Consider these wise words from Malcolm Gladwell, the best selling author of the Tipping Point, Outliers, and David and Goliath, during his current class on Masterclass.com:
Social media, in its efforts to connect us, is also tearing the fiber of what makes us good. Narcissism is now playing 24/7 online. I’m not saying quit all social media cold turkey, but we need to see it for what it is and treat it like beer or wine. Having a little, every now and then, isn’t bad, but partaking in copious amounts — paying too much attention to your “likes” and “comments”, feeling jealousy about someone else’s jaunt to Cabo or Tahiti, paying too much heed to other people’s commendation or condemnation, and making it the center of your view and perspective on life — is incredibly dangerous to your own state of mind and wellbeing.
Three quotes to consider:
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. — C. S. Lewis
Humility is really important because it keeps you fresh and new. — Steven Tyler
Humility with open more doors than arrogance ever will. — Zig Ziglar
“What gets measured, gets improved.” — Peter Drucker
The proof is so simple to see, in every facet of life, but few managers seems to employ the simplest of effective measurements well at work.
It is easy to see in normal life. If you start writing down your calories, before you start the meal, you will eat less, snack less, and eat better. If you start writing down the days that you do aerobic exercise on a highly visible calendar, you will work out more often. If you start measuring how often your daughter tries to score and shoots “on goal” in soccer, she will soon enough start shooting more often. If you take the effort to write down every time you catch yourself complaining, you will soon complain less. It works everywhere. If you want change, find a good way to measure it, a way that contributes to better daily decision making.
Fast forward to the highly-sophisticated workplace and we, all too often, find KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) on people’s computer dashboards that they can do little about on a daily basis. If you are in sales, and the KPI you are looking at is exceeding your annual budget, it is hard to change what you are doing today. Sales only happen a few times per year, and your progress toward the $5M target doesn’t move often. On the other hand, if the company starts to measure something far more tangible, such as emails sent to your customers and prospects, or number of meetings and calls with customers, the measurement is something that you can do something about every single day.
I believe most companies are setting MBO (Management By Objectives) goals that are far too removed from a person’s daily work life decisions. When you measure the things that are truly within a person’s immediate circle of control, you will always get meaningful results.
Failure to change is a recipe for failure. An optimist embraces change, and uses the simple technique of measuring the right things to make it happen.
A few weeks ago, an engine on a Southwest 737 shredded in mid-air, killing one passenger. It made all the headlines and everyone, myself included, is sad for that family’s loss. But, hidden in the sensationalism of modern news coverage is an amazing stat: This was the first U.S. commercial airliner fatality since February 12, 2009.
In the U.S., there are about 26,000 flights on the average day according to the FAA. If you do some rough math, 26,000 X 365 days x 9 years = 85,410,000 flights between fatalities. That is truly incredible.
If you want a bit of historical context, there were 44 flights with fatalities in about 2 1/2 decades from 1982 – 2009 (not counting the flights taken down by terrorists on 9/11/2002). Clearly, air travel safety has become much better in the last decade, as you can see on this webpage from the NTSB.
Things are getting better in leaps and bounds, if you look past the headlines that prey on people’s worries (and sell more advertising).
This article has little to do with optimism, tenacity, or seeing the bright side of anything. It is simply a good tech hint, if you are one of the billion people on this planet that uses gmail as your ‘free’ email account.
I found out that sooner or later, as promotional email continues to grow exponentially, you will bump up against gmail’s 15 GB limit, after which time Google would like you to start paying for more storage. In my case, that moment was a few weeks ago. I have since discovered that google makes it darn hard to keep your email online and permanently available, unless you pay up. I already pay both Apple and Microsoft for several terabytes in the cloud, and ponying up yet another $99 a year just gave me a headache.
Here’s a great way around the issue, enabling you to stay ‘free’ (remember, you are ‘paying’ by giving Google all it needs to scrape your data and send you ads) while keeping every email received online into the foreseeable future, if price plans don’t change.
Set up a second account on gmail — for example, if your main account is john.smith@gmail…, create another one to store your email into perpetuity — for example john.smith.2018@gmail…
Forward all your email from your main account to your secondary account — gmail will only forward new email, not email previously received.
Now, some number of years into the future, you will hit the 15GB limit… at that time, you will have all your years of history in the secondary john.smith.2018 account. You can then simply delete several years of data from your main account, freeing up lots of space.
At that time, create a third account… something like john.smith.2022@gmail and change the forwarding on the main john.smith account to now forward all mail to it.
The result is that you will have all your email, online in the google cloud, for free, for decades to some.
As a final step, I downloaded a gmail chrome extension called Gmelius, to auto-bcc my secondary account when I send outbound messages. This is a bit scary because now Google and Gmelius “sees” your email, but such is life in the cloud-based world.
Hope this hint helps. It is best to do this now, and not wait until you hit the wall like I did. Unable to find a way to “POP” over the mail to another online account (I’m sure there must be a way but it was not available from one gmail account to another), I decided to pull my archives off to a desktop client which worked, but is not cloud based. Cloud is better. I probably should have tried harder, but after fooling around with it for several hours, Thunderbird on my Mac seemed like the quickest path to moving forward.
This year, I have posted several articles observing how the vocal few, amplified by online social networks, have an outsized voice in the political discord that swirls all around us. A few thousand like-minded activists are being heard while 350,000,000 others shake our heads in disbelief and sigh, while sipping our beverage of choice, remote control and smartphone in hand.
Simultaneously, I believe the remainder of this decade will be the true dawn of machine learning algorithms. While the concepts are not new, the practical application of machine learning is really hitting its stride, especially at the companies that are cornering many of the brightest minds in computer science, namely Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and the private unicorns awaiting their IPOs.
Machine learning needs big data sets to “learn” and no companies do a better job at marrying big data with algorithms and computer power than these. Traditional businesses rarely recognize that their most valuable asset to leverage is their data, still mired in thoughts about facilities, machines, and stores. Most of the Fortune 2000 do not run their data as a business, making investments and measuring results of analytical programs.
Here’s the bottom line:
If he decides, Mark Zuckerberg now, in 2017, has the power to decide who will be the next U.S. President.
— Bob Sakalas
I’m not saying that Mark will use his super power, but he has that power. Right now, Facebook’s and Google’s power is clearly driving greater and greater polarization of the public. This power extends to many countries, not just the United States.
Don’t believe me?
Watch this TED presentation by Zeynep Tufekci. It is eye-opening, and common sense tells me she is spot-on. It might just make you rethink your own level of participation on social networks, but that unfortunately will not change destiny for the country.
So what is the bright note for the optimist? Well, I’ve argued that optimists must take prudent risks within the backdrop of capitalism. As an investor, I’m increasing my long exposure to Facebook, Google, and perhaps add a small stake in Tencent. And, on a less serious note, the artificial intelligent Skynet won’t build terminators to exterminate humans, it might only try to control our thinking and ideology in an insidious Matrix-like mirage.
Much of my life, I have seen myself as an enthusiastic ideaman. I have more ideas per day than most people, I take the time to write a fair share of them down, I outline them into more than a fleeting thought, and I test them on friends and family all the time. Unfortunately, I have found that people rarely tell me one of my ideas stinks… even though I’m certain that some of them do. In most situations, true transparency is rare. In companies, where paychecks and promotions are on the line, transparency is exceedingly rare.
But what if your company could be transformed into an idea-meritocracy, instead of the all-too-typical top-down hierarchy? What if a company made decisions by truly collaborating, listening, and debating the ideas and perspectives of all, not just the few with formal power or excellent networking influence? What if people really communicated what they believed, what they thought, and voted on who they felt was more credible and believable?
It turns out that there is such a place — and it happens to be one of the most successful hedge funds over the last four decades. Please consider Ray Dalio’s overview of life at Bridgewater… how would these concepts change the destiny of your company, if they were implemented?
I find it fascinating. Technology is making the impossible, possible, when you have a visionary at the helm.
Update — Five years after writing this post, I created an independent website for this topic: visit sps7.com to watch the video and more.
Here is the original summary below.
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:
Lists are organized by project.
Due dates are added to certain tasks, and alerts are triggered to remind the person to get things done at the right time.
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.
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):
Planning ahead is crucial, so that you know what is on your personal agenda for this month, this week, and this day.
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.
The one truly “next” task needs to be identified by project.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
PS. Don’t have a good system?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.