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

Dec 252016
 

I recently learned that modern society corrupted the word priority. One hundred years ago, there was no plural form: priority was singular only — it meant the single most important item.

Today, we have corrupted the word to mean “important” instead of the most important. I think we should return to the original definition.

So, as January 2017 is nearly here, what is your foremost priority resolution – yes, just one – for 2017?

I would suggest picking a self-improvement habit-of-excellence and focusing on just that one, until it truly is a habit in your life. Once your foremost priority becomes a habit, then and only then, create your next foremost priority resolution. Don’t dilute your effort with the list of 10 or 20 resolutions – that lack of focus is why most of us never seem to accomplish our long list of resolutions each year.

Once you pick your priority, leave reminders everywhere — on your computer, smartphone, and tablet wallpaper screens, your bathroom mirror, in your wallet, in your car. I really like the idea of have a calendar with red X’s on every day you made progress on your one true priority. Excellence comes from focus on building your own habits.

Some goals lend themselves better to the Red X system better than others. For a fitness goal, the Red X feedback is easy. For writing a book, break the long project into small steps, like writing a minimum of two pages or 300 words each day. For complex projects, you will need to pre-plan each day’s progress step with your first cup of coffee, but the idea is the same: make progress daily.

Although I am certain I have used this quote before, I can’t resist including it here:

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

— Aristotle

Why not ask people in conversation what their “foremost priority” is — right now — whenever conversation allows. If you listen well, you will learn something of importance about your friend, and you might just inspire him to improve his focus and succeed more easily. Inspiration is a great gift to give, not only over the Christmas Season, but all year long.

Finally, build a habit of saying “foremost priority” instead of “priorities” in conversation. Let’s do our part to get back to the meaning of the word and do our part to beat back the constant distractions of our modern, smartphone, media, and internet dominated life.

Happy Holidays,

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 122016
 

What did you learn today? What did you learn this week?

Did you make note of it?  Without writing it down in your trusted journal or your trusted system, a place where you can find it later — without much trouble — that golden nugget just learned is likely to disappear in some inaccessible recess of your mind.  I find that occasional review is the key step to assimilate everything learned into a cohesive factory between your ears.

I have often said an important test of whether or not you are old is whether or not you have goals, with a true commitment to achieve them. This week, I found a second great self-test when I saw this quote:

Anyone who stops learning is old — Henry Ford

I realized that Mr. Ford was right. Learning one thing, at least weekly, is crucial to staying young. My contribution is write it down: My current journal is Day One on the iOS ecosystem, if you want a suggestion of trusted system to use. If you choose another, test your backup methods, and backup at least monthly.

Some people become old long before their body gives out. Don’t be that person.

I.M. OptimismMan

Sep 082016
 

Most people think about goals in a far off in the future sense. Sure, goals are future-oriented but I believe it is better to look at them from both a forward-facing perspective and in the harsh light of “what did I accomplish” recently.

What if, on the first day of each month, you set an alarm on your smartphone that asked you to “write down the one goal that you accomplished last month…?”

Think back to your last four weeks. Did you accomplish one of your goals? I think many of us would say that we didn’t accomplish one of our goals — or make important steps toward a goal — but rather we just kept up with all the urgencies life throws on our plate. There is an immense difference between mission accomplished and mission started.

mission-accomplished

When we think about goals as a far off in the future concern, it becomes easy to let ourselves off the hook this week, or this month, and make no substantial progress for many months on end. No one else cares if we don’t accomplish our missions — in fact, some of the people secretly don’t want you to succeed — because it helps them feel better about their own lack of accomplishment. Most of us have no self-accountability feedback system… implementing this little alarm and reality-check on a monthly basis, while perhaps adding another reminder on a weekly basis, will change your goals momentum for the better.

The trick to momentum and accomplishment is to:

  1. have a plan for yourself,
  2. start first (contrary to popular belief, motivation come after you start),
  3. focus on one thing at a time with a specific plan in mind and full commitment now,
  4. write it down — the goal, the plan, and the progress log as it happens — and
  5. do not celebrate the announcement of intent but keep it to yourself until the mission is finished.

Finishing is everything. Completing three and a half years of college is not nearly as helpful as getting a diploma.

Build the habit of monthly progress on your goals. If you don’t, you will find that you are invariably making progress only on other people’s goals and not your own.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. If you don’t have a great list of goals defined, I have moved my free video goals workshop “GungHoLife” to youtube. You have a much better chance of accomplishing great things if you have specific targets and plans to do them.

Jun 122016
 

It is halfway through 2016. Are you halfway done on your resolutions? Do you remember where you put the list? It is a great good time to review what you decided to accomplish this year.

I believe resolutions are a great tool to replace bad habits with good habits. Changing habits is not easy without daily focus, accountability, and willpower. For that reason, minimalist champion Leo Babauta is right: focus on one habit change at a time. Habits take time to change — usually 12 sincere weeks — so quarterly resolutions are a great idea, in my humble opinion.

Job one is to keep “it” — whatever it is — front and center. Front and center reminders might be different for different people. It might be on your computer’s wallpaper, smartphone’s wallpaper, bathroom mirror, and refrigerator door. Whatever combination works for you.

workout-willpower

The next step is to keep an honesty-with-oneself log. Let’s say your resolution is to go to the gym 15 days each month. Be specific: I believe you are better off to say 15 profuse-sweat workouts each month, because quality of effort gets targeted too. Log the days you go, what you did, and how much time you spent. Log the days you didn’t go. Review the situation daily. Pale ink helps willpower.

Finally, each of us has a finite amount of daily willpower. It is much harder to do “it” after we have struggled to overcome ten other objectives throughout our day. I recommend doing “it” as early as you can, when your willpower tank still has a lot of willpower megawatts in it.

aristotle-quote-habits

Quarterly resolutions, one at a time, are the best way to adopt four habits for improvement and success, every year. Just be careful not to lose the previous habit when you move to the next.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Idea for habits to improve, beyond the obvious fitness example above, include reading for 25 minutes per day (and writing down a couple of lines about what you read), learning one new thing per day (and writing it down of course), watching less TV each day (logging time and what you watched), or eating one truly healthy meal each day (always write it down).

In my opinion, time thrown away watching TV is right at the top of the insidious list of bad habits that is incredibly hard to improve: one main reason is that we are most like to turn the TV on after our willpower has been depleted for the day.

Jun 082016
 

I sometimes hear people say that they are out of fresh ideas to overcome a challenge. When I later ask them about how much they read (books in particular), I invariably find that the answer is that they are heads down busy and haven’t cracked a book in months or years. I have yet to find a person that is both a) out of ideas and b) an active, avid reader.

dots

I also have noticed that whenever I read, a multitude of ideas, often unrelated to the material I’m reading, flood my consciousness. I believe invention is rarely a net new construct on a blank sheet of paper. I believe invention and developing ideas is a matter of connecting the dots of your previous experience and understanding with new input that changes the perspective and creates new connections. The book is a catalyst that changes thinking and structures in your mind.

woman1600

TV and movies don’t have this same positive effect because you don’t use your imagination, your mind’s eye, to visualize what you read in a book. Visual medium makes it too easy, letting your brain rest and just lay there on the couch. Brain research has shown that neural activity is less while watching TV than while sleeping. Bottom line, don’t be surprised if you have few new ideas while placated by the pacifier of television.

Try reading a quality book for 20 minutes each day for a month, while jotting down any fresh ideas that you have during those 30 days. I suspect you will find a remarkable difference. Build a lifelong habit of reading and learning: it will serve you well.

I.M. OptimismMan

 

PS. Keep a log of TV time and reading time. Its a great reality check of time spent vs time invested.

Feb 212016
 

Almost every conversation I’m engaged in or overhear contains a large number of “I wants…” within. I can’t help but notice that the vast majority of those wants remain unfulfilled for most people. I hear people say that they want to earn more money, but do very little, if anything, to earn more. I hear others say that they want to lose 10 pounds, but the weight stays velcro’ed to their waistlines.  I hear many say they want to find a better more-fulfilling job, but those same folks don’t go on interviews.

I believe what is missing for most people is “all in” commitment.  The answer is to convert your average “I want…” to “I must…

lincoln

Abraham Lincoln observed:

Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.

A great start to get this “all in” level of commitment is to write down your goal, in specific, measurable, concrete terms, and then clearly summarize in one or two sentences why this goal is important, now.  The “why” behind a goal is crucial.  Finally, a goal is nothing but dreamy, wishful thinking without a target date, so decide “by when” and write that down as well. Start right away, without delay.

commitment quote

What if you decided that you must lose 10 pounds this month, not someday in the future?  How would you approach things differently that you do now?

The iMUST method works if you concentrate and focus your attention and energy — having a dozen initiatives at the same time divides your focus and energy, and is a recipe for failure. I suggest pale ink and a little always-in-your-pocket logbook to help keep your focus and your memory accurate. If your iMUST goal this month is to lose weight, write down every calorie that you eat, jot down whenever you successfully choose the heart-healthy entree instead of the usual, accurately note your exercise achievements, and track your weekly progress.

Upgrade your attitude to iMUST. Commit, and you can and will accomplish your goals.

I.M. OptimismMan 

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.

Oct 172015
 

A lot of people talk about achieving ‘balance’ in life. The part that no one seems to mention is that every single decision in life comes with a price, and that balance is an achievement of wise decisions made.

I’m a fervent believer that you must strive for balance: it is far too easy to succumb to the gravity of daily work, so much so that you miss the rest of your life, including your family, your health, and brilliant moments of peace and happiness.

balance-matters

The most difficult decisions wind up costing a lot in time and effect your financial flexibility, ultimately changing your outlook and life’s balance.

Consider this:

1. Every decision has a direct price to be paid
2. There is a domino effect, a likely consequence, that changes what decisions are available to you, next, after the immediate decision is made
3. There are both direct and indirect benefits
4. There is a cost to some other aspect of your life’s balance

Those that foresee these four aspects clearly and are right about what the short-term and long-term domino effect will be — at least 80% of the time — will have a better balanced life.

How can you improve your decision making results? Write the facets of each decision down, with what you anticipate regarding the four points above, before you decide, in your permanent journal. Then, revisit and review on a set schedule (at least once a year) — there is a lot to learn when you see how your own thinking actually plays out. Most people forget the logic that they followed in the past and are therefore doomed to repeat mistakes of judgement in the future. Don’t forget to write down what you learn, as that too changes over time.

Learn to make decisions better. I believe that it can be done.

I.M. Optimism Man

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 262015
 

A thought to consider:

invest-your-time-quote

We all have far less time than we think we have. Invest time wisely. Write it down. Analyze your habits. We are all a product of our habits. You can change your habits for the better, if you understand what they are and why it is worth the pain of change.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jul 082015
 

I rarely see a situation in life where anger helps, yet I often see situations where anger hurts not only the person who is the target of the rage, but also the one who allows himself to become angry.

Yet some people seem angry all the time. I wish we could do a study and track angry episodes per month and how it would correlate to physical health and longevity. If stress causes damage, anger is stress on steroids.

angry-woman

Does yelling at the person that cut you off in traffic help?  Does yelling at your kid when she doesn’t do her chores improve your relationship? Does fuming at your teacher for producing an unexpected pop-quiz improve your chances of getting a good grade? Invariably, the answer is no.

So why get angry? I have no self control” is not a valid answer: the truth is that you have not mastered the millisecond gap — see my previous post here on the topic.

Like any worthy goal, it takes getting out of bad habits, unlinking your reaction from the “triggers” and learning new better habits. If you want to get better, and believe that you can and that you must, you can and will succeed..

Here are six great quotes about anger and how we can get better:

When anger rises, think of the consequences.

— Confucius

When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.

— Thomas Jefferson

Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you’re doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness. You can choose to not let little things upset you.

— Joel Osteen

Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before – it takes something from him.

— Louis L’Amour

grace-kelly-jpg

Getting angry doesn’t solve anything.

— Grace Kelly

A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever.

— Jessamyn West

Resolve to remove anger from your DNA. It will lead you to a much better place.

How do I start?

Like much of my advice, start by keeping an honest log of your angered moments and the reasons why you got angry. Why something happened is far more powerful than what happened. Pale ink is magical, as I have observed in previous posts — here’s a post about anger’s cousin, also beatable through the magic of pale ink, the destructive habit of complaining.

I.M. Optimism Man

May 142015
 

What would a near perfect workday look like for you?

What would a perfect weekend day look like?

What about the perfect vacation day?

Let’s say you could design exactly how you would like to invest and spend your time tomorrow, and also pre-plan how things would turn out. Based on your current situation, write down your perfect workday. Lay out exactly what you would do and what would happen from 6 am – 10 pm. Be specific.

What would be the result of your efforts? What would you accomplish to go to bed happy and content after one great day.

Sailing_Catamarans

Here’s the reality: you can either set sail, compass in one hand and rudder in the other and have great influence on tomorrow’s play-by-play and end of day results, or you can let the winds and the ocean currents push you off course and frustrate you.

moleskine-good-idea

It starts with ink on paper — having a plan is like having a compass. Then, it simply takes a mix of will power, optimism, and the occasional “no, I can’t right now” to prevent other people’s agendas from overwriting your own.

Make your plan tonight, execute your plan tomorrow. I promise even if you miss 100% of your milestones, you will achieve 90% — which is probably 100% better than the average day without a plan.

Try the same for this Saturday. Better result?

If you believe, if you envision, you will surprise yourself.

The real payday is when you build pre-planning and visualization into a habit.

I.M. Optimism Man

Apr 122015
 

A lot of people believe leadership comes from position in an organization. Because so many believe it, position does matter, but only to a certain point.

I believe true leadership comes from a state-of-mind that looks for innovative solutions to problems, combined with credibility that is earned through competence, integrity, vision, decisiveness, and the ability to communicate effectively.

While a lot of things must come together to create the magic of “earned” leadership, two of the most important are initiative and clarity. Consider these two quotes:

 

Initiative is a great differentiator between a leader and a follower. Keep a log of new things that you initiate. Log initiative that you see taken by others in your network. Pale ink will open your eyes and help you see how rare initiative is, and highlight the opportunity you have to lead.

— Bob Sakalas

Colin Powell

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.

— Colin Powell

Do you want to lead and grow as a leader?

Don’t wait until someone “appoints you” as a leader. Start today by taking some initiative and communicate your vision clearly and concisely. Then, evaluate your effectiveness. Does your initiative cause change? Keep a log and study what happens. Everything takes practice yet so few actually practice, especially in the workplace. Writing it down will keep you honest with yourself, keep your momentum, and help you learn and improve.

I.M. OptimismMan

Oct 282014
 

Nike has sold billions of dollars of shoes and apparel with its brilliant Just Do It campaign. The problem is that most of the people that buy Nike stuff are watching a scant few people Just Do It.

How many people have become better athletes by watching Sunday NFL? How may people become best selling authors by watching more TV? Or learn to play the piano? Or learn a second language? Or become accomplished artists? Or better business professionals? Or started their own company?

people-watching-tv

We have become the “Just Watch It” nation, sitting on our couches eating chips. Watching others do great things is the national pastime. I think it’s the great evil; unfortunately, it is easier to watch now that ever before. There are hundreds of channels. DVRs record all your favorites. If you forget to record it, it usually comes on again, or is available On Demand, or on Netflix, or Hulu, or at RedBox. If you miss the game, ESPN will talk about it all week, so that you can catch up before the next match. All you have to do is use your precious time to Just Watch It.

Consider these stats (Source: BLS American Time Use Survey, A.C. Nielsen Co. 2013):

Total Use of Television Data
Average time spent watching television (U.S.) 5:11 hours / day
White 5:02
Black 7:12
Hispanic 4:35
Asian 3:14
Years the average person will have spent watching TV 9 years / lifetime
Family Television Statistics
Percentage of households that possess at least one television 99 %
Number of TV sets in the average U.S. household 2.24
Percentage of U.S. homes with three or more TV sets 65 %
Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating dinner 67 %
Percentage of Americans who pay for cable TV 56 %
Number of videos rented daily in the U.S. 6 million
Percentage of Americans who say they watch too much TV 49 %
Child Television Statistics
Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television 1,480
Percent of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their fathers, preferred television 54 %
Hours per year the average American youth spends in school 900 hours
Hours per year the average American youth watches television 1,200
Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18 150,000
Number of 30 second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child 16,000

 

Nine years of the average life sitting and watching TV! My favorite stat in the table is that kids spend 30% more time watching TV than they invest in school. If you want to make more of your life, putting yourself on a TV consumption diet has to be top of the list. How you invest your time is crucial. If you find the will power to pull back on TV, please don’t substitute with low-value internet surfing like Facebook!

As I’ve pointed out many time in the past, the first step to changing any habit is keeping a journal, no matter if you are trying to eat better, reduce how much you complain, or reduce your TV consumption. Then, the ultimate next step is to use all that newfound time in a positive way, and that takes planning.

Are you going to go along with the herd or are you going to transform yourself from Just Watch It to Just Do It?

No one on their death bed wished that they had watched more television.

I.M. Optimism Man

Apr 152014
 

No one ever succeeded because of how many projects they started but abandoned unfinished. While getting started is required, in truth, finishing is the thing that matters most.

In this day of exponential networking and explosive knowledge-sharing growth, ideas multiply like rabbits. It is all too easy to start a new website, form a new business, create a new venture, and become available to much of the planet. But for all the ease of the start, finishing is as difficult as it has always been. It is also important to recognize that in many ventures, there is a long series of finish lines, not just one. Version one rarely takes the world by storm.

If you want to change your trajectory, action is required. Doing nothing accomplishes nothing. Nothing great happens without optimism, decisive action, tenacity, and patience. The last two, tenacity and patience, are what it takes to finish. Finishing is the only thing that matters in the long run.

airplane-restoration

Before you start something new, I suggest weighing all your options. Plan well, which means creating not only Plan A but Plan B and C to. Plan with great detail. The value of planning is not that every step will go according to plan — it will not — but rather that you think things through with great detail and logic, and commit those plans to paper. A plan gives you a skeleton to solicit the feedback of others as well.

If you are having trouble with creating a great plan, try this trick — plan the project backwards. Start with the end in mind — the “what” you will accomplish. Then clearly write down “why” you want it. The “why” gives goals life, and fuels tenacity. Then, working backwards, discern all the detailed first downs (the “how”) that you must accomplish to get to that end-point. I personally prefer outliner tools to do this, but index cards and post it notes also work well. I believe pale ink on paper is magical.

It will not be as easy as you think it will be, but don’t let that stop you. Start less, but when you start, you must have the zealot drive to finish.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS> Getting Started comes before Getting Motivated

PSS> Finally, on the occasion when you do not finish what you started, be sure and capture as much learning as possible. That is the only take away you will have — don’t waste it. Once again, pale ink matters. Keep journals of ideas and lessons learned, and review your journals at least one weekend per year.

ideas-in-journals

May 182013
 

I often make observations regarding long-term issues, goals, and visions. While it is important to be acutely aware of your long-term goals and vision, what really matters today is in fact, today.

Four ingredients will determine if today turns out to be fantastic or frustrating. These four ingredients must be combined and baked within your mind, before you finish that first critical cup of coffee. You can determine if your day will go well before 8 am.

First, decide your attitude. Decide that you will be full of optimism and energy today, before you finish that steaming mug. Zig was right — It really helps to say to yourself “today is going to be a great day.”

Second, choose your top priority mission for this day, without overloading yourself. Pick one strategically important thing to get done, one valuable task that when completed, will result in a really good day. Then specify two other “bonus” items of importance that you would like to finish. Write these three items on your calendar, blocking out the needed time for your top mission.

Third, decide to be a person of decisive, committed action for today. Anticipate that other people’s urgencies will pop up this morning and try to derail your efforts from the primary mission. As you sip that first cup, decide that you will be gracious and warm to all, while undeterred and focused on your top mission. Do whatever is necessary to get started on the mission before lunch. It is best to complete your primary mission before noon, freeing up time for the bonus initiatives in the afternoon.

Fourth, as that first cup runs dry, think through what you will do when you run into a roadblock. Adapt and overcome, with perseverance and tenacity. Too many people run into a roadblock and shelve the mission to gather dust for weeks or months. If your #1 mission for today was deserving of being #1, it deserves your whole-hearted commitment and tenacity. I find that if I think through alternate plans, roadblocks don’t seem like dead-ends but rather simple detours.

Lastly, after dinner, write down on your calendar a short blurb of how your day went. Pale ink is far better than a great memory.

If you use this simple recipe while drinking your first critical cup of coffee for 4 weeks, I believe you will find you will have had a great month. Accomplishing personally important initiatives leads to progress and happiness. Review your calendar entries at the end of the month and you will find peace and optimism. 

It is up to you to make today a fabulous experience. A fabulous life is the product of lots of fabulous days.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Nov 302012
 

Be kind.

How often do we give this advice to our kids as we send them off to school or to win the big game? Not often I’ll bet. Do we, as a society, admire the kind CEO, the kind football coach, the kind Hollywood superstar? Do we, as parents, insist that our kid help the other kid up after a foul in sport? Do we let the person in a hurry cut in front of us in traffic or do we block his path, enjoying the moment of silly triumph? Are there any reality T.V. shows following the lives of kind stars, or just Kardasians and tyrannical Abby Lee Millers of the world?

Should we then be surprised that kindness and respect for others seems to be disappearing in our society?

I believe kindness, to be kind and considerate, is very important to becoming a well developed member of a family, a community, and society as a whole. At the root of it all, I think there is a misguided perception that kindness and respect somehow leads to weakness and failure. This is not true. I wish to be kind this year, and kinder the next. Ultimately, I will be a very kind old man, not a cranky one yelling about the kids cutting across my grass.

Consider these five observations about kindness:

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

As much as we need a prosperous economy, we also need a prosperity of kindness and decency.
Caroline Kennedy

To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.
Confucius

And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had more of a tendency to look for people who live by kindness, tolerance, compassion, a gentler way of looking at things.
Martin Scorcese

There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness, and generosity.
Nathaniel Branden

A great idea would be to decide to have a personal quota of just one kind act each day, and record what you did in your journal. Great habits start with small daily steps.

I.M. Optimism Man

Sep 042012
 

Many people spend their lives wishing that they were dealt a different hand of cards to play. In doing so, they waste valuable time or even waste their entire life. You must play your hand in life’s game of poker, no matter if you hold a lowly pair of deuces, three kings, a full house, or nothing more than one ace.

This video is well worth watching. It runs a little over an hour. I promise you that it is an 76 minutes well spent. Randy Pausch might just change your life for the better.

After you have watched Randy’s lecture, I have a small challenge for you to think about.

Have you written a letter to your spouse and kids in case you get run over by an 18-wheeler on the way to the work today? Or recorded an audio file? Or taped a video? It is worth doing. Randy has left something truly great for his kids. And it has a side benefit — it might help you play the cards you have been dealt better too. Remember that pale ink helps you think clearly.

Rest in peace Randy.

I.M. Optimism Man 

Jul 082012
 

We all have too much to do. Most of us have difficulty deciding what “good tasks” to leave undone. Yet I believe that the overwhelming load of “good” tasks is the number one reason few people achieve greatness. Good tasks get in the way of great tasks.

Six months ago in my “BigRock Task Management & Frogs for Breakfast” post, I observed that making meaningful, strategic progress in one’s life has much more to do with picking and completing the one most important thing to do each day than it does with adopting a system that helps you complete the hundreds of smaller “good and worthy” tasks each of us face. People procrastinate on the great tasks because they are usually a bit more difficult to swallow. If you missed the original Big Rock post, I recommend reading it before continuing on here to more fully understand the concept.

These same concepts — this “Big Rock formula” — works exceptionally well if you want to become a Jedi Manager of other people.

Too many think demanding micro-management and Marine-drill-sergeant commands-to-be-followed-without-hesitation are the tickets to management success. They are not. The best managers help their people achieve their best, most productive years while thinking for themselves and growing in confidence. A manager succeeds when he or she successfully teaches the team to prioritize their tasks and avoid procrastination on the tasks that matter most. An employee that always completes at least the one most strategically important task on his list, each and every day, will outpace a hard worker who is constantly busy with the daily minutiae.

Unfortunately, nearly everyone spends too much time on the little busy-busy items that seem important at the time. In truth, most of these tasks would be better left undone, if (and only if) one completes more meaningful and strategic tasks. If a person does their Big Rock strategic task first, the other work will still fill in the gaps, but a first down will be made on the way to making a touchdown and winning the game. The manager is in an extraordinary position to either help his or her team members achieve greatness or drown in the quicksand of good-but-not-great tasks.

As I graduated from the professional sales arena, please allow me use sales management as an example.

A great salesperson knocks her personal sales objective out of the park for a few years in a row and gets promoted to sales manager. In most cases, the new manager “learns” how to manage by observing other sales managers. Unfortunately, invariably, companies are fixated on making the monthly, quarterly, and yearly numbers and the sales force is the hood ornament on that train.

Conversations between sales managers and sales professionals become overly focused on the numbers — sales forecasts, potential deal size, and percentage of success. These conversations do little to absolutely nothing to improve the quality or accelerate the sales attainment of the manager’s salespeople. The relationship often degrades between the manager and her team as she is doing little to help them succeed. She becomes frustrated at her inability to hit her targets, given to her by the numbers-oriented managers above her. Over time, she starts falling out of touch with what is going on in her district/region, spending far too much of her energy on candy-coating the spreadsheets for the higher ups.

Most people are caught up in the nitty gritty details of their job and have a difficult time prioritizing those few strategic tasks that can produce the most meaningful progress. The manager in this example was a good salesperson but she is now a spreadsheet masseuse, and that doesn’t help. Other managers fall into the micro-management trap. This manager tries valiantly to understand every detail and nuance that is happening in every account with every salesperson that reports to her. The result is that she is in the weeds along side the salespeople, unable to see the trees, let alone the forest.

There is a better way to manage. A great manager asks great questions, helping his people identify and envision the tasks that will result in great outcomes. Get into a habit of reviewing projects in a conversational planning atmosphere with each member of your team, asking each person to ID their most important strategic-progress Big Rocks by project. Take great notes — pale ink is magical — and then inquire about timely progress to overcome people’s inclination toward procrastination. When asked without confrontation, people usually do a great job identifying the most important things to do. The trick is getting them to act on the important tasks decisively, without any procrastination.

The results of this simple Big Rock management method will surprise you — remember, quality and direction are more important than quantity and speed.

Ask good questions, take great notes, stay involved, and expect progress on the tasks that your own people have identified as most important. Your people will succeed and so will you.

I.M. Optimism Man