Dec 302011
 

Most people have a love / hate relationship with the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. We tend to get excited about the coming of a fresh new year, the idea of a fresh start on fresh challenges, and hopes for better things to come. But, in the back of people’s heads lurks the memory that resolutions often fall by the wayside before the first day of Spring.

If you are considering skipping the resolutions exercise this first week of January, why not try something a bit different in 2012, like my OptimismMan ONE (at-a-time) resolution plan.

It is important to understand what has tripped up our plans in the so that we can approach the new year smarter and better.

I believe people drop the ball on their resolutions for the following primary reason – people set too many goals and resolutions at one time. Focus, clarity of mission, and 100% commitment are what is needed. As the old saying goes, “If you chase two rabbits, both escape.”

Secondary reasons people have failed in the past are that they rarely bring their resolutions into clear focus:

  • Most resolutions are vague and not specific.
  • The resolutions are not developed into action plans.
  • A person fails to set good and obvious reminders that fire off during the year.
  • People don’t accurately measure their progress.
  • People do not think through contingencies ahead of time.

Why not Try Something Different for 2012?

Consider following the OptimismMan ONE program for 2012:

  1. Go to Starbucks, a bench at the park, or a scenic overlook – some great place where you can think in relative solitude – bring a small stack of index cards, a pen, and your 2012 calendar with you.
  2. Brainstorm a list of 5 – 10 resolutions that you would really like to accomplish in 2012 and write them down as one-liners at the top of each index card. Don’t go past 10 cards unless you really want to build some huge queue for the future.
  3. Go back through and use the space in the body of the index card to write down WHY you want to accomplish each resolution.
    + How will your life be better when this resolution is done?
    + Why is it important?
    + How does this resolution set you up for bigger and better things in the future?
    Five to seven sentences is just about right in most cases.
  4. Now comes the hard part: Pick the ONE resolution that is the ONE that will bring you the greatest satisfaction and happiness, the ONE you want the most, the ONE that is in harmony with your values and long-term desires. Put a number one in the upper left corner and circle it. Put the rest of the cards away for safe keeping – you will only need them again after this number ONE is done.
  5. Turn the ONE index card over and list the major steps it will take to accomplish that ONE resolution. Some resolutions take 3 steps, others may take 20 – if that is the case, write small!
  6. Go back through the steps and estimate how many days it will take to accomplish each step serially. Write the number of days next to each step.
  7. Pull out your calendar (paper or electronic – it really doesn’t matter) and, using the information on the back of the card, place each major step / milestone on calendar days as two entries – one is the day you start the milestone step and the other is the day the milestone is due. Add some time for real life and the inevitable distractions. When done, if you had 10 steps on the index card, you should now have 20 entries on the calendar, culminating with the completion date of your ONE resolution.
  8. Place a 30-minute “appointment” on your calendar every two weeks for review points during the resolution accomplishment period. Set alerts to make sure you don’t miss a review. You will use these appointments-with-yourself to make a diary entry of what you did accomplish on the ONE resolution over the last two weeks, adjust your plan timeframes, adjust your milestones, and change the plan steps when you find you must adapt and overcome new obstacles that will surely come up.
  9. As a final step, look at milestone #1 on the road to resolution ONE. Take a fresh index card and make a list of specific steps / tasks to make it to milestone #1. You will repeat this break-the-milestone-into-actionable-tasks exercise ever time you finish a milestone and embark on the next milestone mission. Put that index card in your calendar or in your wallet, so that it is easily found and seen every day. If you use a task management system, input those tasks into your task manager as well.

I have no doubts that anyone that tries this ONE resolution system, no matter how many times they have missed on previous year resolutions, will find success in 2012. You will find that there is much greater gravitational pull on a resolution when you are clear as to why you want to accomplish it.  Getting started is always hard so putting a good plan together is just that start you need.  Finishing is never easy, but regularly accomplishing milestones along the way helps build momentum, determination, and most importantly, optimism.

Make 2012 your best resolutions year ever!

I.M. Optimism Man

PS> As you may have guessed, when you finish your ONE resolution, go back to your fortress of solitude, pull out your remaining index cards, perhaps add one more new one, and then decide on the new number ONE, and complete the above planning exercise. If you finish the first number ONE resolution by May, don’t wait until 2013 to work on the next number ONE.

Life is too short to waste time. We all have been given wonderful opportunities. That said, be wise and chase one rabbit at a time.

Dec 132011
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

I.M. Optimism Man

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

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

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

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

Nov 092011
 

What gets measured, gets improved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. Optimism Man

Nov 032011
 

A lot of people say “I want to live to 100!” Others wish to be slim and fit today. I go one step further and declare that “I want to live to 100, be fit every day for the rest of my life, and still be spry in my 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.”

This is not an easy goal given the sedentary nature of our modern society. Few of us walk, lift, carry, and exert ourselves as part of our daily life. We often sit for 90% or more of our waking hours hunched over a computer keyboard, talking on the phone, drinking our coffee. We sit in our cars stuck in traffic yet complain when we have to park a bit far from the front door of the supermarket. We sit at lunch, and at dinner, and in front of the TV at night.

The key to fitness is not one thing — the “how” and “how often” we exercise — which seems to be the topic most people bandy about.  Rather, success at health and fitness has everything to do with leading a life of integrity, staying disciplined on the core decisions that all impact your health.

One’s health comes down to a number of factors, many of which are in our own control and a few that are not. We cannot control our genes. We might not be able to control exposure to certain viruses.  But we can control many things that all play a big part in the equation.

Fitness mostly comes down to having integrity and discipline in seven main areas:

  • Exercise for strength
  • Exercise for aerobic endurance
  • Eating good quality food
  • Eating the right amount
  • Getting plenty of quality rest
  • Reducing and avoiding stress
  • Avoiding items that are clearly not good for your health
    (excessive anything, like alcohol, caffeine, bacon, butter, salt etc.)

Please take a minute and give yourself a letter grade (A B C D) in these seven areas. Are you going to the gym and lifting weights like Hans and Frans, but eating double whoppers with cheese twice per week?  Are you running 5 miles a day but then sleeping only 5 hours per night and skipping breakfast?  Are you eating vitamins like they are your one and only plan to win the health lottery?

Integrity is the true answer. If you have a goal of longevity and fitness, decide to get straight A’s from here on out.  Integrity demands that you make the disciplined choices.  It is easy to cheat when you are in your 20’s — a light workout followed by a pizza binge still works — but this all adds up when you hit the second half of your life.

From a personal perspective, I had a hard time committing to aerobic exercise, preferring to lift weights whenever I had a choice.  Two years ago, I decided to follow an every-other-time strength vs aerobic schedule, lifting weights on one day and then doing aerobic sessions during the next workout.  It works because I decided to no longer give myself the option.

The most common conversation at the gym is “how” a person works out, but most of the gym rats would be best served by focusing on what and how much they consume.  Diet is a huge component of long-term health, as is rest, as is stress reduction.

The debate should not be about the value of yoga vs. pumping iron vs. running vs. racquetball.  Building great habits takes time and persistence — adjust your habits a bit at a time and keep track of your decisions in a fitness journal. Making notes is very encouraging. Don’t get discouraged if you fall off the train once in a while — get right back on the next day.  Believe you can, and you will find that progress does in fact happen.  Yesterday does not matter whatsoever but choices made today matter a lot.

Integrity, balance, optimism, and discipline in one’s physical fitness plan is the answer to giving yourself a chance to earn fit, spry, and playing with great grandkids at 95.

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 182011
 

If you want to start a new enterprise or have a fresh idea for a new product or you want to start a new business unit with your current company, here is an hour of YouTube well worth watching. Guy Kawasaki is one of Optimistic Few who really understands how unwavering optimism and decisive action lead to success:

Guy recommends creating a limited, 10 slide Powerpoint presentation to encapsulate your business idea for investors. I think every entrepreneur should create this presentation, even if he or she is not looking for capital right now. Summarizing things in writing clarifies one’s thinking. These ten slides, presented to your closest (optimistic) advisers, will help you get better feedback and avoid costly mistakes.

Here is one question to ponder: Have you ever proposed starting a new business within your existing company? If not, why not try? Not much to lose if the CEO says no, but there is potential to gain a lot. Most CEOs don’t find their employees asking for a meeting to propose the great next new thing — I suspect you will get the meeting if you are optimistic and persistent. Be well prepared and you will make a great impression.

I.M. Optimism Man

Aug 302011
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. Optimism Man

Aug 122011
 

People really fear cancer. Cancer is the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body, which tends to grow and grow until it destroys healthy cells and ultimately one’s body. Given a choice, sane people avoid known carcinogens like Asbestos insulation.

The habit of complaining is a lot more like cancer than people realize. The more one complains, the more the complaints multiply. The dark side of pessimism, the seeds of depression, the viruses of frustration and depression invade one’s brain on the backs of daily complaints. People believe less and less is possible with their life. Complaints are the “Asbestos-like” carcinogen for your mental attitude, and your attitude determines your happiness and success during your life.

Yet few people sincerely try to avoid complaining. It seems harmless to whine about the weather, your spouse, your kids, and your neighbor’s barking dog. It seems harmless to always say things like “I’m fat”, “I’m poor”, “I’m cold”, “I’m hot”, or have an occasional road rage moment, fuming about the idiots in front of you on the interstate. The truth is that it is not harmless at all — complaining is a mental irritant that is growing a cancer within your psyche, one day at a time.

If you want a great life, start with choosing to have a great optimistic attitude. One amazing important step is to stop complaining about everything — and yes, that includes your aching back, the democrats, the republicans, your boss, and your in-laws.

Only a couple of guys have been able to take complaints and monetize them into extreme happiness and financial success and you are not one of them (see above).

Getting out of the complaint cancer habit is not hard to do. Buy a super-tiny little Moleskine booklet at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Put it in your pocket every day and then jot down what you complained about every time you catch yourself expressing one. I know that before you fill up that one tiny book, your complaining habit will be reduced by 95% and your attitude will be at least twice as positive. Its the magic of pale ink.

“It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”
— Confucius

Stay thirsty and optimistic, my friends,

I.M. Optimism Man

Jun 232011
 

Lots of people feel stuck in a rut — some in a big rut, others in a small rut. No matter the size of the rut, the rut is the same — getting up every morning, slugging a coffee or Diet Coke, sitting in traffic, fighting through the all too familiar yet unfailingly urgent issues, hustling home, rushing around for the final hours, vegging in front of the TV, and falling into bed dead tired — repeat. Genuine first downs, and the satisfaction of accomplishment, don’t happen often enough.

Are you being wise about getting what you want? Here’s a news flash — step one is knowing exactly what you want next.

What are your top ten goals for this year?  What is your top goal for this month?  Most people can’t answer these two questions without a lot of thought.  If you can’t, don’t be surprised that you feel stuck in a rut and making little progress.  The best rifleman in the world can’t hit a target he can’t see.

Make a top 10 list.  Rewrite it on an index card.  Keep it in your wallet.  Read it three times per day, right after breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Work on #1 on your list whenever possible, at least a little bit every single day.

Motivation follows getting started, not the other way around.  Follow this ever so simple system and be amazed how you will suddenly leave the rut in your past.

I.M. Optimism Man

Apr 012011
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 202011
 

The first day of Spring has arrived in North America. Grass is already turning green, we’ve had some fantastic weather, the trees are blooming, and the song birds are frisky on the patio, driving our cat crazy. Life is good.

I find the first day of each season a great marker to review and fine-tune yearly resolutions. Whoever came up with resolutions as only a start-of-the-year item got it wrong. Resolutions should be a year long event where we improve ourselves on the path to “be all you can be.”

Time for a grade. Here are my resolutions from the beginning of the year, and my assessment of my progress:

1. I will plan the one most important, strategic task I will do tomorrow every night before going to bed. This is my Strategic Big Rock (SBR) of the day. I will write it down on my daily plan for the morning.

To qualify as a ‘strategic task’ in my book, a task must pass my test of future value.  I look at any task and ask two simple questions – If I work on this task, will the result continue to produce value one month from today?  Will it continue to produce value six months from today?  A task is not strategic if the answer is ‘no’ to either of these questions.

I got off to a great start in January and February but the final two weeks of the winter quarter had significant breakdowns in this habit.  Still, I grade my effort as an A- and feel that I’m well on the path to success on this front. Changing one’s habits is never easy as pie.

2. Work on the one SBR task as early as possible the next day, with a goal of finishing it before lunch.

Other people’s issues and urgencies tend to invade our agenda as the day goes on.  The sooner I can get focused on my SBR, the more likely real progress will be made.  Every day, I will write down in my journal exactly what happened.  In my opinion, there is no greater motivator in the world than Pale Ink, a topic of its own that is coming to OptimismMan.com soon.

I only managed a B here. My log showed that only 50% of days did I even start on the SBR before noon.  All too often, I counted on a burst at 6 pm to make up for procrastination earlier in the day.  I can do better this.

3. On the fitness front, I will work out daily all of 2011, alternating between aerobic and strength training every other day.

In other words, I will lift weights on odd days and put in aerobic work on even days or vice versa.  My goal is to have a maximum of 24 days off, without a workout, in 2011.  And like everything else, I will jot down what I did daily in my journal.  Its far to easy to have selective memory if you don’t make accurate notes.

To quote Larry the Cable Guy, I got’r’done on the fitness front. Celebrating an A+. I missed one day in the winter quarter, but had four days where I worked out twice, putting me at net +3 workouts going into the Spring. I’m especially proud of the fact that I injured my back playing basketball but still managed to put in the sessions, albeit a bit less aggressively than normal while nursing the back.

4. Start a sideline venture in partnership with my wife that is up and running, selling product to customers by July 4, 2011.

This is my only resolution that is not about changing my habits for the better but rather it is a specific project which promises to be both exciting and difficult.  More to come as the venture progresses, but, like everything else, our first job is to create a good plan with bite-sized steps before we try to eat this elephant.

We made progress but the timetable seems too tight. We will have to really put the pedal to the metal in the spring time and see if the July deadline is makeable. I’m rating the winter effort only a C.

5. Reduce watching useless television by half.

I really don’t watch much TV right now, but it is really hard to find value in 95% of time spent when watching the tube.  No matter how you look at it, TV is quite successful at addicting us to hours without productivity.  So, I will do three things on this front.
a. I will watch no TV for half the days of 2011.
b. I will strive to have activities planned to do while watching TV.  For example, having the TV on while folding laundry or walking on the treadmill is far better than sitting on the couch.
c. I will keep a clear log of all my TV time spent.  Pale Ink is powerful stuff.

This one is a C- because I just did not start in January and ignored it all the way until Ash Wednesday. I’m now on the right path as a Lent observance but this was a good lesson of start right away, or the resolution will (almost) get away.

6. Improve my diet, especially adding more portions of vegetables and fruit.

Last year, I dumped 27 pounds using the pale ink method… I wrote down everything I put in my mouth.  I used the excellent LiveStrong.com app on the iPhone that they acquired from Daily Plate.  I got away from writing it down over the last number of months, but now realize that although I’m not looking to lose a lot of weight in 2011, writing it down helps with good diet decisions every day.  The ‘cost’ is only two minutes per meal (cheap!) but offers great benefits.  So, I’m committed to writing down everything I eat and drink in LiveStrong’s application all year.

I earned a B in writing it down and using LiveStrong, missing some days.  However, the focus on more veggies and fruit came in as a B- as I know I have more room to add a better mix to my diet.

7. I will schedule two one-hour sessions per week for personal improvement activity.

I always have things I want to learn, things I want to do that are completely outside my mainstream flow of life.  For example, for years I have said that I want to learn Spanish.  I have lots of tapes and CD’s and books.  Yet, I have not ever gotten started.  I have wanted to write a few simple programs in Javascript, but have not yet learned Javascript at all.

I will change this ‘never get started’ scenario by putting sessions on the calendar for personal improvement items every week.  I may have to change locations (library or Starbucks perhaps?) just to put walls around the time, but I will do it.

Wow, this one never got out of the gate.  An F, pure and simple. Time to get the habit sparked.

8. Post to OptimismMan.com two to three times each week.

Back in 2002, I did a podcast series that was very fulfilling but time consuming.  Interestingly, the term podcast didn’t even exist then, so engineering the audio took lots of time.  OptimismMan is the next step in my underlying drive to share my thoughts and ideas in hopes of helping others.  I will stick with it.  WordPress technology makes this very easy to do so there are no excuses.

I am feeling good about my Optimism Man momentum although I had a week or two with a bit less activity than hoped. Still, a solid A rating.

9. Eliminate all complaints.

Sounds a bit crazy I know, but I have experience.  I gave up complaining for Lent last year — it turns out to be much harder to do than giving up beer or chocolate, because you have to be conscious every waking hour.  It turns out that it can be done.  I engaged my family.  They became quite adept at spotting a complaint and telling me about it on the spot.  The trick was to put a tally application on my smartphone so that I could quickly and easily log each complaint.  The same power of pale ink, writing it down when it happens, works on this front too.

I have managed to really make this a good habit. It helped that I focused on this one last year as well. All in all, eliminating complaints is going well. Another A rating.

10. Change my discretionary spending habits for the better

Last year, I started jotting down (yes, in the smartphone again) every time I spent money on a discretionary item.  My definition of discretionary is not necessary, which is an interesting concept in our current age: is spending on your smartphone service ‘necessary’?  (I think it is ;-) )   A better example for discretionary for me is ‘do I need another T-shirt when I have a hundred in my closet’ but its really up to each person to define their own version.

This year, I will do two things.  First, I will get rid of impulse purchasing completely.  If I see something that I want, I will write it down in my task management software for one week minimum before returning to the scene on the crime to purchase it.  I think most things, once you think them over, wind up not getting purchased at all.  Secondly, I will continue to write down all purchases… little purchases, often small and mostly useless, tend to add up.  If you don’t write them down, its easy to forget where the money went.

Got an A here too.  I have it all jotted down and even managed a 6 week period without a single purchase in the discretionary category.

Spring Time Adjustments / New Targets

Lots of A’s but one F. #2 and #7 will be the focus of the Spring.

I think the list is ambitious enough without adding more. Overall, I’m happy with 2011’s progress on nearly every front. One simple way to make things better will be to review this list twice each week.  In the winter quarter, several weeks would speed by without a true review of what I want to have happen regarding resolutions.

Mar 072011
 

Education improvement seems to take baby steps in the right direction, but there are plenty of opportunities to do better. An example of baby steps is the long-running “Read to Succeed” campaign in Texas.

Parents set the example…

Teachers might be on board but parents are — too often — not leading by example. “Do as I say and not as I do” does not work in real life. Too many parents don’t read, preferring to waste nearly a thousand hours each year watching television instead. The example they set by their actions speaks far more loudly than the words they perhaps preach to their kids. Kids rarely get limits on the TV and therefore, reading does not become a major activity at many homes in this age of the time-delayed DVR.

Limits improve quality. To encourage your kids to read more and learn more, set limits on consumption and set a good example with your own actions. If you tell your kids they will get their choice of one or two shows (or video games) each day, kid’s adjust quickly and complaints disappear within a week or two. Kids, with limits, will naturally reserve their TV time for the best shows, instead of wasting it on barely-ok-whatever-is-on. Adults could and should do the same and only watch the cream of the entertainment crop.

Reading is a good step, but writing is a leap…

Furthermore, reading is but one good step in the right direction toward success — if you want to teach kids how to succeed, I believe a far better sound-byte message is to convince them to write.  “Write to Succeed” changes the equation dramatically for the better.

There are lots of opportunities to write if you look for them:

  • When you get your kid to read a book, ask them to write you a short book report about it. You will be amazed at how this one step changes comprehension.
  • Encourage your kid to write a story every week and send the stories to grandma, Uncle Jim, and Aunt Donna. It fosters creativity and improves relationships with the extended family.
  • When your kid has a good idea for something they want to accomplish, ask them to create a step by step plan on paper, that you can later review and help adjust. Learning to think on paper will serve them well for the rest of their life.
  • Get your kids to write a script for a camcorder movie, then help them create it.
  • Convince your kid to keep a journal, so that they can remember their childhood when they are twenty or thirty.
  • Conduct a goals session — you will be amazed how far a kid can progress once they have picked goals that they want to achieve.
  • Teach them how to outline their story first, then finish it out in a subsequent passes. Consider using re-arrangeable index cards. It is a great way to start.
  • As they get a bit older, inspire them to be part of the yearbook staff or the school paper.
  • Do as you say, and look for opportunities to write for yourself.

Any of these steps will take their learning, imagination, and confidence to new levels. Writing changes everything because it introduces action and the need to reconcile your thinking. Reading is fuel but writing converts that fuel into motion.

When you write, you learn to think and plan on paper. You can’t help but become more logical in your approach to life and accomplishment. These habits, learned early in life, will help a kid succeed far more than reading alone.

Reading helps set a foundation, but writing turns things into action and success. Write to succeed!

Feb 142011
 

Imagine winning the Superbowl without a playbook of plays your team has learned and will execute with precision.

Imagine building the house you live in without an architect first creating blueprints.

Imagine building a new highway interchange without surveying the ground and skipping the creation of plans on paper.

Imagine that you are the leader of a SWAT team, invading a bank where the bad guys are holding hostages without looking at the building plans to see how the rooms and entries are positioned.

Or imagine invading a city full of insurgents without detailed intel, scouting, and a carefully drawn up plan of action.

It is hard to imagine success in any of these attempts without clear, specific, detailed plans and contingency plans, isn’t it?

So, why do 95% of adults go through their life, day after day, week after week, month after month, without a written list of their top 10 personal goals? For the slim minority that do have a written goals list, what percentage do you think convert that one line goal into distinct projects and then step-by-step tasks with milestone dates, to achieve that goal?  The answer is less than 1 in a 100.

So, right now, lets see what a difference pale ink / thinking on paper can make. Pick one of your goals that is a pretty significant one, perhaps achievable in 6 months or a year if you get started soon. Pick any one of your goals. Right now. Grab three blank sheets of paper and a pen. Let’s scribble up a rough plan.

Answer these dozen key questions about this one goal:

(1) Description of the goal.
(one sentence)

(2) Why do you want to achieve this goal?
(one paragraph – be sure and include the benefits you will receive from the achievement)

(3) How will you know that you have achieved the goal / how will you measure it is really done?
(one or two sentences)

(4) When do you want to achieve this goal by?
(specific date)

(5) What are the intermediary steps in high-level bullet form that are anticipated steps to achieve the goal?
(one line sentences, but leave 5 lines of space between each sentence)

(6) Please put dates and any other quantitative measurements you can on each one of the intermediate steps so that this goal will be on track to make the date specified in step 4.
For example, if you are writing a book, the number of pages written by a date offers a great second milestone that can be measured, not just the date itself.

(7) For each of the intermediary steps from step 5, list 5 – 10 tasks that are subcomponents of getting that intermediate step finished.
(one detailed line each)

(8) Whose help will you need help from to make these tasks happen?
Write down not only the people or organization but also several bullets about the exact kind of help you will need from these people or organizations.  Add dates to put these resources together.

(9) Are there any skills that you need to develop to make these tasks happen?
If there are skills that need developing, this is a subproject that needs its own tasks and deadlines.  Add these bullets to your plan.

(10) Is this goal in line with your overall direction in life?
If it is not, it might not happen, because you will be fighting against the current of your life’s river every step of the way.

(11) After jotting down this plan, are the time frames and milestone dates achievable?
Its ok to be aggressive but if the plan is completely unreasonable, you will find that you give up soon after you get started.  You must make it mission possible, not mission impossible.  If the milestones look way out of logical possibility, go back and adjust the dates and final achievement target.

(12) What are the first 5 tasks? Put them down on your near-term list with deadlines.
Get started on time, since getting started is the key to getting motivated. It is much harder to push a car from a standstill into motion. Once rolling, it takes less power to keep it rolling forward.

Congratulations! You now have a rough plan for this one goal.

To understand the important difference, please complete the second half of this exercise.  Think about another goal that you have.  Make sure that its a goal of roughly equal size and scope, something in that 6 – 12 months of effort category. Let’s plan this one only in your mind — do not write anything down.  Take your time, just thinking about it.

Which one of these two goals has the best chance of success?

If you want to really answer this question honestly, set an alert on your calendar and ask yourself this question one month from today. Goals in your mind’s eye are dreams without a plan. Goals on paper are a little better, especially if you carry the list with you and look at it daily. But goals that get the magic of pale ink, the magic of thinking on paper and some level of planning are exponential better. These goals have an excellent chance of follow through and ultimate achievement.

If you asked a number of people what their personal goal is at their job, getting a promotion is one of the most typical responses. How many people have a written plan to win that promotion? Less than 1 in 100. What if you decide to be that one in one hundred with a good plan? Do your odds improve? Of course they do.

Use the power of pale ink and become more successful – it really is that simple. Once you have written plans for your top ten goals, your optimism grows because you have daily important tasks in line with your dreams.  You are empowered to act decisively.  A person that is making steps toward his or her goals feels inspired, has purpose, has energy and excitement, and is full of optimism.

Jan 272011
 

When it comes to success in life, the pen is indeed far mightier than the sword.

Most success does not happen in a burst of effort on one day. Success comes from building good habits while eliminating bad ones. No matter if you look at sports, at the workplace, or at home, good habits and daily effort makes all the lasting difference.

Changing habits is far easier than most people realize, if a person uses Pale Ink and the mighty pen.

As an example, lets take a habit most of us realize we should change, but usually make little progress on:
Getting rid of complaining and whining.

Like most bad habits, whining creeps in slowly like weeds in the garden, but getting rid of the whining habit seems like a near impossible goal. It is not impossible.

I decided to give up complaining for the six of so weeks of Lent last year.  From memorable experience, it is far easier to forgo chocolate or beer than getting out of the habit of complaining.  We whine about everything from the weather to the guy down the hall to the traffic on I-635.  The reason it is easier is that eating or drinking decision moments only happen a few times per day, while complaining can happen any minute you are awake. It takes constant vigilance.

Yet I pulled it off — within 2 weeks of starting!  I went the next 4 weeks averaging less than one complaint per week. By the way, I had enlisted my family and coworkers to keep me honest and they reveled in the job, so I’m quite sure I did pull off it off.

How did the small miracle happen?  Pale Ink!

I carried an index card in my pocket and a pen — and forced myself to write down what I complained about, whenever I did it.  The power of the pen is awesome. When you realize that you have to write it down on a log, it instantly raises your awareness of the habit and how often you fall victim to its grip. It only took two weeks before complaints were essentially cured as a bad habit.

Pale Ink works for creating good habits too.  Later in 2010, I decided that I don’t eat enough portions of vegetables.  So I decided to write down every portion and review my progress week over week.  Four weeks later, my portions doubled, because keeping a daily log raised my consciousness.

If you want to drink less beers, don’t set a hard limit:  Just write each one down.  If you want to work out more often, put a calendar on the fridge and color in work out days in green.  If you have a bad habit of using curse words, write each one down and time and date stamp it.

Pale Ink on a simple log is an amazing motivation tool. Start today with one small habit that you would like to change and make a daily log. You will be amazed at how much progress you will make in just four weeks if you make a sincere attempt to write things down.

To become more optimistic, a good habit is to answer every “How’s it going?” with a “Great, couldn’t be better!” response. Why not log every time you answer the greeting with anything less than 5 star enthusiasm?  Within a few weeks, you will see great results and will find that this one little change will be a spark that helps the rest of the day go better.

Jan 172011
 

Weeks, months, even years, fly by. We are incredibly busy but can’t remember what we were busy on three days ago, or last week, or last month. In this tornado life with howling winds of other people’s urgencies (the Urgency Conspiracy), it is not surprising that we often feel frustrated.  The constant state of frustration comes from lack of real progress in our lives that we subconsciously crave.

To make real progress, there is a natural order of steps. Making progress while reducing frustration and stress is quite possible for the Optimistic Few. But it is impossible to jump out of the tornado and onto the real progress path without clearly and accurately knowing…

  1. where you are today,
  2. what you are spending your time and energy on most weeks, and
  3. understanding the triggers that suck you back into the Urgency Conspiracy for another tumultuous week.

I’m a huge proponent of Pale Ink.  I take this phrase from an ancient anonymous quote “A good memory does not equal Pale Ink.

Pale Ink is the extraordinary technology that will bring peace to your mind and progress to your life. Luckily, ink was invented around 2,500 BC by the Chinese and Egyptians so we can be assured that the bugs have been shaken out of the system nearly 5,000 years later.

Start a little journal today and don’t stop jotting daily notes down for the rest of your life. I promise that you will be far better off for it.

When you make notes about how you spend your day, you have taken the single most important step toward investing your time better in the future.  Write down what you did, what unexpected items and people took over certain days, how you succeeded, and what set backs you suffered.  Don’t make the Harriet-the-Spy mistake of letting your journal fall into the wrong hands and if you decide to make comments about others that would be damaging in the wrong hands, please do those in code.  Daily journaling is step one in leveraging the extraordinary power of Pale Ink in your life.  More to come on Pale Ink in coming weeks.

How you set yourself up is a matter of preference. My personal system for journaling is rather interesting. Having watched several close friends suffer the loss of a critical hard drive and valuable data in the past, I overcompensate against loss. The good news is that I have worked out a process that does not cost much time. I spend less than 15 minutes per month to gain 100% protection against loss on all my journal notes, except for the most recent few pages.

1) I prefer real ink on real paper for notes, and the journals I use are Moleskine’s sweet Cahier notebooks @ a nice 80 pages each, thin and light enough, yet big enough for several months of notes. Barnes and Noble carries them in-store or there is always the time saving web.

2) Before starting the new journal, I mark every ten pages as a spot for a backup.  When my journaling reaches the backup spot, I use my smartphone to take pictures of the last ten pages and email those pictures to my free Gmail** and Evernote** accounts for safekeeping in case of loss.  This step results in three copies of the journal as the pictures taken also reside on the smartphone.  When I connect the smartphone to my PC a few times each week, another copy is made.  Lastly, the auto-backup programs (see Step 4 below) I have wake up while I’m sleeping and replicate the PC files to two more locations before the dawn of the next day.

3) When I forget my journal, I take temporary notes on my smartphone, then transfer them later in the day to my journal.

4) My PC automatically backs up its data to two places – another PC at my home using free DeltaCopy** and a hard drive at my friend’s house on the other side of the city using free CrashPlan** encrypted backup system, so ultimately, I have onsite and offsite backups of my journal images. We live in an amazing time and diskspace is really cheap. If you don’t yet take advantage of the great backup systems that are available, it is time to spend an hour and learn how easy it is to protect yourself and not lose all those irreplaceable notes and family photos.  If you only want one, try Carbonite or CrashPlan.

Keep a daily journal and you take an important step toward the wisdom of knowing thyself.

** Note:

Google clearly makes great money on ads, but there are a lot of venture capital fueled, equity-burning businesses out there giving us consumers free services that are clearly valuable.

Given that some of these will fail, I think it makes obvious sense to have a lot of backups in this free-services era.  All will not survive on advertising alone.  Many are trying to make it giving away their service to 90% of the casual users while making money on the 10% power users.  This idea may crack too, although Moore’s Law is really helping give it a fighting chance as the cost to provide virtual services continues to plummet year over year.

There is so much opportunity if you are an optimist.  The fact that Wikipedia continues to grow like kudzu on the back of donations is awesome.  If Wikipedia had to, it could go to ads and make extraordinary money overnight.  So there is lots of hope too.  Lest we forget, Google started as ‘no ads’ and has since changed its collective mind to become the most dominant force on the internet planet.