Jan 242016
 

Time is very valuable. How we invest it, matters. Time is scarce and fleeting, our most precious resource. Unfortunately, most of us choose not to manage our time well.

By the very nature of our hectic existence, each of us has very little “prime” time in our daily life. By prime time I mean time where we are at peace but alert, focused, our senses heightened, our thoughts clear and distraction free. In this state, a person is able to create new things, distill true meaning, plan with clarity, and make important progress on strategic projects.

The world around us conspires to grab a person’s prime time hours for use on other people’s urgencies and agendas — I call it the great Urgency Conspiracy. Many people deny that they are firmly in the grip of the Urgency Conspiracy but most people are infected. Although some people won’t make the effort, I recommend that you track how you use your time over the next two weeks and dutifully record what happens, half hour by half hour. If you complete this experiment, I believe you will come to the following conclusions:

  1. Few events are pre-planned unless it is a meeting with other people.
  2. You spend your best prime time hours on other people’s agendas right now.
  3. You spend very little time – if any – thinking strategically.
  4. You use very little time – if any – improving yourself and your capabilities and knowledge.
  5. You invest very little time – if any – making progress on something that remotely could be considered an important longer-term goal or mission.
  6. You tend to over-promise and over-commit to the point of capacity. When something goes wrong – and something often does – you sacrifice any personal time you have to make up for the shortfall in available hours.

We are surrounded by a multitude of outside influences. This is not new, as people were surrounded back in the 60’s 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s too. However, in the last decade, there has been a massive, unhealthy shift in people’s expectations of real-time / right-now urgency and immediate response on all matters, many of which are not urgent at all. The acceleration started with overnight Federal Express and fax, then came voice mail and paging, then e-mail, then instant messaging, and now instant Twitter and Facebook and especially SMS texting have changed everyone’s real-time expectations. The more one participates in the real-time world, the more it accelerates. The urgency conspiracy is spreading like a contagious airborne virus. It truly infects those who are proud of their multi-tasking abilities. The word of the day, every day, is busy.

Sadly, when we occasionally receive a gift of unexpected free prime time, we are usually not ready to do something good with it. Instead, we grab the smartphone and log-on to check e-mails, surf websites, check out Facebook to see what our buddies are doing or eating, or read newsfeeds. When was the last time you saw a news story, or a tweet, or a Facebook entry that actually changed your life and mattered 3 weeks later? When was the last time you read a text message that mattered 3 weeks later? We have become junkies for real-time but mostly useless information.

Our fast-paced lives can be compared to professional sports. When you have the ball, the defense is right on top of you, giving you no time to think, no time to look up, no time to make a good pass. The best pros, the select few with long all-star careers, are the ones that find tricks that can create some time and space to set up the creative play that winds up scoring and winning the game at the critical juncture.

You must reclaim your prime time in your daily life and invest it wisely. Most of us will never have more than a couple of hours each day of prime time. But if you make space to think, if you set appointments on your calendar to not get interrupted while you work on the important project that matters to you, you will find that you will accomplish your strategic goals and create things of lasting value, instead of just staying busy on faux urgent matters.

Building a good habit takes 12 sincere weeks. Start small — reclaim 30 minutes of prime time each day by making an appointment with yourself — 30 minutes is surely not too much to ask. Plan those 30 minutes at a time (mid-morning?) when you are typically fresh, alert, and attentive. Pre-plan what you will work on during that 30 minutes of prime time and focus on this one objective. Put the smartphone on silent for that 30 minutes. Disconnect from all your usual sources and feeds. Leave the office if you have to, or at least close your door. If you follow this habit for one month, you will discover pre-planned prime time is not only possible, but critical. Then step up to two 30 minute appointments, pre-planned each day, for the next month. See how far investing time wisely can take you.

A person that reserves and invests just one hour of prime time each day will complete a novel in less than a year; or create a great new web site; or develop a new app while learning javascript; or build a pretty little gazebo in your backyard; or learn to fly a plane; or record a video blog for your kids when they are grown and you are gone; or begin to speak French. What can you create or accomplish, of lasting long-term value, if you stop living exclusively to the busy busy drumbeat of other people’s urgencies?

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. If you enjoyed this article, please read my related Red Pill Clarity post from early 2011.

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.

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

Aug 252014
 

A lot of people think that I’m a true “morning person” but unfortunately, that is not the case. Being a morning person implies that you jump out of bed, fully awake and ready to go, naturally, almost magically. Maybe some people are that fortunate but I’m not one of them. I burn the candle at both ends far too often, working hard and working out, daily. Jumping out of bed is not in the cards for me — my wife can attest that watching me get up is akin to a time-lapse photography sequence.

Yet, I decided years ago to transform myself into a morning person of sorts. What I really am is a rhythm and habits person, who believes in will power and forethought.

Just because I’m up at 5 am daily does not mean that it is easy. In fact, this graphic sums up mornings perfectly, from my perspective:

not-a-morning-person

After years of experimentation and observation, I believe that getting a good, early start in the morning produces killer benefits for the rest of the day.

A good start must be defined, because I believe it is not plunging headlong into the rat race sooner than most everyone else.

  • A good start involves reading a bit to kickstart fresh ideas.
  • It definitely includes pre-planning your day and your top “big rock” priority.
  • A good start must include forward thinking, as well as a bit of reflection.
  • It also should include comprehensive stretching, which works wonders physically.
  • If you are a believer, saying a short prayer or two helps orient yourself to your higher calling.
  • Finally, when the weather cooperates, it also includes stopping, watching, and appreciating the sun rise.

It takes 6 – 12 weeks to build or break a habit. But once you get past the habit barrier, I believe that there are great benefits to the choice of becoming a “morning person” — at least my kind of coffee-sparked morning person. The 10 reasons to become a morning person include:

1. Peace
When you get up early, you find moments of peace and solitude in an otherwise crowded, busy, loud-as-heck, full-of-distractions world. Peace and solitude is great for the soul. I’m not exactly meditating on my patio, but I get it.

2. Reflection
Early mornings are great for reflection, especially as you move to cup of coffee #2. One of the things I started a few years ago is keeping a smartphone based journal. I find, in the peace of the early morn, reading over my recent entries helps generate more ideas.

3. Self-Determination
You an either set your own priorities or others will set them for you. Early mornings give you time to think about whats important to you. It helps fight the urgency conspiracy driven by other people. Get up early to find the time to set your own agenda, your own priorities.

4. Magic
The sunrise is in fact magical. Try it for one week. Then, tell me I’m wrong.

5. Avoiding Some Stress
If you have to go somewhere, you will avoid 90% of the stress of traffic, while saving a lot of time as well. Most cities are busy but not jammed before 7 am. If you go in early, you will avoid that stress that every 8 am commuter feels.

dawn-runner

6. Sharpness
If you get up early and go for a workout, your mind and body are running at full speed by the time others start arriving, sleepy and groggy. Being the sharpest person in the room is a fantastic feeling and it doesn’t hurt your chances of accelerated promotion.

7. Balance
By getting up early, you get more balance in your life. When you take time to plan your day, you tend to be more thoughtful about it, which in turn leads to prioritizing your tasks and plans, both at work and in other pursuits.

8. Special Projects
When you finally forge yourself into a morning person, you will find that you have the capability of getting special project started and completed. I wrote my book, Seizing Share, using the early morning system. Interruptions don’t wake up and start interrupting until 7:30 or 8 am.

9. Improved Optimism
The more mornings you enjoy with a good start, the more often you will have the right, positive attitude all day. Optimism is a crucial ingredient toward success, so with improved optimism, you will often see more success. It becomes a self-sustaining upward spiral.

10. Better Sleep
A lot of people struggle to fall asleep. However, if you get up early, you are more worn by the time bedtime arrives. As a result, you fall asleep quickly and sleep more soundly all night. Our bodies like rhythms. The trick is to keep to the schedule. Once you have a great schedule, you will find that you sleep better, feel more fit, and ultimately become healthier too.

Consider becoming a morning person. I’m living proof that it can be done, even if you are a night owl today.

I.M. Optimism Man

Jul 012014
 

Many foolishly believe that having the brilliant idea is what makes a person succeed or fail. I believe the truth is found in the value of discipline in our lives. Hundreds of good ideas come and go during any given year. If a person is not disciplined, none of them will pay off. Discipline is the ingredient that makes all the difference.

Here are ten great quotes about discipline to consider over a cup of coffee:

langkawi_sky_bridge

It doesn’t matter whether you are pursuing success in business, sports, the arts, or life in general: The bridge between wishing and accomplishing is discipline.
— Harvey Mackay

Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.
— Stephen Covey

It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through.
— Zig Ziglar

Discipline strengthens the mind so that it becomes impervious to the corroding influence of fear.
— Bernard Law Montgomery

Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability.
— Roy L. Smith

Discipline is just doing the same thing the right way whether anyone’s watching or not.
— Michael J. Fox

The only discipline that lasts is self-discipline.
— Bum Phillips

It’s easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you’re a winner, when you’re number one. What you got to have is faith and discipline when you’re not a winner.
— Vince Lombardi

Most people want to avoid pain, and discipline is usually painful.
— John C. Maxwell

The world conspires to steal and waste your time. It takes true discipline to stay on track while television, social media, and friends of leisure beckon.
— Bob Sakalas

Bruce-Lee-Enter-the-Dragon

If you embrace self-discipline, you will go far in life. Discipline matters. Discipline is what you must be made of.

It — no matter what “it” we are talking about — will not be easy if it is a worthy pursuit. One of the disciplines that I believe matters most is the discipline of optimism and enthusiasm. Rare the success that isn’t fueled by true belief and an excited mind.

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

Oct 142013
 

Continuous improvement is difficult but not impossible.

In almost every case, continuous improvement follows a formula of measurement, analysis, planning, practicing the new adjustments, implementation in real life situations, and then a return to measurement, as the cycle repeats. To achieve a long run of continuous improvement, coaches are always involved. Even the best of the best, dominant professionals such as Tiger Woods, Lebron James, or Lionel Messi, live within this never ending cycle of coaching.

We know this commonsensical truth in our role as parents. In today’s America, keen competition both in sports and in the classroom demands that many do whatever is needed to give their kids an edge. We hire many coaches for our kids. Our kids join “select” or “club” sports teams, primarily to learn the sport the right way, to get coached, so that they have a chance of success when they grow up to become high school and college level players. Other kids who are focused to excel academically are also coached, not only by teachers at school, but by after school tutors and academic tutoring enterprises. Many tutors specialize in coaching kids for entrance exams to competitive high schools and colleges.

Adults seek coaching as well when it comes to sports. Millions are spent on golf lessons and tennis sessions. The bottom line is when someone is looking for an edge, coaching is invariably involved.

But what about our careers? What happens at work?

If a critical path to your success is giving great stand-up presentations, does anyone, especially someone that is a true professional at presenting, give you hard biting feedback and demand that you incorporate the feedback next time out? Is your improvement measured and analyzed?

If you are a medical doctor, does anyone coach you on how to improve your bedside manner and really relate better to your patient?

If you are a corporate manager, does anyone watch how you interact with your key employees and give you great tips of how to improve, as a manager, to get better motivation and results?

If you are a preacher, do the churchgoers let you know if your message hit home, and will be remembered, this fine Sunday?

I find that the answer for most everyone answers “no” when asked about improvement and coaching in their career. Yet, the same career that is most critical to living a good live, educating one’s children, and retiring in comfort. At work, no one measures, no one analyzes, no one coaches, and no one is serious about making plans for improvement.

How do you get better if you get little to no feedback?

One path is to say “So what — I’m good at what I do.” That’s fine if you want to be within one standard deviation from the mean, but usually, becoming top 10% is needed, and the top 1% is where the serious money is made.

The truth is that you must become proactive, you must become creative, you must seek out ways to get valuable feedback and coaching. What gets measured gets improved. How can you measure how well you are doing? How can you get honest advice? What can you do to get continuous feedback?

You can become world-class at what you do. To get there, you must take initiative. Please send me an email and share what program you invented for yourself to become world-class at what matters most in your career.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Jun 102013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Mar 032013
 

Do you know how to start a new movement, a social uprising that engages and drives people to take action? Do you know the formula that will help sell a big new idea? It takes a bold and fearless leader, right? Well, not so fast. Don’t underestimate the power of having a few key disciples.

These three minutes that will absolutely teach you a powerful lesson in leadership:

Did you learn the lesson? Perhaps selling your big idea in advance to your key supporters is a good idea. If you imploring them to speak up in support — before you pitch the big idea at the next board meeting, critical sales presentation, or even your idea for the family’s next vacation over dinner — your chances of success can be greatly improved.

I wish you great success.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Jul 242012
 

Sometimes indelible lessons are found in unexpected places.

 

Jack Palance played the weathered and wise cowboy Curly Washburn in City Slickers. Few who have seen the movie can forget:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

Curly: This. [holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”

Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

Life is not hard, goals in life are not hard, accomplishing great things is not hard, being happy is not hard — if you figure out the one thing that matters most to you.

Do you have your one thing figured out? Do you have your one thing written down? Do you read your one thing before you start each day?

I.M. Optimism Man

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.

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

Oct 032011
 

Think back to your youth, when you were eight or ten or twelve. What are some of your most vivid memories?

Please stare off into space for 30 seconds — don’t keep reading until you have at least two clear memories in your mind’s eye.

What events did you think of?

Did you remember the doldrums of homework, chores, or repetitive practice at a sport? Did you remember the countless days of effort that you invested trying to master a musical instrument? I would bet not: Daily life, and the tasks often repeated, leave no lasting impressions. Such regular events leave few memories and have little impact on a person’s development. It is the special, unusual moments that stand out vividly decades later — these are the memories that matter — these are the events that forge our psyche.

I remember simple but personally priceless events — I can clearly remember the day I learned to shoot a .22 rifle for the first time with my grandfather, as well as the first time I beat him in a 50 yard dash (I wonder today if he let me win, but I didn’t wonder back then!), and the evening when he and I caught a 7 lb trout at sunset — those are moments that I treasure. My wife still sees the sunny day in Galveston when her grandmother helped her bring an overflowing box of hermit crabs home from the beach and the perfect hour when Grandma pulled the car over and let her run wild through the irrigation sprinklers of a Kansas farm.

Fast forward to our roles as parents or grandparents today. We are all so busy with our regular daily lives. After working long days and sitting in traffic jams, we serve as taxi drivers for our sons and daughters as we rush them from school to practice or tutors, then back home for the never ending homework, dinners, and showers. All too often, we are unwilling to plan any unexpected, unusual event to complicate the already overflowing schedule. Busy parents are tired, both mentally and physically. If there is any energy left, it is often spent at the gym or meeting the amigos for a margarita at Ole’s.

But fond memories require the unusual — the perfect moments with your kids that leave those indelible impressions many decades later. “I’m too busy” or “I’m too tired” are simply signs of no forethought. There is always enough time for things that are important. All it takes is being optimistic, planning in advance, and committing to action.

Pull out your calendar — yes, I do mean right now — and pick a day next month. Write on that day that you will take a hike with your son or daughter to watch the sunset, or perhaps go watch airplanes land at the airport. Plan something simple, but different from the daily grind. Don’t tell your kid in advance, but make it happen.

Now, flip through the rest of the calendar and mark just five more days for events to-be-determined-and-planned. Six days out of 365 is manageable, no matter how busy-busy you are. The truth is that you have no idea what events will stick, so you must try multiple things. Don’t procrastinate. Kids grow up fast. It is more difficult to make great memories when they are 16 then when they are 8 or 12. Bring that smartphone along and always take a few pictures. Get the best one developed at Costco, framed, and put on the dresser. All part of Memory Making 101.

No one, lying on their death bed, ever wishes they had spent more time in the office. You won’t be the first that does. Don’t decide that you are too busy. If you decide to take the initiative, your kids will have a great number of treasured memories of mom, dad, and family life. Such little moments and treasured memories make a lasting difference because memories like this become the foundation for your kids’ life-long optimism, and optimism is the key ingredient to happiness.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. After your six shared events over this next 12 months, plan at least six more each year — you will not regret it.

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

May 122011
 

The day that you decide to surrender your dreams and have no concrete goals is the day that you become old.  Dreams and goals, with sincere determination to achieve those goals, are the fountain of youth.

Forced retirement should be outlawed.  Retirement kills.  Everybody knows somebody that went from firecracker go-getter to listless and irrelevant in that first year or two after retirement.  If traditional retirement doesn’t kill a person, it definitely maims many people’s psyche.

Who invented retirement and why is it set at 65 years of age?

Doing a bit of researched revealed something quite startling.  A German chancellor — Otto von Bismark — invented social security in 1884 AND he decided that 65 was the right age in his estimation, given that very few people at that time lived much past the average life expectancy of 46 years (in Germany in the 1880’s).

Conveniently, Herr Bismark, in this one brilliant checkmate move, also eliminated his closest competitors for the position of chancellor, but I’m sure this had nothing to do with picking that random 65 number 🙂

65 a silly number to fixate upon!

Life expectancy has soared WAY past 65 in the last century. Many people are very capable at 75, 85, and 95 years old — remaining productive and valuable in society. Being productive and valuable, striving for personal and organizational progress is what keeps a person vibrant and young. Yet almost everyone is brain-washed into hanging up their six guns and spurs just when a lifetime of experience is hitting full stride.

Let’s rename retirement to one’s Personal Financial Independence Day.

What we should strive for is our next chapter, our next project, the one that really makes our eyes sparkle with hope and intensity.

Everyone has missions at different phases of life. In today’s model during our short time on earth, we grow up from students to young singles to young families to empty-nesters to retirement to home-locked.  I think those last steps should be renamed to “financial independent and creating my great legacy” phase, not the golf, fishing, sitting, and TV is all I have phase.

A wise person can choose to make the golden years the greatest chapter in the book of one’s life. If a person that achieves financial independence at an early age, she just earns more years to make a outsized difference in the lives of others.

Just as importantly, if you keep your goals alive, you will find that you live — really live — those final chapters and not get stuck watching TV for 40+ hours each week (yes, the survey I found say that the traditionally retired watch more than 40 hours per week, on average).

Be spry and prosper,

I.M. OptimismMan

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

Feb 172011
 

No matter how optimistic you are, it is impossible to take risks, try new things, make progress, and learn valuable lessons without running into your fair share of obstacles and adversity.

What I find interesting is that the same adversity can be perceived very differently by different people. One person sees the adversity as an obstacle to be overcome while another sees it as a dead end, a failure from which one must turn around and retreat.

Sure, attitude and confidence plays a part. If you have overcome similar road blocks in the past, the next one is not as daunting. But there is a better trick to ensure your continued momentum and tenacity.

The trick is to plan for adversity in advance, to play chess, not checkers, with all the goals and missions in your life.

If you are serious and wise about achieving a new project or mission, investing some time to develop a plan is a requirement. Often, people make the mistake of only creating Plan A, the outline which assumes all the dominos will fall in order.  If a person invests the time to anticipate and write down contingency plans B, C, and D — before Murphy’s Law strikes — his or her ability to adapt and overcome in the face of obstacles, adversity, and uncertainty improves remarkably.

Written plans improve one’s optimism.  Written plans, with well thought-out contingency plans, triple one’s optimism and resilience.

An interesting observation about business plans for new start-ups is that they are rarely followed as they were written. This happens because many new things are learned once the entrepreneurs embark on the venture. I think planning is priceless none-the-less, for the logical approach and resolve that it brings to the kick-off.

If you are committed to approaching your missions professionally, plans should be adjusted on a regular basis, just as a pilot adjusts course during a flight from Seattle to Miami.  Weather, winds, traffic, and turbulence all require adjustment, but filing a flight plan remains essential.

Plan for obstacles and you will achieve more while keeping the optimistic fire burning bright.

I.M. Optimism Man

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 312011
 

Don’t ignore the other half. While its important to be physically strong and healthy, sharpening your wits is too often ignored.

To maintain the body we have built, we eat food several times each day.  Some of us watch the quality of what we eat, read countless labels for trans fat and calories, track the quantity of calories, and spend money on books that design diets for us or offer healthy recipes.  A smaller percentage of us hit the gym or the road, wearing out perfectly good Nike’s or ASICs as fast as we can.  There is no doubt that physical fitness is important for living our lives to the fullest now, and even more so when we get older. Does anyone really plan to do nothing but sit in a chair the last 20+ years of their lives?

This national obsession regarding physical fitness has blinded most people into ignoring the other half of the fitness equation: Mental fitness is just as important, or more important for lots of reasons.

Our smarts, our attitude, our wisdom, our situational awareness, our ideas, our drive determine what we do, how well we do it, how much value we add to the economy, and where we end up.  A person’s mental fitness results in promotions or stagnation, excellent parenting or kids gone wild, inspiring goals or no dreams, great plans or aimless wandering through life, optimism or pessimism, courage or cowardice, a fulfilling career or drone-like work.

In truth, you need both: a body with health and vitality to get you “there” and a mind that wants you to go “there”, wherever your “there” really is.

Your mind needs good food daily. When was the last time you read a good book that inspired you?  How many books have you read this year?  (Here’s a good one – Tipping Point)  You feed the belly daily when the body gets hungry.  How often to you feed your mind?  Conversely, how much time do you turn the noggin completely off and watch the game, singing contests, or sitcoms on television?

The internet offers the potential to do much better because we can look for specifics.  There is really good stuff to be found on the web if you sincerely search for it (see ted.com for an excellent example), but there is exponentially more trivia, garbage,  disinformation, and fluff on the web as well.  The book paradigm remains the overall best source — authors struggle for months and years to produce the best they can on a specific topic, and the result is that good books really fill you up with fresh thoughts and nurture the imagination.

Coach John Wooden

Defining Success

Your mind needs a workout too, in addition to wholesome sustenance. Your mind does not get a workout when you repeat mostly the same things day in and day out for months on end.  On the other hand, if you do something creative, something unusual, or learn something new, your mind blossoms and grows, much like your biceps grow after a few months of serious curls at LA Fitness.  The simplest, most accessible creative work you can do is writing.  When is the last time you wrote a well thought-out letter?  Better yet, when is the last time you researched a topic and wrote a report on what you learned?  Have you ever written a poem or a song?  Or a comic strip?

The problem, of course, is that feeding and exercising your mind takes planning, scheduling, and commitment, just as physical fitness at the gym takes planning and scheduling as well.  Good things don’t happen by mistake — planning is mission-critical for achievement and excellence always is preceded by habit.  Either you plan your time, or other people’s urgencies will do it for you.  Daily habits are the answer to many things in life  — one book, no matter how good, read in a few days, is not nearly as good as a year of reading just 15 minutes each and every day, with your first cup of coffee or tea.

When you focus on your mind’s fitness, plan specific time for it, feed it good food on a daily basis, and find creative exercise for your mind, you will find that it helps improve optimism and productivity across all the facets of your life.