Some of us don’t have a medium setting. We need to give it our all when we're moving, and stop when it’s time to stop. Don’t coast along in the medium setting or you’ll never be satisfied (cue the Hamilton soundtrack).
In my last post I shared my opinion that an MBA is only worth it in certain circumstances. It’s not that an MBA is bad - it just comes with a high cost (both money and time). Most people can find similar career benefits in other ways at a much lower cost. A LinkedIn comment on the post got me thinking about bachelor degrees.
I want to state up front that I believe a 4-year degree is more broadly beneficial than an MBA. It’s not automatically worth it for everyone, but I think it’s a good choice for many.
This post is about how to make a bachelor degree worth it. I refer to bachelor degrees, but the same principles apply to any post-secondary education program.
First, don’t view a degree as a golden ticket
For many career paths, a bachelor degree is a rite of passage and not a differentiator. A bachelor degree does not guarantee a high-paying job that leads to a lucrative career.
In fact, most entry-level jobs are anything but lucrative. Average starting salaries for most degrees range from around $30,000 to $60,000. This is hardly enough to support a large student loan payment.
Second, don’t spend like you’re buying a golden ticket
The single biggest I problem I have with bachelor degrees is the debt that most students become chained to.
Some millennials get headlines for demanding student loan forgiveness and free school.
Yes, rising costs are a problem, but no one forced them to rack up student loans! No one forced them to use student loans to fund a comfortable lifestyle in addition to books and tuition. No one forced them to avoid a job while going to school. No one forced them to go to a high-cost private or out-of-state school to a pursue a degree with low market value.
Students are not supposed to be comfortable! They’re supposed to live in small, run-down apartments or dorm rooms eating rice and beans on hand-me-down furniture. They’re supposed to drive a beater if they have a car at all.
They’re supposed to have a job at the same time, which leads me to my next point…
Third, don’t put off work experience until you graduate
Working while going to school has at least three benefits.
If combined with living inexpensively, working 20+ hours per week during the school year and 40+ hours per week in the summer should allow you to get through school without debt.
Your work experience will prepare you for your post-graduation career and set you apart from your peers going for the same entry level positions.
Working teaches valuable time management skills. The common excuse for not working is, “I need to focus on my studies.” The reality is most college students don’t have the discipline or stamina to study every spare minute outside of class. Work provides a break from school that would otherwise be spent playing video games or otherwise wasting time.
And by working, I don’t mean settling for flipping burgers or cleaning bathrooms for a few hours per week (although any work is better than nothing). Be aggressive about finding work as closely related to your preferred career path as possible.
When I started university, I immediately got a job working events for minimum wage. I saw it as a way to eat and pay rent while looking for a better job. By the end of my first semester I found a job running an online class that paid almost double minimum wage. The job wasn’t posted - I found it by approaching all of the professors in the program I wanted to be in (and hadn’t applied for yet) and asking if they knew of any job opportunities.
That was great experience and paid well, but it wasn’t directly related to my degree. Three semesters later I found a job at a local software startup where I worked for my final two years at almost three times minimum wage.
This work experience not only allowed me to get through university without debt, but it also set me apart from many of my peers who were also being recruited by the Big 4 accounting firms.
In summary, I believe a four-year degree can be worth it for many people. But only if you intentionally make it worth it.
It’s not the diploma that matters - it’s the person you become while earning that diploma.
Question: How else can you make a bachelor degree worth it?
My humble opinion: no. I could end my post there, but let me explain (and soften my opinion a little).
An MBA is not a golden ticket to a high-paying job that leads to a lucrative career. In the end, it’s who you are, who you know, and the results you produce that determine your career success.
An MBA will accelerate network-building and give you access to recruiters. It will give you experiences and knowledge that will make you a better person and prepare you to generate results.
But it comes with a high cost: 18-24 months of lost salary, paused career advancement, and tuition and fees. Could you get similar benefits without the cost?
The cost might be worth it if you meet the following criteria:
- You want to make a drastic career change into an area you lack knowledge and contacts.
- You are pursuing a career path where an MBA is almost required and you don’t have accomplishments that would make up for not having one. For example, private equity and venture capital partners who raise money from institutional investors often have big-name MBA’s or big business wins (built and sold a company for enough that they don’t need to work).
- Time and cost aren’t an issue and you just want an MBA. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I can’t think of any other good reasons to get an MBA.
I think most people would be better off by making learning and relationship-building a life-long and intentional pursuit.
By targeted I mean being relentless about learning everything you can about the industry and role you are in (and aspire to). I mean saying yes to every possible opportunity, large or small, and doing all you can to be an absolute rock star. Good people are hard to find. Be one of those good people.
Speaking of education: you can learn as much or more by building your own custom education plan. The following are some options:
- Executive education programs offered by many business schools. These aren't full MBA's but short, intensive courses on specific topics. They tend to be expensive but not nearly as much as a full MBA.
- Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Many schools offer the same courses that tuition-paying students get for free or cheap online. I took a course from Stanford for free on scaling startups. It had the same professors and content as a tuition-paying Stanford student. I just didn’t get the credits.
- Read books. MBA students read a lot of books. Decide what you want to learn and find the best books on the topic. Set a goal for how many books you want to regular read. I read 2-4 business or personal development books per month.
- Listen to books. I love Audible.com. I can get through at least two books per month while doing things I have to do anyway: driving, exercising, cleaning my office or garage, etc.
- Podcasts. Learn from experts who are actually doing what you’re trying to do. Some of my favorite business podcasts include The Entreleadership Podcast, EOFire, This Week in Startups, Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders, and even the $100 MBA (daily 10-minute business lessons).
- On the job experience. The best MBA can’t match high-quality, on-the-job experience. Volunteer for the toughest jobs. Intentionally target opportunities that will help you reach your goals. And as I mentioned, be a rock star no matter what the role.
Getting an MBA may be a good option for some people. But if you're considering an MBA, think carefully about whether or not the costs are worth it.
Consider whether or not you can get the same or greater benefits by being more focused and intentional in your on-the-job experience and off-the-job education.
Question: What criteria would make an MBA worth it?
A few days ago my grandma, my last living grandparent, passed away. This week I am spending time with family and celebrating her life. She almost made it to 90, and she has been living alone since my grandpa passed away 13 years ago. I grew up next to her on a farm from age 3 until I left home at 18. It was a privilege to get to know her so well during those years.
It has also been a privilege to learn from her example of enduring to the end then and since. Here are some of the things she taught me:
Serve, serve, serve
A life of service is the best way to describe her life. Her love of service was a primary factor in her long and happy life.
My mom had five kids in less than eight years. Imagine trying to get five kids under eight ready to go anywhere. Grandma would often appear and quietly help when she knew we were getting ready to go somewhere.
She was a great pianist and could play for hours without any music. Her only reference would be a small notecard with lists of song titles. She would play in churches and rest homes and family gatherings and any other location or occasion where people could find joy in her music.
In her later years she knitted hundreds of articles of clothing, such as gloves and slippers, and tied hundreds of quilts to give away. She loved giving.
Don’t give excuses
Grandma never used her age or health as an excuse.
She had every reason to sit around and do nothing, but she was always doing something productive. She liked to watch TV, but never without knitting items to give away.
She would often visit "old people” in rest homes (many were younger than her). She would read to and play games with the residents. She would converse or play the piano. She loved to brighten people’s days.
She lived in her house on the farm until less than two months before her death. She had a hard time accepting help. She didn’t make excuses as she endured to the end.
Keep a sense of humor
Grandma kept her sense of humor. My mom sent me a long list of funny things she said while family was gathered around not long before she died.
She said to my aunt, "I think you need to call someone in heaven to come get me.” My aunt asked who she wanted her to call. She responded, "anyone who will come get me."
One of her last statements sums it up well: "There is no use crying. We might as well laugh”
Young or old, enduring to the end can help us make the most of anything from a challenging but temporary project to our lives as a whole.
Question: What does it take to endure to the end?
Many resources are scarce, but I can think of only one truly finite resource. Time. Although it is not easy, we can always make more money. Money is not a fixed pie. Money is a pool that expands as people figure out to create value for others.
We’ve been hearing about peak oil for decades. Since as early as 1919 (according to Wikipedia), geologists have been predicting that the rate of oil production will peak very soon and then begin an unstoppable decline. Almost 100 years later new technology continues to steadily boost output (such as hydraulic fracking) and reduce demand (alternative energy).
However, no technology can expand the pool or output of time. We each have 168 hours per week to work with. Use of that finite resource is the difference between those who simply exist and those who make a difference during their time on Earth.
I’m a CPA, and I started my career as a financial and IT auditor. I know how to audit financial systems and statements. But until last week I had never audited my time.
I’ve always tried to use my time wisely, and I knew I could use it more wisely if I knew exactly how I was spending my time. But I never got around to tracking my time because I didn’t have a convenient way to do it.
I installed RescueTime on my computer quite a while ago. It tracks time spent using applications and websites on your computer. It can provide some interesting insight, but it’s limited enough that I don’t find it really useful.
I spent 16 hours in Gmail last week, but I don’t know what was business vs personal. For business, I don’t know which projects took so much time in email. As far as I know, there’s no way to manually record more detail. I also spend a lot of time on my phone, but RescueTime does not have an iOS app due to security restrictions.
Last week I finally felt enough pain to take action. The last month has felt crazy busy, but I didn’t have a good sense for how much time I was spending in different areas. I was afraid I was spending too much time on unimportant things and not enough time on important things.
Ironically, one factor keeping me from auditing my time is not wanting to take the time to figure out how. But I finally took three hours one day to research options, pick a solution, and figure out how to use it.
I looked for a solution that met the following criteria:
- Quick and easy to use
- Time tracking primarily on an iPhone app that syncs with a website
- Ability to separate time into projects and clients
- Good reporting capability
- Free or inexpensive
My search through many options led me to this short list:
- Hours - free and simple iPhone app
- Harvest - web and iPhone apps, free up to 4 clients
- Toggl - web and iPhone apps, free for unlimited clients and projects
Hours doesn’t have all the functionality I wanted, so it came down to Harvest and Toggl. Both seemed to have great functions and reports, so it came down to price. Toggl has more free functions.
I’ve only used Toggl for one full week so far, but the cost has been minimal and the benefits have been incredible.
The cost is a small amount of time to keep track of my time. The iPhone app makes this incredibly quick and easy. I simply stop and start the timer every time I switch tasks. When starting the timer, I choose from a list of projects or add a new one. I can add notes for what I’m specifically working on. The start and stop times are easy to edit.
I keep track of work projects, and I also keep track of every other way I spend my time, such as sleep, family time, exercise, down time, and general overhead (getting ready, organizing my office, etc).
I have found two powerful benefits with tracking time: data and increased focus.
Why is it that we are better at keeping track of less important resources? We use Mint to meticulously track my spending. My utility bills tell me how much electricity, gas, and water we use each month. If we spend too much one month, we can make adjustments the next month.
You can’t make improvements without reliable data to measure performance.
The data provided by detailed time tracking has been interesting. I’m spending more time on some projects than I thought I was, and I’m not spending as much time as I expected on others.
One week may not be enough time to see trends, but over time I can adjust my work habits based on my priorities.
This is an unexpected benefit.
I tend to rapidly switch between projects. I’ll often power through my email or task list and tackle what seems to be most urgent at the time. I’ll jump between responding to a recent email to a small task in one project to a longer task in another project to another email that catches my attention.
I think I’ve always been productive. I am good at using technology to get a lot done quickly. But I’m not always good at focused attention on important tasks.
Tracking time has forced me to be more focused. If I want to track my time accurately, I need to stop and start the timer and make brief notes about what I’m working on. But if I keep switching between tasks, I spend too much time tracking my time.
Time tracking is easier if I focus on one project for longer periods of time. The unexpected benefit is that I'm also more productive and effective when I’m not constantly switching between tasks.
I’m only a week in to tracking my time, but I intend to make this a long-term habit. It’s a small price to manage my most precious resource more effectively.
Question: How do you manage your time?
A year ago I wrote about my goal-setting process. My life plan, inspired by Michael Hyatt, is the guide I use to keep my life on track. I review it regularly and make minor revisions throughout the year. Near the end of the year I reflect on what I accomplished that year, make major revisions to my life plan, and set new goals that will help me carry out that plan.
2015 was an interesting year. I learned a lot as I worked toward my goals. In some areas I failed miserably on goals that should have been fairly easy, and in other areas I reached stretch goals that I didn’t really think were possible.
Here are 3 lessons I learned from working toward my goals this year.
1. Don’t look beyond the mark
In Old Testament times the House of Israel was given the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was meant to clearly point them toward Jesus Christ. By the time Jesus was born, the Jewish leaders had so complicated and corrupted the law that they no longer recognized it for what it was.
The prophet Jacob in the Book of Mormon described this as "looking beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14). The mark was Jesus, who was right in front of them, and they looked beyond that mark to a Jehovah who would deliver them from their political bondage.
This year I often found myself looking beyond the mark. When I didn’t feel like I was gaining as much traction in certain areas as I should, I tried to think of what more I should be doing. I would start outlining plans for working on areas in which I felt deficient in that moment.
However, I forgot that I already planned out what I need to do for that year. I would make the progress I was seeking if I would only follow my life plan and the goals and habits outlined in it. I didn’t need to look beyond that mark.
2. Try to be an essentialist
One of my favorite books of the year is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown. It is a quick and easy read, but it outlines an incredibly profound principle. It about cutting the non-essential from our lives so we can put all of our focus into activities that we feel deeply inspired by, are particularly talented at, and meet a significant need in the world.
I am not an Essentialist by nature. Most of us probably aren’t. I want to do it all, and find myself thinking that I can do it all if I just get up earlier and manage my time better. It takes discipline, effort, and courage to cut the non-essential from our lives.
3. Make more effort
Another of my favorite books this year is The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure by Grant Cardone.
The author basically says we should consider the effort required to accomplish something, and then we should put in 10x that effort. In some cases, it will require 10x the effort we think it will, and we won’t accomplish it if we don’t put in that kind of effort. In other cases, we may be able to accomplish it with less effort, but 10x effort will set us apart from our competition and/or provide 10x the benefits.
The 10x principle may seem to contradict the essentialist principle. In reality, they go hand in hand. We should carefully choose the few essential areas to focus our time on, and then we should put intense effort into those few areas.
In some areas I failed to achieve my goals, and it was simply because I didn’t put in enough effort.
Make it a great 2016!
We all have more potential that we are taking advantage of. The new year is an opportunity to refresh our life vision and set goals that will get us there.
Question: What did you learn in 2015?
Sometimes I have a hard time with holidays. Clifton StrengthsFinder is a type of personality test. Of the 34 talent themes, my top 3 explain why holidays and I don’t always get along.
Discipline. I like to impose structure on myself. I like routine and order. Holidays mess up my routine.
Achiever. I feel best when I am achieving something tangible. On holidays I should relax and enjoy time with family and not plow through my to-do list.
Focus. I like to have a plan and purpose for spending my day. Holidays are often unstructured and unpredictable, especially when extended family gets together.
However, my natural inclinations don't excuse me from taking time to rest my mind and build relationships with friends and family.
We all need time to unwind. We all need to build non-work relationships.
So how do we unwind for the holidays?
1. Wrap up loose ends before the holiday
Use the day or days leading up to a holiday to wrap up loose ends on projects. Get to a good stopping point and make it easy for yourself to pick up where you left off. Make good notes so you’re not worried during the holiday about forgetting something.
Clean your desk off and email inbox out. Spend your time knocking out lots of little things that have been hanging over your head. Don’t jump into a major task that you would have to leave in the middle of.
2. Clear your to-do list
I use Remember the Milk to manage my to-dos. It reduces stress because I only look at to-dos I have scheduled for today. I don’t get overwhelmed with everything I need to do.
I usually put some of my to-dos on a holiday "just in case" I have extra time. I think getting ahead on a few things during the holiday will make upcoming work days less stressful.
However, this prevents me from enjoying my holiday. If I spend time getting things done, I missed my chance to relax and spend time with family. My reduced workload in the coming days is negligible. If I don’t get those things done, I feel like I didn’t have the discipline to focus and achieve what I planned to do.
I need to put off all my to-do’s off to future dates and not expect to accomplish anything during the holiday except relax and enjoy unstructured time with family. I should have the discipline to focus on my family and not achieve anything.
3. Make plans ahead of time
This may sound like the opposite of unwinding, but as my grandpa always said, “a change is as good as a rest.”
Enjoying a holiday doesn’t necessarily mean sitting around all day and doing nothing. I means spending quality time with friends and family.
Sometimes my family spends much of a holiday asking each other what we want to do, and because we can’t decide we end up not doing anything.
Take some time to make plans before the holiday, and be intentionally about making it memorable for your friends and family.
Make the most of holidays!
Holidays’ lack of structure and productivity can be tough for me. The desire to work hard is a good thing, but we all need time to unwind and build relationships. I’m still figuring out how to unwind on holidays, but it helps to wrap up loose ends, clear my to-do list, and make plans ahead of time.
Question: How do you unwind for the holidays?
This is a "knock on wood" post. I really shouldn't put this out into the universe, but I will anyway because it’s had such a positive impact on my life. I haven't been sick for almost three years. I haven't even had a minor cold. Going back a little further, I've only been sick twice in about five years.
Before that, I probably caught a minor cold (or worse) at least every three to six months, especially in the winter. I thought getting sick a few times per year was part of life.
It’s been awesome not being forced to periodically slow down (or stop) my normal activities.
I obviously don’t know all the factors, and maybe I’ll get sick right after submitting this post. It would serve me right!
However, I did make a major lifestyle change almost 5 years ago, and I have to believe at least one of these changes have prevented me from getting sick.
In hopes of helping others improve their quality of life, here are the changes I made:
1. Eat nutrient dense foods
I’ve written before about my experience losing 30 lbs about 4 years ago. I believe the biggest factor was a change in my diet.
My typical day used to include cold cereal for breakfast (Life and Lucky Charms were my favorite), sandwich and chocolate bar for lunch, and heavy starches like pasta or potatoes for dinner (with dessert after, of course).
4 years ago I starting making 2 liters of green smoothie every morning, which would last through breakfast and lunch, and then I would usually eat a huge salad loaded with vegetables (with white wine vinegar as dressing) for dinner (with no dessert).
I haven’t been as strict since I lost the weight, but I still make sure I eat primarily nutrient dense foods (i.e. mostly vegetables and fruits). I drink at least a liter of green smoothie per day, and I regularly have a huge salad as a meal. I haven’t eaten much cold cereal over the last 4 years!
2. Limit refined sugar
I began limiting refined sugar at the same time I started focusing on nutrient dense foods. In fact, I don’t think I had any sweets while I was losing weight.
As I mentioned, I thought dessert had to be part of every meal. And snacks between meals. And bedtime snacks. I was definitely addicted to sugar. I blame it on my Grandpa Smith, who kept his work desk stocked with chocolate bars, and his mother, who we called “Candy Grandma” and was famous for her chocolates.
Limiting sugar has given me numerous benefits, and one of those benefits could be an improved immune system.
I haven’t been as strict since I lost the weight, and once in a while my addictive tendencies return. However, I make a conscious effort to eat far less sugar than I used to.
3. Exercise consistently
I’ve always been fairly active, but about 5 years ago I started exercising almost every. I started lifting weights, and then I trained for and ran a half marathon. I continue the habit of lifting weights 2 times per week and running 3-4 times per week.
It’s good to have regular formal exercise sessions, but even moving more helps. I use a standing desk, which forces me to move more during the day. I also use my iPhone to track my steps, and I shoot for 10,000 steps every day. I try to go for a walk at the end of the day if I’m not quite there.
4. Get adequate sleep
This hasn’t been a major change because I’ve always made sure I get plenty of sleep. But I believe it’s important enough to add to the list.
I have trouble functioning on less than 7 hours, and I usually get at least 8. I would love to add an extra 2-3 hours to my day by getting less sleep, but I don’t think the trade-off is worth it. I’d rather have a focused and productive 16 hours than a sluggish 18-20 hours.
Besides, if you don’t get enough sleep, your body may force you to rest by getting sick.
I have intentionally been light on science and details. It’s partly because I simply don’t know much, and it’s also because everyone is different.
I can’t guarantee that you’ll go 3 years without getting sick if you follow this list. I can’t guarantee I won’t get sick tomorrow and return to my pattern of getting sick several times per year.
All I know is these changes have worked for me so far!
Now it’s up to you to research and experiment to figure out how to improve your health. Improved health comes with many benefits, including less down time from being sick.
Question: What practices have improved your health?
I love books. I usually get through two or three books each month, mostly by listening to audio while doing other things. My favorite books are biographies (including stories of starting and growing companies). I also enjoy self-improvement / productivity, and once in a while I’ll throw in fiction to get a break from thinking too much.
These are the top 10 books I’ve consumed this year (so far):
1. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance. Elon Musk is incredibly inspiring. He’s building two revolutionary companies at the same time. It was interesting to learn about his struggle to get where he is today, and his future ambitions are mind-boggling.
2. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. A year ago all I knew about the Wright Brothers was they were the first to fly a manned aircraft. Last year I visited their memorial at Kitty Hawk, which was fascinating. I was excited when their biography was released a few months after that visit.
Their unwillingness to give up inspires me the most. They spent many years learning about flying, designing their flying machines, and testing a number of iterations. During much of that time they didn’t see much hope for success, but they never lost sight of their goal.
3. Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper. This is a fascinating look at the origins and development of the digital currency, Bitcoin. I have heard the hype about Bitcoin over the last few years, but I had no idea how it works. Although the technology goes over my head, I at least have a basic understanding now.
4. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson. This book provides an in-depth look at how computers and the Internet were created. It reads like several biographies in one as the author describes the key players who pioneered this industry.
1. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown. This is one of two books I keep downloaded in my Audible app so I can listen multiple times (the other is How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen). This is near the top of my all-time favorite list. It has changed my thinking about how to live my life more than almost any other book.
I struggle with implementing an essentialist life, which is to focus my time on only the few most important activities. But I try to work toward that ideal, and listening to it frequently helps to keep me on track. It’s only about 6 hours long, or 3 hours on double time.
2. The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. I wrote a separate post about this book. The authors package the five laws of stratospheric success into a brief, engaging, and easy-to-read parable. The five laws are value, compensation, influence, authenticity, and receptivity.
3. Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time by Rory Vaden. Although not quite at the level of Essentialism, this book has also changed my way of thinking about time management. I wrote a book review in a separate post.
Other time management strategies focus on efficiency and prioritization. It is about allocating our 168 hours per week to get as much of your most important activities done as possible. Instead of efficiency and prioritization, Vaden describes how to multiply our time. In essence, it’s about spending time on things today that will give us more time tomorrow.
1. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. I first heard about this story when the movie adaptation was nominated for several academy awards. I thought if the movie is good, the book must be better. I was not disappointed. I could not stop listening through the fast-paced action and the author’s unique story-telling style.
2. The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston. This book technically isn’t fiction, but I include it here because it reads like a story. I would sleep better if it was fiction. Hearing about the gruesome effects of the Ebola virus makes me think twice about touching anything. Regardless of it’s potentially scarring effect, the story is interesting.
3. The John Puller Series by David Baldacci. This is a three-book series: Zero Day, The Forgotten, and The Escape. The books are the adventures of John Puller, a combat veteran and military investigator. The events and prose can be a little over the top, but I enjoyed the suspense-filled stories.
Question: What are your favorite books of the year?
I recently ran the Ragnar Wasatch Back 200(ish)-mile relay race with 11 friends. We started at 7 am on Friday in Logan, Utah and ended at about 6 pm on Saturday in Midway, Utah. A few months ago my wife convinced me to join the team. Although I enjoy running, I wasn’t excited about spending two days and a night with little sleep, taking turns running almost a marathon distance.
However, I have to admit: It was more fun and rewarding than I could have imagined. I’ve been bit by the Ragnar bug, and we’re already planning for next year.
One of the benefits of being pushed to your limit is the lessons you learn. Here are three of the lessons my Ragnar experience taught me:
1. Prepare under conditions similar to performance
I ran a lot to prepare for Ragnar. I followed a half marathon training plan, and I was well prepared to cover my assigned legs at my expected pace.
However, I had two problems. I don’t like running in the heat, and I don’t like running hills. I mostly skipped both in my training. Unfortunately, two of my three legs were in 90+ degree heat, and two of my three legs had over four times the elevation gain than any of my training runs (my longest run was up a hill in the heat).
It was a good reminder to prepare under conditions similar to performance.
It’s easier said than done. Preparation under realistic conditions is difficult.
Giving a speech is a good example. Writing and practicing can be tedious and boring. It’s good to run through the finished product a few times in your head to make sure you know the material and can speak without notes. It’s good to video yourself giving the speech. It’s better to give the speech to a friend or family member who will pretend to be a real audience and will give you honest feedback.
I recently gave a speech I thought I was prepared for, but I hadn’t practiced it under real conditions. I got distracted and lost my train of thought when someone came in late and whispered to a few people as they tried to find a seat. I should have been prepared for real-world conditions.
2. Leave no regrets
Athletic performance in particular can be painful, but other performances can also be physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing. Examples Intense negotiations, international business travel, and video shoots.
In these situations it’s tempting to back down before you’ve really given it your all. However, our bodies and minds can take much more than we think they can.
As long you're not causing long-term damage, such as by running on an injury, you shouldn’t stop just because you think you've reached your limits. If you give up prematurely, once you’ve had a chance to recover you’ll know you could have done better.
There are times at Ragnar (remember the hills and heat) when I held back and told myself that I was just there to have fun without pushing myself too much. As I look back on my pace, I regret that I didn’t push myself harder. Not that my Ragnar pace is all that significant, but athletic performance is good practice for doing my best in other areas of life.
Of course, I’m talking about temporarily pushing yourselves to your limit. Pushing your limits day after day without recovery will take a long-term toll. But don’t be afraid to push yourself to the limit for a day, a week, or even a month, as long as you build in sufficient recovery in between.
My biggest fear about Ragnar was not getting enough sleep. I value my 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and I don’t think I function well on less. However, I really only got about 1 hour of sleep during Ragnar (from 5-6 am on Saturday), and I felt fine until Saturday night. I felt even better after sleeping 13 hours that night to recover!
The experience was a good reminder that I shouldn’t be afraid to push myself outside of my comfort zone.
3. Keep good company
Having good company makes pushing yourself to the limit a much more pleasant experience. You can push each other to do better, support each other when having a hard time, and have fun in general.
We had six people in our vehicle, and our 38 hours together flew by. We had a great time.
Life’s too short to spend time with people you don’t enjoy being around. As you look for a job, hire people, start a company, or participant in events like Ragnar, make sure you choose good company.
Athletic events that push you to the limit are a good to learn about life and business. Ragnar taught me that I can push myself to the limit by preparing under conditions similar to performance, leaving no regrets, and keeping good company.
Question: What have you learned about pushing yourself to the limit?
I love using software to boost my productivity and effectiveness. Innovative developers have created software solutions for almost any problem you can think of. Any time I have to do a repetitive task, I search for software to make it easier.
In my last post I wrote about software for your business life. In this post I’ll describe 5 essential tools for your personal life.
1. News and educational content (read)
All of us face information overload. How do we consume as much content as possible without getting overwhelming and spending too much time?
I use Flipboard to stay on top of the latest news and blog articles. It allows you to combine your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social media accounts into one feed. The interface looks like a magazine and allows you to quickly flip through a lot of updates and read more in depth anything that catches your eye.
I also use the Kindle app for reading books.
2. News and educational content (listen)
I enjoy sitting down to read, but I consume more content by listening while I do other things. I can educate myself while driving, running, or cleaning out the garage.
I use the Downcast app to listen to podcasts and the Audible app to listen to books.
3. Social media
It’s good to consume content, but it’s also good to be a content creator. As you create and curate content, you serve those around you and build your reputation for expertise.
I use the Buffer app to post to social media. You can set a schedule for posting to each account and then send content to Buffer. Buffer will take care of the posting so you can create the content in batches but spread out the posts for your followers.
For example, when I find interest articles while flipping through Flipboard, I forward them to Buffer for posting on my social media accounts. This allows me to be a content curator without spending any extra time.
4. Personal finance
Budgeting and tracking your spending is important, but it’s not fun (unless you’re a nerd like me). Even though I enjoy it, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. Software allows you to automate managing your personal finances.
I use Mint.com to track all of my financial accounts, transactions, and budgets. It connects to all my accounts and automatically download transactions. I spend some time at the beginning of the year setting up my budgets, and then it only takes a few minutes every few days to categorize the latest transactions.
I monitor my actual spending vs budget every week or so, and I take a little longer at the end of each month to review how I did that month.
Software can be used to improve your fitness in a variety of ways, such as tracking steps, recording runs or bike rides, watching what you eat, and watching your weight.
I recently started using my phone to keep track of my steps every day, and it has motivated me be more active. If I don’t have my 10,000 steps near the end of a day, I’ll go for a walk. I consciously do things throughout the day to make myself walk more, such as parking further away from the store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
On an iPhone, the Health app tracks steps, but I don’t like the interface. Several apps use the Health data to display steps in a more useful format. I use the Withing app to both track steps and record my weight (using the Withings wireless scale).
I use the Nike Running app to record runs, and myfitnesspal for tracking calories.
Question: What software do you find essential for your personal life?
I love using software to boost my productivity and effectiveness. Innovative developers have created software solutions for almost any problem you can think of. Any time I have to do a repetitive task, I search for software to make it easier.
I recently had to convert almost 100 Word files to PDF. It would have taken me at least an hour of mind-numbing work to convert them one at a time. Instead, I searched Google for “convert Word document to PDF,” and the first result was a website that converts multiple uploaded Word files to PDF. Less than 5 minutes later I had 100 PDFs.
Besides automating one-time jobs, software can make your daily routine much more efficient.
Here are 5 essential software tools for your business life.
1. Task list
You have a lot on your plate, and you can let important tasks fall through the cracks if you don’t have a good system for keeping track of to-dos. Sticky notes and scraps of paper may work fine for luddites, but paper gets lost, and you waste time rewriting prioritized lists. I recommend task management software that syncs between a website and mobile app and has good keyboard shortcuts.
My favorite task manager is Remember the Milk. The interface is clean and easy to use with an abundance of shortcuts for quick updates. It syncs reliably between the apps on various platforms. I use the web app for heavy lifting while I’m working at my computer and the iPhone app while on the go.
I have tried several l other programs, such as Omnifocus and Nozbe, but I keep coming back to RTM. I find its simplicity, effectiveness, and efficiency hard to beat.
You need to keep track of a lot of information, and that information needs to be available anytime, anywhere. You don’t have time to search through papers for that account number or utility bill or copy of your drivers license.
My favorite tool for keeping track of notes is Evernote. Its easy-to-use apps for any platform sync seamlessly so you have access to all of your information on your phone, tablet, or computer. Evernote is my digital brain, and I don’t know how I would function without it. Any piece of information I need is a quick search away.
If you’re reading this you probably use email, but are you using email in the most effective way?
I use Google Apps for all of my business email accounts. Google Apps combines email (Gmail), document storage (Drive), office applications (Docs, Sheets, etc), Calendar, and many other tools. It allows you to use your own domain name instead of gmail.com, giving your business a more professional presence. It’s inexpensive and easy to set up.
Whether or not you use Google Apps, I recommend using email right in your web browser. I gave up Outlook a long time ago, and I haven’t missed it one bit. Keyboard shortcuts and powerful search capabilities make using email in the browser much more effective (in my opinion) than managing a separate piece of software that stores data on your computer.
4. Online document storage
I store online every document I need access to. I only keep paper if original documents are important.
I use Google Drive for archiving files that need to be structured into folders. For example, I have folders in my personal Google Drive for each year of tax documents.
I use Dropbox or Google Docs/Sheets for files I am actively working on. I use Google as much as possible because I can quickly access and edit on any device, I can easily share and collaborate, and I never have to worry about version control. For example, I use Google Sheets for cash flow projections and expense reports.
I dump into Evernote everything that doesn’t need to be in a structured file system. I use the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner to scan everything from utility bills to kids’ report cards.
5. Business finance
It’s important to keep your business and personal finances separate, and business financial software makes it easy to track the business side. Most businesses I work with use Xero, but I’ve also used Freshbooks, Quickbooks Online, and Netsuite.
Question: What software do you find essential for your business life?
Have you ever wanted to give up? I have. Many times. Any time I face challenges and the end result is unclear, I am tempted to quit. Any time I am tempted to quit, I think about the importance of resilience.
No business, no family, no cause, nothing worthwhile is easy. All worthwhile endeavors have periods of challenge that make us wonder if it’s worth it. We won’t accomplish anything worthwhile without resilience.
I’m blessed to be surrounded by incredible examples of resilience. Many of my colleagues have faced and continue to face incredible resistance to their goals. But they don’t give up. They keep pushing. They inspire me to keep pushing.
Like any character trait, resilience comes more easily to some than others, but it can be learned. Chances are, the most resilient people you’ve observed built their resilience over time as they faced and overcame challenges.
Here are 4 ways to become more resilient:
1. Gain experience over time (and start young)
You can build resilience at any stage of your life, but it helps to start young. Over time, whether or not you’ve always been a model of resilience, you will recognize patterns. You will notice good things only come into people’s lives after pushing through challenges.
Why do many parents spend so much time and money on youth sports? Only a small percentage of athletes get college sports scholarships, and an even smaller percentage are able to retire on pro earnings.
Sports give kids something fun to do and keep them out of trouble, but I believe building resilience is one of the biggest benefits of youth sports. This resilience can benefit the rest of their lives.
I distinctly remember being at the end of close high school basketball and football games. I’m so exhausted I can hardly see straight. I want it to be over, but I can’t give up. I have to play my heart out until the buzzer goes, or I will let down my team and our fans. If I give up, the coach probably won’t give me the chance to play in a close game again (or any game!).
Parents who want to raise kids to become great adults should look for ways to teach their kids resilience. Sports aren’t the only way. Music, theater, service, school work, and part-time employment, for example, can all help.
2. Level your emotions
Sometimes we want to give up because we can’t handle the emotional roller coaster. I wrote a previous post about how to level the roller coaster.
Life is never as bad as we feel during down moments and never as good as we feel during high moments.
Our emotions are coded for survival. The fight or flight response is meant to keep us alive in life or death moments. In our day we rarely face such moments, but our ingrained emotional response can make tough situations feel like life and death. This is a good thing if it motivates us to do all we can to get through the situation, but we shouldn’t let fear become debilitating.
Controlling our emotions can be difficult, but it helps to take a step back and think about why we’re feeling a certain way at a given moment.
3. Talk about your feelings
It can help to talk through our feelings.
We can talk to someone removed from the situation. Whoever you talk to might have some objective advice for handling the situation. They may give you the encouragement you need to keep going. Just having a listening ear might be enough. Sometimes expressing our thoughts out loud helps us recognize when we’re thinking irrationally.
Talking to someone involved in the situation can help provide perspective. They may correct misconceptions you have about the situation. They may have additional information or insight that you weren’t aware of.
We should be careful not to discourage those around us, especially if we are in a leadership position, but healthy relationships and a healthy culture should allow for free expression of our feelings.
4. Intentionally practice resilience
Michael Hyatt has mentioned on his podcast the story of his friend who runs marathons. He ran the Boston Marathon with his daughter, who asked at mile 21, “Dad, please remind me: why are we running this stupid race?” He replied, "Because we are practicing not quitting."
We can choose to participate in activities that allow us to practice resilience. Maybe marathons are not your thing, but you can find other ways to practice resilience. Choose to take on a challenge in your career that scares you. Commit to a demanding role in a non-profit organization.
Resilience is an essential character trait for those who want to accomplish important things in their life. Nothing worthwhile comes without challenges, and the resilient push through challenges and enjoy the rewards.
Question: How do you build resilience?
Do you ever have days when you can’t seem to get yourself moving? Days when your energy and motivation are shorter than your to-list? Days that you look back on and wonder if you accomplished anything? I am normally highly self-motivated, but I experience maddening stretches when my motivation doesn’t live up to my expectations. I recently struggled to motivate myself to be productive through two days in a row, which got me thinking about how to lift myself out of a motivational slump.
Self motivation is extremely important. One big difference between leaders and followers is that followers need leaders to motivate them. Leaders can’t depend on others to motivate them.
Here are some ideas for getting out of a motivational slump:
1. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise has a long list of benefits, many of which directly contribute to increased motivation. For example, exercise causes our bodies to release endorphins, which triggers positive feelings. Counterintuitively, exercise actually increases energy levels. High energy combined with positive feelings is a nice recipe for motivation.
I find a noticeable difference in motivation between days I exercise in the morning and days I don’t.
I wrote a post relating my experience of stopping running for a year and then starting again. After a few years of running led to widespread improvements to my life, I listened to “experts” who said that “chronic cardio” (i.e. frequent running) is bad for you. I became convinced that I would be better off with less frequent, more intense weight training.
During the year I stopped running I gained weight and noticed a significant drop in energy and motivation. In the few months since I resumed running 3-4 times per week (while still weight training twice a week), I have lost weight and regained my energy and motivation.
Exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous every time. The subdivision I live in surrounds a large man-made lake with a network of asphalt trails. A brisk walk around this lakes feels almost as good as a run.
2. Structure your schedule
I find the strength of my motivation to be correlated with how effectively I plan my time. I struggle on days that are wide open without a clear plan. On these days I spend more time reacting to email and checking social media than proactively tackling my to-do list.
I like to plan my next day on the night before. I review my to-do list, identify my top priorities, and decide the order in which I will tackle them. In this way I avoid wasting precious morning brainpower trying to figure out what I’m going to do that day.
It helps to tackle the most difficult or least enjoyable tasks first. I struggle with motivation when I have dreaded tasks hanging over my head throughout the day. It’s better to knock them out first when I have the most energy and willpower, and then I can spend the rest of the day on more enjoyable tasks.
Whenever possible I prefer to block out certain days or periods of time for related tasks. Rapid task switching is unavoidable at times when running startups, but it is draining and unproductive, especially when those tasks use different parts of the brain. It’s difficult to solve a customer problem on the phone and then go into a strategic planning meeting and then build a financial model.
For example, I try to schedule conference calls for Tuesday, focus on technical tasks Wednesday, have on-site meetings on Thursday, and tie up loose ends on Friday.
Everyone has a different situation, but you can experiment with structuring your schedule for maximum motivation.
3. Set short-term milestones
I struggle to motivate myself when the tasks I work on today don’t get me noticeably closer to an end result.
I learned this through an experience I had while going to university. I took a PhD prep track within my masters degree because I was considering an academic career. During one summer I worked part time researching for a professor and part time programming for a startup software company.
I found myself struggling to motivate myself to work on the long-term research project while looking forward to tackling the short-term projects at the fast-paced software company. After that summer I abandoned the academic path and for the last several years have worked with startups.
Looking back, I don’t think an academic path was necessarily the problem (although I’m happy with the direction I chose). Rather, I should have broken down the long-term project into short-term milestones.
Milestones should be set so that the work on any given day will bring you noticeably closer to it.
4. Make a change
So far I have focused on how to motivate yourself in your current circumstances. However, sometimes extended lack of motivation is an indicator that it’s time for a change. Sometimes the path we set out on is not the best one to continue on.
Before making a change, we should carefully consider our motives. We should consider whether or not the previous steps will get us back on track. The grass usually isn’t really greener on the other side, and any worthwhile pursuit will have periods of boredom and difficulty and seemingly impossible obstacles.
Self-motivation is an essential trait for leaders. But even the best leaders face periods of time where they struggle to motivate themselves. However, what makes them leaders is the ability to pull themselves out of motivational slumps.
Question: How do you motivate yourself?
A few days ago my preteen son was unable to sleep as he thought about the Nepal earthquake. He knows about the major fault lines along the Wasatch Front near our home in Utah, and he was concerned we would be involved in a similarly devastating earthquake. Do you worry about the impact that unpredictable, devastating, and rare events might have on your life? These events may include natural disasters, worldwide economic downturns, war, loss of income, or personal health challenges.
What if instead of fearing these adverse events, you can be prepared to benefit from them? Wouldn’t this bring more peace and confidence to your life?
Benefiting from chaos, disorder, and unpredictable events is a concept outlined in a book I recently listened to: Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Antifragile a word made up by the author, and the concept can apply to many things. In this post I’ll focus on building an antifragile life.
Our life is fragile if it can be easily broken or damaged by adverse events. You may think that the opposite of fragile is a life is one that is not easily broken or damaged by adverse events. However, the author defines the opposite of fragile, or antifragile, as something that benefits from seemingly adverse events.
Here are four ways we can build an antifragile life:
1. Get out of debt and build a financial reserve
An individual loaded with maximum debt is fragile. Many families choose to take on a level of debt with which the minimum payments fit within their budget, but barely. They are fragile to even the slightest disruption, such as reduced income or unexpected expenses.
Other budget items, such as eating out and entertainment, can be quickly adjusted down as needed. In contrast, in most cases assets can’t be sold quickly or easily to reduce debt payments. Many types of debt are either unsecured, such as a credit card, or secured by an asset with less value than the debt balance, such as a vehicle.
Living on much less than we earn, and using the excess to build a financial reserve, will make up more antifragile. It is obvious that a financial reserve, no debt payments, and a comfortable budget will make adverse events easier to endure.
But how do we actually benefit from financial shocks? One example is the ability to take advantage of great deals. Those who had a lot of cash in 2008-2009 had unprecedented investment opportunities. The Dow Jones stock market index has almost tripled since its 2009 low. Phoenix housing prices have almost doubled. Vacation properties dropped even more than residential real estate. Businesses and business assets could be bought for cheap.
2. Maximize health
The right kind of adversity can improve our health. When facing resistance, muscles tear, and then the repair makes them stronger than before. Aerobic capacity increases as we sustain an increased our heart rate, such as while running. Exposure to a small level of dangerous microorganisms can make us less susceptible to its affects in larger quantities (i.e. the principle behind vaccines).
However, we need a reasonable baseline of health before this adversity can be beneficial. A person with a weak heart shouldn't go on a long run. A person with weak bones should not try to lift heavy weights or play basketball. A person with unconditioned muscles and tendons should not try to sprint. How many people who are older and more out of shape than they think they are pull muscles while attempting to run around the softball bases!
3. De-risk career
In the book, the author compares two brothers. One has a good education and has had a long career in the HR department of a large corporation. The other has little formal education and is a New York City cab driver. The HR brother has a steady income while the cabby brother’s income varies widely each day.
Even though the HR brother makes more money and may appear to have a better career than his brother, the author argues that the HR brother is fragile while the cab driver is antifragile. The HR brother could lose his job at any time, which would completely cut off his income. The cabby brother has more sources of income than he can possibly take advantage of (millions of people in one city). If his income drops on one day, he can quickly adjust by moving to another area within the city.
You don’t need to own your own business or become a freelancer to be antifragile. You can build a strong network and solid reputation. If you lose your full-time position, tapping your network might even lead to a better opportunity.
Another way to become antifragile is to develop a career that comfortably pays the bills while allowing time and freedom to pursue other interests, such as a side business. The author is a professor of risk engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. This position allows him the freedom to research and write his books. Einstein had a well-paid and relatively undemanding job at a patent office, which allowed him to think about his most impressive ideas while working.
4. Look for minimal downside and maximum upside
Another way to become antifragile is to focus time and attention on opportunities with minimal downside and maximum upside. Of course, these kinds of opportunities aren’t always obvious, but it’s a good principle to keep in mind as we choose how to spend our precious time.
He uses options, the financial instrument, to illustrate this principle. Options allow you to buy the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call options) or sell (put options) something at a given price (usually shares of stock in a company). If you buy a call option, you have virtually unlimited upside as the stock goes up, and your downside is limited to the price of the option.
Education is a good example of this principle. The only downside of education is the time and cost, which are measurable before you begin, and the upside can be unlimited if applied appropriately.
Another example is working for a promising startup company and receiving equity as part of your compensation. Assuming you don’t have your own money invested, the downside is the opportunity cost of something else you could have been spending your time on and the risk of losing your job. The downside is no different than working for a big company, but he upside is potentially much greater if the company does well and your equity multiplies in value.
There is no way to predict the biggest shocks in life. By becoming antifragile we can prepare ourselves to benefit from inevitable randomness and chaos. Being antifragile can give us greater peace and confidence in our lives.
Question: How can you make your life more antifragile?
I recently listened to The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea by Bob Burg and John David Mann. The authors package the five laws of stratospheric success into a brief, engaging, and easy-to-read parable.
Multiple books have been written about each of the five laws, but the authors effectively illustrate these laws in a story about Joe. Joe is a relatively successful sales executive who feels like he is stalling in his career. He is about to miss his quarterly sales quota, and he desperately turns to a wise old co-worker for help. This co-worker introduces him to “The Chairman” who in turn introduces him to five successful people. The five people each teach him one of the laws of stratospheric success.
The format reminds me of Andy Andrews’ Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success. The main character, David, is transported to seven key points in history where historical figures teach him the seven decisions.
The five laws of stratospheric success are as follows:
1. Value: give more in value than you take in payment
This is a principle not easily measured by traditional accounting methods. Accounting seems to dictate that businesses should extract maximum payment from customers while expending the minimum cost.
However, this law defines value much more broadly than can be measured by dollars and cents.
In a successful transaction, one that will lead to more transactions, each party must feel they are better off than before. The customer must feel that the product or service they receive brings more value to their lives than the dollars they spent. On the other side, the seller must receive a price higher than it cost to provide the good or service.
Money is simply an echo of value created. As Dave Ramsey likes to say, banknotes are “certificates of appreciation."
This law must be followed to create any successful business, but it is easy to see in some relatively new business models.
Many online software companies use a “freemium” model. Their pricing may include various pricing levels, including a free version. Those using the free version are obviously getting more value than they’re providing in payment if they find any value at all. It also provides a risk-free way to decide if the additional features in the paid version will be of more value than the cost. This is a major improvement from the old days where customers made large and long-term software purchasing decisions based on a demo.
Many professional content creators (bloggers, authors, etc) offer most of their content for free. As they prove the value they can provide, some percentage of their followers are willing to pay for books, courses, conferences, etc.
2. Compensation: your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them
This reminds me of Zig Ziglar’s famous quote, “you can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want."
Some of the perceived inequity in the world results from this principle. It may seem unfair that famous musicians or sports players get paid millions while many beloved teachers barely make enough to live on. Like it or not, these famous people are paid more because they are able to reach more people.
In The Go Giver, a teacher realized she would be able to serve more people if she created an online education business. As a result, she was able to provide value to more people and earn more compensation.
This law doesn’t mean that it’s not honorable to serve within a small sphere of influence. But the law does mean that the compensation will be more limited when compared to serving a larger audience.
3. Influence: is determined by how abundantly you place others interests first
In order to influence those around us, we need to shift our focus from I or me to others. When others can see we have their best interests in mind, they will trust us and therefore allow us to influence them.
Of course, the interest must be sincere, and the reason for desiring for influence must be to serve. Many influential leaders have used their influence for self-serving and even evil purposes, such as Hitler and Stalin.
For one of the most influential works on influence, see the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.
4. Authenticity: the most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself
You will serve best by being yourself and not who others want you to be. You have unique gifts and talents to bless the world with.
Bronnie Ware, a nurse who worked for years with dying people, wrote a popular blog post about the top 5 regrets of the dying. The top regret was "I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
Being yourself doesn’t mean being who you are now without improvement or progression. That’s just complacency and stagnation. Being yourself means becoming who you want to be.
5. Receptivity - the key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving
This may be the hardest law for many of us to follow. We know that giving to others is a good thing, but we have a hard time receiving. It may be that we don’t want to put other people out. It may be that we don’t want to admit that we could use help.
It takes two to tango. For us to be able to able to give, someone needs to receive. Sometimes that receiver needs to be us.
Kids love receiving gifts. Christmas is an especially magical time. But as we get older, we find much more joy in giving gifts than receiving them. Finding joy in giving is a good thing, but as a receiver we can allow others to feel the joy of giving.
These five laws are more about who we are than what we do. Sometimes the best way to change who we are is to first change how we act. If we are sincerely trying to change, we really can fake it until we make it.
As we follow these laws, we can make our way toward stratospheric success!
Question: How have you applied these laws?
I loved playing Little League baseball while growing up. As an 11-year-old I was excited to move from "Triple A” (age 9-10) to the “Majors” (age 11-12). I was big for my age, and thanks to many hours playing catch with my younger brother, I was a decent player. Our region had two leagues for the Major age: the regular league and the farm league. I should have recognized that a farm league is for those not ready for Major League (like professional baseball), but at some point I got the relative prestige of the leagues mixed up.
As a result, I desperately wanted to be part of the farm league. My parents and friends probably assumed I wanted to start with a more relaxed league before advancing. They probably tried to explain the difference in leagues, but I must not have listened. I knew what I wanted to do.
I realized what a mistake I had made soon after the season started. We played in the more rugged diamonds and with no standard uniforms. I watched my friends in the main league playing more competitively in well-manicured diamonds and nice uniforms.
Much later in life I heard Andy Andrews say a phrase that brought me back to this experience: “don’t believe everything you think.”
This phrase also reminded me of other experiences where I confidently made decisions based on flawed thinking.
A few years ago I made a series of poor decisions regarding family vehicles. Within 2 years we bought and sold an Accord, Trailblazer, Odyssey, and Tahoe because after a short time with each I became convinced that we needed something different. We lost money each time, and I was never more satisfied with the next one. I don’t even enjoy the process of buying and selling vehicles!
I have tried to learn over time that I can’t believe everything I think. The following tips have helped me look more critically at my thinking and hopefully led to better decisions:
1. Be patient and skeptical
My worst decisions have been the ones I made the most quickly. Impulse purchases certainly fit in this category but usually don’t have as much impact as choosing a career, making a job change, hiring people, expanding a business, etc.
Most decisions do not need to be made quickly. The urgency we feel is usually created in our own impatient minds. We should take time to make decisions, and during that time, we should be skeptical of our own thoughts.
2. Gain experience
Sometimes the only way to recognize flawed thinking is to recognize patterns over time. We all think differently, so it’s difficult to provide universal rules. We can try to reflect on the thought process that has led to good and bad decisions in the past.
3. Follow a life plan
In several previous posts I have referred to my life plan, which was inspired by Michael Hyatt. Creating a life plan gives us a vision of where we are now, where we want to be, and the goals and habits that will get us there. This life plan can be created and modified over time while we are thinking clearly and are free from the pressure of a pressing decision.
When we have new ideas, we can compare our ideas with our life plan. If it fits into our overall vision, it’s likely a good idea. We don’t need to automatically disregard an idea that doesn’t fit perfectly, but we should look at it more critically.
4. Have a trusted advisor
We all need confidants with whom we can share our deepest thoughts. We need people who will be kind and patient while also challenge our thinking. This adviser can be a spouse, parent, child, friend, or even a professional life or career coach.
Sometimes it takes someone objective to snatch us out of our flawed thought process.
5. Recognize that the grass usually isn’t greener on the other side
We should be skeptical of thoughts that are negative toward our current situation and positive toward a different situation. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should always be complacent in our current situation. Progression is a good thing, but we should be careful about how we think about progress.
We might think a different job, a different business, a different location, or different friends will solve our problems. And sometimes we will be correct, but we should first try to improve our current situation before jumping to a new one.
It can be hard to recognize that sometimes our thoughts are flawed or flat out wrong. After all, they are our thoughts. But not believing everything we think can save us from bad decisions.
Question: How do you recognize and correct flawed thinking?
I want to accomplish a lot in my life. As a result, I’m always looking for new time management strategies. I’ve written previous posts about prioritizing time and cutting out the unnecessary. There are many tools and tricks for being more efficient with time, such as task management apps and audiobook or podcast apps for consuming content while doing other things.
By piecing all of this information together, we can learn and experiment with how to make the most of our time. All of this is good, but I haven’t found what I feel is a comprehensive framework for thinking about time management.
That is, until now. I recently read the book Procrastinate on Purpose by Rory Vaden.
Vaden addresses perfectly what I felt was missing from other frameworks but couldn’t identify.
Other time management strategies focus on efficiency and prioritization. It is about allocating our 168 hours per week to get as much of your most important activities done as possible.
Instead of efficiency and prioritization, Vaden describes how to multiply our time. In essence, it’s about spending time on things today that will give us more time tomorrow.
To help us think about what will give us more time tomorrow, he adds a dimension missing from other time management strategies. Other strategies, such as Stephen R. Covey’s Time Management Matrix, manage time by weighing urgency (when does it matter) and importance (how much does it matter). Vaden adds significance (how long does it matter).
Significance addresses how what we do today affects us in the future.
What can I do today that will add more time in the future? How do I multiply my time?
Vaden suggests that we run tasks through the following funnel:
1. Eliminate. This is the fastest way to free up more time in the future!
2. Automate. Sometimes it takes an investment in time and/or money to automate tasks, but automation frees up more time in the future. It may be an investment of time and money to set up a software system, such as Infusionsoft to automate customer interactions. It may be an investment of time to set up bills on auto-pay.
3. Delegate. This is also an investment because it takes time to train someone to do a task, but it will free up time in the future. He suggests the 30x rule. Even if it takes 30x as long to train someone as it does to do the task, it’s still worth the investment.
For tasks that make it through the funnel, we can choose to:
1. Procrastinate, or
I’ve always thought of procrastinating as a bad thing. Vaden calls me a Worry Wart. I like to get things done the first possible moment they can be done.
However, getting things done early exposes us to what he calls change risk. Between the time we complete a task and when it needs to be done, something might change. Maybe that task didn’t have to be done at all, or maybe the change means you have to redo the task.
I’ve been too busy congratulating myself for usually being ahead of schedule to recognize the wisdom in this principle. I have to admit that there have been many cases where getting things done early has actually taken more of my time later. I have filed tax returns early only to get another slip that I wasn’t expecting. I have responded to group emails right away even though someone else on the email was in a better position to address the issue. I could go on with examples.
Gun Slingers are on the other side of the procrastination spectrum. They leave everything to the last minute, and they risk missing important deadlines.
The challenge is to find a happy medium. Do a task early enough that you don’t risk being late, but not so early that you risk something changing.
In summary, time management is really about self management. It is about taking time now to make sure I live the life I want to live in the future. It’s about being successful in the way I define success.
Question: What do you to today that creates more time in the future?