4 Elements of My Goal-Setting Process

Near the end of each year I review my goals for past year and set goals for the coming year. As I think about what I want to accomplish in 2015, I thought it would be helpful to write about my goal-setting process. 2014 has been a good year. I achieved some goals and made good progress toward others. At this time last year I decided that my primary focus for 2014 would be to improve my communication skills.


Specifically, to improve my written communication I set a goal to create a blog and write a post every week. I launched my blog in May and haven’t missed a week. It was good timing because later in the year LinkedIn launched their publishing platform, which has given me a wider audience.

To improve my verbal communication, I set a goal to join Toastmasters, attend every meeting possible, and do a major speech at least once per month. I didn't miss a meeting without a good excuse, I earned my Competent Communicator certificate, and I only missed one month of speaking while transitioning between manuals.

I’m far from being a great writer or speaker. My audience can be my judge, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.

With that introduction, here are four elements of my goal-setting process:

1. Think about goals in the context of a life plan

In late 2012 I read an ebook written by Michael Hyatt called Creating Your Personal Life Plan.

The book is available for free here.  As I read this book, I took a full day to create a life plan in the format he recommends.

Here’s a quick summary. First, list the major areas of your life, such as family, health, spiritual, finances, etc. (I have eight). For each area, write a purpose statement, an envisioned future, supporting statements (such as quotes), your current reality, and goals to move your current reality to your envisioned future.

I have been goal-oriented for as long I can remember, but creating a life plan provided context and purpose that took my goal-setting to a higher level.

2. Recognize that all areas of life are connected

In mid-2011 I learned in a powerful way that all areas of life are connected. I set a goal to run a half marathon and lose 30 lbs, which I wrote about in a previous post. I thought I was just trying to improve my health, but I didn’t realize accomplishing that goal would lead to progress in other areas of my life.

In general, my family and social life was better because I had more energy to spend on my wife, kids, and others. Specifically, within a week of running the half marathon, I joined a venture capital fund, which gave me the biggest career and income boost of my life. During that time I was also given a demanding assignment in my church, which I don’t look at as an accomplishment, but rather a significant opportunity to grow personally and spiritually.

Reading The ONE Thing by Gary Keller recently (see my book review here) showed me more clearly how I can intentionally integrate all areas of my life (rather than just letting it happen like in 2011).

Keller asks, "what is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will become easier or unnecessary?"

This year I only want to have one goal for each major area of my life. To choose these goals I will think carefully about how that one thing in each area will make other things in my life easier or unnecessary.

3. Limit the number of goals at one time

This is related to the last point, but I have learned over time that I can’t focus on too many things at one time. In past years I have tried to accomplish too much, and as a consequence my attention was scattered.

I try to have one goal in each area of my life plan, and even then I prioritize these eight or so goals. As I mentioned, 2014 was my year of of improving communication skills. I haven’t finalized what my main focus will be for 2015. I have a lot to work on, so I need to narrow down my list!

4. Distinguish habits from goals

Each year I start focusing on new things, but I don’t drop what I worked on in previous years. Most goals in one year become habits in future years.

For example, I don’t need to set a new goal in 2015 to post to my blog every week. Writing is now a habit ingrained into my weekly routine that I plan to continue indefinitely.

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination 

Establishing a regular routine of setting, working toward, and reviewing goals is a powerful way to make progress in our lives. I find the most happiness and fulfillment in my life when I’m making progress toward my worthwhile goals. I find that making progress toward a goal is even more rewarding than achieving the goal. It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.

Question: What is your process for setting goals?

5 Tips for Making the Most of Podcasts

I love podcasts. They allow me to consume a huge amount of educational and entertaining content during times my brain would otherwise be underutilized, such as while driving or cleaning out the garage. Podcasting is a form of audio broadcasting on the Internet. Think of it as on-demand and free radio programs. Podcasts also come in video format, but this post is focused on audio-only podcasts.


I first started listening to podcasts in 2005, soon after they became available in the iTunes store. I discovered the Dave Ramsey Show and diligently synced my iPod with my laptop every day via cable to get the newest episode for my commute.

Podcasting has exploded in popularity since then, and new technology has made listening to podcasts a much easier and more enjoyable experience. Instead of syncing with my laptop daily, I use the Downcast app, which automatically downloads new episodes of the 25-30 podcasts I listen to regularly.

Here are 5 tips for making the most of podcasts:

1. Turn up the speed

Most podcast players allow you to change the playback speed. Downcast has 0.5, 1, 1.25, 1.5, 2, and 3x speeds. I listen to most podcasts at 2x, which allows me to consume twice as much content as regular speaking speed.

If you haven’t listened to sped-up content, it may sound too fast at first, but it doesn’t take long to get used to. Our brains can listen a lot faster than we can speak. I’d like to listen at 3x speed, but I find that content often gets skipped.

2. Use playlists to keep track

I listen to so many different podcasts that I need a way to track and prioritize, which is where playlists come in.

I make sure I listen to every episode of a few of my favorite podcasts, such as Michael Hyatt, Andy Andrews, and Entreleadership. I have a Favorites playlists that all new episodes automatically appear in, and an episode disappears once I listen to it.

I enjoy some podcasts that are too long and frequent to listen to all episodes. For example, the Dave Ramsey Show and Entrepreneur on Fire have daily 30-45 minute episodes. I have separate playlists for these podcasts, and I listen to them when I’m done with my Favorites playlist.

Playlists can also have customized settings. I want some podcast episodes to disappear after I listen to them, and others I listen to more than once. I listen to most at 2x, but I prefer some at 1.5x. For example, I listen to LDS General Conference talks/episodes more than once during the 6 months in between sessions, and I prefer to listen at 1.5x.

3. Listen whenever possible

It’s important to give our minds down time. We need time to think, sometimes about nothing. But we also have a lot of time we can educate ourselves while doing other things. I use my Bose bluetooth to listen to podcasts and audiobooks whenever my brain doesn’t have to be fully utilized.

For example, I listen while getting ready in the morning, driving (unless I’m with someone and want to be good company), running, biking, and cleaning the house, garage, or yard.

4. Look for recommendations

Thousands of podcasts are available, so it’s tough to narrow it down to the best ones for you. Many websites and blogs in your areas of interest will provide recommendations for the best podcasts.

Click here to see all of the podcasts I regularly listen to.

5. Periodically review the top podcasts lists

iTunes has top 100 podcast lists in several different categories. I often review the business, health, and technology categories to see what’s new and popular.

As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of podcasts. They are a great way consume educational or entertaining content while doing other things that don’t fully occupy your brain.

Question: What are your favorite podcasts and podcast players? 

The One Trick that Completely Changed How I Process Email

Do you find yourself drowning in email? Do you have trouble prioritizing what emails to address, knowing what emails you have already addressed, or even worse, completely losing track of emails you were supposed to address? Maybe you don't have a huge email problem, but you spend a lot of time on email and like learning tricks for being more efficient.

I recently learned a trick that has led to the single biggest improvement in the way I process email in over 6 years (since dropping Outlook in favor of Gmail through a web browser). It has increased my focus and productivity, reduced my stress, and allowed me to get to inbox zero every day.

First, I’ll describe how I have been processing email, and then I’ll share the trick I learned.

How I Have Been Processing Email

Without learning a lot about inbox zero, I assumed it meant addressing every email and moving it from the inbox to organized folders so your inbox stays empty. I didn't think inbox zero applied to the Gmail interface. Two of Gmail's selling points are (1) you never have to delete an email because of the amount of storage space, and (2) search is so effective that you don't have to take time to add labels (the equivalent of folders).

My email system was to leave all emails in my inbox. Unread messages meant it still needed to be addressed. To me, inbox zero was not having any unread messages. This system worked okay for almost 6 years, but it has the following drawbacks:

1. The latest 100 emails are always visible and distracting, Even though I know I’ve addressed non-bold (read) emails, they were still in front of me. Case in point: I just went into All Mail to see how many emails show on one page, and I got sidetracked by reviewing some emails I have already taken care of.

2. Emails needing attention need to be marked as unread or they get lost. This means manually marking an email as unread if I open it but need to address it later, which is easy to forget.

3. Processing email this way on a phone is challenging. On a computer you can usually see all unread messages on one screen, as long as you don't get too far behind. However, it's difficult to keep track of unread emails on a phone, especially when I'm away from my computer for a day or more. It's time-consuming to keep scrolling through the list to decide what I need to address now and what can wait for my computer.

One Simple Email Trick

One simple trick solved these challenges for me. In fact, it’s so simple I can't believe I wasn't doing it all along, and I’m afraid I’m stating the obvious by writing about it. However, if it took me several years, perhaps I can help someone else discover it.

The trick is ARCHIVE! Gmail, and probably other email systems, have archiving ability. It's a simple way to quickly move the email out of the inbox while still having easy access through search or the All Mail list.

Now I can truly get to inbox zero by archiving and forgetting about emails I have already addressed.

Here are some tips for making archive work for you:

1. Use keyboard shortcuts While using Gmail in a web browser, as long as keyboard shortcuts are enabled in settings, you can hit “e" to archive open or selected emails. While viewing emails as a list, you can select multiple emails by using “j” and “k” to move down and up and hitting “x” to select the email next to the indicator.

On the iPhone Mail app, you can swipe to the left to see options like Flag and Archive. You can hit Archive or simply swipe left twice.

2. On an iPhone, use the Gmail app for searching Searching Gmail in a browser is powerful, and by default it searches archived emails. I've never not been able to find an email I'm looking for. However, search in the iPhone Mail app is awful! Searching in the inbox only searches the inbox, so you have to go to All Mail in the specific account to search archived emails. Even then, the search results are terrible. I can rarely find what I'm looking for.

Instead, I use the Gmail app for searching, which seems to be just as good as a web browser. I prefer to process email using the Mail app, so I have the Gmail app for searching only.

3. Only touch an email once I like David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) tip: if a task will take 2 minutes or less, do it right away. When I take time to process my email, I will address emails right away if they can be handled in less than 2 minutes. This could be a quick reply or a quick task before archiving the email.

If it’s going to take longer than 2 minutes, I will quickly add a to-do to my task management system, Remember the Milk. When it comes time to address it, I will search for the email to bring it back up. As a result, the pending email doesn’t distract me, and I stay at inbox zero.

Much More Efficient

Archiving has truly changed the way I handle email, which is significant because I spend much of my work time processing email (25-35% of my computer time according to RescueTime, plus the time I spend on my phone). It has relieved my stress, increased my focus, and reduced the time I spend on email.

Question: What tricks have made you more productive with email?

3 Ways We Need to Pay the Rent Every Day

I like to leave as much margin as I can in my life to prepare for the unexpected. If the personal finance experts say we should have 3-6 months of expenses saved for emergencies, I want 6-12 months just to be safe. I schedule a blog post every Friday, and I’d like to have several weeks of posts saved up just to make sure I can keep my commitment. Zig-Ziglar-People-often-say-motivation-doesn’t-last.-Neither-does-bathing-that’s-why-we-recommend-it-daily


I’m the opposite of a procrastinator. I err on the side of getting things done too early. Sometimes I waste time because I do things that would have taken care of themselves if I had procrastinated a little longer.

I prefer to be a homeowner over a renter. I can’t wait until I pay off my mortgage so I can truly be an owner without that monthly payment hanging over my head.

However, in many areas of life we can’t build much margin. We have to be more like renters than owners. In these areas the rent comes due daily rather than monthly, and we are limited in the amount we can save.

Here are 3 areas in which we need to show up and pay the rent every day:

1. Physical Health There’s no way to truly own our physical health, and we can only save up to a limited extent.

We can spend a lot of time and effort building muscle, getting in great cardiovascular shape, and losing all excess fat. However, if we stop paying the rent, if we stop exercising and eating healthy, we will immediately begin to lose the ground we have won (as I wrote about in my last post).

Our savings may allow us to remain reasonably healthy for a period of time, but eventually we need to start paying the rent again. It is better to show up and pay the rent every day.

2. Accomplishment I was my high school class Valedictorian and Athlete of the Year. But like Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite who is stuck in 1984, no one cares anymore.

The only way past accomplishments mean anything is if we take the things we learn and continue paying the rent on future accomplishments. Past accomplishment may open doors to more opportunities, but if we don’t continue paying the rent those doors will mercilessly slam shut.

We will not continue going to a restaurant where we get bad service, even if we’ve received great service in the past. We may give the benefit of the doubt a few times, but eventually the great service in the past will mean nothing to us.

Past accomplishment does not guarantee future success. We have to show up and pay the rent every day.

3. Motivation  Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.”

There’s no way for us to save motivation. We need to continue paying the rent by doing things that motivate us daily.

Everyone is motivated differently. Reading or listening to stories about great people and great accomplishments (as I wrote in a previous post) motivates me to reach higher and be better. I wear my Bose bluetooth earpiece every day while driving, cleaning, etc so I can listen to inspiring books or podcasts.

Once you figure out what motivates you, go out and pay the rent every day!

Gather Our Daily Bread

In a previous post, I wrote about an address by D. Todd Christofferson called, "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread.” This is another way to look at the principle of showing up to pay the rent every day.

He relates the experience of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. They were able to survive because the Lord gave them manna daily. They weren’t able to gather extra for the future. They had to live for today and trust that more manna would appear tomorrow.

So go out there and gather your daily bread, pay your rent, and look forward to a bright future!

Question: In what ways do you pay the rent every day? 

3 Ways to Hold the Ground You Have Already Won

I ran my first half marathon almost exactly three years ago, 5 months after some co-workers challenged each other to run the race together. half marathonkodiak team

Gaining Ground and then Giving it Up It was perfect timing. My New Year’s resolution every year for the previous 10 years had been to lose the 30 pounds I gained early in college. I stayed fairly active, but I didn’t make any progress because I wasn’t eating as well as I should have.

I had been learning through books, podcasts, and blogs about how to improve my diet, and by the time the half marathon challenge came along, I was ready to implement what I had learned.

The combination of a change in diet with intense exercise worked beautifully. I hit my 30-pound weight loss goal right after the half marathon. I felt amazing and resolved to never go back to excess weight again.

However, as happens in a high percentage of cases, I have now given up 25 of the 30-pound ground that I won 3 years ago.

Why We Give up Ground

The frustration I’m feeling right now has got me thinking about why we give up ground we have won. Part of the answer is that losing ground is much easier and faster than holding or gaining ground.

Jeffrey R. Holland said, "In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited.”(1)

He is speaking about holding spiritual ground. I didn’t hold the ground I won with weight and physical fitness, which most of us can relate to. But giving up ground happens in all areas of our lives.

A teenager who builds the trust of a parent from childhood can lose that trust in one late night. It takes a lifetime to build a career and reputation. Too often we see promising careers quickly destroyed by botched execution or even fraud. A lifetime of savings can disappear in a weekend of gambling or with a bad investment.

Losing ground isn’t always as dramatic as these examples. In my case, I didn’t gain back 30 pounds in one weekend of gluttony. I held ground until Christmas, during which I gained 5 pounds. I held that ground until summer, when I gained another 5 on a vacation.  I held that ground for another year until I moved from a small town to a city with more places to eat out. Within 6 months I gained another 5 pounds.

I was still down 15, but the frustration was starting to build. I resolved to lose those 15, and I thought I found an easy answer. I explain how I gained another 10 under point #2 below.

Companies often put more focus on acquiring new customers than retaining existing customers. This is a classic example of failing to hold the ground you have already won.

How do we hold onto the ground we have already won? Here are 3 tips:

1. Focus first on holding ground before trying to gain ground We all want to progress, but sometimes we get so scattered in our pursuit of progress that we lose ground we have worked so hard to win. Before embarking on an ambitious plan to gain ground in one area, we can ask ourselves if the new direction will cause us to lose ground we have already won in other areas.

Before taking on heavier responsibilities in your career, first ask if it will risk losing ground you have won with your family or health. Before pursuing a new line of business, first ask if that pursuit will risk losing ground in your other lines.

Only move forward if you’re confident you can hold the ground you have already won.

2. Don’t think you have a free pass Holding ground is tough. Gaining ground is even tougher. Yes, sometimes people get lucky, but this is the exception.

I gained my last 10 pounds because I thought I found a free pass. I discovered the paleo/primal way of eating, and I read testimonials about fat melting away when following this plan. I didn’t need to starve myself to lose weight, and I could even cheat up to 20% of the time!

At about the same time, I found that my thyroid wasn’t working properly, which can prevent weight loss. The doctor was confident it could be corrected quickly, and given my diet and usual physical activity, I should see my weight go down quickly.

Well, I realized I had lost ground again because I let my guard down, thinking I had a free pass. The 20% of cheating became more than 50%, and my thyroid overcorrected from hyperthyroidism to hypothyroidism, which is even worse for weight loss (as I understand it).

There’s no such thing as standing still. We have to keep fighting to hold our ground, or we will quickly lose it.

3. Know yourself To hold the ground we have won, it’s important to understand our strengths and weaknesses and adjust accordingly.

Last year I read a blog post by Brad Feld called Abstainer vs Moderator (2) that helped me understand myself better. He shared how he doesn’t know how to moderate in any area - eating, working, etc. It’s much better for him to abstain.

I am the same way. I have to abstain from activities that I know will cause me to lose ground because I know I have a hard time moderating.

If I see a plate of cookies on the counter, it’s normally not hard for me to abstain. But if I take one bite, before I know it I’ve eaten the entire plate. Unless I have pressing deadlines, it’s not hard for me to keep my laptop closed after dinner. But if I open it for just a couple of emails, I’ll work late into the night. Conclusion

I learned the hard way how difficult it is to hold the ground we have won. However, we can overcome the tendency to lose ground by staying focused, working hard, and knowing ourselves.

Question: How do you hold onto the ground you have won? 

(1) (2)

First Impressions of the iPhone 6 Plus

As I write this, I’ve been using the iPhone 6 Plus for less than a day. I was surprised by my own reaction to it, so I thought I would share my experience. I’m even breaking my Friday release schedule to get this out earlier for those of you who are trying to make a decision. 2014-09-09_22-38-02

I am an Apple guy and a gadget junkie. I love my Macbook Air, iPad, and iPhone. I’ve had the iPhone 3, 3S, 4, 4S, 5S, and now the 6 Plus. As much I love my iPad, I was excited when I started hearing rumors about a larger iPhone. I liked the idea of having a device big enough to replace the need for carrying both the iPhone and iPad.

I’ve been waiting very impatiently for the 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus. I thought the bigger the screen the better, so I didn’t even consider the 4.7” version. I didn’t stay up until midnight to be one of the first to order on September 12, but I regretted waiting until 7 am after the estimated delivery slipped from September 19 to mid-October. But Apple pulled the exceeding expectations trick. I was very excited to receive an email last Friday notifying me of the Monday, September 29 delivery (yesterday).

Until then, there was no question in my mind that I would like the big screen. But as I took it out of the packaging (an emotional experience, by the way), it hit me how massive it is. It’s huge! As I fumbled awkwardly while picking it up for the first time, I realized it might take some getting used to.

Here are some pros and cons I’ve come up with in the few hours I’ve been using it.


I don’t need an iPad. I fully expect to stop using my iPad. The screen is big enough to do anything I would have done with an iPad. There are only two exceptions I can think of, both of which are minor and can be solved by using a laptop.

First, the keyboard isn’t big enough to type with all fingers like you can with an iPad in landscape mode. This isn’t a big deal because I can type almost as fast with my thumbs, and I use my laptop for large typing jobs anyway.

Second, it’s not large enough to effectively show a group of people photos or videos. I teach a church class of 5-10 people, and I sometimes use my iPad to show videos. But even the iPad is a little small for this situation, so I don’t mind bringing my laptop.

Weight, thickness, and design. The 6 Plus is slightly thinner than the 5S, which feels good. The edges are rounded, giving it a sleeker look and feel. It’s 50% heavier than the 5S, but I don’t notice much of a difference.

Screen size. I read Forbes magazine for a while, which I normally do on my iPad, and I could comfortably read one page on the screen. It also works to turn landscape and see the two-page spread, although older eyes may have a hard time with the small print. It’s also nice to see more of each page on the Kindle app. Photos and videos look incredible.

Updated specs. None of the new specs are earth-shattering for me compared to the 5S, but I always appreciate a faster processor and upgraded camera. I look forward to Apple Pay, but I expect it to be a while before I can ditch the cards completely.


I was surprised by the cons. I thought I would love everything about it, but now I’m not so sure. I’m hoping the cons will go away as I get more used to it.

Awkward. One word describes it all. I find it awkward to pick up, carry, put in my pocket, set down, and find the right grip.

Difficult to use one-handed. I’ve got relatively big hands, and I still can’t reach all areas of the screen with my thumb while holding it one-handed. I find myself continually shifting my grip depending on the app and what I need to do. This feels awkward and increases the chances of dropping it.

This is probably my biggest complaint. I use my phone for everything, so I am used to quickly picking up my phone with one hand to add a task to Remember the Milk, write a quick note in Evernote, add a calendar item, write an email, or take a photo.

Screen size is not utilized very well. As expected, most apps just expand to fill the extra space. Apps that I could already see comfortably on the 5S, such as Facebook, now just look magnified. It reminds me of when the iPad first came out, and not many apps had been modified to take advantage of the screen size. However, I expect this to change as developers update their apps.

Lock button location. Given the way people have to grip the phone, the lock button location makes sense. It’s normally close to the index finger. I’m always tapping the top where the lock button used to be, but I’ll get used to it. Another problem, however, is the lock button doesn’t work when you squeeze a volume button at the same time. I found myself doing this often while gripping the phone with one hand.


I’m still excited about my new phone. I’m just not as blown away by it as I thought I would be. I’ll probably get used to the bigger screen size and end up loving it, but perhaps I should have taken a closer look at the 4.7” version.

Hopefully this helps if you are deciding whether or not to upgrade, and if so, which size to choose.

Question: What do you think of your iPhone 6?


Update after a week. I went into AT&T last week and would have traded if they had the 4.7" available. I learned that business accounts have 30 days to return, so I decided to give it more time. I'm glad I did because I'm starting to get used to it. It doesn't feel as awkward now that I'm learning how to handle it, and I love the big screen for reading and video.

I learned to double-tap the home button to slide the screen down halfway, which allows me to reach the top of the screen with one hand. I think it's a keeper!

How to Apply The Compound Effect

One of my favorite books is The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy, Publisher of Success magazine. It profoundly affected my thinking about how to make improvements in my life. I’m impatient by nature. If I decide I want something, I want it now. If I want to be a better speaker, I want to be world-class now. If I want to lose weight, I want to see the pounds melting off. The Compound Effect helped me make peace with the fact that change takes time. It also helped me realize that change can be dramatic if I put in place habits and apply them consistently over a long period of time. Small efforts, compounded over a long period of time, can yield amazing results.


We recognize the compound effect in personal finance. Small amounts invested consistently can compound to a large amount over time. For example, investing $500 per month for 30 years at a 10% return becomes over $1.1 million.

The Compound Effect applies to all areas of our lives. I’ll first discuss 3 principles mentioned in The Compound Effect and then 3 steps for getting started.

1. There’s no such thing as standing still The Compound Effect can apply positively or negatively, and there’s no in between. Either we actively apply positive habits that compound toward positive results, or our negative habits, or even lack of action, will compound in a negative way.

Our lives are like a down escalator. If we're standing still on a down escalator, we are going down. To go up, we have to fight against the downward motion.

2. Take personal responsibility  Before we can change or improve, we first have to take personal responsibility. Improvement is up to us and no one else. We will have setbacks and obstacles, but we can’t make excuses. We have to take full responsibility for our actions and their consequences

We can think of personal responsibility in terms of percentages. If you’re married, to what extent are you responsible for a successful marriage? 50%? What about the success of your company? It may depend on the size of the company and your role, but maybe 1% or 10 or 30%?

In The Compound Effect, Hardy argues that this kind of thinking is wrong. We need to take 100% responsibility for the success of anything we’re involved in. We need to act act like it’s completely up to us.

3. Obstacles are inevitable  As we take responsibility and move in a positive direction towards our goals, we will face obstacles.

I recently went to a speech by Chad Hymas. In 2001 he jumped on a tractor to feed the elk on his farm. He was in a hurry and ignored the tractor’s warning that the hydraulics were low. As he lifted a 2000-pound bale of hay with the front of his tractor, the hydraulics failed. The bale toppled on top of him, leaving him a quadriplegic.

He doesn’t let being a quadriplegic stop him from achieving his goals. By consistently applying daily habits, over time he has learned to function mostly on his own. He learned to speak so he could share his experiences and lessons learned, and he is now one of the most popular speakers in the world.

As we face challenges, we can continue on by sticking with our habits one day at a time. In the book Lone Survivor, the author quotes a senior officer speaking during the intense Navy SEAL training.

“First of all, I do not want you to give in to the pressure of the moment. Whenever you’re hurting bad, just hang in there. Finish the day. Then, if you’re still feeling bad, think about it long and hard before you decide to quit. Second, take it one day at a time. “Don’t let your thoughts run away with you, don’t start planning to bail out because you’re worried about the future and how much you can take. Don’t look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day, and there’s a wonderful career ahead of you.”

If we want to make positive changes, how do we get started?

First, we need to decide where we want to go To illustrate this point, Hardy quotes the exchange between Alice and the cat in Alice in Wonderland. "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. "I don’t much care where--" said Alice. "Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat. "--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation. "Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

Where do you want to go? Do you want to lose weight or become a better speaker, spouse, parent, leader, or employee?

Second, establish habits  Once you decide where you want to go, establish habits that will get you there over time.  Jim Rohn said, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."

If you want to lose weight, maybe your habit could be going without sugar 6 days per week while exercising 30 minutes per day. If you want to become a better speaker, join and actively participate in Toastmasters. If you want to improve your marriage, tell your spouse something you appreciate about him or her every day.

Our bodies and minds are structured for consistency over time. If you have a project that will take 20 hours, will you get a better result by working on it in one 20-hour stretch or 2 hours per day for 10 days?

Our bodies need 2000 calories per day, give or take. We can't eat 14,000 calories once per week or 700,000 calories once per year. Our bodies need to absorb the nourishment nourishment consistently over time.

I’ve applied the compound effect by setting habits in areas I want to improve in. I want to be a better writer and thinker, so I write a blog post once per week, which takes me just over an hour per week.

I want to be a better speaker and communicator, so I attend a local Toastmasters club every week and give a formal speech at least once per month, which takes about two hours per week.

I want to learn as much as I can, so I have a habit of listening to books or podcasts any time I don’t have to be focused on something else (while driving, while getting ready in the morning, etc). Over the last week I’ve listened to 3 books that are a total of 25 hours long (on double time so it only took me 12.5 hours).

The changes are frustratingly slow, even imperceptible day-to-day. Speaking has been particularly frustrating for me over the last few months as I’ve been involved in Toastmasters. Focusing on speaking has made me painfully aware of what a weak speaker I am. I wish I had started working on it earlier in my life, and I wish my efforts now were yielding quicker results. But it’s only been a few months. I know the effect over years will be dramatic and well worth the small amount of time that I’m spending on it now.

Third, stick to it.  The Compound Effect only works if applied constantly over a long period of time. Sometimes we think we can keep going on sheer willpower. However, Hardy argues that we don’t need willpower. We need “why-power.” We need a strong “why,” or reason for doing what we’re doing, that will keep us going through the obstacles and mundane routines.

Why do you want to lose weight? Is it enough to want to look better, or is it more powerful to want more energy to spend time with your kids or to avoid the early-age heart attacks that run in your family.

As we stick to it we will build momentum. Think of a merry-go-round loaded with kids. It’s hard to get started, but once it’s going it only takes a light push to keep it going. The momentum also makes it hard to stop

So go out there and build positive momentum in your life. Figure out what you want to accomplish, develop daily habits that will lead you towards your goals, and see the dramatic effects of your efforts compound over time.

Question: How has The Compound Effect helped you in your life?  

3 Strategies for Dealing with Uncertainty

All of us face uncertainty in our lives. Working with startup companies, as I have done for several years, can be particularly uncertain. The last few months have been especially uncertain for the companies I work with, which has led me to think a lot about how to deal with uncertainty. Morning_Manna_Logo


The following 4 strategies have helped my sanity in the face of uncertainty.

1. Don’t suffer from things that haven’t happened

It is important to anticipate and plan for the future, but sometimes this causes us to suffer from things that haven’t even happened yet. I like Mark Twain’s quote, "I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

We live today, not in the future.

D. Todd Christofferson addresses this topic well in an address he gave called, "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread.” He relates the experience of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. They were able to survive because the Lord gave them manna daily. They weren’t able to gather extra for the future. They had to live for today and trust that more manna would appear tomorrow.

He tells the story from the book and movie, Lone Surviver, and quotes a senior officer speaking during the intense Navy SEAL training.

“First of all,” he said, “I do not want you to give in to the pressure of the moment. Whenever you’re hurting bad, just hang in there. Finish the day. Then, if you’re still feeling bad, think about it long and hard before you decide to quit. Second, take it one day at a time. One [phase] at a time.

“Don’t let your thoughts run away with you, don’t start planning to bail out because you’re worried about the future and how much you can take. Don’t look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day, and there’s a wonderful career ahead of you.”

Likewise, sometimes we need to recognize that we’ve done all we can to prepare for the future. All we need to worry about is getting through today.

2. Consider the worst case scenario

During uncertain times it helps to imagine the worst case scenario. This isn’t being pessimistic. Rather, it shows that even the worst case scenario is manageable.

During the financial crisis, the US Treasury Department officials needed to identify which banks needed capital and how much. They came up with the idea of a stress test, but they were afraid the tests would reveal a hopeless situation, creating financial panic and meltdown. They realized that the worst case scenario would only confirm what the public already believed, and better results would create confidence.

They were correct; the banks weren’t as bad off as everyone feared, and information gained from the tests allowed them to take the first informed steps toward recovery.

3. Don’t think too much

There are times to think about the future, and there are times to focus on the task at hand. I find myself too often neglecting what I need to do today because I’m thinking about the future. This thinking is not always productive planning. Often it’s imagining various scenarios about how my life could turn out and worrying that it won’t turn out like I want it to.

Sometimes I have to force myself to stop thinking and get working. It helps me to set aside specific times to think about the future. It doesn’t always work, but I try to focus on the tasks at hand during the week and save my future thinking for Sunday morning. During this time I review my goals and my progress towards them.

4. Don’t expect perfection

I’ve heard the saying, "perfectionism is the enemy of progress.” I have a tendency toward perfectionism, and this can make it hard for me to deal with uncertainty. I find myself hesitant to start or continue down an uncertain path because I’m afraid it won’t work out perfectly.

I have been a Dave Ramsey fan since I discovered his radio show via podcast in 2005. In 2009, some friends encouraged me to start Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University in the community I was living in. It is a course (previously 13-week, now 9-week) that covers personal finance topics by Dave Ramsey on DVD and through group discussion led by a volunteer facilitator.

I didn’t want to start because I was afraid we wouldn’t have much interest, that I wouldn’t do a good job as a facilitator, and that it would take time away from my family or other areas of my life. I didn’t want to start something that might not be perfect.

It took some prodding from my friends, but finally I got started. Our first group was very small and consisted mainly of my parents, my in-laws, and a few close friends. We held it in a county maintenance garage. It wasn’t perfect, but it was successful.

Over the next 3 years I facilitated 3 more groups that included over 100 people. Many of them changed their lives for the better after learning important financial principles. None of this would have happened if I let perfectionism stand in the way of starting.

In conclusion, uncertainty is a part of life. The better we are able to deal with uncertainly, the more happy and successful we’ll be.

Question: How do you deal with uncertainty?

Book Review: The ONE Thing

I’m always trying to figure out how to get more done. I want to accomplish a lot in my life, and I feel constantly driven to do everything needed to reach my goals. I am a student of productivity systems and tactics and try to implement what works for me. I recently listened to the book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan through This book helped me realize that I need to focus more on doing the right things and less on getting things done.


The author argues that we should focus our efforts on ONE Thing. He says we should be like a stamp and stick to one thing until reaching the destination. He compares it to a series of dominoes. We need to find the lead domino, which, if knocked over, will take care of the rest of the dominoes.

He goes through six lies that keep us from accomplishing the most important things: 1. Everything matters equally. He says we should have a success list instead of a to-do list. The majority of what you want is a result of the minority of what you do (the 80/20 rule). 2. Multitasking. Multi-tasking amounts to rapid task switching, which wears out our brain and prevents us from focusing effectively on one thing at a time. 3. Self discipline. We should use habits instead of discipline. He cites research that shows it takes 66 days rather than 21 to develop a new habit. 4. Willpower is always in will call. Willpower is limited so we should do first what matters most. 5. Balanced life. We should use counterbalance instead. We can’t always be perfectly balanced in every area, but we should never go so far away from an area that we can’t come back (i.e. family). 6. Big is bad. We shouldn’t be afraid of big results. It often doesn’t take much more effort to generate big results than small ones.

To help us identify the ONE Thing to focus on in our lives, he suggests we ask ourselves the focusing question: "What's the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else I do will be easier or unnecessary?”

Of course, he’s not saying we should literally only do ONE Thing at a time. Most of us have multiple areas of our lives that need attention, such as family, work, community, church. etc. He suggests we ask this question for each area of our lives and within a given time frame.

Almost three years ago I read Michael Hyatt’s Life Plan ebook and spent a lot of time putting my life plan together. I identified the major areas of my life, and for each area I wrote down my purpose statement, envisioned future, supporting statements, current reality, habits, and goals.

I try to review it each week, make minor updates as needed, and make major updates and set new goals just before each new year. This has been an incredible exercise that has helped me focus on the most important things in my life. However, after listening to The ONE Thing, I realized that my life plan is out of control. I have so much detail and so many goals that I’m not putting enough focus on any ONE Thing.

I went back to my life plan and wrote one sentence that describes the ONE Thing I want to focus on in each area of my life. It’s only been a few weeks, but already I can feel reduced stress and greater sense of accomplishment. Surprisingly, I’m actually doing less and enjoying more free time because I’m focusing only on the most important things.

One of my greatest fears in life is being bored, but I am slowly realizing that down time is necessary for my mind and body to perform at the highest level possible. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. Heber J. Grant said to Joseph Fielding Smith, “may you be enabled to work less and accomplish more."

Question: How do you focus your efforts on the most important things in your life?

My System for Maximizing Productivity

I like to minimize the time I spend figuring out what I need to do so I can maximize the time I spend getting things done. In this post I’ll describe the productivity system I use to accomplish this. evernotertmdropbox drive

I use many aspects of David Allen’s "Getting Things Done” (GTD) methodology. My tools and systems revolve around his filing system principles. I have a system I trust for capturing and making readily available all of the information I need in all areas of my life. I never need to worry that I’ll forget or lose something.

Here’s an overview of my system:

Task List. Besides email, Remember the Milk (RTM) is probably the mobile app and website I use the most. I hardly do anything without checking with RTM to make sure I am following my priorities.

Using RTM may be the single biggest thing I’ve done to reduce my stress. I rarely get overwhelmed by the long list of things I need to get done because I only think about what RTM says I need to address right now. If I think of something I need to do, I’ll quickly add it to RTM with the date and priority in which I want to address it.

I’ve used RTM for about 5 years, and I have 19,626 completed and 224 uncompleted tasks. Over time I’ve developed my own system that works great for my day-to-day workflow. I won’t expand this post into an RTM tutorial, but in the future I might dedicate a post to how I use it.

I have evaluated several other programs, such as Omnifocus and Nozbe, but I keep coming back to RTM. I find its simplicity, effectiveness, and efficiency hard to beat.

Calendar. I use one Google Calendar to track my schedule. I use Google Apps for most of the companies I work with, but I link all calendars to my personal one. My wife and I share our calendars with each other so we can coordinate our schedules.

My favorite trick is the “q” keyboard shortcut for Quick Add. You can use natural language to quickly add a task, such as “Meeting with Joe at 2 pm Tuesday.”

Active Files. 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 use Dropbox for other active files, such as financial models too complex for Google Sheets.

Structured File Archive. 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.

Every company I work with uses Google Drive for their filing system. We keep very little paper. Search in Google Drive is so good that I almost always use the search bar at the top rather than browsing the folders.

Dropbox would also work for an archive, but each person shared on a folder would either have to store the files on their local computer or manage Dropbox settings to specify which folders aren’t synced locally. Dropbox search isn’t as good as Google Drive, and perhaps mostly importantly, Google offers a lot more free storage than Dropbox.

Unstructured Archive. Evernote is my digital brain. I dump everything in Evernote that doesn’t need to be in a structured file system. I take notes, keep track of ideas, and maintain a journal, for example.

I don’t keep any paper. I use the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner to scan everything from utility bills to kids’ report cards. I don’t usually worry about tagging notes or naming files because Evernote can search text within PDFs and images (even handwritten text).

How I use Evernote can also be another full blog post, but suffice to say, it’s awesome! I can access my entire life in seconds from anywhere.

This has been a quick overview of the productivity system that helps me keep track of everything going on in all areas of my life. With RTM, I know what I need to do at any given time, and I don’t worry about everything else. With Google Calendar I never need to worry about missing an appointment or double booking myself. With Dropbox, Google Drive, and Evernote, I never need to spend time searching for anything.

Using these tools allows me to focus on getting things done rather than trying to figure out what needs to be done.

Question: What productivity tools do you find useful?