FAQ – What is a Thinking Day?

Power Forward with a Thinking Day

This event is inspired by a “Do It Day” that I participated in a couple of years ago. My mentor declared the date, and everyone in his group cleared the day to work on our businesses. Every hour, on the hour from 9-4, we called into his bridge to report what we had intended to do in the last hour, what we actually did, and what we were planning to do in the next hour. In between, he was available on Facebook to answer questions and send links to resources.

I found this format to be highly productive. It helps you to focus on one project and keep at it for the whole day. I continue to run my own personal “do it days” once a quarter with a friend.

I have added quarterly work days (“Thinking Days”) to the Thinking Lab schedule as part of the major change in the program to promote self-study and self-development.

The the passworded member site for the Thinking Lab includes nine self-study courses, including “Tap Your Own Brilliance,” “Just-in-Time Planning,” “Non-Fiction Writing,” and “Smarter Execution,” plus all the courses on essentialization that I developed from 1998-2002.

Any member of the Lab can work through them at his or her own pace. However, I recognize it takes time and discipline to work through them. Deluxe and VIP members can use their consults with me to structure their approach. But I wanted everyone in the Thinking Lab to have  additional support to go through the classes.

Moreover, I’ve discovered that the only way to properly learn most of these skills is to develop them while working toward challenging goals. You need some real, tangible goal that you are lusting after to see how to use the tactics in your own life.

The purpose of a Thinking Day is for Thinking Lab members to concentrate on one project or one issue all day, with the support of the materials in the Thinking Lab plus my real-time coaching. I am on the phone bridge to answer questions and offer coaching and encouragement at the beginning, middle, and end of the day:

10:00 – 11:00 a.m. ET
1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET
4:00 – 5:00 p.m. ET

In between, I am available by email to answer questions. I  encourage everyone to check-in periodically by email, even if they don’t join us by phone.

What makes or breaks this event for members is their choice of issue to work on.  Hence, I recommend everyone picks a project or skill to work on before the day. They can email me in advance, so I can then suggest one of the self-study courses that would be most appropriate to help guide the work. Here’s the rough correspondence:

  • Plan a complex project: Go through Just in Time Planning
  • Stop procrastinating on a project: Go through Smarter Execution
  • Write something: Go through the Non-Fiction Writing Course
  • Solidify your general skills: Go through Tap Your Own Brilliance or Making Thinking Tactics Second Nature
  • Improve your time management: Go through Evolving a Scheduling Infrastructure
  • Improve your precision: Condensation

Most of these courses are offered as “supervised self-study” on the Thinking Lab site. This means that you need to do one exercise before you get the next. However, in conjunction with the Thinking Day you get complete access to one course all at once. This is another reason to email me in advance–to get access in advance.

Thinking Lab members can read detailed descriptions of the courses at: http://www.yourthinkinglab.com

Anyone who would like to know all of the benefits of the recently upgraded Thinking Lab can read the marketing page:
http://www.thinkingdirections.com/ThinkingLab.htm

New members get a 50-minute onboarding consult with me when they join.

 

December 5, 2016 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Achieve Your Lifetime Goals by Thinking About Them Every Year

“Change your smoke detector batteries when you change the clocks to or from Daylight Savings Time. Otherwise you’ll forget.”

This little trick suggests a way to help you achieve some of the most important goals you’ll ever set: your lifetime goals.

Your lifetime goals are the things you’d like to do, either in the next 3-5 years or just “sometime.” Write a book? Visit Hong Kong? Be on a TV show? The list may be long, as it includes both the fun things and the serious things you want to accomplish.

Perhaps you haven’t called these “lifetime goals,” and perhaps you’ve never tried to write them down. But you have them–everybody has them. They are the goals you daydream about in your spare time, and, if you never pursue them, they are the omissions you regret the most at the end of your life.

To make sure you accomplish them while you’re still on the planet, I recommend you follow a practice like the smoke alarm rule. Choose an annual event as a time to review your lifetime goals to see how you might achieve some of them in the upcoming 12 months.

The annual review solves two cognitive problems.

First, you need to bring your lifetime goals nearer to the top of your mind so that you can spot opportunities for achieving them. You need to make a new list, and review last year’s.

Over the course of a year, lifetime goals fade into the background where they rarely occur to you. So go through your list asking, “can I plan this into the upcoming year?” Even goals you can’t pursue this year will start percolating, and you will be much more likely to notice a new opportunity, if it arises later in the year.

Second, you may need to challenge old assumptions about how and when you can accomplish the goal. Those old assumptions may be subtly preventing you from seeing new possibilities.

The context changes. Old decisions go out of date. New opportunities arise.

Maybe you were waiting until you completed a training program (or your kids did) before starting a business. Did you (or they) finish? Maybe you were concerned about the political situation in Hong Kong or Egypt and were waiting for a better time to visit. Has the situation changed? Yearly is a good frequency to check.

If you don’t revisit your goals, you’ll be stuck operating on old “can’ts” and “won’ts” that are out of date. The things you wanted to do in your lifetime will be buried in forgetfulness.

So, pick a yearly event that works for you. Maybe your birthday is the ideal day. Perhaps the first day of school is the day you get down to the business of planning the year. Or maybe your summer getaway offers the reflection time you need.

Then, think about your goals every year at that time. Because you don’t want to forget to achieve your lifetime goals.

Note: There is a simple procedure for identifying lifetime goals in chapter 5 of Alan Lakein’s  book, “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life .” See my recommendation: http://thinkingdirections.com/articles6Lakein.htm

 

December 31, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Making Sure Constructive Criticism Sticks

Mark Murphy has a great short article titled “Don’t Make Constructive Criticism so Soft That People Miss Your Message.”

In it, he criticizes the feedback sandwich, which I learned long ago in Toastmasters. It’s simple: when you are giving feedback, first tell something positive, then something to improve, then end with something else positive.

This method is very effective in a Toastmasters setting, where the #1 priority is to keep everyone motivated and enjoying the experience.  In Toastmasters, you are not responsible for anyone else’s improvement. You give suggestions for improvement because everyone in the room is there to improve, and suggestions are part of the program.

But I can see that it would not be particularly effective in a managerial setting, where you are responsible for your team members performance. In those cases, you need to be more direct.

What interested me most is that he linked the method to the serial effect: you remember the first and last things you hear the best. In Toastmasters, that needs to be positive. In business, the need for improvement may be the thing you need to remember!

Again, the article is here.

 

 

December 17, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

The Dishes Won’t Wash Themselves

It is not enough to know that washing dishes is a good thing, that it helps you keep a clean kitchen. The dishes won’t wash themselves.

The same is true of every mental tool. No matter how long you have used a tool and no matter how convinced you are that it works, you still need to make a conscious decision to use it. You don’t get the benefits if you don’t take the action. This comes up often with people who have learned “thinking on paper” from me. They know it’s a good tool, but they don’t use it when they need it. They don’t take the extra step.

The same thing happens with introspective techniques. They help you calm down when you’re upset, but you have to remind yourself to try them. This is true of every tool. I’ve taken Alexander Technique lessons for 15 years, but I still find that I have to remind myself to use the technique when I notice tension in my neck and shoulders.

There is a general principle to be drawn here: having a problem and wanting it to go away is not enough. You need to notice that you’re having the problem, and choose to enact the steps that will solve it.

The tools don’t magically solve your problems. The #1 thing that solves your problems is noticing that you have them, and deciding to try to do something about them.

That’s when the tools come in. The benefit of learning tools—“thinking on paper,” introspection, the Alexander Technique, and others, is that if you notice there’s a problem, you know ready-made steps to help you solve it.

If you don’t know exactly how to solve a problem, “thinking on paper” is often a good general first step!

 

 

November 24, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Don’t Settle for “Etcetera”

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve been introduced to “thinking on paper.” If not, you can read about it and get instruction on it with my Smarter Starter Kit.

With that as the context, a client sent me this note about “thinking on paper” which he said I could share:

Just was doing some “thinking on paper” and came up with something that may be obvious but was helpful for me to realize explicitly.  Your “thinking on paper” should ban the word, “etc.” This is probably implied by the rule to write in full sentences, but I realized it was a way for context to leak off of the paper and disappear into the ether.

One of the great benefits of “thinking on paper” for me is being able to recapture my context.  And I realized when I write, “etc.” I am going too fast and may be throwing away valuable information….

I am so anxious to get on  the path I have chosen and that I am throwing away information I judge as non-essential at the time of the writing.  As such, I may have lost other critical thoughts when I read back through and say, “I wonder what ‘etc.’ stands for here.”  I may have other clues from the rest of the context I have recaptured, but it occurred to me that this was just sloppy, and probably to be avoided.

This is an excellent observation, one that I hadn’t made myself. But it fits with everything I know about “thinking on paper.”

The moral of the story: when the word “etc.” occurs to you, your subconscious is indicating as loudly as possible that you need to make a list!

I have only one quibble with this note and this client.  Please don’t give yourself a hard time when you find a small area to improve! No need to call yourself “sloppy” when you notice something you’d like to do better. Why not call yourself “observant,” instead?

I recommend that you always focus on the positive reason for making the change. In this case, the positive reason is: “If I write out the ideas behind the etc., I’ll have them on paper  where I can see them. Then I can tell whether I’ve got lots of great ideas or I need to do some more thinking.” Giving yourself positive encouragement to do something good is a deeper, more effective form of motivation than giving yourself warnings to avoid doing something “bad.”

 

 

November 19, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Turning Stress into Excitement

In a recent newsletter  I talked about transitioning to “neutral” when I was feeling resistance to doing chores. You can’t get yourself excited to do the chores, but if you can get to neutral, you’ll probably be willing to do it.

Then I read a blog post by my friend Sonia Satra, in which she talks about how she transformed physical tension into excitement. It’s so much easier to make that transition than it is to calm down. You can read her blog post here.

It looks like there’s a principle here, which had not occurred to me. Consciously choose the transition you’re trying to make. It’s important that it be a small transition, not a large one.

Offhand, you can go from:

  • tired to relaxed
  • tense to excited
  • resistant to neutral
  • tempted to neutral

What other transitions can you make?

 

November 5, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Use Your Listening Skills to Help You Think

When something’s on your mind, talking over the issue with a friend is a real value. A good listener can gently encourage you to untangle your thoughts, without taking over the conversation and/or enforcing his own agenda. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a good listener on call every time you had something you needed to think through?

You can be that person for yourself–if you train yourself to listen to your own subconscious.

Listening to your own subconscious is similar to the kind of “active listening” you use when listening to others. You need to slow yourself down, stop multi-tasking, pay attention, and actually take in the thoughts you’re hearing internally. In active listening, the listeners repeat back what they’re hearing to make sure they get it. In listening to the subconscious, you are the listener and you write down what you’re hearing from your subconscious. In both cases, having the thoughts reflected back helps you get objectivity on them.

It’s particularly important to “listen to the subconscious” using “thinking on paper,” because listening to your own mind takes extra concentration. You don’t have another person there, keeping you on track. You don’t see body language and other cues that keep you connected to the conversation. So you need “thinking on paper” to help you focused on what’s happening.

Your subconscious is a storehouse of knowledge, values, and associations. If you are feeling frustrated, there is likely some very helpful information in there that could help you out of the bind. By taking a few minutes to listen to your subconscious, you can get the most relevant, most obvious information out of storage and into consideration where it can help you.

So, next time you need an ear to listen to your problems, and no one’s handy, lend an inner ear. You can be your own best listener.

 

 

November 3, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Deja Vu All Over Again

“How did I wind up here again?” We’ve all had the experience: a bad situation keeps repeating itself. Maybe it’s a confrontation with a particular person that keeps coming up and going badly. Maybe it’s the feeling of being overloaded by the administrivia again–even though you cleared it out last week. Maybe it’s seeing a project fizzle to a stop again. You keep gearing up on it, taking a step, and it never gets any momentum.

When you are feeling “deja vu all over again,” chances are you are “flailing” on the task. Flailing means trying the same approach again and again, without getting a different result. When this happens, you always need to step back, and change something farther back in the process. The mistake is always a few steps back, not right before you get in the mess. Here are a few ways you can take some steps back:

  1. Ask the experts–they often know a better way to approach problems. For example, there are great books on how deal with confrontation–and they all involve doing preparation before the confrontation occurs. (One I like is Difficult Conversations by Stone et. all.)
  2. Use a creativity process. Brainstorming and other creative processes are designed to help you generate alternatives. Brainstorming comes in many forms. A good book on it is: The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking by Paul Sloane.
  3. Sometimes you can just experiment. Write down how you always do the task. Then systematically change the process piece by piece to see what makes a difference.

The bottom line is: when you are flailing (doing the same thing, again and again, and expecting a different result), you need to stop what you’re doing and make a radical change.

Unless you like having deja vu all over again.

 

October 29, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Catching What Triggers You

Here’s another blog post from Peter Bregman: Quash Your Bad Habits by Knowing What Triggers Them. He’s a terrific thinker on productivity and execution issues. What I like particularly about this article is that he documents the physical warning signs that Jeff was about to explode:

Minute 1: Nick steps to the front of the room (I knew Jeff had an issue with Nick’s lack of accountability so, as soon Nick stood to facilitate, I knew Jeff was at risk of losing his temper).

Minute 3: Jeff starts tapping his foot.

Minute 4: Jeff starts tapping his pen on his pad.

Minute 6: Jeff’s breathing changes. He is taking deeper, exasperated, audible breaths. Like sighing.

Minute 8: Jeff is shifting in his chair. He can’t sit still. He is physically uncomfortable with what’s going on.

Minute 9: Jeff stops breathing. He is literally holding his breath.

Minute 10: BOOM!

Noticing your own body and your own actions takes a little extra self-awareness. But the physical evidence is there if you look. Once you know what to look for, you can set a standing order to do something different, e.g., “If I start tapping my foot, take a quick timeout to do a breathing exercise and remind myself of the context.”

Again, here’s a link to Peter Bregman’s article: Quash Your Bad Habits by Knowing What Triggers Them

And to mine on setting standing orders: Setting Standing Orders

 

October 27, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Tackle the “Blob” with a “Maybe” List

Imagine that every time you faced a daunting task, you could immediately hit on a way to make it easy and inviting to get started. I bet you can—if you make a “Maybe” list.

The problem you have is a blob of overload and uncertainty in your mind. You know too much about how hard the task is. You know you can’t just plunge in. But you don’t know enough to see clearly what would be a good first step. That’s why it’s daunting. It’s big and you don’t know how to tackle it.

In this situation, you can exploit what you know by making a “Maybe” list. Write down all the things that you “might” do that “maybe” will help with the daunting task. Try for 10-20.

For example, if you realize you have too much to do in a day, don’t just let your stomach sink. Make a list of things you “might” do that “maybe” will help you stay on top of things.

Or if you are supposed to get a project done by a certain deadline, and it seems hopeless, make a list of things you “might” do that “maybe” will help you get it finished that early.

It is crucial that you ask yourself what you “might” do that “maybe” will help, because those are answerable questions. Don’t ask yourself what you “should” do or “need” to do or even “can” do. You don’t know how to handle this task (it’s daunting), so those questions are too hard.

On the one hand, you do know a lot about the daunting task. And based on what you do know, you will probably find that you can make up a list of “maybe’s”—things that might help you get it done. After you have the list, you can then look through it and see which ones would in fact be worth doing to help you get started.

This process is amazingly helpful. I find that when I make the “Maybe” list, I immediately relax. I see that there are a couple of things I can do to deal with the “blob,” and that gives me confidence to get moving. And then, of course, once I start taking action on the task, I learn what I need to know to figure out the next steps. (And if not, I can make another “Maybe” list.)

 

October 22, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

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