Reset Your Counter

Here’s an excellent piece of advice I got from small-business coach Mark LeBlanc: Whatever you are tracking–time spent during the day, exercise periods during the week, or sales during the month, make sure you reset your counter mentally at the end of the tracking period. Don’t let there be a mental carryover to the next period. That carryover has only one effect: to demotivate you.

If you did well, the carryover effect can demotivate you, because you feel like you can slack off. For example, after they have a great week in sales, salespeople often have a low week for sales. Ditto, if you put in 20,000 steps on your pedometer one day, you feel like you don’t need to worry about getting to 10,000 that day. It will average out.

What happens? You lose your momentum, and it’s harder to get going the next day!

That’s because, after a low, the carryover effect can demotivate you, too. You aren’t experiencing success.

Moreover, sometimes, you feel like you have to make up for the low. If you made no sales, you’ll feel like you need to make twice as many sales this week. But if you couldn’t do those in sales last week, how could you do twice as many this week? It can seem like an insurmountable obstacle.

When you set a target for a day, week, or month, you set a stretch goal, one that you think you can do, and will be proud to accomplish. A goal set at the right level of difficulty motivates you to do your best work. If you change that goal because the last period was high or low, you guarantee you will get worse overall results, because you will not be motivated to do your best.

So, how do you “reset the counter”? I do it with journaling. First, I look at what I did get done–high, low, or on target–and acknowledge it. Part of acknowledging it is recognizing that the time period is over. You can never increase the number of steps you took yesterday or the number of sales you made last month. If you missed your target, you will feel some grief. On the other hand–if you met or exceeded your goal, take a moment to celebrate. Experience that satisfaction.

It takes just a sentence or two to acknowledge what happened. And then one more sentence to shift to looking at the future. Today starts the counter anew. You can look toward achieving your stretch goal today, this week, or this month.

January 30, 2014 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Recommendation: The Marketing Minute

Often I recommend books in this newsletter. Today I’d like to recommend a person: Marcia Yudkin, a business and marketing consultant who I have learned a tremendous amount from over the years.

One of my favorite resources from Marcia is her weekly “Marketing Minute” newsletter, which you can read in one minute. She has let me share a sample which is timely and relevant to this audience:

The Marketing Minute
by Marcia Yudkin, Marketing Expert and Mentor
Marketing Minute newsletter

It’s almost that time of year when people resolve to change. I agree with blogger James Clear that neither willpower nor discipline are needed to create the new you.

Instead, connect what you already do or experience with what you want to start doing, and the new habit gets established easily.

“Write down two lists,” Clear explains his report, Transform Your Habits.  “On the first list, put all the things you do each day without fail, like getting in the shower in the morning or turning out the light at night, and on the second, list things that happen to you each day without fail, like a traffic light turns red, a commercial comes on TV, etc.  Then make these be prompts or triggers for new routines.”

For example, if you shower every morning and want to start flossing, place floss right next to the shampoo in the shower and use it there.  If you check your overnight orders each morning and want to start blogging, click right from the order-checking to your blog and write a sentence or a paragraph right then.

 

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That piece of advice is relevant to everyone on the list. Here are a couple of other recommendations that might be appropriate for some of you:

Writers: My all-time favorite product of Marcia’s is Become a More Productive Writer, a 4-session audio course that I went through some years ago. I did every single exercise, and I recommend you do, too. You can see my testimonial for it on the page.

Solopreneurs: I have worked with Marcia for years. She has gazillions of ideas for how to market your business effectively. You can see a range of her books and products here. If you want to create an online information business, I recommend her upcoming course, Launch Your Information Empire, which includes personal coaching from her. She has excellent advice for solopreneurs.

December 28, 2013 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Three Questions for Reflection

As those of you who have taken my freebie “Jump Start Your Thinking” class know, I like to collect questions. Questions are the spur to thinking. The right question at the right time can trigger important learning.

Here is a set of questions I collected from Glenna Salsbury, a well-known speaker. She asked her children these questions every night when she tucked them into bed:

  • What’s the best thing that happened today?
  • How do you feel about you today?
  • What shall we pray about together?

She offered them as a way to build communication with your children, and make sure you have deep values conversations with them.

Now, I don’t believe in prayer, and I don’t have any children, but I see the value in these three questions. They spur serious reflection on what is truly important.

“What’s the best thing that happened today?” focuses your attention on success. Reminding yourself of what has gone well helps you maintain a benevolent view of life and be resilient. Choosing the best of what is good takes a little more effort–and reinforces your values.

“How do you feel about you today?” brings out self-esteem issues–positive or negative. Either is worthy of attention. When you notice earned pride in yourself, you can recognize what you did to earn it and reinforce that action. When you notice what you don’t like about yourself, you take the first step to change it.

“What shall we pray about together?” isn’t appropriate for me, but I recognized the intent. It takes a special attention to notice your deep desires, and this question helps you do it. I rewrote it as, “What are you wanting, deep in your soul?”

To transform them for journaling, you can just edit them a little more:

  • What’s the best thing that happened today?
  • How do I feel about me today?
  • What am I wanting, deep in my soul?

That makes a series of questions suitable for a daily journaling or an occasional reflection, that can help you pause for a moment and see what’s important right now.

***

The Jump Start class mentioned in this article is a freebie held every other month or so. For information on the next one, or to get a recording, visit the Jump Start page.

December 20, 2013 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Tip: Three Reasons to Learn a Formula

At a humor workshop I attended recently, Judy Carter taught us a formula for creating a joke around something mean that someone said to us.

The steps were:

  1. Remember exactly what words were used, plus the tone and body language, so you can act it out.
  2. Backtrack: what negative personality trait does this comment reveal? (Critical? Controlling? Depressed?)
  3. What would be the most unsuitable, most ridiculous profession for someone with that trait?

Using these elements, she gave us a formula for delivering a very funny joke. How do I know the formula worked? We tried it, and everyone who followed the formula got a laugh. The people who didn’t flopped. Even I, renowned for my inability to deliver a punchline, was able to get laughs by following the formula.

So, here’s the surprising part: how few people tried the formula! I was the only person at my table of nine who followed the steps. Everyone else just tried to make up his own funny line. Puzzled, I asked why? The answer: “We don’t do formulas.”

Why not? Formulas contain the condensed wisdom of experts. They provide a roadmap that avoids three problems:

  • Bogging down: Novices get mired in unnecessary details. Judy’s formula ensured that the setup was short and sweet. Nothing kills a joke faster than an  setup that drags on.
  • Getting the order wrong: Necessary information has to go first. The punch line has to be last! If you deliver infomration out of order, you kill the joke.
  • Not knowing to stop: It’s harder than you think to shut your mouth and let the audience laugh.

This is not just for comedy. The formulas I teach in Thinking Tactics provide the same benefits as Judy’s. Consider the basic formula for dealing with confusion:

  1. Gather Data (what do I know? what do I need to know? what else is relevant?
  2. Challenge First Thoughts
  3. Sum Up

This formula stops you from bogging down: Rather than focusing on what you’re confused about, you go straight to getting clear on what you think you know. Much easier.

This formula stops you from getting the order wrong: It makes you gather data first, before you criticize. This stops you from criticizing your ideas prematurely, which can shut off important information.

This formula helps you know to stop: In class, I teach you that all you need to clear confusion is a good next step, which you get by summing up. You don’t need to answer every question. Knowing this helps you move on rather than go in circles trying to answer the unanswerable.

So, next time some expert offers you a formula he or she has worked out, give it a test drive. See how it works. After you’ve had some success, you can better understand why it works–and then adapt it to your particular style.

Learn Thinking Tactics formulas for dealing with all kinds of mental obstacles in my upcoming Thinking Tactics Workshop.

December 12, 2013 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Tackle Tough Long-Term Issues with Three Pages a Day

In Thinking Tactics, I teach a set of thinking procedures that each take under 10 minutes. They can be used to clarify most confusion, resolve most conflicts, and figure out the next step on most projects.

But not everything.

Sometimes you face a bigger issue–one that cannot succumb to a few minutes of targeted thinking. Maybe you are considering a major life change–a change of career. Or maybe you face a long-term health issue that has scrambled your priorities. Or you’re just trying to determine a long-range strategy for your business or your life. With long-term, complex issues, you can’t expect to address all the issues in just one focused thinking session.

In these cases, I recommend a practice I learned from Julia Cameron, which she calls “morning pages.” Every morning, without fail, fill three pages in a notebook with “thinking on paper” If you have nothing to say, write anyway. Use this time to reflect on what’s happening in your issue, what’s not happening, or what you want to happen. There is always another angle to explore.

Elsewhere I’ve explained the benefits of “thinking on paper.” [See Note.] The added benefit of “3 Pages a Day” is that you give yourself a structure that helps you systematically reflect on difficult issues, without being overwhelmed or pressured for a solution. Three pages is short enough that you can sit with any unpleasant thoughts for that time. And there is no pressure to answer right now, just to fill the pages. But it is also long enough for you to make a little progress in each session, and each session builds on the previous. That means you can take the space to get the closure or clarity that you need.

This kind of frankness with oneself is invaluable. Your friends may get tired of discussing your issues, but you never do. Cameron reported that after she wrote three pages a day for a while, she got angry that the same problems came up again and again. That motivated her to solve those problems, once and for all. Me, too. After a while, the problems sound like whining, and I decide to do something about them.

“Three pages a day” or “Morning Pages” is a helpful technique when you don’t really know where to start fixing a situation. You don’t have a plan–you just have a general dissatisfaction with how things are going. It provides emotional support, and a structure for sorting out an amorphous blob of issues.  It’s an excellent practice to use in difficult times–regardless of what makes them difficult.

Note: Thinking on Paper is a valuable skill I have discussed elsewhere. You can get an introduction from these free resources:

Short Article
Free Teleclass

Or more in depth training with these paid products:

Thinking on Paper minicourse
Tap Your Own Brilliance (4 class set with 2 bonus classes)

November 20, 2013 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Tip: Begin Where You Are

I filled out a time-management questionnaire recently (see references below), and one question was, “Where should I begin, if I want to keep my appointments better?” The only general-purpose answer to such a question is: begin where you are.

You always must begin from where you are. Always. Whatever the goal. You need to know the “current reality” to figure out the next steps. And the next step always starts where you are and moves toward where you’re going. You may “work backwards” from the goal, but you won’t find where to begin unless you work backwards all the way to where you are now.

To take the case of keeping appointments–you need to ask, where am I now?

For example, if you don’t keep a central calendar, you are starting from zero. Get a calendar and start using it.

On the other hand, if you have a calendar, but you aren’t using it regularly, you begin from there. Figure out when to look at it so you don’t miss the appointments.  First thing in the morning? The night before? What works best for you?

What if it’s neither of these? What if you have a calendar and check it regularly, but you’re still missing appointments? Then you probably need to investigate to further understand where you are now. What’s going wrong? Maybe you need to keep a log to help you identify why you’re missing appointments. Once you know the problem, you can solve it. But you can only solve it if you know your starting place, and start from there.

This shows why I teach thinking tactics rather than time management per se.  There are many helpful systems for time management (several of which I recommend on my site–see references below). But the key to any of them is the thinking you do to implement them.

Even something as straightforward as using a calendar needs thinking to implement it–thinking about what kind of calendar works for you, about what you will keep on the calendar, about how you will remember to use it. Knowing how other people use a calendar can give you ideas for how to use yours, but ultimately, you need to adapt it to your situation. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to any of these questions.

That’s why you begin where you are.

References on Time Management

My thoughts on time management are on my website here:
http://www.thinkingdirections.com/time.htm

New: FAQ on Time Management–I gave extensive answers on a survey on the Schedulemailer site:
https://www.schedulemailer.com/en/scheduling-infrastructure

Book Recommendations on Time Management:

David Allen, Getting Things Done
http://www.thinkingdirections.com/articles1Allen.htm

Alan Lakein: How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life
http://www.thinkingdirections.com/articles6Lakein.htm

Francesco Cirillo: The Pomodoro Technique
http://www.thinkingdirections.com/articles12Cirillo.htm

 

November 8, 2013 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Book Recommendation: Leave the Office Earlier

I’ve recommended three top books on time management in the past. (Getting Things Done, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, and The Pomodoro Technique). Each of those explains a system or philosophy of time management.

If you are looking for an integrated system to implement, read one of them. But if you want a shot in the arm to spur you to be more productive at work so you can have more time at home, read Leave the Office Earlier by Laura Stack.

The book reads part as diagnostic manual, part as encyclopedia. It opens with a 100-item questionnaire you can use to find your “Productivity Quotient.” The 100 items are then organized into chapters around 10 topics including “Reduction” (as in getting rid of things),  “Discipline,” and  “Vitality” (which is on the role of health in productiveness). Within a chapter there are sections of 2-3 pages each for the relevant item from the questionnaire.

Each short section is interesting, practical, and encouraging. You get specific ideas for how to solve specific problems. The advice runs the gamut from pointers on when to throw something away, to strategies for working with people who process information differently than you do. I suggest reading a few sections at a time. Put it on your bedside table and dip into it every night.

I recommend this book for its consistent can-do, optimistic approach, coupled with its fresh, essentialized look at the many issues involved in productivity. I had seen many of the ideas in some form or another, but Laura Stack presented them in an interesting way that helped me see new value in them.

For example, there are many prioritization tools that involve drawing four quadrants and labeling them, such as this:

Another variation uses “have to/don’t have to” across the top, and “want to/don’t want to” across the side, instead of urgent/important. You list your tasks in the appropriate quadrant. If possible, try to avoid tasks in the 4th quadrant: “don’t want to and don’t have to,” or “not important and not urgent.”

Laura Stack labels her quadrants differently: “high vs. low value” and “deadline vs. no deadline.” This changes the point of the exercise.

This is a subtle difference, but it changes the focus. The point becomes: try to work on high value projects with no deadline! I find this labeling much clearer and more motivating–because it focuses you on your long-range, high value goals.

I found the most interesting section in the book was the chapter in which she distinguished working hard from workaholism. Her advice had more credibility than other treatments I’ve read, because she is clearly pro-hard work. (I think you can tell that from the book. I’ve met Laura Stack, so I can testify to it. She is a productive dynamo.)

Taken together, the advice filled me with optimism and practical ideas for shifting the balance in my life. If things have gotten a bit out of control, I think you’ll find it helpful, too.

 

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