Get the Behaviour You Want with Your Kids, and no drama

A few weeks ago, I had a terrible parenting night. I yelled at my daughter. She was in tears; I was in tears once she finally was in bed.

Worse, three days later she did something every kid does, she was a bit defiant, and I was instantly angry. I was still worked up over how the night went three days prior.

That’s not the type of parent I want to be. That’s not the type of parent you want to be. We want to have decent relationships with our kids. We want to be able to get them to do what we need them to without all the hassle.

If that sounds like something you’d like, then today is the day you find a great resource called No Drama Discipline. I can truly say that reading this book over a weekend changed how the next week went.

Sure there was some drama, but it was so much easier to handle for my kids and me.

No-Drama Discipline asks you to do three things when it’s time to discipline your child.

  1. Connect
  2. Question
  3. Redirect

Let’s start with connection.

Connect

Effective discipline means that we’re not only stopping bad behavior or promoting a good one, but also teaching skills and nurturing the connections in our children’s brains that will help them make better decisions and handle themselves well in the future.

Kids crave connection. They want to know they’re loved. One thing we did in our house was tell our kids that we didn’t talk to them when they whine. We did this to try and force them to calm down and talk reasonably.

Some things to remember though. Kids don’t have a fully developed brain. They can’t emotionally regulate like an adult.

You and home are a safe spot for kids. They spend all day keeping it together, and at home, they expect that they have acceptance no matter what they do. They expect that love is their’s for the taking.

Saying you don’t talk to them when they whine is saying that you only accept them when they conform to your ideals of behaviour.

When your child is behaving in a way that’s not acceptable, connection means saying no to the behaviour and yes to the child.

In practice, that means, when the upset voice starts I stop. I get down on their level and open my arms. They step in and usually calm down.

Now it’s on to the second part….the question.

Questions

According to the authors, there are three questions to ask when kids misbehave.

  1. Why did your child act this way? What is it they want?
  2. What lesson do I want to teach at this moment?
  3. How can I best teach this lesson?

Recently my oldest was asked to tidy up the floor and vacuum it. Those are both her regular chores. They’ve been her weekly chore for at least a year. But this time it threw her into a tantrum, for a second.

I opened my arms and said “come here” and then thought to myself why would she act this way. Once we talked a bit, the two chores at once before she could do something ‘fun’ felt like an overwhelming prospect.

Together we talked through the fact that if she cleaned up the floor today and then left the vacuuming till tomorrow, she’d have to clean again so she could vacuum.

She agreed that it did make more sense to do both chores at once and then, off she went to do them in record time.

Previously this would have been at least an hour long fight with parents continually reminding her to clean. But not this time.

Now the final bit…redirecting.

Redirect

The authors came up with a fancy thing to show you R-E-D-I-R-E-C-T.

Reduce words
Embrace emotions
Describe, don’t preach
Involve your child in the discipline
Reframe a no into a conditional yes
Emphasize the positive
Creatively approach the situation
Teach mindsight tools

Regardless of the age of your children, long lectures aren’t likely to make them want to listen to you more. Instead, you’ll just be flooding them with more information and sensory input. As a result, they’ll often simply tune you out.

Do you need to talk to kids about what’s going on? Did you ever want to hear your parents drone on in a big lecture?

Nope!!!

So why on earth do we figure that now that we’re parents our kids will listen to a lecture. They won’t. We sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown.

Wa, wa, wa…….

If you need to go deeper into an issue, it’s time to get your kids the exercise their empathy muscle by asking questions. Stuff like “How did you feel when your sister bit you?” and “How do you think she felt when you punched her back?”.

The biggest issue I’ve had is trying to jump from Connect to Redirect in 30 seconds. Can it take a while for your kid to calm down? Yes. Do you always have that time? Nope. But you do have more time than you think.

If you haven’t given your child enough connection to calm down then moving on is a waste of time.

It’s not all roses

Even with this new strategy making significant changes in our house (seriously my wife has said it’s easier for her to parent during the day because our oldest is just easier to handle) it won’t always go well.

Sometimes you will need to just send the kid away. Sometimes you’ll still yell.

Not every day is a good parenting day. On the weekend I called my kids stupid because I had been trying to sit for 5 minutes for about 5 hours. Every time I sat down, they all were on top of me poking and bugging and …. being kids.

The difference now is that given 10 minutes apart both my kids came forward and said sorry. Unprompted, they acknowledged they were being annoying and that it wasn’t nice to be bugged and poked. I apologised to saying that I shouldn’t call them stupid and that words hurt. Then we spent 20 minutes goofing around on the couch together before we spent the rest of the day playing.

The goal is to admit your mistakes and connect with your child when things don’t go well. Those 20 minutes were one of the highlights of the weekend. Last night over dinner they remembered it five days later as a special time together.

Without my admission of fault, it wouldn’t have happened the same way.

Recommendation

I gave it away at the top. YES, if you want to improve your parenting skills you must purchase this. I wish it was required reading before you had a child.

Get No-Drama Discipline on Amazon

photo credit: thereeljames cc

Is Average Over? What will it take to make your way?

I regularly say, “who wants to be average anyway”? Usually, the answer is no one because average is broken. Average is purchasing things you can’t afford to impress people you don’t like.

So maybe that’s why I purchased Average is Over by Tyler Cowen? Maybe it was the fact that I’ve heard Malcolm Gladwell say that Cowen’s blog is one of the things he reads every morning?

I ask this question up front because I had no idea why I purchased this book within about 10 minutes of reading it. I couldn’t see why I would be interested in the ideas presented.

The premise of Cowen’s book is:

If you and your skills are a compliment to the computer, your wage and labor market prospects are likely to be cheery. If your skills do not complement the computer, you may want to address that mismatch. Ever more people are starting to fall on one side of the divide or the other. That’s why average is over.

What that means in practice is that the book comes across as pretty doom and gloom quickly. Most of the current workforce will be out of work. Unemployment will rise and rise. Computers will do this to us.

That is unless you have a very specific set of skills.

The ability to mix technical knowledge with solving real-world problems is key, not sheer number-crunching or programming for its own sake. Number-crunching skills will be turned over to the machines sooner or later.

It feels like there are some flaws here though. Cowen says that every job will need this and brings up the example of a Masseuse. This field will need to know how to use Google Adwords. Not just pay someone to do it for them, know how to do it themselves.

Here we have a flaw in his arguments. A masseuse needs to be good at delivering a great experience. An Adwords specialist needs to know how to help drive leads to that masseuse.

Why do we need an overlap according to Cowen?

Another poor point or at least a depressing one is the fact that Cowen sees that we’ll have a huge swath of the economy driven by giving high earners, even more, ways to feel awesome about themselves.

At some point it is hard to sell more physical stuff to high earners, yet there is usually just a bit more room to make them feel better about themselves. Better about what they have achieved.

First, I think that he under estimates how much consumerism drives purchasing. There is always a new iDevice to purchase. There is always a new model of car…and on it goes.

Second, and maybe I’m just wrong here, that statement feels so…vapid. I hope it doesn’t come to that as you gain success. You need an army of service people around making your life even more awesome to confirm how awesome you are because you earn money.

In fact, if you think I’m wrong, please never read my stuff. Find somewhere else to hang out because we’re not friends.

A third flaw likely comes from the time this book was written in that a bunch of the examples are dated. Cowen cites the random stupid questions tech companies like Google used to ask you in a job interview.

Google found that these insane questions, and answering them well had no bearing on job performance. Where Cowen cites this type of knowledge as crucial, it’s not.

It’s clear: The world is demanding more in the way of credentials, more in the way of ability, and it is passing along most of the higher rewards to a relatively small cognitive elite.

Cowen also cites the need for a degree, which many companies no longer require. Again, they found that a degree did little to predict good job performance.

Some good ideas in Average is Over

Now it’s not all bad. There are some good thought provoking ideas in Average is Over. Some that are going to call in to question what we each value, like the one below.

People are getting accustomed to an existence where they cannot find satisfying work at a wage they is happy with.

Where many see this and talk about a living wage, I see people that want to live in expensive cities. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that raising minimum wage doesn’t affect the price of all goods.

Let’s not pretend that raising the minimum wage doesn’t devalue the earnings of those that were earning $5 above minimum wage a few months ago. They’re not getting $3/hour raise, so they stay at the same relative purchasing power.

All the extra employee costs go to the consumer, which is the same person that just got a ‘living wage’.

Ambitious and talented young people today are more likely to want to live in a relatively small number of cities and region, rather than spreading themselves out as much as they used to.

I think that we need to stop the entitled thoughts that we have some right to live in any city we want. It doesn’t matter the cost of the city. I want it and I deserve it so you should pay me enough to live here.

I think that’s entirely insane.

Another great idea is that you need to have an opinion.

No one rises to the top of the business world by breaking world by breaking even on a lot of deals, and no one successfully woos a lot of women, or marries the right one, by acting “just okay” or neutral.

Hot coffee is great. Cold coffee is great. Room temperature coffee delivers caffeine if you’re desperate.

While I firmly hold to the idea that I don’t argue on the internet, you need to have an opinion to be heard above the noise that’s out there.

This idea transfers to a business that ‘builds websites’ instead of serving a specific niche. When you help everyone, there is no specific project just for you.

One of the final points I found interesting in Average is Over was the idea that we need to keep educating ourselves. Clearly, I agree with that as you read a book review from me. I’ve got many of them and they’re all part of my ongoing education.

I think that Cowen overestimates the effectiveness of online education. I work on membership sites and online courses for clients. A really good completion rate for a course is 20%. Even looking at myself, I’ll read a book but I almost never complete an online course. I have to force myself to do it and knowing that I purchase few of them.

Will online learning become more common? Yes, it will. Will it be effective…maybe? Certainly, most of the models we have currently aren’t amazing.

Recommendation

Before I present my verdict lets talk about the overall structure of the book. Where Cowen makes some great points, he then spends hundreds of pages talking about them from just a slightly different angle using a barely different example.

Cutting this book a few hundred pages shorter could be a game changer in my recommendation. In fact, the entire last section of the book, about 1/3 of the pages, should be maybe 20 pages.

Overall, no don’t bother with this book. I think it contains too many flaws in thinking and while there are some interesting ideas, they’re too scattered.

DON’T Get Average is Over on Amazon

photo credit: 145805964@N06 cc

The Long and Strong Career You Want Is Marked by Rest

I hear stories of long days all the time. Like some badge of honour, I’m told of multiple 12 or 14 hour days. My clients tell me these stories with the expectation that I’ll be impressed with their dedication.

But I’m not, and you shouldn’t be either.

How about we take an entirely different tack and instead of figuring out how to work more, we figure out how to work less. We figure out how to take more time away from work while doing more work that’s worthwhile.

That’s where Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang comes in. It’s not a book about how to do more, but about how to do less. How to rest and recharge so that the little time we give work happens with full focus instead of half focus split between 27 other things that want our attention.

Many of us are interested in how to work better, but we don’t think very much about how to rest better. Productivity books offer life hacks, advice about what CEOs or famous writers do. But they say almost nothing about the role of rest in the lives or careers of creative productive people. When they do mention rest, they tend to treat it as nothing more than a physical necessity or inconvenience.

The big thrust of the book is to get us to realise how important rest is in getting the maximum creativity out of ourselves.

If you recognize that work and rest are two sides of the same coin, that you can get more from rest by getting better at it and that by giving it a place in your life you’ll stand a better chance of living the life you want, you’ll be able to do your job, and your life’s work, better.

It’s about not wearing long hours as a badge of honour. It’s about not telling people how ‘busy’ you are, but about how much time you take off from work.

Before Soojung-Kim Pang gets into the main two sections of the book, he gives us some foundation principles to explain how to value rest in our lives.

First off is the terrible unit of measure used by so many, the hour.

Measuring time is literally the easiest way to assess someone’s dedication and productivity, but it’s also very unreliable.

Just because you put in lots of hours doesn’t mean that you did anything of value in those hours. The commonly accepted office day is around 8 hours. Most research shows that in those 8 hours people only do four maybe five hours of real work. The other hours are taken up with distractions of some fashion.

Even in those four hours, did someone do work of any value to the business or were they just looking busy by pushing emails around and ‘consulting’ with colleagues?

A second principle is that no one will value rest for us. We need to schedule it into our days, weeks, months, and lives.

Rest is not something that the world gives us. It’s never been a gift. It’s never been something you do when you’ve finished everything else. If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.

Part of this comes down to the most productive word in your vocabulary, NO. If you want to rest, say no to meetings. Say no to those three extra projects or sitting on the board or joining the PTA.

Do a few things well and focus on them.

With those founding ideas set out for us, Soojung-Kim Pang moves into the main two sections of the book. First is all about how rest stimulates creativity, we can’t be maximally creative without rest. Second is that rest sustains creativity over the long term. If we want long creative careers, then rest is crucial.

Part I: Stimulating Creativity

Figures as different as Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, and Ingmar Bergman, working in disparate fields in different times, all shared a passion for their work, a terrific ambition to succeed, and an almost super-human capacity to focus. Yet when you look closely at their daily lives, they only spent a few hours a day doing what we would recognize as their most important work. The rest of the time, they were hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking. Their creativity and productivity, in other words, were not the result of endless hours of toil. Their towering creative achievements result from modest “working” hours.

Above is one of the major arguments made early as the author examines how rest stimulates creativity. We don’t need to work long hours, and in fact, we’re much better off working shorter hours. He cites an interesting study that showed scientists which worked 20 hours a week in the office published more than any others.

In fact, those that put 55 hours a week in were only as productive as those that had five hours in the office. They never hit the same productivity as those who put in 20 hours though. There are many other examples cited from other fields that back up this M shaped curve where you’re more productive with fewer hours.

That leads us to question, what did those scientists do to be so productive?

Deliberate practice. Focused work ala Deep Work (my review).

Deliberate practice isn’t a lot of fun, and it’s not immediately profitable. It means being in the pool before sunrise, working on your swing or stride when you could be hanging out with friends, practicing fingering or breathing in a windowless room, spending hours perfecting details that only a few other people will ever notice. There’s little that’s inherently or immediately pleasurable in deliberate practice, so you need a strong sense that these long hours will pay off, and that you’re not just improving your career prospects but also crafting a professional and personal identity. You don’t just do it for the fat stacks. You do it because it reinforces your sense of who you are and who you will become.

Note that it wasn’t practice only for practice sake. It was practice that reinforced the sense of who you are. Your WHY to put it in Simon Sinek’s terms.

If you’re going to achieve this productivity, this mastery, then you need to develop a habit of deep focus.

But how do you drop into this area of focused creativity? According to Soojung-Kim Pang, it’s about creating a routine. Working steadily day in day out.

…when your habit is to work steadily, a day when you fall behind isn’t fatal

You don’t worry about trucker’s block because it’s not something that’s real.

You create a routine and stick with it. When things are going bad, you stick with the process. You keep your schedule intact along with the rest and recharge time included.

You don’t let clients violate it. You don’t break up those focused hours with interruptions from any place.

In order to keep rest from being invaded by work or crowded out of your day by a long to-do list, you need to use your routine like a fortification to protect your time.

Around here, that means I only take new client calls on Tuesday. I do all my coaching on Friday. I don’t let anyone push me into a call on Monday or Wednesday or Thursday. Those are big days for my focused creativity.

I work 6 am – 9 am and then take a 3-hour break. During that break I run or take a meandering bike ride, aiming for getting out of the city in some rural setting. I hang out with my kids.

I get away from a screen and the hustle and bustle. With this break I’m ready to head back at it for three more hours from noon – 3 pm and then I call it a day.

One big note here is that I try to get away from the city/cars/busy places into something rural.

When she examined the data, she found that she could tell from their brain waves when people were walking through parks and green space and when they were in busy commercial areas: their minds became calmer and less aroused when they turned from the high street into a park. They didn’t zone out completely, though. Natural scenes engage some of your attention without requiring much conscious effort: they provide just enough diversion to occupy the conscious mind, leaving the subconscious free to do its own thing.

This is not the first piece I’ve read telling us that nature is so much better at recharging us than anything industrial. You may love living in the city, but you’ll get more done and feel less stressed if you prioritise escaping to a place that’s green.

Another thing you do if you want to be maximally effective is nap. My days start early at 4:45 am, and with three small children I don’t always get a full night sleep of seven hours. When that happens, I use part of my rest time for a 30-minute nap.

Sleep scientists have found that even a short nap can be effective in recharging your mental batteries. Naps can even provide an opportunity to have new ideas. Their work shows that you can learn to time your nap to increase the creative boost that it provides, make it more physically restorative, or probe the traffic between the conscious mind and unconscious. Napping in other words, turns out to be a skill.

I wear my nap as a badge of pride.

In much of the world today, naps have fallen out of favor. They’re now something young children do in kindergarten mats, not something for adults, least of all leaders and serious minds.

Even with naps though, you need to sleep properly. Pulling an all-nighter is never a badge of honour. It only shows you’re an idiot.

Sleep deprivation has immediate effects on your ability to focus, make good judgements, perform under pressure, and be creative. Longterm sleep deprivation can affect your mental health and physical condition.

One of the biggest things that my Fitbit did for me was help me realise how little sleep I was getting. I started just barely averaging 6 hours a night and now average seven most weeks.

If you struggle with sleep look at adopting the 10-3-2-1-0 formula to achieve a better sleep.

  • 10 hours before bed – no caffeine
  • 3 hours before bed – no more food/alcohol
  • 2 hours before bed – no more work
  • 1 hour before bed – no more screens (no phones, TV’s, Kindle’s, computers…)
  • 0 – The number of times you’re allowed to hit the snooze button

I have one paper book on the go all the time for this reason. No reading on my Kindle just before I go to sleep. I didn’t even have an issue sleeping when I started this. Just ask my wife who often get’s the question “When did you come to bed.” and her regular answer is “10 minutes after you”.

I was already out in those 10 minutes of her making a bit of noise in the bathroom.

One thing I add to this formula is at least 30 minutes of exercise in your day. While I run up mountains, walking briskly for 30 minutes counts as well.

With his look at Stimulating Creativity done, Soojung-Kim Pang moves on to how to sustain it.

Part II: Sustaining Creativity

Sustained creativity is more than just a solid week of good work. It’s decades of contribution to your field. It’s staying power when others have burned out.

Sustained creativity knows that in most developed fields it’s not the ‘young genius’ that has the break throughs. It takes a decade to get a solid enough grasp on the foundation material so that you have the knowledge to expand the field.

There are a few key things that are characteristic of prolonged work in a field. First off, it’s taking your vacation days.

Over the course of decades, across professions, in one industry after another, Sonnentangs, findings have been consistent. Workers who have the chance to get away mentally, switch off, and devote their energies elsewhere, are more productive, have better attitudes, get along better with their colleagues, and are better able to deal with challenges at work. They’re also better able to focus intensely on work tasks.

It’s getting sleep, every single night. Rest cites an interesting study about Flow. Well rested programmers we most productive in the morning. Then if they took a break in the middle of the day and came back at it, they had a second burst of flow.

If you didn’t get a good sleep, you started bad and just got worse all day.

Less well-rested programmers, in contrast, didn’t follow the same pattern: their flow levels started low and steadily got worse.

Maintaining a career of contribution means, unplugging. Not checking email at all hours, but honestly putting work away when it’s not work time.

The most creative and most productive workers are the ones who are able to unplug from the office, recover their mental and physical energy, and return to their work recharged.

Did you know that most top chess players have a physical training plan as well? The hours of intense concentration take their toll and being in good physical shape means they can perform at their best.

…studies now show that for people of any age, gender, or athletic ability, exercise can increase brain power, boost intelligence, and provide the stamina and psychological resilience necessary to do creative work.

The same things should go for programmers or creatives, who need to spend long hours focused on hard problems so that they can break through to a solution.

We shouldn’t be surprised that people manage to be physically active and do world-class work. We should recognize that they do world-class work because they are physically active.

Unless you have the physical stamina to stay focused, you won’t be producing your best work.

A long career is also brought about by having interests other than your job.

Under the right conditions, hobbies and physical activities become what anthropologists and psychologists call “deep play,” activities that are rewarding on their own, but take on additional layers of meaning and personal significance.

It’s not about ‘balance’, which means checking work stuff while watching your kid’s ball game.

Unlike efforts to achieve work-life balance that end up smearing the two words together and lead to your multitasking your way through children’s activities, deep play demands exclusive focus.

Deep play is engaging in pursuits that require attention from you. Rock Climbing and Mountaineering are often cited in the book. Ultra-marathons (50k at least usually through the mountains) are also an area where you see a statistical bump in scientists. They have long hours of focus for work, and the challenging work of running 50k and training for it means they have to forget about work and focus only on the task at hand for extended periods of time each week.

Finally, there are sabbaticals. Extended periods away from work to do what you want. Far from leading to retention issues:

Sabbaticals improve employee satisfaction, give returning workers a greater sense of clarity about their jobs and future, and improve retention levels.

Sabbaticals provide a change of pace for the employee to dive into other ideas. According to Soojung-Kim Pang, often we see new ideas come back to the company that benefit it. Ideas that only developed because time was spent away doing things unrelated to work.

If your company wants to succeed and keep good people around, then offering prolonged time off is a sure way to increase retention and bring in great new ideas from employees that are refreshed, ready to tackle the problems at hand.

Recommendation

I’ll finish this off with two more quotes.

Too often busyness is not a means to accomplishment but an obstacle to it.

and

Today, we treat being stressed and overworked as a badge of honor, a sign of seriousness and commitment; but this is a recent phenomenon, and it inverts traditional ideas of how leaders and professionals should behave under pressure.

They represent truth and sadness. Being busy is not a sign of how awesome you are, it’s a sign of how you can’t set up boundaries. Stop wearing busy as a badge of honour.

Now, do I recommend you read Rest? Yes, I do. More than that, I recommend you incorporate times of no work into your day. I recommend you build in weeks away from anything digital.

If you can read this book and put its ideas into practice, you’re going to get more done and have longer to contribute to your field in a meaningful way.

Get Rest on Amazon

photo credit: julochka cc

There Is Power in Meaning: a Look at How to Find It

I don’t think that most of us are truly questing after success, at least not as typically defined by the world. Yes, we want enough money to afford some nice things. Enough that we can create margin in our lives. We don’t want every day to feel like a struggle to meet the necessities.

What we’re questing for is meaning, and it’s getting harder and harder to find. We’ve had a significant cultural change which has left the sources of meaning found in generations past bereft of meaning for many.

If religion was once the default path to meaning, today it is one path among many, a cultural transformation that has left many people adrift. For millions both with and without faith, the search for meaning here on earth has become incredibly urgent — get ever more elusive.

This changing face of meaning has each of us looking for the following three things in a wide world of options.

It’s difficult, of course, to measure a concept like meaning in the lab, but, according to psychologists, when people say that their lives have meaning, it’s because three conditions have been satisfied: they evaluate their lives as significant and worthwhile – as part of something bigger; they believe their lives make sense; and they feel their lives are driven by a sense of purpose.

This vast pool from which to draw from is where The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani-Smith can be helpful. It attempts to help us find sources of meaning and learn to build them into a solid foundation from which we can launch into our life task.

This book will reveal what those sources of meaning are and how we can harness them to give our lives depth.

Esfahani-Smith organises her book around 4 Pillars of Meaning which she says are needed to have a foundation of meaning in your life.

  1. Belonging: Which deals with our relationships with others and feeling like we have a place
  2. Purpose: We feel like we have a mission tied to contribution
  3. Storytelling: Not an exhaustive list of our life, but stories that provide lessons and purpose
  4. Transcendence: A connection to something bigger than ourselves

Unfortunately, in the hedonistic quest for success we so often see around us we aren’t taking care of these four pillars. We purchase more. We show off fancy pictures of ourselves in exotic locations, and yet suicides increase. Seemingly successful people talk about a malaise they feel.

We continue to find that a quest for ‘more’ does not give us any purpose. It fills us for a minute, or an hour, but has no lasting effect on our life.

Knowing that many of us aren’t taking care of our pillars of meaning, let’s look at what they are.

Belonging

At a time when we are more connected digitally than ever before, rates of social isolation are rising. About 20 percent of people consider loneliness a “major source of unhappiness in their lives” and one third of Americans 45 and older say they are lonely.

While it may feel like you have lots of friends, how many have you shaken hands with? I have a great group of other business owner’s I chat with in Slack regularly, and I’ve only met maybe 5 out of the 15 of them, and I haven’t seen those 5 in 2 years.

While I use the word friend when I refer to them, we have little shared experience. That doesn’t diminish the enjoyment and support I get from the group, but it does bring up a caution. We too often equate people that we know online as friends when they can’t be there to watch our kids in a crisis. They simply live too far away.

That doesn’t mean that they couldn’t rally around us in other ways, like setting up a funding campaign to help us with an illness, but we can’t only be connected to people online and thus have a place that we belong.

In our age of isolation, it’s more critical than ever to actively seek out social groups and work hard to build close relationships, especially because many traditional forms of community are dissolving.

We need to connect regularly with our tribe in person to cement the relationships. Industry conferences where you meet colleagues are more than just a business opportunity. Conferences are a place where you cement the bonds of your group. Instead of sharing life together under the hood of a car, you’re heading out to dinner and sharing any antics that happen alongside the work.

The best purpose may not be the talks at the conference, but all the time spent with your colleagues from far flung sections of the globe because it’s with this time that you build bonds which will last.

Purpose

Teens who help their families with tasks like cleaning, cooking, and caring for siblings, for example, also feel a greater sense of purpose.

One of the sweetest and most annoying things my 6-year-old does is want to help. I say it’s sweet because it integrates her with the family and shows her heart for the family. I say it’s annoying because at six many of the things she helps with take double the time because she’s helping.

I admit that often we say no not because of her ability, but because it’s not convenient for us to have her help at the moment.

It’s in those times that she helps, that we see her best self. The kid that feels more integrated with the family and becomes more helpful when it’s time to pick up toys or keep an eye on her baby sister while a parent uses the bathroom in peace for the first time in a while.

Having a purpose in your work is strongly associated with being great at your job. The construction flagger that sees their job as “keeping people safe” is a much better employee than one that sees the job as a pay cheque.

This need for purpose in work is why I always have my coaching clients spend lots of time on their purpose before we start to work on getting their business back on track. A train heading in the wrong direction for the wrong reasons will never get to its top speed, and it’s heading to the wrong place anyway. Only by pointing in the right direction will they be able to get the success they desire.

Storytelling

Stories are particularly essential when it comes to defining our identity — understanding who we are and how we got that way.

Most of the time if you observe friends together, you’ll get to hear a bunch of stories. Stories of silly things that happened. Stories of things they did in the past and they’re all often hilarious.

First off, they’re remembering our shared experience and reinforcing a sense of belonging together.

Second, those stories that have more tragedy than humour help us make sense of our life. Talking through them with a trusted friend, helps us process the things that have caused strife.

Our stories tend to focus on the most extraordinary events of our lives, good and bad because those are the experiences that we need to make sense of, those are the experiences that shape us.

Another place that digital communication can fail us is with the forced brevity of many of the preferred mediums. We don’t get to sit and tell long stories enjoying someone’s company. In 140 character bites, we share our food or the beach we’re on.

It yields little chance to communicate from deep inside, where things matter.

Blog posts that shoot for ‘clickability’ like listicles are high on stuff that will get someone to spend 2 seconds of attention on, but light on any substance. They can only convey the barest bit of any idea due to their length.

Agan, it yields scant space for proper communication.

Transcendence

A transcendent, or mystical, experience is one in which we feel that we have risen above the everyday world to experience a higher reality.

For much of history, religion was the source of transcendence for most people. Transcendence is the feeling that there is something bigger than ourselves. It lets us step outside the daily petty things that can bog us down, and look at life on a grander scale.

Particularly when struggle comes, we look for something bigger to help us make sense of life. As the old saying goes “There are no atheists in a foxhole”.

According to Esfahani-Smith, this is not the only place that people find transcendence. For some, it’s discovered in the vastness of space, or the depths of the ocean.

In addition to my faith, I find transcendence on the top of mountains. Looking around at my city, or simply off at more mountains, I’m continually reminded of how small I am and how vast the world is I haven’t explored.

Where to Look For Meaning

The final two chapters of Esfahani-Smiths book look more at groups and how they come together to form meaning for those that are involved in the group.

She introduces us to the idea of Post Traumatic Growth. Post Traumatic Growth is where we have a traumatic experience, and it alters our life in a beneficial way. Usually, people that experience this would never remove the hard times from their life if given a chance.

They use the pillars above to work through the issues. They tell stories about the loved ones they lost. They have often have a group to belong to, like Alcoholics Annonymous. They also have a purpose, like being a sponsor in AA.

When people who have suffered help others, they report less depression, anxiety, and anger, and more optimism, hope, and meaning in life.

It’s not just in those typical groups that this can be found. I’ve experienced it in the whitewater kayaking community. Paddling almost any river can result in death. It’s a transcendent experience in many ways to be at the mercy of frothing water trying to push you into rocks that will possibly kill your, or at the least make you have an awful day.

The friendships my wife and I formed in our group of paddlers are strong. They have been formed as we rescued each other in basic and life threatening situations. We have friends that have died while pursuing their love of the rivers and through it all, we continue to get tighter as a group.

It’s one we identify with when we call ourselves whitewater kayakers. In many ways, it’s replaced much of the social connections my parents had from their neighbours. I couldn’t name many of those that live in my townhouse complex.

In neighborhoods and offices, social connections are becoming less and less frequent. The fast pace of modern life, with all of its distractions, makes introspection almost impossible. And in a world where scientific knowledge is supreme, transcendent experiences are looked upon with suspicion.

When I grew up, we had a community barbeque. We’d gather at the end of the street and most of the neighbours would join up. Kids would run around and adults would talk.

I now live in a townhouse complex and it’s hard to even get a smile out of many of my neighbours. In fact, I feel this loss keenly as I see parents out with their kids and yet, head down on Facebook or headphones in ignoring those sitting directly beside them.

This loss of connection between us manifests itself in the lack of help when we see our neighbours moving. We no longer see four people crowded around a car sitting in a driveway helping revive it so someone can get to work on Monday.

You probably don’t even know the names of those that live beside you, as I said above, I don’t know most of them.

While this is hard for adults, it’s even more difficult for teenagers who are in the midst of massive changes. They want nothing more than to figure out where they fit and are cast into this world where they have every option in the world to find their meaning. Where this may sound like a great ‘problem’ to have, the options are so extensive as to render the search for meaning almost fruitless.

It’s like being dropped in the middle of a desert with no map or direction and being told to find water. It’s possible you’re walking towards the oasis and survival, it’s just not probable.

Positive cultures of meaning help us all grow, but they may be especially important for adolescents. Many teenagers are unsure of their path in life, which can make them vulnerable to the lure of gangs and other negative influences. Having something to believe in and work toward helps inoculate them against those threats.

In the midst of this, we provide much training in ‘practical’ skills, trusting that a life of meaning will magically happen to our teens.

Teenagers spend most of their waking hours at school. But most schools are designed to teach kids to solve algebra problems and write essays, not help them discover what their individual callings might be. As a result, many students graduate without a real sense of what they want to do. Others drop out because school feels pointless.

At our house, this is why we homeschool. In addition to teaching our children about math and reading, we have an opportunity to develop deeper life skills. Taking my oldest out with me to work let’s her see how I treat people around me. It lets us tailor her learning to her and bring in deeper thinking around WHY it is that she is here.

Recommendation

While I’m not convinced that by reading The Power of Meaning, you’ll have a direct path towards finding the purpose of your life, I am sure that by reading it you’ll have a better grasp on the types of communities to interact with on your quest.

You’ll be heading down the right path.

For those of you that want to dig deeper towards your purpose you should read:

Even with all of these books under your belt, the quest for meaning is a hard road. You’ll continue to search and refine your purpose. You’ll struggle, but it will be worth it as you continue with your work firmly focused on a purpose outside of the accumulation of ‘stuff’.

Get The Power of Meaning on Amazon

photo credit: 38463026@N04 cc

How to Build a Prosperous Business

We all want a prosperous business. A business that pays the bills, and leaves something extra for us to enjoy life.

While some professions trade in ‘hard goods’ that are needed, like a website update, coaches trade in things that no one needs. If you didn’t get coaching today, you’d keep doing what you’ve always done and having that same level of success.

For the coach, the biggest competition is doing nothing.

As such, many coaches struggle to bring in new clients. They try marketing tactics and network. They jump on social media and write and … never see the results of their dreams.

That’s why Steve Chandler and Rich Litvin wrote The Prosperous Coach.

It will help you increase your impact and your income — and do the same for your clients.

While the book is firmly focused on the coaching field, it has some great takeaways for every business owner. Chandler and Litvin have simply taken the advice I’ve given often and picked a niche to deliver this advice to.

On Marketing

Most of the mistakes failed coaches make are of the information-manipulation variety. Lots of marketing and social media posting. Lots of learning about branding and niches. Lots of trying to win friends and influence people. None of it works. Ever. In the world of coaching.

How much time do you spend on social media and call it ‘marketing’? How much time do you invest in networking or other forms of trying to bring in clients?

Most freelancer’s I talk to default to everything digital. They blog, and post on Twitter, and participate in Slack channels. All of those are good, but they’re low trust.

Get out from behind your screen and meet people. Talk about their problems and then how you can help solve those problems.

On Creating Clients

The struggling coach wants to coach anyone and everyone. They are afraid to ask for money.

Do you have a ‘velvet rope’ policy? One where you only take clients that are your ideal clients?

Do you waffle on your pricing? When someone asks for a discount, you crumble and give one? You throw in extra work because…there really isn’t a reason you just don’t value yourself.

This hurdle is the same no matter what field you’re in.

The Pro coach knows there is no such thing as a high-paying client. Your fees are just a filter for the clients you’d love to coach.

Part of your client filter is the rates you charge. I started at $50/hour and now would say that my rate is $250/hour. Every time I’ve raised my rates my clients have got less needy.

They want value, but I don’t get calls outside business hours.

You will increase your business tenfold if you respond to almost every prospects long email with the words, “call me”.

All of you spend too much time behind your screen trying to ‘market’. Just as a coach should be talking to their prospects, you should be on the phone with prospects.

You should be out meeting them. Stop hiding behind email and project management systems, get on the phone regularly.

On Value

The Pro coach knows that credentials are irrelevant because the only question clients ever want an answer to is: Can you help me?

I was recently bidding on a project against a friend. I regularly read his proposals and give tips on how to tweak them to land more work.

As we talked, he knew that I couldn’t meet the client’s expected deadline and he figured I’d be out of the running. But I wasn’t, and in fact, I won the project charging almost double.

I did this because I answered the question above best for the client. When they asked Can you help me? they felt that my yes was the strongest. We started the project after the deadline, and when it was all delivered, we started on the next project with no haggling.

It’s almost never about pricing and deadlines. It’s about being the most valuable to the prospect.

You’re racing from one meeting to another, from one quick conversation to a brief email, and you’re skipping all over the place. You are not creating relationships. You’re just “touching base”.

How long do you put aside to speak to prospects about their projects? When I started 30 minutes felt like a long time. Then I used 60 minutes and about six months ago, that felt like it wasn’t enough to really dig in. Now I put aside 90 minutes of focused attention into prospects.

That means I take fewer calls in a week for new projects (in fact usually only 2 and only on Tuesday’s), but each call is much more valuable to me and the prospect.

The longer I’ve made my calls, the less I’ve rushed through them. The more I’ve made prospects qualify themselves for a call, the more projects I’ve landed with less wasted time.

Say boldly what needs to be said and hide nothing. You are not there to be their friend. You are there to create the most powerful coaching they have ever experienced.

This advice is the same for all you designers and developers and writers out there. If your client is doing something that’s stupid, it’s your job to tell them that.

If you’re not telling them when they have a bad idea, you’re not doing your job. Not doing your job is malpractice.

On Business Measurement

Money is the most perfect expression of your creativity. If your bank account is low, it’s a reminder that it’s time to get even more creative.

In Profit First (my review) there’s a very similar quote:

A big note here: there is a possibility that you will not have enough money in your accounts to pay bills or pay yourself what you need to make. This should be a major wake-up call. When you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, it is your business screaming at the top of its lungs, warning you that you can’t afford the bills you are incurring. Or if there isn’t enough money to pay your salary adequately, it is your business shouting out that you can’t run your business the way you have been running it; otherwise you will continually compromise yourself. – Profit First

Don’t let yourself sit on one big pool of money. Use Profit First to put constraints in and then get creative.

Stop tracking and celebrating your billings. They are out of your control. Instead, celebrate the amount of money you make in proposals. Proposals are in your control. Billings are not. Increase your proposals and your billings will follow.

A typical goal for the year is “I want to make 150k” and that’s it. The thing is, making 150k isn’t really something you can take action on. All you can do is hope it happens.

Instead, use The 12 Week Year and start focusing on something you can have some control over. To hit that 150k goal, concentrate on talking to 3 new prospects a week. Even that isn’t something you can control. Take another step back and plan to send out ten contacts a week with an invitation to talk.

Focusing on the execution of the leading metric will impact that ever-nebulous lagging metric of your income.

One last thing

Before I give you my recommendation for the book, I want to leave you with a final quote.

Safety is the enemy of success. Be proud of your mistakes. Take a risk. Fail spectacularly. And then go fail some more.

If you’re going to run a successful business, you can’t choose the safe path unless you want to be average. Average, the results everyone around you is getting.

If you want to be exceptional, then you need to take risks.

Recommendation

If you’re not a coach, then this is likely too specific for you so grab hold of some of my takeaways here and read something else like Book Yourself Solid.

If you’re interested in coaching, this is a must read book.

Get The Prosperous Coach on Amazon

photo by: kwl

How to Make Your Communication Compelling and Get Your Prospects to Take Action

We are all selling our ideas to others, all the time. In meetings, whether formal or informal, we are trying to get support for our plans and dreams, and at times, the stakes are monumentally high.

It’s on this note that The Compelling Communicator starts. If you don’t believe that, then stop reading here.

If you don’t acknowledge that we’re all always in sales, close the tab and read something else.

For those that are still with me, the reason that Tim Pollard wrote The Compelling Communicator is to give you a system to communicate well. If you adopt the principles in The Compelling Communicator, you’ll cut the cruft and craft communication that motivates people towards the actions you want them to take.

In this book, I’m going to lay out a systematic process for creating compelling communication on a consistent and scalable basis that can be applied in any communications setting.

You may look at the title and think that it’s only for speakers or people that give presentations regularly, but you’d be wrong. The basic formula Pollard provides is the one I’ve used in my proposals to win 90% or more of the ones I send.

It’s the same basic formula you use to write a good sales page.

When he talks about densely packed slide decks, it’s the same problem I see in proposals all the time. You include company history and team profiles because you’re hoping something makes the prospect interested in working with you.

Firehosing can be defined as “utterly overwhelming the audience with a gross excess of material,” and there is no more hated mistake in the world of communication.

Firehosing, as Pollard calls it, shows your prospect’s that you couldn’t do them the service of drilling down into their real problem. You’re throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

The opposite of firehosing is Pollard’s big rule of communication.

The Big Rule of Communication

Powerfully land a small number of big ideas

If there is one takeaway from Pollard, it should be this. You have a limited amount of attention from people. Don’t waste your time on all the little things that are obvious.

Only spend time trying to land the big ideas that you want to convey.

Only spend time getting your prospect to take the action you want.

The company history is wasted time in your proposal.

People buy a solution to their problem

The presentation must be anchored in your audience’s problem, so we need to open with the one thing most likely to secure both the audience’s attention and their commitment to the rest of the conversation. That thing is them, and more specifically, the problem they have that your solving.

No one will purchase from you because of your company history. They don’t care. They only care that you can bring value to their business by solving problems they’re having.

That means you need to do two things right away in any communication.

Step 1

Sell people on their problem. Dig in deep to their issues and explore them from a few different angles. Dwell in their problem and explain the pain they feel in it.

You should be able to explain the problem that you’re clients are having better than they can. If you can’t do that, then you’re not ready to send them anything.

Step 2

Once you’ve sold them on their problem, it’s time to tell them about their brighter future. What will the business they built look like after the action you want your prospect to take?

How will they achieve the goals they’ve always dreamt of?

These are the same two steps I tell everyone to start their proposals with, and Pollard instructs us to open our presentations the same way.

Once you’ve hooked them with your understanding of their problem and sold them on the brighter future, they’re ready to invest in the time to listen to you.

They do this because they understand that listening to you will benefit them. Because purchasing from you will get them that brighter future.

Their desire to solve the problem is the reason why they will take action. Remember, your audience is also self-interested; they will act because it helps them, not because it helps you.

Practice and Refine

If you aren’t prepared and don’t know your audience well, the temptation to hedge by covering all the bases is overwhelming.

I work on the first two sections of all my proposals with my prospect. Collaboration is how I practice and refine my proposals. Collaboration is how I show that I understand their problem because if it’s not right, they change my language to make it suit what they see as their problem.

Since I never agreed to turn around a proposal in less than two weeks, I have time to understand the problem my client has. I have time to practice and refine.

Which is good because my first draft usually sucks.

Whatever the presentation you’re building, there’s really no debating that first drafts tend to be pretty feeble; but because most people start too late, that’s what the majority of presenters go to bat with.

If you want to communicate with people effectively, get ready early. Edit your blog posts. Edit your proposals. Verbally give your presentations over and over.

Do this many times. Maybe by the 5th time, it has turned into something that’s worth your audience putting into practice.

No One Cares How Pretty Your Presentation Is!!

The first step in presentation design is to select the right content, and the key idea here is relevance.

My prospects get a Google Doc and a plain old invoice. I don’t have company letterhead, and my logo doesn’t show up on anything.

My proposals are basic looking and yet I win work against letterheaded companies all the time.

No one cares how pretty your PowerPoint slides are.

No one cares about your company logo.

They only care that you understand their problem and can solve it.

If you start putting more work into understanding a problem and showing you can solve it instead of the layout of your fancy looking invoice, you’ll win more work.

Recommendation

The Compelling Communicator is about much more than presentation design. As you can see above, 99% of the advice fits in perfectly with writing a good proposal. In fact, their MAST while geared towards presentations, is perfect for the initial draft of your proposal.

If you can’t describe the problem in MAST, you’re not ready to send a proposal.

The Compelling Communicator should be on the reading list for every business owner.

Get The Compelling Communicator on Amazon

photo by: pasukaru76

The Old Business Profit Equation Is Broken, Take Profit First

When you start a business, you dream of a one that lets you live the life you want to live. You joke and say it’s sitting on the beach drinking adult beverages, but that’s not what most people are striving for. Knowing that you can pay your bills, live comfortable and take the vacations you want is enough.

Why then are so many entrepreneurs so far from that ideal? Many of my clients only come to me when the dream is seeming to fall through their grasp. They’ve run a successful business, but it’s not quite what they wanted. There’s not enough money left over and they don’t know why. Worse yet, they have increased revenue and there is less money available.

Oh sure their accountant says they made a profit, but as Profit First says:

Accountants define profit differently than entrepreneurs. They point to a fictitious number at the bottom of an accounting report. Our definition of profit is simple: cash in the bank. Cold. Hard, Cash. For us.

I’ve been there. The accountant says I’ve made a decent 5 figure profit but it’s felt like the hardest year on record. When I ask where the money is I’m told I spent it…somewhere.

That’s not the business I want to run and that’s where Profit First comes in. Instead of sticking with the GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) which only make sense to accountants, it teaches us how to deal with money in a way that makes sense emotionally to the rest of us.

Relying on traditional accounting methods to grow profitability is the equivalent of telling you to jump off a cliff and flap the living crap out of your arms.

In fact, I was talking to an accountant friend on the weekend. He knows the GAAP’s and yet, as we talked what made sense to him was the methods in Profit First.

Profit First by Mike Michalowicz, flips the regular equation for profit on its head. No more Sales – Expenses = Profit because that leaves so many businesses with no profit. They’re barely keeping their head above water.

Oh, they may mask it through a tough time by putting in lots of extra hours. Sure their social media profiles look amazing. But they’re failing and don’t know how to get out of it.

Money is the foundation. Without enough money, we cannot take our message, our products, or our unique services to the world. Without enough money, we are slaves to the business we launched.

If you’re not going to stick with the old broken formula, what do you do with your money?

The Profit First Method

To start Michalowicz gets us to set up his ‘5 Foundational Accounts’ which are.

  1. Income
  2. Profit
  3. Owner’s Comp
  4. Tax
  5. OPEX (operating expenses)

All your money goes into the income account. Every time you get paid you deposit the money and leave it there. It’s not for you to spend, yet.

On the 10th and 25th of the month, it’s time to tap into the income account and the first thing you do is…pull out your profit.

Then you divide up your income into the other accounts by percentages, we’ll get into how to decide on those in a minute. If you look at your expenses and don’t have the money to pay everything Michalowicz has one thing to say to you:

and if there isn’t enough money left for expenses? This does not mean you need to pull money from the other accounts. What it _does_mean is that your business is telling you that you that you can’t afford those expenses and need to get rid of them.

You don’t pull the money out of other accounts because:

A big note here: there is a possibility that you will not have enough money in your accounts to pay bills or pay yourself what you need to make. This should be a major wake-up call. When you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, it is your business screaming at the top of its lungs, warning you that you can’t afford the bills you are incurring. Or if there isn’t enough money to pay your salary adequately, it is your business shouting out that you can’t run your business the way you have been running it; otherwise, you will continually compromise yourself.

That’s a hard thing to think about, isn’t it? You’re used to your Starbucks daily or getting a new computer yearly. The truth is, that the only way you’ve afforded those things is by stealing from your salary and your profit.

What then do you do when there isn’t enough money for the things you had wanted to purchase?

When less money is available to run your business, you will find ways to get the same or better results with less. By taking your profit first, you will be forced to think smarter and innovate more.

Yup, you get creative. You make that laptop stretch a bit longer. You drop your editor and start using an online service that delivers 80% of the value for 20% of the cost. Most of us were creative with our finances at the beginning. because there was no income to speak of in our fledgeling business. It’s only moderate success that caused us to increase what we thought we deserved to an unsustainable level.

If you’ve opened the foundation accounts and understand that you need to allocate your money by percentages, you still need to figure out what those percentages are, and we start that by figuring out where our business is at.

Figure out where you’re at and set your Profit First percentages

Denial is a wonderful thing; it lets you ignore reality until reality punches you in the face.

Have you avoided looking at your finances? Avoided talking about them with your spouse?

I know I have and not some time in the far past, but in the last 3 months. I was trying to deny the reality that business felt tight. Then tax season came and I looked at my revenue, it was a punch in the face.

While having what felt like a tight year, it was the highest revenue year to date by more than $15k.

The instant assessment takes about 20 minutes, a bit longer if you need to dig around and find last year’s taxes. It has you find:

  1. Top Line Revenue
  2. Materials (like if you’re retail and need to buy all your supplies)
  3. Real Revenue (Top Line – Materials)
  4. Profit (the real $ you have in the bank or have given to owners but not salary. This is not what an accountant says you should have)
  5. Owner’s Comp (what you paid yourself and any other owners)
  6. What tax did the company pay for you
  7. Expenses (your total expenses for the year in question)

If that didn’t quite make sense, you can download an explanation and the spreadsheet I’m talking about, for free.

With that information, you figure out what your real percentages for each of your foundational accounts. Then Michalowicz gives you what the percentages should be at in a healthy business. Then it finishes by helping you decide if you need to increase or decrease your percentages.

Some of you will not like the numbers you see at all. I was higher on expenses than I had hoped but also had just given up my office and one of the regular contractors I used. That cut almost all the expenses I’d need to if I wanted to hit the ideal percentages in Profit First.

You’ll see in the PDF above the percentages Michalowicz thinks you should have given your income. For many web professionals, the expense number can go lower, maybe to 25% since many of us work from home and aren’t paying for our lights. Other than that the numbers line up well with what my business has done most years till I got an office.

Once you have your percentages and where you want to start working the plan.

Stick to the plan

The path to financial freedom is paved with simple, small habit changes that become systematised and apply to both your business and personal finances.

Looking at my first quarter running on Profit First, it seemed crazy to see my expense amount building so fast. I mean, a few thousand a month in expenses felt crazy, but only because I never thought about it before.

If I purchase a new laptop every few years and pay my bookkeeper and then my yearly software renewals come up, the extra that sits for months looks like it will cover what my real expenses are.

It’s easy when you get started to see the numbers and think they’re crazy, but leave them for at least a quarter. Work the plan.

A great quarter can trick you into believing your business is on a permanent upswing and you start spending like this is the new normal. But drought periods come quickly and unexpectedly, causing a major gap in cash flow and cutting back on expenses is nearly impossible because or business (and personal) lifestyle is locked in at our new level.

As you realize that you’ve got too much in your expense field, drop it by 1% – 2% and allocate that to the other fields as needed. Not pay to start. Maybe even add another account where you’re collecting to pay off debts (we’ll talk about the Profit First thoughts on business debt shortly).

By working the plan you can help stop the feast/famine pay cycle common to so many small business owners. You won’t be overpaying yourself in good quarters only to not pay yourself in lean quarters. You’ll let the pay build up and even everything out.

Here’s the deal, my friend: Profit is not an event. Profit is not something that happens at year-end or at the end of your five-year plan or someday. Profit isn’t even something that waits until tomorrow. Profit must happen now and always. Profit must be baked into your business. Every day, every transaction, every moment. Profit is not an event. Profit is a habit.

Ugh Debt

For years now we’ve been a debt-free house. I’ve been running a debt-free business even, well except when I made Mistake #6 and raided the tax account. That left me with money owed to the government, which sucks.

Profit First, sits where Dave Ramsey took our family a few years ago. Cut up the credit cards and stop all automatic payments. Let them default and then only start up the ones you can’t live without.

Even better than getting a new Credit Card, get a Visa Debit and don’t allow overdraft. Then if you don’t have the money to pay for it, you can’t.

Well-dressed poverty is still poverty. Just because your business is making lots of money doesn’t mean you’re hanging on to it.

When Michalowicz looks at debt, he makes is first modification to the standard Profit First system. With your debt take 99% of your quarterly profit allotment and put it towards the debt. Use that 1% to party because you deserve the reward.

Once your debt is gone, you can go back to using the 50% of the profit account as your owner’s reward quarterly.

The new definition of success is not about the most revenue, employees, and office space but the most profit, generated through the fewest employees and with the least expensive office space.

Increasing your Profitability

With the system in place, it’s time to increase your profitability. There are two main points Michalowicz gets across when in comes to increasing your profitability.

First:

To grow the biggest and the fastest, you need to be the best at something, you need to first determine what you are best at and do it a whole lot better. To get there, you take profits first and the answers to being the best at something will reveal themselves.

This goes back to so much of what every business owner hears. Don’t be a generalist, be an in-demand specialist. When you are a specialist, you say no to lots of prospects in favour of the few that allow you to provide the most value, and earn the most money.

Second:

How do you get two times the results with half the effort?

The second point is about systems and efficiency. For a developer, it’s sticking with one framework. Reusing as much as you can while still delivering a quality product to your customers.

Efficiency increases your profit margins or the amount of money you earn as profit on each product or service you offer. Increased profit margins will boost your company’s profit without the need for increased sales.

By sticking to your niche, you can get more efficient and increase your profitability.

Some modifications to Profit First

If I see money to spend, I can spend it. Michalowicz knows that many business owners are like this but he has a plan. Move your Profit and Tax accounts somewhere that is hard to get at.

Put them at a different bank and get them to turn off all the convenience features like online banking or phone banking. You want it so that you have to go in and physically visit and sign something to get at the money.

When it’s hard to touch it, you won’t.

In our business, this means that my wife (a partner in the business) opened an account for the profit and taxes. On the 10th and 25th, I send money to those accounts. I can’t see them and she is a nerd and won’t touch them.

Quarterly we sit down and deal with the accounts sending the money where we need to.

Michalowicz has other modifications to the basic system, like an account for new capital purchases. It’s easy to want to jump right into those advanced techniques but that would be falling into Mistake #2, taking on too much too soon.

Stick with the basics for a few quarters and then you can start getting advanced.

The biggest mistakes people make with Profit First

Michalowicz finishes his excellent book with the biggest mistakes he sees when trying to implement Profit First.

Mistake #1: Go it alone

Don’t go it alone, you will fall back into your former habits and it won’t end well with your finances.

Get a mentor or a mastermind group and have them keep you accountable. Show up with your finances and show the numbers to them.

Being transparent, even when it’s hard is what will help you stick to the plan.

Mistake #2: Too much too soon

You may want to make 30% profit, but it’s not going to happen out of the gate. You may want to jump to the advanced techniques, but that’s a recipe for failure.

Instead, stick with the basics. Even 1% profit to start is likely more than you’ve had in the past.

Adjust your percentages every quarter and stick to the plan.

Mistake #3 Grow First (and Profit Later)

The healthiest companies figure out how to consistently be profitable first and then they do everything they can to grow it.

This is a rampant thought today and yet we see that Twitter is still not profitable. Blue Apron may never be profitable.

You can’t afford this. Find a profitable idea and then grow it.

Mistake #4: Cutting the wrong costs

It’s easy to get used to a new lifestyle and never want to give it up. You love the fancy car you own, so you hang on to it payments and all while things flounder.

I hung on to my remote office while I enjoyed it less and couldn’t afford it.

Get comfortable with cutting back on lifestyle.

Mistake #5: ‘Plowing Back’ & ‘Reinvesting’

When you don’t have enough money in your OPEX (operating expense) account to cover expenses, it is a big red flag that your expenses are too high and you need to find a way to fix them fast.

Your profit is for you, not to stick back in your business. If you want a profit, take it first and keep it as profit.

The key is this: the profit distribution can never go back to the company. You can’t use fancy terms like reinvest, plowback, or profit retention. No term you use will cover up the fact that you are stealing from Peter to pay Paul.

Mistake 6: Raiding the tax account

I’ve done this, and it’s never a good idea. It’s helped me not cut expenses I should have.

Don’t spend your extra tax savings at the end of a quarter or a year either. Once you have your assessment, then you have some more profit.

Not before!

Mistake #7: Adding Complexity

Stick to the simple plan. Forget about fancy accounting terms like depreciation. It doesn’t matter as you manage your day to day cash flow.

Keep It Simple Stupid, cash is cash and deal in cash.

Mistake #8: Skipping the bank accounts

Don’t have one big ‘holding’ account and then write down what goes where. That will only muddle the numbers when you do your quick bank check as you log in.

Muddled numbers will mean you don’t deal with your money well.

Recommendation

Should you get Profit First…YES! I rarely rate a book as a 5-star book, but this is one of them. One of the big problems that business owners face is that they are terrible at dealing with their finances.

Profit First is an easy read with a simple plan that anyone can follow. By following it, you’ll start on the path to building the business you dreamed you’d be building. Only it won’t be a pipe dream anymore. It may take time to get everything where you want, but it will happen if you keep working the plan.

Get Profit First on Amazon

photo by: clement127

How The Story Of A Pencil Will Make You Think Hard About Your Place

What does a pencil mean to you? Maybe you don’t use a pencil, so let’s make it a pen or your preferred writing instrument.

As I look around my desk I see 2 pens, and a few pencils plus a permanent marker. If I empty my pockets I find another pen and if I look at my daily backpack add a few more pens, pencils, and permanent markers.

For the most part writing instruments aren’t things I hugely value. Even the $50 pen’s I’ve purchased for their look and feel, really don’t hold much value to me. I’d be disappointed if they got lost, but my life wouldn’t change in any meaningful way.

It’s not that way for everyone, and The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun, walks us through the change that the simple request of a pencil, by a child in a far-flung country, brought about.

That pencil request started Pencil’s of Promise which educates children all over the world. It brings something we take for granted and deliver’s it to those that had only dreamed that one day they’d get a chance to be educated.

Education is a complex issue, which requires a complex set of solutions. There is no silver-bullet answer to educating the children of the world, but the global education crisis remains the single most solvable and important human rights issue of our time.

The Promise of a Pencil follows the inception and growth of PoP (that’s what they call it). From a scribbled idea on a notebook and a $25 deposit in the bank to make it a reality. To hundreds of schools and millions raised for kids.

Throughout the story, we get to see a young man fighting confirmation bias.

Rather than assuming everything I had been taught was true, I reversed my approach to challenge all of my existing assumptions and only decided to adopt that which I could believe on my own.

Many of us spend our entire lives in the same bubble — we surround ourselves with people who share our opinions, speak the way we speak and look the way we look.

We see a young man dealing with new eyes as he looks at lavish spending after hearing that a single pencil was the dream of a child.

I could feel myself judging those around me, which wasn’t fair because they hadn’t seen what I’d seen, nor had I lived a day in their shoes.

We get some very deep insights that should make us sit back and think long and hard about how we act when we see injustice happening around us.

In any confrontation, most people focus on the perpetrator and the victim. There is an inherent expectation that had one of these two acted differently, the outcomes of a conflict may have been averted. But the greatest opportunity actually exists within the role of the bystander, the person who neither benefits nor gains from the event itself. When a bystander steps up on behalf of a potential victim, just as the Tuk-tuk driver did for me that day on the streets of Kathmandu, he or she becomes the very definition of a hero. We are more often bystanders to conflict than we are victims or perpetrators, and with that comes the recognition that we have a moral obligation to defend others, even when the crosshairs of injustice aren’t pointed at us personally.

We even get to see a man struggling with things that are hard to do. They’re vitally important but hard and thus easy to avoid.

I’d given up most of my social life and sleep to PoP – but I realised I’d been pouring the lion’s share of my energy into the wrong things. The tasks I ignored were the ones I feared. How many times do you have thirty things to do and you focus on the twenty-five that matter least? How many times do you check your email and deal with what’s easy, but not necessarily what’s important? These small wins are easy to achieve, but they won’t move the needle. In the end, the big wins, the most daunting tasks, are the ones that matter.

Pencil’s of Promise isn’t a great tome that will educate you on how to transform yourself along all the lines I’ve listed above, but it will inspire you.

It will inspire you to go try something you thought was hard. It will inspire you to find purpose in the work you do, instead of following the mindless path set before so many of us.

If you’re in need of some inspiration and solid self-reflection, you should purchase The Promise of a Pencil.

Get The Promise of a Pencil on Amazon

photo by: jys07

Business change, make sure you have a plan to pivot effectively

Most of us have heard that people won’t be working one job for their whole life. In fact if you’ve been doing the same thing for more than 2 – 5 years employers are starting to wonder what’s wrong with you.

Where a 180 in a career focus was once seen as a black mark against you, now it’s expected to read a resume that includes programming, copy writing, coaching, and maybe even driving for Uber.

And yet there are still some hold outs for the old status quo.

Calling such career aspirations a crisis, shaming and blaming people for wanting to prioritize meaningful work in a volatile economy by saying they are “entitle” or “too picky,” means we are missing a huge opportunity to celebrate and support those who seek to make a greater contribution to their workplaces, society, and the lives of everyone around them.

Navigating this subtle pull back to the old normal versus finding what is the best thing for us to focus on is what author Jenny Blake hopes her book Pivot will do.

In this book I will share a framework to help you manage this process with focus, fulfillment, and — dare I say — fun.

She writes the books with a few assumptions that you should note as you read.

Job security has become an antiquated idea, a luxury mot people today do not enjoy, whether they are aware of it or not.

and…

I define career pivot as doubling down on what is working to make a purposeful shift in a new, related direction.

Once you have accepted those 2 assumptions you can move on to Blake’s 4 main stages in a career pivot.

  1. Plant – figure out where you are
  2. Scan – see what is around you that’s interesting
  3. Pilot – try out small things to see how they work
  4. Launch – go with the stuff that worked and you liked

Note I say 4 main stages. That’s because she presents it as 4 stages at the beginning and then sneaks in a stage 5 at the end.

We’ll get to exactly what stage five is later. For now let’s make sure we understand what the 4 main stages are in a career pivot according to Blake.

Pivot Stage One: Plant

The primary goal of the Plant stage is grounding. Rather than aimlessly searching “out there” or building from scratch, the most successful pivots start from a strong foundation of your core values, a clear understanding of your strengths and interests, and a compelling vision of the future.

To start any career transition, you need to have an idea of where you’re going. Not only does Blake give us some questions to ask ourselves as we try to figure out where we should be going, she gives us some solid warnings.

One common mistake I see among people tackling a big decision is jumping straight into the how. This is a surefire way to send yourself into panic mode.

In the first stage you’re not supposed to focus on how you’ll achieve these dreams you have, just write them down and dream them. Don’t get caught up in execution yet. She’ll cover execution in a later stage.

You have enormous creative brainpower, so feed the outcome you seek, not the one you fear.

This is similar to the Cherokee proverb. You have two wolves fighting inside you. One is all about anger, envy, and arrogance. The other is on the side of joy, love, and hope. The Cherokee teacher tells his student to feed the wolf that he wants to win.

There is enough in the world that is trying to tear us down. Don’t feed it for yourself. Feed the parts of yourself that you want to see more of.

Pivot Stage Two: Scan

The scan stage requires that you look at both — new opportunities anchored in your existing strengths and ways you might expand beyond your comfort zone, revealing blind spots or hidden pockets of potential.

According to Blake (and I agree here with the premise) a successful pivot almost never comes out of left field. You won’t stop your training for sumo wrestling because you have a passion to become a professional ballet dancer. Maybe a strongman (woman), but not a ballet dancer.

The mistake that most people make here is that they do their scanning all on their own. They don’t network or find mentors. They sit comfortably in their home behind the computer screen and look around trying to figure it out.

If you follow Blake’s advice while you’re trying to figure out your path, you’ll get involved with people. People who can help you figure out what aligns with the purpose you defined in Stage 1.

Stage Three: Pilot

For our purposes, the primary goal of the Pilot phase is ignition and validation: Generating ideas, testing those ideas, then taking small, smart risks to eventually inform bigger decisions about what’s next.

How easy is it to say that you’ve got a new purpose and even a bit of a plan to achieve it and then do nothing. The reason we do that is because it’s easy to have an idea, and hard to execute.

Stage Three is the strongest of all the book. It presents us with many ways to try out small parts of our idea without simply jumping out of the work we’re doing hoping that something will catch us.

It also prepares us for starts, and stops and false starts and failures.

Prepare to be wrong during the Pilot process. At times it make feel like you have taken two steps forward, immediately followed by two steps back.

You’ve likely heard Thomas Edison’s thoughts on failure.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas Edison

This is a hard concept to embody for most. Many institutions bring us up to believe that failing is terrible. Remember when you brought home a ‘poor’ report card. No one was happy you found ways that didn’t work they were angry you failed. If you want to get through the Pilot stage, you need to cast off that baggage and be willing to try out things that won’t work.

Another great reminder from Blake in the Pilot Stage is that you need to play to your strengths.

Choosing an experiment that is not anchored in your strengths, past experiences, or desired future state is likely to send you on a wild-goose chase.

Because Seth Godin blogs short and pithy every day doesn’t mean you should be doing that. Sure try it out, but if it doesn’t work for your audience stop it. More importantly, if you feel like a fraud while executing some sure fire way to gain traction, every one can tell that your heart isn’t in it. It’s not working for you because you don’t believe it can.

Stage Four: Launch

Whether moving teams within a company, changing companies, starting a business, or shifting or shuttering one, launches involve a healthy dose of faith, smart risks, and adrenaline.

Stage Four is where you take the Pilot’s that worked, and start building on them. Her biggest push in this section is the Pivot Hexagon, which falls flat and we’ll talk about why when I discuss my problems with the book.

She does acknowledge fear and risks here. Far to many self help authors make it seem like their ideas are sure fire ways to become the best self you always wanted to be. While we may see the flaw in that intellectually, it’s still easy to fall in to the trap while we’re invested in reading their latest solve everything book.

One of the last reminders Blake gives us is about authenticity.

You can either go emotionally broke running around trying to please everyone, or you can spend your time creating, being authentic to your own needs and desires, then serving others from that full place.

I appreciate this at the end because she’s telling us that maybe we don’t need to follow everything she says. Maybe we need to see what works for us as we go forward, just like putting her ideas through the Pilot stage and sticking with what is good.

Stage Five: Lead

Stage Five is her sneaky extra stage. If you’re in love with her Pivot stages and see it’s value but manage people you can’t help but wonder how to let people pivot but stay in the company. I mean they’re good people so you want to keep them.

When people express how they would like to grow within your organization, do you provide support, guidance, and internal programs to encourage those goals? Or do you and your managers turn a deaf ear?

While there are some decent suggestions here, it’s still a fairly weak section. I don’t believe that you could really lead people in a pivot simply by reading her book and then implementing Stage Five. At the end I’ll recommend a much better book if you want to start coaching your employees.

Some problems with Pivot by Jenny Blake

Now that we understand Blake’s Pivot framework, I should tell you that I think the premise of the book is great, but it’s execution is poor to middling. That probably came across in the examination of the book above but lets look at some specific examples where I see that the book falls down.

She starts out by defining a pivot as:

A pivot is a change you make of your own volition when you have reached a point in your career when you are ready for increased challenge and impact.

This is contrasted with the end of the book where she tells us about her own pivot. In short she was in her ‘pivot year’ and things got desperate.

My money had run out. In order to stay in New York City, I had wiped out the last of my savings to get the apartment in which I was asking these questions. My rent doubled overnight, but my business income did not.

She follows that up by telling us how she was on the phone about to empty her 401(k) in her worst case scenario of becoming a business owner in her pivot.

She finishes up by saying that she ‘finally’ started following the systems defined in the book and that’s what dug her out of the hole she built for herself.

It seems to me that instead of following the systems here she actually started working. She started focusing on execution instead of hoping the benevolent god of the business owner would smile on her. She didn’t choose to finally make things work so much as she was forced to do the work she should have done in the first place.

I balk at her claim that the systems in her book are really what helped her, and by extension will help you, because I don’t think that much of it holds up to scrutiny.

The prime example of this is her Pivot Hexagon. Just before introducing the hexagon to us, she describes what the Project Management Triangle is. One can only assume that she brings up the well known Project Management Triangle because she wants to put her hexagon on the same footing but it doesn’t stand even close.

Her 6 items on the points of the hexagon are:

  1. Security
  2. Freedom
  3. Money
  4. Time Flexibility
  5. Structure
  6. Adventure

Now look at these. Security in Blake’s words is about minimizing security and risk. Freedom is about financial freedom and the ability to choose your own work. After that she says other nice things to define 3 – 6 but they amount to repeats of her first two points.

Money is about a steady cashflow, which is #1 Security.

Time Flexibility is about the flexibility to choose how to spend your day, or #2 Freedom.

Structure is about routine, predictability. That duplicates #3 Time Freedom since you can build in as much or little of that as you need if you can dictate your schedule and since we know Time Freedom goes back to #2 Freedom…we’ve double repeated ourselves.

Adventure is about excitement, travel, creativity…which you get if you have #1 Security and #2 Freedom. You can build in as much adventure as you want.

After repeating herself 4 times, but getting slightly more specific so she has a hexagon she argues that the hexagon she just presented isn’t even the one you might use. Remember this hexagon was originally brought up after the Project Management Triangle to help us think that her hexagon is as immutable as the triangle. But she doesn’t believe that:

If any of the hexagon values I listed to not resonate, swap them out for your most important decision criteria.

This is the perfect example of the ‘hippy dippy’ feelings through out the book. It’s as if she thinks there is a benevolent business god and if you’re just earnest enough you’ll make it through. It made me think of Linus and The Great Pumpkin who was also an invented mythical figure that visited you if you were earnest enough.

I actually don’t have a problem with the idea that we need to define our most important decision criteria and then filter our ideas through those criteria to see which idea fits best with where we want to be. I disagree strongly with her subtle push that the Pivot Hexagon and the Project Management Triangle are on equal footing.

One doesn’t change, one is a bunch of feelings you have and changes as you see fit.

I found throughout the book ideas were presented like this. Facts, but not. Rules, but if you want something different then go for it. It’s as if Blake was told to write a ‘serious’ book of rules by a publisher but her natural writing doesn’t lend itself to that type of book.

A second example of Blake’s seeming disbelief in her own book is that she spends almost a 20% of it telling us why we should believe in it. It’s as if she’s trying to convince herself that the book is a good book to write but she had to read the beginning each time and build more arguments up for why you too should believe.

Solid books where the author stands fully behind their premise write the reason for the book once, maybe twice and then start telling us about their main points. If you need to spend more than 5% maybe 10% of the book convincing us that we should buy in to your idea, you don’t believe it either. At least you don’t believe it stands on it’s own. It clearly needs 10 layers of scaffolding and a 24 hour maintenance crew to keep it standing.

Recommendation

No I don’t recommend you read this book. If you’re looking for a great resource to work on Stage 1: Plant, look to Jeff Goins great book The Art of Work (my review) or Start with WHY. They both do a much better job at helping you find a purpose.

If you’re looking for help through Stage 2: Scan, check out The Big Leap (my review) and The Art of Work. The Big Leap, in particular, will help stop you from getting stuck on things you’re simply good at. There is another stage above good.

Stage 3: Scan, is served much better if you read So Good They Can’t Ignore You (my review) and Mastery (my review).

You’ll be much more likely to complete Stage 4 if you read The 12 Week Year (my review) because it’s all about execution.

If you’re a manager and you want to bring some of these ideas to your team then read The Coaching Habit (my review). It’s going to do a much better job at showing you how to coach your team and keep them on track with their overall goals.

Yup I think your time will be better served reading 6 different books instead of Pivot. At least if you want to successfully pivot. If you want to read about some implied mythical benevolent business god, read Pivot.

Get Pivot on Amazon

photo by: clement127

What if there was a way to 4X your results this year?

Most people say they want to be more productive. I get it, you want to get more done. The problem is that you don’t want to get some random ‘more’ done. What you really want is to get more of the right stuff done.

For that reason I don’t say I want to get more productive, I say I want to get more effective.

About 4 years ago I started to make a proper plan for my business got more effective. That simple act of being a bit more intentional meant that I more than doubled my revenue and had a 6 figure business.

Sitting four years later, I still have that 6 Figure business, but it hasn’t grown that much. It’s time to move past having any plan and in to having highly effective plan.

This effective plan is where The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington comes in.

In this book we will show you how to increase your current results by four times or more, in a very short period of time. You will learn exactly what it takes to perform at your best every day. We will unwrap the secrets of top performers in a way that allows you to align your thinking and your actions to produce staggering results.

The one key that you need to get this four times increase in your results is execution. Not run of the mill average execution, but intentional planned out daily execution. Steps planned out and taken regularly towards your goals.

You can be smart and have access to lots of information and great ideas; you can be well connected, work hard, and have lots of natural talent, but in the end you have to execute. Execution is the single greatest market differentiator. Great companies and successful individuals execute better than their competition. The barrier standing between you and the life you are capable of living is lack of consistent execution.

The 12 Week year is going to teach you how to execute on your dreams. It’s going to help you get the goals you have on paper and then build a plan to systematically accomplish them.

Moran and Lennington break the book up in to two main sections. Part one gives us an overview of what The 12 Week Year process looks like. Part two gives us the tools we need to put The 12 Week Year plan in to practice in our life and work.

Part 1

The first curve ball that Moran and Lennington throw at us is that building annual goals is a flawed process. Are goals important, yes. Setting them for a standard 12 month year is not what’s going to get us the results we want. They call this annualized thinking.

Another flawed premise with annualized thinking is the notion that, sometime later in the year, we will experience a significant improvement in results. It’s as if something magical will happen in late September or October that will result in a substantial increase. If we can’t produce a substantial increase this week, why do we think we can do it for the entire year?

We’ve all heard, and likely been a statistic, that gyms have the highest attendance from January to maybe the middle of February. After that the willpower needed to get up early to hit the gym is exhausted. We stop going and fall back in to the old patterns.

Or maybe you’ve been the business owner who sets out an ambitious income goal for the year. You work hard for a few months at the beginning of the year and are doing well. Then things get a bit over busy and you kind let things go on auto-pilot. You look up in October and realize you’re off track for your goals and with a few months of effort manage to hit them.

Imagine what could have happened if you had put in a full 12 months of focused effort.

Now Moran and Lennington would contend that many people don’t fall in to this second scenario. As quoted above, if you’re not producing results now what’s going to change later in the year to make some exponential change in your work?

Often nothing, and yes I’ve been there.

The thing with using their 12 Week Year plan is that it’s all action. If your goal is more sales, you write down that you want to make 3 new contacts a week and at the end of the week you’ve either done it or not. If you’re staying on track then you’ve talked to 36 new people in a 12 week cycle and some of them will have turned in to sales.

Without a compelling reason to choose otherwise, most people will take comfortable actions over uncomfortable ones. The issue is that the important actions are often the uncomfortable ones.

When you realize in the second week of 12 that you’re not getting the three people you look at ways to talk about what you do more. You find networking events and show up to talk about what you do. Because the action is clearly defined and measurable, you’re either doing it or not. You can’t fool yourself on auto-pilot.

It’s these clear consistent actions that will get you to the goals you want.

Your current actions are creating your future. If you want to know what your future holds, look to your actions; they are the best predictor of your life.

Moran and Lennington tell us that time control is crucial to achieving what we want. Showing up and giving work ‘butt in chair’ time isn’t enough. They define 3 types of time blocks that each of us need in our ideal week if we want to succeed.

1. Strategic Blocks

This is a three hour block with no interruptions. No email. No calls. No text messages. In fact, take your phone and put it in another room or power it off.

Inside this block you work on the business. It’s not time to catch up on the client work you’re behind on. It’s time to plot the growth of your business. Do you have the assets you need? What is constraining your growth currently and how are you going to remove that constraint?

Strategic blocks concentrate your intellect and creativity to produce breakthrough results.

The authors say that you only need one of these blocks in a week because you’re going to keep it focused on the task at hand.

2. Buffer Blocks

Life rarely goes as planned. You wake up to an extra 50 emails that need to get dealt with. Something goes wrong with a client and instead of getting the tasks on your list done, you have to deal with a problem you didn’t anticipate.

That’s what the second time block is for.

Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities — like most email and voicemail — that arise throughout a typical day.

This has a dual use. First, it gives us time that’s planned for things we can’t plan for. Second, it puts a time constraint on the buffer. Given no time limit, we’ll look up after a few hours and realize that we did little of worth but answer emails.

You should schedule some buffer in to each day because there is almost always something that you didn’t plan for and still have to deal with.

3. Breakout Blocks

The third block of time we need in our week is the breakout block.

An effective breakout block is at least three-hours long and spent on things other than work. It is time scheduled away from your business during normal business hours that you will use to refresh and reinvigorate your mind, so that when you return to work, you can engage with more focus and energy.

This might be a bike ride or a hike or hanging out with the kids. I know you wonder how you’ll get everything done if you put a block like this in the week. You’re already maxed out. If you’re being effective and getting in some real deep work with the rest of your time then you have lots of time to have a break out block.

The goal is to exit this block feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the things you need to focus on.

Now with a firm understanding of how The 12 Week Year will work, Moran and Lennington move on to Part II, giving us the tools we need to implement a 12 Week Year.

Part II: Putting it all together

According to the authors there are eight fundamental elements to high performance. They break these items up in to 3 Principles and 5 Disciplines.

3 Principles

Accountability: This is the character to own your actions even when it sucks. It’s realizing that if you didn’t talk to 3 new people this week, that’s your fault and you need to build a plan to make it happen next week.

Commitment: Commitment is sticking to that personal promise you make to yourself. Not letting yourself off the hook even when no one else will know you gave yourself some slack.

Greatness in the moment: Greatness in the Moment is running that extra mile, making that extra sale email. It’s the little extra that champions give when everyone else figures they’ve done enough.

You become great long before the results show it. It happens in an instant, the moment you choose to do the things you need to do to be great, and each moment that you continue to choose to do those things.

5 Disciplines

Vision: This is your WHY or Life Task or Purpose depending on which author you’re reading. It’s the vision that is so compelling you do the hard work that needs to get done.

Planning: Planning is the clarity and focus you get by defining the actions that will get you to your goal.

Process Control: Process Control is all about the tools and actions you put in your day to make sure that you’re spending your time on those items that will bring in the revenue you want, or accomplish the goals you set out.

Measurement: This is having the leading and lagging indicators you need to track to be a successful business owner.

Time use: Effective time use is about taking control of your time so that you use it on the right tasks instead of letting it spin out of your control like most people do.

With these 8 criteria defined we can dive in to the 5 main criteria needed for an effective 12 week plan.

5 Criteria for a 12 week plan

1. Specific and measurable

For each goal be sure to quantify and qualify what success looks like.

If you don’t define success up front, then it’s always easy to get to the end and say that were ever you happen to be is the goal you always intended. For an upcoming ultramarathon I could say that finishing is my goal, but my goal is to finish the 50km run in under 8 hours.

Don’t set a goal without saying what success looks like.

2. State them positively

Second, state your goals positively. If you’re trying to reduce mistakes you don’t say “Only have a 2% error rate” you say “Aim for 98% effectiveness”.

3. Make sure they are realistic

With my ultramarathon I could say my goal is to win it, but I’ve never been built like a lean runner. I’ve always been built like a weight lifter or rock climber. With 8 months training under my belt it would be more than a stretch goal, it would be unrealistic. Now I do have one training run planned that’s about the same distance and elevation profile which is also planned to evaluate my goal. If I can complete the 45km in under 8 hours then I need to adjust my goal to still be a stretch.

Your goals should be something you can accomplish if you put in the hard work needed.

4. Assign accountability

If you’re on a team then you need to know who is responsible for each aspect of a project. Leaving it up in the air ensures that everyone will feel it was someone else’s responsibility.

5. Be Time-bound

Deadlines keep things moving. In fact, I don’t care about an ultramarathon. I do want to move faster in the mountains and a deadline of racing an ultramarathon means I have a deadline. Having a time goal means I need to be specific with my training.

Deadlines keep things moving.

I’ll end this look at The 12 Week Year with 2 great quotes from the book.

Remember you have greater control over your actions than you do your outcomes. Your outcomes are driven by your actions.

We have all heard stories of people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions and blame others for their failures. It’s their parents fault, their boss’s fault, the fault of the conservatives or liberals, the cigarette companies, the fast-food industry – the system is out to get them. Whah, whah, whah! Someone or something else is always the cause of their failure. Our culture supports this victim mentality more and more. In fact, our legal system even promotes it. We now reward people for not taking responsibility for their choices and finding someone or something other than themselves to blame.

If you want to have the business you dreamed of you need to take these quotes to heart. You need to build an action based plan. You need to take responsibility for what’s happening in your life.

If business is slow, then you need to be honest with yourself about the number of failed projects you’ve had in the last 12 months. You need to put a better plan in to action.

No more “Whah, whah what…” for you.

Recommendation

The best recommendation I can give this book is that I’ve adopted The 12 Week Year planning process in my work. I’ve adopted it as part of my coaching.

And it’s working.

Get The 12 Week Year on Amazon.

photo by: pasukaru76