Why You Should Focus on Process, Not Results

I've spent the last several days thinking deeply about what I want to accomplish in 2011 and beyond. I've always been a planner by nature. However, events over the past several years have made me question the point of planning. So far, most of my plans rarely seem to come to fruition for reasons outside my control. This year, I'm going to try to change the nature of my planning to account for the fact that there are numerous factors that I have zero control over in my life. I want my goals and plans to reflect what I can impact with my own actions and effort. To that effect, I am focusing on process in 2011.

FIRST COMES PROCESS, THEN COMES RESULTS

Obviously, this website plays a very large role of my life. I spend hours upon hours working on it every week and I am trying to grow it into a self sufficient business. It's important that I have logical goals to work toward. However, the metrics that many blogs use for success are not things I can have complete control over. For example, I really don't have any control over whether or not you subscribe to my blog. I can't control your actions. I can, and should, obviously write compelling content that will make you want to subscribe and I should provide an easy way for you to do so. But the bottom line is that decision is purely yours.

Another common metric for blog success is page views. Again, that is not something I control. I can improve my SEO so my pages rank better in search engines, I can submit articles to news sites like Digg or Reddit, but again, whether or not somebody clicks on a link to my site is not something I can control.

Instead, I'm going to focus on goals that hinge completely on my own effort this year.

  1. Writing first thing in the morning: I need to write if I want to become a better writer. The better writer I am, the better this site will be. Very simply, I need to write more. Therefore, I want one of the first activities I partake in upon waking to be writing. I don't necessarily need to jump directly into an article for the website, I just need to write something. It can be my daily "morning pages", a poem, an article, a letter-- anything.
  2. Letting every piece of writing sit for at least 24 hours before publication: I don't edit my writing stringently enough. For most of what you see on this website, I write a draft, look it over and make some minor changes, and then hit publish. That works for some people but I'm becoming more and more aware of the fact that writing requires good editing just as much as a solid first draft. I need to let my writing sit, to marinate for awhile, before I allow you to see it. I think this will make my writing tighter, clearer, simpler, and more powerful.
  3. Planning at night: Each night I want to spend a few minutes planning for the upcoming day. When I have a clear plan with three "Most Important Things" to do I am much, much more productive. Investing the time on the front end to figure out what my discrete next actions for each project are allows me to get a lot more work done. Developing this habit is just a matter of discipline.

Each of these three goals are completely dictated by my own choices and action. They are process-focused and not result-focused. I obviously want more subscribers, more readers, more exposure and every other goal that bloggers want. Writing in the morning, editing my writing more ruthlessly, and planning each night will make those other goals happen. By improving the process I improve the result.

This concept of process-centered goals can be applied to other aspects of my life. Health, personal development, and relationships can all benefit from focusing on the habits and routines, the processes, instead of goals.

What processes can you improve on in 2011? Does it make more sense to focus on process, which you control 100%, instead of external metrics of success?

 

 

This Is What I'm Teaching

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of students at the university where I coach hockey. I was asked to talk about leadership, finding your passion, and figuring out how to live after graduation when you can't find a job. I wasn't really sure what the format of the presentation was going to be, but it ended up being a great conversation that covered many different topics. I wanted to briefly summarize a few of the main points that I made during my talk.

  1. A college degree doesn't equal a job: I thought that because I was a top 10 high school student and a 3.97 GPA college student a teaching job would fall into my lap. It didn't. Instead, I took my seemingly narrow degree (social studies secondary education) and applied the skills I developed at school to a new activity, blogging. Going through the classes and getting good grades isn't enough. You need to find a passion (or passions) and pursue them on your own time.
  2. You get to decide what matters to you and what doesn't: Just because most people buy a new car with a pay raise or buy the largest home they can barely afford doesn't mean you have to as well. Just because most people don't cook at home and are content spending thousands of dollars a year eating out doesn't mean you have to as well. You are the master of your attention, money, and focus. Figure out what actually matters to you and spend as much of your time and resources doing that. Everything else? Do what you have to do to get by but don't feel like you need to follow the crowd.
  3. We all get 24 hours in our days: The difference between people is the way in which those hours are used: Abraham Lincoln had 24 hours in his day. Albert Einstein had 24 hours in his day. Why are some people so much more successful and productive than others? There are a ton of different factors at play (obviously) but the bottom line is that we're all working with the same limitations. You decide how you want to use the time you've been given.
  4. You can either reduce your wants or increase your income: I've found it's much easier to reduce my wants: Both have the same effect of helping you live below your means. However, unchecked wants seem to have a way of always outstripping income. If you can reduce the amount of stuff that you desire you can free up a ton of money to do some really awesome things. For example, you can work part time while pursuing your passion (like I'm doing). You could save your money and travel the world or give yourself a number of other amazing experiences.

I'm very thankful for the opportunity to get to speak about some of the ideas and concepts that I've been writing about for a long time now. I hope this is only the first of many, many forays into public speaking on this topic.

Living a conscious life is an important message and if you agree, I hope you find the work I do here inspirational.If you do, please consider sharing my work with a friend so we can help people live healthier, more conscious, and more meaningful lives together.

Keep Your Stick On the Ice

As a long time player, and now as a coach, I've been around the game of hockey for a long, long time. One of the things you quickly pick up if you're familiar with the sport is the prevalence of certain cliches. Watch a between periods interview on TV, a post-game interview with a coach, or talk to a 12 year old pee-wee and they are all likely to sound very similar. For some reason, hockey is a game dominated by cliches. I've heard many people say that it's nearly pointless to interview a hockey player because they are likely to say the same things every other hockey player says:

  1. "We just gotta get some traffic in front of the net."
  2. "I just gotta keep my stick on the ice."
  3. "Gotta keep your head up out there."
  4. "Just gotta go hard every single shift and everything will take care of itself."

And a few others.

Being the inquisitive person that I am, I decided to think a little bit deeper about what these cliches actually mean. If everybody says them all the time, they must have some sort of relevance, right?

Don't worry, I'm not about to launch into a detailed analysis of hockey theory and system. I know most of you guys are American and don't even know what hockey is :)

Instead, I'm going to apply these hockey cliches to life in a new series I'm calling Living Like a Hockey Player.

"KEEP YOUR STICK ON THE ICE"

This might be the most repeated piece of advice any hockey player ever hears. From the time you're old enough to be stumbling around on the pond you have a coach constantly telling you to put your stick on the ice (although, it's amazing how many of my college players seem to have tuned out that part of their development…) What's the big deal about having your stick on the ice? Obviously, if you're going to take a shot or see somebody getting ready to pass to you you'll put your stick down, by why does it matter if you don't even have the puck?

Hockey is an incredibly fast game. Pucks often reach 90 MPH or more. Players are flying around with razors on their feet. It's intense, quick, and changes directions constantly. Having your stick on the ice means you're ready for anything. I don't know how many goals I've scored just because my stick was on the ice and a shot deflected off of it. If I was carrying my stick around my waist I would never had the opportunity to score. The difference in a one goal game can be as simple as where the blade of your stick is at all times.

But what about life? What can you learn from the cliche "keep your stick on the ice" if you aren't a hockey player? I see it as advice to be ready at all times. Sometimes you don't see what is developing on the horizon until it is right on top of you. If you aren't ready to jump all over an opportunity, if your "stick" isn't on the "ice", you're going to miss it. How can you train yourself to keep your proverbial stick on the ice at all times?

  1. Stay on top of your work: If you're buried under work that you've been procrastinating on, you probably won't even realize an opportunity passed you by. Even if you do realize it, you probably don't care because instead of seeing it as an opportunity you see it as just another thing you have to add to the pile of work already crushing you. Granted, sometimes we get buried under work outside of our own control. However, too often I see people who are just "so busy" and "swamped" because instead of working on something logically and steadily over time, they procrastinated to the last second. Kick the procrastination habit and you'll be in a much better position to see an opportunity for what it is.
  2. Eliminate clutter from your life: Clutter serves to distract you from what's important. How many times have you missed an opportunity because an important piece of paper was lost in the abyss known as your desk? How many times did that vital piece of information get lost somewhere in your purse? Clutter prevents you from having your stick on the ice. It prevents you from being ready for opportunities you don't even know are coming.
  3. Develop the ability to switch gears quickly: In hockey, and life, the ability to change directions and adapt to situations quickly is vital. It's already tough enough to react to a 100 MPH slap shot when your stick is on the ice. If it's at your waist you're not going to have time to get it on the ice to deflect that shot and the opportunity will be missed. If your boss comes to you with an opportunity that will improve your career but you can't quickly switch gears from one mindset to another, from the "ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod I have so much to do," to "I'm busy, but I can see how this would have a positive long-term impact on my career," then you will miss out.

It's a crazy world out there. Don't make it harder on yourself by not being ready for opportunity at all times. It's not tough to do - it's just a matter of where you're carrying your stick. Are you skating around with your stick in the air while waiting for the perfect pass? Or, are you going hard to the net with your stick on the ice hoping to knock in an ugly goal? The latter might not be as sophisticated as the former, but on the stat sheet you don't get any points for style.

Keep your stick on the ice.

(Tired of hearing it yet? Gimme a lap.)

The Power of Deep Practice

If there is one concept I wish I had a stronger grasp on when I was younger it has to be the idea of "deep practice". According to Daniel Coyle in the book Talent Code, deep practice is the methodical, slow, and painstaking way that people with world class talent practice. It's filled with errors and upon first glance doesn't appear to be anything special. However, it is the key to developing talent. If I had adopted and learned the techniques that distinguish deep practice I would have been a better hockey player, musician, student and any other role I pursued participated in. The oft-cited 10,000 hours needed to become an expert at something is built on the back of deep practice.

What is it?

Defining deep practice and recognizing or adopting it yourself are two vastly different abilities. True deep practice is characterized by chunking a skill into manageable parts, repeating it, and learning to "feel it". Basically, deep practice can be characterized by the following process:

  1. Pick a target.
  2. Reach for it.
  3. Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach.
  4. Return to step one over and over and over and over and over.

Another metaphor that Coyle uses is that of a baby learning to walk. You will feel wobbly, off balance, and you will fall when you are in the throes of deep practice. And that's ok. That willingness to keep trying, to keep improving, to keep taking baby steps is "the royal road to skill."

WHAT DOES DEEP PRACTICE LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

This is a question I have struggled with for a long time. How can I deeply practice being a blogger? A hockey coach? A conscious person?

How can you adapt the principles of deep practice in your own work? Are there specific skills you can practice that will translate into gains at your job?

  1. Slow down - Deep practice is not something that can be rushed through. It’s something you have to approach slowly and deliberately. It's not about the number of hours you put in but what you put into the hours. With that being said, you can't expect to fly through a practice session and expect to improve very much.
  2. Focus - Daniel Coyle compiled a list of words people used to describe the sensations of their most productive practice. Here is a partial list: attention, connect, alert, focus, mistake, tiring, and awake. All of these words point to the importance of being able to focus solely on your practicing for a period of time. Deep practice is distraction free, so turn off the cell phone, get away from the internet, and focus on practicing.
  3. Make mistakes - If somebody were to watch you while you were practicing, they would probably wonder why you are making so many mistakes. That's ok--practice is supposed to be like that. You should be right on the edge of your abilities because that is how you push the edge a little bit further. I always tell my hockey players that if they aren't occasionally falling down during basic skating drills, they aren't skating hard enough or pushing themselves during turns and transitions. Practice beyond your ability and your ability will catch up.
  4. Break it down - Deep practice must be conducted on very small subsets of skills at a time. Instead of practicing an entire piece of music on the piano, you must practice on a very small piece of it. A master chefs doesn’t crank out a 5 course gourmet meal the first day of cooking school. Sidney Crosby did not rip a shot into the top corner the first time he ever took a slap shot. Anything you’re trying to improve can be broken down into the most basic of skills.

It is only by learning how to practice deeply that you will see a large increase in skill. Anything is up for grabs. The way you do your job, a particular hobby that you enjoy, or a skill you wish you had but never tried to develop. Nothing is out of reach when you are willing to spend a lot of time practicing - and practicing correctly.

Where have you applied the principle of deep practice in your own life?

Living In the Midst of Your Mistakes

As I've evolved as a minimalist (or should I say "conscious maximalist") I've tried to move beyond the low-hanging fruit mentality. One of those easy to grab fruits that I've criticized before is the focus on the practical how-to aspect of decluttering. Decluttering as an activity is fairly straight forward and easy to do. My criticism of the minimalist movement in the past has been on the fervor over decluttering "tips and tricks". There are only so many ways to say; "Take everything out. Throw stuff away. Donate/sell other stuff. Place remaining stuff back. Repeat."

Boring.

However, one thing I don't get tired of exploring is the motivation and thinking behind what people do or don't do. I've recently applied that concept to the idea of living with clutter. Most of the time, clutter is the physical manifestation of negativity. Think about how often a piece of clutter represents regret, unfilled commitments, remorse, and/or a piece of a less-than-perfect past.

Look around your most cluttered room (or garage) and see how many of these questions pop into your head:

  1. "I should really do something about this."
  2. "That doesn't belong there. I don't even know what that is."
  3. "I never should've bought that."
  4. "I don't use this enough considering how much money I spent on it. I need to use it more."

These are only a few of the questions that are likely to wiggle there way into your mind as you look around an environment filled with clutter. Each question taken on its own may not be enough to alter your frame of mind too much. However, if they are popping into your head 24 hours a day over and over again you begin to have a problem. Why would you want to live in a place where such negative questions are always lurking just under the surface? Clutter breeds negativity.

What kind of mindset is your environment breeding?

I see decluttering as much more than reducing the sum total of my possessions. Decluttering is about removing negativity and putting the past behind me. It's about making room for positivity, growth, and opportunity.

What do you want your life to be filled with? Are your possessions getting in the way?

 

 

Simplifying Isn't Easy

It drives me nuts when people interchange the words "simple" and "easy". I also understand why people do it. Before I started this blog, I never really thought about the difference, either. But there is a difference -- a difference so great it defines the very basis of what it means to live simply.

Let me explain.

My definition of simplicity involves the removal of all excess, all superfluousness, in favor of the true essentials. The world we live in today means that most of us have a lot of excess in our lives. We have an excess of possessions, an excess of information, an excess of commitments and an excess of distractions. We live in a society of too much and too fast.

For those of us that have made the decision to simplify our lives and therefore live more consciously, a lot of our time is spent identifying the excess and getting rid of it. Anybody who has spent an afternoon purging a closet or making phone calls to end various commitments knows that it's not easy. Simplifying is hard.

Simplifying your life will lay you bare. It's easy to hide behind a mountain of stuff or point to your packed schedule and say, "I would follow my dreams, but look!" When you begin to peel away those layers of fat, those layers of excess, then the true person underneath has nowhere to hide. What if you aren't smart enough? What if you aren't brave enough?

Being laid bare means eliminating what society has told you to do, to become, or to desire.

You become you and most of us really don't have any idea who that person is.

And most of all, it's certainly not easy.

 

 

The Slippery Nature of Planning

For the second year in a row, I am going into the fall without a full-time teaching job. It wasn't supposed to work this way. I was supposed to graduate from college, find a job in an excellent school district and be teaching exactly what I want to teach. I wasn't supposed to spend a summer fruitlessly applying for countless jobs and only getting two interviews. I wasn't supposed to sub for an entire year. I wasn't supposed to spend another entire summer looking for and applying for jobs to only get one interview. These were not my plans.

For a long time I was the type of person that liked to plan and have everything adhere to that plan. I liked having that feeling of control. The experiences of the past two years are teaching me something knew: when your carefully laid plans start to slip away, let go and make new ones.

For a long time, I tried to grab ahold of my waylaid plans the more they slipped away. I got frustrated and depressed. Instead, I realize that now is the time and opportunity for growth.

Plans are obviously artifacts of the past. By definition, they are an attempt at regulating and predicting the future. When they start to slip away, realize that you now have new experiences, new knowledge, and new insight that you didn't have when you originally made those plans. This is an opportunity to rejoice at the chance to use all of your new information to improve your plans. Adhering to an old plan that no longer fits the situation is the height of folly. And yet, that's exactly what many of us do. Circumstances change and it makes sense for us to adapt as well.

Using the example I talked about earlier with my job search experiences I can illustrate what I'm talking about. When I first made those plans to graduate from college and get a teaching job, I had no idea that I had an interest or any skill in blogging. My inability to find a teaching job has opened a new door into a world I knew almost nothing about a year ago. Instead of using my frustration as an excuse to give up I refocused my energy on a new activity. And even though blogging and teaching are two very different activities, my efforts here at The Simpler Life draw on a lot of the skills I developed as I studied to become a teacher in college.

So, in a nutshell, what should you do if you feel your carefully laid plans slipping away?

  1. Let go: You won't get in trouble if you abandon your plan. Sometimes the best option is to just cast it aside and get busy forging a new path.
  2. Use the core of your original plan: Take the main skills or idea of your old plan and create a new one with them. For example, when I couldn't find a full-time teaching job, I didn't completely abandon the plan and become an actor or a crab fisherman. Instead, my new plan is to substitute teach for awhile while I refocus my teaching talents toward my writing. I'm still using many of the skills that I needed for my original plan. I'm just applying them in a different way.
  3. See it as an opportunity for growth: It can be easy to feel like a failure when plans don't turn out the way you think they will (or should). Instead of feeling that way, try to look at it as an opportunity to do something new. If my original plans had worked out how I wanted, I never would have started this blog and I would have missed out on all the excellent experiences I've had because of it. What have you always wanted to do but haven't?

It all boils down to how you react to a change of plans. What will your attitude be like? What good does sulking and getting depressed do? Change, adapt, and move forward!

Rethinking Necessity in a World of Abundance

As I strive to become more conscious in the way I live my life I find myself rethinking what I think is necessary. When you are surrounded with abundance of wealth, information, distractions, tools, and services it can be easy to start thinking that all these things are truly vital. While some of them may be, most of them are not. Figuring out what is truly required to do your best work or be your best self is what living consciously is all about.

I think what really caused me to start to question my needs is the move I made to my new apartment a couple months ago.

WHAT DO YOU NEED?

Every type of work has certain tools that are truly vital to executing the job correctly. Carpenters need all of their hammers, drills, saws and other building tools. Seamstresses and tailors need fabric, thread, needles, sewing machines and whatever else is inherent to making and adjusting clothing. Jobs like this are pretty clear-cut with what tools are truly necessary. It's these "information worker" jobs where the line starts to get a little fuzzy.

What does an internet marketer need to fulfill his job requirements? What does an IT worker need? What about a blogger?

Remember how I said I moved into a new apartment a few months ago? At the time, I decided to not sign up for internet service. I was super poor and decided that I could use my parents' house, the public library, and other free wi-fi hotspots for my internet needs. I figured I'd conduct this little experiment for a month or so before caving in and getting internet hooked up at my apartment.

That was 5 months ago.

INTERNET-LITE BLOGGING

I'm a blogger and I do not have home internet access. What I thought was absolutely necessary to my career as a blogger turned out to be much more of a luxury than I thought. Rethinking what you believe to be necessary is truly at the core of living a conscious life. Try these steps to help break out of the advertiser and society induced fog that is currently clouding your vision:

  1. Pick an area of your life to examine: It could be your job (or even just an aspect of your job). You could try looking at your routines (like what you do after work) or even the way you eat. Almost any area of your life is open to examination.
  2. Write down what the absolute core of this area is: If it's your job, what do you actually have to DO on a daily basis to complete your work? For me, even though blogging requires access to the internet to post articles, almost ALL of the true work that goes into blogging, the writing, brainstorming and creation of products can be done without the internet. If you're looking at an area of your life other than work, think about this question: what would the "ideal" you do/act/look like in this situation?
  3. Honestly look at how you currently approach the situation: How do you currently behave? What is distracting you from focusing on the core essence of a specific area in your life? Is it a bad habit (or a series of bad habits)? Is it unnecessary distractions? Is it a lack of clarity of what needs to be done? Try not to pull any punches with yourself at this step. You want to have as clear a picture as possible about what is keeping you from your best.
  4. Identify what's truly necessary and boot the rest: In step 2 you figured out your core action or responsibility and in step 3 you figured out what is keeping you from that. It's time to use that knowledge to get rid of all that unnecessary "stuff" that is keeping you from your best. Be ruthless. Although, if you're worried you might eliminate something that you will truly miss, try just putting it away in storage for awhile. That way you can have a test run without it in your life. Chances are you won't miss it. If you're eliminating bad habits or trying to build new ones, commit for just a week at first. Give yourself permission to go back to your old ways if after a week you hate it. Again, once you start seeing the positive change I don't think you'll be going back to your old ways.

TRUE CONSCIOUSNESS REQUIRES ONLY THE TRULY NECESSARY

Necessary is not what the marketers tell us. It's not what the T.V. commercials berate us with, what our friends insist upon, what we see on billboards or in the newspaper. Necessary is only decided when you take an honest look at your own life and make some decisions. You get to decide what's necessary. Most people don't realize they have that power. You truly do and it is one of the most important realizations to living a conscious life.

Have you decided what's necessary yet?

Three Areas of Your Life You Can Gain More Control Over Today

The study of happiness has been ongoing for centuries. It's generally accepted that money doesn't buy happiness. But what does? Is it our relationships? Maybe it's our mental outlook or attitude? Or possibly our status in society? More likely, it's probably a complex relationship of all these factors -- plus many more.

My personal belief is that while all of these things are important, the most vital characteristic to long term happiness is control.

When I think back on the times that I am most content and happy with my life, I realize that it's always when I have a high level of control over what is happening to me. For illustration, lets look at the opposite of this phenomenon. Ever since I graduated from college in 2009 I've been looking for a full-time teaching job. As the months and months of joblessness stack up, I've become more and more agitated (and even depressed). Searching for a job in this economic environment does not allow for very much control. Preparing my resume and filling out applications allow me to have some control over the situation, but as soon as I apply for a position my feeling of control dissipates.

You may notice, however, that this lack of control is a construct of my own mind. For some people, actively searching for positions, writing resumes, preparing applications, and following up is something they feel they have much more control over. I'll bet you that this type of person does not find the job search as nearly as soul-sucking and depressing as I do.

And therein lies a great avenue for personal development; learning how to take control over situations that are causing us anguish.

Here are a couple situations where many people feel like they have no control and a couple ideas to begin changing your mindset:

  1. Work: The workplace can be an environment where you feel like you have no say, no control, over anything that happens. Obviously, different jobs will have various levels of autonomy. If you happen to be at the highly autonomous end of the spectrum, then your potential for control is enormous. What can you do to make yourself more effective throughout the day and possibly even finish your work earlier? What is your Great Work and how can you do more of it? If you're job is less autonomous, you might have a little more trouble finding ways to exert your control. Start with the smallest of environments (your desk or workspace) and routines (is there a better way you can ring up those groceries?) and gain control over those first. Later you can try to gain more and more control over what you do, how you do it, and most importantly, how you feel about what you do.
  2. Health: When I am at my unhealthiest, I feel like I have no control over my habits. I'll eat whatever I want, workout intermittently, and just generally feel like crap. Gaining control over my health does wonders for myself psychologically and usually only consists of a couple simple steps. Tracking what you're putting into your body is an eye-opening experience on several levels. Seeing the actual number of calories and array of food that you're consuming is quite often enough to spur positive change. Similarly, planning and tracking your workouts allows you to have a level of control that is often missing.
  3. Emotions: This is probably the most difficult and most abstract topic to talk about controlling. Our emotions control almost everything about the way we act. How we react to positive events, negative events, and everything in between differentiates us as people. I would never recommend curtailing your positive and negative emotions to the point where everybody exists in some intermediate and dull range. However, I do recommend taking the time to figure out how to recognize what causes us to overact, both positively and negatively. In my experience, meditation has helped me control my emotions in a way that nothing else really has. Figure out what works for you.

If you want to be happy, you have to feel like you have control over yourself. Your environment, work, health, emotions, and relationships are all important aspects of your life that require you to be in control if you are to be at your happiest.

Where do you feel out of control and is it hampering your happiness? What can you do to change that situation?

 

Five Tips to Take Your Learning Off Autopilot

I think the most important lesson any teacher can teach their students is that education is not a passive experience. This idea hit me the other day as I was walking through the library looking at all the books I wanted to read. It got me thinking about what I was like in high school and most of college and how I hadn't really learned how to learn until recently.

In high school, I was a pretty excellent student. AP classes, all A's, top 5 in my class -- the usual accolades for a high school all-star. Despite (or maybe because of) all this, I don't think I really learned all that much. I was good at giving my teachers what they expected and absorbing the information they presented. I did little to no outside investigation of the topics we were learning in class and I didn't ask many questions either. I saw my job as being a passive sponge to acquire as much "knowledge" as possible.

Once I entered college, not much changed. I still got good grades because I could write well and recite information. I also began to do a better job synthesizing multiple viewpoints into my own, unique point of view. However, I was mostly just High-School-Sam +1. It wasn't until my last couple semesters of college that I began to take an active role in my education. I'm not sure what finally flipped the switch in my mind, but I began to realize that there was so much more I should be learning about than what was covered in the few classes I was taking.

Ever since that time, I've tried to be as active as possible in my self-education. Reading one book will raise a list of questions and topics that I want to know more about. I take time to actually sit down and learn about something new on a daily basis. I'm grateful that I finally started to figure it out, but I can't help but wonder what I would be like if I had figured this out in high school.

I want to give anybody who has recently graduated high school a couple words of advice about not being passive. This is coming from a guy who wishes he could go back and do it again even though I was "successful" by most standards.

  1. Explore everything: You don't want to pigeonhole yourself too early. There is so much more out there than what you are exposed to in school. I hadn't even heard of positive psychology until my Intro to Pysch class in college, and even then it was only in passing. Once I started reading more about it I realized that this was something I found insanely interesting. I didn't even think about it in high school because psychology wasn't a class that I took. Don't let your classes restrict your mind.
  2. Read things you don't understand: You read things in high school that are specifically selected for your "level". College gets away from that a little bit, but you still won't be exposed to the true breadth of reading material that is available. Don't be intimidated by something that is supposedly "hard" to read. Worst case scenario, you don't understand everything but you've stretched your mind by trying.
  3. Read things you don't agree with: One of the best ways to figure out what you truly believe, and why, is to read things you know you don't agree with. It's helpful to see the thought process and reasoning behind the "other side". Don't get caught up in choosing sides over controversial topics. Read about every aspect and you'll be able to make a much better decision for yourself.
  4. Ask for help: I wish I had talked to my teachers more in college. Up until my senior year, my contact with professors was extremely limited. During my last year, however, I made it a habit to stop by their office hours and talk to them as much as possible out of class. You'll quickly discover that this will put you in the minority of your classmates and that your professors love talking about their area of expertise. At no time in your life will you have such unfettered access to legitimate experts. Don't waste it!
  5. Write about the process: Writing helps you articulate your thoughts in a way that nothing else can. Reflecting on what you're learning, questions you still have, and thoughts about your education is such a powerful tool.

Most of us have already spent our time in the school system and no longer have "mandated learning." Not being passive in our self-education is probably even more important than not being passive in our formal education. This is a topic for another day, but it is one that I am becoming more and more passionate about.

How do you take charge when it comes to self-education? How active were you during your formal education?

 

 

Earning Achievements in You: The Videogame

It used to be that just reaching the end of a video game was enough. After hours of playing and working your way through different and progressively harder levels, you'd finally reach the end. In a climactic battle against the gnarliest boss you've encountered in the entire game you would finally reach the end and could set down your controller with a sigh of relief. You have beaten it, and you are the master.

Today's video games, however, don't settle for letting you merely beat the game. You're welcome to play through the story line and reach the conclusion, but that's not where the real fun hides any more. Instead, video games today have what are known as Achievements. Each game comes with a different set of unique Achievements that encourage you to spend time playing the game in a different way than you normally would. Essentially, they are little trophies for accomplishing certain things within a game. For example, I recently bought Starcraft 2 (it's about time, Blizzard!) and have attained Achievements for killing a certain number of units in a limited amount of time, for executing certain aspects of the game very quickly, for progressing the storyline forward in the campaign mode and many other actions. There are probably a hundred more that I have not even begun working on yet-- but I plan on it. It adds an interesting dynamic and a ton of replay value when you have something to work toward other than just "finishing" the game.

WHY AM I WRITING ABOUT VIDEO GAMES ON A PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT BLOG?

I've recently realized that I have taken the concept of video game Achievements and applied them to my own development. Instead of just mindlessly rushing through life to get to the end, like an old school video game, I've been taking time to accomplish interesting and unique things on the side. If you could take a look at my Sam: The Video Game Achievement Showcase, you'd see the following:

  1. The "Go Vegetarian for a Week" Achievement
  2. The "Completely Disconnected Weekend" Achievement
  3. The "Complete a Duathlon" Achievement
  4. The "Travel to a Foreign Country" Achievement

In addition to these already accomplished achievements, I'm working on a couple more:

  1. The "Re-read all of the Lord of the Rings books" Achievement
  2. The "Write a 2nd Ebook" Achievement
  3. The "1/2 Marathon" Achievement

Video games aren't the greatest way to spend leisure time but they have at least encouraged me to spend time away from the beaten path and to try new ways of doing things.

What achievements have you earned in You: The Video Game? What ones are you working toward? Share in the comments!

 

Dominate Your Laziness Today

You aren't stuck because you're afraid.

Every personal development blogger has written about fear. The fear of succeeding, the fear of failing in public, the fear of being laughed at, the fear of failing, the fear of being afraid. Evidently there is a lot of fear in the personal development community. I'm not going to throw my hat into the fray because I think there is a different explanation as to why people don't accomplish the things they think they want; laziness.

Being afraid removes the responsibility of action. Everybody knows what it's like to be afraid and therefore we can easily empathize with somebody who is fearful. Fear has evolved for a pretty excellent reason, keeping us alive. Thousands of years ago, if you were a fearless human you were probably a dead human as well. Nowadays, people let fear, or what we seem to be describing as fear, keep them from doing awesome things with their lives. Every time I've found myself thinking about why I'm not doing more to move my goals forward or why I seem stuck in a rut, I never think about being afraid. Fear is a function of a dangerous environment and frankly, I don't face much nowadays that is particularly dangerous. In fact, my problem is that I spend a lot of time in extremely comfortable situations. My apartment is cozy. I have some hot coffee by my side. I have enough money to feed myself. Life isn't THAT hard right now. And so, I get lazy. I don't accomplish things, I don't push myself and most importantly, I'm definitely not afraid.

My hypothesis is that you feel lazy a lot more often than you feel afraid. It's OK to admit it. I know I felt a lot better once I realized all of these articles about conquering my fear didn't seem to apply to me. The question, however, is how can I overcome the laziness and use my time most effectively as much as possible? In my experience, these five things are helpful tips to try:

  1. Get started on something, anything: Motivation seems to be an incredibly inertial beast. It's hard as hell to get moving, but once you get that sucker moving, look out! If you find yourself being incredibly lazy, try finishing the easiest of easy tasks first. Then, tackle something only marginally more difficult. Then, a little bit more difficult. Before you know it, you've eased into your primary project and you have the momentum at your back.
  2. Change your environment: My body is an idiot. Try as I might to convince it that it's ok to do work at the desk in my apartment, it's convinced that this desk is only for doing fun things. It's nigh impossible to be productive in the same space where I go to relax. So, when I have serious work to do, I have to take my idiot body to the library or a coffee shop. The change of surroundings is what it needs to be convinced to actually get to work. Maybe your body isn't as idiotic as mine, but it's a useful tip to try.
  3. Look back at past accomplishments: Even the laziest of people have bursts of inspiration. Look back on things you've accomplished in the past as proof that this laziness can be conquered. Sometimes, when I feel particularly lazy I will read through my old blog posts. Every once in awhile I'm moderately impressed by what I've written. Present-Me doesn't like feeling more lazy than Past-Me and the next thing I know the laziness has lifted.
  4. Read, watch, or listen to something inspirational or motivational: When I am in the depths of laziness, it's easy to feel like everybody is this lazy too. It doesn't make sense, I know. To help me snap out of it, I like to read about inspirational people. Reading about Teddy Roosevelt usually helps. Or, an even quicker fix is to go to TED.com and watch a couple of the videos tagged as "inspirational." Guaranteed pick-me-up.
  5. Organize and plan: A lot of the time, laziness stems from being unclear about what to do. When it's not clear, it's easy to just mope about and do nothing. Spending some time reviewing my projects, figuring out what I have to do to move them forward, and updating my next action lists is usually enough to get me inspired to work on them. I try to only commit to projects I'm excited about so spending some time thinking and planning helps remind me why I was excited about it in the first place.

Fear isn't holding me back and I don't think it's holding you back. We are all far too intelligent and comfortable to be afraid anymore. As a fellow occasionally lazy person, I don't feel bad for saying it but, you're being lazy. Stop it. Pick one of these five tips (or all five if you're feeling EXTRA lazy) and get your rear in gear.

 

 

A Tribute to John Wooden

On June 4, 2010 the world lost one of the wisest, kindest, and inspirational people that has ever lived. John Wooden is considered by most to be the best college basketball coach of all time. He won 10 National Championships with UCLA over a 12 year span. He was the first person to be in the College Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. Despite all of his impressive accomplishments, I don't care about those at all. The reason I am mourning the loss of John Wooden is that he was a profound thinker regarding self actualization and self improvement.

Entire books have been written by Coach Wooden and others about his philosophy and I would be at a loss to try to give an overview of everything he embodied. So, instead of trying to do that I'm going to share three of my favorite Wooden quotes.

 

"Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. They only true gift is a portion of thyself."

Material goods and gifts are trumped by sincere donation of time. I think John's love for coaching embodied the spirit of this quote. He put everything he had into developing the young men under his charge. Gifting a "portion of thyself" speaks to the importance of experiences instead of "things." Give yourself to your family, your spouse, or your friends; they will appreciate it more than anything you can buy them.

"Do not become too concerned about what others may think of you. Be very concerned about what you think of yourself."

This quote made me think of an article I wrote a long time ago about your most important relationship being with yourself. In my own coaching and in my own life I try to emphasize that the only things worth our attention are those that fall under our sphere of influence. If something cannot be affected by our actions, what use is it to worry about it? You can't change how others think so worrying about that is a waste of time, effort, and attention.

"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."

There will ALWAYS be more that you cannot do than you can do. If you let that freeze you into inaction, suddenly you aren't doing anything. For example, I am worthless with Photoshop and design but I tried to not let that prevent me from authoring and publishing an ebook. Sure, it wasn't the prettiest thing in the world and there is much room for improvement in that area, but at least I focused on what I could do; namely, write coherently about a topic I care deeply about. Instead of focusing on everything you cannot do, which of your strengths can you focus on? What do you do well that you can leverage?

Rest in peace, John Wooden. You were, and are, an inspiration to everyone.

 

 

Moving Beyond the Low-Hanging Fruit of the Simplicity Movement

I've mentioned several times that one of my core values is Growth; I am always looking for opportunities to grow in every aspect of my life. With that end in mind, I have turned my attention toward my own practice of simplicity.

I've been living a simpler life of varying degrees for at least four years now. I've gradually reduced the amount of stuff that I own to the point where I could definitely be considered a minimalist. However, the visual entrapments of life are not the only, or even most important, area that needs simplifying.

I like to call decluttering and physical-possession-minimalism the low-hanging fruit of the simplicity movement. For most people, reducing their stuff is the first step. It's a great first step, don't get me wrong. I'm very grateful that I've learned the benefits of having less stuff. However, simplicity shouldn't end there. In fact, if it does end there I would argue that your newly decluttered and organized space will not stay that way for long. Cultivating the more difficult habits and actions of simplicity is where the largest opportunity for growth lies.

How much have you addressed these hard to reach yet vitally important areas?

  1. Living mindfully and patiently: Being in the moment instead of lost in the unalterable past or the unknown future is where I should be. Too much attention on anything but the present is a waste of energy and effort. I plan on beginning a ritual of meditation into my daily routine that will help me in this aspect of living a more patient and mindful life.
  2. Cultivating long-term motivation: Everybody knows what it's like to have a burst of motivation at the beginning of a project. My aim is to funnel that burst into a long-term slow burn that allows me to finish large and time intensive projects. I'm currently working on a very large research based project for this site and am training for a half marathon in October. Both of these activities will develop my long-term motivation and persistence over time.
  3. Developing rock-solid self discipline: Discipline is the bedrock in which most long-term changes are founded. Discipline allows me to continue to work toward my goals and make the correct decisions even when I don't "feel" like it. Even though my previous point was cultivating long-term motivation, I don't think it's possible to be 100% motivated at all times. Self discipline is what you fall back on when the motivation just isn't there.
  4. Articulating and living by values: My recent guest post on the blog becoming minimalist does a better job explaining this point than I can do here. Basically, the whole point of living a simpler life is to live life according to your values-- not to have less stuff. I think the underlying motivation can get lost in the euphoria of decluttering and minimal living. Once you've moved beyond that point, what's the next step?
  5. Developing the ability to focus: Developing focus and an autotelic personality is absolutely key to living the simpler life. Focus allows you to do better, more efficient, and more meaningful work. Focus is the basis of developing your autotelic personality, or, learning how to enjoy nearly every aspect of life.

These are the attributes I am trying to develop. Other than occasionally purging my possessions that have built up over time, I'm done worrying about how many things I have or whether or not I can fit it all into a backpack. My concern is with mindfulness, focus, discipline, and values. This gives me more than enough fodder for a lifetime of growth and I'm excited to master each of these areas. I'm sure you've noticed by now, but all of these disciplines are interconnected with each other as well. Focus is part of mindfulness. Self discipline is connected to motivation. All of these are a part of my values. It is impossible to improve in one area without addressing all of the others as well.

Have you mastered the low-hanging fruit of simplicity? What can you focus on now to round out your own practice of simplicity?

"Bored" Is a Dirty Word

There is a certain five-letter word that I think might be the most offensive in the entire English language. It starts with a B and ends in ORED. I use it much more than I should and it's my own personal goal to never say it again.

Being bored is what happens when you live life unconsciously and passively. When you have no involvement on what is going on you will end up bored. However, the key to developing the autotelic personality that seems to derive pleasure out of every aspect of life is actively engaging with everything and anything. When you have cultivated the ability to engage with the very mundanity of life you will never have to use the horrible B-word again.

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book, Flow, he tells the story of prisoners of war that faced terrible conditions and mind numbing isolation yet still remained engaged with their environment and even further developed their autotelic personalities. "They followed the blueprint of flow activities...they paid close attention to the most minute details of their environment, discovering in it hidden opportunities for action that matched what little they were capable of doing, given the circumstances. Then they set goals appropriate to their precarious situation, and closely monitored progress through the feedback they received. Whenever they reached their goal, they upped the ante, setting increasingly complex challenges for themselves." Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes how one of his fellow prisoners mapped the world on the floor of his cell and then imagined himself traveling across Asia, Europe and America, covering a few kilometers each day. Other prisoners have sustained themselves by having poetry translation contests, doing gymnastics, playing chess mentally etc. According to Csikszentmihalyi,"When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces."

I'm guessing very few of you have spent time as a prisoner of war and the adversity you face pales in comparison to Alexander Solzhenitsyn or others who have spent time in prison. If they could find positive outlets for their psychic energy in such harsh conditions, what is stopping you? With all of the technology and connectedness that is available, what excuse is there to be bored? Being bored is a loss of consciousness; being bored is a loss of valuable time.

The next time you find yourself being bored, try one of the following activities or make up one of your own. The possibilities are truly endless.

  1. Pick a topic and dive into it: This article I wrote several months ago is a great place to start. There are an incredible number of websites that provide access to a huge amount of educational resources. Pick something you know very little about and dive into it. Start with a Wikipedia search to get a rough outline of the topic and links to resources at the end of the article. Before long you'll find yourself two hours deep into interesting research and being bored will be forgotten.
  2. Write (or record) a stream of consciousness piece: The key to making this work is not filtering your thoughts at all. Your fingers (or voice) should be the conduit for whatever rattles out of your consciousness. This can be a great way to analyze any hidden emotions or stress. I guarantee that if you do this correctly you will be surprised by at least one thing that comes out.
  3. Brainstorm something awesome: A year from today are you going to be grateful you started that awesome project? Where do you want to be or what do you want to be doing a year from now? Figure out the smallest of steps that will set you on that path and do it right now. You're future self will thank you.
  4. Practice mindfulness: If you're bored because you are doing some sort of mindless task, try truly focusing on it for awhile. Is there anything you can do to make it more tolerable or possibly take less time? Even if there isn't, use it as an opportunity to practice your mindfulness: your ability to be truly present.
  5. Savor the nothingness: Most of us live very hectic and busy lives. If you're bored because you suddenly have no commitments or a hole in your schedule learn to savor it. If it's generally pretty rare for you to have nothing to do then you should do everything you can to truly enjoy it. Not having any immediate responsibility while having the time to refocus is incredibly valuable.

What do you like to do when you're bored? Share some of your suggestions in the comments so I can add it to my list!

 

 

Are You Too Comfortable?

In The Talent Code, a book I recently reviewed, I mentioned an idea regarding training facilities. Daniel Coyle discovered that many training facilities in talent hotbeds, areas that produced an unusual number of people with world-class talent, tend to be run-down, shabby, and nearly dilapidated. He said that if all of the training grounds of all the talent hotbeds he visited were magically assembled into a single mega-hotbed facility it would "…resemble a shantytown. Its buildings would be makeshift, corrugated-roofed affairs, its walls paint-bald, its fields weedy and uneven."

What Coyle uncovered, according to John Bargh, a psychologist at Yale University, is what's called the Scrooge Principle. It states that "our unconscious mind is a stingy banker of energy reserves, keeping its wealth locked in a vault. Direct pleas to open the vault don't work; Scrooge can't be fooled that easily. But when he's hit with the right combination of primal cues-- when he's visited by a series of primal-cue ghosts, you might say-- the tumblers click, the vault of energy flies open, and suddenly it's Christmas Day." Training in a gorgeous, state-of-the-art facility does not provide any of the primal cues needed to trick our subconscious into unlocking that energy vault. Bargh says, "If we're in a nice, easy, pleasant environment, we naturally shut off effort. Why work? But if people get the signal that it's rough, they get motivated now. A nice, well-kept tennis academy gives them the luxury future right now-- of course they'd be demotivated. They can't help it."

How can you make your environment more conducive to unlocking your energy vault? What can you learn from the Scrooge Principle?

  1. Create adversity for yourself: The best talent hotbeds are not extremely pleasant places to be-- by design. The mind is cued to work harder. What can you do to make your own working environment a little less luxurious? If you're a writer, is it possible to shut off the Internet and only access it for a short time each day? Since moving to my Internet-less apartment I have seen my creativity and production sky-rocket. Try working without the air-conditioning for a week or use a couple blankets to keep warm instead of your heater. It may seem silly or counter-intuitive but making your environment less comfortable might be a great first step toward developing your own talent.
  2. Use the simplest tools available: Youth baseball in the Dominican Republic does not have the fancy equipment or specialized training tools that many elite baseball teams have in the United States. In the Dominican, athletes use the simplest equipment. I remember when I played a couple exhibition games against a youth hockey team from Russia. They were all using wooden sticks (everybody on my team was using expensive composite sticks), and old equipment. My teammates and I thought we would dominate this team. We quickly discovered that top of the line equipment was not needed to be a good hockey player and we were soundly beat several times. In your own work, what is the simplest tool that you can use and still be productive? If you're a writer, try writing with a piece of paper and a pen for awhile. Try running without your iPod or even shoes. Use the simplest tools available.
  3. Focus on your core competency: At the Spartak Tennis Club in Moscow, a club that produced more top-twenty-ranked women than the entire United States did from 2005-2007, students spend hours practicing without tennis balls. They call it imitatsiya and it develops the core competency of every tennis player: their swing. If you are a writer, write. If you are a runner, run. If you are a painter, paint. It can be easy to get caught up in the related yet not essential tasks that your work creates. If I'm not careful I find myself spending my time researching for an article much longer than is truly necessary. Formatting my writing is important; but, not nearly as important as actually writing. Connecting with other bloggers via Twitter may be mildly productive, but it's not writing. Reading about running may be inspirational, but it's not going to make you suddenly able to run a marathon. Mastering the component parts of your activity (grammar if you're a writer, perfect stride if you're a runner, technique if you're a painter) is what will make you improve just like the tennis players practicing their swing without balls. What distractions can you eliminate from your working environment?

The tagline of this website is "Live consciously." However, your subconscious is an extremely powerful component of your mind. Learn to setup your own working environment like some of the greatest talent hotbeds in the world; the run-down baseball fields of the Dominican Republic or the dilapidated shack of the Spartak Tennis Club in Moscow. Send yourself the primal cues that you haven't made it yet, you aren't living the high life, you aren't a master of all you do, and you will be closer to the world-class talent that you desire.

 

 

Three Ways to Take Control of Information Overload

Imagine that you have a small and dainty tea cup in your hands. You are extremely thirsty and would love to fill your cup with some nice, cool, and refreshing water. Luckily, a nice young man with a fire hose happens to be with you (a convenient situation indeed). He kindly offers to fill your cup with water and you are nearly giddy with excitement. He turns the valve on the nozzle as you hold your tea cup at the ready.

A blast of icy water erupts from the hose and nearly knocks you on your back. Your tea cup flies out of your hands and shatters on the sidewalk. You're still thirsty but now you're also dazed, sore, and wet.

This is how I feel about the Internet.

My RSS feed, my Twitter timeline, Facebook status updates, and a never ceasing flow of email all serve as the high pressure hose to my mind's dainty tea cup. I crave information like my fictional character craved water. However, the sheer volume and velocity of content makes it nearly impossible to actually get anything worthwhile in my tea cup of a mind.

This can't continue much longer. How much sense would it make to get back up, dripping and aching, glue my teacup back together, and tap the man with the hose on the shoulder and ask for more. How many times do we get knocked down by the information wave only to get up and ask for more?

I can't do it anymore and here's how I'm getting control.

  1. Living in an apartment with no Internet or TV: I recently moved to a very small apartment that currently has no Internet connection. I could probably rectify that situation but I've actually discovered that I like it. I live close enough to a public library with free wi-fi that I can still connect if there is something I really need to check.
  2. Reducing my RSS feed count by 80%: Lately I've found myself just skimming articles in my feed reader because I'm overwhelmed by how much there is to read. People work hard creating this content and I'm not giving it the attention it deserves. I'm going to ruthlessly cull the number of sites I follow so that I can actually take the time to digest what I read.
  3. Using Instapaper for anything that looks interesting: Instapaper lets me read content on my terms. Especially with limited access to the Internet, I don't want to be wasting time online reading things that I can easily take with me when I log off.

There is just too much excellent information to absorb out there and I don't think I'm doing anybody justice by trying to catch bits and pieces of it as it goes whirling by. I'd much rather fill my tea cup from a small pitcher of delicious lemonade and enjoy it at my leisure.

Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you face everyday? What are you doing about it?

Your Most Important Relationship is With Yourself

High school "mock elections" are stupid, I know. It seems like most of those voted as "most likely to succeed" end up living in a van down by the river anyway, right? Mock elections were always frivolous and entertaining and I never expected to win one. Somehow when I sat down at school one morning and listened to the morning announcements I heard my name through the crackle and hiss of our decrepit speaker in the classroom. That's right, yours truly won a high school mock election and is actually proud of it. The category that I "won", as voted by my peers, was "Most Reliable."

It felt good to know that my friends thought of me as a reliable person. I've always tried to treat my word as more than just words. I did my best to keep promises, be there for my friends and be a responsible classmate. I'm proud that my picture is in my senior year yearbook nestled between "Cutest Couple" and "Best Smile."

However, I've come to view the connection between personal development, self-discipline and reliability in a different light over the past few years. It's important for other people to see me as reliable, that's for certain. Colleagues need to know they can trust me. My students and players have to feel like I'm invested in them. On the other hand, there is somebody else I think is even more important to be reliable to: myself.

Having the self discipline to follow through on the goals and expectations I set for myself creates that sense of self-reliability. If I couldn't rely on myself, how many goals would I set? If I even managed to set some goals, how safe would they be? The more I develop my self discipline the more I know that I can count on myself to show up when the going gets tough.

My classmates viewed me as a reliable person back in high school because I tried to make sure I always stayed true to my word with them. If I said I'd do something for a friend, I'd do it. Now that I'm outside the social-bubble of high school, my self-reliability is what I care about the most now. If I tell myself I'm going to do something, do I do it? If I tell myself I'm going to lose 10 pounds or stop biting my nails, do I show up?

If you can't trust yourself, who can?

 

 

Five Tips to Shatter Your Productivity Bottleneck

The more I write about productivity and personal development the more I learn about myself. Considering that was a stated goal of this blog from day one, I'm pretty happy with the development. My latest realization has to do with productivity bottlenecks.

A productivity bottleneck, by my definition (which is what matters, obviously) is anything that restricts your ability to do work efficiently. It could be one tiny part in your process that ruins everything when it isn't operating smoothly. Time management systems can be surprisingly complex and if yours is breaking down at a specific point, it's probably a major bottleneck in your productivity. Bottlenecks are what prevent progress, even if the rest of your system is working splendidly.

My number one bottleneck is definitely my to-do list. When my to-do list sucks, I suck. Unfortunately, my to-do list has many different ways in which it can suck. It can be incomplete, thus making me anxious. It can be poorly worded, thus making me confused. It can be ambiguous, which makes me angry. The list goes on.

In the past, I'm pretty sure I kept working off the same to-do list until I finished it, regardless of its health. My to-do list could be gasping for air and whimpering feebly but I was going to finish that little SOB before I even thought about re-writing it. Luckily, I appear to be growing up.

At the first signs of my productivity slacking, I take a good hard look at my to-do list. After giving it the evil eye, I usually do one or all of the following:

  1. A complete mental RAM dump: If I'm feeling anxiety about my to-do list, chances are it's not complete. Sitting down and mentally vomiting all over a piece of paper can be much like real vomiting: you might be a little surprised at what comes out but you'll undoubtedly feel better.
  2. Re-write any ambiguous entries (must have clear action!): If I can't look at an item on my to-do list and know EXACTLY what I'm talking about, I'm in trouble. Sometimes really ambiguous entries make it on the list because I trust my future self way too much.
  3. Break big to-do's into smaller to-do's: Let's face it, no matter which way you slice it, "figure out where I stand on religion" (this was actually on my latest to-do list) is not a to-do. Your brain knows when you are asking way too much of it. When you do that, it will shut down and your productivity will plummet. Be honest with yourself, it should only be on your to-do list if it is something you can actually DO. Break that monster project up into some smaller steps and attack them one at a time.
  4. Get rid of things I don't need to do anymore: The easiest way to fly through your to-do list is to delete things. Even the most productive of people can't beat that. There is nothing wrong with doing that either, as long as it is legitimate. If deleting something won't have any real ramifications and it isn't something you really think you need to do, by all means get that little attention hog out of there.
  5. Make somebody else do something: If you can't delete something it must be moderately important. That doesn't mean you have to do it though, right? See if you can get one of your underlings (or friends or little brother or whatever) to do it instead. If it's not something to love and it has to get done anyway it's just eating up the time you could be using on something amazing. Find someone you trust, give them the tools they need to accomplish it, and get the hell out of their way.

When I have a beefy to-do list in front of me with well-written and actionable items my productivity flies through the roof. A to-do list means all the decision making behind what to do is done ahead of time. When it's time to work it's time to focus on the doing. No more bottleneck, no more frustration and no more productivity lapses.

How to Use the Path of Least Resistance Productively

I'm all for taking the path of least resistance. Honestly. Do whatever is easiest. You have my permission.

That doesn't sound right coming from a personal development aficionado, right? I'm supposed to tell you to buckle down, put your nose to the grindstone and persevere. I'm not pulling your leg either, I'm being serious.

Take the path of least resistance but (ah, there it is) make sure you created that path. Set up your own path of least resistance and follow it as far as possible. Here are some examples of what I mean.

ARE YOU RUSHING AROUND IN THE MORNING AND AS A RESULT NOT EATING A GOOD BREAKFAST OR GETTING A GOOD START TO THE DAY?

Set your clothes out the night before and get breakfast ready as much as possible. Instead of stumbling around like a zombie when I wake up and rushing to get out the door, I can stumble into my clothes, find my breakfast waiting to be finished on the counter, and suddenly have 10 more minutes to end my morning in a peaceful manner. Sure, you have to have the discipline to prepare the night before, but once you've mastered that, which is easier-- preparing the night before and gliding through your morning routine or rushing around like a fool in the morning?

HAVING TROUBLE GETTING THE MOTIVATION TO WORKOUT WHEN YOU GET HOME FROM WORK?

Immediately change into your workout clothes, even if you have no intention of going. Sometimes when I come home from work I know I should workout but I just can't get the motivation to go right that instant. I'll tell myself that I'll go later but I've found that getting the motivation to change AND go workout can be a little too much to overcome. Take care of the changing earlier and working out later might be much easier to accomplish!

GET TO THE GYM AND THEN HAVE A LAME WORKOUT?

Go with a plan! Write down what you're going to do before you even start working out. Instead of just working out by "feel" and quitting what you want get through that list! If you've made the decisions beforehand it's much easier to just follow the plan. Don't trust yourself to make decisions regarding what's best for your workout after you just finished busting your butt on the treadmill. Take the path of least resistance and follow your pre-written plan!

HAVE A HARD TIME STAYING FOCUSED WHEN YOU SHOULD BE WORKING ON YOUR COMPUTER?

Install a program that blocks all of the sites that suck up your time. I use one called SelfControl on my Mac and it is awesome. I set a time limit and hit a button and suddenly all my time wasting websites are completely unavailable to me (even if I restart my computer). Sure, I know what hitting that button means. But hitting a button and then "suffering" through four hours of distraction free computer usage is much easier than trusting my self-discipline to not go to those sites. Make it easy on yourself and impossible to be distracted!

FIND YOURSELF EATING UNHEALTHILY AND WOULD LIKE TO IMPROVE?

It's really quite simple… don't bring any "bad" food into your house. If you are dying for a snack and your only options are fresh fruit, some nuts, or some other healthy and whole food it makes the decision making process much easier. Don't always rely on your self-discipline to make the right decision. Even the strongest of us will falter occasionally when we are constantly tempted.

Making your own path of least resistance usually takes a little bit of effort and planning-- but less than forging a path of difficulty. Where else can you develop a path of least resistance to make yourself more productive or happier?