Do you know what is the worst question that you can ask yourself?
It is a powerful question If you intend to avoid living a life that is fulfilling at all the levels: safety, risk, connection, significance, growth and contribution.
What big goals do you have for yourself? (You do have them, whether you have taken the time to write them out or not.) What is the next step? The step that takes you from where you are today towards where you need to be for your goal to become realised.
Now, when you look at that step, there is a question that is guaranteed to kill the chance of you achieving the goal.
It is guaranteed to stop you taking action.
It might be fitness action, it might be relationships action, it might be learning reaction, it might be better eating action… but this question is guaranteed to stop you.
The Kill-Joy Question
It is a simple question, it seems a reasonable question to ask oneself.
I hear it all the time.
It gets into every nook and cranny of our lives, it seeps in to every effort.
I use it too often myself.
The Small Life Question
What is the question?
“Do I feel like doing this?”
Each day is an opportunity to make an incremental difference in how your journey in life pans out in the long-term.
Every day that you do “what you feel like doing” is a day that doesn’t build you a better platform for tomorrow, nor does it give a sense of a day used for fulfilment today.
Do I feel like writing now? No.
Do I feel like going for a run before lunch? No.
Do I feel like calling my accountant and getting our accounts closed before year end? No. (Definitely no).
Do I feel like making a detailed plan for 2015? No.
Even the things that make me happy, are things that I don’t feel like doing just before I start.
PS You probably already know this, but this is an important reminder to myself this morning…
Ed Stafford walked the length of the Amazon, from the source to the sea. It took him 860 days. 860 days hiking in remote jungle, hacking his way through mosquito-ridden rain forest. I would have given up in the first week. After 3 or 4 days sleeping in the mud, I’d have given up. Why did Ed keep on going? There was a deeper purpose for Ed.
If you have a tiny vision, then any obstacle will stop you. If you have a deeply compelling vision of what you intend to achieve, no obstacle will stop you. Your resourcefulness will open new paths over, through, around and past the obstacle. Ed must have a deeply meaningful sense of what walking the Amazon would mean to his life.
Exercise: Imagine standing on top of a very tall building. There is another building about 10 meters away. There is a wooden plank laid between the two buildings. What would have to be on top of the other building for you to risk your life to make the crossing?
Your habits aren’t serving you
Practice doesn’t differentiate good or bad habits. Practice distraction: become a master. I have returned from the summer with a tendency to check facebook several times during the day. This habit stops me from pushing into the hard stuff. As soon as I face a tough decision, my habit of facebook checking rears it’s ugly head. I have practiced this habit over the last 3 months – it will take me at least a month to get back to the discipline of writing 500 words at a sitting, to take 10 minutes each morning to silently reflect on the day that is ahead. I have been practicing poor habits. I now need to practice better habits, and accept the frustration and annoyance of regularly falling back onto the poor habits. I want to practice concentration.
Exercise: Identify one poor habit and create an "if-then" rule for dealing with it. If I feel the urge to check facebook I will immediately write 100 words of content. If I feel the urge to go to the kitchen for a snack, I will get a large glass of water.
You haven’t invested in improving yourself
My first corporate job was with Accenture. They spend at least 2% of revenues on training and development every year. This meant that I did an average of 12 full days of training every year. In my first few years as an entrepreneur, do you know how much time and money I spent on professional training? None. I did not invest in myself. In the last 6 years I have committed to at least 10 days of professional training each year.
How much training and development have you done in the last year? How much have you paid to get great teachers? Have you reached out to mentors?
Exercise: Pick an area for development for 2015. Identify 3 books you will read, 3 wise mentors you can reach out to and 1 professional training course that you can commit to attend during 2015.
Improve your Communication: If you’ve adopted some good habits BUT feel like you need more accountability and guidance check out my online communications coaching program here: http://cono.rs/practicespeak
If you want to be thin, eat your meals with skinny people. If you want to be fit, spend your time with fit people.
If I want inspiration I have some great friends that get the best out of me: Florian, Eka, Mathieu, Brian, Stefan, David, Raul, Al, Adrian. A phone call, and I have the desire and discipline to be the best version of Conor.
Exercise: Write down the names of 5 people who inspire you to be the best version of yourself.
You don’t invest in yourself. The world is changing fast. You are either learning 1 hour per day, or you are depreciating your main asset – your own capacity to serve the world, your skills, your connections. Coursera, EdX, Udemy, NovoEd, Apple University – it is accessible and online; and a quick search will find you valuable institutions in your local area.
Exercise: Pick an area you would like to improve and do an online course. Languages - duolingo is a great app. Programming - code.org. History, philosophy, culture - Coursera.
You’re worried about your weaknesses
You will make mistakes. It is the human condition. Language learners cannot learn without many, many mistakes. I know people who have spent years learning a language, but will never open their mouth at fear of making a small mistake. They know that mistakes make them feel guilty. They hate the feeling of guilt. I hate the feeling of guilt. Making mistakes is the human condition. We were not born to be perfect. We are here to learn, to grow, to become better versions of ourselves.
Japanese artists used to start by making a mistake with their very first brush stroke. It had something to do with establishing that they were men, not gods, and that only gods could strive for perfection. I think it is a great way of starting. Once you have made an error, you no longer are staring at a blank sheet… and the next step is guaranteed to be better.
Exercise: Start each activity by deliberately making an error. I write a bad draft of a blog post first before going back and improving it. Go for draft quality first and get it complete, then go back and look to improve the quality.
You’re filling your time
I love being busy – it allows me to ignore the anxiety I have for areas of my life that are not going well. Tony Robbins talks about “safe problems”. Each of us has a safe problem – something that we almost enjoy explaining showing how difficult the problem is. You can tell when someone has a safe problem – they enjoy sharing it with you; and they hate when you try to help them solve it. They love this problem. They love this problem because this problem keeps them from having to deal with the bigger, deeper problem that is the real challenge in their life. If you take away their safe problem, it is like taking away a child’s teddy bear.
Exercise: Write a list of energy drain activities that you do. What are the activities that drain your energy, but do not provide a clear benefit? I ask myself "is this making me happy now or is this making my life better in the long run?" If the answer is not an easy yes, stop doing it. Do nothing instead.
You’re managing the wrong things
As a blogger I love seeing page views, facebook shares, retweets. I love watching the numbers. I love reviewing detailed statistics. However, none of this is helping me write good content. Good measures of that might be number of words written, or hours spent on re-writing content.
Exercise: Measure only what matters and helps and is under your own control. Number of words produced per day is something that I control and that matters. Number of page views or facebook friends is not something that I control.
You’re asking “do I feel like doing this?”
My emotions are ancient tools that helped with survival, but not with living a fulfilling human life. If I am scared, my whole body and attention is directed towards urgent action that can avoid being eaten. If I am angry, my whole body and attention is directed towards demonstrating that I am not to be messed with.
This morning I thought “I will go to the gym”… but almost immediately another thought came into my mind “I don’t feel like it.” I know that I will enjoy it once I am 20 minutes in, but very rarely do I “feel like” doing the important things for my health, wealth, wisdom and empathy for others. Great ultra athletes always have some form of “I will decide whether to keep running after 1 mile” for their training. They get out and get started each day, and after an
Exercise: when you find yourself asking "do I feel like doing this?" change it to "I will ask myself if I still feel like doing it after 20 minutes of action, then I will decide".
Living The Intentional Life
This final point is important. I spend a lot of my life working on how to live more intentionally, and how to teach others the benefits and practice of living more intentionally. This is the creation of rituals of practice in your life, and these 9 elements of being stuck tend to come from a loss of intentionality in the way you live your days.
Nobody ever climbed Everest by accident, only through intent and years of practice and influence.
First, you may ask, what is “Strategic Unavailability” anyway?
What is Strategic Unavailability?
If you say “yes” to every request for your time, money or attention you will have none for the areas that are your own personal priority. If you want to achieve success, you must retain most of your resources and dedicate them to one to three areas of your choosing. Thus, you must learn to say “No”.
Saying “No” is hard. It also has several negative consequences in polite society.
Far better than the use of the word “No” is the use of a series of tactics that come under the general concept “Strategic Unavailability”.
At the very simplest, the idea is to avoid being there when someone might make a request that will take away your time, money or attention. The key is to retain “plausible deniability” during your use of the tactic. Some tactics require greater acting capacity than others. Beginners would be best avoiding these high acting requirement tactics.
The aim is to keep time for the important 1, 2 or 3 priorities that you have decided for yourself in your profession. It is a total waste if you use the freed-up time to watch CSI Las Vegas or re-runs of Downton Abbey.
Some simple ideas for achieving “strategic unavailability”
Go to the toilet when you know someone is approaching your desk
Work from coffee shops, other people’s offices or meeting rooms during dangerous periods
Return phone calls when you can see that the person is away from their desk (go to voicemail)
Return phone calls after work hours
Delay email responses until tomorrow morning (you can write them today, but don’t let them leave your outbox until tomorrow morning)
Receive an important phone call just as a meeting is reaching the moment where actions will be assigned to people (either phone a friend style, or develop your acting abilities)
Use an old iPhone that regularly runs out of battery (this is a highly plausible tactic, mine is down to about 2 hours of battery)
Always ensure that you are involved in at least 3 projects, and demonstrate massive productivity in the first week of exposure to any new manager or colleague.
“Forget” to switch off the direct to voicemail setting on your phone
Tell your colleagues/team that you have an open-door for them – but that you request that they batch their problems into groups of 10… they can’t interrupt you unless they have accumulated 10 specific issues that they cannot address without your input (usually #1 gets resolved before they get to #5…)
Regularly ask “what could you do to move this forward that does not require anybody’s approval?”
Work with headphones in (whether you are listening to music or not, this also works on airplanes when your neighbour aims to talk for 14 hours)
Keep a charity box on your desk and ask for donations whenever anybody approaches (if you have kids, then ask visitors to your desk to sponsor your kid in a race or something). Bonus edition is to have stickers so that when one person donates, you give them a sticker and then they let others know to avoid your desk unless you wish to donate.
Cultivate a freakish interest in Star Wars, or World Wrestling Foundation, or ancient Greek philosophy, or NLP, or furniture upholstery and engage all visitors in a deep discussion about the merits of your hobby. Freaky hobbies with a plausible connection to your work are ideal.
When asked if you are available to meet, say “yes, I am free this Friday at 6:00am” – puts off all but the most keen time thieves. You will very rarely have to do it.
Bring a regional speciality food to work – I recommend any Icelanders to use “rotting shark meat in vinegar” – and request that anyone who comes to your desk try it.
Have a large audio recorder device and make a big show of switching it on when anyone comes to interrupt you – tell them that you are on a personal efficiency drive and are making a detailed study of all your interactions and all requests
Cultivate a mysterious illness with unclear symptoms
Remove all other chairs from your office (this made a massive improvement on my meeting time when I was running an airline); another variant is really uncomfortable chairs (especially very low seats)
Eat a rich curry or garlic dish for lunch in your office
Keep saying “that would make a great tweet!” and write down some banal saying from the other person
Advanced Strategic Unavailability
I need your help. What else works for you?
PS You better be very good at establishing a great reputation before you engage seriously in these tactics. If you are not viewed as a strong performer, if you are not delivering measurable results and if you are not gaining good exposure to senior influencers – fix that first (check out The PIE Model). These tactics only work if you are perceived as an “A” player…
I know plenty of financial advisors who would love to spend a few hours reviewing my investments, cash position, investment goals and helping me make a realistic plan.
I know how much I spent on food, travel, housing, school in the last month, year and if I did the sums I could calculate a rough lifetime spend.
You can always earn more money.
Organisations spend small fortunes developing capital expenditure budgets and operational budgets and auditing the cash of the business.
My time, in contrast, goes un-managed. Most organisations have no systematic procedure to eliminate time wasters. They place clear objectives for the use of every dollar, but no barriers on the expenditure of another hour.
My first girlfriend used to tell me that time is like money but with one major difference – at the end of every day, everything you have left unspent is taken away from you. Imagine if you started every day with €240 and you knew that at midnight, any left unspent will be taken away.
Imagine Managing Time Like Companies Budget Capital
Imagine if every month, instead of receiving a bank statement, I received a time-statement: a detailed breakdown of where my hours have been put, how many were invested and how many just dripped through the cracks.
Would it change how I spend my time? Would it reduce facebook and increase playing with my daughter? Would it reduce email and increase face-to-face meetings? How would the measurement change me?
I have been writing this month for the Lifehack blog. They have published 4 of my blog posts so far. It’s challenging and helpful to get pushed to improve my ability to explain my ideas, work with editors and pitch story ideas 😉
6 Item Checklist for Running Impressive Meetings
Our first board meeting was chaos. There was a paper agenda, but I failed to keep people focussed on the agreed discussions. Each board member would throw their own opinion in for every small point. We spent almost 4 hours sucked into petty administrative details. It was tiring. Over the next 2 years, I learnt how to run meetings that get volunteers engaged, proud, active and delivering big results. What works for volunteers also works for corporates, universities and professional associations.
Richard Hamming’s 14 Lessons for Success (as a Scientist)
Before we dive into Richard’s wisdom, let me give my 20,000 mile high summary: If you want to live a life that matters, it is necessary to do something outstanding, otherwise it will all be taken away from you. This talk is not a talk about living a happy life, nor a helpful life. Richard himself says: “I am really trying to get you to think about doing significant things…”
Balance is an ideal. It doesn’t exist. When we are walking, we aren’t in balance. We fall to the left, we fall to the right. When we are running, we aren’t in balance. We fall to the left, we fall to the right. When we are cycling, we aren’t in balance… I think I’ve labored the point.
All natural forward progress by humans comes from imbalance.
Procrastination, Schmastination: 3 Power Tools to Get Things Done
My entire life can be divided into 3 phases.
Blissful Avoidance; Lucky, and Avoiding Responsibility; and Realisation
I know what an unproductive day looks like. I can recognise the features of a zero day. What’s the opposite? What is a productive day? What’s in a ‘Get Things Done’ day?
168 hours in a week. 24 hours in a day. I haven’t done the math to work out how many in a year or a lifetime, but however large the number, it is still finite. It is limited. We get so much, and no more. This leaves you with a choice. My friend Verne Harnish is fond of saying “we can do anything we want, but not everything”. He is in great company:
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Warren Buffett
“What you don’t do determines what you can do.” Tim Ferriss, author of the best-seller ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’
“Prioritization is as much about what we choose not to do as what we do.” Jonathan Becher, Chief Marketing Officer at SAP
Creating Your Not-To-Do List
You already have a to-do list (Come on, you are reading this blog… you must have a list somewhere in front of you?) It may not be enough. In my workshops I ask people to create a do more and do less page. Big sheet of paper, top of the left side write: “Do More” and top of the right side write: “Do Less”. What tends to go on “do less”? TV, facebook, attending meetings with no agenda. What tends to go on “do more”? Lots of great stuff. It is a powerful exercise.
Tim Ferriss argues that there are 9 habits we must eliminate to free up time for more important activities:
Do not answer phone calls from people you don’t know
Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
Do not let people ramble: “Small talk takes up big time.”
Do not check email constantly
Do not over-communicate with low profit, high maintenance customers
Do not work more to fix being too busy
Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7
Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should
When I worked at Accenture, we were often in the business of identifying the existing business processes and then analysing how we would enable these processes with technology. Sometimes it was putting a mobile phone purchase process onto Siebel CRM, sometimes it was putting insurance sales onto SAP ERP.
A senior partner used to say to me “we are not here to just pave the cow path”.
Don’t Pave the Cow Path
The cow path was the old way of doing things. Sometimes the old way was not a good way. Sometimes the old way was a terrible way.
The Green Book and the Blue Book
My father tells a story of when he was first working as a consultant back in the early 1970’s in a hospital in south west Ireland.
On his first day, he was required to sign in to enter the building. Strangely, he was asked to do this in a blue book, and also in a green book. He asked the girl behind the desk “why the two books?”.
She responded “there have always been two books.”
After a week of this double sign in, my father began to have a curiosity as to why these 2 books were both needed. He would ask managers, he would ask doctors, he would ask others who had worked there for years. Always, the same answer “there have always been two books”.
After months of work my father was coming to the end of his project at the hospital. As part of the final phase of the project, he was to meet with a retired doctor who had been around since the very beginning of the hospital.
At the end of the meeting with this eminent doctor, my father again asked his question “why the two books?”
The doctor laughed and said “Back in the war years, there was rationing of petrol. A lot of our staff were unable to easily get to and from work. The hospital bought bicycles for staff to use to get home quickly. The blue book is for signing bicycles in and out, the green book was the original attendance book. Somewhere along the way, the bicycles were no longer necessary and were sold… but we never were able to get rid of the blue book”.
I have seen so many blue book processes in companies. It is much, much harder to stop something that we are already doing than it is to start a new thing.
In each of our lives there are also many blue book processes. They may have served us well several years ago, but are just busy activity now. They are processes that do not serve.
In productivity, removing the blue book processes is more important than adding efficiency to the green book processes. Removing busy-ness. Stopping using the old cow path when we now have a six lane motorway.
As I grow ever older, staying fit requires ever greater intention. I sometimes wish to myself that it might be a little easier, but then quickly realise that this is my inner saboteur distracting me.
If you are going uphill then you are going towards success. I so often want writing to become easier. I live with the hope that if I really work at my fitness, at my writing: I will find that they become easier. It does not work this way. Eka told me that the better I get at something, the better my inner saboteur becomes. I am wise enough to see through the excuses of 10 years ago, but now I have new, more sophisticated, more subtle, more dangerous excuses.
John Maxwell shares a story of a tree in a garden. He says “if I take up my axe and swing at the tree, will I chop it down?” Not in one blow, unless it is a very small tree. In 5 blows? maybe? If I go out every day and swing the axe at the tree, will the tree fall? Yes. When? eventually. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow… but if I keep on chopping, the tree will fall. It could be a Californian Sequoia, it could be a towering British Oak: if I keep on chopping, the tree will fall. It doesn’t matter the quality of the blows, it doesn’t matter the strength in my arms: if I keep on chopping, the tree will fall.
If you want to be successful: do what you have to do to be successful. Not what you want to do, not what you wish you could do, not what you feel like doing… what you have to do.
What are the 5 things you have to do to be successful? You don’t need a PhD to figure these out.
“If you are not growing, you are dying” Jim Rohn
If I don’t have a plan for growth, the natural is not to stay in good fit shape. If you are not moving forward, it is likely that you are being left behind.
I do have a plan for growth. I have a plan for health, a plan for writing, a plan for teaching. However, in the last few weeks I have grown comfortable. I have stopped doing what is hard and only done what is easy. I have allowed my inner saboteur to move me off the uphill path. I was hoping for some automation, some easing of the uphill journey. My friend Florian says “only dead fish swim with the flow”. To be alive, is to swim against the natural flow.
“The only thing automatic in life is death” John Maxwell
Life is simple. We live for a short moment, and then we die. It is easy to be hopeless in the face of this simple equation. It is easy for me to tell myself that anything I do is meaningless. It is easy for me to excuse myself from the hard work. In the face of the equation of life, there is only one heroic response.
The heroic response to challenge: Defiance.
Defiance in the Face of Difficulty
I cannot control the external forces of my life. I cannot control whether people read my writing or like my writing or learn from my writing. I cannot control when I get ill. I cannot control when those that I love suffer, get ill.
I can always control my reaction. To react is to give up the heroic response. To respond in a way that resonates with the best version of myself, to be defiant in the face of difficulty: this is the heroic response.
If you want to grow, you have to be intentional. What’s your plan for growth? What do you do every day to ensure that you are growing?
Most people live their entire life and never plan to intentionally grow.
There are no secrets to success: You don’t have to do it all day. You do have to do it every day. The 20 mile march, daily progress. I don’t get to brush my teeth 7 times on a Sunday to make up for not brushing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday…
(PS You may have already guessed: the read audience for this post is myself, to make myself go for a run today)
I often blog about productivity, about removing purposeless-busy-ness from our lives; but sometimes I don’t car and I want to give the impression that I am really working hard.
Here are 10 golden rules for looking like you are working hard:
George Costanza’s 10 Commandments For ‘Working Hard’
Never walk without a document in your hands. People with documents in their hands look like hardworking employees heading for important meetings. People with nothing in their hands look like they’re heading for the cafeteria. People with a newspaper in their hand look like they’re heading for the toilet. Above all, make sure you carry loads of stuff home with you at night, thus generating the false impression that you work longer hours than you do.
Use computers to look busy. Any time you use a computer, it looks like “work” to the casual observer. You can send and receive personal e-mail, chat, and generally have a blast without doing anything remotely related to work. These aren’t exactly the societal benefits that the proponents of the computer revolution would like to talk about but they’re not bad either. When you get caught by your boss — and you will get caught — your best defence is to claim you’re teaching yourself to use new software, thus saving valuable training dollars.
Keep a messy desk. Top management can get away with a clean desk. For the rest of us, it looks like we’re not working hard enough. Build huge piles of documents around your workspace. To the observer, last year’s work looks the same as today’s work; it’s volume that counts. Pile them high and wide. If you know somebody is coming to your cubicle, bury the document you’ll need halfway down in an existing stack and rummage for it when he/she arrives.
Use voice mail. Never answer your phone if you have voice mail. People don’t call you just because they want to give you something for nothing — they call because they want you to do work for them. That’s no way to live. Screen all your calls through voice mail. If somebody leaves a voice-mail message for you and it sounds like impending work, respond during lunch hour when you know they’re not there — it looks like you’re hardworking and conscientious even though you’re being a devious weasel.
Look impatient & annoyed. One should also always try to look impatient and annoyed to give your bosses the impression that you are always busy.
Leave the office late. Always leave the office late, especially when the boss is still around. You could read magazines and storybooks that you always wanted to read but have no time until late before leaving. Make sure you walk past the boss’ room on your way out. Send important e-mail at unearthly hours (e.g. 9:35 p.m., 7:05 a.m., etc.) and during public holidays.
Use sighing for effect. Sigh loudly when there are many people around, giving the impression that you are under extreme pressure.
Opt for the stacking strategy. It is not enough to pile lots of documents on the table. Put lots of books on the floor etc. (thick computer manuals are the best).
Build your vocabulary. Read up on some computer magazines and pick out all the jargon and new products. Use the phrases freely when in conversation with bosses. Remember; they don’t have to understand what you say, but you sure sound impressive.
Don’t get caught. MOST IMPORTANT: Don’t forward this page’s URL to your boss by mistake!
I was prompted to write this post as I am finding the post-holiday return to discipline quite challenging. I heard somewhere that it takes 30 days to build a habit, and 1 day to lose it. Time to get the habits back again for 2013.
14 Ways to Get Things Done
Start the day slowly – Ken Blanchard told me how here.
Do in sprints – The Pomodoro technique is explained here. (Page 2, Self-Discipline)
Say No More – Say “No” to most requests. Often the best way to say “no” doesn’t use the word “no”. More on saying “no” here.
Double up on Priorities (throw in the €50) – Life gives you little nudges, but you must choose the sacrifice. More on chosen sacrifice.
Create barriers (email, phone, social media) – Jim Collins keeps away from all digital devices before midday. More on Jim Collins 3 tools for productivity here.
Work with A Players – Your scarce resource is not time, it is energy. You have limited energy. Some people suck it, some people are neutral, and some help you find even more. Florian Mueck helps me find more. How to find A players?
Use the gaps – Do your little admin tasks in the 5 minute gaps. Productive people get the necessary crap done in the 10 minutes waiting before a meeting, in the 4 minutes waiting for a friend to arrive for lunch. If you call your bank in the gap, the 2 hours of time for productive creation can really be spent on creation.
Ship when done, not when perfect – This is my Achilles Heel. I don’t know how to solve it. Any ideas? I will be most grateful. My book project is often blocked by the search for perfection, not the acceptance of good enough.
What else am I missing? What gets you into productive mode? What signals help you see when you are becoming un-productive?
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