3 Ways to Stay Focused for Proper Execution

I love shopping at the local warehouse club store. Where else can you buy a 1,000-count bottle of aspirin, a box of 50 hot dogs, and snow tires all at the same time? On a recent visit to the superstore, I navigated my oversized cart through the aisles. My eyes darted between my shopping list, my fistful of coupons, and the floor-to-ceiling overstocked shelves. I made light work of my list, and I loaded several boxes of goodies into the trunk of my car.

Remove the clutter

When I returned home, I began putting away the spoils. I grabbed a 3-pack of toothpaste and made my way to the bathroom closet. Yikes! I was confronted with a disorganized hodge podge of towels, cough and cold medicine, lightbulbs and – for some reason – a sole children’s house slipper.

I began organizing the closet to create a sensible space for the toothpaste. That’s when I uncovered 6 tubes of Crest still in their shrink wrapped packaging. There had been so much extra stuff in the way, I didn’t know what I already had!

I shouldn’t be surprised. I find that the same thing can happen to my to-do list, my calendar, and even my goals and long-term plans if I let it happen. With busy professional lives and busy home lives, I find that as Work|Life Warriors, we’re particularly vulnerable to cluttered living. We convince ourselves that we can do it all simply by pushing harder. This works right up until it doesn’t.

Here’s a 3-step plan you can use to keep yourself focused on proper execution:

  • Know what matters most. We pride ourselves on being incredibly busy all the time. We are quick to sign up for more, but each additional thing takes us further away from our most pressing goals and objectives. We have to be crystal clear about which life areas, values, and goals are most important to us.
  • Remove the clutter. Remember the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. In productivity terms, 80% of the value we produce comes from 20% of the things we’re doing. Start by identifying extraneous activities. What are you doing that you can stop doing? Every little bit extra is just an extra distraction. Move on to patterns of thinking that you can do without. Finally, tackle emotional responses that aren’t serving you well. If it doesn’t help you grow, it’s got to go.
  • Become a “Defensive Driver”. I’m not referring to the automotive sense of that phrase here. Instead, I’m talking about the combination of vigilantly preventing distractions while continuing to drive the results that matter. Both are essential. Both are equal parts of the Warrior’s mindset.

Like most people, you probably struggle to stay on the path to successful living. By following the 3-step plan above, you can increase your chances of proper execution as you charge toward your most important and closely held goals.

Incidents like my triple-buy toothpaste fiasco serve as a sort of canary in a coal mine – a clear warning signal that I need to get back to basics. On the plus side, it gave me an opportunity to call timeout and regroup. I suppose I can also take comfort in knowing that I’m well equipped in the battle against gingivitis.

(Featured image by Unsplash.com)

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What techniques do you use to simplify your life? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.

5 Time-Saving Tips to Power Your Productivity

Over the years, I’ve become something of a pack rat. Even a simple overnight getaway with my bride usually starts with a suitcase that looks like it ate a Volkswagen Beetle.

watch face

I shouldn’t be surprised that my luggage groans since I do the same thing with my daily to-do list. I’ve set some pretty lofty goals for myself, I work hard at my job, and I have a bustling family. This means that I’ve needed to develop systems and techniques to help me stay focused and maximize where my time goes.

If you want to boost your personal productivity, try a few of my time-saving tips:

Nighttime is the Right Time
I wake up super-early most days. Whether I’ll be headed to work or to the gym on a given morning, I make sure to lay out any gear I need the night before. I’m not going to be at my best at 4:30am if I’m rooting around the house for an errant shoe or a must-have file folder. This practice not only makes me more efficient, it ensures a stress-free start to my day.

Batch It Up
My to do list typically includes a variety of work and home related items. In a recent post, I shared that Todoist is my preferred go-to app for managing my recurring and one-off tasks. I’ve found that I can dramatically improve my efficiency by grouping similar items. I make sure to tag each item with where it will take place. Two popular examples are “Computer” and “Town” (meaning something I can do online or somewhere that I have to drive to in order to get it done). Then I simply drag and drop my to do list items into their order. Nothing is forgotten, and when driving, I can map the most efficient route through the mean streets of Cape Cod ahead of time.

Tame That Email
Like most people, I get way too much email. It occurred to me that I kept deleting messages from the same sources over and over. Now, I use Unroll.me, an email management system. It scans my inbox, and it tells me which companies/organizations are sending me mail. For each sender, I can choose to roll it up into a daily digest, unsubscribe from that list, or keep those messages coming to my Inbox. It’s been a huge timesaver for me.

unrollme

Example from Unroll.me

Save It for Later
I often come across an article or a website that I want to dive into, but I just don’t have enough time to do so at the moment. I used to keep dozens of tabs open in my browser, but I’ve had enough crashes and reboots to know this doesn’t work well. Now I use Google Keep to manage a few different “later” stashes like articles, blog ideas, podcasts, and websites. The Pocket app is another good choice for this. When I get a spare moment – at the end of the day, between meetings, or while waiting in line on the weekend – I can refer back to my list.

Grocery Grid
In full disclosure, my bride thinks that this practice of mine is completely ridiculous. Even so, I love it, so here you go. When I’m making out my grocery list, I write down the items in their spatial order based on the store’s layout. For the store where I do most of my shopping, it’s basically produce, deli, international, canned veggies, meat, etc. Having my list laid out the right way means fewer times backtracking to places I’ve already been. You know, the way I do when the love of my life makes the shopping list.

Those are just a few of the tools and techniques that I use to find efficiencies in a life that’s chock full of goal pursuits. There are many great time-saving suggestions on the web, but I believe the most important change is in your mindset. Your time is very precious, and you need to be hyper-diligent about how you spend it.

If you need a bit of extra motivation, run the numbers on how much you earn per hour at work. If that pile of cash were sitting on the table in front of you, wouldn’t you want to maximize your return if you were going to invest it?

(Featured image by Unsplash.com)

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What tools or techniques do you use to maximize your efficiency and productivity? Share them below in the comments section.

3 Goal-Setting Mistakes That Will Derail your 2017

I’ve studied subjects ranging from linguistics to gender studies to abnormal psychology during my many years of schoolwork. Surprisingly, I’ve never seen a class dedicated to goal-setting.

rusted car symbolizing failures in goal-setting

Everything I’ve learned about this topic has been through a process of trial and error. I often write about what works when it comes to personal development, but it’s also helpful to look at those “oh crap” moments.

Here are 3 goal-setting mistakes that will derail your year if you let them:

1. Pursuing Goals That Aren’t Clear

Aspirations such as lose weight, spend more time with family, or increase savings are great starting points, but these loose notions aren’t goals just yet. Got a bit further to make your goals crystal clear in your mind.

How much weight do you plan to lose and by when? What does “more time with family” look like exactly and how will you make it so? We’ve all heard of the SMART goals convention – goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Based – but we need to apply this rubric to our goal pursuits if we’re going to make them a reality.

2. Setting Too many goals

I used to make this mistake. I was supremely motivated, and I made sure to capitalize on the natural renewal that comes with the beginning of a new year. One year, I schemed and schemed, and I developed a roster of 53 personal goals. As the year progressed, there were points where I felt I was investing as much time in managing my goals as achieving them.

Especially if you’re just starting out, choose a manageable number of goals to chase. I recommend 5-8 across a few parts of your life. If things are going well, you can always stack on new goals later.

3. Starting Too Many New Things at Once

Changing behaviors and habits is one of the most difficult parts of goal attainment, second only to changing your mindset. It’s tempting to start a new year strong by introducing several new behaviors at once. Drive by the parking lot of any health club during the first two weeks of January, and you’ll see that they’re bursting with eager goal seekers.

Life can get in the way without focus, though, and if you take on too much change, you may soon find yourself off track. This year, I’ve decided that I’d like to meditate every day. I’ve given myself permission, however, not to begin until April so I can make room for new fitness and writing goals until then.

Fortunately, these common problems don’t have to derail your year. Take this opportunity to check in on your 2017 goals. If you haven’t set any yet, this is the perfect time!

Get clear about what you want to accomplish and who you want to become this year. Set a few goals that really resonate with you, and focus on the mindset and behavior changes it will take to achieve them. Accept that growing into your goals is better than putting them at risk by taking on too much at once.

(Featured image by Unsplash.com.)

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What poses the greatest threat to your goal pursuits this year, and how do you plan to overcome it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

10 Simple Tools to Crush Your Goals in 2017

When I first became a homeowner, my toolbox consisted of a hammer, a few random screwdrivers, and a paint scraper. Every home improvement project meant another trip to the hardware store to pick up a new tool.

Me: “Can you tell me where to find your most powerful blowtorch?”
Clerk: “Um … can I ask what you’re working on?”

Since then, I’ve amassed a collection of tools that’s sufficient for most any job.

Just as the right tool is essential when working around the house, we need tools to reach our most important personal goals.

Here are 10 simple tools you can use to power your 2017 goal pursuits.

[1] Mind Map
A mind map is a diagram that helps you visually organize information. When I set personal goals, I like to make sure they cover multiple areas in my life. A mind map helps me quickly take a “big picture” view of my goals, drill down into the details, and make adjustments as necessary. You can make a mind map using a single sheet of paper, but because you’re going to want to make frequent changes, a down-and-dirty set of sticky notes is a better option.

I like to have my mind map with me at all times, so I use an app called MindNode. Other mind mapping software options include Mindjet, Mindmeister, and XMind. In a pinch, you can use Microsoft PowerPoint or Lucidchart for mind mapping, as well.

[2] Vision Board
A vision board is a collection of images or graphics that relate to your goals and aspirations. Saving your pennies for a shiny new car? Why not grab a pic of the model you want? You can collect symbolic pictures related to fitness, career, or family goals … whatever you’d like to make a part of your life. Any time you need a boost of motivation, have a satisfying look at your vision board.

If you want to learn more, check out productivity legend Jack Canfied’s tips on creating a vision board.

[3] Inspirational Quotes
I love to read the inspirational words of historical figures, philosophers, artists, and other accomplished people. Their quotes can instill wisdom, enthusiasm, and commitment. Each week, I choose a new inspirational quote, and I post it outside my office for myself and my co-workers.

You can find inspirational quotes using keyword search terms at one of any number of quote sites. One of my favorites is BrainyQuote. I’ve also started using GoodReads for quotes from book passages. If you’re a visual person, there are also gobs of photo-and-quote pins on Pinterest and at Quotographed.

[4] Blogs
There are several great blogs covering the topics of motivation, success, productivity, and other important goal-related topics. While I consume a variety of books, audiobooks, and magazines on these topics, I particularly like following bloggers. They post frequently on a wide variety of subjects, and you can easily make a personal connection with them through social media.

Some of my favorite follows are Michael Hyatt, James Clear, and Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits. I also enjoy posts featured on The Muse and Lifehack.

[5] Calendar
The best goals are framed as time-based goals, so a calendar is an essential goal-setting tool. I use a combination of print and online calendars to manage my goal pursuits. I have different versions representing different time periods.

Like most people, I use Outlook and Apple’s Calendar app to manage my daily and weekly appointments. At home, my bride and I use a weekly planner drawn onto a 4’ x 6’ whiteboard mounted in our kitchen. It helps us manage a household that includes three busy teenagers, a horse, a dog, and a cat. In my office, I’ve posted long-range calendars that cover 3-month, 1-year, and 2-year planning periods.

If I miss a deadline, it won’t be because I don’t have enough calendars!

[6] To Do App
I am an unapologetic To Do List junkie. For years, I maintained a written log of my To Do lists in a bright pink notebook. I chose pink because it was easy to locate anywhere in the house. A few years ago, I went high-tech by downloading a to do app that runs on my phone, my tablet, my laptop, and the family iMac. I use it to track my progress, auto-schedule recurring tasks, group and label activities, set reminders, and more.

My to do app of choice is Todoist, but there are many including Wunderlist, Remember The Milk, and Any.do among others.

[7] Visible Reminders
For too many people, goals are “out of sight, out of mind”. Once you’ve put in the effort to set a great goal, make sure you keep it front-and-center. It’s easy to write your goal on a sticky note and post it on your bathroom mirror, the dashboard of your car, or your refrigerator.

Any place that reminds you that a better you awaits is the right place. If you find that your goal reminder is fading into the background after a while, simply move it to a new location.

[8] Spreadsheet
Spreadsheets aren’t just for finance nerds. You can create a simple spreadsheet that clearly lays out your goal intentions. Then you can use it to track your progress toward making your goals a reality. Thanks to online tools like Google Sheets, you can always have your goals spreadsheet at your fingertips. That makes this tool particularly powerful for daily progress tracking.

If you want to tap into the behavior-changing power of spreadsheets, check out my recent blog post that explains how.

[9] Journal
When we pursue our goals – particularly challenging ones – we have to develop new skills, conjure up new ideas, and confront emotional trials and tribulations. A personal journal can serve as a key ally in this process of personal development. Capturing your thoughts and feelings may sound a bit new age to some, but just a few minutes a day can make a dramatic shift if you’re willing to give it a go.

One of the best instructional guides I’ve seen on how to keep a journal is this audiobook from my virtual mentor Jim Rohn. It’s an easy, breezy listen for high achievers.

[10] Accountability Partner
A great way to ensure that you follow through on a goal is to tell someone close to you about your intentions. Whether you tap your spouse, a friend, or a co-worker, a bit of added accountability can go a long way. If your goal buddy is pursuing a similar goal – think healthy eating habits, reading for professional development, or cleaning out the clutter – all the better as you can push one another on to victory.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of recruiting an accountability partner, check out Jessica Stillman’s article on this topic.

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What do you think? Are there any tools I’ve missed? Please share your suggestions using the comments section below.

(Featured image by Unsplash.)

How to Visualize Your Future Success

A few weeks ago, I found myself looking out my front window with a bit of trepidation. A change of seasons had buried my lush green lawn under a thick blanket of brown leaves. Fall cleanup was in order, and I knew I had a long day ahead of me.

I collected the tools of the leaf-clearing trade – leaf blower, rakes, tarp, Beyoncé playlist – and I headed out to face my foe. I blew a swath of leaves in one direction and then turned to tackle another section. If there’s a best-way-to-clear-leaves gene, it must skip a generation, because it was immediately apparent that my strategy was ineffective at best. I felt my motivation slowly ebbing away.

Fortunately, with age comes wisdom, and I’ve learned a lot about myself over time. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered several goal-related techniques that help me stay on course until I accomplish my mission.

One bit of self-awareness came as I discovered that I like to make visible progress against my goals. I need to be able to see what’s ahead and the little wins I’m experiencing along the way. With this in mind, I decided to use my trusty leaf blower to create a single, wide stretch of leafless lawn.

green path in leafy lawn

Green Means Go!

It may seem silly, but this simple act did a few things for me: It gave me a clear picture of my final goal, and it gave me reassurance that progress was, in fact, possible. I was eventually able to parlay that little win into a full-blown victory over my leafy nemesis.

When we’re pursuing big goals – particularly abstract goals – it’s all too easy for us to become frustrated. We may not feel like we’re making progress or that we’re not on the right track. If we can frame our goals in a new way, we can actually visualize the progress that we’re making. Doing so helps us remember that what we’re trying to achieve is possible, and we can build much needed momentum to carry us forward.

Not all of my goals involve deciduous trees, of course. One tool I often use to make my action plans and progress visible is a dead-simple Google Spreadsheet. I find that this approach works really well for goals that require daily or weekly actions, and it’s super easy to create and update on all of my devices.

Here’s an example of a spreadsheet that I’ve recently started using to track my progress against my triathlon training plan:

Easy goal tracking spreadsheet

Easy goal tracking spreadsheet

A few notes about this goal tracking tool:

  1. I prefer to use an online spreadsheet so that I can update my progress from any device, any place, at any time.
  2. I choose to start my week with Mondays as I’m a work-first guy and I find this European approach more fashionable. Plus, it’s called a weekend so who am I to disagree?
  3. When setting up my spreadsheet, I write in the first Monday date in cell A2. In cell A3, I use the formula “=A2+7”. This way, I can drag cell A3 down into as many future dates as I’d like.
  4. If I have planned actions in advance (like specific workouts) I write them into the cells. For other goals such as “meditate for 15 minutes every day”, I would keep the future cells blank and color them as I go.
  5. If I complete the action as planned, I color code that day’s cell Green.
  6. If I start the action but don’t achieve 100% of my target, I color code that day’s cell Yellow.
  7. If I blow a day completely, I don’t color code it Red. I find that this is too negative for me. Instead, I just leave it white.
  8. I do allow myself to cheat a little. If I miss a day of meditating but I make it up the next day, I mark both cells as Green since the work got done. Somehow, I still manage to sleep soundly at night and nobody has ever called the goals police.
  9. It’s incredibly motivating over time to see a long chain of Green wins! Even if there are a few whites in there, the overall achievement trend is still motivating.

Simple tools can go a long way toward helping you get started on your goals and to maintain your progress toward being your best. Whether raking leaves, pursuing a fitness goal, launching a new business, or just about any other positive thing you’d like to bring into your life, making visible progress can propel you toward long-term success.

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What tools or techniques have you used to achieve an important goal? Share your experience using the comments section below.

(Featured image by Unsplash.)