Exhaling on the scale

The first time I noticed it, I smiled and thought, What a strange thing to do. Then I noticed it again the next day, and realized it was an unconscious habit. Every morning, before stepping on the scale, I breath out deeply, as if that will make a difference in the results. 

It doesn’t make any sense. Yet I think I figured out why I do it: it gives me the perception of control without having to do the more challenging work required to affect the outcome. It’s as if I’m telling myself, “Well, I haven’t exercised for the last few days, and I ate and drank too much last night…but I can do this!” Then I slowly blow out a gust of air. Whoooooooosh.

It would be funny except that I do something similar when it comes to work. 

Like many people, I have a fuzzy notion of the important things I’d like to accomplish. Yet there’s usually enough uncertainty or doubt surrounding those things, or they may seem too big, that they trigger anxiety and resistance. To deal with that, I would find myself filling my day with small tasks and activities, chipping away at an infinite todo list. I would feel busy, but all I really accomplished was avoiding the difficult work required to do something meaningful. 

So lately I’m trying something new. Every Monday I have a short call with a friend, and we each share the top three things we need to do during the upcoming week to make progress towards our big goals. We don’t talk about everything we might do or could do. We just list three specific things we will do, work that will move us in the right direction.

On the next call, we’ll talk about what happened in the past week, discuss adjustments we might make, and share our goals for the following week. There’s no judgment or competition. Just learning and encouragement to focus and to keep going. The mutual accountability helps us maintain both motivation and momentum.

A nice phrase to describe what we’re sharing is our “essential intent,” a phrase from Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. The phrase is usually applied to longer timeframes, but I’ve found it useful as a way to describe nearer-term goals, too. What is the essential thing you intend to do this week/month/year/life? Think of it as a way to distill the truly important from the sea of possible activities, and to state it in a way that’s both actionable and measurable.

Reflect for a moment on your own big goals for your work and life. Do you know your essential intent for this month or this week? For tomorrow? Are you doing work what matters, or are you exhaling on the scale? 


“How’s the book coming along?”

Book coverA difficult conversation with someone who cares about you can help you confront an uncomfortable truth. I’ve been writing a book for the past 18 months. My friends will ask “How’s the book coming along?” I’ll respond with some vague reply and they'll offer encouragement.

Five weeks ago, over morning coffee, my wife asked me the same question. And the ensuing conversation is making it possible for me reach a goal I care very much about.

The adjustments I learned I had to make might help you, too.

The conversation

My wife sees me brooding in front of my laptop for countless hours, so when I told her that the book is going well, she had a few more questions.

“When will it be done?” I don’t know. I really don’t have enough time.

How much more time do you need? I don’t know.

How much time have you spent on it so far? I don’t know.

How much did you work on it last week? Or yesterday even? I don’t know.

A long awkward silence ensued. Inside my head were two other questions. Did Hemingway’s wife ask him these questions? And, more importantly: Am I just kidding myself?

Instead of trying to defend my lack of a meaningful publishing plan, I made 3 adjustments. The first one I made while the coffee was still hot.

Spending time

Hanako's chartI was aware of the irony that, in coaching others, I often help them to better manage their time so they get things done. It was clear to my wife (and now to me) that I wasn’t applying my own advice. 

A few weeks earlier, my wife and daughter came up with a simple chart posted on the refrigerator to motivate us to achieve goals we cared about: more exercise for the parents and more time practicing piano for my daughter. It worked.

IMG_4364So, after the conversation with my wife, I posted another simple chart to track hours spent on the book each day as well as when I shipped something to readers for feedback. 

Just like my Nike Fuel Band encourages me to move more, the simple and public display of my efforts on the book helped me to write more and ship more.

Focus

Later that same day, I was reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. Two chapters in particular helped me with my problem. “The Low-Information Diet” made me realize that, while I was reading a lot and meeting many interesting people, much of it was only marginally related to the book. If I wanted to actually publish a book, I’d have to be much more focused.

The chapter on “Interrupting Interruption” helped me see that, despite knowing the importance of focus, I was frittering away time and my capacity to pay attention by responding to far too many interruptions. Worse, I’d interrupt myself by impulsively checking my phone. James Altucher referred to it as “The Loop.” You’d check email, then Twitter, then Facebook, then the blog. Before you knew it, I'd wasted spent 10-20 minutes. And I'd do that a few times a day.

I recognized  I somehow had time for books, for “The Loop,” for coffee with people, but not enough time for my most important goal: writing the book.

So I became more ruthless in practicing what I preach. Now I turn off WiFi when I’m writing. I process email and check social media in batches rather than impulsively throughout the day. And I carefully budget the time I spend on things not related to my goal. Having better control of my time and attention made a tremendous difference.

The last adjustment had to do with my motivation. Why was my goal important anyway?

Clarity of purpose

There are so many books. Why bother writing another one? I knew it wasn’t to make money. (Books don’t generate much and I always thought to donate proceeds to donorschoose.org and public education anyway.)

An even worse reason - my original purpose - was to enhance my personal brand. But the idea of marketing my book just so I could sell myself and more copies was grossly unappealing. It felt inauthentic and was perhaps the biggest obstacle to progress.

It was only when I started coaching people that the purpose became clear: I’m writing the book to help people. To help them discover possibilities for making work and life more meaningful and fulfilling.

I see such positive change in the people I coach that I want to coach everyone I meet. People who’ve grown to hate working in dehumanizing corporations. People trying to start their own companies. People of all ages who are struggling to find jobs and, ideally, work that’s more than just a job.

The book, if I get it right, will help people help themselves and help each other. Once I was clear that the book wasn’t about me but about helping others, it was clear I had to work on it.

Thank you

Since that conversation with my wife, I’ve written and shipped more in 5 weeks than in the preceding 75 weeks. Earlier this month, I shipped the first few chapters of Working Out Loud to volunteer reviewers and their feedback has already made the book better. Two days ago, I sent the first half of the book to 15 more reviewers. I’ll keep doing that until I self-publish the book in September. (If you’d like to review a draft, or have any ideas or suggestions for the book, please leave a comment or contact me.)

I’ll use this blog to share more about the book in the coming months. And I hope that sharing the process itself will help you as you work on your own goals that are important to you.

Thank you for your time and your continued encouragement. It all means a lot to me.

“How’s the book coming along?

Book coverA difficult conversation with someone who cares about you can help you confront an uncomfortable truth. I’ve been writing a book for the past 18 months. My friends will ask “How’s the book coming along?” I’ll respond with some vague reply and they'll offer encouragement.

Five weeks ago, over morning coffee, my wife asked me the same question. And the ensuing conversation is making it possible for me reach a goal I care very much about.

The adjustments I learned I had to make might help you, too.

The conversation

My wife sees me brooding in front of my laptop for countless hours, so when I told her that the book is going well, she had a few more questions.

“When will it be done?” I don’t know. I really don’t have enough time.

How much more time do you need? I don’t know.

How much time have you spent on it so far? I don’t know.

How much did you work on it last week? Or yesterday even? I don’t know.

A long awkward silence ensued. Inside my head were two other questions. Did Hemingway’s wife ask him these questions? And, more importantly: Am I just kidding myself?

Instead of trying to defend my lack of a meaningful publishing plan, I made 3 adjustments. The first one I made while the coffee was still hot.

Spending time

Hanako's chartI was aware of the irony that, in coaching others, I often help them to better manage their time so they get things done. It was clear to my wife (and now to me) that I wasn’t applying my own advice. 

A few weeks earlier, my wife and daughter came up with a simple chart posted on the refrigerator to motivate us to achieve goals we cared about: more exercise for the parents and more time practicing piano for my daughter. It worked.

IMG_4364So, after the conversation with my wife, I posted another simple chart to track hours spent on the book each day as well as when I shipped something to readers for feedback. 

Just like my Nike Fuel Band encourages me to move more, the simple and public display of my efforts on the book helped me to write more and ship more.

Focus

Later that same day, I was reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. Two chapters in particular helped me with my problem. “The Low-Information Diet” made me realize that, while I was reading a lot and meeting many interesting people, much of it was only marginally related to the book. If I wanted to actually publish a book, I’d have to be much more focused.

The chapter on “Interrupting Interruption” helped me see that, despite knowing the importance of focus, I was frittering away time and my capacity to pay attention by responding to far too many interruptions. Worse, I’d interrupt myself by impulsively checking my phone. James Altucher referred to it as “The Loop.” You’d check email, then Twitter, then Facebook, then the blog. Before you knew it, I'd wasted spent 10-20 minutes. And I'd do that a few times a day.

I recognized  I somehow had time for books, for “The Loop,” for coffee with people, but not enough time for my most important goal: writing the book.

So I became more ruthless in practicing what I preach. Now I turn off WiFi when I’m writing. I process email and check social media in batches rather than impulsively throughout the day. And I carefully budget the time I spend on things not related to my goal. Having better control of my time and attention made a tremendous difference.

The last adjustment had to do with my motivation. Why was my goal important anyway?

Clarity of purpose

There are so many books. Why bother writing another one? I knew it wasn’t to make money. (Books don’t generate much and I always thought to donate proceeds to donorschoose.org and public education anyway.)

An even worse reason - my original purpose - was to enhance my personal brand. But the idea of marketing my book just so I could sell myself and more copies was grossly unappealing. It felt inauthentic and was perhaps the biggest obstacle to progress.

It was only when I started coaching people that the purpose became clear: I’m writing the book to help people. To help them discover possibilities for making work and life more meaningful and fulfilling.

I see such positive change in the people I coach that I want to coach everyone I meet. People who’ve grown to hate working in dehumanizing corporations. People trying to start their own companies. People of all ages who are struggling to find jobs and, ideally, work that’s more than just a job.

The book, if I get it right, will help people help themselves and help each other. Once I was clear that the book wasn’t about me but about helping others, it was clear I had to work on it.

Thank you

Since that conversation with my wife, I’ve written and shipped more in 5 weeks than in the preceding 75 weeks. Earlier this month, I shipped the first few chapters of Working Out Loud to volunteer reviewers and their feedback has already made the book better. Two days ago, I sent the first half of the book to 15 more reviewers. I’ll keep doing that until I self-publish the book in September. (If you’d like to review a draft, or have any ideas or suggestions for the book, please leave a comment or contact me.)

I’ll use this blog to share more about the book in the coming months. And I hope that sharing the process itself will help you as you work on your own goals that are important to you.

Thank you for your time and your continued encouragement. It all means a lot to me.