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Proven

When it comes to the things I use, especially those I rely on every day, I want to use only things that have been proven as much as possible. Proven to work. Proven to last. Proven over time and use.

This is fairly easy and straight forward to find in the offline world. For instance, I gravitate towards and enjoy using pen and paper because it is proven. As a tool it works, lasts, requires nothing else, has been around for hundreds of years, and is used almost everywhere so is easy to find. Other tools are proven too. Hammers are proven, for example. Nail guns may be a quicker way to drive a nail but require power and have a hundred ways they can fail or break. A hammer always works.

In the online world, it’s a bit more difficult to find things that are proven. Things change quickly. Formats and applications come and go. What’s hot today is gone and unsupported tomorrow in too many cases. Experience has taught me not to rely on many of these things or to be too quick to jump on board new things that come along. They aren’t proven.

Yet, there are some things in the online world that are proven — at least as far as such things can be in the world of technology. Here are two examples: Plaintext and Email. Plaintext (.txt) as a format is proven. It has been around in some form or another since the dawn of modem computing. Email, the basic plaintext form of it, has been around long enough to be considered such. These are things I trust. Things I have used for a long time, work today much the same as they always have, and the chance of continuing to work far into the future is high. Plus, they’re practically universal. Practically everyone who is online has an email address. Practically every computer can open a plaintext file.

This doesn’t mean I won’t use things that aren’t proven. I will and sometimes do. But I don’t place my faith or trust in them until they are proven. I don’t pretend they will be around forever and I always have an escape plan for when they inevitably go away. I don’t go all in on a new thing, especially if it means abandoning something proven.

So, when people ask me why I love and prefer email over [Insert latest email killer here] it’s because email is proven. It’s why I don’t use the latest note taking app or word processor. It’s why you won’t find me hoping on the latest new social thingamajig or chatting whatnot or blogging whozit. And while I watch those things come and go and their users jump on and off them, I’ll still be here using the same proven tools I have for-what-might-as-well-be-ever and getting the things I want to do done.

Who are you in the future?


When thinking about long term goals, those goals that are several years out, I think the common inclination is to think about what you want to do in that time. For example, a common five year goal might be to be at a specific point in your career or occupation, a certain level of income, to travel to a specific place, or an ambitious fitness goal. While these are all worthwhile goals to focus on, I would argue that in order to best achieve these goals there is an essential question that one first must ask, brainstorm, and meditate on. In fact, these goals should only be based on, and a natural progression from, the following exercise…
Get a large blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil. I recommend paper because this exercise should be done with immediacy and no editing or judgement. The task is to write down any words or phrases that pop into mind. Ask yourself the following question by writing it at the top of the page:
Who am I in X years?
(Where X is any number you want. I like five because it is distant enough to be achievable but not so much as to not also be accountable.)
OK, now go! The method does not matter. If you are a mind map sort of person, do that. Outlines, essay, sketches, just a bunch of words scribbled down, no matter. Like I said, the point is to answer the question with any words or ideas that pop to mind. Even if it is bat scratch crazy, capture it. You will sort it all out later (and I’ll cover that in another post).
There are some other things I’d like to mention about this exercise. First, the phrasing on the question is important. It is not "Who do I want/wish/hope to be?" because that gives you an out. This is not so much about aspirations. This is about projection. This is about putting yourself in the mind of the person you are in the future. This is about the kind of person you really think you are at that time. It will likely not look all that different than who you are now except for the things you wish to change or improve. If you are currently a smoker you might find that, in your five years from now mind, you may find you are a non-smoker. Meat eaters may find a vegetarian when mentally projecting themselves. You may find you are a world leader or circus clown. But, whatever you find don’t judge! Just capture it and move along.
This exercise will form the foundation of your long term goals. Because, none of those will be remotely achievable without this. For instance, how realistic is it for your to set a five year goal of completing a marathon if you do not also see yourself as an active three-to-five time a week runner five years from now as well?
Also, because this is a free form "no judgment" exercise, when using it to plan your goals you will be rewarded with new goals to consider that you might otherwise have not known you had. To use my own mind map pictured above as an example, the word "Monk" popped into my head, I captured it, and I have no idea why it came to mind. But, when beginning the work on my five year goals, I will now need to figure out where that fits and what that means for a happily married father of a little girl who works for himself full time and has many other obligations that "Monk" is in conflict with. Perhaps it doesn’t belong and I’ll ignore it for now. Perhaps it simply speaks to a desire for a deeper and more meaningful spiritual practice than I have today. Perhaps it means a complete change of course. Regardless, at least I am now forced to consider it and where and if it fits into my long term goals.
I encourage you to try this exercise yourself. At the very least, it will help you see for yourself what things are important enough to you today to make sure are a part of your future.

Almost Always Bull

The Stock Market, playing the long game, and the importance of setting long term goals.

The past couple of weeks have been a wild ride for those following news of the stock markets. Wild swings, low dips and sell offs not seen in recent years, and speculations about uncertainty in foriegn markets. To many outsiders and armchair analysts, there were fears of bubbles and overvaluations. Allusions were made to the crash of 2008 despite this being nothing like 2008. But, there are many who make profit from such FUD, so here was an opportunity to spread it.

But, those in the know pay little attention to the daily ups and downs of the market. They know that, while the Day Traders might make some fast cash to spend on hookers and blow that way, it has little to do with true wealth. Those who know the market know those folks play the short game.

The smart players, at best, see such low dips as a buying opportunity — like a retail Labor Day sale. Most just ignore it because 3% off is hardly a bargain to tell your friends about. Nay, the truly market savvy are looking far out into the future. The trends they look for are not measured in days or weeks, but years. "Let’s look at where this stock was at 5, 10, and 20 years ago" they’ll say. Because that’s how true wealth is built and measured. They play the long game.

To put it in a concrete example, if you bought $1000.00 of Apple stock in 1998 and still had it today, would you really worry if it took a 5% hit tomorrow? The correct answer is "No". Why? Because you would not only be so far ahead today in 2015 it would be silly but you know that in almost 20 more years it could easily be worth 10, 20, or even 100 times more. Why, because it is worth a hundred times more now than when you bought it less than 20 years ago. The long game is almost always "bull".

This is why it is important to think about, name, set, plan, and work towards multi-year goals. What goals do you want to achieve in 5 years? How about 10 years and 20 years? What does your life look like? What seemingly daunting yet massive, slightly scary, but oh-so awesome things are there? Have you thought about that? Have you put a name on them? Are they on your calendar? Have you mapped out how to get there and achieve them? Do you have a rough idea of the steps you need to take?

If not, you are basically playing the short game with your life. And, frankly, like a Day Trader your success and failure is at the whims of your daily to-do list. Get a lot done today and your life is a bull market. Get little done and it’s a bear market. And, like the Day Trader, your life will feel rich one day and bankrupt the next, more than partially due to forces beyond your control. A boss who dumps a project in your lap or a colleague who interupts you or the person that pulls you into a last minute meeting or the kid who gets sick or the car that breaks down. All of these can sweep in and kill the action of those without goals. Just like China screwing with their currency can send the whole world of short players into a tizzy, so can just about anything wreak havoc on the short player’s task list.

But, those with meaningful, long term goals, know to mostly ignore the fluctuations in their daily grind. That all of this is towards a larger and more meaningful goal. That success is measured in years and not days. You know that the value of that item on your list is a pittance because it will pay off one hundred fold when you finally reach that lofty goal. And if you don’t make any movement on it at all today, hey you’ve got 5,10, or 20 years, and with that much time just about anything is possible.

The Power of When

No such thing as spare time
No such thing as free time
No such thing as down time
All you got is life time
— Henry Rollins, Shine

The Power of When is now available. What is it? Read on…

Realistically, when you take away the time for sleep, the time for eating, the time you want to spend with the people that matter, travel time, and the minutia that makes it all run, most people have about six hours of useable work day.

Six hours.

Looked at another way, that’s only about 25% of every day. All the meetings, all projects, all the deadlines, all the tasks, and everything else you need to do to keep the money ball rolling must fit in there somewhere. And, the only way to do so is to ask one simple question of all of these things.

When?

My friend Garrick van Buren and I have been thinking about and discussing this subject off and on for years now. In the process, we have been able to distill this idea into a simple set of tools to dramatically improve your productivity, eliminate your procrastination, and achieve your most important goals. We have turned this conversation into a ninety minute audio program that is available for purchase.

Here’s a 2 minute sample of what to expect:

Want to unlock your productivity and gain more free time? Want to banish To Do Lists forever and be confident you’re not missing anything? Want to achieve your most important goals while maintaining inbox zero? Want to know the one question that unlocks all of this?

You need The Power of When


P.S. Want to get a sense of some of the ideas discussed? Check out my post, A Time For Things and Better Things.

On Kicking Ass

There are times in our life when we simply kick ass.

It’s OK to kick a little ass sometimes. In fact, I argue that it is imperative to kick a whole lot of ass when the demands of life call for one to do so.

Like the revolution, the kicking ass will not be televised. You don’t have to prove that you have kicked ass. The fact that you kick ass will be obvious to everyone who knows you. You can go about your life, kicking ass along the way, and know deep inside yourself how much you kick ass.

That said, it is also OK to be proud of it. When one kicks ass of any amount, it is OK to declare that you have done so. Let the world know of your ass kickery.

In either case, make sure to take time to reflect on your ass kicking. Especially if the asses kicked are in amounts higher than the average. Enumerate and take pride on the number of asses kicked.

Personally, I see little need to take the names of the asses kicked. That will only slow one down. One cannot both kick ass and take names at the same time. One must kick ass, pause to take the name, then move on to the next ass kicking.

Unless one needs to keep detailed records of each ass kicked for tax or expense purposes. If so, then by all means, take names as well. Just be intentional about the trade off you are making by doing so.

Regardless, the reason I write this straight forward message is simple — we need everyone to kick more ass. The world has changed. There are increasingly less instances of both ass kicking and those that are ass kickers than there has been in the past. Ass kickers were once admired and plentiful. Ass kickers were desired. They are less so now. In fact, some believe they are actively discouraged. There are even those that claim our institutions of learning are turning ass kickers into ass kissers. So, those that kick ass are desperately needed in these hard times and the harder times to come. Those that do kick ass need to make themselves known as far and wide as possible in order to inspire others to kick ass. As an ass kicker it is your duty now, for the future.

Now, go forth and kick some ass.


I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

Resolutions don’t happen in a vacuum…

This is especially true if you are in a relationship. At the very least most require support from those around us. And, at most, they require their active participation. To wit, the resolutions of others become your resolutions as well (and vice versa) if they require you to participate in order to be successful.
Last year, for instance, my wife decided that one of her resolutions would be for us to have monthly date nights. As parents with a young child, it is important to get some time to connect one-on-one outside of the house. Well, unless her plan was to go out alone, that is a resolution that could not happen without my active involvement. It had to be one of my resolutions too.
I wanted to have friends over for dinner once a month. Well, unless my wife was on board with such a plan, it couldn’t happen. In effect, my intention became a resolution for her as well.
And even those things you think are just for you — to exercise more, to eat better, to meditate — may not be able to be successful without our partners actively supporting those efforts and allowing us the time, space, and resources to achieve them. Accountability helps here too. If those around you know them you are more likely to be held to the goal.
This is all to say that you should be making and considering your resolutions in the proper context. Make sure to discuss them with those around you and that they have a chance to buy-in to them where needed. Find out which ones of theirs will involve you and plan accordingly. Only then will they have a true shot at being successful.

Better Things

Now that you and I have agreed that the best place for the things you intend to do are on a calendar, I wanted to take some time to talk about what that means.

You see, when the things you hope to do are on some long wish list of things you hope to do, they are telling you a lie. They are telling you that you that every single thing on there is of equal importance. They are telling you that you have infinite capacity and infinite time. They are telling you everything needs to be there and should, at some point, warrant 100% of your attention. That it is completely possible and reasonable that you will do all of these things and have all the time in the world to do them.

The beauty of forcing the essential question of "When?" is that it also forces you (and the things) to face a hard and undeniable truth — time is finite. Each day has 24 hours. Six-to-Eight of those you are sleeping. You have many other obligations that will take away from the rest of your waking time — both on your calendar and not. My guess is that for a lot of us, at most and on the best days, we have about 2 hours to honestly dedicate to any of the things on our list. Most days, that is much, much, less.

Now that you are going to make those things part of your day, week, or month by taking a look at your calendar and deciding when you plan to do those things and scheduling those things at a time, you can see exactly how much time you have to work with. Suddenly, you go from having the lie of infinite capacity to the truth of having known constraints. With this knowledge, and only with this knowledge, you can focus on doing better things with that time.

Time is an instant prioritizer. Looking at a thing you need to do and asking "when" returns an answer that is a priority as much as a time. For instance, if some thing should be done "Now" then it is more important than anything else that might be done now. If some thing should be done today, and slotted into a free spot on your calendar to be done today, then it’s as important as anything else you will do today. It also follows that some thing that you put on the calendar to do tomorrow is less important than the things you need to do today or right now.

Now that you have recognized that the time and capacity you have for this long list of things is, in fact, limited you might also start to look at the things on that list and ask, "Is this worth my time doing?"

That is to say, if you know you only have a limited amount of time to work on the things you wish to do, don’t you want to make sure you are only doing the things you should be doing? Don’t you want to do better things? Things that really matter and make an impact? You have maybe a half-hour, hour, etc. Is that short amount of time going to be spent doing the best things you can?

I know I do. And, I know the first step to deciding the best thing I can do with the time I have is ensuring that the things on my list are all things that matter to me. Anything else I, literally, don’t have time for.

A Successful Plan

“Nothing that happened was intentional. Nothing. Everything was about trying to make something cool for our friends that they would like.”Rick Rubin, on the only plan he ever had for Def Jam Records

This quote has been resonating with me ever since I heard it in a short documentary on producer Rick Rubin. In it, he visits the New York University dorm room where he started and ran Def Jam Records for its first few years. In fact, if you bought a Def Jam album during those early days, the business address printed on the sleeve was the address of that very same room. The album was likely shipped to the record store from the mailroom in the dorm by one of his classmates. They had some memorable parties at that dorm, for sure. It was college after all. But those parties are now even more memorable in hindsight because all of Rick’s friends were there and many of Rick’s friends were people that are household names — Rap music legends — now.

Def Jam Records went on to become, even today, one of the most powerful and profitable labels in music. Rick Rubin went on to produce musicians way beyond Rap. Credited in no small part with resurrecting the careers of living legends and always having the finger on the pulse of the next big thing. By any measure, one could make the argument that he is one of the most successful producers the music industry has ever known.

But, I would be willing to bet that even today he’s still just, “…trying to make something cool for our friends that they would like.” That his current success in no more intentional today than it was back then. The reason I suspect this is because it is a successful plan. A solid plan that worked then and remains a plan that works today. And, it’s a plan that scales. Because, if your friends like it then the chances are good that there are millions of other people just like them who would like it too. And, if you can make something millions of people like and place a fair price on it then you will sell millions of that thing and make millions of dollars in the process.

And, sure, there are many other factors to go from selling to a few friends to selling to millions of strangers. Luck, timing, and dozens of other factors mostly out of your control certainly come into play in order to reach those kinds of numbers. But, the one thing you can shoot for — to make something cool for your friends that they would like — is a measure of success that is achievable by all. And, even if you argue against it being your only measure of success you have to admit that it is a pretty good place to start counting it.


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Random Notes and Recent Thoughts #3

I haven’t done one of these in a while. Here are some short ideas I have yet to fully flesh out but are complete enough to share right now anyway. Perhaps in doing so they will drive a discussion that will lead to a longer post.

  • When “No” is your default, the things that fight their way to “Yes” have a deeper value and meaning. They not only have to earn their place, they have to maintain their worth to keep it. “Yes” is important. “Yes” means that something really matters to me. But, this is only the case — and I would argue only can be the case — when “Yes” is not easy and “No” is the default.

  • It is not enough to simply accept, put-up-with, or ignore those things that might drive us nuts about our partners in a relationship. We must learn to appreciate them. Find the ways in which those things might, in fact, be a part of what makes the other person so great. Unless we do, we risk it becoming the chink that becomes a hole that, under pressure, breaks the dam.

  • Like wide margins in a book makes it easier and more pleasurable to read, leaving wide margins in your life makes it easier and more pleasurable to live. Also, having margins in a book leaves lots of room to make notes, observations, doodle, and offer your thoughts. So goes margins in life, too.

  • The reason for quantifying your commitments, and making the time and space for them on a calendar, is as much about committing to your tasks and projects as it is to committing to the margins.

  • The gulf between irresponsibility and opportunity is bridged by intention.

  • Kindness is a habit. One that is strengthened and improved the more you are so.

  • Always get the best paint you can buy. The difference between the good stuff and everything else is measured in decades and, in some cases, centuries.

  • Just a little bit more effort goes such a long way because so many do so much less than the minimum required.

Make It Real

When I come up with a new idea or a new project, I find that simply writing it down amongst the daily scribbling in my journal is nice but no guarantee of it ever becoming anything more than that. Instead, I find that if it is something I’m really serious about, I need to take a small step towards making that idea real.

For instance, Twyla Tharp notes in her wonderful book, The Creative Habit, that every new project for her starts with a box. She notes:

Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot for transferring files. I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.

As you can see, it’s nothing big. It’s just some words on a box. But it is about everything that box now represents. It is a simple start, a promise to fill it, and a goal to finish the project. The box is a commitment.

It doesn’t have to be anything special — or even a box. Make a folder for your idea or write the project name and date at the top of a fresh notebook page. The point is to do something. To take the first step. To own it.