Photo Credit: Seth Macey
I measured 31 activities over a two month period and then averaged my weekdays. The results on where I spent my time were shocking.
Neuroscientists have been studying time perception and its fluidity. They used to imagine a stopwatch in our brains that gives us a concept of the length of time spent on something. But, more recently they have found several areas in the brain that are responsible for time and our internal timekeeping. However, time is fluid and our estimates of it are not always accurate. There is even a disorder called, Dyschronometria, in which an individual cannot correctly estimate the amount of time that has passed.
I’ve read a plethora of articles about improving your productivity by spending less time on certain things and more time on other things, and honestly, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t really see where you are wasting time. And your time suck probably isn’t where you think it is unless you observe and measure.
A while back, I started a Series on Medium called: The Secrets of the Universe. How You Can Use Quantum Physics to Immediately Improve Your Life. The first installment was titled, What Is The Most Powerful Tool You Can Access? And it was all about the observer effect:
Measuring things changes them. Information collection can be the single most powerful tool to change your life. Want to get your financial life into shape? Measure everything you spend your money on. Simply by virtue of the fact that you are measuring it … changes it.
I gave a brief example of how I kept track of everything I ate to lose ten pounds, and it worked remarkably well. My surprise was not that I could do it, or that this method would help me, but that by the simple act of observing, measuring and tracking everything I ate, caused me to eat less. It was almost like I didn’t want to disappoint myself.
After my trial run with losing ten pounds, I thought, if it worked so well with that, why not observe and measure how I spend my time, because I want to be more efficient and thus more productive. This article is a follow up report with my progress and observations over the last two months.
I used the app I recommended in my article, ATracker, set up categories of Health, Work and Personal and then broke those three areas down into different activities. I tried not to get too granular but yet, I wanted to get enough information that I could come up with realistic ideas on how to cut back on things I’m spending too much time on and spend more time on the things I should be spending more time on. Not unsurprisingly, there were a lot of surprises!
Before I launch into those, I would say to you, don’t make decisions based on what you think you’re spending your time on. Measure it over a period of time. I did two months and I averaged the results for weekdays because this study is mostly about work for me. ATracker (and I’m sure there are others — this is just the app I used) is really flexible and simple. You have a lot of leeway to set up things however you want and the timer is an easy stop and start button, and if you forget, it is easy to go back and reconstruct. For example, if you are working on writing and switch over to bookkeeping and forget to press stop for writing and start for bookkeeping, you can easily go back and change that based on your best recollection. You can also export your data in a csv file which can then be sorted to analyze. Overall, it took effort, but the whole study did not take too much time in and of itself.
Here is my analysis:
The Good, The Bad, and The Surprising
You may notice that the total time is more than 24 hours, but that is because I am multi-tasking; Like walking my dog, Pietro, practicing Dutch, exercising, and listen to audiobooks (Reading) at the same time. That adds about two hours to my day which is great.
To increase my productivity, I tried to focus on what I called my, “time sucks” — things that seemed to use so much of my time. Broad stroke, I am spending more than 75% of my time in each category on just a handful of activities. I spend more time sleeping than any other activity — that old saying, “You can sleep when you’re dead,” comes to mind, but I believe we all need eight hours a day to function, so no time savings there. How can I be more efficient without sacrificing my health? There are only 24 hours in a day after all. I also don’t want to sacrifice the things I cherish most like my loved ones, exercise, and learning foreign languages.
Clearly, though, I need to spend more time on Bloomers Island, Real Estate, and Writing, and less time on Watching News, Housework, Cooking/Eating, Morning Routine, and Exercise to bring my dreams to life. How do I do that?
By becoming more efficient.
Here’s my list of ideas:
1. Hire a housekeeper even if it’s just twice a month, to help with housekeeping. The time I spend on that (mostly weekends), I can use to write.
2. Grocery shop every other week instead of once a week. Explore grocery delivery services. Load up once a month on dry good staples like coffee, paper towels, etc.
3. Eat out more and implement meal prep on Sundays.
4. Every meal doesn’t have to be made from scratch. Utilize some shortcuts like buy a jar of minced garlic instead of mincing my own garlic.
5. Rinse dishes right after eating to eliminate time-consuming cleanup.
6. Develop more intense workouts in the morning to reduce time, e.g. run for an hour instead of walking for two hours.
7. Watch less T.V. and spend that time writing. Carve out an hour each morning for writing.
8. Be more focused — finish my task instead of jumping from one task to another and then back again — because that takes extra time. Honor transitions between right brain and left brain activities for improved focus. (Time tracking actually helps me do that.)
9. Implement the Pomodoro Technique: I’ve experimented with this and it works better than I expected. I spend 25 intense minutes working on a particular thing, and then I take a five minute break.
10. I can definitely get moving faster and better in the morning. Do I really need a half hour to drink my coffee and rub the sleep out of my eyes? I don’t think so.
My conclusion after seeing the results of my study is that most of us believe we are spending more time on the things we dislike than we really are, and less on things we love doing or should be doing to bring our dreams to life.
Our perception of time is distorted. And you may think you know what you are spending your time on but you may not. I suggest spend a couple months measuring it (observing) and see if your perception changes. After just the first couple weeks of tracking my time I saw that I was only spending an average of three hours a work day on Bloomers Island. I was shocked. That was not nearly enough! I made an immediate effort to increase that and it went to four hours. The simple act of observing, changed it.
Accept my challenge in trying this for a couple months. Let me know what your surprises are.
I wrote about this awhile back in my article: “Where The Heck Is My Comfort Zone and How Do I Get Out Of It?”
I was in pursuit of magic.
I wanted to do an update on this article because I thought people might want to know how I fared. Here’s my list:
“Read and negotiate an important contract with a potential licensee. Ask a company that owes me money for said money. Go into a local Target Store and confront the Lawn and Garden section to see how my Bloomers Island products are displayed and selling. Call another potential licensee. Then another. And then another. I really, really want to find a food company that I can work with for Bloomers Island healthy snacks. I’m going to call a CEO of one targeted food company. I’m going to put together a group of Curriculum Bytes for plant science and present them to a well-known school magazine.”
Here’s the Magic:
P.S. If you’re having trouble, read my original article, it gives nine tips for getting past what’s blocking you.
The Magic Garden Shed
Photo Credit: Andy Feliciotti
It was the 1980s, a time of Talking Heads, padded shoulders and big hair. I had just graduated from college with a B.S. in Agriculture. A younger sorority sister of mine at Penn State with a really cool name, Mimi Roma, told me she was moving to Washington D.C. with her boyfriend and was going to finish her degree at Georgetown University. I didn’t know of Georgetown. I was a country bumpkin from Western Pennsylvania who only applied to one college and didn’t even know the meaning of Ivy League.
I also didn’t know exactly what I was going to do after college. I didn’t have anything lined up. The United States was in the middle of a terrible recession. I went to the library near the grassy center of campus and looked up Georgetown and saw that it was considered one of the best universities. I didn’t know anyone in Washington D.C., but I got the idea that I should go there, too.
My boyfriend agreed to move there with me. He had some fraternity brothers who were renting a house in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, and they could rent us a room. We drove there in my bright orange Ford Pinto with one hundred dollars and a couple of suitcases. We clutched on to the concept that with our degrees, along with a hope that only a freshly educated co-ed can realistically muster, we could find jobs.
Things were rough. The two of us slept on a single bed. My first task was scrubbing the bathroom we shared with four other guys. Boys can be so filthy. That first year, I hawked encyclopedias door-to-door. That was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in terms of learning to sell and overcoming rejection. It was an education in and of itself. My boyfriend couldn’t find a job. Finally he found one, but it wasn’t in the Washington D.C. area and so he moved away. I stayed.
Back to my idea to attend Georgetown University. I took my GRE. Got my undergrad transcripts and the whole nine yards. Referrals from three of my professors. Applied. Started taking part-time night classes in the interim. Met and pretty much camped out on the doorstep of the Chairman of the Economics Department. Finally after doing well the first semester, I was accepted and given a fellowship. Execution.
Washington, D.C. was a wonder. Although it is small compared to cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, to me it was vast. I was nervous just driving around the Beltway. I walked everywhere I could with my worn tennis shoes and Sony Walkman. I passed iconic government buildings on the mall, like the museums and different Cabinet Departments. There was also The World Bank and the Peace Corps. I had the idea, I can work at one of those places. And I did. I became a typist for the CIA. I got an internship at HUD where I wrote a book that was published. I made a friend in my graduate program and he introduced me to my future boss at the World Bank. Execution, execution, execution.
Looking back, my entire life has been about coming up with ideas and executing them, by almost any means necessary.
And it has been that way with my business today, Bloomers Island. I nurtured the idea for a long time, then raised seven figures and started executing. I won’t go into the nitty gritty of it and how difficult it has been the last few years (my investors have been both patient and supportive), but I am starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. To be sure, it is a light that at any moment can be snuffed out, but it is there, faint, dispersed and faintly glowing through the fog of the future.
It was one of my most trusted advisors who first uttered the saying to me, There is no such thing as a good idea, there is only good execution. Immediately it was love at first hearing. How many times has someone told me that theyhave a great idea, this or that, and I listen to them and know they will never execute; they will never put in the work and dedication, along with the money and the risk, to bring it to life?
Photo Credit: Brittany Colette
How do we bring our ideas to life? How do we bridge the gap between coming up with brilliant ideas and then following through on them? I did some research on this, and thought a lot about how I have been able to bring my ideas to life. This is what I do:
1. I honor my ideas. I write them down. I try to bring them to life.
2. I tell everyone I know. You never know who is going to share your enthusiasm. It might even be a potential investor.
3. I figure out a way, strategically and tactically to achieve my ideas. I make a plan.
4. Failure is never an option for me. I burn my ships.
5. I am patient, but not so entrenched that I am not willing to pivot.
6. I persevere. Character is sticking with a project long after the mood has passed. I forget who said that, but it’s true. Perseverance is about 90% of success.
Think about all the times you came up with an idea and then executed it. You can repeat that! It doesn’t matter if you work for yourself or work for a large company.
Let me know the best idea you ever had that you were able to execute.
Here are some great articles that may also help if you’re struggling with bringing your ideas to life.
My last article on Medium : Where The Heck Is My Comfort Zone And How Do I Get Out Of It?
The 12 Things That Successfully Convert a Great Idea Into a Reality by Glen Liopis for Forbes.
How to Execute Great Ideas by Marla Tabaka for Inc.
How Do I Actually Execute On My Ideas by Art Markman for Fast Company.
Eventually, Mimi Roma and I drifted apart. The funny thing is, she never went to Georgetown. But I did.
I remember when I was a little girl, the mail lady drove up and down our suburban hill putting letters in the spacious silver mailboxes at the end of each driveway. If we wanted to mail something, we would put it in the box and raise the red flag that rested dutifully at its side. The mail lady was very sweet to all the kids and at Christmas we would leave her a little box of holiday cookies or a card with some cash in it. She would take my envelope with its carefully printed address to Santa Claus at the North Pole, usually with an S&H green stamp in the upper right hand corner, and earnestly promise to deliver it to him. "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
We would get stacks of Christmas cards from all my mom and dad’s friends near and far, back at a time before social media could catch them up on everyone’s doings. I imagined that every letter in the mailbox was from a place I had never heard of and never been to, which was probably true, but those places were the nearest big city which was Pittsburgh, and not somewhere exotic like Hawaii or Europe or Australia. China was a place we thought we could reach by digging a hole in the back yard, and all the way through the planet.
The idea of getting a letter was fantastical to me at that time. I didn’t even get mailed letters or cards from my grandparents because they lived close by and I saw them all the time. But when we moved far away from our suburban home to Misty Hill Farm, written in neat block letters on our new mailbox, I promised to write to my friend Cindy Wolf, who in addition to sharing the same first name and last initial as me, also shared my birthday. I even got stationery for Christmas that year and we were pretty conscientious about our writing until we weren’t anymore.
When my first children’s book, The Great Garden Party, was published last year, a lot of my friends and family asked me to sign their book for a special child. For those children who I didn't know or didn't live near me, I thought, why not send them a postcard instead, with my thanks and well wishes (and remind them to eat their veggies of course). That way, they would get something in the mail... an unusual occurrence for any child, in any time.
I set about designing and printing the postcard which is from an exotic place: Bloomers Island, located somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean and that no human has ever seen let along visited. The Bloomers even have their own mail system (the Snail Mailman) and their own stamps (worth 50 Golden Suns). I thought that would be much more exciting and the child could use it as a bookmark too! And then I thought, why not offer that to every child who buys a book? So that’s what I’m doing. If you buy one of the Bloomers’ books, you can email me at email@example.com, (I will get that promptly), with your child’s name and address and I will send her or him a postcard from Bloomers Island. Remember though that since it is coming from the Snail Mailman on Bloomers Island it may take a little while!
Remind your special child to enjoy their book, eat their veggies, and I look forward to hearing from them. The book, Bloomers Island, The Great Garden Party, can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores everywhere.
Spring has sprung and it’s time to get outside with the little ones. When I’m not writing or running my business, Bloomers Island, I work with schools to set up school gardens and get kids excited about gardening.
When my children were little and I was trying to get them to eat more vegetables I created stories about little plant, flower and tree characters (not vegetables!) called the Bloomers. I drew upon those characters and their home, Bloomers Island, and wove them into my lessons. Bloomers Island is a mysterious place far away in the Pacific Ocean that no human has ever seen, and where plants became the intelligent species. The Bloomers have to learn how to garden along with other important life lessons at their boarding school, a tree house held in the arms of Mr. Banyan.
I turned my stories into books where kids are inspired to grow their own food and eat their veggies. Here are some of the ideas and activities that you can try with your kids right now:
1. Make gardening a game. Make up little prizes to give away to your children as they complete a gardening task.
2. Invite friends. Let them have friends over to help them.
3. Don’t forget the value of a scavenger hunt! Hide a couple of seed packets around the house or outside in the yard and let your kids look for them. When they find the seeds, help them choose what they want to grow.
4. Bring technology into it. Let’s face it, kids love technology and there are many gardening apps they can use to plan a garden.
5. Remember, gardening can be done indoors or out. You can grow lettuce, herbs, onions or radishes in a pot on a windowsill as long as there is sunlight.
6. Kids love digging in the dirt! Give them a trowel and see how fast and how deep they can dig a hole.
7. Kids love tools in general. Invest in an inexpensive gardening apron with their very own tools.
8. Look up recipes together. Make a dish with whatever vegetable they are growing.
9. Come up with some science experiments. Do fruits of the same size (avocados and tomatoes) have the same size seeds? For the little ones, cut open different fruits, pull out their seeds and put them in order from largest to smallest. Do the seed sizes correspond to the size of the fruit? What about peaches and apples?
Be creative and think of your own ideas to make gardening and healthy eating fun for your kids. Better yet, ask them! And share your ideas with us.
I’ve been trying to figure out where my comfort zone is so I can go outside of it because that’s where the magic happens, right? I want some magic to happen.
I’ve been thinking that the people I have liked hanging out with the most these days are at a stage of being severely challenged in their lives. For example, they may going through a divorce, career change, move, or fighting some illness. These are the same people that are also getting tattoos, drinking whiskey, smoking cigars and checking boxes off their bucket list. They seem to be moving outside of their comfort zones to start their own businesses, or living out of suitcases and traveling to destinations unknown. I wanted to move outside my comfort zone.
The only problem was, I wasn’t really sure where that was or how to move out of it. For quite some time, on my daily walks, I’ve clenched my fists and squinted my eyes talking to myself in discreet tones, grilling for the answers, asking how I can soar to the next level that I know, I know I am worthy of reaching.
I told myself that I’m willing to take chances. I’m willing to be uncomfortable and move out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t sure what that looked like or how to do it.
The last few months I started thinking about it in earnest, contemplating, ruminating, and mulling it over, while I walked for hours each week. I pondered it during my showers, and when I woke up in the middle of the night, a hot mess, throwing off the covers and finally sneaking to turn down the heat that always seems to be on and always unwaveringly oppressive.
This morning as I was walking to the gym too early for a Saturday morning after not more than two hours in a row of sleep, the answer came to me. Eureka.
How do I identify the tasks that lay outside of my comfort zone? It is the things that I procrastinate and put off doing. That is the tell-tale sign for me, beating under the floorboards of my office, like Poe’s proverbial heart. Maybe that is the thing keeping me up?
I pretend that I am putting off those tasks because they require more attention that I have the bandwidth to give them. Or I will tell myself that other things hold a higher priority. Maybe they aren’t on my to-do list (because I haven’t put them on my to-do list mind you). Like many of us, I am very good at making up stories.
I’ve realized that it is because they are out of my comfort zone, which really just means that they are uncomfortable for me to do. Many of these things are uncomfortable for everyone: calling a customer who is overdue and asking them for money, cold-calling for a potential sale, asking a vendor for a discount, or negotiating an important contract.
If I really want to move outside my comfort zone, I need to start and more importantly finish things with a greater urgency — especially the things that I have been putting off. While this sounds like procrastination (on which I’ve done some research) and to be sure there is some overlap, it is more than that. This is putting something off, not because you’re a perfectionist or you’re afraid of failure or success, or you’re a control freak … but because it makes you uncomfortable.
The second part of my initial question is, now that I know where my comfort zone ends, how do I get out of it?
Photo Credit: Markus Spiske
I made a list of some of the ways that I could accomplish this feat. Keep in mind that doing these things are not just ways to get out of your comfort zone, but not doing them, clearly keeps you in your comfort zone.
1. Ask for help — Ask. For. Help. Hard to do. Gets easier.
2. Allow yourself to be vulnerable — Embarrassing yourself? Not the end of the world.
3. Learn — If you are afraid to sell, take a sales course.
4. Practice — Puts learning into action. The more you practice the easier it gets.
5. Set goals/to-do lists — Never underestimate the power of writing a thing down. Makes it real.
6. Rewards — Likewise, never underestimate the power of bribery. If I make this big sale, I will buy myself a Porsche.
7. Do a cost/benefit analysis — Make a list putting the costs of doing something next to the benefits which almost always outweigh the costs. If they don’t, don’t do it.
8. Write down the worst that can happen — Write down the absolute worst, and then go about finding a way to protect against it. Often the worst is just a rejection.
9. Hold your nose and jump into the water. Sometimes it is just that.
Photo Credit: Angelo Pantazis
Here are some of the things that I am going to do that I have been putting off: Read and negotiate an important contract with a potential licensee. Ask a company that owes me money for said money. Go into a local Target Store and confront the Lawn and Garden section to see how my Bloomers Island products are displayed and selling. Call another potential licensee. Then another. And then another. I really, really want to find a food company that I can work with for Bloomers Island healthy snacks. I’m going to call a CEO of one targeted food company. I’m going to put together a group of Curriculum Bytes for plant science and present them to a well-known school magazine.
What about you? What have you been putting off? How are you going to move out of your comfort zone to do them?
One day, and I don’t remember how, I discovered the work of James Clear, the author and photographer (JamesClear.com). He uses a lot of science-based research in his articles and books, and as a former statistics professor, I appreciate that greatly. By his own description, he writes about how to live better, and his theory is that “the best way to change the world is in concentric circles: start with yourself and work your way out from there.”
He had me hooked from the first article I read, “This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened.” It was an excerpt from his New York Times bestselling book, “Atomic Habits.”
I’m just going to copy the beginning of his article because I can’t improve upon it at all. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing (link above) and consider buying his book.
The fate of British Cycling changed one day in 2003.
The organization, which was the governing body for professional cycling in Great Britain, had recently hired Dave Brailsford as its new performance director. At the time, professional cyclists in Great Britain had endured nearly one hundred years of mediocrity. Since 1908, British riders had won just a single gold medal at the Olympic Games, and they had fared even worse in cycling’s biggest race, the Tour de France. In 110 years, no British cyclist had ever won the event.
In fact, the performance of British riders had been so underwhelming that one of the top bike manufacturers in Europe refused to sell bikes to the team because they were afraid that it would hurt sales if other professionals saw the Brits using their gear.
Brailsford had been hired to put British Cycling on a new trajectory. What made him different from previous coaches was his relentless commitment to a strategy that he referred to as “the aggregation of marginal gains,” which was the philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. Brailsford said, “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”
Brailsford and his coaches began by making small adjustments you might expect from a professional cycling team. They redesigned the bike seats to make them more comfortable and rubbed alcohol on the tires for a better grip. They asked riders to wear electrically heated overshorts to maintain ideal muscle temperature while riding and used biofeedback sensors to monitor how each athlete responded to a particular workout. The team tested various fabrics in a wind tunnel and had their outdoor riders switch to indoor racing suits, which proved to be lighter and more aerodynamic.
But they didn’t stop there. Brailsford and his team continued to find 1 percent improvements (click to see also, The Pareto Principle) in overlooked and unexpected areas. They tested different types of massage gels to see which one led to the fastest muscle recovery. They hired a surgeon to teach each rider the best way to wash their hands to reduce the chances of catching a cold. They determined the type of pillow and mattress that led to the best night’s sleep for each rider. They even painted the inside of the team truck white, which helped them spot little bits of dust that would normally slip by unnoticed but could degrade the performance of the finely tuned bikes.
I probably don’t have to tell you the ending. Within five years, the marginal improvements added up and they dominated the cycling events at the Olympic Games, with lots of medals, and then again at the next Olympics, and then set all kinds of records. The team also went on to win five Tour de France victories in six years.
I’ll make this quick and painless: don’t tell me your New Year’s resolutions. Tell me ten areas of your business or personal life that you are going to improve 1% this year. And don’t forget to look in unexpected places. Here are mine:
1. I am going to stand up 1% straighter. I’m a sloucher. Probably because I’m tall. But my mom slouches too, and she’s much shorter than I am. Believe it or not, it feels like a lot of work for me to keep my shoulders back. I started working on this last year and I feel like I’ve made good progress. This is an “unexpected place” skill. You may think it’s not really that important in the whole big scheme of things, but if I am doing speaking events around the country and getting paid for them, which I am, then I have to look confident. I have to stand up straight.
2. I’m going to call people 1% more. Most people don’t like to call people, myself included. But it’s inefficient sometimes to text or email someone and try to set up an appointment to call them, when you can just call them. If it’s an inconvenient time, they won’t pick up — no big deal. Usually they will. I wrote an important email today. If the intended recipient doesn’t get back to me before end of day Monday, I’m going to call her. I didn’t tell her that in the email. I’m just going to do it.
3. I’m going to do my bookkeeping 1% better. I’m going to tackle it at the end of each month — put everything into Quickbooks instead of at the end of the year. It will help me with my budgets too. Good budgets mean better money management and less worry.
4. I’m going to do a 1% better job responding to people who follow me on Instagram. I already started this and my followers went up 63% in one week. An unexpected result. If I want to do collabs with people and prove to the media and event planners that I am relevant and increase my sales and bookings through Instagram, I have to increase my following. This is my demographic more than any other social media — mothers with young kids who care enormously that their children are healthy.
5. Speaking of kids, I’m going to talk to my (grown) kids 1% more. Actually I want it to be more than that. But at the very least, I’ll call them more and when we’re talking, talk to them longer, travel to see them, spend more get together time here, more family dinners, etc. I want to spend more time with them. It’s an important part of my new Passion Planner roadmap.
6. Ditto for my mom.
7. I want to improve my HA1C by .5. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a type 1 diabetic. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to my new insulin pump. I’ve got to do better. If I don’t, nothing else will matter.
8. Accomplish 1% more things on my to-do list every week. If I have finished and crossed off 100 things I need to cross off one more thing.
9. I need to do at least 1% more school book-selling events. Originally my goal was four by the end of the first quarter. Then I multiplied that by 10 — so 40. Now I need to do 41. More than 1% but close enough.
10. I need to sell 1% more books for 2019. My original goal was 10,001 books. I accomplished that last year and increased it to 100,001. Now I’m going to increase that 1% — a thousand more books. 101,001.
Photo Credit: Erik Binggeser @truemarmalade on Instagram
What ten things are you going to improve by 1% this year?
Part 1 - Answer These Four Questions
Photo Credit: Robson Hatsukama Morgan
Many years after my dad passed away, my cousin Bridgette was visiting and we were chatting about him and something her mother (his sister) had told her. Of course I wanted to know. She conveyed that my dad wanted four main things in life. To marry my mom. To have a family. To fly airplanes. And to live on a farm.
Well there you go. He had such a clear, simple vision for his life. What is astounding is that he knew he wanted those things in high school.
That was his vision. What was his strategy though? Did he manage to do it? And if so, how?
My grandpap drove an eighteen wheeler for a fish company. His route went from Pittsburgh to Baltimore and back for blue crabs, to Boston for haddock, and to Maine for fresh lobsters. When my dad graduated from high school, he too started driving a truck for the same company. And yes, we ate fish every Friday night.
My mom was beautiful and willowy with green eyes and brunette hair like Elizabeth Taylor back in the fifties. She was smart in mind and dress, a cheerleader and prom queen, and she spoke un petit peu French. All the guys with a promising future would consider themselves lucky to date her. My dad, who graduated a year ahead of my mom, was a smooth-talker; our last name is Wylie. He was handsome and charismatic in a James Dean sort of way, and somehow the year after graduation he talked my mom into eloping with him to West Virginia of all places because you could get married there at eighteen without your parents’ permission. When she went back to tell her mom, she was greeted at the door by my grandmother holding a pillowcase stuffed with dirty laundry. She threw it at my mom and said, “Get used to it. You’ll be doing it for the rest of your life,” and unceremoniously slammed the door. She was crushed. She had wanted better for my mom than for her to marry a poor truck driver.
Mission accomplished — number one on my dad’s vision. Age 19.
The next year my older brother was born.
Mission accomplished — number two. Age 20.
Next was flying airplanes. As he was driving a truck, he scrimped and scraped and spent every extra penny and then some to take flying lessons at the local airport. He quickly flew a plane solo and continued racking up his hours. I was born two years after my brother, and I remember my early years as eating a lot of Spam with ketchup. If you don’t know what Spam is, join the crowd. I don’t think anyone really knows what Spam is. My mom made all my clothes, and bought used furniture and recovered it. Christmas was one gift and oranges and crayons in our stocking. My grandparents, whose view of my dad had softened thank goodness, used to make food for us and bring it over.
Back then, in the early 1960’s, you only needed a certain amount of flying hours to become a pilot. My dad carefully kept track of his, and wrote them meticulously in his flight logbook. After several years doing this, he finally had enough hours to be hired by Allegheny Airlines.
Mission accomplished — number three. Age 27.
Relatively quickly his salary grew to the point where he was making more money than anyone in his whole family and even our whole neighborhood.
After a couple more years and my two little brothers, we needed to find a bigger house. I had to share a tiny bedroom with my youngest brother who at age one discovered the light switch above his crib and like a hunter spotting deer turned the lights on and off all night. We lived in a suburb of Pittsburgh, but my dad figured if we moved further north to Butler County, there was farmland and it was still within an hour’s drive of the airport. He never liked living in or near a city. He and my mom started looking for a farm to buy.
They learned of a widow of the owner of a local hotel and restaurant. Like an original farm to table, the restauranteur grew the vegetables, and raised the livestock that he used in his restaurant. He had died suddenly and left his wife with much debt and few liquid assets. The farm had a huge, beautiful house on a hill with 32 acres of woods behind it and fields and pasture in front of it, two barns, a greenhouse, a built-in swimming pool in the lower pasture, tractors, a garage, a chicken coop, a river that ran through it, and two caretakers’ houses. To all of us, it felt like we had moved into a palace. I was ten years old. My Christmas present that year was a pony. We stopped eating Spam. My life was then complete.
Mission accomplished — number four. Age 31.
My dad accomplished his vision by the age of 31. I was jealous. Granted I had successfully co-founded, managed and sold two companies, but none, I felt, was my dream, my life’s purpose, my vision. When I finally figured out mycompany, my vision, Bloomers Island, I was pushing 50. Side note: it’s never too early and it’s never too late to bring your vision to life. Colonel Sanders was in his sixties.
The Magic of Four
The American psychologist, George Miller, is known for testing and developing a theory that the human mind could only digest and remember seven pieces of information at a time. Supposedly, that is why phone numbers became seven digits long (before area codes). Later, through follow up research from Gordon Parker, a professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, that number was changed to four. His research showed that it is hard for the human mind to concentrate on more than four things at once. The seven digits Miller wrote about would actually be broken into four pieces by people. For example, if a phone number was 789–5876, us humans would break it down into 78 95 87 6. That would be the easiest way to process and remember the seven digit number — in chunks of four.
The author of “Chart Your Own Course,” Caryn A. Spain (mentioned in my last article, “Start Here to Figure Out Your Life’s Purpose”), used this theory when she came up with the methodology for writing a strategic vision statement. Her approach was somewhat novel; most vision statements are simple, one or two sentence lines that are easily memorized, but in my opinion, not of much use if one doesn’t include a strategy to achieve it. My favorite business quote is: There are no good ideas. There is only good execution.
A vision strategy should focus on four things then. Please note that this doesn’t mean you are not going to do other things, it merely means you will spend most of your resources — time, energy, money — on making sure that you focus on doing a fantastic job on those four things. More on this in Part 2.
The Four Questions
In case you didn’t read my aforementioned article, I will summarize it here because you will need to use it as a foundation to build your vision strategy. It is a list of at least fifty skills, strengths and talents that you possess. I call the list, My Top 50.
You can do a vision strategy for both your career/business and for your personal life. You will just need to do a separate Top 50 for each. I recommend doing that anyhow.
Consider your Top 50 list and pick out the talents, strengths and skills that best answer the following four questions:
1. How have I made the most money?
2. What will be most relevant for the future?
3. What do I do better than my competitors?
4. What is my personal definition of success?
You can only pick one for each question, and you can’t use the same skill for more than one question. Go ahead and write those down along with accompanying notes, and sleep on it for a few days.
My next article will be Composing Your Vision Strategy Part 2.
“It is one of the great tragedies of civilization that ninety-eight out of every one hundred persons go all the way through life without coming within sight that even approximates definiteness of a major purpose.” ~Napoleon Hill
To be honest, are any of us certain that we’ve found our true calling in life? I love what I’m doing, but there are parts of my job that I find awfully tedious. Further, I believe we can have more than one purpose in life or that our purpose will most surely change as we age. For myself, I was a partner in my own company for many years and when we received a good offer, we decided to sell it and move on. That was around the time that my children were embarking on their own journeys in life and going off to college. I also had to overcome some health issues. All of these things combined — some good, some not so good — led me to a bit of a crisis of confidence. What was I going to do next? While I liked my job that I had done in my company and I appreciated what it afforded me, I didn’t feel like it was a true calling or my life’s purpose.
An older friend was talking to me about his large and prosperous company one day. He had become enormously wealthy starting and growing this company which in all honesty, sounded incredibly boring to me. At one point I stopped him and asked, “Yes, but was it your dream?”
He responded, “No, it was my opportunity.”
Fair enough. Would you do a job for your entire working life that you weren’t really passionate about, if you could make a very large amount of money doing it?
The renowned psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, developed and wrote about the two-factor theory of job satisfaction. He called the two factors that influence people in choosing jobs or sticking with them, motivators and hygiene. Hygiene factors are things such as comfort, benefits, location, colleagues and salary. These are mostly extrinsic factors — beyond one’s control — and that must be there for people to choose a job. But they will not make people happy about their job, they will just keep them from hating their job. The opposite are the intrinsic factors, or the motivators. They are things such as, “achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and growth or advancement,” or growth factors.
This is what we need to go after our life’s purpose, our passion. The risk is the hygiene job. You start a career because the salary is good, and then you get married, have kids, and you can’t leave, and all the while, you are not satisfied with your career, and yet you stay in it for obvious reasons.
How many of us have found ourselves in the hygiene careers?
Around the time of my crisis of confidence, a couple friends and I started our First Friday Mastermind group (which I initially wrote about in my S.W.O.T. Analysis article). I got the idea because I thought about all the business principles I applied to my business that helped it become successful to the point we were able to sell it, but I never did that kind of planning for my personal life. I’m talking about vision strategies, mission statements, S.W.O.T. analyses, goal setting, marketing plans, projections, board of directors, and so on.
I deserved that. You deserve that.
I was also re-reading the iconic, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill. He’s the one who suggested the idea of a mastermind group, to take advantage of collective intelligence.
Five of us got together the first Friday of every month, to learn about business principles which sadly most people don’t know about or use, and also to drink (wine) and eat (potluck) and check-in with each other and pour out our hearts and cry and laugh and hold each other accountable. In written, almost beseeching snippets of exercises, told with heart-wrenching honesty and longing, every one of us wrote knowing, knowing we could do better, we could be better.
I remembered that my partner and I had gone through this period in our company where we were just struggling all the time and nothing we did seemed to work or improve our situation. Money was always an issue and I was tired. We hired a consultant who used a methodology called, “Chart Your Own Course,” by Caryn A. Spain and Ron Wishnoff. The idea was to choose the four things your company should focus on — your vision strategy — and do those things really well. Every management decision or action taken, should be to further something on your vision strategy. The value of a vision strategy in business cannot be overestimated in my opinion. Our business turned around and within a few years we were able to sell it for a huge multiple.
“Chart You Own Course,” suggested starting your exploration process by listing all the things your company does well. At the first meeting of our little group, we convened on a wet and chilly December evening, took off our shoes, and did our first tell-tale, potent exercise. It was a variation on that first step. I called ours, The Top 50, a list of fifty things that you do reasonably well. It didn’t actually need to be fifty things and could be more, but fifty is a good number.
Some felt that there was no way they could come up with fifty skills or talents, but I told them that they could. We looked at it like a brainstorming exercise and did it right there in the meeting and then read the results to each other. I personally, completely missed some of the things at which I excel. No fewer than two Masterminders put down, “loading the dishwasher.” One of us came up with over seventy five that first night.
The TOP 50 was a list we would use over and over as a springboard for other exercises, like in writing our vision statements and our mission statements. It was the start of a process for many of us to figure out what we wanted to do, to question our direction, our life’s purpose, our calling in life, our dreams. We then utilized business tools to put our dreams into action.
Here is the theory behind The Top 50 and why it’s important:
First of all, you’ll be surprised at how many things you do well. It’s an esteem booster. I revisit my list whenever I am feeling down about myself, frustrated, or impatient with how things are going.
Second, the reason we use this list as a springboard for other exercises is because it makes sense to start from a position of strength: we’re reinventing ourselves not the wheel.
Third, you want to do something you enjoy, and typically people enjoy the things they do well.
Fourth, I believe that writing things down makes them real. It is an acknowledgement in ink. Indelible.
Fifth, by thinking about your strengths and writing them down (and even being reminded by your friends in the room when you have momentary lapses about the things you do well and have never acknowledged), you may discover something helpful about yourself that surprises.
My last word about the importance of working from the TOP 50 LIST: Don’t let anyone else define you. There is a Latin expression: Temet nosce. Know thyself. The longer version of that is, “Know thyself and thou shall know all the mysteries of the Gods and of the universe.” This is your choice, not the Universe’s or God’s or your spouse, mother, children or monk’s choice.
Here’s what I learned about myself from my Top 50 list. I was really good at business skills, but I also possessed many creative talents like writing, painting, music, and graphic design. I knew that with my next company, I had to be doing something more creative. Even though I could make a lot of money in management and finance, I didn’t want to do that anymore. Working through all the exercises as a part of my mastermind group helped me to start my company, Bloomers Island.
I highly suggest that if you are reading this, do your own Top 50 and let me know if you discovered any surprises. Also, I’m curious how many of you think you are living your life’s purpose.
Next up is your vision strategy.
There seems to be a lot of hate out there these days. According to the F.B.I., 2018 was the third consecutive year of increases in hate crimes. What do we do about it? I’ve always thought that the antidote to hate is love, but sometimes loving is hard. Is there another way?
I’ve been thinking about this problem. I did some research on hate. In psychology circles, hate is not considered a primary emotion, it’s a secondary emotion, or a reaction to a primary emotion. The primary emotion that typically drives hate is fear. You’re afraid of something and so you hate it.
We’ve been told that to combat hate in this world and in our lives, we should counter it with love. That’s nice, but sometimes it’s hard to feel love or respond with love when someone is writing hateful comments about you and your beliefs, or calling you names. At those moments, it is hard to conjure up love, to think about love, to be generous with our feelings. At best it is difficult. At worst, impossible. And what does loving even mean?
Talk to any kid who has been bullied at school. They are afraid. Tell him or her that they should be loving toward their nemesis. As someone who has been bullied, I can tell you that it would have been impossible to love this person.
One of my earliest memories was going to the enormous public swimming pool in our town. To my four year-old eyes, this pool was like one of the great lakes. At the time, my six year-old brother and I were complete landlubbers. I never even saw the ocean until I was a sophomore in college. I was terrified of the water and my brother had no swimming skills beyond doggy paddling. In what was a common practice at the time, and what I now refer to as, “The Great Pool Incident,” my dad unceremoniously picked up my brother and in one swift motion threw him into the deep end of the pool. My brother sank like a stone. With a sideways glance to me, my father said that it would force him to learn to swim.
I was mortified. After a long few moments with my brother on the bottom of the pool, my dad finally jumped in and peeled him off. My brother, in a panicked mode, clawed at my dad’s chest. When the whole ordeal was over, they both climbed out of the pool, my dad bleeding profusely from surprisingly deep gashes down his front, my brother heaving and coughing, his eyes open wide like a cornered wild animal.
I think my dad was embarrassed that his son couldn’t just tough it out. My brother was fearful and then angry and finally hateful that my father had betrayed him like that. Through all this, I clung to my mother’s leg, just in case my father got the thought in his head that I should be subjected to the same failed experiment.
I give my father a teensy bit of a pass on this. He was 25 at the time, not particularly adept at parenting, heck, no one was adept at parenting back then. Grownups were still spanking their kids and subjecting them to all kinds of old-fashioned, humiliating parenting techniques that make us cringe now.
My brother was afraid of the water. My father’s method to help him overcome that fear was ridiculous. Equally as absurd would have been to tell my brother to think loving thoughts about the water. What would have been better? Simply, to practice.
Here’s the thing, it is a lot easier to act on something than to think something (or to not think something), especially when emotions are in play. I wrote about this in my blog post: IT’S THE MESSENGER NOT THE MEDIUM. Action is easier than thought and practice is an action.
Practice to overcome your fear, and as a recommendation if you know someone else who is filled with fear and perhaps its resultant hate. If anyone does something over and over, it loses its power over them. They are not afraid anymore.
In the “Great Pool Incident,” if my brother had been given some swimming lessons and the luxury of time to practice them, none of this would have been necessary. He could have jumped into the deep end himself, and my dad could have joined him, playing with the beach ball, diving for pennies, and perhaps racing from side to side. Instead, my brother didn’t learn to properly swim for many years. And me? Not until my senior year in college when I needed one last Phys Ed credit to graduate and Swimming 101 was the only thing left that fit into my schedule. (I really liked it and even took Swimming 102 — the benefit of a four-year college degree.)
When your children are afraid of something, have them get out there and practice. Back to the bully, a good idea would be to role play with your child against their bully. That is practice. Or practice self-defense. Or have him or her practice asking for help.
We can apply this in our own grownup lives. We can communicate it to others. We can apply it in business. You’re afraid to call a potentially important customer? Pick up the phone and practice calling smaller customers. Write a script and role play with a friend or colleague. Practice. (I think role playing in business is highly underrated.)
If someone is afraid of immigrants, invite them to dinner with an immigrant or a refugee family. Invite them to volunteer at a local refugee center. Who knows? Maybe it will make a difference. In the meantime, send them a link to this article.
If you are afraid of something, practice what you are afraid of. Start really small. Practice sports. Read more. Learn more. Educate yourself. Practice job skills, foreign languages, writing. Practice going out and meeting other people. Practice your social skills. Don’t be afraid of other people. Improve yourself.
By defeating fear, you go a long way to overcoming name calling, bullying, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, otherism, and hatred.
Oh, and by the way, you can practice love too. Maybe start small with a smile and a complement.
What fear have you learned to overcome by practicing?