Personal Excellence

Daily Planning: 6 Ways to Live Your Day On Purpose

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard

Jim Rohn once said "either you run the day or the day runs you." Daily planning is a cornerstone habit of successful people. We live best when we live 'on purpose.'

Here are some tips on daily planning:

1. Create a Daily Task List.

Do this every day. The night before is preferable because your mind can contemplate on the day ahead and you can hit the ground running the next morning. Include high-priority projects (ex. develop presentation), important calls or emails (ex. follow up on proposal), and the routine (ex. order contact lenses/fill out expense report.)

2. Make high priority items a high priority. 

Stephen Covey called this putting 'first things first.' I think it should be taken literally. Try and work on your highest priority first thing. It may be an important project or some other high-value activity. If it is a big project, break it down in chunks and work on the first chunk. As the day goes on, you lose willpower. In addition, other things will come up. Knock this out and you will have an early victory.

3. Adjust, don't Abandon your game plan.  

Planning every minute of your day is setting yourself up to fail. Leave white space. Stuff happens. Undoubtedly, you will get interruptions and emergencies. Your daily plan should be a good mix of structure and flexibility. If you go off on a rabbit trail, get back on track quickly. Too often when the day doesn't go exactly as planned, we think the day is shot and begin to dabble at things and become unfocused. Regroup and get laser focused again.

4. Batch Items.

Group similar tasks. Do your email only at certain times of the day. If you have several calls to make, make them one right after another.

5. Avoid Multi-tasking.

Our brains are not built to do two things that take cognitive effort at once. It's fine to fold clothes while watching a ball game. But trying to do several things at once that require thinking will slow you down and hinder the quality of your work. Just focus on one thing at a time. Determine to get after it and get it done. And done well.

6. Overcome Procrastination

The hardest part of this whole deal is getting ourselves to behave. It is much easier just to do busywork all day long, fight fires or be distracted. Use momentum. Here is a great technique to overcome procrastination, just get started. Tell yourself you will work on that tough task for 10 minutes before you decide whether you will work on it longer. Nine times out of ten, you will have gained momentum and want to continue. This is called 'acting your way into feeling.' It works.

When you plan your day, take a few minutes to visualize yourself at the end of the day having planned your work and worked your plan. As a Christian, I spend a few minutes in prayer thinking through my projects, appointments, meetings, etc. I ask for God's blessing, wisdom and impact.

Nobody ever wandered into greatness. This is all about living a life of intent and purpose. And the good thing is that life only comes one day at a time.

A successful life does not result from chance; nor is it determined by fate or good fortune, but rather through a succession of successful days
— Ari Kiev

3 Strategies to Increase Self-Discipline and Make Wise Choices

“Your life today is the result of all of your choices and decisions in the past. When you make new choices, you create a new future.”- Brian Tracy

Have you ever had one of those ‘old fashioned’ donuts at Starbucks? They are delicious …and about 450 calories. Every time I go there it seems they are screaming at me to buy one of them.

Every day we are confronted with many choices that may seem minor at the time, but over the long term can have a significant impact. Making the right choice involves tapping our willpower.

When it comes to willpower, we have two kinds of struggles: ‘do power’ and ‘don’t power.’

The Challenge of Proactivity

‘Do power’ is when we seek to motivate ourselves to do something. This is what is called the challenge of initiative. This could be going to the gym, filing our taxes or cleaning the basement. Often we don’t ‘feel’ like doing something even though we know we should. Here are three practical strategies to increase your ‘do power.’

1. Act your way into feeling.

Have you ever procrastinated about something, finally started it and really got ‘on a roll?’ Usually the hardest part in overcoming procrastination is simply getting started. When a rocket ship first takes off, it uses a tremendous amount of fuel. As it gains momentum, it uses substantially less fuel. The same is true with us. We expend the most energy simply getting started. But if you get going, even when you don’t feel like it, often momentum kicks in. So remember, motion creates emotion. Act first and the feelings will likely follow.

2. Imagine the future.

Picture yourself having completed the project. Visualize how your clothes will fit when you reach your weight goal or how your basement will look when it is organized. Really let it sink in and envision the positive emotions of achieving the goal. A vision gives hope and motivation.

3. Pre-commit.

It is often unwise to wait until you are ‘in the moment’ to make a decision. Decide ahead of time specifically when you will go to the gym or file your taxes. You can even go so far as putting it on your calendar. As author Jon Acuff says, “crush the discussion with the decision.” In other words, leave no room for wavering; you have already made up your mind.

The Challenge of Restraint

Conversely ‘don’t power’ is restraining ourselves from doing something we know we shouldn’t do. This could be eating one of those donuts, lighting up a cigarette or making an unwise impulse purchase. Let's call this the challenge of restraint.

We frequently have an internal conflict as we make these ‘in the moment’ choices. The tension is between our impulsive side and our rational side. Here are three strategies for this side of the equation.

1. Think ‘as now, so then.’

I have often said to myself, “I can have this donut today and tomorrow I will start eating better.” It is easy to deceive ourself and say “tomorrow we will be better.” We often idealize the person we will be in the future. It is more accurate and effective to understand that if we give in today, we will more likely give in tomorrow as well. ‘As now, so then’ thinking leads down the path of thinking about the consequences of having a donut every day. This thought process is more likely to temper my unhealthy indulgence.

2. Use the 10 minute rule.

Impulses can be fleeting. It is usually a good idea to wait 10 minutes before deciding to indulge. Once we get past the initial urge, the impulse is often not as strong. For example, having a piece of fruit will likely diminish the desire to eat a donut. Or once you are out of the store, that item that you just ‘had to have’ doesn’t seem like such a necessity.

3. Set limits.

I really like French fries. It’s hard for me to imagine not having them for the rest of my life. However, I try to limit myself to eating them only on Saturdays. When I do wait until the weekend, I can actually enjoy them without feeling guilty, knowing I eat them in moderation. (Keep in mind this technique does not work for everything. If you are trying to quit smoking, limiting yourself to once a week simply will not work. If you want to give up something completely, it is far easier to abstain altogether than it is to give in just a little then try to stop.)

General Strategies

1. Focus on positive action rather than prohibition.

Rather than focusing on not doing something, think about a positive alternative. It is much easier to replace a bad habit with a good habit than it is to simply quit doing something.

2. Set up your environment to your advantage.

If you are tempted to help yourself to a big bowl of ice cream after dinner every night, don’t keep ice cream in the house. Rather, keep healthy snacks that you enjoy or pre-packaged smaller portions.

If you intend to go to the gym first thing in the morning, pack your gym back and hang out your work clothes the night before. It will be much easier to get started in the morning. (And remember to put the coffee maker timer on!)

3. Start small.

Willpower is like a muscle that can be trained. It uses the rule of ‘use it or lose it.’ Even minor occurrences of exercising willpower will lead to increased self control.

When you find yourself in the middle of an ‘in the moment’ choice, choose a strategy that works best for you.

Fortunately, when it comes to choices, we don’t have to push ourselves to the limit all the time. We simply need to focus on those critical moments when we are most susceptible to unhealthy impulses.

Our current habits are not our destiny. They can be changed and reprogrammed. New habits can be intentionally designed. But it will take focus and energy.

And if you happen to temporarily stumble, don’t beat yourself up. Remember building willpower takes patience and perseverance. Tomorrow is a new beginning.

The 2 Qualities You Absolutely, Positively Need

“We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most of us have been seen by a physician who is knowledgeable and competent, but doesn’t come across as caring. Conversely, we have all seen parents who want to be their child’s friend yet lack the firmness of appropriate discipline.

I recently read Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut. I was introduced to a very simple but insightful principle: the two qualities that make a person influential are Strength and Warmth. In the scenario above, the physician projected Strength but not Warmth. The parent possessed Warmth but not Strength.

The quality of Strength includes confidence, competence, passion, and grit.

The quality of Warmth includes kindness, connection, empathy, and congeniality.

The authors state that Strength and Warmth are not an ‘either/or’ proposition. You don’t have to sacrifice one quality for the other. It is quite possible to project both Strength and Warmth simultaneously. Think of it as two separate scales each ranking from 1-10. Theoretically, a person can be low in both Strength and Warmth, high in only one or the other, or, optimally, high in both Strength and Warmth.

Think about this concept in real-life situations. 

When we go for a job interview, the interviewer is essentially thinking about two things:

Can the person do the job? (Strength)
Do I want to work with this person? (Warmth)

If you are a leader, you need to be able to affirm, encourage and take an interest in your direct reports (Warmth). It is also your responsibility to step into difficult conversations and candidly address performance or behavior issues (Strength). 

If you are a presenter, it is essential that you first build rapport with your audience (Warmth) and then influence them with information that is presented in a confident, clear, and cohesive manner (Strength.)

Here are some practical tips to enhance both your Strength and Warmth.

Enhancing Strength

  • Become proficient in your field
  • Be clear and confident in your communication
  • Be a person of action-get results
  • Always be respectful but do not let others intimidate you

Enhancing Warmth

  • Build rapport by remembering people’s names and asking others about themselves
  • Regularly express appreciation and encouragement to others
  • Practice empathy-put yourself in the other person’s place and express care and concern
  • Build connectedness by finding areas of common interests (favorite sports team, hobbies, etc.)

So it is time for a little self-assessment. Where do you fall? Are you high in one area and low in another? Are you low in both? Your aim should be to project both Strength and Warmth everyday at a level of 10.

Teddy Roosevelt went on African safaris, had a boxing ring installed in the White House and continued giving a speech even though he was shot and bleeding (true story!). Yet he taught Sunday School to kindergarten kids and often made his cabinet wait as he played hide-and-seek with his kids.

I like that combination. Tough and tender.

3 Reasons To Avoid The Comparison Trap

Not long ago I was attending a conference at a large hotel. I got up early to use the treadmill in the hotel fitness center. While on my morning run and no one else there, I began to think how disciplined I was. I mean come on, the hotel had hundreds of guests and I was the only one who had enough discipline to hit the gym early in the morning. I put on my best superiority complex. 

A few minutes later, someone about 25 years younger starting running on the treadmill next to me. And I mean running. I was a tortoise compared to the hare. My self-esteem quickly swung to the other end of the spectrum. My thoughts turned to how slow and out of shape I was next to Mr. Young, Fit and In Shape.

Comparing ourselves to others is always a losing game. Either we think we are better than others or never good enough. Both are unhealthy and untrue.

God made you unique and your best strategy is to be the very best you that you can be.

Here are three reasons to focus on being your best.

1. You focus on what you can control. Being overly concerned about others is a waste of time. You can’t control others. 

“I decided to resign myself from the position of general manager of the universe.” -Jeff Gitomer  

2. You become less critical of others.  Time invested in improving yourself cuts down on time wasted in disapproving of others. 

3. You simplify your life. Concentrate on pleasing God and being all He created you to be. Life is much better and simpler living for an audience of One.

Make Each Day A Masterpiece

“Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance but to do what lies clearly at hand.” - Thomas Carlyle

John Wooden is a true legend and a hero of mine. As coach of the UCLA basketball program, his team won an incredible 10 NCAA Championships in 12 years during the 1960s and 1970s. He was named Coach of the Century by ESPN.

What is amazing about John Wooden is that he never spoke to his team about winning. Not at the beginning of the season. Not at halftime of a game. Never.

Wooden always spoke to his players about doing their best in the moment. His practice sessions were legendary for being planned down to the minute. (His practice notes can be seen in his book Wooden on Leadership.) He thought if his team did its best everyday, winning would take care of itself.

Here are three reasons to focus on doing your very best today:

1. It kicks procrastination’s butt. 

If you have a goal in the distance, it is easy to put things off. Let’s say you have a goal of losing 10 pounds in six weeks, it is easy to slack off today because you still have time ‘tomorrow.’ As someone once said, “Tomorrow is always the busiest day of the week.” 

2. It gives you joy in the journey, not just the destination. 

I recently started my own business. I believe it will be a success, but I want to find fulfillment and delight now–as I build it–not just when I have reached all my business goals.

3. It focuses you on what you can control. 

Instead of worrying about competing with others, you concentrate on being the best you can be. Contrary to popular practice, John Wooden never scouted his opponents. He concentrated on getting his players in such good shape that towards the end of the game, they would run the other team off the floor. Wooden and his team could not control their opponents, but they could control themselves. 

When I started my business a few months ago, my daughter, Olivia, gave me a paperweight for my desk that reads “If you do little things well, you’ll do big ones better.” 

Think big and bold, but start small and specific. Start today. Start now. I am not against goal-setting. It is important to step into the future with purpose and direction, but there is something to be said for focusing on the here and now.

Tom Peters has a wonderful ebook titled, Excellence Now, in which he describes a simple concept that I love: “Excellence is the next 5 minutes.” Do your best in the next 5 minutes. Then the next 5 minutes. And so on.

So determine to win the day. If you do, you just might win championships.

The Key to Connection: 6 Ways to Remember Names

“A person’s name is–to that person–the sweetest and most important sound of any language.” - Dale Carnegie

It was April 15, 2010, the release day of the first iPad. I had reserved mine for pick-up at the local Apple Store. My daughter, Olivia, wanted to join the fun. When we got to the mall, there were several hundred people in line waiting to get their hands on the new device. Apple was only allowing a certain number of people in the store at a time. Olivia and I waited in line for about two hours, slowing making our way to the front. Finally, we came to the entrance of the store where we were greeted by a lovely Apple associate named Shamira. She introduced herself and said, “Isn’t this exciting? You’re getting an iPad!” Then she asked my name and my daughter’s name. Shamira was warm and welcoming, but I did not think much of our short conversation.

I brought my new iPad home that weekend. My wife decided she wanted one too, so we went back to the Apple Store the following Tuesday night. Shamira was there. To my amazement, she said, “Hi Del! How do you like your iPad, and where is Olivia?”

I immediately said, “Wait a minute. There must have been hundreds of people in line on Saturday morning. How in the world did you remember my name and my daughter’s name?”

Shamira said, “Well, first of all, I didn’t remember everyone’s name. But I do make an effort to remember names. When you said your name was Del, I thought of Dell Computer, and I have a best friend whose name is Olivia.”

When you remember and use people’s names, two good things happen: You make the other person feel special, and you come across as one very sharp cookie. That was my impression of Shamira. 

The old TV show Cheers theme song rings true: we want to go “where everybody knows your name.” Remembering another person’s name creates a unique connection.

Everyone has an unconscious, positive emotional reaction at the sound of his or her name.

Here are 6 strategies to help you remember names. Don’t simply dismiss these strategies because you think you are lousy at remembering names. Anyone can get better.

1. Concentrate.

We often do not concentrate on other people’s names when we first meet them. By the time the brief encounter is over, we are often frustrated because we don’t recall their name. When you first meet someone, make it a point to shake their hands, notice the color of their eyes and focus on their name.

2. Repeat their name.

When you first meet someone, use their name several times in your initial conversation. Do not overdo it, or it will come across as insincere or sales-y. But mentioning their name a few times helps solidify it in your mind.

3. Ask them to spell their name.

I once was introduced to a woman named Brunni. I did not know if I heard it correctly, so I simply asked her to spell it. When she did, it not only confirmed that I heard the name right but by visualizing the spelling, it greatly enhanced my likelihood of remembering it. Even common names like Kathy or Sean have various spellings, so you can ask, “Kathy with a K or a C?” It conveys your interest in them and helps you recall their name the next time you see them. (Don’t do this if the name commonly has only one spelling–e.g. Pam, Nancy, or Steve. That would be weird.) 

4. Alliteration

Alliteration is when two or more words start with the same letter. For example, I recently met a woman named Linda. She told me that she has a job at a hospital in Medical Records. During our initial conversation, she said she really misses her previous job of working face-to-face with patients at a physician practice. I thought to myself “Lonely Linda.” Now, Linda isn’t really lonely, but I simply concentrated for a few seconds after the conversation thinking of Linda being lonely at her job. This may seem silly, but it is actually very effective, and no one needs to know what your internal strategy is.

Here are some other simple examples:

  • Perky Pam
  • Shy Sharon
  • Tall Tom

5. Association

Associate the person whose name you are seeking to remember with someone familiar. This is a common technique, but it works well.

For example, my wife’s name is Karen. It is easy to remember people whose name is Karen because I simply associate them with my wife’s name. 

A few years ago, I often saw a guy at the gym in the morning before work. After seeing him repeatedly, I decided to introduced myself. He said his name was Paul. Now Paul is about my age and has a full head of hair. I associated him with Paul McCartney of the Beatles who were known as ‘mop tops.’ Once I did this, it was quite easy to remember his name. And the cool thing is that once you get to know someone, you don’t have to work at remembering names. It just comes naturally. (It doesn’t take great mental effort to remember the names of your children or your best friend.)

6. Visualization

This technique has worked very effectively for me. Here is how it works: When you meet someone, come up with a way to visually remember their name.

For example, I recently met a woman named Lois. I pondered for a few seconds on how to visualize her name. I came up with the idea of Lois Lane and pictured her briefly flying through the skies with Superman. It is a crazy idea, but it certainly crystallized her name in my mind. I have had no problem recalling her name since.

Every business is a relationship business. If you want to make a convincing, positive impression with others, remembering and using another’s name is powerful.

By the way, Shamira still works at that Apple Store. I saw here a few months ago, and she immediately came up to me and said “Hi Del.” I continue to be amazed.

The Simple Secret to Likeability

“If the world were run perfectly, perhaps you would be promoted, advanced, and rewarded on the basis of sheer ability. But the world doesn’t work that way or even close to that way. When your superiors look for someone to promote, they look for someone they know and like. So go out and make yourself likable. That’s just how the winning players play the game.” 
-Ben Stein

When you hear the word likability, it may conjure up negative terms like “people-pleaser,” “fake,” and “superficial.” But in reality, likability plays a crucial role in career success.

Think about it:

  • If you are a presenter and the audience doesn’t like you, they won’t care what you have to say.
  • If you own a business and you aren’t welcoming to customers, they will go somewhere else.
  • If you are interviewing for a position and you are not engaging, they will choose someone else.

A lot has been written about likability, and most of it is helpful. But I think it all boils down to this: if you want someone to like you, like them. Period. Done. End of story. We like those who like us. 

We will not have warm feelings towards everyone we meet, but being kind is a choice. This is not being fake, its being professional.

Likability plays a big part in success. It may not be fair, it may not be just, but you would be naive to think it is not true.

Resilience: 3 Ways to Bounce Back Strong From Adversity

Resilience: the ability to bounce back from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity, toughness. 

On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, I tweeted the following:

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to what happens to you. Decide today to make the best of any situation. Good or bad.

Less than 24 hours later, I was notified by my employer of almost 30 years that my position had been eliminated due to financial difficulties.

It was time to practice what I preach.

Here are three practices that are helping me effectively overcome this setback:

1. Reflect selectively. 

There are lessons to be learned in everything. One thing I learned from my situation is that there are very few sure things in life. I do not advocate continually asking why a situation happened, but I recommend that when facing adversity in the future, ask yourself: what can I learn from this? 

2. Focus on the future. 

It is easy to be resentful and bitter about what life brings. It is far more constructive to channel that energy and emotion into positive action. The past cannot be changed. 

Some good questions to ask:

What would a wise person do in this situation?
What is a constructive next step?
What new opportunities does this present?
How can I turn this negative into a positive?

3. Maintain a healthy perspective. 

Trials and difficulties are a normal part of life. If handled well, adversity can make us stronger. Hardships have a way of growing, maturing, and strengthening us. rom a spiritual perspective, I believe that God is ultimately in control, and I find peace in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

Remember, how you respond to adversity is your choice. You can let it build you up or bring you down.

As for me, I am excited about my future and the possibilities that lie ahead. In the words of the classic Chicago song, I’m ‘Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.’

3 Reasons To Knock Out Your Workout Early

Over the past several years I have experimented with going to the gym at different times of the day. I always gravitate back to working out first thing in the morning.

Although all of us have different schedules and internal clocks, here are three advantages to working out early in the morning.

1. It gives you an early win. 

How you begin the day sets the tone for the remainder of the day. A strong start increases the prospect for a strong day. Working out early increases your likelihood to eat healthier. It also boosts your concentration and energy levels.

2. It mentally frees you from deciding whether to work out or not. 

Once the day gets started it easy for your mind to debate about whether or not to workout at all that day. Many people start out with good intentions but later in the day something often comes up. It’s easy to find reasons to skip the workout. In addition, research indicates that your willpower diminishes during the course of the day.

3. It’s practical. 

When you workout early in the morning, the traffic is usually better, the gym is less crowded and you need to take only one shower.

Keep in mind your body is the vehicle which enables you to work well, enjoy relationships and live a strong life.