How to protect the time you need to achieve your greatest goals.

When I was a student-athlete at the University of Wisconsin my schedule was booked solid. I was at class every day by 8:55am. Classes lasted until 2pm. At 2:30pm I was at track practice. I left practice at 6pm and went to dinner. I ate at the Sports Buffet until they kicked me out at 7pm. By 7:20pm I was at Helen C. White Library studying in the quiet section (seriously). By 10:30pm I was taking the Drunk Bus home.

Focus Pocus

During this time I had something magical working for me: large chunks of time with completely focused effort. First I was totally focused on my classes. Then track practice. Then on eating (which felt like a job because I was the smallest discus thrower in the Big Ten Conference). And finally, on studying.

All 4 of these time blocks helped me focus my undivided attention on my largest life goals. Plus, there were no smart phones back then to distract me with an Instagram feed full of hilarious Pro Wrestling fails. (@Wrestlebotch)

Scheduling Focused Time

Today, I am revisiting the focused scheduling I employed as a student-athlete. As as result, I hope to achieve the same level of productivity, growth and progress I enjoyed two decades ago. That’s why I have time-blocked my calendar to help create deep focus on my most important tasks. The tasks that will help me achieve my long-term goals.

The Time Blocks On My Calendar Now Include:

  • An hour of blocked writing time every morning starting at 6am.
  • 2 hours of totally focused work on my most important tasks from 10am to Noon.
  • A regular 1-hour lunch, starting at noon every day (which also helps keep my energy high, as I wrote about in 5 Things I do to keep my work energy high.).
  • 1 hour of total focus on my most important issues in the afternoon from 2pm-3pm.
  • Dedicated open time for meetings, calls and emails to start and end the day.
  • A 30-minute planning session every Sunday night when I can plan my most important tasks for the week. Tasks that will help me achieve my long term goals.
The One Thing
Make this the next book you read.  Then let me know how much you loved it by writing me at  adam@theweaponry.com.

I loved how my calendar blocks helped me in college. But a book I am reading has influenced me to reintroduce this useful scheduling technique again. In fact, The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan may be the most powerful book I have read in the past 3 years. It teaches you a system that always leads you to the one, most important thing that you should be doing at any given time, in order to help you achieve your loftiest goals. A critical part of the program is creating calendar blocks that are reserved exclusively for your total focus on your most important activities. Spoiler Alert: The one thing you should be doing at any given time never involves WrestleBotch. #PriortitiesVsDistraction

Key Takeaway

It is not enough to have goals. You need to put in the work required to achieve them. That’s why it is so important to block large chunks of time on your calendar that allow you to completely focus on your most important tasks, every day. Add a chunk of focused time for planning on Sunday evenings, and it will ensure that you make demonstrable progress each and every week. Remember, scheduling your time costs nothing. But the dividends it pays by helping you achieve your goals could be enjoyed for generations.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

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How to apply an Instagram filter approach to your work and life.

Remember photos before Instagram? I don’t. Because things are so much better now. Photos are no longer shared in their naked state. Instead, we use filters on our images to make them look their best. And the filtering of photos is fun. Not rollercoaster-riding fun. Or dance party fun. But you know, killing-time-at-the-DMV fun.

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The San Francisco Bay, filtered.

How Filters Work

If you haven’t used Instagram or Snapchat filters, here is an oversimplification.

  1. You take a photograph
  2. You look at that photograph. Every time you do it makes you laugh.
  3. You upload it into Insta, or your favorite photo filtering app.
  4. You apply a filter to the photo.
  5. The filter applies its unique recipe of contrast, saturation, highlights, focal points, warmth and color to the image.
  6. You taste test anywhere from 2 to 102 different filters on the photo to decide which one makes the photo look most amazingable.
  7. You have a hard time deciding between two filters.
  8. You ask someone nearby which of the two is better.
  9. They don’t care.
  10. You just pick one.
  11. You share the image with the world.
  12. Everyone thinks you are cooler, better looking and living a more amazing life than you really are.

Filter Love

I love using these filters. It’s fun to look at the same photo through different filters and see very different images. In fact, I love it so much that I have been using the same process in my work and life.

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My family in Chicago, filtered.

Real World Filters

As Instagram quickly teaches us, there are many ways to look at the world. A seemingly poor image can look great through the right filter. And a great image can look terrible through the wrong filters. The same thing happens with our professional careers, finances, health and relationships.

Business

As an entrepreneur, I use many different filters on my business. I apply the Revenue filter to get a good image of how much money we are bringing into the business. I apply a Profit filter to see how much of that revenue we are actually keeping. I apply a Historical filter to see whether our finances are improving. I apply a Goal filter to see if we are doing what we set out to do.

But those are just the financial filters. I apply a Quality filter to determine whether my advertising and idea agency is producing great creative work. A Customer Service filter tells us whether our service is meeting our expectations and the expectations of our clients. A Happiness filter makes me look at whether me and my teammates at The Weaponry are enjoying the work we are doing. A Culture filter gives me a good look at our company culture and vibe. All of the images are slightly different. And they are all important to look at.

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Santa Cruz, filtered.

Personal Filters

I am always evaluating my personal life with a full spectrum of filters. Here is a list of the filters that I regularly use:

  • Happiness
  • Friendship
  • Adventurousness
  • Quality Time
  • Memory Making
  • Ideal Weight
  • Wedding Vow 
  • Self Actualization
  • Joy
  • Commitments
  • Personal Strength
  • Learning
  • Christianity
  • Dot Connecting
  • New People
  • Yard Care
  • Cleanliness
  • Mentoring
  • Dad
  • Humor

Application and Feedback

I apply these filters often to get a quick look at how I am doing in various areas of my life. Sometimes the picture is beautiful and I want to show everyone. But I don’t always like what I see. That’s okay. A poor image gives me something worthwhile to work on. The filters help me spot my weak links, my blindspots and areas of concern. Once I see them I can give them the attention they deserve. I like to work on my uglies until they are reach a point where I would share them with the world.

Key Takeaway

There are many ways to look at your work, health, relationships and personal lives. Don’t just focus on the filters that make you look good. Use a wide range of filters to see how you are doing in many areas of your life. Find the areas that need improvement. Give yourself credit for the areas that are focused, sharp and beautiful. Always keep the big picture in mind. It’s the best way to live your life in a way that is worth sharing.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this idea, please share it with them.

Why you need to think bigger thoughts.

How much time do you spend thinking about your thinking? I know that’s like, totally meta. But your thinking is the most important of all subjects to evaluate. Because your thinking determines your outcomes. That’s cause and effect. You learned about it in science class. In case you were at the orthodontist that day, here’s a recap.

How it works:

Your thinking drives your actions. Your actions drive your results.

Pretty simple, right?  It’s about to get even simpler.

Thinking –>  Actions –>  Results    (sorry my arrows are totes lame)

What This Means

Small thinking drives small actions, which lead to small results. 

And the flip side…

Big thinking drives big actions, which lead to big results.

What Are You Thinking?

Most people spend far too much time on small thoughts. If you think about your basic needs, your thinking will lead to very basic actions, and basic results.

However…

Thinking about your biggest goals and biggest dreams leads to your biggest actions. Which naturally leads to your biggest possible results. This is a big deal. Like a-little-boy- trapped-in-Tom Hanks-body big.

The Price Tag

Big thinking and small thinking cost you the same amount. Which is nothing. Think about that for a moment. The difference is that the return on small thinking is very small. While the return on large thinking is virtually limitless.

Key Takeaway

Think bigger thoughts. They lead to bigger actions. Which lead to bigger outcomes.

  • Think about changing the world for the better.
  • Think about changing your community for the better.
  • Think about changing an organization for the better.
  • Think about changing your family for the better.
  • Think about changing yourself for the better.
  • Think about doing more of what you love.
  • Think about making more money.
  • Think about solving problems.
  • Think about creating value.

You’ll find that bigger, better things will come your way. And in a big country, dreams stay with you. #ILearnedThatInThe80s

*If you know someone who could benefit from this idea, please share it with them.

Why feeling comfortable should make you feel uncomfortable.

I am always looking for nuggets of wisdom. And because I am always looking, unlike Bono, I often find what I am looking for. The latest gem arrived yesterday from Robert Kiyosaki, the famed investor and author of Rich Dad. Poor Dad. Kiyosaki is an active tweeter, dropping 140-character bread crumbs of wisdom throughout each day.

Here is the tweet that has me all atwitter right now:

The biggest trap, the biggest dungeon in life isn’t laziness or bad luck, it’s comfort.  -Robert Kiyosaki 

The Human Trap

I know exactly what Kiyosaki is talking about. And he nailed the big ole human trap. If I was trying to catch me a feast of humans, I would not set out an oversized mousetrap baited with oversized cheese, or a giant ant trap baited with a giant picnic basket.

Instead, I would set up a steady 9-to-5 job in middle management, with competitive benefits, no night or weekend work, no travel, a swell group of co-workers, an easy commute and decent pay. And my trap would suck in humans like a new and improved black hole designed by James Dyson.

Dissecting The Trap

Comfort is a trap. It slowly and silently pacifies you. It lulls you into a false sense of security. Comfort takes your ambition, hands you back mediocrity, and makes you feel like you got fair value in the exchange. Comfort smothers dreams, dismantles goals and leads to the motherlode of regret that so many people unearth in their last chapters.

Staying Uncomfortable

Most people are looking  to make a comfortable living. But that is my greatest career fear. Because it would mean that my career would be good, but never great. It wouldn’t be memorable or laudable or history making. It wouldn’t create a legacy or generational wealth. But most importantly it wouldn’t allow me to accomplish my personal mission and live into my personal legend. #TheAlchemist

A Quick Recap

I spent the first 19 years of my career working as an employee. I earned fancy titles that included words like Executive, Chief and President. Those roles generated internal clout and an enviable salary that most would be thrilled to have. And most people would never give it up.

The Grand Illusion

My past jobs offered a great deal of perceived comfort. But that type of comfort is an illusion. It tricks more people than David Copperfield (Vegas not Dickens). Jobs are not steady or guaranteed. They only appear steady because people want to believe they are.

Entrepreneurship felt like the path to the endgame comfort I was looking for. Because the comfort I want comes from having control over my time, which is our only un-renewable resource. So in 2016 I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.

Even More Dangerous

However, entrepreneurship does not make you deaf to the siren song of comfort. Worse, a sense of comfort is far more dangerous to entrepreneurs than it is to employees. Entrepreneurship requires you to always feel unsatisfied, incomplete and scrambling to generate the next phase of growth that keeps your machine humming.

I stay uncomfortable by committing to goals that are very hard to achieve. Those unattained goals provide a constant feeling of discomfort. Of failure. And of motivation that drives me forward. I try to keep that discomfort front and center. Because it prevents me from falling into the big trap that Robert Kiyosaki warned the Twitterverse about yesterday.

Key Takeaway

Comfort is the enemy of high achievement. It makes you feel as if good enough is good enough. Comfort forces you to pawn your hopes and dreams. It makes you lay down your ambition and stop fighting. But don’t. Don’t give into comfort. Keep your eyes fixed on your original dream. And make it come true. Because that is the only way to guarantee you will feel comfortable with the way your story ends.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

I have found something I am terrible at. Now what do I do?

I love a good challenge. I like testing myself to see what I am capable of. Never was that more clear than when I decided to launch my own advertising agency in 2016.

Suddenly I wan’t just responsible for my own work, or for the creative department that I oversaw.  I was responsible for absolutely everything that happens at The Weaponry, my advertising and ideas agency.

Jumping In The Deep End

I quickly had to learn if I was capable of running operations, business development, customer service, human resources, production, accounting and the creative department at the same time. Which is a bit like walking and whistling and juggling gum on spinning plates at the same time.

The Good

I discovered, that like you, I am capable of a lot more than I had been doing. I discovered new strengths. I found that I enjoy addressing late payments, shopping for business insurance, and establishing leases in multiple states. Those broad new tasks have tested me in new and dynamic ways. Better yet, I have passed those test with at least satisfactory grades. And I am proud of that. Because low expectations lead to high satisfaction. 

The Bad And The Ugly

But lately I have discovered something I am terrible at. It’s relatively small. But my challenge with it seems worthy of sharing.

I am terrible at calling people when they say call me anytime!

I have at least 6 people to call who have invited me to call them without stating a specific time slot. And I can’t seem to get traction on these action items.

These are all big dogs. People who I really want to talk to. The list includes 2 company CEOs, 2 company Presidents, and a cheese broker. (I live in Wisconsin, and I have cheese needs).

Here’s what happens:

  1. I put a tentative time for a phone call on my calendar.
  2. My day gets hectic (Every day gets hectic).
  3. I move the call off my calendar to focus on more pressing issues.
  4. I get a lot accomplished by utilizing that free time.
  5. The important but not urgent calls slip into the future with Steve Miller.

Important But Not Urgent

I am a huge proponent of the Important But Not Urgent activities. I was first introduced to these activities through Stephen R Covey’s classic book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. (If you haven’t read this it should be your next book. Unless you have to retake your drivers test soon. Then read that little book on driving in your state next.)

Important But Not Urgent activities include the things you don’t have to do today but really should. These are investments in a better life, and greater success. Things like networking, relationship maintenance, exercise, planning for the future and applying deodorant.

So Now What?

I know having these invited but unscheduled calls are important. But I haven’t developed the proper skill, habit or muscle to get it done. That being said, I am looking forward to figuring this one out. Because it means I will be turning an area of weakness into an area of strength. Which is the kind of growth I was seeking when I decided to try my hand at entrepreneurship.

Key Takeaway

No one is good at everything. We all have areas of weakness, ignorance or immaturity. If you want to accomplish great things you have to be okay with that. Your deficiencies can be improved or avoided through hiring and delegation. Which means that your most valuable skill is problem solving. Because problem solving provides the answers to every test. Just ask Felicity Huffman.

How to be successful, even if you are really lazy.

The world is full of lazy people. You can find them in schools, government jobs, businesses, and superglued to couches. They are in every sector of society. And they are easy to spot. Because they don’t move very fast.

Team Energy

At the other end of the human spectrum you will find the Rise and Grind crowd, the Every Day I’m Hustling crowd and the I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead crowd. Most of us self-identify with these more aggressive, work-hard-play-hard types. But there is a surprising reality you should know. Sometimes lazy people outperform the hard chargers.

Wait? What?

How could it be possible that the tree sloths sometimes outperform the workhorses? They do this by adhering to The Lazy Person’s Key To Success:

Do small things with large consequences.

The Fallacy of Activity

It is easy to keep busy without getting ahead. Have you ever watched a human doggy paddle in a pool or pond? It’s not pretty. By swimming doggy-style (#snickering), humans create a lot of motion, but very little progress. Don’t do this. It is a waste of time, energy and calories.

Instead, do the little things that create enormous impact. Remember that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. Which means that you can be both lazy AND successful by performing the small tasks that generate large results.

Examples

  1. Make the right phone calls
  2. Ask the right question
  3. Ask for what you want
  4. Show up
  5. Know a guy
  6. Read the directions
  7. Pay attention
  8. Connect dots
  9. Be seen
  10. Create a top 10 list and post it to your blog for successful people to read

Key Takeaway

You don’t have to work hard to be successful. The quality of your actions far outweighs the quantity of your actions. By doing small things with large consequences you are using minimum force to create maximum results. Find the small activities in your world that make the greatest impact. Then perform them repeatedly. It’s not just lazy. It’s efficient and effective.

But remember, when the the Rise-and-Grinders also do the small things with large consequences, they eat lazy people for breakfast. (Gulp)

Pass the syrup.

If you know someone who could benefit from this little secret, please share it with them.

Why you should invest more of your time in Total Focus.

When I was in college I had a great study routine. I went to the Helen C. White Library on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison every Monday through Thursday night. I headed straight to the quiet study section of the ‘brary, found a private study cube, and focused intensely for 45 to 60 minutes at a pop.

15 Minute Breaks

At the end of each period of intense focus I would leave the quiet study space and head to the non-stop party in the Group Study section of the library. There I would talk with friends, or flirt with the ladies for 15 minutes.

Then I would head right back to quiet section for another Total Focus study session. I would repeat this routine for several hours, until it was time to take the Drunk Bus home and get some sleep.

I loved this routine. In the quiet section there were no distractions. No laptop, mobile phone, or smart watch. Just papers, pens, and books. In that environment my brain soaked up knowledge like a sponge. I felt intensely productive. I felt on top of game. And my good grades indicated it was working.

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Helen C. White Library is the big white building by the lake. Did I mention that Madison is beautiful?

Dealing With Distraction

Fast forward 2 decades, and I don’t feel intensely productive very often any more. Ever since I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, there are distractions everywhere. In fact, even my distractions have distractions. My ever-present iPhone is always trying to feed me news and alert me and ping me and generally mess with me like a digital Larry, Curly or Mo.

My laptop is like a 3-ring circus of emails, Slack notifications and calendar notices. All of them are vying for my attention all the time. Most of us deal with this digital sideshow. But as a business owner it is unrelenting. And it can feel as if staying on top of the pinging and dinging is how you stay on top of the business. But it is actually the death of productivity by a million beeps, blips and bites.

Going Back To College

That’s why I am going back to college. I’m not actually enrolling and going to class and keggers and the KK. But I AM going back to Helen C. White Library mode. I am getting back into my periods of Total Focus. Or ToFo as I like refer to it. As in, ‘Yo, Bro, I need some ToFo!’ 

I recognize that ToFo is my superpower. ToFo, not Budweiser Light, brings out my best.*  ToFo helps me get the most accomplished. It helps me do my best thinking and creating. It makes me feel strong and capable. It unleashes the full power of mono-tasking. And I want more of this right now.

Scheduling The ToFo

I have at least an hour of ToFo in the morning when I write my blog. This focused, uninterrupted work helps me publish 3 new blog posts each week. I have also begun adding ToFo time into my work calendar. I am scheduling 60-minute periods of intensely focused work where I block out all interruptions and distractions.

I turn off the ringer on my phone, and the turn the phone over, so that I don’t hear or see any digital noise. I turn off Slack to avoid momentum killing Slack attacks. Then, for one hour, I am in ToFo mode. Just like I was back in the quiet study section at the library in Madison. I can literally feel the productivity and the progress at work as I am cranking through work and crossing things off on my daily to-do list.

ToFo For Everyone

I also want my team to be able to have more ToFo time for deep work. In the same way that we schedule meetings and lunch I want The Weapons to spend more time focused without interruption for longer periods of time. Which means scheduling time when they are not on a digital leash. It is good for my teammates. And it is good for business.

Key Takeaway

Find more time for ToFo. Silence your digital distractions. Be selfish. And mono-task for 45 to 90 minutes at a time. You can do this by scheduling time when you are totally available, and time when you are totally off limits to coworkers, clients and family. By scheduling this time the rest of your team knows when they can ask question and get feedback, and when the will have to wait. ToFo is your super power. You should use it every day.

*Click on this link to see some memorable beer commercials that treat beer as if it was Gatorade or Red Bull. I was totally inspired by these spots when I was a little kid. Go Beer!