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!

Great Advice From Ludacris On How To Create Opportunities.

I study successful people. Seriously. Successful people is my favorite subject. I like it even more than gym class. If I was a contestant on Jeopardy, Successful People would be the first topic I would choose. If I had one last book to read on earth it would be about successful people. Unless that book was on the shelf next to Last Minute Tricks To Get Into Heaven For Those Who Giggled Too Much In Church.

I regularly read about, listen to, watch and ask questions of successful people. Recently I watched an interesting interview with the rapper Ludacris (Christopher Bridges). It was the kind of interview where you are on stage, acting as if you are having a normal fireside chat with a total stranger. Meanwhile, a thousand strangers in the audience eavesdrop on your conversation. But they don’t even hide the fact that they are eavesdropping. #TotallyAwkward

MultiPronged Success

At the end of the Ludacris interview they let the audience ask a few questions. A 20-something woman stepped up to the mic and told Ludacris that she wanted to be like him. She noted that he was a Rapper, Actor, Songwriter, Record Label Founder, Headphone Maker, Vodka Creator, Sneaker Line Designer, Restaurant Owner, Real Estate Investor and Philanthropist.

The young woman then listed all of the things that she was doing. Her verbal resume exceeded the number of titles Ludacris had. Which sounded ludicrous. I snickered at the absurdity of her self proclaimed resume. After sharing her laundry list of titles the unknown woman asked the world famous rapper what advice he had for someone who has ambitions to do so many things.

The Response

Luda might have been tempted to laugh at her. I half expected him to tell her to get out my business, my businasz! Or to Move! Or Rollout! Or that your time and your clothes got to coordinate. I was just hoping he was going to rhyme.

But instead of dropping giggles, verses or hardcore attitude on her, Luda dropped some great advice on the ambitious young woman. He said:

My best advice is to first get really, really good at one of those things. When you get really, really good at something it opens up doors that allow you to do the other things you want to do. -Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges

First Things First

This is excellent advice. You create great value for yourself when you provide the world with great value. You do this by first putting in the time to become really, really good at something rare and valuable. Which then creates opportunities to do other things that excite you.

Don’t be a Jack or Jill of all trades but master of none. Master one of those trades. The world will then ask you what else you want to do. Because if you are willing to put in the work to be great at one thing, you have what it takes to be great at many things.

Key Takeaway

It’s great to be ambitious. But serious success requires serious focus. Start by becoming great at one valuable thing. Use that greatness as a bridge to your next opportunity to create, lead, write, perform, teach, speak, launch or invest. Success sets off a domino effect of actions. But it all starts with that very first domino. That’s where your focus should be first.

The best way to develop stronger relationships.

I recently watched the movie Green Book. The film is about a blue collar caucasian who who becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour through the 1960s American South. You know, the typical Hollywood formula… I enjoyed the movie and recommend it. But the highlight for me was a great quote from Viggo Mortensen’s character that jumped off the screen and sucker punched me in the earhole:

‘The world is full of lonely people afraid to make the first move.’ – Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga,  Green Book

GreenBook

Make The First Move

On a planet of 7.5 billion digitally connected people, none of us should feel lonely. Yet we often do. Most people wish they had more, deeper or more fulfilling personal and professional connections. But we fail to recognize that the easiest way to make this happen is to make the first move.

Make Contact

If you want more or better professional contacts be the one that makes contact. You are the one that should make the first phone call, send the first text, or write the first email. It’s that simple.

Connect

If you want to reconnect with your high school friends, cousins or former co-workers from that place where everyone bonded over the stupid boss, you should do the connecting. Your mobile phone offers at least a dozen ways to make this happen. If you are not weird, and there is no guarantee that you are not, chances are very good that others will be happy to reconnect with you too.

8 Easy Ways To Create New Connections Or Reconnect Old Ones:

  1. Coffee/Chocolate Milk Meetings  You don’t have to drink coffee. I don’t. Heck, you can eat caramels or enjoy them apples. It’s all arbitrary. #namethatfilm
  2. Afterwork Happy Hours  My friend Susan Stearns’ Happy Hour game is super strong. She gets a group of former co-workers together a few times a year. Thanks SS!

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    Bar time in Madison at State Street Brats with Badger track guys.
  3. Book Clubs  My friends Betty Garrot and Stacy Sollenberger are both half bookworm, and are in 3 book clubs right now. It’s a great way to facilitate social interactions and improve your bookmarking skills.
  4. Dinner Parties  This is a great way to jumpstart or turbocharge personal relationships. My neighbors Yassir and Ghada are excellent at this.

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    Ghada (front left) and Yassir (back middle) are great at getting people together.
  5. Video Conference Meetups  I created a monthly video meetup with my college track teammates. It’s now a highlight of my month. On Wisconsin!

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    A scene from one of my monthly online track team meetups.
  6. Group Texts  Several of my high school classmates and I have a group text that regularly flares up with jokes. Like it did this week when our classmate Dan Richards was interviewed on NPR. Thanks to Marcus Chioffi for starting that one!
  7. Meeting At A Restaurant or Bar. In a 2-day span this week in Atlanta I met with 10 different people at restaurants: Stephanie Herbst-Lucke, Diana Keough, Theresa and Jabari Pride, Harper Cornell, Nicola Smith, Scott Jenkins, Heather Hudgins, Kim Hoey and Mark O’Brien. I am pretty good at this game. And lucky that people agree to meet me.

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    This week Scott Jenkins and I made last minute lunch plans across the street from his tiny little Atlanta office (in the background).
  8. Go for a hike or ride. This is a healthy way to multi task. The opposite of #7.

The Golden Age For Human Connections

Never in history have people lived so close together, had such phenomenal resources to facilitate interactions, yet felt so isolated. This is bullshit. And it’s all because most people are longing for someone else to make the first move.

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These things are like magic wands for facilitating human connections.

Don’t wait for anyone. Be the initiator. Create an alumni group that consists of people from a school, employer, program or organization you enjoyed. Invite people to be part of the group and watch how positively they respond.

Form a group around shared interests. Develop a professional organization of people who do what you do. Be the spark. Be the glue. Heck, be the who dang craft closet that brings the project to life, and see what happens next.

Phone A Friend Friday

I have long considered Fridays, Phone-A-Friend Fridays. So every Friday I contact someone I haven’t talked to in a long time. You can this too. You are sure to surprise and delight someone. All while reducing global loneliness levels.

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My friend Amy Meadows was one of my first Phone A Friend Friday calls.

Key Takeaway

There is nothing more important to your personal and professional happiness than meaningful connections with other humans. Don’t be afraid to make the first call, text or send the first smoke signal. Start today. Because we all get ahead when we get together.

*Please don’t just read this. Do something about it. You can start by sending someone this blog post as an icebreaker. If you send it to me, you will make me laugh, and cause my ice to break.

An inspiring 4-word quote from my 11-year old.

On a recent car ride I heard my children debating a topic in the back seat. At one point my 13-year old daughter made a point about what she felt was an important precedent set the day before. My son Johann had a simple and elegant response:

Today is not yesterday. -Johann Albrecht (11 y/o)

I love this declaration. It serves as both an inspiration and a warning. Today is indeed, not yesterday. If you had a bad day yesterday, forget about it. It’s over. Today you get to start again fresh. Today is a chance to bounce. It’s a whole new chance to be great. To be productive and smart. To be the you that you want to be.

For those who had a great day yesterday, full of success, productivity and Maslow-quality self actualization, remember that yesterday is gone with the wind. And we have to begin again. To fully capitalize on a great yesterday you need to put in the work again today to build momentum.

Key Takeaway

You are either getting better or you are getting worse. You get to decide which direction you are going every single day. And today is the day that matters most.

 

The amazing story behind one of the most famous memorials in America.

In 2015 my family and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Washington D.C. This is a must-do experience for all Americans. Spending Memorial Day at the famed Arlington National Cemetery, or exploring the war memorials, provides a profound perspective on this important American holiday. Because is shines a spotlight on the true cost of freedom. And there are more lives of American military personnel on the final invoice than you can fathom.

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Ava’s Class Trip

My 13 year old daughter, Ava just returned from a 7th grade class trip to D.C. I wondered how much she would get out of this experience, because she had already been there twice with our family. When she got home I was eager to discuss her 4-day whirlwind tour, and hear about the new things she saw and learned. That’s when she shared an amazing story I hadn’t heard about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

One of the most challenging chapters in America’s military and political history was the Vietnam War. But the memorial honoring the fallen veterans of this war holds an important and inspiring story for us all.

The Young Designer

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was not designed by a world renowned architect, but by a young college student. Maya Ying Lin was a 21 year old senior at Yale when her memorial design was chosen. She was studying architecture. But didn’t yet have her undergraduate or overgraduate degrees. She didn’t have an apprenticeship with Mike Brady. She simply had a good idea.

There were two unique elements of her design. Most of the memorials in Washington are white. But Lin’s memorial is black. Which sets a very different, and more somber tone. The other unique feature of her design are the names. The Wall, as it is known, includes the names of all the veterans who fell during the war, in chronological order. Which means the wall tells the story of the Vietnam War, from beginning to end, in human lives.

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Maya Ying Lin with her winning design.

Lin created her design and submitted it to the national design competition as a part of a college class. In her class at Yale the design only earned Lin a B. Yet in the national competition her design stood out above all others. Which means that despite her age, her lack of experience and the fact that she only got a B on the class project, she beat out 1,420 other designers. The best part of the story is that Lin’s college professor also submitted a design in the competition.

Key Takeaway

There is no age requirement, degree or title required to have a great idea. Never be afraid to share, submit or advocate for your own ideas. Remember that judges, teachers, coaches and bosses don’t always know best. Don’t let the gatekeepers, rule makers and final sayers diminish the inherent value in your great idea, creation or performance.

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Never forget.

Thank You

Thank you to all who served our great country. To those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, we owe more than we could ever repay. But the Vietnam Veterans Memorial comes the closest. By etching the names of all 58,318 fallen during the war in polished black granite it ensures that each and every one of them will play a permanent role in our nation’s story of freedom. Even a college student can see that.

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One of my favorite picks of my 4 favorite people in one of my favorite places.

It’s my birthday! Time for 5 new goals.

Today, May 25th, is my birthday. I consider my birthday the most important day of my life. Seriously. If it wasn’t for my birthday I doubt I’d have a wedding anniversary. Or kids. Or my birthday suit. Or a blog.

The Real New Year’s Day

I think of my birthday, not New Year’s Day, as the starting point of my year. And this year I am focused on some very important goals. Or as a Mexican soccer announcer would say, I have some ‘Muy Importante Gooooooooooals!’

My 5 Goals For The Next Year

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Me at work with my favorite saying.

1. Get More Aggressive.  Recently I’ve done more leaping and less looking. I’ve taken several premature steps forward on initiatives rather than taking the time to properly prepare, and consider all of the possible outcomes. The results have been impressive. By simply moving forward when I get an inkling I am creating more progress than I do when I carefully consider my options. So in the year ahead, less thinking. More doing. Or as Toby Keith said, a little less talk and a lot more action.

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 I remember being excited to hit 200 blog posts. That was almost 100 posts ago. Art credit goes to Intern Ava.

2. Write more.  I already write like I am Orville and Wilbur’s third brother. But in the year ahead I have goals to crank my typewriter up to 11. In addition to this blog that I post to 3 times per week, I now have 3 book ideas started. I also met with a couple of magazine publishers yesterday about writing a regular piece for their pub. (That’s slang for publication. I am not writing for an Irish bar.) How did this opportunity come about?  I got aggressive and contacted them on an impulse, before I really thought it through. (See Goal #1)

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I launched my first business with my cousin Brooks Albrecht. Now we’re discussing other ideas.

3. Create Another Business. There is something about entrepreneurship that is like Pringles. Because once you pop, you can’t stop. I have 3 leading business ideas I am currently working through. One involves cheese. (#WhenInWisconsin…) One is a franchise opportunity (not to be confused with a french fry opportunity). And the other involves fo real estate. (#forealdo). Of course I have other ideas that get added to the list daily. So I want to bring at least one of the ideas to life in the next year. But no matter which one wins, I want to eat more cheese.

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The stud in the middle is my man Enrique Perez-Guerra, my college athletic trainer. We reconnected recently after 20 years. My teammate Scott Brinen and I now video conference with each other once a month.

4. Become A Greater Connector. I am a dot connector. It is how I process the world. I love creating, maintaining and facilitating connections. This is my most meaningful contribution to the people in my circles. Because at the end of our days the only thing that really matters is the impact we have on each other’s lives. Wait, did that just get real serious, real fast? #crickets

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My family on the Riverwalk in San Antonio during Fiesta.

5. More Quality Time With Family. I put my family at the top of the list of people I want to connect with. Like the meatball on top of spaghetti. My family includes my wife, Dawn and children Ava, Johann and Magnus. But it also includes my parents, sisters and their families. As well as my very large extended family. Especially now that I am about to make my first lap around the sun without any grandparents. Which means my generation needs to prioritize and facilitate our gatherings now that my 4 grandparents are sitting together at the great card table in the sky.

Key Takeaway

Birthdays are important. They serve as an annual reminder of the scarcity of time. To make the most of each year, reevaluate what is most important to you on your birthday. Set new and higher goals and expectations. Then charge forward to meet them. It’s how we create a life worth writing about. Which, if I’m lucky, would be book number 4.

My Birthday Wish

If you want to do me a special free favor on my birthday, please subscribe to get this blog gift wrapped and delivered to your inbox. It would really mean a lot to me. The subscribe button is on the home page.

*Also, Happy Birthday to my sister Heather. Yes we share a birthday. No we’re not twins. #howweirdisthat