Are you surrounding yourself with the best people?

The legendary motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. That’s why it’s so important to spend your time with the best people. This past Friday, during the University of Wisconsin homecoming weekend, I spent 6 hours with an amazing group of former University of Wisconsin varsity athletes. These Badgers are some of the brightest, most driven, most fun, and most successful people I know.

Business Up Front

I kicked off homecoming weekend in Madison with a 2-hour advisory board meeting for the W Letterwinner’s Club. The advisory board is like Noah’s Ark. Because it features two former athletes from every varsity sport.

We meet to discuss how we can help our members develop more meaningful relationships with each other, both personally and professionally. We discuss how we can offer assistance, guidance and mentorship to graduating Badger student athletes. And we explore ways that our network can add value to the mission of the University of Wisconsin and its world class athletic department.

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The Dub Club representatives from track & field and cross country. And the handsome profile of a tall soccer alum in the top left.

Up In Da Club

The former Badger student athletes on the board are inspiring. They include Big 10 Champions and National Champions. They include All-Americans and professional athletes. They include school record holders and Hall of Famers. They include athletes who made it to the Final 4 and the Frozen 4.

Our youngest members just graduated from Madison. And our most senior members used to get run with Crazy Legs Hirsch, Alan ‘The Horse’ Ameche and Paul Bunyan when he was just a babe himself.

Today these W Letterwinners are crushing it in their post-collegiate careers. They are executives and entrepreneurs. They are administrators, professors and coaches. They are leaders and volunteers. And they are great parents, wives and husbands. Just spending time with these badasses enhances my own false sense of badassery.

Party In The Back

On Friday night, after the work was done, we did what Badgers do. We played. We migrated to the iconic State Street Brats, and joined hundreds of others at the annual Badger Athlete Reunion. We spent the next few hours together, talking, laughing,  sharing memories, making new friends, connecting dots, drinking beer and eating brats.

While it certainly looked as if we were having fun, we were doing more than that. We were strengthening our personal bonds. The bonds between former student-athletes who know just how hard it is to live up to the demands of academics and athletics at the Big 10 level. We were strengthening the bonds between Badgers who know that if you can excel in both the classroom and athletic arena at The University of Wisconsin, you have the critical tools and the skills to be successful for the rest of your life.

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Former Badger athletes at an impromptu meetup in Atlanta. Badgers are everywhere.

Key Takeaway

If you want to be great surround yourself with great people. Find rockstars who inspire you. Spend as much time with those special people as you can. It will make you a better person. I know it will. Because I learned that lesson in Madison as a student athlete at the University of Wisconsin.

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

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.

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!

Why it is so important to find your fit.

Last week I was riding an escalator at the rental car center at the airport in Atlanta. The man in front of me turned to me and asked, ‘Did you go to the University of Wisconsin?’  I proudly replied, ‘Yes!’, and realized I was wearing a Wisconsin hat that had likely invited the question. Either that or I still smelled like brats, cheese and Mickies Dairy Bar.

The man continued:

My daughter goes to school there right now and absolutely loves it. She looked at Michigan State, which is where I went, and Ohio State, because we live in Canton, Ohio. But when she visited Madison she said, “Dad, I found my people.”   -Escalator Dad

I could relate. That is exactly how I felt when I went on my recruiting trip to Wisconsin.

Two days later I was visiting my neighbor Christy Sheahan in Atlanta. She told me she and her son Christopher, who is a high school senior, had just visited Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana (home of my Mom and Dad). Christy and her husband Kevin’s oldest daughter Sydney is currently a freshman at the University of Georgia in Athens. Christy told Christopher, ‘I want you to keep looking at schools until you find a college environment that you love as much as Sydney loves UGA.’  Christopher, listen to your Mom.

The Fit Makes It.

These two comments are great reminders of how important it is to find your people and your places. Whether you are a student looking for the right college, or you are in the workforce, looking for the right job, you should  search for that place that fits you just right. That place that is full of your kind of people. Finding the right fit makes all the difference in your happiness, your self-esteem, your memories, your relationships and your probability of success.

Key Takeaway

If you haven’t found the school that fits you, keep looking. If you haven’t found the workplace that fits you, keep searching. It is out there, and there are people who want to work with you as much as you want to work with them. Life, school and careers are all too short to spend in the wrong place, with the wrong people. There are 5300 colleges and universities in the United States. There is one that is just right for you, Goldilocks. And if you don’t think that the place you want to work exists in the place you really want to live, make it yourself. That’s what I did when I launched The Weaponry. And I couldn’t be happier. Not even if I was a student again back in Madison.

How to make a business trip more than a business trip.

I like to make the most of my business travel. After my work obligations are Sharpied into my calendar, I always fill the open spaces in my schedule with personal activites. That might include eating at an interesting restaurant, exploring, museuming or exercising. But my favorite activity to add to a work trip, by far, is socializing. Sometimes I meet new people. Sometimes I reconnecting with old friends. And sometimes I do both at the same time.

This Week

I had to travel to Atlanta this week for a film shoot. Since I had to fly in on Monday I began filling my afternoon with interesting activities. Here is what I did between 12:30 and 6:30pm:

  1. Had lunch with a former client
  2. Had back-to-back-to-back meetings with 3 different freelancers who are currently working with my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.
  3. Met with a college senior to talk to him about his career options after he graduates.
  4. Guest lectured to a college marketing class about creativity and the creative process.
  5. Stuck around 20 minutes after the lecture to talk to a group of 5 students who had more questions.
  6. Drove to my Atlanta neighborhood in East Cobb and talked to my neighbor, Dr. Betty Garrot about my recent trip to India (Betty’s family is from India, and they contacted me when I was in Bangalore).

Monday Night

It was a fun and interesting day. But what I had planned for Monday evening was really special. Last Friday I texted my college teammate Jabari Pride, who lives in Atlanta, and asked him if he would like to get together Monday night. He said yes. So I reached out to another, former University of Wisconsin track athlete, Lenton Herring, who lives in Atlanta, and invited him too. Then I reached out to Stephanie Herbst-Lucke, who was not only up for getting together, she invited us to gather at her home. So we decided to contact a couple more former Badger track athletes to tell them what we were doing.

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Jabari, Adam and Lenton. One fo these guys is allergic to shoes.

Just three days later, on a rainy Monday night in Atlanta, these are the Badger track alum who showed up:

  1. Adam Abrecht: Discus and hammer thrower from Norwich Vermont, now living in Milwaukee (but still a proud Atlanta home owner).
  2. Jabari Pride: Sprinter and all-around athlete from Los Angeles, now living in Atlanta.
  3. Lenton Herring: Jumper and sprinter from Gainesville Florida, now living in Atlanta.
  4. Stephanie Herbst-Lucke: Distance runner from Chaska, Minnesota, now living in Atlanta.
  5. Tina Erps-McGee: Sprinter and jumper from Bettendorf Iowa, now living in Atlanta.
  6. Terry Reese: Hurdler from Fort Wayne Indiana, now living in Atlanta.
  7. Scott Jenkins: Distance runner from Kenosha, Wisconsin, now living in Atlanta.
  8. Stephanie (Bassett) Orman: Distance runner from Bloomington, Indiana now living in Atlanta.
  9. Mark Euler: Jumper from Madison, Wisconsin, now living in Atlanta.
  10. Reed Connor: Distance Runner from The Woodlands, Texas, now living in Atlanta.
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Tina, Stephanie and Steph, between two lamps.

Socializing not Social Networking

It was an amazing night. I got to see friends and teammates I have known for decades, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. I also got to meet three new Badgers. We talked about our families and careers. We shared stories about our days competing for the University of Wisconsin. We talked about our coaches and the things we learned from Ed Nuttycombe, Peter Tegen, Martin Smith, Mark Napier, Scott Bennett, Mick Byrne, Mary Grinaker, Robert Hackett and others.

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Lenton telling us the story of how he invented the fist bump.

We talked about how there is no other experience quite like spending your college career in Madison. We talked about the unique people, the unique setting and the unique educational environment. Because of our shared history, the group instantly felt like a community. We traded contact information and made plans to gather again. Just like that, the W Club-Atlanta was born.

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The W-Club Atlanta, freshly birthed.  

Connect In Person

This was a great reminder to make sure you see your people in real life. It is great to keep in touch with each other on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. But people are better in person. We all need to experience real human connections. Those connections are strongest, and most impactful, when we are in a room, talking to each other, face to face.

Key Takeaway

I encourage you to reach out to your people. Get together with friends from home, from college or camp. Organize a gathering of former co-workers, teammates or roommates. Get together with your neighbors. Or create your own social or professional groups.

At the end of our days, the only thing that will really matter is the relationships we build, and the impact we have on each other. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. I did. And because of it, ten former Badger track athletes are now part of another special community 803 miles from Madison.

*Special thanks to fellow Badger, James Lucke for hosting us and joining us Monday evening! On Wisconsin!

How to balance your priorities like a student athlete.

Even 22 years after graduation I have not found a school I would rather have attended than the University of Wisconsin. There is no other town like Madison. And no other culture like the University and its work-hard, play-hard, jump-around-hard students and alumni.

Student

In college I double majored in Psychology and Journalism. I think I also set some sort of school record for most bars and parties attended without drinking alcohol.

Athlete

When I wasn’t studenting I was a proud member of Wisconsin’s Men’s Track & Field team. I threw the discus, the hammer, the 35-pound weight, and the occasional hissy fit. 

The Kickoff Meeting 

Every fall, the track year would kick off with a mandatory team meeting in an auditorium in the athletic center. We had to fill out various forms in order to be cleared to participate. It was more businessy than athleticy. But it signaled the start of the season, and it was the first time the team assembled each school year.

Coach Nuttycombe

My favorite part of the meeting was when our head coach, Ed Nuttycombe, addressed the team. When I joined the program, Nutty had already won several Big Ten championships. By the time he retired in 2013, he had amassed 26 Big Ten titles, more than any other coach, in any sport in Big Ten history. I was proud to be part of that history, as our team swept the Big Ten Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor track titles both my junior and senior years.

Nutty’s Accolades

  • 26 Big Ten Titles
  • 2007 NCAA Indoor National Team Championship
  • 165 Big Ten Individual Champions
  • 11 NCAA Individual Champions
  • 6 Olympians

Priorities

There was one part of this annual meeting I will never forget. Nutty always made a strong point about his expectations of our priorities. He said:

‘Gentlemen, as a member of this team, always remember that academics come first. You are a student at the University of Wisconsin first. Track & Field comes second. Let me be absolutely clear about that. But if you want to be on this team, track better be so close behind your school work that you can barely tell a difference. Academics are priority 1. Track and Field is priority 1A.’     -Ed Nuttycombe

Oh Snap!

I remember being surprised the first time I heard this speech. I thought he was going to say academics are always the priority. Athletics come second. But that’s not the Nutty way. In his world, if you can’t fully dedicate yourself to both high academic and athletic achievement, then you don’t belong on his team. That was a badass statement. And we all felt badass for living up to his standards.

Hall of Fame

Last Friday, Nutty was inducted into the University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. And with great reason. But I would also induct Nutty into the Prioritizing Hall of Fame for the way he pushed us to achieve great things in multiple areas of our lives. My teammates were impressive on the track, in the field and in the classroom. But I am just as proud of all the successes my teammates are having today in their careers, and as husbands and fathers.  

Takeaway

I carry on Nutty’s dual commitment today to my family and my work. I don’t think about balancing the two. I think about prioritizing them both. I must succeed at both. There is no way around it. There are no shortcuts to take. There are no excuses. That’s what Nutty taught me. And just look at his track record. #PunIntended

My lunch with one of the greatest sportscasters of all time.

People die every day. This year I lost my friends Kirk McDonald and Kate Gruetzmacher in their early 40’s to brain cancer. I lost my 100-year-old Grammy to, well, being 100. And just before Christmas I lost sports broadcaster Dick Enberg, at 82, to a heart attack.

The Broadcaster

Dick Enberg was the sportscaster of my youth. He broadcast 8 Super Bowls, the Olympics, The Masters, Wimbledon, Major League Baseball, college basketball and boxing, His catch phrase, Oh My, was simple and powerful. And it followed many of the greatest athletic feats I witnessed as a child.

The Invitation

When I was a senior in college Dick Enberg came to the University of Wisconsin to give a speech at a banquet honoring student-athletes for high academic performance. I was a discus and hammer thrower on the track team and was proud to have been invited to the event. I was also being recognized as one of a dozen student-athletes who had earned a 4.0 GPA the previous semester. But I was most excited that Dick Enberg was going to be speaking.

The Luncheon 

Three days prior to the event I was informed that the athletic department had also arranged a private luncheon at the stadium the day of the banquet. 17 student-athletes were invited to have lunch with Mr. Enberg and participate in a discussion about issues facing student-athletes. I was one of the lucky few who received an invitation.

I arrived early to the luncheon, as we were requested to do. The athletic staff gave us the game plan and reminded us we were representing both the University and the athletic department. Which I assumed meant don’t talk with your mouth full.

The student athletes waited with great anticipation for Dick to arrive. He was finally escorted into the room and there was a brief introduction. Then an athletic staff member announced, ‘We will let Mr. Enberg go through the food line first, then the students can follow.’

I quickly realized that someone would have to follow Dick. And I thought:

Why not me?

So this discus thrower from little Norwich, Vermont marched over to the banquet table that held the spread of food, grabbed a plate, and stepped in line right behind Dick Enberg, one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time. We talked as we walked through the line. And when Dick took his seat, I took the seat right next to him.

The next hour was amazing. We had a great group conversation. Dick showed a genuine interest in our thoughts and perspectives. I talked about the challenges of being an in-season athlete in the spring of my senior year, and not having any time to focus on finding a job and starting my career after graduation.

Dick wisely predicted that the same commitment I had to my athletic and academic success would translate well to my career. He encouraged me to enjoy the rest of my senior year. Which of course, I did.

The Banquet

That evening I attended the banquet with my favorite journalism professor, Roger Rathke, and my aunt, Deanie Sprau, who lived in Madison and was a huge reason I was drawn to The University of Wisconsin.

The banquet was at The Great Hall at the Memorial Union. The room was huge and packed. There were about 500 attendees, including student-athletes, faculty, staff, and family members. It felt like a wedding. Our assigned table was at the center of the large banquet hall.

It was fun to see all of the athletes trade in their athletic department sweatpants and t-shirts for dresses and suits. Everyone was excited to have one of America’s best known sports figures in attendance.

After a warm welcome to the event by the master of ceremonies we were served our meals. Dick Enberg was seated at the head table with Athletic Director, Pat Richter, and other university dignitaries.

In the middle of the meal I saw Dick suddenly stand up and start making his way across the large, packed hall. I presumed he was either going to visit the little broadcasters room, or taking a moment to review his notes one last time before his speech.

All eyes were on Mr. Enberg as he cut across the middle of the room. He was on a path that would take him directly past my table. He got closer and closer to me.  When he reached my table he stopped for a brief moment, gave me a big smile, and patted me on the back like we were old friends. Then he continuing on his way and disappeared from the room.

Suddenly, friends from around the Great Hall flocked to my table to find out why, in this room of 500 people, had the guest of honor stopped to say hi to some random, albeit studious, track athlete. My answer was, “Oh, we had lunch together today.”  By the looks on their faces, that was an even crazier answer than they were expecting.

The rest of the event was nice. Dick’s speech was great. And I was proud to be part of this large group of high-achieving students who happened to participate in some outramural sports in their free time.

Thinking Back

That evening serves as a great reminder of how life works. Your efforts can get you into the room. But it is the relationships that you develop along the way that make you stand out from the crowd.

Dick Enberg was right about my career too. After I graduated my professor Roger Rathke, who was with me at the banquet that night, introduced me to his college buddy  from the University of Wisconsin, Paul Counsell. Paul was the CEO of the remarkable advertising agency Cramer Krasselt. I got an informational interview, and was offered a job as a copywriter. And today I own my own agency.

Thanks

Thank you Dick Enberg. Thank you for the Super Bowls. Thank you for the Olympics. Thank for coming to Madison and having both lunch and dinner with me. And thank you for the wise career advice. Things have worked out just fine for me.