Last week I posted about questions we can pose to ourselves that lead to being more productive. This week, I stumbled upon a two-part question that might be one of the most powerful tools I’ve ever found for unlocking a higher level of performance. It’s simple but requires some imagination. The first part is something all of us can answer, the second requires a level of gut check honesty that most of us aren’t prepared for.

If you knew it was a certainty that someone was going to give you the job you’ve always wanted, but you didn’t know when, how would you prepare?

Ponder that question for a minute. Think about how differently you might behave. If you knew that it was inevitable that you were going to get the opportunity of a lifetime, wouldn’t it change the way you spend your time? Asking a version of this question, though not worded nearly as elegantly, has been one of the most positive experiences of my life and if came at a time when I needed it the most. During a period when I wasn’t finding fulfillment with my work and the opportunities that I chased didn’t work out, I asked myself if I were living my dream life, I would I spend my time? I knew that I wanted to speak and to serve others so there became a basis for a target. Next, I asked myself what skills I would need in order to live that life and it started this interesting journey of asking questions and looking for answers. It started reading a book a week, searching for opportunities to improve as a speaker, and ultimately to writing. It helped me discover more about me and then leverage it to be my best. If someone was going to give you your opportunity of a lifetime, how would you prepare? What books would you read? How would you dress? What skills would you need to acquire? Yes, this is a simple question that requires a little imagination, but imagine how much further you would be toward living that life if you actually did those things?

What’s Stopping You?

Part two is much more difficult isn’t it? It’s difficult because our first impulse is to do one of two things: reject the premise of the first part, “That’s silly, it’s never going to happen”, or make an excuse ” I don’t have the…time, money, resources etc. etc. ” When we dig really deeply though and look for the answer to that question, we find a key that can unlock levels of performance we never knew we were capable of. That’s because the real answer is fear and when we over that, there really very little we can’t accomplish. When we think about all that we have to do to be our best, that list can seem long and overwhelming, but I’ve found that simply asking this important two-part question: If you knew it was a certainty that someone was going to give you the job you’ve always wanted, but you didn’t know when, how would you prepare? What’s stopping you? Is a great way to focus on what we must do while facing the challenges preventing us from doing it. It’s a simple question that might just land us the job we’ve always wanted. ]]>

With Mothers Day approaching Sunday, I wanted to dedicate this post to my mother. There is so much that I could say about the woman who gave me life, broke up our fights and kept us fed, but there are deeper lessons that she taught my brother and sister and me that are worth sharing as they laid the foundation for everything else I’ve ever learned. I call them Lisa Lessons and here are the three most important: Don’t Call In, Crawl In My mother has been a registered nurse for 38 years and in that time, I can’t remember her ever staying home because she was sick or god forbid, it snowed overnight. The motto she taught all of us was not to call in but to crawl in. No matter how badly you feel, to show up and give it your best effort. This lesson, as blunt and harsh as it sounds has been the basis of my work ethic since my first job, filling nail holes for a construction company at $5 an hour, until now. No matter how bad things get, the job has to get done, so show up and do it. Lisa Lesson number 1: Don’t Call In, Crawl In. If You Can’t Laugh About It, It Will Probably Kill You On a snowy February evening, my mother, arriving late from work, tried to back her car into the garage from the road, but ended up stuck in a snowdrift. My dad, wanting to waste no time getting her out, pulled up behind her in an attempt to push her out. When the bumpers wouldn’t line up, he threw it in reverse to hook up a chain, only he didn’t see my mom standing behind him. This story up until now has been true. My mother, who once convinced her coworkers that she was an Olympic synchronized swimmer, spins a yarn from here that would make any storyteller envious. Her account has him blinded by dollar signs from a life insurance settlement as he smiled and gunned his truck to run her over. The Truth was more of her being knocked into a snowdrift with no real harm done. It didn’t stop her from eating left handed for the next week at an attempt at humor and guilt. Lisa Lesson number 2: If  You Can’t Laugh About It, It Will Probably Kill You Failing To Plan Is Planning To Fail I am well aware that my mother didn’t coin this phrase, but we’ve all hear her say it so many times that it should be attributed to her in Bartlett’s Big Book of Quotations. My mom always expected us to have a plan for everything and would drill us to make sure we did. These skills were probably most useful after my first daughter was born. In shock that anything could be wrong with our seemingly perfect angel, I was useless in the crisis that came when they told us she s being care flighted out of our local hospital. Mom, though, had a plan. With a general’s precision, she gave orders that we all followed. Failure wasn’t an option, so planning was paramount. I often think of that moment as my sheer definition of leadership. She laid a vision, gave us direction and helped us carry it out. It all started with her plan. Lisa Lesson number 3: Failing To Plan Is Planning To Fail. There’s so much that I could say about the woman that has given me everything, but she would be happiest if I just said Happy Mothers Day Mom. We all love you.  ]]>

If you want better answers, ask better questions.
The key to being our most productive, and getting the most from our day, is to improve the quality of the questions we ask ourselves on a daily basis. Here are my three top questions that will help anyone put forth their best effort every day:

What Are My Top Three Targets For Today?

This, to me, is the best place to start, but I have found that setting three big goals for every day is the best way to keep myself focused and engaged. When I set out to accomplish three big, hard tasks, it builds my confidence, pushes me closer to my bigger goals and centers my day on things that a truly important. When I hit my three targets for a day, I have something to keep score with and I know that I have been productive. That’s why its best to set these targets first thing in the morning, before the day has gelled and before any other plans have been set. This is essentially getting the big rocks planned first so that the pebbles can settle in around them.

What’s The Most Effective Thing That I Can Do Right Now With The Tools I Have Available?

For years, the overriding question of being productive was to ask “what’s the most effective thing that I can be doing right now?” This is a solid question, but a better one involves the tools that I have at my disposal. Try as hard as I might, I cannot call clients if I don’t have a phone. I can’t type a blog post if I don’t have my laptop. I can’t shoot a video without my phone. These are all important and effective things that I do, but they require the correct tools. This is why I break my task lists down based on the tool that I have. If I’m at my computer, I have a list of thing that I can only do while I’m sitting there. This allows me to take advantage of a two-minute block of time between appointments so that I don’t waste found time.

Will This Take Linger Than Two Minutes?

Two minutes is my magic number for any task that comes across my desk. If a task is going to take less than two minutes, I just do it. I don’t schedule it or overthink it, I just knock it out. Simple, easy and done. If the task is going to take longer than that, I schedule it. I find an empty block on my schedule and place it there so that I can give it the kind of attention that it truly deserves. I have wasted so many afternoons trying to finish something that I started in the middle of the day and felt completely drained afterward because I didn’t get any of my major targets accomplished that day. Had I asked this question, I could have scheduled it accordingly and felt safe in the knowledge that what gets scheduled gets done. If we want better answers we must ask better questions. By asking myself what my top three targets are, what I can accomplish with the tools I have available to me and whether or not a project will take longer than two minutes, I have the answers to win my day, every day.]]>

In the last week, as we’ve worked to unpack and get settled into our new home, I have found myself using the same phrase on a near daily basis. Without knowing it, this phrase has become sort of a mantra for me and served as sort of guiding principle in times of uncertainty. This phrase summed up simply states that done is better than good.  When I find myself procrastinating because I’m trying to craft the perfect idea, I remind myself that done is better than good. When I open a box full of cookware, and I have no idea where Carrie would want it to go, I remind myself that done is better than good. When I am having a hard time deciding on what I should do at the gym to help get myself back into shape, I remind myself that done is better than good. These words serve as motivation for me to figure out what I have to do next, to make a decision and get something done. I might be able to make it perfect but the time that I spend procrastinating is time wasted next to action that leads toward the desired result. I might not get it at great as I would like, but having it done is better than having it good but not finished. Done is better than good. As I type these words, I can almost hear the outcry of “what about excellence?!” “Aren’t you trying to always do your best?” I do care about excellence, and I will always turn in my best effort, but if I just get started, do something, even if it’s not exactly right, I can always change direction. It’s still much better than never starting. I see this all of the time with Toastmasters. I completed my first Competent Communicator, the Toastmasters Award for completing the first 10 projects, in my first six months in Toastmasters. I did it because I was committed to speaking every chance I got. There were a lot of times when my speech wasn’t finished and I had to flesh out an idea while waiting for my turn to speak, but I did it anyway because done is better than good. I know Toastmasters that take two years to complete their CC because they want to get every speech perfect. It hasn’t happened yet for any of them. They waited for nothing. Had they thrown themselves into a project with the attitude that they were going to complete it whether it was perfect or not, it would be done and they would have received the feedback they needed to get better the next time. Done is better than good. Look, I believe in striving to be great as much as anyone. I am constantly reaching for things that exceed my grasp and sometimes I push something too hard too fast and present an idea before I have all of the details exactly right. Sometimes I fail and when I do, I fail big. Those failures, however, still push me closer to the goals that I’ve set for myself, because of my mantra; Done is better than good.]]>

Since it’s the first Friday of the month, it must be time to update your reading list! I’m sure I’m not alone in being amazed that’s May already, but as the weather turns warm and our attention turns toward the outdoors, I have a list of books that I read in April that I would highly recommend for others to pick up.

How To Live The James Bond Lifestyle

Ok, I know it sounds hokey, but trust me, this is actually a decent book and an even better audio program. This might be one of the books that I would credit most with shaping my worldview, especially as it relates to image. Paul Kyraizi writes an entertaining if dated, autobiography and how-to manual for living the kind of life we watch in the movies. Some parts I like better than others, but I do really enjoy the story and think that there is a lot of merit to the advice. If nothing else, it’s fun.

How To Deal With Different, Diverse and Difficult People

This is a Skillpath Audio production and I absolutely loved it! There was so much really good advice put into this program about relating to people on a personal level that it’s a must listen to for virtually everyone. Barbara Braunstein is an excellent presenter who, in the program presents some very power ideas about working with different personality types, different generations, and different genders. It is a value for work or at home and I can’t recommend it enough.

Simple Courage

I admit upfront that I did not read this book as it was intended. It is comprised of 52 essays that teach 5 separate lessons which are intended to be read one per week for a year. Who has time for that? That said, this book has a lot of really solid ideas that are practical for anyone hoping to chart their own course in life. The main premise is that it takes courage to live our authentic lives, this book is a how-to guide to get there, even if you read it all at once.

Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People

For the longest time, I stopped talking about this book because everyone else was, but it is one of the three books that I read all over again every year. ( How To Win Friends And Influence People and Think and Grow Rich are the other two.) There is just so much to be learned from it that I keep going back. Stephen Covey laid together the seven habits that all effective people share. It was the business book of the 1990’s and it really hasn’t cooled off. If there were one habit that I wish we could teach the world it would be Habit Five, Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood. The entire book though is worth reading again and again. If you have a long trip, I highly recommend using it in your car because the audio version is equally strong.     May will no doubt be a busy month. This list can help you make the most of it. What should I be reading? Let me know in the comments section.]]>

Monday’s blog post was delayed this week because life got in the way. In that post, I wrote about being unreasonable and unrealistic when chasing our dreams. This week, my wife Carrie and I saw one of ours come true and it happened not because we were reasonable and not because we were realistic, but because we were relentless. This week, Carrie and I moved into our dream house, completing one of the most unlikely comebacks in the history of life and relentless is the only word that can adequately describe the way we got here. Never mind the fact that several times along the way of selling our home it looked as if it wasn’t going to work. Never mind the fact that someone else put an offer on our dream house while we were under contract. Never mind the fact that there were dark moments along way, we relentlessly stayed on our path and this week, we’re moving in. It might seem like that’s a nice little story and in some respects, it is, but there’s a reason I said never mind these little hiccups that make every real estate deal complicated. The real story is that there had been a time when living this dream seemed as if it were completely unreasonable and unrealistic. Once upon a time, I chased my dream and I lost. The timing wasn’t right on my dream job in a lot of ways; the economy, my maturity and my life experience, but I chased the dream anyway and almost lost everything. Our house was foreclosed on, our car was repossessed and our power was turned off. Carrie and I talked a lot this last week about the memories we’re leaving behind at our old house with the kids first steps, first teeth and bicycle riding, but we’re also leaving behind delinquent bill notices and meeting the sheriff’s deputy at the door to accept notice of the public auction we only narrowly escaped. All of this time, people were telling me to be reasonable and to be realistic. Don’t get me wrong, I needed to take care of my family, but my dreams were every bit as important to me as my house. I had to become relentless. I had to change direction without changing the result. I had to take everything that these life experiences taught me and use the lessons to build something stronger. It was an all out fight, but it was one that I was committed to winning. During this same time period, one of Carrie’s coworkers tried to comfort her by saying that she couldn’t explain why, but one day, after struggling for years, people just one day find themselves with money. This conversation is something that we joke about a lot because from the outside, it might seem like that’s what happened to us, but inside, we know that we fought and clawed, and kept true to our vision in order to get here. Together we were unreasonable, unrealistic and relentless and this week, it paid off.]]>

One of my favorite movie scenes comes from the film Up in The Air. It’s a very underrated movie anyway, but in a brilliantly acted scene, George Clooney has to fire J.K. Simmons. Simmons doesn’t get emotional, he just holds up a picture of his kids and asks, “what do you suggest I tell them.” Clooney’s response is golden. [embedyt][/embedyt] I bring all of this up to ask you, how much much are they paying you to give up on your dream? Sure, you’re not being fired; today anyway, but are you doing what truly make you happy? Are you doing something every day that fulfills you, gives you energy and makes you happy? Or are you doing what is reasonable and realistic? There really are two types of people that show up for work every day. Those who derive most of their satisfaction in life from their work and those who derive most of theirs from their nonworking hours. If you fall into camp two, realistic and reasonable work is fine for you. You can show up and do anything because you want to put in your eight hours and be done. You’re going to go home and play to be happy. Nothing wrong and no shame. These are happy people. If you live in camp one, however, realistic and reasonable work is a recipe for depression. These kinds of people need to be inspired by their work. The idea of an eight-hour workday is laughable because when they’re working, they’re happy. Here’s the rub, though. Just like there’s nothing wrong with being in the above group, there’s noting wrong with this one either, but this group gets called names. They call us workaholics, and uptight. They’re always telling us that we should work to live, not live to work. They want us to be realistic and reasonable just as they are. These are the people that this post was intended for. The ones that are striving but struggling with people telling them to stop. Don’t listen and don’t give up. If you want to be great and do great things, we have to be wiling to peruse unrealistic goals and be unreasonable in our approach to getting them. We can be reasonable and we can be realistic. We can even fool ourselves into thinking that the money is worth it. That’s until we’re sitting across the table from Clooney and we realize that realistic and reasonable has risk too as we’re fired from the safe job without ever chasing our passions. It’s in that moment that we realize if we can lose anyway, we may as well lose playing the game we enjoy. The great news is it isn’t too late to star today.]]>