OK, I don’t really mean you should stop “thinking” just stop making decisions about what to work on at work, at home, etc. Decisions will wear you out before you even get started. That’s why it’s called “decision fatigue.”
How can we simplify our lives? By coming with a tool to help us rationally process all the opportunities we have.
What kind of tool do we need? The Opportunity Priority Matrix! My wife and I even used a matrix to choose a car recently.
The steps are this simple:
Choose the criteria that are important to you, or your business, or whatever you are working on.
Choose a range of scores, e.g. 1-3, 1-10, etc.
Score each “opportunity” across all the criteria.
The highest scoring item should be your highest priority, and on down the list. Allocate your time, focus and other resources accordingly. End needless debate, in your head or with other people, about priorities by pointing to the outcomes in matrix.
Why do we need this again? Because you’re are tired of making the same decisions over and over. AND pursuing any opportunity means you have less capacity to pursue other opportunities. That’s why it’s called “opportunity costs.” So we should work on the most important stuff, first. Read the rest of this entry »
Maybe. This post is about using “sticks” instead of “carrots” to compel yourself to take care of business. This idea works for me, but if you don’t practice good email inbox hygiene then it most certainly will not work. In fact, it will just make you less productive, which is what most email does.
I’m not bashing people who leave hundreds or even thousands of emails in their inboxes. To me that does seems insane, and I would find it incredibly stressful (which is why this idea works for me). But I’ve known some very high-functioning people who never seem to delete or even just move emails to another folder.
I treat my inbox like a to-do list. While I strive for “inbox zero” the truth is I rarely get there. That said, I usually keep it to 20 or less by the end of the day. If there is some activity I want to make sure I do on a regular basis, a reminder in my inbox will certainly get my attention. More on that later.
First we need to make sure we’re getting as little email as possible before we add any to the pile. Managing email in general is a very big topic but here are four quick tips that help me:
Unsubscribe from everything. You don’t need whatever it is you’re getting. Use a feed reader or social media to keep up with your favorite bloggers etc. Consume information “just in time” (i.e. go look for it) instead of “just in case.”
Use Boomerang for Gmail. But not too much. In Getting Things Done author David Allen says to never put things back in the inbox. You wouldn’t do that with your postal mail so don’t do with email. There’s also an old expression “OHIO” for “only handle it once.” But Boomerang makes it easy to get an email you don’t need right now, delivered “just in time” when you do. I used to put any email that was going to take a lot of time to either read or respond to into a “Read/Review” folder, but I never would read or review them. Now, if I get something on Tuesday and don’t want to deal with it until Saturday, Boomerang to the rescue! My inbox is cleaner in the meantime. Read the rest of this entry »
A few years ago at the age of 43 I set a very middling time at a popular bicycling hill-climb-time-trial in Asheville, NC. Seriously, my time was pretty much the dead-on median for guys in my age bracket. I thought I was in reasonably good shape at the time, but was certain I could do better the next year. I couldn’t. Or the year after that. In fact, I was so much slower, due to bad planning and training, that I didn’t even enter. At 46 this year, I knew the odds of me improving were not getting better.
I put a plan together and stuck to it. For something like 30 years this race has been in May. By April I was in great shape and knew a PR (personal record) was going to happen. My only physical or cycling goal at this time was to beat my performance from three years before.
I started checking the sponsoring team’s website for the exact date, but there was no info. I checked back a couple times, still nothing. Finally I emailed them. The response was devastating. “Yes, the race is on, but this year we are moving it to September.” Devastating because not only did I not want to maintain that level of fitness, I didn’t think it was even possible. I was at my limit. Depressed, I pretty much abandoned any organized training, got slow, gained weight, and put it out of mind.
At the beginning of August, with only five weeks to go, I decided I had to give it a shot. I still had some base fitness left, right? Maybe, but I had also gained some weight. I went out to the course and gave it my all. I felt like I was having an asthma attic at the end, and I don’t have asthma. The result, a miserable 27 minutes. Almost three full minutes slower than my goal. That is a huge deficit, over 10%. Success seemed beyond my reach.
But it wasn’t. Exactly five weeks later, race day, I posted another middling time, but at 24 minutes 9.45 seconds it was 1.76 seconds faster than my original time. Words fail me to communicate the intense feeling of satisfaction of reaching my goal.
That is not bragging; it’s an admission. Perfectionism is a real problem.
Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality disposition characterized by an individual striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations. (See Wikipedia)
The good news is, that like a recovering alcoholic, I’m usually aware of it. Eckhart Tolle says the “awareness and ego cannot coexist” and the same is true for perfectionism.
What causes people to be perfectionists? I came to my own conclusion that it’s a product of being introverted, shy, which I most definitely am. Shyness seems to be coupled with insecurity. And because I’m shy I have to make sure everything I do is as good as possible, and ideally far better than average. The obvious problem from that is, if you’re afflicted with this, that you won’t attempt things unless you’re certain you’ll be judged as excellent. Or, if you do, you’ll spend too much time researching and perfecting your plans, and not enough time applying the 80/20 principle to get more done.
The not-so-good news is that perfectionism is never fully in remission. Even when I think I’m being highly self-aware I still catch myself procrastinating in some area of my life or even or aspects of projects where I am managing to make progress. Procrastination is probably the major side effect of perfectionism. In The War of Art author Steven Pressfield says that the thing we are most resistant to doing, where we are procrastinating the most, is almost certainly the thing we should get to work on. But what if you don’t know what to do? Read the rest of this entry »
After posting a 60 second video where I explained three things I wanted to learn in the next year I was chosen to be one of the students at The 4-Hour™ Life: Healthy, Wealthy and Wise. I thought the odds of being chosen were reasonably good, but it was still a surprise to be told I was in. This was Thursday night before the next Tuesday when I would have to be across the country in Seattle. For about five seconds I made up excuses why going just didn’t seem reasonable but fortunately that mindset evaporated quickly. Time to hustle.
Our master teacher was to be, of course, Tim Ferriss. I didn’t get a photo with him or autograph, but the truth is I was probably the biggest fanboy there. I’ve given away more copies of The 4-Hour Body than I can count and talked many other people into buying it for themselves. (Everyone I meet seems to already own The 4-Hour Work Week.) A couple weeks before the event Damien and I interviewed Tim for well over an hour for our site WallStCheatSheet.com. Prior to the interview we received a digital copy of The 4-Hour Chef. In my opinion this is his best book yet. That, coupled with a very relaxed and enjoyable interview, where Tim was more than happy to discuss anything, made me even more of a fan.
Monday morning, the day before all us lucky students hit the road, I fired off the first email to our group of classmates suggesting we get together the night before. Followed a few minutes later by an email from Seth, who had already researched and found a good restaurant for us. He also set up a private Facebook group to help us coordinate. Anjali set us up on Group.me so we could easily text the group while we were there. Moira got tons of group photos during the breaks from shooting. And Sergio set up a Dropbox folder so we could all share photos. Then he even scheduled some accountability check-ins and group reunions. Talk about a “self-organizing group”!
A self-organizing group isa collective whose members are surprised and delighted by what they become and do together. These collectives create themselves and contain members who become increasingly aware that the group is giving them more than they could imagine and plan as individuals. Self-aware self-organizing groups: groups in which members recognize that the group itself is something special. Read more
Eben Pagan says his company relies on self-organizing groups, but they do assign people they feel would be complementary to the groups. That said, they are flat and no one is put “in charge.” I’ve always wanted to experience that firsthand. Our small PR firm does operate this way but it’s only a handful of people, and at Cheat Sheet we’re slightly more hierarchical. Seeing how a dozen people can just naturally, and spontaneously, collaborate to create a very productive and just plain fun experience was amazing. In fact, it’s not over yet so the amazement continues.
I also re-learned the value of pushing out the boundaries of your comfort zone. I have to admit that it’s been a while since I did that in a meaningful way outside of racing bicycles. It’s not that I wasn’t fully aware of how important this is to personal growth, but after a while of staying in the same workaday groove, or rut, it’s easy to forget how joyous the upside of getting a little uncomfortable, of participating in an event like this, with great people, can be. And if that means some anxiety for a short time while you adapt to the situation, it’s a bargain. I considered just submitting a video to be a success. Everything after that was gravy.
I had planned to mention some of the highlights but the list is just too long. Suffice it to say to that at the top of the list was meeting so many great people. Every Monday morning I write down three goals for the week. This week my number one goal was “have maximum fun.” That was checked off, in a big way. The perfect conclusion to the trip was meeting my old friend Jeff for dinner the night before I came home. It’s been years but it felt as familiar and welcome as ever.
In the short clip below, everyone in the archery demo was able to hit the bullseye in the waning seconds of the show. See that hugging and high-fiving excitement? That’s what the whole trip felt like.
Prepare for success. I do not mean: prepare so you can be successful, but be prepared for when you do succeed. It’s been known to happen.
I think it pays to think at least one step ahead. Ask yourself, if this thing actually works what’s my next move so I can make the most of the momentum? I’m not suggesting you hire extra customer service reps just in case your next product launch blows the roof off. But what if it does? Do you know what to do next?
We recently did a small product launch and sales were decent from go. But they kept getting better. I wanted to monitor it and then decide what to do next. If I had planned to deal with success we would have had product bundling ready, maybe some “upsells” to more expensive products, etc. The work to have this stuff ready was pretty minor and if it had been in the work queue already we could have increased the average dollars per transaction, guaranteed. So that’s some easy money we left on the table while we tried to catch up to our initial launch success.
“Iterating” with “minimum viable products” is smart and it certainly mitigates risk, but a little extra planning doesn’t take much effort or money. With a plan for next steps, you’re ready to pounce when things go right.
P.S. I also believe thinking this way also improves your awareness of new opportunities.
There are few people who are more emotional about cars than me. Mere pictures in books and magazines have caused me to tear up. Go ahead, laugh. Love is never wrong!
But there is a time when emotion needs to take a backseat to reason. Hot rods, Mustangs, Ferraris, and anything vintage are bought only for emotional reasons. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But this post is about deciding which car best meets your everyday needs.
It’s been a good while since we bought a new car and there is so much to choose from that it was a little overwhelming. After a lot of reading we scratched off many cars that at first seemed reasonable. Crap mileage? Gone. It’s too easy to make decent power AND good MPG nowadays to not hold out for both.
We eventually got it down to the five cars below. Then visited the dealers to test drive each. I told them to give me the most swank version they had, one with all the options, so each car could have a fair shot at the title. Mary and I took turns in each car and compared notes at home.
To the whiteboard! We used the ratings in Consumer Reports for some of the buying criteria, added some ratings and rankings of our own, and put it all in a matrix to come up with a score. Sounds complicated but it took less time to do than explain.
Using Consumer Reports’ familiar rating system of red balls (better than average) and black balls (worse than average) we scored each car 5 points for the best rating and on down to 1 for the black ball. Then for some things that were important to us, sun/moon roof , back seat room, MPG, warranty and price we rank ordered the cars as best we could with 5 going to the winner. It looks like this. Read the rest of this entry »
What a great trip this was. We got to visit our daughter at college, and I convinced the family to ride with me to see the first ever Vintage Speed and Custom Revival, presented by The Rodder’s Journal, at the Pimlico racetrack near Baltimore.
The quality of the cars there was overall very high. It was genuinely exciting, for me at least, to see some of these famous vehicles in person. There were many magazine cover cars at the show, both old and new.
Two favorites were Dan Webb’s So-Cal Streamliner recreation and the Golden Submarine tribute car. (WebbAutomotiveArt.com) I was standing right next to him for a bit and would have loved to ask about the cars in person, but, alas, he was in conversation with someone he knew and I got tired of lurking.
I’ll definitely be back next year.
The Golden Submarine tribute car.
So-Cal Streamliner recreation.
1951 Mercury by Bob Mariani and Rick Bennett.
I always love the track-inspired “Modifieds.”
Too many great cars to include here! See the slideshow for more. (Includes lots of pinstriping close-ups. My son can’t get enough of that lately.)
I have a growing list of things I want to do sometime in my life. The sooner the better for most of them. Some are physically demanding, a few dangerous, and some more mentally challenging. All of them require focus and will power. I’m also realizing they need hard deadlines. I’m not going attempt to schedule out all my activities for the rest of my life. That said, I do think going goal by goal and always having a deadline for next one to conquer is a good idea.
The Ashley Book of Knots
A long time ago I read an interview with high-power CEO who had some esoteric hobbies. Doesn’t matter what they were. He said something that made an impression on me – “If you find something boring it’s because you don’t know enough about it.” If you think baseball, model trains, or maybe even accounting principles are boring I can almost guarantee you don’t know much about those topics.
This brings to me knot tying. Yep, it’s on my list. I know some basics, and last had a refresher several years ago when my son was in Scouts. I decided to find at least 10 interesting and highly useful knots to master. The more I researched and learned, the more I realized there is to learn.
I was somewhat surprised how many people are really into knots, full-on knot nerds. I might be turning into one myself. Post a video about tying a knot and if the Internet trolls don’t agree with your method the sniping will be intense. Of course, there are many ways to tie some knots. For the “Trucker’s Hitch” I found several different methods. I even came across videos of actual truckers tying the knot. They all did it differently. I picked the one that made the most sense to me.
The video below shows a dozen of my favorite knots, bends and hitches. It’s not a how-to video. It’s strictly for me, proof to myself that I got it done.
Below this video I’ve included some of the links and videos that I found either interesting or useful. Be careful. You might learn too much, and get interested enough to add The Ashley Book of Knots to your wishlist.
On almost every long road trip I get an idea. I think that’s because I don’t listen to music much and prefer to talk or think. On a recent ride back to Asheville Mary and I came up with an idea for a restaurant.
French Toast – nothing else.
No Belgian waffles, pancakes, omelettes, etc. All French toast all the time.
I think a French toast-only restaurant would kill it in any tourist-oriented city, or otherwise large urban environment. Who doesn’t like French toast? Everyone I’ve mentioned this to got excited about it. And I learned a lot from my more sophisticated foodie friends about the wide variety of French toast options.
Suffice it to say the ingredients would be a big deal. Artisanal breads, fillings, and toppings. Local, organic, unusual, and so on.
Want to know what it's like to have brain surgery? Well here's the long version of my experience. Complete with pictures and videos! Read all about the Brain Surgery Experience.
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