Some lessons I wish I learned earlier in life

When most people today hear the word “lesson,” they usually don’t think of it as a good thing. Teaching a lesson may be looked at as being bossy or perhaps a know-it-all. While having learned a lesson may be viewed as a sign of weakness.

However, learning lessons is far from being weak. In fact, George Washington once said, “We ought not to look back unless it is derive useful lessons from past errors and for the purpose of profiting by dear bought experience.” Well said, sir.

Without further ado, here’s the list:

  1. The 80/20 rule.
  2. Parkinson’s Law.
  3. Batching.
  4. First, give value. Then, get value. Not the other way around.
  5. Be proactive. Not reactive.
  6. Mistakes and failures are good.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up.
  8. Your attitude changes your reality.
  9. Don’t compare yourself to others.
  10. Worrying never gets you anywhere.
  11. Don’t take things too seriously.
  12. Avoid being technology’s bitch.
  13. There are opportunities in just about every experience.

In order to save you some time, starting next week and continuing each week, I’m going to highlight one of the lessons that you can focus on throughout the week.

Until then, why not send me a note and tell me about the lessons you’ve learned along the way. I’ll add the good ones to this list.

Two things I use to stay productive

I was catching up with an old friend yesterday and we started talking about how busy our respective circle of friends had become over the last few years. “You probably wouldn’t understand,” he said, “but while you get to do the cool stuff, the rest of us seem to be stuck in the daily grind.”Huh? Where’d that come from? What do I even say to that?

That got me thinking for a while. Then I realized that he saw me as the guy that somehow sidesteps trivial work and spends time on the “really important” stuff.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to call your ass out when you’re wasting time my time with asinine requests. At the same time though, I attack everything I do with two simple things:

Prioritization. Back in college, I knew people that could study, watch TV, play video games, shower and do 24362456 other things at the same time. I hated those people because I was the guy that had to go sit in the corner facing the wall so I could actually focus on my work.

To really become effective, you should get into the habit of asking yourself “What needs to be done?” on an almost daily (if not hourly) basis. What I’ve learned is that I have to ask myself this question every time I finish something because priorities can (and usually will) change once you’ve finished working on your most important tasks.

Clarity. I’ve found that just about project I’ve ever gotten involved in is too complex. And complexity is the enemy. We become confused and overwhelmed with too many possibilities and choices. Clarity is what we need – it gives us the power to focus on what really matters and say no to what doesn’t.

Next time you add a to-do (or even a larger project) to your list, make sure you clearly list what needs to get done. For example, rather than “Email Jack” you should probably write “Email Jack about tomorrow’s schedule” – those 3 extra words clearly define what you’re going to accomplish and go a long way towards getting things done.

So, give this a shot – it’s worked for me but I’d love to hear what you use to stay productive. Let me know.

The secret to actually reaching your goals

Mar 28, 2008 • Paul Singh

Many people will tell you that the only way to reach your goals is to get started today. I’m not going to dispute that but I will tell you the secret to actually follow through and reach your goal: find a goal buddy.

What is a goal buddy?

  • A goal buddy provides motivation. He or she will help you stay on track as you work towards your goals, give you a hard time when you slack off and praising your continued efforts to do well.
  • A goal buddy provides accountability. Being accountable to another person brings out our best efforts. Because we know our goal buddy is concerned about our progress, we’re more concerned. We don’t want to let our goal buddy down.
  • A goal buddy increases our determination. Having a goal buddy gives us the staying power we need to accomplish our goals. Achieving goals takes time and continued effort. (After all, they wouldn’t be goals if they didn’t force us to stretch and strive.) But if you don’t have a goal buddy, it’s too easy to shelve the goal, saying, “I’ll work on this later”. Having a goal buddy that we talk to regularly encourages us to make regular and steady progress.

So, here’s what you should do today:

  1. Brainstorm a list of potential goal buddies. Write down some names of people that you think would like to swap goal buddy services with you. Think of people that you know that have drive, persistence, and who are positive. Avoid picking someone who’s going to go easy on you. Also avoid picking someone that you’ll resent getting on your case such as your mother or spouse. Pick someone that might be a little uncomfortable. Don’t limit yourself to just friends and family. Think also of colleagues. And they don’t have to be located near you. Virtual goal buddies can work fine too. You can also look into mastermind groups, business groups, or activity groups in your area too (such as weight loss groups).
  2. Select People for Your Shortlist. Take all the people on your list and narrow it down to just a select few (ideally, no more than 5 people). Choose doers and non-complainers. Be ruthless, don’t leave someone on the list simply because you like them.
  3. Associate Each Person on Your List to your Individual Goals. (You do have your goals written down, don’t you?) Try to match your advisors up with goals they might have some interest in as well – it’s not totally necessary, but it’ll make them more likely to want to help you.
  4. Contact Each Person on Your List. Ask them if he/she would be willing to commit to being goal buddies with you. This would mean getting together at least weekly either in person or by phone to review each others’ progress on your goals.
  5. Get Started, Kick Ass and Reach your Goals.

If you have some experience using a goal buddy or being a goal buddy, let me know.

How to be more effective

Mar 23, 2008 • Paul Singh

One of the most common questions I get asked is this: “How do you get so much done?”

Friends are looking for my secret formula or the key to my efficiency, but I’m always sorry to tell them I don’t have any secrets. I do the same things that other effective people have done and that this blog will hopefully teach you to do.

Try these tips on for size:

  1. Ask yourself, “What needs to be done?” Notice that you’re not asking yourself, “what do I want to do?” This is a crucial difference and one that can’t be overlooked. If asked properly, this question will likely have more than one task. Effective people don’t try to tackle multiple things at once, they concentrate on only one task. If you’re one of those people that really likes to multi-task, you’ll pick no more than two tasks. After you’ve finished your task, go back and ask yourself the question once more – never re-use the original list.
  2. Ask yourself, “What is right in the context of the bigger picture?”As with the first question, this isn’t asking if this is right for you, your investors, your parents, your friends or for anyone else. Of course these stakeholders are important but an effective person knows that if a decision doesn’t work in the bigger picture, it’s not going to work for any of the stakeholders either. Although asking this question doesn’t always guarantee a correct decision, the failure to ask this question will virtually guarantee the wrong decision.
  3. Develop an action plan. You know that knowledge is useless until it’s been converted into actions. Before you jump into action, make sure you plan the course. Your action plan is a “living document” that will evolve with your successes – it is not to be seen as a straitjacket. Without an action plan, you become the prisoner of events. Remember, ideas don’t count – effective people are doers.
  4. Take responsibility for your decisions. A decision hasn’t been made until people know about it. It’s your job to set the deadlines, spread the word and be accountable. It’s also important to review decisions periodically – build these into your action plan. This way, a bad decision can be caught before it can cause too much damage.
  5. Take responsibility for communicating. Effective people make sure that their action plans and needs are understood by those around them. Specifically, this means that you need to share your plans and ask for feedback from your friends, family and peers.
  6. Focus on opportunities rather than problems. Let’s face it, problem solving has never produced results – it only prevents further damage. Taking advantage of opportunities is the single most effective way to produce results. My advice to you: next time you run across a problem (or even a complaint), quickly brainstorm three potential opportunities and stop there. Now pick one and get started.
  7. Run effective meetings. The key to running effective meetings is is to decide in advance what kind of meeting it will be. Different kinds of meetings require different methods of preparation and different results. Making sure meetings stay productive requires a good amount of self-discipline. When the meeting’s specific purpose has been accomplished, sum up and adjourn. Remember that any given meeting is either productive or a total waste of time.

Being highly effective is simply a matter of getting the right things done. Effectiveness is a discipline and, like every discipline, can be learned.