Category Archives: Business stuff

Take Action: Do something, anything. Please, just start. #gofarther

I laid in bed this morning, vacillating between conscious states for nearly 40 minutes before I pulled myself out from under the warm blankets. I was nearly ten minutes into my Morning Pages when I realized I turned on the wrong burner to make coffee. I told myself I was tired and that I deserved more sleep.

Then I reminded myself why I get up this early – to do my thing, to get going, to start. I made a commitment to myself to write every morning. This day mustn’t be different.  I had no idea what I’d write about, I just knew I needed to start.

For a Commitment to be real, you need both Decision and Action. A Decision without Action is just a wish. Lots of people have wishes. Action without Decision, and pretty quickly you’re left without a reason. You can only push yourself so long before you lose motivation. Decision is the “what” and the “why.” Action is the “how” and “now.”

Commitment is why I registered for my first 100-mile ultra. I’ve been training every week since Uberman, putting in miles and workouts but without a clear reason or race to keep going. No Commitment made it easier to eat pizza instead of salad on Friday nights. No Commitment made it easy to go a little lighter or skip stretching at night.

But the thing is, taking Action all the while – training even without a Commitment – got me to a point of Decision. Action precipitated the Decision. That’s why I say – do something, anything. Just start. Action got me to ask myself why I was doing this. And once committed, my actions improved even more – 15-milers instead of 9-milers and track repeats instead of easy five-milers.

I still have to play mind games to get going and to keep going.  It’s on the toughest days and times that Action is the most important – days when you feel what Steven Pressfield calls “The Resistance.”  The toughest days show you how your body and mind respond. Action is simply putting your mind and body in motion – it’s putting yourself to work for your Self. Even if you have to back off what you planned, it’s that you took Action that matters. Just start.

Write the first sentence. Do ten pushups. Walk the first mile. Pick up the phone. Make the first call.

Do something, anything, instead of nothing and later regretting that you never took a single step. Just get moving and life will show from there. Your mind will see the opportunity you’re presenting to yourself and construct a story for that day, that project or that workout. Even if you don’t have it that day, at least you started and kept to your commitment.

Yesterday, I didn’t have it. After four rounds of the “easy” workout I planned, I was lying on my back, breathless on the floor, staring at the garage ceiling wondering what was wrong with me. I wasn’t even sweating and I was completely spent. I’ve done ten rounds of this workout in the past. I laid there for a while, got up, did one more round and called it a day – half of what I planned. It was better than nothing and that one last round gave me some measure of gratification that I pushed past where I thought I was done.

The plan isn’t really that important anyway. A friend recently shared a Churchill quote with me – “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” Steve Blank famously said “No plan survives first contact with the customer.

I have lots of plans, lots of ideas. Most of them are probably lousy anyway which is why I throw them away. The plan is just a decision. From there, it’s the Action that matters.

Do something, anything. Please, just start.

Go Farther.

Put Your Self First #gofarther

I failed this morning. I knew last night what I was going to write about. I devoted part of my Morning Pages to it just so I’d be primed and ready to go. Yet, before I cracked open my laptop, I put others first instead of my Self.

I peeked at my email only to find out that a new client scheduled to start today backed out and another prospect decided to work with a pro-bono consultant instead of paying me.

The thing is, from a business standpoint, I don’t even care about the losing these guys. My business is strong and clients like this can end up being difficult anyway. Trust me, I want to help them and know that I can, and I know they’re in for a tough road ahead without me. But, why the hell did I do that to my Self?

The morning is MY time – for Morning Pages, for meditation, for writing – and I put other people, people literally on the other side of the world, first instead my Self.

Dammit, Scott. Put your Self first.

Protect your Self because no one else will. They’ll take, punch, kick, push and slam your Self. They don’t even know they’re doing it (usually). They’re just out for themselves, unaware of their own Self.

Just because someone asks and just because you can, it doesn’t mean that you should.

“But they’re really expecting me to do this…”

God I hate that. Unless it’s a “HELL YEAH!,” it has to be a “no.” Friends included. Especially friends. If they’re really your friends, they’ll understand. Don’t worry. They’ll figure it out without you…

Be the CEO of your Self – make unpopular decisions. Unfollow Negative Nancy. Heck, skip Facebook altogether for a day. No one will miss you. Seriously. I know I won’t. Go into airplane mode and be present. The world will still be here when you come back.  I’d rather you read the last chapter of that novel than read one of my posts.

We’ve all had friends struggling with anxiety or stress or sadness. How many times is that anxiety, stress and sadness caused by someone else – someone they’ve let bully their Self? We tell our friend to say no. We say – “tell them to fuck off!” We advise them – “you should totally go to that yoga class!”

Then how many times do we ignore this advice for our own Self?

Saunter. Doodle. Sing.

Buy some persimmons, or blueberries, or beets, or bacon, or a burrito.

Talk a walk. Exercise. Breathe.

Make time. Sleep.

If you don’t put your Self first, you can’t be your best Self, and guess what? The world needs your best Self.

At breakfast this morning, my son, eating eggs with ketchup, wearing his blue Elsa dress, watching our science project concoction of baking soda and vinegar bubble in a bowl, asked questions that four-year-olds ask – “Why does Mowgli wear a grass skirt in Jungle Book?” and “Why do the good guys want to beat the bad guys in Star Wars?”

I gave him satisfactory answers, but those emails were festering – “Do those guys really think they can get the same help for free? What is wrong with them? What is wrong with me?” He didn’t get my best Self.

I’m nervous about hitting ‘publish’ right now. I’m worried about what others will think… how they will react… what they will say…

But this is my blog. This is my writing. This is my time. This is my Self.

And I choose to put my Self first.

Go Farther Strategy #3: Work in Sprints #gofarther

Accomplishing bigger outcomes requires the completion of small tasks. When you “Schedule Everything” and “Make Time,” you can complete at least one 30-60 minute “sprint” every day or week without interruption on whatever outcome you want to achieve.

Professional female athlete sprinting from blocks on numbered start line on outdoor athletics track on olympic stadium full of spectators under a dramatic evening sky. Sprinter is wearing generic athletics kit.

”Sprinting” is an idea taken from a style of work productivity called Scrum – popular in the software world – in which a team decides on the set of outcomes for a given work period, usually 2-4 weeks. Within each work period, individuals and smaller teams set aside “sprints” that break down these outcomes into smaller tasks.

Say you want to do your first 50-mile ultra marathon this year… A good “sprint” would be spending an hour researching race calendars or training programs.

Say you want to start blogging… Spend a “sprint” setting up an account on GoDaddy or BlueHost to buy a URL and set up WordPress.

Say you want to write a book… Block off an hour a day to write every day, even if it’s garbage that you throw away. I’ve been doing these most recent posts during my morning “writing sprints.”  A “sprint” is just a block of time that is dedicated to focused work and completing a task, or a series of related tasks. The key here to be focused and dedicated. No distractions.

Here are three examples of how I apply “sprinting” – to writing, to work and to workouts…

Writing Sprints

My most recent “writing sprints” started after I cracked open the initial draft of a book manuscript over Thanksgiving weekend. I’d been sitting on the draft from the publisher for a couple of months, and with Uberman and other work projects, it just sat and sat and sat. Most of all, the delays were impacting my 2017 sales and marketing plans centered around the book launch. During my Uberman training and for the month after, I let myself sleep later in the morning to recoup from training and to just let myself be a little lazy. I finally decided that I had no more excuses and set aside about an hour of morning time after Morning Pages and meditating, and before my son wakes up.

Looking back on my revision back-ups, I had 23 days of writing on the manuscript (I backed up the file each day, multiple times in each writing session). Over the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I added 20,000 words to manuscript and sent back to the publisher on December 30th for their next editing phase. This happened because of my daily “writing sprints” I set up for myself each morning. This works in tandem with “Make Time.” Because I’m an early riser, I made the time each morning to work on the manuscript.

The process took me about two-and-a-half days per chapter to review, edit and add new material. Through these daily morning “writing sprints,” I was able to knock out the revisions – about 1000 words a day – and return the draft to my publisher by the end of the year. 23 writing days, 11 chapters and 20,000 words added, not to mention revisions, deletions and replacement content. Pretty solid work for 23 days of “writing sprints.”

Now… there were definitely days when I’d just be settling in with Spotify cranked up and a fresh cup of coffee, typing my first sentences, only to hear “DAAAAAA-DEEEEE” – my son waking up earlier than expected and blowing up my “writing sprint” that day. On these days, I’d take him to school and hunker down out at my favorite coffee shop (Cloud Forest Cafe) and knock out 30-90 minutes of writing for whatever chapter needed to be started or finished. “Schedule Everything” is handy here because I block out my mornings for creative work and project work, giving me the time to knock out my writing sprint. In fact, I’m finishing up this post right now from the cafe in the time between dropping off Benjamin at school and a weekly coaching call at 9:30am…

Even then, it’s not perfect. On some mornings I have set obligations – weekly coaching calls on Tuesday and Friday mornings, and occasional morning calls with teams in Europe because it’s afternoon there. Having the time blocked out for the writing sprints enables me to withstand the pressure of a daily fluctuation when the morning doesn’t go according to plan.

Daily Work Sprints

At work, I use a Scrum Board to track tasks in four categories: Backlog, Planned, Doing & Done. (More about Scrum here.) This is a methodology that I’m rolling out to my clients this year via our semi-monthly “Boardroom” meetings, applying Scrum to client their sales projects. Starting this month, we’re running a Monthly Planning Video Conference to plan “work sprints,” and a Monthly Project Update Call mid-month to identify obstacles and celebrate progress.

Yesterday, I ran through four “sprint sessions” myself, ranging from 25-50 minutes each. This is what I got done in those four sprint sessions:

  • Sprint #1 (50 mins): Planned out the content, agenda and announcement details for our first “Boardroom” meeting on January 16th, and sent out the meeting invite to clients around our 2017 kickoff on January 16th.
  • Sprint #2: (25 mins): Website work, including adding a “Search Box” to my website. During the 25 minutes, I spoke with the product manager at Algolia (Thank you Jasmine!) and emailed with my web team in Australia (Automation Agency) that’s doing the implementation.
  • Sprint #3: (25 mins): Typed out my hand-scribbled notes from Sprint #1 into Evernote so that I have the content digitally available to repurpose for building a presentation next week for the January 16th Boardroom Kick-Off video conference. (Building the PowerPoint slides will be a “daily sprint session” next week.)
  • Sprint #4 (25 minutes): Held a “sprint planning” meeting with myself by rewriting project tasks and organizing my Scrum board so I know where I am and what’s ahead over the next week.
img_9450

The SalesQualia Scrum Board

Working in sprints helps my focus too. If I’m in the middle of sprint and I receive an call, email or text, because I’m in a “sprint,” I give myself permission to wait to respond. In fact, I require myself to wait. I think of it this way – if it was the other way around and I was on a call with a client, I wouldn’t stop the call just to begin working on a project. I never stop a workout to start working on something else. “Sprint sessions” must be dedicated, focused time.

After each “sprint,” I took a 5-20 minute break – lunch, walks around the block, a walk to Whole Food to buy bananas because we were out of them at home. I eat two bananas every morning with my coffee and I did not want to be without. (See: “Find Your Routine.”) 😃

Even if you’re a one-person team, you can use Scrum and “work sprints” to make huge progress on your self-directed projects.

The work product of Sprint #1 described above

The work product of Sprint #1 described above

Workouts as Sprints

“Sprints” work really well for workouts too. Yesterday, I wrote about how to “Make Time,” with a couple of examples of when I slotted in short workouts with the time that I had. These are basically “workout sprints.” If I know I have a workout that I want or need to do -– say I need to do a strength and conditioning workout – then working with whatever time I have, even if that’s 30 minutes, can lead to huge gains.

When I was commuting to San Francisco three times a week, I would take the early train and arrive to the office around 7am. I was always the first one there and if I was feeling particularly anxious because I didn’t sleep enough or hadn’t worked out in a couple of days because of my schedule, I’d go downstairs to the basement and do a 15 or 30-minute workout with only body weight exercises – something like four rounds of 25 pushups, 25 sit-ups, 25 lunges and 25 air squats. It definitely got my body and mind settled, and got me the workout I needed for whatever training I was doing. I didn’t always have workout clothes, so there were times that I would strip down and do the workout in my boxers. Fortunately we had a shower at work with a few towels laying around so I could rinse off after… ProTip: Keep a bag of baby wipes in your office for when you’re in a pinch…

Between the commute and travel, I managed to knock out the Donner Half-iron triathlon in July 2015 and my first ultra-marathon at the North Face Endurance Challenge in December 2015 (sadly, my race report for the one is still in my drafts…).

I apply the same idea of “Make Time” and “Sprints” applied to evening runs. When I’m short on workouts or miles, or just need to get some exercise, I’ll do a three-mile run around my neighborhood – two laps at a slow to moderate pace. It’s not the best workout, but the three mile jog you take is better than the 10-miler that doesn’t happen…. My wife is particularly adept at this too. I don’t know how she does it. It’ll be 9pm and we’ve just gotten Benjamin to bed. I’m ready to hit the sack and she’s changing into her workout clothes to head to the garage to do a workout. I think of these emergent workouts as “sprints” – completing a task necessary in the timebox available.


Now what?

  1. Figure out what big outcome or project your want to knock out this month.
  2. Identify the key tasks to be done for that project.
  3. Set aside “sprints” in your calendar. Think “Schedule Everything” and “Make Time.”

Go Farther Strategy #2: Make Time #gofarther

You’ve got to make time for what you want to do. Then schedule it. (See yesterday’s post – “Go Farther Strategy #1: Schedule Everything.”) Being “deliberately emergent” helps with this.

As part of my morning routine, I wake up early – usually somewhere between 4am and 5am, intentionally… 😃 This morning I felt angsty while writing Morning Pages. Yesterday was a day off to go skiing, and even though we spent five hours in the car getting up to Tahoe and back, we never got on the slopes (too much snow!). The kids got to play a bit and it was a heck of an adventure, but I was fairly edgy hanging out near Donner Summit, nervous about getting stuck overnight should Caltrans decide to close I-80 (which they did…). Plus Tuesday was an easy run day and Monday was a rest day. All of this left me with pent up energy this morning.

Instead of diving into my daily writing practice after Morning Pages and meditation, I headed out for a morning run. It was dark and cold and crisp. The overnight rain disappeared. Stars dotted the sky between the lingering clouds and I watched my white frozen breath reflect the light from my headlamp. I love that feeling of cold air. I love seeing my breath. I love being outside and alive before the rest of the world wakes up around me. As I reached Putah Creek, I stopped to look at the false dawn rising over the Sierras. Yellow and orange splotches emerged over the horizon, mixing with the gray clouds sitting overhead. It was like a paint spill on an artist’s throw tarp left without care on her studio floor.

Glorious. And possible because I chose to Make Time by waking up early every morning, gifting myself 2-3 hours before the rest of the house and the world wakes up. Making time gives me the freedom to choose to do write or run (or neither…)

Young woman sitting on sand with bag

Make time…

When’s the last time anyone asked you –  “So… are you getting enough time to do all the things you enjoy – reading, writing, training for endurance races, spending time with your family? Have you skied lately? When’s the last time you went on a 10-mile trail run?”

A few other examples of how I’ve chosen to “Make Time” for myself this week:

#1: Fitting in a planned workout. On Friday, I was at the park with my son and friends. Around 4pm, we all decided to wrap up and meet around 5:15pm at the local pizza place. I worked in the morning and had been with Benjamin all afternoon, leaving myself without the chance to do the workout I planned for myself.

So… Benjamin and I scooted home, and in the time between getting home and going out for pizza, I fit in a workout in my garage – lifting, followed by a 10-minute CrossFit workout, then a 1.5 mile fast run around the neighborhood. We were about 15 minutes late for dinner, but I got in my workout. Instead of resigning that I “didn’t have time,” I made time to do what I needed.

#2: Adding in an unplanned workout. Two days later on New Year’s Day, we were scheduled to fly to the coast. The morning weather was rainy and we decided at 8:30am to make a call at 9:30am as to whether or not to go. I had planned to take a rest day, but my body was twitchy after too much yummy cheese and charcuterie on New Year’s Eve (and a bit of wine…) I needed to work out the jitters, so I headed to the garage for a quick workout in the time that I had – shoulder presses, burpee box jumps and kettle bell swings. Short and painful and done in the time that I had.

#3: Yesterday’s ski day. Many schools are closed here in California this first week January. Talking with my friend Tim before Christmas, he was trying to figure out what to do with his kids during this extra week, so we booked yesterday as a ski day and I blocked it my calendar.

This decision was not without some effects and planning. I stayed up late on Tuesday night to clear out client questions so that I could take the day without any pending obligations, and I needed to push out a few last minute tasks in the morning before we left. I work with a team of virtual assistants that are now trained to run more than 25 business operations for me – everything from sending out emails to setting up new clients to posting announcements to setting up appointments. Creating this team around me gives me more flexibility to make time, because I know they can handle most daily tasks.

In the end, it would have been easy to treat Wednesday, January 4th as just another workday (besides it being my mom’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Mom!), and instead I made time for the trip because if I didn’t, I had a feeling it could be weeks before we were able to try again.

#4: Lunchtime Runs. When I look at my output throughout a workday, I know I have a limited daily capacity – there’s just only so much I can do. And because I wake up early, I’m often pretty fried by 11:30am. Making time to do a lunchtime run allows me to knock out the training I want to do plus gives me a mental and physical refresh for my afternoon work.

Being at work doesn’t mean you’re working. Too many times we let precious minutes and hour escape our day that could otherwise be used for activities – whether that’s running, writing, reading, painting or anything else that brings us joy. Instead of getting home at 6pm wishing I had time to go for a run, or worse, taking away family time.

David Hatch trained for an Ironman aboard the USS Hatch as a US Navy commander in the Arabian Gulf. JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter from cafes as a single mother. These are extreme cases with extreme outcomes.

I followed this daytime training program for Uberman and for my most recent Ironman in 2013. I kept my road bike at the office to get in an extra ride or two every week along the American River Trail.

#5: Going to bed early. As soon as my son hits the pillow, I’m headed to my own bed. The sooner I get to bed, the sooner I can wake up and start the day. A long time ago, a former self joked that “nothing good happens after 2am.” Now my mentality is “Nothing productive happens after 9pm.” Sometimes this means hopping in the shower before we do bath time or even occasionally going to bed before my son gets down for the night. (Thanks, Lena!).

I have a hunch that if you look at your days, you can make time to do at least one or two activities you really, really want to do. Do it, because no one is going to do it for you.


Now what?

  1. Head over to Upwork.com and post a job for a virtual assistant to complete a low-risk task for you.
  2. Schedule your alarm for 20 minutes earlier than user, and have a plan on how to use those 20 minutes. It can be anything you want – just use the time for you.
  3. Go to bed 30 minutes sooner.

Go Farther Strategy #1: Schedule Everything #gofarther

In yesterday’s post – “10 Strategies To Do More, Be Happy & Surprise Yourself” – I wrote:

If you don’t plan your day, the world will do it for you. You can’t always be in control, so the more you own your day when you can be in control, the happier you’ll be.

I swear by this. I have one calendar for my life, and for convenience, it’s housed in my work calendar because that’s simply where I have the most number of obligations each week with calls, meetings and work with clients. I’m looking at that calendar several times daily, so it makes sense to make this the hub of my activity coordination.

Planner with PenThis means that I add EVERYTHING in my life to one calendar, including “meeting invites” to Lena for personal things to make sure we’ve communicated about what’s ahead that affects us both.

 

Here are a few examples of what I schedule in my calendar, outside of daily meetings with clients and partners:

“B breakfast/to school” & “pick up B” – I block out from 7:00-9:20am in the mornings to have breakfast and take my son to school, and I block out 5:00-6:30pm on days that I’m picking him up from school. This assures that I don’t schedule an early or late call on these days.

“hold for prep” and “hold for long” – These are times I block before and after key meetings. Every week for example, I have three coaching standing calls with for clients to help them with their sales work. I have a placeholder both before and after these calls – “hold for prep” and “hold for long” – so that I have time to prepare and so if we need to run long, I don’t have another obligation booked right at the end of the hour.

“Work sprint” – Each week, I establish time for focused work on key projects. These work sprints are usually 50 minutes, with a 10 minute break at the end to recharge before the next sprint or the next upcoming obligation (calls, meetings, etc.). Blocking this time assures me proactive time to work on key projects so that my days aren’t spent buried in email or reacting to situations.

(More on “work sprints” in a future post…)

“Scott in SF” / “Scott in LA” – For the occasional day trips to San Francisco or overnight work travel for workshops, I book these well ahead and block out those days so other people (clients, my team) nor I will schedule obligations on those days. I add Lena to these calendar invites so that I know that she knows what’s ahead.

While she and I often talk about schedules and what’s coming, it’s really easy for one of us to forget because these conversations might be in the morning as we’re coaxing our son to school or while we’re making dinner. (Read: Scott forgets to tell Lena or forgets that Lena told him about a day trip she has…)

Booking the event in the calendar assures that we know of each other’s schedule. Sometimes I’ll even send a reminder email from my calendar a few days ahead – “Just a reminder about James’s party on Sunday afternoon…”

“Blocked” – This is designed for long blocks of time where no one can schedule time to talk or meet with me, nor do I allow myself to schedule time with others during this time. For example, Mondays are typically one of my “Blocked” days – days where I am 100% focused on building content and developing ideas for myself and my clients. Often times, I’ll add “Blocked” in 2-3 hour time blocks before noon because that’s when I am mentally the sharpest and most creative. I leave the afternoons for calls with clients and project work sprints.

ProTip: I use Calendly as the way for others to schedule time with me. It syncs with your Google calendar and you can set times when other people can schedule a call or meeting with you. Whenever I receive a request for a call or meeting, I just send my Calendly link to the person with a note – “Here’s my calendar. Just snag a time that works for you…” In that calendar, I’ve blocked out the morning hours so that no one can schedule a call with me before noon.

“lunch” – I need to eat, and I either walk to Whole Foods for a fresh salad and to buy fruit and snacks for the afternoon, or I’ve packed a lunch that I’ll eat outside of my office in either the common area or outside on a park bench. If I don’t book time to eat, I’ll end up eating while I’m working which isn’t productive work time and it robs me of the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful flavor of beets with bleu cheese or a crunchy, sweet apple.

“Workout” – Another must-do for me.I am unapologetic about this to myself and to clients. Yesterday, I went for a run with a friend (thanks Doug!) at 8:30am, so I blocked out from 8:30am-11am to give myself time for the run, time to eat and time to change back to work mode.

My schedule becomes very full if I let it. I maintain the Calendly calendar that anyone can use to book time with me, so I need to schedule my workouts or they don’t get done.

“Lena [insert event]” – These are work obligations or important events that Lena has – whether that means travel for her research or flying airplanes. I put these in my calendar so that I know why certain days are those days I’m required to drop off or pick up my son at school.

I’m now in the habit that whenever Lena tells me about an event she has – work trip, Angel flight, flying lesson – I will stop and immediately add it to my calendar. This also is a double-check for us that we’re covering important daily activities like taking Benjamin to school. For example, on days that I head to San Francisco, I usually take the 4:45am Amtrak, which means Lena would need to take Benjamin to school. If she has a flying lesson at 8:00am that day, we know there’s a conflict so either she will change her lesson or I’ll look at taking a later train and moving morning appointments to the afternoon.

“Hiking days” – Last year, Lena and I decided that we wanted to do at least one nature activity each weekend, whether that’s taking a long hike or just walking along Putah Creek together. We don’t always do this, but receiving a reminder a few days ahead is a good way to think ahead to the weekend and what we might do together.

“[INSERT] Party” – When you have a four-year-old, you receive an endless number of invitations – to birthday parties, Halloween parties, holiday parties and more. To make sure we don’t forget one, I book these in my calendar with reminders. From there, Lena and I can decide if we’re both going, or if one will take party duty while the other works, works out or simply takes some personal time to recharge.


The byproduct of “Schedule Everything?” Once you schedule EVERYTHING, you see how little time is left to get done what you want outside of your required obligations. This forces you to prioritize where you focus and what you do.

Now what?

  1. Go through your week right now and add a few of these suggested time blocks like “hold for prep” and “hold for long,” and “Work Sprints.” Layer in personal plans – workouts, date night, family plans.
  2. Add important events you know are upcoming for your spouse or partner, and if you’re not sure, you might want to have a conversation with that person… 🙂
  3. Stick to it for a couple of weeks and let me know how it goes…

Go Farther.

Love the Grind

Young Boy Wearing Business Suit and Jet Pack

Love the Grind.

There are days when the Grind is tough, really tough. One brush with the Grind can erase ten good things that happened. It feels personal. The Grind tests your mettle and forces you to choose – to create your own way, or follow everyone else; to find and learn and discover, or to sit complacent.

But without the Grind, what’s the point? If it were easy, everyone would do it. The Grind shows that you’re going in the right direction.

The worst case usually isn’t that bad, and living to avoid it is living fearfully. The best case usually never happens, and living to acquire it leaves you perpetually unsatisfied.

The Grind are opportunities to learn, opportunities to improve, opportunities to remind ourselves that we choose this. Maybe not the events that happen to us, but how we respond to those events. Choose to do hard things and expect that the journey will be hard. Walk the path of happiness, not the path to it.

Even when the Grind kicks us in the shins, the day offers so many gifts so that we can scoff and laugh at the Grind, because it’s just the Grind. It’s not our life.

My son wakes up every morning callin “Daaaa – Deeee.” His first words today were – “I wonder where that silly Elf is going to be today. I heard him flying around last night using his magic.”

“Really. You did?” I asked.

“Yeah. Now let’s go find him.”

Crisp mornings. Morning Pages. Five-mile lunchtime runs. A hawk resting on a tree branch. A walk around the block. $0.50 refills. Hot soup. Persimmons. A clean kitchen. Milk. Coffee in the pot, ready to brew. Words buzzing through my fingers. Warm sheets. A good night’s sleep. 4:30am alarms. Early mornings. A new day tomorrow. Knowing that the Grind will be there to greet me.

I know it’s there. I smile. I’m ready. Because I love the Grind.

Go Farther.

What I’m up to lately…. February 2015

Read Time: 4-5 minutes What I’What

If we haven’t chatted in a while, feel free to pick-up the phone and call me. If there’s anything I can do to help you with anything, please please please let me know…

Work Stuff:

  • Blend is the focus of my work life. Lots of travel to and from Dallas, with occasional travel to NYC and Washington DC. It’s been more than a year since I joined the team full-time, and we’ve grown the team about 3x since last January – 30+ people now.
  • The work is challenging, mostly because of the complexity of the projects and our target clients. We sell software to banks and lenders in the residential mortgage market, which in today’s world of regulation and compliance, plus the path dependency of existing systems and models, makes the decision and implementation process highly complex. In one implementation, I’ve counted more than 75 people on the customer side that have been involved with the process. That’s just one project at one customer.
  • It’s not particularly difficult work, just challenging from the standpoint of balancing the self-interest of everyone involved with each specific sale, plus the extenuating affects on other systems and people not directly involved.

Daily Practice:

  • Morning Pages: I wake up every morning and journal three pages – a practice I learned from Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.” I’ve been doing this for more than a year now. Very effective to figure out what’s going on in my head before the day gets going, and writing out three full pages is enough to talk myself through whatever is bugging me.
  • Meditation: This started with 15 minutes of simply sitting still and focusing on my breathing. After about a month, I’m now able to go 30 minutes and about 25% of days, I do a guided mediation. Tara Brach has been my go-to on this so far. I download the podcasts so I can have little session even on a train or plane.
  • Evening Journal: The evening journal is a quick sketch of the day – what I accomplished. This is a very short exercise – 5-10 minutes. It’s been super useful to bookend the day, and offers some closure so that I’m not waking up and writing my morning pages about stuff that happened yesterday. I learned this from a Tim Ferriss podcast with Josh Waitzkin.

Helping Others:

  • I’ve made it a sort of personal challenge to seek and find people to help in achieving their professional goals.
  • Just before Christmas, I downloaded my LinkedIn contacts and I’ve started pinging 2-3 people every couple of days that I haven’t spoken with in a while. I send them a personal message to the effect: “It’s a been a while. Looks like you’re doing great. Need help with anything?” Pretty interesting to see the types of responses. A few (just a few…) haven’t responded. A couple people respond back with – “Great to hear from you. Hope all is well.” And then a good chunk of people send back specific requests, most of which are things for which I can actually help – connecting them with people I know, sending them articles and ideas, etc. Check out this James Altucher blog post on how to be a “super connector.”
  • Coaching, Workshops, etc. – I’ve gotten involved with lots of different groups over the past six months, mostly around entrepreneurship and startups. Meeting really great people from all over the world, literally. A few groups with which I’ve worked recently – The Nordic Innovation Group, BelCham, Startup Weekend, Social Venture Partners, SAGEGlobal, Women’s Startup Lab, Hult International Business School, and UC-Berkeley Extension.

Life Tips:

  • Free days – I almost always take a “free day” on the weekends – one day when I don’t check email, or even think about work, an idea I learned from Strategic Coach, a coaching program I tried out about a year ago. It takes some real discipline to avoid checking my phone during idle moments – whether short moments in line at the store or longer stretches like my son’s nap time over the weekend.
  • Naps – Yes to these. I try to nap every Sat and Sun when my son goes down.
  • Decluttering – Been tackling areas of the house to get rid of stuff I don’t need or use. Worked through laundry room, living room, and kitchen so far. Started on my closet. Found receipts and documents going all the way back to the mid-1990s. WTF… Liberating to throw stuff away, and give away that which might be useful to others – clothes, office supplies, etc.

Training & Racing:

  • Coming off knee surgery back in September. Took me much longer to recover than I expected (which is why professional athletes retire at 40…) I’m finally back to 5-6 mile runs and nearly 20 miles a week.
  • Planning on a half-marathon this Spring, a short triathlon or two this summer, then a marathon and ultra-marathon in the Fall.
  • Ironman? I get asked if I’m doing another. I usually tell people that I have another 1-2 in me, just not this year. But soonish…
  • Learned lots of cross-fit exercises over the past year – has really helped me with balance and running with more of my body, not just legs. Here’s an example workout from New Year’s Day.

What I’m feeding my brain:

  • Podcasts: Tim Ferris, Tara Brach
  • Blogs: James Altucher, Jason Lemkin
  • Books (recent & current):
    • “The Art of Asking,” Amanda Palmer – Indie punk musician that figured out how to ask people for help. Great lessons in here that you don’t have to do everything on your own. Here TED talk is a good summary, and thought I do recommend the book for the full story and context.
    • “Annals of a Former World,” John McPhee – A book about the geologic history of the US. It’s a tome that I don’t plan to finish. It’s really five books consolidated into one, and the book that’s most interesting is “Book 4 – Assembling California.” Big focus on Northern California and researchers based at UC-Davis. It’s good bed-time reading. Three pages and I’m ready to snooze. I’m amazed at the amount of research and learning that went into this book.
    • “Influence,” Robert Cialdini – Re-reading. Good airplane/business read on exactly what you’d think from the title. Research based – not a “manipulate people” book.
    • “Principles,” Ray Dalio – Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater, a huge hedge fund. Super interesting read on how he approaches learning and communication.

And a huge thank you to Matt Slater, a friend and former student for the inspiration for this post.

Reducing my inputs

I’m taking more control of when I receive messages and notifications from the external world.

I’m finding that when I received a LinkedIn “connection request” or “so-so tagged you in a photo” on Facebook” or “your answer was upvoted…” on Quora, even if I didn’t look at it or respond to it right away, the notification showing on my locked screen and on the app icons are just too distracted. It’s like having a loose string on a t-shirt. I can live with it for about three seconds before I need to deal with it.

(PRO TIP: Here is a VERY detailed post on how to turn off notificaitons on your iPhone…)

Taking stock of my iPhone apps, there are only a few content and communication apps that I use – Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Quora, LinkedIn, Flowdock (work), and text messaging. I’m purging a few, and turning off notifications for others.

social-media-icons

So… decisions were made… Here’s the recount of my inventory taking:

FourSquare – Was on my phone home page and I only used it for airports and occasionally when I’m at a place like the Farmer’s Market where I like to snap a fun picture of my son of what I’m doing and post to Facebook. I never go back and reference places I’ve been. Who am I talking to here anyway?

Decision: Deleted

Facebook – Sorry friends. I really don’t look at what you’re doing all that often, and if I have a few idle moments of time – say in line at a store or airport, I want to fill that time with more targeted learning for my brain like podcasts or book reading.

Decision: Deleted

Twitter – This was a bit of a decision for me. I have a more focused list there of people I’m following, so in a way, it’s sort of learning through semi-curated content, except there’s still too much noise. The chances of hitting good content on the fly on my phone is too small. I have TweetDeck on my laptop and I have a few lists there, and whatever. I can find what I need when I need it.

Decision: Deleted

LinkedIn – This app made the cut.I’m keeping this one for now. I do use it when I’m going into a meeting (or in a meeting) to check out someone’s background and look for common connections and interests. (It’s also an app I keep open constantly on my laptop when I’m working.

Note: I’m also putting together a series of e-books on tips for using LinkedIn. Stayed tuned… You can sign up now right here and I’ll email you a copy when it’s ready.

Decision: Stays, with notifications disabled.

Quora – Somewhat personally curated content for topics that I chose. The quality is generally good, and mostly I use the mobile app to save questions that I might want to answer later on during a writing sessions.

Decision: Stays, with notifications disabled.

Flowdock – This is a work app that we use for internal chatter. This needs to stay on my phone, and I’ve turned off the notifications from showing on my locked screen. I have my account set up so that I receive an email when someone messages be here, and turning off the notifications prevents weekend interruptions.

Decision: Stays, with notifications disabled. 

Dear LinkedIn: You can do better with your UI.

Last night, I tweeted:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.47.35

And received this response:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.47.44

I consider myself a LinkedIn power user. I’m a Premium subscriber and keep LinkedIn open in my browser as part of my work flow  – identifying customer development and sales prospects, researching people on a call invite I’ve never met, and connecting with new and old contacts to continually build my network. Spending this much time in any application reveals warts, and LinkedIn is a pretty hairy toad.

So okay, LinkedIn. Here are a few – not all – of the problems I have with your UI:

1. Why do you shut off third party API access? I mean, I know why you do it. And it’s stupid. I received this email from RelateIQ, my CRM, yesterday:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.16.52

I just googled “linkedin api shut down.”

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.18.17

Silly. Just silly. You know that job change notification service you shut down? That’s how I got my current position at Blend Labs. I received one of these notices for our CEO when he updated his profile on starting the company. I thought – “Oh hey – I’ve haven’t talked to Nima in a while. I should ping him.” And I did. Three months later I was consulting for the company and now I’m the VP of Sales and Marketing. Pretty cool. Because of one simple, silly little email notification that you shut off. Thanks for that.

2. Why can I click the direct user page URL from a profile, especially if I’m connected to that person? I used the search box to find a contact and then clicked on the search result. See below. From this view, the URL is gobbly-gook. All I wanted to do is grab my contact’s personal LinkedIn URL to include in an email. Now I have click the “Contact Info” tab to find the contact’s personal URL. Ridiculous.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.40.47Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.50.33

3. Why can’t “Reminders” be added to my top navigation bar? I started using the “Reminder” feature in the “Relationship” tab. The only place I’m reminding is buried at the bottom of my daily email feed from LinkedIn which I don’t get to everyday or simply forget to check:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.53.21

4. If I am a successful InMailer, why can’t I get props for that? My InMail ratings are 5-star. I’ve sent out more than 50 InMails, and received responses for about 50%, with 100% of those responses giving me a 5-star rating. No joke. 100%. For the rest, a response wasn’t received and the InMails were returned to me.

If I’m that good on InMailing, why not give me credit? Think of it like NFL challenge flags. When coaches challenge two calls successfully, they get another challenge. If the goal of LinkedIn is to build networks, why not reward excellent networkers like me with more InMails.

Getting three (3) InMails per month is kind of crappy, with the next step to 10 Inmails or pay $10 per InMail. In most cases, I think $10 for a successful InMail is a really good deal all things considered. It just feels like you’re nickeling and diming me, or just pushing me up to the next subscription level.

5. Why is your Inbox pull-down UI so bad? 

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.04.32

When I hover over my mailbox icon, a pull-down menu shows my messages. The UI is so sensitive that clicking over the person’s name sends me to the person’s profile. To read the message, I have to remember to click on the gray space to the right of the message listing, which also happens to be to the right of the “Delete” button. The UI doesn’t discern for me what action I will be taking based on where I place my pointer. This is just bad usability.

6. Why can’t I tag, sort, or archive LinkedIn emails categorically?

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.07.56

I’m doing some heavy outreach this week, setting up meetings at conference next week. As I’m pinging and emailing with people, my LinkedIn email inbox fills quickly and I can’t sort, tag, or otherwise categorize my emails. Instead I have to use  “Search Inbox” to find emails. I’d like to tag emails and correspondence into buckets – i.e. by conference, by client type, by outreach method and source, etc. I can’t do that.

7. Why do you have two search boxes within the Inbox page? Do you know how many times I’m trying to search for a person by name in this top navigation bar only to get search results from my Inbox? So. Freaking. Frustrating.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.24.08

8. Why can’t I search more naturally? For example, I searched “duke university fuqua 2002” and the results were not ordered or relevant except for the very first result who was a classmate and a first-level connection. I have 10+ first-level connections from my MBA cohort in my Contacts. Why is only one shown and the rest of the search results garbage?

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.25.42

9. Why does the page reset after viewing a profile on “People You May Know?” If I take a few minutes to scroll through your suggestions and then click on a profile, when I go back to the “People You May Know” page, I have to start all over at the top of the page. I may have been scrolling down for several minutes before clicking on an individual profile. Blech.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.29.44

 

So there are nine ideas for you. That’s all I’ve got time to do. Time to get to work. And spend a couple of hours in LinkedIn.

What it took to retrieve a lost bag on Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor. [hint: too much effort]


amtrak

amtrak stations

I commute to San Francisco a few days a week, using Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor line from Davis to Emeryville, then the Amtrak bus connection to San Francisco that stops a block from my office. Wednesday was a normal commuting day, except that I had my carry-on suitcase in tow, as I was flying from SFO that night for a two-day business trip. I almost forgot the suitcase on the train in Emeryville, only remembering it because I happened to select the door to the left of my seat which led me past the storage shelf where I left it when I boarded in Davis. Whew… Crisis avoided.

After I disembarking the train in Emeryville and boarding the San Francisco-bound commuter bus, I placed the suitcase across from my seat in an open space.

Well, I think you know where this is going by now…

Here’s play-by-play of my story retrieving the suitcase after I left it on the commuter bus. Plenty of customer service lessons here from a company that clearly hasn’t thought through “Customer Service” from the perspective of the customer. I have praised Amtrak in the past, most recently during the BART strike in October:

amtrak bart strike

In the end, my suitcase was found and left at a spot where I could easily retrieve it. It only took me 11 phone calls and 46 minutes of phone time over 66 minutes to reach that conclusion. Too frustrating. Should have been 1-2 calls. Most of the frustration was due to a lack of communication system interoperability within Amtrak and how the front line Amtrak agents communicate with customers. Once I reached the back office operations team, the problem was resolved quickly. Getting to them took persistence. A customer should not feel that they put in all the work to resolve an issue.

This was my mistake – I’m the one that left my suitcase on the bus. I just can’t believe that I’m the only person that’s ever done this.

Here’s my phone log of the entire escapade:

amtrak phone log

Here’s the play-by-play:

7:40 – Disembarked Amtrak Bus #3323 at the corner of 9th and Market Street.

7:48 – Sat down at my desk and realized that I left my suitcase on the bus. I initially think this is a nuisance but one that should get figured out pretty quickly considering the proximity to the bus line that runs every hour near my office.

I thought this would be resolved by 1) called Amtrak Customer Service, 2) having them contact the bus driver via dispatch, 3a) ask the driver to either hold the bag for the next loop around and I would retrieve the bag or 3b) take it to Emeryville where I could retrieve from there. I expected 3a to be an acceptable and realistic outcome.

7:49 – Called the Amtrak Capitol Corridor line at (800) 872-7245. The recording told me – “Thank you for calling Amtrak Capitol Corridor. Our office hours are from 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday…” Now I’m annoyed that I need to wait another 11 minutes and the bus is moving along on its route.

7:50 – Called Amtrak main line reservations line and after six minutes on hold, I talked to a reservations agent that told me that the main Amtrak reservation system was not connected to the Amtrak Capitol Corridor system, and that I’d have to wait to contact Capitol Corridor (CC) when they opened at 8am.

8:00 – Called Amtrak CC line and spoke to Alexis. She told me that there was no way for reservations to contact dispatch at the Emeryville station. I asked if there was a phone number for the Emeryville station. “I know that the drivers are constantly in touch with the station. If we called the station, they could radio to the driver.” She replied – “ No, there is no phone number for that station. We don’t have anyway of contacting them.”

To reiterate, the reservations team is in Oakland, the next town over from Emeryville, and there’s no way to contact that station.

Instead, the agent told me that she could connect me to Customer Service “upstairs” at (510) 464-6995, which I learned after asking, is in the same building as her in Oakland.

I explained to her – well actually, I begged her – “Please understand – I am flying from SFO tonight for a business trip and I really need to have my suitcase. I’m sure you can appreciate this situation.” She told me – “There’s nothing we can do” and asked if I’d like to speak with a supervisor. I declined the invitation and asked her to transfer me to Customer Service.

I was greeted with a voicemail message – “If you’d like to leave a comment, please leave a message.” The recording also offered the Amtrak Lost and Found number in Sacramento. I didn’t leave a message.

8:13 – Left VM on the Lost & Found line. Their recording indicated that all goods found on Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor train would be delivered to Lost & Found in Sacramento. Now I’m really starting to worry that my bag will filter there for no other reason that I’m not able to speak with someone to stop it.

8:16 – Called back to Capitol Corridor reservations line and spoke to another agent. She also said the reservations could not contact stations or dispatch, and suggested that I talk to Customer Service. I explained that I had left a message with Lost & Found, and that time was an issue. She transferred me to Customer Service, where I was greeted with the same recording. I left a message this time.

8:37 – Posted a request to Twitter:amtrak tweet 3

8:40 – I realized another bus would be coming around for next round of commuters a block away very soon. I checked online and saw the next drop off time was scheduled for 8:55am. I walked outside, crossed street and saw the Amtrak bus already pulling over a block away. It was ahead of schedule.

I took off at full sprint and caught the bus driver. I explained my issue and to please call dispatch. He said he would and had to keep motoring along to make his next stops. I headed back to office.

8:43 – I called into the Customer Service line again and Georgeanne answered. A real live human!! Told her my issues and she quickly transferred me to Hubrit Harrington (sp?) in Operations. He took my info and said he would call me right back after contacting Compass Transportation, which is the outside company Amtrak Capitol Corridor contracts for the bus service.

8:50 – Hubrit called back and said Compass would contact me. I asked Hubrit if I could call him back with questions. He said he would be there until 11am, and if I needed to call after, to call back to Customer Service line and ask for Tamika White.

8:52 – Andrew from Compass called me to tell me that the bag has been found and would be left at Amtrak ticket office at the Ferry Building. He gave me his personal cell phone number in case I had any questions.

8:54 – I called Hubrit back to thank him for his help.

9:46 – My awesome wife saw my Twitter post on Facebook. She found the phone number for the Emeryville station that supposedly did not exist: 510-450-1080. Fortunately I didn’t need the number at this point.

11:49 – Ordered an Uberx for a ride to Ferry Building and back.

12:19 – Back at the office with my bag.

Phone numbers: Amtrak Capitol Corridor in Oakland: (510) 464-6995Amtrak Emeryville Station: (510) 450-1080