Why This 1-Page Productivity Approach Is a Game Changer

How To Better Harness Your Focus And your Energy

How many times have you come across something that is so familiar you almost dismiss it without giving it a second look….only later to find that you passed up a real gem?  That happened to me last month (again).

I read and curate a lot of content in a few key areas, productivity in particular, in order to condense it down and serve it up for others…..especially for my coaching clients.

So needless to say, when I saw an e-mail from Don Miller’s “Try This 30-Day Process for a Happy and Productive 2017” (make sure to download the 1-page pdf), my eyes began to glaze a bit and I almost deleted it along with the dozens of other e-mails I wasn’t interested in. I mean, come on: how many advertisements, products and e-mails do you get in December and January related to weight-loss, productivity, habits, resolutions, goals etc?  Besides, I’ve tried a number of approaches, tools and technology over the years and feel pretty comfortable with the productivity system I use. Why waste time looking at yet another approach that’s probably just the same thing rehashed?

I’m glad that when I got in my car something nudged me to click the podcast link in the e-mail I nearly deleted earlier.

Miller’s 1-page productivity schedule approach is clearly not the same old stuff rehashed. Better yet, it’s the first system I’ve seen that incorporates sound psychological principles designed to get you focused fast and at the same time stimulate emotional energy to fuel you once you get started.  It’s also the simplest. Needless to say, after listening I was intrigued enough to give the system a try for 30 days and it has been a game changer. I’m still going and it’s day 45+.

What’s different about it and why should you care? Besides using just 1-page (yes, as much as I hate to admit, paper is involved) and only taking 5 – 7 minutes to complete, here are the key distinguishing elements:

  • Key Projects for the Day: List only 1 to 3. It’s likely you’ll never even get to the third, and that’s ok.   Most systems recognize that you can’t get more than 3 really important things done in a day anyway. What’s different in this system is that you list the time you spent on these after the fact, not before. That way you feel good about the work you were able to get done vs how you measured-up to unrealistic time expectations.
  • Rest and Reward: These are really tied-into the section above, one for each project. You only have so much fuel before you fatigue mentally and need a re-charge. That’s just reality. Whether it’s a short walk, brief nap, meditation or 5 -15 minutes of some other mental diversion,  the idea is to take your mind completely off your project before coming back to it or moving one to the next one.
  • “If I could do life over again I’d….”: This utilizes reverse scheduling and comes from Dr. Viktor E. Frankl. He used this approach to help his client’s lead more meaningful lives by putting a reminder in up front about what was most important so that they didn’t get sabotaged by the whirlwind or daily-urgent. It seems to work well here too.
  • “Things I get to enjoy today….”: This part is based on Dr. Neil Flore’s work on procrastination. The bottom-line is that when we know ahead of time that we have something to look forward to and enjoy,  we get off the dime quicker and get stuff done. Intentionally putting that principle to work for you at the beginning when you plan your day helps you leverage it in a practical way.
  • Appointments: nothing new here
  • To-do: Not a lot new here either. The key difference is that this part is done at the end vs the beginning. Because the most important things in my day have already been laid out,  I’m able to identify the 3-4 “must do” whirlwind items that need my attention the most. Before, I’d get faked out by 10-15+ things screaming for my attention when in reality the number of things that really had to get done was much fewer.
  • My life theme: this is the last section and a great way to filter and decide whether the day you’ve now laid out is one that fits with what you’re most about. If not, you may want to revisit your project or task list to see if it’s something you could let go.

For me, the “Life lived over”; “Things I get to enjoy” and Life theme sections were unique and ones that give me the most lift. The other was putting down how much time I spent on something vs blocking time and getting all I could in during that time. Paradoxically, I get more done in a shorter period of time with this system.

Keep in mind that this approach is geared toward  and works best  for people who need to manage their own time.  The beauty is that if you’re a clinician or have a keep fairly set schedule of appointments, this approach can still be a useful tool on project days when you do have to manage your own time.

Starting off your day and aligning your focus as well as your state using this simple, 1-page evidence-based tool can help you be consistently more productive with your priorities and enjoy life more. How? By harnessing your emotions, psychology and focus so you can accomplish what matters most.

How simple and effective is your current method for planning your day and getting stuff done? If you don’t like your answer, I’d highly encourage you to give Don Miller’s a try…at least for 30 days.

If you decide to give it a whirl, leave a comment about what you experience. I’d love to know how it goes for you.

4 Questions That Can Make You Whole

Why Maturity Beats Growth Every Time

Growth. Bigger. More. Faster…..the list of what were being told we need and need to be doing could go on.  That message seems to be an incessant drum beat from the media and culture. What we don’t recognize is that the message for most continues to reverberate in our head and echo long after the noise outside stops.

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I’m all about growth and getting better. Early on that meant taking on more and saying yes. Later on I realized I needed to let go of some stuff and say “no” more. What I am finding out as the years have gone on is that a simple binary response to decision making doesn’t suffice. Life is not that simple. The good news is that it’s not that complicated either. The other news is that it still isn’t easy.

As I began thinking more about the person I ultimately want to become, a few things became very clear: there are some things I need to add, several I definitely need to take away, some I want to keep and others I realize that I’m just going to have to accept (and so is everyone else). My guess is that  this  probably resonates with you as well.

What Is Maturity?

Marshall Goldsmith beautifully lays out a model for maturity in his book Triggers and calls it the “Wheel of Change”.  It reminds me that growth alone isn’t the object; maximizing potential and effectiveness is. We’re kind of like fruit: best when mature. The closer we get to maturity the more able we are to operate effectively in our sweet spot and do so in a state of flow.

Maturity provides the context  for considering our strengths and acknowledging our limitations, which keeps unhealthy comparisons at bay.  Yes, its true: there are some things you and I just aren’t good at and never will be, even if we try to make ourselves feel better by calling them “challenges”.

The Wheel Of Change

Marshall Goldsmith’s “Wheel of Change” represents the interchange of two dimensions we need to sort out in order to become the person we want to be. On the positive side are the things that help, on the negative side are things that hold us back. The element that’s different in this model is that instead of always adding or taking away, there are things we intentionally decide to keep, or at least not try to change……even when we know they hold us back.

A 4-fold decision making framework:

Regarding what holds us back, ask-

  • What do I need to Eliminate?
    • While this  is probably the most liberating and freeing thing we can do, it’s also the hardest kind of decision to make. There are many reasons it’s hard, not the least of which is that losing something is always more painful than the pleasure we get from gaining something (known as loss aversion bias).  What we don’t realize is how much not doing this costs us.
  • What do I need to Accept?
    • This is probably the one we are most uncomfortable with and have the least amount of experience doing…intentionally, that is.  In fact, admitting the fact that some things just “are” can feel like defeat and giving in. However, it can be extremely valuable when we are truly powerless to make a difference in things, whether they be inherent to us or are external circumstances.  Make peace with it.

Regarding what helps us, ask-

  • What do I need to Create?
    • Most everyone loves this part and it’s almost always the easiest to do. Creating gives us a sense of self-direction and control. It’s important to not get faked-out with this one: are you creating what you really want or are you only reacting to external forces and pressure instead?
  • What do I need to Preserve?
    • It goes without saying that familiarity breeds contempt, and that can include our own accomplishments and what we’ve become. This choice isn’t as adrenaline charged as Creating and may even seem boring; after all, you’ve already been there/done that, right? The key is being self-aware enough to know what serves you well and then the discipline to stick to it, refine it and maximize it. New and shiny isn’t better….it’s just new and shiny.  I think it’s safe to say most of us don’t do enough preserving.

This model is a reminder that more is not better; better is better.

Which element of this model do you need to focus on most to get where you want to go?

Please leave a comment I’d love to hear.

How To Train Your Memory Like A Champ

It's Easier Than You Think

Could you use a photographic memory? I know I could and would love to have one.  The question is whether such a thing as a “photographic” memory even exists. While the phenomenon of eidetic imagery exists, what most people think of as a photographic memory has never been proven.

In 1993 I began preparing to become board certified in two physical therapy specialties and frankly, I wanted to become more effective in general. To me that meant I need to get a better grip on being able to retain facts and content. In other words, I needed to improve my memory.

Around that same time there were a number of educational and self-help programs being advertised on radio and TV. You know, the “….for just $19.95, you too can..…” kind and Kevin Trudeau’s “Mega Memory” program was one of them.  It look pretty good so I decided to give it a try. After all, the internet was still somewhat novel back then so I couldn’t just Google for something better.

The Ancient Art of Memory

The Mega Memory program turned out to be really, really good. And unlike his dubious weight loss cures (he ended up being sentenced to jail in 2014 for fraud), Trudeau didn’t invent the techniques and exercises included in his memory program

In fact, to this day I still use the memorization approach and techniques I learned in that course to memorize both short-term lists and more detailed content. Other names for it include “memory palace”, “journey method” and “method of loci”.  While it’s been around at least for over 2200 years,  Tony Buzan is commonly credited with bringing this ancient approach to the art and training of memory back into the limelight in modern times (along with Mind Mapping).

Modern day “mental athletes” are proof that this approach to maximizing memory and mental fitness really works.  Their competition includes 5 events, one of which is having to memorize the order of a shuffled deck of cards in 5 minutes; the others events may be even more difficult.  What’s revealing is that most mental athletes deny being any kind of savant. In fact most consider themselves to be of average memory and some deplore the notion of “photographic memory”, calling it a myth. So what’s their secret?

5 Key Elements

At the risk of oversimplification, there are 5 basic elements of this ancient art that appear to be key:

  1. Peg- This is something already familiar to you, like parts of your body (i.e. shoulders, ankles, knees and toes, etc.) or the rooms of your house.
  2. Anchor- This is the process used to associate what your trying to memorize with a peg that’s already familiar to you.
  3. Vivid- Visualizing what you’re trying to memorize even more vividly than real-life, which makes it “sticky” and easier to recall.
  4. Imagination- Another part of making something “sticky” and easy to recall; the more outlandish the better.
  5. Action- This is the “glue”  that makes what your trying to memorize actually “hold” and provides the energy for easy recall.

The process? For short-term things like grocery and to do lists, your own body usually provides a sufficient number of pegs to anchor the items your trying to memorize. Simply use your vivid imagination to turn them into something crazy, supply a little more imagination to make it stickier, and lot of motion to make ‘em hold and ready for recall.

For more detailed information and concepts you want to retain long-term, you need a bigger set of pegs that make up a coherent whole (hence the term “memory palace”) and add an additional element: string them into a story. The recall then becomes much easier as you push “play” and re-run the mental film that contains the motion picture you wrote, directed and produced.

As mentioned in an earlier post, focusing on memory and memorization has gotten a bad rap in modern education. The bad rap along with the fact that most people only know how to use a boring, rote repetition approach when memorizing content is probably why most people don’t do more if it. The good news is that  there is counter perspective as well as proven system that can help you improve your memory exponentially.

If you interested in learning more,  Moon Walking with Einstein by Joshua Foer is a great read.  It’s also inspirational: the author started out to simply do a news story and a year later ended up competing as a finalist the World Memory Championships!

As for me, I now have chapter 1 of the book of Hebrews memorized, am well into chapter 2 and I’m looking forward to having the entire book memorized by the end of the year.  And I’m getting it done by spending just 10 minutes in the morning and actually enjoying it.

If you’ve always wanted to build a better memory or memorize something big, the “memory palace” approach is one tool I know will help.  Regardless, even if you were able to simply double your current ability to memorize content with the same amount of effort (and have more fun while doing it), what would it do for you?

Leave a comment about what’s on your mind with this topic, I’d love to know.



Why Memorizing Matters More Than You Think

And What You Miss When You Don't

Nearly all those who’ve gone through our education system have heard the same message in one form or another: memorizing isn’t important, learning how to think is what really matters. At best the role of memorization has been relegated to the non-important and at worst, denigrated.

One of my goals this year is to memorize the book of Hebrews in the bible. It was overwhelming when I first considered doing it and frankly, I still find it daunting.  I think one of the main reasons I finally made the commitment is because a good friend of mine joined me.  And what I’ve experienced over the last couple of weeks while working on this goal has been surprising: it’s how much my neglect of memory discipline has impacted my thinking ability.

Critical Thinking Skills

Now I totally agree that the ability to think critically is….well…..critical, and that critical thinking skills are to be emphasized.  Couple that with the mind-bending technology we have at our fingertips that gives us access to just about anything you can type into Google, it would indeed seem that memorization of rote facts and content is now passée. Or is it?

Since our modern methods of data capture allow us to archive just about every sound, image or thought we care to record, we have it covered when it comes to archiving information.  That gives us comfort knowing that future generations will have what they need to keep moving forward. After all, civilization is nothing more than the externalization of our thoughts and memories.  Our technology also empowers us with the ability to retrieve just about any information we need in a split second and at the touch of a keystroke. So what could be missing and what else could we want? As it turns out, plenty.

Why Memorization Matters

Any benefit or gain usually involves a trade-off of some sort and it’s no different when it comes to modern methods of recording and storing information. So much so that many of us rely solely on our notebooks or devices to be our brain.  Here are some the “greater” benefits you lose when you let memory discipline go out the window:

  • Greater creativity.
  • Greater mental agility, stamina and overall “mental fitness”.
  • Greater neural synapse growth, number, and strength.
  • Greater ability to integrate information into new concepts and ideas.
  • Greater recall and integration of  important ideas, facts and details during discussion.
  • Greater ability to build longer-lasting memories faster and less painfully.
  • Great brain health and less age related decline.

While this is simply a a short-list and by no means exhaustive, it’s certainly attractive in a day and age marked by the early mental decline of so many.

What The Ancients Achieved

Prior to the printing press, most people had to rely almost exclusively on memory to communicate what was important to each other. And while writing seems to have been around as long as man has,  the tools needed to do it weren’t convenient(think chisel, stone, papyrus, quill,  etc.) and belong only to the learned and wealthy.  Writing back then was primarily used to record and transmit all that was important from generation to generation, not to serve as an external brain like it usually is today. But that’s not all.

Memory way-back-when was considered to be ars memorativa, or the “art of memory”. It was also considered to be the foundation of character, virtue and learning.  It was how:

  • Roman Senators delivered long speeches.
  • Limited copies of books were disseminated and shared via recitation with those who would never see a copy or couldn’t read.
  • Laws were understood by an uneducated populace.
  • Technical skills that often required lengthly processes were mastered and applied.

To deny the remarkable achievements of the ancients is simply chronological snobbery.

Lessons For Today

I agree with David Allen of GTD fame that our brains are made for thinking and not placeholders of information. That’s only if the term “placeholders” means transitory to-do lists, trivia and other stress-producing factoids that can be classified as minutia.  On the other hand, if it’s rich information, content and thoughts that have been refined by the minds of many over the millennia then I passionately disagree; let’s not confuse the two. In fact, its the latter that gives us the foundation and fodder we need to think critically and creatively in the first place.

Current brain science and the achievements of the ancients send us a strong message that the process, discipline and content of memorization are important.  Are we listening?

The real issue is how people of yester-year developed their mental fitness, memory capacity and integrated it into their critical and creative thinking. What was their secret?  As it turns out, there is one so stay tuned!

How much meaningful memorization have you done lately? It matters more than you think.

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.



4 Keys To Crushing Your Really Long Reading List

And Which Is Most Important

Reading can be like exercise and eating right. We know if we were better with both those we would be a better person. In fact, if we were really good at them we could likely be transformed.

Like the two disciplines above that have been the resolutions of millions, most people aren’t where they want to be with their reading. For many (like me), an expanding book list can be just as troublesome as an expanding waist-line.

There are a lot of things that keep us from what we want and know are in our best interest. It’s no different with reading. The other reality is that despite the endless variety of “stuff” that keeps us from making progress with the reading we want, only about a 1/2 dozen reasons make the biggest difference.

If you’re serious about wanting to make progress with your reading, you need a reading system that works.  And what I’ve found over the last two years is that by getting conscious about and implementing the following four things, you can make amazing progress:

4 Keys To Crush It

  1. Know your “Why”. What is the overarching purpose you have for reading in the first place? Some read for information, others amusement or escape and most read for combination of reasons. There are a lot of reasons to read and it’s up to you to figure out yours…and then keep it front and center.
  2. Know your “What”. This deals directly with the books you you choose to read.  It may be what’s on your really long book list right now, at least before you cull it after figuring out your “Why”. Use the pyramid concept to help you decide: Is it for amusement or information, gaining practical skills, to get better in work and life or become more enlightened?
  3. Know your “How”. The how will be determined by both your “Why” and your “What”.  There are essentially 4 types of reading you can use to get the job done; make sure to select the right one. Having a 1-size fits-all approach is the second biggest mistake when it comes to reading.
  4. This is the most important Key. Block time in your schedule to read consistently and then engrain it as a habit. Failing to do this is by far the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to reading.

Simple…..And Easy Not To Do

Seems too simple, right? If it’s so simple then why don’t more people do it? I’m not sure. Perhaps the best overall answer that what’s easy to do is also easy not to do. What I do know is that after I put that fourth and most important key in place, I read 50 books that year. What did it look like? Simply reading 30 minutes 6-days a week as the last part of my morning ritual. And that was before I was even conscious and intentional with the first 3 keys. By incorporating the other three keys I was able to double my reading this year (no joke).

What would your reading list look like in 30 days if you simply read for 30minutes a day?  Think big and imagine what your reading list would like if you put all 4 keys in place and “baked-in” a reading habit over the next 12 months. What would it look like then?

If this topic resonates with you then go ahead and make a risk-free experiment: put at least one of the keys in place and see what happens.

Once you do, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it.