How to Be An MVP at Getting Big Things Done

Why Doing The Minimum Gets You The Maximum

Plans are necessary, good and can be exciting. In fact, being an Enneagram 7 I love to plan and think of all the possibilities. So much so I can get totally derailed by the planning process…..and be faked out into thinking I’m making tangible progress!

What I really like to do is execute. I want to get stuff done, see the final product and reach the goal. After all, nothing breeds success like success. And nothing can sabotage it like trying to “go big” when your trying to achieve big things.

The Secret To Achieving Big Things

So what’s the secret to achieving big things? Starting small.

The most effective form of internal motivation is making progress….any type of progress.  Behavioral research and at least the last 50 yrs of experience in the business world has clearly demonstrated that to be the case.

The more I thought about it after reading through Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism for the third time, I realized the simple concept of incremental progress lies at the heart of most popular and highly effective productivity approaches. Here are a few:

It also underlies the foundation of the Solution Focused Coaching model, which is “small steps successively approximated lead to big change.”

How To Go Small To Go Big

So what’s the secret to “going small to get to big”? Using the MVP approach to get MVP results.

Minimal Viable Preparation (MVP): the key concept is to start early and small. Take a goal or project and ask yourself “What one small thing could I do right now to support it?” Here are some examples:

  • Writing a book: On day 1, just make the file folders that will contain each chapter’s content. Done
  • Big presentation coming up: Open and name the presentation file (or save a copy of the template file you use with the name of the presentation). Enter the title and jot down a few quick points. Done
  • Key stake holder meeting: once scheduled,  take 10 seconds to write down the main points you want to cover.  Done
  • Major project: Write down the first three action items you need to accomplish, then block time on your calendar to do the first one. Done

Minimal Viable Progress (MVP2):  It’s been said that “Done is better than Perfect”. How true, because perfect never really gets done! Instead of perfect or even grand, focus on the next small step by asking yourself this question: “What is the smallest thing I can achieve that will actually move me a bit closer to where I want to be with this?”

In addition to actually getting stuff done vs adding to the pile, we reap more enjoyment and satisfaction when we take small steps to make big change.

I have to admit I was tempted to bag writing a blog post this week, which is packed and includes travel. I took the MVP approach instead. At the end of Monday I just created a file, named it, and jotted a topic down. That’s it, done. A to-do item on my list for the next day was “open file”. The rest is what you’re reading here.

What’s one thing you’ve been putting off that taking an MVP approach would help you get started with?

Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your results.

5 Seconds To Change Anything

Why It Starts In The Morning And How To Make It Happen

Your alarm rings. You reach over and hit the snooze button. Repeat(edly). Is this you? According to Sleep Review, that’s the case for over half of you reading this post.

In their 2014 survey they found that 57% of Americans (and 70% of Brits) were snoozers, admit to staying in bed more than 5 minutes every morning and were still tired when they finally woke up.

Prior to 2013, that would have described me in the morning.  Not anymore.

Because I had been a serious life-long snooze-button-hitter up to that time (often 30 minutes), deciding to change was daunting.   I think it gave me an idea of what it must be like for a smoker when he or she decides to quit- a little bit of nervous excitement and a lot of fear…..of failing yet again.

You Snooze, You Lose

The motivation to make a switch came after reading the chapter in Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book Buried Treasure entitled “The Dangers of the Snooze Button” .  There’s a lot there and the two realities that struck me the most about hitting the snooze button were that we:

  • make our first action of the day to procrastinate.
  • limit our day by surrendering to our physical desires.


To my surprise, I was successfully made the change from hitting the snooze button to jumping out of bed immediately from day 1. It was much easier than I thought and I’ve only hit my snooze button twice in the last 3.5 yrs.

I hadn’t thought too much about why I was successful with it and failed all the other times until l read Mel Robbins’ book “The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage.” I saw right away that I had used the 5 Second Rule without knowing what it was, which shows how simple and effective it can be.  The other good news is that works with about anything we want to take action on or change in our life. Jumping out of bed first thing in the morning is a good place to start.

What’s the 5 Second Rule?

Simply this: the moment the time comes or you have an instinct to act on a goal or item, you count backwards “5-4-3-2-1” and then move.  Both counting as well as moving are critical.  Counting backwards (forward doesn’t work) interrupts your default self-preservation and pleasure mode of thinking and opens a channel for your mind to think in a different direction. When you couple backward counting with movement your physiology changes, your mind falls in line and you get the activation energy you need to make things that are tough for you happen.

Unlike planning and contemplative executive decision making, our decision to buy as well as act in the moment are driven predominately by emotion and not cognition. In fact, once you’ve planned and decided to do something courageous or difficult, thinking about it more when it comes time to take action makes it less likely you’ll actually do it! Instead, you’ll hesitate, have just enough time to go into flight, fight, faint or freeze mode which then gives your brain enough time to think of a million ways to justify not doing it (i.e. make excuses).  It’s the kiss of death to change efforts.

How Does It work?

There are over 10 cognitive behavioral principles related to change that are leveraged in some for or fashion for any change effort to be successful. If you want the detail, Mel Robbins’ blog does a great job of elucidating these change principles with brief text and diagrams as well as a video if you have time to watch.  The great thing about the 5 Second Rule is that it’s a simple, single technique that impacts all of these. In essence, it’s a “starting ritual” that allows us to leverage our neurophysiology in a way that serves instead of sabotages our own best interests.

The Reward

Here are two other beautiful things about the 5 Second Rule:

  • Repeat it often enough and your change efforts become habit, so no more backward counting to get off the dime.
  • It has an overflow effect and begins to show up almost automatically in other areas you hadn’t thought of as well as when you need to take action most.

Using the 5-second rule first thing in the morning can help you overcome the resistance that holds you in bed and that holds you back in the other moments that matter most.

We all have our own “Why’s” for what we want to change. Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan gave us the What. The 5 Second Rule gives the “How” to get moving. And while the Rule doesn’t necessarily make things easy, it does make things happen. Especially first thing in the morning, which is a great place to start.

If you used the 5-second rule to pop out of bed tomorrow morning, how much more time and energy would you gain?  If you’re one of the ~25% who don’t hit the snooze button at all, what’s your greatest challenge or opportunity to leverage the Rule with?

Please leave a comment and let me know how it’s going for you….count backward from 5 if you need to.

How To Do More Of What You Love

And Less of What Drags You Down

How many times have you wished for more time or thought you never had enough time to get it all done? Perversely, the other side of this coin is “brag-plaining”. You know, the person who talks about how busy they are and considers getting four hours of sleep a night something to be proud of?

Maybe you’ve been this person at times; unfortunately, I know I have been.   We all want to be more productive and less busy. Note: activity does not = accomplishment.

If it seems harder than ever today to get stuff done that’s because it is.  The reality is that nearly all our institutions equip us with skills and a mindset for being really great industrial age workers when we live in a hi-tech, hi-speed knowledge economy.  No wonder we feel overwhelmed most of the time.

Sage Advice from the Past

Ironically, we can turn the tables on our productivity dilemma with some sage advice from the past.

My great grandmother’s approach to getting stuff done in a nutshell was “I just take it (life) like it comes, not like I want it to be”.  The words of Vietnam POW Admiral Jim Stockdale that have come to be known at the “Stockdale Paradox embody the same idea in a fuller way:

  • Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be
  • Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties

That approach and mindset is the foundation for successfully dealing with most things in life and your productivity is no exception.  However, you still need a framework to successfully execute and maximize your ability to get stuff done.  That’s where I think Michael Hyatt’s “Free To Focus” (FOF) productivity course fills a gap and provides an reality-based model to leverage your productivity.

Learn to Recognize

Reflecting on my experience after taking his online FOF course in the fall, I think these are the key elements of his model that turn the current way we think of productivity, and it’s industrial age twin sister time management, on their head:

  • Recognize you can’t manage time– you can only manage yourself, your priorities and your energy.
  • Recognize your self-limiting beliefs– once you do you can replace ones like “I don’t have the time” with “I have enough time to accomplish at least one thing that matters most.”
  • Recognize what you really want to be and do– these are the things for which you have both passion and proficiency. When you do operate in this zone you experience “flow”  and freedom, even when working hard!

What’s Your “Zone”?

Once you get your mindset where it needs to be and know where you really want to go, it’s time to look at where you are really at. To do so requires you recognize where your current action and productivity intersect with your passion and proficiency. Hyatt calls this the “Freedom Compass” and describes four zones:

  1. Desire Zone- you have both passion proficiency; it’s the “true north” where you experience flow and freedom.
  2. Disinterest Zone- you have proficiency with no passion; you’re good at these things and they still leave you bored and drained.
  3. Drudgery Zone- you have neither passion nor proficiency; these are simply a grind and leave you drained.
  4. Distraction Zone- you have passion and no proficiency, therefore these are often an escape. If an activity in this zone isn’t learning something that might move into your Desire zone then drop it like a bad habit.

The Key

The key now is to start doing more of what’s in your desire zone and doing less of everything else. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not initially. This approach does get easier as you learn how to spend more time getting stuff done in your Desire Zone. Hyatt’s FOF course is a great tool and one I highly recommend when it launches again in the fall.

Remember, regardless of whether the facts of your current situation are brutal or not, retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties along the way.

We all have 24/7 and time, unlike energy, is a non-renewable resource.  And while will-power is energy draining, accomplishing what matters most is freeing and energy replenishing.

What would it do for you to spend  50% more time in your favorite “Desire Zone” activity?

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it.

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.

3 Things That Get Us Off-Course And How To Get Back Again

So You Can Do What Matters Most.

Ever been under a time crunch or have a pressing deadline yet find yourself processing e-mail, checking social media or making small talk instead of doing what matters most?  I don’t know about you, but I find myself doing more of that than I want. What’s worse is when I recognize it and then spend another 15 minutes or more doing it.  Can you identify?

While getting off course and losing focus is costly to anyone, it can be a death knell for those privileged to serve in a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) and students.

I think the insidious and subtle nature of losing focus and getting off course is what makes it so common….and difficult to overcome. For example, I recently was working on a deadline to get a module of an on-line course completed. As part of the process, I had to access my e-mail for some information that had been sent to me.  The next thing I know, 17 minutes had passed and I found myself replying to yet another message that had nothing to do with the task at hand; in addition to the several like it that came before. What’s up with that?!

We don’t need data to let us know losing focus and getting off task is a common problem; that much is common sense. The bigger issue is knowing what gets us off task. Once we do, we can avoid losing focus in the first place as well as get back and stay on task when we do get off course. So how do you practically do that?

First, accept that staying focused is a daily discipline to be cultivated. The natural tendency is to get off course – it’s normal.

Next, identify which of the following three sources are keeping you from getting done what matters most:

  1. External Difficulties- These could arise from circumstances, people, things or events. If you’re able to prevent or avoid these, then do so. For those you can’t or those arising unexpectedly, use the same GTD principle used for processing your in-box:
    • Do it/deal with it immediately
    • Delete it (let it go completely)
    • Delegate or Defer (have someone else handle it or schedule a time to deal with it later).
  2. Internal Conflicts- These come in all shapes and sizes. The good news is that many relate to the common distortions, deletions and generalizations we tell ourselves. Educating yourself on what these are and how to combat them with the truth will give you an immediate advantage when the tape starts playing in your head.
  3. Distractions- This has become the culprit to most likely get us of course. In days gone by, secluding yourself in a quiet room would be fairly effective in minimizing these…..that is no longer the case. If anything, seclusion with no accountability can make matters worse. In our knowledge information and knowledge curation age, technology is ubiquitous and distractions are intermingled within our work. It’s no longer a matter of keeping distractions at bay, it’s about handling and eliminating them without losing yourself in them.  My course building/e-mail experience I described above is a great example of what can and often does happen.

Finally, how do you take action when you do become aware you’re drifting off course and need to get back on track? By asking yourself two key questions:6601229 - macro close up of a piece of driftwood found on the beach in suffolk, uk

  • First, “Where is this coming from?” This helps you determine which of the 3 sources of distraction you’re dealing with.
  • Second, “What’s the best next step to get back on course?”  This moves you to take action immediately before the Law of Diminishing Intent sets in.

The foundational element related to all this is to be intentional!  If not, then you can expect to keep drifting.

So, to sum it up:

  • Accept that staying focused is a daily discipline to be cultivated
  • Identify which of the 3 sources is getting you off course
  • Ask yourself 2 powerful questions to back on course again

What gets you off course most often and how is it costing you? What are you currently doing to get back on course and stay focused. Please leave a comment, I’d love to know.