Monday, December 31, 2012

Where To Go? Who To Take?

What’s 2012 been like for you?

I’ve been making my lists as I suggested last week. Like you, I have some good, some less-than-good, some things I need to repeat and build on in 2013 and some things I’d like to change.

That’s life, ain’t it?

We live in the now, but if we look at life as a marathon instead of a sprint we see some uphill slogs, some downhill coasts and some stretches of flat.

If we make good choices we can often create situations in which we get to choose what the challenging stretches will be like. And, we can soften the more difficult parts of the race by choosing with whom we run.

A long time ago I mentioned a lesson I learned that really says it all. We have two choices to make: Where we want to go, and who we want to take with us.

I hope today—the last day of 2012—you’re thinking about where you’ve been and where you want to go.

Tonight, I hope you’re with those whom you want to take with you.

Have a great, safe New Year’s Eve!

Friday, December 28, 2012

List #2

If you tried the exercise yesterday you’ve come up with your list of things that went right last year and a few things you’d change.

Here’s your assignment for the weekend: Imagine it’s December 31, 2013. What are the 3-5 goals, accomplishments or activities that, if you can make them happen in 2013, will mean you’ve had a great year?

Writer and futurist, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says if you have more than 3 goals you really don’t have any. If you have many more than that the whole process gets unwieldy and too complicated…but you can stretch it to 5 if you’d like.

So, what are your 3-5 goals? Don’t forget to be specific. Saying, “I want to be happy” isn’t a goal, it’s a wish. What specific goals, accomplishments or activities give you the feeling of being happy? Being with a specific person or family? (How often and in what types of situations?) Losing weight? (How much and by when?) Making more money? (How much and by when?)

Most people don’t like to think in these terms because it takes too much thinking time and effort…and, if they don’t reach the goals they feel like failures. The reality is that ANY progress in the direction of your goals is good thing.

And, if you truly want to feel happy most of the research shows striving for worthwhile goals is a great way to create feelings we all interpret as happiness.

Finally, how will you track your progress? You could use something as simple as a notebook with goals listed (your probability of success jumps dramatically when you write down your goals), your cellphone, a list on a sheet of paper on your refrigerator…it doesn’t matter how you do it…just keep track of how you’re doing.

Go online to and you’ll see a process to make successful changes in your life.

Does this seem like too much trouble? For most folks it will be. That’s why most folks, as Thoreau said, “Live lives of quiet desperation.”

What would make next year a wonderful year? What would it take to make it the best year of your life?

Think about it over the weekend…see you on Monday…New Year’s Eve!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Let's See Your List

This is the week and weekend all the 2012 lists start coming out…you know, the Best of, Worst of…those kinds of lists.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a “Year’s Best Sports Stories” list, this Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning they’ll have a list of all the people of note who passed away this year, every publication/tv network/online journal will have a list of the best restaurants that serve food so small you think it’s horrs doovers and is so damned expensive that only people with expense accounts get to eat it…and so on.

So, today’s the day you need to start working on your list and here’s the reason why: (get ready for the gratuitous quote from a long-dead Greek) Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

In other words, it’s hard to get where you want to go if you don’t look at where you’ve been.

Now, class…for your assignment (and don’t worry about next year just yet).

Come up with a few lists. What are the 5-10 best things that happened to you in 2012? What are your 5-10 proudest accomplishments? Who are you glad you met in 2012? What 5-10 things would you change about the year if you could?

Write’em down if you like or simply think about them. The list questions make great meal and party conversation-starters.

I’ll go first…a couple of the best things that happened for me during 2012 were…… 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Two Words--First Word--Two Syllables

I’ve played the party game Charades more in the past few days than I’ve played it in the last 30 years.

Trying to get people to guess a movie, song or book title; a phrase; a person’s name; or an idea can be incredibly frustrating…and tons-o-fun!

Using hand motions, facial expressions, sounds (not allowed in some versions) and body language to convey words and ideas is a type of language. We do it all the time in our everyday life and don’t usually realize it.

 In 1983, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner wrote Frames of Mind and said that humans have seven types of intelligence. Kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to make your body do things other people might not be able to accomplish.

When sportcasters said, “Michael Jordan is a genius tonight!” they weren’t talking about his grades as a geography major at UNC-Chapel Hill. They were noting his ability to make his body do things beyond what the average person could do.

I think Charades shows a type of kinesthetic intelligence. Your ability to make connections between words and ideas and bodily movement is a type of intelligence. Some people are great at it, as I’ve seen during the games I participated in, and some people’s attempts are simply…hilarious.

If, like me, you haven’t played Charades in awhile, try it this weekend. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Were the Mayans Right?

If the Mayans were right this blog won’t really matter…we’ll all be gone by tomorrow.

If they were wrong we get a reprieve!

Think about it this way: What if you could start over?

What would you do? What wouldn’t you do?

Yes, I get the fact that it is somewhat simplistic to say, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

But…it’s true.

If you could start over in one area in which you have the power to do it, what would it be?

Have a great weekend if there is one…see you Monday...I hope.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I'm Worried

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Leo Buscaglia

I’m worried about five or six things right now.

And, I realize the reality that worry doesn’t help the situation.

So, here’s what I’m doing:
-        - For some of the things I’m worried about I’m asking questions and trying to discover if I truly have anything to worry about or if I’m imagining the worst.
-        - For others I’m slogging bit by bit through the muck of dealing with them, knowing that sooner or later the muck will end and the situation will be dealt with.
-        - For one of the situations I’m realizing that I stepped in it and the best thing I can do is keep my mouth shut and hope it’ll simply blow over.
In each case I’ve asked myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Finally, as for the whole Mayan end-of-the-world scenario, I’ll be at a party…worrying.

What are you worrying about, and how are you dealing with it?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Does Your Car Say?

A friend of mine, a manager in a good-sized organization, hires people on a regular basis.

He has an interesting interview technique. Usually the job he’s hiring for requires multiple interviews so he and his staff can get to know the person before offering the job.

As a final “interview” he’ll take them to lunch…and he’ll make up some excuse about his own transportation so they have to drive. He’s looking for two things: How they handle themselves out of an office environment, and what their car is like.

He’s not necessarily interested in the type of car they have. Although, he knows a hybrid/budget/luxury/soccer mom van/sportscar/truck kind of ride can say something about a person’s priorities.

He’s looking at how they neat, clean and well-kept the car might be. His take on all this is that if they have a car that looks like an episode of Hoarders they probably will have a work area that ends up looking like that and his experience has shown him that they could be a person who is disorganized in how they work and think.

We all have signs or tells, as poker players call them, that give indications about who we are and to what we give value. As I’ve noted before, if you look for what people spend their time and money on you’ll see what’s important to them.

What are your tells? In simple terms, what does your ride say about you?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Keith Richards

Today is Keith Richard’s 69th birthday.

Someone once said that if there was a nuclear war the only two things left living would be roaches and Keith Richards.

Being the lead guitarist for The Rolling Stones has to have been—and is—an adventure. Richards’ describes his new autobiography, Life, as a way to, “pick up the pieces of the broken mirror and put them back together.”

While most of us might not have lived life at the pace, intensity and level of a rock and roll star most of us, if we make it this far, are putting the pieces of the broken mirror back together to see what we have to work with for the rest of the journey.

Mick Jagger will be 70 in July, Keith Richards is 69, and they’re still rockin’.

There’s hope for the rest of us.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

One Clean Sheet of Paper

This week I had the opportunity to present “Getting It All Done: Time Management for Champions” to managers of the Holt C Stores company. These folks are managers of convenience stores in Southeastern North Carolina and they are fun, quick and smart.

One person had a great system for communications and organization. When she gets a call from a regional manager, has a meeting with an employee or is in any situation in which she is going to get instructions on what she needs to do—she has a sheet of paper in front of her on which she notes the task or writes the steps to getting the task done.

In fact, she won’t answer her telephone if she is not in a situation in which she can get that sheet of paper in front of her.

“There is so much going on around me that I can’t afford to rely on my memory,” she explained. “But, I can rely on writing it down and being able to go back and check it out.”

In addition to having information written down another secret to the method is that she has to slow down just a little bit in order to focus on the process and the task.

In today’s world in which most of us are running at Mach 2 with our hair of fire anything that slows us down and allows us to focus—even a little bit—is a good thing.

Have a great weekend…and be sure to get that last shopping trip done so you can relax next week and weekend…I’ll see you Monday.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Totally Clean Desk...Yes!!

I’ve had a totally clean desk for over a week.

No, I haven’t been out of town.

A little over a week ago I made a commitment to have and keep a clean desk. I cleared all the stuff off my desk and put it away.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, I have a table and shelves close by on which I can put all the books, piles of paper, my iPad, Christmas cards to send, a couple of Christmas presents, a camera, a stack of CDs and an empty tequila bottle with my picture on it that some friends made and gave to me.

Yes, you’re right, I’ve simply transferred a lot of my stuff from one place to another. But, there’s a difference…

When you sit behind a clean desk and place materials in front of you it’s easier to concentrate. As I’ve noted in the past, when you are looking at a messy desk you’re looking at a visual To-Do list. Also, walking by my office and looking in and seeing a totally clean desk is uplifting…walking by and seeing all that stuff on my desk was depressing.

Now, I can simply reach over to the table or shelves and take the one or two things I need to work on and bring them to the desk. Focus is better, mood is better, and I’m getting things done more efficiently and effectively.

Even if you’ve got to move all that crap on your desk to the floor you’re better off.

Try it and see if your mood doesn’t jump. At the least you’ll embarrass some of your co-workers into cleaning up their space…and that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Angry Birds, Really?

From what I hear today is the 3rd anniversary of the creation of the video game, Angry Birds.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never played Angry Birds. But, it’s had over 12 million downloads from the Apple app store and over a billion downloads across phones, iPads and other tablets, desktops and other platforms. All the activity makes it one of the most popular games of all times.

According to Wikipedia, “Angry Birds has been has been praised for its successful combination of addictive gameplay, comical style, and low price.”

The phrase I found interesting was addictive gameplay.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking… “Yeah, those people who play video games are wasting precious time they could using to get something useful done!”

Mmm….how much time did you recently spend of Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or…well…you get it?

So many of us spend time doing things other than the productive activities that would make our dreams come true.

And, I’ll take my hit on that. I have a ton of things I need to get done and I’m looking for ways to keep from doing them.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Anything, But Not Everything

Ran into a conflict of philosophies over the weekend.

Ever since I spent the summer of ’72 sitting on a lifeguard stand and reading Think and Grow Rich and The Success System That Never Fails and The Magic of Thinking BIG I’ve been hooked on success literature.

The basic lesson I took away was that you could have anything if you were willing to work at it hard enough and smart enough.

Here I am now, 40 years later, and I realize that for four decades I’ve made a mistake. I erroneously believed that having anything meant having everything.

Recently, I ran across an essay noting that wanting everything is an immature way of looking at life. Children want it all. The old T-shirt stating, “The one who dies with the most toys wins” is just that...a T-shirt.

Adults are more selective in their wants.

My bad.

I still believe you can have pretty much anything you want if you’re willing to work at it. The key, though, is to make good decisions about your definition of the word anything.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Help Our Heroes

Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege to speak to a group at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Ft. Bragg; smart people, focused, and great senses of humor.

 After the program I walked through the Special Forces Hall of Fame. Looking at the pictures of warriors going back half-a-century, reading some of the Medal of Honor citations, and watching young warriors walk the halls was humbling.

As I told the group, “The fact that I can travel to Fayetteville from Raleigh, not armed, not fearing that someone would try to harm me, and knowing that no one would stop me and ask for my ‘papers’ is thanks to you and the millions who came before you and made our country safe.”

Today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

The only ways we can repay those who have sacrificed so much for us is to support them in their efforts, support their families, and care for them when they come home.

Have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The 4-Hour Chef

I don’t do a lot of endorsing other than to suggest resources, but if you haven’t seen Timothy Ferris’ new book, The 4-Hour Chef, you need to check it out.

In fact, if you have family or friends who love food, love learning, love life, you need to get the book for them for Christmas.

I love cooking and, yes, it would seem at first glance that this hefty book is all about cooking. But, it’s really about learning…anything.

You’ll get your investment back on the 60-70 pages focusing on Meta-Learning. You’ll find shortcuts on how to learn anything, and be able to learn it in a fraction of the time you might have taken.

Ferris is the author of The 4-Hour Work Week and The 4-Hour Body.

I’ve read both books…have read The 4-Hour Work Week three times and every time I think, “I should drop what I’m doing and go full-bore into something new!”

The 4-Hour Chef is a go-to gift for this Christmas. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

What's Your Phase?

My devotional reading yesterday focused on the phases we all go through.

Good, bad, positive, negative, growth/stagnant/regressing, we all go through various phases in our lives.

No matter what the condition of the phase might be, usually we all keep moving.

(Although my brother did tell me once that I was stuck in 1972-73.)

If we don’t keep moving even a good phase eventually turns stagnant and regressive if we don’t learn new skills/attitudes/feelings.

We can go through different phases in different areas of life at the same time. I’ve often noticed that in three basic areas—work, relationships and physical—I can never get all three of them trending up at the same time. If work is going great I’m making money and can afford to do fun things in a relationship, but I’m spending so much time on the road and doing seminars that workouts (physical) aren’t doing well. If workouts are going great it probably means I have too much available time so I’m financially shaky. And, if relationships aren’t doing well the negative feelings impact the other two areas.

The key to moving through phases in a positive way is to ask yourself, “What’s going well in a specific area and how did I make that happen?” Can you take the same techniques and make them work in the problematic areas of life.

Here’s a good, quick example: Planning helps in any phase of life. Taking a little time to plan, even if the plan doesn’t work exactly as you would have hoped, helps you feel more in control and less like you’re wandering in the wilderness.

What phases, in what areas of life, are you moving into/through/out of right now?

Friday, November 30, 2012

How Do You Spell "Fun"?

This morning I’m presenting an old favorite. I haven’t had a chance to present, “FUN Is Not a 4-Letter Word!” in quite awhile.

My basic point in the presentation is that as we get older it’s easy—with all the adult responsibilities, increasing aches and pains, and recognition of mortality—to forget that life is supposed to be about having some fun and doing some good.

It’s difficult to find fun sometimes. The recent election mess, Hurricane Sandy, the usual troubles in the Mid-East (and no, that’s not an athletic conference the ACC is stealing teams from), and  all the fiscal cliff yammering by media and politicians create an atmosphere in which it’s an uphill slog to see life as an experience in which we can have some fun.

But, truly, I think that as we drive through life we should blow the horn, turn the radio up loud and squeal the wheels as we turn every corner.

For a couple of years I hit some fairly difficult times but things are better now because I actively went out and made a point of looking for fun…and I found it.

Rarely does fun come knocking on your door and asking you out. You’ve got to walk out the door and out into the middle of the street looking for it. Sometimes you have to walk down the block and knock on fun’s door and ask it out. It’s all up to you.

I know this sounds harsh: I don’t want to hear your problems; the reasons you can’t have fun. I’m facing a ton of my own life challenges right now and I’m still having fun.

I can hear you right now, “But Mike, that’s you!”

No…that’s you.

Have a great weekend…do something fun!

See you Monday.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Like, Umm, Urr, Ahh...Whatever

Are there words or phrases you use too much?

A friend told me she and some of her colleagues recently attended a presentation by a person whom they knew used, “Umm,” “Ahh” and “Urr” between comments.

During the presentation they kept score, marking a page each time they heard the sounds. It’s a fun game to play but distracts the listeners from the real purpose of the presentation or meeting. The high score was 32 in a relatively short presentation.

Ask a trusted colleague to be aware of—and tell you about—your overuse of certain words.

We all have friends who overuse “like” or “whatever” or “it is what it is.” Many years ago my grandmother stopped me in the middle of a story and said, “Mike, you say, ‘You know’ a lot. Did you know that?” I immediately became more conscious of the habit, started noticing how many of my friends used the term, and stopped overusing it.

After awhile it becomes easy for listeners to be distracted from the focus of our comments by the overuse of throwaway words.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wonderword and Looking at Life

Every Sunday I start working on the Wonderword puzzle. You probably have one in your newspaper.

Wonderword starts with a list of words relating to a specific topic such as “Going to the Zoo” or “Your Car,” and next to the list there’s a square framework with lots of what look like random letters in columns. But, as you look more closely you can find the words from the list vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and backwards.

Once you skim through and catch the easy finds you have to get more creative in how you discover the words. I’ve found that different people do the puzzle in different ways.

Some folks go straight through the list, in order. They don’t move on to the next word until they find the work they are looking for. Other people look for any word on the list by starting with the first letter and looking at the eight letters surrounding it. If there’s a letter that matches the second letter in the word they are seeking they check to see if the next letter after that matches what they need, and so on.

I have never completed the puzzle. I always get to the next Sunday with unfound words on the list.

Life can be like the Wonderword puzzle. Some of what you want is easy to find. You have to really work to reach other goals. Some of the goals will never be reached unless you have a list of really easy, simple goals…or you don’t have a list at all.

The great thing about life, though…if you have a positive outlook…is that each day you get a new puzzle, a new chance.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Have NOT Been Watching Dr. Phil!!

Noooo. I’m not watching Dr. Phil!! I’m…uh…watching a rerun of the Oklahoma/Nebraska college football game from 1973!!

Ok, ya caught me…as comedian Ron White would say, “Ya caught The Tater.”

I had recorded Monday’s Dr. Phil episode because Julie Morgenstern, a time-management and organization specialist I like, was going to be on the program and I thought I’d learn something…which I did…but not from Morgenstern, who was on for about 5 seconds.

The show was about two couples having significant challenges finding time for themselves because they have so many family responsibilities. In one couple the guy was simply an immature dope and wouldn’t help his wife clean up around the house. The other couple had ten kids (which tells me they found a LOT of time for themselves but were only doing one thing with it) and organizing their home was like managing the 101st Airborne being deployed.

Here’s the first thing I learned: Couples relationship research shows the first four minutes you spend together when you encounter each other sets the tone for what the rest of the time will be like. So, when you come home at the end of the day you need to be sure and make the first four minutes positive. If the first thing you’re doing when you walk in the door is complain the probability that the rest of the time ain’t gonna be good is pretty high.

I’m thinking the logic may work at work, too. Without being too literal on the four minutes limit I’m thinking that if one of the first things you do when you get to work is say “hello” in a positive way and catch someone doing something right it may start your day and their day off in positive ways.

Here’s the second thing I learned (and yes, it’s a cliché and we’re all supposed to know this, but not enough of us do it): For a relationship to be successful, whether work or personal, each person has to spend some time learning what the other person wants out of the relationship. Then, again, if it matters to each person that the relationship be successful, they each need to negotiate getting what they want. It might be an easy negotiation if each agrees, “Oh, you want that? Ok, I’ll do it.” Or, it could be a stretch, “Oh, you want THAT?” “Uh, mmmm….ok, I’ll need to think about it a little.”

Either way is ok because it gets the parties communicating and working together.

And here’s something I re-learned in the last 48 hours, and I didn’t learn it from Dr. Phil: It’s the working together part that matters. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Today Starts the Sprint

Today is now dubbed Cyber Monday by retail businesses. That means it’s the day thousands of people sit at their computers at work and shop online instead of doing the work they put off last week while waiting for Thanksgiving.

For much longer than the Cyber Monday phenomenon today has been the start of what I call Sprint Month. It’s the end-of-year sprint to complete all those sales goals, projects, personal agendas and ideas that have been floundering or put off for the previous 11 months.

Sprint Month is reality staring you in the face.

So, how do you decide what needs to be done in Sprint Month? As Curly (actor Jack Palance) said in the movie City Slickers, “You’ve got to make the main thing the main thing.”

What is the one project or issue that helps you feel more secure; financially, emotionally, professionally, physically, spiritually or in relationships? That’s the main thing.

Now, what do you want the main thing to be like on December 31? If you can create a clear vision of the outcome you want on the last day of the year you can step back from the vision, the bull’s eye, and ask, “What would be the step just before completed the goal?” And then, what would be the step just before that? Keep working your way back until you get to where you are today.

The process is called reverse engineering. It’s a great way to plan the steps you need to complete to get to the goal.

Another method is to simply use a brainstorming exercise to list all the steps in no particular order, Then put the steps in a logical order.

Your first step, no matter what method you use, is to determine the main thing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turkey on Tin

In about an hour I’m headed to Ft. Bragg for a meeting about an upcoming program. Anything that gets me to the home of heroes is a good thing.

Before you start celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow remember the thousands of Americans all over the world who’ll be eating their meal on tin plates or out of MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) packets. They won’t be enjoying a peaceful meal, some tag football in the backyard and a lazy nap during the afternoon NFL game. They’ll be standing to post on our behalf.

None of us have the lives we have on our own. Someone, somewhere, some how made our lives possible.

This is the time of year to thank them. Or, to say a little prayer of thankfulness for them.

Have a great, safe Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is Your Turkey Thawed?

Most folks today buy a frozen turkey, thaw it out and cook it for Thanksgiving. Not that many folks are able to buy an unfrozen turkey and cook it within a few days.

So, is your turkey thawed?

How smart is it to stick a frozen turkey in a 350/500-degree oven? Or, dropping a frozen turkey into a boiling pot of oil to fry it?

MMMM….not very smart on either count.

You’re a smart person. You know, as I do, that you have to thaw your turkey, prepare it, before you cook it.

Life’s like that; you have to prepare, get ready, pay your dues, whatever you want to call it, before you can get what you want.

Now, I’ll be the first to agree that you can go to a restaurant and pay for a great Thanksgiving meal. Thousands of people do it every year. It’s easy, no mess, no clean-up.

Life’s like that, too. If you have the resources you can simply pay to quickly get what you want. I don’t think you appreciate the getting if you don’t do the doing, but, hey, that’s just me.

If your turkey isn’t thawed you’d better get going. Thursday’s only 48 hours away.

If your life isn’t what you want you’d better get going. Eternity starts right now.