The Personal Development Commute

Activities like reading books and learning new skills are usually some of the first things to fall off someone’s to-do list. Unfortunately, they are also the very things that can change our lives. In relation to that, I often hear and have previously given the excuse of ‘I don’t have enough time.’ The trick then is finding some time that you’re already spending and making it more productive and efficient.

For instance, when I do go into our office, I have a long commute in the car. Well, luckily years ago I decided that I would use this, as Tony Robbins calls it, NET (No Extra Time) to do something productive.

Through books on tape, CD and now iPhone I have ‘read’ hundreds of personal development and other books while I’m driving to work. I’ve learned Portuguese and refreshed my German language skills while driving the NJ Turnpike. I’ve picked up skills on how to do DIY projects around the house while driving to the shore. The possibilities are endless.

The newer world of podcasts has opened up an entire new content universe of learning where I get to spend my commute listening to knowledge that is unparalleled. Podcasts have been the biggest change in my personal development commute in the last ten years. Check them out.

Next time you think to yourself, I don’t have time to learn X,Y,Z pull over your car, open some video on youtube and listen to it through your car as you travel.

Matt

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Letting the Big Picture Stop You

Last week, on two separate occasions and for two different reasons, I was asked to thoroughly explain how the tasks different people were being asked to do were connected to a bigger picture or master plan. While on many occasions this makes total sense, I believe in these two situations the people were really just using this as a way to escape from actually doing the work.

Sometimes you just have to start the task or project and get work done.

Finding new and more creative ways to try and stop yourself from getting work done, by making it seem like you’re just trying to be strategic, is only hurting your progress. In certain cases, you just have to believe that the person asking for the work understands the higher purpose, sometimes you just have to remember what was talked about for the higher purpose at the beginning of the journey, and sometimes you have to just call bulls&^t on yourself and realize if it’s a hiding tactic.

Climbing the tree and ensuring you know you’re headed in the right direction is important, but being on the ground and chopping through the woods efficiently and effectively is also important.  Know which role you play on the team and when you just want a break from chopping, that’s when the real magic happens if you can push through.

-Matt

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The Power of the 3rd Party

A surefire method I know I can break myself out of a productivity rut is to find some way to get third party pressure or reinforcement. Having someone or something help prod me along or complete a portion of the work is sometimes exactly what’s needed.

Some of the examples of third party pressure or reinforcement I’ve used include public deadlines, working directly with someone else, hiring someone else to work with me on a project, working in a more open environment where people see what I’m working on, and telling people I really respect about what I’m doing. I love this example too of hiring someone to really watch how the person was working.

Using a third party has also been incredibly impactful in areas where I need to get something done that might not be exactly what I love doing or am best at. I’ve used sites like upwork and fiverr to find people who love doing the part of the work I might not. Sure, I do plenty of things that I’d love to smarter source, but having the knowledge of how to and following through on getting at least some things done in alternate ways really helps maximize my productivity.

When I set out to work on something I try to think through how it can most successfully get done.  Many times that involves finding ways to incorporate various forms of third party help. What’s the thing you’re working on right now that could use the help of someone else?

-Matt

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Being Fulfilled One Task At A Time

Over the last decade I have been a crew member at Tony Robbins events around the US volunteering in various positions and helping out with whatever was needed. One of the most favorite parts of what I get to do as crew is be a member of the fire team that is in charge of logistically creating the fire walk experience for participants.

Creating the physical part of a fire walk involves an enormous amount of hard labor that takes place over two days outside in whatever weather is happening at the moment.  I have put together wheelbarrows in the snow, carried water soaked mats of grass in the rain, and swept parking lots for hours in the sun.

No matter where or when I’ve been a part of fire team over the last decade, I’ve never heard anyone complain or criticize about the amount of work. In fact, there are always more people wanting to be on the team to do that work than there are spots available.

During one particularly great reflection session with the team after we were done cleaning up we started to uncover why. Why are people so fulfilled, so happy, and so energized by whatever is being asked of them?

Yes, there is a sense of mission that happens being a part of such a great overall experience for thousands of participants, but it’s much simpler than that. People feel immersed and elated in their work because they’re singularly focused, and not multi-tasking.

When you’re putting together a wheelbarrow, that’s all you’re thinking about in that moment.  Later, when you’re unrolling mats of grass to form a part of a fire walk line, you’re immersed in that grass on that lane. When you’re in charge of ensuring there’s no debris that can get on someone’s foot in a parking lot, you’re sweeping and not worried about doing anything else.  Being single focused and accomplishing that thing gives you a sense of joy. Going on and only focusing on the next one allows you to become happily lost in the sensation of being focused.

Single-tasking is not only more efficient, more effective and more productive, it’s also more fun and fulfilling.

-Matt

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Only During These Hours

Last night I was trying to rent a specific tool from a big box hardware store.  I had called ahead to ensure it was in stock, borrowed a truck to pick the tool and the supporting materials up and checked out at the cashier in the store with the supporting materials I needed the tool rental for. After all that, just as I’m going to wheel everything out of the store, the person behind the desk finally told me that I couldn’t rent the tool because they only do that during specific day time hours.

How many times have you wanted to do something and found out that it’s only done during specific hours. How often have you found that those hours are exactly when you need it.

Now, in this instance I’m not looking for 24 hour tool rental, although judging by the three times I could have used a 24 hour tool rental (floods, emergencies) I think there is possibly an opportunity there, I was just hoping that all parts of a store would be available while the store was open.

In the end, I waited around the store an extra 75 minutes while, after a lot of prodding, an amazing customer service person tried to figure it out. By the time it was over she had figured out how to do the transaction that only this mythical person at a certain desk could do during those certain hours and I had the tool.  Of course, had the store spent 15 minutes to train her on that transaction previously she could have had me out of the store an hour earlier and helped even more customers who have come in ‘off hours.’

The internet has made this a non-factor for many things. However, there’s still plenty of times, and plenty of audiences, where things just can’t be done or aren’t currently being done on the internet.

When’s the last time you asked yourself, what do people want from me at certain times that I’m not giving them?  What else could you train someone else on to cover for you during those times?

-Matt

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My Top 15 of 2015

Well I wanted to continue the tradition again this year and post my Top 15 of 2015. I loved writing the 14 for 2014 last year and this year was just way too great to stop the tradition. It did become too long though to just paste onto Facebook. I hope you’ll still enjoy it though, even with the length, but really it was just a great exercise for me to digest the whole year.

As I started to build this list I also realized that the first 15 things I wrote down were all related to times I spent and things I did just with my immediate family. So, I’ll keep that list more to myself and re-did it to be broader focused.

Here it goes – in no particular order:

New Habits – I feel like this year I really integrated a couple habits I had been trying to add to my daily routines. Of most note is integrating the app ToDoist into managing my life and all the ways I now use that, and how I consistently use it. One way I use it I’ve really gotten a lot out of this year is adding a weekly task on my to do list where I add highlights and things I’m grateful for from the past week. Looking back on that list now and seeing all the things noted down through the weeks is amazing.   Two other quick notes I feel like I made progress on are integrating a daily health habit (juicing or going to the gym) and continuing to have a more bias for action mindset. One I’m really looking forward to integrating in ’16 is a daily mindfulness or meditation type of practice habit through an app like Headspace or something else. I even have a mindfulness retreat already scheduled.

Action Camp – While ‘running/designing’ a summer camp has been on my life bucket list for years, it took a 10-minute conversation with my co-conspirator in all things, Steve, to make it happen. Within three hours after that conversation we had secured a camp and sent off a deposit – with no other plan than ‘we would figure it out.’ That commitment set off something that has left a lasting impression on others and me. I really can’t even explain camp itself (and the 4 video editors we’ve tried on fiverrr can’t make a decent highlight video – but I’ll keep trying) but Rachel sums up some thoughts here. Most importantly for me, camp was a great lesson in seizing every opportunity, what can happen when you bring great people together, playing big, how to mix fun and learning, and the greatness that can happen from taking action on that thing that I know I’ve always wanted to do.

TEDxJNJ, IRF, Global Summit, xL and everything Creative Engagement – there’s just too much to talk about because I get to work with the greatest people at the Company and get to work on and design what we think is the best thing we could be doing. I even posted about TEDxJNJ last year, and this year was a whole new level of that and all of the things that have now branched out off of that. More of the story in this TEDxJNJ Story as well as our overall Annual Report. Again humbled by the vision of Steve G.. We even had an amazing team follow us around planning this year’s event and it resulted in this hour-long documentary on the work. Helping to build the Idea Responsibility Framework (IRF) is something that was a real highlight as it was going from nothing to something in a short amount of time that’s now benefited thousands of people and it was just the beginning of the next phase which I’m sure I’ll be writing more about next year.

Burning Man – Scratching yet another thing off the major bucket list was great, but it was also great because it was one of the hardest and amazing experiences of my life. One minute I was run down and crying in the middle of the desert and the next I was riding a bike with my feet off the pedals screaming ‘I love this place.’ Wind and sand pelting you in the face all day at 50MPH is no joke. Seeing the art, the happiness and what people create in the middle of harsh conditions is inspiring. Getting to spend time in extreme places with old and new friends is great. You know it was great when you get home and you can’t talk for like 3 days, I can’t wait to go back.

Dinner Parties – It started with a ‘risk’ themed Jeffersonian Dinner party in Vancouver in Feb. that had us all start with sharing stories of big risks we’ve taken and since then it seems that 2015 was the year of the dinner party.   Whether it was having our neighbors over for dinner, going away dinners for colleagues, catching up with Lenzini in Philly, Vanore in Vegas, and even Steak Club I’ve loved grabbing dinner with folks this year and having great food and conversation. Date night sushi dinners were the best though. That first dinner party this year is also where I finally learned how to sabre champagne. That could be a whole item on it’s own since it’s now become an obsession.

Humbling Moments – I love when a story or moment reminds me about my place in the world. This was a particularly important one to me this year. It’s the eve of our biggest event of the year. We’ve been working extremely hard for months planning a great experience and now it’s here. We’ve been on site working for a day or so already, it’s 10pm at night day 2 of 5 and everyone, including me, is pretty damn tired and also feeling pretty good about ourselves because what we’ve created. Then, I get a text and a facebook link to a news story about a great friend Joe. Joe’s a police officer in the town next to the one we’re holding the event in and earlier that day a woman threw a baby off a bridge into the water and Joe got the call on the radio and immediately sprang into action. Within minutes he had spotted the baby 700 yards down river and pulled the baby out and gave it CPR, bringing it back to life. In that moment I stopped what our teams were doing and told them the story. Everyone was energized to go back to work. In those moments where I think what I do is hard, I think of the stories I’ve heard from Joe over the years and the work that he and his fellow officers do. Needless to say, I have an extremely easy job in comparison.

Becoming an HR Person – Starting a new role in a new function (my fourth major function in my years at JNJ) was exciting, but it got even better as the year went on and we got to build all types of new programs (like our xL program for changemakers around the company) and redefine what we wanted to work on in our group. Sometimes taking the leap into a new function, place, role is exactly what you need.

Getting Back to Global Travel – In my first couple years at JNJ I got to travel internationally a bit then starting doing more and more vacations overseas. I haven’t really done so in a while and didn’t realize that I missed it. Getting to do it for work this year to some really far off places reminded me that 1) I do love getting to see new places and 2) I do really miss home after the first couple days. I hope some travel continues, but not necessarily at this pace and length. I am trying to figure out some new places for next year though so that’s exciting. As Mark Twain said “travel is fatal to narrow-mindedness” and it’s been a mind opening year.

Kindergarten – Z man starting kindergarten meant getting to see his prev. school’s graduation pic (which was pretty freaky because he looked so grown up), him getting to now take the bus (which lead to getting to know the neighbors more), and him starting in a new school he’ll be in for a while. It’s so much fun to watch the kids grow up.

Paddleboarding – For the first 20 or so times I went paddleboarding this summer I fell every time, all the time. Then it just clicked (equipment change) and by the last half of summer I could stand up the whole time. Even when I was falling there was something perfect about being out in the ocean, far enough away from the breaking waves of the shore, in the early morning when no one is on the beach. The feeling of being a part of nature, while also feeling incredibly small compared to the ocean is enlivening. Also feeling like I was doing something healthy inspired me to focus more on my health since the middle of summer, which has led to some good results.

Captain Penny of BizTravLandia – there is nothing more soul wrenching than long travel for work and leaving your family behind. I’m not one who is good at getting the standard family gifts too when I travel so I was elated when I came up with (hopefully) a better alternative. After finding some cool, heavy iron, antique looking keys in a flea market in Antwerp I thought about mailing them to the kids with a note from an imaginary Treasure Hunter named Captain Penny who was trying to find the lost treasure of BizTravLandia. She needed the kids help to keep the keys safe from the bad guys trying to steal the treasure. The kids seemed into it (not as much as me probably) when the box arrived a week or so after I got home and we read her note aloud. On my subsequent trips I went to look for things that could be part of this mythical treasure hunt and wrote letters as Captain Penny explaining them to the kids. I’m hoping to keep this going for at least a bit longer on new trips and it’s really made me feel connected to them when I’m away. Thankfully they’re still young enough to not get that it’s just me.

Arts & Crafts – they keep the kids busy, they’re exceptionally cheap at stores like AC Moore and seeing how the kids have evolved in making arts & crafts and seeing their creativity expand is amazing. More importantly, arts & crafts is also how Z man found a new best friend this year and seeing how they love playing together is a very cool thing to witness as well.

Working with my hands not on a keyboard or touchscreen – Compared to the last few, I feel like this year I also got back to doing more things that let me work with my hands in a different way. Got some DIY type projects done around the house (although lots more on the slate for ’16), built a couple cool things with/for the kids, rigged up a fix for my air ducts, and even cooked out over an open fire with the kids a couple times in the backyard. I can answer 1,000 emails and go to 100 meetings in a day and feel a sense of completion, but not a sense of completion like cooking something on a fire I built or sawing and drilling wood to make something that takes up physical space.

Fun – I pretty much have fun with everything but there’s been some really great things this year to call out like: Vegas with Team Eric, Pie Face, the drum corps at DEB and getting them to come play at work, getting a pizza delivered to a moving Amtrak train, the Ratz restaurant sing-along, the anticipation of waiting for Star Wars, my high school reunion, making the basement even more fun and just hanging there at home. A really special fun one was one of the greatest thank you’s I’ve ever received. Another fun project was turning five years of every day blog posts on the kids site into coffee table books. There’s something awesome about seeing five years of posts in physical form. Most of all, the shore this year was outstanding!

More Art – I feel like I deepened my appreciation for the arts this year. I know how powerful it is to expose yourself (and kids) to the arts (general term for all types of art) and so I’m excited that this happened more this year. More plays and performances with the kids, an art immersion at Burning Man, meeting an amazing artist I just got to know at Summit at Sea, getting to see various other amazing performances, and making progress on some ideas that will come to fruition in the future. I even have a recurring task on ToDoist that poses the question “how can I get exposed to the arts even more.”

There’s so much more and many I missed, but this is already a book. But hey, it should be a book – it’s about an entire year and when you focus on the positive and good there is plenty of positive and good stuff to talk about. I can’t wait till next year and hope to read your list very soon. Let’s make awesome stuff together in 2016.

-Matt

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Millions of Hours of Work on Display

At this year’s TED conference I was incredibly moved watching an impromptu artistic performance by Bill Jones, Joshua Roman and Somi. When the host of that session, June Cohen, returned to the stage she articulated the reason many of us were so moved by saying “that’s what happens when you watch people actually doing what you feel like they were put here on earth to do.”

Since that experience at TED I’ve happened to feel that same thing watching performances by the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal and the Philly Pops Orchestra. What’s really intrigued me about those experiences is thinking about what I’m actually getting to experience.

It’s not only about watching people do what you may think they were put here on earth to do, but it’s also about the combined amount of effort, practice and preparation that is on display.  Getting the privilege to watch these performances is getting to watch millions of hours of hard work channeled into something amazing.

How many hours per day and days per week has Bill Jones been perfecting his craft for more than 40 years?  How many hours has Kent Nagano from the OSM spent directing musicians and perfecting the performances he can obtain from them?

The Philly Pops concert had 325 performers on stage at one point.  If you took an average amount of hours of practice per day, by week, by an average number of years it’s roughly 6.3 million hours of practice and craft summarized in a 90 minute performance.

6.3 million hours.  How many hours are you willing to invest in your next project?

-Matt Kane

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