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 time that you’re already spending and making it more productive and efficient. For instance, when I go into the office, I have a long commute in the car. Years ago I decided to use this No Extra Time (NET)–as Tony Robbins calls it–to do something productive.

Over the years, I have “read” hundreds of personal development and other books while I’m driving to work through books on tape, CD and now iPhone. I’ve learned Portuguese and refreshed my German language skills while driving the NJ Turnpike. I’ve picked up skills on  DIY projects while driving to the shore. The possibilities are endless.

The newer world of podcasts has opened up an entire new content universe of learning. Podcasts have been the biggest change in my personal development commute in the last ten years. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series – a classic where amazing people come to share in a class at Stanford.
  • Entrepreneur on Fire, John Lee Dumas – quick and a high level of energy, John address issues through conversation and interviews
  • Ask Altucher – James Altucher’s daily Q&A podcast
  • The James Altucher Show – Jame’s longer form weekly podcast interview series.
  • The My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast – great stories about the beginnings of online businesses, inspiring to hear about different people ‘starting.’
  • The #AskGaryVee Show –  I loveGary Vaynerchuk’s stuff and this has a great range of digital info and business insight in general.
  • The Tim Ferriss Show – a little on the longer form side but Tim always comes at things from an interesting perspective.  Plus, just hearing Tim reminds me to think+do his other teachings.
  • Mad Marketing by Marcus Sheridan – the Sales Lion is one of my favorite finds in that he has absolutely amazing digital / business related content, but isn’t one of the  “brand names” in the field so it is even more real.
  • Accidental Creative – always great stuff about creativity, digital, etc..
  • Bigger Pockets Podcast – all about real estate investing.  I thought I knew about real estate and this is inspiring me in completely new ways in regards to real estate investing.

Next time you think to yourself, “I don’t have time to learn X,Y,Z” download a few podcasts or open a YouTube video and listen while you commute. 

Don’t Let the Big Picture Stop You

Recently, 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. On many occasions this makes total sense, but I believe in these two situations the people were using this as a way to escape from 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 (like making it seem you’re trying to be strategic) is only hurting your progress.

In certain cases, you have to do one of the following:

  1. Remember that the person asking for the work understands the higher purpose
  2. Recall the discussion about the higher purpose at the beginning of the journey, or key it in to the organization’s mission
  3. Call bulls&^t on yourself and discover 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.

Power of the 3rd Party

A surefire method to break myself out of a productivity rut is by finding 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 I need.

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. Here are some examples of third party pressure or reinforcement I’ve used:

  • Announcing 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
  • Telling people I respect about what I’m doing.
  • And, I love this example of hiring someone to watch how the person was working.

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 source smarter, but having the knowledge of how to and following through on getting some things done in alternate ways really helps maximize my productivity.

 What’s the thing you’re working on right now that could use the help of someone else?

Being Fulfilled One Task At A Time

For more than 10 years, I have been a crew member at Tony Robbins events around the US, as a volunteer in various positions and helping out with whatever was needed. But my favorite part is being a member of the fire team in charge of the logistics of 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  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 do that work as a team member than there are spots available.

Why?

As a fire team member, why are we so fulfilled, so happy, and so energized by whatever is being asked of us? During one particularly great reflection session with the team after cleanup, we started to uncover why.

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.  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 stab someone’s foot in a parking lot, you’re sweeping and not worried about doing anything else.

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

Allow yourself to become happily lost in the sensation of being focused. 

Sliding Ideas Into Action

Here’s a reminder:

  • if you want something to exist in the world, it’s even better to take action on it vs. just throwing the idea out there.
  • sometimes the actions or next steps don’t have to be huge undertakings – like trying to make something all yourself.
  • utilizing the right platform and community can make all the difference in turning an idea into reality at a faster pace.
  • no matter what your idea is, someone else probably already has it too.

Read more on Idea Generation here.

 

Start The Work And Everything You Need Will Appear

A few years ago, I was offered the honor to speak at an event but I almost missed out. I kept putting off the process of sitting down and figuring out what I wanted to say. I felt like I had a great opening, but didn’t have the full story of what I wanted to get across.

I procrastinated for far too long, then things I never expected started to happen.

The more I thought about it, the more potential content I gathered. The more I talked to people about it, the more they provided insights that took me on amazing new paths.  One day I was walking around outside and there were new signs in our parking lot that completely related to my topic. After a quick mention to a colleague, he sent me something that he saw months earlier in Canada that became critical to the story.

Once I started working, everything I needed started to appear. All I had to do was start.

Developing Great Teams With Small Investments

Recently I was at a meeting where they brought in various teams from around our Company to showcase the work that they were performing.

Unexpectedly, I recognized someone who I hadn’t worked with or seen in 13 years running one of the booths. We immediately hugged hello and fell back into an old level of comfort with each other, laughing while talking about past stories, catching up on what we’re doing currently and what’s happened over the last few years.

After processing that encounter, I found myself wondering why I seemed to have a better and more authentic connection with a person I hadn’t seen in 13 years and only worked with for a shorter time compared to many others I have worked with either longer periods of time or more recently.

Many pieces play into group dynamics and connections, but looking at the traditional factors didn’t seem to uncover the answer. There had to be more. I really wanted to be able to find the answer so I could try and use that to continue to build great relationships with the teams I work on and people I work with.

That’s when I realized the difference between the strong bonds that had been formed more than 13 years ago versus some of the more tenuous bonds today.

When we were working together years ago, there were many more offsite and not-directly-work-related interactions. Our teams and colleagues spent more time doing things out of the office together and we had more support for little things like team lunches and offsite dinners.

Great relationships build great teams and great teams accomplish great things easier.

Since that’s the case, why do budget cuts first target the very things, like off sites and team meals, that can help build great teams?

So, the next time you hear about a startup or some smaller company hosting happy hours or buying everyone lunch realize that it’s not only a nice perk, it’s a strategic investment in accomplishing great things.

The next time someone asks you for budget for what may seem like fun vs. work related activities, realize it will pay off much more in terms of the work.

The Power Of The First Project

During a social network analysis class (not the Facebook type of social network), we were breaking down how work actually gets done in organizations when the instructor said,

“People in new positions fail because they don’t have the network needed to do their new job”

The quote meant a lot for me because I had just started a new role and because I have led groups that had new people in it many times. Finding out why some people in new roles fail and others thrive is very powerful information.

Relationships are key to getting work done in many organizations.

Here’s a great way to set up someone in a new role for success: make sure that the first couple projects they work on will increase the number of people they get to meet and start to build trust with in the new organization. Help them build a great network.

Maybe it’s not the most crucial project to the bottom line, but it could be the most crucial project to future success of the person you just hired, or yourself.

On Choosing A Path

Ten years ago I was coming back from a business trip and found my self waiting at the baggage claim for the bags to start coming out. I had just spent 2 weeks inside an office in the beautiful mountains near Grenoble, France.

It was an overnight flight, so I was a little groggy when all of a sudden two paths for my life became instantly clear. It was like a fork in the road, with brightly-lit signs for both paths, had appeared right there at baggage claim. Each of these paths were being represented by two distinct groups of people.

Path 1
To my left, two men and a woman were returning from the some major sporting event in Switzerland. They were waiting for their athletic equipment to come around the baggage carousel. They were in sneakers, athletic type wear, and appeared to be in the best shape of almost anyone I had seen before. They appeared to be older in age, but looked better than most people I knew who might of been 20 years younger. They were animated while they talked and laughed and were playing off of each other’s energy and had a camaraderie that was so strong it was apparent from even 20 feet away where I stood.

Path 2
On my right, three gentlemen were returning from some type of corporate business meeting. They were waiting for their bags, with their heads down staring into their blackberries (this was so long ago it was when blackberries were just starting to be ubiquitous). They didn’t seem to want to talk to each other, and they had slightly miserable scowls on their face. They seemed drained from the overnight flight. They had on these horrible 90’s type camel hair blazers on top of the standard corporate guy’s outfit of slacks and a blue button down shirt.

That’s when it hit me, without consciously choosing, I was more likely to end up down Path 2 than Path 1. 

I’m not even talking about the choice between being a top athlete vs. a corporate businessperson–I’m talking about the level of energy each group exhibited in their lives.

For years, I thought about having to choose between those two paths and used that story to talk about going towards one vs. the other. I know I didn’t want to end up the begrudged corporate miser staring at my blackberry (or iPhone) in a camel hair blazer, but I didn’t necessarily think it would be possible or even desire to train for the upper echelons of sport everyday, like I did for a period in college.

Not until very recently have I started to think “why not be both.”

What would it look like to have endless energy and engagement and focus of a Olympic-type athlete, but still engage in the work and opportunities of someone building a business?

What is the fork in the road that you’ve been thinking about for a while? Could you take the best parts of both and make something new?

Don’t have one or the other, have it all.

The Benefits of Serving Others

As I write this I’m sitting on the famous Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil about to go watch the World Cup 2014 match of Spain v. Chile at the fan fest down the street. In a few days I’ll attend the Russia v. Belgium World Cup Match in Maracana Stadium in Rio. My trip here, my hotel on Copacabana beach and all the World Cup games were completely free for me. The only reason I am here is that 22 years ago I decided to join the Community Service Corps in my high school and it has impacted every part of my life ever since.

Doing things for others is what has given me everything I believe is great in my life.

Doing community service is the way I met my wife, is how I paid for my college, taught me almost everything I know about working with people, showed me elements of the world I would have never of seen, taught me countless life and day to day lessons, helped me appreciate what I have, and way too many other things to name.

The lessons I learned helping others through community service are the lessons I use every day at work and at home. It’s even helped me learn how to organize a great party. Here’s a few more things it helped with:

  • The skills I learned building homes for Habitat for Humanity help me fix things around my house, and recognize how lucky I am to even have a house.
  • The tactics it took to teach a group of kindergartners on a Navajo reservation are things I use to keep my kids engaged.
  • The organizing principles of fundraising and organizing I learned organizing Dorney Park trips in high school are what helped me start a non-profit group.
  • Starting a non-profit group has helped me learn what it takes to run a small company, and how to engineer programs that have sustainable impact not reliant on one person or funding source.

Marketing, finance, leadership, quality, human resources, creativity, innovation, sales, and just about every other “business skill” I’ve wanted to develop in life have been presented as an opportunity from the different community service programs I’ve been involved in.

Most importantly, throughout all my experiences I’ve learned to be incredibly grateful for what I have, to care for others, and realize that the world is a lot bigger than what I might see everyday.

Given all this, I wonder why it’s not more popular. Why do more kids sign up for little league vs. girl or boy scouts? Why do more parents prefer their kids to be on the school’s sports team vs. the school’s community service group? Why do professional sports players make more than non-profit CEO’s?

And yes, I didn’t play many sports throughout my school years and do believe there are good qualities to being on those teams, but in comparing it to what I know about sports in terms of developing young people, I would say that community service is much more impactful. Yes, sports teaches many valuable lessons, but usually the opportunity to be involved with organized sports wanes after high school or college years. You can continue serve others forever.

Also, many people get involved with sports in the hopes that they, or their kids, will get some type of scholarship or end up on a professional sports team. Well, there’s only so many members of professional sports teams so your chances are pretty slim. However, there’s no limit to the number of people who could be doing something to change the world, so you have a great chance of being able to do that.

I’m even thankful for how I was introduced to the idea of helping others. My mom volunteered for the Red Cross and would help families get back on their feet. When I was just a little kid, I remember my mom getting calls at night when a home would catch fire or some other reason a family needed help. I distinctly remember her trying to collect clothes (by taking some out of her closet) for some people who just lost all of theirs. I didn’t necessarily ‘do’ anything related to Community Service for a number of years after that, but having that type of role model is what led me to do the things that have built the rest of my life.

How will you be a role model for helping others? Where will it take you, and where will it take the person you influence?

As for now, I’m off to the beach to watch the game–which I happened to win during a contest at work that celebrated people who did caring acts for others. Sure, the material type things that you can get out of doing acts of service are nice – like the random contest win – but the things it’s changed in me are worth a million times more.

Get involved. Go Serve.