Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why You Need To Start Completing Thirty Day Challenges

Well today marks the end of another thirty day challenge. This month's challenge was to write an article very day. This article marks the thirtieth article I have written on this site. Over the last few months I have completed several thirty day challenges.

Because of that I am starting to create some momentum. I am starting to look forward to what my next challenge will be. You'll find that if you make a few changes in your life and succeed, you gain the confidence you need to change more things.

If you find change hard, utilizing thirty day challenges makes change easier. If you are trying to institute change in your life, you have to start somewhere. Making changes over thirty day's is the place to start.

Start by looking at what you want to improve. Usually you'll see it either requires you stop doing something you don't want to do or that you start doing something you should be doing.

Things you want to stop doing make the best thirty day challenges because they require no effort. When I eliminated diet coke, it didn't require any actually physical effort on my part. It only required will power on my part. If you lack will power, then you'll need to analyze what would take the smallest amount of will power to overcome and make that your thirty day challenge.

Complete that thirty day challenge and you'll notice a small improvement in will power. Use that momentum and start another thirty day challenge. Creating momentum is what it's all about.

Upon successful completion of one thirty day challenge, continue that challenge forward as you start another one. As you get stronger, then make your challenges progressively harder. Do challenges that actually do require effort on your part. This is how you build slow improvement into your life and is the first path to mastery.

Because if you really want to change your life for the better, it starts with you. It starts with one small change. And it can start today.

All it takes is for you to decide. Decide today to change your life one step at a time.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What It Takes To Be The Best

When I think of the term black belt, I think of being the best. A master at what I do with skills at the highest level. Images of champions in sport and business come to mind. And it makes me ask the question, what does it really take to be the best?

I think the first requirement is that you have to believe completely that you can be the best at what ever it is that you set out to master. It's my feeling that the vast majority of people, don't believe they can and therefore, never try. Lacking confidence, most people fail right out of the gate to even do average. They might also lack the skills as not everyone is equipped to be the best for a variety of reasons.

But many of us DO have what it takes to be the best and yet we settle for average. In many cases, we even have the confidence to know that we can be the best, but don't realize our potential.

If you are in the second group, you might wonder why you settle for average.

I think in some ways, we are conditioned to fit in and to not really shine above others. And in other ways, we don't really have people in our lives who EXPECT the best from us. Since no one else pushes us, we never learn to push ourselves. We learn to be average.

The other thing that I think keeps people average is that being a success does require effort. And we as human beings will often do whatever it takes to avoid anything remotely related to effort.

Being average is an option. But it's not an option that I think you should settle for particularly when you know you have the skills to be the best. You know what I think. You should choose to be the best.

Once you set the bar for yourself that you expect the best out of yourself, I think the next most important thing you need to do is focus on one specific area to be the best in.

What I mean by this, is that instead of being kind of good at many things, focus on one thing. Don't try and be a jack of all trades.

After all, you didn't see Peyton Manning playing football, basketball, swimming and riding horses competitively. He focused entirely on being the quarterback of a professional football team.

Likewise, you need to focus all of your energies on being the best at one thing.

Once you have done that, the next most important thing is that you have to figure out that in the area you have chosen to master, that you find out who is the best. In sports, this is easy. People like Peyton can easily see who the best have been. In our areas of expertise, it's sometimes not so obvious nor as glorified as sports. But you can find it if you look.

After that you have to commit yourself to studying and practice. A commitment to ongoing improvement in your craft is necessary. You need to study every aspect from every angle. Master the fundamentals by learning from your own personal masters if you have access to them personally.

I think what you will find is that if you commit yourself to being the best and learn to expect it, that eventually you'll start achieving it.

Because in a lot of ways, being the best isn't that hard when everyone else is settling for average.

Take action today and quit settling for less than the best.
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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why I Use One Main GTD Context

In today's world, it's easy to be connected to your work. While both a problem and an advantage, it does create problems trying to figure out what context to put your GTD next actions in. If you are just starting out, I strongly suggest that you go with the contexts for your next actions that David Allen recommends in his book.

Once you have some time to see how you use the lists he recommends, I would then take a good look at what contexts that you actually use. I have modified mine to fit my situation which is that I am pretty much in any context I want to be at any given time. It's not necessary for me to divide time between an office and home for example, because I have made myself so portable that I can basically do what I need to do from anywhere in the world.

In my situation, I preferred to have an @action list combined with a folder. I use this for all actionable items. It is combined of a list of items as well as a folder for physical items.

In addition to this context, my other main context is my @calls list.

These two contexts handle the bulk of my next actions.

I was able to streamline my next actions based on how I work and what I have to do. What you will need to do is look at your workflow and decide first if the contexts Allen provides work for you. Next, you'll need to decide if you need to add any additional contexts. Finally, you'll need to prune contexts that don't fit what you do.

The right number of contexts is as few as possible. Don't over complicate it. Keep it as simple as you can. There's a tendency to tweak and fine tune your GTD system too much. Don't fall into that trap.

And until you have mastered all the phases of GTD workflow, go with the system as outlined in Allen's book. Until then, focus on the mechanics of the system.
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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Month 2: How I Gave Up Eating Fried Foods

I love fried food. Bring on the fries and the chicken fingers. But I also know that in order to be healthy and lose weight that I needed to give up the fried food. A few months back I made it my thirty day challenge to give up fried food. This was my second thirty day challenge and came the month after I gave up drinking diet coke. I have now gone nearly 7 months without fried food.

My philosophy on these thirty day challenges is that when you first start that you give up things instead of trying to add stuff to your routines. I recommend this because it's easier mentally because it requires no physical effort to do. So, while it doesn't mean that you'll be successful if you do a challenge that requires any physical effort on your part, it will be easier.

I actually found it easier to give up fried food than the diet coke. Because they go so well together, I think that's why it worked out that way.

The other thing that I do whenever I give up anything is not put any restrictions on anything else that I do. That meant I could have anything else - as long as I didn't have diet coke which was my previous challenge.

If you are thinking about giving up fried food, it's a good idea. It will make you healthier. All of that trans fast where they still include it isn't good for you.

The only thing that I had to do was figure out what to substitute for fries when I ate things that normally came with them like a burger. What I did was eat cole slaw instead where possible. Or, if I ate at McDonalds, I would just order another hamburger because they aren't that big.

At first there was a craving for fries but I noticed that after a while it did go away and now I don't really crave it anymore.

One other tip was that I didn't include chips in my fried food challenge. I saved that for another challenge when I gave up things in bags which I will write about soon.

If you are considering giving up fried food, I would strongly encourage you to do it as you start to begin a path towards healthier eating.
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Friday, November 25, 2011

Why I Recommend You Record And Time The Five Phases Of GTD Workflow

There's a saying that time is money. Actually time is more valuable than money because time expires and you can always earn more money. Because of this, I think it's critical that you start recording the time it takes to do the things in your GTD system. Start recording how long it takes you to collect, process, organize, do and review the things that come into your system.

I say this because the bulk of the time you spend in your life should be on doing or relaxing. So the sooner you get the other phases done the better.

I know that it's easy to spend time tinkering and tweaking your GTD system. I know it's fun to make sure it's all neat and organized. And I also know what a pain it is to actually do the things in my system. My goal though is to get what I have to get done out of the way so I can enjoy the things I really want to do.

The problem I always had was that I spent too much time wasting my time. I still took the time to do the things I wanted to do but it came with the nagging feeling that I didn't do what I needed too. I worried about it.

The goal in my life is to obtain free time. Not just any free time - worry free free time. Time that I can do doing the things I want to do.

But where I always struggled was that I put off what I had to do and tried to steal time from other areas of my life to make up for it.

The solution for me was doing a better job of "defining" what done looks like and writing it down. Once I did that, it was much easier to get a handle on the job at hand. The process I used to define what done looked like for me was to study everything I did and write down every step into a daily checklist no matter how trivial.

Once I did that, I knew for example, everything I needed to do collect things into my system. Because I took the time to figure out all the steps required, I knew what the beginning looked like PLUS I knew what the END looked like as well.

But while doing that was a major breakthrough for me, going one additional step made it even more important. That step was to time how long it took me to get through each thing I needed to do.

Using my collection phase again as an example, I would write down the time I started and finished. Then I would try and figure out how to reduce the time required.

This type of technique is done most often in sports. World records are measured in time in running, swimming, skiing and more. We can apply this philosophy to our work as well. In fact, I think it's a good idea to look at your work as sport. Practice time would be the four phases of GTD workflow - collection, processing, organizing and reviewing.

Doing would be considered game time.

By determining how you practice and how efficiently you practice, you can improve your doing because you will be more focused.

This starts with measuring first what a practice session looks like and secondly by measuring how long practice should last.

Make a checklist of your daily activities and start measuring how long it takes to do it. Then work to improve your list and then work to improve your time it takes to complete it.

Only after you do that can you determine how efficient you can really be.
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Thursday, November 24, 2011

GTD Project List

Part of my goal with this site is to lay it out in a similar fashion to a GTD system. As part of that, every GTD system has a project list. So what I have done here is set up a page that will be my GTD project list. My vision here is that I will lay out several projects to undertake similar to the thirty day challenge page I put together the other day to keep track of those.

A project is something that requires more than one step. As you process the things that come through your inbox, you will find stuff that requires several steps to complete. When that stuff pops up, you should make an item on your project list. During your weekly review, you review your project list and make sure there are next actions for each project you want to move forward.

I personally have several project lists that I use to manage all of my projects. For example, three I can think of off the top of my head are a personal list, a professional list and a client list.

You should look at these lists as tickler items that remind you that you have an open loop you need to keep track of. When you review your project list during your review, it will remind you that you have decided to move it forward through your GTD system.

Without the project list, it would be alot easier to forget a lot of the stuff we need to do. We'd be keeping a mental list in our head. You need to get out of the habit of doing that and make sure that you have started working on your project list.

Many of my projects are recurring projects. I personally keep my project lists in basecamp and I print them out to review them during my weekly review.

Over time, I will add projects to my site and categorize them on this page. As I do that, you will see them show up below. In the meantime, if you don't have a project list, get one started.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Taking Action Can Do For You

Tonight I wanted to talk about what taking action can do for your life by telling you a story about a guy that is in one of the groups I belong too. About four years ago, he started a website that probably cost him roughly a few hundred dollars. Four years later, he sold that website for $200,000. Not a bad financial return.

What he doesn't say in the article is how he focused on one project, wrote over a million words and followed consistent action on a daily basis.

That's the thing about goals. They don't go anywhere without action. But when you take action towards a goal, anything can happen for you. If you take no action, one thing is assured. Nothing will happen.

I'm always amazed at how self help gurus spend time skirting around the issue of working. Of getting things in motion. Too many times, they focus on stupid stuff like getting people to spend time in a sweat box until they die. What on earth does that have to do with reaching your goals. Absolutely nothing.

The key to success is taking action.

Action creates momentum. Action creates opportunity and in the case of the friend in my group, it created a little bit of luck.

Those in our group found a lot of inspiration in his story. I hope that you do too. More importantly, if I do anything here at the Black Belt Project is inspire you to take control of your life by taking action today and taking responsibility for your own luck.

You just never know how it might show up.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

How To Improve Your Focus

Tonight I wanted to spend some talking about how to improve your focus. It's been my experience that when I focus on one thing, I tend to a better job at it. In this world of multi-tasking, it's extremely hard to focus on the task at hand. Because of that, we have a tough time achieving what's really important and that is results.

While there are many different paths to a successful result, it doesn't really matter if you never embark on a path to begin with. Improving your focus is an important component of results. That being said, I think it is important to also realize that there are two places you need to improve your focus.

The first is on a specific direction you want to take. If you can't hone in on exactly where you want your life to head, then you can also expect your results to reflect that.

I know when I used to work for a company that allowed me to sell all of these different products with all of these different companies. I could literally do so many things for people that in the end, I never did any of them well. Once I changed my focus to just one product with one company, my results improved dramatically.

The other area that I think focus is important is on the activities you do on a daily basis that help you achieve your overall directional focus. Notice here that I didn't feel you needed to focus on results. What I suggest you do is break down the activities that are required to help you reach those results.

Once you have defined those, then the challenge becomes focusing all of your attention to those specific activities before anything else. And, it's here that the problems often start. Surrounding those all important activities are all of these other tasks that we would also like to complete.

It's this environment of choice that creates internal conflict that breeds inaction and a loss of focus.

To illustrate what I mean, let's look at smart phones. When I was growing up, we didn't have a smart phone. We had a phone in the house connected to the wall and only one phone company to deal with. There weren't many choices. You knew you needed a phone, and then spent a few minutes at the store and decided.

Because there were few choices it was easy to move on and meet the overall objective - get a phone.

Compare that with today. First of all there are several players in the market. We have to pick a carrier. All of the plans are slightly different in how they remove basically the same amount of money from our pocket each month.

Then, we need a phone. Do we get the smart phone or a regular phone? Does the phone have enough memory? Is it fast enough? Will it play well with our GTD system.

Because we now have so many choices, we may lose site of the overall goal. If anything, it lengthens the time it takes to make what should be a pretty easy decision. The reason - choice.

Choice is the enemy of focus.

Reduce your choices and you'll improve your focus. I know there are times that I will take something that I have a difficult time getting done and hiding everything else unrelated so I can tackle it.

Start by removing distractions. Take the task at hand to a place where that is the only thing you have with you if you need to. Do whatever you have to eliminate the enemy - the enemy of choice.

And you'll notice it will be easier to improve your focus.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

How To Break Bad Habits

As part of changing your life, one of things that you will probably need to learn how to do is how to break bad habits. Bad habits sometimes set in when we are not happy with things in our lives. They can also be rooted in routines we had when we were younger. One of the things that I learned when I was in school was cramming. I was smart enough that it didn't matter if I waited to the last minute, I could always wait until the last minute and pull out a good score.

With life though, it's tougher. Mainly because for a lot of our goals, we have no deadlines. Since there is no sense of urgency to get it done today it never gets done.

Regardless of the reasons behind my bad habits, they still affect my life. Either through procrastination or just lack of following through on important things, I feel the brunt of it probably just like you do.

So, if bad habits affect you, what should you do to deal with them.

First, I would accept the fact that there are things that you'd like to improve about your situation. I'd realize that it's human nature to have vices. It doesn't make you a bad person. I wouldn't beat myself up about it.

Second, I would have to suggest to you that you must "want" to change. If you don't want to change, it doesn't really matter how many strategies you employ. If you don't want to you won't - pure and simple.

Next, I would isolate each bad habit and try and change it on it's own. Because these traits are so ingrained, wholesale changes where you try and fix 20 or 30 things at one time often don't work. Focus on one issue at a time.

After you decide on what habit you want to break, start studying it. When do you start it? When do you do it? Is there anything that triggers it? How often do you do it? Was there ever a time in your life when you didn't do it? How did that feel?

This information can prove very valuable in changing habits you don't want to have.

Once you have taken a good long look at why you engage in a bad habit, it's time to figure out a way to stop it.

One of my bad habits is eating late. I would really like to stop eating so late. Not so much that I want to change it completely. But enough that it does bother me. I feel like it is a roadblock to losing some of the extra weight I am carrying around.

The first thing that I did was realize that it was a problem and decide to figure out a way to stop it.

So I then studied it a little further. I figured out that I don't eat breakfast very often and because of that I am trying to get in needed calories that I missed out on early in the day. I also figured out that I often ate late at night by either going to a drive thru or stopping at a gas station to pick up a snack.

While I could have decided to just not eat after a certain time, it didn't work because I was hungry. What I did instead was give up one thing that I ate late - fried food. I then made it a thirty day challenge and have carried it on to this day. Next, I noticed that when I stopped at a gas station, I would pick up one of my favorite treats, nutty bars. Then I decided that I would give up snacks wrapped in plastic another thirty day challenge.

I did these things because it was an easier first step for me than saying I can't eat after a certain time.

I'm am slowly eating around the edges of the bad habit and removing it - one piece at at time.

Start looking at your bad habits. Which ones do you think you would like to change? Why not start working on them, one piece at a time.
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Saturday, November 19, 2011

What To Do When Your GTD Next Action Lists Are Too Long

I had a reader ask me what to do when your GTD next action lists are too long. They wanted to know how you should handle that. This is a common question and one that I have probably addressed a while back in some fashion. Our next action lists sometimes get stagnant because we have to actually do something.

Because we don't have to make decisions other than where to put stuff into our gtd system, it is usually pretty likely someone will get to an empty inbox if they set their mind to it. But getting things off of a next action list takes more effort and therefore is a common place that people struggle.

What I suggest in this case is to pick a next action list and look at it just like another inbox. It might be a lot more organized than it was when the work first showed up, but nonetheless, that is exactly what an action list is - an inbox.

Once you start to look at it that way, you will realize that it too can be reduced to zero or at least get things on and off the list.

David Allen's analogy of processing your stuff being like an assembly line is a perfect way to look at any list in your system.

Things show up. You do them. Another one shows up on the assembly line.

The problem is that the conveyor belt snags on your ability to make decisions. Decision making is the electricity that makes the belt move.

Here are some tips that I use to get my lists pared down that might help you.

The first suggestion that I would make is to expand the two minute rule to five or ten minutes. Ask yourself. What tasks on this list can I knock out in that amount of time. You'll be surprised to find that you can eliminate some easy stuff off of the list.

The next thing I would consider doing is getting in the habit of processing things in a first in first out method. Put all new items on your list at the bottom. As the top ones (oldest one's) get done, the newer ones make their way up to the top of the list.

The ideal way to move things that are on your lists off is to do the things that matter most. But for some reason, I and I am guessing many of you would avoid that tip because that's usually the harder stuff we don't want to do.

Ultimately, I think the best way is to make one particular list, say your calls list and make it a primary focus until you have it functioning like a well oiled machine.

I would do that by first keeping all of your inboxes empty and everything put into your system. Second, I would do whatever I had to do to get rid of any distractions so that I could focus on the list and only the list at hand. Many times, I move to a location that has nothing to do with my work so I can focus on it. It might be a Kinkos or even a hotel lobby where I can get internet.

After that I would do the easy stuff. I would then knock out things that I know that I will never do. Then I would expand the two minute rule to five or ten minutes and start picking off the things that take a little less effort than some of the more challenging stuff.

One other thing that I would do is that I would make sure before a next action makes it on my list that it would be the smallest possible step to move a project forward.

What that would do is make it easier to check off these things that show up. Many times, we put a next action on the list but it's really another mini project. Try not to do that.

Work on one particular list like this for a while until you have mastered it. It might take you a while to get that feeling. But once you start to focus on a list, you'll start to figure out ways to empty it.

Hide the list and you won't.

Good luck and start taking action!
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I Don't Think It's A Good Idea To Share Your Goals With Those Close To You

When you are trying to change your life, it can be an exciting time for you. And it's only natural to share those goals with other people you know. I have read and heard many gurus say that when you set a goal for yourself, you should hold yourself accountable by telling everybody your goal. The idea being that peer pressure will keep you on track.

The problem I see with this is that if you don't reach the goal you have set for yourself, you feel pretty crappy about it. If you have told eighty of your friends that you set a goal and you didn't reach it, then you have compounded the crappy feeling by eighty times.

It certainly is important to have a system of accountability. But relying on your friends to be your goal "police" can be stressful for not only you but also for them if they are somehow responsible for making sure you stay on track.

I can think of examples of friends that have said they will do this or that and then they never do. I would never tell them this but after awhile, you shake your head inside and say to yourself - yeah right, like that's going to happen. This happens because there is a track record of failure.

The other problem with sharing your goals with others is that they might not share your goals. In that case, you will have someone who will subconsciously sabotage your mission.

The thing is that people like things the way they are. We are all creatures of habit. We don't really like change and for the most part we will do anything we can to keep that balance.

We also don't really like to see people do better than us. Whether it's being in better shape, having a nice car or just in general a somewhat perceived better life, we prefer to be equal to everyone else. Then it's easier for all involved.

Because of this, if you set some outstanding goal that threatens others in some way, they will not be supportive of your goal and will also probably not try and help you.

For these reasons, I suggest that you keep your goals to yourself. Reveal goals only after they have been reached. Be a doer. Not a talker.

The first step in being a doer is showing in your actions that you will accomplish. Once whatever you are trying to do is done, then let the result speak for itself.

Most people prefer it that way anyway. They would prefer that you not flaunt your high expectations in their face especially if you have a track record of success.

So keep that in mind at the Black Belt Project. Goals are personal. Goals are achievable. But goals in of themselves are really only words. What I want to see here as we work on things to master our lives is results.

Don't be afraid to set a goal for youself. Don't be afraid to reach it. Once you have reached it, don't be afraid to let it speak for itself.
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

How To Change Your Life With Small Steps

One of the great things about GTD is how it focuses you on the next action. Come up with a project and ask yourself, what is the very next step I can take to move this project forward. Then, once you have taken that next action, you repeat the same question. What is the next step?

Next action thinking is something that can really change your life. Our current situation is just the culmination of all the little steps we took to get where we are now. We didn't arrive at our current situation out of no where and it didn't happen over night. It happened over time.

As an example, right now, I am a little overweight now and have been working on getting that under control as you can probably tell by the thirty day challenges I have chosen. I am walking now, not drinking diet coke, not eating fried food nor am I eating anything wrapped in plastic like candy bars or potato chips.

I just didn't wake up one day and weigh 230 pounds. It probably took me two or three years to add that weight. It was an extra big mac here, late night meals and just in general not caring to much about what I ate - and not exercising.

It was a series of small things that added up over time to get me where I am today.

That's why to lose the weight I put on, it will take me the course of several months to a year to reverse it.

The first step for me was to make a decision. My life is in my hands and I can control my own destiny. Just because I have added the weight doesn't mean that I have to continue that. I have a choice. My choice was to do something about it.

In the past, I would have decided to change everything at one time. I would have drastically changed my diet, started walking and working out with weights all at one time. But what I noticed was that in the past when I had done that, I lost steam pretty quickly because I burned myself out. Then I got down on myself and it's pretty hard to get that momentum again.

You see, there are two kinds of motivators out there. The first is pain. Pain causes you to take action because you want to eliminate the pain. The second is desire. If you want something bad enough, you will do whatever it takes to get it.

The problem is that pain is a bigger motivator than desire. Even though there are lots of things I want, it doesn't a light a fire under my butt to get me to go after it. Pain on the other hand. Wow. I'll do anything to avoid that.

I learned this along time ago from Tony Robbins. And what he suggested is that I manufacture all of this pain (write down all of the bad things that will happen if I don't get what I want) to motivate me to take action. While this does work, it doesn't work as well as real pain.

So what should you do if you want something but not bad enough to do anything about it? Or what if not getting what you want doesn't cause you any pain?

The secret is the baby step. Small steps in the direction of the goal you want.

This is why I suggest the thirty day challenge. In my case, I want to lose weight. But to be honest with you. I don't feel uncomfortable. I would probably just be as happy if I didn't. I know that over a period of time it is a better decision to not think that way.

So what I did was first decide that I wanted to do something about it. That is step one. You have to decide.

The next thing I did was take a baby step and that was by doing something easy. To stop drinking diet coke. It took no effort. I didn't have to get off the couch. I didn't have to go out of my way to do it. All I had to do was avoid it. And I made an agreement with myself that if I did it, I could have anything else I wanted. My goal was to go without diet coke for 30 days.

Now, I succeeded in doing that. It was a small step. And from the outside world looking in on my life, people would probably say that it was stupid. That's no big deal. But to me it was a big deal. It was a small victory towards my overall goal.

So I made another goal and that was to continue that thirty day challenge into the future. I mean why not. I made it 30 days. I should continue it past that day. I decided that from that point forward if I made it 30 days in a challenge I would extend it and start another challenge.

My next small step was to give up fried food. Again, I opted for something that required no effort other than avoidance and I made it through another month.

Now that these two baby steps moved me into the direction I wanted to go, I had something in my favor that I didn't have the first time. That thing was two successes and momentum going for me. What I noticed was that this new found momentum created something else in me. That was a little more desire.

In my next major challenge then, I decided to do something that took a little more effort and that was to start walking every day. But when I first started, I made a commitment to walk only 10 minutes. I wanted to make it easy to get started with a baby step. I wanted to mentally think, well that was pretty easy.

Then I used what I have talked about before and that was progressive resistance. I added a minute each time I walked. I moved to 11 minutes and then to 12 minutes. I now have walked for over 75 plus days as I write this.

During this challenge I made an additional discovery that I decided to lift weights a couple of times a week if I wanted. To my surprise, I did it. I didn't make it a monthly challenge or anything. It was a function of the small steps I had taken before. I "wanted" to do it. I had created desire to reach my goal by taking action. Thought alone couldn't do it.

It's this way for any wall you might face. Whether you are stuck and just can't keep moving. Or whether you are very successful and just can't find a way to get past some other roadblock in your way.

The solution is this. Ask yourself what is the goal you seek. Decide to do it. Ask yourself what is the smallest possible thing I could do to move toward my goal. And then do it consistently. Repeat.

I hope that you see the power in this strategy. It is amazing. I am trying to demonstrate it's power by letting you follow along. But until you see it first hand and feel how it works in your own life, you really won't know unless you do one thing.

That is take action. Do it today.
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Month 1: How I Gave Up Diet Coke

Going back in time to April 2011, I started my first thirty day challenge. I decided to give up diet coke. This really was a challenge for me because I absolutely love diet coke. I guess you can say I was kind of addicted to it. I used to have 4 or 5 diet cokes with every meal at a restaurant sometimes. I craved the carbonation. I hated flat diet coke.

I used to joke that if I could I would have an IV of diet coke hooked up to me.

While I wanted to start making changes to my diet, I thought it would be easier to give up something rather than do something that required effort like actually exercising.

So if you are starting your first thirty day challenge. Start by taking away something that requires no effort.

I know that there are a lot of people out there like me who are hooked on diet coke. It's great with pizza and hamburgers and fries. It's easy to get at the drive through.

Plus, it tastes good. I never started drinking coffee because it always made me too warm.

One of the reasons I wanted to stop drinking diet coke is because I just think it probably is unhealthy. I can't cite any direct evidence but I wanted to eliminate the artificial sweeteners just because of the unknown health risks. There's also the caffeine. I never felt hooked on that but thought my body would also be better without it. I figured that if I could drink more water, it would be a healthier path.

My strategy for kicking my diet coke habit was to say I could have anything else I wanted as long as I drank water, juice or tea and an occasional vodka drink.

That meant I could have as much desert as I wanted. So while I didn't lose weight under this challenge. I did complete it and satisfy my sweet tooth at the same time.

The other thing I did was just stay away from it. I know that in the past I gave it up once and would take a hit off my wife's diet coke. I decided I couldn't do that anymore and eliminate it from my diet.

That's my story on how I gave up diet coke. If I can do it, then you can too.
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Thirty Day Challenge List

I'm going to use this page to provide a hub to list all of my thirty day challenges. The idea behind a thirty day challenge is to establish a new habit and more importantly, to establish small steps towards greater goals to create momentum. If you are having a tough time getting moving, I suggest you make a goal to complete a thirty day challenge.

If this is the first one you have done, make it something easy that you know you can be successful with for a whole month. While it might sound stupid, these little tiny successes can be the springboard towards bigger ones later. Start on the first day and end on the last of the month.

I know some days will have 31 days, so on those months you'll have to eke out an extra day. I saw someone do a "no alcohol" challenge in February. After I thought about it, I thought that was pretty smart because it was only 28 days.

The only thing here is that once you make it through a challenge successfully, you will want to continue that habit onward while starting another challenge.

I know there is a chance you might fail to get through the month. Don't beat yourself up. Start another one the following month.

Below, I'll provide links to the challenges that I have done. I hope you find inspiration in my list and I wish you great success in completing your challenges.
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Why Making Mistakes Is The Path To Success

I remember when I first started working I made a mistake that my manager called me out on. I don't really remember what it was now but it did kind of get me down a bit. Later, I was talking to a guy I worked with about it and he said, you know what, if you aren't making mistakes you aren't working.

That always kind of stuck with me because he was telling me to embrace mistakes and to not shy away from making more of them. Now he wasn't telling me to be a moron and make mistakes on purpose. What he was telling me is that in the course of taking action toward a goal you have set, making mistakes is a natural by product of the steps required to eventually see success.

Some of you know that I am in the midst of another thirty day challenge. That challenge is to write an article on this site everyday. I'm doing that to get the process moving. And along the way, I see mistakes I make (usually right after I publish that days article.)

But the point of doing this challenge for me was to start taking consistent action and to start the process of making mistakes. Every day I do that I am closer to my goal of the site I want to bring to my readers.

It also provides me practice on working on my craft here at the Black Belt Project. With every article I write, I focus my mind on the task at hand. It forces me to look at the site on a daily basis. It forces me to think about my goal.

And once that thought process starts rolling, it helps clarify the end goal. My mind starts thinking about solutions. It starts brainstorming ideas that weren't there before I took action.

That's the thing, problem solving is the key to success. The way you really go about solving problems is by working on them. Just thinking about the problem can only take you so far. You need the feedback that harsh real world doing provides you.

I guess that is why I sometimes avoid taking action. I don't want the world telling me I stink at what I do. Stinking at what I do is what leads me to improve. It leads me to the path of success.

So my advice to you is to start taking action, start making mistakes and start learning that you stink at the task at hand. Once you start doing that, you will begin making progress to reaching your goals.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One Reason Why Smart People Aren't Always Successful

When I was growing up, school was pretty easy to me. I aced a lot of the homework. I made good grades. By the time I got to college, I was to the point that for some courses, I could skip class and still get a solid A grade. Many times, people equate being smart with being successful but that is not always the case.

Being successful requires more than being smart. It requires that you do things that others won't do either because they don't know how or because they won't make the effort.

In fact, my friend and I always have lots of great ideas. After we generate all of these ideas we usually joke that in order for them to work, well that would take one thing - effort. Then we laugh and say well we won't be doing that.

While we find it funny, it does address the number one reason smart people don't achieve anything and that's because they don't make the effort. They don't make it, I believe, because things have always come easy for them. And success is hard for a lot of people.

A lot of times, I use this as a motivator for myself. I see someone who is successful and tell myself, I am as smart as that person. Why are they more successful than me? The reason is usually because they will take action in cases I won't.

If you can relate to that, then you might be wondering what can I do to improve my effort or at least to start making some attempt at effort.

The key is to take action. Even if it is not the perfect action. Taking action gets things moving. It creates momentum. It stimulates your brain to figure out solutions. I would go as far as to say that it creates luck in a lot of cases because your action puts you in a spot to receive success had you not taken it.

The process is simple. Set a goal. Ask yourself what is one small step I could take to reach that goal today. Take it then analyze your results. Then repeat the process.

Most things are not rocket science. They are more often than not a function of effort. Supply that effort through consistent small steps and before you know it, you will start finding success.

Take action today.
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Monday, November 14, 2011

The Biggest Mistake We Make In Mastering Any Skill

Yesterday I wrote about how mastery begins with finding a master. Today I wanted to talk about the next step in the process and that is actually applying what the master teaches. This is how you learn to master anything. Find a teacher, do exactly what the master says and have success. With all the knowledge out there and all of the successful people who have been willing to share their knowledge with us, why then aren't more people successful?

That certainly seems like a reasonable question. So really then, why aren't more people successful at a lot of stuff?

The biggest mistake that I have observed people make is that they don't trust what the master teaches and therefore don't act on their instructions and follow them exactly as taught. I have heard on many occasions that people make excuses like, "well that might work for them, but in my situation that won't work because" and other excuses similar to that.

You can probably even think of situations you have been in where you have been involved in teaching someone something and have heard exactly that.

I certainly have been guilty of this kind of thinking from time to time. It's easy to come up with reasons why certain things won't work.

Why is it then that we find people who are good at things and then refuse to do exactly what they say?

I guess there are a few reasons this is the case. First of all, anything that we do requires effort. Effort is hard work. Anything that takes effort is easy to talk yourself out of. And it's also easier to find other people who say they are masters that promise you that you can do it with guess what - less effort. That then, moves your focus to the next master and so on.

If you are like me, you'll do just about anything to avoid doing anything you don't want to do. It's human nature.

But this lazy trait we all have dilutes the masters message. It causes us to not follow instructions step by step. And what happens is that we don't achieve the same result. After that we criticize that masters instructions because obviously, it was the masters instructions that were the problem and not our application of them.

The other reason we don't follow instructions exactly as taught is that for some reason psychologically we think we know more than the master. We think this even though there is no evidence that we are. It's just our belief system.

Only success better than the master proves you are better than the master. Knowledge of mastery doesn't prove you have mastered anything. Only application of that knowledge in a manner better than the master does.

The moral of the story today: When learning from the master, do exactly as they say until you have duplicated their success. Only then modify it to suit your own tastes - once you are the master.
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why Mastery Begins With Finding The Master

The journey to being black belt at GTD or anything else begins with identifying who the elite teacher is in what it is that you want to master. While you can muddle your way through and master many things on your own, there is great benefit in learning from those who have blazed the trail ahead of us. The compounding of knowledge that each successive generation accumulates shortens the learning curve for the next aspiring master.

Going back to my football example yesterday, the top tier coaches in the NFL spend all week preparing for Sunday's game. They study their opponent. They study their team's strengths and weaknesses. They also study coaches that came before them. Many coaches work as assistants under other coaches before they become head coaches. This gives them the opportunity to learn the philosophy of some of the best coaches first hand.

What this means is that what happens is that there becomes an accepted "best practice" for what to do in any game situation they may face. Should they go for it on fourth down in this situation? Do they go for two points instead of an extra point?

The beauty of this learning from the masters and implementing an already proven best way to do something is that it helps coaches keep their job when a team doesn't execute. There is tremendous scrutiny by the media and by fans who also have years of experience watching and analyzing games. If a coach follows the tried and tested formula of what every coach, sportswriter and fan already expects in a game situation, then at the news conference after the game, the coach can say that everybody knows that's what you do in that situation.

Imagine if you will a coach who didn't prepare every week who managed the game by the seat of his pants. The time pressure of the game forces immediate decisions. Under this time crunch, the coach might not make the right decision because he hasn't been prepared to think about it until that specific moment. Chances are that coach would be second guessed quite a bit and probably wouldn't be able to keep their job because this approach lends itself to making mistakes and bad decisions. Coaches have the benefit of 1000's of games  that other coaches have played and also learned from the mistakes of the previous generations.

While our jobs probably aren't scrutinized to the degree an NFL football coach's is, our careers and lives are no less important. It stands to reason that we too can benefit from the experience of those before us and not have to recreate the wheel every time we set out to master a new set of skills.

The great thing is that in nearly every subject, you can find a master to follow. Masters, or teachers, or coaches, or mentors as they are sometimes called should be identified whenever possible to look at emulating their success. With the benefit of books, videos and self help material available in bookstores and on the internet, you as a beginning student have an unprecedented advantage over those who first had to master the things we do today.

Finding the right master can be a problem because there are so many so called "experts". For now, I won't go into selecting the right teachers, it's just worth noting that you will find many choices.

For the red belt here at the black belt project, the endorsed master is, of course, David Allen's Getting Things Done system. As we go along, I'll identify other masters for the other belts.

Once you have identified the master of the skill you want to conquer, it's a matter of following their instructions exactly as they describe. This is something I will delve into as we move along.

In the meantime, keep a look out for the masters in your field as well as in the topic areas you want to master.
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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why You Have To Study Your Own Life To Be Successful

I was talking to a friend of mine tonight and we got to talking about how everyone has a job that is so different than everyone else's. Because of this, it is hard to provide advice to people with a one size fits all approach. This as you know has been my biggest beef with the so called self help industry. They try and appeal to the most amount of people and provide such generic advice. It really doesn't help a lot of people. It is all fluff designed for one purpose and that is to make money.

At the Black Belt Project, my particular vision for the site is that it is not a place like that. I want it so that when people come to the site that eventually they find a concrete series of steps they can take to be successful done in such a way that they provide the maximum benefit. The site is in no way there yet but I wanted to address it a bit right now while it was on my mind.

I think the key concept here is that when you expect someone to teach you how to be successful, the bar has been set pretty high. By putting that expectation on them, you really also put the burden on them for whether or not you achieve your goals. When the reality is the burden of success lies directly on our shoulders.

Somewhere in between is the path. There is a method that I think can be applied to our daily existence in mass but specific enough that it provides great value to everyone.

That path is self study. You have to be a student of your own life. You have to look at each and every problem you face and know how you are going to handle it before it gets to you again in the future.

The best example I can give of this is the NFL football coach. These people spend all week studying every possible decision they will need to make in that week's game. You can see the evidence of this work by watching them on the sideline. In nearly every case, you will see that they hold what looks to be a 11x17 laminated piece of paper. On it, are  all the situations they will face in the game. Also on it are all the decisions they have already made whenever they see a particular game situation.

You and I have to look at our life with the same mindset. Everything that comes your way, you have to analyze and study to see what the proper course of action should be. And you should do that every single day until every single decision you have to make has been prethought and already decided. If it can't be, then the process to make the decision has to be instead.

So as we move forward here, I think that is my challenge. I have to show you the path of self study. I have to show you how to be like the football coach on the sideline of your life, ready to react, ready to decide and to be ready to succeed. The onus will be on you to put in the effort of self study.

Accept and act on that challenge and success awaits you.
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Friday, November 11, 2011

What To Do When Your GTD Weekly Review Is Too Long

I thought tonight I would focus on what to do when your GTD weekly review takes too long. I think the general impression that David Allen gives when he explains the weekly review is that it should take about an hour to complete. Many people, myself originally included, found our reviews taking much longer than they needed too. What was the problem and why is it that my review originally took to long to do?

Well for me, it boiled down to collecting during my review. It also was my time to process and organize. I spent some time doing. And when I finally got to the review section of the checklist, I was tired and didn't do a whole lot of reviewing of my projects. Not to mention, when I first started I didn't even have a project list.

So what I started to do was start doing my weekly review over the course of a weekend. On Friday's I would spend time collecting everything together. On Saturdays, I would spend time getting my inboxes empty. And then on Sunday, I would review my project list for next actions.

Breaking down the process over three days really helped me get a handle on my weekly review. I also confirmed that the reason I wasn't getting my review done in an hour or less was because I wasn't just reviewing, I was trying to cram everything else into this "review" period.

I think it's a good idea to use your weekly review time to get your system into shape anyway even if you don't at first get to the review part.

What I did initially was use my weekly review to make sure that I had everything collected. This process took a few months because I had previously been a stacker. I had paper in stacks everywhere. Most of it was reference. But since I didn't separate reference from actionable stuff, it certainly seemed that I had a lot more to do than I really did.

Once I got collection under control, then I spent more time getting my inbox to zero. I initially started working on getting my email control. Later I started working on paper until one day, my inbox was empty.

Using the time in the weekly review to focus on the front end of my GTD system helped me clear my mind and eventually I figured out that I needed a project list and I started working on that.

The key for me was improving each part of the system as I went along. Don't be afraid to not review when you first start getting things going. Just start improving how far you get each and every day as well as each and every week.

Also don't be afraid to spread the steps out over a few days until you can handle it all at one time.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Completing A Daily Checklist Is Important

As I have mentioned in the past, I work for myself. I do have help for certain things and I appreciate that very much. But as a business owner, I think about my work 24 hours a day seven days a week. Because of that, I have looked for ways to not think about what I have to do as much on a daily basis. One of those ways has been completing a daily checklist every day.

The reason I strongly recommend putting together a daily checklist is because it forces me to figure out what done looks like. Often times, work never seems done. That's because a lot of work is ongoing. But the other reason is because we haven't quantified our actions that need to be done on a daily basis to move things forward, it feels like we must always work.

To get out of this feeling, it helped me to write down everything I did each day in the form of a checklist. These checklists helped me figure out a beginning and ending to my day. So instead of working with an alotted time and letting the work expand to fill it, I figured out the work and then tried to reduce the time needed to do it.

So the first benefit of a daily checklist is defining what done looks like for each thing you do.

The other reason that I think completing a daily checklist is important is because it takes all that stuff that you keep in your head and removes it. For me personally, I always had this nagging feeling that I forgot to do something. Once you do something hundreds of times, you might not feel like you need a checklist because you can remember it easily.

Even so, I urge you to not think that way. Get it out of your head. All of it.

The difference between a GTD'er and a Black Belt GTD'er is getting everything out of your head.

Study your day. Keep track of every step you take and write it down on a pad of paper. Next put this list of items in a word document in the order you do each task and print it out. Keep it by your side each day. Add things you forgot the first go around. Reorder things to streamline your list. Delete things that don't need to be done.

Start today. You will be glad you did.
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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Secret To Doing In GTD: Mental Toughness

Once I got my GTD system set up and my inboxes to zero, I was faced with a new challenge that all GTD'ers face and that was how to "do" everything that was now organized in my system. From what I can tell, I am not the only one who faces a wall of getting all of those next actions done. It seems to be a pretty common problem.

The secret to doing in my mind is mental toughness. You have to be mentally tougher than the next action you face. If you aren't doing, you haven't developed the mental strength you need to complete the next actions on your list. As I have often done, I compare tasks to weights you lift in a weight room when you are working out. It is easy to lift a five pound weight. It's quite another to lift 300 pounds.

The same goes for tasks. Some feel like five pounds while others might as well weigh 300 pounds.

When I first faced the problem of doing, I wasn't quite sure how to handle it. And for a while, I didn't really "do". I just kept collecting and processing into my system. It looked good and functioned well. I knew what I had to do. I felt good about that. I had never had that feeling before.

But as good as GTD is, the fact that everything you have to do should be organized in your system, also can be it's biggest liability. Seeing all that you have to do in one big list can affect you mentally in a negative way once you can see it first hand.

The thing is though that you always had that much to do, you just have quantified and it seems like more but it really isn't.

So once I got to the point of "doing" how did I handle it? Well, the way I see it, doing is a function of focus, determination and decision making.

The first thing that I did was treat my next action lists like a new inbox that needed to be emptied. I would print out my list, remove myself from all of my other stuff by sometimes changing locations. This provided me the focus I needed to at least look at the list. The list was no longer hidden in my system but in my face.

At that point, I was determined to start getting things done off of my list. While I would ideally like to work off my list in a first in first out order, I decided that I would do the easy stuff first for a while. This helped me accomplish two things. The first was that I reduced the size of my list which helped me feel better about it. The other thing that it did was get me conditioned to do. It helped doing all of the five pound tasks. Once I could handle those, I would start to focus on the tasks that weighed more. What I found was that eventually I could tackle the harder things on my list.

The final thing that I noticed about doing it that since the decisions on what to do with certain tasks are harder and hence they weigh more, was the main reason I couldn't move things off of my list. I just didn't want to decide what needed to be done. This goes back to the perfectionism that I talked about the other day. Trying to be perfect in everything you do right out of the gate hinders decision making and more importantly action. What you want to do is make decisions and work to improve your decision making ability over time. I do that by practicing and seeing what happened and I learn to make better decisions down the road.

So for me, I broke things down into the steps I outlined above. I first got myself in the habit of focusing on the tasks that needed to be done and I eliminated all other distractions. I was determined to work on at least some of the tasks to get in the habit of doing them. I then made decisions to do stuff even if there was a chance there could have been a more perfect way to do them, I did them anyway.

When I did this, I found that my ability to focus, my determination and decision making improved. This happened because I increased my mental strength to handle more.

There was one other thing that I think is very important to doing and that is defining when you are done with the other phases of your GTD system. If you know that you have defined everything you need to do in the collection phase, then you are more likely to work on the processing phase. If you have defined everything you need to do in the processing phase, it makes it easier to focus on doing.

The key here is defining what done looks like for each phase. And you do that with a daily checklist. Once I created a daily checklist, it was much easier to define the time and effort it took to get through those steps and much easier to focus on doing.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How To Improve Your Self Discipline

Today, I wanted to talk about something I struggle with from time to time and that is how to improve my self discipline. I basically work for myself in my "real" job. Because of that, on a daily basis, I have to find the motivation to get things done in order to be successful. I know that I first was faced with this challenge nearly 20 years ago. I went from working in an office everyday where people could keep an eye on me to no supervision. Results were entirely up to me.

At first, the free time to think and act for myself and to determine my own destiny didn't light a fire under me to get going. The exact opposite was true. Since I was working from home at the time, I tended to sleep a lot and watched a lot of daytime talk shows on tv. In general, I wasted a lot of time that I could have used to be more productive.

To make matters worse, I didn't get paid if I didn't work and because of that also went through a financial crunch.

I think anyone who works out of an office from their home might relate a similar experience. The freedom to do what you want, when you want and how you want to do it is a blessing and something I think everyone should do. Unfortunately, without one key ingredient - self discipline - you will not succeed.

The first thing that helped me make this transition was not providing myself an out if things did not work out. There was only one way forward and that was to find a way to make my business successful. I didn't tell myself I would get a job if it didn't. This turned out to be a critical decision in my mind because mentally I would have already failed. Had I not made that decision, I wouldn't have the business I have today.

The lesson here is that if you set a goal, develop the mindset that failure is not an option. Then it's only a matter of time before you reach that goal.

Along the way though, I had to develop a stronger self discipline. I did that by utilizing GTD concepts without really knowing at the time. The concept I am talking about is in identifying next actions.

Next actions are baby steps to the goals you have set for yourself. They are also little challenges of self discipline. Are you mentally stronger than the next action that you face?

The key for me was to focus on the only thing I could control and that was my daily actions. I couldn't control the results. I knew that if I repeated the right actions consistently over time, the results would follow.

The problem I had when I first started was my self discipline was weak at the time. What I had to do was to find a way to create small successes and build on those. As I achieved more small victories, my self discipline improved.

What I suggest you do, if you are having problems in this area, is to figure out a way to build these successes into your day. In the beginning, make success easy.

It's so easy to set the bar so high you can't reach it. Lower the bar and raise it as you get mentally tougher.

I'm doing the same thing in my life right now. I am trying to find a new focus from my real job to the commitment to make this site an incredible resource for its users. If you have been following me, you know that I have been doing thirty day challenges to improve my life.

I started these challenges off as something I knew I could do and I have slowly started making them harder. I encourage you to find away to do the same thing in your life. You'll notice that as you do, your self discipline will also improve.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Why I Don't Use A Tickler File In My GTD System

One of the things that David Allen recommends is setting up a tickler file. In my GTD system I opted not to set up a tickler file because it is bulky and hard to move around. After all there are 12 monthly dividers and 31 daily dividers plus all of the physical stuff that goes in it. I think if you work in an office all day and you don't have to be very portable it makes more sense. As part of my black belt philosophy, I feel it's very important to be highly mobile so you can work from anywhere. That's more difficult for bulkier stuff.

The other problem I had with a tickler file is that I never would look in it every day. If I had to guess, there are a lot of people like me who also don't remember to look in it either.

So what I opted to do is make an electronic tickler file. It is comprised of two components. The first is my google calendar. Anything that is time specific, I put on my calendar. Each event I put on my calendar automatically sends me an email reminder.

The second thing I do is put any physical item associated with that event in my @Waiting For folder. When the day comes that I need the item, I get an email telling me it's needed, open up my waiting for folder and take it out and do what I need to do with it.

A lot of times I will have a conference to attend. The agenda will arrive in my mail. I might have an itinerary I need for flights, hotel information or other documents.

My workflow would be as follows. I would put the date of the conference on my google calendar. Then I would take the paperwork related to the conference and put it in my waiting for folder. I then forget about it.

When the conference is a few days away, I receive an email reminding me I have an upcoming set of meetings. I then pull out of my waiting for folder and pull out the paperwork.

To me this is a more streamlined approach to the tickler file. It is highly portable and only requires one folder so it takes up less space.

If you don't have a lot of physical items that would go in a tickler file, I highly recommend that you scrap the old style tickler and use the set up I have outlined.

I personally don't know anyone who actually uses an old style tickler file. Let me know what you do.
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Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Unfortunate Power Of Negative Thinking

I've never been a really negative person. I'm a skeptic for sure. Ask me about my own abilities though, and I'll tell you that I think I can do anything I set out to do. But I do know that there are people out there who have a negative outlook on things. They don't think they can and they end up being right.

I have been told that the rationale behind thinking negative or for expecting the worst to happen is that the worst most likely won't happen. When it doesn't, then it makes things great when they turn out better than expected.

I can't claim to understand this type of thinking and I also don't have a clue what makes one person confident or positive in themselves and another completely negative. I also have no evidence whether one person is more successful. If I had to guess, people who believe in themselves probably achieve more. To me, it's simple logic. Because they think they can, they probably do end up being more successful in life.

Negative thinking spills over into your mental well being and shows itself in the form of negative self talk. If you find that you put yourself down by saying bad things about yourself, then you are putting up an additional roadblock to your success. While an occasional burst of self doubt works its way into everyone's brain, consistent questioning of one's abilities or self worth is a trait you might want to consider working on.

The reason is that the mind is a powerful thing. It's really a supercomputer in your head that I don't think any one knows what  it's maximize potential power is. The thing that I do know is this. If you ask your mind a question, it will work to find an answer to it.

Ask the mind questions like "why am I such a loser" and your brain will start coming up with reasons why you are indeed such a loser.

Additional negative questions of the brain provide additional confirmation of why you fail all of the time, why people don't like you and in general why you are a horrible person.

Once you ask these questions often enough over a long period of time, you convince your brain that all of the answers it provides are true and that you were correct in thinking those questions up in the first place.

Imagine, if you will, working with a person who actually told you what a loser you are to your face day in and day out. There's a good chance you'd be pretty angry at that person and would probably try and remove yourself from seeing that person. You wouldn't tolerate it if other people talked to you that way or at least you shouldn't.

Why then, tolerate it from yourself?

If you find yourself in this loop of negative thinking, what should you do?

The first step is to acknowledge that it's a learned behavior like any other bad habit. For some reason, you got hooked on it like a drug and now you are an addict but just like a drug, you can stop taking it.

Next, if you are a person who verbalizes your negative thinking out loud and not just internally to yourself, then at least don't say them to other people. Keep your negative thoughts to yourself. The reason this is important is that just like your mind, the people you interact with can come up with answers to your negative questions as well and there is no sense in convincing any more people of your self doubt.

The next step to reversing this habit is to substitute negative questions with positive ones instead. Write down the questions that you ask yourself on a regular basis and write down alternative substitute questions that are more positive. Instead of asking yourself why you are such a loser, ask yourself how can I become a winner?

Granted this step might be extremely difficult if you are practiced and well conditioned negative thinker. But look for ways to ask yourself "how can I.." and "what can I.." questions.

You'll might be surprised that your brain can answer some very positive questions as well.
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Saturday, November 5, 2011

How To Use The GTD Someday Maybe List

I received a question from one of my readers regarding how to use the GTD someday maybe list. Before I talk about her questions specifically, I wanted to say a big thank you to all of my readers who take the time to send an email or comment on the site. It is always great to get some feedback and it helps me know that people are reading what I write and I appreciate it very much.

Here is her question:
Hi Michael,
Love your blog posts! And congrats on your 30 day project goal
achievements! I have been doing GTD for a very long time and
can't imagine my life without it. My one area of struggle I
wonder if maybe your readers might be struggling with, also.
Maybe you'd want to write a blog on this topic, if you don't
have the time to email me back personally: I faithfully write
everything down (or type actually) to get my mind "quiet"....
I feel good about my system. My greatest challenge is moving
things from my active lists to my "someday maybe" list. My
"someday maybe" list gets way too long so I don't want to
read it and it makes my weekly review too long. So I started
doing a shorter weekly review and went to a longer monthly
review when I read my "someday maybe" list. But now that
review feels like it gets too long, so I end up not reading
my "someday maybes." Then that backs up my system and my
current list of "to dos" becomes not current and then I
don't trust my system as much. I realized that even if I
get 100 things accomplished each week and don't get to 20
things per week, that is 1040 "to dos" by the end of the
year that don't get done. The 20 things I don't get to
weekly are still things I would like to do (they are not
"someday maybes").... perhaps I am an overachiever and
optimist and that's the crux of my problem? I'm a big
believer in the GTD's "you have to know what you are not
doing".... I do know what I am not doing and I prioritize
well, but the 1040 "to dos" bog down my system and is often
the reason I fall off the wagon.

Any suggestions?

Thanks for your inspiration and the Black Belt Project!
Mary Sue Williams

 

OK. So let's talk about the someday maybe list and I'll let you in how I would approach this problem.

For me personally, I use the someday maybe list as a "wish list". I put things on this list that I think I might want or want to do. I put them on my list so that I can get it out of my head and "someday" I might want to "maybe" buy them or do those items on my list.

I may never actually follow through on those items on my someday maybe list.

Let me give you a concrete example so you can see how this might work. The other day I was working and and had to wait in a break room for a few minutes before a meeting. In the break room was a book called the Impatient Gardner. It had a good section on how to make your lawn look good and I certainly would love to have a nice lawn. I didn't have time to finish reading the book, so I sent myself a text to remember to put it on my someday maybe list which I did later. It would look like this:

  • Read the Impatient Gardner about lawn care


Just as a side note, I do send myself texts for things I need to put on my next action lists but in this case, this wasn't something I would definitely have to do or not. I might like to read this book again. I might lose interest which will probably be the case. I didn't want to forget though just in case.

When I do my GTD weekly review, I scan my someday maybe list quickly to see if there is anything on my list that I might want to take action on now. If so, and if it is a item that requires more than one step, I would put it on my project list and assign a next action to it.

As another example, on my wish list is to create a section in the members area of this site for new members to give them instructions on what to do first and how to get started. During my weekly review, I would put this on my project list as something like:

  • Set up quick start section on the Black Belt Project for new members


I would then look at that project and decide what the next action is. In this case, I would probably decide that I would like to make a welcome page for new members. I use an @action list for this and would put down the following next action.

  • Create a welcome page on the Black Belt Project


I would then finish my weekly review.

Once an item goes from my someday maybe list to my next action list, it never returns to my someday maybe list. It stays on my next action list until I decide to do it or it gets stale and I figure out that I am just probably never going to do it anyway.

Each week, I prune my next action list of items that are completed or that I just won't do for one reason or another. Otherwise, items stay on my list as long as needed to remind me to do them regardless of how big the list gets.


What tended to happen for me at this point was that I found things would stay on the action list and I just wouldn't do them for one reason or another and I also didn't want to delete them.

I've noticed that this issue cropped up for me in all areas of my system. At first, I noticed that my inbox would be crammed full of stuff and I wouldn't get it to empty. Then I would noticed that my @calls list wouldn't get done on my calls list as well as things not getting done on my action lists.

How I tackled this issue was by starting at the front end of my system and making sure that I would get that component of my system to black belt. I started getting collection under control. I then got my inbox always to empty. I pictured in my head an iron pressing everything down my system and moving it out kind of like tube of toothpaste on the other end.

What I noticed happen is that my head was clear enough to focus on the next thing I needed to get functioning at a high level. I would make all of my calls on my calls list for example.

The other thing that helps me is by looking at each list as an assembly line and to handle one item at a time as it appears on the list just like when I process the stuff in my inbox.

I also give myself permission to have a list as long as I need and permission to not have to do everything just because I put it on my list.

Which boils down to the problem a lot of us GTD'ers have and that is the "DOING" part of GTD. It's a lot more fun to organize everything but a lot harder to actually do.

I'm not saying that your problem is a problem related to doing. But it sure was for me. I think for you I would suggest that you make your someday maybe list a one way ticket to your next action list and if it doesn't get done there, it is a one way ticket out of your system either because you did it or decided you weren't going to ever do it.

I also suggest to periodically prune your someday maybe list of items you have lost interest in but I wouldn't hold the items on your someday maybe list to as a high standard as your action list. This is because a "wish list" is just that. Things you dream you might want to do and I wouldn't ever want anyone to limit those. You could also consider segmenting your someday maybe list into two groups items. Things that might be more likely you would do and others you might not think you would ever get around to. I personally use only one list.

One other side note to your question that pertains to the length of your weekly review. It made me wonder if you are doing more processing and organizing than actually reviewing. I would also confirm with yourself that in your review, you are reviewing and not doing. I use to do that a lot without realizing it.

I hope this helps and good luck getting your someday maybe list under control.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

How To Cure The Disease Of Perfectionism

I wanted to talk about perfectionism and how it can be a roadblock to getting things done. I personally think that perfectionism is a roadblock to accomplishing greater things in my life. This is because I have set a high standard for myself throughout my life and others have come to expect it from me. What it does though is teach you that if you can't do it perfectly, you don't want to do it. It's a form of avoiding failure.

For me it started when I was in eighth grade. I had a math teacher who stated in class that it wasn't possible to get an "A+" in math. I asked him why not. He explained that the reason you couldn't do it was because you would have to get every problem correct and not miss a point. I remember specifically telling him that I thought it could be done and I backed that up with doing it in his class that specific year.

While I don't think this had much of an impact on his life, it did on mine. From that point on, I decided that I was going to get an "A+" in every math class from that point forward and managed to do it in the classes that followed. In each type of math from algebra, geometry, trigonometry to calculus, I scored an "A+".

I derived a lot of satisfaction from mastering these math classes and I guess that you could say that it was first taste of being a black belt master at something.

I think  that we should approach everything that we do with perfection in mind. Doing it perfectly should be the goal.

But in having perfection as a goal there are two problems that are created. The first is that if I don't think I can do it perfectly, I sometimes delay doing it. It's a form of procrastination. The second thing is that if I don't do it perfectly, I might beat myself up if I fail to reach perfection.

It's the first problem that affects me the most. I wasn't really aware that the second problem existed until I saw my son get mad if he failed at doing things perfectly the first time. I don't tend to be hard on myself if I fail at perfection. Failure to me is a step towards perfection in my opinion.

Mastering anything is really just about practice and study and an attention to detail. And you learn more from doing things wrong than doing them right every time. There's a benefit to reviewing mistakes and correcting them. It teaches you not to make the same mistake twice.

Perfectionism is only a problem for me if it breeds inaction. The cure for that it is to take action.

I have that problem sometimes with this site. Sometimes I avoid working on it because I want to write the perfect article. If I feel I don't have time to write the perfect article, then I won't write it pure and simple.

In particular on this site, I have set the bar high. People that have visited and signed up as a white belt have the expectation that they will achieve mastery at some point. That is the message I am delivering. That is the goal of this site.

Now I could have not set up the site until I had it perfect. With all the content and instruction all in place. I chose not to do that so that people could see an "idea" go from its conception to final product. The part in between is what you seeing now. It's me writing out my thought process on a daily basis as I fine tune it and move it to perfection.

For me, that's how I battle my issues with perfectionism. I start taking action. I get something started. I don't worry about if it's perfect the first go around.

What happens then is that I notice once I start getting things moving, my brain starts working. I starts generating ideas on how to do things better. I think it does this because action gets the brain going. And eventual perfection is a by product of that.

Start taking action today.

Member Update:


I started a private Facebook group for Black Belt Project followers. It's a private group. To join, go to facebook.com/blackbeltproject, please like the page and then post on my wall that you want to be a member of the group and I'll add you. I'll use the group for informal discussions and updates. I notice that more people use Facebook than Twitter to follow stuff like that and it makes sense to do that. It will start out small but I encourage you to let me know you want to be in it.

 
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

What To Do When You Fall Off The GTD Bandwagon

I'm not sure who decided that when you quit or get out of the habit of GTD that you "fall off the bandwagon" but I know it happens to a lot of people over time - myself included. Just like anything else, our interest and motivation level ebbs and flows over time and it's no different than with our work habits. The key to dealing with the situation is to not beat yourself up about it and just get started again. I always say get started with collecting again. And by collection, I mean all of the paper you have laying around. Getting things picked up. It's the easiest way to start getting momentum.

When I first started with GTD, I carried the book every where. I read it any chance I got. I surfed the web looking for any kind of edge I could get to help me set up the best possible GTD set up I could get. Once I did that, the newness of the what I had learned wore off a little bit and I didn't carry the same kind of enthusiasm that I once did for it.

So when the time came and I fell of the bandwagon, I didn't worry about it too much because I had one unique advantage going for me than when I did when I was pre-GTD. That was that I had a system set up and ready to go. All of my inboxes were there. All of my lists. My calendar. All of the buckets that weren't there before were all there now. When my personal habits broke down, I knew exactly what to do I just wasn't doing it.

My GTD system is just like a manufacturing company. When I fall off the bandwagon, it's like the power was shut off the assembly line and no parts get put together. What I do to get it rolling again is turn on the power.

The power in this case is momentum that the collection activity generates.

You see GTD collection is easy. You just gather stuff up.

The reason that I start here is because cleaning everything up and getting things into my gtd inboxes gets me moving. There are no hard decisions involved at this stage.

Decisions are friction that stall me in the GTD processing phase. But they seem easier to make when my head is clear and my workspace is organized.

If you have fell off the bandwagon, follow this advice to get yourself moving again.
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How To Reach Your Potential

Yesterday I talked about my life purpose and how I wanted to reach my potential. But potential is such a vague word, it's really hard to quantify and really know when you have reached it. I certainly know when I am not reaching my potential. I know what that feels like. I think the real problem is that because we really have unlimited potential (which I will explain why in a second), it's a moving target we can never reach.

So how can we really reach our potential?

I think it starts by maximizing your time. When I waste time, I have a nagging feeling of regret that I wasn't productive. When I don't feel productive, I feel like I haven't reached my potential. And even when I maximize my time, I really could be more productive because I could always train people to do what I do and do more but at least when I maximize my time I don't try and steal time from other areas of my life to make up for it.

Wasted time can equal wasted potential.

The first step for me then is to figure out how to best use my time. To me time is like an investment. You want to invest your time in activities that allow you to have more free time down the road. You can always make more money but you can't make more time.

Time is more precious than money.

To figure out how I want to use my time, I made a weekly grid of how I wanted to use the time available each day. I blocked off time that I want to sleep, eat, work, have fun and take care of myself. Then I study how I use that time by recording what I actually do in a checklist.

Once I have the checklist, I fine tune it until I have it completely the way I want it. I then work on my efficiency. I start asking questions like how fast can I do the checklist? Do I have to do this? Can I have someone else take care of it for me?

Once you start to do this you will get stronger and  you'll start to figure out that reaching potential is a lot like weightlifting. The stronger you are, the more weight you can lift.

But the beauty of it is, that unlike weight lifting where you lift all of the weight, you can ask other people to help you lift.

Let me give you an example.

I think this website has A LOT of potential. It's got a great name, it's got a big idea behind it.

But, if I don't write on it, I waste it's potential. That's one reason I made it my thirty day challenge to write on it every day. This helps me move in the direction of getting closer to it's potential benefit to it's readers.

Even then, I could write more than one article a day to help people. I could do audio and video tutorials to make it even better help people. Once I was doing all I could on the site each day, you might think I have reached my potential.

But the reality is that I could train someone to help me. And they could duplicate what I did. And then I could add another and so on.

You might think that I have reached my potential then. But if I thought really hard, I could also figure out other ways to reach people. I could have what I wrote translated into other languages. I could set up workshops for people who might not have ever found me online and train people to do that.

So you can see, this is why I say that potential is unlimited. There are ways to increase it. But it starts with you and getting you moving in that direction. Take action and start realizing your potential.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What Is My Life Purpose And Do I Need To Figure It Out

I want to talk about a question that many people often ask themselves. That is - what is my life purpose? I think I started thinking about purpose recently because of the GTD altitudes that I discussed a while back. I did a little research about life purpose and one of the things I discovered was something from Steve Pavlina that walked you through how to figure it out. I really like Steve's stuff but I had to laugh when in a nutshell he said that once you figure it out and write it down, it will make you cry. So, while I found his article informative, I didn't find it completely useful for me specifically because I just didn't see that happen. I guess that I am too practical.

I think that defining my life purpose and boiling it down to a few sentences is difficult because it is just too broad a topic to do that. I mean it's easy to define your purpose for say - a workout program. You can really visualize what done looks like. Our life purpose is always a work in progress and it's also never done, or it shouldn't be in my opinion.

If you look at the GTD altitudes, I think it's easy to grasp the concept that projects are things that require more than one next action. And while I have never seen it defined this way, areas of focus are things that require more than one project. I guess that you could say that your life purpose is just something that requires more than one area of focus and that is helpful but how do you wrap that up into a concise statement that motivates you into action.

It's a very difficult challenge to do that.

For me, what I have decided to do is to look at my life from a long term perspective and ask myself what would have made me happy if I looked back. In that case, it does make things become a little clearer and least in how I think I want to define my life purpose.

I figure that if I wanted to achieve anything in my life it would be to live up to my potential. To not look back at what I accomplished in life and say, I could have achieved more. I could have been better than I was and really didn't do it.

As we get older, I think that thought creeps into our minds more as we see time slip away and regret not pushing ourselves to realize our potential.

I compare it to a gifted athlete who never practices and wastes his gift versus someone who practiced their butt off to be great. Who got more out of their athletic careers and why?

The difference in that example is what is the perceived potential. Did you maximize it? And the only person that really knows that in your life is you.

For me, my life purpose is to maximize my potential by taking action every day towards the goals I set in each area of focus quickly and consistently on a daily basis.

And while I didn't cry while I wrote it down, I think that's a good start.

This Month's Thirty Day Challenge And Update To Last Month's Challenge:


For those of you who have been following my thirty day challenges, I successfully completely last month's challenge which was not to eat anything that came in a bag or wrapped in plastic unless it was a whole food like a vegetable. The only exception that I made to this was that I could have dark chocolate. The challenge was pretty easy as I have noticed each one is getting easier as I do it.

Past successful challenges include:

  1. No diet coke

  2. No fried food

  3. Walking everyday



The one challenge I wasn't able to complete was getting up at 6:00 am. That was too tough for me. Otherwise, I have gotten through all of them. Once I complete a challenge, I maintain it and the one that I am most proud of so far is walking every day. I have 61 days completed so far.

This month's challenge is to write every day on this site. Day one complete!
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