10 July 2007

Personal Planning, July 2007

This week I'll write about a few techniques that I use to enhance my personal effectiveness. Should make a change from the training discussion of the last few posts.

I've written before about longer term Personal Planning (see 5 September 2006) -- that is the template that I use for a 1-5 year time horizon. Looking over the medium term is a useful exercise for setting strategic direction. However, it is merely an initial step because it lacks immediacy as well as a concrete plan for daily action.

Personal excellence (for me) is driven by the creation of habitual (daily) actions towards ethical & challenging goals.

The photo this week is my white board. Up until a few weeks ago, I was using it for a To Do list for Alan, Mat and myself. However, it struck me that my greatest value added to the team isn't keeping lists for the Lads! In fact, if team members can't self-manage and meet their own deadlines then the team will be stronger without them. So my "management" was holding us back.

I considered how best to use the board to remind myself, and my team, the key elements of my personal game plan.


Left Column -- winning Ironman Canada is a near-term, achievable, highly challenging goal. Two years ago, that item was raise equity & debt funding for our Scottish property venture. Four years agao, that item may have been "run a sub-3 hour marathon off-the-bike". The exact nature of the item isn't all that important (in a larger sense) but having a near-term, challenging goal that requires daily focus... that helps me manage my time, focus and daily actions. You could call it the short-term expression of my Ultimate Vision.

Not To Do -- below that item (in red) are the three items that I've identified that tend to create disharmony. However, I've rephrased them into positive statements.

Don't seek to control the world becomes... Assist Without Owning
Avoid over-scheduling becomes... Limit New Commitments & Keep Schedule Simple

Those two points are my #1 self-sustained stress factors.

Sitting here, typing this out, I realized that I'm missing something on listening. So I just added... Hear People Clearly. When I get excited, I can spend more time thinking about what I will say next -- than listening.

My "not to do's" are essential because they are habits that I have developed that bring stress to me and limit my effectiveness. I love my flaws as much as I love my strengths, even productive change is challenging.


Central Column -- these are the items that I need to action daily in order to rapidly and effectively move towards my goals. I'll walk you through them because (for me) there is a powerful simplicity.

Love Monica -- concrete daily actions that demonstrate that M's important to me. These actions (in themselves) may not be all that important but their effect is the most powerful collective action that I can take each day. Some examples: garbage, composting, heavy lifting, empty the dishwasher, charge iPod, watering flowers, sit on couch, eat baking and chat.

Elite performance comes from the cumulative effect of many small decisions -- my marriage seems to mirror my sport. This is a radical shift in perspective for me. I have a blind spot for the connection between actions and love. Seems pretty clear when I type it out, though!

Train Daily -- this week's Alternative Perspectives is written by my good buddy, Sam Doolittle. He says it far better than me.

Wake-up Early -- the most important thing that I do each day is get out of bed. Sounds simple? Watch what happens when you don't "have" to get up in the morning. Personal productivity plummets -- when you have all the time in the world to achieve something, it often fails to get done. Deadlines & forced daily commitments are essential for "novice" achievers to get moving.

No Booze -- one hangover every 7-14 days knocks 10-15% off my annual productivity. In the fields that I seek to compete (triathlon/finance), I can't afford to give that kind of edge to my competition.

Media-Lite -- the amount of "signal" contained in the Western media is tiny compared to the noise and bias. In order to think clearly, I've greatly reduced my access to media. I still get a ton and am constantly tempted to return to my old ways. Here's the stuff that currently gets through my filter...

Slate.Com -- politics: I could easily do without
Economist.Com -- main source of media info: I read 30-50% of the on-line edition
CNN.Com, WSJ.Com and FT.Com (headlines)
Doonesbury.Com -- daily cartoon
CoachKP.Com -- help my buddy and find out what he's _really_ doing
XTri.Com & Ironman.Com -- keep an eye on my coaching & athletic competition
Weather.Com -- don't want to get caught at 10,000 feet in a hail storm!
Athlete Blogs -- find out how the Lads are doing through a different filter

That's a lot of stuff to review and I could easily pare it down a further 75% with zero impact on my ability to achieve my goals.

Email Mondays -- This is an on-going experiment for me. I've greatly increased personal energy and chopped my email traffic by 65% in one month. We'll see if once a week will work for the long term.

In order to maintain my client contacts, this new policy had an unintended consequences... in the early days, one of the clients asked how to get in touch with Monica if I died! He may have been trying to tell me something...

I took the hint and now work the telephone with my clients. Telephone is draining for me because it is my least effective medium of communication. Next year, I will shift to video conferencing and that should help a bit. The telephone cuts through a ton of the back-and-forth that results over the Internet and that makes it worth the effort.

Quick email messages may seem convenient but their existence provides disruption and interrupts the flow and quality of thought. Ultimately, my greatest value added flows through the quality of my thought.

I've asked Mat and Alan to check emails at Noon and 4pm when they are working. My gut feel was that we would get the greatest benefit from going off-the-grid on "office days" but I decided to try a more moderate trial.


Below my daily action points are my weekly action points: write this blog (weekly) and read good books. These come back to quality of thought -- practice expressing myself in writing and let good ideas flow into my head.


The right column contains short hand for key projects within my business life. In a sense, each item is a "client" of mine. I tend to view any business-related activity/person/project as a client. I keep a mix of established, venture and development "clients" within my personal portfolio.


I combine my white board with a single-sheet of paper for each week. Each Sunday, I write out my schedule for the entire week as well as my key "to do" items and telephone calls.

Since leaving Hong Kong in 2000, I've seen my (relative) personal productivity plummet. However, my global reach, personal freedom and direct effectiveness have soared. From the outside, I've been told that I do a tremendous amount. It doesn't feel that way to me. I used to "do" far, far more working 60-hour weeks while training for triathlon. The difference now is that _what_ I do is much more powerful and reaches many more people -- I've traded efficiency for effectiveness.

We all create clutter and dead time in our lives -- I am the same.

I work on building the habit of identifying (then removing) people, projects and opportunities that distract me. It is often unpleasant at the front end to clear away "clutter" -- I can find myself wondering about getting rid of old clothing!

To be clear, the most challenging items to clear away are those that are attractive. I say "no" to a tremendous amount to things that would be an effective (and fun) use of my time. Learning to do that with compassion is a focus for me.


My main point is that planning is most useful when combined with a system of daily action. Above are a couple of systems that I use to help keep myself rolling.

Hope this helps,



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