Tag Archives: persistence

Books for Entrepreneurs: Essentialism

Greg McKeown’s infamous book, Essentialism, has been on my reading list for a long time. I can’t even remember when or where I first heard about it, but those who mentioned it always spoke of its life changing effect.

When you read a lot of business and personal improvement books like I do, you get used to people waxing lyrical about how things will never be the same after adopting strategy x. This may turn out to be one of those rare occurrences where it happens to be true. The constant doing more, but achieving less. Never feeling satisfied or that the day was meaningful.

As I began reading, I was relieved to discover I already had quite a few essentialist habits. I discovered the underlying cause of friction I felt on many projects: my broadly essentialist approach versus the non-essentialist approach being taken.

This meant that in addition to completing the task itself, I had to work out the true intent and purpose of the project. Where some people are happy to just complete any task (usually just taking the easiest route to something approximating done), I have never accepted mediocre as the target to aim for. Instead, I would rather take longer to work out how to provide a valuable outcome.

But although I was embracing essentialism in many areas, in others I was getting woefully distracted. My personal life, especially, was in free-fall at the time of reading this book. In no small part this was due to the mental exhaustion that came with battling work tasks handed to me that were governed by non-essentialist principles.

So how has this book helped me? Largely by giving me the confidence not to accept a task without getting those in charge of the project to clarify their thinking about it first. Sometimes, the person handing out that task is me. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, understanding essentialism is vital for avoiding burnout.

It’s hard to ask difficult questions sometimes, but it gives me the boundaries to not only do good work, but also valuable work.

The best part of this is that I ultimately freed up valuable creative energy to expend into my personal life and projects. I developed a new infrastructure for 2017 that allowed me to be location independent and travel.It also gives me the framework to consider carefully my side projects and see which ones are ready to move from hobby to business and which ones simply need to be cut from my life, no matter how enjoyable they seem on the surface.

For the first time since reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done, I have experienced a fundamental shift in what I believe is achievable and what my life needs to look like to get there. The confidence comes through in the decision making process. Whilst success is never guaranteed, I am giving myself the best possible shot at living a meaningful life, rather than a purely busy and productive one.

With challenging economic and political times ahead, Essentialism is one of the books I would recommend for anyone who wants to make the most of future opportunities in the changing workforce.

Beyond the bikini body – be healthy for life, not just for summer

It’s been coming for a month or so. The magazines aimed at women (and a handful aimed at men, too) have been screaming that we need to slim down for summer. The bikini body. The ‘lose ten pounds in two weeks’ diet. The juice cleanse. And goodness knows what else.

Many countries have a long weekend right about now. It holds the promise of summer. The evenings are longer. The temperatures are warm enough that the long sleeves and baggy jumpers that hide the sins of winter have to go.

For many people, panic sets in. Hence the crash diet and the crazy food choices. Most of them do work, but only in the short term. Some of the more extreme ones actually do more harm than good.

“In reality, the healthy approach is simple. Not easy, but simple”

In reality, the healthy approach is simple. Not easy, but simple. You don’t need cabbage soup. You don’t need a low fat, low flavour, low calorie diet. Just cut out processed sugars. Simple as that. Go cold turkey for thirty days and by the time the summer really kicks in, you’ll discover it’s not about looking thin, it’s about being truly healthy.

And your health? Worth more than dropping ten pounds in two weeks, no matter what the media tries to sell you.

Don’t know where to start? My realistic guide to navigating the sugar free lifestyle is available in ebook for only 0.99 until June.

Deeply addictive, sugar is everywhere. Even added to the most unlikely foods, the majority of us exceed the recommended daily intake without even realising it. Instead of teaching you how to cook fake cake, or pretending that quinoa really is an exciting grain that will revolutionise your view on salads, this book guides you through the myths about sugar in our food and through the realities of addiction. The 9 step action plan then helps you make the change and really stick to it.
Even if you’re not quite ready to eliminate all sugar from your life, this book contains practical tips to help you shop wisely, create good habits and sustain better lifestyle choices.

The paperback edition includes blank pages and examples to help you analyse your behaviours and face up to your bad habits, allowing you to document your journey to a sugar-free lifestyle.

Available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Not The 4-Hour Workweek: lessons in scheduling, time tracking and an abundance of hours

This is the first full work week completely under my own control. I set the tasks, the hours, the goals and overall strategy. Anyone who knows me will agree I love to have that kind of control. It has been a steep learning curve, but years of practicing in my free time outside of the 9-5, as well as the lessons in project management I’ve learned over the years working in companies, has made it much easier than it could have been.

Towards the end of 2016, I listened to The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. For anyone who has ever considered location independent living or being a digital nomad, then this is often the springboard book. Besides, with a title like that, who wouldn’t want to work just four hours?

Of course, is that really what the book is saying? ‘Do nothing and get rich’ is the answer a lot of people hope to get from it. But at it’s heart, it’s about doing the things that matter in the most effective way possible. It is a bible for lifestyle design. People who can automate their business to the point that they only spend four hours on them are the kinds of people who don’t then retire. They start another business. The ‘be effective’ and commitment to living big is the message they take away, not do as little as you can.

Four hours sounds nice on the surface. But if you work doing the things you enjoy, which I suspect most of Ferris’ disciples do, then four hours is never the goal.

Time tracking

As you can guess from the title, this has not been a four hour work week. My life hasn’t been fully automated with a bunch of virtual assistants running businesses for me while I sip cocktails in Bali. How do I know this? For the first time in years, I did proper time tracking.

I didn’t spend hours looking at all the different options for doing this. Instead I picked toggl, as Mike and Grey were talking about it so much on the recent episodes of Cortex. Have I gone all in? Nope, I won’t be taking advantage of that extensive API to play with. I just want to know how much time I am spending on the key areas that now constitute my day.

The results? I might not be working a four hour week, but I’m not doing a forty hour one either:

This is actual work. This is not ‘killing time’ work. This is not timesheet submission busy-work. When the tasks for the day are done, then I am done. I focus on them completely and make them as efficient as they can be. This is just the first week of data, but it is fascinating. I’ve always believed that quality of work is more important than hours spent and this is re-enforcing that in a big way.

Time scheduling – a combination of digital and analogue

In a less time efficient move, I have lost countless hours since January looking at digital project and time management tools. None of them seem to be just what I was looking for. Many were far too time intensive to set up projects and tasks for my small, single-person projects. Secondly, I’m still reliant on the GTD way of thinking, meaning that many have critical pieces missing. Thirdly, none would emphasise calendaring in a way that works for me. I’m a deadline driven person, so without a ‘real’ due date, my default action will be to happily defer.

Rather than continuing this frustration, right now I am managing things in an analog and digital combo. The first is a paper planner (the Moleskine Weekly Planner that I reviewed here) and a separate ‘work’ calendar that chunks times of the day into very high level categories (for example, editing time vs ‘line edit of x book’).

Putting the two together has allowed me to focus on the bigger picture, whilst still getting into the detail of the day. Whether it will continue to work in the long term remains to be seen, but for this first focused week, just about everything went according to plan, with enough flexibility to allow for one or two unscheduled events.

Free time and the sensation of guilt (‘I should be doing…’)

I’ve been sticking to my usual routine of starting my workday at 6am. Doing around 4 hours means I have a lot of day left at the end of my day. Whilst this sounds like a dream – and it is – the thing that I have noticed at times is an overwhelming sense of guilt. Even on the day I used all my brainpower writing 7,500 words, it was an obvious nagging sensation at the back of my brain. The quest for something ‘productive’ to do. It has made me realise how much we are compelled to fill our hours with work, when sometimes the thing to do is just relax.

I hope this is something that disappears quickly. It feels like a hangover from the 9-5 life and it serves no purpose as far as I can tell.

Walking and thinking is a valid use of time

Conclusion – scary, at times overwhelming, but eye-opening and utterly rewarding

Would I class this first proper full time writing week as a success? Yes, I would. I’ve eaten well, I’ve rested well and I’ve spent time creating new products and learning new things.

Has it been difficult and crazy ass scary at times? Of course it has. Any big change always does (and anyone who tells you otherwise has got caught up in their own lies and bravado). But I’ve also loved the freedom and the self-reliance. I’ve loved a semi-traditional work week, with all of the benefits and very few downsides.

I already can’t wait to see what next week brings when reality sets in.

Death of a salesman: The (not so) sweet truth about hotel breakfasts

Hopefully today was my last hotel breakfast for a long time. For nearly three years, I have spent at least one night each week in a hotel. I’ve stayed in some good places and some bad places. I have tried a lot of hotel breakfasts and at some point I might look forward to one again, but right now that seems impossible.

This kind of temptation each week? Exhausting!

So how do you stay healthy while traveling? It’s not easy at all. In unfamiliar surroundings, the default setting is to take the easiest option. Sticking to a healthy lifestyle – food or exercise – is a challenge of monumental proportions.

Most UK hotels offer a simple choice: cooked or continental. Cooked is usually more expensive as you have to pay for the privilege of someone heating your bacon until it is at least tepid (or the other option, so black and crispy you’re waiting for a CSI unit to come in and identify it). However, if you’re keeping your unhealthy fats low during the rest of the week, it is a low sugar option if you forgo the beans and ketchup. The same cannot be said for the continental option, with it’s all-you-can-eat high sugar cereal options, pastries and jams in every variety.

So, if you are trying to be healthy and wholesome, why not forgo the temptation and get a healthy breakfast to go instead? It’s quick, it’s easy, it has limited portions and it is marketed as a great start to your busy work day.

Quick, easy and healthy marketing? Alarm bells are ringing…

So, what do these packs typically contain and how much sugar does that translate into? I’ve researched a couple and below is a pretty accurate representation:

Cereal and milk (19g) OR fruit yoghurt (15g)
Muffin (25g)
Breakfast bar (12g)
Juice (20g)

This equals between 70-75g of sugar before you even start your day (that’s more than double the NHS recommended daily intake of 30g!). When you’ve got an early meeting, this can seem like a sensible choice, but it isn’t. Not to mention that it virtually guarantees a mid-morning slump that will have you reaching for another quick pick me up.

This persistent set of poor options is one of the reasons why I’ve decided to transition into a lifestyle where I can have more control not only of my work, but also my health. Research shows that health is one of the consistently de-prioritised areas of modern life, despite us understanding more than ever about exercise and nutrition benefits.

The healthy ‘to go’ breakfast, whether at a hotel or your favourite coffee chain, is just another marketing trap, so heed the warning and don’t be fooled!

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The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free is available at Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US) in both ebook and paperback.

Love the book? Then please leave a review on Amazon. Reviews help keep the book visible, which means I can help more people make the change to a happier and healthier life.

Moleskine Weekly Planner vs Hobonichi Techo – 2017 review

This year needs to be a very big year for me in terms of personal productivity. I will transition from full-time employment to being entirely self-employed within the next few weeks. I’ve always found it easy to be productive in the daily 9-5 job, but being entirely accountable for my own goals and planning is a new challenge. One that I knew my setup in 2016 simply wouldn’t be able to handle.

Last year, one of the problems I encountered with my productivity was a surfeit of notebooks. That’s really the best way to describe it. I used the Hobonichi Techo to record my daily events but not my daily tasks. They were instead recorded in a Field Notes book using a modified Bullet Journal method. I never actually adhered to the full Bullet Journal system because several features, such as calendared events, simply do not work for me.

hobonichi techo

Hobonichi Techo: great paper but no overview

In a larger A5 size notebook, such as a Moleskine or a Paperblanks, I wrote my daily gratitude journals and morning pages. On the road, this felt more like a burden than a productivity asset as it was always a minimum of three daily notebooks.

As much as  I loved using the Hobonichi, I realised this was less about the layout and much more about the paper. As a huge fountain pen fan it was great knowing it could take literally any pen and ink combo that was thrown at it. I enjoyed the variety that different form factors provide. But pleasure aside, it just wasn’t practical. I was doing less, not more, and friction in the system became a problem in itself.

As part of my 2016 yearly review, I decided to very consciously choose a planner that would suit my changing circumstances. After considering all the options, I settled on an A5 Moleskine 12 Month Weekly Planner.  I’ve been using it consistently for 8 weeks, so now I’ve got enough information to provide a fair review of how this is working.

Key Features

Of course, it starts with the obligatory information page. I have no idea why these are included anymore, as no one ever fills them out surely? In the age of widespread fraud, the Field Notes approach of email address and reward waiting checkbox is all you need.

Moleskine Weekly Planner

Passport and credit card numbers? No thanks!

The planner style is more than just a ‘space per day’ diary. On the left hand page there is a daily spread, but on the right hand side there is a lined page. This allows free space each week to make notes or, in my case, to plan out additional goals. If you need to record lots of meetings and appointments, then this might not work for you.

Moleskine 12 month weekly planner

Daily and Weekly planning combo – ideal for modified Bullet Journal

There is also a monthly spread at the beginning. This is quite similar in size to the one I used last year in the Hobonichi, so it allows for bigger picture planning. Unlike the Hobonichi, there is more space at the bottom of each page for additional notes, taking advantage of the larger A5 size.

Moleskine Weekly Planner

Monthly overview – ideal for larger project planning

By far the biggest downside is the number of lined pages for additional notes at the back. With just 4, I already only have 2 lined sides left. Given that this book is narrower than a standard Moleskine A5 ruled book, this is not due to a thickness issue. Cost saving? Quite possibly, given that the usual address book pullout section wasn’t included this year either. I’ve spoken to other people who have Moleskine diaries in other formats and they didn’t have one either. So it is slightly disappointing if they are doing that, given they don’t exactly sell these as inexpensive items and they’re certainly not reinvesting the saving into better quality paper.

Moleskine Notebook

Seriously, no more pages left and February isn’t even over!

So far, with the caveats mentioned above, I have found this system to be working absolutely perfectly for my needs. Though the paper is nowhere near as good quality as the Hobonichi (understatement of the year) I have found that by sticking to a fine nib and a relatively dry ink I can still use some fountain pens with this. But on reflection, I’m approaching this year with functionality over fun and beauty.

So, to recap, the pros and cons of the Moleskine Weekly Planner…

Pros

  • Good layout for weekly goal setting
  • Monthly view for high level planning
  • General sleek and professional form factor you would expect from Moleskine

Cons

  • Paper quality (I’ve heard Leuchtturm1917 do a similar style, so this may be a better choice if paper really matters – if anyone has tried this then please let me know in the comments as I’ll consider alternatives for 2018)
  • Not enough lined pages at the back for additional notes
  • No address book section

The layout has been the winner for me. Without masses of daily appointments and meetings to keep track of, I can use a modified Bullet Journal system within the planner itself and feel like I’m keeping all my work plans and goals on track. But I’m not blind to some fairly significant weaknesses in the product.

It’s quitting time: How Jon Acuff’s Quitter changed my life

I first read Jon Acuff’s Quitter 3 years ago on vacation. I even wrote a review on it.

I loved the book. It had many useful insights. So, did I come home from that sunny beachside view, walk into the office and hand in my notice?

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No, I did not.

Why? Not because I didn’t want to. At the end of the book, when you feel the glimmering possibility of quitting your day job for your dream job, there is a pop quiz. One that gives you an idea of whether or not you’d make it in the real world.

I answered the questions and, despite knowing doing so wouldn’t give me the answer I wanted, I answered them honestly. The result? I was putting in some work, but not in enough areas to enable me to quit. I was annoyed with the outcome, but only because it was telling me what I already knew. It wasn’t giving me a quick out. It wasn’t giving me any kind of false hope.

The false hope is a common flaw of many business / self-help books. Their purpose is to sell you a concept. The promise that the book will change your life forever if you just follow their new approach or idea. Life isn’t that simple. Especially when it comes to quitting a stable, good job in a tough economy.

So I went back to work, but I also looked seriously at my side projects. My passion projects. Instead of keeping them as hobbies, I made them into real, practical things. Hobbies are great, but they don’t come with obligations and deadlines. You don’t hustle on a hobby. Writing for fun is the best thing ever, but I had to understand the difference between that and writing things that would allow me to follow my dreams.

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Every year since that first experience, during my two weeks looking out over the ocean, I read the book and took the quiz again. Each year, my score got a little higher. It was slow, but it was progress.

Then one day, without that sunny view, I could feel the change in the air. It was a normal Tuesday morning, but something tickled the back of my mind. I grabbed the book and before work, I took the survey. I got a score of 65. That seemed pretty good. Higher than ever before. I flicked to the scorecard to double check.

The answer: it’s quitting time.

Still, felt like I had some work commitments and loose ends to tie up. It seemed like the decent thing to do. I also see there was a little bit of fear involved with quitting. A reason to put it off for a little while longer.

Now, after so many years of wishing it was time to quit, I finally have.

In four weeks, it will be my last day with my present company before going it alone for a while. It will be tough, but it is the most exciting thing I have ever done. Persistence has paid off and Quitter gave me the framework to create my best chance of success, rather than an impulsive leap into the unknown.

Thanks Jon!

You can find my original Jon Acuff’s Quitter review here.

Sugar Free Farm: A noble but flawed attempt at mixing entertainment with a serious message

I’m not usually a fan of reality TV. As a genre it is filled with vacuous, fame hungry idiots and adds no real meaning or value to my life, or to that of many others.

sugar_free_farm

The cast from season one. At least they look clean.

However, I watched the first series of Sugar Free Farm (Tuesday, ITV) with interest.  I have developed an interest in living a sugar-free lifestyle over the past year and half. One of the problems with this is that the media is only now coming to terms with questioning historically inaccurate scientific research. As a result the information about sugar is entering the ‘mixed messages’ phase.

As with any change and any new way of thinking, education is key.  Unfortunately, statistics show that highest incidences of obesity tend to occur in areas where income and education are the lowest.

So how do we reach this particular demographic? Quite simply, it is through the medium with which they are often most comfortable: entertainment. People like Tony Robbins have used this  effectively over the years by creating an almost rock concert-like atmosphere in which he is able to get his message across.

Reviews of the show have not been overwhelmingly positive. Despite its good intentions, when trying to put an educational message across, it needs to be either shocking or completely hidden behind something more engaging. Failure to do that results in something that isn’t very entertaining and, dare I say it, just a little bit preachy.

The quality of the celebs is a huge factor as well. The fact I only know the one who used to be a politician says more about me than it does about the intended audience, but even I can realise a Z-list when I see one. Sorry, old Dr. Who, but it’s the truth.

sugar-free-farm-cast

But most importantly, the message gets lost because it is simply not relatable. I realise the show needs a central concept (getting back to the land and living unprocessed lives) but who has time to grind their own flour? Or shake up their own butter?

No one, that’s who.

I live a sugar-free life already and I rolled my eyes and switched off. It would be far better to provide the contestants with a store cupboard that was limited but contained readily available items. That way people could begin to imagine how it would look in their own homes. Instead, the message becomes that to quit sugar you need to quit life and never have fun again.

Watching a few random other people lose a bit of weight and play with pigs isn’t going to motivate you to those extremes.

I mean, does this make you want to change your life?

sugar_free_farm

 

Want to quit sugar anyway? Buy the book that’s more about making it work in real life than baking fake cake. 

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