15 Minutes

Financial, Relationship and Spiritual Growth. Personal Development. Leadership.

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The Secret of Steady

ImageExpounding on my comments from last week, the reason slow and steady wins the race is because of steady not because of slow. The only reason that slow is of any value is because it makes steady easier.

For example, I did some math because I’ve started running again recently and have been tracking my workouts using a free app called Runkeeper. My average walking pace is about 3.5 mph while my running (jogging) speed was about 5.8 mph. That’s only about a 67% increase between walking and running (sue me, I’m out of shape).

But the difference is, that after jogging for 20 or 30 minutes I’m tired, sweaty and sore. But 20 or 30 minutes of walking is essentially effortless. I haven’t broken a sweat, I’m not tired and I don’t have to worry about being sore in the morning.

That extra 67% of speed uses up 800% more energy (at this point I’m no longer using data from the app, I’m just making up numbers).

That’s why I’m such a big advocate of small, daily changes.

Small, daily changes that are easy to implement allow you to apply steady growth to your life. (tweet that)

And just like with walking, if you do it every day you would be amazed at how far you can go.

I wrote my first book in 15 minutes a day. I also gave myself the intentional limitation that I would not write for more than 15 minutes. So no one could accuse me of cheating.

When I wrote my second book, I finished a lot quicker because I didn’t handicap myself with a speed limit. Now that I’m on my third book, I realized that I’m way behind schedule. Because I allowed myself to become complacent, allowed myself to believe that I could make up skipped time by going fast. After all, missing four days of work at 15 minutes a day, you can make that up in one hour, right? Or if you fall behind two weeks, you can make that up on your next day off and just concentrate on writing for a full day of work, right?

All the chronic procrastinators know the answer to that…. NO.

We tend to over estimate what we can do quickly (my jogging pace is only 67% faster than my walking pace). We severely under estimate what we can accomplish slowly.

So yesterday, after not looking at my manuscript for a couple of weeks, I planned to use my my day off for a marathon writing session. It worked out about as well as running an actual marathon after a couple weeks of inactivity. I was sluggish, I was confused. I had a hard time making sense out of fragments of thoughts and sentences that I’m sure had a point when I started them a few weeks back.

The bottom line is, I need to once again practice what I teach. I need to get back to my 15 minute habit. Walk every day and run when I can. Stop allowing myself to get out of shape.

Slow, steady growth:

  • Is easy to maintain on a daily basis
  • Keeps your momentum going in the right direction
  • Keeps you limber so you don’t pull a groin muscle

Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still. ~Chinese Proverb

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You Don’t Need To Sprint The Whole Way, But Don’t Stop Walking

Yes, that’s me racing a turtle on a black sand beach. Yes, it is illegal to be that close to a turtle. How do I know this? Because there is a sign posted. Want to know where it’s posted? About ten feet in front of me–facing the water. Which is a dumb place to put that sign because it only warns the tourists as they are LEAVING the beach. Unless the intent was to warn the turtles ahead of time and inform them of their rights.

Everyone is familiar with the story of the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady wins the race, right? That is not the entire truth. Actually it is steady that wins the race. There is no inherent value in slow.

I’ll defer to another story that I read in elementary school, although I don’t recall the title of the book, but I think it might have been The Great Brain Does It Again.

Kid A was talking smack because his parents bought him a new champion quarter horse. Kid B challenged him to a race with his parent’s broken down nag. Except that Kid B challenged him to a race that was two miles long. For those unfamiliar with the term “quarter horse,” it’s a racing horse that is trained to run short sprints, say… a quarter mile.

Kid A galloped out strong at the start, easily out-pacing Kid B’s old workhorse, but Horse A exhausted itself and eventually stopped despite his owner goading him to keep sprinting. Horse B jogged across the finish line.

Kid B won a lot of money on that race. But being something of a swindler, gave everyone a chance to win their money back the next day. Except this time Kid B agreed to race riding the quarter horse and Kid A could ride the winning nag.

The next day, Kid B won. Because he didn’t race his horse, he paced his horse. Rather than trying to force the champion quarter horse to sprint the entire two miles, he would let him run, then let him rest, let him run, let him rest. He didn’t push the horse past the point of exhaustion. He went at a steady pace and ran in occasional bursts of speed.

That’s my message for you today. In whatever venue you are planning for, whether your finances, your fitness, your relationships or your spiritual walk: Do a little bit every day, but do a lot when you can.

  • If you have never started saving for your retirement, don’t try to sprint by allocating 50% of your salary and 100% of your discretionary spending starting now. You will get exhausted and you will stop.
  • If you’ve been neglecting your spouse or children, don’t try to make it up by sprinting; by devoting every waking hour of your attention on them. It’s a little bit creepy and clingy.
  • If your relationship with God is not where you want it to be, don’t sprint by wearing a hair shirt, then fasting and praying for 48 hours straight. You’ll hallucinate. And itch.
  • If you want to get in shape, don’t start by racing a cheetah.

Stay steady. Don’t exhaust yourself.

The hare would have won if he just walked the entire race. His crime was that he stopped.

Devote a little bit of time and resources every day towards your goals. That’s your walking. And if you occasionally feel like running, then run.

  • Financial walking is setting aside a small percentage of your paycheck towards long term and short term savings (say $100 a month). Running is when you get a Christmas bonus and throw half of it into your portfolio (an instant $500). Notice though that sprinting is no substitute for steady walking.
  • Relationship walking is eating meals with your family, asking about their day, being available to talk. Running is taking them on a vacation! And I think we all know that trying to be Superdad for 1 week out of the year when you haven’t been around for the last 51 weeks is a little pathetic.
  • Walking with God is reading the bible for 15 minutes every day (I used dailybiblereader.com to read the entire bible in one year for about 15 minutes a day). Running with God is going on a missions trip or building orphanages in the Philippines.
  • Walking for fitness is… well, I guess is actually just walking. And when you’ve built up some stamina you can actually do some running.

Small investments compounded over time yield vast rewards (I think I may have written a book on this subject).

Have planned, daily activities that move you forward in some area of your life. That’s your daily walking; your good habits that make every day a growing day. Even just investing 15 minutes a day will result in huge long-term growth with very little effort.

Then every so often, you will have the opportunity to run. And when you do, you won’t pull a groin muscle.

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The Razor’s Edge of Excellence

excellenceThere is very little difference between mediocre and amazing. Between average and spectacular. Between common and superior. (Those are adjectives from Spider-Man titles by the way).

Consider the difference between a professional baseball player with a 260 batting average and one with a  360 batting average. The 260 player will probably make the league minimum wage, possibly wander around the minors, likely be traded around from team to team. The 360 player has fame, a fan base, people looking for his rookie card; and also commands a salary ten times more than our 260-er.

But what is the difference between these two hitters really? The difference is one extra hit every ten times at bat.

That extra hit doesn’t even necessarily contribute to the scoreboard. A lead off hit followed by three strikeouts results in a net gain of no points for that inning. Yet that extra hit every ten times at bat is worth millions of dollars to the team.

The thing that you need to understand, is that just a small increase in performance compounds greatly over the course of time. If a baseball season were only ten games, the contribution of the 360 hitter wouldn’t be that significant. But since a baseball season is roughly 3000 games, that extra hit every ten times at bat, potentially leads to an extra hit every nine to twelve innings, which could lead to an extra victory every ten to fifteen games.

Full disclosure: I have no actual statistics to base these numbers on, but the theory is sound. In fact I’m not even sure how many games are in a baseball season. I could have probably looked it up in half the time it took me to explain my lack of research, but I’m not really a numbers guy anyway. I don’t even like baseball.

So in conclusion, if you wish to be a man or woman of excellence, you don’t have to be a superman or wonder woman. You just have to be slightly better than your competition over the long term. This is true in business, in sports, in entertainment. And if you are trying to improve yourself, concentrate on slight improvements, every day, over the course of time. You may not see the results immediately, but eventually, through persistent effort, you will push over that razor thin edge from middling to excellent.

Is there an area of your life where you would like to make the shift from average to excellent?


Avoiding Awkward Silence


As part of my New Year’s resolutions, I decided that I will be more consistent with my blogging schedule. So, unless I am attending a funeral (my own) I will post a new blog every Tuesday this year. Everything was going according to plan until I left my phone at the office an hour ago.

“Why does that matter?” I hear you cry.

Well, as it happens, I scribble notes all the time on my smartphone. I usually keep my next 1 to 3 blog posts there. When I find something profound to quote in a book or audio, I scribble it into my phone-notepad and email it to myself. Or I tweet it. I write my shopping list there. My to do list. My phone has become a very valuable tool in my life. In fact, I find myself having to make arrangements now just to wake up in the morning on time (for those of you like me who do not own an alarm clock, here you go: http://onlineclock.net/ ).

So, since my carefully thought out blog post is locked behind a very advanced security system until tomorrow morning, I was faced with the quandary: “should I postpone posting my blog?”

If I had waited until Wednesday, nobody but me would have known. I never even announced to anyone that I’m updating my blog on Tuesdays. If I waited a day, it certainly wouldn’t make or break my year. In fact, my first post this year was on Wednesday, just because I wanted to post on January 1st. I could have just changed my regular posting day to Wednesday for the entirety of 2014 and I would still have 52 new blog posts by year’s end and no one would be the wiser.

But I decided to just jump in and ramble away. Filling the awkward silence as it were.

Of course, it’s not actually the same as an awkward silence in a conversation or social situation, but I was just writing a comedy bit about awkward silences so it was fresh on my mind and I’m pressed for time.

During an awkward silence, the stand-up comedian or the befuddled date has one of two options:

  • Excuse themselves and run away.
  • Or talk their way through the silence. Usually by explaining the punchline… or what he meant by that comment.

By filling up that awkward silence with an attempt to keep the conversation moving, the speaker will trip, and stumble… most likely sweat at least a little. And even though those rambling attempts at not looking like a dimwit will rarely produce any comedy gold or profound truths, at least the earnestness of the attempt will produce a chuckle or a nod of agreement.

Actually those are probably reversed, the date will chuckle and the audience will nod. Some of you are smiling and nodding right now as you read this.

So, mission accomplished.

There is probably a life lesson to be learned regarding overcoming adversity, dealing with setbacks, persisting in the face of imminent defeat. But come on, I just forgot my phone I didn’t escape from a P.O.W. camp.

For those of you out there with any sort of writing goal for 2014: Write!

And when you can’t write: Ramble!


When Writing, Get Dirty


When you are a writer, you want to produce highly polished gems to show off to your friends, peers, and beloved audience. Do you know where gems are found? In the dirt. Gold also is something that is highly valued. Gold is found in dirt. Pirates bury their treasure. It seems like everything of value involves dirt. (One exception is ambergris and frankly I would rather get dirt on my hands…).

Writing involves strictly metaphorical dirt. For us, digging in the dirt is the daily grind. The writing that nobody reads; that you never bother to post or publish. The stuff that you cut and throw out. The first draft that is horrible. The second draft that is nothing like your first and is even worse. The day or week that you spend digging and have no gems to show off for your effort.

Some days you don’t feel like you’re mining for gems and gold, some days you feel like you’re just digging a ditch; or a grave.

What is the point of all these dirt references? The point is: I had nothing to write about today. Nada. Usually I’m always reading a book or two, and I’ll spin a blog post off of a subject from whatever I happen to be reading. It just so happens the chapters I’m currently reading are all about subjects I’ve covered recently in my blog, or in my book, or in that infomercial I did for that one particular product you’ve never heard of (because it’s fictional).

So I did what you should do if you’re ever facing an imminent deadline and you’re not sure what to do or what to write about. It’s a two part process:
1. Start
2. Continue

So, I just started writing. I didn’t bother to worry about the content or the final result or the subject matter. I just started writing, looking for some ore that I could maybe polish up later. If you just start digging, sometimes the mechanical process of writing puts you into a creative mindset and allows you to come up with a gem.

Remember this while you’re digging in the dirt:

  1. Every scoop of dirt you cast aside, is one less scoop between you and the gem. Time is on your side, provided you do not start and quit. Remember, step 2.
  2. The deeper you dig, the more precious the gem. That’s why the best part of any movie is the “training montage.” Because you get to see the effort that goes into the reward.
  3. Have faith that the gem is there. I believe every person has a book within them waiting to be written, or a story waiting to be told. I, for example, just finished telling you a gem of a story about dirt.

One final dirty metaphor: If you throw enough mud at a wall, eventually some of it will stick.

How do you coax, encourage, or force yourself to keep digging through the dirt?

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Hurry Up and Wait

hourglassThis may come as a shock, but I am not an expert on everything I write about. When you write a book, there comes along with it the perception of expertise, of mastery, of wisdom. But the fact is I (and most authors) are human; and as humans we are imperfect.

I write about being productive with time, but there are times when I am lazy. I write about taking action immediately, but there are times when I procrastinate. In fact, I used to be an expert at procrastination. Now there is something I could write a book about, but (you know what, insert your own punchline here…).

Today, I thought I’d write on a subject that I am an expert in, and that is: Patience.

Patience has always been one of my strengths; probably because of my quasi-Zen philosophical upbringing and the fact that I don’t have children yet. But I never thought of patience as being something of any particular value until later in life.

1. Patience keeps us focused on the present. We are only impatient because we want something to happen that hasn’t happened yet. The promotion, the traffic light, the bag of popcorn in the microwave. Just realize, that what you are waiting for is going to happen, and very rarely can we do anything to speed up the process. Being anxious or worrying about it will not affect the future, but it will hurt us in the present.

Since worrying about your promotion will not help you, just focus on performing your work right now with excellence and enthusiasm. Let the promotion take care of itself. Since swearing at the red light will not help you get to your destination any faster, why not enjoy the song currently playing on the radio? Since standing next to the microwave staring at it will not make the popcorn pop faster… Actually, that’s a bad example since microwave popcorn requires your attention so you can stop it before it burns. Don’t sweat over your burrito though.

Don’t try to pull the future to you faster.

2. Patience helps provide emotional stability. When we are impatient, we have shorter tempers, we are stressed, we fret. When we are patient, it doesn’t mean that we don’t care about things, just that we have the fortitude to wait. (“Patience is passion tamed.” Lyman Abbott).

Patience eliminates a great deal of stress, which in turn allows the patient person to maintain calm and balance even under stressful circumstances. Just recognize that time will eventually overcome a current problem or hardship. Now, I am not advocating inactivity or passivity. Just realize that all we can do, is all we can do; and once we do all we can do, the rest requires patience.

3. Patience helps to nurture growth. John Maxwell, expert on leadership and personal growth writes that “Leaders develop daily, not in a day.” The mentality of growth by lottery, or sudden inspiration, or through instantaneous quantum leap transformation is a myth not a reality.

To grow mentally, physically or spiritually, requires consistent and persistent activity compounded over time. Impatient people want the results now and maybe they will promise to do the work later. But unfortunately life does not work that way. Patient people recognize the need to put the work in now and reap the results later. This allows them to focus on the immediate work; the process rather than the results.

Those are my thoughts on patience.

“But I never got around to it!” That was the punchline for that sentence. Scroll back up if you don’t remember what I was talking about. Sorry, I couldn’t wait…

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Rock Beats Scissors and Consistency Beats Inspiration

rock_paper_scissorsI’ve been slow to update my blog over the last few weeks and I figured out the reason why. It’s because I haven’t been using the same method in blogging that I used to write my book. Specifically, just writing consistently for 15 minutes every day.

Even though my blog posts are not usually very long, they do typically take me longer than 15 minutes to write. In trying to update my blog 2 or 3 times a week, I’ve been trying to block out enough time to write each post from beginning to end. And since that takes me anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, I would avoid starting a new post until I could dedicate a complete hour to writing.

So I would procrastinate. Yes, even people that dedicate a portion of their first book to the subject of overcoming procrastination will sometimes backslide.

So, here I am, drawing a line and starting over. This time focusing on consistency. Writing a little bit every day; even if I don’t hit that publish button every day. Consistent and persistent effort is valuable for a number of reasons summarized below in bullet points (one of my favorite way to make points).

  • Consistency creates momentum. Doing a little bit every day is much easier than starting and stopping every few days. It cuts down on the amount of time it takes you to warm up and start each time.
  • Consistency increases creativity. Being creative (somewhat important for a writer) is much more a result of ongoing disciplined effort than of instant inspiration. Read my guest post at prowritingaid.com.
  • Consistency increases confidence. It provides you with a steady stream of small victories. You don’t need to always swing for a home run, be willing to drive for a few yards on each possession. (I like to mix sports metaphors).
  • Consistency creates habits. And habit is an incredibly powerful force in your life. If you create a habit that you choose for yourself, then you are taking control of your destiny.

So be consistent. 15 minutes of work a day will always be more productive than 8 straight hours of work every month.

What would be a positive habit that you could develop for yourself on 15 minutes a day?

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Get Ripped Mentally

This just happens to be on my mind because I’ve been away for a few days and need to get back into my workout habit. Training yourself mentally is not that different from physical training. A lot of the same principles apply to personal development that you would include in your exercise regimen.

1. Vary your workout

How to Win Friends and Influence People is an awesome book that will help you in just about every aspect of life. I recommend that everyone read it in the 4th grade then reread it once a year. But there are hundreds of other books that are available to help you no matter what your vocation or calling. You should be reading from a broad range of books, just like you should work out different muscle groups. Limiting your mental development to one book is like limiting your workout to just the bench press.

Not only should you read, but you should listen to audio recordings of seminars and lectures of successful teachers. Think of that as the cardio portion of your workout.

2. Get a trainer

There is a world of difference between working out on your own and having a personal trainer. Just as there is a huge difference between learning from a book and having a tutor.

You should seek out a mentor to help and guide you. A mentor is like a coach. They can see things from a perspective that you cannot and help you correct mistakes. A mentor can help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses. A mentor can help you to develop a regimen to maximize your effectiveness and push you or encourage you when you need it.

3. Track your progress

A lot of personal development tools and seminars are targeted specifically for professional sales. One thing about salesmen, is that they tend to measure their success only by their sales, which is why so many of them quit before making a breakthrough.

The problem with only counting sales, is that closing the sale happens at the end of the process. What about progress and improvements along the rest of the steps of a sales call. Tracking allows you to look back and see how effective you were on invite, approach, rapport, rebuttals, etc..

If you’re not in sales, then figure out some other way to track your progress. Many personal development tools come in the form of kits that include DVD’s, CD’s and workbooks.

4. Rest

I think most people understand the concept of working out a muscle. You exercise, you push the muscle to the point of fatigue, then the muscle rests and becomes stronger. Your brain also needs time to replenish. A mind given a chance to rest is sharper, while all work and no play makes Jack into a psycho killer.

These are my tips on personal growth and development from the point of view of a personal exercise trainer. Disclaimer: I am not a personal exercise trainer.

Any personal trainers or fitness gurus have anything they want to add or correct?


Trick Question: Quality or Quantity?

potterIn high school I wrote a report on Stephen King. Two actually, for my junior and senior year English classes. (Well, one really, and a later “revised edition”). Whether you like or dislike Stephen King as a writer, you cannot deny that he is successful. During my research I read about King’s work habit in an interview. He would write for 8 hours every day, 362 days a year (he took off only three days). On average, he would produce ten pages of work every day, producing a book and a half a year. Take a look at his biography, to see the list of awards, movies, and novels with his name attached.

One more quick story. An art professor teaching a ceramics class divided the class into two groups. Group A, would have their grade based on the total number of pottery pieces they completed during the semester. Group B, would have their grade based on only a single final masterpiece that they had the entire semester to complete. Group A jumped in, churning out ceramics as fast as possible. Group B, planned, studied, strategized then finally towards the end of the semester, built their prize work. And at the end of the semester all the best pieces in the class came out of Group A.

Quality comes from quantity. As Ernest Hemmingway once said, “The first draft of anything is (excrement).” The first group of students developed the most skill and the best quality work because they spent the most time working. Stephen King, especially early in his career probably wrote a lot of work that he threw away in disgust, but he kept going consistently and persistently. (And fortunately his wife, Tabitha, pulled the first dozen or so pages of Carrie out of his wastebasket).

Here is my three step process to producing quality work.

1. Start. Do not wait for inspiration. Roll up your sleeves and work.
2. Keep Going.
3. Go to Step 2.

Then here are two sub-steps to help guide the process, but I wouldn’t add them in until at least 21 days have passed and you have developed a work habit of some sort. Also, these are always in addition to Step 2 and Step 3, never instead of them.

4. Review your work. Make sure you are progressing in the direction you want.
5. Seek Advice. From qualified people.

That’s my five step process to producing quality work. I know I like to keep things simple, but is that too simple? Would you add another step?