My Responsibility with Regard to My Potential

And Yours with Regard to Yours

We have all seen it before. A naturally gifted athlete with tons of potential refuses to work to develop that potential, and he or she ends up wasting it. We had a guy like that on our team.

It is sad.

I find it easy to get judgmental about that guy and about others who waste their potential.

Yet, it occurs to me that I also have specific and unique talents, abilities, and background that create my potential. The real question is whether I am putting in the work to realize my potential? Am I living up to my potential or am I instead wasting it?

That is a challenging question to answer with total honesty.

I have come to believe that it is my ethical responsibility to live up to my potential and to achieve my ambitions. To do anything less is to waste what I have been given. To me, that would be unethical.

My family, my community, and my world are counting on me to contribute what I can and to be the best version of me possible. They deserve nothing less.

So how do I achieve my potential?

Dan Fogelberg’s lyrics in “Run for the Roses” resonate with me:

It’s breeding
And it’s training
And it’s something unknown
That drives you and carries you home

While he is talking about race horses, I find application there for us. There is nothing we can do about our “breeding,” but the training and the “something unknown” is where we can reach our potential.

So, what is your potential? What is your responsibility with regard to it? What are you doing today to achieve it?

Tweets of the Week: Food, Recipes, Health, Family, & Wisdom

Week ending July 18, 2015

twitter-bird-4Saturday is a good day to recap the activity from our Twitter feed from the past week. Not sure what Twitter is all about? That’s OK. Neither are we (or at least it remains somewhat mysterious to us). There is no denying, however, that there is some very valuable information shared on Twitter. That is what this weekly feature is all about. Click the links below to check out the good stuff. Here are my Top Tweets from this past week, great for retweeting (whatever that is). If you missed these, follow Forward Story on Twitter.

By the way, if you are wondering what the @ and # signs are all about, these are Twitter’s way to identify the Twitter handle (@) for the person who tweeted (for example, ours is @forward_story) and to allow for an indexing or categorization of the tweet by using one or more hashtags (#). Feel free to ignore these and just follow the link for the content we are sharing with you.

Here are a few recipes from people we trust:

Maria Emmerich ‏@MariaEmmerich Jul 13
Peanut Flour Cake http://buff.ly/1K01ctz #LCHF #keto #lowcarb

Danielle Walker ‏@againstallgrain Jul 12
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter “Granola” Bars #paleo #againstallgrain #glutenfree http://grainfree.ly/1flgUFD

Russ Crandall ‏@thedomesticman Jul 16
Seared Scallops with Sautéed Kale http://thedomesticman.com/2012/12/18/seared-scallops-with-sauteed-kale

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Cooking & Kitchen

 Colin Champ, M.D. ‏@CavemanDoctor Jul 13
Home Cooked Meals Make You Smarter, Healthier and Thinner http://www.myhealthwire.com/news/diet-nutrition/1080 … via @myhealthwire

Experience Life ‏@ExperienceLife Jul 14
Want to get healthy? Start in your kitchen! says @markhymanmd @mindbodygreen http://j.mp/1GjFbRu #learntocook #MyRevAct #healthyliving

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Health & Fitness:

William Davis, MD ‏@WilliamDavisMD
Novak Djokovic is “gluten-free” but also limits his carbs–I know because I wrote the foreword for his book…. http://fb.me/6EhfpO9pD

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Money & Finances

Rachel Cruze ‏@RachelCruze Jul 14
The Financial Mistake One-Third of Parents Make https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/the-financial-mistake-one-third-of-parents-make-123996068377.html?soc_src=mail&soc_trk=ma

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Parents and Grandparents

Susan Adcox ‏@grandparent Jul 11
Grandparents, don’t be unwitting drug suppliers: http://ow.ly/PuseU @aboutdotcom

Susan Adcox ‏@grandparent Jul 12
1 in 28 American children has an incarcerated parent. Often grandparents pick up the slack: http://ow.ly/PuR57

Susan Adcox ‏@grandparent Jul 14
Taking the grandchildren on an outing? 3 easy steps for managing their behavior: http://ow.ly/Pzrqh @aboutdotcom

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Wisdom from Seth

Seth Godin ‏@ThisIsSethsBlog Jul 13
Bounce forward http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/07/bounce-forward.html

Seth Godin ‏@ThisIsSethsBlog Jul 16
Seth’s Blog: In search of metaphor http://bit.ly/1HQhFg2

Seth Godin ‏@ThisIsSethsBlog Jul 18
Seth’s Blog: “Because it has always been this way” http://bit.ly/1LtdBIh

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For Entrepreneurs

Abel James ‏@fatburnman Jul 16
14 Entrepreneurs Share Best Advice From Their Fathers http://cr8.lv/1I6mNB6 via @creativelive

Technology Tip: Scannable for Evernote (iOS only)

Fighting Clutter

We all use technology to improve our lives and to accomplish more. Periodically I will share technology that I find helpful.

Use Evernote's Scannable App to Go Paperless in a Snap

I want to start with a phone app that I use several times per week. Let’s put this in the category of clutter-buster. I constantly fight a battle with paper and clutter. This battle is waged in both my personal and business life. Evernote has been a staple of my life for several years now. If you do not use Evernote, that needs to be at the top of your list.

Once you are using Evernote and begin to realize all of the amazing ways it can help you organize your life, you will want to add to it all types of documents. Evernote’s mobile app does allow you to access your phone’s camera, but this has never worked very well for me.

Scannable solves that. I want to thank my wife’s, cousin, Chris Towle, for telling me about Scannable. It is a simple app that works beautifully. I use it to scan business cards, receipts, printed obituaries I want to keep , etc. The types of documents you can scan are unlimited. Once scanned, you can send the scanned documents in several ways:

  • Email
  • Evernote
  • Camera roll
  • Text message
  • Export
  • Export to Apple iCloud
  • Post to social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

Scannable is available for Apple iOS only at this time. If you are an Android user, you can use Evernote’s native scanning capability. Perhaps you have found a better solution for Androisd? Use the comments below to tell us which scanning app you find the most helpful.

4 Reasons You Should Play

© Roys | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Roys | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I have a confession to make. As much as I believe what I am about to write,  I have trouble with it. From an early age I learned responsibility and felt the weight of it. I derive joy from getting things accomplished and being “successful.” The best way I know to take care of all these things is to work hard and to work well.

The problem is that I often forget to stop working and to just play. If you don’t believe me, ask my kids. In my previous post I suggested that writing and living out your Forward Story is compatible with having fun. But what is play? Why is it fun? Why is this important to us?

What we are interested in here is the action of play. Since verbs indicate action, what does the verb “play” suggest? From dictionary.com I see four definitions that fit the idea here. To play is:

  • to exercise or employ oneself in diversion, amusement, or recreation.
  • to do something in sport that is not to be taken seriously.
  • to amuse oneself; toy; trifle.
  • to take part or engage in a game.

Play does not have to be confined to physical activity like running, throwing, or jumping. It may include all of those, but it can also include doing things like playing a musical instrument, painting, sculpting, or even just reading a book or listening to music. These all fit “diversion, amusement, or recreation.”

It is valuable to play and to have fun. This is part of life. If you are always on your way to somewhere else, what is the point of life? Here are 4 reasons you should play.

1. To Relieve the Stress of Life. There was a time in my life that I was skeptical about stress. What I mean is that I wasn’t sure that it was real. Or, if was real I was annoyed by modern people complaining about stress given that life on the frontier a couple of hundred years ago must have been a lot more stressful. It seemed like a lot of whining to me. However, I was finally convinced of its reality by experiencing it in my own life.

What is stress? It is a condition where your brain responds to a situation by producing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to heighten your ability to respond effectively. I was on a business trip yesterday driving on a busy interstate highway. I signaled to change from the right lane to the center lane. After checking my mirrors I began to change lanes. As I was completing my lane change I heard an angry horn honking and looked in my rear-view mirror to see anther vehicle on my tail and the driver clearly annoyed with me. He had switched from the left lane to the center lane at a high rate of speed at about the same time I moved into that lane. This whole event jolted me out of my mindless driving into a danger mode. I felt the change in my body. My muscles were tensed and ready to respond. My heart-rate increased. I was in a heightened mental state. I began breathing faster. This stress response is referred to as “fight or flight.” We are wired to respond to dangerous situations via this stress response. If a tiger is chasing you, you have to act now. You have to either fight him or run away. The stress response can help keep you alive.

However, prolonged and chronic stress has been proven to have negative health consequences. You may experience stress over a period of time from your job, from losing your job, from taking care of a sick family member, or in a multitude of other ways. Engaging in play reduces and relieves that stress. By throwing a football, taking a walk, or even just listening to a great piece of music, we can reduce stress and chase those hormones back to the place where we can use them in the future.

Before I leave the subject of stress, I want to share a technique that I began using a couple of months ago to relieve stress and to put myself into a very calm state. It is so simple that you may not believe it, but I encourage you to try it. I do this every night now while in bed before I go to sleep. Here is the technique:

  • Breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds (or longer) into your belly, not your chest. You should actually be able to feel your belly inflating.
  • Hold the breath for one second.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth. Your belly will deflate.
  • Repeat this 8 times.

2. To Connect With Your Body. A hundred years ago most people in America worked on a farm. The day began when the sun rose and included milking cows, gathering eggs, feeding livestock, and many other chores that required physical labor. The day pretty much ended when the sun set. Much of what happened between sunrise and sunset required physical exertion. Today many of us live in urban settings and do work that requires sitting, talking, typing, and meetings. The pinnacle of physical activity for some of us is the walk from our desk to the coffee pot.

© Arturdent | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Arturdent | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Most forms of play allow us to engage our bodies in a way that reduces stress and feels good to us. A long walk with my wife is great because not only do we get to talk and “debrief” about life, but we feel movement, use our balance, raise our heart-rates, and strengthen our muscles and bones. It is all good. Plus, it is just fun. Swinging a tennis racket is something I enjoy and that connects my mind with my body. Other activities I enjoy include disc golf and skiing. You have your own forms of play that allow you to connect your body and mind.

Again, not all play involves overt physical activity. Playing a board game with your friends or your kids has a positive effect on your life as well.

3. To Express Your Creativity and Artistry. Play, as I am defining it, includes creative endeavors like painting, playing music, writing, and many other disciplines. When we do these things we often derive pleasure and a sense of purpose about our lives. Those activities are ends in themselves. We do them because they are fun and are an expression of something deep inside of us, not because they advance our agenda or have a direct effect on our future. I believe that each of us has a creative side that longs for expression. If you have not found yours yet, I hope you will. Don’t be afraid to try some of these artistic endeavors to see what you enjoy and where you can find expression.

4. To Appreciate Beauty. We live in a world with some dark realities. All you have to do is watch your evening news to be convinced. In a world with so much negative input, it is important for us to also appreciate the beauty in life. As I have gotten older I have started appreciating nature a lot more. I have always loved natural beauty like mountains and sunsets, but now I notice the birds, the insects, and the changing of the seasons. Again, these are all things that rural farm people live with every day. In cities we have to work a little harder to see and appreciate natural beauty in the midst of a man-made world of concrete and steel. It can definitely be done, though. One way I connect with nature is by planting seeds and learning to garden. I am a novice at this, but the wonder of beauty and nature are now on my patio in containers. Beauty also exists in music and art. We said earlier that play can connect you to your own inner artist. Appreciating beauty in the arts allows you to benefit from the artistry and creativity of others. I love great music and great literature (including a growing interest in poetry).

Conclusion

Play is one of the realms of life that I include in my Forward Story. It is so important to me now that I plan for it in each different time period of my life. I believe you should, too. If you do not plan for it and make it a priority, you will likely do way too little of it.

I would love to know what kinds of play you engage in and what it does for you. Please let me know in the comments below.

Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain

Based on a recommendation from my wife (via Michael Hyatt’s Twitter feed) and from the podcast by “Relentless Roger and The Caveman Doctor,” I recently read a post at Lifehacker on Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret. It turns out that his secret is incredibly simple and effective. Basically Jerry identifies some task or behavior that is important for him to perform. He hangs a calendar on his wall and then marks a red X on each day where he has completed that activity. In Jerry’s case it is writing jokes. After a while he has a string of red Xs. His advice then is simply:

Don’t Break the Chain!

After a couple of years of sporadically working on my first book, I decided the time had come to get serious. Since I travel quite a bit, I printed out a calendar I can take with me. On May 1st I began rising at 5 AM to write. I write for at least an hour, but often for an hour and a half. I permit myself no sleeping in on the weekends and no excuses because of travel.

This is a photo of my calendar from two days ago.

Don't Break the Chain

Don’t Break the Chain

This morning’s writing session made it seventeen in a row for me. I am now in a groove, and I do not hesitate to get up when the alarm goes off. The corgis are not quite sure what to make of it yet, but they will figure it out in time. Of course, by about 9 PM I am starting to think about sleep, but that’s OK.

I am really making progress, and I do not want to break the chain. Thank you Mr. Seinfeld for something so simple and effective.

What project could you move forward with Seinfeld’s calendar approach?

 

 

Can Kanban Improve Your Work and Unlock GTD®?

© Bellemedia | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Bellemedia | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

People who are categorized as “knowledge workers” often struggle with managing all of the information that comes their way on a daily basis and with getting everything done that needs to be done. My wife and I are both knowledge workers, and for years we have been mutually searching for a way of working that allows us to stay on track, manage a flood of information, keep our promises, get things done, and be great at everything we do. Modest goals, right?

Getting Things Done

In 2009 we discovered David Allen‘s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. His book has had so much impact that many people (including us) simply refer to his system as GTD®. We highly recommend the book and his method of organizing everything in your life. We are committed to his method of putting all tasks in writing and keeping them in context-specific lists. For example:

Errands

  • Buy groceries
  • Mail tax return at post office
  • Make deposit

At Computer

  • Finish RISE proposal
  • Request meeting with James for the 22nd
  • Schedule web conference for new project

You define your own contexts and add everything in your mind that you need to do in those contexts. My list is very large and evolves daily. If I trusted my brain to remember all of this, I would surely fail.

After understanding the purpose and power of GTD®, one of the first questions most people have is: “What software tool should I use to implement this system?” The beauty of GTD® is that there is no one tool that David recommends for everyone. He wants you to understand the system and then find the tools that work best for you. Finding that perfect mix of tools has been a challenge for us. Initially I used an iPhone tool (and related website) called Toodledo. This tool allowed me to create unlimited contexts and unlimited tasks. It also allowed me to include due dates. However, it was still not a natural part of my work day. I did not find myself using it effortlessly the way Zamfir uses the pan flute. My tasks were all “there,” but I wasn’t doing much with them.

Lean Manufacturing

I now believe that what I was missing to properly implement GTD® was right under my nose the whole time. In my day job I help companies and individuals manufacture their products. This career gives me the opportunity to be in many different types of factories (I wrote about my affection for factories here). Great factories have nearly all adopted Lean Manufacturing practices that were first developed in Japan. Among the many concepts used in Lean are:

  • Kaizen (“good change” – continuous improvement)
  • Muda (“wastefulness” – waste elimination)
  • Poka-yoke (“fool-proofing”), and
  • Kanban (“sign-board” – an inventory pull system)

Please hang in here with me. The payoff will be worth it. All of these Lean concepts are powerful, but I want to focus on one of them: Kanban.

Kanban

A kanban pull system is the way many factories are organized today for Just-In-Time (JIT) production. For a brief explanation for what a kanban system looks like, please check out this video:

So the kanban system relates to the inventory of parts and sub-assemblies that flow through a factory to completed product and customer order fulfillment. What does that have to do with knowledge workers or GTD®? Well, think of your capacity as a worker as you would think of a factory. In a sense you are your own factory with a set capacity to do work each day. You have a lot of people making a lot of demands on your time. You have work to do, promises to keep, and miles to go before you sleep (Robert Frost reference). Not to mention the fact that you have to attend that piano recital tonight, pick up a gallon of milk at the grocery store, and call to check on Aunt Edna’s gall bladder surgery. You only have so much time in the day. How will you balance your workload so as to not break promises or create big bottlenecks?

Let me introduce another book. My wife is currently reading a book titled Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life by Jim Benson & Tonianne DeMaria Barry. Think about the title for a moment – Personal Kanban. Remember, you are your own factory. You have only so much work that can flow through your factory today. You need a personal kanban system to effectively manage the inventory of tasks you need to do, those you are currently doing, those that are waiting for something or someone else, those that have been completed, and the entire backlog of all things that need to be done. I have not read the book yet, but as she and I have discussed it, it has become clear to me that implementing my own personal kanban is the secret to unlocking GTD®. It is in harmony with David Allen’s concepts. It is very possible that David even has the same idea just stated differently, but the concept of me being my own factory and having my own kanban has been powerful to me.

However, the question of tool still lingers. How do I implement my personal kanban? My wife has started using a physical white board with sticky notes for each task that are placed in one of several columns that reflect her workflow bins. This is the way kanbans are still used in some factories while others have gone to electronic kanban systems. I have found a software tool that is working beautifully for me.

Workflowy

I must give credit to John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing for sharing a terrific tool called Workflowy. John’s article provides a nice overview of the capabilities of Workflowy. The Workflowy site also has a good video introduction. My special recipe, though, is the combination of GTD®, Personal Kanban, and Workflowy. With the three of these merged together I am starting to use these tools like our buddy Zamfir and his pan flute. It feels natural to me.

Let me show you the way I have set up Workflowy bins to give me unprecedented productivity in my personal factory:

  • READY [Work Waiting to Be Processed – Tasks That Need to be Completed First]
  • TODAY [Work I Need to do Today]
  • DOING [Work In Progress – Limit 3]
  • WAITING FOR [The Pen – Things I’m Relying on Others or Time to be Able to Complete – Additional Actions Beyond My Control]
  • DONE [Completed Work]
  • BACKLOG [Work Yet to Do]
    • Personal (By context)
    • Work (By context)

Not only can I access my free account directly on Workflowy.com, I also have the Workflowy app on my iPhone. Each task listed in my personal kanban bins on Worklowy can be easily moved from one bin to another by dragging. It is very powerful to be able to look at the task I am currently DOING, to drag a completed task to DONE, and to pull a new task from TODAY or READY down into DOING. I hope you will at least give it a try by setting up your free Workflowy account as I have above. To really fine tune it all, I recommend you read the two books cited above. For me, implementing my own Personal Kanban on Workflowy helps me with Getting Things Done.

Forward Story

To me there is an obvious connection between all of this and Forward Story. The future I am working toward depends in large part on how I do my daily activities. This is true whether I am a student, an employee, a business owner, or a stay-at-home parent. The more effectively my personal factory runs, the more positive possibilities will show up in my future.

What tools and/or practices do you use in your daily life to help you keep on track and be more effective in your work?