Archive | June, 2013

Get your S!%T Done by Staying Accountable

You have goals. You have plans. You have a to-do list. Great. Awesome. You’re super!

I have goals. I have plans. I have a to-do list. I have not been great. I have not been awesome. I have not been super. I’ve been in a slump. This is a lack-of-focus slump. I am all over the place right now – starting lots of things, then not finishing them.

Having a to-do list is great, but it’s only the first step.

How in the world do you ensure you actually do stuff? For that, you need to keep yourself accountable. There are a few techniques you can use – I’ll tell you what I do.

I have been struggling recently to finish things, and to not drift into a Simpson’s or Frasier marathon. (One episode, just one more, that’s all I need…) So I searched all of my resources looking for help, and this concept popped up. I now use a Daily Accountability Form (I have it bookmarked as Accountabil-a-Buddy)

I stole the idea from Noah Kagan (who stole it from someone else) to create an accountability form. He uses it for marketing efforts with his team – it looks something like this:

I created a daily accountability form for myself using Google Drive. For those of you who don’t know how to create a form – look below for the video to do it yourself.
My form looks like a bit more polished than Noah’s – I used some formatting, but it took me 10 minutes tops to set it up.
The results are populated automatically into a spreadsheet with a timestamp.
My Neatly Organized Responses to Myself
So now I get a reminder every night at 10:00pm telling me to go do my accountability form. I fill out 6 questions, though they may change as my life goes forward.
  • How good do you feel about your day? (1-10)
  • What were three things you accomplished today?
  • What is one thing you could have done better?
  • Did you write something today? (Yes/No)
  • Did you eat 1 salad today? (Yes/No)
  • How good was your day really? (1-10)
The reason I ask myself to rank my day twice is that I want two measures. How I perceived my day to have been. Then, after thinking about what I did, deciding how good my day really was. I am measuring this to see if how I felt about my day is actually tied to how much I got done. It’s all data!
The best thing about this is that I can go back pretty much forever and see when I was most effective. If I see results in my other tracking (weight, cholesterol, bank account, etc.) I can look at the corresponding dates in my accountability form and see if I was doing something specific that led to more benefits. This is the same thing Nev from NevBlog does with his infamous to-do lists.
Then, of course, I wrap up my form with an inspiring image…

 What to Include in your Accountabil-a-buddy questions

I used a simple method to determine what questions to ask: I made them up.
However – the two Yes/No questions were generated based on habits I have developed, would like to develop, or have previously developed but am slipping on.
For example, I have been slipping on eating a truly nutritious diet, (I haven’t been eating unhealthily, but have not been a shining example of health like I have been in the past) and my weight loss has stagnated, so I added the one salad a day requirement. (edit: After less than one week doing this, I lost 8 pounds, and it appears my weight loss has started up again)
Every month or so, I write out the habits and lifestyle choices that are important to me. This is basically an audit of my behaviorS – at least what I wish it to be. It changes vastly over time, but a few key pieces tend to stay put.
My Desired Habits at a snapshot in time
I now take one or two items from this list which are not currently well-ingrained habits, and I add them to my Accountability Form. In this case, writing daily, and eating a salad. If it weren’t for my “write once a day habit” this post would not have been started, and you might not be reading it right now.
In this case, I’ve categorized it as Health, Wealth, and Love to help me focus. As you can tell, I’ve chosen to hyper-focus on health. That is due to my health being considerably lower than it should be, so I’m playing catch up.

Set up your own Accountabil-a-buddy

  1. Perform an audit of your current, desired, and potentially slipping habits
  2. Choose one to three of them that you’d like to focus on this month
  3. Create a Google Form with your questions (if you don’t know how, watch the video below)
  4. Bookmark the input form – make it #1 on your bookmarks bar
  5. Set up a reminder to do this daily (Any.do, Google Calendar, Outlook, Phone alarm, A note hanging above your bed, whatever)
That’s all it takes. I can already see myself being more effective with this Accountabil-a-Buddy, and I am clawing myself out of a slump I’ve been in.

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Eat All-American without the All-American Waistline

Baseball.

Hamburgers.
Football.
Apple Pie.
Cowboys.
Those things are quintessentially American. If you talk about any of them around the world (except football), they will mean America.
Unfortunately, there is something else that is recognized as American around the world:
Our growing waistlines.
America is easily the fattest country in the world, and that is just so sad. What can we do about it? Well, we can all change our diets, exercise more, and change our lives for the better.
Want an extra 10 years on your life? Me too.
I am on a personal quest for greater health. Since February 8th (when I started on a juice fast), I have been following Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s eating plan from his book Eat to Live, and I have had wonderful results.
I’ve lost 72 pounds in four months.
Cholesterol is down 17%
Blood Pressure is perfect (117 over 72, versus 140/95 previously)
Enough of me harping about health. I’ve linked the resources, so if you would like to learn more, it’s up to you!

Apple Pie that’s Good for You?

You probably have no problems eating delicious Apple Pie, but it’s not the best thing in the world for you.
Why not make some healthy Apple Pie. I got a wonderful recipe from Carrie over at Carrie on Vegan in her post “A Modern Twist to Vegan Apple Pie
I made this recently, and I am in love with this dessert. My Mom even made this for me for my Birthday earlier this week!
This pie really will not stick around for long

It has everything – wonderful crust, massive mound of moist apples, sweet taste, cinnamon goodness, and a secret ingredient!!!

Here’s the recipe from Carrie. My comments are in brackets.
Make it. Enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty about it.

All-American, Guilt-Free Apple Pie Recipe

For the Filling
  • 6 Fuji Apples (or other sweet, red apple) [Paul: I had MASSIVE apples]
  • 1 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice [Paul: Use store bought if you’d like]
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast [Paul: If you can’t get it, still make this pie]
For the Crust
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups medjool dates, pitted
Instructions
  1. Core the apples and cut them into bite-sized pieces. [Paul: I quartered mine and cut out the core. I then sliced them on a mandoline to get bite-sized pieces.]
  2. Combine the apples, orange juice, raisins, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes, or until apples are softened. Stir in nutritional yeast and set aside to cool off.
  3. Place almonds, walnuts, and oats into a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the remaining cinnamon and vanilla. Turn the food processor on, and add the dates through the feeding tube one at a time. Process until mixture is well combined. [Paul: Read below for those without full size food processors]
  4. Pour the contents of the food processor into the pie dish and use your hands to spread evenly into the dish. Place the crust in the refrigerator to chill for at least an our.
  5. When you are ready to assemble teh pie, pour the apple mixture into the pie crust and serve cold or at room temperature.
That’s it. There’s your All-American-without-the-American-waistline Pie!!!
For those with small food processors.
I do not have a full sized food processor. I have a mini-prep, however. 
Here’s how I handled this.
I processed the almonds into a powder. I dumped them into a large bowl.
I processed the walnuts and oats. I dumped them into a large bowl.
I processed 3/4c. of dates with some of the powder from my large bowl. I dumped them into the large bowl.
I repeated with the last of the dates.
I added cinnamon and vanilla to the large bowl.
I mixed by hand. 
This takes longer. The result works. 
So there you go, not having a food processor isn’t an excuse (a blender should work, but will take more work on your part to make it work.)

Seriously, this is one dish that you will be excited to serve to company!

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What does a Quarter-Century Mean to You?

Today, I am 9,131 days old.
That’s one quarter of a century.
Today, I turned twenty five years old.

I feel as if I’m supposed to have a birthday post here, since this is kind of a big milestone. So, what does a quarter of a century mean to me?

Today marks the last big milestone until I turn 65 and become a senior. As of today, I can rent a car without paying that stupid “young renters fee”. Now, I will save $14 – $25 every day that I rent a car. That’s a big deal for someone that travels as much as I do.

But besides this little victory, very little has changed.

Birthdays always make me chuckle. Kind of like when we celebrate the New Year. For some reason, we are supposed to feel completely different now that the clock has struck midnight, as if today is so different from yesterday.

However, to the Car Companies, the difference of two minutes between 11:59pm last night and 12:01am this morning means that I am suddenly responsible enough to no longer require insurance.

What I’ve Learned in 25 years

  • No one can give you a magical key to success. You are responsible for all of your successes. You are responsible for all of your failures. 
  • The point at which we are closest to success often feels like the point everything is about to fall apart. (This comes from an old friend)
  • If you want to change, figure out what you want to be, then plan out how you will get there. Having willpower is absolutely not enough.
  • Health + Wealth + Love = Happiness
  • Reading is amazing. It gives you the ability to peer into another person’s mind. Across centuries. Across Millennia. 

My favorite Books

I have read plenty of books. Here are my all-time favorites in no particular order (links are affiliate links)

How About You?

So that’s what this all means to me. I try very hard to focus on all of you, though. I absolutely love my readers, so I want to hear from you:
What does a quarter Century mean to you?
What will you do in the coming quarter century?
Do your birthdays have deep meaning for you?
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3 Steps to Gather Wisdom from Your Future Self

This post will take you ~5 minutes to read.

Sometimes, usually after I have an epiphany, I wish I could talk to future me (maybe…10 years from now), and ask him for advice and guidance. He’s already done all of this, he knows so much more than I do, and has gathered so much wisdom! Unfortunately, time travel is not yet possible; we can’t talk to our future selves, and thus, we are stuck.

How many times have you said to yourself one of the following: “Man, if only I knew then what I know now,” or “If I could only talk to my teenage self,” or “What was I thinking? I wish I could slap that guy!”

Usually, this happens after we’ve just realized that we made a huge, or costly, yet avoidable mistake. We wish we had the knowledge then that we have now, so we could have avoided that mistake.

There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, though. Without mistakes, we would never ever learn. Did you ever notice in school how you would retain what you learned much better after missing it on an exam versus those questions you got right? It’s because we naturally learn from our mistakes. We can’t avoid it – it’s human nature.


Mistakes are the portals of discovery
-James Joyce

So having the knowledge to avoid mistakes is not what we want. But what if we had a guide not about where not to step, but on where we should step. Continuing the idea of talking to our future selves, that’s the difference between hearing:

“You shouldn’t move to California…it’s not going to work out well for you”
and
“You should go and learn how to write computer code now. I know it’s boring, but you’ll need to learn it at some point, and it will make your life so much easier”

Do you see how one is guiding you against a decision, and another draws you toward an action? That’s what we’re looking for. That’s what I wish I had – a means of expediting the journey.

You can Talk to your Future Self

It’s entirely possible to talk to yourself from 10 years from now. What’s the secret? Talk to someone who has already done it. Someone who has 10 years on you. They can mentor you, and provide the feedback you need to help you on your journey. They have the wisdom of 10 extra years doing what you want to do. 
It’s brilliant in its simplicity, no?

Here’s How to do it:

  1. Figure out (roughly) what you want to be doing in 10 years. (5 years if it’s in the tech arena)
  2. Identify 5 people who are where you want to be
    1. Someone you know
    2. Someone you have met
    3. Someone who is successful but not well known
    4. Someone who is known in the community
    5. Someone who is famous
  3. Target each of them with one simple, yet poignant question
The reason for the five hero approach is that you need diversity of opinion, experience, and personality. Plus, you might will not get them all to reply and develop a rapport with you.

Your Question

It should be simple. 
It should be something they can answer. 
It should be unique. (not the “what’s the one biggest thing you’d recommend” crap)
It should be useful for you.
It should not take them more than 30 seconds to answer.
Now, gather their contact information, and either call them (preferred), or e-mail them.

Script (Phone)

You: Hi, Mr/Ms. (Hero)?
Them: Yes?
You: My name is [Your name]. I’m an aspiring [Your desired field of excellence]. I was wondering if you have time to answer one quick question for me. It won’t take more than 30 seconds.
Them: Sure, go ahead.
You: [Question]
Them: That’s a great question. You see…[answer]
Now, if they seem hurried, thank them politely and bid them adieu. If they are chatty, or have asked you a question in return, you’re in. Now you can talk to them more freely, but always be aware that they are giving up their time for you, and don’t go on for too long. At the end be very gracious, and thank them for their time.

Script (Email)

Subject 1: 30 Seconds for an aspiring [Field of excellence]
Subject 2: (30 seconds) [Your question]?
Mr/Ms. [Hero]

My name is [Your name]. I’m an aspiring [Your desired field of excellence].

Could you take 30 seconds to answer the following question? It would mean the world to me.

[Question]

Thank you so much for your time,

[Your name]
[Contact information]

Follow Up

The follow up is the most important step in the process. There are a few tactics you must follow.

Gift

If you know what your hero is in to, consider sending them something they’ll like. Are they a starving artist? Send a Gift card to their favorite restaurant. A wealthy tycoon? Try their favorite chocolates, or a cool high-end shaving it, or something that will help you stand out. This should arrive no later than 2 weeks after your meeting.
It is mandatory that you include a personal note (preferably hand written) thanking them, and reminding them of what you spoke about.

Update on your Progress

You must send an update on your progress.

If you cannot afford a gift, that’s fine, but updating them on your progress is absolutely mandatory.

When people give advice, they want to know that it has been followed. Follow up via a hand-written note, a phone call, an e-mail,  or perhaps even over coffee. You want to tell them what their advice was (busy people forget) and how you have put it to use. Ideally, you should include results. (“I have already increased my customers by 40% thanks to your advice!”) People are often willing to help once, but if they hear that you followed their advice then they are much more likely to help you in the future. Beyond advice and mentorship, this relationship could open doors that would have taken years for you to open without their help (introductions, marketing, a mention in a tweet, etc.)

You must send an update on your progress

3 Notes About Email

  1. A phone call is better because it leaves the door open for further discussion but if a phone call is not possible, then e-mail will suffice
  2. If you don’t have a signature in your e-mails, write one (Name and contact info at least)
  3. Keep the single line format above. Busy people prefer this format because it is easy to read
The secret final step: GO DO IT!!!

There you go. If you have any questions, post them in the comments, and I’ll be happy to answer them.
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