Just Finished: Mindfulness

Mindfulness by Ellen J. Langer

This book encourages active thinking. It encourages trying to look at problems and interpersonal conflicts from multiple perspectives so as to look for different options for resolutions rather than being locked into one way of doing things simply because that’s the way it’s always been done.

For me, the key takeaways were:

  • Try and see things from multiple perspectives and avoid unhealthy bias
  • Process beats outcome, but make sure the process is working well and not just a mindless construct to blindly follow
  • Think about and ask “why” a certain thing is done a certain way or “why” someone (or you) reacted a certain way
  • Do not get hung up on over-analysis. Make a decision and move forward. There will not always be one correct answer for every problem. Rather than looking for the right decision, make the best decision you can and make the decision right.

Summer Reading: 5 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

Having a summer reading list shouldn’t just be for the kids.  If you’re  an entrepreneur, you should especially buy out time for reading, because it gives you knowledge and insight that can help you grow your business.  Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerburg, and hundreds of other successful business leaders devote dedicated time, usually one hour or more, to reading each day.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “that sounds great, but I’m already super busy!  Where will I find the time???”   Stop and reflect on when you have a few down moments, and ask yourself what you end up doing.  Is it surfing social media on your phone?  Could that time be better spent reading a book?

There are lots of tips on how to read more out there, but here is what has helped me read more this year:

  • I’ve made it a habit to carry a book with me wherever I go.  The time you find yourself waiting in line, waiting in the dentists office, etc. you have something to read.
  • Read during a meal.
  • Block out time on your calendar to step away and read.  You’ll find you come back refreshed from the reading break, and maybe even with an immediate insight that you can apply to a project.
  • Go to bed earlier and wind down with a few minutes of reading.  This means maybe one less episode of your latest binge-show, but so what.

So what should you be reading?  Here are top 5 books that I either gift or recommend to budding entrepreneurs that I’ve worked with:

The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss – While the promise in the title seems to be about working less, this book is really about time management.  Specifically, the tips and tools in this book will help you make the best use of your time and learn how to avoid things that swallow up your precious time.  This book out of all the others has had the greatest impact on improving my professional life.

The $100 Start Up by Chris Guillebeau – This book is one of the best I’ve read that simply explains product management concepts like value, pricing, and identifying your market.  It has dozens of simple, actionable worksheets that you can use to define and document your business practices.  It also contains dozens of case studies of successful small businesses that you’ll find inspirational.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon – This is the best book on social media that I’ve ever read, and it’s not even really about social media.  It’s a reminder of the need to share with people something that is useful, interesting, or entertaining so that you don’t just get “followers” but actual people that are interested in you and your business.

Poke the Box by Seth Godin – This short manifesto on doing work could be summed up in three words – Do, Start, Ship.  It’s an inspirational reminder that all the planning in the world won’t make your business successful if you don’t actually produce something and share it with people.

Brains on Fire by Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and Spike Jones – This changed book changed the way I viewed marketing, focusing less on military terms like “campaign” and “tactics”, and instead taught me how to think about really talking to people and seeing what they want.  Worth the read just for the story of how this agency helped Fiskars scissors double their profits through growing an online community.

June 2018

This sign is on my commute to the gym. I’m not sure what business put it out there, but I agree with the sentiment.
The theme that continued to come up this past month was the need to focus.  We live in a world of multiple distractions.  (I write that with full awareness that if you’re reading this blog, it’s a distraction.)  It’s very easy to get side tracked from goals or creative output because of getting sucked into the rabbit hole of social media, mobile games, or whatever else is out there.  For me, it seems if I successfully cut out one distraction, another one pops up.


I’ve been reading Mindfulness this month, and it’s made me more aware of how easy it is to shut off active thinking and just mindlessly react to certain stimuli.   The book stresses the importance of process over outcome, meaning a sound process will dictate a good outcome, even if that outcome isn’t the one we immediately expect.  This has made me reflect on my processes for trying to focus.  What process can I implement to eliminate distractions?  How can I improve my process for focus and creation?  Related to this, I’ve been contemplating this quote from JotForm founder Aytekin Tank’s article There’s No Such Thing As Motivation related to this:
If you create reliable systems and continue to improve these systems (instead of your willpower), you don’t even have to think about motivation.


I’ve realized that my input directly feeds my output.  If I have a system to take in articles, books, videos, and podcasts that generate ideas, this sparks positive ideas and creation.  Therefore, a successful process will make sure that I take in material for this purpose.  Hence, the need to implement a process for blocking out at least 1 hour per day for non-fiction reading, dispite the distractions around me.


Articles for the month
These articles have impacted how I’ve been reading Mindfulness by making an effort to practice marginalia and record the principles in the book to build a learning framework.
How to Read a Book from Farnam Street.   This helped me understand that reading needs to involve active thinking and mental discussion with the author.
Become A Productive Learner from Harvard Business Review.  This helped me see the need to create frameworks for the things I’m learning and build over time.

Just Finished: Brain Rules

Brain Rules by John Medina –  This book was recommended to me by a professor of music education as a good book for learning about teaching methodology.   Even as simplified as the science is, it’s pretty heady stuff (pun intended).  However, if you do any sort of presentations or teaching, there are some good insights on how to improve the way you present.  Here were my 4 key takeaways:

  1. Review a project before starting on it, go to sleep, then start the next day.  Your brain will review the patterns all night while you sleep and help you better tackle the challenge the next day.
  2. When presenting, you’ve got seconds to grab someone’s attention and only 10 minutes to keep it.  At 9 minutes 59 seconds you must do something to restart the clock – something emotional and relevant.
  3. Stories and examples reinforce memory.
  4. Our brains pay special attention to objects in motion, so include video and animation in presentations.

May 2018

The biggest influence on my insights this month was easily Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.  I’m supposed to be reading Brain Rules (and I am) but it’s pretty heady stuff, pun intended.   I got diverted and started re-reading Steal Like An Artist by Kleon which lead me to Show Your Work.  I read both of these books in a matter of days.

You can read my full reviews on the books here, but the combination of the two books helped me to come up with my own social media policy and to try and be creative every day.

For my new Social Media policy, it’s very simple – Share something that is interesting, entertaining, or helpful.  Is a picture of my dog, or food, or something mundane any of those things?  Probably not.  Is the way I plan my workout routines as a Personal Trainer helpful?  Maybe a little more so.

For creativity, the books gave me a spark of motivation to sit down and write.   I started using two simple prompts in my daily journal:

1. What did I make today?
2. What did I learn today?
Each of these prompts forces me to do something creative each day and to try and learn something each day.  This doesn’t have to be something huge, but as I said before, the value of doing a little of something each day acts like compounding interest that can give a larger pay off over time.
Outside of drawing motivation from these books, I also took time to go to a festival and to visit the riverfront park that I hadn’t been to in a long time for a leisurely walk, as opposed to a fast paced run.  Reflecting on this, it made me realize that while I take a lot of comfort in routines, it’s very easy to get stuck in rut.  My new goal is to do go somewhere new-ish or experience something new each month in order to break up the routine just a bit.
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It pretty much rained all month in May…

Favorite Articles from the Month:

April 2018

Creativity is the residue of time wasted – Albert Einstein

We went camping in April, and spent the majority of the time doing….nothing. My April activity balanced the needs of many new experiences with that of idle time. In our productivity centric society, the idea of wasting time is sacrilege; but this month reinforced to me that sometimes there is a great value in doing nothing or doing things that are a waste of time within a balanced frame work.

Taking time to be in nature, to turn off your phone, not listen to music, and just look around can refresh your mind. Using time to do relaxing activities that might not have any real merit, like playing video games, can also have some benefit in moderation. Many of my reflexions from the month highlighted that joy.

Of course, idle time needs to be balanced with output of creativity and insights. April was used to restart some creative pursuits, like drawing, and to do and experience new things. For instance, in April:

  • I started to teach a new exercise class
  • I went to a new restaurant in town
  • I went to a new art festival
  • I started playing golf
  • I went on vacation somewhere I’d never been before

Doing even small things in town that are new experiences created new insights for me, and has given me drive to continue to look for new experiences each month. Can I carve out one day each month to do something or go somewhere new or fresh? That is the goal for May and beyond.

Link I’m enjoying:

Here’s What It Looks Like Inside the Handmade Sketchbooks of a Well-Traveled Artist – This look inside the notebooks of artist Jose Naranja is just inspirational

The Read List

This list contains affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no cost to you. These links are not a paid endorsement of a product or service.

2018

Poke the Box by Seth Godin This book was less than 100 pages, but I found several notations in my journal for the ideas it generated. In summary, the book is about initiating, starting, doings, and then shipping – share the idea. But from there, what is the “idea” – what would I do if I had a TED talk? What could I build? The goal with “work” should be to generate unique learnings and interactions that are worth sharing.

The $100 Start Up by Chris Guillebeau The case studies of different micro business owners has been a great aid for me in ideation, reinforcing certain product management and business basics related to pricing, business plans, and examining a market. I highly recommend it.

 

March 2018

In March, modesty was a reoccurring theme. For me modesty means recognizing that you can’t do everything, and that if you do decide to do something (start any activity – exercise, writing, journaling, etc.) that there is going to be a trade off. For me, it is recognizing that I need to be modest in my use of time, and be modest in what I put on my plate.

The popular notation of a “side hustle” involves a trade off. For the time you spend each week developing a “side hustle”, you lose that time that you could have spent with your family, time you could have spent resting and recuperating so as to be at your best for other commitments and responsibilities. You have to examine why you want to take on extra work. What tangible benefit do you gain for the trade off you’re making? Is it really worth it?

A quote that stuck out to me in this regard: “As few as you can, as many as you must.” – John Stuart Mill

My second take away was related to the need for thankfulness. I used a guided run with the Nike Run Club app, and in doing the “don’t want to run” run there was a powerful quote/idea – it’s easier to tear yourself down than to build yourself up. It’s like how it’s easier to knock things off a shelf than to put them on the shelf.

For me, it’s very easy to get down on myself and what I’m not doing or on the goals I’ve still haven’t reached. However, it’s important to reflect positively on the things I have accomplished and the things I have been blessed with. Doing this type of positive reflection builds self-efficacy that reinforces that future goals can be reached if I persist.

This month, I performed brainstorming for the first time with the journal. Being able to put down the seeds of different ideas and flesh them out as the days went along had a real positive impact on my professional life this month. I would say without a doubt it was a combination of reading non-fiction and journaling that brought about this breakthrough for me.

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This month I’ve been reading The $100 Start Up by Chris Guillebeau. The case studies of different micro business owners has been a great aid for me in ideation, reinforcing certain product management and business basics related to pricing, business plans, and examining a market. I highly recommend it.

***This post does contain affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and make a purchase, i receive a small percentage of the sale at no cost to you. This link is not a paid endorsement of a product or service.

February 2018

In my reflections of this past month’s journal entries, there were two key influences over my thoughts and actions for the month: Time and Poke the Box

TIME: Time passes very, very quickly. When you’re involved in a number of activities within your community, the weekends quickly go by and you find little time for yourself to truly relax and pursue self-reflexition and rest. Each weekend of the past month was filled with activtivites and giving to others. However, there is a reward in giving of yourself to others, because yoou’re able to positively impact other peoples’ lives. And in turn, others will give to you based on what you give out. The underlying principle of you reap what you sow is shown through seeing the positive results your actions have. The things you do directly impact the results you achieve.

POKE THE BOX: I read Poke the Box by Seth Godin this month. This book was less than 100 pages, but I found several notations in my journal for the ideas it generated. In summary, the book is about initiating, starting, doings, and then shipping – share the idea. But from there, what is the “idea” – what would I do if I had a TED talk? What could I build? The goal with “work” should be to generate unique learnings and interactions that are worth sharing.

My hope is that putting these ideas I’ve learned over the past month in this online journal is worth sharing.

***This post does contain affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no cost to you. This link is not a paid endorsement of a product or service.

January 2018

One of my goals for this year is to keep a daily journal. Thus far, I’ve been able to stay on track, recording a thought, sketch, reflection, etc (almost) everyday. What benefit have I really gained?

My fear midway through was that this was just an exercise in navel gazing. My past journaling efforts fell by the wayside because I felt like I was just recording the repetitive daily routine I follow. This time around, I’ve tried to focus less on events and more on thoughts, self reflections, and in some cases mixing things up with doodles and art prompts.

One pay off I’m seeing is from my January 22 entry – It is clear that small creative acts done daily over time act as a compounding interest of sorts. The act of writing and sketching adds to my problem solving abilities and creative thinking. Also, having a compilation of reflections, quotes, and a record of a moment in time pays benefits later when you’re able to go back and read these reflections and see where your life is over time.

This was impressed to me when I found some old journal attempts from 6 and 7 years ago. To see where things are today having reached goals I set back then, and how much happier that has made me today having reached those goals, gives me confidence in the ability to reach current goals and to know the pay off at the end is the satisfaction of having accomplished something I set out to do.

This blog will act as my secondary journal to use as a consolidation and reflection of the previous month’s daily journal.  These insights I gain will be distilled here for quick reference and perhaps a public benefit.

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Articles that inspired my journaling: