Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Raising Your Standards

Success is about staying consistent. Staying consistent is about standards. Poor standards limit success. If you raise your standards, you raise your consistency and your success--the triangle of success grows.

Darren Hardy recently posted a video with his thoughts on the value of consistency in achieving success. I think that 's only true if you can consistently raise your standards to their highest level. It is easy to be consistent at a level that doesn't achieve success.

As a programmer, my first programs were good enough to meet my client's requirements and my boss's expectations. If I had stayed consistent at it, I would have achieved a limited version of success. Many of my peers did exactly that.

I started to recognize a model within the programs I wrote. I could copy a program that was already working, delete its unique features, replace other items in the original program with their analogs for the new one, and write the unique part of the new program. An inventory update program became the start of an accounts receivable update program. This cut my writing time in half and was f my standard practice for a while.

Then I realized that changing the "inventory" identifier to "account" added no value but introduced changes throughout my model. I could apply the changes consistently or eliminate the labels and make the code itself consistent. I did neither.

Instead, I eliminated the labels and pulled all the consistent code into a standardized set of modules. Then I built a new standard reference program to tie the pieces together in a standard way, and built a utility to make changes needed in the reference program. This package became my new standard, and with it a complex update program became a consistently reproducible process anybody could use. I had a new standard, a new level of consistency, a new measure of success. Work that took weeks could be dome in minutes.

Hardy's video refers to the familiar story of the tortoise and the hare. It is a great place to start. To that familiar race, let's add a puppy, who at birth can barely move and needs his mother to survive. Day by day, his consistent growth makes him bigger, stronger, faster.

Success can be achieved by being consistent, but only if the level of consistency is high enough (a good enough standard) and you have enough time. A rabbit lives twelve years, a dog  twenty, a tortoise two hundred. How much time do you have for success. How long do you want it to take?

In our competitive world, yesterday's high standard may be barely adequate today and irrelevant tomorrow. The world is littered with standards that have been made obsolete -- VHS tapes and floppy disks being obvious examples. Continuous improvement needs to be a goal we aspire to even for our standards.

I was never an athlete as a child and spent most of my adult life as a couch potato. A few years ago, I changed my habits, raised my standards, and lost 35 pounds. They stay off because my new standard is high enough to maintain my weight. If I want more, I need to raise my standard. Perhaps you do too.




Monday, July 18, 2016

Book Review: The Art of Learning

When I mentioned to a friend that I was reading the book The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, she asked why. "Is there anything you don't know about learning!"?

I think of myself as reasonably smart, but I used that gift to get through school. As an adult, I have come to understand the value of leveraging my strengths and therefore look for small improvements on things I do well. 

Is there anything I don't know about learning?  Since I don't know what I don't know, all I can do is assume there is. 

As Waitzkin points out:

"..:there are clear distinctions between what it takes to be decent, what it takes to be good, what it takes to be great, and what it takes to be among the best. If your goal is to be mediocre, then you have a considerable margin for error."

I was particularly intrigued by a 3 step approach to resilient, self-sufficient performance. 

1. Flow with the distraction, like a blade of grass bending to the wind. 

2. Use the distraction, inspiring ourselves with what initially would have thrown us off our games. 

3. Recreate the inspiring settings internally. 

The book covers developing mental skills, especially focus, to compete at elite and world-class levels as illustrated by the author's experiences in two different competitive arenas. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Book Review - Deep Work by Cal Newport

Whether you read David Allen on stress-free productivity, Brian Tracy on eating the biggest frog first, or almost anything in the domain of personal productivity, the theme is juggling your actions. Newport argues that for people dealing with intense
complexity or creativity you need to carve out significant blocks of time for what he calls deep work.

This isn't about multitasking or task switching. The book focuses on why and how to create an environment where deep work is possible, and shares stories of people who have done it successfully. He gets into more detail, but the key ideas are block out the time and cut out the distractions.

You won't find anything new or astonishing on blocking out time here. Newport methodically walks through all the logical possibilities but in the end it is a matter of what works.

As for cutting out distraction, there is a lot of actionable advice, some of which may call for serious reflection. High on that list is cutting out social media. You may not be ready to do that, but perhaps you could get them off your phone and out the way. Newport walks his talk here--no Twitter account.

Not everybody needs to do deep work, but there are fewer exceptions than we realize. The book didn't help me block out time, but it did help me think.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, December 13, 2015

False Choices

"Better 100 friends than 100 rubles."~ Russian proverb

I don't always agree with proverbs, and I don't agree with this one. While I believe that friends are more important than money, I think the proverb is inspiring a false choice. Both are good and you can have both.

In his book "Secrets of the Millionaire Mind" T. Harv Eker points out that rich people think "and", the rest of us think "or". By thinking or, that we must choose one and not the other, we are making a choice when no choice is required--a false choice.

We can also make a bad decision by using or to justify a bad decision. Should we eat the fries or the dessert? Neither. Sometimes the right choice is to do nothing, or at least none of the above. When at a restaurant, look for what you'll wish you had eaten, not for what looks good. It all looks good, right.

As a computer programer, I learned that "and", "or" and not are logical filters that can precisely control what to include or exclude. When they are needed and used appropriately good things happen.

So listen for the words: and, or, not. Ask yourself why, and why not.

Fries or dessert? Why not neither?

100 friends or 100 rubles? Why not both? Why not 1000?



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The School of Greatness

For the past few years, Lewis Howes has been hosting a podcast he calls the School of Greatness. During a typical program he will interview an expert on personal development or some related topic. His skill as a podcaster, the quality of the guests, and the value to listeners continue to go through a positive feedback loop.

Many of his guests are authors, trainers and educators--what else would you expect at a school? His goal us to help his listeners develop a lifestyle of their win choosing. Now he has released a book with the same goal. For example:

When you want to lose weight and keep it off, you don't go on a diet, because diets are about artificial restriction. They're miserable. Instead, change your lifestyle to match your goals.

This book is about changing your lifestyle to match your goals, a step by step process that can help you take control of your life and destiny.

The School of Greatness: A Real-World Guide to Living Bigger, Loving Deeper, and Leaving a Legacy https://www.amazon.com/dp/1623365961/ref=cm_sw_r_awd_VWsowb0XQAQDD

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Why I Subscribe to Podcasts

As far as I see it, there are two types of people: those who think they can multitask and those who know better. With minor exceptions, multitasking breaks focus and slows productivity. This is one of those exceptions. 

You can call it a habit, a goal, a standard or crazy, but I try to walk at least 10,000 steps--about five miles--every day. In the past month I have done this 28 of 31 days. As I walk I listen to podcasts. I subscribe to several and they fall into three categories. 

News 

About half the walk is an audio version of the PBS News Hour. Once a week, I satisfy my inner science geek with This Week in Science. These and a couple others remind me that there is an
outside world. 

Personal Growth

I pick up an assortment of personal
growth podcasts doing interviews or offering ideas. Some of these lead to books to read, either in full or through a Blinkist summary. If I'm not hooked in the first couple minutes, I'm on to the next topic. 

Other 

This category covers hobbies and entertainment. 

Why

By playing these podcasts while I walk, I can get a briefing on current events, pick up some useful ideas and catch a few messages about my hobbies while allocating the time to health and exercise. I generally play the podcasts at 1.5 speed, as fast as possible without distorting voices. 

Truthfully, this time is for the exercise. The podcasts are scanned for potential interests but not rigorously studied. Over the past few years that I've done this, the News Hour has dutifully reported the Dow Jones Industrial Average over 1000 times and I couldn't guess it within 10% or even define it accurately. I guess I was right--I can't multitask, but it does make walking those miles more pleasant. 

Your Turn

What podcasts do you follow and why? Are you giving them your full attention?


Sunday, July 5, 2015

What Are Your Favorite Books

I am currently reading Become An Idea Machine Because Ideas are the Currency of the 21st Century by Claudia Azula Altucher. The book offers prompts and challenges you to come up with ten ideas based on the prompt. The thought is to get in the habit of having and writing down ten ideas each day. Here was today's prompt.

Tell Me Your Favorite 10 Books Of All Time And One Thing You Learned From Each

This assignment was framed to be as broad as possible. I focused on books I recommend, many of them easy reading with significant impact on me. Here are my choices. 

Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.  The power of choice to cope with anything. 

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  It's never too late to pursue your dreams. 

Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-free Productivity  by David Allen the systematic process of doing. 

Success Principles by Jack Canfield.  Take 100% responsibility for your life and dozens of other valuable life lessons. 

Good to Great by Jim Collins. Among several other ideas it reveals the value of a stop doing list. From this comes my own advice to get out of your own way. 

The Automatic Millionaire  by David Bach which teaches the latte factor, the long term cost of habitual spending. If you are looking for something specific to stop doing, this may help. 

Notes From A Friend  by Anthony Robbins. Robbins.  Robbins offers a wide variety of formats and many life changing ideas. This quick read introduces some of his most important ideas including the power of decisions. 

Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker. Thus book points out several ways wealthy people think differently from others including think "and" not "either ... or ..."  

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S Clason. This old book teaches  the basics of personal finance. 

Eat That Frog  by Brian Tracy. Another small book full of great ideas including the one which gives the book its title -- eat the big frog first. That is, start your day by tackling your biggest, highest payoff activity. 

The point of the Idea Machine is to
generate tons of ideas, not stop at ten. So, what books would you add and why?