Viewing entries tagged
intention

Clearing the mental queue

Whenever I feel stressed out or overwhelmed, I can usually narrow it down to one main reason:

My mental queue is jam packed.

Imagine your mind as an inbox that is overflowing with outstanding priorities, goals, calls, meetings, errands, and countless other distractions. I’m sure most of you don’t have to imagine - in today’s crazy, technology-driven world, this tends to be the default.

Honestly, this is how I feel a lot of the time, especially when I forget to check in with myself.

Whenever I forget to groom my mental queue, it quickly fills up with outstanding commitments.

How do I stop this from happening?

Like most things, it’s simple (I didn’t say easy).

As someone who regularly suffers from paralysis-by-analysis, I have to actively force myself to make decisions, pull triggers, and push stuff out of the door.

In other words, I have to clear my mental queue.

This involves actively mapping out all of my commitments, deciding next steps, and holding off from taking on anything new.

When I don’t do this, I tend to procrastinate and overthink things, which leads to even more stress and less mental bandwidth - it’s a vicious circle.

If you haven’t recently, make a quick list of every single commitment you have and ask yourself, “Does this belong in my mental queue?”

All-in is all wrong

As someone who was recently on a panel that gave feedback to entrepreneurs, I was asked, “Why are entrepreneurs taking advice from full-time employees?”

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear this is the “all-or-nothing” mindset that continues to permeate entrepreneurship.

Sure, there is no shortage of stories that tout a “rags-to-riches” rise to success for entrepreneurs all over the world, but that is exactly what they are - stories.

Over the past decade of full-time freelancing and entrepreneurship, I learned that living life in the extremes is usually a dangerous place to operate. If you’re not prepared, it can be lonely, stressful, and even lead to harmful thoughts of self-worthlessness.

I’ve always been a trial-by-fire kind of person who does better when there isn’t a safety net, but I’ve gone all-in before and honestly, it doesn’t always have to be this way.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that there are countless ways to create your own path.

Going back to the above question, I truly believe that you can always learn something from the person in front of you, no matter how different they may appear to be.

Why are entrepreneurs taking advice from full-time employees? Because many employees have experience with budgets, timelines, product validation, scalable (and unscalable) business models, bringing products to market, and simply talking to other people.

Just because they choose to work for someone else doesn’t mean that they don’t have relative experience to share. In fact, they may have the missing piece to the puzzle you’re trying to solve as an entrepreneur.

The sooner we can dial down the extremism of entrepreneurship, the better off we’ll all be.

Organizing the chaos

I’ve learned over the years that organizing the chaos of everyday life is one of the hardest parts of being a functioning adult.

Whether you work for yourself or within a larger company, distilling conversations, meetings, and opportunities down into tangible action steps is an art that, unfortunately, isn’t taught in school.

We’re taught how to “think critically” about writing and literature, but not about how we turn long-term priorities into short-term steps.

That’s why if I could create the curriculum for one course taught all over the country, it would be “Organizing the Chaos 101.”

It would be an intro course that presents frameworks, tools, and resources for creating your own accountability system. It might even explore various people and how they approach accountability.

I’m not usually a fan of looking backwards, but I can’t even imagine how much more I would have accomplished by now if I had created my own task management process sooner.

At this point, I’ve meshed my personal and professional lives together by mapping out long-term priorities like getting married or writing a book and breaking them down into smaller, more actionable goals, like booking a venue or finishing the first draft one chapter at a time (all using one Trello board).

As always, I’m constantly tweaking and updating as I come across other processes that work.

How do you manage your long-term priorities and short-term goals? How long did it take to get to this point?

Adopting a "one less" mindset

Like many people who struggle with bad habits, I’ve developed a “one more” mindset over the years.

Without even thinking twice, I’ll have “one more” drink, stay out “one more” hour, or try to squeeze in “one more” task while I’m working.

What’s the harm in this?

Like most things, it wouldn’t be that bad if it was just once in a while.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just once. These moments of “one more” compound on each other and end up biting me in the ass. One more drink + one more hour out with friends = one less productive morning.

Instead, what would things look like if I focused on developing a “one less” mindset?

I would probably feel a little better if I had one less drink, I wouldn’t be as grumpy if I spent one less hour out, and I definitely wouldn’t be as stressed out if I took on one less obligation - I would have way more mental bandwidth for the things that matter most to me.

The question is: how does someone adopt this “one less” mindset when they’ve built up a series of unhealthy habits that make it easier to say, “I’ll have one more…”?

I’m not exactly sure yet, but this is a question that deserves at least one more minute of my time.

Altruism and profit

Last night, I had the opportunity to be a panelist at a pitching event where local entrepreneurs present their businesses and ask for feedback around one specific question.

When it came to the final pitch, an interesting conversation popped up.

The entrepreneur mentioned they were including an altruistic component to their business model and one of the other panelists responded by saying, “You can focus on being altruistic once you scale up. As a startup, you need to focus on making mountains and mountains of big, ugly money.”

Maybe I’m just naive, but I couldn’t agree less.

Sure, if you want to eventually become a fully-sustainable company, you have to (eventually) have revenue coming in, but the idea that altruism and profit are mutually exclusive is ludicrous.

One of the smartest things you can do when starting a company is to focus on growing a community around your company.

Can you guess one thing people care about when it comes to the brands they support and the products/services they purchase?

A cause.

In today’s world, it’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate based on product alone. You have to plant your flag and stand for something when others may not.

If you ask me, doing good will always be good for business.

Clear and concise

When it comes to the ability to be clear and concise, some people are born with it and some people are me.

I’ve never been the most straightforward.

Instead of getting to the point, my point usually arrives within the last 5% of any conversation, which means I (usually) have to fumble my way through logic and reasoning until I, after thinking out loud, can put two and two together.

I’m not exactly sure why I’ve always been this way, but it’s something I actively try to improve upon.

Speaking of improving, I can confidently say that writing has made the single greatest difference in becoming more clear and concise.

I’ve been writing (almost) every day for over three years now, and I’ve realized something interesting - Communicating with others has become easier because I’ve already had many of the conversations beforehand with myself.

Thanks to this unexpected side effect, I’ve already thought about many of the responses I give. It doesn’t mean they’re polished and contrived - they’re just a little more clear and thought out.

This is one of the biggest reasons why I urge other people to consider writing, even if no one else will ever read the words they write in a journal.

Practicing leadership

At this point in my life, I’m ready to be a leader.

You might be wondering, “What makes you qualified to lead others? The fact that you’re yet another white, entitled male who feels as if he deserves it?”

I promise it’s not this simple.

From freelancing full-time to co-founding companies with others, I’ve spent the past decade fumbling through the process of creating my own path and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

First and foremost, I’ve learned that leadership isn’t about dominance or having the right answer - quite the opposite.

Some of the best leaders take a much different approach.

Instead of telling others what to do, they lead by example. They know their actions speak louder than any of their words and they do their best to align these actions with the things that truly matter.

Instead of taking credit for the accomplishments of their team, they know that credit for one person depletes ownership by many (Thanks Scott Belsky for perfectly capturing this idea using these words).

Instead of being the first and loudest person to talk, they listen first with the intent to understand. They are self-aware individuals who strive to be empathetic towards everyone, especially the people on their team.

These are just a few of the many ways in which great leaders facilitate great teams and honestly, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and show that these things truly matter to me.

Being an ally

I’m lucky that I get to work with a company that values having intentional conversation around what it means to be diverse and inclusive.

Each month, some of us meet at a different coworker’s home for an event called Homecoming where we discuss specific topics and share personal stories.

Last night, we talked about what it means to be an ally.

As someone who usually falls into the privileged majority in almost any situation (a straight, white, cisgendered male), I want to be an ally for individuals and groups who aren’t so lucky.

Admittedly, I don’t do nearly enough, and usually for one reason - I struggle not with what to say, but how to say it.

Sure, I understand that in the real world, you don’t get a gold star for doing the right thing. Speaking up for others (when that is in fact what they want) should be a given and we should just be able to do it.

The thing is, I also understand that we’re human, which means we’re messy, imperfect creatures that fall back on habits when shit hits the fan.

I’ve learned that if you really care about making a change, you have to consider the habits that drive (or don’t drive) your actions.

In my case, I’m focused on developing the habit that when I hear or see something that could be considered discrimination or injustice, I first ask the person being discriminated against, “Hey, are you OK? How do you feel right now? What do you need?”

As we talked about last night, not everyone wants or needs to be saved. As someone in most majorities, I’m sure it can be much too easy to default to a savior complex.

I’m looking forward to continuing these conversations and doing what I can to become a more effective ally.

Culture is inevitable

I’ve been thinking a lot about culture over the past few months.

From joining a larger company culture early on to helping shape it on a smaller scale within my own company and a cappella group, I’ve noticed something that is probably self-evident to most:

Whenever you have two or more people working together, culture is inevitable.

From the tone and topics of conversations to the way in which you make decisions, culture simply happens.

In the same way that indecision is still a decision, not intentionally crafting your culture will still give you a culture, it will just be one in which you won’t have any control.

That is why I’m learning to pay more attention to my actions and how they affect the people around me.

Ultimately, these actions contribute to the collective culture.

Believe it or not, when I respond to a Slack comment with a specific GIF or an emoji, this becomes part of the documented culture.

When I have certain conversations within earshot of others, this becomes part of the undocumented culture.

It’s easy to forget these things when we prioritize our work over the people doing the actual work.

In my mind, mindfulness should be just as important as margins, more urgent than email, and prioritized just like profits.

How are you contributing to your company culture?

Content with being content

I was lucky enough this weekend to grab coffee with a friend who was in town for a wedding.

Whenever we get together, we have great conversation that leads to more questions than answers and enough ideas to fill a notebook.

Our conversation was based around my friend leaving St. Louis and his realizations since then.

He shared how even though he was looking for a professional change, he missed how his days were filled with things and people he cared about.

In other words, he wasn’t content with being content.

This is something a lot of us deal with, especially in our professional lives.

We feel pressure to “do more” and “be better” all while searching for something that fulfills us.

It’s no wonder social media can be a blessing and a curse.

It allows us to share our story and stay connected with the people we care about, but it also sets unrealistic expectations.

Not everyone has to travel the world, vlog every second of their life, or share an endless stream of filtered selfies. We don’t always have to strive for perfection.

In fact, I’m learning that being imperfect is far more interesting.

In a world where anyone can be anything, the people that stand out are one thing above all else - themselves.

Luckily, I have friends who help remind me of this.

Pleasantly surprised

We’re only five days into the new year and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

Usually, it takes a few weeks to really feel the effects of a new year: the high you get from working out, the sense of accomplishment from creating a morning routine, the wicked hangover you get after celebrating a little too late the night before.

In this case, things are already taking off.

If I had to pinpoint one reason, it would probably be thanks to last year’s decisions.

Instead of focusing on quick actions that provided short-term results, I did my best to look further ahead and prioritize things that would have a better long-term effect (all while dealing with a cornucopia of shit).

Now, I’m not saying everything is falling into place - far from it.

In fact, I have yet to draw out my priorities for the new year.

I’m just noticing that for the first time in my life, I am actually OK with where I am.

I’m not complacent or apathetic - I’m simply content for the time being.

For all of you out there who are your own harshest critics (like me), take a moment and think back to the last time you felt this way.

I’m assuming these moments are few and far between.

When they do pop up, bask in them because, as you can probably guess, they tend to be fleeting.

Dragging my feet

It’s January 2nd and I don’t have any of my priorities written down for 2019.

Normally, I would be kicking myself in the ass for dragging my feet, but this year, I’m trying this new thing where I give myself more of a break.

I’m not exactly sure why, but I tend to have unusually high self expectations.

I know what you’re thinking: “Great, just what the internet needs! Yet another (bearded) white dude bragging about how he is special.”

I promise it’s not like that. In fact, instead of a badge of honor, it’s more of a curse.

With me, I’m either productive or lazy. Happy or sad. Driven or complacent. There really isn’t much gray area.

In the past, I’ve found myself frustrated and disappointed far too many times simply because I wasn’t able to meet every single goal I put in place.

This year, I still want to set goals, I just want to create them within larger priorities and make them more realistic and sustainable.

With this combination, I’m hoping this year will be less frustrating and even more impactful than 2018.

The highest of highs...

It’s the last day of the year and, like many people all over the world, I’m reflecting on 2018 while also thinking ahead to 2019.

After doing some thinking, I can’t deny that 2018 was the most defining year of my life (so far):

Highs: Traveling abroad with my girlfriend for the first time, proposing to her in Ireland, surviving my first year in business with Viabl, getting Dobby (our little fur baby), taking my first full-time position with Slalom Consulting, and finally reaching some amount of financial stability.

Lows: Financial issues due to higher freelance taxes than expected, multiple hospital visits while in Ireland, prolonged health issues likely due to stress, the failure to manage that stress because of an inability to consistently work out (thanks to the health issues), and losing some part of my old identity.

As you can probably guess, this year was filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

One of the most impactful lessons I learned was that health affects every aspect of life. When your health is in jeopardy, you also lose the peace of mind that allows you to think and live intentionally.

Now that I’ve reached a point of relative stability, my focus for 2019 is on helping others not only reach this point but to also thrive.

I’m still figuring out what this looks like, but all I know is that as hard as this past year was, it forced me to take a good, hard look at myself and make some hard realizations.

I lost my identity as someone who was freelancing full-time but found another one as someone who is piecing together their own path in their way.

I’m not sure what 2019 has in store, but I know that whatever it is, I’ll be ready.

Choose your battles

As someone who sets unrealistically high expectations for myself, I'm realizing something important:

It's OK to stop take a breath, even if that breath turns into a break.

Sure, I'm no published author (yet), but I do care about sharing stories and connecting with others through writing.

The thing is, I sometimes lack followthrough, so establishing a routine is important to me.

At the same time, I'm a pretty extreme person - I'm either hot or cold, happy or sad, super productive or super lazy. There's not a whole lot of gray area with me.

This is why I'm hard on myself. Otherwise, complacency creeps in.

Usually, I fight it tooth and nail. But you know what?

Today, I choose not to fight. 

Instead, I choose to invest my time in other ways - relaxing with people I care about, slowing down long enough to breathe, pausing to think ahead.

No matter who you are or what you do for a living, don't forget to pick and choose your battles. 

We all have the same amount of time each day. 

The hardest part is choosing when to fill it and when to not.

Living intentionally

We’re close to wrapping up 2018 and, like most Decembers, things are slowing down (at least when it comes to the business world).

This is usually when I start to think retrospectively about the year coming to an end.

In all honesty, this year hit me with the highest highs (traveling to Ireland, proposing to my fiancé, joining Slalom Consulting) and lowest lows (health issues, financial issues, the inability to deal with multiple points of stress) and everything in between.

The more I think about it, I can’t help but admit this was one of the most defining years for me as an adult.

Maybe it’s because I grew out of my twenties, but I felt a tangible shift from pretending to be an adult to actually becoming one.

Since reaching relatively stable ground towards the end of this year, I’ve discovered the privilege that comes from being able to think about life with intentionality.

Sure, I’m still putting out individual fires as they pop up, but now, I actually have the attention to look further ahead to see what’s actually causing the fires in the first place.

It’s not easy to live an intentional life. If it was, the self-help book industry would cease to exist.

People don’t always have the time to slow down and think about taking purposeful steps towards a life that would make them happy.

If you do happen to have a little time over the rest of the year, I can’t think of a better way to spend it.

Money can't buy happiness

We've all heard this age-old adage.

As someone who has never been motivated by money, I have always agreed with this - until now.

Sure, money and the material possessions you can buy with it won't ever make you truly happy, but it can help you buy something that will:

Time.

We can use this time to explore what really makes us happy.

For many people, money can buy peace of mind in the form of paying off medical bills, enjoying new experiences through travel, or simply staying out of survival mode.

If you ask me, time and peace of mind are the perfect ingredients for thriving.

After all, that's all any of us want - to live an intentional life in which we can thrive.

Money isn't the destination - it's simply a tool to help us find it.


Exploring is hard

Being complacent is easy.

Letting past actions dictate future outcomes takes little to no effort.

Do you know what's hard?

Breaking this day-to-day monotony by exploring.

Instead of going to the same coffee shop or watching the same thing on Netflix, try walking around your neighborhood or driving to a new part of town.

Thanks to societal pressure, exploring can feel like a waste of time.

I beg to differ.

After a weekend of exploring, I feel more rejuvenated than I have in a while.

What's stopping you from doing the same?

We all have distractions and responsibilities that compete for our time. As important as creating a routine is, it's just as important to know when to break it.

Make it easier on yourself by blocking out time in your weekly schedule.

After all, Netflix will be waiting when you get back.


Life is short

Life is short.

We spend too much time worrying about trivial things when, in the grand scheme of things, most of it won't even matter.

It's easy to forget this day-to-day thanks to an endless stream of distractions.

Sure, we all have to do things we don't want to do, but my guess is these things start outnumbering the moments in life that really matter.

The tough part is slowing down long enough to figure out what these moments are.

A conversation. Stealing a few minutes alone with someone you love. Becoming lost in something so deeply that time goes by without even realizing it.

Once we're able to identify these moments, we can start living intentionally by structuring each day around them.


Living with intention

Living an intentional life is hard.

We all have things that seem important (our jobs, errands, meetings), but are they really?

Will they move us closer to where we want to be? Do we even know where that is?

Since I work for myself and set my own priorities, I'm responsible for charting my own course, even when uncertainty creeps in. Whenever this happens, there is one question that packs a big punch:

Why?

When was the last time you asked yourself, "Why?"

Why are you having this meeting? Why are working 40+ hours a week? Why are you sitting here reading this?

As much as I try, I know I don't ask this question nearly enough. I often find myself neck-deep in the middle of a task without even knowing why I started it.

Whenever this happens, I do my best to stop and figure out why.

I don't always know the answer, but at least I'm one step closer to living an intentional life.