Plan Your Own War

In the mid-2000s I became obsessed with productivity blogs and systems. I followed 43 folders (dead since 2011), Lifehacker (turned into listicles and clickbait), and read article after article on the “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system. Over the ensuing decade (+), I’ve built a monster of a system for organzing my life and things I’m trying to do – both personally and professionally.

This system consists of:

  • A daily review (about 5 minutes total, split up between morning/evening)
  • A weekly review (normally done on Sunday mornings – takes 30-45 minutes of focused work)
  • A monthly review (normally done on the closest weekend to the 1st of the month, takes 30-45 minutes of focused work)
  • A yearly review (I start thinking about it on 1 December and capturing notes, and I usually complete the review during the week between Christmas and New Years – multiple sessions of reflection and work)

I’m not going to go into the details of what is in each review (if you’re actually interested, let me know). It is a system that I continually improve and massage (thanks John). However, when I look back at the reviews I did a decade ago versus today, it’s really incredible how much I’ve tacked on over the years. The process has grown and become much more focused and professional. Just about every year though, I have to prune it so it doesn’t get out of control.

At its core, the whole thing is a goal setting / reflection exercise that answers the following questions:

1) What is it that I’m trying to accomplish?
2) How am I doing?
3) What do I need to do to get better?

I know others go through a similar process, but my sense is that this is something most people don’t really do at all. It’s way beyond just making a to-do list and scheduling things on a calendar. And I’m aware that this process takes a lot of work and time – sometimes I’ll wonder if I’m spending more time planning when I should be executing.

But aren’t you worth it?

We spend so much time planning other people’s wars or projects – isn’t it worth putting some time into your own life?

As an aside, after more than a decade, I’ve stopped using Evernote. Until now, I’ve used Evernote exclusively to do this planning, capture articles, and even build my digital “I love me book.” Recently, and without warning, Evernote stopped providing the ability to maintain “local” notebooks, meaning everything would have to live “in the cloud.” It was an abrupt change and other note apps have come a long way, so I made the migration to Apple’s native Notes app – which works just fine.

Anyway, if you’re interested in going deeper on reviews, check these out:

The Art of Non (Yearly Review).  Another site I follow that talks about the annual review. I lifted the concept of assigning a “theme” to your year. An overarching organizing principle. Remember, good artists copy, great artists steal.

Who moved my brain? I revisit this video from Merlin Mann every couple of years to remind me that the two things that really matter are time and attention. The video is long and meandering, but if you stick with it you ingest a really important message. And this is one of those videos where I think you have to soak in the whole thing to really get it. You can’t just stick to the punchline.

The scary – but true quote – that sticks with me:

“If I just grabbed you on the street, and I said ‘what’s the most important thing in your life?’ you would say something like your family, or your church group, or you know, maybe your career, maybe your kid or your pet or whatever. And the thing is, in some part of your heart, that’s absolutely true. 

But do you have a sense of the extent to which your time and attention tracks to actually doing good stuff for that thing that you claim is really important? Do you have an internal barometer that tells you how well that’s going? In fact, is the thing that you claim is important really important? 

Because if a lot of people actually looked at where there time and attention went – the parts that they do have control over – it would look like the most important thing in their life was Facebook.” 

Oof.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The Pomodoro Technique

I’m writing more lately, and that requires focus and attention. It’s easy to get distracted.

I had to dust off this old technique I learned in graduate school – the Pomodoro technique.

It’s very simple. Set a timer (I do 50 minutes) and then work until the timer goes off. Then, take a break and do whatever you want (I do 10 minutes).

I find that once I set the timer, I’m more inclined to sit and do the work, and often I can get into the flow.

There are lots of apps out there that have this feature built-in. Or you can do it manually.

I also like to have “do not disturb” on while I’m working to eliminate notifications.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Optimal Ignorance: Information You Don’t Need

war room from wargames lots of screens

One of the best articles I’ve seen on FTGN for awhile.

“Optimal ignorance,” a deliberately contrarian term, “refers to the importance of knowing what it is not worth knowing. It requires great courage to implement. It is far, far easier to demand more and more information than it is to abstain from demanding it.”  In other words, seeking optimal ignorance requires deliberately going about not wasting energy or time on information that distracts from the primary inquiry. 

Optimal Ignorance: A Filter for Intent-Based Leadership Above the Tactical Level – From the Green Notebook

We have been trained to pay attention to detail and ‘check small things.’ And these days, we have the technology and the means to keep constant tabs on everything and everyone.

The information is all there and available.

To be truly effective, though, we don’t need all of that information. In fact, too much information becomes paralyzing.

It takes maturity and confidence to realize you don’t need to know. You don’t have to have input or an opinion, either.

This is especially true for senior leaders. Every time a senior leader speaks, there’s a good chance those words are going to get scribbled down into a book and transformed into an order, tasking, or inquiry.

Even a simple request for clarification can turn into a multi-day goose chase for obscure information.

Of course, buying into optimal ignorance requires a great deal of trust within an organization. One of those things that briefs well, but might be hard to implement.

Related to this is the concept of “just-in-time” information. To squeeze the most out of a day, your system needs to be optimized to not saddle you down with information you don’t need right now. It should arrive precisely when you need it.

I, for one, choose to be just in time and optimally ignorant.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The Battle Rhythm

brad pitt with a concerned face war machine

Newsletter goes out tomorrow.

This one is about the battle rhythm.

Is it the undiscovered secret to your success? A gem plucked from the military that can 10x your life?

You’re here, so you already know the answer.

Sign up below.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

My Podcast Diet

green sky fallout 4 radio tower

This is a deep dive on podcasts and how I listen to them.

You may have noticed many of the posts over the past year have been podcast reflections. I used to write a lot more in response to articles – and I still do – but there is so much good stuff happening in podcasting and I’ve found it rewarding to listen, reflect, and write on them. Plus, I hate the way that amazing things that are said in a podcast episode might never make it out of that audio bubble. So I like to capture it here, on the page, where I can come back and reference it.

Two things I want to get out there: 1) how I listen to podcasts, and 2) why I post podcast reflections weeks after a podcast release.

So here it goes.

How I Listen to Podcasts

I got into podcasts a long time ago, back when I was a college student and commuting almost four hours a day to and from school. I spent most of that time sitting on buses and trains, and killed the time listening to podcasts. I used the native Apple Podcasts app.

Podcasts then were mostly taped broadcasts from other places – broadcast news, radio, and television, mostly – and repackaged for a podcast audience.

Back then, this meant “downloading” individual episodes to my phone and then listening while riding – since streaming was hit or miss during the commute, plus network speed was slow.

Years later, when I found myself with another long commute via car, I’d listen to podcasts to and from work.

Listening to podcasts has always been a great thing to do – while doing something else – so long as that “something else” is routine and mundane.

I very rarely sit down in a chair and just listen to a podcast. Listening to podcasts is a thing I do that makes other things less boring or seemingly more productive.

Back in 2018, I remember learning that David Petraeus listens to podcasts while working out, which seems awful to me. I always liked to listen to music while working out. Listening to podcasts during exercise seemed somehow both lame and potentially counterproductive – as in it might slow me down or make my workouts less effective.

No way, I thought.

Then, over time, as my commutes grew shorter and my opportunities to listen to podcasts shrunk, I was forced to make the switch.

I’m now a guy who listens to podcasts while exercising.

Well, not while running. For whatever reason, I struggle listening to podcasts or audiobooks while running.

I can listen to podcasts while lifting or doing some kind of cross-training. But running is reserved for music.

When I talk with others who listen to podcasts, they often share the opposite experience. They can listen to podcasts while running, but not while lifting.

So the majority of my podcast listening occurs in the hour or so in the morning while I’m working out. I’ll also listen while getting ready in the morning after exercising.

An hour or so a day, that’s not too bad, right?

Except, as you likely know, many podcasts are over an hour long.

And over the years, I’ve become a dedicated fan of dozens of podcasts.

In any given week, if I’m lucky, I might get through four or five hours of podcasts. And that might get me through a few episodes.

But with episodes releasing daily, and with the constant discovery of new and engaging podcasts, it means I’m always running a backlog.

Which brings me to the second point.

Why I Post Podcast Reflections Weeks After a Release

With a constant backlog of podcasts, I’m just about always listening to old episodes. Occasionally, I’ll bump a podcast to the top of the queue if I’m particularly excited about it.

If I hear something compelling during an episode, I’ll make a note of it (on my phone, I use Things). Later in the week, I’ll review these notes and make a determination as to whether I want to write about them. If I do, I set the time to do it.

Then I write it, edit it, prepare it, schedule it, and post it.

This all takes time, which is why you get the reflection on a month-old podcast.

I don’t know it for a fact, but I always suspect the podcast teams who see these reflections are perplexed (and maybe a little annoyed) that I seem to be writing about an old podcast episode when they just released a new podcast and would rather see feedback on that.

Sorry, this is a hobby.

Lastly, sometime last year I ditched Apple Podcasts for Overcast. Apple re-tooled the user interface and it became exceedingly difficult for me to manage my endless podcast queue. Overcast is simple to use and has all the functionality I want – to include an incredible feature that slightly speeds up podcast episodes by automatically removing “dead air” and pauses. This helps me move through episodes just a little bit quicker without having to turn on 1.25x or 1.5x – which I don’t like to do.

So, how do you listen to podcasts?


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Achievement Unlocked

hands holding the maze relic westworld

I’ve been thinking lately about what actually makes someone useful to an organization.

What are those things that really matter?

You can make an endless list, but it seems to come down to two things:

  1. Solve the organization’s problems.
  2. Unlock the organization’s resources.

On solving problems:

Your boss has a vision. Your boss has a goal. There are obstacles in the way. There are problems to be solved.

Good leaders find ways to solve those problems and to arrive at the boss’ goal – not their personal goal.

On unlocking resources:

This is the one I’ve been thinking about a lot more. Organizations – and especially large bureaucracies – are marked by red tape. There’s an obstacle everywhere that impedes progress.

Ineffective leaders gripe, complain and become cynical.

“The system is stupid,” they say, as they look for ways around it.

Effective leaders recognize the red tape and work their way through it to unlock the resources.

“The system is stupid, but…” they say, as they work their way through it.

The bureaucracy is a behemoth – and when wielded can do incredible things.

But you have to do the work.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Military Side Hustle

twins from cyberpunk after boxing match side hustle

Good episode for anyone interested in military side hustles. These are the projects that many in the military undertake that may complement the profession, but are not directly connected.

As Joe mentions in the podcast, someone can spend their nights and weekends doing any number of hobbies, most of which won’t cause anyone to bat an eye.

But if that hobby results in some kind of “observable” – there are some leaders who will view this as time wasted.

“Why are you spending all of your time on *that* instead of *this?*

From the episode, on the constant calls for innovation:

I think we see this a lot with calls for entrepreneurship inside the military – there are a lot of calls now for everyone to be an innovator and go disrupt, and we say that, but do we really mean it?

S3, Ep22: Mark Jacobsen – Growth Through Failure – From The Green Notebook

This reminds me of one of Colin Powell’s 13 rules:

“Be careful what you choose. You may get it.”

Leaders ask for more innovation all the time. The problem is innovation almost always means doing something a little bit different. It means being disruptive. It means coloring outside the lines.

In any large organization – especially the military – that is going to grind against the norm.

Leaders – especially those who have been steeped in the culture – need to take a deep breath and resist the urge to say “no” or “that’s not how we’ve done it before.”

Or my personal favorite: “Who told you to do that?”

Anyway, the episode is great. Especially if you are interested in pursuing your own side projects.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Coloring outside the lines

coloring outside of the lines red green blue yellow

I recently heard this phrase used by another leader in reference to finding innovative ways to solve a problem.

“Color outside the lines.”

Of course, I’ve heard this phrase before, but never in the same context as “think outside the box.”

This struck me as a better phrase precisely because I can picture it.

I don’t really know what you want me to do when you ask me to think outside of the box. What box? Why do I need to think outside of it?

But coloring outside of the lines – yup, I got it. We’re supposed to color inside the lines, or so we are led to believe.

When things are going well, sure, we can color inside the lines and make a beautiful picture.

But sometimes we need to move fast and we might need to get a little messy.

We color outside the lines and finish the picture. It ain’t great, but it’s done.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

In-person, on the phone, or via email — in that order

carrying the gun

Staff work entails lots of coordinating. Lots of communication with people inside and outside of your organization. Today, much of that communication occurs via email.

I bet you think you’re “good” at email.

It feels like work, doesn’t it?

It’s not work. It’s the illusion of work.

The other day, I fired off an email with some information and some questions to someone outside of my organization – hundreds of miles away. After I sent it, I didn’t think much of it. I figured I’d get a response in the next 24-36 hours.

A few minutes later, I found myself surprised when my office phone rang (hardly anyone ever calls me) and when I answered it was the person I had sent the email to. I was surprised.

In about 5 minutes, we covered all of the ground we needed to and were ready for the next step.

This is a lesson I learned many years ago. When it comes to getting things done (from other people), the priority should be in-person, on the phone, or via e-mail: in that order.

When someone comes to visit you, you stop and politely see what they need.

When someone calls you, you answer the phone and have a conversation.

When someone emails you, you likely process it through some system you have developed for managing the correspondence. Flag for later? Move to folder?

Delete?

Of course, every organization has formal and informal business rules. I’m not going to just walk into the office of a superior because it is more efficient for me.

But it is worth pausing from time to time and asking – “Can I accomplish this more quickly through a phone call?”

“Can I just walk over to their office and ask?”

You may be surprised by the results.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Reflection Partners

a mountain reflecting in a lake

Another good one from FTGN.

Joe and Cassie talk about the power of reflection and what got in the way of realizing its benefits earlier in their careers. They also share the story behind their recently released book, My Green Notebook: “Know Thyself” Before Changing Jobs. 

S3,Ep12: Cassie Crosby- Reflection for Busy Leaders

What I found most interesting about this one was the story and the history between Joe and Cassie.

This is such a small profession, and the pool of folks that dare to write (or podcast, or make videos) to ‘extend their influence beyond the chain of command’ is even smaller.

I’ve written about reflection before – and this whole blog (and newsletter) is an exercise in reflection.

But it feels like “small r” reflection. What they’re going after is “big R” Reflection.

They’re attempting to crystalize the process into something you can do as you change jobs to truly capture lessons learned and use them to grow – not just pontificate and move on.

As they discuss in the episode, there were so many opportunities missed because they lacked the process. And it is only when they were sitting there at their bunks at BCAP that they started to realize it.

What if you started earlier? What if you went through the process at the end of every assignment?

That’s what they’re going for.

And while I’m not sure this was part of their intent for the episode, it’s clear to me that both Joe and Cassie are reflection partners. I’m not even sure what that is yet, but it feels like it’s something that’s not quite mentorship and not quite just friendship. Through their work and effort, they enjoy a heightened reflective experience that I don’t think many of us experience.

It’s kind of like that peer at work who ‘gets it’ the same way you do. The one who goes out with you for a long lunch where you figure it all out.

Only this is a bit more professional. It’s good to have that peer.

Anyway, I’ve still got about six months before my next job change, but I plan on running their process when I get there.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.