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When “Soul-Tired”, Take a Holiday!

My time management was going out the window. I was more prone to being distracted. Basically my soul was protesting. I needed a holiday.

It’s been a while since my last post. I’d been busy first and I’d been on holiday. Today I’ll talk a bit about the latter.

I wanted to get away. I could feel it not just in my tired eyes, snow-white skin, and freezing cold hands after a long winter, but also just in my soul. I’m not an overly-spiritual guy, but a phrase kept coming to mind every couple of days:

“I’m soul-tired”.

I knew this feeling from before. It’s more commonly known as burnout, but for whatever reason, my subconscious had come up with a new term for it.

I wasn’t suffering so much physically, as I’d been taking care of myself with sleep, exercise, and eating well, so I wasn’t run down or getting sick, but my routine was slipping as my mind protested its shabby treatment. My time management was going out the window. I was more prone to being distracted. Basically my soul was protesting against doing the same(ish) tasks in the same place for months on end without being able to draw out a paycheck yet). Without having seen much sun or warmth all Winter, and tired after nearly 3 months of bidding for semi-state training contracts (bureaucratic form-filling is not fun… not sure if you knew) I just needed to escape and get some warmth into my bones.

I had missed the last holiday I’d planned to take due to timing complications in my last workplace, so it had now been 11 months since I’d been anywhere (and even that was for a work conference).

So, with my birthday approaching, I decided to get away for it (in the end I departed 2 days after, but whatever) and looked for some quick, all-inclusive Sun holidays. The best deal to be had was for Tenerife, so I booked, and flew out less than a week later.

Puerto De La Cruz, Tenerife. Photo Credit: Kevin Murphy

Switch off. Charge up.

Don’t bring the laptop

I debated (for about a second) bringing my new laptop so I could work by the pool, but no. This was about NOT working. I knew I needed to get somewhere that I couldn’t work, even if I wanted to. Since I usually work from home, it can be hard to delineate the working day from the relaxing part of the day (though I usually use dinner time as the cutoff). I needed to get somewhere that was unambiguously for relaxing. Luckily I hate typing on my phone, so I wasn’t prone to answering any but the shortest of emails on that.

Go All-Inclusive

If you ever have the option to go all-inclusive in a holiday hotel, I do recommend it. It usually works out cheaper (unless you eat away from the hotel a lot), but the main thing it does for you is takes an extra mental load off. You don’t have the stress of budgeting for food or drink, or overspending. “Splashing out” on dessert isn’t a concern. You just have it. Or don’t! Whatever you like! It’s already paid for, so enjoy it at your leisure! Just not too much on the alcohol…

Yes, the booze might be watered down (wasn’t here though), and the food may leave something to be desired, but as Napoleon Bonaparte said; “Quantity has a quality all its own”. šŸ˜‰

Read

I love reading a fresh book on holidays. I used to always read fiction but lately have read a lot more non-fiction. I wasn’t sure if bringing a ‘work’ book with me would defeat the purpose of the holiday, but I risked it. I actually brought two but only read 100 pages of the first. I was just having too much fun (also Tenerife was actually cold so I didn’t spend a lot of time reading by the pool).

At any rate, I’m still reading, and quite enjoying, the classic ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill. I’d put off reading it for a long time because of the cringey title, but when I realised that it’s a classic written in the 1930s, from which most of the other self-improvement books out there (good and bad) owe their lineage, I added it to my list. If nothing else, there are some fascinating case studies in there.

Since my holiday was about recharging, I also bought the audiobook of The Charge, by Brendon Bruchard. I really enjoyed listening to this as I walked around exploring Puerto De La Cruz in Tenerife, getting some sun, taking in the sights and smells, and just gaining some perspective on my life and work by being away from the desk. I’d recommend this book to anyone feeling drained, though the audiobook format isn’t ideal for this one as there are a number of lists and activities to complete that would prove challenging to find again in audio format. Paperback recommended.

Listen to music

I also enjoy having a bit of a soundtrack to a holiday. I like to buy new music (I’m not a Spotify fan) and associate it with a trip or activity. That way, when I listen to the music again, I can in part bring back the sensations and feelings associated with that music. Music has a very mysterious and wonderful superpower that resonates with us deeply – so why not try and use it. I chose the synth-wave band Gunship’s two albums to explore and I loved them! Check out one of my favourite tracks below (I tweeted out this video recently).

Meet new people

One thing I’m so glad that I’ve learned over the years is how to just strike up conversation and make friends wherever I go. It’s invaluable. I definitely have those days where I’m feeling too deflated to talk to strangers, because it does take a little effort and energy (I’m naturally introverted), but when I’m in a new space I can usually manage it. Really it just takes the an opening line and then conversation just goes from there. In a tourist hotel for a week (5 days in my case), you’ll see the same people again and again and it pays to have made a little effort. Effort is the wrong word, even, as it sounds like you gave up something, but you know what I mean.

One of the highlights of my trip was talking to the rep, Richard, from Lonten Tours (he’ll most definitely look after you well if you’re ever on holiday in Tenerife). I went down to book a boat and a bus tour around the island, and just ended up chatting for about 90 minutes about the books and podcasts we consume, and about the side/main businesses we’re both into. We really hit it off. I asked where was there good live music to be found and then got talking about the nightlife. He said they sometimes run pub crawls, but not at the moment. The next thing I know we’ve arranged an impromptu pub crawl for that evening with a few of the other young travellers around. So we’re getting in free (with free shots) to a few of the town’s better clubs and we’ve a small posse getting to know each other, all because of striking up a conversation.

That was my 2nd night only, so for the rest of the week I’d a small friend group who I saw repeatedly. Now I’ve (even more) friends I can visit in the UK, and I’ve a contact (friend too) who I can refer group holiday bookings to while he’ll send me potential business coaching clients that he meets. New friends, a few great nights out, solid tourism advice, and a new business contact – all for the price of striking up a friendly conversation. Whoever thinks that “networking” has to be creepy and salesy is doing it wrong!

Extra tip: I love karaoke too. The first night I banged out Frank Sinatra in the hotel bar karaoke and they asked me to do 2 more songs and close out the night! Not only that but people kept saying hi the next day, recognising me as “that Frank Sinatra guy”. If you can fight your nerves and get up and sing, it’s a real shortcut to making friends, as well as being damn fun in its own right.

All good things must come to an end

holiday tenerife kevin murphy 3

All too soon, it was time to return, but I found some clarity there that I could take home with me. I very much hate commuting, and love to travel. I want to see so many places. I want to visit friends that I’ve made that are scattered all over the world. I left Ireland with a choice to make following an interview done the week before. I was considering whether I wanted to get another office job in a Dublin company, with either a nearly 2 hour commute each way, or the necessity to move into the city and lose half my salary to extortionate rents. I was strongly considering that, as unattractive as it sounds (the company was doing exciting things, to be fair).

But that’s the wrong path for me (and most people I think, but it’s just what Dublin offers right now so many are stuck with it). The books I read on the holiday (especially Brendon Burchard’s, mentioned above), as well as the perspective gained from just leaving Ireland again for a week, solidified in my mind that I want to be in charge of my own career, and have it be a Remote Work career primarily. I returned with a new commitment to my business, and a new Why, which I’ll talk about soon.

In Conclusion

We all need a rest, and some perspective. Life is about balance, and I was off-balance. If you’re feeling “soul tired” or burned out, I strongly recommend taking a few days off. Even if it’s just to run errands, clean the house, and clear Breath of the Wild, that would do you some good, but getting far from home and seeing somewhere new can’t be beaten for casting your own life in a new light, revealing both the beauty and the stains that you’d missed.

Until next timeā€¦

PS As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Iā€™ve linked some books above. It costs you no extra to buy through the link, but I get a small percentage as a referral bonus.

Are To Do Lists still a good idea?

What having a To Do list gives you, is a quieter mind, ready to focus on the task at hand, not distracted by what needs to be done later.

Yes! Christ, yes! Of course To Do Lists are still a good idea! Forgive me for doing a test on a click-bait title, but it gets me fairly directly to the point I want to make today.

Everyone seems to need an edgy opinion now, and a click-bait title, just to get some of that sweet sweet traffic. This became crystal clear recently (obvious as it already was) when I signed up to the blog site Medium and got their daily email of story summaries. I’m seeing blog titles like “Crypto is a fad!” right next to “Why Bitcoin will save the environment!” (I’m paraphrasing), and blogs on getting up at 4am right next to ones about the critical value of getting 8 hours of sleep. [Stay tuned here, as in the coming weeks I’ll be doing an interview with someone specialising in sleep and productivity, and together we’ll be taking a strong stance against the current wave of “struggle porn”.]

How long will it be before we’re back to advocating ruling employees through fear and cheating the customer as “the forgotten best practices to make millions!”? I can almost see it happening. Mark my words.

Apart from maybe the title today, I do prefer the higher-integrity approach of actually trying to teach useful habits. You’d think that the basics wouldn’t need to be covered any more, but an epidemic of careless blog and video topics with misleading titles (like mine today) are actually eroding our knowledge-base when it comes to productivity at work, and conveniently for me, opening up space to talk about the ABC’s again.

To Do Lists under attack

Almost just to be contrary it seems, I’ve seen more and more people advocating for a NOT To Do list. This isn’t a bad idea per se, as it’s good to highlight our time-wasting habits and work to eliminate them, but some “influencers”, in a careless case of Chinese Whispers, I think missed the point when they started saying to create NOT To Do lists at the expense of actual To Do lists. How does that help anyone?! Use both, by all means, but if you’re picking one only, you must have an actual list of tasks to get done. You can’t fumble your way away from what you don’t want to do and somehow arrive at success.

Other suggestions are to write ONLY your Top 5 most important tasks to do the next day (or 6, if you’re talking about the Ivy Lee method – it seems we’ve lost one sixth of our productivity over the last century), and trim everything else off your To Do list! Just don’t have them on there. Again, I think this is crap advice. Have your longer To Do list, and move 5 items to the top, or to a separate daily list, or circle them, or whatever you want! You can figure this part out without a blog.

What am I dancing around?

Okay. For a second, let me stop speaking reactively about what not-not to do, and speak in favour of To Do Lists on their own terms. The fundamentals.

What having a To Do list gives you, is a quieter mind, ready to focus on the task at hand, not distracted by what needs to be done later.

If you have something near you (a phone or notebook) that you can trust to remember things for you, you won’t expend mental energy trying to move short term inspiration or information into medium-to-long term memory. We learn this is as children when the teacher says to “write down your homework”. They won’t allow that you forgot what it was. They know you have a list that you are to refer to when you go home, so that you do the work they’re expecting and arrive back the next day not having had the time to build a tree house, or whatever that algebra was keeping you safe from.

For some influencers to be contradicting this advice is asinine. And you know that they don’t follow what they’re saying! Listen them speak on a panel at a conference and they’ll speak about the tools like Trello and Google Sheets that they use to coordinate their team and “make sure things get done”.

This irks me.

Writing things down, physically or digitally (though handwriting has been shown to be the more effective option for recalling information), has always been, and will always be a good idea. You’ll “remember” flashes of inspiration, birthdays, blog ideas, song lyrics, etc. without any effort, and can “recall” them at will.

I first learned the absolute necessity of To Do lists when I was running stage shows with a crew of around 30 and had to liaise with venues, suppliers, cast, crew, ticket suppliers, and my dad to borrow the van! It’s impossible to run something like that writing down what NOT to do, or even writing just 5 tasks. And once you’re in the habit of writing down the “urgent” task that comes to mind, you can sleep easy knowing that tomorrow it will be handled. Sleeping better of course will also let you do that work more quickly and with less mistakes. Double benefit!

In Conclusion

Just as Animal Farm was a book about Communism, and not animals (I did not appreciate this the first time I read it… I was young!) this was a blog about runaway edgy “advice” and not so much To Do lists. Do try out new ideas, but question them, too. Ask the person giving it if they follow this advice, or what they’re basing it on.

I follow this advice. I used to use a .txt file on Dropbox as my To Do lists, as I could access it on my PC or mobile app, but I’ve now switched to Workflowy as it has more functionality that a text file, and also has an easy-to-use mobile app; something I don’t find with Google Sheets.

I also bought a small whiteboard to leave on my door with my absolute most important medium-term tasks on it. I found it helped to have them in my face every day.

This topic goes well with my blog two weeks ago on the need to balance business (and general) advice. Or last week’s blog on how to be more productive by Batching emails and other tasks.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Do you’ve any recommended tools or approaches to getting everything done?

Until next week…

PS As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Iā€™ve linked to a Whiteboard above. It costs you no extra to buy through the link, but I get a small percentage as a referral bonus to support the site.

Productivity Hack: Batching your Emails

But the one thing that’s worked really well for me is to just have two times of the day that I’m batching emails.

This week I want to share the idea of ‘batching’ as it relates to productivity at work, especially when applied to emails. I’m someone who’s borderline obsessed with productivity and constant incremental improvements (kaizen) to my work process. I want to get more done in less time, and still have energy left at the end of the day to balance work with life, and maintain my health.

You can find lots of info and blogs out there on productivity (including this one, today). But did you know that a huge amount of it originates from a single source? One of the undisputed masters of productivity and work-life balance is Tim Ferriss – author of the 4-Hour Work Week, and host of the Tim Ferriss Show.

Although batching is something we all do to one extent or another, the first person I saw codify and apply it to office work is Tim Ferriss. So, what is batching, how does Tim use it, and how can it help you?

What is Batching?

As the name perhaps implies, batching is the grouping together of tasks with the objective of doing them all at once. Bakers bake a batch of bread, not a single loaf, factories produce a batch of thousands of items in a single run before resetting the machinery, and productive workers batch all their calls, emails, meetings, and creative time into separate batches as well.

This reduces “switching costs” (the amount of time it takes to re-focus on a task after you’ve been distracted away from it) and prevents us from being reactive all day. How many times have you sat down to resume your actual job, only to have your train of thought broken by an email or IM notification three minutes later? You read it, send a quick response, and try get back to work, but then you remember further info that might benefit the original sender to you go look up a link. While you’re browsing, that Twitter bookmark calls to you from the top bar and now you’re scrolling for no particular reason. It happens. A lot! But a lot less when you adopt batching.

Tim Ferriss’ email batching

Tim wrote about how he started to only check emails at particular times of the day, and get them all done within a set time-frame. For the rest of the day, emails didn’t happen as far as he was concerned. Then he’d increase this batching to only certain days of the week, until eventually he was only checking email once per week total!

He was helped in this by some automated response systems that explained how he would only check emails periodically, but if your query related to X, then the answer was Y, or if requesting a speaking engagement, he currently wasn’t taking any, etc.

He also empowered his staff to handle any customer service disputes up to a value of $100 without checking for his permission. Since 90% of disputes were for values worth less than $20, and he would previously have been emailed about every dispute only to usually say “yes, grant that”, this saved a huge amount of time for himself and his staff.

But what if I miss an important email?

There are two nuggets of wisdom to consider here.

You train others how to treat you

If you tell the key people that communicate with you that you’re adopting a new email-reduction approach, and will only be checking it once per day, they won’t expect instant replies. This also results in receiving less emails about trivial matters. They will also know that if there’s an actual urgent issue, that they should walk up to your desk, or phone you to get instant access.

Things are rarely that urgent

Things are rarely (depends on your profession, I understand that) so urgent that an email can’t wait a few hours. It’s not an urgent medium. Maybe some day you’ll miss first-come-first-served on a spare concert ticket or something, but what’s the value of that to you? A ticket might be worth ā‚¬80. What’s it worth to you to have less distractions at work and get more work done more quickly every day?! The trade-off is a no-brainer in my opinion.

How I’ve adopted it

I’ve designed and redesigned many timetables for myself over the years. I think mostly they work at first, then the routine (any routine) kind of gets to you, and you switch things up a bit. I don’t think there’s one perfect timetable for anyone, let alone for everyone. But the one thing that’s worked really well for me is to just have two times of the day to check emails. In my situation I could actually get away with once, probably.

So at 10 am I’ll check email in a 30 minute window. All emails. Personal, work, other work, Facebook and Twitter messages, WhatsApp texts. I’ve 30 minutes to clear it, or postpone things. This includes checking links on newsletters, special deals, articles, etc. I limit my time so I can’t endlessly go down the rabbit hole. If there’s a long article I really want to read I’ll bookmark it for the evening.

Also in this time window I’ll usually send a message to someone I haven’t spoken to in a while. People I met at conferences, friends who live overseas, cousins, etc. That takes 5-10 minutes of the time usually. If there’s any time left over I’ll also try to get in a few mental exercises, memorising lists. I do this habit every day. This is how I can name you 50 States, 28 (soon to be 27?) EU countries + capitals, 32 Irish counties, all Bond movies (by year), and how to say “Cheers” in over 30 languages and counting. I really want to get email out of the way so I can get to this more fun mini-game before starting ‘work’ work.

I repeat this at 2pm. So my day has its communication time and its work time separated. It also means that any query to me should be answered in a half a working day or less, which is perfectly acceptable.

After dinner I have no rules about email or messages (Tim Ferriss would disapprove) but this has worked wonders for me. Outside of those two half hours, (before dinner), all notifications are off. The phone is set to Do Not Disturb (while allowing calls through, since I get very few and they’re usually somewhat important).

Bonus Tip: Gmail Snooze

productivity batching
Gmail’s new(ish) Snooze Button

Gmail now has a Snooze button for emails that allows you to send something in your inbox away and have it return unread at a set time. This is great if you want to clear the clutter and rush to inbox-zero, but without addressing an important issue yet, but not deleting or risking forgetting it either.

Bonus Bonus Tip: Pause your Inbox

You can also use the Boomerang plugin for Gmail to completely pause your Inbox for a time, so that if you need to work inside Gmail but don’t want to be distracted by new messages, they’ve got you covered. This plugin is also how your schedule an email to automatically send at a later time – something Gmail can’t do for some reason.

In Conclusion

Yeah, pretty much batch your emails into one or two times per day, max! You batch your laundry into a single load – why not email and texts? You can experiment with batching other things too, like cooking several meals for the week on Sunday night, or doing your bookkeeping/receipts every 2nd Monday morning. It all takes a little discipline and planning, but it can save huge amounts of time and keep you focused on your real work.

I hope you found this useful. Please share some of your favourite productivity hacks in the comments, or just say hi and let us know if you’re going to/already use this one. If you’d like to read my recent blog post on combating Procrastination, click here.

If you’d like to set up a free call to talk about how I can help double productivity for you or your team, please get in touch. I’m happy to chat for 20 minutes and offer some quick wins at no charge.

Until next time…

PS As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I’ve linked the book “4-Hour Work Week” above. It costs you no extra to buy through the link, but I get a small percentage as a referral bonus.

Yin and Yang of Business

Yin and yang is work-life balance. Run your conclusions by other people. Yin and yang is realising that great minds think alike and fools seldom differ.

yin and yang of business

The taichi symbol, taijitu, or more commonly referred to as Yin and yang or yin-yang is an instantly recognisable icon around the world. The object of countless tattoos and copy-book sketchings is an ancient Chinese symbol of balance. Plenty of other cultures have their own symbols and fables, too. There’s the concept of Heaven and Hell. Buddha taught about the Middle Way. All of nature is subject to day and night cycles, and even at the atomic level, everything we are seems to be a balance of positive and negative charges. Dark and light, order and chaos, male and female, etc. We’re all inherently familiar with the idea of balance.

It has always struck me as odd, then, when we hear perfectly reasonable bits of advice, and don’t realise their absolute contradictions.

For example; “look before you leap”. We all know this one. We should plan and observe risks without being too carefree. Good advice.

Yet that conflicts with “he who hesitates is lost”. Both seem to have a lesson or valuable piece of advice, and I don’t imagine anyone would be too quick to argue against one of these well-known expressions, yet it’s cognitive dissonance to hold both in our heads at the same time, surely.

Personally I love “great minds think alike” conflicting with “fools seldom differ”. Whenever I arrive at the same conclusion as someone and they loose the expression (they usually pick “great minds” in my experience) I’ll remind them of the other. It’s a bit of fun, but it reminds me that we’re not necessarily right just because we both got the same answer.

Yin and Yang is frequently absent in business advice

“It depends” is always a safe answer, but it doesn’t make for good headlines in the same way as dramatic statements do. I just want to highlight two examples of where I’ve found the concept ‘the middle way’ to be missing.

Office Layout & productivity

I’ve come across plenty of articles and anecdotal evidence as to why open-plan office spaces are better. They encourage collaboration, a sense of team-ship, more natural light, etc. Fair enough. Yet I can balance that with plenty of articles on productivity and reducing distractions that talk about the switching costs associated with being in a flow state on your current task, then having to answer a nosy co-worker who just wants to gossip for a few minutes, and how much this costs the company.

I think that with content creation being such a necessity in the online business world now, you’re bound to wind up with a lot of conflicting information presented as absolute truth. Everyone has an opinion and has their own experience what works best for them, and many seem to think, or at least present as if, that makes it the objectively better option. To return to the above example, open-plan office space probably is much better for journalists or comic writers, and closed-cubicles much better for programmers or accountants. Office-layout advice is likely to be quite different coming from one camp or another.

Innovation vs Focus

This one is huge, because it affects entire industries and thousands of jobs, yet I still haven’t come across articles or influencers who try to reconcile these two very valid viewpoints (there probably are some, but I haven’t yet seen them, and they’re definitely rare).

Yesterday, this Gary Vaynerchuk video came up on my feed and he’s talking (totally correctly, with great examples) about the need to innovate. It’s especially important to innovate when there’s massive disruption going on, as caused by the internet at first, then mobile, and now things like AI, blockchain, and privacy/security.

Also yesterday, I’m reading (audiobook in this case… I don’t know why I still feel the need to caveat that in 2019) Simon Sinek’s excellent book Start with Why and he mentions how DELL started selling music players in response to Apple’s iPod, but it didn’t work and they stopped after a couple of years.

Okay, copying the competition isn’t the same as innovation, but it did set the wheels turning in my brain. If DELL had done nothing in response, they’d have been criticised for inaction, most likely.

Nokia, once the biggest mobile phone brand in the world, died because they didn’t take smart phones seriously enough.

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar: “act, don’t react”, “focus on your customers, not the competition”, “focus on what you’re good at” or “know what your company does”.

Simon Sinek in the same chapter as I read yesterday suggested that if the US Railroad companies had seen themselves as being in the ‘mass transit’ business, instead of the railroad business, they might have started airlines and much more of them would likely still be around today. Should they have innovated, reacted, or focused on what they’re good at?

The truth is that it’s very easy to criticise when we see failure, and survivorship bias makes it easy to say that a company “made the right choice”. Yet if their competition made the same choice, we’d likely say that the competing company should have innovated instead of continuing to focus on what they’d always done.

Conclusion

(Aside: Is this called “TLDR” now? hmm… just a thought. I’ve always written ‘conclusion’… anyway!)

So when you’re out there picking up words of wisdom for the day, or especially if you’re going to base a whole business strategy on them, do consider the value of the advice (it’s probably coming from a valid place) but also consider the opposite of that advice and whether there’s validity there also. Yin and yang. Balance.

Focus on what you’re good at, but prepare to innovate when you recognise that you’re being disrupted. Yin and yang is balancing action and reaction.

Work hard some days, but give yourself time to recover, too. Yin and yang is work-life balance.

Run your conclusions by other people. Yin and yang is realising that great minds think alike and fools seldom differ.

Or that’s how I see it, anyway. Do you have any other examples, or funny contradictory phrases you’ve noted? I’d love to hear your comments, either below, on social media, or privately.

Until next time…

PS As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I’ve linked the book “Start with Why” above. It costs you no extra to buy through the link, but I get a small percentage as a referral bonus.

Impostor Syndrome, and How to Overcome it

…especially the younger you are, or the fresher you are in a new job, industry, or project. Today we’re going to define and overcome impostor syndrome.

Hello again! I’m excited to be back for this one. I think it’s going to be very helpful, especially the younger you are, or the fresher you are in a new job, industry, or project. Today we’re going to define and attempt to overcome impostor syndrome.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Perhaps, I could best illustrate with an immediate example. As I write this, I may think “who am I to be offering advice on the internet? I can’t even maintain a weekly blog, seeing as how my last post was nearly 4 weeks ago (and on the topic ‘Stop Procrastinating‘, no less! (To be fair, I never actually set or publicly stated a goal of 1 week (also, I’ve been busy, not procrastinating šŸ˜‰ (PS I’m a programmer, so I’m allowed to use multiple nested parentheses – get over it ))))”.

In short, it’s the feeling that we’re not good enough, and that other people don’t quite realise it yet but they’re surely about to find out, and then bad things will happen.

It’s the feeling you get on the first day of a new job; that you’ll never be able to do what these other people are doing, and you’re going to get fired pretty darn soon. Or when you walk into the first rehearsal with a long-haired, spiked-gauntlet wearing metal band and think “I’ll never fit in here. I work with spreadsheets!”.

Here’s a few of mine from over the years:

  • I’m not a real musician because I don’t know anything about jazz (still don’t).
  • I can’t work as a Tax Adviser, I only barely passed the second exams (never mind that 50% of people fail on the first attempt and I didn’t – that didn’t seem to factor in).
  • I’m not a real game developer because I haven’t published anything yet (despite the fact that I was developing a game) .
  • I’m not a real programmer because I haven’t a computer science degree and am self-taught (as were most of the original game developers and programmers).
  • I’m not a real entrepreneur because I haven’t had a truly successful business yet.

So what does that show? Well, apart from showing that I’ve had a few different jobs, it shows that impostor syndrome sounds a lot like negative self-talk, and coming up with excuses. It sounds a bit like “I can’t be happy until [X result]”, which is always a bad way to think.

But here’s a question for you: Would you say any of those things to your best friend? Or your child? Or your coworkers? Probably not. So why is it okay to say them to yourself?

Don’t worry, that’s not all I’ve got for you.

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

There are a few ways to frame the feeling when it comes around to relieve that anxiousness. Here are a few thought experiments and practicals.

1. It’s common and it happens to everyone.

Thankfully, I spent several years in the games industry, which is full of the most talented, creative, intelligent, kindest, and most helpful people you could ever hope to meet. It’s where I first heard the term, and knew instantly that it referred to what I was feeling. Two minutes later, I’d learned that it applies to almost everyone.

According to the International Journal of Behavioural Science, around 70% of people experience this (it’s probably more like 98% in the games industry – common amongst artists, composers, programmers, and designers – nobody is safe! The 2% I’m just reserving for some of the Biz Dev people, and even then..).

I’ve met and worked with some very successful game developers and ‘regular’ entrepreneurs (if there is such a thing), and they’ve all suffered from it as well.

This isn’t the same as saying “you’re imagining it. Get over it”, but just that the person you’re afraid of finding out that you’re a fraud, even your manager, is probably thinking the exact same thing. In fact, the manager probably moreso (at least the good ones) because the more responsibility you have, the more prone you are to feeling it.

2. Time is a healer.

Thankfully, experience alleviates the feeling. So it doesn’t just scale infinitely. Otherwise most CEOs would be reclusive nervous wrecks all of the time.

As we grow, we gain confidence in our abilities. After all, nothing bad has happened yet! You haven’t been “found out and fired” yet. You’re probably safe.

The principle here is to compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. If you’ve read “12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos”, this is rule number 4.

3. You’re outside your comfort zone. That’s a good thing!

mohamed_hassan / Pixabay

Our comfort zones are safe. That’s where we know what we’re doing, and we know what’s going to happen. It’s a great place to go to recharge your batteries, but it’s also where career and personal growth goes to die. Nothing interesting ever happens in the comfort zone.

Impostor syndrome tells you that you’re in new territory. Love it for that! Pay attention, accept that you’ll make some mistakes (and are expected to by your peers), learn, and grow.

4. Keep an Accomplishment Journal

Here’s a tangible step. Open up a simple .txt file or physical journal, and start writing down all the things you’ve ever accomplished that come to mind. Indulge yourself. Captain of the school football team? Won a science fair? Rescued a puppy? Learned an instrument? Mastered a skill you never thought you could achieve? Got recommended for an amazing job you weren’t expecting? Write it down.

This in an ongoing exercise. When you’re feeling down on yourself, use this as a life-preserver and remember that you’re on a journey, these are your past milestones, and you’ve more to come.

Tip: I like to add compliments I’ve received here as well. It’s so easy for them to roll off our backs and be forgotten. Criticisms are easy to remember, but not compliments. Write them down and let them benefit you a second time later.

In Conclusion

Impostor syndrome can be pretty uncomfortable at best, and paralysing at worst. The way to overcome it doesn’t involve not feeling it any more, but rather taking the sting out of it, and leaning into it – in the same way that courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the accepting of it and continuing anyway.

The next time you feel this particular anxious feeling rising, I hope you’ll remember this article, and you’ll have your Accomplishment Journal ready to go, right? I challenge you to take 5 minutes and start one right now, and tell me if it doesn’t make you smile!

Do please comment if you found this useful, or if you have any of your own techniques. It’s nice to hear from you all.

Until next time…

Stop Procrastinating – 3 Great Techniques

How to stop procrastinating is one of the biggest questions we all struggle with on a daily basis. This paragraph has already taken two days to write!

Tasks that seem difficult, unpleasant, or hard to guess the duration of tend to get put on the long finger. There’s probably a physiological aspect to this. Note: I’m not an expert in any of the fields involved here, but in layman’s terms: The function of procrastination is believed to be our minds protecting us from stress, and the cortisol that we know will be released by engaging with stressful tasks. We’re particularly prone to procrastinate when we’re tired or already stressed. But our bodies don’t necessarily realise that we’ve got bills to pay, dammit!

If procrastination is a protective function though, our bodies don’t seem to consider that incomplete tasks take up mental space (though you can reduce this affect by writing things down on a To Do list), whereas getting things done produces a little dopamine hit. So it’s clear that procrastination, while natural, isn’t necessarily doing us many favours if it’s saving us from a little cortisol now, robbing us of dopamine soon, and producing more cortisol in the long run by creating more incomplete tasks.

Probably best to get a handle on it, then. So! Here are some of my adopted techniques to stop procrastinating. People in paid 9-5 employment can benefit from these too, though they apply more to those with flexible working days.

The Pomodoro Technique

This technique takes its name from the Italian word for tomato. This is because its inventor, Francesco Cirillo, had a tomato-shaped kitchen timer on his desk that he used to measure work periods of (usually) 25 minutes.

The idea is to work in 25-minute sprints, then take a 5 minute break (good to move around, use the bathroom, get some water, etc) and resume another period after that. You repeat this up to 4 times for a very productive couple of hours, then you should take a longer break.

I first started using this technique while working in my last job as a games programmer. I’d have been assigned a big feature to complete, that would take hours or days (you never quite know with games programming). I’d break the task down into chunks that should take 25 minutes or less each, and then focus intently on just that sub-feature for 25 minutes. Sometimes a task wouldn’t be complete, but I’d have definitely broken the back of it without getting distracted. When the clock’s ticking, we tend to focus better.

Now, how this helps me to stop procrastinating requires just a little twist in what you think the technique is best used for. It’s great for productivity, yes, but it also carries the strong likelihood that that unpleasant task (say, a VAT return, or employee review) will be off your plate in less than a half hour if you just start now!

That promise has seen me start and finish more programming jobs, tenders, applications, emails, and bookkeeping tasks than any other technique. I’m even running a Pomodoro clock right now. I’ve 9 minutes left. The blog won’t be finished in that time, but in one more the first draft should be done, another and I’ll have edited and added pictures, and one final one will see it posted, shared on social media, and totally finished!

You could get yourself a desk timer, but I just use a simple free App called ‘RemindMe for Windows‘ (which I also use to remind myself to correct my posture at my desk every now and again).

Accountability

As I often mention, this is one of the biggest benefits to hiring a coach. A coach is of more benefit keeping you accountable towards bigger goals and tasks, but accountability can be used in all sorts of ways.

When I used to live-stream game development, I set two times a week (and posted them on my streaming pages and Twitter) that I would be streaming live at that time. I didn’t have a huge audience, but once the info was out there, I’d be a liar not to show up and start working. Whatever else happened in the week, I always had two slots of 90-120 minutes where the game itself, in-engine, got worked on. This kept the ball rolling and not stuck in an email & admin pothole.

Similarly, once an artist and composer joined my team, I felt accountable to them, and any tasks I had that they needed done miraculously got accomplished. Most of us hate to let others down and are much more willing to not deliver on a promise made to ourselves alone.

If you work alone and people aren’t counting on you, posting things publicly, or getting an accountability buddy (accountabilabuddy – I can never let that hilarious contraction go unsaid) or coach can seriously help you to stop procrastinating and finish more tasks.

Urgency – Make Plans

This leads on from the others fairly well, but it’s a little different. Where the Pomodoro technique has you create an artificial time pressure, and accountability has you create (if it doesn’t already exist) artificial social pressure, this has you create real pressure – timed and usually social.

Parkinson’s Law states that a task will expand to fill the time allotted for it, in the same way that a gas will fill any given chamber evenly. I’ve always noticed that if my evening is free, I’ll usually wind up finishing some of the tasks that were allotted for the working day in the evening. If, however, I’ve made plans with someone to go to a show, gig, movie, etc, now I’ve now got a real time constraint on the day, and the social pressure of not wanting to cancel on my friend. If I’ve bought tickets, I’ll have the benefit of financial loss aversion too!

Doing this not only helps you knuckle down and get things done, but it rewards you for doing so and protects your work/life balance, which in turn protects your long term health, productivity, and enthusiasm. It’s a positive feedback loop that’s actually very powerful!

So rather than not make plans because you might have to finish work (you always will, according to Parkinson), say yes to that invite to the pub or games night.

How to Stop Procrastinating – In Conclusion

Using these three techniques (and others) have greatly helped me to stop procrastinating and increase the number of unpleasant jobs that I get done. Doing so has also freed up more time for me to enjoy my life outside of work hours (by basically creating “outside of work hours”).

I hope they’re of use to you as well. You might also enjoy my article “Movement Beats Meditation” (which is about perfectionism, not exercise or spirituality).

Do leave a comment if you have any of your own techniques or success stories, and please share the article if you found it valuable.

Until next time…

2019 – SMART Goals

…ditch those vague New Year’s Resolutions (eg. “exercise more”, which only 8% of people tend to achieve) and replace them with SMART goals.

Happy New Year! I hope it’ll be a good one for you all. One way to make that more likely is to ditch those vague New Year’s Resolutions (eg. “exercise more“, which only 8% of people tend to achieve) and replace them with SMART goals.

What are SMART goals, again?

As I mentioned last week in my 2018 goals review, this stands for:

  • Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timed.

There are a couple of variations on the acronym (you may have learned ‘Realistic’ for example), but they amount to the same thing.

When you set a goal, it should be clear, possible to define success (and progress), yet should also push your abilities and comfort zone. Above all it should be time constrained.

A year is a nice ‘tidy’ unit of time for us to think about making big changes in, but it’s comfortably big enough that we can procrastinate for months without having to do anything, unless we set some SMART goals.

It’s also worth noting that people tend to greatly overestimate what they can do in a year (they also underestimate what they can do in 3 years or more).

Write down and Share your goals!

Even when you set SMART goals, people often fail to meet them. They may just lose interest. They may want the result but procrastination gets the better of them, or the goal changes and flexes because they’re not taking a deliberate approach. But there are ways to improve your odds!

According to research from the Dominican University of California, people who write down their goals are 44% more likely to achieve them! That’s huge!! So write them down and leave them somewhere visible, like on a post-it note on your bedroom door, or as the background on your phone. Or both!

Even better is if you also share the goals. You’re 77%(!!) more likely to succeed when you do, versus just thinking about them. Get an accountability buddy (or, “accountabilabuddy”), and share your goals with each other. Then check in every few days to see how you’re both doing. Help each other out.

This is one of the main functions of any type of coach. They hold you accountable to achieve your own goals, while offering the benefit of their professional experience.

What also works here is to publicly share your goals, like on your social media or a blog post. Anywhere that you feel people are paying attention to you and may be interested in your success. So that’s what I’m going to do here.

Sharing some of my 2019 SMART Goals

2019 SMART Goals
nickgesell / Pixabay

Health & Personal

  • Sober January – I do this every year for self-discipline, and to detox a bit after Christmas. No drinking until Feb 1st or later. That’s specific, measurable, achievable, relevant (to my health), and timed.
  • Run a Marathon – Carried over from last year. As I explained in my 2018 review, I’ve an ankle injury. This is a big goal with several hurdles, so it’s not SMART, but I break it down into smaller goals. First step is to treat the injury, by contacting a recommended physiotherapist by Jan 10th, and getting the next instructions, and a time frame.
  • Take 1 Holiday overseas – This will be my friend’s wedding in Canada in July. Can’t wait! Hopefully I’ll get another trip in somewhere, too.
  • Personal Budget – I’ve kept track of my spending for years, ever since I moved to Australia and wasn’t working initially. This isn’t a SMART goal, but it does provide a financial framework for all of the goals below, making them possible on my conservatively projected income and expenses, and extra-possible on better income. I’ve broken things into categories, and track spending per category as I go (books, nights out, bills, etc). If you’d like a (blank) copy of my budgeting spreadsheets, get in touch. I’m happy to share useful tools.

Community

  • Volunteer 1 day per month average – Also carried over from last year. I only had 5 or 6 volunteer actions. First step is to contact a local group before Jan 20th and see what kind of help they need.
  • 10 Climate Actions by November 15th – I’m a volunteer Cool Planet Champion as of last November, and we’re expected to take 10 ‘actions’ in the year. My SMART goal here is actually to postpone this as a deliberate focus until March, and then review, as I need to give some serious attention to the new business in the early months of this year.

Business

  • Revenue targets – Suffice it to say that I have these, and you should too if you’re self employed.
  • Attend a non-Irish conference – I tend to go to a lot of Irish meetups, but to go to the effort of a multi-day overseas conference to see who you can meet (and get some travel done) is not only fun, but great for business. I did this in my games company for the last 3 years. Now I have to change industries, but the goal remains. If you’ve any suggestions for a good conference, I’m all ears.
  • Release a free eBook download by April 30th – I want to give some of my best planning and mindset techniques for free to the site’s visitors. This also can help build a mailing list for future use. It’s also a teaser for later material.
  • Release a paid eBook by August 31st – Taking longer to write, but I want to be selling a few products from this website, ultimately, and to have the first one out by the end of the Summer, at the latest.
  • Speak at 2 conferences – Likely Irish conferences, and I’d speak at more than two if asked, but I want to appear at least twice. It’s a great way to get eyes on your business, and to make new connections.

Other

I’ve several other goals set on lots of topics like how many times I’ll perform comedy, music, burlesque, how often I’ll clean the house, how much I’ll read per week, cook for myself, etc. All SMART goals, but for the sake of brevity I’ll wrap up now.

I just want to add that it’s okay to have longer-term, more ambitious goals whose timeframe is harder to establish (“go to space” is one of mine, and it’s timed only by “before I die”), but for anything short-term, especially business related, you should make more deliberate goals.

There are great techniques around achieving those “moonshot” goals (as Peter Diamandis, the guy who created the X Prize, calls them) too. Maybe that’ll make a good topic for another time.

Fin

So, Happy New Year everyone! Hopefully in my 2019 goals review in a year’s time, I can report complete success on those mentioned above.

BONUS TIP: If you’re giving up smoking or something similar, the story you tell yourself matters. “I’m trying to quit” is not a very effective story. Try a new mindset. “I’m not a smoker” works better.

Please share some of your own goals and resolutions below and let’s keep each other accountable!

2018 Goals Review

What can be improved? I’ve named my failures, and shown where I succeeded. Some failures came from (or were narrowly avoided despite) procrastinating on setting dates or appointments.

Well, it’s the end of the year. Time for my 2018 Goals Review! This will become an annual tradition on the site, because of…

Accountability

I believe in setting goals for myself, and if you’re reading this coaching blog, you probably do too. But they’re pointless if you don’t create solid plans to achieve them (SMART goals) and if you don’t measure your success or failure.

One of the key benefits to having a coach is that there’s someone you’re accountable to (aka: an ‘accountabilabuddy’… yeah, fun word). Almost all of us perform better when we feel there’s someone we’d be letting down, than when only we ourselves know about the goal.

For example, when I first started blogging on the RetroNeo Games website in 2015, my first blog post stated that I’d blog every single weekend (silly me, I never put in an ‘until’ date). Because I felt accountable to my publicly stated promise and to my few dozen readers, I did blog every weekend that year, even over the 3 weeks I was away on holidays (I wrote in advance and scheduled the posts). For the two years after that I declared that I’d do one post per month, and I succeeded in that, too.

So, in a few days, I’m going to publicly post some of my 2019 goals, but for today, I want to review my 2018 goal results (which were never publicly posted, as the site didn’t exist yet, though they were measured by me privately) and do a review. These goals were not all specific. Some were aspirational and vague. I had daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and even lifetime goals. They weren’t really business related either as I was about to start a new employment last January.

New Year’s Resolutions/Review

Lots of bloggers and journalists currently love to be edgy by writing headlines like “New Year’s Resolutions are useless”, but then proceed to tell you why they’re actually great if you just define your goal in a SMART way (by the way, that means your goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed – there are a couple of alternate versions, but they amount to the same thing).

So, I’m not going to say that. New Year’s Resolutions are great! My own resolution every year is to “100% give up alcohol for January” (checks all the SMART boxes), just to see how I’m feeling about it. If I ever miss it much, I’ll know I might be developing a problem. So far, so good.

But the main thing that’s worth doing is reviewing your SMART goals from last year to appreciate your successes, and recognise your failures, or where you need to get more specific. This then helps you set better goals for the coming year so that you can continue to grow, both personally and professionally, and hopefully make a bigger positive impact on the world.

I’ve been doing this for a few years, but just learned yesterday that my process is very similar to author Tim Ferris’ Post Year Review system.

It’s important as well to measure your progress towards these goals during the year. I do this at the end of each month, personally.

So! How did I do in 2018?…

Kevin’s 2018’s Goals

Successes

Conference Goal. Reboot Develop, Dubrovnik, Croatia.
At Reboot Develop in Croatia. This Panel had Patrice Desilets (Assassin’s Creed), Josh Sawyer (Pillars of Eternity, Julian Gollop (X-COM, my favourite game!), and Charles Cecil (Broken Sword). I met them all, and they’re all really cool! I met Tim Schafer as well.
  • Attend at least one Conference – Conferences, particularly small ones, are great places to meet people from your industry and learn what changes are coming down the line. If you’re lucky, they can be incredibly fun, too. I started 2018 still working in the games industry (which has some of the most fun-loving, talented, and welcoming professionals in the world) and for 3 days in April I attended Reboot Develop, in Dubrovnik (for the second time. Seriously, go to this if you’re a games developer).
  • Take an Overseas Holiday – I was in Dubrovnik, Croatia, for aforementioned conference, and it was incredibly fun, with some off days as well, but I don’t think the conference and holiday should be the same thing, necessarily. However, I did fly home through Amsterdam for a two-day break and met a couple of friends, so that counts.
    I also went to Paris for my birthday. I was primarily volunteering with a refugee charity for 5 days, but when I finished my shifts, and for most of my birthday itself, I got to play tourist.
    One disappointment is that these were short, I’d been to all locations before, and all were connected with work in some way, though I still had a great time. I meant to go Inter-railing around Europe, or to Japan in September, but it never happened due to what was happening in my job around the time. Then I started straight into this coaching business and never got away. Still, goal technically achieved.
  • Take a Survival Course – I’d wanted to do this since the year before, and finally signed up to it for October. The Summer groups were full. It was miserably wet, and I got hypothermia, but as I suspected, it was a valuable experience to get out of your comfort zone and put daily problems in perspective. We built shelters, fire, learned some basic survival skills, and even had to endure some simulated captivity and psychological warfare. Fun! We pushed our physical and mental limits and are all stronger for it.
    It wasn’t “fun”, but I think it’s important to do something like this once a year at least. You never know when you might actually need to survive a crisis situation.
  • Learn x2 New Skills – Great success here, with 3 (or 4?) new skills. They weren’t defined initially, but over the year I learned how to Moonwalk (Michael Jackson move), do some basic pole dance moves (my friend owns a studio and I finally made good on a promise to take some beginner classes), dance some basic salsa, and I’ve begun to learn to juggle, though I wouldn’t say I have that skill yet.
    Funny enough, 3 of those new skills are dance related. I hated any form of dance when I was a teenager. Go figure.
  • Do x2 Burlesque Shows – In 2009, and until 2011, I ran a burlesque troupe in Ireland called The LoveCats. My friends wanted to start it up and I was invited in to play the guitar, but wound up running it after one friend moved overseas. At different times I was host, band member, an extra in group numbers, and eventually had a couple of my own acts as well. It was great fun, and a great community. I’m still involved in the scene (Co-Producer & Judge on Miss Burlesque Ireland, mainly) but hadn’t performed in 7 years. I wanted to try out a performance again, so I got something ready during the year, and made my “comeback” at a show in Dublin in August, and performed again in September. I’ve also applied for some shows next year.

    It’s something I’d meant to do for a couple of years, but writing the goal down and beginning to tell other performer friends that I was “coming back” soon, made me accountable. When it got to June and I’d done nothing solid yet about creating an act, I really got into gear.

  • Invest 10% of salary – Simple enough. I bought some Bitcoin and Etherium. It’s down at the moment, but the point is that you don’t invest what you can’t afford to lose.

    Volunteering in Paris
    I took this at Port De La Chapelle, 18th Arrondissement, Paris. Where 14,000 homeless and refugees sleep, during The Beast From The East, 2018. The neon sign at the top of that building reads “Life is Good”.
  • Run a Charity Event – Next year I want to be specific about how much I want to raise, but this is technically a success. I volunteered my birthday and raised some money for the refugees in France, also going over to help out for 5 days, but that’s not what I meant by “event”.
    The rest of the year passed by and I hadn’t organised a charity event. However, I was organising the Irish Game Dev Christmas party. On the day of the party, I realised my failure to reach the goal thus far, and quickly gathered some prizes, a donation bucket, and announced that at the party if you donated to the bucket, you could take a ‘lucky dip’ in a bag and pull out a game code, or some other prizes.
    We raised ā‚¬114 for Dublin’s homeless.
    In spirit, I feel I failed this goal, as it wasn’t much money and it wasn’t specifically a charity event, but it was better than nothing, and technically a success, since my goal wasn’t that Specific. Must do better next year.

Failures

  • Run a Marathon – This was an ambitious goal, as I don’t run, or really get much intense exercise. That said, I’m fit, healthy, walk every day, do my stretches, and want to run. The problem is I have an ankle injury of unknown diagnosis that’s been bothering me for over a decade, especially when I run, push something heavy (like a car), or even stand for too long.
    I started in January turning my walks into runs, but after just two days my ankle was badly at me and I couldn’t even walk on it for a few days. 
    Every now and again, I’d push a bit further, but really couldn’t run any more than a minute without triggering this injury.
    I’ve been to physiotherapists, osteopaths, had an x-ray, etc, but never found the cause of this injury. The only health professional I regularly see now is a (very good, and holistic) chiropractor, and while he’s improved my back, my ankle got no better, which was the expected result. 
    He recommended getting an MRI and maybe seeing a specialist, so in December I finally had the MRI and initially I’m told it looks like some form of tendinitis.
    I’ll be back to a different physio next year with the scans and hopefully I can sort this out and get back on track towards that marathon. It might be more than a year away, but the goal will be written, progress will be measured, and some day I’ll run a whole marathon. It’s not necessarily a 2019 goal, but working towards it is.
  • Volunteer one day per month – Big fail here. I never set up any relationship with a charity in my local area that I could regularly volunteer with. I did do 5 days with Utopia 56 in March in Paris, and allowed that to count for 5 months, but I never really followed up. For shame. I have, however, relinquished my role as Editor of the Imirt newsletter (that was a volunteer role, but not like ‘charity’ volunteer) and my organising of The Games Co-Op meetup in Dublin (same) for next year, so I should have a little more time.
    I did do 2 days of training with Cool Planet Champions in November, which is a volunteer climate activist role, but I don’t know if I’d honestly count the training, and I haven’t performed any actions/events for it yet, so, I definitely fell short of the target here.
  • Go to a comedy gig each month – It’s important to laugh, but I only went to one show all year (David Cross) and that was last-minute as my brother couldn’t make it and offered me the tickets. Fail.
  • Start Self-Defense Classes – I spoke to coworkers and friends about what martial art I might enjoy, and I got in touch with a couple of studios who didn’t return messages, but that’s as far as this went. Early in the year I was too busy with other classes I had taken up (salsa, yoga), games meetups, and commuting, and later in the year money was tight as I left my job in October, so this just never happened.
  • Any of my Life Goals – I didn’t achieve any, but didn’t expect to either. These are goals such as going to space, setting foot on all 7 continents by the age of 35 (only South America and Antarctica left to go!!).
    I did, however, move closer to working a year remotely while travelling. In deciding to leave my job and become self-employed again, I got closer. Coaching can be done remotely. It should also be more lucrative long-term than the games industry, hopefully allowing me to take an expensive trip to Antarctica via South America.

In-Betweens

  • Stand Up Comedy  I mentioned burlesque and music above, and I speak in public occasionally. When I was a teenager I did some drama, too. Basically, I’ve done most of the things you can do on stage except for comedy (and circus, but I’ve no plans for that). When I realised this, I decided that I’d do a newcomer stand-up set. I thought I’d take a few months to write funny observations and try develop a short set.
    In my last job, late in the Summer, I met a guy who turned out to be an amateur comedian, and he told me where I could go to do a newcomer night.
    I took a bit too long with the joke writing and too long to get in contact with the venue, but I am now booked for my first stand-up comedy performance… for January 8th…
    This goal was kind of successful, but technically outside of the year, even though I booked it inside the year. I’m reluctant to call it a failure or a success. Whatever it is, hopefully it’s funny.
  • Cook Meals, Time in Nature, Open Mic – I wrote these down as weekly tasks, and in reality I probably averaged once per fortnight on each, which is okay. I feel better for having done that much.
Time In Nature
I did get some good time in nature, courtesy of Glen of the Downs, Co.Wicklow, Ireland.

Other Daily & Weekly Tasks

I had other goals around physical and mental exercises, language learning, dating, coaching clients (even while working the games job, which was really just not feasible after commuting times and other goals), reading every day, and practicing lucid dreaming techniques (I was part of Dr. Denholm Aspy’s research group in late 2017, and wanted to keep up the practice, but rarely did).

I had middling success with these goals. Many of those tasks were getting done as others weren’t, and I’d switch focus, and then not be doing the original few.

Happiness & Unhappiness

I do an exercise where each day I write down my 2 favourite things that happened that day. Each week I circle the week’s best 2, and each month, the month’s best 2. Looking back over it, I can see that the things that made me happiest were time spent with friends and family, nights out (especially in rock clubs or concerts), time spent in nature (especially the sunshine), good dates, helping others (those times that I did volunteer, or with my clients), performing music, learning new skills, and accomplishing big tasks or goals. I will strive to do more of these things in 2019, then.

I also try to write down what’s making me unhappy, when I can figure it out. A lot of these things are small and seem silly when you look back (like late buses, or inefficient government departments), but a lot of them had to do with my old employers, which reinforces now my commitment to being self-employed as a coach. More still had to do with rejection (from job applications I wanted, or in dating), or being treated disrespectfully. Respect is very important to me. Unfortunately, you can’t control how other people behave. You can only control how you respond to it. So, apart from stating my expectations and standing my ground where appropriate, I must endeavour not to let the behaviour of others upset me.

It seems wrong though to say “don’t get your hopes up, so you’ll never be disappointed”. But hey, this is life. We do our best. Still learning.

Lessons Learned

So, where can I improve? I’ve named my failures, and shown where I succeeded. I caused (or narrowly avoided causing despite) procrastinating on setting dates or appointments. I delayed the survival course and stand-up comedy because of fear alone. That’s ironic, because facing the fear is exactly why I wanted to do them in the first place. I’m glad I got them done, but I must be aware of when I’m procrastinating on the bigger, scarier goals.

I definitely made too many small, aspirational goals, without due care to how they’d fit into my timetable. A lot of the time they just couldn’t. I need to set daily and weekly tasks with more consideration for my timetable (I’ve cut out my big commute to Dublin since leaving my last job, so that will help), and assign the bigger goals to segments of the year, rather than rushing to complete most of them in the second half.

I also need to write shorter blogs… though an annual review seems like it ought to be somewhat lengthy, to be fair.

Thanks so much for reading. Do please leave a comment if you got some value out of this.

Merry Christmas!

Case Study: Told my first coaching client “Fire me!”

My first ever “coaching client” was my dad. I told him to fire me. Have a second full-time sales person. We needed to get someone who had been a mechanic, who was a great people-person, and train them how to do the accounts job I was doing.

My first coaching client was my dad. I told him to fire me.

I should say “client” in quotations because really I was his employee, but this was the earliest manifestation of my affinity for planning and coaching (‘consulting’ I guess is more correct in this case). This is the story of my dad’s family business, and my first job.

Once upon a time…

…Shortly after I was born, in fact, my dad and uncle started a trade selling car parts to local garages. My dad’s whole family are big gear-heads. I did not inherit this, nor a head for engineering (one of my brothers did though). A few years later my uncle left the business to work more directly (physically, as a restorative mechanic) on cars so then it was just my dad in charge.

When we were kids, my two younger brothers and I would be asked to help out occasionally. Many months we’d be given a few pounds to put hundreds of customer statements into envelopes and stamp them. When we were older, we’d help stock-take as Summer jobs, and the Summer that I finished school, I was trained how to do the bookkeeping (and produce the aforementioned statements. How far I’d come…). This became my first real part-time job during my 3 years in University College Dublin, studying for a Bachelors of Commerce degree.

My job title was “accounts”, but seeing as how there were less than 4 employees most of the time, everyone did a bit of everything, so I’d sell car parts too. Basically if the phone rang and someone asked for sales, the other guy (let’s call him Bill) would take it. If the second phone rang while Bill was on the first, suddenly I was sales, but if the question was overly technical or it wasn’t a day-to-day part, I’d usually have to take a message and let Bill or my dad get back to them. This is just how small/family businesses tend to be, I guess.

I dreaded the days when my dad was on the road (as our rep, two days a week) and Bill would call in sick, because not only would I be likely run off my feet answering two phones and dealing with drop-in customers, deliveries, and outbound orders, but my acute lack of mechanical knowledge would really start to show on these days, and I’d have to take notes, ring around, and “get back to you on that” for something that Bill would have known instantly. Sales would slow, customers would get frustrated, and business would suffer. It was just an objective truth that I couldn’t handle the sales end without some serious training. I also just wasn’t that interested in cars. They had no part in what I wanted to do, which at that time looked to be running an events company.

In short, to be part of this small business, it really would have paid to have spent some time working as a mechanic first. Every few weeks we’d seem to be playing catch-up, instead of ever getting ready to grow or expand. But this all didn’t seem to matter too much until the Recession hit!

A Downturn for the Worse!

In the Summer of 2008, the Recession officially came to Ireland. I remember hearing the news report announcing this quite well. It came on the same day that I got the results for my final exams. I thought “I hope this won’t affect me too much”… yeah…

Now finished with college, I was looking around for jobs in my desired field(s), but none were to be found, so I stayed where I was. I switched to full-time hours at first, which allowed Bill and my dad to focus a bit more on business, but a Volkswagen strategic decision (to not allow Main Dealers to purchase parts from 3rd party suppliers like ours) was a major hit to our business. 

As financial hardship began to set it around the country (and the world), people were repairing their cars less frequently, and as our customers were feeling the pinch, so soon were we. It took longer and longer to get paid, and in turn we had to stretch out payment to our suppliers as long as possible, risking going on-stop at times. This is where I learned first hand how a company can have a strong balance sheet, but still die on its cash flow.

In my accounts role, I watched month on month as our average bank balance slowly but surely fell, eventually beginning to creep into Overdraft most months, until we basically lived there. This was all against a backdrop of efforts to improve sales like being more proactive with finding new garages in the deep corners of the country, sourcing cheaper parts, building a website, etc. All things that (apart from the website, which didn’t help all that much, since our customers were 90% regulars) I couldn’t help with as I couldn’t speak to mechanics on their level. 

Downsizing

Morbidly, one thing did help us survive longer here.

Our van driver, let’s call him Charlie, a plump, hearty, ‘paddy hat’ wearing, gentle and generous old gent whom everyone loved was nearing retirement age. He’d worked for my dad for decades across multiple businesses. He was employed all week but really only needed to be there maybe 10 hours or less with the reduction in business. There was no way my dad was going to let him go (nobody was suggesting it, let’s be clear), but the business wasn’t getting its money’s worth from him any more.

His wife had died a couple years prior, and he lived to work, so nobody, least of all him, had any idea what he’d do when he retired. This is the kind of man who’d never left the country in his entire life (I think he told me he went on a foreign holiday once, but he didn’t like it). Anyway, one evening on his way home, a few months before retirement, Charlie pulled over to the side of the road with chest pains, and died minutes later just a couple of miles from his house.

We were all saddened. All of our local customers knew him well and many came to the funeral. It was a shock to me as I’d known him since I was a toddler, and thought of him as an uncle, but it really was one of those cases where people agreed he may have been better off. He’d have been miserable retired and alone.

Anyway, while Bill got a well-deserved raise after this, and I worked a few more hours to cover the odd collection or delivery (I was part time again at this stage), we managed to save some salary costs from this, but were still on a downward trajectory with no improvement in sight.

The Plan

My dad had ideas on how to save the business, but was also keen to get input from us junior staff (a great Leadership trait – take note). So this is when I first really became involved in strategic business planning, with a company’s very survival actually hanging in the balance. No pressure. My dad’s ideas, all still useful, revolved around marginally reducing costs here, or pushing harder to sell our higher-margin parts, or re-engage with dormant customers.

We weren’t often that busy. Here’s a box fort we made once.

We really needed to make more sales though. What we needed was a second pro-active sales person who could bring money in and find new business. Bill was great at this, but he was only one man. My dad was having some health problems, and also his interest in the business seemed to be waning, so he wasn’t putting 40 hours in any more either.

He talked as well about moving the premises to a more visible location (we were extremely well-hidden in a private laneway and got no foot-traffic, though this was kind of a blessing, too).

My suggestion: Fire me!

The best answer seemed to be to clone Bill! Have a second full-time sales person. We needed to get someone who had been a mechanic, who was a great people-person, and train them how to do the accounts job I was doing. That way all the company admin would still be taken care of, but we’d always have someone available to be selling, and could probably put another rep on the road to find new business. A couple of new big accounts was all we really needed, though big accounts are hard to find since the franchised main dealers weren’t allowed to buy from us any more, and the independent garages were having a hard time of the recession, too.

So we put out an ad and eventually found a local guy who’d been a mechanic, and was keen to do an accounts + sales role. I trained him up on the accounts. I’d trained both of my brothers at different times (to cover me on Summer holidays or whatever), and had trained Bill on the accounts too, so I was used to having to be really clear, have them take notes, and expect to have to repeat a few things. I did have to repeat some things, but he seemed able to get the job done.

I did notice one disturbing trait, though. He wouldn’t really accept responsibility for making a mistake. It would usually be that “you didn’t tell me that”. But I’m someone who takes excessive responsibility, and if I’m the trainer it is my job to make sure that the message is received correctly, so I just took that as meaning that I hadn’t been clear enough.

Anyway, I’d signed up to do a Sound Engineering course that started in September 2010 (to help in my music/events direction). So I finished training the new guy just in time, and left the business to start on its new direction, while I finally started mine.

So much for that…

I still lived at home, so of course I was on hand to answer clarifying questions through my dad, or even drop into the shop if needs be the odd time. I began hearing how New-Guy wasn’t working out though. My dad seemed to have taken a dislike to him. If I remember correctly, it usually revolved around having to repeat himself to New-Guy excessively, or things not getting done as he expected them done.

So I mentioned how New-Guy wasn’t great at admitting if he’d gotten something wrong? Well, my dad has a very low tolerance for bullshit (namely ‘excuses’, or especially ‘lies’). Turns out those two personalities don’t mix well together. They were quickly finding themselves in daily arguments. My dad’s fuse may have been a little shorter due to the stress of this new business plan needing to work out, but to be fair, there’s little more annoying than someone who blames others for their mistakes.

Well, after just a couple of months, New-Guy was fired. I’m not fully sure what happened, but according to Bill, the guy really wasn’t what we’d hoped at all. My dad asked me to come back part-time. I was able to do this even with my course and still have free time to run events, but it left the company no better off (and I had to give up on learning the piano). I was only working 6 hours a week at this stage (it’s all that was needed of me). Things were bad.

Funny enough, my girlfriend at the time had known of New-Guy before we hired him, and she did not recommend him, but all the other references checked out and he was the best candidate so we went with it (we did seriously need to roll the dice).

The following year I finished my course and, seeing continuing disimprovements in the economy, I moved to Australia with said girlfriend. I trained my youngest brother in to replace me as he was now in college. The business was no better or worse off, but I’d have a chance to finally spread my wings a bit, and my brother would have some income to fund his college life.

The end of the story

told-my-first-client-to-fire-me
Street art in Adelaide, SA, that reminded me of the old job, since VW Beetles were a big part of my dad’s early business.

This was about my own experience in that family business, and that part of the story really ends there, but for the sake of completion:

When Plan A hadn’t worked out, they all decided to move premises up to a more visible part of the town. It was a big decision with a lot of literal heavy lifting involved (thankfully I was gone at this stage), but it was taking action, and that’s what mattered. Giving the business a chance.

Unfortunately, my dad had a major health scare which took him away from the business for several crucial weeks. Most of our customers only paid when he’d call around the country on the road as our rep, so money wasn’t coming in those weeks. This stressed him further and left us in a worse position. I was back from a year in Australia at this stage and, while not involved in the business, was still happy to look at the numbers, and offer advice. I’d to talk to the Tax Man (who we were now on a first name basis with) as well. Things were grim. My advice (for a long time now) was to shut down the business. It was eating into my dad’s life savings with no sign of turning around.

A few months later he had a second major health scare and the move in premises hadn’t much improved things, so as a family we all decided it would be best to shut it down. Bill was a real asset and had no trouble finding work with our competitors. My youngest brother graduated with a business degree in 2013, when institutions were finally hiring graduates again. He’s never been a day unemployed in his life and has had 5 or 6 really good jobs in as many years.

Retirement suits my dad down to the ground, and his health is doing really well, thank God! And me? Well, I’ve worked in 8 industries in 10 years, am no stranger to being laid off, but have circumnavigated the world, studied tax, taught myself to program, started a games company, worked for the guy who made Doom and Quake, and am now a business coach. Go figure.

In Conclusion

So, at the tender age of 21, I’d my first real exposure to strategic planning for a small business, and to consulting/coaching. Even then, I knew that Movement Beats Meditation, meaning that we couldn’t just make incremental changes and hope, or spend excessive time “wait and see”-ing. We were in trouble and we had to decide on an action plan and just take the chance.

My move to Australia was another drastic action necessitated by circumstance. As hard as I find it to believe now, I truly never wanted to go to Australia at the time. It just seemed the best move for myself and my girlfriend then. Sometimes a risky action is just what it takes. Although, it’s nicer when the downside isn’t so drastic as my first experiences were, and nicer still the times it works out. This just wasn’t one of those times. It’s a real story. Businesses fail.

I also was willing to admit when I was the problem and get out of the way, even if it meant a lower standard of living for myself. I think this is an important skill to have, and I’m sure to have my clients reflect on this in their own situations to see if it rings true.

This post was a bit long in the tooth, but if you’re interested in my time in Australia, my tax-studying history, or how I got into games, see this post on my old games website. If you’d like to know how it worked out with that girlfriend or why I got out of my games company, see this follow-up post.

Thanks so much for reading. Do please leave a comment if you got some value out of this.

Talk to you soonā€¦

Movement beats Meditation!

I’m a perfectionist. I’m a planner. None of these are bad traits, but if left unchecked they can cause you to spend a lot of energy spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

Hello and welcome to the site! First post! Woo! (It will soon become apparent to you that I’ve a somewhat informal writing style). So, why should a phrase as seemingly innocuous as ‘movement beats meditation’ be the topic for the site’s first post?

Well, I’ve spent days now trying to decide what the perfect first post would be for my new coaching website. Should I talk about the journey that led me here (it’s a good one!), or about my first client (my dad. When I was 23 I told him to fire me), or maybe about the purpose of the site itself?

Action counts

Planning is all well and good, but taking action is what counts! I realised that I was falling victim again to one of my own key character flaws, that I’m sure a lot of us share. I tend to want to know what the second step is before I take the first one. I’m cautious. I’m a perfectionist. I’m a planner. None of these are bad traits, necessarily, but if left unchecked they can cause you to spend a lot of energy spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

Basically, I tend to meditate on a problem, instead of move!

When I realised what I was doing, I was reminded of something that I heard not too long ago: 
“You’ll achieve more through movement than through meditationā€¦in most situations”. It’s attributed to Joe Polish, a renowned marketer and entrepreneur. I can’t quite find where he’s said it, but I’ve heard a couple of the personalities that I follow mention this, and regardless, it’s true!!!

“You’ll achieve more through movement than through meditationā€¦in most situations”

Joe Polish

Taking an action produces a result. Thinking about what action to take gets you exactly nowhere! Even if it was the wrong action, you’ve produced a lesson to learn from, instead of staying put where you were, wasting time, and learning (and producing) nothing!

The ideal first post?

Well, the purpose of my new business is to help entrepreneurs to get past the hurdles that are preventing them from creating a better world for themselves, their families, and the world at large. So, what’s the perfect first post to do that? The answer (or one of several right answers, more like) was staring me right in the face in the form of my own procrastination-shaped hurdle (this is all getting very ‘meta’ now, isn’t it?). Sometimes we just need to move!! Indecision and choice paralysis are the arch-enemies of entrepreneurs (well, more accurately they’re a couple of villains-of-the-week from a huge rogue’s gallery of arch-enemies. “Tune in next week and watch our heroes battle the dreaded ‘Impostor Syndrome'”. haha. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that).

Of course, as with all things in life, it’s about balance. You don’t want to take disastrous action that an hour of research could have saved you from. You don’t want to be overly impulsive, but when it comes to choosing a topic for your new blog that nobody is even aware of yet, all you really have to do is pick something of value. It doesn’t have to be the most valuable thing you’ll ever post. That can come in the future, and time will tell you what it was. You can’t plan for it, so just take an action!!!

Finished is better than perfect.

So, first lesson: When there are several right answers to choose from, don’t let yourself get slowed down. If there are no wrong answers, what’s the problem? Make your decision and go! Flip a coin if you really have to, but stressing over whether one choice might be 5% better or worse than the next is a waste of your mental energy.

Movement beats meditation!

Thanks so much for reading. Do please leave a comment if you got some value out of this.

Talk to you soon…

PS You might also enjoy this later article that I wrote on beating procrastination.