Tag Archives: olympics

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work

Do you really think Richard Branson and Bill Gates write a long to-do list with prioritized items as A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and on and on?

In my research into time management and productivity best practices, I’ve interviewed more than 200 billionaires, Olympians, straight-A students and entrepreneurs. I always ask them to give me their best time management and productivity advice. And none of them has ever mentioned a to-do list.

There are three big problems with to-do lists:

First, a to-do list doesn’t account for time. When we have a long list of tasks, we tend to tackle those that can be completed quickly, leaving the longer items left undone. Research from the company iDoneThis indicates that 41% of all to-do list items are never completed!

Second, a to-do list doesn’t distinguish between urgent and important. Once again, our impulse is to fight the urgent and ignore the important. (Are you overdue for your next colonoscopy or mammogram?)

Third, to-do lists contribute to stress. In what’s known in psychology as the Zeigarnik effect, unfinished tasks contribute to intrusive, uncontrolled thoughts. It’s no wonder we feel so overwhelmed in the day but fight insomnia at night.

In all my research, there is one consistent theme that keeps coming up:

Ultra-productive people don’t work from a to-do list, but they do live and work from their calendar.

Shannon Miller won seven Olympic medals as a member of the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, and today she is a busy entrepreneur and author of It’s Not About Perfect. In a recent interview, she told me:

“During training, I balanced family time, chores, schoolwork, Olympic training, appearances and other obligations by outlining a very specific schedule. I was forced to prioritize…To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute-by-minute.”

Dave Kerpen is the cofounder of two successful start-ups and a New York Times-best-selling author. When I asked him to reveal his secrets for getting things done, he replied:

“If it’s not in my calendar, it won’t get done. But if it is in my calendar, it will get done. I schedule out every 15 minutes of every day to conduct meetings, review materials, write and do any activities I need to get done. And while I take meetings with just about anyone who wants to meet with me, I reserve just one hour a week for these ‘office hours.'”

Chris Ducker successfully juggles multiple roles as an entrepreneur, best-selling author and host of the New Business Podcast. What did he tell me his secret was?

“I simply put everything on my schedule. That’s it. Everything I do on a day-to-day basis gets put on my schedule. Thirty minutes of social media–on the schedule. Forty-five minutes of email management–on the schedule. Catching up with my virtual team–on the schedule…Bottom line, if it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done.”

There are several key concepts to managing your life using your calendar instead of a to-do list:

First, make the default event duration in your calendar only 15 minutes. If you use Google Calendar or the calendar in Outlook, it’s likely that when you add an event to your calendar it is automatically scheduled for 30 or even 60 minutes. Ultra-productive people only spend as much time as is necessary for each task. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is notorious for conducting meetings with colleagues in as little as five minutes. When your default setting is 15 minutes, you’ll automatically discover that you can fit more tasks into each day.

Second, time-block the most important things in your life, first. Don’t let your calendar fill up randomly by accepting every request that comes your way. You should first get clear on your life and career priorities and pre-schedule sacred time-blocks for these items. That might include two hours each morning to work on the strategic plan your boss asked you for. But your calendar should also include time blocks for things like exercise, date night or other items that align with your core life values.

Third, schedule everything. Instead of checking email every few minutes, schedule three times a day to process it. Instead of writing “Call back my sister” on your to-do list, go ahead and put it on your calendar or even better establish a recurring time block each afternoon to “return phone calls.”

That which is scheduled actually gets done.

How much less stress would you feel, and more productive would you be, if you could rip up your to-do list and work from your calendar instead?

Are You Using Your Opportunities?

Someone could be searching for a way to fix a television and watch a favorite show, or finding a way to bring in a few extra dollars so that bills can be paid on time. Everyone faces hardships now and again. How a person uses those hardships can be an indication of how successful they will become.

Consider this: Nearly every opportunity that later transformed into a successful endeavor was first found in a moment of adversity or to fill a need.

Think of a paper clip. Was it invented because someone thought it would be fun to twist a piece of wire into a funny shape? The paper clip was invented so that people could hold papers together without damaging them. Previous methods included pins, string or even wax. Each of these methods damaged the paper.

The situations we deal with on a regular basis are life’s way of providing us with opportunity. Think of the various hardships that you have faced over the years, both large and small. How have they changed you? How did you work to alleviate the afflictions of yourself or those around you?

Think back to when you first were learning how to ride a bike. Remember all the skinned knees and false starts, slamming on the breaks too hard because you were so nervous? Remember the feeling you had, that exhilaration you felt when finally, finally, you could race down the street without the training wheels?

In your life today, there are opportunities to feel that feeling again, to become something better than you were before. Just around the corner is an opportunity waiting to help you transform yourself and the world around you into something you have dreamed about.

The real skill is recognizing within the adversity that there is a potential opportunity if you look hard enough.

Think of the last time you were frustrated about something not working or an item not quite living up to the standards that you set. Did you say, “I wish someone would make a better…” or “I wish they would find a better way…”? Why couldn’t that someone be you?

One of my favorite things to do, both as a child and as an adult, is to sit down with a big tub of popcorn and soda in front of a huge movie screen and see it come to vibrant life. I learn a lot and find myself using various lessons and inspirations directly from the movies that I have seen over the years. One such movie is “Miracle on Ice,” the story of the 1980 Olympic hockey team, coached by Herb Brooks, that beat the supposedly unbeatable Soviet team and won the gold medal. The movie is one of my favorites, and my wife always chuckles each time I watch it. You see I’m always looking for inspiring things to pass along to my readers, so every time I watch it, there is a pen and paper in my hand. No matter how many times I watch it, there are some gems. Here are a few of my favorites:

“It’s a pretty lofty goal, Herb.” “That’s why I want to pursue it.”

“Win, lose, or tie, we are going to play like champions.”

“Great moments are born from great opportunities. That’s what you have here tonight. That’s what you’ve earned. This is your time. You were born to be hockey players. You were meant to be here.”

You really can’t get words more encouraging words than those.

How many of us strive to play as champions, no matter the outcome?

How many times in our lives do we find out what we are meant to do? How many of us know we are “hockey players” in our own right?

It’s true that opportunities abound, but so very few of us actually meet the challenges of daily life head on and make our own opportunities.

It’s just like Herb Brooks said in the movie – he wants to pursue the lofty goal simply because it is lofty, a challenge. Nothing truly worth anything is easy to obtain, and sometimes the sheer challenge makes it that much more valuable.

You have the intelligence, and you certainly have the passion and drive. As for expertise and knowledge, that can be gained, either through research or talking with knowledgeable people. You know your ideas are needed, and bringing them to life is possible, so why not get started?

Begin by looking around you, searching out the opportunities that are presented in the everyday adversity that you see. Remember, every problem has a solution; it is just a matter of time and effort until it is found.

Make a list of the hardships you see every day. What could be done about them? Maybe your neighbor is having trouble getting his lawn mower to start. What could you make so that starting that lawnmower becomes easier? Or perhaps you have a bathroom shower curtain that can never stay clean. Maybe you need to come up with a new way to do the job.

No matter which opportunity you find, no matter which hardship you try to alleviate, remember that you and your happiness are part of the equation. While the ability to offer a service to others is laudable indeed, it is important to realize that you are just as important. Don’t be afraid to charge for your product or service. After all, fair is fair, and you should be compensated for all your time and effort.

Remember, the adversity you face can be revealed as an opportunity for your success if you simply know how to look.

So the question becomes, what is your “Miracle” story?

What lofty goal will you tackle and achieve next?

What are you willing to sacrifice to reach the goal and become who you truly are?

Be Prepared for Success

There is a saying: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” What vision do you have for your future? Is it clear? Is it in writing? Does it have a deadline?
My favorite book says, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”

Let's break this statement down, because it holds the key to preparation.

First, we can begin by writing out our vision and making it plain on paper. If we don't, there is no direction. As George Harrison (among others) has said, “If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
Be as clear as possible with your vision. Paint yourself a picture, imagine the possibilities and write them down as clearly and thoroughly as possible.
You can really see this with athletes. The winter Olympics just ended, and I’ve noticed over the years that the coverage has grown to include a lot of the pre-competition preparation the athletes perform. 
Watching the skiers take the moguls, twists, turns and jumps in their mind over and over again before the start is almost like watching them race before the race. The skaters do it, too. They mentally enter jumps, spins, and leaps before they even begin. 
These athletes have prepared their approach, scripted their performance and planned out how they will perform. It is almost as if they have written in their very being and are simply re-reading before they head down the hill or take the ice. They have a crystal-clear vision prepared.
Second: “whoever reads it runs with it.” It sounds like once we are clear about our direction we have a reason, and that reason motivates us to take action.
These Olympians didn’t just write out that they wanted to make the team, or perform a personal best or win a medal. They took action on their dream by practicing. They worked until their vision was committed to memory and was a part of every decision they made, day in and day out, on the road to these games. They ran with it.
Third: The vision waits for an appointed time. How many times do we set a goal with no deadline or timeline on when we want to accomplish it. It happens all the time. If there is no deadline, there is no urgency. No urgency, no action.
An athlete can prepare, but if she misses the pre-qualification for the games, or isn't prepared for an event at the right time, she doesn't reach her goals. When you set your timeline, make it realistic and attainable. Set yourself up for success, but don’t be afraid to push yourself at the same time.
Fourth: “Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” “Tarry” means to remain, stay or to wait. How often to we become impatient for something to happen? I think impatience is one of the great destroyers of success. It's easy to become impatient when nothing is happening.
These athletes work up to their level of success, and they don’t give up. They know they can’t just create the vision, rehearse it and work hard for a little while. Hockey players know they have to build up stamina to play an entire game. Ice dancers and freestyle skiers learn to spin before they attempt double, triple, then eventually quadruple jumps. It is a process of improvement, and nothing is left to chance. 
A farmer goes out in the springtime and plants. How crazy would it be for that farmer to go out two weeks after he planted and begin to curse the ground because it hasn't produced? It takes time to grow a crop.
Also, when does the farmer prepare and plant? He prepares and plants in the spring. Fall is way too late.
But salespeople often wait too long to plant, and there is no crop to harvest in the fall. Remember, we reap exactly what we sow. Sales is really simple. Don’t wait around until the last minute and expect to get what you truly want. Prepare. Don’t wait around hoping someone will do that prep work for you and leave you all the benefits. Prepare and persevere for yourself.
There is a great movie called Temple Grandin. It is a must-see. Temple Grandin was born Aug. 29, 1947. She was diagnosed with autism in 1950. She didn’t talk until the age of four. Her mother refused to accept or believe what the doctors said about her limitations and about how she should be institutionalized.
Temple was constantly mocked–but she went on to become a doctor of animal science, a consultant to the livestock industry and a professor at Colorado State University. She is a best-selling author known for her work on autism advocacy and in 2010 made Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world; she was listed in the “Heroes” category.

Temple’s mother refused to accept her daughter’s limitations and the labels she was given by society. She continued to push her daughter out of her comfort zone and paint the pictures of opportunity that were available to her. Even though Temple was terrified of change, she continued to walk through what she describes as “doors of opportunity.” Each time Temple walked through a door, a new opportunity would present itself.
What door are you afraid to walk through because you are not sure of what is on the other side? So often in life, we are paralyzed by the fear of the unknown. This fear holds us back from achieving our full potential. You see, Temple never wanted to go to high school or college because of the constant teasing and ridicule. She was comfortable staying home with her mother, where it was safe. Yet her mother continued to lead Temple out of her comfort zone. She worked to prepare her daughter for an amazing future.
There are more than enough opportunities in the world today.
What if your mother doesn’t show up to push you?
Are you ready to step up and take the responsibility for preparing yourself for success and caring for yourself?
Here it is in a nutshell: Be prepared. 
·      Write your vision down on paper.
·      Give it a deadline.
·      Take action.
·      Be patient.  
I believe that opportunities come to those who are prepared to receive those opportunities. What can you change today to be more prepared for your own success?