Category Archives: Productivity

The Journey Is the Reward

“The journey is the reward” – Stever Robbins

This quote is the best articulation behind my goal of qualifying for Kona. Even on paper, a Kona qualification looks tough. To actually go out and do it is even tougher. Not only that…but it is only getting harder as the competition gets even faster. However, the whole intention of this ridiculous goal for an average athlete like me is the pursuit of something huge. Something that requires the kind of dedication and effort that is so transforming that achieving it doesn’t matter. Between improving my health, meeting new people, strengthening supportive relationships, and having a lot of fun, in the end, regardless of what happens, so much good should happen along the way that achievement of the goal becomes irrelevant.

I highly recommend the Living An Extraordinary Life podcast by Stever Robbins. This is as life changing as a podcast can be. In essence, it describes the relationship between success and fulfillment. The sole pursuit of success won’t necessary make you fulfilled just like the sole pursuit of fulfillment won’t necessary make you successful.

After graduating from business school, many of my decisions were made in an effort to reduce my perceived short term risk without considering the risk of not living an extraordinary life. I believed that if I worked hard and deferred gratification until I was successful, then I could live the life I truly wanted. The problem with this thinking is that “hard work” is, by definition, work that is difficult and not enjoyable. Correspondingly, the pitfalls of deferred gratification are:

  • we build systems and habits that enable us to continue to engage in hard work to the point that it could lead to a path of self-deception where we think hard work is what we enjoy and forget what it was that we truly wanted to do to begin with;
  • it prevents us from developing the skills and network necessary to do the thing that we really want to do; and
  • life happens and there is no guarantee that we will actually make it to the point of living the life we really want if we defer it long enough

Fortunately for me, I met an amazing girl (now my wife) at the end of business school that always seems to set me straight. I honestly believe that if it wasn’t for her I would be following my perfect plan of working hard and delaying gratification to the point of complete misery. Instead, the last 18 months (how long I’ve been on this Kona journey) have been some of the most fulfilling that I have ever had.

It is for that exact reason that I set this seemingly unobtainable goal because I’m having a great time pursuing it!

Photo credit: I got the photo for this post from Jesse Thomas’s Instragram. This guy is an absolute monster and he is my favorite triathlete. Not only is he a successful pro triathlete, he is also the CEO and co-founder of Picky Bars and seemingly has a great family life as well (just scroll through his Instagram pics and you’ll see what I mean). Check out his interview on Endurance Planet and you’ll definitely become a fan as well.

Best Meal Service to Enhance Your Life, Health, and Prevent Hangriness

I enjoy cooking. I even enjoy grocery shopping and looking for the healthiest and most nutrient dense foods. I’ve optimized our grocery shopping by using CSAs (for both meat and vegetables) and Thrive Market so most of groceries are delivered to our doorstep. I’ve improved my prep skills and can dice and chop at a respectable rate. I also batch cook whenever possible to minimize setup and cleanup (why make 1 lb of meatballs when 6 lbs can be made with just a bit more time). But the thing is…meal planning and cooking still takes up a ton of time!

As much as I enjoy cooking, it takes away time from family, training, and career. Another major consideration for me is that the kitchen in our new house isn’t open to the living area so I’m completely isolated from the family when I’m cooking and cleaning up. As much as I want to have healthy meals on hand at all times, the reality is that making them isn’t my top priority.

Unfortunately, since I’m in charge of the household meal planning, when cooking doesn’t make the priority list we don’t have meals readily available. This causes one of two things to happen…and usually both 1) we succumb to takeout which can be expensive and usually isn’t healthy (especially when we give into those comfort food cravings when life is crazy) and 2) a hangry wife (NO BUENO!)

As a result, I’ve been trying to find a good meal solution service for the times when cooking won’t fit on the task list. Outsourcing low priority, but essential tasks, can be a great investment. When I factor in meal planning, grocery shopping, prep, cooking, and cleanup, the time element of making meals adds up quickly no matter how much I have optimized the process.

In true accounting/finance nerd fashion, I think about it like this:

If the meal solution service price < my food cost + value of my time – my enjoyment factor, it is worthwhile to outsource.

My time value and enjoyment factor can vary week-to-week depending on the size of the task list (and what comes in our CSA box) so I don’t always want out outsource our meals.

Armed with my equation, I’ve looked into a couple of different meal solution services but they have all had two main issues:

  1. They don’t live up to my food quality standards and I refuse to sacrifice quality for convenience.
  2. They require a subscription so I would be getting and paying meals even if the equation parameters haven’t been met.

However…

I’ve FINALLY found a solution…Fitzee Foods!

Fitzee

Fitzee Foods is the best solution I’ve found for the following reasons:

  1. Their meat quality is top notch (grass fed beef, free range chicken, nitrate and hormone free turkey)
  2. They have meals for all types of dietary preferences (paleo, gluten free, low carb, vegetarian, etc.) so I can easily find meals that have the ratio of protein, fat, and carbs I need depending on my training volume.
  3. There is no subscription so I can ensure I’m maximizing my value equation.
  4. The meals come in different sizes so we can easily eat different things if we can’t agree on what to have.. S/M sizes are great to bring to work for lunches and L/XL sizes are perfect for family dinner.
  5. The containers are oven and microwave safe so there is literally zero clean up time.
  6. Their customer service is outstanding.
  7. Not least of all…they are delicious!

I now keep a handful (or two or three) of Fitzee meals on hand at all times. Ever since I started using Fitzee Foods I have far less stress about meal planning, I have been able to spend more time with my less hangry wife, and I’ve been able to sneak in an extra training session or two during the week.

Fitzee Foods is based in San Diego which makes it extra convenient for me but they also ship nationwide. They are going to be a fridge & freezer staple for a long time to come!

Productivity 101 Series Part 3: Crushing Your Task List

This is the final part of my Productivity 101 Series so make sure to check out Part 1 on how I created my vision and Part 2 on how I’m trying to achieve more by focusing on fewer goals and projects.

I have my vision, goals, and project priorities in order so now it is time to actually get stuff done. So let’s talk about tasks. Tasks are the specific action items that can to be completed. As I noted in my last post, projects consist of multiple tasks. Complete enough tasks and…voila…you’ve completed a project. Complete a few projects and you achieve a goal. So…create a to-do list with your tasks and check stuff off. Boom! Done!

But not so fast…

Task Rule #1 – tasks need to represent the next smallest action you can take on a project. The problem I had with the previous tasks on my to-do list was that they were actually more like projects. “Write Blog Post” is an example of one of these tasks. Sounds reasonable right? However, that “task” is much bigger than it seems. I need to pick a topic, I need to organize my thoughts/resources/notes on that topic, I need to draft it, I need to edit it, I need to upload it and add links to resources, etc. As a result, “Write Blog Post” would continue to get deferred because it wasn’t a clearly defined next action item.

Task Rule #2 – know the size of each of your tasks. Even though tasks represent the next smallest action, they still come in different sizes. I think of task size in terms of energy output. Julie Shenosher, productivity expert and host of the Time Hackers podcast, has a great analogy for the different types of tasks and how to plan your day accordingly. She describes task sizes as follows:

  • Boulders – Big, important un-dividable tasks that either take up a long period of time or demand a large amount of focus
  • Gravel – These are tasks that can be split into several time slots and, although they are often meticulous, they are easy to follow through given a reasonable time and instructions
  • Sand – These are small tasks like phone calls, emails, quick updates that have a pre-set deadline that you need to meet.
  • Water – Much like sand but with no deadline limitation

When it comes to planning my day, Julie’s comparison of planning a day to completely filling up a jar with boulders, gravel, sand, and water is something that really resonated with me. The boulders go in first, then add gravel to fill the cracks between the boulders, and then the sand to fill in the cracks left between the gravel, and then water to fill in the rest.

Task Rule #3 – match your tasks to your energy level. Since I’m most productive and creative in the morning, that is when I try to tackle my boulders. By late afternoon early evening my mental energy tends to wane so that is when I like to tackle gravel and sand tasks. If I’m not feeling it and don’t have the energy for something, I don’t try and force it unless it is an absolutely critical fire drill (which usually gives me a huge boost in mental energy anyway). I’ve found over a week that I actually can accomplish a lot more if I just stop when I’m tired and indulge my need for a break and just get after it again first thing in the morning when I’m much more mentally sharp.

Task Rule #4 – always know your next task on your projects. In most cases, when I complete a task it creates a new task or moves me on to the next task. If I don’t know what the next task is…I can’t take an action….and, therefore, I’m not completing my project. Personally, I need to write down every single task as soon as I think of it because I know I won’t remember it later. Our brains are excellent at complex and creative problem solving but they are not an effective tool to remember what to do next. That is why I use the Outlook task list (work) and the Wunderlist task app (personal) religiously. If a task isn’t in one of those tools it’s highly probable I don’t know that I need to do it.

I’ve also started doing a quick “daily review” at the end of each day to make sure my task list is truly complete. I’ll scan my calendar and project list to make sure I’m not missing anything and that each project has an associated task. This is also the time that I’ll plan which tasks I’m going to do the following day so I can start crushing it first thing in the morning.

When it comes to being an endurance athlete and having a successful family and career, productivity and getting the most done with limited time is essential. Incorporating these basic productivity principles from this series has really helped me maximize AND improve the quality of my time.

Productivity 101 Series Part 2: Achieve More by Focusing on Less

John Lee Dumas interviews the most inspiring and successful entrepreneurs on his podcast Entrepreneur on Fire every day of the week. One of the questions he frequently gets asked is what it is that makes these people so successful. His answer is that they can effectively set and achieve goals.

As I wrote about in my last post and Part 1 of this series on improving my productivity in 2016, I started by creating clarity for myself and updating my vision. My vision then became the source that I used to start setting goals that were aligned and would bring me closer to achieving that vision.

The way I am thinking about productivity breaks down as: Vision -> Goals -> Projects ->Tasks

I’m not going to spend too much time on goal setting other than saying that goals should be S.M.A.R.T.

S – Specific: Clear definition of what it is you want to achieve

M – Measurable: Objective criteria to track progress and know when the goal has been met

A – Attainable: Do you possess the skill, ability, capacity, discipline, etc. that is necessary

R – Realistic: Is it something that you are both willing and able to work toward

T – Timely: A time frame to create a sense of urgency to meet a deadline

Once I had my goals, I moved on to projects. To me, a project is anything that will take multiple tasks (single action items) to complete. I started by taking an inventory of all my current projects by mind-dumping and writing down all the projects I could think. I thought about current work projects, family projects, my goals and the associated projects needed to achieve those, my roles and responsibilities at home and at work and what additional projects may be needed in those areas. Creating a complete project list is extremely important here!

One other basic productivity principle that kept coming up in all the content I reviewed is to have as few active goals and projects as possible. This is one of the main things I struggled with when I reflect on 2015. The quote “If you commit to too much you will be distracted by everything” sums up last year quite well actually. I was all over the place with too many priorities and was too distracted vs. staying focused on achieving any one specific thing. Therefore, I may have made progress on a lot of different things but didn’t have as many notable achievements as I could have.

After I had my full list of projects, I started aligning them to particular goals. If they didn’t align…I assessed whether they still aligned to my vision and I either put it on a “Someday/Maybe” list or deleted it all together. Then I prioritized the remaining projects on the list. After my experience last year, I’m not going to work on another project until I literally can’t do anything more with my top priority. This means I usually end up with a handful projects that are active at any one time. However, each of those have clear priority level so I know where to focus my time and effort.

In addition to my projects, I also have what I am calling my “focus areas”. The difference between a focus area and a project is that a project requires a time investment to complete various tasks whereas a focus area is just intended to help guide decisions to change a habit with no additional time investment required. For example, a current focus area for me is improving my gut health. Eating and cooking food is part of my routine already so this “focus area” is intended to guide the decisions I make about what I eat, drink, and cook. I only have one to two focus areas at a time until I feel like I’ve established the habit change that I want. The same concept applies here, trying to change too many habits all at once will make it more difficult to create lasting change in any one of them. Therefore, I want to focus all my willpower and self-control on one or two changes instead of spreading it across too many.

One of the other major productivity errors I made last year was not effectively sharing/communicating my goals and project priorities with all the necessary people in my life. Obviously, if goals and priorities aren’t aligned and supported by the people that have the greatest impact on you (spouse, boss, family, etc.) it is going to make achieving them instrumentally more challenging.

So…having S.M.A.R.T. goals that are aligned with my vision, prioritizing and minimizing the number of projects and focus areas I’m working on, and ensuring they are aligned and supported by the most important people in my life should help make this my most productive year ever! Right?

Productivity 101 Series Part 1: Creating Clarity with a Vision

New Years is one of my favorite holidays because it is about reflecting on the previous year and making new goals for the upcoming year. 2015 was a major transitional year for us mostly revolving around new jobs in a new city. However, despite all the accomplishments that go along with a successful job search and moving across the country, one of the words that keeps coming to my mind to describe 2015 is “underutilized”. Don’t get me wrong…we were so lucky to share many amazing experiences with even more amazing people. I still feel like I left a lot out on the course so to speak. Therefore, I’m going to start 2016 with a focus on improving my productivity.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been delving into the topic of productivity improvement by listening to podcasts, exploring content from productivity experts, and reading books. I’ll list my favorites on my Resources page. From all these resources there are a couple of common themes that are at the core of productivity improvement. I’ve already had some noticeable success with implementing some of these basic productivity principles so I figured I would write a quick series of posts on what I’ve been doing.

The main overarching theme is to know your Vision (a.k.a. your purpose and principles). This will help clarify what it is that you actually want to do. Productivity without a purpose is useless after all. I think David Allen’s six levels of work that is part of the Getting Things Done framework can be most simply boiled down to: Vision -> Goals -> Projects ->Tasks

One of the best things I did when we were considering moving to San Diego and changing jobs was to reevaluate my Vision. I hadn’t considered my Vision since writing one in college (which was a required assignment). I was pretty impressed when I re-read what I wrote almost ten years ago because it was actually pretty good and a lot of it still rings true. What I loved about that original Vision is that it was from the college me which was far less jaded and more idealistic.

This process of re-evaluating my Vision involved asking myself starry-eyed, pondering questions like:

  • When you look back, how do you want to describe yourself and your life?
  • Why are you here?
  • What are you values?
  • What does wild success look like?
  • What do you like to do?
  • What do you hate to do?

From there, I summarized all my mind vomit into a few words/phrases that I want to describe me and my life. This gave me a much better sense of clarity about whether the things I’m actually focusing on are aligned and helping me move toward those ideals. These are a few of the things I came up with:

Family First, Live Long Drop Dead, Kona, CPA, Be Prepared, Live Minimally, Financial Freedom, Make Things Better for Others, Learn and Do Scary New Things, Have a Crazy Good Time!

I love those simple phrases because they are easy to scan from time-to-time and, every time I do, they make me excited. They also provide the much needed “why” behind my goals and things that I do. I think one of the main reasons a lot of New Year’s resolutions fail is because they lack a connection to a bigger purpose. Making changes to habits and achieving goals is hard so there needs to be a deeper connection on why you want to reach a specific outcome.