Being Aware of Mental Roadblocks is the First Step to Overcoming Them

Stop Overthinking Things and Do Something

Last week we discussed learning as a form of procrastination. Too often, time is spent learning rather than doing. There’s less risk with learning. Doing is scary. What if I do it and nobody likes, it, needs it or wants it?

Overthinking things is a form of procrastination

Clarity of your goals and the best way to get there is hard to know. There are so many great and important things that I want to do, how can I know which ones to do?

“The person who chases two rabbits catches neither.” This proverb is a great illustration of a lack of focus. Achieving your goals is like chasing rabbits…often way more than just two.

I don’t know how many rabbits you’ve actually chased, but trust me they’re hard to catch. Rabbits seldom run in a straight line despite being pretty quick, they change direction often to throw off their pursuer. In order to catch one, you need to follow its every move if you are to have a chance.

Our goals are a lot like rabbits…they run fast and keep changing direction.

Being clear about where you want to go is the first step to achieving your goals. I’ve always been an overthinker. I naturally spend a lot of time thinking about things. Which thing should I do first? Is it the right thing to do? What’s it going to take to get it done? Do I have time to do it right now? Should I wait and do it later.

Determine which rabbit is the most important and chase that one first.

The opposite of overthinking is diving in without thinking. This can be a problem too. Diving in without any consideration or planning can lead to a bad outcome as well. It’s a good idea to know the depth of the water before you jump.

Finding the balance of these two things is the key. Somewhere between overthinking and not thinking.

There have been a lot of times when I have dreaded starting some project because I thought it was going to be too hard or take too long. Then after it was done…the actual doing was way easier than it was in the thinking version.

Thinking is like learning. There’s less risk with thinking.

The way to deal with overthinking is to think. I know this sounds backwards, but you need to spend some time thinking about it so that you know how to be prepared to handle it before it happens.

Be clear about who you are. What your tendencies are. What things you like doing. What are the things that are most important for you to accomplish your purpose?

Get clear on these things and then be intentional about focusing intensely on the most important things first. If you’ve thought about it ahead of time you will be way better prepared when you need to make decisions.

The problem with overthinking is in the “over” part.

Overthinking is a roadblock to productivity, but it doesn’t have to be if you avoid the “over” part.

How Can I Stop Using Learning as a Form of Procrastination?

First Thing is to Determine When Too Much is Too Much

I love learning! I want to be better than I am. I want to know more than I do now. I also want to learn how to build a great business that helps others find solutions for building their dreams.

There is so much that I don’t know. If I’m going to have that profitable business and be the best me, I need to learn how. Over the years, I’ve wondered if I was spending too much time and money learning, but really never came up with a clear answer.

So, how much time and money should be invested in learning?

What is the appropriate amount of either? According to Josh Spector there is a balance of learning and doing. Learning is valuable, but will never be as valuable as doing. He makes a great point when he writes,

“There’s a reason Nike’s slogan isn’t “Just learn it”.”

Time spent learning makes us feel like we’re working hard. There’s less risk with learning than doing. Learning is more internal. If we ‘do’ something and it doesn’t work…others can see that we failed.

There are learners and doers.

People naturally fall into one of these two groups. Learners don’t get as much done as they would like because they spend too much time learning. Doers don’t get as much done as the could because they don’t know of any other way to do it. Consequently, neither group gets as much done as it could if they would find a balance.

So what is the right balance of learning and doing? Josh recommends spending 80% of your time doing. He also says one of the best ways to learn is to do.

This caused me to think back over my construction career and how I learned all of the things that I now know how to do. These things weren’t learned from an online class or from a book. They were learned working along side someone who knew what they were doing and showed me how…and showed me how…and showed me how.

The important thing is to be clear about your goals, determine what is needed to accomplish them and begin to move in that direction.

Above all you need to know whether you’re learning to avoid doing or to give you the knowledge you need to move forward and accomplish your goals.

Doing is learning! Find the right balance for you.

What Makes One Thing More Important Than Another?

How to Decide What’s Urgent, Important or Not

Since the start of the new year, I’ve been working to find clarity in my prioritizing. I wrote about the value of time and how to decide where to spend it. I wrote about the importance of putting the big rocks in first and determining what makes one rock more important than another.

This is the hard part.

Rocks are hard…get it? 😊

Steven Covey’s time management quadrant in the previous post makes the idea of sorting things into the 4 areas clear. Different things need a different level of attention given to them.

  • Quadrant 1 is fire-fighting (urgent & important). This is easily recognized and where most of us spend way too much time. This is the get down to the core action of, if the house is on fire and the phones ringing…do we answer the phone or get the kids out of the house? The problem is we should have spent more on important rather than urgent and maybe we could have prevented the fire.
  • Quadrant 2 is quality time (important & not urgent). This is the area where we should focus. It’s where we get the most return on our investment of time and energy. It’s also the hardest because there’s no immediate rush like there is when fighting fires.
  • Quadrant 3 is distractions (urgent & not important). We can fill this quadrant with an endless list of small and trivial tasks convincing ourselves that they are important, because they probably are. The things in this quadrant require less time and energy than the ‘really’ important tasks. The question is, are you doing them because they’re important…or because it feels good to check thing off the list?
  • Quadrant 4 is time-wasters (not important & not urgent). The things in this quadrant are the things of least importance. These things serve no direct purpose in accomplishing the important things in your life. You want to avoid wasting time on these things.

We have a limited amount of time…spend it wisely.

As I read through the different quadrants in this example, I was perplexed with some of the things listed.

It seemed to me that some of the things in quadrant 4 were important things and not necessarily time wasters, i.e. entertainment (TV) and stress relief. In quadrant 2 was recreational activities. For me watching TV is recreational. And isn’t “relieving of stress” pretty important? The more I studied it the clearer it became…

It’s up to us what goes in our quadrants!

It comes down to being crystal clear on who we are and what our specific purpose is. This is the problem. Most of us haven’t or don’t want to spend the time and energy to figure it out. We just float through life without a clear direction of where we’re going or how we’re going to get there.

In the Ayn Rand book Fountainhead architect Howard Roark is super clear on who he is and what he’s willing to do or not. Because of his lack of conformity to the status quo, he struggles to make a living. He is almost broke but is given an opportunity to design and build a bank building that would be very profitable for him.

As he meets with the bank board, they ask him to make a few changes that would require that he conform. He turns the job down and goes to work doing manual labor in a quarry.

I want Howard Roark’s clarity.

I do think there is a place for conformity. It’s not always wise to cut one’s nose off to spite one’s face. However if we have Mr. Roark’s clarity, we can then determine what makes things urgent, important or not in our lives.

You get to decide, but if you want clarity…you have to decide.

What Makes One Rock More Important Than Another?

This is the Real Question When It Comes to Prioritization

Last week I wrote about deciding what your big rocks are. The process of putting the big rocks in the jar first works great but, most of us are trying to squeeze in too big rocks. There is a limit to the number of rocks that will fit.

So how do we decide which rock is more important than another?

Deciding what is most important and focusing on that is critical to productivity. As I researched for last week’s post, I came across an article about priorities by Mark Nevin’s. He points out the word “priority” has no plural.

The word “priority” entered the English language, via Old French, sometime in the 14th Century. Deriving from the mediaeval Latin word prioritas (“fact or condition of being prior”), the word meant “the most important thing”—the “prior” thing or the thing with precedence.  When it was first coined, the word “priority” had no plural.  You could only have one priority

Sometime in the middle of the 20th Century, almost certainly related to the rise of corporate and office culture, the word “priorities” began to appear. Now people began to claim that they had more than one “most important thing.”  They could have three or five or 14 priorities.  A client once shared with me a deck laying out his business’s “Top 30 Strategic Priorities.”  Sadly, if you have 30 priorities, you really have no priorities: no organization can even remember 30 things, never mind focus on them all.

So how do we decide which thing is the priority?

I think this is where the real battle takes place. What makes one thing more important than another? In last week’s solution I referred to Steven Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In this book he shares a time management quadrant consisting of – urgent and important / not urgent but important / urgent but not important / neither urgent nor important.

We use these options for prioritizing everything we do…whether we know it or not. It’s up to us to be intentional about what goes in which quadrant.

All tasks can be categorized based on their urgency and importance: An activity can be one, both, or neither. Urgent matters are time sensitive, and they tend to grab your attention; this can be something as simple as a ringing phone. Important matters contribute toward your goals, values, and personal mission statement. We react to urgent matters, while important tasks that are not urgent require us to be proactive.

Picture a square divided into four Quadrants: One axis measures whether or not something is urgent, and the other measures whether or not it’s important. In the 7 Habits, Quadrants means four different classifications. Stephen Covey’s Quadrants 1, 2, 3, and 4 break down like this:

Quadrant 1 is urgent and important. Crises and problems live here, and life inevitably throws some Quadrant 1 tasks at all of us. However, some people seem to spend all their time constantly putting out fires and feeling like they never have time or energy to tackle anything that’s not urgent; in need of respite, they occasionally escape to the more leisurely Quadrant 4, where things are neither urgent nor important. The catch is that the more time you spend in Quadrant 1, the more you will be stuck there, because you don’t have time to do the maintenance and preventive measures that help avoid crises. 

Quadrant 3 is urgent, but not important. These kinds of activities can eat up your precious time and energy, without giving much value back to your life.  Some people don’t even realize that these matters are not important, assuming that urgency implies importance; but the urgency is often dictated by other people’s priorities and expectations — what other people tell you must get done — rather than your own goals and values. 

Quadrant 4 is neither urgent nor important. These are things you may do purely for enjoyment, or out of confusion about what’s truly important. Quadrants 3 and 4 are irresponsible uses of your time, because they contribute nothing toward your life, and effective people tend to avoid these activities. 

Quadrant 2 is not urgent, but important. This is where effective people focus their time and energy, and the discipline to prioritize these tasks is key to self-management and achieving your personal mission. Quadrant 2 includes activities that could easily be put off for their lack of apparent urgency, but which will greatly benefit your life in the long term if you invest the time in them; they include developing relationships, defining your personal mission statement, exercising, and performing preventive maintenance (e.g. oil changes for your car, health check-ups, flossing, or home maintenance). These Quadrants all help you understand and prioritize, but Quadrant 2 is where you want to spend most of your time.

Steven Covey’s 4 Quadrants: The Secret to Productivity

The things in these quadrants will be different for each of us. Ultimately it is your choice what things you decide to do and which quadrant you put them in.

This is where planning and looking forward to the end of your life and working backward helps. It gives you a clearer vision of what things should be the most important and which ones aren’t.

Deciding What Your Big Rocks Are

What Should I do First?

This past week as I was writing in my journal, I was considering what the day’s priorities were. What were the most important things to focus on today, if I’m going to achieve my goals? As I thought I wrote…

What are the big rocks that I need to put in the jar first?

I read about this time/priority analogy several years ago in Steven Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I hadn’t thought about this for some time and I don’t know why I thought of it then. I assume it’s due to the recent attention being giving to accomplishing my goals for the coming year.

Here’s how this story goes:

One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is:

If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

Dr. Steven R. Covey, First Things First

I love this big rock example of prioritizing our actions. Too often we approach time as though there’s no limit. My time management budget certainly makes it clear that this is not the case. (currently I’m over my time limit for the year, by 746 hours)

As I study this time management spreadsheet it gives me a much clearer picture of where my time is getting spent and a way to determine what rocks should be put in first and what ones should be left out. There are so many great things to choose from but if I’m going to be the most productive, I need focused intensity on the big rocks that help me to achieve my goals.  

What are the big rocks in your life?

Growing in your faith? Spending more time with your family? Serving your customers better? Paying off debt? Taking better care of yourself physically and mentally? Helping with community projects?

Here are three short video examples of how putting the big rocks in first matters. The first explains this perspective well.

Put the Big Rocks in First

Time Management & the Jar of Life

Jar of Life

How to Decide Where Your Time Is Best Spent

It Comes Down to Knowing Who You Want to Be

Last week I wrote about the importance of spending time wisely. I shared how I was working to clear the fog to determine what things I should focus on. What should I do and not do? So, like budgeting money I decided to work on a plan for budgeting my time…enter the spread sheet.

Like money, we can choose what to spend our time on.

The difference is that with money there’s the possibility to make more, not with time. This makes spending time wisely, even more critical.

So, what did I find out about budgeting time using a spreadsheet?

What I’ve found so far is that I’ve overspent my time budget by 175 hours (2%) and I still haven’t got everything entered. It is making it very clear that I can’t do everything that I want.

This spreadsheet is allowing me to look at the big picture and see where I can move things around and/or remove things completely to fit into the limited time available.

I listened to a podcast recently that pointed out how important time is due to kids doing school at home and people working remotely. This got me to thinking about how I’ve never really separated my work and personal time. My time is all just…my life.

I think this is because growing up on a farm there wasn’t a ‘clock punching’ separation of time. In addition to that, I’ve spent most of my life self-employed which is the same. I may be doing family, community or church things throughout the day or, I may be doing work things late in the evening or on weekends.

Using the spreadsheet, it is allowing me to see the amount of time being spent rather than the specific time of the day or night. It allows me to be better at living a well-balanced life.

Ultimately the spending of our time comes down to a personal choice.

It’s all about who we want to be.

We can spend our time where we want. So…to that point…today I want to spend my time with my family having a movie marathon weekend.

That’s who I want to be.

Why Do I Need Focused Intensity?

And the Importance of Me Incorporating It Going Forward

The world is full of amazing, exciting and interesting things which are constantly fighting for our attention. Now more than ever we are bombarded by things requesting our time. The difficult part is sorting through them and determining which ones we should spend our time and energy on.

I constantly struggle deciding what to and what not to do. What makes one thing better than another? I realize this is an issue that ultimately comes down to me deciding for me.

We’ve all been given talents and interests, designed to fulfill a specific purpose.

The fact that we are different means there is no “one size fits all” answer to the question of what you should do. What’s important to one person isn’t to someone else. The crucial thing is that you figure out what your purpose is and are true to who you were made to be.

We are never going to be perfect this side of Heaven, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t constantly be working to build a better life. An important part of this is self-reflection. Looking back at things we did well and things we need to improve on.

Incorporate learning from the past as a part of your plans looking forward.

As I work on my life plans for the new year, this year I decided that I would incorporate a theme for the year. Something that will serve as a building block in the foundation of my life. Knowing that I struggle with clarity when making decisions I’ve decided that my theme for 2021 is… FOCUSED INTENSITY.

As I thought about and researched different themes, I chose FOCUSED INTENSITY because I think it’s a building block that will make my foundation stronger. It strengthens places I’m already doing well and supports the expanded building in the places where I’m not.

The existing foundation that FOCUSED INTENSITY supports:

  • Honor God in all that I do
  • Make all I can, Save all I can, Give all I can
  • Spend time wisely, there is a limited amount
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Never be satisfied with mediocrity
  • Find and maintain the balance in everything
  • Move the mountain one shovel full at a time
  • Remember that I have two ears and one mouth
  • Avoid drama
  • Be accountable
  • Take off the blinders, be more observant
  • Intentional action

What is FOCUSED INTENSITY?

Focus – is the central point of attraction, attention and activity. It is concentrating and directing one’s attention and efforts.

Intensity – is the quality or condition of being intense. It is a lot of energy, strength and concentration applied to specific activities and thoughts. It is a high degree of emotional excitement.

The purpose of this building block is to provide the needed support for building my best life.

Next week I will show you the mortar that will be used to adhere this building block of FOCUSED INTENSITY to the foundation of my life.

There Are a Limited Number of Ideas

So, What Makes One Better Than Another?

It’s less than two weeks until this year will be over. The end of one year and the start of another is often a time used for reflecting on the past and looking to the future. In last week’s post I referred to my working on goal setting and planning.

I made the process of reviewing and setting goals a part of my annual routine.

It’s on the calendar and done intentionally.

Another thing that coincides with this time of the year is inboxes being flooded with new and better ideas for goal setting and life planning. I currently know of 6-8 of these that have been bombarding my emails regularly and repeatedly. Most of them I have used or are familiar with.

One such plan is a course in Donald Miller’s Business Made Simple University called Hero on a Mission. This is a course that I went through years ago, before BMSU even existed. I still use parts of it in my current life planning system.

My friend and accountability partner Shep and I are going through the Hero on a Mission course together. Over the past several months we have gone through a variety of different types of courses and workshops. One discussion that continually comes up, regardless of the topic, is how they all seem to be the same thing.

So, what makes one better than another?

Why are there so many options if they are all so similar. And how can so many similar options be needed?

I think there are two basic reasons for all the different, yet similar options.

First, I compare it to reading the Bible. If you’ve ever read the Bible more than once, or even if you’ve just read select scriptures more than once, you probably experienced those same exact words having different meanings at different times.

I think this is just a matter of where we are in our lives when we read it. Different circumstances, problems, celebrations or experiences all contribute to seeing things from different perspectives.

This is one of the greatest things about the Bible and what makes it so timeless. It is always relevant yesterday, today and tomorrow.

I think goal setting and life planning is similar. It’s the same content over and over yet for whatever reason today it makes perfect sense. It has to do with where we are in our life journey.

The second thing is that we all connect differently. We could have heard something ten times before and then like magic it makes sense. We will not understand it when one person says it and then when heard from someone else…poof…it’s clear as can be. It comes down to who is presenting it.

There is a limited number of ideas.

When it comes to goal setting and life planning the most important part is to do something.

The Hero on a Mission would be a great place to start, but if this isn’t the right one for you, try something different. Or mix and match, using different parts from different plans, like I have.

Don’t just drift through life letting it happen to you. Knowing where you’re headed and what you want to accomplish. Take intentional action and have a great 2021

It’s Amazing How Quickly Profit Can Get Sucked Up

Missed Deadlines Are Like a Big Shop Vac to Profit

It’s hard for some of us to make money…for others not so much. I’m not talking about how businesses and lives look on the outside. I’m talking about the real and truthful hidden beneath the exterior profit. Borrowed money often makes things appear way better than reality.

On one of Donald Miller’s Business Made Simple daily podcasts, this past week he talked about the importance of hitting deadlines. Missing them can cost you a lot, in both money and reputation. Missed deadlines are too common in construction. I know missed deadlines are costing me and my business.

On the surface, a missed deadline here and there doesn’t seem like it’s a big deal. The problem is that those missed deadlines don’t ever go away, they just keep getting added to previous ones. It starts out like a little snowball rolling down a hill, problem is…when it gets to the bottom it’s big enough to wreck your business.

You can’t go back in time and change the past; you can only learn from it.

Let me show you how missed deadlines cost you money. Let’s say the labor budget for a siding project is $10,000. This translates into 167 hours or 24 working days. The cost for labor and length of time needed for this project was predetermined by a data base using the square footage of walls to be sided.  

Often production crews get to a stopping point mid-afternoon and rather than starting another section they quit for the day. This may happen a few times throughout the project. When they get to the end of a project, they happen to get finished at noon. It’s too late to start the next project so they wait until the next day to start.

If throughout the duration of the project the production crew stops 1 hour early each day, this adds 3 days to a 24-day project. These 3 days now pushed starting the next project back 3 days plus the half day at the end.

If this happens consecutively on projects throughout the year those 3 ½ days becomes 35 days. 35 days would be enough to do another project, not to mention the overhead costs that continue whether there’s work being done or not.

A 15% profit figured on the siding job would be $178.00 per day, times 3 days is $534.00 for that one project. Add to that the complete project missed is $4,798.00 lost to never be gotten back. Multiply that by 25 years of doing business that’s a lost profit of $119,950.00 sucked up by the “missed deadline vacuum”.

The problem isn’t the labor costs…it’s the never-ending overhead.

Every deadline missed in a company, whether production, sales, marketing, administration, or bookkeeping subtracts from the bottom line. Each of these little subtractions is like a little rock thrown into a pond. The ripples will inevitably spread throughout the whole company sucking up profit.

Meeting deadlines has to do with being intentional. Determining your priorities, getting them on the calendar and pushing forward. The only way I reach the goals I have for my life is to meet deadlines.

I’m going to make meeting deadlines a priority for 2021.

Here’s to a more profitable 2021!

How to Watch the Clock

Finding a Balance of Looking to the Future and Being in the Present

Time is the most valuable commodity we have at our discretion. You’ve heard the saying “time is money”. I would argue that time is MORE than money. Money is a form of exchange for a service or product. We have some control over how fast our money goes…not so with time.

There is no limit to money. I know this sounds a little over the top, but as long as money can be printed there’s no limit. Even if we ran out of the resources needed to make money, we could find something to trade or barter with.

There is a limited amount of time.

Time is continually moving. There is no stopping or slowing it to get more done. If we spend a dollar, we can go make two more. Once time is spent…there’s no getting any more.

I never wanted to be a clock watcher.

When I was younger and saw people looking at their watch, I felt they were being selfish. They appeared more concerned about their time than the person(s) they were engaging with. This bothered me.

I then took this perspective too far. I often ran behind because I didn’t want to cut off a person that I was visiting with. (It didn’t help that by nature I’m a talker.) I wanted my customers to feel that they were more than just time blocked out on the calendar or a dollar in the bank.

Watching the clock made me feel selfish.

It made me feel that my schedule was more important than finding out what the customer hoped to accomplish with their project. It put my needs above theirs.

High quality, attention to detail and not being satisfied with mediocrity all take time. By nature, these are a part of who I am. Watching the clock is counter to that. My best work is never accomplished when I cut corners.

The flip side of this is…when I’m late to my next appointment or don’t get that thing done that I promised it is no different. I’m saying to someone else, you’re not as important as what I was doing.

There is a balance to be achieved.

How do we accomplish the things we need/want to? Too often we let others make these decisions for us. It starts with a clear understanding of what our priorities are. What is our purpose? What has God put us here to accomplish? From this we can align our actions with these priorities.

Next comes figuring out how to get control of these actions. This is where action lists, scheduling and calendaring come in. It’s up to you to be intentional with how you spend that limited amount of time that you have. (For more information and tools for scheduling and planning see the list at the end of this post)

As this year comes to an end I’m beginning to think about planning for the new year. What should I do? Where should I spend my time?

It has been said, “You can do anything you want; you just can’t do everything you want.” This perspective is critical to our spending of time. What are we going to spend our time doing? Plan wisely and don’t be afraid to watch the clock.

Align your desires with God’s and be your most productive self.