The Lost Art of Handwritten Notes

When was the last time you’ve written a thank you card or letter to someone? Probably a while for most. We live in an electronic world these days which, of course, is a great thing and makes us very efficient when communicating. That being said, don’t underestimate the power of a hand-written note to someone. I keep a stack of thank you cards by my desk so that they’re quick and easy to write. It only takes a couple of minutes to write one. You can always customize these as well with your name printed somewhere. In a time where you rarely see this, it’s a great way to stand out from the crowd. Happy Easter to everyone!

9 Tips on Reading Non-Fiction

For those who like to read, here are some tips reading non-fiction:

1 – Finishing the book is not the goal – Just b/c you started reading a book doesn’t mean you have to finish it. If you’re not into it, there’s no reason you should continue reading. The goal is to learn.
2 – Take Notes in the book – I had a hard time doing this for a while b/c you always feel that the book is sacred and you shouldn’t write in it. Go for it. You will retain a lot more info as well by simply writing your thoughts down.
3 – There’s no rule on reading one book at a time – This is up to you. You hear some people say you should only read one at a time, some say you can read more than one. I think you have to tinker with it. I prefer to read multiple books at once, usually no more than 2 or 3.
4 – You can buy a book even if you’re not going to read it right away – If you see something you like and you have the money to spend, go for it. It will look nice on your bookshelf as well.
5 – Keep a list of books you want to read – Great GTD habit. I have a checklist on my blackberry of all the books I want to read. It’s up to about 50. Maybe I will read them, maybe I won’t. It’s good to know they’re there.
6 – It’s OK to skim – Usually, you can get the meat of the content in the first paragraph of each chapter and a lot of times in the summary on each chapter. It’s not a bad way to get an overview and then you can dive in if you’re really interested. I’ve been to Barnes and Noble many times and have skimmed 2-3 books in an hour or two. Learned this from Frank Sopper, a GTD follower and expert in learning styles. You can read more about Frank and his company here. I did a coaching session with Frank and will share some thoughts on that in a future post.
7 – Be Open – There are a lot of experts out there that have gone through experiences that can help you out immensely.
8 – It’s OK to re-read – Many times, I will refer back to a book or even read it a second time. It’s amazing what you can reinforce or even pick up a second time around.
9 – Ask for recommendations – Find someone your respect and ask them what they’re reading. Most people have 2-3 favorites that they got a lot out of. I have a good friend and colleague who’s also a big reader and is very successful. Some of our best conversations are about books we’ve read. We have the same taste and it’s always good to hear about a book I may get something out of that I’m unaware of.

I’m a big fan of Levenger. Great tools for reading (and writing).

A Message On Perspective

My family received a Christmas card today from one of my mother-in-law’s best friends. The husband in the family had a stroke last year and is truly blessed to be alive. Although he’s had many obstacles along the way, they are taking the glass half-full approach. There’s a quote in the Christmas letter that I’d like to share with you.

“The burden of suffering can seem like a tomb stone hung about one’s neck, while in reality it is only the weight which is necessary to hold down the diver while he is diving for pearls.”

How about that for perspective.

3 Ways to Listen More Effectively

I had a colleague say to me once, “you have 2 ears and one mouth for a reason.” I’ve never forgotten that. Have you ever noticed yourself drifting off when someone’s talking to you or found yourself not being able to hold back b/c you want to say something. I know I have. This is one of the hardest things to change. The first step is to be conscious of it. Let me first make a confession. I’m not very good at this. If you ask my wife, Michelle, what the one thing she would change about me, she would say that she would want me to listen more and better. I guess the first step is admitting your shortcoming, right?

I believe there are three keys to listening more effectively in your professional life and at home:

1 – Single Task
2 – Minimize Distractions
3 – Pay Attention

Here are my thoughts on these three:

1 – Single Task:
There used to be a lot of people that talked about how much you needed to multi-task. We’ve seen that change. The more you multi-task, the less you will really get accomplished. Pick a task and see it through. I guarantee you will be more productive (and you will get that sense of accomplishment with each completion). This goes for listening. Be fully engaged. If someone’s talking to you, really pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t cut them off. Try to minimize the 500 thoughts that are going through your head. Look them in the eye and give them your full attention. Make them feel like you are in tune to what they’re saying.

2 – Minimize Distractions:
If you’re working and in a meeting put your blackberry or other device away. You can check it every once in a while, but don’t keep it out. If it’s out, you’re going to look at (a lot). And, please, turn off the vibrate notification for emails. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in where someone’s phone is vibrating every 2 minutes. This is very distracting.

If you’re on a conference call, minimize or shut down your computer as much as possible. Of course, there needs to be some flexibility here. If you’re not an active participant but simply need to be on the call, it’s ok to get some other things done. However, if the call is an important one, do what you can to stay offline and off your computer.

The same goes for regular phone calls. I used to be guilty of this a lot. You’re on the phone with someone and you’re surfing the net or sending emails out. Do you think you’re giving that call it’s rightful attention? Definitely not.

3 – Pay Attention:
I want you to start to think about listening the next time you’re talking to your colleague, your client, your wife, your children, etc. The more you’re aware of it, the better you will get.

“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.” – Kenneth A. Wells

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What works for you? Is an improvement area at work, at home? If you start paying attention, really paying attention, and you’re noticing an improvement, I’d love to hear about it.

Situational Awareness

I love this term. David Allen has used it to describe the constant input we receive and the ability to react to it. He’s used a reference to pilots, especially fighter pilots who have to react to critical situations in a moment’s notice. Of course, most of what we do everyday is not life or death. For a fighter pilot, it is.

You have to be able to adapt. It’s great to set goals each day and engage your task/next action list, however, if new input comes in that needs to be a priority, you have to change focus. I’ve experienced this today. I have my daily goals lined up. I’m engaging with my next action list, and bam, I get off a couple conference calls and I have some new input that I need to act on right now.

So, what do you do? Well, here’s what I do. I have a whiteboard in my office. You can do this on a piece of scratch paper, or anywhere you can get your thoughts out. I simply grab what has my attention. I make a list (takes me a minute), then I think about what I’m trying to accomplish (the desired outcome). Then right next to it, I write down the next action.

Right now, I have 9 items I thought of, 3 of which are critical to do right now…so, I stop what I’m doing and/or what I had planned and engage with those 3 actions.

Be prepared, because the unexpected will happen a lot. As I stated above, you have to be able to adapt. Life will bring plenty of these experiences. It’s how fast and in control you can switch focus that will bring you the best results.

Welcome to 1440 – my blog inspired from my dealings with David Allen’s Getting Things Done, the ground-breaking productivity methodology that has helped many individuals achieve great success at home and in their professional lives.

1440 is the number of minutes we have in each day, where we have an opportunity to achieve what we’ve set out to do. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that there are many obstacles to accomplishing what we want to. Email, Phone Calls, Web Surfing, Office Interruptions…you name it. Today, there are countless things that divert our attention.

This is an ongoing game that we’re playing. Either master it and reach your potential, or live in a state of mediocrity. I plan on providing insight from my experiences (both struggles and successes) with doing the best I can each and everyday.

I leave you with a great quote by Winston Churchill:

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

We will all encounter many failures along the way. The true test of a person is how you pick yourself back up and continue to reach for greatness.

I wish you well and look forward to interacting as we take this very exciting journey.

Jon