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Monday, January 25, 2010

Being a First Rate "You"

Written 1/15/2010 in White Plains airport and beyond
So, I’m having trouble remembering my Boingo password in the Westchester County Airport and I’m writing this in Microsoft Word. I know I’ll have to strip out the code and make sure it is “sanitized” so it doesn’t knock down my feed, but that is certainly OK.

I’ve been enjoying the Kindle because I can read anywhere and adore the New York Time news blog,Tech Crunch, and PhysOrg.com.They have made my day better.

Meanwhile, I’m here painfully early trying to catch a flight so I can get home before 10 pm tonight and I’m listening to Tom, the loud-talker beside me, making sure the contractors pour the pad for his new house before he returns from his trip with his wife. In some ways I’m glad that I can’t get on the Internet because that means that the 2300+ emails that have accumulated can be ignored guilt-free for another bit of time.

This sort of represents me right now.

Often, I feel like I have an invisible cottony cloud of quiet that I set around myself when I travel. Time to think. Even with the hubbub around me and Tom’s REALLY LOUD conversation, no one here knows me, and no one is asking me to do anything except move over so they and their wife can sit together. Oh, and the girl across me leaned over to ask if I was on the Internet (I’m not) so it looks like maybe their network is down. THEIR network is down. Sort of like hearing that someone else you don’t know had a wreck down the street. Not a good thing, I’m sorry for the stress, but in this case it is a relief to know I don’t have to fix it and I can lean back into my cottony cloud for just another guilt free moment.

Hard Brownies
This brings me to a point. We all have to reach some sort of equilibrium or stasis with this technology that completely surrounds us. There is no end to the “urgent” emails (that aren’t really urgent) that are coming our way, issues, approvals, someone who wants something from us. These items aren’t spam, but sometimes they can be like that sort of hard brownie that the snack bar is selling right next to me.

That hard brownie is a brownie, and it is sweet, and it would somehow maybe satisfy some of that sweet tooth, but is it worth it the calories? See, now, I don’t measure food any more in calories, I measure it in miles.

I know that when I run a 5K that I burn around 480 calories. So, when I look at something, I figure that around 180 calories is a mile for me. (give or take) So, if I see that that brownie is 400 calories, I know that it is around 2 miles more or less for me. That is a 2 mile brownie. So, then I ask myself… is that brownie “worth the miles?” Is it worth it? This sort of thinking has me losing weight but also I really ENJOY what I choose to eat now. I don’t mindlessly eat MESS because I know the cost in terms of my own sweat equity. I know the miles.

Is it Worth the Miles?
Since starting running the end of July, my thinking has transformed. I’ve started looking at even my activities in this sort of thinking. You know, I could mindlessly hang out on Twitter, but in many ways that is like a hard brownie to me. Having 3 kids with one in elementary, one in Middle School, and one in High School – I don’t have a lot of time. I have to spend my time focusing on the most important things. So, if I am going to do something – is it worth the cost? Is it worth the time I will spend and not get back. Is it worth the miles? The minutes? The moments I could have had?

So, in many ways paring down has happened. I’ve eliminated a lot of the hard brownies in my life like the wasted time, low-value activities. As Brian Tracy says in his wonderful book, Focal Point,

“Today, you are paid for accomplishments, not activities. You are paid for outcomes rather than for inputs, or the number of hours you work. Your rewards are determined by the quality and quantity of the results you achieve in your area of responsibility. This change in the paradigm of work opens up unlimited opportunities for creative people who recognize it and capitalize on it.” (Kindle location 120)

So, he suggests to relentlessly apply Pareto’s principal that 20% of your tasks contribute to 80% or more of what you do and to spend more time on that 20%. I’ve been relentlessly trying to determine that 20%. Relentlessly trying to pare down – I’m trying to cut out the hard brownies. The imitation, not as genuine, not as important things that take up space and waste my sweat equity.

Certainly, there is no perfection in my method of planning, but I’m back to:

Keep a master list in Toodledo of FCP project items and IT Support items – at any moment, I can print this list out.

I keep a context sensitive list in my Franklin planner that is a weekly list (see Getting Things Done by David Allen to understand this) and

The NIGHT before I plan my day and isolate my top 3 projects that I need to work on. I also plan the other items in my day. During the day, I track the use of my time and how it is spent – relentlessly focusing on the most important things. I’ve created my own daily page in Excel, loosely based upon what I am using of David Allen’s GTD model, the Franklin Covey planning system, and the Printable CEO Series from David Seah.

Because, truthfully, when I look back on my life, when I had my most organized times was when I did it myself and took the time to customize my system for the things that are important.

When I was younger I had the luxury of at least thinking I had a long life stretching in front of me. Since I turned forty, I realize that no one is making any more time for me to live here. I’ve got to focus. Focus on what is important and leverage myself as much as possible.

So, now I’m going to try to get on stand by for the early flight to Atlanta so I can get home to my family. And that, my friends, is really it.

Give me the Creme Brulee
What are the most important things – the succulent, sweet smelling aromas of a life well lived that you want to include more of? I don’t know about you, but I’m ditching the hard brownie for the crème brulee. I’m spending that tiny wedge of time between classes grading papers and the moments when I set the timer for a task for the class on grading so that I don’t have to grade while my family is watching that new Terminator movie. (Which is so cool, BTW. My family had to re-watch it because I missed it with grading, but it was so good they didn’t mind.)

I’m taking time to use my new really cool bread machine so that when my husband comes home, he is greeted by the wafting aroma of freshly made bread, a fully set table, with a meal upon it and elegant candles burning!

I’m squeezing in time to write meaningful blog posts instead of just pumping out hundreds like Lucille Ball’s conveyer belt of chocolate that got away from her! Taking time to re-read How to Stop Worrying and Start Living and Focal Point are helping me focus and keep the most important things central to my life.

I loved when I read in Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living how American Cowboy, Gene Autry, started his career by trying to “lose” his Texas drawl and pretend that he was a city slicker from New York while everyone laughed behind his back. It was when he embraced who he is that he found himself and became a superstar.

Carnegie goes on to say when Bob Hope stopped trying to imitate other comedians and started making wise cracks, he became Bob Hope.

Be a First Rate "You"
There is this great story about how composer great Irving Berlin met George Gershwin, a young upstart, and offered to hire him while at the same time telling him not to take the job.

“Don’t take the job, Berlin advised. “If you do, you may develop into a second-rate Berlin. But if you insist on being yourself, some day, you’ll become a first rate Gershwin.” (loc 2925, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.)

So, I am not Dale Carnegie, Brian Tracy, David Warlick, or Joyce Valenza (one of my beloved amazing speaker/friends) and if I’m primed and ready to try to be one of them, then I’ll be a pretty second rate Vicki Davis. My job is to be a first rate Vicki Davis and I’ll tell you that is your job – to be a first rate ____. (Insert your name here.)

So, I’ve just come back from waiting for 45 minutes at the Delta Counter to try to go “standby” at 3pm – there is plenty of room on the flight, they told me. Only, Delta doesn’t have “stand by” any more, but instead, if I want to go on an earlier flight (and free up a space on my flight, by the way), I’ll have to pay $50 to change the flight and get to Atlanta earlier. Yes, I am annoyed and I think that Delta is making a mistake for a thousand business reasons, but, I’m going to stay here. Yes, I guess I could charge this to my client, but the truth is, no matter what time I fly out, I’ll be home at 10:00 pm tonight.

So, I’ve also become ridiculous about waste. In this case there are two things I could waste:

1) I could waste my attitude. 
I could let myself get upset that they didn’t help me and then, that Delta’s policy is ignorant. But you know what, the person behind the desk – it is not his fault.

2) I could waste my client’s money, or mine. 
I could have paid the $50 and gotten myself to Atlanta 2 hours earlier but why would I do that? Money is scarce and wasting it just doesn’t make sense.

**UPDATE: OK, I’m continuing the blog post from above 10,000 feet. Turns out being nice to the guy behind the counter was a good decision. I heard myself paged after I sat down. I gave him the grace of not being unkind when he was following company policy. He gave me the grace of putting me on the plane. The world needs more of this kindness and grace – and these things don’t often happen, but they happen in a much higher proportion to those who mete out grace and kindness themselves. “Whatever measure you use will be measured back to you!”

Life Liposuction: Getting Rid of the Fat
So, I guess in some ways I’ve got a bit of liposuction going on. I’m pulling the fat out of my calendar. The wasted moments of worry from the times where things are just totally out of my control. And the wasted money spent into thin air for things I don’t really need, but might like to have.

But in addition to that liposuction, there is definitely an enrichment of my own life that is happening as I focus on what is really important. Last year, I missed some ballgames because I needed to blog – this year, my husband or I have been at every one of our children’s ballgames – all 4-5 days a week of them! It is important! As much as I love blogging and (hopefully) encouraging you, it is a stale brownie compared to the savory aroma of the apple pie of sitting at my son’s game and seeing him improve from 2 rebounds one game to more than 10 last week!

That was a moment I couldn’t pay for and it, my friend, was my moment. His moment was my moment and my moment was mouth wateringly pleasurable in a way that food does not satisfy. It leaves enough decadent memories implanted upon my neurons to help me re-savor the taste as I recline in my nursing home bed.

The stale brownie won’t leave an imprint. Why should it? Nothing special about it.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself So You Can Be a First Rate "You"
So, today, I have a challenge for you. Ask yourself these questions:

1) What are the stale brownies in your life? 
The things that are only vague imitations of the truly rich experiences and tasks that you should be focused on. Get rid of at least one of this off your list today – I mean, permanently get rid of it. Delegate it. Hand it over to someone else – or just GET RID OF IT.

2) What are the succulent, decadent experiences in your life? 
Take a moment to write down 5 things you would do if today were the last day of your life. Do at least one of them today – put it into your calendar. RIGHT NOW. Plan to do the other four some time within the next month.

Live life like you’re dying and don’t have much time to waste on nonessential things. Live life like you’ll live forever without the morbidity that comes from contemplating one’s death – let not rigor mortis set upon these bones until the blood no longer flows and breath no longer fills these lungs!

3) Intentionally practice Grace today. 
Grace is not giving someone what they deserve! It is giving kindness when another deserves irritation or not yelling out when someone cuts you off. Write yourself a note in your planner and put 3 boxes by it – intentionally MAKE yourself be kind to others, particularly those who aren’t kind to you. She how you feel.

Heartbreak in Atlanta
I’ll never forget one time in Atlanta how a woman cut me off horribly. I just chose to let it go, but later on as I pulled beside her in traffic I saw that she was crying. Heartwrenching, end of your life, sobbing like her soul was being ripped from her chest! If I had been unkind, honked, or even made unkind motions to her – what would I have done to her? We all have bad days my friend!

Justice does not mean Just-us
The problem with our innate human desire for justice is that we often pronounce it just-us – we want things to be right for us and our family and friends and could care less about the lives of others. However, those who consider others and love them and mete out grace are those who go about this world spreading flowers where others only shoot barbs.

4) Make yourself smile.

When you smile, you feel better – you just do. Give yourself a mood boosting, energy filling shot in the arm and smile. Smiling doesn’t mean everything is OK – it does however mean that you are looking upon the world through eyes that look up rather than down.

5) Take a look at your system of organizing.

Today, just take a look at your system of organizing yourself. What is working? What is not? For now, just think about it. I’ll share some more soon about what I’ve done here that has helped me so much.

OK, so now, to finish this blog post, I had to set my clock for 4:30 am so I could tweak it.

I’ve still got to rip it out of Word and post it on my blog – but this is the final point.


This is your life, my friend, no one can live it but you! It is YOUR life – live like it! You are not a robot! Take a hold and work to do the best you can in your current circumstances. This is not about clearing your schedule, firing your kids, and locking yourself in your office to be alone and focus on yourself – but about squeezing in the moments and making the most of what you HAVE!

OK, gotta run – heading to the school for a 7:15 am meeting about the Flat Classroom Conference. Always something! Thank goodness – there is always something, would hate for it to get boring!

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