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Think big and act small. Leslie Koch
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Monday
Oct092006

No S Diet: First Weekend

In the "No S" diet I'm allowed a holiday on "S Days", i.e. Saturdays, Sundays and Special Days (such as birthdays). So what was the effect on me of the first weekend?

I had very little trouble keeping to the diet during the first week. Occasionally the Nanny part of me had to give me a sharp reminder "No Seconds!" or "No Snacking!" but most of the time the diet didn't bother me at all. But I was looking forward to the weekend and the chance to have the odd biscuit, cake or chocolate.

The strange thing was that on Saturday I actually felt more like keeping to the diet than not. I almost had to force myself to have a slice of cake at tea time, and it tasted almost unpleasantly sweet. The rest of the weekend I ate much the same as I would have before starting the diet, but found myself looking forward to getting back on the diet.

That seems to indicate that it should be easy to keep to the diet in the long term. That's great, but will it result in weight loss if I do?

My intention was that I wouldn't weigh myself until the first month of the trial was over. But I must admit that I sneaked a peek on Saturday morning and found that I had lost 4 lbs. That's all to the good and was certainly encouraging. But the truth is that virtually any change in eating habits will result in that sort of initial weight loss. What counts is what happens after that first adjustment to the new regime has been made.

Saturday
Oct072006

BrainBuilder

My copy of BrainBuilder arrived yesterday, so I spent an hour or so getting it installed and playing with it. The aim of the program is to increase the sequential processing power of the brain by a series of simple exercises. What is sequential processing capacity? Basically it is the number of digits we can hold in short term memory. For instance if someone says to you "Please call 596-5873", can you remember the seven digits long enough to dial them? The normal digit span for adults is 5-9 digits. According to the program manual those with digit spans of 9 and above are functioning with superior abilities.

Since I have always had a very poor memory for things like telephone numbers and names and have never been able to remember my car registration number, I was interested to find that my rating for most of the exercises was a 5. That could explain a lot!

However it's not just relatively trivial things like memorising telephone numbers that are affected by sequential processing capacity. According to the program's creators, it lies at the basis of most of our thinking processes. Someone who is able to remember and manipulate nine factors at time while thinking through a problem is going to have a considerable advantage over someone who can only manage five.

So in road testing this program I am looking for two main things:

  1. Will it succeed in increasing the number of digits I can remember?
  2. And if it does succeed, what effect if any will that have on my thinking abilities?

Obviously the answer to Q2. is going to be a lot more subjective than the answer to Q1. However I am so bad at short-term memory that any real improvement should be very noticeable and make a significant difference to my life!

Note: I'm testing the CD version of the program. There's also an on-line version at www.brainbuilder.com which is subscription based and appears to offer more exercises.

 

Friday
Oct062006

Archive of Past Articles

I am going to start a big project over the next few days of tranferring the whole archive of my past articles into this blog (predated so they won't get in the way of new entries). There are well over 100 articles, though some of them may be a bit out of date now and need weeding.

I used to keep this archive in yahoogroups. The archive had a high Alexa rating of its own, so I hope this will prove to be a popular resource.

Keep coming back to this site, because you should find something new every time you do.

Thursday
Oct052006

Road Tests

After getting my road test of the "No S" Diet under way, there are some more which I want to write about. So a possible list of future roadlists would include:

Morning Pages (Journalling). I have already written about this elsewhere but as I've recently re-started the practice, perhaps it's time for a revisit.

The Dogs of the FTSE/Dow. A method of investing which I've been using over the last year and a half.

Brain Builder (Rocky Mountain Learning Systems). A program which claims to build one's sequential memory which according to the publishers is one of the foundation blocks of thinking. I haven't started on this yet.

And I suppose since I'm calling this category "Road Tests", I could even report on a real car or two!

Wednesday
Oct042006

File for Success!

One of the biggest reasons our offices tend to get into chaos is because we simply don’t know what to do with half the stuff that comes into our lives. If we don’t know what to do with it, we tend to put it down somewhere to deal with “later”. The inevitable result is piles of unsorted paper and a backlog of work.

One of the most important ways of ensuring that we know what to do with things is to have a filing system that is both easy to operate and completely up to date. Unfortunately most people, particularly in small businesses, try to work with filing systems that don’t properly support them. Remember: we will always tend to follow the path of least resistance. If our filing system is difficult and cumbersome to use then we will tend to avoid using it, which will then make it out of date as well - thus increasing the problem further. On the other hand if our filing system is fast, instinctive and up to date, it becomes easier to use it than not to use it. The good news is that you can have a fast, instinctive and up to date filing system fully operational by tomorrow. Here’s how.

The first step is to go out and buy plenty of lever arch files and clear enough space for them on a bookshelf. Forget about folders, ring binders, suspension files and all the rest. Lever arch files on a book shelf are the best way of filing. They stand upright, don’t fall over, can be moved around easily and it’s simple to insert and remove papers from them. What’s more you can use dividers to subdivide the contents. For things you don’t want to punch holes in, you can put them in a plastic envelope and file the plastic envelope. For very small items such as till receipts I staple them to a larger sheet of paper and file the sheet of paper. For those of you who don’t know what a lever-arch file is, here’s a picture.

How do you get a totally up to date filing system right now? It’s easy. Declare your old filing system dead and start completely afresh, opening new files as you need them. Every time you get a new piece of paper open a new file for it or put it into one of the new files you have already opened. Work the files in the way I suggested in a previous newsletter by putting the files as you use them at the top left hand end of the bookcase. With lever arch files it’s easy to move the files along to accommodate this. Doing it this way you will have a completely fresh and relevant filing system, where you can always lay your hands on the papers you use most often.

Wednesday
Oct042006

More about Systems

Have you ever found yourself complaining over and over again about something in your workplace? “I’m always losing people’s phone numbers” or “They never send visitors to the right place”.

Whenever something keeps going wrong it is a system malfunction of some sort. The key words to watch out for are “always” and “never”. The trouble is that we seldom take the time to put the system right, so the system keeps going wrong. But don’t forget that spending time on your systems is time well spent.

Sorting out a system is not only a matter of putting things right when they go wrong. Sometimes thinking up a superior system can completely transform your business. New businesses tend to set out with their major constraint being the amount of business they can get. But once the business starts to become successful the major constraint changes to the amount of business they can handle. It is vital at this stage that they put systems into place which are capable of responding to the increased amount of business.

I was greatly able to expand my own coaching business by looking at my systems for booking appointments with my coaching clients, payment and invoicing. Getting this right enabled me to take on twice as many coaching clients as before. In the same way before launching my “The New Time Management” seminars I worked out every aspect of booking, payment, issuing instructions, preparation, and follow-up. I made sure I got it right first time so that I could run a large number of seminars with minimum effort.

In both these cases it was the new system that resulted in my business and therefore my income expanding. The time I spent getting the systems right resulted in my earning over double what I was earning before.

Related article:

Friction

Wednesday
Oct042006

An Easy Challenge - or is it?

I have been developing some new exercises for my new book “Do it Tomorrow” which is scheduled for publication around June next year. I thought I would take the opportunity to share one of them with you, especially as I would like some feedback to include in the book!

This exercise is designed to make you more aware of how much or how little you are actually in control of your day. By making you more aware it should also help you to improve your control.

The exercise consists of a daily challenge in which you compete against yourself to score as many points as possible each day.

To score points, you have to decide the previous day how many points you are going to attempt to score the following day. Then you write down a list comprising that number of tasks. So for example if you decide you want to try to score three points the following day, you write down a list of three tasks. So you might write down 1) buy new calculator 2) call my sister 3) mow the lawn. The tasks should be simple and specific so that at the end of the day you either have done them or you haven’t. Then you score one point for each completed task.

That sounds easy enough doesn’t it? But there’s a catch. You only score the points if you complete every item on the list that day. If you haven’t completed every item, then you score no points at all for that day – no excuses accepted!

This of course is exactly what we don’t do when we are drawing up our to-do lists or plans for the day. We don’t draw up our list of things to do in the expectation of completing it. The result is that our days are poorly planned and at the prey of random factors. Use this exercise to see how many items you can work up to. Start with just a few – possibly even one – and keep working at the exercise day by day until you can write quite a long list and still be sure of finishing it. You may find it much more difficult than you expect. The key is to do the items on the list first thing - before you embark on the rest of the day's work.

Try this out for a week or so and then let me know how you get on and particularly let me know of any insights you get from trying it. You may even get a mention in my book!


Wednesday
Oct042006

Clear Goals or Goals that bring clarity?

One thing we are constantly being told is that we should have clear goals. I entirely agree with this, but I do wonder how many people’s goals actually bring any additional clarity to their work. I’m sure you have had the experience of setting a goal and then finding that, far from bringing a new sense of clarity, it just becomes one more thing that gets swallowed up in all the other things you have to do.

The reason I have been wondering about this is because I have become aware that goals are often seen solely in terms of defining things we are going to do. Isn’t that what goals are supposed to do? Yes, but it’s only half the story. To bring real clarity to our work, a goal also needs to define what we are not going to do as a result of selecting that goal. A goal represents a choice: “Among all the things that I could do, this is what I actually am going to do.” Our goals in other words should define the limits of what we are going to do.

The best way to get a feel for this is to compare it to going into a restaurant and ordering from the menu. Frequently these days menus contain so many choices that it can take quite some time to decide what to order: everything sounds so delicious. Eventually we make our choice and give the waiter our order. We are in effect saying: “I’m going to have the steak, and I’m not going to have the veal, the fish, the lamb, etc. etc.” Saying yes to one meal is the equivalent of saying no to all the other possible meals, however much we think we might enjoy them.

As in a restaurant, so in life – whenever we say “yes” to one thing we are saying “no” to a whole variety of alternative courses of action. At least that’s what it should be like. But for some reason in life when we say “yes” to one thing, we forget about saying “no” to all the other things. The result is that our goals fail to achieve the main point of a goal – to establish the limits of our field of action. Our goals should not just be statements of what we are going to do; they should be statements of what we are going to confine ourselves to doing.

Many of you may have read Betty Edwards excellent book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”. In it she describes how to draw the space round an object rather than the object itself. This is a way of helping us to see the object as it really is rather than allowing our preconceptions about it to dictate the way we draw it. It’s the same with our goals – we need to draw the space round our goals so that we can see clearly what that goal commits us to not doing.

Exercise:

Take one of your existing goals and try to define it exclusively in terms of what you are not going to do. So if your goal is to learn some French for your next holiday, you might write: “I am not going to do anything between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Mondays to Fridays except learn French, I am not going to allow myself to be distracted by trying to learn any other subject until after my holiday, I am not going to speak anything but French to my friend Dominique, I am not going to check my email during the time I am learning French, I am not going to read anything except French in the evening after 6 p.m., and so on…

Wednesday
Oct042006

No S Diet: First Reactions

I've decided that I won't weigh myself again until the month's trial is up, but will soley report on how the diet is going from the point of view of whether and how easily I can keep to it. If I manage to keep to it, then we will be able to see whether it's had any effect on my weight.

The first day has been really easy. I may actually have eaten more than usual because I went out to the local pub for lunch and had a curry. But I successfully resisted having a pud. No cake at tea time. No sweet pud at supper, instead I ate cheese but didn't have any seconds. So not that much different from normal. Oh, and no chocolates in spite of having a box of truffles that someone gave us.

I think this is a good diet from the point of view of ease of use. I can't see myself having any trouble keeping to it, especially if I have to blog about it all the time! That of course is a factor. Keeping oneself to doing something is much easier if one has to stand up in front of the world and say how well one is keeping to it. Constructing a supporting structure can be done by anyone of course. For instance you can report progress back to friends and family. Some people get their weight loss attempts sponsored for a charity, which again gives you a lot of support in keeping to it.

The next posting on this subject will be after the weekend, when I'll report back on what effect the two-day break has on keeping to it.

Tuesday
Oct032006

The No S Diet

I’ve decided to start a new category “Road Tests” in which I try out various projects and products on myself or by myself. The first I want to start with is something called “The No S Diet” which was recommended by Mike Brown in the Readers’ Comments on my No Options article. The diet was invented by Reinhard Engels and you can read all about it at www.nosdiet.com (And by the way one of the great advantages of this new website for me is being able to get feedback and suggestions from readers - it’s a great way for me to learn from you)

Basically it consists of No Snacks, No Sweets and No Seconds. There is also an exception: you don’t follow the diet on “S Days”, which are defined as Saturdays, Sundays and Special Days (i.e. birthdays, Christmas, etc.).

To me this sounds eminently sensible. It’s more a set of guidelines than a diet. So I’m going to try it out and I will report back in one month’s time. If anyone wants to join me, feel free to make your commitment on the Comments.

And no, I have no intention of telling you lot what I weigh now!

Monday
Oct022006

Further Progress Report

The final step in getting this website fully functional has now occurred and it is operating happily under the www.markforster.net address, complete with its prized Google 5/10 rating.

The only problem seems to be that the new address has thrown all the Google ads off just as they were beginning to adjust to what this site is about.

And what's happened to all my spam? I haven't had a single piece of spam since the re-hosting, even though I set the email host's spam filter to OFF. Knowing how inaccurate some spam filters are, I prefer to deal with my own spam through the medium of my highly trained copy of InBoxer. (I get no financial reward for that recommendation btw)*

*Memo to self: Must change that!

Monday
Oct022006

Progress Report

My domain name has now been transferred so my old website is no longer up and running. My email has been successfully set up under mf@markforster.net again with a break in transmission just long enough to miss all the hundreds of "Out of Office" notices that I normally get whenever my newsletter goes out.

Now all I've got to do is get this website attached to www.markforster.net. Until I do that, anyone trying to access that address gets a nice page full of advertisments for all of my competitors!

Monday
Oct022006

The Real Top Priority

(This article is from today's issue of my newsletter)

What is the real top priority in your life right now? I don’t mean theoretically – I mean what do your actions show that your top priority really is?

You can tell your top priority because when there is a clash, it’s the one that wins.

For many people the top priority in their life is work. For others it is their children. For some it may be having a good time. The top priority depends a lot on the stage of life you have reached.

It is a very important question this: because it shapes the whole direction of your life.

The danger is that we don’t chose our top priority consciously. We just drift into it through the pressure of circumstances, and then one morning we wake up and realise that our lives are not in our control: our actions are reflecting a top priority which is not what we really want it to be.

I’ve known many men, in particular, complain that they are missing their children growing up because of the demands of work. In this case their actual top priority (work) is not the same as what they would like it to be (family).

Another example is university students who spend their time partying instead of working. They then bitterly regret that they wasted their time at university. In this case their actual top priority (having a good time) was different from the one which would have made all the difference to the rest of their lives (getting a good degree).

You can check out for yourself whether your top priority is right. What do you want your top priority to be? Write it down. Now ask yourself: when it comes to a clash has this in fact won out over everything else? If there’s something else that usually wins over it, then that’s your real top priority.

If you’ve found that your real top priority is not what you want it to be, you need to make a conscious decision to change your priorities. Are you willing to do that?

Saturday
Sep302006

Getting to this Goal

I've continued moving towards the goal of setting up this website by putting in more articles, especially the series on Getting to Your Goals, working out how to insert ads, and doing other housekeeping jobs. That's Step 3 of the Getting to Your Goals process. But I've also been working on Step 4 Monitoring Progress by setting up Excel graphs to monitor the growth of the site. As I say in the article, this is the step that is often forgotten about!

One thing I want to experiment with is making the navigation bar into an interesting place in its own right. That means there needs to be loads of content in it, not just links and ads. I've started with a Thought of the Day slot and am actively thinking of other things that need to go on it.

One other highly important thing that I am doing is systematising the work on the website. There are all sorts of jobs that need to be done on a more or less daily basis. It's important that it's not just left to chance.

Friday
Sep292006

"Business Life" Review

An former client has just sent me a review of Do It Tomorrow from the current issue of Business Life. Quite a good review: four stars out of five.

Short extract:

"So is the book worth spending time on?"

"Absolutely. Forster writes in an amiable, engaging way and makes plenty of telling points about the way we fail to make the most of our time at work."

Friday
Sep292006

Old Articles

I've posted a series of old articles under the Time Management Articles tab, and I might add more to them. But basically it is my intention that new articles I write should go in the blog, which means they can be categorised in the blog archive.

I've been messing around with the colour scheme too, using the templates on SquareSpace. Since this site will be mainly text based it's important that it's legibility is high, and the original template I tried wasn't very.

Thursday
Sep282006

Gone Public!

Whew! the website is now open to the public and the old one closed down with a redirection until www.markforster.net is reassigned, which won't be until October 2nd.

I decided to move websites on Monday, at which stage I had absolutely no idea how or where I might move it to - this has been a great example of how fast a Current Initiative can move once it gets started.

Thursday
Sep282006

It’s Not an Option

Do you have some things in your life which you have no option about doing?

Most of us have quite a few. We don’t have much option about getting up to go to work, or at least getting up sometime. We don’t have much option about eating, assuming that we want to stay alive. We don’t have much option about earning some money somehow.

It might be an interesting exercise to work out just how many things you have in your life which you really do have no option about. These are the things which you simply have to do, because the consequences of not doing them are too horrendous to face.

Many of these are things we have to do every day. They are forced on us by the very necessity of staying alive. Others are forced on us by the circumstances of our lives or the people we live and work with. Some are things we have chosen voluntarily. For instance, if we have chosen to have children, then we have definitely taken on a whole load of things which the average parent has very little or no option about.

We have to do  the things we have no option about so often that they have become part of the landscape. Whether we feel like doing them or not, because we have no option we get on with them. We get on with them rain or sun, regardless of our feelings, regardless of how tired we are. They have to be done – we have no option.

This is very different to how we approach the things we do have an option about. We don’t have to do something like taking exercise, for example, so if we don’t happen to feel like doing it we take the day off exercise. There are a multitude of excuses we can come up with. And then we feel guilty or frustrated because we couldn’t keep up our exercising. If it’s not exercising then it will be something else that we meant to do, wanted to do, but because we had the option of not doing it, we didn’t keep it up.

The way to deal with this is to adopt the mental attitude that we have no option. We have no more option about it than we do about getting up or eating. Once we’ve adopted that mindset, we stand much more chance of continuing to carry out the desired action.

At the moment, I have given myself no option about writing three pages of journal daily. Ideally I do it first thing in the morning. That’s not always possible if I have to be up early to go to a conference or seminar. But I still give myself no option that the pages have to written sometime that day.

In my first book Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play I wrote about the benefits of journaling. I have always found that when I do it regularly the benefits are enormous. The problem of course is doing it regularly. As anyone who starts this sort of daily activity knows, it usually goes well for a week or so, then one day there is a “good reason” why it can’t get done, and then it’s all downhill from there on. Eventually it will tail off until nothing is happening. I certainly found that to be the case with journaling and, in spite of many attempts to get it going again, I seemed to be completely unable to do it for more than a week or so.

Then I discovered the “No Option” mindset. I would give myself no option about writing the journal. No let out. No possibility of not doing it. And suddenly I was filling notebook after notebook again – and reaping the benefits. I think I will write soon about what these benefits are – it’s been a long time since I wrote an article about the benefits of journaling and they are huge. But for the moment the point is that I have been able to keep to the journaling simply because I am giving myself no option about it. Whenever an excuse for not journaling comes into my mind I don’t give it any mind room. I just say “There’s no option about this”.

This morning I got up feeling really, really tired. It was one of those mornings when it was all I could do to move one leg in front of the other. I had overslept. There were loads of things I needed to get on with. My mind felt like cotton-wool. The temptation not to write those pages was huge. But I just said “There’s no option” and got on with it. Strangely enough once I’d started it wasn’t too bad. The words started flowing and my mind started to wake up.

The interesting thing is that having practised the “No Option” mindset on this one thing, I am finding that I am much less ready to accept excuses on other subjects as well. For instance this morning I also made myself do my physical exercises in spite of huge reluctance to do them.

Exercise:

What do you have in your life that would benefit from the “No Option” mindset? It should be something that you would benefit from doing seven days a week without fail. So it might be something like journaling, exercise, prayer or even something mundane like keeping your office tidy.

Select one thing and tell yourself that you have no option about doing it. Every time your mind finds an excuse for not doing it, tell yourself firmly that there is no option. If circumstances conspire to throw your day completely out, tell yourself again that there is no option about this one particular thing. There are no exceptions. No excuses.

Whatever you do, don’t start adding a huge list of things about which you “have no option”. Stick to one. You will find that the mindset will affect other things as well, but it’s best only to have the one thing which is formally “No Option”.

Let me know how you get on!

Wednesday
Sep272006

First Day!

First day of the new website - first day of the new blog!

Not that the website is in the least bit ready yet. I am in the process of transferring the text over from the old website. I won't go public yet for a while. The great advantage of SquareSpace is that it allows blog and website to co-exist. I must say that I am finding it extremely easy and intuitive.

This has all been an exercise in the stuff I've been talking about in my Reaching Your Goals articles. Identify where you want to be. Identify where you are. Start moving towards where you want to be. Keep monitoring where you've got to. That's just exactly what the process has been like. The second I started moving, things started falling into place. Of course I've come across obstacles and dead ends, but I have just got on with dealing with them as they arise. It's only taken a couple of  days to get this far.

Monday
Sep182006

Getting to Your Goals: Step Four

Have you ever launched out into a major new project and after a few weeks lost interest or motivation?

If so, it may well be that you forgot about Step 4.

Step 4 is monitoring your progress. It’s the dynamic equivalent of Step 2 (Knowing Where You Are). You don’t just need to know where you are when you begin to move towards your goal, you need to know where you are every step of the way.

To use the analogy of reading a map, you find where you want to be on the map, make sure you know where you are, and then move towards the destination, keeping track of your progress on the map. If you don’t keep track of your progress, you are likely to find yourself wandering around in circles.

Most people don’t monitor their progress anything like enough. I mentioned in my article on Step 2 my amazement that some people try to run their business off the half-year balance sheet. To run a successful business, you need to be able to put your fingers on up-to-date key figures all the time. It’s only by keeping track of the figures that you can identify when and where problems or opportunities are beginning to arise.

Whenever you start on a new goal, identify the key things that need to be tracked and decide how you are going to track them. Most of these key things will be numerical. How many hits on my website were there today? How much money have we raised for the Church Tower appeal so far? How many bookings have there been for the seminar? How many press- ups did I do this morning? What percentage has my investment portfolio risen by this year?

These figures mean little by themselves. But they mean a lot when they are shown in the context of the preceding figures, and even more when they are expressed in terms of the target.

Another secret of good monitoring is to present the tracking visually. Graphs make excellent visual tracking devices. So does colouring in squares for simpler projects. The essential thing is to be able to see immediately what your progress is all the time. Putting a chart on the wall and filling it in every day is a great motivator.

Exercise

Try out the motivating power of monitoring your progress for yourself. Select one of your projects which you have been making little progress on so far. Then think to yourself what you could monitor about it. Try and put this in numerical terms and work out how you can express it visually. Put up a chart on your wall or somewhere else you can see it all the time. And make sure you fill it in every day without fail!