Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Not so easy after all...

I have a saying that works for me when it comes to motivation:

Be merciless with yourself.

It sounds like a harsh concept. After all, we spend our formative years being told to love ourselves, that we're perfect just the way we are. We go to great lengths to avoid the kind of self-criticism that can lead to all kinds of disorders.

Yet for me it works. It works because I start from a position of self-confidence. I know I have nothing to prove to anyone else, and that regardless of my physical activity level I'm loved by those who matter most.

But I also learned (thanks to my study of music) that you never get better by practicing what you're already good at. So for me, when it comes to reaching my goals, I practice what I consider to be a healthy level of mercilessness.

I make myself accountable to myself, and yes, I beat myself up a little. If I disappoint myself in the process, too bad.

And I can do this because I don't set unachievable goals. If the goals are within reach and I don't achieve them, it's really only my own laziness to blame.

I don't recommend this practice for everyone. If you're less than confident to begin with, you could make yourself truly depressed. And I wouldn't want that. I'd prefer you feel proud that you did something today that moves you toward your goals.

Case In Point

For some reason I hardly slept at all Monday night. Tuesday I had a meeting an hour away. Tuesday is also garbage day, and happened to be picture day at school.

It was also leg day.

Something had to give in this scenario, and unfortunately it was the workout. There was just no way, in my state of exhaustion, I would be able to do a good workout and still have time to get everything else taken care of.

So where's the lack of mercy? Well, funny story...

When I'm overtired, as I was heading to bed last night, I tend not to sleep well. So guess who woke up at 3:30 this morning.

Yup. Me.

So what did I do? Well, at first I tried to get back to sleep, but that was a bust. Instead I used the time as a gift. I watched a webinar replay I'd missed from the day before. Then I got up at 4, took my pre-workout, and banged out my leg day at 4:30.

That, folks, is merciless.

Now, as to why I did that, it's pretty simple. Wednesday is set up for back, and Thursday for core. Legs, however, are extremely metabolically active. If you have one set you should do, it's legs.

My plan is to double up a workout day. But my weakness has always been grip. So rather than do squats today then try to do pull ups, I know I'm better doing those with the core stuff tomorrow. Core exercises don't use a lot of grip so I won't be lacking power for the extra weights.

In any case, I have to say being done before I would normally wake up takes a certain amount of gutting it out. But the important thing is that it got done. I could have spent the morning in bed.

Instead, I beat myself up, hauled my ass out, and got something done. And that's the key. Being merciless doesn’t mean being mean. It doesn't mean being degrading or self-deprecating. It means being forceful and determined, and not allowing yourself to sit comfortably and make excuses.

Because change doesn't happen while you're lying there thinking about it. It happens when you get up and command it to happen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

OK, let's get started...

5:30 a.m.. Monday, September 29.

That's the start of my 21-day personal productivity challenge.

Three weeks doesn't sound like much, but when you're looking at life-changing strategies it can be daunting. Especially at 5:30 in the morning.

The first step is always the hardest, but when you're motivated -- I mean really motivated -- to get back in shape and get all your important business taken care of, you just swallow that difficulty and get to work.

This first morning should prove interesting. I actually woke up fairly energetic, and I think that's part of the excitement of a new program. But it's not starting from the best place...

If you've been following my journey over the last couple of years, you'll know I've been losing weight fairly consistently. Back in the spring, I made a big leap forward by hiring a fairly high profile trainer, and got down to my lowest weight and size yet: 179 lbs. and a 34.5 inch waist.

Tendonitis in my shoulders made it difficult to continue training at that level, however, and I had to take a little time off. As it turns out, adding carbs back into my diet also started reversing my weight loss, so my training reached a set-point plateau (a point where I stopped losing weight). This had the effect of adding weight instead of continuing to take it off.

My trainer recommended gradually adding carbs and calories back into my diet in order to get used to metabolising them again. But with the shoulder pain, the level of workout required hasn't been possible. As a result, my weight is back up over 190. That's not a great place to start.

But there's good news: with the new program starting right now at a higher starting point in the diet, I should be able to reset my system fairly quickly. So, three weeks of this current program ought to get me back on track. After this starting point, no more plateau, and any calorie cuts will count for more reduction than if I just continued at a low-cal, low-carb level.

And even if it doesn't show any straight forward results, three weeks of conditioning will still be a great point to get launched. And I still have the perfect program for rapid weight loss. So, it's time to get started. Here goes nothing!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

21-Day Productivity Challenge Starts Monday

It's about that time of year again, when I start looking at how I've done so far and what I need to work on for the last quarter.

Holy crap...the last quarter starts next week!!

Better get a move on then...

This year, I'm setting myself a 21-day productivity challenge. This challenge is based on a number of useful resources, including Eben Pagan's "Wake Up Productive," Craig Ballantyne's "Transformation Challenge," and a few odds and ends that have floated across my desk in recent years.

The objective: 3 solid weeks of life-changing rituals and habits designed to produce work, learning, and health each and every day. From the Transformation side of things, you could look at this as "healthy, wealthy, and wise" habits.

I actually do have my own version of this, which forms a sort of introductory chapter to my "Man Under Construction" training program. We'll talk about that later. That version, however, is for complete beginners. For me, the objective for the twenty-one days is consistency in action, and effectiveness in production.

I've started looking at life from a unique perspective lately, beginning with job hunting. I'm not job hunting at the moment, however that process led to the business I currently run, and as a result I firmly believe it will be my most productive and successful venture to date. The reason it worked is this: I started looking at my life and career as a business.

What do businesses do? They trade a product or service for money. They analyse their position in the market compared to others in the same industry. They do marketing. They do sales. They have assets and they have expenses. In this sense, aren't we all essentially businesses? By taking what was my resume and running through the filter of an actual business plan, I was able to find weaknesses, correct them, and deliver a marketing message that landed me the kind of work I was looking for...only I did it with multiple "clients" rather than a single "job." And thus, a business was born.

That's a whole info product in itself.

The point is, after this challenge, I'll be looking to take a Lean approach to my "business" model. Lean and Six Sigma are based on concepts of maximizing efficiency while eliminating waste from production processes. I think in the process of becoming more effective at the business of "You, Inc.," (as I'm calling it), this kind of analysis is crucial to being your most effective.

I know life isn't all about productivity. But being productive frees up your free time so you have less mental clutter and, frankly, more time to yourself.

So, that's what's on the horizon. But what's the challenge?

Right...Here we go:

The 21-Day Personal Productivity Challenge

First, some rules.

1. Be realistic. Don't set as a goal for 21 days "mastering a complete Beethoven Concerto" or "becoming fluent in five Asian languages." It's not going to happen.

2. Be consistent. Make sure what you do is something tolerable enough that you can actually do it.

3. Be merciless. I love this one. Basically, don't allow yourself to deviate from your plan. And above all do NOT allow others to pull you off of your plan either. You're the master of your domain here, not them.

Alrighty that that's out of the way, here's the scoop (at least for my own challenge):

Every morning, up at 5:30. That means going to bed early. that too. (OK, I'll push some of these to 7 on the weekends).

This exact ritual:

5:30-6:00: pre-workout supplements, review daily tasks, and write a blog post. I have three blogs of my own that I write for with varying degrees of consistency, and I need to do better. Half an hour is more than enough time to bang out a text-based post for at least one of them (or for one of the several commercial blogs I also write long as writing gets done).

6:00: Workout. My schedule for October actually has me on a split routine strength training schedule. That means Monday is chest, Tuesday is legs, Wednesday is back and shoulders, Thursday is core and cardio (burst), and Friday is arms. Saturday is open, cardio or brisk walking, or just playing outside. This should take an hour, which means...

7:00: Post-Workout Supplements, hygiene, pack lunch, throw the kid in the shower. Hygiene is its very own ritual, but consists of all things cleanliness-related. I have my own schedule and routine that I like to stick to, and some of these are things that are spread out on a weekly basis (no, really...check it out:

There has to be an hour for this, because on days when my daughter washes her hair (Monday and Thursday), we go at it with the blow dryer. That takes time.

8:00: Walk. This is walking my daughter to school, and walking myself back. When there's no school, I walk myself to school and back.

8:30: Home, breakfast, first important task of the day. This is extremely important, because in order to be fully productive you can NOT let your most important task of the day wait until you get around to it. By then you're distracted, tired, and probably not all that interested. Get it DONE early.

Now things get taken up on a day-to-day basis, as the actual things that need doing will vary. I have key clients who get more of my time each week, and other clients who take less. This is reviewed at the end of the day.

12:00: Lunch. Sometimes I sneak a nap in here as well...30 minutes MAX.

12:30: Afternoon tasks start up. These will also vary during the day, but in general I put client tasks in the morning and my own business tasks in the afternoon. This includes my own blogging and social media activities, marketing, and meeting prospective new clients. It's also when I study units from whatever course I happen to be taking at the time. In October, that will be three days a week of investing, and three days a week of public speaking.

2:00: Mobility Break. Sounds odd, but I have found it extremely helpful to take some time out in the afternoon to refresh myself with some movement. Torment of choice: TACFIT Commando. These I do with the express purpose of staying limber and loose. I don't focus on this as an exercise sequence for fat loss or muscle building -- that's what my workouts are for.

2:30: Refresh. That's a shower, if I really need one.

3:00: Back to Work. This is meant to complete the day's assigned tasks. If everything is done by this point, the day is over and the rest of it is mine. For this challenge, I won't be jumping ahead to the next day's tasks.

5:00: Walk. If the weather is decent, I'll walk down to my daughter's daycare and we'll walk back together, sometimes with her riding her bike.

5:30: Supper, then dishes.

6:00: Family time until bed. This includes chores on a routine basis, but nothing too extreme (because it's CONSISTENT, it's never a total nightmare). For my house, that means cleaning kitchen on Monday (because Tuesday is garbage day!), kid's room on Tuesday, living room and dining room on Wednesday, bathroom on Thursday, and my room on Friday. I do laundry on Saturdays and get the meal planning and groceries done on Sunday (those weekend chores are more flexible, of course, and sometimes get done during the week when there's a little extra time).

Don't be afraid to get help. My daughter, though only 6, loves to dust, and has taken it upon herself to clean the litter box and feed the cat. She's also a good helper in the kitchen and helps make her own lunch.

8:00: Kid's bedtime.

8:30: Write out tomorrow's tasks. Make a gratitude note. Watch something on YouTube to let myself blank out for a while.

9:00: The single most important phone call of my day (to my girlfriend, of course) to say goodnight. This is also when I get my supplements lined up for the morning.

10:00: My bedtime.

Sounds simple and productive enough, right? And if it sounds like it's too much of a "routine," you're absolutely right. That is the point. The point is to get out of this idea that every day should be totally random and you can just ride the wave. That might work in the short term, but for the long haul you're asking for trouble, especially if you run your own business like I do.

The daily tasks that I assign myself (and, often enough, my team) have to do with routines that also deliver consistency to my customers. For example, one client in the telecom field has daily updates of special rates for different regions. I tweet these at the same time each day. They also have a blog which posts consistently at the same time each day, so I do my best to get all my likes and shares for those posts up before 9 a.m., giving the post time to spread in popularity.

I'll be journaling a bit more of this ritual as I go through it, so you're welcome to follow along. I just wanted to put this out there for the general purpose of getting it down. I'm sure it will be a work in progress, but I have worked this fairly well before and it's been a great experience. I hope to turn it into a significant part of my coaching platform down the road, so if you do put it to use, please do comment and give your feedback below. I'd love to hear what is and isn't working for you.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Fathers Day 2014

How my morning went:

5:55 "Good morning Daddy!! Happy Fathers Day!!!"


"Here's your present!" (Dad key chain and a...chocolate piano!!) "I'm going to make you breakfast in bed!"

"Awesome! What are you going to make?"

"I'll start with coffee..." (5 minutes later) "ok, I don't exactly know how to make coffee. Can you make me an egg?"

"lol sure..."

(after egg) "Thanks! You can go back to bed for a little while. I'll get you breakfast in bed!"

"Ummm...thanks sweetie. What are you making?"

"Well...I can certainly get you a cheese string!"

"lol perfect."

Friday, June 13, 2014

"OMG! We're screwed!!" ...or possibly not

The results are in, and Ontario has elected a Liberal majority government. Even Conservative strongholds like Peterborough and Northumberland County have tilted to the left. And unsurprisingly, the Facebook reactions are hilariously hysterical:

[the election results] SUCK.. dark days ahead. Everyone that voted them in should be moved to a special town...far, far away.

Shocking. Truly.

It's good to see that ignorance and stupidity are still alive and well in the province of Ontario.

Were [sic] screwed!!! Whoever had the bright idea to vote in liberal [sic] should seriously give their head a shake!!!! Hope you enjoy the next terrible 4 yrs because of a dumb descion [sic] you made!!!

Thoroughly disappointed in Ontario tonight. Everyone who voted Liberal should hang their heads low, real real low and stand over in the corner for the next four years while Ontario gets screwed without even the courtesy of having dinner first.

These are courtesy of the STAR 93.3 Facebook feed, which of course covers those two ridings I just mentioned.

I suppose the obvious first question I have is, "screwed in what way?" In other words, how exactly is this going to affect your day-to-day life?

The answer is, it probably won't.

The poison being spewed seems to be coming from annoyed PC voters who are unhappy with the overspending and perceived corruption of the Wynne government. And while I will grant that is hasn't been the most fiscally responsible government, the degree to which Ontarians will be "screwed" is pretty slight.

My observation over the last few elections is that people vote on party loyalty, not on reason. So these PC supporters are panicking not because there's a Liberal government, but because their candidate didn't win. However, there's no reasonable way to argue that this election will result in people getting screwed. There's actually no difference between today and yesterday.

What I'm more concerned about is that it's a majority government, and majorities are not to be trusted. They can legislate with impunity, and regardless of where on the political spectrum they sit, this is not a good thing. Although I voted with my conscience this time (Green), I believe the best move for Ontario would have been a Conservative minority. A careful examination of the books is in order, but a solid opposition to unchecked slash-and-burn public sector economics would be a decent balance for the province moving forward.

That didn't happen.

Conservatives Don't Conserve Either

But here's the thing: "Conservative" doesn't equate to "fiscally responsible" either. All governments spend money. The distinction is where they spend it. And if history is any indicator, Conservative governments are not better at saving money; nor, for that matter, do their policies result in improvements for the average voter.

For example, in the federal arena, the Harper government has taken Canada from a Liberal legacy of surplus to the deepest debt and deficit levels in the history of the country. They did this by investing tax dollars and debt into military and law enforcement development projects (all generally deemed unnecessary), corporate benefits (to companies that have since either closed down or left the country), and resource development.

The last one might be a good thing for employment. That remains to be seen. However, it has moved our international reputation as a leader in environmental policy into the gutter. And we have witnessed widespread censorship of scientific research that stands in the way of that resource development. Industry or nothing -- again, majority government.

There are a lot of things I don't like about the federal CPC majority. But we're only looking at "screwed" today.

Tax Cuts Come From Somewhere

The usual line in provincial politics is drawn on benefits vs. income tax. Conservatives in Ontario like to push for income tax cuts as a raw attractor of the average citizen.

However, twenty years ago that line was foisted on Ontarians, who were tired of paying the price for the Rae NDP's unchecked spending. The Harris Conservatives were elected on a platform of tax cuts for Ontarians.

The results were, in my opinion, disastrous.

First, the income tax at the provincial level is laughably small compared to federal taxes. So a cut to this tax for the average Ontarian is often a matter of pennies. It's tiny. And the purported "savings" to taxpayers is so negligible that most hardly even noticed it.

However, the cumulative effect of those tax cuts means a significant loss of revenue for the province. Those losses have to be made up somewhere, and in the case of the Harris government that came in the form of essential services.

  • 75,000 nurses were fired, leading to some of the longest hospital wait times in the country
  • Benefits were slashed, leading to a massive wave of poverty and underemployment (including a sharp increase in homeless rates)
  • Arts programs were cut, driving an otherwise thriving performance industry into chaos (and laying off thousands of workers)
  • Government maintenance crews were eliminated, requiring private contractors to handle things like road work. This drove the cost of road work through the roof, which is why highways in Ontario are in such poor shape...we can't afford to fix all of them.
  • Many essential services were offloaded to municipalities, which had neither the infrastructure nor the budgets to deal with them. Municipal taxes had to be raised to compensate.
  • Other essential services were privatized, leading to the retirement of Ontario Hydro (for which we still see a "debt retirement charge" on our monthly utility bill). Service Ontario came into being, which isn't a government agency, but a private company. Charges for SO services are actually higher than the province would have charged, simply because it's a private company.

The list does go on of course, and the Harris legacy hasn't been forgotten either. Did these increases in privatized costs save the taxpayer money? fact, those costs increased the amount of your hard-earned money you have to spend on services. The tax cut, in light of this, is laughable.

It could have been worse last night. The Hudak plan was, after all, to cut 100,000 government jobs and reduce the school week to four days. How disastrous would that have been to the economy, and to education?

The point I'm making is that Conservatives are no better at balancing the books than anyone else, and having a Liberal government doesn't "screw" anyone any worse than a PC government would. Or has.

The spending doesn't disappear. It just gets reallocated to where the ruling party decides it will do the most good (or the least damage). For the left, that tends to be social welfare, medicine and education. For the right, it tends to be corporate welfare and not much else. We do know that the idea of a "trickle down" economy doesn't work, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have an overall benefit. Either way, "screwed" under a Liberal government probably means you'll see an improvement in provincial services and higher wages overall.

More debt for the province? Probably. But that won't bite into your paycheque or cause your TV to go blank, so stop panicking.

Anyone But Them!

This idea in Canadian politics that anyone is better than the current government is decidedly puerile and nonsensical. Everyone will have a complaint about the current status quo, and they should. After all, these are public representatives and they're playing with your money.

But to say you'd vote Conservative simply because it's not Liberal is silliness in the extreme. It's come out of a new rationale that is anything but rational. Divided lines not on the basis of discourse, but on the basis of "belief" systems, is one of the most dangerous forms of political decision making you can have.

Our system was developed on an understanding based on a common ground of reason and intellect. You present a point with supporting evidence, and those who are not convinced execute a straightforward counterpoint. Yes, it could get heated, but it was still built on respect and reason.

Today's political environment has declined into an us-vs-them approach that I find repugnant. I wouldn't vote Liberal simply because it's not PC. That's stupid. Do the parties have platforms? Where do they stand on issues that affect not just me, but the population at large.

You see it in conversation all the time: "I'm not voting for them! They want to tax me more to pay for some lazy bum who refuses to work!" ...until this person is unemployed of course, then it's, "I can't believe they cut my EI benefits! This government sucks and I'm getting screwed."

Yup. You're screwed, you lazy bum. Get back to work.

So much focus on what the collective I can get from the government, as opposed to what's going to benefit the greatest number of citizens. Hell, I work hard, and I've been unemployed, and I've been declined for both EI and OW (welfare), because it's based on last year's tax return, not on how hungry you are right now. Not cool.

Is that the Liberals? Is it the previous PC government? It doesn't matter. All I know is I had bills to pay.

But when people start in with the "anyone but them" mentality, I cringe. It's demagogues influencing the uninformed and untrained with doctrine rather than dialogue. Logic and sense have gone out the window. And when it happens, we see the kind of hysteria that's had me shaking my head all morning over this election.

I'll tell you this: If it were a Liberal minority, nothing would ever get done, because the PC opposition would vote down every motion put on the floor, simply because it's tabled by a Liberal. That's what they do. If it were a PC minority, I don't doubt the same thing would happen with more controversial legislation, but at least Liberal oppositions have a tendency (not a record, mind you) of weighing the evidence. An NDP minority would never get anywhere, because they'd be stopped every time they stood up by a forceful Liberal or PC opposition, both of whom like to pretend they're the big dogs at the table.

But a majority, even a Liberal one, has pitfalls. We've seen it with the draconian and dictatorial leadership at the national level from both parties.

I'm very sad and scared about the fate of Ontario. Ontario used to be a glorious thriving province. Maybe move out of Ontario...

Not sure when this golden age was, but if we're talking about any time under Rae-Harris-Wynn, you might want to pack your bags. Three consecutive changes of political spectrum, and not one of those parties seems to have done anything anyone is happy about.

We need a new politics in this country, and we need it to start in the education system. Assuming we don't see cuts to that too.