Thursday, July 16, 2020

What is Project Coalesce?


When I was in my late teens, working for a very nice man, I got into a political discussion with him. He told me I should never talk to people about their politics, religion or how to raise kids. Fast forward to today, and we’re all now living in a world where we’re exploding at the seams because we’ve forgotten how to talk about those very topics in a constructive way.

Avoiding those topics and conversations is exactly how we got here.

When we’re in person with someone, we avoid those topics. Then we get on social media to talk about our “outrage” about what someone said or did. About our politicians and presidents. About our family members,friends and neighbors.

We’re all outraged all the time.

And we’re tearing apart the very fabric of our relationships and society.

We talk about partisanship as if it’s new, not realizing that what’s new is that we no longer know how to talk to someone we disagree with.

I’m tired of it...not outraged, just tired. I want to stop bickering and do something different. I want to learn to have better conversations.

And I don’t think I’m alone.

I want to bring all of us together on a private, moderated platform, where everyone knows they’re talking to an actual person. It where we learn how to have different conversations...better conversations so that we can become better with our family, friends and neighbors.

So that we can elevate the conversation at the local and national level.

That’s Project Coalesce.

Who’s with me?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Stretch Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Stretch Yourself

I’ve had a some of my readers and family members ask about my morning stretch routine after I referenced it in How to Avoid Burnouts While Working at Home. The routine I use is based on some yoga moves and standard stretches. I highly recommend some sort of routine to get the blood moving throughout your joints for anyone over the age of 30.

Mine lasts about 10 minutes and I do it 4 to 6 days a week. The variation is just based on how stiff I feel in the morning.

When I first started out, I did the hold-positional stretches for about 15 to 20s, gradually increasing them to 30 to 40s. Figure out what gets you loose and is comfortable to do. You're not shooting for overdoing it.
  • Starter: 20 to 30 deep breaths to help wake up and get lungs cleared for the day
  • Deep Squat hold
    • Arms stretched out in front of you, w/ your triceps resting on your knees
    • Calves touching the lower back of thighs (just above the knees)
    • Feet as narrow as you can get them without losing balance in the hold
    • I originally started out with a very wide stance and have worked to get my feet closer
    • Ideal is with both feet touching
    • Aim to feel your shins working to keep you from toppling, but not so much that you're barely able to keep balance
  • Bent Knee Triangle Pose (Hold left, then hold right):
  • Downward Dog
    • You want to shoot for getting your heels on the ground
    • This is especially helpful for Plantar Fasciitis that kicks in for me from time to time
  • Upward Dog
    • You may want to start with your knees on the ground at first
    • Aim for coming off of your knees
    • Don't let your shoulders shrug...get the head sticking up and out of your shoulders
    • Slow transition from Downward Dog to Upward Dog (don't hold, but do this 5 to 10 times)
    • This is to get blood flow to all of your major pivot joints in shoulders, hips and ankles
  • Supine Twist (Hold left, then hold right)
  • Pull Up Dead Hang (30s to 1 minute)
    • To relieve pressure on spine and hips, as well as stretch out chest and shoulder blades, while increasing shoulder mobility
    • Focus on passive shoulders
    • For the last 10s, imagine you're holding a roll of sock between your knees, and alternately pull one leg further down, then alternate (big thank to Ken M for suggesting this option)
    • I also sometimes take an extra 5 to 10s and do some mellow swinging scissors with my legs to use momentum and gravity to further pull my hips down
Be sure to experiment on your own to find what works best for you. When you do, email me with any new routine your follow.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

How to Avoid Burnouts While Working at Home


The COVID-19 Pandemic’s physical distancing has meant a lot of knowledge workers (people using a computer to get work done) have relocated to home or some other isolated location.

But how are you coping with the rapid shift? What are you doing to ensure you’re not overworking?

Some of you already know that I’ve spent the last 12 years working from home, with the last seven having homeschooled kids. It’s been a learning process and something that took time to figure out. I know some of you were thrown into this and have had to learn quickly.

I’m hoping I can help with sharing what’s worked for me to ensure I don’t work too much, while still getting a lot done and keeping sane.

I suppose that last point is arguable!

I’m sure you already know the importance of creating a routine (skilledatlife link). In the words of Aristotle, “Excellence is not an act, but a habit”. So, my routine is meant to create habits that create virtuous cycles (wikipedia link).

So, here’s an outline of my daily routine:
  1. Start the Day Right
  2. Do the Most Meaningful Work First
  3. Get Fit, then Get It Done
  4. Get Personal
Having this routine doesn’t mean I’m inflexible. If an urgent and important matter comes up, I take care of it. My goal for the routine is to get 20% of all activities done that are the most valuable, assuming that 20% gives me 80% of the benefits for achieving what I want (the Pareto Principle - Wikipedia link).

The key takeaway from the routine is that I’m not working back to back. I’ve intentionally even added 5 to 10 minute breaks between each segment of work (40 to 50 minute blocks). The day has physical activities interspersed with mental ones to not only refresh, but give myself time to digest information.

Below’s the breakdown of the routine.

Start the Day Right

Tim Ferriss (link to his blog) of The 4-Hour Work Week (Amazon link) has a great line about having a rough morning and feeling the weight of all that you need to get done: “Sometimes, you think you have to figure out your life’s purpose, but you really just need some macadamia nuts and a cold f%#?ing shower.”

My mornings typically start at around 7 or 7:30 AM. After washing up, I start out a morning ritual of sorts:
  1. Take Care of Pets: Walk down to let out the dogs and feed the cat (if someone else hasn’t done it already)
  2. Hydrate & Start the tea kettle: Get a tall glass of water to hydrate. I don’t start caffeine until later in the morning. When I do, a good Early Grey, a dash of cardamom mixed in with some Pu-erh tea (webmd link) does the trick (read about possible benefits of Pu-erh tea - healthline link). To get that going, I start the tea kettle.
  3. Breathe: 20 to 30 deep breaths using my diaphragm to fully expel out the air, preferably outside, but really anywhere. This is to ensure I’m fully awake and the lungs have cleared up, giving me sufficient oxygen to think clearly. Such exercises could also strengthen your lungs to be better prepared to fight COVID-19 (webmd link).
  4. Brew Tea: The water is boiling by this point and I pour it over the tea pot with the loose-leaf tea.
  5. Get in a Good Stretch: As I’m stepping into my 50’s, I’ve noticed I’m more rickety and take a bit longer to get going. I do a 5-minute morning stretch that’s a combination of different yoga poses. They open up the cramped joints and muscles, as well as help me with continuing my breathing exercise from earlier.
  6. Move to the Office: I pour a cup of tea and move to my office to continue my morning warm up.
  7. Give Gratitude & Think Ahead: I spend 2 to 3 minutes thinking about and truly feeling how grateful I am for three things. They could be as simple as how good the tea smells, or as mundane as having a roof over my head, or as profound as how much humanity has moved forward in the last 200 years.

    Next, I spend 2 to 3 minutes thinking about the top 3 things I want to get done today. These are the tasks that are meant to get me closer to my goals. Everything else is secondary and can wait. I think through what I need to do to get each one done and what I would gain once I get each done. 
That may sound like a lot, but it usually takes me about 20 to 25 minutes to get everything above done.

Do Your Most Meaningful Work First

I don’t typically take morning meetings unless it’s with someone from a different part of the world and the meeting fits in with my top 3 things I need to get done today.

My mornings are reserved for taking advantage of my highest level of energy, clarity and creativity. You’ll want to time your creativity based on your own circadian cycle (Wikipedia link). It’s part “priming the pump”, part feeding the brain and part creating something. I use blocks of time for each, in between which I take 5 to 10 minutes to grab a cup of tea or a glass of water and do something physical like pull ups or push ups. This 5 to 10 minute break gives me space to let things settle.
  1. Journal - 20 minutes
    I’m a high order and planner type. So, I like to start with writing in my digital journal. This is partly to help me focus on my goals, and partly to rant. I typically read a few axioms I’ve written or pick a quote from my list of favorite quotes and really think about what it means for a few minutes.

    Next, I rewrite my 6 goals of the year. I end up writing these using slightly different wording each time, but the purpose is to remind myself what I’m after.

    I then write what activities I’m doing today to get me closer to each goal.

    Last, I write 5 to 10 ideas about blog topics, politics, random thoughts, products, or services. Most of these are garbage, but I know it’s important to keep the creative juices flowing. When I can’t come up with anything, I take two things that don’t belong together and bring them together. How about a coffee maker that uses the coffee grind to massage your feet? Good idea? Maybe not, but I put two things together that didn’t belong. I’ve moved a little bit beyond conventional.
  2. Read - 40 to 50 minutes
    Reading is how I seed for new ideas or approaches. There are way too many books out there to read them all. I choose books both in and, mostly, outside of my area of expertise to help me get ideas I can apply to work and personal life.

    I read and take notes of anything useful or to question and posit about what the author’s suggesting. I’m not reading just to read. The notetaking and commenting in the book makes me engage with it and be active in the process. By the way, even if you’ve been reading all of your life, you’ll get something from learning How to Read a Book (Amazon link).
  3. Complete Goal-Focused Activity(ies) - 120 to 150 minutes
    This is the creative part of my day. It’s time to put all that’s been brewing in my head and get done the most important activities of the day. Whether it’s writing a blog post, developing a new software solution design for a client, writing a proposal, working on marketing or sales, this is when I get it done. I still break this time up into 40 to 50-minute blocks, unless I’m in the zone (Wikipedia link) and just want to keep going. 

Get Fit, Then Get It Done

  1. Get Fit: Gym + First Meal - 70 to 90 minutes
    I’m not a fan of gym work at the end of the day and I prefer to use the core of my morning on my most important work. I also like the kick of energy I get from a midday workout combined with my first meal by about 1 or 2 PM.

    Once done with the workout, I take 20 to 30 minute to enjoy my shake or meal. I then grab a decaf green and passion herbal tea and head back to my desk.
  2. Answer Emails - 30 to 50 minutes
    I use emails purely for activities that don’t require immediate feedback. If I need a faster answer, contact, or action from someone, I call or text. For immediate responses, nothing replaces a phone call. During my email time, I’m reading and responding to emails. I aim to touch an email once. I either respond, delete or create a new email. I may chek emails again a bit later.
  3. Take Meetings / Answer Forum Questions / Sharpen the Saw - 90 to 120 minutes
    I schedule most of my meetings for the afternoon. The exception is what I mentioned earlier: when people are in a different time zone and our time difference is too great to accommodate an afternoon meeting.

    I also use this time to answer questions on various Product Forums, LinkedIn Groups/Messages, or attend a presentation/lecture.
  4. Read Blogs, Saved Articles, News - 30 to 50 minutes
    I’m at the end of my work day by this point at about 4:30 to 5:30 PM. So, I spend some time reading blogs, saved articles or news highlights. My rule of thumb for most news articles is that if the article heading fits with my goals, I read it. The exception is when there’s something that has an immediate impact. 

Get Personal

  1. Do Some House Chores - 40 to 50 minutes
    It’s time to help with the family. I may help clean the house, go out for groceries, do minor repairs around the house or take care of the yard.
  2. Walk the Dogs - 30 to 40 minutes
    This can be just me and the dogs or a walk with the family. Both are peaceful and intended to set the stage for the rest of the night. The key is to avoid scheduling calls or checking my phone for anything. The focus is on nature and being with the dogs and/or family.
  3. Close the Day with Family - 120 to 180 minutes
    I’ve spent most of the day at work and the next two to three hours are dedicated to helping out with dinner, talking with family, enjoying a meal together, playing a game and helping the kids get ready for bed. Lately, that’s meant we retire in the kids’ bedrooms and each of us reads our own books.

    I try to avoid work at the end of the day. I make an exception to this if I’ve fallen behind in what needs to be done during the day. That would have to be an exceptional case when I have to get a project or presentation shipped.

  4. Write a Problem to Solve & Read - 20 to 30 minutes
    If I’ve been struggling with a personal, professional or customer problem, I physically write it in my paper-journal and think for a few minutes about it. The step is intended to get the subconscious to think about the problem while I sleep (themuse link).

    Finally, I spent about 20 minutes reading a book to relax and fall asleep.
That’s the whole day.

You’ll want to experiment with this ot find other activities that best fit your needs and personality type (themuse link).

Thursday, April 16, 2020

You, the Startup Founder, are the Engine of Recovery



COVID-19 has affected people in different ways.  Some are working from home, and many, tens of millions, are jobless in the US. 

So, what can you do, whether you’re jobless or want to help those who are?

You may find this the perfect time to start your own business or freelance work, especially if you have an inkling of where the economy may be going and some ideas on what people may want.

Here’s what I told my buddy who’s got some ideas and wants to start his own company:

First, anyone considering starting their own business should start with a live and kicking demand or request.

In other words, do you have customers already lined up to buy your services?  If you do, you've already found your first customers you can build on. 

If you don’t, work on nailing those before you decide to start and certainly before you leave your job.  This is important since you'll know what services people are willing to pay you for. 

If you’re out of work and want to see if your idea is going to take, pitch the idea to someone and see if they’ll buy.  Spend some time thinking about what you would sell and what the value would be, but don’t think too much.  There’s nothing more valuable than just pitching the idea, getting feedback in the way of a paying customer or someone who says your idea sucks because of X.  If they say you need to fix X, then go back and come up with how you’d fix it, then pitch it again.  Do this like an experiment until you find your first paying customers.  Then go and build it with that paying customer’s money.

Second, realize that you will have to either do many things that are done by people in your company or hire out for those services.  If you want to run operations only, that means you either have to buckle down and do the sales as well or hire someone to do it.  The same goes for finance, taxes, legal matters, HR, delivery and everything else. 

As an employee you have a huge support structure that includes your company's soft/hard assets and team members.  You lose all of that when you go on your own.

Third, if you're going to do it, you have to commit to 3 to 5 years of experimenting to figure out how to run your instance of your company to get to success, whatever "success" means for you.  You may make little to no profit those first 3 to 5 years, which is usually the result of constant experimentation to figure things out.

Fourth note goes hand in hand with the previous one.  You should have some financial reserves or a way of getting cash for your personal expenses and running your business.  You may have savings, investment accounts or money you borrow from early Angel Investors (think your family and friends).

If you don’t have access to any cash, then find a way of getting some by selling something smaller right now that people want?  How about sewing and selling some COVID-19 masks?

You need to have enough to sustain you and it needs to be barely enough to make ends meet.  Anything more and you're wasting it. For this reason, I actually recommend against any borrowed money or investors when you start.  You want the pressure of knowing you have to find creative solutions rather than just throw money at it.

Last, expect lots of ups and downs, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially.  This is why so many people say you must love what you do to go out and do it on your own.  If you don't, the lows will overwhelm and crush you.  You must know that the work will be a very fast and furious roller coaster ride. Nevertheless, in the words of Bill Hicks, you must also remember that it's just a ride.

I'm not trying to say there are no good times, only that starting your own business or freelance work is not easy.

It has its rewards in that you get to figure out when you want to work, how much you make, and where you decide to spend your time.  All of that means you'll BE your business more so than as an employee.  You'll live and breathe it at every moment and you must love doing it so that you can enjoy it all the time.

Now.  Go out there and make your ideas come to life, because our economy, all of us, our society NEEDS new ideas and people who have a vision of where we’re going and the will to take us there.

Work your ass off and make it happen.

After all, it’s not the government or big companies that employ the majority of the people.  They don’t have the biggest effect on the unemployed.  You, the startup founder, the small business owner who has an idea that lasts...YOU are the engine of our economy and recovery!



Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Just Breathe


The morning started out gloomy.

The sky was overcast and I awoke to sounds of coughing. The twins were still sick from the flu, but our girl’s coughing was getting worse. Our pediatrician had seen her on Monday and recommended we give her antibiotics only if her fever kept up, and her running nose got worse.

Mom was worried. Our girl’s temperature hadn’t peaked too many times, but it was consistently higher than normal. Mom asked me to pick up the antibiotics. I trusted her. She’s not only a concerned mom, but a Clinical Pharmacist at the local hospital. She works at the Pediatrics unit often and knows when to make decisions that could improve health or save lives for the little ones.

We called the pharmacy. No answer.

We figured with everyone stocking up on medicine, given the COVID-19 spread, the pharmacy must be busy. It made more sense just to go, place the order and wait to pick it up.

That was it. That’s what I had to do.

The drive to the pharmacy was uneventful, except the large number of cars in the parking lot. It WAS busy.

Yeah, everyone’s getting ready for entrenchment.

Then it occurred to me, “Oh yeah, I’m supposed to look more closely, listen, hear conversations, or start one. Gotta get some material for the class.”

Hmmm. How do I do that when everyone’s so focused on stocking up for their social distancing? How can I be the jovial dude?

“It ain’t gonna happen” is all I could think.

I figured I have to wait for the prescription anyway. So, why not just hang and listen. Easy enough. I can do that. It’ll be meditative, entertaining, maybe even instructive.

So, I walked in, past all the folks paying up front, and wow. There was a long line.

As I walk past each aisle to get to the back and place the order, I keep hearing a similar question, though may be in a different form, “Excuse me! Do you have any hand sanitizer…Lysol wipes…face masks left? There’s nothing on the shelf.”

But it’s not just the questions. It’s the tone, the rustle of the feet, the strenuous, controlled, palpable fear in their voices. It’s the placid smiles, and pursed lips. It’s the hyper-focused attention to what’s on each aisle. It’s the laughter of the 20-something who’s stocking the shelves, saying to someone, I don’t know who, “it’s been like this all week. People are NUTS!”

I can see how the herd mentality, the intensity, can be viral. I don’t just hear the voices. I hear my own heartbeat. The rhythm tells me what’s really going on.

Pa-plup…Pa-plub.


Slow at first, then picking up pace as I hear the silver haired lady, rubber gloves in hand, holding a phone to her ear, pushing the cart filled with house cleaners, “It’ll probably pass, but we don’t know when…aha…aha…no, we don’t know.”

Pa-plup, Pa-plub, Pa-plup, Pa-plup, Pa-plup.

I take a few deep breaths, thinking, “Let’s focus on the breath…just the breath. How it feels on the mustache, just going in…and out…in…and out…in…”

I take my steps intentionally, slowly, approach the counter and place the order.

“It’ll be 20 minutes,” the pharmacist tells me.

“You guys are busy, huh?” was my way of letting out some of that nervous energy.

“Yeah. No joke!” And I don’t think she was amused. She’s probably heard that same line all week.

I step back and look at the white tiles. I give my focus back to my breathing and think, “It’s fine. The herd’s rustling. I don’t have to.”

It doesn’t take long since mom apparently got through to the pharmacist while I was driving. I pickup the order and take a couple of pumps from the hand sanitizer. Yeah. I gotta do that.

As I walk out, I feel like a fog lifts with the breeze blowing outside. There are still a lot of folks parking and coming in, but the sounds, the whispers, the rustling stops.

The clouds had broken a bit too and I felt the warm sun beating away the chill of the breeze.

It’ll be fine. We’ll make it through, if we just breathe…in…and out…in…and out…in…