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Four Things I did To 3x My Productivity And Have More Free Time

I had the great fortune to not work for all of 2017. I was able to take time to disconnect and eventually, relax. What was interesting, was that it took four months for the phrenetic energy in my head to slow down so I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be doing something else.

By month five, the guilt I felt for picking my daughter up from school earlier than in past years, at 3:30 instead of 5:00, dissipated.

By month eight I was in love with not rushing all the time and being able to investigate what really fascinated me. It was at this point I committed to never rush again. I drew up a plan of how I could make this idea of not rushing a reality.

The challenge with simply implementing a not rushing policy is you might not accomplish a lot. I still wanted to make shit happen, I just didn’t want to feel like my pants were on fire all the time. I set out to create a strategy where I could get more done than the average person every week, while working fewer hours.

Here are the four things I’ve put in place to ensure I don’t ever feel rushed again.

Here are the four things I’ve put in place to ensure I don’t ever feel rushed again.

1. Scheduling The Non-Negotiables

There is a finite number of hours in each week, that, I’m sure does not come as a surprise to you. The problem is we don’t put enough thought into determining what are the right things we should be doing during those limited hours, then prioritizing those things with zero negotiation around execution.

Let me explain further.

The first thing I did was open my calendar and fill the non-negotiable slots.

Family time – there is no getting around the childcare, the driving to and from school, the after school activities etc.

The Winslowe times get slotted first along with weekly family meals such as Tantalizing Tuesdays where Winslowe and I cook for Meg.

Next up from a priority stand point is health. I’m a firm believer in what gets scheduled gets accomplished so all my fitness goes into my calendar next.

With the non-negotiables in place I started to think about how I would spend my time working on Vegan Labs and my passion project, The Veginning Magainze. I realized that before I started slotting in work time I had to think about what had stood in my way previously, why did I always feel rushed and why did I always feel the list of things to do was insurmountable? That’s where number two comes in

2. Concentration – Shutting Down Channels That Distract Me

In order to determine what matters I examined first what didn’t matter and in turn I labeled these things distractions. It was essential to be able to concentrate for long periods of time without distraction in order to reach my goal of doing more in less time.

Email doesn’t matter, it’s a tool that I consciously chose to own. Whereas in the past it had owned me. Whether a browser tab or an application, it does not need to be open all the time. A simple concept right? But one that takes guts to implement.  When I do have my email open and I don’t want to be distracted, I use Boomerang to pause my inbox  so I can still send messages and search, but not receive.

Facebook and social media doesn’t matter. There are thousands of engineers  working in Silicon Valley  that work to convince me that it does matter by creating addictive features. But I had an honest conversation with myself on whether it was useful or not useful and that resulted in Facebook being removed from my phone and using Freedom App to block all social media from 8am-8pm.

Missing out doesn’t matter. There is always an event or a gathering that I could go to, but missing it will not impact what I’m trying to achieve.  I gave up on worrying about missing out on anything that was outside of my home or my new business.

All of this lead to what really matters and that was learning to concentrate for long periods of time producing fantastic quality work in less time.

3. Uninterrupted Flow Time

Now that I saw how to concentrate for long periods of time and how to remove things that didn’t matter, I had to look at scheduling time to leverage the skill.

It became clear to me after my last few gigs that people only produce or ship real work for about half the number of hours they put in at the office. So, if they were physically at the office for eight hours they really only worked for four. It’s no secret that companies lose massive amounts of productivity to all the wasted time by employees doing other things than meaningful work. The worst culprit, too many meetings, then of course, social media and the constant of being distracted by co-workers. I wanted to work for five hours, but produce in those five hours what most people take 10-20 hours to accomplish.

Im January I set out to launch my new company but only work 28 hours a week.

I decided, that on Wednesday and Thursdays I was going to work three 2 1/2 hour slots uninterrupted. These slots became non-negotiable, nothing else can be scheduled on these days.

These two days are eight hour days in which I believe I get done what takes most people two weeks to accomplish, simply because I’m focused and tackle one project at a time for up to three hours.
Next I slot in repeating, critical weekly meetings. I have product development, editorial and art direction, as well as social acquisition. I also have a two hour block for writing, an important weekly activity for me.
If you are interested in reading more about what happens wen you improve your ability to concentrate check out this article.
  1. Weekly General Admin And Next Week Planning
Quite possibly as important as my Wednesday and Thursday flow time slots is my Friday General Admin and Next Week Planning calendar event. This is two hours of mostly small, important, but not critical tasks that I have, with great discipline, put aside during the week. During this time I get my inbox to zero, choose what I will work on during my six flow time slots for the coming week, choose a few podcasts I want to listen to next week and fill four 15 minute slots for drive time phone calls.
These four things have been essential to me getting enormous amounts of creative work accomplished and still having lots of  play time. Onward and upward.

Curiosity Or Confrontation

Everyday we are faced with opinions that don’t match our own belief system. More and more, because of the filter bubble we choose to live in, we react with confrontation instead of curiosity.

You eat meat, I don’t.

I’m a capitalist but lean left, you are a capitalist but lean right.

You watch sports, I don’t have a clue who’s in the Super Bowl until a few days before.

You are a person who feels it’s enough already with special interest groups, I’m saying it’s just the start of any real reconciliation.

Being critical thinkers, we’ve forgotten how to disagree. Some might say the art of disagreement is dying. As if, the simple act of considering another’s story would somehow invalidate our own view or give too much credence to the opposing view.

So, how do we meet in the middle? Or better yet, how do we each travel all the way into the other person’s world?

How do I get deep into your thoughts? How do I see your worldview?

How do we allow for the possibility that what someone else says might in fact be correct?

Confrontation is the default reaction. But we won’t win anyone over by starting with confrontation and our own point of view. It’s almost impossible to convert the skeptic by yelling facts.

Instead, reach for curiosity. Ask yourself some questions when you start to feel confrontational.

Why do their ideas and opinions anger me so much?

Can they help me better understand where they are coming from?

Can I remain totally open as they take me through their worldview and how they came to it?

Could I walk away simply having been curious and spending all my energy on taking in their story and zero effort on selling yours? Now, that’s powerful.

This might feel uncomfortable for you. Sit with it, let it feel uncomfortable and simply pay attention to the emotions that come up and explore why you feel that way.

Let’s all try an open heart and an open mind. We may not all agree, but we can be open to not holding on too our stories so tightly.

Holy $#&! I Spent What On Groceries?

You know that feeling when you discover something that creates an uncomfortable tension? One so deep inside your body that you nearly throw up? That’s how I felt earlier this year when I compiled and reviewed our annual household and personal spending for 2017.

How could one household spend that much on groceries? It was a serious WTF moment.

I track every cent I spend with little effort thanks to Mint, Intuit’s personal budgeting and expense tracking app. I connect my credit cards and my bank accounts and Mint sucks in every transaction, correctly categorizing 80% of the charges. I go in and correct the other 20% once a month. Luckily, because all the data is there, I was able to dig into all the grocery transactions and sort them by store and highest to lowest.

I had a mentor once say to me, “without the data you are just another guy with a fucking opinion.” While this is very true, without corrective action from the data you have, well, your just a schmuck with an opinion.

I went through the year without examining the data and taking corrective action. In my business that would never happen and going forward it’s not going to happen in my personal life either, the opportunity is too great.

Here’s what I’m doing differently in 2018 which I believe will have a major impact on my spending.

First, I’ve set alerts by category, by week. So, if my budget for groceries is $500 a month, I’m alerted if I go over $125 in a week. I did not pay attention to how much I was spending until the end of the year in 2017, now we see it every week. So far there’s been a few weeks when we don’t go grocery shopping because we are over budget and you know what? There’s a shit ton of food already in the house every time.

Second, because I can see every transaction for the year and sort it in a variety of ways, I was able to discover a number of items that fall under the latte effect, first coined by Oprah. Essentially, a small cost that happens very frequently and adds up to a lot. An example is the sushi I grab my daughter on the way home from swimming every Monday. There are about 40 weeks we go to swimming during the year, each week we were spending $25. On its own, not a lot, but over the year that’s $1000. I made two tweaks to this for 2018. We are now picking up sushi every other week and I’ve eliminated the roll I get every week. I was only ordering this roll as a treat and was still having a full meal when I got home. I didn’t really need it. The end result is 20 weeks at $16. A difference of $680. This is just one example.

Third, because I’m a big fan of putting dramatic constraints up, I chose a few budget categories outside of groceries, that I could dial back to zero. Clothing as an example. I looked in my closet and made the decision I would be just fine if I did not buy one piece of clothing this year. I have more than enough, in fact, I realized I wear only 20% of what’s in my closet, 80% of the time. So, in 2018, I want for nothing.

I encourage you to create a yearly budget. You can do that inside Mint, but you can also start with something simple, in a spreadsheet. Once you have the budget you need to track spending and then measure if you are under, on, or over budget. The fastest way to do this is using a personal accounting application like Mint. Third, do what I missed last year, taking corrective action before the end of the year. Finally, set one or two major constraints, give up something, it helps build the financial planner muscle.

Good luck in 2018.

The Hard Part About Leadership – The Final Part

If you missed Part I or Part II  on the hard part about leadership, you can find them at morerants.com, in the meantime, here is part III.

Starting before you are ready – Successful people start before they feel ready, it’s hard because you are pulled by excitement and deterred by confusion simultaneously. If you’re working on something important, then you’ll never feel ready, but people are watching, they are waiting and no matter how long you wait you won’t be ready, so shoot the puck.

Sticking with a tough decision – It takes guts to make tough decisions, they are often misunderstood or vehemently opposed. What takes real guts is to stick with a tough decision, it’s one of the harder parts of leadership. We can’t ask for the right answer since there probably isn’t one. But when we learn how to develop a point of view, we are able to stick with a tough decision even during a storm. Don’t forget that emotion is the enemy when holding to tough decisions.

Leading From The Back – A leader’s job is to create more leaders, and there’s only one place this can be done from: the back. When we lead from the back, we are out of the spotlight, giving credit away, taking responsibility but not stealing the revelation someone makes, and understanding every decision we make is about people.

Dr. Isaiah Hankel, speaker and best selling author, shared the following with me recently. “It took me a long time to realize I was leading from the main stage, instead of stepping back and taking responsibility of all the mistakes in the organization. This was highly frustrating for me and my team, until one day I realized that no one on the team was taking responsibility for anything because I was not openly, and vocally stepping up to take responsibility myself.  This meant saying, ‘This is my fault because I didn’t give you enough guidance’ and, ‘Here’s what I did wrong.’ I then moved to the back and let others take the spotlight and simply guided from the sidelines.”

It’s extremely hard to lead from the back because we have so many images and stories where the hero is bigger than life, standing up front, on stage soaking it all in. But when you realize the monologue creates far less value than the dialogue you end up asking more questions. This on its own moves you to the back, where great leaders might not shine in the spotlight, but they create lasting and meaningful results.

Like most things in life, leadership doesn’t get easier. Leadership is necessary in all aspects of our life. Leadership is present in parenting, community, and it even impacts friendships. Being a humble and compassionate leader does not need to conflict with being a decisive, creative, and charismatic leader. Onward and upward.

Part 2 – The Hard Part About Leadership

Like most things in life, leadership doesn’t get easier and it’s present in all aspects of our life. This means, there are hard parts within leadership, but not to fear, once identified you embrace and leverage them.

Last week I wrote about Accepting there isn’t one answer (or one way), dealing with unexpected outcomes and being misunderstood. This week I want to cover four more.

Know your edges – You have a top and a bottom in your skill set and you have edges that are the boundaries of who you can be with these skills. These aren’t just how good you are at your job, or technical skills, but also your emotional intelligence and how you behave. A good example of your edges is your your ability to engage when under a lot of stress or your empathy. They are what they are, but knowing them, acknowledging them and working around them is the hard part.

Knowing who you are on your worst days and what you can accomplish on your best days creates a strong framework for an aware and emotionally intelligent leader. Knowing who you are on good and bad days allows you to be cognizant for when you hit an edge so you can fill gaps or step aside.

You are not the smartest person in the room – It’s often tough to admit you don’t have the answer, since after all, you are the leader. But a really important transformation happens when one not only admits they don’t know everything but actually ensures they are never the smartest person in the room. It’s an attitude and thankfully, one that can be learned!

Surrendering to conflict – Words like conflict have been labeled as negative, something that causes stress and should be avoided. The fact is though, that it’s impossible to avoid conflict, so why label it good or bad? Instead, embrace it. It’s hard because we often submit to conflict instead of surrendering to it.
Conflict solves problems, builds emotional intelligence, and allows for creativity to flourish. The hard part is not letting your ego get in the way.

Coming to grips with the fact you are not an imposter – You can’t make the voice go away, but you can come up with a better response. One of the tough parts about leadership and the corresponding success is thinking that it’s luck or a one-off. You find yourself having constant thoughts that you are a fraud and everyone will find out. When you get curious you discover an interesting thing, it’s a false voice, that only serves to knock you down.

Seth Godin says, it’s rampant (the imposter syndrome). The big reason is that we’re all impostors. You’re not imagining that you’re an impostor, it’s likely that you are one. Everyone who is doing important work is working on something that might not work. And it’s extremely likely that they’re also not the very best qualified person on the planet to be doing that work. How could it be any other way? The odds that a pure meritocracy chose you and you alone to inhabit your spot on the ladder is worthy of Dunning-Kruger status. You’ve been getting lucky breaks for a long time. We all have. Yes, you’re an imposter. So am I and so is everyone else. Superman still lives on Krypton and the rest of us are just doing our best. Isn’t doing your best all you can do? Dropping the narrative of the impostor isn’t arrogant, it’s merely a useful way to get your work done without giving into Resistance. Time spent fretting about our status as impostors is time away from dancing with our fear, from leading and from doing work that matters. The great part of this is that it’s only a voice and although you can’t make it go away, you can create a better response, such as “go fuck yourself, not only am I not an imposter, I’m a rock-star!”

The way I’ve dealt with the imposter syndrome is by acknowledging its voice, saying hello, and then goodbye. At its source, I recognize it comes from being uncomfortable with loneliness and the more I become excited about loneliness the better I get at focusing.

I’ll be back next week with the final three hard parts of leadership.

 

The Hard Part About Leadership

Things don’t get easier as you progress. That’s because as you progress, you move up, and as you move up the skills required are more challenging. If things get easier you’ve likely plateaued or even slipped a bit.

Like most things in life, leadership doesn’t get easier. Leadership is necessary in all aspects of our life. Leadership is present in parenting, community, and it even impacts friendships. Being a humble and compassionate leader does not need to conflict with being a decisive, creative, and charismatic leader. That’s just one of the hard parts about leadership.

When examined, these hard parts aren’t so much a thing to do but a way of being that starts with a big dose of self-awareness. These hard parts listed below can be humbling, but incredibly impactful on everyone around you.

Accept there isn’t one answer (or one way) – It’s often easy to find an answer, an initial solution. We are conditioned to accept an answer that solves our problem or addresses our question. We often stop at this point. Why keep searching when we’ve solved the problem?

The hard part revolves around understanding that even if you’ve found a way to launch or to fix a problem, you’re just starting to scratch the surface of possibilities. Understanding and accepting that there’s always going to be dozens of answers to the questions and ways to fix a problem is what separates good leaders from great leaders. It’s easy to go with an answer that first solves the problem, it’s hard to admit that there are definitely more answers and more work ahead until the best one is found.

Dealing with unexpected outcomes – Making quick and efficient decisions is a fantastic skill. Having the reflexes of a goalie helps to keep things moving. However, even if you have the moves of  Patrick Roy, you will lose if you hold onto your desired outcomes too tightly.

Having a vision of how you want things to turn out is OK, setting goals and targets is OK, but you can’t be attached to them. There’s a simple reason why. If Vegas put odds out against the likelihood of you being exactly right they’d be somewhere around 1,000:1. The reality is that we make decisions and from that decision comes an outcome and it’s rarely exactly what was expected. In fact, outcomes will often be totally unexpected.

The hard part is dealing with the unexpected outcomes if you have married yourself to a certain outcome already. It’s easier on you when you accept whatever outcome you find yourself in. Disappointment becomes a thing of the past because you simply move back into the decision making stage.

Steven Sisler of the Behavioural Resource Group explains, “Not every brain type excels with the challenge of dealing with unexpected outcomes. Those who are more emotionally flexible have a higher capacity to accept whatever circumstances they find themselves in.”

He continues, “Greater flexibility comes from a more intense anger emotion coupled with a very low intensity within the patience emotion. The patience emotion relies heavily on “safer” and more “secure” environments. This is known as Preserving. Individuals who sport a Preserving orientation believe that all good things can only be received from an outside source and will automatically come to those who wait. The source is supposed to be safe, expected, and deliberate; problems and challenges are avoided at any cost. Unexpected outcomes are far more disruptive to this way of thinking because the brain sees it as an intrusion on their “preservation” land. In other words, you need permission to do anything outside of a what is already expected when on protected land.”

In my experience, it’s easy to articulate: don’t hold onto what I believe the outcome is going to be. In practice it’s one of the hardest parts of leadership.

Being misunderstood – No one likes the feeling of being misunderstood, but the best of the best must be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time. The fact is that leadership involves a great deal of risk taking and thinking well into the future and not everyone is going to be comfortable with that. Simply put, there will be many who don’t understand your thinking. In fact there will be many who are opposed to your ideas. Being misunderstood slows down the weak while it empowers the brilliant.

Trust is the key to working quickly through misunderstanding. If people trust you, they’ll still support you. So in order to be effective and not always misunderstood, you need to build trust with everyone around you. This can start with simple things like always doing what you say you are going to do, having people’s back, and continually recognizing people for the small things. So, understand, and have no doubt, in order to make being misunderstood a little bit less hard on you, build trust each and every day.

I’ll be back next week with four more hard parts about leadership, in the meantime please feel free to leave a comment below.

Stop Investing In Your Weaknesses

It’s January 13th and already 80% of new year’s resolutions are falling short. People are trying to improve a weakness, others are attempting to correct misalignments in their personality, and some are working to develop new skills.

Maybe it was a boss who suggested the area for improvement or a boyfriend casually dropping the idea to join Toastmasters.

But why all this energy on a weakness?

We are trained from any early age to get better at things we are weak at, and it stays with us for a lifetime. Strengthen where you are weak. We don’t know any better, our brain has been imprinted with this rule and like a loyal soldier it stands on guard.

But imagine what would happen if you made small, incremental, even microscopic improvements each month on your greatest strengths. If you are an all-star front end developer, would a 1% improvement in your skills result in a greater gain than 10% improvement in your cross-team collaboration – something you’d consider a weakness? I can’t say for sure, but I’d suggest you examine it.

I’m creative, I develop unique products and highly engaging marketing. I’m really strong in this area. When it comes to logistics and back-end operations, I’m not weak, but I’m certainly not strong. I’m quite confident a 3-5% increase in my creativity and marketing tool kit would have a far larger impact than a 25% increase in my back-end skill set.  

I believe we focus on improvements in our weaknesses because subconsciously we are afraid of our own success and how powerful we can become. Society encourages us to improve where we are weak, but rarely inspires us to forget our weaknesses and put greater effort into incremental improvements in our strengths.

Efficiency means turning the crank right. Effectiveness is turning the right crank. A strength means you are turning the right crank, you’ve got that figured out, but why go and try to find another crank to turn? Instead, get that crank operating at a level that will bring you far greater satisfaction and far greater results than choosing a new area to improve on.

What’s your greatest strength?

What would a 5% improvement in this strength result in? Seriously, think about that.

Are you willing to focus 100% on improving your strengths a little each month?

 

What You Miss When You Are An Average Listener

I’ve been guilty of something that drives me crazy when other people do it. It’s not paying attention enough when others are communicating, not being fully present when I’m in a learning environment, and not being able to focus on one activity without multitasking.

Last year I drew this diagram to demonstrate to myself just how much I was most likely missing.

So I set out to change since it was not acceptable to me to waste time and energy on being distracted and missing out on what others were communicating and on what I was endeavouring to learn.

Here’s what happens when you improve your ability to concentrate.

More connections to the communication.

More opportunities to better understand what someone is feeling.

More chances to improve your knowledge.

Easy to draw, easy to understand, challenging to execute. Here are three easy ways to start moving the dial 1% at a time.

Concentration is like any skill, practice in error, perfect in error. Getting good at concentration is also like any physical training, you need to practice regularly using a series of methods. If you want to run a marathon you don’t just train by running, you leverage weight training, the quality of your sleep, and your nutrition. The same goes with becoming more present and becoming a better listener, you train using a host of exercises.

1. 10 minutes of meditation a day. Meditation is not about closing your eyes and trying to think of nothing, it’s about working the concentration muscle. You can have a major impact on your ability to concentrate on anything in your life by spending 10 minutes a day sitting still and focusing on your breath. Every time a thought comes into your mind, you bring yourself back to your breath. Some days will be easier than others, but the result is the same, you are strengthening your ability to concentrate in all areas of your life through meditation.

2. This one is not easy, but the power technology has over us is incredible. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people employed by all the big tech companies to ensure you are addicted to your phone and their apps. It’s not news to any of us that our phones are the most distracting thing in our lives. We are checking our email at stop lights, we are checking messages when we go to the bathroom and we bring our phones to the dining room table and sleep with them next to our bed.

So start small and work up from there.

Step 1: No phones at the dining room table while you are eating, or in the bedroom.

Step 2: Commit to not being a zombie. This means no walking and using your phone.

Step 3: Remember, you are trying to improve your concentration the same way you are committed to being physically fit, so concentrate on doing one thing at a time. Start easy, with things like driving and/or listening to music or an interesting podcast and not using your phone for texting or email at the same time, there is nothing that urgent.

3. Like me, you probably have a number of browser tabs that represent various communication tools. Email, Messenger, Slack, Twitter.

Create one bookmark for all your communication tools and only use one window for these tabs. It’s much easier and safer for your mind to be able to open all these tabs at one time and easier for you to close them all at once. You simply don’t need your communication tools open all day. They work against your ability to concentrate. So, if you really want to get better at concentration, combine them into one window, open them only when you need them, then close them. Never add any other tabs to this window and close it frequently, especially during your long periods of flow time on a single project.

“At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that — the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance. That is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love it. The most important thing is insight, that is … curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does.” William Faulkner

Remember, the day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea, so be gentle with yourself as you work on this.

The Single Most Important Attribute You Need In Order To Build Trust

Earlier this month I initiated the first steps in creating a new brand. My plan is to launch in the spring. In order to make this happen I need to engage a number of freelancers and industry experts. It’s not hard to separate who I will be working with by April and who I will not.

There’s one attribute that is apparent within days.

One attribute that people demonstrate that builds trust within days, sometimes even hours of first engaging.

It’s something so simple that it seems almost comical when people don’t do it.

It’s something that when omitted isn’t just a minor flaw in the overall value, it actually puts a crack in the base of the value. When it’s not there, everything falls apart.

Do what you say you are going to do. That’s it.

Every time you do what you say you are going to do you create a layer of trust. The more you do it, the thicker the wall becomes until it’s a moat and it’s very hard for anyone else to get in.

Do what you say you are going to do. How can it be that simple? It just is.

My 2018 Non-Negotiable List

I had hit rock bottom. I was mentally exhausted. I felt like crap even though I led a healthy lifestyle. What was wrong?

I wasn’t focused.

I was distracted.

I lacked purpose and discipline of where my attention should go.

I first wrote about non-negotiables in 2015. That year I even posted my non-negotiable list on the glass door of my shower. I saw it every day. I found the responses to the post to be quite polarizing. Some readers loved the idea of structure and rigid constraints. While others, reacted quite the opposite. For them, the idea of tight rules, without flexibility, hit a deep wound.

Then this year, in 2017 I wrote about creating filters in order to work less and have more free time. I’ve made it an annual process to set non-negotiables.

I personally don’t do well with rules put on me by others, however, when I put the constraints on myself and make them public, it works out well. I’m happier and more productive. I’m left only to battle my own ego.

2018’s Non-Negotiables

• My phone is no longer my alarm clock and thus is not welcome in my bedroom. I’ve purchased a small traditional bedside alarm clock that does two things. It tells the time and it wakes me up when I tell it to. Removing my phone from my bedroom removes the distraction of, well, everything.

• Up at 6am for one hour of “me time”, non-neogotiable. Going forward I’m very focused on never being rushed again, it’s a feeling I want to eliminate from my psyche. Once everyone else is up in my house I’m suddenly on call. Therefore, I wake up at 6 a.m. and go through my morning routine in peace, with no rush.

• No weekday drinking. I’m up at 6am on weekdays and I know I don’t sleep as well if I have even one drink since I’m not 25 anymore. I need to be operating at 100% everyday so I’m simply removing alcohol from my weekdays.

• My six, three hour, flow time, single project time slots are firm. I have scheduled three hour blocks for all of 2017 that are intended to be used for working on a single project. Work on one thing, undistracted for three hours. If someone asks me for an appointment during one of these times, the answer is no, there are many others time slots in the week and I use Calendly to make it easy for them to find an alternative. Lots has been written on the incredible power of flow, taking one subject or one project and working on it for a prolonged period of time without any interruption. I’m going to harness that in 2018. Want to know more about the theory of flow, listen to this Ted Talk.

• Thinking day once a month, scheduled throughout the the year. Like other items on this list, it’s scheduled in ink, it’s not moving for anything except a family emergency. This is one of the harder things on my list because there’s nothing really to do. It’s not easy to just spend a day doing nothing but thinking. I may make notes, but in a book, not my computer. I’ll walk a lot on these days, possibly go to an art gallery and find a comfortable seat and just observe. We minimize the value of time spent thinking because we worry we aren’t accomplishing anything. But just because everyone else is running around overstimulated and tied to their inbox doesn’t mean you and I need to be. If you want to read more on this topic, my friend Brian Scudamore wrote an article for Inc. on the topic.

Monthly Board Meeting with Winslowe. Jim Sheils developed the family board meeting and now that Winslowe is turning seven it’s time to implement the board meeting consistently and  in it’s entirety. The basic idea of Jim’s family board meeting is spending three hours with your kid, 1:1 (no grouping kids together), doing an activity of their choice, technology free (leave the phone at home), and then discussing the result of the activity. The fact is, very few of us spend quality time with our kids. Yes, we spend time with them, but uninterrupted and technology free? Rarely.

• Identify and schedule next week’s six projects every Friday. I will assign what projects I’m going to work on to each of the six three hour time slots allotted to flow time.

In their book, A Beautiful Constraint, Mark Barden and Adam Morgan do a fantastic job of laying out how having tight constraints don’t limit you, but in fact create an environment for creativity to flourish. Everyday we are hit with constraints and we have the choice of responding to them as a victim, a neutralizer, or a proactive transformer. By making a constraint beautiful we see it as an opportunity, not a restriction. The constraint becomes a stimulus to see a better way of achieving something or solving a big problem. So why not deliberately put a few in place? That’s what I’m doing with my non-negotiables.

My non-negotiable list isn’t about making my life so rigid I can’t be flexible. On the contrary, it’s about giving my brain less to think about. Having these non-negotiables allows me to be more focused, resulting in an incredible amount of flexibility and creativity.