Previous month:
November 2012
Next month:
January 2013

December 2012

Get On Top of Time for 2013

One of the most frustrating things in life – consciously or subconsciously – is the sense that we have talent and skills and abilities, but somehow the universe doesn't seem to recognise them. And we know it doesn't recognise them because we lack the rewards that we feel we are entitled to. Haven't we all felt that?

Most of the time, however, the problem is not our skills and abilities, although sharpening these is always a good idea, but time itself – our failure to utilise time effectively, to be distracted by the inessential, and to not leverage what we have. As time management consultants like to say: time is a precious commodity which once used cannot be reclaimed; further, it is highly finite, and whether we 'use' it or simply drift through existence, it drains away anyway. Thus loss of time, time that is genuinely non-productive (to be distinguished from time to relax and re-create one self), is to be avoided.

What, then, are the superior uses of time? Richard Koch wrote a great book on the Pareto Principle, sometimes called the 80/20 rule, explaining how this applies to time. And the Principle does apply all the time. We need to work out what are the probably small but significant strips of our life, and amplify time spent in these. The Pareto Rule applied to time basically says that 20% of our time produces 80% of our results. If that is true, which it is, then the idea of having a day or a week or a  month in which equal time is spent on all that arises is ludicrous, because the relatively non-productive 80% of time, that only creates 20% of the value, is thereby given equal status and attention to time that is really important.

What kind of areas, then, are where we should be putting our focus if we wish to be more productive?

First, are we doing things that advance our mission in life – our central purpose? If we haven't got one, then how would we know we were spending our time productively? Instead, we are simply doing 'things' and just existing. So if you haven't got a clear mission in life, the first thing of all things is to get one. Then, to ask yourself, how much of your time is spent on it? For most people this comes as a nasty shock: not a lot or none!

Now we need to look at some wider principles: creativity and innovation always make us feel good. What are we doing in these areas – in our work, our relationships and in our own internal growth? Are we just re-cycling what we have always done (always very dangerous in a relationship especially), or we really creating a new future that is genuine and ours?

What can you get other people to do for you as well – get them, that is, with not too much effort on your part? And this leads on to working with high quality colleagues, friends and collaborators who like you use the Pareto Principle to leverage results. One important point that Koch made was that just as the Pareto Principle seems unfair – or more accurately, asymmetric – so those who use it will undoubtedly use time both effectively and eccentrically. 'Normal' people, with normal working 9 – 5 kind of lives, will never know why or even how you are able to be so successful and yet not conform to their, the normal, pattern of time usage.

Finally, to get more out of your time you need to be bold: do things which, if you don't, you never will. In other words, the window of opportunity opens and you seize the moment and do it. This is such an important, and its importance is most memorably summed up in that dreadful phrase: most people die with their music still inside them. They are always waiting for another period of time when they will do what they want – but not now. When they retire for example; this is a fatal mistake. Take that opportunity, particularly concerning things you always wanted to do.

All of these points lead to one inescapable conclusion: if you follow them, you will create a life worth living, and you will, thereby, get the most you ever could from the time that you have. May we all get to that situation soon, especially in 2013 !

Silence and Words

I have just read over Christmas Tim Parks’ book, Teach Us to Sit Still, and what a great read it is. He has written some 21 books now and been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, although this particular work is not fiction. No, in fact it is an account of how in his early Fifties he experienced at some undetermined point constant and relentless pain; he was ill, his body was telling him something but he didn’t know what, and so he seeks healing. This healing leads him initially to the medical profession, where he finds no relief, and ultimately to Vipassana meditation where he does.

His journey is profound, given his atheistical scepticism, and also the unflinching way in which he confronts and describes his problems. We – as readers – go into the minutiae of his prostate and other parts, as well as into his mind and mental state. Parks has a gift for fluent and evocative description, as well as writing extremely lyrically. Put another way: I really like his prose style and there are loads of lines which are aphoristically quotable – “The mind is you, the body is only yours”.

The point is that Parks is almost the typical – advanced level – Western man! His problem seems our problem. And what is that? In two parts it is: first, he spends all his time verbalising everything; and second, he does it on a computer screen. The net result of all that is he finds himself stressed in every part of his body, and as someone observes to him: he is the most unrelaxed person they had encountered. One way of expressing his problem is that he is entirely in his head – and this leads to illness.

Of course verbalising everything means – as they say in Neuro-Linguistic-Programming – the map is not the territory: one substitutes experience, or actuality, for words about experience or actuality. So in some sense one’s existence becomes synthetic and unreal, and ego-driven. Meditation becomes the instrument by which Parks comes to see this.

By the final pages Parks has not become a Buddhist monk and I think we can expect more books from him, but the interesting thing from my point of view is: whilst I agree that the silence is where the healing – and so much else – occurs, I also happen to think words are healing too, especially when they form narratives of pregnant meanings. Interestingly, in the book, Parks attempts the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) without success – mentioning only how the words in the procedure fail, but not commenting at all on the acupressure sequence also simultaneously required.

My point is that I suspect that Parks is too intellectual to allow words to do their ‘magic’. Silence is primary; but words too heal, if – and this is a big if – we believe in them. This belief in words is the opposite of the intellectuals’ huge vocabulary and knowing etymological resources. This belief in words is like the shaman’s usage – directed at the heart of things where names conjure properties; this is never intellectual but always a matter of the heart – the missing component in Parks’ book. Yes, he traverses brilliantly from his mind to his body, and as a result healing occurs. But his heart is never there.

And so the power of simple words to heal is not available to him.

As I approach 2013 I shall be looking for more opportunities enter silence and to find words that heal, and to arrange those I have into narratives and patterns that sustain me and others. Two favoured forms here are poems and prayers!

Which traditional school subject is the most important for career success?

People all have a view on this, and the results of the Luvata ( ) poll are clear: maths and the sciences comprise a full 50% and literacy and languages 43%; arts, geography and history are also-runs sweeping up the rear. Of course, these statistics are misleading, especially to parents: they see that doctors or lawyers earn a small fortune and so press for them at school to be good numerically or linguistically, and hey bingo! a successful career beckons. But the trouble is: is it the right career for the child?

As a professional mentor I have met dozens of high achieving, career success orientated individuals who have done it – been a career success only to find midway or later that that is not what they wanted to do at all. They hated it; and they resent their parents for putting them through it, and the teachers who complied – who did not spot their real talent for art or whatever.

There is an expression: nobody on their death bed wishes they had spent more time in the office. How true. And there is another, even more chilling: most people die with their music still inside them. They don’t get to be and do who they are.

So we should really be asking the question not about career success, important as it is, but widening it to include life success? What would a successful life look like? And there are seven core elements which are non-negotiable.

First, high levels of self-esteem: do we feel good about ourselves, or are we always in a state of anger, guilt or fear? Second, do we have high energy and good health, because without it all career success is compromised. Third, do we have high quality relationships with others – a perennial source of joy and happiness.

Then, fourth, wealth – enough money to stop worrying about money. And yes, career success can help here. But can it help with fifth: meaning – purpose, ideals, values which enable us to transcend the pettinesses of life and contribute to a greater good? Some careers can.

Sixth, growth – what Maslow called self-actualisation – becoming all that we can be and not just stagnating. From a career point of view stagnating is just doing a ‘job’ – there is no progression, no vision and no sense of momentum. Finally, seventh, self-awareness; the foundation stone of all growth and furthermore a sign of openness to learning and profound curiosity about the nature of the self.

And this leads back to what schools teach: do schools teach students what they really need to know? Perhaps a subject for Luvata’s next poll!

The Motivation of Christmas

Can you feel it? I can feel it. The excitement and vibrations coming up the line – yes, Christmas is coming and I am so excited. Two months ago I had my best birthday ever, and now I am expecting my
best Christmas ever. I guess living in the present – and all those presents! – is the best way to be.

But putting aside the presents, the family, the shopping, the commercialisation of Christmas, why is Christmas so motivating a concept? It is I think because Christmas, albeit for many obliquely, reminds us of our fundamental mission in life. Which is? Take a deep breath – and understand what I am about to say is not denominational or creedal or in any way attached to one religion – and reflect that the primary objective is ‘to be more Christ-like’ ourselves.

Now clearly, if we are a Buddhist it is to be more Bhudda-like, and so on for all religions – each has their own special heroes and heroines whom we aspire to; but the principle is clear – we are in a
state of becoming, and there is some ideal person who acts as a role model, a beacon, an inspiration who enables us to become the better person that we want to be. After all, who wants to be just as they are? That would be to subscribe to a kind of mental, emotional and spiritual death.

So to return to the motivation of Christmas and becoming more Christ-like – the Western tradition as it were – what would that mean? I think at least four important things.

First, Christ in the accounts we have of him was noticeably not physiologically or psychologically addicted to anything: he could fast, but he could also eat and drink. He commented on the murder in the heart that obsessed so many power brokers and religious types around him. In short, this absence of addiction – physically and psychologically – amounts to freedom. To be like Christ therefore is to be free.

Second, Christ manifested massive amounts of compassion, especially to the underprivileged, the poor, women, children, and the sick. And with this compassion went an empathy – a sense that he knew what their pain or their condition was like. This requires a huge imaginative leap. To be Christ-like then is to be compassionate.

Third, the one group he did not exhibit compassion towards – the Scribes and the Pharisees – were those who wilfully and deliberately denied the truth: the truth of their own witness and of their own consciences. The kind of people who falsify reality on a systematic basis. This, incidentally, is not confined to people at the top of the pecking order – all around us people misrepresent what ‘is’ for their own ends. To be Christ-like, then, is to speak up and against these wilful purveyors of untruth.

Fourth, and finally, and perhaps most wonderfully of all, Christ always lived with miracles and the miraculous around him. Whenever he was present a miracle could and often did occur. People came
to expect him to do miracles, which in itself became somewhat arduous for him. But the truth is: the world is an amazing and highly unlikely place. Wonders surround us that we fail to see, so dull and habitual has our seeing become. Miracles are always possible and we should expect them. People with charisma – now, today - can create miracles at any time – the most important miracle being the
transformation of another person’s life through the presence of another.

The presence of another? Yes, more than anything else, the presence of another in the present heals us, restores us, strengthens us. To be Christ-like then is to live with the expectation of miracles at all times, especially miracles concerning people’s lives.

So, happy motivational Christmas to all readers of this article – and may we all become more Christ-like as we head towards Christmas!

Coaching, Consulting, Training for Residual Income

I have been in the training, coaching and consulting business now for 18 years; and a fine business it is. At its best, its practitioners add massive value, make a difference and help people and organisations solve complex problems. Furthermore, its hourly or daily rate is good. What is there not to like?

You set up a business and – if you have been employed before – wow! All that freedom, plus the creativity you have always sought to do things your way with the client. Add to that the expertise you can use and demonstrate and initially it can be almost heaven.

Of course, there is always for most practitioners – with very honourable exceptions who understand the game right off – the problem of marketing. Having met and worked with literally hundreds of practitioners I think it is true to say that most have technical skills, but not always commensurate marketing skills to get them to the level of business they want or aspire to. Certainly for me, marketing has always been a challenge, as year by year I have got better at it, although it never becomes something I love for its own sake. True entrepreneurs, I think, are people who naturally can market long before they have worked out which product or service they wish to sell!

Most practitioners love what they do: they love coaching individuals – it’s personal for them; or they love consulting an organisation; or they love the expectation and hush at the beginning of a training session in a packed hotel room. And they go at it full pelt. And then they – you - need a break – and then the problems kick in.

Being a practitioner means that once you take that break, the income stops. You get paid for when you work, not for when you don’t. And the same is true even for retirement: there is no automatic pension or nest-egg supplied by the corporation or the sector. In truth, practitioners are like piece-workers – as long as they churn out hours, they get paid, but as soon as they stop, that’s it.

The thing is, the quality and intensity of the work is such that they need to stop, and they need to re-charge, frequently, if they are going to be there for the long term. What, then, is the solution?

After 11 straight years of delivery I came to the realisation that providing a service was one thing, but the key issue for longevity and residual income was creating or accessing intellectual property, so that one could ‘productise’ one’s offering, and thereby replicate sales even if one weren’t present or delivering the service.

A step beneath this is I think accessing some ‘brand’ that has know-how (but it’s not a product) and which allows one to create a data-base of clients that has value for someone else to acquire in due course. There are many brands like that out there and the most well-known are American, for
example Dale Carnegie. Britain has brands like Tony Buzan.

That said, however, the best thing is creating your own product or buying into one - one that is relevant to your market and your expertise. The thing about the product from the practitioner point of view is that clients continue to buy it and once they have been shown and trained on how to use it, the income becomes ‘residual’. That means that you continue to make income even when you are not working.

This has many important side-effects. The first being of course that one’s cash-flow is seriously improved and particularly during those times when work tends to be thin: for practitioners this can often be during the summer or Christmas vacation periods, which can be pretty extended.

But furthermore, the product does something else that is quite profound. There is a proverb that says, truly, ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I have done some amazing work for some clients, but the truth is that for a percentage of them when I am not there I am totally forgotten. It’s not that they’re bad or ungrateful people, but just that they are so busy, they haven’t time to think about me! The presence of your product, however, changes all that – they have to think about you because they ‘see’ it all the time and there is a connection with you.

The result of this is far more sales – up-sales and cross-sales – than would otherwise have been possible, and the slow – consciously or sub-consciously – growth in their perception of you as more of a partner in their business than a supplier.

Thus, if you are a practitioner – coach, consultant or trainer – and you have no valuable product to place with your clients, then you are seriously missing a trick, and also missing residual income that can make a huge difference to your bottom-line.

For those who are practitioners in the people development field, you may wish to consider the latest Motivational Maps licensing course in late January. Contact me for more details.