Posts Tagged Time management

Personal Goal Setting: Powerful Strategies to Achieve More in Life

Personal Goal Setting: Powerful Strategies to Achieve More in Life

personal goal settingPersonal goal setting is one of those things that we all know we probably should do, but just never really get around to doing. It can be easy to go with the flow (sometimes that’s a good thing) but lack of direction often is the difference between living a mediocre life or living your best life. I, for one, want to set personal goals to make sure I live in the way that’s best for me. Here’s how to make the most out of life by setting personal goals.

Why Personal Goal Setting Is Important

Why Personal Goal Setting Is Important

Let’s be honest with ourselves, building the life we dream of doesn’t happen by accident. By the same token, it’s surprising how adding even a little intention to our lives can have such a huge impact on our happiness and success. What’s more, if we don’t set priorities in our lives, there are plenty of other people and companies that are happy to set them for us, only to their benefit, not ours.

personal goal settingI’ve found that setting goals does two main things for us: it gives us something to aim for and it gives us a guide to weigh decisions in order to keep moving forward. These two things are vitally important to a life worth living because they provide a purpose for our lives; purpose is what gets us up in the morning and it’s what carries us when times get tough.

When I think about the best times in my life, I consider them to be so great because I had purpose. The darker times in life were characterized by an aimless state of wandering. Leveraging goal setting, I was able to claw my way out of those dark spots to a brighter place.

That’s why personal goal setting is important: it gives you aim, it gives you guidance and it gives you a purpose that carries you through the good and bad times.

How To Set Personal Goals

How To Set Personal Goals

There are three parts to setting personal goals: identifying what you want to achieve, building a system to attain that goal, and finally, articulating what you’re willing to sacrifice or endure in order to achieve it. Despite the nuances within each part, I’ll be honest here and say the biggest challenge is you getting out of your own way.

When you’re setting new goals and executing them, you’re building new habits, which is incredibly difficult to do. I’ve written a good bit about this topic, so make sure you check out this post.

tools for building good habits




Identifying What You Want Out Of Life

Identifying What You Want Out Of Life

Obviously, the first step is to know where we are going, which can be easier said than done sometimes. There have been times when I knew exactly what I was going to do next, then other times I struggled for years to figure out my next step. I wanted to take some time here to dig in, because I’ve found advice out there to be thin when it comes to not knowing what you should do.

indentifying what you want out of lifeThe trick with a goal is finding that sweet spot between something that is difficult to achieve and something that lights a fire within you. The key component to a satisfying victory is proportionate to the amount of struggle: the more struggle, the greater the feeling of satisfaction. Too much struggle and your goal will take forever to achieve or it isn’t realistic.

Without struggle, wins around goals can feel cheap and hollow. If I map the greatest things I have done in life, they correlate heavily with the amount of struggle that occurred with it. I don’t believe this is by accident.

Along with the perfect amount of struggle, the goal needs to stir something inside you. I’ve had goals like earn six figures, live in another country, be featured in the NY Times, but they all left me feeling blasé. I was able to get hired pretty easily for that six figures, bought a ticket to Croatia with money I already had and realized being in the NYT didn’t change my life.

Compare that to my goal of writing a book and seeing it published on the shelf in a Barnes & Noble. After writing a blog for 7 years, I attracted a publisher who offered me a contract. I then spent 6 months writing every day, and editing the manuscript for 3 months after that. The feeling when I walked into my local Barnes & Nobles and saw my book on the shelf for sale was one of the top moments of my life.

When it comes to determining our goals, we fall into three main buckets:

When We Think We Know What Our Goal Should Be

When We Think We Know What Our Goal Should Be

When I was young, I was very money driven. I thought a large income, a big house, nice clothes and fancy things would lead me to happiness. When the 2009 recession hit, I realized through prolonged introspection that what I thought I wanted, was actually a narrative I adopted out of default.

american dream houseGo to school, get a good job, land a successful career, find a wife, settle down in a nice house and drive a red car. Some call it the American Dream, but I never stopped to think if it was right for me.

When you think you have landed on a larger life goal, spend some time picking it apart. Play devil’s advocate, think about what the daily realities would be like and maybe see if you could test out what it would be like in some way.

Me defaulting to the normal path of life was bought and sold to me by society at large. For some, a perfectly fine path, but one that I never stopped and asked: “is this what I want?” When I finally did get around to asking that question. I soon realized this clear-cut route really meant in a day to day reality, and it was not for me. I thought I knew what I wanted; boy was I wrong.

When We Don’t Know What We Want

When We Don’t Know What We Want

There have been a few times in my life when I just didn’t know what to do. I was floating along, “successful” by most people’s standards, but I wasn’t particularly happy. I spent a lot of energy trying to figure out what I wanted, but any idea that came to me kept falling flat. I struggled with it immensely in my early 30’s and the lack of purpose was a major negative force in my life.

I spent a solid year doing thought experiments, brainstorming ideas, testing a few of them, and reading a lot of advice, only to come up empty. Sometimes people say they don’t know what to do because they haven’t honestly put effort into it, but this was not the case. I spent a sizeable amount of time making concerted efforts.

I was so clueless about what I wanted. So, in a mild act of desperation, I decided to set aside my goals and focused on making myself better. I had no reason to think this would solve anything. My rationale for all of this was telling myself that I might as well work on myself, so by the time I do figure out what I want, I’ll be at my best to do whatever it is.

75 hard challenge




I started with my diet, losing 90 pounds. I worked in some moderate exercise and started walking each day, then running a few times a week. Finally, I spent time alone with my thoughts on long walks through the woods, sorting through feelings and my mental state.

I’m not necessarily saying to do this exact thing if you don’t know what you want to do in life. Instead, think about what the proxy would be for you and pursue that. It is quite possible that what I did will work for you too.

I think the big part is to just do something that is going to make your life better in any dimension. It’s a mix of improving your life and gaining forward momentum. Basically, you’ll get out of your rut and since you’re focusing on yourself, it’s a way forward. I think the motion in any direction is important.

The beauty of this approach is if it doesn’t work for you, the worst outcome that can happen is that you’re better than you were. If nothing else, you’ll be wiser, healthier, and most importantly, moving in a direction.

After about a year and a half of focusing on my diet and health I also found I slept better, got dates easier, my neck pain went away and my mood lifted. In the end it was all worth it if for nothing else than that!

are you living a level 10 life

Then something funny happened, I started having clearer thoughts around what I wanted for my future. I saw possibilities and was excited by them. I could tell I was onto something. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it was like following a rope and knowing you were getting to the end where the prize was.

Then one day clarity hit me like a lightning bolt, I knew where I was going.

When You Know Your Goals

When You Know Your Goals

Having an aim in life is super important, to my earlier point, having a purpose is what breeds a good life filled with happiness, contentment and interest. The only thing you want to be cautious of is false positives, meaning when you think you know what you want, but realize later you pursued the wrong goal.

Take time to really think through the life you want to build, what are the realities of living like that? Too often we idealize things. Make sure you’re willing to put up with the downsides, because every way of life has them.

when you know your goalsAn important step to this is we often think about how it will feel when things go right: the sun is shining, money in the bank, the car works, we’re healthy and we don’t have a worry in the world. But also think through what the worst day of that new life would be like: you lost your job, the economy dipped, you break up with your significant other, you’ve been sick for a week and the chores are piling up. What would those days feel like? Would you still want that life?

Another important thing to do is to understand how you arrived at this goal in the first place. Analyze the sources where the motivations or ideas for these goals come from. Was it a nostalgic memory from your past, was it something you coveted in your neighbors or friends, or was it a status symbol that might end up empty for us?

Understanding the drive behind a goal is important to make sure it comes from a good place. Always be cautious, examine your own thoughts around your goals, and check to make sure they’re right for you.

Building Systems To Achieve Goals

Building Systems To Achieve Goals

A key component to goal setting is not only figuring out what you want to set as your personal goal, but what you’re actually going to do daily in order to reach that goal. Training yourself to think this way is critical and will get you far in life because there are many goals that are complex, very ambitious and can take years to reach.

A system is a consistent set of actions that you perform daily, which will eventually accumulate in a way that reaches your goal. Examples would be:

  • Your goal is to write a book: your system is to write 500 words each day
  • Your goal is to lose 30 pounds: your system is to track calories for all your meals
  • Your goal is no debt: your system is to reduce spending and pay down your debt

This does a few things for you. First, it breaks down a goal into smaller parts so you can just focus on what is right in front of you: what do you need to do today?

build systemsIt also helps motivate you on long-term goals where the finish line may be very far off. You can draw satisfaction from a job well done today and the knowledge that it’s building towards something.

Finally, a system is repeatable, which means you can get more efficient with it. When you do something over and over again, day in and day out, you naturally get better at it. This means you might discover ways to achieve the same thing in less time, cutting down the time to achieve that goal.

You may realize that some things you were doing each day were bringing the impact you thought they would so you can adapt to having more meaningful results. If all else fails, you’ll get really good at what you do each day and you can “brute force” your way to a goal.

Systems are powerful and I’ve learned they are what separates successful people from less successful people. Successful people have a system or process for achieving their goals and they seek them relentlessly.

Below are some details about building systems that can help make sure you hone in on the right steps to achieve your goals through daily system actions.

Question Everything

Question Everything

I have talked about how just through some simple questions I was able to free up half of my time in a new job, which equates to about 30 hours a week. In challenging my assumptions around email, I took my email inbox that received 700 emails a day of real and actionable emails, not spam/newsletters, down to 40 emails a week! It also allowed me to question my housing, where I replaced my rent of $1,500 down to $15 (not a typo) a month.

simple office and work life

This willingness has proven very valuable. The ability to take a step back and question things objectively has saved me a ton of time, money and stress. In short, we need to question everything and challenge our assumptions.

Build A List Of Options

Build A List Of Options

Start by making a list of five distinctly different ways you could achieve this goal. The first option you write down will most likely be your personal favorite, your second option will be a good alternative. When you get to your last three options, you’ll have to start getting creative. You want these to be totally different from your other options, not just a slight variation.

bullet journaling




Don’t be afraid to ask other people how they would achieve the same goal. Don’t be afraid to press them for alternative options as well. It’s options four and five that often reveal some insights, opening you up to a better way or new way of thinking about your challenge ahead.

This process does a few things. First it allows you to potentially come up with a better path forward, forcing creative solutions sometimes gets you to think outside the box. It also provides fall back options if your first approach fails, saving you valuable time after a possible failure.

Take the time to write these down and brainstorm ideas, don’t be afraid to get really crazy.

Break Down Your Goals

Break Down Your Goals

Many goals are multi-faceted, complex or require many actions. It can be daunting at times to keep going or to know where to even start. The best way I’ve found to deal with this is to break down the goal into smaller steps.

You can approach this in two different ways: break goals down to what you need to do today or break down goals to a point that it seems easily achievable.

My preference is to break down goals into a daily to do list. Sometimes it’s easy, for example, “I want to earn an extra $5,000 this year.” You take $5,000 and divide by 365. What’s nice about this is instead of feeling overwhelmed by the thought of earning an extra five grand, you can set that feeling aside and realize today you only have to figure out how to earn only $15.

break down your goalsOther goals are a bit more complicated: For example, building my tiny house. To do this, I outlined all the steps I needed to do in order to build the house: determine a design, draw the plans, purchase the trailer, learn to use tools, etc. I then grouped them into what seemed like easy to do chunks.

If there is a section that is still too big, I looked for ways to break it down further: instead of “buy a trailer” I’ll first make a list of people I want to call to get prices. After that, I’ll call those people, compare prices, go see the trailer, make a decision, then finally purchase. That one item was broken down into six smaller steps that seemed easier on their own.

The other way for you to break down ambitious goals that seem daunting, is to break them down into approachable portions. The key here is to figure out the actions that are so simple, small or easy that you think you can manage it. For some people these actions may be bigger or smaller, the point is you figure out the thing you can manage to do.

Break it down into small pieces and then set a plan to get you from where you are today to where you want to be, one small step at a time.

Own The Pain Of Achievement

Own The Pain Of Achievement

Most guidance fails because it doesn’t include what you’re willing to endure in order to make the dream a reality. l Goal setting advice focuses on making SMART goals, dream boards, motivation etc. but doesn’t spend any time recognizing the pain required to achieve a goal.

We need to define what we are willing to undergo in order to achieve our goal. Inherent in our pursuit of our goal, we are going to have to give certain things up, say no to a few things, get up when we just want to be lazy, and keep pushing when everything seems to be against us.

Goal Setting is Easy, Achieving Goals is Painful

The space between where we are today and where we want to be in the future is filled with hard work and sacrifice. It’s going to be painful in some manner, so let’s adopt a mindset now that will set the stage for the daily actions of our systems.

Define The Pain We Are Willing To Endure

Define The Pain We Are Willing To Endure

Understanding what pain we are willing to go through is critical to this process. There are certain things we understand are more valuable in reaching our goals. Therefore, we are more willing to ride out the disadvantages because we realize they are necessary for success. Contrary to this, there are some things we come to recognize we are not willing to do.

This saves us time, but also attributes the lack of change to the proper source: ourselves. It allows the proper internal dialogue of “I want this in my life, but if I’m not willing to take the actions to make it happen, then I won’t have earned it.” It’s a hard pill to swallow and sometimes, just maybe, it’s this realization that makes us stubborn enough to preserve through those sacrifices.

Make sure you are setting your goals, but then make sure you outline exactly what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to make it happen.

Prepare For Failure

Prepare For Failure

There are times when we miss the mark and the critical part of failure is training ourselves to have the right response. Failure is an opportunity to start again wiser, but we should also own our faults and mistakes no matter the circumstances.

Another key to success is what is called failing forward. While we want to make sure we don’t have any catastrophic failures, learning to embrace small failures and learn from them is a valuable skill.

go for it

Be The One

Who Goes For It!

In my time working as an entrepreneur, I’ve found that failing provides useful data. I’ve often found I needed to fail in small ways (numerous times) so I could figure out what will work. Realizing this, the trick has been to reduce the time and cost between failures. By shortening the intervals between failures, I can get to a successful place more quickly.

In my personal life, I’ve found that failures often taught me more about myself than any other time. You go through a rough breakup; you learn a lot about what you do and don’t want in your next partner. You made a poor money decision, you are smarter the next time round. You let your house get really messy, spending hours cleaning it, so you start to clean a little each day instead.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford

Failure is traditionally seen as a bad thing and there are times when the shame and pain of such failure is necessary to reinforce good behaviors. In my opinion, failure also needs to be seen as a place of growth and learning.

Putting It All Together

Putting It All Together

Now that we’ve figured out what we want, it’s time to build a system to achieve our goals and get clear on what we’re willing to withstand.

Take time to get clear on what you truly want and examine the motivation behind it. Understand that you need to put in the work to make this happen. Finally, break your goals down into small daily actions that will allow you to make progress towards each day.

Your Turn!

  • What tips do you have for setting goals?
  • What goals are you going to work on this year?


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Building good habits guide
how to stop procrastination
how to prioritize guide
how to get stuff done

How To Stop Procrastination – Advice From An Expert Procrastinator Who Figured It Out

How To Stop Procrastination – Advice From An Expert Procrastinator Who Figured It Out

how to stop procrastinationI have to admit, there are times when I’ve been a procrastination pro in my life, but I’ve come around and learned how to stop putting things off before it got out of hand. So, I figured who better to share a few tips on how to stop procrastination than from a person who was once a huge procrastinator himself.

What Is Procrastination?

what is procrastination

At its core, procrastination is delaying a task for later in the future because we don’t feel compelled enough to do it right now. A good way to look at it is realizing there are two selves: a present self and a future self. Procrastination is when our present self pushes off the pain of doing something to our future self.

How To Stop Procrastinating For Good

how to stop procrastination

Understanding that there is a current self and a future self, we have a decision to make. Are we going to set up our future self for success or failure? To help drive this point home, I even go as far as visualizing a scenario where my future self could come back and say “what the hell man!” about a decision to shirk off something.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

why do we procrastinate

After many years of putting things off, I sat down and asked why I don’t get things done. It was then that I realized that procrastination is a state where not doing something has less pain than the pain you’ll incur by doing the task.

An example is if you’re just a little hungry but have no food in your house, you’ll put off getting up to drive to the store. Later, when you’re really hungry, the “pain” of hunger is larger than the pain of going to the store. So, you get up and drive to get food.

That means procrastination is a function of pain. It was then I realized that if we can manipulate the level of pain, we can push ourselves forward to get things done.

Adding Pain To The Process

adding pain to the process

Realizing that pain was the key variable here, I had to figure out a way to control the level of pain in the equation. It was this hack that I learned a long time ago when I wanted to stop drinking sodas. It seems odd at first, making things even harder, but stick with me here…

I knew it would be challenging to stop drinking sodas. At first, I said I could drink sodas with one caveat. I could drink soda; I just couldn’t buy a pack of soda for the house. What I could do though, was get in my car and drive to the gas station down the road and buy one bottle of soda to drink.

Why did this work? I wasn’t denying myself the soda, I just added the pain of having to get in my car and driving to get it. Each time I wanted a soda, I had to weigh the hassle vs. how much I wanted it.

Taking this lesson and applying it to things we are procrastinating on we can see how pain will come into play. This little trick lets us overcome procrastination by making the pain for the present self higher than the pain of doing the task. Adding pain makes a huge difference.

Visualizing Failure

visualizing failure

Another way to add pain to the process is to envision yourself not fixing your bad habits. Visualize how it could spiral out of control later in life, what is the inevitable result if we don’t fix this now? We want to take this to the most realistic extreme.

If you want to stop drinking so much, imagine what it would be like if you didn’t make the change. Imagine you drink a little more each day leading you to sleep through your alarm a few too many times. Your boss notices and fires you, which leads you to drink more, and eventually your spouse leaves you. You drive drunk back from the bar and end up killing an innocent person. You end up in jail for manslaughter.

This may seem a bit dramatic, but Let your mind go wild here and sit with that dread, angst, and self-loathing. This vision of the future may never happen, but you could use that pain to pile on your current state in order to push you forward.

How To Use Accountability

how to use accountability

Much like my methods before, accountability is another way to layer on pain, just from a different source. At its core, accountability is about adding in social and peer pressure to a positive outcome.

I have found this effective when doing my work through a mastermind group, which for the uninitiated, is a business accountability group. Each week I had to show up and layout what I actually got done, they’d compare that to what I said I’d do the week previous. This meant I added the pain of the social pressure by having to answer for my failings.

tools for building good habits




The social pressure of an accountability partner is a great technique if you can find the right people for it. I’ve found it hard to find people who could call me out on my own excuses because those types of people are also sympathetic to your circumstances.

It is easy for people that care to go easy on you. In a funny way, they too are trying to avoid the pain of social discomfort today, even though they know you’d be better for it if they went through the pain now.

Understand That Every Decision Has A Price

understand that every decision has a price

Understand that life is really a series of choices and it can be easy to think that the small little decisions – read: compromises – we make add up to major currents in our lives. It can seem trivial to choose water at dinner over a diet soda, both have no calories, right? But the cumulative effect of these can pile up fast.

The best illustration I’ve had to this effect comes from a conversation I had with a multi-metal Olympian. He said every decision he makes, he thought of it like building himself a castle, stone by stone. Each choice he made, he’d literally visualize himself laying a new stone to build his castle. If he made a bad choice, he would visualize himself walking up to the wall and pushing over a section of it.

Another approach and a technique I’ve used to good effect is when I’m faced with a decision, I ask “is this getting me closer or further from my goal?” This let me put my decisions into context and make good decisions time after time.

Understand that every choice has a price. The question is are you willing to pay the bill for your bad decisions when it comes due?

setting personal goals




Do The Work

do the work

At the end of it all, we will have the life we build for ourselves. There is no magic bullet, short cut or trick to make it happen other than to do the work. We need to ask ourselves what is the life we want for ourselves and what pain we are willing to endure to make it happen.

Be the person that sets aside excuses. Be the person that gets things done. Be the person who does the things which will get you to where you want to be. The space between where you are today and where you want to be in the future is filled with hard work. Stop procrastinating and get on with it!

Your Turn!

  • What tricks do you use to stop procrastinating?
  • What are some ways you can overcome your favorite excuse?


Click Titles To Visit Each Post

Building good habits guide
How to set personal goals guide
how to prioritize guide
how to get stuff done

How To Use A Prioritization Matrix – The Genius Method Behind Eisenhower’s Success

How To Use A Prioritization Matrix – The Genius Method Behind Eisenhower’s Success

how to use a prioritization matrixA while ago, I stumbled upon a little nugget of US history — a little tool that President Eisenhower used to great success in securing victory in WWII. With it, I’ve been able to control the chaos, keep me focused on what’s important, and keep my stress levels way down. What simple tool lead the US to victory in WWII and can help you get things done in everyday life? A prioritization matrix.

To-do lists can seem endless, and there are only so many hours in the day. It’s not uncommon to see people around us losing their minds trying to keep up with increasing demands of life and work; It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking this chaos is normal, that our own lives should be in an equally manic state. But with a few tricks, we can wrangle all the demands of everyday life that leave us stressed out for good.

The prioritization matrix is a simple concept with dramatic results, helping us understand what needs to be done first, what things can wait for later and what things we shouldn’t do at all. Eisenhower and many people today use this 2×2 matrix to figure out what their priorities are with great success.

What Is A Prioritization Matrix?

What Is A Prioritization Matrix

It’s a simple framework that is used to group tasks into four main categories: Do now, do next, do last, and do never. These are often shown in a 2×2 grid, where one side is how important something is and the other is how urgent something is. It makes more sense when you see it drawn like this:

eisenhower matrix

The most important items on your list are at the top and the least important items are on the bottom. You then also consider how urgent these things are, with high urgency on the left and low urgency on the right.

When we think about this, we want to do things that are very important and very urgent first. Conversely, we want tasks that are least important and low urgency to be at the very bottom of our list, or maybe even removed entirely. That’s where the genius of this simple little matrix comes into play, it helps us quickly decide where things need to fall in our prioritization.

Do First: High Importance, High Urgency

High Importance High Urgency

Things that are both important and urgent will fall in your top left quadrant, meaning they’re the things that you should do first before anything else. Remember that even within this box, you’ll need to rank the importance of each item.

Do Next: High Importance, Low Urgency

High Importance Low UrgencyThings that are important to you but have some flexibility in when they need to be done should be kept in your top right box. These things are important, but we have some breathing room. This is a critical distinction from the above because these things are not time dependent, which allows us to open up bandwidth to those things that are important but cannot wait.

This was a big shift in my thinking when I started using this. Separating the important things across an urgency scale meant I had space to focus on critical things.

Do Last: Low Importance, High Urgency

Low Importance High Urgency

Next come things that aren’t that important, but have a timeline attached to them. Placing these in the bottom left quadrant means if there wasn’t a deadline where we would miss out on them, these things could potentially be pushed off indefinitely. Items that land in this box are good candidates for delegation.

Since they’re of low importance, we are making a judgment call that if time permits, we’ll do them, but if more important and urgent items are still being worked on, we’d sacrifice these. Realize that things can shift in importance as time goes on and how each item ranks relative to others on the list. After checking some big items off your list, an item here might become the new most important thing.

Do Never: Low Importance, Low Urgency

Low Importance Low Urgency

These things reside in our bottom right section of the matrix, meaning that they’re at the very bottom of our to-do list. These are things that you should consider taking off your list entirely. In my post about the simple office, I talk about how certain things should be eliminated first, outsourced second, and as a last resort, delegated to someone else.

These are things that you want off your list as quickly as possible through elimination. In some cases, I put these kinds of items in my “parking lot” list, which is a catch-all list of things that I want to keep track of for some later date. This parking lot is a document on my computer that isn’t consulted often but allows me to have a place for things without a place, setting them aside to deal with later.

Why Is A Prioritization Matrix Useful?

Why Is A Prioritization Matrix Useful

Whether you’re fighting the world’s largest global conflict like Eisenhower was or just trying to get your errands done with a little more sanity, understanding what’s important and what’s not, is key. Life can get very busy and if we don’t get a handle on our to-do list, we’re just going to run in circles. We all have a lot on our plates, and not managing it will leave us stressed, tired, and unproductive.

What’s worse is we could be spending what little time we have on things that don’t matter. That’s time we could be spending with our family and loved ones, doing something we love, or just relaxing. Life is too short to waste on things that don’t matter. While we all have responsibilities and things we don’t want to do, that doesn’t mean we have to spend all day doing them.

The matrix can be put to good use in a business context or for better project planning. Using this simple concept, I’ve been able to outperform almost everyone I’ve worked with and outpace my competition all while working less and cutting down stress in a big way.

Prioritization Matrix Example

Prioritization Matrix Example

Let’s say you have four tasks to complete, but you’re not sure exactly what order to do them in. Consider each task individually. Start by hovering you pen over the center of the grid; If the item is pretty important, move your pen to be over the top row, and if it isn’t super important, hover over the bottom row. Then ask yourself if it’s urgent, meaning does it have to be done now or later? If it needs to be done soon, move your pen to the left column and add it there. If it can be done later, move it to the right column and add it there.

The temptation here is thinking that everything needs to be done right now, but ask yourself: Is that really true?

Consider the following:

  • Does this item align closely with my goals?
  • What would happen if I did it later?
  • Do any of these require the other tasks to happen first?
  • If I could only do one of these, which would I choose?
  • How does this compare to the other tasks in this quadrant?

Things that don’t closely align with your goals should not have high importance on your list.
If you feel that this is not the case, you either need to reconsider your goals or realize this item isn’t as important as you thought.

setting personal goals




Some things can actually be done a little later without any real issue, so urgency is lower. Realize that if one task relies on something else to be done first, it’s inherently less urgent because you can’t do it without doing the other thing first.

You also can make judgements on the task relative to others by asking yourself the last two questions above. I like to do a reality check with thought experiments like, “If I could only do one of these, which would I choose?” Thinking like this will force you to see how things stack up relative to other things.

Prioritizing Your To-Do List

Prioritizing Your To-Do List

Having worked with a lot of entrepreneurs, clients, and even a few CEOs, there is a major tendency to think everything is “very important”. It’s a common hang-up and mindset of many people to have to overcome before they can master their to-do lists. I’ve had people state bluntly that “everything is a priority,” and while many people may not say it, they treat their task list as such.

So let’s get this out of the way: not everything is as important as everything else. It just isn’t.

The other element of this we must realize is that certain tasks take a certain amount of time, and we have a limited amount of time in the day. We can be more efficient in how we go about doing theses actions, but the fact remains that things take time to do and we only have so much time to get them done.

A simple way to work

With that in mind, we realize that we can’t do everything right now. People will fight me on this, saying “but we’ve got to get ___ done!” This is very common and takes a shift in how we think to understand that we can do it all, just not right now. This forces us to do the most important things first, the next important thing after that, and keep moving from there. You can do everything on your list, it will just take time.

This is a really important shift in how we think because so many people get stressed out about all the things they’re not doing, the weight of undone items looming over them. With this new viewpoint, we alleviate a lot of this stress because it helps us see that we’re doing the most important things first. It gives us room to deal with what comes later when we have the bandwidth.

The most interesting part is studies have shown people who focus on a fewer priority first and move to lower tasks after that actually get way more done. The nature of multitasking has proven to be very inefficient and actually hurts our progress. In the end, focusing on a few things actually gets us there faster.

Different Use Cases For A Decision Matrix

Different Use Cases For A Decision Matrix

In its simplicity, this decision matrix allows you to put a framework to use in many different needs and contexts. While the original matrix focused on importance and urgency, you can adapt it for different needs. In many cases, importance and urgency are the key performance indicators (KPIs), but not always. Sometimes costs, value created, amount of effort, feasibility, complexity and other variables need to be considered instead.

Evaluating A Tough Decision – Pugh Decision Matrix

Pugh Decision Matrix

In your personal life or at work, there are times when you need to make some tough decisions. A decision matrix adds a little more complexity to the matrix to help you consider different options across a few variables. For example, in buying a new car, you may have narrowed your list down to two options. You could then compare those two cars across a few different measures like: cost, average maintenance, MPG, and practicality.

evaluation a tough decision matrix

The options will be along the Y axis as your rows and the different criteria you’re evaluating them on will be your columns along the X axis. You can compare any number of options and evaluate them on multiple criteria. The easiest way to do this is by checking all the criteria each option meets, then total the checkmarks. The option with the most is the best option.

You can expand this to be more complex with numbers, such as a rating from 1 to 10, or you can add in weighted factors if certain criteria are more important than others. Just realize that this framework is flexible for your needs.

Taking A Risk – Risk Reversibility Matrix

Risk Reversibility Matrix

This is an interesting matrix for making a decision where you’re not sure about the risk involved. It could be a decision where you’d have to spend a lot of money, or it could be that you’re deciding whether to move somewhere new or take a new job. This approach focuses on how much risk is involved and how easy it would be to reverse your decision to stop negative consequences.

Risk Reversibility Matrix

I used this approach when I was considering leaving my job to start a new business venture, realizing that there were several ways to go about it: start a new business on the side while still working full time, ask if I could go part time at work, or leave my job and go all in. Each had different risks associated with it and some were easier to undo than others.

Cost Benefit Analysis

Cost Benefit Analysis

Many times in life we have to consider things that may come at a cost, but could result in a positive outcome. An example might be getting a college education. A degree costs money upfront, but can lead to greater earning later on. You can hone in on various options you are considering by finding what will have the least cost with the most benefit, allowing you to get quick wins from low hanging fruit.

Cost Benefit Analysis

Product / Market Matrix – Ansoff Matrix

Ansoff MatrixWhen deciding how you might want to develop a new product, there are several ways to go about it: you can double down on your existing project, you can develop a new product for your current market, you can take your existing project to a new market or start a new product in a new market to diversify your income.

marketing matrix

The Ansoff Matrix is simply a decision matrix to make high-level decisions in business about how you want to proceed.

Using The Prioritization Matrix + Matrix Template Download

Using The Prioritization Matrix + Matrix Template Download

If you want to get started, here is a free template to download for you to start prioritizing your life and tasks at work. Included in the download are five questions to ask yourself about these tasks to make sure you put them in the right spot.

how to use matrix

How To Prioritize Your List:

  1. Make a comprehensive list of all action items
  2. Consider the qualifier questions for each item
  3. Write down tasks in the appropriate quadrant
  4. Consider what items shouldn’t make the cut
  5. Once all are sorted, rank within each quadrant

I hope this has helped you get a better grasp of how you can take charge of your task list and prioritize your way to success!

Your Turn!

  • What tricks have you learned when prioritizing things?
  • What’s at the top of your to-do list?


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Building good habits guide
How to set personal goals guide
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Building A Bias Towards Action – Be The Person Who Goes For it!

Building A Bias Towards Action – Be The Person Who Goes For it!

building a bias towards actionWhat if you were the kind of person who just went for it? The person who had a bias towards action and just got things done. The kind of person who took that leap to start a business, sat down to write that book or walked right up to that cute girl/guy and asked for their number.

Whatever you’ve been dragging your feet on, getting started can be challenging. It’s so easy to procrastinate and do it later. You wait for the right time. You want to get it perfect before you share it. Sometimes you don’t even know where to start!

Bias Towards Action Meaning:

Having a bias towards action means developing a habit where you promptly take action by making decisions quickly and setting aside common roadblocks.

Why Is a Bias Towards Action Important?

why is a bias towards action important

Forward movement toward your goals as your default pattern is a huge asset. It is easy to put something off until later or wanting more information to make a decision. However, those uncertainties come at a major expense and the data supports that. Studies have shown that those who are more likely to move towards action were many times more successful than their peers.

I’ve seen firsthand how those who move to action quickly are the winners. I’ve lost count on the number of people who came to me with big aspirations and failed miserably, not because of lack of skill, knowledge or aptitude, but because they didn’t even take the first step.

setting priorities




If you’re willing to take some calculated risks and just start, you will win big in many areas. You’ll stop procrastinating, you’ll be more successful, you’ll feel happier, earn more money, get the girl/guy you dreamed of and take your life to places you never thought possible. This may seem like a fantastical claim, but standing on this side of building a habit of going for it, I can tell you it’s incredibly possible.

Having a propensity to just go for it can help with something I call “what ifs”. These are things that will haunt you on your deathbed when you think back and say “what if I had the courage to say I loved them”, “what if I had taken that job across the country”, or “what if I pushed myself a little harder”.

What ifs are toxic forces in life: a combination of dreams deferred and haunting regrets. Between being successful in life and being filled with regrets, it’s an obvious choice. All we need to do is step up and take life by the horns.

How To Develop a Bias Towards Action

how to develop a bias towards action

Getting started won’t be easy, we are going to feel uncomfortable and resist this change. It’s easy to be lazy, to say I’ll do it tomorrow. What is difficult, though, is getting up and doing the work right now. If we want to be the best we can be and get things accomplished, it only happens one way. That happens through acting like a person who is all those things.

decisionsOver time we want to build a habit of setting aside all our excuses and moving forward even without a perfect plan or all the information. In order to do that, we need to understand that building a habit of action centers around being decisive.

There are times in life where there is one single right answer, but more often than not, there are no good answers. No amount of information gathering, expertise, or having the right circumstance will lead you to the one true answer, because it doesn’t exist.

What are we supposed to do when, more often than not, we don’t have all the information to move forward? Understand that at some point we need to move forward regardless. That requires us to be decisive, quickly formulating the best plan of action we can, then getting on with it.

Becoming More Decisive

Becoming More Decisive

Making a decision quickly is sometimes hard, we don’t always have perfect data and we may not know the best way forward. A lack of decisiveness usually stems from fear; fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, or fear of our peers perceiving us in a negative way.

This fear is often masked by our subconscious and called many things. We might feel shame, embarrassment, or something else deep in our minds that causes us to hesitate from just going for it. The first step is to recognize the fear and name it.

personal goal setting




When you feel yourself holding back from taking the leap on something, ask yourself, why that is? Some of the best decisions I’ve made in my life involved me hesitating around some fear and then understanding that fear. In most cases, just seeing my hesitations as fear allowed me to overcome that mental block.

Owning our fears allows you to at least be honest with yourself about why you’re not going for it. Without that understanding we will waste time pointing fingers at all sorts of reasons why we don’t move forward. At least now we know what the real reason is and from there, we can work through it.

It is at this point we have a choice: we can start or we can be stagnant. If there is a change in our life that we want, no amount of hoping will cause it to manifest, it is through action that we can make it happen.

Starting Badly

Starting Badly

Giving yourself the grace to start badly is an important step. No one likes to fail, particularly in front of others, but it’s an important part of the process that we need to get over. Being willing to take that first step with the understanding that we are just at the beginning and will have missteps is an important mindset to adopt.

When starting something new, we need to understand that there will be many failures and that’s okay. The interesting thing is if we make our best guess and try, two things can happen: we succeed or we fail. If we move toward action and succeed, we achieve our goal in way less time. If we fail, we suddenly have a lot more information about the problem than we did before and often become wiser much sooner.

A good example of this was when I wanted to try my hand at writing a fiction book. I’ve now written 6 books[Link To Store], but they all were non-fiction, so fiction was a totally new thing that surrounded me with anxiety. I had spent so many years reading some of the best fiction humanity has produced, how could I stack up?

By starting badly was my answer.

To do this, I sat down and started with some short stories to see what shook out. I then took those short stories and went to a writing group, where my writing was politely ripped to shreds. I licked my proverbial wounds and started again; this time much wiser.

Adopting The Right Mindset

Adopting The Right Mindset

Many people get tied up in all the things that can go wrong, putting a ton of pressure on themselves. I see people put so much pressure on themselves to succeed. One good approach that I’ve come to adopt is framing things not as a dramatic start, but as a hypothesis we are testing.

In science you’ll come up with an idea and then test it, study the results, then formulate an updated approach to test further. This was how a friend explained to me how he started new businesses.

He laid out a few ideas that he was considering and he would test out each idea in some small way. In many cases he’d only take a few steps and realize a critical flaw. He could either adjust it in a meaningful way or eliminate it for one of his other tests.

setting personal goals




I’ve since adopted a similar strategy and it’s helped me relieve a lot of the stress of potential failure. When people are asking what I’ve been up to I’ll say something like “I’m exploring these three new options right now to see if one of them has potential.”

This lets me adopt a curious mindset where failure is just a result, not some judgement passed on me. It also helps manage expectations of others by making it clear that we don’t have the answers… yet.

For this approach to work, you’ll need to set some bumpers up to keep you honest to the process. An important part of this approach is outlining the items you are going to test, how you can test them in small ways and finally what criteria you’ll use to either pivot to move forward or make the decision to stop.

The temptation with this approach is to try all of your ideas in an uncoordinated fashion. I work to narrow down to a short list, then figure out what’s the smallest action I could take to see if I can break it. Finally, I set some rules upfront before I start to guide me when to keep going or to move on to something else.

Understanding You Need To Do The Work

understanding you need to do the work

There are times we wish we could wave a magic wand and we have all that dreamed of. But that is not real life, so get over it. The only thing that will get you from where you are today to where you want to be is to put in the work to make it happen.

I talk about this a lot in my goals post (link to goals post), but realizing you need to take responsibility for improving your life is critical to getting where you hope to be. Taking ownership over our future, setting a plan and executing each day will make it happen.

Sitting on the couch wishing you had something only results in people being bitter over the things they weren’t willing to make happen. Don’t fool yourself, get out and do the work.

Understanding Locus Of Control

Understanding Locus Of Control

In psychology there is a concept called “locus of control” which helps us foster a bias towards action. Locus of control is an individual’s belief system regarding the factors to which that person attributes success or failure. If you have an internal locus, you believe your success and failures come from within you and are within your control. An external locus of control means that any successes or failures are attributed to outside of you.

Each person adopts a locus of control as their world view and to develop this bias, we need to shift our thinking to an internal locus of control. We control our destiny, our success, and our actions. Any change needs to come from within us and it will never happen unless we take action.

If we act like we control our destiny, that the source of our success (and failures) comes from within, the worst-case result will be that I believe what I do matters. The best-case scenario would be that I do have the control and I alter my trajectory of my life in a positive direction.

Stop Procrastinating And Get On With It

Stop Procrastinating And Get On With It

A big reason why people aren’t prone to getting certain things done is procrastination. The real challenge here is that it’s so easy to do! I’m sitting on my couch, Netflix has an endless amount of shows, we can order food direct to our door with one click of an app and homework or working on my work project can wait one more day.

None of those things are bad in and of themselves. It’s even fine to take some time to recharge after getting all the important work done. The problem is when we spend our time lazing about at the expense of our goals.

Building a better life for ourselves is difficult and it will only happen if we put in the work. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can wish it into being. The people who have what you want put in the work to get it.

Read more on getting over procrastinating in my full post on that topic:

go for it




Mitigating Failures And Catastrophes

mitigating failures

I think it’s important to call out the elephant in the room: if we are moving to action all the time, our failure rate is most likely going to rise with it. While we do want to move to action quickly, we also want to lessen the impact of failures, avoid them where we can, and prevent catastrophic failures.

Failures are generally fine, except when they disrupt your ability to meet your basic needs or compromise you in a way that would be ruinous. I like to make the distinction of being assertive e, but not reckless.

Earlier on I mentioned that we are often going to have to start with imperfect information, to start badly in order to get us off the starting line. One critical step to this is identifying disastrous threats that you may encounter and building boundaries around them.

This typically falls into a few categories:

  • Spending above a certain budget
  • Taking on debts or other liabilities
  • Compromising current income sources
  • Exposure to legal actions: criminal or civil
  • Crossing a moral or ethical standard
  • Not respecting important relationships

I want to be willing to face my fears of failure in order to move ahead, but I also need to know where to draw hard lines. If we are reckless, we can put ourselves in a bad place. If we get clear on the necessary standards to ensure we have our basic needs, we operate in a way that’s aligned with our own ethics and have the ability to be smart about not taking needless risks. Thus, we can avoid the major pitfalls.

In some cases, these guidelines will be a natural stopping point for consideration. Spending money is something that can be perfectly fine if done within a reasonable budget and within our means. There have been many times when I decide I want to try something and set aside $1,000 for exploration purposes. . There have been other times when I started and realized my budget wasn’t enough. This created a natural stopping point for me to consider if I can or should allocate more funds.

If I’m pushing forward, but realize that pursuing this action will impact people I care about, I know I need to have a conversation with them. For example, I wanted to move to Croatia for a few months. There were several people in my life that I had to have conversations with to make sure I wouldn’t damage those relationships. In the end they were simple conversations that didn’t take much time, but necessary to have. A few days later I was on a plane to Croatia.

Think about what your critical areas of failure are, the ones that would be serious if a failure occurred around them, then develop a process to make sure when you charge ahead, you’re not setting yourself up for a disaster. Doing this ahead of time and developing a quick checklist will allow you to move quickly but still mitigate major failures.

Common Things That Prevent You From Starting

Common Things That Prevent You From Starting

A large part of my adoption of forward momentum comes from my Mother. She has worked a lot in hospice, listening to the words of the dying. Their regrets almost always revolved around things they wished they had done. I don’t want to be on my deathbed and think back to all the things I said I’d do “someday.”

Don’t be that person who has a long list of regrets. Push and push hard.

Too often we get caught up in trying to figure out the best way to do something, we may feel like we don’t know enough to start or we are afraid of failure. Analysis Paralysis is a real thing and if you’re reading this, it’s probably holding you back.

Waiting For The Perfect Time

Waiting For The Perfect Time

Let’s get this out of the way, it will never be the perfect time. In fact, it will often be a really bad time to start. Being a person who’s decisive and gets stuff done means setting aside all of the excuses and making it happen. As you do this more and more, you’ll learn to manage the factors that make the timing poor and be successful despite them.

The saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is 50 years ago, the second-best time is right now.

Being a full-time professional blogger for over a decade now, I have received a lot of questions about getting started. People worry they don’t know how to do things, they aren’t good at writing, things are busy in their lives or careers, the list is endless.

My advice has always been to start now so you can get your biggest failures out of the way. If the right time does come around, you’ll be that much more prepared to take advantage of it. If “the right time” never does come around, you’ve started anyway and probably figured out how to make it all work out regardless.

Life is always going to be busy, conditions are never going to be perfect,, and time will always be short. Figure out your priorities in life and realize that you make time for the things that are important. If this new thing is important to you, you’ll figure out a way.



There is a common desire to get things perfect when you’re just starting out building this habit. We want to give it the attention it deserves and we want our work to be a good reflection of ourselves. Whatever the reason, understand that it will never be perfect no matter how long you spend on it.

What I have learned over the years is that often putting out a “good enough” version is a huge advantage because not only does it shorten the time to starting, but it allows us to see where we might have made faulty assumptions, where the realities of life impede us, or some other factor comes to light.

A really great illustration of this is in developing products. For a long time, people would build products, working to refine it to get it just right. Then something funny happened; They started selling it, only to learn that what they made had a critical flaw, it wasn’t of interest to customers or otherwise fell flat.

From that, we’ve learned to develop what many call a “minimally viable product”, meaning getting a product to market that is good enough to have something to offer, but not fully built out. You’ll see that a software is in “beta”, maybe there is a limited run of a book or item, or there could be a crowd funding campaign before the product is even made. These are all minimally viable products.

The important thing to realize here is that if you can get to a place of action, you’re going to learn a lot. Your assumptions are challenged and you learn a great deal about what not to do. By starting in small ways, failing, then learning from those failures, we can actually get it “right” faster than if we tried to get “perfect”.

Things That Hold Us Back

Things That Hold Us Back

We all have the same amount of time in the day, it’s totally equal. So why is it that some people seem to get a lot more accomplished than us? We will want to point to some reason why they had an advantage or we were at some disadvantage, but in reality, these are excuses.

Let me play devil’s advocate here for a moment. Let’s say these factors are real, that others have a huge advantage or you have some major disadvantage. You have a choice: let those things hold you back, or push through and make it happen anyway.

The difference is those who push forward will figure out ways to succeed despite their limitations. They will be stronger, wiser, tougher and more successful because of what held them back.

Those who let those things hold them back, will be stuck right where they are. They will be miserable because they feel cheated. They will be filled with deferred dreams and dissatisfaction for the rest of their lives. Do you want your life to be defined by such negative energy or would you rather overcome it?

There is no greater victory than standing at the finish line and being able to say “despite everything that was against me, I still made it”. You will be strong, proud, confident and able to face your next challenge head on.

Not Enough Time

Not Enough Time

Over the years I realized a simple truth: we make time for what’s important to us. With this logic, things that are done with our time are important and things that we “don’t have time for” are not really that important to us.

If things are important, not just something we say are “important”, we will find a way to make them happen. When I was doing my 75 Hard challenge, I made sure I always got my workouts in, which meant one day I was working out at 3 am before I got to bed.

Taking stock of your goals, priorities and what you think is important to you is critical in getting things done in life. Not everything is equally important. We need to know where we are going by setting goals. Then prioritizing them so we know where they lie in order of importance. With that done, we understand that something will not happen, but we have a reason behind that, allowing us to stop worrying about it.

A really good exercise here is to take stock of what you actually spend your time on. Then independently set goals for yourself. Once you’ve done these two things, see where things line up; what time gets dedicated to your goals and what time gets spent on things that don’t further your pursuit of what matters?

setting personal goals





Lacking A Skill or Expertise

Lacking A Skill or Expertise

Being a beginner can be tough because we have so much to learn. There can be a lot of fear of starting something new because we’re afraid of looking silly as we fumble through the initial learning curve. There is often a fair bit of wanting “the one right answer” or to get something perfect mixed into this too.

We first must give ourselves the permission to be bad at our new venture, understanding we are at the beginning of the learning curve. This is the natural process and those around us who are more experienced only got there by failing their way to more experience. Remember we must do the work.

Consider tapping into resources such as mentors, guides, classes and other resources to help facilitate your learning around something. By the same token, be wary of people who claim to have the magic bullet, the “one” answer, or some fool proof system. Use the resources available to you, avoid the quick and easy ways that seem to be too good to be true and realize the best way to build your knowledge or expertise is to do the work.

tips for a bias towards action

I’ll leave you with these final tips to make sure you keep moving forward.

  • Understand that most decisions are easily reversible
  • Time box your consideration: Set a short window of time to plan/research before acting
  • Think of the worst possible outcome, see how bad they really could be
  • Rely on your catastrophic checklist to avoid reckless behavior
  • Ask yourself “what if I only had a few hours and $100 to achieve this” how would you do it?
  • Look for ways to test your ideas minimally, quickly, with low cost and low effort methods
  • Realize that twice the effort rarely results in twice the outcome, so start now, don’t get it perfect


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Building good habits guide
How to set personal goals guide
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Building Good Habits – An In-Depth Strategy Guide To Changing Habits

Building Good Habits – An In-Depth Strategy Guide To Changing Habits

how to build good habitsBuilding good habits can be a real challenge, especially if you’re trying to replace a bad habit that you’ve come to embrace daily. We all know we should work out more, eat a little better, or watch a little less TV. We even tell ourselves we’re going to change, but change is hard. So, how do we build good habits?

I’ve spent a lot of time working on changing habits over the years and while I’m still learning, here is what I can share.

These lessons were learned through a series of failures as I made the shift from my old life of debt and the corporate world to my new life of being debt free in a tiny house as an entrepreneur. After a decade of wrestling with changing my habits, here is an in-depth strategy guide that will help you actually stop bad behaviors, build good habits, and find success.

Understanding Ourselves Before We Build New Habits

understanding ourselves

One of the hardest things to overcome in this process is yourself. If I’ve learned anything during this journey, it would be that we are really good at getting in our own way. This led me to realize a major limit to every person’s potential is self-accountability and understanding ourselves. If we can understand ourselves and be totally accountable for our own excuses, we can achieve our highest potential.

That means the key to your best life is the ability to own your own failings; doing so will bring massive success.

Being Brutally Honest With Yourself

Being Brutally Honest With Yourself

Learning to be honest with yourself is a painful process. It’s also a challenging task because we are so blind to truths about ourselves.

Being honest with yourself starts with being willing to call yourself out, own your faults, and admit mistakes. The goal is to have the clarity to see your failures and the humility to admit it to others.

The best way I’ve found to develop this is to shift your thinking by analyzing how you contributed to the failure and how you could have done better.

Having a mentality of ownership over your shortcomings is crucial to being honest with yourself. It’s important to question and understand how you could have done better, even when you’re doing well. And most importantly, when you feel that urge to point fingers at someone else, turn that finger around and point back at yourself. Ask, “what was my part in this and how can I fix it?”

Acknowledging that we can only control ourselves is one thing I’ve come to accept and equally struggle with every day. If I’m honest, I fail at it more days than not.

We have to set aside all the distractions that stand between us and being honest with ourselves in order to enter into a place of self authenticity.

Taking Time For Introspection

Taking Time For Introspection

Introspection has been a huge part of how I address being blind to my own truths. Taking the time to analyze and process our thoughts and feelings around different areas of your life is crucial. My go to introspection method is going for walks alone in the woods, for you it might be something different.

Making time to be alone with your thoughts is something that most people aren’t willing to do. In a world that is constantly in motion, I’m convinced that many consume themselves with being “busy”. Fearing that even a brief moment of stillness means we’d be alone to face our uncomfortable truths.

Slowing down and being alone with those uncomfortable truths is often the exact reason I need to go for very long walks. The time allows for the noise and thoughts of daily life to resolve themselves. Then, and only then, do I get into a space where I can actually do the real work of introspection. Your introspection can be anything that’s dedicated time alone without distractions.

how to destress




Stop Making Excuses

Stop Making Excuses

For years I struggled with making excuses and not owning my mistakes. Then one day it was explained succinctly to me by a mentor. An excuse puts blame outside ourselves. On the other hand, a response owns the failure knowing we could have always done more, then sets a plan of action to fix it the next time.

These two parts, ownership and responding with a plan to fix it, are the critical components of learning how to stop making excuses. Our default pattern should be owning the failure. Our default response should be to put a plan in place so it doesn’t happen again.

Ownership over your failings will move you forward in life in ways you can never imagine.

Getting External Feedback

Getting External Feedback

In addition to investing – a word I choose intentionally – in time alone, I also carefully choose people who are willing and able to call me out on my excuses. Friends, business coaches, business peers, and more are all resources to facilitate this.

This is a painful process and we have to be careful not to shut it down or to cause people to pull their punches. If you’re anything like me, you feel a visceral response as you get the hard truths of your own missteps.

You’ll snap to a defensive reaction; you’ll feel anger and a whole range of other emotions. I’m bad about trying to “explain” my way of thinking instead of just taking feedback, but that only serves to shut down the person giving us an outside perspective. The goal here is to take our punches, lick our wounds and use it as the fuel in our fight to be better.

Understanding Locus Of Control

understanding locus of control

In psychology there is a concept called “locus of control”, which is an important part of goal setting. Locus of control is an individual’s belief system regarding the causes of his or her experiences and the factors to which that person attributes success or failure. Locus is Latin for “location” so essentially it means where the source or location of control comes from.

If you have an internal locus, you believe your successes and failures come from within you and are within your control. An external locus of control means that any successes or failures are attributed to outside of you.

It is important to make the distinction a key part of the view we adopt, what our attitude is about it, and how we choose to move through this world. While there are things that happen outside our control, I believe it’s better to foster a worldview to have an internal locus of control.

locus of control arrowsStudies have shown those with an internal locus of control often have less stress and anxiety. Internal locus of control correlates with ambition and success in life and business.

Each person adopts a locus of control as their world view, often a mix, but I think it’s important for us to decide what that approach to life is going to be. I think if we are faced with the question of, “does my success come from things within my control or outside of my control?” we have two options.

The first is we could say most of what happens to us is outside of our control, so whatever happens will happen. Or we believe that we have control over our destiny and can effect change on our lives. When answering that critical question, I’d counter and say it doesn’t really matter.

go for it

Be The One

Who Goes For It!

Even if the source of our success or failures lies outside ourselves, I’m going to still act like I have full control over my future because the risk of being wrong is too great. This ties neatly into my earlier point of ownership.

If we act like we control our destiny, that the source of our successes (and failures) comes from within, the worst-case result will be that I believe what I do matters. The best-case scenario would be that I do have the control and I alter my trajectory of my life in a positive direction.

This isn’t to say that bad things won’t happen, that some of us get the short straw, or we’ll work hard and still fail. It is to say we have a choice. I choose to believe I have control over my life and if I’m wrong, then I’ll be blissfully delusional believing in myself.

How To Build A Good Habit?

how to bild a good habit

Building a new habit has a few key steps: determining the behavior’s trigger, building your recognition of the decision point, developing a new response, and replacing the old pattern.

The first step when trying to build good habits is to figure out what behaviors we are trying to stop or start and understand them. It is often the case that we decide to build a new good habit as a reaction to a bad habit. In essence, we are trying to replace bad behaviors with good ones.

Identify The Trigger Precedes The Habit

Identify The Trigger Precedes The Habit

When we look at behaviors, they typically start with some sort of stimulus: hunger, boredom, thirst, depression, etc. These triggers lead us to make a decision on how to address them. A habit is merely a decision on how to address these triggers, repeated until it becomes a default pattern for us.

I’ve found that understanding the trigger that precedes the habit lets you intervene before you have a chance to fall back into your less than desirable ways.

Figuring out the triggers can be complicated and messy because sometimes we don’t even understand them ourselves. Think about what objects or places were involved, the people around you, and what emotions or sensations happened at the same time. All these things build the circumstance that leads to the habit we are trying to change.

Recognize The Decision Point

Recognize The Decision Point

Now that we understand what the triggers are for our behavior, we want to boost our awareness of them. This was an important step for me when I was trying to lose weight. I was a big snacker, I’d be bored and I’d reach for snacks even if I wasn’t hungry.

Take time to understand your patterns. You can shift your thought patterns to recognize these or use things like visual cues (notes to yourself, etc.) to keep this top of mind.

Developing A New Response

Developing A New Response

After I built my understanding that my trigger was boredom, I started to recognize the pattern when I started looking around for snacks. Realizing the boredom, I then built my new habit of asking myself “are you hungry or are you bored?”
Get creative with your response and tailor it to your needs and circumstances.

Replace The Old Pattern

Replace The Old Pattern

If you just try to cut out something, there will be a gaping hole left that is begging to be filled the next time that trigger comes around. To fill that gap, try replacing the habit with something positive.

Instead of snacking when I was bored, I started drinking water… a lot of water. When I caught myself searching for snacks out of boredom, I’d drink about 25 ounces of water instead. This would make my stomach feel full long enough for me to move on to something else.

When choosing what to replace your old behaviors with, consider replacing it with things that do the following:

  • Functions off the same triggers
  • Shares similar reinforcement mechanisms
  • Are easier to do than your bad behavior

You want to make sure you are swapping apples with apples as much as possible in as many dimensions as you can. Living in an imperfect world, it’s imperative to have multiple positive replacements for a single bad habit. If you have a long list of alternatives to choose from as a response to your trigger, you’ll be able to make a better choice instead of falling back into your old way.

Building Routines To Reinforce New Habits

building routines to reinforce new habits

If you spend any time reading up on building new behaviors, you’ll quickly find a lot of talk about building routines; things like The Miracle Morning, Journaling, or other practices that bring intention into your life.

I personally don’t subscribe to building routines as a way to build new habits, but they are very effective for others. It is for this reason that I wanted to bring them up, because in the end, you want to use every trick in the book to your advantage. If they work for you, use them.

What I personally like to focus on is the triggers, because behaviors can happen any time and when life gets crazy, you might not be able to stop for your normal routine. Having an awareness of behavior triggers will let you meet that trigger head on, whenever it occurs.

Building A Strategy For Your New Habits

strategy for new habits

The odds are stacked against you when it comes to starting a good habit, so we need a plan to make it happen. Failure to plan means you plan to fail and if you’re anything like me, I’m here to win.

Taking some time up front, even just a little, will make sure you are set up for success, able to overcome barriers, and push through failures. Here are my tips around building a strategy that works for your new habit:

P.A.C.E. Planning

PACE Planning

The military uses P.A.C.E. planning to make sure when things go wrong, there still is a pathway to a successful mission. You don’t need to do anything complicated, but when you start out, mentally think through a P.A.C.E. plan. This acronym stands for Primary, Alternative, Contingency and Emergency. Primary is the ideal option, alternative is a solid second option if you can’t do the first, contingency is where it will get the job done with some hassle and emergency is the last resort with some compromises.

For example, I participated in a fitness challenge called 75 Hard where I had to do some form of exercise twice a day. My primary was to work out in the morning and then again after work. My alternative was to work out right after work, then again after dinner. My contingency plan was to do the two workouts back to back after work and my emergency was to stay up as late as I needed to in order to do two exercises.

Figure out your P.A.C.E. plan for your new habits.

Plan For Chaos

Plan For Chaos

The biggest place people fall down on building new habits is when life gets crazy. Mike Tyson said “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” and that is equally true here. The real problem is that people make a plan assuming everything is going to go according to plan. A plan that relies on nothing going wrong is a flawed plan from the beginning.

You’re going to try to make progress, to change and build a better life for yourself, but the universe is conspiring against you. It’s a reality we need to recognize.

How are you going to handle things when life gets busy, when you’re feeling sick, when the gym is closed, when that meeting runs way over or someone hands you a piece of cake without asking if you wanted it?

Building A Plan Of Action For Failures

Building A Plan Of Action For Failures

When you first start a new habit, take time to develop a plan for if or when you do fail. You shouldn’t expect to fail, but you should plan for failure all the same.

I frequently see a pattern where people slip up one single time and then give up totally despite having come so far. It’s important to realize that a mistake for a single instance doesn’t outweigh a series of wins; even if those wins are yet to be realized.

I once was feeling down about something that happened earlier in the day while chatting with a friend. I was talking about it when they asked “Was it a bad day or was it a bad 5 minutes that you milked all day?” That really stuck with me and let me realize that if I do slip up, I need to use the energy of all the wins I’ve had up to that point to carry me through.

Be A Fire Marshal, Not A Fire Fighter

Be A Fire Marshal Not A Fire Fighter

Things will come up where we have to move quickly and drop everything to address a certain problem. In this case, you can spend a lot of time putting out fires. This will happen occasionally, but after the emergency passes, we want to think back and ask how we can prevent the scenario in the first place so next time it doesn’t blind side us.

Moving through life I’ve had to admit that some people can’t get their acts together no matter what. They live in a perpetual state of needless drama, crisis or negative space. I’ve worked on teams where they were always in a crisis and emergencies were the norm.

I’ve found thinking like a Fire Marshal to be very helpful to bring stability to the team. By the same token, after much effort, it signals to me when the fit isn’t right and I need to move on.

To my earlier point about excuses vs. responses, we want to develop a response to what happened. In the end we don’t want to be a Fire Fighter who has to put out fire after fire, we want to be the Fire Marshall who prevents the fire from happening in the first place.

Build In Buffers

Build In Buffers

Scheduling yourself back to back on your calendar is a recipe for disaster. If I’m honest I do this too often, particularly around time for traveling between appointments. We should assume most meetings will go over by 30 minutes, there will be traffic and the lines will be long at the post office. If we end up with extra time, either use it to get ahead or just relax!

Adding slack in your schedule is important and will make life less hectic and more productive. To this point, I try to make time to prep before a meeting and debrief when it’s over. It’s important to plan time for travel with traffic, assume that finding a parking place will be difficult, etc.

busy schedule

Battle Of The Busy


Learn To Say No

And Manage Your Time

Finally, stand your ground on defending these buffer times. It can be tempting to try to fit things in these “free” times, but it will only stress you out. Hold your ground on those times and don’t offer explanations for them when people are trying to find a time with you.

Use The Tools In Your Tool Box To Build Good Habits

tools for building good habits

Building good habits is a skill we can develop. Just like a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets. It’s easy to be lazy and fall back into our old ways, so we need to stack every advantage in our favor.

We’ve talked a lot about what strategies you can employ to build good habits and remove bad habits from your life. If you fall down, it’s important that you get back up and push forward. I’d say good luck, but you know that building good habits isn’t luck, it’s doing the work every single day.

Your Turn!

  • What tips do you have for building good habits?
  • What habits are you trying to break?


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