Make your personal goals a priority.

There is controversy over how to best set up a to-do list, or for that matter, if to have one at all. Here’s an approach that many highly successful people use.

The key is to start our list the day before, about midway through the day, when we are on top of things, but not exhausted. This list should start with only three important tasks, and one being the absolute, must-do priority.

The tasks should be achievable, broken down to take up to 45 minutes of our time, so not a complete goal, just steps towards our objective. Ensure that the tasks are in line with your values.

They should also be scheduled in, with a deadline, for example: “Contact key client by 10am.” Most of us work well to deadlines. We should try to accomplish our most important task first thing, before the daily emergencies kick in. Then, tackle the next two items that are significant to us. Only after our top three tasks are complete, should we consider the less important list items, or other people’s priorities.

Take action: It’s important to know what our own priorities are, as opposed to what other people want us to do. If you are not clear on your values and goals, or don’t have a vision for who you want to be, make that number one on your list.

Inspired by Jason Selk, Tom Barton and Matthew Rudy’s book, Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life.

Small acts of defiance can keep us motivated.

To be self-motivated, we need a sense of control over our lives. Drive, determination, and willpower, come from linking our actions to our personal identity and the values that are meaningful specifically to us. Rebelling against society’s rules can actually help us achieve more. This allowance doesn’t mean we should hurt anyone, but since our values are unique, we’ll be more motivated if we take the authority to direct our own actions.

Creating a few ways to personalize a situation can trigger our “internal locus of control,” the sense that helps us define our lives, instead of unconsciously living within external confines. Having this autonomy can help us make better personal choices, which makes it easier to take action and follow through on our commitments.

For instance, if we manage a team at work, we may be told to host weekly status meetings. If we believe those meetings waste time, our motivation will wane. Instead of agreeing and procrastinating, if we committedly decide not to do it, we’ll be more motivated to find and regularly execute a more effective way to communicate status within our team.

Take action: What in your life have you been told to do, or that you are expected to do, that you can’t find the motivation for? Figure out the value that action is connected with, customize a way to achieve it effectively, and see if you stop procrastinating.

Inspired by Charles Duhigg’s book, Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.

Constructive thinking beats positive thinking.

Our attitude is the one thing in life we can fully control. We can be a victim of circumstances, or victorious over them, by choosing our own mental outlook. Our frame of mind can set us up for expectations of success, which leads us in that direction, and often comes to fruition. A positive disposition shows in our character, and attracts more of the same sort of people into our life.

However, many of us confuse “positive thinking” with “wishful thinking,” which ultimately is just a temporary mask covering our true thoughts and leaving us emotionally stuck.

The term “constructive thinking” may be more suitable, because it implies open mindedness and growth. We all have hardships in life, we can choose to manage them constructively, learn from them and grow mentally stronger. Constructive thinkers are aware of negativity, use it to assess and work through underlying problems, and then let it go when it’s no longer useful. They are careful about what they allow to manifest in their brain. They choose thoughts that build strength and lead to growth.

Take action. Everything that seems doom and gloom has an optimistic, hopeful and positive side to it as well. Definitely challenge yourself to find the sunny side, but also take the time necessary to deal with the negative feelings. Accept them, mentally process them, learn from them, and then let them go and get back to positivity.

Inspired by Hal Urban’s book, Life’s Greatest Lessons: 20 Things that Matter.

The pursuit of happiness can be the source of our unhappiness.

This tip brings up a lot to think about. It’s not a simple statement by any means. If we strive for happiness down the road, we could be missing out on the real happiness of the present. Of course we’ll continue to have goals to improve our future, but here are a few things we can do to better our current situation. 1. Be in the present. That doesn’t mean we don’t think of the future, but we need to cap it when it is no longer useful for us, and get back to what’s happening now. 2. Focus on the process instead of the result. We can’t always control results, but we have a great deal of steering power on the journey. 3. Be mindful. Awareness of the small things in the present can open up infinite possibilities. 4. Be grateful. Even if we’re at rock bottom we probably have a great deal in our life we can appreciate. 5. Create a happier path to our goal. Our achievements can be short-lived, but the journey to get there is long. It makes sense to put emphasis on the path, not just the goal.

Take action: The balance between striving for future happiness, and serenity in the present is a tricky one. If you’re one to say, “If only I won the lottery, then I’d be happy,” then it’s time to refocus. Meditation helps a lot of people with this quest, but if reflection is not for you, try a simple two-minute purposeful pause to come back to the present.


Inspired by Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-help that Actually Works – A True Story.

Use momentum to build resilience.

We all have mental battles to fight on our way through life’s journey, especially when it comes to sticking to new habits. If we know how we can win these battles physically, it can actually be a detriment, in that it can lead us to avoiding the mental training process. Going through the tough stuff makes us stronger because it builds our “fight-through” mindset. It teaches our brains which neurons to fire so that we will be prepared later, when we really need the strength. This discipline builds momentum every time we use it, making the next battle easier. Conversely, if we skip out, momentum works against us. Here’s an example many of us can relate to: a diet. We start it, and see some success, so know how we can physically keep going. But instead, we let that success trick us into thinking it’s OK to have just one, small cookie. Then we find the next time we’re faced with that cookie, it’s even harder to resist. It’s because we didn’t teach our brains how to enter that “fight-through” headspace in that area.

Take action: Just recognizing when you are in that “fight-through” phase can flip a switch so your brain goes into battle mode. Catch yourself when you say things like, “I’ll skip this today because I already…” or “I’ll do extra of that tomorrow since…”.

Inspired by Jason Selk, Tom Barton and Matthew Rudy’s book, Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life.

Shift-tasking is the new multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking seems to be a requirement in society lately, but it only works well when the tasks we’re doing can acceptably be done less adequately, or are so habitual they can be done on auto-pilot. For instance, we can send a casual text while waiting in line for lunch. However, sending an important email, while out for lunch with colleagues, can lead to weird auto-correct typos and nasty looks from our hungry co-workers. We often think that we can quickly switch from one task to the next, and back again, but the mental energy those transitions require, adds up to a considerable amount of wasted time.

Instead of splitting our focus to juggle important duties somewhat simultaneously, it can be more effective to focus fully on one task for a period of time – for most people that’s about 45 minutes – then take a short break, and shift our brain power to focus fully on the second task for another 45-minute sprint. For example, we could choose to focus on emails for 45 minutes with no interruptions. Then quit our email application and take a physical and mental break, such as a simple stretch, or check off a 2-minute item from our to-do list, or perhaps pre-emptively connect with people who are likely to try to interrupt us later in the day. Next, get back in the productivity zone for the second undertaking.

Always leave a small period of time at the start and the end of an activity to shift focus. Sure, we’d all like to have days where we can concentrate on one responsibility without feeling pulled in many directions, but for many people’s time-crunched reality, shift-tasking is a solution that allows for focused productivity for a realistic amount of time, and that optimizes our brains for massive output.

Take action: Let your co-workers know you don’t want interruptions by putting out a “do not disturb” signal. If you can’t close a door, big headphones are a good sign (they can be silent, it’s a visual clue). And try using your phone as a countdown timer, setting it on your desk so people will know when you’re available again, without asking when they should come back.

Inspired by David DiSalvo’s book, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite.

Captivate, by telling a gripping story.

As human beings, we are attracted to good stories because they are engaging, memorable, and they appeal to our emotional side. If we want to connect with someone, telling a compelling story will leave a lasting impression in both their head and their heart. Although there are numerous ways to tell a good story, there are some key aspects that are common to all approaches. Stories need a structure for the listener to follow – beginning, middle and end is most familiar. The beginning needs to give the context, or set the scene – when and where is the story taking place? It also introduces the character(s); often it’s ourselves, or we make the listener the hero. An important challenge or dilemma is presented here too. The middle part describes the main character’s journey through a struggle, and some sort of internal and/or external transformation during the challenge. The end resolves the challenge and the hero comes out with an emotion. That connecting sentiment could be victorious, disappointed, relieved, educated, confused, inspired, you name it. There are lots of tricks to enhance our stories too. We can incorporate an element of surprise, describe a relatable emotion, use humour, include a metaphor, add dialogue, express with gestures, display an illustrative prop, get super descriptive, and so on. Storytelling is an essential skill that builds instant rapport, and leaves a lasting impression.

Take action: If you know you’re heading into a situation where you’ll be meeting new people and want to quickly get past small talk, craft a couple stories ahead of time. Some thought starters: how you met your significant other, an experience you’ve had with a particular organization, a flubbed renovation, a funny misunderstanding, or something odd you noticed on your way to the event.

Inspired by Paul Smith’s book, Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince and Inspire.

Our comfort zone is no longer in our safety zone.

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Comfort zone and safety zone used to be interchangeable terms, or it was thought that our comfort zone was contained within our safety zone. Things that we do repetitively, without challenging ourselves to create something new, are comfortable to us, and they feel safe because historically we’ve been fine doing them. Maybe we go into work, do our 8 hours, collect a paycheck, and do it again. Or we’re expecting to have a similar family life as we had growing up, assuming that if it worked for our parents, it will work for us. Or we think we’re going to retire at 65 and everything will magically be fine. But this comfort is a false sense of security. We’re now living in a world where we have global influence, artificial intelligence, less privacy, and robots that will replace jobs and disrupt industries. We need to be more than just competent, and do more than just follow the current norm. We need to have vision, and offer unique value. Because of technology, the world is quickly shifting, and we need to shift too. If we are not creating something new and meaningful, then we may no longer be safe. It’s like getting caught out by bad weather when flying on autopilot; we’re hitting some bad weather and we need to consciously take control to avoid disaster. Conformity and living the status quo, may have worked for us during industrial times, but they are a mismatch with our current connected and technological culture. Instead, ideas, curiosity, specialized ability and surprise will do us well. If we’ve been stuck within our comfort zone, it’s likely we’ve developed mental boundaries and limitations about what we can do, so stepping outside of that will make us feel vulnerable. But, so long as we find, and stay within our new safety zone, avoiding things that will actually physically, emotionally, and spiritually harm us, we’ll be fine. Experiment by pushing the comfort boundaries a little, then a little more, and build on what works. When we can contribute to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world in our own personal and creative way, we’ll be adding unique value and we’ll find safety again.

Take action: Create something, anything, and share it. Here are a few ideas: If you love to write, start a blog. Love cooking? Try catering a friend’s event. Have a good voice? Sing in public. The point is to create something new, or put your spin on something existing, and put it out into the world. Remember, you’re not contributing to others until you share it.

Inspired by Seth Godin’s book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?

Find potential in all opportunity.

We often see other people’s success and think that they started with a better opportunity than we’ve been given. Sometimes that’s true, but often we overlook the potential that is right in front of us. We tend to think that we’re getting a bad hand while others get all the good stuff. Here are three common excuses we may be familiar with: 1, at work we may think that our co-worker gets assigned better projects than we do, and dismiss that she actually got a similar bad brief, but her work turns into greatness because she’s been extra resourceful. Or 2, in a book club, our friend may stand out by having a very interesting point of view influenced by an article he read. We may not have liked the assigned book, but we could have researched new angles as well. Or 3, maybe we use a friend’s highly recommended contractor for a renovation, but instead of getting a beautiful, new bathroom, we end up not happy with the work. We forget that our friend has had more experience working with contractors than we have, and we could have asked for help in that area. Sure, sometimes our opportunities in life are not great, but they all have potential if we can figure out how to get more out of them.

In the mentioned work example, some tasks can be done twice, once by doing it as it’s been requested, the second time by breaking the rules and being ultra creative. There’s a good chance the final piece will land somewhere in between. In the book club case, brainstorming inspiring, fresh ideas can help us enhance the opportunities we receive, and a bit of extra research can bring surprising results. And for renos, asking questions and having a deep curiosity can not only help us figure out how to improve a condition, it can also lead to new levels of expertise through the power of collaboration. It’s too easy to just think that other people get better opportunities, and not put in the effort required to make what we have acquired, great. It’s not about the hand we’re dealt, it’s about how we play it.

Take action: Find value in what you do. Sometimes a task feels menial and not worth your time, but if you reframe it, you can turn it into an opportunity. Plus, these sorts of circumstances tend to have a snowball effect, in that, if you perform well consistently, the opportunities in front of you will grow more favorable.

Inspired by Paul Arden’s book, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be.

How to connect, in the connected world.

Technology has changed the way we build relationships. As humans, relationships are just as significant to us, as they’ve always been, but the ease of tech has lured us away from in-person conversations. We’ve become more solitary and have fewer interactions with the physical people around us. To be properly fulfilled, we still need an intimate form of connection, like the old-school conversations. On the flip side, tech can also enhance our relationships; but, it’s not about how many friends, fans, or followers we have, it’s about the people who would miss us, if we stopped connecting. Many of us use social media to broadcast what we are doing, few of us use it to share our deep thoughts, and even less of us share our views within a dynamic conversation with other engaged people. Until we get to this level, we are not truly connecting. Creating value, building trust, and putting in the emotional effort are hard because it’s the unknown. It means taking a risk of being judged, getting negative feedback, and being vulnerable. To put our self out there, in a way that invites others to connect back, means giving up control. One-way broadcasting online is relatively easy, so for many of us, that’s our default (likes and hearts are too insignificant to be considered conversation). Connecting in a good relationship takes time, effort and vulnerability, whether online or in-person. If we are brave with these connections, we will eventually be rewarded.

Take action: Get involved with an online community and reply to a comment – agree, disagree, give an example or expand a thought. Jump in to a conversation that you feel strongly about, and ask an open question, instead of just broadcasting one-way. And then bring that new experience to someone in person.

Inspired by Seth Godin’s book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?