The Simple Secret to Higher Productivity

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A lot of people want to know how to be more productive at work. Are you one of them? I've struggled with this same issue, even though I work from home when I'm not traveling to speaking engagements. It affects everyone.

Well, it's not about the having the latest software, the smartest personal assistant, or the most ergonomic chair. While all those things can be beneficial to you at your job, I believe the most important tools for maximum productivity are a healthy body, a clear mind, and the pure desire to learn and grow. You already possess the tools, it’s just about fine-tuning them.

We have to take ownership of ourselves, prioritizing our physical and mental health, and understand that we have the power to make our lives what we want them to be. We get to choose how to enter situations and how to respond and react to opportunities when they arise. When we realize that fact, when we really own it, the possibilities become endless. And increasing our productivity at work is just one of the benefits.

I'm not here to preach at people to eat their greens, drink their 8 glasses, and exercise 5 days a week. I’m just here to illuminate the facts that a healthier body does actually lead to that clearer mind. And that clearer mind does actually allow for better focus. And that a desire to learn from every new situation will open new pathways in your brain that will illuminate the world in front of you. All of these things lead to a happier you, which is absolutely, no doubt, a more productive you.  

Sound good?

9 Reasons to Be a Lifelong Learner

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If you feel like I’m about to shake my pointer finger at you and give you a lecture about why you’re not doing enough to continue your education as an adult, then maybe your views on learning are ready for an upgrade.

You see, a lot of us immediately conjure up this image of chalkboards, desks, and stuffy classrooms when we think about the topic of learning. We return to that age when someone else dictated our schedule and there was homework and book reports and not enough recess. Even if you were “good at school,” it’s not necessarily a time to which you wish to return.

And that’s what needs to change. Learning should invoke feelings of limitless possibility, excitement, enthusiasm, and passion. Kid-on-Christmas-eve; not kid-memorizing-facts-for-test. And why does it matter? Why should you care?

Funny you should ask. I’ve got 9 very beneficial-to-you reasons right here:

  1. Keep up with your fast-evolving industry. The times they are a-changin’. And if we don’t want to be left behind, we have to follow their lead — or better yet, stay ahead of it.

  2. Achieve personal goals. If we’re truly honest with ourselves, none of us have reached the place in our lives where we no longer have hopes and dreams — even if they are way in the background. (I hope I never reach that place because that would mean I’m no longer growing.) And new goals require new knowledge.

  3. Reap hidden benefits. Learning new skills almost always impacts our lives in other positive ways that weren’t part of the intention. You learn an instrument in order to satisfy your love of music, but it ends up bonding you with your child. You learn a computer program for a job, which you end up using for personal projects as well. You learn people skills for your retail job, which helps you better negotiate your own deals when you call up your credit card company or interact with the pest control guy. Who doesn’t love a good bonus?

  4. Make more money. Sometimes new skills can straight up equal a promotion in your job. You up your value as an employee and it translates to dollars. The cool thing is, in some industries, the company will even pay for the education! If you’re self-employed, learning new skills is a must — it is literally the only way to survive.

  5. Save time and energy. New technologies are appearing daily (in fact, it’s growing exponentially), and while it can feel overwhelming, there are many apps, programs, and systems that can automate time-consuming tasks and flat out make your daily life more productive.

  6. Get a confidence boost. Adding to our own personal knowledge base feels good. It gives us value and a sense of self-worth. It reminds us we are in control of our destiny. And that’s an incredibly empowering feeling.

  7. Expand your worldview. Learning opens doors we didn’t even know were there. We stretch our minds and literally change the pathways in our brains. (It’s called plasticity, and it’s really, really cool.) Our perspectives can open up as we start to see the same old situations in brand new ways, and we can even become more empathic towards others as these new perspectives emerge.

  8. Create new and deeper relationships. If done in a group setting, learning can lead to strong bonds and new social relationships with other like-minded individuals, which can in turn lead to more in-depth and better learning — its circular. And collaboration with other can lead to greater rewards and better solutions to problems. It’s a win/win/win/win.

  9. Battle the negative effects of aging. As humans age, reflexes slow, memory fails, and the brain actually physically shrinks. It’s not pleasant to think about, but there are proven things we can do to fight it, and there happens to be strong evidence that shows that lifelong learning and cognitive training reduces the decline and increases well-being in old age.

Even with all these amazing benefits to being a lifelong learner, we still encounter roadblocks. And one of the biggest and most common is time.

The good news is that there are ways around the ever-persistent ticking of the clock. Have you ever given thought to the fact that the system you use for learning is outdated? It’s not as effective or as efficient as it should be? Most of us blame time so much that we neglect to acknowledge there is something we could change within ourselves, something that we have complete control over.  

Make some tweaks to your learning system. In the same way that we get a new smartphone from time-to-time, trade in our car for a newer one, or update our wardrobe as the times change — Your learning system needs an upgrade. Make an investment in YOURSELF that will continue to serve you for the rest of your life.

And whatever decision you make, don’t underestimate the power of expanding your knowledge.

Stories from the Circus: More Than Words Connects Us

We all know somebody who has an idea that the rest of us think is crazy.  For some, it is opening a business with an innovative new concept.  Others, it may be a hiking expedition through the Himalayas.  Whatever the adventure may be, the hardest part is stepping out of our comfort zone and jumping in feet first.  

Well, in 2006, I did just that -- I gathered my things and ran away to join the circus.  This circus just happened to be all the way in Switzerland, and I was hired to be their ringmaster.  As you might expect, this turned out to be an amazing life changing experience.  I got to work across 51 cities in over 300 shows with an amazing international cast of performers from Canada, Poland, France, Germany, Finland, Morocco, and Spain.

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With so many different languages spoken within the cast, the success of our collaboration relied heavily upon the knowledge of our craft and the ability to communicate with each other. My job as ringmaster was to take our energy and transform it into a form that each audience could understand. I had to convey emotion – excitement, sadness, joy – as well as transition each piece into an organic flow, all without the ability to use my native language of English.  

As I got a new notch in my belt with each passing show, I started to gain an understanding of how much more there is to communication than just the words we say and the language that we speak.  Just as important are the underlying layers that include our body language, our energy, and our intentions.  

All of those things create a message, and the coolest thing is that I captured this new understanding and applied it to my everyday life without even realizing it! For example, when I went to the baker, I had to explain to him which loaf of bread I wanted – all without knowing how to speak Swiss German proficiently.  

Each question had to be formulated in my mind and expressed through my actions. This allowed me to take a mental review of how I was communicating with people through verbal and non-verbal skills in order to improve the quality of my personal and professional relationships.   

With all of that in mind, ask yourself this: How are you interacting with people on a daily basis? Are you being crystal clear with your intentions?  Is the tambour of your voice in rhythm with your body language? How can you use this new awareness to your advantage; to communicate clearly, deepen your relationships, and build a better connection with the people you work with?

How to Accelerate Your Learning With Creative Deadlines

When you hear the word "deadlines," what comes to mind? An angry boss breathing down your neck as you bang out an overdue memo, right? Does the very thought make your blood pressure rise? Most of us have an unhealthy relationship with deadlines. We think of them as cruel constraints on our work. "If only those pesky deadlines would go away, I could accomplish anything," you may find yourself thinking.

Constraints, however, can actually be a good thing. They can be a powerful tool, helping us accelerate our learning in ways we never thought possible. And deadlines are among the most powerful constraints out there. They help us take vague "someday, maybe, when I have time" learning goals and turn them into "this day, this place, this time" realities.

Today, I'm going to show you how to set creative deadlines in order to achieve your learning goals. I'll give tips on how to keep your deadlines specific, as well as how to add extra accountability. Let's do this thing!

The Power of Creative Deadlines

Deadlines force you to focus. It's all too easy to procrastinate on even a very a specific learning goal if you don't have a concrete date (and, ideally, time and place) by which you plan to achieve it. When I was learning to juggle, for example, I had a show lined up before I even knew what I was doing (seriously, I had just learned from a guy I met on the street!). The pressure was on, and I responded accordingly.

To make deadlines work for you, they must be specific. When someone says, “I want to learn piano,” and that’s the extent of it, there’s no specific goal. And who’s to say when “learning piano” is actually achieved? Do they want to learn "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"? Do they want to be able to play a couple songs to entertain at family gatherings? Do they want to be able to solo like Stevie Wonder? Get specific about which you mean, and put it on your calendar.

How to Stay Accountable

Many of my learning goals have been tied to serious professional deadlines. I pre-sold 220 copies of my book to a nationwide company before I even wrote it...so you can bet I finished it on time! The same was true of learning to play the saxophone: I had a specific show where I planned to debut the instrument, and I rose to the occasion to make sure I didn't disappoint my audience.

 Your own career may not depend on your learning (although if it does, I challenge you to see that as an opportunity, not a chore), but you can still add some extra pressure to your deadlines. If you're learning the piano, invite all your friends and family to a "recital" at your house. Type up invitations and everything, make it official. This way, you'll have to at least show up and do something. It may not be brilliant, but I guarantee that having a deadline and an audience lined up will motivate you to learn way more than you ever would otherwise.

Deadlines Are Your Friend

I hope you now realize that when it comes to learning new skills, deadlines are not something to fear; they're something to embrace. When you commit to accomplishing your learning goals by a clear deadline (ideally one that has an audience or other form of external accountability), you'll be able to take your learning to a place you never imagined possible.

So, what are you waiting for? Write that goal down and put it on your calendar! I'm pumped to see what you'll achieve.

What Playing the Saxophone Can Teach You About Writing a Book or Starting a Business

So many of the things I've accomplished in life seemed impossible at first. Take playing the saxophone. The first time I put that instrument to my mouth, the result sounded like an angry, squawking goose. It was a far cry from the fantasy I had of playing like a master, my fingers dancing up and down the instrument with perfect flow. To be honest, I felt stupid for even trying to learn. What business did I, a juggling circus ringmaster turned public speaker, have with something that belonged in the hands of greats like Charlie Parker?