“Pick 4” Productivity Experiment – Day 1


I’m excited to announce that today, February 16th, marks the beginning of a productivity experiment I will be running for the next 12 weeks!

Watch the video for full details of my “P4” Experiment.

By May 8th, 2015, I will have:
1) Matched 150 entrepreneurs/freelancers/business owners into peer-mentoring “Mastermind” groups (up from 25 entrepreneurs in the last round)
2) Launched and Grown a Podcast from 0 to 500 monthly listeners
3) Increased the number of DNX GLOBAL participants by at least 500
4) Weighed in at 85kg with 12% Body Fat (Currently 81kg at 17% Body Fat)

– “Pick Four” Notebook – Daily Goal Journaling (you just saw it explained)
– Pre-Commitment via Public Accountability Video (you just saw it)
– Week by week PLAN (summarized below)
– Daily Routine (detailed below)

The Plan Overview

1) Match 150 Entrepreneurs into Mastermind’s by May 8th

Just last week, I launched round 2 of my Mastermind Initiator program, a peer-mentoring matching service for entrepreneurs and business owners here in Berlin. In this round, I matched 25 entrepreneurs into 5 Mastermind groups.

Now I’m looking to match 150 face2face groups here in Berlin. Above all, this is going to mean developing a more streamlined process for the placement interviews. I’m going to shoot for conducting 4x 30min placement interviews/day starting next week. After conducting 40 interviews, I will use emerging patterns to scale back to a formula-based approach to matching the groups. I’ll also put together free Mastermind Training & Info-sessions, as a means to interview groups of people.

2) Launch and Grow a Podcast to 500 Monthly Listeners by May 8th

More on the concept for this podcast coming out at the end of this week, but it will be focused on the founders of bootstrapped business and inspiring bootstrapped launch stories.

This will be fully launched by the end of February, and starting in March I will release one episode/week, for a total of 10 episodes over the next 12 months.

3) Increase the number of DNX GLOBAL Participants by 500 by May 8th

We’ve already got an awesome foundation of participants for the Digital Nomad conference this summer already. But I believe we can crack 1000 before it launches on August 1st of this year :). To keep us on track for that, I’ll be pulling my share to bring up the number of participants by 500 by May 8th.

Every day, I’ll send at least 1 outreach email to bloggers, podcasters and press in the Digital Nomad niche

4) Weight 85kg at 12% Body Fat

I currently weigh 81.5kg at ~17% Body Fat. My plan is to count my calories and track my activity levels for the next 3 months, consuming a surplus of 400 calories/day for 2 months, and then consuming at a deficit of 300 calories/day for 1 month.

I will do Crossfit Workouts 3x/week, plus 1x workout where I lift 3 heavy sets failing at 12, 10, and 8 reps for:
-Kettelbell Flys
-Weighted GHD Situps


Daily Routine

I’m a big believer in consistency and habit as the drivers of productivity and performance. When I’ve worked sporadically and in bursts in the past, I have tended to overexert myself one day, then fall off the band-wagon entirely the next. Starting is the hardest part, and I want to put myself into a rhythm of productivity which reduces the energy around “starting” as much as possible.

This is why, for the duration of these next few months, I want to have as regular and consistent a schedule as possible. A schedule & routine which I can maintain over 3 months, but which will nevertheless, get me across the finish-line. What you see below is the schedule I will stick to 95% of the time.

Max’s Daily Routine (weekdays)
6:29   –   6:30 – Wake-up
6:30   –   8:00 – Morning Routine (weigh in, selfie, light 3km jog, 20 pushups, brush, shower, meditate, affirmations, breakfast)
8:00   –   9:30 – Concentrated MIT Sprint #1 (Most Important Task)
9:30   – 10:00 – Snack & Break
10:00 – 11:30 – Concentrated MIT Sprint #2
11:30 – 12:00 – Snack & Break
12:00 – 13:00 – Concentrated MIT Sprint #3
13:00 – 13:30 – Lunch Break
13:30 – 14:00 – Nap
14:00 – 17:00 – Misc Meetings
17:00 – 18:15 – Eat and Rest
18:15 – 19:30 – Crossfit/Workout (if applicable)
21:00 – 21:45 – Evening Routine/Reset (includes Pick Four journaling, etc)
21:45 –           – Lights out

I’ve already been doing 80% of this routine for the past 3 months, so it will mostly be a matter of taking meal breaks more consistently


11 weeks and 6 days to go.
That’s the plan folks, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Have any of you ever taken on something similar?
Anyone else have experience with daily “goal journaling”?

More soon!

How to Block your Facebook Newsfeed 100%


A few days ago I eliminated one of the biggest online productivity crushers known to man.

The Facebook News Feed.

I’d like to preface this by saying that I’ve been able to cut down on my facebooking a lot. I mostly only ever log on to check messages, and it is the fastest way to get a response from some of the people I communicate with.

But my intentions quickly become irrelevant once I’m on the site.

“I really need to get in touch with X [person], and also check and see if Y [person] has responded to me about Z [important meeting].”

I jump on facebook “real quick”, and 1 hour later I come to my senses. At this point I realize that while I HAVE checked up on 3 distant acquaintances (who are in the midst of breakthrough moments in their careers/lives right now), watched 2 Upworthy videos, and partially planned my weekend… I definitely HAVEN’T made those 2 task-relevant contacts which I set out to make initially.

Until now.

Screen shot 2014-06-19 at 11.16.54 PM

Words really don’t do it justice.

All of this, thanks to the Facebook Purity browser plugin (free for Chrome and Firefox). Basically, it allows you to heavily censor, control, or even completely shut down your Facebook newsfeed.

If you want to keep some of the functionality, you can avail yourself of the extensive documentation on the Facebook Purity help page. What I’ll provide here is how to get rid of EVERYTHING…something I couldn’t find easily in their help content.

Step 1.
Install the plugin. Chrome or Firefox.


Step 2.
A new button “FBP” will appear next to your friend request notification button. Click on it and view the following screen.

Screen shot 2014-06-19 at 11.31.29 PM


Step 3.
Above the “Custom Text Filter” text-entry box, click on “Custom CSS”.

Screen shot 2014-06-19 at 11.35.35 PM

Step 4.
Copy and paste the following block of code into the box, and click “Save and Close”.

#home_stream {
visibility: hidden;
#stream_pagelet {
visibility: hidden;

Screen shot 2014-06-19 at 11.38.15 PM


And voila! You’re done. Facebook Newsfeed 100% Blocked.


Welcome back to the real world.


Success Before Breakfast – 4 Steps to a Morning Routine that Works




This past week I read Laura Vanderkam’s book “What the most Successful People do before Breakfast“.

I first began to take my morning routine seriously after taking the “Wake Up Productive” Course (post on that is forthcoming), and set up a basic one which I’ve been following for the past 4 weeks now. After reading this short little primer on what top performers do in the early hours, I’ve decided to further optimize the routine I’d set for myself. I’m quite pleased with the results so far; better focus, energy, and greater positivity overall as I start the day.

In this post, I’ll be sharing about the kinds of things which go into this routine, what my routine looks like, tools and tricks I use to keep my sleep-fogged mind on track in the AM, and how to effectively plan YOUR routine so that it actually WORKS.


What do Top Performers use their mornings for?

Its simple. That which is important but not urgent.

This is because over the course of the day of any top performer, a couple things will happen.

  1. You will deplete your willpower and physical energy
  2. Excuses will arise (really good ones!) and Emergencies will develop

The morning, however, is completely within your control. You are mentally, physically, and emotionally fresh, and can concentrate all of your resources on those important but non-urgent tasks. If it has to happen, it has to happen first.

These tasks tend to fall into 3 categories

Nurturing your Career
Nurturing your Relationships
Nurturing your Health


Mornings are a great time for the strategic, big picture questions and chipping away at the big (but less urgent) projects. These activities are best conducted on a blank mental canvas because they require a lot of mental resources and undivided attention… the priorities of other people tend to creep into our lives towards the end of the day, but in the morning your chances of being interrupted are slim to none and you can deliver high-quality focus to these direction-setting activities.

Even networking activities, such as networking breakfasts, can be more effective in the mornings, as everyone is fresh and more able to recognize and seize opportunities for collaboration.


  • Writing pages of your book
  • Planning the big picture strategy for your company
  • Continued Education
  • Networking breakfasts


If quality relationships with partners, friends and family are a priority in your life, then consider giving them some of your morning hours. At the end of the day, you’ll be stressed and tired, but in the morning you can give your best…instead of what’s left over. Skip late-night watching of that tv series, go to bed and get up a little earlier, and have a nice, relaxed breakfast w/ the people you care about.


  • Have a relaxed breakfast with the Family
  • Telephone your parents. If they’re older, they’re probably up anyway.
  • Spend some “quality time” with your partner… what better way to kickstart your day?

Your Health

Exercise hits the top of the list here. Most high performers do a morning run or hit the gym sometime before 7am.

There are a host of reasons to exercise everyday, from living longer to short-term attitude and performance improvement. Exercise also counteracts stress hormones such as cortisol… something most of us get big surge of when our alarm goes off.

Why do it in the AM? If you are able to consistently do your exercise in the afternoon, more power to you. But with lower willpower, energy, and the inevitable emergencies and exceptions that arise over the course of the day, for most of us its a real challenge to make it happen consistently. If it has to happen, it has to happen first.

Mornings are also ideal for meditation and spiritual practices; mental exercise, if you will. I’ve covered why meditation and attentional training are important in previous posts.


  • Run
  • Yoga
  • Meditate


They Key System for Self Actualization – Consistant Incremental Improvement

I’m going to be bold here, and claim that a well planned morning routine is the surest system for consistent, incremental improvement.

The importance of incremental improvement is repeated often by contemporary gurus, including Seth Godin (drip, drip, drip) and Anthony Robbins (The Deming Award & TQM). If you can do all the things necessary to improve your game by one small step every morning, you’re on the path to success…and you still have the rest of the day to add more!

So the question we have to ask ourselves is…what do I need to do every morning to lay the groundwork for good work and achieving my long-term goals?

This is a big, hairy question, and its answer will tell you your priorities in life.

However, there are certain essentials which everyone should include, and they revolve around preparing yourself – physically and mentally.


Morning Routine Essentials

Physical Basics

Water – Most of us don’t drink enough, and we’re somewhat dehydrated when we wake up. I recommend drinking 0.5L right after waking up.

Food – If you eat healthy food first thing, you’re more likely to continue that trend throughout the day. If you start off on junk, you’ve given up before the day has even started.

Exercise – No matter how briefly! Even just a few crunches will improve your mood and counteract the “alarm clock” stress hormones.

Important, but not Urgent

A solid chunk of time on one Important, but not Urgent, aspect of your life. For some this will be time with family. For others, time to reflect and think strategically about their careers. For still others, it may be time for spiritual or attentional training practice.


Planning Routines that WORK

1. Detail the Morning Routine.

Write out exactly what you are going to do every morning in detail. This means every step, in exactly the order you mean to perform it. If you give it to a friend to review, they should have no questions as to the sequence of activities. This is general advice for new habits of any kind.

2. Plan the Evening Routine.

Once you’ve planned your morning routine, for it to be truly effective it is likely that you also need an evening routine. In the mornings, most people are still a bit fuzzy, and even a little bit of preparation the night before will make follow-through with a new routine much easier.

Also, by minimizing the amount of non-work related thinking you have to do, you leave your brain uncluttered and focused by the time you actually sit down to work.

3. Add Cushion

When you first begin your new routine, give yourself about 15 extra minutes of cushion before and after the routine. This is necessary to pre-empt potential issues, and insure that you experience success while first implementing the routine. Once you’ve done it for a week, you can eliminate those 30min of cushion.

4. Print and Hang the Routine. 

Print out both routines, and tape it to the appropriate wall. If that is too analog for you, load it into a circuit timer app.


My Routine, Tools and Tricks

Here’s the routine I’ve been using for the past 6 weeks, exactly as it appears on my wall. I’ve put in my current wakeup time, but it doesn’t really matter when that is…As long as there is enough time for the routine before my first appointment of the day.

0:25 of Physical Care

Wake up
Drink 0.5L of Water + Vitamin Supplements
Morning Exercises (5 Pullups, 10 Pushups, 20 Air Squats)
Bathroom Stuff: Brush teeth, put in contacts, shower, get dressed
Make and eat breakfast (Microwave oatmeal, cook an egg, nosh)

1:10 of Important but not Urgent

Mindfulness Meditation – 10 min
Practicing Gratefulness, Affirmations – 10 min
Work on Personal MIT (Most Important Task) – 50 min

0:30 of Exercise 
Cycle to the office, go for a run

“Begin” the day

EVENING PREP (start 1 hour before bedtime)
Prep Food (breakfast)
Prep Water (0.5L on bedside table)
Choose Tomorrow’s MIT
Pack Bag for Tomorrow
Lay out Clothes for Tomorrow
Pre-Sleep Bathroom Routine (Brush, Floss, Remove Contacts, Wash Face)

After I’m done with the evening routine, I might continue reading for a bit, or do some work on the laptop. Once in bed, I set my alarm and “de-screen” completely to make sleeping easier. The artificial light from most screens (including your iphone) tricks your brain’s circadian rhythm into thinking its full on day-time…it would actually be ideal to de-screen even earlier in the evening.

In the mornings, I’ve recently taken to using this circuit timer app (the first one I found) so I can better stick to the time schedule. It looks like this:

25 min – Wakeup to Breakfast
10 min – Meditation
3 min   – Practicing Gratitude
3 min   – Listing things I’m excited about for the day
4 min   – Affirmations
50 min – Work on MIT



So there you have it!

I’d be curious to hear what you all are using for your morning routines. How do you start the day right? What are the critical elements for you?

Feel free to leave your responses in the comments below!


NLP Basics – Speed-Hacking your Brain for Motivation and Confidence


We all have limiting beliefs and attitudes. Overcoming and reframing these interpretations has a huge impact on our satisfaction and happiness in life, but many people have to work on their personal stumbling blocks for years before they see results. What if you could permanently boost your motivation and confidence overnight? Or quickly and easily eliminate long-standing fears and phobias?

Neuro Linguistic Programming claims to achieve just this…to allow people to rapidly and easily “reprogram” deep-seated attitudes, fears and beliefs.

Continue reading

The E-Myth – Vision and Systems for Entrepreneurs




As an entrepreneur, starting out may feel like a Sisyphean task. You can do it for a little while, but you can’t keep it up forever…eventually your system needs to kick in and start doing the work for you.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs begin without any concept of what this system will look like, or how it is going to work for them. For the topic of business systems, I’d gotten multiple recommendations for The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber. From what I’d heard about the book from friends and the productivity courses I’ve taken, I was expecting a hardcore, technical read on creating processes.

I was somewhat surprised to find that the book is essentially a business coaching manifesto, stating that to be successful in small business, we need to first know ourselves deeply and be able to operate from our own highest purpose.

The Big Idea

  • Small businesses fail (or become life-sucking traps for their owners) because their owners don’t systematize the work of the business.
  • To effectively systematize, business owners must undergo a mental shift; from viewing their business as a place of work, to seeing the business as a product in and of itself. They must balance their own Technician, Manager and Entrepreneur sub-personalities, and get clear on their core values and motives for being in business.
  • Finally, owners must engage in a Lean-Startup-like process of Innovation, Quantification and Orchestration (test, measure, pivot, for you LSMers) to get everything working smoothly.

In short, it’s called the E-myth because it busts the myth that entrepreneurs must be superhuman, extraordinary people. It argues that anyone can succeed in building an effective small business, as long as they are in tune with their deepest values and purpose, understand their customers on a deep level, and have a systematic and repeatable method for serving them.

Small businesses fail because they don’t systematize

Evidence for this is seen in the success of Franchises, which have a 25% failure rate over 5 years, as opposed to the 80% failure rate of small business.

Most small businesses are started by someone who was good at the technical work, and wanted to work for themselves. They equated being good at the technical stuff with being able to build a business around it.
This is not the case. Technical people who start businesses tend to recreate the work environments they had while working for someone else…they fail to recognize the primary objective of building a business – to create a system which produces a consistent result for a paying customer, and ultimately runs without its owner.

The Technician, the Manager and the Entrepreneur

There are three sub-personalities necessary for a business owner to be successful and create a system that can work without him.

The Technician works IN the system. He is the doer, the tinkerer, the individualist who lives in the present, works on one thing at a time. He’s the one on the front lines doing the work, cranking widgets, and producing the result which customers pay for. According to him, the other two just get in his way.

The Manager MAINTAINS the system. Pragmatic, always planning, he lives in the past and craves order & the status quo. He focuses on the problems involved in changing the system, and cleans up after the Entrepreneur. He makes sure that the technicians have what they need to do their work, and does what it takes to keep the current system humming along smoothly.

The Entrepreneur CREATES the system. Creative, future oriented, a visionary, he requires lots of control, sees opportunities, creates havoc in his need for change, and sees people as problems who drag their feet and get in the way of the big dream.

Most small business owners are 10% Entrepreneur, 20% Manager, 70% Technician.
With a balance like this, the businesses owner will focus on doing the work himself and is 80% likely to burn-out within the first 5 years.

Getting Balanced

To balance these sub-personalities and build successful business systems, owners need to shift their mindset as their business evolves, from that of the technician to a business system creator and owner. They also have to dig deep, know their core values, and have a strong why in their work.

The key to this shift in mindset is to start thinking of your business as if you were building a franchise prototype. Ultimately, the business is a product that you, the owner, are designing to fulfill a certain role in your life. For it to be robust enough to withstand the test of time, it cannot be dependent on extraordinary people, but must instead be dependent on extraordinary systems.

Creating this system is difficult and time consuming! The only way you will be able to maintain the will to see this journey through, is if you can link the achievement of this business to your deepest core values. Imagine spending your life building a business, only to discover that it doesn’t provide you with what you need… be it an insufficiency of freedom, money, personal fulfillment, etc.

People start these kinds of businesses all the time, but they are the businesses that fail after only a few years.

The Business Development Model

All that being said, here are the steps to developing your business.

1. Identify your Primary Aim – What it is you want to do in and with your life.
2. Identify your Strategic Objective – Requirements and standards a business must meet to fulfill your Primary Aim. Your vision of a business that will allow you to live the way you want to live.
3. Your Organizational Strategy – How you envision the structure of accountability and work when your business is complete.
4. Management Strategy – Basically, the Operations Manual. The system which generates a consistent result customers will pay for.
5. People Strategy – How you get your people to behave the way you want.
6. Marketing Strategy – How you reach, sell, and deliver to your client.
7. Systems Strategy – The types of systems you will use to accomplish each of the above results. Hard, Soft, and Information Systems.

Starting at least at step 3, use the Lean-Startup-like process of Innovation, Quantification and Orchestration (test, measure, pivot, for you LSMers) to tune your business model. Repeat until the thing runs on its own.


The above represents the core of the book, but here are a few insights which stood out for myself.

Businesses can only be as mature as their owners
Business development and growth requires commensurate development/growth/transformation from its owner. For a business to be truly successful, its owner must be deeply in tune with his/her purpose and core values. Building a thriving system around anything less will be a waste of life.

Buyers decide irrationally
If you’re a pro-marketer, this is not news for you, but its worth reiterating. Research shows that people decide whether to buy or not with their emotional (limbic) brain, aka intuition. Next, they use their thinking, logical brain to build support for that decision, whatever it is. Customers ultimately buy feelings. Which ties in nicely to the next point…

Product ≠ Commodity
Your business’s product is not its commodity. Your business’s product is the feeling it generates for the people it touches. For example, cosmetics are a commodity; their product is hope. Restaurants sell food; their product is caring. Starbucks sells coffee; its product is an elite image. If you can’t generate a meaningful feeling for your customers, you won’t be successful.

People Strategy
Your people need several things in order for them to take your work seriously.

First, they need to understand what your “true” product is, as described above. What is the real meaning behind the work? What is the intent underlying every task? Your employees must understand this thoroughly, in order to deliver the desired effect of your business.

Second, they need a “game”; a structure by which they can constantly test and improve themselves. Put simply, they need to feel that they are making progress at their work, and that they are continuing to grow in some fashion. In a traditional corporate environment, this would be climbing the ladder. An example of a company that runs an exceedingly good game, would be Mind Valley (skip to min 8:30).

The key rules for your game:

1. The game comes first, what your people do, second
2. Never create a game you’re unwilling to play yourself
3. Make sure there are ways of winning the game without ending it. The game can never end! But you need victories along the way.
4. Change the game periodically… tactics, but not the strategy or underlying ethic
5. Remind your people about the game, at least 1x/week
6. Make sure the game makes logical sense
7. The game needs to be fun from time to time
8. Steal someone else’s game if you can’t think of one yourself. But learn it by heart if you do!

Action Point

Have an Org. Chart from Day 1

This is a really cool exercise for anyone beginning to systematize their business.

Create the organizational chart of what your business will look like when fully automated and finished. Decide on the results, work, accountability and standards that each role on this chart will fill. When this chart is finished and fully fleshed out, it should represent a system of work which can stand and maintain itself without you!

Here is a very basic org. chart to give you an idea as to how you could structure your business. If there are other companies out there who have a similar business model to yours, it will be worth your while to find out how they organize work within their organization.



Lets say the above is your company’s structure. At the beginning, all positions are held by one person. YOU. Logically, you begin where everyone does at a new job. At the bottom. Promoting yourself is accomplished by hiring someone to fulfill the role you are currently holding.

By creating an org. chart from the outset, you outline the system which will ultimately replace you, and simultaneously give yourself a systematic way to work towards that goal.


The book is an easy read. There aren’t a lot of really new ideas in the book (at least not these days), but they are very critical ones. Through repetition, a narrative style, and lots of examples, it conveys them quite well.

The down-side of this style is that it sometimes feels like overly emotional, fluffy, and dumbed-down sales copy. You really have to hunt to get to his definition of some of his terms. I also get the feeling that many of his terms could have been given more natural, intuitive titles, but he chose not to in an attempt to “name the game”.

Long story short, this book is about beginning your business with the end in mind. Pick up this book if you’re new to entrepreneurship and are looking for insights into systems building.


What aspects of this post did you find most interesting? Which parts of the business development process are most challenging for yourself?

Leave your feedback in the comments below.

Coaching for Performance


This past week I read the 2008 edition of the classic “Coaching for Performance” by Sir John Whitmore.

Sir Whitmore was one of the first to bring coaching from the world of sport to business. The first edition was published in 1992, so it is a somewhat older work. However, the basic principles and method are still quite accurate today, and the basis of many coaching practices around the world.

This books explores coaching’s purpose, method, and areas of application within the context of performance improvement.

In this post, I aim to share his take on the profession, method, some of the barriers to coaching effectively, and some insights you can implement on your own.

What is Coaching?

What is coaching all about? Ultimately, coaching is about building the self-belief of the coachee; the ability and confidence to achieve their goals and dreams. This approach recognizes that internal obstacles are often greater than external ones… as such much of coaching is concerned with freeing ourselves from parental, social and cultural conditioning. Coaching enhances self-belief by raising awareness (What do I REALLY want? What is REALLY stopping me?) and responsibility (What choices do I have? What can I actually control about this situation? How committed am I to taking action on this?).

Awareness is the first step to higher performance, because you cannot control that which you are not aware of. The second step is to choose responsibility. True responsibility can only be chosen. If we are told, ordered, or even advised to do something, and something goes wrong, responsibility remains with the one doing the telling, ordering or advising. Choosing responsibility is desirable in the context of performance, because it leads to a greater commitment to actions and outcomes.

Since responsibility is so dependent on choosing, an effective coach must be very careful when it comes to sharing information, and always seek to employ a non-directive approach in their work…one which helps the coachee to come to their own conclusions.

What Coaching is NOT

“Tell him all that you know” – Odysseus to Mentor

I include this to highlight the common confusion between mentoring and coaching. Mentoring is sharing knowledge and experience. Coaching is helping the individual or organization to uncover the insights for themselves and tap their innate potential and knowledge. The above quote is interesting in that it actually set significant limits as to the education Mentor was able to provide Odysseus’s son.

Philosophy on Human Potential and Learning

“I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught” -Churchill

Coaching operates from the philosophy that there is incredible potential already present within each of ourselves, and that under the right conditions, it will surface. Our evidence that this potential is there comes from examples of how humans react in times of crisis, or how competing athletes dig deep and find previously unknown reserves of energy. I have experienced both situations for myself, and all of us have had some sort of experience where they were able to rise to the occasion in a way they wouldn’t have predicted themselves being capable of.

If the potential is already inside, in the form of energy reserves or insights, then it just a matter of accessing it. Is crisis the only way to access this potential?
Conveniently, we humans have an innate mechanism which allows us to learn and bring this knowledge to the surface quite naturally. Unfortunately, the prevailing system of education and performance improvement is out of sync with this natural process.

One of the big critiques of the educational system in western society today is that it trains us to look for the answers outside of ourselves. Students are seen as empty vessels which gain value by being filled with knowledge. Teachers, managers and instructors present information, and then go on to presenting the conclusions that the student should take from it. Teaching by telling, as it is commonly practiced, diminishes self-belief and autonomy, and the learnings ultimately don’t stick.

“Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.” – Ancient Chinese Proverb

This isn’t a new insight. Socrates based his method of teaching around it. Einstein has a list of quotes to the same effect.

According to Sir Whitmore this is the basis of what coaching is – asking the questions which provoke introspection and learning about oneself, in order to overcome the problems we experience internally.

Barriers to Coaching

This “telling” culture in education, business and performance improvement is one of the biggest barriers to adopting a coaching approach for two reasons. One, it is harder to give up what we’ve always done than to incorporate something new. Effective coaching requires us to stop telling in addition to incorporating a new approach to communication and problem solving. Old habits die hard. Two, telling feels quick, easy and gives the teller the illusion of control, as well as a false sense of accomplishment. Learning must be taking place, because I told them! True learning requires more than telling, as the results of this test by IBM and the UK Post attest.

IBM Study

While telling is only slightly less effective in the short term, in the long-term you are 6.5x more likely to retain something you’ve also experienced. Coaching allows the coachee to experience the learning for themselves.

It is important to emphasize that helping a coachee come to their own conclusions is NOT the same as leading them to the coach’s conclusions. The latter is still a telling approach, just disguised by nice questions, and naïve intentions.

“To gain control, we must first give it up.” -Sir John Whitmore

All of this translates to giving up a certain degree of control in a situation… if we truly want to tap the potential of others, we need to encourage them to think for themselves, come to their own conclusions, and make their own choices. Command and control is a strategy of the past… at least when it comes to peak performance.

Performance Coaching for Teams

The book gives a fantastic example of how giving up control leads to better performance in a team environment.

The Field Gun Race is an obstacle course competition between sub-branches of the UK’s Royal Navy, and is meant to simulate a battle the british army waged agains the Boers in South Africa. It requires incredibly complex and precise teamwork under time pressure from a 16 man team.
Check it out below:

In 1990, the trainer for one of the teams decided to implement a coaching approach to his training regime for this event. The result was that for the first time one team won all 5 trophies for the event with 30% fewer practice runs and fewer injuries. All of this in an event steeped in military culture – the birthplace of the command and control approach to performance.

The GROW Method

So what is the method which best aids the coachee in raising awareness and responsibility?

This book introduced the GROW method; a line of coaching questioning which progresses from the coachee’s Goals, to their current Reality, to Options, and finally to their Way forward.

Goal – Where do I want to go?
While for many it may seem more logical to start with Reality (where I am today), it is critical to begin performance coaching work with the end in mind. When we set goals from our current reality, it is much easier to get caught up in the assumptions and limiting belief systems we have established over years of parental, social and cultural conditioning. These goals tend to be negative, “away” oriented, and rooted in problems. Starting with the ideal outcome leads to goals which are more creative, inspiring, “towards” oriented, and motivating.

Reality – Where am I today?
The Reality phase of questioning explores the current position of the coachee with respect to their goals, in as objective a form as possible. It seeks to focus on the facts of the situation, avoids judgmental assessments, and helps the coachee uncover any assumptions they may have made about their situation.
This is usually the meat of a productive coaching session. Often, a thorough review of the facts is enough to solve any doubts and uncover the coachee’s next steps.

Options – What options do I have?
This phase is about getting down all the possible options on paper, favoring quantity over quality. The objective is to demonstrate the breadth of options the coachee actually has, and raise their feelings of autonomy and responsibility in relation to them.

Way – What options do I choose?
Finally, when all the options have been reviewed, its time to make a decision as to which action is most suitable for moving forwards. Choosing to do nothing is also a choice. Regardless, the objective of this phase is to gain absolute clarity on what actions will be taken, and then to pre-empt all foreseeable obstacles. The idea is to guarantee success for the coachee as much as possible.

Big Takeaway

The big takeaway from this book for me is about learning, and how this process can occur more naturally and faster.

I’ve included an image here describing the predominant theory of skill acquisition used in business. Basically, the idea is that we start in an unaware, incompetent state and that the path to performing a skill or task well (competently and unconsciously) involves being aware and incompetent, then aware and competent (making conscious effort). The cool thing about all of this, is that the 3rd stage of this cycle (aware and trying) can be made so natural it almost feels as if it is being skipped.

Learning Cycle

Sir Whitmore relates a number of stories in which merely measuring the degree of incompetence (aka raising awareness), has an automatic effect on its improvement.

One example he gives is of a driver who is learning how to change gears in his car more smoothly. He has two options to improve his performance.

1. He starts off as a non-driver (stage 1). He begins a driving course, and it quickly becomes apparent that he doesn’t change gears smoothly, which he knows because the car stalls and his driving companions complain (2). He then beings making a conscious effort to bring smoothness to the quality of his driving (3). Over the weeks and months that follow, through lots of conscious effort, his gear changes become smoother, and eventually automatic (4)…he no longer has to focus in order to perform this action well.

2. He begins as a non-driver (stage 1), then becomes aware of his crunchy gear-changes during classes (2). So far, the same. But now, instead of consciously making an effort to change gears more smoothly and think about the intricacies of how much gas and clutch to give, he simply assigns a rating scale to his gear changes, 1-10. A rating of 1 is a stalled car, a 10 is a completely unnoticeable gear change. Each time he changes gears, he internally rates the his performance in his head. Quickly, and seemingly without effort, his performance rises to hover between 9 and 10 on the scale he’s set for himself.

Is the secret to higher personal performance this simple? Is measuring my progress and getting frequent feedback all it takes?

From my own experience so far, there is some truth in this. If you’ve read any of the previous posts about personal productivity, you’ll have noticed I advocate using a time diary, aka, time tracking. This means accounting for all the minutes of your day on an excel spreadsheet.

I originally started doing this just to get a rough idea for how much time various tasks take me throughout the day, but I wound up sticking with it. It helps me stay aware of how I spend my time, and helps me stay on task. More on time-tracking systems later, but if you’re not using a system for this now, I strongly recommend it. Especially if you spend most of your workday in front of a computer anyway :).


Coaching requires a fundamental shift in communication, and often goes against the grain of what people want and think they need. Getting an expert to TELL us what to do doesn’t yield the long-term performance results that engaging our own problem solving skills will.  This can be frustrating…especially if you see performance as a problem that you just want solved.

However, the rewards of engaging in a coaching process are great. Ultimately, coaching is about teaching people and organizations a more effective path to continuous and sustainable performance improvement. Teach the man to coach, himself and others, and his personal development will skyrocket.

Turning Fear into Creative Fuel – Uncertainty


This Past week I read Uncertainty by Jonathan fields.

The book addresses the concept of uncertainty in big, creative endeavors. Here, ‘creative’ refers to any activity where you are doing something that hasn’t been done before; starting a company, writing a novel, designing a new product, etc…

The book seeks to answer these basic questions:

-Why is uncertainty important?
-How does it effect us?
-How can professionals whose work entails a lot of uncertainty manage its negative effects?
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Building your Creative Routine


Blog Post Reading Time: 5 min
Original Book Reading Time: 5 hours

Simple, concentrated, to the point.

Of the books I’ve read on productivity so far, “Manage your day to day” by Jocelyn K. Glei shares the most intuitive truths per page. Its a collection of short essays and interviews by top entrepreneurs and creatives, including Seth Godin, Leo Babauta, Mark McGuinness, Cal Newport and others. Yet despite the density of its insights, it still manages to feel like a “light” read.

“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has to get down to work.” – Pearl S. Buck 

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The Big Kahuna – “Procrastination” in brief


Last week I crunched my way through the final 3/4ths of the 2nd Edition (2008) of “Procrastination” by Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen, using a Pomodoro timer (25 on/5 off time-boxing) and a weekly calendar plan. Using those two tools religiously last week had an incredible net effect on my productivity; without it I doubt I’d have finished this dragging read on procrastination. Look inside to read more. Continue reading