Focus and Lists

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The last time my coach and I met, we talked about coping strategies for being effective, when facing an information overload world.

I thought about it a moment, and thought I had two really good ways of dealing with it. These are Focus and Lists.

I discovered lists many years ago. Lists on small scraps of paper, lists in my Palm memo application, lists on post-its, lists on pads of paper.

I created lists to help me remember what to do next, because I can't remember everything. The amount of things we need to do day to day is staggering. Some of it you can blow off, but a lot of things you can't. Even as I try to simplify my life, my life gets still more complex due to everything that is going on.

So I write everything down and I have gotten to LOVE crossing things off my list. It's become the new drug for me. I do something, I cross it off. WOW. What a high. I do more, I cross out more. More hits. COOL.

Lists have really become my way of not forgetting things and to get lots of things done instead of wasting time and worrying about forgetting something.

My other technique is practicing FOCUS.

How ineffective we are at attempting multi-tasking! I was in severe multi-tasking mode as an exec at Yahoo. But you know what, even though I could multi-task on some types of things, I knew that I could never be on critical path for some long term project. They'd be waiting forever for me to finish something.

But now, I have found that focusing bursts of time on something means I can get a lot done. I have done 4 hour marathon sessions at Starbucks to write a product specification. I also now just allocate time to do things in my calendar. During that time, I do NOTHING else until I get that original thing done. That's work, practicing piano, or training - it doesn't matter. I FOCUS on that one thing and get it done, and then move on.

For me, these two techniques have helped sharpen my ability to get things done and to really feel good about it!

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings...

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As part of continuation work past my 20 year plan, my coach and I are working on feelings. This may sound like some post-1990s feelings man follow up work, but I think it has a higher purpose than being some fad of a past decade.

This has to do with increasing one’s emotional sensitivity, intelligence, and skills.

In becoming a more total human being, we need to develop all four areas of our being. Those areas are the physical, emotional, intellectual, and the spiritual. In our past, I would say that the world is really dominated by creating physical and intellectual giants. The world places so much emphasis on sports and physical education in our schools. We join track, play football and baseball among other sports. We idolize Olympic and pro-sports athletes. We give them millions of dollars to play on TV for us for entertainment. Humans are also programmed to bigger and stronger than the next guy. If we dominate this way, we get the women, who, some argue, are prehistorically programmed to want the bigger, stronger mate who can provide for them and protect them.

We also place huge emphasis on education. Our parents drive us to go to school, and then college, and then get our graduate degree. Our society places more value on those with more education. The smarter you are, the more money you (could) make. We think as human beings, the reason for our dominance over other species is our intelligence. We put people through years of training on how to think, and on learning more and more facts as information is power.

After the physical and intellectual, spiritual is next. Although some would argue against me and say it should be on the first tier, I would say that society today doesn’t place as much emphasis on spirituality as it does on the other two. People are expected to go to school but not necessarily to go to church. You don’t need to go to church to get the majority of jobs. And with the controversy through the clergy on their sexual pursuits, it makes people distrust the church. So religion does help one’s spiritual growth, but also one can grow spiritually without religion. This type of spiritual growth is more rare and certainly not taught as normal curricula in schools. These are things such as philosophy and determining where one’s beliefs truly are, independent of the presence of a God.

The least developed out all four is emotional.

Our parent’s generation simply did not put any emphasis on the role that emotional skills could have an importance in life. They simply focused on getting married, raising children, working at a job, and providing for a family. They often came to America looking for the dream, and that dream was going to a good school, getting a great job, climbing the corporate ladder, making more money, buying a bigger house, make more money, and repeat.

But somewhere along the way, we have faltered. Look at today’s divorce rate. What is it about two people that can’t get along with each other for the rest of their lives? After going through one myself and examining the why it happened, I have come to the conclusion that I was severely lacking in emotional skills. The 1990s get in touch with your feelings thing was certainly one step in that direction. Certainly it is hugely important to examine your own emotional states, recognize them, apply the how/why/when/where/who questions to them to understand them better, and then ultimately be able to express them.

But it’s not the only one. You need to be able to receive and read emotion from others and be able to connect to them. You need to know what to do with other peoples’ emotional states, and it depends largely on knowing exactly what your higher goal is with those people, like is this person a loved one, or an enemy, or a business associate. Knowing what kind of relationship are you trying to build with these people is critical to shaping your emotional response. You need to also build an emotional language and vocabulary to discuss, reflect, validate, and express. Many times we never grew up with using such vocabulary, and now, like me, I need to completely learn another language to improve this area.

All of these I am finding to be hugely valuable now and as I work on this key area and bring it out of atrophy and non-use, it is making me a more complete human being instead of being deficient in one or more areas.

I wrote in another blog entry about turning 40 and not wishing I was 20 because I am better now at 40 than at 20. This one area of emotional skills was an area I was terrible in at 20, and it’s yet another reason why I think that I am much better at 40 now. As I work on emotional skills and improve upon them, I reflect yet again on how much I am stronger as human being than I was back at 20.

20 Year Plan DONE!!!

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WOW.

A major milestone has been reached. I started coaching around January of this year. And by September, about 9 months later, I finally completed my next 20 year plan.

Scoff you might, as you may think, "How can Dshen have a 20 year plan when people can barely think of what they're going to be doing a month from now, let alone a week or tomorrow?"

It actually started off more like that. My last 20 year plan was more like a huge list of things to do. It had stuff like:

+ Get my Aikido black belt.
+ Manage a group of designers
+ Buy a house
+ Become an "expert" in design
+ Etc. Etc.

And then the Internet explosion came around and turned my previous 20 year plan into a 4 year plan and left me with nothing to shoot for.

But in my recent coaching experience, I think I've come around to thinking that a list of things to do isn't the best way to approach life. Yes you need to do things to get to wherever you want to go. But just creating new lists of things to do wasn't enough to evaluate whether they were the right things to do or just me wasting time....

Instead, I've developed a picture for what the "future Dave Shen" should look like. I did this by really looking inside myself, and my coach was very good at asking me questions and probing to draw out these important feelings and thoughts about what I wanted the "future Dave Shen" to be.

After I did this, I now have a way to evaluate whether or not the things I spend time on are worthwhile and add to the me becoming the "future Dave Shen". If they did not, then I should stop doing those things and do something else.

Of course, things could change so I intend to check in with my coach every 6-9 months or so and see if the "future Dave Shen" attributes need to change.

This will be an interesting exercise going forward.

But at the moment, I am ecstatic that a major milestone has been reached in my life. I look forward to the future knowing I have a great way to evaluate whatever I am doing at any time....

20 Year Plan Almost Done!

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I've been really excited these last few weeks. Finally, I feel like my 20 year plan was coming together.

My coach has been really helpful in putting this together in the right way.

Previously, my 20 year plan was a list of things I wanted to accomplish. I would list all these things I wanted to do, like Aikido, work accomplishments, school degrees, etc. But then, the accelerated pace of the Internet screwed up my last plan. My 20 year plan became a 4 year plan and I was left with no plan going forward.

In figuring out my new 20 year plan, I began the old way in listing all these things I wanted to do. Things like triathlon goals, learning piano goals, among other things. But they all looked like just that: a list of a bunch of things to do. I needed some more fine tuning.

My coach helped me transform that list to something more meaningful. Instead of a list of things to do, it became more about what kind of person I wanted to end up being sometime in the future. We went through several categories relevant to that future "me": Money, Body, Work, Family, Contribution, Spirituality, Community. In each category, we looked its relation to future self and generated answers.

In doing so, we were able to create a better context in which I could evaluate that list of things to do, and whether it was contributing to future "me" or not. And if it was not, was it really worth doing given that our time is so precious?

I'm all about not wasting time. We only have so many hours in the day. The more I can determine whether some activity contributes to an overall future "me", the more I can fine tune what I should be spending time on.

And then I can evaluate how it contributes to the future "me", and hopefully do those activities which maximize the contribution.

Very interesting stuff, and I am glad that I feel like my new 20 year plan is coming to fruition....

20 Year Plan?

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How interesting to be discussing my next 20 year plan with my coach.

I had what I perceived to be a 20 year plan pre-Yahoo. I believe I can get another one. But I am not sure that my coach knows what I want. Perhaps she has never had one before? Or am I communicating what I want effectively?

Sometimes I get the feeling that she isn't feeling that she is giving me what I am looking for. But I do value her being there for me to bounce ideas off of. Doing this kind of stuff is hard alone....

I think about way back when I was younger. Maybe my 20 year plan back then was easier to get because life was simpler. And how complex has life gotten in the last 10 years for me.

I feel like I like I have much more depth of thought on just about everything. And this definitely creates more possibilities in where I want to get to in my 20 year plan.

My last 20 year plan was very simple. It had career goals and family goals and that was about it. But the advent of the internet trashed all that. It turned my 20 year plan into a 4 year plan and left me hanging for about half a decade. This hanging didn't do me any good. I thought that time would get me closer to new directions but actually it didn't. With life getting more complex and me not actually working on the plan, I didn't get a plan. I went downhill. My life had little or no direction and I didn't know where I wanted or needed to go.

Fast forward to now. I've now got a coach and opened up time and space in my brain to think about this. And I'm glad I'm doing it. I've got renewed hope in my life and increasing self esteem on the things I'm involved in and working on. Now I just need to get the plan and execute it.

My coach thinks a 5 year plan is more realistic. Yeah this may be true that it would be easier to achieve, but maybe I just think differently. I'd like to know directionally where I'm going and feel good being on the path to there.

Somehow achieving a goal, while great in its feelings of achievement, also seem so final to me. I don't like that.

When I took Aikido, getting a black belt was always a step in the path towards unattainable mastery of the entire art of Aikido. I've always known that many aspects of life are only really paths and that we're really just students on these paths, as much as we want to be masters.

Sometimes I do think about how nice it would be to be a "master" in something...anything.... Then I would be acknowledged as a master in that discipline and people would acknowledge that and I'd be on top of the world....right?

Well, the reality is that there is someone who is always going to know more than you. In martial arts, you can get your black belt but somebody is always going to be faster/stronger/better than you. So what's wrong with this master thing? It's too final. It tricks your brain into thinking you're on the top when you're really not.

I'm a big believer in the journey is the reward (to coin a famous CEO's phrase) and that is what I think my 20 year plan will emerge as - a bunch of paths I'd like to be on for the next 20 years and to feel fulfillment by just walking these paths....

Time to get to work on the plan....

Mission Statement: Impossible

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Yesterday at my coaching session, my coach and I tried to create a mission statement for myself.

It was a difficult exercise for me.

I remember many years ago at Yahoo!, there were a number of us trying to redefine the mission statement. To this day, I remember the exercise clearly. We brainstormed a variety of words on a white board which exhibited qualities that we wanted Yahoo! to have, or goals we wanted to achieve for our users or ourselves. We then culled through the words to narrow the list, and as we did this, the PR folks asked us to form a sentence or statement to make the qualities readable, understandable, and digestible in one clear line.

But yet, I found that I had not enough command of language to be able to form a nice reading sentence which collected all of our favorite concepts.

Off and on over the years, I wondered about why I could not do this. And yesterday, I faced it again. I struggled at forming a sentence or two to create a mission statement for my life.

Why was this so?

We all have weaknesses. We all have strengths. We're all great at some things and stink at others, and everywhere in between on other things.

In a book that I've been reading, "The One Thing You Need to Know" by Marcus Buckingham, he even talks about not wasting time trying to fix your own flaws, or as a manager telling your employees to fix their weaknesses, but instead apply their strengths.

But for me, my weaknesses intrigue me. Why are they there? Was I born with them? Did the environment create things I can't do well? Am I genetically not programmed to write snappy mission statements? Or are they addressable, or improvable?

For example, I've never been a great athlete. I remember being always picked last for sports and being a skinny little wimp most of my high school days. I started lifting weights in college and that helped, but I could not do so many things other people could do.

Then in 2002, I decided to try triathlons. It really got me going to see how far I could take this. Despite a seeming weakness of not being an athletic person, I threw money, training, coaching, technique, strengthening at it and now I can run, bike, and swim as well as improve each one.

Was this type of athleticism a weakness which I addressed or was it an underdeveloped strength? Now granted, I am not going to win races and certainly there are a hundred times more talented athletes out there. But, for sure, there is some competency in the area that I am gaining, and I am having a great time testing my limits on how far I can really go.

Which brings me back to my mission statement. What deficiency in my ability to apply creativity, language, and vocabulary did I have in my brain to now be able to do this at all? Am I inherently terrible at this stuff or can I actually gain some ability as a copywriter? I am blogging now, and it has certainly helped my writing and communication skills. But now I am wondering how far I can take copywriting in that way.

Every day I challenge the notion that my weaknesses should be left alone and that I should spend time solely on exponentially building and applying my strengths. I think that we all could be surprised at seeing exactly how much we can develop our weaknesses into some level of competency, or perhaps it can become a strength...?

Being Not Doing

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My coach has a great way of characterizing things. Yesterday at our meeting, we talked about some of the things I was interested in changing in my life going forward.

One of my favorites was what I called "problem solving" which I was determined to stop doing. What I mean by "problem solving" is the tendency for us to react to a problem we see someone else having by giving instantly the answer to the problem.

This would be ok except that "problem solving" tends to have tons of negative effects. It makes people feel bad because often we just want to talk about stuff to get it off our chest and then we have this person telling us the "answer". Which makes us feel like we're stupid for not thinking of the "answer", or makes us feel that this person is an idiot for coming up with the "answer" when they obviously haven't even gotten the full picture yet. This and much more.

My coach had a wonderful way of characterizing this. This is what she called "Doing".

"Doing" is taking action. You solve the problem and turn the issue back on the speaker. You don't need to share your thoughts and feelings, or even empathize. Thus, you are in a place of safety whereas your friend has just spilled their guts and you unknowingly have stepped all over them.

However, something that I've been working really hard is not "problem solving." Amazing that I could just sit and have dinner with someone, and actually never "problem solve." I just sit there and listen, share my thoughts and feelings, and then they do the same, and repeat repeat and then the night's over and we both had a great time catching up.

No problem solving. No stepping on anyone's toes inadventantly.

Just a great time and great conversation. Amazing what this can do for a relationship.

This is what my coach calls "Being". Just being present with another person. Connecting, sharing, empathizing, talking, relating.

Forget "problem solving". Leave it at home or for another day. The world's problems do not need to be solved every time. Sometimes it is not solving that is required but just relating and listening.

Try it sometime. You may be surprised at the results. I was and still am. And I am finding that I am deepening what relationships I still have left....

What Kind of Father Do I Want to Be?

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At our last coaching session, I was asked to produce a list of questions to enable discussion. Apparently, my coach was looking for just 5-10 questions but I produced much more!

One of the questions I chose as critical for my life was "What kind of father do I want to be?". So I'll be generating additional thoughts on this for my session tomorrow.

In case you were wondering what my laundry list of questions was:

Who am I?
What do I value?
What do I like?
What do I love?
What do I hate?
What do I dislike?
What am I looking for? What do I want out of life?
What drives me?
What turns me on? About places, persons, things?
What turns me off? About places, persons, things?
What do I desire?
What do I want?
What do I not desire?
What do I not want?
Why do I categorize my friends?
How do I categorize my friends?
How have I changed?
How am I the same?
How do I envision myself in the future?
How do I view myself now?
How do I think others view me?
How do I want others to view me?
What kind of person do I want to be?
What kind of person do I not want to be?
What are my goals?
What do I believe in?
Where do I like being?
What do I like doing?
Why is learning and growing so important to me?
Who are my heroes and why?
Why are heroes important?
Who is important to me and why?
Why do I work?
Why do I train?
What kind of father do I want to be?
What kind of friend do I want to be?
What are my strengths?
What are my weaknesses?
What am I afraid of?
What kind of spouse do I want to be?
When do I want to be what?
What frustrates me?
What doesn’t frustrate me?
What do I admire?
What do I detest?
What parts of me do I like?
What parts of me do I dislike?
Where do I like to be and why?
What kinds of situations do I prefer?
What motivates me?
What de-motivates me?
What interests me?
What doesn’t interest me?
What types of things interest me?
Why am I doing the things I am doing now:
Startup, Piano, Training, Coaching
What do I dream about?
What do I wish for?
How do I want my kid(s) to grow up?
What kind of person/people do I want my kid(s) to grow up to be?
Why do I like my books?
Why do I quest for knowledge?
Why do I like to be creative?
Why do I like to get things done?
What do I have an affinity for?

Very thought provoking for me. Although we won't have time to cover all these questions, I hope to find answers to most if not all at some point in the near future.

It's all a part of really getting to know oneself. After all, if we deny or hide parts of ourselves, how can we really know ourselves and figure out how to drive our lives?

Meditation?

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In my last coaching session, my coach recommended to me that I should try meditation as a means of calming my mind and getting re-centered.

Up to now, my multitasking tendencies made it difficult to sit still for any length of time. The only brain clearing activity I used was during highly focused moments to only concentrate on ONE thing at a time, versus many. That in itself was calming to me, to be able to think solely about one thing and not get distracted by a hundred
other thoughts.

These would be activities like running or cycling. For each of these, I cannot zone out completely or else I would get messy in my technique (see my Training blog for my thoughts on how technical these physical activities really are) or I could be put in a dangerous position like riding off the road because I was daydreaming.

Piano playing is another such activity. I love it because I am focused on reinforcing muscle memory in the keys I am playing and forcing my brain to remember notes and chords while making my fingers do the actual motions. I don't think about anything else because if my mind drifts, my playing suffers...

Earlier this year, I read a book called The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma. It talks about a person who was so consumed with his rat-race, high speed, wheeling/dealing life that he forgot everything else that was important to him. So he goes on a quest to find himself again, reaching a monastery somewhere in Asia. In it, they also talk about meditation whereby you would start a little each day, as little as 10 minutes, and build to hours if possible. The task is to concentrate on a rose and take in all its details, examining and contemplating them.

I knew at the time that I would probably never be able to sit still long enough to try this. But now my coach has given me a new book to read on this topic, A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield. I have just gotten into this book and it is quite good. I will post more about this topic later as I get through the book. However, I will note that this book is much more than just about meditation so more on this later...

Who What When Where How

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Today I cranked out a whole list of questions. Interesting to put these down on paper and see them there, wondering how I would answer them if/when my coach sees them and uses them as discussion points to get to know the real Dshen better.

I find this exercise has made me think very deeply about myself and how I feel across a wide variety of topics. I await the opportunity to expound on each of these questions. Now, more than ever, I believe internal understanding allows us to move forward with great knowledge of why we do things and hopefully keep us out of trouble and get us to a better place.

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