Be amazing at it while it’s yours

I get the feeling there are a lot more lazy people in the world than mediocre people. At least, I hope so. I'd like to think that most people, in their private lives, are remarkable.

Why are so many people, then, unremarkable in their public lives?

We interact with a lot of people most days, either at businesses we patronize or at our places of business, where we work with other people and see (hopefully) lots of customers.

Many of them do just enough to get by at their jobs, and complain a lot as customers, either about little things or about their jobs or families or whatever.

It generally comes down to people saying or acting out, "I didn't sign up for this shit, and if I did, it's only because I need to eat."

You know what? That describes a lot of us.

There's this pearl of wisdom out there that says, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

That's only true if you allow it to make you stronger. If you make a conscious effort to grow from it, to learn the lesson the thing that doesn't kill you is trying to teach you.

Here's what the true story is. You're stuck with whatever you're stuck with it. You can opt out and push through the consequences (maybe it's quitting your job, selling a bunch of crap you don't need, and going out in search of your true calling), or you can be awesome with what you have while you have it.

All it takes is for you to flip a switch internally and decide to be amazing at it.

Do you dislike your job? You probably have three options (that don't involve quitting):
(1) Be lazy until they decide to fire you (by the way, someone else worked really hard to make the money they're paying out to you, so think about that when you consider this road).
(2) Do just enough to not get fired. Which will make you more miserable because you're going to stay stuck in that same lousy job, probably without anything more than minimal raises.
(3) Rock it. Just make up your mind to be amazing at this job while you have it, and either someone else is going to hire you because they see you're awesome, or you'll get promoted into a position you like better.

If your cat repeatedly can't make it to the litter box, clean up that poop and love your cat like it's the best thing that ever happened to you.

If your stupid sister drags you to the gym at 5:00 every morning because she has to be at work at 7 even though you don't have to be at work until 10, make her catch up to you in the workouts.

You want to know what else? If you make up your mind to do amazing at the thing you dislike the most, your level of awesome will only increase in the things you enjoy.

If your resolve nothing else for 2012, do that. Go. Be amazing.

[photo credit]

How I’m increasing my productivity

Over the past month I've taken on a few things. A new promotion at work, a few house projects, and I'm working on a few personal projects, like seeing more people and fewer computer screens.

I also, as some of you know, am involved in several local non-profits.

Here's what I'm doing to keep sane and get more productive.

Tools

Workflowy. Workflowy is an online to-do list that comes to me as a suggestion from Phil. I've never really been one for to-do lists (just like I keep my shopping list in my head), but I've been using Workflowy for a week now and I love it. I keep a browser tab on it at all times, and I use it for everything from long-term projects to an editorial calendar. It has a simple hierarchical structure so you can include details, you can mark either parts or the whole complete, tag things you need to get done today or make a higher priority, and you get an email each morning letting you know where you are.

Dropbox. I've been using Dropbox for a couple of years, since I began using multiple devices (laptop, netbook, smart phone, iPod). It's a virtual hard drive, with public sharing capabilities. It syncs when you're online, but if you're not online you can still edit items that have already been synced on the device you're using. Also, it's free, until you need more than 2GB of space.

Google. I figured you didn't need a link. Google docs, Google calendar and Google groups have been a big help across the board, primarily because of the ability to share and group-edit.

Habits

Facebook. I dumped the game apps from Facebook, which means no more Scrabble or Words With Friends until I get the other stuff straightened out. That means I won't be checking to see if my opponents have played their moves. And in fact, I'm only opening Facebook when I want to check on the pages I administer.

Email. I've set up a work email filter, so that I'm only checking work emails when I am in a position to get work done. That's saving me a lot more time than I expected.

Wellness. This should be a no-brainer, but it's so often overlooked. If you eat well, get enough sleep, get a massage occasionally, get some exercise and some fresh air, you'll be sharp, quick, and alert. You'll get your stuff done, and you'll have energy beyond that.

Skip artificial borders. And by that, I'm really talking dates. I've already published my New Year's post. I don't feel the need to wait until a new year, or a new month, or a new week to start something new. Just start it. The sooner you do, the sooner you'll be happy you did.

What are your favorite tools and habits for productivity?

How to be a hero

There's only so long I can let things sit in a folder without cleaning it out. I'm glad I had an extra half-hour yesterday, because I took it to get started on Nate Green's "The Hero Handbook."

Go to his blog and download the PDF. It's 136 pages, and it's free.

And it's awesome.

I already do a lot of this stuff. I get up early. I get enough sleep. I eat primarily real food. I'm well hydrated, usually knocking off about 50 ounces of water before I leave the house. My workouts are intense and are actually work. I try to indulge once in a while, and I do my best to enjoy life.

But there are definitely other areas of my life I can use a kick in the butt in. And this book is a how-to guide for a lot of your life.

Again, it's free. Go read it now.

What’s inspiring me these days

What keeps you reading? Writing? Getting up in the morning? Doing X, whatever X is? Here are some of the things that are inspiring me these days.

Parkour

Parkour is the art of free-running. You've probably seen some of these videos make the email chain rounds. Yes, these athletes actually run up walls, climb apartment complexes and jump across rooftops. It requires a lot of practice, strength, focus and planning. While it looks improvised, most of these routes have been plotted out, and moves rehearsed – people fall all the time, it's part of parkour. But it's beautiful and freeing to watch.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (no, really)

The governator gave the commencement speech at USC a couple of years ago, and as part of that address, he gave six rules for success (mock him if you like, he's an immigrant with sport, acting and political cred; what have you done lately?). My favorite is this:

None of my rules, by the way, of success, will work unless you do. I've always figured out that there 24 hours a day. You sleep six hours and have 18 hours left. Now, I know there are some of you out there that say well, wait a minute, I sleep eight hours or nine hours. Well, then, just sleep faster, I would recommend.

Stephanie Foo

If you've never listened to Snap Judgment, go hit play on one of the podcasts while you're reading. You won't regret it. Stephanie Foo works on the show, and she has an awesome Tumblr called Mos Steph. Add it to your feed reader.

Zboog

Zboog is my friend Zach, who runs a studio called Omega Darling, which does animation and other post-production work. I've known him since second grade, and he's always been an amazing artist; he was figure drawing way back in elementary school, and as long as I've known him he's been experimenting with something in art, including sleeping in a room with wires running everywhere as he honed his 3D animation chops. If you love visuals, check out his Tumblr, What Inspired Zboog, which is just beautiful.

What are you watching/reading/listening to these days?

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation: Nike gets it right

"Just Do It," says Nike. Just do it. Just. Fucking. Do. It. It's really all you have to do. It doesn't matter what it is, just get busy living it.

For some people, the most difficult thing they do all day is get out of bed. For some, it's because they don't know what the day will bring. Not getting out of bed allows them to avoid uncertainty. For others, it's because they do know what the day will bring. They don't want to face another 8 or 10 or 12 or 24 hours of whatever-it-is.

Just about all of them, however, do put their feet on the floor, get some shoes on their feet and get out the door. Why? It doesn't matter. They made the choice to just do it.

So, what motivates us to just do it? You'd be surprised, it seems. Dan Pink, in the above video, talks about the science of motivation. Extrinsic rewards (think money and free stuff) don't help. In fact, they hinder most processes.

Pink talks about "the candle problem." I'll spoil it for you.

You are placed at a table surrounded by walls. You are given a box of thumbtacks, a candle and a book of matches. You are assigned the task of attaching the candle to the wall in such a way that no wax drips on the table.

One group is assigned the task with no reward promised. Another group is assigned the task and told that if they finish among the first 20% of people, they'll get $5.

Invariably, the group promised $5 finishes over three minutes slower than everyone else.

The solution to the problem, and it gets more obvious when you see pictures of the setup, is to dump the thumbtacks out of the box, tack the box to the wall, and put the candle in the box, so the wax drips on the box, not the table.

The people promised the money couldn't get the creative part of it; the money made them think too linearly.

Need proof of that linear thinking? When presented with the thumbtacks already out of the box, those with the extrinsic motivation – that is, the money – are able to finish faster, since the solution is right there in front of them.

Let's take it out of the laboratory.

Adonal Foyle (Central New York link: Colgate grad!) played NBA basketball for a while. He made good money (multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts). But his career was short-lived because he had so much trouble maintaining a healthy weight. He even had a personal chef to try to control it.

But he couldn't. He just didn't have the intrinsic motivation to get it done. He didn't just do it.

At some point, you have to make the decision to get up and get back on the horse. Nobody else cares if you succeed. Or fail. You have to.

Let me tell you about Ben. Ben has struggled with his weight for a long time and about six weeks ago, he was watching an episode of "The Biggest Loser" and he said, "OK, I'm going to do something about my weight." Here's the kicker: He got out of bed, went to the gym, and started training.

He still has his struggles. He fell off the horse recently, but recognized that if he just set his mind to it, he could get back on. He had to just do it.

And as long as we're talking exercise, even Richard Simmons can't help you if you don't want to help yourself.

The motivation has to come from you. You have to just do it.

Competition, writes Seth Godin, brings out lowest common denominator. You only run as fast, ride as far, play as hard as you have to in order to win. You don't live up to your full potential. And speaking of full potential, a recent study showed that if you were lied to and told 2% above your best effort was actually your best effort, you could beat that 2% increase – that is, if your best mile is a 10-minute mile but you're paced against a timer that's off, you can beat a 9:48; that's a pretty big drop.

So you have to find that motivation from within. Some tools:

Day Zero Project allows you to create a "101 things to do in 1001 days" list, and track it (hat tip to Amber).
Watch Me Change is an app that works with your cell phone camera to line up before-and-after photos that then overlay so you can watch the shape of your body change as you bulk up or slim down.

It's up to you. "Do or do not, there is no try," Yoda said. So do it. Just. Do. It.