Sunday, December 6, 2015

Summary of Best Practices to Deliver an Epic Keynote

Summary of a video interview between Jane Atkinson and Lou Heckler on best practices to deliver an epic keynote.

Wealthy Speaker University

Jane Atkinson is the founder of Wealthy Speaker University. For over 20 years Jane has been helping speakers launch their professional speaking careers. I first learned about her 5 years ago when I read the book The Wealthy Speaker.

A quote from her book that still inspires me is, "What is something you can say to your audience that they will remember in 10 years?"

Best Practices to Deliver an Epic Keynote

As a subscriber to Jane's e-mail list, I receive a variety of tips and suggestions to be a better speaker. While her website is geared toward professional speakers, much of her content can be applied to more mundane speeches such as business presentations and talking to others.

One interesting video posted on her YouTube channel is the one below, Best Practices to Deliver an Epic Keynote, featuring an interview with Lou Heckler. Lou has been a professional speaker for many years. Additionally, he also coaches other speakers.

Summary of Video

General tips
  • Consider a three-point talk focused on three steps to problem solving, three examples of something, or some other cluster of three. Note: Three items is very effective for storytelling. 
  • Hit the ground running. Avoid long introductions or thanking the audience, etc.
  • The topic should fit the allotted time.
  • Remember that a keynote is a performance, not just delivering paragraphs of text. 
  • View a keynote as a shortcut for the audience to learn something. You are imparting lessons from your accumulated wisdom.
  • Authenticity is important; experiences that are uniquely yours have the most impact because they are original and can be shared with more emotional depth.
  • Stories and illustrations that you share must be memorable and repeatable. Attendees should be able to talk to their colleagues the next day about your keynote.

Three main points
  • Have a fantastic opening. Get the audience's attention immediately. This includes providing an essence of the topic so that attendees can get an idea of what you're talking about. 
  • Be different from others. Why are people listening to you?
  • Be provocative. Present ideas to stimulate thinking in your audience. Let them formulate their own conclusions and path forward based on what you share.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Improve your writing in 10 easy tips

Use these simple tips to improve your writing, whether you are writing with less than 140 characters or more than 100,000 words.

01 Read what you've written.
When my daughter was in elementary school she would frequently write something and then ask me to review it. When I always asked, "Have you read through it yourself?" her answer was usually, "No." In my estimation, this is not just a problem limited to students still learning how to write and edit: I receive many e-mails where it is clear from either poor phrasing or bad grammar that the author never read the e-mail before sending it. When you write, take a few minutes to read it and make quick corrections.

02 Run spelling/grammar checks.
Even when reading back through a document you may not notice misspelled words or grammar problems. Many applications highlight misspelled words. Microsoft Word underlines misspelled words in red and questionable grammar in green. Certainly, not every grammatical improvement that Word suggests is correct, but often it works as the first editor of your writing.

03 Use word count/grade level tools.
Word count tools are useful if you set writing goals based on a certain number of words per day. However, word count tools—whether a feature of an application or stand-alone—often include grade level assessments of your writing. This can be helpful to ensure that you are writing at the appropriate level for your desired audience. It is also helpful if you are writing a longer document because you can keep the grade level consistent across various sections or chapters. Word Count Tool is an add-in for Firefox and is also a web-based application. This paragraph (excluding this sentence) has 101 words and 584 characters, including spaces. The reading level is 11-12th grade.

04 Search for your overused words.
Whether you call them "overused" or "weasel" words, you probably have certain words that you may use too often without even thinking about it. For me, I use that, also, additionally, so, and thing too often. Whenever I write, I use the Find feature to highlight these words and see if I can eliminate them. Review your writing and try to identify your overused words. It may be helpful to keep this list of words on a piece of paper prominently displayed on your computer.

05 Print to review.
This is probably more of a personal preference than some of these other tips. I find it helpful to print a document when proofreading it, especially if a document is particularly long. Certainly I don't print every e-mail and tweet, but I prefer reading on paper, because it is not as taxing on my eyes as on-screen reading. Printing documents also has the advantages of comparing different versions over time and presenting the writing in a different format so that it can be easier to spot mistakes and opportunities for improvement.

06 Use standard editing markups.
If you print a document, learn and use standard proofreading symbols. You can search for lists of these. The basic ones are delete, insert something, close-up a space, bold, italicize, capitalize, and transpose words/letters.

07 Take a break between writing and editing.
Spaced repetition is a term used to describe increasing the intervals of time between study periods when reviewing information. Allowing an interval between writing and editing is beneficial because you will be able to view your writing with fresh eyes. I recommend allowing at least a day between writing and reviewing. If you've written a longer document like a book, I recommend waiting at least a week between finishing the writing and starting the editing.

08 Use text to speech.
Whenever you view your writing in an unfamiliar way, you will be able to identify problem areas more easily. Just like printing, listening to your written words will present them in a novel way. There are several apps for iPhone and Android to read back selected text. However, at least for iPhone, you can configure the accessibility to speak any selected text. This is my preferred option because it is free. The current version of iOS (version 9) allows you to select from a variety of male and female voices and accents (for English) as well as multiple languages. The iPhone text to speech accessibility option is smart enough to transition between languages. My wife and I tested this with paragraphs of text in Korean and English. Siri had no trouble switching languages.

09 Omit unnecessary words.
One of the principles in The Elements of Style by William Strunk and EB White is to "omit needless words." When editing your work, look for ways to rephrase so that the same ideas can be stated in fewer words.

10 Adopt a mindful approach to writing.
I have frequently read that it is good just write while disregarding spelling, grammar, and sentence construction. While there may be a time for this type of creative writing to generate ideas, I believe it is better to be mindfully aware of spelling and grammar when writing. By keeping these tips and other sources of writing instruction in mind when writing, you can eliminate a lot of errors that would be caught during the first reviewing of a document.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mac Keyboard Shortcuts

Use these shortcuts to be more productive when using your Mac computer.

My switch to Mac

For years I was a Windows operating system personal computer user. However, after a series of laptops that consistently overheated following about two years of use, I decided that I was ready to switch to an Apple Mac computer.

This transition was already well underway for me because I had already started using an iPhone, and then added an iPad to the mix. Thus, switching to the Mac completed the Apple puzzle.

I love the Mac. The power-up time is fast, and when the computer is asleep, pressing the power button instantly brings it to life. Because the hard drive is solid state, there are no moving parts.

Any type of change takes time. Switching to Mac required me to become familiar with new screen layouts, file organization, and keyboard shortcuts. You can easily search the Internet for keyboard shortcuts for both Windows and Mac operating systems.

Keyboard shortcuts

There are numerous keyboard shortcuts for Mac. Many apply across all applications on the Mac operating system. There are other shortcuts that are app specific. The shortcuts below are, in my opinion, essential ones to use all the time.

General keyboard shortcuts

  1. Letters with accents: Hold down a letter to reveal accented letters. For example, a document detailing educational and work experience is a résumé, not a resume.
  2. Emoji and Symbols: Click Edit on the menu bar and select Emoji & Symbols. You can also hold down Control+Command+space bar simultaneously. 😀
  3. Delete a character to the right: Press Control+D or Fn+Delete.
  4. Navigate to the top of a document or page: Fn+← (Fn+left arrow).
  5. Navigate to the end of a document or page: Fn+→ (Fn+right arrow).
  6. En dash: Option+dash. The en dash is used to indicate a range of dates (1941–1945) or page numbers or to set apart some text – that is, for emphasis or interruption – to draw attention to it. The en dash usually has spaces on either side when using in a sentence (dates do not use the extra spaces).
  7. Em dash: Shift+Option+dash. The em dash is preferred by many editors—according to many style guides—for inserting statements of emphasis or interruption. It can also be used to attribute a quote. For example, "All I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother ." —Abraham Lincoln.

Keyboard shortcuts for Pages

  1. Increase font: Command+plus (⌘+).
  2. Decrease font: Command+dash (⌘-).
  3. Left justification: Command+{ (⌘{).
  4. Right justification: Command+} (⌘}).
  5. Center a line: Command+| (⌘|).

Keyboard shortcuts for Word

  1. Increase font: Command+Shift+>
  2. Decrease font: Command+Shift+<
  3. Left justification: Command+L (⌘L).
  4. Right justification: Command+R (⌘R).
  5. Center a line: Command+E (⌘E).

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Am I Really Needed

Am I really needed? Does every individual contribute?

I discovered this analogy while browsing through my daughter's high school notebook. This was a handout distributed in one of the classes.

Am I Rxally Nxxded?

Xvxn though my typxwritxr is an old modxl, it works wxll xxcxpt for onx of thx kxys. I’vx wishxd many timxs that it workxd pxrfxctly.

Trux, thxrx arx 42 kxys that function, but only onx kxy not working makxs thx diffxrxncx.

Somxtimxs, is sxxms to mx that our organization is somxwhat likx my typxwritxr—not all thx pxoplx arx working propxrly. You might say, “Wxll I’m only onx pxrson; it won’t makx much diffxrxncx.”

But you sxx, for an organization to bx xfficixnt, it nxxds thx participation of xvxry pxrson.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Friday, November 6, 2015

30-day challenges to challenge you

Complete a 30-day challenge and change your life. This list provides 12 possibilities in the areas of spiritual, physical, emotional, and learning.

It seems like there are a variety of 30-day challenges to introduce you to new ways of doing things.

Advantages of a 30-day challenge

A 30-day challenge of any kind has several advantages.
  • Thirty days is enough time for something to potentially become a habit. 
  • Thirty days is not a life time, so you can try a challenge and discontinue it after the 30 days, if desired. 
  • Engaging in an activity every day for a certain number of days achieves approaches to life that I advocate: 

▶️ Be intentional with your time
▶️ Give consistent, daily effort
▶️ Set goals
▶️ Track your progress
▶️ Reward desired behavior

Below are twelve challenges that I have either completed or would like to attempt at some point in the future. These challenges span the four main aspects of life: spiritual, social, mental, and physical. Each of these challenges should be done every day for thirty days. If for some reason you miss a day, don't give up; start back as soon as you can.

Challenges completed for 30 consecutive days are meant to challenge you. Select one of these challenges that may be a new activity. Commit to doing it every day for the next 30 days.

Twelve 30-day challenges

1. Write 500 words. You can write about anything, but the key is to write without editing - just write. I learned about a writing challenge, My 500 Words, from the author Jeff Goins. I started this challenge in January, 2015. Somehow I reinterpreted the challenge as writing 500 words per day for 120 days, so I ended up writing over 60,000 words.

2. Write out a Psalm. I completed this challenge in 2012. I wrote out (by hand) a Psalm from the Bible every day. The Psalms are a good source because they are inspirational, usually short, and there is a large variety from which to choose. I selected the Psalms prior to starting the challenge.

3. Complete a 30-day plank challenge. The planking exercise consists of holding your body stiff while resting on your forearms. You can read more about the planking challenge at 30 Day Fitness Challenges.

4. Take a photo every day and upload it to Instagram or Tumblr. Most of us probably think of Instagram as a place to upload pics and write a brief caption. However, I have seen more and more posts with long descriptions and stories. Read about this approach at Nieman Storyboard. Three excellent sites for photo challenge ideas are: FatMumSlim, Expert Photography, and The Idea Room.

5. Create a video every day and upload it to YouTube. I learned about this via e-mail from one of the many entrepreneurs I subscribe to. Many tips are provided on the 30 Day Video Challenge, but you don't have to join ($177.00) in order to benefit.

6. Read the Bible for fifteen minutes. If you are not familiar with the Bible, start reading at Psalms or Acts. Beyond physical Bibles with pages, numerous apps exist that feature a variety of translations and features.

7. Drink only water. The Mayo Clinic recommends about 3 liters of total liquids per day for men and 2.2 liters for women. A number of variations exist, ranging from the classic 8 cups (64 ounces) per day to calculations based on weight. The key for this challenge is that you should only drink water: no tea, coffee, juice, or alcohol.

8. Do a random act of kindness. Reaching out to help others also helps us individually. For this challenge, be aware of the activities going on around you and find a way every day to ease someone's burden, whether that is holding the door open or giving up your parking space or feeding the homeless. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has a great list to give you some ideas.

9. Learn a new word. Increase your vocabulary by learning a new word or phrase every day. The Merriam-Webster dictionary, both online and the app, feature a word of the day. For maximum learning to occur, write out the definition of the word.

10. Memorize a Bible verse that is new to you. There are many promises, inspirational passages, and guidance for life in the Bible. Search for some of these yourself or start with an online list.

11. Single-task at your desk. The opposite of multi-tasking, which scientists suggest is really a misnomer, single tasking means doing one thing at a time. Clear everything from your desk except the barest of essentials: a computer, if needed, a planner, and writing utensils. Bring out whatever resources you need to accomplish a task, but then clear those resources before starting the next task.

12. Walk 15 to 20 minutes. If you don't have a regular exercise program, this is a great start. Beyond the benefits of physical exercise, gives you an opportunity to stimulate your brain for better thinking and lets you take a mental relaxation break. Stepping away from a problem may provide a catalyst for problem solving.

Create a record in a journal, on a whiteboard, or on your computer so that you can track your progress every day. At a minimum, record whether or not you completed the challenge each day. If the challenge is quantifiable (e.g, minutes or distance walked, number of words written, ounces of water consumed), record these measurements as well. This will allow you to review your progress and see what is possible in a brief period of time.

Have you started any 30-day challenges? Have you completed any 30-day challenges? What helps you get from the start to the finish?

Commit to a challenge

If you would like to commit to one of these challenges, use the link below to sign up. I will send you a couple of encouragements during the process and follow-up with you at the end.

Yes, I commit to a 30-day challenge!

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Reward Yourself

Use the science of behavior modification to motivate yourself.

The Science

In the classic book, Science and Human Behavior, B. F. Skinner describes the behavioral principles that govern much of human and animal behavior. The premise of the book is that behavior is influenced by the consequence of the behavior.

If a behavior receives a positive reinforcement (for example, you give your dog a treat when he obeys a command) that behavior is more likely to be repeated.  However, if you are punished when engaging in a certain behavior, theoretically, you may be less likely to repeat it.  Research and history have both shown that punishment is largely ineffective in the long-term.  Short-term, it may have some immediate effects, but usually those effects are brief.  The table below depicts the conditions under which behavior is influenced.

Karen Pryor is an animal trainer and has worked with large marine mammals such as dolphins and orcas.  In her book, Don't Shoot the Dog, she discusses the fact that whales do not accept punishment.  If the mammal misses a trick and is given a punishment, the whale will no longer respond to the trainer.

Create Incentives

Suppose you want to start an exercise program of some sort. Perhaps you want to walk or jog everyday or want to visit the local gym two to three times per week. You could provide an incentive by giving yourself a reinforcer when you complete a certain number of minutes or miles (walking/jogging) or number of visits to the fitness center.

I am not one of those exercising-loving individuals who runs until the endorphins kick in. However, I recognize the necessity of exercising for better health. To keep myself motivated to walk every day, I decided that I would celebrate each marathon, 26 miles, that I complete. At a rate of three to four miles per day, I am able to walk a marathon every few days. My incentive is $25 to spend at Amazon or iTunes. Now that I am walking consistently, I have changed my reinforcement structure so that I need to walk 50 miles in order to receive the reward.

More Science - Schedules of Reinforcement

Another aspect of reinforcement is the schedule of reinforcement.  
  • Fixed ratio reinforcement occurs when a reinforcer is administered after a certain specific number of responses, in my case miles walked.   
  • Fixed Interval reinforcement occurs when the reinforcer is given for the first response after a certain amount of time has elapsed. A example of this is salary paid every two weeks.   
  • Variable ratio reinforcement occurs when a reinforcer is administered after a random number of responses. For my exercise incentive program, I could randomly generate a number of miles. However, usually, the person receiving the reinforcement would not know what the random schedule is, something unavoidable when creating your own incentive plan. Variable ratio reinforcement is the secret behind slot machines. A random amount of money is given after a random number of attempts, thus ensuring that patrons sit mindlessly at the machines depositing coin after coin.
  • Variable interval reinforcement, in which the first response is reinforced following a random amount of time, is effective when the person receiving the reinforcer doesn't know the schedule.

In previous posts I wrote about my writing project where I wrote 60,000 words in six weeks. I gave myself incentives for completing blocks of words ahead of schedule. This was effective. My initial goal was to write 500 words per day for 120 days. However, by incentivizing my writing, I wanted to write more words per day and try to write regularly.

Start Today

If you are trying to start a new behavior, think about about how you can provide incentives to help that behavior become a habit. Make a list of reinforcers and when you will earn them.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Task List Status Indicators

Use these task list indicators to monitor your progress when completing tasks.

Advantages of Tracking Task Progress

While it is possible to keep track of tasks on your smartphone, I prefer to use a paper-based planner for my tasks. Several advantages to using a paper list include:
  1. Tasks that have been acted upon are still visible, permitting you to track the evolution of a task from initially added to a list to eventually deleted, delegated, or canceled.
  2. By adding status indicators to tasks, you can track the progress of each task.
  3. You can view a completed list of tasks and feel satisfied at a job well done. 
  4. Additionally, you can use task lists to review categories of tasks in order to monitor and improve performance.

Below are six variations of task list status indicators. The first four sets are ones that I have come across in my Internet journeys. The last two sets are the ones that I use every day.


From the BulletJournal website: "The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less."


FranklinCovey is a productivity company focused on performance improvement. According to the company's website, "We help organizations achieve results that require a change in human behavior." Co-founded by Stephen Covey, much of the content is based on Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."

Mike Rohde - The Sketchnote Workbook

In the Sketchnote Workbook, Mike Rohde walks readers through specific ways to enhance visual notes and organization.

Unknown Source

I recently came across this set of indicators, but was unable to relocate the source for this post. However, I wanted to include it because it is slightly different than those included thus far. The small circles remind me of the achievement tests I had to take in school and of the satisfaction of filling in each circle completely with my #2 pencil.

My Indicators for Tasks

As I have previously written in a post on my DIY planner, I dedicate one section of my weekly planning pages to tasks. My set of indicators is modified from the FranklinCovey indicator list.

My Indicators for Tasks in Notes

In a separate section of my weekly planning pages, I also have space for notes from meetings, observations, and other interesting tidbits. When taking notes from various meetings, I usually use some sort of bullets to record each agenda item. If an action item is assigned to me - or I assign it to myself - I use the status icons below to ensure that it stands out from the routine agenda items.

I also use this set of icons when making notes on handouts or other documents. In these situations, I usually create a task list on the first page of the document.

You have probably noticed that this set of indicators is similar to Unknown set displayed above. Since I've been using this set for several years, it is always interesting to find similar approaches to tasks from across the world.

Track Your Tasks

If you are already using a system to track your tasks, please comment below and let me know what your system is and how well it is working. If you need a system to help improve your approach to tasks, I encourage you to try one or all of these sets to see which one works best for you. Let me know how it goes by commenting below.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Carpi vs Capri

Does spelling make a difference when using a GPS? I once followed directions to a Lego store inside an outlet mall, only to find myself in the middle of the country in a run-down industrial area. Fortunately, the mall was only about 15 miles away. This was an important lesson: don't rely solely on the GPS for navigation.

Below is reprint of an article I first read on Yahoo! news. I transcribed the article into my 2009 notebook because I felt it was an extreme example of what can happen when you make assumptions about technology.

In preparing for this post, I searched for the article, and found it on the website for Reuters.

Carpi vs. Capri

7-28-2009. Two Swedes expecting the golden beaches of the Italian island of Capri got a shock when tourist officials told them they were 650 km (400 miles) off course in the northern town of Carpi, after mistyping the name in their GPS.

"It's hard to understand how they managed it. I mean, Capri is an island," said Giovanni Medici, a spokesman for Carpi regional government, told Reuters Tuesday. "It's the first time something like this has happened."

The middle-aged couple, who were not identified, only discovered their error when they asked staff in the local tourist office Saturday how to drive to the island's famous "Blue Grotto."

"They were surprised, but not angry," Medici said. "They got back in the car and started driving south."

The picturesque island of Capri, famed as a romantic holiday destination, lies in the Gulf of Naples in southern Italy and has been a resort since Roman times.

Carpi is a busy industrial town in the province of Emilia Romagna, at the other end of Italy.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Master Plots 11-20

Improve your storytelling by using one of these time-tested plot patterns.

Last week's post on Master Plots for Stories Large and Small lists plots 1-10 from the book 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias.

Master Plots 11-20

11. Metamorphosis: involves physical characteristics of the protagonist actually changing from one form to another (reflecting inner psychological identity).

12. Transformation: involves the process of change in the protagonist on the journey through a stage of life that moves them from one significant character state to another.

13. Maturation: involves the protagonist facing a problem that is part of growing up, and from dealing with it, emerging into a state of adulthood (innocence to experience).

14. Love: involves the protagonist overcoming the obstacles to love that keeps them from engaging/experiencing true love.

15. Forbidden love: involves the protagonist overcoming obstacles created by social mores and taboos to consummate their relationship or seeing that the price is too high.

16. Sacrifice: involves the protagonist taking actions that are motivated by a higher purpose such as love, honor, charity, or for the sake of humanity.

17. Discovery: involves the protagonist having to overcome an upheaval in their life and thereby discovering something important within them, a better understanding of life, etc.

18. Wretched excess: involves a protagonist who, either by choice or accident, pushes the limits of acceptable behavior to the extreme or is forced to deal with the consequences.

19. Ascension: rags-to-riches plot deals with the rise (success) of the protagonist due to a dominating character trait that helps them to succeed.

20. Destruction: dominating character trait that eventually destroys the protagonist’s success.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Benjamin Franklin's List of Virtues

 You might think of goal setting and creating personal performance measures as modern developments. However, Benjamin Franklin pioneered these techniques.

In addition to contributing to the United States as one of its founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin was also an author, printer, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, statesman, librarian, and diplomat. Franklin only received two years of formal education, but continued to learn throughout his life by reading voraciously.


When Franklin was near the age of 30, he set a goal of "arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time." As he described in his autobiography, Franklin created a list of values that he observed in the writings of others. His list consisted of 13 items. For each, he noted the virtue and provided a brief description:

  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolved.
  5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity: Rarely use venery [sexual indulgence] but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

The Process

Rather than attempting to master all of these virtues concurrently, Franklin decided to focus on conquering one at a time, but still track his transgression of the others. To accomplish this, Franklin created a "little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues." Each page list a virtual with its description at the top with a grid filling the rest of the page. The grid listed the first initial of each virtual in the first column. Franklin used 7 additional columns for the days of the week.

For each virtue, Franklin recorded his faults by placing a small dot in the appropriate row and column. He focused on improving a single virtue for the duration of a week. Thus, he was able to repeat this cycle four times within a year. By tracking his progress, he was able to see his improvements over the course of a year with the goal of "seeing on my pages the progress I made in virtue, by clearing successively my lines of their spots."

As I wrote my memoir, I tracked my progress every day. I used an Excel spreadsheet to record the number of words written, length of writing time, location, and time of day. At the end of the process, I was able to quickly determine when and where I was the most productive. You can read about my experience in my e-book, 60,000 Words in 6 Weeks. I believe that my motivation would have diminished had I not been able to review my progress each day.

I encourage you to track something for 30 days. My post on collecting measurements is a great primer on getting started.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Master Plots for Stories Large and Small

Improve your storytelling by using one of these time-tested plot patterns.

Several years ago I came across a list of story plots on the website of the Tennessee Screenwriters Association. In preparing for this post, I searched again on the website and was unable to locate the list. However, I discovered that the list was likely put together from the book 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias.

In the book, Tobias discusses the nuances of each plot and how to create plots for any subject matter. You will recognize these time-tested plots in television shows, movies, and books.

Definition of Plot

Prior to addressing each of the 20 plots, Tobias lays a solid foundation by defining plot. According to him, "Plot is a chain of cause-and-effect relationships that constantly create a pattern of unified action and behavior." A plot is a series of connected events that typically include an inciting incident, a series of reversals, a climax, and a logical ending which ties the events together.

While a story is a sequence of events (this happened and then this happened), a plot includes events that cause tension that builds throughout the narrative (this happened but then this happened). It is this subtle difference that keeps plot-based narrative compelling.

In his blog The Story Grid, Shawn Coyne discusses a framework for plot divided into five elements:
  • Inciting Incident: Something must occur that gets the main character, the protagonist out of the normal, everyday world and into the adventure.
  • Complications: Someone, the antagonist, wants something that conflicts with what the protagonist wants and seeks to prevent the protagonist from achieving goals.
  • Crisis: The protagonist gets to a point a choice must be made between various courses of action (retreat, continue, etc.).
  • Climax: The protagonist makes a choice which leads to further conflict with the antagonist, ultimately leading to the ...
  • Resolution: The protagonist reaps the consequences of the choice made.

Using the Plots

I like Coyne's structure, and I believe it can be applied to any of the plots below. These five steps and ten plots are suitable for large works of fiction, short stories, anecdotes, and dinner conversations. If you think about a situation from work, could you adapt it into one of these plot patterns? Can you outline the narrative using the list above?

Rather than telling a basic sequence of events, think about it in terms of conflict and tension. Audiences keep watching reality television shows because they want to see the conflict between contestants and learn what will happen next.

Master Plots 1-10

  1. Quest: plot involves the protagonist’s search for a person, place, or thing, tangible or intangible, but must be quantifiable.
  2. Adventure: involves the protagonist going in search of their fortune, and since fortune is never found at home, the protagonist goes to search for somewhere over the rainbow.
  3. Pursuit: this plot literally involves hide-and-seek, one person chasing another.
  4. Rescue: involves the protagonist searching for someone or something, usually consisting of three main characters (protagonist, antagonist, victim).
  5. Escape: involves a protagonist confined against their will who wants to escape (does not include escape from personal demons).
  6. Revenge: retaliation by protagonist or antagonist again the other for real or imagined injury.
  7. Riddle: involves the protagonist’s search for clues to find the hidden meaning of something in question that is deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous.
  8. Rivalry: involves the protagonist competing for the same object or goal as another person (their rival).
  9. Underdog: involves a protagonist who is at a great disadvantage and is faced with overwhelming odds competing for an object or goal.
  10. Temptation: involves a protagonist that for one reason or another is induced or persuaded to do something that is unwise, wrong, or immoral.

I will share  plots 11-20 in another post.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Problem Solving by Jim Rohn

A summary of Jim Rohn's problem solving approach, featuring a quote from astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Jim Rohn was a speaker and author who wrote several books on personal improvement.

For several years I subscribed to his e-mail newsletter. In the May 11, 2009 issue, Jim Rohn described an approach to problem solving. I recently rediscovered this in my notebook from 2009.

To solve any problem, there are three questions to ask yourself first:
  1. What could I do?
  2. What could I read?
  3. Whom could I ask? 

The real problem is usually two or three questions deep. If you want to go after someone's problem, be aware that most people aren't going to reveal what the problem is after the first question.

Neil Armstrong once said, "You only have to solve two problems when going to the moon: first, how to get there; second, how to get back. The key is, don't leave until you have solved both problems."

Never attack a problem without also presenting a solution.

The best place to solve a problem is on paper.

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ten thoughts on success

Ten random thoughts on success as discovered in a high school handout.

Ten Thoughts on Success

I discovered this list of success tips while paging through my daughter's notebook for her junior year of high school. This was distributed as a handout from an agricultural vocational class, a requirement for all students at her school.

  1. Your salary increase will become effective when you do.
  2. How many people do not buy from you because you have not asked them to?
  3. Explain the value before you tell the price.
  4. Too many people stop looking for work when they get a job.
  5. It is easier to sell to people who do not want to buy than to find people who do.
  6. The surest way not to make money is to sit around waiting for a break.
  7. You are not paid for having brains, but for using them.
  8. When your prospect quits listening, it means you should stop talking.
  9. The door of opportunity won't open unless you do some pushing.
  10. Do you count time or make time count?

What do you think of these? Which one is your favorite?

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What's Missing from SMART Goals

Goals should not only be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-oriented, but also Educational and desiRable.


A search for "SMART goals" on Google returns over 24 million possibilities.

SMART is a mnemonic acronym that is helpful to apply when setting goals. According Wikipedia, the concept of SMART goals originated in 1981.

S = Specific - Goals must be well-defined and clearly written. In the context of writing, there are many individuals who say, "I want to be a writer." However, this is a rather ambiguous goal. A better goal might be, "I want to write a book on the philosophy of birds."

M = Measurable - Goals must be written in such a way that progress (or lack of progress) can be measured. I have a love-hate relationship with working out. However, right now, I am in the love phase, and have set a measurable goal of walking three miles every day at a rate of 4 miles per hour. This is clearly measurable, and I can easily assess each day whether or not I met this goal.

A = Attainable - Goals must be within the possibility of being achieved. I love to travel, but I recognize that a trip to the moon or into space - even though possible the very rich - is unlikely to occur for me. Instead, I could set a goal of traveling to a new part of the world.

R = Relevant - Goals must be related to whatever project or activity is being developed. There are two ways that relevancy can get derailed. First, some type of qualifier might be added to a goal, such as "I want to read one book a week, but I can only read at Starbucks." In this case, the location is not relevant to the goal, and may actually serve as a distraction (Starbucks is sometimes noisy). The other way that relevancy can get derailed is by simply selecting a goal completely unrelated to a project. If I am planning a get-away weekend with my wife, thinking about I will read my work e-mails while we are traveling is not relevant.

T = Time-based - Goals must have time frames assigned so that planning can stay on track. If a goal does not have a time element, (i.e., a deadline) it is easy for efforts expended towards a goal to lapse into a state of entropy, where all activity slowly decreases until no action is being taken. If someone sets a goal of writing a book, but doesn't specify a time limit within that goal is to be accomplished, it is easy to put the project on a back burner, or perhaps neglect it altogether.


There are two additional factors that I believe need to be considered. These additional factors are Educational and Desirable. In order to change SMART into SMARTER, "desiRable" must be adjusted so that the "R" forms the new acronym.

E = Educational - Goals must contribute to continual learning. In my free e-book, Never Quit Learning, I discuss ten simple ways that knowledge can help you stand out. Every goal should teach you something about yourself. What factors make it easier or more difficult to obtain a goal? Does it make a difference if the parameters of SMART are changed slightly? The "E" for Educational is really the review part of setting SMART goals to ensure that goals are helping you achieve what you want or need.

R = desiRable - In order to stay motivated, the end result must be something you want to achieve. I could set a goal of obtaining my black belt in karate, but that is not particularly desirable for me. However, earning my black belt in the lean/six sigma quality improvement methodologies is something that interests me.

Instead of setting SMART goals, set SMARTER goals to ensure that whatever you are doing helps you learn more about yourself and moving you in a direction you want to go in.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Friday, October 2, 2015

More Mental Jogging Prompts

Last year I shared my review of Mental Jogging by Reid J. Daitzman. The  book consists of 365 prompts to stimulate your creativity. Below are ten prompts. These are great to think about while commuting and at parties.

  1. Eight or more reasons why you shouldn't drop out of school.
  2. Six or more nice things about the person to your right.
  3. Seven or more ways you can tell a dog from a cat without seeing one.
  4. Eight or more reasons why rainbows cannot be seen at night.
  5. Seven or more things never to say to a dentist.
  6. Six or more ways to eat dinner without utensils.
  7. Seven or more ways how not to attract other men.
  8. Eight or more reasons for not becoming a United States Sentator.
  9. Six or more reasons for not owning a calendar.
  10. Seven or more rules of soccer if there were two goalies in each goal.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Life Comes First

I first read this story in a monthly real estate newsletter that my neighbor published. You may have seen it before. It is an excellent parable about priorities.

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

"Only a little while," the fisherman replied.

The banker then asked why he didn't stay out longer and catch more fish.

The fisherman said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.

"But what do you do with the rest of your time?" the banker asked.

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, and stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos," the fisherman said. "I have a full and busy life."

The banker scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you would buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise."

The fisherman asked, "But how long will all this take?"

"Fifteen to twenty years," replied the banker.

"But then what?"

"That's the best part," the banker said. "When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions."

"Millions . . . then what?"

"Then you would retire," continued the banker. "You would move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your grandchildren, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play guitar with your amigos."

What are your priorities, and how do you work toward realizing them every day?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Viktor Frankl Quotes

Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, was first published in 1946. The first half of the book is about Frankl's concentration camp experience, while the second half is about his theory of psychology. When living in a Nazi concentration/death camp, Frankl noticed that prisoners who had a hope in the future had a better quality of life, even if they were ultimately murdered by the Nazis.

Below are a few of my favorite quotes from his book.

  1. He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how (Nietzche).
  2. Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms, to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way .... Fundamentally any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him, mentally and spiritually.
  3. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny.
  4. There is a commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to him.
  5. Those who knew that there was a task waiting for them to fulfill were most apt to survive.
  6. Live as if you were living already for the second time.
  7. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
  8. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.
  9. Man does not simple exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.
  10. Man has both potentialities [good and evil] within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.
  11. Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensure, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause great than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds true for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.

Have you read Man's Search for Meaning? If so, what did you think about the book?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

PLEAD Your Case

I recently attended a webinar presented by Matt Abrahams, author of Speaking Up Without Freaking Out. His website is

In this webinar Matt presented five tips to maximize the effectiveness of your virtual presentations. The five components form the acronym PLEAD.


Three basic structures that Matt shared are:
  1. Problem (Opportunity) > Solution > Benefit - These sections of the presentation can be arranged in any order. Everyone experiences problems of some sort, and if you can provide a solution and explain to them how they will benefit, you will have a successful presentation. You can also use this structure to present opportunities for improvement.
  2. What > So What > Now What - In this structure, the "what" is the current scenario or product. In the "so what" section, you can provide the reasons why attendees should care about your presentation topic. Finally, "now what" is where you can provide the benefit and provide a path for the future.
  3. Past > Present > Future - This is very basic structure, but one that is very effective. Provide the history of the topic at hand, offer information about the current situation, and suggest how the future can be impacted by choosing a particular course of action.


Matt used the analogy of a tour guide to represent the role as presenter. A major responsibility of tour guides is to ensure that all in the group stay together without any individuals lagging behind or moving forward on their own. While the group is together, tour guides must keep people focused.

One way to ensure that your attendees stay with you through the presentation is to set expectations at the beginning and throughout the presentation. What can attendees expect?

Another method to keep your audience with you is to smoothly transition from one section to another. Three ways to transition are:
  • Summarize each section before moving to the next.
  • Ask questions of the attendees or discuss questions that could be asked.
  • Refer to orientation/agenda slides to introduce and end each section of the presentation.


If you have listened to a great storyteller, you probably found yourself drawn into the story, possibly to the point that you are so focused that you forget everything else. There are a few techniques that Matt recommended to ensure that your audience is drawn in to your presentation.
  • Use analogies to help provide a connection between new information and what attendees already know. Our brains are wired for narrative, and using this technique ensures that attendees are more likely to recall the information you provide.
  • Think > Pair > Share - Interactivity provides variation to your presentation and also reinforces topics discussed. Ask attendees to think about a question or application of information and request that they divide into pairs or small groups to discuss. After a few minutes, bring the group back together to share what the breakout pairs discussed.
  • Focus on the relevance of the information to the attendees. People tend to disengage if they perceive that a particular subject is not relevant to them or is about something they are not interested in.
  • Leverage chat. Presenting virtually is a challenge because so many distractions exist. Attendees can check their phones, FaceBook, Instragram, etc. and you, as the presenter, have no idea. Ask questions through chat or Twitter (using a customized hashtag) to stimulate conversation relevant to the presentation.


Slides are supportive tool, not the focus of the presentation. Slides should not serve as the script for the presenter. The version of the presentation that you leave as a handout should be different from the one you use during the presentation. Handouts can have more detail, so that readers can view on their own.

A few tips that Matt provided to improve slides are:
  1. Avoid too much detail - what Matt calls "eye charts" where the text keeps getting smaller and smaller in the outline hierarchy.
  2. A mix of quality picture-based visuals (slides) while speaking is the best. People tend to tune out when you are reading verbatim from the slides.
  3. Search for images on Google to get ideas for creating slides.


By varying your voice you can provide interest and variation to your presentation. Varying your voice includes more than just changing the tone, pitch, and rhythm of your voice.
  • Use emotive words that you naturally use. For example, words like great, fantastic, and awesome naturally bring positive energy.
  • Read children's books aloud. Children's books are typically written is such a way that there are clear contrasts between loud and soft, light and dark, and so on. Reading children's books, especially to children, is a great way to improve your delivery skills and practice intonation.
  • Use a co-presenter. Using two or more presenters with practices transitions between them adds energy to a presentation.

Structure and Variation

In summary, the two key points are to have some sort of structure and provide variation throughout the presentation. Attendees respond better when there is some sort of organization or outline to the presentation. Neuroscientists have discovered that people need a change of scene at least every 10 minutes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Buying my new printer

After my old printer died, I considered the costs of a new printer and created a list of requirements. After reviewing several printers, I decided to purchase the HP DeskJet 5740.

Although the price was the cheapest, I needed the printer immediately. I took a quick trip into town to view the prices at local stores. The online price at Costco was listed for $85.00. Unfortunately, my closest Costco is about two hours away. I took a screenshot of the Costco price and went to my local Sam's Club, about five minutes from my house.

Knowing that I needed to negotiate the price, I proceeded directly to the customer service counter. I explained my situation to the customer service rep who called the manager. The answer was "no," I could not get the printer matched at the Costco price. "Okay," I said, "That's fine, but I won't be buying the printer here."

My wife had accompanied me to Sam's, and because she separated from me in the store, I texted her to let her know I was done with my shopping. As we passed the checkout registers, a woman met us.

She said, "Are you the one wanting the printer?"

"Yes," I said.

She replied, "We can match the Costco price."

I'm not sure what transpired in the management office between my initial interaction with customer service and this unexpected meeting, but I bought the printer.

As soon as I arrived home I began setup the printer, and printed our documents for the next day's flight within minutes.

Hopefully, this printer will last as long as my previous one.

Friday, September 11, 2015

10 Reasons to Use a Moleskine Notebook

Notebooks, planners, and journals have been around for hundreds of years. During the age of exploration, travelers often journaled about their journeys and experiences. Artists and writers have also used notebooks to capture ideas.

Since 1997, the company Moleskine has been manufacturing several lines of journals of the same name, simply Moleskine. While they have a large product line of journals for specific purposes, such as chocolate tasting or storyboarding, the majority of their notebooks are designed for multiple uses depending on the user.

Below are my reasons for why I use Moleskine notebooks for writing and planning. Certainly, many of these reasons apply to other journals as well, but after trying out several brands and even creating my own, the Moleskine journals are my choice.

1. Consistent quality.

Moleskine sources quality, materials with minimal environmental impact from around world. Every notebook has been high quality and has endured my various travels.

2. Variety of sizes.

Moleskin notebooks come in a variety of sizes. The three standard sizes are pocket (3.5 x 5.5 inches), large (5.1 x 8.3 inches [the primary size I use]), and XL (not as widely available). Additionally, Moleskin manufactures hard and soft cover versions of the notebooks. I typically use the hardcover large notebooks.

3. Variety of styles.

The three type of notebooks most amenable to creative, planning, and learning are the notebooks with pages that are blank, lined, and grid. For my writing projects, I prefer the lined notebooks. For my yearly planners, my main use of the notebooks, I use the grid style, so that I can easily draw boxes and lines as partitions and headers.

4. Creativity.

All these empty pages, at least for me, call out for something to be written or drawn on the pages. The Moleskine website features several artistic uses of the notebooks. I have experimented with a variety of markers and highlighters to add color to my notebook. Colored pencils work the best for me, especially because they do not bleed through the paper.

5. Customizeable.

Because of the freedom to create the writing space that you need, Moleskine notebooks are perfect. For several years I drew my yearly calendar into the front pages of the notebook. Now, I create a smaller calendar that I store in the pocket (see below). You can also create indexing easily by following this hack.

6. Back pocket.

Each Moleskine notebook features a secure pocket on the inside of the back cover. This convenient space is perfect for receipts, notes, and photos.

7. Space for sticky notes.

I use the inside front and back covers to store sticky notes for a variety of purposes. Sticky notes are great for planning, temporary documentation, and as prominent reminders when those are required (e.g., "pick up wife from airport").

8. Acid-free paper. 

All of the Moleskin notebooks are produced with acid-free paper. This means that the pages will not yellow over time, and that notesbooks can easily and potentially outlast you.

9. Bookmark.

Each hardcover Moleskine also comes with a convenient bookmark that can be used as a daily place holder, if using the notebook as a planner, or as a way to quickly and conveniently access information. With a bit of tape and ribbon you can easily add an extra bookmark.

10. Looks cool.

I love the image of sitting at a cafe or other quiet place writing in a journal. To me, it is the antithesis of living in an electronic world with smart phones, tablets, and computers at the ready. One of the reasons I still use a paper planner is that the deliberative process of writing by hand is easily lost when typing as fast as possible.

11. Elastic band (bonus).

Each Moleskin notebook also features an elastic band to keep the notebook closed when not in use. However, the elastic band can also serve as a temporary bookmark simply by inserting it between pages. The band also works well as a place to clip a pen or pencil.

Do you use a notebook? If so, how do you use it?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The start of every journey

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

This is a re-post from August of 2014. One of the most important lessons I learned in the process of writing my memoir is that the impact of small, consistent efforts pays off over time. In my book, 60,000 Words in 6 Weeks, I talk about this concept as it relates to writing. The Twitter summary of the chapter is: Even a small amount of writing on a daily basis will result in a cumulative effect over time.


When my daughter finished the school year in May, she made a list of things to do this summer.  High on that list was working out on a regular basis.  In reality, she only worked out very little.  However, if she had stuck with a daily work out, she would have achieved a total of approximately 75-90 workouts over the course of the summer (allowing for a few misses here and there).

Truth-be-told, I am not any better.  Although I typically don't make New Year's resolutions, I decided at the start of this year to set a goal of walking 3 miles everyday.  I even gave myself a slogan:  "5K everyday."  Well, I was fairly faithful until mid-February, when we relocated to a new city and state.  I've been walking fairly consistently since then, but haven't made it back to 3 miles per day.

Impact of daily effort

In thinking about this, I began to consider the impact of repeating a small activity on a regular basis.  Consider what the positive impact is for each of the following:
  • Walking 3 miles per day for an entire year - almost 1,100 miles.
  • Writing 275 words per day for an entire year - over 100,000 words (300-400 page book).
  • Reading 60 minutes per day - over two full weeks of reading.

Of course, there can be negative impacts as well:
  • Smoking a pack of cigarettes every day - 7,300 cigarettes.
  • Eating 500 extra calories every day - 182,500 calories (or 240 Burger King Whoppers).
  • Starbucks every morning on the way to work - $1,000.

Visual Illustration

The infographic below shows the impact of doing something at different frequency intervals over a year.  The smallest, light color square in the lower left corner represents doing something once in a year.  If you do something quarterly, the result is 4 times in a year, monthly, 12; Weekly, 52; and finally, 365 times when repeating an activity daily.

Clearly, engaging in an activity every day can really add up over the course of a year.  What is a small activity that you can perform every day that will improve you in some way?  Write it down and commit to taking that action every day for an entire year.  Even five minutes of activity every day translates into 30 hours by year's end.

Friday, September 4, 2015

How to be more interesting

I recently came across this list from Jessica Hagy on how to be more interesting in 10 simple steps. Originally published at Forbes Magazine in 2011, Jessica also authored a book, How to Be More Interesting, which expands on the original article's content.

1. Go exploring.

2. Share what you discover.

3. Do something. Anything.

4. Embrace your innate weirdness.

5. Have a cause.

 6. Minimize the swagger.

 7. Give it a shot.

8. Hop off the bandwagon.

 9. Grow a pair.

 10. Ignore the scolds.

Icon 10 made by OCHA from is licensed by CC BY 3.0
Icons 1-9 made by Freepik from is licensed under CC BY 3.0