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 http://www.nofreakingspeaking.com/.

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 Amazon.com 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 www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0
Icons 1-9 made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Requirements for a new printer

This is the third post in a series related to the recent demise of my old printer and acquisition of a new printer, including consideration of the cost of inkjet ink.

Although I had hoped to keep my old printer a little longer, I found myself in a situation where I did not have a printer. From time to time I have e-mailed documents to my local Office Depot for printing. However, the logistics of traveling to the store and the cost of printing really did not make this a viable long-term option.

Additionally, I had an immediate need for printing. Two days after my old printer died, I was scheduled for a flight on Spirit Airlines.

Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines prides itself on being what the company terms a "bare fare" airline. Nothing is included in the price of the ticket except a random seat on the plane and a small personal item (e.g., purse or backpack). Spirit increases the cost of various fees as the flight time approaches. It is cheapest to pay for carry-on and checked baggage at the time the flight reservation is made. If you get to the gate without previously paying for your carry-on bag, the cost is $100.00.

One additional charge that Spirit incurs is a $10.00 fee to print your boarding pass at the airport. As such, I needed to print the boarding passes for my family (three of us) prior to leaving home. This was my pressing need to print. However, I still wanted to choose a printer wisely, with the hope that I would be using it for several years.


I wrote down a few requirements for my printer.

  • Multifunction: The two most important capabilities I wanted were printing in color, of course, and the ability to scan multiple pages using an automatic data feeder (ADF).
  • Automatic Data Feeder: I wanted an ADF that could accommodate a minimum of 20 pages.
  • Wireless: My wife, daughter, and I use laptops, smart phones, and tablets routinely. Therefore, I wanted a printer that would permit us to print from any device. Until now, whenever my wife wanted to print something, she forwarded it to my e-mail and I connected my laptop to the printer.
  •  Cost around $100.00US: With the knowledge that the cost of ink would far exceed the cost of the printer itself, I set a target price of $100.00. This fit my budget as well as my expectations what I felt was reasonable.
  • High ratings on Amazon: I purchase quite a few items from Amazon.com, and rely on the ratings to help me decide. For my printer, wanted a printer that had a high percentage of ratings of 4 and 5, but also a minimal number of ratings of 1. My experience has been that about half of the 1 ratings are because of the incompetence of the buyers. However, I also find it valuable to read these reviews, since the other half of reviewers usually provide helpful details.

Comparing printers

Starting with a list of popular printers that I observed at both Sam's Club and Office Depot, I proceeded to conduct some research as summarized in the table below.

  • Multifunction: All of these printers offer similar features including printing and scanning.
  • ADF: All of these printers include an automatic data feeder for scanning, ranging from 20 to 35 pages.
  • Wireless: All of these printers offer wireless capabilities as well as direct connect via USB.
  • Cost around $100.00: The range of prices was between $87.99 and $115.00.
  • High ratings on Amazon: My approach is not scientific, but it helps me when purchasing from Amazon.com. I look at the percentage of ratings of 4 and 5 and compare it to ratings of 1. Thus, if the percentages of ratings were equally distributed, the combined percentage of 4/5 would be 40% compared to 20% for the rating of 1. This indicates a low ratio of favorable to non-favorable reviews. Ideally, a high percentage of 4/5 ratings indicates a consistently good product, especially if there are several reviews. 

The winner is ...

Regardless of how I examined the ratings, the HP DeskJet 5740 came out on top. The percentage of 4/5 ratings was 80%. This was the highest of these listed printers. When comparing the percentages of high and low ratings, the 5740 still was rated the best.

Having considered all of these requirements, I was satisfied that the HP DeskJet 5740 met my requirements the best. As I have used other HP printers, I knew that the new printer's features and operating system would be familiar to me. In my next post in this series I will describe my final steps to obtain the printer.

Requirements are important

If you are considering any type of purchase, I encourage you to first write down a list of essential requirements. In the field of project management, this is termed "business requirements" and are written in extensive detail in a business requirements document, known as a BRD. You don't have to have a massive document, but you should note any specific details that are important to you as you consider possible options for your purchase.