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Self Help


2000 740 Austin Barrow


A couple of weeks ago, I said goodbye to a friend. As I type the word friend, it immediately falls flat. There are so many other words that would better describe our relationship; confidant, advocate, mentor, and eventually collaborator.

I received the news of his passing on a Saturday afternoon, where I was commiserating myself over the abysmal performance of the Arkansas Razorback football team, sitting on my living room couch. The news wasn’t surprising. We had long separated our regular morning coffee sessions due to his illness. The separation being long enough that seeing his face and the recall of our time together hit me deep in the chest.

As tears began to fall down my cheeks, my wife grew immediately concerned. She knows I’m a crier of high renown, and although the game was going poorly, it wasn’t that bad. I couldn’t speak. I tried, but I couldn’t get words over the top of my tongue. The words were stuck at the top of my throat, and I knew if I spoke them out loud, I would most certainly not be able to hold back the flood that I could feel welling up behind my eyes. It wasn’t the vocal acknowledgment of the passing but a physical exertion to vocalize, which I knew would prevent the hold I had on the flood.

I laid down in the bedroom for a bit. I needed a moment, a moment to recollect. The memories came flooding in, moments I hadn’t thought of in years. Conversations, jokes, stories, and silly coffee cups were racing around in my head. Work that seemed so important at the time, forgotten with some distance, was suddenly refreshed in my washy memories. Books. This man taught me how essential books could be when you find yourself awash on an island full of tasks that you have no idea how to complete.

Now over the age of forty, there is a generation of disappearing friends and family beginning to climb in number. It’s a cycle of life that we all go through, I suppose, but when you first enter the fray, it’s a little jolting. Like the increasing lines on my face, I occasionally look up and think, “What the heck happened?”

Now when that thought comes up, I see the lines, think of old friends, and the answer comes, life, my friend. Live it well and live it fully, and when you shuffle off this mortal coil, you will leave behind more smiles than tears.

5 Steps to Creating a Work Life Balance To Do List

4288 2848 Austin Barrow

5 Steps to Creating a Work Life Balance To Do List

A couple of years ago, I was running a small nonprofit startup with eight employees, and we were ramping up to hire nearly four hundred people in the coming three months. I mean, how in the hell do you do that and keep your head on straight? I knew that my job was fundamentally about to change, and I needed to refine my life so that I could keep up with the firehose of information that was about to be permanently attached to my inputs.

It took some time, but I eventually developed a system that allowed me to find a balance between work and virtually everything else. It was a task sheet that showed me what my priorities were, week by week. I started by attempting to divvy up my day to day life into categories that I could rely on for the coming year. What were the significant activities that occupied my time? The best tool I had at the time was my calendar.

Start with your Calendar

I’m an organizer by nature. I like to keep notes of conversations, meetings, and I am very much on point when it comes to recording my daily calendar. If this is a foreign habit, I highly encourage you to adopt it.

I initially started a calendar while in graduate school at the University of Arkansas. It was the first time in my life where I could no longer hold all of the essential dates in my head for long periods. Now that could have been due to the notion that other people’s notable times would directly affect me, or it could have been because I was rapidly approaching thirty and my brain was dedicated to other tasks. Life was increasing in busyness, and I needed an outlet.

The Palm Pilot had recently been introduced as the best piece of tech to keep your to do’s and calendars in a readily accessible place. As much as I wanted to jump on board with the latest tech, I was forced to use the old school method, food and rent were a bit higher on the priority list. However, if I was going to do a pen and paper, I wanted to make sure it was of quality. I remember buying my first Moleskine annual calendar. It was red, the same as the school colors. I always relished the moment they arrived in the mail, and I began my entry process. It was a great way to review my previous year and plan the vital things in my life for the year to come.

I have since assimilated into the Apple universe and have used a good deal of my allotted cloud memory to hold on to years of calendar items. As soon as a meeting is set, I book it. If someone proposes a meeting with a date and time, I book it. I like, very much, to be in complete control of my time. I have been known to be a bit of jerk when scheduled appointments are interrupted by unplanned duties. It’s a character flaw, and I’m working on it … as scheduled.

Find the Categories of your Time

With years of data to lean on, I discovered that the majority of my time was divided into four major parts, family, stakeholders (my board members), employees, and volunteer work. So, I created categories in my calendar, allowing me to color-code each of the groups to get a good look of where I was spending my time. Visualization is an essential function when you are looking for shortcuts to creating quality tools. As an example, I’ve got a beautiful array of colors painted all over my screen at this moment as Grammarly informs me of all the mistakes I am making while writing this down. There really should be a way to turn that off and allow a free flow of ideas to be expressed uninterrupted, but I digress.

Once everything is colorized, you will begin to notice the patterns. Some of these patterns may be self-evident, but others are not. For instance, I noticed that I picked up my kids infrequently from school. With both myself and my wife working full time, this was going to be an issue from time to time. As a result, I would try to schedule personal work items during that time of the day, in the event, I had to go pick up the munchkins. Also, I saw very clearly the amount of volunteering I was committed to regularly. I knew that it was not sustainable, as I saw the interview lines stretching around the block. I had to make some adjustments to where I could spend that time, but I didn’t want to give it all up completely. So, I prioritized the more critical items and let go of those I knew would be better performed by volunteers who could fully commit to the cause.

Creating the Weekly Task Sheet

Now that you have defined the essential categories of your life, the creation of the task sheet is quite simple. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into four sections of equal size. We read left to right and top to bottom. So, I decided to list the most critical category in the top-left corner, LIFE. Secondarily, in the top-right corner, I labeled STAKEHOLDERS. The bottom-left corner held EMPLOYEES and bottom-right VOLUNTEER. With each area defined and sheet at the ready, I began to list every item I could yank from my caffeine-infused brain.

This is actually the most challenging part of the exercise. All too often, when I see people’s list, they contain phrases or shorthand that expresses an idea about a task, not the words that physically represent what you need to do to complete the job. When making your list, be specific. Do you need to think about an idea that you’ve been noodling? Don’t just write down the theme of the concept. Write specifically, “Spend time thinking about …” This is an essential step. How many times have you gathered up the two dozen scraps of paper you left around your work area, glanced at a sheet of paper and thought, “I wonder what I thought when I wrote this down?”

Now that you have your list, are you scared? I was because it was dauntingly long. Your first one is always impressive. It’s supposed to be because you just committed to a mind dump on the boss level. However, now that we are through that bit, it’s time for the next step.

Automate, Assign, Act, Omit

Go through each of these items and decide which of the three A’s you can assign. All too often, we believe that we are necessary to complete any given piece of work correctly. We are our own bottleneck in the completion of the task in many instances. Don’t get in the way of your work. Find a way to concentrate on the work that matters. Declutter the brain and you will begin to silence that nagging SOB that keeps whispering, “Yeah, but what about …”

Can you automate the task? In today’s world, there is an app for damn near everything (a word of caution, you can over automate any task by adding unforeseen work … choose carefully). Is there a system that can be put in place that better serves your time? Take bills as an example. I used to spend hours every week balancing my checkbook, reviewing all of my bills by mail, and logging into several different accounts online to make payments. All of this is unnecessary. By spending the same amount of time in a single week, I automated all of my payments to a credit card with rewards. I log on once a month, make a payment … done. The internet could be your friend here, and talk to others and see how they have simplified the regular tasks in their life.

Can you assign the task? Not everyone has assistants or manages other employees. However, if you do, is this work they can integrate into their day? Many times I have found that managers are duplicating work of their subordinates. In other instances, I have seen people that have no idea why the heck an assistant is necessary. Depending upon your position, it could become an essential part of your workflow. There are even services available online for personal assistants that work virtually on tasks at your behest. Man is it a crazy world now or what?

Is this one you have to do yourself? Then act. Make this list as short as possible. If you are going to commit to any given task, ensure that holds value for your time in the given category. 

Lastly, you have items that you can genuinely omit. These may seem hard to locate, but sincerely ask yourself with each task, “Do I have to, want to, or need to do this?” If you can answer no to any of those questions, it’s destined for the omit pile.

Once you have completed this part of the exercise, it’s time to start over. Remake your list only adding items from your “Act” list. Your refined list may still look a little daunting. I know mine did. However, if you look at each category individually, hopefully, you see that as a whole, things look a lot more doable.

Rules of the List

Okay, so I made up some rules here based on a variety of other thinkers and leaders I researched over the years. You don’t have to follow each one, but I think you will be a happier person if you do!

  1. Don’t strike through items when they are complete; highlight them. The beauty behind this simple pivot in to-do lists is that each week when you remake your list, you will see a colorful wash of doneness. It’s psychologically rewarding and will help you feel that accomplishment that we are all seeking.
  2. Remake your list every week. Make this the first thing you do before any other work is sniffed coming through your door. Don’t check email, return a text, concentrate.
  3. Copy everything undone on last week’s list on to this weeks list, but go through the automate, assign, act and omit process again. Make sure this requires your personal touch.
  4. If you didn’t complete it last week, add a number. If this is the second time it’s appeared, add a two. Keep doing this every week.
  5. Define a cutoff. If you’ve got a number seventeen next to one of your to-do’s, then insert a little reality. You haven’t completed this task in more than four months.
  6. Finally, the purpose here is to refine your time and provide clarity and diligence to your day. No tool is useful if it complicates your process.

A Whole New Mind – by Daniel H. Pink

1663 1176 Austin Barrow

A Whole New Mind - by Daniel H. Pink

ISBN: 9781594481710
Date read: 2019-3-30
How strongly I recommend it: 8/10

Check out Amazon Link for details and reviews.

Pink makes a case for right brain thinkers in the coming Conceptual Age. The book was published in 2005, so I can only assume that we currently find ourselves in that time now. His predictions for what will come in the future, for the most part, ring right of today’s creative culture and the overabundance of content. We are a consumer culture. Most specifically, what is interesting in the book is his outlay of what he refers to as the six senses important for creators. These senses: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning are defined with examples of how it has worked for others and methods you can use to broaden your personal understanding of each. If you are a left-brained thinker, this book is a useful guide for both understanding how right-brain thinkers process thoughts and how you might expand your capabilities, should you find yourself in a creative position.

Notes from the text:

The future belongs to creators, empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These are the artists, inventors, designers, storytellers caregivers, consolers, big-picture thinkers. In our current overflow of content creation, this rings true. Most of us are consumers, not makers.
We are moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. It’s not about what we can discover but how we interpret it.
What is important now is “high concept” and “high touch.”
High concept involves the ability to detect and recognize patterns and ideas.
High touch involves the ability to emphasize with others. I’m not sure this has really caught on in mass. Its importance is high, but the ability of others to truly empathize with their fellow man is rare, although I see more of it in the creative community.
The “left brain” capabilities of reason are necessary for today’s society but no longer sufficient to succeed.

James Watson described the human brain as “the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe.” Woody Allen called it his “second favorite organ.”
Roger W. Sperry was the first to write about the brain split into a major and minor hemisphere.
Betty Edwards book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, was also instrumental in discovering this idea of two hemispheres, and I remember being handed this while in college. It completely changed the way I drew. Something I used to do often, but less so now.
The right brain is seen as both savior and saboteur.
Reasoning ability is the thing that separates humans from other animals.
The left hemisphere handles what is said, and the right handles how it is said.
There are two types of people in the world, those that believe that everything can be divided into two categories — and the rest of you.

Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge workers,” meaning people who get paid for putting to work what one learns in school rather than for their physical strength or Manuel skill.
There are toll-booths that one must pass through to enter middle-class life, (i.e., PSAT, SAT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc.) However, they only measure left-brain thinking.
Virginia Postrel uses the term “aesthetic imperative” to describe that something extra required in business today.
Transcendence in action can be found in prosperous communities lined with a multitude of shopping opportunities.
According to the London Financial Times, any job that is English-based in markets such as the U.S., the U.K., and Australia can be done in India.
Tom Peters calls software a “forklift for the mind,” for white-collar workers.

In this new conceptual age, the leading players will be creators and empathizers that have mastered right-brain thinking.
Affluence, technology, and globalization are the three forces that have propelled us into new eras (Agricultural Age, Industrial Age, Information Age, Conceptual Age).
If what you are doing for a living can be done cheaper by someone overseas or can be done faster by a computer, chances are you will not be in demand very long.
High concept involves the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, detect patterns and opportunities. You should be able to bring unrelated ideas together in a novel way.
High touch involves a sincere ability to empathize.
Effective leaders are funny. They can make people laugh, bring enjoyment and positive energy to the workplace.
An alternative SAT being developed by Robert Sternberg called The Rainbow Project, where students get five blank New Yorker cartoons and must craft captions for them.
According to David Wolfe, as people mature, their cognitive patterns become less abstract and more concrete which results in a sharpened sense of reality, increased capacity for emotion and enhancement of their sense of connectedness.

In the information age, the ability to tell stories, demonstrate empathy, and design innovations have eroded, giving it more emphasis in the Conceptional Age.
John Heskett describes design as the human nature to shape and make our environment in ways without precedent in nature, to serve our needs and give meaning to our lives.
Frank Nuovo calls design in its purest form the activity of creating solutions.
Research from the London Business School shows that for every percent of sales invested in product design, a company’s sales and profits rise by an average of 3 to 4 percent.

Some highlights in the world of creation are to never say that you could have done something, because you didn’t, and the exchange of ideas and human contact is all life really is. Two essential lessons that work across all fields of work.

Mark Turner, in his book The Literary Mind, says that narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought.
When facts become more available, they become less valuable. What matters is the ability to put them in context and deliver them with emotional impact.
The hero’s journey (compelling storytelling) involves departure, initiation, and return.
Recommendation to read Robert McKee’s book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
Advertising, counseling, consulting, etc. account for 25% of the U.S. gross domestic product.

When the left brain doesn’t know what the right brain is doing, the mind is free to see relationships and to integrate those relationships into a whole.
The ability to make big leaps of thought is a common denominator among the originators of breakthrough ideas.
Boundary crossers reject either/or choices and seek multiple options and blended solutions. When something is being created, the walls of creation are mobile and not set. It is the setting of these walls which, although required, restricts what can come into being.
Trevor Baylis said that convention is the enemy of progress.
The difference between the computer mind and the human brain is the ability to think metaphorically and see relationships that computers could never detect. This is where job security lies.
Being able to find unusual patterns and tell stories of these discoveries in empathic ways is the keys to success in the next age.

When you are working on a new creation, it’s a good idea to start by creating the space as an inspiration for the journey you are about to embark on.
Good brainstorming, according to Tom Kelly, involves going for quantity, wild ideas, visual ideas, deferring judgment, and having one conversation at a time. That last one is difficult in large groups at times. Should work on building upon discussions instead of tangental responses.

Sympathy is often confused as empathy, but they are quite different in their execution.
Empathic responses do not necessarily mean a deviation from intelligence nor a route towards it.

Henry Ford feared mixing work and play, which is very still much evident in much of the corporate world, although less so than a decade ago. Work and play are much more commonly combined today and creates better working environments.
Video games can enhance right brain activity around pattern recognition.
People who laugh together can work together.

According to Viktor Frankl man’s primary concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.
Technology is not necessarily helping make things easier because it is moving to fast. It is instead choking us with choices.
Happiness can be found in gratitude, forgiveness, and optimism.

Say thank you often.
If you knew you had at most ten years to live, would you stick with your current job? WOW. This question changed the direction of my life drastically because what happens if the answer is no?

Words I had to look up:

Quotidian: ordinary or commonplace

Contralateralization: Property of the brain such that one side of the body is controlled by the opposite hemisphere of the brain: the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body, and the right hemisphere connects the left side of the body.

Prosody: the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech — provides important information beyond a sentence’s literal word meaning.

Gestalt (I use this word often, but wanted to make sure that I was using it properly!): the whole are not deducible from analysis of the parts in isolation.

Amygdalas: is one of two almond-shaped clusters of nuclei located deep and medially within the temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans.

Neurotheology: refers to the multidisciplinary field of scholarship that seeks to understand the relationship between the human brain and religion.