Big Rocks

Thanks for your comments on last week’s post on procrastination. Clearly my journey has been shared by many of you. I decided to re-read the 1994 book from Steven Covey that I mentioned last week – First Things First. I still love Covey’s folksy, sometimes corny, but always insightful and spot-on writing, so I am devoting this week’s post to Big Rocks – one of the core concepts outlined in his book.

I have shown Covey’s Big Rocks video to different groups of teachers and administrators over the years. He challenges one of the persons attending his conference to fit several “big rocks” into a large bucket that is halfway filled with tiny pebbles. He explains that the big rocks are the important things – your career, your family, your physical health, and other important elements of your life. And the pebbles are all of the little things that vie for our attention. As the volunteer tries to make it work, Covey states, “She’s operating on the assumption that by moving things around, we create more space.” That does not work. You have to prioritize the big rocks firsts, then let the pebbles fill in the cracks around those rocks. As I re-watched the video for the umpteenth time, I found that it continues to remind me to be better about focusing on the big rocks in my life.

99% of us struggle to keep the pebbles from squeezing out time for our big rocks. We have to remind ourselves each year, each month, each week, and each day to focus on the big rocks and what is truly important.

Speaking of big rocks, I am getting very excited about the upcoming wedding in our family. Ryan will marry Yesi in September of this year, and it’s been a long time coming. Damn you, COVID! The details are all coming together. Last weekend they chose a wedding band to match her beautiful engagement ring (and the aforementioned rock), and other details are all coming together. It’s going to be a wonderful event, and I can’t wait! And I’m not even going to tell them to hurry on the grandchildren thing. Caring parents/in-laws would never do that. So even though that would make my family big rock even more precious, I’m going to show a lot of willpower and hold off from even a hint of that thought. They’ll never even know. In the meantime, I love them both, and I love them as a couple, and I am ready for September!

So, how do we focus on those big rocks and keep the pebbles, those smaller, non-important stones, from beating us down with their incessant demands? Another Covey technique is the Time Management Matrix. Covey categorizes all of our to-do tasks into four quadrants:

The goal is to spend as much of your time in Quadrant 2 as possible. Quadrant 2 is the non-procrastination zone where we can truly focus on the Big Rocks. Quadrant 1, important and urgent, is the “an unexpected fire just broke out” or the “I have procrastinated too long and now it’s a crisis” zone. You have to do it, but the more time you spend there, the less time you can spend in the calmer and more satisfying Quadrant 2. Quadrant 3, not important, but still urgent, holds the meetings, appointments, or events you “have to” attend.  Even though they may not make your life richer, they are obligations and we all have them. And Quadrant 4 is not important and not urgent, and yet these are the tiny pebbles that creep into and can even dominate every part of our life. I need to spend 20-30 minutes a day reading the news and understanding the world I live in. That’s a Quadrant 2 activity for me. But it’s easy to let that thirty minutes creep into much longer, with all of the different media feeds trying to tempt me to waste time in Quadrant 4. Quadrant 4 is always there to distract me, and I have to consciously avoid spending too much time there.

I was in my friend Kim’s office this week, and I saw that she has Covey’s Matrix front and center on her wall. Quadrant Two stares her right in the face every day, and she does what we all need to do – Kim keeps focusing and refocusing on what is important. That made me smile. First Things First reminds us that we have to set time aside each year, each week, and each day to focus on our big rocks, and spend as much time in Quadrant II as we can.

I wrote last week about my bike riding goal, which is still in Quadrant 2 but teetering on moving into Quadrant 1. I have suffered since writing that post, and that’s a good thing. Over 30 miles on Sunday with over 2,500 feet of climbing. Saddle soreness and leg pain tell me I’m on the right track. I’m not going as far as I need to go, and I’m very slow doing it. Quadrant 2 is about steady progress. I’m OK with that. I took the picture above on my way back down into Malibu. It’s easier to smile when you’re descending. Afterwards, I celebrated with a turkey sandwich, some salty Fritos, and a pint of Big Rock Amber, a new beer from the Malibu Brewing Company named after a Malibu beach south of where I live.

After a week of thinking about big rocks, enjoying seeing the picture of the big rock and wedding band that will forever symbolize Ryan and Yesi’s love, and a few strenuous and sweaty hours focusing on one of my big rocks, I got to celebrate with a Big Rock. Literally.

Have a good week.

Mike

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This Post Was Finished a Week Early!

I’m WAY less of a procrastinator than I used to be, but I wish I would have started training earlier for our bike trip this summer.

When I was in middle school, I had serious procrastination issues. My science teacher once guided us through a science project for weeks.  I remember coming home from school the day before it was due and knowing that, somehow, I needed to compress six weeks of work into one night.  So after intelligently spending my afternoon doing other stuff that was not as pressing and consciously choosing to wait until 8:30 in the evening, I finally decided to get started by choosing mold for my topic. Again, this was something the teacher had been telling us to do for weeks. But none of it needed to be done until the final project was due. First step: I asked my mom, “Got any mold?” We went through her bread drawer and through the fridge – nothing! I called my Aunt Alix and asked her if she had any moldy bread in the house. Jackpot! Four or five hours later, after my poor mom drove me over to my Aunt’s house, where we relieved her of the moldy bread (blessed are those who deal patiently with procrastinators), I completed a truly mediocre science project, and earned a not-so-well-deserved B-.

I worked and strived to overcome my procrastination for years, and I’ve been pretty darn successful. On a scale of one to ten, where a one is terrible and a ten is so good that’s it’s almost obsessive, I’ve moved from a three to a solid eight. I’ve read many insightful books that helped me –First Things First, by Steven Covey, Getting Things Done, by David Allen, and The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande are three books that helped me tremendously. I loved my classic-sized leather-bound Franklin-Covey Planner and the calendar and task systems that went with it. I went nowhere without that binder, and it made me better. Covey, Allen, and Gawande all talk about the importance of writing down tasks, prioritizing them, and basing each day on that prioritized list. Air travel and surgery both became safer after checklists became part of the standard operating procedure. For me, the key is starting each day with a checklist of what needs to get done immediately (including having something to check off first thing in the morning – my thing, as I described in my last blog post of 2021, is a perfectly clean kitchen), as well as a list of long-term projects that should be addressed when there is time. And by the way, this kind of organization matters when you’re not working too. If I don’t organize each day, I get far less done than I could through just a few minutes of organizing, even when I’m just spending my day getting things done around the house.

I’m trying to learn to be better from my children’s examples too. Well . . . one of them. I remember watching some sporting event on TV on a Saturday afternoon, when Dawson, my youngest son, picked up his physics book and started working. I asked him if he had an assignment due Monday. He said, “No. It’s due on Wednesday, but I have time now, so I might as well get it done.” (Those are words I never said in high school.) I told my oldest son Ryan about Dawson’s rationale. Ryan’s response was, “Why do it on Saturday when he could probably get it done in two or three five-minute passing periods on the day it’s due? He’s wasting all that time!”

All I want to do is be more like Dawson when I grow up. And to Ryan’s credit, he’s way better than he used to be as well.

I came up with this blog topic on Sunday, during a truly beautiful bike ride along the Malibu coast. It was a 20+ mile ride along the rolling coastline, and I felt like I could have done 30 without hurting. But here’s the thing. By late July, I need to be able to ride 60 miles, or 100 kilometers, without hurting. Every two years or so, we travel with five other couples and take a four- to six-day bicycle trip. Over the last twelve years, we’ve biked together in Nova Scotia, Vermont/New Hampshire, the Finger Lakes of New York, the San Juan Islands, and the Big Island of Hawaii. The picture above is our group traveling down a rarely traveled road on Big Island of Hawaii, and the picture below is Jill and I on a rail trail on the west coast of Nova Scotia. This year, we’re staying a little more local (Damn you Covid! We are not risking air travel this time), and we’ll be biking along the Central Coast of California (Cambria) and over to Paso Robles.

It would have been very easy to start prepping for this ride two months ago, building up slowly over a four-month program. But that’s not what I did, because I still have some procrastinator in me. Now I have just two months. My swimming doesn’t really make my legs stronger, since I don’t kick much when I’m in water. And I also have a Peloton, but my twice-a-week spin simply isn’t enough either. So I’ve got to step it up….and suffer. I’ve written this before, but I need to do what my friend Will says, and “suffer now so I won’t suffer later.”

And unfortunately, because I procrastinated, I’ll have to suffer a little more than I would have if I had not procrastinated. The good news is, there are way worse things than devoting time to bicycling and the painful yet somehow pleasant suffering that comes with getting stronger. And, hey – I still have more than a month and a half to get there! Bring it on. Or, maybe, I’ll wait until next week to really step it up . . . Who needs four months? Four weeks should be plenty!

My lifelong journey of improvement continues.

Mike

On New Year’s Resolutions

What do I want said about me when I die? That was a question posed to me in Michael Hyatt’s Living Forward book. He encourages readers to write their own eulogy, then live their life so that they live up to those words. “By writing the eulogy as if it’s being delivered today, you may see some gaps between what people would say and what you would like them to say. That can be unsettling for some people, but news flash: You’re still alive and have the power to change the course of your life!”

I love stuff like that. And I hope that more than half of the people at my funeral say nice things about me! A guy can dream, right?

I know there are plenty of haters out there, but I love New Year’s Resolutions. I spend time thinking about them, and I actually write them down. I’ve done it forever and I have no intention of quitting now.

Probably the biggest change for me this year is two items that are no longer on my resolution list. For the first time in almost 40 years, I have no goals related to a specific job. That is still beyond mind-blowing to me. After four months of not working, I’m still not used to it, but I do like it. A lot. One of my favorite Kenny Chesney songs is The Life. The chorus in the song is about what retirement could look like, and it goes, “I fish, play my guitar, laugh at the bar with my friends, go home to my wife, and pray every night, I can do it all over again.” Substitute golf for fishing (I think they are similar in many ways – social sports performed in beautiful places that are really hard to do well), and you have a pretty idyllic existence. But I’m not ready for “The Life” yet. I have always believed and I still believe that if you are not growing, you are dying.

Also for the first time in decades, losing weight is NOT one of my resolutions. Thanks to a massive reduction in stress in my life, and a new guide to food intake, I have lost enough of the weight that I’ve been holding onto for a long time. At the suggestion of a very good friend, I have been on the Noom diet for two months now. I did not have a ton to lose, but when my knee doctor told me to lose some weight and my knee might feel better (aka – she called me fat), I knew that it was more than getting my BMI below 25. Now my goal is just to eat healthily for the rest of my life, except for a few times. And let’s be clear – there will be some big calorie meals. I believe that you can’t trust a skinny cook. If I’m making good stuff, or if I’m presented with spectacular food, I’m eating it. I don’t need to be skinny, but I need to be light enough to be healthy and to reduce the load on my back and my knees.

Steven Covey called this quest for continuous improvement “sharpening the saw.” He told a story of a person coming upon a logger who is exhausted, as he has been sawing on a big tree for three hours. When the logger hears the suggestion to stop and sharpen the saw, he says, “I don’t have time. I’m too busy sawing.” That’s the problem. If we don’t take time to sharpen the saw, we are wasting time and being highly ineffective. And not to be hyperbolic, but again, if we are not sharpening our own saws, we are dying.

When the logger hears the suggestion to stop and sharpen the saw, he says, “I don’t have time. I’m too busy sawing.”

How am I sharpening my physical saw? Well, as I said, I’ve been spending a lot of time recently sharpening my physical saw with Noom – and I want to continue to do this. A lot of the food choices in Noom echo what I have been reading in the Blue Zones research. Michael Pollan, author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, echoes the advice, writing, “Eat food. Not a lot. Mostly plants.” I’m working on expanding that into a haiku.

I’ve always been an avid exercise fan, and I continue to follow the advice in Younger Next Year, pushing myself hard when I work out (following up on my last post, I swam 10,000 yards with a group of crazy people on New Year’s Day!), doing my best to avoid the body decay that time wants to impose. And one day, I will learn how to sleep more than six hours a night. Maybe.

How about my social and emotional saw? Now that I don’t have the built-in ease of being social at work (which I do miss), I have to work on this more. Being a better husband, father, sibling, son, and friend is hard work. And while those who love us the most can forgive long lapses in communication, it’s better not to have to ask for that forgiveness.

And while those who love us the most can forgive long lapses in communication, it’s better not to have to ask for that forgiveness.

My mental saw is probably the one I have to work on the most. While I was working, I was always learning. I was learning from teachers, from principals, and from new challenging situations. Every day was something new. Saw sharpening was unavoidable. Now, I have to take initiative. I will do that primarily through my writing. And all the while, I’ll continue to follow the Make Your Bed advice: never give up, and get stuff done every day.

I’m not itching to go back to working 70 hours a week, and these writing projects will give me academic and mental challenge, meaning, and a way to continue pursuing my passion for public education.

And finally, I have to sharpen my spiritual saw. I was raised as a Catholic, but I have also worshipped as a Presbyterian and as a Methodist. I do not attend church at this point in my life, but I still hold dear the lessons I learned from those years of church. I believe all of the world’s religions hold truth and inspiration. I don’t have one of those coexist bumper stickers on my car, but the world would be a better place if we all could coexist. If I have a text that I would call my Bible, it would be The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. Relying on inspiration from all of the world’s major religions, he focuses on finding personal peace from the craziness we often make for ourselves, and freeing ourselves from our own incessant thinking by focusing on the present moment and nothing else. On a more practical spiritual level, I seek to follow Marie Kondo’s advice and continue to simplify and enjoy what I have. And I am seeking to declutter my mind out on the golf course, following the advice in Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, and accept the failures that happen on the course, get over it, and focus on doing well on the next shot. Like a lot of things in golf, it carries over as good life advice.

I hope that we all can give ourselves the luxury of time invested in ourselves this year, as we sharpen our saws and do what we can to not only tread water, but to swim even faster towards our goals this year.

Mike

Books that guide my resolutions for this year: