Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dad's Retirement Speech

Here was a quick closing speech I made for my dad's retirement celebration, after 30+ years as a petroleum/chemical engineer.  Came off a redeye at 8am and got told I should have a speech ready, almost feels like one of those 24hr adventure races I do, although the rifles and maps have been replaced with retirees and Chinese food.  Seriously though, it's probably one of the last times you'll see that most of the 80 people there have worked together for probably at least 20 years.

Here goes:
I come after Ambert (brother), pretty funny guy and hard act to follow, but I'll try to keep it short.  I don't get many opportunities to address people I consider my superiors both in intellect and experience.  That being said, we've heard a lot about Dad, the family, so I'm going to change it up a bit and spend some time talking about you, professionals who have made names for yourselves. And this is while me and my peers are just starting to build a reputation for ourselves.  I'll explain what I've seen from you, and then an opposing set of views.

You don't believe you're special, because of that, you make up what you don't know with straight up hard work, rather than complaining about the situation.

People that you work with in your immediate business units impact your day to day experience, and you've treated them well.  I think you've been pretty decent about that and have seen many of you over for dinner.

I've seen you be present in what you do right now, and not it being just another stepping stone.  Getting the job done right.

Because of you we were able to be the last generation that has experienced the following:

We had access to fairly dangerous items early on, fireworks, bows, guns, but we still had the sense to not shoot each other or blow each other up.  In defense of my generation, we may be the last exemplars of common sense.

Getting in trouble with the police was purely an academic concept, but getting in trouble with parents was a real threat.  

I've seen dad work very hard, survive multiple layoff rounds, but he still kept being our dad.  He didn't give up like a chump.  

He was really weird at times around friends I brought home, and I avoided him like the plague.  But he didn't ignore us in return, but rather drove us around, and take a genuine interest in what we did.  

It's been interesting to get to meet you all.  Coming from technology, its refreshing to talk to people outside of tech who build physical items, keep our country moving, actually create physical value.  

Thanks for the support you've all provided us!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Work/Stress Paradox

I thought I'd take time to write some more about how I finish work while reducing stress.  I believe that working quickly and efficiently doesn't have to cause stress, but it takes a lot of skill to separate the two.  I find that if I don't work quickly and efficiently, it's because I am stressed.  So instead of talking about how to finish that project, or perform your fitness plan properly (you know better than I would), I'll talk about how I work through my list of items and still have more juice for things that just come up.  Because they do.  

Here's a little refresh about what's going on for me this year, for those who have just started to read my blog, to put in context why I have no choice but to work efficiently.  I work as a sales engineer for a SaaS company and much of what I do involves interviewing and presenting to customers, as well as working with account executives to help present technically proper yet do-able solutions.  I might be looking over database diagrams one day, and mapping out customer politics the next.  I love this but it also can be incredibly draining.  The other facet of my life, new for  2012 involves competing for a sponsored rifle team while attending most national level precision rifle matches.  The season is only half over and I'll have logged about 15,000 miles driven and flow, with thousands of rounds fired in practice and competition.  I don't log practice hours, but I practice daily.  This combo in itself is a problem, but fortunately I've gotten a lot of solid help.  One has been an executive coach.  Thousands of dollars later, hundreds of hours I've spent examining what I do, here is my latest thinking which he's encouraged me to freely share.  I've just been very fortunate that he's taken me on as a client, and I don't take it lightly.  I'll be pleased to hear that this was help to anyone.  I don't have much advice to give, I'm still learning myself.

To figure out why we need to improve, we must look at where we're failing.  Here are some assumptions of "how to do things" articles that lead to failure (at least for me):

Assuming that you're fully control of what you're about to do.  I was on a sales call once and a VP of Sales told me that managing all his sales deals was like rolling bowling balls in the sand.  Wow.  The only things you're possibly in control of are your voluntary bodily functions.  Maybe not even.  At best you have some influence over an outcome.  The freedom of realizing this, allows you to be a little more objective about your work, yet have the emotional bandwidth to not appear detached or cold.

Not discussing the importance of following up as a step in itself.  I buy things that don't come overnight, sometimes it takes months.  If I don't have a good way of following up on them, they slip through.  Or even at work, when I ask for documents from customers, and it comes time to present and I'm missing details, whose ass is it?  I don't like to look like a fool, and when I do, there are witnesses.  Follow up needs to be placed in its own category.  It's probably one of the easiest ways to differentiate yourself.

Assuming that one method of handling work items, works for everything.  It's like thinking my pocketknife works well as a screwdriver, up until I get a real screwdriver, or lose a finger. There are lots of articles that say, use this ONE method for doing things.  And I get it, they assume that people can only practice or use one thing.  And that's only true with sight.  You need to collect all your things to do in one place, but there are many ways to work through them.  You don't approach your kitchen remodel the same way you would with going through a stack of paperwork, but you feel like you should.  No you don't have to.  But you need to see that both the remodel and the paperwork are things you need to do.  They both have to be in front of you in some way.  If you don't know what's going on with one of them, that will stress you out.

Thinking that you can work at 100%, or even better yet 110% percent, or even worse at 110% because someone (amateur mathematician) claimed you should do so.  It's been said that the best factories work at around 80%.  Well why can't you work them at 100% and get maximum output?  Because things break, things come up.  Just like you.  You're not a factory, but do not be seduced into thinking you're special either.

Lastly encouraging readers to think they're special.  And relying on hope.  The paradox is that: when one is done thinking of themselves as special, they can actually start doing things that are special (or noteworthy).  As in not being off-putting to members of other than the Millennial generation.  You will need their wisdom, guidance, and personal introductions.  I say this as being a so-called Millennial.

I want to leave it here after developing the problem a bit.  The next article in this series will begin talking about fixes for this.  Noodle on the above, and ask yourself, are there other failures that we need to look at?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dark Moments - The 24 Hr. Sniper Adventure Challenge

This past weekend I competed in an adventure race called the 24 Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge.  We were to navigate through the mountains with map and compass over 30 miles, and try to shoot, think, and challenge our way through for points.  These adventure races are a test of equipment, its handling, and your mental plumbing.  While the mental aspect is less sexy than the weaponry and gear I carried, it is with which all capability is produced.  The near perfect score I produced with my rifle after 28 hours of intense movement tested my rifle but also how I thought, although I was doubtful at times.  I will share with you some dark moments of mine during the race on a personal level and how I addressed them.

If you'd like to get some solid lessons learned and a description of the race, I invite you to check out the Vanwuurpen blog.  Below is how I remember the race.

Starting with failure

The first thing we had to do was weigh out 100lbs of rocks and carry it down the road 3 miles.  It wasn't cold outside either, but rather close to 100F.  This was in addition to 50 lbs of gear on my back.  I was well trained for hiking with weight, but not at levels near equal to my bodyweight.  I was experiencing a sharp pain in my hips, unlike general muscle fatigue.  Should I press on and compromise finishing the race, or should I ditch?   At a mile and a half I made the call to ditch the rocks and lose the points.  Brett and I agreed on the decision and I know we were both disappointed.  That was one of my dark moments.  How could I start off like this?  Why was I disappointing everyone?  I even flirted with the idea of quitting, given that was only our first objective.
But it was just that, it was a flirt.  It was a notion.  I left that flirt right there were they stood.  She wanted a drink and I wasn't buying.  I walked off with my friend and moved onto another table so to speak.  As expected, carrying those rocks wasn't even the hardest challenge.  But at least I was getting warmed up, turning down dirty thoughts in a competitors mind.  She would be back though in a few hours.  Dressed hotter than ever. 

Feeling sorry for myself

A few hours later, we ran into some friends of ours Riley and Jayden on the trail, on the way to the same place.  We had raced with them at the Survival Trials a few months back, laying our soul on the pavement during the last 8 miles we lovingly referred to as the "death march."  They remembered the pain and triumph and we realized we should team up and travel together.  We also met up with Bob and Matt.  Bob shoots with me at our home rifle club in Sacramento.  Matt I hadn't met yet, but his tenacity would prove inspirational.  

We hiked together, our band of 6 as it grew dark, to our next objective.  Checkpoint 2, which was on one of the highest points in the course.  It achieved this altitude in a very short distance, a steep slope for sure.  This was enough to put several teams on IV bags at the peak prior to our arrival.  Fortunately that peak was manned by a very capable paramedic.  We also found out that the teams following our group, withdrew from the race after attempting the same route.  As we climbed the mountain, I felt the 50 lbs on my back with every step.  The wind was howling, pulling out my wind meter told me that it was gusting upwards of 30 mph.  My training had not included this hardship.  I asked, why were we taking the steepest route?  Why didn't I work on my compass skills more?  Why now? I was feeling sorry for myself.  These thoughts were like headlines moving through as a ticker tape.  Showing tumbling stock prices.  The flirt had come back dressed in a smoking hot dress, only to tell me that I wasn't up to her standards.  She didn't even want me to buy her a drink. 

My silly bullshit ended when we took a break to eat.  Not because of the break, but because I realized Matt was in a lot of pain.  He had developed a large blister from our aggressive ascent.  I insisted that I look at it, having done blister treatment many times before.  I found a large nickel sized blister on his foot and treated it the best I could.  In contrast to all my temporary doubts as to my preparation, what I did realize was that I did have the foresight to pack significant extra medical supplies is per usual for me.  And this decision would benefit our whole team.  Throughout the race, I had enough material to treat everybody many times.  Matt's blisters grew, but so did his tenacity.  It was coming down a large mountain later and developing blisters, that I realized, I was out of supplies for myself.  But as we had done throughout the race, a teammate reached into his pack and offered me some of his supplies.  I had determined, just like I had in the past, that when serving others, one doesn't have time for their own petty issues.  And I leaned on that for the remainder of the race.  I reached into my pack for some food, and a bumblebee decided to sting my trigger hand.  Bleeding and swollen, I looked on with a casual neglect.  It was like the flirt's meathead friend ran out of beer and came to serve me a beating.  Humiliation.  But what could I do?  She was relentless. The flirt would be back again later with a new angle, free of beatings, but with the seduction of overconfidence.

Equipment by itself is inherently useless.

As with many athletes who rely on equipment, be it shooters, sailors, car racers, you'll work both on your equipment to give you an edge, and on yourself, to deliver that capability.  This might be speed, accuracy, endurance, or agility.  Superior equipment can drive complacency and overconfidence, the attitude of, I'm going to relax a bit, and let my equipment carry me forward.  The best competitors know how to temper this tendency.

Our team had just left the third to last station.  I had just done a quick evaluation on a racer with heat exhaustion/dehydration and passed it to the medics who were there.  Relieved that they were there, I then started my mental preparation to shoot.  The next stage was a shooting station, with points for hits.  I thought about my rifle.  It is a team issued rifle custom to my requirements.  It fires a very efficient bullet, fast enough that wind doesn't affect it much, until further distances. Wind for the record causes missed shots probably more so than any other factor for long range rifle shooters. What I had was a competitive advantage above even other competitors rifles.  And this is what drove my overconfidence.

I had 5 minutes to find and engage 10 steel plates starting from a few hundred yards away to further than a half mile or 10 football fields away.  I was allowed only one shot per target, which meant I couldn't make up missed shots.  I chose a large plate at 500 yards to begin with and my shot connected with it.  It was an easy target.  But in my haste and overconfidence, I neglected to watch where the bullet struck on the target, which would tell me how much the wind had affected the bullet.  I then went for a much smaller target at the same distance, but in the same hasty style, watched as the dirt rather than the target eat the bullet.  I had missed.  This was my event, this is what I do.  How could I miss?  Now the flirt came back for a moment and told me that time was ticking, I should shoot as fast as possible and move to another station.  She also toyed with me, reminding me that I hadn't slept in a long time (40+ hours), and couldn't possibly perform well.  Clever.  Very clever way to tell me I couldn't do something.  Her friends even hinted that perhaps it was my rifle, maybe my rifle was now mis-calibrated due to the rough hike. Now, every sport has its unique teachings, and with shooting, it's mental awareness.  Mid level shooters attempt to suppress devious thoughts.  High level shooters, don't attempt to suppress thoughts, but instead, choose not to participate in them or use the ones that are of benefit or encouragement.  And right there, I realized I needed to pull out one of my well rehearsed moves, that I call "Taking a moment."

"Taking a moment" means to have a moment of silence and just observe, if only for a second.  I do this before I present to customers.  I do this when I don't feel well.  I do this to gain perspective, and disconnect what I do, with what I am.  And the paradox is that by doing so, I own my actions.  I own my actions because they're less driven by my current state of mind but more my previous history of training. Some refer to this as having "no mind." And it was time for no mind.  What "no mind" meant this time, was to replay the previous missed shot in my head.  Remembering how far off the shot was and applying it to my next distance, now seven football fields away.  I backed this with a strong belief that I would make this shot.  And at that point without thinking, I felt the rifle jump back into my shoulder as a second later, the bullet knocked off a spot of white paint on the steel target almost dead center.  I applied this diligence to the rest of the targets.  Tired as all hell, beaten up, but pleased.

And there you go, a few notable moments I had during this last race.  I'll talk more about equipment next time.

Photo Credits - Matthew Sharp, Riley McElroy, Derek McDonald, Competition Dynamics

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Survival Trials 2012: Part 1: Despair

The background:

A few weeks back, I took part in an adventure race in the backcountry of New Mexico.  This event lasted 24 hours, with teams of two competitors free to choose their own paths and arrive at stations that would test first aid, shooting, physical, and mental abilities.  My appreciation of a long distance hiking competition was purely academic prior to this event.  Each competitor had a unique experience and I am exceptionally pleased to have an opportunity to compete with them.  This is my story of that evening and how I remember it...

In the pitch black darkness glimmered a small light which appeared to mark the finish line, as we hiked at full speed.  Now that we saw the finish line, we knew it would be over soon.   My feet were searing with pain.  The pack I was wearing weighed over 50 lbs, loaded with weapons, nutrition, and first aid equipment.  My partner's pack was even heavier, as he carried the sniper rifle in addition to his shorter range weaponry.  The pack tried to seduce me into quitting with every step I took.  We had been going for over 35 miles without sleep for the past 24 hours.  It was then I realized that the light wasn't like the lights I had at home in San Francisco, where lights I saw were a few blocks out. This was Raton, NM where the lights from distant objects can be seen from miles away.  We were on our last strings, yet nowhere near the finish.   I had plotted us an aggressive route, taking us miles across the course, routing us through the shooting stations, playing to our advantage.  But with all the shooting done, all I had left was the commitment to not quit.  It felt like swimming in a black hole.

To rewind a little bit, a few months ago while scrolling my Facebook newsfeed in a nice cushy chair, I saw a post about the Survival Trials.  I was curious as I had been shooting long range tactical rifle matches at the national level for the GA Precision team led by George Gardner and wanted to explore additional events that were both physical and shooting oriented.  The Survival Trials, held at arguably the best shooting facility in the country with tens of square miles of rugged backcountry, the NRA Whittington Center, told of an event that would challenge competitors athletic, shooting, lifesaving, physical, and mental abilities, all in the span of 24 hours.  "Sounded kinda pimp", thought I in my general casually interested demeanor.  I chatted with an acquaintance of mine, Cody who had done well in the prior year's Survival Trial.  He thought it would be a good idea for me to go.

Brett, a friend of mine wanted to go as well.  This would be a team event which would be ideal for us as skills required included first aid, navigation, long range shooting, short range shooting, and hiking. Brett had hiking and orienteering experience and was competent with various firearms.  I would bring the in depth expertise in first aid, and long range work.  Over the next few months, we would purchase and tune, the best available in equipment.  We would hone the latest techniques we could find instruction in.  For any other gaps, we'd make that shit up.

We arrived the night of the race kind of excited, curious to see how things would go down.  John, an esteemed instructor from Professional Marksmen Inc, the race director, came by and met with all of us.  I remembered what he had said in a class he held as trainup earlier that week.  He had reminded us that while equipment and training was important, how you held together emotionally was most important, yet the most difficult to gauge.  I wondered what I'd be like, but I realized that those thoughts would be more of a speculation, than a prediction for how I would feel.

As we drove along a road with the other competitors in a van, I joked that if one of the scenarios involved a protest, me being from San Francisco, I'd probably be ready for both the distinct stench and misspelled signs.  The SWAT officers next to me laughed, and the sniper school instuctors in front of me had even better jokes of their own.  Everyone had a cool demeanor about them.  We were in exceptional company.  Everyone we competed with had a distinctive background.  In my standard beginners mindset, I had good questions, but they had better answers.

After we disassembled our packs for inspection by the race staff, which included handguns, carbines, a sniper rifle, first aid, spare clothing, boots, compass, food, and water, we were issued maps of the area and provided our race parameters, the areas we were allowed to go.  We had 24 hours to hike through the mountains, find our way to locations or scenarios, where we would shoot, solve puzzles, do physical activities, or perform first aid.  We could do whatever we wanted for 24 hours.  Outside the firearms and safety rules, we were free to make shit up.

After plotting our first moves on the provided map, we set off by moonlight and headlamps to the first waypoint which was up a hill.  But this was not before making a wrong turn.  As we found out, when you navigate by night, you work for every inch covered.  This was how it was going to be until daylight.

More next time…

Monday, September 5, 2011

Keeping your cutting board clean

For one moment, in the chaos, could you have a second of two of total control and comfort, where you owned yourself, your product, your expression?

When I started working at the sushi restaurant a few years ago I had a spot in front of customers right next to the head chef. As orders would come in, I'd take a dinner ticket and work on it as quickly as I could. This cutting board was about three feet wide and about a foot and half deep so presumably there would be lots of space. As dinner service progressed I found myself making mistakes, not being able to find things even though I knew where I had placed portions of people's dinners. The master chef would always pull me aside and tell me to keep my cutting board clean. He wanted me to wipe off the board completely in between each order so there was nothing but the board, your knife, and your hands. Being someone who likes to work on many things at one, I thought that it made sense to keep certain items ready on my cutting board, hoping they'd be used as part of service.

I relented and started making a habit of immediately wiping down the cutting board quickly after each plate had passed. I think I just trusted in the judgement of the head chef. Presumably after a few thousand repetitions, I didn't think about it anymore and just did it. What did I realize? My pace didn't slow down. My pace of cooking improved. I didn't understand why. I figured that if I had ingredients ready on the board as opposed to on the side of the board, I'd be able to grab them quickly.

I did a little research and talked to a few folks. Someone told me, that your cutting board is a representation of your mind. Your mind needs to be kept clear and ready to execute. But I was ready to execute. I could have all my materials on the board ready to go. Theres a subtle difference between having prepared materials on your board, and at hands reach nearby. The cutting board is an outline. If you see items within the outline, they clue you into what you need to make of them. What if I had items from other dishes in this outline, this box? They would tell me that they belonged in the dinner plate when they didn't. As I quickly looked at the contents of the cutting board, I'd have to discern which ingredient belonged in the dish and they would tell me wrong things. I thought about how I pulled ingredients from the refrigerated glass case and from my box of prepared vegetables and put them down on the board. Then when I began assembling, the ingredients would remind me where they went and I could focus on perfect placement. As I plated the dish and sent it out, I'd wipe the board down clean, and symbolically told myself that I was ready for the next dish. The time I had saved because I didn't have to cut through the confusion of rogue ingredients, translated itself into faster plating and execution. While this sounds exacting and unfeeling, this also allowed me to have enough mental runway to take a few moments and express myself creatively on the dish with final plating.

The customers out in the front would be ordering items, the waitstaff feverishly sending out your creations, someone in the back kitchen might have dropped something, but for a moment, you owned yourself, your work and it's a feeling you could duplicate every single time. Treating every dish as if it were your last.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Improving Upon Setbacks

Most of my blog articles discuss my thoughts on improvement etc and relatively positive topics. I haven't really discussed setbacks and how I try to handle them. While being driven has it's upside, it can take a toll emotionally, and every once in a while you hit a slump. It just so seems that when I experience disappointment, it happens in multiples. Everyone's disappointments are relative so I can't say mine are worse or less than someone else's.

Here are a few things that have just burnt me lately:
My general competition performance for the last month
Some issues at work
Making some poor choices socially
Not spending enough time with friends

So why is this important to me? I should just wipe the memory clean like I've done before and move on right? It could be my ego. It could be my expectations of my performance completely misaligned with my actual skill. How did I realize this was becoming a problem? A few things. My mood was changing. I was jumping to conclusions. My sleep was off.

Usually I'm pretty good about getting into the right state and starting fresh. I noticed lately that while I could get into the right state quickly, it didn't last. It would be like that last cup of coffee that only keeps your eyes open because it's hot. Something was wrong. I didn't know why. When your best tools don't work for you anymore, I had to start asking questions.

I had some really good tools available to me that I built using NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). Simply put, they're thought sequences you can put together, that can have a very strong effect on you. If you haven't heard of NLP, you still know what I'm talking about. Think about biting into a big juicy lemon. Do you start to salivate? Well what if you could build a thought that could trigger the physiological conditions you wanted? NLP can help you with that. Whenever I was nervous, I would think of a blue column of light, and it was enough to make me feel immediately relaxed. You can really use any image you want. That's the pain med, but what about the cure?

I guess I really have none. Just constant improvement. Here are some things that are top of mind.

Being a true professional
Clean, repeatable delivery
Taking responsibility
Putting together solid apologies

Each one of these is an article in itself and I'll follow each with a question. This tends to guide my thinking if I end it openly.

On being a true professional, I feel it's the insulation between what the client wants, and what you want to do. My idea of a true professional is delivering the best possible value for the client while improving the business position of your firm. The insulation is from the emotions, the inner workings of yourself, and your organization, so that your client only gets to see the results and in a form that's easily consumable by them. Am I providing a cushion with my clients so that my work is easily appreciated, understandable, and delivers real value?

On clean, repeatable delivery, it's important to be able to repeat success. I was reading an article in Harvard Business discussing how only failures are studied. Maybe I need to spend more time reviewing our wins, and how we can duplicate them?

On taking responsibility, I've seen folks who point the finger, and pass the buck. I've seen others who openly take responsibility. I think that people don't take responsibility because it may imply guilt. This may be a self imposed judgment, since many situations simply require a decision and not a scapegoat. You can go left, you can go right, doesn't matter. The question is how do we improve the follow through? What can I do to take more ownership and improve my follow through?

An addendum to taking responsibility, is ownership of the situation. If you messed up, or the situation itself is messed up, it might be worth taking ownership. And send out a good apology if necessary. A half ass apology is worse than no apology, so it's worth putting together one that's well done. Some good suggestions I got from Randy Pausch's book is to acknowledge the hurt done, offer a way to remedy it as well. Am I making good, solid apologies that I stand by? Am I owning them?

Those are my ideas on how to improve things and I'm working on them.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Should I Have the Conversation? by Darius and Bryan

Here is a piece I coauthored with Darius C, a successful friend of mine, on when to have a difficult conversation versus letting it go. Hopefully there will be more tag team posts to come!

Imagine during one night, you and your friend are out drinking. You’re talking and then he says that there was something about the girl you’re dating that he didn’t like. He’s usually observant but perhaps he had a little too much to drink tonight. You want to say something, but are getting an uneasy feeling about it. Have you ever felt this way before?

This is a tough decision point. I would be thinking...do I bring it up with them? Do I let it go? If I bring it up, how do I keep things smooth? On this post, we (Bryan and Darius) thought we’d would share some thoughts and questions that race through our heads and how we’ve seen our skilled friends smooth things out with us.

“I don’t want to appear as too cool or indifferent”
“How do I preserve the relationship, get details I want, and not appear nitpicking or indifferent?”
“Whatever, maybe he’ll feel different tomorrow”
“Did he really mean to say it like that?”
“I’m not sure we’re going to agree on this anyways”

So why are we spending time on this? Because we feel that now, relationships feel transactional and it’s too easy to disconnect with people close to you, causing unnecessary stress. We do feel the good news is that dealing with difficult topics as they arise, is a matter of skill, rather than personality. Which means that we can learn how to handle social issues well and hopefully receive good treatment too.

Frequency and intensity can be clear signs. Is this the first time you’ve heard this or do friends often bring it up? Does the person look in your eyes and raise their voice when they say this or do they look away and speak softly. We’ve noticed higher intensity or frequency of these indicate the issue probably needs addressing while lower amounts indicate that the issue is either minor or the speaker is scared to bring it up.

To put yourself back in the moment, imagine the situation fast forwarded one week. Would it still bother you? If you look at this picture, do you feel it likely that it would happen again? How much does it bother you? What sensations are you getting? If you feel angry, excited, dismayed or any feelings you wouldn’t want to experience for more than a few moments, it’s probably worth considering raising the issue. Question is, how will you bring it up? This isn’t easy stuff, but below are some approaches that we try to stick to, when sober.

“I can’t help but get the feeling that you’re upset with me. Here are a few things that I saw. Did I pay attention to the wrong details?” In this approach, I’m acknowledging that I’m feeling less than well, I haven’t come to a conclusion, that my observations are open to adjustment. Can you help square me away? Can I make you feel comfortable enough that we can talk about the issues, rather than just the observations? If I saw things incorrectly will you just let things go? A comfortable way we find to raise the topic, is to try to gain understanding, rather than find facts, or draw conclusions.

Sometimes not bringing something up is the right decision and that’s a skill too. Focusing on the positive aspects of a situation or relationship can help you move on from a minor issue and keep it from gnawing at you. We’ve found that the goal of balancing the stability of a relationship with clarity in where each stands is key. Another justification for not bringing up an issue is the fact that research has shown that people seem to need a ratio around 4:1 of positive comments to critical interactions.

In some studies, it shows you have to have at least 80% positive feedback and 20% negative, so make sure you use the 20% you have for the most important things and back off when your positive % drops below 80! Below are some questions that go through our heads when we think about bringing up an issue.

What clarity do I need? How can the other person help?
Are their actions something that may repeat itself and too difficult to reinterpret?
What is the path of least resistance?
Am I concerned with being right, or what is right?
How do you accept what’s happened?

Think of all the great things about the relationship, all the times you do agree and support each other and realize that every relationship has minor disagreements. Try to reinterpret the issue. It’s almost like googling something before going to ask about it. The key we feel is to not come to a conclusion before reaching out to them. Your observations need to be confirmed first. And if they aren’t accurate, then it may not have even been an issue. But if it is, choose to bring it up, after you’ve looked at a few angles and need some help understanding it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Working Through a Recipe - Wider Meaning

I wanted to spend some time and talk about working through a recipe, or really, being successful with cooking off someone else's instructions. I'll also tie it back to more general topics and to their sources. And I'll incorporate this into a narrative on the dinner party I hosted last night. On the menu were oysters, wild boar, sea urchin, salmon etc. Now wild boar isn't something I've cooked before. Another issue is that this was real wild boar, which means that they were free roaming feral hogs, that were harvested. I got a leg of one fedexed in from Broken Arrow Ranch. Check em out. Now I do know that wild boar tends to be leaner than the "wild boar" that is sold in markets in the area which are probably more fenced in pigs than anything else. Having no shortage of recipes via Google, I wanted a classic American preparation and not try to do some asian-y rendition of it.

So, I saw suggestions on using a classic pan dripping, onions, carrots, mushrooms sauce and felt that would do it right. How do you select a recipe? Well if you have more than one recipe, odds are that they're different for different reasons, and they all worked for a test kitchen at some point. So they're all right to a degree. Will it be right for you? I'll try to walk through how I think when I approach a dish that I haven't done before.

First, what is the focus of the dish? In this case, it's the wild boar. Everything else needs to support this. I make this distinction because most American feedlot steaks have very little flavor on their own. Which is why people sauce the hell out of it. And I don't blame the general public. I would do the same thing too if I were to make it palatable. If I were to serve something at a dinner party, it needs to stand on its own with perhaps a touch of salt and pepper. It needs it's own innate flavors. So buying good stuff is key.

So we have the boar, the focus of the dish, and the sauce that goes along with it. Next or at the same time, I consider the end result. How are my guests going to enjoy this? Individual plating? A single plate with that and other items? Family style? I chose family style because I was working solo and wanted to do individual plating for the oyster shooters, so this was left for convenience and to not make it a fussy dish. I also left this towards the end of the menu because the flavors were more intense; a good trailer for sashimi and more delicate bites. What I came up with, was pre sliced, bite sized pieces of the boar, in a long plate, with sauce covering the top. It was intended for a minimum amount of fuss for the guests.

The boar was originally intended to be roasted which would probably have been great too, however because I can cook sous-vide with the Polyscience, which allows for superior moisture retention, I chose that. So choose the method of preparation well. Play to your strengths when friends are coming, and to your weaknesses when you cook for yourself. Don't follow recipes to the T unless you're baking. If you get a sense that amounts are critical, use a kitchen scale. Don't even mess around trying to guess amounts. Usually the recipe will say if amounts are critical. Knowing how you're going to cook the dish is important, but knowing what tools you have available is even more important. Which is why if I teach a friend how to cook, we focus on individual techniques. My goal is not to show them how to work a recipe, but to give them tools so they aren't glued to a recipe.

Now for the sauce, I had to consider whether I could get all the ingredients. None of them were hard to source, but what if they were? Look at each ingredient and ask yourself what they contribute. This is really important because it's rare for me to be able to get all the ingredients for a recipe. Look at each ingredient in it's generic form. Does it contribute saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, sourness? If you miss one, what are you going to do? Cancel dinner? =). Shit no, you're going to ball it up and crush things.

Within the sauce, I had guidance for varying amounts. And remember, it's worked for someone before, but ask why it WON'T work for you this time? That's important because natural ingredients are all different, contributing different amounts of flavor. Take salt for example. If I want to put in bacon, which I did, I have to consider how much saltiness that's also contributing. So, I have to hold off on any additional salt till the end when you would adjust before sending the plate out. Red wine was also another ingredient, which I felt was important, but the amount is incredibly variable. Wine in this sauce would contribute liquid volume, as well as lots of other flavors. Rule of thumb is to add it slowly, taste, and stop when you get the right taste. If you don't have enough volume, add a neutral broth like chicken broth (without added salt).

Some recipes will call for thickening of the sauce. To reduce risk, I like to isolate steps and thickening is a good example. If I know I will serve immediately, I'll just use a quick aggressive thickener like arrowroot starch. If it needs a glossy texture, I use tapioca starch. When the sauce's taste is pretty much to your desire, and you're close to serving time, do the thickening. The point I'm making is that you want to highlight each process in the recipe see what it's trying to accomplish. Do you have the skills to do so? If you don't, can you replace it with something? Is learning it something you can do right now?

Now for what I call "connected flavors," a real easy way to make sure your sauce supports the main dish, is to use the drippings from the cooked primary ingredient in your sauce. You can get technical and look up the "Flavor Bible" which is an outstanding reference. But just use the drippings in your sauce. Taste the drippings first to get a sense of how intense that flavor is. If you need more support, which I did, use some concentrated stock. If you need more savoriness which is tossed around with the term "Umami," know your heavy hitters. Mushrooms, anchovies, parmesan cheese, and others. These can be used in small amounts to increase the presence of glutamates. Savoriness was important here, because this dish was intended to be comfortable/homestyle, which I know I'm making it sound like it's not, but I have to break down the process for you.

I take my guests preferences very seriously and this is why I spend a lot of time thinking through each dish. While I love the fact that guests come to hang out with me, I want to make sure that I respect their prime real estate on their calendars, Friday or Sat evening. My way of doing so, is to build something that respects their sensibilities but places it's execution in my hands. And it's got to be done in a way that's friendly, and also demonstrates personality with it.

So as a review, I'll give you a few questions I ask myself when I cook:
What's your focus? What's the main ingredient?
Who's coming?
Have I tasted everything? Have I checked all components?
What's google say about it? Who are the pro's that are working with this? Can I find out how they think?
Is this fashionable? If so, are you really doing this for the right reasons?
What's my end result look like? Will I know when I get there?
Am I lacking in skills, equipment, ingredients? Do I really have to do things that way?
What can I do to use assets I already have?
Am I doing this with heart? Will friends look at what I've done and know it's unmistakably MY work, but with their guidance?
Will I screw up royally and love the fact that I tried?

Funny enough, while I write this, trying to wait out the effects of overindulgence while sitting by my window, I realize once again, the above has less to do with cooking, and more to do with general approach to doing stuff. And so my way of saying thanks for the guidance is to reveal those who have helped me. Who knows if it will change next year. I hope it does and I hope someone takes the time to correct me.

Focus comes from my executive coach, Michael Ker, asking me what my purpose is. Ingredients came from the Master Chef, Jason at Okoze who taught me the importance of the plate and the customer.

The audience comes from working in sales and the sales professionals I love working for.

Checking all items comes from practical pistol. Did I double, triple check that my gun was unloaded before putting it in the safe? Did I double, triple check that a round was in the chamber when I wanted it loaded? Did I have to think about this? If so, it's not second nature and it may need to be.

Studying the pros comes from hanging out at the archery store when I was small, never really having a formal coach, being forced to imitate. Doing things for the right reasons. Funny this comes from wearing cologne. Wear what smells good on you, not what's the latest. I love Bulgari Blue.

Recognizing a win comes from working in various jobs. If we don't know a win when we see it, is it even worth doing? The skills inventory comes from being forced to learn new stuff all the time from awesome, unorthodox internships I had in school.

Doing things with heart comes from violin teacher Lee Snyder. Someone else obviously wrote the piece, but are you playing passionately like it were yours?

And the last, screwing up royally but still loving yourself comes from girls I've dated and are still fantastic friends =). I'm just that jackass sometimes.

One of the things I find most important and satisfying is finding out how people that do things and act the way that I like, think for themselves, and from where they got their help. And so, by sharing how I think and got these questions, I'm hoping that this will humbly of course, be useful to someone.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Planning My Competitions for 2011

I thought I would put together a writeup on how I'll build myself an interesting year of competitions. Instead of just diving headfirst and losing, I figure I'd do my due diligence which hopefully will lead to mild domination =). I'm also excited to share this with readers for feedback.


To compete in practical precision rifle on a national level and devise a training program for practical rifle shooters with an athletic emphasis. To set a positive example for both shooters and to the general public for safe and enjoyable marksmanship.

A little background:
Practical precision rifle requires shooters to shoot distances from 100 yards to 1000 yards and past. The practical aspect of this dictates that not all targets will be same. In fact some will not be marked with distances and others may even move. Handguns are often used for short distances which stresses the versatility of the shooter and requires training on multiple platforms. Because the terrain and environment are often challenging, this requires shooters to have excellent mental focus, and expert knowledge of their equipment in adverse conditions.

Compete at club rifle matches, and selected national matches. Combine this with sprint and olympic distance triathlons for the fitness component. Maintain competency with handgun at local action pistol matches as pistol shooting is important at some multi-gun matches. Select equipment that fits me exactly and maximizes value at its price point.

My Reasons:
I have not competed at a national level since my archery days in high school and I miss that, as marksmanship is something I'm innately good at. I seem to have half-assed shooting for the last 7 or so years. Showing up to matches, doing decently only because of talent, not practice. Now that I have the resources, I want to compete at a high level for a year. Why one year? It's manageable as a plan, and if I develop other commitments in the future, I may have lost my chance to do this now. I will leverage my instinctive shooting abilities and combine it with solid practice. I will also take any opportunity to coach new shooters in safe and enjoyable shooting. I owe it to myself and my sport to perform, and serve as an ambassador to the general public.

Why this specific discipline:
Shooting long distance rifle while solving shooting problems under both time and athletic pressure is a test of my skill, practice regimen, equipment, and discipline. Because these events combine rifle, handgun, and some degree of movement as well as problem solving, it's a shooting discipline that has kept me interested.

Why I feel I'll do well:
  • My friends/family understand the demanding nature of my training and will encourage me to succeed
  • I love what I do professionally which gives me mental energy to come home and focus on practice
  • I am detail oriented, which lends itself to a math intensive activity like precision rifle
  • I have a history at high level shooting competitions, with solid mental control
  • I can perform athletically which will give me an advantage during multi-day rugged terrain events
  • I have selected the best equipment there is and am confident in it's precision and reliability
  • My comfort with technology will allow me to use laser rangefinders, ipads to quickly build firing solutions
  • I have dexterity probably coming from violin and sushi chef-ing, and this will allow me to quickly manipulate equipment under time pressure

What challenges I may face:
  • My professional career is still my primary focus, and this will come first at any time
  • If I'm in a relationship, she will also come first
  • No access to local long distance range (1000 yards), 120 miles to closest range
  • Live fire limited to weekends when I can get to a range
  • Handgun magazine capacity limited to 10 rounds, per CA regulations
  • Possible injury from athletic events
  • I am not as strong as larger competitors, and may struggle to carry heavy gear
  • Ammunition shortages
  • Getting cracked on by friends and encouraged to pick a more socially acceptable sport =)

How I'll overcome them:
  • Work efficiently in the office, work with my executive coach to improve my productivity
  • Communicate openly with significant other and skip a practice here and there to spend time with her
  • When I'm in Sacramento, I'll go to the range, stay at a hotel and use the downtime for triathlon training
  • Use airsoft gun simulators where I can for handgun, to practice safely indoors
  • Spend money on ultralight equipment
  • Deal with lower magazine capacities and relocate magazines onto chest rig for easier access
  • Reload ammunition or have it custom made. I selected the 6.5 Creedmoor round for factory availability

How I know I've succeeded:
  • Place in top 10 consistently at club level matches
  • Place in top 30 at national level competitions
  • Build a training plan to be shared with other shooters

And my match schedule for 2011 (subject to change of course):

Athletic Races:
Oct 2010 Tough Mudder
May 15, 2011 Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon
June 12, 2011 Silicon Valley International Triathlon
-more to be selected

National Level Rifle Matches:
Dec 9-10 2010 Shooters Bash, Kingsville, TX
Feb 10-11 2011 Phoenix, AZ, Tactical Precision Rifle Challenge http://www.thetprc.com/
March 2011 - Snipers Hide Cup, Kingsville, TX
May 27-29 2011 Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge, Folsom, CA (Invite Only)
June 2011 Steel Safari http://www.steelsafari.com/ (If I get in)
August 2011 International Tactical Rifleman's Challenge, Gillette, WY (If I can find a teammate)

Handgun Matches:
Oct 24 2010 - Bay Bridge Charity Classic

NCPPRC Club Matches:
Jan 1-2 - 1k
Feb 5-6 - 1k
Feb 20 - Steel
March 5-6 -1k
April 2-3 - 1k
April 17 - Steel
May 1 (match only)
(Can't, Steel Safari) June 4-5 - 1k
June 19 - Steel
July 2-3 - 1k
Aug 6-7 - 1k
Aug 21 - Steel
Sept 3-4 - 1k
Oct 1-2 - 1k
Oct 16 - Steel
Nov 5-6 - 1k
Dec 3-4 - 1k
Dec 18 - Steel

NRA Certified Instructor
Richmond Rod and Gun Club Member
Northern California Practical Precision Rifle Club Member

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How the Triathlon Went Down

Thought I'd detail out what was going through my head during this weekend's olympic distance triathlon in Pacific Grove, CA, and some items that I felt helped me out during the training and race periods.

When the horn gave us the go signal, I started running, mid pack in my wetsuit down the sand and dove into the water. The water was quite cold and I immediately felt its chill on my feet. My goal for the swim was to maintain impeccable form and save my energy for the run/bike. I remembered what my instructors at Total Immersion swim clinics told us. High elbow, spear the water. Use your opposite foot to initiate the thrust of your hand into the water. Front quadrant hand positioning. Truthfully I wasn't really thinking that, I was just doing. I had updated my swim practice to be less about fitness, and more about form by doing drills nonstop. This paid off as I finished the 1 mile swim not tired at all, at about 31 minutes. Not as fast as I wanted, but with plenty of energy to spare.

As I ran up the steps out of the water and to my bike, I realize I had made a critical error in preparation. I didn't mentally rehearse my transition so I'd be figuring out where to run with my bike after I changed out of my wetsuit. This was inexcusable for me, since I'm accustomed to mentally playing through songs on the violin before the bow hit the string. And so yes, I made a wrong turn out of the transition area, probably costing me 30 or so seconds. Hopping onto the bike, I paid attention to two things while I pedaled which would be displayed through my Garmin 310XT training computer. That my pedaling rate or cadence would be around 90 RPM, and my heart rate would be around 168 BPM on flats or downhills. 168 BPM appears to be a sweet spot for me, for races like this. I know that at 170 BPM, my body goes anaerobic and my time is therefore limited before I begin to fatigue. My plan was to stay aerobic, manage my energy accordingly, and reassess on the run.

During the last quarter mile of the bike portion, I changed gears to increase my pedaling cadence, and loosen myself up for the run. After hopping into my running shoes and taking off, I aimed to keep my running cadence, through the sensor in my shoes, also at 90 RPM. With 6 miles to go, the first two miles would be held at a heart rate of 168 BPM, to see how I felt. After which I would decide to increase heart rate, or maintain at 168. According to the Garmin, my first two mile splits were sub 8 mins/mile, and I decided to increase to 172-175 BPM. The last two miles were spent at near max heart rate ~185 as a broke out in a sprint for the last half mile. I wanted to be completely spent by the time I crossed the finish line. I was pleased at my performance, and also had plenty of information on what needed to be improved. I finished 24th out of 68 competitors in my gender and age group.

If I had to detail what I felt helped me out the most, obviously still being a beginner, here they are in no particular order:
Racing with the intent of performing for your friends and supporters
Digital monitoring of your heart rate, location, performance (Garmin 310XT)
Online records of your training progress (Garmin Connect, and Training Peaks)
Some kind of vain motivation (I wanted my six pack back)
A real training plan (Joe Friel's 12 week Olympic distance plan)
A well organized bag (Zoot tri bag)
Technical swim training (Total Immersion)
Social media (I've gotten a lot of help through friends on facebook)
Friends who support you and love what you're doing (Thank you all)

That completes my 3 month foray into triathlons, and hopefully becomes something I continue to love doing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Beginner's Mindset - Triathlon Training

I've been training for triathlons for the past two months and while working out has been a casual part of my activities in previous years, a few months ago, I wouldn't have even considered training for triathlons. A goal of mine for this year, when I turn 30, is to complete a fitness week, 7 days of exercises that would really test me. The wrench that was thrown into this was the repetitive stress injury I received which ended up in surgery. The surgery was the easy part. Not being able to lift for several months was a real drag. I wasn't much of a cardio person either, running 3 miles tops at a 9 min/mi pace and swimming about a mile at a time. At least not like others I knew.

A few people at work suggested that I do triathlons, as all that I was missing was the bike portion. I was on the fence about getting into cycling and I wasn't sure why. I don't know what possessed me to follow my own advice about immersing oneself into an activity. I soon found myself reaching out to friends that I knew were fast in some way. They agreed that I should find a triathlon to train towards and a training plan to match it. Pacific Grove Olympic Distance tri (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) was a few months away and I desperately searched for a 3 month training plan. One of my friends recommended The Triathletes Training Bible by Joe Friel. I started reading, and tried to get a sense of what it would take and if I were getting in over my head. I probably was but who cares. I suppose that's what the beginners mindset is all about. Not worrying about crashing and burning, not worrying about finishing in what place. Asking anybody for help. And just going nuts about it. For once, my prior competitive experience as an archer did not translate. Before, I could call a sponsor up for more stuff. Now, I had to figure out how to keep my shoes tied.

10 weeks later, and close to tapering for the Pacific Grove Tri, I'm feeling really good about things. I just want to finish respectably. There was a lot that I learned a long the way, and I'll try to put them down here. I tried to apply my experiences from shooting, cooking, and work to reduce the risk of getting beaten by a turtle while looking like an ass.

Before training:
500 yard swim - 12 mins
5k run - 27 mins
Bike - I didn't even own one
Exercise frequency - 2-3 times/week
Resting heart rate - 66-70 bpm
Blood pressure - 120/80
Weight - 128 lbs

Now /10 weeks later:
500 yard swim - 8 mins
5k run - 22 mins
Bike - 19 mph average on flat terrain
Exercise frequency - 2 times/day except Mondays
Resting heart rate - 54-60 bpm
Blood pressure - 110/70
Weight - 121 lbs

The individual lessons I learned:

Warm up properly
Your actual bulk of exercise should count after you've warmed up through the heart rate zones. I found that it takes me a 20-30 mins to warm up well. From there you can apply the right intensity. If I don't warm up properly, I peter out early and I waste a workout.

Pace yourself
If you don't manage your energy properly, you won't finish your workout. If you are trying to burn fat, and you end up spending most of your time breathing heavy, you're in the anaerobic zone. What this means is that you're using more stored carbohydrates than fat as an energy source, when you're trying to burn mostly fat. However, there are some very intense, but shortened time workouts that are effective at reducing fat. Do some research but make sure you understand the intent of the workout before you start.

Eat poorly, perform poorly
I used to eat anything I wanted, relying on my metabolism to keep me slim. It's slowing down for sure. Being in good physical shape has three components in my opinion: looking decent, being functionally useful, being healthy. Focus on the last two, and the third will come, your ultimate reward. If you want to break things down and eat to be fit, reverse the mindset. Think about the things you could eat, to improve your health and performance, instead of counting calories and stressing over each meal. You don't need to eliminate or drastically reduce carbs. That's just ridiculous. You need to eat the right ones for the right reasons. Look over the glycemic index of common sources of carbs and eat those kinds of foods at the right times. I would say, the more you know the better off you'll be, however packaged foods companies have been giving us "knowledge," implying that because something is low fat, it's healthy. I'm generally suspicious of packaged foods. What I might touch is a packaged snack within an hour of a workout. Usually, the worst that it could be is a high glycemic index food which makes sugars available immediately for use which I'll be using shortly anyways. Otherwise, just skip it and eat something whole or real, like fruit, or meat. If you want to eat pasta, bread or other high GI foods, do so right after your workout when your body is more inclined to reload your muscles, rather than pack the unused energy on as fat.

Another item is that if you work out intensely, you need to refuel immediately your workout. A rule of thumb is a workout > 1 hr, or an intense workout, is one that you should use some sort of recovery drink immediately after. Chocolate milk is an excellent choice. I'll leave it to you to research. If you don't refuel immediately, you could compromise your next workout, or feel fatigued the next day. If you miss that workout, and you overeat, you're setting your clock back. I made the mistake of not having a recovery drink or eating immediately after a workout several times. Without fail, I was fatigued and did not perform well the next day. Some workouts were skipped. You are doing yourself a disservice by not eating right after an intense workout, in hopes that you'll keep the caloric intake down.

Perform for your friends, not just for yourself
While I strongly believe that one should follow the beat of their own drum, your friends want you to do well and get in better shape. You'll be more pleasant to be around, and have more energy. Obviously if your friends are discouraging, find new friends. If you had a ball and chain attached to your ankle I would hope you'd be looking for some bolt cutters rather than finding a better way to carry the ball. Whenever I feel like quitting early, unless I feel actual joint pain (listen to your body), I imagine friends are watching. What would they say if they saw me wuss out of a workout? This works for me because obviously if I listened to myself only, I'd be calling it quits and watching some movie.

Besides you're setting a good example without saying anything. One of the most difficult parts for me is getting through the warmup. If I'm not careful about warming up really slowly, the lactic acid burn will increase, and I then think I need a rest day. What usually cures this is thinking the above, slowing down, giving it a good 20-30 mins of warmup while peaking once into the anaerobic zone (breathing heavy) for 20-30 seconds, and slowing things back down. Use what works for you, but a nice kick in the pants usually comes when you imagine your most fit friend looking over your shoulder.

Hope those points helped. It took a bunch of trial and error. The shortened training plan wasn't exactly forgiving, and I hope that you can use some of the above in the fitness plan you choose.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Managing Stress - Part 2 - Managing Your Day

Not so much a food pic, but rather a snapshot of the bags for my different sports/work/activities. Being able to transition quickly between triathlon training, range practice, cooking, and sales engineering allows me to enjoy more of my day flexibly, show up prepared and feel less frustrated.

On the last post, I discussed some sources of harmful stress, the main one being meaningless actions or work. Meaningless work could also include a meaningless day. I thought that instead of talking conceptually, I'd change it up and offer some tips together that you can use to improve your day, if appropriate. A lot of these are not original thoughts, I'll be the first to say. However, the specific combination in which I use them is unique to myself. I'm not special, but we're all a little different. Use what works. Make it your own.

A little review before we start and I'll ask some questions so we can get thinking and look for answers along the way. How often is it that when we learn something new, it feels awkward? How often do we get good and fast at something when we don't practice it? How often do we practice something incorrectly do we actually do it properly? What I'm hoping for you to consider is that making your day efficient and unfrustrating relies on good habits. Good habits form with doing things correctly. Doing things correctly results from reviewing what you did, not just doing them. It's that simple, but because it's that simple, we often ignore these basic concepts, myself guilty as charged. A famous chef once proclaimed that he was only better than others, because his basics were better. That chef was not me =) I was only reading about him.

Let's go through some basics and I will draw from my activities for examples and stories. I will try to keep them potent and well described.

Assuming that you get 8 hours of sleep, you still have 16 hours left to do whatever with. What do you think might happen if you were to write a few things down that you want to get done? What if they were really important? What if they were things you just wanted to get done? Great. And this begins the concept of the "Five Big, Five Small." I got this idea from my exec coach, Michael Ker. Write down 5 things that are the most important to do. Underneath, write down 5 things that are less important, but you still should do. Now this is typically applied for a week's time. But you can do 2 big, 2 small for a day's worth. How do you act on these items? Work on the big items first. The reasoning is that mental energy is NOT limitless, at least mine isn't. Another assumption is that you may not finish all of them, so work on what you need to first, and take breaks by doing the small items. The big items are the rocks, and the gaps are filled in by the little tasks, almost like sand or pebbles. Why is this effective at reducing stress? Well it gives me a sense of accomplishment, and is very efficient for what it brings. I am perfectly okay spending even a half hour doing this, although it usually takes a few minutes with practice. To give some meaning to your 16 hours, a half hour is very little overhead. Do this routine in conjunction with your calendar. My work calendar runs my life. I get booked for presentations, requirements calls, and other customer activities. Any downtime I have in between, I use to prepare for appointments, and to mentally recharge. Notice that email clearing isn't a big task. I don't get paid to clear emails unless I were a support rep, and even then I'd be paid to retain customers. But...there are usually less than 10 emails in my inbox at any given time.

Here's an example of one of mine...
(4 hours available today...meetings, presentations filling the rest)
Prepare Service Cloud/Entitlements demo for manufacturing prospect (2hrs)
Outline competitive strategy for Customer Portal small (1 hr)


Clear inbox
Enter notes into salesforce

Make haircut appointment

If you don't get everything done, don't beat yourself up, just mark down what you did, and carry stuff over to the next day. If you realize that you dont' "want" to carry it over, it should never have been written down because it wasn't all that important in the first place. Learn from this.

The list ends up being:

done-Prepare Service Cloud/Entitlements demo for prospect (2hrs)

not done-Outline competitive strategy for Customer Portal small (1 hr)


done-Clear inbox
all in-Enter notes into salesforce

not done, first thing tmrw - Make haircut appointment

So you're thinking why am I not using my master list of tons of things to do? Because of a few things. One, it's a big list. It's hard to look over. After all you do have 16 hours which is a lot, but it still is only one day. Focus on what's in front of you. Secondly, most of the things that people ask me to do either get trashed or get put in my someday list (which is almost as good as the trash). If I did everything that people asked, I would be unprofitable to the company. And I would have no time to do quality, meaningful work. Both suck. Besides people ask for things in a knee jerk reaction most of the time.

Most importantly, having a concise workspace allows you to work rapidly. I write this down on a sheet in Evernote (evernote.com) that covers one week, and have one section for each day. Clean and easy. I learned the importance of a concise workspace working at the restaurant. That workspace was the cutting board. It's always to be kept clean, your knife ready. If you're not working, you're cleaning your board. Why? Because while you're working on a larger dish, smaller fires are creeping up and you might need to help another chef out. As soon as I plate and send out the dish, cleaning off the board is a second nature reaction, and I can take on someone else's work. It's good for the restaurant. If my board weren't clear, I'd be using someone else's cucumbers in the current plate, and then send out the dishes in reverse order, creating an issue for the servers and then mayhem ensues. What can you do to get yourself ready enough not only to cover your work, but to help out some colleagues and be good to your organization?

Another major annoyance, is email. Having adopted GTD, or Getting Things Done by David Allen, email is no longer a headache. Having not found any good simple explanation for it's email use, I'll give you the summary here. Look over everything in your inbox, delete all useless items. Create folders called Next, Action, Someday, Waiting. Starting at the top of your inbox, look through your emails and respond to emails that you can within a minute, and file them if it will take longer. File them according to these rules:

Immediate action items go to Next
Things you still have to do go to Action
Things that are nice to do go to Someday
Things that you're waiting on a response for goes to Waiting

This is a very simplified version of GTD. What you want to practice is being ruthless about protecting your Next, and Action bins. Don't overcommit yourself by thinking things must get done. From your Next and Action boxes will likely come material for your 5 Big 5 Small list. And so that's how they're connected. Feel how much less stressed out you'll be when you know what needs action and what doesn't. It can help you focus on what matters and spend less time poring over meaningless stuff.

Another aspect to consider is working rapidly when you need to, especially during those firedrills or "all hands on deck." The faster your pace of work, the narrower your field of focus or the more people you'll need to help who can work quickly and make up for lost visibility. As long as you recognize that relationship and not try to exceed your limits, I feel that you'll be able to work rapidly, and relatively stress free. Let me provide an example outside work, and I'll use action pistol shooting which involves shooting many targets on the run, through obstacles like the Steel Challenge on ESPN. It looks fun and it definitely is. Let's consider the following relationship. You can only hit what you see. You can only hit what you're aiming at. Basically your eyes are looking for targets, but your body must be aligned with your eyes to actually hit anything. Now if you have ample time, you can look around, find the bullseye, get set, and squeeze off a well aimed shot. What happens when you get a few seconds, to draw, hit three targets, reload and hit those same targets again? Your head and arms holding your handgun need to move as one unit, the downside is that moving that way is much less agile than if I just turned my head. What can I do to get the best of both? Admit that this seemingly simple problem isn't that simple first of all. Next, figure out your range of motion, which in this case is less than 180 degrees (for safety in competitions). This helps you figure out how many targets you can take on at a time. Third, identify where you will reload to have enough ammo for the next set of targets, and allow enough extra ammo for any misses. Then combine target acquisition with reloading, kind of like waiting for the laundry to finish while you go shopping. With practice, you can shoot faster, but you really can't increase your range of motion, despite the above being a game. What can you do here to go after fewer, but faster, and transition quicker? Even in actual tactical situations you can't widen your range much because your team is close by and you don't want to hit them. What's the solution to this? Either figure out your transition area, or have a team member supplement your field of fire by adding their own. In matches, all my spare ammunition is neatly arranged in magazines along the left side of my belt, also angled in the direction of my hand. What if I had my spare ammunition loose in my pockets, not loaded into the magazines, mixed in with my phone, loose change, car keys? I'd probably be told to choose a new sport.

How do you apply this competitive methodology to your day if you know that you'll be busy? Check your calendar for appointments that you must attend. These are the items you must be prepared for. Look at gaps in your calendar, this is your chance to regroup and prep for the next appointments. Find out how much unreserved time you have. Look at your Next/Action lists, choose a few and write them on the top of your sheet of notes for the day. Next, write a header for each appointment you have with the subject, and people you're talking with. All on the same sheet. This sheet will guide your day. If your guidance itself is in multiple locations, it's like using two sets of directions. Very frustrating. I want everything in my field of view, same screen. As you move from appointment to appointment, you take notes underneath each header. When you're not in meetings, you're instinctively writing down the next actions from your previous meeting. This is like cleaning off the cutting board without thinking right after I've passed the plate to the server. If at any time, someone calls you for some ridiculous fire drill, you'll feel a lot less stressed out going into it and coming out of it, because you know you'll be able to jump right back into the rest of your day. And...you're not paranoid about forgetting things because you're writing important notes down. This lets me hop from meeting to meeting relatively stress free. What stresses me out is not being able to find things and the last status of items, but with the above, is now easily taken care of. And from there, I have plenty of juice to go bike, swim, or get dinner with friends.

A few final thoughts on working rapidly:
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast
You can't miss fast enough to win

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Managing Stress - Part 1

I was reading my iPad today and came across a wired.com article on stress; link at bottom of this post. Oh yes, the picture is of a steak quesadilla with bourbon sauce I made at a bachelors party. Trying to get my wrist back in shape as far as food work goes.

Back to the article; it's worth the read. While it brings up development of a vaccine for stress, it's main focus is on what causes harmful stress, and challenges the notion that being busy and operating intensely results in stress. The condition that doesn't kill you outright, but aggravates other conditions such as the risk of stroke.

I want to share a few points that hopefully can help friends and readers approach their activities (profession included) with some additional vigor and prevent some of the bad stress. I'll do this in two parts. First, I'll talk about harmful stress as a result of unmeaningful work, and then the proposed stress reduction points from this article, as well as some of my own.

I'll also pull in a small story from an unrelated activity to show you why it's worth another look at this played out topic. A few months back, I went to precision rifle school having been a competitive shooter for some time, and recently an instructor. Above the door to the class room there was a sign that said "Rifles Only. Fight Smart." For a little background, the rifle training focused specifically on long distance shooting, not the classless up-close "spray and pray" you see on the movies. This was my way of taking my competitive abilities to the next level. The rifles used, are generally no more than upgraded hunting rifles (simple stuff), a far cry from machine guns even dating back to WWI. Why then, are military sharpshooters one of the most requested and feared tactical units at a commanders disposal? It's not the weaponry, it's the brains behind the trigger. They fight smarter. They're what is referred to as force multiplier, or in plain language, true leverage. What are you doing to exploit leverage points?

Hold that thought and let's move onto meaningless work. An example of meaningless work would be anything you don't know the purpose behind, is not fascinating, or is obviously not going to be used. An example of meaningful work, for me would be crafting a product presentation that ties nicely into requirements from a prospect. I know why they're looking at their product. I know why my work is important. I know they appreciate my effort. I recognize I don't win every deal. I did choose this profession and enjoy what I do. Obviously there are times when I doubt this. When I doubt this, it begins to bug me, and I mentally check out ... start thinking about vacation. When I don't doubt any of this, I forget what time it is. What I didn't understand was that I was experiencing a stress model that was articulated in this article.

The "Demand-Control" model of stress proposes that the damage from stress is significantly increased through a lack of control over your work, rather than the sheer amount of stress itself. An example would be being forced to generate meaningless reports that no one reviews, and yet you're required to do them. If you know that much of your work feels meaningless, there are a few paths to take. One, try to remove all the why's from your current tasking. Fortunately at work, it's very much encouraged that I always ask why. If you can't remove the why's, try to build a sense of pleasure from doing something well. If reducing the number of WTF's per day isn't something you can control, try NLP.

NLP or Neuro Linguistic Programming has a good application here, in that one can trigger specific physiological responses by thinking an unrelated thought. This is almost like a mental drug. Call it up when you need to. A loose comparison would be your "Happy Place" however, you can program in more specific responses and feelings other than just being happy. Basically you relive a situation with the qualities (or modalities) you want to feel on command, relink them to another thought. Then you can call up those qualities on command. It takes a little practice though. Use it whenever you deal with someone you don't like. Richard Bandler, as an author/researcher is a good place to start.

Another good reason to use NLP when you don't have all the why's answered is because you can't answer all of them. It's been stated that humans don't deal well with uncertainty. You could approach this by being okay with not knowing things, which I do do sometimes. But at that time there needs to be trust. Either you know all the whys, or you trust in the direction, leader, strategy etc. Fighting smart here would be to increase the trust between you and whoever else has a hand in what you do.

For managers, it's understandable that you don't have answers to all the why's. May I propose that you ask your reports if they at least trust in the direction. If they don't, it's probably not you, it's just that they haven't seen around the corner, and that's the role of a good leader. Be one and help them see what's coming ahead. Share with them some of the executive conversations you've had. It might even be a good topic for a regular team meeting. Instead of status updates, invest in a good CRM tool and buy your time back for meaningful discussions. An example would be the classic "We need to tighten down on expenses." Everyone hears that. At your executive meetings, ask for the reason behind it. If I'm one of your reports and you tell me that we're conserving cash because we're picking up companies or looking to hire more people, I'll be more likely to spend it like it were my own. And this whole discussion of why is, in my opinion a cultural shift with the abundance of information. Before, few people had the answers and if they did, they harbored them. There would be little incentive to ask why. Now, it's important to know why, and why that reason is authentic (one step better than truth on paper).

Now in the interest of fighting smart, if you've already tried to figure out why what you're doing is important but are stumped, ask your manager. This is a way of building trust. The point here to managers is to not breach that trust or at least be upfront about mishaps. Ultimately we all work for someone, whether that's directly for the customer, or for your manager. If you deal directly with customers, ask them why they're requesting something. Just be respectful of the "give-take" principle. You might say, "I'm happy to do this for you, and if you can give me a better sense of why this is a big deal, perhaps we can find you some additional help." (If you can give me more, I'll give you more) Worse case scenario is that your work specifies repetitive activities that don't allow for innovation. However I'm hard pressed to believe that a good manager or leader won't be receptive to your ideas on improvements. Run the idea by a select coworker first to make sure your pitch doesn't suck. If your manager is not receptive without explaining why, make a mental note. But you have to be fair and make sure you're addressing both the give and take with your pitch. "Here's what we should do. This is why it makes sense. I can get this done because. Now this is what I need to do so."

There are a variety of books on managing upwards, helping your manager provide you with better objectives and tasking. A lot are just plain cheesy. To sum things up, you have an obligation to let your manager know what you're good at and what you're inclined to do. You need to ask for what you want, and have to be ready to offer up things in exchange. If you are a manager, you have an obligation to your reports to help them improve their work, by reducing the WTF's per day, and increasing their understanding behind the work they do. If there is a generational gap (if you're 20-30 yrs old), know that a sense of entitlement is a huge dislike of senior management, as expressed by my exec coach. They love our sense of charity and recognition of causes outside our own. But entitlement seems to be a pervasive negative theme. Be smart, don't sound like a brat. Sell yourself. You can get what you want. Just show some skills first.

Now on to ways to prevent harmful stress. I'll comment on those in my next blog post =) I figured I'd start with the "why" first. Till next time.

Referenced article here:

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Working with an Executive Coach - An Intro

Involved but not intense
Relaxed body language
Listen with all your senses
Great eye contact
Be close but don't invade

Obviously these are not my ideas, but how many times have we been caught up in the moment, and neglected these qualities in both our personal and professional dealings? How many times have you been in a situation in your career development where you felt you needed a sounding board for why you do what you do? These questions and others drove me to work with an executive coach.

Now the title implies that I'm management, and I'm not. Why then would I chose this type of instruction? Let's face it, at some point, many of us will move to management. When you get there, will you arrive ready? What if you want to own your own business someday? Will you come up with a great idea, fall short on execution and mismanage your resources such that your organization goes bankrupt or gets picked up at a fire sale? Certain events are inevitable; what will you do to minimize risk or improve chances of success? Will you become a manager or leader similar to one you've disliked, or that you've admired? Like I commented on in my post about knowing your limits, your skills help you win, your overconfidence makes you lose.

So what does executive coaching look like? I meet every other week for an hour. For the first part of the session, we discuss items I need immediate help with. For example, I might have a few sales presentations to executives and I need to review their fundamental concerns. Is my assessment of their business accurate? Can I estimate whether this organization is profitable based on employee count and revenue? This helps me in putting our technical strategy in perspective when making recommendations to the account executives I support.

As far as the products I position, especially anything related to metrics or intelligence, I want to offer recommendations that improve the chances our software will be used throughout our customer's organization. For example, we know that experienced managers I present to will grade their employees and make attempts to move the middle 70% upwards. Am I positioning our dashboarding or reporting capabilities in this way or am I simply saying that we can measure performance?

For another portion of the session, we discuss personalities, and how best to relate to them. You may have heard of Myers Briggs, and other models. We do something similar, however the methodology we use, Social Styles, I feel is much quicker and practical when you're on your toes. We choose people we know, try to fit them into a personality profile, and build methods for addressing their needs appropriately. We all like to be communicated with according to our preferences. And why wouldn't it make sense to study these groups, and help adjust your interactions according to their preferences.

For example, someone with a Driving style like myself, is characterized by someone who responds best by being given your best recommendation, rather than options. An Analytical style is the opposite. If you hadn't at least studied my body language, the objects in my office, and phrasing, you might have proposed too many options to me, and I'll likely ask you to whittle down the choices. Thus requiring another meeting or at least introducing some delay in your engagement.

Usually towards the end, we discuss business problems and set todo's for next time. This involves some reading and general observations at meetings. Did I quickly estimate the personality styles on the key decision makers of the deals I'm working on? Can I articulate the organizational reasons for purchasing?

This is all incredibly interesting to me, but how does it benefit the organization I work for? By putting someone in front of decision makers who understands operationally how a manufacturing organization reconciles its build plan against the sales forecast, or how a multichannel support organization is measured by, is more likely to build rapport, and gain confidence with our business partners in a variety of engagements. I also have articles and books to read, organizations to research, and business problems to study at home.

How do you get the most out of an executive coach? Have a clear understanding of what you're looking to get out of it. After all, it's your time. Ask yourself what else you're doing to work intelligently and exploit leverage points. Ask yourself what you're naturally good at, and also what you're inclined to do. Your coach should be able to help you identify your shortcomings, recommend an improvement plan, and help you see around the corner. I've been working with Michael Ker from Acceleration Leadership for the past 5 months and it ranks up there with the best calls I've made this year.