Small changes

I wrapped up 2016 on vacation from work, but unfortunately I’ve also been battling a cold almost the entire time.  Since December 27th, cold-induced bronchitis has limited my activity.  My wife jokes that every time I take a winter vacation I get sick, and it’s hard for me to remember one when I didn’t.  Last year. I worked through Christmas and Thanksgiving breaks, and I didn’t get sick.  This year, I’ve been sick twice: After Thanksgiving, and after Christmas.

So while that may seem convincing to some, I think there’s another factor:  consumption of alcohol. Both of these rounds of colds were preceded by drinking a little too much the night before.   There seems to be some research to suggest heavy drinking can affect our immune system’s ability to fight off infections for at least 24 hours.   Maybe it’s common sense that I just had never considered…

After I factor in the expense of drinking, I have decided I’m going to curtail my drinking for both health and financial reasons.  There’s probably at least $1,500 annually (and maybe upwards of $2,500 when I consider all spending) I can cut from my spending on alcohol, which when I think about it is a lot of alcohol.  I have slightly expensive tastes, though, so it’s not like I’m pounding cases of Milwaukee’s Best every weekend.  Of the things I buy, bourbon is $30-$50+ a bottle, craft beer is $30-$60 a case, and wine is about $10-$12 a bottle.  And drinking at a restaurant or bar is just crazy expensive, even the few times a month I do that.

So since I’ve spent a majority of the Winter Holidays not drinking,  I might as well continue the trend.  I think it will have a very positive impact on my overall life.  Having a drink after work or with dinner often relaxes me and leads to an evening of not getting stuff done.  If I’m going to ramp up the side hustles this year, I’ll need to be more productive in the evenings.

I think the benefits from reducing alcohol consumption may also carry over into my real job as well.  I’ll be more active, which should improve my overall health.  More activity in the evenings should lead to better sleep, which will make me better rested for the next day.  It might even lead to more “real” exercise.   So overall, it seems like a good idea, and deep down I’ve been feeling like I drink a little too much some nights, so it’s time for a change.

It’s less a New Year’s resolution and more of a product of having  11 days to think about ways to improve my life and the ability to realize our financial goals.   Regarding the finances, it’s not about the money directly, but more about what the money represents: freedom.  If reducing my alcohol consumption affects that realization of freedom on so many levels, it would be foolish not to change my ways.

In December, I added a Habit Tracker to my notebook.  It looks like this:

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December Habit Tracker

I found it useful and enlightening, and I plan to continue it’s use over the coming months.  If you’re working on creating some new habits in 2017, perhaps a similar tool will be helpful to you.  Whether it’s in a notebook, on a piece of paper posted on your wall, or maybe even on a chalkboard in your kitchen, visually tracking your adherence to your targeted habits can be very beneficial in cementing the change.

Whatever you choose to use, find a visual way to track your goals and progress towards them.  If you do, I bet you’ll find you hit more of your targets in 2017.

 

 

End of year update on the Sailing Dream

Step by step, we’re getting closer to realizing our dream.  We just made our last mortgage payment of 2016.  Since refinancing late this spring, we’ve made enough progress to be at the three year mark of our amortization schedule.  So that’s 3 years of a 15 year mortgage paid in 6 months.  In respect to our 5 year plan to get it paid off, we’re already 6 months ahead of schedule.  If we maintain this pace, the house is paid off in December 2018 – two years from today!

And as if that’s not motivation enough, I stumbled across a Craigslist posting for a CAL35 sailboat.

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Picture from the Craigslist post for a 1983 CAL35 sailboat

The CAL35 was on the shortlist of potential affordable sailboats for us to live on as part of the dream when it was first defined.  We’re in good enough financial shape that we could buy this one right now if we wanted.  I mentioned I saw it to Mrs. Outspoken, and she seemed a little excited too, then responded that she’d rather get the house paid off first. I agree.  Plus, we can’t use a boat this size around Pittsburgh due to the mast height not clearing many of the bridges in the city.  It’s more of a coastal/Great Lakes/Carribbean cruiser.

We have decided to take the vinyl/book selling and try to ramp it up next year, focusing more on the vinyl.  I’m making about 3x the profit on records, although it requires a little more work to clean and grade them.  As long as it stays relatively fun, the work won’t be so bad.  Hopefully we can make a little extra as insurance to getting the house paid off by the end of 2018.

Then what?  We’ll we’ve started down a path of gradually transforming our lifestyle.  We decided that buying a canoe is a good first step to start creating more of a focus on spending time on or around water when we can in 2017.  We’ve saved up some money from our Christmas budget and gifts to fund the purchase.

The next step would probably be those sailing lessons in 2018.  After the house is paid off, we probably would need to take some extended charters in a couple locations we’re dreaming of visiting via sailboat.

We’re not entirely ready from a financial perspective to retire.  Getting the house paid off would relieve much (almost all?) of our financial pressure, and then we’d have to decide where to invest over the coming years to reach financial independence to support a potential sailing lifestyle.   My retirement calculator at work says I’m good to go at age 50, but it will come down to what else is happening in our lives at that time.

I’m also going to really take a look at my spending on alcohol.  I enjoy decent wine and whisky, as well as craft beer, but some months I spend way too much.  Also, the only two times I’ve been sick in the last year (both this month) were after a night of drinking a bit too much.   So for my personal health as well as our financial health, I need to cut back, and cutting the spending by 50-75% should make that happen.

As i discussed in an earlier post, we could cut back a little more.  But I think we’ve done a pretty good job of changing our future outlook.  Sure we could get there (wherever there is) a little faster by doing some extreme things, but I can’t say it would be worth it.  But I do wish I’d started this sooner, which is why I gave a copy of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover to my niece last year at Christmas, and to her brother this year.  I’m also probably going to send them a few tweets in the coming weeks about Mr. Money Mustache.  If I can get one or both of them to see a different possibility for their future, that would be more satisfying than me getting to my destination of Financial Independence a few months earlier.

Whatever it is you want to do, it’s very likely you can do it if you put a clear plan in place.  Start with the “Why”, as in “why do we want to do this, to make these sacrifices or changes?” Then create a vivid visualization of what it would look and feel like to achieve that “Why”.   Next identify what needs to happen to get there, then lay out the simple, often very small steps to make it happen.  For example, why would we buy a canoe if our dream is to sail the Caribbean, Great Lakes, and maybe even the European coastlines?  Because it’s the next small step.

As 2016 comes to a close, take the next step.  Whatever it is, just commit to the next step on your path to achieving your dream.  Every great journey starts with taking the first step.  Where will that first step take you?

 

 

Simple Compliments

Last Friday I was asked to conduct a three-hour training session for our entire leadership team, which is about 140 hours.  It is part of an annual Leadership event that encompasses all levels from supervisors and managers up to the CEO.   I’ve done a lot of training sessions, and have worked with all of the levels, but to provide a singular message that represented about 75% of the days’training had me a little stressed.

I was worried about the quality of the videos that I shot and edited.  I was worried that too many people might think the targets of performance and behavior I was suggesting for the organization were too aggressive.  I believe any time a person puts themselves out there just a little too far as they urge the organization forward one of two things can happen:  either their stock rises or it falls.  People either get more aligned with your goals, or your can lose some support and momentum.

At this point in my career, I’m not worried about promotions, so it’s more about making sure that I leverage these opportunities to gain momentum on our Lean Transformation journey.  I felt like this training and the corresponding message, if successful, would take us to the next level on our performance improvement efforts regarding our Lean Management System.

If  you imagine a three hour seminar on metrics and leading effective team meetings (or huddles, as we call them),  you can understand why i was a little worried, because those were my topics.   To top it off, I had been battling a cold that had just gotten progressively worse all week, but was just starting to improve.

It’s one thing for my team and close co-workers to tell me they’re sure I’ll do a good job.  But the point of this long background story is that sometimes a simple, polite comment can do wonders for someone.  At our first break, which was 2 hours into my material, someone at the table in front of me looked at me and said “has it been two hours already?  Man, you really keep this stuff interesting, with the speed of your words, your timing, and your clear diction.  This is really good.”

I said thanks and mentioned I was a little nervous since I hadn’t been feeling well, and the response was “I wouldn’t have known other than the four cups of hot tea…”

The COO and a colleague that organizes the training session both provided very positive feedback as well.   So I was a little more at ease when i went into the most challenging part of the message, which was about changing our questions as leaders; about letting our staff occasionally work to learn the answer to questions we might already know as part of their development.

It seemed to go well, and I was pleased that the CEO had incorporated some of my message into his closing remarks and system update.  Then, as we were cleaning up, one of the managers stopped and said thank you.  He mentioned that he could listen to me for hours – I was just so interesting and seemed so knowledgeable.  He was amazed that I seemed to have really good suggestions when people asked questions.

This was a manager I don’t consider as being “on board” with my vision for the organization.  But the small comments from just a few people really helped me through the day and boosted my confidence.  I also think it eliminated my worry over the weekend, allowing me to focus instead of getting well for next week.

Never underestimate the power of a small compliment.  When organizations talk about motivating teams, sometimes they turn to financial incentives.  This is usually only short-lived in my experience, and also has the potential to lower intrinsic motivation.  But the simple act of giving someone a sincere compliment, or even just saying “thank you”, can go a long way in making someone’s day.

Give someone a compliment today.  Maybe the girl at Starbucks, or the grocery store, or better yet, someone at your place of work.  It really might change their day, and I bet it makes you feel better too.

 

Searching for Passion

It’s fall once again, that time of year when the in some ways the world appears to be dying in Northern climates.  There are things I like about fall: Our wedding anniversary, my parents’ and my in-laws anniversaries, Thanksgiving, winter beers, a break from hot summer temperatures.   However, more and more I find myself lacking passion and energy in the fall.

I had a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving, and here on early Sunday morning I’m reflecting on what I could have done the last three days.  While I did have a nice dinner with the in-laws and my wife and I completed all of the Christmas shopping for my family on Friday and Saturday, I still feel like I should have or could have done a lot of other things.  Fun things, hobbies, or productive things.

I have a book series that I’d like to get re-published, and I just have to type it into the computer and get it formatted for publication. I could have worked on that.  I have 400 or so albums to clean and grade for resale, and an equal amount to listen to for personal enjoyment.  I could be writing on the blog more.  I have another writing idea that I tested and just need to put the work in to making it a reality.  I could do more work on some training presentations for my real job.   I have 7 more rolls of film to develop.  I could have done taken some more pictures.  I have thousands of old slides to review, scan, and upload to various sites.  I have my grandmother’s recipes to scan for family.  I should exercise more.  We could have gone hiking in the damp, gray, 43 degree Pittsburgh November weather.  Talk about sucking your energy away.

There’s things I used to do, like brewing beer, roasting coffee, fishing, camping.  Then there’s church-related things.  Since leaving the Presbyterian church, we’ve struggled to find a church home.  As we near advent, it’s odd not to be engaged in preparing for the various church activities.  Or practicing new songs.  In fact, I haven’t even picked up a guitar since Easter.  This might have been a good weekend to put on some new strings and noodle around a bit.

I could have baked some bread or soft pretzels.  There’s things we normally do in the summer, like taking the dogs on a long walk or playing golf.  We could have played board games, cards, or  just found some friends to hang out with.   But instead, I watched  the first three Star Wars movies (numerically, not by release date).  I drank more than I should have.  I watched an entertaining Pitt football game.  I stayed up late.

I’m sure there’s other things too that I’m not thinking of that I could have done.  Maybe that’s part of the problem – I’m into too many things.  Other than feeding my introverted need to be alone sometimes, these weekend activities didn’t contribute to advancing my health, financial well-being, or my marriage.  They didn’t increase my bank of memories and experiences with friends and family.  In short, they didn’t bring me joy.

Spending some time thinking about why, a lot of it comes down to the fact that my routine has been disrupted over the last several months.  I guess I need a new routine.  I’ve kept work notebooks or journals for about a decade, but I’ve been experimenting with Bullet journaling the month of November.  It hasn’t worked great, but it hasn’t been horrible either, so I’m going to continue it for a while.  For December, I’ll create a habit tracking log in the journal. I need to really think about my routine, or my Leader Standard Work as we call it in Lean.

My habit of writing and exercising in the morning hasn’t worked well with so many early morning meetings lately.  But now, I wonder how often I’ll need to be in the office by 6am?  I could probably start hitting the gym at lunch a few days a week, and I could most certainly get there after work a few days a week.

It seems like when I put together a plan to get something done, it gets done.  So unfortunately, I probably need to plan my evenings and weekends better so I do more and ‘veg’ less.  I’m not really an impulsive spur-of-the-moment type of guy, and my wife isn’t either.

Ironically, the busiest weekends often seem the longest and the most refreshing.  I like feeling like I got some things accomplished.  Like I actually DID something.  This weekend, we had very few plans, so we could get most of our things done in 4-6 hours each day, leaving the rest of the day unproductive.  I guess this year, my plan for beating the winter blues is to focus on being more productive.  I need to identify which “things” should get done first, then move onto the next, and focus on getting them done.  It’s the time of year to set goals for the coming year anyway, so I’m going to identify the habits and routine that should lead me to accomplishing my goals.  By focusing on the habits, hopefully I’ll rekindle some passion in certain areas of my life.

This post was a bit of a ramble, but sometimes you just have to think through what’s bothering you to come up with a new plan.  I hope you personally had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, and perhaps you can use December as a month to put a framework in place to achieve your goals in 2017, too.

 

 

 

Update on Sailing Away

To paraphrase the old quote from Eisenhower about planning:  Plans are useless – it’s the planning that is invaluable.  That’s how I feel about our plan to sail away.  Based on the progress shared in my last update over a year ago, our sailing dream might look like this to many outsiders:

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Inadvertent double exposure – a marina in La Spezia, Italy and the beach in Corolla, NC.  Kodak 400TX 

I’d call that confused, error-prone, and not too pretty, but a little funky at the same time. (I’ll share more shots from that roll in the future.)  But in the last year, we’ve gotten into a much stronger financial position.  The catalyst was really the realization that we were going to be able to save up for a boat pretty easily, and that honestly surprised us.  By looking at our entire financial picture, we came up with a better plan that doesn’t hinge on us loving sailing and force us into a less than wonderful situation if or when we pursue another chapter of our lives.

This isn’t a financial or early retirement blog, so I’m not going to share specifics, but we’ve improved our net worth by about $90k in the last year.  Obviously no one knows the future, but if we can approximate that for a few more years, we might be in the position to pursue this sailing dream and never have to worry about looking back, and also never worry about not having a nice home to come back to on land.

What we’ve done is pay off our cars and student loans, started investing agressively in our retirement plans, and then focused on paying off the house.  We just refinanced to a 2.875% fixed rate from 4.5%, so an extra $325 a month of our payment automatically goes to principal instead of interest, and we’re able to at least double up on payments almost every month.  The house should be paid for in 5 years or less, so that gives us 5 years to build the side hustles into a sustainable income, with that income probably reducing the amount of time it takes to pay off the house since none of that is calculated in our plan.

As far as my side hustles go, one of them I could clear $60k if I worked full time, but we don’t need that much and I enjoy it now – I wouldn’t enjoy it full time due to about 25% of the work really feels like work to me; I think in a few hours a week while travelling it can almost sustain the sailing lifestyle, and probably next summer we’ll start experimenting with doing that while travelling, trying to get the work to generate enough income to pay for the trips.  Maybe eventually I outsource most of it, and then it provides smaller returns, but less effort.  The other I think can generate $60k or more annually with minimal work once we build it to a certain size, so we’re laying foundations this summer and starting to work that in the fall.  Both are media-related, niche gigs.

After the house is paid for, the primary question becomes how much longer do we work?  The short answer might be “at least long enough to buy and outfit a boat”, but it will probably be much more complex depending on family situations.  As we get to a point where we can see the finish line on the mortgage, we’ll pick up the plan of taking sailing lessons and spending time on the water the summer before, and we’ll put more details in place. But my goal is still to be financially independent when I’m 48, and we’re largely on track.  Maybe 49…

For now, we’ll take little sailing cruises, maybe eventually we start doing more destination sailing vacations or something.  But we’re focused on our freedom for now; freedom from debt, freedom from needing a job, freedom from the things that are preventing us from pursuing this dream the way we want to pursue it.  In my eyes, our plan looks more like this:

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Sailboats outside the harbor in Vernazza, Italy.  Shot on Fuji Velvia the day this dream started…

Maybe not Italy (but why not?) – but anchored near a shore somewhere with the open water in the other direction – free to go when and where we want.  Or not go and enjoy where we are a  little longer.  In the interim, we can enjoy the current journey we’re on.

I think that’s the real point: Enjoy the journey; it’s the only life we’ve got.  But consciously craft the destination, and don’t just go along for the ride.

A Framework for Setting Goals

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Love yourself – set some goals in 2015!

Do you have a process for setting goals?  I do, and I use it every year to achieve more and make the intentional changes in my life that drive me (hopefully) to a longer, more fulfilling life.  Here’s the outline of my goal setting process:

  • November – Set Strategic Vision
    • Review performance on both Personal and Professional goals of the current year.  Set final push to wrap up anything not complete.
    • What are the big changes you’d like to make next year?  Where do you want to go in your career?  Your life?
    • What are your “BHAGs” – Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals
  • Late December – Set actionable goals to support Strategic Vision
    • I try to take 2 periods of dedicated, intentional planning and reflection for this step.
      • The first period of several hours is the draft, and the second is the review and final goal setting
    • I also record these in a place where I can find them and see them often
      • Professional goals go in the corner of my office white board
      • Personal goals go into Evernote and in the back of my creative notebook.
        • I tend to jot ideas in the back of my notebook, so I see them often.
        • I have a specific colorful Moleskine softback notebook for my creative pursuits so it doesn’t look like one of my black business notebooks.  These are the things that eventually come out in what I jokingly call ‘Crazy Idea Wednesdays’.
  • Beginning of January – add actionable goals to your calendar, with appropriate reminders.
    • Adding them to your calendar now – for the year – reserves the space.
    • If they require certain number of hours, block time on your calender NOW to work on them at the appropriate time.
    • Don’t let these be pushed out or procrastinated.  By setting a reminder 2-3 weeks in advance of the goal, you can see potential scheduling conflicts and pull it FORWARD on your schedule to complete the action towards your goal.
  • Share your goals with others.  This makes you accountable.
    • A few trusted colleagues, friends, or family members is enough.
    • Pick people who will encourage, not look at you like you’re crazy.
  • Schedule goal review sessions very 2 months. 30 minutes is usually enough, but plan on 45 for those you do with others.
    • If you’re a leader – do this with your team
    • If you’re an employee – do this with your manager.
      • I loved my employees that did this for me.  The best even had an agenda and provided summaries of the discussion.
    • For personal goals – add it to the Calendar.  I prefer Friday afternoons because then I can schedule time the following week as I’m planning my week to make progress where needed.
  • Do a mid-year reflection.  I learned this originally in the 1990’s as a practice called Hansei, which I also do weekly.
    • Spend a few hours of reflection in June or July about what has gone well, what needs improvement, and what you and/or your team has achieved.
    • Make any modifications to goals as needed.
    • Set new targets or goals if you’ve already achieved your targets or they seem too easy.
      • Leave the hard ones in place.  Develop a plan to get as close as possible (unless some strategic change has happened which makes this goal non-valuable or irrelevant).

Here’s a quote from Margaret Wheatley on why we need Reflection:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

Sometimes we get lucky and reach our goals by way of a happy accident – much like the heart-shaped foam of my cappuccino this summer.  But to really achieve your dreams required intentional effort.  You can control your future; change your future, by being intentional with your goals.  Set them now, deliberately.  Your team will achieve more if you are intentional about the goal setting and review process.

This year, don’t make a New Year’s Resolution, create a plan to change your life.  When New Year’s comes, you’ll already have a clear vision and there will be no resolutions needed.

For 2014, what goals did you achieve that you’re most proud of?  What other tips do you have for meeting your goals?

 

Plans for 2015

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9 days till Christmas…

As we approach the end of another year, it’s time to create a structured set of action items around the goals you set for 2015.  What?  You haven’t set goals yet?  The company HR system doesn’t do that until March, you say?  (Don’t laugh – I’ve seen them set in May for a calendar year!)  What I’m talking about your personal goals.

As I start looking at my goals for 2015 and evaluating this year, I’ve decided to make a change in my writing structure.  While I enjoy the freedom to write on whatever strikes me, I’m going to focus mostly on leadership,personal productivity, and achieving goals and dreams in 2015.  I’ll still have some posts on photography – maybe “Photo Fridays.”  And I’ll still have regular posts  on our progress towards sailing as applicable.

But I’ve been trying to maintain both this personal blog and a business blog, Lean Renaissance, since I started  Aaron Outspoken, and while I have been writing consistently, it hasn’t been consistently on both blogs.  So once I have the new site up and running, I’ll redirect from both the old blogs to the new site.

But as I work through the planning of this during the next few weeks and doing all the fun things to get the new blog set up, I’d like to hear from those of you who read my blog.  What articles do you like?  What topics do you wish I’d write about more?  What do you want me to stop blathering about?  Let me know in the comments.  Even things you’d like me to wrap up before 2015 – whatever it is, I’d like to hear it.

Thanks.  Now go set some goals for next year!