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Guarantee Success By Tracking Your Habits with Joe’s Goals

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Habits form the basis for everything you do or will achieve.  Your personal goals contribute to fulfilling the vision you have for yourself, but at the core it’s your habits that make it possible to reach those goals.  Without forming new habits and replacing destructive behavior with positive habits, your goals will always remain distant – and without that consistent goal achievement, your vision might as well not exist.

The simplest way to think about this: your personal vision is your “ultimate goal”.  It’s an inspirational but achievable future state of mind and being that indirectly influences your decisions and guides you down your best path.  Your goals are interim milestones that contribute to fulfilling that vision – these are measurable and realistic targets that you use to base many of your actions.  And your habits are the small steps you take every single day that bring you ever closer to your goals.  This means they are the foundational element that everything builds on – your goals and your vision aren’t possible until you form the right habits.

Since many of us are visual, here’s a basic diagram showing how habits form the “bottom of the pyramid”. 

Vision/Goals/Habits Pyramid

Unfortunately, It’s not abnormal to get into a funk when it comes to your daily habits.  One day “off” can easily snowball into 5 days or 5 weeks.  It’s always easier to convince yourself that slacking off with a specific daily habit isn’t going to make a difference than it is to just do it.  It’s amazing how powerful our internal motivation for slacking can actually be!

I’ve found for myself and for many others that the best way to return from a funk is to put the following two things into place:

  1. Track your habits daily (not weekly or monthly)
  2. Let other people see your progress

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Written by Mike Torres

August 2nd, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Productivity,Tools

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Staying Focused With Microsoft Outlook: Email

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Time to get tactical; too many posts recently haven’t been!  This post is focused on Microsoft Outlook 2003 and 2007.

Since 1997, Microsoft Outlook has been my email program of choice.  Sure I’ve dabbled with web mail like Hotmail and Gmail for my personal account, but for anything “serious” I always come back to Outlook.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that I work for Microsoft and therefore couldn’t escape Outlook if I tried, but I continually find Outlook to be an absolute gem for email and for productivity in general.

Part of this is due to the fact that email, calendar, notes, to-do items, a corporate directory, and umpteen other important “modules” are available in a single application.  Another big factor is comfort of course – 12 years in a single program means there isn’t much I don’t know about it at this point.  But for all intents and purposes, I love using Outlook and always have.

This post is about dealing with email overload in Outlook.  It assumes you’re likely in a corporate environment with Microsoft Exchange and that you know a thing or two about Outlook already.  It also assumes email has a chokehold on your life, and you want to learn how to escape with your sanity.

The principles and techniques in this post are things I’ve learned and used over the years and have taught to hundreds of others at Microsoft through “brown bags”, 1:1 coaching, and seminars.  Special thanks go out to Omar Shahine, Michael Affronti, and Trevin Chow for lots of brainstorms and conversations about Outlook email – much of this comes from them.  Omar’s actually my partner in crime as we’ve given talks on Outlook together a few times.

Before getting into the nitty gritty, let’s start with 7 basic email principles which aren’t specific to Outlook use:

  1. Reserve your inbox for important items.  Any distribution lists or other types of email you receive that are just of the “FYI” variety (shopping receipts, Netflix shipping reminders, Facebook notifications, etc.) should be filtered away from your attention automatically.
  2. Deleting and archiving email should be a one-step (or one-click) action.  Delete without prejudice and archive anything you think you’ll need to refer to at some point, but don’t worry about having deep, nested folders.
  3. Never read an email twice.  When processing your email, every time you open a message use the 4Ds discussed as part of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  Delete it immediately, Do it immediately, Delegate (or forward) it, or Defer it by converting it to a task or appointment.
  4. Emails that need follow-up (either by you or by others) should be converted to Tasks or Appointments.  Convert an email to a task with a due date if you want to do it on that date, and convert it to an appointment if it’s time-based (i.e. pick someone up from the airport).  If it’s mandatory that something get done on a certain day but it doesn’t matter what time it’s done, I usually book time for myself on my calendar anyway just to make sure it happens that day.
  5. Tasks should be broken down into two important categories: “Next Actions for you” and “Waiting on from others”.  While there are other categories and lists you can use in Outlook, these are the two most critical.
  6. Bounce your inbox at zero as often as you can – ideally a few times per week.  This means “seeing the white” in your inbox and knowing 100% of your email has been processed.  See Bouncing at Zero for more information about this.
  7. Bounce your daily task list at zero everyday.  Your entire task list will never be empty, but every single day you should know what you’ve accomplished and rebalanced your items for the future (i.e. don’t just ignore them!)  Again, bounce at zero!

There are a dozen more principles I could list, but I want to keep this post a) short and b) more about making things happen than about platitudes.  As Bruce Lee said, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply”.

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Written by Mike Torres

May 17th, 2009 at 5:17 pm