1 Book, 1 Practice, And 1 Post For The New Decade

To help you kick off your New Year — and the new decade — with more clarity and purpose, I’d like to recommend a blog post, a simple daily practice, and a transformative book that I believe could propel you not just through 2020, but the 2020s. I’ll list them in the order of the lowest investment of time to the greatest:

Post about a family who suffered the greatest loss imaginable in 2019, and the lessons their loss teaches us about making the most of our lives, personally and professionally:

The biggest challenges most of us had in 2019, thankfully, pale in comparison to that which my good friends continue to endure — the sudden loss of their 17-year-old son to a previously unknown heart condition. It was the last, most challenging, and most important post I wrote for Forbes last year, or in any year.

But the life of this young man and the habits he embodied — sharing his self-confidence, speaking words of affirmation, and finding the best in any circumstances — could change the course of your life and those you love. I know it has mine.

Practice that draws us away from the distracting world of electronics and into the “analog” space where the research shows our time is best managed:

There’s an app for everything, and there are more than we could possibly count that promise to make us more productive and to manage our time better. Ironically, research suggests that the very best tools for optimum productivity may actually be a good old-fashioned pencil, paper, and most importantly, a little uninterrupted time.

With an attention span easily swayed, I’ve spent the better part of my career hunting for the best productivity methods and mechanisms. After getting on and falling off of that wagon more times than I can count, with complex “systems” that seemed hard to adopt and even harder to adapt, I finally found a method that has stuck with me now for three years without fail — Bullet Journaling.

Book that changes the way we think about work — and life — and helps us get more from each through the power of intention:

You’ve heard that multi-tasking is a myth, and it’s verifiably true. But most of us are still working — and playing — in such a way that this realization and its ramifications have not yet sunk in. In so doing, we rarely leave the realm of “shallow work,” where our attention is sufficiently divided that we slow the process down and decrease the quality of our efforts.

By reordering our time and space to facilitate “deep work,” we can actually get more and better work done in less time. And the same applies to our less laborious pursuits in life.

This book, this practice, and the subject matter of this post have left a mark on me — a mark that has already outlasted a few New Year’s celebrations — and I have no doubt will impact my life and work through the 20’s. I hope they are of some value to you as well.

Helpful Perspective From A Rockstar Non-Profit And A Tailwind

Do you ever get so caught up in your own head, in your own stuff, that you lose perspective? I can’t imagine a time that would be more inclined to lead us to insular thinking, self-pity, conspiracy theorizing, and perspective losing than this season we’re trudging through.

So in this week’s Financial LIFE Planning weekly installment, you’ll get some perspective that I hope will give you peace and help you make wise financial, and other, decisions:

  • An exclusive FLiP video chat with Michael O’Neal, the Executive Director of global non-profit, ONEWORLD Health
  • A confounding Weekly Market Update with a side of cheese
  • A reminder about our capacity to overestimate our own capabilities

Oh, and Happy Mothers Day, to mine and all of you moms!


Financial Planning

How to Get More Than You Give

Have you ever noticed that when you give to someone whose needs are greater than yours, you actually feel like you have more? Whether it’s a friend in need of a pick-me-up, an investment of your time at a soup kitchen, or a charitable contribution, this change in perspective is one of three major benefits of giving.

The other two? Well, in addition to our perspective being changed, we experience a biological phenomenon, an endorphin rush. Apparently, we’re biologically wired to feel good when we give. Cool, right? And pragmatically, depending on how (or if) you file your tax return, you may also get a rebate on a portion of your financial gifts…check with your CPA.

This week, I recorded a video chat I had with the Executive Director of ONEWORLD Health, Michael O’Neal, specifically for you! We discussed their unique approach to sustainable development work that has enabled them to survive the COVID-19 crisis–and the success they’ve had cultivating relationships with individuals, families, businesses, and even rock bands, like NEEDTOBREATHE, who alone has raised over $2.3 million for the work their doing.

He also explains why we always get more than we give. Click below to watch the nine-minute excerpt, or top off your coffee and click HERE for the full 23-minute interview.

And yes, if you’re jonesing to put that give-more-than-you-get business to the test right now, it’s easy–click HERE and hit the Donate button. And if you choose to give $50 or more, please let me know, because I’d like to send you a personal thank you.


Weekly Market Update:

After two marginally down weeks, the market had another week in the green, almost confoundingly so:

  • +2.56% DJIA (30 big U.S. companies)
  • +3.50% S&P (500 big U.S. companies)
  • +2.71% EFA (~900 international companies)

The biggest question for most people is, “How!? How is the market going up when the economic news is historically bad?” It’s true: Unemployment this week hit 14.7%–the worst since the Great Depression.

Although clearly indeed of a beard trim–sorry, Mom!–I joined Jill Wagner on Cheddar (an online TV channel) to discuss this seemingly odd phenomenon, and to offer some suggestions for the unemployed, under-employed, self-employed, and gainfully-employed in these challenging times:


Life Planning

Is the wind at your back?

I’m not a “cyclist,” but I do love to ride my bike. Last week, I took a new ride, recommended by my good friend–who is a cyclist–that stretched me a bit, and gave me another healthy dose of perspective.

I love to have a destination, so I set my course for the Bulls Island Ferry, a beautiful spot in Awendaw, SC. The total ride was about 20 miles, and on the way there, I felt like an Olympian, averaging about 18 mph. (“Maybe I can call myself a cyclist,” I was beginning to think.

With head held high, I took in the beautiful view, nodded proudly to the couple that I passed on the last mile, and headed homeward. Only then did I realize that I’d had a meaningful tailwind that I’d now be fighting the entire way home. The wind had been at my back.

And as I was thinking about a contingency plan on mile 15–suffering the embarassment of calling my wife and asking her to pick me up in the middle of nowhere, a length to which I thank the Lord I didn’t (quite) have to go–a question hit me like an easterly wind pounding route 17:

How much of whatever I’ve done well in life was actually just thanks to a solid tailwind? Being born into a great family? In the right zip code? Being on the right team? Having selfless friends? Working with amazing people?

How about you? Is it possible that your successes have been aided by a tailwind? If so, who is deserving of thanks? (In addition to your mother, of course!)

How about now? If you feel like a failure at the moment, is it possible you’re just facing the greatest economic headwind of a generation? Who can you ask for help?

Or if you’re fortunate enough to be cranking through this crisis at top speed, who can you help?

And if you think of the people who’ve been your tailwind, I hope you take a moment–why not now?–to thank them.

The spent lungs and sore butt were worth the perspective…and so was the view:

I hope you have a great Mother’s Day and find a healthy tailwind this week!

Tim

How should retirees deal with crazy markets when they don’t have time to “stay the course”?

Investing is a young person’s game, am I right? I mean, I can understand the argument for ignoring short-term market dives when it’ll be decades before you need to actually touch the money. But what about retirees who need income today? Should retirees and near-retirees be cashing out of stocks on fears that a worldwide pandemic will continue to throttle markets?

I recently discussed this concept on CNBC. Click the image to watch the video.

First, it’s important to address this question on an emotional level before attempting to respond rationally, because it’s not cold, calculating rationale that leads the charge in times of high market volatility, especially of the downward variety. (Indeed, as my friend Jeff Levine said, “Nobody ever seems to mind volatility when it’s up.”) Furthermore, when we are feeling and responding through the fast-acting, impulsive processor in our brain, thoughtful logic isn’t particularly comforting.

Retirees, in particular, may feel downright scared, and perhaps their fear is justified, because:

  1. They feel disempowered because they’re no longer earning a paycheck and are now reliant entirely on sources of income beyond their control. 
  2. They don’t have as much time as an investor in his or her 20s, 30s or 40s to recoup losses. 
  3. The math does change for those who are in the distribution phase of their life. Losses can indeed be compounded when you’re taking income out of a portfolio, rather than opportunistically buying through regular contributions.

Therefore, whether you’re a financial advisor counseling someone through turbulent markets or a white-knuckled investor eyeing the eject button, please know this: Every emotion is valid and worthy of acknowledgement. The best financial advisors will take it one step further and explore the emotions in play, even enlisting them in support of the best long-term investment strategy.

Once we’ve addressed this valid concern on an emotional level, it’s time to look at it from a logical perspective, and indeed, for most retirees, it’s important to maintain a healthy allocation to stock exposure in order to ensure that your lifestyle keeps up with inflation. In determining how much risk any investor should take, one’s “time horizon”—the ability to take risk—is a material consideration. A retiree in her late 60s has a shorter time horizon than a new investor in his early 20s, but, however limited, the retiree’s time horizon still isn’t zero.

Retirees need to satisfy income needs today, but they also need to address income needs in the future. Therefore, while it’s a slight oversimplification of a total return portfolio strategy, in times of extreme market volatility, I would invite retirees to view the meaningful portion of conservative fixed income in their portfolio as their income engine in the short-term while their portfolio’s stock exposure is designed to generate income years from now.

(Of course, this presumes that one’s fixed income portfolio is actually conservative, a stabilizing force in your portfolio. Corporate, longer-term, and especially high-yield bonds tend to have equity-like characteristics in down markets; so dare to be boring with your fixed income allocation.)

The optimal percentage of equities in a retirement portfolio will be driven by the retiree’s need to take risk. If you don’t need to take the risk, who am I (or any other financial person with a propensity for stock market cheerleading) to convince you otherwise? Yes, you might need a boost from market returns to outpace inflation. And yes, even if you’d struggle to spend all your money in this lifetime if you kept it in a Mason jar, you might consider investing it for the next generation. But there’s no moral imperative to endure market volatility if you don’t need or want the long-term benefits we expect to receive.

And that’s especially because the most important factor in determining how much equity risk you take in your portfolio is your internal willingness to assume risk. This is the gut-check test, and if you’re at risk of bailing out at the bottom—the worst possible time to sell—you must limit your exposure to stocks. Sticking with a conservative portfolio will earn you more in the long run than fleeing a more aggressive one.

Of course, you can only “stay the course” if you have one. You can only stick with the strategy that exists. Typically, emotions are heightened among those who don’t fully understand or can’t fully articulate their strategy and especially among those who don’t have one. 

Too many investors own a collection of securities—or even a collection of someone else’s strategies—that have built up over a lifetime, rather than a well-designed, purposely built, customized portfolio. Those investors should be concerned, and they should use this market hysteria du jour as the catalyst for a substantive portfolio review.

If you’re in the minority, however, who do have an understandable, goals-based strategy—who have considered their ability, willingness and need to take risk—and who have proportionately set their exposure to stocks, then by all means, rest easy and rebalance. Know that however ugly this particular market event gets, it likely will not amount to a blip on the radar when looking at your lifetime of investing. Acting rashly in these situations is more likely to do harm than good.

Be More Purposeful In 2020 With This Calendar Hack

My work as a financial advisor is dedicated to helping others best allocate their scarce resources in a way that is optimally aligned with their goals and grounded in their values. And while most of that work involves financial resources, I’ve also become somewhat obsessed with the stewardship of what is perhaps our scarcest resource—time.

One of the simplest and best productivity “hacks” I’ve found in pursuit of this obsession comes, almost hilariously, from one of the funniest people on the planet—Jerry Seinfeld.

First introduced to Seinfeld’s prolific productivity by Cal Newport in the priceless book Deep Work, and subsequently illuminated in the must-watch Netflix movie Jerry Before Seinfeld, I learned much about the single tool Seinfeld used to become the world’s top comedian: daily intentionality.

Long before he was a household name, Seinfeld committed himself to the daily intentionality of writing new jokes to hone his craft. He reportedly tracked this habit by drawing an “X” through that day’s box on the calendar.

He identified the most important thing he needed to do every day and then oriented his calendar around the completion of that task. And you don’t have to be a comedic genius to make this work.

What is the most important thing—or things—that you need to do, and how might you adapt your calendar management to improve the probability that it happens? Here’s how I’ve adapted this technique personally, in four simple slashes on my wall calendar:

1) The most important most important thing I need to do daily is to center myself spiritually and mentally. Therefore, the second habit I complete daily—after brewing a very strong pot of coffee, of course—is to sit down in my home office, where I spend about 60 minutes reading, reflecting, praying and then meditating.

The mindfulness exercise at the end becomes the bridge from the spiritual into the practical as I plan out my day—purposefully removed from the distraction of my computer—in my most prized possession: my Bullet Journal.

The completion of this routine earns a vertical line down the middle of the day’s box on my wall-sized, yearly calendar: |

2) The second most important thing that I need to do—not only for my own health, but for the sanity of those with whom I live and work—is physical exercise. 

I aim for three days of HIIT workouts and two days of yoga weekly. I’ve improved the probability of this happening by going to a gym that offers both types of classes. But more importantly, the gym requires you to schedule workouts in advance—and charges you if you cancel, creating a helpful disincentive for this financial planner to make it! So at the beginning of each week, I schedule five classes that turn into meetings on my calendar. These, in turn, help me be more productive in every other activity that day.

After completing my daily workout, I get the satisfaction of adding a horizontal line on that day of the calendar: —

3) Next, I aim to complete my M.I.T., the Most Important Task of the day. As part of my daily planning, I determine what I need to do that day to have the most impact on the projects I’m engaged in. Inspired by author Daniel Pink, I have a whiteboard in my office where I then write down that task.

The key here, of course, is to actually DO it. Pink suggests simply making it the first task of the day, but I’ve also applied some systematic calendar management to further increase the chances of checking off my most glaring to-do, as informed, again, by Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work.

Newport provides convincing evidence that, regardless of how many hours we work in a given day, we only have four hours of optimum productivity, biologically speaking. With his encouragement, I’ve determined what those four hours are for me (generally 10:00am to 2:00pm). I block them on the calendar as my Focus Time, in which I complete my M.I.T. (Other important, but less mentally strenuous, tasks, like email, calls, meetings and errands, are then “batched” throughout the day.)

Successful completion of the M.I.T. earns me a big backslash through that day on the calendar: \

4) Lastly, I discipline myself to offer at least one person a deliberate, if not pre-meditated, affirmation. This idea was inspired by Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take. Grant, who has dedicated his career to helping us get more out of our professions, is almost notorious for his high level of achievement and productivity. But he has a very simple method that guides his weekly and daily planning, as highlighted in GQ:

I try to start every week with three things that I want to accomplish that I care about. And then three ways that I want to help other people. And that’s the compass for the week. I’ll plan my whole schedule around those things.”

This notion of helping other people may be something as involved as reaching out to contribute effort to someone else’s project, but it can also be as simple as picking up the phone to see how a colleague or friend is doing, or sending a word of affirmation or commendation by email or, better yet, a hand-written note. In my experience, I’ve found that the concrete objective of sharing a deliberate affirmation is specific enough that I’ve had higher completion rates than when I’ve left the intention more generic.

What has been especially interesting to me is that the completion of this task—while it tends to be seen as the “lowest” priority and takes the least amount of time—often offers the greatest satisfaction.

I compound that satisfaction by finishing off my successful calendar day with a forward slash: /

Using a strategy like this makes for a messy calendar, but each mark offers the momentary endorphin rush we were meant to enjoy from the act of work completed. It also creates a visual record of our productivity—and lack thereof—throughout the day, week, month and year.

How could it work for you?

This post was initial published on Forbes.com.

Living A Life Worthy Of A Legacy At Any Age

What do you text the father, a good friend, who I’d just learned had lost his 17-year-old son the previous night?

“I don’t have the words. Praying. Anything at all, we’re here for you.”

Father and son fishing
GETTY

I’d spent the previous hour hearing the news, breaking down, sharing the news with my wife and then my sons, breaking down, calling other parents who’d want to get to their kids before they learned in the middle of class, breaking down.

No, a text won’t do. Not in this case, not in this moment. They only live a few blocks away. So began the most painful walk my wife and I have undertaken, to a front door that we didn’t want to open, to see the face of a father and mother still stunned by the worst news a parent can receive.

Thus, we were initiated into a holy cycle of hugging, crying, story-telling, laughing and loving that culminated with a service—the day before Mother’s Day—celebrating Logan Janik’s life, as over 800 family and friends graduated into a new, dimmer reality.

Throughout this cycle, as I grew to know Logan much better through the intersecting narratives, the pervasive thought that stuck was that this young man had left more of a legacy in 17 short years than most leave after a statistical lifetime

And no, these are not the mere musings of a mourner struggling with recent loss. Logan lived his life embodying a few commonly known but uncommonly exhibited traits that, if emulated, would help all of us live a life worthy of a legacy:

First, he made a habit of sharing his self-confidence with those who might lack it. Logan was a six-foot-two, 210-pound athlete with an enviable head of hair and an inimitable smile—the first word that came to mind both as his most memorable feature and the expression he most often inspired.

When my son first stepped foot on the campus of what has now become his high school—attended by over 4,000 students—he was an unsure eighth grader attempting to make the JV lacrosse team. I have no doubt that his attempt was successful in part thanks to Logan, then a seasoned sophomore, who insisted on driving my son to and from practice.

This rhythm continued as my son began his freshman year—Logan’s junior year—causing my wife and I to wonder, “What 11th-grader risks his popularity on an unrelated freshman?” But unlike most of us, even as adults, Logan didn’t see his personal confidence and credibility as an exhaustible resource. He spent it freely, not choosing to invest it only in those who’d provide a relational ROI, but more so in those who really needed it.

Second, Logan spoke words of affirmation. Such words can feel empty when actions don’t coincide, but there was no such incongruence here. For instance, my son wasn’t the only freshman beneficiary of Logan’s encouragement—another young man remembered Logan’s final words to him when, picking him out of a crowd, he simply said, “You’re my favorite goalie.”

In an age where so many affirmations come in the form of “Likes” worth little more than the click they require, a single, timely, genuine word of encouragement can buoy us when we fail and shape us when we succeed.

Finally, Logan extracted a redeeming reality out of circumstances that would waylay most. More succinctly, he was a glass-half-full kid who chose to find the best in both people and situations. 

Of his passions in life, lacrosse may have been the foremost. But despite being an imposing athlete and an ideal teammate, he didn’t always make the team he tried out for, especially at his 4,000-student high school. “He handled it better than I did,” his father told me, when he missed the final cut for varsity.

We would all be disappointed, as Logan was, but our natural tendency is often to cast external blame and protect our vulnerability through embitterment. Logan did neither, and in retrospect, it also gave him the opportunity to play his final season of lacrosse alongside his younger brother, celebrating another high school league championship together just days before Logan’s passing.

Helping came naturally to Logan—but it doesn’t to most of us. We live in a time and place where crafting our individual narrative and boosting our resume is sadly very much a part of adulthood. The perception machine is always cranking, and the very design of “friending” and “connecting” is to pad our own stats and build our own credibility.

Spending time, effort, and social or professional capital, therefore, is seen as the domain solely of the untouchable philanthropist who has acquired more than it appears possible to spend in multiple lifetimes.

“I’ll give back when [fill in the blank],” seems a sensible refrain. But Logan’s example reminds us that our “when” may never come, and that we do not have to wait on an estate to build a legacy. Material riches are not required to make an investment in time or influence.

But if altruism isn’t enough motivation, there’s also a pragmatic case to be made. Helping others—without any expectation of reciprocity—is an entirely valid strategy for those (read: most) of us who are still in the accumulation phase of building a meaningful life, personally and professionally. Indeed, it is the premise of Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, and the inspiration for his weekly productivity routine:

I try to start every week with three things that I want to accomplish that I care about. And then three ways that I want to help other people. And that’s the compass for the week. I’ll plan my whole schedule around those things.

Adam Grant

As I’ve been stumbling my way through Logan’s loss, I found myself asking a question about the equity of my accomplishment/helping ratio:

How much more of an impact could I have if I followed through on my best intentions, specifically relating to helping, affirming and building-up others versus striving toward my own accomplishments?

Would you consider asking the same question?

Consider allowing yourself, as I have been, to be humbled and inspired and challenged by a kid, an “old soul,” whose legacy will extend long beyond his life.

In loving memory of Logan Michael Janik: December 6, 2001 – May 7, 2019

The Key To Good Habits: The Perfect Smoothie?

In Charles Duhigg’s eye-opening book, The Power of Habit, we learn that we are, whether we like it or not, creatures of habit. For better and for worse.

In order to help us understand how habits work, how to identify them, and how to create good ones, Duhigg introduces us to the “Habit Loop,” a cycle that begins with an (often unknown) behavioral Cue that triggers a Routine resulting in a desired Reward.

Physical exercise is something that’s important to many people, myself included, so using Duhigg’s concepts, I’ve created a reward for this desired behavior that I submit to you as nothing short of the World’s Best Protein Fruit and Vegetable Smoothie.

Are You A Complainer, Consumer Or Contributor?

Are you a Complainer, Consumer or Contributor in the workplace? In Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, he differentiates between three types of people–Givers, Matchers and Takers–categorizations that have implications in both our personal and professional lives.

But as an educator–and student–in the realm of financial advisory development, it struck me that Grant’s triumvirate may have an analogous trio of traits that accurately describes our posture toward learning how to be better professionals. (And people.)

Shutterstock

Complainers

I’m sure you’re not a Complainer, but I’ll bet you know how to spot one, whether that person is a friend, colleague or client. Complainers tend to have an eye for the imperfection in everything, and they almost seem to enjoy pointing it out. They seek to disagree and magnify their discontent. They capitalize on opportunities to provide criticism, but it’s rarely constructive. And they also tend to be vocal about it, creating dissatisfaction for others where it may not have previously existed.

The Only Market Volatility Prediction You Can Count On

“As you can see, we’re experiencing rough air at the moment. But as a reminder, we can’t predict rough air,” said the Delta airline pilot ferrying me from St. Louis to Charleston (via Atlanta—always Atlanta), “so please keep your seatbelts on whenever you are seated.”

Thank you, sir, for giving me precisely the hint of inspiration I needed to frame this week’s note of encouragement while in the midst of one of the crazier market stretches we’ve seen in a couple of decades!

DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images

Of course, statistically speaking, this bout of stock market extremism is more the norm than the exception.  No, it’s not particularly normal to have thousand-point-up or -down days for the Dow Jones Industrial Index.  But volatility—market ups and downs—is, indeed, more typical than placid markets.

One of the very few market predictions I (or anybody, for that matter) can responsibly make:

The market is more likely to be volatile than not.

How To Avoid Being Victimized By Financial Deception

“I’m calling it — this is an Apple commercial,” said my 14-year-old son, about halfway into the visually stunning emotional appeal for educational experimentation that appeared on our TV while we were otherwise dedicating ourselves to one of the best college football games of the season.

Yes, it’s about that time again, when companies are rolling out new commercial campaigns in conjunction with some of the year’s most viewed sporting events–beginning with the college football playoff and culminating, of course, with the only spectator sporting event where no one wants to cede their seat during the commercials, the Super Bowl.

Shutterstock

“I think you’re right,” I said to my son (especially gripped because the commercial featured a young man sharing a defining moment with his beloved parents via his smartphone), just as the musical crescendo sent a chill down my spine.

But then came the verdict.

It wasn’t Apple, after all, even though the tech company is known for its artistic commercial flair in imploring viewers to engage technology in the most relational ways. It was a mainstay financial company inviting us to bring the benefit of our long-term financial planning for the future into the present.

Brilliant.

“Wait a minute, though,” I said to my boys, “These guys are notorious for hard-selling over-priced insurance policies for big commissions!”

“Whatever they are, it’s a great commercial,” my 12-year-old son concluded before the Oklahoma Sooners and the Georgia Bulldogs again filled the screen.

He was absolutely right. But as I reflected on the power of this particular message and medium, I’ve had this lingering sense that there’s a real danger present.

TODAY Show Appearance: Talking Debt, Budgeting, Market Highs And Maintaining Motivation

What better way to start off the New Year than in New York with the TODAY Show?  Despite the 18 below windchill whipping through the city streets, I had a blast with Sheinelle Jones and Craig Melvin discussing the most damaging forms of debt, the top two budgeting apps, the best kinds of checking accounts, how you should respond to market highs–and lows–and how best to stay motivated to turn those financial resolutions into long-term habits!

Click HERE or on the box above to watch the segment.