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.

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

Is A Million Bucks Enough To Retire?

Originally in Forbes“Wow, those guys must be millionaires!” I can recall uttering those words as a child, driving by the nicest house in our neighborhood—you know, the one with four garage bays filled with cars from Europe.

The innocent presumption, of course, was that our neighbors’ visible affluence was an expression of apparent financial independence, and that $1 million would certainly be enough to qualify as Enough.

Now, as an adult—and especially as a financial planner—I’m more aware of a few million-dollar realities:

Retirement Stress Test Graphic - v3-01

1)   Visible affluence doesn’t necessarily equate to actual wealth.  Thomas Stanley and William Danko, in their fascinating behavioral finance book, The Millionaire Next Door, surprised many of us with their research suggesting that visible affluence may actually be a sign of lesser net worth, with the average American millionaire exhibiting surprisingly few outward displays of wealth. Big hat, no cattle.

2)   A million dollars ain’t what it used to be. In 1984, a million bucks would have felt like about $2.4 million in today’s dollars. But while it’s quite possible that our neighbors were genuinely wealthy—financially independent, even—I doubt they had just barely crossed the seven-digit threshold, comfortably maintaining their apparent standard of living. To do so comfortably would likely take more than a million, even in the ’80s.

3)   Wealth is one of the most relative, misused terms in the world.  Relatively speaking, if you’re reading this article, you’re already among the world’s most wealthy, simply because you have a device capable of reading it. Most of the world’s inhabitants don’t have a car, much less two. But even among those blessed to have enough money to require help managing it, I have clients who are comfortably retired on half a million and millionaires who need to quadruple their nest egg in order to retire with their current standard of living.

The teacher couple, trained by reality to live frugally most of their lives, don’t even dip into their $400,000 retirement nest egg or their $250,000 home equity because they have two pensions and Social Security that more than covers their income needs.  Their retirement savings is just a bonus.

But the lawyer couple, trained by reality to live a more visibly wealthy existence, aren’t even close to retiring with their million-dollar retirement savings. In order to be comfortable, they’ll need to have at least $4 million.

A million bucks, then, may be more than enough for some and woefully insufficient for others.

The Scarcity Fallacy: Is Less Really More?

Originally in ForbesHaving the privilege of walking through life with people vocationally, aiding in the acquisition, maintenance and dispossession of earthly resources as a financial advisor, I’m burdened with a heightened sense of the battling spirits of scarcity and abundance.

The dehumanizing poverty that torments the Majority World screams that resources—here and now—are scarce. Remembering when I handed a bowl of vitamin-charged oatmeal to a boy who lives and breathes in La Chureca, the Nicaraguan squatter town subsisting off of Managua’s trash, I occasionally twinge at my willingness to pay $5 for a cup of premium Central American coffee. That expenditure could buy a week’s worth of mush, keeping children of the dump alive.

This is one of the children at the feeding center in "La Chureca," the city dump in Managua, Nicaragua.

This is one of the children at the feeding center in “La Chureca,” the city dump in Managua, Nicaragua.

How could I not consume less?

And share more?

Subtract Tasks From Your World; Don’t Let Them Multiply

by Jim Stovall

We succeed by doing a lot of things very well.  There are people who do a lot of things but don’t do them well, and people who do things well but don’t do many things.  We don’t succeed based on what we meant to do, intended to do, expected to do, or made a note to do.  We succeed or fail based on what we actually do.

I find a lot of people in the business world today who confuse activity with productivity.  They take on a lot of tasks but get very little done.  These people often allow their work to create more work.

For example, something will come in the mail that requires them to respond.  Their response might take 10 minutes to accomplish.  Instead of just taking care of the task and moving on, they will set it aside, create a file, diary it on their calendar, move it to a later date, find the file weeks later, address the task at hand, mark it off their list, and close the file.  These people can generate several hours’ worth of work and mounds of clutter over one, tiny, little task.  They allow their work to multiply.

As a general rule, whenever possible, handle all communications via writing, phone, or email once.  Certainly there are exceptions when the task will require more time or thought, but for most mundane tasks, it’s much better to do it now.

Efficient and successful people accomplish many tasks in this manner.  There are several occasions every day when someone has asked me to respond, and if I take a few moments and do it now, I am able to accommodate the request.  If I let the task multiply, I am likely to never do it as it is prudent to give this individual a few moments, but I can’t afford to give them a few hours.

If you work alone, this is important, but if you interact with an organization each day, it is critical.  If you allow your own tasks to multiply, they will explode geometrically throughout the organization.  If someone else takes care of your calendar, coordinates your schedule, or handles your filing, your 10-minute task today can be a two-hour task for you later that creates many more hours of effort and energy for your entire team.

Being effective and efficient is often a matter of deciding what to do and what not to do, then budgeting how much time you can expend on each task.

As you go through your day today, subtract tasks from your world.  Don’t let them multiply.

Today’s the day!

Tim’s Tools

Tim is pleased to provide readers with access to a selection of tools that can be used to apply the lessons learned on TimMaurer.com.

 

Personal Money Story

 

Personal Money Story.  This simple exercise will help you understand what what drives your personal money values. To download, click below:

Download Personal Money Story

 

 

 

 

Life Taking, Life Giving - BLANK

 

Life Taking, Life Giving.  This simple exercise will help you understand what you do in life that provides fulfillment and those activities that don’t. To download, click below:

Download Life Taking, Life Giving – BLANK