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.

A Burdensome Yoke…Or A Path To Peace?

Well, it wouldn’t be the New Year if we weren’t reminded that one of the top resolutions that will be made and inevitably abandoned is financial in nature.  “Improve financial condition” is once again the number two resolution for 2012 in the annual Franklin Covey New Year’s Resolutions study, and the only surprise is that it’s not number one!

But no matter what year I’m asked the question, “What’s the most important thing I could do to improve my personal finances?” the answer is never going to be about tactical asset allocation, navigating the alternative minimum tax or conducting a Roth IRA conversion.  Regardless of your income, your net worth, your age or employment status, the clearest determinant of a successful financial plan for ALL of us is the implementation of an effective cash flow mechanism, or its less sexy if not diminutive synonym—the budget.

So in my first Forbes post of 2012, I shared the shocking story with which you may already be familiar, about my affluent friend who found himself on a path to spending over $1 million at Starbucks, to rebut the common misconception that rich people don’t have to budget.  But here I’d like to address the more honest, unspoken question that I believe leaves most people among the ranks of the NON-budgeters:


The short answer: NO.

The less short answer: MAYBE.

Budgeting may indeed be little more than a burdensome yoke destined to be cast off if you don’t dedicate yourself to it wholly.  For example, if all you ever do is track your spending after the fact, which can be quite depressing.  (“Yup, I spent more than I should’ve…again.”)  Many mistake a monthly review of spending with a glance at the bank and credit card statements for budgeting, but a spending review is barely the beginning of a genuine cash flow system.  The process is really about setting forth a desired level of spending for the future and tracking spending at frequent enough intervals that your course can be reasonably adjusted.  A half-hearted effort at budgeting is likely to net you even less-than-half the benefits.

Although I recommend you find the rhythm that works best for you, my preference is a monthly budget that is reviewed weekly.  Each of my budget categories—food, housing, charity, entertainment, and many more—are given a monthly allotment and then we (yes, if your household is a we, it’s almost impossible to make budgeting work solely as an I) review spending weekly and make course adjustments for the month’s remainder.  If you’re able to maintain a weekly rhythm of review, the process is relatively painless in the short run and you’ll save yourself more heartache (heartache is not an overstatement for many people) than you could imagine in the long run.[i]

But what really takes budgeting from routine to revelation isn’t merely mastering the mundane, but planning for the unexpected…with margin.  With the exception of bills that are identical every period, each variable budgeting category should have a built in buffer designed to weather slight variance.  Then you should also have a separate miscellaneous buffer category for emergencies, auto repairs and other occasions that fall outside the bounds of your expectations.

You’ll fall head over heels in love with the boring process of budgeting when the unexpected becomes inevitable, but you’re prepared in advance.  No wondering where the money’s going to come from.  No turning to debt.  No personal financial crisis.  Just peace.

Speaking of love and budgets, stay tuned for an upcoming post on How Budgeting Saved (And Continues To Save) My Marriage.

Wishing you personal and financial peace in 2012!

[i] The not-so-secret to any habit I’ve ever maintained successfully is that it has to be in some way enjoyable, so every Saturday I take a cup of green tea upstairs with the wooden box dedicated as the receptacle for our household receipts to my office, choose some good music to suit my mood and run the numbers.  WHAT WORKS WELL FOR YOU?

Energized By Success, Depressed By Failure

Every year, we get a raft of marketing and motivational pitches to resolve to do something different or better in the New Year.  Frankly, I don’t need to hear that again.  (They’re probably just trying to sell me something anyway!)

Thankfully, my friend and co-author, Jim Stovall, one of the most highly sought after motivational speakers in the country, also isn’t comfortable with the same-old-same-old.  Here’s a guest post from Jim to start the New Year off right, in which Jim actually tells us precisely how and when we should ditch a resolution altogether!  Enjoy…

Ppc-seo-resolutions We are energized by success and depressed by failure.  Something as simple as having a daily list of tasks that are all marked out at the end of the day gives us a sense of accomplishment.  Having tasks that are not done, unresolved details, and looming commitments creates panic along with lack of focus and energy.  We can feel this ebb and flow day-to-day as we go through the routines of our personal and professional lives.  It’s harder to see the impact of these factors on a longer-term basis.

This time of year, you will be bombarded with countless advertisements and other messages encouraging you to make New Year’s resolutions.  I’m not opposed to the concept of New Year’s resolutions, as I applaud anyone making a positive commitment at any time; however, I do want to caution you regarding unresolved resolutions. 

If you find yourself being affected by the advertisements or myriad of messages telling you to make another New Year’s resolution this year, please be careful to not repeat the same resolution you’ve made for two years, five years, or even a decade or more.  This ongoing cycle of commitment and failure can be damaging to you.  Either you don’t take the commitment seriously, which impacts other commitments you make throughout the year, or you begin to see yourself as an ongoing failure. 

If you’re going to make a New Year’s resolution that you have made before, at least resolve this year that you are going to succeed or quit making the same resolution in the same way you have in the past.  A New Year’s resolution or any commitment you make to undertake a change in your life must belong to you, be realistic, and come with adequate rewards.

Too many people make a resolution because their spouse, boss, or friend thinks they should.  You cannot achieve success and maintain it if the goal belongs to someone else.  It is impossible to reach a goal that is not realistic in your own mind.  If the task seems too daunting, break it down into manageable parts and resolve to master the first hurdle.  Finally, whatever change you resolve to make must be worth whatever you give up to achieve and maintain the success you seek.  Any goal commands a price, and unless you’re prepared to pay the price to reach the top and keep paying the price to stay there, you would be better off to save your time, effort, energy, and talent to reach a goal that is worth the price it will require.

As you go through your day today and through this new year, resolve to make changes that matter to you, and join me in a New Year’s resolution to quit making resolutions that don’t matter to you and aren’t worth the price they require.

Today's the Day!

Jim Stovall

Author, Ultimate Productivity