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7 Pieces Of Advice That Changed My Life (And Can Change Yours)

Best Life Advice

What are the pieces of advice that have defined your life?

The world is full of advice for us. Just open up your web browser and you’ll see what I mean.

But how much of it really changes your life? Which pieces of advice have had a personal impact on you?

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some outstanding people. Some of them were family. Some were co-workers. Some of them were authors/researchers I’ve been lucky enough to meet. And some were authors I’ve never met.

But all these people were mentors who have helped shape my life. And while every mentor has affected my life in some way, there are a few pieces of advice…

…a few gems, that have transformed the way I think.

Today, I want to share the seven core pieces of advice that have shaped my life over the last twenty years.

My hope is that you’ll take one or two pieces of this advice to heart. Maybe something here can have a monumental impact on your life (or even the life of your kids).

Hey, a guy can hope…right?

I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to attribute these sayings to the right source. I’m sure I don’t know the true origin of most of this advice. But in some instances, I’ll identify how this advice entered my life.

Now, on with the advice…

Help Everybody Every Day

How can I not start with the single most impactful phrase in my life? This particular piece of brilliance came to me from Tim Klabunde over a decade ago.

It’s not simply who I want to be. I also believe it to be the most meaningful marketing advice I’ve ever received.

As marketers, it’s so easy to fall in love with what you are selling. Instead, we need to fall in love with our clients and the challenges they face.

We need to hold their success above our own. Everything we say, everything we do needs to be in service of others.

As a marketer, that sounds EXTREMELY counterintuitive. Marketers convince people to buy stuff they don’t want or don’t need, right?!?

Well, all the research I’ve read debunks that old stereotype. So, spend your time helping everybody.

The Only Person Who Can Hurt You Is You

This sounds counterintuitive. If a heavyweight boxer, or any boxer, met me in a dark alley…he or she could beat me to a pulp.

But to my Great Aunt Mary, “hurt” was something you felt internally. “Hurt” is your reaction to something. And the basis of hurt, what defines whether or not you get hurt, is how you perceive yourself.

For example, you might tell a Nobel-prize winning physicist that they are dumb. Whether or not they feel hurt is based on how they react to that statement internally. It’s not your statement that hurts them, it’s their reaction.

Why is this important from a business standpoint?

Controlling your reaction to criticism is a skill. Just like riding a bike, it’s something you can develop.

You can’t grow without feedback. And, in my experience, there is a direct correlation between the value of feedback and its blunt honesty.

Remember, the only person who can hurt you is you.

Everything Is Figureoutable

I’ve written about this in the past. But it’s a critical piece of advice.

People arbitrarily, and illogically, limit themselves and others. I’ve heard people say they can’t write about what an engineer does because they are not an engineer. That’s like saying my son can’t write a report on what the US President does because he’s not the President.

Everything is figureoutable.

Humans figure stuff out. That’s what we do. That’s our superpower. You have it within you, so use it.

A caveman figured out how to build a fire, not a fireman. A desk clerk figured out general relativity.

I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me, “You can’t figure that out.” There is no better feeling than making someone eat those words.

Always Be Testing

Better is a moving target. My third grader is a better reader now than he was in second grade. But if anyone allowed him to stop improving his reading skills, he’d be in for a tough life. He must get better at reading.

When you’re an adult, it’s easy to get stuck doing the same things day in and day out. We get comfortable in our jobs. We get satisfied with our performance. We accept our “limitations.”

Don’t fall into that trap. Always be testing.

Always testing is about constant improvement. Every action you take is an experiment to help you determine what works and what doesn’t.

Constantly try new things and test their effectiveness against your norm.

You’ll get many bad results. But the great results will become your new norm. As you keep doing this, your results (and your skills) will get better and better.

If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. So, always be testing.

The World Wants You To Be Vanilla

Society’s job is to make people conform to the norm. If nobody behaved within the societal norms, there would be chaos.

But that also presents a challenge.

Starting at a very young age, you are hit with tremendous pressure to not “stick out.” Especially when you’re young, the pressure to be just like everyone else is unavoidable.

And that pressure continues throughout your life. We just get so used to it, it becomes almost imperceptible.

You’ve got to fight an ever waging war against the pressure to be just like everybody else. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find people pressuring you to be vanilla.

And when you are trying to help your firm get noticed, that pressure is in direct opposition to what you want to do.

Don’t listen to people pushing you to be vanilla.

Don’t Worry About The Bugdust

I’m known for this phrase, but it was taught to me by one of my mentors, John Garrafa.

Bugdust is anything that doesn’t move the needle. If it doesn’t help or hurt your chances of succeeding, then it’s bugdust.

The flip side of this is focusing on “big wins.” Big wins move the needle. Spend your time in areas that have an impact.

In our world, it’s so easy to get stuck spending your time on bugdust. Some people will even pressure you to devote your time to bugdust.

But here’s the thing. They’ll never remember the bugdust. They’ll only remember the big wins.

If Information Was All We Needed, We’d All Be Millionaires With Six-Pack Abs

Information without execution is worthless.

I recently received this comment from the Senior Vice President at a large architecture firm:

“I’ve certainly been impressed with the impact your training has made on marketing efforts here at [FIRM].”

His staff acted on the information I provided. And I commend them for that.

But for every person that acts on my advice, there are ten people who do nothing with it.

Success is 10% information and 90% execution. Absorbing information is easy. Executing on that information is more difficult. It takes work.

If all we needed was information, I’d be a millionaire with six-pack abs. So would you.

You have to focus on executing. And it’s best to focus on one big win at a time.

What is that big win you know you can accomplish, but never got around to? Focus on executing the (steps, tasks, advice) that will make it a reality for you.

The Bottom Line

You can figure anything out. So focus on helping other people and the execution that will help you achieve big wins. And don’t be scared to let your unique personality shine through, because the only person who can hurt you is you.

Now It’s Your Turn

What advice has changed your life? Help others by sharing with us in the comments.

How To Define Next Steps So They Get Done

How To Define Next Steps So They Get Done

Meetings have a reputation. They can be time sinks. It’s easy to walk away from one wondering what was accomplished and what, if anything, will get done.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, with one little change, you can dramatically increase the value of any meeting.

Define Next Steps The Right Way

I consider myself a sane, rational, and mild-mannered guy. The other day, I was at a golf outing when I received an email that identified these “next steps” from a recent committee meeting (with some identifying details changed).

Next steps:

  • Jane Doe to continue to manage the return of assets and the technical side of the document production.
  • The committee will focus on content.
  • The committee to meet to confirm a work plan, schedule, provide an update on content.

After reading this, it took every ounce of self-control not to smash my club into the golf cart like a deranged lunatic.

Why That’s Not An Extreme Response

Those might seem like reasonable next steps. In fact, they might look like the next steps you see on a regular basis.

So, what am I freaking out about?

My expectation for next steps is that every one contains the following information:

  1. What physical action needs to be taken?
  2. Who has agreed to perform this action?
  3. What’s the deliverable?
  4. And when has this person agreed to deliver it by?

If next steps are not clearly, and accurately, defined…it is impossible to track whether or not they get done. That’s why I go to great lengths to identify these four things during any and every meeting.

Let’s look at the important nuances in the four elements of a legitimate and useful “next step.”

The Physical Action

One of the most important things I learned from David Allen is that actions are physical. If you can’t draw a picture of someone doing it, it’s not an action.

Let’s look at one of the “next steps” mentioned above:

“Jane Doe to continue to manage the return of assets and the technical side of the magazine production.”

Could you take out a piece of paper with some crayons and draw a picture of that? Nope.

Here’s an example of a real “next step” that was identified in that meeting:

“Jane Doe will forward Matt’s email (with directions for transferring the site) to Mr. X and find out if those steps will be taken, and if so who will be doing them. Then she’ll send an email with her findings to the committee by Tuesday.”

Sending an email is a physical action. You can draw a picture of it in your mind.

“Managing” consists of a series of actions. It’s impossible to visualize. So, how are you going to determine whether it was done or not?

You have to define the next physical action that needs to be taken.

Agreements About Who And When

If I didn’t agree (verbally or in writing) to do something for you…I’m not going to do it.

Why would I? Why would you? Why would anybody?

A huge mistake people make in meetings is assuming agreement.

Worse yet, they’ll fail to get agreement on or even discuss the delivery date for an action during the meeting. Then they’ll pull a due date out of their butt, send it off after the meeting, and wonder why “nobody ever meets their deadline.”

During the meeting, you must get a verbal agreement from the person responsible for the task. They must verbally agree to a date when they will provide the deliverable.

And if the person responsible for this task identifies a delivery date that doesn’t “feel likely” to you…it’s your responsibility to confirm their commitment.

“Bob, are you sure, based on your schedule, you can get that to us by the 30th?”

If they can commit, great. If not, ask them what a more realistic date would be. Or ask if there is something another person can do that would help them meet that original date.

All “next steps” need to confirm:

  • Who agreed to take the action
  • The delivery date they agreed to

If you don’t have those agreements, you can’t have confidence that the task will be done.

The Deliverable

Here’s another thing people commonly fail to do during meetings: define the deliverable.

Get specific about what the deliverable is. There’s a HUGE difference between one paragraph in Microsoft Word and a three-page PDF file.

So, what is the deliverable for this next step? What does the end result look like?

Small Change With Big Results

Remember, every “next step” you write down and distribute to a team needs to answer these four questions:

  1. What physical action needs to be taken?
  2. Who has agreed to perform this action?
  3. What’s the deliverable?
  4. And when has this person agreed to deliver it by?

If your “next steps” don’t include this information, they are worthless and a waste of time.

Yes, I said that.

But if, during the meeting, you make sure to answer these four questions for every next step…

…and you document them in a post-meeting follow up…

…you’ll find meetings suddenly become much more effective.

Now It’s Your Turn

What steps do you take to ensure that meetings are productive? Share your tips and advice in the comments.

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