Posts Tagged ‘productivity’

The Daily Rituals of Great Minds

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Part One

I have become a bit obsessed about the daily work patterns of famous people. I liken this interest to my interest in biographies: it’s fascinating to see how someone who changed the world thinks and acts on a daily basis. Voyeuristic? Maybe. Informative? Like you wouldn’t believe.

My new morning habit is to read a single chapter out of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. The book’s premise is dead simple: it explains the daily rituals of 161 inspired minds – authors, playwrights, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians – particularly the self-discipline required to be great and navigate life’s frequent and annoying obstacles.


If anything, I find this book’s themes quite constant: diligence, discipline, set wake up/work times, and even a little bit of patterned self-medication. The book is truly fascinating, and you should buy it. My suggestion would be to get the hardcover, and pass on the Kindle version unless you are a 100% pure ebook hound. You want this one on your nightstand.

Part Two

In keeping with the above, here’s a website that’s equally fascinating: The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People. Don’t let the term ‘creative’ think this doesn’t apply to you: whether you write for a living or make presentations or run multiple businesses, creativity is part of what you do. Don’t fool yourself.

This site gives a daily timeline of about two dozen famous minds, from 12 AM running through the rest of the day. The graphic is below, but you need to visit the site to click around the graphic (it’s interactive) to see exactly what each person was doing in each segment. It’s awesome.


If nothing else, I find digesting information like this forces me to be more conscious of my own daily habits, much like reading about top athletic performers made me think about my own training and incorporate some new ideas.

Always be learning. It’s a secret to growth and performance I wish I learned 15 years ago.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Impressions of Microsoft Office for iPad

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Paul Thurrott:

As for how powerful these apps are, consider this. I loaded up my 575 page Windows 8.1 Field Guide Word document, and while it took a while to download originally (it’s stored in OneDrive for Business as part of my Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription), the performance reading and editing the document was impressive. In fact, it was… amazing. This is the real deal.

As important, the fidelity of the document was perfect: Everything was formatted correctly, including images. I could actually write a book on this thing if I wanted to. (Relax, I don’t.) Microsoft claims that documents look as good on the iPad as they do on the PC. And I gotta say. They really do.

Ed Bott:

What’s fascinating about Office for the iPad is how it leapfrogs Microsoft’s Windows tablets. On Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, Office is still a desktop app with some grudging interface tweaks designed to ease the pain of using an app without a mouse. Anyone who owns a Surface RT is likely to look enviously at these iPad apps, which for now are the gold standard for Office on a modern tablet.

With the release of Office for iPad, the divide between laptop and tablet just got reduced to a negligible crack. These are truly outstanding apps, and you can do real work on them with no caveats. As far as I can tell, Office for iPad is to Office as Photoshop Elements is to Photoshop. Sure, you don’t get 100% feature coverage, but for the 70% of the stuff most people do every day with office documents, it’s there, it’s graphically beautiful, and it works flawlessly.

The Psychology of Procrastination

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Peter Bregman (whose blog posts I love, by the way), writes about the unspoken psychology of procrastination:

Here’s the thing: More often than not, our fear doesn’t help us avoid the feelings; it simply subjects us to them for an agonizingly long time. We feel the suffering of procrastination, or the frustration of a stuck relationship. I know partnerships that drag along painfully for years because no one is willing to speak about the elephant in the room. Taking risks, and falling, is not something to avoid. It’s something to cultivate. But how?


Which you get by taking risks, feeling whatever you end up feeling, recognizing that it didn’t kill you, and then getting on the board and paddling back into the surf.

If I’ve struggled with one major productivity demon, it’s procrastination. Some days I just dive in and muscle through my insane tasklist with reckless abandon; other days I find myself putting off petty, stupid things, tasks others would just simply do. Over the past two years, I’ve been much better about this, but I often wonder about the psychology that lies behind the fog of procrastination. Bregman’s view that we ‘fear the feelings’ that failure and rejection cause as the source of procrastination is a good one.

If this sounds like you, allow me to recommend Julian Smith’s e-book The Flinch and Steven Pressfield’s Do The Work and The War of Art. Those three books right there are life changing, and The Flinch is a free download on Amazon. I cannot recommend them enough.

But first, read Bregman’s whole post over at Harvard Business Review. It’s worth your time.

The (Beneficial) Power of Frustration

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I have spent the last 25 years of my career either managing implementations or working with customers to ensure a successful implementation.  During that time, my most prominent theory for the use of consultants is that ‘trial and error is not an implementation methodology’.  It’s true.

Many companies consider the use of consultants for various projects like an ERP implementation or an upgrade.  Why bother?  The simple answer is that you are buying the security that comes with experience.  Imagine having the wisdom of your parents when you were 21?  Or having the crystal ball to know all you needed to know to avoid your biggest mistakes?  What would you pay for that?

The world is full of trial and error folks who just want to figure it out on their own.  I know because I am one of them.  The list of software in which I consider myself “self-taught” is longer than I care to admit.  The cost of that education may be even higher.

I bring this up because I read an interesting article about FRUSTRATION.  That’s the emotion you feel at your lack of success.  Sometimes it’s a project at work.  Sometimes it’s a personal project.  Sometimes you’re frustrated with yourself and at other times it’s with others around you.  No matter what, there is a sense of failure.  This article however, points out that there may be value in frustration. Take a second to read it.

In consulting, we talk often about knowledge transfer and the ability to help our customers reach self-sufficiency before disengaging on a project.  It reminds me of the axiom “give a man a fish and he eats for a day but teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime”.  Based on the above article, frustration may not be a negative, but a sign of the learning process.  As consultants, our nature is to want to help people, but this article reminds us that some frustration can be beneficial.  The key is recognizing when frustration crosses into a sense of futility.  When it does, that is when you truly appreciate your consultants and the wealth of experience they can bring to your project to save you from the perils of trial and error.  Those same sentiments apply to my plumber, my HVAC technician, and my auto mechanic.

But those stories, while quite funny, will have to wait for another day. If you haven’t already, read the article. I found it very worthwhile, and I’m betting you will too.

Casual Friday: Finally, a Task Management App That Thinks the Way You Do

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For years — insert dramatic music here! — I’ve been trying to find the right task management solution. I’ve tried quite a few: Google Tasks, Omnifocus, Things, Taskpaper, Clear, Wunderlist and even this new analog thing called pen and paper. Nothing stuck. I find a lot of these systems – some of which are modeled after David Allen’s GTD, or Getting Things Done system – too heavy for everyday use, even after you get past the learning curve. I know some folks love them (Merlin Mann loves Omnifocus and has dozens of great tips on how to use it), but ultimately these tools wind up getting in my way.

If I don’t want to use my system, I can’t trust my system.

What I really needed, I came to learn, was a glorified note-taking solution that allowed me to create data however my brain wanted. I needed tags so I could bubble certain notes to the top, and a great search mechanism. Primarily, since I’m a writer, I tend to think in text, so a text-based tool would be great.

This is a first world problem, folks. I get it. If you pull up your designer chair and pour yourself a venti Starbucks, we can talk about this. I’ll bring the locally-grown fruit and you bring the grassfed meat. Deal?

So I discovered Workflowy recently. It’s basically a list app on steroids that supports tagging, which is what all the cool kids on Twitter are doing. The difference between Workflowy and, say, your average list app is that it allows each bullet with subitems to become its own document. It also allows hashtagging (#tagname, just like Twitter) and ‘at’ tagging for people, so you can filter on somebody’s name (like a task assigned to @Jeff or @Whomever). It has a blazing search function. The app works perfectly on my iPhone and iPad. Best of all, it takes 20 mintues to learn.

That’s probably a horribly (a) confusing or (b) inadequate explanation of Workflowy. Maybe you should just watch this quick video.

By way of further illustration, here is brief snapshot of a small portion of my Workflowy document:

Small section of my master Workflowy document. Click to enlarge.

If you’re thinking, “Hey, I could do this in a Word DOC. This isn’t special. Are you new to computers or something?” — not so fast. The fact that you can nest data however many levels deep you want and have each topic become its own document is huge. This allows a nice blend of task management and note-taking that is normally the domain of two separate apps entirely. They show this in the video above.

As a guy who routinely has 30 or 40 things in flight at any given moment, having a system to get everything out of your head and on to paper is a tremendous bonus. After learning and using Workflowy, I find myself doing reviews of my entire list once or twice a day to see what I can promote to #today status (which means I’m doing that thing today). This sounds completely minor on the surface, but let me tell you: there’s a sense of accomplishment when you’re using a tool that thinks the way you do and doesn’t get in the way of the work you actually have to do.

Your task management system should’t be work. It should help you manage your real work.

If you’ve been looking for something like this, I wholeheartedly recommend you give Workflowy a shot. You can use it for free (but you’re limited as to how much data you can enter per month), or you can go pro for about $50/year (pro accounts get you these features).

If you are interested in this and have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. Ask away in the comments, or drop me an email.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

More links:
MIPRO Consulting main website.
MIPRO on Twitter and LinkedIn.
About this blog.

‘You’ve Just Gotta Fight Your Way Through’

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This quote is from Ira Glass, and it’s about working hard in creative endeavors so that your output can eventually match your ambitions, but this is worth hanging on your wall no matter what your business.

If more people kept fighting, even when things are far from where they’d like, everyone would be so much closer to their goals.

Ira Glass can teach us all a thing or two.


More links:

MIPRO Consulting main website.

MIPRO on Twitter and Facebook.

About this blog.

Casual Friday: iPhone Apps I Probably Couldn’t Live Without, Vol. 2

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Last week, I listed my favorite must-have, daily-use iOS (iPhone/iPad) apps. Because I might be the biggest Apple slappy you semi-sorta know on the web due to a blog you read, I have more to share. Way more. But I’ll spare you the way and just give you more, because these might be useful to you. If not, that’s fine, because writing about them is fun to me. Fun?, you ask. Yes, fun. I’m already at 85 words, for crying out loud.

Are you still here? Amazing.

So here we go. These aren’t going to be in any particular order, because they’re stragglers from last week. Nicely-dressed, very polite stragglers, but stragglers nonetheless. Treat them well. They won’t steal anything.

  • Captio. I mentioned this last week, but I want to expound on it. Captio defines a basic app: it simply gives you a blank screen on which you compose a note, reminder, whatever. When done, you hit send and your note is emailed to yourself, because when you set up Captio you link it to an email account of your choosing. Sound stupid? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Now I use it every day, because it’s so quick and allows you to organize your emails to yourself later in whatever system/app you choose. Its genius is its simplicity.
  • OpenTable. For an annoying foodie like me, this app is everything. I can’t tell you when I last called a restaurant to make reservations. OpenTable’s iOS app is just like the web app: restaurant searches are quick and easy (the iOS app uses geolocation to save a step), open timeslots are quickly displayed, and reviews are embedded along with reservation slots and contact information. It’s brilliant, and I’ve never had a glitch using this. If you use OpenTable and use iOS, get this app.
  • Nike Golf 360. Golf nerd? This app is for you. It has scorecards for just about every course I’ve tried, and it knows what course you’re on via geolocation. The best part is that over time, it analyzes your game based on the information you provide. It tells me my driving accuracy is 60%, GIR 40%, and that I putt like a blind dog. You can upload and share your scores if you’re so inclined, and it has videos of the pros’ swings to study. It even lets someone take a video of your sorry swing and superimpose it on top of a pro’s to really make you feel like you have no gross motor skills. An incredibly polished app, and right now, it’s free.
  • DailyBurn Tracker. I could go on for 200,000 words about why the calorie in/calorie out model is massively incomplete for weight loss, but if you’re trying to get healthy or even a full-on health nut, tracking something is better than nothing. If you want to truly understand how many calories you’re eating, this is the app for you. A huge database, intuitive data entry, workout and weight tracking, and progress analytics put this in my must-have folder for anyone who wants to get a baseline of how much they’re eating. It’s also updated regularly, and I’ve never had a single technical issue with it. Good stuff.
  • Instapaper. This should have been in my post last week, because I use it constantly. If you’re not familiar, Instapaper (with an accompanying iOS app) is a service that lets you save any web page for later reading. This is great for longform articles, or even shorter posts you don’t have time to get to when you stumble across them. Absolutely invaluable, and Marco Arment, the developer of Instapaper, puts massive time and attention into his app. It’s pixel-perfect, and worth every penny.
  • Paper (iPad only). There have been several apps that purport to be able to replace a notebook with some pens and brushes, but none really can. Except Paper. It’s the app I doodle in the most when I’m bored or on vacation, and I find myself jotting things down and being creative in ways I never would with a real notebook. Get yourself a stylus (I use the Wacom Bamboo), and you can get lost in this for hours. If I can, you can, because I have the artistic ability of a badger (evidence here).

That’s it. Wrapping up at 730 words. You’re welcome.

Have a good weekend, everyone.


More links:

MIPRO Consulting main website.

MIPRO on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About this blog.

Casual Friday: iPhone Apps I Probably Couldn’t Live Without

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Last Friday, I detailed my general computing setup so that those of you who like to see what other geeks use to get things done could enjoy some serious nerdery. This week it’s the same gig, only the iPhone edition.

I could go on forever with this stuff, but I’m only going to talk about the apps I use a lot, where a lot means several times daily. Believe it or not, I get asked this question a ton (“What app do you suggest for #TOPIC?”), and if I’m honest I always pore over other nerds’ app selections. It’s sad, too, because if I read posts like the one you’re about to, I’ll be out five or six bucks by the end — guaranteed.

So, you’ve been warned. Here’s the first of two parts. Part two will be published next Friday, so if you’re into this sort of thing (high five if you are!), check back then.


My go-to weather app is Dark Sky, followed by My-Cast. I use Dark Sky primarily, but I also find MyCast very good if I get the feeling Dark Sky is lying to me. I love the sparkline graphs in My-Cast, but the hour-by-hour predictions in Dark Sky are uncannily accurate.


There is passionate debate about this app segment — just take a look at Brett Terpstra’s massively, world-bendingly detailed comparo. While I really want to geek out and try at least half of these, I just stick with what I’ve been using happily for years: Simplenote. It syncs perfectly, has Dropbox integration, and offers a web client for note taking and random jotting while you’re at your computer and you think of your next hilarious cat picture caption. It supports tags, note sharing, and versioning. It has a cool icon. Really, just go get it. It may not do everything some of the other iOS editors do, but what it does it does perfectly. I pay for the pro version.


Man, if you could see the nightmarish folder I have stuffed full of iOS photography apps. In the end, though, all I really use for taking pictures are Instagram, Camera Awesome and Camera+. If I had to pick one, I have no idea what I’d do: I like Camera Awesome despite it’s frat-boy name, and Camera+ is a legit ‘photographer’s photograpy app’. Instagram is a daily thing for me because I like to think I’m a decent photographer (I’m not) and people like to see what I shoot (they don’t).

For editing apps in post on my iPad or iPhone, I use Snapseed or Apple’s own iPhoto, which is more advanced than meets the eye. I try not to do too much photo editing on iOS, though, as I prefer using a desktop. Call me old school. Kids today, editing real photos on touchscreens. Bah! Get off my lawn!


I’m a huge podcast nerd, and I use Downcast pretty much every time I get in a car. In fact, Downcast alone has pretty much eliminated the need for my car to have a functioning radio or CD player, because it’s that good over Bluetooth. Other people swear by Instacast, but I’ve not tried it. I mention it here because it gets too much buzz by people I respect not to. Check them both out and pick the one with the prettiest screenshots. That’s what I always do.


Seeing how I’m a web nerd and spend my days staring at glowing screens reading about the salmon other people are having for lunch, this is a pretty big category for me.

For Twitter, I use Tweetbot, easily the best Twitter client I’ve ever used anywhere. I use Facebook for, well, Facebook, although I’m finding it increasily slow and buggy and frustrating to use. I use Foursquare a lot too, although I have a sinking feeling every time I voluntarily tell an anonymous server in the sky where I am. I use WordPress and Squarespace for blogging and shortform web writing. Anytime I find a cool link, I save it with the mobile version of Pinboard because there’s a .0003% chance I’ll remember it otherwise.


When I’m on the road and need to record something to remember, I use Captio to send an email to my Gmail, where I have a filter that breaks all Captio messages into their own inbox for easy parsing. From there, I transcribe them into my second brains: Due and Apple’s Reminders app. A giant part of productivity — at least for me, because I have a zillion things to track and unless I get it out of my brain and on to a list somewhere, the idea is as good as doomed — is organization and remembering the ideas that come to me out of nowhere. I tried the pen and notebook thing, and found it too manual.

So. Here I am at 923 words, and I could keep going for another 2,000 if you let me. Which you won’t, and I don’t blame you. Check back next week for part two if you want, but if you don’t it’s OK with me. So totally OK.

Have a good weekend, everyone.


More links:

MIPRO Consulting main website.

MIPRO on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About this blog.

The Insidious Cost of Multitasking

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The ravages multitasking inflicts upon your mental state and productivity are (finally) getting some ink. Multitasking used to be something highly-evolved corporate warriors did well. It used to be a badge of honor, like calluses on athletes. I remember the days when you’d ask an employee to manage another project on top of his already-full docket, and he’d stare at you incredulously. “It’s called multitasking man” was a common rationalization for expecting someone to do more than could reasonably be expected.

(Nevermind doing all these things well. That’s another story.)

Things are changing these days. After watching good workers burn out, work quality decline, and work/life balance issues upset even our most dedicated employees, productivity gurus, psychologists and managers everywhere started questioning the wisdom of the always-connected, always-on, always-expectant lifestyle.

Tony Schwartz over at Harvard Business Review talks about this in his latest column, entitled The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time:

The biggest cost — assuming you don’t crash — is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it’s because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 per cent.

But most insidiously, it’s because if you’re always doing something, you’re relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.

When I talk to folks, I call this the cost of switching gears.

Let’s say I’m in the middle of writing an article. I’m heads down, my email is off, my browser shut down, and all notifications silenced. I’m in a groove. I’m getting something done.

Then, out of nowhere, a colleague walks into my office and starts telling me about his weekend round of golf. He doesn’t pick up the vibe that I was cranking away at something important.

The mere act of pausing to listen to his stories of 50 foot putts crashed what I was doing. It forced me into another gear, abruptly.

Even if Mr. Golf is in my office for two minutes, when he leaves, I have to find the writing gear again. I have to get back to where I was. That’s not something you do at the flip of a switch, and it takes some time and mental energy. You’ve probably experienced it yourself, and if you are tasked with creative output, the gear-changing cost is even worse.

Now, add two phone calls, a chat request, and three urgent emails to Mr. Golf. Yeah baby, you’re multitasking — and getting nothing done well while burning yourself out at a ferocious rate.

It’s not Mr. Golf’s fault. It’s not Facebook’s fault. Sure, they have roles in the equation, but ultimately it’s up you you to set boundaries and enforce them so you can get quality work done.

Schwartz recommends something I’ve been doing for a good two years now, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s simple:

1. Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. If possible, work in a private space during this period, or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you’ll be. When you’re done, take at least a few minutes to renew.

Easy to read, hard to do. You need discipline, and that means letting others in the office know that for 60-90 minutes every morning, you’re off limits unless the building is under attack by giant spiders. This means a closed door, mute notifications, and no Outlook chiming at you. You’ll be amazed at what you get done.

Another effective measure: block out time twice a week so you can just think. This doesn’t mean nap or play games on your iPhone, it means time to think and jot things down. Mindmap. Get a pen and start writing a list down. Take your biggest challenge and put it in the middle of a blank page, and write your fears, thoughts, and potential solutions to it on the same page. Again, it requires discipline, but the rewards are many.

You can keep multitasking and burning out, or you can start putting a few boundaries in place and working with more focus and calm. Your choice. But understand one last important thing: if you start taking the time to focus on one thing at a time, you can’t expect  your employees to be always-connected. Your example will be a good one; let them follow it.


More links:

MIPRO Consulting main website.

MIPRO on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About this blog.

INSIGHT: On the Merits of Raw Grit

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Whatever Happened to Grit?

I just finished reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, which — let me say this up front — is a book I’d recommend to anyone. It’s a great piece of nonfiction, but more importantly, it got me thinking about something nobody is talking about, but should be.

That thing is grit.

One thing you realize about the WWII generation is that nothing stopped them. At that time, we had a national spirit that could not be deterred. We were unified and resilient, and we found a way to rally even when the vastly easier route was to give up. To recoil in the face of loss. Reading Unbroken, you want to stand up and applaud that entire era. Ideologically, it seems a thousand years removed from our national discourse today.

Grit can be defined a lot of ways, but I think most would say it’s something that spurs people on after they fail. Or maybe it’s the thing that allows someone to maintain focus through adversity or distraction. Maybe it’s the unflinching drive someone has for one thing in particular, which leads to a passion to do something extraordinary.

What I’m talking about here is simple grit: the ability to clench your jaw, roll up your sleeves and walk straight into the heart of discomfort or adversity and come out on the other side — unbroken. 

We all know stories of people who aren’t the smartest of the bunch, who didn’t have the educational pedigree of others, who experienced more failure than success in their lives. But through sheer will and the ability to walk right into something difficult and painful — and stay there for however long it takes — these folks make their dent in the universe.

Today, everyone talks about intelligence development, IQ screening, private trainers, specialized learning/training routines. 10-year-olds have strength and conditioning coaches. 8-year-olds have hockey four or five times per week. Everything is programmatic, scripted.

Everything is sanitized.

What nobody talks about anymore is grit. I hear nobody telling their kids to stand tall, be strong and do what you have to do. Moreover, all too often in the workplace I see people backing down from hard conversations, not stepping up to do the right thing, avoiding some temporary discomfort as if it will kill them.

To me, grit is tied to personal responsibility and truly caring about something. If we’re to do a good job for our client on a big project, we need grit.

We need to be able to have the hard conversations.

We need to recognize our role in what we do.

We need to acknowledge that there will be long hours and tough project milestones.

We need to realize that there will be mistakes, miscalculations and oversights. People will goof-up, slip, play politics.

In the real world, far away from the Utopian pictures painted by RFP responses and slick cover-page cardstock, these things happen. And when they do, no amount of flowery prose in an executive briefing will ever make things better.

What will?

Someone who leans into the discomfort of the crisis, keeps a cool head and simply does what needs to get done. That means no quitting, no backing down, no blaming other people. It means pushing back on the world harder than it’s pushing on you.

Is this spirit alive anymore? Going back to the parenting idiom, I rarely see it. I see obsessive-compulsive use of hand sanitizer, a pathological fear of dirt and parents completely unwilling to instill some fortitude in their children. I see parents of unruly kids blaming coaches and teachers for “being too hard” on the children, and I see young adults who can’t pick themselves up after a letdown because they weren’t taught the skills.

Personally, weightlifting has taught me a lot about grit. It’s sometimes brutally hard, many days you’re whipped when you hit the gym, and standing under a 565 lb. squat lockout is a downright painful experience. I’ve been injured a dozen times, sometimes to the point of not being able to walk properly, but every time I come back.

Everyone who understands grit has their version of the story.

An entrepreneur who failed twice but kept going until he hit his stride.

The small kid who couldn’t cut it in hockey who learned that he could outwork everyone else for a roster spot.

The kid who grew up with nothing but realized most people are afraid of real work, so he swore to himself he wouldn’t be.

There are countless examples. Everyone’s heard one.

So why is it so hard to find?

If you have it, you’re lucky. If your team has it, you’re insanely lucky.

Think about this. Think about how many problems would be avoided outright or at least heavily defused if we all could learn to lean into our discomfort. Staring into adversity isn’t pleasant, but in many cases, you’ll find it blinks before you do.

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” – Soren Kierkegaard


More links:

MIPRO Consulting main website.

MIPRO on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About this blog.