A Balanced Daily Practice Leads to Happiness and Success

A productive routine can lead to good habits, a bucket of luck, and a life of happiness. Success often trails people that are happy, talented, smart working (not necessarily hard working), and above all, connected. Reaching this place can be very difficult for some people, while others seems to be born with all of these things. Most people have the ability to reach their potential, but it takes a strict regimen or daily practice.

I recently came across an article by James Altucher about a daily practice he does every day in order to stay on top of his game. He’s gone through many struggling phases in his life where he has lost everything: millions of dollars, his family, his friends but later came back stronger, in part due to his daily practice.

He talks about having four legs to his practice: Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual. It’s really all about not over exerting yourself in one area and staying balanced between all four. His theory, based on his life experience, is that if you are weak on one or more of these legs, you will have difficulty mastering the remaining ones. This imbalance leads to chaos and you’ll lose your luck, and quite possibly your success.

I found his particular daily practice to be the most interesting over other knowledge-centric practices because he incorporates other activities that are often neglected by entrepreneurs and people involved in early stage startups! For example, it’s very easy to skip workouts due to sitting at a desk coding all day, or avoiding spirituality because you’re stressed out. It is vital to make your life is balanced if you actually want to expand your network, attract some luck, and be successful. Otherwise, you’re just playing the lottery for success!

In honor of James’ daily practice, I created a chart that can be printed out and posted on a nearby wall in your home or office. After you have read the post about his daily practice, the chart can be used to remind you of your daily responsibilities. It doesn’t track your progress or nag you to do them (that might be a future article and adjoining iPhone/iPad app!), but it will keep you on track as it serves as a visual reminder and “cheat sheet.” Download the PDF below.

Download the Daily Practice Chart (.PDF)

You’re free to use it as you please, including posting it on a website or forum, but please do include some attribution.

Goals Define Your Future Success

You can’t achieve great things without setting goals.

In order to accomplish great things, you need a roadmap for how to get there. To create a roadmap, you need to set goals first, so you know where you are headed. If you were building a railroad, you would research and determine what your goals were (destinations), and then build the tracks to connect them; you wouldn’t build tracks in all sorts of funky directions as you went along.

Contrary to what you might have heard, as an entrepreneur, when you sit down to set goals, you need to set them high. For people not looking to be in business for themselves, setting goals just out of reach are OK. But you’re an entrepreneur, so you need to think bigger. Generally, your maximum potential is what you set your goals to. Thus, if you set a goal to make a $100,000 salary and you’ve executed on your roadmap to get there, chances are you’ll come close and make $90,000/year. You might even hit your goal, or just above it. You will probably not have a chance at making $500k/year because that requires a different roadmap… a roadmap you haven’t discovered because you set your sights at the $100,000 salary. You need to set your goals high, even if they seem unrealistic to others. When combined with ideas and a purpose, goals that high become dreams.

One of the things that makes you unique as an entrepreneur is that you’re a dreamer. It seems like everyone thinks you dream too much and have ethereal ideals. Employees don’t dream; sure, they dream in their sleep, and perhaps they have an imagination, but real employees tend to look to others to set their dreams and ambitions for them. Entrepreneurs live and breathe dreams. It’s in their DNA. They work to persevere by making them a reality, even when everything is going against them.

If you don’t dream that you are going to build a $50 million dollar enterprise that revolutionizes the way people power their vehicles, then the chances of you ever making it happen are slim.

How To Set Goals

You may already know how to set goals perfectly. If that’s the case, drop into the comments section of this post (contest is at the bottom), and show your expertise by sharing some tips with the rest of our readers. Otherwise, don’t worry, here is how you get started. There are many ways you can set and track your goals, but here is what I recommend:

  1. Create a list of things you want to accomplish. Begin by creating a list, in no particular order and in free form, of all the things you would one day like to accomplish with your business. While you’re at it, do this for your personal life as well, because believe it or not, your personal and business goals have a lot in common and will influence each other over time. Spend at least 1 hour thinking and writing down your goals. Doing this on paper is probably the easiest effort, because you can do it anywhere. Some people find sitting in a spacious park with a notepad to be a really effective way of purging the distractions.
  2. Categorize your goals. Beyond “Business” and “Personal”, you want to categorize your goals that are in common. If you wrote down goals like “Start a business”, “Hire a lawyer”, and “Hire 2 employees”, then you might consider categorizing them as “Company Formation.” Other goals might be “Visit Eastern Europe”, “Live in Paris”, and “Skydive in Cairnes, Australia” and mark those as category “Travel.” This step just helps you build context around your goals. Later, when you want to discover new goals, you can pull out the goal list for a particular category so you can have some focus to further refine it. Spend 15 to 30 minutes categorizing your goals, and don’t let this step frustrate you.
  3. Map your goals to a timeline. For each categorized goal list, you want to start thinking about when you expect to complete the goal. For example, the previously mentioned goal “Hire a lawyer” would most likely be a Short Term goal. A goal of “Bring in revenues of $1 million” might possibly be a long term goal for you. Ideal timelines would be: this week, this month, this year, 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years. The more frequently you revisit these goal timelines and your goal lists in general, the higher probability that you’ll actually complete them. For some, this step may take hours as they try to visualize when in their lives they think the goal is realistic. Other people might actually do this instinctively.
  4. Break down your mega-goals into smaller goals. If you have made incredibly lofty goals, that’s OK. But you need to break them down into more digestible and time-sensitive goals too. A goal of “Grow my business into a multi-national organization with 450 franchises and a gross revenue of $500 million” is most definitely not accomplishable with only a set of tasks as a roadmap. You need to chop it into sub-goals, such as “Grow revenue to $10 million”, “Develop a franchise business plan”, “Setup 5 franchises”, “Establish opportunity in franchise conferences”, and “Build presence in Mexico.” How you keep track of your goals and sub-goals is up to you, but a manilla folder for each category and sheets for each major goal seems appropriate for most people. Others use elaborate Excel spreadsheets, or other custom software.
  5. Break your goals into tasks. Now that you’ve set your eyes on what you want for your personal and business lives, it’s time to create a roadmap to get there. I find it amazing that a lot of people have trouble with this part of achieving their goals. You need to spend many hours, and possibly days on this step, although thankfully, you can do this one goal at a time. What are the tasks necessary to accomplish your goal? If your goal is “Start a business” some of your tasks might be “Research types of businesses”, “Purchase books about starting a company”, “Talk to other business owners”, “Do some preliminary market research”, or “Hire a formation lawyer.” If you have trouble coming up with the tasks you need to do for the roadmap of your goal, phrase your goal as a question (“How do I start a business?”) and ask your network for help.
  6. Each morning, create a Today List. That’s right, you should be starting every day by sitting down and reviewing what you think you need to do, and then create a list to get those tasks done. There certainly will be interruptions and derailments, but that’s fine, because you can always get back on track. If you’re not starting your day with a clear understanding of what you’re attempting to do, how could you possibly get them done properly? This may be obvious to most, but you would really be shocked at how many people just “wing it.”
  7. Resolve your day with some cleanup and reflection. The last thing you may feel like you want to do at the end of a stressful day is sit down and check things off, but you need to do it! Not only is it absolutely rewarding to see all the work you’ve completed, but it’s a way to identify what you need to finish tomorrow. You can also think back and examine if your tasks were on track for reaching your goals. Did you feel like they helped you get closer? Can you clean up your task lists at all to refine your roadmap?
  8. Revisit all of your timeline goal lists on a regular basis. Over time you are going to change. Your desires will change, and you will refine your ability to track your goals. You should be revisiting your weekly goals every day, your monthly goals every week, and your yearly goals every month. It won’t hurt to post your goals on the wall on occasion to remind yourself what you’re working towards too. For some, this might be too aggressive and overkill. But, for the rest of us, this is exactly what we need to stay on track.

Additional Reading

Contribute and Win

If you have a technique or resource that I’ve overlooked, please leave a comment! I will be choosing a comment at random (on Sunday, November 16th) to receive a copy of Seth Godin’s new book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.

Web-based Project Planner Tools Galore!

Organizing your projects is essential to success. For years, Project Managers have used tools like Microsoft Project and OmniPlan to manage and organize projects for corporations. While these are the tools they use traditionally, there are a lot of limitations to these products, including the fact that contain clunky and unattractive interfaces. If you already understand how to use them, either because you’ve been forced to use them, or because you’ve actually been a project manager, then it may make sense to continue to use them. However, if you’re new to managing projects, or you don’t have time to really learn how to make these tools work for your projects, then alternatives exist that may just prove to drive the success of anything you’re trying to accomplish.

What constitutes as a project?

First, you want to understand what a project even is. In my opinion, anything that requires several tasks to occur is a project. For example, re-organizing your home or creating a spending budget are small projects. Building a website, or even starting a business revolving around building a website is certainly a medium-to-large sized project. Making a phone call to apply for a credit card is not a project. It’s a task. Keep in mind that any major activity requiring successive or related tasks is most certainly a project, and could benefit from some kind of project management.

What is project management?

In simple terms, project management is the act of organizing and managing a project from research (identifying requirements, researching on the web, identifying solutions), planning, to implementation. With projects requiring several people to be involved, this requires managing allocation of these tasks to various people, and following up to ensure the work has been completed. Time management is key, as inter-dependent tasks will be affected by slip-ups. A good project manager can take these sorts of things into account when the research and planning stages begin, to provide time buffers for standard problems.

The reality is, if you’re an entrepreneur, or you’re just trying to solve some problems around your home or workplace, and you’re actual occupation is not project management, then managing your project can be tedious. It can be even more difficult if you’re responsible for many projects that are all important for the success outcome. You’re not a project manager, and you have better things to do with your time than learn difficult management tools, or create one in Excel.

What tools can help with project management?

Thankfully, you’re in luck, because there are a lot of simplified tools that are available today on the web that can help. Most of these services offer a free trial or a completely free account that have limitations on the number of projects or people that can participate. It gives you a good opportunity to get a feel for the services, and actually use them to get something done.

Best Project Planning Services:

Basecamp

Basecamp is one of the original online project management tools to have surfaced over the last couple of years. It was designed by 37Signals, who also created several other interesting and useful web applications like Highrise, Backpack, Campfire, Ta-da List, and Writeboard. Unsurprisingly, they invented Ruby on Rails as a by-product of all the hard work they’ve done creating their products. Not only is it admirable that they’ve contributed the framework (translation: their framework also equals their best practices) to the public domain, but the success of Ruby on Rails has likely driven them a lot of business to their product lines. Too many companies ignore the fact that their IP (intellectual property) can be used to increase revenue is several different ways (companies like to focus solely on the products they create, and ignore the potential of selling/consulting using their frameworks, best practices, experience). But let’s focus back on the Basecamp product.

Pros:

  • Free account is available.
  • 30-day free trial is available for premium plans.
  • Dashboard consolidates information about your project.
  • To-Dos let you define action items or tasks.
  • Milestones let you track key moments of time for your project.
  • A time tracker exists, allowing you and other people track how much time they’ve spent on tasks for the project.
  • A clean and efficient design was clearly at the top of 37Signal’s priority list. They’ve made their interface very useful, and it isn’t very confusing.
  • The Dashboard shows basic calendaring details for your upcoming and past activities, such as milestones, To-Dos, etc.
  • The entire interface exudes AJAX elements, letting you make additions and changes without waiting for pages to constantly refresh. This translates to saved time!
  • Premium plans allow real-time chatting, messaging, and interactive writeboards between all the people on your project.
  • Premium plans also allow you to control who has access to various features of the site.

Cons:

  • The free account is very limited. You can not upload files to the project, and you can not have additional people as part of your project.
  • No advanced project management features, such as gantt charts, or detailed task management.
  • Plans are priced slightly higher than other services, arguably rightfully since they’re one of the first successful sites.
  • No concept of Tickets. As you develop a product, you will inherently discover bugs and problems. You really need to keep track of these as tickets, and then be able to associate them with tasks to fix the problem.
  • No integration with conventional planners like Microsoft Project or OmniGroup’s OmniPlan.

goplan

Goplan has a few things that Basecamp doesn’t. It is currently one of my favorite ones, but that is because their free account gives you a chance to really put their service to use, and Tickets are important for my needs.

Pros:

  • Free plan is very usable (2 projects, 15MB file uploads, 4 users)
  • Feels very similar to Basecamp, so it’s easy to learn.
  • Your project can have Tickets that users submit, so you can track bugs.
  • Your project can have a blog, so your team can share news and information with each other.
  • Your project can have notes, for more generalized information tracking.
  • A Dashboard exists to consolidate activity across the project.
  • Like the others, you have Tasks and File uploads.
  • A developer API exists, allowing you to extend and integrate their functionality with your own application.
  • You can subscribe to various feeds of information using calendaring software.

Cons:

  • No integration with conventional planners like Microsoft Project or OmniGroup’s OmniPlan.
  • Not enough use of AJAX functionality.

unfuddle

unfuddle has a fun design. And if you are writing code for a website or software project, they have Source Control (Subversion) as well. I personally do not like our intellectual property sitting on a remote server that we don’t control, so I don’t use this service. My big concern is that if their systems are compromised, your intellectual property is bound to get stolen. Otherwise, it’s a really pleasant service, that offers most of what goplan and Basecamp offer.

Pros:

  • Aimed at software and website development teams (Tickets and Source Control integration)
  • Free account has some things that are not available on Basecamp, such as 15MB file storage, Source Control, and RSS/iCal integration.
  • Prices are reasonable, and offer fair storage totals.
  • A Dashboard exists to consolidate information for your project.
  • Your project can have Tickets that users submit, so you can track bugs or issues.
  • Your project can have source control, allowing you to check in source control into Subversion, and track changes in their web interface.

Cons:

  • Source Control is hosted, with no current offering to integrate into a self-hosted repository. Even if it was integrated, this does not resolve the problem of your intellectual property being available to resources outside of your company.
  • Free account does not allow more than your own account, so you can not test out multi-user projects.
  • Not enough use of AJAX functionality.

Conclusion

All in all, if you pick any of these three services, you’re doing yourself a huge favor. You will have a greater chance of project success, and can keep historical evidence of your progress. None of the free accounts on these services are fully functional, but they provide a good opportunity to get a sense of the capabilities and general feel. Now that I’ve found (and used) all of them, I couldn’t imagine running even the smallest of projects without some kind of management tool.

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