Habit 7: Sharpening The Saw

The last of the 7 Habits involves the act of "sharpening the saw." Thisisn't the "last habit" as Stephen Covey has a whole book on what hecalls "The 8th Habit," but in the context of the original 7, this isthe last one.

You can't be too busy "sawing" to sharpen yoursaw. Eventually, your saw will become dull and ineffective. The samething goes for us. We need to sharpen our saws to maintain oureffectiveness as people. What are our blades? There are four:

Physical:Taking case of yourself physically. This means making sure you areeating the right food, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, andthe like. This has historically been an area where I have not takengood care of--thus the reason I am overweight. I have committed myselfto maintaining the exercise program I have restarted and I am alsoworking on changing my diet--again--in a quest to gain and maintain ahealthy body.

Social/Emotional: Taking care of your connectionswith people. Part of that is "making connections" with people, which isone reason I participate in Kitsap Penninsula Linux Users Group as well as West Sound Tecnology Professionals Association--toget some face time with people. Maintaining connections is something Ineed to work on. I am really bad at calling my close friends or myrelatives on a regular basis.

Mental: Learning, reading,writing, and teaching. I spend a lot of time doing these things. Mostof the reading I do is online, and I use my blog as a method ofteaching, not to mention the "teaching" I do in my day job. This is ablade that is always getting sharpened.

Spiritual: Whatever youdo to get in touch with your "inner spirit," whatever that is for you.Examples include lusinging to music, medidating, praying, or serving.This is an area I have been neglecting. I have been trying to work onmeditation, but I usually do it at the wrong time of the day--sometimeafter the kids in bed, and meditating turns into a cat nap.

Speaking of cat naps, I think I am going to go take a slightly longer catnap--it's bedtime. :)

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Habit 6: Synergize

Okay, so this sounds like one of those nonsense business words youmight see in a Dilbert cartoon. However, the concept is important tobeing highly effective.

The idea behind synergy is to come upwith a "third alternative" or a "better way." This means workingtogether with others to find a better way to do something. It requireswin-win thinking, i.e. everyone participating needs to be thinkingwin-win. It requires everyone to seek first to understand. This way,everyone's viewpoint is heard. In the process of hearing these views,new ideas will emerge that everyone can get behind.

The biggestkey to synergy, however, is in valuing differences. Not justunderstanding everyone is different, becuase that's a given, but trulyvaluing them. When you seek first to understand, and do it well, youare showing the other person that they are valuable. You are seeing theworld from their point of view. That understanding often leads to newand different solutions.

When synergy happens, it's like 1 + 1equalling 3, 10, 100, or more. When synergy is reached, people have achange of heart, feel more energy and excitement, have a differentpoint of view, feel closer to each other, and, most importantly, have anew and improved idea. If you compromise 1 + 1 may equal 1 1/2 ifyou're lucky. If the process degrades to defensiveness or hostility, 1+ 1 starts equaling negative numbers.

Synergy is hard to do allthe time, though. It takes a lot of time and effort to come to Synergy,so it's not always practical. My wife and I have generally worked outwhat each other cares about and have pretty much agreed to let theperson who cares the most about a particular thing make the decision.Does each person always get their way? Not always, but it is ulimatelyfor the betterment of the relationship.

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It's Fathers Day, What To Do?

At least in the US, the third Sunday of each year is the day to honorand commemorate fathers. Other countries apparently celebrate this, atleast if you believe the Wikipedia article on Fathers Day. My wife asked me what I wanted to do on Fathers Day. Huh?

Mostweekends, I am taking my kids somewhere to entertain them for a fewhours while my wife does whatever needs doing. Since my wife stays athome and has them during the week while I work, and can't easily getcertain things done with kids, it's a fair trade. It's been especiallyhard the past few weeks since my son has been out of school and istrying to assert his independence in unpleasant ways. Fortunately hestarts Summer School on Monday. So when my wife basically offered me afree day to do what I wanted, I really had to think. What do I want todo?

I thought of two tasks, somewhat related, but perhapssomewhat selfish. What I'd like to do is go out and buy one of thoseMacBooks. (According to my wife, my son wanted to get me a computer forFathers Day. He knows me well.) It would be a bit of a trip to go tothe Apple Store as I'd have to drive an hour or more to either Bellevueor Southcenter. It'd also be more expensive since I couldn't takeadvantage of my employer's discount, but I'd get instant gratification.

Thesecond thing to do would be to essentially upgrade my son's computer,which would essentially involve giving him my old one, but I'd have totake it out of the rack-mount case I currently have it in. I might lethim help me assemble the thing, or at least do it in front of him so Ican explain the components. Call it a father-son bonding moment.

Ihad also thought about doing a Frys shopping trip, but I can't think ofanything I really want bad enough to drive an hour plus to Rentonexcept maybe a MacBook. Or some new components to build Jaden a new anddifferent computer.

Eh. I don't know. I'll sleep on it. Maybe I will be inspired in the morning.

Allergies without Antihistamines

Earlier this week, I finally decided that it was time to call anallergist to find out what I'm allergic to. I was told that until myappointment a week from Monday, I wasn't allowed to have anyantihistamines. Considering that I am regularly having fits ofsneezing--mostly in the evening hours--not having antihistamines isjust a wee bit uncomfortable. Apparently they interfere with allergy testing as the linked article explains.

Myallergies are odd. When I lived in California, my allergies mostlyaffected me in the winter. Here in Washington state, my allergiesaffect me in the Spring--a more common time. When I lived in Hawaii, myallergies didn't affect me at all! (There's a solution--move toHawaii!) There are many days where they can be controlled withover-the-counter medications. However, I will have the occasional daywhere nothing I take will have any impact and I spend the day sneezingand blowing my nose.

My whole life, I've never really beenable to pinpoint what triggers my allergies. It's always been a mysteryto me. The timing for my allergies has always been odd. In fact, when Iwas in Florida a few years back, I had by far the worst allergies I canremember since the 5th grade. And they kicked in as we were driving infrom Atlanta. Just shortly after crossing the state line, the sneezingbegan. Things were bad enough that my wife got me to go to a localdoctor to see if I could get some serious drugs for them. He perscribedsomething I had never herad of before: steroids. He gave me a steriodshot, and let me tell you it was by far the best treatment I've everhad for my allergies. Once those bad-boys kicked in, my allergies wentaway. I had two weeks worth of orally-taken steriods perscribed to meto keep me allergy-free until well after I got back home. It sure madethe rest of my vacation much more pleasant.

It will be nice tofind out once and for all what causes my allergies to flare up and getthe appropriate treatment. Hopefully that's what will come out ofvisiting the allergist. Meanwhile, a little bit of suffering.Hopefully, it will be worth it in the end.


Habit 5: Seek First To Understand

I should have done this last week, but I chose to do other things last week. :)

Theidea behind this habit is that all too often we listen to people withthe intent to reply, not to truly understand the other person. In ourquest to be understood--something most everyone desires--it is possibleto ignore the other person completely, hear only part of what they aresaying, or filter what they are saying through our own experiences.Based on that "experience," we think we understand the other person andare quick to offer advice, but it may not even be asked for or relevant.

Shouldyou not provide advice when someone talks to you? If they ask for it orif there is a high level of trust in the relationship, sure. But don'tbe quick to offer it unless they specifically ask.

Trulylistening to someone is hard work. By truly listening, you "get insidetheir mind." You listen not only with your ears, but your eyes and yourheart. You listen to the words, you look for non-verbal cues, andlisten with your heart to find the meaning and feeling that comesthrough in the other person's voice.

Listening itself seemsfairly straightforward. What isn't so straightforward is the mindsetthat goes along with listening. Listening with the intent ofunderstanding requires you to put your agenda and your ego aside. Don'ttry and take over the conversation, ask questions of the person to helpdraw out their thoughts and feelings or to clarify something you'remissing. Really try and see the world as the other person sees it. Echothat understanding to the other person so they can confirm yourunderstanding.

This ability to understand things from theother person's view is one of the things that makes me an effectivetechnical support person. However, I need to work on this with otherpeople--particularly my son. I had an incident with my son recentlywhere my wife was not particularly happy with how I was handling thesituation, so she took over. Later, I had a conversation with her aboutthe situation. Instead of trying to say why I was right and she waswrong, I took the time to seek understanding. I told her up-front thatmy goal was to understand what the issue was and that I primarilywanted to listen. Well I got an earful.

I am not going torehash the entire conversation, but the big thing that fell out of itwas that my wife really felt I wasn't seeking understanding with myson--someone who desperately needs it. The particular situation with myson would have been much better had I seeked understanding instead ofdoing what I did. That hurt, but my wife was right.

Doing the work to seek understanding up front is much easier than it is to go back and correct misunderstandings later on.

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Zen and the Art of Flea Markets and Garage Sales

Depending on where you live, a flea market might also be called a swapmeet or a car boot sale, but the concept is the same. A bunch of peopleget together in one place and sell their stuff. If you don't feel likegoing some place to sell your stuff, you can do it from your yard orgarage. Or go to someone else's. :)

McCormick Woods, theneighborhood where I live, has an annual neighborhood garage sale. Itused to be supported by the Homeowners Association, but some stuffhappened that caused the Homeowners Association to not want to beinvolved and no longer wants anything to do with it. However, thehomeowners themselves still organize the yearly "purging of the houses"every first Saturday in June. There are plenty of individual garagesales throughout the year, but this is the one weekend where everyonewho can, does it.

As a buyer at a flea market or garage sale,you're never quite sure what you're going to get. However, everyonelikes to find a bargain. My favorite bargain I found growing up was the$1 Intellivision, which lasted several years.

Asa seller, there's two basic goals: getting rid of stuff and makingmoney. These goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but if youtry and make too much money (i.e. charge too much for your stuff), youwon't get rid of as much stuff. A good garage sale or flea marketexperience is really a confluence of the right people showing up at theplace where you're selling stuff at the right price.

There's alarge chunk of the selling process you can't control, namely peopleshowing up. Oh sure you can put up signs and advertise in the paper,which increases your odds of people showing up, but you can't make them show up. However, you can control what you charge for things, which increases the likelihood of someone actually buying stuff when they doshow up. Maximumizing the profit for any given item while making itcheap enough that someone will choose to buy it is an artform.

Mywife has a hard time accepting the fact that people aren't going togive you what she thinks something is worth. Our stuff is in generallygood condition compared to the junk I've seen over the years--and trustme, I grew up going to garage sales and flea markets nearly everyweekend with my mon--but the fact is people that shop at flea marketand garage sales are always looking for a deal. The fact that an itemis in good condition is certainly a selling point, but it doesn't meanyou can charge a premium for it.

As a buyer, it's like atreasure hunt except you're not exactly sure what you're looking for.The emergence of Antiques Roadshow in the US has probably done a lot tofoster the idea that you might find a treasure at your local fleamarket or garage sale. As a seller, I enjoy giving people stuff theyneed at a good price, and it just seems like it's the right thing todo. I can remember many items I acquired as a kid at a garage sale orflea market eventually making their way back out to a garage sale orflea market to be sold to someone else. It's recycling at its finest.

I miss going to garage sales and flea markets. It's a pity my wife doesn't share my feelings about it,

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Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Competition is something everyone has been exposed to at one time oranother because just about everyone has played some kind of sport.Sports is all about competition, and it has some benefits. It motivatesyou to succeed, you get an emotional rush when you "win," you improveyour skills.

Business is also about competition--with othercompanies. Unfortunately, competition seems to occur within a business.People "compete" for having the best idea for something, "compete" fora promotion, "compete" for the attention of the boss. We also completeoutside of business, for example with your spouse over any littlething, or with your children over everything. :)

All of thiscomes from a mentality that the things are scarse. Namely, that themore someone else has, the less you can have. While for a few thingsthis is true, the fact of the matter is most things we seek are notscarce, but rather abundant. Everyone can get attention and praise,everyone can contribute and profit from a situation. It takesapproaching things with a Win-Win mindset.

A Win-Win mindsetseeks mutual benefit and is designed to be cooperative. Also, to have acooperative mindset, you must listen to what the other people want andbe honest about what you want. This last part takes courage.

Someother mindsets that permeate our life include Win-Lose, where winningat the expense of the other is the goal, Lose-Win, where you give upwhat you want to the other person despite your feelings to thecontrary, Lose-Lose, where you actively try and bring other peopledown, and Win, which basically means you are focused on winning anddon't particularly care if the other person wins or loses too, andfinally Win-Win or No Deal where you either come to a mutuallybeneficial agreement or "agree to disagree" amecibly.

So how doto you have a Win-Win mindset? You have the the courage to express yourthoughts and feelings, and the willingness and ability to seek tounderstand the thoughts and feelings of others.

When you have a Win-Win mindset, you can begin to build Win-Win agreeements with others. Win-Win agreements have five elements:

Desired Results: What end you have in mind.
Guidelines: The rules that govern pursuing the desired results.
Resources: What tools you have to use to meet the guidelines.
Accountability: What will be used to measure that the desired results are obtained.
Consequences: What will happen if the desired results are (not) achieved?

Togive an example of this, I recently took my kids to a large playground.The big problem I have with this playground is that my son, almost 6,wants to go all over the place and I feel he is still too small to beout of my sight. I, of course, have to watch my daughter, who is only2. I decided to give into my son and take him to this playground,however I made an agreement with him about what I expected. I had himrepeat the agreement back to me to confirm his understanding. It lookedsomething like this:

Desired Results: We need to be able to seeeach other at all times. If you want to move out of my sight, to adifferent part of the playground, you must ask me first.
Guidelines: Can I see you? Can you see me?
Resources: Eyes and ears.
Accountability: Did he dissapear or not?
Consequences: If the Desired Results aren't obtained, son would be forbidden from going to this playground for several weeks.

AsI am thinking about this, a large part of thinking Win-Win is embdeddedin the next habit, which is "Seek first to understand, then to beunderstood." To be truly Win-Win, you must understand the otherparticiants.

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Some interesting observations I had in May

One thing I've been doing since I took the 7 Habits class is, after thekids have gone to bed and I have fed the cats and generally cleaned upthe house is that I take my day planner, sit down on the couch, and, inaddition to planning the next day (or week), I write down whatever ison my mind. It might be little observations. It might be a "shittyfirst draft" of something I need to write up. Call it a brain flush,but I just want to get the thoughts down in case they are useful later.

Once a month, it's a good idea to go through the notes from the previous month and see what ideas bear revisiting.

"The happiest part of my week is going out with my son to teeball." Not necessarily because it's time with my son, but I have so much fun with all of the kids out there.

"I like noodling with music. Few people. if any, know about that."My wife told me a while ago that she couldn't figure out how I was ableto walk up to a piano and "work out" the notes to a song. That got methinking back into my past. I did take piano lessons when I was abouteight, and so I have some rudimentary skills in playing the piano. Ican remember always having a fondness for the piano, even if I neverfollowed through with the lessons. I got to explore my musical ideaswith Garage Band recently, which I found quite interesting. I used itas the basis for one of the podcasts I submitted to T.W.A.T. recently.

"I want a MacBook for my birthday." I don't think this needs any explanation. :)

"I want to improve my marriage." I know I've had this thought before.

"IfI knew I couldn't fail, what would I do? 1. Get down to 195 pounds. 2.Getting paid to blog for my employer. 3. Make an insanely great podcast. All of these are going to require planning.

"My body wants more sleep."Lately, I haven't been staying up as long as usual, choosing to go tobed at an earlier hour. This evening, I am at my more usual 2am or so.:)

"I've been spending less time online." I've actually been enjoying notsitting on the computer, which is what I do during that "planning" timeand why I am keeping a paper day planner instead of using Outlook, et.al.

"Im finding the space between stimulus and response." At least more often, though I know I have a ways to go in this area.

"I need a quick meditation technique."When I was doing some research on the net about meditation, I ranacross a technique that would require only a couple of minutes ofmeditation, but it would give your mind a quick refresh. I need to findthat again any try it.

"Compass, not clock." The direction you are going is generally more important than how long it takes you to get there.

"Leo Laporte said on a podcast recently that you should do what you love and the rest will take care of itself." How true.

Thatcovers about 10 days worth--I didn't actually start doing the braindumps until a couple of weeks after I started with the day planner.We'll see what I come up with next month.

Having Values in Alignment

Today I was thinking about my mission as I defined it within the pastmonth. In a sense it articulates what I have been doing for a while nowand articulates what I value most. One thing I haven't done is comparethose values to the ones my employer has. What I find interesting isthat while I couldn't name all four of these values in the past, today,without any prompting, and without looking it up, I was able to nameall four.

My employer has four "core" values: CustomerSatisfaction, Respect, Achievement, and Renewal. Customer Satisfactionseems kind of obvious. Respect, as in treating other people withrespect, communicating openly and honestly, embracing differences, andvaluing the environment and community. Achievement speaks towardsmeeting goals, taking responsibility and being accountable for success,and recognizing and celebrating achievements. Renewal is the act ofcontinual learning, or what Stephen Covey might call "Sharpening theSaw."

What I wrote down for my "mission" as you might recall is:Share, Improve, Serve, Inspire. Achievement and Renewal in the abovevalues match up nicely with Inspire and Improve respectively. Serveseems kind of ambiguous now that I think about it, but it does fallinto the Customer Satisfaction as does sharing. Respect doesn't reallymatch any of these, but it is something that is important to me--why Ileft it out of my mission, I'm not sure.

The more I think aboutit, the more the words Respect, Achievement, and Renewal really seem todescribe what I am about. Customer Satisfaction is something that isjob specific, it's not really specific to life in general, but Sharingis.

At the end of the day, I work for a company that valuesmany of the same things that I do. I consider myself very lucky as noteveryone can say that.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

The idea behind putting first things first is to prioritize "important" things first instead of "urgent" things. What's important? What's urgent? What's the difference? Things that are important are activities that represent your values, mission, and high-priority goals. Things that are urgent require immediate attention.

Given that description, it sounds counter-intuitive. We should be focusing on urgent things, right? Not necessarily. It depends on what kind of" urgent" we are talking about. Tasks fall into one of four quadrants on a "Time Matrix." Urgency is on the X axis and Importance on the Y axis.

Quadrant 1 (QI), in the upper left, is the urgent and important things. This is called the quadrant of necessity, and includes things like crises, pressing problems, deadline-driven projects, meeting preparations, medical emergencies, etc.

Quadrant 2 (QII), in the upper right, is the items that are noturgent, but are important. This is called the quadrant of effectiveness, and includes tasks like planning and preparing, prevention, understanding or reaffirming your values, planning, building relationships, renewing yourself, and empowerment.

Quadrant 3 (QIII), in the lower left, is the items that are urgent but not important. This is called the quadrant of deception, mostly because things in this quadrant look a lot like QI issues, but really aren't. These are things like interruptions, unnecessary reports, email, meetings, phone calls, and other peoples minor issues.

Quadrant 4 (QIV), in the lower right, is the items that are not urgent or important, otherwise known as the quadrant of waste and excess. Busywork, trivia, irrelevant phone calls/email, various time wasting activities, excessive TV, web surfing, or relaxation.

If you really need a visual of this, look on orgcoach.net.

Have you ever been to the Bermuda Triangle? Most of you would say no, but I bet you have. Many people spend lots of time on QI and QIII tasks, then often escape in QIV tasks, which sometimes brings you back to a QI task. If you draw this out, you have a line between QI and QIII, a line between QIII and QIV, and a line from QIV to QI. That, my friends, is what we call the Bermuda Triangle, and it sucks your will to live. :)

In any case, the trick is to spend more time on QII activities. By planning, you can reduce or eliminate QI and QIII items. For example, eating right and exercising, definitely QII activities, can reduce or eliminate health problems later in life, which are definitely QI.

Let's talk about planning for a minute. The key to putting first things first is to actually plan. There are two types of planning: weekly planning and daily planning. The weekly planning is done at the start of a week and consists of three activities: Reviewing mission and roles, choosing "big rocks," and scheduling the week.

Reviewing mission and roles is fairly straightforward. Review your "mission statement" and the roles that come from that. Roles are key relationships and things for which you are responsible. For example, my roles include father, husband, employee, blogger. Chances are once these roles are enumerated and the mission statement is in place, you won't have to redefine these things, but you will need to review them each week.

For each role, ask yourself this question: What is the most important thing I can do in this role this week? These are your "big rocks." The big rocks can come from your conscience, your mission, your goals, and key projects you may be working on. The rocks can come in the form of tasks, appointments, and areas of focus. For example, this week, one of my "big rocks" is writing this particular blog entry. Others include exercise, learning about meditation (and actually doing it a couple of times, and determining ways to make my wife's life easier.

Once you have identified the big rocks, schedule them. Schedule them first before you schedule other things that might be happening in the week. Regularly scheduled meetings at work can be viewed as "big rocks," though I wouldn't necessarily identify them as such. They are demands on the time that must be accounted for like everything else. Sometimes, one of your big rocks will displace one of those regularly scheduled meetings. That happens. :)

After the week is scheduled, then follow up on your planning daily to ensure that you are continuing to meet your weekly goals. You will also account for any changes in schedule that might need to be made. Looking at the number of hours you have left in the day, you will come up with a realistic task list for the day and prioritize it.

Finally, you should have a planning system of some sort. I decided to use the planning system I got as a result of taking the 7 Habits class. It's a paper day planner. Seems kind of weird that a techie is using paper instead of something electronic, but I actually like having it on paper. Paper doesn't crash or get lost in an upgrade. ;) Whatever system you use, it needs to be integrated, i.e. have tasks, appointments, notes, and contacts, it needs to be mobile, i.e. with you all the time, and it needs to be personalized, i.e. customized for your own needs.

One thing that is a key part of putting first things first is learning how to say "no," mostly to QIII things. This is an area that I need to work on.