Moonshots

At New Story, we make time every few months for an exercise we call ‘Moonshots’. The term comes from the Apollo 11 spaceflight, which landed the first human on the moon in 1969*. At the time, the idea was truly audacious.

As a team, we get together and dream big. Usually after dinner and over drinks, we throw out big, wild ideas. They’re unlikely, crazy ideas. While the origin of our 3D Printer experiment came out of one of these sessions, the point is not to be practical. It’s about dreaming, not planning.

Controlled Chaos

Some suggestions get a laugh. Others make use uncomfortable. A few have a way of lingering, but most ideas die on the spot.  The point of moonshot is to spark inspiration. Once an idea is put out into the world, the next person can build on top of it. The ideas evolve.

We want to create a place for that to happen. It’s a safe place where ideas and nonsense can coexist. One idea sparks another. Some build upon their predecessor while others seem to nuke the flow. There are no bad ideas.

Eventually, it happens. This free exchange of thought begins to achieve the decided effect: inspiration. An idea is thrown onto the pile that causes a moment of pause from the group. While still a longshot, it somehow feels achievable though currently unexplored. These nuggets speed up the energy in the room and propel the conversation forward.

The excitement and suggestions finally wane. With our cognitive capacity exhausted, we push for a final round of ideas then break for the night. It can often feel like a chaotic whirlwind. Where observers might see a whimsical waste of time and effort, we see a mental victory. Breaking the shackles of rationality, we took the time to dance with our imagination.

The notion of dreaming bigger spills into our work constantly. Like a pair of dueling racers, team members push each other to challenge what’s possible. Over time, these bouts have a way of shaping a culture and staying with us. None one knows where the next great idea will come from. But it’s unlikely to be discovered by the people who aren’t willing to look for it.

 

*Alleged moon landing. Recounting the discussions I’ve had on this topic would require more time than any sane human is willing to commit.

Purpose Statement Framework

In the summer of 2018, I began feeling an increased tension around decision making. Growing up, we learn to decide between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. As adults, there is more gray area and less objectivity. The right answer is rarely obvious. Our choices are less polarized.

If we are fortunate, we have the opportunity to choose between multiple great options too. Without a clear winner, this can lead to indecision or a lack of directed effort.

My intention in pursuing a personal purpose statement was simple. Create a standard to measure future decisions. More than a job description, it’s a declaration of intent and focus. We each have unique skills, interests, and passions. A well crafted purpose statement provides a framework for aligning each decision.

The process for me took months of discussion, reflection, and experimentation. Looking back, I’ve refined the process into a Framework for others to use. This article is the culmination of that effort.

It’s uncommon for people to share their Purpose Statement, . I’ve chosen to share my purpose statement as an example. Hundreds of hours, dozens of conversations, and five revisions led to one statement. Pioneer a more beautiful future for others. It encompasses core values and personal convictions. You can dive deeper into my personal purpose statement.

Now, enjoy the Purpose Statement Framework and your journey of self discovery.

Preparation

Make space. It’s unlikely that this process will take just a few hours. For me, it was an evolution over many months. To maintain continual momentum, setup a private place to take notes and record your thoughts. I used a private document on my personal computer. I added to it, reorganized it, and ultimately pulled from those sections to make this guide.

Do not share this document. The knowledge of it being visible to others will impede the open and honest flow of thoughts and ideas. You’ll likely discuss the pursuit with others but the notes should remain your own. The journey is for you and your future.

Engage Self-awareness Exercises

Personality assessments provide a great kickoff point. They’re loaded with valuable information and start laying a foundation to being thinking about how your mind works.

There are many types of self assessments. None are perfect, but each reveals something new about yourself that you way not have known. It’s not magic, but it does prompt your mind to focus on patterns and trends. Here are a few I found helpful:

Other’s I have heard of but haven’t tried include:

  • Colby
  • Brinkman

After each, the following questions should provide helpful time of reflection:

  • What affirmed what you already knew?
  • What new insights did you gain?
  • Which past experiences validate your learning?
  • Which past experiences disprove what you might have found that. Why?

Read Resources about Purpose and Values

Humans have been searching for meaning and purpose forever. As far as we can tell, this is a theme unique to our species and a symptom of our mental capabilities. Here are a few modern books that touch on the topic in diverse ways:

  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • The Road Back to You by Ian Cron
  • Dare to Lead by Brené Brown (contains a Values Exercise)
  • The Art of Significance by Dan Clark
  • Extreme Ownership by Jacko Willink
  • The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
  • Principles by Ray Dalio
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck
  • Drive by Daniel Pink

Answer Historical Questions

Looking back throughout your personal history can often illuminate relevant trends and experiences. While we often forget day to day minutia, defining moments have a way of standing out. Some feel like scars but others inspire us. Why our mind anchored to those moments can reveal valuable truths.

  • When were 2-3 of your proudest moments?
  • When were 2-3 of your most shameful moments?
  • Who are 2-3 people you admire or respect? Why?
  • Who are 2-3 people you don’t admire or respect? Why?

Gain Perspective

Reach out to people whose opinion you value in different areas of life. The list should include successful professionals you admire, valued ‘family oriented’ people, and those whose personal discipline you respect. Leaning too heavily in one area of life could produce equally as unbalanced results in your own life.

I’ve found a simple, single question to be the most impactful and garner feedback from every people, “Do you have a person purpose statement?”

Once you’ve gotten their feedback, ask yourself, “Why did I choose these people over anyone else?”

Consolidate your Finding

Assuming you’ve been documenting your thoughts and findings along the way, begin to look for patterns. Which ideas are unique? Which ideas reemerge? Are there certain concepts that seem compelling?

Use the Goldilocks Method.

The goal of the Goldilocks Method is to sort things by too hot or too cold in order to land on something that’s just right. My original draft of a purpose statement was ‘leverage unlikely inputs to produce extraordinary outputs.’ It was revised for a variety of reasons, but the primary red-flag was that it was too sterile. The ‘inputs’ that were most important to me were actually people and the ‘outputs’ were lives changed. Talking about people with words like ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’ lacked the emphasis on humanity I was striving for.

As you review the patterns you find, ask yourself:

  • Which word or phrases are too intense? Are some not intense enough?
  • Which are too rigid? Which are too ‘fluffy’? Why?
  • Which are too passive? Which are too assertive? Why?
  • Could it be more like this? Less like that?

Draft a Purpose Statement

I overthought this at first. Your first draft will likely be wrong, but just write something. From there, circle back on the Goldilocks Method to refine it. With each attempt, ask yourself:

  • Is it clear enough?
  • Would this help me decide between two choices?
  • Does this point toward a deeper ‘why’?

Share with a Core Group

Whether mentors or close peers, share what you’ve come up with. Resist the urge to defend it too rigorously, but get their perspective. Make sure they understand what you’re trying to accomplish and ask for specific feedback.

  • Does this seem like a fair representation
  • Does it make sense?
  • How would you summarize it?

Own it!

Don’t let the need for perfection bottleneck progress. Done is better than perfect. The emphasis to make it timeless can often overweight the importance. I decided to just look 10 years out. “Does this phrase give me enough direction and clarity for the next decade?”

If so, it’s time to own it.

Do you use a notebook? Write your new formed Purpose Statement on the first page. Maintain a blog? Perhaps a post that shares it and highlights your key findings. Most importantly, leverage it make your next decision. Big or small, see how it holds up.

Bonus Points

Once you’ve clearly defined a purpose statement, seek out a Mantra or Rally Cry. This is a shorter, declarative phrase that points back to your Purpose Statement and can be used to rally your mental focus. While it’s unlikely you’ll be in battle, this call quick prompt can center your mind quickly on the bigger picture purpose.

2018 Annual Report

The act of reflection continues to be the most impactful habit I’ve developed over the years. I’m continually amazed by how much growth can be seen in some areas of life while others seem to shrivel. I’ve broken down my Annual Report into the areas that matter most.

Also, pardon my typos. I had a lot of ground to cover and my usually proofreading process was too much mental energy.

Family

Our family has seen a lot of changes in 2018. From our immediate family, to extended family, it’s been marked by births, moves, and big announcements.

Welcome Rowan!

Our little red-headed bundle of smiles was born on May 21, 2018. She LOVES her big sister. Major milestones at the moment include sitting up on her own, eating real food, and a veracious smile.

Smyrna

Despite some early resistance, we made the move to Smyrna. Walkable to specialty coffee, the grocery store, and local restaurants it’s been a welcome change. The ride to and from work has been somewhat grueling, but I’ve hit my annual target for audio books and arriving home is worth it.

School for Avery

Avery started at a school down the road from our house (about a 10 minute walk) two days a week. It’s allowed her to meet a new group of friends, level up her sharing skills, and increase her immunity to communicable diseases. It’s had the added benefit of allowing Megan to meet other local parents.

Marine Deployment

My brother has been serving in the United States Marine Corp for about the last decade. This year, he shipped out of his third overseas deployment. I continue to be proud and inspired by his committed service. So much of the liberties I enjoy as a husband, father, and entrepreneur are a direct result of people serving to preserve our freedom.


Polar Notion

Founded in 2012 with Josh Wood, Polar Notion welcomed new team members, structural changes, and new service offerings.

New Team Members

In late 2018, we welcomed Kevin and Miruna to the Polar Notion team. Kevin is apprenticing within our engineering team while Miruna is rounding out our design team as a design apprentice. Their fresh perspectives and positive attitudes have raised our average and leave us eager to see what 2019 holds.

Transparent Salaries

As our Leadership Team has dove deeper into operational excellence, we were led to reevaluate compensation and how we handle professional growth within the organization. Pushing the limits on human centered business, transparent compensation felt like a natural next step. The goal was that each person could defend their salary and understand exactly what’s expected to move up.

We’ve defined the levels of growth and mapped key behaviors to categories such as Values, Culture, Evangelism & Sales, Leadership, Client Facing Skills, Industry Involvement, and Knowledge. We learned a lot in the process, but have been pleased with the results.

Friends and Family

Our design team has launched a monthly design program called Friends & Family. It provides a low cost, low commitment, friendly way to create a better brand experience. This is a major milestone because it allows us to continue serving small businesses while our skills and rates increase.

Imminent Survival

Near the end of 2017, a client defaulted on an invoice costing us over $100,000. It created a grueling start to the year, but through creative problem solving and team buy-in, we’ve made it through the worst of it.


New Story

In the summer of 2018, I eclipsed my second year at New Story at CTO. The most notable changes surround our rapid growth. Ten team members have started at New Story within the last 12 months.

Team Members

I have the fortune of leading the Tech Team alongside Matthew Marshall, but we’ve seen growth in every department.

Tech
Shane Ardell
Tim Whitacre
Vi Pham
Ops
Sam Ballmer
Gary Carrier
Genna Heidkamp
Brand
Annie Brannon
Nathan Bach
Katie Tynes
Growth
Ellen Paik

3D Home Printer

This was a HUGE milestone as a company and for the home construction industry in general. You can read more about that moment here, or watch the video.

Atlanta Office

Originally meeting from the Polar Notion office, New Story is now in a space of their own. There is still room, but it’s filling up quickly.

Saas Product (Spoilers)

We haven’t shared a lot publicly, but we’re packaging up our learnings as a housing organization and rolling out a Saas (software as a service) product to allow other organization to experience the same efficiencies that have been driving our organization forward. We’ve set our sights on ending global homelessness and are equipping other organizations and governments to join us.


Personal

Apparently there are certain fish that never stop swimming. Asleep or awake, they never stop moving. I’m not sure if that’s true but love the notion. As humans, we have a remarkable ability to collaborate and adapt. This section highlights person changes or milestones this year.

New Roles

Board Chair for Entreprenuers Organization‘s Accelerator Program.

Mentor for Founder CEOs at Atlanta Tech Village

New Habits

Hydration

Since running cross country in high school, I’ve always defaulted to water over any other beverage. On top regular trips to the water fountain throughout the day, I’ve added more thorough hydration to my morning ritual.

100 Somethin’

To get my blood flowing in the morning (inspired by Own Your Day), I’ve started doing 100 of some type of movement each morning. Squats, trunk twists, overhead press (unweighed), etc.

The whole process takes just a few minutes but immediately gets oxygen pumping to my brain.

Generous Followups

Most business people have a solid followup cadence for meetings and appointments. I took it up a notch by sending a direct message to the person who introed me to the person I met with and intro-ing that person to 1-3 other people. Example: I had a 30 minute coffee with Adam. Later that week: Send followup to Adam. Send thank you to whoever introed me to Adam. Make 1-3 intros to other people in my network Adam should meet.

New Tools

RealtimeBoard (https://realtimeboard.com)

A virtual whiteboard. I have never fallen so fast for a product. It does exactly what you’d hope and the collaborative nature is excellent. Personally, Polar Notion, and New Story are all using it now.

Notion (https://www.notion.so)

Wow, this tool has taken over my life. Best in class organizational structure for documents. It’s everything I wished was possible with Google Docs but couldn’t wait any longer.

Otter (https://otter.ai)

A native app for recording thoughts and meetings. I use it while I’m driving to riff on ideas and convert into articles later.

Lyft (https://www.lyft.com/)

After a year full of Uber scandals, enough was enough. Yeah, it’s more expensive but our dollars are votes.

Travel

In no particular order.

  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Tahoe, CA
  • Austin, TX
  • Chicago, IL
  • San Francisco, CA (2x)
  • Seattle, WA
  • Chattanooga, TN

Books

Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen

A great read if you looking to clarity your business’ message and position to customers. Also, the author has a worthwhile podcast that combines anecdotes with actionable insights.

Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World

A must read for founders. Whether you’re on your first business or fifth, it’s dispels common myths and resets expectations around starting a business, especially a tech startup.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

It’s a reminder of timeless truths that continue to yield extraordinary results. There is a lot of complex advise and insights, but Covey boils it down to the fundamentals. Likely worth revisiting each year.

Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets

Great read for marketers and founders about the art and science of creating a ‘Category’. Rather than trying to compete with the noise of a crowded marketing, creating a new Category and becoming it’s king has a proven path to success… if you can do it right.

The Creative Curve: How to Develop the Right Idea, at the Right Time

Creativity isn’t magic. We are all creative creatures and it comes back to a balance of consuming and trying stuff. Great for people who view them selves as ‘non creatives’ or other who think they have some magic ability. The brilliant minds we elevate as a culture we’re too different from us, which is worth remembering and this book breaks that truth down well.

Own the Day, Own Your Life: Optimized Practices for Waking, Working, Learning, Eating, Training, Playing, Sleeping, and Sex

Rather than complicating health, Aubrey Marcus breaks it down into focusing on just one day. Planning the perfect, thoughtful day. A lot of great health and fitness tips, combined with a casual yet scientific perspective. Our life is merely a serious of choices, he simplifies the importance of choosing well.

Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results

In listening, it reminiscent of The Power of Habit (from my 2016 reading list) but the tips and principles are worth repeating. Listening to Atomic Habits around the same time as Own the Day really drilled home the point. They compliment each other well. Also, the author (James Clear) has an active twitter account full of great habit-forming wisdom.

Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World

Our team at New Story has long admired Charity Water. Ironically, Matthew and Brett both applied to joined their team. Fortunately for the earth’s homeless population, they didn’t get the opportunity. 😉 Scott Harrison’s journey and life transformation is inspiring. It provides useful wisdom for nonprofits of all ages. Not a nonprofit leader, if you have a pulse you’ll likely connect with Scott’s inner wrestlings and vulnerability.

This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See

Seth Godin continues to rank among my favorite authors and thinkers. He connects dots that others don’t see and continually challenges others to think differently. To think better. Make things better by making better things. I bought the preorder, the special edition, and some other thing associated with the launch.

Dear Seth, take my money.

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

A Polar Notion team member helped me climb aboard the Brene Brown bandwagon in 2017 and Dare to Lead prompted me to settle deeper in my seat. Her practical approach to human psychology provides a need voice and her unapologetic pursuit of breaking down the walls between people is motivating. If you lead people, this will challenge commonly held beliefs. If you don’t see yourself as a leader: read this book, change your mind, and get started.

Alie Heenan your confidence and courage led me to give Brene a chance. For that, I’m grateful.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

Jason Fried and DHH provide an extreme anchor to the hustle-grind-madness that has come to define startup and entrepreneurial ventures. It’s easy to reject their position at face value, but when you hear their passion for a better style of workplace it’s worth the dissonance. It’s unlikely any business can implement everything they mention, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Their investments in human-centered work are only the beginning of a massive shift we will experience in the next 10-20 years.

Matthew Marshall, thanks for the advance copy. I’m love building a world class company culture with you.

The Great Game of Business, Expanded and Updated: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company

Rather than keeping team members in the dark, The Great Game of Business showcases what’s possible when you trust people to show up with their whole selves. Exemplifying a transparent business, it’s refreshing to hear how successful their unique recipe of trust and openness has become.

Thanks Adam Walker and Shantel Khleif for the recommendation here.

The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership

If you can’t make time to read this annually, you should start by reading it daily. It’s a powerful story about leading from a place of submission and servanthood. Tim Dorr turned me back onto it and I continue to be challenged and inspired.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others

As humans, we’re always selling whether it’s in our job description or not. When my daughter brings me the remotes and says, “watch Muana”… she is selling. Rather than rejecting the notion, To Sell is Human adds new color and clarity to how we bring our ideas into the world.

Never Lose a Customer Again: Turn Any Sale into Lifelong Loyalty in 100 Days

Customer experience is more important than even. If you’re a business owner who thinks sales is the key to growing your business, pause for a moment. Customer retention is the backbone to business growth and this book provides tips, strategies, and a way of thinking about customer advocacy.

Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook

Tony Robbins simplifies basic financial strategy. He breaks down wealth creation, retirement planning, personal spending and more. If you’re ‘playing the stockmarket’, this conservative approach to playing the long game might be just what the doctor ordered.

The Thank You Economy

Gary Vaynerchuk has strong opinions shared intensely, but his predictions and understanding of how human connections have and will shape the economy is impressive. What’s most impressive is how well the content has help up so many years after publication. So much is still right on point.

The Art of Significance: Achieving the Level Beyond Success

I’ve been heavily focused since September on developing a personal purpose statement. This book gave some helpful tips and insights. Nothing comes to mind off the top of my head, but was worth nodding along to.

Great by Choice

Jim Collins scientific approach to business analysis is illuminating. A great read for founders and business leaders working to build a lasting business of significance. Spoiler: It rarely happens by accident.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery

The New Story team read through this book together and we’ve engaged in dozens of meaningful conversations. It describes each personality type of the Enneagram. I’m an eight (challenger) with seven (enthusiast) tendencies. This book was the origin of a lot of reflection and self discovery. It also sparked great conversations between me and Meg.

Thanks Annie Brannon, fellow 8, for pushing this forward like only a Challenger would. 🙂

No More Cold Calling: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust

I’m not the ‘cold call’ kind of salesman. I’ve always found it to lack empathy and pretty inefficient. This book talks about the value of investing in current customers to drive referrals. It lands on the importance of relational business.

If we’re the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with: Kara Brown, you continue to raise my average. Thanks for the suggestion.

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal

A helpful guide for getting and keeping people’s attention. It’s easy to assume people say ‘no’ because they don’t want something when more often than not it’s because we’ve poorly engaged them.

Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too

A firehose of social media insights and marketing expertise. It’s on the other end of the spectrum from It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work but gives some helpful advise for building a business. Especially in the early years, the lift is often quite heavy.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Perhaps my favorite book of 2018, Peak talks about the effort required to achieve mastery in almost anything. Unwilling to settle for the idea of ‘natural ability’, he presents compelling evidence that supports the thoughtful, consistent student. As someone who never really excelled at anything growing up, I’ve felt the compound effect of his insights throughout my adult life. The importance of consistent, deliberate practice rings load in this book and it’s value has been felt thoroughly in my own life.

Managing Oneself + The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

I lumped these together because they’re so similar. Akin to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Peter Druker has a succinct, straight forward way to hitting the essentially for personal growth. Special thanks to the Dave Gerhardt and David Cancel from Drift for recommending.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs

Intent on finding a better process for tracking goals, we read through Measure What Matters with New Story Leadership this year. Stilling looking for a tool that’s not Excel to track progress but the shared vocabulary and simple framework has proven helpful. We’ve bounced around a little with the best way of breaking annual, quarterly, and monthly OKRS into personal, department, and company items but it’s a work in progress that’s picking up steam.

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

I’ve always struggle with the idea of social norms or unwritten rules. Smartcuts spotlights entreprenuers and innovators who found broke these cultural constraints to achieve extraordinary results. For myself, I’ve begun referring to the idea as ‘coloring outside the lines’, and this book echos that ethos.

Sarah Lee, I own you one here. The mention of DHH put me over the edge.

Sell or Be Sold: How to Get Your Way in Business and in Life

We’re either selling something (a service, a widget, a preference, an idea) or being sold by someone else. It can create a paradigm shift for most people but seems ideal for founders or sales people.

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

As I mentioned in my personal recap from 2018, we had some major challenges at Polar Notion. This book came at just the right time and served as a reminder that challenges are part of the journey. Rich with stoic principles, it’s a worthwhile read for anyone who has felt the urge to complain about almost anything.

Be Obsessed or Be Average

Grant Cardone is a madman, but a great reminder about the importance of finding something you enjoy and throwing your whole self into it. I have a tendency to obsess things, so left me feeling like I was in good company.

Principles: Life and Work

I enjoyed hearing Ray’s thoughtfilled approach to almost everything. Rather than viewing life as a random series of events, he provides a wealth of knowledge and insight about distilling thoughts into repeatable processes. Instead of relearning, his approach to principled living was impactful and has led me to think more about the ‘why’ behind decisions.

Top Posts

Annual Reflection Framework

Bringing Humanity Back to Email

Unbridled Diversity

Work Life Harmony

Purpose Eats Work for Breakfast


Special Mentions

I attended two funerals this year. Two men whose legacy has had a lasting impact on my life. I’d spent little time with them personally but their children and grandchildren have marked my life beyond compare.

Bob Ardell

I came to know Bob Ardell through his son, Jason Ardell. For years, Jason has been a close friend and early mentor as I began a career in technology. Through stories shared, it was evident that Bob was an avid reader for decades and continually invested in his family.

Read Obituary

Warren Wood

I met Warren for the first time in middle school. He was grandfather to Josh, one of my longest friends and business partner. Warren’s son, Mike, continues to display an advanced work ethic and stoic resolve that seem to have been a direct result of Warren’s leadership and modeling.

Read Obituary

Annual Reflection Framework

Another year is gone in a blink.

Over half a million minutes of life lived. Taking time reflect on the status of key areas can help ensure the past was well spent and the future is more impactful. Borrowing from the techniques of others, the most prominent being the 4 Burner Theory*, I put together an exercise for myself to frame this valuable reflection.

I put aside about 3 hours and worked through each section. Thoughts, ideas, and insights began pouring out. The goal is not a resulting task list for the next year. The purpose is to frame yourself around what matters most. Each year should involve more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.

It’s about thoughtful action, not perfection.

Also, I will not be publishing my own reflections. The ratings and insights are (and should be) convicting and highly personal. It’s unrealistic to think a public audience wouldn’t bias my thoughts or vulnerability. Growth and maturity is the goal.

* The 4 Burner Theory. You’ll notice my prompt is different, but the intention is quite similar.

  1. The first burner represents your family.
  2. The second burner is your friends.
  3. The third burner is your health.
  4. The fourth burner is your work.

Family

Overall Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Spouse.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Children.

One summary per child:

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Siblings.

One summary per sibling:

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Parents.

One summary per parent:

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?


Interpersonal

Overall Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Friends.

One summary per friend (deep friendships):

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Mentors.

One summary per mentor:

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Mentees.

One summary per mentee:

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Local Community.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Global Community.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?


Health

Overall Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Physical Health.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Mental Health.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?


Professional / Work

Overall Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fulfillment.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Performance.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Your Boss / Supervisor.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Your Team.

Rating (1-5 stars): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Greatest Success?

Greatest Failure?

What would it take to increase 1 star in the coming year?

What is one upcoming change I should prepare for?

Work Life Harmony

The notion of work-life-balance is nonsense. It implies that our work lives and personal lives are disjointed and function in constant opposition to each other. It was crafted as a protective counterbalance for people oppressed by their employers.

The two are not siloed. You can not prevent your work life from invading your personal life any more than you can stop your personal life from pushing against your work life. They are connected. You are connected.

I prefer the notion of work-life-harmony. In an ideal setting, they collaborate rather than compete. Work should be an outlet for us to express our personality and creativity. It should be the catalyst for our best work, not a barrier to our natural desires. This allows us to find opportunities for overlap and pursue alignment. Rather than focusing on keeping score, we focus on bringing our best self.

Actionable Insights

Practically speaking, our full time team members work 40 hour weeks. In an average week, those hours should fit nicely between Monday and Friday. That’s not to say there won’t be late nights or an all-hands push to launch a product. But to account for that, we add plenty of freedom and flexibility each step along the way.

Rather than optimizing for social norms, I prefer pushing people to optimize for their best self. When they bring their best, everyone wins. It’s worth taking time to think about…

  • What time works best to start your day?
  • What is required for you to focus?
  • How much sleep do you need to function best?
  • When do you do your best work?

Communicating Expectations

At Polar Notion, managing client expectations is a huge part of how we keep our sanity. We’ve even put together a Client Handbook that sets expectations. On top of that, we’re constantly reminding those we work with that Slack is not a realtime communication tool for us. We prioritize productivity over promptness. In the end, we teach others how to treat us and should own our own experience.

I also have a footer on my emails to make sure people understand when I’ll be getting back to them. Hint, it’s not within the hour. The simple act of communicating this expectation opens up a valuable discussion or endearing bits of encouragement.

Rest

Rest and relaxation are an important part of doing meaningful work. Constant ‘grind’ and ‘hustle’ does not map to increased productivity.

When you’re working, crush it. When you’re not working, fight the urgent need to ‘checkin’.

Saturday Mornings

The world is quiet on Saturday morning. My phone doesn’t ring. New emails are not piling into my inbox. The time is all mine.

While somewhat overstated, I seem to do 2-3 days worth of work within a few hours. The day is optimized for heads down, distraction free output. I’m afforded hours of deep work.

Why am I working on a Saturday? These days, my schedule is splintered by messages, meetings, and management. I share my time with two business. This allows our family to maintain our standard of living, my wife to stay at home each day with our girls, and my mind to fully leverage it’s passions and interests. The diverse contexts allows me to compress decades of experience into just a few years. I realize it won’t last forever, but I find the work invigorating and impactful.

Balancing Polar Notion and New Story, its likely someone is waiting on me for something. Saturday is my chance to catchup on everything. I crush outstanding tasks, send followups, and finish documenting any lingering thoughts. Anything that builds up during the week, it’s nothing a well managed Saturday can’t address.

I love leading teams and investing in the lives of others, but a block of time to myself helps me stay balanced. I’d likely trade a year of Thursday afternoons for a month’s worth of Saturday mornings.

Keeping Projects on Track

A team’s ability to keep projects on track and moving forward is crucial. Regardless of the team, surprises and hangups will pop up along the way. When a project gets off track, trying to understand ‘why’ is a common pursuit. Unfortunately, questions that explain past decisions do not drive the conversation forward.

Foregoing why a misalignment occurred, a more effective question is, “What do you need to get back on track?” A solution oriented approach, this question illuminates a path forward. There are four solutions to being offtrack. The solutions include: simplify, clarify, increase expertise, and extend timeline.

When a project is off track, most people will default to adding more time. Unfortunately, time alone will rarely make it better. The following unpacks alternatives and provides a framework for forward momentum.

Simplicity

How can we simplify and still hit the target?

Simplifying the solution is the easiest way to make up for lost time. It’s not a matter of cutting corners. It is about assessing the work to and removing unnecessary complexity. Simplicity is the first solution because it rarely requires outside inspiration or help. If the solution accomplishes the goal, why should it be any harder than necessary?

Clarity

Will an increase in understanding result in an increase in efficiency?

This is common in cross-disciplinary projects. A deeper understand of priorities and expectations can go a long way. Building technology, communication between designers and developers can be instrumental in removing obstacles. 15 minutes of a web designer explaining their intentions can save hours, days, or even weeks.
When eye-glasses have smudges, removing the blemishes can bring more into perspective.

Expertise

How would someone with more specialized expertise approach the solution?

Experience is a magnificent teacher. In times of struggle, leaning on those with more experience can pay dividends. Experienced professionals have more tools, strategies, and tactics. Their experience reveals trends and patterns that can speed up impact.

Time

Given that simplicity, clarity, and expertise have failed… How much more time?

Adding time to a project should be a last resort. Exhaust all other options first. From there, it’s important to determine how much more time is necessary and how that time will be spent. The greatest concerns with adding more time is it’s ability to create future problems. Missing deadlines will compound with other timelines and commitments.

Holiday season is a great example. With a mid-November deadline, an extension would likely bleed into Thanksgiving. Without resolution, the project would get bounced around December. Team members would juggle it with their previously scheduled holiday travels. Next thing you know, it’s January and you aren’t too much further along.


This shared language can rally a team and keep the trains running on time. Getting off track is inevitable. It can be a sign of trouble or a sign of real innovation. More important than reasons or excuses, the team should understand what it takes to fix it.

Battling Indifference within Service Work

A few years ago, we were working on a logo design project for a cities parks and recreation department. While putting together three examples, we decided to add a fourth alternative. Unlike the first three, this fourth option was dated and clearly inferior. It was an anchor to make the others look even better. Our hearts sunk when they selected and became unwavering about option four.
 
Polar Notion, like many creative teams, focuses on bringing ideas to life. Other people’s ideas. We have a talented team that has seen hundreds of projects. This experience allows us to track trends across the industry and dial in our intuition. Our team pours days, weeks, and months into the thoughtful execution of these projects.
 
From time to time, clients ignore our expertise. Whether direction shifts or minds change, our efforts are rendered unnecessary. It can be defeating and discouraging.
 
Eventually, this type of behavior can lead to indifference and burnout. As humans, we enjoy creating but the work should be seen, experienced, and enjoyed. Crafting something special only to live unshared is demoralizing.

Open-handed and Close-handed

Sitting in the tension of client services, I separate choices into two types. Our work yields open-handed solutions and close-handed solutions. An open-handed solutions is one in which there is ample flexibility. We may have an opinion, but can compromise without much resistance. A close-handed solution is one in which we have a strong opinion. Unlike an open-handed solution, we push harder on close-handed issues. These are choices there is a deep conviction about. They are the hills worth dying on.
 
A few years ago, I began practicing a three strike policy for close-handed issues. If convinced about a decision, I’ll make three attempts to plead my case. With each attempt, I become more deliberate with expressing the value and the risks of opting out. The third and final attempt comes to a head with me stating, “I can budge and we can move on. But what I hear you telling me is I need to do what I’m told. Is that correct?”
 
Hired for our expertise, acknowledgement here can shift us into a passive posture. If three such instances were to occur, we know it’s time to part ways.

Walking Well in the Tension

We want to be respectful, generous, and humble but we are also hired to do a job. When it’s clear our opinion is not valued, it undermines our value and wastes everyone’s time.
 
In the end, we’re in a constant battle against indifference. The three strike policy is a way of protecting our passion. It also provides a shared vocabulary that promotes credibility and trust with those who entrust our team with their ideas and inspiration.