Jeremy’s Quest for Focus

In my recent blogs, I’ve talked about distraction, discipline and procrastination as my clients’ most common complaints. You’ve asked for examples from extreme to mild, so here you go! Let’s start with an extreme case, as in extremely interesting and challenging.  Jeremy is 26 years old with ADHD. He is very hyper and alas, a brilliant wantrepreneur. He’s tried ADHD medications to no avail; the side effects and mental dampening were intolerable.  Jeremy’s brain is like an idea magnet (sounds familiar?). He has trouble focusing because ideas keep pouring into his head all day and night. Jeremy lives with his very wealthy parents and dabbles in freelance programming.  He spends several hours a day researching (defined by him as “whipping through a hundred sites a minute”) and incessantly checking social media. At this point Jeremy sees his lack of mental control as his biggest enemy. It frustrates and saddens him, but he’s motivated. He sees many of his friends with lesser intellect start and succeed in startups. Jeremy sees no path to success unless he can harness his focus and concentration.

With a student like Jeremy there are two ways to start: #1 decrease the anxiety by a variety of alternative means (biofeedback, meditation, etc.), or #2 engage him in an exercise that will yield some appreciable, short term results proving that self control is possible. I chose #2 as a first step. We began by identifying his top 5 favorite ideas out of current list of 30 favorites. We agreed to give each idea no less than 5 minutes of discussion. (Forcing focus on only one idea in the session would be maddening for Jeremy and possibly cause major damage to my office!) We talked through one idea at a time though, using cues to avoid digression. This exercise was like drug withdrawal for him. Digging deep into the nuts and bolts of one project at a time was painful. Logistics narrowed down the list to 3 possible projects. With pen in hand (archaic perhaps, but better for retention) Jeremy divided a paper in thirds, a column for each of the three remaining projects. He took notes in bullets and organized the steps in sequence. After a grueling 90 minutes, there was a structure on paper, something tangible, satisfying and exciting to see. He became quiet and felt quite pleased with himself. This was the almost instant gratification Jeremy needed to further his practice in honing his focus. In future blogs, I’ll share Jeremy’s progress and how, step-by step, he became successful.

Would you like to sharpen your focus and concentration and get your projects off the ground? Write to me at [email protected].  Read about my CoreFour Coaching at

“After the holidays…” Seriously?

Attention: Self-starters! Yes, you with projects on the table − this “after the holidays” excuse ranks Number One on the Procrastination leader board. It’s getting old, and it’s obsolete. It worked well before online shopping, when writing Christmas cards took two full evenings to complete, and when you felt compelled to write those long-winded, egocentric letters telling people about your fabulous year. Come on. You’re going to hold off doing anything productive until “after the holidays?” It’s almost laughable.

Friends, the holidays are a great time to hunker down away from distraction and get work done. You can still have family time and take a few days to hit the Mall, the slopes or the beach, but to postpone your personal and business progress because of the holidays is slacker-speak!

Two more reasons I cringe when I hear this refrain (my older clients know not to utter that phrase in my presence)  is that the holiday excuse gives people license to fudge on the habits or disciplines they’ve cultivated over the last couple months. Those nascent circuits (more productive behaviors and habits) trying to get a foothold in your brain start to break down. After a week or so of letting your efforts slide, you’ll have to start from square one again!  The other problem with this excuse is that after the holidays it takes days, and for some weeks, to get back into the swing of things.

Here’s how I follow my own advice: I’m 100% family on Christmas Day and the first night of Hanukah. Then I take a holiday week and go ski. I ski from 8:00a.m to 3:00p.m., followed by an hour of après-ski until 4:00. By 4:30 I’m back in my room writing, researching, responding to emails and checking in with my clients. Other family members have a separate room so my husband and I can work distraction free. Come 7:00 it’s dinner− quality,guilt-free time to focus on my family.

So, go ahead and carve out some hours of fun and relaxation with your family, but figure out how you can keep honing those new skills and routines you’ve started. After that first week in January, you’ll emerge on schedule and ahead of the game compared to others who are just getting over the holidays.

If you want to get started building your core skills and routines before or during the holidays – don’t delay. Visit or write me at [email protected] and we’ll get going!

A Down Day? “GOOD!” says Jocko Willink

Are you a fair weather worker? Can you only be productive when the sun is shining? I have many clients who dread a gray, overcast day. Perhaps there are other gloomy things going on in your life – oversights, lost opportunities or rejection?

Here in West Newbury it’s 29 degrees and cloudy. As I get older, I find my moods are tainted by the weather too. Living out here in the countryside the weather is right in my face big time; no tall buildings to obscure the truth.  It’s my challenge then to open doors, make the calls, send those emails, write a chapter or two for my manuscript and do my workout. So, when I look outside and see the fog and drizzle, before I let the weather color my world, I follow the advice of Jocko Willink, a retired Navy Seal Officer, author of the awesome Discipline Equals Freedom — I proclaim a loud, resounding “GOOD!” I feel an immediate physiological change – I feel taller, lifted, I’m smiling and ready to take action. If you shout “BAD” instead, notice how terrible that feels! Language is very powerful in this way.

So, when things aren’t going so well, when you feel frustrated or overwhelmed shout  “GOOD! Now, let me take a step back and see how to solve this situation.”  This moves you right to problem solving mode before you slip into the slow, low doldrums of hopelessness. Speak aloud your solutions and intentions of the day too! Turn that bad mood on its head. Got it? GOOD!

What do you think? Try it out and let me know! Together, let’s power up your Core for 2018! Read about my Core Four Coaching at


The Entrepreneur Reality Check

This is not meant to discourage you about entrepreneurship. Au contraire! If, after you read this, you are jumping up and down and yelling, “Yeah, bring it on baby!” you truly have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. However, if these realities make you queasy, don’t quit! Just step back and think how you might manage some of these realities.  If you say “Hell no, I will accept none of these,” I have saved you a lot of time, money and aggravation.

Already knee deep in your venture? Look over this ERC just for the heck of it. These realities may already be apparent to you, but I’ve never met an entrepreneur 100% prepared for the fun ‘n games waiting for him or her around the bend.

TV shows like The Profit, Shark Tank, and West Texas Investors Club entice those with the entrepreneur spirit, while others gasp with horror at the thought of such personal risk taking. Like sporting events, there are winners, losers and lots of emotion. These shows often skimp on the true, behind the scenes realities of entrepreneurship.

Reality #1  If you think being an entrepreneur will give you more free time – forget that right now. You will have less free time.

  • Vacations and going out to restaurants will be fond childhood memories…for now.
  • You will continuously be in study mode − always learning and seeking information and opportunities.

Realty #2  You will fail…often. You’ll get over it.

Reality #3  You can also forget about trying to achieve “work/life balance” as the one in charge of building your business. Entrepreneurship will offset any semblance of a so-called “balanced lifestyle.” As Tony Robbins insists, you will have to “integrate your life into your work.”

Reality #4  Your family must buy-in to your venture and the entrepreneurial lifestyle that comes with it — 100%. If you are on the verge of committing to a love relationship or planning to start a family, be totally upfront with your significant other regarding  the demands entrepreneurship will require. It will be intense and time-consuming. Any little strains in your relationship now will be exponentially greater as you build your business. Divorce costs big time on many levels.

Reality #5 Whatever sleep you get, it better be good sleep.

Reality #6 Be prepared to be exhausted, frustrated, terrified, ignored, underestimated very often, and pleasantly surprised on occasion.

Are you still in the game? Great! Continue reading my COREageous blogs every week to advance your success!

Nap Know-How

Entrepreneurs need their sleep, but they often don’t get enough of the quality sleep needed to think straight, execute and perform. When I meet a client for the first time, I’ll ask about their sleep: Do you go to sleep at about the same time every night?  Do you fall asleep within 20 minutes or so? Stay asleep (except for the occasional bathroom break?  Wake up refreshed?  Only 2/10 will say “yes” to the last question — the most important one.  There are lots of helpful ways to get better sleep, as I will mention in future blogs. But, because it’s highly likely that you are sleep deprived right now, knowing the right kind of nap is a good business strategy.

The question often arises: What length of nap and what is the best time of the day to nap? Sleep experts tell us (and I have put myself through these nap rigors, so I can speak from experience), that the best time to take a nap is early in the day. This helps fill the sleep debt from the previous night. Naps taken after 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon may interfere in your evening sleep. The best nap is one that refreshes and restores and doesn’t take a lot of time from work. It’s the 10-20 minute nap, called “the power nap” that boosts alertness and energy.  It’s essential that you set a timer or something to keep it short. 30-60 minute naps can leave you groggy and grumpy. It can take you several minutes to get back to any kind of productive work. Interestingly, even if you don’t think you fell asleep during that short time, you probably did. But, remember, just lying down with your eyes closed and letting your body relax is more helpful than not resting at all. Give it a try and share your experience!


Four Points for Follow Through

Whenever I feel like stalling on a project, telling myself that I have plenty of time to finish it, or that today is not a good day for that sort of thing, I consider four points:

  1. the value I place on the project (respect, money, time-sensitivity, etc)
  2. the outcome I need to produce; what does “good enough or “near-perfect ” look like?
  3. how lousy I’ll feel if an emergency pops up that stalls this project even more, and
  4. the satisfaction I’ll experience when it’s completed.

As you approach the New Year, take a look at what project or projects you have in queue and consider these four points. Take your highest value project and parse out the steps needed to complete it, or to make greater headway on it, over the next 2-3 weeks. Schedule a reasonable amount of time every day to put in some effort toward this valuable project. It may be 15 minutes, it may be 2 or more hours a day, but consistent attention to it will bring you closer to the finish line.

Are You Wading in the Shallows?

Sorting all your tasks into the categories of Urgent, Urgent and Important, Important etc. can be maddening, time consuming and open to interpretation. Reportedly, this approach is helpful to many who can make many clear distinctions between tasks and act accordingly. But for most of my creatives and inventives, the two bucket approach (deep and shallow) is working better.  According to Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, we can sort our tasks into 2 fairly distinct categories. Deep tasks are those with high-payoff work requiring sustained concentration. Shallow work tasks are the low priority busy work tasks that make us look, but not feel, productive.

When I meet with clients who are short on tangible productivity, we’ll study their to-do lists from the previous week and find that about 80% of what was accomplished was shallow work and 20% was deep work (Pareto lives on!). The idea is to turn that around to 80% deep and 20% shallow. As an entrepreneur, what tasks will yield the most payoff, toward your goal? Those are the deep tasks (researching, planning an important presentation, accounting work etc) that require the most concentration and least distraction. These tasks completed will get you closer to your goal. Shallow work is necessary work, but it is easier, more enjoyable and less important to the bottom line. Because of our weakness with concentration and focus we tend to spend more time in the shallows.

In subsequent blogs I will share my solutions to the concentration and focus problems that keeps us wading in the shallows. But for now, clearly identify your deep and shallow tasks and see where you’ve been spending your time. Next, schedule your days around a core of deep work, with the shallow activities batched into smaller bursts when your energy dips or as a reward for getting the deep work done. If you’re short on time (no kidding!), I highly recommend reading the summary and analysis on Deep Work, for a more “in-depth” understanding.

Mindful Listening: 5 Steps to a Better Business in 2018

Mindful listening in the workplace saves time and money, improves productivity and creates employee AND customer loyalty. It is one of my four core skills that every founder needs to succeed. The holidays are a perfect time to connect better with your co-workers and customers, so apply any one or all of these mindful listening methods for a more prosperous 2018:

1)  “Set your mind” first thing every morning to focus.

Before you’re flooded with interruptions, set aside the first 5-10 minutes to close your office door, sit quietly with hands resting on your lap and breathe. Attend only to the feeling of deep inhalation and exhalation. When other thoughts creep into your consciousness, acknowledge them, let them pass for now and get back to the breath. Settle down the internal noise. After about 15 settling breaths, keep your eyes closed for the last couple minutes, and imagine the day as you would like to see it unfold. What, if you could accomplish it, would make you feel satisfied with your day?

2)  Create a ‘listening culture’ in house

Offer employees a Monday morning 8:00 a.m. bagel hour as a connecting, brainstorming new ideas and solutions without fear of reprisal. No idea is crazy. Talking through ideas that appear to be out of the ordinary will stir up the creative juices in team members.  Encourage top levels of management to be present whenever possible. Reinforce each person’s contribution.

3) Tell back what they said.

Paraphrasing is an old active listening technique, but we’re reluctant to use this powerful tool because we’re not good at it. Paraphrasing or telling back what someone said, in your own words, offers your speaker opportunities for clarification. It also saves you and your customer a lot of time, because with paraphrasing you get the message straight from the get-go.  On your way to work, get practice at telling back in your own words what you hear. Listen to a podcast. After about 5-10 minutes, pause the podcast and tell back ALOUD what you remember as much as possible. With practice, you’ll be able to WOW your customers with your conscientiousness, concern and efficiency, which is what customers LOVE. Paraphrasing aloud or silently to yourself during your practice helps to burn in information you want to remember – you’ll be smarter for it!

4) Don’t deny a complaint.

When customers complain, try to hear it as code for I’d really like to continue to do business with you. But, here’s a problem I’m having that can only make your company better. Complaining customers are a key component to your marketing department. This is where paraphrasing comes in handy. You don’t have to agree with them to be a good listener, but you do need to appreciate their reality.

5) Get them talking. Forget yourself!

Just like at the movies, forget yourself. To get customers and co-workers talking, ask open-ended questions like, “What are your objectives?” or “How could we do better for you?”  Allow the speaker to pause between thoughts. Let your curiosity take over your tendency to interrupt, give advice, judge their statements. Let their facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice tell you how they really feel about the product or service. You won’t learn anything from hearing your own movie again and again. Read more about the movie mindset in my book “The Zen of Listening.”  

Creativity Cautions

As an entrepreneur, I bet dollars to donuts that you love to engage in other creative endeavors well beyond your startup. Creativity is our lifeblood, but if not controlled, it can interfere, deter or sabotage your startup’s velocity. If you look back at my previous blog, A Morning Ritual, Not A Morning Retreat, it points out how an over-the-top morning ritual saps energy and adds more distraction. Instead of a morning ritual being a mind and body warm-up for a day of exceptional productivity, many of my clients, uberly creative, report indulging too much time and energy in their morning rituals. They are told, in addition to working out, to meditate, journal, drink their over-priced energy drinks and resist their email, and act on their creative yah-yahs before getting to work. Well, let’s get real here. We know how jump-starting those creative juices first thing in the morning may help one solve problems in their business or see things from another angle. But if you find that acting on your muse as part of your morning ritual a bit too musifying, here’s what you can do.

Creative activity can seep into your morning and bleed into your objectives for the day no matter how good of a time manager you are. Set an alarm for 30 minutes, an hour or reasonable time slot for creative flow. I rarely boast, but when it comes to managing my time, I’m awesome. HOWEVER, when I sit down to practice piano I tend to lose track of time; I require occasional clock checks to stay on schedule.

Creative endeavors tend to be so fun and joyful, that when it’s time to shift to work mode, it can take the smile out of “file” and the grin out of “call in” and the smirk out of “paperwork.” The to–do’s we avoid end up looking worse in comparison to our hobbies.

Don’t give your hobby a bad name. Try making your creative activity a reward for getting important tasks completed, either from the previous day or for an end-of-the-day incentive. Instead of hiding from your to-do’s, you’ll eagerly cross them off the list as quickly and efficiently as possible because your creative endeavor awaits!  Using creative activity as a reward versus a distraction streamlines the transition from the creative activity to the to-do’s. You’ll relish your creative activity so much more if you earn it!

Add a Little Stoicism to Your Startup





As a kid, going to the library for me was like going to a candy store. I never knew what yummy books and magazines I would find to devour; I rarely left empty-handed. Now, as an adult, with less time to read and more clients to help, most of my reading material is related to learning more about the brain and behavior. (When I retire, IF I DO, I’ll go back to picking up books on marine archeology and UFOs)!

As an adult, my trips to the library are just as adventurous, but more of a gamble, in that only about 6 out of 10 visits I’ll find something really helpful. However, 1 out of 10 times I‘ll leave with something life-changing for myself and for those I coach. A recent example of a 1 out of 10 moment was when I got to the “new books” table (it’s hilarious how my heart rate picks up when I approach this table− I’ve actually measured it!) and noticed a book on the philosophy of Stoicism, called “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. Despite my previous study of existentialism and Buddhism, I had never given Stoicism much thought until that day.

As I read about this 3rd century philosophy and all the famous people who subscribed to Stoicism from George Washington to the New England Patriots coaching staff, I was stunned to see how dead-on-the-mark applicable it was to two of my favorite topics− communication and entrepreneurship. Before you start rolling your eyes thinking that “Stoicism” is about living life with a stiff upper lip towards life, it is not like that. It is, as Epictetus (A.D. 50 – 135) put it, about how “to use our reason to choose how we categorize, respond and reorient ourselves to external events.”  What a better way to prepare a founder to weather the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. In future blogs, and as I learn more about this very inspiriting philosophy, I will occasionally sprinkle in helpful pearls of Stoic wisdom to add to your success as a person and as an entrepreneur.

To learn more about my CollegeCore and CoreFour Coaching for Entrepreneurs, see