Blog on Hiatus

Dear Readers:

I am putting this blog on hiatus for now. If you value the articles on this blog and would like them to resume please drop me a line using the contact page or leave a comment below. Unless there is sufficient interest the blog will be closed permanently later this year.

I am re-evaluating my on-line presence. I’ve very much enjoyed bringing my readers the information that this blog has addressed over the past ten years. Depending on interest however it may be time to move on to other endeavors.

Thank you for reading and for your interest in self-improvement.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.

Work Smarter Not Harder

You’ve heard this before: work smarter, not harder. But what does it mean? How do we do that?

Eric Barker recently posted on his Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog a discussion about what research has shown about how to work smarter (and maybe no harder?). I will leave the discussion of the studies and researchers to Barker. I will also note that some of that research comes from UC Berkeley professor Morten Hansen who has written the book called Great Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More.

Here are three great tips from Hansen’s work on this:

[1] Avoid multi-tasking. You know a lot of recent research shows that we do not perform well when we multi-task. Hansen found that top performers focus on fewer goals. However they obsess on those few goals. They became highly focused on their goals seeking high quality work and results.

To achieve this means ruthlessly eradicating all those tasks, chores and diversions that sap our time and our energy. His guide is to reduce your work to as few as you can, as many as you must. This means not checking email every ten minutes. It will wait. It means avoiding unnecessary meetings.

[2] Use the Learning Loop. Pick only one skill to develop and work hard at it. Take 15 minutes a day to review your performance on your skill. Ask how you could do it better. Isolate micro-behaviors, those little things that can make such a difference. Also get feedback from others about how well you are doing and what can be improved.

[3] Feel passion and purpose. Top achievers not only follow a passion they also pursue a purpose. He suggests you do this as follows:

  • Task passion: The obvious one. What you do excites you.
  • Achievement passion: A salesperson might not be keen on the product, but they get a high every time they close a big deal.
  • Creative passion: An engineer might not be thrilled about the project, but they love solving hard problems.
  • People passion: The company or the job might not be that great, but you love supporting and interacting with the people around you.
  • Learning passion: We’ve all heard someone say that they love what they do because they learn something new every day.
  • Competence passion: We all get excited when we’re doing something we’re good at.

He gives an example of how zoo keepers view their often mundane chores of cleaning animal pens. Some saw it as a disagreeable chore that just had to be done. Others saw a purpose in it – to keep the animals healthy and comfortable. The latter group did a better job. Purpose is about what you are doing for others – whether they are zoo animals or people.

Using these three principles: Do less and then obsess; Use the learning loop; and Feel passion and purpose, all allow us to achieve more.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.

When to Buy a New Device

Apple comes out with a new phone about once a year. Samsung is not far from that. Likewise, computer models, cameras, and every other device commonly used today are updated regularly. Millions of people buy these new “updated” models every year or two even though the device they have is working fine. These companies have done a very effective marketing job. They have convinced so many to replace an expensive device that is working fine to upgrade to a model that is if at all only slightly better than the one they are using.

Joshua Becker wrote recently on the BecomingMinimalist blog about this. Becker’s points are well made:

  • People do not seem to fully appreciate the difference between functional obsolescence and technical obsolescence. Obsolescence is technical when a new model is released; it is functional when the old model no longer functions well (usually because it cannot run upgraded software).
  • Consumers feel the need to keep up by upgrading to the newest model even though it may not be significantly better than the old one and even though the old one works fine.
  • We then collect old devices and the cords and other peripherals that came with the old devices and they clutter our homes. Of course, we could recycle those old devices and attachments.
  • We could save a lot of money and clutter if we ignore the manufacturer’s siren call to replace our device just because a new shiny model has come out and only replace our device when it no longer serves its purpose.
  • These devices, especially phones, are expensive. What could you do with that money if you did not spend it on the latest model?

Becker suggests that the question we should ask ourselves is whether a new device will really improve our lives.

My experience with the iPhone is that after about two years the battery loses holding power and the phone slows down – it just cannot run the upgraded software as fast. I’ve also had two-year-old phones get quirky and require more rebooting. I generally replace them every two years. I never buy the latest model. I buy the last model that came out before the current model. They are usually a little cheaper and they work just fine.

If my two-year-old phone would work fine I’d keep it longer. For me it is strictly a question of utility. I have no need to have the latest bells and whistles.

When should you upgrade to a newer phone? When your current phone no longer performs well enough to meet your needs. You can surely use the money you save by delaying upgrades for many better things.

Learn how to manage your money, eliminate debt and build wealth in my book, Your Financial Success.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.

How to Plan and Hold Effective Meetings by Daniel R. Murphy

During my professional career I’ve attended several thousand meetings and chaired many of them. Many of these meetings have been less effective than they should have been. Preparing for a meeting requires some real work to make the meeting truly useful and to avoid meetings that need not be called at all.

A lot of thought and a fair amount of writing has gone into how and when to hold meetings. Amy Gallo suggests there are seven imperatives to keep meetings on track. These are based on what experts have said about effective meetings. These imperatives include: Make the purpose of the meeting clear; Control the size of the meeting; Set the right tone; Manage ramblers; Control tangents; Make careful transitions; and End the meeting well.

Should a Meeting Happen

Elizabeth Grace Saunders published an article in Harvard Business Review in 2015 outlining a process to determine whether a meeting is necessary.  The process is outlined in the graphic below:


If this process were followed before meetings were called, especially ad hoc meetings, there would be fewer meetings held and the ones that occurred would be more effective.

Often people fail at the first step. They fail to clearly define the problem or problems to be solved and the decisions that need to be made. Sufficient thought is then often not given to the best way to address a problem or task and whether a meeting is really needed. Meetings are often called to “brainstorm” something without a clear idea of what the objective is.

Often information can be solicited without a real time conversation. In these situations an email or phone call may be a much better use of everyone’s time than a meeting.

How often have you attended a meeting when the questions presented were not adequately thought through in advance? When the task of the meeting was not well-defined? When materials and information needed for the meeting were not provided in advance? Adequate preparation for a meeting is essential for it to be an effective use of everyone’s time.

The challenge here is to be well prepared for a meeting while still leaving genuine decision making and analysis to be done during the meeting. There is little point in calling a meeting just to tell everyone what decision has already been made. Meetings require the free exchange of ideas and the willingness on everyone’s part to be open-minded and consider new ideas.

Who Should Attend Meetings

Meetings are most effective when:

  1. Those attending have a clear reason to be there and understand it;
  2. Those attending have a genuine contribution to make;
  3. Those attending should have the authority to make decisions.

In deciding who should attend a meeting one must first determine how important it is to have a face-to-face meeting. Meetings take up valuable time that participants might put to a better use. They can also require extensive costs for travel, meeting venues, etc. Before asking people to participate, give their time and expend these costs it should be clear that the meeting is necessary.

The Agenda and the Chair

Setting a clear agenda and providing it in advance to all who will attend a meeting is essential. The agenda defines, limits and organizes the meeting to achieve a goal or a set of goals. A good agenda:

  1. States the purposes of the meeting – what needs to be decided.
  2. Creates a clear beginning time and ending time – time is very valuable to all who attend and should not be wasted.
  3. Sets limits on what the meeting will consider and do.
  4. Has been created with some serious thought about what the meeting should achieve.

An effective chairperson for a meeting will hold the meeting to that agenda and avoid wasted time.  The chairperson should make it clear to everyone why they are meeting and what needs to be decided. The agenda if the primary tool for doing this. The chairperson must also keep the meeting on task. People will naturally go off task or head down various tangents that may waste time. On the other hand if a participant points out something that has not been thought of that has direct bearing on the success of the meeting this should not be ignored or squelched.

The chairperson should also insure that at the end of the meeting a decision is made, or if necessary is postponed until more information is obtained. The chairperson will make sure that “next steps” or “action items” are clearly agreed upon at the meetings’ end. There may be nothing worse than a meeting that changes nothing and achieves nothing because there is no follow-up.

The chairperson should provide in advance all the written materials that the meeting will consider and the participants should read those materials in advance to avoid the waste of time that occurs when people sit around a table reading documents.

If we follow these guidelines for effective meetings they will make best use of time, reduce participant’s frustrations, and achieve more. Meetings will become more effective and more meaningful.

Learn how to manage your time to achieve more of what you want to do in my book, Effective Time Management. Get free lessons on how to use your time more effectively with my Effective Time Management Lessons.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.

Seth Godin’s First Law of Organizational Thermodynamics

In physics there is a well-accepted law, called Newton’s First Law of Thermodynamics, which holds that energy cannot be created or destroyed – it is only converted from one form to another. Seth Godin postulates that in organizations it is just the opposite. He calls it the First Law of Organizational Thermodynamics. It holds that energy can be created or destroyed in an organization.

He further suggests that if you are in an organization you either create energy or you destroy it. This is a very clever idea. (But then Mr. Godin is known for his clever ideas.)

The naysayer, the pessimist, the person who contributes nothing of value to a meeting or a project – they destroy the organization’s energy.

The person who initiates improvements, who asks “what if”, and who makes positive contributions to the discussion – they create organizational energy.

I’ve witnessed this time and again in every organization I’ve worked in or with. I fully concur with Mr. Godin. You either contribute to an organization’s growth and development or you hinder it through negativity. Even the person who does nothing and says nothing can drain the energy from a project or an organization.

Which are you?

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.

Tiny Habits

James Clear is an author and speaker on productivity. He focuses on habits: how to stop the bad ones and promote the good ones.

Here is a CBS This Morning interview with Clear where he discusses the importance of habits in our life and how to control our habits.

The importance of our habits has been written about and studied for a long time. Though Clear did not invent this idea he is currently a leading voice for how to use our habits. Stephen R. Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People which became a best seller in 1989 was a seminal work on this. Covey wrote about how our habits define who we are and how we can cultivate important habit that will lead to over-all effectiveness. His scope was broader than Clear’s in that Covey was capturing out entire effectiveness in his teaching. Clear concentrates more on productivity.

Both Clear and Covey teach us a lot about how to use our habits and how to avoid the bad ones. To learn a bit more about Clear’s theories see the interview below…

Learn how you can achieve more and realize your goals in my book, The Success Essentials.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.

Too Much Bad News?

Bad news sells, always has. People’s attention is drawn to bad news, not so much to good news. Yet one hears or reads more these days about the excessive preoccupation with bad news. Steven Pinker, the author of several books including The Better Angels of Our Nature, which I will review here at a later date, argues that things are actually getting steadily better in the world though you’d never know if from the news. He discusses this in a recent article in the Guardian.

Pinker points out that in general things are actually getting better. There is less poverty, disease and violence today than at any time in recorded history. He does a credible job of demonstrating that in his book Better Angels but touches on it in the article as well.

One rarely sees news headlines about the reduction in violence, the improvements in medicine, the reduction of serious disease, etc. We do see a constant cacophony of bad news about the latest deadly disease, war, revolution, poverty, auto accident, plane crash, etc. Also these problems are often labeled as “crises”. This gives the impression that things are getting far worse, when in fact for the most part, when viewed objectively over time, most things are getting better. I recently posted on this just looking at 2017.

If you are constantly consuming this news about how bad things are it can distort your view of how the world really is. As Pinker points out bad things happen quickly while good things tend to occur gradually over a longer period of time and are therefore less noticeable.

Pinker notes, “[T]he nature of news is likely to distort people’s view of the world because of a mental bug that the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman called the Availability Heuristic: people estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind. In many walks of life this is a serviceable rule of thumb. But whenever a memory turns up high in the result list of the mind’s search engine for reasons other than frequency—because it is recent, vivid, gory, distinctive, or upsetting—people will overestimate how likely it is in the world”.

We are shocked by the devastation of a plane crash for example, yet we are desensitized to the many auto crashes each day. Though it is clearly safer to fly than it is to drive, we think the opposite because of this sensationalist portrayal of isolated incidents.

Pinker also notes that people who consume large amounts of negative news tend to be glummer than those who do not.

My wife had the good sense many years ago to limit her consumption of news for this reason and I’ve followed suit. I do read the paper and troll through on-line sources of news but I avoid television news because it is so sensationalist in its approach.

I do not suggest that we all stick our heads in the sand and ignore what is going on in the world. I do suggest that you limit your diet of constant bad news and at times exaggerated news. Bad things do happen and if we are to be intelligent and informed voters and citizens we need to be aware of them, at least in a general sense. It also is a good idea to seek out the good news. Seek some degree of balance.

If we are just conscious of the tendency of the media to focus on negative events (as opposed to trends) and are cautious about drawing inaccurate conclusions based on this kind of news we can think more critically. This requires one to seek news from multiple sources, read informative magazines and books.

There will always be bad things happening and bad news about them. There is no reason to immerse oneself in news about this all day long or to ignore the positive trends in the world.

Today’s good news is that over-all things are getting better for the world. We need to remember that and be thankful.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.

Americans Are Not Investing

Since the recession that started in 2008 people have not invested as much in stocks and are putting off buying homes.

In a recent Financial Sumurai post it is observed that more families than ever before have no wealth – their net worth is 0 or a negative amount. About 30% of households have no 401k, no IRA, no after-tax investment accounts. Some have only a residence as an investment, many do not even own their own home. This is the highest percentage of people without investments or savings since 1962 when only 26% had nothing saved or invested.

Not only will these folks never approach financial independence, they will not have enough money when they retire because no one can live on Social Security only. The maximum Social Security check is $2700 per month.

There are a number of reasons for this. The fall-out from the 2008-2012 recession is part of it, many lost their homes and their investments during that period. They also lost higher income jobs and lost the ability to save significant amounts. Real wage rates have dropped as well.

Stock ownership has now dropped below the pre-recession level of 60% of households – it is now at 52%.

Those that do have enough disposable income to invest are afraid of the stock market and do not know where to put their money, so many spend it.

People are putting off home purchases and now the average age for first time home purchase is 32. If you know you will stay in the same location for the long term it is far better to buy than rent a home. Although home prices have some volatility over the long term most values rise.

Millennial Problems

Millennials are facing, over-all, lower incomes than prior generations. Many cannot secure full time work and wage levels are lower. The recession scared many of them away from the stock market. Because they tend to change jobs and locations more often they have less incentive to buy a home.

At the same time their expectations are different than their parents. They expect to own an expensive smart phone with an unlimited data plan. They may travel more than their parents did at the same age. They are even putting off raising families because it is too expensive given their lower incomes and the lack of job security.

What Has Not Changed

The stock market has been very healthy now for a number of years. Those that put off investing have missed out on the earnings. Those that have not bought a home have missed out on the inflation hedge and other investment benefits that home ownership offers. Many of these folks are spending most of their income and saving little or nothing for the future.

Yet the over-all benefits from investing and home ownership remain valid. There will be corrections in both markets from time to time, the key is to invest for the long term which tends to mitigate losses. This has always been true and has not changed.

For those struggling with lower incomes, especially the young, there should be incentive to get more education or learn more skills to improve income prospects. For the sizeable portion of the population that have a decent income planning for the future is essential. Moving into middle age with no savings and no investments is courting disaster.

Most people with a stable income should be able to save at least 10% per year and invest it wisely. Diversification is very important to hedge against corrections. Putting money in a home and a retirement fund should happen as soon as it can be afforded. It does require putting off some immediate purchases and living below one’s means. But then again this has always been true.

What People Should Do

The formula for financial success is not complicated and not even difficult if one can put off some immediate gratification and plan for the future.

  1. Maximize income by building skills, education, seeking the best paying employment, taking on an additional part time job or income opportunity, and over time develop passive income streams.
  2. Live within your means -probably the most important financial rule.
  3. Avoid debt unless it is to buy a house. Pay off existing debt as quickly as possible and avoid incurring credit card debt.
  4. Save something every month, even if it is only $10. Make saving automatic.
  5. Keep careful track of expenses and investments.
  6. Build an emergency fund to help avoid debt.
  7. When savings are sufficient begin to invest and invest wisely.

By following these methods millions have attained some measure of financial security and eventually independence.

Learn how to manage your money, eliminate debt and build wealth in my book, Your Financial Success.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.

Synergy from Justice

Treating Others with Dignity

There are many reasons we should treat others with dignity. If we wish to fair with others and win their friendship we must treat them with dignity. If we wish to sleep soundly at night with a clear conscious we must treat others with dignity. If we wish to be treated properly by others we must treat others with dignity. If that were not enough, and it is, there are three good reasons to treat others well.

Justice is the Right Thing to Do

Treating others with dignity is being just. All humans deserve dignity. They deserve to be treated kindly and justly. It is the right thing to do. That should be enough. Seth Godin commented on this recently. As usual Godin’s pithy observations are spot on.

What Goes Around Comes Around

The longer one lives the more one learns that our actions come back to us. You can call it Karma or such other label as you like. If you treat others well, you are more likely to be treated well by them. It does not matter if they are your employees, your customers, people over whom you have authority, your neighbors or your family. How you treat them will in the end define how they treat you. So, if you need a self-serving reason to be just to others and treat them with dignity this will fit the bill.

Relationships are Critical

At no time in history has the cultivation of relationships with others been more important. We are interdependent. Cultivation of good relationships will help both those whom we treat well and ourselves. Together people can create more and achieve more than they ever can by alone. This is the synergy of justice.

The idea of treating others well is nothing new. It is in the foundation of every great philosophy and every great religion. We humans are social creatures that need one another to make civilization work. When we fail to see that, and fail to treat others justly, we all lose.

Whether you do it for self-serving reasons, to promote cooperation and justice in society or just because you believe it is the right thing to do matters less than that you do it – that you treat others with dignity and justice.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.

Impatience and Ambition

Does ambition create impatience? Darius Foroux writing on his blog suggests that they go hand-in-hand. Perhaps more importantly he discusses how important patience can be to success, whether it is in investing or other areas of life.

Our brains are wired for impatience. We get all kinds of good feelings from immediate results. Our brains do not want to wait. They have a chemical bias in favor of immediate gratification. Putting gratification off and exercising patience requires the intelligent exercise of self-discipline.

Foroux notes this about Leonardo da Vinci: “Leonardo da Vinci, who’s considered as one of the greatest artists in history, understood the danger of impatience.

In Mastery by Robert Greene, I read that Leonardo’s motto was ostinato rigore, which translates as “stubborn rigor” or “tenacious application.”

Every time he worked on a project, he reminded himself that he would approach his work with the same vigor and tenacity that he always showed. Leonardo never overlooked the details of his work. That takes patience.”

Da Vinci understood that to achieve great work required long hard practice and patience. It also requires rigore – discipline. Discipline tempers impatience.

Significant achievement in any endeavor usually requires a long period of work. One must be patient through that working period – which may be days or may be years, to get to where one wants to be. Whether it is a sound investment strategy, building a business, or pursuing a career, patience is essential because the task will take time and perseverance.

Patience is a learned skill developed by practicing it. It is contrary to our natural tendency toward impatience. It can pay off handsomely with any task that takes time.

Learn how you can achieve more and realize your goals in my book, The Success Essentials.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.