Positive Outliers

Online Training or Online Learning?

One of my subscribers read my Roadworks article and she was interested in my explanation of this statement I made:

“Online training is good in itself, but it really is not what I am called to do in this season.”.

Thank you, Cathie. It does deserve a fuller explanation.

What’s Wrong with Online Training?

There is nothing wrong with the idea of people with pertinent experience providing online training courses to others, particularly at this time. I have done it myself and, in all likelihood, I will do it again.

I see a growth in people owning their own learning.

I see a growth in people owning their own learning. So online courses are a great resource if the topic is relevant, and the learner needs more information and more of a know-how challenge.

Yet, there are several reasons why I have backed away from majoring on online training for the present.

Here are my three main reasons:

1. My Priority is Writing

It has become clear to me, particularly at the onset of the pandemic, that I have a calling to write. I have come to realise that other forms of work that once were a primary expression for me in previous seasons of my career are not as relevant right now.

It was not so long ago that I was a full-time training consultant. I ran a training business. Training, online or face-to-face, was my thing.

Not now. Writing is my Big Rock. It’s my priority; designing, building, marketing and administrating courses is not now. Nor do I find post-editing videos for hours is a rewarding use of my time.

This is not to say that I would not return to building online learning in the future. For now, though, I write as my primary calling.

And I’m comfortable with that.

2. Online Training is More Knowledge-Push

Also, I’m mindful that most online training is very propositional, very content-driven, very how-to. An online course takes people through steps, rules, offers techniques and explains them.

However, on the whole, such online training is mostly knowledge-push, not wisdom-pull. It does not help us develop divergent and connective thinking skills.

At the first level of any skill, particularly to do with using technology or learning a new language, or learning basic theory, this is what the student needs, and the shorter the better. Knowledge is important. Know-how is valuable.

Most forms of online training, and most tools to do it, force the training designer into a content-driven approach. The thinking is that the more content, the more valuable is the course.

What I do is beyond know-how

In my area, though, I aim to help my readers become positive outliers, people who go on to achieve greater potential in themselves. I invite them to learn, to pull from me in the context of conversations. It delights me to see them grow. Content is part of this, a necessary part. However, it is beyond know-how.

I want to help my clients leave the territory of rules to the challenge of navigating the unique unknown, where relationships and principles matter more than techniques and apps. Practice by make trial in action is the key. See my post and video on developing our critical skills.

3. Not Enough Bandwidth and Personal Expertise

I do not have the bandwidth right now. Margin is important to us all, not least to me who has advocated it in my writing and coaching. I might do if I found the right partners skilled in these areas of content creation and marketing, in the future. Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy’s book, Who Not How has helped me realise that I must not exhaust myself in domains that are not my strength.

A Bigger Impact

So, for the time being, the alternatives I offer my clients are one-to-one coaching, small group facilitation or workshops, and coaching my Mastermind group of creatives.

I take as my example a teacher of 2,000 years ago who invested himself in the few, mostly asked questions, understood that his students grew most when they worked on the most important questions for themselves, and so started the largest human movement on this planet.

Making the biggest impact in this world often comes by starting small

Making the biggest impact in this world is often by starting small, and helping others learn by asking pertinent and timely questions in the context of a safe relationship.

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Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

The Only Thing that Matters is This

Photo by Matt Bero on Unsplash

In my last article, When Work Speeds Up, I used a short video to illustrate my point.

Allow me to do the same again in talking about priorities. This time the clip comes from a movie called City Slickers (1991), and this scene features two of the main characters, the old hardened cowboy, Curly, played by Jack Palance, and one of the city slickers on a ranch holiday, Mitch, played by Billy Crystal.

Is this true, though? Is it all about “figuring out the One Thing” or is this just Hollywood sentimental psychobabble?

There is no doubt about the fact that most of us have a tendency to take on more than we can handle, more commitments than one life can meet. All these different demands on us clamour for top priority, or at least for our momentary attention.


When I read Gary Keller’s, One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, I was intrigued to learn that the word priority, was always used in the singular in English until the nineteenth or early twentieth century. Maybe this was because we bought the lie that we couldn’t possibly have only one priority in the modern world.

We can dismiss pre-20th century wisdom as something quaint and naif from a more relaxed and stressless age, and say, “Now we must focus on many things.”

The problem is that our performance begins to take a dive when do this. Humans are not equipped, it seems, to deal with many things at once. Multi-tasking, loved by many who thrive on the adrenaline rush of feeling they are being super-productive, has been demonstrated to be a huge waste, a waste of time. This way of working requires switching the brain when we move from one task to another. We try to keep as many plates spinning as possible, but that is all we are doing. As we rush from one matter to another, there is a depletion of time and energy, not to mention cognitive confusion and emotional stress.

And we carry this foolish, crazy way of thinking into our organisations as well, making them dazed and internally competing towards this downward spiral.

So, what is the alternative?

Developing the Habit of the Daily MIT

At any moment in time, there is one thing that is needful. That is your MIT, your Most Important Task. This is true in the moment, for your day, in a project, in a month, in our lives – whichever time horizon you choose. And, as Curly said, “That’s for you to figure out.” The rest is about triaging all the calls for your attention, rejecting most of them, returning to the rest, but keeping your eyes on that priority.

I talk about this more in My Daily Bullet Journal Method.

Curly challenged Mitch to discover the One Thing for his life. For most of us, that will take some time, in prayer and meditation.

How about we set the bar a little lower to begin with? What about the next day? Ask yourself this question:

What is the most important thing for me to achieve in the next day that will make everything else easier, more achievable or irrelevant?

Let me know in the comments what you discovered using this approach.

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.

Positive Outliers

Working Out My Work

In my recent post called, A Portal of Possibilities, I described the time I first got my hands on an Apple Macintosh 128K, and how it dazzled me and drew me into a new world of possibilities. The power of these new tools and the possibilities they gave me, consumed my focus.

However, I had a team. Whilst I focused on this new technology, I was neglecting them. I needed to rebalance my efforts, and quickly.

How Do Others Do It?

So, I began to study what other people did to organise their work lives. It was as if I had added one other project to my project portfolio: me.

I had been on time management courses, but I knew that this challenge was a larger matter than really how I sped through things, and how I allotted time to my different tasks. What helped other people to keep focused on what mattered? What is productivity?

In my story about my recruitment blunder, I wrote about the overuse of the term management and, among other things, it is unhelpful and perhaps even damaging, when we use management to the act of engaging with the people around us. I wrote this about time management:

We are in time, so how can we manage it? That’s like asking a fish to do water management. Fish swim, yes. But they don’t control the water.

I was discovering that there was only one person I should manage. In fact, it was, imperative that I did so. That person was me.

In the literature on emotional intelligence, also known as EQ, the bedrock of EQ is first, self-awareness, and then, self-management.

EQ Main Skill Areas

What should I do first? What should I do next?

Sooner or later, we all come to the realisation that even our boss – if we even have a boss – cannot be expected to tell us the What and the How of everything we should do. We need to work that out for ourselves. It also remains for us to identify next, our priority, what or whom we should attend to next.

Leading Yourself
Succeeding from the Inside Out

As I explained in my book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out, self-management follows self-leadership. The enemy of effective working for any of us, particularly portfolio workers, or even portfolio creators, is stress, driven by hurry and distraction.

So I began a quest for the way to manage my time better. I later realised that this was crucial to making sense of my work and to the process of managing it effectively.


I had begun with lists, to-do lists. I think everyone creates lists, as they start to order their work. I tried labelling each item with priorities such as A or B or C, as I had been taught on my time management training, but this seemed clumsy. Also, my lists got longer. Important stuff got lost in the middle somewhere. I found myself writing out longer and longer lists. Moving them to my PC seemed a natural way to go, but I ended up printing out and amending these lists by hand. We didn’t have the list apps available to us today. But still, the handwritten vs digital divide seemed awkward to me.

Covey’s First Things First

Early on, I came across the work of the late great Stephen Covey, in such books as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First. His approach was refreshingly different. I liked the breadth and depth of Covey’s analysis, which encompassed much of EQ. It was practical whilst being principle-based, rather than locking me into one particular methodology. Covey highlighted the Eisenhower Matrix and how something that was urgent was not necessarily important. Making a distinction between what was merely urgent and what was also important became a critical way of thinking for me.


This Danish-based system came in the form of a training course backed up with a proprietary set of stationery. We had a quality A5 Filofax-type ring binder, with extensible add-ons that could be tailored to different uses. I remember that it had a detachable perfect-bound calendar pocket notebook that I found particularly useful. 

After a couple of years, though, I found the system a little too prescriptive. It didn’t allow me to evolve and tailor my approach. There were some software integrations later on, but those were in the early days of hybrid paper-digital solutions and software was not seamless or robust. 


As the world of knowledge workers continued to speed up with multiple streams of inboxes calling for my attention, along came David Allen with his book, Getting Things Done. His GTD approach seemed to offer the benefits of a system whilst keeping it robustly simple. His key was to keep a single inbox and to triage incoming messages to delete, do immediately if less than two-minutes’ effort, store as a project, or archive.

GTD was focused on taming these various ‘inboxes’ of our lives, and it fulfilled that objective well. But I felt GTD lacked something. It did not help me to continually reshape my work as new roles and challenges arose.


As a coach and trainer at the time in project management, we were seeing agile software development grow as a movement. Two aspects, in particular, fascinated me:

  1. The use of the Kanban board to prioritise and move team member tasks through conception to completion; and
  2. The cycle of scheduled retrospective meetings which helped an agile development team become an adaptive, self-improving learning organisation.

At the time, I was using Trello to manage my personal commitments. Later, I came across Personal Kanban, by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry. What they set out resonated with what I was doing. I began to incorporate it into a course a client asked me to design and run, called Organising Yourself More Effectively.

The Rise of VUCA

All the while, the world seemed to be accelerating towards VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Like many, I was being challenged with increasing demands, and increasingly complex ones at that. I had to manage my own experience of VUCA and ensure I didn’t become swallowed into the vortex of aimless distraction and chaotic stress.

So, I have evolved how I work out my days. It is a critical skill in surviving these times of noise, hurry and distraction. More than that, I have to find it is possible to do more than survive. We can thrive and overcome. However, I find that I need to keep adapting my own system of self-management.

Three Conclusions

In the course of my own journey out of this chaos, I have concluded that:

  1. Margin is important, whether it be time margin, health margin, financial margin or space margin. Margin protects us from the unexpected, providing us with a buffer against becoming someone who is permanently driven by circumstances. We cannot outrun VUCA. We cannot merely increase the speed and throughput of our work. In fact, it is better to declutter and create space.
  2. There is only ever one priority in any given moment. We need a solution to help discover what that one priority is, helping keep us focused on that, despite all the distractions around us.
  3. We can become too task-focused for our own good, and we need to consider the relationships around us.

Most of the above productivity approaches are one- or two-dimensional. I’m realising now that we need to manage ourselves in at least three dimensions.

I will explain what I mean by these three dimensions in my next blog.

In the meantime, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo by John Sekutowski on Unsplash

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.

Leaning to Action Positive Outliers

Big Rocks

I put together this video as part of our Living as if Your Year Matters course:

It reminded me just what a genius the late, great Stephen Covey was. I think I came across this in his book First Things First, which remains every bit as relevant today.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below.

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Personal Margin Self-Awareness

Multiple Priorities? Really?

This article is updated from the version published earlier in 2018.

Very likely, the following scene will be familiar to you.

I was invited to facilitate a strategic workshop. I was told fairly early on, “We have 32 strategic objectives we need to meet.”

“OK,” I replied. “Which one is the most important?”

You can probably guess my client’s reply…

“They all are.”

Now, what’s wrong with this picture?

When 32 strategic objectives are all a priority, something is wrong. Badly wrong.

If you are inclined to say, “Nothing, that’s just the way business has to be in these complicated days,” then I would ask you to think with me for a moment. Too many of our organisations are like the proverbial donkey who is stalled into inaction because of two competing piles of hay.

Surprise Findings in Neuroscience

The more we learn about the human brain, the more we learn how awesome is its capacity, but also how limited it is to consciously focus on things in the foreground of our awareness. Neuroscientists put the number of items we can concurrently focus upon to be as low as four.

So we have a dilemma. There are all these targets our organisations set us to meet, but we can only focus on a few.

One Thing

Recently, as part of the current release of our Leading Yourself Workshop, I released a book review of Gary Keller’s The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. At one point, Keller explained that the word Priority entered into the English language in the 14th Century. It came from the Latin word prior meaning first. What surprised me was that it was only made plural in the 20th Century: priorities. Think about that. To previous generations, to talk about priorities would have been madness.

I suspect the human brain, and a team, and a project, and even an organisation works better with a priority than it does with priorities. Priorities (plural) begin to generate confusion, internal competition for attention and erode focus.

What if we were to budget to one priority in any given moment?

OK, complex organisations do have a number of matters to achieve, but budgeting to one priority begins to make us dig deeper. We begin to see the dependencies between different objectives, where some enable others. For example, here is an Outcome Relationship Model of an Olympics Legacy development.

Outcome Relationship Model Example

We begin to see the real drivers of organisational success. Maybe some of these objectives or targets can be met, or more easily met if we were to focus on the one thing.

Focusing on One Thing

As an individual, if I invest time now in making this blog post a priority at this moment, focusing upon it exclusively to everything else that clamours for my attention, it may help me meet some of my other objectives later.

Focus is inseparable from this kind of singular attention.

Now, this is not to say that my priority may not change during the day; it does. Nor will my priority today be the same as tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Priority is the matter I should focus on now.


In my coaching, I recommend clients identify maybe three or four planned tasks they intend to achieve each day. Among those, I ask them to identify their MIT, their Most Important Task. This is the daily priority, that one thing they commit to achieving that day. The real value, though, is not the MIT itself; it’s in the process of deciding that MIT. This is where we gain clarity and leverage over our day.

Now, this is not to say that we can expect no surprises during our day. What I identify in the high-performers, the Positive Outliersis a quality of mental agility to switch in a moment their priority. Something comes up. It requires urgent attention. They fully focus on that task. And when they are done, they return to their MIT. This is very different from multi-tasking two or more priorities at the same time.


The MIT is my technique for identifying my personal priority each day. What is yours? Leave your comment below.

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

A free course that takes you through the workflows of how I use bullet journaling for my Daily Heads Up, Gratitude List, Weekly and Monthly reviews.