Applying Your Personal Plan

This week’s article comes from an offline discussion with Mike about my personal planning writing.  What started the discussion was Mike’s question, “tell me more about how you build your personal plan.”

You can find a historical summary of many years worth of Personal Planning writing via the search function over on the EC site.  Here’s the article summary as well as the main post on my personal review list.

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– So you have your priorities set.  How do you break down the year into sections that you review?  You mentioned in one post that only after six months do you have enough time to actually track meaningful progress. How do you establish a feedback loop?  Are there people involved?  

I try to do 1-3 things in each 6-12 month block and I make it REALLY simple.  In my experience, successful people have the ability to consistently focus on a limited number of things that have a direct impact on getting stuff done.  The high achievers that I work with can tell you exactly what they are trying to do (Clarity) and structure their lives to get it done (Simplicity).  

When I work with folks that struggle to get stuff done, it’s nearly always because they are seeking to achieve a shopping list of items.  Just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Let’s use me for an example in three areas.  If you’re reading this blog then we’re going to overlap in at least one, I hope.

Athletic Performance:
  • Train Daily
  • Get Up Before 7AM
  • Don’t Drink
If I can do that then there’s only a handful of 40+ athletes in the world that are likely to beat me.  Clearly it takes much more than just these three for me to perform.  That’s true but I already know what it takes.  In triathlon, I need to focus on the items that might screw up my ability to perform.  So my athletic performance list is really a “not to do” list.

Financial Security:
The first two points cover what’s required to run into trouble in life – excessive spending and leverage.  The final point is the most fundamental aspect of investing (and life).  The Key Five of Investing (article from October) are my way of ensuring that I have a suitable margin of safety. I’ll come to valuation in due course.

Successful Marriage:
  • Be Kind
  • Create Frequent Opportunities for Communication
  • Do Fun Stuff Together
We avoid friction by doing the opposite of what causes friction.  This involves an element of compromise but, if I think about it, it’s not that hard to… to be kind, communicate and have fun with my wife!

My feedback loop is daily/weekly/quarterly.  I like written plans and the tactics that I use are so simple that it’s easy to remember them.  If I’m trying to change direction then creating signs (I see daily) works well for me.  I had a sign that broke down an 8:29 Ironman visible for two years before I managed to achieve that goal.

I also think you want to understand why you have goals.  Working towards goals shapes the type of life I want to lead on a daily basis.  It’s not about the goal.  It’s about enjoying the life that’s required to work towards the goal.  My life satisfaction is linked most strongly towards knowing that I’m on the path, rather than hitting the destination.  Simple, clear goals enable me to feel like I am making daily progress.

At times, I can miss my former life as an elite athlete.  I used to think that it was the training that I missed.  With the benefit of a several years of perspective, I’ve realized that what I miss is the clarity of purpose and daily victories that workout completion gave me.  The most rewarding periods of my life have been characterized by clarity of purpose and simplicity in execution.

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– I’d love to hear your thoughts on building a personal brand within a corporate environment.  What are the things that people with a great brand to that other with a poor brand don’t?  

Whether we realize it or not, we all have a personal brand.  When I was younger I was far from perfect!  My manners weren’t great and I was aggressive.  I used to joke that I competed on all fronts all the time and wasted a lot of energy.  Now my focus is helping my inner circle achieve their goals so they support the life I want to lead.  Let other people be successful so you can lead your life successfully.  Much different focus than beat everyone, all the time!

When I started in finance, I had three things going for me: I was reliable; worked hard; and was cheap. I did a tremendous amount of work for the partners and made their lives easier with little cost to the firm.  My goal was productivity, not promotion.  I ignored politics and did as much work as I could manage.

Interestingly, I probably learned 80% of the technical aspects of my job in the first two years I was at the firm.  Flipping that on it’s head, I made 80% of my financial return from private equity in my final two years at the firm. I ‘sold early’ with my financial career and left a lot of money on the table.  That said, in terms of my life, I timed my departure very well for participation in elite sport.  The guys that hung around aren’t going to be beating me at any triathlons (and my net worth will never approach their level).

In terms of my coaching brand, the approach is identical.  Good advice, offered reliability to the public.  To spread, the message must be authentic and effective — I write about what I really do and it works.  Good brands market themselves.

Focus on reliability above all else — it’s a fundamental building block of any relationship.  

People with high standards will do a good job of letting you know when your reliability slips — work for those people as they will make you better.  Be open to bad news as that sort of feedback is painful, but essential, to improve and tailor your brand

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– It looks like you have worked with some great mentors/coaches.  Did you proactively go and try to create such relationships or did you randomly fall into them?  I am guessing that you were very particular in your approach and would love to hear about that.

The initial meeting has often been random but my extraction of knowledge has been deliberate and intense!

Make it easy for your coaches/mentors to work with you — geographically, financially and technically.  I tried to be their ‘best’ client in as many different ways I could muster.  

Do whatever it takes to get alongside the very best teachers and spend time working shoulder-to-shoulder where they have a passion.  My success with that approach, as well as feedback from my students, is why we believe our camps business is so effective for athletes.

When I started in Private Equity I was the lowest paid person in the building.  Likewise, I’ve paid up to $1,000 per day for consulting advice.  The gains from becoming world class are material – don’t be cheap with situations that have the capacity to change your life.  

Money can be effective to get people’s attention but most of us aren’t motivated by money alone.  That’s the reason for my advice on figure out where your mentors have a passion and do that passion with them.  World class people are surprisingly easy to track down.

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