Archives for the month of: May, 2010

I spent the last weekend, as I do a couple of times a year, leading ethics and leadership sessions at the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership’s Candidate Training Program. This is a bipartisan, intensive boot-camp for new candidates, delivered within an ethics framework. It has been proven to work and numerous grads are now holding office.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot through osmosis, as I listen to expert after expert, year after year. I can tell you all about message development, strategy, research, fundraising, get out the vote, and more. One segment last weekend featured a new speaker who talked about crisis communications.

The speaker was full of great sayings. Here are two:

Look what i found, richie sensei!! by Flickr user ninja gecko

'Look what i found, richie sensei!!' by Flickr user ninja gecko

“When you are hit with a crisis, the forest is gone — you’ve run headlong into a tree.”

And:

“Admitting it and getting everything — all the information — out there is like eating a bug. You can eat the whole bug all at once, and get it over with. Or you can take little bites and keep eating bits of the bug. Just eat the whole bug.

He was full of great , concrete advice. This one was my favorite:

As a political candidate, when a crisis hits, you have four choices, illustrated by the saying “Oh, D.E.A.R.“. (Get it?)

The choices are:

  • Deny — “No, it didn’t happen, you are wrong, they are lying.”
  • Explain — “Yes it looks bad but there is more to the story and when you know all the facts it’s really OK.”
  • Admit — “Yes, it’s true and we are very sorry.”
  • Respond — “The real issue is my opponent’s terrible record on x.”

It’s an interesting construct, and you can look at a number of current political crises and see which path the subjects are choosing to take.

(And, if you think about it, this same idea applies to organizations in crisis, too.)

Lately I have been considering developing a one-day (or perhaps half-day) “boot camp” for people who are interested in getting their online lives set up. This would be a session for people who have no online presence, or who have one but aren’t happy with it.

My Mode of Transport by Flickr user Jim Legans, Jr.

"My Mode of Transport" by Flickr user Jim Legans, Jr.

At the end of the day, participants would have a fully set-up and tweaked set of online “identities” and would have a clear sense of how to go about using these tools.

You could walk in with nothing, and walk out with a complete online presence.

(Or, you could walk in with an online presence, and walk out with a cohesive strategy and set-up.)

So far, I’ve been thinking that this is what would go into it:

  • OMG I’m Lost: What matters, what doesn’t
  • Get Ready: Planning out your system
  • Your Assets: Preparing materials for your online identity
  • Core Work: Your blog
  • The Big Two: Facebook and Twitter
  • Don’t Stop Yet: Other social media identities
  • The System: Connecting everything up
  • The Back End: Monitoring and maintenance
  • Now What? Daily workflow and strategy

My question: Is this something you would be interested in? What value would it have for you? Let me know in the comments!

Why am I asking this? It’s exactly the kind of thing people ask me about more and more. As it becomes clear to people that they need to have a serious online presence, they feel a sense of urgency. The early adopters have already acted, but now the rest of the world knows they need to jump in!

I do know a little bit about this — especially when it comes to personal branding and online presence, but also when it comes to nonprofit organizations. I’ve been blogging since before the word was coined. I’ve initiated and been architect of a number of online and interactive products such as Everyday Democracy’s Issue Guide Exchange, the launch the Institute for Global Ethics’ renowned Ethics Newsline newsletter (we called it Business Ethics Newsline back then), Rockville Central (a hyperlocal news source and top five local blog in Maryland), and more.

Bottom line: I’ve been at this for a long time and I’ve got a lot of lessons. I would love to share what I’ve learned with folks.

Are you interested? If there is enough interest, I’ll think about setting it up!

As many of my friends know, I have been diligently pursuing the P90X fitness program. This is an intense series of DVDs featuring trainer Tony Horton. It’s designed to get you into really, really good shape. For me, it has done exactly that. Many friends have been asking about my progress and I thought I would gather my thoughts about it here.

DSCN2142How It Began

I have been working out at the gym and running regularly (including occasional marathons) for over twenty years. I always saw myself as being in “good shape.” But, mostly for reasons of vanity, I began wishing my upper body were a little larger.

Not only that, but in the past few years I have added a few pounds here and there, and my standard running pace has declined. Though a regular gym visitor, it had always been cardio exercises, never weight training. So I did not really know where to begin.

I started out like a lot of folks my age and demographic profile: I started seeing a personal trainer. This gave me a good introduction to a wider range of exercises and got me started with weights. But I could not afford to visit the trainer as much as I should.

Then, last winter, I began to hear a few of my friends talk about P90X. One friend in particular, Eric Jensen, was going through the program and had nothing but praise for it. Almost entirely on his recommendation, I decided to give it a go.

It took me a little bit of time to convince myself. I have never been a DVD-workout person. I like going to the gym — the whole experience, the access to locker room facilities, the sense of belonging to a crowd. Not only that, the P90X website (it is sold by a company called Beachbody which also developed the popular Insanity Workout) felt very “infomercially.” As I began to check out, I was offered many, many upsell opportunities and I actually abandoned the process a couple of times because I felt manipulated. Finally, though, I went through with the purchase.

Once I had plunked down the money for the system, I decided to give it a try. It is a serious commitment: six workouts per week, every week, for 13 weeks. I vowed to do my best to do the program “by the book,” and really give it a chance. I can do anything for 90 days, I reasoned.

I gave it just about the best shot I could. I did begin to modify a few routines once I had done the originals in the way they are presented, in part because I did not want to give up running. I also did not follow the diet suggestions as closely as I might have. Even so, I think I gave the program a fair shot and I can honestly say I “did it.”

Topline Results

P90X encourages you to track your progress, through a before-and-after fit test, before-and-after measurements, and through photographs. I considered not taking photographs, but again decided to go along with the suggestions as best I could. I am glad I did the photos. Even though I have professional colleagues who read this blog and who are not necessarily used to seeing me without my shirt, the photos speak volumes. (Avert your eyes if you wish.) Here is Day 1 vs. Day 90:

Front

Click for full size

While I have not become Hercules or anything, you can see my stomach has tightened and I have a bit of a six pack, and my arms and shoulders have much more definition.

The biggest change has been in terms of strength. My progress with pull-ups tells the story. In my fit test, I was able to do 5 ½ pull ups before collapsing to the ground. In the first routine, I was able to do 12 pull-ups, assisted by having my feet on a chair. In my last routine, I started out with 20 pull-ups, with no chair. At the end of that hour-long routine, I did 12 more pull-ups, again with no chair. I never thought I could do 20 pull-ups. Ever.

  • Pull-Ups: 5 on Day One. 20 on Day 90.
  • Push-Ups: 23 on Day One. 44 on Day 90.
  • Body Fat %: 21.3% on Day One (in the “yellow zone” for my age). 17.8% on Day 90 (in the “green zone”).
  • Chest: 42 in. on Day One. 43.5 in. on Day 90.
  • Belly: 41 in. on Day One. 39 in. on Day 90.
  • Waist: 38 in. on Day One. 37 in. on Day 90.
  • Right Thigh: 22.5 in. on Day One. 24 in. on Day 90.
  • Right Bicep: 13 in. on Day One. 15 in. on Day 90.

What I Got When I Ordered

As I mentioned, there were lots of upsell prompts during the checkout process. I had to be careful to make sure I was only ordering what I intended. I decided on a package that included the P90X DVDs, a pull-up bar, a set of resistance bands, and one container (30-day supply) of the “Results and Recovery Formula.” This set up was just about right for me. You definitely need a pull-up bar and some kind of dumbbells or bands to do the program. I made the mistake of ordering the bands that it said “most men” order — they were too strong for me!

In addition to what I ordered, I went to Target and bought an adjustable dumbbell set (I used this more than the bands). I also broke out the mat from our Wii Fit to use for the yoga routines. Eventually, I needed more dumbbell, so I purchases another set. That allowed me to have two dumbbells of 20-25 pounds each for bicep curls.

I can definitely recommend the “Recovery drink.” It is tasty and really does help recovery. I have continued to order it from BeachBody each month, and plan on continuing as I go forward. (A key part of Beachbody’s business model is encouraging repeat orders of things, so I am careful not to sign up for anything I don’t want. But the drink is worth it.)

One suggestion in the literature is to buy push-up stands. I went ahead and did that, but did not end up using them. Also, as the program progressed, I really got into yoga and I bought a real yoga mat and groovy cork yoga block. (Affiliate links.)

The Program

While the equipment is interesting and all, the whole point is the workout program — the DVDs. The program is divided into three “training blocks,” each of four weeks (except the last). In any given block, during weeks 1-3 you alternate a weight-training day with a cardio day, then during week 4 (“recovery”) it’s all cardio. “Recovery” is not easy; the term just means you aren’t doing weight training.

The idea is to avoid any plateaus by doing enough of one block to master it, and then switch it up. So Block Two is different than Block One. Block Three is a mix of Blocks One and Two.

I’ll go into detail on each block below. But overall, Tony is a great motivator. He is not too in your face, and is a little goofy. Having said that, I am really glad you have the option of watching the DVDs with different configurations: normal (all dialogue and backing track); no music (but with dialogue); cues only with music (so you just get the exercise name, but no patter); and silence with cues only. Eventually, I got tired of Tony talking to me and did cues only, while playing my own music.

Tony does the workout with different people each routine, though some characters (like Dreya Weber) appear more than once. I believe all of the people actually went through the P90X pilot program; they are not actors pretending to do the workouts.

Each workout is at least an hour long. Many include an abdominal workout after that, which is another 12 minutes. Yoga is 90 minutes. This is a true commitment of time. I never skimped on the workout, except on one or two exercises that I just don’t like doing (for instance, there’s one called the “Groucho walk” that I just think is silly).

That said, I did come back to the DVDs and watch them on normal once in a while, to make sure I was still on form.

Also, life’s schedule does get in the way sometimes. Here’s how I handled that. If I had to skip a day, what I would do is call that my “rest day” for the week (normally the last day should be the rest day). If I had to skip two days in a row, I would cut out a cardio day and keep the weight training day. The block-by-block schedule in the sections below makes it clearer.

Finally, there’s a fitness guide and a diet guide, along with tracking worksheets. The guides are comprehensive and well laid out. The tracking sheets (downloadable) are terrific. Tony is a real stickler for writing everything down, and I am glad I did not let my anti-authoritarian side stop me. It felt great to have the sheets all filled in at the end, and to be able to see visible evidence of improvement. You can’t necessarily see it in the shot below, but all the numbers go up, up, up!

My Tracking Sheets

My Tracking Sheets (click to enlarge)

Block One

The first training block starts off with a killer routine that is basically push ups and pull ups. I believe it is designed to set the tone for the whole program — it is harder than I had ever worked before and some of my friends have said the same thing. Tony encourages you to take breaks and not to overdo it, and also encourages you by letting you know you will improve — and you will. He shows how to do each exercise using different equipment, and also how to modify them to make them easier. But even the modified versions are hard. For instance, in the first workout, you are doing as many pull ups and push ups as you can do, multiple times. (Different styles, but still.) For an hour. I knew I was in for something difficult after that first routine.

Here’s how the first block unfolds:

  • Day One: Chest & Back; Abs
  • Day Two: Plyometrics (insane jumping)
  • Day Three: Shoulders & Arms; Abs
  • Day Four: Yoga X (this is a modified “power yoga” routine)
  • Day Five: Legs & Back (squats and lots of pull ups); Abs
  • Day Six: Kenpo (a martial art)
  • Day Seven: Rest or Stretch (I always chose Rest!)

The last week of Block One, week four, is all cardio: yoga, Kenpo, and one other routine called Core Synergistics — a very challenging and energetic routine.

After the second week, I tried going to the gym to do some of the weight training and pull up / push up routines. This became my favorite way of doing P90X. The tracking sheets helped because I took them along and they reminded me what I was supposed to be doing.

Here are my thoughts as I finished this block:

Block Two

This second block was a little more challenging than the first. The cardio routines were all the same, but there were new weight training routines. Here’s how it went:

  • Day One: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps; Abs
  • Day Two: Plyometrics
  • Day Three: Back & Biceps (a killer); Abs
  • Day Four: Yoga X
  • Day Five: Legs & Back; Abs (note we are doing Legs & Back in every week)
  • Day Six: Kenpo
  • Day Seven: Rest or Stretch (I rested)

And again, the fourth week of the block is all cardio routines: yoga; core; Kenpo

One of my “hacks” in this block was to figure out a good mix of Plyometrics and running. Here’s a video describing what I did:

Block Three

This last block is a mix of the first two blocks. Week One is like a Block One week, then Week Two is like a Block Two week. This block is five weeks long so it goes like this:

  • Week One: “Block One” style
  • Week Two: “Block Two” style
  • Week Three: “Block One” style
  • Week Four: “Block Two” style
  • Week Five: Cardio routines and you are DONE!

So that’s where I am. I could have probably called myself “done” at the end of Week Four in this last black (since that is the last weight training routine), but again I decided to try to be as legit as I could.

Results Moving Forward

My physical results have been remarkable. I am very satisfied. But the benefits of this program do not stop there.

  • My expectation for how long a workout should be has increased. By working out for 60+ minutes every day for 90 days, I have a new habit. Now, when I start working out, I do not feel done after 30 minutes.
  • My expectation for how hard I should work has increased. The P90X routines are hard. By working out that hard, every day for 90 days, I have developed a new habit when it comes to the effort I bring to working out.
  • I know what to do at the gym. I really had no clue before, now that I really look at what I had been doing. Now I go into the gym with a plan. I know what I am going to do, how many times, and why.
  • I know results come over time. I had been at a sort of steady-state level of fitness for so long, I did not have any experience with making changes. But I watched myself get stronger, bigger, more fit. I marked the progress. Now that I have seen it, I know it can be done. This has given me the confidence to take on new fitness goals.
  • My diet has improved. While I did not follow the diet very well at all, I did take to heart the need to eat often, in smaller portions — but enough to fuel myself. And to focus on getting enough protein.
  • I discovered yoga. My wife has been doing yoga for years and swears by it. She is incredibly fit. Yet I never tried it out. I did not see it as being “for me.” But P90X requires you to do yoga at least once a week — and I have come to love it. I am very thankful for this.

Okay, there you have it. I hope this has been helpful. I hope that you take from this article something that might help you on your own journey. Just pick an activity and start. Try it daily for long enough to dial it in. Your life can change.

Here’s a video a shot just a few days before the end of the program, reflecting on my progress (and also talking about Bikram Yoga):

Google Voice is often referred to as the “one number to rule them all” service. That does not really describe what the service does — or can do. I have been a user of the service since it began (and used its predecessor, Grand Central, before that). Some of my friends have asked me about the ins and outs, so I thought I would gather my thoughts here.

Project 365 #25: 250109 Its Good to Talk! by Flickr user comedy_nose

'Project 365 #25: 250109 It's Good to Talk!' by Flickr user comedy_nose

Google Voice is especially useful to solopreneurs, or anyone with a highly mobile lifestyle.

And, while there are a number of creative things you can do with Google Voice, I am going to focus here on the two main ways to use it in that context: as a front-end, and as a back-end.

What Is It?

Google Voice is not a telephone service per se. It’s a telephone number, along with routing capabilities. What does that mean? It means that once you have signed up, you are given a telephone number. You can then sign in, and add your existing numbers (cell phones, home, office, others) to your account. Then, you can tell Google Voice to ring certain of your real phones when people call your Voice number.

Google Voice also comes with voicemail, and it transcribes your messages for you. You can also send SMS messages (texts) through it.

To make a call, you use the Web interface to tell Vice what number you would like to call, and from what phone you would like to make the call. Google Voice then calls your phone and the recipient phone. You can also do this just through the phone, by calling your Voice number and pressing 2.

There is an Android app for Voice, and it integrates very will with your Google contacts list.

There’s a great bumch of videos at the Google Voice YouTube channel here.

Google Voice is a free service, though it is “closed beta,” which means you need someone who is a current user to invite you.

Google Voice As Front End

This is the way a lot of people use Google Voice, and it’s where the whole “one number” thing comes from. The idea is to replace all your numbers with your Google Voice number — everyone, no matter who, gets that one number. Current contacts are told that your number has changed, and you ask them to call the new number. The Google Voice number is your “phone face.”

Then, behind the scenes, you can tell Google Voice how you want to handle things. You can tell it to automatically ring your office phone during certain hours, and your home phone other times. You can set it to go straight voicemail at night. Or, you can ring your cell phone and office phones simultaneously (so people don’t have to dial multiple phones to get you). You can also set it so that certain callers go to your home number, and others to your work number.

The benefits of this are that you never have to change your number again, whether you move, get a new cell phone or whatever. You also have a great deal of control about whom you talk to — if there are certain callers you’d rather not ever deal with, they can go straight to voicemail.

The downside is that it can take some discipline in the transition: it’s tempting to call someone back on your cell phone, but then they will have your cell number and will want to use that. So you should use the Voice system instead, which is an extra step.

Google Voice As Back End

The other way to use Google Voice is to take advantage of the sophisticated voicemail functions and use it as a universal Inbox for all voice messages. To do this, you set Google Voice on “Do Not Disturb.” Now, any call coming into Google Voice will go right to voicemail, and you will then get a transcribed email with attached audio file.

Then, you set your various regular phone numbers to autoforward to Google Voice after a certain number of rings. In other words, you turn off all your other voicemail systems. So what’s happening is that if I don’t answer a phone, it automoatically kicks over to Google Voice voicemail and I get that message emailed to me.

The benefit of this approach is that you basically never have to check voicemail, and every voicemail ends up in the Inbox you use every day. And, you don’t have to tell people to call a new number. Finally, you can use your Google Voice number as throwaway number for telemarketers, etc., because you will never answer it.

A downside for many people is that it takes some set up, in a number of different phone systems, to get this all working smoothly. Also, many people are aware that Google Voice’s transcription capabilities can sometimes be lacking (or maybe it’s people’s ability to enunciate). You can get some pretty funny transcriptions. However, it’s almost always correct when it comes to transcribing numbers, and at a minimum you can get the gist of someone’s message, and determine if you really need to listen to it or not.

Because so many people have various numbers, I have opted to use Google Voice as a back-end to my phone system, and it has been working well for me. I’ve been thinking of switching to the front-end approach, because I think it’s more powerful if I can discipline myself to use it properly.

How about you? Do you use Google Voice? How? How does it work for you? There are more advanced things you can do with this service, too — do you take advantage of any unusual tricks? Let me know in the comments!

(P.S. I have a few invites available, if you really think you will use it and would like one, let me know. I will give priority to my friend and to my Rockville neighbors.)

As my friends on Facebook know, I recently turned off the voicemail on our home telephone line. Even though I had a fairly stern outgoing message that informed people they should not expect a message to reach us timely, people were still leaving messages and getting miffed when we didn’t call back. But the thing was, everyone in the family uses their mobile phones — the home line is an afterthought. We never check the voicemail and rarely use it. (I am keeping the line for emergency purposes, in case you were wondering why we did not simply join the  25% of American households who have no landline phone.)

#ACRTW - Sunday brunch in London with friends. by Flickr user Andrew Currie

'#ACRTW - Sunday brunch in London with friends.' by Flickr user Andrew Currie

I got to thinking about “home” phones and “office” phones and “mobile” phones as I filled out a few forms today. I was being asked to provide a bunch of different numbers. I know that the purpose is to make it easy to reach me. But in my case, asking for a bunch of numbers from me makes it harder to reach me, because the best way to reach me is to call my cell. Period. (I do use Google Voice, and will be writing an article about different ways to use that in a few days.)

Why did people call our “home” line and try to leave a message, even though we asked them not to? Habit. Why do organizations ask for a series of numbers, even though most people could just as easily provide one number and be just as reachable? Habit.

Old Habits

Well, “habit” might not be the right word. It’s that our norms have not quite caught up with reality. Norms are powerful things. They direct what we do, often subconsciously. For instance, in filling out my forms, the thought crossed my mind that it would be most useful if I just put the same number in “work,” “home,” and “mobile” fields. But I didn’t (now I wish I did).

More and more, even people who have a “traditional” job are reachable in ways that they never used to be. Signals reach us immediately, regardless of time of day. It used to be important to know different numbers for people, so you could use different mechanisms based on time of day — not so much anymore. Chances are that calling the office number at 10:00 pm will engage the auto-forward, or you will leave a voicemail that will immediately ping the recipient. Either way, that late night “work call” is going to interrupt the recipient’s enjoyment of Bones — because they may well be sitting there on the sofa with their phone in hand, checking emails and sending texts while they watch.

New Norms

Some years ago I used to spend my Sunday afternoons “getting a jump on the week.” I would tidy up anything that had been left undone from the week prior, and send out emails that would be waiting for people when they arrived at the office on Monday. Slowly, life changed. I realized that my Sunday emails were being read Sunday, mere moments after being sent. Far from getting things in place for Monday, I was ruining peoples’ weekends. I confess I “discovered” this because it happened to me! I decided to stop ruining other peoples’ weekends in the hopes that the good Karma might come back to me. So far, it hasn’t happened yet, but I can hope.

It’s not that I was being rude intentionally. Nor is it the case the people who reach out to me professionally on Sundays are being rude. It’s not like they want me to actually work on Sunday; they are just sending me a note. Used to be that was a good way to make sure someone had whatever they needed to start the week. Now, such messages have negative consequence that they did not used to have.

My habits have not yet fully caught up with reality. If I stopped to think, I would know that even when people have a work email and a personal email, chances are their work email is beeping through to them wherever they happen to be. I just didn’t think about it, because this work habit is ingrained, and supported by the longstanding norm of separation between work life and home life — a separation that exists less and less.

I think lots of us are in this boat.

Now that communications are seamless and unified, we need to begin to develop new norms about how we deal with one another:

  • Organizations might ask for the “best number to reach” me, not presume that my home number is best in the evening, work is best in the day, and cell is to be used if the others don’t work.
  • As colleagues, if we decide to work on Sunday, we might consider holding our emails in the Draft folder and firing them off on Monday morning.
  • As professionals, we might consider establishing ways of unplugging, and of making it clear when we are unavailable — not to be rude but so others know how best to interact with us.

What are some other new norms that are emerging?