April 15th is the No GPS Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. It's a pretty easy date for Americans to remember because April 15th is also the day U.S. income taxes are due.
My niece is a teacher who had always wanted to visit a Titanic museum, so for Spring Break we picked her up for a Titanic-themed vacation. It was filled with frisky penguins, a ghost ship captain, indoor snow tubing, a killer iceberg, swimming, and 2000 miles of driving.
There’s a number of Titanic exhibits I've seen, like in Liverpool and Vegas, but this one (Pigeon Forge, TN) was set up so you could more closely identify with the people on board. For instance, you were given a biography card of someone on the Titanic, and you kind of followed that person around – where they slept, ate, and chilled out. Super-engaging.
At the end there’s a huge biography board where you find out if your character survives (about 1/3 do), what they looked like, and what happened to them afterward.
There’s probably 20-30 rooms with exhibits and actors, and interactive things like trying to walk on a 30-degree tilting deck. Yet the two things I’ve thought about many times in the past week both happened in the very last room. The one just before the gift shop.
There’s a climatic scene in the World War II movie Saving Private Ryan when the only surviving person in the battle, Private Ryan (ill-timed **spoiler alert**) is told by his dying Captain “to make his life worth it.” The movie then flashes to present day when he asks his wife to hopefully confirm to him that he lived a worthy life.
Did any of the survivors on Titanic's biography board do anything different after they were rescued to “make their life worth it?” To be sure, some people had some pretty tragic years that followed (suicide, prison, bankruptcy, multiple divorces and addictions), and some charmed-life rich people seemed to continue to have charmed lives. There was little indication of which people might have done something different to have make their life “worth it.” Sometimes it might be only the person themself who knows it.
If we were dramatically given a lucky lifeboat seat -- like the some of the Titanic survivors -- I wonder whether we’d try to make life “worth it?” Even if we didn’t know how, there’s a good chance that simply repeatedly asking ourselves that question might guide us in a good direction.
The second Titanic thought was also brought to light in that same dark room. While I was reading that bio board, a 90-year-old 6’4” ghost of the Titanic’s Captain Smith silently came into that somber room, walked over to a spot-lighted Captains chair, gathered the 20 of us together, and told two riveting eerie stories. Actually, he wasn't a ghost. He’s Lowell Lytle, the person who has portrayed the Captain for 30 years around the world, as his 4th amazing career.
The story he told the small collected group was what happened with the “Women and children first” directive that was given as they lowered the lifeboats. Men would get their wives and children loaded in the lifeboats, and they would then all wave goodbye for the last time as the lifeboats were lowered into the ocean. Three hours earlier they were having together and Dad was telling them to turn their iPhones off, three hours later they were gone.
We often think we’ll have plenty of time to thank people we’re grateful to, or to say “I love you” to people we love. Lytle's point was that we don’t need to wait until the lifeboat’s being lowered away before we say it.
My family spent a 10-hour drive home listening to the amazing ups and downs in Lytle’s real person life (Diving Into the Deep at Encourage Books). We’ve all had lucky breaks in life that merit us asking ourselves if we’ve tried to make our life “worth it.” We’ve also have people we’re grateful for who we need to thank, and we have people we love who are worth telling daily that we love them.
Two Titanic thoughts. I'm happy we can think about them and act on them a long ways from the nearest iceberg.
There are 100 things on your mental To-Do list. Daily duties (like email and planning dinner) and pre-scheduled stuff (like meetings and appointments). But what remains are the big things that are easy to put off because they don’t have hard deadlines – things starting a new initiative, exploring a great idea for a side hustle, finishing a pet project, or taking the first step to follow that crazy dream you’ve had for 10 years. These are the things that could have the biggest impact on you, come the end of the year.
But these projects are also the easiest things to put off or to only push ahead 1 inch each week. If you push 100 projects ahead 1 inch each week, you’ve made 100 inches of progress at the end of the week, but your desk is still full and you’re feeling frustratingly resigned to always be behind. This is an incremental approach.
A different approach would be to push a 50-inch project ahead until it is finished and falls off the desk; then you could push a 40-inch project ahead until it falls off; and then you can spend the last of your time and energy pushing a small 10-inch project off your desk. This is the “push-it-off-the-desk” approach.
Both approaches take 100-inches of work. However, the “push-it-off-the-desk” approach changes how you think and feel. You still have 97 things left to do, but you can see you made tangible progress. For about 12 years, I tried a number of different systems to do this – to finish up what was most important for the week. Each of them eventually ended up being too complicated or too constraining for me to stick with.
Eventually I stopped looking for a magic system. Instead, at the end of every week, I simply listed the projects or project pieces I was most grateful to have totally finished. Super simple. It kept me focused on finishing things, and it gave me a specific direction for next week (the next things to finish). It’s since evolved into something I call a “ 3-3-3 Weekly Recap.”
Here’s how a 3-3-3 Weekly Recap works. Every Friday I write down the 3 biggest things I finished that week (“Done”), the 3 things I want to finish next week (“Doing”), and 3 things I’m waiting for (“Waiting for”). This ends up being a record of what I did that week, a plan for what to focus on next week, and a reminder of what I need to follow up on. It helps keep me accountable to myself, and it keeps me focused on finishing 3 big things instead of 100 little things. Here’s an example of one that’s been scribbled in a notebook at the end of last week:
Even though you’d be writing this just for yourself, it might improve your game. It focuses you for the week, it gives you a plan for next week, and it prompts you to follow-up on things you kind of forgot you were waiting for.
Sometimes I do it in a notebook and sometimes I type it and send it to myself as an email. It doesn’t matter the form it’s in or if you ever look back at it (I don’t), it still works. I’ve shared this with people in academia, business, and government. Although it works for most people who try it, it works best for academics who manage their own time and for managers who are supervising others. They say it helps to keep the focus on moving forward instead of either simply drifting through the details of the day or being thrown off course by a new gust of wind.
I’ve also used this with others who I work with, and we usually use it as a starting point for our 1-on-1 weekly meetings. They usually email it to me and it’s a useful check-in. It helps them develop a “Finish it up” mentality, instead of the “Polish this until its perfect” mentality. Also, you can give feedback on what they’re choosing to focus on, and you might be able to speed up what they might be waiting for (especially if its something on your desk).
Good luck in pushing 3 To-Dos off your desk and getting things done. I hope you find this helps.
No one has a cousin named Tarzan. No one has a best friend named Goat Boy. That’s because we’re not raised by apes or goats, but we're all raised, socialized, and helped by other people.
Some of these people are obvious: parents, close relatives, coaches, and some teachers. But a lot of others aren’t nearly so obvious. They might be that person who recommended we go to one school versus another, helped get us a job, helped lend a hand during a difficult time, or saved us from a desert island that one time by paddling through shark infested waters using only his right arm.
With Thanksgiving coming up, it can be a nice chance to hit pause and think of 2-3 nonobvious people who might have done a small thing that made a big difference in our life. Doing something as simple as this can do your soul good. On one extreme, it reminds us that we aren’t the self-centered Master of our Universe as we might think when things are going great. On the other extreme, it reminds us that there are a lot of people silently cheering for us when we might think things aren’t going so great.
What do you suppose would happen if you tracked these people down and game them a call? It’s four steps:
1. Find their phone number and dial.
2. “Hey, I’m ___; remember me? How are you?”
3. “It’s Thanksgiving. I was thinking of you.”
For about the past 30 years, I’ve tried to do this each Thanksgiving. It used to be the same 3-4 people (advisors and a post-college mentor), then a couple more, and this year I’m adding a new one. For some reason, I always look for an excuse why I shouldn’t make these calls. I always find myself pacing around before I make the first call. Part of me thinks I might be bore them, or they already know it, or it’s interrupting them, or that it’s too corny.
Yet even if I have to leave voice messages, I’m always end up smiling when I get off the phone. I feel more thankful and centered. Maybe they feel differently too.
Still, there’s some years I never made any calls, because I had good excuses. Maybe it was too late in the day, or they were probably with their family, or I called them last year, or I didn’t really have enough time to talk. I’m sure they had some good excuses – way back when – as to why they didn’t have time for me. I’m thankful they didn’t use them.
If you can think of 2-3 people you’re thankful for who might not know it, you don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving next year to tell them. They won’t care that you’re a little bit late or a whole lot early. It’s only 4 steps.
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