Frustration Breaks I: Wiring the Transmission

This would be tough. We had just a few hours to move nearly everything from one car to another.

By nearly everything, I don’t mean luggage. I mean the engine, transmission, suspension, some interior pieces — even the shock which holds the hatchback open!


But the old vehicle had a manual transmission while the new one had an automatic. How was that supposed to work out?

This is when I learned how great frustration breaks can be.

Our family mechanic’s son, Frank, loved tuning and racing cars. One night his parked car was hit by someone and the frame was bent. Not good.

He bought another car nearly identical to his, and this was the only day to swap everything over to it using his dad’s repair shop.

You might be surprised how quickly you can swap an engine and transmission with the right tools and several gearheads. Things were going fairly smoothly.

That is, until Frank started doing the wiring.

The trick was mating the wiring harness for a manual transmission to the car intended for an automatic. Let’s just say it requires significant work and concentration.

He sat on the ground with his head in the driver side foot-well, staring up into a mess of wires under the dashboard. Almost an hour went by. It wasn’t looking good, and Frank was obviously getting more and more frustrated by the moment.

Suddenly, Frank said strongly and firmly, “Frustration break! Everybody stop and take twenty!”

So we all took a frustration break.

When he came back, Frank was able to quickly find the problem and finish the wiring.

Not bad for a twenty minute break!

I’ve thought of this story a thousand times since, as a reminder to take a break when I get frustrated. Yes, it takes time away from the task, but the task will take much longer if you do not pause and refresh as needed.

Too often, we talk ourselves out of breaks. We keep chopping away — because there’s just no time for sharpening!

Which is excellent way to get poor results while wearing yourself out.

Frustration Breaks II: Bleeding Gums
Frustration Breaks III: Walking for Solutions

What helps you get back on track when you are frustrated?

Disagree and Commit

I recently discovered the concept of “Disagree and Commit” mentioned in an audiobook. When I realized how powerful it was, I played the section over and over until it sank deep into my brain.

“Disagree and Commit” is a principle which obligates each participant in a meeting to say what they are thinking, even if it means a heated discussion. Your duty is to agree or disagree, but to speak your mind openly.


At the end of the meeting, however, everyone decides on the solution and commits to follow through on it. Regardless of whether they agree or disagree with it!

Then it hit me — this is so much more than just an effective leadership technique.

Any guesses where I am going with this?

Patrick Lencioni discusses the “Disagree and Commit” strategy of leadership in his book The Advantage. His target is leadership and management groups in organizations. His team works with these groups to dramatically improve their organizational health. As you can guess, this strategy is particularly effective at unifying the group on a given topic.

Intel and Amazon practice “Disagree and Commit.” Here is the statement from Amazon’s web page on Leadership Principles:

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

I can believe this concept works great for management teams.

But “Disagree and Commit” is also one of the keys to a thriving marriage.

Imagine this — a husband and wife disagree on how to spend money. The disagreement turns into a fight and one person “wins” while the other “loses.” (Actually, both lose!) Then the spouse who “lost” drags his feet, undermines the decision, and sabotages it with comments like, “I wanted something better, but she just had to have it her way.”

Do you see how divisive comments like this are?

There is nothing wrong with disagreements. Let me say it again — you can and should disagree with your spouse as needed.

But at some point you both need to come to a decision. And you both need to commit to the decision.

This is your decision — together — as a unified team.

After that, it doesn’t matter who wanted what or who disagreed. Right or wrong, great or awful, you are both committed to making the decision work.

You know what?

I thoroughly believe it is better for a couple to be fully committed to a good decision than to commit half-heartedly to an excellent decision.

How do you feel about committing to a decision you disagree with?

Which Decision Will You Regret the Least?

Don’t you hate tough decisions? It’s important you choose wisely, but it’s so hard to tell! Next time you need to make one of these, take a time out and think about the choices in front of you. Will you regret your choice later?


Once you’ve narrowed it down to your best two options, how do you decide between them? That is, without the regret?

Wife and I found ourselves in this predicament recently. Though we’re much better at making decisions than we used to be, we still spun our wheels.

I asked wife, “What decision will we regret the least?

This simple question created instant clarity! Before I was done saying the words, we both knew the answer.

If that’s not clear enough, try asking the question the opposite way:

What decision will I regret not doing the most?

Asked in this way, wife and I were immediately able to see how important it was for us to move to Florida years ago.

Here’s hoping this discovery will save you some time and frustration in your future decisions.

For more great information on making good decisions, I highly recommend reading Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. Good stuff!

Think of a tough decision you have had to make. What made your choice clear?

Trick Yourself into Productivity

I am not a naturally productive person. However, I am now a firm believer in the need to trick yourself into becoming productive.

And for those of you who are skeptical, it can also work for you.

See what you think about these examples.

  • I started achieving my reading quota much easier thanks to audiobooks. By default, when I am travelling alone, I am reading.
  • I hide notifications for nearly everything. “Out of sight, out of mind” applies; otherwise, I get distracted. If I’m not constantly being reminded of incoming emails, I won’t check them constantly. (What’s the worst that could happen if you try this?)
  • Television is a big distraction for me, so I sit with my back to the televisions at restaurants so I can focus on the person across the table.
  • I use hourly alarms during the workday to remind me to breathe, prioritize, and focus on the task at hand. If I am distracted, I leave the alarm on the screen until I begin focusing.
  • You can see I get distracted easily. Once I fully realized that, I started getting up early, when everything is quiet, so I can read, write, pray, and prepare for the day. This one trick has led to incredible productivity!
  • Every event and reminder goes on the calendar as soon as I learn about it, and I get a reminder when it is time. This allows me to stop tracking them mentally, which I was never great at anyway.
  • I used to have a problem checking Twitter. Believe it or not, all I did was delete the app on my smartphone. I haven’t had a problem since.
  • I lack the self-discipline to resist eating candy in the house. For whatever reason, though, it’s easy for me to resist buying it in the first place.
  • It’s hard to “ship” anything unless there is a deadline to meet. When I started Leadership Vacuum, my goal was to post three times a week at 8am. This one trick alone has forced me to ship tens of thousands of words and flesh out dozens of ideas which would have stayed dormant otherwise!

You have many things you want to get done. Maybe you want to lose some weight, write a book, get a new job, or some other milestone.

You can do it! But some intentional trickery will help you get there much easier.

Learn your quirks and weaknesses. Discover tricks to counteract them. Use these tricks often!

Think of one specific quirk you have. Now decide on a simple yet effective way to trick yourself into counteracting the quirk. Repeat as necessary!

The More I Do, The Less I Get Done

It’s a paradox that messes with me constantly. Though I do keep trying to get around it and be super productive at everything.

But that never works.

I just don’t get much done until I stop doing so much. Allow me to bare my soul to you, reader.

I tend to over-commit myself. I find myself saying yes by default, which has gotten me into the kind of trouble only several clones and a time machine can solve. (That reminds me — is Calvin’s transmogrifier on Amazon yet?)

I see a spare minute of the day not yet spoken for (which is a problem by itself), and I commit to another opportunity that suddenly came up. Sure, I can fill in for you this week. I can join that club. I can take on an extra project. I can look over your paper this week.

And in a desire to please people and keep everyone happy with me, I start dropping balls. Bad.

And much worse, I start breaking promises, which is absolutely unacceptable. That is an awful feeling I do not wish to repeat.

So to compensate, I go through a “no” phase, where I turn down new opportunities left and right. I even ignore email. (I’d say I ignore voicemail too, but that’s ALWAYS.)

And then I start being much more efficient — better yet, effective — at my responsibilities.

My efforts are more potent and the results stronger. This is when I’m able to take a moderate amount of margin and turn it into three blog posts written and posted. This relaxed atmosphere pulls the creativity out of me.

The white space between commitments grants clarity of focus, and increases the ability to do one task at a time, intensely and thoroughly.

With all of my mental and physical resources available, I can be engaged in the process of work, which can and should be a wonderful thing.

Finally, when I realize I’m getting stuff done and notice some free time and energy, I start committing more and repeat the cycle.

Lesson Learned: Stop learning this lesson! 3,524 times is quite enough!

The more I attempt to do, the less I actually get done.

And unless your name is Calvin and you have a transmogrifier, the same is likely true of you.

What conditions allow you to get things done?