Disappearing Ideas: Capture your creative bursts

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you noticed that when you are thinking about moving, all the ideas about decorating your new place flow, but when you move, you forget everything?  The same thing happens in the car and in the shower.  It seems to happen everywhere and at random moments except at the exact moment you need it.  This is a real big deal for writers.  Whether you are writing a personal development blog or the next big blockbuster screen play, ideas are the life blood of creative thinking.  The “bad timing” of ideas may be a matter of mental flow and outside influences.  For example, I get a lot of my ideas while running.  Usually I’m listing to podcasts or audiobooks and focused on nothing but running and listening.  My brain is flooded with positive brain stimulating endorphins at the same time I’m being influenced by motivational and idea filled TED talks and podcasts.  The shower is another unique place in our daily life where our mental focus changes from what’s being “thrown” at us to slowing down and not thinking much at all.  Most of us have showered thousands of times and don’t need any mental energy or focus whatsoever to complete this task.  Driving to work and often even grocery shopping is similar in this effect.  Although the level of mental focus needed for these simple, mundane tasks varies per person and task, these are opportunities for your mind to tap deeper “creative” sources in short bursts.  This is different from a “flow” state in which you are building upon one of these ideas such as hours of easy creative writing.  I am talking specifically about ideas coming at you in bunches.

Good ideas are gifts from God not to be wasted or filed away for safekeeping.

     What do you do with these ideas? Anytime the “idea gods” throw their wisdom your way, capture, capture, capture.  I utilize square space notes (attached to my Evernote account) on my iPhone for quick idea capture on the go.  Notepad, or good old-fashioned paper works as well.  Do not wait any longer than it take to safely stop and capture the idea.  It will disappear quicker than it appeared.  The beauty of capturing the idea for future use is that it frees up your mental RAM energy to dig around for more ideas.  If you find yourself coming up with ideas in a certain setting, take advantage of it.  Repeat as necessary. Of course, these ideas are useless unless you intentionally create time to do something with them.  Bad timing, as I wrote earlier, is better than “no timing” or no ideas.  Write, build, create and inspire with your ideas. 

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The Perfection Trap

A few months ago, we bought a new Honda Pilot.  It was shiny new and right off the truck.  It had four miles when we first looked at it. Even though it was brand new, the carpet under the driver’s side seat was a little “worn” looking. There are little air vents for the people in the middle row that protrude through the carpet. For some reason, the carpet was cut a little uneven.  We didn’t notice this immediately.  When we did, we felt as though the car was not good enough.  We got over it after a few days and are really enjoying our new car.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I realized our concept of “perfection” goes well beyond the cars we purchase.  As a writer, I know all too well the traps of perfectionism. The “perfect” blog post is still being worked on and will never be read, the childless parents are waiting for the “perfect” time well into their forties as nature slips away, and that “perfect” vacation is still only a brochure.  Confusing good enough with perfection is worse than its distant cousin: confusing bad,  with good enough.  At least the bad work gets shipped and gives the world something that it can fix.
 Perfection rarely gets shipped.  This isn’t because we don’t have talented people working among us.  It’s because we are people and people are not perfect.
Whatever it is that “perfection” has hostage, ship it today.  A 90% perfect blog post today is better than the idea of a 100% blog post tomorrow.  Write two  90% posts in the next two days and that’s 180% perfect.  Letting go of perfect gives you the real opportunity to transform your idea into something very real. Ideas are a lot like clogs in the shower drain.  A lot  of people have them, but they are only significant when they are in the shower.  Let go of perfection and grab on to action.

What perfect ideas are you holding on to?


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How Spilling Ice Tea Taught Me To Live My Values

The other day I was bringing lunch to a customer of mine.  Usually I have it delivered, but on this day, they requested a local burger place that wasn’t set up for delivery.  As I loaded the lunch in my car, I realized the 6 fountain drinks were going to cause me trouble.  Top heavy and flimsy, the drinks looked almost “eager” to tip.  Corner after corner, I drove timidly and very deliberate.  I was already running late, but didn’t care.  My objective wasn’t customer focus, make the sale, or go above and beyond. My objective was to NOT spill the drinks.  As I was nearing their office, the driver of the car in front of me was spooked by a yellow light and slammed on his brakes.  Normally, it’s not a big deal to come to a quick stop, but today was different.  I was out of sorts and balancing something new.  The drinks went sliding

English: An artist's depiction of the rat race...

English: An artist’s depiction of the rat race in reference to the work and life balance. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_race Made with following images: http://www.openclipart.org/detail/75385 http://www.openclipart.org/detail/74137 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

across the floor of my car soaking my floor with Ice Tea.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what living a  balanced life looks like.  Not the “business book” balanced life of “work-life balance” where you somehow are happy because you don’t work too much, but the appropriate balancing of the stuff that matters.

I discovered, for me, that living intentionally also means living for purpose and doing the things that matter.

This means having a clear vision on what my values mean to me.  My values are clear and aligned to my living, rather than my living aligned to my values.  As part of “faith” we go to church, but we would have done that anyway.  Every week on our way to church, I have had  a gnawing sense that we could be doing more to incorporate faith into our lives.  Until recently, most of the time my values were “touched” in the way I lived my week, but that was mostly by chance.  Mediocrity, however, is the only result we can expect from living by chance.  Awesomeness comes from intentional living. Without clear direction, I was unbalanced in living my values, taking the “bumps” of life timidly and defensively trying not to stray too far.  While I’ve been busy living the ins and outs of life, checking a lot of boxes, I was not clear on how to LIVE my values.   I have discovered that to do this, I need clear specifics defining what those values look like in action.  Faith goes beyond “living a Catholic life”, and drills down to “praying nightly, prayer before meals, mass every Sunday” and much more.  With this I am able to intentionally pull specifics and plug into my weekly planning and measure my accomplishments against.  Instead of the careful balancing act of chance, I am able to aggressively incorporate the stuff that makes my values real and a part of the life i’m living intentionally.

How do you stay balanced and live an awesome value centered life?


Rocco De Leo

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Fuel your Awesomeness with Mental Energy

As a runner, I recognize that I only have a certain amount of energy to run a distance at a certain pace. By fueling my body with the right types of food and energy bars, I am able to incrementally increase my maximum output.  Running a marathon is a great example.  On a normal day, running 26.2 miles is outside my physical capacity.  But with some training and slow stepping up of my mileage, I am able to build my body’s energy capacity to that level.  Mental energy is no different.  Our ability to think, smile, create, walk and chew gum has a finite energy source. On a typical day, my mental energy level is at its highest around 7 am and at its lowest after dinner.  The importance of managing mental energy toward success doesn’t stop with knowing your mental time clock.  This is nothing new.  Perhaps more important is focusing your mental “spend” on  the things that matter.  The other day I as I was driving home from a week long meeting when I received a frustrating phone call regarding a returned check to my Chevron credit card.   After 45 minutes we realized the mistake and remedied it.  However, I was exhausted.  It took a large portion of my mental energy. Each and every day you and I both recharge our physical and mental batteries as we sleep. By focused training like reading, engaging conversations, audio programs, and meditation, you increase your mental capacity. If you’re doing this, keep doing it, if you’re not, you should. During a typical day, you also spend that energy on important things such as writing, talking with your kids, working on projects at work, and planning for the future.  Unfortunately, things like my Chevron credit card phone call interrupt the normal flow and “steal” some of that energy.


Awareness of the limits of your mental energy  gives you  a sense of urgency or a desire to protect the things you are doing.  Just like time management, mental management is a must have skill for a successful life.


Of course, interruptions do happen and sometimes are important to handle.  You can’t control that.  Here is a list of 3 things I recommend to keep mental energy at its best:


Wind Energy

Wind Energy (Photo credit: janie.hernandez55)




1.  Avoid Distractions: This is so obvious and immensely important.  So many times I’ve sat down to work on a mentally draining task (like writing a blog post), only to have my focus taken away in a moment of email distraction.  Even if the email doesn’t need my attention, the mere fact that I know I got an email takes a little slice of my mental energy. If you are intentional toward avoiding distractions, you will learn with time the things that take distract you and steal your mental energy.  I use squarespace notes app on my iPhone to send quick notes to my Evernote inbox.  When something distracts me and I don’t want to fix it then and there, I put a note in squarespace to fix it.  Then, I fix it.


2. Schedule your mental tasks at the appropriate times:  Different tasks take higher and lower levels of mental energy.  This is something you will learn with time.  Typically the more creative (writing, planning) and involved (things with complicated directions) take the most mental energy.  Creating enough space in your schedule and the best available time will vastly increase your mental energy and lessen the frustration.  Deciding to build the IKEA entertainment center and hour before church is a bad idea.  Mental energy tasks are not usually the “on a whim” things you want to do.  Be intentional and realistic and schedule this time.


3.  Know what you want to do:  This may be too “big picture” for a small blog post, but you need to know what your goals are.  If you have a vision, and idea of what you are trying to accomplish, you will be able to identify the things that are ‘right” to be doing.  If you don’t have a vision and a plan in place to achieve that vision, I am going to create one for you.  Your vision is to create a vision.  With a defined vision, you will have “stuff” to do.  We all have “stuff” we have to do such as laundry, dishes, feed the dog, etc.  Most people stop there.  That’s the mediocre life.  You are going to plug in your awesomeness and the “stuff” needed to be done to accomplish this awesome.  If what you are doing does’t fit into one of those two categories, stop doing it.



Remember that you own your mental energy.  It is yours to spend as you wish.  We all have responsibilities.  Better management of your mental energy will improve your results in all areas of life and leave room for you to do things that make you awesome.


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It’s About Time: Live your values not your work

I don’t watch a lot of TV, and watch movies even less.  I have this crazy tendency to want to do way too many things, and the idea of sitting for two full hours on one task that is not in my “project” Notebook in Evernote seems like a waste of time. The other day, however, watching a movie was more of “spending time with my wife” than actually watching a movie.  As we kicked off our shoes, shut down the iPad, and I even put down my current book, Jamie found “It’s About Time” on demand.  This is a romantic comedy about a twenty something named Tim who discovers he has the power to travel back in time as himself.  While the majority of the story was a build up toward his relationship with the love of his life, another, much more profound message snuck up on us as the movie ended.  Tim discovers that even the ability to travel through time can’t fix everything and guarantee a happy and fulfilling life.  He ultimately learns to live life of purpose, being intentional to notice the things that are easy to miss; like most of life.

Smelling the roses

Smelling the roses (Photo credit: Ed.ward)

Earlier in the day, I had been frustrated, even grumpy,  that I had been unable to run my typical long run for the week.  We slept in and had a packed day of birthday celebrating for our 6-year-old.  We brought the kids along with us for a slow-paced two-mile run/walk.  In my infinite crankiness, I even murmured to myself a narrative that blamed the kids for my potential future fatness by undoing my years of running routines.  The message I discovered from “Its about Time”, reminded me of my single dad “surviving days” when a scene of a mom and dad pushing a jogging stroller along side two boys on scooters with oversized helmets, and a little girl riding a beautiful purple bike was the envious picture of perfection. Here I was, painted into the picture of everything I ever wanted, and I wanted to be somewhere else.

The downside of clarity and the intentional life can be seen in our inability to handle the vast power it gives us.
Like the nearsighted man who discovers  prescription glasses for the first time, the scene of clarity is overwhelming at first. Our perspective needs some time to adjust.  I currently have 34 live “projects” in action in Evernote.  I know, without a doubt, that I will complete everything in those folders within the time frames allotted.  The tendency is to feel “driven”, to put our heads down and be happy, even fulfilled with the ability to complete stuff.  From remembering to back up my Mac, to writing my book, I will get my stuff done. What about my values and my purpose?  If my Evernote Notebook “Values” had a note that said writing my book and back up my computer are my “values”, or even if it said “stuff”, then I would be spot on.  This, however, is not the case. My values, embraced in my Family Mission Statement center on Faith, Family Togetherness, Education, and Healthy Living.  All is not lost.  As I recently wrote, awareness is such a great gift.  Seeing our path twisting and winding is an opportunity to right the curves and even learn as we grow through the recovery.

While projects, stuff, and even people come and go, your values remain relatively constant (especially after having kids).
Be intentional about defining values and writing them down.  Anchor yourself to your values. You’ll have the confidence to find your way back to your purpose if and when you go astray.  It’s About Time, shook me  from my “life hypnosis”.  It certainly was “about time” I realized that picture perfect painting of family was only perfect because it was commissioned by my values and had me colored into the heart of it.
How will you intentionally “stop to smell the roses”?  Do something intentionally today and tomorrow.
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How the Book “Divergent” Taught Me Success Skills

I recently took my periodic “fiction” break.  I usually pick up a book to completely escape the crowded thoughts in my head and simply relax. As a fan of The Hunger Games, I was excited, albeit late to the game, to read Divergent.  I also was unable to shut down the create engine that can sometimes be exhausting.  Without giving away too much of the book for the 3 people left who haven’t read the book, the main character, Beatrice, has a special gift that classifies her has divergent.  The teens, who make up the characters, are put through a series of fear simulations to test how they react in a stressful environment.  In order to truly measure someones reaction to their greatest fears, they need to actually feel fear.  Written into the story, the majority of the characters are unaware that the simulations are actually “simulations”, thus feeling the full force of their fears.

Stray dog - asleep

Stray dog – asleep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some, however, they are aware of the “simulation” and are able to manipulate the outcomes based on this “awareness”.  These characters, Beatrice included, are “divergent”.

How does this relate to the us on our journey toward success or “awesomeness”? Most people are simply going through life one day at a time.  The days “happen” to them.  Unfortunately, they are unaware of the clock and the calendar speeding up.  They are unaware that they have the control to change their destination, to “manipulate” the outcome through intentional living. Fortunately, you are here, and you realize this.  Intentional living is the awareness that we control what we do.

There are no guarantees that we do the right things and get the perfect outcome, but without awareness, you have no chance.

You will be a puppet being manipulated by time.  We read stories of older people gaining this awareness and sharing regrets of things left undone.  Get intentional, stay intentional, and live with an awareness of your purpose.

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The Voices In My Head Are Really Distracting: Find your Mute Button

Distractions are everywhere.  Usually we don’t see the distractions because we are too distracted to notice.  I recently read that the average person is bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of advertisements per day.  That’s astonishing.  I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t get my mind of toaster streusels the other day, I think I found my answer. A couple of weeks ago, I was leisurely laying in bed catching up on The Following on my DVR.  I don’t watch much TV, but I am hooked on The Following.  As Jamie began asking me a few questions from the other room, I realized that no matter how much I attempted, I could not focus on our conversation.  Unfortunately, the remote was on the other side of the room, so a quick “pause” was not an option.  Understanding, that much of this was happening subconsciously, I tried to “muscle through”, much to Jamie’s dismay.  It quickly became  obvious that I was not paying attention to her and she was rightfully upset.


With all the noise being thrown at us, it is a wonder we can focus on anything.
Luckily, my life is not dictated by noise, and I am able to quiet the distractions.  I love podcasts, audiobooks, books, talk radio, and many other “consumption” media.  While these mediums don’t have as much advertisement as traditional media, they still contribute to the sound of a noisy world.  Turning off the sound on the drive home, or a run without my iPhone usually does the trick.  I clear my head and can get back to the work of thinking for myself.
As human beings, we were made to create.  The noise we consume is just the fuel to create.

The headline is that I am sometimes overwhelmed by the noise.  Sometimes the noise is  a loud radio, TV on, phone ringing, and kids fighting all at once.  Sometimes, it’s less subtle and builds up after a few days of content, commercials, billboards, and conversations.  I find myself unable to focus on a simple conversation with the most important person in the world to me. Does anyone believe that the growing noise in our world is going to begin to recede? Is there a chance that the world will realize that we are all reaching a saturation point?  Is there going to be a point were a quick run or an hour of mediation won’t quiet the noise.  I don’t think most of us are at risk of media induced schizophrenia, but I do sense Steven Pressefields infamous resistance finding new ways to attack the work the world needs from us.  Someday, the noise won’t stop.  It’s up to us to get ahead of that today.  As you seek your awesomeness, be intentional about the noise you let in.  The obvious stuff like TV is a starting point, but remember that the good stuff (this blog included), is noise when consumed  in abundance.  Don’t just be intentional about limiting the noise coming in, be intentional about welcoming the silence. Find the mute button on life and clear your head.  It has starting to work for me.  It will work for you.

Share how you quiet the noise.  I’m particularly interested in how busy commuters, and family people find time without sacrificing valuable family togetherness.
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How Hating People Helped Me Change My Narrative

Recently my narrative, that little voice driving my view of the world, has had me thinking about people. Not in ways I’m proud of.  The narrative has become negative and aggressive.  Frankly, I’m starting to feel like I don’t like people.  This, of course is ridiculous, and completely detrimental to my mission.  This reminds me of  the resistance Steven Pressfield writes of.  In a nutshell, the resistance is the militant arm of mediocrity.  It is the distractions and self doubt that stop you and I from climbing out of the average. This is a new  and very affective attack from the resistance.

Attack on Hindenburg line

Attack on Hindenburg line (Photo credit: National Library of Scotland)

While out on a run yesterday, I decided to unplug and face this resistance head on.  Seth Godin writes that as the resistance gets more intense, we should celebrate.  I decided to leave the party hat behind and stick with my Brooks running cap.  I ran with a smile as I realized that my work and my art is getting better.  The resistance is threatened now more than ever.  This is evidenced by the hardened strike force of subtly (the slow increase of my negative narrative) rather than simple distractions is used to see.
The break in the armor of the resistance is found in facing it head on.  After all, the resistance uses elements of truth to strike at the core of our creative spirit.
 I realized it is not people who I hate. I hate what I see so many of them doing and not doing, and of course I see a reflection of this in myself. These “people” are fake, wasting time, and are bored and boring. They are awkward, uncomfortable in silence and never present.  They are all busy doing things, but busy doing the wrong things.  These are all things I see creeping up in myself.  If I am to succeed in my mission of helping people achieve awesomeness, I must be aware of my vulnerability to these attacks.  In fact, these “things” are all the things  this site is all about changing.
 Intentional living is not easy, but it is the way only way to succeed.  Success doe not happen by chance.
The resistance is much more savvy with me than simple Facebook pings or email interruptions.  I’ve built effective defenses to these and have created better work with the gained focus. This is a good thing.
I share this because we are all in this together.  I’m excited that my art is worth attacking.  My narrative is not that difficult to change.  The simple process of knowing my mission and being aware that I am in fact living and creating my own narrative on a daily basis gave me the wisdom to re write the current and dangerous direction it was going.
What is your narrative telling you that is pulling you toward mediocrity?  How are you fighting back?
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How Doing Laundry Helps Me Write More

The other day I was at home trying to catch up on some chores.  One of my least favorite household chores is laundry.  Laundry is inherently never-ending and tedious.  In a household of 7 people, falling behind on laundry is disastrous.  Putting on my “productivity hat”, I realized one of the simplest and important skills I use professionally comes  from my love/hate relationship with laundry.   I sort my clothes by darks, whites, and baby clothes.  Whites are simply my undershirts for work and are very easy to fold and put away.  Baby clothes are small and tedious and take the most effort.  I love my baby girl but her laundry drives me bonkers. My darks, on the other hand are relatively easy to fold and put away, but take a lot of room and build up fast.  Not only do I sort my loads (I can hear the resounding “duh”), I batch the types of loads.  I typically was 3 loads of colors per week, 1 whites and 2 baby clothes. By batching them, I get in the zone all at once and get them done much faster.  Rather than doing 1 load every other day or back and forth with load types, I only have to start once and maintain the specifically needed focus without the energy of restarting.  What does this mean toward success in life? Why should you care about my laundry?

Laundry Room

Laundry Room (Photo credit: Gene Wilburn)

Think about the things you do in a given day or week.  A lot of what you are doing are similar in mental focus, tools, physical needs, and location, AKA “context”.  Just like an airplane taking off, the hardest part of the journey is simply getting off the ground.  As I sit here at Panera writing this post, I am batching multiple posts.  It took me ten minutes just to clear  the creative cob webs in my mind.  I get better at writing as I settle in.  I get in the “zone”.  Rather than start and stop multiple times, I’d rather take advantage of the energy to get started once and write multiple posts.  It makes sense.

Batching not only helps get more work done, it helps the work where quality matters.

As you approach your short term planning (I do mine weekly), think about where you will be and your time constraints.  Find opportunities to batch similar tasks.  Do the laundry and clean the showers together. Mow the lawn and clean the shed.  Of course, drink a beer and eat a burger together when you’re done.
Share  some batching successes.  Can you overdue batching?  I want to hear the hilarious overdone attempts at batching where too much of a good thing makes for great instagram pictures.
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Driving, Smoking and Cell Phones: A guide to distracted living

Dropping off my Highschooler today, I saw something interesting.  I am not referring to the “you smell like fart” t-shirt, although that may be fodder for another post. Turning in toward the parking lot, as I was leaving, I saw a lady driving, perhaps by tele kinetics.  She has a lit cigarette and a cell phone in one hand and was driving with the other.  She seemed deep in conversation with anyone except those in car with her. This isn’t a rant about her, though.  I don’t know the specifics.  She could be getting biopsy results (in which case, talk away), or she could be discussing the Full House reunion commercial (can this wait?).  This also is not a post about distracted driving.  This is a post about distracted living.  We are all guilty.  Jeff Goins does a great job addressing this in his recent book “The In-between”, but he didn’t invent the concept of “smelling the roses”.  Seeing this lady talking away while her teenage passenger stared into space reminds me of the many times I was checking e-mail while my daughter discussed the intricacies of her 4th grade tether ball tournament, or my boy giving me play by painful play of jumping his scooter off the curb.  I’m reminded of “helping” along stories my kids have shared with a “yes, yes…and…and”.

lonely kid on a beach ... standing

lonely kid on a beach … standing (Photo credit: Pierre Metivier)

We are busy, and that’s ok.  Somehow, in my impossible attempt at becoming the perfect parent, I have discovered something way better than perfection: Presence.

The idea of being present doesn’t end with our kids.  Although I’d argue that this is the most important and most neglected opportunity. Being present takes intentionality.  Ultimately intentionality as a lifestyle makes this easier.  When I am in control of my goals, projects, and tasks, I am much less distracted by the “stuff” of life.  Intentionality toward being present is also key, and a great opportunity to develop much deeper relationships. The ability to hold a cell phone to your ear in the same hand as a lit cigarette without igniting your hair is a great skill, perhaps that energy and focus could be used toward awesome intentional living.  I challenge you to find 2 people in your life (child, spouse, co-worker, etc.) who you let the rules of presence slip.  You may have slipped into distracted habits or finishing sentences to “move on”.  Be fully present to them today.  Turn off the cell phone, the TV, or whatever has your mind.

Share the “relationship changing” results.
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