Friday, January 29, 2010

The Fine Art Of Small Talk

I recently read a short, but powerful book. I originally saw it in a Kinkos and probably over a year later got around to actually reading it. I was going to be taking a short plane trip and wanted something I could easily finish. Debra Fine's The Fine Art Of Small Talk slid right to the top of the list.

The book starts out recognizing that everyone is afraid of being stuck in a situation where they don't know anybody. Where you literally have to start up a conversation with a complete stranger. You absolutely wish somebody would come along and take YOU out of your misery by simply starting up a conversation with YOU. The great revelation is that YOU can be that somebody that rescues somebody else, and in turn rescues each other. The book then goes on to give advice and tips to make it easier to be that person who succeeds in small talk.

At the end of the book, Fine gives a list of Do's and Dont's which I printed off for each car and Jessi and I now review on our way to any event. It serves as a great refresher, and gives us the courage to be better at small talk. I won't give away all of Fine's secrets, but here are some of the good ones:
  • Do take the risk and introduce yourself to others.
  • Don't hope that your grandmother from St. Louis will arrive and introduce you to all these strangers. (Jessi's favorite)
  • Don't use nicknames without permission!
  • Do make people feel special by using their names during conversation.
  • Do ask a person's name if you've forgotten it.
  • Do prepare icebreakers that show a genuine interest and are tailored to the occasion or situation.
  • Do "play the conversation game," offering information about yourself and your activities so others can learn about you.
  • Don't monopolize by speaking for more than four to five minutes - throw the conversation ball back and forth. (I'm guilty of this)
  • Do practice an "elevator speech," offering a couple of interesting sentences about your work.
  • Do use humor whenever possible to overcome uncomfortable moments.
  • Don't tell jokes unless you're a master joke teller.
  • Do get excited about other people's activities and interests.
  • Don't melt away from conversations.
  • Do issue invitations to continue relationships.
  • Do regularly stay in touch with those you meet.
  • Do keep track of what you learn about people so that you can use that information in future communications.
  • Do use open-ended questions such as, "tell me about..." and "How did you come up with that idea?" to jump-start a conversation.
  • Do come prepared to change topics if a conversation has lost steam or encounters a roadblock.
  • Do compliment others about their behavior, possessions, or appearance.

Fine has many more which are just as good. The book is a quick read, and it is worth reading.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Managing Our Finances

Jessi and I recently started a personal finance class put on by our church. The curriculum is called Managing Our Finances God's Way and was created by Crown Financial Ministries (lead by Rick Warren who wrote Purpose Driven Life). We're just getting started, but already it's got us thinking.

In all honesty, I didn't really want to go originally because I'm not a really a fan of spending a ton of time thinking about finances. I don't like creating and tracking budgets. I don't follow the stock market. I don't compare 401K and IRA plans. I don't like trying to figure out the right amount of life insurance. I don't calculate my personal saving rate or any other measures of "success". The only thing I really look at is my bank balance twice a month which tells me how much I can spend. That's just about the most time I want to spend managing my finances. I'm able to do this by following Timothy Ferriss' 4-Hour Workweek plan: I invested the time upfront to create a system I could walk away from (I give credit to Timothy for helping me articulate and refine a system I had already created).

I also didn't want to go because I had a feeling the class was designed for employees. Robert Kiyosaki has a visual he uses (you can see it on the cover of Cashflow Quadrant) to talk about employees, self-employed, business owners, and investors. It isn't that any group is better or worse than the other, they just have different values when looking at life. We all occupy each in some way in our life, it's just that some tend to dominate others. Here's a quick description of the different values:

E values security
S values independence
B values teams work
I values financial freedom

I'm trying to transition my thinking from an employee to a business owner. Talking about retirement planning is boring (unless it's with my mom. She does it for a living and we get into awesome debates). Instead, I'd rather talk about businesses and investments. I want to know how to structure and run a business that glorifies God. Again, I don't want to spend my time thinking about finances, I want to spend my time living life and working on a business.

Even though I don't spend much time thinking about finances, it doesn't mean I have a super simple structure. Here's how I set up my system: I currently have 10 checking/saving accounts (ING is amazing because it's so easy to set up new accounts as I need them) where each one has a specific purpose which draws automatically from my main checking account. For example, I have a car maintenance account, emergency savings, rental reserves, travel fund, gift fund, and charity fund, etc. Trust me, it's really hard to spend extra money when it's all in separate accounts and all I see, and can access when shopping, is the money transfered to my living expenses account. Plus, since everything gets transfered automatically, I don't have to remember to do anything. Thanks to Mint, I've aggregated everything together so keeping track of it all is a breeze too. I literally spend less than an hour a month quickly checking over everything to confirm the system is working.

I remember when I first proposed this structure to Jessi she thought I was crazy. She wanted to have one joint account that we did everything out of. I had her read The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach who gave me the original foundation for this structure (I always give her permission to skim the technical parts :-). She loved it and quickly saw the benefits. She no longer has to track everything in a spreadsheet. She no longer has to remember, or rely on will-power, to transfer money or save. All of this translates into less time thinking, and typically worrying, about finances. It has freed us up to do more important things, like actually living life.

Maybe you can see my apprehension to join this class. I already have a sleek system in place that works. At the least, this class would waste a couple hours for the next 7 weeks. At the worst, it would create more work which I didn't want.

Thankfully, after going to a couple of classes, I don't think either one of these will be the case. I probably won't need to change much in my system, but I can already feel a shift in my attitude toward managing our finances: from wishing I didn't have to, to respecting it's importance and remember the purpose behind finances. Plus, this gives me an opportunity to share here.

The first thing we learned (and my original topic when I sat down to write) was the importance of managing our finances. The Bible has 2,350 verses in the Bible about money. Clearly it's important, but why?

How you manage your finances is preparation for Heaven. Luke 16:11 says "If you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?" In Paul's letter to Timothy about the people of Ephesus he says, "Tell them to use their money to do good... by doing this they will be storing up real treasure for themselves in heaven - it is the only safe investment for eternity!" (1 Timothy 6:18a, 19a).

What does this mean practically? Well, I'm not 100% sure yet. What I do know is that whatever I do I need to do it purposefully and carefully. God will be watching to see how I do with this small(ish) task. It's OK to spend time thinking and planning about finances as long as it's done for the right reason. Furthermore, running a business that is designed to glorify God has two benefits. 1) It glorifies Him. 2) It uses our finances for a good purpose.

Over the next few weeks I hope to learn more about how to successfully manage our money. I'm pretty sure we're doing it right, but the reason why we're doing it right will probably shift slightly. I'm also pretty sure the focus will be 100% on personal finances.

To end with, we were shared a prayer from Agur in Proverbs 30:8-9. I really liked it because it talks about balance in respect to finances.

"Don't let me too poor or too rich.
Give me just what I need. If I have too much to eat,
I might forget about you; if I don't have enough,
I might steal and disgrace your name."

Friday, January 22, 2010

2010 Goals

I don't know about you, but this year has taken off like a rocket for Jessi and I. We started the year in Michigan with Jessi's Aunt (A Qik video). Then we headed home and remodeled one of the kitchens of our duplex with my family (Another Qik video). We advertised it for rent and just found our new tenants yesterday.

Somehow I also managed to sit back and reflect on what I want to accomplish this year. My friend, Biraj, said I should post them to my blog, so here it is.

In an attempt to create SMART goals, I tried to get pretty specific. I explain what it is and my plan to accomplish them. Furthermore, these are in order of importance.

1) Read Bible 3x/week
As the foundation for all my decisions, I need to spend more time in the Word. Last year I said something about being more "consistent". This year I want to be more concrete. Eventually, I'll be up to every day, but right now it'll follow my workout schedule. So, when I do my push-ups and crunches, I'll read between reps.

2) Share the Gospel with 1 person
Our church has been talking about the importance of not only living a Christian life, but sharing our faith with others too. I'm not 100% sure how to accomplish this goal yet, but it's something I want to do. It'll start with building genuine relationships and taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. I still need to work on the "take advantage" part and will spend time developing that.

3) Hug more people
Hugging people is so much fun because it's so personal and better communicates how I feel about them. I don't even do this enough with Jessi. I realize it isn't exactly SMART, but it sounds weird to say, "hug at least 3 people a week" (IMO).

4) Communicate my excitement!!
I think this goal relates to hugging pretty closely. I need to improve sharing my emotions with others. I've had a couple people doubt my excitement because I can be pretty placid when I am actually excited. I'm not 100% sure what this looks like, but I do know how I acted when Jessi and I went to Disneyland (I was visually excited) and Jessi herself gives a good example of what it looks like to be excited about something.

5) Achieve ZERO short-term debt
Thankfully, we don't have a lot of short-term debt. However, Jessi and I started taking a finance class put on by our church and this is one of the goals laid out in it. I think it's achievable. The way I typically spend money is to use my credit card and then pay it off that month (or shortly after). It worked really well until we started doing repairs on our duplex. Now I need to pay off those repairs and make a shift from spending on credit to spending from a checking account, which requires a shift which income I spend. Without getting too mathy, we should be able to accomplish this because our expenses are less than our income. It will just take time and smart choices each month.

6) Find 3 business builders
Our Univera business has been fairly stagnant the last two months and now that our duplex is starting to switch over to autopilot I need to focus more here. Again, this will start out with building genuine relationships and if Univera fills a need for someone, present the business to them. I also need to get better at being rejected so I can engage people without fear.

7) Level 4 conversation 4x/week
Have you noticed a trend yet? Lots of my goals this year revolve around building and maintaining relationships. It's become very apparent that I'm OK at it, and if I truly want to be successful, I need to include others and build them up in the process. I don't remember where I learned the 4 levels, but here they are:
Level 1: Superficial (ex: talk about the weather)
Level 2: Facts (ex: talk about what you do for a living)
Level 3: Opinion (ex: talk about what you think about the latest political bill)
Level 4: Deep Insight (share something personal)
You typically need to work down each level before you can learn something special. I worked on this a lot the second part of last year and am looking to further improve. This will lead to having deeper, higher quality relationships instead of just a bunch of superficial ones.

8) Find 3 customers
Finally, I want a obtain 3 new Univera customers. I'm pretty sure this will happen naturally as the other goals develop over time, but I wanted to explicitly remember to do this.

That's it. It should be a fun year, and a busy year. By accomplishing these goals I believe I will be living a rich life and a life on purpose for God.