All posts by Terry Schmidt

About Terry Schmidt

Terry Schmidt helps leaders at all levels to think bigger, plan smarter, act fast, and get results. He brings three decades of experience assisting clients in 38 countries. Terry earned his MBA at Harvard and is a life-long learner committed to making a difference in the world.

Overcoming Huge Obstacles Under Extreme Pressure…

Imagine you worked for Los Alamos National Laboratory as a technical specialist, and you discovered there was the raw material for 20,000 radioactive dirty bombs in civilians hands… spread throughout the United States, and you were in charge of finding them.

What would you do?

Quick Facts:

  • Over 20,0000 “sealed-source ” radioactive “fit in your pocket” sized devices exist that could easily be turned into dirty bombs.
  • These small devices, ranging in size from a button to a cell phone, are sealed metal containers with neutron-emitting radioactive material inside. These were issued to universities and private companies by the US government starting in the 1950s for research, geological exploration, and medical diagnostics.
  • The potential for causing widespread and economic catastrophe was huge. By strapping a stick of dynamite to a sealed source and setting it off in a densely populated area, terrorists could release radiation that would make major areas uninhabitable for years.
  •  Truly a scary proposition, with the potential for disaster if they were not safely secured before the bad guys got them.
  • US Department of Energy was aware of the problem, but solving it remained a low priority and was never received adequate funding.

The Project: Create, manage and implement the Offsite Recovery Project (OSRP) to find, transport and then dispose of all 20,000 potential dirty bombs, before they could be used by terrorists

Project Challenges:

✓   The issue had been neglected for years.

✓   There was no budget.

✓   No disposal standards existed for this class of device, so new standards would have to be developed and be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

✓   No existing radioactive waste disposal site would accept them.

✓   The project team was made up of opinionated technical experts from over 12 agencies and the private sector, with NO COMMON LANGUAGE.

✓   Each of these scientists bought unique technical jargon and preferred operating procedures … and they would all have to come to a consensus BEFORE any plan could be implemented

Project Manager Profile = Accidental Project Manager

Chuck was a PhD nuclear physicist at the lab, with ZERO training in project management who had become the “accidental project manager,” thrust into this critical role because of his technical expertise.

Chuck’s Unspoken Concerns:

  1. I’ve never done this before – what if I screw up and people die?
  2. I’ve never done this before, I have no leverage or authority over agencies I needed to take action – who will listen to me?
  3. How will I get everyone to talk the same language, and get beyond their own agendas?
  4. Could this kill my career?
  5. If I don’t do this, who will? … it has to be done, no matter what the personal consequences for me – as a concerned citizen, as a family man, I have to do my part.
  6. How do I get started?

The Action Plan

Chuck and I first met when he attended a Managing Critical Projects workshop I taught at the LANL Management Institute. Chuck was comfortable solving scientific problems, but managing complex high-stake projects were new to him.

When he called me for advice – I told him to follow the 4 Cornerstone Questions FormatI’d originally taught him.

Chuck knew that before he got to the details of the plan he had to get everyone in agreement and on the same page so he began by writing this team Objective on the board:

“Team prepares a clear, comprehensive work plan for developing disposal options for field sources”.

They began with the first question – WHY are we doing this project and WHAT must we deliver?, then worked their way through the 4 cornerstone questions.

They sketched out a cause and effect logic chain, which visually linked their work plan through the sequence of intermediate Objectives needed to reach the Goal of Protect the Health and Safety of the nation. They came to an agreement on the big-picture strategy to solve this problem – knowing the details would come from those agreements.

Utilizing the Logical Frameworks matrix I had provided, Chuck quickly went from doubting himself and being overwhelmed with the scope of the project – to being a confident leader – BECAUSE HE HAD A PROVEN SUCCESS TEMPLATE TO FOLLOW … and it worked.

The Results

  • These dangerous weapons are now safely under control. Whew! One less thing to worry about…we can all breathe easier.
  • Accomplished their goal ahead of schedule – unusual in projects of this type.
  • The project received official LANL recognition for outstanding planning and execution.
  • Team members felt justifiably proud and rewarded for using “Project Superpowers” on a job well done.

To learn the 4 Cornerstone Questions and Project Super Power strategies Chuck used to go from doubt to confidence and success, click here to register for my one hour Project Super Power System training at no cost.


Terry Schmidt is a business strategist, keynoter, and author of Strategic Project Management Made Simple, and chief honcho at He helps leaders at all levels to develop the skill set and mindset to accomplish outstanding results.

Reflect Back to Move Forward

The end of a calendar year is a natural time for personal reflection. It’s a process I do every year, as a way to celebrate victories, examine lessons learned, and gear up for the year to come.

Each year the format varies. This year I journaled the answers to seven questions, perhaps you will do the same. Give yourself a couple of uninterruptible hours, maybe enjoying a glass of Merlot, and reflect. For maximum benefit, write them down and reread them next year this time.

1. What am I most proud of?
Being proud does not mean being boastful, but recognizing your accomplishments—no matter how small—is essential to being able to feel good about various aspects of life.

I’m most proud of my family, brought closer together with a frisky new puppy. I’m proud of relationships with my clients, and the friendships that continue long after the projects are complete. I’m proud of my work team, especially Kavitha, Kurt, Ashley and Bill. I’m proud of myself for adopting a simpler life-style. And my wife Sinee- she is the best! What’s on your proud list?

2. What did I learn?
I learned the need to reorganize my working and home environment to serve my needs. That means having my working tools in order and accessible and eliminating the pockets of clutter, both physical and psychological.

I also learned that spending an afternoon raking leaves stresses little-used muscles—and can lead to three days in bed recovering from back spasms. Not the best memory, but one that inspired me to ask Santa for a leaf blower this year.

3. What do I need to pay more attention to?
There are a million things vying for our attention. By paying more attention to what truly deserves attention, life flows more smoothly.

After a long and adventurous career, it means paying more attention to my end game. I’ll never retire, but need to find ways to leverage my expertise and serve clients with less airplane travel. What calls for your attention?

4. What am I most thankful for?
Having an attitude of gratitude matters for a variety of reasons. It’s easy to get derailed and focus on what isn’t there rather than what is present in one’s life.

On a recent family vacation, we enjoyed the beauty of nature on along the Oregon coast. This inspired me to think about all that I am thankful for, including continuing good health, loving relationships, stimulating work, and the ability to make a difference in the lives of my friends and clients (which often overlap). What’s on your gratitude list?

5. What do I need to learn?
It’s a cliché to say that the only constant is change but what’s true is that these up-tempo times require continuous learning to survive and thrive amidst constant change.

One area I need to beef up is my facility with electronic gadgets. While I am a whiz-bang fast typist who can still make a keyboard smoke, there are productivity secrets I’m not using. Hello, App store!

6. What do I need to let go of?
Carrying grudges around is heavy work that robs energy and the awareness of being here now. But reframing past situations and letting go opens you up to possibilities in the present that could otherwise be overlooked.

A couple years ago my maintenance man (who had earned my trust working for me the previous decade) went bad. He rummaged through some boxes stored in the garage and found unused credit cards and checks which he decided to cash in. Fortunately, he got caught and served a year in prison. I later discovered that he had also stolen my wedding ring and other precious items of both personal and financial importance. While it’s hard to forgive his trespasses, continuing to be angry at him doesn’t serve me. That event is now history.

7. A year from now, what would I like to be different?
If you had a magic wand and could make conditions significantly different and better in the future, what would that be?

Make your magic wand wishes things you can actually make happen through focus, discipline, and commitment. For me, my list looks like this: I will weigh 15 pounds less; I will publish one more book; my online programs will be changing lives around the world, and I will continue to appreciate the many blessings we all enjoy each day.

What is your waving wand conjuring up? Think big, step up, and make it real.


Terry Schmidt facilitates culture-changing and life-inspiring event which boost performance and productivity.  His audiences have included nuclear engineers, psychiatric nurses, state governors, geeks, and CEOs. Check out for more information.

Making 2018 Your Best Year Ever

Mark Twain reminds us that we should take our brains out once in a while and stomp on them up because they get all caked up. I’m a firm believer in the value of asking provocative questions each December to prepare for the next. Since this year is winding down, now is a great time to ponder the following sets of questions. The first set of 18 questions encourage you to reflect back on 2017, the next 18 anticipate the coming year. Relish these questions on your own, or share with others.

 Reviewing 2017

  1. What has been the very best thing about this year so far for you?
  2. What new skills or talents did you discover in yourself?
  3. What are you most grateful during this year?
  4. What made you feel most alive and why?
  5. What are the greatest family experiences you enjoyed?
  6. What work contributions do you feel most proud of?
  7. What is the most important life lesson you learned?
  8. How did you grow professionally?
  9. Who are the cherished new friends you made?
  10. Who or what inspired you?
  11. What was the best opportunity you took advantage of so far?
  12. What’s the most meaningful thing you did for the three people you love most?
  13. What is the most outrageous thing you did?
  14. What was the biggest risk you took and how did it turn out?
  15. What gave you a real sense of joy?
  16. What was the smartest decision you made?
  17. What most surprised you about yourself?
  18. What obsolete goals are you willing to let go of now?

 Looking Towards 2018

  1. If you could write one news headline about you and make it come true, what would it be?
  2. What will be your number one focus during 2018?
  3. What would you have to believe about yourself to make the coming year your best ever?
  4. What limiting beliefs would be useful to drop?
  5. How can you better support your friends and family?
  6. What new professional skills would be smart to gain?
  7. What is one old limiting habit you are committed to change in the year ahead?
  8. Who do you choose to forgive?
  9. How can you make your community/nation better?
  10. What is one positive new habit you are committed to acquiring?
  11. What is one change you could make to improve your health?
  12. What new or neglected old hobby would you like to spend time on?
  13. How can you add more fun and adventure in the coming year?
  14. What new opportunities do you anticipate will unfold?
  15. What new gifts will you invite to unfold in you?
  16. How will you help others to be more successful?
  17. What would you like to do that would totally surprise most people who know you?
  18. What would become possible for you if suddenly all your limitations disappeared?

Now, with fresh insights bubbling in your brain, turn some of these into action items.  Take some first steps so that the coming year is your most enjoyable, productive, and loving season of your life.


Terry Schmidt facilitates culture-changing and life-inspiring event which boost performance and productivity.  His audiences have included nuclear engineers, psychiatric nurses, state governors, geeks, and CEOs. Check out for more information.

Your Assignment: Get Rejected

“You want us to do what?!”

That’s what the forty engineers and IT experts in my Reinvent Yourself and Thrive course at UCLA Extension’s Technical Management Program said when I gave them their out-of-class assignment. Their homework was to make an unusual, strange, or ridiculous request of a total stranger where the odds of rejection were high.

The results of that assignment were life-changing to many of my participants because they busted through a mental barrier that had stopped them from taking some real-world risks that could pay off in positive ways.

I have seen far too many competent men and women restrict their behavior and avoid taking survivable risks because of internal censoring and disempowering self-talk. Whether it is speaking up more in meetings, asking someone for a date, or initiating an unpopular idea, we often stop because we imagine the pain of rejection and mentally magnify.

Half of the class actually did the “rejection therapy” with both instructive and humorous results and reported their results. The next day Joe (changing all names here) asked a total stranger to give him $100.  José asked the hotel valet if he could park cars for an hour. Mary requested her waiter at dinner to give her a foot massage.  Luis asked the construction worker on the UCLA campus if he could operate the bulldozer. Fred asked a homeless man for some spare change. Sarah requested a free refill on the meat in her hamburger. Joseph pleaded with a well-dressed business guy to loan him his shoes for the evening.

Everyone succeeded in getting totally rejected, except for Mary. The waiter politely explained that he could not her feet right now, but he would be getting off shift in an hour. (she declined)

What was the learning lesson? It is so easy to stop ourselves from taking action, because of stories we make up in our mind, that we would get rejected, people would think badly of us, etc. In real life, for things that really matter, we often do the same thing. We create flimsy excuses in our mind not to go for things just to avoid the imagined pain.

I challenge you to go out and get rejected today. Be respectful, don’t be creepy, but make a request that is so outlandish you’re guaranteed to get rejected. As the saying goes, whenever doesn’t kill you makes stronger. Knowing that you can handle rejection, strengthens your courage muscle, so its ready when it really counts.

I’d love to hear your rejection story, post it below.


Terry Schmidt facilitates culture-changing and life-inspiring event which boost performance and productivity.  His audiences have included nuclear engineers, psychiatric nurses, state governors, geeks, and CEOs. Check out for more information.

A to Z Tips for Strategic Thinkers and Planners

I just finished teaching Strategic Thinking and Planning for Leaders at UCLA Extension’s Technical Management Program. I’ve now taught this esteemed one-week program twice a year for over 30 years. This time around, the smart geeks and leaders in my course challenged me to capture my key teaching points using the alphabet.

These tips will serve anyone engaged in developing or updating strategic and annual business plans.

Remember that the purpose of planning is to take Action. Turn your analysis and insights into actionable recommendations.

Take a fresh look at your Business Model and adjust as necessary to remain relevant.  Avoid disruption by reinventing or refinishing how you create value.

Decide how to Communicate the results to others with a need to know. My clients most frequent complaint share is that the strategies are not communicated or clear.

Strategic thinking requires making Decisions about resources priorities, and ways to achieve the vision and goals. But deciding what not to do is equally important.

Conduct an Environmental Scan to inform the team of what’s changing in the world that affects you. Don’t get blindsided by a predictable trend or change factor that could have been anticipated.

Focus your strategy on what the organization does well. Avoid getting distracted by bright shiny objects that steer away from core competencies.

Set meaningful and measurable Goals. Follow this sequence: goals, first strategies to achieve them next, followed by projects.

Keep things Honest. Don’t let anyone highjack the process for political gain.

Work from an Issues list. Engage leaders by addressing the hot button concerns that keep them up at night.

Be able to Justify the major decisions. Use objective criteria for deciding among alternatives, not force of personality.

Establish a common base of Knowledge on strategic planning best practices. Getting all key players to use the same planning language and model boosts effectiveness.

Explore Learnings during the former period. Identify the good, the bad, and the ugly and apply those lessons learned.

Refine Measures and monitor the handful of indicators that move the needle toward goals.  Keep the dashboard simple.

Look at the Numbers and understand what they mean. If you grow by 10% but the market increase by 20%, you are slipping behind.

Search for unexploited Opportunities that are ripe for the picking.   Low-hanging fruit often hides behind leaves due for pruning.

Turn decisions into executable PROJECTS and build teams around them. The Logical Framework Approach works wonders for.

Ask fresh Questions, those that barrier provoke busting answers like. Here are the questions must-ask.

Reviews past results. Evaluate both how well the strategies worked, as well as the planning/execution process, itself so there is continuous system improvement.

Get buy-in from key Stakeholders. Get key stakeholders, those people involved with, concerned about, or affected by the results. Solicit their input because people support what they help create.

Identify emerging Threats as part of the SWOT analysis. Surface them with a well-done environmental scan and develop counter measures.

Aim for shared Understanding of the plan and what it means. Find ways to communicate it to others in a way they comprehend.

Revisit the Vision statement and tweak as needed. Turn fluffy statements into management tools by establishing indicators and measures that reflect progress.

Tap into the greater Wisdom of the organization by engaging front-line and mid-level folks provide input. You’ll need their support to implement.

To keep folks entertained, bring lots of Xylophones to play during breaks. (OK – just kidding, X’s are hard. Okay, got one) Use X-Ray vision to delve deeply into topics that matter and discover patterns and solutions.

Maintain a Yearly planning calendar, with periodic updates scheduled in advance. Roll your plan forward in a continuing cadence.

Sprinkle Zest into the process.  Make your live planning workshops engaging, and stimulating through active facilitation, boundary-stretching and surprises.

Need help customizing your strategic planning approach?   Give me a shout and we will discuss how to make it soar.


Leverage Your Strategic Superpowers: 15 High-Payoff “LogFrame”Applications

I love lighting people up with fresh concepts that expand their capacity to accomplish great things. This month I’m teaching project managers in SeattleOlympia, and Portland how to turn their best ideas into outstanding results. Thanks to these Project Management Institute chapters for inviting me to speak their members.

My life purpose is to help smart people transform their business and personal lives by sharing the Strategic Superpowers that I’ve learned and created in a 30+ year unusually varied career in business, government, and academia.

My Strategic Superpowers collection consists of proven systems, tools, techniques, and practices which give you the edge in a fast-change world. The Superpower my clients rave about most is the Logical Framework Approach, because it really works.

I’ve now taught 25,000 people of all backgrounds how to sharpen their strategy and design successful projects, by asking the four critical strategic questions embedded in the “LogFrame”.

Answers to these questions populate the interactive 4×4 Logical Framework grid with project information. This makes strategic project design much like completing a crossword or Sudoku puzzle and ensures you address the right issues.

I won’t explain how the Log Frame works here, so If you are not familiar, check out my article Turning Strategy Into Action: The Logical Framework Approach to Outstanding Projects.

Curious about how the LogFrame can be used? Actually, the applications are endless because the built-in scientific and management principles are generic. The core concepts scale and flex and adapt to virtually any situation. Use it to tackle the hot opportunities on your plate, the business transformations needed, the problems that keep you up at right.

Here are some high-payoff ways my clients have put this solution system to work. Which ones resonate with you?

1. Develop Execution Plans for Core Strategies. How do you turn strategic intent and priority goals into reality? Use the four critical questions to activate critical initiatives. Periodically review your strategic plan, refine your project portfolio, prioritize new initiatives and create LogFrames to jump start action.

2. Strengthen Teams Across Work Functions. LogFrames are the perfect vehicle to bring together new teams and task forces around important projects. The four questions and matrix provide a common vocabulary to rapidly integrate cross-functional players around shared Objectives.

3. Reinvent Your Department. From time to time, step back and take a fresh look at where you are and where you need to go. Then develop strategies to get there. When performance lags things feel stale, or your mission changes, doing so becomes more vital than ever.

4. Develop Information Technology Solutions and Algorithms. Smart people tackling tough issues need an industrial strength analytic tool that helps them create effective solutions. This offers a canvas for painting the path to the future.

5. Improve Performance and Profitability. Shore up weak areas and plug leaks in the system to leverage resources and deliver greater customer value. Flesh out initiatives that support strategic sales Goals or balanced scorecard elements.

6. Manage Research and Development. Creating the next must-have gizmo? The matrix captures your solution plan in the form of a testable hypothesis.

7. Make Better Recommendations and Decisions. Use this tool to be systematic and transparent about how to set decision criteria, identify alternatives, collect information, conduct the analysis, and make solid recommendations.

8. Improve Critical Processes. Identify and harvest the low-hanging fruit where a modest process improvement effort yields big returns. Use the matrix to analyze and redesign any process that needs an overhaul.

9. Think Big! Purchasing a remote island and starting your own country? Planning your trip to Mars? Use the LogFrame as a front-end tool for high-level scoping of super-sized projects. You’d be surprised how many innovative projects launched using this system.

10. Handle Emergent Issues. Got a hot potato? Apply this approach to problems and opportunities which arise suddenly and need quick solutions. Slice and dice your project potato with LogFrame logic for a smart solution.

11. Redirect Stuck Projects. Take a fresh look at stalled projects, programs, and strategies; identify and evaluate alternatives, and redirect your effort along promising directions. Break out of stale paradigms by brainstorming fresh Purpose statements and see what new patterns emerge.

12. Evaluate Project Impact. The four levels of LogFrame are ideal to conduct interim evaluations of ongoing projects and make ongoing adjustments. Evaluate completed projects to determine impact and capture lessons learned.

13. Leverage Learning and Development. This process sharpens learning and development programs at all levels. Purpose describes desired behavior change; Goal highlights the expected benefits; Outcomes define the learning delivery system. Identify and develop the future competencies needed and track your progress.

14. Supplement your PMO. Developing a LogFrame at any project stage or gate forces clear thinking about how to execute the future phases. This practical adjunct covers projects that don’t naturally fit traditional project management methodologies.

15. Improve your life. Personal and professional development projects benefit from structured planning. Want to write a book? Complete a Tri-Athalon? Restore a relationship? Plan the ultimate vacation? Start with a LogFrame.

This list could continue indefinitely. But the real question is what’s on your plate that this potent Strategic Superpower can help you handle.

My clients have proven how the Logical Framework Approach builds a strong foundation that leads to predictable success. Discover how to apply this process in this free high-content video course click here.

Strategies Gone Stale? Keep Yours Forever Fresh and Get Great Results!

Like home-baked bread, strategies deteriorate with time. Since they aren’t labeled with expiration dates, astute managers periodically review and update their strategies and plans to keep them fresh.

To help you get started, I’ll share a simple model I’ve developed for my clients that reflect the -THINK-PLAN-ACT themes of the Association for Strategic Planning. Each theme features several steps, broken down in a way that makes it flexible and modular. This process scales to work at an enterprise level, business unit, department, group, or other entity.

Getting the right answers requires asking the right questions. Below you’ll find provocative questions for each step that are often ignored, taken for granted, or assumed without verification.  Give your team the gift of organization clarity and performance excellence, starting with these trigger questions.

1. Assess the Situation

  • What’s motivating this plan now?
  • What are the important issues to include?
  • Do we have the right conditions to proceed now?
  • What’s the downside of not planning now?
  • Who do we need to get started?
  • Who owns the project and who else cares?

2. Organize and Guide the Initiative.

  • What is the scope and time frame of this initiative?
  • What’s our system of interest (team, department, business unit)?
  • Who should be involved?
  • What does success look like and who/how will measure it?
  • What methodology should we use?
  • What information do we need to proceed?
  • What obstacles might we face and how would we overcome them?
  • What’s our overall game plan and next steps?

3. Conduct an External Assessment.

  • What’s changing that affects us?
  • What environmental events, trends, and dynamics do we need to pay particular attention to?
  • What potential business model disruptors might emerge?
  • What is the structure of our industry and how is it changing?
  • How can we prepare for different alternative futures?
  • What specific environmental information do we need to make informed choices and how do we get it?

4. Position for the Future.

  • Where do we want to be in the future (3, 5 and 10 years)?
  • What are our customer value proposition and competitive positioning?
  • What’s our desired positioning in the customers mind?
  • What’s better or different about us, compared with the competition, in the eyes of the customer?
  • How do we anticipate that our company will be different then?
  • What are our current vision/mission statements and how should they evolve?

5. Conduct an Internal Assessment.

  • What limitations would our competitors or detractors point to?
  • How can we leverage our strengths and reduce weaknesses?
  • What do our core competencies equip us to do exceptionally well?
  • What is working and what isn’t?
  • What is the current state of the work environment (culture)?
  • How satisfied are our employees and other stakeholders?
  • What are our core values and how well do we “walk the talk”?

6. Assess Current & Potential Customers.

  • Who are our current key customers and how well do we serve them?
  • What do our primary customers value, need and expect from us?
  • Why do these customers do business with us?
  • Are these the right customers?
  • Should we drop certain segments and go after others?
  • How are our customers’ business environments changing, and what are the implications for serving them well?

7. Develop the Strategy & Plans

  • What’s our current business strategy and how well is it working?
  • What are our major goals and how will we get there?
  • Does our current structure align with the strategy?
  • What are the constraints and limitations as we consider strategic alternatives?
  • How should we measure success and what should we track?
  • What are the resource implications of the selected strategies?
  • What initiatives, programs, and projects does our strategy translate into?

8. Turn Strategy into Action Initiatives

  • How do we get projects these off the ground smoothly and effectively?
  • What resources will be needed/are available to execute the strategy?
  • How do we time-phase these new initiatives?
  • What change management structures/processes are needed to support execution?
  • How should strategy progress be measured and performance progress reported?

9. Monitor & Evaluate

  • What’s the best way to track progress and who does this?
  • What processes do we need?
  • What additional temporary structures (e.g., task forces and review boards) need to be put in place to guide implementation?
  • How and when will we conduct periodic reviews?

10. Learn & Improve

  • What have we learned over the last period regarding progress in achieving our goals?
  • How well is the strategy being executed?
  • What happened compared to expectations?
  • What worked well and what didn’t work so well?
  • What have we learned about our strategic planning process/structure and how can it be improved in the next time cycle?

 If you’ve to see the value in this model,  connect with me for a free video describing these steps.

What Strategic Planning Approach is best?

A few years ago I served with several other strategy experts on the Association for Strategic Planning’s certification task force, which developed the first-ever program for certifying strategic planners. I was tasked with identifying the best strategic planning approach, along with Howard Rohm, president of the Balanced Scorecard Institute.

There are many different approaches offered by consultants, authors, and strategists. Some of them work well, others don’t. So how do you decide what is best? After considerable research and discussion, we came up with the definitive answer.

But let’s start with a different question: what’s the best place to go out for dinner with three friends? Unless there is a unanimous immediate answer, you’ll have to explore.

What do we all like – (and don’t like). (We’ll eat everything but super-spicy). Do we want quiet and low-key, loud and raucous, or somewhere in between? (Quiet enough for conversation). Upscale or downscale? (Somewhere in between). How far are we willing to drive? (15 miles) What’s our budget? (Under $40 apiece).

Answering questions like this yields selection criteria to narrow your long list of possibilities into a manageable number. So rather than arguing over what is the best – which is totally subjective and impossible to prove in any event – use your personal preference to select from among the options which can get the job done.

(We ended up at the Cheesecake Factory.  Their menu offers variety and I love to support places that still manufacture in America.)

Back to the ASP professional certification program. It turns out that the answer to the which-is-best strategic planning system question is the same as the best restaurant question: there is none, and it all depends.

With that perspective, we identified characteristics that any effective planning and management system should have.  Here they are.

  • based on systems-thinking principles
  • appropriate to the enterprise level of interest and to your position/ function
  • cascades and links up, down and across the organization
  • fits a larger cycle of thinking, planning, implementation, and evaluation
  • includes meaningful measures (a strategic dashboard)
  • actionable – can drive projects and strategic initiatives from the strategic plan
  • easy to learn and use
  • makes common sense.

As long as what you choose fits these criteria, you should be in good shape.

My own favorite methodology is the Logical Framework Approach, which my clients have proven adds value in hundreds of diverse situations to smoothly bridge the gap between strategic goals and executable projects. Go here to learn more about this approach.

Go here for information on ASP’s strategic planning certification program, go to


Strategic Ways to be Productive

You are already working hard, here are some ways to work smarter.

  1. Know your big whys. Be clear about your life and business visions to keep you above the daily fray. Align your daily/weekly/monthly goals to your longer-term bigger picture goals and dreams.
  2. Set daily objectives. Setting targets for each day the night before boosts your productivity. In addition to your top “to-do’s”, include the top “to-be’s”; those qualities of mind you’ll bring to the day (e.g., confidence, patience, forgiveness, persistence.)
  3. Do the worst first. By tackling your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning, you set the tone for a productive day. This dissolves the underlying anxiety that comes from deferring till later.
  4. Enforce uninterruptible blocks of time. When you must concentrate, don’t permit any interruptions from others or yourself. Refuse phone calls, drop-in visits, and sneak-peaks at your email until the task is done.
  5. Box your time. Give yourself a fixed time period – 30 minutes works well – to make a dent in a big task. Don’t worry about how far you get. Just put in the time. Once you get in the flow, its easy to continue.
  6. Set completion targets. When you begin a task, identify the milestone you must reach before you can stop working. For example, when writing a book, decide not to stop until you’ve written at least 500 words. Hit your target no matter what.
  7. Batch similar tasks. Batching your phone calls, emails or errands together lets you knock them out in a single session without the loss of attention from task-switching.
  8. Rise with the roosters. Get up early in the morning (5 a.m-ish?) and get straight to work on your most important task. Early birds can get more done before 8 a.m. than most people do in a full day.
  9. Pick Up the tempo. Deliberately pick up the pace and try to move a little faster than usual. Walk faster. Read faster. Type faster. Finish sooner.
  10. Tame your wild space. Cluttered work environments breed inefficiency. Prune excess papers, books, and whatever else messes with your mind. Colored and labeled file folders can work wonders in improving efficiency.
  11. Respect Pareto. Follow the Pareto principle, the 80-20 rule which states the 80% of the value of a task comes from 20% of the effort. Focus on doing the 20% well and do the noncritical 80% just okay or not at all.
  12. Visualize it as done. Visualize your task as already accomplished. Stick a mental fork in it. Put yourself into an associated emotional state of actually being there. Make it real in your mind and you’ll soon see it in your reality. Okay, I said one dozen, but I’m on a roll so here’s a bonus.
  13. Cultivate flow states. Discover your own secret sauce of getting into a state of relaxed high performance. Meditation, exercise, sufficient sleep and healthy diet all contribute.

Now go get em!

Please add your own favorite productivity tip in the comments section below.


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Strategic Lessons from Cleaning My Fridge

Among my life and work priorities, refrigerator management ranked low on the list. After all, a refrigerator was just a simple self-contained system to keep food cold. Food goes in, gets chilled, comes out, gets cooked and eaten.  Never did I imagine that this big humming box of cold could offer life-changing lessons in the way it recently did.

I’ve learned in my consulting career is that most systems eventually break down into confusion, mediocrity, and dysfunction.  That happens because we ignore the ongoing review, maintenance, and tweaking needed to keep them relevant. But when these systems are revisited, restored, and renewed, voila!  Good stuff happens! Performance improves, relationships mesh, projects succeed, things work better.

My daughter Ann recently visited from Texas and audibly gasped when she opened my refrigerator. Pops, this is a mess!  Ann was right. Guilty as charged. What follows is not a pretty scene:

Fridge Foods

Gooey packets of take-home ketchup and soy sauce slowly oozed their long-expired contents on the top shelf inside the door. A mystery meat trapped in Tupperware had sprouted an Afro.  Most of the almost empty salad dressing bottles dated back to Obama’s first term. Truly embarrassing.

Two hours and fifteen pounds of throw-aways later, Ann gifted me with this — an organized fridge.


Now food items are grouped by type. There is order, I can find things! The in-door shelves hold easy-to-get-to priority items, and there is plenty of extra space to grow. No more spoiled food or buying a new jar of mustard because the other two are hidden! The system has transformed!

Some of you may be saying” big whoopee, Terry, you are a messy guy who now has a clean fridge. So what?”  Stick with me here for the take-home learning: Cleaning out the old creates space for the new. This million-dollar idea applies as much – or more –  to life than it does to refrigerators.

My newly transformed fridge provoked me to explore what else I have allowed to become cluttered and dysfunctional. What other clutter areas or system degradation have I tolerated? What parts of my life have I simply accepted as “the way it is”, rather than work to make them “the way it should be?”

It’s healthy to examine the core processes in our lives, evaluate how well they serve us, and tweak them. Do you have a well-defined optimum morning routine that gets you mentally and emotionally primed for the day?  Can you access critical information when you need to?  Do most of the socks in your drawer match up or is there an army of lonely orphans that never get chosen?

How about your relationships? Which ones have gotten gummed up, or stale? Which give you the greatest pleasure? Which should you gently discard because they are draining rather than enriching? New patterns are possible when you simplify.

How about mindset and psychology.  Have you kept yours fresh and growing, or has it gone stale? How can you create a positive charge in these uncertain times? What useless and cluttered old beliefs should you replace with empowering and nurturing ones?

Here is my challenge to you: take that simple principle – cleaning out the old creates space for the new — and see how it applies to the essential parts of your life. Each time you open your refrigerator for the next few weeks, you’ll be reminded of this principle. Enjoy discovering how much of the obsolete you can toss or rearrange, then invite in the new.

Thanks for sharing your own insights below.