Habits That Helped Me Write My 1st Book
“If we really pay close attention to our thoughts and actions I would venture to say that we’re essentially a series of habits. A Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40% of people’s actions are habits and not decisions, which seems to confirm this notion. As it’s been said, “change your habits and change your life.”
William James wrote a book on habits in the early 1900s and he wrote the following:
“The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. It is to fund and capitalize our acquisitions, and live at ease upon the interest of the fund. For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. “
Habits Learned Writing My 1st Book
With my book having finally coming out after many years of work, it obviously didn’t just appear out of thin air. It was a byproduct of some level of discipline comprised of habits built up over the years. I thought I would share some of them in order to shed light on one person’s journey towards accomplishing a meaningful life goal. I’m going to first start with the habits we’ve developed at CWS and how those ended up contributing mightily to the creation of my book.
Long Standing CWS Habits
CWS is a strategy-oriented organization in that we think we can improve our odds of earning compelling risk-adjusted returns if we can generate insights about enduring, powerful trends that we have the resources and capability to take advantage of them. To identify these opportunities (and risks) we have found it’s important to build into our company a series of meetings each year that allow us to plan for the company’s direction, market reviews to assess which areas offer strong upside potential, and a review of all of our technology systems and future trends we should be looking into.
The goal is to minimize negative surprises by building early warnings into our system as well as to position ourselves to take advantage of opportunities we see on the horizon and to make sure we have a firm understanding of the long-term technology needs of the company and asset preservation requirements of our properties. It truly is balancing the short-term with the long-term in that we place a great emphasis on both.
We also have annual capital walk of all of our properties to assess their capital needs and very detailed and comprehensive budget reviews, as well as monthly financial reviews. These are highly important strategic and tactical interactions that are habits built into our system each year and put on the appropriate people’s calendars as far in advance as possible.
From an investor perspective we report on our properties and distribute quarterly as well as producing K-1s, 1099s, an annual report for our investors, annual valuation of our investors’ holdings, two conference calls for our partners six months apart, and an annual meeting for our investors that typically has 300+ people attend each year. We are highly committed to communicating regularly with our investors in writing, on the phone, and in person. We report to over 700 of them and we want to do the best job we can to make sure they feel informed about their investments and have a better understanding of the people and organization with whom they have entrusted their money.
As part of the quarterly communication process we have been including a newsletter for the past 20 years or so which discusses a topic we feel is highly valuable to our investors as well as important financial events and notices of which are investors should be aware. It is in the production of our CWS Quarterly Update where I have been able to build up the muscle of my writing habit. For most of the time, we have been producing it I have written the lead article. These tend to average 2,000 words or so, four times a year. In addition, I have written one of the letters to our investors that
In addition, I have written one of the letters to our investors that is included in our annual investor report for a similar period of time. These have tended to average 1,000 to 2,000 words each. Finally, since CWS’ properties are owned by different investors, it is as if we are reporting on 80+ separate companies when it comes to communicating about important events like a refinance, sale, repositioning of the property, and recapitalizations. These letters have been written in the best of times and the worst of times so they have offered a great resource to reconnect with what was happening during the very important times of CWS’ history.
Because we pride ourselves on never missing deadlines in terms of our quarterly reporting and distributions I obviously take this commitment to do my share very seriously. Establishing habits and adhering to this tradition and feeling strongly that our investors should know the actions we are taking and the thought process behind them keeps me highly engaged, motivated, and disciplined to make sure my quarterly articles and annual report letters are produced on time and offer value to our investors.
I have kept virtually all of the articles that I have written since 2000 in a three-ring binder and I must admit it feels good to open it up and add it to an ever growing stack each quarter. That notebook represents a tangible byproduct of a healthy habit that has been maintained for many years. And that’s the point of habits. They start at ground zero and if you stick with them, they slowly build, and before you know it you have something in your life that would be a big missing if it were gone and even a setback to your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional life. And before long you have built up something substantial for which you are very proud.
The point of this has been that when the idea of writing a book started to take more hold of me than just wishful thinking, I was able to embark upon it because I could tap into the vast material that I had produced over many years. The thought of starting from scratch would probably have been too daunting for me to pursue writing the book, but knowing I had a rich source of material from which to draw made it much more possible.
I was also motivated by telling the very unique story and history of CWS, a company founded in 1969 by two engineers who met at an Indian Guides outing and came to realize they read the same book about making money in real estate. That meeting led to venturing out to make an investment in an apartment building which then led to a second one, and so on to now where the company has over 23,000 apartments in its portfolio with a value estimated to be in excess of $3 billion. I was also motivated by chronicling what I thought was my own unique personal journey not only because I wanted something tangible for my kids and future generations to have to learn something about me and from me, but because I think everyone has a unique journey that is worth sharing so I thought I could put mine out there as an example and inspire others to go for it.
My Blogging Habit
This blog has been another habit that I have been working on forming. When it first came out I wrote a number of them before the site went live. I then became a bit intimidated by thinking that I had to post something daily and even more than once a day to be relevant. I was then given the wise advice by Heidi Garland at Guild West and Scott James at Greenleaf Publishing just to focus on once a week to develop the habit of doing it. Don’t let delusions of grandeur derail me. Just get in the game and develop the habit of posting once a week something compelling than feeling the constant pressure of having to write something more frequently that may not be as high quality and interferes with my day job. Here we are nearly a year later and I’m pleased with the body of content that has been created. One of the highest compliments paid to me was by someone who said he discovered the blog and then found himself still reading posts 2.5 hours later. I do hope people find it interesting, informative, educational, and entertaining.
If someone were to ask me how do I come up with something to write each week I would tell them by far the biggest reason is my use of Evernote, which I have found to be the most productive app for organizing my life. It can reside on every computing device we use, including our cell phones and syncs with each one so that adding a note on my laptop will sync to my phone and home PC and Mac. When I have an idea I want to write about I can easily capture it in Evernote. Equally important, when I read something online Evernote easily allows me to clip the URL or page and create a new note in my Blog notebook. It’s been a game changer for me and something I highly recommend. There is so much functionality far beyond what I described that I encourage you to check it out online to learn more.
My Lifestyle Habits
Besides writing I have used a pedometer to get me to walk regularly, I have begun flossing my teeth every night and tracking it on Habit Bull, an app to help people stick with healthy habits and refrain from harmful ones, and for the past 15 years or so I have been very successful when not traveling of making a daily smoothie in the morning comprised of fruits, carrots, greens, protein, extra virgin olive oil, and various other items that I won’t bore you with. Areas I can work on are weight training, more mindfulness techniques such as meditation and deep breathing, more proactivity in terms of planning things for my wife and I, and showing greater appreciation for the amazing people that work on my team. The bright side is if we don’t have things where we feel we’re falling short (realistically, not from a perfectionist’s standpoint) then we can’t grow, stagnation sets in and then we’ll have many very negative and debilitating life-destroying habits to break.
Over to you:
What healthy habits would you like to begin implementing in your life?