Unplug to Recharge: Ahas from My Week in the Mountains

Last week I was in West Virginia. For vacation. Not business. (Okay, two days were for business, but the other five were purely for pleasure.) That was five consecutive days of disconnecting from my email, meetings, and my regular routine. I unplugged in order to recharge and it was the best thing I could have done for myself and for my companies.

There is tons of research on the interwebs about the importance of taking time off for increased productivity – just Google “increase productivity by taking a vacation” or “time off increases productivity.” Entrepreneurs are especially susceptible to powering through and putting in long hours. Capital is often low and they do what needs to be done. But the most successful entrepreneurs know this – you get more done when you unplug and recharge. Better yet, when you not only set the example, but encourage and make it possible for your staff to do the same.

Increased productivity for you + increased productivity for your staff = world domination that much faster.

The best way I’ve found to recharge is by shutting down my phone and laptop and getting out into nature. That can be a mountain bike ride on a Wednesday afternoon, hiking with my wife and kids on a Saturday morning, hunting with my dad, or a full week of outdoor activities like I just experienced in West Virginia. Between the golf, fishing, hiking, and Jeep excursions, I gained so much clarity about the direction of my businesses. The most clarity I have had in a while. Clarity is power. My team loves when I come back from these trips, right guys? Foot on the gas. Nails through the pedal.

So what were my big ahas from this trip?

  1. Create and communicate your companies’ opportunity funnel and always be building your bench.
    HRG Growth Plan (2)So what the hell is an opportunity funnel, you ask? It’s simply a model or organizational chart that clearly shows the path of opportunity and growth for each position in your company. Outline that path for each position and make sure you and your leadership team are communicating it consistently.
    In order to ensure everyone continues to move up through the opportunity funnel, make sure you (or whoever is in charge of hiring for those positions) are constantly recruiting talent and building a bench. Make sure you have a big bench in order to select the best person to replace your team member when the time is right for them to take on their next opportunity. When you are without a bench, you are held hostage to your team members and your decisions are impaired or fear-based. If you don’t have a replacement, then you keep that employee in the game – even if they are not performing to your standards. Limited options means you avoid the tough conversations and the even tougher decisions.

    If a football team only dressed 11 players and someone didn’t show up for practice or didn’t execute during the game, you wouldn’t let them go because you have no one to replace them. You take what you can get. Talk about feeling powerless. However, when you have over 50 people dressed for an 11 player game, you have 2-4 backups for each position. Totally changes the playing field. Accountability increases and the pressure is on (on the team members this time, not YOU)! Those tough decisions just became easier because your business success is not tied to that one individual. Game changing.

  2. Slow down to speed up.
    This is where the idea of unplugging and recharging really solidified for me. This week I was able to take a step back and slow down. I created the space to journal, write, and just think – allowing ideas to incubate in my mind. If you don’t take time to pull the bow back, then you will never hit your target with any real force. Slow down, pull the bow back, and let the arrow rip.

    Here’s a great Ted Talk by Adam Grant that I watched on the plane. The part that really stuck out to me was that you must take action. And keep taking action. Fail forward and fail fast. Jump in and get started on your idea. BUT, then take a step back, slow down, shift your attention to another activity, go work out, and let your subconscious mind take over and think about the idea. Your best ideas usually come when you are not consciously focusing your mind on an answer. But when you least expect it, the answer will come and you’ll be able to launch your idea more effectively and achieve results faster.

  3. Proximity (to the right people) is power.

    We all know that your level of success will be determined by the success of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Who are those 5 people for you? Are they elevating your thinking or blocking your growth? The key is to surround yourself with people who are always one step ahead of you so that you are constantly increasing your skills, leadership, and mindset to reach their level of success. Proximity (to the right people) is power. Do whatever you must do to put yourself into a situation where you are surrounded by the best people for whatever it is you want to accomplish.

Remember, you don’t need to go on weeks long vacations in order to reap the benefits of recharging. Start with a weekend. Even start with a lunch break if you must! The point is to allow yourself space to think and process. In this world of abundance we live in – we will never have, do, or be everything. So what is most important to you? Focus on that. Allow yourself the space to accomplish those goals and forget about the rest.



Guest Blogger Leigh Horton: Getting Outside of My Comfort Zone

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Leigh Horton. I was raised in Penn Yan, NY, the home of my childhood memories and the beginning chapters of my life story. Fast forward to the current chapter… I live in Georgia, VT with my husband Justin, and our three boys – Foster (15), Parker (13), and Oliver (9). So, what has filled my book so far? What has happened on the pages in between? I know my story page by page, but what would it be like if I had made different choices along the way, not crossed paths with those that mentored me, and perhaps, most importantly, not taken any risks and gotten outside of my comfort zone along the way?

leigh horton

You see, I was the kid growing-up that could never stay overnight at a friend’s house. You know, the one that had to call Mom in the middle of the night (from the home across the street) because she didn’t “feel well”.  The one that chose colleges to look at by which ones wanted me on their soccer team and weren’t too far from home…my comfort zone.  Looking back, I’m very grateful for how that chapter in my life panned out. If it hadn’t, I’m not so certain I would be where I am today.

So, when did I truly begin to break outside of my comfort zone?  I think I actually broke out of it while trying to stay in it. Remember, I was a homebody. So, when Mom and Dad told me they were moving, guess who decided they needed to change colleges to not be so far away from them? Yours truly. I was going into my junior year and if I wanted to continue playing soccer, I would need to tryout as a walk-on at my new college. Trying out as a walk-on wasn’t too bad, but when the head coach told me that I could be on the team but most likely sit the bench, that was a moment I’ll never forget. The kicker is (no pun intended), I was on a partial scholarship at Saint Bonaventure University (D1), and transferred to Plattsburgh State (D3), without a scholarship and told I might be riding the pine for the season… ouch! Sports had always been a part of my life (and not on the bench). So, for me to possibly see it end was crushing. If I didn’t have that, it almost felt like I would lose my identity.  A part of me would be missing if I didn’t play soccer at my new school. So, I called my Dad and recall him saying, “You should play. Why not? Why wouldn’t you want to go for it and give it your best, versus walk away from it?  Better to move forward knowing you gave it your all than gave-up.” So, that’s what I did. Despite my loss of pride and questioning if I was no longer a collegiate level player, I gave it my all and pushed myself beyond my comfort zone of play. Guess who was on the starting line-up by mid-season?

This was a milestone in my life.  Yes…it was just soccer, a short chapter in my book, but it did help set such an important mental foundation for me. It’s ok to get out of your comfort zone and push beyond what your perceived limits are. This is what brings change to your life and success and happiness that perhaps you once believed couldn’t ever happen to you or even better…never imagined!

I look back on the many positive changes in my life, personal and work, and many of them began with me leaving my comfort zone:

  • If I didn’t move away from home to VT, I wouldn’t have met Justin and had the experience of working as the Global Brand Marketing Manager for what became Bauer Nike Hockey for 10 years (with a move to NH).
  • If I didn’t leave Nike (a company and career I was very settled and comfortable in) so my husband could transition his career, and our 1st new home (that I absolutely loved), I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work as an Account Manager at an amazing VT design firm, JDK Design, for 10 years and raise our boys on beautiful Lake Champlain in the area where Justin grew up.
  • If I didn’t decide to leave JDK, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be a Real Estate Agent which I honestly believe was foreshadowed very early in my work career.

where-the-magic-happensThese are milestones, substantial life changes, for me and my family that happened by taking leaps of faith and leaving my comfort zone. There has certainly been struggles strewn throughout the journey, but the success, joy, and fulfillment brought by them far outweighs any challenges and it has definitely been worth everything it has taken to achieve them.

I’m pretty happy where my book is going. I know there will be challenging chapters along with the exciting ones – which is a wonderful thing, as the challenges will continue to push me out of my comfort zone.  Which maybe…just wasn’t all that comfortable after all…

Leigh Horton is a Real Estate Agent at KW Vermont. To learn more about her journey or her real estate business, please email leigh@leighhorton.com or call 802.233.3982.


Death… Our Greatest Teacher

beautiful deathEarlier this week I attended the celebration of life for one of our beloved Realtors, after she lost her battle with cancer late last week. She had a magnetic personality; she was tough, and strong, and tenacious, and kind, and loving, and funny, and fiercely loyal. Her celebration of life was pretty incredible. There were hundreds of people in attendance, which was an absolute testament to her time here on earth.  Her friends and family shared beautiful stories about her last few months – her smile, her gratitude, her grace and strength, her acceptance, and her pride for her son’s strength. It was a beautiful death, surrounded by loved ones. She was so respected and loved by her friends, family, and colleagues.What a legacy to leave.

And there is nothing like death, to teach you about life, is there? Buddha said, “Let death be your greatest teacher.” But what does that mean?  Carpe diem? Live each day like it’s your last? Yes, but that’s almost too simple, too cliche. This cannot be summed up in an inspirational quote on Instagram.

Let’s break this down. The majority of western society fears death (there are endless articles and research about this – just get on the old Googler. I’ll let the professionals handle that conversation). But why is that? My mentor, Gary Keller, once told me that he doesn’t understand the race to accumulate material things. Sure, it’s great to have material possessions, especially if it is something for your family or was a big goal. But do your possessions own you, or do you own your possessions? Are you able to give them away at any moment? Can you give away your possessions or your money without it changing who you are? The reason I mention this is because we as a western society live in immense abundance. Unlike other societies who face death daily, we are rather removed and sheltered from it. These are pretty big generalizations, but they are true. For many of us reading this (and I know this is true in my network), our experience with death only comes a few times throughout our life. Therefore we fear it, avoid it, keep it as far away from us as possible in case it rubs off.

But I believe that we are all spiritual beings having a minor physical experience and that death is our greatest teacher. Why? Because the last time I checked, we were all 0 for 100 in this world. If you embrace death as a inevitable part of your spiritual journey, then you will have no fear about living the biggest life possible.  It’s arrogant to think that we know how long we have on this earth. None of us know when we will take our last breath. Whatever you are doing right now, someone was doing when they left this world. We just never know.

I have a huge sign in my office that says NO LIMITS. NO REGRETS. It is my way of reminding myself to live every day full-out, giving everything I have to myself, my family, and my business. Steve Jobs probably said it best,

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

Death is a part of life. There is no escaping it. In fact, death is a gift. Why not use that to our advantage? Let’s leverage death in order to live the biggest, most passion-filled, most purposeful, and productive life possible. Thinking about death is not morbid, rather it’s fuel to live each day fully, to stay focused, and in the moment. There is nothing like death to make every action you take purposeful and full of intention. What conversations would you have? What actions would you be taking? Who would you be connecting with? What would you STOP worrying or obsessing about?

Think about it. Most of the stuff you worry about, you worried about the day before and probably the day before that. Are those things really that important? Practice putting things into perspective. You might be having a “bad” day, but how important is it in the grand scheme of life? Will it matter 6 months, a year, 3 years from now? Take a step back. Get into gratitude. And think about the bigger picture. You are above ground and breathing!

live deeplyUse death to your advantage. Remind yourself daily that you will die and that every choice you makes determines what sort of life you’ll have and shapes the legacy you leave. How can you live on the edge in perpetuity? Businesses must constantly disrupt themselves in order to stay competitive. How can you disrupt yourself to continue to grow and live, really LIVE, not just exist, every day?

Leave your thoughts in the comments. This is a topic that will elicit much debate and philosophical conversation, which I wholeheartedly welcome. I’m looking forward to discussing and embracing life and death with you!

The idea that we only live once is false. We only die once. We LIVE every day!

How to Get the Help You Need with $0 in the Bank

When I was about 18, I entered into my first business venture – buying piece of shit cars, fixing them up, and selling them for a small profit. The best part was, I never even saw the cars. I gave my friend about $500, and he bought, fixed, and sold the cars and we split the profit 50/50. If we made $1,000 on the sale, I got $500. I was making 100% return on my money. Not bad! That was my first taste of leverage and I liked it.

No-MoneyA couple of years later I decided to up the stakes. A few friends and I created an exclusive night club in the basement of our rental. It was the place to be on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night (and sometimes Wednesday and Sunday too). We had a DJ, bartender, ice luge, kegs –  all the makings of a great party. We were putting hundreds of dollars into these events (and they were events) and we were going to hold our money accountable. We “hired” two 200-lb guys to work the door and make sure everyone who entered paid the cover charge. The cool part is, we didn’t spend a dime on those hires. They were happy to be “paid” with the opportunity to hang out with me, Nate, John, and Casey and be a part of the experience that we created. We brought in thousands of dollars every night, with marginal upfront costs, and free labor.

One night (or maybe it was morning), Nate and I were manning the bar and 6 or 7 cops swarmed our apartment. Someone pulled the one powerstrip that controlled every light and electronic in the basement and the place went dark. Everyone ran. And our one roommate who was out of college and worked a “real” job was sited. But there is a silver lining in every story, right? The guys and I were able to pay for our roommate’s fine, no problem. The lesson, that is still ingrained in me to this day, is that you have to keep your foot on the gas and keep moving forward. If you go big enough, you’ll have the money to pay for your mistakes.

people connectedThose early risks and [ad]ventures allowed me to pre-purchase a new construction condo and sell it for a $60,000 profit 2 years later. From cars, to clubs, to condos, one thing remained the same: I connected with the right people to get the help I needed, when I needed, to keep moving forward.

Leveraging people can be seen as a bad thing, especially when it’s confused with using people. But every relationship I entered into was not one side. We all benefited from these partnerships, whether it was the % of profit my friend got on the car deals or the connections my friends made at the parties. Everyone got something they wanted.

My point of sharing these stories is not to tell you how awesome I was in college with my earring and goatee (though I was pretty frickin awesome), but to tell you that I know first hand that there is always a way to get the help you need, no matter how much money you have in the bank. You just have to think outside the box.

As an entrepreneur or small business owner you may be the sole employee. So how do you get it all done at home and at work? Leverage. And I’m not talking about a $50,000 a year hire here.  Think about it. As a business owner, your time is usually best spent on sales/marketing, key relationships, strategy, and vision. All other tasks that take you away from those responsibilities are taking you away from additional revenue. People always tell me they can’t afford to hire a personal assistant, or a sales associate, or a marketing coordinator. But I say, how can you afford not to? Look, I get it. Making that first hire is a big step. More money is going out the door and you’re not sure when (if ever) you’ll see a return. But you’re thinking about it all wrong. People are not an expense or a cost, people are an investment.

But they don’t all require monetary compensation. Remember, get creative. Interns are a great way to leverage. You get help with key projects and they get an invaluable learning experience. Note: Check your state and local labor laws on interns – depending on hours and the kind of work, you may need to pay them. Another way to leverage is to trade services. If you own an IT company and desperately need help with marketing, why not form an agreement with a marketing company. You help them set up their CRM or contract X number of hours of IT assistance for help with an online and direct mail marketing campaign. Playing on the good graces of your family members is also a great tactic. Kids and parents are typically good targets for help around the office.

Outsourcing now is easier than ever. From logo design, to website maintenance, to marketing collateral, to scheduling, to answering your phone, you can find most of these services online. We like www.designcrowd.com and www.99designs.com, as well as www.upwork.com. Need someone local to run errands, file, or help with miscellaneous tasks? Check out Craigslist or your local colleges to hire someone on a per project or per hour basis.

How’s your home life? Another option to consider is to hire a housekeeper, a personal assistant, or just someone to mow your lawn. If you had help taking care of these type of personal items, how many hours would that free up in your day? Would you have the mental capacity to focus and be more purposeful on your business knowing that all those other responsibilities were taken care of?

If you’re not quite ready to make the leap and hire a full-time employee, try working with a virtual assistant or hire a part-time employee. You will have a smaller investment, but you should quickly see a return.

The point is, there is always a way. There are endless ways to add leverage to your life with a minimal budget so you can focus on the dollar producing activities that grow your business. So what’s it going to be? Who do you need in your life and how are you going to make it happen?