Be More Effective – Week 31: Bringing it All Together: Make a Plan to Calm the Monkey Mind

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In Zen our usual behavior is often referred to as the ‘monkey mind’. Our mind is constantly busy, jumping from one thing to another, never fully focusing on following through on any single priority. There is always another banana on the tree that grabs our attention.

Calm you monkey mind. Reduce distractions. Make a plan and go for it.

Our goal is to calm the monkey mind. To remove distractions from our workplace, relationships and life in general.

Our goal is to understand what’s important today, the next week, this year and in our life. We need to assess, prioritize and plan.

Our goals is to make time for those priorities and focus on them, without being distracted by the banana on the other tree.

Our goal is to empty your ‘to do list chasing mind’ and free it to concentrate on the work at hand.

This week is really about consciously bringing together all the pieces we discussed so far. Step back for a moment. Reflect on the things you practiced the last 30 weeks and make a plan on how you will bring them together.

Make a plan. Write it down. Commit to it.

Clear your mind, make a plan ahead. Stop your mind from wandering and worrying. However, also know that you won’t fully stick to it and don’t get frustrated if you don’t.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Be More Effective – Week 30: The Power of Routine and Rhythm

Preserve your willpower

We all have a certain amount of willpower available each day. Some days it’s more because we are energetic, we slept well or the sun is shining. Some days it’s less.

Regardless of what our level is, every decision requires a little bit of that energy and depletes our will power for the day. When our willpower goes down, our ability to stick with priorities and resolutions goes down with it. When our willpower is depleted, it’s harder to say ‘no’ to temptations and ‘yes’ to things that are good for us but require our conscious decisions and energy to get started.

That is why we drink alcohol after a challenging day, why we skip the gym in the evening if the day was stressful. The more our willpower is depleted, the less we can put in the way of not dropping on the couch, getting a bag of potato chips and a beer and watching TV.

Manage your willpower carefully. Don’t waste it for decisions that are not important. Create rhythms and stick to them.

Since our willpower is a limited resource, we need to manage and invest it carefully. We must not waste it for things that don’t matter but focus it on the ones that do. The more we can remove unnecessary decisions or avoidable annoyances, the more we will be able to get the things that matter done.

Simplify decisions

One powerful habit to avoid wasting your willpower is to remove decisions that don’t matter.

Here are some examples that don’t matter on a day-by-day basis:

  • When to get up in the morning – just do it the same time every day
  • What to eat for breakfast – you can celebrate that decision, but during the week, just stick to one thing (for me it’s an apple)
  • Where to find your office stuff, keys, etc – just get it ready the evening before
  • What to wear for work – I wear the same style every week, blue jeans, black long-sleeve shirt, sneakers; and I pack it on Sunday for the entire workweek
  • What to eat for lunch – again, make it fancy on the weekend or in the evening, make if effective for lunch; I get soup and salad every day; it’s healthy, gives me energy and isn’t so heavy that I get tired
  • Where to park – I park in the same spot every day; it’s higher up in the garage and I could be closer if I tried, but I waste zero energy finding a spot in the morning or wondering where my car is parked in the evening

I have many more things where I can go ‘on autopilot’ and still know I make the right decisions, but let’s leave it there. You get the idea. Find out where you spend energy deciding every day, make the right decision once, then repeat and leave it there.

Remove annoyances

Reduce or remove things that deplete your willpower, even if it might mean you need to change your routines a little bit. It pays off as the day goes along.

Here are some examples of things that annoy me and what I do about them:

  • Annoying traffic – move the times when you commute to avoid rush hour or take the bus; it’s better to get up an hour earlier than to be stuck in traffic for 30 mins
  • Distractions in the office – get good noise cancelling headphones, find a quiet place or work from home when you need to get things done
  • People that don’t give you energy or make you happy – ditch them; right now
  • Spam calls on your phone – put it on mute and don’t answer, you can always check your voice mail

Again, what is the list for you? What can you do to avoid those situations?

Decide ahead of time

On the important decisions it’s best to decide before your willpower goes down. If you want to go to the gym in the evening, decide the day before and then just execute. Don’t hope you will make good decisions after a long day at work.

Create rhythms and triggers for those decisions, so you don’t need to convince yourself every time. For example put your gym bag on the driver seat of your car, so you have to see it when you leave work and get triggered to go.

Don’t starve your willpower

Make healthy choices! Your brain needs glucose to fuel your willpower. When you’re low on glucose levels, your willpower will shut down first. After all, for basic survival, willpower was the most dispensable investment. Don’t think you’re affected by that? How good are you at staying away from junk food, when you are really hungry?

Stay hydrated, but also keep your glucose levels at a constant level. Eat some fruit at regular intervals. Don’t wait until you’re hungry.

There is power in rhythms and predictability. Build routines, build rhythms, and stick to them. Routines and rhythms give you structure, predictability and peace of mind.

Don’t wing it every single day, have a plan for what you want the day to look like. When you can, stick to that plan. Be flexible and adjust but start from a good framework.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Be More Effective – Week 29: Be There Fully, or Don’t Be There At All

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How often have you been in a meeting and didn’t really pay attention because you checked your email? Are you sitting at the dinner table with your loved ones and checking your phone? Are you working on a project and constantly see reminders popping up?

What a waste of time for your and the ones who are with you.

Be in the here and now. Be in the moment.

If you do something, do it fully. Don’t waste your time and energy by being there without being present. Be respectful to others and their time. If this is not your priority and not worth you full attention, be honest and don’t do it.

Don’t be in a meeting and do your email. In that case, it’s way better to not go to the meeting to begin with. Focus. Don’t waste your time with multi tasking, it doesn’t work.

Likewise, when you’re with your family and friends, be with THEM. Don’t check your Facebook or work email. You will regret not having focused on them when you look back a few years from now.

If you think something is not worth your time, attention and energy, please have the courage to openly say so and don’t come.

Experience your moments fully! Don’t waste other’s time.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Be More Effective – Week 28: Learn to Compartmentalize

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Do you know how CEOs, politicians, and leaders around the world keep all the balls in the air without going crazy? How they can fight fires all day without going crazy?

They learn to be really good at compartmentalizing.

Don’t multitask, compartmentalize. Focus on the task at hand, then fully put it away when you move on to the next topic. Really putting it away, locking it away is the key to compartmentalization.

Compartmentalizing is different from multi-tasking. If multi-tasking is the ugly villain, then compartmentalizing is the super hero.

Compartmentalizing means doing a thing at a time fully. Without distraction, but then putting it away when you move to the next task and priority, the next topic, your next employee or the next fire fight.

In order to focus on the topic at hand, you need to be able to put away everything else for the time being. Put it in their box, their compartment and don’t worry about them until you deal with that compartment the next time. Let go of thoughts and worries that want to spill over from your last topic and interaction.

It’s hard to have that mental discipline, but it is the only way to stay focused on the topic, across multiple areas. It’s also the only way to keep you sane.

Great leaders have perfected compartmentalization. They are able to have a challenging performance discussion with an employee, switch to a deep project discussion in the next meeting and then back to a team celebration. They don’t take baggage from previous interactions into the following ones.

Compartmentalization is not just for CEOs though. When you clean the house, don’t think about shopping, when you spend time for yourself, don’t worry about your to do list, when you work with your kids, don’t check you messages.

Don’t forget all those other priorities, just put them away for the moment to prevent them from cluttering your focus and thinking.

Force yourself to compartmentalize. Resist the urge to multitask. Multitasking spreads you thin, compartmentalizing helps you stay focused and effective across many different areas that you have to deal with during the course of the day.

Compartmentalizing requires discipline and practice but it keeps you sane.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Be More Effective – Week 27: Insist on Forward Momentum

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Few people like meetings. That’s not because we don’t like spending time with smart people, it’s because most meetings don’t really move things forward. Instead, very often they feel much more like energy and time drains. How often did you come out of meetings energized because you felt that you had made a big step forward and now have a clear path to success?

Many of the meetings we find in our daily business routines are what I would call ‘circular brainstormings’. Instead of moving forward on a given topic in subsequent meetings, we tend to revisit previous assumptions and decisions and fall back into discussions we had already closed in the meeting before. That leads us to needing another follow-up meeting to close out what we tried to accomplish in the first meeting, but failed because we needed to spend too much time on baselining (again).

We all lose a LOT of time in those meetings.

Circular brainstormings

Circular brainstormings happen when:

  • New attendees join the group and think they need to be caught up during the meeting at the expense of everyone else.
  • Attendees don’t remember what was discussed last time and need to re-invent definitions and previous decisions.
  • It’s unclear what the expected outcomes and deliverables of the meeting are, and the team tries to make them up on the fly.
  • Everyone just has too much fun brainstorming and not much desire to get to the point where concrete action items and follow-ups will get assigned.

Circular brainstormings happen if we as leaders don’t interject and force ‘forward momentum’. Groups have a tendency for circular brainstorming since it’s a lot of fun, only requires much easier ‘pie in the sky’ dreaming and high-level what-ifs, instead of concrete action plans and ownership. Most importantly, it doesn’t require commitment to action.

Forward momentum

As leaders we need to hold ourselves and our teams accountable to have meetings with ‘forward momentum’. And yes, I include myself, since unchecked, we all have the same tendencies.

A couple of things that help with ‘forward momentum’ are:

  1. Protecting the baseline – When we exit a meeting we made certain decisions and assumptions based on deep discussions. As we go into the follow-up meeting, we need to recap briefly and then fiercely protect that baseline. Unless there are earth-shattering new insights, we cannot re-open decisions, discussion, definitions that were previously locked. Forward momentum means building on what was established before, not starting all over again from scratch every single time. This also includes decisions that were made in other groups if the meeting is to further define details of a broader direction that was already set (if you were given a direction, don’t re-invent the strategy).
  2. Two minute rule – We need to hold attendees accountable to be informed what was discussed and decided before. If people are new, they can be caught up offline, but not at the cost of the group’s time. We cannot have 20 people in a room to educate one person. If a discussion gets sidetracked because someone missed previously discussed topics, that catch-up needs to be taken offline unless it can be resolved in 2 mins (an those 2 mins include follow-up questions).
  3. Know what success looks like – Every meeting needs to have an agenda. But every meeting also needs to have clearly defined outcomes (unless it’s an update meeting). What decisions will we have made at the end of the meeting? What artifacts will we have produced and shared at the end? Having those clearly defined outcomes can help to keep everyone on track and will keep the meeting owners accountable to maintain forward momentum.
  4. Lock the baseline for the next meeting – In order to protect the baseline in the next meeting (see above), you first need to establish that baseline. At the end of each brainstorming and decision meeting, we need to be clear and explicit as to what we have decided and assume that as facts and truths for following meetings. We need to be clear as to what is still ambiguous and needs further investigation. We need to make two steps forward every time, not two steps forward and one step back.

Try it out! Be courageous and drive the meetings you attend forward. If you cannot break the loop and the group insists on circular brainstorming, pack your stuff, leave and do something productive.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Be More Effective – Week 26: Make Quick Decisions and Execute them

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I really like the Getting Things Done (GTD) framework. However, I think it’s a little bit excessive in many parts. Here’s my simplified version that I use every day.

Write it all down in one place. Prioritize and then block time to focus on the tasks that are most important. Rinse and repeat.

Write every task down as it comes to mind

Write everything down so you don’t have to worry about it anymore and won’t spend mental energy on remembering it.

Use only one list, otherwise you will spend all your time looking for your task lists. I prefer electronic lists (Omnifocus) since they are easy to group, reprioritize and rearrange. However paper works just fine as well. Your Choice.

Putting everything down right away frees your mind, saves you mental energy and lets you focus on what you’re doing right now, not what you will need to do in the future.

It’s also a nice feeling to tick off the things you have accomplished. Looking at a long list of completed and ticked off tasks is much more gratifying than hustling all day and really being sure what you have done at the end of the day.

Do quick things right away

There’s the 2 min rule: if something requires less than 2 mins to complete, do it right away. Don’t write it down, don’t postpone it for later, just do it.

The quick email response that only requires a short sentence – write it right away as you triage your emails. The grocery purchases that you bring into the kitchen – put them away, don’t let them sit on the counter. Your dirty dishes – just put them in the dishwasher right after you finished your meal.

Prioritize what needs to get done now

I’m sure there is a lot on your list. All is important, but not all is equally important, and of the important things only few are urgent.

Don’t just do what you stumble upon on your list. Prioritize what needs to get done NOW. What is the most important thing right now? What can wait.

Also be sure that you understand the difference between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’. We can spend our whole life doing urgent stuff, but only little of that is really important looking back. Understand the difference. Spend most of your time on important things, not the ones that seem urgent.

Block time to focus on important tasks

Block time for the things that require time and focus. The things that you marked as important on your list. Pick the most important ones, assess how much you can achieve in a given time and then block that time. Don’t just rely on doing them “some time this week”. They are important, block the time.

You did the easy tasks right away (2 min rule), which means the remaining important task will require dedicated time. You will not magically find that time, you will need to make room for it.

Revisit and update your priorities

You tick off a lot of things from your list. At the same time the importance or urgency of others will change. Your circumstances will change. If you’re lucky some of your tasks will even get solved by themselves.

As your priorities change, make it a point to revisit your list on a regular basis. Update priorities as needed. Pick the list of things you want to accomplish in the next day or week and block time for them.

I do that exercise every Friday morning and go into the weekend with a clear plan of what’s coming the next week. That frees my mind to focus on family and hobbies on the weekend rather than having to worry what I might have forgotten at work.

Here is my checklist for you: ‘Best of GTD’

Organize and plan out

  • Write down your tasks right away so you don’t need to worry about them anymore
  • Prioritize once a week and decide which ones you’re going to tackle

Do it, don’t procrastinate and revisit (the 4Ds):

  • Do – do it right away if it takes less than 2 mins or else plan some time to do it
  • Delegate – if someone else should do it, delegate it right away, give the other person the opportunity to have time for the task
  • Defer – if it’s not important, defer it to a place that you revisit infrequently; chances are you will discard it the next time you revisit
  • Drop/discard – if it’s not important, just discard the taks; and don’t feel bad about it

My own additon: Get clean Fridays

  • Get to inbox zero on Fridays
  • Schedule your calendar for the next week
  • Prioritize your to do list and pick what you want to tackle the following week

Then stop worrying for the weekend. Start the weekend clean and without work obligations.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflection: A Special Note on Burn Out

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We talked about different aspects and approaches to increase efficiency and control of your priorities. Those habits are useful for anyone, but consciously and consistently applying them is even more critical if you are working in an environment that is high stress or even conducive to burnout.

Burnout creeps on you and it is not pretty when it gets you. It also takes much more effort to cure it than to prevent it. In the following, I’ll provide a shortlist of principles that have worked for me in such situations in the past. They won’t work universally, but some of them might do the trick for you. If you feel stressed right now, give them a try and see what they can do for you.

I initially called those ideas ‘hacks’ to sound trendy, but changed it to ‘principles’ to make a point: those are not quick and easy fixes. You need to be serious, deliberate and consistent about them. You have to put in energy to make them work. And you need to keep doing it every day.

My principles will move on a spectrum from purpose (to keep your passion and happiness) to time management (to actually make room for all that purpose stuff).

Protect your personal passions

The most important rule comes first:

Know what you care about outside of work. Set time for those activities. Block it on your calendar and then protect it fiercely.

It is important to create a balance between your work and your passions outside of work. There is always more to be done at work, thus having a tendency to slowly creep into your personal life to the point where you suddenly realize that something is fundamentally wrong. Death by a thousand paper cuts. Don’t let that happen.

Know what’s important to you and then create rules to protect it. Those rules need to be yours. Different things work for different people.

For me, family comes first. With that, I have a rule that I don’t work once I’m home. I don’t work on weekends. I might come in early or stay later if I need to, but when I’m home, I’m home. There are a few cases where I deliberately decide that I want to finish something on a weekend, but I have a very high bar for those exceptions.

Create the moments you care about at work

We talked about making time for your personal passions. The same applies to your work passions:

Don’t get lost in tactical work. Set focus times where you do the things that matter to you and that align with your passion.

We all chose our jobs for a reason. We chose them because we are deeply passionate about core components of the role. At the same time, every job comes with a bunch of things we are not quite as excited about. The routine, the day to day, the reactive.

We need to do those things, but we must make sure that we don’t get lost in them and forget what actually excites us. Just as for your personal passions, you must block time for the things that get you excited at work. Again, it’s very personal to you what that is, but make sure it doesn’t get lost in the daily ‘rat race’.

For me, my primary motivators are working with and coaching great people. I also love to solve problems and build products. I’m blocking time for those deliberately. Being a data guy, I even color code my calendar to get reminded every time I look at my schedule if I’m striking a balance that works for me.

Change your mindset

We all have to do things we don’t particularly care about much. After all, we’re not at a party, we get paid to do a job for our company. However, usually there is a reason for the things we do:

Try to understand the reason. Discover the meaning. It makes a huge difference!

There is a reason for everything. While certain tasks might seem tedious and unnecessary, in most cases they serve an important and distinct purpose.

For example, at Amazon, we write a lot of documents and we constantly look at a lot of data. Very often I see the question “why do we need to do this” in people’s eyes. There is a reason. Looking at data helps you understand what’s going on, reflect and learn what happened and why. Then you can develop the right action plan to correct what you’re doing moving forward. Writing documents helps to sharpen your thinking and then to sell your ideas to others to get the proper support to make them happen.

If you look at the true purpose of why things are done, you can find much more satisfaction in doing them. There is ample research that purpose and passion are not defined by what you do, but how you think about it.

Pace yourself

Sometimes we have to push hard and go late. Make sure you don’t make it ‘always’.

There are times when you need to push hard and give it your all (and maybe more). But there are also times when you can recharge your batteries a little. Know when you need to do which.

It’s important to understand when you need to push hard and when you don’t. None of us can go full throttle all the time over an extended period of time.

Push hard when you need to, but also recognize when you have a period where you can recharge batteries. This is not about slacking because that will only catch up with you. It’s about knowing when you have to do 120% and when 90% is just fine. Remove the pressure from yourself when you can and don’t feel bad about it.

When I have the occasional day, when I can go home at 4 pm and enjoy a sunny evening with my family, I cherish that time and don’t feel a tiny bit guilty for not working late.

Treat it like a project

So with all that blocking of time, how do you actually get stuff done?

Treat your work day and tasks like a project. Prioritize, scope, focus, time-box. Don’t idle at work, rather focus and spend your idle time on the things you care about.

We need to treat our work tasks like projects. We need to deliberately manage them instead of just keep going until we will be done at some undefined point in the future, with an undefined amount of time and effort invested to get there.

Start your project now and don’t procrastinate it, even if the start scares you. Every journey starts with the first step.

Avoid unnecessary rework. Put your best foot forward and get it right the first time. If you don’t, learn what was missing and make super-sure you will get it right the next time you have a similar problem to solve. Nothing eats more time and energy (and is more frustrating) than repeated rework and fixing of the same issues.

Time-box how much time you spend on something (after all you want to free up time for the passions we talked about above). Prioritize what really needs to get done versus what just seems urgent or important. If the work is too much, see if you can scope it down without harming the overall outcome. Can you remove unnecessary ‘bells and whistles’? Time-box, and then be extremely focused in that time-box to deliver your best work most efficiently. Treat it like an engineering ‘dev spike’. When you hit the end of your time-box, stop. You need to train yourself to take your focus times serious.

If it’s still too much, it’s ok to say ‘no’ to things. Just know and be clear why you say ‘no’ and what trade-offs you’re making. Communicate the reasons and trade-offs. Communicate them early. It’s ok to not be able to tackle something if everyone knows about it and has enough time to come up with a mitigation plan (even better if you can propose a mitigation plan yourself). It’s not ok to let something slip past the deadline and then announce that you didn’t have time.

Be focused, cut out the slack. Rather than idling at work, double down, be your most focused self and then spend your freed-up time on the things you care about at work and at home.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Capture

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.