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Running a water-tight ship

"80 percent of success is just showing up"
-Woody Allen

What does it mean to run a water-tight ship (having transactional integrity)?

Do you run a "water-tight ship"? This means that you are at 99%+ in following through on every transaction that you have with any other person in your life, whether those transactions are personal or business.

  • If you say you will call/contact someone by or on a specific date, then it's done (or otherwise you let them know beforehand).

  • If you say you'll do something for someone, you make it clear to them (and to yourself) by when it will get done (ensuring that you're under promising).

  • If you say you will do/send something to someone or do something for someone by or on a specific date/time, then it's done (or you let them know otherwise beforehand).

  • If someone says to you, "I'll get that done," and it's not very clear what the due date/time is, then you say, "That's great. Can you  give me an outside date/time by which I can expect that done?"

  • If someone says they will do something for you by a specific time/date (example: mail you a check), then you ask permission to check the status of that if it's not done by then (and you do that if needed).

  • You never say, "We should get together sometime," unless you're just doing that for "politeness" with no intention or desire to get together with them. Instead, you would either schedule a time right then, tell them you will contact them by a given date to set up a time, or let them know you're leaving it in their court.

  • You leave adequate buffer time when leaving for an appointment (you underpromise to yourself) so that being late is a rare occurrence for you.

  • Without "over controlling," you confirm in a timely manner with others (often best with text messaging) their appointments with you. Example, "Jim, I'm looking forward to our visit together tomorrow at 2pm at the Hilton, okay?"

  • If someone promises an important deliverable (that they need to work on) by a given date, you get permission (do this with a partnership attitude) to check in with them periodically to confirm that it's still on schedule. And then you do that so that you don't get surprised and upset. 

At least 90% of people are trying to "run their ship" while also dealing with breakdowns and inefficiencies caused by recurring breaches in the hull that threatens to flood their ship

Are you in the 10% who run a tight-ship or does your level of transactional integrity leave much to be desired?

What are the costs incurred from lack of transactional integrity?

  • Others don't trust you. They either avoid dealing with you, they're often upset with you, and/or they feel disrespected by you.

  • You don't trust yourself. You can't rely on yourself to follow through with others to ensure the best possibilities of getting the results that both you and they want.

  • Whatever you might be interested in accomplishing, especially long-term, often breaks down because your transactional integrity cannot be relied upon.

  • You keep yourself in emergency mode because you're often having to deal with the leaks in your ship caused by lack of transactional integrity.

So little cost, so much benefit

Yes, it does take a new level of rigor, some new habits (and systems), and choosing courage to create and maintain full transactional integrity. But, once they're in place, it's a piece of cake to maintain them and the benefits are huge. 

What are the (short-term) benefits for not creating and maintaining transactional integrity with others?

  • You can indulge in over promising (to yourself and others).

  • You can avoid choosing the courage to clearly say what you will do (or will not do)

  • You can avoid the fear of looking clearly at your capabilities and your willingness to make prudent promises for your future.

  • You can avoid the fear that others may be upset with you if you clearly say what you will and will not do.

  • You can avoid feeling awkward with people that may be negatively stimulated by creating clear boundaries and making clear requests.

  • You can avoid feeling dominated and enjoy a sense of "having freedom and spontaneity."

  • You can live in (and enjoy) the fantasy of thinking that "somehow" you can get it all done.

  • You can avoid the feeling of "having one more thing to do" by creating and maintaining the habits and systems for transactional integrity.

  • You can avoid the tedium and routine associated with having transactional integrity.

  • You don't have to consider taking your future Now into account when making (or not making) promises.

Benefits of running a water-tight ship (having transaction integrity)

  • Others learn to trust you better than 90% of all the other people in their lives. Others are more likely to be trustworthy with you than otherwise because of the example that you set with them. Others respect you.

  • Others (personal relationships, employees, bosses, vendors, teachers, students...) are more likely to enter into and maintain ongoing valuable arrangements with you because of your transactional integrity.

  • You're able to create and maintain a life with more happiness and accomplishment.

  • You feel great about your relationship with others and you feel proud of and respect yourself. You know you can rely on yourself for what you say you will do.

How to build and maintain transactional integrity (plug those costly and dangerous leaks!)

Transactional integrity requires several components working together. Each person will need to customize these components for their life circumstances.

First component: Now-Next Integrity

The foundation of transactional integrity is Now-Next integrity (see the NNI toolkit). Without Now-Next integrity, creating and maintaining transactional integrity is problematic. The following Now-Next integrity tools are especially important:

Second component: external systems

Maintaining transactional integrity requires in-the-world (not in-your-head) structures to organize and to remember, at the appropriate times, to take the necessary actions.

Two primary apps provide 90% of the structure that I use to maintain my integrity with others.


  • Microsoft Outlook (Office 365 subscription): I use this just for email and scheduled appointments. For scheduled appointments, many people use Google Calendar instead. Any telephone or face-to-face appointment goes immediately into my Outlook calendar, which I reference every thirty minutes or so during my appointment times. For all my emails, received through Outlook, I glance at them throughout the day to see if anything is urgent. Otherwise, I ensure that all emails from the day before are handled (and the previous day's inbox is empty):​

    • replied to (and deleted) with sms sent, "Confirm that you got the email I just sent (when you can), okay?"

    • forwarded (and deleted) with sms sent as above

    • filed into the appropriate email folder

    • printed for filing physically (and then physically filed)

    • action item entered into Todoist (or other location) and then deleted

    • just deleted

  • (another good one is Todoist is my right-hand-assistant for entering any and all reminders for tasks: 

    • tasks to do on a specific day, periodically, or range of days

    • for when to expect something to be done, delivered to me, or communicated to me

    • for when to start planning for something

    • and even for reminders that step-by-step instill ideas into my subconscious mind.

  • Todoist is quite intuitive for setting either single or recurring tasks. Each morning I go through Todoist to review the tasks for the day and print up the completed plan. Any date-oriented tasks or reminders (like birthdays) go immediately into Todoist, including tasks for my office assistant Heidi and my house assistant Holly. I also use Todoist for simple list making.​​ It will sync with your phone. It's got a free version. A yearly premium subscription costs just $29 and their help desk is Johnny-on-the-spot.  

    • Special note: my daily printed Todoist list​ also prints out seven blank lines (at the list beginning) for me to jot down any items that occur newly that must be finished before the end of the day.

Another page I print out daily is for notes of current-day items that need to be addressed before the end of day. I enter any new items (which are not on my regular Todoist list) that occur to me throughout the day and cross them all off before the end of  the day.





Several other tools/structures complete my external support for maintaining transactional integrity

  • Count-down timer: If someone asks me to call them back in 90 minutes, I know that, without a reminder, I may forget. So I set my timer for 90 minutes in count-down mode and I consistently call people back when I say I will.

    • Special note: this may be replaced by Alexa on my Amazon's Echo Dot, which I acquired recently. I can verbally instruct her to remind me of whatever at any specific time throughout the day.​

  • Pocket white note cards: I order a thousand blank white "business cards" at a time, which will last me a year or two. Whenever I go out or am away from my computer (like when watching a movie in my bedroom), I always keep one of these cards in my pocket or by my side (along with a pen). Any thought that crosses my mind worth remembering immediately goes onto that card. Later when returning to my computer, I immediately enter these notes into the appropriate place in Todoist (or elsewhere).

  • Text expander: although not an organizational tool itself, I find templates and text expanders to be essential in seamlessly maintaining transactional integrity with others.

These are my external systems. Choose and use the ones that fit best for your life circumstances in order for you to run a water-tight ship.

Two basic habits are essential to make these external systems work for you

  • Get it out of your head: you learn to disobey the thought, "I'll remember it (or enter it) later." Write it down now. Enter it now. Whenever an actionable thought occurs to you (like, "I need to pick up cat food later" or "I should call Jim back on Friday"), transcribe it immediately from your head into the appropriate entry point in one of your external systems.

  • Access each external system as the appropriate time(s): 

    • Your calendar system​ (Microsoft Outlook for me)

    • Your email system (Microsoft Outlook for me)

    • Your texting system (sms and wechat for me)

    • Your task management system (Todoist for me)

    • Your notes system (note cards and note papers on my desk for me)

Choosing courage will be needed

  • You may need to choose courage to say, "Let's set a date now," instead of, "We should get together sometime."

  • You may need to choose courage to underpromise by saying, "I can pay you $25 by Friday," instead of "I will get $100 to you tomorrow."

  • You may need to choose courage to ask, "What is the outside date you can get that report to me by," instead of, "Get it to be as soon as possible, okay?"

  • You may need to choose courage to ask, "May I have permission to get back to you if I don't hear from you by March 23rd?" instead of not asking.

  • You may need to choose courage to let go of your expectations of, "Of course, he will do what he said."

  • You may need to choose courage to question your shoulds and should nots.

  • You may need to choose courage to confirm an appointment the day before.

  • You may need to choose courage to gently insist on keeping the link of communication going with someone.

  • You may need to choose courage to reply to someone you're upset with or you don't want to say "no" to.

  • You may need to choose courage to say to someone, "I would like to be able to do that for you, but I don't know how I could enjoy doing it."

To make choosing courage easier, check out undoing fear and courage.

An important related link

What's the full idea of process first?


In addition to using Todoist to track my own schedule (see printout on left), I also assign tasks to my office assistant Heidi and to my house assistant Holly. Other list have their own projects, including keeping track of birthdays.

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