Bringing Back the Tangible Life

Apps. Phones. Computers. Tablets. Electronic books.

Computer in your pocket. Always having access to virtually unlimited knowledge (i.e. Google). Never getting lost. Never unavailable.

Always connected.

What do we end up with after living life like this for so many years? Nothing but digital records.

This is something I’m beginning to have a problem with.

We are living in a time where having control over technology isn’t even a thought. Instead, we always seem to be on the lookout for ways to have technology control us. I’m afraid we are beginning to lose touch with the Tangible Life.

More on this to come.

 

Say Something Nice

Quick food for thought today:

If you have something nice to say, say it.

If you are happy to see someone, say so.

As you go through you super hectic days and focus on your never ending to-do list, don’t forget that at the end of the day we all have one thing in common: we are humans. And since we have that in common most of us need to hear positive things every once in a while (some more than others, some less than others). You don’t know what they need to hear or when they need to hear it.

So, if you have something nice to say, say it. If you are happy to see someone, say so. You just might make their day.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

A lot of times we do things for ourselves. I am the main reason I do this thing or that thing. Human nature is to not really care about what other people want, but to care about what I want. This, over time, will cause friction between you and the people around you.

This is something that I have been reflecting on the past few weeks, especially when it comes to family: the relationships you are stuck with. And I don’t mean that is a negative way, stuck is just a way to emphasize the reality of family relationships. Your parents are your parents. Your siblings are your siblings. Same with Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins. Unless you die or move to another country, these are the relationships that you will always have. My advice: make these relationships the best relationships possible.

Now, I realize there are some parents that suck. And that sucks. I also realize this is true for every other member of your family and extended family. And that all really sucks. I am also not naive enough to think that 100% of families have zero problems. Families have problems, for sure, some problems are serious others not so serious. Assume that this post is reflecting on the not so serious problems.

Problems caused by pride, by stupidity, by a single family member. Problems that can all be dealt with fairly easily, but if not dealt with can cause years of, what seems like, absolute misery.

Another thing I know is that you can’t control other people. Really the only person you have control over is you. And like I said at the top of the post, you, by the nature of your humanity, only care about you. Here’s what you need to do when it comes to family: don’t care so much about yourself.

If you are a son or daughter: care more about your parents. If you are a sibling, care more about your other siblings. If you are an Aunt or Uncle: care more about your nieces and nephews. If you are a Grandparent: care more about all of your family. If you are a husband or wife: care more about the other person in your marriage (and your in-laws!). If you are a father or mother: care more about your children.

Care more about the other people and less about yourself. This will do two things: 1) the other people will be happier and everyone will just get along much more than usual, and 2) you will be happier.

It’s a weird thing, not caring about yourself. You end up being happier as a result. So do this today. If you have contact with any family members, don’t care so much about yourself, but care about them more and see what happens. I think it will go better than you may think. 🙂

BIG TIME DISCLAIMER: By writing this I am not professing perfection in the area of selflessness when it comes to relationships. Not by a long shot. Doing something like this, I believe, will be a lifelong effort and principle to always be reminded of. By posting this I am simply reflecting on recent experience and how I believe practicing the above is the key to a happy family life.

The Feeling of Getting Things Done

Just like there is something to be said for positive reinforcement, there is also something said for accomplishing what you set out to accomplish in a day or period of time.

Doing what you need to when you planned to is freeing. You feel like you have time to think, read, play, go to the beach, enjoy a cigar, etc., all without feeling burdened or “guilty” for doing so.

Mental clutter is a real thing. Things you know you need to do, have been putting off, or don’t have time to do, are piling up. You seem and feel frantic. You can’t sleep at night due to everything you need to do the next day, and when you want to do what you need to do, you freeze just thinking about everything that you need to do. Mental clutter is a real, and annoying, thing.

We battle mental clutter by using task managers. For some this is a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. For others it is an app on their phone, tablet, or computer. And for the very few it is on a “list” in their brain.

Yet somehow, with an endless selection of tools available to help us manage our responsibilities so we can focus on doing our responsibilities, we are still feeling burdened by everything we need to do. So what is the problem? What is missing from the tools at our disposal? What feature is lacking?

You.

Yes, you. Our brains, when operating at maximum efficiency, are more powerful than modern day computers. They operate at the speed of light and can remind us of all sorts of things, like the things we need to do. Yet when we sit down with the purpose of doing something, and depending on the amount of sleep you had the night before, the brain can go into “let’s put this off for another day” mode. This is when you begin to become stressed.

The feature lacking in task management systems is you and your ability to get the amount of sleep you need, your ability to prioritize your list based on the time you know you have, and your discipline to kick your brain into gear when it may need a kick in the pants.

For me, the biggest way I’ve learned to battle mental clutter is to set realistic expectations for myself and the people I work for (paid and volunteer). This is just one way to free yourself from mental clutter and stress regarding things you need to do. Be honest with what you can do when, and be honest with the quality of work you want to produce for each task.  Then create an expectation and schedule that will allow you to do what you need to do and in a stress-free, almost enjoyable, manner. Do this today.

(And feel free to share your tips for getting things done in the comments below…this post is just the tip of the iceberg.)

Say Thank You and Good Job

There is something to be said for positive reinforcement. Especially when you are a hard worker.

You give every task 110%. When you are finished it is perfect. You genuinely feel as though you have completed something (which is a great feeling to have) and present it to your boss or client.

Once you present whatever it is, there are two possible outcomes. The first, and worst, is you receive nothing but criticism. You didn’t do that, forgot to do this, I don’t like how this looks. Why did we hire you? You better not bill me for this. Stop wasting my time with this, it’s not even finished. Etc.

Motivating, right? Makes you want to revisit everything to please someone who can’t be pleased. I don’t think so. But, you’ll eventually cool off and get back to work, hating every second of it.

The second, and more encouraging outcome, is praise mixed with constructive criticism and honest dialogue. You hear words like “thank you,” and “I appreciate your time.” Questions are asked, looking for honest answers, not insinuating or accusing anything or anyone. Both parties move in the same direction at the same pace trying to hit the same target. It isn’t you against them, or them against you. Even though they pay you, or are your superior in some way, the current conversation is approached as equals. And they say, “thank you, I appreciate your time. I can tell that you are working very hard on this and appreciate all of your effort. Keep up the good work.”

You go back to your desk, and no matter what it is you have to do next, you feel excited, encouraged, pumped, high on life, and happy. You begin to work immediately and love every second of it.

I heard those words the other day. And it was amazing. To hear those positive words was worth more than any payment that could be received. Knowing that you, and your time, are genuinely valued and appreciated is priceless.

If you work with other people, other human beings, whether they are “above,” “below,” or “equal” to you in whatever organization it is, say Thank You and Good Job. I guarantee that they will smile and will continue producing awesome work for you. Do this today.

Urgency Reserved for Life and Death Situations

When I look back at decisions I have made, or a chain of decisions I made, and attempt to identify one thing that may have led me to make those decisions, I land on Urgency.

“We need this now!”

“We cannot wait any longer, we have to make a decision today.”

“I know we took four months to make a decision, but we need you to implement by tomorrow.”

Etc.

The three examples above are all real life examples that I have heard over and over again for the past three years and will continue to hear for as long as I allow them. Six months ago I would have bought into the Urgency projected and would have adjusted my schedule and done whatever I needed to do in order to meet this Urgent deadline. Today, I’ll respond with “Let me check my schedule.”

Times Square, New York City
This is what your life will feel like when you let other people make your decisions and control your schedule.

Six months ago this caused a lot of stress. I’d have to move one thing on my schedule which would effect another thing and another thing and another thing. This one Urgent decision, that I allowed and bought into, has effected a month’s worth of scheduling. All because I believe them when they say the words like “need,” “now,” “today,” “have to,” and “cannot wait.”

To please one person I had to displease another. And I was doing this because someone else told me it was “really important.”

Well, I’m happy to say that the veil has been lifted, my eyes have been opened, and/or I have finally arrived at a place in my adult life where I now know for a fact: unless someone is on the brink of life and death, nothing is as urgent as it may seem.

Quiet street along a river
This is what your life will feel like when you are in control of your decisions and you manage your schedule. Also, when you stop believing that everything is urgent.

Not only do the decisions I make today effect what I can or cannot do tomorrow, but I am the one who needs to live with the outcome of my decisions. Not the person who is trying to tell me how important it is that I do X right now. 

We all, and me especially, need to be a little less flexible, a little less urgent, a little more devoted to the things we plan to accomplish today, and a little more relaxed about all of that.

Just like saying No will irritate people, so will your refusal to buy the Urgent BS they are trying to sell you. It will get under their skin and bother them and cause them stress and sleepless nights. That is their problem. You will accomplish that day what you intended to accomplish and sleep like a baby that night. Do this today 🙂

Making Small Changes that will Bring Big Results (Eventually)

An Update on Schedules and Time Management

A week or so ago we discussed sleep and how annoyingly important it is. In that post I shared this thought with you:

…I am inclined to take another look at my schedule. Move things around (again) and figure out how I can still do what I need to do, but finish the day at 10. Realistically I should finish the day at 9:30 so I can be asleep by 10. Just thinking out loud here.

Sleeping for Efficiency – Aaron Aiken

I have readjusted my schedule and gave it a test run last week, successfully for the most-part. Here’s what I did and then I’ll explain a little more of the thought process.

My typical weekly calendar showing 11:30pm as "bed time"
My typical weekly calendar showing 11:30pm as “bed time”

My previous schedule had me working on my now part-time business from approximately 8pm-10pm, writing here from 10pm-11pm, and reading from 11pm-11:30pm. What would inevitably happen is I’d work on work from 8pm-1am. This happened due to a mix of terrible task management, mismanagement of expectations, and working at the wrong end of the day.

In addition to the terrible working hours, this schedule had me getting, on average, 6 hours of sleep each night. Do that for too many weeks without a break and your body will begin to fight you. Like it or not, you are human, and your body is a sophisticated “machine” that requires a certain amount of rest in order to function in the manner it was created to function (at maximum efficiency). Not allowing my body to get what it needed for rest was something I had to be honest about and meet head on.

So I changed my schedule this past week. Now, instead of working from 8pm-10pm, I work from 6am-8am. In bed by 8:30 without any screens on (thanks to reader Kyle Quinlan for mentioning this idea in the comments of Sleeping for Efficiency) and hopefully reading a book until 9pm, at which point I turn all of the lights off and set out to sleep. Alarm goes off at 5am and guess what? I scored 8 hours of sleep, and beginning at 6am will have two hours set aside to work on work.

My new schedule - Working on Work before Work in the Morning
The red blocks is the work that used to be accomplished in the evenings.

The great thing about moving this scheduled work to the morning is that I cannot work over that time by much without altering the entire day, and possibly week. 15 minutes at the most, that’s how much extra I can safely work. Working in the evening allowed me to say to myself, “I can stay up another hour and still get 6 hours of sleep.” I can’t do that on the new schedule. If I work an hour longer at home it means I have to work an hour longer at the office, which means I’ll get home an hour later, and the domino effect of this one decision carries on and on and on.

I Learned a Few Things About Myself

Mornings

First, when I’m home for the day in the evening I need to be finished working. Evening time is family time, relax time, rejuvenate time. I thought I was a night owl, and a morning person, but now I’m more inclined to say that I’m just a morning person (if I get 8 hours of sleep 😉 ).

Quality of Life

Second, even with this adjusted schedule working an extra 8-10 hours on work Monday through Friday is not something I want to do longterm. I need to continue doing it now to follow through on promises I made last Fall, but once those obligations have been met I plan to reevaluate quality of life compared to the money I’m being paid. Just being honest here.

Ideally I’d like to cut out custom website work entirely and focus solely on maintenance contracts. If I do this I can feasibly work an extra 4-6 hours Monday through Friday and not feel stressed or burdened by the extra work.

Just Be Honest

Finally, I learned that we are all different and need to be honest with ourselves about that. I need 8 hours of sleep. I wish I didn’t, but I do and will not sacrifice that time. Sleep sets the course for my day. I work better in the morning and not during the evening.

I am tired of constantly having to work work work. I’ve been doing this for far too long and the reward has not been great enough to continue. Due to this, I’ve learned that any other ventures I pursue outside of my full-time work need to require little to zero input from me on a day to day basis in order to operate and generate income. I’m not sure what that is exactly, but I am at least armed with the knowledge which will help me make informed and better decisions in the future.

I’ll close this by saying this is just the beginning of a new chapter for me. I have plenty more to share regarding this topic and will do so later. For now, I encourage you to take an honest look at your day to day schedule. Examine your quality of life. Are you happy with your schedule? Is your quality of life such that you are content? Answer those honestly and make small changes. Don’t change careers or quit your job. Work within your existing life and make the small changes that will help make larger improvements now and in the future.

Never Stop Asking Questions

“…just before Ibragim [Todashev] was shot—seven times, in two bursts, including once in the top of the head—he was about to write a confession implicating himself and alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a brutal triple homicide that took place in Waltham, Massachusetts, in September 2011.”

– Susan Zalkind, The Murders Before the Marathon

Questions that immediately come to mind: Why was he shot? Why seven times? And, most importantly, why was he shot and killed before writing his confession? Continue reading “Never Stop Asking Questions”