Posts Tagged 'time management'

Simplicity, Productivity Boosting, and My Kindle

I'll be covering this topic.

I’m challenging myself to cover three huge topics and do it in as short a post as possible because I want you to actually read the whole thing.

Ready?

Go.

Simplicity has always been a thing for me. I have an entire site set up dedicated to seeking elegant simplicity in the things I own (though it’s been neglected for a while). Then, I read a book by Joshua Becker called Simplify. After reading it, I knew what I had to do. I had a vision of what I wanted my home to look like.

It was clean. It was orderly. We only had the things we absolutely needed or really, really wanted. No junk. No perpetual messes. No clutter.

But I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. So I had my wife read the book on my Kindle. She agreed that it would be good for us to change the way we view our stuff, and we began.

That was back in January. So far we’ve de-cluttered over a third of the rooms and spaces in our home, and the areas we have cleared out are still immaculate. It feels great. I am a little less stressed even. I can’t wait to be done, but I suspect it will be less of a destination and more of a mentality, a lesson for our children, and a process. We will forever be questioning what we own, what we need, and what we use. It is a beautiful thing.

Along those lines, and before I move on to the second topic, I have to mention the simplification of my digital life (which began before even reading Simplify).

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you’ll know that I have gone back and forth with Facebook for a long time. My last post on the subject mentioned that I had divided my Facebook existence into two accounts as an experiment to see if I really needed or wanted it.

Well, the experiment ended about four months ago. I realized that I just didn’t really need or want Facebook, so I shut down my accounts entirely.

Hurray for scientific experimentation.

On to topic number two: Productivity Boosting.

So last week I stumbled upon this article about fixing procrastination. Being the procrastinator that I am, I bookmarked the article and decided to read it later.

Then, the next day, I realized the irony of that approach with that sort of an article, and I printed the article, thinking that if I carried it around long enough I’d feel more pressure to read it than if it sat in my inhumanely long list of bookmarks in the To Do folder.

An iron, because I said irony.

So I carried it around in my book bag and even kept it on my nightstand for another couple of days, hoping I would read it.

Eventually, when I was about to condemn myself to a life of expert-level procrastination, I read the article.

I liked it. It was simple. I like simple. I could start immediately. Well, sort of… OK. I started the next day.

I highly recommend you read the article, but here’s what you need to know in order to follow along: The idea is that you pick three or four broad-ish goals to accomplish every single day, and if you meet your goals you put a big, fat, gratuitously gratifying “X” for the day on a special calendar reserved for this process. If you miss a day, you break the chain of X’s, which is bad, and you… um, you… well, you just allow yourself to feel horrible about breaking your chain, then you renew your resolve and go at it again the next day, or something like that.

In the end I wound up having to adapt the idea a little, since some of the specifics wouldn’t work for me and I kind of got lost on a couple of the ideas since my printer had an issue with figuring how images and text interact.

So I drafted up my Productivity Plan (the four goals), and decided that I would only hold myself to completing three of the four goals each day.

My goals are to exercise, simplify, write, and relax. I don’t want to expect myself to do all four every day because I don’t believe in exercising every single day (I have to have at least Sunday off, RIGHT?), and some days I just don’t have time to simplify something, or maybe I just can’t work up the energy required to do any writing because my soul has been drained by my sadistic government employer… I wanted some leeway to account for non-perfect days.

Vacation time, sick time, and other extraneous circumstances can be explained in the calendar by, instead of marking an “X,” marking an “S” for “sick,” a “V” for “super rad vacation that was totally too awesome to afford me any time to be productive,” or an “E” for “END OF THE WORLD, FORGET MY GOALS.”

Mostly, I anticipate a string of X’s.

So I printed off some pages of calendars. I wanted all of the days in the year to be on one sheet of paper, so I went with this calendar. I printed three years’ worth to keep me busy for a while. Then I got a super cheap-o folder from Target, and picked up these fat markers for $3.50 while I was there (sometimes Amazon prices are awesome, other times they are scary dangerous – as of this writing those same markers are selling for over $8 on Amazon).

You can't tell me this isn't an awesome hat.

To help with the exercise thing, I got a nice pedometer a few weeks ago. I also got a really awesome hat, but that’s completely unrelated.

Then I stapled the current year sheet to the front of the folder, put the extra year calendars inside with the article printout and my Productivity Plan, and started marking X’s the next day. Today is the second day of working under this slave-driver. So far, I’ve been quite productive and I like it. I also really like my hat.

Because one of my goals (the relax goal) deals with reading, it’s now time to mention my Kindle.

I decided to get a Kindle a while ago, and I did. And I’m very glad I did.

I didn’t promise a review, but here it is: I really love my Kindle and if you are on the fence between nook and Kindle, do your stinking homework. Don’t just ask me what to get. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the decision is yours because we live in a free country where choices are awesome. Embrace the choice.

The only “problem” is that now I have way too many books to read. I already had a pile a mile high (closer to three feet wide, in the bookshelf) of physical books to read (though those are very lazy-making since I think I have a paper allergy or something). Now I have over a hundred books on my Kindle that are waiting to be read.

It’s just too easy to add books to your Kindle library. They have this Kindle Daily Deal thing where books are put on super-sale. I know I picked up at least one $14 e-book for just $1.99 (a great book that I wanted to read – don’t judge me; I know you’re thinking back to my spat about simplification). I also picked up one of my favorite titles, which normally lists for $11.95 (but currently sells for &7.81), for just ninety nine cents! You can see how books can start to pile up. Some of the daily deals are free books, and I regularly catch wind of book promotions through Google+ where authors are giving their books away for free.

So I’m in the middle of reading the Hunger Games trilogy (almost done with book 2), but when I finish I’m going to have a reading list that puts all of my other “to do” lists to shame.

Oh, and they have this Kindle Owner’s Lending Library where many of the best-sellers can be borrowed for free. Indefinitely. You can only have one borrowed at a time, and you can’t borrow more than one per month, but that gives me easy, free access to so many good books it makes my head spin. That’s how I’m currently reading the Hunger Games. All of the books in that trilogy are free for me to borrow, for as long as it takes me to read them.

Crazy.

Alright. That’s enough for this post. I sure would like some comments from you brave, intrepid souls who made it to the end of my post. What are you currently reading? Do you use an e-reader? Do you have any productivity tricks? Do you like hats?

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Good Habit, Bad Habit

I don’t remember when it started, but today it stopped.  I had been doing so well, I was in such a good habit, then one day, one morning, I tore it all down.

When I was very young I observed that good habits and bad habits have inverse properties.  A good habit is hard to form and easy to break, and a bad habit is easy to form and hard to break.  Basically, anything good and worth doing is difficult and takes time.  Anything bad and not worth doing happens quickly and easily and is hard to get rid of.  This principle applies to so much more than just habits.

Several months ago I started getting up early every morning to write when I didn’t have to go to work early.  I also set up a schedule with an hour of writing time Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  For a month or two (I don’t keep track of time well) I followed the schedule perfectly, never making even one allowance.  Then, one morning after an especially difficult night with the baby, I decided to give myself another hour of sleep.  I slept in the next morning, with no justification.  A day or two later I managed to get up to write, but I was too groggy to write anything worth reading, so I did other writing related activities (which I allow for) and went back to bed when I was finished.  Since that Saturday morning I completely stopped getting up early to write.

In the mean time I completely stopped writing in the evenings as well.  My creativity suffered, despite a few good ideas that came from time to time.  Even now, having gotten up early, my ideas are jumbled and my thoughts are muddled.  It’s going to take time to get back into the habit, but it is so important for me to write!

While I have been neglecting my writing time over the last few weeks, I have noticed a considerable degree of edginess and frustration brewing in my demeanor.  These are normal elements of my character that I consciously battle on a day to day basis, but I begin losing the battle when I give in to my lazy tendencies or fail to give myself appropriate creative outlets and stimulation.

Now I’ve got a couple of extra days off for the holiday making this a four day weekend.  It’s even harder to get up on a day off from work, but I’m resolved to make this the beginning of a good habit again.  No more sleeping in.  I may have to give myself a free day once or twice a month, but I’ll come up with an accountability system to prevent those free days from putting an end to a good habit.

Oh, and tonight, I’m taking my writing hour.

My Big Breakup

Please briefly explain in the form below why you’re cancelling.” Which is another way of saying, “Well, can you at least tell me why we’re breaking up?” in website speak.

The whole thing started several weeks ago, though it was seeded from the very beginning of my life. I provided the fertile soil, and life rained down on it, so it grew.

The fertile soil is my social awkwardness. If you read my about page, I mention that I am aware of a possible diagnosis I could one day claim (were it necessary) through proper examination by a psychiatric professional. One symptom of the “syndrome” I possibly live with is an acutely awkward social life (which is caused by a variety of factors). Through observation, logical analysis and years of practice, I feel that my social life no longer exhibits all of the symptoms I once struggled with as a child and teenager, though I maintain certain traits that speak out against me, even if only in private.

One such trait is my aversion to social encounters. That’s right, I’m not comfortable around people. If you hadn’t noticed it’s because I’m that good at hiding it, but the truth is I get unusually uncomfortable in the presence of people, especially in face-to-face interactions.

Many of those who share my symptoms and have been labeled with the diagnosis take refuge from the real, face-to-face world by spending more time on the Internet. They are especially susceptible to becoming addicted to online multi-player games and social networking activities because such things appear to offer the same benefits of a real social encounter without the “hassles” of having to be there. I’m sure you can see where this is headed, so I’ll break for a moment to tell a short story.

Today, on the way home from work, our little three-month-old daughter screamed and cried most of the way. We’ve been working on our five-year-old son’s behavior a lot lately, and he finally seemed to be getting it, though the frustration I was experiencing from the persistent crying seemed to drown out my attempts at praising my son. We walked into the house through our kitchen door (the one closest to the car port) and I found brown paper bags, some still full of groceries, scattered all over the place. The counters were stacked with rinsed dishes, food items and trash that hadn’t been taken care of (some of it for over a week). My job keeps me away from home during the day, and I understand that staying home all day with the two children has my wife pretty well busy all day just trying to keep up with things. I don’t expect, and have never demanded her to create order or even maintain perfect cleanliness in the home. As the children age this job will get easier, and I try to help her as much as I can.

I must say though, that today it seemed especially discouraging. I was already frustrated in my mind from the constant screaming, then I walked into chaos. Never fear, I do this often and handle things fairly well most of the time. Some of the time, however, I go through emotional peaks and valleys that have an effect on my ability to handle things. I try to muscle my way through the troughs and ride the waves when things are up, but in the end those little chemical imbalances can get the best of me from time to time. I resolved right there, in the kitchen, that as soon as our daughter was safely suckling away on her mother, I would attack the kitchen and restore order.

I rushed through the chaos in the kitchen, through the hall toward the bedrooms and finally into our bedroom at the end of the hall. There, I was greeted with the usual mess. I wholeheartedly admit that somewhere around half of that mess is mine, and I am guilty of doing little or nothing to fix it in the last several months. I had already resolved to fix one mess, and there was no room inside me to fix another the same evening. Mother came and rescued the baby and I began my mission.

I attacked the kitchen. Trash, recycling, dishes, counter tops, floor (my wife had to hand the baby off to me, but I made sure she helped finish the job) and soon everything was nearly sparkling, in that one room, of course. Then, I sent my wife out on some errands, dutifully taking the little princess (who was tired and hungry, but would have to deal with her mom being gone for twenty minutes nonetheless). We had a good time (kind of) until she fell asleep (always makes for a lame date).

Then, dinner time hit. Sometimes dinner goes pretty well. Tonight, it was already an hour past our son’s bedtime, and he wanted to take seven bites out of every French fry, and watch his chicken nuggets to see if they would grow mold. I usually have to tell him to slow down, but tonight I wanted to get on with the bedtime routine, and he was waiting for Christmas. My wife didn’t share my sense of urgency (I don’t expect her to think the same way I do, I think very differently from just about everyone else, but I’m still fairly reasonable) and was disagreeing with me, which made me look frustrated and stubborn (which I was slowly becoming). Finally, I got up from the table, leaving them to work things out, and figured I could whisk myself away to a magical place called the Internet to escape from my real-world woes.

I began loading the pages, one by one, like I usually do from my bookmarks tool bar in Firefox. My homepage (iGoogle, of course!), Gmail, Mail.com, some work related sites, WordPress.com, Shelfari.com, Facebook, MySpace, VIRB, deviantART, and Google Reader. While they were loading I looked at all of the tabs. I check all of these every day? I thought. I began to assess, in my mind, approximations of how much time I spent doing each one. I looked back and recalled many a late night spent on my beloved Facebook site, with all 100+ friends, the fun games and applications, the many social exchanges every day…

Then I thought, Do I need all of that? I thought of my many real social exchanges at work, at home, at church, etc. Then I remembered that sometimes I get overwhelmed in real life with social activity. Sometimes, I get so overwhelmed that I end up having to say no to something (or several things). Sometimes, when you have too much on your plate and you can’t handle it all, you have to say no to something(s) and stick with what you love the most.

Obviously, my family will always come first for me. That goes without saying. Beyond that, in the social realm, things get a little fuzzy for me. Tonight, with all of the frustrations around me, I realized that my real-world plate was getting full and messy, and part of that was because my virtual plate was overflowing.

I don’t need that much social interaction to be healthy. I have my best friend, my wife, by my side all the time, except when I’m at work (which I wish I didn’t have to do because then I could be with her all of the time, and that would make me happy). Then I have two of the best parents who ever lived to support and love me, I have some great brothers and a top-notch sister who e-mail, text message and call me from time to time. I have many other friends who are available for the occasional chat, phone call or visit when I am in need as well. If that’s not enough social interaction to keep me healthy, I always have my creative outlets.

I love to write. I always have, but I haven’t always given it the priority I would have liked to have. Now, in recent times I have decided to write more and practice to get better. Since I resolved to do this, I have accomplished much less than what I know I am capable of. Why? Because most of my time on the computer has been lost reading updates, news, Facebook profiles, etc.

So, with the tension building between me and my wife because my virtual plate was starting to fill my real-world plate, I deleted my Facebook account.

That’s right. It’s gone. They mention that if I ever want to come back all I have to do is use my old log in information, but I don’t currently foresee myself doing that in the near future. Perhaps some day, but not now. Then, I remembered how much cooler Facebook is than MySpace (sorry MySpace lovers, I just never really liked it that much), so I though, hey, if I’m deleting my Facebook account, I can’t leave the MySpace one up, even if I never use it. So, I went and deleted that one too (though they want 48 hours to actually remove my account).

This might seem rash to many of you, but if you consider me and who I am, you should realize that it was a necessary step to ensure that I don’t get sucked in to something less important than the people I love. Plus, now I hope that finding time to write might become slightly easier. Any time I was previously putting into Facebook can now be invested in writing.

So, that brings me back to the beginning. It was actually MySpace that was asking why I was leaving them (Facebook wanted a reason too, but it was just a radio-button selection – “I’m spending too much time on Facebook” or something like that). Now you know the whole story, but do you want to know what I told them? “Downsizing Internet activities.” Pretty cold, huh?

So here’s the plan. I’ve officially committed Facebook “hari-kiri” and there’s no going back (not for the next year or so, at least). I’m going to use my Gmail address to send out a request for all of my friends and family to read this (that’s where I have the most addresses). If you know me, please follow the instructions below:

1. Please “check in” and leave a comment on this posting for me. I want to know who came and read this. When you enter your e-mail address to comment, make sure it is the e-mail address you actually check!

2. If I was listed as your friend on MySpace or Facebook, please write a bulletin, note or anything else asking all of my other friends whose e-mail addresses I didn’t have to visit this same posting (send them the same link I sent you). Post it as something interesting like, “Why Brian disappeared.”

3. Do something out of the ordinary to ensure we can stay in touch! Facebook and MySpace are both fabulous tools for keeping in touch with old, current and new friends, and I am a little worried that I may lose touch with some friends I love who prefer to use these sites as their sole point of contact for friendships. Below you will find a list of options I am retaining so we can keep in touch. Pick one, and keep in touch with me that way!


Here are some ways to keep in touch with me.

  • There’s always the obvious – email. If you need my Gmail address, just ask for it in your comment below.
  • If you don’t have my phone number, but are good at keeping in touch that way, ask for my cell phone number. The same goes for a physical address if you like stamps and mail.
  • I am keeping accounts at a few smaller social networking sites. If you already have an account at any of them, find me there (if you need help with this, just ask!). If you don’t have an account there, look at each of them and set up an account at the one you like best.
    • www.virb.com – Kind of like MySpace, but not. You don’t need an account to check out my profile. Click the link!
    • www.orkut.com – This is the one I check the least often, but if you sign up there I’ll know about it and I will definitely keep up with you that way.
    • www.deviantart.com – This one is not as much for social networking as it is for artwork. If you’re an artist and you’re my friend, add me on here and I’ll add you too.
    • www.shelfari.com – This is for book lovers. You can add all the books you own, you’ve read and you want, and it shares your virtual “shelf” with your friends.
  • Since I’ll be writing a lot (hopefully), perhaps the best way to keep in touch with me (and keep up to date) is through this… *gulp* blog. (I really don’t like calling it a blog.) You can subscribe to my RSS feed through any feed reader (I use Google Reader and love it).
  • Finally, I have a Google page (website) that is currently under construction. Right now, it just links back to my WordPress stuff. Oh, and you can play PacMan there too. 😉

If you can’t use any of the options above to keep in touch with me for long term, I’ll be sad. Despite not really enjoying social encounters, I really do love all of my friends and family. I cannot stress to you enough how much I will miss hearing from you (especially the former Facebook and MySpace friends who are reading this). I just spent too much time doing worthless things on Facebook, and not enough time paying attention to the real world. In fact, if you want to get together sometime, let’s try to make it happen. It might take time (especially if you’re far away), but I would love to spend some real-world time with all of you.

So, I leave you all with my love.

Brian

P.S. On a quick, lighter note, I found this really funny little gem of a video about Facebook thanks to Digg. If you know anything at all about Facebook, you must watch this video!


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    "The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues." - Rene Descartes
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