Sunday, March 30, 2014

Eliminate All But the Absolute Essential Tasks

Recently I posted my new twist on the excellent GTD system, Zen To Done (ZTD): The Ultimate Simple Productivity System. This is the eighth in a series of posts exploring each of the 10 Habits.

If you’re like me, you have a long list of tasks to do, perhaps broken down by different contexts (work, home, errands, calls, etc.). Your list of tasks is so long that it’s overwhelming. You can never completely wipe out your list because it’s growing every day.

Simplify your list down to the barest of essentials, and you can eliminate the need for complex planning systems.

The long to-do lists are one of the problems of GTD, which as I’ve said before, is an excellent system. But it does no prioritizing, and everything is added to your lists. In the end, it’s overwhelming, and you are left extremely busy, trying to knock off all your tasks.

Today we’ll look at ZTD Habit 8: Simplify – reduce your goals & tasks to the essentials.

Let’s first imagine the ideal scenario. Recently I’ve begun simplifying my time management system from GTD down to basically nothing. I still have long lists of things to do, but I don’t look at them much anymore. Instead, I’ve begun the process of elimination, and focusing on what’s really important.

Now my to-do list is basically one list of three essential things I want to do today. I also have a list of a few smaller tasks that I want to knock out, all at once, usually in about 30 minutes or so, leaving the rest of my day free for the more important tasks. I still use my calendar, just as a way of reminding me of appointments, but it’s not really a time management tool. I don’t need time management tools anymore — I’ve simplified my list down to three tasks, every day.

How can you get to this point? Here are the key steps:

Eliminate, eliminate. Take a few minutes to review your task and project lists, and see how much you can simplify them. Make it a challenge. See if you can cut it in half! If you’ve got 50 items, cut it down to 25. Then try to cut it even further a few days later. How do you eliminate tasks? Sometimes a task gets old and isn’t necessary anymore. Cross those out. Sometimes a task can be delegated. Do that, and cross it out. Read on for more tips.
Know what’s essential. How do you know what’s essential? By knowing what your main goal is, and other goals if necessary. You really should focus on one goal at a time, but if you want to do 2 or 3, that’s OK too. Just don’t do 10 goals or anything. Those goals should be your essential projects. Any smaller tasks are essential if they help you accomplish those goals, and not essential if they’re not related.
Simplify your commitments. How many projects are you committed to? How many extracurricular stuff do you do? You can’t do it all. You need to learn to say no, and value your time. And if you’ve already said yes, it’s still possible to say no. Just be honest with people and tell them that you have a high number of urgent projects to complete and cannot commit to this any longer. Slowly, you can eliminate your commitments to a very small number — only have those commitments in your life that really give you joy and value.
Simplify your information stream. I’ve recently gone through the process of eliminating most of my RSS feeds. I also have cut back on the number of emails I respond to. And for more than a year now, I haven’t read a single newspaper, watched television (except DVDs), or read a single magazine. The news no longer gives me any value. Simplify the inputs into your life, and you can simplify the outputs.
Review weekly. Your to-do list tends to build up over the course of a week. Take a few minutes each week to eliminate, and eliminate some more. You don’t need a huge to-do list to be productive — just do the stuff that matters.
Big Rocks. During your weekly review, figure out the most important tasks that you’d like to accomplish over the next week. Those are your Big Rocks. Now place them on your schedule, first thing in the day, on different days of the upcoming week. Make those the most important tasks each day, and do them first — don’t let them be pushed back to the end of the day.
Biggest value. Consider the case of two newspaper writers. One is super busy and writes a dozen articles a week. They’re all decent articles, but they’re pretty routine in nature. The second writer writes one article this week, but it gets the front page headline, it’s talked about all around town and blogged about on the Internet, it gets him a journalism award and he becomes a big name in journalism. From this article, he lands a bigger job and a book deal. That example is a bit extreme, but it illustrates the point that some tasks really pay off in the long term, and others just keep you busy and in the long run, don’t matter at all. The first writer could have stayed home all week and slept, and it wouldn’t have changed his world much (except he wouldn’t get paid for that week). Focus on those big tasks, that will make a name for you, that will generate long-term income, that will give you lasting satisfaction and happiness. Those are your Big Rocks. Eliminate the rest.
Three MITs. Here’s your planning system each day: write down your three Most Important Tasks on a sheet of paper (I write mine in a Moleskine pocket notebook). That’s it. Check off those tasks when you finish them. Devote your entire day, if possible, to those three tasks, or at the very least devote the first half of your day to them. Your MITs are basically the Big Rocks you planned for this week, and any other MIT that you need to do for today.
Batch small tasks. During the course of the day, other stuff will come up that you really need to take care of or they could create problems for you later. Write those down on another small list of small tasks (mine is at the bottom of my pocket notebook page). You don’t need to do them right now, most likely. Just write them down for later. Set a time (probably 30 minutes or so) to batch process these tasks sometime later in the day (perhaps 4 p.m.). Do your MITs first, and then do all the small tasks at the same time. These might be calls, emails, writing a short letter, doing paperwork, etc. Try to do them quickly and knock them off your list. You might have a few tasks left at the end of the day. Better to leave the small tasks until tomorrow than the big ones. Batch process email, too — if you do it throughout the day, it’s just a bunch of interruptions. Just do it once or twice a day.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Guide to Cultivating Compassion in Your Life, With 7 Practices

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” - Dalai Lama

By Leo Babauta

I believe compassion to be one of the few things we can practice that will bring immediate and long-term happiness to our lives. I’m not talking about the short-term gratification of pleasures like sex, drugs or gambling (though I’m not knocking them), but something that will bring true and lasting happiness. The kind that sticks.

The key to developing compassion in your life is to make it a daily practice.

Meditate upon it in the morning (you can do it while checking email), think about it when you interact with others, and reflect on it at night. In this way, it becomes a part of your life. Or as the Dalai Lama also said, “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Let’s use the Wikipedia definition of Compassion:

Compassion is an emotion that is a sense of shared suffering, most often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another; to show special kindness to those who suffer. Compassion essentially arises through empathy, and is often characterized through actions, wherein a person acting with compassion will seek to aid those they feel compassionate for.

Compassionate acts are generally considered those which take into account the suffering of others and attempt to alleviate that suffering as if it were one’s own. In this sense, the various forms of the Golden Rule are clearly based on the concept of compassion.

Compassion differs from other forms of helpful or humane behavior in that its focus is primarily on the alleviation of suffering.

Why develop compassion in your life? Well, there are scientific studies that suggest there are physical benefits to practicing compassion — people who practice it produce 100 percent more DHEA, which is a hormone that counteracts the aging process, and 23 percent less cortisol — the “stress hormone.”

But there are other benefits as well, and these are emotional and spiritual. The main benefit is that it helps you to be more happy, and brings others around you to be more happy. If we agree that it is a common aim of each of us to strive to be happy, then compassion is one of the main tools for achieving that happiness. It is therefore of utmost importance that we cultivate compassion in our lives and practice compassion every day.

How do we do that? This guide contains 7 different practices that you can try out and perhaps incorporate into your every day life.

7 Compassion Practices

Morning ritual. Greet each morning with a ritual. Try this one, suggest by the Dalai Lama: “Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” Then, when you’ve done this, try one of the practices below.
Empathy Practice. The first step in cultivating compassion is to develop empathy for your fellow human beings. Many of us believe that we have empathy, and on some level nearly all of us do. But many times we are centered on ourselves (I’m no exception) and we let our sense of empathy get rusty. Try this practice: Imagine that a loved one is suffering. Something terrible has happened to him or her. Now try to imagine the pain they are going through. Imagine the suffering in as much detail as possible. After doing this practice for a couple of weeks, you should try moving on to imagining the suffering of others you know, not just those who are close to you.
Commonalities practice. Instead of recognizing the differences between yourself and others, try to recognize what you have in common. At the root of it all, we are all human beings. We need food, and shelter, and love. We crave attention, and recognition, and affection, and above all, happiness. Reflect on these commonalities you have with every other human being, and ignore the differences. One of my favorite exercises comes from a great article from Ode Magazine — it’s a five-step exercise to try when you meet friends and strangers. Do it discreetly and try to do all the steps with the same person. With your attention geared to the other person, tell yourself:
Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
Relief of suffering practice. Once you can empathize with another person, and understand his humanity and suffering, the next step is to want that person to be free from suffering. This is the heart of compassion — actually the definition of it. Try this exercise: Imagine the suffering of a human being you’ve met recently. Now imagine that you are the one going through that suffering. Reflect on how much you would like that suffering to end. Reflect on how happy you would be if another human being desired your suffering to end, and acted upon it. Open your heart to that human being and if you feel even a little that you’d want their suffering to end, reflect on that feeling. That’s the feeling that you want to develop. With constant practice, that feeling can be grown and nurtured.
Act of kindness practice. Now that you’ve gotten good at the 4th practice, take the exercise a step further. Imagine again the suffering of someone you know or met recently. Imagine again that you are that person, and are going through that suffering. Now imagine that another human being would like your suffering to end — perhaps your mother or another loved one. What would you like for that person to do to end your suffering? Now reverse roles: you are the person who desires for the other person’s suffering to end. Imagine that you do something to help ease the suffering, or end it completely. Once you get good at this stage, practice doing something small each day to help end the suffering of others, even in a tiny way. Even a smile, or a kind word, or doing an errand or chore, or just talking about a problem with another person. Practice doing something kind to help ease the suffering of others. When you are good at this, find a way to make it a daily practice, and eventually a throughout-the-day practice.
Those who mistreat us practice. The final stage in these compassion practices is to not only want to ease the suffering of those we love and meet, but even those who mistreat us. When we encounter someone who mistreats us, instead of acting in anger, withdraw. Later, when you are calm and more detached, reflect on that person who mistreated you. Try to imagine the background of that person. Try to imagine what that person was taught as a child. Try to imagine the day or week that person was going through, and what kind of bad things had happened to that person. Try to imagine the mood and state of mind that person was in — the suffering that person must have been going through to mistreat you that way. And understand that their action was not about you, but about what they were going through. Now think some more about the suffering of that poor person, and see if you can imagine trying to stop the suffering of that person. And then reflect that if you mistreated someone, and they acted with kindness and compassion toward you, whether that would make you less likely to mistreat that person the next time, and more likely to be kind to that person. Once you have mastered this practice of reflection, try acting with compassion and understanding the next time a person treats you. Do it in little doses, until you are good at it. Practice makes perfect.
Evening routine. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes before you go to bed to reflect upon your day. Think about the people you met and talked to, and how you treated each other. Think about your goal that you stated this morning, to act with compassion towards others. How well did you do? What could you do better? What did you learn from your experiences today? And if you have time, try one of the above practices and exercises.
These compassionate practices can be done anywhere, any time. At work, at home, on the road, while traveling, while at a store, while at the home of a friend or family member. By sandwiching your day with a morning and evening ritual, you can frame your day properly, in an attitude of trying to practice compassion and develop it within yourself. And with practice, you can begin to do it throughout the day, and throughout your lifetime.

This, above all, with bring happiness to your life and to those around you.

Do you have experience in practicing compassion? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Amazing Power of One

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the goals you want to accomplish? Do you find it especially difficult starting out on a new goal? This is where the powerful “Rule of One” comes to the rescue.

Change is hard. Changing many things at once can be overwhelming. And that’s where most people fail. They become overwhelmed mentally before they even start. A year goes by and their goals remain nothing more than mental laundry continually spinning around in their mind.

The “Rule of One” makes change easier. The “Rule of One” states that you install one new goal at a time. Once that new goal is on auto pilot, only then do you start on your next goal.

How Does the “Rule of One” Work?
Let’s say you have a list of goal that looks like this:

Start Aerobic exercise program.
Start strength training program.
Cut out processed foods. Eat more vegetables and fruits.
Do 15 minutes stretching a day.
Increase my output of work by 50%, i.e. writing, sales calls, coding, designing, etc.
Join a hobby group.
Take an adult education class.
Spend more quality time with loved ones.
Write a book.
Rank your goals in order of importance. This may be hard, but just do your best and then don’t look back. Starting with your number one, identify the action steps you need to take over the next week to start on this goal. Then begin.

If strength training is your number one goal, your action steps might be:

Research an “at home” strength training course such as this one from RealAge. (you may need to register which is free)
Plan the days/time into your calendar that you will do this.
Make a simple success chart for your wall. Draw a simple star for each day you complete your goal. (who says charts are only for kids!)
Do it! Start those first steps and build every day.
Share your success with others.
Plan a reward for completion of 30 successful days.
Focus on that One Goal until it is automatic. This could be a couple days, a week or even a month. Don’t agonize over your goal list. Have peace of mind knowing that you will get to all of them!

Failproofing Your Progress
Estimate the time it will take for this new goal to become automatic, then schedule in a reminder at the end of that time period to start on your next goal. When you start the next goal, set the next reminder and so on. In fact, in each reminder remind yourself to schedule the next one!

Greater Success than 99% of the Population
Most people set their goals on New Year’s Day and quickly forget about them. By using this simple goal-hack you will systematically and successfully reach ALL your goals. Maybe it will take you 6 months or a whole year to be working on and achieving all your goals. But imagine how great you will feel when you look back and see what you have accomplished. How exciting is that?! Stick to it. Slow and steady wins the race! Take a peek at Leo’s “My Story” page where he outlines his amazing accomplishments achieved by using the powerful “Rule of One.”

Thursday, March 27, 2014

6 Great Free Alternatives to Quicken & MS Money

Recently I got some amazing responses from all of you in Ask the Readers: What are your financial tools? and I wanted to share some of the best tools I’ve found from that thread. And the thing I like most about them: unlike Quicken and Microsoft Money, they’re free!

Excel or Google Spreadsheets. Perhaps the simplest tool of all. Create your own (I did) or find an excellent one already created: Pear Budget, Of Zen and Computing’s simple spreadsheet, Get Rich Slowly’s spreadsheet. The appeal of this is that it’s extremely flexible, it’s simple, it’s fast and easy, it’s free and, if you keep it really simple, you can put it online with Google Spreadsheets.

Gnu Cash. Now available for Windows for the first time, Gnu Cash was designed for Linux and is available for OSX and other operating systems. It’s totally free (under the GNU GPL), easy to use, even if it isn’t as pretty as more expensive software. Very popular among the Linux crowd. Beloved for its double-entry accounting system. This open-source software can import data from Money and Quicken, and can export to numerous data formats.
Wesabe. Web 2.0′s answer to money software, Wesabe takes the traditional approach and turns it on its head with a social aspect. It can import all of your financial institution data (banks, credit cards, etc.), and allows you to tag each entry, so you can see how you’re spending your money. Even more interesting is the social part: based on your tags, you can see how others spend on similar tags, and see their best tips for that type of tag. An interesting approach, but I’m not sold yet on this concept.
Money Trackin. A very easy-to-use site, this is perfect if you want your money software to be online and accessible from anywhere, including your mobile device. Just spent $30 at a restaurant? Enter that from the restaurant itself. This online software allows you to enter all your transactions, tag them, view reports, and see your financial situation at a glance. And it doesn’t require you to enter your personal info to set up an account.
AceMoney. The lite version of AceMoney is freeware — and has the same features as the paid version, except you can’t manage multiple accounts. So this would be great for someone who just has one main account to track. Track your spending, set up a budget, track investments, look at graphs, import data from your bank, be reminded to pay your bill, plan to pay off your debts, and more. Not the prettiest software, but hey, it’s free! And it works.
Yodlee. This is a slick solution. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m severely tempted (I just haven’t had time to give it a spin). A totally online solution, you can track spending, monitor your budget, look at portfolio charts, track your net worth, and more. Pretty nice.
If you’re willing to pay for your money software, there are a number of great paid alternatives, including but not limited to: You Need a Budget, Mvelopes, and

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Overclock Your Reading Speed

In today’s Information Age, reading is now a prerequisite for success in life. In fact, many presidents, including Kennedy, have required their staff to take speed reading lessons.

Brian Tracy, a best-selling author, points out that just 1 hour per day of reading will make you an international expert in your chosen field within 7 years.

If you’re looking to increase your learning rate while decreasing your effort, speed reading is a method you should consider studying. By simply learning how to process information at a more rapid rate, you’re not only going to be able to move through books more quickly, but you will also be able to comprehend and process more of what you have read. Speed reading is an excellent skill that can be used in your workplace, your home life, as well as your personal hobbies.

The Brain’s Power
Speed reading actually began as part of military training to identify enemy war planes. Pilots used a pacing tool called a tachistoscope that flashed images before their eyes at increasing speeds. This allowed the pilots to quickly identify the enemy planes in order to attack as needed. With the hundreds of possible planes that could be used in the military setting, this rapid identification was literally the tool that made a life and death difference.

But what was interesting about this method of military training is that it began to unveil the idea that the brain could process more things visually than was previously thought. Even with hundreds of images, the brain was able to identify them and then make decisions based on messages in the right side of the brain.

What many people don’t realize is that the mind becomes bored when it’s not constantly stimulated. When you are reading at your normal rates, the mind will become bored and begin to lose interest in what you are trying to learn. It’s not that you aren’t a good student or a proficient reader, it’s just that your mind is made to do more than you are asking of it.

Hearing the words in your head
At this average speed, most of us are actually reading the words to ourselves in our head, which is known as subvocalizing. This is where you are ‘hearing’ the words in your head, or even saying them to yourself as you read. A behavior like this slows down your reading significantly, so it’s the first thing to go when you’re learning to speed read.

To eliminate subvocalizing, you must practice reading faster than you can actually read. You can practice this skill with an online tool known as Spreeder.

Of course, there are times when subvocalization is a good idea — as in the case of dense texts or subjects with which you’re not familiar. Science and math are such subjects. In these cases, you might need to slow down your reading style to make sure you comprehend what is being taught. Others choose to read more slowly when they want to savor what they are reading, like fiction or poetry.

However, when you are reading subjects that you need to learn quickly, speed reading can come in handy.

A How-to Guide
Here are some techniques that will help you to increase your reading rate:

1. Realize that reading is not from beginning to end, but rather point to point. When you are reading, you need to pick up the important points of the book, but that doesn’t mean that you need to read them in a particular order.

In fact, I would suggest skipping parts of a book that you don’t need. Almost every book has a good point or two, but it is highly unlikely that you need to read every page of the entire book.

2. Try using a pacing tool. Whether it’s your finger or a pencil, try moving this tool along the lines of the book you are reading to keep you moving forward as quickly as possible.

Reading is a series of jumping snapshots called saccades. Using a visual guide prevents regression.

By moving your pacing tool faster than your normal reading rate, your eyes get used to viewing text faster than your brain can process the actual words on the page. This will enable you to break the habit of subvocalization.

3. Get rid of all distractions and possible interruptions. When you are trying to focus on what you are reading, you need to be in a comfortable seat in a quiet room. Distractions can severely interrupt your reading patters and decrease your comprehension of the text.

4. Try to read more than one word at a time. This is a speed reading technique known as chunking. By looking at ‘blocks’ of words as you read, you will allow your mind to process ideas and visual images instead of individual words.

5. Never move backwards. When you are speed reading, the main point is to keep moving forward and not stop to reread something. This is the most inefficient use of your reading time. Keep yourself moving forward at all times.

6. Think visually. One of the most effective speed reading techniques is to visualize the ideas on the page as pictures in your head. Huge portions of the human brain are dedicated to processing information visually, making them the fastest circuits in the brain for processing information.

Mind maps are one of the best ways to process information visually. Begin using the same visual process in your head while reading.

As you practice and become more proficient at speed reading, you will be amazed at what you can do.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Key to Dying Happy

There are a million jokes that could be made with the above headline, half of them dirty. But this post isn’t one of them — it’s about what’s important in life, how you want to live, and how you want to die. It’s about living a life of purpose, and being remembered well after you move on from this life.

To die happy, you must live life with that end in mind. Live a life of purpose.

That’s easier said than done, of course. In this post, I’ll look at a great way to find that purpose in your life, and to live every day with that purpose in mind, and to align your daily actions with that purpose.

First ask why
But first, let’s ask the obvious question: “Why does this matter?”

Let’s consider for a moment the life that most of us lead: we get up in the morning, we do what we have to do for the day, if we’re lucky we get some time to relax or do something fun, if we’re even luckier we get some time to spend with loved ones. And this repeats itself in endless variations until we get old.

What happens then? We look back on our lives, and perhaps we wish we’d done stuff differently, or wish we’d accomplished something. But after a certain point, it’s a bit too late.

This post is about doing something about it now, about choosing to live differently before it’s too late.

Now let’s think about what’s important. At any given moment, whatever is in front of us is important. That assignment has to be done right away! That’s because we’re looking closely, at the details.

But if we pulled back, took a step away from our lives, those details become less important. Soon we can start to see the forest. Unless we pull back some more — and now we can see a continent. Pull back further, and we see the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy — and now nothing in our lives are important.

Obviously, you need to get the right amount of perspective.

The best tool for that, I’ve found, is a famous principle of Stephen Covey’s: begin with the end in mind. And here’s how he tells us to do that: by imagining what we’d like people to say about us at our funeral. Do we want them to say that we were kind-hearted, or charitable, or loving, or successful, or that we accomplished great things, or found a cure for cancer? However we want to be remembered, that’s how we should live our lives, every moment of every day, starting right now.

Live With Purpose — A How-to Guide
If you want to live a life of purpose, here’s a method for doing so (you were wondering when the list would come!):

Your purpose. Start by taking 10 minutes out of your life to find some quiet space, and to close your eyes, and to think. Ask yourself: How do I want to be remembered? What do I want people to say about me at my funeral? Think about that for 10 minutes, then write down your answers. There may be a few different things, or 10, or just one.
Write it down. Put your purpose — how you want to be remembered — on a sheet of paper. Type it out, or write it lovingly with a Magic Marker — it doesn’t matter. Put it in nice, big letters. This is your life mission. Post it up somewhere visible, or make it your desktop background. Be reminded of it every day.
Morning ritual. Every morning, rise with the sun (or at the crack of noon, it doesn’t matter), and look at your purpose. Read it out loud, and give it some thought. Ask yourself: what can I do today to help fulfill my purpose? Now write that down on your to-do list — even if it’s something simple, like “Smile at my co-workers” or “Give my kids a hug”.
Align your actions. As much as possible, make your actions move your toward your purpose. Keep that purpose in mind throughout the day. If it helps, send yourself email reminders. After awhile, it’ll become a part of your nature.
Evening ritual. Take a few minutes before you go to bed to look back on your day, on your actions, on what you accomplished. Perhaps write about it in a journal (this is best, but it’s up to you). Look at your purpose again, and think about how you could have lived today differently. Then figure out how you can live your purpose better tomorrow.
These simple actions aren’t that hard to do. They might take some energy and focus in the beginning to make it a habit, but with focus, you can make it happen. And your life will be filled with purpose, and you will live your life with happiness, and eventually, with a little luck, die happy. May your life be blessed.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Solve Tough Problems with a Brain Reboot

I’’ve spent a lot of time looking into different methods for solving problems and boosting my creativity. I’’ve come to the conclusion that meditation isn’’t just for the monks. You can use meditation for finding solutions to difficult problems, taking control of your emotions or rebooting your brain.

I’m not big into the fancy mantra’s and religious overtones often associated with meditation. Instead I like to focus on practical meditation to focus your thoughts and cut out distractions. Meditation may sound a bit too New-Agey for your tastes, but looking at it in a more practical light, meditation is similar to turning off unnecessary programs running in the background of your computer so you can devote more CPU power to a specific task.

How to Meditate
Meditation isn’’t hard to do, but it does require practice. When I first started using meditation I found it difficult to hold a visual scene for a length of time without allowing distracting thoughts enter. With patience I’’ve become better at holding my focus and cutting out distractions. Here is how I enter into a meditative state:

Get into a position where you don’t feel discomfort but aren’t completely relaxed. I don’t bother with becoming a human pretzel. The importance is that you shouldn’t have distracting muscular tensions in your body that break your focus, but if you get too comfortable you may fall asleep. I usually sit upright on my bed or a pillow.
Close your eyes and monitor your breathing. It takes a few minutes to enter a meditative state. Focus on breathing in and out and slowly lowering your rate of breathing. I can sometimes go to twenty seconds for a single breath. This not only eliminates distractions but it forces your heart rate down and relaxes your body.
Once you’ve sufficiently slowed your breathing, start with some quick mental exercises. Run your focus around your body. Notice where you hands, feet, elbows and back are. Notice how they feel. In your relaxed state this will further sharpen your focus and drive out distractions.
Finally try a few visualization exercises seeing how long and how clearly you can hold a picture, sound or sensation in your imagination. I find once I can hold an image for about ten or fifteen seconds with enough clarity, I move on to the purpose I had for the meditation.
This entire process of getting into a meditative state only takes me about five to ten minutes. If you want practice, try getting into a meditative state when you are going to sleep. It will help you relax and won’t take up any more time out of your day.

There are a number of ways you can use practical meditation:

Solving Tough Problems
One of my favorite ways to use meditation is to tackle tough problems. With daily distractions present, it can often be difficult to really think through an issue. Meditation can help eliminate those distractions and allow you to get some insight into what you already know intuitively.

Once you get into a meditative state, try to form a visual scene inside your head. If you are new to meditation keep the scene as simple as possible so you don’t get distracted arranging the details. In this scene, imagine you are talking to another person. It could be a friend, family member or someone completely from your imagination.

Now have a conversation with this person asking for advice on the problem you are having. Don’t think about what the other character should say, just imagine the conversation. You may be surprised at what this imaginary character comes up with. Because you are hearing the conversation before thinking about it, the answers you get are reflections of what you already feel but might not have been able to articulate.

Guiding Your Emotions
Another time I use meditations is when I’’m trying to get control over my emotions. Sometimes I use it to relax when stressed or cheer myself up when blue. The basic idea here is that by meditating you can give yourself enough distance from your emotions that you may be able to see around them.

The technique I use for this is that once I get into a meditative state, I focus on my breathing and watch my thoughts. Whenever I feel anything I make a mental note of that feeling. The process of observing your own emotions and acknowledging them gives you a bit of distance you wouldn’’t otherwise have.

Meditation isn’’t going to be a cure for your emotions, but it can give you enough distance to do something about them. If you are feeling lonely, meditating for a few minutes might give you enough distance from that mood to realize you need to go out and see friends. If you are feeling stressed, meditation may help you see more order in your current frustrations.

Reboot Your Brain
Going into a meditative state for ten or fifteen minutes is a really good way to give yourself a temporary break from your problems. Even though I am fully aware the entire time, I often get out of a meditative state feeling completely refreshed and awake. I liken this quick burst of energy to rebooting your brain, giving you a chance to unload that mental RAM for a few minutes to begin fresh.

Other Meditation Exercises
Here are a some other ways you can use meditation:

Work on your imagination – Try using it to expand your creativity by thinking of new things that you otherwise couldn’’t before. If you get really good you can almost enter into a dreamlike state, except you have the controls.
Gain awareness of your body – Move your focus around to different aspects of your body. Notice the different muscles and tendons and the sensations you are receiving from them. This is especially helpful to master for exercising, as it allows you to focus on the muscles that are being used to ensure proper form.
Rehearse Yourself - You can use meditation to rehearse an upcoming event you want to perform well in. Athletes, presenters and entertainers often do mental rehearsals to ensure a good performance. These methods work even better when you enter a deep meditative state before using them.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Single Best Productivity Tip

I was recently tagged by GTD Wannabe with the Ultimate Guide to Productivity meme. The challenge is to name my “single best productivity tip.”

This is a tough one, but I love it, as it forces me to simplify. I can’t do a Top 10 list! Instead, I have to do a Top 1 list, and that’s the kind of challenge I like.

So here it is, my Single Best Productivity Tip (in one word, no less): Simplify.

How does simplifying make you more productive? If you’ve been reading this site for long, you’ll probably know the answer. But let me list the ways anyway:

Simplify your to-do list. If you have less to do, and you focus on the Most Important Things (MITs), you will actually accomplish more with less effort and time. Get rid of all the less important stuff on your list — or delegate it.
Simplify your surroundings. If you can git rid of the clutter on your desk and computer, the distractions and notifications and interruptions, you will be able to focus more and get more done. Interruptions slow you down.
Simplify your work process. Single task, not multi-task, and your productivity will shoot through the roof. Multi-tasking is an inefficient way to work (on a smaller level — on a larger level, such as during the course of a month, it’s better to work on several projects at once rather than just one). So focus on one task at a time, get it done, and move on to the next one.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

10 Ways to Deal With Zen Habits

The blog brighterlife had a post out today called “How To Use Zen Habits: 10 Tips” that I absolutely loved. In response, I’ve written my own 10 tips for How to Deal With Zen Habits (if the number of posts here overwhelms you).

Use it as a reward. Only allow yourself to read one ZH article after each productive task. Just did a workout? Go read a health tips article! Just met a deadline? Read a GTD article! But only one. Then get back to work.
Make it a yearly goal. Sure, it can be a lot of work to try to tackle the ZH archives. But if you tackle a few a day, you’ll read 1,000 in a year! Just make a little daily progress.
Drink lots of water. Reading ZH can take hours. You need to stay hydrated. Power bars work well too.
Take breaks. You can’t read too much for too long. You will go blind. Every 20 minutes, stand up, stretch, take a walk. Then get back to reading ZH.
Reward yourself. If you read 10 articles, give yourself a treat! Make it enjoyable.
Only follow every 10th tip. That means, in a Top 10 list of tips, you will only need to follow 1 tip. But in a Top 50, you will need to follow 5. That may be too much math. Just choose random tips to follow.
Skim. You don’t need to read every word. Even Leo doesn’t read every word he writes. Just scan each post for key words that appeal to you (“Beer!” “Sex!” “World of Warcraft!”). Ignore the rest.
Get a life. If you’re reading too much ZH, you’re ignoring your real life. It’s best to read ZH in small doses, and then go and do something meaningful, like cleaning the cat litter. Too much of a good thing can be dangerous.
Put each ZH post on your GTD Next Action lists. A new ZH post on becoming a patient parent just came out? Add it to your “@Computer” list and get to it as soon as you can. If you do your Weekly Review and there are 5 or more ZH posts still on your list, put them on your Someday/Maybe list.
Just crank. OK, there are times when you can’t read each post lovingly. You gotta crank through them, because your project deadline is in an hour and your really should be working on it rather than trying to read “147 Ways to Be Better in Bed While Still Being Productive — AKA Reproductive Productivity”.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Top 42 Exercise Hacks

You’ve read and enjoyed the Top 20 Motivation Hacks and Top 10 Productivity Hacks and the Top 15 Diet Hacks… and now you’ve asked for exercise hacks. You want ‘em, you got ‘em.

These hacks will make you healthier, slimmer, and yes, sexier. Rrrowrr!

Just to note, I’m not a certified trainer. I’m just sharing stuff that’s worked for me. Also, some of this stuff is contradictory. That’s because you’re not supposed to implement all of them — just pick the ones you think will work for you, and give them a try. Good luck!

Top 42 Exercise Hacks

Start slow. The biggest mistake that people make when starting an exercise plan is starting too fast or too hard. Trust me, I’ve done it many times. I’ve learned to take it easy, start as small as possible, and worry about endurance or intensity later. The key in the beginning is to make it enjoyable and accomplishable. That’s probably not a word, but it should be. And it is now. Zen Habits are ones that are accomplishable.
Increase but gradually. After getting used to a certain level of exercise, you’ll want to increase it. Don’t just run two miles or walk 20 minutes three times a week for a year. Your body adjusts to the stress you’re giving it, so you need to increase the level once you’ve adjusted. But do it gradually, and only every two weeks or so.
Crank it up. Once you’ve gotten used to exercise, you’ll want to do some higher intensity ones for better fitness and fat-burning. For example, instead of running slowly and steadily, for a long time, try doing shorter bursts of fast running, with periods of rest in between. You can do this for any exercise. Higher intensity increases the calorie burn, and improves performance. But you can’t do it as long, and you shouldn’t do it every workout. Mix it in with endurance workouts.
Schedule workouts. Make appointments with yourself to workout, at a specific time and place, just as you would with any other appointment. And make it the most important appointment on your calendar — more important than a doctor’s visit or even the manicurist.
Make it a habit. If you can do exercise at the same time, every single day for a month, you are more likely to make it a habit. Consistency makes habits more ingrained. Once it’s a habit (and start easy in the beginning!), then you can step up the intensity a bit.
Forget about weight loss. Yeah, many of us would like to lose some weight. But if you’re motivated solely by weight loss, exercise will be a tough proposition. The reason is that you might not lose weight right away. Oh, it’ll come, if you can keep it up over time, but in the beginning you might be disappointed (especially if you haven’t changed your eating habits). Just get into the habit of exercise, and worry about the weight later. First things first.
Forget the gym. The gym can be horribly convenient, but it can also be intimidating for beginners, and confusing if you don’t know how to use the equipment. Sure, you can get a trainer to teach you, but if the cost or the confusion stops you from exercising … well, skip the gym and do it at home or at the park or somewhere less intimidating. You can do pushups and crunches and dumb bell exercises at home very easily, workout to a DVD, or go walking or jogging in your neighborhood. Cheap and simple is my motto.
Reward yourself. Self-explanatory, but rewards are best if they are frequent in the beginning. Be self-indulgent! Even sweets are good rewards — remember, get into the habit of exercise, and you can worry about weight loss later.
Do a 30-day Challenge. Challenge yourself, and see if you can rise to the occasion. Do it with a group or your significant other. Put in rewards. Tell everyone you’re doing it. Motivate the hell out of yourself.
Join an online group. One of the best motivators is having to report successes and failures to a group of people. Check out some online groups (there are groups for every type of exercise), introduce yourself, see which ones you’re comfortable with. Once you’ve gotten established (after a couple of days) see if you can post your results every day — you won’t go wrong once you start doing that.
Post your results on your blog. There’s nothing more motivating than positive public pressure (short of a gun to your head). Step it up by making a promise to your blog readers that you will commit to this goal for a month, and post your results every day. Even if your mom is your only blog reader, it’ll really help.
Do a journal. If you don’t post your results on your blog, write it in a journal, either online or on paper. However you set it up, make it a habit to post to your journal or log right away, as soon as you’re done with your log. It will motivate you to see your progress over time, and it’s a good way to see what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.
Make it fun! Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. I love doing a morning run, with the sun coming up, the world so quiet, my mind left to its own devices. Enjoy yourself and you will actually look forward to your workouts.
Fuel up. If your workout is more than 30 minutes, you really should have some energy in you. You shouldn’t work out on an empty stomach — but you also shouldn’t eat right before you work out. Eat a banana or some peanut butter toast or a ClifBar an hour or two before your workout, and you’re good to go.
Hydrate. Also an hour or two before you workout. Water is best. Use a sports drink during your workout (and after) only if you’re going to go an hour or more. If you’re going to do a tough workout, stay hydrated throughout the day. In fact, go ahead and do this whether you work out or not.
Get a workout buddy. Find someone at your level, and commit to working out a certain number of times a week together, at a certain time. This will make you more likely to keep that workout appointment, and workouts can be a lot of fun if you spend them chatting with your buddy. Just be sure to actually work out, and not just chat, Chatty McChatterson!
Get good clothes. Actually, you don’t need anything fancy to get started. But once you do start working out, it’s nice to get yourself some nice workout clothes, with breathable and comfortable fabrics, ones that look good on you. It’s motivating, and pleasurable. Make it so.
Put a cover model on your fridge. Not literally, of course, as that may be illegal, but find a good magazine photo of a model with the body you want, and post it up somewhere visible. You may never look like that model (heck, that model probably never really looks like that), but it’s motivating. Don’t pick a model that’s too good looking, or you may question your sexuality.
Change it up. Sure, walking or running every day can be a lot of fun. But getting some swimming or biking or strength workouts or aerobics or kickboxing into the mix can be a lot of fun, and can also help you get into better shape. They work out different muscles, and step up the metabolism. Variety is the spice of life and all that.
Do it early in the morning. My favorite time to work out is between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. Plus, I know that if I work out at this time, nothing will get in the way of the workout later in the day. It’s a beautiful time of day, not too hot, and there’s nothing like showering and going to work knowing that I’ve put in a great exercise (and it allows me to feel superior and look down my nose at those lazy bums I work with).
Squeeze it in during lunch. OK, you’re not a morning person. You’re busy. You don’t have time to work out. Well, suck it up, buster, and sacrifice your lunch hour to the gods of fitness. Bring your workout clothes, do a quickie nooner, and be back at work ready to tackle the afternoon.
First thing after work. None of those options work for you? Not a problem, my friend. Make it a daily appointment to work out as soon as you get off work. This will also motivate you to finish your work on time so you can get out on time for your workout. It’s great to stop somewhere to do your workout before you even get home, because once you get home you’ll probably want to relax on the couch, fall asleep at the kitchen table, or rush to the computer to read the latest Zen Habits post.
A little and often. You don’t need to work out long, and you certainly don’t need to be a weekend warrior. Just 20-30 minutes every day. Who doesn’t have 20 minutes on their schedule. You? Well, scratch “Walker Texas Ranger rerun” off the schedule and make room for this instead.
Just lace up. Yeah, you’re dreading the upcoming workout. But don’t even think about it. Just lace up and head out the door. That’s all. After that, let nature take its course. Just relax and do what comes naturally. Which is exercise.
Join a race. Signing up for a 5K or a triathlon are my favorite motivators. It really gets me to do my workouts because if I don’t, I will look like a dork by collapsing 5 minutes after the starting gun goes off. But don’t worry about how you look — just go and have fun at these races — everyone else is worrying about themselves too much to notice you.
Get good gear. As a reward, get yourself some nice little gadgets — a sports mp3 player, a Polar heart rate monitor, a pedometer, a scale, a bike computer, whatever. Something cool that will make you look forward to your workouts.
Forget about the gear. Having said that, you don’t need any of that to actually work out. Just put on some cheap clothes and get out the door. Don’t let your lack of gear stop you, and for criminy’s sake, don’t go and buy all the gear before you actually start working out.
The 10 percent rule. Don’t increase your workout time or distance by more than 10 percent a week. This is a very conservative rule, and it can be broken by the best of the best, who know what they’re doing, but for the rest of us, stick with this to prevent burnout or injury.
Rest. It’s important. This is a commonly overlooked factor. If you don’t give your body some rest, you will burn out and get injured. Rest is just as important as the workouts in improving performance and fitness. As long as you’re doing the workouts too and not just the rest!
Hard, then easy. If you do a hard workout today, rest or go easy tomorrow. Don’t do two hard workouts in a row. The hard-easy approach can also work within a workout itself — run hard, then run slow, then run hard … you get the idea. This allows you to burn more fat than if you just run medium the whole time.
Listen to your body. This is extremely important — if you feel like you’re overdoing it, you probably are. Rest and allow your body to recover. And though you can run through some slight soreness or aches, you should stop as soon as you feel sharp pain or pain in the joints. You’ll just make it worse.
Strength is good. If you’re a walker or runner or cyclist or swimmer or something like that, you should also fit some strength training into your schedule. Nothing too intense, but just some core-strengthening exercises that will help your main sport as well as make you healthier and yes, more attractive.
Set goals. What are you trying to get out of your exercise? It’s good to know if you’re trying to build muscle or burn fat — because these are two competing goals. There are other goals, of course, but you should be clear what they are. Also, set goals for each week — what do you want to accomplish this week? Write it down, post it up, and see if you can meet them!
Take photos of yourself. Before and after photos. The best way to see your progress over time. But do it once a month, not every hour, you narcissist!
Workout first, diet later. If you’re just starting a workout plan, it’s best not to start a diet at the same time. Well, I don’t like diets in the first place, but still — one thing at a time. I’d prefer the workout first, and then worry about the diet after about a month of working out. You didn’t get fat overnight and you’re not getting skinny overnight either!
Star chart. Yeah, you know what these are. But they’re very motivating. Do a workout, put up a star. Fun!
Get a coach. You certainly don’t need one, but there’s nothing more motivating than a coach. Almost like a workout buddy, in that you are very likely to make the appointment, but less chatty and more knowledgeable. And if you’re going to learn swimming, a coach is a must. Yes, you can get a coach — there are master’s swimming classes at your local pool. Just sign up — they’re usually not that expensive.
Join the club. In my area, there is a great running club and a great cycling federation and triathlon federation. All of them sponsor races and Sunday rides and things like that where you can workout with a group and talk to more knowledgeable people. Well worth the small membership fee!
No pain … that’s good. Forget the old rule of “no pain, no gain”. You don’t need pain to get in shape. Just take it easy, progress gradually, and enjoy yourself.
Warm up. If you’re going to do any kind of exercise, don’t do it with your muscles cold. Gradually get your heart pumping and blood flowing. You’re less likely to injure yourself, and your workout will be more enjoyable.
On stretching. Sure, flexibility is important. But stretching out cold is a good way to get injured. If you’re going to stretch out before a workout, be sure to do so only after your warmup. Also, do not bounce. That’s another good way to tear your muscles. Do slow stretches and hold them without bouncing. Best of all: stretch after a workout, when your muscles are nice and loose.
Go for the long haul. Most of all, don’t think that you will become fit and healthy and sexy in one month. Think of exercise as a life-long habit, and your goals will come to you eventually. You’ll get there, my friend!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Early Riser: Three Quick Ways to Help Cure Insomnia

My question is this: you offer some great tips that actually work, but what does one do if one suffers from insomnia?

I ask this because it’s around 7:30 in the AM here in Georgia, and I’ve yet to sleep a wink. I went to bed at around one AM (we had company over till late) and couldn’t sleep. Usually, sketching or reading slows my heart rate and gets my mind in sleep mode (if I’m laying in bed anyway) but at least once a week–today, for instance–none of my tricks work, and I end up laying in bed staring at the ceiling all night.

This is a very good question, and as there are a number of causes of insomnia, I can’t give a definite answer. But actually, until about a year and a half ago, I had some bad problems with insomnia. Now I’m an early riser and I have no problems going to sleep at night. I can’t guarantee that these tips will work for everyone, but they definitely helped me:

Exercise. If you start to exercise and really tire out your body, you will be nice and exhausted when it comes time to go to bed. When I began running, especially longer distances (it took me awhile to build up to that, though), I would go to bed and welcome the sweet release of sleep. :)
Waking up early. In order to run, I began waking early, using the tips in the article you read. They worked, and the flip side of the equation is that I became so tired at night that after awhile, I just could not stay up late any more. If you begin waking up early, you might be tired for a few days … and eventually, you will be forced either to go to sleep earlier or wake up later. One or the other. The next tip helped me go to sleep earlier instead of sleeping in later.
Go to bed. If you’re tired, you can still stay up late if you’re watching TV or on the computer. It’s easy — I’ve done it a lot. But if you turn those things off and go to bed, and read in bed, you’ll probably fall asleep … if you’re really tired, from those two tips I gave above. Exercise and wake up early, and then go to bed and read. You’ll fall asleep.
This cure for insomnia, for me, didn’t work overnight. But I don’t think it took that long before it began to work. You can only go without adequate sleep for so long before your body and mind force you to catch up. So catch up by going to sleep earlier.

Another thing: when I began to sleep earlier and wake earlier, it threw my sleeping patterns off for awhile. It was a bit weird, and took a little while to adjust. But it was rewarding.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lifehack founder Leon Ho on success and staying focused

Leon Ho started one of the most popular productivity and self-development blogs on the Internet: Leon is a techie who lives in Brisbane, Australia, where he surfs Internet, enjoys his job on Linux, improves himself on management skills. Most of his time, he manages a team of software engineers on delivering internationalization support into Fedora Project and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Also see his linked profile for more.

1) What would you consider your greatest achievement in the last few years? Feel free to add other achievements or goals if you’d like.

Four years ago, one of my goals was transforming my day-job responsibility from software engineering to management, and improve myself in this new position. Two years ago, I was promoted to manager of a software engineering team. Since then I have pushed myself to the limit by learning different aspects of management. Some examples are: I went back to university and studied at night; regularly read books and materials; and founded to share my resources and consolidate my ideas. All of them went well and the results helps my job everyday. Another achievement is definitely the progress at

2) What was the key to achieving that success for you? Was there one thing, or were there a number of factors?

Being productive is definitely the key factor. Saving time on some aspects in my life definitely contributed a lot to my objective. Keeping persistent and an ability to finish what is started are probably another factor.

3) What are the essential habits that you’ve formed to help you achieve your goals?

For me, staying focused is an essential habit I need everyday. Without focus I would not have enough time to pursue what I want.

4) How often do you think about your goals, review them, and take action on them?

I review my long-term goals every half year to note down my progress, and re-align the goals if required. My habit of focus allows me to take action on them everyday. In fact, most of my tasks are directly contributing to my goals. If they are not, I review those tasks and see if I can use my time more wisely.

5) Describe how you overcome failure, how you pick yourself back up if you are struggling, and how you motivate yourself if your enthusiasm is lagging.

I always believe that failure is a step towards success. With that belief, I can move on and learn more from the mistakes I made, and make sure it will not happen again. Struggling on a task is tough and demotivating. If it happens, I usually will take a break from it, and then find other ways to solve the problem. That’s why motivation is the topic I am most interested in at Again, the most effective way to gain traction is reviewing my goals, and to create a clear link between the task that I am doing and how it can contribute to my goals. As I am a purpose-driven person, it gives me an urge to climb over the obstacle and complete the task.

6) Could you describe your productivity system and any productivity tips you have for people?

My system is pretty simple: I use Tasks and Calendar in my Palm Treo. Tasks is the central place to keep my todos with different contexts. Calendar is being used if I have a time sensitive task and it requires alerting (for instance, meeting). I also use a private wiki to keep track of my notes, and moleskine to draw diagrams and brainstorm ideas. For emails, I developed my own email organization system.

I recommend keeping your productivity system simple. Do not overcomplicate your process and workflow. Find new ways to optimize your productivity system once in a while. Change one thing at a time so that you can track its improvement.

7) Why did you start up, and what is the secret to your blog’s success?

I like to find and read content related to productivity and lifehacks. I usually spend one hour daily reading books and articles on the Internet. I think if I properly use time to find good content, those pointers will save people time as well. So that’s how was born – with a motivation of sharing good content and pointers. Secret? I probably don’t have one to its current status, but I do think constantly publishing good content daily is a major factor to the blog’s growth. As long as I remember, has at least one post every weekday since it was started two years ago.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Golden Goals series: Cyan Ta’eed of FreelanceSwitch on taking on more than you can handle

Eden Creative Communities co-founder Cyan Ta’eed is a woman of many talents. After working as a freelancer and running her own design agency, Cyan went on to help start a Flash community and more recently to grow the record breaking FreelanceSwitch blog where she dispenses advice, tips and help to other freelancers across the globe.

1) What would you consider your greatest achievement in the last few years? Feel free to add other achievements or goals if you’d like.

As it has only been relatively recently that I started really taking on reaching my goals, it has made the last few years a very exciting time with many achievements.

There have been so many things that I’m delighted about – I married an amazing man, I became a vegan, I started exploring my spiritual side, I made a connection with some truly wonderful people who also happened to be my clients, I worked with charities, and I feel as though I opened myself up a bit more in general!

The biggest professional achievement for me has been in starting Eden Creative Communities. With Eden we have been building two online communities – FlashDen and FreelanceSwitch.

It has always been our intention that we create online resources with a strong community element (hence the name of the company). It’s practical in a sense – for example if you have a forum on your site you get an amazing insight into your users. But it also makes a website so much stronger and connects people from totally different backgrounds. I don’t quite know how it happened but we have had the most amazing people seemingly drop in our lap. The result is that our communities are full of individuals who are warm, supportive and community minded.

To use FreelanceSwitch as an example, I have been barraged with emails from people suggesting resources for the community. Not for them. For the community. FlashDen on the other hand simply has the nicest forums I’ve ever been involved with. The guys on there are just wonderful people, plain and simple. This community helps one another and they collaborate in the most positive ways. I don’t quite know how we managed it, but being partly responsible for such a positive thing is absolutely fantastic. And being able to make a living doing it is even better.

I am also very fortunate to be in a position where I can do something I love every day, and do it with some fantastic people. I currently work with my husband Collis, brother-in law, and close friends. I get to keep the people I love around me all day long, and it is a very supportive environment to work in. We’ve had to take some big risks to make that happen but it looks like we pulled it off!

2) What was the key to achieving that success for you? Was there one thing, or were there a number of factors?

There wasn’t any one thing. There was a great deal of good luck and a lot of hard work. Something that made a huge difference to me was doing the Landmark Curriculum. It’s tough going and I can’t speak for other people’s experiences with it, but I found it to be a powerful experience. It helped me realize to the core of me that I could achieve anything I wanted if I worked hard enough. Not just intellectually know it but really know it. To truly understand that you are entirely responsible for your life and that there is no one else to blame is a very exciting thing once you get your head around it!

3) What are the essential habits that you’ve formed to help you achieve your goals?

I walk to and from work every day with Collis (it’s a short walk but at least it’s something). As we work together we can discuss what we’re up to and brainstorm new directions on the way.

I take a day off every week to think and get my energy back.

I write a new to-do list every morning, and mark the items in order of importance and urgency.

I read and read and read about the subjects I’m interested in. Some women buy clothes or shoes – I buy books.

I’m also working on meditating and visualizing regularly.

4) How often do you think about your goals, review them, and take action on them?

That is largely to do with how I happen to be feeling at the time! If I’m feeling fantastic and focussed then it might be every couple of weeks. If I’m feeling fuzzy, unmotivated and a bit low I know I need to take some time out and refocus my energies. I am lucky to be married to the most enthusiastic man in the world, who is only too happy to sit in a coffee shop with me discussing the future. I think everyone needs someone who takes all their crazy ideas seriously!

5) Describe how you overcome failure, how you pick yourself back up if you are struggling, and how you motivate yourself if your enthusiasm is lagging.

For me that goes back reminding myself that I believe that I alone am responsible for everything that is going on with me. I have the power to change anything I want if I’m willing to work hard enough for it. So it really is a matter of whether I am willing to do what needs to be done when problems arise! Knowing that means that I have no excuse to be a victim.

I’ve also realized my moods are very closely linked to how I’m eating. If I eat well (ie. Lots of raw fruit and vegetables and no wheat), I feel well. If I eat badly (white bread with soy cheese and faux-chicken) I feel bad. It scares me to realize just how closely my moods reflect the food I eat! So I find that if I eat well it is far easier to be in a positive frame of mind.

I also know that sometimes a day off will do me a world of good. Because we work for ourselves taking days off is both easy and hard. There’s no-one to answer to when you suddenly have the urge, but there’s also no-one to be responsible for the work except yourself.

6) Could you describe your productivity system and any productivity tips you have for people?

My productivity tip is perhaps not the most practical but it works for me!

Here it is: Take on more than you can possibly handle. I readily accept that this is many people’s idea of hell and that most people spend their time trying to get rid of projects. I just can’t help but get excited when I hear about a great project, no matter how impractical it might be for me at that time. If I’m excited about it I’ll somehow find time for it. But the fantastic side benefit is that I’m quite productive out of necessity and never bored!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Golden Goals series: Adam Pash of Lifehacker on writing code and determination

1) What would you consider your greatest achievement in the last few years? Feel free to add other achievements or goals if you’d like.

Definitely all the work I’ve done at Lifehacker. When I was hired on at Lifehacker in November ’05, we were less than a year old and still very much finding our place in the blogosphere. Over the last year and a half, we’ve really hit our stride, consistently putting out really strong content. Of that content, I’m most proud of the work we’ve done in our original weekly features, like my Hack Attack series.

This January, Gina Trapani and I, both big fans of simple scripts and software, decided to start programming our own stuff, and Lifehacker Code was born. Since Lifehacker Code started, we’ve cranked out about 10 different projects, from bookmarklets and Greasemonkey scripts to Firefox extensions and full-fledged Windows apps. My personal favorite of the bunch is Texter, a full-featured text replacement application.

Being able to give back to the software community after having taken advantage of all of the free offerings for so long feels great.

2) What was the key to achieving that success for you? Was there one thing, or were there a number of factors?

There were two huge contributing factors that helped me get to where I am now:

Knowing when to quit. I was working as a consultant my first year out of college, but I had no interest in what I was doing. After six months, I decided that the stability wasn’t worth the stress of a job I didn’t like, so I quit with a vague notion that I wanted to try my hand at writing. I started writing about digital music for, then upgraded the Lifehacker, which I then considered (and still do) to be one of the best blogs on the internet.
Interest and determination. I’ve always loved tinkering with technology, but until shortly before I started writing for Lifehacker, I didn’t know that much more than your average 20-something about it. But as soon as I started playing with the underpinnings of the technologies that interested me, I became engrossed.
I taught myself HTML and CSS building and designing a blog about six months before I started at Lifehacker. After, Gina helped me find some good resources for learning some PHP. Then I stumbled onto Autohotkey and have been nuts about scripting simple programs with that. Aside from that sort of relatively harder core stuff, I just love finding solutions for problems at the computer. Every time I find a new software or web site that solves a problem that I’ve struggled with, I’m always excited to dive in and write it up on Lifehacker, especially if its a feature-worthy topic.

3) What are the essential habits that you’ve formed to help you achieve your goals?

In general I suppose it’s been diligence (if that can be considered a habit). I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the Midwest or what, but when I moved to Los Angeles I realized that a lot of my competition was a bit lazy and didn’t seem to care that much about doing a good job. I was brought up with a very strong work ethic, so doing poor work gets under my skin. When I realized what an upper hand my work ethic gave me, I began to see how attainable my goals were.

4) How often do you think about your goals, review them, and take action on them?

Like most people, I probably don’t focus on my goals often enough, but I do try to review my goals at least once every two months.

5) Describe how you overcome failure, how you pick yourself back up if you are struggling, and how you motivate yourself if your enthusiasm is lagging.

It’s just a matter of accepting the failure, trying to figure out what went wrong and why, then deciding whether or not those factors were in my control. If they were, I can make a point not to make the same mistakes again. If not – well, sucks to that.

Despite my love of Lifehacker, enthusiasm can drain a little once you get your 200th email touting the greatest online todo list webapp. The great part of working somewhere like Lifehacker, though, is that if you’re turned off by one section of the life hacks territory, there’s always so much more to explore.

6) Could you describe your productivity system and any productivity tips you have for people?

Since I work at home, my system is pretty simple. I keep several text files as buckets for todo lists and whatnot, and I use Quicksilver on my Mac to quickly add todos/ideas/whatever to my lists. I don’t use a calendar that much, but when I do it’s Gcal (I’ve just started using it as a tickler for Gmail messages).

I keep a pen and paper next to me on my desk, with which I normally track my day’s todos. Something about physically marking something off my list that I will always enjoy. Finally, I keep a digital timer near by at all times for keeping track of and delegating time to tasks. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but it works for me.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Beginner’s Guide to Running

Are you just starting out as a runner, or is it something you’d like to do? From experience, I know that a beginner runner has a million questions and never enough answers. I won’t be able to answer every question here, but this should be a good starting point for anyone who wants to hit the roads.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified trainer, coach or running expert. I consider myself an intermediate runner (on the lower levels of intermediate), having spent all last year running, doing a marathon, some half marathons, 20Ks, 10Ks and 5Ks. But what I have to share is what I’ve learned along the way. Also, see a doctor before starting a new running program — I don’t want to be responsible for any heart attacks!

Most Important Advice
Many people, when the begin running, shoot for the stars. I was one of those. Let me tell you right now: hold yourself back, and start out slowly. Progress gradually. It takes some patience, but this is the best advice I can give you, and I know that it’s important because of experience.

It’s best to start out very easy, at a slow jog, and focus not on intensity but on how long you’re on the road. Start out with a small amount of time — 10 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on where you are — and run or walk/run comfortably the entire time. Do this for the entire first week, and even two weeks if you can stand it. Gradually increase your time until you can run 30 minutes.

From there, you can stay at 30 minutes or increase the amount of time you run gradually, every two weeks. But do not overdo it in the beginning!

Walk and Run Plan
If you are a true beginner, and cannot run for 10 minutes, you should start out with a walk/run plan. Here’s a good one to start with (do each one three times a week):

Week 1: Walk for 10 minutes. Jog slowly for 1 minute, and then walk for 1 minute. Repeat these 1/1 intervals for 10 minutes, or until you become uncomfortable. Walk for 5 minutes to cool down.
Week 2: Walk for 10 minutes. Jog slowly for 2 minutes, and then walk for 2 minutes. Repeat these 2/2 intervals for 10 minutes, or until you become uncomfortable. Walk for 5 minutes to cool down.
Week 3: Walk for 10 minutes. Jog slowly for 3 minutes, and then walk for 2 minutes. Repeat these 3/2 intervals for 15 minutes, or until you become uncomfortable. Walk for 5 minutes to cool down.
Week 4: Walk for 10 minutes. Jog slowly for 5 minutes, and then walk for 2 minutes. Repeat these 5/2 intervals for 20 minutes, or until you become uncomfortable. Walk for 5 minutes to cool down.
You get the picture. The idea is to gradually increase your running time until you can do 10 minutes straight. Then increase the 10 minutes to 12, and so on, each week, until you can eventually run for 30 minutes. Now you’re a runner!
Online forums
In the beginning, you’ll have a lot of questions and want to share your progress with others. An online forum is perfect for that. Join a forum or two, read as much as you can, introduce yourself, post your questions, post your weekly progress, and gain from the experience of others.

A few good forums to start with:

Cool Running forums
Runner’s World forums runner’s forums
Make it a habit
If you struggle with making running a regular habit, try doing it every single day at the same time. Habits are easiest to form if you do them consistently. This may sound contradictory to some of the advice above about starting slowly, but the key is to go very easy in the beginning — nothing that will stress your body out or make you sore the next day. Also, instead of running every day, you could swim or bike or do strength training, so that your running muscles are given a rest while you continue to form your exercise habit. See How to Make Exercise a Daily Habit for more.

Most important advice: just lace up your shoes, and get out the door. After that, it’s cake.

The importance of rest
Some runners try to go hard every single day. They are ignoring the truth about muscles — your muscles grow by giving them stress, and allowing them to rest after the stress so that they can grow. If you run hard every day, you will just continually break your muscles down, and improvement will be slow and difficult — and it could lead to burnout or injury.

It’s best to rest the day after a tough run, to allow your body to recover. Does this mean you should rest completely, with no running or exercise at all? Not necessarily. The important thing is that you don’t run hard two days in a row. But you can do a very easy, short run (or other type of easy exercise) in between harder runs and still allow your muscles to recover.

First 5K
One of the most motivating things in running is an upcoming race. I suggest you sign up for a 5K after a month or two of running, even if you don’t think you’re ready. Why? It will motivate you to keep running, so that you’re prepared to do the 5K.

Now, some people have a nervousness about signing up for a running race, because the other runners are so much better than them. Relax. There are plenty of very good runners in every race, but there are also many beginners. Don’t worry about the other runners. There’s usually so many people at a 5K that you won’t be noticed. And don’t be afraid to walk or run/walk. Many, many other people do. Just run your own race, and most importantly, have fun! It’s a blast.

On manners: do not start out a race in the front, unless you think you can win it. Slower runners should start in the back, or they get in everyone’s way. Also, stay to the right, so people can pass you. Try to be courteous, and not push or cut someone off. Watch out when you spit — you might hit someone behind you. Same thing with snotrockets. And when you beat that little 11-year-old girl at the finish line, it’s best not to point at her and yell “Loser!” repeatedly. Trust me. I speak from experience.

Once you do your first 5K, you’ll be hooked. That’s a warning.

So what do you need to run? Well, running shorts, shirt and shoes, basically. Women will need a sports bra (get a good one, trust me). Should you go out and buy the best running clothes and shoes possible, even before your first run? No, it’s not really necessary. You can get started running with any pair of comfortable sneakers and any shorts and T-shirt.

But once you really get into it, you’ll want to buy some real running clothes — breathable fibers, with some comfortable underwear built in (not cotton!) so you don’t chafe. A running shirt is also good. If you live in cold weather, you’ll need some breathable clothes to put over your shorts and shirt. I live in the tropics, so I can’t advise you here.

Most important: good running shoes. This is the most important running equipment, because it can not only make running more comfortable, but also prevent injury. My advice is to go to an actual running store, where there will be knowledgeable people who can watch you run and tell you what kind of shoe you need (overpronator, supinator, neutral, etc.). If they don’t watch you run, they don’t know what they’re doing. Get out and find a better store. Or do your own research online and learn all about it.

Other things that you might consider, but that aren’t completely necessary:

Reflectors and flashing lights if you run when it’s still dark.
Body glide, or Vaseline, applied in the crotch, underarms, and anywhere you might chafe — really only important for longer runs.
Heart Rate Monitor: Best ones are by Polar. You can get fancy ones, with GPS built in, or just a simple one that tells you your heart rate. This is useful if you do HR training, which is a way of optimizing your training. Probably not necessary for beginners.
Mp3 player: Also not necessary, but pretty cool and can add some inspiration to your running. However, if you run on the road, headphones can be dangerous, as you might not hear traffic coming your way.
Fuel belt or Camelback: A way to keep yourself hydrated while you run. Not necessary for short runs. Also, for longer runs (60 mins or more), I just place water bottles along my route.
I can’t advise you here, as I’m not a trainer. But most of the time, you don’t have to worry about this. Just try not to fall down. One thing to watch out for is how tense your upper body is — try to relax your shoulders, relax your hands, relax everything but the muscles needed to propel your body forward. The reason is that you may be using extra energy (and tire yourself out faster) if you’re running with your fists clenched, for example.

Later, after you get past the beginning stage, you can worry about stride length or turnover rate. But for now, just worry about getting out there.

I also can’t advise you on injuries. Unless you have sharp pains, or pain in the joints, you should be able to run through minor aches. But if you have anything sharp, or your joints feel injured, stop running. You could make it worse.

The runner’s best friend is ice, and rest. In fact, it’s good to ice your muscles and joints down after every run, if you can. It helps with the healing process. Aspirin or Ibuprofen are also good tools, also to help stop inflammation.

Going beyond beginner
Once you’ve gotten a few 5Ks under your belt, and have been running for a few months, you’ll want to start a real training plan and progress to the next level. Training plans are available online for free (see some of the sites below).

Good articles and sites

Sunday, March 9, 2014

How to Never Lose a Thing Again

Recently I posted my new twist on the excellent GTD system, Zen To Done (ZTD): The Ultimate Simple Productivity System. This is the sixth in a series of posts exploring each of the 10 Habits

This is one of the oldest organizing truisms around, but it is probably the most important of all: a place for everything, and everything in its place.

Why is it so popular? Because it works. Read below to find out how to form this habit and never lose a thing again.

ZTD Habit 6: organize — a place for everything.

Are there papers scattered all over your desk? Do you look for your car keys every day? Do you know, at this moment, where every single thing in your life is?

Your life can be completely organized with one single rule: put everything in its home. It’s a habit I’m trying to teach to my kids, so I don’t have to keep picking up after them all the time, and because it’s one of the most useful habits I’ve ever formed.

Here’s how to do it:

Have a system. Put all incoming papers in your inbox (at work and home). Process that inbox, either doing the tasks, putting them on a to-do list (and in an action folder), filing them, forwarding them, or trashing them. With this system, there’s never any question as to what to do — you’ve got a limited set of options.
Find a home: If you’re about to put something down on your countertop, or table, or desk, or toss it on your couch or bed, think about this: is that where it belongs? Where is it’s home? If it doesn’t already have a home, find one. Designate a spot for that item or type of item. Car keys? Have one place where you put the keys, all the time. Dirty clothes? They don’t go on your bed. Handcuffs? Put them in that special box in your closet marked “Taxes”.
Simple filing system: Once you’ve processed papers out of your inbox, you’ll need a place to put them if you need to reference them later. Don’t have a bunch of files stacked somewhere — create a simple filing system (alphabetical is easiest, although you could sort by hexadecimal instead if you’re a geek). Always have blank labels and folders on hand so you can quickly make a new file if needed, and don’t be afraid to make new files. Never have a Miscellaneous file. You might as well call it the Procrastination file.
Put it away immediately. Yes, I know, you were going to put it away later. It’s just sitting there until you can get to it. Well, after awhile, “later” creates piles and messes. Don’t wait until later. Do it now!
Make it a habit. Putting things where they belong is not something that’s going to happen overnight. You’ll forget, or get lazy. To really make it stick, you need to focus on that habit for 30 days. Do a 30-day challenge, concentrating your energy on it until it becomes automatic.
Pay attention to transitions. The time between when you’re doing one thing and when you’re doing the next thing is a transition. This is the time when you should put stuff away where it belongs and clean up your mess, but it’s also a time when we’re not thinking about that stuff and only thinking about what we’re going to do next (or the next episode of Gilmore Girls). While you’re working on your Everything In Its Place habit, pay close attention to transitions. Awareness of these transitions will make it easier to remember to put things away.
Keep flat surfaces clear. Never toss something on a countertop, table, desktop, bed, dresser top, coffee table, or the floor. If you do, catch yourself, and find another home for it. In fact, while you’re at it, clear off all these flat surfaces, tossing half the stuff and finding homes for the rest. Ahhh! Isn’t that nice? Who knew there was a desk under there?
Label. These are the organizer’s best friend. Have a label maker on hand, or at least some blank labels, and label containers or boxes, so you know the home of everything. I tried labeling my wife and kids but they didn’t take well to it.
Evaluate. Every now and then, it’s good to review your organization of everything. Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to have something in one room when you usually use it in another. Sometimes, it’s good to get three pairs of scissors if you use them frequently in three different rooms. Sometimes you need to declutter or re-organize a drawer or closet. Revisiting these things periodically will help keep things together.
If you ever lose a thing again, go back to the above tips, and work on them some more. If you never lose a thing again, think about how much time and money you’ve saved. If that happens, feel free to send me a check.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

How to Make Exercise a Daily Habit

Recently my friend and fellow blogger Scott Young did a great post entitled, “New to exercise? Make workouts daily“. It was an excellent post, and perfectly timed as it mirrors my own recent efforts at making exercise a daily habit.

The problem with trying to make exercise a habit, and it’s something that we’ve all faced, is that you usually try to exercise 3 or 4 times a week … and that makes creating a new exercise habit difficult. The reason is that the more consistent an action is, the more likely it is to be a habit.

Therefore, as Scott points out, and it’s something I fully agree with, exercising every day is more likely to result in a habit — something that becomes almost automatic, and much easier, instead of a constant struggle.

I’ve been implementing this idea in my daily life recently, alternating every day between different exercises: running, swimming, biking and strength workouts, as a way of reaching my goal of completing an Olympic-distance triathlon this year. I’m going to continue this habit change into the month of May. I made daily running a habit last year, when I was training for my first marathon, but this year I stopped when I got sick, so I’m re-starting the habit formation.

If you’re going to make this a habit, do a 30-day Challenge, and by the end of the challenge your habit should be pretty well ingrained. Here are some practical suggestions I’ve learned along the way to help make exercise a daily habit:

Set a time. Decide whether you’re more likely to stick with it in the morning or lunchtime or evening, and stick with that time. I’ve set the time of 5:30 a.m. every day, and I’m trying my best not to vary from that time. If you don’t set a time, you’re more likely to put it off until you have more time or energy, and then put it off until the next day. Soon, it’s not a habit at all.
Send yourself a reminder. I use Memo to Me, but there are a number of ways to send yourself an email or text reminder, so you’ll never forget. Then, when you get the reminder, do it right away. Don’t brook any delays.
Start small. This is perhaps the most useful suggestion of all. When I start exercising, I always start with lots of energy, enthusiasm and ambition. I think I can do more than I can. However, doing too much in the beginning leads to burnout, which leads to quitting your habit. When you first try to make exercise a daily habit, chances are, your body won’t be used to that kind of stress. The key: only do 20 minutes in the beginning, and do it nice and easy. Nothing hard. Even 10-15 minutes is fine at first, if you’re just starting out. The key is to get out there, get your body slowly used to daily exercise, and form that habit.
Progress later. Once your body is used to daily exercise, you can slowly start to increase the amount and intensity of your exercise. Wait at least two weeks before starting to increase — that’s the minimum your body needs to adjust. Once it begins to feel way too easy, you can start increasing the length of your workouts, to 30 and then 40 minutes, and eventually up to an hour. Once you do that, you can gradually increase the intensity — running faster or harder, for example. Try not to increase both distance and intensity at the same time.
Make it pleasurable. If you associate a habit with pain, you will shy away from it. But if it’s fun, you’ll look forward to doing it. That’s why, in this beginning stage of my new habit, I’ve been focusing on pleasure. I go slowly, enjoying the scenery, the fresh morning air, the beautiful sky as the sun rises, the quiet time of solitude and contemplation. It’s actually something I enjoy doing. An mp3 player with some great music helps.
Lay out your gear. The fewer obstacles and less friction there is in forming your new habit, the more likely you are to be successful. If you have to not only wake up early but get a bunch of gear together while half awake, you might just want to go back into bed. But if you lay out your workout clothes and shoes and watch and mp3 player, or whatever you need for your exercise, you’ll be ready to go with no friction at all.
Just head out the door. My rule is just to get my running shoes on and get out the door. I don’t worry about how long I have to go or how hard it will be. Just get out and get started. Once I’ve done that, it’s a piece of cake.
Mix it up. One thing I like about triathlon training is that daily exercise isn’t boring — instead of running every single day, now I’ve got a variety of sports to do, and that makes it much more interesting. But perhaps just as important is that with each sport, I’m using different muscles, especially with swimming. Sure, some of the same muscles are used, but they’re used differently with different stresses on them. What that means is that I’m not pounding the same muscles, every day. That gives them a chance to recover, because without recovery, you’re just breaking your muscles down over and over.
Have a relative rest day. Again, recovery is very important. Which is why you need to give your body a chance to rest. If you’re taking it easy, and only doing 20 minutes, you should be OK without rest days. But it’s still good to have one day of rest, where you’re not doing the same exercises as the other six days. You don’t want to skip the day completely, because then you’re not being consistent with your habit. That’s why I do one day of strength training, where I don’t use the same muscles as swimming, biking and running. If you need more rest, you could just do 20 minutes of walking, or even just a session of meditation. The key is to do something every day, preferably something that gets you moving (meditation isn’t the best example, but at least you’d be doing something) and keeps your habit formation going.
Don’t skip a day. It’s easy to say, “No problem, I’ve been doing it for five days … I’ll just skip today!” But that will make your habit formation harder. Consistency is key, so try not to skip a single day. If you do, don’t beat yourself up, don’t judge, don’t feel bad — everyone messes up sometimes, and habit formation is a skill that requires practice. Just start your 30-day challenge over again, and try to identify the obstacle that led to your skipping a day and prepare for it this time.

Friday, March 7, 2014

12 Ways to Decompress after High Stress

The last couple of days were just crazy for me. My days were jam-packed with activity, meetings, people stopping in to see me, hundreds of emails, phone calls and messages, one project after another. I am usually able to maintain calm and focus in the midst of a workday, but the last two days put my abilities to a test. I stayed calm, but the stress levels were definitely higher than I care for.

After all that, I needed to decompress.

So today is a decompression day for me. I have a number of tried-and-true methods that work for me, and I have to say, in the last 24 hours, my stress levels have dropped dramatically.

Here’s what works for me:

Deep breathing. Take a deep breath. Hold it. Now let it out … slowly. Try counting to 10 as you let out your breath. Feel the tension and stress flowing out of you with your breath. Repeat 3-10 times, as necessary.
Self-massage. I like to massage my shoulders, neck, head, lower back. It helps a lot. Even better: get your honey to do it for you! Another great relaxation technique is to tense up and then relax each muscle in your body, one at a time, starting from your toes up to your head.
Take a walk. When I’m in the middle of stress, I like to take 5, and take a walk around the building. I also do the deep breathing and self-massage mentioned above as I do so. It’s a great way of letting go of tension and allowing yourself to re-focus.
Exercise. This morning, I went to the beach at 5:30 a.m. and went for a swim. It was beautiful at the beach at around sunrise, and the swim was invigorating. Yesterday I went for a bike ride, and the morning before it was a short but refreshing run. Tomorrow I think I’ll do another short run. It really gets the stress out of your system and gives you some quiet time to think when you exercise.
Get outdoors. Even if I didn’t do the swim, just being there at the beach, with my decaf coffee (I quit caffeine, remember?), was calming. It’s nice to connect with nature and take in the beauty around you. While you’re there, stretch, yawn, take some deep breaths, and enjoy.
Sex. One of the all-time greats. It works like a charm. Seriously. It’s probably the best on the list. (Sorry, mom.)
Take a day off. That’s what I’m doing today. Don’t tell my boss. I have lots of vacation and sick leave saved up, so it’s not a problem, actually. I’m just going to veg out and allow myself to calm down and center.
Meditate. You don’t need to be trained to have a short, relaxing meditation session. Just sit somewhere quiet, close your eyes, relax, and focus on your breathing. Try to concentrate on it coming into your body, and then going out. When other things pop into your head (they will, inevitably), just acknowledge them (don’t try to force them out) and allow them to leave, and then focus again on your breathing. Do this for as long as you can, and then take a couple of cleansing breaths, and get up a new person.
Read. I like to throw myself on the couch with a good book. Well, not necessarily a good book — a page-turner. Something that will engross me completely, take my mind off everything else. John Grisham works well for me, as does William Gibson. And Terry Pratchett. Or Ann Patchett, for that matter. And Stephen King. Just get lost in their world.
Love. I like to spend time with my kids or my wife. Just snuggle with them, focus on them, forget about the world. They are all that’s important, and sometimes I need that reminder.
Disconnect. Turn off the phones, turn off the computer, and shut off the outside world for a little while. These things just raise your stress level. Go offline and forget about the online world! You can do it! Except for Zen Habits. That’s the only blog you’re allowed to read when you decompress.
Take a nap. One of my favorites. Just take a 30-minute nap, and you’re re-set! A nap is like a restart button for life.