Sunday, February 9, 2014

How to Make Your Finances Automagical

If you’re like me, you dread paying bills. It’s not fun, it takes time away from reading your precious blogs (like Zen Habits, of course!), and it’s repetitive, as it happens every week or two or four. You might already be doing this, but if not, I recommend putting your finances on autopilot.

Warning: you’ll still have to do regular checks on your system to make sure things are sailing smoothly, but this system can make things much more painless.

The System
Every payday, your paycheck is automatically deposited in your bank account (right?). Once you’ve got this system set up, your savings will be automagically transferred to your high-interest savings account (pay yourself first!), then your bills will be automagically paid online. Voila! Now you just need money for gas, groceries, miscellaneous expenses, and a bit o’ mad money — and for these, I recommend cash (although a debit card is possible).

Sound easy? It is. It just takes a little bit of setup, and you’re good to go.

Here are the steps to make your finances automagical:

First, make sure your paycheck is automatically deposited into your bank account. Most companies offer this. If yours doesn’t, you’ll have to go to the bank. I’ve already forgotten where mine is.
Open a high-interest online savings account, if you don’t already have one. Some popular ones are ING Direct, Emigrant Direct, and HSBC Direct. They pay like 4x what a regular bank pays, with no fees, and all transactions can be made online.
Setup an automatic savings transfer to be made from your checking to your online savings account, every two weeks, the day after your payday (to be safe). This is an easy setup process offered from your online savings account. You’ll have to do a quickie budget to figure out how much you can afford for savings, if you haven’t already. But it’s simple: just list out all your monthly expenses, including regular and irregular bills, savings, a few basic spending categories like gas, groceries and spending, and subtract those amounts from your income. For this step, you could also set up a transfer to a money market account or other investment vehicle.
Setup your bills to be automatically paid. This will be the longest process, but it’s not hard. Just look at every bill, go to your bank’s online site, and set up online payments for them. For some, the payments can be made electronically, and for others you’ll have to have your bank send a check. Set up half your bills to be paid after one of your paychecks (every four weeks) and the other half to be paid after your other paycheck (every four weeks).
Get Yo Cash. The remainder that’s left after savings and bills is your spending cash
– for gas, groceries, and miscellaneous spending. I recommend you withdraw this as cash and separate them into three (or more) envelopes, each labeled with its spending category. That way, you can see if it’s running low and spend accordingly. You could, alternatively, use a debit card (avoid checks and especially credit cards!) for these categories, but it’s harder to remember how much you have left in each category, and so it’s easier to overspend. This fifth step would be easier if you could have the bank mail you your cash. As it is, I have to actually go to an ATM!
Monitor. You can’t just let the system go without monitoring it. I log in to my banking account about once a week to make sure all the bills are paid correctly, and that everything’s sailing smoothly.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Zen To Done (ZTD): The Ultimate Simple Productivity System

“It’s about the habits and the doing, not the system or the tools.”

In order to capture the essentials of being productive & organized, while keeping things as simple as possible, I’ve developed my own productivity system: Zen To Done (ZTD).

ZTD captures the essential spirit of the new system: that of simplicity, of a focus on doing, in the here and now, instead of on planning and on the system.

If you’ve been having trouble with GTD, as great as it is, ZTD might be just for you. It focuses on the habit changes necessary for GTD, in a more practical way, and it focuses on doing, on simplifying, and on adding a simple structure. Read on for more.

ZTD attempts to address five problems that many people have with GTD. I should note that GTD isn’t really flawed, and doesn’t really need modification, but everyone is different, and ZTD is a way to customize it to better fit different personality types.

ZTD addresses five problems people have with GTD:

1) GTD is a series of habit changes. This is the main reason why people fall off the GTD system — it’s a bunch of habit changes that are attempted all at once. If you’ve read Zen Habits long enough, you know that focusing on one habit at a time is best, and guarantees the most success. In addition, GTDers don’t apply proven habit-change methods (the ones I talk about on this site) to change their habits.

Solution: ZTD focuses on one habit at a time. You don’t have to try to adopt the entire system at once — it’s overwhelming and it’s too hard to focus on your habit changes if you do too many at a time. Instead, focus on one at a time, and adopt the system in phases. Use proven habit-changing methods (commitment, rewards, motivation hacks, etc.) to successfully adopt each new habit.

2) GTD doesn’t focus enough on doing. While it’s called Getting Things Done, often what we end up doing most of the time is Getting Things in Our Trusted System. The book, while presenting an excellent system, focuses more on the capturing and processing stages than it does on the actual doing stage.

Solution: ZTD focuses more on doing — and how to actually complete your tasks, in a simple, stress-free manner.

3) GTD is too unstructured for many people. This can be one of the brilliant things about GTD — its lack of structure, its in-the-moment decision making about what to do next — but it can also be a huge source of confusion for many people. Some people need more structure in their day, and GTD can be disorienting. Different people have different styles.

Solution: ZTD offers a couple of habits to address this: the plan habit, where you simply plan your three MITs for the day and your Big Rocks for the week, and the routine habit, where you set daily and weekly routines for yourself. These habits, like all the habits of ZTD, are optional. If they don’t work for you, don’t adopt them. But for many people, they will compliment the other great parts of GTD perfectly.

4) GTD tries to do too much, which ends up stressing you out. GTD doesn’t discriminate among all the incoming stuff in your life, which again is part of its beauty. But the problem is that we put everything on our lists, and end up being overloaded. We try to do everything on our lists. This isn’t really a problem with GTD, but a problem with how we implement it. But it should be addressed.

Solution: ZTD focuses on simplifying. Take as much stuff off your plate as possible, so you can focus on doing what’s important, and doing it well.

5) GTD doesn’t focus enough on your goals. GTD is purposely a bottom-up, runway-level system. While it does talk about higher levels, it doesn’t really go into it much. As a result, GTD is more focused on doing whatever comes at you rather than doing what you should be doing — the important stuff.

Solution: ZTD, as mentioned above, asks you to identify the big things you want to do for the week and for the day. Another habit in ZTD is for you to review your goals each week, as a way of staying focused on them throughout the year. GTD contains an element of this, but ZTD extends it.

Again, GTD is a brilliant system, and works very well. But ZTD takes some of the problems that people have in implementing it, and adapts it for real life.

The 10 Habits of ZTD
Each of these habits should be learned and practiced one at a time if possible, or 2-3 at a time at the most. Focus on your habit change for 30 days, then move on to the next. The order listed below is just a suggestion — you can adopt them in whatever order works best for you, and you don’t need to adopt all 10 habits. Experiment and find the ones that work best with your working style. Habits 1-8 are the most essential, but I suggest you give Habits 9-10 serious consideration too. I will expand on each of these 10 habits in future posts.

1 collect. Habit: ubiquitous capture. Carry a small notebook (or whatever capture tool works for you) and write down any tasks, ideas, projects, or other information that pop into your head. Get it out of your head and onto paper, so you don’t forget it. This is the same as GTD. But ZTD asks you to pick a very simple, portable, easy-to-use tool for capture — a small notebook or small stack of index cards are preferred (but not mandated), simply because they are much easier to use and carry around than a PDA or notebook computer. The simpler the tools, the better. When you get back to your home or office, empty your notes into your to-do list (a simple to-do list will work for now — context lists can come in a later habit). Read more.

2 process. Habit: make quick decisions on things in your inbox, do not put them off. Letting stuff pile up is procrastinating on making decisions. Process your inboxes (email, physical, voicemail, notebook) at least once a day, and more frequently if needed. When you process, do it from the top down, making a decision on each item, as in GTD: do it (if it takes 2 minutes or less), trash it, delegate it, file it, or put it on your to-do list or calendar to do later. See Getting Your Email to Empty and Keeping Your Desk Clear for more.

3 plan. Habit: set MITs for week, day. Each week, list the Big Rocks that you want to accomplish, and schedule them first. Each day, create a list of 1-3 MITs (basically your Big Rocks for the day) and be sure to accomplish them. Do your MITs early in the day to get them out of the way and to ensure that they get done.

4 do (focus). Habit: do one task at a time, without distractions. This is one of the most important habits in ZTD. You must select a task (preferably one of your MITs) and focus on it to the exclusion of all else. First, eliminate all distractions. Shut off email, cell phone, Internet if possible (otherwise just close all unnecessary tabs), clutter on your desk (if you follow habit 2, this should be pretty easy). Then, set a timer if you like, or otherwise just focus on your task for as long as possible. Don’t let yourself get distracted from it. If you get interrupted, write down any request or incoming tasks/info on your notepad, and get back to your task. Don’t try to multi-task. See How NOT to Multi-Task for more.

5 simple trusted system. Habit: keep simple lists, check daily. Basically the same as GTD — have context lists, such as @work, @phone, @home, @errands, @waiting, etc. ZTD suggests that you keep your lists as simple as possible. Don’t create a complicated system, and don’t keep trying out new tools. It’s a waste of time, as fun as it is. Either use a simple notebook or index cards for your lists, or use the simplest list program possible. You don’t need a planner or a PDA or Outlook or a complicated system of tags. Just one list for each context, and a projects list that you review either daily or weekly. Linking actions to both projects and contexts is nice, but can get too complicated. Keep it simple, and focus on what you have to do right now, not on playing with your system or your tools.

6 organize. Habit: a place for everything. All incoming stuff goes in your inbox. From there, it goes on your context lists and an action folder, or in a file in your filing system, in your outbox if you’re going to delegate it, or in the trash. Put things where they belong, right away, instead of piling them up to sort later. This keeps your desk clear so you can focus on your work. Don’t procrastinate — put things away.

7 review. Habit: review your system & goals weekly. GTD’s weekly review is great, and ZTD incorporates it almost exactly, but with more of a focus on reviewing your goals each week. This is already in GTD, but isn’t emphasized. During your weekly review, you should go over each of your yearly goals, see what progress you made on them in the last week, and what action steps you’re going to take to move them forward in the coming week. Once a month, set aside a little more time to do a monthly review of your goals, and every year, you should do a yearly review of your year’s goals and your life’s goals.

8 simplify. Habit: reduce your goals & tasks to essentials. One of the problems with GTD is that it attempts to tackle all incoming tasks. But this can overload us, and leave us without the necessary focus on the important tasks (MITs). So instead, ZTD asks you to review your task and project lists, and see if you can simplify them. Remove everything but the essential projects and tasks, so you can focus on them. Simplify your commitments, and your incoming information stream. Be sure that your projects and tasks line up with your yearly and life goals. Do this on a daily basis (briefly, on a small scale), during your weekly review, and your monthly review.

9 routine. Habit: set and keep routines. GTD is very unstructured, which can be both a strength and a weakness. It’s a weakness for some people because they need more structure. Try the habit of creating routines to see if it works better for you. A morning routine (for example) could include looking at your calendar, going over your context lists, setting your MITs for the day, exercising, processing email and inboxes, and doing your first MIT for the day. An evening routine could include processing your email and inboxes (again), reviewing your day, writing in your journal, preparing for the next day. Weekly routines could include an errands day, a laundry day, financial day, your weekly review, family day, etc. It’s up to you — set your own routines, make them work for you.

10 find your passion. Habit: seek work for which you’re passionate. This could be your last habit, but at the same time your most important. GTD is great for managing the tasks in your life, and trying not to procrastinate on them. But if you’re passionate about your work, you won’t procrastinate — you’ll love doing it, and want to do more. The habit to form here is to constantly seek things about which you’re passionate, and to see if you can make a career out of them when you find them. Make your life’s work something you’re passionate about, not something you dread doing, and your task list will almost seem like a list of rewards.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Practical Tips to Practice Being Present

This guest post is from fellow PBN blogger Nneka from Balanced Life Center, a blog dedicated to helping you apply spiritual principles to life. If you’re interested in more about being present, meditation, or spiritual principals, please go to her blog and read more. She’s got some great stuff there.

Hi Zen Habiters, no, I’m not Leo. I’m Nneka (eN-Nay-Kah), and I wrote an article one day about the benefits of the Life Transformation Program and listed being present as a benefit. Your resident blogger asked me to expand on the idea and I volunteered to do it here.

I know you guys are serious about getting practical tips that you can turn into habits. So here are a few habits that you can practice to become present:

Pay Attention – When you have idle time at a stop light or in a line at the grocery, for example, pay attention. Instead of letting your mind run ahead of you thinking about the route to your destination and possible traffic delays, or the list of errands that have to be completed after the grocery run, take a moment to pay attention. Turn off the radio in the car, roll down the windows and witness the traffic going in the cross direction, the jogger getting his morning run, the trees dancing in the wind, listen to the birds chirp, and the rustling of leaves. You only have to do it for a few moments, but it’s a good start.
Observe – Next time you’re in a meeting, observe what is going on. It’s a bit more than paying attention in duration. Paying attention is on a trigger basis. Observation is like watching a movie on a screen. Watch the players in action. Watch the body language. Listen for intonations. Do not speak. This can be a very powerful tool as you sit and take in everything that is playing out. You have nothing at stake in the grand scheme of things, but watch as you are able to respond perfectly when questioned. You will be surprised.
Breathe – When you’re ready to go beyond moments and minutes, try paying attention to your breath before you drift off to sleep. Before you drift off to sleep, spend 15 minutes paying attention to the rise and fall of your belly. If you feel yourself drifting off to sleep, or notice that your mind has wondered, gently bring it back to your belly. You could even put a book on it and watch it rise and fall.
Meditate – You can now begin to establish a sitting practice. It is the practice of sitting still for about 30 minutes in silence. Let your thoughts go. When you realize that your mind is chasing your thoughts, bring it back to your breath. Just be still. Nothing to do or think about. Nothing to ponder, just be.
You can practice being present from the bottom of the list to the top also, but I find that it’s easy to go with small steps. Soon, you will begin to be aware in what you are actively doing. If you are cooking, don’t think about what comes next, pay attention to what you are chopping now. When you are present, your life energy is infused into all that you do, from writing code for your website, to singing a lullaby to your child, to having dinner with a friend.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Secret Habit to Success

We’ve talked about forming habits here on Zen Habits — it’s one of the central themes to this site [habits into goals, bad habits into good ones, motivate yourself to create habits, develop clean house habits, keeping track of them]. But forming habits is a skill that takes practice, and as with any skill, it’s best to start with the very basics, at the smallest and easiest level, and practice it until you’re good at it before moving on to more difficult levels.

Let’s get back to the most basic level possible: working on the habit of forming habits.

In Og Mandino’s self-help classic, The Greatest Salesman in the World, one of his more powerful concepts is how to form good habits:

I will form good habits and become their slave.

I will read each scroll for thirty days in this prescribed manner, before I proceed to the next scroll.

First, I will read the words in silence when I arise. Then, I will read the words in silence after I have partaken of my midday meal. Last, I will read the words again just before I retire at day’s end, and most important, on this occasion I will read the words aloud.

On the next day I will repeat this procedure, and I will continue in like manner for thirty days. Then, I will turn to the next scroll and repeat this procedure for another thirty days. I will continue in this manner until I have lived with each scroll for thirty days and my reading has become habit.

So basically, the habit is to read from the 10 Scrolls for 30 days each, morning, noon and night — but the challenging part is holding back so you only do one scroll per month. And the first month, you focus on the process of forming those good habits.

If you draw from that powerful concept, and start by first teaching yourself how to form a habit, and then focus on one habit for each of the following months, you will be more successful with each habit.

So here’s the secret: for the first month’s habit, you need to develop the discipline of reading a mantra morning, noon and night – the First Habit. It can be a mantra you write yourself, or one that I suggest below. If you can stick to that habit for a month, you can build on that success and start with a second habit — staying with another small one is best. Each month, you can work on a new habit, focusing on only one per month. But the key is to have the patience to work on only that First Habit for the first month.

Most of us have a bunch of habits we’d like to instill in our daily routine — from eating healthy, to exercise, reading, writing, waking early, organization, frugality and more — and it’s hard not to try to conquer them all at once. But if you can do this, and hold off on those habits until you’ve accomplished this one, you’ll have a much, much greater chance of success at all of them. Having the patience to do this won’t be easy, but remember: you have your entire life ahead of you. If you follow this program, and you’re successful, you’ll have eight more habits developed by the end of this year (starting with your next habit in May), and 12 more the next year, and so on. It’s worth the wait.

So how do you implement this First Habit? Here’s the plan:

Commit Thyself. Commit to doing this First Habit for the rest of this month (or if you’re starting late, do it for 30 days).
Morning Habit. Every morning, when you wake up, silently read this mantra (borrowed in part from reader Ann M., and in part from Og Mandino): “Today, I start a new life. Today, I create a new, positive habit. The only difference between those who have failed and those who have succeeded lies in the difference of their habits. Good habits are the key to all success. Thus, the first law I will obey is: I will form good habits and become their slave. Today, I take control of my actions and behaviors. With these, I create my life and destiny.”
Midday Habit. Every day after you eat lunch, silently read the above mantra.
Evening Habit. Every evening, just before you go to bed, read the above mantra out loud.
Tracking Habit. Create a chart or log, and each day give yourself a checkmark, gold star, or other such mark so that you can see that you’ve done the habit every single day. Don’t miss a day, no matter what — if you can do it every day, without fail, you will have create a 3x-a-day habit that you can use to build upon for your next habit.
Future Habits. Make a list of what habits you’d like to work on each month, once you’ve successfully completed the First Habit.
Motivation Hacks. If possible, use as many of the Top 20 Motivation hacks to help you stick to your habit for the rest of the month.
Celebration Time! Celebrate your successes along the way, and celebrate when you’re done!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Financial Zen: How to Get Financial Peace of Mind

It’s a fact: our finances are one of the things in our lives that stress us out the most. If we’re trying for a stress-free life — with stress-free productivity, working and living environments, waking early, morning routines and the like — then we need to address our finances and find routines that will keep the stress of money to a minimum.

First, identify the financial stressors in your life. For many people, these include: worries about debt, paying bills late, not having a financial security net, not having a sense of control over your finances, and arguments over finances.

Let’s address these each with some simple solutions:

Get out of debt. This is often the first necessary step. But how do you do this? First, monitor your impulse spending urges to stop the bleeding. Use a debt snowball as a plan to get out of debt. Also see: How I save, How to stop living from paycheck-to-paycheck, and How I ended my affair with the credit card.
Pay your bills as soon as they come in. This is one of the easiest ways to eliminate stress over bills. When you get your power bill, write a check, put it in an envelope, and mail it the next day. Or if you bank online (and you should), go to your computer, log in, and send your electronic payment. To do this, you’ll need to develop a bit of a cushion in your bank account, so you always have enough to pay the bills as they come in.
Make your payments automatic. I’ve covered this before … it’s an great alternative to the above method. Instead of paying bills as they come in, you can set up automatic payments and automatic savings payments online, so that as soon as your paycheck comes in, your bills get send out and a certain amount is transferred to savings (or investments). Either method works great.
Develop a financial security net. This is something you should also do right away. First, if you are married or have any dependents, you should get life insurance right away. Do your research and make sure you’re getting the right policy for your needs. Don’t get whole life insurance — it’s not the smartest investment. Second, look at your other insurance to see if it meets your needs, from auto to homeowners to renters and more. Third, make sure you have a will — this might not seem necessary if you are young, but if you have any dependents, this is a must. Fourth, develop an emergency fund — right away. I know, it’s something that everyone advises, but if you don’t have at least a small emergency fund, you will never have financial peace of mind. Build it up to 3-6 months worth, or whatever you need to feel secure.
Review your finances at least weekly. To get a sense of control over your finances, you have to monitor them. Be sure you’re balancing your checkbook at least once a week, to ensure that you don’t have bounced checks or debit transactions. Even if your bills are automatic, you’ll still want to make sure they’re going out. Take the 10-20 minutes every week that’s necessary to look at your budget, your expenses, your income, and make sure you’ve got everything under control. If you’ve got a partner, do this together.
Talk about money with your partner. Money can be a huge stressor on a relationship. It’s important that you talk about money on a regular basis in a non-emotional way, as hard as that may sound. It’s crucial, in fact, to the survival of your relationship. You both have to be on the same page, or you will eventually argue and have major crises about your finances. You need to talk about your financial dreams and goals, your spending patterns, your budget, your income, your savings, debt, financial security, bills and the like. If you don’t already do this, it may take awhile in the beginning, and be difficult. But try to do it as a team, and not accuse each other of anything, don’t blame, and try to be positive and constructive. Over time, it will get easier. At the minimum, devote 10-20 minutes each week to reviewing your finances together, reviewing your goals, and making sure that you’re together and seeing eye-to-eye. It will make a major difference in your relationship and in your stress level.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Turning Habits into Goals

Currently, I have my goals divided up into two types: “Ongoing”, for goals that don’t really have an end, and “Destination” for goals that will be achieved and then done. An example of an ongoing goal would be maintain a positive attitude or go to a museum or play each month. A destination goal would be travel to 10 new countries or complete my research project. For each type of goal, I have it further broken down into the life areas I mentioned above. I realize that some of my ongoing goals should maybe be made into destination goals by setting time limits for them, but should the time limits be continued once the action has become a habit? My 30-day flossing goal for example–it’s basically a habit for me now. I do skip it occasionally, but rarely more than 2 days in a row. However, it’s still a goal for me to do it daily. Or should it not be a goal anymore since it’s become a habit? I guess my question is when does something turn from a goal into a habit?

Let me start by saying that Ann is an awesome example for the rest of us. First, she’s obviously given a lot of thought to her goals, and she has some great goals, too. And her 30-day flossing goal becoming a habit is proof that by concentrating on a goal for 30 days, you can actually create a new, positive habit.

But to answer her question: The way I see it, a habit actually leads to a goal. For example, if you want to have healthy teeth, you develop the flossing habit. If you want to lose weight, you might develop the running habit. This is the overall philosophy of Zen Habits … concentrate on what you do each day, and create new habits that will lead to long-term goals. By concentrating on doing a goal for 30 days, it will become a habit, and after that, you’re on autopilot.

But Ann’s right — in the beginning, it’s a goal to create that habit. Your goal is to focus on those first 30 days to create a habit (it varies depending on the person, the consistency and other factors, but 30 days is a good rule of thumb). Those are the crucial days in forming a habit, when you really need to concentrate your energy.

After that, it should become much easier, but will still require some energy to maintain, especially if other things in your life offer resistance to that habit (if you quit smoking, a death in the family could trigger a relapse, for example). Ann’s habit of flossing will likely continue for quite awhile, and not require much energy to maintain … but should something change in her life, such as moving to Guantanamo Bay for an internship, and let’s say that floss isn’t easily available in Gitmo, well, it could disrupt her habit. Or if you’ve developed the running habit, and you get sick for a couple weeks, it will require a new surge of energy and motivation to get the habit going again. It shouldn’t be as hard as starting from the beginning, because you’re already trained to do it.

When forming a habit, here’s what I suggest:

Make the first 30 days a concentrated goal, when you really try to make the behavior an ingrained habit. Review it daily, and make sure your focus stays on this habit each day.
After that initial period, during the next 30 days, review the goal every week (instead of daily), during your weekly review. If there’s a change in your life that disrupts the habit, go back to the previous level, when you require more focus and energy to make it a habit again. If all is going well, however, just celebrate your continued success and review it next week.
After that, review it once a month or so in order to make sure you’re still on track. This could go on indefinitely, unless you think it’s such an ingrained habit that you won’t need to review it anymore. I would suggest revisiting it now and then, though, just to make sure. If, however, you have problems with the habit, back up to one of the previous two levels.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How to NOT do everything on your to-do list

This week, I started the switch to the GTD system. I have mostly learned what I know from your site and other articles about GTD, but I also have the book on order. The mental freedom it has afforded me has been such a major relief! I immediately push out all of the little thoughts that come to my head to process later, which works very well for me because I am a person with a very active mind that never seems to rest. I cannot remember when I have had this much peace of mind.

My problem is that if I have a list of things to do, no matter if they are high priority or personal projects for myself, I feel guilty if I am not working to shrink that list. This can lead to periods of burnout for me, where I barely get anything done. I never know when it is okay to relax, or when it is okay to take a break and play that video game, read a book, or some other leisure activity.

Do you have any tips that might help me out?

This problem is one that many of us deal with, and there’s no easy answer. I have a number of suggestions that might help, but let me first say that they are not from the GTD system — they are things you can add to the system to make it work for you. GTD should be adapted to fit your personal working style — it’s not a cookie-cutter approach. One method doesn’t work for everyone.

Here are my suggestions:

Set 1-3 Most Important Things (MITs) for the day (you might have already read about this on my site) … the top 1, 2, or 3 things that you really want to get done that day. This is an addition to the GTD system, not a part of it, but I find it helps me to focus on what’s important. GTD assumes that you will know what needs to be done, which is true, but it’s helpful to determine that at the beginning of each day, and make sure you get those things done.
Get your MITs done early in the day. Then everything else you do is extra. And if you feel like taking a break and playing, after you do the MITs, you can do this without worrying that you’re not getting important stuff done.
You’ll never get to the bottom of your list. This is something I had to learn the hard way. I would try to clear one of my context lists (like @calls), but as soon as I crossed 2-3 off my list, another 2-3 would pop up. Now, I try to just get my list down to a reasonable number if possible.
GTD isn’t about doing everything on your list. It’s about knowing what needs to be done, so that when you’re doing something else, you know that everything else that needs to be done, at some point, is accounted for in your system, and you don’t need to worry about all that other stuff at this point. In other words, get all that stuff out of your head, and into your trusted system, so you don’t have to worry about it while you focus on the task before you.
It’s also good to schedule time blocks. I will set a block for email and calls, another for writing, another for interviews (a big part of my job), etc … this way, I just try to get as much done in that block as possible, and then not worry about the rest until tomorrow’s block. This is also not a part of GTD, but a useful addition, as GTD doesn’t really advocate scheduling. But without a little bit of scheduling, as you’ve found, it can get a bit stressful, because you never know what needs to be done.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

How to Turn Bad Habits into Good Habits

Humans are creatures of habit. Think of your daily routine. Every weekday I get up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and drive to work. Always in the exact same order. The details might vary, but I usually do the exact same thing every single day. I like it that way.

I like it because it makes me feel in control and because I don’t have to do unnecessary planning. A predictable routine is extremely comforting. The problem is that we get comfortable with bad habits. When a bad habit becomes a part of your daily routine, you lose consciousness of it. You just keep doing it without thinking.

Becoming accustomed to a bad habit makes that habit seem much harder to give up than it really is. You don’t want to change. When you try to give up a bad habit, it leaves a void in your routine that leads to restlessness and urges. The best way to fill this void is with a good habit.

The first step in the process is deciding to give up the bad habit. You can’t decide to give it up because other people say you should. The drive to change must come from within. This drive is created by understanding how the bad habit is harmful.

Decide to Stop Hurting Yourself
Consider the bad habit of going out drinking. It’s absurd when you think about what you’re actually doing. You pay hard earned money to feel hungover and exhausted. Would you pay someone to hit you on the head with a wrench? Getting drunk is basically the same deal.

Once you realize the harm that you do yourself, bad habits become much less appealing. But giving them up still isn’t easy because most bad habits aren’t all bad. Going out drinking satisfies a need for social interaction and excitement. These desires themselves aren’t bad, but we need a better way to satisfy them.

Substitute a Good Habit
Giving up a bad habit shouldn’t be unpleasant, but it is when we feel like we’re denying ourselves. We need to fill the void in our daily routine with something that isn’t as harmful, and we also need to reward ourselves to maintain our motivation.

Suppose you want to stop drinking. It’s tough because you miss the excitement of going out and interacting with other people. Fortunately, there are other ways to fulfill these desires that aren’t as destructive or expensive.

Instead of going out at night, try getting out during the day. Get up early and do something you enjoy. Take a walk around the neighborhood or hang out in a coffee shop for a couple hours. When Friday and Saturday night come around, you won’t feel as restless and the urge to go out drinking will be easier to resist.

Different things work for different people. The key is finding a better way to satisfy the desires you used to satisfy with the bad habit.

If you can replace a bad habit with a positive, enjoyable habit, the change is much more likely to stick. Once you are able to feel satisfied without harming yourself, you’ll wonder how that old bad habit seemed so enjoyable.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Rainy days and Sundays are great family days

This morning it was pouring down rain outside — it was one of those hard rains that makes seeing very far impossible and makes driving downright dangerous. My first thought: “Oh no, that’s not good for our Family Day! We can’t play stuff outside.”

Then I remembered the days of my childhood, when it rained, and I would go outside in rain boots and play in the streams of water. These were some of my favorite days. In fact, I love rain so much that I named one of my sons Rain.

I realized that rainy days are no reason to spoil Family Day. Here are some tips for things to do with your kids when it rains outside — some of my favorites, anyway:

Playing outside

Dance in the rain. This is great fun. Just go outside, and start dancing. Open your mouths and taste the rain. Sing and shout. Re-enact the famous “Singin’ in the Rain” scene. Have a blast! There’s nothing more fun.
Stomp in mud puddles. This is fun to do with rain boots, but even barefoot this can be great. Just stomp as hard as you can, and let the water splash! Bonus points if you can splash your kids. Jump up and make a huge splash!
Make little boats and float them in the streams. Anything will do — the simplest boats are curved leaves that will float for a little while. Or use popsicle sticks, or cardboard, or anything really. Let them float, play games with them, invent stories about them.
Make mud pies. We used to do this as kids. Grab a bunch of mud, put them in any kind of container, and pretend it’s food. We would play house or other make-believe games. Playing with mud is gooey and wonderful.
Wash the car. No time is better and more fun for washing the car. It’s already wet! Just add soap, some rags, and you’ve got a great activity for the whole family. Plus, you’re being productive. I believe that free labor is the best kind. Anyway, kids should earn their keep after sponging off us for food and shelter for so many years!
Play sports. Rainy weather bad for sports? Bah! Get out there and slip and slide! Muddy sports are the best kind.
Something for the missus. Dads: When your kids aren’t looking, grab your wife and kiss her in the rain. Slip her some tongue, too. Trust me, kissing her in the rain is romantic, and she’ll love it. It feels lovely, too.

Playing inside

Cuddle and watch DVDs. When it rains, it’s a great time to spend quality family time together indoors. Rent a movie everyone will love, pop some popcorn, get some blankets and cuddle together. A great family day.
Cuddle and read. If you’re stuck indoors, make the best use of them. Read with your children. Huddle under a blanket and choose a classic children’s book. See the Best All-time Children’s Books for ideas. You might have noticed a trend with all the cuddling — I love to snuggle with the family when it’s rainy outside.
Play board games. This is a very entertaining way to spend time together. Monopoly, Clue, Risk, Sorry, even Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land. Any of these games are sure winners with your kids.
Have a pillow fight. Each of you grab a pillow and go to town. I’m notoriously rough with my kids, but they seem to love it. I have two characters I’ve made up that they love: Bruce Leo, and The Angel of Mercy (this mystical Angel really shows no mercy). They’ve been slaughtered by both many times.
Make a tent out of blankets. This is especially fun on rainy days, when it’s darker than normal. Get a flashlight and hide in the tent. Pretend you’re camping in the rain forest.