The following is a journal like approach consisting of several mini posts on time management, minimalism, and clarity.
Mini Post #1: Losing Track of Time:
It happens to me all the time. I sit down to watch “just a few minutes of television,” or to ” check my email for just a few moments.” Next thing I know, an hour and a half has passed and I’m still watching tv or on the computer. It’s an hour and a half I will never get back–that I could have spent more productively. Losing track of time can be damaging to your life and career, so combatting this problem is important. But how do we combat the seemingly harmless time traps in our lives?
Losing Track of Time
It’s one thing if the plan is to relax. Humans aren’t robots, and I believe it is important to take some time each day to unwind. What’s upsetting, however, is when I am procrastinating but have more important things to do.
Not falling into a time trap in the first place is probably the most effective method. If you possess that kind of will-power, however, it’s unlikely you have a problem losing track of time in the first place.
“I know I can’t be trusted so I won’t go on the internet. I won’t allow my but to hit the sofa with a remote in my hand.” If you have that level of willpower then I solute you. Of course this feels a little too rigid for most of us. So what are the options if you want to have the freedom to goof off, but only for a few minutes?
One idea is an alarm clock. Using an alarm clock for an activity other than sleep seems a little foreign at first, but it’s one way to keep track of time. I know if I work on my blogs for instance, that the odds of me getting sucked into the blogosphere are close to 100%. I’ll sit down for “five minutes” and come out of a trance hours later, having read thirty blog posts and authored five of my own. I’m the first to admit it’s no way to live.
That said, I do run a freelance writing business. Sometimes I do need (or is this a rationalization?) to check my business email or to write a quick post. So what do I do? I set an alarm clock for fifteen minutes. Or half an hour. Or whatever block of time I need. That way I will be jolted out of my malayse before I waste half the evening. Hint: Don’t allow yourself to hit the snooze button unless you need more time to complete important work. I find the alarm clock an effective technique. An upset spouse can be equally as effective, but there is no greater power than self-motivation.
Another idea is to block out time and stick to a regimented schedule. Of course I believe in living a regimented life–hence the title of this blog. But it is sometimes easy to make excuses when you are first starting to section off time in your life. Even if you are a pro at time management, things will come up and knock you off your set-schedule.
A final idea is to only allow idle time when you know you have something else you have to do in the near future. I can trust myself to sit down and watch a few minutes of baseball without wasting an entire afternoon if I know I have to leave the house in fifteen minutes for an outing with friends or some other set activity.
What do you do to keep yourself from losing track of time?
Mini Post #2 – Things You Could Cut Out of Your Life Entirely to Save Time
If time is our most precious commodity, we need to really prioritize. Here is a basic list of things we spend time on, even though they rarely, if ever, enrich our lives in a meaningful way.
1) Debating sports.
2) Watching television.
3) Going to the movies.
4) Sitting around, doing nothing other than feeling anxious or filled with self-doubt.
5) “Cruising” a/k/a driving around, aimlessly.
6) Sleeping more than 9 hours in a night.
What else would you add to this list?
Mini Post #3 – Home Ownership Minimalism – Don’t Be a Lizard
Certain types of lizards are said to only get as big as their surroundings. No matter how large or small their living quarters, these types of lizards will adapt accordingly. This means that NO living arrangement will EVER be large enough.
People tend to do the same thing. We keep buying bigger houses or moving into larger apartments. Then we come up with ways to fill our new living quarters with more crap. The same applies with dieting, the heavier you get the more food it will take to fill you up.
My wife and I recently moved from a 600 square foot apartment to our first home, which is 1200 square feet. That means we have double the living space as before. Right now, we have a full-sized attic that is virtually empty. What a tremendous feeling. And yet, I am already seeing some troubling signs. For one thing, our parents have brought car loads of stuff we didn’t even know was ours, “now that we have the space.”
In terms of our own culpability, I must admit that just last week a new chair was purchased simply because the corner of our living room looked “too barren.”
Home Ownership Minimalism
The truth is most of us have way more space than we truly require. Homes have continued increasing in size, but the basic essentials for life have largely remained the same. For example, today many people assume each child, even if the children are of the same gender and of similar age, should have their own bedroom. A couple decades ago and it was considered normal for brothers or sisters to share a bedroom in a middle class American family.
When you have less space, you are forced to be more minimalistic.
When you move into new, larger living quarters, it actually provides a great opportunity to be minimalistic. My wife and I know that we were able to live with half the space we currently have at our disposal. We know that if we can resist the urge to fill up the new space with crap we don’t need, that we have a chance to possess the rarity that is an uncluttered house.
One of my principles is that you have to first unclutter your mind before you can seek clarity in your life as a whole. That said, uncluttering your surroundings is a great activity that can lead to later starting the process of clearing your mind.
Be minimalistic. Do without. Save money and feel better about yourself and your surroundings.
In other words, don’t be a lizard.
Mini Post #4 – What Do You Gain From Effective Time Management?
Sometimes I feel like I am oscillating between 1) Working/attempting to work; and 2) Feeling guilty for not working. These two states of being are the framework in which I live my life. It’s exhausting.
The problem is, all the time we spend working (or pretending to work) without 1o0% focus. If you can learn to sprint through tasks with extreme focus, then you can complete things faster than you ever imagined. This is what I am working on in my life. I imagine it is a goal of yours as well. Why should we work so hard at accomplishing this goal? Because if we do, we gain:
1) More time with friends, family and loved ones.
2) More time for self-improvement and self-development.
3) More time to relax.
4) More time to travel.
5) More time to earn alternate sources of income or pursue hobbies and passions.
6) *And you will feel much better about yourself.
Don’t forget that many famous writers wrote their masterpieces while working a 9 to 5. If we seek the reward of pursuing our passions, we have to pay the price. The price is completing our responsibilities with 100% focus.
What’s stopping us?
Mini Post #5: The Four Phases of Knowledge
I believe there are four basic phases of knowledge. They are: 1) The ability to create; 2) The ability to mentally or physically perform a task; 3) The ability to teach or educate others; and 4) The attempt to learn. I believe many people are capable of teaching the core principles of something they cannot do themselves. For instance, I can tell you how to grip a curveball, but I can’t actually throw a good one.
This is why, to me, the ability to do something must rank ahead of the ability to teach it.
So often in my life, I fall back into the “learning” phase. With seven years of post-secondary education it’s no wonder this is my default mindset. But in many cases it’s a path to nowhere.
“Let me read about it.”
“Let me go seek advice from someone else.”
These reactions will only hurt me when it comes to the types of activities that can only be learned by action and practice.
So long as you’re in the learning phase–or even the teaching phase, you may be missing out on the highest level of thinking: The Creation Phase. Our ancestors didn’t read a book about how to hunt or grow their food.
Great inventions occur and thereafter are written about, not the other way around.
Phases of Knowledge
Often we must possess a certain base level of knowledge. But if you spend all your time learning, you’ll likely never possess an inert knowledge of completing a task, let alone creating something new.
When I first started blogging, I tried reading about setting up blogs. I read and read, and eventually I could define HTML or tell you that WordPress was the number one blogging platform. But what I still couldn’t do was complete my goal of physically setting up a blog.
That came with trial and error, and I have now set up several blogs. If someone had “taught me” how to set up a blog I likely wouldn’t be able to recreate the task once that person was no longer present.
Too often we fear failure, when it’s really the quickest path to knowledge.
Mini Post #6 – Can Following Your Passions Ruin Your Life?
Sometimes I think passion is overrated, in the sense that it can oftentimes get in the way of basic survival. “Just be thankful to have a job and a roof over your head” is a thought that’s always in my head. Most self-development bloggers say “quit your job and follow your dreams.” I can’t take that advice right now, and I have a friend who I think shouldn’t either.
My friend recently told me he hates his job—so much so that he spends his entire weekend recovering from it. I agree it can be exhausting to go against the grain of one’s passions. It’s so tiring for him that he is literally exhausted by the time each weekend rolls around. He says he doesn’t believe it’s depression, just a deep disatisfaction with his job. He’s been reading the self-help gurus and thinks he needs to “follow his dreams.”
Following Your Passions
The Myers-Briggs personality test recognizes that we gain or lose energy from activities besides eating and sleeping. Extroverts gain energy from being around others. Introverts gain energy from being alone. That’s overly simplistic, but minimalism is the key attribute of this blog.
When my friend follows his passions, such as writing novels, he receives a huge boost in energy. When he simply works his 9-5 job, his energy levels drop precipitiously. Does that mean he should follow his passions?
You’re probably now agreeing with those inspirational bloggers and saying: “you’re friend should follow his dreams, quit his job, and shack up somewhere until he comletes his first novel!” Or maybe even: “Why are you a dream killer!”
But here’s the facts I have until now left out: my friend has a wife with health issues, they have six figures in student loan debt–which is non-dischargeable in bankruptcy– and his job as an attorney more than pays the bills. He’s talented but I can’t guarantee his fiction writing will ever be lucrative. The story of the failure is told less often than the dreamer who succeeds, at all costs.
Which side of the fence are you on now?
Call me a dream killer, but I can’t help but feel I’m right.
Of course ultimately it is up to him to decide. I hope he choices wisely. I would love to be proven wrong.
What would you do?
Mini Post #7 – But Should We Follow Our Passions? (Of Dreamkillers)
I wonder why so many people have a fear of success, myself included.
I’m afraid to risk too much, because I might fail. I tend to quit an activity or project prior to a judgment. There are so many examples of this throughout my life. Such as:
1) Quitting a novel 250 pages in because it “wasn’t good enough.”
2) Selling a prior blog for $1,000 once it started really picking up steam, then being devastated when the new owner made $1,000 per month plus off of it.
3) Failing in diets once I get to the “maintenance phase.”
4) Taking lower paying jobs when “more prestigious and better paying jobs” were available to me as well, and using the “intangibles of the lower paying jobs as an excuse for my bad decision.”
KevinHogan.com lists five reasons why people have a fear of success, and they ring true to me.
I am entrepreneurial in spirit, and somewhat unconventional. Like most people with those characteristics, I am often surrounded by people who are quick to try and stymie any such thoughts. I call those people dream killers, and they come in many forms. For you they may even be a parent or a spouse.
I set out trying to prove them wrong, but half-way through I become convinced they are likely right and I decide to quit rather than fail and prove them right.
For me, the fear of success is really a fear of failure.
How about for you?
Mini Post #8 – The Beauty of a Simple Garden
This post is not about how to garden. Truth be told I’m terrible in the garden. Instead, it’s about how simplicity in a garden can increase both a garden’s beauty and your own ability to enjoy it.
When we moved into our new home, it was winter. We realized there was a number of bushes around the perimeter of the house, but didn’t think too much of it.
With the first summer, out sprang a garden of perennials that wouldn’t look out of place in Alice’s Wonderland.
We felt bad ripping out plants, although our parents were often willing to take on the transplants.
The previous owner was obviously an avid gardner–but perhaps one that enjoyed the process of buying and planting new plants more than actually architecting a beautiful and efficient garden.
Our next door neighbor only has a few roses here or a few bushes there. It looks stunning–and the work she puts into her garden is likely much less than the work we must put into our inherited garden. The overfilling of a garden–much like the overfilling of a house, is something I see often.
As is true with most things, simplicity in a garden is oftentimes the key to beauty and efficiency.
This summer, try and find the balance between an efficient and beautiful garden. They need not be mutually exclusive.
Mini Post #9 – Simplifying Saving for Retirement
Saving for retirement can be daunting. Although you should consult an accountant or finance professional, here is how I simplify my retirement savings.
1) I use a Vanguard targeted retirement fund. Any of the low-cost index mutual funds will provide a simple method for asset allocation. What I like about a targeted retirement fund is that I simply chose the year I hope to retire by, and the fund will now over the years (hopefully) accord for risk, and reduce risk as I get closer to retirement.
2) I “pay myself” first – I make it so I can’t even see the money before it is taken out.
3) I try not to focus on day to day gains and losses. I used to do that and it nearly drove me crazy. Now I just look every month or so to make sure the accounts are still set up properly.
4) I won’t invest in individual stocks – Investing in individual stocks is an endeavor even the so-called experts often fail in. Not surprisingly, I prefer to simplify the process. I simplify the process by not choosing individual stocks.
5) I use retirement tools such as at CNN money to determine how much I should be ideally saving each month. I have yet to reach the amount each month that I should be saving, but hopefully someday I will.
6) I try to keep costs down – I do this by holding on to funds rather than constantly buying and selling and by using index rather than actively managed funds. The more money I keep in my pocket the easier it will be to retire with a sufficient amount of money to live on. Another thing I do to save money is to try and tax-effect all of my investments. I accomplish this in particular by classifying the investments as retirement funds or tax-effecting them in other ways whenever I can.
What do you do to simplify your retirement saving process?
Mini Post #10 – There’s Nothing Selfish About Unwinding About Work
Life often wants us to rush/rush/rush–from the second we wake up until the moment we turn in for the night. It shouldn’t be that way.
You’re not offering the world your best self if you allow this to happen. This is never more true than when you first come home from work. If you live alone it may not be an issue, but if you have a family, you may find yourself jumping right from work into your next role–the role of wife, father, parent.
It is when I don’t allow myself some time to heal and move on from the long work day and the brutal commute that I am the shortest with my family. I suspect this is true of many people.
Ways to Unwind After Work
The best way to unwind after work is to simply insist upon it, if you can. Let your family know that when you first come home you’re going to take fifteen minutes to unwind. Thereafter you will give your family your full attention, and even be fun to spend time with. Planning in advance is another effective means for being able to unwind after work. Everyone’s idea of unwinding is different. Remind your family it’s not that you don’t want to be with them or that you didn’t miss them all day. Rather, it’s about wanting to be in the right frame of mind for enjoying each others company the rest of the night.
Please remember to be reciprocal and allow your loved ones time to unwind s well. Enforcing a minimalistic lifestyle is a great way to ensure everyone can find some time to unwind after work.
Do you unwind after work? How do you go about unwinding after work? What do you do to unwind after work?