Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Good Habits are the Keys to Life

There are several themes that seem to repeat in my life, habits are one of these themes. It may sound basic but habits good or bad determine where we are in life and where we are going. I believe even if this is basic we should continually re-address.

Good habits make life easier, duh, why write about this?
There are several reasons that I felt compelled to write about habits. People tend to get comfortable where they are and habits become transparent. How many times has someone annoyed you by being late, breaking promises or micromanaging. All of these bad habits formed overtime probably with little though and the perpetrator may not even realize they're doing anything wrong.

Have you ever been in the middle of doing something you did hundreds of times before and notice you don't have to do a lot of the activity because things have changed over time or you just never noticed something small that made a big difference? As an example when I needed aluminum foil I'd pull out the roll so that I could pull out the desired amount put back in the box and use the cutter, then I read that on the boxes there are these little tabs on the side of the box that will let you easily spool the foil out. I've been using aluminum foil for 10 years and never noticed these tabs, they work great by the way.

Habits are one of the most powerful life changing actions that you can control. You need to stay mindful of your habits.

Creating Good Habits

Any job or life situation I've ever experienced got easier as time went on. What happens is that we automatically fall into a comfort zone of doing the same things over and over each day. This repetition is comfortable and makes our lives less stressful, but day to day routine can also become tedious, more about that later.

First let review a couple tips for creating better habits. If you are just starting in a job or life situation, here are a couple tips:
  • Observe others in the same situation and truly be open minded to their approach. "Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others." (Otto von Bismarck)
  • If you do make a mistake, learn from it and move on. We're all fools at one point or another.
  • Write step by step procedures for your tasks, this will get you to the comfort level quicker.
If you've been in a job or life situation for awhile here are a few tips for you:
  • Focus on your processes, what can be improved/eliminated
  • What is annoying, what processes can be changed
  • Take out a sheet of paper and draw a flow chart one of your processes or use a mindmap (recommend FreeMind)
  • Use your time wisely, while commuting, while in some meetings brainstorm how to improve your processes
  • Define what you are trying to achieve and work backwards
  • Write step by step procedure for each task
Smooth Sailing, what to do next

The less you have ot think about the more time you have to improve your processes. Some people seem to love the idea of how easy their jobs are and slack off, of course if you are an intimate friend you'll probably hear how hard they work and how little time they have . It's tempting to slack off, but I think we're better than that. Are you completely satisfied with your life? I don't know anyone that is 100% satisfied, there is always something more you could have or do. If you have everything you want out of life get comfortable and don't change a thing. If not get out there and kick some butt.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Need to Focus?

I've been struggling to focus lately so I created the following worksheet. It's for two weeks, I put the starting date in the upper left cell and put a check mark if I feel like I've been productive and an X if I felt like I was slacking.

I've made the time range 15 minutes chunks mostly because if it was a half-an-hour I'd tell myself I've messed up 10 minutes might as well get my 30 minutes worth.

I've noticed this really helps my focus.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Best iTunes smart playlist of all time: Preferred Pepper

iTunes is a great media manager, some may say bloated and blah blah blah...., maybe it is but it is also very powerful and does mostly everything I would want it to do. One thing that was initially difficult to do was create my ideal playlist.

My ideal playlist is one that will accomplish the following:
  • Play forever, refreshing/regenerating itself
  • Play my favorite songs more often, but let me hear something from the rest of my library as well
  • Dynamically adjust what I hear based on how much I like it
  • Let me hear new music more often
Accomplishing all these criteria is currently impossible in one playlist, but with a little ingenuity we can accomplish our goal. I'm sure you can also use the principal ideas here to create this same playlist in other media managers.

Let's Create some Playlists:

Create these Smart Playlist in order:

  1. Smart Playlist Name: "Preferred Pepper -- Base". We first want to create a playlist to exclude the junk we don't want to hear (I don't want to hear holiday music, my kids' music or music I've already played or skipped already today, create something like this you can always add to it later)

  2. Now create the following playlists, we'll base all of these off the first list so we only have to exclude our stuff once. These playlist let us determine how often we'd like to hear music based on ratings. Playlists Names: "Preferred Pepper - A" Through "Preferred Pepper - D" and "Preferred Pepper -- Unrated" (Note: to change the chance of something being played raise or lower the limit of items for desired playlist)

  1. One playlist left to tie everything together, Smart Playlist Name: "Preferred Pepper", please note use "Match any of the following rules:"

You're all done!!!!!!
Now when you want to have a listen just shuffle the "Preferred Pepper" playlist on your iPod or in iTunes go to "Party Shuffle" (recently renamed "iTunes DJ") and choose "Preferred Pepper" as the source.

  1. I rate my music based on the grading scale A = 5 Stars B= 4 Stars, etc..., it helps me thing how I'd like to rate them.
  2. You'll want to rate your songs from now on by how much you want to listen to them, not how much you like the song. I'd recommend rating lower than you'd initially think.
  3. To change the chance of music being played just raise or lower the rating.
  4. If your iPod/MP3 Player isn't as large as your library do the following:
  • Limit the size of your "Prefered Pepper -- Base" to something slightly smaller than the capacity of your iPod/MP3 player.
  • Create another non-smart playlist named: "Preferred Pepper -- Base Static" and once a week delete the list of songs in this playlist and copy the contents of the "Preferred Pepper -- Base". Now base all of your rated playlist off of the "Static" playlist. Sync this playlist as well as all your rating playlist to your iPod/MP3 player and do not sync the "Preffered Pepper -- Base".
  • I know the above is not that clear so if I get enough request I'll post the screen shots of this.
  • BTW - very important make sure to check "Match Only Checked Items."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Benjamin Franklin's Life Hack

I had mentioned in a previous post that Benjamin Franklin used to keep track of daily goals. After reading a bit more about this I believe I had originally read this in How to Win Friends & Influence Peopleby Dale Carnigie. Great book, I highly recommend it. I thought I would write a bit more about it.

Introduction to System

Benjamin Franklin kept this goal sheet to keep track and improve his
character. He tracked the following 13 items and for each failure he'd place a dot on the particular day of occurence:

1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.

2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.

3. Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.

4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.

6. Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. Justice: Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.

11.Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; Never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

12. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Initial Thoughts

I love the simplicty of this system and thought this a great way to improve your character but I thought other goals could be accomplished with such a list. I found an online tool that uses this basic system: Joe's Goals. There is also a printable templates here: DIYPlanner.

This system brings the power of the old business adage "That Which Is Measured, Improves". By measuring your goals each day you are improving, I've seen the power of this formula and anyone that has tried it knows how powerful it is. Sometimes we just don't think about measuring the day to day stuff, but when we do we can improve ourselves tremendously.

Additional Notes

Joe's Goals use a smiley face or frown to determine whether you did something toward your goal or against it. This is a pretty good way to see your progress whether good or bad. Plus, for me I like to focus on the positive as well as the negative. I'm thinking it may be fun to identify some goals or traits I'd like to improve and keep a Pocket Moleskine Notebook with me all the time to track my progress.

One other site that had good information on this is here: Pastor Hacks

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Staleness Trap

Every couple of years I find myself losing motivation. Usually a promotion or exciting project will come up to interject some much needed life into my job. What do you do when you find yourself in a stale situation?

Get Creative

I believe everyone will eventually find the easiest way to go about their day. This is helpful for awhile it makes us more productive and effective. After time the excitement and challenge disappear leaving us bored. I often believe that when I’m in a rut it’s because I feel uninspired, lazy and unmotivated.

An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. –The Law of Inertia, Isaac Newton

The unbalanced force here is creativity. It is difficult and an unnatural feeling to change directions, but this is what we must do. Here are some items and or questions to ask yourself to spur creative ways to get of your rut:

  • Am I really doing the best job I can? Being a father, I find it even more helpful to ask myself, "am I doing the best job I can do for my kids?
  • What things can I improve here that I normally just ignore?
  • What pie in sky ideas would I like to accomplish here?
  • Is there a training course I can take that would give me more responsibility and new challenges?
  • Go outside of your normal role and look for fun things you’d enjoy doing and ask if you can do them.

Get Motivated

Once you have some ideas to work on you need to get motivated (check out this post on

Here are several ways I get myself motivated to make a change:

  • Make a public commitment (tell others your intentions so you have some accountability)
  • Plan your goals to accommodate your change.
  • Daily Reminders
  • Set deadlines if possible
  • Think positively (Avoid negative thoughts, learn from failures)
  • Read anything you can get your hands on about the change you are trying to make, this reinforces the momentum of change.

Within a few days of setting your new direction you should start to feel better. If not maybe you need to examine other aspects of your life.

Be proactive

I believe that unless permanent changes are made in the way you live your life you found yourself in this trap again. How can you prevent the staleness trap? The following are experimental ideas that I’m in the process of testing now:

  • Set a reminder once a month or week if need be to review your contentment. This reminder will hopefully keep you mindful of what is going on and trick yourself into not repeating the same mistakes.
  • I read somewhere (I’d tell you where if I remembered) that Benjamin Franklin kept a journal and at the end of each day would record his progress about personal development goals. I believe this is an excellent idea to help not only with keeping the freshness in your work but in continually growing as a person.