Track Your Money

GeorgeA year ago I decided to start this “Quick Tip” series with the intention to publish actionable ideas that help you being better and getting more done. Yet, looking through my posts I realized I had not written a single post about financial matters in this series. And that despite knowing how distracting financial issues can be.

I am not your mother and I am not Clark Howard, whom I listened to for years until they took him off the public radio channel I used to listen to. Or he left, I don’t know.

What I know and what you know is that keeping a budget is the only way to have peace of mind about your finances. You just need to know what is going on on your bank account(s). Period.

Isn’t money often the biggest elephant in the room? I cannot tell how many project meetings I suffered through in which the fact that funds are limited abruptly ended two hours of big visions about (im)possible solutions. Don’t get me wrong, I am living for big visions, but they have their time.

If your basement is under water because a pipe leaks, you better call the plumber first and then think about how much you rather be on a tropical island sipping a Piña Colada in the shade of palm trees. When you’re a standing feet deep in gunk you better know how much the plumber can costs you to still be able to make this trip.

Or at least you want to know how much you can put aside each month to make this trip in the foreseeable future. (more…)

Decisions, Decisions

ThinkerOf the few things I’ve learned about myself over the last months, is that I am often my worst enemy. Have you ever felt the same? We often fight those pointless internal battles about what is right or wrong, about what we should do and why we don’t do it until eventually, we end up not doing anything.

I think we all can think of things we rather hadn’t done. But I am sure most of these weren’t results of long thinking processes. I am also sure the number of things we wish we had done is always greater.

I am so sure about that because indecisiveness leads to non-action. As Neil Peart said: “If you decide not to decide, you still have made a choice.” So even when we want to make a decision but fail, we are making a choice, which is why we should strive to make active and not passive decisions.

When you ask someone out for a date and the answer is “I am thinking about it” it is likely not the answer you’d expected. You are probably not thinking:”Hey he/she is so considerate! Evaluating all the pros and cons of going on a date with me is a really sensible thing to do.”
A “no” would have been too harsh and lead to even more awkwardness. One just can’t say no in such a situation without giving reasons. A straight refusal makes it complicated and messy. Nobody wants that. (more…)

Those Creative Juices

orange-juiceAs I open up my editor in full-screen mode to fill the white space with words, I am suddenly reminded of a little girl who was my classmate in second grade. The teacher had just handed out these huge paper sheets with the objective to draw an “exciting winter scene.” “Show us an activity you like to do in winter.

Not even thirty seconds later the girl had signed the white paper on the back and handed it to the befuddled teacher with the words: “My favorite activity in winter is to look out my window in the morning when all is white, and no one has made any prints on it yet.

And that is exactly where we stand. We always have the choice to leave everything as it is, which looking back at all the things we messed up, may not be the worst choice. However, that is not who we are as humans or as individuals. We cannot just do nothing. We act, we build, we fiddle; we create stuff. Hence, there is no way an empty screen will keep me happy for too long. You may be at a different place right now. You may just want to consume and contemplate. That is okay. But trust me it will change.

Step One: Decide if you rather create or consume.

Don’t get me wrong. You can, of course, create and consume, but you can consume – or enjoy may be a better word – without wanting to create. You can enjoy books, movies, your car, nature, etc. without wanting to create anything. That is a great state to be in. Pure enjoyment. It is great when you do it consciously.

But as soon as you decide that you want to make something, this is what you should do.

Step Two: Ideas, Ideas, Ideas

Ideas are worth nothing without action. But an action without direction also doesn’t lead anywhere, right? That is why you need to have ideas that are worth your time pursuing them. How to come up with a good idea? Come up with a lot of bad ones. I don’t know how many ideas it takes to have a really really good one. But chances are your average idea is not that great. Mine are not. Most of my good ones don’t hold up for long, either.

Based on this observation James Altucher describes a method for “learning” to come up with better ideas in his book “Choose Yourself!“. He recommends making it a daily practice to jot down at least ten ideas per day. Those ideas don’t have to be focused on an area. They can be anything. Just whatever comes to your mind. But you have to do it daily. As he writes, that makes a minimum of 3,650 ideas a year just through this exercise. By doing so, you train your brain to come up with ideas, a lot of ideas. (more…)

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How to Get Cheap or Free Books

open-bookIf you have a good equipped local library, you may get lucky and get the books you want and don’t have to pay a dime. Last year I had a good run for a while when I managed to get caught up with al lot of books on my wish list. Sone where even digital, which I could read on my OverDrive app. But there is one big disadvantage: You you cannot keep them.

Keeping is a big point for me. Because keeping means I get to mark the best pages and can highlight my favorite quotes, which allows me to revisit those whenever I want to. This works in digital and printed books. However, obviously not in audiobooks. I know depending on the format there are also ways to set bookmarks, but that is not the same.

Audiobooks are great, because you can listen to them almost everywhere. You get to “read” more books this way and especially novels are really fun when a good voice artists is reading them. However, all of the best non-fiction books I have listened to as audiobooks, I also bought as printed books or ebooks. So I could grab them and look up information at any time I want to.

Here are four great sources, I discovered and want to share with you: (more…)

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Live in the Moment

CalmnessWe are often not happy with the progress we are making because we were too busy with other things. When we are not busy complaining, we are absorbed with reflecting on the past or worrying about the future.

If I don’t get the presentation going now, I will totally embarrass myself . I picture tomatoes flying.
Oh, gee, I really don’t want that to happen! I see myself being dragged off the stage.
Okay, now I really have to make an amazing presentation. I can do it! The pressure builds up.
Hm, how to start? Let’s look at some Ted talks Another half an hour later I am so humbled I need to get a coffee.

Does this sound familiar? One reason for procrastination is often the reluctance to deal with future events. Or maybe we didn’t perform well at a similar task in the past and don’t want to deal with the reminder. We want to do better. No, that is wrong. We want to do the best that is in us.

Do you see what I did there? I used the word do. In order to do something now that will make things alright in the future, you need to be focused on the now. Right now.
If you have difficulties calming down, here are a few exercises that work for me: (more…)

Mind Your Language

corkThe last years a lot of focus has been on creating good habits and losing bad ones. It makes a lot of sense of course. Flossing daily, eating healthy, and working out regularly are certainly habits, whose benefits are difficult to deny. However, for me, there is one bad habit that probably has the biggest negative impact on me.

Aren’t we truly privileged, when our biggest struggles are the ones with ourselves? I feel blessed what that concerns.

Considering how often I brought up examples for this bad habit, it is obvious how much I have been bothered by it. In Embrace Positivity (QT 21) as a sidenote, I wrote “My daily commute was stressful until I started to listen to podcasts. I had no longer time to complain about the other drivers. As a result, I am a much more relaxed and less aggressive driver …

In The Best and Most Popular of Productivity Blogs, I listed Steve Pavlina’s post about how to stop complaining and described complaining as “one of the biggest productivity killers and a great inhibitor of success.” This statement couldn’t be more true. While being optimistic and positive about anything that you encounter helps you get going, complaining even if it is entirely unrelated acts like a plug to the flow of ideas. (more…)

Mind the Gap

mindthegapIn life there is a gap between the possibilities we have and what we make out of them. In fact, we don’t jump on most good opportunities because we don’t see them. But some of the ones we see, often the ones that get us excited, also scare us. And only few of those exciting and scary opportunities tickle us enough to pursue them regardless of how frightened we are.

I believe that when we look back at our lives we don’t want to have regrets about how little we made out of the possibilities that were given to us. We may make the wrong choices at times, those are just part of life, but I don’t think we want to look back and feel like “life has lived us”, because we were too passive.

Can you remember those situations growing up that scared you, like getting a shot, learning to swim, asking for a date, the first day at a new school? In most cases it seems funny that we were scared. Back then the reason for being frightened was either that we knew something bad, e.g. painful would happen or at least it was possible to end in a painful situation. Those fears haven’t changed a bit, have they?

As a kid, do you think you would have gotten a shot if you had been given the choice? The pain of a shot versus the possibility of getting chicken pox?

Individual risk is a complicated topic. (more…)

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Indistinguishable Days

TV-killed-the-radio-starIn the last Quick Tip I wrote that decluttering helps getting rid of distractions and can therefore help you better focus. Let me ask an easy question: Why is it so important to be focused?

I listen to podcasts when I clean the house, enjoy audio-books on my commute, workout to music, and I even watch TV while eating dinner. Everything is easier with a little distraction and you can’t say driving doesn’t require focus. I may not always be able to remember the last few miles, but I still have most of my senses directed at road and traffic.

Would you say that when you are very focused on something for half an hour you could still tell exactly you did an hour later? I hope you could. But don’t you sometimes have days when you go to bed and you are not so sure what you have done during the day? Indistinguishable days and fleeting weeks are the result.

Have you ever looked at your watch just to be asked by someone for the time five seconds later and you couldn’t tell? That happened because you were not checking what time it is, but how much time is left or how much time has already passed since the last time you checked. You were not focused on the exact time while checking your watch. (more…)

Declutter One Spot Today

DOCoffee“Often when I am starting a new project, I clean up my desk and its surroundings”,
“My car is full of stuff. Every time I clean it it takes only a few days before it looks like before”
“I am unable to study with a lot of clutter around me”,
“My drawers are a mess and every time I open them, it bothers me, but I am too weak to clean them up”
“We cannot move, because just getting a handle of the garage would take years.”

Those are just a few comments I’ve heard about how clutter affects us. I know there are many creative types that thrive in chaos, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need some structure somewhere. When you are a painter you can only paint if your can find your tools, right?

Regardless of how much or how little we can live with clutter around us, we all have those moments when it bothers us in some way. Bothering means it is distracting, which in turn makes it more difficult to focus on what is important.

I think we all know how to avoid clutter. By creating good habits for example. If you don’t want a messy car, well, then never exit the car without taking all the stuff out that doesn’t belong there. If you don’t want a pile of papers on your desk, never put any paper on it. Don’t print anything. Deal with the mail immediately, throw away what can go and punch and file what needs filing immediately. And so on…

Too much coffee isn’t really healthy and I’d still be drinking gallons of it if I didn’t have a supply problem. In other words: Sometimes we are just not perfect. Clutter happens.

But what can we do to get a grip on it when we feel it’s about time to declutter? Two strategies have worked best for me:

1. Dedicate 10 Minutes

Going through a big pile of things is an uncomfortable undertaking. Usually the resistance to get rid of items is strong and the prospect of spending the entire Saturday to clean out the garage isn’t really motivating either. However, the image of a clean garage is, but starting is difficult. So just tell yourself to dedicate 10 minutes today. Set a timer and stop at exactly 10 minutes. Even if 10 minutes is a really short period of time you’ll get something done. Just enough to know where to continue tomorrow. When you keep doing this every day, at the end of a week you’ll have spent 70 minutes cleaning up. That is a lot of time to declutter. If you are not done just continue until you are. Ten minutes. That’s all that it takes. (more…)

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Use Trello as Shopping List

shopping-listMy tip this week is a solution for a situation that kept coming up every week. Our groceries.

On our kitchen counter we keep a list to which we add items we just used up. Well at least that is how it should be. As a family we buy pretty much the same food every week and so we did not record every single used up gallon of water or box of pasta. As a result it often happened that coming home we would store the sixth can of peas or notice that there wasn’t any rice left.
My greatest weakness is not forgetting to write a thorough list, but actually taking this list along. Even with the best list in my hand I would overlook items just because I forgot to bring along a pen to cross out items I put into the cart.

As a junkie for digital tools I have tried several shopping list apps, but not a single one of them was convenient enough to use and allowed me to customize the list absolutely freely just as I needed it. And then I realized I could use Trello for it.

Trello is one of those apps that gives you so much freedom that it is often difficult to get into it. I had the same problem with Asana and now I love it. In fact Trello is often compared to Asana, and since I already loved Asana I didn’t see the need for another project management/productivity app. However, they are nothing alike and both have their very individual advantages. (more…)