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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Stop Flogging Yourself

Posted by Tim Stobbs on January 28, 2015

So about now your well intentioned New Year’s resolution might be falling apart at the seams.  After all learning a new habit is hard and we often trip and fall during the process.  Well, at least, I always seem to have issues learning a new habit no matter when I try to get it going during the year.

Yet after failing to get into the habit of writing daily for years, I have come across something very small but helpful that is really getting me to get better at doing it.  The secret to success in this case is very simple: stop mentally flogging myself when I screw up. Huh?

Let me explain.  My cycle typically went like this.  I would be full of hope and determination at the start and then at some point or another fall of the wagon of my new habit.  Often it was small mistake like getting busy one day and forgetting to write.  Then I would feel guilty and immediately try to make up the writing on the next day and double my word count target.  Yet doing two days of writing in one can be hard, so that would often go poorly and I would get more disappointed in myself and I would the miss another day.  Now feeling even worse with a even bigger debt of writing to complete.  Then I would eventually get disgusted and quit the entire attempt.  I would have another epic fail to create a habit to write daily.

This time around, it’s been different.  Why? Like I said I stopped mentally flogging myself.  I don’t try to make up any missed words counts when I screw up a day.  In fact I planned for a few screw up days overall so I don’t have to perfect in the first place.  Now oddly enough, I don’t have feeling of guilt and then shame about messing up a day here or there.  I treat each day as it own personal challenge and I accept I will lose that challenge some days: it’s ok.

I think my problem lies in I was fighting the part of me that was lazy.  By not allowing some goofing off days in my earlier attempts I had doomed myself to feeling guilt and shame and spiraling down to failure.  Now I just accept that fact, I will screw up at times and frankly that is ok as long as over all I’m writing more than I previously was.  Given the option, most people pick being lazy over hard work.  It is sort of a normal feeling to have so life gets easier when you realize this  and plan for it.

Which perhaps is why I’m such a good saver…I’m lazy about it.  I literally forget about it most of the time and only try to do one transfer to an investing account once a month when I’m paying my other bills.  I don’t set a deadline on this action, but rather at some point close to either then end or start of the month.  But if you are just starting out I would highly suggest automatic transfers…I literally did that for years when we got started and it helped out a lot.

So have you been trying out any new habits lately?  How are they going for you? Any tips to share on what works for you?

Forget The Empty Inbox and To Do List

Posted by Tim Stobbs on January 26, 2015

I’ve now read this in several different places over the years, but I recently been thinking about the idea that when you die your inbox will never be empty and your to do list will never be complete.  Rather both ideas are merely a way to help sort out what to do with your time and your life.

Lists, calendars and emails can be tools to help your life or they can turn into your life into hell on earth by being a slave to them.  Instead of resenting these productivity tools I’ve learned over the years to just embrace them for what works for me and not to worry about them taking over my life.  For example, I’m not entirely logical on how I use my tools.  For example, at my day job I tend not to use to do lists that often, but I commonly use them at home.  Or the fact, I really do need to use my calendar for both work and home things or I will forget appointments or meetings (yes, confession I have forgotten to attend a meeting before…and guess what no one died.  Shocking I  know).

I accept I’m a bit of numbers geek (from the guy with a early retirement blog, you don’t say ;) ), but in the end I know I won’t ever get every done that I want to in life.  Regardless of how much you earn, or what you save you still have the same number of hours in the day, days in the week and weeks in the year.  So accept now that you can’t do it all.  Some things won’t get done and that is ok.  It took me a while to really accept this concept and not to over book my time, but eventually I’ve gotten around to making a life that I feel is fairly manageable and still productive.

Perhaps the biggest thing was to understand you don’ t have to be productive all day long.  There is a deep satisfaction that comes from spending a Sunday afternoon in comfortable chair with a sunbeam on you and reading a book for hours on end.  Or just playing building forts with my kids for a few hours and taking over half the family room with piles of blankets. Or heaven forbid, talking with my wife for an hour before supper over a glass of wine.  Life is about living and that isn’t typically on anyone’s to do list or calendar.

This is why I think I enjoy not working full time.  Since I tend to notice the average person finds a typically two day weekend far too short for their taste.  After all once you have slept in a bit, d0 your errands, cleaning and a few kids activities you end up with next to no time to actually relax.  So you end up over valuing things that you perceive to save time like fast food (which ironically doesn’t always work – I can cook some thing faster than going to pick up fast food), when in fact you could actually enjoy your life a hell of a lot more if you just stopped trying to cram so much into your two days off.

Yet that would mean accepting you can’t do it all.  You can’t have the career, be the perfect parent, have the house out of magazine, great friends, volunteer at several organizations, write that novel you always wanted and binge watch that entire new series on Netflix.  In fact you likely can’t even do half of that list.  Reality sucks eh?

So rather than fight it, I accept it.  I have and now my inbox is never empty and my to do list is never done.  Yet oddly enough I’m happy that I’ve leaned to let go of being perfect.  Odd how that happens when you stop setting yourself up for failure by trying to do too much.

What have you given up on doing in you life? For me I’ll given up on: painting (I like writing better), being the best dad (I settle for being a caring one instead), watching everything the looks interesting for movies and TV shows (my Netflix queue will never be empty), and reading magazines (I prefer books instead).

Odd thing in life is you remember those happy little moments that don’t appear in your calendar more than that important meeting last month with your boss.  Which one do you think should be more important, but often isn’t?

Freedom 40 in 40 – Part V

Posted by Tim Stobbs on January 14, 2015

Today’s post is all about having fun.  Really! Today I’m talking about making sure I have a good plan around my leisure activities.  I find it sort of ironic we tend to plan a lot of our lives, but never give much thought to our leisure time.  All to often we just fall into our leisure activities rather than planning them a bit more.  In my case that ends up showing up as too many night just sitting in front of the TV watching Netflix if I’m not careful.

So in that light what do I enjoy doing?  The short answer is: too much.  You see I have this habit of trying things out or doing experiments as my wife refers to them.  I’ll read about something online and then give it go at home.  It could be turning apple juice into wine or how to make something like granola bars from scratch.  The problem with this is I end up going in too many directions and can lose focus on things and I end up with too little time on things I really enjoy doing.  The experiments are not all bad as I do figure out some thing I enjoy doing like making wine from fresh fruit, but I need to ensure I’m not doing too many of them.

In the end I need to get a bit thoughtful about my free time.  So to help me sort things out here are a list of items I enjoy doing and feel I should either keep doing or do more of:

  • Reading books
  • Watching the occasional movie or TV show
  • Writing (which I covered in detail in Part IV)
  • Cooking
  • Playing with my kids or doing family events (like swimming, sledding, going to the park, etc)

Yet to make time for these things I really need to stop doing the following:

  • Mindlessly surfing the internet
  • Watching crappy movies or TV shows (if it sucks turn it off or better yet screen it in advance to ensure it is good)
  • Reading blogs that don’t challenge my thinking
  • Doing stuff to avoid working on what I should get done (for example, doing a bunch of crap while I procrastinate on cleaning)

So to help accomplish all of this I will do the following:

  • Watch movies or TV no more than three nights a week
  • Screen movies or TV shows to ensure they are at least an 8/10 on IMDB
  • Think about what I want to do on the internet before turning on the WiFi.
  • Ensure I have at least one novel and one non-fiction book to read at home at all times (most of this will come from the library)
  • Ensure that I always have some baking in the freezer at all times such as muffins, biscuits, squares, etc.  If I’m running low I need to make sure I do some cooking.
  • Write 90% of the time, 750 words daily
  • Do at least one family activity per month outside of the house
  • Make sure I play with my kids at least twice a week (movie night, board games, video games, Lego…what ever they want)

Ugh, that’s a fair bit of rules to recall, so I think I might play around with a scorecard to help me keep track of this until they become more habits. (Update: I did develop a scorecard in Evernote and tested it out last week…works good as a reminder, but I need to decide where to transfer the info if I want to track the results for a longer term.)  I’ll revisit this at least annually to consider what is working well and what needs to change.

So do you have things you should do less of or others you should do more of, if so, how to you keep yourself on track?