How I Work (by “Big-D”)

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Last week, I wrote about How I Work by following the Lifehacker outline. A regular reader, Big-D, loved it, and suggested readers could do the same. Within a couple of hours he had submitted the following for how he works. At the end, I'll give some editor's thoughts about what I'm going to take away and try to incorporate into my life/routine.

Location: Indiana

Current Gig: IT Security Professional, College Professor, Small Business Owner (Rentals, IT Consulting, Author, etc.)

One word that best describes how you work: “Sitting” Down

Current mobile device: LG Volt

Current computer: Errr … I have several I use daily: HP laptop at my day job, Dell laptop for home/teaching, Frankenstein 8core desktop with 32GB RAM running multiple virtual machines, an HP MicroServer running my domain website, mail server, file share, etc.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without? Why?

I use Firefox for my browser. I install uBlock, Ghostery, BarTab, NoScript, and FlashBlock as my add-ons. Being in IT security, I hate cross site privacy data contamination, thus the Ghostery. uBlock blocks advertisements, and FlashBlock and NoScript stop scripts and flash stuff from firing unless I approve them. BarTab takes tabs that I will get back to later, and unloads them from memory, helping performance on my systems.

I read my news from a Tiny Tiny RSS (ttRSS) feed program that I have installed on my personal web server. I have about 90 sites that are scoured through RSS feeds and read when I have time.

Jinzora is my home media application that I used on the road to listen to music. I have a ton of music and I serve it up from my home PC network through this application.

As for applications, I use MS office and basic apps like that for typical office productivity tasks.

I use Kali Linux for anything that I need to do when it comes to security application. I just use a live CD in my laptop and I can go to town to diagnose anything.

I use pfSense as my firewall at home. I have a small Intel Atom box running this as my firewall.

From a personal finance perspective I use gnuCash for my accounting software for my company. I have excel spreadsheets as I have hated the direction that Quicken has gone and it is just too hard to manage data as I like it to be seen in there. I guess you can call me an advanced user so I have migrated back to spreadsheets. I don’t use any online sites (outside of billpay at my credit union) due to privacy concerns.

I don’t use any apps for productivity except maybe notepad if I need to write a reminder to myself. I have a pretty good memory so I don’t forget things like what I need at the grocery store, etc.

What’s your workspace setup like?

My workstation at my 9-5 job is a laptop with dual 24” monitors and an old keyboard and trackball I got when I worked for Microsoft back in the day. At home, I have a dual 22” monitors and an IBM model 70 keyboard and a MS intellimouse (their first laser mouse) hooked up to a KVM for my 3 PCs in my rack. When I am watching TV or on the road, I use my laptop to multitask.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

I automate everything. Here are examples of this:

  • All of my utilities pay monthly for free on my credit cards.
  • All of my credit cards pay monthly out of my checking account without me doing anything.
  • I use timers for things to save time and money. My coffee maker is on a time, my hot water heater (to save money when I’m not home), my furnace/AC has a timer.
  • I sit down on Sunday and select which shows I am going to record on my Windows media player, and I have them to watch when I get home and have time to watch TV.
  • I have my food portioned out (meat, veggies, etc.) from buying in bulk, so I plan my meal before I leave in the AM, I pick out the food, put it in the sink to defrost, and defrosted when I get home from work. Usually eat 20 minutes after I get home from work.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

Notepad. When I write stuff down, I need it for a short period of time, and then it can go away. I have a pretty good memory. If I need it longer, I make a MS Word file out of it.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

My Xboxes. I have a couple xbox 360 and an xbox one. I game on my one mostly, and my 2 360 boxes are hooked up to my 2 TVs. They are basically my DVR, home Media servers, etc. I have remotes for them and can watch tv, movies, anything I want. I have 3 jobs and when I am home, I just want to relax.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?

Planning efficient use of time. I am really good at knowing what I have to do, and how long it is going to take to do it. When someone asks me to do something, I can give them the precise amount of time it is going to take to do what they ask, and what other priorities I have at the moment will slip, etc. This comes from experience and planning your time efficiently.

What do you listen to while you work?

Anything that I find. I have 2500 CDs which are all ripped on my Jinzora server. I play what I want. Today is Paul Van Dyk, yesterday was Spiderbait, day before was Slayer. Whatever I am in the mood for.

What are you currently reading?

I read articles on the internet, the 90 RSS feeds mentioned above. I don’t do well with books because I just cannot get the time to read them all. If I ever get engrossed in a book I don’t sleep so that really becomes an issue. Last book I read was “Currency Wars” and all 7 of the Harry Potter books when I was on vacation in July/August.

How do you recharge?

Sleep at night if I can. I take walks around the office, drink water so I have to take pee breaks, etc. I have a hot tub which I get in several times a week after dark. Plus a glass of whiskey helps, but not too often (thus it is a treat ;). I drink decaf coffee and permit myself only one diet soda (diet mt. dew is my vice) a day at lunch so I don’t worry about ups and downs of too much stimulants or depressants.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I try for 8 but between 6 and 7 usually since I am too much of a night owl. I usually go to bed about 1:00am and get up at 8:00 on work days. I am at work by 8:45. I usually get home from work around 6-10pm depending on if it is a school night. Then I do my stuff for my own company.

On weekends, I usually go to bed at 4 am and wake up at noon. That is more to my natural body rhythm.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

I could say someone like my father but I know most of the answers. I don’t really believe in celebrity as they are just normal people who have had fame thrust upon them. Maybe someone like Vinton Cerf (Father of the internet) as he would be someone interesting.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Others have done the Golden Rule, and things like that. I am going to go with something a little different which has helped me a LOT in my career. From a psychological perspective, there is only one reason a person ever gets angry. That is when you trample on something that they think is a “right” of theirs. You can skin that cat, and peel the layers back but it always comes back to someone doing something which that individual feels they are owed.

So how does this apply? When you are negotiating and the other person gets angry? When a child is throwing a fit? When a significant other is angry? There are many reasons. Anger takes many forms, and 90% of the time it is not the reason they are yelling about. Getting to the key issue as fast as possible diffuses the situation, and allows for you to make a constructive progress in easing the anger.

Editor's takeaways

  1. I don't know how Big-D manages to find the time to read my site, but I'm glad he does.
  2. That 8-core 32GB RAM, monster sounds really impressive. I wonder if I should invest in powerful desktop just to alleviate the load from my laptop. I'd probably still gravitate to my laptop for convenience.
  3. I feel like I don't get enough done after reading this. Three jobs? Wow!
  4. Great final advice about understanding why people get angry. I need to think more about this...

    I'm reminded of the great quote by River Tam in Serenity: "People don't like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes and in their heads and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome."

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Last updated on February 29, 2016.

How I Work

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Lifehacker has a great series called, How I Work. Often they have CEOs of companies and other extremely smart people, but they've recently done something that I find far more interesting.

They are having the editors of Lifehacker write about how they work. These are the experts on productivity writing about how they are most productive! I'm going to steal borrow their outline today and tell you a little bit about how I work.

I'm going to use their format:

Location: Rhode Island
Current Gig: Personal Finance Writer, dog sitter, defendant (it feels like a gig)
One word that best describes how you work: Dogs. If Kristin Wong can say cats, I can say dogs.
Current mobile device: Nexus 5
Current computer: Dell XPS 13 (9300-something edition) with 4GB of Ram (sad)

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without? Why?

I'm a Firefox guy (see 10 Hacks to Speed Up Your Browser and Firefox Profiles for Increased Productivity). Google and Microsoft control enough of the tools I use, so if it's close I'm going to go with the independent.

I read my news with Feedly on my phone. I use Pushbullet to send interesting articles to my laptop. I save and tag articles with Pocket.

I write my articles either directly into WordPress and sometimes into Scrivener. I want to use Scrivener more, so I can rearrange blog posts in to an ebook.

Excel is currently my to-do list, my accounting system (which will likely change to Quickbooks soon), and my General Organizer of All Things.

I use Personal Capital to keep my net worth constantly updated.

What’s your workspace setup like?

Sadly, it is my lap on a couch. Sometimes, it is the barstool in the kitchen. I'm trying to use my desk more often. It should be my treadmill desk, but I get a lot of walking in due to the dogs.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

I'm going to give a few hacks:

  • Going to the library. When I work from home, I can get distracted by chores and other things (subtle code for the Patriots Sub-Reddit). When I'm at the library, it's 100% grind as Mark Cuban would say. I can sometimes get more done in two hours than I get done in two days.
  • I like to plan my most productive day. I never do everything exactly right, but it gives me something to strive for and keeps me on track. That article is just a smart part of my article exploring How to be Productive.
  • Aside from those two, really look into Pushbullet (mentioned above.) It's such a great way to get photos and websites from your computer to phone and vice versa.
  • What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

    I use Excel for my own work, but when I need to manage family tasks with my wife, Wunderlist is the way to go.

    Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

    Amazon Echo (Review and Revisited Review)

    It is just so easy to say, "Alexa, play the Beatles" or "Alexa, play Pandora" and have music. Too often technology makes things more complicated. Amazon Echo is the exception.

    There's a lot of other things it can do that I simply haven't dug into yet. My wife has used it to play Jeopardy. I use it to read my Google calendar. It integrates with my Ooma free home phone service. I'm tempted to get a Spotify subscription to expand the music available to me, but I'm frugal so Pandora works.

    Because I have only 4GB of memory on my computer, I am happy to off-load whatever I can to other devices like the Echo.

    What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?

    Googling information. I'm sure that some of my friends (and readers) think I'm the offspring of Lucy van Pelt and Brainy Smurf. (Good luck trying to get that image out of your head.)

    What do you listen to while you work?

    Since I already gave The Beatles, I'll go with Jack Johnson and "Classical for Reading from Amazon Prime." (I stumbled on this playlist randomly, but it's great with the Echo.

    What are you currently reading?

    A bunch of articles on the internet. I can't seem to make any headway reading books.

    How do you recharge?

    Naps and dog walks. These 200mg caffeine tablets and this pill splitter are also helpful.

    What’s your sleep routine like?

    Usually somewhere around 6 hours from 11:30PM to 5:30AM. The 30-40 minute siesta is usually around 2:00PM

    Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

    Tom Brady. Some 99.999% of the time, I think athletes should not be role models. He's one of the very rare exceptions. I almost always learn some new life lesson from his Monday interviews during the season. For instance, he said that The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom helped him deal with the Deflategate haters.

    What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

    The best advice comes from my mother: "Do onto others as you'd have them do onto you." I distinctly remember this, because she said I could stop going to school when I learned that Golden Rule. I didn't get out of going to school, but the rule stuck with me.

    I'd want someone to help me with personal finance or to get me out of an MLM cult. So that's why I want to help others with that.

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    Last updated on February 28, 2016.

Typesy: Typing Software is Back?

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A couple of months ago the folks at Typesy reached out to tell me about their product - typing software. I had a flashback to 1986 when MasterType for my IBM PCjr was the greatest thing ever. That software, combined with using a computer since I was 7 prepared me to ace my high school typing class.

(Yes, there used to be a classroom of actual typewriters with an instructor calling out letters.)

I chortled to myself as I thought, "With computers everywhere, isn't everyone a very good typer now?" I'm at the point where I can type about one thing and have a conversation with my wife. (I don't do it very often, because it really freaks her out. Also, writing about one topic and talking about another will make my brain explode if I do it for too long.)

Here's the thing: I type a lot. Most of the people I know type a lot. It may be less than a few years ago thanks to smartphones and tablets, but there's always going to be a need to create words to express thoughts.

If you can type faster, you can express more thoughts in less time. That's productivity that saves you minutes every day... maybe hours each week.

When I think about that productivity and combine it with everyone not having a computer at age 7 like I did, it's very easy to make a case that typing software is very valuable. Almost as if on cue, my 3-year old son provided another good reason for typing software... teaching kids to type. (Hey just came up to me and asked if he can type on my computer. He proceeded to type his name. Yes, I'm a proud papa. At the same time, should I be concerned that his typing skills are better than his writing skills?)

I decided it was worth a look, so convinced Typesy to let me try their software. It knocked my socks off. To be fair, my socks were prepared for a remake of a mid-80's Mastertype.

There's a lot to the software, so it's for me to touch on everything, but I went straight to the training section to see if where I started. (I'm not the type to read instructions... I want to dig in.) It gave me a passage to type and I could see the letters change color as I went. I expected it to be short, but it felt like 3-4 minutes which I felt to be a long time as I was trying to typing as fast and as perfect as I could. I usually make very liberal use of the backspace key, and that wasn't an option here. It definitely pulled me out of my comfort zone, which is what I wanted.

I finished with a score of 50 WPM and 1 error. I was pretty happy with that. I've never been one to do things very fast (call it Laziness if you want), so 50 is probably close to my physical figure speed maximum. The software integrates with an online account that saves all my tests, so I can graph my progress over time.

I looked through the website and see a lot of things that I didn't try. For example, I didn't look at the tutorials. Call it hubris, but I didn't want to spend my time there. There were always ways to connect with your social network. That may be helpful for newer typers, but that's not something I'd make use of either.

Typesy comes with access for 5 people, so I'll give each of the boys their own account when they are a bit older (2 and 3 seem a little early at this point). When that happens, I'll have a better idea of what their teaching program is like.

So far everything here has been glowingly positive about right? I did have some difficulties in installing the software. That didn't help my early bias that typing software was outdated. However, when I closed the installation and tried it a second time, it worked.

The software itself runs on Adobe AIR. That's good for Typesy because they can write it once and have it work on both Windows and Macs. Unfortunately, it requires installing extra software (the Adobe AIR environment). That was quick and it worked well. The style of the software itself doesn't have a "modern" feel to it. I'm not quite sure if it is the Adobe AIR environment that makes it look outdated, but no one walking by is going to stop and say, "Hey that looks really slick! What are you doing?" If that was one your priorities in your typing software, it may be best look elsewhere. While you are looking, might I suggest that you double-checking those priorities?

Still wondering whether you should give Typesy a shot? They have the best guarantee I've seen anywhere: "Our Fearless 12-Month 'Refund and $50' Guarantee." Not too many companies are willing to give you 12-month guarantee. Of those few, I'm not sure any of them (other than Typesy) will give you an extra $50.

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Posted on January 14, 2016.

How To Be Successful in the New Year

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[Note: Since many have suggested it is one of my better articles, I've republished this at the beginning of the year the last few years. It's the closest thing I have a to a tradition here. If the Today Show can put on 800 segments about losing weight at the start of the year, I might as well cover everything else. So, with many people looking to have their best year ever, here's my best attempt at constructing a plan of attack.

Some of the ideas are probably in desperate need of updating. I like to think that I've learned something over the last 7 years. Perhaps for next year I'll incorporate more ideas from my more recent blog Be Better Now which has a stronger focus on success and self-improvement in general.]

How To Be Successful In The New Year

How To Be Successful In The New Year

Preparation and Planning

  • Make a List of Short, Medium, and Long Term Goals - Each night before I go to sleep, I try to write down 5-10 things that I want to accomplish the next day. I make sure that at least 3-4 are things that I can complete that day and purge from my to-do list. I also make sure to add a couple of small parts of medium or long-term projects. Here's an example. I'm looking to write an eBook. One day my goal was to create an outline of the book - 9-12 chapters and 3-5 things that I wanted to cover in each chapter. The next day one of my goals was to write at least one of those 3-5 things in one chapter. In 1-2 months, I'll have my eBook written.
  • Catalog Your Progress - I started this blog to keep me accountable. I can't go out and buy a Ferrari on credit and then write about it here. I guess I won't go out and buy a Ferrari on credit then. See? Simple.

Fix Your Finances

This is important enough that I created a whole blog focusing on it. Use the link above for a half dozen easy ways to save thousands.

Learn These Skills

  • Sales / Marketing - Even if you don't think you have a product to sell, you do... yourself. I've learned that sales and marketing are not easy skills to learn. You can't shout "look at me!" or people will think you are obnoxious. You have to find people who might be genuinely interested in what you have to offer. I always find it best to be open and honest with what I have to sell. If the product is of value, you price it accordingly, and have the right buyer, it should sell itself. I've found that if you have to "sell" too hard, it's probably going to be a sale you regret making.
  • Public Speaking - I might be one of the most shy people on Earth. Talking to someone one-on-one often ties my stomach in knots. Imagine how I must feel about public speaking. I remember it was a required class in high school. I started off horrible, but by the end, I had earned an A. It's really a case where practice means everything. I suggest an organization such as Toastmasters.
  • Writing - Even if you are crafting a short e-mail, try to use proper grammar. You'd be surprised how many e-mails I receive where people make 6 mistakes in 6 sentences. Poor writing skills on the first impression impacts my view of the person's intelligence and/or professionalism. Perhaps it shouldn't be that way, but it is. A person who can write great commands my respect and my trust.
  • Networking - Get out there and meet new people in your areas of interest. When you know a lot of people, opportunities multiply. To go back to my eBook example above, I found someone who already has a successful eBook. He's in the process of getting it translated into an audio book now. He could definitely be a great resource for me to learn from. He's newer to blogging and doesn't have the number of readers that I have. I can probably give him a few tips and help him out. Now if I knew 100 people like this guy, I'd have a solution to almost every question I'd ever have at my fingertips.
  • Read More and Faster - I have always been a very slow reader. I simply don't scan text very well. Perhaps I'm afraid I'll miss a critical word or something silly like that. This is one area that I'm going to work on in the new year. Much of my time is spent reading, you'd think I'd at least be good at it.

Take Action

  • Help Someone with Something Everyday - This may sound like some kind of "Pay It Forward" hype. In some ways it is. I estimate that I've given guidance to around 50 or 100 bloggers who are just getting going that were looking for advice. Some of them became successful bloggers and some stopped blogging. The successful ones have returned the favor 100 times over or more. They link to my articles, they comment on my site, and fill me in with opportunities that I would have otherwise missed. This isn't limited to blogging. If you mentor someone, you'll be seen as a natural leader. I've always seen a strong correlation between leadership and success.
  • Make Mistakes - When I just got out of college, I took a job with a top ten Internet company. It was a very high profile job as I managed the search engine myself. It was about 20% of this 2 billion dollar company's traffic. The thought that I'd make a mistake scared me to death. I spent each day walking on eggshells until the day that I made a mistake. A strange thing happened. No one got upset with me, and we were able to recover pretty quickly. From that experience, I learned to always have a back-up plan. This allowed me to take some risks, experiment more, and eventually produce ideas that made the company millions. Just as importantly, I realized that I should tolerate other people's mistakes.
  • Surround Yourself with Like-Minded Individuals - There are studies that show an individual's income will be somewhere around the average of your closest five friends. That formula works for me and my closest friends - or it did until I decided to build my career from websites. There are also studies that show your weight will reflect those who you hang around with. It makes sense if you think about it. If your circle of friends likes to bounce business ideas off each other while playing a game of pickup basketball, you'll probably put yourself closer to the path of prosperity than if you tell fart jokes while eating Bon-Bons.
  • Exercise - Whenever I work out, I am all pumped up with endorphins for hours. It feels like nothing can stop me - as if I could tackle a bear. Instead of tackling a bear, I focus that energy on my list of goals and churn through it like never before.
  • Start a Website or Blog - It's easy to talk the talk, but what matters is if you can walk the walk. A website or blog not only makes you accountable for the goals that you set, but can also help you network and gather useful information. For more inspiration read how personal finance blogging helped me.

Be More Productive

  • Don't Get Wrapped Up in Television - I love television. However, I try to watch shows that you don't have to follow too closely. This way I can work while it's on. You won't see me watching a lot of Law and Order because it requires too much of my focus. However, having the Red Sox on the background doesn't distract me from accomplishing what I'm trying to.
  • Commute with Books on Tape (or Podcasts) - Most of the people I know have a 30-60 minute commute to work each day. You can listen to some morning talk show or a shock-jock DJ or you can learn some of the skills that I mention above. I'm not saying that you should throw away all entertainment, but if you are looking to increase your productivity, utilizing this downtime is a great start.
  • Declutter and Organize Your Home and Work Area - I used to waste a lot of time looking for stuff. The problem? I had stuff everywhere. I couldn't find the stuff that I needed from the old stuff that was piled around it. It's amazed me the number of things that I had around the home that I didn't use. Finally I simply said "Stuff It!" and got rid of most of the stuff that I didn't use and put other special stuff in a closet that I'll probably ignore for another years. Just like in What About Bob, "baby steps..." I tell myself.

Think Your Way To Success

  • Think Positively - I'm not going to get Stuart Smalley, Motivational Speaker on you, but making the conscious decision to focus on being financially successful is extremely helpful. Bringing finances to front of my mind, instead of the back has made a huge difference in my finances.
  • Don't Hate Money - Lose the thinking that money is the root of all evil. Start thinking about it as a key to freedom to do whatever interests you. Think of it as a way to help friends, family, and charities important to you. Think about how you could use money to make the world a better place.
  • Appreciate What You Have - Schedule a day to just appreciate yourself. Appreciate the things that you do have. The fact that you are reading this likely means that you are much better off than others in the world.
  • Be In A Good Mood - One of my favorite lines from Say Anything is when Lloyd Dobler (played by John Cusack) says to his sister, "Why can't you be in a good mood? How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood once in a while?"

The Most Important Key to Success...

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Last updated on January 2, 2016.

Just One Thing…

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The last few weeks I've been trying something new. I've put one thing on my to-do list that has been nagging me.

Just one thing.

Just one thing...

Just one thing...

I do everything else that I do in a typical day, but I also get that one more thing done. I think back to my what my 9th grade gym teacher used to say about weight-lifting:

"The first ten reps just keep you where you are, the last 2 or 3 are your gain. That's your gain!"

I've tried to manage long to-do lists. It works for a bit, but I can't seem to make them long-term habits. Maybe the size just overwhelms me. I decided to simplify. I have one thing beside each work day of the month on an Excel spreadsheet.

Sometimes it is something big. Sometimes it is something small. If it's something small, I give myself permission to grab another thing. If one thing is too big, I give myself permission to push some of the work to the next day.

Using this concept, I've made great strides in eliminating things that I had been procrastinating on. For example, my taxes are always difficult. Even with a tax person, getting her all the information takes a lot of time and processing. It got to late August and I realized that I still have been pushing last years taxes for "later." This

I had mentioned earlier that I've started my dog sitting business. It's something I had been thinking about doing since January. It made the list, I signed up, and booked around $400 in dog sitting in my first month. It is actually averaging around $500 a month now, but that is a small sample size that included a particularly busy Labor Day.

You may also notice a lot more pictures with articles on this website. I made it a point to finally track down a bug in my publishing software that made it a lengthy process to upload a picture. When it's a 15 minute process, I have difficulty adding pictures to posts. Now that I've got it down to around 90 seconds, you can have pictures. The only downside is that you may have to deal with pictures of Tom Brady who seems to be hated in 44 states. Update: The fix may have its own issues, so it may have to go back on the list.

I'm getting a little carried away in the excitement of completing these tasks. It feels a little like going from a treadmill to getting outside and going for a run. I'm feeling like I'm moving forward, getting somewhere.

So what do you think? Can you do just one thing today?

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Posted on September 9, 2015.

Paperless Office: The Secret Savings

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In a conversation with a friend today, it came up in the conversation that we rent a 3-bedroom place. (I don't know how this hadn't come up in the past). Almost as soon as I mentioned it, I thought to myself, "We don't need 3-bedrooms... we could save money if we went with something a little smaller." This lead me to reflect on why we went went for a 3-bedroom place. When I looked back on the decision it was a combination of getting a dog (who has quickly grown into a big dog) and the fact that we used our office quite often.

What has changed? Well our dog hasn't shrunk. It turns out that we use our office less. Why? There are at least four reasons:

  1. We use less paper than we have in the past - We aren't completely paperless... truthfully we aren't even close. However, we deal with less paper than we did 3 years ago.
  2. Our office is further away - It's a bit of a winding staircase to get to our office. I'm not going to play the Lazy card here, but the dining room table can serve as a desk and its closer.
  3. Laptops are our friends - In the past we'd trek up to the office (okay, I'm playing the lazy card now) to use the desktop. However, a laptop is small and convenient enough that it can do 99% of what we need... no office trip required.

I've known for some time that going paperless has its advantages. It's environmentally friendly. It is easy to backup your your data remotely. You don't have to physically store the paper. However, I never thought that saving the need for a whole room (and the associated the money savings) is perhaps the biggest reason to go paperless.

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environment, Productivity

Posted on October 6, 2010.

Work From Home? 8 Ways to Keep Focused

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I don't know if I mentioned it before, but I have the attention span of a... did you see the Celtics beat LeBron by 30 points on Tuesday in Cleveland? Sorry. Over the last 3 years, I've spent about a year and half working at home. While that doesn't make me an expert, I have learned a few tricks of the trade to keep focused. I thought I'd share a few things that worked well for me.

  • Plan the Day... the Night Before - Create a short guideline of what you want to get to done the next day. Getting this done the night before means that you
  • Wear Pants - I never thought I'd find myself writing about the basic need to wear pants... but I am. It's very tempting to just roll out of bed and get working. For me that's a recipe for failure. For some reason, I subconsciously associate pajamas with "Time to check out stats in my fantasy baseball league."
  • Eat Breakfast - Eating breakfast is like putting on pants above... it just gets you in a good rhythm. When I didn't have breakfast, I'd find that I'd attempt to get to work, get about 5 minutes in and then decide, "It's a good time to have breakfast." I'd then spend 5 minutes after breakfast trying to get back to where I was before breakfast
  • Organize Tasks - When your tasks aren't organized, chaos ensues. It's hard to stay focused when your brain is juggling too much data. So I try to use tools like Evernote, Google Calendar, mind maps, and even a simple text editor create order of any information in my head. Then I try create tasks that can be broken into 15-20 minute slices.
  • Grab a Kitchen Timer - While there are many software programs that you can download (or even web based ones that will the do the job), I prefer the old fashioned kitchen timer. I then set the kitchen timer and the race to complete the first task begins. It's extremely hard to get distracted in the middle of a race.
  • Schedule Some Small Breaks - All focus and no breaks make Lazy a dull Man. To avoid chopping up your family during a blizzard (or just to reset your internal clock and get back to productivity) take a break. That break might be something productive like fold some laundry or unload a dishwasher - or it might be getting to that fantasy league. I like to switch it up - one productive break for one fun break. Always make use of that kitchen timer while on the break.
  • Plan a Halftime - Similar to scheduling the small breaks above, I try to divide my day into two halves. That halftime usually consists of a quick lunch and something really mindless activity like taking my dog to the dog park or going for a swim (whether permitting of course). During these mindless activities, I reflect a little on what I accomplished in the first half and what the game plan is for the second half of the day. Reflection may or may not include imagining your favorite football coach berate your performance... that's entirely optional.
  • Limit Your Web Browsing - I created separate Firefox profiles for increased productivity and I suggest you do to. When I'm in the work profile, I don't have the quick auto-complete to my "fun" sites. During breaks I can load up my fun Firefox profile and quickly get to what I want.
  • Bonus Tip - If you seriously want to start a web based business venture from home then you might want to consult with a start-up expert like SunDoc Filings, who can advise you on all the legal ramifications associated with start-ups

What do you use to stay on track? Let me know in the comments.

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Last updated on July 14, 2014.

How to Find a Virtual Assistant

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Since I mentioned hiring a virtual assistant on Monday, I've been a steady stream of e-mail.... "How do you find a virtual assistant?" is the common question. If a few people are taking time out of their day to ask me, there are probably a number who are curious and just too Lazy to write me.

I'm going to start off with my experience, which is probably not the answer everyone is looking for... I have a friend who referred me. I suppose that's how most jobs are filled. Still I have some advice if I didn't get that introduction, I'd look into these two services.

  • Elance it - has a number of people willing to help you. I employ a writer from there for side projects.
  • Ask Sunday - Ask Sunday is a site that is more research-oriented. They are offering more tasks recently, but it's still not just a free-form which I use. So while I've been tempted to get a subscription from time to time, I haven't pulled the trigger.

The biggest key to a successful relationship with a virtual assistant is... the relationship. You have to know what you can and can not ask. Keep your assistant happy and he/she will keep you happy.

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Posted on July 8, 2009.

Are Your Resources Swallowed Up By Parkinson’s Law?

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parkinsons-law-crowding.jpgEvery time I've heard about Parkinson's it's been in the context of the debilitating medical condition that my grandmother died of. Recently I've read about a different kind of Parkinson's - Parkinson's Law. Even if you don't recognize the name, I'm betting that you've come across the phenomenon. Wikipedia's definition is very brief, Parkinson's Law is the adage that "work expands to fill the time available."

Three Ways I've Been Impacted by Parkinson's Law

If you read a little more into the Wikipedia definition, you'll see that a more general definition is "the demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource." I've found this to be true of nearly every project I've tried to accomplish in life. Specifically it applies to at least three areas, work, space, and money.

Parkinson's Law of Work/Time

This was the base case mentioned from the outset. Have you ever had that book report that you put off until the last minute? I always choked it up to procrastination, but maybe it was Parkinson's Law. In my years as a software engineer, I've rarely seen a project finish under the projected time allotted for the work. This is theme that's prevalent in Frederick Brook's Mythical Man-Month.

Sadly, I find that this continues with my writing today. In fact, it's several times worse, because I have some long term projects that have no definitive due date on them. When there is no due date, the work expands infinitely. I need to work on this. One idea I'm thinking of is enlisting my wife as a project manager. I'd explain to her each week what I'm looking to accomplish. At the end of the week, we'd go through and make sure that I have it - instant accountability!

Parkinson's Law of Space

Do you have a problem with clutter? Ever think that if you just had more space, you'd be magically organized? Maybe it works for you. It doesn't work well for me. If I have a really big desk, I will use up every inch of that space with stuff. I think I rationalize it as, "I still have more space before I have start to clean."

Maybe it's not your desk, but your clothes closet. Or maybe it's a McMansion that you need to fill with furniture. Or maybe it's crowded kitchen counters.

Parkinson's Law of Money

Have you ever gotten a tax refund or raise? Was your first thought in your mind that you can now buy that pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or a plasma television? Yeah, I've never had those thoughts either ;-). That's probably because you are reading this site and likely have read other personal finance sites.

The average person does think like this and some call it lifestyle inflation. If you make more money, the demand for your money rises.

Possible Solutions for Parkinson's Law

While there are many solutions here are a couple that I've found help me.

  • Time - I stay on track when I work at home with a kitchen timer. I divide my tasks into smaller, manageable pieces. I then give myself 10-15 minutes to finish the task and move on to the next one.
  • Space - My wife and I live in a 1100 sq. ft. apartment. We could probably squeeze into an 800 sq. ft. place with a little spring cleaning. I like to focus a little more on thinking small and doing more with less space. Maybe that means having a Wii instead of a pool table.
  • Money - I pay myself first. If I don't see the money in my checking account I can't spend it. If I can get it in a tax-advantaged retirement account, I'm sure I'm not going to spend it frivolously.

Do you have a problem with Parkinson's Law? How do you solve the problems that can arise from it? Let me know in the comments...

Photo Credit: Guacamole Goalie

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Posted on June 24, 2008.

StickK to Your Goals

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Have you ever made a goal and resolution only to fall short? Come on, admit it, we all have. I'm way behind on my goal to complete a Personal MBA this year. Motivation is the main reason why we don't finish what we start. In my case, I am struggling with sitting and reading anything longer than a web page - a requirement to complete the Personal MBA. I lack the motivation.

Now I have a solution. A website called StickK allows you to "put a contract on yourself." Here's how it works...
You set up a goal. You tell people about your goal and appoint a judge to determine if you've reached it. That's simply enough, right? Nothing too revolutionary there. Here's the kicker - you put your money where your mouth is. The website has tools to allow you to put money in escrow. You only get it back if you accomplish the goal. You designate where it goes if you fail - it could be to a friend or a charity. However, the best plan is a charity or organization that you hate. Here are some possible scenarios:

  • Bill wants to run a marathon. He's very much into politics and finds himself firmly in the Democratic philosophy of thinking. If he doesn't run the marathon by the date he set up, his money goes to the Republican party.
  • No Credit Needed decides that for the 4,623th time he's going to try lose weight. He is firmly against the use of credit. If he doesn't meet his weight-loss goals, he invests in MasterCard and Visa stock.
  • Lazy Man wants to boost readership of this site as well as Lazy Man and Health. He sets a goal of having a 750,000 visitors to his sites in 2008. He's a big New England Patriots fan. If he doesn't reach the visitor goal he gives up the dream of creating a time machine for the sole purpose of going back and preventing Archie Manning from procreating. Scratch that, let's say the penalty is buying and wearing a Peyton Manning shirt for a day when he goes back to Boston.

Do you think that Bill, No Credit Needed, or Lazy Man are going to put an extra effort to reach their goals? Oh you best believe it.

Would you be willing to take a contract out on yourself?

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Posted on March 26, 2008.

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