Senior leadership positions across America require stability. CEOs, community leaders, cabinet members need time to establish momentum. They should be selected very carefully, and then placed in position for a significant period of time. Successful corporations and organizations have senior leaders that have been in position for many years, in some cases decades.
It really is about time management for building effective organizations. Generally, senior leaders should spend the first 25% of their tenure building their team, establishing policies and procures, and putting systems in place. They should spend the next 50% of their time in the position in the execution phase, focused on getting things done. And then, for the good of the organization, they should spend the last 25% of their time preparing to transition well.
Case in point is the recent “resignation“ of the Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. The Department of Defense requires stable leadership. The very fact that there has been 3 Secretaries of Defense in the past 6 years, with a 4th one on the horizon, should cause us all to pause. We as a Nation cannot afford unnecessary turbulence at this critical position. Several things must be considered to get a SecDef in place for the long haul that will help keep our Nation secure in these difficult times.
After I retired from the US Army, I wrote a book about adaptive leadership entitled Adapt or Die: Leadership Principles from an American General. I took 35 years in the Army and 4 years at West Point and condensed those down to 9 leadership principles with a focus on Faith and Family. I am convinced that we as a Nation are struggling due to ineffective leadership who can’t adapt to changing circumstances. This is occurring at all levels, from National down to local communities. We must change that.
A critical trait for effective, adaptive senior leaders is to focus on opportunities, not obstacles. In our day-to-day lives, routinely things happen that were unforeseen. Resources that we thought were going to be made available are no longer available. The time we thought we had is truncated. Events took a different turn than we expected. Effective leaders look upon these changed circumstances as an opportunity, not as an obstacle. I was taught many years ago that you can’t roll up your sleeves while you are wringing your hands. We must capitalize on opportunities as they come our way.
We as a nation now have an opportunity as a result of the mid-term elections. America has voted. We have decided who will be our leaders at all levels. We selected US Senators and Representatives, Governors, and State Legislators. Starting January 1, 2015 we will have our elected leaders in place. The question is will they, on behalf of the American public, embrace the changes and focus on the opportunity at hand. We must demand that they do.
The key element in all this will be to focus on doing what is right for America, as opposed to doing what is right for a particular political party. As a leader, I always asked three questions: (1) Are we doing the right things? (2) Are we doing things right? (3) What are we missing? These are very important questions. If we are doing the right things the right way, let’s drive on. If not, let’s stop and make the appropriate correction. That’s what needs to happen now throughout America.
I am concerned that we as Americans have lost our identity. In the past, we proudly introduced ourselves as Americans. Now the tendency is to introduce ourselves as Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives, etc. We must regain our identity, and our leaders must focus on what is right for America. They must put aside their petty differences and work towards compromise. They cannot spend all their time focused on how to win the next election, but rather on how to enact laws and pass legislation that is in the best interests of America. We must break out of the current stalemate, and make things happen.
In a democracy, the elected officials work for us. Let’s demand that they spend time focused on opportunities for America, and then do things to make those opportunities come to life. We must demand action. Let’s not let them spend time worrying about the obstacles in their path, commiserating about who won or lost the election or how do we make the other party look bad. Let’s not accept that. Our Nation’s future depends on leaders who will take advantage of the opportunity given to them to do what is right for America.
Lately my editor, David Swindle, has been encouraging me to develop a series describing my own out-of-the-box Jewish faith. It’s this mish-mosh of biblical proverbs, Torah adages, stories and songs tightly woven together by my American colonial heritage and intense Zionist pride. There is no one perfect word to describe my Jewishness beyond biblical in nature. Orthodox, Conservative, even Reform I am not. Reconstructionist or Renewal? Forget it. But I find commentary from all denominations (“streams” we call them in Judaism) interesting and acceptable in a “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” kind of way that gives me the liberty to define my Judaism in a way most of my compatriots are simply afraid to do. Which is probably why David finds my approach so fascinating. It’s rare to find a Jew who isn’t somehow fettered by the chains of guilt.
So I begin at the beginning, with Thanksgiving, the quintessential Jewish and American holiday. Traditionally Jews celebrate the idea roughly 1-2 months earlier during Sukkot, a festive fall harvest holiday in which we humble ourselves before the God who brought us out of bondage, not because we are perfect, but because He loves us and wanted to dwell with us. (Sukkahs, as in “tabernacles,” as in “the Lord tabernacles with us.”) When you understand the story of God and Israel as a passionate love story, the struggles are contextualized as are the prophecies, into tough tales with happy endings. When you understand the metaphor of God and Israel as a greater metaphor of God’s love for humanity (we’re just the physical reminders) you open your heart to the immense, overwhelming love of God. And there is nothing more you can do as a human being than reflect on that truth with awe-filled gratitude.
I am re-reading the book Krav Maga: How to Defend Yourself Against Armed Assault as I went back to a private lesson last week. I took Krav Maga lessons about six years ago and decided that I needed a refresher course. For those of you who do not know what Krav Maga is, from the book I mentioned:
Krav Maga is today’s cutting edge self-defense and hand to hand combat system. Initially developed by Grandmaster Imi Sde-Or (Lichtenfeld) for the Israel Defense Forces and other national security services, Krav Maga has been thoroughly adapted to meet civilan needs. The method was designed so that ordinary citizens, young and old, men and women alike, can successfully use it, regardless of their physical strength. This is the first and only authorized comprehensive manual on the Krav Maga discipline, written by its founder, Imi Sde-Or, and his senior disciple and follower, Eyal Yanilove. This volume especially focuses on the various facets of dealing with an assailant armed with a sharp-edged weapon, a blunt object, or a firearm.
One of the tips the book mentions is to avoid injury. Apparently, I can’t follow that rule as I came home with a boxer’s contusion on my right hand. I remember when I took Taekwondo, I broke my fingers twice. I was in grad school at the time and decided it wasn’t worth risking not being able to write and left the classes after three years (the karate classes, not the grad school, though the risk of getting an expensive degree that wouldn’t pan out was certainly up for debate).
Aim High! Follow Your Dreams! Don’t Wake Up at 70 and Regret Your Life!
Great motivational words, but not especially realistic when life presents so many obstacles, right? Sorry, wrong. Far too often, the “obstacles” in our way are simply challenges that grow in our minds to become excuses. Those excuses get between us and our goals. Today, we look at ten excuses, why they are excuses, and what we can do about them.
1. I don’t have enough money.
Oh, poor you, living in a crappy motel that doubles as your office… Oh, wait. That was Bill Gates.
Success comes at a price. Many successful people started out pinching pennies and surviving on ham and cheese sandwiches. Others worked elsewhere to fund their dreams or found investors. Thanks to people like Gates, we have the Internet, which has made crowdfunding not just viable but common. And if you aren’t able to make the sacrifices, perhaps you can tweak your dream: volunteer at an art museum instead of owning a gallery, for example.
15. Everything you know about the social stratosphere is wrong…
College is nothing like high school. You understand this in theory, but have never experienced the kind of social freedom you will in college. There are no cliques. There is no lunch table. Welcome to the world of being an adult. For the first couple of weeks you’ll attend pre-arranged mixers, usually orientation events or annoying team-building activities your RA spent all summer training to lead. These awkward moments are helpful for one reason: Discovering who has a car. As a freshman, be aware that the parties you crash at frat houses aren’t for making friends, they’re for getting drunk and hooking up. You’ve been warned.
See the previous installment in Susan’s Dudeism series: How to Become an Official Dude in 10 Easy Steps
Warning: Given that the f-bomb is dropped in The Big Lebowski over 200 times, some of these clips will most likely be NSFW.
10. Abiding is a science as well as an art.
Patience is an inherent aspect of abiding. Other definitions include “to endure without yielding,” “to accept without objection,” and “to remain stable.” In the world of the Internet and social media technology, abiding is an anachronistic action. We have been shaped by our media to function at rapid speeds. One of the biggest goals of Common Core is to increase the speed at which students mentally process information. Not study, analyze and comprehend, but process and regurgitate the way they would like and share a Twitter or Facebook post. Abiding flies in the face of today’s high-speed reactionary culture.
10. Watch The Big Lebowski a minimum of 3 times.
The first time you watch Lebowski, encounter the film fresh and unfettered. Invite a friend or two over. Make it a casual affair and, if you can, do a double feature. Watch The Maltese Falcon beforehand so you have some understanding of how incredibly screwed up the plotline is going to be. The second time you watch Lebowski, do so with a Caucasian in hand. Immerse yourself in the experience, not as a moviegoer, but as a key aspect of the mise en scene. Discover your favorite quotes. By your third go-round, call in sick, lounge in your bathrobe, and when your friends say, “You wasted a sick day on that movie?” respond with, “Well, that’s like, your opinion, man.” Be sure to obtain the collector’s edition and review the special features for complete immersion.
There’s a lot to learn before a young man enters the world of dating. Here are the top 10 movies that have lessons that will educate him, help him, and get him ready to navigate the difficult world of dating. Let’s start with number 10:
What? Did you expect The Notebook? This movie about an alien invasion and battles between humans and bugs is nominally based on Robert A. Heinlein’s classic of the same name.
Why it’s important: The main character, Johnny Rico, is oblivious to Dizzy Flores, his fellow high school student. She has a huge crush on him and eventually lands him by the oldest play in the book: proximity. She sticks with him. She’s at his side in the mud and blood of battle and when it comes time for him to decide between her and the gorgeous Carmen, his original love interest is far away and way out of the picture. This is a movie with many flaws, but the singleminded pursuit of Rico by Dizzy Flores is worth examination. Plus, of course, the battle scenes are epic.
January 27, 2013: What Near-Death Experiences Tell Us
Among the nine lines of evidence that Long reviews: People who were blind from birth experience clear vision during NDEs and accurately report things they saw, usually in the operating room but sometimes even outside of it. NDEs sometimes occur during general anesthesia “when no form of consciousness should be taking place.” Virtually all people encountered during NDEs are deceased, usually relatives; skeptics who insist NDEs are a dream or hallucination-like event cannot explain why, unlike in dreams or hallucinations, that should be the case. NDEs often change people’s lives permanently, leading to enhanced spirituality or religiosity; in Long’s survey, 95 percent said subsequent to their NDEs that they were “definitely real” and 5 percent “probably real.”
And NDEs show remarkably similar features all over the world, transcending religious and cultural backgrounds. One of those constantly reported features is the encounter with the deity. Strongly religious people usually perceive the deity (and sometimes other mythological beings) in terms of their own religion; but people of little or no religion also have the encounter and speak more generally of a “being of light.”
Most dramatically of all, the phrase “unconditional love” occurs repeatedly in these descriptions. The deity is reported to be what we would call nonjudgmental; entirely accepting; and a source of overwhelming love. Yes, the news is rather good.
A Russian NDEr named Victor reported: “The light was extraordinary. In it were love and peace. I was completely enveloped by love and I felt totally secure.” Miller notes that “the descriptions of [the light’s] personality and abilities and effects are remarkably similar.” Moody called the encounter “the most incredible common element” of NDEs and affirmed that “not one person has expressed any doubt whatsoever that it was a being, a being of light.”
The being of light is always singular; there is only one, never multiple beings. Van Lommel wrote: “This encounter is always accompanied by an overwhelming sense of unconditional love and acceptance.” The light knows and cares about the NDEr’s whole life and personal choices, and is always experienced as just, not capricious or errant.
February 16, 2014: Near-Death Experiences—A New Take on Life, Part 1: Sam Parnia Explains Where the Field Is Leading
To all that must be added the numerous reports of people in NDEs accurately recalling specific conversations and events that occurred—in and sometimes out of their operating rooms—while they had no brain function. Parnia recounts one case where a new doctor, dealing with a patient in a prolonged cardiac arrest, ate the patient’s lunch. After recovery, the patient described to the doctor a detailed NDE, and finished with: “And you ate my lunch!”
No, the skeptics may not like it, but doctors and their staff are hearing more and more accounts from revived patients like this one, told by a patient to a nurse in Parnia’s AWARE study:
His journey commenced by travelling through a tunnel towards a very strong light, which didn’t dazzle him or hurt his eyes. Interestingly, he said that there were other people in the tunnel, whom he did not recognize. When he emerged he described a very beautiful crystal city and I quote “I have seen nothing more beautiful.” He said there was a river that ran through. There were many people, without faces, who were washing in the waters….
What’s going on? Some scientists are suggesting, Parnia notes, that “human consciousness or the soul may in fact be an irreducible scientific entity in its own right, similar to many of the concepts in physics, such as mass and gravity, which are also irreducible entities.” If so, then consciousness is not just an epiphenomenon of the brain; it has an independent existence and could survive death. The exhaustive, multiauthored book Irreducible Mind, well-known in the field of mind-brain studies, argues just such positions based on abundant evidence.
image illustrations courtesy shutterstock / Bruce Rolff /
Hi, everyone. My name is Charlie, and I’m not a workaholic. Honest. I mean, I do tend to get up at 6AM and find myself sitting in bed at 10PM thinking I should be writing something more before I go to sleep, and I have been known to get stubborn about a programming problem and work 30 hours straight, but I can give it up anytime, really.
Okay, yes, I am being a little facetious and before anyone gets their drawers in a monkey’s-fist with six inches of square chain sinnet, I’m not making fun of alcoholics or addicts or anyone else who’s been helped by 12 Step programs; I’m making fun of myself. But with a point: I do tend to overwork.
What I am is a creative. I am continually assailed by ideas, things I want to write, build, paint, or create. My observation of creatives is that they live in one of two states: they are either driven, or they’re blocked. Being blocked is horrible (and a topic for another time, but let me say if you are blocked, go out right now and read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.) Being driven is fun — you’re doing something you love and you’re excited and you don’t want to stop.
A running complaint that Sarah and I share is that while it’s great doing this, it also has its limits. Sarah knows she’s hit her limit when she gets some horrible respiratory bug or sinus infection. I know it when I get depressed, irascible (yes, even more irascible) and end up spending two days in bed, sleeping or playing computer solitaire.
I have a second issue with this. I tend to be what Barbara Sher calls a scanner — not my favorite word for it, since I’m a Cordwainer Smith fan, so maybe you could say “hummingbird” or “butterfly”. (Where does a 6′ 3″ 265 pound butterfly land? Anywhere he damn wants.) In any case, in a lot of ways I’m motivated by learning new things and rewarded by that first skin-prickling hit of a cool new idea, but tend to go “lookit, a squirrel” off after the next idea when it hits.
So Sarah and I have decided to collaborate on a new 13 week experiment in managing two competing desires:
- being optimally productive
- without sacrificing health and sanity. Or at least health.
We’ll be writing about this weekly (he said, typing carefully) in the form of a colloquy or conversation.
Let’s look at the issue again. I have, at last count, about 27 bazillion projects I’d like to do — fiction, nonfiction, computer programs, spec scripts for TV and movies, and I’m tied into a startup company — plus I’d like to make time for painting and drawing and I’m intent on getting a little more exercise and at least occasionally actually leaving the house.
I’ve experimented with David Allen’s Getting Things Done method, and while I see a lot of appeal in it, it’s directed more toward people who want to get things done in a limited time. When I do GTD, I end up with unlimited things. The GTD books seem mostly directed to people with limited time to want to do more; I see my problem as seeing things through to “done” and limiting my time.
I am a regular guy. I have zero resemblance to the guys you see on the countless weight loss commercials currently running on television. I still have work to do to become more healthy. But I did something last year that I’ve never been able to do in a lifetime of weight struggles. I lost a significant amount of weight in a relatively short amount of time. Moreover, I did it in a healthy way, and I was able to keep it off.
How did I do it? Well, first let me tell you the basics. On January 1 of 2013 I weighed in at 283 pounds. I was significantly overweight. I was unhealthy, ate poorly, was very inactive, and took blood pressure medicine that I desperately needed. By May 1, 2013, I dropped 40 pounds, was eating much better, exercised 5-6 days a week, and was off blood pressure medicine. And most importantly, I felt great doing it. Well, what did I do? I could probably list 20 things, but I narrowed it down to five. And these are five things that I think can help anyone get healthier if they are ready for a change.
5. Make water your friend.
Have I lost you already? Is this too boring for you? Is this too simple? I don’t care. Do it! Drinking a ton of water was a key to my weight loss and I guarantee it’ll be a key to anyone else’s weight loss. Get yourself a big bottle that you don’t mind making your friend. Take it to work, drive with it, work out with it, and have it with you always. And then take sips all day, every day.
What’s the big deal about water? It has too many benefits for me to list them all, but here are a few: water suppresses your appetite, has zero bad stuff in it (drink filtered), increases metabolism, helps your body retain nutrients, is what your body is made of, helps maintain normal digestion, and energizes muscles. There are more, but those are enough reasons for any of us to start diving into some H2O.
Water is your new friend. Save money by drinking water instead of other beverages. That’ll free up some income to buy healthier foods. Drink a full glass of water before a meal and it’ll both speed up your metabolism and make you eat less. Get at least 64 ounces a day. And if you think that’s a lot, then check out your biggie cup of soda. I bet it’s at least 32 ounces. Put down the soda and pick up a big bottle of water.
You’re going to need to be well-hydrated if you are going to do number 4.
Selling your Writing in 13 Weeks, Week 10
Yes, I know, it sounds like I’m always saying more or less the same thing: “you have to give the impression that you are traditionally published if you want to really sell.”
Unfortunately, this is true. The public still views traditionally published books as better. Though there is an interesting effect happening, maybe because I’ve talked so much about indie publishing, in that some of my fans are contacting me about typos and issues with my traditionally published books, forcing me to say “well, there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
But in general, you want to look like the traditionally published books in your sub-genre. (Minus the typos – which frankly happen in any publishing, and, yes, will happen to you too.)
Only you don’t want to look like just any books in that subgenre.
Look, in the bad old days the publishing houses had to limit their resources. This meant that most of the books got thrown out into that big, cold world with barely enough work put into it to look decent and professional.
For instance, at a panel at a con, a friend and I were discussing her just-accepted book with the two editors who, supposedly at least, worked on it, and it became obvious to us they’d only read the proposal and never the completed manuscript.
This is because my friend’s book was a second novel, and had been slated to be released with as little support and fanfare as possible.
Now, you’ve gone out and got yourself a publishing house name, and you have a publishing house webpage (don’t do what I do, and forget to update it/not settle on a theme for months on end) and you – frankly – look professional.
So… are you going to just release your book out there, with minimal work/support, like any other mid-list book?
I can hear you protesting now. “But Sarah, you say, I am a shoe-string operation with exactly one editor and one writer.”
Yes, of course, and we will talk about compromises you can and have to make, but there are also things you can do to make it look like the book is “high list” and important to the house.
“But I can’t make all my books look high list!” you say.
Um… why not?
Who has two thumbs and loves Back to the Future? This guy! Replete with such cornball humor, and stimulating the imagination to ponder mysteries of the universe like temporal displacement and women, the ’80s popcorn adventures hold up to this day.
As 2015 nears, boasting a movie release schedule packed with blockbuster franchises – everything from the next Star Wars to Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World – it saddens me to realize we won’t also see a revisiting of the Back to the Future universe. You may recall that 2015 was the year that Doc Brown and Marty McFly traveled to in the second film. That year will also mark the 30th anniversary of the franchise. A second volume of films centering around the disparity between 2015 as we will know it and the one encountered by Marty as a teenager carries a lot of potential. If only screenwriter Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis were reading.
Much of the fun in Back to the Future emerges from a clash of generations, how things change over time — and how they stay the same. The second film in the series addresses what might happen if you went back in time and told your younger self how to be successful. Marty McFly plots to take a sports almanac from 2015 back to 1985 so he can place bets on foreseen outcomes. When the book falls into the hands of an elderly and villainous Biff Tannen, he executes the same plan to disastrous effect.
Sure, sending your younger self stock tips or sports scores may be an underhanded way to achieve your best life now. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t less scandalous messages you could send which might produce a better result. Here are 6 warnings I would send my younger self.
One of the cool things about writing these columns is that I’m always learning something new. Sometimes it’s reading new things — I’ve been reading a lot about Buddhist yogacara recently — sometimes it’s that I find new ideas as a result of trying to explain something in a column, and sometimes, like today, it’s that I’ve run into something I’d never seen before.
Regular readers know that I’ve suffered for most of my life from depression. In fact, “double depression”, chronic dysthymia with occasional acute episodes of depression. Chronic dysthymia is basically chronic low-level depression, what Shirley Maclaine is talking about in Steel Magnolias when she says “I”m not crazy, I’ve just been in a very bad mood for forty years!”
One of the characteristics of depression is obsessive thoughts: you find yourself obsessively thinking that there’s no hope, that you have failed and will always fail, that you’re unworthy of happiness, worthless, and a burden to yourself, your friends, and your family. For me, one of the striking things about antidepressants, especially Prozac, fluoxetine, the one that has worked best for me, is that my thinking about these things became clearer. I was more able to recognize when I was really unhappy above something, and when it was just depression “thinking me” that way.
So, as I’ve written about suffering and the end of suffering in the last couple of weeks, I’ve realized that there’s a sort of obsessiveness there too. Sitting zazen, meditating, gives you a look at your mental processes. You get yourself settled, you start watching your breath or counting or repeating a mantra, and you find yourself dragged away by other thoughts. You catch yourself dwelling on those thoughts, anticipating or remembering pleasures, worrying about things to come or remembering with embarrassment things that have happened, fantasizing about what you should have said, or what you are going to say.
Those are all examples of the roots of suffering: trishna, “thirst” or “desire”, for pleasant things, desire to avoid unpleasant things, desire to make or control things or simply be something else. I, for example, want to be a dragon.
Check out the previous installments in the evolutions of my 2013 Self-Improvement Experiment:
December 31, 2012: 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal
February 2, 2013: The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s
April 10: The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen
September 28: The 20 Books in My New To-Blog-About-and-Review Pile
Well, the past few weeks I’ve fallen off the wagon with my 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen. I tried to blend my daily reading/blogging series with my book reviews and favorite author promotions. But my challenge as an editor has remained the same: it can be real rough to try and balance editing and writing. Each day will be different and new challenges will emerge that need attention. So the focused time to try and integrate a serious analysis of an author’s book with the news of the day often did not materialize.
But I think I’ve figured out a solution. To define and implement it I’m doing what I mentioned in last week’s preview of the new 13 Weeks Season – stopping the last experiment early and starting new to align with Rhonda, Sarah, and the turn of the seasons. For your own 13 Weeks experiment I recommend trying to start with the seasons and shift your goals according to each season’s opportunities. 13×4=52, BTW.
So for this new attempt to organize my book research, I’m emphasizing a few new components of the strategy. Most important: I’m going to schedule some writing time into the mix — so-called “wild man” writing time. This is when one tells the internal editors and proofreaders to take a coffee break while you focus on writing as much as possible, as quickly as possible, legibility and spelling be damned. Just get the raw, uncensored version of yourself out there and you can rein yourself in and edit when typing later.
One of the ideas that I’ve gradually come to accept and now will attempt to institutionalize is that reading, writing, editing, and publishing are four very different tasks. With the rise of New Media now all four have been squished together. Many writers and bloggers today have grown accustomed to creating media in a perpetual rush to keep up with the gushing news flow and the demands to maximize web traffic for hot stories. These four tasks have been blended together and in today’s tech world one must learn to shift from one incoming task to another every few minutes.
I’ve decided that in order to increase both the quality and quantity of my writing I have to divide up these four tasks so I can intensely focus on each. I’m influenced in this by both Sarah Hoyt and Charlie Martin and their adoption of the Pomodoro technique. They’ve found success in focusing on single tasks for 25 minutes at a time, then taking a 5-minute break, and then after 4 cycles taking a 20 minute break.
In pursuit of this method I base my 10 revised rules from the foundation Charle established with his original 4 13 Weeks Principles:
By accident, however, I’d noticed a process, or pattern.
Decide there’s something you want to change.
Find ways to measure your progress.
Decide on some small unthreatening things you can do that should affect those measures.
Track the results for 13 weeks and see what happens. It helps to pick appropriate tools and techniques for that tracking, but something as simple as a Seinfeld calendar, where you just draw an X on a calendar for every day you do something can be very powerful.
So for me, in revising my 10 rules (amended last in July here) I’ll keep in mind Charlie’s mold. My answers to the four points:
- I want to change both the quantity and quality of my reading research and daily writing.
- I will blog 5-7 days a week and rather than doing a round-up 5 days a week, I’m just going to do a daily reading journal of the day’s PJM content and other links around the web that jump out.
- I’m hoping that the Pomodoro approach will be the small change that can improve the results.
- In addition to my daily blogging about progress, I’m formalizing a practice I’ve experimented with for a few weeks now. The Wife recommended a new journal — this 600 page whopper. I’ve kept it open throughout the work day and tried to notate more how I spend my time. Some days are more detailed than others…
Well folks its been fun.
This is the final installment of our 13 Weeks to Family Financial Freedom After a Crisis series. Although I can’t honestly say, after just 13 weeks of effort, we are now flying high; I can say we are not in a financial free fall. We are gliding to freedom on the wings of God’s grace–and frankly, the view has been both frightening and exhilarating.
In “5 Rules for Lifting Your Family Out of Economic Hardship” I rolled out my “13 weeks” goals: Track daily my progress on a Seinfeld calendar, write a new budget, assess our lifestyle, cut living expenses by 40 percent and increase our income by at least that much.
Tracking my daily progress on a calendar didn’t work out as planned. Turns out, my inconsistency is the most consistent thing about me. My failure could be attributed to my personality type or the fact that my stated goals for marking-off days needed to be more concrete (low-tech operator error). Did you do it? Yes is an X, no is a blank spot or a “broken chain.” Which is, of course, its original purpose.
It did serve as sort of an invisible timer constantly running in the background of my mind. The designated days combined with weekly progress posts certainly kept me focused. In that, I’m declaring it a success.
The new budget is still in flex, as 13 weeks is only three months of budgeting with an inconsistent and unreliable monthly income. However, it is in place and we are growing more comfortable living within its bounds. I found a combination of using the YNAB, and good old fashion pen and paper works the best for us. We already owned YNAB. I added the phone apps so my husband and I have equal access and responsibility in maintaining the budget.
The only downfall to using YNAB, is that it does not allow you to project income or plan for next month’s bills, that’s where pen and paper comes in handy.
Gone are the days of dining out regularly, recreational shopping and living comfortably under a mortgage. In assessing our lifestyle, I’ve realized the best safety net we can have is a mortgage free home.
In retrospect, the goal of cutting our cost of living by 40 percent is unattainable–expenses fluctuate and there’s no way to cut unexpected expenditures by any percentage. I held a misconceived presupposition that I could control living expenses. Control is almost always an illusion. A more accurate and obtainable goal– remove all unnecessary spending and reassess. Repeat as needed.
The real success of our 13 weeks together didn’t come in achieving my stated goals.
Instead, it was in the lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn.
Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 weeks, week 11
Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.
Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks
Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists
Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water
Week Three: The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters
Week Four: How to Tame Your Subconscious
Week Seven: 4 Tips So You Don’t Organize Yourself to Death
Week Eight: Organizing your Writing Life When Words Fail You
Sometimes I think I suffer from very specialized kinds of memory issues that relate only to symptoms and to how my body works.
At least I hope they’re very specialized memory issues, because if this starts affecting all my memory I’m in serious trouble.
As I’m working on organizing my creative life, which in my case is also my professional life by using Getting Things Done, a penguin timer and a bunch of note cards, I hit a mid-size snag. It’s a snag I’ve hit before, when working on other projects, and yet somehow it took me a few days to figure out what it was.
The week started very well on Monday, with me feeling energized and full of concentration. I figured out what I’d been doing wrong with Through Fire and edited the first chapter. Then I got some stuff edited to go up and listed to the lecture on publicity by Dean Wesley Smith.
It looked like the week was going to go very well.
And then I woke up on Tuesday feeling exhausted. One of those mornings when you go “can I sleep another day or ten?”
I attributed it to the approach of nine eleven and our truly bizarrely tangled national politics. I tried to slug through the day, but all I got done was the piece for PJ Media.
Wednesday was bad, but again I thought “oh, this is just the result of its being 9/11. I’m allowed some grief and depression.”
But on Thursday it felt pretty much the same, only with a curious new symptom. I had the ideas in my head, I knew exactly what I should be doing, but I couldn’t somehow muster enough strength to take the words in my head and put them on paper. I was also having trouble concentrating on such demanding tasks as emptying the dishwasher or folding clothes.
At which point from the dim depths of my memory I got the feeling “I’ve been in this place before.”
It’s already week 10 in our 13 weeks series of financial recovery. This week revealed a side of me that I would prefer to keep covered — my financial underbelly. I got a good look and it’s not pretty. It is solid yellow.
I’ve never really thought of myself as a coward until now. In my first installment, “5 Rules for Lifting Your Family Out of Economic Hardship,” I explained that several years ago, we experienced our first real financial setback. A pulmonary embolism ended my husband’s career in law enforcement. Apparently those two years without income left some emotional scars that went deeper than I realized.
Last week I wrote “Financial Miracles or Happenstance? You Decide,” about the unseen hand that has held us in a firm grip of grace and provision. It’s good to remember the miracles in our lives, an exercise I try to do daily. It reminds me that our Heavenly Father really does care for our needs. However, I’m old enough to know, He cares more about my character and the state of my spiritual health than my bank account.
He also tends to reveal the parts of us that need transformation, as He did this week.
Instead of facing truth head on and setting up my budget before the first dime was spent, as I know to do — instead I hid behind an illusion of a “big pot” of money.
Let me explain.
Real change in life is hard. In fact, it’s so hard it seldom happens without a major paradigm shift.
Life changing events can range from a death in the family to a health crisis to a job loss. However, too often, we don’t realize that we do have some say in how our circumstances change us.
We can’t stop tragedy. What we can do is use the force of it to generate the power needed to alter our circumstances for the better. There are some things that are so entrenched in our lives that it takes the energy of a crisis to give us the strength to correct it.
Health issues easily fall into that category. For example, a treadmill doesn’t look so much like an instrument of torture after a heart attack scare.
The good news is that we don’t have to wait for a crisis to change our lives. As human beings we hold the unique power to shape our future. We alone have the ability to envision a life beyond our current reality.
What’s even more amazing– we can create that vision.
Pick an area of your life you want to change. Is it your health? What about your career? Or your relationship with your spouse or children. All of these seemingly fixed areas of life are subject to change at any given moment.
Why not be your own catalyst for change?
At the risk of sounding like I’m channeling George Carlin, this week I’ve thought a lot about grocery shopping.
Have you ever thought about just how phenomenal grocery shopping in America really is? We walk into a large (and climate-controlled) building and push huge metal baskets on wheels down aisle after aisle lined with food. We can even fill that basket with produce that’s in season and out of season, from countries all around the world.
Not so long ago, grocery shopping for me meant pushing one overflowing shopping cart while dragging another behind. Then I would hit the local Sam’s Club and buy what would be, for most people, a lifetime supply of peanut butter and several restaurant-size cans of tomato sauce, not to mention the industrial-size package of toilet paper. I would repeat the process just two weeks later.
I prided myself on the fact that I could feed ten of us on less money than did the average hypothetical American family with only 2.6 children. When you throw in the homeschooling factor, you realize I made three meals a day plus snacks because my children were home all day — eating.
Feeding everyone well, for as little as possible, was my primary goal. Nutrition (and saving money) meant cooking mostly from scratch. However, things have changed — our family has changed.
Now nutrition not only means cooking from scratch, but, due to my husband’s health, it also means gluten-free, MSG-free, and primarily organic.
Pondering the fact that we do live in abundance, that we have access to all the healing herbs and nutrient-dense foods from around the world, makes me so thankful for God’s blessings. However, I’m also keenly aware of how expensive it is.
So the challenge this week is to maintain a high standard of nutrition, while slashing our grocery budget by $250.00 a month.
Here’s the plan…
Is the above quote true? Should you do more than you get paid for, hoping that you will eventually be paid for more than you do?
While it may at first sound like an expression of good work ethic, this quote proves not only incorrect, but dangerous. People who take it to heart could find themselves stuck on a path to nowhere.
Certainly, we make all manner of investments which do not produce immediate or guaranteed returns. Education and advertisement come to mind. Internships and apprenticeships involve work for little if any pay while students develop their skills in a practical environment. But none of that really amounts to doing more than you get paid for in hopes of getting paid for more than you do.
To truly do more than you get paid for is to sacrifice, trading a greater value for a lesser one. Investments in education, marketing, or the capital requirements of a business do not amount to sacrifices. Time spent studying for a big test or money spent trolling for new customers serves a valuable interest. Likewise, interning without monetary compensation provides an opportunity to develop both skills and a professional network. That has value. That value substitutes for a paycheck. Otherwise, if the value received was not perceived as greater than that expended, no one would agree to intern. Certainly, work done to produce a long-term value has virtue. But long-term value is still value, not “more than you’re paid for.”
The belief that you ought to provide a greater value than you receive in hopes of one day receiving a greater value than you provide stands on no principle. If doing more than you get paid to proves virtuous, then seeking to get paid for more than you do would prove wicked. Given that paradox, why would you do either? More to the point, why would anyone ever pay you more to do less?
Like a lot of writers, I really like having written, and I suspect like a lot of writers, I love the feeling of writing when it’s going well. But I hate trying to write, or starting to write.
Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. — Gene Fowler
So, I’ll tell you one of the keys to writing: you have to give yourself permission to write badly. Then go ahead and write, because you simply can’t write something you like until you have at least written something.
- You decide you need to do something.
- You get a kitchen timer and set it for 25 minutes.
- For that 25 minutes, you do the task you started, and refuse to do anything else. (There will be inevitable distractions and I’ll talk about those momentarily.)
- At the end of 25 minutes, if you’re not done, you take a five minute break.
In a sense, this is the same pattern as a 13 Weeks Experiment, although much quicker: pick something you want to do, pick how to do it, do it for a short interval, then stop and re-evaluate (“pivot or persevere”).
It’s called the Pomodoro technique — Italian for “tomato” — because Francesco Cirillo, the inventor of the method, happened to have a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, and is Italian.
So, here’s how it works. I’m working on my first pomodoro on this article, which I figure will, as usual, take me about 2 pomodori. I set a timer, and start it ticking. Now I look at the blank page.
This is a “drops of blood on the forehead stage” and it’s by far the hardest thing for me. I’ve learned, however, that I can always write something badly, and with only 25 minutes, I can start and if I still hate it at the end of 25 minutes, I can toss it, or mine it for anything I do like. The ticking noise keeps me aware that I’m working on a time limit, and when I get distracted, I just say “I can do that in a few minutes.” After 25 minutes, I’ve accumulated some number of words — I type at about 60 words a minute, so with luck I’ve got 1500 words. A lot of times, though, by that time I’m feeling like I’m rolling, and will keep going until I feel a lagging in my energy; I often will set the timer back to 25 minutes again at that point, basically skipping the break. I never skip two breaks though.
At the break, I get up and do something — get more coffee, go to the bathroom, walk around a little — and go back to work for another 25 minute tomato. Or, more recently, I get up and do a 4 minute Tabata workout, something I’ve talked about in my 13 Weeks column before. I now have a collection of Tabata timing songs on my digital music, so I’ll play one song and do some kind of workout. At the end of the song, I’ve had a break and gotten away a little bit; I come back able to go to work again.