I am lucky

I would be insulted if you called me lucky two years ago.

After all, I worked my ass off to get to where I am today. That’s not luck. I created this reality I live in.

Or so I thought.

I realized something a few months ago. Luck isn’t about winning the lottery. Being called lucky isn’t an insult. It’s the truth. After reflection, I am very lucky.

I was born in the right country to the right parents. Everything I have experienced has brought me to where I am today.

I almost drowned in family friend’s pool when I was 3 years old. But I didn’t. I was saved by my neighbor’s friend. I could be dead. But I’m not.

I have a natural drive to work hard. I’m self-motivated. I always wanted to do that best I could. I can’t describe what gave me this internal drive at a young age.

It wasn’t something that I learned from a book. There was a moment or series of moments that shaped me into becoming that type of person.

Maybe it was my mom, who started teaching me when I was 3 or 4 years old.

Or, maybe a teacher help change the trajectory of my life.

Or maybe it was my three siblings influenced me.

All I know is that if you change one of those inputs, the output or my life would be different today.

 

One Example

Bill Gates is brilliant. He’s ambitious. He took advantage of the opportunities he saw early in his life.

Bill Gates is also lucky.

He attended Lakeside, a private school in Seattle. A private school with a computer. Not just any computer, but a brand new, top of the line computer.

The Lakeside’s Mother’s Club had a rummage sale every year to raise money for the school. And instead of just funding the budget, they always would fund something kind of new and interesting in addition. And without too much understanding, they decided having a computer terminal at the school would be a novel thing. It was a teletype — upper case only, ten characters a second — and you had to share a phone line to call into a big time-sharing computer that was very expensive.

This was one moment in Gate’s life that put him on the path to revolutionizing the world. Luck played a role in getting him there.

What if one detail and his life changed? What is he attended Public School in Seattle instead of private? What if he not have access to a computer in middle school? Would he have still changed the world?

(Credit to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for this story.)

When comes down to it luck and hard work two sides of the same coin. Here’s how I see it:

Luck + Hard Work = Success

No Luck + Hard Work = A difficult, but fulfilling life (in my opinion)

Luck + No Hard Work = A recipe for disaster (Case in point: lottery winners)

No Luck + No Hard Work = Not much

Being lucky isn’t a bad thing

Bill Gates got lucky. He worked his ass off for years and change the world and process. He took advantage of the luck bequeathed to him.

He leveraged this and used it as a springboard to create one of the most successful companies in the world.

Sometimes you just have to put yourself in the right place with the right amount of effort. Embrace the serendipity around you. Work hard. Follow your curiosities. Go where others haven’t dared to go. Who knows, luck might just find you.

What is one thing that has happened in your life that you would say was “lucky”? How would your life be different had that not happened?

Change your mental state by walking

I am a habitual walker. Everyone in my office knows that.

Around 7:30 am I get to work. I focus on the task at hand and get into flow until about 10 am. Then I take a break and step out of the office for a short 10 minute walk.

The time isn’t always the same, but one thing remains consistent: I make sure to get in my walk.

At 12 pm I take a break for lunch. After I finish eating I go for another short walk.

Then after another 2-3 hours I go for one last walk during the work day.

No matter where I am working or what is going on, I always find time to go for a walk.

I don’t care how busy things are or how crazy my bosses are, I make every effort I can to go for a walk and get my 10,000 steps in during the day.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes I have a deadline that I need to hit. Or I’m asked to help assist on another project. And I’ll go longer without taking a break. But I always find time for a walk.

Walking leads to focus

I credit walking with helping me focus better throughout the day. I’m more productive. Not only that, but I feel happier at work.

By the end day, while others are dragging ass and on their 3rd or 4th cup of coffee, I feel refreshed, focused, and as though I could continue working for another few hours if I have to (which I do sometimes).

I credit all of this to going for those short walks throughout the day.

I don’t walk because of the health benefits

I have a hard time sitting still. I like to get up and move. But when you work on the computer all day long, there aren’t many opportunities to this.

Many of my coworkers sit at their desk all day long without ever leaving the office. The only time they get up is to go to the bathroom, pick up something from the printer, or the heat up their lunch in the breakroom.

That’s not me. I need to get up. I need to move.

3 reasons to walk

Walking helps me reevaluate and focus on what matters

When I’m out in nature I focus better. I go out for a walk with thoughts or questions to ponder in my subconscious mind. When I go back to work, the answer I’ve been seeking suddenly comes to me.

Taking breaks throughout the day and changing the environment that helps my brain make connections that I wouldn’t otherwise make.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you’re thinking about a problem before you go to bed, and then in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning the answer comes to you? That’s what happens when I go out for a walk. Answers seem to appear.

It is meditative

I’ve mentioned this in a prior article, but for me going for a walk can be very calming and meditative.

When I go for a walk I use it as an opportunity to focus and become mindful of the world around me.

When I walk out the door the first thing I notice is the sidewalk and all of the cracks and the plants growing in between some of those cracks.

I look up to the sky and notice if there are clouds. What are they shaped like? Does it look like it will rain today?

I look around at the trees and other features in the landscape around me. There is usually just grass and shrubs. But, every once in a while, there is a beautiful flower or unique looking plant.

Then my mind shifts to the buildings and the cars around me. I think about all of the other people out there. I wonder what they are up to and where they are going.

By the end of my walk, I am mindful and relaxed, just observing the world around me. It’s a great opportunity to reset your brain, recharge, and get ready to put in another few hours of work.

Best of all, walking is natural, easy, and free.

You don’t need a gym membership to go for a walk. You experience half the impact on your bones and joints than if you were to go for a run. And most people are capable of going out for a walk on a regular basis.

In fact, in a study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, regular walkers could actually be healthier than runners.

Risks for hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease drop significantly in walkers as compared to runners.

This could be due to the fact that chronic running could lead to over training and inadequate recovery time, which could make you susceptible to overtraining, injury and illness.

In summary

Walking has made me more productive, relaxed, and happier.

Give it a shot! Using a fitness tracker or any number of free apps on your phone, try to get in 10,000 steps per day and see how it affects you.

Do you enjoy going for walks throughout the day? What benefits do you notice when you go for a 20 minute walk?

How are your questions?

Three months ago my boss came to me and told me that I had to work out of town for a month. I would only be about an hour away, so I could commute if I wanted to.

This was a minor annoyance, but no big deal. I could still sleep in my own bed and go on with my normal routine without too much interruption.

That changed two weeks ago. Due to budget cuts, I wouldn’t be working an hour away. Instead, I would have to drive two hours away to Jacksonville and work there for a month. No way was I commuting now.

When I found out I had to spend a month away from home, I was heated. I was the only person from my office who had to travel away from home this year. And this would be my second time doing it.

Last time I also traveled to Jacksonville, and I was miserable. I was upset I had to spend time away from home. And that was only for two weeks. This time it would be for the entire month.

What’s wrong with me?

I had an observation three and a half weeks ago: the smallest things were setting me off.

I was complaining more. I was playing the victim. I believed everything was outside my locus of control.

So you can imagine how I felt when I was told I needed to go away for a month. I was angry. “Why the f*** do I have to keep doing this? It’s not fair.”

A few days after finding out I would be in Jacksonville I was listening to a Tony Robbins recording.

He talked about how we can’t control everything around us. But what we can control is our perception of the world. In order to change your perceptions, you must change the questions you ask yourself.

When you’re upset or angry or annoyed, don’t list the reasons why a situation sucks. Shift the focus. Ask better questions.

Ask yourself: “what’s good about this?”

The light bulb moment

A couple days later, I was taking my mid-morning walk at work still fuming when the light bulb went off. Right then I shifted the focus. I asked myself, “What’s good about this?”

When I got back to my desk I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote in big, bold letters at the top of the paper “What’s good about having to work in Jacksonville for a month?”

And I began to list things out.

  1. I’ll meet new people.
  2. I can go to new restaurants.
  3. I can check out their breweries.
  4. It won’t get dark until late, so I can explore after work.
  5. I’ll be downtown, and everything is within walking distance.
  6. I’ll challenge myself with new tasks at work.
  7. I’ll be able to go home on the weekends.
  8. All of my meals are paid for.
  9. I’ll break my routine.

All of the sudden, I started to feel better. Instead of being annoyed, I started looking forward to it.

In retrospect, I don’t even know why I was annoyed.

The only thing I really had to be angry about was being outside the comfort of my hometown. Other than that, going to Jacksonville looked like more good than bad.

How is it going so far?

Today is my second day in Jacksonville and I’m enjoying it much more this time around.

I’ve been able to explore more. I’ve gone to new places to eat. I’ve tried new beers.

I’m convinced I would not enjoy myself if I continued with the mindset of being annoyed.

But because I searched for reasons why this would be a good trip, it has thus far turned out to be good.

I reframed the situation by asking “what’s good about this?”

I forced myself to come up with answers to a question I didn’t even previously consider.

A reminder

This serves as a reminder for myself: you are only as good as the quality of questions you ask yourself.

You can use this same technique in a number of situations.

For example, if you’re stuck in traffic tomorrow, ask yourself, “what’s good about this?”

Come up with five reasons why being stuck in traffic is actually a good thing. I tried this the other day and there was a huge difference in how I felt by end of my evening commute.

Next time you’re in a situation that makes you angry, annoyed, or upset, ask yourself, “what’s good about this?”

It may be hard to come up with answers initially. You will want to resist answering. Overcome this resistance, answer the question as best as you can, and see how you feel.

Remember, you’re only as good as the quality of questions that you ask yourself.

Why I don’t tell people what to do anymore

Why I don’t tell people what to do anymore

As you know, I ran a personal finance blog for two years. I created the blog for three reasons: (1) to help people with their finances, (2) to reinforce what I was learning, and (3) to make a living from blogging.

At the start of this blog, I absorbed everything I could on personal finance. I read the classics, Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. I read The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, followed up by Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

I read numerous other books in the following months and had a good grasp on personal finance. I gave advice to anyone who was willing to listen to me.

I would also write 2 posts per week about personal finance topics that I conjured up during the slow work day.

Do THIS, not that

In these posts I would pick an area people struggle with. Then I would tell them what to do.

Save 10% of your income. Open an IRA account. Don’t go into debt. You get the idea…

I felt like an authority. I believed as an authority it was up to me to tell people what to do.

It was all out of the goodness of my heart. Honestly. I didn’t think I was better than anyone. But I expressed what I thought people should do.

This began to trickle into my personal life

I would give advice to my girlfriend. “Do this instead.”

I would give advice to my sister. “Why are you doing it that way? Do it this way.”

I would have arguments with family members. I told them why they were wrong and why they should think about a particular situation differently. I’m not proud of those moments.

I had my view of the world and wanted everyone to conform to that view. Not necessarily in a negative way. It was just how I believed the world should be.

This changed last year

A year ago I became interested Buddhist concepts and philosophies. As I was reading, I came across a quote that stuck with me:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

The Buddha himself essentially told people not to blindly follow what he said. It was his way of saying, try this yourself. If you like it, continue to use it. If not, move on.

And this idea struck a chord. All this time I was telling people what to do, what to think, what to believe.

I had my view of the world and what the right thing to do was. But that wasn’t the right thing to do.

The fault in giving advice

Derek Sivers was interviewed last month on the James Altucher Show. In this podcast, he asked James about how he deals with giving advice.

Derek went on to say that he never knew what to tell someone who came to him seeking advice.

For example, one person wanted to know if they should quit their job to pursue an entrepreneurial venture full-time.

Derek said he wasn’t sure what to tell this person. Should he tell them to quit? Or should he tell them to stick with their current job?

The dilemma caused him to think about the fault in giving advice.

Advice is a double-edged sword

Any advice we give to others is based 100% off our personal life experiences. It’s based off the knowledge and actions we have taken throughout our lives. And it may not always be the best advice.

That’s why it’s not useful to tell someone what to do in their life. Especially if you get into a position where people trust your opinion and will do whatever you tell them.

That’s where I could see Derek’s problem. What if he told them to quit their job and dive in full-time and they failed. Would it be his fault? Not really. But I’m sure he would feel pretty bad.

But what if he told them not to quit, and they never get that fire under their ass to turn their venture into something big. Is that also his fault?

I don’t tell anyone what to do, just what I’ve done

From these experiences, I’ve learned that it’s not my place to tell people what to do.

Even in their articles, I do my best to present to you things that I do that work for me, and encourage you to try them out for yourself. But I refrain from telling you what to do.

And this is where I leave it. “This is what I did in this situation. This is the end result. This is how I feel. Try it out yourself.”

I feel better now, not telling others what to do. I merely make suggestions based off my life experience.

Try this out yourself and see how it makes you feel. If you like it, great! If not, that’s okay too.

Do you ever find yourself telling others what to do? Or do you have others in your life who always seem to have advice for every thing? How does it make you feel?

Why I experiment on myself

Why I experiment on myself

I don’t enjoy being wrong. Because of this fear, I sometimes avoid doing things that I should do. I look at things as a success or failure without other consideration.

I’m working on fixing this. How? Self-experimentation.

How Have I Used Self-experimentation?

One case is the ecommerce business I’m working on.

When I started, I wanted the right product. I didn’t want to strike out and risk losing thousands of dollars.

So I tried something. I wouldn’t commit myself to a product early on. Instead, I looked at what I was doing as an experiment.

My experiment was to test out one product. Only after testing would I make a decision on whether it was worth selling.

Hypothesis

I will sell one unit per day without any advertising or promotion.

Procedure

First things first: I identified what the first product I would test was. Next, I needed to find a supplier that allowed me to place a small initial order.

Once I found one, I bought 20 units and waited two weeks to receive them in the mail. Once I received those 20 units, I put them up for sale on Amazon. A week went by with zero sales. I assumed this experiment failed…

On day 8 I received my first order. After which, I continued to sell one unit per day until I was completely sold out.

Now I had a decision to make.

Conclusion

I got the result I was hoping, but it took a little longer than expected. What should I do?

I knew this was a product that would sell consistently. People seem to want it, and there isn’t a ton of competition.

I deliberated for three weeks. I was so nervous about making a large investment in a big order. But this experiment made my decision a little easier.

Based off my results, I felt slightly more comfortable and took a leap of faith and purchased of 500 units. (This was not easy for me to do!)

Since then

I sell approximately 3-4 per day. Revenues were in excess of $3,600 in month one. Month two, over $4,000. Not too shabby.

And I continue to experiment with different aspects of online sales.

I experiment with various advertising methods, prices, and product descriptions.

By performing self-experimentation, I am able to eliminate certain biases.

How So?

In self-experimentation you commit yourself for a set period of time, say two weeks. At the end of the trial period, you evaluate results and see if they are in line with your hypothesis.

Then you make a judgment call to continue on or stop.

What is great about self-experimentation is that if you do it right, you maintain a non-judgmental and also non-biased view of your experiment.

In the end, there is no commitment since you had a defined period from the beginning.

A shift in thinking

Self-experimentation has shifted my mindset. Instead of looking at things as a success or failure, I have a more objective view.

I’m trying look at everything in my life as an experiment.

Tweaking Things

Another great aspect of self-experimentation is that you can tweak assumptions, test different hypothesis, and track results.

Let’s say you’re a guy and you want to get better at talking to girls (or vice versa).

You can test out different opening lines with a random person at the bar, and evaluate your results.

You could start by making an opening question about what someone is wearing. Gauge their reaction. If it’s positive, this is something that you could continue to use. If it’s negative, try something else.

Experimenting allows you to detach yourself from the result. It requires you to become more aware of the world around you.

Awareness

If you want to lose weight, test out certain diets in trial periods. Try the Atkins diet for one month. If you like the way you feel, continue. If you don’t, try a vegan diet. See how you feel. If that doesn’t work, try the paleo diet.

The key is to evaluate how you feel and the progress you make.

My Little Experiment

I was getting heartburn all the time. So I experimented with cutting down on coffee. I limited myself one cup in the morning (no more 2 PM caffeine boosts!). This helped a little bit.

Then I experimented with cutting down on dairy and other foods. My heartburn went down even more.

By self-experimenting, I was able to determine the root cause of my heartburn. As a result, I don’t need to go to the doctor and get prescribed some prescription medication that would only cover up the real problem.

My encouragement

Here’s a suggestion to you: experiment with self-experimentation. Test out something you’ve been thinking about for a while. Develop a hypothesis or expectation. Determine the test period, and track your results and form a conclusion. You may just be surprised by what you find.

Have you tried self-experimentation? What have you tested out yourself? What advice do you have for someone interested in self-experimentation?

A reminder to be mindful

I want to improve my mindfulness. So I added the following note to the Google Keep app on my phone and set it to send me a reminder every day at 8 am:

Be mindful. Be attentive.

Observe the world around you. Use all of your senses to their fullest capacity.

Use your eyes to observe the world around you. Look for things you’ve never noticed. What do you see?

Listen to the sounds vibrating around you. What do you hear?

Be aware of what you are physically touching and feeling. How does it feel?

Identify any smells or tastes you have. What do you smell? What can you taste?

Enhance your presence and mindfulness by increasing your awareness of all the senses you have been blessed with.

What other reminders can I add to my list to help me to become more mindful?

These things have made me more productive

These things have made me more productive

It was Wednesday morning. I was struggling. It was hump day but the clock hadn’t even struck 9 am. I wanted to go home.

My eyes hurt. I had a headache that radiated on the left side of my skull. It concentrated over my left eyebrow.

I had it for two days in a row. Maybe it was a migraine? It didn’t seem like it would get any better any time soon. I wasn’t getting anything done. My focus was gone. Then I tried something out. And I was productive again.

Purpose

This post is a mish mash of ideas for how you can be more productive.

These are a few things I’ve tried in recent weeks that have enhanced my productivity at work. This isn’t the end-all be-all of productivity posts.

These are some things that I have been working on recently to maintain a level of productivity that has amazed co-workers. (Not to brag…I just want you believe what I’m saying.)

So what am I doing to be productive?

Get rid of blue light

I had a massive headache. 10 hours in front of the computer was getting to me. My eyes hurt. My vision blurred. I was tired but found myself unable to sleep at night. So I decided to try something. I got rid of the blue light.

I installed f.lux on my work computer that Wednesday. Immediately I noticed a reduction in eye strain. With a day or two my headaches dissipated.

If you don’t know, f.lux is a software that adjusts your computer light to the time of day. If it’s day time, then your screen is bright. If it’s early morning or late evening, it gradually reduces the blue light and brightness of your screen.

I used this software to reduce the blue light of my screen, even during the day.

I felt great. I could sit at the computer for hours without losing focus. The glare of the blue light in my eyes was no more. I didn’t feel like I had to step away from the computer every 20 minutes.

By using f.lux on my computer, I survived 10 to 12 hours of staring at the computer without having the awful migraines that accompany it.

Reducing blue light not only makes me more productive, but I’ve been sleeping better too. For instance, reducing blue light, especially before you bed, has been shown to improve sleep.

I also use a blue light filter on my phone and tablet. I can read a book on my tablet before bed every night and not have to suffer from the effects of that awful blue light permeating my eyes.

(Keep in mind, some blue light is good for you. This is how your body knows that it’s day time and time to get to work. That’s why I step out of the office every few hours to get some natural blue light from the sun light.)

Have a purpose

This seems obvious. When you have a purpose for why you are doing something, you are more likely to do that thing and stick to it longer.

A purpose makes a task easier to do. You know exactly why you are doing what you are doing. Even if the purpose is weak or insignificant, it will help you get through something you don’t really want to do.

For example, there are times when I am assigned to do something I don’t really want to do.

When this happens, I could do one of two things. I could complain about how I don’t want to do that thing. “Why can’t so-and-so do it?” Or “this isn’t fair, why do I have to be punished by doing this?”

I’m sure you can think of times where you were assigned something you didn’t want to do. How did you react?

Most people go the first route and complain. I know, because I used to be a complainer. (I still am at times, but nowhere near as much as before.)

I shifted my mentality early on. There is an alternative to complaining. Now I look at things as a learning opportunity. I look at this (unwanted) opportunity as a chance to learn a new area. I use that project to expand my knowledge and add to my repertoire.

This is my purpose when I do almost anything new. “What can I learn about X?” Or, “oh well, I have to do this whether I want to or not. I might as well learn as much as I can about the topic at hand.”

For me, using learning as my purpose has greatly improved my life. When the purpose is to learn something you, it restores that natural curiosity that escapes many of us once we become older.

But you’re purpose doesn’t have to be to learn something new. That’s just one idea.

Your purpose could be to make your customers happy. Or it could be to connect with new people. Or it could be to help those around you.

Whatever it is that you are assigned to do in work, or even life, always have a purpose for why you are doing that thing. No purpose = no drive. And without drive it’s almost impossible to get anything done.

FOCUS

John Lee Dumas, creator of Entrepreneur on Fire, has this saying of “FOCUS.” To him, FOCUS means to Follow One Course Until Success.

This all ties into the mindfulness and awareness that I’ve been practicing recently. When you have a lot on your plate, it’s easy to jump from task to task and never get anything done.

Have you ever had a day like that? A day where you seem to be busy. But then but they end of the day, you feel like you got nothing done?

This is what happens to me when I multi-task and try to do a bunch of things at once. I feel busy but I don’t actually get anything done.

When you focus on one task until completion, you are able to get into a flow state which enables you to focus or get in the zone as athletes call it.

When you’re in a flow state, time seems to slow down but also speed up (as weird as it sounds). You become engrossed in your work. You become one with what you are doing. Next thing you know, you are knocking out stuff left and right and the work day is over!

So try it out. When you write out your next to do list, only list 3 things, and put full focus on concentration on that first item on your list before proceeding.

Do nothing

What if I told you that you could be more productive by doing nothing?

I do nothing for a big chunk of work each day.

That’s not to say I sit around all day doing nothing. Let me give you an example:

Every day I get into work around 7 or 7:30. I focus on my work for a solid two or three hours. I really focus on one task and do my best to complete it in that time frame.

Then, around 10 am every morning I step outside the office and go for a walk. I’ll take about five to ten minutes to just walk around.

During this walk I really try to become aware of the world around me. I shut my mind off to the work I was just doing a minute earlier. I become completely aware of the world around me.

I take in the environment and the trees around me. I look up to the sky at the clouds. I listen to the birds chirping. All while I am taking a slow, leisurely walk.

It’s all very relaxing and meditative. I’m able to step away from the voice inside my head for a few minutes in the morning. Any worries and fears that I was just thinking about while in the office dissipate for those brief moments.

By the time my ten minutes are up, I’m ready to dive right back into what I’m doing.

By doing nothing for a 10 minutes in the morning, and again in the afternoon, I’m able to feel refreshed once I dive back into the task that I was doing.

Too many people plug away at something for hours and hours because they need to get it done.

They believe in powering through the morning and working through lunch. Then they feel sluggish around 2 pm. So they pound coffee and try to power through the afternoon.

I know because some of my co-workers are like this. What they don’t know is that constantly being “plugged-in” is actually making them less productive.

I’m under the impression that you need to get away from what you are doing every few hours if possible. Taking mini-breaks throughout the day can add to your productivity by leaps and bounds.

So try this next time you work. When you are on your work break, step away from your desk (or work station), and go for a walk (or sit outside) and practice mindfulness of the world around you.

Let go of those thoughts you have from work. Practice some mindfulness mediation in these few minutes. Then see how you feel when you get back to work.

This works for me

This isn’t your typical list. Some things are your normal productivity tips, like having a purpose and focusing on a single task. But implementing these in my life I really do feel more productive.

As for those unorthodox things…I really believe that reducing blue light at certain points in the day has helped me focus on the computer, where 99% of my work is performed. My headaches are gone and I sleep better at night.

And finally, doing nothing intermittently throughout the day is a sure fire way to survive the day.

This works for me. Try them out and let me know what you think.

What are some tips you have for staying productive? Is there anything out of the ordinary that makes you more focused and productive?