4 Blogs/Podcasts That Revolutionized The World, Made People Lose Weight, and Improved Their Sex Lives

I went for a more catchy title for this post. It’s not a hundred percent accurate, but maybe it will generate some clicks. It’s actually four good blogs, e-courses, and podcasts that I’ve discovered. I hope you like them too!

Tim Ferriss: (Blog & Podcast) Ferriss has a list of questions that he relies on for each of his guests. His book, “Tribe of Mentors,” uses this list, but what makes that book so great is just how many people answered his request to pick some and reply for the book. The questions are intriguing. One example is, “How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a ‘favorite failure’ of yours?” The answers are revealing because A) can everyone answer the questions (from personal reflection), but B) the celebrities, athletes, and successful people he talks to give honest answers (we are learning from others’ mistakes). The book is a wealth of valuable advice and insight. There are dozens of people represented, and I enjoyed not only the answers, but also meeting and hearing from the lengthy list of achievers from different backgrounds.

American History Tellers (Podcast – iTunes, Spotify): Insightful history of America told with detail and embellished with stories that are sometimes from real-life, and sometimes made up, to help listeners understand what was happening at particular moments in history. Minimal advertising. Enlightening and a fun listen.

How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition: (Audio Book/Class) This is a fascinating class/lecture series about what most people refer to as “classical music.” However, the professor/teacher clarifies the various periods of history so we can understand the differences in the music he plays for us. The professor has a very dry sense of humor, and I find myself laughing at his comments and descriptions often. Educational and fun.

Ryan Holiday: (Blog, Books) I’ve only recently discovered the writings of Ryan Holiday, but they have already made a big impact on me. My introduction to the Stoic philosophy was through his book “The Obstacle Is The Way,” which is a concise, easy, read that will leave you wanting more. I absolutely soaked up his lessons with gusto, and started reading other books by not only Holiday, but also the Stoic philosophers like, “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius, “The Manual: A Philosopher’s Guide To Life,” and “The Art Of Living,” both by Epictetus. I’m trying to become better at living, at being a good person, and achieving goals I’m just learning to set for myself, and Holiday and the Stoics are a tremendous support system. I highly encourage everyone to read his books. You will not be disappointed if you enter into the relationship with an open mind.

 

 

 

 

4 Blogs/Podcasts That Revolutionized The World, Made People Lose Weight, and Improved Their Sex Lives

DuoLingo

Over the past year I have worked on learning Spanish through a website called DuoLingo. There are a slew of other sites/companies that can help you learn a second, third, fourth language for not much cost, or even free. Babbel is one of these, as is Rosetta Stone. I’m sure they all have pros and cons, but I tried DuoLingo and this is how I feel about it.

I have some basic French from college but that knowledge has degraded so much that I hesitate to even say that I ever spoke the language. I’ve never used it except once when my wife and I were in Italy and I spoke with some other tourists over dinner at a wonderful, little sidewalk cafe/restaurant. They were Belgian, but they spoke French, in Italy, to some Americans. It sounds strange in retrospect.

I made a simple comment thinking I could hang, and the lady to whom we were speaking actually said something in French. She said it fast, like a native speaker. I had no idea what she said… I felt like an idiot and I definitely couldn’t hang…

Anyway, I wanted to learn Spanish to help with my skill set at work. I figured that I would more likely use Spanish than any other language in my daily life in Oklahoma, and relearning French didn’t seem to be the best option to give me the edge at work that I’m always looking for.

I tried DuoLingo because I saw an ad for it or saw it in the app store… I honestly can’t remember how I stumbled across it, but I did and I signed up for the free version. I’ve been a member long enough that I’ve seen the lessons and the app change and evolve. It’s been a growing experience for different reasons.

The app gamifies things to keep you interested, and the free version shows you an advertisement between lessons. The lessons are broken up into sections like Family 1, Family 2, Restaurant, Travel, etc. and they’re all arranged in a tree to speed the learning process and to introduce you to a language through categories.

You challenge yourself to complete anywhere from one lesson per day (basic) to 5 lessons per day (insane). As you complete lessons you earn experience points and “level up,” and earn lingots (website) or gems (app) with which you can buy things from the store. I’m not sure why it’s gems AND lingots and not gems OR lingots, but my guess is that they are in transition from one to another.

With the gems/lingots, the store allows you to purchase things like “Streak Freezes” or “Streak Repairs” or other silly things to make you feel better about missing a day, or having to watch all the ads that pay for the free version.

Ultimately you want to level up to the max of 25 in the language. Beyond 25 I guess you should be competent enough to go talk to other speakers of the language and get away from the computer for a while. I’m on level 12 in Spanish now and I have an 18 day streak going.

What I couldn’t figure out early in the learning process is whether to learn the entire tree at level one then go back and go through the whole tree again to get to level 2, or should I learn each category or section to the maximum level of 5 before moving to the next category. It’s either learning a lot of words quickly, or a few words at a time to a deeper level. I’m still not clear what the best strategy should be.

The website is faster than the app thanks to keyboard shortcuts. Way faster. The free version of the app slows you down a lot with ads, as I previously mentioned, and they also recently introduced this thing about 5 mistakes and you’re out for five hours…

It kind of irritated me when they did that because some days are better than others, and some days I make more mistakes than others. After making 5 mistakes a couple of times and having to “sit out” for 5 hours before being allowed to continue my lessons for the day, I knew I had a decision to make.

I could keep going with all these ads and bottlenecks, I could pay for the service, I could try another free service, or I could pay for a different service. I didn’t spend much time looking at the other services because DuoLingo was the cheapest of the few I looked at ($10/month).

After I paid for the service everything changed for the better. I don’t have to wait five hours before restarting my training if I make 5 mistakes. I don’t have the advertisements slowing me down. Everything runs smoothly and I feel like I’m finally making more progress.

In the free version I was happy to reach the insane goal of 5 lessons per day. But I got sick of the ads and slow-downs. After paying the monthly charge to eliminate the ads, and also working from a laptop rather than my smartphone, I’m easily achieving the 16 lessons per day average that I need to reach level 25 by the end of March, 2019. I’m on a schedule here.

I’ve gone from being happy at my 5 lessons a day to a high of 27 lessons in one day. It makes me feel like I’m immersed in the language rather than dabbling in it too. If you want to learn a language, try DuoLingo, and just pay for it. It’s worth it in time saved eliminating the ads and such. Also try the sister website/service called Tiny Cards which is to help reinforce the language training by showing flash cards on subjects.

I’m enjoying it. I catch myself thinking in Spanish about what I’m doing throughout the day, and I think that’s part of the goal in learning a new language.

 

DuoLingo

Habits Of Success

Over the last year I’ve read dozens of articles on productivity, developing positive habits, how others drive themselves to success, etc. Many of the articles have similar advice for the reader, so I created the list below to show the habits that were most often recommended. The list itself has many one-off items like “be curious” and “take enormous risks,” but the ones in the list below are common to multiple articles. These are the ones that many people seem to consider the best habits to cultivate.

HABIT
# OF TIMES RECOMMENDED
Read (educational content)
6
Exercise (hard physical activity, health)
5
Listen to Podcasts (learning/uplifting content)
3
Meditate (includes Focus, Mindfulness, etc.)
3
Wake up early and get started (Early productivity)
3
Make lists (GTD, 4DX, Use Evernote, OneNote, etc.)
2
Take no days off completely (Read, check email etc. while on vacation)
2
Minimize distractions (aka don’t multi-task, don’t over-analyze)
2

I found that through my own personal experiences the habits that have helped me the most are reading, exercising, continuing education, and making lists (and scheduling my week ahead of time). Eating well and getting plenty of rest also help. As does reducing alcohol intake…

As for scheduling my time, I have recently moved to the Full Focus Planner by Michael Hyatt. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s been very effective for me. It has been the most successful replacement to the checklist style to-do list that I used in the past. Also, I found that my analog planner worked better for me than my digital planners. I just use it more consistently.

How about you? Do you practice any of the habits on the list? Which ones work best for you? How do they help during your day/week to increase your productivity?

Habits Of Success

GETTING HEALTHY

The last couple of years I’ve been plodding toward a healthier version of myself. In 2017 I signed up at Planet Fitness and have been relatively good about working out from two to four times a week, though not without the occasional lapse.

I wanted to get in better shape and improve my fitness for the long-term, and started out with no desire to become a body-builder. I don’t lift heavy weights, though the weight is increasing little by little as I build strength, which was my primary goal. My secondary goal was to lose about 25 pounds. I didn’t look all that bad, but I had a gut that I really wanted to get rid of.

What I actually learned over the course of the last year was that changing my eating habits was the hardest part of dropping weight. I had been more successful quitting other vices than I had in adopting a healthier diet. However, I recently made a change to another area of my life which dramatically affected the foods I was able to eat for around six months. I got dentures. That process changed my life in ways I did not expect.

BACKGROUND

I was not born with good DNA where my teeth are concerned – or were concerned. I was also not taught at an early age the benefits of good dental hygiene. I don’t blame my mom. I just didn’t adopt an effective daily cleaning routine. Therefore, by the time I entered adulthood I was already struggling with the ramifications of poor dental hygiene and mediocre dental DNA. Looking back, about every 3-5 years I’d need to lose another tooth. Infections and impacted teeth weren’t uncommon. I tried hard as an adult to fix the issue, but I simply started too late to get ahead of the problem.

In the last four or five years I’ve been thinking about dentures as a solution as the semi-annual visits to the dentist for cleanings turned into quarterly, alternating visits to the dentist and periodontist. However I was timid about getting dentures because I knew it would be expensive. (I’m also a cheapskate…) A poor reason to put off healthcare or dental care, but still, I’m guilty of making the decision more than once.

Finally, though, I’d had enough and the ongoing treatments and solutions sounded less and less appealing. They also took more and more of my time. Dentists and Periodontists love to tell people to keep the teeth they were born with as long as possible, and I tried to do that, but eventually I made the decision to go all the way and address the root of the problem once and for all. I didn’t realize it at that time, but plodding toward a healthier lifestyle was about to get a rocket-assisted boost.

SURGERY ONE

In October, 2017 I had my first round of surgery – removing my back teeth. This was a total and complete body-pounding. I cannot tell you how hard it affected me physically to go through not only the surgery, but the healing process afterward. The first week afterward was pain management, the second week was a little less of the pain and more of the starvation that comes with having only front teeth to eat with. I could eat, sort of, but I had to use muscles in my jaws that I had never used before so at about the 10-14 day mark I thought my jaws were locking up due to the soreness… I was scared for a day or two, but it eventually passed.

I also ate Advil and Oxycodone like candy to deal with the pain in the early days. The foods I could eat were not all that different overall, but I had to make sure I let the gums heal so I stayed with soups and softer foods. Salads were out. I had no back teeth with which to grind leafy greens, so vegetables had to be soft. After a few weeks I was able to eat things like chicken or the occasional steak again. I had lost a little over 10 pounds by this time by eliminating fast food and large lunches out during the work week, and I’d cut out soda pretty much all together.

SURGERY TWO

In January, 2018 I had the front teeth removed and started using the new temporary dentures.

My dentist told me that the second surgery would be easier on me physically since the front teeth had one root and the back teeth had two or three roots. I was ready to complete the process and get the temporary dentures, give my gums enough time to heal and then start preparing for implants. However, the second surgery didn’t really go as easily as I’d been led to believe…

Where I had been in the chair for an hour and a half for the first surgery (pulling the back teeth and having bone grafts to prepare for implants), the second surgery lasted around three hours according to my wife.

After the removals and bone grafts the periodontist was frustrated that the dentures didn’t really fit quite right and my wife ended up hauling me to the dentist across town so he could help with the situation. I was still heavily sedated and bleeding… The dentist got everything fixed properly and sent me home to recuperate.

I awoke that evening with a soreness that I had never known before. I could also eat even less now because the dentures sat on top of gums that were still stitched up and swollen and very, very sore. It was basically a liquid diet for the first two weeks after surgery two. That’s when I lost the other 15 pounds.

I could go on and on about how the gums change over time, or how the dentures need to get adjusted by the dentist to go along with the changes in the gums, or a lot of other things, but I won’t. What I’ll say at this point is that I’m working very hard to keep that weight off. I’ve learned that portion control is king. Eating a lot more veggies and a lot less meat is also a big part of my success.

I also couldn’t work out at Planet Fitness as much as I wanted. I really didn’t have much enthusiasm to add additional soreness to my body… But I’m happy to say that I’ve kept off that 25 pounds, I’m back in the gym two or three days a week adding muscle and getting fit, and I’m eating a LOT better than I used to.

It’s taken months to get used to wearing dentures. It’s been the hardest thing I may have ever done for myself, but it’s been good for me in the long-term. I feel better than ever because I’m eating a much healthier diet, I’m working out regularly, and my self-confidence has never been higher because not only do I feel better, I look better too. I guess the silver lining is that being forced to do something is sometimes the only way some people (me) can make a change they know they need.

 

GETTING HEALTHY

The Importance of Documenting Everything You Do

You have probably been in the situation at some point in your work life where you simply feel overwhelmed by your duties. Perhaps you’re on a team and everyone feels the same way. After speaking with your supervisor or manager about it your take-away task is to document what you do during your day to show your workload. You probably felt as though the sky was falling because on top of the crushing weight of your duties and your panicked efforts to simply keep up, you now have to take the time to write down everything you’re doing. That sinking feeling just got worse.

This is known as “the whirlwind” in 4DX (Four Disciplines of Execution) and represents all the urgent tasks that you are expected to complete throughout the day. 4DX is a complete system to help chip away at the important items you want to accomplish while dealing with the whirlwind. And there is a difference between urgent and important tasks. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President, said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” I recommend reading his thoughts in more detail as this is an important concept in prioritizing and executing work.

There are other, similar systems, like Getting Things Done by David Allen, and many books like Essentialism, by Greg McKeown or The One Thing, by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan or Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy that attack the same idea in their own ways. However, what they all have in common is increased productivity as a goal. From my own personal experience, documenting what I did during my day is one of the most important things that made more time for myself. It is counterintuitive but it really works.

The first step is to simply use a tracker of some sort. Use pen and paper, a spreadsheet, a calendar, a text document, or all of them, or anything with which you feel comfortable, and stick with it. Evernote and OneNote are both great for this type of thing. Both have the ability to create and use checkboxes, which are tremendously helpful when you have daily to do lists, or a list of tasks to complete to reach your weekly goals.

Keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily a log of each action you took during your day, written down the minute you did it. Depending on your job, you can probably fill in some things ahead of time and write in the extras as you go, or at the end of the day. I strongly recommend writing down ahead of time all the things you know you will be doing through the day just to relieve some of the pressure of documenting your chores.

Also, set goals. Start by scheduling everything you want to accomplish for the next week ahead of time. Once you have three goals written down, write down what you need to do each day of the week to reach those goals. Be detailed, but not too wordy. Brevity in this area is a plus. As you complete the daily tasks you scheduled, just check them off the list.

One of the main tenets of 4DX to combat the whirlwind is to define “X to Y by WHEN.” I like this idea very much. Break it down. If you are currently at X location in your project, you want to be at Y by the end of the week. Set a due date to keep yourself focused.

However, if the unexpected arises and something or someone interrupts your work flow don’t be afraid to adapt and evolve with the situation. Move or change the “X to Y by WHEN” to accommodate the new details. Also write down why you had to move or change the details of your goal so you can explain yourself. You probably won’t remember three days later why you did that when your boss asks about it, let alone six months later when you’re doing your self-assessment.

As you work through your week update the tasks you prepared ahead of time. Keep checking off those completed items. You should also document meetings, conversations, note significant information from emails received etc. After a few weeks or months have passed you can look back at all the notes and see the progress in your tracker at what you have accomplished. You can identify bottlenecks or repeated interruptions, and can plan ahead accordingly. If one particular person or meeting or event seems to be causing problems with your productivity you can approach your boss about it to get help finding a solution.

At the end of the year you can look back at your notes and you have a tremendous amount of material to use when writing out your self-assessment, and this is the reason you started writing down everything you do in the first place. This is the make or break moment. Rely on those notes to show your boss exactly what you did during the year with specifics. The next step is to put a dollar figure to as much of it as possible. Since you already have the time involved in most tasks, you can attach a dollar amount as well. If you made a change in one of your processes that shaved 5 minutes per day off that process, you have saved X dollars over the course of the year.

Once I started using this method to track myself I found that my actual job description took perhaps an hour of my day, while the rest of my time was spent on the “above and beyond” projects, and that is where promotions hide. There’s no need for long days! Stay focused and you can get done with everything in the eight hours provided, and then go home to enjoy your family and friends.

The Importance of Documenting Everything You Do

Time Management versus Detail Management

Time Management

For several years I had a relatively easy method of tracking my efforts because my job required me to do specific things at specific times of the day, every day. I simply created a checklist to manage the items I absolutely needed to get done. There were some things that could get done at any time of the day, and other items on the list that had to be completed at specific times. This is time management.

My job also required a mastery of “multi-tasking,” a concept that many people are currently writing negatively about. Their contention is that multi-tasking is A) impossible because no one can do more than one thing at a time, and B) even if it were possible it would probably do more harm than good to one’s productivity… I agree with both of those views, but I think both are also misplaced.

There’s really no such thing as multi-tasking in the purest sense of the word, but my experiences taught me that what we refer to as multi-tasking has a place in the work force that is valuable in some positions, though not for all positions. I would also define it as constantly prioritizing a rapidly changing task list to make sure the most important items remain at the top of the list.

In addition to my static list of daily to-do items “fires” would spring up that I had to put out – constant interruptions that forced repeatedly prioritizing the list. There may be 10 things on the static list, and as I worked through them any number of other things could happen; “hot” requests from a state government agency or a boss, computer or network malfunctions, co-workers asking for help, meetings, processes that broke and needed fixing, more meetings, distractions from other departments and people, fire alarm drills, even more meetings, tornado drills, etc…

In this environment I made sure the boxes on my checklist were getting checked off and those things that absolutely must be done at a particular time were getting done on time. I’m not a perfectionist or obsessive-compulsive, but I do watch the details and I sweat the little things. That’s why I was good at the job. In the end, my job description, what I was hired to do, only took up around 30 minutes of my day. The rest of my time could be used for special projects thanks to effective time management.

Detail Management

My current job is very different and requires documenting and managing nearly countless details for hundreds of requests and small projects. When I was promoted to this position I inherited a list of items on four different spreadsheets that had been passed around the company for over a year. It was my job to drive these requests forward to completion. They may be as simple as finding the answer to a question, or as complicated as documenting a large software enhancement and working with the developers to implement it. It was and still is overwhelming in many ways due to the sheer number of the requests (100 when I was given the list, 175 at this time). I had to learn new systems at least at a conversational level, processes in parts of the company with which I was completely unfamiliar, the people who managed these systems and processes, the people who managed the hardware that drove the software, etc. This is detail management.

I went from tracking a list of to-do’s on an hourly basis to tracking different items on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I still track everything that I do daily, but I’m organizing my days and tracking both what I want to accomplish and also what gets done, as well as setting goals on a monthly and weekly basis (see my previous post for an example).

I do it this way for two primary reasons. First, it’s simple productivity tracking. I can keep my days more organized ahead of time. I’ve learned that I also need to give myself deadlines on the requests on my task list. That helps keep me focused. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by 175 requests and projects that have to be organized and completed, which is the second reason I organize my days like this… I don’t like the feeling of being overwhelmed. This system helps me keep things in perspective.

To track the details of each of the 175 requests on my list I use Microsoft OneNote. I have a page for each request, and another one for tracking my time on a monthly/weekly/daily basis. I break it down that way to keep the big picture in view, in addition to tracking all those details. Of course, I also have a spreadsheet that acts as an index for all of those requests and I keep that updated as well so I can see the overall status of each item in a summary view.

By doing it this way I can keep my boss and all the other stakeholders updated as to the progress I’m making on these items.

Conclusion

Each person has to justify his or her position in a company. It’s just a fact of life in today’s work force. In larger corporations it is increasingly important to distinguish one’s self from co-workers as a dependable, reliable employee to not only sustain employment, but also to earn higher pay, to be rewarded with higher bonuses, promotions, etc. Determine if your job requires time management or detail management and build a system to track it all for yourself. Yes, it actually takes time to do it that you feel you don’t have, but by organizing properly it will free up even more time than tracking it will use. Work smart! And good luck!

Time Management versus Detail Management

Learning To Set Goals

Setting a goal sounds like such a simple thing to do. Reaching a goal was something more involved. Until I started my current job I had no idea what goal-setting really was. When a recruiter in an interview or HR person or a boss asked me a question like, “Where do you want to be in 3 years?” I had no idea what to say. I looked at my feet, or at the ceiling, or coughed, or choked nervously and said something like, “To be gainfully employed?” It’s what my history had conditioned me to say. I lost many jobs over 20 years due to layoffs. Setting goals, or planning for the future, wasn’t something I had learned. Much of my career has been focused on adapting to situations; surviving rather than thriving.

What I’ve only recently learned was that even though the future is uncertain I had to have a goal to help create stability for myself. I learned this from a particular boss at the company where I currently work. He taught me to break down daily information and track it over time. Most importantly, make it simple. Just get started tracking the information you need to have a big-picture view of the situation. If it happens to be numbers, put it in a spreadsheet and after a month or two, you’ll have a baseline and you can plan for progress or improvement. Most importantly, make sure you do it every day.

What I learned from reading books on productivity, procrastination, and organization was how to put structure my day to make sure I remembered each task that had to be completed. I started working with Excel, then moved to Evernote, and over time I evolved toward Microsoft OneNote. I just like the way OneNote organizes things. It’s almost three-dimensional in its structure. I also like the keyboard shortcuts in OneNote because time-saving with keyboard shortcuts is what I cut my tech teeth on. Most of my career has been built on a daily routine which involved doing the same set of processes every day. Evernote was good at that, but OneNote takes it further thanks to better keyboard shortcuts.

As an example I might want a checkbox for something that needs to be done that day in a list of items. In Evernote I would type a “[” and “]” and “space” and it would make a checkbox. In OneNote I can type CTRL + 1 and it adds a checkbox at the left margin regardless of where the cursor is. It’s a small difference, but when you do this 25 times a day (or more) it adds up to real time savings each day.

Getting back to the big picture, setting goals didn’t come naturally or easily to me. Once I admitted to myself that it was a skill that needed to be developed, I took a large step forward. There are no secrets here, no arcane knowledge, no innate ability that you have to be born with. Just write down what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it. It’s important to put a date on it to make it more urgent. Next, write down the steps you know that will get you there (along with a date) and put a checkbox in front of each one. More steps may need to be added as you start working through them, but you can do that later. Just get your initial plan on paper to get started (or in an app if you prefer that to paper).

I have a list of projects that I work on every day and I use this technique to track steps for each one. I have a monthly calendar that is broken down by week and day. At the top I write down what goals I want to accomplish for that month. For each week (written between Saturday and Sunday) I write my weekly goals. For each day of that week I write down what I want to get done that day. I often have to move things from one day to another, and that’s fine because unexpected requests or issues can arise to derail any single day. Be adaptable. Evolve with the situation.

In regards to long-term goal-setting, the approach I’ve settled on is to have a 90 day goal, a one year goal, and a three year goal. I review each of these goals every 30 days or so to make sure I’m on track. If not, I follow the words of Confucius, “When it’s obvious the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”

I’m a late starter in the goal-setting department, but I also like what Tolstoy wrote about goals, “Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for every minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater.”

I haven’t attained Tolstoy’s level of commitment to goal-setting yet, but after a couple of years of setting and tracking my goals I’ve seen the power of writing them down and tracking them daily. I have evolved into a much better employee, and a more focused individual.

One last critical thing I had to learn is that I had to make this happen for myself. No one else was going to make sure I achieved my goals. This is why I used to feel like I had been overlooked so often. I worked hard, but could never articulate very well what I had accomplished or what I had worked on even the day before. That’s all different with my current approach to goal-setting. I can show someone exactly what I’ve been doing, and it has the added benefit at the end of the year of getting me a nice bonus. And that makes my wife happy. 😉

Learning To Set Goals