[How-to] The 4 Commandments of Reading for Self-Education

by

Photo credit: swamibu (from flickr.com)

Note: I'm not a big fan of trashy link bait names.  That being said, calling these the 4 commandments of reading for self-education is, while opinionated, not a stretch for me.  Forgive the self-aggrandizing title and if you think there needs to be an addition, let me know in the comments!

During the four years I was in college, I read definitely one, maybe two books– total (excluding schoolwork).  Now, I read definitely one, maybe two books every week.  I’ve only been doing this for a year and a half, so it’s not like I’ve read every book on the planet– but for just about every book I used to think wow, I should read that, I actually have.  And it’s pretty cool to be able to say that.

I’m not trying to chug through a list of supposed classics or something.  My aim here (trite as it sounds now) is wisdom– knowing how best to act in any situation.  As I see it, that’s the reason why anyone would try to educate themselves in the first place.

And that’s the aim I’m presuming you have too.  Reading only for entertainment is a bit saccharine, and if that’s what you want to do, you won’t find many tips in this essay to help you.  I don’t talk about how to speed read, and I don’t talk much about making time to read.  I liked The Hunger Games as much as the next person, but I’m much more excited about changing the way I live because of ideas I find.  Consequently, these commandments apply mostly for non-fiction (though a few fiction books really have changed my outlook on life).

I hope you have a pile of books you are dying to read.  I want you to devour them, highlighting and notating some and reading 3 chapters of others that you just toss away incomplete.  I want you not to say “I wanna read that!” but “I have read that, and a few of its sources.  Here are my favorite ideas.  I disagree with this part.  Here’s where I think the field is headed next.”

I submit this set of guidelines for going in that direction.

The 4 Commandments of Reading for Self-Education

  1. A book is only as good as what you remember from it
  2. Actually reading is more important than reading fast Read More

Bucket List Update: Mountaineering, Marathons, and Lýðveldið Ísland

by

Lest you think I just sit around and read productivity books all day (cf. this and that), I figure I should post some of progress on my own life goals list every once and a while.  Since I got back from Africa, here are the goals I’ve been working towards– the ones that I’m most excited about right now.

 

21.) Climb Mt. Rainier

I am hard pressed to think of a family vacation growing up that didn’t involve either the open water or mountains.  It seemed like my dad’s definition of a relaxing time necessarily involved covering vast changes in elevation on foot.

And while I’ve wanted to climb mountains for years, after Kilimanjaro, I got the bug bad.  Something about staring down on the sunrise over the savanna maybe ;)

I’ve started training for Rainier– training referring more to learning mountaineering skills than, say, spinning classes.  That doesn’t mean you don’t need to be in shape for Rainier– at 14,400, it’s nothing to scoff at.  But an unhurried ascent, good body temperature monitoring, and plenty of water are more important than an olympian circulatory system.

A few weeks ago, I made my first technical climb– Humpback Mountain in the Cascades.  While it’s only a few minutes off I-90, the summit is a lot closer to the moon than it is to Seattle.

On the summit of Humpback Mountain

Next up is snow camping and glacier travel.

A friend of mine is a mountaineering instructor and he’s guiding me through the learning process here.  This is really ideal.  The small group we’ll climb Rainier with will ultimately be more flexible, more fun, and way cheaper than the guided mountaineering tours.

Tracking towards July 2012.

Read More

It’s Friday Night. What’s Your Thing?

by

Bucket list masters The Buried Life (photo credit: MTV)

Unless you are working at your dream job, the weekend is your the most time you will consistently have to work on your goals.  Unless you’re self-employed and living the 4-hour workweek, it’s

  1. Nights
  2. Weekends
  3. Vacation

That’s it.  That’s all there is.  And it’s really easy to let it slip by.

Wanna be a black belt in jiu-jitsu?  Want to learn Mandarin?  Or how to cook Indian food?  Those are weeknight things.  You don’t accomplish these goals by working on them once a week.

Want to visit every state?  Or start a business on the side?  Maybe you want to do a solo skydive.  These goals are weekend tasks.  They take big investments of time, but they can be done in 2.5 day stretches.

Your 9 to 5 is great and I hope it’s what you always dream of, but I hope it’s not all you dream of.  All your other dreams are for your 5 to 9.  How well are you using yours?

* * *

Pick one thing on your bucket list that you will make progress towards this weekend.

Yes, I know, you may have dozens.  I’ve seen lists with hundreds of items.

But you don’t accomplish something by thinking of a 100-item list.  You accomplish it by thinking of one thing and working towards that.

So for this weekend, pick one item off that list– or make the list if you haven’t already– and start working towards that thing.  It was only because I started tonight that I’ve done anything on my list.  Now, a year and a half later, I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, read the Bible cover to cover, started a small business (we’ll see where that goes), and launched this blog, among other things.

What are you going to start tonight?

* * *

For a bit more inspiration, check out The Buried Life.  These four guys started with nothing but a bucket list and an old van five and a half years ago.  To date, they’ve done 81 of the things on their bucket list, including:

  • 1.) Open the 6 o’clock news
  • 8.) Ride a bull
  • 25.) Capture a fugitive
  • 41.) Make a toast at a stranger’s wedding
  • 74.) Deliver a baby

It turns out they have a show on MTV too.  Check out their very first trailer.

These guys mean business.  Want to hear more?  Check out their YouTube channel (to see one of them ask out Megan Fox, among other things) or buy their book ”What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?”.

Absolutely sick.

It’s Friday night.  What are you doing this weekend?

 

Experiments in Productivity: Zen to Done

by

Photo credit: Josefe aka Hipnosapo (flickr: josefeliciano)

During the months of February, March, and April 2012, I will try out a new productivity system each month. After each month is over, I'll record my experiences on this blog. In March 2012, I used Leo Babauta's "Zen to Done" as described here.  This is my review. Last month's review on Scott Belsky's "Action Method" is here.

My original intent for this month was to review the most famous productivity system in the world– David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”.  I bought the e-book, set aside a few hours to plan out how I would use Getting Things Done (GTD) in the next month, and started reading.

Four hours later, I closed the book frustrated, disappointed, and very aware of the irony that I’d just wasted my entire evening.  I simply could not wrap my head around the system as a whole, and there was no one place where it was explained clearly at a high level.

So I decided to check out a little productivity method I had heard a friend rave about a few years ago– not Getting Things Done, but Zen to Done (ZTD).

 Zen to Done Explained

If you’re like me, when someone says you should try a funny-sounding program called zen-something-something, you’d be all too happy to let it slide.  And if you feel that way now, I mean to convince you otherwise.  ZTD is a wonderfully useful productivity system.  Despite the name, it has nothing to do with satori and everything to do with worldly effectiveness.

It was initially conceived by blogger Leo Babauta as a reaction to some of the main problems people had with Getting Things Done– which means I stumbled upon to it at a very fortunate time.  ZTD is composed not of a flowchart of actions for handling any incoming tasks, but a series of 10 straightforward “habits”, which are to be adopted one at a time (which is easier than adopting all 10 habits at once, the thinking goes).

Here are the 10 Habits of ZTD as far as I understand them.

  1. Collect.  Ubiquitous capture.  Carry a notebook, index cards, smartphone, or something on which you can write any idea, task, or tidbit for future action.  Don’t rely on your memory for this.
  2. Process.  Do not let things fester in your inboxes.  Make quick decisions on things in your inbox and figure out the next action they require (if any) upon looking at for the first time. Read More

[Profiles] Steve Jobs: History’s Best CEO

by
Steve Jobs with the only furniture he found fit to purchase.

Steve Jobs with the only furniture he found fit for purchase.

When I was growing up, it was popular to say that a kid destined for success would be “the next Bill Gates”. But they aren’t going to say that anymore.  The best of the rising generation will be prophesied as “the next Steve Jobs”.

From a discalced and fruititarian kid-CEO to the father and savior of the world’s most valuable company, it’s hard to say whether he will be remembered more as an uncannily intuitive businessman whose every other opinion turned into millions of dollars or as an artisan who, more than anyone, infused soul into the cold and boxy tech world.

The purpose of this blog is to spur, inspire, and assist you to do amazing things. Steve Jobs did some amazing things. I’m floored by him, and I want to convey some of this to you. If you have dreams of business greatness or using art and design to change your part of the world, this piece is especially for you. It is a collection of the strange and wonderful stories and impressions of him that have stuck with me.

* * *

Steve Jobs was never normal, per se. Even as a teen, he was a featherweight from constant fasting– or any number of his diets where he’d eat nothing but a single vegetable for weeks on end. Read More

[How-to] Fire Poi: My Story Becoming a Fire-Spinner

by
The author spinning traditional Maori fire poi

The author spinning traditional Maori fire poi

“Does anyone know what lung fire is?”, Eugene Kozlenko bellowed to the crowd surrounding him.  A few chuckles could be heard, but most people were silent.  It was 10 PM on a January night, and we were cold.

“It’s pretty much what it sounds like”, Eugene continued.  ”And it’s a good reason not to try this at home!”  A few more chuckles.  Mostly, there was anticipation.  Anticipation for what we had all come out for in the first place.

In a moment, Eugene’s friend and classmate Alex Davis would step into the center of the crowd with a lit torch, take a swig from a gas canister, and vaporize it through the torch, spewing a ten foot beam of fire into the freezing air.

That would be followed by another performer twisting, spinning, and rolling his flame-tipped staff around his body to pounding trip hop and trance.  The audience was getting a little warmer– they were forgetting about the cold, but the performers’ art could be felt from the far side of spitting distance.

For the final act, five performers came out at once.  Each one held two chains– one in their right hand, one in their left– and at the end of each two-foot chain was a monkey’s fist knot, dunked in oil, and presently lit on fire.  The music started and each one started spinning the chains around their body– loops, figure eights, weaves, and every sort of fluid motion.  Sometimes they would hit them with their feet to reverse their direction; others let the poi chains wrap around their arms– then quickly unwrapped them in the opposite direction.

“Alright”, I thought to myself as a piece of flaming wick shot off and Read More

How Slowly Can you Float?

by

Original image credit: Darren Kirby (flickr: bulliver)

Last night, I heard someone talk about how he ate less than an Auschwitz prisoner for almost a month. Were we talking about eating disorders? Nope. We were talking about goals. It was his goal to lose weight, and somewhere along the way, things got carried away.

Let’s talk about a fundamental rule of goal achieving. This rule is a good thing to keep in mind as you try to accomplish any of your goals, because it completely changes the way you think about what you’re trying to do. It’s something you may already know intuitively, but if you don’t, you might never go to business school and you might never read a book every week, because you approached those in the wrong way. If things get especially bad, you might forget you’re not in a cattle car in 40s Germany. Let’s not go there.

This rule is called accomplishments vs. habits.

Here’s how it goes.

Accomplishments are one-time things. Running a marathon. Eating at the top-ranked restaurant Next. Going to business school.

Habits are things you plan to adopt and keep up forever. Lose 20 pounds. Walk 10,000 steps per day. Read a book every week. No one has the goal of losing 20 pounds once and then not caring about their weight.  The pounds come off and stay off.

Accomplishments are finish lines that can be raced towards. In fact, if you don’t race towards them, you may never finish. Habits cannot be raced towards– not normally, anyhow. You have to start with something small and only increase it a bit at a time.

* * *

Every few months, I go to a wonderful meetup of total nerds called Quantified Self. It’s for people who are interested in tracking data about themselves– usually things like eating, sleeping, and exercising. It was at this last meetup that I heard, straight from his acutely underfed mouth, how one man could eat so little.

He described the graph he kept of his weight. Each morning he’d measure himself and the program would plot the point on the downward slope of his weight over time. A little dotted line far below represented his goal weight. How fast could he make it plummet? This was the question on his mind, and that was what drove him to the verge of anorexia.

But let me suggest a different question: how slowly could it float? Read More

Experiments in Productivity: The Action Method

by

Image credit: actionmethod.com

During the months of February, March, and April 2012, I am trying out a new productivity system each month. After each months is over, I will write about how my experience with it went. In February 2012, I used Scott Belsky's "Action Method" as described in his book Making Ideas Happen. This is my review.

Before Occupy Wherever picked up the moniker, the top search results for “99%” was a the99percent.com, a well-designed website that advertised itself as “Insights on making ideas happen”. The title banner still betrays the etymology of the name– it’s from Edison’s famous quip “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”.

The 99% is a website that is not about ideas; it’s about making ideas happen. The perspiration part, not the inspiration.  ”Too many ideas”, the site boldly proclaims.  ”Not enough action”.  So they made the Action Method.

The Action Method is a productivity system that I tried out for a month. First I will explain how you use it, then I will tell you whether or not I liked it.  Let’s get started.

The Action Method Explained

There are three things you keep track of for each project (a project can be any large-scale task at work or at home):

  1. Action Steps. These are specific concrete tasks. They are the bread and butter of gettin’ stuff done.  Action Steps start with a verb, and they don’t require more planning before you can start one.
  2. References. This is project-related material you may want to refer to later– links, videos, articles, books, e-mails, etc.
  3. Backburner Items. These are not actionable now, but they could be future projects or sub-projects.  They’re the brilliant ideas you have now but want to remember later.

Let’s talk about how this works for a very specific example: writing a blog.

First, potential Action Steps.

  • Brainstorm post topics
  • Write a post or two
  • Pitch a guest post to another blogger
  • Leave some comments on other related bogs

I want you to notice two things.

  1. Each Action Step starts with a verb
  2. Each Action Step requires no further planning before being able to start it

So no “Make sure blog readership continues to grow”. That’s bad. Read More

Write What You No

by

Photo credits: mermaid99 on Flickr.com

On the back of your list of life goals, write what you No.

One side has the great stuff you’re going to do with your life, and the other has what you will stop doing.

See, this is all about focus, and focus is about saying no.  Think about that for a second.  It’s true, isn’t it?

And if you look on your life and the things you want to do and you ask yourself “Self, why haven’t I done any of these yet?”, the answer will come back, at least in part, “I don’t have time”.  BullllllshI don’t believe in “I don’t have time”.  IDHT means IDC, I don’t care.  You have plenty of time, and unless it’s all being taken up by far more pressing matters than you or I ever deal with on a daily basis, the time is there and it’s your job to take it.  You don’t find it; you manhandle it.

So where do you get all this time from?  That’s where the list of No comes in.  Choose things you will stop doing.  Cut out the fat from your life.  If you don’t, your dreams will fade like the muscle tone of a middle-aged cubicle tenant.

When Seth Godin– who runs the number one business blog in the world, has written more bestsellers than I have fingers, and responds to every e-mail he gets– is asked how he does it all, he says he doesn’t watch TV and he doesn’t go to meetings, so that’s already four to five hours more than most people have.

That’s some serious No right there!  It gives me the warm fuzzies to see someone so boldly cast from his life the trappings of the non-producer lifestyle.

I think you need to say No, and say it hard.  Don’t be– to borrow a term from Noah Kagan– a wantrepreneur.  You know– one of those two-beer bards waxing poetic about lost opportunities.  He is the sad, sad result of a lifetime of Yes.  Yes to every distraction, yes to every addiction, yes to every fashion.

Therefore, No.  Write down your rules.  We’ll start with Seth’s rules.

No TV.  No meetings.

You’re about to bust out complaining about how you have to go to meetings aren’t you?  If so, you’re missing the point.  Let’s go on. Read More

[Profiles] Jim Collins: The Man with 3 Stopwatches… and 4 Bestsellers

by

Years ago, Jim Collins, a business professor and consultant, sat down and drew up a schedule for how he’d like to spend his workdays in the future.

Creative: 50%

Teaching: 30%

Other: 20%

Half his time would go to endeavors like research, writing books, and authoring papers; a third to teaching-related activities; and the final chunk to all the other things he needs to do.

In order to make sure he was meeting his goals, he made the incredibly obvious and incredibly bold move of timing everything. For the rest of his life.

He literally took three stopwatches, labeled them, and put them in his pocket.

He still uses them.

Jim Collins is a serial bestselling author, and I’d place money that he will continue to lay golden egg after aurous, shining egg. Part of the reason for this is because he has made it his main goal in his business life to create an influential and lasting body of creative work, then scheduled his time– all of his time– accordingly.

Meta-scheduling

Jim Collins, photo by Kevin Moloney, NYT

In 2009, the New York Times profiled Collins, and they asked him about his time management experiment. He only had to point to the upper-right corner of his whiteboard on the far side of his conference room. Scribbled in marker was the lifetime tally:

Creative: 53%

Teaching: 28%

Other: 19%

Read More