Through a relatively unplanned series of events, I once found myself on the island of Zanzibar, just off the coast of Tanzania, with nothing to do for an entire week.
Zanzibar, like most tropical islands, is a tourist haunt. And the tourists all do one thing: lay out on the beach. But I have a fair Irish complexion (read: ghastly– people regularly mistake my taking my shirt off for the sun getting in their eyes) and attempting to tan myself is like roasting marshmallows with C-4, except boring. And that’s no good.
Fortunately/accidentally, I found a mentor– a wizened old shopkeeper named Rashid who sold wooden masks to tourists in a small store along one of Stonetown’s hundreds of narrow streets. Within five minutes of me striking up a conversation, he was lecturing me on the value of hard work. And when a foreign old man starts talking to you about the value of hard work, you only have choice: you listen.
He gave good advice. But his views on thriftiness were the first droplets of the monsoon. It turns out that Rashid had a lot of admonitions. For instance:
- Put your faith in God
- You are young– have sex with many girls
- How much did you pay for that!? Seriously!? You are getting ripped off!
For the next six days, Rashid had my back. He found me better-priced guides to go fishing with. A cheaper hostel. He brought me to the town square and gave me and my friends coffee and African pastries and introduced us to everyone who passed by who he knew (which was, more or less, everyone who passed by). Most generous of all, of course, he gave me more advice than I have either the intention or the moral flexibility to put to use.
And all he ever asked in return was my American opinion on whether pro wrestling was staged or not.
Rashid was not who you might think of when you decide you want a mentor, but he had all the same qualities. He knew Read More
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
- A book is only as good as what you remember from it
- Actually reading is more important than reading fast Read More
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.
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.
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
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.
It’s Friday night. What are you doing this weekend?
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.
- 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.
- 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