Tag Archives: gratitude

Books for Entrepreneurs: Essentialism

Greg McKeown’s infamous book, Essentialism, has been on my reading list for a long time. I can’t even remember when or where I first heard about it, but those who mentioned it always spoke of its life changing effect.

When you read a lot of business and personal improvement books like I do, you get used to people waxing lyrical about how things will never be the same after adopting strategy x. This may turn out to be one of those rare occurrences where it happens to be true. The constant doing more, but achieving less. Never feeling satisfied or that the day was meaningful.

As I began reading, I was relieved to discover I already had quite a few essentialist habits. I discovered the underlying cause of friction I felt on many projects: my broadly essentialist approach versus the non-essentialist approach being taken.

This meant that in addition to completing the task itself, I had to work out the true intent and purpose of the project. Where some people are happy to just complete any task (usually just taking the easiest route to something approximating done), I have never accepted mediocre as the target to aim for. Instead, I would rather take longer to work out how to provide a valuable outcome.

But although I was embracing essentialism in many areas, in others I was getting woefully distracted. My personal life, especially, was in free-fall at the time of reading this book. In no small part this was due to the mental exhaustion that came with battling work tasks handed to me that were governed by non-essentialist principles.

So how has this book helped me? Largely by giving me the confidence not to accept a task without getting those in charge of the project to clarify their thinking about it first. Sometimes, the person handing out that task is me. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, understanding essentialism is vital for avoiding burnout.

It’s hard to ask difficult questions sometimes, but it gives me the boundaries to not only do good work, but also valuable work.

The best part of this is that I ultimately freed up valuable creative energy to expend into my personal life and projects. I developed a new infrastructure for 2017 that allowed me to be location independent and travel.It also gives me the framework to consider carefully my side projects and see which ones are ready to move from hobby to business and which ones simply need to be cut from my life, no matter how enjoyable they seem on the surface.

For the first time since reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done, I have experienced a fundamental shift in what I believe is achievable and what my life needs to look like to get there. The confidence comes through in the decision making process. Whilst success is never guaranteed, I am giving myself the best possible shot at living a meaningful life, rather than a purely busy and productive one.

With challenging economic and political times ahead, Essentialism is one of the books I would recommend for anyone who wants to make the most of future opportunities in the changing workforce.

Follow Up: Using A Bullet Journal For Creative Projects

One of the most popular posts on my site is this one about how I use a Bullet Journal. The other, in case you are interested, is the one weighing up the pros and cons of using a Moleskine versus Field Notes, which also has a Bullet Journal influence to it.

Given I started using a Bullet Journal approach when it was a new thing and not the hugely popular and artistic thing it is now (check out the Instagram bujo hashtag if you want to feel inferior about your artistic skills), I thought it would be a good time to do a follow up. Specifically, how to use a Bullet Journal for creative projects.

Firstly, the thing to remember is that the bullet journal methodology is not set in stone. Right from the start, it was a system designed to be modified to meet individual needs. For me, this has resulted in two separate notebooks: one for planning and the other for creative writing projects.

A creative Bullet Journal, by definition, will have different requirements to a notebook containing everything. But why did I separate them? Quite simply, I wanted to have all my book outlines and ideas in one place. When it’s time to pick a project to move onto, this dramatically reduces the number of notebooks I have to work my way through. Because it is specifically for longer outlines, rather than aha! on-the-go snippets, I can stick to an A5 size that is just large enough.

What to remove

Because I’ve got a specific use case in mind, I can ignore any features that relate to the calendar. (Side note, because I’ve stripped out the creative writing projects, I can use an actual diary in a modified Bullet Journal approach that is just as effective. If you want to know more, I’m using a Moleskine Agenda as described here). This means the Future Log and the Monthly Log disappear for me.

What to keep

The Index is the core functionality of the Bullet Journal system that is so simple, yet life changing. This is particularly important in this instance because I want to be able to easily review the contents at a later date. I can’t help but call it Contents though, rather than Index. Sorry!

Underpinning the index is the use of page numbers. This is a feature that makes the Leuchtturm 1917 brand ideal for Bullet Journaling as they are pre-completed. I find manually numbering the pages at the start of a new notebook quite therapeutic, so don’t worry if your notebook of choice doesn’t have them.

 

Because I might plan a story over the course of several weeks and have more than one in development at any given time, when it comes to review I don’t want to keep flicking back to the index to find the related project pieces. Instead I use a simple arrow system when linking larger blocks of related text. It is a simple thing to do before starting, but saves amazing amounts of time when reviewing:

This chapter continues on page 37

This continues from page 17

What about topics, bullets and tasks?

I still use these as a creative feature. There is much more to writing a book than plotting it out. There may be research tasks that need to be completed prior to writing and these can form topics in themselves.

Personal Opinions…

What is the best size for a Bullet Journal?

For creative projects, the A5 size works best. For ‘on the go’ notes and ideas capture, a pocket notebook is best (such as a Field Notes)

What is the best brand for a bullet journal?

Leuchtturm 1917 is the closest fit for the Bullet Journal system. Prebuilt Index and page numbers, as well as a paper quality that works for a wide range of pen types, including fountain pens

What is the best paper format for a bullet journal?

Plain paper allows for the most freedom, but I’m a huge fan of graph or dot grid. The key is that any ruling is subtle enough for it not to be limiting 

You can find the official Bullet Journal site and more information from Ryder here.

Not The 4-Hour Workweek: lessons in scheduling, time tracking and an abundance of hours

This is the first full work week completely under my own control. I set the tasks, the hours, the goals and overall strategy. Anyone who knows me will agree I love to have that kind of control. It has been a steep learning curve, but years of practicing in my free time outside of the 9-5, as well as the lessons in project management I’ve learned over the years working in companies, has made it much easier than it could have been.

Towards the end of 2016, I listened to The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. For anyone who has ever considered location independent living or being a digital nomad, then this is often the springboard book. Besides, with a title like that, who wouldn’t want to work just four hours?

Of course, is that really what the book is saying? ‘Do nothing and get rich’ is the answer a lot of people hope to get from it. But at it’s heart, it’s about doing the things that matter in the most effective way possible. It is a bible for lifestyle design. People who can automate their business to the point that they only spend four hours on them are the kinds of people who don’t then retire. They start another business. The ‘be effective’ and commitment to living big is the message they take away, not do as little as you can.

Four hours sounds nice on the surface. But if you work doing the things you enjoy, which I suspect most of Ferris’ disciples do, then four hours is never the goal.

Time tracking

As you can guess from the title, this has not been a four hour work week. My life hasn’t been fully automated with a bunch of virtual assistants running businesses for me while I sip cocktails in Bali. How do I know this? For the first time in years, I did proper time tracking.

I didn’t spend hours looking at all the different options for doing this. Instead I picked toggl, as Mike and Grey were talking about it so much on the recent episodes of Cortex. Have I gone all in? Nope, I won’t be taking advantage of that extensive API to play with. I just want to know how much time I am spending on the key areas that now constitute my day.

The results? I might not be working a four hour week, but I’m not doing a forty hour one either:

This is actual work. This is not ‘killing time’ work. This is not timesheet submission busy-work. When the tasks for the day are done, then I am done. I focus on them completely and make them as efficient as they can be. This is just the first week of data, but it is fascinating. I’ve always believed that quality of work is more important than hours spent and this is re-enforcing that in a big way.

Time scheduling – a combination of digital and analogue

In a less time efficient move, I have lost countless hours since January looking at digital project and time management tools. None of them seem to be just what I was looking for. Many were far too time intensive to set up projects and tasks for my small, single-person projects. Secondly, I’m still reliant on the GTD way of thinking, meaning that many have critical pieces missing. Thirdly, none would emphasise calendaring in a way that works for me. I’m a deadline driven person, so without a ‘real’ due date, my default action will be to happily defer.

Rather than continuing this frustration, right now I am managing things in an analog and digital combo. The first is a paper planner (the Moleskine Weekly Planner that I reviewed here) and a separate ‘work’ calendar that chunks times of the day into very high level categories (for example, editing time vs ‘line edit of x book’).

Putting the two together has allowed me to focus on the bigger picture, whilst still getting into the detail of the day. Whether it will continue to work in the long term remains to be seen, but for this first focused week, just about everything went according to plan, with enough flexibility to allow for one or two unscheduled events.

Free time and the sensation of guilt (‘I should be doing…’)

I’ve been sticking to my usual routine of starting my workday at 6am. Doing around 4 hours means I have a lot of day left at the end of my day. Whilst this sounds like a dream – and it is – the thing that I have noticed at times is an overwhelming sense of guilt. Even on the day I used all my brainpower writing 7,500 words, it was an obvious nagging sensation at the back of my brain. The quest for something ‘productive’ to do. It has made me realise how much we are compelled to fill our hours with work, when sometimes the thing to do is just relax.

I hope this is something that disappears quickly. It feels like a hangover from the 9-5 life and it serves no purpose as far as I can tell.

Walking and thinking is a valid use of time

Conclusion – scary, at times overwhelming, but eye-opening and utterly rewarding

Would I class this first proper full time writing week as a success? Yes, I would. I’ve eaten well, I’ve rested well and I’ve spent time creating new products and learning new things.

Has it been difficult and crazy ass scary at times? Of course it has. Any big change always does (and anyone who tells you otherwise has got caught up in their own lies and bravado). But I’ve also loved the freedom and the self-reliance. I’ve loved a semi-traditional work week, with all of the benefits and very few downsides.

I already can’t wait to see what next week brings when reality sets in.

Still struggling to lose excess holiday weight? A workbook to help cut dangerous sugars from your diet

When I first published The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free, lots of people asked for a paperback version of the book. I resisted for a while, as only offering the the book in electronic form meant I could keep the price low and get the message out there.

Over time, the requests for a paperback version have continued to grow. So I decided to take the plunge and create one.

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The physical copy of the book not only contains the important tips, tricks and psychology of the ebook version, but also contains a greater degree of interactivity. The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free is not a cookbook. It is not a diet book. It is about serious lifestyle change and kicking a powerful addiction. I’ve built the paperback version to contain space for you to make notes and answer the questions I ask you in real time.

sugar free workbook

Countless studies have shown that the act of writing down your goals vastly improves your chances of reaching them. The same goes for your habits and routines. It empowers people to take conscious, positive decisions rather than make unhelpful unconscious choices.

This has turned the guide into a workbook of sorts. It can be your personal journal on the road to eliminating processed sugars from your life for good. The 9 step action plan includes the space you need to analyse your behaviour, face up to your bad habits and document your journey to a sugar-free lifestyle.

I know how difficult it can be to rely on willpower alone, so there is real value to be found in writing down your motivations and weaknesses. When the craving for a sugary snack strikes, having a tangible reminder of why you’re changing your life helps you to resist. I know I struggled to stay sugar free over the holidays and then had to kick the addiction again, so I’ve returned to this basic guide to get myself back on track. If it works for me, then it can work for you.

therealistsguidetosugarfree-2

The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free is available at Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US) in both formats.

Love the book? Then please leave a review on Amazon. Reviews help keep the book visible, which means I can help more people make the change to a happier and healthier life.

 

2017: New Year, New Goals, New Dreams

I’m not going to lie. During November and December I fell off so many wagons I couldn’t work out which one I wanted to get back on first. So I drank another glass of wine, enough cheese and crackers to sink a small boat and opened a box of chocolates instead.

But now that has all changed! By the mystical power of the calendar year flicking over, my willpower has returned and I am wholesome and virtuous again!

I wish.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been wholesome and virtuous. But I have begun to steadily correct course this week to get back on track. But where did it all go wrong in the first place?

I suspect much of it came down to illness and exhaustion. I failed to achieve a lot of things in 2016 because I felt worn out or ill most of the time. Listening to the Creative Penn podcast, it was great to hear another writer making health a priority in 2017. It is very easy to set ‘business’ type goals only. We’re taught how to focus on finance and career, but not necessarily spiritual or health goals. Last year was a harsh reminder of how if I don’t sleep and maintain a healthy lifestyle, eventually I’ll fail in other areas as well. I had two (because I’m a slow learner) fairly serious burnouts last year. I’m determined not to make the same mistakes again.

I’m tracking my sleep on my Fitbit and have once again begun the process of detoxing from sugar. I got a huge morale boost from seeing my book, The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free at #2 in the kindle personal health charts in the first days of January. Hopefully I’ve been able to help a few people on their journey towards making the change too. Throw in a daily journaling and gratitudes practice and I can keep moving towards a physically and emotionally better me.

I’ve also challenged myself to read a book a week in 2017. With an English degree, I find it easy to read quickly, so the only excuse I have for not doing it is that I simply haven’t made it a priority. I have to hold myself accountable for that.

Mainly, I want to work on more exciting and challenging writing projects in 2017. I won’t give the numbers, but I have set myself a pretty hardcore stretch goal for increasing my writing income compared to 2016. Like health and reading, it will come down to prioritising and commitment. I’m good with that. When the 6am alarm sounded each day this week, I got up, got coffee and did the work. That’s how you achieve anything, right?

So those are some of my goals and plans for 2017. I want to get into a more consistent blogging schedule as well, to hold myself accountable to these things as much as anything. It also means I’ll get to share some tips and tricks I find along the way.

2016 was a terrible year generally, but with some major personal highs. I want 2017 to be the year to give back. To use my voice to make a change in the world when I can. That sounds lofty and ambitious. But if you haven’t been happy with the way things went politically in 2016 then you have to raise your voice. You have to do something. As Shonda Rhimes said, a hashtag is not a movement. Do something.

Top 5 podcasts of 2016

Looking back through the archives, I apparently didn’t do a ‘best of’ post for anything last year. In 2016, audio has finally become my favourite way to learn. I still spend a portion of each day listening to podcasts and love them just as much as I always have done. Back in 2014 I selected a podcast that was the best in one of five genres I listen to. This year, I’ve just gone for a flat out top 5 instead.

So, in order of ranking, we have a new winner:broadcast_artwork_cortex_artwork

“CGP Grey and Myke Hurley are both independent content creators. Each episode, they discuss the methods and tools they employ to be productive and creative.”

I found Cortex via a reference on one of Myke’s other podcasts earlier this year and hopped over to see what it was all about. I was instantly hooked. Being a full-time independent creator is something I aspire to, so listening to Myke and Grey talk the the trials and joys of doing so was eye opening. Not only that, it was great to hear someone who thinks a lot like me (Grey, not Myke) when it comes to decision fatigue, organisation and mild disdain of how most other humans think sometimes. I found a kindred soul through the digital airwaves and that is a very rare thing.

My second favourite podcast of the year couldn’t be more different. Lighthearted, laugh out loud funny, The Librarian Is In has kept me up to speed in the world of books and culture during a year when I couldn’t spend as much time in bookstores as I would like:

thelibrarianisin1_final_2

“The Librarian Is In is the New York Public Library’s podcast about books, culture, and what to read next.”

It’s campy, informative and yet not ashamed to dive into dark topics when the books demand it. It is possibly the most inclusive podcast that I listen to, where any book is good for someone and no matter who you are, you are welcome.

At number three, we have the 2014 winner making its way back onto the list:

broadcast_artwork_penaddict_artwork

The Pen Addict is a weekly fix for all things stationery. Pens, pencils, paper, ink – you name it, and Brad Dowdy and Myke Hurley are into it. Join as they geek out over the analog tools they love so dearly.”

Big changes have happened for both Myke and Brad since the 2014 list, but they still have something new to say about pens and other stationery items each week. It’s been great to watch them grow and evolve over time and pull the pen community with them to lift us all up. Yes, there is a pen community. Yes, it is very niche as markets go. But I’m not sure there’s a nicer fandom out there, and the ratio of normal to crazies (there are always some crazies, just a fact of life) makes it the best of any community I’ve been part of.

Anyone reading this will probably know that writing is my passion. Anyone aspiring to be a full time writer will also know that the only way to get there is to keep learning and become more skilled at your craft. So at number four, Writing Excuses is the best podcast I’ve come across for that.

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“Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

Most podcasts about writing are actually about marketing and publishing. Although this podcast touches on that occasionally, it is more like a masterclass on craft. Understanding how the construction of your writing controls the mind of your readers is so important. You can self-publish in ten minutes these days, but writing something great takes as much thought and effort as it always has done.

Finally, This Is Your Life by Michael Hyatt is still one of the best business podcasts around.

thisisyourlife

“This Is Your Life™ is my weekly podcast dedicated to intentional leadership. My goal is to help you live with more passion, work with greater focus, and lead with extraordinary influence.”

It’s about to undergo a change in 2017, which won’t be the first time since I started listening in early 2014. Although the focus is on leadership and business skills, there has been a definite shift towards the ‘why’ of work and life. Yes, it still is all about achievement, but instead of merely productivity tips, it now gets under the hood of what you are working towards. One of the few business podcasts that promotes the value of sleep and doing nothing sometimes, it then gives you the tips and tools to move forward with whatever it is you feel truly called to do.

So that’s my best of podcasts list for 2016. Three of them (The Pen Addict, Writing Excuses, This Is Your Life) remain from the original 2014 list. I’ve sampled about fifty different podcasts since then, so I see this longevity as a testament to the quality of content they produce. If you have a commute, a day job where you can put on some headphones and ignore the world, or if you just want an accompaniment to your daily walk, I think podcasts are a perfect way to get positive input for your brain.

As for our winner, Cortex, has changed the way I will live my life in 2017, I am sure of that.

Floating: why it is beneficial to my physical and mental health

Everyone who knows me understands that I inhabit a strange place between logical efficiency and unconstrained creativity. Essentially, this:

venn

In reality, I try to be efficient so I can get the things I must do out of the way as quickly as possible, so that I can enjoy the things I want to do. Like a lot of people, I frequently seem to slide down the slippery slope towards getting more done, rather than getting the right things done.

Luckily for me, just under a year ago, Time To Float opened up nearby. Before, I had travelled to London to float, but for anyone in the centre of the England, this is infinitely more convenient. So, why did I try it and why do I keep doing it?

1. Sleep

I’ve put this first, because it is the one I can actively measure. I’ve always ‘felt’ like I slept better after floating, but having recently started wearing a fitbit, I was interested to see if my gut feel actually resembled reality.

Apparently, it does:

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I selected two nights, one from the week before floating and the second from the week after. Both had a similar amount of ‘total’ sleep. But you can see the quality of that sleep was markedly different. After floating I had prolonged periods of sleep without restlessness (the light blue bars that make the first picture look more like a barcode). This was really interesting to see and I’m glad it’s not just all in my head.

2. Physical Relaxation

The physical effect of floating is a strange one. At first, I find that it is like lying down on a really comfortable bed. Then I start to become aware of areas such as my neck and shoulders relaxing, letting go of a tension that I’ve simply become used to feeling. I try to use a standing desk at home, because prolonged periods of sitting during my workday makes the problem so much worse. Even doing that, I still find my shoulders tensing in response to any stressful scenario. Feeling that tension disappear is amazing.

Finally, when the session is over, trying to stand is almost hilarious. My body gets used to being weightless very quickly, so when my feet get back on the earth it feels like my limbs are made of lead. For a few moments you are aware of gravity in a way that can be achieved by little else. I tend to be a little zoned out for a while after and have to take advantage of the chill out area.

3. Creative/Strategic Thinking

Unlike sleep, this can’t be quantified with a chart. But I notice it every time, depending on what phase of life I am in. If I’ve been juggling multiple projects and can feel the beginnings of burnout and poor decision making, then floating allows me the clarity to get to the higher levels. Most people don’t apply strategic thinking to their daily lives, but I have no intention of getting to 80 and wondering how I ended up in a place I never wanted to be. The sensory deprivation may be a part of it. But it certainly works.

Alternatively, there are times when I just want to come up with new ideas. They may be for my writing, or they may be for other side projects. Sometimes I go into the session with a problem already in mind, giving myself a chance to really think about it in the silence. The aha! moment usually comes a few hours later, seemingly out of nowhere, but really from the freed up depths of my subconscious. Other times I am open to whatever my brain comes up with when it is allowed to do nothing but think. I’ve recently been reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism and I can see how floating provides me with a fast track to getting that clarity. Although it is easy to understand the physical effects, the psychological ones are as profound.

So those are the key benefits of floating for me. There are many more that are important for other people, but these are the ones that have had a positive impact on my own life. If you think that could work for you, then definitely check it out.