Tag Archives: meditation

Seasons – Planning Life Alongside Nature

For us in the northern hemisphere, there is no denying the change in the air. Summer is giving way to autumn (or fall, if you want to be all American about it). The kids are back at school. All the upcoming holidays now have an ‘end of year’ feel to them. For those in the southern hemisphere, the reverse is true. Spring is coming and summer will be here before you know it. Time to hit the beach and get outdoors.

It was whilst living in New Zealand that I realised for the first time how productivity and personal development have seasons of their own, often very much inline with nature. Perhaps it was because all my online inputs were largely presenting an experience that was the reverse of the one I was living through. What I did realise was that as the rains came (I was living in Christchurch, there was lots of rain), it became harder to stay motivated and geared up for new projects all the time.

Any productivity guru worth their salt will tell you that you don’t need to wait for the New Year to make a change. Or that every day is a fresh start. It’s all very true. I just think it becomes harder if you try to do it out of sync with the world around you.

Many people live online so much that it makes it easier, in a strange sort of way. When you never leave the house, it’s easy to forget what is going on outside. I know the temptation of the laptop as much as anyone else. Nevertheless, it can contribute to a feeling of burnout when there is no variation, just the non-stop hustle and grind of daily life.

Right now, I am taking a mini-break to plan the remainder of the year. I wanted to be somewhere different, somewhere much closer to nature, to remind myself of this idea. As the days get shorter, it will become harder to get out of bed each morning. The evenings will seem made for curling up under blankets with a good book, not hitting the gym or high intensity projects. I need to remember this so that I don’t fill my days with things I won’t achieve. I don’t like breaking promises to anyone, least of all myself.

So, over the next few weeks when you begin to see articles and blogs reminding you that ‘It’s not too late to win the year!’ and ‘make that final quarter count!’, remember that life is meant to have periods of recovery and renewal. If you’ve left it until nature begins to shut down, then it might be time to consider a different approach next year.

Of course, for those of you in the southern hemisphere, it’s time to get up and at ‘em.

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Books for entrepreneurs: Tools of Titans review

Tim Ferriss does not know how to write short books. Don’t let the fact his paperback versions could be used to bludgeon someone to death put you off. He’s a master of the soundbite.

He’s just collected more of them than anyone else.

Tools of Titans is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to try life-hacking. It works because it doesn’t expound a single point of view. Instead, Tim has interviewed hundreds of top performers and asked them what they do. As he says, it’s all in asking the right questions:

“What do these people do in the first sixty minutes of each morning? What do their workout routines look like, and why? What books have they gifted most to other people? What are the biggest wastes of time for novices in their field? What supplements do they take on a daily basis?”

Of course, this results in some contradictory approaches. But it never seems like he is doing this to cover all bases and therefore always be right. Instead, it’s clear how certain techniques suit different personality types, or specific sets of circumstances. This allows you to cherry pick the ones that work for you. And if they don’t work, a quick flick through the book and you’re sure to come up with a Plan B.

The book itself is divided into three broad sections: healthy, wealthy and wise. There is fluidity between them all, as certain tips and tricks can be applied effectively in all three life areas. It gives the book a sense of structure though that allows you to start where you need the most help. Tim’s writing voice is quite distinctive, so if you don’t gel with his podcast style, you might struggle with reading. I find him to be a highly engaging speaker, so I went through all 674 pages in a week. Most sections contain direct quotes from his interviewees, so there is plenty of variety to keep your brain engaged.

This is one of those books I would recommend without hesitation to anyone who wanted to level up their life. If you’re looking for productivity tips, diet and exercise hacks, habits and routines, meditation and yes, even raw and candid advice for those who are depressed to the point of suicidal, then this is the book for you.

You might even find the thing you didn’t know you really needed along the way.

You can buy Tools of Titans on Amazon and all other good retailers. For more information about Tim and his work, check out toolsoftitans.com

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.

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.

Subtle discomforts

I haven’t posted here for a while. As well as being very busy, there was a strange discomfort that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

This morning, I realised what it was. I’d probably known all along, but I finally acknowledged it.

When I published my Sugar Free book, I decided to give Facebook a go, despite disliking it as a concept for years. Obviously, if you’re going to use it for marketing purposes, then it made sense to link my blogposts to it.

I still hated it. More importantly, its open door policy and spooky algorithm meant that everyone I may have ever known was being suggested to me in other places, such as my Instagram. Even people who I don’t want to be part of my life. It was like a sledgehammer of suggestions that kept poking sore spots.

So this morning I deleted my Facebook account. I’m under no illusions that it will make all the problems instantly go away. But I realised I don’t want the downsides it brings, no matter what the upsides might be.

It feels good. If something bothers you, then get rid of it, even if other people tell you it’s a ‘must have’ item. Trust your own instincts. They’re probably right about things more times than you realise.

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:

img_1531  img_1530
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.

 

Capturing ideas wherever, whenever

Intuitively I felt like I was capturing so many more thoughts and ideas as I moved through 2015. So at the end of the year I collected together all the notebooks I had completed into one place to confirm the theory. Yep, I had indeed had a lot of thoughts:

2015 notebook stack

Because I’m a bit of a GTD fan, I was in the habit of capturing things to do the moment I thought of them, but story ideas and general everyday thoughts and feelings, not so much. I made much more of an effort to do that and it shows. I have a whole treasure chest of ideas for stories I can now return to, as well as all the highs and lows of the year that I’ve recorded for posterity.

Broken down into three notebook types:

  1. The filofax was my daily log book for 2015. For 2016 I’ll be moving over to a Hobonichi which is already proving to be an amazing experience.
  2. The large, hardback notebooks were for novel plotting and extended meditative journalling, including daily gratitudes to set my days up right.
  3. Pocket notebooks (especially Field Notes) were always in my jeans or handbag for keeping track of what I had to do each day, but also for those random confluences of inspiration that happen when I’m out and about. Now I can capture them immediately (I’m guaranteed to forget them if I put it off until I get home).

2015 Notebook collection

I made leaps forward in my writing processes and achievements in 2015 and I fully intend to keep building on the momentum in 2016. More than ever I believe the best way to succeed at anything is to just write it down!