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Evaluating Your Time, The Trick To A Happier Life

They say that when people start to track what they eat they generally start eating less, just because they’re being conscious of what they are eating.  The same rings true when you look at how you’re spending your life, what time you dedicate to different things.  Over the past month or so I’ve been taking a look at how am I spending my life, where is my time going and how do I feel about it all.

I wanted to map what my life is actually like and compare it to what I want it to be.  The difference between what it is and what I want it to be signals where I need to make changes.  To do this, I’ve found a few tools that I’ve really liked and thought I’d share some of them here.

Track your life with Life Cycle

This is a pretty neat app that automates the tracking of your entire day and it does it pretty well.  It uses your GPS to figure out what you do where and then tracks how long you’re doing it.  You tell it where you work, it tracks time spent at work.  You tell it where you work out, grocery shop, get dinner, do errands and it tracks it all.  At the end of the day you get a snapshot of what your day was.

So here you can see I spent 7 hours and 23 minutes sleeping, 6 hours 28 minutes working, and so on.  The app interfaces with the iPhone’s health app, tracking your steps and it also connect to their other app, Sleep Cycle (more on that in a minute).

Track your sleep with Sleep Cycle

This is from the makers of the Life Cycle app and interfaces with it, its basically required to use.  Basically it analyzes how you sleep by detecting movement on your bed and breathing patterns.  It operates on the premise that when you are in deep REM sleep (the kind that really gets you rested up) your body actually prevents itself from moving so we don’t act out our dreams and many other reasons.  This means when we are in deep sleep, we don’t really move.  The app tracks this and measures your sleep patterns.

Understand better how you work with Rescue Time

If you’re like me, when it comes to work, it’s almost all done on a computer.  Rescue time puts a little program on your computer to track exactly what you’re doing and for how long.  It can spit out reports to show you exactly what you’ve been up to, it can categorize those into “productive” or “non productive” activities.

rescue time tracking

This is really good for those who get distracted easily on the web or on their computers.  We know that just because you’re on your computer, doesn’t mean you’re actually working.  Since using this app (over two years for me now) I’ve found that I get on my computer, do only work, then shut down and move on with life.  In short, I don’t waste time, get my work done quickly and get on with more important things.

Dig into emails with Gmail Meter

One of the lessons I learned from using Rescue Time (above) was that I spend a lot of time in email.  Email is often a terrible use of time.  The saying goes: “an email inbox is a convenient way to organize other people’s priorities.”  I use an add-on to Gmail called Gmail Meter which analyzes your email.  I’ve taken some drastic steps to help reduce the number of emails I receive.  For example I used to receive around 400 emails a day, now 170 email per day.  I still have a very long way to go.

It also shows your top people who email you.  This helps me identify people who I need to break it off with if they are endless emailers or validate that the emails I do get and send are productive.

So What Does This All Mean?

After sitting with this data, I break out my life into three main categories:  Recreational, Sleeping and Business Activities. Having objective data is a very important step because we can get down to specifics and reality, not guesses and gut feelings.

I then can ask myself, what do I want my life to be like?  What do I want a day to look like?  Then after that I can delve into things more specifically: what do I want my free time (recreational) to look like?  When I run my business, what should that look and feel like?  How much sleep do I want to make sure I have?

The important part here is defining what will make you happy and then comparing it to reality.  The gap is where I need to focus and make intentional changes.

For me, email is a huge issue.  I also spend more time driving that I like.  My average sleep time is around 8 hours, which is good, but I need to work out more.

You can use fancy tools like I have here or simply jot down in a notebook.  The point is, how often do you take inventory on your goals and your life?  Most people don’t.  Most people do nothing or at best, work of guesses.

Your Turn!

  • How do you track your time spent?
  • How do you keep on track to your goals?

7 Ways To Build Your Own Personal Freedom

The world is a crazy place sometimes and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what my response should be to it all. It got me thinking about how much I can control and how to build my own personal freedom.  I’ve been doing a lot of planning for 2017 and with it, thinking of how I can make this a year of forward momentum in the right direction.

personal freedom and how to find it

Define What Freedom Means To You

Before setting out on this journey, we need to know where we are going.  The truth is, if you don’t define what’s right for you, there are companies who are willing to guide you down a path optimized for their profits.  Don’t go into this blindly, seize your future and control it.  Carefully examine the ‘why’ behind each thing, because as humans we often think we want one thing, but it’s not really what we are seeking.

Define your values

values of your life to live by

In this world, there are times that you face a situation where you need to make a decision with weight.  What if a friend loses their job and can’t pay rent?  What if you see someone being heckled on the street for the color of their skin, the religion they follow or their gender?  What do you value? What are your convictions?  We don’t often define these, but I’ve found them useful to just spend 30 minutes reflecting and writing them down; it brings clarity and gravity.

Build An Emergency Fund

Money isn’t everything in this life, but it certainly helps when you have a nest egg set aside when things go awry.  Having an emergency fund can give you something to lean on so a setback doesn’t totally derail your progress forward.  This is certainly a case for ‘an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.’

Regain Control of Your Food

grow your own food

When you get down to it, we need very little in life, but there are a few things that we simply can’t do without.  One such thing is food.  Taking control of your food means you can eat healthier, fresher and know what is going into your body.  There are many things that we can get by without, but the truth is we always need to eat.  So connect with local farmers, join a CSA or even better, start a garden.  Gardening is good exercise, is very economical and a fantastic stress reliever.

Become More Valuable

Every human has value, but what could you do to increase value to others, particularly in ways that lead to a paycheck?  Every time I’ve ever been in a tough spot financially, I am always thankful for having certain skills that others find valuable.  For me it’s strategy, business building, and marketing: essentially helping other people make money.  In a pinch, I can leverage those skills and talents to bring in a little more income.

Get Handy

We all can’t be a master craftsman or a pro mechanic, but we can do things to offset some costs and become more self-reliant.  It is scary when I meet someone who drives every day but doesn’t know how to change a tire.  Do you know how to shut off the water to your house if a pipe breaks?  Could you build something out of scrap wood in a pinch?  When  I was building my tiny house, I learned a lot of different skills.  These things translated to me having more confidence, more money and when I did decide to hire someone, if I could talk the talk, the price was often lower.

Root Out Your Weak Points

We all have weak points. We all have points of failure that could lead to disaster.  While there are some things we can’t prepare for, consider what things could happen that would lead to a major break down for you.   What if you lost your job?  What if the power went out?  What if there was a gas shortage for a week?  All three of those things have happened to me and I work to have plans for each of them.  Take some time to identify your weak points, rank them by highest chance of occurrence then develop plans for them.

Your Turn!

  • What other things are you doing to build your personal freedoms?

 

Ten Things I Keep Outside Of My Tiny House

When it comes to living in such a small space or living a minimalist life, it’s very important to think about your possessions.  Minimalism doesn’t inherently mean not having stuff, it’s about being intentional with the things I do have.  Part of that is recognizing that there are things I will own that don’t have a place in the home, or shouldn’t be in the house even if I have the space.

These are items that you need, but don’t use much.  They could be things you need keep separate from your main space to maintain a balance in your life.  These are things that I want access to, but don’t want to see.  So here is a list of 10 things I own, but don’t keep in my house.

1. Internet

This seems crazy, even to me. Those that know me know that I’m a unapologetic nerd.  The internet is an amazing thing, filled with interesting, informative and hilarious stuff.  But, I don’t have internet in my house.  This affords me a work life separation.  The truth is I love my work, it’s amazing.  I just love working and therein lies the problem.  When I go to work I am almost always hyper focused, a tad intense and get sucked into the work in a very big way.  Not having internet lets me disconnect and take a break.

2. Bulk Storage

I always like to keep a year’s worth of every day items on hand. I store these items in my enclosed trailer that I setup like a storage building, things like shampoo, TP, propane, batteries, etc. It is an odd habit I started a while back when I decided to try an experiment and track everything that I used for an entire year.  Whenever I run out of something, I have another on hand. I buy a replacement and put the newest at the back, grabbing from the front, which is the oldest.  What I’ve found is that after an initial stocking, it doesn’t cost you anymore to have.  I find this helpful because I’m never out of anything and when life gets crazy, I can focus on the task at hand, not the fact that I ran out of TP and suddenly need to go to the store.

3. Composting Toilet

This is another odd one, that I think I’m alone on (maybe?).  When I first moved into my tiny house, I was trying to figure out tile for my bathroom, so I just put the composting toilet (bucket) outside.  It’s been two years now and I think I actually prefer to have it outside.  I live on a large plot of land, so none of my neighbors can see my house.  As a result, I just put my bucket where there is a really nice view.  I don’t ever have to worry about smells, flies or the like, plus I have extra space in the house where the toilet would have gone.  I’ve gotten so used to it, that I can climb down my ladder, go outside and then get back in bed without really waking up.

4. Work Materials & Home Office

Being self employed meant that for a long time, I didn’t have an office.  I used to work from home and venture out to various coffee shops.   That changed about a year ago when I opened my coworking space and splurged by giving myself my very own office space.

I still operate out of my backpack for most things, but I now have a place to keep a few books and an extra computer. I keep items for the Tiny House Conference in the office storage space.  I think the best thing I like about having an office space outside of my house is that I now have a white board. There’s something about laying out strategy on a whiteboard that I love.

5. Laundry

You all know this about me, I hate folding laundry with a fiery passion.  I long ago decided that I was going to have a laundry service here in Charlotte called 2ULaundry come and handle my laundry.  For about $15 bucks a week, someone comes to pick it up, wash/dry/fold, then brings it back.  The best money I’ve spent all year.

6. Tools

This is an obvious one, you don’t want to drag all the sawdust into your house, but I thought it was worth mentioning.  I keep an enclosed cargo trailer for things I want to own, but not keep in the house.  My power tools from building my tiny house take up a good bit of room. I like to do small projects, fixing things and I don’t want the mess inside the house.

7. Camping Gear

When it comes to camping gear, I’ve been very careful to keep food smell away from them. When you cook in a tiny house, the whole house fills with the delicious scents of your cooking. That’s fine for cooking, but you don’t want your camping gear smelling like garlic chicken or soup. For that reason, I keep all my gear in plastic containers in the cargo trailer.

8. People I don’t want to host

It’s the ultimate excuse, “Oh sorry, my house is too small. Guess we’ll have to have it somewhere else…”  It means I don’t have to deal with having people over unless its a really small group of close friends that I really like.

9. Living Space (some of it)

Part of living in a small space is extending your living room to the world outside.  Right when you walk out of my house, I have an outdoor living area complete with tables, chairs, fire pit, grill, pizza oven and much more.  When the weather is nice, I’m outside.  Beyond that I extend my need for a guest bedroom to a local hotel, my dining room is at the best restaurant in town, and other needs to the best that my city has to offer.

10. Formal wear

I wear a suit once every couple years, which means that instead of owning and storing a suit, I just rent one.  The best part is that it always fits me well because they size it for you, plus I can match the formality of the event I’m going to.  It also means I don’t have to worry about storing it or cleaning it because they take care of it.  For women, they have online dress rental services where you can find lots of options in style that you can rent that are pretty affordable.

Your Turn!

  • What things are you thinking about keeping outside your house?
  • What things are you going to outsource?

The Purpose Of Stuff And The Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself

Recently I came across this post about “The purpose of stuff” and I thought it was a really great way of thinking about the items in our lives.  To summarize, we have all this stuff in our lives and they largely fall into four distinct purposes: Functional, Aesthetic, Nostalgic, and Dream Placeholders.

posessions-tiny-house

I liked this line of thought and realized that this frame work is useful, but it contains a lot of pitfalls.  For example: Functional.  There are a lot of things that could be deemed functional in our lives. Kitchen gadgets are the first thing that comes to mind.

Many of us have drawers stuffed with gadgets that will peel garlic, steam broccoli and core an apple.  The kitchen gadget industry has come up with a solution for every possible problem.  The truth is, much of these purpose built items don’t make us better cooks and most of these things serve an outlier need.  How often do you actually core apples?

So I wanted to offer up some questions that can help you navigate around the pitfalls of each of these.

Functional:

There are things that we simply need to get through our daily lives.  We need a bed to sleep on, a fridge to keep food in, a towel to dry our hands and so on.  Much of what is in my tiny house has a very strong functional purpose, but it’s easy to say we NEED something.  What most people fail to do is examine motivations and take a step back and understand the motivations.

compact-can-openerA perfect example for me was: do I need a washer and dryer?  I was convinced I did, but I didn’t know how I was going to fit it in my house.  It was then I took a step back and said “I hate folding clothes, why would I want to have a thing in my house that caused me to do things I hate doing?”

Now it would be easy to say, well everyone wears clothes, clothes get dirty, you need to wash them, therefore, you need a washer.  That is a pretty logical argument, it’s how most houses are built, and how it’s been done for a long time.  But I was willing to ask myself, what if I didn’t have a washer/dryer?  So I said, well maybe there is someone that I could instead pay to do my laundry in lieu of buying an expensive compact washer/dryer.  Low and behold I found a company that will come to my house, take my laundry, wash/dry/fold, then bring it back to me… for $15!

Ask yourself these questions around functional items:

  • What assumptions am I making about this item and the “need” it fills?
  • What are other ways I could achieve this same end result?
  • Is there something I could use instead that does this in a smaller form or is multi-purpose
  • How often do I actually do this function?
  • What if I didn’t have this thing?  What would the impact be?

Aesthetics

There is a great quote from William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  Aesthetics is very important in a small space and for minimalists, we have very little so we must be intentional with all our decisions.  When it comes to minimalists choosing beautiful things for our lives, we need to be discerning.  This is the case where less is more, not out of some dogmatic adherence, but by have a few beautiful things we bring focus and honor to their purpose: enrichment through beauty.

have-nothing-that-is-not-useful-and-beautifulThe trouble with aesthetic items we can have too many of them, which leads us to have a cluttered feel.  Focus on a few select things that allows you to enjoy them without being distracted by other things.  If you find yourself not appreciating it’s value each day, it might be a sign it needs to go.

Ask yourself these questions around aesthetic items:

  • Where will this item have a home, a spot, in my house?
  • How do you want your space or home to feel?  How does this item help you achieve that goal?
  • Is there enough space to draw your focus on this item each day?
  • What items will distract you from enjoyment of this item?

Nostalgic

This is the most difficult of them all, because we are human beings and as such, we are inherently laden with flaws and complications.  Nostalgia is a powerful force of the human experience and its valuable, healthy and an important part of life.  There are times when it can weigh us down.

memories-posessionsIf you ever have watched a show of Hoarders, you hear over and over again how people don’t want to throw something away because it reminds them of their late spouse, passed away family member or some other part of their past.  While hoarding is an unhealthy expression of this need to connect with the past, we can all relate to these feelings.

I spent a significant amount of time sifting through my memory boxes and was able to organize into a few albums and boxes.  I then placed the whole thing into a large waterproof container for safe keeping.  I think what I really need to do is get better is spending a little more time enjoying these memories.

Ask yourself these questions around nostalgic items:

  • Is it possible to keep this memory from some other prompt?
  • Is this a healthy memory to keep coming back to?
  • Would a picture of the item suffice?

Dream Placeholders

I have a soft spot for nostalgic items, but when it comes to items that are place holders for our dreams, hope and even fantasies, I draw a pretty hard line.  Dream placeholders are things that nod to a life we wish to live. They are things that we want in our lives, but we don’t have them, so we instead have things that remind us of that.  Dream placeholders are toxic. Period.

We should have goals. The difference between goals and dreams is that we work towards goals. We remind ourselves that we don’t have the dream but enjoy thinking about it.

born to liveThis is the difference between someone saying they hate their job and going home only to do it all over again, versus a person that works 9 to 5, only to come home and work on their side hustle until midnight.  It is the difference between people who say they want to live in a tiny house and the people who say I’m going to do it and are building their dream home weeks later.

Dream placeholders can be toxic.  Living this lifestyle is one of purpose, of intention and of pursuit of your best life.  If you can’t actively pursue something, then it’s best to come to terms that it will not happen and move on.

Ask yourself these questions about Dream Placeholders:

  • What have you done in the last week to achieve this dream?
  • Why haven’t you achieved this already and are you creating excuses?
  • Does this item serve a function in getting you closer to your goals?
  • Should I lay this dream to rest and move on?

 

Your Turn!

  • How do you make sure the things in your life are meant to be there?
  • What tricks do you use to keep down clutter?

How Was Your Worst Day Your Best Day?

Today I was listening to a podcast when I heard a question that was radically profound in the way it looked at things.  The truth is that our happiness is often not what happens to us, but how we choose to perceive it and react to it.  The question was this…

in-what-was-was-your-worst-day,-your-best-day

It’s fascinating how re-framing something can change our world view.  I could go on, but I think for today, just spend some time thinking about how your worst day was actually your best day.

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