December 28, 2011

Making Things Easier for Visitors

When people are coming to visit, hosts often worry about making a good impression on their visitors. The situation, though, is also an opportunity to save time for everyone involved by making things more convenient for the visitors.

December 17, 2011

Don’t Get Things Out Early

When you’re getting ready to work on a project, like baking a pie for a Christmas party, it seems as if you can save time by getting the materials out in advance. You know you need to bake the pie tomorrow, so you put the flour, pie pan, rolling pin, and all the other things you’ll need out on the table. Then, you think, when you’re ready to start on the pie, all you need to do is show up and start baking.

This doesn’t work nearly as well as it seems it should. It ends up taking more time when you try to save time this way.

December 08, 2011

Deadlines: Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Time pressure and deadlines go together, particularly as a deadline approaches. If the last-minute efforts that go along with wrestling with deadlines are a source of stress, you can make your life easier by changing the way you think of deadlines.

December 03, 2011

Making Email Less Alarming

After email becomes a habit, you can stop noticing how intrusive it is. Most email programs automatically check for new email every minute, and they sound an alarm whenever a new message comes in.

An alarm! Every minute! That’s appropriate, of course, if you’re receiving email messages about fires that you have to go put out. But if you’re not working at the fire house, you can easily take steps to make email less alarming. This can save you time and can make life noticeably less stressful.

December 02, 2011

The Psychology of Busy

Chris Brogan today writes, “You’re Not As Busy As You Think.” “Busy,” Brogan suggests, could be a psychological pattern of avoiding some things (“all the tasks I can’t seem to master in life, like paying bills on time”) or seeking other things in ways that may not be so practical and may not even be consciously acknowledged (visibility and feedback are two things we may spend time seeking without any particular purpose in mind).

In economic theory, the way to be less busy is to drop work on low-priority objectives. This requires recognizing the low-priority objectives in your work, which is not always easily done. Brogan suggests that you look at the things you do over and over again, and “Ask yourself quite honestly what purpose this activity serves.”

December is the busiest month for many people, and most of the time pressure that people face is unnecessary. During December I’ll be offering several ideas of simple ways to be less busy.

November 17, 2011

Open Thread and Request for Stories, Questions, and Photos

I am happy to see comments on my blog, and I am adding this “Open Thread” post to make it easier to discuss issues that aren’t so specifically related to the topic of a specific post.

November 11, 2011

Today Is “One Day”

Today is One Day.

The day can be written is 11/11/11 or 11-11-11, in all ones, so if any day can stake a claim as being One Day, surely this is it.

I just thought I’d mention this in case there is anything you said you would do “one day,” that you still haven’t done. Today is the day!

November 06, 2011

Starting a New Chapter

My new experience as a novelist has persuaded me that we have a greater capacity for change than we give ourselves credit for. If we are willing to apply a disciplined imagination to one specific change at a time, I believe we can make changes one after another, day after day, just as a novelist might write a new chapter in a novel every day.

Read about this in the Shamanic Economist blog: “Starting a New Chapter, Today.”

September 08, 2011

“Maybe Things Will Get Better Next Year”

People who follow U.S. economic policy saw two threshold moments today.

This morning, it was a speech from the head of the Federal Reserve Bank, who for the first time suggested that the economy might improve faster if the causes of its problems could be addressed.

Then tonight, the president addressed Congress with a call-to-action speech on the economy. Even with all the advance billing the speech got, it was startling to see from a president who until today had seemed content to just muddle through.

September 03, 2011

Self-Storage and the Endowment Effect

The BBC News Magazine story “The Self-Storage Craze” deconstructs the decision-making process that leads people to store possession they don’t use in storage lockers for months or years on end, at considerable cost.

Writers Tom de Castella and Kate Dailey go through some of the familiar mechanisms that make people save things they don’t like enough to have around the house: sentimental attachment, putting off the tough decisions about what to keep, a touch of confusion over the actual costs involved. But they also touched on one that I hadn’t really thought about.

August 16, 2011

Letting Something Decay Is Not the Same As Wearing It Out

Ask the average person what happens to most of their stuff, and they’ll tell you they use it up and wear it out. That actually doesn’t happen nearly as often as we think it does. One reason we think we wear out our stuff is that we give ourselves credit for wearing things out when we didn’t really. If we want to be more realistic about it, there is a difference to be seen between wearing something out through repeated use, and allowing it to decay through lack of use and the passage of time.

July 21, 2011

Lessons From the Clutter of Divorce

Today at, the Forbes Sisters write about the emotional difficulties of the stuff that can be left behind after a divorce in “Divorce and Clutter Clearing: The Process of Letting Go.” The story about the wedding dress is especially relevant for anyone faced with cleaning up during or after a divorce, but it illustrates several other important points that are relevant to all of us.

July 02, 2011

Under the Influence of a Balky Mouse

I’ve been having problems with my computer mouse for the last two days. The mouse can no longer be entirely relied upon to click when I press the button or to unclick at the right time when I release it. This can cause obvious problems when I’m working on the computer, especially if I drag an item to the wrong place on the screen or select the wrong menu item because the mouse button is balking. Ideally, such a mouse should be replaced immediately, but to save myself the expense of a shopping trip, I’ve decided to live with the problem for two weeks while I order a new one and have it delivered.

You adapt quickly and unconsciously to the circumstances you are working in. Under the influence of a balky mouse, I find that I am doing more writing. I do writing mostly with the computer keyboard, without relying too much on the mouse, so my writing work isn’t deterred by a mouse that isn’t quite working.

June 23, 2011

The Big Secret and What It Costs

Bruce Muzik, speaking at TEDxSinCity on May 14, talked about “The Big Secret Nobody Wants to Tell.” I don’t think I’m giving too much away by explaining that “the big secret” does not mean what it sometimes means, when you’re afraid everyone but you knows what’s going on. This time, it’s the reverse. The big secret is any recurring conflict that permeates your life that you never get any help with because you never mention it, afraid of what might happen if people find out.

This state of living is more debilitating than people realize. It can ruin your mood and fill up your time in ways that defy rational explanation. It can seem that there is no way out. Stevie Nicks writes of a character with a big secret: “She rarely goes out/She spends every day/Waiting for the day/When everybody finds out.” People in this state lie awake at night wondering what to do. The suspense of waiting for people to uncover your big secret is as painful as any other long-term suspense. The solution, Bruce says, is to own up to it.

June 12, 2011

Joey Fatone’s Big Sale

Former *Nsync singer Joey Fatone knew he had a problem. From the story in CNNMoney:

“I have too much shit,” is what Joey Fatone said when asked why he’s holding a massive estate sale this weekend.

The former member of *Nsync — one of the most famous boy bands of all time — is selling off the entire contents of his Orlando, Fla. home.

May 29, 2011

“Obviously, I Also Want _________”

We don’t really want most of the things we think we want. This is one of the biggest problems with goal setting and time management systems. You can work for years toward a big goal you select, such as your “dream home,” when it isn’t what you really want.

Most of our goals come from ideas that were planted in minds by cultural and commercial influences. We know that not all our goals are really our own by the way we react when we achieve our biggest goals. Sometimes, so be sure, achieving a goal is a life-changing experience, filling us with such a glow or so changing our view of ourselves or our place in the world that we know it is a step forward. Other times, though, a big achievement is an excuse to throw a party, but not much more than that. Our daily lives don’t really change, and especially, the feeling we bring to our daily lives doesn’t change. Or worse, achieving a big goal can be a big let-down, possibly even throwing us into a depression for weeks as we say, “Is this all there is?”

May 22, 2011

Planning When the Future Is Unknown

Yesterday, as every day, we saw examples of the difficulty of planning. The big events of the day turned out not to be the ones that were loudly predicted the day before. Predictions are based on guesses and hidden assumptions and often turn out to be wrong. The future is unknown, so how can you ever plan anything?

May 05, 2011

Packing Peanuts

I had to admit it: the packing peanuts were starting to pile up.

About once a month I send or receive a shipment padded with packing peanuts. When I receive a box with styrofoam packing peanuts, I save them for the boxes I’ll be sending out.

April 18, 2011

Spring Cleaning at Fukushima Daiichi

There is no surer sign of spring than a cherry tree in bloom. Cherry blossoms are a tradition here in Pennsylvania, where I took this photo a few days ago. Pennsylvania’s flowering cherry trees originated in Japan, where the cherry blossom tradition goes back at least 1,700 years.

This week in Japan, the blossoms have probably extended as far north as Fukushima. The arrival of spring there this year is a bittersweet and surreal moment. For the first time in the city’s history, no one can see the cherry blossoms. No one is doing any spring cleaning. No one is there at all. The city had to be evacuated because of the unfolding nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, and residents heard over the weekend that they may not be returning home until next year.

March 08, 2011

A Comfortable Workspace

Your space should make you feel comfortable — and your workspace should make you feel good about working.

February 13, 2011

Dealing With Your “Stuff,” Without Making It Incredibly Complicated

Many people feel overwhelmed on a regular basis. It’s a familiar pattern all of us have seen and most have experienced at least once. Unfortunately, when people try to address overwhelm, they often talk about it as if they’re stumbling around in the dark, as if there isn’t a simple, obvious way to get a handle on the situation — as if it’s the most complicated thing in the world. Then, just addressing the overwhelm can be overwhelming. This is what makes people exclaim, “I can’t deal with it!” It is the reason why escape is so many people’s main strategy for coping with life. Fortunately, overwhelm isn’t really this complicated.

February 10, 2011

Dwight Twilley on What to Do When You’re Snowed In

One of my musical heroes, Dwight Twilley, is taking the current extreme weather in stride, based on his last two tweets:

February 09, 2011

Erasing a Web Site From Your Personal History

Erasing your personal history is a well-known shamanic technique that can help you change your habits and get a new perspective on life. Erasing a web site from your browsing history is a simple exercise you can do that will show you how this works.

January 02, 2011

Don’t Put Off Taking Action, Change Direction Instead

If you made new year’s resolutions on New Year’s Day and haven’t yet started on them, a day later, it may be that you picked the wrong thing to change. The same consideration applies any time you take on a goal, and a day or more goes by with no action toward the goal itself. It makes sense to look at the obstacles that are getting in your way and pick one of those as the focal point of your efforts.

January 01, 2011

Action, Not Lists

Today is New Year’s Day, the energy of a fresh start is in the air . . . and people are writing lists of new and different things they want to do this year.

Now, I like lists, but there is a problem with lists of things to do that refer to an extended period of time, such as a year or a month. These lists tend to sit around, untended, for days at a time — and while they’re waiting, the energy drains out of them. People come back to these lists after a few days and don’t find any of the New Year’s Day feeling in them.

If you want to write a list for the new year, I can suggest a more successful kind of list.