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zen habits: January 2007

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

OT: I won't be switching to Vista

OK, this has nothing to do with my blog, but a lot of sites have been writing about Windows Vista, and I'm getting a bit tired of it.

Here's my take: I won't upgrade to Vista unless I am absolutely forced to do so.

Microsoft products in general are expensive, bloated, buggy and prone to security flaws. This is true of Word, Internet Explorer, Windows and more. I use XP simply because it's on my computer here at work and I'm forced to do so. But I love the Mac OS and Linux much more. And when I can, I ditch the Microsoft product for open-source products like AbiWord, OpenOffice, Firefox and much more.

Compared to open source apps, Microsoft products are horrible. So why is everyone so eager to switch? Coolness factor is one reason -- people love being early adopters -- but I think ultimately it comes down to how many people are using it, and how many apps are written for the OS. That's how Microsoft always wins out, and will for a while now.

Someday, they will fall, and I believe Linux is what will do it, not Apple, simply because of Linux's open-source nature. It will belong to the people, and eventually people will want that.

Until then, we'll use what we're forced to use, I guess.

See also:

How I Became an Early Riser

I know, Steve Pavlina has done this already, but I've found that waking early has been one of the best things I've done in the last year, and I thought I'd share my tips. I just posted about my morning routine, and thought you might like to know how I get up at 4:30 a.m.

For many years, I was a late riser. I loved to sleep in. Then things changed, because I had to wake up between 6-6:30 a.m. to fix my kids' lunches and get them ready for school. But last year, when I decided to train for my first marathon, I decided that I needed to start running in the mornings if I was to have any time left for my family.

So, I set out to make waking up early a habit. I started by getting up at 5:30 a.m., then at 5 a.m. When that became a habit, and I had to wake up at 4 a.m. or 3:30 a.m. for an early long run, it wasn't a problem. And last November, when I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, I decided to get up at 4 a.m. to write for at least an hour a day. Now that I completed that novel-writing goal, I don't need to wake that early anymore, but have settled on a happy compromise of waking at 4:30 a.m. Some days, when I'm really tired (if I go to sleep late), I'll wake at 5:00 or 5:30, but that's still earlier than I used to wake up.

Here are my tips for becoming an early riser:

  • Don't make drastic changes. Start slowly, by waking just 15-30 minutes earlier than usual. Get used to this for a few days. Then cut back another 15 minutes. Do this gradually until you get to your goal time.
  • Allow yourself to sleep earlier. You might be used to staying up late, perhaps watching TV or surfing the Internet. But if you continue this habit, while trying to get up earlier, sooner or later one is going to give. And if it is the early rising that gives, then you will crash and sleep late and have to start over. I suggest going to bed earlier, even if you don't think you'll sleep, and read while in bed. If you're really tired, you just might fall asleep much sooner than you think.
  • Put your alarm clock far from you bed. If it's right next to your bed, you'll shut it off or hit snooze. Never hit snooze. If it's far from your bed, you have to get up out of bed to shut it off. By then, you're up. Now you just have to stay up.
  • Go out of the bedroom as soon as you shut off the alarm. Don't allow yourself to rationalize going back to bed. Just force yourself to go out of the room. My habit is to stumble into the bathroom and go pee. By the time I've done that, and flushed the toilet and washed my hands and looked at my ugly mug in the mirror, I'm awake enough to face the day.
  • Do not rationalize. If you allow your brain to talk you out of getting up early, you'll never do it. Don't make getting back in bed an option.
  • Allow yourself to sleep in once in awhile. Despite what I just said in the previous point, once in awhile it's nice to sleep in. As long as it's not a regular thing. I do it maybe once a week or so.
  • Make waking up early a reward. Yes, it might seem at first that you're forcing yourself to do something hard, but if you make it pleasurable, soon you will look forward to waking up early. My reward used to be to make a hot cup of coffee and read a book. I've recently cut out coffee, but I still enjoy reading my book. Other rewards might be a tasty treat for breakfast (smoothies! yum!) or watching the sunrise, or meditating. Find something that's pleasurable for you, and allow yourself to do it as part of your morning routine.
  • Take advantage of all that extra time. Don't wake up an hour or two early just to read your blogs, unless that's a major goal of yours. Don't wake up early and waste that extra time. Get a jump start on your day! I like to use that time to get a head start on preparing my kids' lunches, on planning for the rest of the day (when I set my MITs), on exercising or meditating, and on reading. By the time 6:30 rolls around, I've done more than many people do the entire day.
  • Enjoy the break of dawn! As much as you can, look outside (or better yet, get outside!) and watch the sky turn light. It's beautiful. And it's quiet and peaceful. It's now my favorite time of day. Getting up early is a reward in itself for me.
See also:

Launchy and AutoHotKey - two great timesavers

Lifehacker just posted about the release of Launchy 1.0, a launching application that now does a whole lot more. I've used Launchy in the past, and it's a great program. With the quick searches, the ability to navigate through Explorer, and the ability to extend through plug-ins, this could be the app I've been looking for.

I've also been using AutoHotKey extensively lately ... while not exactly a launcher, this little app can do so much. I've programmed keys to launch my most commonly used apps, like Firefox or Money or AbiWord, as well as my most frequently used websites, like Gmail, Tracks, Google Reader, Gcal, my bank, this blog and more.

But there's much more to AHK: you can program any key combination to do anything: I have key combinations to quickly type my most commonly used signatures (multiple sigs for work and personal), to type my most commonly used phrases, to launch my most common folders, and more. The more you use it, the more useful it becomes.

And ultimately, the more time it saves. Which leaves me time to do other things, like working on my goals.

Habit 4: My Morning Routine

Today I start the fourth of my 12 Habits: my morning routine (to be honest, I started a couple days ago). All this month I will focus on making my morning routine a daily habit.

I've actually tried different versions of a morning routine in the past year, and have enjoyed them immensely. I just haven't stuck with one for a whole month or more, and that is the goal this month.

The reason I like having a morning routine is that not only does it instill a sense of purpose, peace and ritual to my day, but it ensures that I'm getting certain things done every morning ... namely, my goals. I'm setting aside morning time as a time of peace and quiet, and time to take small steps each day towards my goals.

Here's my morning routine, at the moment (subject to tweaking later):

Morning Routine

  1. Wake at 4:30 a.m.
  2. Drink water.
  3. Set 3 Most Important Things (MITs) for today.
  4. Fix lunches for kids and myself.
  5. Eat breakfast, read.
  6. Exercise (run, bike, swim, strength, or yardwork) or meditate.
  7. Shower.
  8. Wake wife & kids at 6:30 a.m.
A couple of explanations: The MITs that I set for the day concern at least one item towards one of my goals, and probably the 1-2 things I MUST complete at work. There will be more that I do during the day, but my focus will be to finish at least these three MITs.

As for the exercise and meditate item, I have a schedule where I do one exercise each morning (with the exception of Fridays, where I plan to meditate for at least 10-15 minutes). Actually, I also often exercise in the evenings too, so on some days I'll have two workouts - maybe a bike in the morning and swim in the evening, for example. My body is still getting used to this, so we'll see how it works out.

As for waking up at 4:30 a.m., I only started doing that within the last few months -- before that it was 5:00 or 5:30, and before last year I woke at 6:30, so I've really become an early riser just in the last year. I wrote more about that here.

Look for updates to my goal of sticking to my Morning Routine this month.

See also:

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Baby Makes Eight: Raising Six Kids - Part 2, organization edition

See Part 1 for the introduction to this series.

In Part 1 about raising six kids, I talked about finances. That's only part of the battle. A lot of what makes raising so many kids difficult is the sheer logistics of it all. From soccer to choir to parent-teacher conferences to birthday parties ... heck, just getting them ready in the morning is an exercise in logistical planning and execution.

My solution? Well, I don't have simple answers, but I can share what has helped keep me and my wife sane.

Organizing and Scheduling Six Kids

  • The One Calendar that Unites them All. My wife and I used to have separate calendars, along with multiple school calendars, sports schedules, notices for school, and more. The side of our fridge was covered with these schedules, and it was a challenge to remember everything. Enter: Google Calendar. Now, we enter everything in one calendar. We do have separate sub-calendars for my work, my personal stuff, my wife's stuff, the kids, and my training, but it's all viewable on one calendar. Now, whenever we get a school calendar or sports schedule or notice for something at school, we quickly enter it into Gcal. Same thing with work appointments, meetings, classes, 5Ks and more. Now we can just look at the calendar, from work or home, and see what's going on that day, or the next day.
  • Teach them to be self-sufficient. Sure, it's easier and faster to shower them and dress them yourself than to watch them do the same tasks much more slowly and incompetently. But try that with six kids. You'll go crazy. The answer is to teach them to do things themselves. It takes a little more time at first, but within a month, it will more than pay off. Now, our kids can not only shower and dress themselves (and pick out their own clothes) but feed themselves breakfast, clean their rooms, brush their teeth, comb their hair, get their stuff ready, wash their own dishes (well, not the youngest two, but the oldest four). The only thing I do in the morning is fix their lunches, and my wife irons their clothes. My oldest daughter, 13, can iron clothes too, and she has learned to help out with the babies and chores. They can all do chores too, like sweeping and mopping.
  • Plan sufficient lead time. We used to think an hour to get ready was enough. And after our two new babies were born, we became late for everything. Now, we give ourselves more than two hours. While we could probably get ready in an hour, now our preparation time is much more relaxed. And we're more on time than before. Usually.
  • Make a weekly dinner menu. Yeah, this isn't a new tip, but it's very useful. We plan out the dinners for the week -- and the kids can make suggestions -- and go shopping with that menu in hand, and the ingredients listed out. It also makes things easier come dinner time -- no decisions to make ... just whip out the ingredients and cook it up.
  • Plan easy dinners. Anything that takes a lot of time to prepare is too much trouble. Spaghetti, chili, tacos, baked chicken (the healthy version of each) are some of our staples.
  • Pack your gear by the door. Having a checklist for soccer gear, or other similar events, is a good idea. And when you're preparing for the upcoming day, start assembling all your stuff by the door, making sure you have everything, so that nothing is forgotten. Forgetting someone's cleats and having to turn the car around to get them is a pain.
  • Pack a bag with extra clothes. We keep a small carry-on luggage packed with a couple of changes of clothes and underwear for each child stowed away in the car. If there's an accident, or some of the kids want to spend the night with grandparents, that bag will be very handy.
  • Have a family meeting. I'll post more about this later in the series, but it's a good idea to have the whole family sit down once a week and talk about any issues that family members have. This communication is key to having a happy family.
  • Everyone should eat together. We can't do this every day, but we try to sit down together and have dinner as a family. It's a good time to talk about each person's day.
  • Have an inbox, and clear it often. All papers, bills, letters, flyers, schedules, school papers and more go straight into our single inbox. The inbox should be cleared every day or every other day -- just plow through it, one item at a time, making a decision, taking action, filing or trashing each item right away. Don't put it off or stuff will pile up!
  • Teach the kids that everything has a place. Each thing in your home should have a "home". Teach the kids where that home is, and get them in the habit of putting it in its home. They'll never get perfect at it, but the more that everybody does this, the fewer things get lost. Also, clean as you go to keep the house fairly clean at all times.
  • Declutter often. Get rid of the junk in your closets, that clutter up the house, that clutters the garage. Have regular decluttering days. Teach them to give away toys and clothes to charity. It's also a good idea to clear out old toys every time they get new ones on birthdays and especially Christmas.
Other parts of this series:

Fatherhood - a couple good blogs

Fatherhood is a topic not covered often enough by the parenting magazines, but there are some good blogs out there. Check out Fatherhood and Daddy Daze, two sites I just discovered. Some nice articles there.

6 Tips for Commuting to Work by Bike

This morning, I rode my bike in to work (a distance of about 10 miles), and it felt great. It was the second time I've done that now -- I also did it last week -- and I hope to make it a more frequent thing.

My goal is to get some exercise (I'm training for a triathlon) while also helping the environment and saving money on gas. With the gas prices rising so much in the last few years, it's frustrating to not be able to do anything about it -- but now I am.

Although it's a bit scary riding a bike in the middle of traffic, I have to say it was a great experience. Not only did I feel really good to get the exercise, but I had a great view of nature as I headed to work, and it was a lot more peaceful and relaxing than the regular commute by car. I hope to eventually build up my stamina so that I can ride my bike to and from work at least three or four times a week, or even five days a week, but for now I'm starting out slowly, as I'm new to cycling.

Tips for Commuting by Bike

  • Plan ahead. One of the reasons people don't commute by bike, even if they have a bike, is that they don't want to be sweaty. I'm lucky, as my work just installed a new shower, but before that I planned to use the shower of an office next door, or use the shower at a nearby gym (even becoming a member at a gym is cheaper than gas). You'll also need soap and deodorant and a towel and other toiletries. Then there's the issue of how to get your clothes to work, which is my next tip.
  • Drop your clothes to work ahead of time. You could pack them in a backpack, to wear on your back, but it gets your back sweaty. You could also put it in a pannier and carry it on a rack, which is a good option, but you might not want your clothes wrinkly for some reason. The solution I've been using (and it's not an original idea) is to bring my clothes to work the day before. This also saves some extra pounds that I have to carry on my bike, which is an issue for a beginner like me. You could even bring in clothes for the rest of the week. Eventually, if I ride to work five days a week, I might have to drop a week's worth of clothes sometime in the weekend.
  • Any ol' bike will do. You don't need a fancy racing bike or touring bike or anything to commute. If you've got an old mountain bike, which I do, that's good enough. You don't need to spend a lot of money on a bike and gear to get started. Later, you can always spend more, a little at a time, but whatever you've got is good enough for now.
  • Have a spare tube and tools, and know how to change a tire. You never know if you'll get a flat, and you don't want to be stuck walking your bike for several miles. A patch kit is good, but it's even easier if you just have a spare tube, a pump, and the right tools so that you can quickly change the punctured tube for a new one, and patch the old one later at home.
  • Be safe. This is a no brainer, but it is good to read up on tips on cycling safety (see links below) before heading out into dangerous traffic.
  • It's a blast! Cycling is a lot of fun, as I've discovered in recent weeks, and riding to work is much, much better than driving. Try it. You'll love it.
As always, I've pulled a few links on commuting bike for y'all:

Monday, January 29, 2007

Get Healthy and Fit, Part 2 - Exercise Edition

In Part 1 of this series about Getting Healthy and Fit, I covered some Rules for Eating Healthy. Today, I will cover some Rules for Exercising, and tomorrow I plan to write about Sticking to an Exercise Plan.

First let me say: eating healthy is a great foundation for getting fit and healthy, but exercise is what will really get you there. Actually, you can do one and not the other, but you'll only be halfway there, really. You need both.

Rules for Exercising
I have been exercising fairly steadily for more than a year now -- starting in December 2005, I began a pretty ambitious running program. In fact, about a month after I started running, I got a big head and decided I would attempt to train for and complete a marathon. After some struggles during the year, I completed the marathon in December 2006. This year, I am training for a triathlon, learning to bike and swim in addition to continuing my running.

So I've learned a lot about exercising in the last year. Not only am I learning by doing, but I've learned a lot from others, books that I've bought, and websites that I've been continually researching.

What follows are some of the tips I have for those who want to begin and maintain a healthy exercise program.

Exercise Rule #1: Start today, and just do anything to get you going. It doesn't matter what exercise you choose, just start. I think walking and running are great ways to start, because you don't have to pay to join a gym or get fancy equipment. All you need is a pair of shoes. I started with an old beat-up pair of sneakers, and didn't buy real running shoes until I'd been doing it a few weeks. Swimming and biking are two great exercises too, though.

Exercise Rule #2: Stop making excuses. I know from experience -- we all have a million excuses. Not enough time. No place to work out. I'm tired. I don't have the money. These are all a load of crap. I don't blame anyone for making these excuses, because I made them myself, but the truth is, we rationalize so that we can continue to be lazy. It isn't as hard as you think. Just set a date with yourself, or your spouse, or a friend, to get out for just 10 or 15 minutes today, and walk or jog. No! Stop making excuses!

Exercise Rule #3: Just put on your running shoes, and get out the door. That's all you have to do. The rest will be much easier than you think. It's the initial inertia that we must overcome. Once you've done that, it's actually invigorating and fun.

Exercise Rule #4: Start out small, and slowly. You might start a program full of vim and vigor, ready to run a marathon or lift huge weights. Hold yourself back. The main reason is that if you start slowly, you are more likely to succeed, and if you start by trying to do too much, you will more likely burn out and fail. If you think you can run for 30 minutes, only run 10 or 15 to start with, then slowly increase over a matter of weeks. Try for 2-3 times a week at first, with the goal of exercising for at least 30 minutes five times a week, eventually. The side benefit -- and this is a great one -- is that if you hold yourself back, you'll be eager to get to your next workout, when you'll be doing a little more than this one. And that eagerness is a tremendous boost.

Exercise Rule #5: Make your goal public. Post it on your blog. Tell your family and friends. Sign up for a site like Traineo.com, where your workouts and weight loss are emailed to several "motivators" that you choose. For my marathon and triathlon goals, I began writing a column every two weeks for my local newspaper, as a journal of my personal journey along the way. Positive public pressure will keep you motivated for a sustained period -- you won't want to let people down and look bad. Don't let the pressure up -- once you do, your motivation will go away.

Exercise Rule #6: Reward yourself. Make a list of mini goals, and next to each one, list an appropriate reward. For example, if you just go out and jog today, allow yourself to buy a book on Amazon. If you can do it for two days, give yourself an ice cream. If you can do it for a week, buy some songs for you iTunes. Whatever rewards work for you -- be they shoes, clothes, a massage, a tattoo, or whatever, let yourself have them after reaching the mini goals. Just don't make it too much sweets!

Exercise Rule #7: Allow yourself adequate rest. Some people try to run hard every day, or workout hard every day. Just remember, your muscles need rest in order to recover. If you don't let them recover, you are just continually breaking them down. Follow the hard-easy rule: after a day of hard exercise, go easy or rest the next day. Also, you need at least a day of rest each week. Your body can only take so much before it begins to break down. Don't let it get to that point. Many very wise people have said that rest is just as important as exercise when it comes to improving performance.

Exercise Rule #8: Think positive. This is probably the best rule of the bunch. It has helped me in countless ways. Any time that a negative thought comes into your head ("I can't do this!" "It's too hard!" "I don't feel like working out now!" "I want to stop!" "I feel lazy today!"), just push it out. Squash it. And then replace it with positive thoughts: I can do this! I am strong! This isn't too hard! If Leo can do it, so can I! This is no problem! I'm tough! I am AWESOME!!!!!! Positive thinking will get you past any exercise barrier.

Exercise Rule #9: Don't be motivated only by weight loss goals. If you're just trying to lose weight, you will more than likely stop. Why? I have no idea, but it's true. Have other motivators: do it to feel good, for the great energy you get, to lower your medical bills, to live longer, to enjoy life more, to look better, to be stronger, to be healthier, to achieve something worthwhile, to overcome a challenge. Make a list of the reasons you want to exercise and post them up somewhere. And yes, cut out a picture from a magazine that will motivate you and post that up too. Losing weight is a great goal, but don't let it be your only one.

Exercise Rule #10: If you fail, get up, brush yourself off, and start again. We all fail sometimes. No matter how great we are, we fail. I have missed workouts plenty of times in the last year, but the key is that I just get back on that horse again. I don't let it stop me from continuing. Look at it like I do: it's a long road ahead of us, and little problems along the way are mere bumps in the road. Don't let a bump in the road stop you from continuing your journey.

Exercise Rule #11: If you can, get a workout partner. It's a great motivator. If you know you have to meet someone to workout, you're more likely to keep that appointment. However, if your partner has to cancel for some reason, don't let that stop you from working out on your own.

Exercise Rule #11: Have fun! Exercise can and should be fun. Don't let it be painful. If it is, slow down a bit, and enjoy the scenery. Exercise in a nice place, with water or trees. Breathe deeply and enjoy the fresh air! Look at that sunrise or sunset! The day is glorious, and you are partaking of it fully. Life is great!

Kiplinger: Eight Keys to Financial Security

Knight Kiplinger, publisher of the financial magazine, wrote a good article on Eight Keys to Financial Security.

The eight keys:

  • Key 1: Invest in yourself. By constantly improving your education and job skills, you are improving your chances of getting increases in salary, which amount to the same thing as the gain from larger investments.
  • Key 2: Protect yourself and your loved ones. Before you invest, Kiplinger recommends insurance against serious illness, disability and early death, to protect your family against emergencies.
  • Key 3: Borrow sparingly.Use credit only to purchase things of lasting value: a home, education, maybe a car. Pay cash for everything else.
  • Key 4: Pay yourself first. This is very common advice, but very sound.
  • Key 5: Don't go for the home run. Shy away from volatile stocks. Stay in it for the long run.
  • Key 6: Diversify, diversify, diversify. Self explanatory.
  • Key 7: Live simply today for a more comfortable tomorrow. Deferred gratification is no fun, but can get you to long-term goals, like college for your kids, dream home, early retirement, travel and more.
  • Key 8: Give generously to create a better world. "When you share your good fortune by donating your money, time and talent to charity, you help create a stronger economy and a healthier, safer world."

Baby Makes Eight: Raising Six Kids - Part 1

Last March, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Noelle Cayce. She became our sixth kid, and within the space of a few years, our house had suddenly become very full.

A little background is in order: my wife and I came together six years ago with two children each from previous relationships, and after we got married in 2003, we had a son (Seth Isaiah) in 2004, and now Noelle in 2006. We each went from having two kids to having six within three years.

Raising so many kids at once has, of course, been a financial challenge, as well as a scheduling and organizational challenge. It's also been an amazing blessing, and I'm planning to do a series of posts on what it's like to raise so many kids, and some of my best parenting tips. This is the first of the series, and it will deal with finances.

The Finances of Raising Six Kids
When my son was born in 2004, my wife and I made the decision that she should stay home to take care of him. When my daughter was born in 2006, we decided she should continue to stay home. It was an important decision, and we are both very glad we made it. She's the best caretaker by far for our two babies, and she's been able to breastfeed and do all kinds of other stuff that only a mom could do.

Of course, it's also harder for us financially, but it's worth the sacrifices, in my opinion. We've cut out a number of expenses to be able to live on my salary (see How I Save) and the decision has forced us to learn to live frugally. We actually struggled for awhile, but I believe we're hitting our stride now.

I've also been working as a free-lance writer on the side, to give us some extra income on top of my regular salary.

Here are the keys to being able to survive with six kids, with only one spouse working:

  • Live frugally. Living on one salary (plus free-lance pay) requires sacrifices. It means you can't eat out as much, or go to the movies as much. We have only one car. We cut out cable. It becomes a sort of lifestyle after awhile, but it's certainly difficult at first.
  • Increase your income. While you may only have one salary, there are many other ways to make money on the side, from working part-time to free-lancing to consulting to selling Avon to babysitting. Any extra income helps a lot.
  • Pay off debts, and avoid further debts. We had a little problem with debts accumulating, especially when we weren't making enough money to pay our bills. But we've reformed our ways, canceled our credit card, and are now slowly paying off our bills, one by one. Once we're done, we'll have a lot of extra money to save.
  • Build an emergency fund. It's tough, but it is CRUCIAL that you save money each payday, no matter how small the amount. If you can't figure out how to do this, cut out some smaller expenses, trim others, cancel cable or Netflix or your gym membership or something. Find a way to save. It's the most important part of your finances, especially the part where you build an emergency fund. You should build it up to at least $1,000, because at any moment, your car might break down or your kid might need to go to the hospital or any other kind of emergency could happen and leave you not only without the necessary funds, but figuring out which bills you can pay later so you can pay for the emergency. If you have savings, you can pay for these emergencies, without
  • Budget. I know it's a dreaded thing for many people, but it doesn't have to be hard. Simply list out your regular monthly expenses (utilities, rent, car, internet, cell phone, etc.) along with variable expenses (groceries, gas, eating out, etc) and other irregular expenses that might not come up every month but that you know you'll need sometime (car repairs, home maintenance, gifts, medical, etc., broken down as a monthly expense). List your income. Your income should be more than your expenses. If not, trim some expenses.
  • Automate your finances. For all my bills, I have them either automatically deducted (like my car payment and phone) or have a regular online check going out to them each month. The only things not paid online are the things I need cash for, like gas and groceries.
  • The Envelope System. For everything that you can't automate online, withdraw the cash each payday (instead of using ATMs and incurring fees) for those expenses and put them in separate envelopes. I have three: groceries, gas, and spending (everything from eating out to kids school stuff). When the money runs out in that envelope, you can't spend anymore until next payday. It's a simple way to keep track of how much you have left, instead of guesstimating and withdrawing too much or charging too much.
  • Find free ways to have fun with your kids. While we are making sacrifices, and our kids have to make sacrifices too, that doesn't mean we can't have a great time with them. We plan a Family Day every Sunday, when we all do stuff together that we love doing, like reading, watching movies (we usually rent DVDs to save money), playing sports, going to a park, playing board games, going to the beach, visiting family, or doing a lot of other free or cheap stuff. Fun doesn't have to cost a lot.
  • Plan ahead. If you know someone's birthday is coming up, plan for it, so you're not scrambling to find money to buy a gift. Same thing with school expenses, like field trip money or school photos. Our kids are also involved in sports, so we have to plan for uniforms and cleats and more. Think ahead to what you'll need, so you're not broke when that expense comes up.
  • Treat your family once in awhile. While lots of fun things are free, sometimes you gotta splurge. Take the kids out to a movie, or a restaurant. Our favorite splurge is going to a water park. Recently we ran into a few hundred extra dollars, and instead of being responsible and paying off more debt or saving it, we rented a room at a hotel with a great water park, and spent two days there having a blast with the kids. Other times we'll just treat them to ice cream cones or something.
Other parts of this series:

Pay Cash Instead of Borrowing or Using Credit

Trent over at the Simple Dollar has a great post about paying cash, and I agree completely.

His example of paying cash for a car is something I haven't done yet, but plan on doing. I'm going to sell my Pathfinder, buy a cheaper used van (because I need more space for all my kids), and pay off that loan before the end of this year. Once that's done, I'll pour the car payment money into savings so that I can save for my next car. It will feel amazing to do that!

Using credit cards, especially if you are not paying off your balance in full, is also not a good idea. I've canceled my cards, and am trying to pay off my remaining balance by this summer. The interest on these cards can kill you, and keep you in debt forever.

I'm generally against debt, as it has ruined my finances, and I am still on the road to getting debt free. It's one of my top goals for the next year and a half.

J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly also has some great posts about the issue of avoiding debt.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Goal Update: January was great!

Earlier this month I posted about my goals for the year and how I will accomplish them. Part of that is a monthly review, which I'm doing now. I'm also setting my goals for February.

Check out how I did for January:

  • Triathlon: Did swim training two times a week (missed twice due to other circumstances); ran 2-3 times a week (didn't do long runs though), including a PR for a 5K! Started riding my bike (twice last week!) Did great!
  • Strength training: Did short strength workouts, but missed last week. Need to improve.
  • Yard work: Did a good job on keeping the yard in shape, but missed last week due to a soccer game and other circumstances. Good, could do better.
  • Payoff credit card, car: Continued to make payments in car and extra payments for credit card. Great!
  • Save: Continued to set aside money for an emergency fund. Great!
  • Apply law school: I've re-evaluated this goal and no longer plan to apply to law school this year. My life plans have changed.
  • Meditate: I only did this once, and skipped it for the last two weeks. Need to improve!
  • Positive Parenting: Was more positive this month, but didn't read and could do better with the yelling. Need to improve.
  • Simplify: I started to de-clutter, but missed the last two weeks. Need to improve.
  • Take Action (regarding global warming): I began implementing some energy-saving actions, and passed on An Inconvenient Truth to my mom, and rode my bike to work once. Great!
Overall, I dropped one goal, and did well in five of the other nine goals. This month, my focus will be to improve on strength training, meditating, positive parenting and simplifying, while keeping up the good work in the other goals.

I also plan to institute a new tracking system modeled after Ben Franklin's chart. Will post on this once I figure it out.

Zen Mind: How to Declutter

One of the things that gives me most peace is have a clean, simple home. When I wake up in the morning and walk out into a living room that has been decluttered, that has a minimalist look, and there isn't junk lying around, there is a calm and joy that enters my heart.

When, on the other hand, I walk out into a living room cluttered with toys and books and extra things all over the place, it is chaos and my mind is frenetic.

I've been a simplifier and a declutterer for years now (probably 8-9 years) and I've gotten pretty good at it, but I've found that you have to keep coming back to revisit your clutter every once in awhile.

Here are my top decluttering tips:

  • Do it in small chunks. Set aside just 15 minutes to declutter just one shelf, and when that shelf or that 15 minutes is up, celebrate your victory. Then tackle another shelf for 15 minutes the next day. Conquering an entire closet or room can be overwhelming, and you might put it off forever. If that's the case, just do it in baby steps.
  • Set aside a couple hours to do it. This may seem contradictory to the above tip ... and it is. It's simply a different strategy, and I say do whatever works for you. Sometimes, for me, it's good to set aside part of a morning, or an entire Saturday morning, to declutter a closet or room. I do it all at once, and when I'm done, it feels awesome.
  • Take everything out of a shelf or drawer at once. Whichever of the two above strategies you choose, you should focus on one drawer or shelf at a time, and empty it completely. Then clean that shelf or drawer. Then, take the pile and sort it (see next tip), and put back just what you want to keep. Then tackle the next shelf or drawer.
  • Sort through your pile, one item at a time, and make quick decisions. Have a trash bag and a give-away box handy. When you pull everything out of a shelf or drawer, sort through the pile one at a time. Pick up an item, and make a decision: trash, give away, or keep. Don't put it back in the pile. Do this with the entire pile, and soon, you'll be done. If you keep sorting through the pile, and re-sorting, it'll take forever. Put back only what you want to keep, and arrange it nicely.
  • Be merciless. You may be a pack rat, but the truth is, you won't ever use most of the junk you've accumulated. If you haven't used it in the last year, get rid of it. It's as simple as that. If you've only used it once or twice in the last year, but know you won't use it in the next year, get rid of it. Toss it if it's unsalvageable, and give it away if someone else might be able to use it.
  • Papers? Be merciless, unless it's important. Magazines, catalogues, junk mail, bills more than a year old, notes to yourself, notes from others, old work stuff ... toss it! The only exception is with tax-related stuff, which should be kept for seven years, and other important documents like warranties, birth and death and marriage certificates, insurance, wills, and other important documents like that. But you'll know those when you see 'em. Otherwise, toss!!!!
  • If you are on the fence with a lot of things, create a "maybe" box. If you can't bear to toss something because you might need it later, put it in the box, then close the box, label it, and put it in storage (garage, attic, closet), out of sight. Most likely, you'll never open that box again. If that's the case, pull it out after six months or a year, and toss it or give it away.
  • Create a system to stop clutter from accumulating. There's a reason you have tall stacks of papers all over the place, and big piles of toys and books and clothes. It's because you don't have a regular system to keep things in their place, and get rid of stuff you don't need. This is a topic for another day, but it's something to think about as you declutter. You'll never get to perfect, but if you think more intelligently about how your house got cluttered, perhaps you can find ways to stop it from happening again.
  • Celebrate when you're done! This is actually a general rule in life: always celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small. Even if you just decluttered one drawer, that's great. Treat yourself to something delicious. Open that drawer (or closet, or whatever), and admire its simplicity. Breathe deeply and know that you have done a good thing. Bask in your peacefulness.
Other posts about decluttering elsewhere:
See also:

Parent Hacks: Getting Organized

One of my favorite sites for parenting tips (I have six kids, so I'm always on the lookout) is Parent Hacks, and one thing I love about the site is its Getting Organized series. But there are other great ones too.

Check out a few of my favorites:

Quit Caffeine Update: Goin' Cold Turkey This Week

For the last two weeks, I've been slowly cutting back on caffeine in my attempt to quit. This week, I'll have no caffeine at all. I love coffee, so this is a challenge for me.

I've read about the withdrawal pains that come when you quit caffeine, such as headaches and drowsiness. But I've got to say, the cutting-back-slowly method has been working great for me! No headaches today, no drowsiness, and not a DROP of caffeine -- no coffee, no chocolate, no caffeinated tea, no colas.

I hope the rest of the day, and the week, go as well. I still get some cravings for coffee, but for the most part, I'm fine. And the great part of it is, I am quitting another addiction. I might have a cup of coffee once in awhile later on, once I'm completely quit (give it at least a month), but that will be as an occasional treat, not a regular habit. And plus ... I'll save money and help the environment!



Achieving Goals with my Son: Our Harry Potter Marathon

In December, my son Rain (who turned 9 in January) and I set out on a quest: to read the first five Harry Potter books before the movie comes out on July 13, 2007. That gave us about seven months to read five books, but if you've read those books, you know that they're pretty long (especially the last few).

It's also more of a challenge because my son only lives with me for three days a week. But as my daughter said, Rain and I are both very determined people, and we're proving to be up to the challenge.

So far we zipped through the first two books and are almost done with the third. That leaves us with two long books to read in five months, and I'm positive we can do that. We might even start on Book 6 before the movie comes out. On the days that Rain is with me, we read in the evenings, and then I wake him up early (usually at 5:30 a.m.) to read again in the mornings. And when he's not with me, I often call him up and read over the phone in the evenings, as he reads along with his own copy at his mom's house.

It's been a great experience, doing this Harry Potter marathon with Rain. We've read before, but never with this frequency, and we're spending more quality time alone than ever before. It's also great trying to achieve a goal with him, because not only does it give me a good feeling as we achieve our milestones along the way, but it gives him that great feeling too. So not only are we spending great time together, and having fun, but I am teaching him how to accomplish goals as well.

This has been so great that I want to do the same kind of thing with my other kids. I have six of them, so that makes it a bit of a challenge. I want to do something that is different for each of them, something that we can have fun doing while learning to achieve goals together.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I wish he didn't have to go

An amazing 93-year-old blogger wrote a post recently that touched me like no other blog post has ever done:

It bothers me that I have to go

Not only is this a moving post, but it makes you think about everything. Everything. And a post like that is pure gold.

A brief excerpt from Don's post:

I've floated on the remark "Been there, done that" for some time now, but the notion that the moment is approaching when I can no longer say this bothers me. The truth is, I don't want to go.
I highly recommend you check it out.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mind Like Water

As I just posted about my GTD implementation, I started thinking about what appeals to me most about GTD. Of course, there is its total organization and complete capture of everything in your life. There is the clean desk and inbox acheived by this system. I love all that.

But what really appeals to me is the idea of attaining a "Mind Like Water" state. I have to admit, I haven't completely achieved this yet, as many GTDers have not. But GTD does bring me much closer to this ideal, and as I get better at the GTD habits, and trust my system more, I get closer each day.

It reminds me of a quote from Bruce Lee:

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.
I think the appeal is the calmness and peace that you are trying to achieve. Have everything in its place, and empty your mind of busy-ness and junk. Then your are ready for anything that comes your way. Sometimes when I don't feel this way, I look at others around me, and realize that I have come a long way towards Mind Like Water.

It will be an ongoing quest. Wish me luck.

Similar posts elsewhere:

My GTD Implementation

See also: a beginner's guide to GTD.

A favorite topic among GTDers is describing their GTD implementation. I won't try and be a non-conformist here -- I'll jump on the bandwagon.

As with most GTDers, I've tried a number of different setups. That'll be my next post. For now, let me describe my current setup:

  • Pocket notebook - I carry this around everywhere simply as a capture tool. Any thoughts, to-dos, projects, calendar stuff that I collect while I'm not at the computer gets captured in the notebook and transfered to my action lists or calendar later. I've also been experimenting with the PocketMod, and what I really want is a Moleskine pocket notebook, but I keep telling myself that the coolness of the Moleskine doesn't justify its additional cost on top of the free notebooks I get at work.
  • Tracks - this beautiful program, written in Ruby on Rails, was written specifically for GTD, and after trying many other online and off-line apps, this is definitely the best. I use it for all of my context action lists, my someday/maybe list, my waiting-for list and my projects.
  • GCal - OK, I'm not the first GTDer to love Google Calendar, but it's simply the best, and it takes care of all my calendaring needs. For hard landscape only.
  • Gmail - Another popular email app with GTDers, nothing else compares. It rocks.
  • Misc - Other than these main tools, I have an inbox at home and work, filing systems at both locations, and a very clean desk.
A few other posts on GTD implementations:
See also:

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Get Healthy and Fit, Part 1

J.D. over at one of my favorite finance blogs, Get Rich Slowly, posted recently about how he used a wellness coach to get healthier and fitter. He shares his experiences and some excellent tips, and I recommend a read.

It got me to thinking: I've learned so much over the last year, from reading and from trial and error, that I could be a decent coach myself with a little more training. I don't think it's something I'll really pursue, but I thought I'd share some things I've learned.

Today I'll look at the first part of getting healthier and fitter -- eating healthy. (Also see See Part 2 of Getting Healthy and Fit - Exercise Edition)

Rules for Eating Healthy

Eating healthy is something a lot of us want to do, but we have such a hard time because of temptations at home and work and on the road. I won't lie and say that making changes in your diet is easy, but I will advise against making drastic changes and in favor of making gradual changes.

For example, I eat pretty healthy right now, but my current diet is a cumulation of small changes I made over time. I first started eating leaner meats, and trying to incorporate more fruits and veggies. Then I added in healthier breakfast cereals, oatmeal, whole grain breads. I switched to lower fat milk and other low-fat options. I ate more nuts, and tried things like flax seeds. Eventually I had a fairly healthy diet (except for the sweets), but then I became vegetarian. I cut out meat completely, including chicken and fish. Eventually I started to phase out dairy and eggs, and started using soymilk and other soy products. I slowly tried out vegan recipes, to the point that I am now nearly 100% vegan, and loving every minute of it. Lately I've been trying to cut out caffeine and sweets, but gradually. If you try cutting one little thing out at a time, eventually you will get used to the change and it will become normal for you. Then repeat the process.

Healthy Eating Rule #1: Pick one or two things to change about your diet, and start simply with those. Every week or two, try something healthy and incorporate it into your daily or weekly menu.

Another thing I've learned is that when I am trying to cut out something bad, it helps to replace it with something healthy and tasty that I come to enjoy. Like caffeine -- I am cutting out coffee and replacing it with water. I did that before with colas (although I'll have an occasional cola now, but not nearly as often). Now I love drinking water instead of the more sugary stuff. I replaced milk with the much healthier soy milk, and now I love soy milk. Same thing with veggie burgers, healthy cereal, whole grain bread and more. Find healthy options that you love -- make a list and keep them close by.

Healthy Eating Rule #2: When cutting out something bad from your diet, replace it with something healthier and tasty.

I've also learned to incorporate a variety of not only fruits and vegetables, but nuts, calcium-rich foods (like soymilk, calcium-fortified OJ and tofu, almonds, and leafy greens), foods with good fats (like olive oil, flaxseeds, almonds, etc), high protein but lean foods (like tofu, soy protein, nuts, beans), and high-fiber foods. What I avoid, like the plague, are things high in saturated fats or too sugary (like I said, I'm cutting this out more and more now).

Healthy Eating Rule #3: The first things to cut out are fried, fatty foods (like McDonald's) and stuff that's too sugary (donuts, colas, candy) and other junk food. Don't cut it out completely, but start to phase it out gradually and replace it with healthier, tasty stuff (see first two rules).

Another important concept is to eat small portions. I used to pile my plate high, but that's a sure way to fatness. I slowly cut back on my portions by adding healthy snacks in between meals. The key here is to plan it out so that you not only have your three squares, but maybe a yogurt in between, and fruits, or instead of having a large lunch, do what I do and have two smaller sandwiches.

Healthy Eating Rule #4: Eat smaller portions and more often during the day. If you wait until you're really hungry, you'll pig out.

This leads me to another great concept: if you're going to be on the road, you have to plan ahead, or you'll end up eating something convenient (read: fast food) which won't be as healthy and will definitely be more expensive. When you go grocery shopping, look for healthy snacks that you like and then pack them when you go to work or on the road. Blue corn chips, nuts, raisins, fruit, veggies, low-fat pretzels and the like are good things to pack and easily portable.

Healthy Eating Rule #5: Pack healthy snacks to take with you, and plan for meals when you go on the road.

Yet another important point: these things won't make a noticeable difference right away, at least not on your waistline. Losing weight -- especially fat -- shouldn't happen overnight, or you will easily gain it back. Be patient, and think long term. Don't look for quick fixes.

Healthy Eating Rule #6: Set long-term goals, and don't expect quick results. Be patient!

There are many more tips, but these are the basic rules for eating healthy, which is the foundation for getting fit. Incorporate these rules one at a time, slowly, and you'll see a big change over time. You'll love yourself for it!

See Part 2 of Getting Healthy and Fit - Exercise Edition.

50 Most Loathsome People in America

Not relevant content, but I thought this was funny: the website The Beast published its list of the 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2006. Now, I don't agree with all of them, but it's funny nonetheless.

Check it out:

The BEAST 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2006

Small Steps to a Healthy Lifestyle

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has a nifty little website called SmallStep.gov that has a lot of great tips and tools for people who want to be healthier, eat healthier and be more active. (There's a site for adults and a fun one for kids)

While this includes most of us, many people are reluctant to do so because it seems difficult or overwhelming. Diet everyday? Forget it! Start an exercise program? Maybe next year!

But the key to the SmallStep.gov website is just what its name implies: small steps can add up to a big difference. It's something I agree with completely. I'm on the road to a healthier lifestyle, but it all began with small steps, and they have really added up.

A few of their cool tips for small steps to being more active (one of a good number of resources on the site):

  • Walk to work.
  • Use fat free milk over whole milk.
  • Do sit-ups in front of the TV.
  • Walk during lunch hour.
  • Drink water before a meal.
  • Eat leaner red meat & poultry.
  • Eat half your dessert.
  • Walk instead of driving whenever you can.
  • Take family walk after dinner.
  • Avoid food portions larger than your fist.
  • Mow lawn with push mower.
  • Increase the fiber in your diet.
  • Drink diet soda.
  • Do yard work.
  • Grill, steam or bake instead of frying.
The kids page has some great resources too, including:

Email Zen: Clear Out Your Inbox

I use Gmail exclusively for email, and it constitutes a major part of my two day jobs. I get a fair amount of email each hour, and I am pretty quick at responding.

However, one thing you'll notice about my Gmail inbox is that it is just about always empty.

It gives me a Zen feeling to have a clean inbox, a feeling of peace and calm and satisfaction. I highly recommend it to everyone. I wasn't always like this -- I had many emails in my inbox in the past. They would sit in there, sometimes unread, sometimes just waiting on an action, sometimes waiting to be filed, and others just waiting because I was procrastinating. I also had many folders for filing my email, so I could find them when I needed them. It would take me awhile to file sometimes, so I would put it off. Many people I know are the same way.

But GTD changed that (as well as 43 Folders and others), and for nearly a year now, I've been fairly consistent about having a clean inbox.

Here are my simple steps to achieving Email Zen:

1) Don't check email first thing in the morning, or have it constantly on. This is a tip offered by many blogs, so nothing new here. Checking email first thing will get you stuck in email for awhile. Instead, do your most important thing for the day, or the thing you've been procrastinating on the most. Then check email. Better yet, do 2 or 3 things first. Also, if you are constantly checking email throughout the day, or it notifies you as soon as an email comes in, you will be constantly distracted and not able to focus on the task before you. I check once an hour, but you might have different needs.

2) When you check your email, dispose of each one, one at a time, right away. Make a decision on what needs to be done on each email.

2a) Is it junk or some forwarded email? Trash it immediately.

2b) Is it a long email that you just need to read for information? File it in a Read folder (or tag it Read and archive) or print it to read on the road (while waiting in line, for example).

2c) If the email requires action, make a note of the action on your to-do or GTD lists to do later. Also note to check the email for info if necessary. Then archive the email. You can easily find it later when you need to do that task.

2d) If you can respond to it in a minute or two, do so immediately. Don't put it off. If you wait, you'll end up with a backlog of emails to respond to, and you may never get around to it. I respond quickly, with a short note, and send it right away. That way I'm viewed as responsive and on top of things.

2e) If you need to follow up on the email later, or are waiting for a response, note it on a Waiting For list. Don't just leave it in your inbox as a reminder.

3) I have only one folder: Archive. When I respond to an email, or finish reading it if it doesn't need response, or note it on my to-do list, I archive it. Simple as that. You could add a Read folder if you want. I usually print longer ones to read later, like during lunch or while waiting for something. Other people have an Action folder or a Waiting For folder, but I find that that's just an additional inbox (or "bucket" as GTD's David Allen calls it) that you have to constantly check. I don't like to check extra folders. I have my to-do lists and my Waiting For list, and that's good enough. So it's as simple as pressing "Archive" on an email, and if I need to find it later, Gmail's search is so good that it's easy to find. I've never had any problems with this system.

Email Zen is that easy: check email at regular periods, take action on each email right away (or note it on a list to do later) and archive.

Ahhh. Empty inbox!

See also:

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What is truly necessary? A guide to living frugal

An ongoing quest for me, and one that I am renewing this year, is to eliminate all that is unnecessary from my life. Now, you might read this and think that I am cutting everything fun from my life, but that's not true. Let me explain.

The first question in this quest, of course, is what does "necessary" mean? We must first examine what things are necessary ... and the first question in this examination is ... necessary for what? What is the true aim? My answer, which will be different than others, is "necessary for a happy life."

This definition, then, would include many things besides the basics of clothing, shelter and food. I might not need a good relationship with my wife in order to survive, but it is necessary for me to be happy in life (I've found). Same thing with my kids. To be happy, I must develop a good relationship with them, make them happy, and spend time with them.

But that doesn't mean that anything I do with them counts as necessary. I can be happy with my children just by going to a free park -- I don't need to buy them things all the time, or go costly entertainment (like movies, the mall, or waterparks).

Similarly, we need to eat, but we don't need to eat junk food. True, you might say that sweets, or french fries, make you happy. Well, that's the key to this whole exercise: do you really need something to be happy? And even more, do you need it on a daily basis, or can it be an occasional treat?

Coffee and chocolate are two recent examples for me. I love both. A lot. But I am addicted to them (because of the caffeine), and that makes me want them more than I really need them to be happy. So I am trying to cut them out, at least for now. I think later, after I kick the habit, I can indulge in those things as a treat, once in awhile, without lapsing into addiction.

Other things I can cut out (except as treats):

  • Going to movies (I rarely do this anymore)
  • Sweets, like pastries or baked goods or candies (rarer now, but still a MAJOR temptation)
  • toys (gizmos and gadgets that are a lot of fun, but not necessary - like an mp3 player)
  • new books (I try to buy used now, or trade em)
  • eating out (have been trying to cut back, but still lapse more than I should)

And some things that I need to think hard about:
  • cable internet (I have this at work -- it's nice at home, but I'm not sure if it's necessary)
  • cell phone (I don't NEED it too much -- it's convenient, but it's rare that I really need it)

On the whole, I've cut out a lot already, and I'm very happy with the simplicity I've created so far. I have a lot more to do, but it's the process that I enjoy, not the end product.

Some recent posts on this topic elsewhere:

A new 5K PR for me

I don't have the official time, but I know I broke my old PR of 23:05 (set a year ago) in this past weekend's Academy of Our Lady of Guam 5K, as I came in just under 22:30. So I broke my old record by at least 30 seconds. Woo hoo!

It was a pretty flat run, but hard for me as I haven't run any races, let alone anything as short or fast as a 5K. I pushed myself the entire 5K, and I was breathing hard.

Next up: the Northern Lights 10K this weekend. I've found 10Ks to be even harder than 5Ks, because they are nearly as fast, but twice as long. It's grueling to keep up a fast pace for 6.2 miles, at least for a runner like myself.

Quitting Caffeine update

I'm down to half a cup, with no real side effects. I don't drink coffee when I wake up anymore ... only when I get into work, and only half a cup. I'm pretty tired before I drink that half a cup, but no headaches or anything.

Next week I take the plunge into zero coffee. Also I don't drink caffeinated colas or tea, or eat chocolate -- and chocolate is the hardest part aside from the coffee.

My reasons for quitting: to prove that I can, to get myself off an addiction, to end caffeine's destructive effects on my body and my health, and to continue to try to simplify my life and examine (and eliminate) those things that are not truly necessary.

Previous post: Givin' up caffeine - help!


Thursday, January 18, 2007

First triathlon? Check.

OK, so it was probably the easiest triathlon possible, but I completed the Stick-n-Back Triathlon on January 13. It's a super sprint, with distances of 200m for the swim, 10K (or 6.2 miles) for the bike, and 2 miles for the run.

I started the race pretty nervous, as I was afraid I wouldn't complete even that short race. I have been swimming a couple times a week for about a month now, but I still have no endurance. The swim portion is only 200 meters, but when I tried to do 200 meters without stopping in practice, I was wiped out. In addition, while I knew the 2-mile run wouldn't be a problem, I had ridden my bike exactly once before the race, so that was a big worry.

But when the race started, the swim was actually not as hard as I thought. The main problem was swimming in the middle of a bunch of other people -- you are surrounded by thrashing arms and legs, and it's very common to get kicked in the head (I did, twice) and it's very difficult to get your stroke going when you have no room to maneuver.

The bike leg was harder. I didn't know what gear to use, so I kept changing it to try to find one that was comfortable and yet fast. I never found it. I was pedaling way too hard, and people were shooting by me, looking like they were just out for a nice stroll. I ended up racing a little girl (who did excellent in the race) for most of the bike leg, as we kept shooting past each other. When I finally pulled ahead of her for good, I counted it as a moral victory.

I tried to make up for the time lost in the bike portion with a good run, but the run portion was way too short and my legs were dead in the first mile or so. I finished strong in the last mile, and crossed the finish line to the cheers of the very supportive triathlon community.

Overall, I had a great time. Congrats to all the other finishers, and first-timers, and thanks to the triathlon community for the excellent first race. I'm hooked now.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Givin' up caffeine - help!

The last two weeks I've been giving up coffee. And sweets.

My two favorites. I LOVE coffee. And chocolate.


I'm trying to quit the caffeine gradually, so I don't get the headaches. I've been drinking only half a cup for the last week. I think next week I'll be down to next to nil.

I'll let you know how it goes.


31 days to fix your finances

The personal finance blog The Simple Dollar started a great series this month that I've been reading entitled, "31 days to fix your finances." Some of it is pretty basic stuff, but it's a great "total makeover" type thing if getting out of debt and saving for your dreams are some of your top goals this year. It's a good read, at the very least.

Just a few highlights (some of them from famous financial books such as Your Money or Your Life, or Total Money Makeover):

  • Stop excess spending as a stopgap measure
  • Start planning and saving for your dreams
  • Figure out your "true wage"
  • Create a realistic, flexible budget with easy steps
  • Align your spending with your values
  • Create an emergency fund
  • Re-examine your expenses to see if you can lower them

The Simple Dollar is just one of the excellent personal finance blogs I've been reading. Some of my favorites right now:

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Goal Setting Toolkit

Speaking of goals, the website Success Begins Today posted an interesting tool not only for setting your goals, but more importantly, for keeping focused on them and staying on track:

Goal Setting Toolkit

The site has some other good articles on setting goals and keeping yourself organized:

A few other good articles and tools related to goals:

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

2007: My Greatest Year Ever

More than a week into 2007, I'm a bit late in posting this, but please forgive me. I actually set my top goals for 2007 in December, and have already gotten off to a good start on working towards them.

I decided to set goals that are challenging but achievable, something that will make me feel good about myself after I complete them. What I have here are some good goals, and I think I can accomplish them.

How I will accomplish them: It's all good and well to write out your goals, but you have to do something to keep your focus on them, keep you motivated, and ensure that you are on track the whole year long. How will I do that? Weekly goal meetings with my wife.

My wife and I have decided to be "goal buddies" this year, and to that end, we are meeting once a week to set our goals and review what we've done. For example, at the beginning of January, we took our goals for the year and decided what we would try to accomplish in January for each goal. We tried to make it something easily accomplishable in one month. Then, each week in January, we set weekly goals that help us toward the monthly goals. Each day, we look at our weekly goals and see what we can do that day.

So all year long, we have a mechanism to track our progress, review our accomplishments and failures, and set mini goals that help us toward the year's overall goals. It's working great so far and I hope to report good progress as the year goes on. It keeps us motivated and it's so much better than just writing down some resolutions and forgetting about them after a few weeks.

So without further ado, here are my goals for the year:

Top Goals for 2007

* Triathlon: Train at least 2x a week each for bike, swim, run, and complete an Olympic triathlon by July 2007. Write a column once every two weeks about the experience.

* Strength training: Train 3x a week, gaining slight mass and definition (while losing fat through triathlon training). Take a picture in December, then every 3-4 months.

* Yard work: Get it back in shape in December 2006, then cut once a week for 1-2 hours to keep in shape. Should have a nicely maintained yard.

* Payoff credit card, car: Set payment plan, make regular payments. Celebrate when done!

* Save: Set aside $___ emergency fund (open online account for this, then transfer money), then $___ per pay period for Liberty Fund (and track different categories within Liberty Fund).

* Meditate: At least twice a week, meditate for 20-30 minutes.

* Positive Parenting: Become a calmer, more positive parent. Stop yelling and spanking. Teach them with love. Will practice daily, with wife to help me.

* Simplify: Reduce my needs. Reduce clutter. Reduce complications in life. Simplify workday. Simplify the house. Create times of peace (meditation, running, reading, quiet times with wife, kids).

* Take Action: Do things to help raise awareness and improve global warming, poverty and Guam's political status.