relaxation and busywork

dirty dishes in the kitchen sink

dirty dishes in the kitchen sink

While trying to manage all of my many responsibilities, I found that my productivity suffers the most when I let myself worry too much about the busy work I have to do each day. I used to put so much pressure on myself to get everything done that I usually got nothing done and instead wound up sitting on the couch watching television. Afterwards, I often felt extremely guilty for not only failing to get everything done, but also for wasting perfectly good relaxation time.

So after a few months of this, I finally figured out a way to keep up my productivity, get the busy work done, and still have time to relax. I decided to try to combine my relaxation time with the busy work. I don’t always do it, but I’ve learned that with certain tasks, I can adjust my attitude and actually become quite relaxed by the mindlessness of them. I found that by combining relaxation time with the tasks, I actually create more quality time for myself at the end of the day, and I get my bigger, more important tasks accomplished much quicker.

I first got this idea one day while washing the dishes. I came out of a weird trance to discover how intently, but calmly I was wiping dry each dish. I realized that the activity of it, the routine of flipping the dish over, then stacking it, was actually pleasing to me. I usually hate doing dishes, but that day I was sort of enjoying myself. I realized that if only I could change the way I thought of doing the dishes, then I could get something out of it. Instead of thinking of it as a chore, I started thinking of it as a puzzle to solve or a game to play.

I understand that this sounds a bit childish, but I think in order to be able to accomplish these tasks, I had to change my perspective. I tried applying this new perspective to the other tasks I hate, like folding laundry and answering emails. I was mostly successful this way too. I combined, for example, my email checking with my morning coffee. In the mornings, I like to sit outside and drink my coffee as I wake up. Because my mind is so used to the relaxation of this activity, I found that adding one simple task to it, like checking my email, didn’t actually disturb me all that much. I told myself that I could enjoy the morning and answer one or two emails. Then later, I wouldn’t feel stressed about those two emails while I was working on a bigger, more important project.

That has been the greatest advantage of this experiment so far: I have more energy to focus on the bigger things in my life, because the anxiety over the little things has lessened. Combining my relaxation time with my busy-work has allowed me to sort of enjoy both. Then at the end of the day, I can really sit back and relax, knowing full well I’ve accomplished all my goals, and all because of a slight attitude adjustment.

This guest post is contributed by Olivia Coleman, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: olivia.coleman33

Photo: Some rights reserved by miss pupik

the turkey, the Hof, and links

Happy belated Thanksgiving – a holiday all about giving thanks for what we have, followed now by an orgy of attention on Black Friday to what we DON’T have.  Lovely.  I’d argue Black Friday is approaching Thanksgiving in popularity, and that’s not a good thing.  I said about a year ago on Marketplace Money that I didn’t think this recession would change spending habits, and I think this holiday season will prove that out.  Americans love their cars and credit cards as much as Germans love David Hasselhof. And why shouldn’t they (the Germans, I mean)?

What Simplicity And Minimalism Isn’t About… :  Amen.  I do like minimalism, but some of the posts on “ditch your fork and spoon, a spork is better” can be a bit much.  The general idea is dead on, though: less stuff is almost always a good thing.

Six Painless Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill: I read this and then was inspired to go out and find a Sunday paper, although apparently in a small town in Florida the big city (Jacksonville) Sunday edition is sold out by mid-afternoon.

10 Ways to Invest $1,000 Dollars, Without Putting a Dime in the Stock Market:  I don’t blame people for doing this, but first, consider a surprising fact.  Despite the rantings and wailings from the Tea Party and Wall Street and so on, Obama has been the best president for the stock market in a half century:  Does the Obama Bull Market Have Years to Run? — Seeking Alpha.  Now is not the time to get out – that time was when the “pro-business” former administration was in office.  You should’ve gotten back in during 2009.

The Best American Express Credit Cards For Your Business: I like Amex; I know they really hammer merchants with fees, but for a consumer there’s no card that offers better protection and service.

Generation Earn by Kimberly Palmer Reviewed:  Lazy Man takes issues with screw-top wines (I’m a box man, myself), but other than that he gives a glowing review of Palmer’s book.

How we Paid off our Mortgage in 3 Years:  A little bit of luck and a lot of smart budgeting, spending and earning.  Kudos – I’m envious!

1099-K Form & Small Business Tax Reporting:  If you have a small business, something to be aware of.

10 Inexpensive Christmas Gifts Under $10 and 10 Cheap Ways To Get A Great Gift For Under $5:  Let’s take the horrific consumerism out of Christmas – some of the gifts my kids enjoy the most are the little dinky toys their grandfather gets them, rather than the “big ticket” items (which, incidentally, we are eliminating this year).

The End Of Free Checking:  Hardly surprising, but disappointing nonetheless.

21 Reasons You Should Work for Yourself: A great list, although obviously there are advantages to working for someone else, like never having to worry about security (except when layoffs come), benefits (except when they are taken away) and perks (except there aren’t any anymore).

What Are Your Core Activities?:  I think if you had 2-3 core activities – things you had to focus on, to the exclusion of other activities – you’d be successful.  In the autobiography of Andrew Carnegie that I’m reading, he mentions several times that single-minded focus on a goal is the one great key to success.  His beliefs, of course, were the basis for Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (from whose book my 31 causes of failure series arises).

This is What I Call Passive Income:   I’ve written about wealthstreaming and how to make money without a job, but passive income is of course the real goal.

working for a salary – a bad deal?

Office Politics: A Rise to the Top

Chances are you’ll never be rich as an employee. If you work for an employer, chances are that you get paid a fixed amount and it is increased every year. Chances are also good that you are being paid in money, which is subject to inflation. The result is probably that your real wages are probably stagnant. In fact, in the most recent “boom” (2000-2007) the median wage in America actually declined (and before that it had been stagnant for 20 years).  The real estate boom was a false one, not based on increased wealth or productivity, but on leverage; everyone borrowed money to make money.  But unless you worked on Wall Street in a revenue-producing position (investment banker, etc.) it’s doubtful you saw an increase in your real wages.

I calculated my own raises year over year during the time I was still receiving a salary. My best year was a 62% raise, and my worst was a three-year tie at 4%. The 62% raise was an exception to the rule. I left a stable job in a small Southern city, Memphis, and moved to the gargantuan metropolis of Moscow and received, in effect, hazard pay. The actual raise in real terms was even more, because I didn’t have to pay US taxes on it. It was early in my career and my wages increased thanks more to changes in location than anything.  I entered a field as it boomed.  I moved to Russia as it boomed.  I moved to New York it boomed.  Then I switched to consulting

Over the last 5 years I worked as a salaried employee, my average annual raise was 5% – so my salary rose 27% during those five years. For those 5 years, the inflation rate was approximately 18% ( Therefore, my real purchasing power increased approximately 9% over 5 years. This is not tremendous growth, despite the fact that I already had a six-figure salary – so the numbers looked good even if in reality they weren’t that impressive.

If you had an investment that had returned no more than 9% over five years you would probably dump it. Isn’t your career an investment of sorts? I am a consultant and I (usually) work for an hourly rate determined in a contract signed with the client at the beginning of a project. My rate fluctuates due to several factors: demand, the overall economy and even my own interests (for example, I hurt my rate by tending to refuse jobs with business travel involved).  But I have a lot more control over that rate than I ever did over my salary.

I was a senior manager when I snuck out of the workforce and into consulting, so if I went back, I would probably go back in as a senior-level manager or a very junior executive. I know from talking to various that I make significantly more as a consultant than salaried people at a similar stage in their career.  Granted, I have higher expenses (health care, insurance, etc.) but on a net basis I still come out ahead, and considering salaried people don’t get paid for overtime I get paid a lot more if you compared hourly salaries.  The difference is when you hit the executive level, where there has been no wage stagnation in the last couple of decades.  Between 1989 and 2007 (latest data I could find) executive salaries rose almost 107% while overall wages remained flat.

So while you might eventually hit the big time executive salaries, chances are good that you won’t, and your raises will likely not top 4%.  Realistically, given the economy, raises in general seem unlikely – I’ve seen a lot of data indicating that pay cuts are becoming common. Another consideration is time:  to make it as a junior executive requires pulling long hours trying to prove your worth to the organization and putting in face time.  But if you work in a salaried job and love it and feel you have what it takes to make it to the executive level – go for it.

But if you are expecting to become rich as a salaried non-executive employee, sit down and calculate your raises over the last five years. Then honestly assess your chances of becoming an executive at what you do, because that’s the only way to become wealthy as a salaried person. I think you’ll find that while being employed can maintain your standard of living, it’s unlikely to make you wildly rich. That may be your comfort zone – not everyone wants to go into business for themselves.  You may like your job, and if so, good for you.  But unless you’re planning to put in the effort and hours and politicking to become an executive, chances are good your wages won’t ever make you wealthy.

AttributionPhoto credit: Some rights reserved by Alex E. Proimos

another week, and links

In Think and Grow Rich and in the autobiography of Andrew Carnegie that I’m currently reading, one of the causes of failure – which I’ll cover eventually in my 31 causes of failure series – is a lack of focus.  If you have a wandering mind, you’re not going to succeed at whatever endeavor you’re aiming for; in my case, it’s being a successful blogger/writer.  Hopefully these links are inspirational; I get a lot of inspiration out of the articles I read online, and hopefully at least one or two of them will inspire you, too.

What is Quantitative Easing?: I grumbled about this recently, and the simple fact is that whether or not you agree with the economic theory behind this type of manipulation, it IS manipulation and therefore tough to control – and therefore something to be wary of.  I understand the reason:  we don’t have a level playing field with the Chinese (and frankly, even with the Europeans).  But the main point is that something’s going to change with monetary policy – it’s going to come soon, and it’s going to be drastic.

“For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood.” -Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot. From The Whole World is Our Home, In A Lot of Ways:

A good article, but more to the point:  man, do I miss Carl Sagan.  His Cosmos series really deeply affected me as a kid; he was an amazing person.

The False War On Debt:  Absolutely.  The war on debt is not the war to reduce debt already incurred, but to stop people from incurring it in the first place.  Debt is wrong.  Start with that.  Yes, I know student loans, mortgages, etc., but start with the idea that debt is wrong; avoid it at all costs.  Don’t worry about paying down the “bad” debt; worry about not incurring it in the first place.

* 5 Tips For Buying Individual Health Insurance:  A subject near and dear to my heart, as I continue to struggle – even post “health care reform” – with being a self-employed person who has to buy his/her own health care insurance.  One of the few times I’ve actually voiced this thought:  when buying health care insurance, it sucks to be American.

4 People You Should Never Hire: Great tips, although I disagree with one: housekeeper. We had a housekeeper for about 4 years, and although we don’t now, I’d highly recommend it if you have even a small amount of disposable income.  The amount of time and marital discord avoided by hiring a housekeeper is worth its weight in gold, and then some.  Get a housekeeper, and then use that time saved on housework productively – either on family time, or generating income.

And more:

Attribution Some rights reserved by Nieve44/La Luz

Insufficient Education: Then and Now

Steve writes about the “31 Causes of Failure” included in Napoleon Hill’s seminal work on financial success, Think and Grow Rich.  High on that list, holding down the #4 slot, is education. The discussion of education tends to center on keeping your mind active with constant learning activities, or on “continuing education,” which can amount to community college classes, seminars, or self-help books. There are many professions, nursing and teaching among them, that require some element of continuing education as a prerequisite for retaining a professional license.  Accounting is another, and you can get a degree like Warner Pacific’s bachelors of accounting for adults as a great start before pursuing advanced degrees.

But there is also a case to be made for redefining insufficient education within the context of the economic changes that have swept this nation over the past decade. The last three years have seen a prolonged financial and employment downturn, but in both cases they are signs of trends that have been underway for some time. The offshoring of the U.S. manufacturing sector has been devastating to millions of wage earners and (former) homeowners. Nonskilled jobs have been followed to the developing nations by skilled positions including IT jobs, accounting and actuarial jobs, many other white collar support roles, even freelance writing: I am constantly underbid on writing gigs by people in Bangalore or some other exotic time zone.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that insufficient education today may be because a job for which a bachelor’s degree was sufficient a decade ago now requires a master’s degree. That may be due to the increasing complexity of some professions – civil engineering comes to mind – or it may mean that employers can be more selective in their baseline requirements for professional employees. The IT requirements for many jobs have shot up over the past ten years; today you can find graduate degree programs in nursing informatics and financial engineering – two examples of professional niches that didn’t exist for the last generation.

For someone who is currently unemployed, has gotten through college and put in several years of successful work experience based on those undergraduate studies, the suggestion that they lack sufficient education isn’t a fair statement. The education that many of us obtained prior to entering the work force simply isn’t applicable in today’s domestic economy or doesn’t meet newly established benchmarks for professional advancement. Fixing a situation like may require a more concerted effort than continuing education.

Today a wealth of online graduate degree programs designed for experienced and/or working professionals exists. Many are part time, for those of us who are still working; others are accelerated programs that can get you through a master’s program in a hurry. And today, most of them are offered by traditional universities that have expanded into distance learning. The morphing job market can be a frightening situation, especially for people who have embarked on a career track. Sometimes the best insurance for someone who has to change direction is an advanced degree to bolster those years of experience.

Article Source: Bob Hartzell is an in-house editor for Masters Degree He writes about the current state of traditional and for-profit education including student loans, scholarships and distance learning.

a follow-up, and links

I’ve come across a few good links this week, and a few of them actually tied together pretty closely.  So look for a second post soon in which I reveal the socialist tendencies that lurk within my libertarian nature (how’s that for a tease) thanks to a few posts and articles that got my blood boiling….

wealth is not zero-sum

Jacob over at Early Retirement Extreme recently referenced this old post of mine in his article Zero-sum games earlier this week, so I thought I’d repost the article.  To be honest, I had almost forgotten about it, so I enjoyed re-reading it – not to toot my own horn or anything.

Fractal wrongness

In game theory and economic theory, zero-sum describes a situation in which a participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s). If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. Cutting a cake is zero- or constant-sum because taking a larger piece reduces the amount of cake available for others. (from Wikipedia)

Let me go all geeky for a moment. I was a math major in college. I was precocious enough to get admitted to a state university’s PhD program directly, jumping past the Master’s program. It was a terrible mistake – I was in well over my head, both academically and “attitudinally” (if that’s a word), but I did learn a few things in the year I stuck it out. One was that I wasn’t a mathematician. It takes a weird breed to live in the world of numbers like that. Another thing I learned was that math – once you get to a certain level – is less science than poetry. It gets almost horrifying in short order; I spent an entire semester on a single mathematical problem related to chaos theory (“a butterfly flaps its wings in South America and causes a tornado in Iowa, etc. etc.”).

My point is just that before I abandoned math for the routine money-centric world of finance I learned enough to alter my worldview about certain things. One of the areas I was very interested in was game theory, although primarily I focused on chaos theory. Game theory, as noted above, considers some situations to be “zero-sum” situations; if I gain, you lose. Me +1; you -1. The implications of the zero-sum situation in game theory, as wikipedia points out, have been extended to economics and war and even personal relationships.  That’s not the whole universe of game theory, of course – many other situations arise, but zero-sum is the one that is most easily understood and (unfortunately) used widely in the real world.

So is wealth zero-sum? Is your increase in wealth directly related to someone else’s decrease in wealth? If you do better in your career, does that mean someone else’s career suffers? And, to bring it (as always, in this election season) to the macro level, if you are taxed less does it mean that someone else must be taxed more?

Any reasonable person who isn’t sticking to ideological talking points can probably immediately identify the answer: no. Wealth is not zero-sum. If I create a new technology – a Delorean that uses table scraps to power a time-travel engine, for example – I will create wealth for myself and others. The benefit will spread and everyone will benefit. No-one loses. Wealth is created when the person GETTING the wealth gives more than they receive. Has Stephen King benefited others more than himself? If you could put a price tag on enjoyment, probably he has – he’s probably provided millions and millions of “enjoyment hours” at some nominal cost and received millions of dollars in compensation. The value he’s provided has far outweighed the value he’s received.

Too many people today view wealth creation as “stealing.” Yeah, the real estate boom created wealth at the cost of all of us – through bailouts and long-term economic damage. But REAL wealth creation means that you’re giving away MORE than you’re receiving. If you build a better mousetrap, you’re going to make millions – but people are going to benefit from your better mousetrap far more than you’re going to benefit from them buying it. Everyone wins. I think if more of us thought this way we’d be better off. The trick in life is not to think of how you can increase your wealth by taking but how you can increase your wealth by giving.
photo credit: the mad LOLscientist

working for free, and links

As usual I’m a bit behind in posting a link roundup – for some reason the roundup, which I originally meant to post on Fridays, has slowly drifted to Sundays or Mondays, or in this lamentable case, Tuesdays.  At this point, it’s almost next week’s roundup with posts from the previous week.  It’s ridiculous, I know. I have no writing schedule, which I’d highly recommend to anyone who doesn’t want to be a successful writer. I get on little “hot runs” from time to time, but keeping to a schedule appears to be difficult for me.

I’ve also taken on organizing two fairly large professional events. Combining that with Bubelah joining the board of directors of a local not-for-profit and my family’s taking on a lot of (unpaid) work. It’s a mental shift for us to engage in this type of ‘work’. I’ve always thought you should expend no effort on work-related activities unless you see a clear and direct path to compensation; maybe not direct compensation, but at least some idea how it might pay off. That’s been a big part of my contract consultant mindset:  make sure you give value, but also carefully guard against clients or others trying to push “non-work work” onto your plate.

But one of the things I’ve realized as I shift further and further from the traditional time-for-money work model is that you have to create and provide value sometimes without ANY clear connection to compensation. Let’s face it: the reason is mainly that if you’re doing your work well enough, that connection will force itself on you. An example I like is Adam Carolla. The former ‘Man Show’ host has built a fairly sizable entertainment network around his extremely popular (and free) podcast. He did it without a clear plan for monetization, but it’s clear now that he’s gaining traction, picking up advertisers and getting some attention from the non-techy parts of America. I imagine he’ll do quite well as podcasts become more and more the norm.  I can already listen to podcasts via my Roku* and Mediafly.  I’m sure the next generation of cars will have 3G connections and allow streaming audio content, too (and in the future, video, no doubt).  So Carolla will make some money down the road.  And that’s how I’m trying to force myself to approach it.

The links:

  • New Toyota Commercial Reinforces Materialism: I detest this commercial.  It’s tone-deaf considering the economy, and just annoying style-wise.
  • What We Buy: Purposeful or Passing Time?: I realize more and more that although I’d like to think I’m shopping for a reason, it’s FAR too often just to pass time.
  • What’s in Your Wallet?: A late entry in our Money Writer’s group writing project.

And more:

* Amazon affiliate link

31 causes of failure #6: ill health

sick butterfly

sick butterfly

I abandoned this series (based on the 31 causes of failure Napoleon Hill lists in his classic Think and Grow Rich) for a while, but then I decided that abandoning it was actually succumbing to the fifth and most recent cause I wrote about: Lack of self-discipline. Unfortunately the next cause of failure is one that’s somewhat out of our control: ill health. I’d like to put ‘ill health’ into two different categories and examine why one of them is far more likely to be a cause of failure than the other.

The first category is out of our control. You can get sick for reasons completely outside your control: you can have a genetic disposition towards cancer, or suffer a car accident or simply be unlucky enough to come down with some disease. It happens; we’ve all heard anecdotes about perfectly healthy people who suddenly got ill for one reason or another.

The second category is more unpleasant: illnesses you cause. You eat too much junk food and become obese: say hi to heart troubles, diabetes and hypertension. Smoke and you invite cancer. Live a stressful lifestyle? Get ready for all sorts of illnesses. It’s easy to assign blame, of course, for blatantly bad behavior. But most people indulge in some behavior that’s not ideal; few of us are perfect exercise machines with carefully and consistently monitored food intake.

Here’s the kicker about ill health, though. More than any other item in this ’causes of failure’ series, ill health can derail your plans and prevent you from achieving your goals. Why? Just read.

  • Medical bills make up half of bankruptcies
  • Half of Bankruptcies Due to Medical Bills, Harvard Study Says
  • bnet: Medical expenses responsible for half of U.S. bankruptcies, according to new survey.
  • Healthcare Crisis In America Medical bankruptcy: middle class families at risk (Dr. Elizabeth Warren, Harvard Law School, Testimony before House Judiciary Committee 2007).

29% of people with credit card debt indicated that some of that debt was medical-related. It’s a bit dated, but a 2006 USA Today, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard School of Public Health survey showed that 25% of the households affected by cancer said they had used up all their savings dealing with the fallout from cancer, and one-tenth could not afford basics such as food, heat and housing. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world without a universal health insurance system. U.S. health care spending is approximately $2 trillion per year, or $6,697 per person. The United States continues to spend significantly more on health care than other countries in the world.

In 2006, the U.S. census reported that more than 45 million Americans had no health insurance; more than 9 million children lacked health insurance in America (those are dated stats, of course). I don’t intend to get into politics for more than a second here, but the health care bill – mockingly and (in my opinion) disrespectfully called Obamacare – will not fix these problems. It may help slightly, and it may hurt slightly, but the root problem hasn’t been fixed: you can be financially destroyed by a medical problem.

That’s the issue. Is it fair for someone to lose their life savings because they get cancer? I don’t think so – but that’s the way it is now, and I doubt that will change anytime soon. In my opinion, only universal single payer health care can solve this situation; whether you view that as a good or bad thing is up to your own political mindset. So for this cause of failure – one of the most important ones, over which we have some of the least control – you have to be extremely focused. Ill health can impair your ability to work; it can drain your savings; it can make progress towards your goals difficult, or even impossible. Taking care of your health is the single most important things you can do for your wealth. I’ve written before about losing weight and how I quit drinking soda.  Regular exercise and a low-stress lifestyle are key, as well.  But it’s important to remember that the sixth cause of failure from Hill’s Think and Grow Rich is one of the few that sometimes lies outside our control.

Previous posts in my “31 causes of failure” series:

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Eliezer Borges