Archive for March, 2010

Review: The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

I picked up The Power of Less by Leo Babauta at the library a few weeks ago and I think I read it faster than any book I’ve read in recent memory. I completely devoured everything that Leo (author of one of my favorite blogs, ZenHabits) had to share.

The book focuses on simplifying your life, both through cutting out the unnecessary things and focusing on tasks related to your goals. Here are a few of the highlights.

Creating Habits

Babauta explains that we often try to do a major overhaul of our habits in bulk. Instead, he says that you should focus on creating new habits, one at a time. Don’t try to improve everything at once. Focus on one habit that you want to create and stay focused on it until it is, in fact, a habit. Then, move on to the next one.

Some of the habits he suggests working on include creating a daily routine, exercise 5-10 minutes daily, keeping your desk de-cluttered, eating more fruits and vegetables, etc.

Getting Things Done

I’ve tried the actual GTD system in the past and I failed miserably as it fell into the realm of a major overhaul. I remember wondering when I was ever going to have time to devote an entire day to starting it and organizing my life. Babauta’s approach (“Zen to Done“) goes right along with creating habits: focus on one task at a time.

He suggests setting your three most important tasks that you want to accomplish each day and only work on one task at a time until completed. I’ve been doing this and it’s been a great system. At the end of the day, as long as those three tasks are complete, you feel like you’ve accomplished what needed to be done.

Cutting Out The Noise

We live busy, fast, noisy lives. I’ve talked in the past about some of the distractions of technology and other factors. Leo gives some great tips for lessening the interruptions due to things like the internet, email, commitments, etc. For example, he says it’s a good practice to check email only twice a day. In general, a person should be setting limits.

I’ve been trying to get into this habit a bit more, but at his suggestion, this month I’ve been working on my “One Goal,” which as I mentioned is setting the three most important tasks each morning until that’s a habit.

Slow Down and Focus On The Present

This is a big one for me. I spend too much time thinking about what needs to be done. Babauta explains that if we put into practice his other suggestions for simplifying, we’ll be able to live at a slower pace, get more done, and focus on the present, thus giving us more satisfaction in what we are actually doing.

What’s Missing?

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Power of Less and will easily give it five out of five stars on Goodreads, the one topic I wish Babauta would have covered in-depth is the idea of simplifying your stuff. We as consumers are simply way too “stuff”-driven, myself included. I’ve really been realizing how much consumerism contributes to stress, lack of balance, and lack of perspective on what matters in life. Again, I’m as guilty as anyone on this one and I would have loved some tips from Leo on this topic.

Read It!

This book has given me a great roadmap for simplifying both my life and career, and I highly recommend reading it. I may even try to get Leo for an AnywhereMan interview at some point since he officially lives the Anywhere Lifestyle, so if anybody knows him personally, drop me an email.

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Working From Home Is Not Usually Glamorous

It’s all fun and games until someone pees their pants.

I like to keep it real here on AnywhereMan. I don’t want you getting any inaccurate ideas about the Anywhere Lifestyle and what it entails for me.

I’ve mentioned in the past that one of the things that has been nice about working from home is the ability for my wife to leave during the day if she needs. Today she had some errands to run including dropping daughter #1 off at pre-school. She asked if I’d be able to keep an eye on daughter #2 for a few hours.

Easy. Piece of cake.

Until five minutes after the departure of my beautiful bride.

I went downstairs to my office to check on something and right way I hear my daughter in the kitchen yelling “Pottie! Pottie!”

Seriously, FIVE MINUTES after her mother left.

Anyways, at least it was just pee. Kudos to my wife who deals with this stuff on a daily basis, but I’m trying to run a business here!

Reminder to myself: It’s a home first. My family’s home. Everything else, including a career, is second to that.

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8 Things I Maybe Kinda Sorta Miss About Working In An Office

Don’t take that title the wrong way. I love what I do and where I do it. The Anywhere Lifestyle wins hands-down over the cubicle lifestyle 99 out of 100 times in my book.

But sometimes there are minor things I miss about my days working in an office environment…sort of. This is my tribute to those days and those people.

1 – Talking about football on Monday mornings

Wherever I’ve worked, most of the people there have been Vikings fans. Monday morning conversations have either helped soothe the wound of a wicked loss or sweeten the taste of a hard-fought victory for the purple. Now that I’m on my own, I’ve suppressed my emotions after the 31-28 loss to the Saints in the NFC championship game this past season. You know I’m headed for a complete breakdown at some point.

2 – Having people to laugh at YouTube videos with me

I can do a perfect imitation of the look on my wife’s face when I tell her to come and watch something funny on YouTube. She knows two things: 1) It’s going to be stupid, and 2) I’m going to laugh way harder than she is. This was not the case with my co-workers back in the office days. It was all funny, all the time.

3 – The intercom system

My years spent working for Vencio in St. Paul had all of the main staff working in one big front office area. We each had a cubicle but could talk to each other without leaving our desks. Yet, when we got a new phone system and it included intercom functionality, you just had to use it even if you were mere feet away from each other. Intercom systems are awesome.

4 – Inside jokes

Uhhhhh, intercom systems are awesome. Yeah. Fart machine.

5 – The camaraderie of sharing experiences that don’t make sense

Things happen that you’d never believe unless you had co-workers there to experience them with you.  Once, a gentleman walked in and asked if we made websites, which we did. He then proceeded to tell us what he needed. Sounded good. Then he told us it was for a particular “adult” website. Sorry, sir, out of luck here.

Seriously, why would you go to a web development company in person to ask about something like that??? Phone and email are just fine, buddy.

6 – Games

This actually gave me the idea for this post. My wife and I watched the Season 3 episode of The Office when Jim was working at the Stamford branch. He and his co-workers would spend time playing against each other in a first-person shoot-em-up computer game. I’ve done that a few times. We had a basketball hoop behind the building at one point too. It was fun when we all would realize at the same time how pathetic we were.

7 – Friday afternoons

There’s something enjoyable about getting ready to leave for the weekend that puts everyone in a good mood. I had a co-worker that always cranked up the same song every Friday at around 4 PM. We always knew it was coming. We pretended to be annoyed, but it was a celebration of about-to-get-out-of-here-ness. We usually accompanied it with a good bit of fart machine as well.

8 – Co-workers that make you go huh

At every company I’ve ever worked for, there’s always been at least one employee that makes everyone else just go “huh.” Just think about your time in an office. There’s always someone who is just a little on the whacky side and you feel kind of lucky to have experienced their views on life and nicotine-addicted deer.

Is there anything you miss about your days in the cubicle? Or do you get all of the above situations at home already?

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Get Some Face Time With TokBox

Earlier this week I published a new article to MakeUseOf.com about TokBox, a video chatting and messaging app. In the past, I’ve encouraged all of you to do as much video as possible. Since we don’t get a ton of in-person “face time” with clients and co-workers, using an app like Skype or TokBox to have real-time video conversations really help strengthen trust in a relationship where we might otherwise be more heard than seen.

TokBox gives you an additional feature that is SUPER convenient for Work Anywhere folks like me: video messaging. You can record a video using your webcam and instantly send it to a client, prospect, vendor, or anybody else. I’ve taken to sending video messages over emails on many occasions. For me it’s almost quicker than typing out an email.

I go into all the details in my article, but just wanted to let you folks know that it might be an app that really adds a nice benefit to how you communicate from wherever you might be.

Check out TokBox. What video chatting/messaging services do you currently use?

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When Much Of Your Working Life Is Spent In Coffee Shops

Yeah, the free wifi is great and it’s awesome to be out of the home office for a few hours, but there are dangers in spending a few bucks here and there on that delicious, energizing, eye-opening, nectar of life, powerful elixir…coffee.

I’m addicted. Please help.

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Floppy Disks and Keeping Yourself Relevant

I did some organizing over the weekend and found this in a box of random stuff. Remember when everything was on these 3.5″ disks? It wasn’t even all that long ago that we were still using them.

I remember my college roommate installing Windows 95 on his fancy new laptop computer back in 1995 (of course). CD drives weren’t even standard yet so he installed the complete OS using about 20 of these 3.5″ disks. Unbelievable!

These things hold 1.40 MB. ONE POINT FOUR ZERO MBs!!! I don’t think I have a single song in my entire music collection that would fit on one of these.

My point is this: Don’t be a 3.5″ disk.

Well, not literally. But continually have a plan to do what you do…better. It doesn’t have to be anything major, but it can be something as simple as setting aside an hour per week to research new trends in your field.

If you’re a programmer, learn the ins and outs of a new plugin or API. If you’re a writer, challenge yourself to write about something you’d normally consider too difficult or complex. Heck, write a book! If you’re a designer, spend some time each week going through a tutorial for a new method in Illustrator. Just commit to improving your skills a little bit at a time.

It doesn’t even need to take much planning ahead of time. Try out a new app and just tinker with it for an hour or two. Relax, you’ve built the time into your schedule. Use this opportunity for a little “sandbox time.”

Don’t be the freelancer or employee who is stuck with a 3.5″ floppy skill-set in a 16 GB USB flash drive world. You’ll find yourself tossed quickly.

Unless you end up in my box of junk that never gets thrown out.

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The Internet In Your Pocket: Is That A Good Thing?

Take a walk with me through the woods while I debate whether having a smartphone and data plan are worth it for me. While trying to simplify, cut down distractions, and lessen the noise in my daily life, I am unsure if having a web-enabled device in my pocket at all times is necessarily a good thing.

For some, it’s a requirement. But I work from home or wifi-enabled public locations. If I’m neither of those places, I don’t want to be working or tempted to work. I want to be catching fish, focusing on my family, or just enjoying whatever moment is presented to me.

There are three main areas where I question whether having the web available at all times is good for me:

  1. I want to spend less time on the internet, not more. By subscribing to a monthly data plan, I’d feel like I was wasting my money if I wasn’t using it.
  2. I’m trying to reduce the number of “in-boxes” in my life and the number of times I check my email daily. Mobile web/email would add at least one more.
  3. When I’m not working, I want to focus on not working. If I’m in my canoe, going for a hike, or out on a date with my wife, I want to enjoy those things for what they are at that moment, not how they’ll sound in a Twitter update.

What do you think? If you use a web-enabled smartphone, does it simplify your life?

We’re all different and what works for one person might not work for another. I’m just debating what makes sense for my lifestyle today. Smartphones are everywhere and I even had one for a short while a few years ago. I realized it didn’t make sense for me then and I’m still not sure if I really need one. I’m the AnywhereMan, not the EverywhereMan. ;-)

And yes, I will probably change my mind on all of this next week.

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A Giveaway And A Deal…

Friends of AnywhereMan.com are doing some exciting things in the next few months and I want to share a couple of them that you need to check out.

Where Do You Work Naked?

First, Lisa Kanarek of WorkingNaked.net (see my interview with Lisa) is doing a month-long contest called “Where do you work naked?” and she wants photos and a quick description of your home office. She’s giving away some excellent home-office related prizes and it’ll be worth your while to go and enter the contest. Be sure to subscribe to her blog, too. She’s always sharing helpful tips for working from home.

Market Your Business On The Web

Next, Aaron Weiche of Five Technology is helping put on half-day Local University seminar in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area that will help you and your small business better understand marketing on the web. Representatives from both Google and Bing will be there to discuss their respective search engines as well.

I will say this about Aaron: The guy knows his stuff. I keep my eye on the way he interacts on the web and he’s getting a huge amount of ROI with minimal effort, right down to the things he shares on Twitter. I know that the ROI of you attending this workshop will be equally impressive.

Oh yeah, you probably want to know about the deal. Aaron is giving AnywhereMan readers $40 off the price of the seminar, cutting the price from $129 down to $89. Visit the Local University Twin Cities page and use code “anywhere2010″ at checkout to receive the discount. I might try to make the 3.5 hour drive down there myself!

Got Good Deals Or Events?

If anybody else has something useful or fun going on that might be of interest to my users, just let me know. Please don’t be offended if your event or promotion doesn’t make the cut, but it never hurts to ask.

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Spending Some Time Elsewhere On The Web

Lately, the virtual version of me has been hanging out on a few other sites. AnywhereMan.com is my main blogging/video home, but in the past few weeks some very exciting opportunities have been presented.

First, I am on a month-long trial as a contributor for a popular web app/software website called MakeUseOf.com. The site has lots of tips, tweaks, and reviews and I’ll be writing there a few times as they test me out (i.e. until they realize I’m just a wannabe blogger!). My first article was published this past weekend and was entitled “3 Ways To Use Google Reader As An Online Archive.” It’s been a fun experience thus far. I mean, I’m writing about web apps and even getting paid to do it. Perfect!

Next, you’ll recall that last week I did the first AnywhereMan interview with Lisa Kanarek. It was a blast! Much of the process of setting up the interview and recording it was made known to me through Andrew Warner at Mixergy.comhome of the ambitious upstart. Andrew’s a great and super bright guy, and my wife and I were lucky enough to spend some time with him when we were at BizConf last summer.

Well, Andrew took a look at my interview with Lisa and the next day one of his guests was unavailable at the last minute. He graciously invited me on his live program to discuss my interview experience and use it as an opportunity to emphasize to his audience the importance of doing interviews. He gave some awesome tips and I learned a lot from him describing some of the things he’s observed. You owe it to yourself to follow Andrew and his future interviews. He’s interviewed some amazing guests like Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss…and he’s just getting started.

Thank you, Andrew, for the opportunity! Folks, stay tuned for a future AnywhereMan interview with Andrew as he is definitely a fellow AnywhereMan (He’s currently doing all of his interviews from Argentina). Here’s my appearance with him last week:

Business Tips via Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart!

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Cleaning Your Computer’s Hardware…Without A Can of Air

I don’t remember where I first learned this trick, but in today’s video I show you how I clean my keyboards, computers, and related components. No need for a can of air or a big, heavy air compressor. You might just have this useful tool in your garage.

My keyboard was definitely due for a good cleaning.

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