Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This year, forget resolutions. Do 30-day trials instead.

There's no particular reason to make resolutions around January first.
Anything you could change with a resolution you could change anyway. You don't need the calendar's approval.
Don't set yourself up for failure. Breaking a resolution erodes your confidence that you can accomplish things you set your mind to.
Set yourself up for a win with the 30 day trial. Whatever you're changing, do it every day for 30 consecutive days. Then you've succeeded. - Substitute your own issue, exercise, diet, getting up early, eating a good breakfast, keeping your desk organized - whatever it is you're looking to improve.
To an external observer, your behaviour wouldn't be any different than a resolution, but psychologically that 30 days is a bite-sized win. Your brain gets rewarded for following through on its commitment and you become more confident you can follow through on other things in the future.
The 30 days is short enough that whatever you're considering, you can muscle through and get it done. After all it's only 30 days. It's also long enough that if you decide that what you're testing is making your life better you can easily lock in the routine. Otherwise, you can decide that you've given it a fair shot and that it's not for you.
Power tip: Tweak the system. If you want to get up and run, wear your exercise shorts to bed. Have the shoes right there, then wake up and start running before you even think about it. When you're awake, make it easy for the groggy you of tomorrow morning to execute your action plan.
Don't go crazy. If you want your change to stick, most people can only change one (maybe two) things at a time. Start with one change and see how it goes. After 30 days and it's become routine then you can keep going and add something else. If you overload on the changes too early you'll crack and the changes might not stick.
Leveraging the power of routines can help you make your life what you want it to be. You have the power to make the changes, not the calendar. Stick with them for 30 days, and even if you decide not to continue, you've successfully tried something out. Get the win, build the routine, and soon you'll find yourself doing better than you ever expected. Happy new year.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Your performance appraisal

How'd you do this year?
You've done some great things. Track your accomplishments and update your resume, even if you're not planning to switch jobs.
If you're not in a shopping frenzy (note: buying stuff only makes you happy for a while) you can find some reflective downtime between Christmas and New-Years to ponder the passing of time and what you've accomplished.
Unless there are major life events, it won't feel like much has changed. Change over a year is gradual and hard to experience. Maybe you're a little stronger, smarter, or more experienced than you were a year ago.
Maybe you finished a project? Achieved a goal? Kept the family fed? Helped someone? Made a difference? Learned from a mistake or ten?
Having an up to date resume is both a way to be ready for opportunities and a way to reflect on how awesome you are and what you've accomplished professionally.
The dark cloud here is that if you're disappointed by what you've accomplished this year it's too late to fix it.
The silver lining to that dark cloud is that realizing that you're not living up to your own standards is the launchpad for fixing it.
Since you can't fix the past fix the future. Assess your performance in all areas of your life: Physical, mental, social, financial, emotional, spiritual.
During this annual visit from You the CEO, how would you review You the Day-to-day Manager?
How do you stack up against who you want to be?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A better night's sleep

Block the blue for a better night's sleep.
The blue-white glow of your computer monitor or smartphone could be ruining your sleep.
Here's the fix: Install f.lux from justgetflux.com on your computer. Set it (probably halogen or tungsten) and forget it.
Here's why this helps:
Colour temperature: Todays computer monitors and smartphone screens have a lot of blue.
Melatonin: Blue light inhibits melatonin production. Melatonin helps you sleep.
Circadian Rhythms: Our bodies use blue light as a day/night timekeeper, so when we blast our eyeballs with bright 'day' signals right before we want to sleep we scramble our internal clocks.
f.lux knows when the sun rises and sets and will adjust your monitor automatically when the sun goes down* and put it back to daylight (or what you set as ambient) when the sun comes up* again.
It's free, and you can have it up and running in about three minutes.
If you don't want to install software, there's the low-tech route. That's right: sunglasses at night. Get some orange lenses. They filter out blue light.
Wear them for an hour or two right before bed and you won't scramble your internal clock. You'll make the melatonin you need to sleep on schedule.
The blue electronic glow works against you, but now that you understand what's going on you can sleep better. All it takes is a little light control, and maybe sunglasses at night.

*Yes, it's actually the Earth rotating. It's good to understand your place in the universe.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Free, last minute christmas idea.

For everyone you want to connect with this christmas, tell them thoughtfully and in detail exactly what you appreciate about them.
If you haven't done your christmas shopping yet this probably won't complete your list. If your shopping has been done for months, this is another thing that's easy to add.
Whether or not you can find a way to put this under the tree, it may be the most important gift you give anyone this year.
As we live our lives down in the weeds, dealing with the day to day issues that permeate our lives, we begin to take for granted the other people who make our lives better, complete and more fun.
We complain when people close to us let us down, forget important dates, leave dishes on the counter or whatever else gets on our nerves.
Those sorts of interactions can erode relationships, and if they're not refreshed and renewed by the expression of genuine appreciation they can wash away.
This Christmas, don't let that happen. Instead take five minutes and think about one person who's important to you. What do you appreciate about them? What are the things that you know in your heart to be the foundation of their positive impact on your life. Things that you wouldn't necessarily ever tell them out loud.
Fine. You can take ten minutes to get your thoughts in order. Then tell them. Don't overthink it, that's a delaying tactic. The spirit of the message is at least as important as the specifics.
Depending on the relationship it can be awkward to bring up this sort of thing. These emotional outpourings tend to be outside our comfort zone. Bring it up however you wish. In a conversation, in a card, written on the sky or  shouted from the mountaintop. Do whatever feels right for you.
If you're stuck, say these words (read this to them if you have to):
Hey, got a second? [Get an acknowledgement]
I was reading this newspaper column… I don't tell you often enough how much I appreciate you. I particularly appreciate… 
…then fill in the things you appreciate.
Think for a second how you'd feel if someone you care about told you spontaneously what they appreciate about you. You can share that feeling with others, today. For free.

That's one step on the way to a truly merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What if you don't? The opportunity cost of dreams.

Lots of distractions along the chaotic path forward.
Being everything to everyone will overwhelm and dilute you. So don't.
Ditch it: Lots of things you do don't actually need doing.
Politely Decline: You don't have to attend events or activities you'd rather avoid. Don't agree to things you'll resent.
Delegate: Get other people to help. Family dinner? Maybe you don't have to do it all yourself. Ask people to bring things. They'll be pleased to help and it will make things easier for everyone.
Automate: If you can program away your responsibilities, you won't have to spend much time on them. You do this already. The thermostat turns the furnace on and off so you don't have to. Next step? Basic computer programming: codecademy.com
You can outsource your cooking, your cleaning, your shopping and your decorating, but you can't outsource your relationships.
Take care of you: If this were an airplane, they'd tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting someone else. If you pass out you can't help anybody and you need help. One less helper, one more victim. Bad news all around.
Fulfill your mission: Once you eliminate all the things you don't need to do, use the time well. Volunteer, write that novel, take that trip, fulfill that dream. Make your friends say wow!
Say no to the distractions that will steal your time and attention.

Got lots of stuff to do? What if you don't? What could you accomplish instead?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Punishment or prevention - Which side are you on?

With the holiday season approaching, police in Calgary recently declared (2011) that they would rather people didn't share checkstop locations on Twitter. Obviously, they don't want the drunk drivers evading their checkstops. 
Saskatoon police, however, were fine with that information being shared. They don't set up in one place for long, and they're happy that people know that police are keeping an eye out for them, which will encourage them not to drink and drive.
Whether you're in favour of checkstops or see them as an unwarranted erosion of your freedoms, the diverging attitudes involved come from a theory of punishment or prevention.
There's obviously a visceral desire to catch the bad guys. It's exciting. It's kids playing cops and robbers all over again. Law and order must prevail. And if they're not doing anything wrong, we'll pass an omnibus crime bill and then catch them for other stuff. Then we'll build lots of prisons and throw away the key. More prisons would surely stimulate the economy.
If you think this sounds like a Conservative strategy book, you might be right. Keeping you scared keeps them in power. Hint: Pick hope over fear.
When in comes down to it, we don't need more cops. We actually need fewer robbers. That's where prevention comes up big. If the people who find out about the checkstops end up not driving drunk, you don't get to catch them, but isn't that a win? You can't count the non-events. It's not flashy but it's a much better result.
Punishment doesn't undo a wrong. It can't bring back a victim or prevent a collision. If anything it's a way of protecting the community from people who might continue to endanger others. It doesn't forgive or forget. It doesn't make things right. Who really benefits from capital punishment?
In medicine, it's better to avoid injuries or diseases than to have doctors fix you all up.
Recycling's great, but it's better not to need that water bottle than it is to use it and then recycle it.
In the big picture, it would be far better to prevent catastrophic climate change than to punish the ecosystem with the delayed side-effects of our activities.
The straightforward method of dealing with crime is to wait for it to happen and then catch and punish the bad guys. If instead it can be prevented far in advance that's much better for everyone involved. No cops, no victims, no damage, but the absence of the event is hard to count, and doubly hard to use as a scare tactic to preserve the law and order status quo.
Sure, catch all the drunk/dangerous drivers you can, but it's better if there aren't any. Tweet the checkstops. Raise awareness and encourage good judgment. Responsible character and good decision making beats extra cops any day.
Originally published in print December 2011.
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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Be the boss. Program your computer.

Shift your thinking. You're in control. You have the option. Take command.
Shift your thinking. You're in control. You have the option. Take command.
Despite the barrage of email, your computer exists to serve you, not the other way around.
Your computer is better at mundane repetitive tasks than anybody.

Here's how to be the boss:

Type fast enough: Type so you can keep up with your thoughts.
Learn the shortcuts: Cut, copy, paste, save? Elementary. Find the keyboard shortcuts in programs where you find yourself mousing around. They're faster.
Work that spreadsheet: Calculations you need to repeat can be programmed once in advance and reused as often as you need. Google is your tutor no matter your skill level.
eMail rules: Slay email by telling the computer what to do with it in advance. Mail from the boss? Show me an alert. Winter storm photo #27? Move that to an ignored folder. Protect your attention.
IFT.TT: Online service 'If This Then That' will follow instructions when triggered. For example, when this column hits the blog, it automatically hits Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. That would take more time each week than it takes to set up in the first place.
Teaching your personal electronic slave to handle the mundane aspects of your computer activities. This will preserve your valuable attention for the things that need it. Just tell your computer what to do.
Caveat: Your computer will do what it's told, whether that's what you mean or not. Be careful, but the upside is worth the effort.

Then again, if your Betamax is flashing 12:00, this may not be for you.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Laying Pipe.

Pipelines that encourage bituminous sands expansion are not in the planet's interest.
Spending huge amounts of money locking our energy infrastructure into carbon based energy only makes sense in the short run, and then only if you're an energy company comfortable with flipping the bird to small island states, and all future generations.
The economic case for the pipeline does not even make sense for the Canadians.
CBCs As It Happens made the case for it in their February 6, 2012 show in the segment Northern Gateway Oil Costs:
The pipeline is expected to drive up the price of oil several dollars per barrel over what the cost is expected to go up anyway.
As soon as oil companies can get increased prices for any oil, they will start charging that here in Canada as well. 
The pipeline, if built, would raise oil prices for Canadians, not just Asian markets, leading to more profit for the oil companies on the backs of Canadians said Robyn Allan, former CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia on CBC.
Most Canadians lose economically in the scenario where the pipeline is built. And that's before you account for the environmental consequences.
Building a pipeline is a major misallocation of resources when our civilization should instead be pursuing a generation defining shift away from fossil fuels.
When Premiers and Prime Ministers act as travelling salesmen for the oil companies it feels like a corruption of the governance structure. Economy now, instead of environment forever. That's election cycle thinking at its worst.
Even if TransCanada's Keystone XL or Enbridge's Northern Gateway can be constructed in a way that minimizes the likelihood of an environmental catastrophe, we continue to find ourselves locked into the carbon emissions associated with the ongoing use of the infrastructure.
Remember, the scarce resource here isn't the oil, it's the ability of the atmosphere and the oceans to absorb the CO2 without catastrophic consequences. That's the resource that needs management.
What does that mean on the ground in communities like this one?
Reinvesting in local infrastructure, finding ways to live off current solar income, and reawakening the Canadian determination to doing the right thing, even when it's hard.
The answers are out there. The transition to walkable communities, clean energy and a stable planet in the future is incompatible with fossil energy expansion. We're sharp. We can find better solutions than laying pipe.
Originally published Feb 11, 2012.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

You can't communicate. That's ok. Nobody can.

Communication. It's what the listener does.
How do you put an idea in someone else's head?
You don't. They have to do it themselves.
If they let your idea into their mental living room, be polite. Don't light the carpet on fire. You won't be invited back.
See these squiggles? They're not even information until you interpret them. Lucky for you, it's in English, not Mandarin. We have a common framework. We agree on how English works. It makes written communication possible.
Suppose you have an idea. You understand it completely. Others don't have your idea yet. You can guide them toward it, but they have to think it themselves.
They haven't had your life, and they might not have the  intellectual or cultural framework you've based your idea on.
Without common language, you could interpret body language and tone, but not details. To your lizard brain threat detector, body language and tone count for a lot.
Saying something doesn't mean it's been communicated. That part depends on the listener. If they can explain it back, then maybe they got it.
Communication is about making it easy for others to think your idea. Being a good listener means letting strange ideas into your mental living room and allowing them to interact with the residents there.

Funny thing about ideas: most people like their own better than they like yours. Socrates taught by asking questions. Did the student get the idea?