My Top Life Hacks that make my life a little easier

I’m a software consultant and project manager.  As such, I am busy and need to find time each day.  I try to be as optimized as I can be with tools such as my task manager and my methods for getting things done.  But there are things that I have discovered over the past 8 years or so that have made my life a bit simpler and faster.
top life hacks
Please let me know in the comments if you have any other cool life hacks that make things easier for you.  That being said, here is my collection of My Top Life Hacks that make my life a little easier.  (I am sure there will be follow-on posts as I learn new things and tools!)

Travel:

Rocketmiles - Earn lots of Airline Miles when you book a hotel; most any program.  You and I both get 1000 miles when you signup with this link. http://www.rocketmiles.com
Tripit - Great site for organizing your travel.  Just send your travel itineraries to [email protected] and you are set.  If you are using Concur it is automatically added.  Be sure to get the App for your phone.
Trusted Traveler Program: Little known US Border Protection program that, for $100, allows you to bypass the lines and use a machine to enter the US.  Side benefit is that they are partnered with TSA, so you get expedited security in a lot of airports domestically.  5 year program.  http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/trusted_traveler/

Conferences:

UberConference - Great, Free, Easy conferences where you can see the people attending on a web page.  You register your number, so when you dial in, conference is started and no pin needed.  Link provides extra phone slots and other features to me when you sign up.  You can share and get more features as well http://uberconference.com

Software:

Apps:

I don’t have the links, but if you go to the Appstore for Apple or the Play store for Google, I am sure you will be able to find them.

MobileDay – Autodial conferences and pin codes based on info in your google calendar.  Can’t live without it.
Waze – Such a great app that Google spent a Billion dollars on it…  It is a crowd sourced GPS app.  What does that mean? Well everyone using it contributes to the information about highway speeds and also can point out cops, traffic jams, construction etc., so that it intelligently route you around all of the nonsense so that you arrive in the fastest manner.  Absolutely love it!
TVFoodMaps – Just for Fun and dining… This app allows you to pinpoint all of the restaurants that have been featured on TV.  Shows such as Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, Restaurant Impossible, and others are all here.  So when you are in a strange city, get a recommendation from your favorite Food TV host.
More to come!

Personal Computing: Your Four Choices

My wife recently asked me for my personal computing recommendations for a laptop as she is considering a more mobile computing option.  I haven’t looked for a computer in a few years, so I needed to start my research.  What I am sharing is both what I found and some of my own opinions of things.

First off, you really have only four choices in Personal Computing:

  1. Get a Windows PC with Windows 8
  2. Get a Mac
  3. Get a Linux based computer
  4. Live in the cloud with Google Chrome
Your Choices in Personal Computers

You know about Macs and PC’s, what are the other options?

Windows PCs with Windows 8

Let’s start with an analysis of a Windows PC.  The good thing about Windows PCs these days is the inexpensive price.  You can get a real deal for about $500 and if you put a few hundred more into it, you get a really nice hardware system. The interesting thing is this statement used to only be true of desktops, but now laptops are really inexpensive.  Go to Dell or HP and you will see exactly what I am talking about.  Inexpensive hardware.

This got me really excited until I realized that all the new computers out there by the big box stores and the online retailers are all coming with Windows 8.  No exception.  Well, okay a Microsoft Surface tablet comes with Windows RT, but that doesn’t count in my search for a laptop for my wife.

Most of you are probably thinking okay, so what is wrong with Windows 8?  Well, it is the first Windows product since Windows 95 that has changed the user interface drastically.  For almost 20 years we have been living with a start button, a task bar and varying window sizing.  With the new Modern/Metro Interface is a dramatic change to not only the look, but how you work with the computer.  It will be a big change for a lot of people.  More importantly, it will be an expensive change for corporations who will have to be a lot of money to train up their users.

The most critical thing for many people is that the old apps will not run on Windows 8.  You will have to invest in Windows 8 certified apps for all of the old programs such as Quickbooks, MS office, or other desktop applications.  So while the hardware is inexpensive the overall upgrade could be very costly.

Most of the reviews I have read have panned this new operating system.  A good example is this post that discourages people from buying the new Windows 8 for Black Friday.

It used to be that I would simply recommend a decent Windows PC for as much as the budget could manage. So I am taking a real pause now and re-thinking my approach.  Windows 8 may not work for my wife or many other people at all.

Macintosh computing

I have always been intrigued and turned-off by Macs.  I find them elegant, simple to use, and an amazingly well-put-together in terms of hardware and software.  They are just beautiful.  They are also through-and-through an Apple product.  If you want to do something it has to be blessed by Apple.  You cannot tweak, hack, get into trouble and do things the way you want to.  You have to do things the way Apple wants you to.  I find it ironic that the original 1984-ish advertisement that Apple was so famous for was about breaking free of the status quo and being original.  But if you are a Mac user, you are one of the many drones following the lead of one company.   I know I will probably get a lot of flack for that, but that is how I see this blind devotion to the Apple brand.  Okay, enough rant.

Considering I would have to pay at least $1799 for a 15″ Macbook Pro.  Too expensive for my budget and not worth it for what my wife is looking to do with it (web, word processing, etc.)

So although Macs are a wonderful choice for some people, they don’t work in my world.

Linux Computers

I have been a fan of Linux for more than 10 years.  I remember installing my first distribution on an old computer I had laying around.  It was Mandrake Linux, now it is called Mandriva.  I forgot the version, but it was a very early distribution.  I am now a big fan of Ubuntu Linux   It has a clean interface and has been designed for the non-techie on the surface (but retains all the good old Linux guts underneath.

What I am finding is that Linux laptops are actually more expensive.  Wait, isn’t it a free operating system?  Well, yes, but the hardware that is running these systems is actually more powerful than what you would find on your inexpensive dell computer.   They are built for power users and not your average college student.  So it is not unusual to find a $1000+ laptop running Linux.  But, you are getting twice the machine.   One reasonable set of laptops I found was at Linux Certified.  These were decent Lenova machines costing around $800.

Google Chromebooks

The last option is for those people who pretty much do all their computing in the cloud.  I have to say this is my life more and more.  I am finding that I am hardly using desktop applications anymore.  I am now pretty much living in a web browser, so why not have an Operating System that is the web browser?

Google Chromebooks are easy to use, lightweight, long battery life computers.  The operating system is based around the Google Chrome browser.  It is likely the fastest browser available and if you are using a lot of the Google products, such as Gmail, or Google Docs, then this makes a lot of sense.

I spend my days as a Cloud computing consultant, so I pretty much work in Google products along with Salesforce.com.  Both of these are entirely on the web.  I am finding too that most of my favorite desktop applications such as Nozbe for task management, or Evernote for notes and archiving are all have web based options.

If you are looking at desktop options, there is the Samsung Series 3 Chromebox, which is a desktop version of a Chromebook. It has a small form factor so it would take no space what-so-ever on your desk.

My Personal Computing Summary

But the real question is this right for my wife. Well the answer is, I am not sure.  If I were shopping for myself, I’d get a new Chromebook, but I’m not shopping for me.  At this point I think the safe bet is on a Walmart Laptop that is inexpensive and still has Windows 7 available.   But that will have to last a while, because the upgrade is going to be painful!

Are Expectations a Function of Ego?

Today I was running through a drive-thru to get a quick breakfast.  Little did I know that this would be a moment that would allow me to explore my feelings to understand and ask “are expectations a function of ego?”

The car in front of me pulled forward after getting their food and then stopped just far enough that I could pull up to the window.  I paid, got my breakfast burrito and was ready to jet out of there.  Well, the guy in front was still sitting there.

A symbol for you to not stop keeping your ego in check!  Do your expectations reveal your ego?

I let out a friendly tap on the horn, this was the type of honk that says “excuse me”, not the type that says “move your ass.”  Just a quick note on the horn to let him know that I wanted him to stop digging in his bag of food and get going.

I expected he would wave and move along.   Well, he didn’t. He stuck his arm out the window and signaled for me to pass him on the right.  Fortunately, there is an open area that allowed me to do so.  But I was mildly miffed.  Why was it more important for him to sit there than to get out of the way?

I maneuvered around him and exited onto the street. The way the streets are, I have to make a quick right turn, then another quick right turn to go through the alley behind the restaurant to get to the main street that I needed to take.  This gave me the opportunity to do a second look and see if he was still there.  Sure enough a couple minutes later, he was still planted in the drive-thru exit.

This got me thinking though.  Was my upset really necessary?  Did he do anything wrong or was it that I was upset that he didn’t move for me.  If so, then this injured my ego and as you may know, anytime the ego feels injured, anger arises.

So my expectation of him moving had nothing to do with him.  Rather it had to do with me and my belief that he should not be there blocking me.  Was he wrong for do so?  Yes, I made him wrong for doing so.  Is that the truth?  No.  It is only my opinion.  Opinions are not truth.  The truth of the situation was he didn’t move.  That is neither good or bad, only what was.  My interpretation of the situation made it bad… because my ego was bruised.

I think that this is one of the most difficult things for people to do, that is, to separate ”what is”, from what you feel and your opinion about it.   If we could live in the place of just experiencing what is, and not place our opinions around it, we would live in a more peaceful environment.  Unfortunately, so many people are reacting to their environment and forming an instant opinion and then taking that opinion as truth, that they get upset, angry, frustrated and even violent.

Everyone does this, but if you understand this, you are able to separate the “what is” from the opinion.  Then you can have perspective and insight into yourself and possibly make a small change within.

Bottom line, if you are feeling anger, frustration, or upset from a situation do not react.  Pause and think about what happened and see if it is worth these negative emotions.   The next time this happens to you ask, are expectations a function of ego?  Post a comment below and share with me if you have had a similar realization.

Top Cloud Computing Providers that I recommend

I work in the Cloud. What is “The Cloud”? It is a collection of computing services that you can access from any place and from any device. You can store your data in a virtual storage location and use your phone, a computer, or a tablet to access it. Music, documents, databases are all now accessible in the cloud. I am always being asked about what tools and vendors I recommend for people who want to use the cloud. Here are my top top cloud computing providers recommendations:

My List of the Top Cloud Computing Providers:

Staying Organized

Some of my favorite tools for moving your mobile and desktop data to the cloud. These are the top cloud computing providers. Using the same data, you can access it securely from different devices.

Nozbe - A great solution for staying organized and getting things done.  I would be lost without this one.  I keep track of my Projects, Tasks, and all the various things floating in my mind.  Get them out of the mind and into a system. Keeps the brain free for more creative tasks.

Evernote - Capture everything, and I mean everything, in Evernote.  Coolest feature is the ability to OCR (recognize writing) on photos of white-boards.  I use it for meeting notes, a place to capture scans, storing restaurant info, web clippings, etc.  All searchable, like my own personal Google repository.  In fact, it integrates with Google, so it will remind you on a Google search when you have something in your Evernote. You can store documents in Evernote, but I tend to only store reference documents such as manuals, brochures, etc. For working documents, I use Dropbox.

Document and File Storage

Dropbox - I don’t backup anymore.  I use Dropbox.  Essentially it is a realtime backup of everything on your hard drive (provided you save everything in the dropbox folder) and it allows you to access all your files from the web, or even your smart phone.  With Windows 7 you can set your preferred “My Documents” folder.  I simply set it to the Dropbox folder.  Now all my documents are automatically sync’d to the cloud.

Google Docs – With Google Docs, you can collaborate on documents such as word processing docs, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. These documents are stored in Google Docs, so you do not have to email them around. Every change is immediately saved, so you have complete revision history. People complain that Google Docs is not as feature rich as Microsoft Office applications. I think that Google has included what most people need. I’d say 90% of the time, I do not use the really advanced features of Office apps. I just want to type a letter, do a simple spreadsheet, or save a copy of a Word document I received. These are easily done in Google Docs.

Now Google Docs is transitioning to Google Drive. They are competing with Dropbox, Box.com and others to provide document storage. I still use Dropbox more, but I am starting to use Google Drive with more and more collaborative documents.

LastPass - a great password keeper.  Generate secure passwords and keep all of them in one place.

Music and Media in the Cloud

Amazon Cloud Drive - Amazon Cloud drive allows you to store all your music online and when you buy music from Amazon (it is cheaper than iTunes!) you store it on the cloud drive.  You can still download, but why?

This holds true for Kindle. You can now carry a ton of textbooks for school in a single device weighing about 6 ounces. All of your media (books) is stored in the Amazon cloud.

Google Music is another cloud-based music system.  I am getting to become more of a fan of Google Play and their cloud based services such as Music, Books and Magazines.  Also, I find the Google Reader easier to read then Kindle. Although, I have to use my phone or computer to read as I don’t yet have a tablet. The tablet I am planning on buying is the Google Nexus 7. Then I will have a very competitive tablet for reading books and all my media needs.

Photos

I personally use Picasa by Google. But I also use Dropbox as my primary storage. Here is how it works for me:

I take photos on my phone. I have the Dropbox autosync setup and my photos are then moved from my phone to Dropbox. I can then organize them when I get home on my computer using the Picasa Desktop application. Then if I want to share, I sync the shared folder to Picasa Web. I can also copy them up to Facebook if I so choose. But now Picasa is intimately integrated into Google+, so you can use G+ to share photos as well. I know most people are now using Facebook as their photo repository, but for some reason, I just don’t want that to be my primary photo storage.

Many people use Flickr, but I have not really used it. I like how I can have everything linked and backed up. Flickr is one more storage that I don’t have a purpose for at this point.

Update: Picasa is now obsolete, so Google+ is now the photo storage location.   I have my photos autouploaded from my phone and they are stored in a hidden folder.  I can then choose which photos to share and to who they are shared with.

 

Contact Management/Customer Relationship Management

Salesforce.com - Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m partial to this one as I am a Certified Salesforce.com Consultant, but it is the best tool for CRM and tracking your contacts and sales.   It can be used for a lot more too.  I have built tools in Salesforce that have nothing to do with CRM. Check it out.

Accessing the Cloud

Of course if you are going to access the cloud, you need a good browser. Here is what I use:

  • On my computer: Google Chrome, with Firefox as a backup.
  • On my phone: The Dolphin browser, and occasionally Chrome – I lean more towards Dolphin as it is fast and lightweight.
  • On a tablet (if I owned one :( ) Same as the phone options at this point.

Bookmark and Share this page, as I will add to the list as I run across new cloud computing providers. Post a comment and let me know what you recommend.

5 Things to Expect from Crossfit

Crossfit ® became part of my life just over a year ago. It has been one hell of a journey and it is continuing for me. During this past year, I have learned a lot, I have grown physically and mentally, but most of all I have become fit. I’m not anywhere near my fitness goals, but I am on my way. I have learned some things about Crossfit that I thought I would share here, most importantly, what people should expect when they start doing Crossfit.  I should note that I do not work for a Crossfit gym or have any other relationship with them, other than being a paying member.  I am just sharing my experience here on how it has changed my life for the better.

First, let me tell you my story on this Crossfit journey.  I began a couple years ago weighing in at 274.   This was not something I wanted, the overweight guy who started huffing and puffing running up a few stairs.  You see, my father died at age 54 and was well over 300 lbs for a long time.   He was also an alcoholic and due to his physical situation, he was at least a dozen meds.  Back in the 80′s there was no real control over the pharmaceuticals that a patient was taking, so different doctors prescribing different medicines was a recipe for disaster.   This is what we think killed him, but the weight and the prior heart problems didn’t help.

Despite knowing all of this, I swore I would not follow his path.  Yet I was becoming sick from my weight and eating.  I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and found out I had high-blood pressure.  My doctor put me on several prescription medicines.  This state I was in screamed at me to do something.  I will not follow my father’s downward slide.

Then in 2010, my mom had a stroke.  Woah, another wake-up call.  She was 80 at the time and also overweight.  That was a really stressful year.  I knew that I needed to do something.  I saw the writing on the wall.  Despite my desire to not follow my dad’s path, I think that subconsciously I was thinking that my genes dictated my future.

Nonetheless, I started looking into options.  Last year, while browsing the Amazon.com site, I saw the page on the Tim Ferris book: 4 Hour Body.  I browsed the page and read the reviews.  I didn’t buy the book, but one thing that I saw in the reviews was a review that said the book essentially boiled down to “Crossfit” and “Paleo”.  I didn’t know what either of these things meant, but I filed it away in the back of my mind.

A few months later in April 2011, I was fortunate enough to go to Japan to pursue my Buddhist practice.  I was chanting at a temple there and a thought hit my mind from out of nowhere: “Do Crossfit”.   Okay, I guess I’ll sort out what this means when I get back to the US.   When the Universe says do something, you should listen.

I came back to the US and started researching Crossfit.  At the time, there were two Crossfit gyms in Burbank, CA where I live.  One was out of a garage, and the other was in a small retail location on the other side of town.  I decided to check out the commercial location called Crossfit Burbank.

Expectation #1 – Crossfit is NOT like a commercial gym

I walked in off the street to a large empty gym.  There were no machines to be seen.  Just some pullup bars and weights.  A tall fellow greeted me, introduced himself as Jack, and explained a bit about Crossfit and what they did there.  He explained the different types of movements our bodies do and how by doing high-intensity, varied functional movements we can achieve outstanding results.  I liked his willingness to explain things and take the time to talk through the program with me.  There was absolutely zero selling going on.  In fact, the attitude was almost this is what we do.  Join if you want, or not.    What a different experience from a commercial gym.

I have had my share of gym memberships before.  Never have I left the first meeting with a feeling of not being sold a bill of goods.  The one thing that I hesitated on was the membership.  The terms were great!  No contract, and month-to-month.  But the price was substantially higher than I had paid in any commercial gym before.   I quickly realized though that it was a heck of a lot cheaper than personal training, and essentially that is what you are getting.  From this perspective it was a deal.    You work out in small groups (no more than 10 or so people) and you get instruction on every movement and coaching as you do the workouts.    I figured that for someone new to Crossfit, I’d need this help.  Little did I know that everyone needs it.

Weighing the Pros/Cons, I figured with no contract, what do I have to lose (other than the weight).   (I should say that Crossfit gyms are individually owned, so each has their own terms and conditions, so you should check out what is offered in your area. )   So, I joined.

Expectation #2 – You will Suck at it!

Chris' First Crossfit Prescribed WOD

My first WOD completed as Prescribed taken immediately after! Note the red, exhausted face look.

I returned the next day and started my first intro-workout.  Simple things, like jumping on a 10″ box, pulling yourself up at a 45 degree angle from some rings, and doing a overhead press with an empty bar.  Okay, I can do these things.  Oh, did I forget to mention it was timed?  That throws a whole different level of complexity into it.  Do five rounds of these different movements as fast as you can safely go.   I did it, and I think I tripped a couple times on the box, had horrible form on the ring-rows, and probably sucked pretty good at getting a clean overhead press.

Jack explained that although we do all of these things as children, we lose the skill and coordination in adulthood and have to relearn these things.  I really did have to re-learn these things.  With time, you get better and your coordination gets good enough that you can move up in both box height and in weight that you can lift.  But it takes time.   One thing great about Crossfit is that you do the same movements as everyone else, but they are scaled to your ability.

Expectation #3 – You will find Support

Since you are working out with a group of people, and the workouts (or WODs – Workout of the Day) are scheduled at a specific time during the day, you begin to meet the same people over and over again.  You form a camaraderie and find that they are learning how not to suck just the same as you are.   Some people are skilled and strong, others are just beginning. But together you all do the ever changing workout routines together.

Since joining, I have made quite a few friends and have even resumed my favorite sport which I played in college, racquetball, with one of my Crossfit buddies.   You meet people from all over who are all there to improve themselves.  This in itself is encouraging.

Even more though, Crossfit is the first gym I have ever seen where the last person to finish is cheered and encouraged, and ultimately applauded by they people who got to the finish before you.

Additionally, you find common experiences with people on the Internet.  I am amazed at the various people who are now posting online about their Crossfit experiences.   I have even found a few co-workers across the country who are also doing Crossfit.  We have become virtual Crossfit buddies.

Expectation #4 – You will continue to be Challenged

Crossfit is not easy.  It is meant to be hard.  There are days where you do not want to go.  You find every excuse to not go.  But if you have a strong commitment to success, you overcome these obsticles.  Even during the workout, you find yourself wanting to quit.  ”Just stop doing the exercise, you can rest.”  I can’t tell you how many times my inner voice says that.  But I redetermine myself to just keep going.  I finish in a puddle of sweat on the floor, the most comfortable floor you will ever rest on by the way.  Within a couple minutes though, I am up, recording my workout and doing my finishing exercises.

I don’t know why it works the way it does, but the constantly varied movements keeps you engaged.  You never know what you are getting into, but when you do it, you find that you can and it is the overcoming the challenge that I think is the most addictive part.  Each day you attend a WOD, you are challenged both physically and mentally, but you find a way within yourself to overcome the challenge.  Keep in mind that the workouts are scaled to your ability, but they are still not easy.  They are tough.  But you become tougher than the workouts.

Expectation #5 – You will Grow and Succeed

If you commit to regularly attending the Crossfit WODs and doing the weekly weight training, you find that you start to see changes in your body and your abilities.  Don’t get me wrong, the WODs are always challenging and generally suck, but you are no longer making mistakes.  You are learning.  You are finding out that you can do things, you didn’t think you could do.  I was unable to do any pull-ups when I started.  I am now able to do multiple sets of 10 pull-ups (okay with a rubber band assist, but I am continuing to get stronger).  I have lost 25 lbs so far in the past year doing Crossfit.  I may have been able to do more, but my diet consistency needs continual improvement.

I am now learning and doing a Paleo diet.  I have learned that it is important to eat for health.  Food is powerful medicine and that you can change your health through your habits.  I am currently reading The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now!I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to get back into health.

I am seeing results in weight loss, but also in general shape.  I am getting abs that I have never felt/seen before.  I have definition in my arms and legs that I have never had in my life.

In January I finally did the prescribed WOD level.  I was elated!  I now know that I can do the men’s standard on certain workouts.  This is a far cry from when I started last May.

Best of all, I have reduced the meds I am taking to a single pill and I expect to be done with that pill soon enough.  I know now that my genes do not dictate my future, only my present actions create the future effects.   Here are some other benefits I have seen:

  • Improved focus
  • Better sleep
  • Feeling more alive
  • Alertness (no longer walking around in a fog)
  • Improved stamina
  • Positive outlook

… and all sorts of other things that escape me right now.

Bottom line, if you are looking to get into Fitness, try out Crossfit.  If you think it is too much for you, go ahead and ride a hamster-mill at your commercial gym.  But whatever you do, do something!

 

Why Lifelong Learning is Important and Three Things You should Know

Never stop learning. Lifelong learning

Never stop learning – open your mind to new things continuously. Develop a habit of lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning is a way of living that I work to continue each year. It is one of three areas that I work on maintaining in my life. The other two are growing my fitness level and building a strong spiritual base.

When developing the theme of this blog, I wanted to focus in on the things that I am always trying to expand, my mind, my body, and my spirit. I learned of these three themes years ago as a child at the YMCA. My parents used to send me there in the summer for camp, where I made friends and learned new things. I have since moved on from my days as a camper at the “Y”, but these three principles remain with me.

One should always work to make sure that these three areas are always in balance. Unfortunately, it is easy to become unbalanced. Focusing entirely on learning and expanding the mind, while neglecting the spiritual aspects of our lives can be detrimental. Focusing in on becoming scholarly or entirely absorbed in learning our jobs, while neglecting our physical health is also not good.

Lifelong learning fosters your ability to perform in the workplace, at home and in society. It is a key trait that enables you to keep up with technological change, societal changes, and simply maintaining our ability to respond to different situations.

It is important that we keep learning and developing our intellect. Learning is important to our own growth.

“There is a very important and fundamental relation between learning and personality development. . . . The two interact in a “circular process.” Thus, mastery of symbol systems (letters, words, numbers), reasoning, judging, problem-solving, acquiring and organizing information and all such intellectual functions are fed by and feed into varied aspects of the personality—feelings about oneself, identity, potential for relatedness, autonomy, creativity, and integration.”Barbara Biber

For me it boils down to curiosity. I always want to know why something is.

But, what holds us back from lifelong learning? I believe that it is like most things – Fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of not being capable of grasping the knowledge, or even fear of finding out something that invalidates our current understanding.

I don’t know why, but I’ve never been afraid of learning. I’ve struggled in some areas, but I have never feared it. My struggles where often internal beliefs that I couldn’t grasp it. Okay, perhaps that is a fear, but that is not how I perceived it. I have always known that with enough time and effort, one could learn a topic. The struggle was learning it in a classroom environment, where there is fixed time. Sometimes my laziness got the best of me.

In the last few years I started studying Japanese. Again, language is an area where I thought that it would be a struggle. And it was, but not from a learning perspective. It was a time problem. Which I guess boils down to a priorities. And unfortunately with a full time job and a family, learning takes a lower priority. But the process of learning the language was fun and exciting. Especially when I could navigate my way around Japan not having to rely on English. I’m not that fluent, but I know know enough to get by.

I firmly believe that we should never stop learning. I feel that if we stop learning, then we stop expanding our life and then what is the point?

Three things you can do to foster lifelong learning

There are three things that I feel that we can do that will foster that life-long learning process.

  • Read
  • Teach
  • Do

I think that reading is the most fundamental skill in learning. We need to be able to read all sorts of different types of information. Reading to me is an escape. It allows me to find some other world. But the wonder of reading is that as you explore a new book, you are learning new things. Even in a spy novel, you learn about new places and the geography of where the plot takes place. And if you are diligent, you look these places up to further enhance the experience.

Reading is also a great way of simply expanding your understanding. Turn off the TV.  Get a paperback, grab your Kindle or whatever else you use and start reading.

The best way to learn something is to teach it. This is so true. If you want to excel at something, teach it.

When I wanted to learn Feng Shui, I was encouraged to teach by Master Larry Sang of the American Feng Shui Institute. I didn’t teach much, I just introduced one topic in a beginning class. But soon after, I was teaching the entire class and suddenly then I was teaching the entire curriculum.

And the interesting thing about teaching is that you have to be one step ahead. You need to learn the materials to be versed enough to explain it. So if you want to really learn something, teach it. Become a tutor, share the information with interested friends. Find ways of exporting the knowledge to someone else. That is how you become good at it.

Lastly, do whatever it is that you are trying to learn.  The best way to learn a language is to speak to a native.  The best way to learn a computer is to use one.   Do not be afraid of failing.  Be afraid of not trying it.

I approach the “doing” part of the learning process as “hacking”.  Yes, sort of like computer hacking, but since I’m a computer geek, I tend to relate things this way.   Take for example Japanese.  I approached it the same way I would learning HTML or some other computer language.   You learn the key concepts to put together a simple sentence.  Then you just keep working at it and trying new things until you have a larger grasp of the concept.

I know I’m not fluent, but I “hack” at a conversation.  I have fun with it.  I know that I am making a mess of what I am saying, but I am doing it and in doing, I become better.   I know that I referred to my son as my father.  But in that mistake I learned the correct way of saying things.

The same could be true of any concept you are trying to master.  Simply do it.  Yes, you will make mistakes.  No, you do not have to be afraid of failing.  Rather, enjoy the exploration. Learn to cook, make crappy dinners, but enjoy the process and in failing you will learn and you will cook amazing dishes. The good comes with the bad. Accept it and keep going.

Learn a new computer skill. Learn to garden. Whatever your hidden passion is, read about it. Teach others about it. And do it. You will become skilled quickly. You may not be a master, but you will know more than if you didn’t attempt it at all.

If you are willing to fall down a few times and get dirty, you will become even better for it. Remember that the journey is the fun part. Expand yourself and start learning something new. Your lifelong learning experience will be worth it.

Let me know your perspective on learning.  What makes it fun, what makes it hard? How do you focus on your lifelong learning process?

Five Steps to Improve your Communication Skills

Last night I witnessed something that got me self-reflecting.  I saw a blatant case of today’s detached society in action.  Here is my actual post from FB/Twitter:

“Just witnessed another sad LA way of living: 3 people having dinner together, all talking on the cell to someone else.”

How to build effective communication skills

Is this how you build effective communication?

I think it is sad that we have to live in a society that promotes this way of being.  I know I have been guilty of this myself.  Checking emails on the phone while sitting with someone; or, simply thinking of what I need to do once I am back at the computer, while trying to have a conversation with someone else.

Life is too fast and is getting more so.  We need to cope with a slew of sensory inputs and mental stimuli.   With so much going on externally and in your head, how can you improve your communication skills?  Here are some things that I focus on.

1. Communication skills start with clearing your head

Think about this: How many times are you with someone and not actually there?  I know that I catch myself a lot being with someone, but being somewhere else.  What I have learned from my readings of the GTD (Getting Things Done)methodology and from various other life lessons is that I have to get my head clear of distractions to truly focus.

Before you can be fully-there with someone, you need to make sure that all of the mental tasks are handled.  This does not mean that the tasks need to be complete, rather, you need to get all of the ideas bubbling around in your head down on paper, in a computer program, or added to a list somewhere.   David Allen, the founder of the GTD method, calls these “open loops”.   When you have open loops, your brain will continue to work on things, even subconsciously.  You need to clear your head by putting these open loops into something physically manifested, such as on a paper list, or in a software program that tracks tasks.

I myself use the second method.  I use a program called Nozbe to keep track of my open tasks.  I like it because I can group the tasks into projects and align them with contexts, such as things to do at the computer or errands to run.   I find that if I get as much as I can of what my mind is working on, down into this system, the more clear I am for conversations and actually doing things.

2. Check-in

Okay, so you have your mind clear, and you are out with someone.  You need to mentally check-in.  The tasks rattling around in your head may be gone, but your daydreaming still may exist.  So make a gargantuan effort here and actually focus on the person.  Look into their eyes.   Think about the words they are saying.

Learn something new about the person you are with.  Find out what makes them who they are.  You can only do this with focus.  If you are focused on your own thoughts, then you miss this opportunity to hear someone for who they really are.

3. Focus on listening

Put the cell phone away and put it on airplane mode.   Put away the Ipads, the Kindles, and any other distractions.  You are there to share a meal with someone or to have a meeting with someone.    Now is the time to listen.  It is so difficult to focus these days.  Make that little extra effort of focusing.

Shut your brain off for that few moments that they are speaking.   This seems like an impossible task – but do it!   I have for years had the bad habit of prepping an answer to their comment before they have finished the sentence.    Stop and think about what they are saying before answering.  Guess what, you might say something more intelligent than if you have just reacted to a mid-sentence thought.

I believe in cause and effect.  Causes are thoughts, words and actions.  If you are not careful with your thoughts, then your words will create a cause that may render and effect that is unpleasant.   So take a moment and listen.  This in itself is a cause and the effect is a better response.

4. Give feedback

After you have listened and formulated a thoughtful response in your mind, give a response that is worthy of the person you are with.   Why are you with them in the first place?  Obviously you have a shared interest or you have some reason for being there with them.  If so, you owe it to them to be responsive and provide a positive experience for them.

If they ask a question, give a thoughtful response.  Do not react.  Pause and think about what was said.  Then give a response.

5. Appreciate the other person

How important is that person you are with?  If you stop and appreciate (have gratitude) for that person in your heart, then you will see a shift in your lunch companion, or your friend with whom you are having a frappaccino or with your significant other.   It all boils down to gratitude and appreciation.   If you have gratitude in your heart for that person, then your conversation will change and you will see a response that reflects that appreciation.

Here is a question to ask yourself.  Do you give positive energy out or do you suck energy from others?   Criticism done wrong really sucks the life out of a person.   Negativity also sucks energy.   Think about how you can give energy to the other person.  A small – sincere – compliment or giving acknowledgement for what they mean to you works well.  Even, a passing comment on how proud you are of them for something or acknowleging something they did well provides the other person with a little boost.

I’m not talking about saying something to say it.  I’m saying that you need to be authentic and provide something positive and of value to the other person.  Remember it is not about you.  Get your ego out of the way of a real conversation.

I want to make it clear that I am guilty of not following these five steps, probably more than I would like to admit.  I have become aware of these things through reading, various courses I’ve attended, and through my own focus on developing myself.   I constantly have to remember to do these things, but after a while, you start to do these more and more without thinking about it.  It is a habit that must be built.  But in time you can build it and the effect is better relationships and improved communication.  I think its worth it.  What do you think?

 

Welcome to the new and revised ChrisShaul.com

The old site chrisshaul.com was essentially a bunch of re-hashed rss feeds from my other sites.  As such, I am going to re-start chrisshaul.com and put some blogging effort into this site to make it interesting and worthwhile of your time.

I will be blogging on various topics, including:

  • Explore:  How to enhance our humanity and spirit
  • Learn:  How to expand our Minds
  • Grow: Discover how to be fitter and healthier
As this is a new direction, I’m not entirely sure where it will go, but it is my goal that all the articles here will be engaging, thought provoking, inspiring and in some way motivate people to do or be something a little different than where they are now.   Please join me in this exploration.  Follow me on Twitter or Google+ or Facebook.
If you like the posts, please do just that, “like” the posts.