"At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want."
- Lao Tzu
Why I Blog And Why Should You Care

June 5, 2009

Breaking rules (and a special offer at the end)

So here's the deal, I've been busting my ass for the last 6 weeks. The day job is killing me and I've been working non-stop on (one of) my businesses. Family time has been far and few in between so any opportunity we had available to spend together, we did.

I haven't made a blog post in a month since I really had nothing good to say/write.

I've been doing a lot of self-evaluation as of late - I've been a little too hard on myself in terms of expectations and achieving goals. I was so caught up with being results oriented and thinking big that I've neglected to pat myself on the back for the little successes that's come along the way.

I had a bit of a breakdown one evening where nothing I did up to that point made sense and I wasn't getting the results that I thought I should have. It was only after I had calmed down and stopped criticizing my work and efforts that a sense of clarity all of a sudden came to me. I saw myself on the outside - all the hours I've worked after getting home from the day job, how far I've come along with the business in such a short amount of time, how much research I've done already, how much more info I know now than I did 5 weeks ago - and I realized that I've already succeeded...

Achievement is acknowledging that the small victories are the stepping stones to your main goals. By not recognizing that you've won a small battle, you're depriving yourself of the joys of undertaking a new venture.

So pat yourself on the back, have a beer, have a cigar, take the day off, do nothing, watch Clint Eastwood films all day long, miss a blog post, don't Twitter, eat your dessert first, its ok - job well done!

My adventure in restructuring my life continues.

I have made significant breakthroughs in this department. I have been digesting a lot of self-improvement. productivity and finance books/blogs/articles as of late and one of the main problems with these is that one size does not fit all.

What I mean by that is that someone else's methodology will not exactly mesh wih your own - it's not as if everyone's life is just this cookie cutter model that can be applied to person A, person B and person C.

So if you're just a regular joe/jane that knows nothing about the subject and you decided that oh I don't know...you want to live a richer life, you want to get out of debt, you want to make more money, you want to start a business, you want to be location independent then it gets to be a tad overwhelming.

So here's a few things I've learned. Read it, take what you get out of it and apply it to your own kick-ass life. (These can be applied to anything from blogging to cooking to starting a business to life.)

Follow no formula. Create your own.
Case in point: I tried to put up a schedule to the right of this screen for my blog posts. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I know that a lot of other bloggers have done this as well. It's mostly for me (to keep myself organized) but also for those who happen to stumble upon my little blog and wanted to have a look-see.

Not only did I not keep the schedule due to various reasons, I felt forced to write about certain things on certain days which is definitely doable but too restricting.

I like to write because I have something that I want to say - and it doesn't even have to be important, it could be trivial. I have a couple of notebooks that I carry around where I've written about cooking, marketing, business ideas, funny jokes, stuff that annoys me, books I'm reading, music I listen to...I'd really like this blog to be more personal and transparent. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to post nonsensical entries - I don't want to contribute to noise. There's enough useless info out there.

So I had to create a system that works for me, something not so structured since my life doesn't blend well with a very rigid schedule I had to create my own formula that seamlessly blends with MY lifestyle.

Figure out what your values are and build upon that.
This part is self-explanatory as well as critical since this essentially drives everything else that you do: where you live, how you live, who you choose to spend your time with, the things you spend money on and the things you don't, how you work, the kind of work you'll want to do versus the kind of job you hold, what you do with your free time, the type of adventures you seek, etc.

Think Big
Thinking big means no restrictions, no excuses, and no fear. If you've been wanting to start a business just go for it. Don't say "well I don't have any time and I don't have enough capital to start it", that's BS. If you've been wanting to travel then start planning it right now. Figure out where you want to go and how much it'll cost you then do the math. Make it happen.

Your job can enslave you if you don't take charge of your money.
Routines with work can be pretty evil. It's so easy to get so comfortable that you don't ever want to explore anything else beyond what you already have. If you're just working to pay bills the guess what? It's time to reassess you situation.

If you work 40 hours a week for 40 years (minus the 2 weeks vacation per year), you're still looking at 80000 hours that you spend clocked in working for someone else. Now I know a lot of people are perfectly happy with their jobs and that's fine. But there's a lot of people who are not and there's this false sense of security involved. Your livelihood depends on people that you probably will never even get to know or meet. If they decide that they have to cut back in order to stay afloat, then what next? So you really have to take action and see what else is out there while you're still employed.

I like my job but it's there to pay bills and it allows me to work on my business without worrying about necessities of life.

Speaking of I've signed up for Mint and it's been the best financial tool I've used so far. It's been a lot easier tracking down my expenses and it's free to boot.

It's up to you to decide how much your time is worth.
Are you willing to trade off time to drive around a car that you really don't need?
To live in a house that's entirely too big?
To buy designer clothes at full price?
To buy crap that clutters your home and serves you no purpose?


Where this blog is going:
I'm not really sure but I'm having fun with it. I noticed a spike of new visitors even with the lack of updates. For all of you lurkers out there please add this blog to your RSS feed and leave comments and send me e-mail. I love interacting with people.

But here's an offer to those who want it.

So here's the low-down on one of my businesses.
I've been slowly gaining clients off and on the internet. Part of the services I offer is consulting and I'm trying to see if I can help out those who have always wanted to start their own business as a sole proprietor but don't really know how to get started and how to go about it and what tools to use and so forth.

Normally my rate is $97/hour (remote session), but for anyone who approaches me through this blog or is referred by someone who happens to read my blog then just leave a comment, let me know if you or someone you know can use my help. I'll put you on my list and I'll give you a RIDICULOUS discount. I'd really love to help people out to either make money on the side to supplement their income or to start something that will eventually become their main source of income.

So leave me a message here so we can chat soon.

May 4, 2009

Don't Forget To Fly

Image by/from: http://organiques.deviantart.com/art/DFTF-96465106

When You Lighten Your Load That's When You Take Off
I've had an amazingly productive weekend. When given a chance to sit down and actually work - and I mean meaningful work that I'm really passionate about and most important of all something that I can claim ownership to, not the type that is cog-like and mechanical, - I can accomplish a lot. I'm hard at work at launching the business which should be sometime this week. Product development is also underway. It was a perfect wrap up for the week, Wednesday was my SOs birthday and we both took the time off to go have a day of dining out and chillaxing.

I'm stoked and feeling all sorts of positive buzz about the launch but it hasn't been an easy road...

The ongoing battle with entrepreneurial ADD
For a while there I was experiencing a bit of entrepreneurial ADD - at one point I was working on 7 blogs with 2 more in development plus launching 1 main business. I toss and turn at night since ideas don't turn off just because it's 2am and I have to be at work in a few hours. Something's gotta give and it wasn't me. So I've narrowed it down to 1 main business, 1 main hobby blog turned money blog and then I have this blog which is more of a social platform I suppose (it brings me no income for now but documents my "life restructuring process"). So really it's down to 2.

It's really challenging to choose from a whole slew of projects that I've already researched and started (they're all my babies) but it was necessary to trim it down.

How I determined which ones I was going to focus for now had to meet the ff. criteria:
  • It had to be something I had a deep interest and curiosity in
  • It had to have a lot of fun factor (this is a big one, as I still have a pretty stressful day job to maintain and it was important that there was an element of fun in my main ventures)
  • It had to have the best chances of income potential (to be fair, all my projects had a good income potential otherwise I would not have chosen them but these 2 based on market testing and research are definitely up in the top 3)
  • It had to be something that my significant other can be involved with development-wise (sharing is caring!)

I know I've made the right decision because I'm starting to tell friends and family about it and the more I do so the more I get revved up about them. I find myself babbling and gushing about it.

I haven't abandoned the rest of my projects, they're just currently benched. They will be there when I'm ready for them.

Low-info diet
I've been applying this (from the 4 hour work week) to my e-mail and RSS subscriptions. I'm not quite there yet but I'm making progress. It's helping keep my focus on my present ventures by keeping and gathering only what's directly related to my current pursuits


As an aside I've been discovering a lot of kick-ass blogs all over the web and I've been meaning to take a few minutes and leave a comment/chat a bit so I hope to make a shout out post to some of my favorites here soon.

Hey you, yeah you there, the one reading this: If you liked/loved this post (or even just mildly tolerate it) could you kindly subscribe to it, stumble it, digg it, tweet it, link to it, puree and make a power smoothie out of it and share it with the rest of the internets please. Thanks a bunch. You rock.

April 27, 2009

Be Better Than You Were Yesterday

Image by SukiSuki

First things first, a couple of changes around here.

#1 - I've got a sexy new masthead up top - I put it together myself in less than 15 minutes using one of my favorite pictures and a bit of Photoshop.

(BTW: I actually used my home office as I said I would from the previous post. )

#2 - This blog is now ad free baby!. I was thinking about this the other night - I have a handful of sites/blogs that I run which have ads in them, this blog is more of a personal one and I feel that it somehow cheapens what I'm trying to accomplish by randomly selling other people's stuff. Don't get me wrong - It's not that I will never put any ads on this page again but if I were to include them, it's to promote items that I really feel will benefit others with similar pursuits as I do.

Now that all of that is out of the way let's move on shall we?

It's Monday, and I usually jabber on about work-related stuff, today not excluded.

I've never worked so hard in the last week - My day job work hours have been brutally long and draining. I come home, eat a late supper, spend a bit of time with the family and off to bed. I'm lucky if I have the energy to check emails and work on my business. So I really have to maximize every free time available into my "project".

Regardless, I think I've made some really good progress. I just know the way I work, I can be really intense and want to put everything I have into something and I like to see results. I can be really overcritical on myself since I tend to be a perfectionist.

The good thing is that I came into a realization the other day: every single task accomplished no matter how small is a contribution to the bigger picture.

(I know, it's so ridiculously simple but so easy to forget)

Today I have one particular task that I will finish in 2 hours. That is the deadline I'm giving myself. 2 hours - no distractions, no breaks, no excuses.

Because after that it's time for other things. Non-business type things. Things that keep me grounded and sane. I constantly have to remind myself of the whole work/life balance too. You can add workaholic to my list of issues to cope with.

Be Better Than You Were Yesterday
My blog post title has been my personal mantra for the last week. Always strive to be better. Whatever that means to you. Give it your own definition. It's your life after all, you can do anything you want with it just don't waste it.

"Hello, I'm Your Muse, Why Have You Been Ignoring Me?"
There's a storm coming...
It's dark and gloomy outside, severe thunderstorm warnings with heavy winds.
But I love it when it rains.

Sometimes when you're working on something you're really passionate and excited about you try so hard to shape and mold it into what you originally envisioned in your head. When I use to make a living drawing and designing stuff for other people I would often get lost in that zone where the intensity of it all makes you forget, before I knew it I was running on autopilot. That happens for a few hours then I pull back from the work itself and see the end product. And it came to me that this thing I'm working on has taken a life of its own along the way and was just helping me get it down on paper. At best that's what I loved about the visual arts.

Well, with my current business pursuit the same is starting to happen again. No matter how much I'd fight it, this idea would keep coming up. I have other ideas that seem like better options at the time but this particular one had a way of making a reappearance. Before you know it I'm building upon that idea and expanding on it. So rather than fight it I'm going with the flow.

(A lot of topics covered in today's post, that should give you an idea of what goes on in my head most of the day. )

So there you go, go do something amazingly awesome today.
Hey you, yeah you there, the one reading this: If you liked/loved this post (or even just mildly tolerate it) could you kindly subscribe to it, stumble it, digg it, tweet it, link to it, puree and make a power smoothee out of it and share it with the rest of the internets please. Thanks a bunch. You rock.

April 20, 2009

Wasted space: home office

So today I'm gonna be chatting about wasted space. I think everyone's got one in their home.

I do.

I've got a home office upstairs - it was well-used at one point. Now I'm hardly ever in there to do work. I'm usually downstairs with the laptop sitting at the kitchen table. I used to pretty much live in that hole back in my freelance illustrator days. Now it's a place for the kids to hang out cos I've got a game table in there and an entertainment system, not to mention some autographed collectibles (movie paraphernalia, action figures - no wonder they misconstrue it as a "game room"). It's a total shame I don't hang out there more often to write or to just chill out and brainstorm ideas. I mean it's got a kick-ass view and everything. Aside from a few boxes of clutter it's a great work space. I've done a ridiculously large amount of work there so why not now? I have no frakking clue.

So no excuses, I gotta get back on that workhorse...

  1. I need to keep it tidy. I'm a bit of neat freak so any visible clutter creates a mental clutter for me. Right now its not too bad, just a little dusty, aside from a couple of boxes that need to be thrown out it's good to go.
  2. Set aside time for work. I already do this anyway for my business no matter how tired I am so it shouldn't be difficult, I just need to move my location to the actual home office space AKA "the lair".
  3. Inspire yourself. I keep stuff on display that keep me inspired and get the creative juices flowing. I do need to improve on this further. I don't have enough photos of my family in my office (not intentional of course), that needs to change. I've also designed something in photoshop - nothing fancy, it contains my life goals, I need to frame that up as a reminder to keep pushing forward.
  4. Set up an outdoor extension of my office. This is a big plus - I have a door that leads to an outdoor deck right outside of my lair- great view, quiet, you can see for miles, definitely inspiring. I'll have to get in the habit of working there too.
  5. I need a better work chair. The one I have is terrible for the back. Not comfy at all.

That's a start at least. As I've mentioned in previous post, I'm slowly working on the house one section at a time. We've amassed tons of stuff from combining households and we're slowly paring things down. We've donated a lot, sold a few and there's quite a bit more to go.

I'm taking the rest of the day off and catch up on my reading and writing. Take it easy.

Image from: freedigitalphotos


Hey you, yeah you there, the one reading this: If you liked/loved this post (or even just mildly tolerate it) could you kindly subscribe to it, stumble it, digg it, tweet it, link to it, puree and make a power smoothee out of it and share it with the rest of the internets please. Thanks a bunch. You rock.

April 17, 2009

The Week, The Biz, The Blog

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

The Week:

It's Friday and I usually post about frugality and all that good stuff but I simply don't feel like writing about that so there. It hasn't been the most frugal of weeks anyway. We saved some and spent some. We ate out several times this week since our work schedules were just as hectic as can be. I'm not about to go home and cook a meal after working a 12-14 hour shift, and I certainly don't expect my dear spouse to do the same so it was better to go eat out and try to spend some time together that way. We had a meal at our favorite local 24 hour diner one night and the next day we ate at an Italian restaurant.

We also had our little puppy spayed this week but didn't have to pay for the procedure: it's part of the perks of having a partner-in-crime who works for the animal care industry. That saved us approx. $300

I've caught up on all the Hell's Kitchen episodes I've missed and I got to watch last night's ep. so I'm stoked. (I'm a nerd for that show). Speaking of nerds, we still have to catch up on our Heroes episodes though. I've missed the last few weeks. That's as much TV as we watch these days, we have a long queue list on Netflix for "instant play" movies, which we usually watch on our movie date nights.

The Biz:
Aside from the day job I've been dedicating lots of time into working on my business - it's been good so far but there's aspects of it that needs fine tuning. It's definitely still in its baby stages but the things I've implemented so far has been working out. I definitely feel like I'm going the right direction on this so I'm pleased overall.

My partner's business has grown exponentially since it was started a few years back. I'm helping her on her site, promotion and marketing in preparation for a relaunch (I haven't been able to give as much behind the scenes support this year) - she's also refining her business structure and model, she's had her share of clients that she can do without and I feel for her - she works so hard and genuinely wants to help people out but she's been burnt more than once.

The Blog:
I have many projects scattered about on the internet. Some sites I make extra money on and some are still too new but certainly have potential. This is my personal blog just to document everything that's going on. It's mostly for myself but I love making connections with people so the more the merrier.

The scheduled post to the right is a rough guide for me to keep myself on track but I find that often times I just want to write because I have this idea or something I just read or heard just made a significant impression on me. So expect more random posts around here. I'm also putting together a proper masthead for the top of this blog. I refuse to get over-complicated with the design and layout (I tend to do that having a background in technology and design). All that tedious work just takes away from the purpose of this blog which is to document my progress on "MY lifestyle design" and focus on writing and connecting with people.

I feel like I'm leaving a lot of things out right now but I'm typing this as fast as my fingers would go while the brain is going 5 times as fast, I'm sure I'll revisit this subject in the near future but that's all I've got for now.

Hey you, yeah you there, the one reading this:
If you liked/loved this post (or even just mildly tolerate it) could you kindly stumble it, digg it, tweet it, link to it, puree and make a power smoothee out of it and share it with the rest of the internets please. Thanks a bunch. You rock.

April 10, 2009

Solar powered anything is sexy

Another long work week gone. There were a few days this week where the weather was absolutely gorgeous during the day and at night we've had unbelievably clear evenings where the moon just seemed 3 times as large and 5 times as close and all the stars were twice as bright.

Gorgeous days and vivid nights: and what was I doing during? Inside a building working.

Regardless, I am thankful for all that I have. But I'm working on something bigger.
I have a couple of days off so I'm using it to my advantage by getting as much done as possible on my to-do list. I'm dedicating a significant amount of that time to work on my side projects.

Speaking of projects, we've been working on significantly reducing the amount of electricity we use around our little lake house. It's that time of the year where I go full-force on home improvement/home repairs.

But anyway, last fall I installed a storm door. This was my first major DIY effort and I'm pretty proud of it. We shopped around for one that had the sliding glass that we could open or shut. Between that and our sliding glass door (with a second screen door) by the dining area we're able to have a pretty good air flow in the main living area of the first floor.

Our winters here aren't that bad but heating bills can definitely add up. We have a pretty drafty older home with floor to ceiling windows in certain areas so we put up heavy paneled curtains to keep some of the draft away.

Our outdoor lighting is solar powered. We have a modest sized yard and a decent sized patio so I've set up the light to mainly focus on our outdoor living area. The deck is the main focus and the stairs leading to the yard is second. We have the standard solar powered stakes for our landscaping. We have a couple of solar spotlights to highlight certain areas. (I didn't spend a lot of money for any of these either)

A couple of things I'll be getting soon:
A solar powered lantern that I can either hang or mount for the front door entryway area.
A solar powered decorative lights for the deck.

Were also big on candles around here. We have tons of candles and candle sets. We received a couple of candle sets for Christmas (the ones that come with stones and sets up in a big bowl type stand). We have one on the patio table and one on the outdoor bar. And that's just on the outside! It definitely adds a more soothing and zen-like ambience.

We have a covered deck (not fully enclosed) so during the summers it gets pretty toasty. We've added some larger potted plants in the mix and a shoji-type screen for outdoors to help shield us from the sun.

So some ways to save money at home:
  1. Install storm doors.
  2. Go solar.
  3. Use candles (candles are sexy)
  4. Use plants and screens (not just a decorative element)
Of course I've done the other energy saving basics such as:
  1. Use CFL bulbs
  2. Use power strips for appliances - easier to turn everything off and unplug because electronics and appliances continue to eat up electricity even when turned off
  3. Use washer/dryer efficiently - I do my laundry in big batches one right after another instead of doing a little now and a little later.
I track my carbon footprint over at EarthLab. I'm not obsessed with it but I do make an effort. You can sign up for a free account and it helps you calculate your carbon footprint and make pledges to reduce it.

I just read this story about a guy who made a solar powered oven for $5

I'm outta here guys, I've got lotsa stuff to do!

April 6, 2009

Productivity Tip Of The Day: Do Nothing

I'm sitting here trying to figure out what to write...my mind is drifting off 10 other directions and my body feels as if I have been beaten down during my sleep. I've worked at the day job the last 4 days. I vaguely remember having a day off midweek last week, it went by so fast. I've felt this kind of bogged down feeling before: the seedlings of burn-out.

As I have my morning coffee and try to enjoy my quiet time for writing, my mobile phone rings - it's work trying to see if I can cover for someone. That was an easy decision.

As craptastic as I feel this morning I continue work with my "side projects". It's not really work to me because I enjoy writing. I always make time for writing and I'm a notorious note taker and a doodler. I usually have a notepad or notebook with me wherever I go.

I just finished an article I started last night and now I'm working on Monday's blog post. Since I usually cover work-related topics on Monday I figured the topic of burning out is a good one to work on today. The last time I experienced burn out was almost 2 years ago. I experienced fatigue, depression, had a short temper and became completely unmotivated to do anything. Once I got out of that funk I was determined to never have to go through that ordeal again. So when the first signs of it crop up I'm quick to nip it in the bud.

Things to do when you start experiencing mini-burn out symptoms:
  1. Do Nothing. This is my favorite one out of the list just because it's so simple yet difficult for me because I'm a workaholic and I feel guilty if I do nothing, but it works. Just take a day off. Don't do any chores, don't run any errands. Be a lazy slug all day,you've earned it. Stay in your PJs and watch movies (or in my case catch up on Dr. Who episodes and play Guitar Hero). It's ok to veg out, really.
  2. Take A Nap. Sometimes you feel like utter crud because your body is telling you that it needs more rest. I personally love naps so any excuse to take one is good. My mom used to always tell me that "your body is your temple", it's difficult to live a balanced life when you neglect your own needs.
  3. Read a book. Catch up on reading that pile of books stacked up on your coffee table. It's a healthy form of escapism.
  4. Take A Walk. It's always a good way to fit in exercise and it also clears my head.
  5. Blog About It. Sometimes it helps to get it off your chest. Once you see it written down you acknowledge that it's there. You don't try to make excuses about how you're not burning out, you're just tired.
  6. Plan On Taking A Vacation Soon. If you have time-off available go ahead and start planning a vacation date. Don't wait until the symptoms get worse to take action.
So there. Screw productivity for once and just do nothing. This is the short list of what works for me. Feel free to leave comments about how you cope with mini burn outs.

April 4, 2009

My Older House Can Beat Up Your Brand New House

Check out my million dollar home! It has a great view of the lake, I have no yard, it looks just like the neighbor's house and speaking of neighbors I can see him lounging around with no shirt on...Isn't this great?!

I was scanning the local newspaper (more like a newsletter actually) this morning and read an article about how home builders have seen more business than usual in this area in particular. Within the 2 years that we've been here we've certainly seen a lot of development with brand new and overpriced homes. The price range is usually half a million and up. When I drive past some of these homes on my way to work every morning I wonder if theses people know that they're getting suckered. Most of the houses are 10 paces away from each other. You are literally on top of your neighbor.

In the meantime there's a lot of already existing homes for sale around here for 1/3 and 1/4 of the price. Maybe it's just me, but I don't get why someone would spend so much on something that doesn't even have ample land for privacy. Plus there's something about older houses - maybe the charm, the history of it, the way it already has a story and you're adding on to it. Older homes tend to be not made of the cookie cutter models either.

Another thing I gripe about in terms of home ownership is the actual size of houses being built. I understand having large families, I come from one. Still, is all that square footage really necessary? How much of that house will actually be used? We have an 1800 square foot home and it's plenty of space for our family. Sometimes it even seems too much. We do have plans of getting some acreage (5-10 at least acres ) in a few years maybe with an old house that we can work on while we use the current one as a vacation home and a rental when we're not using it (we get a lot of vacationers here). I think those sustainable prefab homes are pretty awesome.

A couple of articles related to the topic:
Home Prices Falling
National Average Home Size Decreasing

April 1, 2009

All Fired Up: Focus, Mind Mapping and Obsession

M.I.A. for the last few days
I've been a baaad, baaad blogger. I've missed a couple of scheduled posts. This is what happens when you enjoy life too much. We had the kids this weekend and made the most of it. It was a blast. I grilled some steaks and we had a family dinner. Played a little bit of Wizardology: The Game (totally addicting by the way and has beautiful game pieces). Definitely good times. Exhausting due to the travel back and forth but it was fun.

So by the time I've had a couple of hours of free time to work on my side projects my mind was buzzing and pulling me in all sorts of directions. I've been almost obsessed with these projects of mine, and I'm definitely stoked about the entire process. Especially when I know I can make it work and when it does (not "if" but "when"), this means I'll have more time to spend with my family. Time to do a little more traveling. Time to start painting again. Time to take up photography. Time to write. Time to help out others.

Focus and Mind Mapping
It was around 10pm 2 nights ago that I was trying to play catch up and it got a little bit overwhelming - the ideas just would not stop. I definitely lacked focus. I finally had to get up and walk away and reevaluate what it is I'm trying to accomplish. I decided to try out a mind mapping tool. I found several that looked like something that I'd be able to utilize but I found one in particular that I like.

It's free and easy to use. You can embed it on your site/blog and you can even print it out. The one thing that made me chose this app in particular is that it's quite visual. The others I've found seemed little dull. After awhile it just looked like a bunch of random text on a page. This mind mapper is color coded. And best of all it's SIMPLE.

I'm currently using this to organize my thoughts on how to better run my projects. This way I can cut down on time spent with each (I have about 3-4 right now). This should definitely improve my productivity level.

I'm a workaholic. There I said it. I've become quite a good employee at the day job. Recently I've qualified to receive bonuses based on my performance. I'd like to keep this up since it means extra money for savings which definitely helps. I'm also a workaholic with my own business endeavours AKA my projects. Actually, obsessive is a better adjective. I think it's an important component to being a self-starter. Especially when all you have is your own motivation to get you through the early stages. When you just worked a long shift and you get home and all you want to do is catch up on sleep because you have to do it all over again the next day - obsession and passion enables you to dedicate just an hour or two on that special project of yours. Because you know that those 2 hours brings you a little closer to attaining your goals. At the end of the day you are physically and mentally exhausted, yet excited about what you can get done and the new things you can learn tomorrow.

It's your turn:
How do you get yourself to focus on one thing?
Favorite productivity tools (mind mapping and other)?
What is your obsession?

March 25, 2009

I Heart iGoogle: simplify your online experience with iGoogle

No, I'm not getting paid to post this.

Like with everything else it's easy to have e-clutter. You know, tons of bookmarks, RSS feeds, e-mail, social networking sites. I've been guilty of this for years. I was spending too much time online when all I really wanted to accomplish was a few targeted tasks.

So I started looking around for landing pages - I've tried a couple that I liked for a bit but it just had too many features and options. It just ended up being cluttered. It was defeating the purpose.

First thing I did was delete my social networking accounts including MySpace and Facebook. Then I got rid of old unused bookmarks.
I whittled down my RSS feeds to the ones I read regularly.
I started the process of cleaning my e-mail account (this one's a real doozie).

Then I gave iGoogle a shot.The modules I currently have on it are:
  • Gmail (I can check and send mail directly from here.
  • My feed reader: All my RSS feeds can be viewed here as well
  • Google notebook: for jotting down ideas
  • Google Bookmarks
  • A couple of newsfeeds from NPR and CNN
  • Youtube (I can search and watch videos without leaving iGoogle)
  • a clock (I like to keep track of how much time I'm spending online)
  • and a Sticky Note (I put my daily online to do list on here and delete it as I go)
So using the tools I've mentioned above, I've been able to streamline my online activities. The good thing about this is that you can fully customize it to your own needs. So you don't necessarily have to have the same tools I have, just figure out what's best for your setup.

Related article from NPR that may be of interest to you if you like this post: E-Fatigue

March 23, 2009

Be your own boss (while you're still employed)

I've always wanted to do my own thing. And I did just that for some time. Then came the burn-out. I was left with close to nothing. Almost lost the house, the car, my sanity.

Enter day job. It was outside my field but it literally saved my ass. It was a very humbling experience overall that whole ordeal. I'm still employed at that very same job and I'm very fortunate (it provides me with full benefits). It gives my life structure and stability. I never knew I could be such a great worker bee. But that is when I decided I would never again be put in that same situation.

But the longing to start something that is mine and mine alone is still there. My dad did the same thing when he was younger, worked for a company for years then started to do his own thing while he was still employed full-time. My partner-in-crime has been juggling a full-time job and a small business as well and has been very successful with it. It's been growing in leaps and bounds.

I can't say that it's been easy trying to juggle a full-time job and starting a business but the longer I do it the easier it becomes. I'm trying out the method that I've read from the 4 Hour work week and testing it out. The low-information diet, getting rid of distractions. It's been working out quite well so far, although there's always room for improvement. (As I'm writing this, my work called me again asking if I could come in - I said no, I keep picturing a scene from Office Space for some reason).

As far as low-information diet goes: I've cleaned out my bookmarked sites and RSS feeds to those related to what I'm currently working on.Even then I pretty much scan pages for anything that is really of interest.
Get rid of distractions: I screen my phone calls (unless it's my immediate family), I only check my e-mail once a day.

The benefits of starting a business while you're currently employed:

  1. Stable income - you don't have to worry about dwindling funds while you're working on your dream.
  2. Free on-the-job training - a day job provides you with a structured way of doing things. You're currently on the inside which means you can see what works and what doesn't work for your employer. You can take that principle and apply it to your own ventures.
  3. It teaches you to value the time you have - Since you don't have as much free time to work on your business ideas/ventures, you learn how to maximize the available time you do get.
  4. It keeps your mind alert - Chances are, whatever type of business you're trying to start (brick and mortar/online), you're having to do a bunch of research in that field. There's a lot of reading, testing, writing, and some more testing.
  5. It helps determine if you're in it for the long haul - all the work and effort you'll be putting into your labor of love will show if you're really passionate about what you're doing. If the thought of working for yourself still excites you even after the long work hours, and (at first) no money to show for your efforts, then you may have a genuine thing going.

So if you want to eventually be our own boss, the best time to do it is when you are already employed. Just make sure that you're keeping a proper balance between the two. You don't want your performance at your day job to suffer since you stayed up all night working on your e-commerce site or something.

March 21, 2009

Weekend edition #1: Be a Proactive Dreamer

I've had a very long and exhausting work week (and I was quite ill for most of it)and have missed my scheduled posts but I'm kinda making up for it with my first weekend post.

So what did I do on my first day off? I worked some more! But this is the kind of work I really enjoy doing. Besides work on the house for a couple of hours I was working on my "other job". Without going into details I'll just call it my online ventures. There's nothing like working on something you're really passionate about. My goal is to free myself from he confines of a traditional day job and work from pretty much anywhere I want. I've done it before successfully so I know that it's attainable. It's just a matter of getting back to it and doing it for the right reasons this time around.

How I proactively day dream

I've been meditating at least 30 minute a day for the last 2 weeks and during those times when I've tried to clear my head of any thoughts and worries and just focused on my breathing and relaxing my body, I would actually end up in a day dreaming type of trance. I would visualize my goals and the things I want to accomplish - thoughts of endless family time and travel, eating different types of food, laying about and enjoying nature, not doing much of anything, painting and photography...

then I would come out of my meditation, and write free-style in my notebook, usually in list format, the things I would need to do to realize my "day dreams". By lists, I would usually break it down to short-term and long-term.

I would make a weekly to-do list and further break it down to a daily list. As I've mentioned on a previous post, I carve out a time every day to do something (ACTION) that would bring me a step closer to one of my goals. So as far as daily goals go, I've met mine today and I think that I've even exceeded it.

I tend to be obsessive with my interests and easily can get carried away with my projects so I have to assign myself a time frame to work. Personal time and rewarding myself for my efforts is important and it allows me to stay motivated. So far so good.

My SO (significant other) just got home and we have a movie night ahead of us. We've also decided to just snack on a bunch of stuff instead of eating a big meal. So we have some leftovers, finger food, chips, and home made apple pie to chow down. Life is good.

Have a good evening and enjoy the rest of your weekend folks!

March 16, 2009

Create the time for your passions and interests

I survived working the weekend while fighting off a nasty virus. It's times like these that I miss working from home as a freelancer. It definitely had it's good points. Now I spend part of my days off working on side projects that bring in additional income to the household. The trick is to create the time for it. I can easily get swamped with day-to-day tasks but I make sure to set aside 2-4 hours dedicated solely to my "other job". Depending on my SO (significant other's) work schedule this can be very early in the morning or late at night. It's important to spend time with each other whenever we can since some weeks we have conflicting schedules. I've become an early riser since being back to a regular day job so I usually get any chores done first thing in he morning.

The most important tools I use to get things done:
  1. Dry erase boards - we have a total of 3. One on the fridge, and a couple in each of our home office areas. The one on the fridge is where I list out what I intend on getting done within that day. Don't try to tackle the world in a day, stay realistic with your daily goals.
  2. Clocks/Timer - We pretty much have a clock in every room in the house so I stay aware of how much time I've spent on a particular task.

Once the day's to-do list is done, I usually make a fresh pot of coffee, turn the Skype to do not disturb status, pull up live365 radio on my desktop set to swing and big band music and get to work. I have a business journal that I keep since I'm a big note-taker, I'm constantly jotting things down.

This pretty much breaks down the 4 hours I spend:
  1. Check e-mail - usually takes less than 10 minutes.
  2. Read RSS feeds (news and blogs)- I jot down anything of interest to me - usually lasts around 15 minutes
  3. Research - anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour
  4. Tweaking tech stuff (this is when I futz around with design or a bit of code) - I try to limit this to 30-45 minutes
  5. Writing - I spend the remainder of my allotted time writing, sometimes I do this offline, there's nothing like writing in a journal or just a cheap old composition notebook.
There have been times where I've had to readjust this schedule and break it down into segments. Like working for 2 hours and getting back to it with the last 2 ours later on. I do prefer an uninterrupted 4 hour span though it proves to be more productive when you're focused on only one task.

On days that I have to work, the time spent with the tasks above is reduced to 1-2 hours. I leave out #3 and #4 and limit the time on #1 and #2.

I've gotten in a good groove with this schedule so this is what works for me at the moment. So what do you do to manage your time when it comes to hobbies/freelancing/other pursuits?

I wrote this after reading this article about making the recession work for you. Maybe it's the tone of the author but I have to disagree with the article. He just made it sound like you can just quit your job and do whatever it is that you've always wanted. Not everyone has the luxury of being padded enough to just shoot for the stars. Most of us have family obligations, people that count on us.

I understand sometimes it takes something bad to happen for people to really think about their lives and to take action, which is great - they can then use the experience to propel themselves into transitioning into the life they really want. This is in essence what I'm doing right now. I was doing what I loved and it made me miserable. Yes, I know, it doesn't make sense - it'll take another blog post to elaborate and I just might write about it. Now I'm/we're in the process of crawling out of that hole and I'm using this blog to keep my thoughts sorted out. So far we're doing alright but we can be doing a lot better (and I'm not just talking financially here).

I'm satisfied with my life but I'm restructuring it in a way that will allow me to get even more out of life. That partly explains my blog title and tag line. This is my life restructured, lifestyle design for the regular Joe/Jane.

March 13, 2009

Cut your grocery bills in half

So it's Friday and I'm home early from work. It's been a gloomy, rainy day and its Friday the 13th. Perfect napping weather. Which I'm about to do by the way since I'm fighting a nasty flu and I have to be at work this weekend. I would usually be cooking dinner right now ( I love to cook) but I need to get some rest.

I've been thinking about what we've done around the house to cut corners and keep our wallets padded, just brainstorming for blog posts. For a few months now we've been members of Costco. We decided to join during that time last year when gas prices went up to $3.50/gallon or more. We live in the out skirts of town where we have a small grocery. While the place is alright to get the occasional milk or eggs the prices are a little high for my taste so we like to make the trip to the next town over where the larger chain supermarket has better deals. But even then the grocery tab was adding up. We decided to pay the $50 fee and give Costco a shot. It was either Costco or Sam's club. We figured we would try one for a year and if we're unhappy with it we'll switch on over to the other one and give them a try.

I don't have the numbers to show you today but I can tell you that we have saved a great deal of money by joining a warehouse club. Just a little warning though, it's easy to end up with a basket full of stuff you didn't have in your list to begin with so as long as you have a list and stick to it, all is well.

The following is a sample list for a trip to Costco for my household.

  • Bottled water
  • Orange Juice
  • Milk (we usually get 2 jugs)
  • eggs (we also get 2 cartons)
  • Frozen food - usually a 6 pack of Lean Cuisine for lunch at work and maybe pizza for those nights we come home late and can't be bothered with cooking
  • Lean hamburger meat - we divide it into patties and place in freezer sized Ziplock bags. Easier to defrost that way for individual or bigger meals.
  • Flank steak - usually cut in portions depending on what I plan on cooking.
  • Chicken breast
  • Coffee beans (we grind at home, coffee stays fresh longer this way)
  • Cat food (I've tried the more expensive brands, my cats won't even taste it)
  • Fruit cups
  • Laundry detergent
  • Shampoo (one large bottle lasts us a long time)
  • Cereal

We still go to the store occasionally to pick up "go-withs" for fresh veggies and such.
We go to one of the local Asian markets to get a large sack of Jasmine rice (this lasts forever), they also have better-priced veggies at times.

It also helps to have some idea of what you'll be cooking for the week. For those with busy schedules like us we like to cook for more than two since leftovers can always be brown-bagged for lunch.

So if you haven't jumped the bandwagon yet you may want to give buying in bulk a go. To save with the membership fee you can split the cost between other family members.

No cooking for neither one of us tonight though, we're doing takeout so we can chillax and spend a few hours together. Frugality has its limits. I can catch up on the last night's episode of Hell's Kitchen that I missed.

March 11, 2009

Control your paper clutter, Filter your inbox

Paper clutter comes in different forms: receipts, financial and personal info records, junk mail, magazines, catalogs, newspapers, books. So how do you go about the herculean task of sorting this mess out?

I know I've pulled my hair many times and have had mini panic attacks when faced with this task. I live with a pack rat which makes the act of paring things down even more challenging.

For the meantime what I've done is put away the necessary papers (personal records, car titles, mortgage papers - that sort) in a centralized location, in my case a briefcase. That in itself will be filed and sorted out later on.

As for the rest of it I have these two tips to make the chore a little easier.

1. Conquer one room or one area at a time. Always have a time limit, be aware of how much time you'll spend working on this task. It's easy to micro-manage everything all at once. The point is to optimize your available time. So if you only have 15-20 minutes, don't try to finish an entire home office area. Instead, focus on your computer hutch for example. In my case, I knew I wanted to declutter the living room but did not have ample time to finish it all. I decided to clean up a side table where we have stacks of newspapers, magazines, catalogs, road maps.

2. Have a box where the "to-go" pile will end up in. As soon as this box is full, load it up in your truck/car or put it where you won't be tempted to look through the pile again. You can then donate, freecycle, or just flat out recycle these.

I'll be the first to say that I'm still in the process of cleaning out paper goods in my home. The trick is to consistently control the traffic of what stays. Filter your inbox.

  • We don't subscribe to magazines/newspapers anymore. We can pretty much get caught up with news online. RSS feeds are a great substitute.
  • Receipts are placed in a shoebox or a freezer size Ziploc bag (I know, I know, quit snickering - hey it works) to be entered in expense tracker.
  • Books are borrowed from the library but our local branch has a very limited selection, our preferred branch is in the next town. Use bookmooch.com or paperbackswap.com to trade. We do still purchase books since we are avid readers but we're more conscious about impulsive purchases.

So this is what woks for me. It's no always easy but it's about building better habits. I figured if I do it often enough it wouldn't be such a chore anymore.

March 9, 2009

My catalyst and saying No

Sitting here drinking coffee, half listening to the Today show in the background, Matt Lauer talking about Barbie turning 50 today. I'm thinking back to what made me want to blog to begin with. There's always a catalyst to get the ball rolling and I've kind of touched upon that topic last Monday.

I would say it's an accumulation of many things but it boils down to two.

Life experience - sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to be motivated to make changes and take action. You really have to be resilient during tough times. It helps when you have people you can count on. I was fortunate enough to have the small support system to keep me going during my financial hardship.

Bloggers / Blogs - I have been inspired by reading others' experiences through their blogs. I have a handful in my RSS reader and I'm discovering more. A group of personal finance, simplicity, lifestyle design, location independent bloggers have sparked my interest and many others I'm sure. It's definitely helped me and continues to do so. So thanks to all of you out there especially my favorite blogs - get rich slowly, zen habits, and 4 hour work week.

Recommended reading:
4 Hour Work Week
The Power of Less

It just felt like I had to write about the paragraph above to get it off my chest. I feel better.

Now on to my original post.

It's ok to say No. Really, it is.

Work life sometimes has a tendency to take over our personal lives. It's inevitable. We tend to allow it to occupy our sacred personal space due to feelings of obligation and guilt. I know I used to. We talk ourselves into it.

A true story: You're off for a few days trying to recover from the hectic workweek, catching up on reading, watching movies in your Netflix queue and and you get several voice mail messages asking if you can come in to cover for someone. Yep, that's what happened last week. I swear I think I received an average of 3 phone calls per day for the 4 days I was off.

I work long hours per day that I am in the office and I'm down to working 3 days sometimes 4 days. This is an ideal setup since it saves me money on fuel. Not that I don't want extra hours but in the greater scheme of things it just wasn't worth it.

I thought about it for a second but decided against it. Instead of putting in more hours:

I was home just enjoying being in the same space as my spouse and pets. I worked on my honey-do list of home maintenance/improvement projects (still quite a long list but getting there). I lounged around on the couch and read my Neil Gaiman book. I made a home-cooked meal for us. I watched a bunch of movies. I worked on this blog among other things. I sat out on the porch, had a cup of coffee, listened to the wind chimes and daydreamed.

It was perfect.

March 6, 2009

Home entertainment for less

When we were trying to decide on what we can cut down on about a year ago - our premium cable service was the first one to go.
That was a difficult one to let go since we are both homebodies and enjoy watching films. We occasionally go to the theaters to watch a film but it's very seldom.

My main gripe about it was that we were at work all the time and by the time we got home, we were too tired to watch much of anything.
The cost of the service just wasn't justified anymore. Besides, half the time it's the same old repeats and movies on rotation. The only thing was that it was bundled with internet and phone so we had to reconfigure those too (I'll save that for another post).

With the cable gone - annual savings = $1800-$2000

We bought a digital converter using the two $40 coupons that the gov't. was giving away. After doing some research we decided on the Digital Stream DTX9950. The total for the two boxes were $80 after the combined $40 savings. It picks up all the major networks well considering we live pretty far out in the country.

We subscribed to Netflix for their 1 DVD/month unlimited service which also allows us to stream select movies and TV shows via internet. (Cost: $8.99)

We also use Hulu.com , Veoh.com, and Modernfeed.com to expand our viewing selections. (Cost: free, if you don't include the internet service)

We also have a growing DVD collection of our favorite movies bought at our local used cd/dvd warehouse, bought at a sale price or given to us as gifts. The best thing about this is that we get to enjoy it over and over. It's nice to have a library of your favorite films. (Cost: around $60 every 2-3 mos.)

Cost-wise it's still pretty good compared to the accumulated cost of going out to the theaters once a week and paying for cable.

March 4, 2009

Cut The Crap

I never realized how much stuff I actually had until my interstate relocation awhile back. I've always regretted not paring down before paying a hefty amount for the movers to transport my truckload of possessions. I'm still working on paring down stuff. It's not as easy as it seems. You really have to be brutal about it.

In deciding what goes and what stays you may want to ask yourself what that item means to you or if it serves a function or purpose.

Of course, don't overthink - the longer you spend thinking about it the more chances you'll end up keeping it.

Also, avoid becoming overwhelmed by doing one room at a time. Or one section at a time.

Assign yourself a specific time frame. Let's say one hour to declutter the master bedroom. And so on and so forth.

Make it fun - take a before and after photo for example, that way you can see the transformation of the room.


Things we've gotten rid of so far:
Clothing - ones that don't fit anymore and ones that we just flat out don't even wear. We've recently donated about 4 boxes worth of clothing to a local thrift shop.

Miscellaneous - We've gotten rid of knick-knacks that don't mean a thing. That word even sounds cluttery - "knick - knacks".

Big screen TV that came with the house - still usable but needed a minor repair - would've cost about $100 to fix it but why? We already have a space-saving flat-screen as our main TV. We freecycled it and freed up a large area in our living room.

Next in our list of to be sorted out:
Books (which we have lots of)
Office supplies (electronics / small items / furniture)
Bathroom stuff
Kitchen items
I call this my phase 1 of decluttering, because I have a feeling that once I'm done with everything I'll end up paring down some more.

Some of the benefits (IMHO) from simplifying:
Easier to clean and tidy up.
I have greater appreciation for the items I've kept. I'm able to display the ones that really mean something to me.
Donating and freecycling means that someone else out there is making good use of the stuff I used to have.
My head is less cluttered - slowly getting my peace of mind back. I'm one of those people that can't focus if my space is in disorder.

So far so good, and I'll post updates on how the rest of my decluttering goes.

March 2, 2009

Switching gears and Shifting priorities

Not surprisingly, one of the first news feeds from my iGoogle this morning is about the continuing downwards spiral of the U.S. economy. The topic is unavoidable. Even at work we get a lot of clients tell us that they too, have joined the ever-growing number of recently unemployed.

I've certainly been in the same tight spot about two years ago. I was a full-time freelancer working at home. It was great to begin with - flex work hours, no commute. I had many projects lined up which was what I wanted, I was hungry for it. Somewhere along the line I've lost the balance between life and work and was taking in more projects than I really should have. I would often spend 14-16 hour days slaving away at a project only to finish it and move on to the next one. On top of that, my main clients started being really painfully slow about payment. So there I was - burnt out, getting paid late, with a mortgage and bills piling up. You get the picture.

While that experience definitely left a bad taste in my mouth about being a freelancer in general - I've learned a lot from it. My priorities shifted quite a bit, my goals a little more focused.

1) Spending quality time with loved ones is on top of my list.
2) Saving money will give me the freedom to do more of the above.
3) Being frugal is obviously a key component to saving money.
4) Simplifying my life and my lifestyle in general will help me focus on more important things.

Keeping a simple life will reduce unnecessary distractions and expenses. I won't have to work as hard to pay for the things I don't need.

Where am I going with this? My new priorities will enable me to start working on my goals:

1) To slowly wean myself from my 9-5 (actually it's more like 8-8) and be able to generate enough income doing the things I'm passionate about.
2) Travel more
3) get back to doing photography

It's your turn to share - when was it that your priorities shifted? The moment/event that led you to switch gears.

February 20, 2009

Is anybody out there? I mean, hello.

Here it is. That first post. A little awkward, eh? Where to start...

The main purpose of this blog:
I've been slowly restructuring my life in the last couple of years, more so in the last several months. I first heard the term lifestyle design around the same time and it struck a chord with me. While it hasn't been easy making changes and committing to them, in fact it's been a slow and steady ordeal - the little changes that I've made along with my partner-in-crime/spouse/significant other - the journey so far has been quite an adventure and a learning experience.

I'm choosing to blog about it to hold myself accountable first and foremost. It would also be interesting to look back later on and see how much progress I've made.

I've been a fan and follower of several popular productivity, lifestyle design, personal finance, simple life - type blogs - it's helped me a great deal. So I've always wanted to be a part of that blogosphere and return the favor.

So what will I blog about?
As of late I've been trying to simplify all aspects of my life so that will be covered quite frequently. Saving money and frugal living is another topic that interests me so expect posts on that. Life-mapping and working on specific goals is another. Small business. Freelancing. Daily life.

I'm still working on the "about me" section and the layout in general but this should do for the meantime. I'm trying not to overthink what goes on this page. It's so easy to hit that backspace and delete button and make it all disappear as if it never existed but then again where's the fun in that?

So hello and welcome - read some posts, leave a comment, shoot me an e-mail, and come back often.

January 3, 2009

Privacy Policy and Disclosure

Disclosure: This is a personal blog and by no means am I an expert on topics covered. This is about my my personal account and journey to living a rich and full life. I post about the things I know and what's worked for me and what hasn't. Feel free to try suggestions/tips and get from it what you can but please do what works for you.

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Why I'm blogging and why should you care

Hi I'm Res (my online name) and I'm working on liberating myself from the confines of a traditional lifestyle. Big words that mean I want to do my own thing in my own terms. I've gone through a lot of changes in the last 10 years of my life and I'm undergoing another transformation.

I'm restructuring my life slowly but surely and molding it into MY ideal lifestyle.

I know there's a lot of folks out there with similar sentiments (and I'd love to hear from you) but the key is to do what is best for your life and the lifestyle you want to achieve.

The tricky part with this is that I have a family: a spouse, a couple of step kids (I hate that word so from now on I'll just call them my kids) and pets. I love them all to the ends of this earth and they're my motivation for wanting to make these changes. It's tricky because it affects their lives too but in a positive way. I'm lucky enough to have a spouse/best friend to want to go along with this journey with me.

What got me to this point? Well, a lot of things actually, but rather than give you a long and boring narrative about that I'll just let my posts give you a glimpse here and there why I'm doing what it is I'm doing. Now, I'm still fairly new to this (and I don't mean the blogging thing). I mean I'm still finding my own voice and I'm still experimenting with this media. I've been a casual blogger since the 90s, even before the word "blog" was invented but this is my first attempt at a proper blog.

My goals?
To return to my former self-employed status but this time with a more balanced lifestyle. Be location independent.

Free more time for family and other pursuits and interests: photography, writing, painting, and definitely travel.

A note on why I blog anonymously: I currently work for a corporation and I don't want my current situation clashing with my future goals. My day job has provided me and my family the necessities of life while I pursue these goals. So I don't want to bite the hand that feeds.

If you want to drop me a line e-mail me at:
fear (dot) the (dot) underdog (at) gmail (dot) com
or just leave me a comment here
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