Summary: Have a project that just never gets done? Use a strongly enforced commitment contract to keep motivated (Tweet This)

On one of my favorite blogs, I recently read the following quote:

commitment-contract-referee

Get a Referee to Enforce the Commitment Contract

"If I read this post in December 2014 and it is not done – then future Evan – you owe The Wife $200+ Shoes" - My Journey to Millions

The author Evan, had written a set of goals for the year. Like most goals set at the beginning of the year he has varying levels of success with them.

Do you think Evan completed this goal? Of course he did. (Hopefully his wife wasn't counting on the shoes.)

If you read the tips in my article last week, SMART Goals: Goal Setting Made Easy, I mentioned the concept of making a commitment contract with yourself to achieve your goal.

The idea is that you make a deal that if you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding. In that case, you are denying yourself of a reward.

However, it can work with the threat of doing something that you really don't want to do. Maybe you pledge that you'll donate money to the political party that opposes your views. Or if you are a Red Sox fan, you threaten to buy a Yankees hat and put the picture of you in it all over Instagram. The idea is to pick something that hurts a bit...

Make Your Commitment Contract Accountable

Ray Romano's character on Men of a Certain Age makes what he calls "mind bets." He'll bet himself that if he doesn't accomplish his goal (usually related to his performance in his golf game), he'll go without television or something else he was looking forward to. Making a mind bet has its problems. Do you have the discipline to follow through with it? His character occasionally found loopholes in his bets. A commitment contract where the commitment can be broken and the contract isn't binding may not be very effective.

If mind bets aren't every good, what's better? How about a website - StickK.com. StickK (yes there is an extra "K" in there) was created by a pair of Yale professors. The idea is that you pick a set a goal and sign a legally binding contract to send money to other people or organizations if you don't reach it.

One common trick is to donate money towards an organization that you don't believe in. That way you'll work extra hard to keep your money out of their hands. You also want assign a referee. According to a Wikipedia citation of Stickk, "... users who put money on the line and have a referee tend to do best. 78% of these users achieve their goals, as compared to only 35% who put no money down." (The source is premium content available to Boston Globe subscribers).

Another website looking to capitalize on the concept of a commitment contract is Healthy Wage. The idea here is very similar to StickK, but it's focused entirely on those looking to lose weight. Healthy Wage it is more strict with its requirements, which makes it tougher (well nearly impossible) to cheat. Unlike StickK where you can avoid the referee, Healthy Wage users are required to have their physician call in the results of their weigh-ins.

What can you take away from this? A commitment contract is powerful motivation, but it is only as good as the enforcement you create. Have you set up a commitment contract? If not, what are you waiting for? Let me know in the comments.

Further Reading:

Photo Credit: Pure Costumes

This post involves:

Mind, Motivation

... and focuses on:

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Summary: Planning what to do first can keep you from just spinning your wheels on useless tasks. (Tweet This)

If you are anything like me, you can't get to the bottom of your to-do list. It's one of the reasons I created this blog. What can I say? I'm just a boy who cain't say no. "Learning to say no" is a great article for another day, but today, I'd like to talk about to-do lists and getting the right things on it done.

More than a decade ago, I worked for a top 20 Internet company managing one of its most profitable properties: Search. It was a lot of pressure for me at 24 years old. Fortunately, the Vice President had a lot of confidence in my abilities and we really clicked. It wasn't too long after we started working together that we came across the problem that everyone encounters at one point or another. The VP had a bunch of things he wanted to accomplish and I was just one engineer. With limited time and resources, something had to give.

To-Do List - Get Things Done

Using a To-Do List to Get Things Done

I suggested that we try something very different. I told him to make a list of all the tasks that need to get done. Separately we tackled that list in two different ways. I went through and estimated how easy the task was to accomplish. He gave each task on the list a score based on how important it was to the business. We each used a 10 point scale - 10 was "easy" on mine and 10 was "very important" on his. Then we simply multiplied our scores and sorted on the result in descending order.

The bottom 30% of the list got tabled indefinitely. It was a lot of effort which wasn't important. The easy stuff with the big impact to the business bubbled up to the top 30% of the list. In a few days, I implemented all these features and the VP was extremely happy. The middle 40% took me another month, but it was a quiet month as the bosses moved on to torture harass supervise other projects.

Recently I was reading Never Check E-Mail In the Morning and Julie Morgenstern suggested a similar thing.

I decided to resurrect that idea, incorporate it with the ideas from the book and came up with a new way of managing my to-do list. As I've found in the past, Excel (or your favorite spreadsheet equivalent) is the right tool for the job.

Currently my metrics are:

  • Revenue Relevance - It's hard to downplay the actual money factor.
  • Time to Complete - My original idea of quantifying how hard something is.
  • ROI - This is the impact to the rest of the business. A guest post isn't going to directly bring in revenue, but it is very important to the growth of the business.

I have a couple of other columns as well. On a tip from Morgenstern's book, I have a Deadline column. In the blogging business there are few deadlines. This is more of an informational column for me. I can color-code the cell to green if it's more than one week away and gradually move it up to shades of red if it's overdue.

I like to have a Category column to sort by. This way, if I feel like my blog articles are in need of promotion, I can work on that. If I start seeing a number of finance tasks piling up, I can focus on those even if those other categories may technically be more important.

I also have a Notes column, which should be self-explanatory. I don't use it as much as I should.

In Never Check E-Mail In the Morning, Morgenstern suggested that the impact to the company's revenue should be the metric for "important to the business." At the time I was reading the book, it made sense, but in applying it to my business, I started to disagree. I'm keeping it in my spreadsheet for now, but I'm thinking of combining the ROI and the Revenue into the same column like I did 10 years ago. This means tasks with big revenue impact would just have a big a ROI impact as well. One of the problems I have with the focus on revenue is that it would push necessary evils tasks like security of my web server towards the bottom. It may not seem relevant to your revenue until there's an emergency - and that's often the worst time to deal with it.

I should also emphasize that this is my business to-do list. I've thought about shoehorning personal tasks into it, but I currently don't see how it would work. It seems like comparing the business impact of doing laundry can't (and shouldn't) be compared to writing blog posts. Laundry would almost always lose out unless it started to really pile up.

I think instead, I'd need to create a separate pages for each area in life. Perhaps one for health, one for chores. I'm going to have to think about how much I really want to run my life by a spreadsheet. Something seems a little too robotic there.

P.S. See the comments from 2011 below? That's from version 1.0 of this blog. This is version 2.0, so it is that much more awesome.

Photo Credit: Richard Dingwall

This post involves:

Productivity, To-Do

... and focuses on:


Summary: Learn how to make more money from your career, start your own business, and/or how to create passive income. (Tweet This)

We recently covered Spending Less Than You Earn. In it we established there were two ways to financial freedom - make more money or spend less money. Let's start with how to make more money.

Make More Money

Making more money isn't a magic trick

Earn More Money in Your Career

Perhaps the most obvious way to make more money is to look at your main source of income and looking to see if that can be increased. For most of you out there, that would be the 9-to-5 career.

  • Make yourself more valuable to your company - If you can find a way to be more productive at work, you can take on extra responsibilities. When you take on more responsibilities you can make a much better case for a raise.
  • How and when to ask for a raise - I've made the mistake of asking for a raise when business wasn't the best. I found that it didn't matter how good of a case I made, I wasn't going to get that raise.
  • Get a raise by switching jobs - Get out of that dead-end job. Most places don't evaluate raises based on performance - many times they feel that if they are giving a "good raise" based on your previous salary, you should be happy. Your view might be that you are worth a lot more. You might have to start with a fresh slate.
  • Get ahead with an advanced degree - An advanced degree isn't a guarantee to more income, but for the right professions it can push you into another salary tier. It can also help if you are switching jobs.

Get a Second Job

I know a lot of you out there are thinking that the last they need is more work. I'm with you on this one. However, there are times where it just makes sense. I have a friend who is a great freelance cartoonist/artist. Some years back, I was at an amusement park, when I recognized some of his art was featured. Being an artist wasn't his only gig, though. He also worked at a local bar at night. It got him out of the house, put some guaranteed cash in his wallet, and provided some much-needed health insurance benefits.

Another friend of mine, because a seasonal tax advisor for H&R Block. She's really good with numbers and enjoys numbers

Start a Business

Did this elicit another groan from all of you? Starting a business can be a lot of work. For 6 years, I lived in Silicon Valley where businesses are started every day, and the people starting them work 16 hour days. If that's the kind of thing that excites you, I'm cool with that. Feel free to donate me some stock options. However, if you'd like a more balanced lifestyle there are still some options available.

One idea for a starting a business is to get money from your hobbies. For example, if you are into crafts, you can sell them on Etsy. You get the fun of creating the craft, the joy of knowing that you made someone's day, and made a little money in the process.

Need another tip? How about a dog walking or sitting service. Sign up at DogVacay and you could earn an extra $25 or $30 a night... sometimes even more. To be fair, dogs are so awesome, you should be paying the owners for the privilege of spending time with them. When I look at it that way, any money you get is just gravy.

Create Passive Income

Finally a cheer (I hope)? Who doesn't love passive income? Getting money for doing nothing? What's not to like, right? Unfortunately it can be very difficult to find passive income sources. If you are really good with a guitar perhaps you can write a song. If you can get it on the radio, you'll earn some royalties. You can do the same if you are an actor. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to make it as a musician or actor. There is only so much room on the airwaves.

I found success with blogging. While some say that I have a talent for blogging, I didn't start out with it. It took a lot of trial and error to learn how to write interesting posts. Beyond that though, I got lucky. I fell in with the right crowd and we pushed each other and shared tips. It would be a stretch to call blogging passive income. While I do have the freedom to go to Australia for a month and still make money, I have to bust my hump, to not only write articles, but market them, and monetize them. Over the years, I've found blogging a lot like being a musician... there's only so much attention-span to go around.

One of the best ways to create passive income is through investing. You can buy stocks that pay dividends. You can buy businesses such as a Subway franchise. You can buy an apartment building and be a landlord. The downside to all these is that you have to have money to make money. The Subway franchise and the apartment building don't run themselves.

Putting it All Together

It's very unlikely that anyone other than rich, old uncle Bob is just going to give you money. Like anything else, it is something you are going to have to work at. For some people it will come easier than others.

Even if you are having trouble making extra money, take a lesson from The Christmas Carol. The Tiny Tim's of the world are often more happy than the Ebenezer Scrooges.

This post involves:

Income, Make Money, Money / Personal Finance

... and focuses on:

Summary: Want to lose weight? Is it really as simple as diet and exercise? Let's find out (Tweet This!)

A few days ago, I covered the golden rule of money. In case you missed it, it is Spend Less Than You Earn. Today's golden rule of weight loss is similar... but different:

Diet & Exercise

[Note: I'm always hesitant to use the word diet when I mean "eat less" as they are very different. After all, I could go on a Super Size Me diet. Alas, society tends to use "diet" as being synonymous with eating less. ]

Most health professionals know that a pound of body weight is 3,500 calories. Want to lose a pound? Simply eat 500 fewer calories every day for a week. Since most of the food in the United States comes with a calorie counter, this should be easy, right? Unfortunately, it is wrong. I don't know how many times that I've read that Americans could drop 15 pounds if they just switched from drinking one can of full calorie soda a day to diet soda. I know a number of people who gave up full calorie sodas and they didn't look like they lost any weight.

Eat Less, Exercise More

If only bathroom scales were this blunt with you.

Yesterday's lesson of spend less than you earn didn't seem to have this problem. I don't want to go all Paul McCartney on you, longing for yesterday, but money was such an easier game to play. The problem is the human body is pretty efficient. If you stop eating, your body will conserve calories making it more difficult to exercise. Exercising without eating can be physically dangerous.

Even if our bodies weren't against us, most of us would still have problems losing weight. We don't prioritize exercise. Everyone I know is going to spend tomorrow working (including commuting) for 9-10 hours. What happens to the rest of the day? Much of that is spent getting ready for work in the morning, making dinner at night, spending time and with the spouse and kids. Exercise is often the lowest priority.

Finally, the money's golden rule of "spending less than you earn" often fights against the goal of losing weight. Unless you are one of the few people who has never been to a McDonalds, you know that McDouble is a lot cheaper than a salad. Gym memberships and personal trainers are expensive. (Though I'll cover a lot of ways to lose weight on a budget.) These conflicting goals can make things difficult.

How You Can Eat Less

There are a lot of ways to trick yourself into eating less. You can use psychological tricks to make it look like you are eating more. You can drink more water to slow you down from overeating. You can make wise choices of foods that fill your stomach on fewer calories. (By "eating less", I mean calories, not volume of food.)

When you combine these together it gets easier. I won't sugarcoat it and say it's "easy" by any means.

The Key to Exercising More

I know a lot of people who don't like exercise. They find elliptical trainers boring. If you are one of those people, I'm with you. However, a lot of those people like activity sports like tennis. Even some of the newer video games can be fun and trick you into exercising more. Finally, there are motivational tricks such as setting SMART goals . I'll cover a lot more of these in greater detail over time.

You shouldn't give up losing weight just because it may be more difficult than saving money. If you think it's impossible, just watch The Biggest Loser. People on the show have a 100% success rate at losing weight over time (though they sometimes put some of it back on).

This post involves:

Diet, Exercise, Health / Fitness, Weight Loss

... and focuses on:

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Summary: How is that New Year's Resolution going? 88% of them fail. Increase your odds with SMART goals (Tweet This!)

With the first few weeks of the new year over, most of us have put our nose to the grindstone. (Who thought of that saying? Sounds painful!) It's a good time to ask: how are your New Year Resolutions going? If you are like many, they are already starting to fade away. In fact, statistically, around 88% of you are going to fail at your New Year Resolution. If you are like me, you may have stumbled onto the road of failure by accident. By this time, I had hoped to have 60 articles completed for this website. I am lucky if I have a third of that. What I do have is about 250 articles outlined with a ton of research. That doesn't count for much, unless I get to writing them.

This website isn't about dwelling on the past. We aim to be better than that. How can we do that? According to the article, we should focus on being self-aware. We know what our problem is and now we know it is going to be difficult to tackle it. It turns out that people have limited willpower. When we are presented with a few mental distractions we don't have the willpower to concentrate on our goal. One way to limit the mental distractions is to practice a lot of the productivity tips we'll cover here over time.

While that 12% success rate sure seems daunting, another study showed that it can be improved upon. Men are 22% more successful when they engage in goal setting or kept an eye on the prize. If my goal is to save up enough money for a new car, I would be best served by setting up a financial plan for how much I'll need and putting a putting a picture of the car on the refrigerator. Women are 10% more likely to succeed when they have the support of their family or friends.

I'm not going into how to go about keeping your eye on the prize here. We'll cover staying motivated in other articles. I trust you can figure out the best way to do that. At the end of the article, I'll give you a tip on how to bring in the support of family and friends. Before we get to that though, we'll cover goal setting. It is one of those things that make you want to scream, "Why didn't they teach me this in school?" One of the best ways to set a goal is with SMART Goals.

Setting Goals the SMART Way

taylor-lautners-abs

Picture of Taylor Lautner = wrote this originally in 2010

Some of you have heard about SMART goals before. For those who aren't familiar with the term it is simply a mnemonic device to remember a set of steps crucial in setting goals. There is some debate about what SMART stands for, but it usually goes something like:

  • Specific - What is the goal? You don't want to set a broad goal such as "be healthier in the new year." You want a better goal such as "lose weight this year."
  • Measurable - My goal above of losing weight this year, was specific, but it wasn't very measurable. A measurable goal may be to lose 25 pounds by the end of December.
  • Attainable - Is my goal reasonable? I think losing 25 by the end of December is quite attainable (depending on how much they currently weigh). However, if my goal were to have Taylor Lautner's abs, I may find that the exercise time necessary doesn't fit with my other priorities. Perhaps after the 25 pounds weight loss, Mr. Lautner's abs becomes my next goal.
  • Relevant - Does the goal matter to you? Is it something that's really worth working for? I think for many people losing weight is a relevant goal. If you are already in a healthy range, your effort may be best spent elsewhere.
  • Time-bound - When do you expect to reach this goal? Our goal of losing 25 pounds by December is indeed time-bound, so it technically passes the test. However, I would suggest smaller goals like losing 4 pounds by the end of the month. (Yes that should sound familiar.)

That gives us a good template for goal setting. However, let's get a little greedy and see if we can do a little better. Some people suggest that you can make your goals even SMARTER.

Setting Goals the SMARTER Way

You can take a SMART goal and make it SMARTER by adding a couple more steps.

  • Exciting - You should be excited by your goal. I've found that the first step to success in almost anything is being excited about doing it. Losing 25 pounds may not sound all that exciting. I imagine that's why many people fail to lose weight. However, many people get excited to play tennis or going for a hike. Those are a couple of ways to make losing 25 pounds a bit more exciting.
  • Recorded - The idea here is that you record your progress as you go along. This provides you with great feedback. If you are falling a bit off track and are recording your progress, you'll be able to make the necessary adjustments.

Now it's your turn, what do you to master the art of setting and attaining goals?

Don't Forget the Motivation

Remember that tip that I promised above? Here it is:

Motivate yourself with a commitment contract for better results:

It's great to have goals, but often the biggest barrier is having motivation to get them accomplished. Some people are naturally motivated. Others need a little more help depending on the task. If you find yourself in the latter group, I highly recommend making a commitment contract.

This post involves:

Mind, Planning, Productivity

... and focuses on:

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Summary: If you scheduled your ideally productive day, what would it look like? Take some time and write it down. (Tweet This)

OctoMom

You want more hours in the day? I can’t do that. However, I can give you the next best thing. I can show you how to get more out of the hours you do have.

Better yet, I’m going to show you how to do it without burning out. Because, let’s face it, burn-out is not productive.

I’ve been working from home for a few years now. During that time I’ve learned there are a lot of temptations to take me away from work. Some of those temptations seem to eat minutes without me even realizing it. I was stuck at the end of the day thinking, “Where did my day go?” and “What did I really accomplish?”

It changed for me a few months ago when I implemented this trick. Even if you don’t work from home, perhaps it can work for you.

What’s the trick? I create my own perfect daily schedule. Here it is, with explanations on why I do what I do:

6:00AMWake-upGetting up early is often cited as a habit of very successful people
6:00-6:10Eat breakfast
6:10-7:00Work on my most difficult projectWorking for around 50 minutes at one time is scientifically ideal. Why the most difficult project? In the morning, you have the most willpower.
7:00-7:15Break from workDo some kind of household chore such as fold laundry or emptying the dishwasher. I listen to Pandora for a further change of pace
7:15-8:00Work
8:00-8:50KidsGet the kids up and dressed, driven, and checked into day care
8:50-9:30Work
9:30-10:00Walk the dogUse my smartphone quickly scan email and delete anything that it unimportant. Quickly check my stock portfolio to see how the market opened. (This isn’t ideal, but I’m human).
10:00-10:50WorkThis is usually a good time to catch up on email, the first check of the day.
10:50-11:10Lunch
11:10-12:00Work
12:00-12:20Break from workThe first 10 minutes might be some kind of physical work with music. The last 10 minutes might be reading something fun like a few stories about the New England Patriots or the latest technology news.
12:20-1:00Work
1:00-1:30Walk the dog
1:30-2:10WorkGraze on a snack such as a KIND Bar or air popped popcorn
2:10-2:30ShowerSometimes take a bath with a smartphone reading my RSS feeds via Feedly
2:30-3:15SiestaTime to replenish my willpower. I'm also looking into meditation for 15 minutes here and get back to work
3:15-4:00WorkSecond round of email
4:00-5:00Dog ParkSometimes replaced by another dog walk and more work.
5:00-5:40KidsPick up kids at day care
5:40-6:45DinnerIncludes time to prepare and eat it.
6:45-9:30Family timePlay with kids; watch Jeopardy/Wheel of Fortune; watch Red Sox; do something else that is entertaining and not necessarily “productive."
9:30-11:00Light WorkWife and kids go to sleep (she works very early most days). Usually, by this time I don’t have too much more “work” left in me. This is a good time for a third round of email. It’s also good for setting up my goals next day. And of course, there’s hitting those RSS feeds… reading gives me articles ideas.

What’s Wrong with the Above Schedule?

Did you notice that there’s no time for going to the gym. There’s no time for any weightlifting. While I can get walking and even running with my dog, I need to schedule time maintain and build muscle. This is why I get to the end of the day and say to myself, “I didn’t get a workout in today. There's always tomorrow.”

Tomorrow never comes. I need to schedule it in today. If I did 15-20 minutes of exercise that focuses on big muscle groups (squats and such) after lunch that would be an improvement. The new schedule looks something like:

10:50-11:10 - Lunch - Perhaps a burrito: high protein, good fiber (beans), some starchy carbs allowed.
11:10-11:30 - Weight-bearing workout
11:30-12:00 - Work

Layer Your Schedule

I layered several different goals through this schedule. In general, these are work, responsibilities, health, and rest, and happiness.

Work

I get 8 periods of work in, or about 6 hours. That’s not counting the last couple of hours at the end of the night.

Maybe some will say, "Ha! Only 6 hours! I work a lot more than that." If you do and that’s what you are interested in, that’s great. I've read enough studies that say that this balance is more productive overall. I'd simply encourage you to look at the balance you have and see whether it works. Some of my "work" comes with running a household, managing kids, dog, and dinner, etc.

In any case, the main point is to avoid the Peter Gibbons' 15 minutes of work a week.

Health

There’s a mix of diet of exercise scheduled into my day.

For exercise, I average around 13,000 steps on my Fitbit, most of that coming from the dog walks. With the tweak above, I get some strength-building in as well.

For diet, I try to keep some meals high protein and low carbohydrate. I also work in snacks that are low on the glycemic index, lots of fiber, and/or have very little sugar (KIND Bars).

In a future post, I'll detail a list of foods that I eat throughout the day. It could be called, "Planning your most nutritious day."

Rest

I have a number of breaks in there to keep my willpower strong throughout the day. I find this really helps make my work productive. Unlike the Office Space quote from Peter Gibbons above, I avoid “just sorta space out for about an hour.”

One thing to note is that many of rejuvenation breaks are simply different kinds of "work." Taking my dog for a walk is a "quadruple dip" of productivity. It gives me:

  1. Exercise
  2. Exposure to fresh air and sun (sounds silly, but when you work on a computer these are very good things)
  3. Necessary care for a dependent (if Jake doesn’t get his walk, he’ll let you know about it).
  4. The rejuvenating break from work

Happiness

I eliminated most of the entries from 6:00PM until 9:30PM. It is best summed up by calling “family time.” It can vary quite a bit, especially in the summer when there’s more time for outside activities.

Adapt the Principles to Your Schedule

I realize that few people work from home. Some people don’t have dogs. Some people may not like omelets or carrots.

This schedule isn’t meant to work for everyone. I’m sharing it in hopes that it will inspire some ideas (and hopefully some discussion below).

Take a few minutes and write down your schedule. I’ll wait. Done? I bet you didn’t do it, but we’ll continue on anyway. You can always write it down when you see where this is going.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Am I eating the right kinds of foods? Am I eating them at the right times?
  • Am I getting enough exercise? Am I getting both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
  • Am I getting enough accomplished in my professional life?
  • Am I taking the necessary breaks that allow me refocus and be more productive?
  • Am I putting time aside for the family and friends and the social ties that contribute so much to our happiness?

You Are Not a Robot (Robots: Please disregard this section)

While I put hard times to everything in the schedule, it isn’t meant to be rigid and inflexible. Life intervenes. We own real estate properties and sometimes work needs to be done on them. Sometimes the wife, kids, or dog gets sick. Sometimes I get sick. In March, some of my “work” has to be devoted to getting tax information together.

Setting a schedule isn’t an exact science. Even if it were possible to make it one, I don’t think I’d like that much. Doing the same things, day in and day out, can get boring and lead to burn-out on a long-term basis. That’s why it is important to be mindful to take vacations and work those into your plans.

Share!

I’ve opened up my life and what works for me. It would really help me (and others) if you could share with me what works for you in the comments.

Anything is open game. Do you find that you work longer or shorter? Do you have your own “quadruple dips” of productivity like the dog walking mentioned above? (Bonus tip: Mowing your own lawn is another one. Think about it.)

This post involves:

Planning, Productivity

... and focuses on:

,


Summary: When you spending less than you earn, you protect yourself from financial disaster and head towards financial freedom (Tweet This)

I've been interested in money for a long time. At age 7, I learned the concept of interest and more importantly compound interest. Even at that early age, I was enthralled by the concept of getting free money for doing nothing. As a natural progression, I started reading personal finance magazines like Kiplinger's Personal Finance and Money Magazine. In some 27 years of studying personal finance I have learned a lot.

You'd think I would have learned it all in the first 15 years. Unfortunately I didn't. It wasn't until age 30 when I started blogging about personal finance that I really started to learn about money. After a few months of blogging and reading other blogs, I came across one statement that summed up everything:

Spend Less Than You Earn

Saving Tons of Money Works Too!

Spend Less than You Earn

There are few topics as large as money that can be summed as succinctly. Though it sounds simple, it is very complex. There are a lot of people who either don't realize that's the secret or can't follow it. Too many people are living paycheck to paycheck. It's a dangerous and stressful way to live. It can shut you out of opportunities to pursue your dreams. What's the answer? Educate yourself (as usual).

Spend Less

There are a lot of ways to spend less money. I'll be covering many of them over the next few years. I thought I'd just tease you with a few though. What if you could save $100 a month on interest payments? What if you could save another couple hundred on subscription services and utilities? What if you didn't buy that doohickey that now sits in your closet? If you learn about how to get more value for your money, spending less doesn't have be as painful as it initially sounds.

Earn More

On the other side of things, there are a lot of ways to make more money too. What if you were better at giving presentations? What if you were better at writing proposals to your boss? Perhaps those things that are going to get you a promotion or a raise? What about simply knowing how to negotiate for a raise? What about investing your money so that you get more free money for doing nothing? What about side businesses or hobbies that actually make money? We'll get to these in time, but hopefully you can see the possibilities here are endless.

When you put together spending less and earning more, you grow that nest egg that hatches into financial freedom. That is when a lot of people's dreams come true.

Photo Credit: Binary Dollar

This post involves:

Money / Personal Finance, Save Money

... and focuses on:

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Summary: Sometimes you can learn more from failure than from success. (Tweet This)

In 2009, I had a grand idea. I was going to take everything I learned about blogging over the previous three years and make a great site for the new year. I was going to show the world how to kick off a decade.

Success or Failure

The result: World 1, Brian 0. Give credit where credit is due.

It's January of 2015, and Be Better Now has relaunched for the second time. It's human nature to say, "this time it's different" even when it isn't different. So I thought it would be valuable to look back on what went wrong before. I might be able to learn from it and avoid the same pitfalls this time around.

If we are lucky, we can might be able to take things a step further and discover why some projects fail in general.

How To Fail

Take on Everything!

If you haven't noticed, Be Better Now's goal simple and well-defined: Be everything to everyone. That's not just a recipe for failure, it is a whole failure dish cooked and served.

Unfortunately the new goal is still to be mostly everything to everyone, but I'm focusing more on how life is synergistic and how improvement in one area of life can lead to others. Conversely, problems in one area in life can lead to problems in others.

Bite Off More than You Can Chew

I run the web servers, coded the design (except for the logo), and some of the customer features (such as the reading time and summary box at the beginning of the article) myself. That's why some of this site looks like it was developed in 2010 and some of it looks like it was designed in 2015.

I also write all the articles, find all the pictures, and run the social media accounts. Sometimes I tell myself I should be a little more lazy.

Not Block Off Time for the Project

I've spent the last seven years educating people about pyramid schemes pretending to be legitimate multi-level marketing (MLM) companies. Every MLM claims it is legitimate, but when you stack it up to the FTC's guidelines or this awesome primer on pyramid schemes, they all seem to fail. These pyramid schemes cause billions of dollars of financial harm every year.

I still feel it is important to help those people caught in the pyramid schemes, but I also want to help the 95%+ who are wise enough to avoid them in the first place.

I got a little off-track there. The point is that I have a lot of things I want to accomplish. I'm expecting that I'll learn how to be more productive with this website and accomplish more.

As Jack Johnson says in the video below, "Who's to say I can't do everything. Well I can try."

While on the topic... The song is the unofficial theme song of Be Better Now. And the Curious George movie is my favorite thing to watch with my kids.

It Wasn't the Right Time for Be Better Now

Three years ago, we got news that we'd be introducing our first baby into the family. Now we have two children. I've had my hands full with them the last few years. I'm parenting like Ralph Hinkley's flying, I seem to have no received the manual.

As I mentioned in How To Be Happy, one of the ingredients of happiness is meaning. For me, that's creating something great.

Schools teach our children so much. However, there are a lot of life skills that aren't taught. I was never offered a course on personal finance, productivity, or organization. There were some classes on health, but they didn't talk about the psychology of motivating yourself to get exercise. I'm hoping that years from now, I can show my kids this website, and say, "Here are some of the things I've learned in this life. Incorporate what you find useful in your own life and you'll be years ahead of where I was when I was your age."

... and of course they'll ignore me. That's why it is extra important that you find value in this website.

I Tried to be Perfect

Doubts Kill More Dreams than Failure Ever Will

Doubts Kill More Dreams than Failure Ever Will

Even today, it claws at me that the design of this website isn't where I want it to be. I want to add information in the design that tells you how much I appreciate you sharing the articles you like. It really means the world to me and I need to express that at the bottom of every post.

I want to be active on social media. I want to learn how to create awesome Pinterest boards and add pictures here that people will want to pin and share.

I want the first impression of this site to be, "Wow... I've never seen anything like this before!" I have a whole design for the home page that doesn't look like a typical blog.

There's a famous saying... Perfect is the enemy of good. That's never been more true of this website. I can spend a day learning how to get nice rounded corners on boxes, but in the end you are coming here for the articles. I need to focus on them and let the design evolve over time.

I hope your first impression of this site isn't as bad as I imagine it in my head.

What Makes This Time Different?

There are a few things that are different this time around.

  1. I still think that this website should do everything, but I realize I've got years, hopefully decades, to write. Self-improvement isn't going away any time soon.

  2. I'm still biting off more than I can chew, but I also have a huge head-start from my past missteps. I have hundreds of titles of articles that I intend to write. I have dozens of outlines written. I even have a few complete posts.

  3. It's the right time for Be Better Now. The kids are at the right age where they sleep at night. Plus, I only have 15-16 years before I send them off to college. Any more stops and I'll turn around and see that they're all grown up.

  4. I think a "launch and revise" plan is wiser than waiting until everything is perfect. To quote the great philosopher Malcolm Reynolds, "That's a long wait for a train don't come."

The time for failure is over.

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Summary: There is a lot of confusion about what's healthy, here's what we know works. (Tweet This)

In case you didn't notice all the articles this week have very general, broad titles. The idea wasn't to present complete solutions, but to come up with a straw man proposal that can evolve over time.

The articles will take their cue from this website: improving a little bit with many tiny steps. Keep doing it long enough, and you won't even recognize what the start looked like.

The Problem with Health

Health is probably the most difficult subject there is to research. You might not think it is true with all the information in the news. There appear to be dozens of new health studies talked about every day. It's been that way for years, and yet, it seems that our progress with health is slow. What is going on?

There's so much confusion about nutrition and fitness. As that article points out Dr. Oz "needs a steady stream of things to endorse." Further, we respond very well to actionable warnings ("salt is bad") or promises ("antioxidants are great"). It's a big business getting people to buy books, DVD, supplements, packaged foods, etc.

As registered dietician, Andy Bellatti puts it:

"To make matters more confusing, these [food and beverage company] institutes have doctors, cardiologists, and dietitians on their payroll—as well as key media contacts—resulting in a health professional talking to media about, say, how soda is 'unfairly vilified.' Most times, the general public isn't aware that this isn't an objective health professional choosing to say that."

Not to quote the whole Lifehacker article, but individual "experts" are out to confuse us for their own profit as well:

"Skwarecki's article, Why It's So Easy to Believe Our Food is Toxic, is an exceptional case study in this. She explains how 'experts' take good premises—like the need to take your health in your own hands and be critical of the things you eat and buy—and go off the rails when the sales pitch gets involved. She calls out nutrition gurus and health 'experts' you've likely seen reposted on Facebook, like Vani Hari (aka The Food Babe,) and Joseph Mercola, among others, who thrive on obfuscating nutrition so much that the only clear thing they do suggest is that you should buy their books, sponsored foods, and DVDs."

It gets worse. Lobbyists for the food industry is involved in the government guidelines. It's big business for the food pyramid/MyPlate recommendations. Kamal Patel in that Lifehacker article states:

"Government policy favors packaged foods that can display health claims (e.g. Granola bars, Lunchables) rather than natural foods that come loose or in clear plastic (e.g. strawberries, chicken thighs). Grains were originally 2-3 servings per day until food companies complained and they more than doubled the recommendation. Fruit and veggie manufacturers make very little money compared to General Mills and Unilever, so it took the National Cancer Institute to step in and tell the first-draft writers for the food pyramid that they really need to bump up the fruit and veggie intake."

And then there's the fundamental problem with research itself:

"Research results are notoriously unpredictable, since only some of the total number of studies get published. Studies have a higher chance of getting published if they show positive results, and food and supplement manufacturers can keep funding trials until one gets published."

And sometimes that research is just bad and poorly reported by the media.

I'm not trying to be a Debbie Downer here. There are some great tips at the end of the Lifehacker article.

I'm also not trying to start any kind of conspiracy theory.

I'm simply trying to explain how difficult it is going to be write about health and fitness in general. It's as if the deck is stacked against me. There is a haystack of information, and maybe only a needle or two of truth in all of it. I can guarantee that I'll make mistakes and cite some information as being valid when it isn't.

An Attempt at a Guide to Good Health

For all the reasons above, I'm going to try to be a little conservative. I'll stick to ideas that most experts seem to agree on... or ones that just seem to follow clear, obvious logic.

It's almost going to sound too general to be helpful. Over the next few weeks, months, and even years, we'll get a lot more specific. The guide will improve as our research grows.

Exercise

Skinny Boxer

"That's pure muscle"

There's no better place to start the clear, obvious logic than with exercise. I've never heard an expert say, "Exercise is bad. Stay away from that."

There are different types of exercise. Some are more appropriate for people than others. I don't think my mother is at an age where taking up running is expected. However, there are health benefits for something as simple as walking. I'm not going to teach my 2 year-old son how to do deadlifts, he'll get his exercise from playing.

If it's appropriate for you, I suggest picking up a sport that you love. I'm absolutely terrible at basketball, but I enjoy it. I'm much better at badminton, but I have difficulty finding a partner.

Eat Less Food

This doesn't apply to everyone, but most experts believe that there is an obesity problem in America. Some of that is due to getting less exercise. Some of that has to do with the types of food we eat. Much of it has to do with the quantity of food we eat.

Eat Quality Food

Dinosaur Broccoli Tree

Grrr... Broccoli Tree... Good!

Most experts agree there's a huge difference between eating Ramen Noodles and an apple. It's not exactly rocket science to say that the apple is better. We'll dig into which foods are better choices.

We'll also cover kind of diets are actually scientifically shown to work.

Get Motivated

We'll cover some areas that might be more appropriately put in our Mind section. The key to change in your exercise routine or your diet lies between your ears.

Fire-up that Rocky soundtrack and pound those stairs.

Set (and Accomplish) Your Goals

If you aren't where you want to be with health, it's a good idea to create a plan. Your health journey needs a map. We'll look into how we can learn to set and successfully accomplish our goals.

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Summary: You were expecting a 140 character summary on how to be happy? Seriously? Just read the article. (Tweet This)

I've written a lot of words in my lifetime, but I can't imagine four words being so daunting as the ones in this title. Those twelve letters could lead to twelve books.

Happy Blonde Girl

I think that this article may give birth to almost every other article on this site. Almost everything I plan on writing is going to, in some way, lead back to a life that creates happiness for yourself and those around you.

My initial thought on the subject is to approach happiness like a cake. What would the ingredients of that cake look like? Let's get to it.

The Ingredients of a Happiness

Eliminate Suffering

The first idea I had is that it is hard to be happy when you are suffering. I know that everyone has problems, but not everyone's problems are equally bad. Let's look at some common ways to eliminate suffering.

Have Enough Money.

A lot of people will say that money that doesn't buy love or happiness. Research tends to show that they are both right and wrong. Princeton University researchers found that $75,000 is the magic number for happiness. If you make more than that, you aren't automatically happier. If you make less than that, you may be less happy, but you are not necessarily less happy.

So for maximum happiness, aim to make $75,000 a year. More money is fine, but be careful you don't risk the other Ingredients of Happiness to grow this number. All work and no play isn't in our recipe for happiness.

It's also important that the source of income relies on factors you control. If you live in fear than the income can be taken away, it can cause unhappiness. The question becomes whether you really control your source of income. It seems like a change to the economy could disrupt almost anyone's income.

Let's Get Healthy.

If you've ever seen anyone in pain, you can tell they aren't happy. Some say, "Your health is all you have in this life."

We'll add "Health" to our list of Happiness Ingredients. Much like the example with money above, there's a limit to how much health impacts our happiness. Being able to do 1000 pushups doesn't make you 10 times happier than being able to do 100 push-ups.

Once again, we'll rely on having a good overall balance of ingredients.

Have a Purpose.

Doing useful stuff with your life helps you be happy. In fact, "creation" is one of the fundamental human needs. (Now you understand why I love to write. I am creating something unique.)

In fact, research is now telling us that having meaning is healthier than happiness itself.

The lesson here is simple: Do great work. That can mean being really Productive so that you can create more. Or it could mean focusing on charity to help others. Either one should give you a strong sense of meaning.

What Harvard Says About Happiness

Fun Girl

For over 70 years Harvard researchers have looked into what makes us happy. The project was called the Grant Study and it was directed by George Vaillant. Vaillant has published a book, Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, giving us some clues about happiness.

At the end of the day, the biggest conclusion is that happiness is about "warm relationships" and love.

Here's what doesn't make you happy: drinking. It was a main source of divorce, depression, and when associated with smoking brought on an early death.

Putting it All Together

I'm just scratching the surface on this topic. It's going to evolve perhaps more than all the others on this website. My current feeling is that happiness is about eliminating stress, being productive, having great relationships, and simply being in the right frame of mind.

Further Reading: Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard - This may be one of the most definitive on the subject. More than 125 people have rated it 4.6 stars. Also, according this article, "Ricard donates all proceeds of his books to 110 humanitarian projects which have built schools for 21,000 children and provide healthcare for 100,000 patients a year."

Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study by George E. Vaillant - At the time I'm writing this more than 65 people have given it 4.5 stars.

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