The past six months I got interested in minimalism. I cleaned out my room at my parents’, I got rid of a lot of clutter in my student house and brought the number of possessions way down. I am not the kind of person to count all my items and bring the number under the hundred or anything, but I like the lifestyle. Living a more meaningful life by focusing my attention on things what really matters works for me. Uncluttering, thinking twice before buying something and focusing on activities instead of stuff is helping me in becoming a better person.
There are a ton of resources when you are interested in minimalism, one of the best would be The Minimalists. Recently I got the book of Joshua Millburn Fields (the founder of the website), ‘a Day in the Life of a Minimalist.’
The book is very simple. Joshua describes in a bunch of essays how he changed from a 70 hour workweek to a more meaningful life with less. It reads easy and the insights are bountiful.
One of the most interesting things I came across was what Joshua called ‘the Twitch.’ The Twitch is the urge to check your smartphone/email/messages all the time, everywhere. When you are waiting at the counter at a store, when your friends leaves for the toilet and, yes, even at the urinal.
Reading this I could totally resonate. I have exactly the same problem, checking all the time if there are new messages, if there is any news. Yes, I even check it at the urinal as well. Seriously, is it that important? Probably not.
To elaborate a little bit more, here is my standard ‘check-schedule’:
- Whatsapp/messages/email. Any important messages? Nope, let’s go on.
- Facebook/Reddit? Any interesting posts? Nope, still the same as 2 minutes ago.
- Twitter. So, any new interesting tweets? Ah, yeah. Well, not that interesting, let’s move on.
- Nu.nl (a Dutch news website). Today I busted myself checking out something about a reality tv star. I am doing bad with this smartphone thing.
- Bank account. Any updates on my finances? Well, no it is still the same as 5 minutes ago (and actually the same as 2 days ago..)
This is bad, seriously
Looking at my ‘check-schedule’ I know this is bad, of course. I want to break down the problem of the Twitch at two moments. First of all when you are working on something. We all know the importance of focus. The Pomodoro technique can help big time with this. Still, when you are not on a pomodoro schedule, checking your phone breaks your flow and breaks your concentration.
Studying is such a task. Studying requires focus, when you start studying you will need a couple of minutes to get into the flow and really get a grasp on the material you are trying to study. If the Twitch breaks you out of that concentration for every six minutes, you won’t really get any work done and you are not productive at all.
Another task like this is having a conversation. People are often disturbed by their phone while trying to engage in an actual face-to-face conversation. Really? You need to check whatsapp now? You really need to see if there are new Facebook posts?
Second the Twitch comes around on other moments. For instance, when you are bored while waiting. This can be at the checkout counter, or when you are walking somewhere or, well, if you are at the urinal. These moments were always reserved for meaningless thoughts. For daydreaming. For putting every piece of the puzzle together, to give all the input a place.
How to Stop Yourself Twitching
Twitching is a problem, last week I kept notice of when I am twitching and it is very often. Even more interesting is noticing when other people are twitching. Standing in a bar I checked and people are twitching a lot. Walking on the street, a lot of people are focused on their phone. Sitting in a library, almost everybody is on their phone.
Once we’ve accepted the problem it is time to change. Twitching is a habit and we can change habits. In this day and age it is not easy to stop twitching, but possible. The most effective solution, as Joshua did, is getting rid of your phone for a while. Not something I would do or even recommend, but an option.
I want to suggest something else. Pay attention to when you are twitching. There is no need yet to stop yourself or even track it, but notice the Twitch. Do this for a couple of days. Start paying attention to other people twitching as well.
Now, stop yourself. After a couple of days you can stop yourself from twitching. Begin with the moments where you are bored. Less twitching while working on something is of course important, but it gets frustrating if you are failing, so focus on what is easy. If you are stopping yourself when twitching while you are bored anyway it will be easier.
At the checkout counter? Look around, watch people. Walking somewhere? Focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Taking a piss? TRY TO AIM.
Keep on noticing and keep on stopping yourself. Habits are not formed overnight. You need to pay attention as much as possible and eventually you will find yourself twitching less.
It won’t be easy. The hardest part might be not being able to respond directly all the time. When people are accustomed to you responding within minutes all the time they need to change as well. You need to change their expectations.
Relieving yourself from the Twitch results in less clutter in your daily life and allows you to focus more on what is important. Your current task and even more important: your life.
Try it. Test it. Think about it. Will this work for you?
TL;DR the continuous urge to check your phone for new messages (the Twitch) is affecting both your productivity and your ability to daydream and make room for creativity. Start noticing when you are twitching, pay attention to it. Now stop it. Keep your phone in your pocket. Reap the benefits.
This is a guest post by Sam.
Pulling an all nighter happens to the best of us, various reasons can occur to cause it, such as forgetting that important test you have tomorrow, or if we were too busy socialising during the weekend to recognise the importance of the test until it’s almost too late. The solution? Staying up all night to enable you to put the hours of study in. However, whilst this may allow you to study and prepare for the test, this can be bad for your health. This article is aimed at raising awareness to your health after pulling an all nighter.
Staying up all night can benefit you in an emotional sense, by staying all night, you are increasing the dosage your body gives you of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that is linked in with our pleasure and happiness feelings. This leads to a short term heightened positive feeling than had you slept, however, there are negatives to staying up all night.
According to researchers at the University of California in Berkely, your body boosts you with dopamine, it also heightens your emotional senses, which may be lead to erratic and possibly dangerous behaviourisms. This is linked in with the “Fight or Flight” mental mode that your brain will enter if it becomes increasingly tired, this is an issue, as it replaces calm and rational thoughts. This was found after some extensive research into student minds, details of the research can be found here.
As such, some of the more common symptoms of doing an all nighter include;
- Signs of lack of energy (Yawning, heavy eye-bags and diluted eyes)
- Slower brain to body responses
- Irrational thoughts
- Emotional thoughts heightened.
Whilst these symptoms may not seem like a large issue for the average student, research has shown that it is possible to decrease your learning capability permanently as well as increasing the chances of developing anxiety disorders. Staying awake throughout the night on a regular basis, isn’t good for the brain, as it can cause sleep deprivation as the brain will have no time to rest itself from it’s constant state of activity whilst we are awake, leading to our body not functioning as it is meant to, this can further lead up to, weight gain, potential brain damage and an increased chance of developing diabetes.
If you must stay up all night, then I would strongly suggest that you take 2 or 3 hours out of your night, and get a small nap in that time. This will allow your brain to rest, and help ‘recharge’ your body, allowing you to be more aware and rational the next day.
A similar research, completed by the University of Toronto, Canada, came up with similar results, Dr Wright, who conducted the research commented that “What we found was quite astonishing, the group that slept not only appeared less tired, but they were also in pleasant moods and performed daily tasks with ease. The group that remained awake, however, became increasingly tired as the 72 hours passed. Many of them began to show signs of mental instability and a lack of coordination, while others broke into spontaneous naps and had to be removed from the study.”
This bad habit isn’t limited to Ivy League schools or pre-med doctoral students who are traditionally associated with janky sleep patterns. Students at a Christian college and students who are pursuing degrees online are just as likely to be affected and should be made aware of such research. If you’re a student, advice on how to avoid staying up all night to study.
‘I’ll probably never learn to play any instrument’ – Me (yes the guy with the shameless self-shot picture with the guitar)
That would be the TL;DR (short summary) of probably every conversation I had in the past about playing an instrument. I never played one, I would never play one. Music just ‘wasn’t my thing’.
That was until ‘the 4-hour Chef’ from Tim Ferriss. He explains how learning easy it is to practically learn any skill and he learns it by showing you how to cook.
Cooking was about the same thing, I knew how to prepare a proper meal, I could cook for a party of 6-8, but I never really understood cooking. I still don’t, but I am on the right track. I am learning how to cook by simple exercises, by trying new things and by practicing a lot.
Today I don’t want to talk about cooking, because well, I knew something about cooking before I picked up that book.
And I didn’t knew anything about music until I picked up a guitar. I probably still don’t know anything about music, as I’ve been only practicing on the guitar for a week now. Let’s explain.
Learning Random Skills: Great for Creative Relief
Simple skills can be a great relief when you are busy all day. Things like juggling, writing Haiku’s and of course making music can be a great help in coping with stress.
Learning skills is also a great way to get into contact with people, talking about your skill or actually doing it together. I love how people react when I pick up three random fruit pieces and start juggling.
But the best reason: it stimulates you in the creative and personal field. I find myself more creative when I challenge myself in learning something random. And I get happy when I succeed, which is awesome! You practice and practice, with probably no result, until it all works out! Until you actually juggle or until you actually strum the right chord.
Learning skills is awesome. Let me tell you how I started to learn guitar playing. You can also skip this and go straight to how I am planning to learn guitar playing.
From repelling an instrument to buying one and taking up a challenge
So I never knew how to play an instrument. I never wanted to either. In music class the piano songs were really, really hard for me and watching my girlfriend play on the piano was way more fun than trying it myself. I wanted to try some songs, but I would easily give up, just because it didn’t went fast enough.
But I liked music. I’ve been listening to old classics for a long while, been listening to Bob Dylan for a couple of years now and I’m listening to other folks songs as well. Folk songs aren’t complicated, the music isn’t too hard to understand. Just good music, with good lyrics. Something I can relate more to than complex rock songs. And I discovered another artist with very simple, but oh-so interesting music.
My friends can tell you all about it, around a year ago I started to fall in love with Johnny Cash. With the guy, with his music. His music is so simple, but so effective, so impressive. If you’ve never listened to any Cash’ song, you should check it out. Begin with ‘I Walk the Line‘ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues‘ as you probably already know them, move on to ‘I Still Miss Someone‘ and ‘So Doggone Lonesome‘. After that, just listen his prison records (‘Live at Folsom Prison’ and ‘Live at San Quentin’).
People say every song sounds the same, maybe they do, but almost every one of them sounds great.
And the best thing? They don’t sound that difficult. I Walk the Line consists only of three chords! EVEN I CAN DO THAT.
Right after that discovery some friends of mine bought a guitar. Great, they want to learn playing as well. Only thing? I am left handed, they aren’t. Damn, still have to buy my own guitar. Nevermind, probably too expensive and not worth the money.
Of course, as all series of events, something else happened. Tim Ferriss published a post: How to Play the Guitar. Read it, and I thought: I can do this. Guitar playing isn’t hard.
So last week I bought a guitar. A cheap one, obviously. And I have one very simple resolution: If I cannot play ‘I Walk the Line’ by the end of the year, I have to give the guitar away. How’s that for motivation? If there are any left-handed people with no confidence in me, please contact me, I might give the guitar to you!
Current status: strumming chords, singing along ‘I keep a close watch on this….. *where is that A chord again damnit* heart of mine’.
Long backstory, but hopefully somewhat motivating for you. Now, here is my plan to learn a random skill: the guitar!
- Practice every day. I am not putting my guitar away in a cover or anything. I have it in my room and want to play for 10 minutes each day. If I want to play longer, sure, but at least 10 minutes.
- I suck at playing guitar and I know it. One of the first things I had to do is accept the fact that I suck at playing a guitar. My fingers are awkward and are sore after 10 minutes playing. This is going to be a long ride.
- I follow the lessons of ‘Justin Guitar‘. This guy is fantastic. He has beginner courses, complete with chord lessons, simple technique exercises and beginners songs (INCLUDING I WALK THE LINE WOOOOHOOOO). I will follow his lessons, thoroughly.
That’s it! Practice every day, have a plan according to lessons (not random strumming, I actually have a plan). I am going to document the progress in Evernote and see if I make any progress. I maybe even post a video of me playing to song when I am ready.
I am serious about this challenge, learning cool things is interesting. Check out ‘the 4-hour Chef’, it can be a great eye-opener. If you want to know what else I am reading, I made a cool reading list thing on my personal website, check it out!
We are just over a week into the new year! Still, I want to wish you the best for 2013, may all your dreams come true.
So, how are you doing on those resolutions? Nine days in, big chance of already having a screw-up or two.
Not me. My new years resolution? Making my bed every morning. How many days did I do it? Nine days. Thanks to Chains.cc
Building a Habit – Any Succes?
In order to form a habit you need to do that activity for a certain amount of time – everyday. The most accepted theory here is the 30 days theory. You can build a habit by doing something 30 days in a row, no exceptions.
So if you want to become an early riser, wake up every day for thirty days, no matter what. Had a though night? Doesn’t matter – get up early.
I am trying to form a couple of habits, for instance doing some ‘creative recreation’ every day. This means doing something for fun, but in a creative way. If I knew how to paint or how to play an instrument this would be something. But I don’t, I do know my way with words though, so I am trying to build the habit of creating a Haiku everyday. A simple poem, which you can write on the spot as it is only 17 syllables long.
Same thing for reading. When I am studying and running around during the day, reading can be a great relief to get some rest. So I try to make reading at least half an hour a day a habit.
How? Well, Chains.cc
Chains.cc – The Help in Forming Habits
When you wish to build a habit you are going to need some sort of way to track your progress. I personally use Chains.cc, although Lift App is a great alternative. Chains.cc is very easy, you can create a ‘chain’, something you wish to form a chain about. For instance reading. Now, everyday you do your reading, you can click on the little orb in order to say you did that today. Now, when you complete a couple of days in a row you will form a chain.
Do this more often and the chain will become long. Doing it even more often and you don’t want to break the chain anymore!
That easy? Yup. Even if forming a chain or something is not for you, it is interesting to see your process, for instance, I can now see I am not doing very well in ‘Creative Recreation’, so I’ll try to figure out why I am not working on that habit and change that.
Pretty neat, check it out, it is free
Let me know what you think!
This is a guest post by Sam.
The amount of student debt is climbing at a significant rate. It was announced by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that the figure crossed the earlier estimate made by New York of $1 trillion in the fourth quarter 2012, and the figure is to rise further according to experts.
All the borrowing is taking place irrespective of whether students will find employment or will be able to pay back these loans. Private student loan borrowers may be at a greater risk. Every loan that is discharged will incur a loss to the lending parties, and their immediate response would be to place reserves in the form of expensive capital to offset the risk. This is going to increase the cost of borrowing for new students due to the increase in interest.
Policy makers have made private student loan dischargeable, which means the private students may be able to pass the effects of early life bankruptcy if they fail to repay the debt.
Legislators also maintain belief that modifying the Bankruptcy code can lead to modest relief. However, proper policies will be required such as changing the ‘under hardship’ concept to provide relief to relief based on the economic status of borrower.
The Department of Education also updated their income-based repayment plan, which has been in effect since 21st Dec, 2012. Previously, the program had cap payments at 15 percent of the discretionary income of students, while the left balance can be forgone after a gap of 25 years. Under the updated version of the program, called ‘Pay as You Earn’, the remaining balance will be forgiven after 20 years while the cap payments will take place at 10 percent.
The eligibility includes a federal student loan that has been borrowed after 1st October, 2007 and on or after 1st October, 2011. Over 1.5 million students will benefit from the updated version. This program excludes private student loans (already in a safety net due to discharge option) and federal parent college loans. It’s available for students who want to borrow for a bachelor’s degree from college. Students are slowly becoming aware or this program.
The institute of College Access and Success analyzed that a student who has a debt of $26,000 upon graduation, and earns $25,000 per year will have to pay $69 monthly under the new program as compared to the $103 payment under the Income Based Repayment program.
The Pay As You Earn program is also a blessing for those who are rejoining school from work. Both the programs offers hope to millions of students who would otherwise be left in the debt darkness for the rest of their lives. The Government is working to create awareness for the program and how it works.
Working with students on productivity I always come across of simple questions like ‘which to-do app should I use’. If you’ve been paying attention to all of the 150+ articles written on this blog you will notice there are very little suggestions on this site on which productivity system you should use.
Why? Because I haven’t found my perfect system. I switch every month from a system. I stick to a couple of things though: the weekly/daily goal system and a simple to-do list for the day. Long term to-do’s? Always somewhere else. I’ve tried Evernote, but the iPhone app was too slow, stopped using it.
Current go-to to-do app? ToDoist, which works very good for me. Why? I am looking for a simple app which contains projects (so for instance ‘StudySuccessful’, ‘Study’ and ‘Side projects’) and labels (or tags, like ‘email’, ‘call’ and ‘write’) as I like to batch tasks (write all the emails at once, you will get into a state of flow).
How long I will keep using Todoist? No idea, it works very well right now, better than any other to-do app so far, maybe this one will actually stick around.
Changing to-do systems – a bad thing?
Now I had friends saying, of course, ‘Stefan! You are giving workshops and everything about goal setting, getting productive and reaching your goals, but how do you even work yourself with all these different apps all the time?’
I don’t! I don’t have one big system where I keep everything, and of course, not very productive.
Well, maybe it is not that bad to keep switching from app to app. Obviously you would do better using one system consistantly, but if your attention span is not that good and you like to jump from this ‘best thing’ to the next ‘best thing’, maybe you should do so.
This is for a very simple reason: If you like to test new things – you are doing at least something. Creating a new to-do list every month is actually very healthy compared to letting your to-do’s fade away in some sort of expensive ‘ultimate’ to-do application.
Changing your systems changes the context and can be a great motivator to push yourself to scratch off some of those to-do’s again!
Besides getting work done, you will think about how you are working in the best way as well, over and over again. This is a big win, because you will understand yourself a little bit better. You know what you need and in the end, you may actually find the best to-do manager for you.