Monthly Archives: June 2012

Email on Vacation

It’s summer and time for vacations. Are you on vacation and not at work?

Don’t check your work email while you’re on vacation.

Any work problem arising from a work email can linger in your mind making your vacation time into work time due to preoccupation. So you wind up neither relaxing nor being productive.

So focus on work or something else and don’t get caught in between, because time without attention isn’t time well spent. You’ll have a better vacation and those around you will be happier too if you stay away from your work email. Try to value attention over time.

If you can, make your vacation a vacation from email too.

Maybe you should say, “My email is on vacation this week.”


Most people choose certainty over happiness.

I think we do this because the possibility of failure triggers an ancient avoidance urge that protected us against potentially fatal threats in older times.

Failures happen more than successes, so if a failure turned out to be life threatening, we learned to avoid uncertainty and failure. Over time this avoidance urge became hardwired. But today most failures won’t result in death, but we still avoid uncertainty, usually at the expense of happiness.

Because we choose certainty over happiness, any small unexpected joy can make a big difference for people. Lately, as an exercise while teaching English, we studied how to give compliments. it was an opportunity to learn a useful skill while practicing new vocabulary and some reading.

This is advice on giving a great compliment is from Brian Kim that I’ve paraphrased and shortened for you:

First, really want to give a compliment to someone. If you don’t want to give somebody a compliment, don’t, you’ll just sabotage yourself by coming across as insincere.

A compliment of quality takes time to make so don’t just use the standard compliments. Think about the person you want to compliment and come up with something specific because nothing screams insincerity like vagueness or a cliché.

Choose something unique about that person. Make observations on any quality, mannerism, or habit, that makes them stand out from everybody else.

Try thinking of something unique that nobody else has complimented them on before and expand on it. Appreciate the little things the person does. When you find that something, make it descriptive and specific. Expand on it and make sure you’re able to justify why you think it’s great.

For example, “I noticed that you never talk about people behind their back.” And follow it up with, “That’s a rare quality nowadays.” Then give a real life example to back it up saying something like, “Remember that time when everybody was talking about Jim? You didn’t, instead you stood up for him when he wasn’t there and you gained a new measure of respect in everybody’s eyes.”

The timing is important; give your compliment when it’s just you and the other person. People remember one on one encounters more because no one else is competing for attention.

Also, don’t just greet the person and deliver your compliment. Let the conversation flow. When you are in a conversation and you’re both comfortable, that’s the time.

Set up your compliment with questions such as: “You know what I noticed about you?”  “You know what I think is great about you?” This is the ultimate hook since everyone is always interested in themselves. When you ask them these questions, all their attention will be focused.

Deliver the compliment and believe what you’re saying. If you really don’t believe what you are saying, they’ll instantly pick up on the insincerity and you’ll do more harm than good. All your future compliments will now be in question.

Look them in the eye, lean forward, use your body, and stress your voice when you give your compliment.

Don’t give compliments out every time you have a chance. If you keep on doing it, each successive compliment will lose its value. It’s based on the scarcity principle. Bring out the big guns when you really want or need to.

When you give a compliment, don’t follow up with asking for a favor. It’ll seem as if you were just buttering them up for something in return. Give your compliment freely and expect nothing in return.

If you take the time to prepare and deliver a compliment, you’ll find your relationships get stronger. People will greatly appreciate your compliments and draw upon them for strength when they’re unhappy.

It’s something that can instantly lift someone’s spirit, and make them happier.

Showing Up

It’s been said that a strong person is harder to kill than a weaker one, and generally more useful too.

There’re lots of ways to get stronger. How you decide to do it depends on what your goals are. But if you’d like to get generally stronger most methods work, if you’ll do one.

You don’t need to kill yourself. Only do as much as necessary, rather than as much as you can.

I think getting your eating straightened out is important, ahead of exercise, but that’s another subject.

Here’s a sampling of some different schemes, from easy-to-follow to the more involved:

Power to the People uses just two exercises, the deadlift and a press. Each is done for two sets of (never more than) five reps. This leaves something in your tank, so you can do this workout five days a week and take the weekends off.

Easy Strength is somewhat similar in approach to Power to the People, five or six days a week of easy workouts using five movements and a low rep scheme that varies according to the day, of a 40 day cycle. You only add weight as you feel stronger.

High Intensity Training takes less than twenty minutes and you’ll do maybe six exercises, usually on machines. The workouts are just once every seven to fourteen days – but you must go to utter muscular failure, to make deep inroads to the muscle and nervous tissues. That’s why the sessions are infrequent, you’ll need lots of recovery time. There’s a low incidence of injury because you use machines and move slowly.

Bodyweight exercises are effective and there’re lots of ’em, calisthenics, isometrics, gymnastic movements and many ways to do them. If you’d just do push ups every other day and some sprints occasionally you’d do well. That’s all football great Hershel Walker did.

Three workouts a week is the most familiar and tradition approach. You do lots of exercises to get all body parts, doing 10 reps for three sets of each exercise.

Split routines are used by bodybuilders. Two workouts a day, with each one focused on blasting one body part. Steroids help most of these guys along as well as lots of time to spend in a gym.

Some schemes are more effective, but the most effective is the one that you think is the most appealing and enjoyable, in other words the one that you’ll incorporate into your life and keep doing.

If you like it, you’ll “show up.” And that’s the hardest part.

Start with Fun

Wired magazine asked eight futurists about how they spotted the future.

One of the futurists, Tim O’Reilly, tries to find out what interesting people are up to.

This is what he had to say about how he thinks future trends are generated:

The myth of innovation is that it starts with entrepreneurs, but it really starts with people having fun.

The Wright brothers weren’t trying to build an airline, they were saying, “Holy shit, do you think we could fly?”

The first kids who made snowboards, they just glued skis together and said, “Let’s try this!”

With the web, none of us thought there was money in it. People said, “This document came from halfway around the world. How awesome is that!”

It reminds me of what Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is the residue of wasted time.”

Do You Read Poetry?

Do you read poetry? I don’t. Almost never really.

That’s probably not cool to admit to. I kinda get poetry. But I don’t enjoy reading it.

Poetry was helpful to storytellers when committing their stories to memory. Their memory was all they had before books, printing presses, and other external storage methods came along.

Because poetry doesn’t speak to me, I don’t pursue it. I was exposed to it in school and didn’t really enjoy it then either. I love reading good prose, especially if it’s short and pithy. But if it’s not doing a good job of communicating to me I don’t read it either.

If the artist isn’t able to communicate to the viewer in a way that a viewer gets then the artist hasn’t done his job. That’s what got me thinking about poetry and how it doesn’t register with me.

Poetry for me feels sort of like another form of bad communication: jargon. Jargon takes away from my experience and understanding, which is sometimes the point. Why use Sanskrit names in yoga for people who don’t speak it. Or Latin in church. Or dead languages in general. Calling a posture an asana only adds mystery not clarity.

I get it that if you’re a scholar or need to communicate internationally with others at a high level, jargon could be useful.

The structures used in poems aren’t structures I encounter in my daily life communicating with others. Reading a poem is often jerky and just gets in the way of the poem’s idea or theme rather than enhancing the feeling or story being communicated.

When I think about it, I must not be alone in my lack of interest in poetry because I never hear about it from friends or acquaintances. I don’t mention to them that I don’t read poetry, the subject just never comes up.

Maybe I should start asking, “Do you read poetry?”

Are you an Unracer?

One of the few things I miss, living in a small Mexican town, is bike riding. The roads in our town are cobbled, so the riding is bumpy and jostling.

There’s one street here without cobblestones. All the others make for slow, bumpy biking. I have an old beater bike and its chain gets rattled off the sprocket regularly while riding on the cobblestones. Cycling on cobblestones is unpleasant enough that most folks in town don’t ride bikes much. Go to other towns in Mexico without cobbled streets, and there’re plenty of bikers.

I’ve been thinking about biking because I’m reading Just Ride by Grant Petersen,  who’s been biking a lot, for years. He’s in the bike business too, making non-trendy bikes for an enthusiastic niche market of people he calls unracers, which is what most people really are.

Petersen advocates just riding your bike. Like you did as a kid. Don’t concern yourself with bike racing culture and its sway over biking culture and unracers, who share almost nothing in common with race culture.

The bike business: bikes, parts, clothes, magazines, fitness and nutrition is all seen through the lens of bike racing. And that’s become an off-putting but seductive problem for most of the non racing bikers. It’s especially distracting for non bikers who might want to try biking a little bit but are intimidated by the dominating world of bike racers and wanna-be-racers.

Before the sixties unracers and racers had more in common. Those racers had little support during races so their bikes were sturdier and more practical.

Now, pro racers are supported throughout races. And they have multiple, specialized, not-built-for-the-long-haul bikes which are given to them new each year by their sponsors.

What racers need isn’t what unracers need. Petersen makes the case for a common sense approach to biking. A super light bike made of exotic materials, specialized pedals and shoes, biking clothes, or a bike sized for a 21-year-old pro racer aren’t what most people need. Petersen thinks you shouldn’t need to “get ready” to bike. The easier you make riding, the more likely you are to use a bike. Most of the racer culture gear inhibit you from just riding your bike. Make it easy and fun, and you’ll do it.

A Lot More

How much is “a lot” of information?

That amount is changing with growing access to information.

“A lot” is growing like a bamboo shoot. It’s growing a couple of feet a day but you wouldn’t notice until you see it in a time lapsed video.

Our capacity for information is the same as it’s always been. Comprehension stays the same while inputs are increasing, so the information starts piling up. There’s a glut of info if you have the channels open to the flow.

We’re living in an “attention economy.” And our permission (for attention) is valuable because our attention is limited, so there’re all sorts of ways to get information, like an RSS feed. But I like controlling when I access info. And I don’t like extra emails popping up in my inbox.

Here’s what I’ve been experimenting with for the past couple of weeks.

I created six new files in my browser. One file is called “Daily” and the others are labeled for each day of the workweek, “Monday,” Tuesday…”

Next, I sorted the sites I visit regularly. The stuff I check everyday like my email, the NYT, and Seth Godin’s blog went into the “Daily” file.

All the other sites were assigned somewhat randomly to a day folder with each folder  holding three to ten sites.

When I stumble across a new site I like, I bookmark it and it stays in the bookmark file to see if I really want it. And if I do, I’ll move to a day of the week folder.

Now each day of the week I generally only check in on the “Daily” and that day of the week’s folder.

So far I’ve found a week is enough time to allow a site’s material to accumulate.

There’re still the other older folders in my browser from before that’re there for reference, like: Doctors, Spanish, Travel, etc. Usually, I open those on an as needed basis.

Saturday and Sunday don’t have folders. I’m trying to minimize using the computer on the weekends and only open the “Daily” folder.

This new system is working well. I’ll report back after six months or so to let you know if it’s still working well.




Choices and Goals

I like jotting down interesting things I hear. Here’s a good one I ran across:

Want to be happy, live in the moment, and live a healthy life? These are choices, not goals. Choose to be happy, to live in the moment and to live a healthy life. You don’t need to measure these events, simply live this way.

Sounds like good advice. Harder to do than it sounds. But I’m working on it.

Stand More

Stand more is the take away message here. It’s more positive than saying don’t sit too much.

It’s not a new idea. Here’s a picture of Hemingway working at his stand up desk in the fifties.

I found the picture at which also links to an interesting article on standup desks and why they’re good for you.

I’ve been using a standup desk for a couple of years now and like it.

You don’t need an expensive standup desk but there are some nice ones out there. I just use a small rectangular stool from our kitchen table which I put on top of my desk. It’s easy to set up and easy to breakdown when I’m done.

There’s lots of evidence that standing more is an easy to implement habit with a big health pay off. Read the article at if you want to go deeper, it has most of what I’ve run across before corralled together in that one article.

One thing that’s interesting is how independent of other factors standing can be when it comes to your health. For instance Winston Churchill who smoked and drank a lot was also a standup desk user. And he lived ’til he was 90.

Even if you don’t want to use a standup desk, just interrupting prolonged bouts of sitting with five minutes of standing and moving a little every half hour or so will help. Turns out you don’t have to stand all the time – you just need to stand more.