It was certain doom when we realized we were both marching band geeks. My husband and I still sometimes go around whistling Sousa marches together. He played tuba and I played (but you knew this) clarinet. Therefore we can do a reasonable rendition of Fairest of the Fair.
Our musical training also helped when I taught him various ballroom dances. He knew what I meant when I taught him to swing dance and suggested we try double time.
Then, triple time!
I kinda do everything triple time now.
I just discovered that one of the library smartphone apps I use offers a higher playback speed than the other one. For the enthusiasts, that’s Hoopla vs. OverDrive. Although I was in public at the time, I bounced in my seat and let out a little ‘woohoo!’
Earlier this year, I finally figured out the secret of how to input ebooks into my speed-reading app, Outread. Depending on what it is, I can read at triple or quadruple speed.
This is probably why I have little patience for TV or movies. Sometimes I want to watch something terrible purely for pop culture reasons, and I feel stuck at regular playback. It creates a weird paradox, where it takes me longer to absorb something that doesn’t really interest me than it does to indulge in something I enjoy.
Note: I have seen some unbelievably, staggeringly bad horror films...
...a genre which, at high speed, might quickly morph into screwball comedy.
It often does at my house, because my little parrot likes to walk behind me on the couch, making smooching sounds and imitating games of ping-pong.
Doing things faster is funny. Sometimes, when I bust through my chores, I think of Lucille Ball stuffing chocolates into her mouth.
The way we look at our daily routine is entirely our own choice. It’s equally as possible to take great pride in drudgery as it is to resent even the lightest duties. That’s because we don’t necessarily care about the nature of work; we care about whether we feel like it’s our choice or someone else’s.
Example: I find nail art mystifying. I utterly cannot understand it. I once had to wear a coat of clear nail polish for a gig, and I was counting the hours until I could remove it, because I couldn’t escape the smell. If I had some job where I was forced to sit still and have nail polish applied on a regular basis, and then wear it all day, I’d be climbing the walls. Yet a lot of people wear it for fun. Go figure.
We should all be more aware of what we enjoy for its own sake and what we’d rather trade off for something else.
I like hustling and bustling around, getting things done. It doesn’t even really matter what I’m doing, because I’m listening to a book. Might as well keep busy.
Often, I play Beat the Clock, trying to get a set number of tasks done before a timer goes off. That’s because I no longer have a washer and dryer.
Don’t get me wrong - there’s little that annoys me more than folding laundry. Carrying fifteen pounds of sweaty workout clothes across the apartment complex, and back again when it’s clean, is not my idea of a fun time. Sixteen washers and dryers are shared by 332 units, which is probably 400-500 tenants. This creates some interesting constraints, and constraints are all you need to make up an interesting game.
Can I find a block of time when two or three machines are available? How much can I get done in 28 minutes while waiting to put the wash into the dryer? How much can I get done in 44 minutes while waiting for the dryer to finish?
Part of my game is refusing to do housework on the weekend, and that includes Fridays. I try to avoid Mondays as well, because several holidays include a Monday. And I’m busy on Wednesdays.
Okay, to tell the truth, I only really do housework on Tuesday and Thursday.
Most of it on Thursday.
My game of doing things on triple time means that five or six days a week, I don’t have to do anything but walk the dog. No laundry, no errands, nothing!
Imagine that. Five or six days a week, I have zero stress about cleaning my apartment.
Oh, but you don’t have kids, I hear. Yeah, I’m about to turn 44. Most people don’t have little kids around at my age. Also, both of my parents saw children as little mini chore machines. My mom would tape a chore list for each of us on the front door every morning. We weren’t allowed to go out and play until our chores were done, and this started at kindergarten age. We were gradually considered competent to do every single household task except cleaning the bathroom, and I took that over in high school. I won’t claim that my brothers and I looked forward to doing chores more than any other kid, but I will certainly say that we did our share.
If you live in a home, and your chores stress you out, well, it’s your own home. You’re in charge of creating the rules there. If you insist on burnout, resentment, and annoyance, that is your seigneurial right. Far be it from me to tell anyone to quit being irritated or exhausted if they want to be.
There are lots of games that can be played with task lists. Chores can be regarded as claiming or expanding territory. There can be a race between players or against a timer. There can be bonus points for one thing versus another. Something like a list of business calls can be regarded as a treasure hunt or Mission: Accomplished. Kids are great for this as well, because their ability to continually generate new games is more or less infinite.
Triple time is irresistible to me. It puts a spring in my step. It adds a bit of interest and excitement to what could easily be a boring, routine day. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but... why not one and a quarter time?
I got pitched again. “Will... you be my mentor?” This is sweet, and flattering, and problematic for a bunch of reasons. For one, I have four current protégés, four slices and only one pie. I’ve also lost two in the past year or two. Mentoring is something I take very seriously, and that’s why I feel it incumbent upon me to share how easy it is to mess up.
For starters, maybe have more than two conversations with me before asking me to commit to a long-term relationship with you?
You’re right to pick me. I started doing this years ago, and it’s a formal couples project for my husband and me. Our young ones (now grown) have gotten dream jobs and internships, won grants, traveled the world, relocated, gotten fit, won promotions, and we’ve even married a few of them off. Personally I’m proudest of the happy marriages, because those are the hardest to do properly. We’re proud of all of them, though, because the important thing isn’t the dream, it’s having the dream.
Now that I’m working more with adults than with young people, the dreams tend to be different, but they’re still dreams and thus they operate within a standard framework. Win a competition, become a professional public speaker, get a promotion, get a raise and a bonus, pay off a bunch of debt, those are the easy ones. Weight loss and chronic pain management are intermediate and ‘stop hoarding’ is advanced.
See that it’s not the nature of the project under discussion. It’s how you approach it. Choosing a mentor is the tiniest piece, just a faster way to get to where you want to be.
What I’m looking for is a kind-hearted and honest person who is willing to get to work, eager to listen, and suitable to introduce to other people. I have one strict rule, and that is that anyone in my circle has to get along with everyone else in my circle. Cause problems with my friends, colleagues, or guests, and you are automatically disqualified.
I dropped a prospect for sending angry emails in ALL CAPS. That might seem extreme, but I later witnessed her having an altercation in a business setting. She doesn’t know she got dropped, and she may never figure out why things are so comparatively difficult for her.
Using the word ‘idiot’ or ‘moron’ also immediately moves someone to my probation list. It’s not quite an auto-fail, but I do see it as a major red flag.
Swearing is fine; in fact it’s encouraged, as long as we’re in a casual setting.
Naysaying is probably the most important thing that one of my protégés needs to understand. Most people do it reflexively and they’ll never stop. My people need to be receptive to working on this habit, because the entire point of working with me is to learn possibility thinking.
“That’ll never work!” “Prove it.”
I have a prospect who is burning through chances right now. She needs a job, and she happens to have a lot of experience in a field with which I am well acquainted. I set up a lunch with her and she canceled while we were already waiting for her at the table. I invited her to a meeting with the director of a company that would probably hire her on the spot. She didn’t come.
From my perspective and that of my friends with hiring authority, new acquaintances are assets. If I can offer them a qualified candidate, I’ve done them a solid and they’ll remember it. I’m not asking them for a favor, I’m giving them a gift. The door is wide open and there’s a little gift bag on the other side with your name on it. Smile and walk through the door. You’re welcome.
That’s why it’s so frustrating and puzzling when people inevitably stand around outside the door, like a cat that can’t make up its mind. Do I really want to go in there? Am I sure? Maybe I’d rather be a giraffe farmer.
This person who keeps blowing her shots always has some reason. One time it was an audition, and she actually got the job, but it was a one-day gig. The rest of the time it turns out to be childcare. I’m sympathetic, but what are you going to do for childcare after you get the job? What did you do while you were working at your last job? This is not a problem I can solve for you, but it is a problem that you have to figure out if you’re going to make your life easier. Find a sitter for two hours, go to the interview, get the job, collect paychecks, problem solved.
If you have a problem that can be solved with money, go after that money!
“I can’t make it.” Okay, then suggest to me another time or another format that would work for you. Do you want to try a video conference? Type an interview over Skype? Send over your portfolio or your resume? What, nothing?
If you’re going to stop at the first obstacle, you’re going to be standing in a tennis court surrounded by little green balls that you never lobbed back.
I made something absolutely crazy happen a few months back. I was riding in a Lyft with a chatty driver, and because I love storytelling, I got him going. It turned out that his sister ran a big charity event, a bulldog race. I immediately texted my friend who has Frenchies to tell her about it, and she said she wanted to go but she thought the deadline passed. I got the driver to give me his sister’s personal phone number! (Of course I told him why I wanted it).
Did my friend text or call to ask to get her dog into the race? NO SHE DID NOT.
They could have made friends. My friend could have networked herself into the charity. Think of all the dog friends her dog could have made!
She might also have won $15,000, but who’s counting.
Passing along opportunities is like a game of Hot Potato. You bounce it back and forth and get it off your hands as soon as possible. This comes from a deep recognition of what an opportunity looks like, even if it’s one that you yourself would never want.
Naturally I’ll continue to pass along opportunities to my bulldog-loving friend, if they come my way. I won’t extend myself quite as far to make them happen, though.
The truth is that almost every time, a person presented with an opportunity will pass. That’s because we like the feeling of having lots of options, but we’re violently allergic to actually deciding and choosing them. That would require change, and change is what we can’t stand. We hate uncertainty, and that unwillingness to be in the Place of Uncertainty is the exact thing that keeps us from our supposed dreams.
That’s the main reason that I lose protégés and drop prospects. They change their minds and decide that they didn’t really want what they originally said they wanted. You mean I got you an interview with a paleontologist with a PhD, and you didn’t make the connection because only just this moment you lost interest in the field??
This is why there are so many gates in the business world. We start feeling burned after extending so many opportunities to people who lost interest or changed their minds. There has to be a way to filter out the tire-kickers and the looky-loos. Show us you’re serious.
Okay, so here’s how to annoy your mentor.
Flake out, fail to show up, fail to follow through.
Ignore suggestions, even easy ones such as checking out a website, reading an article, or applying for a gig.
Keep asking the same question.
Give lengthy explanations as to why you can’t do something.
Try to get the highest-level possible mentor in the room when you aren’t ready, and even the most junior person could easily answer 90% of your questions.
Make major decisions that change your circumstances without mentioning it. You don’t report to me or answer to me, but wouldn’t you want to know if I could save you some hassle or help you avoid a costly mistake?
Allow persistent problems to hold you back, such as bad wi-fi or lack of transportation. Unless you want that to be your condition for the rest of your life, figure it out. If you can’t figure it out, ask everyone you know for advice and follow that advice.
Balk at trivial amounts of money. I used to clean my friends’ bathrooms when I needed $20 or $50 or $100 for something. If you don’t have $65 for a conference, find seven people who will pay you $10 for something, or four people who will pay you $20. Or ask me and I’ll shake down some odd jobs for you.
Ask for my free time on evenings or weekends (1) and then flake out or cancel (2).
I don’t care if you doubt me or disagree with me. I don’t care if you work with additional mentors - the more the merrier! Although do consider introducing us. What I do care about is whether you understand what you’re asking when you ask me to be your mentor, and that you commit to your dream and to living up to your own standards for yourself.
Passion is overrated. That’s the core message of Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I believe him, partly because I think ‘passion’ is something of a myth in the first place. My clients often confess that they don’t have a passion, that they don’t have an outrageous dream, that they don’t have a secret wish and that they don’t know what to put on their vision boards. Not a single one of them has ever managed to get through the “perfect day” exercise. Culturally it makes them feel out of step. Newport shows us another problem with passion, which is that people have been taught to expect that following their passion will lead to a successful and prosperous work life.
Maybe. It only works if you follow your passion in a very specific way and become “so good they can’t ignore you.” It’s not passion that we think we want, but mastery.
Should I be paid vast sums of money to indulge my lifelong passion for birdwatching? If I were, would I still enjoy it with the simple delight of a tiny child? I’ve always suspected that attaching financial interests to my passions would snuff them out, so I like to keep them separate.
Newport argues that career passions are rare. Whether people see their position at work as a job, a career, or a calling depends on the individual, not the work itself. It’s an attitude. Attitude is the secret behind whether someone finds fulfillment as well as a paycheck.
The basic formula, if you want to become So Good They Can’t Ignore You, is to adopt a craftsman mindset, build career capital, and engage in deliberate practice. Or, choose something you want to be good at, prove your value, and constantly get better at what you do. From this deep commitment comes the passion that you seek. True passion comes LAST, which is also something that few people understand about marriage.
Newport has built a successful writing career, so much so that I advise quickly acquiring and reading anything with his name on it. His method has worked for him, as well as (most of) the people he profiles in his book. Let’s all take his advice and start talking about mastery instead of passion.
“Follow your passion” might just be terrible advice.
Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.
The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.
“Do what people are willing to pay for.”
Neighborhood gossip time!
I have a neighbor, an intriguing figure who is rarely around. My hubby and I talked about her and immediately decided, She’s single on purpose. She’s a professional model, a sweet-natured young single mom. Her kid is nice - our parrot loves her. We sometimes walk dogs together and chat casually.
This is Southern California. Naturally we have neighbors who are personal trainers, former professional athletes, and models. Thank goodness we’re middle-aged and have the good sense not to take this personally.
So we’re all hanging out in the hot tub, and a group of men gets in. A couple of them are senior guys, friendly and interesting but not in our age range. One of them is ludicrously good-looking. I mean, shut up and get out of here, that’s a hologram, right?
They leave after a while, and the gossip goes on.
I mention him and refer to him as “the hot guy.”
“That’s what we call him!” she cries. “The Hot Guy!”
What’s the story here?
Okay, we have two extremely attractive, smart, funny, and kind-hearted single parents. They like each other.
Their kids like each other.
Each kid likes the other adult.
They hang out.
Why aren’t they dating?
“Oh, we’re just friends.”
THIS, this is exactly what keeps happening and why none of the single women I meet are in a happy relationship.
I talked to two single gals, one an old friend and the other her road-trip buddy. How did you do it, they want to know. How can we have a marriage like yours?
You don’t want what I have, I said. Yes we do, they said.
No, you don’t. You both travel around the world for your jobs. How are you going to date someone? Either you’d have to give up traveling to be with him, or you’d have to find him work in the same city as you every time you change contracts, or you would both travel and you’d always be on different continents. BY DEFINITION you don’t want and can’t have what I have.
What all these women have in common is that they’re emotionally hooked on the pursuer/distancer dynamic.
That’s fine, except that it is the relationship style most likely to lead to divorce.
I don’t think people recognize this when they’re in it.
The trouble with the friend-marriage is that it starts by dating someone you see as “just a friend.”
This is not the same as the supposed “friend zone” phenomenon, in which one person is interested exclusively in a sexual relationship and fakes a friendship while waiting for a chance. Built into that model is inherent disrespect. I know you don’t feel that way about me, but. I know what’s best for you and I will change your mind, I’ll wear you down. This “relationship” is goal-oriented and you are my target.
This is not that.
Your romance should be like your other relationships in most respects. If you’re friends with a wide range of people, from your work buddies to your neighbors to your dental hygienist to your high school friend’s mom, then you’ll understand this. You like each other, you enjoy talking to each other, you find each other’s stories interesting, and you make each other laugh.
Why would you want a love match that was any different?
What I told my model friend is to picture yourself on your most boring day. Your default. That’s marriage. Almost all the time, you’re just hanging around, messing with your phones, doing chores and running errands. If your romance doesn’t fit into your ordinary life, then it won’t last.
Your marriage has to be a friendship or it can’t possibly survive, because you’ll annoy each other too much.
For whatever reason, most women and many men seem only to be attracted to the sort of person they can’t be friends with. We want someone sexy, and that means mysterious.
Look, I get it, I’ve done it too. When I was young I dashed my hopes against the rocks many times. Filled my poetry notebook with sad verses about musicians, poets, and boys who dumped me. It wasn’t until I was nearly thirty that I finally figured out why the other party always broke up with me first:
I wanted to extract emotions from the other person, even though he didn’t feel them
I thought of “the relationship” as a separate entity
I assumed the boy wanted the same things that I wanted, or that he would if only I could convince him
I fell for his “potential” - not his behavior today
I read between the lines, convincing myself that even though he said one thing, he really meant something else
I spent a lot of time guessing what he might be thinking or what he might do, incorrectly
I focused on superficial things about him, such as his taste in music, clothing style, or hair
I assumed that if he was into something that bored me, he would stop in favor of hanging out with me, effectively trading his main interests and hobbies for... talking to me
Ditto with friends I thought he would cancel if I didn’t hit it off with them
Finally I quit all of that, and I started vetting my relationships differently. I started to realize that what I needed was someone I liked and respected, someone who was fun to talk to, not some mystery poet. That’s why I decided to give my current husband a chance. I realized that if we could have fun together going to the grocery store and making dinner, then this thing could work.
Thirteen years later, it still seems to be working!
I explained to my friends, including the single mom/model, the difference between the five styles of marriage. I talked about the friendship marriage, which is the most successful, and how it feels. No more of this “wait until I meet some random mysterious stranger” nonsense. Turn to your left, turn to your right, and notice the friend who really gets you and likes you for who you are.
Then I heard that my model friend, the Hot Guy, and their kids are having dinner together, on a weeknight.
The Lone Matchmaker strikes again.
Heh heh heh.
I knew I had to do a sleepvacation the minute it crossed my mind. I have a flexible schedule, so I could make it happen. What I didn’t have was anywhere to sleep that was quiet for at least five hours at a stretch.
Q: Where could I go without upstairs neighbors?
A: Almost anywhere
I thought about bringing a sleeping bag down to our laundry room. I thought about making a trip to the airport terminal and stretching out under some seats. On my toughest days, I thought about digging a trench on the beach and sleeping in that.
Then I thought of house-sitting. I’m responsible and good with animals. Surely someone in my beach community would need a house sitter for at least a few days?
I mentioned it to my brother, who replied, “Well actually...” and it was just that simple. Ask someone you know for help. I had nine days for my sleepvacation in the peaceful suburbs.
The very first night, I slept nine hours!
My only responsibilities for over a week:
Eat and bathe
Care for a massive black dog, my niece Penny
Penny’s desire to be fed and go out at 6:30 AM
That became my routine. Go to sleep around 11 or midnight, wake up at 6:30, feed the dog, open the back door, go back to bed and read for a while, take a nap.
I thought I would be able to sleep twelve hours a day if only I had the chance.
If only it were quiet enough.
If only I could just take a break from the world, I’d sleep off and on all day and drool all over myself. If it works for Penny...
As it turns out, I can probably only sleep twelve hours if I’m ill. Nine is enough for me to feel well-rested.
This is helpful. It’s helpful to know that I don’t need to waste my time pining for something, not because I “can’t have” it but because I don’t actually need it. My sleepvacation showed me that I’m much closer to my goal than I thought.
Things happen when you finally start to meet a biological need, like watering a thirsty plant.
The first thing that happened was that I started dropping weight. I lost six pounds in nine days.
[This is the part where I’m supposed to put a disclaimer that losing weight is not happiness because people are incapable of thinking ‘weight loss’ without attaching it to body image. I don’t give a flying leap about body image. I’m here for my overall energy level and quality of life. In my world, with my history of thyroid problems, weight gain correlates with migraine and night terrors, and losing six pounds was delightful!]
After a week, something else happened. I started having ideas.
The biggest issue with chronic sleep deprivation is being tired all the time. That low-energy feeling seeps into everything. All I could think about was 1. How to get more sleep and 2. How selfish my neighbors are, running a vacuum at 8 AM on Saturdays. A year of sleep deprivation, I can tell you, starts to turn into distraction, poor concentration, and memory lapses.
Like leaving your purse at a cafe overnight, forgetting your phone when you leave for a day trip, filling the dog bowl and leaving it on the counter, that kind of thing.
That day that the lightbulb flickered back on in my brain, I remembered who I really was.
I remembered that not all that long ago, I was a high-energy, positive, cheerful person who radiated ideas day and night.
Somewhere along the way, my personality had been dampened. I was burned out and exhausted. I started to convince myself that I was stuck, trapped in an infinite prison sentence in a tiny apartment with inconsiderate neighbors.
It isn’t true, of course. Nobody is stuck or trapped. Even a convict can discover philosophy and inner peace. It’s all what we buy into and what our minds tell us.
My situation is easy in every single way, except that I have a parasomnia disorder and I don’t know how to sleep through heavy footsteps over my head. Or blenders, or vacuum cleaners.
I had no plans for my sleepvacation, no work plans, no productivity goals. My intention was to sleep as much as possible, care for my furry niece, eat convenience foods, and read. No vision boards, no journals, no sprints, no insanity workouts, nada.
I found myself taking notes and jotting down ideas throughout the day, something I realized I hadn’t done all year. More than a year.
When HAD I last felt like I overflowed with ideas?
One of my ideas was the realization that I really have only a little over three months left before our lease is up. Part of that time will be spent traveling. We’re almost out of the woods!
Then I had an insight. I had a few days to play with the idea.
I realized that I was sleeping roughly the same core hours on sleepvacation that I do at home. The difference was roughly one hour in the morning, and the nap later on. Not that much to ask. What if, just for the three months, what if I used an over-the-counter sleep aid to train myself to fall asleep earlier? Could I buy the missing hours of sleep?
When I came home, I tried it (ZzzQuil, for the curious) and it’s sort of almost working. It tastes freaking awful and it makes me groggy until after lunchtime. The first night, it took me 90 minutes to fall asleep. The second night, it took an hour. The third night, it took 40 minutes. It’s basically sort of working.
Mainly, it’s helped me sleep through my neighbors’ early-morning two-hour family noise relay.
The difference between five hours of sleep and nine hours of sleep is remarkable. On five hours, I think a lot of people don’t even realize how consistently crabby they are, how much they underperform, and by ‘they’ I mean ‘me.’ Nine hours is enough to feel joyful.
The difference between 35-40 hours of sleep in a week and 63 hours of sleep in a week, that’s big. Can you start to see how, say, 160 hours a month vs. 250 hours a month can add up?
Everyone in our busy, always-on, hustling culture could probably use a sleepvacation. More, though, we could probably use a better sleep routine.
You know what’s weird? What’s weird is how much time we’re willing to waste to get a bargain or “save money,” even though time is limited and money is not. We sometimes say that “time is money,” but that’s only true in a very constrained and specific way. Time is the only thing that money cannot buy. Time is the only thing we cannot replace. This is why it can be helpful to think of time in financial terms.
What if we thought of time spent as a tax on our resources?
Which it is, of course!
Being busy costs extra time, and that’s a tax. Extremely busy people feel that they don’t have time to do certain things, such as calling ahead to find out if a store is open or if they have something in stock. Lack of focus on preparation and organization leads directly to wasted time.
I was a witness to this recently. One of those so-busy-we-suspect-drugs people picked me up on the way to a meeting. We were already late. My ride felt a level of time pressure that can only be described as Warp Speed Desperate Frantic Urgent Emergency. The reason? Trying to buy an item that wouldn’t be needed for 18 hours. We made the stop, we asked two employees, we looked all around the store, and the item was not in stock. My ride bought another unrelated product and we stood in line for it.
When we got to the venue for the meeting, half an hour late, it turned out that both items were already on hand. Both the one we were looking for and the one we stood in line to buy.
Not only did we drive around like bats out of hell, showing up late and scattered and frantic, wasting time and money for things we didn’t really need. We also wasted the time of no fewer than eight other people.
Multiply half an hour times ten people (us and the eight others) and that is FIVE HOURS. Five person-hours that could have been used to do other things. What can be done with over half an entire business day? Who knows? We could start, though, by making a list of all the things we “never have time for.” Writing a major report, holding a planning meeting, catching up on email, taking inventory of the supply closet, conducting a training, finally learning to set up the A/V equipment or use an advanced feature in the software... anything other than having eight people stand around waiting on the most chronically disorganized person.
The busy one.
The worst part of this is that a person who is capable of this kind of thing, is capable of doing it more than once. It becomes habitual, as certain as death and taxes.
Having your time taxed by a professional superior, a person whom you can’t disobey, is taxation without representation.
I’m in a situation in which I am often waiting on other people. This is pretty typical in the business world. My dentist is one of the few professionals I know who is always ready on time; my boxing instructor, on the other hand, often starts early. Everyone else, who knows what on earth they’re up to. This creates a lot of predictable time gaps, a tax on my time.
What I do about this is to try to be prepared. This is equivalent to calculating your withholdings ahead of time, so you don’t have to write an unexpected check.
I prepare by keeping a small backlog of minor organizing tasks reserved. When someone makes me wait, it’s not like I’m going to leave for a five-mile run or start watching a movie. I know it’s probably only going to be a few minutes. I can do a lot with five minutes, and every time I do, it makes my to-do list that much shorter.
Do a brain dump and put things on my to-do list
Add something to my online shopping cart
Update my hydration app
Check movie times
Look at my calendar for the week and the month
Unsubscribe from spam email
Delete unwanted email
Read a few messages
Research vacation activities
Read a short article
Curate recent photos, which means deleting most of them
Delete apps off my phone
Honestly, there’s no way I ever feel like I have enough “free time” to do all of these things in a big block. It’s boring.
More importantly, large blocks of uninterrupted time are hard to come by. This is partly because we’re affected by the disorganization of others around us. That, in turn, is why there are so many professionally printed signs on display in businesses around the world that say “Your problem is not my emergency.”
When an uninterrupted block of time does pop up, it can be used for something constructive, like taking a long nap, reading a novel, clearing space for an awesome new project, or going for a walk with a friend.
Time should be ours to do with as we will. It’s taxed at a pretty high rate for the demands of living. Try as we might, we can’t completely avoid the pragmatic needs of eating, bathing, cooking, housework, and dumb administrative tasks. Which reminds me, it’s almost time to renew my drivers license, and hopefully get a much worse photo than I’ve ever had before.
The best we can do is to avoid taxing ourselves. We can be organized enough to prevent that frantic sense of scurrying around, making multiple trips, losing track of things, forgetting appointments, and creating situations where we need to put in double the effort. Every time we have to apologize for screwing up, every time we have to fix problems that we created, every time we have to redo our work, that is a tax we pay for being too busy.
Let’s reclaim our time and focus. Let’s start treating our time like it’s more valuable than money, which, of course, it is. Down with the busy tax!
Let’s spend a day with an expert at the grocery hustle, my dad.
There are lots of strategies to save money on food, and ordering restaurant delivery is not one of them! My brother’s strategy in his twenties was to work at a restaurant on the side, getting free lunch and dinner with every shift. My strategy is to cook at home, avoid having any kind of pantry, and finish off anything in the fridge each week. I have a friend who does extreme couponing. Another friend is part of a neighborhood bulk buyer’s club, invitation only.
These strategies depend on individual living situation, household composition, and whether anyone in the home knows how to cook. My bachelor brother ate quite well at his side hustle steakhouse, and he didn’t have to shop, cook, or do dishes. That’s important for someone with two jobs. My couponing friend is a single mom with four kids, and her strategy allows for a lot of kid-friendly packaged foods. The bulk buyer’s club requires volunteering to drive around distributing everyone’s orders. My husband and I both enjoy cooking, and our tiny kitchen prohibits “stocking up” on anything. Then there’s my dad’s way.
The key factors in a grocery hustle like this are desire and knowledge. It also takes reliable transportation, a flexible schedule, and plenty of storage space. A rural household could probably do it with careful planning, but it’s easier for people closer to an urban area, partly because it includes a range of specialty and ethnic grocery stores.
My dad starts his workday at 3:00 AM. He’s done for the day by noon.
Most days, he does the grocery circuit looking for bargains. He has his chosen stores mapped out and he knows what time they get their deliveries. He may do three stores in a day, and I’ve been with him when he’s done four or five!
This is important, because the grocery hustle is competitive. Just like thrift stores, there are people hovering and waiting to pounce on the best deals the moment they hit the shelves. Some will grab stuff off the rack or cart before it’s even stocked. Someone who shows up the next day, or even three hours later, will see a completely different inventory. It’s different every day and some deals never appear again.
The thing to know about the grocery hustle is that different stores charge different amounts for different items. A deal at that location or in that chain may still be more expensive than what you’d pay somewhere else.
We’re arbitraging between the bulk aisle, the big box warehouse store, 10% case discounts, in-store specials, coupons, international grocers, grocery liquidators, the day-old bread store, produce stands, what we can grow at home or trade with other gardeners, and the occasional freebie. (Many stores will give away spotty bananas for the asking).
Without this contextual knowledge, we may be saving a little money, but not the maximum possible. Because of the time, transportation, and storage space involved, we may be better off spending our resources on something else. We have to be calculating our savings rate per hour. We may also be throwing money away if we can’t or don’t eat everything we buy.
This is why I don’t use this method, because in my region I save a LOT more by living in a studio apartment and not owning a car than I would with a grocery hustle. I know how to do it, I live in a large international city just like my dad does, and I also have a flexible schedule. But he can afford a big house in the suburbs and I can’t. That’s partly due to our belonging to different generations; I was far too young to buy a house in 1990, yo.
My dad has two fridges, two huge pantry cupboards, a large kitchen, a single-car garage, and a pickup truck. Not to mention a garden and some fruit trees.
I live in a studio that charges for parking and I have to keep all my food supplies in my fridge. I barely have enough cupboard space for my pots and pans, much less a can of soup.
It’s not a can of soup we’re talking about, either. It’s cases of stuff, family packs, two-for-one items. The grocery hustle works best when you have the resources to process large quantities of food before it goes bad. A lot of this stuff is on the brink of expiration, and by that we mean: compost quality. Eat it today or tomorrow, freeze it, or I hope you have yard chickens, which my dad also does.
Grocery liquidators are fascinating. They have a mix of utter trash junk food, foofoo high-end luxury items, normal condiments and staples, ethnic groceries in several languages, and both perfectly fine and very very funky produce.
The day I went on grocery hustle with my dad, they had a deal on organic Brussels sprouts that looked great. Why? Because not that many people buy Brussels sprouts! A few feet away was a display of leopard bananas, farther along than what I usually use to make banana bread.
What else did we find?
Mostly stuff we wouldn’t eat. White bread, frozen dinners, soda, meat and cheese, creamy peanut butter, candy, kid food like juice boxes and cereal. Spotty grade-C unfresh vegetables.
Then there’s the specialty stuff that we did buy. Vegan meatballs for $1 a pack. (Dad and I are both vegan and he made us meatball subs for lunch). Cases of strawberry nondairy yogurt. Vegan pepperoni, deli slices, and frozen pizzas. All different varieties of nondairy milk.
SCORE! I bought a giant bag of big vegan cookies for $3.49, mixed in with half a dozen protein bars that went to my dad’s work. These cookies retail for $2-3 and I buy them all the time. I got nine. Do the math. That’s 39 cents each, or at least 80% off, not including the windfall that went to the breakroom treat box.
This particular store often has large produce boxes, taped shut, full of a mix of random treats. Chips, candy bars, nuts, cookies, beef jerky, you name it. You can’t see what’s inside until you take it home. My dad buys these, takes the stuff he wants, and then sells the other stuff for $1 an item. The profit goes toward fresh bagels for all.
Most of the foods at the grocery liquidator are 60-90% off.
You can basically feed the neighborhood on a grocery hustle if you do it right!
When I ran an open house in my big house in the suburbs, several years ago, I had the space, time, and resources to do this. I also had a mini-horde of hungry students. I could have fed a dozen kids. (I did it anyway, off bulk food, but with a grocery hustle I could have done it most days of the week).
A grocery hustle can make a great excuse for feeding a hungry relative or neighbor while allowing them to preserve their dignity. “Please, take this off my hands, look, I got a dozen of them for $2 and my freezer is full.” Elders on a fixed income, families with small kids, students and young roommate households, anyone going through hard times can always use an extra meal. My dad paid the $3 tab of a frail granny who was shaking out her purse. Frugality ripples outward.
Of course you can always try a grocery hustle and just eat it all yourself! Save your money for retirement, buy a new mattress, go on vacation, or replace your bald tires. Spend money where it matters to you and save it where you can.
The Third Door is an incredibly entertaining book. It’s also a story about how to create your own luck. Alex Banayan set out on a self-created quest to interview a series of famously successful people, even though he knew no one and came from a family of immigrants. What follows is The Third Door, Banayan’s account of blind optimism, persistence, doubt, failure, awkwardness, and, of course, dizzying success.
That’s what makes this book destined to be a classic, and guarantees that “the third door” will become a common catchphrase in entrepreneurial circles.
“The third door” is the one that geniuses create for themselves by bypassing the ordinary way of doing things. Most of us get the first door, the main entrance. Those born to wealth and privilege get the second door. During his interviews, Alex Banayan discovered that what the most interesting people had in common, even though they didn’t know it, was the initiative they took in making their own door.
You know, “Hey Kool-Aid!” *crash*
(If you’re too young to get that joke, congratulations! You have more time than you think and your whole life is ahead of you).
The Third Door could have been a compilation of interviews, and it would have been a good one, or maybe just an ordinary, mainstream one. Instead Banayan structures it around his quest, focusing on all the stumbles and bumbles and what it took every time he had an inspired moment or gained an ally. This book is about the thought process. It’s also about the emotional reality of committing to something big, a public quest, and how scary it can get every time it isn’t easy, which is most of the time.
Banayan’s process would probably work for anyone who is genuinely trying to create a third door of their own. Get an Inside Man, someone who will help you to connect with the person you want to talk to. Be grateful and polite. Stay in touch with and befriend the various people you meet. Be likable. Have people check your work and edit your cover letters. Get a mentor and pay close attention to their advice.
Perhaps most of all, do your research. Banayan’s biggest score came after an enormous amount of research to find someone he wanted for a mentor. He made several guesses as to the person’s email address, got a two-line response, and dropped everything to accommodate that person’s schedule. He trusted his gut, but only because he had done so much research beforehand.
Banayan had a lot to overcome. Shyness and stage fright, social awkwardness, lack of resources. Really a boy like him had no business even thinking about this project, much less attempting it. He did it anyway, figuring out the rules as he went along.
I loved The Third Door as an example of possibility thinking. I also loved it as a madcap adventure story. It’s a fun book that would make a perfect gift for a young graduate.
As a news junkie, I’ve noticed that news consumption increases to fill the time available. I would find myself reading the news over breakfast, over lunch, or even while brushing my teeth. The more I read, the more important it felt to read yet more. No matter how many sources I followed or how many versions of a story I read, I never felt like I knew enough about whatever it was. It never stopped, it never even slowed down. It took a week of vacation to step back and realize that this wasn’t a positive habit. What I needed was a news upgrade.
There are lots of approaches to upgrading a news habit. One is to replace it with something entirely different, like a cooking class or an extra hour of sleep. Another is to switch to books. Often reading a non-fiction book about a topic can bring clarity to a subject in a way that a dozen news articles never could. (A biography, the history of a particular country or region, an explanation of the stock market or self-driving cars, any number of topics could be an improvement over a news habit). One of the easiest ways is to upgrade the news itself.
What I did was to rearrange my news sources. I did this in several ways.
I have a side project, a tech newsletter that I put out on weekdays. This requires me to stay current in a few fields that are outside my area of expertise. The advantage of my layman’s perspective is that I bring in a broader range of material in adjacent subjects. I’m stronger in trend analysis than I am in STEM. Working in this field reminds me that ‘trend analysis’ is valuable and interesting in its own right, and it helps me to reinterpret what is meant by ‘current events.’
What do I cover? Robotics, astronomy, biomimicry, technology, and science news are my working categories. All of these fields are booming. Usually it feels like I can barely keep up, that there’s too much happening to fit within my remit. As with everything else, the more I know, the more I want to know, and the more I get out of what I read. Often, I’m reading about things that were pure science fiction in my childhood. I’ll think, “Wasn’t this a movie back in the Eighties, but now it’s real?”
Admittedly, science news is often over my head. That’s why I married an aerospace engineer, so he can interpret this stuff for me. (Joke). I can only handle so much in a day. That’s where the news aggregators come in.
A news aggregator pulls news on various topics from multiple sources. I simply made sure that mine included more non-current-events, non-political topics and more neutral sources.
Some of my topics? Dinosaurs, archaeology, ornithology, longevity, tiny houses, and Alzheimer’s research, among other things, fill out my news feed. For some reason, I also get quite a lot of articles about snakes and alligators.
Pulling news from international sources can be intriguing, especially when it’s health news. I’ve found that the British or Australian take on health research can be really punchy compared to the mainstream American perspective.
I read plenty of political news, and I certainly follow the headlines, but I’ve found that it isn’t productive to let this dominate my news consumption. I utterly refuse to discuss modern US politics. The reason is that it tends to destroy friendships. We have this absurd idea in our culture that “a debate” is the only appropriate format for a political conversation, and I can’t seem to dispel this notion. I don’t owe anyone a debate on any topic, from whether I have the right type of phone to whether tights qualify as pants. If I talk about politics with people who agree with me, it reinforces what I (and they) already think. If I talk about politics with people on “the other side” (as if there were only two sides, which is too silly for words), they always want to argue. I say, fine, I’ll talk pre-Industrial politics with you. Which do you prefer, antiquity, the Dark Ages, the Reformation? When someone asks which way I’m voting, I say I’m voting for myself as a write-in candidate. When in doubt, go with theater of the absurd.
What we do well to remember is that passive news consumption isn’t actually doing anything about anything. Arguing with our friends, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues doesn’t move the needle. Getting worked up about a topic and ranting about it all around the house doesn’t even qualify as a good workout. Staying informed is only useful if we do something with that information.
It also helps to remember that everything humans are doing, in every sphere of activity, qualifies as ‘current events.’ An invention that helps people with paralysis to walk, or congenitally deaf children to hear, is relevant. These advances are more likely to change the course of history than most election results. Every day I see news about archaeology or paleontology that claims to be one of the most important finds of the last hundred years, and that’s relevant too. I see news about space exploration and technological innovations that about blasts me out of my chair. The world is going to be nearly unrecognizable in twenty years once all these trends combine along their current arc. It’s relevant, it’s newsworthy, but are we noticing it? Or are the settings on our news feed causing us so much stress and distraction that we develop a misleading picture of the world? Upgrade your news habit and find out.
This isn’t a staycation. It’s a sleepvacation. It’s important to know that going in.
A staycation can involve a lot of things that aren’t sleep. Some people use them to do a home remodel project, check out tourist stuff in their home town, or binge-watch TV series. In that sense it’s similar to a sleepvacation, because both involve bumming around in pajamas.
I’m setting the parameters going in, because all I want is to SLEEP and sleep is what I’m gonna do.
I’m tired. I haven’t slept well in a year. I’m so tired that sleep is almost the only thing I think about. It finds its way into every conversation. People can’t even ask me how I am without winding up on the receiving end of a rant about my upstairs neighbors. It’s time to do something about it.
I went out of town for a family weekend to celebrate my brother’s birthday. All I could talk about was how tired I was. Suddenly I had a random idea, and tossed it out there.
“I should house-sit for people so I can catch up on sleep.”
My other brother and his wife looked at each other and then back at me.
I had no idea, but they had a trip planned for later in the season, and they were going to pay a dog sitter. If I housesat for them instead, I could watch the dog, keep an eye on the house, and water the plants. My dog walker charges less than theirs, so everyone would come out ahead.
Obviously this setup works best for location-independent people, students, or the unemployed. I have used house-sitting as a side hustle in all those scenarios. A jobbed person can do it if it’s in the same city or convenient to the work commute.
The only trouble with the certainty of the upcoming sleepvacation is knowing that it’s still months away. I have a countdown calendar going on.
In some ways, the existence of the sleepvacation makes the whole neighbor situation easier to bear. It helps to feel like it is temporary, that this sleep-deprived year will one day be just a blip in my personal history. It also helps to feel like there is at least one alternative option, that I can maybe escape for other housesitting junkets.
We have some upcoming vacations planned, which also helps to fill out the calendar with ‘sleep anywhere other than here’ options. It’s not the same, though. Hotels tend to be chock-full of loud late-night drama and people utterly failing to realize how thin the walls are. Also children running up and down the hallways at 7:00 AM, hooting and shrieking.
(If you let your kids do this, you probably also let them kick people’s seats on planes, don’t you? Don’t you??)
Our culture spits on sleep. It’s contrary to the Puritan work ethic. Yeah, you’re tired, so is everyone else, what’s your point? What could possibly be more boring than going to bed early rather than going out? Or knowing nothing about a show that everyone else stayed up late to binge-watch? Sleep is just making yourself irrelevant. Pointless.
I say fie to all that. I like sleeping, it’s free, and it makes you better-looking.
I also happen to think that the reason everyone is so testy and thin-skinned these days is that we’re all sleep-deprived. At least that’s my excuse.
I fantasize about sleepvacation. Should I bring my own pillow? Or order another one and have it delivered?
Am I going to do a lot of yoga? Should I bring my yoga mat? *snort* Is yoga sleeping? Then NO
Am I going to do a lot of healthy cooking? Is cooking sleeping? Then NO
I am going to make precisely two grocery shopping trips, and I am going to eat canned soup and frozen dinners. What I ought to do is eat large quantities of waffles at dinnertime because they make me schleeeeepy
Am I going to bring a bunch of outfit changes? Are they pajamas? Am I going to bring makeup? Haha, no
Am I going to research activities and new restaurants like I do for normal vacations? Do I plan to sleep there? Then NO
Basically I should make a list of everything I do for a normal trip and then cross it off. Normal vacation: fun, exciting, action-packed, interesting, high-value. Sleepvacation: sleeping.
Packing is so much easier when you really only plan to do one thing. It’s basically: stuff for the plane trip, and pajamas.
Eye mask, check.
White noise app, check.
Mouth guard, dang it, yes, check.
Sleep tracker, check.
The one productive thing I do have planned around the sleepvacation is the period immediately following it. The day or two after I get home. I am hoping that I will retain a bit of the glow of well-restedness that is one of the few genuine compliments a woman in her mid-forties tends to receive. “You look well-rested.” Ah, thank you so much, yes, I work hard at that.
I went to Cancun in my early thirties, a siblings trip, and we stayed in a run-down timeshare. It happened to have some sort of fluffy pad instead of a proper mattress. I have never slept so beautifully in my life. I loved that thing and I wish I had had the sense to steal it. I must have slept twelve hours a day. It took two weeks at my lame job for that peaceful, well-rested feeling to wear off.
That’s my fantasy for my sleepvacation. Blissful sleep, hours and hours of it, minus the all-night dance club up the street.
Sleepvacation. I’m making it happen.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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