The Need for a Productive Workspace

How would you like to permanently boost your productivity by making some simple changes to your work area? If you’re going to spend so much time at your desk, then make sure it’s going to be a pleasant experience.

How does your workspace make you feel?

If you’re at your desk right now, take a moment to clear your mind, and think about how your work area makes you feel. Take a deep breath and get a sense of the subtle energies you pick up. How does this place make you feel?

Do you feel stressed? Worried? Relaxed? Peaceful? Fired up? Motivated? Energized? Drained? Happy? Depressed? Overwhelmed? Busy? Important? Insignificant? Bored? Excited? Rushed? Angry? Creative? Aroused? Come up with a few words to describe the feeling you get from your environment.

I recommend you leave your work area, go someplace else for a few minutes, and then re-enter your work area so you can pick up a fresh impression. Notice how your feelings change very subtly as you enter your place. What do you notice about this change?

Get a second opinion

If you have a hard time sensing your work area objectively, get a second opinion. Grab a coworker who has a fairly different work area than yours, and invite him/her to sit down at your desk. Ask him/her how it feels to enter and to sit in your work area. Get several opinions if you like. Have some fun with your co-workers, and hop from desk to desk to see how each person’s work area feels. Sit in each chair and imagine what it would be like to work there for a day. Whose work area do you like best? Whose do you like least? Maybe even rate each one on a scale of 1-10.

Notice how each environment makes you feel. Also notice that no two are quite the same.

What’s different about the work areas you rated most highly? What did you like about them?

What if you don’t like how you feel?

If you realize your work area makes you feel lousy, that’s OK. Changing the way your work environment makes you feel isn’t too difficult. There’s always a way to improve it.

All you really need to do is follow this simple rule: If it feels right, it is right. If you use that as your guiding principle for making changes to your work environment, there’s no need to bring in a feng shui expert. I spent a good bit of time studying feng shui and ultimately felt that this simple rule covered about 80% of what I wanted to remember.

Imagine your ideal space

Identify how you’d like to feel in your work area. What mental state would you consider the very best to have as your daily default? Pick two or three words to describe it. When I did this, I chose relaxed, peaceful, and focused.

Now picture what kind of work environment would help to create the feelings you’ve selected, even if it doesn’t seem realistic to work in such a place. For example, if you chose to feel peaceful, what’s the most peaceful place you can imagine? Create a mental image of the ideal place for you to work.

Alter your space

Now take your imagined ideal space, and project it onto the reality you have to deal with. Maybe you can’t work on a mountain lake, but perhaps you can bring part of that vision into your real space. Make a list of simple changes you can make to your work area. If you’re not sure they’ll work, that’s OK. Think of these changes as experiments. If you don’t like them, you can always undo them.

One by one take some time to implement these changes. Add a poster, a fountain, a candle, a plant, or some photos. After making each change, notice how your feelings change. Remember to follow the rule, “If it feels right, it is right.” If a change feels wrong or neutral, then undo it and try something else.

I want to emphasize that the rule is, “If it feels right, it is right.” Note that I’m not saying, “If it looks right, it is right.” How your environment makes you feel is more important than how it looks.

Commanding position

The most valuable idea I got from studying feng shui was the concept of the commanding position. This is the position where you feel supported from behind (and optionally on the sides too) and open in the front. For example if your house has a mountain or hill behind it, then your home would be in the commanding position, much like a highly defensible castle. In workspace terms, the commanding position ideally means that you work facing the entrance to your work area and have a wall right behind you.

The commanding position creates a feeling of security. It makes it easier to relax when you work. When you have your back to the wall and you face the entrance to your workspace, your focus is forward, and a forward focus contributes to high productivity. You never have to concern yourself with someone approaching you from behind. If part of your focus is on what’s happening behind you, you’ll be more distracted, and your productivity will suffer.

I used to work with my desk against the back wall of my office, so my back was towards the door. That just seemed an efficient layout for my office. But after studying feng shui, I decided to give the commanding position a try and rearranged the furniture so that my back was to the wall and I could see the door. It made a noticeable difference even before I’d made any other changes. I felt more comfortable and relaxed. There’s something about the feeling of being supported from behind that makes it easier to work productively.

If you think of the layout of a top executive’s office, it’s almost invariably in the commanding position. The person sits facing the entrance to the room. You don’t walk into an executive’s office and see their back.

If you’ve never worked in the commanding position, find someone else who has their office setup this way, and go sit at their desk. Notice how different it feels versus if your back is to the entrance and you have to worry about people coming up behind you. Even if you have a door behind you with a lock, the commanding position is still better.

If you make only one change to your work area, this would be the one to make. Once you’ve tried it for a few months, you’ll never want to go back.

My experience

Several months ago I altered my home office with the intention of creating the feelings of relaxation, peace, and focus. It wasn’t difficult to do, and I made most of the changes in the first week. I gave myself a budget of $200 for the alterations, but I spent less than half of it. I wasn’t sure these changes would make any difference, but it was worth a try — even a small increase in productivity would be worth it. When I made these changes my office was designed with functionality and efficiency in mind, so I wanted to keep those benefits while changing the way the location felt to me.

Currently as I sit at my desk, I’m facing into the middle of the room, so I can see the door. On the wall behind me is a poster of a mountain forest (which further reinforces the commanding position). I count nine scented candles within reach of me, some in decorative candle holders with small rocks. The room smells of cranberry, since that’s the candle that’s burning right now. There are three plants in the room: a medium-sized one on my filing cabinet and two small bamboo plants. The bamboo plants are next to a small fountain, which creates background sounds of water splashing over rocks. Behind the fountain and bamboo plants is a small mirror, which has the visual effect of doubling their presence. Relaxing music is playing through my PC speakers (currently I’m listening to Enya’s new Amarantine CD, which is one of my favorites). There are a few decorations around the room: a small stuffed yellow bear, a dragon sculpture, a turtle sculpture, a couple stone gargoyles, a miniature zen rock garden, and a crossbow. I keep my office organized and uncluttered as well, which contributes to the feelings of relaxation, peace, and focus.

When I sit down at my desk, switch on the fountain, light a candle, and put on some relaxing music, it often feels like I’m about to get a massage rather than go to work. Because the environment is so peaceful and relaxing, it’s hard for me to feel stressed or overwhelmed. I look forward to going to my office because it’s a nice place to live, not just a productive place to work. I’m sure I’ll continue improving it over the years ahead, but I’m pretty happy with the results so far.

When my wife sat down at my desk after I made the initial changes, she remarked at how different it felt. In fact, she became instantly jealous. Eventually she decided to work on transforming her office too. For Christmas I gave her a fountain and some scented candles to get her started. She set them up on a corner of her desk, and even that small change gives her work area a very different feel.

If you don’t like it, change it

If you find yourself too often feeling stressed, overwhelmed, bored, unmotivated, frustrated, etc. at work, perhaps your environment is reinforcing is these negative states. Take those feelings as a signal to make some changes and create a more balanced and comfortable work area for yourself. A few simple changes you make today can serve you for years to come.

And don’t just read about it, think about it, or talk about it. Go do it! You’ll be glad you did.

Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public

Original title of this is “Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public
Original title of this is “Creating a Productive Workspace”.

The need for more Entrepreneurs, not MBAs

I am reading an article on my Inc magazine subscription from last year’s issue (catching up) about the need for more entrepreneurs more than MBAs. It says “New companies translate to new ideas, new approaches, products, vision, services, innovation, etc.”
I couldn’t agree more. I have worked both with startups and gigantic enterprises and have experienced the fast paced innovative approach of startups. The excitement, the vision of the team has a strong and powerful kick. Gigantic enterprises on the other hand boasts about innovation, slapping marketing and branding, & vision across all their product offerings but most of these remain as “power point” slides that never see the light of day; fading in the cloud of bureaucratic thorns.
The statistics reported on the contribution of entrepreneurs is encouraging:

1. Young companies (categorized as 6 years old and below) – account for 64 percent of new jobs in 2007 based on a 2009 survey by Kauffman Foundation
2. Gross job creation – startups account for 20% of gross job creations as researched by John Haltiwanger who is an economist at the University of Maryland.

While the numbers are encouraging, the rate of startup creation has not increased throughout the past two decades; Kaufmann reports that the number have stayed on the 500,000 mark.
Social Networking and the ease of putting up a virtual business has never been easy which could encourage people to go into entrepreneurship. However, large companies who have both the funds and machinery have invaded social networking sites like never before. Job hunters, recruitment agencies, and human resource departments have trolled social networking sites, making job applications, interviews, fast and easy. Company brand name, sign-up bonuses, promises of fast career track, topped with bot loads of marketing hoopla can instantly kill entrepreneurial spirit.
Game changing companies was, is and would always be built by entrepreneurial startups – Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, Google, Facebook, EBay, etc.
The world needs more entrepreneurs, and not MBAs who would most likely end up eaten and fighting for bureaucratic games in the corporate world. I couldn’t agree more.

What is Polyphasic Sleep?

A couple days ago, I saw a post about polyphasic sleep on LifeHack.org. Since then I’ve been emailed about this topic as well, probably because I’ve written previously about becoming an early riser.

Polyphasic sleep involves taking multiple short sleep periods throughout the day instead of getting all your sleep in one long chunk. A popular form of polyphasic sleep, the Uberman sleep schedule, suggests that you sleep 20-30 minutes six times per day, with equally spaced naps every 4 hours around the clock. This means you’re only sleeping 2-3 hours per day. I’d previously heard of polyphasic sleep, but until now I hadn’t come across practical schedules that people seem to be reporting interesting results with.

Under this sleep schedule, your sleep times might be at 2am, 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, and 10pm. And each time you’d sleep for only 20-30 minutes. This is nice because the times are the same whether AM or PM, and they’re consistent from day to day as well, so you can still maintain a regular daily schedule, albeit a very different one.

How can this sleep schedule work? Supposedly it takes about a week to adjust to it. A normal sleep cycle is 90 minutes, and REM sleep occurs late in this cycle. REM is the most important phase of sleep, the one in which you experience dreams, and when deprived of REM for too long, you suffer serious negative consequences. Polyphasic sleep conditions your body to learn to enter REM sleep immediately when you begin sleeping instead of much later in the sleep cycle. So during the first week you experience sleep deprivation as your body learns to adapt to shorter sleep cycles, but after the adaptation you’ll feel fine, maybe even better than before.

It requires some discipline to successfully transition to this cycle, as well as a flexible schedule that allows it. While you’ll be sleeping a lot less, apparently it’s very important to sleep at the required times and not miss naps.

It was interesting to read some of the posts from people who’ve tried this sleep cycle. They reported higher alertness and energy, more vivid dreams and more lucid dreams, and of course lots of extra free time. I also read of failures, but in each case the person wasn’t strict about the nap schedule and overslept on occasion. A side effect of this sleep schedule is that you need to eat more, since you’re spending more time moving around. It appears that the long term health effects of this sleep pattern aren’t well known. That’s irrelevant to me though because I find that being a long-term vegan, I can’t rely much on long-term studies done on non-vegans anyway. Some say that hormones in animal products negatively affect sleep patterns, and more restful sleep is commonly reported after making dietary improvements. So long-term studies on people eating average diets wouldn’t be of much use to me personally.

The downside to this sleep schedule is that it can be inflexible. I’ve read that you can delay naps by an hour if necessary, but missing a nap can cause a rapid crash that takes a while to recover from. This means you only have about 3.5 hours of waking time between naps, 4.5 hours if you push it. So this can restrict your options a bit. Of course, you have to balance that sacrifice against the gain of many extra hours per day, every day. Interesting trade off…. It reminds me of something you’d find in The Book of Questions.

Plus it’s just plain weird. So naturally I want to try it. :)

Since I work from home and have control over my schedule, I’ve decided to test polyphasic sleep to see what it’s like. I’m already good at falling asleep fast (within a few minutes), and I often have dreams during 15-20 minute naps, so I wonder if I’ve partially conditioned myself to enter REM rapidly. This test obviously requires a bit of adjustment, but I’ve managed to work things out with my wife to make it practical enough. Since I’ve read that energy and alertness plummet during the first week, I’ve kept next week’s schedule very light mentally (no meetings, speeches, or major projects). Depending on how functional and coherent I am during the adjustment period, I’ll be doing mostly domestic projects like organizing the garage — nothing involving power tools. :)

I’m starting this polyphasic sleep schedule today, so last night was my last night of “normal” sleep for a while. I still got up at 5am this morning, and then I’ll begin doing the naps every 4 hours starting this afternoon. I’ll use a countdown timer alarm set for 30 minutes, so I won’t oversleep. I’ve decided that my sleep times will be 1am, 5am, 9am, 1pm, 5pm, and 9pm. I aim to continue at least until Halloween… or death, whichever comes first. If it seems to be going well and I retain basic functionality, then I’ll decide whether I want to continue with it.

My main motivation for trying this is curiosity, and it seems like it would be a fun test of self-discipline. Plus it meshes nicely with my own general weirdness. Whether the experiment succeeds or fails, it should be an interesting learning experience.

Of course I’ll be sure to blog about this experience, but if I start making posts about seeing dead people, then you’ll know I’ve become delusional due to sleep deprivation. ;)

What would you do with an extra 30-40 hours of free time per week?

Read more about polyphasic sleep at Wikipedia.

Edit 4/14/06: For your convenience, here are links to all of my polyphasic sleep log entries in order (each link will open in a new window). This is a treasure trove of free information for anyone interested in learning about my trial of polyphasic sleep. To my knowledge these are the most detailed polyphasic sleep logs you’ll be able to find anywhere on the web.

Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public

Original title of this is “Polyphasic Sleep”.

Online Business Plan Workbook at Inc

I believe in careful and strong planning before executing my ideas. In business, a documented business plan is a guide for entrepreneurs to help them successfully deliver their vision.
A number of business plan tools are available online and one of the better options is found at Inc.com.
As described: The Business Plan Workbook is a sample document used by companies to prepare and supplement the creation of a business plan. The Business Plan Workbook provides a detailed outline with blank sections for every step necessary in making a business plan. This workbook is used before and during the business plan creation process.
Go ahead and feel free to use the sample document as your starting guide. The resource can be found here — Business Plan Workbook

30 day super-break-in period for self-improvement

For years I’ve been recommending the 30-day trial as a way to install a new habit or replace a bad habit. Many people, myself included, have used this practice to successfully make behavioral changes — and have them stick.
Now it’s time for the advanced version: The 30-Day Supertrial.
[cue trumpets]
A Quick Review
When conducting a 30-day trial, you pick one habit or behavior you’d like to change, and you commit yourself to sticking with it for 30 days straight. If you miss even one day, you start back at Day 1.
It can be very difficult to change a habit for life, but if you use the psychological trick of telling yourself that it’s only for 30 days, your odds of success increase substantially. And of course once you reach Day 30, the new habit is already installed, and it’s much easier to continue it on Day 31 and beyond.
Some examples: Get up at 5am every morning. Eat a vegan or vegetarian diet. Avoid watching TV. Say “You are loved” to someone each day.
A 30-day trial is partly an experiment and partly an exercise in self-discipline. It’s an experiment in that you see for yourself how your life would be different if you made a certain change and stuck with it. A good 30-day trial will also push you to build your self-discipline, helping you grow stronger mentally and emotionally. It’s a workout for your willpower.
The more 30-day trials you successfully complete, the stronger your self-discipline muscle becomes. This will benefit you tremendously in all areas of life. On top of that, you get the benefits of the new habits you’ve installed, such as the educational value of reading lots of new books, the metabolic boost that comes from regular exercise, or the financial benefits of working on your Internet business every day.
When most of us reach adulthood, we have lots of crappy habits that don’t serve us, and our self-discipline tends to be very weak. For example, about 50 million Americans smoke, yet most of them would prefer not to. That’s a behavioral conditioning nightmare. What habitual actions are you succumbing to that you’d prefer not to?
Your level of self-discipline will have a strong impact on your self-esteem. The more disciplined you are, the more you can adopt positive habits and shed negative ones. Positive habits yield positive results, and positive results feel good. Feeling good gives you more energy, and that feeds into more positive actions, which in turn become positive habits.
30-day trials can be very challenging, but they’re also very effective. This is my #1 favorite tool for habit change.
Now in the past, I’ve cautioned people not to overdo it. Many people who are new to the concept of 30-day trials go kittywompus and try to install 5-10 new habits simultaneously. And almost without exception, they crash and burn. Usually they don’t even make it past Day 3.
It’s like trying to juggle too many balls at once. You end up dropping all of them. Zero results.
So I’ve advised people to stick with one 30-day trial at a time. One trial will be plenty challenging. And you can do 12 of these per year if you’d like. Even if you only succeed at half of them, that’s still a tremendous amount of improvement within a year.
Now I’m going to explain how to actually do the opposite.
Yes, Dr. Venkman, under certain conditions we can cross the streams. There’s definitely a very slim chance you’ll survive.
I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it! Let’s do it! :)
What Is a 30-Day Supertrial?
A 30-day Supertrial is when you attempt to make several significant behavioral changes in one 30-day period.
For example, you might attempt to install the following habits all at the same time:

  1. Check email only once per day, and completely empty your inbox each time
  2. Exercise every morning for 30 minutes minimum, alternating weight training and yoga workouts
  3. Read positive, inspirational material for an hour before bed
  4. Go to bed by 10pm every night
  5. Spend 10-20 minutes per day visualizing your goals/intentions as already accomplished
  6. Avoid consuming dairy products
  7. Work on your screenplay for 2 hours per day

For 30 days you commit yourself to doing all of these things without exception.
If you’re like most people, then you’re going to fail. You probably won’t even make it through the first day, and the odds of making it through the first week successfully are more than 100-1 against you.
So if you want to have a chance in Sto’Vo’Kor of succeeding at this, you can’t be like most people.
You probably won’t heed my advice, but let me succumb to the delusion anyway and share some practical tips on how to increase your odds of success.
It’s Possible But Almost Not
First of all, it is possible to succeed at a Supertrial. It’s just extremely difficult. But like the Siren’s song, many of us can’t resist the seductive lure of instant behavioral nirvana.
Yes, it’s possible. It’s possible to flop a boat with 7-2 offsuit too, but the odds are against you.
Knowing how difficult this is, however, gives you a slight advantage. If you maintain a healthy respect for the challenge, you’re less likely to underestimate how tough it is, so you’ll be better prepared when you begin.
A Supertrial does make some sense because our behaviors are intricately linked. One behavior triggers another, which links to another, and so on.
Oversleeping in the morning leads to skipping exercise, which leads to a crappy breakfast and a late start on your day, which leads to feeling unproductive and lazy, which leads to low performance at work and a feeling of being drained at the end of the day.
On the flip side, getting up early gives you extra time to exercise, which boosts your metabolism and energizes you. You’ll also be more attracted to healthier foods after exercise, and this positive start can kick you into a productive workday, which leaves you with a delicious feeling of accomplishment in the evening, where you’ll still have plenty of energy to work on your personal goals.
Habits reinforce each other. They overlap. So the main idea behind a Supertrial is to collapse a whole chain of negative habits and replace them with a new chain of positive ones. In some ways this can actually be easier than trying to change habits one at a time since a Supertrial gives you the opportunity to cut out an entire chain of unhelpful behaviors.
Prepare Well
Read the article Habit Change Is Like Chess to understand the 3 phases of habit change. A 30-day trial occurs in the third and last phase. Make sure you devote sufficient effort to putting the right scaffolding in place and preparing for the trial as best you can.
For example, if you’re doing a dietary change, stock your kitchen with healthy foods and make sure the off-limit foods are out of the house before you even begin your trial.
Whatever you can set up, take down, or prepare in advance to make your life easier during the Supertrial, do that first. Give yourself a few days to get everything in place before you begin. You may be itching to start Day 1 as soon as you can, but that inspiration is only going to fizzle into disappointment if you don’t take enough prep time.
The more prepared you are when you kick off your Supertrial, the better your odds of success.
Train Up First
Supertrials are like triathlons. You don’t just show up for one with no advance training. You won’t even make it through the swimming portion if you do that.
This is a level you must build up to. Once you have at least 5-10 successful 30-day trials under your belt, then you might consider a Supertrial. Otherwise you’re wasting your time.
Supertrials are the advanced version of 30-day trials. Even a regular 30-day trial is well beyond the beginner level. The beginner version is a 5-day or 10-day trial.
You must learn to walk before you can run. Training up your self-discipline is a lifelong process. Start with what you can achieve, and keep upping the challenge level as you grow stronger. But don’t keep attempting to lift weights that you’re always dropping. Go lighter until you see what your capabilities are.
There’s no shame in being a beginner who accepts that s/he is a beginner. For the unwilling and impatient, there are humility lessons.
Eliminate Social Drag
If there are people in your life who will resist the changes you’re making, distance yourself from them as much as possible. Otherwise the social drag they create can decrease your motivation and hold you back.
For example, if part of your Supertrial includes working on your new Internet business for 2 hours per day, and you have a friend who thinks that the only people who make money online are scammers, that isn’t a good person to be connecting with during your trial.
Make yourself scarce to anyone who would drag you down. You’re going to have enough of a challenge without the unnecessary social resistance.
Don’t Announce It
With a normal 30-day trial, telling people about your commitment in advance can increase your chance of success because they’ll help hold you accountable.
But with a Supertrial, I’d advise you to do the opposite and keep it to yourself.
One reason is that you’re going to be attempting so much change at once, that most people won’t believe you can do it. So when you tell others about it, you’ll probably add more negative social drag. People will be watching for you to fail. That isn’t going to help you succeed.
The exception is that it’s okay to share this with people you genuinely expect will be encouraging and supportive. If you can secure more social support, then go for it. It can definitely help.
By the time you’ve built your self-discipline to the level where a Supertrial becomes potentially achievable, you’ll be so far beyond the average level of performance in society that most people will be turned off if you talk about it. You’ll just upset them, and they may secretly wish to see you fail. So my feeling is that you’re better off keeping them in the dark.
Many years ago I set a goal of going through a 4-year university in only 3 semesters by taking about triple the normal course load (as explained in Do It Now). I shared this goal with several people in advance. Most of them laughed or said I was deluded. Not a single person was encouraging. So I learned to keep a low profile, and I kept other people out of the loop. Further into this experience, one of my professors became curious about what I was doing, so I shared the details with him. He was able to relate because he had a very high-performance daughter. It was nice to gain that little bit of social support.
It takes more than discipline to get through a Supertrial. There may be unforeseen interactions between your habits that you didn’t account for. You may realize you didn’t set it up right after the first day or two, and you need to go back and revise your plan. So much can go wrong. With a Supertrial you really don’t need the added social pressure of accountability to others.
A Supertrial is more of an inner journey anyway. It’s about digging deep within yourself and giving birth to a whole new you. You need the space to focus on doing what needs to be done without worrying about other people’s reactions.
By the time you’re ready to attempt a Supertrial, you’ll have already trained your self-discipline to a high degree. And you’ll have a clearer understanding of what kinds of weights you can lift and which are too heavy for you. At this point you’re going to rely more on your inner resolve; social accountability won’t be as important. If you can’t hold yourself accountable, you aren’t ready to attempt a Supertrial anyway.
Don’t Wear Yourself Out
One of the most common mistakes people make when stacking multiple 30-day trials is that they include something in there that’s going to wear them out during the first week.
The craziest example is when people attempt polyphasic sleep, which is insanely difficult by itself, and then they stack a bunch of other trials on top of that. I’ve never seen anyone succeed this way. It’s like going to the gym for the first time ever and trying to bench press 300 pounds. Nice try, grasshopper… but no.
Only slightly less deluded is including something in your trial that’s going to make your energy levels wonky during the first several days. For example, if you currently drag yourself out of bed at 8am each morning, and getting up at 5am is part of your Supertrial, you can expect to be a bit sleep deprived during that first week until your body adapts to the new rhythm. Being tired will make it VERY difficult to succeed at the other parts of your trial.
Another example would be trying to switch from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to an all raw vegan diet. You’re probably going to deal with some intense detox (cold-like symptoms) during that first week or two. To stack even more on top of this is going to be too tough.
Any yet another example would be diving into a new weight training regimen, one that leaves you very sore during that first week.
If you’re going to attempt a Supertrial, do your best to avoid including a new habit that may wear you out during that first week. Do a separate 30-day trial for that item first, get it locked in, and then conduct a Supertrial afterwards. So go raw first, or become an early riser first, or start weight training first. Get the sleepiness, detox, and soreness out of the way. Then you can stack more on top with a Supertrial later. This will make your Supertrial much less stressful and a lot more achievable.
Guard your sleep during your Supertrial. Don’t push yourself to stay up later and later trying to squeeze everything in. If you can’t complete all your actions by your desired bedtime, then cut out some actions. Don’t deprive yourself of sleep. Sleep deprivation will increase your stress levels and your risk of illness. You don’t want to be fighting your own fatigue while you’re trying to complete a Supertrial. Supertrials are tough even when you maintain stellar energy levels.
Stagger Your Starting Days
Instead of launching every new habit on Day 1, you can stagger your starting days a bit. This gives you the opportunity to focus on adding one new habit every day or two, so Day 1 isn’t so overwhelming.
It’s a judgment call if you want to do this. It isn’t necessary, but it may help if your intended Day 1 looks a bit daunting.
Count Day 1 of your 30 days as the day you add on the final habit, so you’re still doing the full 30 days with every habit.
Have a Fallback Position
Prioritize the habits in your Supertrial, so if the going gets too tough, you can drop one or more of them and fall back to a smaller number that you’re committed to installing.
I suggest splitting your Supertrial habits into 3 lists:

  1. A-list = definitely want these installed, would make a huge difference if I succeed
  2. B-list = great to have, would certainly enhance my life, but not worth sacrificing my A-list items for them
  3. C-list = nice to have but it’s the icing on the cake, but not worth sacrificing A-list or B-list items for them

If you feel too overwhelmed or stressed, and you’re at serious risk of failing your Supertrial, first cut out the C-list items. If you’re still overwhelmed, then cut out the B-list too. And worst case, fall back to your single most important A-list item.
Knowing in advance which items to cut in an emergency will at least allow you to fall back to a regular 30-day trial and still get something installed. That’s a lot better than dropping every single ball and achieving nothing.
Do the best you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get everything installed at once.
Design for Balance
Perhaps the best use of a Supertrial is to conduct a holistic rebalancing of your life across all key areas.
A well-balanced Supertrial will increase your chances of success. An imbalanced trial will generate inner resistance and make you want to quit.
Pay particular attention to the following:
Body – Include something to boost your energy and sense of well-being. Exercising in the morning is great because it will boost your metabolism, making you feel more alert and energetic during the day. It’s much easier to conduct a Supertrial when your energy is high.
Mind – Develop your mind during your Supertrial. Daily nonfiction reading is a nice practice. Then you’ll gain some educational value during your trial. Reading in the area of your career can be especially beneficial.
Career – Add a habit to benefit your career or your general work productivity, such as checking email only once a day, or saying something encouraging to each of your coworkers each day.
Finances – Add habits to improve your finances, such as updating your accounting records each day or working on a new Internet business for 2 hours per day.
Relationships – Add a habit to improve your social courage or relationship skills. Attempt to initiate a conversation with one new person per day. Or share lunchtime with a different coworker each day to improve your networking.
Emotions – Include habits that help you maintain a positive, action-oriented attitude. I listened to inspirational and educational audio programs for about 2 hours per day in college, mostly while walking to and from classes, and it kept my motivation levels very high.
Order – Add a habit to reduce chaos and increase the order and organization of your life, such as devoting 30 minutes per day to sorting and purging clutter in your home or office.
Spiritual Development – Include a habit like daily meditation or journaling, so you can enrich your inner life to keep pace with your outer enrichment.
Fun – Including at least one fun daily activity in your trial, such as playing a game with your family. This gives you a daily reward and something to look forward to. It also helps condition your mind to believe that self-discipline is fun. The more disciplined you are, the more time you’ll have to enjoy your life, and the less stressful your life will be.
This may sound like a tall order, but such a blend of habits will help to mutually reinforce each other, thereby increasing your chances of success. For example, improving your finances means you can afford to buy healthier foods, pay for yoga classes, etc. A holistic approach will help you make advances across the board, so no area of your life drags down the other areas.
Use Crisp Parameters
Define your habits crisply by spelling them out with nouns, verbs, and prepositions. Avoid the use of adjectives like more and better, since that’s a sign of wishful thinking (and it’s also dumb).
These are delusional goals: Exercise more. Eat healthier. Read faster. Complain less. Be nicer. Work harder.
You can’t succeed if you set delusional goals. Plus your cheek will be hurting after I smack you upside the head.
This is a crisp goal: Exercise on the treadmill at 60-80% max heart rate for 30 minutes per day.
With crisp goals you can’t delude yourself. It’s obvious if you’ve done it or not. An objective observer would give you the same thumbs up or thumbs down that you give yourself. There’s no room for debate.
To the maximum extent possible, define each habit in binary terms. Either you did it or you didn’t. Eliminate the middle gray area, unless you just want to do a make-believe trial with make-believe results.
Focus on Actions
The point of doing a Supertrial is to lock in some serious gains that will put you on a path for a major long-term boost in your results. However, during the Supertrial itself, it’s usually counter-productive to be too outcome-focused. Keep the end results in mind, but put your attention on the daily actions you need to take, and do them one at a time as they come up.
For example, “Write for 2 hours per day” is a better choice for a habit goal than “Write every day so as to complete the first draft of a book in 30 days.” The first one is more directly under your control, and it’s clear whether you’ve done it or not.
Supertrials are all about action. What are the daily actions you want to condition into habits, such that if you passively maintain beyond the initial trial, they’re likely to serve you well for many years to come?
How would your life be different if every day you… Did yoga for 45 minutes? Limited web surfing to 30 minutes max? Initiated a conversation with someone new? Read nonfiction for 30 minutes? Worked on an Internet business for 1-2 hours? Cuddled and caressed your significant other for 20 minutes? Took a shower? Organized your home for 20 minutes? Planned your next day for 10 minutes? Made travel plans for 30 minutes?
Schedule It
If you’re going to perform some action each day, decide in advance what time you’re going to do it.
If you have a lot of items to schedule, write out a schedule for a typical day, so you can see how everything fits together.
Give yourself some breathing room between activities. Don’t assume you can stop exercising and start showering in the very same minute, for instance.
If you don’t set aside a time for it, you haven’t yet committed to doing it.
Compensate for What’s Missing
Bad habits are sticky for a reason. They provide you with some benefits.
Before you drop a bad habit, consider what the benefit is. Then be sure to add something to your Supertrial to compensate for the benefits you may be losing when you cut out those bad habits.
Suppose you’re spending way too much time checking Facebook and other online forums during your workday. This kills your productivity, which in turn drags down your self-esteem and energy levels, preventing you from feeling the motivational boost that only a truly productive day can provide. Deep down you know this bad habit has to go.
But each time you attempt to drop it, you feel isolated and disconnected. You miss those frequent social connections, and pretty soon you’re back at it again.
Recognize that even though this habit is destroying your productivity, it’s actually helping you in a different way. It helps you periodically renew the feeling of being connected to others. That isn’t a bad thing at all.
What else can give you this feeling of connection without destroying your workday? There are many possible solutions.
One solution would be to timebox your online socializing by assigning it a time slot in the evening, so it doesn’t interfere with your workday. You can give yourself a liberal amount of time to socialize all you want, but not when you’re supposed to be working. If you want more frequent socializing, you can chop it up and schedule it during the natural breaks in your day, such as during lunchtime or with your afternoon snack.
Another solution is to reduce or eliminate the online socializing, and add a stronger habit that gives you even more of these benefits. Spend 30-60 minutes talking with friends on the phone each day. Arrange a social event at your house every day for 30 days, like a 2-3 hour game night. Or invite a different friend or coworker over for dinner each night. Communicating online can be fun, but nothing beats face-to-face connecting, especially when it comes to sharing laughs.
Still another option, which may be outside the scope of a Supertrial, would be to switch to a career that has you interacting with people a lot more, so you don’t feel disconnected during your workday.
Replace smoking with meditation and massage. Replace junk food with cuddle time. Replace masturbation with sex (or vice versa, depending on your priorities).
Notice the hidden benefit behind your bad habits. Instead of dropping those habits completely, look to replace them with new habits that provide even stronger benefits but without the drawbacks. This may take some trial and error experimenting to discover what works best for you, but it can certainly be done.
Include Downtime
Supertrials can be energizing, but they can also be physically and emotionally taxing, especially in the beginning when it takes a lot of conscious thought.
I recommend that you include at least 2 hours per day of downtime for rest and relaxation. Give your body and mind a complete break from the potential stress of your Supertrial.
You can use this time to lie down, take a nap, connect with friends and family, enjoy a relaxing bath, play video games, cuddle a loved one, or anything else that helps refresh you. Unplug and relax.
Putting this near the end of the day, such as right after dinner time, gives you something to look forward to. You may not always need it, but some days you’ll be glad to know it’s there.
Stick With Daily Habits
For a Supertrial it’s best to stick with habits you’ll do every day, including weekends. Maintaining a consistent daily rhythm with no days off is important for creating a sense of flow.
So if you’re going to get up at 5am or write for 2 hours per day, then do that 7 days a week.
It may seem harder and less flexible this way (that’s what she said), but it’s actually easier. A major point of failure is when people slack off on the weekends and then try to get everything working again on Monday. It’s almost like starting the Supertrial all over again each week.
A habit is a memorized solution. This memorization will occur faster if you maintain daily consistency with no breaks. Once your brain has the solution memorized (your 30 days are up, and the habit is installed), then you can cut back on the frequency, such as by skipping weekends, with less risk of complete slippage. But it’s better to stick with daily actions while you’re getting these habits installed. Remember — it’s only 30 days!
If you still wish to include non-daily habits in your Supertrial, read How to Maintain Not-Quite-Daily Habits to educate yourself on how to do it.
Define Your Baseline Performance
To reduce the difficultly level, define each habit in baseline terms. What’s the minimum level of performance that will still give you some worthwhile positive results?
For example, instead of reading for an hour per day, you might set a baseline goal of reading for 15 minutes per day. If you’re running late and can’t squeeze in your hour of reading without losing sleep, you can just do it for 15 minutes those days. Some days you may go longer, but 15 minutes is your minimum.
Once you complete a trial at your baseline level, now you have some success under your belt. You also have a basic version of the habit installed. Now you can push beyond the baseline level to a more optimal level for the long term, such as by doing another 30-day trial focused on improving or expanding that one habit.
It’s better to install a baseline level of performance in each area of your Supertrial than to try to go for the full monty and fail to make any habits stick. The results may not be as good as you’d hoped, but at least there will be some results to speak of.
It’s much less difficult to exercise for 45 minutes per day when you’ve already conditioned the habit of exercising for 20 minutes per day… as opposed to installing the 45-minute habit from a cold start.
Adding 5-10 new baseline habits (15-20 minutes per day here and there) can be a terrific use of a Supertrial. Afterwards you can maintain these new baselines and then try to increase them, either with a new Supertrial or with individual 30-day trials that focus on one habit at a time.
***
If you do attempt a Supertrial, I wish you the best of luck. You must be really disciplined, really crazy, or really naive — or some combination of those.
Today is actually my Day 1 of a new Supertrial that involves a major rebalancing of how I invest my time each day. I’m not going to share the details or blog about it along the way (as explained in the “Don’t Announce It” section above), but if you follow this blog for the next 30 days, you may be able to guess at one or two of them…
… unless every molecule in my body explodes at the speed of light, that is.
Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public
Original title of this is “30-Day Supertrials”.

Consistently Read a Book Each Week

In 1992 I first learned of the habit of reading one book every week (on average), with most of them being in the field in which you desire to develop expertise. This translates to about 50 books a year. Brian Tracy explains that this habit will make you an international expert in your chosen field within 7 years. Imagine if you work in sales. If you read 50 books on sales this year, will that make a difference in your success at selling? No doubt.

I decided to adopt that habit back then, and now a dozen years later, I have indeed read about 600 books during that time with most of them being broadly within the field of personal development. That’s a lot of books.

This includes books on health, diet, exercise, nutrition, weight loss, weight training, healing, martial arts, biographies, spirituality, self-discipline, time management, overcoming procrastination, relationships, marketing, selling, management, business, entrepreneurial pursuits, finances, emotional intelligence, NLP, courage, confidence, self-esteem, success, achievement, mental conditioning, goal setting, planning, execution, investing, prioritizing, generating income, writing, speaking, social skills, rapport building, philosophy, persuasion, motivation, humor, leadership, effectiveness, productivity, longevity, organizing, growth, contribution, love, optimism, inner peace, relaxation, meditation, thinking clearly, consciousness, visualizing, lucid dreaming, memory, excellence, passion, negotiation, winning, honor, awareness, masterminding, creativity, zen. I’ve also read many fiction books and technical books.

My goal isn’t to impress you but rather to let you know what lies on the far side of applying this habit. When someone suggests a new habit, I personally find it valuable to know where it actually leads if you follow it for 1 year, 5 years, 10 years. So possibly what I can share will be of some benefit if you’re currently on the front side of considering this habit.

Where does it lead? I thought it would lead me to acquire a great deal of knowledge about the field of personal development. That did happen, but it also expanded my ignorance. Imagine your knowledge of any field as a circle. Within the circle lies what you know. Outside the circle is what you don’t know. The edge of the circle represents your awareness of what you don’t know. As the circle grows in size, its area increases, but so does its circumference. So the more you learn, the more you become aware of what you have yet to learn.

There is a benefit to that though. As that outer circle keeps expanding, and you gain a better understanding of what you don’t know, you can be more selective in what you decide to learn next. Your awareness increases. You can use what you’ve learned within the circle to predict where you’re most likely to learn some powerful new insights at the edge of the circle. It’s sort of a process of learning how to learn.

One concept that really came through for me was just how interdependent all these areas of personal growth are. Often the problem we think we have is not the actual problem we need to solve. For example, you may be suffering from a lack of motivation, but reading about motivation and trying to motivate yourself may get you nowhere. In fact, that may actually further demotivate you. The real problem could be a lousy diet or a lack of exercise. Or it could be insufficient social connections, leading to mild depression. Or it could be that you’re stuck in a negative environment that’s reinforcing the wrong behaviors. Or if could be a lack of clarity about your goals. Or even a mixture of all of these. The obvious cause of the problem is usually NOT the true source of it. Poor diet and exercise, for example, is usually not the real source of being overweight. Those are usually just additional symptoms of a deeper issue. You may read books on diet and exercise, and then you go out and don’t apply them. Something deeper stops you from acting on what you know — that points to the real problem to be solved. So I’ve developed a more holistic respect for this field.

But the actual knowledge and the new distinctions you gain from reading are not the main benefit. My experience has shown me that the real benefit comes not from what you read but rather from the habit of reading. When you read a new book every week, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas, looking for new distinctions it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. Frequent reading fires up your neural activity, even during the periods when you aren’t reading.

This is why when people ask me to recommend specific books to help them solve a particular problem, I often cringe. First, I don’t know that the problem the person states they want to solve is the real problem that needs solving, especially if I don’t know the person well. But secondly, it isn’t the reading of a single book that matters as much as the habit of reading every day. When you condition your brain to become comfortable with a lot of fresh mental activity, your thinking improves dramatically, even while you aren’t reading. “Use it or lose it” is very true. It’s easy to identify people who read a lot because every time you talk to them they have some fresh ideas or anecdotes to share. They keep trying out new perspectives, new ways of thinking. You know when you talk to them that there’s a lot going on upstairs. But when you talk to people who haven’t read a new book all year, their thoughts are more stale, and a month later they’re still saying the same things, complaining about the same problems, stuck in a mental rut. They haven’t grown much, either internally or externally.

Reading is a lot like physical exercise. Reading is a workout for the brain. You wouldn’t say, “Tell me what workout I can do on Saturday to achieve fitness.” And it’s just as silly to say, “Tell me what book I can read to overcome procrastination.” Just as toning your body requires the HABIT of regular exercise, toning your mind requires the ongoing habit of reading. And just as a lack of exercise will cause your muscles to atrophy, a lack of fresh mental exercise will cause your mind to atrophy.

This is good news, however, because it means you don’t have to stick with the habit for a decade or more to gain the most important benefit, which is the daily mental conditioning. Within a few weeks of maintaining the habit of daily reading, you’ll begin to notice some powerful results. An added side effect is that your self esteem will gain a boost as well, especially if you read a lot of empowering books. Taking in positive ideas every day serves to counteract more negative influences.

Reading a book a week is an enormously worthwhile habit. And it’s enjoyable too. All that’s required is to set aside 30-60 minutes each day for reading, sit down, and read. But the best part is that you can double it up with physical exercise. This morning I got up at 5am and did 20 minutes on my exercise bike while reading. Then I thought about the ideas I just learned while doing some weight sets. Tonight when I go for a 4-mile walk, I’ll listen to an hour of a new audio program I bought, and then I’ll probably read for another 30 minutes before bed. That’s 110 minutes of absorbing new ideas, 80 of which are multitasked. With such a daily routine, I always have an abundance of ideas for new blog posts, articles, speeches, info products, and even conversations. I can maintain a strong flow of interesting ideas going out because there’s a strong flow going in. Every week I’m making new distinctions as my brain integrates new knowledge with existing knowledge.

All of the above applies not just to reading of course but to the general practice of absorbing new information, incl
uding seminars, audio programs, meaningful conversations, classes, etc. Reading articles or blog entries online is also helpful, assuming you’re learning new ideas that challenge you and which make you think. If you forget it as soon as you read it, it won’t be of much value.

Read a book a week. Do it for a decade. You’ll love the results.

This is a post written and publicly released by StevePavlina.com. Copyright information for this article is found hereSteve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public Original title of this is "Getting Organized".

How to Rise Early and Keep it Consistently

It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.
– Aristotle
Are morning people born or made? In my case it was definitely made. In my early 20s, I rarely went to bed before midnight, and I’d almost always sleep in late. I usually didn’t start hitting my stride each day until late afternoon.
But after a while I couldn’t ignore the high correlation between success and rising early, even in my own life. On those rare occasions where I did get up early, I noticed that my productivity was almost always higher, not just in the morning but all throughout the day. And I also noticed a significant feeling of well-being. So being the proactive goal-achiever I was, I set out to become a habitual early riser. I promptly set my alarm clock for 5AM…
… and the next morning, I got up just before noon.
Hmmm…
I tried again many more times, each time not getting very far with it. I figured I must have been born without the early riser gene. Whenever my alarm went off, my first thought was always to stop that blasted noise and go back to sleep. I tabled this habit for a number of years, but eventually I came across some sleep research that showed me that I was going about this problem the wrong way. Once I applied those ideas, I was able to become an early riser consistently.
It’s hard to become an early riser using the wrong strategy. But with the right strategy, it’s relatively easy.
The most common wrong strategy is this: You assume that if you’re going to get up earlier, you’d better go to bed earlier. So you figure out how much sleep you’re getting now, and then just shift everything back a few hours. If you now sleep from midnight to 8am, you figure you’ll go to bed at 10pm and get up at 6am instead. Sounds very reasonable, but it will usually fail.
It seems there are two main schools of thought about sleep patterns. One is that you should go to bed and get up at the same times every day. It’s like having an alarm clock on both ends — you try to sleep the same hours each night. This seems practical for living in modern society. We need predictability in our schedules. And we need to ensure adequate rest.
The second school says you should listen to your body’s needs and go to bed when you’re tired and get up when you naturally wake up. This approach is rooted in biology. Our bodies should know how much rest we need, so we should listen to them.
Through trial and error, I found out for myself that both of these schools are suboptimal sleep patterns. Both of them are wrong if you care about productivity. Here’s why:
If you sleep set hours, you’ll sometimes go to bed when you aren’t sleepy enough. If it’s taking you more than five minutes to fall asleep each night, you aren’t sleepy enough. You’re wasting time lying in bed awake and not being asleep. Another problem is that you’re assuming you need the same number of hours of sleep every night, which is a false assumption. Your sleep needs vary from day to day.
If you sleep based on what your body tells you, you’ll probably be sleeping more than you need — in many cases a lot more, like 10-15 hours more per week (the equivalent of a full waking day). A lot of people who sleep this way get 8+ hours of sleep per night, which is usually too much. Also, your mornings may be less predictable if you’re getting up at different times. And because our natural rhythms are sometimes out of tune with the 24-hour clock, you may find that your sleep times begin to drift.
The optimal solution for me has been to combine both approaches. It’s very simple, and many early risers do this without even thinking about it, but it was a mental breakthrough for me nonetheless. The solution was to go to bed when I’m sleepy (and only when I’m sleepy) and get up with an alarm clock at a fixed time (7 days per week). So I always get up at the same time (in my case 5am), but I go to bed at different times every night.
I go to bed when I’m too sleepy to stay up. My sleepiness test is that if I couldn’t read a book for more than a page or two without drifting off, I’m ready for bed. Most of the time when I go to bed, I’m asleep within three minutes. I lie down, get comfortable, and immediately I’m drifting off. Sometimes I go to bed at 9:30pm; other times I stay up until midnight. Most of the time I go to bed between 10-11pm. If I’m not sleepy, I stay up until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Reading is an excellent activity to do during this time, since it becomes obvious when I’m too sleepy to read.
When my alarm goes off every morning, I turn it off, stretch for a couple seconds, and sit up. I don’t think about it. I’ve learned that the longer it takes me to get up, the more likely I am to try to sleep in. So I don’t allow myself to have conversations in my head about the benefits of sleeping in once the alarm goes off. Even if I want to sleep in, I always get up right away.
After a few days of using this approach, I found that my sleep patterns settled into a natural rhythm. If I got too little sleep one night, I’d automatically be sleepier earlier and get more sleep the next night. And if I had lots of energy and wasn’t tired, I’d sleep less. My body learned when to knock me out because it knew I would always get up at the same time and that my wake-up time wasn’t negotiable.
A side effect was that on average, I slept about 90 minutes less per night, but I actually felt more well-rested. I was sleeping almost the entire time I was in bed.
I read that most insomniacs are people who go to bed when they aren’t sleepy. If you aren’t sleepy and find yourself unable to fall asleep quickly, get up and stay awake for a while. Resist sleep until your body begins to release the hormones that rob you of consciousness. If you simply go to bed when you’re sleepy and then get up at a fixed time, you’ll cure your insomnia. The first night you’ll stay up late, but you’ll fall asleep right away. You may be tired that first day from getting up too early and getting only a few hours of sleep the whole night, but you’ll slog through the day and will want to go to bed earlier that second night. After a few days, you’ll settle into a pattern of going to bed at roughly the same time and falling asleep right away.
So if you want to become an early riser (or just exert more control over your sleep patterns), then try this: Go to bed only when you’re too sleepy to stay up, and get up at a fixed time every morning.
Edit (5/31/05):  Due to the (mysterious) popularity of this post, I’ve written a follow-up with some extra detail and clarifications: How to Become an Early Riser – Part II. And if you really want to take sleep to the next level, read about my experiences with Polyphasic Sleep, where you only sleep 2-3 hours a day by taking 20-minute naps every few hours, around the clock.
Edit (5/29/06):  Be sure to read the related article How to Get Up Right Away When Your Alarm Goes Off.
This is a post written and publicly released by StevePavlina.com. Copyright information for this article is found hereSteve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public Original title of this is “How to Become an Early Riser”.

Simple Tips on giving up Coffee

Caffeine is the modern drug of choice in the work world, easily accessible, socially acceptable, readily affordable, and of course perfectly legal. As for the health effects, I’ve read evidence both for good and ill, so right now I don’t fall strongly on either side. One thing is clear though — caffeine is addictive. And this addictive nature is what leans me towards the negative side.

As a teenager I often drank sodas; cola was my favorite. I never drank coffee as a teenager, and I rarely drank it in college. But when I got into programming PC games, I’d sometimes drink coffee every day for months at a time. But I’d always eventually break the habit and have no caffeine for months at a time too. It was sort of cyclical.

Then I read the book Pour Your Heart Into Italt by Howard Schultz, which is the story of Starbucks (Schultz is the CEO). Schultz made gourmet coffee sound so good, that I embarked on a Starbucks kick for a while and tried all different kinds of gourmet coffees, espressos, soy lattes, etc. I know not all coffee drinkers like Starbucks (my mom surely doesn’t), but I still think their coffee is among the best. Another favorite of mine was Lion Coffee from Hawaii. I bought a nice espresso maker and used it to make my own soy cappucinos (I avoid all dairy products).

I really grew to like the taste of different gourmet coffees, which were much better than the swill I used to drink in college. But it was so easy to fall into a pattern of addiction, drinking coffee out of habit instead of only when I actually wanted some. Today I still drink coffee on occasion, but that’s the exception. Most of the time I don’t consume any caffeine for weeks or months at a time. I found it fairly easy to break the habit. Here are a couple ways to do it:

Method 1: Coffee to Herbal Tea

First, switch from coffee to tea. You still get the caffeine from tea, but not as much. Enjoy some good quality tea — not Lipton! I particular like Earl Grey and Green Tea. I found this easy to do right away. But if you find it too hard to switch so abruptly, then make the transition over a period of weeks equal to the number of cups of coffee you drink each day. For example, if you drink 4 cups of coffee a day, then switch to 3c coffee / 1c tea for the first week, then go 2c/2c for the second week, then 1c/3c, and finally 0c/4c for the fourth week.

Next, make the transition from regular tea to caffeine-free (not decaffeinated) herbal tea. Herbal tea isn’t really tea, but it’s close. Celestial Seasonings offers a wide variety of flavors. I recommend getting a variety pack to see which kinds you like. You can do the switch abruptly, or use the gradual method above. Now you’re caffeine free.

Method 2: Coffee to Grain Coffee

Switch from coffee to grain coffee. Grain coffee is to coffee as herbal tea is to tea, and grain coffee is naturally caffeine-free. Grain coffee isn’t real coffee, but it’s a ground mixture of things like grains, nuts, dried fruit, and natural flavors that you can put into a regular drip coffee maker and make something that looks and tastes similar to coffee. Some grain coffees I tried were very bitter and well… disgusting. After trying a few different types, I found one I really liked: Teeccino. I buy it at Whole Foods. This has the best taste of all the ones I’ve tried, and it comes in a variety of flavors: vanilla nut, java, hazelnut, chocolate mint, almond amaretto, etc. Sometimes I mix different flavors together to make interesting concoctions. While I still usually prefer the rich taste of a good cup of Sumatra coffee, this stuff isn’t too bad. It tastes similar to coffee, but it has a unique flavor of its own, and it’s not acidic like coffee is. I typically mix a little Rice Dream (rice milk) into each cup to make it creamier.

A great way to transition to grain coffee is to mix it with regular coffee as you scoop the dry grounds into your coffee filter. So if you use 4 scoops of ground coffee normally, then try 3 scoops of coffee with 1 scoop of grain coffee for the first week, and continue to transition gradually as in the first method above.

Part of the addiction of coffee drinking is having a warm beverage, so the two methods above focus on that. I really like having something warm to drink, especially during the winter. I even have a small mug warmer on my desk. I usually alternate for weeks at a time between Teecino and herbal tea. Today I’ve already had two cups of Vanilla Nut Teeccino.

I suppose you could try a similar process if you’re addicted to soda by transitioning to something else like water or juice, but I’ve never found it hard to give up soda.

I don’t recommend decaffeinated coffee or tea because known carcinogens are used in the decaffeination process, and decaffeinated drinks are still highly acidic. From what I’ve read on this, I’d say you’re better off with caffeine.

When you give up caffeine, you’re likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. If I’m doing 4c coffee a day and then go cold turkey, I get headaches and backaches, and generally my emotions are out of whack for several days. But I still personally prefer to transition quickly rather than gradually. I’d rather just get the withdrawal over with.

Why Give Up Coffee at All?

I can’t ignore the energy boost and mental acceleration that comes from caffeine. But I do notice negative side effects when I drink coffee. Caffeine seems to make part of my brain overactive and another part underactive. I become really good at doing things, but very bad at prioritizing what needs to be done. If I drink a lot of coffee, I’ll often spend hours doing a bunch of low priority tasks, and I find that other unproductive habits are more likely to be done excessively. I become like a rat in a treadmill, doing more and more but not accomplishing what really matters. I find it very hard to focus on the big picture from a holistic whole-brain standpoint if I’ve consumed caffeine.

I also feel that caffeine blocks too much of my intuition and creativity. I miss subtle sensory input, and my thinking becomes too linear. Sometimes linear thinking is OK though. If I have a lot of menial tasks to complete, and I already have a clear to-do list to follow, drinking a cup of coffee can get me through them quickly. But if I have to sit down and do high-level work like developing my next quarterly plan, caffeine will make a mess of my thought process and dramatically reduce my ability to concentrate. My mind races too much on caffeine; it’s hard to stay focused on just one thing.

Additionally, caffeine definitely disrupts my sleep habits. Even if I have a cup of coffee in the morning and none for the rest of the day, I don’t sleep as well. I wake up in the middle of the night, or it’s hard for me to get out of bed in the morning. When I consume no caffeine, I sleep more restfully and wake up easily. I also don’t experience so much midday sleepiness.

And lastly caffeine makes me feel hotter than usual, including while I sleep. I need to turn the air conditioner up to feel comfortable, so that’s another hidden cost.

There’s also a nice page on Teeccino’s site about the top reasons to be caffeine-free.

I’m not saying you need to give up coffee entir
ely, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to remain addicted to it throughout the year, especially if you experience a drop in intution, creativity, and holistic thinking as I do. If you find it becoming an addiction, try one of the methods above to transition to a coffee substitute like herbal tea or grain coffee. Then you still get to enjoy a warm beverage without the negative side effects. I think it’s easer when you have a substitute for coffee instead of having to do completely without, but this won’t be necessary for everyone.

This is a post written and publicly released by StevePavlina.com. Copyright information for this article is found hereSteve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public Original title of this is "Getting Organized".

Remove Clutter and Get Organized

What Creates Clutter?

Julie points out several technical flaws that can prevent one from becoming organized, but my perception is that at a basic level, there is really just one flaw: a failure to systematize common decisions. Whenever I leave things lying out, it’s because I’m not ready to decide what to do with them yet. So the process of organizing really comes down to having a system for automating decisions about where everything goes. Disorganized people have few or no systems, so they must make every decision on a case by case basis. Eventually this becomes overwhelming, and clutter begins to pile up. Organized people will make far fewer decisions in the long run. It takes far more time to be disorganized than it does to be organized because disorganized people lose so much time to inefficiency.

Learning How to Get Organized

Now let’s outline a step-by-step process for organizing your home office from start to finish. The first step is analysis. How do you spend your time in your office? Make a list of the different types of tasks you perform there, and create a list of functional zones that your office will need. If you are a programmer, this should be an easy task if you think of it in terms of designing a computer program. If you had to program a robot to perform all the different tasks you did in your office, how would you organize those tasks into separate modules? For instance, I came up with a list of six categories for myself: general paperwork, computer work, creative work, financial work, business reading, and manual order processing and shipping. Ideally you want to create a list of clearly defined categories that overlap as little as possible.

Next, determine what physical equipment and materials you need for each category. For instance, for creative work I need access to writing instruments, design notebooks, a marker board, and a corkboard. For shipping orders I need access to packaging materials, recordable CDs, postage, a postal scale, and so on. At this step I realized I also needed a storage and reference zone for my books, files, and extra supplies.

Now that you have your office materials functionally divided into different zones, the next step is to assign physical areas of your office to each zone. Ideally you want these zones to overlap as little as possible, but some overlap is usually necessary, especially if you use your computer for many different tasks. Take some time to determine an arrangement of furniture that will best suit your functional needs.

A key to this stage is to envision what your ideal office would look like. Forget about what furniture you already own, and don’t worry about cost or space constraints at this point. Just use your imagination, and think about what you’d really want if cost were irrelevant. Write this down on paper, and even sketch out your ideal office layout, noting which work zones you would assign to each physical area.

Now that you know what you want for your ideal furniture layout, brainstorm ways you can get as close to that ideal as possible, given budget and space constraints. Many people, myself included, have inherited old furniture that no longer serves them. Just because you happen to already own it doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you today. Don’t be afraid to sell old furniture and replace it with something more functional. You can find plenty of reasonably priced self-assembly office furniture at office superstores, and many offer free delivery. I bought my computer desk, hutch, rolling drawer cabinet, and printer stand for a total of $99 new, but I had to assemble them myself. I also bought three six-foot folding tables for about $35 each, and they can be moved around easily. Additionally, I picked up five stacking shelves (60" tall, 36" wide, 10" deep) for only $20. Bookcases are cheap too, about $40-60 for one with six shelves. If you want that hand-carved mahogany desk, you’ll pay a premium for it, but if you go for the basic, functional stuff, you can fill your office with furniture for just a few hundred dollars, even if you buy everything new. Measure furniture and play with different configurations in your favorite image editing software. Or make paper cut-outs to scale and experiment with them. It’s much easier to do this than physically moving the furniture around.

Now that you’ve settled on an office furniture layout, place the equipment, materials, and supplies for each zone into that zone. As you determine how to zone your office, you might want to have redundant supplies for convenience. I need writing instruments for most tasks, so I have containers for them on both sides of the room. Don’t store things just where they seem to fit. Store materials as close as possible to the point where you’ll actually use them. Inconvenient storage can easily lead to clutter. If you’re always losing pens, for instance, perhaps it’s because you don’t have pen containers located where you actually need them. Let your functional needs dictate your office layout.

At this point you have a nice design for your office layout, and you’ve planned out zones for all your activities. But how do you deal with the existing clutter and ensure that it doesn’t return? The solution is to find out what patterns there are to your clutter and create simple systems to deal with it. Piles of clutter often accumulate simply because you don’t know what to do with all those pieces of paper, or you haven’t yet found the time to make all the necessary decisions those piles represent.

Sort the Clutter

Sort all the items in those piles of clutter. For this task you can place several boxes on the floor and begin placing items into the boxes. The key is to sort items in a way that makes sense from a functional standpoint. Ask yourself under what conditions each item would be needed, and sort items by similar conditions. For instance, I had one box for stuff that needed to be filed, another box for design materials, another box for trash, and so on. Even though it may seem like a good idea, don’t start putting things away just yet. When clutter accumulates, there’s usually a good reason for it, and you want to learn why such items turned into clutter, even if you know where those items should go.

Now that you’ve sorted the clutter, grab one of the boxes and take a look at the contents. Ask yourself why these items ended up as clutter. It’s most likely because you didn’t have a good system for dealing with these items. Maybe these items don’t have an assigned home, or maybe the storage location you’ve assigned them is too inconvenient, so it’s easier just to leave them out. Maybe you have items that need to be filed, but you don’t yet have a file for them, and your blank file folders are inconveniently stowed away deep in your closet. Ask yourself under what conditions each item might not have ended up as clutter. This will give you a clue as to how to prevent the clutter from returning.

Give Every Object a Home

As you go through the boxes one by one, assign a home to each item. Where will you put those old bank statements? Where should all those design notes go? If you had a box for trash, go through those items and note what should have been thrown away. If you assign a convenient home to every item, you will be much more inclined to put them away. Once I did this I found that my office was self-maintaining. I always put things away because the storage for items is right next to where they’re used.

Assign appropriate containers for items. Take a trip to the local office supply store to get an idea of all the different types of containers that are available, or browse a web site such as OfficeDepot.com. Don’t be afraid to buy new storage such as drawers and shelves once you identify a need for them. Where clutter has accumulated, most likely items either have no home, or the storage
isn’t convenient. Acknowledge your true needs — don’t fight them. If you have a short bookcase, would a taller one serve you better? If your trash container seems to be constantly overflowing, replace it with a larger one, or place multiple trash containers in different areas of your office. I found two trash containers to work much better for me than just one, so I always have one within reach when I need it, and I don’t have to empty them as often.

For many years I’ve used something called a project box (similar to a literature sorter) to organize materials. It is a wooden box about three feet across, one foot high, and one foot deep with four small cardboard drawers, four shelves, and a book/binder storage area. I like this because it provides very versatile and accessible storage. I use the shelves to store current paperwork I need to handle, and I use the drawers for frequently accessed materials like banking and mailing supplies. The drawers are fully removable, so I can take them out when I need them and put them back when I’m done. Any office store will also carry a variety of plastic drawer cabinets, ranging from small desktop units to larger floor cabinets on wheels. The drawers are usually made of clear plastic, so you can always see the contents inside. Small drawers are great for storing things like postage, rubber stamps, and other odds and ends that may clutter up your work area.

If your space is tight, go vertical. There are many storage units that can be mounted on walls or stacked vertically. Also note the space beneath tables. Many containers can fit in those spaces to store infrequently accessed supplies.

Put It Away

Once you’ve sorted the clutter, chosen the right containers, and assigned convenient homes for everything, take the time to put everything where it should go. This shouldn’t take long at all if you’ve made all the decisions in advance. Don’t take any shortcuts, or they will come back to haunt you later. Disorganized people make life harder by forcing themselves to always make a new decision on where each item should go. Organized people establish systems so that the proper place for each item is obvious; thus, no new decisions have to be made each time. For instance, when I receive postal mail, I automatically place the bills and financial statements into the bills drawer, the junk mail into the trash, the magazines into the magazine rack, and items that require other processing into my inbox.

To me the greatest benefit of getting organized has been a greater ability to concentrate when working and a greater ability to relax when not working. Working in a self-maintaining, uncluttered environment can increase productivity by making the process of work flow more smoothly. If you feel that excess clutter is overwhelming your ability to relax and enjoy your work environment, take the time to make your organizing decisions in advance about where everything should go and why. Then you can focus on getting your real work done, since you’ll be able to quickly recognize where each object goes and conveniently put it away.

This is a post written and publicly released by StevePavlina.com. Copyright information for this article is found hereSteve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public Original title of this is "Getting Organized".

Productive and Efficient Usage of Online Forums

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

– Herbert Simon

Online forums, message boards, and newsgroups are now ubiquitous. These powerful communication tools offer many strong benefits. However, forum participation can also become a destructive addiction, where the benefits are overshadowed by negative side effects.

Here are some potential benefits of regular online forum participation:

  • Intellectual exchange
  • Learning new ideas and refining old ones
  • Enjoying community membership
  • Influencing the forum’s evolution
  • Contributing to others
  • Making new friends and contacts
  • New business leads
  • Keeping up with current events
  • Learning about new opportunities

Here are some potential negative effects of excessive forum usage:

  • Reduced concentration and focus
  • Reduced productivity
  • Chronic procrastination
  • Increased pessimism and/or apathy
  • Being distracted by endless debates and idle gossip
  • Gradually substituting tribal group think for your own intelligence
  • Impaired social skills, neglected relationships, and a weakened social circle (a consequence of substituting online socialization for face-to-face conversations)
  • Reduced energy (forum participation is sedentary compared to more active social outlets)
  • Reduced self-esteem
  • Career and income may suffer (including loss of employment)
  • Forum addiction

Since the early 1990s, I’ve participated in many different online forums, message boards, and newsgroups and have experienced many of these positive and negative effects at various times. I ran a popular game developer forum for almost two years, so I’ve had experience both as a participant and a forum operator. On the positive side, I’ve learned many great ideas, made valuable new business contacts, and even met my wife on a local computer bulletin board system. On the negative side, I found excess participation to be a huge time drain (and very addicting as well).

Here are some suggestions for using forums effectively and avoiding the negative side effects:

1. Take a Forum Fast

First, if you’re currently active in any forums, go on a forum fast. Stop visiting all forums for a while; don’t even lurk. I recommend a fasting period of 30 days, with a bare minimum of 14 days. This will help you break any unconscious habits and regain your perspective, so you can intelligently evaluate the role forums should play in your life. Otherwise, you may be coming from a place of unconscious habit and will likely overestimate the value of continued participation. If you’re currently a forum moderator, take a forum vacation, and enlist someone to temporarily assume your moderation duties. Redirect the time you would have spent in online forums to something positive like exercising or reading books. If you don’t think you have the discipline to do this, simply make a post in each forum explaining that you’ll be taking the next 30 days off, and if any forum member catches you online, you’ll pay the first person that emails you about it $100. This should give you enough leverage to stick with your fast.

2. Reassess Your Forum Usage Habits

Once you’ve completed the initial fasting period (and not before), take a fresh look at your forum participation habits. Imagine that you just discovered each forum today for the first time. What are the pros and cons of participation? Is this the best use of your time, or can you imagine something better? If you’re using forums to get specific information, would it be better to simply read books, articles, or blogs? If you’re using them as a social outlet, would it be better to join a local club and meet people face-to-face? Looking back on your previous pattern of behavior, would you say you were addicted? Did your usage pattern become unconscious? If so, how do you intend to prevent that from happening again?

3. Clarify Your Expectations

If you decide to participate in online forums, clarify your expectations. Whether you intend to use forums for market research, to make new contacts, or as an outlet for your humorous wit, get clear on why you’re there.

4. Establish Reasonable Boundaries

To limit the risk of forum addiction, set clear boundaries for yourself and write them down. You can limit the number of times per week you check each forum, the total amount of time you spend participating, or the number of posts you’ll allow yourself to make each week. Track your weekly usage on a scrap of paper to keep yourself consciously aware of your participation habits. Don’t go dark and succumb to unconscious habituation. Establish clear boundaries such that if you cross them, you know you’re at risk of falling into a pattern of addiction. And if that ever happens, it’s time to immediately begin a new fasting period.

5. Let It Go

If you find yourself repeatedly succumbing to forum addiction or other negative usage patterns, you may decide it’s best to simply do without. At the time of this writing, I no longer regularly participate in any online forums or message boards. When I clarified my intentions, I realized my #1 reason for participation was to contribute and to help people. But using forums as a contribution outlet was inefficient, since it would too often lead to lengthy (and mostly unproductive) debates. I found that sticking with one-to-many outlets like writing articles and maintaining a blog were a much better use of my time. Blog comments still allow some interactivity, but the time required to manage them is reasonable and the personal relevance of most blog comments is extremely high.

6. Replace Online Socialization With Face-to-Face Contact

Regarding the social aspect, online forums are a poor substitute for meeting people in person. While there’s certainly some social benefit to forums – many people have met their spouses in online forums, including me – it’s important to physically spend time with human beings instead of via a computer screen. If you need a new social outlet, join a local club or association, especially one that meets weekly. I found that when I joined Toastmasters International and began attending meetings and competing in speech contests, my interest in socializing via online forums fell dramatically. Even the best online communication pales in comparison to face-to-face, belly-to-belly contact.

7. Be a Dabbler, Not a Fixture

Another tip is to treat forum participation as temporary. If your goal is to make new business contacts, then dive in and participate actively for a while, maybe 30-90 days. Make new friends and contacts, collect private contact info, and then abandon the forums. Continue to develop your new relationships via one-to-one communication like email, phone calls, and if possible, face-to-face meetings (such as at industry conferences). Temporarily dabbling in many different forums is a more effective way to build contacts than pushing a single forum far beyond its usefulness.

You can also use the dabbling method to gather general information on a subject. Seek out a number of relevant forums and bookmark them. Then spend a few hours scanning each forum once every six months to soak up the current wisdom. Whenever you have a specific question, pop in and search the forum archives. If searching turns up a blank, feel free to post a new message, harvest the answers, and disappear.

8. Avoid Addiction

Online forums are tricky beasts. At the time of this writing, my feeling is that ongoing daily participation in any single forum for more than a few months is almost invariably unproductive. Eventually the initial benefits like gaining knowledge and making new contacts produce diminishing returns. And then the negative effects like forum addiction set in. Regular participation (even from unconscious habituation) will still provide some benefits, but the longer you participate, the less efficiently those benefits are realized.

Close cousins of forum addiction include online gaming addiction, web surfing addiction, blog addiction, email addiction, and news addiction. The common pattern is that unconscious habituation overrides conscious, clear-headed decision-making. If you ever find yourself with such an unproductive habit, take steps to reassert conscious control. Use a period of fasting to regain your perspective, reexamine your motives, set clear boundaries, and find alternative outlets. Manage your forum usage consciously to serve your goals, and avoid the trap of addiction.

Online forums can be a powerful productivity tool, but self-awareness and discipline are required to prevent them from becoming a pitfall of procrastination.

This is a post written and publicly released by StevePavlina.com. Copyright information for this article is found hereSteve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public Original title of this is "Effective Online Forum Usage".

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