Thursday, October 29, 2009

Auto-Simplify Your Life

I never miss an episode of The Office. The reason? Because it’s an awesome show. Another reason is that my DVR is set to record the show automatically every Thursday at 8.

Automation is a good thing when it comes ensuring you catch your TV shows. It can also be a good tool for improving and simplifying your life in other ways.

Automating aspects of your life allows you to be lazy. I don’t know about you but I like being lazy, or at least I like having the option of being able to be lazy.

Here are a few ways to automate your life:
  • Set up Google Reader to automatically pull articles from your favorite blogs.
  • Automatically invest or save a portion of your paycheck. Take the money right off the top. It doesn’t have to be a lot. You will get used to not having that money. It will pay off in the end and cause you a lot less stress.
  • DVR your favorite shows. My recommendations: The Office, 30 Rock, Top Chef. Watch them without commercials and spend the extra time doing something worthwhile.
  •  Set up your coffeemaker before you go to bed. Spend 30 seconds setting it up so you do not have to stumble around in the morning. Wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee.  This is also helpful in not spending a lot of money at Starbucks.
  • Autopay your bills. It is pretty easy and straightforward to set up autopay on most bills.  I set up my bills to pay right before they are due. This is my way of sticking it to the big banks and credit card companies. (Take that Bank of America!) No late fees. No hassle.
  •  Pack yourself a nice, healthy lunch for work. When you are at work and hungry you’ll eat anything, including a healthy lunch. If you are not a morning person pack it the night before.
These things all sound nice but the biggest hurdle to any of them is doing work now while reaping the benefits later. In our world of instant gratification investing time and energy now without immediately getting something back is rare. But it can be worth it, saving you time, energy and stress down the road. And best of all it can ensure you do not miss Michael Scott and the gang.

Photo: Toronto Rob

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fall-ing Out of Habits

I am not sure if it's the cold weather, shorter days or increased football, but once fall hits it is much harder for me to get anything done.  My work out goals have been sputtering.  My law school applications are still not out.  The frequency of my blog posts has been weak.

Overcoming these type of difficulties is just a part of the game.  I am making myself finish my personal statements for law school this weekend.  I also need to reassess the habits I am trying to build.

If fall is this hard, winter will be harder.

Just because things are not going well today does not mean they cannot be better tomorrow.

Photo: Per Ola Wiberg

Sunday, October 11, 2009

4 Tips to Improve Your Finances

For the past two weeks I have been on a binge of learning more about personal finances. Currently, I am reading Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Yes the title is blatantly over the top, but the ideas expounded in it are not. Sethi gives practical advice for how to improve your finances.

Here are some tips that I have taken from Sethi and other research on personal finance:
  • Improve your credit score. This can be done in a couple different ways but the easiest is getting a credit card and then paying the full amount off every month. Having a good credit score will save you thousands down the road.
  • Keep track of your expenses. This can be done any way that works for you. But beware, if your method of budgeting is not easy you will not do it. A website that I just discovered and am in love with right now is The site tracks all expenses from your debit or credit card and automatically sorts them into categories. Then you can see exactly where all of your money is going. The site lets you set budgets, gives you warning and even lets you track any loans, all income and pretty much anything else. Check it out.
  • Invest early. You have heard it before. I’ve heard it before. Even if you do not have a lot of money, do a little. If your employer matches your 401(k) invest what you can, otherwise you are losing free money. When figuring out your budget, try to take out a portion right off the top for investing.
  • Spend money on what you love. If you do not spend on the things you really enjoy you will not stick with your spending plan. Try to cut money from things you do not really care about and spend money on things you do. For me, I do not really care about the car I drive, the clothes I wear or the restaurants I go to eat. So (when not taking the bus) I drive a ’97 Bonneville, wear clothes I’ve had since high school and eat a lot of soup. I do care about my education, my future wedding and watching football games. So I spend thousands on going to school, a lot on wedding reception sites and DJs and on an HD cable package.
Personal finance is often made overly complicated with too much data and too many options. It does not have to be that hard.

Friday, October 2, 2009

How to Make Self Improvement Fun

I enjoy improving. Particularly, I enjoy seeing progress. This is one of the biggest reasons why I enjoy computer and video games. The games allow you to level-up, increase various attributes, all the while letting you see how you have improved. (Yes, I realize that I am a dork.)

Self improvement is similar in the sense that it is fun to see ourselves get better at things. But there are big differences. Virtual improvement is quick, easy and displays the improvement right away. Real improvement is not always quick, not always easy and not automatically displayed.  (Another big difference is that real improvement is...actually real.)

Making self development more like a game can make the process easier and more fun. The easiest way to do this is focus on displaying or charting results and progress. I envision something similar to the Wii Fit, where every workout is recorded and displayed in various fun ways.  (If only there was a Wii Diet or Wii Law School Application.)

Here are a few tips to making improving yourself more like a game and more fun:
  • It has to be easy. If the process to showing progress is more work than actually improving you will not stick with it.
  • Make it public. Making your goals public gives you a greater incentive to work towards them.  It also is a lot more fun when you succeed.
  • Make a work out log. I am doing this right now. It has been very helpful, sometimes frustrating and other times, fun.
  • Try to make your goals more quantifiable. Without being able to track what you have done it is almost impossible to track progress.  (This does not mean that less quantifiable goals are less worthy, just that they are harder to keep up with.)
  • Make a blog. Trust me, creating a blog is really easy. It allows you to publicly create goals and gives you an avenue to chart improvement. If you are thinking about doing this let me know and I will be more than happy to help out.
  • Find people who are looking to improve. They will motivate you. You will motivate them. Everybody wins. Places to check out: online forums/websites and even your everyday friends if you talk to them about it.
  • Improve things you care about.  Do not try to improve just to improve.  You either won't stick with or won't care after you have succeeded.
I am still working on ways that I can better chart improvement. I will keep tinkering with this blog and other avenues to see how I can make the process easier and more fun.  If things are fun, we do them.

Photo: vramak