How You Write Your Best Music

Your Best Music

Musician One

I know a musician who hates material objects.  Everything he carries with him is a burden.  Besides the obvious problem of weight, most objects are also a connection to another place or person or time in his life.  And those connections, which beget other connections, hold him down.  They make it harder for him to breathe.

He needs just two things to feel free.  The first is psychological.  He needs to know that he can leave at any moment, from anywhere.  The second is material – the only material object he cares about.  His guitar.  Because it holds the keys to his heart and soul – the songs he’s written and carried with him all these years.  And the songs he has yet to write.

Musician Two

I know another musician who isn’t like that at all.  He feels burdened by the possibility of missing out – of not having the people and things in his life that help him make music.  Because without friends and family, and all the latest sounds, gadgets, and instruments, he can’t keep in touch.  He can’t breathe.

He also needs just two things to feel free.  The first is material.  A house filled with loving people and familiar things – all essential for keeping him connected and sane.  The second is psychological.  A temporary escape.  Because every now and then he feels like he needs some air.  So he escapes to his porch to think and be.

Best Music

Musician One writes his best music while breathing anywhere with his guitar.  Musician Two writes his best music while breathing at home on his porch.

How and where do you write your best music?  (Use ‘music’ as a metaphor for whatever your passion is.)

Photo by: Luigi Orru

Why Winners Win and Losers Lose

Winners vs. Losers

We all want to be winners.  We all want to succeed.  So why then do so many of us struggle indefinitely and come up short?  It has something to do with how we think, what we focus on, and how we live each moment.

Here are a few ideas on why winners win and losers lose.

  • Losers fail once and quit.  Winners fail a thousand times and eventually succeed.
  • Losers look for success at the finish line.  Winners experience success along the way.
  • Losers work to make money.  Winners work to make a difference.
  • Losers buy things.  Winners build things.
  • Losers see things they don’t understand and get discouraged.  Winners see things they don’t understand and get curious.
  • Losers talk.  Winners communicate.
  • Losers attempt to conquer the world in one shot.  Winners add up all their small victories.
  • Losers expect certain outcomes.  Winners prepare themselves for the unexpected.
  • Losers seek respect.  Winners earn respect.
  • Losers stare at the problem.  Winners look around for the solution.
  • Losers review options.  Winners act on decisions.
  • Losers are paid for their time.  Winners are paid for their results.
  • Losers let things happen.  Winners make things happen.
  • Losers want to get ahead of others.  Winners help others get ahead too.
  • Losers hangout with losers.  Winners hangout with winners who are more successful than they are.
  • Losers follow other people’s definitions of success.  Winners define their own success.
  • Losers escape fears.  Winners face fears.
  • Losers waste their free time (watching TV).  Winners use their free time (learning or experiencing something new).
  • Losers see the unknown as a risk.  Winners see constant familiarity as a risk.
  • Losers live in the past.  Winners live life now based on lessons learned in the past.
  • Losers label themselves as experts.  Winners know there is still much to learn.
  • Losers over-sell.  Winners over-deliver.
  • Losers frown.  Winners smile.
  • Losers think winners are lucky.  Winners realize the harder they work the luckier they are.

What did I leave off the list?  What qualities do you think separate successful people from everyone else?

Photo by: Yasin Hassan

What You Need To Know When Tragedy Strikes

When Tragedy Strikes

The Accident

Tragedy strikes a man who isn’t yet old.  A mini-van traveling toward him on a dark mountain highway hits his car nearly head-on just after sunset.  He grasps his steering wheel hard and veers into the rocky mountainside until his car screeches to a halt.  The mini-van flips onto its side and skids in the other direction off the cliff, plummeting 500 feet to the ground.  Inside is a young family of five.

He doesn’t recall the events that followed during the next few days.  He doesn’t recall the three eye witnesses who comforted him and assured him that it wasn’t his fault – that the other driver had swerved into his lane.  He doesn’t recall how he got to the emergency room or the fact that he stayed there for five days to treat a concussion and a broken collar bone.

The Guilt

What he does know – and clearly recalls – are the endless string of days he passes sitting alone in his bedroom, crying, and thinking, “Why me?”  Why after forty-eight years of Sunday church attendance, unwavering faith, and regular community volunteering and charity, would God ask him to spend the rest of his life knowing that he singlehandedly killed an entire family?

He has a loving, supporting family that tries to comfort his ailing heart, but he can only see them as the loving family he has taken from the world.  He also has an overflowing network of close friends who want to see him smile again, but they now represent friends that others have lost because of him.

The man who isn’t yet old begins to age more rapidly.  Within a few short months, he is a shell of his former self – skin and bones, wrinkles creasing across his face, a despondent downward gaze, and a hole in his heart that has grown so wide he feels like there’s nothing left at all.

All of the people around him – those family members and friends who care so much – have done everything in their power to revive him to his former self.  When love didn’t work, they tried relaxing vacations.  When vacations didn’t work, they tried getting him involved in community activities.  When the community activities didn’t work, they tried doctors.  And now they have resigned from trying.  Because the man who is now an old man has completely resigned from everything.

The Dream

A night comes when he decides that it’s just not worth it any more – that it’s time to leave this world behind.  Perhaps to go somewhere better.  Perhaps to go nowhere at all.  Luckily, he decides to sleep on it, because he barely has the strength to keep his eyelids open.  So he closes his eyes and instantly falls into a deep sleep.

And he begins to dream.  In it, he is sitting in a dimly lit room at a round table across from an elderly woman who looks much like his late mother.  They stare at each other in silence for several minutes and then the elderly woman speaks.

“My son, tragedy is simply a miracle waiting to be discovered.  Because within tragedy lie the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness, and empathy.  If we choose to plant these seeds, they grow strong.  If, on the other hand, we choose to overlook them, we prolong our tragedy and let somebody else to discover the miracle.”

The old man cries in his dream and in his sleep.  He thinks about his wife, and his children, and all of the wonderful people who care for him.  And he suddenly realizes that instead of using the tragic accident to notice how precious life is, he has prolonged the tragedy and essentially ceased to live his life.  And he is very close, now, to passing all of his pain and sorrow over to the people he loves most in this world.

A New Beginning

He opens his eyes and takes a deep breath.  He is alive.  He realizes that he still has an opportunity to change things…  To mend the broken pieces and experience the miracle that comes after the tragedy…  To plant the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness, and empathy, and water these seeds until they grow strong.

He rolls over and kisses his wife on the cheek and ruffles her hair until her eyelids begin to flutter.  She opens her eyes and looks at him, totally confused.  There’s a spark in his eyes that she hasn’t seen in a long while – a spark that she thought had died with his youth on the day of the accident.  “I love you so much,” he says.  “I’ve missed you,” she replies.  “Welcome back.”

Photo by: Bernardo Borghett

30 Ways to Save 30 Minutes a Day

Ways to save time.

We’re all way too busy.  We live and work in an age with infinite online and offline demands on our time and attention.  And the end result is that we’re left little free time for us to just breath and be.

If you’re anything like me, you wish there were a few more minutes in every day.  Well the good news is there are always minutes to be saved and various ways to save them.  Save enough of them every day, and you’ll have a few extra hours at the end of the week.  In this article I discuss 30 of my favorite ways to save 30 minutes a day.

Sometimes our days are so crammed with things to do that an extra 30 minutes at the end of the day represents the difference between sanity and insanity.  I use each of the tips below to save time and remain sane on a daily basis.

Perhaps the very best question that you can memorize and repeat, over and over, is, “what is the most valuable use of my time right now?”
– Brian Tracy

  1. Group similar tasks back-to-back. – Switching gears between different types of tasks can be tough.  It takes most people several minutes to get into a productive mental groove geared toward a speficic type of task.  Therefore, it makes sense to group similar tasks in an effort to minimize the number of rough patches, and thus wasted time, between task orders.
  2. Use productive shortcuts. – People who claim that there are no productive shortcuts in life have been brainwashed.  There are productive shortcuts for almost everything you do.  Finding and using them can save you a few minutes here and there on a daily basis.  If you use a computer, learn the keyboard shortcuts for the programs you use most often.  If you can permanently delegate one of your regular tasks to someone else, do it.  Is there a route to work with less traffic?  Where can you hit two birds with one stone?
  3. Eliminate all distractions for a set time. – Distractions  are everywhere.  They arrive via email, cell phone, coworker inquiry, etc.  I’ve found that cutting out all distractions for a set time is one of the most effective ways to get things done in less time.  You can’t remain in hiding forever, but you can be nearly four times as productive while you are.
  4. Narrow the number of ventures you’re involved in. – Productivity is not usually my challenge, narrowing the number of ventures to be productive in is.  Even when you have the knowledge and ability to access super-productive states, you get to a point where being simultaneously super-productive on too many fronts at once causes all activities to slow down, stand still and sometimes even slide backwards.
  5. Plan ahead and start early. – 10 minutes of dedicated time planning each evening will save you from 30 minutes of ad-hoc preparation each morning.  Likewise, starting your morning on purpose 30 minutes early will likely inject at least 60 additional productive minutes into your day.  Think about it.
  6. Organize your space. – How much time do you think the average person wastefully spends searching for items they’ve misplaced?  Keeping both your living and working spaces organized will undoubtedly save you 30 minutes daily.
  7. Productively use waiting time. – Waiting time does not have to be wasted time.  When you are waiting at the doctor’s office, the post office, or on hold for the next available representative, what simple tasks could you complete while you wait?  How about sorting through your snail mail, writing those thank you notes you’ve been putting off, reading the book you keep meaning to read, reviewing and editing your to-do lists, etc.
  8. Handle two minute tasks immediately. – “The 2 Minute Rule” is single greatest tip I picked up from David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done.”  If you roughly estimate that a task is going to take you less than two minutes to accomplish, do it right now.  It’s a waste of time and energy to keep small tasks like this on your to-do list on in the back of your mind.
  9. Ask more questions. – The trial and error process can be a huge waste of time.  Often people view asking questions and relying on others as a weakness, but they are sadly mistaken.  Asking questions will bring you closer to the people around you and likely save you a huge chunk of time.  Win-win.
  10. Buy in bulk and cook in bulk. – Buying stuff and cooking food are two of the most common unplanned consumptions of time.  Most people buy replacements in small amounts only when they need them and think about food only when they’re hungry.  The problem is these issues will often arise at inopportune times.  The most efficient way I’ve found to counteract this is by doing bulk loads of both.  I know I’ll always need gas in my vehicle.  So instead of putting in $25 here and $25 there, I top off my tank every time I’m at the station regardless of the sticker shock.  Likewise, I know I’m going to be hungry at lunch time every day this week.  So on Sundays I’ll grill up five extra chicken breasts and make a chicken wrap or sandwich for every day of the week.
  11. Pick-up the phone. – We’ve become so accustomed to communicating digitally, sending emails, IMs and texts, etc. that we sometimes forget that we can get the same tasks accomplished in a fraction of the time with one or two quick phone calls.
  12. Don’t mindlessly browse online ad infinitum.  – Web browsing is one of the immense black holes in time spending.  Before you realize it, you may have spent hours browsing while generating very little value.
  13. Standardize common tasks. – If you find yourself performing the same set of tasks on a regular basis then it makes sense to establish an efficient, standardized way of accomplishing them.  Are certain tasks easier to perform in the morning?  Are there additional resources that can be utilized only at a certain time?  It’s up to you to find an efficient pattern, standardize it and follow it.
  14. Make better usage of commute times. – Listen to audio books, make calls, do some proactive time planning, etc.  I use Evernote on my iPhone and capture tons of ideas and thoughts when I’m commuting and traveling on business.
  15. Write things down. – Nobody’s memory is perfect.  If you don’t take notes and setup to-do lists for yourself you will end up wasting minutes of time trying to remember things that would have taken you seconds to write down.
  16. Consolidate all daily errands into one trip. – Consolidate all of your errands into one trip instead of driving back and forth several times from home to the store to home to the bank to home, etc.
  17. Stop overanalyzing things.  – There comes a time when you have to stop evaluating something and just bite the bullet and do it.  Contemplating taking action isn’t taking action.  It gets nothing accomplished.
  18. Exercise daily. – I know it sounds counter-intuitive.  You have to spend time exercising.  But, research has shown that exercise boosts cognitive function, creativity, problem solving and productivity.  In fact a NASA study showed employees who exercised daily worked at 100% efficiency after seven hours, while those who didn’t saw a 50% drop, meaning it took them twice as long to accomplish the same thing.
  19. Use a timer. – I use a timer to limit the amount of time I spend on daily tasks such as email, retuning calls, cranking through my to-do lists, etc.  This keeps me from getting overly distracted from the truly important tasks I must accomplish during the day.
  20. Do what you don’t want to do first. – If you do the tough tasks first when your mind is fresh, you’ll get them done quicker and be on to the next thing in no time.
  21. Harness the power of teamwork. – I heard a story once about some horses that were in a competition to see which could pull the most weight.  One horse pulled 3,000 lbs and another one pulled 4,000 lbs.  Someone suggested the horses team together to see how much they could pull.  Most guesses were in the 7,000 lb to 10,000 lb range but when those two horses worked together, they pulled an amazing 20,000 lbs.  That’s the power of teamwork.  Good teamwork can get a large project completed in an amazingly short amount of time.
  22. Just say NO!  – While saying yes can take us down some wonderful roads, there’s also a ton of value in saying “no.”  We’re only given a certain amount of hours in our lives; do you really want to give yours away so easily?  If you don’t have to time to commit to a new project, complete a favor, or serve on another committee, it’s a good idea to just say “no.”
  23. Focus your attention on one thing at a time.  – Cutting out multitasking (or “multi-slacking” as I call it) leaves you to focus more intently on one task and finish it to completion, rather than having many tasks started and nothing finished.
  24. Pare down your e-mail inbox. – As a first step, cancel any e-mail newsletter subscriptions that you do not read anymore.  If you subscribe to more than one newsletter in a certain category (e.g. tech newsletters), choose the one that delivers the most value to you on a daily basis and get rid of the rest.  The e-mail inbox should only be for priority communication, otherwise it just wastes your time.
  25. Use time multipliers. – Effective delegation of lower priority tasks is a time multiplier.  Eliminating time wasting activities is a time multiplier.  Screening phone calls can be a time multiplier.  By practicing creative procrastination on anything that doesn’t propel you toward your goals, you can multiply the amount of time you have to achieve those goals.
  26. Relocate closer to your place of employment. – In every major city in the world there are people traveling over an hour to reach their work destination from home.  This is a huge chunk of time that could be used far more productively.
  27. Turn off the TV. – Nuff said.
  28. Use technology to automate tasks. – From creating email filters, to automatically backing-up your hard drive, to automatic bill paying.  The more you can automate, the more time you’ll save.
  29. Keep it simple. – Keep your to-do lists and planning simple, and don’t waste time playing with new tools, etc.  There’s always going to be shiny programs that promise to make your day faster and more efficient.  Stick with one, and learn to rely on it.
  30. Spend minutes now to save hours later. – During happy hour last Friday I spent some time listening to one of my colleagues confess her utter distaste for the Windows 7 Start menu.  “The system is organized all wrong.  The programs I need are buried and the ones I never use are right at my finger tips.  I waste so much time digging through menus,” she said.  “But you can easily rearrange that,” I replied.  She looked down with a despondent expression on her face.  “I know,” she said.  “Someone else told me that too, but I haven’t taken the time to figure it out.”  Bottom line:  Sometimes you have to spend a few minutes now to save hours of grief in the future.

What did I leave off the list?  Please share your favorite time saving tips with us in the comments area below.

Photo by: Xava Du