Reducing Stress and Anxiety – 3 Things That Work For Me

Over the years, probably brought on by being a startup junkie and always having poured myself unreservedly into work my entire professional life, I’ve developed several bad habits or things that are harmful to health, and perhaps also to relationships.

On the one hand, there is this insatiable passion and seemingly endless energy to take on challenges, get stuff done, being an engine that is always on. Sadly, on the other hand, there is fatigue, irritability, loss of focus, and low quality sleep. Undeniably, according to both ancient wisdom and modern medical know-how, the latter set of things affect one’s health dangerously. And with equal importance, the closest relationships are exposed to occasional bouts of irritability and other forms of negative energy. Broadly speaking, there is a general feeling of stress and anxiety as a result.

Three things I have either changed or started recently are personally helping me a lot without taking away from my productivity, and seem to be helping cut out the bad set of things.

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1. Turn off all audible alerts and lock-screen notifications on devices. (Except calendar reminders and text messages.)

This was a surprisingly welcome change. Sounds simple, but do you really need to be suddenly interrupted from your flow or zone, with a ding and a lock screen message that “Your Facebook friend so-and-so just joined Pinterest.” – and other irrelevant, unnecessary crap? I started going into my iPhone’s Notifications setup each time anything came up (Mail app alerts, Google alerts, Facebook, Twitter, CNBC alerts, and perhaps 10 others), and turning them off. I left Calendar and text message alerts on as I control the reminders I put on my calendar items, and also I am not a defocussed incessant texter – especially when I work, so most texts I get are important. On the same note, during work hours, I only make myself visible to the group of people I am working with on messaging apps. I still check my email and look at my agenda frequently, but on my own schedule, when I am in-between focussed tasks – kind of like waking up in sync with natural sleep cycles. Which leads me to my second thing – sleep.

2. Sleep well. Instead of an alarm clock, use an app like Sleep Cycle.

I started using this about a couple of months ago instead of using a regular alarm. It is ingeniously simple. You turn it on, put it next to your pillow facing down. It tracks your sleep cycles, duration and quality by tracking motion (whatever it detects from your tossing and turning, etc.), and perhaps from movement noise since it asks for access to the microphone. You can configure a window of time to wake up in, and it detects a stage when you are either awake or your sleep is in the waking part of the cycle during that time window, and wakes you up. Also, it measures your sleep quality and gives you a score and a graph of sleep level over time – that way you can correlate various pre-sleep activities with quality of sleep – for example, does sipping some tart cherry juice an hour before going to bed actually help with sleep, does deep breathing right before sleep give you some golden deep sleep cycles, etc. As my friend Chip had said 20 years ago: you should measure things that you care about. Inducing positive energy and a calm disengagement via pre-sleep deep breathing, and cutting out sources of negative energy seem to help in my case – which takes me to the third point.

3. Add positive energy (many choices). Cut out negative energy (namely TV news channels, and social media complainers).

Points 1 and 2 take zero time investment and give heavy positive returns. So that’s golden for the ROI (return-on-investment) fanatics. Point three is also a net positive – consuming about 30-60 minutes of time every day for adding positive energy (meditation / deep-breathing / quiet-time / simple yoga / reading / praying / reflecting / being grateful – look up Positive Psychology when you have a minute), but freeing up much more than that by subtracting sources of negative energy that steal time both directly and indirectly, and negatively affect every aspect of life. I am talking primarily about TV “news” folk, political talking-heads and other assorted villains – kings and queens of ignorance on TV and the internet constantly furthering their narrow agendas by stepping on your gentle minds. They come from the right and the left – ignore them, and instead look straight at what you value – there’s much better stuff there. The negative energy sources are plentiful in our social circles, in person, and more so on social media since it’s a much larger set. Cut. Them. Out. Hide them from your feeds, unfollow them, walk-away, change the topic, do whatever it takes to cleanly disengage. There are always tons of important things that require immense energy, constructive debate, championing ideas, defending values, and much effort without all the shallow and shrill things stealing our precious time. Any issue that is important to you can be engaged with constructively without subscribing to a buffet-line of fast-food class negative sentiments. That frees up more time to embrace positive things. Things you admire. Things you learn from. Things that leave you positive. Spend time with people that enrich you, and take a vacation every now and then!

What are some of your favorite positive energy sources? What kinds of negative energy sources have you successfully cut out? Please share.

Eight Surefire Ways to Sabotage Your Goals

Do you feel like you’ve haven’t achieved the successes you set out to accomplish? Do you believe you haven’t lived up to your fullest potential? You’re not alone. Many people feel this way. If you want to accomplish more, you can get there by spending some time planning your goals and building an action plan to reach those goals. Setting goals is an effective process that can get you on the road to success. Don’t know where to start? Follow this quick presentation below to learn a little about setting and achieving goals.

A Mom’s Guide to Making Brilliant To-do Lists and Getting Stuff Done

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In our modern world, we’re busier than ever — especially when raising children and running a household. We’re rushing from one activity to another, and we struggle to find the time to get everything done that we plan to do. Important tasks fall through the cracks leading to embarrassment and other consequences, such as an unpleasant phone call from a teacher. Sound familiar?

I fully relate to how crazy life can be for parents. I have the unique and fortunate experience of working outside of the home and being a stay-at-home mom. For five years, I focused on parenting — juggling school-related activities, volunteer work, household chores, and equestrian hobbies. Outside of those five years, I’ve worked in the technology industry on teams using cutting-edge project management and software development techniques.

Over the years, I’ve gained invaluable experience in several project management methodologies that you can easily apply to running a household. I’m never a purist – I choose techniques from various methodologies to develop my own time management style.

Specifically, I learned techniques for managing my to-dos in smarter ways, which I’m excited to share to help parents who might be struggling with managing their busy lives and schedules.

The Basics: Why Keep a To-do List?

Studies show that most people can only remember 3 to 9 items at a time. If you’re anything like me, I’m guessing you have more than 9 items to do. If not, I’m jealous. Trying to keep all those items in your head consumes energy that you can put to better use.

David Allen, the founder of the Getting Things Done® (GTD) method for managing life and business suggests that you capture anything and everything that has your attention. Why? Because your head is not a calendar, whiteboard, computer, or notebook — it just can’t hold all of this information efficiently. Capturing everything you need to do will free your mind of trying to remember to pick up snacks for baseball practice or preparing for a PTA meeting.

Studies also show that keeping a to-do list can lead to high self-esteem. Crossing off your to-dos gives you a sense of accomplishment and gratification. If you don’t complete everything, you’re still seeing progress. My mantra is — “progress, not perfection.”

The Basics: What’s a To-do?

When you first make to-do lists, you might blend goals, projects, tasks, and events/appointments — consider they’re all different, which I explain below.

Goals – Big things that you want to accomplish, such as “Have an efficient cooking environment before the holidays“ or “Lose 10 pounds in 5 weeks.”

Projects – Large undertakings that you can break down into tasks, such as “Organized Kitchen” or “Triathlon Training.”

Tasks/To-dos – Smaller items that help you to achieve goals and/or complete projects, such as “Remove expired food from refrigerator” or “Run three miles.” In this post, I’m using the terms “to-dos” and “tasks” interchangeably.

Events/Appointments – Things you must perform at a designated time and/or place, such as a parent-teacher conference. Events can result from goals, projects, or tasks — such as an appointment with a professional organizer.

When making to-do lists, focus on tasks — not projects, goals, and events. Ensure they’re actionable things that you can accomplish in a session. Don’t be afraid to break tasks up into smaller tasks. With practice, you’ll understand how large or small your tasks should be.

You Have a Colossal To-do List. What Now?

You’ve captured actionable things that you can accomplish in a session, and now you have a monster to-do list and you’re more stressed than ever. This is when you tame the beast by putting prioritization into play.

Consider that your to-do list is essentially a list of requirements and think of your family as a high-performing team who prioritizes and delivers various things — homework, shopping, meals, balanced budgets, etc.

In business, the Product Manager of a team typically prioritizes requirements into scales, such as “Critical,” “Important,” and “Desirable.” For example, in the case of a household, “Schedule Carpool” and “Feed the Dog” might fall into “Critical,” while “Vacuum the Office” might fall into “Important.” Also, consider using a “To-Don’t” list for anything you’ve decided is just not important or do-able.

Instead, you might choose to prioritize using the Covey Quadrant, which is described in depth in the book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey. The quadrant identifies four categories for prioritization, Quadrant 1 (Important and Urgent), Quadrant 2 (Important and Not Urgent), Quadrant 3 (Not Important and Urgent), and Quadrant 4 (Not Important and Not Urgent).

Choose a tool for categorizing your to-dos — paper, whiteboard, mobile app, or other software. Divide your to-dos into the above categories or sections of your quadrant.

Help! What Do You Do Next?

Figuring out the jobs that you work on each day or week is unique to you. It hinges on the type of work you do, your family’s priorities, your available time, and special needs that your family might have. When you choose your family’s to-dos, evaluate the time and resources you have available, and the priority of the tasks.

For me, my work and life is very deadline driven. When I don’t have a hard deadline, I establish one for myself, and this method prompts me to get things done. I schedule hard commitments and deadlines on my calendar and fit the other items into the gaps in-between.

I suggest that you trust your intuition. Be fearless about breaking your rules if things aren’t working for you and your family.

How Can Your Family Help?

Sharing is caring. Getting the family to share household priorities can have a profound effect on success. To accomplish this, I look to Agile software development.

Agile software development is one of the most popular methods for creating software in an iterative and incremental way. It was developed by a group of software developers about a decade ago. And it’s become one of the most popular methods for creating software in an iterative and incremental way. Applying this methodology to family life has become a popular trend.

One of the principles of agile is a “self-organizing” team. In a self-organizing team, a group works together to accomplish a goal — and they choose their tasks — instead of waiting to take orders from “the boss.” Yeah, that’s right. You have to relinquish some of your control.

In Agile, the team attends a planning meeting at regular intervals. For families, I recommend the same technique. At this meeting, the family reviews the tasks in the “backlog” (the items you captured and collected) and decides what to do in the next “sprint,” which is a period of time determined by the team. This technique empowers the family to agree on the goals and tasks, and it encourages the family to participate.

Another method to adopt from Agile is the “daily standup.” This is a short session where each family member communicates 1) What I accomplished yesterday, 2) What I will do today, and 3) Is anything blocking me from getting stuff done. A quick, casual “daily standup” gets the family on track and identifies any issues, such as unfinished homework.

What’s the Right Tool for the Job?

For families with children who are old enough to use computers, tablets, and smartphones, I suggest finding technology, such as a personal organization application, that works for your family.

Encourage family members to add commitments, such as travel plans, homework that’s due, carpools, soccer practices, piano lessons, etc. to the calendar so the entire family understands when and where these items are taking place. Find a personal information organizer that enables you to manage the family calendar and task lists in one place. Take advantage of audible and visible notifications to make sure you never miss an important meeting, task, or appointment.

With a mobile personal organizer, your family has access to a shared calendar and task lists at any place or time. For example, when you’re at baseball practice and you’re assigned snack duty; you can instantly add this commitment to your calendar and the items to buy to your shopping list. This way, there’s no excuse for showing up empty handed.

Your Turn

Please comment and share your ideas for organizing your families’ crazy schedules and commitments. Thanks!

Five Ways to Start and Finish Tasks and Responsibilities

Many of us believe that some people are naturally highly motivated to complete tasks while others are not. This may or may not be true, but I believe that there’s always ways to improve your ability to get things done.

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A study published in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology indicates genes might play in role in whether or not a person is productive. In the study, rats which were selectively bred to run were over 10 times more likely to run than their more lazy counterparts. In my opinion, as this might explain that some species may be bred to exhibit some characteristics, human motivation is much more complex and you must consider many varying factors. In other words, don’t blame your genes for laziness. Instead, learn tactics to motivate yourself to start and finish tasks.

If you believe you fall in the less motivated crowd, trust that you can become a more productive person who starts tasks, and finishes them within deadlines. If you understand the reasons that you might not be motivated and if you learn a few simple time management skills, you can improve your ability to get things done.

1. LEARN WHAT MOTIVATES YOU

We’re all different. Learn what motivates YOU. Is it wealth? Is it winning? Do you want to help people? Is it attention from others? Positive reinforcement? Meaningful work? Take note of what motivates you to complete tasks and projects and focus on these areas. Become an expert in the areas that you care about.

For example, you might be motivated by meaningful work. Seek out opportunities that support your desire to help the poor, express your creative side, or teach children – it’s up to you. Focus on these opportunities to boost your motivation. When you’re feeling good about a job well done, your self-esteem soars, and you’ll gain confidence and inspiration when completing the less desirable tasks.

2. VISUALIZE POSITIVE OUTCOMES

Worrying about the consequences of not finishing projects and tasks leads to more and more procrastination. It’s a vicious cycle. Focus on the reward and visualize the positive outcomes. Think about how good you will feel when you accomplish the goal.

For example, you might prefer to sit on the couch and watch TV night after night instead of attending workout sessions. From my own experience, I reduced my number of workouts and noticed my waistline expanding and my blood pressure rising, which is a bad combination. To combat this, I visualize fitting into my smaller jeans and the blood pressure numbers going down. This motivates me to schedule and show up for my workouts to reach better health and wellness. So far, the method is working and I’m back in smaller jeans, and I continue to improve my health.

3. PLAN YOUR TASKS AND PROJECTS

Sometimes it’s difficult to get started on tasks because you feel like there’s too much to do and you get overwhelmed. You have several balls in the air, and then you simply shut down and search the web for funny cat pictures.

Having a clear picture of all the items that you need to accomplish and having an understanding of what’s urgent and what’s not urgent will actually put your mind at ease. Recording and managing your tasks gives you an idea of what can fall off the list and what can wait until a later date. Using a mobile task management app or other software makes it easy to re-prioritize and keep track of your to-dos, projects, tasks, appointments, goals, and events.

There are several methods and task managers for managing the things you need to do. We recommend our app, LifeTopix and it’s little sister, My.Agenda for keeping track of your ever-growing task lists.

4. FIND MOTIVATION IN A FRIEND

If there’s a task that you find unpleasant, find a friend who enjoys the task and team up. For example, I don’t love yoga. I understand the benefits of yoga, such as healing pain and improving immune function as well as improving health overall, I just don’t enjoy practicing it. I’ve made a resolution this year to change my workout plan to focus on yoga. Therefore, I found a friend who’s a yoga instructor and she’s willing to attend classes with me. I know she will help me stay accountable for keeping up with my practice and maybe I’ll learn to love yoga through her enthusiasm and the benefits that it provides.

5. TAKE STEPS TO IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH

Nothing crushes motivation more than feeling sick, tired, depressed, or in pain. If your health is limiting your motivation, seek help from traditional or alternative medical practitioners for acute or chronic conditions. If you have a condition that’s difficult to treat or if you just want to improve your general health and fitness, you might consider learning about the Quantified Self movement.

The Quantified Self is a movement that advocates measuring characteristics of your daily life such as calories, blood pressure, exercise, diet, heart rate, and other aspects. The purpose of measuring these aspects of your life is to gain knowledge about yourself, which can lead to insights for improving your health and happiness and for reaching personal goals. Quantified Self is also referred to as self tracking or self quantifying.

When your goal is to improve your health, keep these things in mind – never give up, get support from professionals, be patient, exercise your mind and body, and keep a positive attitude. A positive attitude can take you a long way. Also, just completing one or two small tasks when you’re not feeling well can give you a great feeling of accomplishment. You might have limitations, but accepting them is not giving up. Be thankful for what you can do!

YOUR TURN

Please comment and let us know how you find ways to start and finish tasks and to improve your motivation.

Understand Your Brain Dominance for Better Productivity

Brain Dominance

Sometimes people are described as right-brain dominant or left-brain dominant. Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize winner and Neuropsychologist, described right and left-brain dominance in 1981 when researching the split brain. According to his findings, the left side of the brain controls logic and focus, and the right side of the brain controls creativity.

Corresponding to Sperry’s theory, people who are left-brainers excel in project management and they’re inclined to follow productivity systems. Those who are right-brainers are more artistic, and they decide their course of action as they go along. In reality, most people have both left-brain and right-brain characteristics. However, they might have more characteristics associated with one side or the other.

We typically associate prioritization and planning with left-brainers. However, the right-brainers use intuition and big-picture thinking to manage their time so don’t discount their valuable skills. Being conscious of the less dominant side of the brain can help strengthen it. This understanding can be useful for productivity goals. Learning balanced thinking skills (using both sides of the brain) can boost productivity.

Are You a Right or Left-Brainer?

Right-brain characteristics include imagination, artistry, and intuition. People who are right-brain dominant tend to be more passionate, empathetic, and impulsive. They choose professions in marketing, fiction writing, teaching, sales, art, and design.

Left-brain characteristics include language skills, logical thinking, and math and spelling skills. People who are left-brain dominant tend to process information linearly when solving problems. They are usually good planners and tend to make to-do lists. They choose professions in science, legal, programming, engineering, non-fiction writing, and health care.

If you want to learn if you’re a right or left-brainer, you can take a quick test online. This short quiz from Eterna helps you determine your brain hemisphere dominance. I personally took the test, and it determined that I’m right brain dominant which was not a surprise for me. My intuition told me where my dominance falls.

Messy and Clean Desks Play Roles in Productivity

Messy desks can be associated with creative, right-brainers, while clean desks can be associated with the more orderly left-brainers. This is a generalization, of course.

I recently discovered an article “Why You Should Have a Messy Desk.” The article states that many of the most successful people in recent history have or had messy desks – including Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Tony Hsieh, and Mark Twain. What do these successful CEOs such as Hsieh and other leaders have in common? They’re creative visionaries and big-picture thinkers — most likely, right-brainers. My theory is that they’re heavily involved at the beginning phases of the creative process — the stage that new, innovative ideas develop. And after they’ve designed the new concepts, they hand over the project to the team members who plan, implement, and develop the final products under their creative guidance.

After research and thought, I concluded that messiness AND neatness play a role in productivity. A study from the University of Minnesota determined that an orderly environment activates a mindset of following convention and a disorderly environment promotes exploring new ideas.

Visualize effective brainstorming sessions in messy offices or conference rooms — ideas flowing freely in an unstructured way. Imagine a creative war room at an advertising agency – think Mad Men. These unstructured spaces are where ideas flow. On the other hand, picture times when you’re getting things done. In my case, I clear my desk of clutter so the things around me aren’t demanding my attention. I’m a right-brainer who employs practices of the left-brainer to boost my productivity.

To encourage productivity, consider your task at hand and your brain dominance. Messiness promotes the creative process and neatness encourages the implementation of projects in a conventional way. If you’re a right-brainer, don’t be afraid to tidy your workspace when you’re in the execution phase of a project. If you’re a left-brainer, go with the flow of a messy environment when you’re brainstorming and generating new ideas.

Exercise the Less Dominant Side of the Brain

You can greatly improve your productivity by complementing your thinking with thoughts and behaviors that don’t come naturally to you. You can also perform brain exercises to develop the less dominant side of the brain.

If you’re a left-brainer, you probably believe you don’t need advice for being productive because you have an excellent system in place. However, you might lack big-picture thinking. Do you get bogged down in the details and tend to lose sight of the big picture? Do you analyze the numbers, but lack intuition about the direction you should take? Is finding creative answers to problems difficult for you?

Understanding the above weaknesses of the left-brainer can help them to improve their decision-making, problem solving, and productivity. This type of thinking might not come natural; however, the left-brainer can benefit from brain exercises such as drawing, playing an instrument, and playing sports to strengthen the right side of the brain.

If you’re a right-brainer, you probably don’t use a productivity system because you intuitively know how much time it takes to complete a project or task. Do you keep your agenda and your ideas in your head and easily visualize your projects and tasks? Do you get your projects done (sometimes at the 11th hour), but forget to pay your mortgage? Do you ignore the numbers and make decisions based on creativity and intuition? Are you late for meetings because you don’t make appointments and use reminders?

Using a productivity system or software with projects, appointments, reminders, and tasks can greatly improve the right-brainer’s productivity. The right-brainer can also improve their focus by working in 90-minute intervals with 10-20 minute breaks. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, coding, writing, and reading (without skimming) can exercise the left side of the brain.

Your Turn

Did you take the test to learn your brain dominance? Do the ideas and notions in this post ring true for you? Do you use a productivity system? Comment and let us know!

Five Motivational Quotes to Inspire You to Build Good Habits

Quotes simply inspire us. When we’re feeling down or unmotivated, they can reflect what we’re feeling inside and lift us up when we need it. If we’re unenthusiastic or we’ve lost inspiration, a thoughtful quote can motivate us because we relate to it — especially when it’s expressed in a poetic way by a knowledgable role model. We use quotes to keep us going when we’re completing big projects, achieving health milestones, learning new skills, or reaching other achievements.

As the holidays approach, we’re busier than ever and we feel less motivated to keep up with our good habits. It’s more difficult to keep our lives organized during this time because of holiday commitments. Now and into the new year, we reflect upon our goals and resolutions, which include building good habits and breaking bad ones. Quotes can push us forward when we’re on a journey to be successful during busy times.

The quotations below are meant to inspire you to stay motivated through the holiday season and into 2014. I hope they give you the inspiration that you need.

Mahatma Gandhi

Portrait Gandhi

Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny. — Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) is one of the most inspirational leaders of our time. He was a spiritual and political leader — well known for leading India to independence and his techniques of non-violent protest.

With this inspirational quote, Gandhi communicates the power of our beliefs and how our beliefs can spring us into action. Our actions lead us to desired success. It suggests that beliefs (good or bad) can be self-fulfilling prophecies. Gandhi’s quotation can inspire us to develop empowering beliefs. For example, when a limiting belief pops into your head, replace it with an empowering belief. In your mind, replace thoughts such as “I’m not good enough to participate in the [fill in the blank] competition” with “I can win the [fill in the blank] competition with practice.” With time and energy, your goal can become a reality.

Eleanor Roosevelt

I have discovered that, important as self-discipline is to a child, it is increasingly important as one grows older. Then it is really essential for your well-being to regulate your life and habits in a sensible way. — Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt portrait 1933Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. She was an author, politician, civil rights activist, and humanitarian. She’s well known for her work with the United Nations and overseeing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1960, Roosevelt published “You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life,” which is a guide to living a full life based on her unique experiences.

Eleanor Roosevelt was extremely well-accomplished, and she is one of the most beloved figures of the twentieth century. It’s difficult not to admire Roosevelt’s practical advice about regulating your life and habits in order to maintain well being. Reminding ourselves to form healthy habits to maintain our energy level is essential to being and staying productive — especially as we mature.

 

 

 

Aristotle

Quality is not an act, it is a habit. — Aristotle

Aristoteles LouvreAristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher, scientist, and teacher — born in 384 B.C. He was a pupil of Plato and a teacher of Alexander the Great. He’s considered one of the most significant philosophers in Western philosophy.

Aristotle’s quote indicates that consistently performing at a quality level makes it a repeatable feat, rather than just a one-time action. Consider the definition of a habit. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.” For example, if you take Aristotle’s advice, you will only see the rewards of good habits if you perform the act consistently. Visualize this thought — average is not good enough, I can have consistent, quality results if I repeat quality actions over and over.

Stephen Covey

Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character. — Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey 2010Stephen Covey (1932-2012) was an inspirational business person, author, and public speaker. He’s well known for authoring the book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which outlines a framework for personal success and has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide.

A post about habits would not be complete without mentioning Stephen Covey. Covey makes a great point in his quote — we absolutely don’t want our bad habits to define us. For example, do you want to be known as the person who’s always late, disorganized, or flaky? How do you want others to perceive you? Do you want to be known as a healthy person? Perhaps you want to be known as a reliable person? Build good habits that become patterns and they will eventually express your character in a positive way. Essentially, if you want to improve your life, you must modify your habits in a positive way. As Covey points out, our character is a made up of an assembly of our habits.

George Lois

Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything. — George Lois

George Lois is considered one of the most creative art directors of our time. He’s known for molding both American and international culture through campaigns such as, “I want my MTV.” He’s well known for the famous covers he designed for Esquire magazine. His book, “The Art of Advertising” (Abrams, 1976) is sometimes referred to as “the bible of mass communications.” Lois is often compared to “Don Draper” from the TV series, Mad Men.

This is one of my personal favorite quotes. It inspires me to think of a creative solution when business as usual just won’t make an impact. It forces me to break out of old habits and patterns and discover new paths. I hope it inspires you to solve problems by looking at them with a fresh perspective.

Please Share Your Thoughts

Keep in mind as you develop new good habits, it’s important to log your progress to motivate you to keep going. Habits don’t form overnight; remind yourself to repeat good habits and they will eventually become part of your daily or weekly routines. I hope this post inspires and motivates you to push ahead through this busy season, and to build good habits throughout the year.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends and followers on Twitter. Click to tweet -> “These five motivational quotes will inspire you to build good habits. http://lightarrow.com/?p=9311 via @lightarrowinc”

Cheers!

Guide to Using LifeTopix as a Quantified Self Tool

The Quantified Self is a movement that advocates measuring aspects of your daily life such as calories, blood pressure, exercise, diet, heart rate, and other metrics. The purpose of measuring these aspects of your life is to gain knowledge about yourself, which can lead to insights for improving your health and happiness and for reaching personal goals. Quantified Self is also referred to as self tracking or self quantifying.

Are you skeptical? Is the Quantified Self movement just a fad? Consider this. Would you make a serious business decision without data to back it up? So why not make decisions for your personal life based on analytical data? Data is POWER — however you apply it. Collecting data about yourself can empower you to make the right decisions in life.

Still doubtful? Watch this inspiring talk by Ari Meisel about how he was able to relieve his Crohn’s disease symptoms through analyzing his data: http://quantifiedself.com/2011/10/ari-meisel-on-curing-the-incurable-through-self-experimentation/ .

How is data collected?

There are several apps and tools for gathering data manually and automatically. You can achieve automatic collection by using Wearables, which are devices that you wear that record various health-related analytics automatically such as calories burned, exercise, sleep, steps, or blood pressure, and sometimes they provide accompanying software. You’ll find several apps that allow you to to record these items both manually and automatically, but many are not flexible enough to record the items that YOU wish to record.

We take a different approach with LifeTopix (or the starter app My.Agenda) by allowing you to define the items YOU wish to record and log these items when and where you wish. This is accomplished through LifeTopix’s Log Forms and Multi-Topic Log Forms found in the Health + Activity topic.

The Power and Flexibility of LifeTopix

With LifeTopix, the power and flexibility is accomplished by allowing you to define what to measure with varying self-defined units. You’ll find out-of-the-box log forms including items such as Aerobics, Chores, Cooking, Family Time, Gym, Meditation, Reading, Body Fat, Blood Sugar, Breakfast, Dinner, and much more. However, if you want to track more complex or obscure items, such as happiness, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), C-reactive protein (CRP), sleep quality, hot flashes, supplements, etc. with LifeTopix, you can.

You can easily add, modify, or remove log forms to track any metric that’s appropriate for you. You’ll be surprised at the variety of units that we provide out of the box including: percent, calories, cups, days, grams, hours, inches, mg/dL, miles, minutes, mm Hg, on scale 1-10, on scale 1-5, pills, pounds, servings, sets, and times. Furthermore, we give you the ability to define your own units; therefore, you can essentially measure any metric you wish to measure.

One of our users provided us with the following screenshot of his log form, which measures his regular workout, including a full body stretch and cardio.

CardioStretch

He’s recorded these items over a long period of time, which helps him to analyze at what times he’s more motivated to complete his workout and what’s going on in his life that affects his workout.

Another user chose to measure calories and aerobic activity for weight loss. The following image shows an example of the log form entries that this user built.

FormEntries

As this user logs their entries over time, she can view the following types of graphs (line, bar, and plot) to measure progress and trends and she can also view a list of entries.

logforms

This user can also view the statistics individually in a Log Form (as opposed to the multi-topic log form) if she wishes to analyze the data for one activity, health item, nutrition item, or other type of item as the following bar chart shows:

aerobicsAre you ready to try measuring life statistics for yourself? Watch the following video to learn how.

Tutorial – How Do I Create a Multi-Topic Log Form?

5 Popular Ways Mobile Devices Can Improve Your Life

With this week’s announcement of the iPhone 5c, purchasing an Apple smartphone is now more affordable than ever with prices ranging from $99 to $199 for first time smartphone buyers or for those who are eligible for an upgrade (plus the monthly fees).

According to a study by eMarketer, in 2012 there were 44.3 million Apple smartphone users in the US. This is nearly 14 percent of the US population. And overall, approximately 38 percent of the US population is using a smartphone. Are you one of the 62 percent who’s still on the fence about purchasing a smartphone?

Smartphone Use

What’s your reason for not jumping on the bandwagon? If you don’t believe a smartphone will enrich your life, keep reading to learn some popular ways that a smartphone can make you a more productive, healthier, and happier person.

1. Live a Healthier LifeStyle

According to the Food Information Council Foundation, “Nearly six in ten Americans believe that online and mobile tools can help them live healthier lifestyles.” This is a significant portion of Americans. So how do apps help? Consider the “Quantified Self” movement.

The Quantified Self is essentially tracking data about your life — daily. Keeping track of statistics about yourself, such as weight, heart rate, blood sugar, blood pressure, fitness levels, measurements, etc. makes you aware of your progress or lack of progress.

There are several apps that help you keep track of statistics about your health and life, and as apps evolve, you’ll hear more and more about “wearables,” which will automatically track statistics simply by wearing the device. All of this data can be particularly eye opening, and the data will help you achieve health and fitness goals that you never thought were possible.

For example, take a look at the following log form that keeps track of weight and running. You’ll see for this app user, as the running log progresses over time (green line), the weight drops (orange line). When you see the progress in this visual format, you’re more likely to stick with a plan.

Smartphone Use

2. Don’t Get Lost, and Find Important Things On the Fly

mapupdate

When you ask most smartphone owners about the apps that have enriched their lives, many start discussing the map apps — especially if they travel a lot. Let’s face it – getting lost is no fun.

For those who own a smartphone, perhaps this is not too surprising, but your smartphone can replace your car’s navigation system. And if you’re anything like me, you never update your navigation system maps, and you see a sad message on your dash when you fire up your car’s navigation.

For me, up-to-date maps is enough to justify my smartphone purchase. No more expensive map updates, outdated data, and driving around aimlessly wasting gas and risking a car jacking.

The default maps app that’s loaded on your iPhone 5 and the Google maps app give you turn-by-turn directions with voice commands and up-to-date maps.

iosmaps

And other apps go even further with location services to make your life more convenient. You can find doctors, hotels, deals, taxis, restaurants, shopping list items, and more by using apps that take advantage of location services — such as the apps shown below.

locationservices

With livingsocial, you can find local deals and coupons; with My.Shopping you can create shopping lists, record coupons, and locate the items that you need to purchase on a map; and with Yelp you can find just about any place near you — and read the reviews.

3. Take Fabulous Photos and Store Them in the Cloud

Cameras can be expensive and difficult to carry around. And if you’re using an older camera phone, you probably don’t know what you’re missing when it comes to photo quality from the latest smartphones.

The iPhone 5 takes quality photos, but this week’s announcement from Apple details that the newer iPhone 5S has a five-element lens with f/2.2 aperture. Apple also explained that the sensor has a 15 percent larger area resulting in a better picture. The new camera also has a burst mode — allowing you to take 10 shots per second. While this new phone won’t replace your SLR camera, it might be comparable to your higher-end compact camera — eliminating the need to take the compact camera to your kids’ next soccer game.

Another problem that’s solved is getting photos off of your camera, which is usually a huge pain. What I love about taking photos with my smartphone is the ability to quickly upload them to the cloud. For example, with a Box or Dropbox account and the accompanying apps, you can easily upload your photos from your smartphone in a few simple taps, as shown below.

camerauplads

After setting up your Dropbox or Box account and installing the apps, you essentially tap the photos you wish to upload, choose a folder, and tap Upload. Very simple. Now the photos are accessible from your laptop, mobile device, or PC — and you can remove them from your device if you wish to free up space.

4. Don’t Let Tasks Fall Through the Cracks

Nobody can remember everything all the time. That’s why a to-do list is one of the most effective methods for preventing items from falling through the cracks, which can result in negative consequences. Forming a habit of keeping track of to-dos and other events can help you improve your work habits, form better relationships, and free up your time because you’re better organized. There are a variety of apps and ways to track to-dos and plan your days, such as the My.Agenda app, shown below.

myagenda

Some apps are as simple as the default Notes app on your device, and others are more sophisticated — allowing you to track everything from calendar events to shopping lists. Whatever apps you choose, make sure they’re flexible enough to grow with your organizational needs.

5. Keep in Touch with Friends and Family — Almost Face-to-Face

As of January 2012, Skype has over 31 million users, and 35 percent of small businesses use Skype as a primary communication service. While it’s difficult to take the place of true face-to-face communication, modern video conferencing options, such as Skype, can get you pretty close.

If you’re a frequent business traveler, you can easily use Skype or other conferencing options to read a bedtime story to your kids. Or perhaps you own a small business and you need to communicate with clients or agencies. You can easily save the travel costs and pop on a video call to better communicate with your clients, colleagues, and prospects. Choices for affordable video conferencing via your mobile device include Skype, Apple Facetime, or Google+ Hangouts.

 

Clearly, with nearly 2 million apps available at the Apple App Store and Google Play combined, there are several options for improving your life through technology. What apps have improved your life or helped you form good habits? Please share your favorites.

Sources

eMarketer. (Sept. 9, 2013). Android, Apple Continue to Consolidate US Smartphone Market. eMarketer.com. Retrieved from http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Android-Apple-Continue-Consolidate-US-Smartphone-Market/1010196

Food Information Council Foundation. (May, 2012). 2012 Food and Health Survey. Food Information Council Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.foodinsight.org/Content/3840/2012%20IFIC%20Food%20and%20Health%20Survey%20Report%20of%20Findings%20%28for%20website%29.pdf, page 39

Statistic Brain. (2012). Skype Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.statisticbrain.com/skype-statistics/

Your Family Calendar, All in One Place

Organizing your calendar and schedule is a big challenge when you have a lot going on — and most of us do. And if you’re a mom who’s organizing the whole family, it’s even more challenging. Learn how LifeTopix and our starter app, My.Agenda, come to the rescue.

Transcript

Organizing your calendar and schedule is a big challenge when you have a lot going on — and most of us do.

And if you’re a mom who’s organizing the whole family, it’s even more challenging.

Between Zumba, baseball games, meetings, carpools, and clubs, you feel like your drowning and it’s practically impossible to keep it all straight.

This is when LifeTopix and our starter app, My.Agenda, come to the rescue.

LifeTopix is a central hub for your tasks, projects, shopping, events, travel, and more. My.Agenda is a starter, more economical version of LifeTopix that enables you to start small and expand as your organizational needs grow.

As the central hub of your life, LifeTopix works with all your calendars, including Outlook, Google Calendar, Yahoo Calendar, your device Calendar, and others. You just need to configure these items in your device’s Mail, Contacts, and Calendars Settings.

So Why LifeTopix?

You might be wondering why you would use LifeTopix instead of your standard device calendar or a free online calendar.

There’s lots of ways to justify it – with 12 big reasons. The 12 Life Topics, which are intelligently designed topics that manage more than just calendar events.

These topics are connected and in one place, which eliminates the app hopping that you do when you install a flock of apps to do many different, disconnected things.

For example, when your contacts and service providers are linked to your calendar events and other items, you can easily contact them if you’re running late in just a few simple taps. You never have to open your device’s contacts or search for an email address again.

And don’t worry about getting lost with LifeTopix’s location services, you can always view your destination on the map.

LifeTopix keeps the whole family on the same page because it uses cloud services such as Dropbox, SkyDrive, and Google Drive for device-to-device sync. Because of this, LifeTopix or My.Agenda becomes the perfect place to share your kids’ doctors appointments, playdates, sports, and other events with the whole family.

And LifeTopix gives you other options for sharing. You can share items via email, text, or social media with friends or family members.

Before you get started with Cloud Sync, all you need to do is go to www.dropbox.com and set up a free account for the family to share.

Once you’ve set it up, everyone in the family can point LifeTopix to the Dropbox folder using LifeTopix Settings.

Next, Voila, everyone can start using Dropbox sync.

You’ll find another video on our website or youTube channel that describes these steps in detail.

Now everyone can be on the same page about what’s going on from appointments, to checklists, to bill payments and more — we’ve got you covered.

Now that everyone’s sharing the same calendar, you can easily add all types of items to your family’s agenda without a lot of nagging.

And your weekly review is a piece of cake with this handy agenda view.

We know you have a lot going on, keep track of it and keep everyone in the loop while on the go with LifeTopix.

If you want to learn more go to www.lightarrow.com or find LifeTopix or MyAgenda at the Apple App Store in the Productivity section. Thanks for Watching.

More info at the Apple App Store:

LifeTopix

My.Agenda

Earth Day – Eight Things You Can Do Today to Save the Planet

Earth Day 2013

Each year, Earth Day is celebrated to educate Americans about ecology and what they can do to reduce their environmental impact. Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in 1970 and it’s still celebrated today to honor our planet. In this post, we’d like to do our part to educate you about a few simple things that you can do today that will protect and honor planet earth without drastically changing your lifestyle.

1. Set Auto Shutdown on Your Laptops

According to Casey Roe, Sustainability Outreach Coordinator, Duke Sustainability Office [source], it takes 60 to 300 trees to absorb the annual impact of a computer that’s left on 24 hours a day, and only 60 percent of US adults turn their computer off during the night. A simple change that you can make today is shutting down your laptops and devices at night.

To make it super simple, in many cases you can set up your computers to shut down or use other energy-saving options (such as sleep or hibernate) automatically. Macs have options that enable you to automatically shut them down during times that you’re not using them.

Earth Day 2013

You can use the Energy Saver preferences in the System Preferences application. Just click the Schedule button, and you can set up the schedule that works for you.

2. Eliminate Junk Mail

According to 41Pounds.org, “more than 100 million trees are destroyed each year to produce junk mail. 42% of timber harvested nationwide becomes pulpwood for paper.” Furthermore, they state, “The world’s temperate forests absorb 2 billion tons of carbon annually. Creating and shipping junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 9 million cars.”

So what can you do about it? There are services that allow you to stop the influx of junk mail that you receive at your home. And if you’re a marketer, consider more green (digital) options. I recently started using Catalog Choice. Catalog Choice unlists you from marketing lists for catalogs and allows you to search for and choose the catalogs that you no longer wish to receive. What’s neat about the site is you can also view the environmental benefits of your contribution and the contribution of others as a whole.

3. Buy Used or Borrow Things That You Only Use Once in a While

Many of us rush out to buy something new any time we need it. In fact, according to the The Daily Green, “studies have shown that the average power tool is used for only about half an hour it its lifetime.” If statistics are correct, you probably have some lonely and dusty power tools in your garage. Instead of rushing out to the nearest home improvement store, consider purchasing used items and borrowing tools and other items. 

Nowadays, there are many choices for borrowing items such as tools, and when you no longer need an item you can consider donating it. In the United States, a “Tool Library” movement has begun and continues to gain momentum, which allows you to borrow several type of home and garden tools. Just perform a local Google Search and you’ll find many options for lending and borrowing.

4. Use Cloud Services

Using Cloud Services is a popular trend, but it also can help you to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. According to Go Green, “large companies adopting the cloud can reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by 30 percent. The better news is, small businesses even save more energy than the larger counterparts – up to 90 percent.”

We often talk about cloud services and how you can use them to store your documents, photos, and other media to help you achieve your paperless goals (as opposed to printing these items and placing them in file folders). We also commonly talk about how our app, LifeTopix, allows you to access these documents in context with all the things you’re doing and planning in your life. Examples of cloud services that are popular and can be used for free include Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, Evernote, and Google Drive.

You can refer to their websites to sign up and learn more about these services.

5. Reduce Travel

Whether you’re traveling across town or traveling across the earth, consider video conferencing as an option to reduce your carbon footprint. An article published by Yale University by Elisabeth Rosenthal [source] states that, “According to various estimates, emissions from aviation currently represent 2 to 3 percent of CO2 emissions and are likely to double or triple by 2050.”

To reduce the number of trips that you take, consider video conferencing options. Lower cost and free options that are available include Skype, Google Hangouts, iChat on Apple Computers, or Adobe Connect Pro among many others. Refer to their websites for more information.

6. Cancel Paper Newspaper Subscriptions

Are you still receiving the daily newspaper? Have you ever wondered about the environment impact of that daily newspaper? According to the Daily Green, “The paper industry is the 4th largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions among United States manufacturing industries, and contributes 9% of the manufacturing sector’s carbon emissions” and “Paper accounts for 25% of landfill waste (and one third of municipal landfill waste).”

Understanding this, I investigated a local newspaper and found that there are several options for online, iPad, and various tablet subscriptions. I also found that the tablet choice was more economical than choosing the paper option with full online access. Consequently, there’s no need to give up the subscription altogether.

7. Use Reminders, Notes, Lists, and Calendar Applications

iOS reminders, calendar apps, shopping/to-do list and note apps, and personal organization apps such as LifeTopix are excellent for helping you incorporate green habits into your life, such as reducing the amount of paper that you use. For example, you can use a variety of apps or use LifeTopix to:

  • Set a reminder to carry your reusable shopping bags to the grocery store or farmer’s market.
  • Schedule times that local farmers sell at the markets.
  • Schedule recycling day.
  • Create digital shopping lists and ditch the paper lists.
  • Stop using paper notes and create digital to-do lists and notes.
  • Set reminders to turn off the lights in your house.

8. Better Plan Your Errands and Carpool

Near_MeOne great way to reduce emissions is to cut back on the amount of time you spend in your car commuting and running errands. According to the EPA, “Leaving your car at home just two days a week can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by an average of two tons per year.”

Your built-in map app on your iOS device or Google maps can help you plan the most efficient route when running errands. And, if you use an app such as LifeTopix, you can use the handy Near Me feature to view shopping and other items on your map to ensure you’re taking advantage of the best route.

There are several websites and apps that can help you find ways to carpool. Social media is also a great way to arrange rides with friends.

Please comment and let us know your tips for reducing your carbon footprint. We love to hear from our readers.