Solopreneurs and Freelancers – Is Your New Year’s Resolution to Get Organized and Productive?

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.


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.

10 things to do to get ready for 2012

This time of the year, it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the season. Last minute shopping to finish out your gift list and getting ready for the holidays take almost all your energy and attention. But this is the best time to make sure that you take care of several important chores before the big crystal ball drops and the calendar switches from 2011 to 2012.

To help you make sure nothing falls through the cracks, we’ve put together the following end of year checklist to make sure you are prepared for the new year:

  1. Make charitable contributions: you may be able to deduct charitable contributions from your taxes for this year if you itemize. Make a rough estimate of your income and other deuctions for the year so you will know if your charitable deductions will be phased out because you earn too much. The 2010 publication from the IRS about charitable contributions can be found here.
  2. Take advantage of your health insurance deductible: many health insurance “plan years” are on a calendar basis. If yours is and you have already met your deductible, then you will want to go ahead and make the appointments with your healthcare providers you have been putting off. If you haven’t already met your deductible, then you may want to schedule those for after the new year so that they can apply to next year’s deductible. Of course, you should never put off anything other than routine doctor’s visits – don’t sacrifice your health for the sake of an insurance deductible!
  3. Complete your FSA spending: Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA’s) are “use it or lose it”. Therefore, you don’t want to end the year with unspent money in that account. If your health insurance plan year is on a calendar basis, then so is your FSA. If that’s the case, then add up all the receipts that qualify for reimbursement under your FSA. If you have not yet met your FSA total, then make purchases of the items you need that are eligible for reimbursement through your FSA (the list from the IRS for 2010 can be found here.)
  4. Update your will: Hardly anyone likes to think about dying, but it’s wise to prepare for that day by having an up-to-date will in place. If you don’t have a will, draw one up. If you do have one, review it to see if your life situation has changed in such a way that requires you to update your it. In it, make sure you name an executor and, if you have children, designate trustees and guardians.
  5. Plan taxes: In addition to the charitable contribution planning described in step 1, perform other tax planning. If you itemize and your deductions are not phased out because you earn too much, you may be able to deduct things like your property taxes which often are due by January 31. If that’s the case for you, then you can decide whether you’re better off making those payments before the end of the year so you can deduct them on your 2011 taxes, or after the first of the year so you can deduct them on your 2012 taxes.
  6. Asset review: Go through all your valuable assets and make sure your documentation for them is up-to-date. The kind of information you should keep for your assets includes purchase receipts, model and serial numbers, and photos or videos of the assets.
  7. Insurance update: as you buy things, or are given them as gifts, it’s easy to foget to add them to your insurance policies. It’s also hard to remember to periodically review your insurance policies to make sure you have adequate coverage for all the things you own. Once you’ve done the review described in step 6, you should go through all your insurance policies to review your coverage.
  8. Health planning: get a jumpstart on your new year’s resolutions by evaluating your current health and setting goals for 2012 for yourself. Think about any changes that have happened in the last year to you or your relatives so you can update your health history and inform your doctor. For example, if a blood relative was recently diagnosed with diabetes, you now have an increased risk factor for diabetes, and you should make a note to inform your doctor about that.
  9. Physical: the old addage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is definitely worth remembering — schedule your annual physical.
  10. Household chores: so that you can easily change your a/c and heater air filter every month, it’s helpful to go ahead and buy 12 of them so that you have them ready and available. That increases the likelihood that you’ll actually do it. If you have a battery-operated smoke detector, check its batteries.