I’m self-employed, so when I’m not working, I’m not getting paid.

That’s not the case with most us. In a 2014 study conducted by Salary.com, 69% of workers admitted to wasting at least one hour a day at work. With the average worker working between 250 and 260 days a year, that’s over six weeks of time we’re paid for but, well, we waste.

Where’s all that extra time going? How can we hack our day so we’re productive enough to get the best raise on our teams?

Let’s talk about how we can avoid wasting time.

The top 5 time wasters.

1. Surfing the internet

This is no big surprise, right?

According to Salary.com, Google searches were the number one time-waster in 2014. I admit that I had a small group of sites that I visited daily while I was working the W-2.

I’m sure you’d agree. Are you reading this at work right now?

Internet surfing at work comes from our short attention spans.

We’re working, and a song pops up on YouTube or our phone and we think, “Whatever happened to Macy Gray and that gigantic head of hair of hers?” Before we know it, we perform a Google search and get sucked into a black hole of useless information.

2. Being social on social media

If you want to avoid wasting time, you need to recognize social media as a major culprit.

Facebook was number two behind Google as the most common time suck at work.

Whether on our phones, at our desks, or sitting on the toilet to check out the latest cat video, social media is a huge time suck.

And, BTW, the number of men who pee sitting down has quintupled in the past ten years. I think it’s because they want to peruse social media more comfortable while in the bathroom.

Also, I’m writing a book: Twitter for the Toilet — Your Guide to Conquering the Business World from Inside Your Favorite Office.

I’m kidding, of course. But in all seriousness, keeping up with cat videos, commenting on others’ political rants, leaving birthday messages, and combing through Facebook memories are killing our productivity and helping us waste a few more minutes each hour of the working day.

You might even consider a social media break, just to help you get rid of the habit.

3. Circling the vortex of emails

It’s almost become the “unignorable phone” of yesteryear. A ringing phone must be answered, right? I remember a time when the whole family dashed to answer the phone.

For many of us, email has replaced the rotary phone on the wall. Whether they’re coworkers’ emails or the emails from friends and family, too few of us ignore email until the appropriate time.

What occupies the first hour of your day?

It’s totally email, isn’t it?

Responding to emails. Writing emails. Looking at emails and then not doing anything about them.

If you’re anything like me, you have hundreds of emails in your inbox. Too often they’re parts of email chains seeking one answer but getting everyone’s two cents and, in some cases, four or six cents.

The average office worker gets 121 emails per day. If we spend an average of one-minute reading and responding to each email, that’s a whopping two hours of the day sucked away. Yes, some emails are important, but we all know that many are not.

Add to work emails our personal emails. It’s estimated that the average person receives 88 personal emails a day. Spend 30 seconds on each and we’ve spent almost 45 minutes of our day on personal emails.

If you’re keeping track, that’s two and a half hours on emails. Add in text messages, and we’re probably doubling our time communicating via technology.

4. Unnecessary — and unnecessarily long — meetings

Love them or hate them, in some cases they’re a necessary evil. At the same time, they can be a huge time suck.

Some jobs, usually director level and higher, center on decision-making. Much of that requires meetings for education and decision making. The reality, though, is that most corporate meetings offer little value.

If you’re like I was, on a regular basis you leave meetings and think, “well, that would’ve been better as an email.”

Plus, the first five to ten minutes of most meetings are spent catching up with the other future tortured souls, especially early morning or Monday meetings? We must learn about everyone’s weekend or rehash last night’s episode of The Walking Dead.

If you want to avoid wasting time, consider how you can do your part to reduce meeting time. You can’t always avoid meetings (especially if your boss is involved). But you can get rid of meetings under your purview.

Speaking of chitchat…

5. Being coopted by coworkers

The last major time suck is one of which we may have little control over.

Whether it’s Chatty Cathy or Babbling Bill, every office or team has one. It’s the coworker who seems to have all the time in the world to talk about an endless amount of nothing.

I’m not suggesting an Orwellian office place where everyone punches in, sits at their desk for seven point five hours and then punches the clock on their way home. (I’m an introvert, though, so that would be workplace heaven.)

So, what’s the solution to these problems with wasting time at work? Here are five hacks that can help you stop wasting time at work. Because the more productive we are, the more our boss likes us and the greater our chances of getting a fat bonus next year.

5 hacks to help you avoid wasting time at work.

1. Reduce your time surfing the internet

Keep a Word or Google document up on your computer or notepad by your side to list what it is you want to search and research.

Then, research them during a designated break or in the privacy of your own home because, much like Facebook, your employer is watching your every move online. They can find that information if they want to.

Also, shut down spare browser windows when you’re not using them for work-related activities. When your window’s tab is signaling that you have a new message or that someone just tagged you in a tweet, it’s nearly impossible to not stop what you’re doing and look. It’s very much like that ringing phone that must be answered.

Get rid of the temptation altogether.

2. Downgrade the social media time

Seventy-nine percent of social media is done on mobile. This means solving this problem alone will increase your productivity.

First, turn DND on your phone during work hours. Second, hide your phone from yourself in a drawer for 55-minute periods. During those 55 minutes, focus only your work and get your work done.

On a side note, even if you’re not being social on your office desktop but you’re syncing with your office’s WiFi on your phone, your employer is still watching your every move.

If you can avoid wasting time this way, you’re also keeping your boss from seeing what you’re up to.

3. Don’t let email run your life.

Avoid emails during the first hour or two of your day.

Instead, focus on the most important task for your success that day.

Most highly successful people manage their emails and don’t let their emails manage them. Let’s be honest: emails are usually about what’s important to other people  — not what’s important to you. So you want to focus on what matters most in your own life.

Ask yourself the One Thing question: “What’s the one that I can do such that by doing it everything else will become easier or unnecessary?”

By focusing on your One Thing and not one everyone else’s, your productivity will skyrocket.

One strategy is to answer emails for 10 minutes at the top of each hour. Another strategy is to only go into your email three times during the day.

Figure out what works for you, stick to it, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish.

4. Do your best to get those meetings under control

It’s helpful to have a somewhat militaristic approach to managing meetings at work.

First, have or ask for an agenda for every meeting. Everyone should be on the same page as to what the meeting’s about and what the goal or objective of the meeting is. It’s extra helpful to have this agenda in writing in advance. Anyone who goes off topic gets the buzzer.

Second, schedules meetings for 25 and 50-minute increments rather than 30 and 60-minutes. Let all attendees know in advance that the objective or goal of the meeting must be resolved in this limited time.

If anyone needs to prepare in advance, they should do so accordingly for the sake of everyone else’s time.

Finally, block off 30 or 50 minutes on your calendar, rather than 30 to 60 minutes. This budgets in time for you to fill up your coffee cup or hit the restroom, as needed, and let you shift focus to your next task.

5. It’s time to shut your coworkers down (politely)

Post a DND sign at your desk or on your door, or schedule time in a spare meeting room or office away from everyone else to focus on your most important tasks. You want to avoid wasting time at work? You might need to find a time to politely keep your coworkers away.

We teach people how to treat us. So, train your colleagues to not disrupt you outside of scheduled times or breaks.

This may be tough at first, but in time they’ll catch onto your routine. When you get to leave the office earlier or you get that raise or promotion, they’ll see the value in your regimen.

If these suggestions make you uncomfortable, lie to your coworkers. Tell them you have a deadline and cannot be disturbed. The lie will only go so far for so long, but it’s an easy way to start changing their behaviors and increasing your productivity and efficiency at work. Just don’t get in the habit of lying.

With most of these ways of wasting time at work, it comes down to first acknowledging what the problem is and then coming up with an appropriate solution for the problem.

Once that’s done, you can change how you work, avoid wasting time at work and get much more done.

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Fall asleep faster — no sheep required. Read More...

It’s that time of night: you’ve counted all the sheep. All that’s left are the lambs that won’t stop crying.

You’ve tossed.

You’ve turned.

You’ve fluffed and flipped, but you haven’t dozed.

Once is bad enough. But night after night? Soon you’ll really know why the lambs are crying.

Sleep shouldn’t be the most stressful time of your day — and it doesn’t have to be.

Check out these 13 recommendations to start getting sleep when you’re in a pattern of not getting sleep.

1. Go yellow.

It’s a very modern problem: today’s technology is all about the blue light. It’ll keep you up like the green light kept up Gatsby.

Blue light is high-energy light, and it’s amazing and serves wonderful purposes, such as increasing alertness, memory, and cognitive function.

As you know, though, those are some of the last effects you want when you can’t fall asleep.

About two hours before bedtime, shift your digital devices to yellow. Windows has the Night Light. Mac has its Night Shift. For phones and tablets, there are f.lux and Iris. These will help your brain calm down with lower energy light — and you can start getting sleep.

2. Go dark.

In our caveman days, the light went out automatically out for us.

Over millennia, humans were conditioned to grow more tired as the sun went lower. Then Edison put a wrench our natural sleep cycle. With modern technology and Netflix’s string of hits, it’s impossible to get to bed some nights.

Let nature work in your favor, sending your brain signals that it’s time to wind down. When the yellow filters start to show on your digital devices, start to turn down and then turn off your lights and television.

As your body adjusts to these signals, you’ll start getting sleep more easily.

3. Get regular.

Yes, that’s important, too. But, for our purposes today, we’re talking about creating a regular pattern of habits before going to bed each night. The right pattern will condition your brain to learn that bedtime is coming.

Here are some of the bedtime habits you can foster to help provide the right cues for your body:

  • Turn off your technology.
  • Start turning down the lights.
  • Brush your teeth.
  • Wash your face (or, if you shower at night, take your shower).
  • Drink a warm liquid.
  • Do a little light reading.
  • Stretch.

Figure out a bedtime routine that works for you, and try to stick to a schedule when possible. You might not always get to bed at 10:30 p.m. exactly, but when you time things, you can perhaps get to bed at a range from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., and that consistency can help you.

4. Calm yourself.

It’s hard shifting from our fast-paced, constantly connected culture to lights-out.

With all the messages we must process and all the decisions we must make, these can all come flooding back as soon as we put our heads on the pillow.

Any type of meditation that helps you calm down and clear your mind is perfect.

However, Qi Gong meditation is specially designed to help alleviate stresses of all kinds. It’s the perfect meditation to help you forget that important email you read just before leaving work or that minor altercation you had on the highway.

After turning off all distractions, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. Sit however is most comfortable for you. Then, close your eyes and simply pay attention to your natural breaths. If a thought crosses your mind, no worries. Just push it away.

Or, if you prefer, get comfortable on your bed and meditate yourself to sleep.

5. Write.

The act of putting pencil to paper is calming for two main reasons:

  • First, it’s an organic experience that’s naturally calming.
  • Second, journaling is a reflective process. This means it’s an exercise in self-awareness. You can examine your experiences of the day and put them behind you.

If there’s something important to remember or a problem to solve, writing these down is great for clearing the mind. Once you’ve written down what you must remember, you can forget about it. When you’ve worked out your problem, you can move onto the next task — start getting sleep.

6. Read.

I love to fall asleep while reading in bed.

Don’t get in the habit of staying up long nights in bed reading books from cover to cover like a college student. Instead, crawl under the sheets, put your head on the pillow and read few pages.

Studies show that reading in bed reduces stress levels and beat many other recommendations for falling asleep fast. An entertaining book is a good way to get distracted from what’s keeping you up at night. It’s also a good primer for what dreams may come.

If you can read more than a few pages before falling asleep, your book is either too entertaining or you need to complement your reading with other tips on this list.

7. Talk it out.

Remember how hard it was staying awake in that English Lit class? The professor droned on endlessly like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Yeah, that’s what we mean by getting talkative.

The key with this tip is to finding calming, soothing voices. So, maybe that political radio show isn’t your best choice.

If AM and FM can’t help you, download stories on Audible. If you’re like me, listening to anyone talking when the lights are out is enough to help me fall asleep.

If you can’t find the right story or voice, download the Sleep with Me app. It has over 600 hour-long sessions with people talking about nothing important. Its sole purpose is to bore you to sleep.

Is the Sleep with Me app is more likely to bore you to death than to bore you to sleep? Try the Classic Tales app to have some of history’s best tales read to you to help you fall asleep.

You can even use guided meditations to help in your efforts to start getting sleep.

8. Go white.

If you can’t fall asleep because you hear every bump in the night, go white.

White noise is to sound what white light is to color. White noise is the combination of all the sound frequencies brought together. That means it’s great to use to mask other sounds, like the neighbor’s barking dog or the guy upstairs who won’t stop pacing.

Amazon is replete with white noise machines, many of which are reasonably priced. You can save yourself some money, though, by bringing your old fan down from the attic. A simple desktop fan can have the same effect as any fancy white noise machine. That is, of course, if the fan works properly.

9. Go smooth.

Not unlike white noise, smooth, chill meditation music can put you in the mood to start getting sleep.

If you already have a meditation app on your phone or you have a favorite meditation station on Spotify or iTunes, use it to fall asleep at night.

Meditation music and noises, along with journaling and reading, reduce stress. Likewise, repetitive music helps dozers forget about what’s keeping them up. Music with about 60 beats per minute helps lower a sleeper’s heart rate and can, consequently, help you fall asleep faster.

10. Get sexy.

If getting smooth isn’t doing it for you, get sexy. Just before, during, and after an orgasm, the body releases prolactin, oxytocin, and melatonin. These hormones are a perfect cocktail for fast sleep.

But, sorry ladies! Your bodies don’t release as much prolactin as men’s bodies do, and prolactin helps suppress dopamine, the stimulating hormone. So, this may not be your solution, but it’s fun nonetheless.

And maybe it will help you get just tired enough to drop off to sleep when you’re done.

11. Get warm.

It’s traditional to give their children a glass of warm milk to help them fall asleep.

That’s because milk has the amino acid L-tryptophan, which we associate with the annual sleep-inducing Thanksgiving dinner. But it can help you, too. A warm drink can help you drift off faster.

If you’re lactose intolerant or avoid dairy, try chamomile tea. Chamomile has flavonoids with sedative effects that will help you sleep. It’s commonly advised to drink warm chamomile tea about 90 minutes before bedtime.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bed. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol won’t help you start getting sleep. You may fall asleep, but the quality is probably going to be poor if it’s alcohol-induced. Stick with the milk or the tea.

12. Get fit.

Many studies show that regular exercise, over time, can improve one’s ability to have a good night sleep.

Exercise, too, reduces stress, which is a major deterrent to good sleep. It’s also been shown to improve circadian rhythms by making exercisers more alert during the day and then letting them get deeper sleep at night.

So, go for a walk or a bike ride. Hit the gym. Develop a healthy exercise habit, and it could be your ticket to start getting sleep.

13. Get dry.

Constantly going to the bathroom at night keeps some people from ever falling asleep, especially from into a deep sleep. If this is you, then drinking too many liquids at night is not recommended.

Drink enough liquids throughout the day to get your daily dose but slow your drinking after dinner. If you must, limit your liquids after dinner to a single cup of warm milk or tea. Beyond that, you’re asking for frequent interruptions that’ll keep you from getting a good night’s sleep.

Mix and match to find your combo to start getting sleep.

One of these tips probably isn’t going to solve all of your sleep problems. Instead, try different combinations of these tips to help you fall asleep on time and more deeply.

As you improve your practice, you’ll get better sleep — and you can stop worrying about those damn sheep.

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You only fail if you stop trying. Read More...

So, you decided to become an entrepreneur because you had a vision and a passion.

You didn’t want to answer to anyone and wanted to be in control of your whole life. Tony Robbins tells you to follow your dreams. Gary Vee says you can do it.

But this entrepreneur thing is harder than it looks.

You keep hearing and seeing everyone else’s “overnight success,” and you’re toiling away year after year just waiting for your break.

Social media has become your worst enemy. According to Instagram, everyone else is killing it, and you’re dying a slow business owner’s death — you feel like the next entrepreneurial failure.

Before you step further into that coffin, it’s time for a reality check.

Remember why you started.

“Always remember, you have within you the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman

When we feel like an entrepreneurial failure, it often means that we forgot what our original dream was. The entrepreneur must evolve to succeed, but the original inspiration should remain.

Go back to the original source of your inspiration. Remember what it felt like before you lost that original passion.

Everyone is born with a purpose and it’s in the inspiration, those moments that put excitement in our bellies, where we find our purpose. When you remember that original feeling, what was it that excited you?

You probably felt that you had a product, service, or knowledge that would help people. You probably envisioned positively affecting your community or the world. When you’re feeling down and out about your progress, remember why you started in the first place.

It’s not likely that whatever higher power you worship gave you that inspiration without a purpose.

Remember what made you think you could succeed.

William Arthur Ward said, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”

I believe Ward is correct. I believe every successful or struggling entrepreneur must also believe him otherwise they’re doomed to become an entrepreneurial failure.

When I’m feeling down about the struggles of my own business, I remind myself why I thought I could succeed in the first place.

Losing a big client or taking on an unexpected expense is scary for the small business owner, and it can be easy to forget that you were once certain of your success. That’s why, for me, it’s helpful to return mentally to that “one time.”

If you’re like me, you saw signs that told you your dream would be your reality. I have about a dozen instances throughout my life that grew progressively louder telling me that “this” is what I’m supposed to do. If that’s the case for you, then you weren’t brought here to fail. You were led here to succeed, and maybe your feelings of failure are an opportunity for growth.

Renew your confidence in yourself and your abilities, learn from past mistakes, and move forward.

Don’t go down the rabbit hole.

“All negativity is an illusion created by the limited mind to protect and defend itself.” – Ambika Wauters

For me, negativity breeds negativity. The longer that I’m negative the louder the negativity gets.

Some theories of quantum physics say this is because everything is a vibration, including our thoughts. Therefore, my negative thoughts spiraling out of control, the melancholy music I play on iTunes, and the brain-draining television I watch on Netflix when I’m feeling down all produce more negativity.

From spilling my coffee to not winning a client, these negative experiences attract more negativity thoughts and experiences. Over time, the increasing negativity can lead to entrepreneurial failure.

The solution to overcoming this negativity is in the next section.

Don’t let it fester.

“The five-minute rule: it’s okay to be negative about certain things but not longer than five minutes.” – Hal Elrod

We’re not Vulcans. We’re humans and burdened by the arch of human emotions. It’s okay to feel down when something doesn’t seem to work in our favor. It’s okay to feel anxious; it shows our hearts are in it. It’s okay to question ourselves; it gives us a chance to grow.

But, it’s only okay to be negative for five minutes, or so says Hal Elrod of The Miracle Morning. In my experience, this especially works when my entrepreneurial endeavors go sour.

I’m human. Things upset me. I let it upset me for five minutes, and then I return to happiness. Okay, I often just return to being okay – I’m only human. But, being okay is better than being negative.

The next several times you’re down about your business, try the five-minute rule. It’ll feel useless at first, but the more you practice it the more it’ll help you.

Pause.

“Almost everything will work if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott

I really want to tell you to meditate here, but that’s not the only way to pause. We all have our own definition of taking a break. For me, it’s meditating. I like going inside and focusing on positive thoughts to replace my negative thoughts, thinking of a productive outcome to my current situation or to not thinking at all.

You may be different. Going for a quiet walk or long run might be your fix. Coloring in an adult coloring book with a glass of wine might be the temporary break (or date) you need. Watching motivational videos on YouTube or listening to inspirational podcasts might be just the pause you want before you hit play again.

When you pause, you get out of your negative space. On top of that, you have the chance to recharge the creative juices. Taking a break can help you move from entrepreneurial failure mode and into a creative problem-solving mode.

Look to friends, family, and colleagues.

“A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself — and especially to feel. Or, not feel.” – Jim Morrison

Life as an entrepreneur, especially a solopreneur, can feel lonely.

Working in your home office day after day — or kitchen table, as I do — can make you feel disconnected from the rest of the world. One of the reasons you decided to go into business probably related to people and the best people in your life are the ones who know and love you when you’re happy or sad, successful, or struggling.

There’s nothing that I love more than hearing what’s going on in the life of someone I love. It’s a mental break from me, my business, and my stresses. Hearing stories of raising children, planning vacations, and their career successes give me time to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around me or my business.

My entrepreneurial success or failure isn’t the only thing out there.

I’ve also found that even though my friends and family often have a limited understanding of what I do, they can provide unique, outsiders’ perspectives on my struggles. At the very least, they’re my biggest fans and they give me the emotional support and physical hugs I need.

Change what needs changing.

“Tack like a sailboat in navigating towards your goal, course-correcting as you go.” – Mike Michalowicz

No one has it all figured out. Even if you do exactly what the most successful person in your field did, it won’t yield the same exact results. Times change. Markets change. You’re different people.

My point is that no matter how perfect your recipe, long-term entrepreneurial success is more cooking than baking. When something’s not working and you’ve overcome the subsequent mental challenge, follow Mike Michalowicz’s advice and tack.

Ships rarely do a 180 and, if they do, it takes a long time. Ships mostly set sail towards their destination and make minor tweaks to stay on course, as the winds and water require. Such is the case with a successful business owner.

When something isn’t working, there’s a good chance it doesn’t need to go into the dustbin of history. It’s possible you simply need to make a minor change. Minor changes are easier to manage than drastic ones, and small changes along the way can help you avoid entrepreneurial failure.

Turn your entrepreneurial failure into success.

“Fall forward.” – Denzel Washington

The more I study successful people, the more I learn that all successful people have failed. Those who succeed in the end have used their failures as information and inspiration for their successes.

Oprah Winfrey was fired from a job as an anchorwoman in Baltimore. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company, Apple. Madonna was fired from Dunkin Donuts. President Obama was fired from Baskin Robins.

From learning why they weren’t a good fit for a certain job or simply learning that it was time to move onto something better, every successful person has done what Washington advises: they fell forward.

Life as an entrepreneur can feel like a psychological challenge as much as a financial and physical challenge.

Don’t give up just because your life doesn’t look like a Facebook success story. Instead, realize that you were born to succeed.

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Put down the phone and step away slowly. Read More...

I’m not quite old. But I’m not young, either.

I’m old enough to remember the excitement when our family got an extended phone cord, so I could have a private conversation in the coat closet.

However, I’m also young enough to be able to claim that I have three laptops, two tablets, and a smartphone. These technology tools that today’s digital natives for granted help me manage more of my business, personal life, and home every year.

I never went on a road trip with my family and had the luxury of watching movies from start to finish. Today, though, I don’t fly without writing an article, catching up on email and managing my business from takeoff to touchdown.

The timing of my entrance into this world means I understand the value of spending time away from the digital world. And I know how to survive the real world.

I, also, love – even rely on – being on the grid.

My life is increasingly digital.

I find myself more and more on the grid year after year. Being online allows me freedom and flexibility in the way I make money, the way I travel, and the way I enjoy my life.

It’s set me free from the mundane and offers entrance into worlds of thoughts and ideas that I don’t always see IRL.

I assume if you’re reading this article on this blog that I wrote on my laptop, you relate to at least some of what I’m saying.

You probably know exactly what it’s like to have an online presence, even if it means that your ability to survive the real world is a little hampered.

I also don’t get bothered by seeing people with their faces in their phones. I assume that most of them are like me and building something.

But I also know it’s possible to get too carried away. There is a real solid world out there, and we all need to be connected to it.

It’s important that we all manage our digital lives and not let our digital lives manage us. So, here’s what my household does to fight the robots from taking over before their time.

Embrace everyone, not everything.

All electronic devices are not equal. I wholeheartedly love my electronics, but some of them aren’t worth the time, money or hassle. Take, for example, ereaders.

I tried to buy into them. In fact, I bought two even though I saw the limitations of my first ereader quickly. Ereaders were all the rage for readers. My husband got me one of the first, and the first time I flew I was told that I had to put my ereader away until the plane took off.

For the ten to 50 minutes until we were safely in the air, as a reader, I was bored. I was once stuck on a tarmac for what seemed like hours and couldn’t read or go to the bathroom.

(Editor’s note: you can use ereaders during takeoff and landing today. In fact, I love my Kindle Paperwhite. Don’t leave home without it — especially when I fly. A full library in the palm of my hand; I can read whatever I’m in the mood for without weighing myself down with several tomes.)

As time passed, I realized that I missed my tangible books with their bent edges, scuffed covers, and bookmarks that always fall out of place. I missed the option of highlighting and taking notes in the books I bought for learning. I missed the ease of sharing a book I loved.

I know there are digital solutions for all the voids from my short-lived ereading days, but there’s something to be said for the tactile, tangible, and rudimentary.

I don’t want to make Jeff Bezos poor. I’m just suggesting that you pick and choose what digital devices you let into your life and which you don’t. They don’t all provide more value than what you have or had.

Enjoy the art of the start and a happy ending.

A while ago, my husband and I started to turn off and disconnect at 8:30 pm. The blue light, the surround sound, and all the flashing are too stimulating to the brain. In fact, studies suggest that you should turn off your devices at least an hour before bed so you can fall asleep at a decent hour and rejuvenate for the next day.

We have the Blue Light Filter for all our devices, but we still feel more ready for bed at bedtime when we turn everything off. It’s the perfect way to unwind and relax.

We’ve, also, found that what there is to read online or on social media is less relaxing than most books — yes, old school books — that we read. In fact, you’re likely to find something on social media that gets your heart rate going and your blood boiling. That’s not a recipe for a peaceful night’s sleep.

Recently, we’ve imposed the limitation of not turning on our devices until we’ve completed our morning meditation, journaling, and exercise. So far, we like it.

Before this new policy, we found ourselves turning our phones on first thing in the morning and letting Facebook or email decide how our day started. We didn’t like that. We now turn on our phones or laptops at about 7 am. Ironically, we don’t get any less done than when we turned our phones on as soon as we woke.

In fact, we are a little more productive because we’ve started the day focused and happy.

Get human2human.

As with disconnecting from the digital world and connecting with nature, humans benefit greatly from social interaction. Let’s face it, we’re not that much evolved from our cave brothers and sisters.

Regular human to human interaction has been shown to help people live longer, maintain and improve people’s physical health, maintain and improve cognitive skills, and reduce the risk or effects of dementia.

Meet a friend for coffee. Walk with your special someone around your dream neighborhood. Go to a ballgame with your best friends. Hang out with, talk with, and enjoy other people without being more concerned about what’s happening on your phone than what’s happening around you.

Put the phone away and put the people standing in front of you first.

While human-to-human contact is best, you can also connect with those far and away by making an old-school phone call or using Skype or FaceTime. Don’t settle for a quick text that you can then ignore.

Seeing someone’s face on video, or hearing their voice over the phone, will lift your spirits, help maintain or improve your mental and physical states, and keep you connected with loved ones beyond the character limits that often come with electronic text.

Master the art of doing nothing.

You know what people don’t know how to do anymore? Nothing!

We’re over-stimulated, multitasking zombies who occasionally need a break from everything. We often worry about how to survive the real world — the time spent in a grocery line or commuting on the train — without the aid of our devices. But the truth is that you could probably use a little time without them.

Stare out your living room window or sitting on your front porch alone and without any distractions. Time yourself to see how long it takes you to get antsy. If you can’t go a few minutes without feeling anxious, you need to do nothing more often.

There is great value in downtime. These days, we complain if there isn’t something entertaining right in front of us all the time. We don’t need to be constantly entertained. Let your brain get in some relaxing.

Go outside naked.

I knew this was the point you’d want to read most, which I why I put it at the end.

Don’t strip down to your birthday suit and log a run around the block like you’re to your neighborhood what Mark Roberts was to the PyeongChang Olympics. My point is to go outside and experience nature without a single digital device.

Trust me! You’ll get to the park and home again in one piece without Google Maps. You don’t need Spotify to walk down the street. Rather, listen to the soundtrack of your life — it’s the one playing in your head. You’ll hear it if you listen.

Studies suggest that being in and naturally experiencing nature will improve your mood and lower your blood pressure, your heart rate, muscle tension, and stress. Some studies even suggest it reduces your chance dying earlier.

That’s worth a walk in the woods and off the grid.

Being disconnected will give you the opportunity to hear the birds chirp and the leaves rustle. You’ll more attentively experience the sun, snow, and rain.

You’ll hear silence, and silence is truly golden.

You’ll also have the chance to connect better with yourself and your thoughts. A walk outside in nature, even a walk down the block, is a great form of meditation.

Survive the real world without devices.

These are a few of my recommendations to help you stay connected with your natural self and the environment. Digital is good but a little less digital won’t hurt you. In fact, striking the balance between digital and living IRL will probably help you a ton.

When you start paying attention to how often you’re connected, you’ll start to see the value in disconnecting sometimes as well.

When you start managing your digital work, you’ll feel, be, and do better in the real world — and we need the real world to be a whole lot better than it is today.

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New project? No worries. Read More...

You have a new project. It’s big. It’s huge — even “yuge” — but you’re not bloviating.

This is the real deal, a make or break moment for you. You need project success to level up.

Ugh! The stress starts to creep into your mind and your body.

There are so many components, so many moving parts. How will you manage them all? How will you get all the way to the top of that hill from all the way down here?

You’ll do it with a process that will make your project easier to see and simpler to manage, like eating an elephant.

Elephants can grow up to 11 feet tall and weigh up to 13,000 pounds. The more important question is why would you eat an elephant? For our purpose, however, how would you eat an elephant? You’d eat an elephant one bite at a time. Just like you’ll tackle this project and succeed.

Breathe, and see project success.

Your first step is to breathe.

Too often, we want to dive right in and start our projects or tasks before we have a chance to fully think them through. It’s at this point when the panic starts. Stop the panic before it starts.

You have your assignment. You know the objective. Now, breathe. Even for five minutes. Sit back in your chair, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. As you feel the benefits of your deep, energizing breaths, imagine the inevitable results of your success.

Do, as Bob Proctor says, “Imagine the feeling of the wish fulfilled.” Your subconscious mind can’t tell the difference between your reality and your imagination.

  • Thoughts create your feelings.
  • Feelings create your actions.
  • Actions create your results.

Take the time to convince your subconscious mind that success is yours and you’ll nurture your thoughts.

You don’t know how you’ll get there today, but know you’ll get there.

See your team, your manager and your manager’s manager patting you on the back for your job well done. Ignite that feeling in your stomach when you know your work is good. Project the movie in your mind’s eye of what it will feel like when you go home and tell your partner, spouse or your girls how you rocked it at work.

With clarity and calm — and a positive mindset — proceed to the next step.

Ask questions.

You were assigned this project because you know enough. However, there’s a chance you don’t know everything to ensure project success. Find out what you don’t know.

Do you have questions? Where can you find the answers? What aren’t you 100% certain about with this responsibility? Are there points of confusion?

What tools and resources do you need? Can you get them? How?

Who are your points of contact? Can they help you? When are they available?

Go through these questions and do your best to answer them. At the very least, know where you can get the answers. You don’t have to know everything right now. But you should have a solid idea of where to find what you need.

And, if you have to ask for clarification, do it sooner rather than later. Ask an insightful question now, get on the right track, and you’ll avoid bigger issues later.

Do your research.

Armed with your questions, reach out to your points of contacts for answers. Use your company’s resources. Most firms have intranet sites, web-based tools, and software loaded with information. Search your resources for answers — and make a not questions you haven’t thought to ask until now.

Even in business, that thing we call the World Wide Web is a useful tool. Use Google to find if someone or something else has completed a similar project before this. Understand how they succeeded or failed. Find out what you should do differently and what you can do better.

Make a list.

As you’re asking questions and researching, make a list of steps you need to take, things you need to learn, people you need to contact, and more questions you need to ask.

Good organization can be a big deal as you work toward project success.

A tablet or Post-it® Notes may be where you currently list your to-dos, but this is the 21-century, my friend. Let’s get your more efficient tools.

My current favorite task manager is Asana. If you’re working with a team on a project, you can manage the whole thing from Asana. You can name a task and assign it to the larger project. You can add attachments and due dates, as necessary.

For now, create a free account with Asana to list all your tasks. As your project evolves and you become comfortable with Asana, you can use more of its features and loop in your team.

Another great free tool is Trello. With Trello, you can create boards to represent different projects or different tasks with sub-tasks. You can add attachments and due dates with Trello, too. You can also add checklists on each card, assign labels for tracking and move cards from one board/project to another.

If neither of these tools works for you and you are based in corporate America, it’s likely you use Microsoft Outlook for email. Outlook has a Task manager that works with your Outlook Calendar and is quite convenient.

No matter the tools you use, look for a way to organize your tasks and break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. This will help you tackle the project more effectively.

Map your process.

Now that know all or most of your required tasks, put them in a logical sequence. You’ll see tasks that are contingent on the completion of other tasks. You’ll see what can be done simultaneously and, likely, what should be done first, second, third, and so forth.

Asana and Trello are great for this because you can easily move tasks around on your board or your list, as your process requires. When things change, as they inevitably will, you can move your tasks around accordingly.

Both Asana and Trello have visual elements that make them ideal for mapping your process. As you find that something needs to be done in a different order, or if you need to add something, it’s fairly simple. Plus, you can see the entire roadmap laid out.

Budget time for surprises and breaks.

Most projects have deadlines and most deadlines are yesterday. That said, do your best to negotiate a reasonable timeline to successfully complete your project. Include in that negotiation time for surprises and breaks.

Sure, your project success can come without breaks — but that also means more stress. If you want to reduce the stress, you need to prepare ahead of time for problems.

Something unexpected will pop up. A mistake or oversight will happen. Your manager will come up with additional requests. As best as you can, factor time in your project timeline for these surprises. They will happen, and you’ll do yourself and your project a favor by planning for them.

Budget time for breaks. This helps in two ways. The first is that it reduces stress. Factoring in time for walks, casual conversations with colleagues and to read will take your mind off your project and let you relax and unwind.

The second benefit is that our best ideas and solutions often come when we’re not thinking about the task at hand. Go for a walk. Meditate. Do a routine task, like washing the dishes, knitting, or tinkering with a car.

These simple put us in a slightly meditative state that some psychologists call our default mode network. In this state, “you become less aware of your environment and more aware of your internal thoughts,” says John Kounios, a psychologist who studies creativity and distraction at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Remove your distractions.

When you’re working on project success, eliminate as many distractions as possible. Despite what some think, no one is good at multitasking.

You can’t give any task all it needs if you’re distracted by the chime on your computer indicating a new email or the ring of your phone from a push-notification. You can’t zero in on a project if you’re talking on your office phone and scrolling through Facebook on your iPhone.

Those things have their time and place but not when you’re working on an important task. Not being focused will delay you, increase chances of errors and eventually stress you. Research shows that it takes between 23 and 25 minutes to refocus on a task after we’ve been distracted.

You don’t have time for that.

Shut down your email. Put your office phone on DND. Turn off your phone and hide it from yourself. Shut the door and ask to not be disturbed. Focus solely on your project. The more successful tasks you have, the more successful your project will be.

Trust me. You won’t miss anything of real importance on Facebook.

Forgive yourself for mistakes.

As sure as surprises come, you’ll make mistakes. This is life, and you’re only human. Expect mistakes and expect to forgive them.

In fact, mistakes and failure are necessary. The road to ultimate project success often littered by failure.

Jass saxophonist Coleman Hawkins once quipped, “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying.” This applies to every aspect of life, including business, and shows that our biggest failures can lead to our biggest successes.

Turn your mistakes into successes and learn from them. Apply your new-found knowledge to your current project, share them with your team, and apply them to future projects.

Don’t let that new project stress you out. Go for a walk, take a deep breath, map it out, and get back to it.

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Your lateness is annoying everyone around you. Stop. Read More...

I’m late, I’m late for
A very important date.
No time to say hello, good-bye,
I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.

– The White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland

You don’t have to be The White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. You can be punctual. You don’t have to rush. You can arrive easily. It’s not impossible to stop being late.

The occasional tardiness is acceptable and expected. That urgent phone call just when you’re walking out the door. The kids simply refuse to behave that morning. The dog eats the neighbor’s bunny (sorry white rabbit).

On the other hand, being perpetually late is a sign of your poor planning or your disinterest. Neither reflects well on you. This can cost you the respect of your friends and colleagues. It can either consciously or unconsciously lead those who might be pivotal to your success think negatively of you. If you’re up for a promotion and it’s neck and neck, your perpetual lateness could mean the loss of the job.

There’s a saying in business: “Five minutes early is on time; on time is late; late is unacceptable.”

So, how can you plan to be punctual? I’ve got some tips to help you turn into the most reliable person in your social circle.

Plan earlier.

People who are perpetually late often blame their circumstances for their lateness. The easiest way to stop being late is to plan to do everything earlier that you think you must.

This means setting your alarm clock to go off earlier, hopping in the shower sooner, maybe skipping the morning news or newspaper and getting in your car and leaving earlier. If you have children, this means waking them earlier, getting them dressed earlier and dropping them off at school earlier.

This may sound harsh, but other people who are punctual have jobs, children, and demands. They still make their appointments and deadlines on time.

Plan to do less.

If planning earlier doesn’t make you more punctual, maybe there’s another problem. It’s hard to decline invitations or to say no to a request for help. We want to help everyone and meet everyone’s expectations. Those are noble goals, but they could be sabotaging you.

If you’re overcommitting, over helping, and over-promising, maybe you need to put less on your plate. Learn to say, “Thanks but no thanks.” You’re simply putting too much on yourself, which means you’re neither helping yourself nor giving those you’re helping your best self. Again, neither reflects well on you.

Learn your limitations, understand your expectations, and give in moderation. You’ll be surprised at how this can help you stop being late.

Plan better.

There are skills to getting more done in less time. If mornings are a challenge for you, pack your lunch, prepare your breakfast (as much as you can), lay out your clothing, and place everything you need to take with you for the day by your door. This way, you can wake up, get ready and many of your menial tasks are done.

What happens if you’re at work and your colleagues are distracting you? If you’re late for meetings and deadlines because others’ lack of preparation slows you down, take drastic steps. Don’t answer the phone, decline meeting requests, and avoid the morning chatter your first hour at work. Use this time to plan your day or prepare for your most important task.

Another way to get more done in less time is to do your most important or most challenging task first. This way you’re tackling this responsibility during the freshest part of your day. It’s easier to get more done when your synapses are firing on all cylinders and you have enough time to do what you must do.

Finally, focus. If you need to prepare for a meeting or it’s important for you to complete one responsibility, ignore those distractions that prevent you from focusing on the task at hand. Ignore emails, phone calls, and text messages that don’t serve your need. If you need to help the kids with their homework so they can get to bed on time, Facebooking and texting your friends are distractions.

Plan to plan.

Some people are more laid back, and that’s great. Honestly, I wish I were more laid back. However, that becomes a problem when it starts affecting other people or other people’s perception of you. If people start thinking you’re unprofessional or incapable, you have a problem.

The resolution to this is planning to plan. If you hit the snooze button over and over, plan to wake up the first time your alarm goes off. Mel Robbins’ 5-4-3-2-1 strategy is helpful for this.

Plan to make being punctual fun. If you don’t want to be late for a party, plan to show up early to spend one-on-one time with the host or to have a quiet drink alone before the party starts. If you have a meeting, plan to arrive early with coffee or cupcakes. The others will appreciate your thoughtfulness and timeliness. They’ll be happy you learned to stop being late.

Plan to care.

You may simply not care to be punctual. You may be the most important person in your life, but if you’re not the most important person where you’re going, you’re hurting yourself. The most important person and your peers will start to think less of you. Those who are less important than you will become cynical about you.

Resolve this by looking for the value of being on time for them. If you’re habitually late because you don’t like your boss, see how being on time and being a better employee for them could get you a lateral or upward job change. If you’re going to a party or event you don’t care about, if you plan to go at all, go early so you can leave early. Plan to care before you no longer have a job or friends to care about.

Plan to remember.

If you find it hard to remember what you must do, set up systems to help you. That’s easier to do today than ever. Once you get these systems in place, you will find it’s easier to stop being late.

I live and die by my to-do list on my Any List app. It’s an easy, portable place to list my daily to-dos and get the enjoyment of crossing them off. I also live by my Outlook calendar and meeting reminders. Outlook offers a phone app, and this gives me push notifications for upcoming meetings and deadlines. Depending on the meeting or deadline, I request notifications between 15 minutes to one week prior.

The iPhone will also send you push notifications at a certain time or when you’re at a certain location. If you need to pick up the milk on the way home, you can tell your iPhone to remind you at a certain time, when you leave work or when you’re near the grocery store.

There are numerous other apps to help you plan and remember — so you can stop being late. Find what works for you.

Plan to stop procrastinating.

Some people think they work better under pressure. Studies show those people are wrong.

Tim Pychyl, director of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University and author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, says, “there is not one study that supports the claim that people perform better under the gun of a fast-approaching deadline.” If you’re one of the people who think you work better under pressure, stop lying to yourself.

Get real and create a schedule that allows you to tackle big projects a little at a time. Don’t put off projects until you’re almost late. It just stresses you out and it increases the chances you’ll miss your deadline. Whether that project is helping your child with a science project or getting something done at work, you’ll feel much better when you stop being late because you’ve taken your time.

Start to see the value, including less stress and more time to do better, by being on time. Put forth your best effort and get your best results.

Take it from someone who hates being late and who hates when others are consistently late. It’s not good for you or others if you’re never on time. It may be an antiquated belief, but even today for many being punctual is important to you and to them.

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We all speak different languages. Learn how to speak your SO’s. Read More...

Before Gary Chapman published The 5 Love Languages in 1995 partners have been struggling to try and decipher each other.

“Why does she touch me like that?”

“Why won’t he touch me like that?”

“Why does she say those things?”

“Why doesn’t he stop talking?”

The arrival of a manual helped couples learn how to better communicate. After all, the way we communicate love differs from person to person. You might need a translator to ensure that you and your partner aren’t constantly unhappy due to misunderstandings.

On one hand, it may seem ideal to have a partner who has the same love language as you. On the other, it could lead to a boring, one-dimensional relationship.

To be fair, though, having a partner with a different love language is a challenge. You both want certain things that the other may not be able to give — or they just may not understand what you’re asking for.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Better understanding your partner’s love language can lead to better communication. When you start to speak your partner’s love language, they’ll start to speak yours. Then, you have better communication, which leads to more happiness — and more and better sex.

That’s when it gets fun. Speaking your partner’s love language doesn’t have to suck. It can prove very rewarding for both of you. So, let’s better understand each of the languages of love.

Language of affirmations.

The best three words in the world to hear are, “I have wine.” The second best three words are “I love you.” This is especially true for people who speak the love language of affirmations.

Speaking this language may be the easiest of all, and words aren’t necessarily required to speak this language. Sure, a quiet “I love you” whispered in the ear in morning is nice. Those can never be discounted – not even if you don’t speak the love language of affirmations.

However, a simple text mid-day that says, “How’s your day?” does wonders. “I’ve been thinking about you” will send them through the roof. Go to Hallmark.com and send your word-affirming partner an e-card telling them how you feel, and you’ll be the week’s biggest winner.

Satisfying a person who desires words of affirmations only requires remembering to say, send, write or text a thoughtful sentence once in a while.

Language of quality time.

Lovers who speak the love language of quality time love spending time with their partner – whatever they’re doing, regardless of what they’re doing. This can be anything from lying in bed to watching a movie to spending the day at a theme park.

The time spent together can be easy or complex. It doesn’t matter. Personally, this is my second strongest love language. Whether we’re binging Netflix, each working our own jobs in the same room, or drinking wine on our balcony, I love simply spending time with the person I love.

The best combination of partners may just be those who prefer quality time and those who prefer touch because hours spent touching each other makes both partners happy. Maybe as important as matching yourself with a partner who fits with your astrological sign is matching with a partner who fits your language of love.

Language of touch.

We’re all familiar with the love language of touch. If you were an alien who did nothing but watch television and movies on your first visit to earth, you’d think touch was the only love language of your new human friends.

The love language of touch isn’t only about lovemaking. This kind of language includes holding hands, snuggling on the couch, spooning in bed, running your fingers through your partner’s hair, massages, and more.

These people love holding hands. They appreciate a kiss on the forehead. Of course, don’t discount the sexual touching. Never. Discount. Sex.

Touching this person the right way at the right time will never suck, but . . .

Language of gifts.

You may think that lovers who speak the language of gifts keep the economy going, but that’s not entirely true. It’s also not true that those speaking this love language are materialistic. Gifts for these lovers don’t need to be expensive or even bought. They simply need to be thoughtful.

The person who speaks the love language of gifts want to know someone – you – care for them. This can be done with small gestures, such as a homemade card, a flower picked on your way home, a kiss wrapped with a bow on it.

Give a thoughtful gift to this person and they’ll shower you with all the love they can give.

Language of service.

The person who speaks the language of love isn’t looking for a Lady in Waiting or a Gentleman of the Bedchamber (here). This person appreciates when their love does for them something they can do for themselves.

This one hits home. I love cleanliness. I love when my condo is spotless. I love when there are no dishes in the sink. I love, love, love clean sheet night.

Not long ago, our Mini Cooper was filthy. Denver had a bunch of snow, and with the snow, sludge, and de-icers our Mini was a mess. When the roads and weather permitted, my husband had our car thoroughly cleaned inside and out. I was the happiest driver on the road, and this half hour and $30 investment showed me a special kind of love.

The language of service, however, is not all about cleaning. It’s holding the door open. It’s picking up the laundry. It’s making dinner. It’s taking the kids out of the house, so your partner can soak in the tub and read a good book in quiet.

Show the love of service with your partner and your lover is sure to stick with you through thick and thin.

As you can see, your S.O.’s love language doesn’t suck when you understand the kind of love they need. In fact, giving your lover the love they need will give you the love you need.

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Don’t expect everything to be perfect once you move into a condo. The HOA can make life hell if you aren’t prepared. Read More...

If you’re buying your first home or you’re not a handy person (or you simply don’t want to be handy), buying a condo in a homeowners association (HOA) might seem ideal.

Maybe the house you want to buy is in an HOA, and it’ll take care of the garbage and snow removal for you.

Who doesn’t want to take those items off their to-do lists?

Before you get too excited, it’s important to know that as nice as HOAs are, they can be quite controlling — and costly to you as a homeowner. They can be especially costly for condominiums or multiple dwelling units in HOAs.

Here’s what you should know before buying into a homeowners association:

The HOA should have a reserve study and a reserve balance.

Just as you should have an emergency savings account, so should an HOA. This is typically called the reserve balance, and it should be cash held in an account to be used ongoing maintenance of your HOA. It also acts as a buffer should surprise accidents, like a blown boiler or a roof leak, happen.

How much money should an HOA have in reserve? There are many variables to consider, such as operating costs, maintenance expenses, the number of homes or units in the homeowners association, and the square footage (and types) of common elements.

Therefore, it’s advised that HOAs pay for reserve studies. Reserve studies are performed by professionals to assess how much it costs to maintain the HOA. The results can help the HOA figure out how much it should have in its reserve account.

Before you buy into an HOA, ask to see the financial documents, ask for the reserve balance, and ask to see a copy of the reserve study. Your review of these documents should tell you how well the HOA is being managed and how financially solvent the HOA is.

If the HOA isn’t managed well or isn’t solvent, surprise accidents could mean a large expense to directly to you.

Read the HOA’s governing documents, including its rules and regulation.

Every HOA should have its own declarations and bylaws, as well as rules and regulations. These documents spell out how the homeowners association should manage itself, who’s responsible for what, and what’s permitted (and not permitted).

The declarations and bylaws were drafted by attorneys and HOA members at the inception of the homeowners association. Making changes to the declarations and bylaws typically requires majority approval by the HOA members or homeowners. Changes to some elements may require more than 51% approval. It’s the responsibility of the HOA board to manage the HOA to the declarations and bylaws.

The rules and regulations are typically drafted and can be changed by the HOA board members. Most HOAs, however, solicit input to draft rules and regulations from a committee of HOA board members and homeowners to eliminate the appearance of being unfair.

That said, many of the day-to-day problems with homeowners or within an HOA come from a lack of understanding regarding the HOA’s rules and regulations. From knowing how to replace a lost key to whether the HOA permits animals, different processes and requirements are typically spelled out in the rules and regulations. Violators of rules and regulations are usually subject to fines by the board.

Before buying into an HOA, ask for copies of the declarations, bylaws, and rules and regulations to make sure you can live within the pre-established rules of the HOA. Some rules could have expensive financial consequences for you.

Condo insurance is special.

If you live in a condo building or multi-dwelling unit, know that everything you understand about insurance and liability insurance does not apply to your condo.

For example, you might assume that if the neighbor above has a leak in their sink that goes through their floor, your ceiling, and into your condo, they would be liable to cover your expenses. If I hit your car with my car, I’d be responsible for replacing or fixing your car. Right?

That logic doesn’t apply here. The neighbor above you who “caused the leak” is responsible for repairing the damage done to their unit. You, however, are responsible for damage done to your unit. More accurately, your homeowners insurance is responsible for making you whole again, not your neighbor’s insurance.

It may not make sense, but that’s the way condominium insurance works. Before you buy into an HOA, especially a condominium, fully understand your liability, the HOA’s liability, and your neighbors’ liability. Talk with an attorney who specializes in HOA and condominium law, and talk with your insurance agent to understand what and how you’re covered.

You have limited rights and recourse in an HOA.

HOA laws give a lot of leeway to HOAs and their boards. You have limited recourse if you feel you’ve been wronged or if you don’t like what your homeowners association is doing.

There’s no value in suing your HOA, either. HOA board members are covered by the HOA’s insurance and the HOA insurance is paid for by your HOA dues. So, in a circuitous way, suing your HOA is suing yourself. It could cost you money directly, and it could cost you the support of your fellow homeowners.

The only way to really effect change in an HOA is to join the board (usually by being elected). If you don’t have the time or the interest in being on your HOA’s board, then you’re subject to the decisions of those who do and are. Such decisions can be as minor as permitting welcome mats at front doors to implementing multimillion-dollar “improvement” projects paid for by you.

If you’re not comfortable living with the decisions of a small group of people and don’t have the time or interest in being on the HOA’s board, perhaps buying into an HOA is not the right call for you.

You still have homeowner responsibilities.

Too often, those who don’t want to spend money or donate the time to maintain HOAs move into one. Walls need to be painted and carpets need to be replaced in common areas. The grounds need to be kept. Someone must skim the pool. When a homeowner leaves trash in the elevator, someone has to clean it up.

The only way these things happen is if someone donates their time or you pay for it. If someone, including you, isn’t interested in donating your time, then be prepared to pay someone to do it.

Many people who move into HOAs assume everything will be done for them. That’s true when they pay for that service. If you don’t pay for it, don’t expect it. You’d be responsible for these expenses if you owned a single-family home. You’re still responsible for them in a condo or HOA.

These are some aspects of living with a homeowners association in a condo that many don’t know. Not knowing them makes it harder for you and your neighbors. The more aware you are, the more prepared you can be if you buy into an HOA.

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Show your boss how valuable you are. Ace that performance review. Read More...

It’s time for annual performance reviews. You can hear the business world release its collective angst-filled sigh.

Employees with barely enough time need to fight for their jobs and hopefully eek out a nominal raise. Managers with too much work to do must toe the bottom line while still encouraging their employees to return to work.

As George Carlin says, “Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.”

Suddenly, it’s your time to fight for yourself. And don’t forget that you want your pay to keep up with inflation in Hunger Games for the workplace. But, if you haven’t prepared all year long for your annual performance review, what can you do at the last minute to get that raise or promotion?

1. Prepare to sell your best of self.

Get your game face on. Overcome that limiting belief that you’re not good at sales or that selling is slimy. If you want any hope of convincing your boss that you need a cost-of-living increase, a raise, or a promotion, you need to sell yourself and the value you bring.

Yes, you bring value to your company. The better you can convince your boss that you’re an asset, the better the chance you’ll walk out of your annual performance review meeting happy. Everyone, including your boss, seeks love or satisfaction and avoiding pain. Use this to your benefit, even if you must bite your tongue.

2. Review saved emails and files.

A lot can happen in a year. It’s easy to forget accomplishments from 11 months ago. While that compliment you got from your boss’s boss in February made your day, you might have forgotten it by now. That one project that kicked your butt for an entire week early second quarter might be a distant memory today.

Review your email history, saved emails, and the files saved on your computer. Take notes and be prepared to use this information to sell the value you add to your boss and the firm. These examples of your competence are vital as you sell yourself as deserving of a pay increase or promotion.

3. Use last year’s annual review and this year’s goals.

Annual performance reviews are measurements. Measurements need at least two data points. For projects and responsibilities that lasted more than one year, use last year’s annual performance review as the basis to show how far you’ve come.

Be prepared to address every previously established goal for this year. If your goals changed mid-year, share how far you got with both your original and new goals.

4. Be specific and brief.

If you report to a senior manager or an even higher-up, be prepared to be specific and brief. Your boss will see through your façade if you go on forever. They’ll think your bloviating at best and lying at worst, both of which are a waste of their time. No one likes to have their time wasted.

Keep it simple and stick to the facts.

5. Support all your success with benefits.

Busy bosses sometimes need reminding of how valuable you are to them. You’re an expense to your boss and firm. That’s fine if you’re providing enough value, so be clear with the value you’re providing. Use the Actions/Benefits Formula.

With each statement of value, complete this formula: “I did A, which resulted in B,” where A equals your action(s) and B equals the quantifiable benefit(s).

When you’ve completed that formula for all the benefits you include in your annual performance review, rephrase your statements for the same results to not sound monotonous. You don’t want your boss to fall asleep on you.

Practice ahead of time for best results.

6. Be real.

I’ve already addressed not being too bullshitty. You can bullshit a little if you’ve got the data to back it up. Include too much, though, and your boss will dismiss your review. That could mean no bonus or promotion, and that’s no bueno.

Being real means including challenges in your annual performance review. You’re human, and to make it appear otherwise is inauthentic. Your boss wants an authentic performance review so they can work with you.

Be open to their feedback. Write their feedback down. Follow up with clarifying statements to prove that you hear what they’re saying.

Be realistic, but don’t show all your cards. Don’t admit mistakes. Instead, frame them as “challenges” and “opportunities” the way a politician would.

7. Going forward, prepare all year long.

Can you wait until the last minute, like your midterm presentation in college, to score yourself a good performance review? Sure, and it’s possible. However, you want to make more money, right? Do you want to climb that corporate ladder? Then, don’t shoot for a C or even a B.

Go for the A+!

As soon as you turn on your office computer in the new year, create a folder in your email and a file folder on your computer both titled for the current year.

Whenever you receive a positive comment or review, file it and save it. Anytime you’ve completed or been a part of a successful project, save the supporting documentation. Start immediately. It’ll make preparing for next year’s annual review much easier.

Don’t include every positive quote or successful project in your next annual performance review, just the biggest, the best, and the most important. These give support for the amazing sales pitch you’ll give next year for more money and more responsibility.

When you rock your annual performance review and get yourself that raise or promotion, use your increased income to build a more financially secure future by increasing your retirement plan contributions, paying off debt, and investing.

Taking on more responsibility and increasing your income does you no good — if doesn’t reduce your financial stress or truly improve your quality of life.

With the right preparation, you’ll feel more comfortable in your next performance review, and your confidence will show, potentially landing you higher pay and a better position.

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Your life is like a fine wine or a good bourbon. Older is often better. Read More...

I have a theory.

I believe that pop culture and the media’s obsession with youth isn’t because we’re a youth-obsessed culture.

It’s because getting older is awesome — older people don’t need constant positive reinforcement.

You see patterns as you get older. Things that seemed so new to the young you now feel natural. You feel more confident in your own skin. You realize that every year that passes is another year of successful living.

So, when television, movies, and music don’t look or sound like you, you’re okay with it because you’re awesome.

You know it, and here’s how.

You stop repeating the same mistakes.

Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it, right?

As you get older, eventually you learn not to repeat mistakes. With your critical thinking skills and history of experiences, red flags are more apparent — even if you haven’t seen the exact red flag now waving in your face.

Remember when you were in a dating rut, dating different people with similar bad qualities? Gone are the days of dating different versions of the same person who isn’t right for you. You know what works and who works, and if nothing’s working you’re okay with going solo.

You’re more cautious about what you share with mom and dad, your siblings, and the rest of your family. Once you needed their help and guidance with everything, but now you’ve learned to avoid unnecessary concern and judgment.

You’ve also learned that family will give you their opinion whether you want it or not. So, you don’t invite more of it than you need.

You start to realize that while it’s fun to throw a few back late at night, it’s not so much fun early the next morning. This is also about the time you stop feeling the need to accept every RSVP for fear of eventually being left out.

Your self-confidence is higher.

The same person who longed for approval in high school no longer needs anyone’s approval today. That’s one of the best reasons getting older is awesome.

With each decade comes more confidence than the last. The thought of going on vacation or out for dinner alone no longer strikes fear inside you. In fact, it sounds quite desirable.

This brings with it an air of certainty and poise that only comes with age. The person who’s confident enough to enter a party alone and work a room is often the person everyone wants to know.

You have less drama.

Your teen years likely held the most drama in your life.

As you get older and older, fewer and fewer things cause you so much concern — you’ve learned to not care. You’ve learned that getting worked up every time someone else is worked up or every time the news or the radio says so is of no value to you.

You can’t control other people’s actions and beliefs. You focus more on your circle of influence and make your circle of concern smaller. Self-induced drama and other people’s drama melt away.

You have more wisdom.

With experience, mistakes, and success comes wisdom. Age is associated with wisdom, which is why the sages in books and movies are older than their young students.

Wisdom is the result of having been there and having done that — without having to announce it to the world. It’s having a better understanding of human behavior. It’s retaining and applying your personal history to the rest of the history surrounding you.

Wisdom is also knowing what you don’t know. It’s knowing when to ask more questions, when to listen, and when to not get involved.

You get paid for your experiences.

The reason you reach your peak earning years in your 40s and 50s is that you have the experience and history worth paying you more. And that is one of the biggest reasons getting older is awesome.

By your 40s, you’ve made your share of mistakes. You’ve learned from those mistakes — and learned to stop making them. Plus, you have enough right decisions to pad out your resume.

While youth is fun, adventurous, and new, age brings stability, clarity, and sophistication.

You can laugh at your younger self through younger generations.

It’s fun to watch younger generations and reminisce about your younger self. You see yourself in them and appreciate what they’re going through. But you appreciate even more that you’ve already been through it.

You know how they feel. You know what questions they have and what their concerns are. You can identify with their hopes and dreams. You had the good and bad relationships. You made the right and wrong choices. The life decisions they face today, you’ve already made.

Your empathy and understanding make you a great teacher. If they’re wise, they’ll seek your wisdom.

Your confidence and wisdom allow you to look back and laugh. But don’t forget to look back and forgive yourself.

Your priorities become your priority.

The best part of getting older is assuming the ability to say, “No.”

When you’re young and longing for approval, you’re apt to follow the crowd and not rock the boat. When you’re older, your experience affords you the opportunity to do what you want, when you want, and how you want.

“No, thank you,” is a refreshing place to be in life. Life is as much about the things we say no to as much as it’s about the things to which we say yes.

“No, I don’t want that promotion despite the higher income because I don’t want the extra stress.”

“No, thank you. I’d like the extra features on the car, but I don’t want the extra expenses.”

“No, I’m not interested.”

“I’m quitting this job because I don’t want to work for you anymore.”

It’s with confidence, experience, and wisdom that you’ve learned what you want and don’t want and build the courage to advocate for both.

You reap the rewards of all your good decisions.

By your 40s and 50s, you’ve accumulated the rewards of all your life-decisions. And getting older is awesome because now you can enjoy those rewards.

All you need are a few good decisions, to see the benefits. Even if you didn’t originally make the right choices, you’ve had time to tack accordingly and fix your mistakes.

Ours is a youth-obsessed culture, but it’s not because we all want to be younger.

It’s because those of us who are older are smart enough to appreciate the wisdom of our years — and we’re happy to let the next generation have the limelight.

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