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Productivity Power-Ups: Planning & Pareto Principle

Let’s add some more tips and techniques for getting productive. Today, we have these two Productivity power-ups to discuss:

  • The Pareto Principle
  • Planning Ahead

As in the previous post, we will cover these two techniques in some detail. This should be more useful than giving you a list full of one-liners like, “Plan ahead to stay organized” and so on. Since getting productive is the goal, let’s dive right in.

The Pareto Principle

There is a good chance you have never heard the phrase, Pareto Principle. But you have probably heard the more common name for it, the 80/20 Rule.

the pareto principle
The Pareto Principle can guide you to the most productive activities.

Vilfredo Pareto started the whole thing in the 1890’s. He noticed that a small percentage of the peapods in his garden produced the majority of the peas. He noticed similar patterns elsewhere. For example, he saw that that 20% of the people in his native Italy owned 80% of the land.

This general pattern shows up throughout the natural and man-made world:

  • The majority of the wealth on the planet is owned by a small percentage of the people.
  • The majority of the health gains you get working out come from a minority of the exercises you do.
  • The majority of the money earned by book publishers come from a minority of the books they publish, and so on.

Pareto and Productivity

What does this have to do with getting productive? You can apply the Pareto Principle to your work as well. In general, 80% of the results you get come from 20% of the work you do. What if you could identify the 20% of your work that gives the bulk of the results? Couldn’t you then:

  • Spend more time doing the stuff that gets the best results?
  • Spend less time doing the stuff that doesn’t get good results?

In other words, by changing what you work on, you could get more results for the same amount of effort. That seems like a pretty good definition of getting productive to me!

To make this happen, you need to do two things.

  1. Keep track of the time you spend on each work activity
  2. Figure out the returns you get from each activity

With this information, you can see which things generate the most return for the least effort. Once you know this, you can start looking for ways to do more of the productive stuff and less of the unproductive.

Exceptions to the Rule

As you well know, for every rule, there are exceptions. The approach I described above isn’t foolproof. Some things you do don’t have well-defined results, or have results that you will only be able to see in hindsight.

Let’s take responding to posts on social media. In general, there is no direct payoff from doing so. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop doing it. As I was reminded recently, making meaningful comments to posts can be a great investment.

But commenting on people’s posts is also a speculation. The only way you will know for sure that it paid off is by looking back. It might result in more followers who eventually become customers. It might result in a job offer of some other valuable connection. Or it might yield nothing.

What’s the Answer?

You need to decide how you are going to deal with stuff like this. Try setting aside a certain amount of time in each day or week for these kinds of activities.

You could schedule 10% of your time for social media and other stuff you can’t assign a specific value to. Then, somewhere in the future, analyze the results. See if the time you spent generated good results.

Planning Ahead to Be More Productive

Just sitting down and going to work without a plan will only get you so far. As we saw when talking about the Pareto Principle, some activities contribute far more to your productivity than others. Imagine that you simply sat down at your desk and worked as hard as you could all day. You probably got a lot of stuff done, right?

planning ahead
Planning ahead can boost your productivity.

But were you working on the right things? The things that benefit you the most or whatever was next on your to-do list? Would your time have been better spent working on this task or that one? Do you even remember what things you worked on?

How Planning Ahead Helps You Be Productive

If you don’t plan ahead, you will have a hard time being as productive as you should be. There are a bunch of benefits to planning ahead. They include:

  • You will likely come up with a better plan than if you are improvising in the middle of your work session.
  • You will be able to produce instead of constantly stopping to figure out what to do next. Just follow the plan.
  • It anchors you when people interrupt you. When you have a plan you are trying to meet, it is harder to get pulled into other people’s issues.
  • You have a basis for applying the Pareto Principle. You can look at the day’s plan to see how much time you put into each task.
    The plan helps you to keep working on the most important things instead of the most urgent or most fun.

Planning tomorrow’s work tonight lets you jump right into it in the morning. It also gives your subconscious time to work out some of the details and issues while you sleep.

I am lazy, but sometimes do plan ahead. When I do, I get better results than when I just wing it, or scramble together a plan in the middle of everything else. Give planning ahead (including planning the night before) a try. See if it helps you get more productive.

Share Your Thoughts on these Productivity Power-Ups

What do you think about using the Pareto Principle and Planning Ahead to be more productive? If you have experience with either of these approaches, we want to hear about it. Please leave a comment so others can benefit from your experience.


Here are links to some resources related to the Pareto Principle and Planning Ahead:

Living Abroad: Patience and Resilience Required

For people living in the USA or Europe, one of the best ways to become freer is to move to another country. There are lots of places in the world that offer more real freedom than the place formerly known as “The Free World.”

Ecuador is one of those places.

Many people find this to be a surprise, since Ecuador is officially a Socialist country. People really do believe in that stuff here too. Several of my local friends are avowed socialists. Everywhere you go, you see pictures of Che Guevara.

There are even Ladas (a car brand from the old Soviet Union) on the roads here. But in many ways, we are much freer here than back in the United States.

  • People are generally more relaxed about life. The priority is family and friends, not money and prestige.
  • Taxes are low.
  • The government mostly leaves people alone.
  • The endless flood of marketing BS you get in “the West” isn’t nearly as endless here.
  • There isn’t the all-seeing government and corporate spying that goes on up North.

che guevara image
As a result of these and other factors, North Americans are flooding into places like Ecuador. In particular, they are coming here to Cuenca, a city that is often billed as the best place in the world for North Americans to retire. My brother is one of those people. He retired here almost 4 years ago and reports that he is very happy with his decision.

But no place is perfect, and living in Ecuador requires some patience. Flexibility, a sense of humor, and some luck can help too.

No Place is Perfect

Let me give you some examples. These are all things from my own life, all of which have come to pass in the last few months.

  • Getting government services can be a pain. Ecuador got its government bureaucracy from the Spanish conquerors hundreds of years ago, meaning it is slow and unpredictable. And everything you do requires filling out lots and lots of pointless forms. But if you need something done for use in your home country, it gets even worse. Notarizing some documents for my mom’s estate involved scheduling an appointment with the nearest US Consulate several days in advance, and a 3+ hour drive each way over the Andes to get there. Once there we had to pass through multiple layers of security, then spend a few hours sitting around with hundreds of other people. Everyone was friendly and helpful, but what would take a few minutes at your home town bank it took all day. And $140 for the guy who drove us there then waited for us in the parking lot for hours. And the Consulate charged $50 per item we needed notarized.
  • Non-government services can be a pain too. Construction in this part of town has been causing frequent rerouting of traffic. That has resulted in trucks and busses driving on smaller, tributary roads. And that has resulted in scenes like the one below, where something big hit the cables on a side road, bringing my part of town to a screeching halt. The electricity was back on in several hours, but it took my ISP 4 days to get Internet access restored. Then it happened two more times (in different locations) over the next few weeks! In total, I lost almost 2 weeks of service in a five-week stretch. I also lost an online client due to this, as I completely blew a deadline for delivering some documents.

Big vehicles detoured onto local roads can make a mess.

  • For the second time in a month, thugs attacked a mining camp owned by the company my wife works for, taking hostages, wounding several people, and killing one cop. The second time it took the Ecuadorean Army to drive the attackers out of the camp. While my wife was not present at that particular camp during either assault, the idea of a loved one being held hostage (or worse) by a tribe of former headhunters was not something I planned for when moving here!


Happily, things aren’t always like this. There have been long stretches where I have lived the stereotypical dream of many North Americans who have come here. Relaxing outside a coffee shop on a sunny afternoon while my friends back in New Hampshire are freezing their butts off shoveling snow in sub-freezing temperatures. Experiencing stuff I never would in the US, like a traffic jam caused by a herd of llama. You know, all that good stuff that causes people to move.

The big takeaway here is that to really be freer tomorrow you need to develop personal characteristics like patience and resilience. A sense of humor helps too.

Fight For What You Want

We’ve been talking about getting what you want in life. Sometimes it goes smoothly. Sometimes it goes more like this,”You ask nicely for it. No luck. You lean into it for a while. But it still looks like you aren’t going to get it.” What’s left? It is time to fight for what you want.

Fighting Ain’t What it Used to Be

Sometimes the more subtle ways to get what you want out of life fail and you may need to fight. But in today’s world, fighting for what you want isn’t so straightforward. You can’t simply whack Gronk over the head with a club and take his stuff. In this post we will talk about when and how to fight for what you want in the modern world.

Once upon a time, fighting for what you wanted entailed exactly that: whacking Gronk with your club or pummeling him into submission with your fists. But there are several problems with taking that approach in the modern world. For example…

Gronk might be an ex-Marine who will kick your butt despite your club…

Or Gronk might have a concealed-carry license and trump your club with a pistol.

If nothing else, the authorities seem to frown on the idea of whacking somebody with a club. Even an old-style fistfight is likely to get you into legal trouble in most Western countries.

So how should you fight for what you want in today’s world? The answer depends on the situation. But before you start fighting for something, you need to…

Figure Out How You Got Here

How did you get to the point where you are considering fighting for what you want? Knowing this will help you decide what to do next. Did you ask for what you wanted and get told, “No!” Have you been leaning into it but not making any progress? Did something totally unexpected happen?

Fighting always entails risks, even when it doesn’t involve physical danger. You may have to make sacrifices. You might fail to get what you want. Or you might lose completely. The stakes are high when fighting for something, so think before you act.

Make Some Lists

The idea of making lists before a fight may sound crazy. And if you need to act fast, it probably is. But you often have some time to consider your options before getting into a fight over something.  Assuming you do have time, you can start by making two lists:

  • What Can I Win?
  • What Can I Lose?

What’s the point of these two lists?

Let’s start with the “What Can I Win?” list. Of course, the first thing on the list is whatever you are thinking of fighting for in the first place. But that probably isn’t the only thing you could win. What about some secondary benefits to doing this? Self-respect for fighting for what you want? The respect of others? Skills or experiences you could benefit from in the future? The more of these secondary benefits you can win, the more “appealing” a fight becomes.

How about the “What Can I Lose” list? Thinking about what you could lose might be harder. You could of course lose (or fail to gain) the thing you would be fighting for. What else? Self-respect? The respect of others? Other things that you could do with the time and energy you will spend fighting? Your job? Your family or friends? Your freedom? Your health?

Think hard about the secondary effects that could result from battling for what you want. You might win the thing you are after but tarnish your reputation or lose a good friend (see Pyrrhic Victory). You might lose the fight but still win big by developing new skills or contacts that will help you later.

Whether this exercise causes you to change your plans or not, you will be making a decision based on what you perceive to be in your best interests, rather than the passion of the moment.

List Strengths and Weaknesses

If you will be fighting against another person, persons, or an identifiable group, you should consider making a few more lists. These lists of strengths and weaknesses can help you decide on a strategy to use. They can also help you see whether or not you have a real chance of winning.

Create these four lists:

  • My Strengths
  • My Weaknesses
  • Their Strengths
  • Their Weaknesses

For each of these lists, try to include as many strengths and weaknesses as you can, even if it isn’t obvious that they apply to the coming fight. The more information you have here the better.

For example, your opponent might be higher in the corporate hierarchy than you (his strength), but most people in the company like you better (your strength). You might be horrible at confrontations and unable to stand up to the woman who keeps stealing your parking space (your weakness) but she might be violating company policy by parking there (her weakness). Anything you can think of here could help you make a decision, so write it all down.

Consider Your Morals and Values

Consider your morals and values too. You might have strengths that would allow you to win the coming fight, but that would go against your morals and values. You might be a trained assassin and able to eliminate the other guy competing with you for the promotion. But hopefully doing so would be against your morals and values!

consider your morals and values too

Don’t lose sight of your morals and values.

Once you have made your lists, it’s decision time. You need to look at those lists and decide if this is really something worth fighting for, and if you have a realistic chance of winning that fight. Sometimes it is better to walk away than fight.

Time to Decide

Once you have made your lists, it’s decision time. You need to look at those lists and decide if this is really something worth fighting for. Are the things you could win worth the risk of what could happen if you lose?

If the answer is yes, you need to figure out if you have a realistic chance of winning the fight. The Strengths and Weaknesses lists could be very useful here. You may simply be overmatched in this case with no realistic chance of winning. Sometimes it is better to walk away than fight.

I Am Going to Fight! But How?

What if you decide that you are going to fight? How do you go about it?

This is a tough question, because the tactics depend totally on circumstances. But the lists you made can help you to formulate a plan of attack. Try to devise a plan that takes advantage off your strengths and exploits your opponents’ weaknesses. At the same time, try to minimize the risk of losing things that are important to you.

You will often have to trade off, losing some things to gain the things you want more. Don’t be surprised if your first few plans turn out to have some fatal flaw. You’ll probably go around several times before you find your best plan of attack.

At this point, it would be great to give you a pep talk about how you can’t lose, or feed you a bunch of examples of how this plays out in real life. But a pep talk would be irresponsible and I don’t have too many examples for you. Fortunately, I haven’t had to reach the “fight for what you want” stage too many times. Hopefully the following examples will help.

Ways to Fight For What You Want in Life

Here are a few examples of fighting for what you want from my own life. How you would go about it depends on your specific circumstances, as well as your own morals and values.

Persistence in the Face of Adversity

Sometimes, simply continuing to work toward your goal despite circumstances is fight enough. For example, I came from a family where everyone’s goal was to get a job in a big corporation and retire 45 years later with a gold watch and a fat pension. I hated that idea and wanted to be self-employed.

My parents and my friends told me I was crazy, and tried to convince me to give up such a dumb idea. But I persisted. I worked a regular job during the day, 40, 50, even 60+ hours a week. Then at night and on weekends I worked on my side businesses to move myself toward the self-employed life I really wanted.

It took several years of too little sleep, and many sacrifices to do it, but I eventually reached my goal.

Corporate Combat

Many of us have to fight for what we want at the office. This involves some kind of ritualized corporate combat. You might be competing with a co-worker for a coveted position and have to work smarter, faster, or harder to get the promotion. You might have to go golfing with the boss, or start hanging out with the “in” crowd after work. This kind of thing is fairly common in the USA. It can be stressful but is usually pretty straightforward.

Man working overtime to "fight for what he wants."

This is a modern way to fight for what you want.

Or you might have a boss who wants you to do something you think is unethical or immoral. Then you have a different kind of battle on your hands.

I once had a boss who insisted I do exactly that. She wanted me to help her shift the blame for her own failings onto another part of the company. The business was dying, and she wanted to be sure that the fallout from her bad decisions landed on someone else. It was sleazy, and not the kind of thing I wanted to be a part of. When I refused to help her, she banned me from the office and gave me an ultimatum. Agree to do what she wanted or lose my job.

I put a lot of thought into this one and eventually decided that it would be better to lose my job than to do something so dishonest. Fortunately, I didn’t have to. I won the fight to both keep my job and do the right thing. But to do so, I eventually had to violate the usual corporate rules of behavior and go over my boss’s head to get help from her boss. As you can imagine, it was a highly stressful few days, but after an internal investigation, the company backed me and terminated my boss.


Sometimes you have to fight for what you want in life. Even though “fighting for it” probably won’t involve physical danger in today’s world, it is still a messy, risky situation to be in. Hopefully the ideas I’ve given you here will help you decide if fighting is really your best course, and help you to win if you do go for it.

Good luck!

Ask for It (What You Want)

Ask For It to Get What You Want

Welcome back to our series on how to get what you want in life. Last time we talked about the importance of knowing what you really want. Not what would make your mom happy or what society expects of you. What you, personally, really want in your life.

Hopefully you’ve spent some time thinking about this and have decided what you really want. If so, it’s time to go after it. In this post, we are going to talk about how to “ask for it” to get what you want in life.

We’ll start by clearing up a little confusion.

You Were Taught the Wrong Way to Get What You Want

If you’re like a lot of people, you are probably wondering why your life isn’t already the way you want it. You work hard. You follow all the rules. You’re a loyal employee doing everything the boss asks of you. You’re an all-around good person doing what you are supposed to do. Our parents did this and made out much better than we have. So is there something wrong with you?

I don’t think so. I mean, you could be some kind of screw-off who has wrecked your own life. But the fact that you are reading a blog like this tells me that isn’t it. I believe there are a lot of reasons you are in the mess you are in. And most of them are totally out of your control. Mega-factors like changing demographics and stupid government policies can explain much of why our generation isn’t doing nearly as well as previous generations. But there is one big factor that you can do something about.

To understand it, let me give you a 60-second history lesson.

A Quick History Lesson

The Industrial Revolution gave us huge leaps forward in productivity and standards of living. But an industrial society requires a certain type of worker, someone who:

  • Works hard
  • Follows the rules

Over time the whole of Western society was geared toward turning normal people into hard working, rule following, interchangeable factory workers. Schools trained kids to behave like this. Our parents pounded the idea into our heads too. Employers and the government also extolled the virtues of this kind of behavior. Characteristics like initiative and flexibility could actually gum up the works.

At first, this was a pretty good deal. Sure, working in that manner is dehumanizing. Still, if you did your job and didn’t cause problems you could count on regular raises, the occasional promotion, and a comfortable, company-funded retirement. The system provided for most people pretty well without them having to take much initiative.

Working Hard & Following the Rules Isn’t Enough

But the world has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. The old industrial system is breaking down. The tacit deal of “work hard and follow the rules and we will take care of you” has collapsed. For the vast majority, getting what you want in life is much harder than it used to be.

If working hard and following the rules like you were told doesn’t work, what should you do to get what you want? You need to take the initiative…

You’ve Gotta Ask for It

If you want something in life these days, you have to ask for it. I know that can be a big issue for people, especially people in their 50’s and older. We had the old way beat into our heads from childhood. It is a hard mindset to break out of.

I spent much of my life living that way. Into my 40’s I thought if I just followed the rules and worked really hard, it would all magically turn out right in the end. No luck there.

I realized I had to change my thinking. Some of the old self-help gurus talked about asking for what you want. It was clearly the way to go, but it was hard. You need to muster the huevos to do it. You not only have to be willing to tell someone you want something from them, you have to face the fact that they are quite likely to tell you, “NO!”

Eventually I learned to ask for what I wanted. It wasn’t fun. Worse, it didn’t always work.

Over time, I learned that there is more than one way to ask for something. It is usually more complicated than simply saying, “Please sir may I have the keys to that Lamborghini over there?”

Lamborghini, ask for it.

To get this you need to ask for it the right way.

How to Ask for It the Right Way

I learned that the right way to ask for something varies depending on circumstances. Asking someone to pass the salt while sharing a meal is pretty straightforward. Asking someone to give you something of significant value simply because you want it seldom works.

When you want something of real value, or getting the thing is really important to you, you want to propose a mutually-beneficial exchange. You get something you want in exchange for giving them something they want. This way both sides gain. A couple of examples of this might help:

  • Walking into a dealership and saying, “Please sir may I have the keys to that Lamborghini over there?” isn’t going to work too well. But adding the phrase, “Here is a cashier’s check for $200,000” is much more likely to get you your car. You’ve turned a crazy request into a mutually beneficial exchange.
  • At one startup where I worked, the boss had a reputation for being stingy. The other managers constantly complained that they couldn’t get purchase requests approved. Yet the first time I submitted one it was approved instantly. Why? The boss gathered us all around and explained it himself. “This request tells me not only what Bill wants to buy, but shows exactly how letting him buy it will save me far more money than it costs me. Of course I approved it.”

In both cases, to “ask for it” includes showing the other person why or how giving you what you want will benefit them. If you can muster the initiative to not only ask for what you want, but to ask for it this way, your life should start improving almost immediately.

Understand Their Needs When You Ask For It

Here’s a third example. My daughter and I were on our way to visit family in Pennsylvania and had stopped at a rest area on the NY Thruway. When we came out of the building, we saw a bunch of people staring from the parking structure out into the access road. They were staring at two guys who were standing next to their cars talking. Their fancy Lamborghini sports cars.

My daughter is a big fan of those vehicles and said she wished she could see the car better. I was in the middle of training myself to ask for things that I wanted, so I swallowed hard and walked the 15 yards or so to the two guys. I told them my daughter loved their cars and wanted to get a closer look.

One of the guys smiled, threw me the keys and said my daughter could sit in his car if she wanted! This was the result:

Jenn Mann in Lamborghini

You have to ask for it to get the good stuff.

Once I broke the ice, all the people who were watching from the parking garage came flooding over. There were people everywhere staring at the cars and asking the owners questions. Everyone was having a great time. And then…

…another Lamborghini arrived, and another, and more and more. By the time they were done arriving, there were at least 60 of these super cars there.

It turned out to be a meeting of a group of Lamborghini owners from all over the Eastern USA who were making a run up to Canada. They were gathering at this spot to start their trip and were more than happy to show off their cars to us regular folk.

Bringing this back to the subject of this post, doesn’t this show that you can get the good stuff by asking? After all, I didn’t offer them money or anything like that.

In retrospect, it is pretty clear that these guys loved their cars and wanted to show them off. And they probably wanted a crowd of people in place to “ooh” and “aah” at their buddies as they arrived. They just needed one of the bystanders to get up the guts to come and talk to them. I offered the car owners exactly what they wanted in exchange for them letting my daughter sit in their car.

These days I try and look at things a little deeper. With enough information about the other party you can usually find something they will accept in exchange for what you want. Like everything else, you’ll get better with practice and won’t need to rely on the kind of luck I had that day.

What If Asking for It Doesn’t Work?

Now realize I am not guaranteeing that this will always work. There are lots of reasons someone might not give you what you want, even if you ask for it the right way.

  • You might not have anything to offer that they want
  • You might not be willing to offer what they want in exchange for what you want
  • What you want might not be theirs to give
  • They might dislike you too much to give you what you want

So what should you do if you can’t get what you want, even after asking for it the right way? That depends heavily upon the circumstances.

We’ll talk about the various possibilities in Step 3 of this series.

chimp doesn't know what he wants.

Know What You Really Want…Or Fail!

In previous posts, we talked about some of the ways you can be freer tomorrow. In the next few posts, I will be focusing on getting what you want in life. Unless you are incredibly lucky, the things you want in life are not going to just drop into your lap. Getting what you want in life isn’t easy. You’re going to need the personal strength to work for them. It is a multi-step process. Happily, each step helps build the strength you will need for the next step. Step 1 is to know what you really want in life.

How do you figure that out? The “follow your passion” approach is quite popular. Unfortunately, it is also quite wrong.

The Failings of the “Follow Your Passion” Approach

If you’ve spent some time working to improve yourself, you’ve probably noticed something. Most of the “self-help” advice being published these days really sucks. I’m seeing a lot of, “follow your passion and the universe will reward you” crap. It all sounds lovely. Just get that basket weaving degree and get cracking.

You will love what you are doing and somehow, everything will be wonderful. The world will recognize your genius and passion. You will become rich. Your ideal partner will find his or her way to you. Everything you want will materialize for you because of your passion for weaving baskets.

But life doesn’t work that way. Especially when times are tough like today. No one will give a damn about your baskets. You won’t become rich and famous. The man or woman of your dreams isn’t going to miraculously find you and bring you endless happiness. All the passion and wishing and affirmations in the world won’t make it happen.

There are two flaws in the “follow your passion” approach. The first is that passion is enough to somehow bring you success. All you have to do is think this through to see the fallacy. Tens of millions of kids have a passionate desire to be Olympic athletes. And only a few thousand make it.


Know what you really want or you will fail to get it.

Sadness will be your fate if you don’t know what you really want.

Know What You Really Want or You Will Fail to Get it

The second flaw to this approach is built in right at the start. You need to “follow your passion” for basket weaving or you won’t be happy.


Do you really want to build your life around some job (whether you are passionate about it or not)? Do you really want this to be the focus of your existence? When you’re on your death bed, do you really want to look back and say I was the best damn basket weaver in the world?

Or do you want all that other stuff instead? Do you really want the:

  • Money
  • Fame
  • Wonderful life partner
  • Happiness

And all that other stuff that is supposed to come your way when you “follow your passion?”

You Must Decide What You Really Want

Figuring out what you really want in life can be hard. In the USA, most adults know what they are supposed to want. The media tells you what you are supposed to want, and believe, and do. Advertisers use the latest psychological research to manipulate you into wanting whatever $#!+ they are selling. But digging out what you, personally, really truly want can take some serious work.

I’m not the guy to tell you how to figure this out. I wrestled with it for a long time, and I am sure there are more efficient ways of doing it. If you think it will help you, leave me a message at the end of this article. If enough people are interested, I’ll try and reconstruct the path I followed and do a post about it for you.

Your best bet is probably to consult wiser heads than me to help you figure this out. I suggest you:

  • Look for someone who has similar life experiences to you and has moved past them
  • If their focus is more on your job than the rest of your life, look elsewhere
  • If someone tries to convince you to “follow your passion,” look elsewhere immediately

NOTE: After publishing this post I did decide to post one technique that helped me a lot.

You Must Accept What You Really Want

Or perhaps the problem is that you know what you want and it isn’t what you are supposed to want. Society has expectations for us. It puts massive pressure on us to conform to those expectations. And part of that pressure is to like certain things and dislike other things. To want certain things and to not want other things.

An awful lot of us know what we want in life…and we know it isn’t what society says we should want. We might want something that we are unwilling to admit to others because we know they won’t approve. Our parents want us to be doctors, but we want to be video game designers. Society wants us to work our asses off to buy crap we don’t need, but we want to live a minimalist lifestyle.

We know that if we do what we want to do, it will upset someone. We will disappoint Mom. The people around us will rag on about how we’re wasting our potential. If we care about the opinions of others, this noise can make us feel bad about ourselves. It can make us pursue things in life that we don’t really want, in order to avoid upsetting expectations and feeling bad about ourselves.

This is something you need to get over if you are going to be freer and happier in the future. The pain of violating expectations, of pissing off your friends and family, is real. But it goes away. The pain of living a life you don’t want, just so someone else isn’t annoyed, never goes away.

Again, I am not an expert on doing this, but you have to do it somehow. If it takes professional help, go for it. You can wreck your life living this way.

Keep Your Mouth Shut

Or maybe you really know what you want and accept it. But you know that others won’t accept your choices. In today’s crazy world, people think they have the right to force you to think, to live, the way they want you to. So you may have to take steps to protect yourself.

For an extreme example, look at the 2016 US Presidential election.

People know they are supposed to want Hillary Clinton to be the next President. The media says so. The government says so. Screaming mobs of professional protesters demand that they support Hillary. If someone says they don’t support Hillary, they are asking for trouble. People might call them names. Their friends might shun them. Their Twitter account will suddenly disappear. Or even worse. As a result, many people in the USA are unwilling to say that they support Donald Trump for President.

So what’s the solution? When friends ask, they say what they are expected to say. When pollsters call, they tell the caller what they expect to hear. Or they hang up. They keep their mouths shut and their true feelings to themselves. They keep their true feelings to themselves to avoid unnecessary trouble.

keep your mouth shut when you know what you really want

Sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut.

They May Have to Lie. You Might Too

When pressed, they may have to lie to protect themselves. It sucks that they need to do it, but there is nothing wrong with this. Remember that this is a response to people trying to force them to do what they don’t want to do. To live their lives the way someone else wants them to. To think the way some self-appointed authority wants them to.

You may need to take this approach too.

I know that it is very “in” to tell everyone what you are going to do. It can definitely help you achieve goals when your friends and family will harass you if you don’t. However, where people won’t accept what you want to do, keeping your mouth shut is probably the way to go. Over time, you are likely to end up with a new set of friends that actually agrees with you, and supports you, but that’s a topic for another post.

This is Step 1

Once you know what you really want in life, you are facing in the right direction. Are you guaranteed to get everything you want? Hell no. Are you guaranteed to get any of it at all? No! But you at least have a fighting chance now. One that doesn’t rely on dumb luck or supernatural intervention. You’ve taken your first step.

In the next few posts we’ll talk about getting what you want once you know what you really want out of life. Start with this one: Ask for it to get what you want.

tools for doing more

Be Free to Do More

In my last post, we talked about how my lifestyle leaves me free to do less. That’s a pretty obvious result. Today we’re going to talk about something a little less obvious: how this lifestyle leaves me free to do more and motivates me to do so too.

As I’ve mentioned before, the life I’ve built for myself leaves me with a lot of free time. That’s great, but it can be a trap too. You can actually get into a rut of doing nothing. And like any other rut, it can be tough to get out of.

Stuck in a Rut

I fell into that trap. There was a period in my life where I basically did nothing of note. What did I do with my time:

  • Worked literally 10 minutes a day
  • Went out to eat and to clubs
  • Played computer games
  • Exercised

And that’s pretty much it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. I worked hard to be “freer tomorrow,” and when tomorrow got here, I took advantage. I had been working tons of hours and dealing with huge stresses for years. So just hanging out and catching my breath for a while wasn’t a bad idea.

But… This went on for 2 years!

I was stuck in a big rut. Even after I realized it, I found it hard to get unstuck. I felt bad. I was drifting through life and I hated it. I’m happiest when I feel like I’m making some sort of progress. It was clear that I wasn’t getting anywhere during this time, but breaking out of that rut was surprisingly tough.

It took a 10-week stint working at a stealth 3D printing startup in Puerto Rico to finally snap me out of it. The company failed in a scandalous manner, and I never got paid a cent, but at least I was unstuck.

One thing I learned from all this is that anyone, even someone as hard-driven as I used to be, can get lazy and lose direction. Another thing I learned is that too much freedom and too much free time can be dangerous for someone who is used to working hard. If you don’t believe me, try talking to some retirees. Many suffer from having too much time on their hands. It can happen to anyone.

Sometimes Being Free to Do More is the Answer

The solution to the problem of too much freedom, of just drifting through life, is to do more. If you have something you want to, or need to do, then you eliminate the problem of drifting. When you have a regular job, and a regular life, this isn’t a problem. Your job gives you things you need to do (whether you want to or not).

When you are truly free, you need to figure out what it is you’re going to do. But if you do this right, you will have the time and the energy to figure it all out. You are free to do more than just hang out for a few years. And best of all, you get to choose what your “more” is. Some people donate time to charity. Others work on improving their health, or develop a new hobby.

Right now, I’m taking advantage of my free time and energy to administer my mother’s estate. I could pay an attorney to handle this, and if I was still living and working in the USA, I would. But now I have the time and the energy to do this myself. It certainly isn’t a fun project, but it is important to me and my siblings. It’s also important for keeping me from falling back into a rut of doing nothing in particular.

free to do more legal forms

Legal forms are boring but exercise the mind.

Doing this is forcing me to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t ordinarily do. Deciphering all the legal gibberish involved isn’t fun, but it keeps my mind active. Living in Ecuador and dealing with an estate in New Jersey also requires a lot of problem solving. Even something as simple as getting a document notarized can turn into a project. Not exactly fun, but something to keep me motivated and thinking.

What This Means to You

What should you be taking away from all this? If you work hard to be freer tomorrow, someday you will be. At that point you will face the problem of being too free and needing to find things to do with your time and energy. Don’t waste years of your life like I did. You need to plan for freedom. As you go along, spare some thought for what you will do when you are free to do more.

We’ve talked about being freer to do less, and freedom to do more. Next we will talk about one more freedom you will want to take advantage of, the freedom to change your priorities.