SOS-organized-toolsAre you an organized person? How do you know?

Do you love labeling and alphabetizing things? Is that all there is to it? Is there no clutter around? If you’re a pile maker, can you find what you’re looking for in the pile? That’s getting closer.

If you were out at sea and a situation arose – a change in the wind, the sudden appearance of unwelcome weather, whatever. You would need to change tactics, you might need a tool, a rope, or some certain thing. The questions is: is that certain something at hand at the time that you need it? If it’s there, you were prepared … and organized!

Get it?

It’s not about clutter, it’s about being effective when you need to be. There are a lot of industries and projects where you need things to be at hand. I think about cooking (although I’m more of an eater than a cooker). When you get a recipe, it starts out with a list of ingredients and possibly measuring and processing devices you will need to complete the dish. You collect these things and have them at hand. If you are missing ingredients you might need to go to the grocery store and pick them up before you are ready. You then have everything at hand at the time you need it. You are organized.

There are two tools that you may not give much thought to, but if you have these two tools organized you will find many small difficulties managed.  I am borrowing this concept from David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD).  In his book with that catchy title he mentions these two tools: A “to do” list, and a calendar.  Simple enough.  But the impact he makes is by saying you need these two parts of your personal organizational system to be trusted.

Trusted?  What does that mean trusted?  One part of this is that they are organized.  And by organized I mean, they are available and at hand when you need them.  They need to be available, but they also need to be so easy to enter data in that the process is almost frictionless or you won’t do it.

This has been my experience.  I’ve been experimenting for years with different ways to create and use a ToDo list (I’m sure you’ll hear more about this than you’ll ever want to, later), I’ve found things that work good and things that create too much resistance to be practical.  Now a trusted calendar is another issue.  I’m still searching.

If you can easily put information about the things you need to do and when you need to do them in the right place and they’re all available – great.  But you need an easy and trusted way to review and check in – Or, hey, it’s the 21st century, have them tell you that they are there.  But without this checking you miss things, tasks or appointments fall through the cracks.

When this happens, you stop trusting your system.  You stop entering in items you need to have available – organization slips away and when you need something at hand at the right time, it’s not there.

Are you looking for me to have a solution?  Sometimes the best I can do is define the problem.  Oh, I know.  You just keep it all in your head.  Fine.  I’ll blog about that next time.  I’ve tried this and we’ll talk about how it works – or how it doesn’t.  I’ll shamelessly advertise for GTD one more time.

Stay tuned.

SOS-ocean-currentThere are some things that are different about life at sea than the life that we are so used to experiencing here on the land.  The lack of discernible and reliable landmarks can be disconcerting for some out on the seas.  The danger of not being able to survive in the water for days on end without the assistance of a vessel underneath you to simulate the land and to give you a buffer from the depths below, can cause anxiety.

One characteristic that makes living at sea different and unpredictable is the idea that where ever you are located there is a current at work.  There is no such thing as standing still.  The waters are always in motion going somewhere.  Standing still will lead to drifting along.  You might not expect or even particularly like where the waters will guide you.  If you do nothing, you will still end up somewhere.

On dry land we don’t notice it.  You can sit down in a public place and “people watch” (oh, please tell me we all do this – I’m not the only one!).  You see the stream of humanity at a mall or airport and think about those who catch your eye.  Where are they going?  What kind of life are they having?  Would we have anything in common?  Would I be able to understand what they’re going through?  Whatever your thoughts, you can stay in that place and observe.  You won’t be moved.  There is a concept of “there” or one called “stationary”.

Our life experience is more like that of the sea.  Events and time change things.  Nothing stays the same.  Even in old places where I used to live the trees have grown up and people have made decorating choices that leave the place with a very different feel.  Even though all the places are “stationary” they have changed.  And I have changed in my thinking and the way I look at them.  It’s familiar, but it’s all different.  The current of life (maybe just of time itself?) has altered what was, or maybe I’m different and my perception is altered by who I am at this time.  Yeah, it can get that philosophical just that fast.  So there has to be a point, right?

First there’s the hurdle of knowing this to be true.  I think if you look at it you’ll see or feel the pull of the current of life (er, time).  So what can you do about it?  Precious little.  But can that knowledge be used to your advantage?  I would say yes.  Let me give a couple of examples.

For one thing, stressing about change turns out to be pretty futile.  Things are going to change.  Embrace the idea and it will definitely go easier for you.  Fighting the current may be a good work out, but it’s not a good long range plan.  Doing this is like complaining about the weather.  People love to complain about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it (sorry Mr. Twain).  It is going to change, incorporate change into your thinking and some of the resistance you face will evaporate.  Things are going to be different, because that’s how things are.

Of course our desire is that things change for the better.  It turns out there is something we can do about that.  Knowing that change is going to happen we can leverage it.  We can know that although we missed that last wave, another one will be coming.  We can gather our strength and orient our ship to take advantage of the next one that is inexorably coming along.

Later on I’ll talk about some things we can do to get oriented to leverage the current that is already there and pulling at us.  But just recognizing it can change our outlook in the present and help us in planning for the future.  Look for the current, if you can’t see it, you can see it’s effects all around.  Heighten your awareness – look around.

If you know a change is coming, how do you get oriented to take advantage of what’s coming anyway?

SOS-What_Time_Is_ItDo you know what time is best for you?

I guess it depends on what I’m talking about.  The best time to sleep?  The best time to talk with me?  The best time for me to focus and work?  The best time for me to relax and cut up?  Those might all vary to a greater or lesser degree.

Let me start with the main intention.  When is your best time to get the most important things in your day done?  For me, the early morning is my time of focus and when I feel the most alert and thoughtful.  Also for me, my day job isn’t where my passion, focus, and interests are.  I am currently working so that I can live and provide.  My work is not exactly aligned with my greatest desires.  I’m going to hazard a guess that this is true for many of you too.

If you are in my boat (or one like it), your time of focus is very limited.  I have maybe 2 hours before I go to work and about 5 hours afterwards that aren’t taken up by mundane activities like eating, commuting, or sleeping.  Of those, just the 2 morning hours are best for me to focus.  My other 5 are used for social activity, commitments made, and available family time.  This is all not counting weekends, the game changes there and maybe that’s a whole different topic for discussion.

Whatever you determine to be the time that’s good for you.  My question is – is it good for you time?  What are you doing with those times?  For example there is a well known public speaker named Dennis Waitley who says that he wrote his book and developed his life philosophy and thoughts during what he called “prime time.”  Prime time for him was in the evening when friends and family were locked in to the television.  And action taken little and often produced a new adventure for him.  It may not take all your time, it may not have to be every day.  But that directed focus ratcheting things forward will have it’s results.

Maybe you haven’t even realized that you have that little actual time in your day to focus on things that matter to you.  But if you want to accomplish a task, have a conversation, or – and this is a lost art – simply take some time to think about things.  Your life, your plans, your situation.  Use that time when you are at the top of your game.  However if you don’t know when that is, you will not be able to put it to use.

So if you don’t know if you’re an early bird or a night owl try them both out and see which one works best for you.  For me, as I said, it’s the morning, so if you send me a message late at night, you can expect a response in the morning when you get up.  Hey, now we could drift into talking about time shifting, but I’ll save that for another time.

So do you already know what time is good for you?  Are you going to have to figure it out?  Let me know how that goes for you and how you could tell which was best.  OK?

sliding-scaredHave you ever wondered why you don’t go after the things that you want?  Could it be that you’re just afraid?

John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”

Fear can paralyze, but it doesn’t have to.  Action while facing fear is courageous.  So  how do you do that?  How do you act when being frozen?

Some people just lash out, any movement just to break the grip of fear.  You’ve seen this in funny videos when people lurch and wiggle in all sorts of uncontrollable ways as their body tries to process through the fear.  It looks funny after the fact, but it’s deadly serious when breaking out of that frozen fear response.

For those with a little more analytical mind, there is always reasoning through fear.  Recognizing that what you’re facing isn’t as lethal or final.  And knowing that fear is not unexpected.  Here’s how Mark Twain put it, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.  Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave.”  If you aren’t facing fear, year really can’t be called brave – now that’s something to, well, give you courage!

Bringing this down to a personal point.  I’ve been wrestling with this blog for a long time and very early this morning I asked myself, “What is it you are afraid of with writing to the blog?”  There were a few answers, but one that stuck out was that I was afraid that I’d just say the same thing over and over again.  Then I asked myself two questions:

  1. Is it so bad to repeat a message – if it’s a good one?  Repetition is how we learn and master.
  2. How could you avoid doing that?

So the first one is an example of an unfounded fear.  When you look at it, it kind of evaporates.  So let’s say at the end of the year, either in December or January, you wrote yet another blog post about wrapping things up, reviewing what’s been done, new beginnings, setting goals, and fresh starts?  Is that so bad?  (OK, now don’t go looking in my blog archives – because that’s exactly what you’ll find! ) I already did it!  So my fear has been realized, is it the end of the world?  Who cares really?  If it’s where me head is – and it’s getting there again as the year runs down.  That fear is unfounded and once faced down, diminishes and becomes a nag, or even nothing at all.

Then there’s #2.  This is a legitimate fear of mine.  Repeating stories I’ve already told makes me feel foolish.  But sometimes people haven’t heard the stories.  They’re new to them, if old and boring to me – since I keep telling them.  But if it bothers me, it bothers me.  What can be done?  Well I came up with a solution.  Technology.  What?  Shocking, I know.  Evernote is my friend.  It’s a place to just keep track and store anything from anywhere in the cyber universe.  And I just finished archiving everything I’ve ever said in this blog.  The beauty?  It’s all locally searchable.  So when I have an idea for a blog post I can search through my old posts quickly, without having to reread each one and see if I’ve used a word or phrase like the one stuck in my head before.  If not, I can blog away with my new found courage.

Facing your fears is a great way to actually move ahead on your voyage.  In fact, it is really the test of your mettle, your virtue.  I like the way C.S. Lewis puts it, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

So take the opportunity to put your courage to the test and exert your virtue.  Whenever I think of courage I think of this song that I came across.  I’m always the last to discover songs, so this is probably some pub tune from the mid 18th century and I’d be none the wiser…

This song puts some wind in my sails – check it out:

SOS-Jujitsu So I’ve talked a bit about akrasia before.  Procrastination is one form of akrasia that I recently noted on Facebook is one of my super powers.  Or maybe it’s a weakness, I’m not sure.

But if procrastination is a problem for you, then here’s a little tip you might enjoy.  Let’s look at what’s going on when you procrastinate.

You are basically trying to put off doing something that needs to be done by finding other things to occupy your time.  This is what we mean when we’re too busy to do something.  You filled your time with something else and there was not enough time left to do the referred to task.

If you are this brand of ackratic – then you know what I’m talking about.  So instead of looking at the looming thing that really needs to get done, let’s look at this filler stuff.  What could it be, video games?  That book?  Um, speaking of book Facebook’s a filler par excellence.  Some people, I’ve been told, actually go into house cleaning mode for filler activity.  Now to me, that’s extreme!  What would happen if you instead replaced that filler, those task avoidance activities with other activities that you’ve been needing to do.

So here’s an example.  There’s a task I’ve been avoiding, and I’ve enjoyed watching myself go through mental gymnastics to avoid accomplishing it.  Last night was very bad.  So bad in fact that I made the statement that I’d really like to do some blogging.  So I decided to look in the mirror at me looking in the mirror of some of the crazy things we do to satisfy the now us at the expense of the future us.

Ah, but there’s the pivot point!  I really do want to get to blogging.  But then the excuses why and the procrastination starts up again.  Only your mind can only do so many iterations of this (like Inception).  So the inner avoidance of blogging is much weaker because my mind is so busy avoiding that much more imposing task.  So you pivot on that and actually use the filler time of the big task you are trying to get away from and actually do something you’ve been putting off for a long time.

And now there’s this blog post!  In the flesh (well, in the electrons!)!  Isn’t that cool how that works?

Now if you want to take this to the expert level.  You have a list of smaller tasks that you are avoiding and you whip this out when you need filler from a big task and you can knock out a bunch of stuff in your attempts to not do what you really need to be doing!  You can use procrastination (and akrasia in general) as a super power.

Tell me how that works for ‘ya.

Let me start by laying this out there. My son is at a place in his life where he is not very sure that there is any value in books and reading. Graphic Novels (we used to call them comic books…) are fun, but all those words with no pictures? A story is better told by a movie. Harrumph! Where did my boy get such a perspective!?

One of my favorite quotes is from a man named Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, which says, “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet. ”

I hope to meet, re-meet, and meet more meaningfully with people by building a community online – where the clock and the map don’t impede us. We can meet across the globe, and you can read and respond to me while I’m sleeping and I can reply while you’re at work.

But that’s only half of the advice from Mr. Jones… what about the books you read? Most people don’t read books any more. We’re going to try to put a dent in that presumption. I hope to read with you, but I know it’s hard. So I have read for you! And my goal is to inspire you to get back to the reading habit.

There are some books that I’ve read that have caused me to think. And I’m finding new ones all the time.

I’ve decided to start with this one, mainly because it is freely available on the Internet. It’s over 30 years old, so it’s been forgotten by many. But I found it to have some good insights, and an interesting, sort of crusty, perspective on things that resonated with me.

The name of the book is “Wishcraft” and it can be found here http://wishcraft.com/wishcraft_intro.pdf as PDF downloads. We’re going to start with the introduction and go from there. What I’m going to do is just comment as I read, so if you don’t grab the PDF file and read it yourself, this might sound like listening in on a phone conversation. You can do it, but it’s much more fun if you sneak in and use the extension to listen in.

I just want to reiterate that this book, and any others I bring to you, are selected because they challenge me. A book I don’t have problems with is boring and not worthy of sharing. So I can say that there are some things I’ll be taking issue with – where I’ll disagree. But that’s where you come in, you will see two sides and have to decide for yourself where you come down. Oh, yeah, you’ll have to think. That’s what makes this good! That’s the point here, you see?

So I can start right off by saying that I’m a little embarrassed to be sharing a book on witchcraft — Oh, no it’s a play off of the word ‘witchcraft’ because it’s supposed to work like magic, right? It’s actually a rather clever name as you’ll see that Barbara, the author (I will refer to the authors by their first names, because we’re going to have a conversation, not an interview – so we might as well be friendly.), is a rather clever lady – so it fits her style.

OK, let’s get started. Hopefully you have a copy and can read along…

Right out of the gate on the first page your assumptions are challenged. What does it mean to be a winner in life? Who makes those rules? Who decides? Where did you get your definition? Question your assumptions; that always shakes up your thinking.

Right away we plow into my first “issue”. Barbara defines a winner for herself. She says, “Winning to me means getting what you want.”

Is that good? Is that good enough? I have two problems there, and she addresses one of them. What if I don’t know what I want? She handles this nicely and it’s kind of the theme for the introduction. You have to dig into yourself and realize that you really do know what you want. You’ve just forgotten or buried it.

She even spends a few pages there with a very realistic account of this process and some of the pitfalls and excuses we can (and I do) make.

Now I said there was a second part of the wishing that she doesn’t address. What if, at my core, I’m selfish? Should my wishes really be all about me? Barbara might say, ‘Of course silly, you are who you’re here for. It’s your life.’ I might debate that from the view of a Christian. I don’t want to dig into that here in the introduction, but I just want you to see the seed of my disagreements with her and where we start to diverge – and that’s right here.

I like the fact that she’s very real about the hurdles and obstacles we encounter when trying to define our deepest wishes and dare to think about reaching for them once again.

On page viii, she starts to break down the sections of the book: The first part is about discovering your “wish”. What is it really? And the second part is learning the skills that make up the “craft” – the doing to get to the wish. Like I said, clever.

The last page or two ends up with her inspiring us to dare to be dreamers again. It really caught me up. I can easily jump on the bandwagon with Barbara. This promises to be a worthwhile ride.

Did the intro catch your attention? Do you want to read on? I hope so, and I also hope you join the dialog. I like to talk to myself, no doubt. But I like talking with you better.

I know I wrote this down somewhere, I’ve just misplaced it. What’s all this about “Set of Sail”? What does it mean, and who wants to hear about it?

Here’s the poem that was the original inspiration. It was written by Ella Wheeler Wilcox in 1916. It’s entitled ‘Tis the Set of the Sail -OR- One Ship Sails East

But to every mind there openeth,
A way, and way, and away,
A high soul climbs the highway,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.

But to every man there openeth,
A high way and a low,
And every mind decideth,
The way his soul shall go.

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

It is in the 3rd stanza that the “set of the sails” phase is used and the concept is introduced. This idea that we all face headwinds sometimes, the direction of the winds don’t matter – with the correct set of the sails a ship can travel east or west. We are truly not bound by our circumstance, as much as we might complain to the contrary. This idea was expounded on by a recently deceased, self proclaimed “business philosopher” named Jim Rohn. I consider Jim one of my virtual mentors and I will be sharing plenty of ideas that were sparked by my reading and listening to the thoughts he collected over his lifetime.

I’m going to write a book.

How many people share that dream? Well, I have an outline completed. The skeleton is there, it just needs some flesh. This is one of the reasons, only one, that I’m starting this newsletter. It is one of many attempts to get me actually writing. Collecting thoughts in one place instead of just scattering ideas out in e-mails or on Facebook.

I have a blog called setofsail.com that will host some of these articles, and perhaps it will grow into something bigger. If you check that blog you’ll see that it started up in the last few months of 2009. So these ideas have been jumbling around in my head for years now. Maybe by releasing them to the outside, then a seed just may germinate. Maybe an idea or a project will take root in your life, and the miracle that is inspiration will be passed on. That would bring me great joy. Uh, oh – am I mixing metaphors? I’ll leave the gardening references to somebody else, and get back on board with my own allusions. I just wanted to inaugurate this voyage with a bit of a background. (hee hee, nice recovery)

Hmm, things seem a bit dusty around here. Better spruce the place up. I’ve told a few more people about this little Shangri-La of a blog. Don’t you have to clean up before company comes? It seems to make more sense to me to clean up after they leave. But in this crazy world you end up having to do both.

I’m one article shy of posting out my first Set of Sail Newsletter. I already have 5 subscribers! (2 are me (for testing), 2 are family members (do family member have to support your crazy schemes? Sorta?) – and one is Lisa from school, shout out her!).

I’ve set the deadline to get issue one out by the end of the month. I’m thinking a little advertising might be in order. Maybe I should hire Darrin Stevens from McMann and Tate…

I decided to NOT clean up, so my scattered thoughts and schemes are still out here for all to see. The pieces of this tale of adventure are posted for all to see. It’s OK, you can chuckle if you want to.

I’ve discovered a new word lately. That is not really exceptional, I’m always interested in finding a new word (I wish I was as interested in being able to spell the words I do know..).
However, this word was very insightful for me and I’ve been examining it and rolling it around in my brain for some time now. It has direct application to the way I do things, and I think maybe it could have some application for you too. So what’s the word?
Akrasia
Well I just found out I’ve been pronouncing it wrong. I’ve been saying a-cra-see-a. But evidently that’s how a lisper would pronounce it. The Internet says it’s more like a-cra-zia or a-cra-ja. I think it would end like amnesia, but I can’t remember.
I guess it’s not so important how it sounds as what it means. It means: “lacking command (of oneself)” or, to make that less cryptic … doing something against your own self interest.
So why pick such a weird old word like akrasia, when you could just say stupid? Well hold up there, I resemble that remark…
Akrasia is a topic that is dealt with in the writings of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – so it must be important, or at least worthy of our consideration. So what was the big deal? Why all the fuss about this weird little word?
Well, the thing is – it’s a part of our shared human experience. We all suffer, at one time or another, with this malady. We all have, do, or will succumb to akrasia. Basically we do something that, if we thought about it we wouldn’t. And this of course includes inaction. So “procrastination” is one form of akrasia. Tax day was yesterday, here are my forms (signed and in the envelops… come on, I’m not completely behind – well, I guess as of today I officially am) on my desk. I know better, I know there could be dire (and financial) consequences to not making the (graciously extended) deadline. But still here they sit – why?? Akrasia my friend, it’s an attack of akrasia.
I did not get in this situation because I’m stupid. If I were to sit down and weigh out my options and think about the consequences and rewards of the different course of action – I would clearly reason myself into a different course. But, see, I didn’t. Why? It really is a fascinating thing to wonder about. What is the cause? And more practically – is there a cure?
Well we’ll pick up more on this next time, but for now your assignment is to become more aware of your akratic behavior. When do you do something and you think D’oh! (<< that is the theme word for the akratic! Homer is riddled with it (yeah, not the Greek author Homer, that other one)). There was a better way, if only I would’ve thought things through. And right there, that regret, makes me 2nd guess next time and while I dither and consider, the opportunity to act is past and I’ve done nothing when I should’ve done something. Oh, another victory for akrasia. Do you see how involved this concept is to everything you do (or don’t do)? Think about that for next time.

I ran across this little video clip. It’s about a Chicago Nanny named Vivian Maier. In her spare time she would travel around with her camera in the streets of Chicago (and around the world apparently) and take pictures.

I guess the thing that amazes me is that we only know about her because a man bought a box of her negatives from an abandoned storage locker. That box contained about 10,000 negatives. He went back and bought more boxes off of the other auction goers. Now there is a collection of over 100,000 negatives. She took all these pictures, documenting her life and her journey – but not making a big deal out of it.

For some reason her photos captivate me. I don’t know if it’s because they’re in black and white and so crisp. Or that the people are so “ordinary” or that the composition always has a little twist if you look for it. Just very cool. And the way they were discovered and her unobtrusive back story just adds to the mystery.

The man who found that box of negatives has started piecing together a biography. He’s done a few art shows and is sharing what he’s discovered on a blog dedicated to Vivian Maier.

And here is the PBS segment that tells her story – although it looks like a full documentary film is being put together.

Watch the full episode. See more Chicago Tonight.

So what is my point? That your journey doesn’t have to go “big time” to have lots of value. Ms. Maier’s legacy comes to us only by accident. It’s that desire to leave something that can make a person think that drives me to chart a course. But you don’t take 100,000 shots in a weekend, or over a few months. It’s an accumulation of a developed habit, a discipline, a ritual that over time creates a body of work that can be shared. Maybe it’s not photos. Maybe it’s audio recordings, home made videos, a couple of pages of script, or a blog post – some form of journaling to leave a trail of breadcrumbs as a legacy to those who follow behind.

Do you feel that pull to accomplish something along these lines? If so, comment here and tell me about it. And if not, why not?