Category Archives: Life Lessons

How to be more productive in 2013

Ahhh, that ‘New Year’ feeling. We feel motivated and unstoppable: “It’s a new year, I’m going to eat clean/not drink/read more/be more productive.” We all pick a few resolutions that ultimately do shape us and create new habits – even if they take a while to set in.

This year, productivity is key on my list. If something is taking up a lot of time and isn’t creating value in some way, it should be reassessed. If something important is taking too long and isn’t being done optimally, it should be improved on. The question is:

How can I get more done in a shorter amount of time and without compromising on quality?

And the answers:

Analyse. Question what you do. Research and discover better ways. Look at things that take time and either get better skills, get better tools, or outsource. Some things, you might even realise that you shouldn’t be doing at all!

The idea is applicable to everything – from mundane daily tasks to more complex challenges, but let’s take ironing as a basic example:

Problem: “Ironing takes ages / I hate it / I’m not very good at it.”

Your options?
1) Get better skills. There are techniques for ironing shirts to do it right and save time. There are YouTube videos by professionals!
2) Get better tools. Does your iron suck? Get a new, better quality one. Does your ironing board suck? Sort it out. Maybe your shirts aren’t great quality. Maybe you should buy shirts that don’t require ironing.
3) Outsource. It comes down to economics and the circumstantial value that you get in exchange for the price you pay for something to be done. Can someone do a job for you well, fast and at a price you’re willing to pay? Great. Will it save you time and possible injury? Even better. The challenge is that not every outsourcing opportunity will be as easy as finding a laundromat, but out there may be a person who could provide invaluable input to your projects or needs.

Take a conscious note of how you spend your time and identify areas for improvement. In the last while I’ve discovered:

  • Figuring out what I need for the next day is far quicker when I do it the night before rather than in the morning (better skills)
  • Just from having moved the icon from the front page on my phone to the back page, I am less likely to check Facebook (better skills)
  • Intense weight training sessions produce more of the results I’m after than longer cardio sessions do (better skills)
  • Ordering clothes online saves having to stress and spend time in a mall (better skills, outsourcing)
  • Replacing one meal every second day with a protein shake saves a load of time and gives me good results (better tools)
  • There are ways to mass edit photos (better tools and skills)

We all have the same amount of time in a day as each other but mastering how to spend it is a skill. In doing so, we can spend more time on what really matters, adds value and gets us closer to our personal and professional goals.

What are some of the ways in which you’ll save time and be more productive this year?

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Being bold and other lessons from 2012

December is a time to reflect and know that we’ve all grown over the last year. We’ve learnt new skills, we’ve met new people, we’ve seen new places and we’ve come out the other end with a better understanding of that unbelievably fun, odd, sometimes exasperating but wonderful thing called life.

Lessons from 2012

Here are my top lessons from 2012. Some of them are serious, some are light. Take from them what you will:

  • There are no rules. Nothing is black and white, except mathematics.
  • Be wary of anyone who professes to be bored. Either they have limited vocabulary or they are actually boring. Bored is a terrible word. Instead, people should say, “I am feeling lazy and want to be entertained.” That’s fine – it happens!
  • Rarotonga is an actual haven and if you ever need to take time out, go there, snorkel and indulge in sunshine.
  • Floss every day. Dentists just know.
  • There’s always someone out there who’s been through something you may be going through. Lean on them when you need words of wisdom, and be generous in passing the favour on to others when they need you.
  • Don’t continue with anything that you’re not enjoying. Often people try to finish books that they’re not getting into. Just drop it and pick up something that you love. There are way too many great books out there to waste your time struggling through one that isn’t inviting you to turn the page.
  • People are inherently really willing to help out, but they’re also inherently laid-back in doing so. You have to push them, give them something back, and they’ll give you something too.
  • If you have your health, you really do have it all.
  • Keep your passions next to you. Ensure there’s always something that you absolutely love doing/seeing/hearing/eating/spending time with close by, such as art, flowers or puppies.
  • Cutting out sugar does wonders for the body.
  • Immerse yourself in knowledge and networking. You’ll gain so many opportunities, meet interesting people and obtain insights you’d never have thought of.
  • Some choices you’ll make because you will have a gut feeling. You’ll often only work out the logic behind why you made them at a later date.
  • Coconut oil is great for cooking.
  • ‘This too shall pass’ is fact. During tough times, hold onto it.
  • Read a lot.
  • Some of your closest friends come from the most unexpected scenarios. Don’t be afraid to start conversations.
  • Cardio work is great but for true fat loss and muscle tone, weight training is where it’s at.
  • It can be a challenge to live in the present – often we’re preoccupied with the past or we’re contemplating an imagined future. Like anything, it takes practice but focusing on the moment is rewarding.
  • It’s a small world after all. Degrees of separation? Not what it used to be.
  • It’s so, so, so OK to ask for help when you need it, and we need to look out for people who don’t yet know this.
  • Like every relationship, it takes work to keep your relationship with technology and social media healthy.
  • Mistakes and failure are a part of both personal life and career. Fail fast, learn quick, get better and kick ass the second round.
  • Be bold – your desired career path won’t take care of itself. You need to take complete responsibility for it.
  • Look after your biggest organ – your skin: take fish oil, use rose hip oil and wear SPF30 on your face every day.
  • In winter, a good Shiraz. In summer, Rosé and Chardonnay.
  • Things don’t end – they evolve.

It’s cliché to end a post like this with a quote, but this post is really one big cliché, so here goes:

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”  – Maria Robinson, author

Happy New Year! On the 31st I’ll be toasting to amazing experiences for us all in 2013 – look forward to seeing you in it!

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How can I start doing things in moderation?

A few weeks ago I came across this very question on Quora. In full, it read:

How can I start doing things in moderation?

I have an addictive personality and when I do something, there is no moderation. I’m either all in or not at all.

Example: I won’t watch a TV show unless I’ve started from Episode 1 of Season 1. Then, I’ve been know to spend an entire day watching 12 episodes straight through. (kinda why I’m afraid to start watching Lost)

This lack of moderation applies to all areas of my life: work, hobbies, drinking, etc. (thankfully I’ve been smart enough never to do drugs).

1) Should I try this whole moderation thing out?
2) How the hell do I do it?

This is an aspect of human behaviour that highly interests me, and inspired by some of the great answers, I offered my thoughts, as well:
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Moderation is a challenge to most humans, but self-control is something that you can learn over time. Just as perfecting something takes time in order to make it a habit, so does the art of moderation.

In my experience, I’ve been able to reduce the frequency of certain ‘addictions’ by setting guidelines and rules. An example of this is something I did a few months ago, when I forbade myself from eating chocolate for an entire month. It was a challenge but I kept reminding myself of the benefits, such as, saving money and consuming fewer calories. 

A habit or addiction that you recognise as detrimental or unproductive has accompanying positive attributes. For conventional addictions (such as alcoholism, gambling or smoking), the harmful aspects are well-known (as are the benefits that come from abstaining), but for more personal habits, you need to work out what the positives and negatives are for yourself.  

1) Learn to recognise the harmful aspects of the activities that you habitually engage in so you can show yourself why you need to change.
For instance, with the TV show example, they may be that: 

  • You’re wasting extended periods of time
  • You’re not socialising with family or friends
  • You’re not getting enough sleep
  • You’re being physically inactive

2) Set daily time guidelines for certain activities. For example:

  • Only watch 1 hour of TV per day maximum
  • Go for a week without consuming any alcohol/chocolate/etc…and then 2 weeks, and then 3, etc. In time, you’ll reduce the frequency of your habit
  • Limit the times you can check your Facebook, for example, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays you can check only after work, not before
  • Only buy a treat from the vending machine every second Friday
  • Have financial goals, for instance, “I’ll spend no more than $30 on lunches during the week.”

3) Realise that most things aren’t going to disappear. You’ll be able to do them again, many times, in the future. For instance:

  • If you have a DVD TV series collection, there should be no rush to watch it all. Think of prolonging the experience as part of the excitement
  • If you have a habit of browsing the internet late at night, remember that the internet isn’t going anywhere. If you come across something interesting, bookmark it for another time
  • Keep an ‘I would like to do’ list on an online tool such as www.workflowy.com to keep a record of everything you’d like to get through, but don’t necessarily need to do immediately

4) Don’t settle for second-best

  • For example, don’t eat a bar of chocolate, just because it’s there. Instead, think of your favourite brand of chocolate and limit yourself to one square of that per day

5) Don’t castigate yourself when you fall off the wagon. For example, many people who fall off the wagon when they are dieting give up for the rest of that week, and tell themselves that they’ll start again on Monday. Instead:

  • Remember that we’re not robots, and that we will have moments of weakness. Know that the next moment to get on the wagon again is not next week, or next month – it’s immediately after

6) Make your goals public, or tell close friends or family about them to reinforce your agreement to yourself. For example:

  • Tell close friends or family to remind you about your financial or health goals when you’re out shopping or dining
  • Join public events like Dry July (www.dryjuly.com) or the 21 Challenge (www.21challenge.com.au) to give up a habit over a set period of time, and raise money for charity in the meantime

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What would you add to this? What do you do to achieve your moderation goals?

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What I learnt from the ladies at a nursing home

A few years ago when I was 25, I armed myself with a pen, a notebook and a mind full of questions and visited a nursing home in search of answers from older, wiser women.

At that age I was trying to figure out what to do with myself and I was going through a transition: I wasn’t a girl any more, but I didn’t feel like a grown-up woman, either. The transition left me querying how emotional changes continue throughout a lifetime. When do other people feel grown-up? How do women think and feel at 90? After possibly having children, grandchildren, a career, various defining moments, what is it like to reach that milestone? What occupies their thoughts at that age? Do they still have insecurities? Do they still long for the same things they once did? 

I kept that notebook safe since then, and now I share the experience.

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I’m guided into the rest home by one of the nurses on duty.  She tells me that the first lady who is willing to chat with me is Violet, who’s 92. I enter the sitting room and she is there, tiny and frail, with liver-spotted hands resting calmly on her lap. We commence.

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Violet’s hands are still as she speaks. She doesn’t look at me, but I’m not sure where she’s looking. It seems she’s gazing only a few centimetres away, into the glass panes of her spectacles, but not beyond. As I listen, I start believing that perhaps, framed in her glasses are her memories. Violet remembers going to the snow as a three-year old with her aunt, who brought her up. She followed a nursing career and then became a farmer after marrying. Children came next and Violet claims her life was very easy until her husband died. “I was absolutely heartbroken for a long time but told myself to ‘pull yourself together, you’ve got to get over it’.” She is appreciative of the fact that she had someone to love during the majority of her life. “Many people don’t find their person….I was lucky.” I ask her what her concerns were at my age, and what she thinks of the world now. The differences must be so great to her, that she doesn’t even know how to describe them. “Our life was so different to what the world is now. The world is….it’s upside down….it’s gone topsy-turvy…..”

I strain to pick up her thoughts when she hesitates to continue.  Is she tired? Has she forgotten what we’re talking about? Or is it simply that time goes by faster at that age? I ask her, and she tells me that yes, time goes by very fast, that the days and weeks blur together. “I can’t keep up anymore, I blink and ‘woosh!’ There’s another year gone by.”

She lights up when she talks about her five grandchildren, who visit her often. She has a favourite, who visits more frequently than the others. “She’s a trick, she’s probably trying to get the lion’s share of the inheritance I’ll leave behind. If only she knew how little there is now!” Her eyes finally reach mine and we both laugh.

The next woman I speak to is Ethel, who prefers her own room for our chat. She’s 90 years old and cheekily tells me that she’s “a Libran most days, but if I don’t like the horoscope then I’m a Scorpio.” Ethel’s hearing is weak, her body worn and tired, but there’s a fire in her voice and the clarity of her thoughts shines through. “I spend my days doing crossword puzzles to keep my mind active,” she says, looking down at her legs dismissively. “I can’t do much else, my walking’s gone.” When she’s not doing puzzles, she rests. “I don’t get bored because I sleep day and night. Some of the poor souls here have sleeping problems….I really do feel for them.”

I want to find out about Ethel’s childhood and how she feels about her life’s achievements, but I don’t know how to broach it without alluding to the fact that she’s near the end of hers. I’m dazed at the thought that so much can happen between my age and hers, and I struggle to form the right words and sentences.

On Ethel’s bedside table are several family photos. I ask her about a husband and she lights up. “He would call me his princess….and I’d call him a silly old so and so.” Her endless love for him is obvious as she looks away melancholically into the distant depths of her memories. She sparks up again as she leaves me with a morsel of insight. “After he died, I never remarried. I didn’t meet anyone my age that I felt the same way about, and I’d rather be an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave.”

Ava, nearing 97, tells me that she was the baby of her family. “I was always a bit spoilt…” she trails off. We chat about the aging process and Ava doesn’t grasp my desire to discuss what it does to the mind rather than the body. “I’m being conceited now, but my legs were my only beauty.” I try to steer the conversation by asking questions like, “Do you remember what occupied your thoughts when you were 25?” For a moment I think she is with me, but then she proceeds to tell me about her arthritis. I imagine it’s difficult to talk about anything else when your body is in constant pain.

Ava tells me that her family don’t visit her very often. “They’re young, they have better things to do than come see me here.” This fills me with sadness. Before I leave her room, I give Ava a warm hug.

I’m disheartened. I don’t feel I’ve learnt enough about the psyche of these women, and I start thinking that perhaps, ‘growing up’ to them was a very different experience than what it is for young people now. Milestones were more clearly defined and to an extent, mapped out. Career paths were limited and there were possibly not as many choices to be made. Women generally became mothers earlier in their lives. I start thinking that I’ve perhaps approached the topic with a generation too distant from my own…..and then I meet Carol.

Carol has lost her senses of sight, smell and taste. “The old grey mare isn’t what she used to be!” She laughs and dives straight into an anecdote. “Once I lost my glasses and I couldn’t see anything! I searched everywhere for them, I even felt the top of my head to make sure they weren’t there. Finally I did find them, and you know where they were, dear?” She points to her nose. “Right here!” Because she can hardly see me, a gentle smile isn’t enough for her to know that I’m following, so when she laughs loudly, so do I.

We have a long discussion and she’s inquisitive about me, too. When I tell her I’m from Argentina, she asks me where that is because she was never very good at geography. “At school I was too busy drawing spectacles and moustaches on images of people!” I picture her as a little girl in the 1920s with ribbons in her hair, drawing Dali-esque or Connoisseur moustaches in her school books.

I ask her if she likes living at the home. She doesn’t fancy the dining room – it’s too quiet. “Everyone eats in silence, as though not to disturb or encourage the fate that’s waiting for us here.”

Carol never married, but at the home she has her nurses. “I have three toy boys here, but unfortunately I haven’t got any money to leave them!” The soft folds of her crêpe paper face fall into place with ease when she laughs. Of course they do, she’s done it countless times, and emotions have memories.

I like Carol a lot, and when I ask if I can come back to see her, she leans toward me and quietly whispers with fabricated solemness, “It might be for my funeral, dear.” I interject, and she tells me not to be sad about death. “Our lives are funny things, they go by so fast. We are here for a short time….just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, it’s nearly the end. Sometimes I say……I say, that we were born to die.”

With those words, spoken with not even an ounce of remorse, she unknowingly answers all of my questions at once. I can see that her body – her shell – is misleading. Below the soft wisps of snow-white hair and tucked within the many folds of her matured face I find the experienced eyes of a woman, but also the youthful soul of a girl.

On the drive home I realise that becoming a woman isn’t a milestone, it’s a journey. Transitioning from a girl to a woman – or a boy to a man – is a lifelong expedition. Growing up and living aren’t exclusive of one another – they travel together, hand in hand, through the winding course of a lifetime.

Quote by Fr. Alfred D'Souza

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How to be happy: 13 things that do it for me

Last year, when I had time to kill on long bus rides and solitary walks through large cities, I did a lot of thinking. One of the topics that came to my mind often was the subject of happiness. I wondered, “What things really make us happy?”

Naturally happiness is a combination of many factors including emotional and physical health, socialising and our relationships with others, our perceived value in our professional lives as well as in society and where we’re at against our personal goals and expectations. However, it is often the little things that brighten our day and boost our ego. Those little things that make us smile, make us feel content and satisfied. Often they may be trivial but send us into a whirlwind of joy as they accumulate and breed more happy situations.

I decided to make a list of 13 things that bring me happiness and figure out ways to make them more prominent every day, week, month, year:

1) Sunshine: It’s simple….grey skies get most of us down! And Vitamin D does us a whole lot of good. So, it’s good to get 15 minutes of sunlight a day, and if you’re not, then invest in some Vitamin D capsules.

2) Health & fitness: Feeling and looking good is instrumental to happiness, so in 2011 I’ve set myself the goal of increased fitness. I’m good at bouts of exercise but consistency is my downfall so I’ve set myself the obligation of walking at least 30 minutes a day, as a bare minimum.

3) Music: Whether it be rock, disco, 80’s power ballads, jazz, drum n bass or (some) pop, there’s always the right tune for every situation. I jog to music, travel with music, dance to music and socialise to music. I love hearing new sounds so one of the sites I joined this year is noisetrade.com, which regularly sends out free samples from emerging artists for downloading.

4) Learning about the world: I like reading the news, learning about history and discovering the meaning of things. Books, people and the Internet make this possible. Some of the sites I check often are smh.com.au, nzherald.co.nz, stuff.co.nz and bbc.co.uk.

5) Good food and wine: Healthy(ish), tasty treats* washed down with a glass of Barossa Valley Shiraz or Malbec from Mendoza make me very happy. I’ve savoured black pudding in Ireland, deep-dish pizza in Chicago, sashimi in Japan and deep-fried scorpion in China. Probably won’t repeat the last one, but it was still fun to try. *And dark chocolate.

6) Being connected: Twitter became a big part of my life while I was travelling last year. I shared tips, received tips, and even met several of my Twitter friends in person. I enjoy communicating with my tweeps and sharing thoughts and learning new things. I also like to maintain my friendships with people around the world that I care about, so I dedicate time to write emails and stay in touch.

7) Flowers: I’ve never been big on these but last year I noticed how I’d slow down to look at pretty flowers, or bend down to smell the roses. I still don’t know if it’s the colours or the scents, but I know that they brighten my day. Buying myself flowers to put in a vase every few weeks doesn’t have to be expensive.

8) Expanding my skills: In the past I’ve dabbled in painting, travel-writing, photography, singing and dance classes. This year I want to do a graphic design course and get back into playing music. Learning new practical skills is important because it gives the grey matter a workout, and also keeps me in the loop with skills that might be useful in the future.

9) Art: I love my small art “collection”. It may not be worth much because most of it was created by unknown artists but I didn’t buy them as investment items. I enjoy looking at the different pieces and remembering the places where I bought them. A handy tip is to buy a set of similar-looking arty postcards and mounting them in the same frame.

10) Things that smell nice: It makes every difference in the world to have your morning shower with something vibrant and quality rather than whatever’s on special at the supermarket. It’s not the most economical choice but one that I’m prepared to compromise on. This also goes for perfumes, candles, room sprays and body lotions. I love anything vanilla and just discovered that at work, they clean the fridge out with vanilla essence once a week. Yum!

11) Markets: The sounds, sights and smells that markets bring are unique. I like the early morning freshness, the home-baked goods and original crafts, not to mention the people-watching. My favourite Auckland markets are La Cigalle in Parnell and my favourite in the world are the Pike Place markets in Seattle. I look forward to hunting down lots of weekend markets in Sydney, too!

12) Photography: Capturing an image something I really enjoy – there’s an immense amount of satisfaction when you look at an image that captures a certain expression and evokes an emotional response. I have an SLR for travel and special events, and a compact that I carry everywhere in case of a good photo opportunity.

13) Travel: Pretty much the culmination of all the other points. I’ve moved to a new country and city so plenty of new places to explore!

Honourable mention: Sleep. Love it, need more of it, but more often than not I’d rather sacrifice a few hours of sleep in order to enjoy one of the above.

What are the top things on your happiness list, and how can you make them more prominent in your everyday life?

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