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Pick the Brain

By John Wesley

Can a Book Really Change Your Life?

Written by Tony Clark of Success From the Nest.

can a book really change your life?

"Ever read a book that changed your life? Me neither." ~ Jim Gaffigan

How often have you heard someone say that a book changed their life?

Besides Oprah. Or all the reviews at Amazon for self-help books -- by authors at the same publisher who are required to pimp each other's books.

No, I'm talking about your friends, family, colleagues, or customers.

How about you -- has a book ever changed your life?

I'm going to say "no," because a book can't change your life.

Waiting For a Fire to Start Itself

I've known lots of people who rush out to buy the latest "30 Days to [Enter Results Here]" book, read it in a few days, and then are pissed off that their life hasn't changed.

30 days later, they are still waiting for a new life -- and are even more frustrated.

"What a waste of money," they say. "That book is a scam."

The problem is that no matter how powerful the ideas and concepts contained within a book (or audio program, or video series, etc.), it's worthless if you don't put them into practice.

That requires action on your part.

Reading a book, and expecting some life altering thing to magically happen is like waiting for a match to light a fire on its own. Granted, there are circumstances where a match can spontaneously combust, but there are some factors there that cause it to ignite.

A fire requires a catalyst and a trigger. Until then, it's just potential.

It's the same with life changing events.

A Book as a Catalyst for Change

It's been said that knowledge is power. It's also been said that it's not knowledge that's power, but knowledge plus action.

The ideas and concepts presented in the right book, at the right time in your life, can be a catalyst for change. The book itself provides the starting point, but you are the one that is making the change. You are taking steps to put the ideas into practice.

Over the years several books have provided that catalyst for me. Books that came into my possession at a point where I was ready for their particular ideas to set a change in motion. For example:

  • 5 Rituals of Wealth by Tod Barnhart provided a framework for me when I needed it.
  • Is Your Genius at Work? by Dick Richards is one of the few books I recommend to everyone looking for some insight into themselves.
  • Work Less, Make More by Jennifer White gave me the perspective and tools to take my business to the next level. Sadly Jennifer passed away suddenly in 2001, just an hour after her 33rd birthday. Yet her words continue to inspire. I credit her strategies for getting me into action, and inspiring me to make some key changes in my entrepreneurial life.

There is real power in the sharing of knowledge and experience. Ideas can generate the trigger and action needed to move your life to where you want it to be.

But a book, no matter how powerful it's message, can't change your life.

Only you can do that.

Photo by Shots By Me.


How to Do Your Holiday Shopping Without Wanting to Take Your Own Life

Written by Brett Kelly of the Cranking Widgets Blog (feed).

How to Do Your Holiday Shopping Without Wanting to Take Your Own Life

Every year, around early to mid-November, I realize that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. This realization quickly gives way to the fact that Christmas is just slightly farther down the road, but approaching quickly. Then, the panic sets in...

Yep, shopping. While I love giving gifts to my friends and family, I absolutely despise the very notion of holiday shopping. Going to the local mall and wandering around aimlessly amongst the throngs of like-minded yule-tiders. Poking around in nameless gift stores filled with engravable flasks and non-descript jewelry boxes. Receiving (and often uttering) threats of physical violence or death over a simple parking space.

There simply must be a better way.

Well, friends, there is. And the good news is, many of you have already (at least partially) figured it out.

The problem of holiday shopping can be boiled down to two major points:

1. Figuring out what to buy for somebody
2. Acquiring the gift itself

Obviously, the first point is typically the most difficult and frustrating. Everybody has heard about (or has been described as) a person who's "impossible to shop for". These folks generally either have a very short list of things they enjoy or have enough cheddar lying around to pretty much buy everything they want. Either way, it presents a bit of a problem, but not an insurmountable one. What I typically do for people like these is choose something that I like and that could conceivably be of interest to the recipient.

For example, I'm a coffee guy. Coffee isn't exactly a specialized interest, so a nice bag of coffee beans or a cool piece of equipment would make a great gift for most people (except those who actively avoid coffee, of course). The important thing to remember is that it doesn't necessarily have to be something that they will absolutely enjoy. Take a chance and expose your loved one to something new. They might not like it, but they might love it.

Now, as for the rest of the people on your list (the people who wouldn't be categorized as "impossible to shop for"), here's a very good way to at least get the ball rolling on gift ideas:

For each person, pull out a blank sheet of paper and write their name in the middle of it, then circle it. Now, start writing words or phrases to describe that person (including their interests). Productivity nerds will recognize this as being a mind-map. Write as long as you have to until you've got a solid birds-eye overview of the person. Now, looking at the notes you've made, try to boil it down to a list of interests and/or distinguishing characteristics. If my wife were to perform this exercise with myself as the subject, she might end up with a list like this:

  • Computers
  • Programming
  • Coffee
  • Scotch
  • Learning
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Music
  • Board Games

Now, all of these are potential sources of gift ideas. Many of the more straight-forward areas (like coffee, for example) will probably be less likely to yield a quality gift. Your really solid ideas will almost always come from the more open-ended aspects. If your loved one likes to read (and isn't married to a specific topic, like World War II or Candlemaking), buy them a book that you like! Again, the gift will be a gamble, in a sense.

But, as the saying goes, it's the thought that counts. Even if the recipient doesn't like the gift, you put some thought into it. They can hardly ask for more than that :)

As far as actually acquiring the gift once you've decided what it is, obviously buying online is the best way. The obvious advantages being the ease of purchase and the control you have over how and where the item is delivered. Getting all of your shopping done from the comfort of your own home is an attractive option, to be sure. But what if, for whatever reason, you can't get everything on your list from an online store? What if you must visit the dreaded mall?

Well, while this is definitely not going to be an enjoyable experience, there are things you can do to minimize the hassle of visiting a mall or shopping center during holiday shopping season:

1. Go on a weekday, preferrably in the morning - If you can take the morning off of work (or maybe an early lunch), it'd be a good idea to do so. The majority of the masses do their shopping on the weekends, so this could go a long way in relieving your holiday shopping stress.

2. Know *exactly* what you're going there to buy - Showing up at the mall with a list of people (instead of a list of products) is a sure-fire way to spending several hours in utter frustration. This is precisely what most people do, which is why there's such a general sense of melancholy among your fellow shoppers.

3. "Trident Shopping" - Hitting a series of stores in a linear fashion is sometimes a necessity. Most of the time, however, you have the option of a multi-pronged assault. Grab your list and 2-3 willing friends (heck, maybe they have shopping to do as well). Separate your shopping center into sections and distribute the list(s) among the shoppers. Envision your success and strike with surgical precision. Correctly executing this maneuver can put you inside the mall for *far* less time than shopping solo

It's really a shame that holiday gift giving has become such a pain in the ass. It's less about the joy of giving and more about the headache and stress of getting all the right gifts. Hopefully this guide will help ease your suffering, even if only a little. Happy Holidays!

Photo by A Different Perspective


How Surroundings Directly Affect Your Productivity: A Case Study

Written by Glen of LifeDev.

surroundings affect productivity

Given the state of my organization as of late, I can certainly say that there is something to be desired. It's not that I haven't been getting stuff done. I've just noticed that I have a lot more stuff in my brain, which causes stress. Long story short: lately it's been a lot harder to focus on what has to be done.

At first I attributed the extra cycles in my brain to the busy season. It seems like once Halloween's over, pandemonium ensues and there is plenty more to do than normal. However, now that it's officially the busiest part of the busy season (you still following that?), I have been less stressed.

Let me repeat that. Even though I'm much busier, I've been less stressed, with a clearer mind. The reason: Organization.

The Trip

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I took a trip to San Antonio with my family. When I returned though, I realized a few things about my work surroundings: namely, I've turned into a slob.

My work environment had become much more cluttered than I'm accustomed to. The extra piles of this and that around the office were starting to directly affect my work, causing me small but subtle hiccups in my productivity.

Now, you're probably thinking that I'm a moron and anyone with a pulse could see that. And you'd be correct. But, it wasn't that it happened over night. I had trained myself to grow accustomed to less-than ideal surroundings. Eventually I had learned how to turn a blind eye to things like bits of paper here and there, always present in my subconscious and subtly tugging at my productivity. Fortunately, a fresh perspective helped me change, and in a hurry.

The minute I walked into the office upon return from Texas, I quickly saw all the clutter around me with fresh eyes. Bits of leaves here, piles of mail there, all demanding my already limited attention.

Quick Changes

Fortunately, the process of change was quick. In about 30 minutes I got down to business and vacuumed the office, filed my papers and cleaned everything up. Directly after the purging, I could feel a huge change in my ability to focus on tasks. I was easily planning my day and knocking off projects without my brain constantly reminding me to attend to seemingly insignificant tasks.

If you're feeling a little laggy in the productivity department, try reassessing your work environment. Is it too cluttered? Are there physical reminders lying around that you need to attend to? Odds are these small things are making big hurdles in your ability to focus, concentrate, and ultimately get things done.


15 Great Ways to Relax at Work

Written by Chanpory of LifeClever.

15 great ways to relax at work

Let me guess, you’re stressed out at work. Too much to do, too little time, yada, yada, yada. You already know the one million reasons for all that anxiety, so let’s get to the point.

Stress isn’t a cancer with no cure. A few simple steps can reduce anxiety and promote tranquility. Here are 15 tips to help you relax at work:

  1. Eat breakfast
    Relaxation begins before you even step into the office. Start the day off with breakfast. Aside from being nutritious, eating breakfast forces you to slow down in the morning. Eat, pace yourself, and you’ll get into work without rush-hour anxiety in your system.

  2. Go to work earlier
    After a delicious meal, avoid the morning stampede and go to work earlier than others. You’ll get fewer traffic jams, phone calls, and interruptions. All this lets you get more done in a calmer environment. With this increased productivity in the morning, you can go home earlier.

  3. Meditate
    Countless researchers in fancy white lab coats have shown how meditation relaxes both your mind and body. Luckily, you don’t have to be dressed in an ugly leotard and sitting at a yoga studio to reap the benefits of meditation. Try mini-meditations. Short little deep breathing exercises that take you temporarily out of your work angst. Here’s a technique to try now.

  4. Breathe deeply
    Deep breathing shouldn’t be confined to meditation breaks. Every breath you take should be deep. Sadly, many of us, myself included, are unconscious shallow breathers. To kill this habit, practice deep breathing exercises often to train your body to take full breaths.

  5. Invest in an ergonomic chair
    You sit in front of a computer 8 hours a day. Isn’t it worth investing in a comfortable chair to ease your body? My two favorites are the Aeron and Freedom Chair. Don’t like these? Here are alternatives.

  6. Eliminate clutter
    A cluttered desk distracts, creates visual pollution, and adds to your existing stress level. Each item on your desk, however small, is something you have to think about when you look at it. Don’t make excuses, clear your desk (and virtual desktop) now. Tomorrow, it’ll feel good to come to a clean desk.

  7. Wear headphones
    In noisy work environments, headphones are vital to sanity. Even if you’re not listening to music, put them on to block ambient noise. It’ll also let others know not to bother you.

  8. Play music
    Of course, listening to music with your headphones on also helps you to relax. Pick something you know will put you at ease. As much as I like postmodern electronic noise, cheesy ABBA songs work like a charm.

  9. Take your full lunch hour
    Make lunch sacred. This means not munching at your desk. Take your lunch outside and don’t end your lunch hour early. Here are more ways to maximize your lunch hour.

  10. Take a nap
    Finish eating lunch a little early? Use the rest of your lunch hour to take a nap. While the dotcom days of nap rooms at the office are extinct, you’ve still got options: your car and, if you have a closed office, your chair. Pop in a pzizz track, set an alarm on your phone, and recharge your body.

  11. Play
    If you have a hard time napping in the middle day, use the rest of your lunch hour to play. Take a walk, sketch, write in your journal, twirl, play hopscotch. Anything pleasurable as long as it’s not working and in front of the computer.

  12. Turn off IM
    Chatting is not working. It only distracts, divides your attention, and increases anxiety because of the strain of “multi-tasking.” Fewer interruptions during the day means makes it easier to maximize flow, the state of being totally focused in what you’re doing. Cut out IM and bring calmness back into your work life.

  13. Turn off automatic email checking
    Another culprit of stress is email. Instead of setting your email to check for new messages automatically, set it to manual. Check email only twice a day, and never ever when you first get into work.

  14. Laugh
    Comic relief is a well known technique for relieving dramatic tension in movies, plays, and novels. It’s also handy during those high-anxiety moments at work. When you’re taking yourself too seriously, pop-up your favorite silly YouTube video and have a laugh. My favorite is Shoes.

  15. Get a new job
    If none of the above works, maybe its time to simply quit your job.

A lot of this is just common sense like your mama taught you. But hey, we all need reminders when we’re too busy to remember.

What stress-relieving techniques do you use at work?

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