Building My New Writing Studio

Kim and I moved into a new house on July 1st. Well, it’s new to us. The house itself was actually built in 1948 — or before. According to neighborhood gossip, the house survived the 1948 Vanport flood, was sawed in half, moved here, then put back together. (I’m not sure why somebody would haul this house twenty miles and up a massive hill, but maybe they got a great deal on it?)

Anyhow, when we moved in, we knew we were downsizing. The condo we’d lived in for the previous four years had 1550 square feet of space. We each had individual offices. This new place only has 1250 square feet, and there isn’t room for both of us to have an office.

After some thought, I decided it made sense to construct an outbuilding to serve as my writing studio.

Picking a Building

First, I had to research zoning laws in our area. Because we’re in unincorporated Clackamas County (and not inside any city limits), we don’t need permits to put up any building less than 200 square feet in size — as long as the average height is less than ten feet. (The building can’t have wiring or plumbing either. Those also require permits.)

With those basic parameters, I began doing some research.

First, I emailed my friend Pete (a.k.a. Mr. Money Mustache), who recently built a fancy studio of his own. Because Pete is handy — carpentry is his hobby! — he did everything himself. Having seen his studio first-hand, I can tell you it’s awesome. “That’s probably outside your skillset,” he told me. “I recommend you order a pre-fab building from a place online.”

Pete recommended a company in Colorado. While their buildings were indeed awesome, they were also expensive. I wasn’t willing to put $25,000 into my writing studio. But I might be willing to spend half that amount!

Further research online revealed even more awesome custom sheds, but always at custom prices. I was frustrated.

Then one day while at Home Depot, I noticed they had a bunch of garden sheds in the parking lot. Most weren’t really suitable, but a few were. I took home some propaganda. I also stopped by other hardware stores to see what they offered. Turns out there are lots of options. Most of these building are suitable only to store Christmas lights and garden gear, but some could be converted to use as a writing studio.

After a few days of research, I settled on buying from a company called Tuff Shed. I spent several hours on their website, playing with their custom design tool. (Fun fun fun!) In the end, this is the building I created:

Tuff Shed design

In retrospect, I could have saved some money (and headache) by reducing the number of windows, not choosing the sloped ceiling, and electing to paint the shed myself. But at the time I designed it, all of these things seemed awesome and right.

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

After designing my Tuff Shed, I placed the order. And waited. And waited. I knew in advance that there’d be a lot of waiting, so that’s not the issue. The issue was that it was tough for me to be patient. I wanted the building now.

Ultimately, it was good that my shed wasn’t delivered until the end of September. Up until that time, our attention was wholly focused on remodeling the house. If the shed had arrived any earlier, there would have been some serious logistics issues. (We don’t have a big driveway, and there’s no place to park on the road. We would have had contractors colliding!)

While I waited, I leveled the spot I had picked for the shed to be built. We live in a very slope-y neighborhood. There aren’t any flat spaces anywhere for hundreds of feet. Our lot is no different. Because Tuff Shed requires a flat area to build the building, I had to spend several hours using a spade to dig things to level. It was actually kind of fun.

Tuff Shed prep

Finally, on a morning at the end of September, two young men pulled up with a pickup and trailer. While one guy hauled the pre-fab pieces to the bottom of our property, the other guy started putting them together.

Tuff Shed delivery

Tuff Shed base

When they were done hauling and piecing things together, I had an empty shed that looked more or less like this:

Tuff Shed construction

Now it was my turn to get to work.

Finishing My Writing Studio

I am not a handy fellow. Or, I should say, I never have been before. But the older I get, the more I enjoy trying to figure out stuff like this. I’m cautious with wiring and plumbing because there’s just so much that can go wrong, but I’m happy to tackle other aspects of home improvement. And when the “home” in question is a writing studio, the pressure is especially low.

First up, I knew I had to insulate and install some sort of moisture barrier. This is Oregon, after all. I spent a day stapling pink fiberglass insulation to the ceiling and the floors. While it wasn’t tough, it was a bit itchy and nasty. Next, I installed some rigid foam insulation in the floors. The stuff doesn’t have a high R-value, but it’s better than nothing.

Tuff Shed insulation

After the insulation was installed, it was time to put up the ceiling, walls, and floors.

For the ceiling, I opted to use a thin plywood. If I knew then what I know now, I would have made sure to cut the plywood to stud lengths first so that it looked good. But this was my first time doing anything like this, so I just nailed it up in 48×96 sheets. “It’s all wavy and warped,” Kim said when she saw it. She’s right. Next summer, I may go back and re-do the ceiling so it looks nicer. It’s not a high priority at the moment.

While hanging the ceiling, I sustained my first injury. I was using a utility knife to cut the thin plywood to size. I didn’t think my circular saw would handle the stuff well. While pulling down against the straight edge, the knife jumped up and sliced into the tip of my thumb. Oops. Bloody mess!

Next, I nailed sheetrock to the walls. This I did cut to fit the studs. I had learned my lesson with the ceiling. Hanging the drywall wasn’t tough — only time-consuming.

Tuff Shed drywall

At this point, I had to make a decision. Most folks would opt to tape and mud the drywall so that they could then add texture and paint. This sounded like a long, tedious (and messy) process, so I fished around for other options. My brother suggested using a type of panelboard with a faux distressed wood look. I drove 45 minutes to the only store that carried it, but ultimately decided it wouldn’t work for my application. But I liked the idea of a rustic wood look.

On the way home from this distant store, I remembered that I’d seen a bunch of cedar fencing in my local Home Depot. “I wonder if that would work for the walls?” I thought. I stopped to take a look. Sure enough! The cedar was just what I wanted. I crunched some numbers while standing in the aisle, then loaded up 960 linear feet of cedar fencing. I spent the next eight hours cutting the wood, then nailing it over the top of the drywall. In the end, it looked (and smelled) awesome.

Tuff Shed cedar walls

The next problem was the floor. What should I use? Carpet? Raw plywood? Something else? I had already nailed plywood over the insulation, but I decided I’d like something a little more “finished” to make the studio look better. In the end, I opted for laminate flooring with a hickory finish. Last weekend, Kim and I spent all Saturday (and many beers and curse words) installing the floor. It was frustrating, but the end product was worth it.

Tuff Shed unpacking

Finishing Touches

After the floor was installed, I could finally start shaping the space to be an actual writing studio.

  • When we moved into the house, the previous owners had left a corner desk from IKEA. I unmounted the desk from our guest room, then installed it in the corner of my shed.
  • I had planned to build custom bookshelves for the space, but eventually decided this would be both time-consuming and expensive. Besides, when I did the math, I realized I had exactly twenty feet of shelving already. The heights weren’t quite what I wanted, but it seemed foolish not to use my existing bookshelves.
  • Kim and I debated whether or not we should put a futon in the shed. In the end, I decided I wanted the easy chair and ottoman that I bought in 1993. The colors seem garish by modern standards, but I’ve read and wrote a lot in that chair. It’s a sentimental piece.
  • Lastly, I chose to move a small table into the center of the room. This IKEA table has been my writing desk for the past five years, but now will serve as a place for me to write by hand — or to play games when people come over.

These finishing touches really pulled the room together. It feels cozy and warm. I like it. The cats like it. The dog loves it.

Because I’m trying to keep things legally unpermitted, I didn’t run electricity to the building. So, how do I power my computers? A big-ass extension cord. I chose a cord that’s rated for outside use and which can provide sufficient power. My electrician groaned when he saw what I’d done, but after a private email exchange, he seemed resigned to my choice — as long as I’m careful about everything. (I turn everything off when I’m not in the studio. I’m going to get a cover to protect the joint where my two extension cords meet. And I’m going to get a low-power wall heater that my electrician recommended as a safe option.)

In the end, the Tuff Shed cost me about $10,000 to have built, delivered, and installed. I spent an additional $2500 to finish the inside. It cost me a total of $12,500 to build my writing studio, which is exactly half of what it would have taken to order from the place Mr. Money Mustache had recommended. That seems reasonable to me.

And best of all? I love the space. It’s awesome. It’s the perfect place for me. I look forward to many years of writing about money from my Tuff Shed writing studio.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks: How I’m Taming Email and Tab Overload

After nearly two weeks, Kim and I are finally feeling settled here in Savannah. We’re learning the layout of the city, and discovering how to get around our neighborhood. (I like to walk almost everywhere, which is a challenge in the South. But I’m making it work.)

Both of us have started working on our respective online projects too. Kim is taking Steve Chou’s online commerce course, and last week placed her first order for sample products from China. I’ve been learning my mailing list software, and last Friday sent out the first test email for Money Boss. (Here’s the online version of that test email.) If all goes according to plan, I’ll send out my first real Money Boss email later this week. And once the designer is finished with the website, we can launch the darn thing!

I’ve been disconcerted, however, to find that I’m struggling at times to get work done on Money Boss. I’m making great progress, sure, but not as much as I’d hoped. I get distracted. Blame it on my ADHD or blame it on simple lack of willpower, but I have too much email to wade through and too many open tabs in my browsers. I feel overwhelmed.

Because of this, I’m actually getting more work done when I leave my computer and go for a walk. I carry a notebook with me so that I can scribble down stuff as I stroll through the nearby marsh/forest. (I’m not sure what to call this sort of terrain.) But this isn’t an ideal way to work. I want to be able to sit at my computer and get stuff done. The fact that I can’t has been very frustrating.

So, yesterday morning I decided drastic measures were in order. I sat down at my computer and gave myself a workflow makeover.

Too Many Tabs

You see, part of the problem is that I’ve been doing things the same way for years. In some cases, decades. And nothing about my workflow has been thought out. It’s all just sort of evolved over time in a haphazard sort of way. It’s less than ideal.

“How can I improve the way I do things?” I asked myself. “What are the things that frustrate me and slow me down? What are the things that make me feel overwhelmed?”

The first thing I tackled was my problem with tabs. I’m the sort of guy who has dozens of tabs open in his browsers (yes, plural) at any given time. Yesterday morning, I had nine browser windows open between Chrome and Safari, and each window had 8-12 open tabs. You do the math. No wonder I always feel overwhelmed by my browser! This seemed like a good place to start my workflow makeover.

When I thought about why I had so many open tabs, I realized that the pages fell into a handful of categories:

  • My email and social media tabs.
  • The sites I read regularly.
  • Articles I want to read when I have time.
  • Articles I’ve already read and want to save for later.
  • Pages I’m actively using to complete my work.

Obviously, the latter group of tabs is acceptable — but they could all fit in a single browser window. But the other pages? There’s no reason I should have all of them open on my computer. I set about finding ways to keep them closed.

Taming Email and Subduing Social Media

Long ago, when the internet was young, I managed my email with a stand-alone program called Eudora. When Eudora became defunct (2007? 2008?), I switched to Mac Mail. Mac Mail was terrible, so I opted for web-based email. The problem with this? For one, more browser tabs. (I have three email accounts that I use regularly.) For another, I have a bad habit of checking my email tabs over and over and over again.

My best bet, I decided, was to return to a stand-alone email client. I bit the bullet and set up Mac Mail again. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t love it, but it helps me get email out of my browser. (For a program that’s been around for so long, it has some severe problems.) If it doesn’t work well, I’ll try to find another option. Anyone have recommendations?

At the same time, I tackled social media. I’m not a huge sucker for Facebook, but it does drain time now and then when I ought to be focused on other stuff. So, I installed the Kill News Feed Chrome extension. I can still see notifications and I can still post to Facebook groups, but I can’t look at cat photos are read about what my friends have been up to. Now I need to pull out my iPhone or iPad to waste time in this way.

Plus I set up a Buffer account, which will allow me to schedule posts to Facebook and Twitter. Now I can batch-process my social media work once each week. Yay!

My Reading List

Next, I had to refine the way I read the web. Instead of browsing to my favorite sites and leaving open tabs with articles to read later, I decided to relegate most of my reading to my iPad. (I don’t do work on my iPad. I use it purely for entertainment at the end of the day, which is a good time to read the interesting articles I’ve found.)

I divided the sites I read regularly into three groups:

  • For the sites I value most, I subscribed by email. I don’t like getting swamped with email updates (which is why I intend to keep Money Boss emails to a minimum), but I don’t mind getting occasional messages from places like Nerd Fitness, James Clear, Afford Anything, and Mr. Money Mustache.
  • I subscribed to other sites I like by RSS. Yes, I know RSS seems to be dying, but I think it’s still a great way to get updates. Because I already had Reeder installed on my iPad, I downloaded the desktop version of the app. Now I can sync sites between devices.
  • Finally, I banned Reddit and Wimp and similar sites from my browser. I don’t know a way to actually block myself from these time-wasters, but I found iPad apps for each and will do my best to train myself to not open them on my laptop.

Once I’d set up my reading list, the next problem was figuring out what to do when I find articles I want to read later. I find interesting stuff all the time that I can’t (or don’t want to) read at the moment. In the past, I’ve just left these articles in open tabs — tabs that sit there for weeks at a time. (Or months! As I was cleaning things up yesterday, I realized I’d had one article open since late May. Yikes.)

I remembered that I once downloaded an app called Instapaper, which was designed to do exactly what I wanted: save interesting articles for later reading. A quick search revealed the app still exists and that there’s a desktop client that syncs with the iPad. Perfect. I installed the Chrome extension and quickly archived all of my open tabs. (I’m not sure if I can tag or categorize the articles I save. It’ll be nice if I can, but it’s not a dealbreaker if I can’t.)

Lastly, I had to find a way to save websites and articles for future reference. The obvious solution was Evernote. I’ve had an Evernote account for five yeas, but have never been able to incorporate it into my workflow. Now, however, I see that it fits perfectly into what I’m trying to accomplish. Whenever I need to save something (whether on the web or in Instapaper), I’ll simply funnel it to Evernote.

In theory at least, this new workflow should keep my open-tab problem to a minimum. Best of all, it lets me offload my reading lists to my iPad, which is where I prefer to consume this sort of stuff anyhow.

Writing with Purpose

The final problem to solve? How to write.

I’ve been using BBedit (and/or Text Wrangler) since the 1990s. It’s great. Except that it’s a Ferrari when all I need is a Honda Civic. So, I looked around at other text editors. I found Sublime Text 2.

Why a text editor?I use a text editor for all of my writing. People often ask why. “Because I can’t use a typewriter,” I sometimes joke, but it’s not far from the truth. When I write, all I want to do is write. I don’t need the fancy stuff that comes with a word processor. And I don’t like composing in a web browser (too many things can go wrong). A text editor lets me focus only on writing. It’s just what I need.

Surprisingly, Sublime is, well, sublime. In fact, it’s almost perfect for me. The interface is clean clean clean. I’m able to customize the display (I prefer light text on a dark background). It has handy HTML syntax highlighting. And there’s a distraction-free mode. I’ve only been using it for about an hour — to write this article — and I love it already.

Back to Work

There you have it: In just a couple of hours on a Sunday morning, I managed to overhaul my entire workflow. I upgraded my computer to the latest version of the operating system, changed the way I read articles on the internet, and — I hope — made myself a more productive writer.

I’m not sure if these changes will stick, but I suspect they will. It’d be awesome to stop getting distracted and frustrated, and instead get more done!

(Obviously, if you have any suggestions for how to reduce distractions and improve productivity, I’d love to hear them. What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?)

How to Survive Long Flights

My friend Lane wrote the other day with a question:

Do you have an article somewhere talking about how to survive long flights? I’m making my first ever trip to Europe in May and have no idea what I am in for on the flight!

Unfortunately, I’ve never written about this topic before. So, I did what any blogger would do: I wrote 2500 words of advice on how to make air travel more manageable.

First of all, realize that a long flight doesn’t have to be a big deal. Though airlines do pack a bunch of people onto their planes, they’re also pretty efficient about keeping folks calm and distracted. That said, I do think it’s a good idea to be proactive.

I’m no pro traveler, but I’ve taken nine long international round-trips since 2007, and in that time I’ve developed some techniques to make the experience more comfortable.

Waiting for the bus in central Turkey
Dealing with delayed buses in central Turkey.

Be adaptable

My number-one rule of travel — and not just for flights — is to go with the flow. Expect the unexpected. Roll with the punches. Things will go wrong. I’ve traveled with folks for whom surprises can ruin a flight (or a day of touring). That’s a choice. When your flight is delayed or somebody steals cash from your wallet, you get to decide how to respond.

I’ve found that I’m much happier — and so are the people around me — if I just take things in stride. That’s one reason I try not to over-plan my trips. If I’m locked into a schedule or agenda, I’ll get stressed when a museum is closed or I go to the wrong train station. But if I relax and accept everything that happens as part of the experience, everything turns out fine.

True story: When Kris and I flew from Washington D.C. to South Africa, the flight carried a youth group going to do mission work. The plane stopped to refuel in Senegal. When it did, some folks got off and others got on. Unfortunately, for some reason, one of the youth volunteers had only been booked through to Senegal and not to his final destination; his seat was assigned to a man boarding the plane in Dakar. Despite vocal protests from all involved, the young man had to leave the plane. (I can’t recall if anyone got off with him, but it’d only make sense that an advisor stayed in Senegal too.) Now that is an unplanned event.

Choose your seat carefully

There’s very little you can control about where and with whom you sit. For instance, Kris and I once found ourselves in the midst of a group of Russians on holiday, all of whom were boisterously drinking and shouting and having a fine time. We, on the other hand, were miserable. It’s tough to read or sleep or watch a movie when everyone around you is laughing and pouring vodka shots.

Another time, I was seated in front of a woman who would not stop talking — even though we were on a night flight back from South America. All she did was bitch and moan and carry on with her seatmate while everyone else was trying to sleep. Turns out she owns a cake shop not far from where I live, a shop I’d never been impressed with anyhow. Now I tell everyone I know to steer clear of the place. She’s lost business because she wouldn’t keep quiet on a plane.

True story: On my first trip to Ecuador, I met Mr. Money Mustache at the Houston airport. We’d booked seats next to each other on the flight, he next to the window and me in the middle seat. As the plane took off, we started chatting. All the way to Quito, we got to know each other and spent time preparing our presentations. It was only a few days later that I realized nobody had ever taken the aisle seat. “What the hell was I thinking?” I asked Pete. “I should have moved over to give us both room.” Pete smiled. “Yeah,” he said, “I was wondering about that.” He’d elected to be adaptable instead, to simply accept the socially awkward geek next to him. He didn’t get tense or cranky.

Since you can’t choose the people around you, it’s important to make the most of the few things you can control. (Again, this includes controlling your attitude.)

So, for instance, do not sit next to the bathrooms. I’ve done this before, and let me tell you it’s not pleasant. On a three-hour flight to St. Louis, it might not be a big deal to sit next to the toilet. But on a trans-Atlantic flight, the toilet gets a lot of traffic, which means nearby seats contend with the folks in line — not to mention the odors. Not fun. Now I make sure to pick a spot away from the toilet.

It’s also important to know which seats are best for you. Kim, for instance, gets up and down a lot, so an aisle seat is usually best for her. I like to stay put. My bladder is a one-percenter, so I’m good with a window seat. And, to be honest, I don’t even mind a middle seat most of the time, so I’ll take one if it’s the best way to avoid problem areas (such as the bathroom).

Tip: I asked fellow traveler Tyler Tervooren for his tips for long flights. He suggested that when you’re traveling with another person, one of you book the window seat and the other the aisle seat. “People don’t want to sit in the middle, so those are the last seats to go. If you leave a gap, there’s a better chance you’ll get all three seats. And even if you don’t, the other person will probably trade with one of you to get out of the middle, so you’ll end up next to each other.”

Flying into Ecuador
Flying into Ecuador. (Photo probably by Mr. Money Mustache.)

Upgrade strategically

I have some friends who refuse to take long flights unless they’re in business class or first class. I never understood this until recently. On last year’s flights to and from Ecuador, I used miles to upgrade our seats to business class. Hello! The larger seating area, the better food (and service), and the access to airport lounges made the trips so much smoother. As a result, I even paid to upgrade the longer legs of my flights to and from New Orleans last fall. Would I pay to upgrade on regular domestic flights? Unlikely. But you can bet I’ll consider the option on international travel in the future.

Especially on the flights to your destination, the extra comfort and relaxation can be worth the cost. For me, the upgrade is less valuable on the return flight. Generally, I’ve budgeted a day or two to recover at home, so if I arrive exhausted, it’s no big deal. I’ll just sleep it off. But I don’t want to waste time recovering from the flight when I’m visiting an exciting new place.

Create a cocoon

Here’s one of my top tips for travel: ALWAYS TAKE AN EYEMASK AND EARPLUGS. I have no sympathy for folks who complain about noisy trafic in Lima or Rome, or who can’t sleep because there’s too much light on an 18-hour trans-oceanic flight. You know conditions will suck sometimes, so prepare. Rather than bitch about babies crying in the back of the plane, be proactive.

Carry an eyemask. These come in handy in hotels or on planes — and at home from time to time. Even a cheap eyemask is better than nothing. But a top-quality eyemask can improve your quality of sleep dramatically. Before my last trip to Ecuador, I picked up this cushioned eyemask from REI. I’ve used many masks before, and this is the most comfortable and effective model I’ve encountered. (They dye stains, though, so be warned.) This is the top-rated mask at Amazon, but I haven’t tried it myself.

Also carry earplugs. You’ll have to determine which type provide the perfect balance of comfort and noise reduction. Personally, I prefer headphones for plane travel. I use earplugs in hotels and at home, but on a plane I tend to use noise-canceling headphones. When I’m awake, they’re good for watching movies or listening to music. When I’m sleeping, I turn on some sort of looping white noise (my personal favorite is this recording of a midnight rainshower in Hawaii).

Finally, many folks — and I’m one of them — like to use an inflatable neck pillow on long flights. These look dorky but they’re so much more comfortable than airplane pillows.

Note: Before my 2013 trip to Ecuador, I visited my doctor for something unrelated. I mentioned that I have trouble sleeping on planes. “Here,” he said, and he pulled out his prescription pad. “Use Ambien. Take one as the plane pulls away from the gate and you should be ready to sleep by the time you’re able to put your seat back.” Holy cats! The dude was correct. Now I take an Ambien at the start of every long flight, and I’m out like a light, usually waking up just as we’re preparing for our descent.

In 2011, this was everything I carried for five weeks in Peru and Bolivia
In 2011, this was everything I carried for five weeks in Peru and Bolivia.

Pack wisely

I’m an advocate of packing light. It’s my goal to never check a bag when I travel to another country. (I also try not to check a bag on return flights, but I’m less militant about it. If my traveling companions check their bags, I may do so too. And sometimes I’m returning with more than I started with, so I have no choice but to check something.) Light packing offers all sorts of advantages over traveling with too much gear, but one of them is that everything is near you on the plane.

Whether you only have carry-on baggage or choose to check your luggage, you should plan ahead for the flight. Kim likes to keep the space under the seat clear for her feet, which means she only has a few necessities in the seat pocket. (This is another reason it’s good for her to have an aisle seat: If she needs something else, she can stand up and get it out of the overhead compartment.)

I, on the other hand, don’t mind having a small bag under the seat. Sure, I have to cram my feet in around it, but this also gives me access to more options. I have my iPad handy (for movies and games and music), a book or two, and some writing tools. I even have my laptop under the seat in case I get ambitious. (Believe it or not, I’m most productive on long flights. I write like a mad man!)

The video version of how I pack for travel.

Be prepared

Be ready for each step of the journey. You know you’re going to have to take your shoes off at security, so don’t wear complicated lace-up boots. Wear something that slips off. (Slip-off shoes come in handy again on the plane; you can easily put them on and off while seated.)

Also, you know you’ll need access to your passport and other travel documents, so keep them handy. I’m always baffled by the folks who have to search for their boarding pass or who have to spend two minutes getting things ready at the security checkpoint. Why is it a surprise that you need those things?

Maintain an itinerary

I shared this final tip in my travel packing article, but it’s worth mentioning again. I’ve learned that for a long trip, it’s vital to have a written itinerary. This document becomes the organizational backbone of the entire journey.

At the moment I start planning my trip, I create a text document (although you might prefer a spreadsheet). To start, I include my passport info and my frequent-flyer numbers. As I make my plans, every scrap of info gets placed in the itinerary.

  • When I book my flights, I put the flight numbers, the schedules, the confirmation codes, and everything else into the itinerary. (I’ve developed a standard format for this info.)
  • When I book my hotels, I put the address, phone number, confirmation codes, and other bits of info into the itinerary.
  • When I book a tour or a shuttle, that info goes here too.

Here’s an example of my actual itinerary for our trip to Ecuador last fall:

A sample travel itinerary

This document is so important that I carry two printed copies with me. One lives in my pocket at all times and becomes very worn by the end of a long trip. The other lives in the document kit with the passport and my other vital info. Plus I store a digital copy in Dropbox so that I can access it from anywhere in the world.

Your Turn

Yesterday, I had lunch with my friend and mentor Tim Clark. Tim travels a lot for work, making regular flights to Europe and Asia. I asked him for his thoughts on making overseas trips more bearable. He said:

  • Stay hydrated — but don’t eat much. If you don’t drink enough water, you can end up miserable, but the same is true if you eat normal meals. Remember that you’re not being active. You’re essentially in a resting position for eight or twelve or eighteen hours. Eat lightly.
  • Get up regularly and move around. I don’t do this, and I suffer for it. When I get off the plane, I’m cramped and fatigued. Folks like Tim make a point of moving around and stretching at regular intervals.
  • To avoid jetlag, stay up until normal bedtime at your destination. Resist the urge to take a nap. It may also help to get on your new meal schedule as soon as possible.

What about you? Can you offer any advice to Lane about how to survive long flights? Do you have any tips or tricks for coping with the cramped spaces or avoiding jetlag? (I’ve never been able to beat jetlag, so can’t offer any advice there.) And if you have any good travel stories, we’d love to hear them.

How to Become a Better Communicator

As I continue to do more public speaking — whether on stage, on air, or via recorded interview — I’m becoming interested in what does and does not make an effective communicator. But I’m not just interested in how to communicate with a passive audience; I also want to be a better conversationalist with my friends and family.

Recently I spent ten minutes watching this TED Talk from Julian Treasure about how to speak so that people will listen:

To begin, Treasure covers the things you ought not do when you talk. He says that these are the seven deadly sins of speaking:

  1. Gossip. When you speak ill of somebody who’s not present, the action reflects as poorly on you as it does on them (and perhaps more so). I gossip way more than I should. It’s a problem.
  2. Judging. Gossip is, of course, a form of judging. But judging includes sweeping generalizations about a group of people or things. Whenever you judge, you run the risk of offending somebody in your audience. (This isn’t always a bad thing, perhaps, but it’s something you should be aware of.)
  3. Negativity. It seems that some people only see (or speak of) the bad things in life. But people prefer to pass time with folks who are positive. We want to feel good about ourselves and the world around us.
  4. Complaining. One form of negativity is complaining — or “viral misery” as Treasure calls it. It goes beyond just talking about what’s wrong with the world at large to griping about perceived trials and tribulations in your own life. Everyone has shit to deal with; try to keep your complaints to yourself. Don’t vent.
  5. Excuses. People don’t like to listen to the reasons you haven’t accomplished the things you’ve promised to do (whether for yourself or others). They want you to do these things. If you don’t do them, don’t talk about them. And, especially, do not blame others for not getting things done. (Again, I have trouble with the first piece of this. I try not to blame other people, but I tend to make excuses for not doing my work.)
  6. Exaggeration. At its most basic, exaggeration (or hyperbole) demeans our language, says Treasure. If we use big words all the time — like “awesome” and “unbelievable” and so on — they lose their meanings. At its worst, exaggeration becomes outright lying. I have a couple of friends who are prone to exaggeration; it can be tough to know when to believe what they’re saying!
  7. Dogmatism. Too often, people confuse fact and opinion. They believe that just because they think something is so, it must be so. They don’t recognize that each person has her unique personality, circumstances, and experiences. What’s true for one person may not be true for another.

These seven “sins” can sabotage effective communication. But there are things to become a more effective speaker. According to Treasure, the four cornerstones of powerful speech are:

  • Honesty, the ability to be plain and true in what you say. “Be clear and straight,” Treasure says.
  • Authenticity, the ability to say what you think and feel instead of trying to say what you feel is expected of you. “Be your self,” Treasure says.
  • Integrity, or the ability to do what you say. “Be your word,” Treasure says.
  • Love, or the ability to make others feel better about themselves. “Wish them well,” Treasure says.

By aligning what you say with these qualities, people will want to listen to you. Treasure says that how you speak is important too. He covers tools of speech, such as rhythm and pitch and pace and timbre.

Treasure’s talk is short. If you’d like to become a better communicator, it’s well worth ten minutes of your time.

Dietary Resource Page

Today’s entry is a dietary reference of sorts, listing recommended intake levels for fat, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, alcohol, and more.

Kris and I have begun a shared diet. It’s been several years we attempted a joint weight loss plan; it’s fun to work together toward a common goal. I’ve created this entry as a set of notes regarding recommended consumption levels, etc.

I seem to start several diets a year, but rarely see them through. (Or, equally as common, I’ll lose twenty pounds, then fall off the wagon and gain all the weight back.) The good news is that mentally I’ve already bought into this one. I’m committed. I want to lose this weight.

My goal is to lose fifty pounds in ten pound increments. I want to lose the first ten pounds, to drop from 210 to 200, by June 1st, which will require an average weight loss of 1.5 pounds/week. Kris wants to lose ten pounds by August 1st. My current daily intake target is 2000 calories; Kris is aiming for 1500 calories. The first few days of a diet are tough for me, and this time is no exception. Yesterday was hell, though I’m pleased to report things were easier today.

Here’s a breakdown of my average daily calorie consumption from the past week:

[chart of calorie consumption, which actually looks okay

Because I’ve attempted so many diets during the past decade, I’ve done a lot of reading on nutrition and fitness. I can recite many of the bullet points by heart. Here’s some of what I know:

Calories measure energy consumption. In nutrition, calories measure the amount of energy the body releases when breaking down food. For example, when we say that one gram of protein has four calories, we’re really saying that the body needs to use four calories of energy to process that gram of protein. Confused? Basically, the body has to process everything you eat. It takes energy to do that, and your body can only process so many calories at a time. If you consume too many calories, then the body has to store the excess as fat, energy stores for later use. But if your calorie consumption is low enough, your body says, “Aha! I have some free time. I’ll go work on breaking down this fat I’ve stored.”

How many calories can the body process? A general rule of thumb is that the body of the average man is able to break down calories equal to about twelve times his body weight every day. The average woman’s body can break down calories equal to about eleven times her body weight every day. Active people are able to process more calories; sedentary people can’t process quite as many.

Weight loss is achieved when you run a calorie deficit, consuming fewer calories than your body can process every day. Weight gain is caused by a calorie surplus, consuming more calories than your body can use every day. As a general rule of thumb, one pound is equivalent to 3500 calories. This is a convenient number: altering your calorie consumption by 500 calories/day thus produces a theoretical swing of one pound per week.

In my case, I’m starting at 210 pounds. Using the above formula, my daily requirement is 2520 calories. Thus, if I were to reduce my calorie consumption to 2000 calories/day, I would lose about one pound per week. (Notice that as I shed weight, I’ll need to reduce my daily calorie consumption to maintain this 500 calorie/day gap. For every ten pounds lost, I need to cut my energy consumption by 120 calories.)

Also note that it’s possible to pump up the other end of the formula. That is, by exercising, one can cause the body to burn more daily calories. My rule of thumb (and this is only roughly accurate, but it’s close enough) is that traveling a mile on foot, whether running or walking, burns 100 calories. Biking for ten minutes also burns about 100 calories. So, if I take a three mile walk during the day, I know that my body will burn roughly 300 extra calories that day.

When I diet, I generally aim to maintain a calorie deficit of between 500 and 1000 calories.

One gram of fat contains about nine calories. Fat from all sources should make up no more than 30% of your daily calories. Our foods contain a variety of fats. Some, such as those from nuts, olives, and fish, are “good fats”. Others, such as saturated fats and transfatty acids are “bad fats”. Transfats should be avoided completely. Saturated fat should make up no more than 10% of your daily calories. Put into numbers, in a 2000 calorie diet, daily fat consumption should be limited to about 65g or less, no more than 20g of which should come from saturated fats. (Cholesterol should be limited to less than 300mg per day.)

One gram of alcohol contains about seven calories. I only have vague notions of alcohol and its relation to diet. I was a teetotaler until about five years ago. I did some research tonight, and was surprised to find that moderate alcohol consumption actually is considered acceptable, even healthful. I’d thought such claims were bogus. Moderate alcohol consumption seems to mean the equivalent of one drink (ten to fifteen grams of alcohol) per day for men, and half a drink (five to eight grams of alcohol) per day for women. (One drink is a bottle of beer, or a glass of wine, or a shot of whiskey.) If you consume twice this much alcohol, you begin to be susceptible to various health risks. If you consume four times as much alcohol, you’re considered a heavy drinker. If you consume 80 grams or more of alcohol each day (about six drinks), you are doing severe damage to your body.

One gram of protein contains about four calories. A diet should comprise at least 10% protein, though more is better. If I recall correctly, protein shouldn’t make up more than 30% of your daily calorie totals. Thus, assuming a 2000 calorie diet, you should eat between 50 and 150 grams of protein per day. High protein diets are not necessarily more healthful for the body (in fact, the opposite is likely true); high protein diets work because they encourage a feeling of fullness. Protein satisfies. It’s possible to apply this principle to a healthy diet without going overboard. If you’re trying to lose weight, maximize your consumption of beans, rice, and lean meats. (Actually, now that I think about it, rice always makes me hungrier. I wonder why this is…)

One gram of carbohydrates contains about four calories. The bulk of your diet (40-60%) should come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essentially sugars. There are different types of carbohydrates, from simple sugars to complex carbohydrates. Simple sugars are easy for the body to process and provides little or no nutritional benefit. It’s quick energy. The body is forced to break down complex carbohydrates (think “starches”), so the energy from a potato, say, generally isn’t available for the body to use right away.

Two carb-related notes: added sugars (refined sugars), such as those often found in candies, sodas, and sweetened cereals, should make up less than a quarter of your total calories, the fewer the better. (It’s my understanding that these sugars are easily identifiable on nutritional labels because they’re the ones labeled “sugar” under the carbohydrates section.) Also, fiber is technically a carbohydrate, though mainly it’s just bulk that the body does not process. The old guideline was that 25 grams per day ought to be consumed for a 200 calorie diet, though a brief web search reveals that the new guideline is 38g/day for men and 25g/day for women.

Other Nutrients
Sodium intake should be restricted to less than 5000 mg/day, and preferably half that. (Past reading leads me to believe that sodium intake isn’t as critical for people who are not sensitive to it. I’m not sensitive to it, which is a good thing since I eat a hell of a lot of it.) Potassium intake should be greater than 3500mg/day (and closer to 5000 mg). I’m not clear on the reasons for these levels, though I do know that the body burns some amount of sodium (1500mg? 2500mg?) every day, and thus the need to replace it.

[chart of nutrient consumption]

Women should consume roughly 2.5 liters of water per day. Men should consume roughly 3.5 liters of water per day. Some of this water is taken in naturally through the other things we eat and drink. In general, the rule of thumb seems to be “drink when you’re thirsty”. Do that and you’re fine. (Note that drinking extra water each day is great for dieting. It promotes a feeling of fullness. If you are like me and often eat or drink simply to have something in your mouth, water is a perfect replacement. If you drink cold water, you expend a small amount of energy in bringing the water to body temperature.)

The basic rule is: Just do it!

Doctors suggest a minimum of one half-hour of physical exercise every day, though an entire hour is recommended. Exercise has been proven to have enormous health benefits beyond weight loss and fitness. Exercise improves mental fitness. It encourages sound sleep. It enhances self-confidence.

Aerobic exercise, exercise that requires heavy breathing, is good for burning fat in the short term. Weight-lifting and other exercises that build muscle help in a different way. Adding muscle mass increases your metabolism, the low-level fat burning that occurs all day long, even when you’re asleep. A good exercise regimen includes both muscle-building and aerobic exercise. Unfortunately, most people prefer one or the other. (I prefer aerobic exercise.)

When I diet, I never count the exercise. I don’t track it. I do try to exercise, but any exercise I do is “bonus calories”, extra unexpected weight loss. It’s a subtle psychological game I play with myself, but it works.

I admit that most of this entry was composed off the top of my head. The information here could be inaccurate, or out of date, though I think it’s reasonably correct. This page is meant primarily as a resource for Kris and me to access over the next few months as we attempt to lose weight, but perhaps it can be of use to you, too.

One key point that I didn’t make above is that your diet should derive most of its calories from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fats, oils, and sweets should be used sparingly. This means: don’t butter those peas, don’t eat that candy bar, and don’t use that salad dressing. Season the peas with salt and pepper, eat an orange, and use lemon juice on your salad.

Finally, if you haven’t already signed up for a free FitDay account, give it a look. It’s a simple yet convenient site for tracking calorie consumption, exercise, and weight loss.

The Good Stuff

I’m often torn between frugal living — buying all my clothes, etc. at Costco and Goodwill — and a desire for top-quality stuff. Today I yield to the latter, sharing a collection of links to purveyors of quality products, from clothes to hats to pens to camping supplies.

Recently at AskMetafilter, somebody said “What other brands would appeal to a Filson man? Old school preferred. Gold stars for companies that have existed for more than a century.” Because I love Filson stuff, I followed the thread with great interest. I visited the web sites of all the recommended companies and sent away for catalogs when they were available.

This weblog entry is an attempt to collect information on the most appealing of the companies recommended in the original thread, as well as information on other companies I’ve discovered over the past few weeks. Most of the following are still “Filson man” material, though some — like Bob’s Red Mill — are wholly unrelated.

All of the companies here provide quality goods via mail order. All of them have web sites from which one may order their products. Not all of them provide a means for requesting a print catalog. (I’ve provided a link to each company’s catalog request page, if one exists.)


  • David Morgan (Seattle, 1962) is an an outfit from which one can buy products produced by several of the companies (Filson, Akubra, etc.) listed elsewhere in this entry. (Good website, catalog available.)
  • Filson (Seattle, 1897, “Might as well have the best”) for outdoor clothing, hats, bags, and accessories. I own two Filson hats, a Filson vest, a Filson jacket, and a Filson bag. Each piece was moderately spendy, but well worth it. Filson makes high quality products. (Great website, catalog available.)
  • The J. Peterman Company (Kentucky) for expensive, oddball pieces of clothing. But still stuff I want. Who wouldn’t want Italian genius pants? (Good website, catalog available.)
  • Woolrich (Pennsylvania, 1830, “The original outdoor clothing company”) for outdoor clothing. I am not familiar with this company, but look forward to browsing their catalog. (Good webiste, catalog available.)
  • L.L. Bean (Maine, 1912) for clothing. I’ve always been aware of L.L. Bean, but never shopped there except at the outlet mall in Lincoln City. (Good website, catalogs available, outlet store on the coast.)
  • Kevin’s (Georgia, 1979, “Fine outdoor gear and apparel”) for outdoor clothing and hunting supplies. This catalog came yesterday. It contains several things I want: canvas trousers, a pocketwatch, etc. (Good website, catalog available.)
  • Patagonia (California, 1965, “Committed to the core”) for active outdoor clothing and gear. I bought one piece of Patagonia gear at the last REI sale. It has served me well. (Good website, catalog available.)
  • Devold (Norway, 1853, “Quality outdoor clothing”) for, well, quality outdoor clothing. I’ve only glanced at Devold’s web site, and cannot tell what to think of their offerings. (Fair website, no catalog.)
  • Barbour (England, 1894) for outdoor clothing. After browsing the catalog, I don’t think this company’s stuff is for me. (Fair website, catalog available though it lists no prices.)
  • Holland & Holland (London, 1835) for upscale outdoorswear. Looks similar to Barbour. Again, not my type. (Fair website, no catalog.)
  • Le Chameau (France, 1927) for hunting clothes and riding gear. See last two comments. (Fair website, no catalog.)
  • French Creek Sheep and Wool Company (Pennsylvania, 1970) for woolen coats and sweaters. These are a bit too wooly for me. (Poor website, catalog available in theory.)
  • Pendleton Woolen Mills (Portland, 1909, “Good for life”) for shirts and blankets. I own one Pendleton hat; it’s the one I wear most often (the brown one). I’ve owned Pendleton shirts, and have always been impressed. (Great website, catalog available, many stores around Portland.)
  • Timberland (Boston, no specific date, “Make it better”) for boots. My only exposure to Timberland is through the pair of work boots I bought last fall. They’ve served me well during the past year, and I’d be happy to purchase Timberland again. (Decent website, no catalog, outlet store in Woodburn.)


  • Hartmann (Tennessee, 1877) for luggage. They even have some cases that George Bailey might have liked. (Good website, catalog available.)
  • Duluth Pack (Duluth, 1882) for bags, packs, and camping gear. The web site has some keen-looking stuff. (Good website, catalog available.)
  • Tilley Endurables (Toronto, 1984) for hats and travel clothing. I intend to order at least one Tilley hat before the end of the year. I admire their products. (Good website, catalog available.)
  • Akubra Hats (Australia, 1874) for hats. Many of these look too, well, Aussie for me, but I’m willing to spend more time at the site. Lord knows I love hats. (Poor website, no catalog.)
  • Geier Glove (Seattle, 1927) for gloves. These gloves look durable and stylish. (Good website, no catalog.)
  • Hardy (England, 1879, “Tackling the world”) for fishing supplies. I’m not a fisherman, but some of this stuff still looks appealing. (Fair website, no catalog.)
  • Frost River (Duluth, “Reliable softgoods”) for all sorts of outdoor supplies. This would probably be a good place to stock up on camping equipment. (Good website, catalog available.)
  • Bosca (Ohio) “Accessories in leather”) for leather goods. All of Bosca’s stuff looks tempting. (Fair website, no catalog.)
  • Breitling (Switzerland, 1884, “Instruments for professionals”) for watches. I’m not sure these are the sorts of wathces I want. I’d love a pocketwatch! (Terrible website, no catalog.)

Furniture, Etc.

  • Gandolfini (England, 1885) for large-format cameras. In my dream world (the world where I have unlimited funds), I’d shoot only large format. (Poor website, no catalog.)
  • Stickley (New York, 1900, “Collector quality furniture since 1900”) for furniture. I’m currently shopping for a new chair for my library. I’ve considered a Stickley piece. (Decent website with fun extras (including a video tour), catalogs available for a price.)

Paper Products, Etc.

  • Waterman (Paris, 1883) for pens. I’ve never purchased and expensive pen of any sort. (I’d probably lose one if I did.) I don’t know if the extra cost purchases extra quality. (Weak website, no catalog.)
  • Moleskine notebooks are fantastic, but there is no one centralized source for infromation on them. This site is good, though based in England.
  • Smythson of Bond Street (London, 1887) for products, including bespoke stationery and featherweight paper. Expensive, but appealing. (Good website, PDF catalog available.)
  • Dempsey & Carroll (New York, 1878) is another stationeer. I’m tempted to try them. (Decent website, no catalog.)
  • Library of America (New York, 1979, “America’s best and most significant writing in durable and authoritative editions”) for classic American books. I own several LoA volumes, and have been impressed by each. (Great website, catalog available, subscription available.)
  • The Criterion Collection for feature-laden, authoritative film transfers to DVD. If you must ever choose between a Criterion version of a film and a non-Criterion version, choose the former. (Decent website, no catalog.)


  • Bob’s Red Mill (Portland, “Whole grain foods for every meal of the day”) for inexpensive, quality cereals, flours, and more. I just visited the actual Bob’s Red Mill store this afternoon and bought a case of my favorite cereal. (Great website, no catalog.)
  • Glory Bee Foods (Eugene, 1979) for natural foods and crafts. Excellent honey. (Good website, catalog available.)

One commenter in the original AskMetafilter thread suggested using eBay to find used items from quality compnaies. For example, one might search for vinatage Woolrich to find high-quality used items from that company. This is something I’d like to play with. I did search for Filson products last fall, but ultimately bought new from the shop down the street.

If you know of other sources of quality food, clothing, whatever, please let me know. I’d love to find a good source of globes.


On 28 September 2005 (07:41 PM),
Ron said:

I agree with the Filson recommendation. Everything I have purchased from them has met or exceeded my expectations. 10 years after the purchase of some of the items they are as good as when I bought them.

On 28 September 2005 (08:22 PM),
John said:


If you’re not aware of it, is a great place for wishlist daydreaming.


On 28 September 2005 (08:33 PM),
Lisa said:

A few years ago, I snagged a classic, vintage red and black plaid Woolrich coat. It was lightly used and $20 at a thrift store where I was wasting time before an appointment. I think it was one of my best purchases ever–I love that thing. If nothing else, a good quality, lightly lined wool coat is the perfect weight for most of our weather. Mmmmmm!

As for Filson, I’ve always admired their long, waxed canvas duster coat. Not that I think I have the presence to pull it off, but they sure look cool.

On 28 September 2005 (09:19 PM),
Chris said:

JD – Try Fountain Pen Hospital for many brands of high end fountain pens and other writing instruments. They have both a website ( and a paper catalog. You will no longer think that Waterman pens are expensive after visiting this site.

On 29 September 2005 (08:03 AM),
Peter said:


In my opinion you can’t get much better than Mountain Equipment Co-op for outdoor clothing and gear.

On 29 September 2005 (08:34 AM),
J.D. said:

It looks like Fantagraphics Books (the fantastic Seattle-based comix publisher saved from bankruptcy by The Complete Peanuts) has a free catalog, too

On 29 September 2005 (07:13 PM),
J.D. said:

Ugh. I just removed Orvis from the list. I can’t believe that it was recommended in the original AskMetafilter thread. Their catalog came in the mail today, and after looking through it, the stuff is nothing like Filson or L.L. Bean or Tilley or Waterman. It’s, well, catalog junk.

A Brief Guide to Better Sleep

For the past several months I’ve been focusing on achieving better sleep. It’s my hypothesis that my mental problems are mostly sleep-related. I’ve done some reading on the subject, and some experimentation, and want to share what I’ve learned.

In the marvelous The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, Pierce J. Howard summarizes sleep research with the following lists:

To get to sleep more quickly:

  • Consume dairy products (the warmer the better).
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners.
  • Avoid food additives.
  • Avoid caffeine within six hours of bedtime.
  • Keep to a regular bedtime.
  • Consume carbohydrates an fats; avoid protein.
  • Read or view unexciting material.
  • Avoid exercise within four hours of bedtime.
  • Sleep in absolute darkness and complete silence.
  • Take melatonin.

To get better quality sleep:

  • Lose weight.
  • Avoid alcohol within four hours of bedtime.
  • Drink water after alcohol consumption.
  • Plan sleep according to sleep cycles and circadian rhythms.
  • Do aerobic exercise regularly, but not close to bedtime.

To get back to sleep after waking:

  • Write down what’s on your mind.
  • Read something unexciting.
  • Drink warm milk and honey.

Some of these concepts are worthy of further discussion. (Note: while most of what follows is in my own words, some sentences are lifted verbatim from Howard’s book.)

The Sleep Cycle

It’s not the length of sleep that is important, but the number of complete sleep cycles a person obtains. Each sleep cycle has several stages, the most important of which is REM sleep (during which dreams occur). On average, a complete sleep cycle lasts around ninety minutes. (This varies from person-to-person and from night-to-night, but ninety minutes is a close average.)

I first became aware of the sleep cycle phenomenon soon after I began taking melatonin. I noticed that I was waking at approximately ninety minute intervals. “That’s odd,” I thought. I began to make predictions. When I found myself awake at 1:05 I’d say to myself, “I will next wake at 2:35.” When I woke at 2:38 I’d say to myself, “I will next wake at 4:08.” When I woke at 4:07 I’d say to myself, “I’ll wake at 5:30, with my alarm.” What was truly odd was that these predictions were accurate nearly every time: ninety percent of the time, I was waking at ninety minute intervals. I concluded that my sleep cycle was approximately ninety minutes in length.

Research has shown that how well-rested a person feels is directly related to the number of complete sleep cycles she obtains. A person who completes five sleep cycles on a given night will feel better rested than a person who completes four sleep cycles. The trouble with certain sleep disorders — such as sleep apnea — is that they limit the number of sleep cycles one achieves.

When you’ve determined the length of your sleep cycle, you can make some important adjustments. For example, since my sleep cycle averages ninety minutes, and since I get up at 5:30, I know to go to bed at 10:00, giving me seven-and-a-half hours of sleep. If, as last night, I miss my ten o’clock bedtime, I know that it makes no difference whether I go to bed at 10:30 or 11:30 — both times would offer me the same number of complete sleep cycles. Thus, I stayed up an extra hour reading.

Actually, there’s strong indication that waking at the end of a sleep cycle muddles the mind; it’s better to wake at the beginning of a sleep cycle than to wake in the middle of REM sleep (the middle of a dream). Last night, I’d probably have been better served having gone to bed at 11:15, just in case I had trouble falling asleep, and just in case my sleep cycle had been misaligned so that I’d awakened during a dream.

The Circadian Rhythm

Scientists have known for a long time that humans have a built-in twenty-five hour body clock. I’m not sure anyone has developed a satisfactory explanation for why this is the case, but it is. This explains why it’s so easy for most of us to stay up late.

As part of our natural circadian rhythm, various body chemistry changes occur throughout the day, affecting us in different ways.

During the morning, rote memory is at its best. The mind is quick and nimble. During the afternoon, the body is at its physical peak. (Though there is a dip in the mid-afternoon.) In the evening, both the body and mind begin to relax. During the night, whether we’re sleeping or awake, the body and mind exhibit signs of near-dormancy.

What does this mean? If you have important mental work to do, it’s best to do it in the morning. If you have important physical work to do, it’s best to do it in the afternoon. If you’re cramming for a test, it’s better to stay up late than it is to get up early (before 6am) to study; your mind and body are at their lowest between 3am and 6am, regardless of whether you just woke from sleep.

Take naps. Based on the average circadian rhythm, the ideal time for a nap is between noon and 3pm. The ideal length for a nap is about thirty minutes. The urge to nap is natural; resisting the urge has a negative effect on health, productivity, and well-being.

Other Thoughts

Caffeine While afternoon and evening caffeine consumption can cause sleeplessness for me, it’s interesting to note that if I drink caffeine within thirty minutes of going to bed, it doesn’t prevent sleep. Instead, it enhances my REM state, giving me wild, memorable dreams. Your mileage may vary.

Melatonin I’ve been using melatonin now for several months. I buy it in 3mg pills. Often I use a pill-splitter to produce 1.5mg doses. I find that a 3mg dose can sometimes produce residual sleepiness in the morning. Whatever the dose, melatonin works wonders for me. When I take it, I fall asleep more quickly and I sleep more soundly. Give melatonin a try if you have sleep trouble — it’s available at your local supermarket.

CPAP machine I’ve had my CPAP machine for six weeks now. I’ve used it every night. Though the change in my sleep has not been drastic, I am beginning to detect subtle changes. It used to be that I woke several times each night to go to the bathroom, or to sit and stare at the ceiling; now — except in rare cases — I sleep through the entire night without waking. I used to feel sleepy all the time, to such an extent that driving was sometimes dangerous; now I generally feel well-rested (though not peppy), and have only occasional bad days during which I always want to sleep. I’m sad that the sleep changes with the CPAP machine haven’t been dramatic, but am happy that it’s helping me overall.

I’m sure to have missed some important points here. (For example, Jeff’s advice on Breathe Right nasal strips for better sleep.) I’ll try to post more advice when I remember it.


On 08 September 2005 (10:23 AM),
Tammy said:

Interesting facts and observations.

I’ll take everything you say works for sleeping and do the opposite. As I’ve said before when my head hits the pillow I’m out like a light. I will stay soundly asleep until 6 unless the kids wake me up.

Monday I was feeling tired from the weekend. I thought I’d take a brief nap. I laid down and awoke three hours later! I was amazed! Luckily I was totally rested and ready to go but my what a long nap!. It was 5pm when I woke up. I thought I had probably ruined any chances of going to sleep at my normal 10 pm bedtime. Not so! By ten I was ready for bed. I could not tell you what happened after I crawled in and fluffed my pillow. Why? Because I was immediately snoring. I awoke at 6 as usual and went through a normal day.

I wonder if part of your insomnia is your lack of activity. It seems that the only real exercise you get is the “planned for exercise”.

Whereas my day consists of runnng after kids, mowing the yard, gardening, cooking, cleaning, vacumming 2800 sq ft of solid carpet (or so it seems) mopping floors, running to the neighbors and all up and down the street keeping track of the kids etc. By evening I’m exhausted.

My husband goes to bed at ten and gets up at 3:45 every day. His pedomoter shows that he walks an average of 12 miles a day on his job. Both of us fall asleep while saying goodnight to each other. Thats just how tired we are at the end of the day.

I hope a find a final combination of things that work for you.

On 09 September 2005 (07:51 AM),
J.D. said:

My sleep last night offers a perfect illustration of several of these concepts. I went to bed at 10pm, taking 3mg of melatonin about 10 minutes before bed. I didn’t drift off immediately, though; it took about fifteen or twenty minutes to fall asleep.

I slept soundly.

I woke briefly at 2:50. “Crap,” I thought. “My sleep is twenty minutes off.” Since I’ve started going to sleep regularly at 10, and since I know my sleep cycle is roughly ninety minutes, I know that my normal wake times are 11:30, 1:00, 2:30, and 4:00, with my actual wakeup time at 5:30.

So, when I saw that I’d awakened at 2:50, I could read the writing on the wall. Sure enough, I woke again briefly at 4:20. “Crap,” I thought. “My sleep is still twenty minutes off. This doesn’t bode well.”

Sure enough: when my alarm went off at 5:30, I was deep in REM sleep, dreaming away. I was dreaming that I had been standing at the corner of Oglesby and Gribble, talking with Tammy Malone while standing in the family garden. She was telling me about Greg. I was telling her that I sold insurance, but didn’t do a good job of it. Then I dreamt I was actually selling the insurance, but not doing a good job of it. I was in the middle of a sales pitch when the alarm went off.

I stumbled downstairs, my head foggy. I took a long bath in a dark room. I drove to work. I’ve sat here at my desk for an hour now. My head is foggy. Why? Because I didn’t get to finish that last sleep cycle.

Lessons here: my sleep cycle is about ninety minutes; if I’m awakened during REM sleep, I’m less functional. Conclusions: I’m cutting it close with the 10pm-5:30 thing. There’s no leeway there. I ought to go to bed a little earlier and get up a little later. Just ten minutes each way would give a nice buffer.

On 09 September 2005 (02:22 PM),
Amanda said:

So, I guess the big question really is… how do you discover your sleep cycle?

Essential Macintosh Software

It seems that more and more of my friends are moving to Macintosh. This is a Good Thing. Macs are not perfect, but for most users they’re the best choice. They’re safe, reliable, and accessible. Best of all, they’re a pleasure to use.

As these friends change platforms, though, they find themselves asking: “Which software should I use?” I’ve been back on Macintosh for nearly three years, and have explored a lot of the available software, and am now willing to make recommendations.

(Please note that the programs I mention aren’t the only (or even the best) options. They’re merely the options I recommend.)

Web Browser
Safari is the default Macintosh browser, and it’s a good one. It’s my favorite web browser, actually, on any platform. It’s quick and flexible, with tabbed-browsing and a built-in google search bar. Safari’s biggest weakness is printing. On Internet Explorer for the PC, you’re able to print a selection from a web page. You can’t do this from Safari, and, quite frankly, it sucks. (Free.)

Firefox,the best browser option for the PC, is also available on the Mac. Firefox is very similar to Safari, but more extensible. You can download addons to change the browser’s functionality. Firefox is a great option, but I happen to prefer Safari. (Free, open-source.)

E-Mail Client
Apple Mail is the best of a marginal field. It’s included with every Mac and, for the most part, does a fine job. It features lightning fast searches (best e-mail search I’ve ever used), custom filtering, and an elegant interface, but the damn thing is far too buggy. It crashes often (without loss of data, fortunately), and a couple times a year it just stops working altogether. Apple Mail is good except when it isn’t. (Free.)

Eudora is the same e-mail application that many people use on the PC. It does a fine job, but it’s just, well, ugly compared to other Macintosh applications. The interface is less-than-ideal, and the search is just okay. Still, it’s a fine alternative. (Available in three modes: free but feature-limited; free and full-featured but with ads; and $50 paid mode.)

Some people swear by Mailsmith. I swear at it. After using Mailsmith for a year, I’m afraid I have to recommend against using it. Its user-interface is fine, and it offers a lot of options, but everything else is a mess. It’s slow. (I mean really slow. Sorting or searching with just a couple thousand messages in a mailbox is unbearable.) It’s a nightmare to find and change a preference. Support is unhelpful. And it’s expensive. If you’re willing to fuss with the program, it’s probably great. (Why else would people praise it?) But if you want to fuss with things, you ought to be on a PC. Me? I just want my mail program to work. ($100 and an infinite amount of patience. Fully-functional 30-day demo available.)

Office Suite
Most Macs (all Macs?) ship with Appleworks, a basic office application similar to Microsoft Works. For most people, this is all the office application they’ll ever need. It doesn’t have all the features of Microsoft Office (though it will read MS Office files just fine), but I’ve never really noticed. It does what I need. Jeff notes that he uses AppleWorks a lot, and is generally content with it. It’s not ideal. (Free.)

If you need Microsoft Office, it’s available. I never crave Word, though sometimes I crave (and use) Excel. Excel is rather keen. ($400.)

Text Editors
As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, I don’t use a word-processor. I use text-editor. What’s the difference? A text-editor doesn’t have fancy features like multiple fonts and page layout options and rudimentary graphic design tools. A text-editor is just a program for writing. I left the world of word-processing six or seven years ago, and I’ve never looked back. The Mac ships with TextEdit, but there’s a better option.

Most Macintosh power-users sing the praises of BBEdit, which has been a mainstay on the platform for over a decade. I’m not a huge fan of BBEdit. Like Mailsmith (it’s made by the same company), it suffers from an overwhelming options screen. The latest version of the program (version 8) seems to be a step sideways. Some nifty new features were added, but at the expense of speed. ($200. Fully-functional 30-day demo available.)

Instead, I recommend the stripped-down version of BBEdit, which is called TextWrangler. If this had been available when I bought BBEdit, I could have saved myself a chunk of cash. (Free.)

Image Editor
Apple has made a big deal about iPhoto, and I’ve been impressed at some of the things that Jenn uses it for, but I’ve never been anything but frustrated by it. It’s slow. It’s cumbersome. It’s feature-set is anything but robust. (You can’t even re-size a photo!) It’s a good way to organize your photo library, I suppose, but that’s about it. (Free.)

Many Mac users love the venerable GraphicConverter, a $30 shareware program that allows for basic image manipulation. The geekier set advocates the free, open-source GIMP. I’ve used GIMP on both Windows and Linux, though, and have never been impressed.

For image manipulation, I use Photoshop Elements, a stripped-down version of Photoshop that has a wealth of features for the average user. The latest version (3.0) isn’t very good, though. I regret having spent $80 on it. It’s slow, buggy, and features some mind-numbingly stupid programming. It’s a good choice if you can’t find 2.0, but otherwise skip it. I’ve uninstalled Photoshop Elements 3.0 on my computers and am using 2.0 instead. Photoshop Elements 2.0, if you can find it, is a pleasure to work with, with some clever intuitive features that have just disappeared in the latest version.

Music Jukebox
Macintosh ships with my favorite music jukebox: iTunes. As with most Apple products, iTunes features lightning-quick searches, an excellent user-interface, and great organizational capabilities. I used to use WinAmp on the PC, but iTunes is superior to it in nearly every way. (Free.)

Movie Player
Every Mac ships with two movie-playing applications: DVD Player for watching DVDs and QuickTime for watching other video files. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only video players you’ll need.

You’ll also need Windows Media Player (a free download from Microsoft) and the fantastic free open-source VLC. VLC is a must-download app. It’s my default media-player. If it doesn’t work (which is rare), I fall back on Windows Media Player or QuickTime.

It seems strange to need so many different media players; I console myself with the fact that I needed just as many in Windows. (All of these applications are free.)

Other Applicatons
Here’s a list of other useful applications that the Mac ships with by default: Address Book (which integrates with Apple Mail and other Mac apps), iCal (which is notoriously buggy, but still useful), iDVD (for burning DVDs, which I never do), iMovie (for making your own movies, which I rarely do), iSync (for syncing data on multiple Macs — I use this all the time), and iChat (for internet chat, which I rarely use).

And here’s the meat of this entry, the little Macintosh utilities I can’t live without:

I’ve used a half dozen file-sharing clients from Napster to BearShare to LimeWire to Kazaa to Kazaa Lite. None of them come close to touching Acquisition for quality of user interface. As a bonus, Acquisition is fully integrated with iTunes. This application is beautiful. (Free download. $17 payment requested.)

Don’t let the ugly interface scare you; Audacity is a handy app for working with audio files. It’s a free, open-source with which you can record live audio (like birds in the yard); convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs; edit sound files; cut, copy, splice, and mix sounds together; and more. (Free, open-source.)

I’ve already ranted about how I would watch almost no television if it weren’t for Netflix and BitTorrent. Using various directories, I’m able to find “torrents” for download, and thus I watch television programs I otherwise would miss. Network executives aren’t happy about it, but would they rather have me publicize their programs in my weblog after downloading them via BitTorrent, or would they rather have me not watch at all? (Free, open-source.)

Like iPhoto, but better. Lightbox is an image-management program for serious photographers. It works with RAW image files, keeps track of thumbnails, and, best of all, doesn’t make you keep all your images in one directory. ($25, fully-functional demo available.)

I love to cook, but I do a terrible job at keeping my recipes organized. I’m always asking Kris things like, “Where’s that recipe for Thai tuna salad?” MacGourmet solves that problem. Or it would if I ever got all my recipes entered into it. The program even has a keen companion website with recipes and more. ($25, time-limited demo available.)

This app allows you to read syndicated feeds. That may be gibberish to you. An RSS (or similar) feed is basically a plain-text version of, say, this weblog, which can be acquired by various applications, including NetNewsWire. NetNewsWire lets you subscribe to these feeds, essentially tracking to see when your favorite sites and weblogs are updated, then displaying the new stuff for you to read. It’s very handy. ($25, fully-functional 30-day demo available.)

Ah, Quicksilver. I’ve barely begun to use this little app — loudly advocated at 43folders — and already I sense its power. It’s essentially an operating system accelerator: press option-space and type the first few letters of a program, or the first few letters of a URL, or the first few letters of a document name, and Quicksilver opens it for you. Very handy. Here’s an excellent introductcion to Quicksilver. (Free.)

Some of us are still on Usenet. (When I first started using the internet, Usenet was the internet: there was no world-wide web.) ($25, fully-functional 15-day demo.)

If I could have only one third-party Macintosh application, it would be SpamSieve. SpamSieve is the most effective spam filter I’ve ever used. It integrates flawlessly with every e-mail client I’ve used. It just works. (I only have two very, very minor complaints: its icon lives in the dock, and it gives me a modal dialogue box after each (frequent) program update.) ($25, and worth every penny.)

How do I move files back and forth on my web site? With ftp, of course. There are plenty of free ftp clients available, but none of them offer the features and elegance of Transmit. Transmit is the best ftp program I’ve ever used on any platform. Most people don’t need an ftp client; me, I can’t live without one. ($30, fully-functional 15-day demo.)

This handy little menu-bar app displays weather forecasts. It used to be available for $8 from the developers, but their web site is gone. I can’t find it. I think the above link will give you a free fully-functional demo, but I’m not sure.

This little app lets you record sound from any source, even realaudio or DVD audio. WireTap captures the sound as it’s routed to the speakers. Ambrosia used to have a free version available, but they’ve updated the app and are charging for it now. (Wow. I just installed WireTap Pro. It’s got Windows-level of crap in its folder after installation. Not a good sign.) ($19, though the old version is free if you can find it.)

I’m hesitant to recommend anything from Real Networks knowing how insidious their software is on the PC, but from what I can tell their various media players are actually fairly innocuous (even useful!) on a Mac. The latest version is Real Player 10, but I’m still using RealOne Player and am quite happy with it.

I’m sure there are scores of other great little Mac apps out there that I haven’t discovered yet. One great thing about Macs is that they’re useful out-of-the-box. Throw in a couple of the above apps and they kick ass.


On 02 June 2005 (04:29 PM),
Kris said:

Boy, is this boring!

On 02 June 2005 (07:43 PM),
dowingba said:

$200 for a text editor? And you actually bought it? Sorry but I just can’t get past that price. I know it has alot of nifty features and what not, but two hundred dollars?! For a text editor?!?

On 02 June 2005 (09:16 PM),
Jeff said:

Here’s my take on the applications (programs) listed above. Keep in mind that my computer needs are very basic and I have zero desire to do any tweaking:

Safari -> My browser of choice, no need to think about switching.
Firefox -> Use it at work on PC, would use if not for Safari.

Apple Mail -> E-mail search is a wonderful feature. Best e-mail client I’ve used, much better than Outlook Express. I have never had if crash.
Eudora -> Seen it, used it a few times on JD’s PC at work, better than Outlook Express, but I’ll keep Apple Mail.

Appleworks -> I like the drawing & painting portions, but if you are used to Word or Excel, the rest of it takes some getting used to.
Microsoft Office -> If you are an Excel addict as I am, Office is worth the price of admission.

TextEdit -> I’m typing this in TextEdit. I find it to be the perfect weblog entry composition too — plain text with spell check — I don’t need anything else from a text editor. One of my most often used programs… er, applications.
BBEdit -> Played with it a little on JD’s PowerBook. Way too complicated for a text editor… I’ll stick with TextEdit.
TextWrangler -> Never tried it… don’t feel the need to.

iPhoto -> Great for retrieving photos from the camera and organizing in albums, but that’s about it. You can do cropping, rotating, red-eye editing etc, but I just find it all much easier in Photoshop.
GraphicConverter, GIMP -> Haven’t tried either one.
Photoshop Elements 2.0 -> My default photo editor — intuitive & powerful. Perfect for editing photos for weblog entries.

iTunes -> Two big thumbs up here. Easy song or artist searching, easy CD burning (either MP3 or standard format), easy to use.

DVD Player -> Works very well, but mainly plays kid’s movies… ๐Ÿ˜‰
QuickTime -> Never been impressed with QuickTime. Microsoft wins in this category.
Windows Media Player -> My default video media player.
VLC -> ???????

Aquisition thru Unison -> Never used any of these. Don’t know why I would need to.

SpamSieve -> Have been training SpamSieve for 5 months now, and it is starting to pay off. Most of the spam from or Custom Box account no longer gets through to my home computer.

Transmit -> Never tried.

WeatherPop -> A very handy feature. Nice to get the weather forecast with one click of the mouse.

WireTap -> Sounds interesting, but I’m not sure when I would use it.

Once you go Mac, you’ll never go back…

On 03 June 2005 (08:26 AM),
Tammy said:

I’m sooo with Kris on this one! (yawn)

On 03 June 2005 (11:03 PM),
Dana Johnson said:

I hate paying for software — except for games.


I’ve had a mac available to me for a week now (in addition to my multiple linux boxes, some of which can dual boot into various MS operating systems)…

For those of us who are inveterate geeks, DarwinPorts and Fink provide a centralized interface to downloading and installing a very large number of ‘standard’ *nix apps.

The Mac mail app is adequate, I suppose. Thunderbird is nearly it’s equal. Of course, neither is really the equal of mutt, but that’s just IMHO. =)

On the browser front, I can only add a pointer to Camino, another Mozilla-based browser project, a la Mozilla and Firefox. This one has a native Cocoa interface (unlike Firefox, which is technically rendered in XUL, same as Mozilla — if this means nothing to you, you can safely ignore it).

I like pretty icons!

While BitTorrent is indeed keen (I like the looks of this client, but haven’t really put it through it’s paces), I’ve had much better luck finding stuff on eDonkey, a client for which lives here: xDonkey.

For those of you just as geeky as myself (which is probably nobody), there’s also QemuX, an OS X port of the QEMU ix86 emulator. Using QemuX, you can boot Windows (or Linux, actually) in a window.

I actually use this functionality all the time for actual work-related type activities. But if you don’t actually need this, then you’ll never use it.

If you are at all an IMer, I would also recommend Adium X, based on a native-port of GAIM. This is a multi-protocol IM client which handles some protocols that iChat doesn’t (ie, Yahoo Messenger).

Finally, there are tons of little tweaks and apps at Apple’s site, here. Many are native ports of common open source apps (such as JD’s aforementioned GIMP), like OSX versions of VIm and Emacs…

Getting Things Done

Note: died recently, and is gradually being reconstructed. This entry has moved. Its new URL is The 10 comments from before the move can be found here.

“So, basically, it’s just a bunch of lists?” — Jenn

I spent the weekend implementing the system found in David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Rather than explain the system, I want to tell you how I implemented it. However, since I didn’t follow things to the letter, and since most of you are probably unfamiliar with this, a brief summary is probably in order. The following has been significantly simplified.

Our lives, says Allen, are filled with Stuff. Too much Stuff. We think about this Stuff, we worry about this Stuff, we never get all the Stuff done that we need to do.

His solution is simple: collect all the Stuff in a Collection Bucket. When all the Stuff is in one place, process the top item in the Bucket. When the first item has been processed, move on to the second. Process everything in order until there’s nothing left in the Collection Bucket.

How are items processed? Whenever one takes an item from the Collection Bucket, one asks: “Is this actionable?” In other words, “Is this something that I need to take care of?”

If the item is not actionable, one should (depending on its nature):

  • toss the item in the trash,
  • file the item for future reference, or
  • place the item in a regularly-reviewed tickler file for possible future action.

If the item is actionable, one should (depending on its nature):

  • do it, if it’s only going to take a few minutes,
  • delegate it, if it’s somebody else’s responsibility, or
  • defer it.

Using this system, many items are done immediately, while many other items are deferred. Deferred items may be:

  • placed on a calendar if they must be done at a specific date and/or time, or
  • put on list of Next Actions if they’re things that need to be done ASAP

There’s a special subset of actionable items called Projects. These are multi-step events. Each Project gets its own file, and the Next Action for each Project is placed in the Collection Bucket.

After the system is erected, one should empty the Collection Bucket(s) once a week (or as often as necessary). That’s it. That’s the system.

Here’s a graphical representation:

[flowchart demonstrating Getting Things Done steps]

An alternate graphical representation:

[flowchart demonstrating Getting Things Done steps]

There are other nice Getting Things Done flowcharts out there. I’ve got a pretty one hanging above my desk now.

This ideas in this book are designed for business use, but they’re easily applied to one’s personal life. That’s just what I did last weekend.

Here’s how I got things done:

I made a trip to an office supply store to pick up: file folders, an automatic labeler, four 12×12 tiles of cork, a nice wooden inbox, thumbtacks, scotch tape, and a few other items.

Collecting Stuff
I gathered together all of my Stuff, both physical and mental, and piled it on the kitchen table.

To gather the physical Stuff, I walked from room-to-room with a box, into which I shoveled all the Stuff I could find (e.g. magazines, photographs, junk mail, to-do lists, letters, etc.).

To gather the mental Stuff, I walked from room-to-room with a stack of index cards, onto which I wrote all the Stuff that occurred to me (e.g. put away clothes, clean cat food area, hang painting on guest room wall, organize DVDs, prune laurel from back porch, etc.).

Sorting Stuff
When all this Stuff had been collected in one spot (which took several hours), I began to process it.

Mostly the Stuff was easy to process. I just started with what was in front of me, picked it up, and asked myself what the item was and what needed to be done with it.

If it was something I could deal with in just a few minutes, I dealt with it. (For example: books that needed to be shelved.)

If it was something that needed to be dealt with soon, but that would take longer than just a few minutes, I set aside in a Next Actions pile. (For example: cancel cell phone.)

If I no longer needed the item, I threw it out. (For example: house flyers from last spring.)

If it was something that I wanted to keep for Reference, I made a new file folder (labeling it with my handy automatic labeler). (For example: all of the various songlists I jot down for future CD mixes.)

If it was something for somebody else, I put it in a Delegated pile. (For example: anything related to the bathroom remodel, which Kris is basically in charge of.)

If it was a part of a larger Project, I stuck it in a folder marked Projects. (I didn’t finish organizing my Projects this weekend. They can wait. For now there’s a file-folder filled with them.) (For example: organizing all of my writing, from high school til today.)

If it was something that needed done on a specific date, I entered it into iCal. (For example: my upcoming dentist appointment.)

If it was something that didn’t need done right away, I stuck it in a Tickler file to process later. (For example: schedule a poetry night.)

If it was something that was just an idea, something that I might want to do someday, but it won’t kill me if I don’t, then I put it in a file marked “someday/maybe”. (For example: buy a nice leather easy chair like the one Paul J. has.)

This sorting process took an entire day. When the kitchen table was clean once again, I had several file folders filled with to-do lists. I also had a stack of Next Actions.

Organizing Stuff
All of my reference file folders (and there were several dozen of them) were tucked in a desk drawer. I put the Projects file into my inbox (because I need to break it down later, creating individual files for each project). Most of my organization, though, involved the stack of action items.

I hung the cork tiles in the nook, behind my desk. I labeled the top one “Next Actions”. Then, for each action item, I created an index card. (Actually, I ended up using my old Computer Resources business cards. They’re the perfect size.) I tacked the index cards to the cork in no particular order.

After two-and-a-half days, I was finished. My version of the Getting Things Done system was set up and ready to use.

Getting Things Done
When using the system, you’re supposed to take the next action item, no matter what it is, and just do it. You’re not supposed to sort through them. For this one time, for setting up the system, I made an exception. I cherry-picked. I selected a few cards at a time, and then I did whatever they said: clean car, buy mini-to-mini cable, check hoses on washing machine. If the action was something that I know comes up repeatedly (clean car, for example), then I tucked it in a drawer for later use.

After my initial Brain Dump, I had 53 next actions. I did eleven of them yesterday. I brought six more with me to work today (get watch batteries, let State Farm know we replaced furnace, read credit union policies, stop by Les Schwab to check on tire).

I took yesterday afternoon off to relax. I didn’t do any chores. I didn’t feel like I needed to: everything that needs done is sitting there, tacked to my corkboard. I don’t need to worry about it anymore

To some of you, this all probably seems silly. It may seem like a lot of effort to take care of something that you can do in your head. The point, though, is that this gets everything out of your head.

When you’re trying to juggle 53 next actions in your head (along with a dozen projects, a dozen someday/maybe wishes, a score of calendar items, and a bunch of other ideas), it can be overwhelming. It’s easy to feel stressed, or bewildered, or desperate. With the Getting Things Done system, everything is out of your head and on paper. You don’t have to think about things anymore. You just do them.

Any time a new idea occurs to you, you jot it down and put it in your inbox. (For example: a few moments ago I jotted “incorporate all calendars into iCal” on an index card. It’ll go in my inbox when I get home, to be processed later.) When magazines come in the mail and you haven’t time to read them, you put them in your inbox. When a friend gives you a flyer about an upcoming concert series, you put it in your inbox. Once a week (or more often, if you like), you sit down and process your inbox, creating next actions, filing things for reference, and otherwise deciding where each item belongs.

Toward a Pastoral Lifestyle
You know that freedom you feel when on vacation? That wonderful sense that there’s nothing to worry about? That’s what this system attempts to give you. For me, it’s yet another step toward the ever-elusive pastoral lifestyle for which I continue to strive.

Pre-Crash Comments

On 23 May 2005 (09:30 AM),
Lisa said:

When I was working in Seattle, my company paid 1/2 for everyone’s PDAs (mostly Palm Pilots at the time) and then had David Allen come and do a presentation (at least I’m pretty sure it was him). Taking all the thing out of your mind and storing them elsewhere certainly is an incredible relief. It worked really well but my system fell apart after I stopped working full time. Perhaps it’s time to bring it back into my personal life…

On 23 May 2005 (09:37 AM),
Courtney said:

Sounds like a great plan to me! I can’t stand getting bogged down with all the to-do lists in my head. So, I started out with an in-box too, several months ago. The problem is, my in-box has spread to an entire room, which is supposed to be my den/knitting room. Instead, it is piled with stuff to take to Goodwill, photos to be sorted and put into albums, magazines to read, linens to iron, items to file, Henry’s bathtub, etc. Sigh! Just opening the door to that room stresses me out. Someday soon I’ll sort through it all and get it down to a managable size which can be contained in my in-box.

On 23 May 2005 (09:50 AM),
Tiffany said:

I get told that I am organized all the time. But I do not consider it a talent because I think that, for me at least, it is genetics. Both parents are big into โ€˜To Doโ€™ List and I started those early in life too.
In college I found โ€œCalendar Creatorโ€ which looks a lot it ICal. Then back in the late 1990s I got my first Palm Pilot. I became addicted to it, in a good way. You are right about having the items out of your head leads to less stress. I have a thought (I need to call about the ordered furniture, but it is Sunday and they are closed) it goes on the To Do List for Monday. I can set up To Do list my die date so that I know to complete the task in order of needing them done.
The calendar works great for setting up repeat items (like changing my contacts every three weeks and changing the house air filter every three months); in addition to keeping dentist appointments, and flight/hotel times.

I always find it interesting to see how other people organize because there is always room for improvement. Good Luck.

On 23 May 2005 (09:51 AM),
Tiffany said:

Oh, yeah, the biggest benefit to the Palm Pilot, no wasted paper.

On 23 May 2005 (10:13 AM),
Jeff said:

My favorite way to make a list… Microsoft Excel.

I generally work better with lists, but I need to leave them in prominant locations (like the kitchen counter) or I forget about them. Steph sees them as clutter, so she throws them into her piles (her organizational method). My lists get lost in her piles and nothing gets done.

So, I started making electronic lists and leaving them on the electonic desktop… seems to be a good compromise, and I can always print them out if I need to.

On 23 May 2005 (10:40 AM),
Amy Jo said:

I often wonder if I became an editor because of my inclination to order things, to have an ongoing task list, to put everything in its place, or if my non-work life became this way because I am an editor . . .

On 24 May 2005 (11:08 AM),
JC said:

Good post. In a very non-GTD move, I printed it out and took it home to read.

I’ve been on the fence about buying the book for some time now. There are a couple of blogs I’ve been reading that promote the GTD movement [one had an in-depth project management Excel spreadsheet that I’ve been playing with].

My problem/concern? I can’t seem to throw anything away!

Either way, I need some sort of system. JC

On 05 September 2005 (03:18 PM),
Jon M. said:

I’ve been working at implementing GTD, and my efforts seem to keep sputtering like a bad car engine. But after reading your presentation, it’s a lot clearer to me now…my hat’s off to you!

On 02 October 2005 (04:46 AM),
Matthew Cornell said:

Thank you for the post, J.D. I esp. liked your collection idea of using index cards during a house walk-through, and the implications of GTD for a “pastoral lifestyle.” I have one concern, having to do with this point: “When using the system, you’re supposed to take the next action item, no matter what it is, and just do it.” If you are referring to the next action in a list of actions for a project, i.e., that you should pick the next one to put on your next action lists, then I understand and agree. However, if you’re instead talking about how to *choose* actions from your lists, then I believe Allen would say use one of his models for deciding what to do, esp. the “four-criteria” model: 1. Context, 2. Time, 3. Energy, 4. Priority. Of course, I’m new at this and might be completely off my rocker! Thanks again for the post.


On 08 October 2005 (09:07 AM),
JC said:

That is my understanding too Matt. I think the idea to process things one by one without preference applies to the inbox only and not to next actions. For those who are interested, this is discussed near the beginning of chapter 6 which starts on page 119.

JC (Yes, another one.)

Get Rich Slowly!

Note: died recently, and is gradually being reconstructed. This entry has moved. Its new URL is The 86 comments from before the move can be found here.

Today’s entry is long and boring. It’s all about the keys to wealth, prosperity, and happiness. Over the past few months, I’ve read over a dozen books on personal finance. Recurring themes have become evident.

These books have embarrassingly bad titles, seemingly designed to appeal to the get-rich-quick crowd: The Richest Man in Babylon, Your Money or Your Life, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Think and Grow Rich, Wealth Without Risk, Creating Wealth, etc.

Some of the books out there — most of them? — really are as bad as their titles. Others, however, offer outstanding, practical advice. The best books seem to have the same goal in mind: not wealth, not riches, but financial independence. According to Your Money or Your Life, which I consider the very best of the financial books I’ve read, “financial independence is the experience of having enough — and then some”. More practically, financial independence occurs when your investment income meets or exceeds your monthly expenses. Financial independence is linked to psychological freedom.

How is financial independence achieved? Again, the best books all basically agree. (To some of you, this will be common sense, stuff you’ve known all your life. To others, like me, this kind of thinking is a sort of revelation.)

Here, then, is my personal summary of the collected wisdom found in these books.

Step One: Prepare the Foundation
The first step is to lay a foundation upon which the secure home of financial independence can be built. To prepare to build wealth, one must first eliminate debt, reduce spending, and increase earnings.

There are many ways to approach debt elimination; the key is to use the one that actually works for you. All the books agree on this: cut up your credit cards. Get rid of them. There is no compelling reason to keep them. Next, pay off your debts. All of them. For years, I tried the oft-touted method whereby you first pay off your highest-interest debt. This never worked for me, because my highest interest debt was also my largest debt, and psychologically I just never seemed to make any progress. What worked for me was the “debt snowball”, as defined in Total Money Makeover. I eliminated my debt by paying off the obligation with the smallest balance first. Then I took the amount that would have been applied to that debt each month and used it to pay off the second-smallest balance. When that was finished, I went to the next, etc. It only took me four months to pay off my debts this way. I was dumbfounded. I’d struggled with this for a decade, and I solved the problem in four months? Good grief.

The next step in preparing the foundation is to reduce spending. First, track your expenditures for a month. Or two. Or three. (Many people — including myself — use Quicken; it’s quick and easy.) After you’ve accumulated enough data, analyze your spending patterns. Are you spending a lot on shoes? Books? Alcohol? Dining out? Try to find expenses you can eliminate or reduce. I cut my comic book spending by a huge amount. Many of the personal finance books encourage you to reduce your auto and homeowner insurance coverage to save money. This is also the point at which some books encourage you to adopt a budget. (I tend to think a budget is unnecessary if you remain aware of your current financial situation.) (Note: it’s in this step that I should note that all of the books I’ve read advise against purchasing a new car; all encourage you to purchase late-model used cars.)

The final phase in laying the foundation is to increase your income. Not all of the books mention this, and I happen to think it’s optional. However, there are a couple of authors who are quite vocal that this is an important step on the road to financial independence. How do you increase your income? Become better educated so that your job skills are more marketable. Work harder, and smarter, at your current job so that you qualify for raises and promotions. Change careers. Find a way to make a hobby profitable. Or, as more than one book suggests, work two jobs.

I can testify first-hand that by following these three steps, you can lay a solid foundation for future financial independence. I’ve only recently finished my foundation, and am amazed at the amount of money I’m suddenly able to save each month. Amazed. And that means I’m now ready for…

Step Two: Build the Framework
The second step toward financial independence is to construct the framework upon which future wealth can be built: establish an emergency fund, maximize your retirement investments, and begin acquiring income-producing assets. This is what I’m preparing to do. (I’ve already done one part, but only by happy coincidence.)

Every book I’ve read stresses that the most important part of the framework, the first part that must be completed, is the establishment of an emergency fund. This emergency fund ought to contain enough money to support you for three to six months in case you find yourself without an income. I have a very hard time grasping this concept, admitting its usefulness. All of the books stress it. Kris, who is always right, insists that it is important. Yet I want to skip this and go to other, more exciting steps. However, having seen the results after “laying my foundation”, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and just do it. I’ll build the emergency fund.

Next, the books encourage you to maximize your retirement accounts. If you have a retirement account through work, contribute as much as you possibly can, as soon as you can. Establish a personal IRA outside of work, and every year contribute the maximum amount. I already do this, at least in part. Custom Box has a retirement plan, but not one to which the employees can contribute. The company itself contributes approximately ten percent of each employees’ annual salary to a stock plan. One of my goals for when the bathroom is finished is to get a Roth IRA set up.

The final step in building a framework for financial independence is to invest in income-producing assets. For some reason, I’d totally missed this recurring theme until this weekend; on Paul C.’s recommendation, I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, a book that’s almost solely about this particular portion of the framework. Beyond your retirement investments, the collected financial wisdom is that you ought to participate in further investments, specifically in income-producing assets. For different people, this means different things. Maybe it means bonds, maybe it means stocks, maybe it means investment properties. It does not mean things like cars, or collectibles (coins, comic books, baseball cards), or expensive furniture. These things may be assets of a sort, but they are not income-producing assets.

Step Three: Finish Construction
After you’ve laid the foundation to financial independence, and after you’ve built the framework, you must then spend years (decades!) finishing construction. All that’s required during this time is patience and discipline. Resist temptation. Do not accrue debt. Acquire income-producing assets; avoid non-income producing assets. Faithfully contribute to your retirement plans and your IRAs. Wait.

Step Four: Move Into the House
Some years later, you will wake to find that your financial house is in order. It’s finished. It’s ready for you to move in. How do you know when this is the case? Financial independence is achieved when your investment income equals or exceeds your monthly needs. If the total of your house payment and living expenses is $1000 per month, then you are financially independent when your investment income reaches $1000 per month. Achieving this takes time. It’s a slow, gradual process, but every book emphasizes that it’s not only possible, it’s inevitable if these steps are followed.

That’s it. That’s the combined wisdom of more than a dozen financial self-help books. I haven’t fleshed out the final two steps as much as the first two simply because I haven’t reached those steps yet. There are scores of books on how to best approach each step (even each substep!). I’m sure to obsess over each one in turn.

There seems to be only one major point on which these books disagree. Some argue that your home should be considered your most important investment, that you should carry a thirty-year mortgage and not attempt to accelerate payments. Others declare that a home should be considered a liability, the same as a car or a credit card. (The latter admit that a home will appreciate in value, but they note — rightly so — that a home is a cash drain, not a source of income.) All of the books, with one exception, encourage readers to only purchase modest homes; they smash the commonly held belief that you ought to “buy as much house as you can afford”. Instead, these books say you should only buy as much house as you actually need.

A lot of these books are easy to summarize. Their content lends itself to bullet points. For example:

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. This book was the first I read. I want to re-read it. It features lots of practical advice, including the concept of the “debt snowball” I mentioned earlier. Here are Ramsey’s steps to a “total money makeover”:
Step #1: Save $1000 as an emergency fund.
Step #2: Pay off debts, starting with the smallest first (ignore interest rates).
Step #3: Increase the emergency fund so that it will cover three to six months of expenses.
Step #4: Invest 15% of income in growth-stock mutual funds.
Step #5: Pay off the mortgage.
Step #6: Build wealth.
(I’ve left out a “Save money for college” step because it doesn’t apply to me.)

Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin is, as I mentioned, the cream of the crop of these financial books. It’s advice is sound. This is an especially great book for those seeking simplicity. It lends itself less to bullet points than some of the others, but I’ve made an attempt to enumerate the steps it advocates for financial independence:
Step #1: Determine how much money you’ve earned in your life. Next, determine your net worth. Compare and contrast the two.
Step #2: Establish the actual cost — in time and money — required to maintain your job. From this derive your actual hourly wage.
Step #3: Keep track of every cent that enters or leaves your possession.
Step #4: Determine which items are actually worth the money you spend on them.
Step #5: Graph your total monthly income and your total monthly expenses.
Step #6: Minimize spending through conscious decisions.
Step #7: Maximize income by doing something you love.
Step #8: Accumulate capital. Track its growth.
Step #9: Invest this capital so that it provides long-term income.

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason is an aging chestnut. It’s a classic in the field. Many later financial books are based on Clason’s advice, which is framed in King James-style English rules:
Rule #1: Start Thy Purse Fattening — save 10% of everything you earn
Rule #2: Control Thy Expenditures — create a budget to live within your means
Rule #3: Make Thy Gold Multiply — invest the savings from rule one
Rule #4: Guard Thy Treasures From Loss — invest only where the principal is safe
Rule #5: Make of Thy Dwelling a Profitable Investment — own your home
Rule #6: Insure a Future Income — plan for retirement
Rule #7: Increase Thy Ability to Earn — become better educated, more skilled; respect yourself

7 Money Mantras for a Richer Life by Michelle Singletary is a recent all-purpose financial book. I was ready to dismiss it for the absolute stupidity of mantra number one (stupidity in its phrasing, not in its advice), but after reading the book, I have to admit its advice is solid. It features:
Mantra #1: “If it’s on your ass, it’s not an asset.” If you can wear it, it’s not an investment. Also, something is riding your ass (such as a high house payment), it’s not an asset.
Mantra #2: “Is this a need or a want?” This is a question Kris has been trying to get me to ask myself for years.
Mantra #3: “Sweat the small stuff.” Do worry about the small expenses; they add up.
Mantra #4: “Cash is better than credit.” There is almost no reason to carry a credit card.
Mantra #5: “Keep it simple.” With money, avoid anything that seems complicated. If you don’t understand it, avoid it. You’ll probably lose money.
Mantra #6: “Priorities lead to prosperity.” Determine what’s important to you, and pursue that with your time and money.
Mantra #7: “Enough is enough.” Don’t overconsume. Recognize when you have fulfilled your needs and your wants.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Wealth by Ric Edelman is rather a unique book. It features advice distilled from surveying 5000 people of moderate wealth. Each chapter relates a secret for obtaining financial security. At the end of the each chapter, there are excerpts from the surveys featuring anecdotes and advice from the respondents.
Secret #1: Carry a mortgage even if you can afford to pay it off. — This flies in the face of every other financial book I’ve read, and I do not subscribe to the idea. I’m willing to be that the people surveyed carry a mortgage out of habit, not because they think it’s smart.
Secret #2: Don’t diversify the money you put into your employer retirement plan; instead, put all your contributions into stock mutual funds — I’m okay with this. It may not be appropriate for someone close to retirement, but for younger people, this seems like sound advice.
Secret #3: Make many small investments rather than a few large investments. — The key is to make investing a habit, and to invest the money when you have it.
Secret #4: Rarely move from one investment to another. — Market timing is not something to be treated lightly; it’s not easy for a casual investor. Buy and hold.
Secret #5: Don’t measure success against the Dow or the S&P 500. — Understand what you own and why you own it; don’t compare it to market indicators.
Secret #6: Don’t spend a lot of time paying bills and fretting about personal finances. Don’t bother budgeting. — Many books encourage a budget, though I’ve not adopted one. And my success these past few months has come precisely because I have fretted about my personal finances. Maybe this advice is true for the long run, but I’m not sure it’s applicable to somebody just starting to lay the foundation of financial independence.
Secret #7: Involve your children in family finances. — This is another piece of advice that all of the books offer. I haven’t mentioned it because it’s not appropriate to me, and doesn’t actually fit my metaphor.
Secret #8: Pay attention to the media, particularly financial news. — This seems to go against secret #6, but whatever. I’m not willing to devote a lot of time to reading financial news, but it can be fun from time-to-time.
The rest of this book contains three wonderful chapters entitled: “The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made”, “The Smartest Thing I Ever Did”, and “My Advice to You”. The common threads? Far and away, the number one thing these people recommend is to start investing as soon as possible. As much as possible. (They also recommend getting a financial adviser, something I’ve avoided until now.)

I was going to include a point-by-point summary of Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki, but when I went to write it up, I couldn’t put Kiyosaki’s advice into words. I re-read a chapter. Everything seemed generalized. I did a google search, and found that not everyone agrees with the author. I, too, found the book amorphous and vague, full of outlandish claims. I thought it contained some kernels of wisdom, though, and so I’ve taken some of its advice, albeit with a grain of salt. I’ve incorporated advice from Rich Dad, Poor Dad in my general summary at the beginning of this entry, but I cannot recommend the book.

Other books that I plan to read soon include: The Millionaire Next Door by Stanley and Danko, Wealth Without Risk by Charles Givens, and Creating Wealth by Robert Allen.

On the drive to work today, I was remembering another time I was deeply interested in personal finance. When I got out of college, I went to work for Combined Insurance. (I still promise to tell that full story some day.) During training, we were asked to make a poster illustrating our life goals. I cut out a picture of a log cabin in a lush, green woods. My goal was to retire to a peaceful lifestyle within ten years. Ha! Now, fifteen years later, I have the exact same goal. Only this time, there’s a chance that I just might achieve it.

Pre-Crash Comments

On 26 April 2005 (11:40 AM),
paul said:

All these financial planning books seem to forget to tell you one thing. Write a book about financial planning and make a lot of money! Regardless of whether or not they follow their own rules, principles or plans, they are making money off selling their book. The all state that you should make money off of an asset that you don’t sit on. So, JD, get off your ass and write a financial planning book. It appears there is money to be made.

On 26 April 2005 (11:44 AM),
J.D. said:

I should note, because it’s appropriate, that I am proud to have purchased only one of these books. The rest I’ve borrowed from the library.

The one book I’ve purchased was Your Money or Your Life. Michael gave me my first copy. Yesterday, on the trip back from Bend, I found a used copy for $6.95, so I bought it. It’s now available to loan to anyone who might find it useful.

I recommend it highly!

On 26 April 2005 (11:56 AM),
Denise said:

I think this is a great entry. I have always struggled with my personal finance and just recently have gotten it under control.

I have to budget and I have to consciously track what I spend or I will over spend. I have gotten better at this, but it is still a constant battle for me. I think as I start to see the returns from not over-spending it will get easier as it has for you.

I think the getting your children involved in the family finances is very important (if you have children, that is). I wish my parents had done that with me. I had no understanding of financial responsibility and what damage credit cards can do. That was a long, hard lesson I had to learn on my own.

Great post – thanks, J.D.!

On 26 April 2005 (11:58 AM),
Denise said:

Hey – I wouldn’t mind borrowing that book if you don’t have any other requests yet!

On 26 April 2005 (01:00 PM),
tammy said:

My husband and I have no debt! Everything is paid in full including the house. For what it’s worth, here is man who bought his first home spanking new at 22 yers old. He bought his first brand new car at age 40. It was a Ford Expedition. We paid cash for it. Before that he drove only used cars.

His Dad died when he was 13 years old. At 15 he began working at a gas station. By 18 he was living on his own. Nobody helped him or gave him even one penny. He never went to college. He chose the trades instead. He is a steam fitter.

He never uses an ATM card. He doesn’t even own a debit card. He uses a credit card only for things like ordering over the internet or going on vacation. He gets the room and rental car with it. But on a daily basis his slogan is to take only the cash in his pocket to the store. He says people get in trouble when they take checkbooks or debit cards or anything that gives them full access to their bank accounts.

Today he is 47 years old and owes no man anything. We live in house that would sell in todays market for $400,000.00

And this is what this man says about budgets. I quote; “Budgets are for people who dont know how to budget.”

We have been together 19 years and have never lived on a budget.

On 26 April 2005 (03:31 PM),
Denise said:

Tammy, you say that you don’t live on a budget – but doesn’t your husband give you a certain amount of spending money every month? Is that not a budget?

On 26 April 2005 (04:30 PM),
tammy said:

Yes, he gives me 80 bucks a week. To him that’s an expenditure just like paying the electricity or paying the baby sitter or paying the gas bill. That really isnt budgeting. It’s paying a bill.

Budgeting is an itemized account of expected income in any given period. Then one forms a plan of operation from that itemized account. It’s intent is to make sure the money is there for the needed items and at the needed time.

No, when my husband gives me 80 dollars a week that does not mean he’s budgeted that money to go to me. Nor does it mean I’m living on a budget. I carry my credit card all the time. I have access to all of our accounts. I choose not to make use of that access. That’s why we now live debt free.

Neither of us live on a budget. But because we hold ourselves in check financially we have no need for a budget. The money is always there to pay the bills and to put into savings.

On 26 April 2005 (05:16 PM),
Johnny said:

For those of you who are wondering, that’s called a control issue. The only difference between “an itemized account of expected income in any given period…[combined with] a plan of operation from that itemized account” and doling out the cash like that is that the budget has never been committed to paper. My dictionary also includes “the amount of money that is available for, required for, or assigned to a particular purpose”. $80 per month seems like a budget to me.

On the other hand, kudos to prospering within your means. Most folks can’t do it, which is why we’ve such a high bankruptcy rate in this country (that and a lack of truly market driven credit practices that encourage poor credit and lending decisions).

On 26 April 2005 (05:29 PM),
J.D. said:

Though Johnny Doe — how I miss his weblog! — has a point, I agree with Tammy. To me, a budget specifically must be written down somewhere. Maybe that’s just me.

I’m developing certain limits in my head. I don’t want to spend more than $100 on books/comics combined. I’ve bend spending $120/month on restaurants; I want to reduced that to $80, or maybe even less. But I don’t consider this budgeting.

Of course, it’s quite possible we’re all just playing semantic games.

Johnny Doe’s right, though: the key is to live within your means. And, if possible, to live well within your means.

Our culture has been constructed so that it push push pushes us to spend spend spend on anything we want. Remember that I used to say that I lived paycheck-to-paycheck. I always had enough to pay my bills, but I always spent any surplus. I lived within my means, but only barely. I lived at the edge of my means. Why?

I have self-discipline issues, no doubt, but I’m also a willing participant in our society, a knowing victim of the advertising and marketing machines that surround us. The more we expose ourselves to mass media, the more we allow the media to influence our thoughts. We may think this isn’t happening, but it is. It absolutely is. The best-kept secret of advertising is that it works, and so our society descends into debt.

If I could evangelize the first step in achieving financial independence to all my friends, I would. Wait. Maybe I can. That’s what this weblog is for!

You heard it from me, friends! Even if you do nothing else toward financial independence, you can enjoy a happier, wealthier life if you simply eliminate debt, reduce spending, and increase earning potential. (In fact, those first two alone will do a damn good job of setting you right.)

Go read Your Money or Your Life. Read it and think on it.

On 26 April 2005 (05:49 PM),
tammy said:

This thing of semantics is exactly why my hsuband says that budgeting is for those who can’t budget. In esssence he is saying he lives on a budget but nothing is truly budgeted on paper. Whew sorta complicated but I still maintain there’s difference. ๐Ÿ™‚

On 27 April 2005 (09:11 AM),
Denise said:

Hmm…I don’t fall in the camp of ‘must be written down to be a budget’. If you are mentally saying we can spend $100 on fill in the blank a month then I consider that budgeting. Even though you have access to credit cards or bank accounts, if you make the conscious decision NOT to spend the money on say, a new pair of jeans or a new fishing pole (or whatever), you are budgeting yourself.

I think people (like me) who like to have it written down are just more anal than those that don’t write it down. Plus, since I know I am really bad at finances, if I have it written down I have a way to track my success.

J.D. – you say that you budget things in your head, but at the same time you track EVERY cent you spend in Quicken. Is this not in some form budgeting? You look and see that you spent $150 on comics and say to yourself, I want to spend less on comics. This in itself is budgeting, it is merely after the fact budgeting.

[Please note I am devil’s advocating here.]

On 27 April 2005 (10:04 AM),
J.D. said:

To me, a budget is a written document, a sort of contract with yourself (and/or with your partner). A monthly budget for my discretionary spending might look like this:

Books $100
Comic Books $100
Dining Out $125
Computer Stuff $50
Cable $50
Cell Phone $40
Groceries $200

These aren’t actual numbers, though they might be based on them. These are targets. Firm targets. In my mind, a person tries not to spend more than the budgeted amount. If I budget $100 for books, and I’ve spent $95, I forgo the new Stephen King novel until next month.

My parents worked with a budget for a while when I was a kid, and I know some couples who do so now. I’m not imposing these sorts of written limitations on myself. Yet.

Instead, I’m trying to change my actual behavior. (Budgets don’t change behavior; they simply provide external stops.) I’m trying to change the way I think about money. I’m trying to change my relationship with it.

On 27 April 2005 (10:22 AM),
Denise said:

Yes, but you are almost arguing my point. A budget is setting limits – whether it is written down or in your head.

Behavioral change is a good goal, but wouldn’t you say that your changing your behavior from ignoring your budget (or not having one) to remembering your limits? For example – when I didn’t budget, I would pay all my bills and then just spend whatever cash I had left over. In addition, if I ran out of cash and wanted something I would just use my plastic.

Yes, I know – that is very stupid and believe me, I paid dearly.

I guess I just look at budgeting as imposing limits to personal spending (not bills such as electricity) and sticking by it. It is interesting to me that you make the link of it having to be written down. I mean – Nick and I have a budget that we created in Excel – $90 for this, $250 for that, blah, blah, blah. That doesn’t mean that sometimes the $90 isn’t $100 or even $75 – it is just what we shoot for so we know how much to save, how much spending money is reasonable per week, whatever. To me, even though we write it down we are doing exactly what you are doing.

Do you not think you are budgeting because you feel there is a stigma to budgeting?

I find it interesting how peoples minds work so differently when dealing with personal finance.

On 27 April 2005 (11:11 AM),
Courtney said:

Uh, J.D., I still have your “Your Money or Your Life.” Sorry. I’ll return it next time I see you.

We are definitely on a budget (in writing). We have been for over a year now. The first year was training for this year, now that we have a baby and only one income. It helps us live within our means, which is mandatory at this stage in our lives.

Great post! Thanks for summing it all up!

On 02 May 2005 (06:57 AM),
Darcy said:

After reading dozens of “wealth creation” books I’m amazed that none of the authors has strongly suggested that luck has anything to do with the creation of wealth. It clearly does.
Person “A” buys a “fixer-upper” investment property, pours hours of work and a small bundle of cash into the property and after 5 years it’s worth no more extra than the investment of time, effort and cash.

Person “B” on the other hand buys an almost identical investment property, spends the same effort and cash and is rewarded with a windfall courtesy of real estate market madness ie the timing was perfect.

The trick, as a great competitor knows, is to minimize the bad luck.

Luck is a very real commodity that enhances any wealth

On 02 May 2005 (07:32 AM),
J.D. said:

Though the above comment borders on spam (Darcy apparently runs the web site for Kiyosaki (of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”) and his organization), I’m going to leave it. It’s informative enough, and there’s a good chance that people who find this page will want her information.

However, I must take issue with the “I’m amazed that none of the authors has strongly suggested that luck has anything to do with the creation of wealth” bit.

Yes, luck is a large factor in determining whether or not one can create wealth in the short term. It’s nearly impossible to get rich quick without luck; there’s no question of that. But getting rich quick is a sucker’s bet. There’s only slim chance that you’ll have the sort of luck that’s required. You might as well play the lottery.

It is possible to get rich slowly, however, with no risk, and with no luck. All that’s required is patience and discipline. To argue that some sort of luck factor is involved is specious.

(One of the books I recommend — 7 Money Mantras For a Richer Life — even describes how a poor black woman raising several grandchildren on her own was able to build wealth slowly by using common sense techniques, the techniques that the sensible books each emphasize, the techniques I’ve enumerated above.)

Patience and discipline are the sure keys to wealth.

On 13 May 2005 (01:47 AM),
mefite said:

Hi there, I followed this link from metafilter. This is really interesting advice – thanks for posting it!
I’m currently on Step 3, trying to build some income-producing assets. But this is something that always has me wondering: how does one account for inflation/cost of living increases when it comes to income production? It seems to me that the assets’ income never grows fast enough to keep up with what your spending will be, say in 10-20 years. Admittedly, I’m only investing in stocks/mutual funds (with dividends as the “income”) right now, and should probably look at other kinds of investments (if you have any suggestions, I’d like to hear them!) Thanks again, JD.

On 13 May 2005 (06:01 PM),
schmod said:

Although it’s not exactly related to the subject of personal finance, I would HIGHLY reccommend the book “Naked Economics” by Charles Wheelan. It really puts a different (more logical) perspective on money and the economy for most people.

Despite the fact that I typically find econ quite boring, the book’s a really fascinating (and easy) read.

ISBN: 0393049825

On 14 May 2005 (03:47 AM),
Debt said:

Kudos for writing the blog article, also kudos to all the comments. Personal finance, especially debt is such a huge problem. I myself have just recently gotten debt free. It inspired me to pick up a domain and start creating a site to help people get out of debt.

Budgeting is the cornerstone for getting out of debt. The main reason is that it requires discipline. The discipline then helps build your confidence in other parts of personal finance such as saving and paying down prior debts.

Great article.

On 14 May 2005 (03:14 PM),
Leon said:

Great article! I have link this article on this blog.

On 16 May 2005 (07:39 AM),
gregor said:

Here is a great site that has a lot of understandable essays in its Financial Sense University listings.

Buying mutual funds may not be such a great idea in all cases.

On 18 May 2005 (09:28 AM),
Juliana Atkinson said:

This is an awesome list. I read 7 Mantras–there is no way I could live as frugal as her. I think the best one I’ve read is Millionaire Next Door.

On 18 May 2005 (01:27 PM),
Nivi said:

A Random Walk Down Wall Street is the classic money management book for individuals. Read my article on it

On 25 May 2005 (09:30 AM),
brett said:

You can skip the Millionaire Next Door.. I just read it, and it can be summed up in one sentence: Spend less, save more. That’s it. The basic point of the book is that millionaires don’t look like they’re rich — they don’t spend a lot, and they save their money. Those who look rich, drive flashy cars, etc, are probably up to their ass in debt.

On 25 May 2005 (10:17 AM),
kuz said:

Re: Budgeting

A budget has helped us substantially. Here’s what we do:
1) At the beginning of the year, or when we change jobs or pick up new freelancing gigs, I project our monthly take-home pay and subtract out our agreed upon savings and involuntary expenses (loans, car, utilities, subscriptions, etc.)

Whatever is left is voluntary spending money we can buy anything with: groceries, shoes, beer, whatever.

For example, if:
-take home (after taxes) pay is $2500/month
-savings goal is $250/month
-car payment and insurance, utilities, Netflix, student loans = $750/month

That leaves $1500/month = $350/week to pull out of the ATM or spend with the debit card. Use a markerboard and update the total all week (We use Monday morning-Sunday night), and you’ll be surprised how it will help you make smarter decisions. When you have only $25 left to spend on Sunday, you’ll think twice before blowing $40 on chicken and beerrr.

One more thing. Transfer that savings to a savings account at the same time you pay your rent or mortgage. When you have to pay the man, you might as well pay yourself at the same time. If your cash flow is too low to take it out at that time, then reduce your savings goal to the amount you can actually swing without worrying about it.

On 25 May 2005 (10:32 AM),
Jamie said:

Great article. Thanks!

One point on which I will controversially disagree: Credit cards.

I use a dividend paying credit card for everything. Why? I get at least 1% back and because I use Quicken to track everything, I ensure that I never carry a balance. The result: In the last two years, I’ve earned about $750 extra dollars and have not paid the credit card companies a cent. Plus, I get the benefit of an extra month of cash flow sitting in an interest-bearing savings account (ING direct in my case).

I agree that credit cards can be used foolishly, but they can be used well too.

On 25 May 2005 (10:48 AM),
Dave said:

Nice summary. I have been following these general tips for 15 years. It came about because I was nearly bankrupt. I had debt, little savings, lost my job, and divorsed. Now, I have a 7 figure net worth.

I would say the best tips beginning with the first step are:

1. Save a minimum of 10% pretax earnings every month as soon as you begin earning income. I save 30% pretax every month. I don’t care what you have to give up to save 10%. Sell your car, find a cheap apt, etc… Don’t believe that you need to keep up with your friends and neighbors. Housing and auto costs are the top 2 discressionary expenses for most people. Spend what YOU can afford.

2. Save for emergencies. Put 2 mos in savings regardless of your current debt.

3. Pay off credit card debt. At 18-25% interest, this will kill you long term. Be very cautious if considering rolling over your credit cards for lower rates. There are almost always catches. Once your credit card debt is paid off, use your cards but, pay them off EVERY month. No excuses. Your credit card company will hate you but, you will become slowly rich. 2 credit cards are necessacary for car rental, short term emergencies, consumer protection and a good FICA credit score (this can save you 10’s of thousands long term in morgage interest).

4. Save for retirement. You will eventually want to stop working. You will become mentally or physically unable to work at some point. Trust me, you do not want to become a charity case. If your employer offers a 401K, max it out. This is pretax money. It is tax defered and often companies add matching funds. This is worth 100’s of thousands of dollars long term. If you do not have a 401K, get a SEP IRA, Roth IRA, or other IRAs. Contribute every month. Do not touch this money until retirement.

5. Invest. Buy highly diversified, low cost mutual funds. Buy world wide mutual funds. Don’t bother with individual stocks. Don’t bother trying to time the market by buying and selling short term. There are genius’s out there who do this full time and don’t succeed. Ther is no formula. If it was that easy, everyone would know the secret. Invest every month. Dollar cost averaging forces you to buy more shares when the price is low and fewer when the price is high. Re-invest the dividends. When you get to this point, seek the help of a fee only financial planner If a financial planner tells you to buy life insurance as an investment, run away.

On 25 May 2005 (10:58 AM),
Dave said:

6. Insurance. Choose the least amount of insurance with the highest deductables you can afford in the event of an accident or loss. You likely will also want a umbrella liability policy. You do not want to loose your nest egg because someone trips in your home and becomes permanently disabled.

7. Home morgage. If you are in a low tax bracket, less than 20%, pay off your home morgage early with additional contributions. But, do not become cash poor and home equity rich. It can be expensive to tap that wealth if you need it. If you are in a high tax bracket, do not pay off your home morgage early. Morgage interest is tax deductable and rates are low. In this case, increase your investing. If you think the market is overpriced, OK, pay more on your morgage. Generally, do NOT choose an ARM morgage. Interest rates can increase rapidly. You can always refinance when rates drop. Worst case, you may have to sell your house if rates rise because you can’t make the payment. At that point your house value may drop because the interest rates have risen, Yikes. If you are looking into an ARM, determine what the maximum payment will be if interest rates rise 10 points. If you can afford THAT payment, OK.

On 25 May 2005 (11:00 AM),
tiffany said:

I read “The Millionaire Next Door” and I can sum it up thusly:

“Live not just within your means, but below your means. Clip coupons. Buy a used car. Live in a smaller, less expensive house. Save and invest the rest wisely. No one gets rich by giving to charity. Manage your assets.”

On 25 May 2005 (11:01 AM),
tiffany said:

Oh.. I forgot one point: “Own your own business.” The book noted that entrepreneurs earn more and are worth more than employees.

On 25 May 2005 (11:53 AM),
Duane said:

There are just some absolutes that these books tout that I never was sure how to take. For instance, I have one credit card that I pay off every month. I just use it as a convenience, and the loyalty points don’t hurt. Should I tear that one up? Why?

Or how about my wife’s car? I’ve got a 4 year loan on that (late model used, thank you very much). I’m not sure that I could easily pay that off in 4 months just by adding some more to the principal. After that, my only debt is the mortgage. But lawdy what a mortgage it is.

I have a savings fund. Several, actually, in the form of cash on hand, index funds, and stock. Should I dip into those to pay off the car now?

On 25 May 2005 (12:38 PM),
Dean said:

One other thing is to make your saving automatic. Have 10% of your pay come right off your cheque and go right into an investment account automatically, without you ever having to remember to do it.

You will ajdust to living on what’s left over and you won’t even notice it.

See “The Automatic Millionaire”.

On 25 May 2005 (02:04 PM),
HF said:

One additional book I *highly* recommend (I’ve been working on this issue, too), is “How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously.” (Jerrold Mundis)

Based on the practices of Debtors Anonymous, but presented as a memoir/how-to, this book gets into *how* to convert tracking your expenses into a spending plan. He talks about budgets versus spending plans (a nuance of deprivation versus one of choice), and shows how to free up money for larger goals by “tweaking” spending categories.

One of my favorite things about this book is its advice that, no matter how broke or in debt, you *never* deprive yourself of any needs or at least a few wants. Severe deprivation can lead to resentment binging, joyless hoarding, etc. You pay current expenses, yourself, and old debt, in that order, and you don’t incur any new debt, ever, at all.

He gets into creating space for the new by paring down unwanted possessions and habits, and there’s also a nice touch of magic or kismet. Often, unexpected financial grace moments come when you take good care of yourself and focus on your true path.

This, by far, is my favorite financial health book, because it shows that it’s possible to go from *hopeless* debt to solvency, and even gravy. No pie-in-the-sky windfalls, but some heart-wrenching examples of people who were so deep in debt they were considering drastic, self-destructive actions, and how, step by step, they came out of crisis.

Also highly recommended, Sanaya Roman’s “Creating Money.” This allegedly “channeled” book may be too new-agey for some, but the tone and writing are spot-on. This is about seeing what you have already, cultivating an openness to all sources of wealth, practicing gratitude and generosity, and honoring your real talents. One of my favorite reminders from this book is that there are multiple ways to satisfy a particular desire, and focusing on just one form of satisfaction can make one blind to alternatives. So you look for the core desire; what does that “cabin in the woods” mean to you? Are there other sources available to you for creating such peace, privacy, coziness, time among nature, etc.

Along this same line, the one book I look forward to reading (and I’ve read dozens), that comes recommended by someone I trust a great deal, is “Spiritual Economics” by Eric Butterworth.

I do own Suze Orman’s 9 Steps to Financial Freedom. It’s a geat resource for information when making very specific investment, home-buying, retirement, will, etc choices.

However, for getting motivated & looking at the big picture, you can’t go wrong with Your Money or Your Life, Get Out of Debt.., and Creating Money.

For women, a SUPER resource is The Money Club, a peer-to-peer netowrk of local groups in which women help one another reach financial goals. (Not an investment club)

They have a website with good resources, but it’s the meetings, which include a combination of a financial topic and personal sharing, that ae the core of this program.

Another great online resource for women are the printable essays and missions at

Flylady is a seriously generous web-based community of (mainly) women who are working on moving from chaos (whether financial, social, in the home..) to clarity. Once a year, they have a pay-down-your-debt month, and members pay off astonishing hundreds of millions in debt.

Here are the archived essays and missions:

Flylady even offers a downloadable .pdf “Financial Control Journal,” with advice, worksheets, and money-saving tips.

On 25 May 2005 (02:15 PM),
Eliot said:

Great summary, J.D! I’ve been reading a lot of these books lately, too, and want to get a good footing before I find a wife and settle into normal adulthood. So far I’ve read “The Richest Man in Babylon”, “The Automatic Millionare”, “The Millionare Next Door”, and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”.

After reading a couple of books by Kiyosaki, I decided he was trying to pull a scam with the books. He has a few good points, but most of it could be summed up in a paragraph or so. He always refers to his other books and makes you think that you’ll find the real answers if you just read enough of his material (or play his ridiculously expensive “game”).

The best advice was from “The Automatic Millionare” and “The Richest Man in Babylon” (both say about the same thing): pay yourself first (save), make your savings work for you, and reduce your lifestyle.

Anyway, I guess I don’t really have anything intelligent to add. It is amazing that there are so many money books and they all basically say the same thing but yet Americans are still in severe debt. I hope I actually turn some of this advice into practice. I think a big key is to keep marinating my brain with this type of material and be around other people who are trying to get out of debt and save properly.

On 25 May 2005 (02:21 PM),
HF said:

Forgot one great resource.

I went to a women’s financial workshop with several speakers from different perspectives, and one was M.P. Dunleavey, a columnist with the Microsoft network Money channel.

I looked her articles up online, and found a real cache of excellent advice & practices.

For those daunted by budgeting, this one article gives a totally do-able system (in a nutshell, allocate 60% of income for fixed expenses, and 10 each for short-term & long-term savings, investments, and discretionary spending):

Here’s a convenient article index with topic and author:

On 26 May 2005 (06:37 AM),
MrE said:

Nice article.

I think that Personal Finance should be required course in High School and college! Two of my favorite books were Andrew Tobias’ “The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need” and Peter Lynch’s “One up on Wall Street” I also used to subscribe to Money and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazines (am a I dating myself?) back when they offered advice for the average person.

Anyways, the “snowball” method for reducing credit card debt works great. There’s an excellent free program (“Credit Card Math”) offered by that explains why credit card debt is so hard to pay off and demonstrates how using “snowball” greatly reduces payoff time.

The program does promote their other Debt Reduction Software, but the advice is sound. I actually purchased their software back when it was being distributed on floppy disk – you can use it do diff payoff scenarios. I’m sure the popular finance software available nowadays can do similar, but I haven’t used programs like Quicken and Money in years.

On 26 May 2005 (02:20 PM),
Mike Duffy said:

Since no one has mentioned it, I would add The Wealthy Barber, which tackles personal financial planning in the style of The One Minute Manager, i.e. a story. It’s definitely a “get rich slowly” approach, but the story makes it easy to get through.

On 26 May 2005 (05:55 PM),
Christine said:

My folks have been talking to me about money since I was a wee one. That means explaining to me and my sister that we could either go to the movies every week or go on a family vacation (we chose vacation and I still rarely go to the movies). They also talked a lot about mutual funds, savings, doubling rules, universal life insurance etc etc. When I was 18, they opened an IRA for me. Not exciting, but now I’m looking at buying a first home, I have good savings and no debt, and at least three credit cards that I have never carried a balance on.

So there’s the argument for sharing with your kids.

As for not paying off your morgtage… if you’re paying 4% interest (it’s a great market!) and that’s tax-deductible anyway and you can make a conervative 6% on your investments, you’re making that 2% for yourself, courtesy of a loan from the bank. I don’t think it’s a trick at all. On the other hand, it’s also not guaranteed.

Nice conversation here… thanks!

On 26 May 2005 (07:37 PM),
Karen said:

If you are a woman, I would suggest David Bach’s ‘Smart Women Finish Rich’ or any of his other Finish Rich books. I received my last raise by reading this book. It gives you the courage to speak up for yourself and not be scared to ask for what you deserve. Many studies have shown that a woman makes less than a man performing the same job, plus women live longer than men. We need to earn more money and know how to manage our money. Someone has mentioned ‘The Wealthy Barber’, that’s a good resource, too. I really liked ‘One Minute Millionaire’ and like some others I wasn’t that impressed with ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’.

Good post, J.D.

On 27 May 2005 (07:09 AM),
Xavier said:

“Involve your kids in the family finance”

This is important. I speak as a child of a family who is now bearing the fruits of they type of wealth accumulation advocated in these books. I can’t thank them enough.

“The Barefoot Investor” is a great read for students or those just starting out. It offers good advice for those who aren’t currently entrenched in a career or nursing morgages.

On 27 May 2005 (07:23 AM),
Keith said:

Thanks for taking the time to consolidate all of this great info and post it for us!

On 27 May 2005 (07:28 AM),
Avi Solomon said:

Thanks for the great summary. FYI ‘Your Money or your Life’ has a great grassroot community here:

On 27 May 2005 (11:42 AM),
Chrees said:

JD, thanks for summarizing so I don’t have to read those books!

This may be mentioned or just implied in the books, but making sure you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to money is very important. As is making damn sure when you get married it is for good (not trying to get into the morality or necessity of divorce, just the economic impact)–divorce can be economically devestating to both parties. I was fortunate in my divorce that both my ex and me had an easy division and were on equal footing at the time of the divorce, but in some aspects it was like starting over on some of the mentioned steps.

Regarding the Edelman book and the seeming contradiction between #8 and #6–I agree with him. Keeping up with financial news is important for your investments–if you left your money in stocks during 2000 and 2001, you would probably have considerably less worth now than if you temporarily cashed out (even after paying the taxes). While the saying “Invest in what you know” is true, I think it’s equally important to understand the market forces going on around you.

Again, a great discussion. Thanks to all.

On 27 May 2005 (02:39 PM),
Darren said:

I’ve seen a few people here talk about buying a car for cash as though this is a good thing or good accomplishment.

In most cases, this is one of the worst things you can do from a financial standpoint, especially if the dealership is willing to finance the purchase at 0%-3.9% like many do. Cars are a depreciating asset. By purchasing a car with cash, you are locking your money up in something that is *guaranteed* to decrease in value.

Most cars are $20,000+. That’s a sizeable chunk of cash that could easily be invested at 6% or more. If the dealership will finance your purchase at a reduced rate, you are much better off taking the financing and investing your money elsewhere.

Sure, you’d pay more for the car over the term of the loan because of the interest, but your invested cash will completely negate that difference plus generate a profit for you.

On 28 May 2005 (03:41 AM),
Alazka said:

A friend recently pointed out to me that, thanks to insanely spiralling property values around DC, I could theoretically sell the house I only signed a mortgage on six months ago and live on the interest alone back in Lesotho (a nation I’m quite fond of), effectively retiring at 38. One factor to bear in mind in seeking that financial independence is: there are many delightful places in the world where one can live quite comfortably on less than a thousand a month, so anyone who actually owns a significant piece of a house on either coast of the USA is probably already set for life if s/he’s willing to travel.

On 28 May 2005 (01:19 PM),
Scott said:

Re: Darren’s comment about zero or low-rate financing.

The cost of borrowing the money is actually substantially higher – the incremental financing costs are just buried in the acquisition cost of the car. If you can get 6% investing elsewhere, so can the financing company giving you the loan. So why would anyone loan money at zero percent? They don’t.

If you’re paying cash you should demand a sizeable discount over the price you pay if you’re financing.

On 28 May 2005 (08:27 PM),
Jim said:

Re: Budgeting

Here’s what we’ve been doing for two years now, and it’s worked very well:

1. Have your bank open a new checking account, and get a debit card attached to it.

2. Have your employer (if you have direct deposit) split some portion of your pay into the new checking account. You’ll have to figure out what’s appropriate for you though.

3. Use the new checking account for all the junk expenses — movies, dinner out, a new CD, etc. Essentially you budget a single lineitem for “miscellaneous expenses.”

I track every penny in and out of our primary checking account (to which all bills are paid from), but I completely ignore — except for the balance — the money in the junk account.

On 29 May 2005 (03:14 PM),
Betsys said:

My advice is very simple: save at least 10% of your income, ALL the time.

If you have direct deposit, arrange for your bank to take 10% off the top before you ever see your money. Do your budget as if the remaining income was all you had. If you don’t have a regular paycheck you have to discipline yourself. You can either accumulate the money in savings and move it to investments in chunks, or if you can, arrange for automatic mutual fund purchases.

I know this sounds inane: many people will say that they don’t make enough to save. My answer: if you were laid off, or if your paycheck was cut 10%, you would figure out a way to survive. So, just pretend. You can do it.

On 31 May 2005 (11:55 PM),
Ian Gilman said:

Also worth reading: ‘The Soul of Money‘, by Lynne Twist.

It’s not about financial independence, but about understanding and directing your relationship with money. A good complement to the other books.

Here’s what Vicki Robin (co-author of ‘Your Money or Your Life’) has to say about it:

“Lynne Twist, with great grace, beauty and conviction, is about to take away from you some precious and utterly failed illusions so you can claim, now and forever, truths that will set you free. She has earned these truths through years of meeting – soul to soul – some of the most and the least advantaged peoples of this earth. Let her speak to your heart and then test her suggestions… and see.”

And yes, I got my copy from the library.

On 02 June 2005 (08:34 AM),
Dimitri said:

Thanks for a great article. This is something I’ve been meaning to do myself as I have also read a handful of similar books.

I just wanted to mention one thing which seems to be missing: Tithe.

In the majority of books I read (including some of the abovementioned titles) there is a common thread of investing ~10% of your income and giving another 10% away to the needy (charities, communities, schools, etc.)

There seems to be consensus that although it doesn’t make financial sense, giving away a tenth actually brings in more wealth in the long run. This may have to do with karma – if you believe in that sort of thing – or maybe it’s just a psychological phenomenon … where, by willingly and happily giving money away, you lessen the chance of getting too uptight about the whole thing.

Some believe that money is a force that needs to flow (similar to water, air, chi…) when you hold on to all of it, it goes stale and is not productive. Give it away and it will come back to you hundredfold.

and that was my 2 cents (a very appropriate phrase, I think ๐Ÿ˜‰

On 02 June 2005 (11:21 PM),
Emmanuel kinobe Mugerwa said:

i really appreciate yo work.

i really appreciate your work.

On 02 June 2005 (11:22 PM),
Emmanuel kinobe Mugerwa said:

i really appreciate yo work.

i really appreciate your work.

On 05 June 2005 (06:00 AM),
Lance said:

One small item that seems mostly overlooked…

Getting rich slowly doesn’t mean giving up every comfort or luxury. Reducing your expenditures doesn’t mean you can’t spend $100 on a concert ticket or $2000 on a beach trip. When you can afford it.

Yes, during the get-out-of-debt phase it makes a lot of sense to trim all your expenses and get the interest monkey off your back. Once you’ve got a plan established, make a little room for some unnecessary necessities so you don’t go insane. It’s just as neurotic to reject buying anything as it is to be an obsessive consumer. Whether that is $150 a month or $5 will depend on your own situation.

If you can’t enjoy your life while you’re saving, you’ll have forgotten how by the time you’re “rich”.

On 07 June 2005 (08:38 PM),
The team said:

You know, wow! Thanks for taking the time to share this information.

This is truly a wealth of knowledge you’ve put together here. Everyone could benefit from investing some attention in building their financial literacy.

I think they now have a catalyst available to them for beginning that process.

Say, any other interest you’d be willing to share?

On 09 June 2005 (06:11 AM),
Stefan said:

Nice article. I wanted to point out, why the an emergency fund is of such importance, and also, why I think that $1000 may not be enough:

Imagine you put your money into some long-term contract. Now imagine, your car breaks down (lose you job, whatever) and you need a new one. And you need it today. What will happen, if you don’t have an emergency fund? You will have to dissolve the long-term contract to get enough money to buy a new (our used ๐Ÿ™‚ car, because you can’t wait to save enough to buy one.

Why is this bad? Because you will have to pay some kind “fine” for getting out of the contract early. Often you will also loose all the interest that you have been building up over the years. So basically you will start from zero (or less, because you will also buy that car). Without an emergency fund you would jeopardize your whole financial foundation that you are trying to build.

Instead, if you had an emergency fund things would have worked out differently. You would take the money for your new car out of that fund. That’s it. You don’t lose any insterest and don’t have to pay any fines.

Just remember to fill up that fund again after you bought your car!

So why is $1000 not enough for this? It depends. If you can live of off $1000 for half a year (not three month, that won’t do in my opinion — better save than sorry) then $1000 is fine. But just remeber: “Living of off” here means food, rent, gas, whatever PLUS any monthly payments for retirement accounts or basically anything that you cannot afford to NOT pay for (because that would cost you extra money).

On 09 June 2005 (03:43 PM),
Paul said:

With all these wonderfull words of wisdom, I don’t really know what to say. However I will give it a shot. I just began “Step 1”. I am now down to $1555 from $6000 in revolving debt. It took me 2 months starting with getting back almost $3,200 from the IRS, from 2004 and 2003 (I never filed the prior year…oops). With that kind of money, I decided to start paying my debt off and start saving again. At about the same time I landed a $20.00 per hour part time job and started becoming obsessed with my whole finacial situation. At this point, I am almost debt free and I started a savings acount with Capitalone at 3.15% APR…even better than Stage one is actually fun =)

On 13 June 2005 (07:20 AM),
serenity said:

J.D Thank you so much for breaking it down for me. It is so happen today I return home with a book “finance for dummies”. It’s a bit dissapointing because many of those doesn’t apply here since it is meant for someone living in the state (I live in Indonesia), but your points are so simple to follow.
Thank you so much. I just spent my first point last month, but it’s ok, now that I got the picture I can build my frame.

When we’re both rich, you’ll hear from me.

Good luck with the bathroom, and you know what they say, borrowing comic books meant more friends as long as you returned them (and it is quite tempting I may say ๐Ÿ˜€ )

Again thank you.. mmuuach

On 23 June 2005 (08:16 PM),
barkah said:

On the credit cards, i happen not to agree with the statement that they’re bad. They’re sometimes usefull if you are wise in using it. I collected the tips based on my experience here:

too long if i put it right here.

The main point is: credit card is not extra money.

On 26 June 2005 (08:46 PM),
Don said:

Great article. Thanks. I have The Millionaire Next Door and find it bland. However, Reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad helped me see the importance of everything you shared in your piece. I would highly recommend it to anyone who normally finds personal finance boring or difficult to grasp. It changed my whole attitude about my needs and possibilities. Keep up the good work.

On 21 July 2005 (09:16 PM),
jbelkin said:

Not disagreeing with you on the overall but you do need at least 1 if not 2 credit cards. If you travel or plan to travel, you are labeled as undesirable without a card. You cannot rent a car without one (a debit card generally has a limit of $1,000 a day and rental card companies put a hold on your overall rental + up to 100%). If you buy a ticket with cash, you are labeled a security risk and you will get the full wanding and pat down.

There are lots of cards with no fees and rebates so the they key is not to have no credit cards but to PAY THEM OFF at the next month. There are also lots of deals now where you can transfer your card to a new one with no interest for up to a year … and ironically, the more cards you have and DO NOT use or have a low % balance versus your limit, they will offer you more cards.

On 22 July 2005 (07:48 AM),
Allan Kochis said:

Check out
“Common Sense Economics” by
James Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup and Dwight R. Lee
In the section on personal finance they summarize their point for you!

PS. in my opinion a book worth owning.

On 22 July 2005 (07:52 AM),
Robert said:

linked from boingboing…

anyway, I am getting into the financial thing myself, going into my sophomore year of college one of my “adult friends” is trying to pass on the wisdom…so far I’ve read “The Richest Man in Babylon” and “The Millionaire Next Door” — I personally appreciated how while their styles were completely different (babylon == king james, TMND = info about today’s people) and yet their advice seemed to be the same (within reason, the babylonians didn’t seem to have problems with economic outpatient care nor saving for college)

But anyway, I dig this post, and you’re totally right, their wisdom is sufficiently boiled down to a number of points — but I do appreciate reading their books, the examples are great ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh, and they don’t profit off of me — I buy my books at half-priced books ๐Ÿ™‚

On 22 July 2005 (08:44 AM),
Chรฉ said:

An excellent post. I won’t go into my personal background, but I feel very strongly these types of books need to be read in every household.

A quick comment on one of your points:

“Secret #1: Carry a mortgage even if you can afford to pay it off. โ€” This flies in the face of every other financial book I’ve read, and I do not subscribe to the idea. I’m willing to be that the people surveyed carry a mortgage out of habit, not because they think it’s smart.”

You spend your money on investments, not liabilities. Paying, say, $150,000 dollars to eliminate a $1400 dollar a month debt is a bad investment. Let’s say your house is 150k, and you owe all of it. The national average for appreciation is somewhere around 10%. That means your house is appreciating $15,000 a year, and costing you $16,800. Take into account equity buy-down of roughly $150 a month on your $1400 payment, and you have $16,800 worth of equity gain a year. Basically a wash, and that’s FINE. If you pay off your house, you now spent $150k to eliminate a $16,800 a year cost. You now have $150k in a bank account you can’t touch (equity in your house).

Take that 150k and put it into something that gives you a 20% ROI (not unreasonable), and you end up with a 30k a year cash flow, which pays off your mortgage AND gives you $13,200 to invest. So now your total ROI is better than 20%, because you still benefit from the equity buy down that is occuring as a result of your home loan ($1,680/yr).

Mortgages are -goooooood-. Collect as many as you can!

On 22 July 2005 (08:46 AM),
John S. said:

Nice post. I came over here from BoingBoing. I have one comment on a previous comment: although I haven’t read all of it by any means, I think you should be very cautious about the site. Just reading a few articles at random it became apparent that it is “tinfoil hat” territory. I would take what they say with a huge grain of salt.

On 22 July 2005 (08:59 AM),
Chรฉ said:

Morning typos. That last number should have read $1800 a year

On 22 July 2005 (08:59 AM),
Kenneth Greenlee said:

Dear FoldedSpace,

First of all, great post. I don’t think we can ever talk about financial planning too much. Why? Because it must be realized by everyone that financial planning is not just for rich people! Becoming rich (aside from the trillion to lottery chance) requires financial planning.

Some points. FoldedSpace says he is not sure about housing: buy all you can afford? or only what you need? Is it a liability or an asset. The one thing that all the planners agree on (I believe) is that you should own rather than rent. I have read most of the books above and I happen to disagree mostly with Kiyosaki regarding a house as a liability. The reason is that no matter what we have to house ourselves and that costs money. My view of housing is that if an acceptable (but not lavish) apartment would cost me $700, then my task is to find housing that costs me $700 a month to own. Anything above that is a true liability. I found and purchased a 4 unit building (in which I live in one of the units) in New Orleans which costs me around $2000 a month and which brings in around $2000 a month in income. I don’t regard this as a breakeven situation. I regard it as being $700 a month ahead, as I would have to bear the housing costs anyway.

Final point. Paul said in the very first comment:

“All these financial planning books seem to forget to tell you one thing. Write a book about financial planning and make a lot of money! Regardless of whether or not they follow their own rules, principles or plans, they are making money off selling their book. The all state that you should make money off of an asset that you don’t sit on. So, JD, get off your ass and write a financial planning book. It appears there is money to be made.”

Actually there is a book out there which says just that! It is called “Multiple Streams of Income” by Robert Allen, author of the famous “Nothing Down” book on real estate. in it he says (from memory): “everyone has a book in them. I (Robert Allen) calculate that I have made around $20 per word per year from the book that I have published.” Not a bad return.

“Multiple Streams of Income” is very good. One of its strengths is that it gives very concrete recommendations. Of course there is a lot of handwaving, but it not a book of only handwaving.

That’s it!

On 22 July 2005 (09:02 AM),
Jeremy said:

Two Additional Notes:

1. As several people have already pointed out, use direct deposit to make your savings automatic. I have a hunk of every paycheck redirected to a savings account at a different bank. I can’t stress enough how much of an impact this will have on your savings. The best piece of mail I get each month is the statement for the savings account. I do nothing and the number just keeps getting bigger!

2. Eliminate as many of your monthly recurring fees as possible. Cable? Gym membership? Storage space rental? Netflix? Trash or minimize as many as possible, then add up how much you will save per year.

On 22 July 2005 (09:21 AM),
Mark K. said:

For anyone looking for an easy way of keeping track of expenses, I’ve been using the Dome Simplified Home Budget Book. It’s just a book of simple, blank Excel-like charts in which you write the money you spend in a certain category per day. (In case you have more than one expense in a category, you can keep a small calculator handy). Then when you do your monthly totals you compare them with your budget in the last column.

IMHO, this doesn’t have the flair of Quicken, but it CAN be taken with you out and about–which is where I do most of my purchasing. I also have a small accordion file for receipts (so now I know exactly where they go when people give them to me). Anyway, I’ve found it very useful.

The total cost of the book, a small calculator, and the accordion file is probably less than $15.

On 22 July 2005 (10:48 AM),
Mike said:

I am a bachelor and I save 75% of my net income. I really don’t understand why so many people accumulate so much debt. How do they sleep at night? I am 35 and plan to be partially retired (only doing part time fun jobs) in my early 40s. You credit card debt guys should try it. It’s fun to be responsible.

On 22 July 2005 (11:06 AM),
chele said:

Just wanted to repeat; great thread! Thanks for taking the time to write it out. I have read some of the books and noticed the similarities and wondered if they all sounded so much the same. Now I know they do indeed!
Thanks again…

On 22 July 2005 (12:40 PM),
Jeffrey Allen said:

Why is it easier to find investors/lender then it is to find eligible companies wanting capital?
[email protected]
Las Vegas

On 22 July 2005 (01:42 PM),
Steve said:


Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! That is exactly it! We do it too, similar ages to you. The best thing you can do for yourself is get rid of your debit card, they are for idiots. If you aren’t scared that your life can be completely compiled nicely for an irs goon, then you are just to stupid to really understand how this works and why. Good luck!

On 22 July 2005 (03:42 PM),
Sue said:

Great article

On 22 July 2005 (04:29 PM),
shwonline said:

Great thread!

We carry only one major credit card, which is tied to a specific major airline’s frequent flyer program. $1 spent = 1 mile. We use it a lot, but only to buy what we would have bought anyway. If I have a choice of cash, check or credit card, I use the card. We pay it off in full every month.

I also use this same airline whenever I have a choice in my business travel, as does my wife for her business travel.

We use the accumulated miles to buy airfare and other incidentals during family vacations. We have been able to afford vacations to Hawaii and London this way. It costs us no more, and saves us thousands.

The only other time we ever acquire credit cards is during shopping for back-to-school clothes. If we are buying hundreds of dollars worth of clothes, and the store will give us an extra 15% off for signing up for a card that day, we’ll do it. As soon as the bill arrives, we pay it, and cancel the account. This takes caution and discipline, and I would not recommend it as a regular strategy for most people. However, it has saved us a bundle on occasions.

One other seemingly small thing we do is to order only water at restaurants, including for the kids. We’ve done this all their lives, so they don’t know the difference, and they recognize that it’s a special treat to get something more. For a family of four, this adds up to hundreds of dollars a year.

On 22 July 2005 (06:02 PM),
greg said:

Interesting sight France, thanks for turning me on to it, Greg

On 24 July 2005 (12:12 PM),
Sebrina said:

It was not until I was separated/divorced from my financially-illiterate husband that I really was able to start building my personal finances in a positive way. NO NO NO…I am not advocating divorce, but I am saying to you single folks BE CAREFUL who you marry if one day you want to become financially independent. Both need to be of the same mind to make it work.

One more comment…i agree about the credit cards. Get rid of them. if you are like me and find it mentally excruciating to commit to paying off the balance each month or to stay away from the limit, credit cards are not for you. I keep one just for car rentals and stuff, but it would be better if I had none.

On 24 July 2005 (12:49 PM),
sennoma said:

Nice one, JD. Picked up by Rebecca Blood now. I second Paul’s advice: write a book. There’s enough material in this post alone. Ethical reason: it’s good to have the same ideas presented in a lot of different ways, because different presentations “click” for different people, and because comparison among different presentations yields bedrock principles. Slightly less ethical reason: I bet you’d make a ton of money.

On 24 July 2005 (09:37 PM),
Marina said:

I have read many of the books mentioned and agree with most of them. I would suggest two others that I liked: “Live Rich” and “Die Broke” by Stephen M. Pollan. Good luck!

On 25 July 2005 (02:58 AM),
Fazzy said:

Thank you.

On 27 July 2005 (08:15 AM),
Ganesh said:

Nice discussions!

I dont think credit cards are that bad if you use it wisely. I have a major credit card which gives me upto 5% cashback. So for all my necessities I am using my credit card and each cycle I am paying it off fully. As a result at the end of the year I am getting whopping 2 to 3% adjusted interest on my expenditure approx as a free money.I take it as my gift for being self disciplined.

What do you have to say about it?


On 03 August 2005 (01:19 AM),
Gerard said:

Dear JD,

Thank you for this post.
I was not sure which books to purchase, but now know that the one I purchased was enough. And you summary of all the books will help me greatly.
Keep up the good work.

With regards,


On 16 August 2005 (02:06 PM),
Michael said:

Thanks for a GREAT summary of financial books. I have been looking through some of the books, hesitating pulling the trigger on any of them.

My wife and I only have two “big” debts…my student loan from college, and our new mortgage from building a house….no credit cards and no car pymts. I have been looking at way to move retirement money into some better money making investments.

Thanks for a great post, I will stick it in del.icio.ous and refer to it often.

On 19 August 2005 (05:31 PM),
Holly said:

Of course, someone writes a fantastic article and along comes the spammers. :-p

On 27 August 2005 (10:58 AM),
Andrius said:

Great article! Worth tens of books about personal finance, but totally free. Thanks!

On 16 September 2005 (05:17 AM),
Glyn Simpson said:

Good read. Although not explicity named, ‘pay yourself first’ from The Richest Man in Babylon is a philosophy I believe in, and have successfully used.

On 08 October 2005 (12:07 PM),
emma said:


this is my first post. i can’t say that i agree with all that you have stated but do with most of it.

first, i have read some of the books that you mentioned, all of which i own. the main reason i purchased the books was to develop a library of financial wisdom for myself and my children.

second, i agree with much of what you said about kiyosaki and his book rich dad poor dad. to me it seems more of a compilation of ideas influenced from think and grow rich, the richest man in babylon and who knows what else. like you, i was unable to narrow down his keypoints and therefore lacks clear and practical application. i am a believer in reading, so this book is recommended. i don’t find it crucial for wealth building however.

i am a huge fan of dave ramsey and own 2 of his books, total money makeover and financial peace university revisited. he is one of the few financial experts that offer practical application of financial ideas and goals. i highly recommend both of his books.

i absolutely enjoyed richest man in babylon. the manner at which clason presented practical ideas was done so creatively and memorably. i personally recommend this book and am happy to have it in my library.

think and grow rich is a much more difficult reading book but has great insight into harnessing the power of the mind to generate wealth.

thanks for your input.