Category Archives: Samurai Time Management

Success and Motivation at Your Fingertips:   Put Your Library on Speed-dial

Use e-bookss to power your life

It’s been a great summer.   I finished graduate school in Library Science in May.  Though this summer “vacation” I’ve been busy training for my new job as a high school librarian,  I’ve also had more time to listen to informative and fun podcasts, read for pleasure and establish the mini-habits I want in my life.   There’s a little more guitar, writing, exercise and joy in my life.

Part of what has made my summer more interesting is putting the library at my fingertips by putting books on hold and through various e-reader apps that allow me to tap into the library.

i have a regular card and an educator card through a program called MyLibraryNYC. My “keys” to success.

It’s not that I am just checking out more materials.   Getting more books and materials is part of being more excited about constant learning. I’m at the edge of jumping into a new career,  I’m listening to great podcasts that lead me to great books and resources.  Through the library I can have that extra information and inspiration within days or seconds.

The best learning happens when you can have a resource “just in time.” I have a growing but temporary collection of distraction free physical books and also a small collection of powerful books that I can read from my phone or tablet.

The library is an often untapped resource that can help you transform your business or skills.  September is Library Card Sign Up Month but it’s always a great and convenient time to get a library card.  If you are not a big library user here’s a couple of pointers: Continue reading

Streak Your Way to Success

You don’t have to be a super hero.  Just try a little bit every day.

Touch it everyday

Touch it.  I want to touch it every day.   This is my new winning strategy to skill acquisition.  In previous posts I’ve been examining how I’ve been using the “Mini Habits Mastery” course in combination with the app to keep track of the new habits I want to make.

However, what I want to focus here is a little digital tool that can make a big difference–the streak.  If you are going to win, you’ve got to make daily contact with your skill.  Maintain a streak of “touching” your skill every day and make a big difference.

Feed the slow steady fire

If you can’t study a lot, at least maintain your streak of making contact with the skill.   Duolingo, the language learning app boldly reminds you, “Learning a language requires practice every day.”  Michael Palmisano, my guitar teacher at Udemy says in his video courses that it is better to do a little bit every day than to try to tackle it all and not build the muscle memory that daily practice takes.

If you can’t do five minutes a day go for a streak Continue reading

Mini-Habits: (Don’t) Break the Chain

I’ve been enjoying the Udemy app so much I have become an affiliate.

It’s been an app-y summer.   I’ve finished graduate school and though I am preparing to start a new career as a school librarian, there aren’t as many looming deadlines and forced readings as last year.   I’ve installed a few apps and I’m rolling with them:

  • Simply-e–which allows you to use your New York public library card to borrow books to read on my tablet
  • Epic–to get online picture books for my daughter
  •  Sworkit—provides a variety of workouts without a gym
  • Udemy–an app for learning new skills online from various content providers
  • Chains–an app that lets you track and maintain new habits

Using the Udemy website and app I’ve been  watching the “Mini Habits Mastery” course on Udemy.   In short,  this course explains that in order to create new positive habits you need to go teeny tiny and small.  (Thanks to Rob Schwarz, a friend and an NLP trainer who suggested the course.  You can reach out to him at for more cool ideas).

Great course on how-to of building mini habits

The course has been worth it to me even though I’ve been mostly listening to it on my walks in Japan as opposed to watching the video content.   It’s been worth the price because it has allowed me to jump start some habits and think about how to maintain them.   The course itself really digs in deep in an informative and entertaining way so check it out.
However, the main point I’ve gotten from the course is that you have to go infinitely small to develop habits that you want to sustain you.   For example, if you want to get in shape, set the goal of doing one push up every day.  If you want to write, set a goal of writing fifty words a day.

The Mini Habits course does a much better job of explaining why you would want to do this.  However, here is my understanding of the power of mini-habits:

  • setting super-small goals and actually being able to do it every day ingrains life-long habits that can transform your life
  • tiny, do-able habits get you on the page, to the gym and lead to increased forward momentum
  • mini-habits encourage “bonus reps”and often lead to exceeding mini-habits
  • Mini habits help you to insure you have your “tools” out for further creation…my mini-habit may be to out the guitar in my hands for two minutes but it puts me in the position of playing more if I want to


Easy to use checklist with great quotes about the power of building habits

I have game-ified the Mini Habit process with, an app that lets you track your habits and try to create chains.   Every day that you practice your habit you swipe to the left on your the app and create a new link in the ongoing chain


When you turn your phone sideways you can see the chain of habits you are creating with cute images.

So far I haven’t broken a chain because it would be so sad to break the visual picture.  What’s more important is that I’ve gained some momentum on goals that have seemed formidable.   I signed up for some Udemy guitar courses and asked have practiced at least two minutes a day.  It’s just two minutes so why not keep the chain going?

So far I’ve noticed some powerful advantages to this chains and mini-habit fusion:

Picture your on going chains of success. Part of my success with this so far is not wanting to “break” the picture by skipping a mini-habit day.

  • It’s fun.   Because the daily goals are very low stake it’s easier to have s feeling of success at the end of the day.
  • Momentum leads to “bonus reps” as the authors of Mini Habits call it.  If I have the guitar out to do my two minutes it’s easier to do more.   The mini habits author explains not to secretly raise the bar because it’s the mini aspect of this system that makes it work.
  • The chain effect makes it harder to forget where I was, whether it is the latest blog idea or the names of te guitar strings.

So far it’s only been a week but it’s been a quiet but powerful way to change up my summer.   Hope you will join me.   Become part of the chain gang.

Time Pressure Samurai

I’m sitting by a large window in a cafe in Manhattan, facing the East and hoping to get some rays of sun before I head into to the cave of work.  I have five more minutes before I have to go.   I am a imagetime pressure samurai.  You can become one too.

Time is at a premium these days which is why you haven’t heard much from me these days.   I’m a public school teacher with two children.   I’m getting a graduate degree in library science and spending as much of my “free” time as possible at school libraries and library trainings.

There seems to be very little time.   But here is this cafe window and a cup of coffee that gets cold within thirty minutes.   I use this little “window” of time every morning to create or study and connect.

It seems many personal and fun projects have gotten away from me.   So instead of despairing I go through little “me paces,”  short little bursts of activities that I want to do:

  • read inspirational or professional articles one page at a time
  • review of a current notebook
  • Review an old notebook
  • study Japanese for five minutes using I know
  • study Tagalog
A little bit at a time

A little bit at a time

I usually get into the cafe around 7 a.m. and have to leave by 7:40 to get to work on time.   This is also the amount of time it takes for my cup of coffee to get cold.   I pile up my reading and notebooks and set my iPhone to the side.  I read a page, review a notebook page, review an older notebook page.

Then I open my cellphone and study iKnow (a program with pre-packaged sentences in Japanese), write three sample sentences, and quiz myself on the rest of the work.  Since I have my iPhone at hand, I use Mango to study Tagalog.  I’m studying this language because I have a few Philippine friends and I thought it would be fun.   (The app and access to Mango is free through many public libraries.)  Tagalog is not a major goal so I only study five “cards” at a time and this study session takes two or three minutes.  Lately, since I realize having the iPhone in hand means access to many goals, I have also started writing and editing an article on how to keep a Samurai Mind Notebook.

Though I spend very little time on each activity there are several benefits:

  • A little bit every day keeps the neural chain going–skills are never completely abandoned
  • small attempts clear the ground for when there are moments of time–raking the leaves a little bit each day instead of waiting for a big wet leafy mess
  • its fun–it keeps little candle of hope and fun burning

Take it all a little bit at a time. Become a time pressure samurai.

Back in the Kanban Flow!

This is an interesting way to organize the flow of your work life.

KanbanFlow is an interesting way to organize the flow of your work and home life.

I’m back like the Phoenix from the ashes–or the busy teacher in graduate school.    Summer is here and I’m in Japan for the summer.   I am taking two online graduate classes through Syracuse University as I slog along the path to becoming Juan the Samurai School Librarian.

My Samurai Mind notebook is still a lifeline.   I pour everything in there now, including my graduate classes.  Normally, I would suggest keeping separate notebooks but this school year I have been in time survival mode.   The boring-est of graduate class notes are mixed in with inspirational quotes.   Sometimes the graduate stuff overwhelms the inspiration, but the inspirations are like little nuggets that keep the process fun.   Once the unit or class is finished, if the information from the classes are not inspirational, I put a huge X across the page once the class is finished.

This is my Writing board.   I've written a lot more since I started this board.

This is my Writing board. I’ve written a lot more since I started this board.

My newest summer toy is a website called KanbanFlow.    It is my latest time management tool.  I’ve just had it for a week.    Basically, I can add tasks to several columns:   to do, do today, in progress and  done.    I can move the tasks you create from one column to the other.   The “in progress” column just has room for three tasks, because in reality it’s hard to do more than three tasks at once.  For me, it serves as a reminder of what I am actually doing.  In the world of Facebook, notifications, text messages, etc I really need the reminder of what I am doing.   When I start to wander to Facebook, I look at the chart and remind myself of what I’m actually supposed to be doing.

A Pomodoro counts down from 25 minutes.  This is the stopwatch option that allows you to measure how much time you are working on a task.  It can be motivating.

A Pomodoro counts down from 25 minutes. This is the stopwatch option that allows you to measure how much time you are working on a task. It can be motivating.

If I really want to get fancy, the site lets me set a “Pomodoro” for the task that I am currently on.   Usually it sets a countdown timer for 25 minutes.   At the end of the time and the effervescent ring, I can claim the time or “pomodoro” if I’ve been on task or I can deny it if I have been off-task (i.e. looking at Facebook).   The nice aspect of this is that the time you claim adds up and gets added to your task card.  This way you can track the amount of time you’ve been on a certain task.   Kanban is  a nice way to ”gamify” productivity and creativity.

When I create cards, I can create subtasks within the task.   This is a great feature that allows me to guide myself through various projects.  For example,  I am currently studying three languages:  German, Tagalog, and Japanese.  When I click on the study Japanese card, I can check off little subtasks: study IKnow, surusu, Jpod101, read fun manga/book, watch fun Japanese stuff on Youtube, etc.   The checklists lets me know where to go and also where I have been.   When I get done with a task, I can move it to the “Done” column.  In the morning or when ever I look at my kanban board again, I can move the tasks that I do repeatedly back to the “To Do” column.

The kanban board encourages me to accomplish more while being more flexible.   There is something very pleasing about moving a task to the Done pile.  I’ve studied a whole lot more of the different languages this way.   On the other hand, having a board to look at gives you a lot of options to choose from depending on your energy level and interests.   If I get tired of writing my blog, I can move to do a teeny, tiny language lesson.   KanbanFlow allows you to create several boards.  I call one the Masterboard, where I can see the various kinds of task that I am interested.  Then I have other boards for the different contexts I find are important to me: School (everything from planning lessons to individual student concerns),  Library (graduate studies and planning to create a school library), Writing, Union/Advocacy, and Family/Home.

I have the Premium (5$/month) version but you can just play around with the free version to see if it helps you with your productivity.  I also didn’t shop around a lot, so this isn’t an endorsement.   I needed something to help me harness my time and options and I ran with it.    I also have an app called Kanban for One which works on a similar principle but I didn’t like that I couldn’t synch it across devices.  However, I still use it for times when I can’t access the internet–long plane rides, etc.  The whole kanban process was originally done on paper strips. Yay sticky notes! and white boards!

I have 5;47 remaining to finish a snappy conclusion.  Move it to the right and get it done with kanban!

How to Get Ahead Without Losing Your Head

Get ahead without losing your head.

Get ahead without losing your head.

I finally got around to picking up a copy of The Last Samurai:  The Life and Times of Saigo Takamori.  After watching the Hollywood Tom Cruise version of history, I realized it is time to get a real historian’s re-telling of this transitional period of history.   Saigo Takamori is the “real” last samurai, who rebelled against the central government.  Long story short, Takamori loses his head.   The central government tries to find it but can’t.  That becomes a problem.

For me reading this chapter was an opportunity to turn great history writing into a schlocky self-help mantra:  How to Get Ahead Without Losing Your Head.   In truth, this is what this whole blog is about: how to move your mind and life forward without self-abuse.

One of the key germs for this life approach was All Japanese All the Time.  I was beating myself up about how I wasn’t learning Japanese and stumbled upon this website.   Khatz, the founder, explained that you could learn Japanese by doing more fun things in Japanese and through consistent but micro moves such as SRS flashcard reviews, and a whole host of techniques.  What AJATT helped me to do was be gentler with myself and keep trying, probing, and most importantly looking for the fun opportunities.

I haven’t made learning Japanese a big priority though I still make it a daily habit.  (I am treading water, but I still know a hell of a lot more than if I had kept on beating myself up.)  However, through my AJATT methods I’ve learned how to get ahead without losing my head.  Khatz explains in “Why are Third Rate Ideas Better than First Rate Ideas”:

Here’s the trick to making deep, long-term, self-directed language-learning work.

Don’t do ten good things.

Do one good thing. One day. At a time.

And not even a very good thing. Just a good enough thing. Just barely good enough.

I think this is a great idea for making “deep, long-term, self-directed” growth work in areas beyond language.  Be gentle but push forward.   The samurai mind notebook is a great way to do one good thing.  Put your daily inspirations/vital information and review–just a little bit if you can’t do more.
Get ahead without losing your head.

Take time each day to reclaim your samurai mind.

Automatic Samurai: Sprinkler Systems On!

Screen shot 2013-12-02 at 7.12.51 AM

How can you water your dreams? Your mind? Your soul? Set up gentle “systems” for yourself to sustain growth and wonder.

I just finished my Building Your Personal Foundation course through CoachU, taught by Susan Abrams.   I was excited and challenged and by the idea of creating “automatic sprinkler systems” to fulfill various needs.   For example, I realized that one of my needs was energy.   Last week I joined the YMCA located near by job.  Oh yeah, and I actually went.  Y-M-C-A!

Needs may not be completely satisfied but it seems that you can at least create systems that challenge you in that area and increase the potential of moving forward.  For example, one of the needs that I isolated was the need for motivation and inspiration.  I may not be motivated or inspired all the time but I have started to play with  some systems and rituals that have the potential of kicking me back into motivation and energy.    Here are some of my “systems”:

  • What I read–I’ve always been kind of a self-help book junkie but I’ve added a few titles to my kindle:   Words Can Change Your Brain and Loving What Is.   Both of these books were suggested by Susan Abrams.   I keep the reading process fun.  When I am no longer inspired by what I am reading I move on to the next title and then switch back.
  • Who I hang out with:   people provide the frameworks and conversations that can motivate and inspire you.  Part of the benefits of starting the coach training program is that I get to talk to people who are focused on moving forward  I’ve also been experimenting with finding a positive spiritual community.
  • What I write and say:   I am not censoring myself but I am playing around with something I call “Happiness Journal.”   Inspired by a little page from Words Can Change Your Brain, I am taking time in the mornings and evening to write three things that made me happy.

Finally, I realized that my samurai mind notebook is actually one of my automatic sprinkler systems.  If I put ideas from projects and quotations that excite me, review them regularly, I have those thoughts as part of the conversation.   I may not listen to them but at least they may challenge the crappy mood and change the terms of what I think is possible.

What I like about everything that I’ve been hearing and encountering is that none of it commits me to becoming a happiness robot.   All the work I’ve come across acknowledges that there will be periods of darkness and –err–shades of gray.   I think the trick will be to set up “systems” that challenge the darkness without becoming inflexible or ignoring the depth and color of life.   Join me.  What are your sprinkler systems?


Bend Time Like A Samurai: Personal Kanban

I found the kanban idea so useful that I created one to use in the Writers Room.  I used the format used in the app "Kanbanfor1" that includes "Things to Do" "Next"  "Doing" "Waiting" "Done" and a trashcan icon.  In the app if you try to put too many stickies in the "Doing" box it turns red because you can't be doing too many things at once.   It's made a big difference in organizing my time.  It really helps me to have physical reminders of what I am doing right now and what I have accomplished in a day.

I found the kanban idea so useful that I created one to use in the Writers Room. I used the format used in the app “Kanbanfor1” that includes “Things to Do” “Next” “Doing” “Waiting” “Done” and a trashcan icon. In the app if you try to put too many stickies in the “Doing” box it turns red because you can’t be doing too many things at once. It’s made a big difference in organizing my time. It really helps me to have physical reminders of what I am doing right now and what I have accomplished in a day.

Last week we trooped the family to Bushwick to visit another family.   The husband was really excited by a new time management system that he was using called “kanban.”   He uses it not only to organize his own life but also to manage workflow in his job in software development.   He even gave me a copy of the book that lays out the principles of why this time management system works called Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life.

Kanban is a Japanese word for sign, board, etc.  The set up for this board can begin very simply.  You can have three columns:  backlog, work in progress, and “done.”

  • The Backlog.   The backlog includes items that are traditionally included in things like “to do lists.”  However, most kanban systems rely on sticky notes (physical or virtual) because visualization and movement of tasks is really important.  You need to see what your options are and then “pull” from your options to move into.
  • Work in Progress. This is where you move items from the backlog that you are currently doing.  The trick to this is that you should limit how many tasks you are doing at once because multitasking can become a dangerous juggling act where nothing actually gets accomplished.
  • Done.   This is self-explanatory but so far I’ve discovered that it is really liberating to have this.   First of all, it’s fun to move things into the “done” column.   The second part is that it is also feedback.   I have a bigger picture of what I am accomplishing or the nature of my work and effort.

I’m still exploring how to use this tool but I was so excited about it that I had to include this in the blog.   It really helped to calm me down at the beginning of the school year.  As a teacher, I deal with so many things at once that the beginning of the year can seem like a chaotic swirl even before the students arrive.   Though I hadn’t finished reading Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life, I realized that it was a tool that could help me tame the beast.

I started to put items that I needed to take care of on my “backlog.”   After looking at all the items, I realized that the two best things that I could be doing were cleaning and organizing my classroom by circling around the classroom and also organizing my personal kanban.   Those two items were actually pretty synergistic.  As I came across and organized physical items, I came up with ideas to put on my kanban.   At times, I became overwhelmed but then I could look at “Doing” or “Work in Progress” section to calm myself down and focus.  At the end of the day, I had moved several items to the “Done” section.   This “Done” section not only gave me a view of what I had accomplished in the day but also gave me a deeper picture of my work.  I also realized that if I file these “done” slips I can document what I am actually accomplishing with my time.

I am also co-teaching with someone for the first time.  I get so overwhelmed concentrating on my own work that I often don’t know how to ask for help.   She looked at my kanban and since she doesn’t have her own room, decided to help by organizing my bookshelves.  (Physical organization is something I am working on.)

Kanban is a tool that originally came from Toyota, so it actually a “samurai” tool.  Even though I haven’t fully sussed it out, I know that a lot of people are making new starts this fall, so give it a try or read more about it at  Pull don’t push.  Bend time like a samurai.

The Law of Language and Skill Attraction

Keep tinkering with shifts in your environment to attract your skill.  I recently discovered using iTune radio to listen to Japanese radio stations.  Shake it. Shape it.  Your environment that is.  :)

Keep tinkering with shifts in your environment to attract your skill. I recently discovered using iTune radio to listen to Japanese radio stations. Shake it. Shape it. Your environment that is. 🙂

First of all apologies for the title but it just spoke to me.  I’m not some guru who has mastered all skills/languages and can dispense laws from a mountain top.   I am on the path like everyone else, though now I’m enjoying it a whole lot more than I used to.   The other reason that I felt compelled to use the title is because I am reading Thomas Leonard’s The 28 Laws of Attraction:   Stop Chasing Success and Let it Chase You.   This book doesn’t come from the mountaintop either but it’s getting under my skin and helping me ask different questions.

When I read Leonard’s chapter, “Create a Vacuum That Pulls You Forward”  I couldn’t help thinking that Leonard’s ideas were key to developing skills such as learning a language or learning a musical instrument.  Leonard explains that “being pulled forward is attractive; pushing yourself forward isn’t.”   Leonard recommends some steps to make that possible:

  • Realize it’s better to be pulled forward than it is to push yourself forward.
  • Put yourself into creativity-stirring situations.
  • put yourself among friends and colleagues who bring out your best.
  • unhook yourself from who you were; this will let you be pulled forward

When I read this, I felt like I was rediscovering   (With two children and a busy work life, you have to forgive me that I keep mentioning Khatz’s website.  It’s helped me change a lot of things.  Plus, I don’t get out much.  🙂 )  He was able to learn Japanese fluently not only by studying but by also transforming his environment so it was fun and er, “all Japanese all the time.”  You have to arrange the environment so it pulls you in.  It’s not just about Japanese.   Khatz explains that if you want to run more, have your shoes ready by the door.  By changing my environment ever so slightly–having the guitar out of the case and other small changes–I’ve been writing and playing more.

Here are some quick ways I’ve been incorporating this “Law of Attraction” into my life, especially in the language arena:

  • Create  the environment that pulls you in.
    Surround yourself with the fun and interesting books, music, and people that will pull you into the language or skill.  At first, this meant that I kind of rejected manga and looked at self-help books.  Now it means finding/fumbling around in the manga that I do enjoy.
  • Find the fun part in the hard part.
    Don’t be devastated that you don’t know something in a foreign language or any skill you want to acquire.  If you are looking at a manga page or a flashcard, look at what you do understand or what seems intriguing or just fun.  Keep yourself wanting more.
  • Delete what is dragging you down.
    I fought AJATT’s advice to delete flashcards that just drained me, now I am more like a black widow spider.  I study a card and if it bores me.  I delete.  Create a vacuum by deleting clutter, time and mental drains.
  • Use little gimmicks that pull you in. I am not learning Japanese/guitar, I am just moving that little progress bar a little further today.  Learning all of Japanese may seem like a lot of work but its more fun to just see the “progress bar” move a little on for example.

    Mastering something can seem intimidating.  But hey, I can play the game of "moving the bar" just a little bit.  Satisfy the game-playing part of your brain with little celebratory games.  Who knows?  You just might get further than you thought possible.

    Mastering something can seem intimidating. But hey, I can play the game of “moving the bar” just a little bit. Satisfy the game-playing part of your brain with little celebratory games. Who knows? You just might get further than you thought possible.  This is a screenshot of my progress bars from

There is a time for pushing, there is a time for pulling.  But if you are starting to grind your wheels and not really enjoy or flow in the process, think about how you can create a vacuum that pulls you in.  Enjoy the “suckage.”

Overresponding Samurai: Stop the Drama and Do Something

Overresponding doesn't have to be hectic.  Use your snail power.

Overresponding doesn’t have to be hectic. Use your snail power.

In four  more days, my family and I will leave Japan and we will be back in our semi-hectic work/school mode.  I am spending more and more of my days preparing to teach rather than studying/immersing Japanese and doing all my other side projects.  I needed a little self-help fun, though, and since I am taking classes at CoachU I decided to read a book byThomas Leonard, one of the founders of personal and career coaching.

I am still undecided about what I think about The 28 Laws of Attraction:  Stop Chasing Success and Let it Chase You but I am happy to be doing some trashy self-help reading.  However, one of Thomas Leonard’s ideas keeps getting stuck in my head:  “By overresponding of overreacting, you evolve.”  I”ve already gotten my money’s worth from getting that phrase in my head.

By overresponding, Leonard was talking about being fluid, active, and creative in confronting the issues and problems we come across.   Leonard was unhappy with his chosen career as Certified Financial Planner.  In the process of “overresponding” he became a personal coach and went on to start several coaching schools including Coachville before he passed away.

Another overresponder I constanly refer to is Khatzumoto over at All Japanese All the Time.  He wanted to learn Japanese and “overresponded” to it by “by spending 18-24 hours a day doing something, anything in Japanese (“all Japanese, all the time”).”  He emphasizes using fun materials as a way to actually learn Japanese.

Nowhere in Leonard’s book or do I see anything encouraging you to flagellate or hate yourself as part of overresponding.   That is overreacting.   Overreacting stops action, even fun actions that can help you develop your skill, learn a language, or move a business or life forward.  Even when overreacting leads to action, the negative crud attached to it can lead to resistance or worse.

I don’t write this as someone who has mastered the practice of overresponding vs. overreacting.  I’m just a motivational blogger who lives down by the Hudson River.   The truth is that some days I am just a hot mess.  I’m writing this to motivate myself because any time I stop listening to the drama and pick up my pen, my guitar, or a fun Japanese book, the universe smiles and a puppy is rescued from a grizzly death.

Become an overresponder.  The life that you save may be your own. Or a puppy.