Tag Archives: lifehack

Make Every Day a New Year’s Day: Small Samurai

One little step.  Take one small action.  Make small the new "big."

One little step. Take one small action. Make small the new “big.”

Right now it is December 10th but it feels like the New Year has already begun.   I’ve joined a gym and I am actually going.   I’ve initiated the process of exploring a spiritual community.   I’m not waiting for the New Year to get moving on projects and ideas.

It all started by going through my book shelves.   I finally realized that I was getting tired of having so many books that I hadn’t read.  I made the decision to go through each shelf methodically, reading at least page in each book and stopping when I got bored with the whole process.   Part of what has sparked so much learning these past few years has been my experience with All Japanese All the Time, which emphasizes working with working with the “neutrino” of small actions accumulating to immersion in Japanese.   The “mediocre choice that leads to excellence” can be applied to other things that you want to shift in your life.

Once I started going through the simple act of one page of every book on my shelves, I experienced a quickening.  I gave myself permission to stop but as I went through my books, the old dreams and inspirations were rekindled and I continued.   When I got to the bottom of the shelf in my bedroom, I decided to make a pass around the whole apartment, slowly reviewing, cleaning, reorganizing, tossing, and reigniting ideas, projects and resources.

The new year is approaching and for some people it is a time to set big goals and make major transformations.  But why not start the New Year now with some small action.  Make small the new big and start by picking one “corner” to begin with.   Clean out your purse (or murse).   Be gentle with yourself.   Celebrate and move on.   Repeat.  Make every day a New Years Day.

 

 

Take the Toys and Run!: Samurai Mind Notebook

Screen shot 2013-09-29 at 8.59.50 AM

A samurai notebook is a toy for the mind. It should have fun bits and ideas that you can run with. Play is important.  photo from unprofound.com.

I keep what I like to call a samurai mind notebook.  It is a notebook where I keep project ideas, inspirational quotations, and useful information.  I review the notebooks so that eventually everything is reviewed after 2 days, 4 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, etc.  If the ideas stop being interesting or useful to me, I cross them out.

What happens with a samurai mind notebook is that I start picking up the pieces so I can play with them again.  It’s not just review for review’s sake but also shake up my mind and give it little forgotten cat toys to play with.  When I review my notebooks not only do I review information but I also review inspiration.  I pick  up on ideas and states of mind that made me excited.   These quotations and inspiration all get another  to be “part of the conversation” of my busy life.

Reviewing my samurai mind notebook is not some dreary, rigid, self-flagellating study in obligation.  It is a chance to let inspiration and interesting knowledge become part of my mental DNA.  Steve Chandler, author of Time Warrior and a host of other transformational books wrote,  “Be conscious of your real loves.  Keep self-inquiry alive.  You don’t drop it, you include it, and align it.”   A samurai mind notebook and the scheduled reviews is one way to keep that love alive.

I often miss scheduled reviews, but the notebooks are always there to re-light little fires.  I didn’t haul of my notebooks to Japan  so I’ve recently unearthed a few notebooks and have reviewed while on the train or waiting to get a hair-cut.  Here’s a few of the tidbits I found:

  • fun questions and thoughts and inspirations from Zen and the Art of Making a Living
  • notes from a summer coaching workshop
  • random inspirational quotes
  • great ideas for teaching that I had forgotten
  • ideas for courses I am developing for my students
  • little pieces from The Little Book of Talent
  • fun and useful Japanese sentences from various books

Theoretically I would have reviewed everything on a schedule but I came across entries from six weeks ago that had only received a two week review.   That is okay.  The beautiful thing about the samurai mind notebook process is that eventually everything gets its review and a chance to play in your mind again (or be marked out and “trashed”).

Pick up a notebook.  Pick up the pieces and play.  Take the toys and run.

 

 

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 personalkanban.com.  Pull don’t push.  Bend time like a samurai.

Shave it Samurai!

Thinking about shaving time made me think of shaved ice.  In Puerto Rico, we call it "piragua."  My favorite is shaved ice with tamarind juice.   If you are busy getting organized and shaving time, make sure to stop, put a little flavor on it and enjoy.

Thinking about shaving time made me think of shaved ice. In Puerto Rico, we call it “piragua.” My favorite is shaved ice with tamarind juice. If you are busy getting organized and shaving time, make sure to stop, put a little flavor on it and enjoy.

I used to think that getting organized was for the anal retentive crowd, but more and more I realize that getting organized is about honoring time and honoring life.   Even though I can be organizationally challenged, I’ve realized that the more organized I can be, the more time I can save for what is important/fun.  Shave time to save time to honor time.

Let it start with color.   I used to go to the Writer’s Room and fumble with my keys for minutes until I could find the right key to open my locker and take out my laptop.   Finally, I decided to color code my keys.  Over a year, I now have a couple of extra hours to write and check my Facebook work on my talents.  I’ve also color coded all the folders for my students.  I’ve saved hours of searching around through this simple move.

Little time savers like this have freed me up to do more meaningless bureaucratic paperwork inspire students.   Shave minutes to save minds.  (Or, is it save minutes to shave minds?)

Of course when you shave minutes, you also have to believe that something can happen within little windows of time.  I learned about timeboxing from a cat named Khatz.   I’ve learned to use my little wrist stop watch to push forward with my writing, guitar playing, and Japanese studies.   Basically, little boxes of time turn “pushing” into a little game.  How much can I get done before the time runs out?

Shaving time means thinking strategically about the things that drive you nuts and take precious minutes away.  But it also means being prepared to “roll” with your skills and dreams.   For example:

  • the guitar is always on its stand with tuner close by.  No going to the closet or opening up bags.
  • as much as I can, leave tabs to different study sites open (sururu, anki, iknow, jamplay.com, etc).
  • notebook is always at the ready to catch ideas and inspirations.   Even if the notebook is messy, my constant reviews means that those inspirations become a part of the mix.  Reviewing actually “shaves time” by not having to waste time trying to dig up lost ideas

Shave time.  Shave ice.   Don’t forget to have fun with it.  Put a little syrup on top and cool down.  Shaving time is about shaving your life.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

“Weaponize” It

In real life, swords and spears are a little too pointy and scary.  As metaphors they great.  Nice quote from Boldt:"The Warrior is totally alive. He accepts his life and his death.  Most people accept neither.  They live in terror of death and muddle through life half asleep, scarcely aware of the dangers and opportunities that lie all around them."

In real life, swords and spears are a little too pointy and scary. As metaphors they great. Nice quote from Boldt:”The Warrior is totally alive. He accepts his life and his death. Most people accept neither. They live in terror of death and muddle through life half asleep, scarcely aware of the dangers and opportunities that lie all around them.”

I’m trying to re-envision for work, for myself,  my audience and students.   I bought Zen and the Art of Making a Living, by Laurence G. Boldt, many years ago but was put off by its size and its tendency to ramble.   But I’ve decided to put a few minutes each day into reading it and its starting to get its grip on me.   Zen contains a lot of questions and exercises to reflect on your life, vision, and how to translate that into a career.

The effect of Zen and the Art of Making a Living has the potential to be even more powerful because I have put key parts of it into my samurai mind notebook.  A samurai mind notebook is just an over the counter-notebook that I fill with inspiring ideas, skill work, and reflective exercises.  What “weaponizes” the notebook is that I review these notebooks on a rough “Spaced Repetition System” schedule.   I have an easy to use system where I am reviewing my notebooks 1 day, 2-3 days, 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year basis.   If I hit upon positive knowledge or inspiration or even reminders to follow up on different projects, I place that in the latest notebook.

Reviewing my notebook, helps me create my own inspiration and information ecosystem, that reminds me of what is important to me and through others’ word helps me expand in areas where I want to grow.   Looking at my notebook provides a little immunity from the information ecosystem that the media provides us: despair, statistics, stories of violent crime, etc.   So instead of picking up the daily rag and reading about who is divorcing who or who killed who, I get a little message that directs me to myself and to how to best serve the world.

For example, one of the fun ideas I’ve gotten from Laurence Boldt is the idea of playing the career game without getting to wrapped up in it.  I put one of his affirmations into my samurai mind notebook:

Because I choose my career with full awareness, I am able to play with intensity without getting serious.

I wrote that quote into my notebook on June 9th and then came across it again in relaxed reviews on June 10th, June 11th, and June 13th.  I would then come across that thought a week later, two weeks later, etc.  If upon review, my spine tingles and my heart quickens and I realize I really need that thought right now, I will copy it again into the latest notebook entry so the thought gets further looped into my daily routine.  A useful thought is now further “weaponized” into my  mind.

Keeping a samurai notebook is one way to fight for your life.  A notebook helps fight against mental decay, despair, and has the potential to multiply the benefits of any self-improvement work you are doing.  Pick up that pen.  Use it.  Weaponize.

Give Up Samurai: We are the Two to Five Percent!

Work can be play.

Work can be play.  Give at least two to five percent a day to play/work towards your dream/goal/skill.

So it is in any situation you find yourself, no matter how overwhelmed you feel, no matter how much you may feel you are at the mercy of things that are just beyond your control, some part of it is within your control:  2 percent, 5 percent, who knows?  There is always something you can work on.   And often changing that little bit results in a whole lot.  . . . Above all else, it gives you Hope.   I am not as powerless as I thought.   –Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute?

I don’t know about “Hope” with a capital “H.”   I’m not a Presbyterian minister who writes career books like Richard Bolles.   But I’m really grooving on the idea of finding the space were you can move towards the two and five percent.  We can move daily into the 2% to 5% that you can claim for your skill,  dream,  job search, or vision of what the world could be.  By moving ever so little forward you also reclaim  a part of yourself, samurai.

Even if you never reach proficient in your skill or reach the goal, you may just experience collateral benefit.  For example, I’ve been studying Japanese off an on for ten years.   The first six years or so were whiny self-loathing years.    Then I started to pick up some new methods and inspiration from All Japanese All The Time.  I started infusing fun into studying Japanese.   I learned about timeboxing.  My Japanese is a lot better, but what I discovered is that there have been “collateral benefits” to taking on this seemingly-formidable goal.  I’m writing more.  I’m being more persistent in guitar.  “. . . changing that little bit results in a whole lot.”

You don’t have to give 100%.  It’s awesome if you can devote your days to your goal or skill, but the all or nothing mentality can often kill.  What’s going to add up faster–a couple of weekends a year of 100% or daily shots of two to five percent?  Don’t let today’s poem die.  Yes, you may be tired but what’s a measly two to five percent?  Drop the seeds and let the flowers bloom.

Ronin Samurai: Go for Nuggets

No matter how long the path, don't forget to stop for nuggets!

No matter how long the path, don’t forget to stop for nuggets!

Yeah, well I don’t really know a lot about samurai despite the title of the blog.  But I do know that ronin samurai were masterless samurai, who lost their position through various events.  According to Wicker-pedia, in Japan “ronin” also refers to “salarymen” who have lost their jobs or students who failed to get into university and will try again.

In this shifting economy, we can all become ronin at some point.   That can be terrifying and at the same time liberating.   Furuichi talks about spending 30 minutes each day in continuous improvement.   I think in terms of placing little nuggets of inspiration and skill in my samurai mind notebook.   I love self-improvement books and one of the ways I reward myself for study “pushes” is by using little five minute explorations of self-help books.

One of my recent nugget discoveries is the career guide What Color is Your Parachute?  2013.   What I never realized about this book is that Richard Bolles, the author, updates it every year.   Every year he rethinks his advice and also thinks about the economic climate.   In the 2013,  he makes a point of really addressing folks who are unemployed.  He paints a useful picture of the difference between two unemployed folks.  One is glum and ready to blame.  The other one is not happy about his situation but:

 . . . he wakes up each morning glad to see the sun, puts on beautiful music, walks a great deal, counts his blessings, is in a job-support group, focuses on other people’s troubles, not just his own, is a great listener, spends each new day trying to be a better person than he was the day before, remains active in his job-hunt, tries to learn something new each day, essentially sees life as an adventure, and is willing to wait patiently for the next Act to unfold . . .

I think this is great advice even if you currently have a job.   Job hunt your own job to make it more interesting.  It’s also great as you are approaching your various learning projects.  Khatz over at ajatt.com  points to this “hunt for the nuggets” approach when he explores how to learn a language:

The journey of getting used to a language is so psychologically long that it can’t merely be a means to an end. It must become an end in itself. It must become its own joy, its own reward. And this perspective, this mental state, doesn’t require too much imagination or discipline or training to reach. Anyone who’s been on a road trip with friends knows: the destination is almost incidental.

Wherever you are in your ronin journey, find something to enjoy.  Don’t forget to stop for nuggets!

Shut the Samurai Up and Give Up!

This image is from a great book in Japanese that translates into 100 Tricks to Get Better With Guitar.   It has a lot of practical practice tips and also tips that I think could apply to life beyond guitar.  One of the tips is whatever you do have fun and also do it your way.  STSU, give up, and do it!

This image is from a great book in Japanese that translates into 100 Tricks to Get Better at Guitar. It has a lot of practical practice tips and also tips that I think could apply to life beyond guitar. One of the tips is whatever you do have fun and also do it your way. STSU, give up, and do it!

“Practice with no hope of fruition.”  Terre Roche

I’ve practiced more guitar lately because I have given up.  I’ve given up on becoming great.  I’ve given up on having to know everything instantly.  However, I know that I am not so helpless that I can’t find five minutes.  Sometimes I start five minutes, make connections and the fatigue fades away.   Or not.  However, no one can take those five minutes away.

Yesterday’s five minutes connects with yesterday’s five minutes.   Or not.  A little breath feeds the fire, keeping the mind and heart a little more awake for today and the next day.  Or not.

As far as guitar is concerned, I’ve taken the approach that with my limited time I will practice and study from all ends.  Maybe some day it will “all come together.”   Or not. After reading, Guitar Zero, I decided to buy guitar teacher extraordinaire’s “Fretboard Vitamins.”   I’ll steal Roche’s words to explain it:

The method uses contemplation cards and exercises to help the student tame the geometry of the fretboard and develop a strong sense of relative pitch. This innovative teaching approach was praised by cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus in his new book about music and the science of learning, “Guitar Zero“.

I love the beautiful red box they come in and the gorgeous pictures.  Will the vitamins work?  I don’t know.  I just started.  But I like the idea of a new way to help mix fun, theory, and the senses.

Part of what was stopping me was panicking about the right methods, books, etc.  Did I have the right books?  Am I doing the right lessons?  Am I having the right kind of fun?  I decided to “Shut the Samurai Up”, push just a little bit and when I’m finished pushing, noodle around on the guitar.  I picked a theory book to push on for five minutes a day.  I put the Jamplay lessons on surusu electronic flashcards with links to the lessons, so thinking about which lessons to review will be less of a drama queen moment.

I’ve decided to shut the samurai up, give up and try anyway.   “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Or not.

Samurai Addiction: Become A User

This book is huge but I like it.  Reading it on an iphone breaks it up into bits.  I skim until I get to the interesting parts.  I use it as a treat to keep pushing.  Yes, nerd alert.

This book is huge but I like it. Reading it on an iphone breaks it up into bits. I skim until I get to the interesting parts. I use it as a treat to keep pushing. Yes, nerd alert.

I’m reading on the cloud these days and loving it.  I bought a Kindle from a friend and am enjoying the fact that I can read a book “on the cloud.”  I can read on various computers, my ipad, and my iphone.   Ironically, it is not available on the actual kindle.  I am reading The Making of Modern Japan, a massive book that I actually own a print version of.    The estate of the author, Marius Jansen, is probably enjoying a few extra cups of coffee thanks to me.  Reading on the cloud has become addictive but I am learning to use the addiction.

The Making of Modern Japan is not in Japanese and thus takes me a little bit away from my goal of Japanese fluency.  But reading on the cloud has become addictive enough that I have learned to use it.  When I noticed how much time and attention I was putting into the book, I decided to use the energy.  In order to turn the page, I do a rep of electronic surusu flashcards.   (What I really appreciate about these cards is that pretty soon after you do a few, it congratulates you on “repset finished” or something like that.  You feel a sense of accomplishment and can move on.)  You can substitute any short 2-3 minute “push” activity.  After you finish you can briefly return to your non-harming addictive activity.

So the next time you find yourself complaining that you just wasted a bunch of time looking at Facebook, think about how you can use the addictive pull towards healthy pushes.  After checking a screen full of statuses, slide over to your guitar, tune it, and do one little exercise.  Hey, don’t blame me if you end up practicing for half an hour.  🙂  You don’t have to practice for half an hour.  Just five minutes and you can go back to your virtual paradise.

Of course, I could hybridize my crack and find a really addictive book in Japanese and double the pleasure.  But this book has been beckoning me for years but because of how large it is and how I have perceived time, I have avoided it.  Now that I can read it in so many places, I am enjoying it.  (I gloss over the mind-numbing stuff about bakufu administrative structures).   So instead of being pissed off at myself for reading in English, I am surfing the pleasure wave and using it as an incentive to push a little more in Japanese.

Use your non-fattening, non-harming mini-addictions.   Become a pusher.

Push ‘n Play Samurai: Small Steps Big Results

2013-03-23-07.01.44

This is the last hint in a Japanese book called, “100 hints to Becoming Better at Guitar.” Have fun with your “pushes” and “produce” the life you want. (I would love a great translation of the caption in this book.) You can do this in any area of your life.

My little music theory experiment continues.   Music theory has scared me in the past but I have books that I have accumulated over the years that have laid dormant and untouched.   I have decided to take one book, Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist, pulverize it into little digestible bits and put it into my samurai notebook.   Each bit doesn’t take me more than two or three minutes.  Today, I will draw the F major scale in my notebook and call it a day.

Because I review my notebook, I will be seeing my new friend a few more times.  In the two months since I started this, I have progressed nineteen pages.  Because the bits are so small the process has actually become fun.  I have become a push ‘n play samurai.

There is no grand guardian blocking your path to any field of knowledge.  You don’t have to own it overnight.  There should be no,  “I am not worthy.” There is nothing you have to do to be worthy. You are already “blessed” with the ability to breathe and think on this beautiful and complicated world.  It’s a lot easier to start from, “what would happen if I just push a little bit and try to have a fun.”  Here are a few little tips:

  • you don’t have to put your creative/learning pushes out there for the world to doubt, hate, question etc.  I’m putting my little music theory push out there as a public service announcement but there are other pushes that are under the cloak of silence
  • you don’t have to know where you are going . . . I don’t really know if understanding music theory will really help my playing.  But it has seemed impossible, and that’s part of why I’m attracted to it.
  • keep thinking small is powerful.   Khatz, the dude over at alljapaneseallthetime.com, calls his immersion service Neutrino.  Teeny tiny particles.  According to wikipedia, my vast samurai mind powers, “a typical neutrino passes through normal matter unimpeded.”  When you pulverize your new skill into do-able bits, it’s you will pass through skills you’ve seen as obstacles before.
  • Don’t break the neural chain, man.  (You have to say this in a hippie voice!)  Even if you pick up your guitar (code, language, piano [ouch!], business plan, etc) for five minutes, you are making the next day of practice a little easier.

You won’t always feel great, but I think you might just get a lot farther than if you just beat yourself up about how you don’t know fill in the blank.  Skip the drama.  Become a push ‘n play samurai.