Category: Productivity

My treadmill desk

I’ve been wanting a treadmill desk since 2005, when I first read about James Levine putting one together.

(Reference one of my comics from 2005’s Christmas newsletter:)

Treadmill comic

Steve and I are not quite as penurious as we used to be in 2005, and it was reading this blog post by Ann Marie Michaels where she credited much of her increased activity to her treadmill desk that I decided to bite the bullet. I also pinned a number of DIY treadmill desks to a new Pinterest board.

That very weekend, I went on Craigslist, and lo and behold, there was a $180 treadmill for sale literally around the corner from our home. And we even had our friends’ truck in the driveway after a car-trade-for-a-day sort of thing. Perfect! In a matter of hours, we were owners of a Pro-Form 725 FP. It seemed massive.

Treadmill

We had a random piece of white melamine shelving in the garage. I had Steve hold it against the treadmill. Pushed up against the top edge of the angled handlebars, it was a good height for a keyboard. I took some scrap 2×4 and drew a rough angle for a cut. With two screws on each side, I now had my Treadmill Desk Beta.

Treadmill desk beta

The screws weren’t countersunk so they stuck up a little bit, but they were far enough out that it didn’t bother me.

Top of treadmill desk beta

To attach the supports, I used Velcro dots and strips that we already had on hand.

Underside of treadmill desk beta

Treadmill handlebars

Here’s how it looked in our bedroom:

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But where I really wanted it was in the office! Naturally, I picked a time when Steve was not at home to help me. I managed to scrape the floor nicely as I shoved the treadmill down the hallway. Then I wrestled the treadmill across the short span of carpet. And then I was stuck.

Stuck!

After removing the office door and making use of the doorways and closet opening, I was able to finally swivel and pivot the treadmill into the office. (At one point, it was standing up on one corner, wedged against the walls, and I had to crawl under and around it to get to better angles!)

Yay!

Then I moved it into the place where my filing cabinet, with printer on top, used to be. The file cabinet was now in the middle of the room (you can see it in the picture below). The printer got moved to our new upright file cabinet in the other corner of the room. Luckily, it’s a wireless printer, so location wasn’t important.

Treadmill in place

I took it on a test run, moving my work-issued laptop and setting the keyboard into the built-in book holder. I configured my Bluetooth mouse and keyboard and successfully walked and worked for the first time! I did this for a couple of days — using my Mac at my desk for most of my work, and moving to the treadmill when I had to do stuff on the PC.

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Things got serious when my Amazon order arrived. I purchased two articulating wall mounts ($22.99 each) and a second monitor (20-inch, $99.99). My other monitor is 22 inches, and I approximated that I would have about that much room to work with if I put them up side-by-side.

The wall mounts arrived – a box inside a box inside a larger box. Really, Amazon?

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I had to install a new surge protector onto the bottom of my declutered desk’s pegboard so that cords would properly reach.

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Then, I put up the first wall mount and mounted the new monitor.

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Connected to my work laptop:

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And it swings to the side…

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… leaving room for the second wall mount. I needed Steve’s help to strong-arm the bolts all the way into the wall for this one!

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Second monitor mounted and connected! Although I was rather annoyed that the insert-and-click post of the monitor stand is not designed to be removed, short of taking a hacksaw to it. Thank you, Samsung.

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For now, I put my Mac on the top shelf of my Ikea Jerker desk (another Craigslist find from a while ago) so that the monitor cord would reach.

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That was all well and good, but I’m guessing it’s not great for a laptop to be continuously jostled by the movement of someone walking on a treadmill. So, using some half-inch plywood that we already had on hand, and using some shelf brackets we already had as well, I made a shelf.

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The shelf has a little slot cut out in the back so that cords can go through… and you can see the Very Basic Shelf Brackets that I’m using.

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I covered the shelf with a few coats of polyurethane, leaving it the natural color of the plywood (with a slight “ambering” effect).

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The shelf was also positioned with about a half-inch of clearance to the very top point of the treadmill, to provide as much room as possible for my Mac laptop screen to open underneath.

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Because this is what I wanted: Mac laptop open on the shelf with external monitor above, and PC external monitor above.

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After working on this setup for a week or so, I was ready to make the final version of a treadmill desk. I was envisioning something with natural-looking wood, matching the shelf, but with friendly curves instead of hard corners. I had some quarter-inch plywood in the garage, just enough, in fact, for my new desk, so I cut it to shape with a jigsaw and countersunk the screws.

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I made the bottom supports longer – and spent a lot of time with Steve patiently holding the board with a level on top of it so that I could get the angle just right.

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I filled up the screw holes with wood filler and put on a coat of polyurethane but then realized the wood filler didn’t pick up the “ambering” effect AT ALL. They stood out visually like sore thumbs. (No picture.) So I ended up sanding the whole thing off and using Minwax Ebony stain (had it on hand in the garage from the treasure chest we made a long time ago). I applied the stain twice, letting it soak in for 15 minutes the first time and 2 hours the second time (I forgot about it!). Then I applied two coats of polyurethane to the top and one to the bottom (getting impatient!).

And here it is!

Treadmill desk

The dark brown actually blends nicely with our dark wood floors.

Here’s a picture of the supporting pieces underneath. I wasn’t initially going to stain underneath until I realized that you could see the side supports, and now I’m glad I did the whole thing.

Treadmill desk underside

Because of the longer supports, I added on a few more Velcro dots.

Treadmill desk attached

Contrast with what I had before:

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The desk feels much more secure now – before if I leaned on the front part of it, it would start to tip off.

Everything is the same as before – Two mounted monitors, Mac open, PC closed, and box of Kleenex at the ready. I put my water glass and coffee on the top shelf of the desk so it’s easy to reach.

Treadmill desk setup

I use a Mac wireless keyboard. I miss my extended keyboard that I used at my desk (but it’s wired), so I may eventually get a full wireless keyboard. Oh why doesn’t Apple make a full wireless keyboard…? I love the feel of the wireless one – it’s so narrow and polished. Then, I use my Logitech Bluetooth mouse. I got this a while ago, although I have a functioning Wacom Intuos 2 Tablet/Stylus/Mouse, because when I started using Synergy to share my keyboard and mouse between my Mac and PC, the Wacom didn’t work with Synergy. Now that I’m doing all my work on the treadmill desk, and facing the reality that I haven’t used my Wacom hardly at all except for some minor drawing in Illustrator and to sign my name on PDFs, I’m cutting the ties and getting rid of it.

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(The Field Notes notebook and fancy Pen Type-A have nothing to do with my treadmill desk system but are there for show.)

So yes – with one wireless keyboard and one wireless mouse, I’m able to use my PC and Mac simultaneously. AND walk on the treadmill! (There are times when the work I do requires me to connect to another network on the PC, and the high security measures on the government site kicks off Synergy. In that case, I pull my PC laptop down to the treadmill desk and use the built-in keyboard and trackpad to work. But it’s still nice having the external monitor so I don’t get a kink in my neck!)

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One side note is that I moved my Mac Dock from the bottom to the left side. Because I had my external monitor arranged above my laptop, the dock ended up on the smaller screen at the very bottom. SUPER annoying. So now I’m getting used to having the dock on the left side of the big monitor.

Here’s a picture of the new surge protector installed on the side of my desk closest to the treadmill:

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And unfortunately my work area isn’t as decluttered as it used to be, with wires visibly showing:

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But that is a small price to pay for being able to walk while I work! (And speaking of prices – this was a relatively low-cost venture after the cost of the treadmill and new monitor, mainly because I had scrap wood and power tools already!)

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And just how is the walking-while-I-work thing going, you ask?

Well – let’s look at my Fitbit data:

Fitbit Data

I find it VERY hard to make it the full 10,000 steps on the days I don’t work!

My speed is usually set to 1.8 mph (I started at 1.5 mph and worked my way up). It’s a moderate pace. I’m well able to type and use my mouse while I walk, but the treadmill is noisy enough that I have to turn it off for meetings. So on the days that I have a lot of phone calls, I walk a little less. I can usually get 5-7 miles a day.

With small kids in the house, I find that I get enough breaks from walking and have a hard-stop with work hours as it is so I haven’t missed sitting down too much. But I could definitely see having to figure out a sitting solution if I worked longer hours. I can’t imagine a bar stool on a treadmill, even stationery, would be a good idea!

That’s that for my treadmill desk!

Now I just have to clean up the rest of the office. Especially my desk.

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Backing stuff up

I finally took the plunge and got a pricey 4 TB My Book Studio Edition II, a fancy external hard drive from Western Digital. Ever since my external hard drive crashed a year ago which had tons of my work-related files on there and I paid $1000 to restore my files, I’ve been intending to get some kind of RAID back-up system after PK explained what a “redundant array of independent disks” was. I ended up getting the My Book drive not just because it was pretty but because it was Mac-friendly and easy to format into a RAID 1. In layman’s terms (which is all I really understand), this means that the two 2 TB drives “mirror” each other with the exact same data, so that if one drive fails, you have the other as a backup. I set up the drive last night, configured Apple Time Machine to back up my computer to the drive, moved off some of my space-hogging files (I freed up 60 GB of space just by moving my Windows virtual machines off), and now I’m triple-backing-up my other external drive’s files, which have old work files and eight years of digital photos and videos.

My next step is to move a bunch of files off my old PC (which has, oh, 8 MB of free space on the C drive!!) and then figure out how to reformat that computer. Never done it before so if you have tips, please pass them on!

Setting up Synergy+ with Windows and Mac

Dave Seah mentioned that he uses Synergy+ to share a keyboard and mouse between his multiple computers so I thought I’d give it a try. It took me a few hours over a few days before I got it working. Here’s roughly how my process went:

  • Downloaded Synergy+ for Windows and installed on PC. Did the same for my Mac.
  • Installed qsynergy for Mac – it provides a visual interface for configuring Synergy+. Otherwise you have to set up a text configuration file and run command prompts, which intimidates me.
  • Used qsynergy to set up my Macbook Pro as the server and added a screen for my PC.
  • Opened Synergy+ on the PC and put in my Macbook Pro name as the server; the PC would be a “client” and use the Mac’s keyboard and mouse.
  • Clicked the “test” button and kept getting “can’t connect” errors – it wasn’t finding the Mac.
  • Tried putting in IP addresses instead, but still didn’t work.
  • Eventually this worked to resolve the connection problems: Changed PC name to all uppercase in qsynergy on the Mac (I had it lowercase before), and used Mac’s IP address in Synergy+ on the PC. When I dragged the mouse off the edge of the Mac screen, I could see it flickering on the PC screen.
  • Unfortunately, though, it still wasn’t really working properly; the mouse would flicker and move on the very left of the PC screen but not actually do anything or move around the screen.
  • I had the bright idea that maybe the Wacom tablet mouse was the problem. I plugged in my travel USB mouse into the Mac. It worked perfectly! The mouse moved smoothly between the Mac and PC screens.
  • But the keyboard wouldn’t work at all (I have an Apple keyboard plugged into the Mac).
  • Did some Googling. One person said qsynergy didn’t work for them, but SynergyKM did. I uninstalled qsynergy from the Mac and installed SynergyKM.
  • After a few rough starts, I figured out that to set up the configuration screen, I had to drop the “.local” from my MacBook name (e.g., corrie-macbook instead of corrie-macbook.local). Worked perfectly with the USB mouse and keyboard. Still didn’t work with Wacom tablet mouse. But I did a little happy dance nonetheless when I was able to move the cursor from my Mac screen to my PC screen and type something on the PC!
  • I found a post at Stefan Didak’s blog (of crazy computer/monitor setup fame) about how his Wacom wasn’t playing nice with Synergy (or vice versa?) and he switched to Input Director. Unfortunately for me, Input Director only works with PCs, not with Macs as well. But I did feel validated because in the comments another person was experiencing the same problems with PC/Mac/Synergy/Wacom. So it’s not just me.

So now I’m left with what to do. I love being able to share a keyboard and mouse, but I also love my Wacom (and I just sprung $60 for a replacement mouse when my scroll wheel failed on the original one). Maybe I’ll get a wireless (Bluetooth?) mouse for general use and keep the Wacom on my desk for when I need to use the pressure-sensitive pen. I’ll update this post when I finally make a decision… but knowing me, don’t expect anything really soon!

UPDATED: 7/13/2010

I ordered a Logitech Bluetooth mouse and got it installed and set up with my Mac – and indeed, it works with Synergy so that I can now go from screen to screen between my Mac and PC! It’s pretty smooth – there have been a few times where the mouse gets a little jumpy, but overall it seems to work well. The great thing is that it works on top of my Wacom tablet just fine (my cheap travel USB mouse didn’t like the reflective surface), so I don’t have to rearrange anything.

Because the Bluetooth mouse runs on batteries, I’m keeping it “off” most of the time except for when I actually need to use both computers, which hasn’t been very often. So the rest of the time, I continue to use my Wacom mouse and pen as usual.

So, I’m fully Synergy-zed and pretty happy about it.

Getting Things Done flexibly

Web Worker Daily has finished posting a three-part interview with David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. I found the second and third parts very interesting, as David mentions how some people think they have to subscribe to every detail of the system described in in the book and give up on the whole thing. But really, you just do what works for you, getting your system “as simple as possible but no simpler.”

So, for example, GTD has this idea of “contexts.” The examples in the book include “home,” “errands,” “calls,” “office.” The idea is that each context can have its own to-do list — so that when you have some time to make phone calls, you can pull out your phone to-do list and make a bunch of calls at once (thus saving time). Or, if you’re going to be out running errands, you can pull out your errands to-do list and see if you can get a few done while you’re already out.

In the interview, David Allen says that you don’t need to have all those different context lists if you don’t need them. What a novel concept! I’m guilty of this myself — I have an “errand” list and a “home” list that is essentially almost always empty. Bob Walsh, the interviewer, says that he basically only has two contexts: “at the computer and not at the computer.” That pretty much sums up my life as well; the things not done at the computer are fairly easy to keep track of with a quick note jotted down in my planner or my paper to-do list for the day.

As part of my weekly review this Friday, I’ll be re-examining how I implement GTD and if there are ways I can make my system a little simpler. In the meantime, if you find this stuff interesting, I’d encourage you to read at least parts 2 and 3 of the interview!

Happy Groundhog Day!

Cheering groundhogI had a fun and rather unproductive time over the holidays and it has nearly taken all of January for me to get back into the flow of things. Now that it’s Groundhog Day, I’m ready to set some goals for the year (or at least the next few months) using Dave Seah’s Groundhog Day Resolution concept.

Last year I had nineteen goals that I intermittently worked on which got trimmed down to twelve or so in the fall. I would set monthly milestones for 7-10 of these goals each month.

This year I’m a little less ambitious, so I only have thirteen goals to start with. Here’s how they break down:

  • Health/body goals
    • Weight:
      • Long term: Maintain healthy weight (between 110 lbs – 120 lbs)
      • This year: Gain healthy pregnancy weight. Then, lose it to get down to my ideal healthy weight.
    • Exercise:
      • Long term: Maintain a regular exercise routine.
      • This year: Exercise daily: Walk regularly pre-baby. Get back into running post-baby.
    • Nutrition:
      • Long term: Prepare healthy meals, eat organic/local/sustainable foods, and plan menus.
      • This year: Eat “real food” despite expense.
  • Work goals:
    • Web design:
      • Long-term: Maintain a sustainable amount of work, balancing income and personal needs.
      • This year: Spend most of my time working with existing clients or developers. Take on only one new custom client job at a time.
    • Alternative work:
      • Long-term: Develop alternative revenue streams.
      • This year: Work more at writing.
  • Personal goals:
    • House:
      • Long-term: We own a house.
      • This year: Buy a house.
    • Marriage:
      • Long-term: Be best friends with Steve.
      • This year: Intentionally spend time with Steve both before and after baby.
    • Social:
      • Long-term: Be in a satisfying small group/community.
      • This year: Do my part to foster authenticity, prayer, and growth in our church small group.
  • Spiritual/Character goals:
    • Spiritual:
      • Long-term: Know that God loves me.
      • This year’s goals: Daily devotional time. Meditate each week on a verse about God’s love.
    • Character:
      • Long-term: Live like God loves me: Be grateful,  humble, free from people-pleasing, joyful, trusting, holy, loving people freely and unconditionally, open, authentically.
      • This year’s goals: Develop a better understanding of my identity so I don’t think too highly or too lowly of myself — i.e., develop humility — by praying for people, keeping up the gratitude journal, and analyzing conflict situations.

Here is the action list, or list of milestones, that I put together for this next month:

  • Gain 4 pounds.
  • Walk 30 minutes daily, rain or shine.
  • Use all veggies/fruits from CSA boxes. Consider renewing subscription.
  • Analyze current work projects and if they fit into “new design,” “current clients,” or “developers.”
  • Analyze projected income for next 3 months to see if I need to work more.
  • Write two articles.
  • Continue house hunting.
  • Plan special Valentine’s Day date.
  • Sign up to lead two activities for small group.
  • Follow through on daily/weekly spiritual/character goals.

To help me keep track of this goals, I revamped the text bits of my Monthly Goal Tracker form. Instead of tucking this into my planner, I’m keeping it on my desk at all times so that I can review it daily!

If you plan on making and keeping some Groundhog Day Resolutions, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment!

December Review for Groundhog Day Resolutions

 Hooray! It’s been a full “year” of Groundhog Day Resolutions. December is the month to wrap up and review the year-of-goals, then to relax and enjoy the holiday season while giving oneself nearly two months to mull over new goals for the next year’s Groundhog Day.

In this post, I’ll talk not only about how my goals went this past month but do a general review of the whole experience as well.

  • Health/body goals – 8)
    • How I did: I tried a new form for writing down my weight daily and marking bubbles for exercising and eating healthy lunches (and having regular devotional times, a separate goal, below). I’m happy to report that this worked out exceedingly well for me!
      • Weigh daily and track – Did this every day! As for my overall goal of maintaining healthy pregnancy weight gain, this was a weird month with sudden jumps, a plateau, another sudden jump, a drop, and a jump. I ended up only 1.5 lbs. over the recommended average of 1 lb. a week, though, so I guess I’m doing okay.
      • Develop exercise routine – I was able to walk every day until I started having some bad back pain. Then, I found a pregnancy exercise video to do indoors instead. Of the 30 days that I tracked (11/12-12/11), I only missed 5 days. Much better than the 5/30 days of exercise that I seemed to be getting before!
      • Buy local foods (not exclusively, but as much as I can) – Going well. I’m also trying an experiment for December where I’m itemizing every penny spent on food and calculating the cost of meals I make, meals we eat out, and general groceries. I’m curious to see if buying local/organic makes a big difference for better or worse in what we spend money on.
      • Eat healthy lunches – 29/30 days! I did have some unhealthy snacks every now and then, ahem. Always a way to bend the rules…
    • Next month: Even though December/January aren’t officially times to continue to pursue goals for GDR, it’s important for me to keep on trying to exercise, eat healthily, etc. So, I’ll make myself another form for the next two months and do my best.
  • Work goals: 8D
    • How I did: My goal was to complete another 3/6 projects. Over this past month, I added another 4 projects (2 small ones, 2 “normal” ones) and crossed off 2 that weren’t going anywhere for a total of 8 ongoing projects. I managed to complete 4 projects completely, with one more of the small ones just about done. Yippee!
  • Character goals: 🙂
    • How I did: Kept up my gratitude journal nearly every day. I think I only missed 2/30 days.
  • House goal: 😐
    • How I did: Whiffed on talking to mom.

Overall, I think Groundhog Day Resolutions helped me to have a very productive year! Here are some of the things that have come out of intentionally setting goals and mini-goals this year:

  • Rebranded with a new logo and web site design
  • Started a new business (then decided I didn’t really have the energy to put into it)
  • Restarted a daily gratitude journal
  • Started and finished lots of work projects; worked on increasing turnover speed
  • Read a book about buying a first home
  • I don’t know if “got pregnant” really counts, but it was on my long-term goal list so I’ll claim it as one!

I definitely think a mid-year goal revamp/review time would work for me next time around. Perhaps I’m not big-picture enough to set year-long goals (or even longer-term goals)? I found my late goal revamp (October) to be very invigorating.

Even though I don’t have to commit to new goals until next February, I have a couple of rough ideas of the direction I want to head…

  • Healthy routines – This was the area I struggled with the most — exercising regularly, eating healthily. Even the motivation of being pregnant and having impaired glucose tolerance doesn’t go too far when I’m faced with, say, a tasty-looking bag of potato chips or a sliver of fresh-out-of-the-oven brownie.
  • Business direction – Reading the 4 Hour Workweek and working through some of the ideas helped me to see that while I enjoy custom web design work, it can be pretty draining. I’d like to focus more on working with developers and existing clients and limit the new custom web design work that I take on. This will involve some reworking of my business site.
  • Family – Learning to be a good mom.

… But I can think about those later! For now, it’s time to take a break from being goal-oriented and just enjoy the season!

The 4 Hour Workweek: Wrapup

Through my other eight posts about The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, I’ve only covered about half the book.

The rest of the book talks about various topics for getting down to a “four hour workweek:”

  • Chapter 8: Becoming comfortable with outsourcing – whether parts of projects or even as a personal assistant. Each task that you delegate should be time-consuming (so that you don’t want to spend the time doing it) and well-defined (so that language barriers don’t get in the way.
  • Chapters 9, 10, and 11: Creating an income machine – Creating revenue streams that bring income even when you’re not “working.” The chapters guide you through the steps of picking a market and product, testing your market, and setting up a structure where you can be involved as little as possible using two side-by-side scenarios as examples.
  • Chapters 12 and 13: Working offsite and considering quitting or changing your job – Working remotely allows you to have the freedom to travel or do other things “while working,” and Tim gives some very specific tips and strategies for how to approach an employer.
  • Chapter 14: How to take mini-retirements – Why wait until you’re 65 to travel or experience the things you want to experience, learn the things you want to learn? If you like to travel, Tim challenges one to relocate for 1-6 months at a time to fully experience it and shows that it’s not as expensive as you think.
  • Chapter 15: Getting past boredom – Now that you have all this extra time, what do you do with it? Tim suggests that most people find it necessary to learn and serve, otherwise they experience depression because of a lack of purpose.
  • Chapter 16: A short summary of top mistakes made by people who are trying to do everything in this book.
  • The last chapter: Inspirational poem.

If any of these topics sound interesting to you, I’d recommend actually reading the book to find out more!

But this is where the train ends for me. I’m currently not interested in putting in the time to build an “income-making machine” and almost fully separating “work” from “income.” I’m wanting to put more roots down (e.g., starting a family, trying to buy a house in our town) instead of relocating to different places for months at a time. I guess this means that for now, I’m not joining the ranks of the “New Rich,” as Tim Ferriss calls them.

I’m still working through ideas of what “work” is and its place in my life. Tim’s book challenges my ingrained culture and work ethic, showing that time does not necessarily equal money and forcing me to look at whether or not my time is actually being spent on what I value, or if I’m just spinning my wheels. One of the ideas underlying this book seems to be that “work” has no value in itself — it’s something that should be minimized so that you can do what you really want to do. I wonder if the average person who reads this book (and does something with it) hates their career, job, or employer, and is looking for a way out. However, I find my current line of work to be interesting and fulfilling (and it helps that I’m my own employer). I’m not sure that I’d find running an income-making machine-type company to be as fulfilling (although I guess I won’t really know until I find out).

Even if you’re in a similar place as I am, with no real intention of changing your current job or career or overall lifestyle, I think there is a lot of valuable material in the book that can help you to free up time formerly spent on non-essentials.

(If you’ve read the book and have thoughts about “the role of work,” or if you have any other comments or thoughts, please share below in the comments!)

This is my ninth full post with thoughts about The 4 Hour Workweek. View other posts related to The 4 Hour Workweek.

The 4 Hour Workweek: More efficient communication

One of the biggest things I’ve been learning from The 4 Hour Workweek is how to cut down on the volume of email by limiting back-and-forth situations. Here are just a few tips that I’ve come up with:

  • Offer specific choices.
    • Setting up an essential meeting: Instead of “what works for you,” ask “would 1 pm, 2 pm, or 3 pm work best for you?”
    • Obtaining client feedback: Instead of “what do you think about the navigation,” provide two options and ask “do you like the bulleted version or the box version better? If neither, can you provide a link to a site where you like their navigation?”
  • Use numbered lists. If asking a series of specific questions, break them up into a numbered list of questions. This also makes it easier for them to respond to you.
  • Set specific deadlines. Instead of “please send me the content,” use “please send me the content by Friday. If this is not possible, please let me know when you can send it to me. Thanks in advance!”
  • Don’t procrastinate. I’m guilty of sometimes sending back an email just to avoid performing any action by throwing the ball back into their court. To combat this, here’s my new motto: “Don’t be lazy.”

Please feel free to contribute more tips in the comments!

This is my eighth full post with thoughts about The 4 Hour Workweek. View other posts related to The 4 Hour Workweek.

Simplifying my life: Activities and Hobbies

One of the books I’ve been reading is The Simplicity Reader by Elaine St. James, chock full of applicable simplicity goodness. (It is actually three books in one volume.)

One specific way this book has affected my life is in the area of activities and hobbies. Elaine talks about the human tendency to pick up new activities and hobbies — and all the associated gear — just because we have the opportunity. But each new activity and hobby we add means that we 1) have more stuff and 2) have less time to fully enjoy the other things we have going on. This definitely hit home for Steve and I! Between the two of us, we have 20 separate activities/hobbies that we have “gear” for and spend time on or have talked about wanting to do at some point in the future. Here is the full list in order of “expensiveness,” and I’ve starred the ones that we’ve actually done in the past year.

  • Together:
    • Rollerblading* – up-front gear cost already paid.
    • Swimming laps – up-front gear cost already paid.
    • Cycling – up-front gear cost already paid; low maintenance costs.
    • Hiking – paying for gas, mostly, and shoes once in a while.
    • Triathlons – with free triathlons (where we volunteer in order to participate in future events), mostly paying for gas.
    • Backpacking/camping* – paying for gas and food, up-front gear costs already paid.
    • Exercising at the gym* – yearly or monthly fee
    • Stained glass (someday) – have some gear but would have to purchase more, then ongoing glass costs
    • Traveling* – paying for food, entertainment, and transportation
  • Just Steve:
    • Basketball* – shoes once a year ($60-$100)
    • Fishing* – fishing license ($60), gear is currently borrowed, occasional purchase of hooks, etc., paying for gas
    • Baseball* – pay annual fee for league (about $300?), already paid for up-front gear costs, possibly some maintenance costs
    • Guitar* – paying regularly for lessons ($120/month)
  • Just me:
    • Reading* – library is free!
    • Drawing – very occasional purchase of gear
    • Cooking* – occasional purchase of gear, but food is in grocery costs anyway
    • Running* – shoes once a year ($60-$100)
    • Crafts (making cards, shadow boxes)* – purchase of materials
    • Photography (taking a class, etc., someday) – cost of class plus additional equipment
    • Harp* – expensive harp purchase ($5000-$10,000), lessons ($100/month)

This list does not include the activities that we currently do for paid work — computer/design stuff for me, carpentry stuff for Steve, both of which have their own significant expenses as well for gear.

Anyway, I brought up the idea of simplifying our activities with Steve, we made the above list, then we started crossing things off. (Italics indicate things we would like to do in a few years.)

  • Together:
    • Rollerblading – can do this post-baby.
    • Swimming – we are knocking this out along with triathlons.
    • Cycling – ditto. Steve no longer has a “buddy” to cycle with, and I enjoy running more.
    • Hiking – can do this post-baby.
    • Triathlons – very unlikely that we could continue this. It was fun while we did it, but it would be difficult with kids to find the time to train together and participate in triathlons. (We could do it separately, but we’d rather spend that time together.)
    • Backpacking/camping – would like to do this as a family, but probably not backpacking until the kids are older.
    • Exercising at the gym – not sure about this one. We have a membership for several more months and will decide later if we want to continue or not.
    • Stained glass – would like to do this someday, but most likely not until we have our own home.
    • Traveling – not affordable for now.
  • Just Steve:
    • Basketball
    • Fishing – Won’t continue after this season is over; Steve is borrowing people’s gear for now, and it’s quite a time commitment — every Saturday morning during salmon season.
    • Baseball – Steve would like to continue this next year as he feels his “youth” is limited and he won’t be able to play competitive baseball for much longer. We have to talk about the cost and the feasibility of him playing while having a new baby!
    • Guitar – would like to take lessons again, but we have to work out the money/timing.
  • Just me:
    • Reading
    • Drawing – I’ll probably still “draw” occasionally, but I’m releasing myself from the expectation of wanting to do it regularly.
    • Cooking
    • Running – will pick this back up post-baby.
    • Crafts – similar to drawing — I can’t help but keep doing stuff, but I’m going to only buy what I need for an actual project (instead of buying stuff because “I might use it”) and release myself from the expectation of doing things regularly.
    • Photography – OK, I don’t need to be an expert in everything. There are other things I’d rather do besides becoming a professional-level photographer!
    • Harp – Someday! We’re slowly saving up money, and I figure I won’t have time for regular practice/lessons with a baby. When I actually have the money for a harp, I’ll figure out how to get lessons for myself.

I’m hoping that releasing ourselves from the expectation of “doing everything well” will allow us to really enjoy the things that we limit ourselves to. Making this list will also, I hope, keep us from jumping into new hobbies and activities as readily as we have in the past!

My next task is to post our bikes, bike gear, and my camera on Craigslist and see what takers we find…