Category Archives: financial

Books with Impact: Atomic Habits

The “Books with Impact” series takes a deeper look at specific books that have had a profound impact on my financial, professional, and personal growth by extracting specific points of advice from those books and looking at how I’ve applied them in my life with successful results. The previous entry in this series covered The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that if you want to succeed at any life improvement goal, you have to alter your normal daily routine such that every single day naturally produces some progress toward your goal.

I was really able to observe this through my own personal experience with personal finance. I spent a lot of time during the early years of The Simple Dollar trying to reduce my burn rate and also automating as much of my savings plan as possible. The end result is that I go through what feels like a normal day right now and I simply move closer to my big goal of financial independence.

Over the years, I’ve tried to understand what made us succeed at our big personal finance goals while having a mixed bag of results at other personal goals in our lives. The two biggest runaway successes in my life (aside from my marriage and my children) were the personal finance changes we made and the construction of a successful business. Knowing that it was the daily routine that was at the heart of those successes, why did things work so well for those goals and flop with other goals? What was the difference?

The book Triggers, which was an earlier entry in the Books with Impact series, provided some insights. That book is all about correcting behaviors, and behaviors are simply made up of the things we do that are triggered by our internal and external environments. The book focuses on finding ways to alter one’s internal and external environments so that better behaviors naturally occur, and the system it provides is extremely powerful at doing so, particularly when it comes to altering specific things you notice that you’d like to do differently.

The system in Triggers is really powerful for passive and reactive changes you want to make to yourself – things that are very automatic and internal – but it’s not as good at stimulating proactive change – when you want to actually make doing something normal. For example, Triggers works well if you want to, say, eat X instead of Y or eat less period, but it doesn’t work as well if you’re trying to add a new habit to your life.

That’s where Atomic Habits by James Clear comes in, and I think it’s a great complement to Triggers.

The key idea behind Atomic Habits is that big goals are good for some inspiration and a bit of motivation and perhaps for setting some general direction, but goals alone won’t make you change. Rather, Clear’s book focuses on systems – very simple daily actions that constitute a step in the right direction toward your big goal – and elevating those systems and daily steps to being the main focus for change.

Let’s dig in.

The Fundamentals: Why Tiny Changes Make a Big Difference

Many people, when they think about change, they think about having to make some radical shift in their life to accomplish a huge goal. “I want to lose 100 pounds this year, so I’m going to have to live off of carrots and move into the gym.” That’s not sustainable. Very, very few people are going to be able to do that.

Clear argues on behalf of a systematic approach. Big goals are fine as a tool for figuring out your direction going forward, but what he’s interested in is defining the direction in which you want things to change and then coming up with a system that involves daily action that nudges you in that direction, and then focusing entirely on the system.

So, rather than having that stark “I want to lose 100 pounds this year” goal and planning around that, Clear advocates coming up with a system of very simple daily action that takes you toward that goal. For example, you might focus on something like a daily calorie counting goal or simply maintaining a one-meal-a-day or an intermittent fasting routine.

The point is that you have to have a daily system in place that takes you a step closer each day to your goal, and it has to be a system you can stick to. If you have that system, all you have to do is focus on that system and the goal becomes inevitable.

Clear offers a ton of examples of this in various fields. They all boil down to the same thing: a 1% improvement in your daily routine adds up over time and tends to have a multiplicative effect for many goals. You want to lose weight and feel more energetic? Do a very small amount of exercise daily and tweak your dietary routine just a bit. You will gradually start losing weight and as that starts to happen, you’ll find yourself naturally becoming more active because you weigh less and you’re more fit. This results in more daily calories burnt and if you’re sticking to your tweaked routine, your movement toward a healthier body will accelerate.

A similar phenomenon is true for things like knowledge acquisition. If you spend, say, 30 extra minutes studying each day, you won’t see much of a change at first, but over time, the extra studying you did earlier will enable you to dig further and further into the subject, allowing you to build knowledge and connections and skills at a continuously accelerating rate.

Often, progress like this has a “tipping point,” in that you won’t notice much progress for a while and then suddenly the visible changes come in a flood. I love Clear’s ice cube analogy here, which he discusses on page 20 of the hardcover version of the book. Imagine that you’re watching an ice cube and each day, your system turns up the temperature by one degree. You start at -10 F, and then the next day you go up to -9 F, and there’s no change. -8, -7, -6, no change in the ice cube. Day after day after day, no change. But then, one day, you reach 32 F and suddenly the cube starts to melt – radical change, and you can see all of that effort paying off. That’s why it’s a good idea to trust your system for a long while. Do the homework and planning to make sure your system is good and then give it plenty of time and trust so that you don’t give up before your ice cube melts.

So, how do you make an effective system? How do you come up with very basic daily habits that can be made into a routine that you’ll stick with and will guide you meaningfully toward your goal? That’s most of what the rest of the book is about.

This is the point in the book where the material overlaps the most with Triggers. They both identify a structure in which our normal behaviors become a cycle, each book offering up a few variations. In the case of Atomic Habits, Clear breaks habits down into a four part cycle: cue, craving, response, and reward. The end result of this is that we eventually associate the reward (and, to an extent, the response) with the cue.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re checking your email and this makes you a bit anxious and stressed (cue). You start to crave something that will alleviate your stress and the thing you find that’s convenient is chewing your nails (response). This takes the edge off your feelings of anxiety (reward), and thus you start to associate checking your email with chewing your nails.

A good system identifies and disrupts some of those associations in your life. For example, if you respond to certain cues by eating, a good system will disrupt those relationships.

Clear identifies four “laws,” one for each of the elements in that cycle (cue, craving, response, reward). Together, strategies that address all of these elements will make for a great system that will bring about the changes you want in your life.

The 1st Law: Make It Obvious

The first piece of the puzzle is to address cues, and the place to start with that is to figure out the things in our life that serve as cues. Clear recommends making a giant list of all of our daily habits as a first step in identifying what kinds of cues actually drive us. You’ll find that there are lots of cues that exist in our life, some of which we can control and some of which we can’t.

This is where I feel like Triggers and Atomic Habits diverge. Triggers focuses much more on dealing with habits with cues we don’t control, whereas Atomic Habits deals with habits where we can control the cues.

The basic recipe that Clear proposes is that if we want to establish a new habit, it should follow a recipe:

I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].

I will meditate at 7 AM for one minute in my kitchen.

I will study Spanish for 20 minutes at 6 PM in my bedroom.

I will preheat the oven for dinner the moment I walk in the door from work in my kitchen.

I will wash my car on the first Friday of every month on my way home from work at the car wash on Main Street.

You get the idea. A very specific behavior, at a very specific time, and a very specific location.

A system is essentially a handful of these habits that are all pushing you in the same overall direction. Often, these habits can be stacked – you do a handful of these habits at the same time in the same location so that they effectively become one habit.

I will preheat the oven and then meditate for one minute when I walk in the door from work each day in my kitchen.

I will wash my car and air up my tires on the first Friday of every month on my way home from work at the car wash on Main Street.

This sets the stage for things like morning routines, where you do a certain routine of specific actions upon waking up, or an evening routine or a before-bed routine.

Another element of making cues obvious is to make your environment conducive to remembering them. If you need an item to perform a habit, put that item in the right place so that you find it there. It’s the same reason you keep your toothbrush by the sink in the bathroom. Do the same thing for every habit that you have – put the stuff you need right where you’re going to do it so that there’s minimal pushback against doing it. Set it out where you can see it.

Eventually, the habit gets associated with a lot of elements in the environment, and when that happens, it becomes more and more and more natural and ingrained in your life.

Similarly, if you want to reduce a bad habit, remove the cues for it from your environment. Throw away the junk food and the cigarettes. Cut up your credit card. Find a different commute. Remove the cues at all costs.

The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive

The problem with many new habits is that they’re unpleasant. We don’t necessarily want to do things in this new and different way, for any number of reasons. Maybe we don’t want to exercise. Maybe we don’t want to cook meals at home. Maybe we don’t want to put aside time for prayer.

The way around this is to tie that difficult new habit to something we want to do via habit stacking.

For example, let’s say we have a habit we want to establish like “At 7 AM each morning, I will exercise for 20 minutes in the living room.” You don’t really want to exercise, so that’s going to be hard to establish.

So, instead, establish this second habit. “After I exercise for 20 minutes, I’ll have a cup of coffee and sit down with my phone to read the news for 15 minutes.”

That second part sounds really pleasant. If you tack it on to the first habit by linking them together, you utilize the craving you have for the enjoyable part by using it as a carrot to get through the challenging part.

You can also make a new habit feel more attractive by making it feel more normal. We find ourselves taking most of our behavioral cues from three different groups: the close (those we spend a lot of time with), the many (the mass of humanity), and the powerful (those in a strong and/or influential position). Putting effort into tuning each of these groups in your life can make your new systems seem much more natural and supported.

Spend more time with friends who do similar things to your new system. Look for media coverage of people doing things like what you’re trying to do. Look for role models who are doing similar things as well. If you surround yourself with those elements, your new habits and systems feel more natural.

If you want to eliminate a bad habit, apply the inverse of all of this to it. Make it unattractive. Focus on the negatives of the habit and the positives of not doing it. Penalize yourself whenever you do it by associating a penalty of some kind. Look for negative role models associated with that habit – people who ended up in a bad place because of the habit.

The 3rd Law: Make It Easy

The more difficult and intrusive a new habit is, the harder it is going to be to add it to your life. A habit of one minute of meditation is easier to add to your life than an hour of meditation. A habit of one pushup is easier to add to your life than a habit of an hour of exercise.

Clear suggests utilizing this understanding and paring every single habit down to a two minute action. You absolutely should make your daily habit something like “meditate for two minutes” or “read one page” instead of “meditate for an hour” or “read fifty pages.” Why? You’re much more likely to actually do it each day if the habit is less intrusive and burdensome.

The nice part about such habits is that you usually feel inclined to do more of them if there is time. You don’t have to read more than one page, but if you have nothing going on in the next half an hour, why not read ten pages? You don’t have to do more than one push-up, but if you’re down there, why not do a set of ten and then maybe another set of ten? You don’t have to meditate for more than a minute, but you’ve got time, so you set that timer for fifteen minutes.

The point is not to do a very tiny trivial task, but to simply master the art of showing up. If you meditate for one minute a day, meditation is now a daily part of your life and you can choose to meditate for longer if you wish.

Another suggestion that Clear offers is to write down your tiny habit (“Atomic Habit,” perhaps?) and then write down a few bigger versions of it. For example, your super-easy daily habit might be to do one push-up, but what about doing ten? A set of fifteen, a set of ten, then a set of five? A set of 70% of your max, then 60%, then 50%, then 40%, then 30%? The habit is all about doing the easiest version, but you have some options to choose from once you “show up.”

If you want to take it even further, automate that habit if possible. This is a great way to approach a lot of personal finance goals, as you can easily automate savings plans and extra loan payments with online banking. You can set your phone to go to silent from 8 AM to noon and then from 12:30 PM to 5 PM. You can set up a water purifying filter right on or under your faucet so that having good drinking water is practically automatic. In terms of killing negative habits, you can install a website blocker that keeps you from visiting social media.

The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying

Clear argues here that if you want to get a habit to stick, it needs to feel immediately satisfying. If it doesn’t feel good, then you’re probably not going to stick with it for very long, because discipline only lasts so long. The first three laws are all about getting you to do the habit for the first few times; this is about sticking with it over the long haul.

Clear’s big universal suggestion for all habits is to track them. Keep track of the fact that you executed your habit each day and perhaps a number associated with the effort. Try to start building a chain of Xs or of non-zero numbers and you’ll eventually start feeling great satisfaction from that chain and want to keep adding to it. Doing something two days in a row feels good; doing something 100 days in a row feels amazing.

This kind of tracking becomes an addendum to your habit. “After I do my push-up(s), I’ll record how many I did in my spreadsheet.” “After I read, I’ll record my current page count on Goodreads.” “After I put away my dishes, I’ll record what I ate.”

What if you break that chain? Start a new chain as quickly as possible. One misstep isn’t a problem; two missteps is the beginning of a new negative habit.

Eventually, continuing the chain becomes incredibly satisfying, and it can be enough of a lure to keep you doing the habit even when you don’t want to. We all have days where we don’t want to exercise, but pushing through and keeping that chain alive is really rewarding.

The reverse is true when trying to undo a bad habit – you want to make it unsatisfying. A good way to do this is with an accountability partner, where you have to tell that person if you screwed up, or perhaps with a promise to announce your screw-ups on social media. That sounds like misery, so it’s a strong nudge to stay on a good path.

Advanced Tactics: How to Go from Being Merely Good to Being Truly Great

The last, rather short section of the book is essentially a number of short essays on building habits that really don’t fit into the above sections.

For example, Clear goes into a discussion about finding habits that are going to be incredibly transformative for you. One thing he suggests doing is finding things that you enjoy doing that others view as work and using habits to build your skill in that area. Also, look for things that make you lose track of time and things that come naturally to you. Habits centered around those often end up leading to fantastic results, as you become very good at something that other people struggle with. It can be a skill that you can easily make money from.

Another suggestion Clear offers is to find that happy middle point between something being so simple that you’re bored with it and so difficult that you fail at it. You want it to be challenging, but not so difficult you have no chance at it. Don’t lift 5 pounds, but don’t lift 1,000 pounds. Find the spot in the middle that works well for you.

If you’re struggling with being bored in your habit, find some way to add variability to it. For example, I find that rather than having a set fitness plan, I get a lot of value out of doing a random set of exercises each day. My fitness “habit” is just doing the Darebee daily exercises, then doing a random set of taekwondo practices from an app I set up on my phone. That way, it doesn’t feel the same every day. I also switch up my stretching routine regularly; if it begins to feel dull, I find a new one to do, ideally one that’s fairly challenging but not impossible. The goal is to stretch every morning, not to do that specific routine every morning.

Clear also points to the value of developing a handful of synergistic habits, things that actually nudge each other to better results than you would have achieved with a single habit on its own. For example, I stretch, do a bodyweight exercise routine, and do some taekwondo practice every day, and those actually aid each other and make each one easier and more effective. The same is true for habits like saving money for the future and being frugal with your spending – they aid each other and the more you put into frugality, the more you can save.

Final Thoughts

I found that the advice in this book works best for goals and habits that you can approach with very clear and specific daily activities, like a daily exercise routine or writing in a journal each day or meditating each day or doing a load of laundry each day or simply getting out of bed and showering each day. If you have a big goal that can be approached with systematic daily small habits like these, Clear’s advice is tremendous.

However, it doesn’t really hit home as well when you’re trying to change more nebulous things about yourself, like your proclivity to eat out of boredom at random moments throughout the day or your shyness around other people. If the thing you want to improve about yourself is best described with a “to be” verb, this system doesn’t work quite as well. I think that Triggers is a much better system for this.

Over the last few months, I’ve been using both systems in my life. I have a bunch of “atomic habits” I’m tracking in a notebook, along with a bunch of “daily questions” (from Triggers). I will likely show off my system in a future article once I give it a few more months to really refine it.

I think if you’re struggling to make changes in your life, both books are well worth reading and both systems are worth applying in your life, but some elements will click better with some people than others.

Good luck!

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What college kids really need for school ~ Get Rich Slowly

This article originally appeared on NerdWalletThose ubiquitous checklists of “dorm room essentials” for college freshmen are filled with items that will be ditched by the end of first semester.

Some parents “go to the store and grab a list like they did when their kids were in elementary and high school and just go straight down the list,” says Lisa Heffernan, mother of three sons and a college-shopping veteran. Or they buy things they only wish their students will use (looking at you, cleaning products).

You can safely skip about 70% of things on those lists, estimates Asha Dornfest, the author of Parent Hacks and mother of a rising college sophomore who’s home for the summer.

What college kids need

What not to buy or bring

Freshmen really need just two things, says Heffernan, co-founder of the blog Grown and Flown: a good mattress topper and a laptop.

Here are seven items you can skip:

  • Printer. Don’t waste desk space or, worse, store it under the bed; printers are plentiful on campus.
  • TV. Students may watch on laptops or on TVs in common areas or in someone else’s room. Bonus: Your teen gets out and meets others.
  • Speakers. Small spaces don’t require powerful speakers; earphones may be a good idea and respectful of roommates.
  • Car. Some colleges bar freshmen from having cars on campus or limit their parking. You also may save on insurance by keeping the car at home.
  • Luggage. If you bring it, you must store it. Heffernan suggests collapsible blue Ikea storage bags with zippers.
  • Toiletries to last until May. Bulk buying may save money, but you need storage space.
  • Duplicates of anything provided by the college, such as a lamp, wastebasket, desk chair or dresser.

Items left behind when students pack for the summer are telling. Luke Jones, director of housing and residence life at Boise State University, sees unopened food — a lot of ramen and candy — and stuffed animals and mirrors.

Jones says many students regret bringing high school T-shirts and memorabilia and some of their clothes (dorm closets typically are tiny).

What can you buy, then?

Before you shop, find out what the college forbids (candles, space heaters, electric blankets and halogen lights are common). Have your student check with assigned roommates about appliances (who’s bringing a fridge or microwave?) and color scheme if they want to set one. Know the dimensions of the room and the size of the bed. And most of all, know your budget. Not everything has to be brand new.

Ten things — besides the all-important mattress topper and laptop — that many students consider dorm room essentials include:

  • One or two fitted sheets in the correct bed size, plus pillowcases. Heffernan says most students don’t use top sheets.
  • Comforter or duvet with washable cover.
  • Towels in a distinctive pattern or light enough for labeling with laundry marker, plus shower sandals.
  • Power cord with surge protector and USB ports.
  • Basic first aid kit.
  • Easy-to-use storage. If it’s a lot of work to get something out, your student won’t, Heffernan says.
  • Cleaning wipes. Students might not touch products that require multiple steps, but they might use wipes, according to Heffernan.
  • Reading pillow with back support for studying in bed.
  • Area rug. Floors are often hard and cold.
  • Comfort items. Dornfest says it could be a blanket or a picture of the dog — something from home that will make the space a bit more personal.

Afraid you’ll forget something important? You might, Heffernan says. But chances are, you or your student can order it online and get it delivered. Consider doing this with some items simply to avoid the hassle of bringing them yourself, and remember that “dorm necessities” often go on sale once school starts.

Do a reality check

If you or your student still want to replicate the rooms you’ve seen on Instagram and Pinterest, think about how the room will actually be used.

Once your son or daughter moves in, the room will never look like that again. Opt for sturdy items and be realistic. Will throw pillows make the place look more homey and inviting, or will they be tossed on the floor until parents’ weekend?

Dornfest, a co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, offers a compelling reason not to make things too comfortable. “A freshman needs to be encouraged to get out of the dorm room,” she says. “Anything that pulls you into campus life can be good.”

She’s not advocating a monk-like environment, but rather one that encourages breaking out of routines. College should be a time to try new things and meet people from different backgrounds. Dornfest advises making the bed as comfortable as possible and keeping a few reminders of home. The ideal dorm room is more launch pad than cocoon.

More from Nerdwallet

The article 7 Things College Freshmen Don’t Need — and 10 They Do originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Author: Bev O’Shea

Bev O’Shea is a credit expert at NerdWallet. She has written about consumer credit and credit scores for six years, and has worked in the personal finance field for 12. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, USA Today and MSN Money, and on the Associated Press wire. Her credit score was briefly a perfect 850, and she won’t co-sign, even for her children.

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How to Turn Your Love of Cooking Into Extra Cash

You know you are a great cook because people never turn down a dinner invitation and constantly press you to “go pro.” Or, maybe you’re a cooking professional who wants to make some extra money.

Websites such as match people who love to cook with people who want to taste their wares.

Cooking from home for profit is part of the emerging food-sharing economy. People who do this offer everything from simple bread and soup with locals to exquisite five-course dinners.

Here are some recommendations on how to serve up your new entree.

1. Learn what is legal

People looking at books.
create jobs 51 /

State and local rules and ordinances vary widely when applied to home-based businesses. In some localities, such food enterprises are verboten. In others, the health department may require food-service certification.

So, tread carefully. It is probably best to seek out the advice of an attorney and to conduct your business as a legal entity.

2. Determine if there is a market for your type of food

Chef looking at food.
Volodymyr Goinyk /

You could be the greatest meal-planner and cook in your neighborhood, but if there is no market for your specialties, you don’t have a business.

You also need to realize that the amount you charge for a meal can make or break your enterprise. Spend time researching comparable products and determining your costs before setting prices.

Remember that these costs can change. The prices of items such as flour, butter and eggs are constantly shifting.

3. Make your at-home culinary events a social experience

Happy women having dinner outside.
Jack Frog /

Guests will come to your table expecting a social experience. They’ll get to meet other guests who share their passion for food, and maybe even learn some cooking tips from the chef. (That’s you!)

This works particularly well when you have out-of-towners in your home. You might even get travelers from abroad who are not familiar with the local cuisine.

So go with your passion and make some money on the side by cooking. If you have more suggestions, please offer them below or on our Facebook page.

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Green Dot Launches 3% Cash Back and Savings Account

At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

If you want to earn a high rate of interest and cash back on your spending — and are also OK with waiting up to a year to access it — Green Dot has a new product that may pique your interest.

Green Dot’s new offering, the Unlimited Cash Back Bank Account, gives customers a 3% savings rate on a high-yield savings account, plus a high return on their spending: Unlimited Cash Back debit card holders get an unlimited 3% cash-back bonus on all online and in-app purchases. The bonus is then sent to a separate bonus account, where it remains inaccessible until the account anniversary, when the cardholder can finally access it.

The cash-back bonus account is “like a forced savings account that uses the bank’s money to build up a potentially sizable balance,” the company said in a news release.

A couple of caveats to note: You’ll have to pay a $7.95 monthly fee for the Unlimited Cash Back card unless you’ve made $1,000 in purchases the previous month, excluding mobile bill payments, ATM withdrawals, ACH transactions and other charges. The high-yield savings account’s funds are accessible at any time, though the interest earned may be accessed only on the account anniversary. And the 3% savings account APY applies only up to a balance of $10,000.

Green Dot made its name with prepaid debit cards, an alternative to traditional debit cards that allows people to reload funds. Green Dot prepaid debit cards have attracted their share of customer ire, with higher-than-average consumer complaints, according to a 2018 NerdWallet investigation.

That being said, Green Dot’s accounts are FDIC-insured, and customers have access to a free ATM network and are able to make free cash deposits at national Green Dot retailers, like Walmart. The account has no minimum deposit requirement, and no overdraft or penalty fees.

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How I Stopped Yelling at My Kids

Want to stop yelling at your kids? In this post, I share what has helped me to stop yelling at my kids and practical ways to love more and yell less.

How I Stopped Yelling at My Kids

How I Stopped Yelling at My Kids

I thought I was a patient person… then I had kids.

I said I’d never yell at my kids… and then I had kids.

I pictured myself as a sweet, loving, always-cheerful mom… then I had kids.

Motherhood has stretched me and humbled me. It’s brought out the best in me and the worst in me.

About five years ago, I found myself snapping at my kids more and more frequently, which only served to frustrate me. The more I snapped at my kids, the more frustrated I was at myself. And the more frustrated I was at myself, the more I’d snap at my kids.

It was a vicious cycle and I felt trapped.

One night, I was up late thinking of the kind of mom I’d been and feeling so ashamed of my behavior and the example I was setting before my kids. I started praying and asking God to help me to love my children, to help me have patience with them, and to stop getting so angry with them.

My 4-Week Commitment

As I was praying, an idea birthed in my head. I decided to make a commitment to my husband for the next 4 weeks.

I woke Jesse up to tell him my commitment (I have such a gracious husband — poor guy!). It was this: every time I was tempted to lash out at a child I would, instead, find a very practical way to love that child.

It was a BIG commitment, but he agreed that he thought I could do it and said he was willing to hold me accountable. I went to bed resolving that, by God’s grace, I was going to change the tone in our home.

It Was SO Hard

The first day was very, very hard. One child in particular was pushing all of my buttons and seeming to make a game of trying to see how much they could annoy me.

Well, the first few hours on that first day of my 4-week commitment, this child tried all their usual tactics. I didn’t get frustrated. I didn’t yell. I didn’t even raise my voice.

Oh, it was very hard. But I’m a stubborn person and I was determined to stick with my commitment to my husband.

Instead, of lashing out, I asked this child to come snuggle next to me. I poured love, love, and more love.

The Change Was Amazing!

Within a few hours, this child’s attitude had drastically changed. They were calm, happy, and asking what they could do to help me. I could not believe it!

And this only continued for the next few days. Until finally, I felt like I almost had a completely different child living in my home. It was amazing!

I decided my 4-week experiment was a smashing success. And I decided to extend it for another 40 years. Or something like that. 🙂

Five Years Later

I wrote most of the above five years ago and I wanted to give an update for those who may have read my original post on this. I can safely say that this one change in me has changed the tone in our whole home.

My children are more helpful and respectful. I am so much happier. Jesse is happier because we’re happier. And our home is much, much calmer.

All because I’m choosing to love instead of lash out.

Lean in and Love

Now, let me be honest: I haven’t always done it perfectly and I occasionally revert back to my old ways of getting frustrated.

But when I start to feel the frustration and anger rising, I remember my mantra, “Lean in and love.”

When I want to lash out, lean in and love.

When I want to express my frustration, lean in and love.

When that child is getting on my every last nerve, lean in and love.

Practical Ways to Love More Instead of Lashing Out

1. Invite your child to sit with you.

I’ve noticed that when my children are frustrated and acting out, it’s often because they are craving attention and affection.

Inviting a child to come sit next to me when they are getting on my every last nerve can be so hard for me to do. In fact, I usually want them to be as far away from me as possible. But distance is only going to make matters worse.

Lovingly and gently asking my child to come sit next to me and be with me helps to calm both of us. It helps me to communicate love for the child (even if I don’t feel all that loving at the time) and it causes the child to feel special and cared for.

Moms, we get so busy with life. The list is never ending. But the truth is: Our kids don't need our productivity. They need our presence.

2. Stop, look, and listen.

Moms, we can get so busy with life. We have places to go, things to do, messes to clean up, meals to fix… the list is never ending.

Our kids don’t need our productivity. They need our presence.

If a child is misbehaving, don’t shush them just so you can get back to what you were doing. Stop, look into their eyes, and gently ask them, “Is everything okay?” Or, “What’s wrong?” Really mean it. And then really listen to their answer.

Taking time to do this — even in the middle of a very busy day — has made a world of difference in our home.

9 Ways to Yell Less & Love More

3. Pray With Your Child

When Silas is struggling, I’ll often ask him if I can pray for him. He always says yes and then calms down while I pray with him asking God to help him be calm, obey, love his sisters, or whatever it is that he’s struggling with.

Usually, by the end of my prayer, he’s calmed down and in a much better mood. I think, for him, my willingness to take time to pray with him helps him to feel loved. It also communicates to him that we need God’s help in our everyday life — especially when we’re struggling.

Diana from My Humble Kitchen once shared me with that when she’s struggling to respond with kindness and gentleness to her children, she’ll ask them to gather around and pray for her. She said that it’s basically impossible to respond in anger after your children have gathered around you and prayed for you! I definitely plan to try this soon!

99 Practical Ways to Yell Less & Love More

4. Go Outside & Take a Walk Together

If you feel like things are about to explode inside the walls of your house, call everyone together and tell them you’re taking a walk in 5 minutes. (Or, make it a family bike ride if you have older children.)

Exercise and fresh air can do wonders when things are uptight! Plus, a fresh change of scenery can provide a better setting for talking through issues in a calmer manner.

Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses along the way, breathe in the fresh air, soak up the sunshine, and notice the beauty around you. This will boost your spirits for the tasks that lay ahead of you the rest of the day!

9 Ways to Yell Less & Love More

5. Share Three Things You’re Thankful For

As I often say, “There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.” But sometimes we can get bogged down by all the problems, stresses, and struggles that we forget to count our blessings.

In those moments when you want to yell and be frustrated with your kids, challenge yourself to stop, breathe, and call your children together and each share three things you’re thankful for. This might seem really difficult at first if everyone is at odds with everyone else, but force yourself to do this and it will most likely change the tone in your home.

Plus, it might help you step back and gain some perspective: in light of all you have to be grateful for, the small things that someone is doing to irritate you won’t seem so upsetting.

9 Practical Ways to Yell Less & Love More

 6) Do Something Fun

If you have young children, this can be especially helpful to do on a hard day. When things feel like they are falling apart, set aside your to-do list and plans for the afternoon or evening and have a tea party, a family game night, a family movie night, or go do something fun as a family.

Sit down, smile, and just enjoy your children. Take time to laugh together, read a story (or tell stories!), and maybe also talk to them about how they are feeling about life, things they are struggling with, or even some encouragement for them in some areas they need to improve in.

9 Practical Ways to Yell Less & Love More

7) Put Yourself In Your Child’s Shoes

It’s so easy for us to forget that our kids are often carrying heavy burdens, too. Sometimes, we can be so focused on our world and what we’re carrying that we lose sight of what they might be sad about or stressed about or upset about.

The other day, one of our kids was getting really irritated at everyone. I realized that something was bothering them so I asked them to go have a few minutes of quiet. I reassured them that they were not in trouble but that I thought something was upsetting them and I wanted to give them time to think about what they might be feeling upset about.

I told them I would come back in five minutes and they could tell me what they were feeling. When I did, they poured out all sorts of frustrations to me while I just listened.

This simple exercise seemed to make a world of difference AND allowed me to really have a better understanding of what this child was feeling and carrying.

9 Practical Ways to Yell Less & Love More

8) Play With Your Children

When was the last time you played with your kids?

I mean, really got down on the floor and engaged in their world or did something that your older kids think is fun? While I don’t think we need to entertain our kids 24/7, I think it’s important to regularly take time to spend time with our kids by doing things with them that they love to do.

If you’re having a bad day, here’s an antidote: Think of what your children love to do (playing outside, playing Legos, playing games, playing dress-up, hanging out, watching a movie, playing sports, playing video games,  etc.) and tell them you want to hang out with them for 30 minutes or an hour (or however much time you have).

Then just have fun together and give it your all for those 30 minutes. I bet you end up having as much fun as they will… and you’ll probably forget all about the bad day you were having!

Moms: Take a Time Out

9) Take Mommy Time Out

Moms: Taking time to replenish your supply is not selfish; it’s actually enabling you to be a better wife and mom. If you’re just pouring and pouring and pouring into your family and never taking time to replenish your supply, you’re going to feel burned out, exhausted… and this will often cause you to feel more irritable and frustrated.

What energizes you? What refills your tank? Carve out time in your schedule to make this a priority each week. Get a babysitter, trade baby-sitting with a friend, have dad watch the kids on the weekend or one evening a week… whatever it takes to make Mommy Time happen.

Making time for YOU — to breathe, to refuel, to feel energized again — will make you a calmer, happier mom. And a calmer, happier mom is one who is going yell less and love more.

What practical ideas would you add to my list to help you to yell less and love more? I’d love to hear!

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8 Reddit Saving Money Threads to Help You Keep More of Your Cash

Looking for ways to save money?

Don’t limit yourself to the ideas you think up on your own. There’s great benefit in joining a group of others who can share their tips, tricks and advice. That’s the reason we started The Penny Hoarder Community.

Another resource where tons of ideas are shared is Reddit. If saving money is your aim, check out these eight Reddit forums, also known as subreddits, that’ll help you cut costs on food, travel, weddings and more.

1. r/Frugal

Over 1 million members belong to the frugal living subreddit. Here, you’ll find a wide range of discussions about how to save money in your everyday life. There’s advice on reducing the costs of necessities like food and utilities as well as nonessentials like electronics and vacations.

2. r/budgetfood

You can’t cut food out your budget, but there are so many ways to save. The 150,000 members in Reddit’s budget food community share ideas on meal planning, low-cost recipes, grocery shopping tips and more.

3. r/CordCutters

Sick of your $100+ cable bill, but on the fence about canceling your service? The cord cutters subreddit is where to go to ask questions about various cable alternatives, so you can pay less while still enjoying what you love to watch.

4. r/NoContract

We can’t live without our cell phones, but we can definitely do without being locked into pricy phone service contracts. Reddit’s no contract community is the forum to join if you’re interested in learning about cheaper phone service without a long-term commitment to a particular carrier.

5. r/Shoestring

The shoestring subreddit is where world travelers go to share advice and post questions about ways to travel on a budget. If you’re looking for cheap airfare, inexpensive lodging or ideas about low-cost things to do at your destination, this is the group to join.

6. r/BuyItForLife

Saving money isn’t always about buying the cheapest thing out there. Sometimes it’s worth spending more initially for something of better quality that lasts for years and years. Reddit’s buy it for life forum is where folks go to show off their long-lasting purchases, share feedback on the durability of various products and seek advice about how to maintain what they own so they don’t need to spend money on a replacement.

7. r/Weddingsunder10k

Planning a wedding but don’t want to go into debt getting hitched? The weddings under $10K subreddit has all the ideas about how to get married on a tight budget. Get inspiration from other brides or ask the group to weigh in on your upcoming nuptials.

8. r/MUAontheCheap

If you’re looking to spend less on beauty items check out the MUA on the cheap subreddit. It’s full of announcements about sales and special deals for popular makeup brands, nail polish, skincare and more.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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How to Become a DoorDash Driver / Dasher

DoorDash is the most popular food delivery app in the United States, beating out competitors Grubhub and Uber Eats. If you live in or near a city of any size, it probably operates in your backyard. Maybe you’ve even used DoorDash to order from your favorite restaurant.

If you’re at all familiar with DoorDash, you know it’s not a one-way street. Without its thousands-strong crew of hard-hustling delivery folks, called Dashers, the app wouldn’t work, and the world would be a little hungrier for it.

As DoorDash grows, so too do the ranks of Dashers. You may have what it takes to become a Dasher if you have:

  • Access to a personal vehicle (car, bike, or scooter)
  • A valid driver’s license
  • Valid insurance
  • An ability and desire to hustle in your spare time

According to DoorDash, Dashers may earn $15 to $20 per hour – and perhaps even more during peak periods when DoorDash may issue “Busy Pay” bonuses. Fuel costs and vehicle expenses inevitably reduce take-home earnings, but Dashing is still pretty lucrative compared with other popular sharing economy gigs.

Should you apply to become a Dasher? Let’s find out.

What Dashers Do

The short version: Dashers pick up prepared food orders – and, in some cases, other goods – from DoorDash partner merchants and deliver those orders to customers.

The slightly longer version, in sequential order:

  1. The Dasher logs into the DoorDash app, either at their convenience or at the start of a shift they’ve previously scheduled in the app.
  2. The Dasher chooses to accept or decline orders they receive from the app.
  3. When the Dasher accepts an order, they travel to the merchant to pick it up.
  4. When the order is ready, the Dasher pays with their Red Card, a DoorDash-issued reloadable prepaid card. When necessary – for instance, at cash-only restaurants – DoorDash can facilitate cash payments to merchants, but it isn’t as common.
  5. The Dasher brings the order to the customer. If the Dasher needs to contact the customer – for instance, to let them know there’s a delay at the restaurant or to navigate secure building entry – they can use the in-app contact function.
  6. The Dasher hands the order off to the customer. If the order is cash on delivery, the Dasher accepts cash from the customer and enters the payment in the app.
  7. The Dasher marks the order complete in the app. Success!

This process assumes a relatively smooth delivery. If the merchant can’t find an order placed through the app or the customer is unreachable, the Dasher may need to contact DoorDash’s service team to work on a solution. In rare cases, the order may need to be canceled.

Dasher Pay

Dashers can choose weekly or daily payouts. Pay always consists of:

  • A base pay rate of at least $1 per delivery
  • 100% of customer tips (given at the customer’s sole discretion)

Pay may also include:

  • Busy Pay bonuses for working during peak periods
  • Incentive payments for meeting certain temporary criteria set by DoorDash (such as a minimum completion rate)

Each DoorDash order has a minimum guaranteed payment, which varies by order. If the combined total of base pay, customer tips, and incentive payments doesn’t reach the minimum, DoorDash issues a payment boost to make up the difference.

How to Become a Dasher

Intrigued by what you’ve read so far? Here’s what you need to apply to become a Dasher, and what to expect from the application process.


Dashers must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have an iPhone or Android smartphone capable of running the DoorDash app
  • Provide a valid Social Security number
  • Have a suitable vehicle – depending on the market, this may mean a car (any make or model in working condition will do), motorcycle, scooter, or bike
  • Have valid insurance on the vehicle if required by law
  • Have a valid driver’s license and insurance if they’ll be driving

Signup & Approval

DoorDash’s application process is pretty straightforward. To get started, you’ll enter some basic personal information – name, phone number, and ZIP code – and consent to receive email and text notifications from DoorDash.

If DoorDash is accepting applications in your area – depending on demand, it may pause acceptance from time to time, but it’s usually temporary – you’ll need to provide your Social Security number and more detail about your vehicle.

You’ll then select one of two onboarding options:

  • A virtual orientation that walks you through the basics of Dashing
  • A home-delivered “activation kit” that includes a hot bag to keep food warm, your Red Card, and an orientation manual. The activation kit takes one to four business days to arrive, according to DoorDash.

If you choose to receive an activation kit, you won’t need to complete a virtual orientation. In larger markets, you may have the option to pick up your kit at a physical DoorDash office.

Next, you’ll need to download and install the Dasher app, activate your Red Card, complete a W-9 taxpayer identification form, and set up direct deposit. Once you’ve completed these steps, DoorDash will active your Dasher app and clear you to begin Dashing.

Delivering With Doordash

Advantages of Dashing for DoorDash

What sets DoorDash apart from other side hustle opportunities? For starters:

1. You Don’t Need Your Own Car

This is one of DoorDash’s signature advantages relative to popular gig economy apps such as Uber and Lyft. Although every market is different, most support alternative vehicles such as motorcycles, scooters, and pedal-powered cycles. If you’re content to live without a car or simply don’t have consistent access to a working car, Dashing may still be in your future.

2. You Can Earn Bonus Pay During Peak Hours

DoorDash issues bonus and incentive payments during periods of peak customer demand – usually during the lunch and dinner rushes, though the exact timing and volume depend on the market. A typical incentive might be something like: “Be active in the Dasher app in [your market] between 11:30am and 2pm, accept 80% of orders during that time, and complete at least three orders to receive $2 extra per order.”

To capture incentives, you may need to move between markets or submarkets. For instance, one example DoorDash provides distinguishes between two California Bay Area markets: Fremont/Union City/Hayward/Castro Valley and Oakland/Berkeley/Alameda. It’s up to you to determine whether the added drive time is worth the bonus.

3. Peak Hours Often Fall During Extended Business Hours

This is another key advantage over ride-sharing apps whose peak hours often fall on weekend evenings and early mornings. Late-night restaurants notwithstanding, DoorDash’s highest order volumes are likely to occur around lunchtime and dinnertime, making this gig if not quite 9-to-5, then not too far off.

4. DoorDash Is Widespread & Growing

DoorDash operates in virtually every major U.S. metro, many second- and third-tier metros, and a fair number of smaller college towns and rural hubs. You likely live in or close enough to a DoorDash market to make Dashing viable. The same can’t be said for some other popular courier apps, whose coverage may be thin or nonexistent outside the 50 or so largest U.S. metros.

Considerations for Prospective DoorDash Drivers

Dashing is a great way to earn a side income on your own schedule, but it’s not a perfect side gig; no side gig is. Before applying, consider:

1. The Implications of Independent Contractor Status

DoorDash classifies Dashers as independent contractors, not traditional W-2 employees. The advantages of working as an independent contractor are clear: you have more control over your working hours, environments, and (at least in theory) earning potential.

But independent contractors don’t enjoy all the same legal rights as traditional employees, such as protection from certain types of discrimination and coverage under minimum wage laws – though DoorDash’s minimum guaranteed payouts often exceed the local minimum wage when converted to hourly rates.

Moreover, independent contractors must:

  • Manage Their Own Income Tax Obligations. DoorDash doesn’t withhold income tax from Dashers’ payouts. Dashers are responsible for calculating their own income tax liabilities (which involves accounting for actual and expected earnings and expenses), setting aside funds to cover those expected obligations, and making quarterly estimated tax payments (federal and state, if applicable) to avoid interest and penalties.
  • Pay Self-Employment Tax. Dashers earning more than $400 per year on the DoorDash app may be subject to self-employment tax, which comes out to roughly 15.3% of their income from Dashing. (Dashers who earn an income through other gig economy apps must pay self-employment tax on those apps’ earnings too.) By contrast, W-2 workers generally pay just half the self-employment tax rate, with their employers picking up the remainder. For situation-specific information, speak with a tax professional or consult IRS Topic Number 554.
  • Cover Their Own Expenses Out of Pocket. Independent contractors, including Dashers, are typically held responsible for paying work-related expenses out of pocket. For instance, DoorDash does not reimburse Dashers’ fuel or vehicle maintenance costs, which inevitably reduces their take-home pay. Fortunately, most expenses incurred by independent contractors are tax-deductible – see this list from Intuit – but the deduction is far from a one-to-one reimbursement. Dashers do better when they operate like miniature business enterprises, using apps such as MileIQ and Everlance to track common expenses ahead of tax time, even if they choose not to formally incorporate.
  • Deal With One-Off Expenses. DoorDash does not reimburse road tolls, parking fees, parking tickets, or traffic tickets. Reduce the risk of tickets by driving and parking responsibly, and take the DoorDash app’s toll-avoidance suggestions to heart. You’ll get better at consistently avoiding parking fees with time. Generally, it’s best to avoid Dashing by car in commercial areas with limited or nonexistent free parking. If you Dash in a congested urban core, there’s a good chance you’ll be more efficient on a bike or scooter, anyway.

2. The Learning Curve

Like any new gig, DoorDash comes with a learning curve. As someone who’s worked as a delivery driver, I can tell you that Dashes one through nine won’t be as quick or efficient as Dashes 101 through 109.

But that’s OK. The important thing is that you go into the process with the understanding that you’ll learn and improve over time. Every Dasher starts somewhere.

3. Personal Vehicle Expenses

Dashing puts extra miles on your personal vehicle, whether it’s a car, motorcycle, scooter, or cycle. That means wear and tear, which means potential maintenance and repairs that otherwise wouldn’t be necessary. Precisely how much more you’ll spend on your vehicle depends on factors such as:

  • The vehicle type (car, motorcycle, scooter)
  • The make and model (foreign cars typically cost more to maintain and repair)
  • How much you Dash
  • The condition of the roads you’re Dashing on
  • The type of driving you’re doing (highway driving is gentler on vehicles than driving on congested surface streets)

Again, these expenses will eat into your take-home pay. It’s up to you to determine whether the additional wear and tear on your vehicle is worth the cost and headache. For many Dashers, it is.

4. Order Volume & Dasher Competition in Your Area

Not all DoorDash markets are created equal. In markets with fewer – or sparser – customers and merchants, Dashers may earn less per hour than their counterparts in livelier markets. On the other hand, competition among Dashers may be lower in slower markets, which may make for busier, more lucrative Dashing sessions. There’s no way to know for sure until you’ve been Dashing for a while.

5. Factors That May Lengthen Completion Times

As a former delivery driver, I’m well-versed in all that can stand in the way of a smooth order. At one time or another, every Dasher will have to deal with:

  • Traffic. No matter where you Dash, traffic will be an issue, whether it’s due to road construction, crashes, or plain old congestion. If you Dash during peak driving periods, such as the evening rush hour, traffic will be worse. Keep this in mind when projecting your potential earnings.
  • Parking. If you Dash for merchants located in congested urban areas or busy suburban shopping centers, parking will be an issue. You may find yourself paying for parking – which DoorDash won’t reimburse you for – or competing for parking spots. Plan accordingly.
  • Merchant Delays. During peak periods, merchants may struggle to keep up with order volume, and you may find yourself waiting at the pickup counter for the kitchen to finish your order. Although it’s impossible to completely avoid order delays, experienced Dashers may learn to decline orders from consistently backed-up merchants.
  • Faraway Customers. Dashers working larger territories may find themselves driving five or 10 miles one way to complete an order. In the interest of maintaining an acceptable completion rate, you may need to accept some orders that take longer than you’d like; DoorDash’s minimum pay guarantee is, in part, designed to compensate for these situations.

6. How DoorDash Evaluates You

In the interest of quality control, DoorDash continually evaluates Dashers. Dashers who fail to meet minimum quality standards may be subject to deactivation, though DoorDash typically issues formal warnings to failing Dashers before kicking them off the app.

Three Dasher metrics are particularly important:

  • Dasher Rating. This is the aggregate of customer-generated Dasher quality ratings. After receiving their completed order, the customer rates their Dasher on a scale of one to five. Dashers with aggregate ratings under 4.2 may be subject to deactivation.
  • Acceptance Rate. This is the rate at which the Dasher accepts orders in the app. Although it’s not clear that DoorDash has a minimum acceptance rate, Dashers with meager acceptance rates – those who consistently decline multiple orders before accepting one – may risk deactivation. Dashers who appear to be idle may be logged out of the app automatically.
  • Completion Rate. Dashers are expected to complete every accepted order, even when things don’t go smoothly. DoorDash adjudicates serious issues on a case-by-case basis – when the restaurant fails to prepare an order and refuses to make it up, for instance. However, Dashers whose completion rates fall below 70% may be subject to deactivation.

These aren’t groundbreaking metrics. Still, you’ll want to understand how they work before signing up for DoorDash and accepting orders. The onboarding process is designed to address common questions, but if you’re unsure about something, it never hurts to reach out to DoorDash’s support team.

Final Word

Some people Dash for fun. Others do it to reach a savings goal, such as a much-needed vacation or a down payment on a home. Still others work it around their studies, content to earn a few hundred discretionary bucks per month.

There’s no right or wrong reason to Dash. You don’t even need a car of your own to get started. And as your own boss, you’re free to dial back or quit Dashing altogether if you find it’s not working for you. So why not give it a try? Sign up to become a Dasher today.

Are you a DoorDash Dasher? What do you like about it?

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The Value of Time Tracking – And How I Do It

Over the past few years, I’ve made several small references to the fact that I’m a pretty active time tracker. I like to keep track of what I do with my time throughout the day, to the best of my ability, and I find a ton of value not just in doing so, but in the accumulated data.

A few readers over the years have touched base with me on the subject, asking for more details, so I thought there might be value in explaining the full system in detail – why I do it, how I do it, and what value I get from the results. There are definitely some real financial and professional benefits, and benefits in other areas of life, too.

What Is Time Tracking?

Time tracking is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I simply keep track of my time use each day. Any time I do something for more than about five minutes, or if I interrupt an ongoing task for more than about five minutes, I record that.

Let’s say I wake up in the morning and I decide that I first want to take a shower and get dressed for the day. I mark the time, that I’m no longer sleeping, and that I’m now practicing morning hygiene. When I’m done with that and I decide I want to meditate, I mark the time, that I’m no longer doing morning hygiene, and that I’m now meditating. This goes on and on, to the best of my ability, until I’m ready to go to sleep, at which point I mark the time, that I’m no longer doing whatever it was I was doing right before bed, and that I’m now sleeping. I’ll get into the mechanics of this in a bit, but it takes me less than a second to record those transitions, so it’s practically effortless.

In general, I don’t bother recording very short things, less than five or ten minutes or so. I’m more interested in the larger blocks of time I devote to things like sleep, work, hygiene, meals, hobbies, and so on.

I do not aim for perfection. That would be impossible. Instead, I just aim to get as close as I can to recording the actual edges of the significant chunks of time throughout my day. I’m never absolutely perfect at it.

Why Do It?

The first question most people ask when they hear about this is why. Why would a person even want to do this?

This actually is a practice that I started using at my previous job to document my personal time. I was frustrated by my performance reviews and felt that the reviews didn’t actually assess all of the different things I was actually taking care of and responsible for at work, so for the last year or so of my job, I started tracking my time very carefully using an Excel spreadsheet, doing it all manually. I wanted to produce documentation that showed that I spent X hours in an average week – and Y hours over the last year – doing a particular task and so on. So, the entire thing was initially borne out of a frustration with managers not really understanding or appreciating all of the things I was quietly doing and maintaining.

I learned several things as I was doing this.

First of all, the act of time tracking nudges me to make better use of my time. When I made the conscious decision to be as honest as possible with my time tracking, I quickly realized that I didn’t want to track silly uses of my time. If I were to look at my time tracking data at the end of the day or the end of the week or the end of the month and think to myself that some of those entries were absolutely wasteful or silly, that wouldn’t feel good. I don’t want to see entries like that in my data. So, during the day, I consciously choose things to do that will look better in the data.

This is very similar to the phenomenon of writing down every dime you spend. If you do that honestly, there will be bad expenses that you don’t want to write down, and that desire to not have to record that silly expense pushes you away from that expense. You don’t want to write it down, so you don’t do it.

Second, time tracking keeps me on task. I have a rough rule that if I’m stepping away from the task at hand for more than five minutes, I write down that the task has ended and that I’m moving on to something else. This actually does a great job of keeping me on task. I recognize that if I start browsing websites for very long, I’m actually effectively ending the block of time I spent on task and, as noted above, I don’t want to do that, so I find myself nudging away from pure time-wasting activities.

Finally, time tracking data is incredibly useful, especially as I accumulate more and more of it. I’ll get into this below in the “How I Use the Data” section, but suffice it to say that the data has a great deal of value, professionally, personally, and financially. The things I’ve learn from looking at the time tracking data I’ve accumulated have helped me make better career decisions, make better hobby choices, make better personal decisions, and so on.

When I walked away from that job, I found that the unstructured life of self-employment and contracted work made it very easy to start using time in a … let’s say, less than optimal manner. After a while, I began to realize that I needed to figure out better practices for using my time, and that’s when I returned to time tracking, and I’ve more or less been using it constantly over the last several years. I found that the benefits it brought to my professional life back then actually exist in almost every aspect of my life now.

How I Track My Time

So, how do I actually pull this off without being overly clunky?

For me, the number one most important principle of time tracking is that it must require absolute minimum effort to actually track time. When I first started doing this, I would manually track time in a spreadsheet document, and that was often cumbersome. I had to develop a set of codes to use to make the entry more efficient, but even that was fairly slow. It is very likely that if I were still recording my time manually on a spreadsheet or with a piece of paper, I wouldn’t still be doing it.

The big change for me was the arrival of online services that handle time tracking for you. They basically handle all of the data tracking and reduce it all down to a single button click, though there is a lot of setup work that needs to be done to make it work that well.

I’ve tried a bunch of services and the one I’ve been using for the past few months is far and away the best one I’ve ever used. I use Timery, which is an app that serves as a very user-friendly front end for the Toggl time tracking service. This might require a bit of explanation.

I have been using Toggl as my time tracking service for years because I like the way they handle all of the data that I’ve recorded. The only problem with Toggl is that their actual data entry tools are a bit cumbersome. I usually use my phone or (occasionally) my tablet to record when tasks start and end, but the tools Toggl provides themselves require several taps to do almost anything, which often takes me out of my train of thought.

Timery‘s entire focus is on making data entry into Toggl as simple as possible, reducing most of the time entry down to a single tap off of the Control Center screen on my phone or tablet. I can literally do it in less than a second, fast enough and thoughtless enough that I don’t have to break whatever I’m concentrating on. This has been a revelation for me.

Basically, I have a section on the Control Center screen on my phone called Timery, and within that is a selection of the most common things I track for time. If I have a timer running, it’s shown at the very top in a bigger button, so I just tap that button if I want to end the timer, then I find the button matching what I’m going to do next and tap that to start a new one. Timery handles all of the start and end times and data recording for me so I don’t have to deal with any of it.

I have a much longer list within the app itself for other things, so if I don’t happen to see the thing I’m doing, I tap the Timery app and just scroll down to that timer.

The nice thing about Timery/Toggl is that for each task, you give it a name, assign it a project, and can give it as many tags as you wish. This is huge in terms of sifting through the data once you’ve recorded a bunch of it.

I personally have a couple dozen different projects that are all named with the following structure “[Life Sphere] – [Specific Element].” Life sphere simply refers to one of the eleven areas of my life that I’m concerned with – physical, mental, spiritual, intellectual, social, marital, parental, family, professional, leisure, and financial. Some of those things break down into a few broad groups that I want to track. For example, I have a “Parental – NAME” project for each of my children to record when I’m spending one on one time with them, as well as a “Parental – All” for when I’m doing things with multiple kids at once. I have a “Professional – TSD” project for when I’m doing things with The Simple Dollar, as well as a few other “Professional – ” projects that relate to other professional things I’m doing.

So, for example, I have a task called “Playing Magic with my oldest child” that’s in the project “Parental – Oldest Child.” (Obviously, I use his name in that task, but I try to respect his privacy as much as possible on the site.) He loves playing Magic: the Gathering, so I tap that timer whenever I sit down to play a game or two with him.

Tags are used to include attributes of tasks in different spheres that might have things in common. This is usually to help handle specific tasks that I think are mostly in one project but have a lot in common with tasks in another project.

For example, I use the tags “#mtg” and “#tabletopgames” for the task described above, and there are tasks under the “Leisure” category that have similar tags, so that I can always have a full picture of how much time I spend playing tabletop games and playing Magic in general, with my son and other people combined.

Another example: I have several tasks that are within one of the “Professional” categories that have the tag “#writing” associated with them, so I can always figure out with a few clicks what time I’m spending writing.

Once one of these timers is created, I don’t have to do anything with them again other than to tap it once to start a timer for that task, then tap it again later to end a timer for that task. The name of the task, the category it’s in, and the tags it has are saved by Timery/Toggl, so I don’t have to ever re-enter them again after the first time. I just tap to start a timer, then tap again to end it.

How I Use the Data

So, I’m accumulating all of this data. How am I using it?

First of all, I really like to see week-over-week and month-over-month changes in my time use. Are those changes matching up with what I expect? With what I want out of life?

In terms of planning out my days, I use a “time block” system where I assign several big chunks of time to various things I want to get done, and each of those is usually associated with a timer. When I start to see changes in the data that I don’t like, I usually use that information to change how I’m blocking out my time going forward from there.

For example, let’s say I notice that my time spent with my daughter has declined in the last few months. I’ll likely give that some thought. How is my relationship with my daughter changing? Maybe I need to be spending more time with her. What kinds of things can we do together, just me and her, that would be meaningful and enjoyable for her?

Second, I use the data to help me figure out which work tasks are really worthwhile and which ones aren’t. Ideally, I want to be in a situation where, when I’m actually applying skills to produce work, I’m extremely efficient and earning a nice dollar-per-hour rate for that effort. What productive tasks are most efficient at producing the highest income per hour? Over the last several months, what ones have gone up, and can I connect that to my effort toward learning and improving skills?

For example, let’s say I notice that my time invested in all tasks tagged with “#writing” has gone down a bit over the last few months, but my actual income for writing has gone up. That improves my hourly rate, but why is that? Is it due to the specific tasks? Did I happen to have a really lucrative writing gig? Or maybe it was because I’ve invested some time into honing my writing skills over the past several months. I actually have clues here, data I can work with to figure out how valuable skill building actually is and what tasks and projects are really worthwhile for me. (I have at least one long term contract that now feels like a “dog” because it takes far more time than it gives me, so I know I won’t renew it or sign a similar one going forward. This is something I might not have realized without time tracking.)

In practical terms, this knowledge has led me to spend a fair amount of time working on skill building and knowledge building in the fall and winter months (when I have more time for such things) and then more time on producing things in the spring (where I want to produce a lot of good material quickly to free up time in the summer months). This cycle has worked out well and has enabled me to do some things in the summer that would have never worked in earlier years. It has also led me to agree to some additional projects and decline some others, because the data gives me a pretty clear sense as to whether I can handle them efficiently or not.

Third, seeing time use that I’m unhappy with is an incredibly powerful motivator to get me to cut out less valuable uses of my time. What I’m generally aiming for in life are uses of my time that seem purposeful now, but also seem purposeful when I look back on the data six months from now. If I see time uses that aren’t purposeful, I want to make changes, and those changes are usually positive for my life.

I’ll use computer games as an example. I think a small amount of computer game use is great for me. It is a powerful tool for short term de-stressing and the types of games I play usually make me think and analyze complex puzzles. I’m actually happy with a small amount of it – say, three hours a week. What I’m not happy with it is a steady uptick in the time I spend on computer games or when my time given to them adds up to a lot more than three hours a week. When I see that, I recognize immediately that I need to cut back and give more time to other things.

The reverse is also true. I generally like to see as much time as possible devoted to physical fitness and meditation, two practices I feel are extremely helpful in my daily life. When I see the time devoted to those things going down, I recognize that I need to consciously give more time to those things.

To put it simply, I have in my head an idea of what an “ideal week” and an “ideal month” look like. (An “ideal day” is kind of impossible because days vary too much.) There’s a certain portion of hours devoted to each area of my life, with some areas receiving more focus depending on the time of year. When I start to deviate a lot from that picture, I usually feel it in my life in a negative subconscious way, but I often don’t pick up on it consciously aside from a vague sense that something is off in terms of how I’m living my life. Time tracking almost always points me to what that problem is.

Finding Time for Time Tracking

Honestly, it doesn’t take much time at all to do this, once you’ve got a bunch of timers for the things in your life you want to track set up.

When I’m going through my day and tracking time, I can stop a timer and start a new one with a flick and two taps of my finger; it’s so fast that it barely registers as a conscious thing. It’s kind of a habit that you build up over time, so that it almost becomes unconscious to do it. (Yes, for some less common tasks, it takes an extra tap or two, but that’s like a five second thing.)

As I’ve mentioned many times, I take an hour or two each week (usually early on Sunday mornings, before anyone else is up) to do a “weekly review” of my life, looking at what I accomplished this week and figuring out what I’m going to do next week and going forward beyond that. I use the time tracking data as part of this review; I spend some time looking at my data for the past week and digging into anything that stands out at me. Sometimes, I’ll have a particular question in mind (like “how effective is time spent on focused research in terms of how efficient my actual writing time is?”) and I’ll dig through the data until I get a good answer. Usually, those conclusions help me figure out how to use my time better going forward and informs my planning for the coming week.

When I initially set up the system, it took about an hour to set up my initial handful of timers, and for the first month or two, I was adding timers fairly regularly (took about a minute each, most of which was thinking about exactly what I wanted to track). After that, I’ve occasionally added a new timer, but not often.

So, time tracking takes up very, very little of my time. It’s super convenient and not cumbersome in any way. Although previous iterations of my system were a bit cumbersome, that’s been eliminated thanks to technology improvements.

Final Thoughts

Time tracking is something that has had surprising positive value in my life. It’s helped me figure out lots of different life problems and helped me figure out what’s going on during times when I’ve felt things were out of whack in my life. It’s helped me figure out how to become much more efficient with my professional work and understand how time spent building skills actually ends up helping my overall professional life tremendously. It’s helped me identify areas of my life that need work, and other areas of my life to which I’m devoting too much of my time.

The system takes a bit of time to set up – an hour or two, most likely – and it definitely requires you to build a habit of tracking time as a natural response to changing what you’re doing, but once you get there, actually tracking the information is slick and natural.

The data, once you start to accumulate a sufficient amount of it, is incredibly useful in terms of figuring out what’s really going on in your life and setting priorities and goals going forward.

I’m really glad that time tracking is a part of my life. For the relatively small amount of time I’ve given to it, it’s resulted in a lot of insights and a lot of positive directions for me. I’m glad I chose to start doing it, and I plan on continuing to do this for a very long time, likely until I hit early retirement and our children have moved out of the home.

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Why you should tackle one goal at a time

I used to be the sort of guy who loved to have a list of goals. At least once a year — usually around New Year — I’d sit down and make a list of all the things that were wrong with me, all of the things I wanted to change.

In 2007, for instance, I made a list of 101 things I wanted to accomplish in 1001 days. (It took me longer than three years to finish that list, by the way. In fact, I still haven’t done everything on it because my priorities have changed. But now, ten years later, I see that I have completed nearly all of the ones that still matter.)

Eventually I realized that making a long lists of resolutions is a sure path to disappointment — at least for me. There’s a reason you see newspaper and TV stories every spring about how most people aren’t able to maintain the resolutions they set at the first of the year. It’s because most of us try to do too much. (And, I think, because we try to set goals that aren’t truly aligned with our primary purpose in life.)

Nowadays, I do something different, something that’s actually proven to be successful. Instead of trying to change many things at once, I’ve learned to change only one thing at a time.

One Thing at a Time

In 2010, for instance, I focused on fitness. In fact, I dubbed 2010 “The Year of Fitness”. My aim was to lose fifty pounds. Every decision I made, I made with that goal in mind. You know what? It worked. Though I didn’t lose fifty pounds that year, I did lose forty. (And I lost the final ten by the middle of 2011.)

[Weight Loss Progress]

I was able to do this because for the entire year, my only goal was to get in shape. I was focused. Nothing else mattered. I didn’t have any other big goals clouding my view or competing for my attention. I set one goal, and I worked hard to meet it.

In 2011, my one goal was to learn Spanish. And I did it. Three times a week, I paid a Spanish tutor for ninety minutes of personal instruction. In my spare time, I watched Spanish movies and listend to Spanish music. I read Spanish books. I consumed Spanish podcasts. Within a year, I’d achieved reasonable fluency in the language. I could carry on converstations in South America, and I could read Spanish-language novels. (Though not all Spanish-language novels.)

In 2012, I tried something a little different. Instead of one big goal for the year, I chose to work on one goal each month. Some examples:

  • In March, I had lunch or dinner with a different friend every day. This let me reconnect with people I’d been missing.
  • In April, I embarked upon my Extreme Dating Project. I’d just been divorced, and my goal was to meet as many women as possible. (April was a fun month! And it led to my current relationship with Kim.)
  • Next, my goal became to make it to the gym every day in May. I didn’t quite succeed — I only worked out 28 out of 31 days — but I came close.
  • My next goal was “no junk in June”. I focused on my diet, which helped me lose five pounds and two percent body fat.

Sometimes I spend a year on any given goal. Sometimes, I spend a month. And sometimes I spend even longer! After Kim and I decided we wanted to take an RV trip across the United States, for instance, I spent the next eighteen months devoted to that project.

During the first part of 2015, we shopped for and purchased a motorhome, then prepped it for life on the road. We left Portland on 25 March 2015 and spent the next six months exploring the U.S. We paused for six months in Savannah, Georgia, before beginning our homeward journey this time last year. On 29 June 2016, we made it back to Portland. We had a blast — because for those eighteen months, we were committed to one thing and one thing only.

You get the idea. At any given time, I’m concerned with only one major goal.

One Problem, One Correction

My friend (and personal trainer) Cody espouses the “one thing at a time” philosophy when he works with clients at his gym. Here’s how he describes his approach:

One of the teaching skills that is developed in good coaches is the concept of “one fault, one correction”. The idea is to take the most important correction needed and just focus on that one thing. Attack it from different angles if needed, but be tenacious on correcting the biggest fault only. Once that has been achieved, the Coach and Athlete can move on to the next biggest fault, then the next and so on, in a never-ending journey toward excellence.

Cody says that by focusing on one thing at a time, you can:

  • Obtain greater focus. When you try to correct more than one thing at once, it’s easy to become distracted. You can’t do any one thing well because you’re trying to do many things poorly. But if you concentrate on a single goal, you’re able to obtain a laser-like focus that better helps you achieve that objective.
  • Reduce stress. If tackle too much at once, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It seems like you’ll never get it all done. When you focus on one thing at a time, you know that’s the only thing you have to worry about. This relieves a lot of pressure.
  • Build confidence. “Honing in on one challenge and overcoming it can give you a tremendous feeling of success,” Cody says. This boosts your belief that you can overcome other obstacles. When you kick ass on your first goal, you know you can kick ass on the next one.

Cody puts this philosophy into practice every day in the gym. He uses it when coaching me on squats, for example. When I started at his gym, my form was awful. I couldn’t do an actual squat — not even without weight. By correcting one thing at a time, I made great progress. (At my peak, I could backsquat 245 pounds, which was 150% of my body weight!)

The myth of multitasking and the magic of single-tasking are well known. Study after study after study has demonstrated that when we try to do more than one thing at once, quality and quantity both suffer. It’s much better to finish one thing before tackling a second. (Did you know that those who claim they’re best at multi-tasking are actually worst? It’s true!)

Exercise: Here’s one of my favorite demonstrations of how multitasking hinders rather than helps. Grab a pen, a piece of paper, and a stopwatch. First, time yourself as you write the alphabet from A to Z followed by the numbers 1 to 26. Next, time yourself as you alternate between writing the letters and numbers, putting them each in their respective columns (or rows): “A 1 B 2 C 3”. When I tried this just now, it took me 30.49 seconds to complete the first pass (with no errors). It took me 43.57 seconds to complete the second pass (with one error — I wrote F instead of 5.)

In his book The ONE Thing, entrepreneur Gary Keller advocates relentless focus on a single goal at a time. Specifically, he recommends asking yourself this question: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Keller writes, “Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus…You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”

The Bottom Line

I’ve been using the “one thing at a time” approach for more than seven years now. It’s made me happier and more productive. And it’s because of this success that I’ve become such a huge advocate for creating a personal mission statement. When you have a single over-arching purpose, it’s so much easier to prioritize the other things in your life.

But I want to point out that I’m not advocating slavish devotion to your one goal. Not at all. While you’re pursuing fitness or learning Spanish or traveling the country in an RV, there’s still time to work on other areas of your life. And you should constantly strive toward holistic personal growth.

What I’m advocating is choosing one thing that takes priority over all other things, and then sticking to that until you meet your objective. If your aim is to achieve a certain weight or — better yet — to develop a fitness routine, then make sure that is the one thing that never gets pushed aside for other priorities.

Also note that the one thing that’s most important to you this year or this month or this week might be different from your personal mission. Or it might be some small subset of that larger goal. My personal mission is all about personal growth and exploration. But this month, my primary aim is to reduce my alcohol consumption. My aim for next month is to — finally! — complete the Get Rich Slowly redesign.

Lastly, I should note that although I’ve found this strategy effective and I’m writing an entire article advocating it to you, the reader, I still sometimes forget to use it.

One reason I suffered from anxiety this spring is that I had forgotten my own advice to tackle one major goal at a time. I was trying to do too much. My therapist helped me to see that I had unrealistic expectations for myself and that I needed to dial back my ambition.

“Oh yeah,” I thought. “One thing at a time. I need to focus on one thing at a time.” So I am.

Author: J.D. Roth

In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he’s managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.

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The Best Cash-Back Credit Card Out There

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