Saturday, December 29, 2007

Be A Mentor

Courtesy of dakari9

Imagine that you’re a child, being raised by only one parent, struggling to keep clothes on your back. Imagine that your parents are inexperienced teens, who probably aren’t married and they don’t know what they want to do with their lives, let alone the first thing about raising children. Imagine that you’re living in poverty, where most of your time is spent worrying about your next meal and not too much time is spent thinking about your future. Finally in any of the three scenarios, you can find yourself not seeing the point in going to school any longer and are considering quitting high school, maybe the idea of money earned at a full-time job (or more) might seem more important or so you believe that by doing so that you would have more time to do drugs. Under any and all of these circumstances, you could definitely use a mentor, someone to show you the way in life and help you to find answers to the questions that are probably running through your mind, someone that could be a positive role model and provide stability in a sea of turbulence and uncertainty? It is estimated that of the 32.5 million American kids between the ages of 10 and 18, that about half could benefit from a mentor and that for 15.1 million kids a mentor is not available. So many children in need of help, is certainly a driver for many mentoring efforts by various charities and charitable organizations. Awareness is one of the biggest drivers behind January 2008 being the 7th annual National Mentoring Month in the U.S. In addition, January 24th is Thank Your Mentor Day.

A mentor can be a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person. The person being mentored is more commonly referred to as the Protégé and sometimes called the Mentee. Mentoring goes all the way back Greek times with Socrates/Plato, and Plato/Aristotle having Mentor/ Protégé relationships. The business world has discovered the importance of mentoring and many people have benefited from mentors. Many companies will pair new hires with more experience employees, sometimes mentoring is used to groom up and coming employees with a series of coaches assigned. Many successful people in life have had a mentor at some point in their life to show them the the way (or at least a way).

Special skills are not required to be a mentor and mentors can come from all walks of life. What is needed are people that can give their time, experience, and to be able to listen to a mentee, providing valuable feedback. If you think back to when you were this age, there is probably someone that you could talk to about your concerns, maybe they didn’t always have the answers but they were there for you and helped you to think things through more clearly. Maybe they were your one or both of your parents, a relative, a teacher, or a friend, but they were there when you needed them. As an adult you have been through a lot to things that you probably don’t think about too much but your advice on dealing with these things could be invaluable and even life-saving to some of these kids. You might be able to encourage them to continue on with their education by pointing out the benefits of doing so, maybe you wish that you had gone to college and talk about this with them. You would be able to tell about how you got your first real job and help them in their preparation. You have learned so many of life’s lessons (some maybe even the hard way), your experiences could be invaluable to kid in need of a mentor.

According to the, of the 32.5 million kids (ages 10-18) in the U.S, it is estimated that about half could benefit from a mentor (17.6 million) and of that there is an estimated mentoring gap (where a mentor is not currently available) of 15.1 million kids. Consider that:

  • 1 out of 4 kids lives with only one parent
  • 1 out of 10 kids was born to teen parents
  • 1 out of 5 kids lives in poverty
  • 1 out of 10 kids will not finish high school

A lot has been said and written about the decline of the nuclear family, one where there is a father and mother living together with their kids. There are so many mixed families where there are children from previous marriages (or relationships), where the parents aren’t able to full-fill the role that they have traditionally served in a nuclear family. I have seen many divorced families and can relate to the fact that the parent with primary responsibility is so busy in trying to do it all that they might not see the signs that their kid(s) need help and are struggling. Even in “normal” families there is conflict and rebellion between children and their parent(s) and kids might not talk to them about any serious issues at all. In many of these situations, a positive role model would be beneficial and could provide a bite more stability in these kids’ lives.

Unlike some of the major issues today that will require a lot of money and resources to solve, mentoring doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, is something that most everyone can do, and you can have an almost immediate impact. You’re not expected to be a parent to these kids. What is needed is people that are willing to spend time listening and just being there for your mentee. Even with the busy schedules that most of us have, you probably have time to be a mentor. Many mentors have said that they have gotten just as much out of being a mentor as the gave,if not more. This is also a great way to fulfill that New Year’s Resolution of “making a difference”.

Some of the local organizations that are involved in the 7th annual National Mentoring Month include state and local affiliates in the U.S. of MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, Corporation for National and Community Service, Points of Light Foundation, America's Promise Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Communities in Schools, and United Way of America. Public service announcements from Colin Powel, Cal Ripken Jr., Quincy Jones, Usher, John Glenn, President Bill Clinton, Richard Dreyfuss, Edward James Olmos, Martin Sheen, Ray Charles, Kelsey Grammer, Mary Hart, Marc Anthony, Deepak Chopra, Larry King, Sen. John McCain, Bill Russell, Tim Russert, Mike Wallace, and various mentors and their protégés are available at the Who Mentored You website here.

I hope that you will look into being a mentor. There are a lot of kids that could use a mentor; I hope that you’ll become a mentor.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Creating Realistic New Year's Resolutions

So you’ve decided that you want to make a New Year’s Resolution or two. What is a New Year’s Resolution? A New Year’s Resolution can be defined as a commitment made by an individual or group to a project or habit; which often involves changes in lifestyle to implement. A recent survey conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation for Whole Foods Market found that more than 75% of Americans would prefer to adopt long-term life-style changes as opposed to traditional resolutions. Building on my previous post on New Year’s Resolution categories, I thought that I would describe how to create realistic New Year’s Resolutions.

Why is it that most New Year’s Resolutions fail? There are a variety of reasons why resolutions/goals fail but many can be attributed to the creation of the resolution itself. Many of the resolutions that people have made aren’t SMART. So before going into how to create realistic New Year’s Resolutions, I thought that I should elaborate a little further on SMART. SMART is an acronym used to create better achievable goals. Your goal(s)/resolution(s) should fit all of the criteria below:

S – specific/stretching (challenging), well defined, and clear
M – measurable/meaningful/motivating. How can you determine if you have reached it and progress that you have made towards your stated goal?
A – achievable/attainable/actionable
R – realistic/reasonable/results oriented
T – timely/tangible/trackable

Creating Your Realistic New Year’s Resolutions

Now let’s get started…

• Think about and write down anything that you’d like to change about your life. You can start a list and think about it over the course of a few days to capture other ideas.
• Review your list and remove anything resolutions that are terribly unrealistic. If one of your resolutions isn’t very realistic, you can still keep it but you must remember how unlikely it is that you won’t achieve it and how demotivating such a resolution might be to achieving your other resolutions. You don’t want to build in failure and quit all your resolutions, because you didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize.
• Look for incompatible resolutions. It might not be the best idea to lose weight and quit smoking at the same time. People often gain weight when they quit smoking, so you’re more likely to succeed if you choose one and then you can choose the other at a later time when you don’t have conflicting resolutions.
• Review your list and remove or modify any resolutions that aren’t SMART. Vague resolutions should be more defined. I want to lose weight could become I want to lose 10 pounds by June. Breakdown large resolutions into smaller achievable goals.
• Create alternatives to the behavior or habit that you would like to change. If you smoke to relax, you might try to find something else that you can do to help you relax as an alternative.
• Go for lifestyle changes whenever possible. Often a behavior that you want to change or get rid of is the byproduct of something else. Some people go shopping when they’re depressed while others turn to alcohol or eating. If you understand why you do something, you have a better chance of stopping it at the source. While a crash diet might help you lose weight fast, your loss isn’t likely to be permanent if you immediately go back to your old eating habits. That is why some many people on “diets” gain back their loss and then some. If you resolve to change your unhealthy eating habits instead of purely the quick weight loss you’re more likely to keep the weight off long-term.
• As part of SMART, you’ll want to create resolutions that motivate you. Don’t create resolutions for someone else, unless that is the motivation that you need to succeed at your resolution. Most people don’t have long-term motivation in impressing others. You’ll need a resolution that you want because you’re the person that is going to have to do it and live with the consequences.
• Define your resolution differently. If you have tried a particular resolution without success more than once, you might need to come up with a different approach. Many people are turned off by the terms “diet” and “budget”. Look for more empowering words to substitute in your resolutions or change the meaning of the work or resolution. If diet means a highly restrictive set of rules applied to your daily food intake that leaves your feeling hungry and unsatisfied, how likely are you to be motivated to keep your resolution?
• Limit the number and types or resolutions that you make. Build success into your resolutions. You can create short-term, intermediate, and long-term resolutions, so that success in the shorter term ones can motivate you to achieve the longer term ones. If you have too many resolutions, you can be unfocused and fail to achieve few, if any, of them.
• Join a supportive group or network. A lot of people can lose weight because of the support and encouragement that they find in attending Weight Watchers meetings. In addition to local support groups there are a variety of groups that you can join online. 43Things is type of social networking site where a site where people create a list of their goals and give advice and support to each other.
• Tell your family, friends, and co-workers about your resolutions. This builds in accountability, making it harder to drop your resolutions because of the shame factor. You’ll want to be careful about this one because there are a lot of negative people that want to drag you down with them.
• Be flexible and patient. Life happens and something might happen that makes it hard (if not impossible) to complete your resolution(s), but don’t give up so easily. If you find yourself sliding in your resolution, you might need to review it, modify it, and start again with renewed motivation. In losing weight, many people get off to a good start and then if they reach a plateau, they become demotivated and quit.
• You can create a New Year’s Resolution any day of the year, not just at New Year’s Day. If you can have Christmas in July, why not a New Year’s Resolution in March, August, or October?

Good luck with your New Year’s resolutions. Remember to keep them SMART!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

2008 is fast approaching and as many others do I got to thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. As the first in a series of posts about New Year’s Resolutions, I thought that I would write about the types of resolutions that are made. Most resolutions will fall into one or more of the areas below.

  • Spend more quality time with family and friends. At the heart of this resolution is the desire to improve or maintain some of the relationships that you have.

  • Get into shape and eat right. There are a lot of variations of this one including taking up jogging, joining a gym, eating healthier and so on. All the variations point to the fact that many of us feel that we need to lead healthier lives.

  • Quit smoking. There are a variety of reasons that people try to do this from health reasons to saving money.

  • Enjoy life more, live for today. There is the realization that while many of us would change a lot of things about our lives, we should enjoy what we do have and celebrate life. When people realize that our time on Earth is limited, they want to “live more” and stop putting off things that they have put on the backburner.

  • Quit drinking. I was surprised to see this one when reading about resolutions. While this would be good for people that have a “drinking problem” this is also adopted by people for religious reasons, as well as health and monetary reasons.

  • Get out of debt or spend less. For many people with huge debts (credit card and otherwise), there are obvious benefits to successfully doing this. Some people want to lead less materialistic lives, while others just want to have more control of their spending and make better use of their income.

  • Learn something new or improve your education. This resolution often applies to learning something that you have wanted to do for a long time. For other people there is the desire to finish an education that never finished or one that they have wanted to do for sometime. Maybe you want to get Masters Degree.

  • Help others, volunteer, or make the world a better place.

  • Get organized. This can encompass anything from your garage to your whole life. While some people might feel that their lives are out of control, others might see less things in their life that need to be organized.

  • Make a career change. Some people choose to finally start that business that they have been thinking about for years. Some people will change careers, jobs, or companies. This could be changing departments or what you do. It could also be the adoption of new or different goals in your career. Maybe even looking at what you do as a career.

  • Reduce overall stress. Stress causes a lot of health problems that we all face today. Many of the other resolutions might help reduce stress, but you should remember that they can add additional stress.

  • Take a trip. This could mean taking that trip that you have always dreamed of. If you’re a homebody, you might just want to get out of the house more and go some places

  • Be more or be less. Maybe you want to be more on time or be more understanding. Maybe you want to worry less or be less impatient with others.

  • Do something or not do something. Maybe you have wanted to read a certain book or paint your living room. Maybe you want to stop biting your fingernails

  • Other. Most of the resolutions that people make will fall into one of the areas above but like so many other things, you have to have an “other” possibility for the resolution not yet conceived.

When you think about the New Year’s resolutions that people make, most of them are covered in the areas above. I hope that you’ll join me for the new post on resolutions.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Your Comments And Feedback Are Welcome

I just wanted to say that your comments and feedback are welcome, wanted, and even encouraged. I’d love to know if something that I wrote resonated with you (positively or negatively). Maybe you thought that I missed a point or two or forgot something. Maybe you have something to add to one of the posts, some practical experience, tips, life experience or your own wisdoms. Most of all I would like to know that someone is reading my posts.

I have some basic rules on commenting. If you disagree with something you can say so. Please stay away from the use of profanity, obscenity, and don’t be abusive. I have seen some comment streams where readers exchanged abusive insults and personal attacks resorting to calling each other names. Please provide your name with your comment submission, you can request to be listed as anonymous if you would like. I would also like to see an email address. If you have a blog or webpage you can include it in your submission. Be creative. Ideas can often seem crazy when they’re new. Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that seemed so far out there when they were introduced. Remember that people once thought that the world was flat. Lastly, have fun and spread to word.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Keep Your Projects Simple Stupid

I’m sure that you have all heard of the KISS method or Keep It Simple Stupid. There are several variations of the expression that all boil down to keeping things uncomplicated, minimalist, or to their basic elements. If you truly want to complete more of your projects then you should apply this to your projects and make it one of your guiding principles.

David Allen as part of GTD (page 37) has defined projects as any desired result requiring more than one action step. While this is a far cry from the more traditional project management view of projects, both forms of projects can benefit from its use and application.

Traditional project management would spend a lot of time defining the projects but it is well known within the project management community that most projects (especially I.T. ones) fail. Using the GTD definition of projects I assume that you’ll find a lot of failed projects and procrastination stopping projects from progressing. David Allen has pointed out that projects are often not completed because they have tasks requiring more than one action step and they don’t define the next step needed for completion so it stays in their "inbox" or in their “todo” list. Those projects that do progress are often not defined properly (if at all) and/or they fall victim to scope creep. Scope can be defined as what you want to accomplish within your project as its goal. Scope creep is a traditional project management term describing project scopes that are expanded beyond their original intent or design. The kitchen sink syndrome and feature creep are sometimes used for scope creep, but they all refer to projects that can easily spiral out of control and fail.

How can you apply KISS to your projects?

  • Keep your project goal or scope simple. The more complicated your project goal the more things that can hamper you from accomplishing it. Also the more complicated your goal the more likely you are to procrastinate or delay starting it.
  • Define your project steps and keep them simple. You will need to determine the steps needed to be accomplish your project goal. Be sure to keep the number of steps and complexity at a minimum. By eliminating unnecessary steps and complexity, you can finish your projects sooner with less cost and effort. By knowing your steps (keeping them simple as well), you can make use of the “What is my next action?” in progressing your projects.
  • Resist the urge to add things along the way. Everyone has been there, a simple project morphs into something totally different and maybe the original project gets put on the back-burner to be completed later or completely abandoned. While you might have missed a step or two when you defined your project steps, you should avoid adding more steps unless necessary (see the next point). Before adding more steps make sure that they’re absolutely necessary. While you can add items that aren’t necessary, if you do this in all your projects and all areas of your life you can see how it can bog you down and stop you from accomplishing things. Ask yourself if the proposed added step adds enough value, remembering that there is likely to be additional cost and effort by adding step.
  • Remember that separate projects should stay separate projects. It is very tempting to add this or that to your project because you’re already doing it anyway or it wouldn’t be too hard to add this or that. At this point you need to remind yourself that this should be a separate project to be completed later. There is a good chance that your “nice to have” or “wishlist” item is not really a priority for you and your time would be better spent on other things with higher priorities. This might not come natural at first but it is part of focusing on your project and actually completing it.
  • Record “new” project ideas for possible “future” projects. People are often inspired when they’re working on their projects to add items to them or they have totally unrelated project ideas. You want to make sure that you capture these ideas in your “Someday Maybe” category, so that you can possibly do it later.

If you KYPSS (Keep Your Project Simple Stupid) by using the KISS concept, you’ll accomplish more of your projects and you’ll get more things done.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Gift Ideas for Those That Have Everything

What do you get someone that has everything? I’m sure that everyone has been faced with that a time or two and will again. Continuing my Christmas posts (also see Ideas For a Cheaper And More Meaningful Christmas, Charity And Christmas, and Getting The Most Out of Christmas). Here are a few ideas that you might be able to use next time that you’re faced with this problem. In many cases this is kind of a gift giving idea block and can disappear if you can give it enough thought and time. Too often we find ourselves in the situation that you need to buy a gift with only a few minutes to make up your mind what to select. A better approach might be to try to ask yourself a series of questions, to spark ideas.

Who is your gift recipient and what is their relationship to you? If they’re a close relative or close friend then you can probably easily think of some things that they’re interested in.

Do they like sports? Are they a big fan of a certain team or athlete or would they rather play a sport themselves. You could get them various apparel items related to their number one team or athlete.

Do they have any preferred authors or book genres? Maybe their revered author has a new book or there is one that the have been meaning to buy. If there is a genre that they like, you could find a new or interesting book that they haven’t read. Are their any biographies about their treasured author that they might be interested in?

Are there any bands or musicians that are music to their ears? There might be a new CD (or one that they don’t have) by their cherished artist or band. Tribute CDs can be a lot of fun, but I’d advise listening to your selection before buying it as some versions can be better than others (some are even awful).

What are their favorite hobbies? Maybe they like to cook. There are probably a million cookbooks, so you chances are that you could find them one that they would like. How about a cooking class? There might be an interesting course or two being offered at their local adult education facility. Maybe a popular local chef is doing some training.

Do they like to travel? Are there any places that they’re dying to visit? While buying them a trip to this destination might be more than you would like to spend, maybe you could go in on the gift with other siblings or friends or their might be a special package on a budget airline. You could also get a picture book about their desired location or one that has daytrips or describes tours. Maybe you could put together a gift basket of items likely to remind them of this place. If they want to go to France, maybe put together a basket of French wines or cheeses.

Are they alumni or big fans of a university, college, or school? You can probably easily find an item of clothing that they could wear to show their support for their school. Maybe their school has a big game (football, basketball, and etc) that could get tickets for. There is probably a lot of gift items available related to the school that you could give them. You might also make a donation to the school on their behalf.

Are there any charities that they belong to or admire? Maybe there is a product or gift that the offers that would do the trick or you could make a donation in their name.

Do they like projects and building things? Maybe they would enjoy putting together a puzzle. Perhaps the 1000 piece vintage World War I plane or ship in a bottle might be fun to put together.

How about a mystery dinner theater ticket? I attended one and it was a lot of fun. You were given a role but you didn’t know if your character did it or not and the excitement built as it was revealed who actually did it.

I hope that you find these ideas useful. As you can see, with some creativity you can come up with a gift for someone that has everything. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Getting The Most Out of Christmas

I thought that I would continue my Christmas series with a post about getting more meaning out of Christmas. I have previously written about Ideas For a Cheaper And More Meaningful Christmas and Charity And Christmas. In all the hustle and bustle we sometimes get our priorities mixed up and we lose sight of why we celebrate Christmas.

Enjoy your family traditions. Are there some traditions that you had as a kid that you really enjoyed? Maybe it is time to bring them back. If you don’t have any traditions from your childhood, maybe you could start some new ones. It is the traditions that you and your kids will remember. I have a friend in Dallas whose family always made tons of tamales at Christmas.

Involve others in your holiday plans. When I was going to the university and was living away from most of my family, I was always invited to spend Christmas with friends. Maybe you have a friend or co-worker that doesn’t have any holiday plans and they would be thrilled to be part of yours.

Get your children’s focus away from all those things that they want for Christmas. Many parents have heard their kids begging and pleading for this or that toy for Christmas. Now would be a good time to get them to focus on what they’re going to give others instead of what they’re going to get. You could also involve them in one of the charity drives this time of year or maybe work in a soup kitchen with them (see my post on Charity And Christmas for more ideas).

Learn about Christmas traditions around the world. Most of us are familiar with the Christmas traditions from where we grew up, but can fun to learn about people in other countries celebrate Christmas. Since I’m American, my wife is German, and we’re trying to raise our kids with both cultures, it does present some challenges when the Christmas traditions are different. Maybe you have a relative or friend that comes from the “old country” and they can tell you about how they celebrated Christmas as a kid.

Bring Jesus back into Christmas. There are some Christian denominations that would say that Christmas is a pagan holiday and they don’t celebrate it or they keep their celebrations to a minimum. Here is an article Ways of Keeping Christ in Christmas. Here are some Christmas bible verses.

Separated and broken families bring new challenges to celebrating Christmas but it shouldn’t break your spirit. As a kid one set of my grandparent lived over 1,000 miles away so we didn’t often spend Christmas with them, but there are many families that go to great lengths to celebrate with both sets of grandparents. When you factor in the number of children that come from divorced families, it makes celebrating Christmas that much more of a challenge. While the actual calendar day that you have celebrated Christmas in the past might not coincide with when you have the kids, you’ll want to treat the time that you have the kids as though it is, or treat it as an alternative Christmas. You’ll want to make the best of the situation that you have, be creative, and have fun, You do not need to have a perfect Christmas, so don’t stress yourself out. Here is article that I found on divorced dads handling Christmas. I didn’t happen to run across and good articles on Christmas and the single mom celebrating Christmas, but Momsrefuge is a handy resource for working moms (and even non-working moms).

Sing some Christmas carols. Our girls are at an age that they love to sing. I went for a walk with them the other day and we sang 3 Christmas carols the whole way. I guess that I need to look up the text to more songs! Maybe you could organize a caroling event at a senior center or for some shut-ins.

Watch It’s a Wonderful Life, this time of year you can almost certainly find it on television somewhere. I also enjoy some of the old Christmas specials from when I was a kid like Rudolf the Red Nosed Raindeer, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snowman, and so on. Miracle on 34th Street with Natalie Wood is another holiday film that I enjoy. There are several good ones out there so maybe you can enjoy one today.

I hope that you’ll do some of these things start getting more out of Christmas. Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Charity And Christmas

When doing my post about Ideas for a Cheaper And More Meaningful Christmas, I realized that there was more than one topic I wanted to write about and I was inspired to continue on the Christmas topic. In all of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it can be easy to forget giving shouldn’t just be limited to family and friends on your list. There are several charities that depend on Christmas generosity in helping out people in all walks of life.

I’m sure that you probably remember Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami of 2004? Both are huge natural disasters where thousands of lives were lost and thousands more effected by the aftermath. Recovery and rebuilding continue and donations would be appreciated. Both events show us all that we have a lot to be thankful for. Here is the U.S. government’s webpage for Katrina. For the Tsunami of 2004, some charities you could give to are the United Way, United Nations OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), UNICEF, American Red Cross, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Since the Tsunami was almost three years ago now, there aren’t so many high profile programs to aid, you could also donate to one of these organizations and indicate that you wanted to your donation to go to the Tsunami (or other disasters for that matter).

The Christmas season is one of the biggest times of the year for charities. For a lot of them, this is where they tend to shine and much of their activities are focused on this time of year (i.e. many of the toy based charities), for others it is a time of year that they have a higher visibility. A large portion of many charities budgets comes from donations made during the Christmas season. While it should be noted that money is almost always needed by most charities, your time and talents are also welcome. Many of us are familiar with the red bucket of the Salvation Army but they do some much more than this, they also have an opportunity to help out with the cyclone victims in Bangladesh amongst other opportunities. The U.S. Marines have been running Toys for Tots for many years now. You can buy Christmas Seals from the American Lung Association for your Christmas cards and letters. Secret Santa is an organization connecting people with local toy drives. Samaritan’s Purse was created based on the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) and have several relief projects around the world, they’re putting on the Gift Filled Shoe box project. Familygivingtree based out of California (but expanding) helps fulfill the holiday wishes of kids that would otherwise have to go without for Christmas. Makeawish gives hope to kids with life-threatening medical conditions. based on the Christmas carol “All I Want for Christmas” charitable gift-giving efforts of community organizations throughout the U.S. enabling charities, daycares, and preschools to accept toy donations online. From the Prison Fellowship puts on Angel Tree which provides toys to children of parents that are in prison. Here is a site with several links to local charities in the U.S. Here is an article about helping charities at Christmas when money is low Have you seen the movie Pay-It-Forward about the boy that started a chain reaction by doing some good deeds for others and then asking the recipients to pay it forward instead of repaying him? Here is a story about some people that actually put it in action. If you have doubts about a charity, then maybe you could check them out at the Better Business Bureau (for the U.S. and Canada)

Are there other ways that I can help? There are lots of other things that you do to help out your fellow man. Blood is always needed by local blood banks, sometimes it is needed more this time of year, so you could check with your local blood bank or Red Cross, as there is probably a blood drive near you. You can see about serving a meal at a local soup kitchen over the holiday season (at other times would be welcomed as well). You could mentor a child at Big Brothers Big Sisters International, they mentored over 280,000 kids in 12 countries (according to their website). You could become involved at, a local hospital, or nursing/retirement home. You can also show your kids the importance of giving of yourself and involving them in some of the activities.

I hope that you spread some holiday cheer to others and help to make spirit and giving of the season last longer than December. Happy Holidays

Friday, November 30, 2007

Ideas For a More Meaningful And Cheaper Christmas

Every year there it seems that there is more and more commercialism and the meaning of Christmas becomes more and more diluted. While your paycheck or other circumstances might have made you think that you want to limit your spending on the holiday, you still want a memorable and meaningful Christmas with more emphasis on the presence of Christmas and less on the presents. Here are some ideas for more meaningful and cheaper Christmas.

Review and pare down the list of people that you give Christmas gifts to. Chances are that there are probably some people that have been added to your list that might not truly belong there. Like any other list that has been created over time, your list of people that you give Christmas gifts to should be reviewed for relevancy and that it is still aligned with your relationships.

Choose quality over quantity. Instead of giving a lot of gifts to those people on your list, you can focus on fewer presents but things that mean more to the recipient. Why give a bunch of stuff that will just end up in someone’s garage, basement, or closet and not be used and/or enjoyed.

Know your recipients. This is an extension of the point about quality. Giving a gift that reflects their interests is more likely to be enjoyed than a thousand gifts that don’t have meaning to them. It also shows that you put thought into the gift.

Apply the secret Santa principle where possible. This is where there is a group of people and you draw names, so that everyone participating gives something to one person. This can work well if have a large extended family, a close group of friends, a club, or at work. I’m not saying that you should add more people to your list of recipients (unless that is your choice), so by participating in one of these exchanges you might buy a gift for one person compared to 20 that you might have before. These exchanges can be a lot of fun if done right. There is a lot of curiosity about who has drawn my name.

Have a Christmas potluck. A potluck is a meal or party where everyone brings something to share. At a Christmas potluck, you would probably have some pasta dishes, various salads, perhaps a Christmas dish that comes from an old family recipe or tradition. If the potluck is organized well, you can have a very nice meal and the burden of making it doesn’t fall on any one person. The potluck could be part of other activities and you could have a nice Christmas party.

Give white elephant gifts. This where you give a silly or gag gift. White elephant gifts are something that you would like to discard anyways (maybe a vase that you received in the past that you find terribly ugly. This is often part of a Christmas party and is generally known up front. Often the gifts are wrapped and you don’t know who will receive your gift (when this is part of a party). It can be fun to see what you end up with. I don’t recommend giving this type of gift to someone unless it is known upfront or you know that they will truly appreciate the gift. In general, you don’t want to give a gift that isn’t going to be appreciated.

Do something for someone. You could offer to watch the kids of your brother or sister, so that they can have a nice night out with their spouse or just some good alone time. Maybe you have a friend that needs something fixed around their house, you could offer to fix it. This can mean a lot more than buying a gift that doesn’t mean anything to them.
Send them a card or letter. You can write a letter or a card and let someone know that the mean a lot to you. You want this person to realize that they mean more to you than some gift bought without any real thought behind it. This should let them know that you took time out of your busy schedule and thought about them.

Give them a call. Maybe you don’t see this person that often. This could be a chance to re-connect and re-establish or renew your relationship.

Buy them a coffee. There is probably a friend (or family member) that you haven’t seen in a while or would just like to spend some quality time with. You could also treat them to lunch or dinner or maybe go shopping with them.

Give them a book. Books are a wonderful gift. Here is another chance to show that you know the person. You can buy them a book from their favorite author or about their favorite subject. You can also give them a book that you have enjoyed reading. There are also a lot of used bookstores, so your book doesn’t have be brand new.

Board games make great gifts. Not everyone likes games, so you should know that they like games. There are a lot of games out there to choose from, so you there is a good chance that you can find one on a subject that they like. A few years ago we were given Ticket to Ride, which we have really enjoyed. Every year a game of the year is selected in Germany (note the site is in German). These games are usually pretty good as well as the ones that are nominated. Even some of the old standbys have been remixed, so to speak. There are so many different versions of Monopoly, you can buy one that has a team of a sports team, university, movie, and many other themes. If your recipient likes trivia, you could buy one of the many editions of Trivial Pursuit, with topics such as “the 80s”, silver screen, and so on. Then there are some of the old standards like Risk and Sorry. I have put some links to some of these games toward the end of this post.

Bake some cookies. This is something that your kids might want to help you with, so feel free to enlist their help with this. While there is cookie dough that is all ready packaged and ready to be spread out on a cookie sheet in the oven that you could buy, there are a lot of recipes for cookies to be found. You can get creative with shapes and decorations. You can also take this opportunity to bake healthier cookies (especially for those people that are concerned about their health or waistline).

Make a photo album. If you have a lot of pictures of the recipient, you could print off some of them and put them into a nice photo album. It would be nice if you could show the relationship that you have to that person. Maybe you have a lifelong friend and you could put in pictures of you and them over the course of your friendship. Parents would probably enjoy pictures of you and your kids. You can be very creative in putting together photo albums. It also shows that you really thought about that person when you created the gift.

Make a gift basket. One time I received a nice basket with various teas and cookies and I thought that was a really neat gift. Maybe you could make up a nice coffee basket for the coffee lovers in your life, it seems that there are a million different varieties of coffee out there. You can get very creative in making gift baskets.

Make them a gift. If you like to do arts and crafts (maybe your kids could even help you with this), you could knit a sweater or make a quilt. I received some hand made picture frames as a present in the past. This is a chance for you to be very creative and show that you really thought about the person that you made the gift for.

Ask them what they want. Especially with your kids, they might want everything under the sun, so it is good to find out what they would really want if they could only get one gift. Of course you don’t have to get them just one gift but you want to get their focus away from the “gimme gimme” attitude that a lot of kids have this time of year. This is also really good for a spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, parent, or anyone else that is hard to shop for.

Follow some of these ideas and you’ll bring more meaning back to Christmas, enjoy the holidays more, while not breaking your piggy bank.

Lord of the Rings Monopoly

Monopoly Disney Pixar Edition

Memory Game - Disney Princess Edition

My MLB Monopoly

My NFL Monopoly

My NBA Monopoly

Late for the Sky Productions Michiganopoly Game

Dallas Cowboys Monopoly

Pirates of the Caribbean Monopoly

James Bond 007 Monopoly


Dog Lover's Monopoly

Simpsons Monopoly


Late for the Sky Productions Irishopoly Game

New York Yankees Monopoly

Boston Red Sox Monopoly

Chicago Bears Monopoly

New York City Monopoly

Green Bay Packers Monopoly

Los Angeles Lakers Monopoly

Harley Davidson Monopoly

John Deere Monopoly

My NASCAR Drivers Monopoly

Trivial Pursuit 1990's Edition

Trivial Pursuit: Totally 80s

Trivial Pursuit Disney Edition

Trivial Pursuit (Silver Screen Edition)

Trivial Pursuit Star Wars Classic Trilogy Collectors Edition

Trivial Pursuit: The Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy Collector's Edition

Monday, November 26, 2007

Communities and Groups

To those of you celebrating, I hope that you all had a great Thanksgiving. Due to holiday activities, I didn’t publish a post last week. Maybe some of you had a chance to do a Thanksgiving Review.

One of the biggest potential positives of the internet is the ability to communicate with people with similar interests and hobbies. There have been a variety of social networks built (and being built) around a variety of subjects. Some of the more famous ones include MySpace and Facebook, however new ones are starting up everyday. In addition you might remember that I did a post about Mashable a little while ago. Mashable provides the latest news about social networking (in addition to their lists that I wrote about previously). They also have groups as well, and while their network is smaller, you’ll find many savvy members there.

Within the popular MySpace, Facebook, and Mashable are groups that you can join. These allow you to find people with similar interests and hobbies and range from fan sites of musical bands, television shows, to a variety of other subjects. All three offer a search to help you find the group that you’re looking for. I must admit that the search could stand some improvement or they could be organized a little better.

One of the potential benefits I see with these groups is that you can exchange information with other members of that group. This allows for novices to get some answers from those members with more experience. It also allows the more experienced members to be mentors to the “newbies”.

If you are into blogging then you might think about joining the following groups. While these groups are small at the moment, I hope that they will grow and provide the exchange mechanize that I have mentioned previously. In addition, I think that this can be another way of promoting your blog.

MySpace the Bloggers Community

Facebook the Bloggers Community

Mashable the Bloggers Community

Since one of the biggest themes of my blog is productivity and GTD, below you’ll find some groups on this subject. In these groups you”ll find a people with varying degrees of experience with GTD and productiviy.

MySpace GTD (Getting Things Done) and Productivity

Facebook GTD (Getting Things Done)

The Merlin Mann Fan Club

Mashable GTD (Getting Things Done) and Productivity

If you’re already a member of MySpace, Facebook, or Mashable, I hope that you’ll check out the groups mentioned in this post. While at any of those sites you might find another group that you’d like to join or if you don’t find what you’re looking for, why not create your own group.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Family Activities

In our busy on the go society, families should schedule some time together. You can set up some regular occurring activities to help with this. The activities that you add will have to vary depending upon the age and interests of your kids. We recently added a couple of nights that are going pretty well.

We have made Friday night, movie night. We let the girls stay up a little longer to watch a movie with us. We don’t usually start the movie late, so they don’t necessarily stay up so much later. Sometime the girls will go with me to the video store to pick out the movie, other times we’ll watch something that we already have. The girls really enjoy their movie night. If you think creatively, you can incorporate other things into you night to make it stand out. Maybe you could dress up as your favorite characters from the movie you’re going to watch. You could also make dinner or snacks that are related in theme your movie, maybe you could make Mexican food, if the story takes place in Mexico or some of the characters are from Mexico. You can also decorate you place around a theme of your movie and involve your kids in this and they’ll feel more involved.

We also have a game night. We usually do board games. The game that you pick will need to be age and developmentally appropriate for your kids. If you have very small kids, you might want to avoid games with lots of little pieces that they might swallow or lose. One of our daughters is very good at memory games, so she enjoys those. Our other daughter is at the point where she is just starting to understand rules, so we don’t play games that are too complicated. Board games are good because you can challenge your kids mentally. You can get them to incorporate strategy and planning if they’re old enough.

I have an aunt that used to have family dinner every Sunday. This was nice because her kids would all come over on Sunday and it was some good quality time spent with the family. Later on the family dinners weren’t so frequent, but this is something that your kids can look back on with fondness later in their lives.

How many activity nights should you have? That will vary depending upon everyone’s schedules. If your kids are already super busy with baseball, soccer, boy scouts, girl scouts, and all the other activities that are available to kids to today, you might not have so many slots that you can schedule in. Some parents go overboard and their kids have activities planned every day. It is also good if your kids have some time where they can do things on the spur of the moment, (maybe your kids might want to invite a friend over, but can’t do this if they don’t have any openings in their schedule). It is also important to remember that you kids are growing and developing and too many activities can hinder their development. If you don’t go over board in your family activities, they become something that you and your kids can look forward to, if you have too many of them, they aren’t so special.

Take some time and think about what you might be able to do together as a family. While you might know your kids very well, it wouldn’t hurt to ask them what they’d be interested in and involve them in the planning. So go ahead and add a family night or two and you and your kids can look forward to this time together.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thanksgiving Review

Thanksgiving Review

Thanksgiving will be occurring later this month in the U.S., with other countries celebrating their own versions at different times. Thanksgiving is not only a good time to be thankful for your family, friends, and all the blessings that you have in your life, but is maybe a good time to do a self assessment of where you are . A former colleague of mine used to conduct a review of where he was at that point every year.

In GTD, while you have your weekly review (I’ll post more on this later), this can be an opportunity to review those aspects that are beyond the runway (to use David Allen’s metaphor from “Getting Things Done The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” found under The Six-Level Model For Reviewing Your Own Work pp 51-53) and look at the 10,000 to 50,000 feet levels in your life.

  • Runway- Current Actions
  • 10,000 feet- Current Projects
  • 20,000 feet- Areas of Responsibility
  • 30,000 feet- One to Two Year Goals
  • 40,000 feet- Three to Five Year Vision
  • 50,000 feet- Life

Under your normal weekly reviews (however you might have these), you’re likely to cover the Runway (Current Actions), 10,000 feet (Current Projects), and 20,000 feet (Areas of Responsibility) but here is where you should be asking the hard questions like

  • Should you be doing this?
  • If you do this what is the likely outcome?
  • Is the likely outcome aligned with the other levels?

Under the 30,000 feet (One to Two Year Goals) level you can have a look at what your goals were for this year and determine if you can still attain them, if you need to make any adjustments, or scrape them altogether. You should have a look at what you want to accomplish over the Christmas season (maybe some holiday planning,) and what resolutions you would like to tackle in the coming year. Under the 30,000 and 40,000 feet levels you’ll want to have a look at where you are in your career and determine if any training or new skills are needed in the short and long term. Maybe you might even want to look at changing positions or companies in the near future. Under the 50,000 feet (Life) level, you’ll want to look at what direction your life is going. Maybe something has happened recently that makes you question everything (which should happen every so often anyways so that you do get stuck in a rut). Now might be the time to make those changes that you’ve been thinking about (or at least, start to move in that direction)

Time to be thankful. No matter what religion you follow (of even if you don’t follow an organized one), you should take the time to realize that you have been blessed and what blessing you have. It might be a good time to let people that have slipped from your thoughts know that you did think about them and that they’re appreciated. Maybe it is time to let your kids know that you love them, or your siblings, or parents, or some friends that you haven’t talked to in a while. Rather than focusing on the things that you don’t have, you should realize that you are lucky to have what you have. Do you have a place to live with enough heat and shelter in the cold nights? Do you have enough to eat in your refrigerator (that you have a refrigerator is something to be thankful for). Do you have your health? Maybe you’re not in condition to run the New York Marathon or compete in a Iron Man competition, but the use of your limbs, your ability to get around, your beating heart, and life itself are all things worth being thankful for. When you consider the conditions that much of the world lives in, we should consider ourselves lucky and be thankful. You might want to consider donating to charity (in time and/or money).

Enjoy your Thanksgiving. Maybe with some thought and review, you can come out of the holiday recharged with a sense of purpose and a new attitude.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Today I thought that I’d write about It was recently reported that Mashable had become the U.K.’s number one blog. For those of you not familiar with the site, it is very useful for news on what is often referred to as Web 2.0 and social networking. It has also gotten some work of mouth about an almost daily posting of lists of resources that can be used for a variety of things under the sun. These lists are often selected by Digg users, and bookmarked by many people on, and other sites. The site has a social networking built in to it as well.

It really like the news that they post about Web 2.0. I have the site bookmarked and often have it open. When I opened it up this morning I noticed a story about how Google’s OpenSocial (information from the Google Operating Systems) is going to work discussing a demo that they had seen of Hi5. Here is another about Bebo joining OpenSocial as well. Mashable is also reporting that MySpace is working with OpenSocial. It would certainly seem that Google will have a big impact on social networking. I’m sure that we’ll be hearing a lot about this in the coming days. Here is another story about the New York Times launching a competitor to TechMeme.

Mashable posts some incredible lists of resources on a variety of things almost daily. I don’t really know how many lists they have posted but it is a lot. They recently did a list of 5000 things resources that you can use to do just about anything online. Some other recent lists have included: places to get free and legal music, free graphic programs, resources for U.S. politics on the web, sports social networks, tutorials for the web-minded, Photoshop tools and resources, icon and graphic generators, and tools for working with fonts are all some of their recent lists. They have indicated that they working on the way that the lists are presented and archived so that it will be easier to find what you’re looking for. While anyone can do a search in Google, the creators of the lists tend to spend hours putting them together and many of them are quite useful. When they post a new list, it isn’t usually too long before they till someone Diggs them (is there a verb to describe the Digg readers recommending an article on the web?) and they get bookmarked a and the like. Next time you’re looking for an application or web site to do something, have a look at Mashable and the chances are that they have a list of resources that will be of assistance, you will probably find some of their lists when searching elsewhere. I’m looking forward to the new archive or site search that will make it easier to find all these great lists.

While I’m not sure of the number of readers that have joined Mashable, many are using the social networking capability to varying degrees. When I looked a few moments ago, there were 1103 pages of members listed. In your profile you can link to other social networks that you belong to link MySpace and Facebook. In addition you can link to videos that you have at YouTube and pictures that you have a Flickr and Photobucket. If you would like to add me as a friend here I go by the handle FutureX, please be sure to tell me that you saw this in my blog.

So weither you’re looking for news on Web 2.0, applications and resources for your current project, or just want to do some social networking, you just might find what you’re looking for at Mashable.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Heart Check

Recently my father had a mild heart attack and bypass surgery. I just flew back from the hospital on Monday. My mother-in law had bypass surgery two years ago, my father’s recent heart attack and surgery have brought the issue of health back to top of my mind. Because my father has done a lot over the past ten years or so to improve his health, eating way better than most of us and being pretty active for his age I have come to realize that our health is something that we all need to pay more attention to.

One of the biggest surprises for me was that my father didn’t experience the pain that I assumed went with a heart attack. He had a strange feeling in his shoulders and around his chest, but this was something that a lot of people would probably ignore because they didn’t realize it was a heart attack. He thought to go the hospital because about 10 years ago he went to the hospital and had to have a couple of stints put in.

From the American Heart Association, this page describes the signs to look for, they include:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest lasting for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. This discomfort can include pressure, squeezing, or pain.
  • Discomfort in the upper body. This can include discomfort or pain in either of the arms, neck, stomach, jaw, or back.
  • Shortness of breath. While this often accompanies chest discomfort or pain, it can occur prior to the chest discomfort or pain.
  • Other symptoms. These can include: nausea, breaking out in a cold-sweat, or light-headedness (dizziness).

In order to best survive a heart attack you and your family should follow this advice from the American Heart Association and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Tips for surviving a heart attack include:

  • Uncertainty is normal. Television and movies have shown us people clutching the chests as the double over in pain, but because the symptoms can vary (even with people that have had heart attacks before) people tend to take a wait and see attitude, which can have very serious consequences. You should learn to recognize the warning signs.
  • Act quickly. Because most people don’t realize that the have had a heart attack, they delay in taking the necessary actions. It is this delay and not delay of medical transport or treatment by medical personnel that causes the greatest delay in getting proper treatment. According to the American Heart Association, most patients wait two hours or more after the symptoms occur to get treatment. People’s wait and see reaction comes from:
    • The uncertainty that people have is largely due to them not realizing that they had a heart attack, often they believe it is something else.
    • They’re afraid or unwilling to believe or admit to themselves that their symptoms could be serious
    • They don’t want the embarrassment that would go with finding out that they didn’t have a heart attack
    • They don’t understand how important it is to get proper treatment right away. If dealt with right away, the effects can be minimized and the damage the heart can be lessened. Women, the elderly, and minorities are more likely to delay seeking treatment.
  • Call your emergency phone number right away! In the U.S. this is 911, but you need to know the phone number in your area. Calling for Emergency Medical Service is the best way to get to the hospital because:
    • Medical personnel can begin treatment immediately on the way to the hospital
    • If the heart stops (called sudden cardiac arrest) on the way, they’re trained in how to handle this.
    • Patients arriving in ambulances often receive treatment faster than those that don’t use ambulances. If you’re having problems getting an ambulance, you should have someone drive you, only drive yourself as a last resort.
  • Contacting emergency medical personnel via your emergency phone number is like bringing the hospital to your home because:

o Emergency medical personnel are trained to determine how to handle the situation based on your vital signs and can administer care.

o In many areas the medical team is able to call the hospital that you’re going to so that the hospital is ready when you arrive.

o They carry medication and equipment to help treat your condition on the ambulance, so you have a better chance to making it to the hospital.

  • Plan Ahead. By planning now, you can save time and could help save your life! You’ll want to:
    • Get to know the warning signs and teach your family, so that action can be taken when necessary.
    • Think through what you would do under different circumstances; home, work, at night, or other places that might require some preparation.
    • Make arrangements about who would care for your kids (and other dependents), medical personnel will contact someone so that arrangements can be made for your kids (and other dependants).
    • Talk to your friends and family about the warning signs, what to do in the event that you have a heart attach, and so on, so that they’re prepared in such an event.
    • Talk to your doctor (and health care provider) about what you can do to prevent a heart attack and reduce the risk of one occurring.
    • Talk to your doctor about what to do if you do experience a heart attack and/or symptoms.
    • Prepare information that you’ll need to take to the hospital. You should complete the preparing for a heart attack survival plan. You should keep copies in handy places like your wallet or purse.
If you have questions about what your medical provider will cover in the event of a heart attack, you’ll want to look into this upfront

So while you and your family should probably make some life style changes including eating a healthier diet, and exercise, knowing the warning signs, and being prepared to act quickly can mean the difference of life and death.