My 3 Favorite Features of the Kindle Paperwhite

Two years ago, my wife bought me an Amazon Kindle for Christmas. Of all the Christmas gifts I’ve received over the years, this is probably the one that has been used the most.

Now called the “Kindle Keyboard”, the model I had was my first foray into the Kindle world, and I really enjoyed it. Over time, like any piece of technology, it started to show its age.

But I plowed on because I use the Kindle for one thing: reading. And it did that extremely well. I always enjoyed reading on my Kindle, whether it was on a plane, in a hotel room, or just in bed before I drift off to sleep.

When Amazon announced the Kindle Paperwhite last year, I was really intrigued, but I didn’t see the necessity. This year, while I didn’t NEED a new Kindle, I decided I wanted one enough to drop the money on one.

The day after Christmas, while going out to buy my wife a brand new Chromebook, I grabbed a Kindle Paperwhite for myself. After using it for a few days/nights now, here’s what I’m loving…

The not-backlit screen

No review about the Paperwhite can begin without discussing the feature that gives it its name. One of the reasons I love the Kindle so much is that my eyes read it like a real book. When you read on a tablet (or a Kindle Fire, for that matter), you’re reading on a backlit LCD screen - like a computer monitor.

At the end of a long day, I don’t want to be staring at a computer monitor. It tires my eyes and gives me a headache, no matter what the brightness. The Kindle screen, with its e-ink, reads like paper. I can read on the thing for hours.

But with the Paperwhite, you have a light. And yet, while it looks like it is backlit, it’s not. The lights are actually built into the side of the screen and somehow shine down onto the “page” - lighting it up like a book lamp, but more evenly and uniformly (I don’t know how it works. It’s science.). The brightness of the screen is impressively adjustable, so I can account for different experiences and different lighting.

At first, I thought it was just a novelty. I switched it on and thought “Cool!”. When I got to bed that night, I reveled in being able to turn off the lamp and read in total darkness like a little kid.

But I found that reading in this way offered a bunch of benefits. Sure, you save a few pennies in electricity, but I discovered that I drift off to sleep much more quickly, because I’m reading in a completely darkened room. For some reason, that allows my body to shut down more quickly, which is a huge bonus for the occasional insomniac in me. My wife even commented last night that she loves it because she doesn’t have to try to get to sleep while my lamp is on, so there’s that too.

“XX minutes left in this chapter”

One of the struggles I have when reading a good book is trying to put it down. I often tell myself “Just one more chapter…” and then stay up another half hour to 45 minutes, regrettably.

The Paperwhite (like the Kindle app) clocks your page turns to determine your reading speed.

When you bring up the menu, at the bottom of the screen, you’ll see a line that tells you how many minutes are left in the chapter based on that reading speed. It’s not there unless you pull it up. Then it disappears out of your sight.

Now I can look, see I have 20 minutes left in this chapter, check the clock, and make a decision. It’s a feature I never would have thought of, but is the second-most-useful feature in the new Paperwhite.

The touchscreen and the interface

Amazon’s goal with the Kindle has always been to eliminate the idea that it’s a device. They want you to get lost in the book you are reading, so they always have aimed to not make things too distracting.

On my old Kindle, there was the big keyboard (I used to take a lot of notes, but I stick to highlights now). Then there was the progress bar. And the “Location 234 out of 5239” line.

The keyboard is gone, and replaced by a very capable touchscreen. Having to only hold the screen itself with a clean body lets me get deeper into the book and less into the device.

All of the bottom screen is customizable, so I have a percentage on one side and the page number on the other. Everything else is the book itself.

But the touchscreen comes in handy even more when you are highlighting or looking up words. Now I can touch a word and a 3-tabbed window pops up, giving me a definition in the dictionary, the opportunity to look up the word in Wikipedia, and the new X-Ray feature.

X-Ray allows you to touch a name and have that character explained to you in the context of a book. Handy if you are reading a complicated book or you forgot who somebody was!

Footnotes, too, have made a change. Before, clicking on a footnote took you to a footnotes page, and you had to hit “Back” to go back to your location in the book. Now, it just brings a pop-up window within the book - a much more natural progression.

There are others...

Other great bonuses include the magnetic case I bought that unlocks/locks the Kindle just by opening/closing it (makes me feel like I am reading a paper book even more), and the Goodreads integration, since I have become more involved with Goodreads in recent months.

But overall, it’s just really well executed all the way around. But should you buy one?

If you’re new to Kindles but you’re confident you’ll like it, absolutely. It’s the best e-reader on the market.

Not sure if you’ll like it? Grab the cheapest Kindle out there for $69. It’s an incredible value and it’ll give you a good idea of what it’ll be like. You can always sell it

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But in my opinion, it doesn’t get better than this. I’m looking forward to spending the next few years with this Kindle and reaping the benefits.

Fighting at Best Buy, and The Case for Slowing Down

Yesterday, my new phone arrived. I think I heard the "Hallelujah Chorus" ringing out when the FedEx guy dropped it at our doorstep.

A brand-spanking-new Samsung Galaxy S4. Unlocked on a new mobile network (Ting Mobile - click here to get $25 off your plan or device!). And since we both got these phones, our old HTC Evo Shifts from Sprint are no longer going to be used. Fortunately, for $20 apiece, we entered the Device Buyback program at Best Buy.

For those unaware, the Buyback program basically says you can trade your old device in for a Best Buy gift card when your contract is up. Since we were done with our old phones, we decided to get the gift cards.

I was hoping for $50 each. My wife wanted at least $40 total. We got $110 each.

Talk about exciting! We never shop at Best Buy (and their stunning lack of customer service easily demonstrated why that is), and they are certainly overpriced compared to Amazon and other online options, but with over $200 to spend for free, we were pretty darned excited.

Until we started shopping.

See, my wife and I, like most married couples, operate on two different wavelengths when it comes to shopping. I see GADGETS-GADGETS-GADGETS! She doesn't see anything, because she never shops at Best Buy.

Our original plan was to combine our two gift cards and get a video camera. Not a bad idea, but I looked up Amazon reviews of the cameras in our price range, and they weren't that great. We didn't want to just waste the money.

So we started walking around the store. She wanted to go to other stores, so she wasn't interested in putzing around. I wanted to walk through every stinking aisle until I found something I liked. I found a couple things that really intrigued me - the Kindle Paperwhite and the line of Fitbits.

I'm jazzed up, ready to spend my money, while my wife lingers in the background, shooting down my ideas: "I don't know what you would use that for... You already have a Kindle that works just fine...", etc.

This isn't to sit here and complain about my wife. Far from it. But if I didn't have the time or ability to go through each aisle and overthink my purchase, I was going to just get a big-ticket item I've been interested in for a while.

But we both got crabby. She didn't know what to get, and I was being rushed into a decision, only to have each decision shot down. We agreed that this wasn't the right time to shop, I had to get home to finish making dinner, and we'd just hang onto the gift cards until further notice.

While eating dinner, we agreed to each take our gift card and go by ourselves, so as to not influence the other person's buying decisions.

After cleaning up dinner, I grabbed my gift card, hopped into my car, and went back down there. I walked through every aisle they had, looking at various items. I almost settled on the new Kindle, when I stumbled onto the headphones aisle.

Now, I'm a runner, and I do have ear buds that were made for running and sports. Problem is, the cord is really long, I have to wrap it around my hand, and if I run shirtless, I have nothing to clip it to.

Lo and behold, Best Buy had a line of reasonable wireless Bluetooth headphones that wrap around your head. Bingo. This was a purchase I could get behind.

After poring through Amazon reviews, I picked up these bad boys. I even had some money left over, so I bought a much-needed toaster for our kitchen.

This morning's run was awesome. I had my brand-new phone strapped to my arm in my brand-new armband while music pumped into my ears through my brand-new headphones. No wires, no cords, no irritation. Heck, no holding my phone!

Very happy with my purchase. And I gave my wife a hard time yesterday for giving me such crap over my buying decisions.

But isn't that what we're supposed to do whenever we're making a decision? Look at it from all angles? Entertain both sides of the argument? Play devil's advocate?

Absolutely. In our haste to make decisions in life, we make the wrong ones way too often. And 99% of the time, it's because we feel rushed, pressured, and impatient.

When you have to make a decision next time, take a step back, breathe deeply, and look at all aspects of the decision.

This was free money. I wouldn't have regretted buying a Fitbit, as I'm interested in the tracking technology. I certainly wouldn't have regretted upgrading my Kindle.

But because I gave myself some time to breathe and look around, I wound up with a much more useful, and ultimately, much more needed purchase.

So, next time you have to make a decision, stop. Look around. Take a few minutes. The world won't come crashing down if you just take your time. Fight your impulses, and you'll ultimately be much happier with the decisions you make in life.

*This post contains some affiliate links.

8 Ways to Automatically Organize and Simplify Your Digital Life with Evernote

"Oh, here we go again."

That's likely what you're thinking. "Another post about Evernote. I am so tired of the Evernote fanboys. I don't like it, see no purpose for it, and don't want to use it."

And hey, that's okay. If you're passionately against using Evernote, then you can skip this post - see you tomorrow! But if you just don't "get" Evernote, or you're completely apathetic about it, then pay attention, because I'm going to show you a bunch of ways to set up your life to automatically use Evernote, and you're going to thank me later.

Why Evernote?

This is always the biggest question, and it's simultaneously the easiest and hardest question to answer. Here's the easy way: Evernote will let you save and organize anything. I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm not. You can put just about whatever you want into Evernote, and for most users, it's flipping free. That alone makes it worth a shot.

Evernote is a catch-all solution, and it's available anywhere you want it to be. Got a smartphone? Then you have an Evernote app. Windows - check. Mac - check. Linux - a bit wonky, but check. And you can use the web version anytime, anywhere. So run to the library or work or wherever and go to and sign in. Boom - there are your notes.

The program also makes everything you save searchable. This is invaluable, especially as your note collection grows - and it will once you start using the tips below. Searching your notes is incredibly useful when you want to find that recipe you want to make for dinner, or those instructions on how to build that table, or that receipt you need for that thing you bought for your business. All text in any note is searchable.

Plus, you can create your own organizational structure. You can just have a pile of notes, or you can have notes separated into notebooks. You could leave it there, but you can also group those notebooks into "stacks", where you group them however you like. Every note you add can be tagged also.

A real-world look at my Evernote setup

Before I show you how to add content to Evernote, let's take a quick look at how you could organize your Evernote setup. I have 10 stacks of notebooks, grouped by the type of notebooks that are in them:

  • 2013 Goals: A separate notebook for each goal that I have, so that I can insert notes tracking my progress, or helpful notes/articles that could keep me going.
  • Bible Notes: A separate notebook for each book of the Bible, with notes in each one for each passage.
  • Book Notes: Each notebook under this stack contains notes on books that I have read, usually inserted from highlights on my Kindle.
  • Business: A catch-all business-related notebook, with business ideas and other notes about a variety of biz-related items.
  • Copywriting: Two notebooks in here to help me along on my copywriting journey, including tips on improving my copywriting and a "swipe file" of successful promotions to learn from.
  • Direct Response Projects: These are all notebooks for active promotions I'm working on. My work requires a lot of research, so I can clip items and articles as I research them to refer to later as I write.
  • Financial Records: A notebook for each year where I can save receipts and order confirmations.
  • Personal: This is the biggest stack, as I have plenty of notebooks within this one, usually as they don't fit any other category - Bucket List, Church Music, Cigars, Green/DIY tips, Home ideas, Liquor, Recipes, Social, Tech Tips, Timeline (my journal, see below), Travel, and Wish List (for tracking things I want to buy).
  • A stack for my biggest client, since I'm usually writing several promos at a time for them.
  • Writing: This is for miscellaneous writing, like writing tips, blog post ideas, freewriting sessions, and quotes that I can go back to for inspiration.

I also have a notebook not in any stack called "To Be Organized", which is set as my default notebook. If I just quickly send something to Evernote, or I have one of the setups below that automatically sends something to Evernote, it just dumps it into here. Then, a few times a week, I'll go in and review what's in here to plop it into the appropriate notebook or tag it accordingly.

Tags are also really important when you have a large database of stuff to search, like I do. For example, finding ideas for stuff to cook during the week can be difficult when you have 180 recipes (and counting) in your Evernote notebook. But thanks to tags, it's not so hard. My recipe for Garlic Grilled Shrimp has the following tags:

  • cheap cooking
  • dinner
  • grilling
  • quick meals
  • seafood

So if I'm looking for any of the above items, that note will show up in the results. Tight week? I'll bring up all my recipes tagged with "cheap cooking". If I feel like grilling, I can bring up all my grilling recipes with that tag, and so on.

"I don't have a use for Evernote."

Short answer: yes you do. Everybody does.

You don't have to use it like I do, but you have no idea how useful having an online "brain" is until you start using it. In fact, somebody on Lifehacker wrote about this topic a couple weeks ago. The only way to really "get" Evernote is to just start using it for everything. This setup took me years to really appreciate, and now I can't imagine life without it, nor would I want to.

With the 8 setups below, you are going to connect the rest of your digital life to Evernote and you will automatically start seeing results from it. It doesn't take long to set up any of these, and the possibilities extend far beyond this. But as the weeks and months go by, you'll start to see why exactly using Evernote in your everyday life is so stinking useful.

So let's get started. Here are 8 different ways to connect your Evernote account to your everyday life.

Connect your browser with the Web Clipper and add just about anything

This is by far the easiest and most basic step. If you already use Evernote, you probably already have the Web Clipper added and are using it regularly. If not, the Web Clipper does just what it sounds like: it clips web pages to your Evernote.

In real-life use, you might see an article or recipe or photo or something that you want to save online. Just click the Web Clipper, and you have a few options to pick from:

  • Clip full page: This lets you take a snapshot of the entire page, top to bottom. Useful for clipping Amazon listings, for example.
  • Clip article: Evernote can try to grab just the main content of the web page. If you are reading a blog post, it will cut out just the post, along with any relevant pictures. It won't save the headers at the top of the page, ads on the side, or the comments. Just the content that you want to see.
  • Clip selection: You can highlight a piece of text before clicking on the Clipper, and just save that.
  • Clip PDF: If you're reading a PDF file online, you can save a copy of that file to your Evernote also.
  • Clip URL: You might just want to save the URL address of the site as a little bookmark note, and Evernote will let you do that too.

Every note you clip from the Web Clipper will also have the URL saved in the note details within your Evernote note. This is really handy when you need to cite something, because you have the original source linked right there. The Web Clipper is the easiest way to get started, but also the most handy. I use it religiously when researching something for a promotion, going through recipes, or building up a wish list of stuff I want to buy.

To install it, just go to the Web Clipper site and click on the appropriate link for your browser.

Send content from your RSS reader to read later or reference

Most major RSS readers at this point are integrated into Evernote, and they should be. As I talked about last week, I'm using Feedly now. When I read something I want to save for later, I can just click the "Send to Evernote" button, and a new window will pop up with my new note containing the content of that article.

More often than not, this will be built in to your reader of choice. If not, you can just open the article and click the Web Clipper to grab the content anyway. On your mobile device, the "Share" feature of your reader can create a new note in Evernote with that article. Either way, there should be little-to-no setup required here.

Connect your email to create notes whenever you want, and save important emails

As you well know, keeping backups of important documents is really important. Not only that, having them searchable is a huge plus. Keeping them organized is key, and Evernote lets you do so really easily.

Here's how it works: we all have a unique email address attached to our Evernote accounts. So, you just find that email address in your account, copy it, save it in your address book as "Evernote", and now you can send emails directly to Evernote. If you don't tell Evernote where to put the note, it will just save it in your default notebook. But the subject line would work as follows:

Title of your note @Notebook you want to put it in #tags #to #add #to #the #note

So, if I order printer ink on Amazon, it's a business expense. That means I need to save a copy of the receipt in my financial records. The notebook is "2013", and I want to tag it as "office supplies" so that I can find it quickly later. Amazon sends me the order confirmation, and I click "Forward" and change the subject line from "Your Order #43589i6" to...

Printer Ink @2013 #office supplies

And it automatically gets sorted into my Evernote account. Cool, hey?

Evernote wrote a quick blog post on how to find your Evernote email address and set it up here.

Alternate method: If you need an easier way, you can use IFTTT. IFTTT stands for If This, Then That. It's a very powerful service, and it's going to basically run the rest of this list. Go to and create an account. Then, go to "Channels" and add your Evernote account. Now you can browse "recipes" to automatically send stuff to Evernote, or you can create your own.

Sounds complicated? Don't worry: I'll link to each recipe below so that all you have to do is click to add it and turn it on, and it'll do the rest of the work.

So, for the alternate method of emailing in, you can just click the star next to an email you want to save (if you use Gmail), and it will automatically send it to your default Evernote notebook (which, in my case, is "To Be Organized"). Here's a link to that recipe after you've created your IFTTT account. Or, you can just label an email as "Evernote" and send it right along that way.

Send new blog posts to Evernote right away

If you like a particular blog - say, you know, this one - and you want to save all the articles that are posted to it as an ongoing archive of the entire site, you can use this recipe. Now, the recipe listed here is set up to use Lifehacker, which you should be reading anyway, because it's awesome. This recipe in particular will save the new blog post and tag it as the author of the post, which is really great.

But it doesn't stop there. You can add any blog that has an RSS feed right to your Evernote account using this same method. And as you'll see in a minute, this recipe can be used beyond blogs as well.

Save your new Pinterest pins for easy access later

This actually was the inspiration for this entire post.

I'm a man and I love Pinterest. There, I said it.

While Pinterest is largely considered to be a female-dominated site, which it is, there is a lot for anybody to enjoy and look at. From funny stuff to green/DIY-type stuff to future home inspiration projects to recipes, there's a lot to look at. And I love it.

But my biggest problem came later, as I realized going through my pins to see some of the content was a bit cumbersome. I don't know where I left off in looking at my pins, and I don't want 500 different boards. I like having a few big buckets that I can dump pins into.

Using IFTTT, I can have new posts to my Pinterest RSS feed get sent to my Evernote's "To Be Organized" notebook. Just add this recipe and follow the instructions. Whenever I repin something, that pin gets sent to my Evernote account.

A couple times a week, I go in there and clip what actually looks interesting/useful that I want to save for later, and put it in the appropriate notebook. It's a beautiful thing, and it really cleans up my Pinterest workflow.

Create quick notes on-the-fly by texting into Evernote

I prefer to carry a paper notebook in my pocket for certain reasons, but if you want to create a quick note to save for later - say, that business idea you just discovered over a few beers with friends, you can send a text to IFTTT.

Go to the IFTTT Channels and click on SMS to get the number to text to. Add that number to your phone's contact list under "IFTTT". When you set up SMS with IFTTT, you then add tags when you create a recipe, so that IFTTT knows where to send that text.

So, for example, sometimes my data connection might be weak, and I still want to send a tweet, but my Twitter account won't load on my phone, or speed is a priority here. I can just send a text to IFTTT, and at the end of the text, I write "#tw", because that's how it's set up under my IFTTT account. IFTTT will receive the text, see the "#tw" tag, and post the text of the SMS message to my Twitter account. Same for Facebook with my "#fb" tag.

This principle applies to Evernote notes, too. Using this recipe, you can text anything to IFTTT and add "#enote" at the end of it, and IFTTT will automatically create a new note with your text in it. This is often way quicker than using the smartphone app, and it's great if you don't have a smartphone at all!

Send your Kindle notes and highlights to Evernote straight from your Kindle

As you know, I love reading books on the Kindle. One of the best features about the Kindle is the ability to make non-intrusive highlights and notes in books while you're reading them. But having them in your Kindle isn't always ideal.

If you want those notes in your Evernote, you can send them through Twitter. Here's how it works:

Finally, for power users: create an ongoing journal of everything you do in one Evernote notebook

This might not be for everybody. I'm fascinated with the idea of archiving my life. I keep a written journal, and now I keep an automatic digital one, too.

I feel like it will be something that's interesting to me someday, whether it's to refer to my initial reactions to worldwide events, or just something my grandkids will stumble on. Could be cool.

And again, it's a backup of sorts.

I have one Evernote notebook dedicated to grabbing all of my online activities and keeping an ongoing note. When I tweet, it adds that tweet to the timeline. Same goes for Facebook status updates, photos posted to Flickr (or Instagram), blog posts, and even LinkedIn updates. You could also save Foursquare check-ins if you'd like. Really any online activity you want.

It's a slightly involved process, but it doesn't take more than 10 minutes to really set up. Plus: Lifehacker has the step-by-step instructions covered for you.

So there you go - if you implement these strategies, I think Evernote's usefulness will start coming to you rather quickly. Do you already use Evernote? What are your favorite ways to integrate this app into your daily workflow?

Why “Going With the Flow” is Terrible For You

We are surrounded by opinions. Everybody's got one, and they're always about you: what you should be doing, what matters, what's important, what makes you "cool" or "normal".

As early as grade school, we are taught that we have expectations to live up to. That's fine. As organisms, we tend to be pretty lazy by nature - we like things that feel good, and as children, we want to do them. So if we aren't given boundaries and expectations, we become goof-offs. So I get it.

But somewhere along the line from grade schooler to adolescent to young adult to adult, a transition needs to take place, where we discover our own expectations for ourselves. We start determining how to live our lives. Because the social and educational structure of our society is entirely dependent on "other people's expectations", or OPE (yeah, you know me), we don't learn how to make active decisions.

So we just "do" things. We don't know why we do them - it's just the way things are done. We're just going with the flow in life, doing what's expected of us so that other people think we're normal and cool and whatever.

And what happens when we live up to OPE? Well, we're generally broke with lots of debt. We work jobs and live lives that lead us unfulfilled. We complain about our unhappy marriages and treat our children as liabilities that we resent.

We're unhappy.

I'd argue that we're unhappy because we're letting life happen to us, instead of the other way around. Over the years, I've worked hard to live an intentional life, and while I continue to work on it (because I could be way better than I am now), I've noticed that the things I am intentional about - the active decisions I make in my life - have a major impact on me and those around me. Those decisions are what make me happiest and most fulfilled.

You don't think you're going with the flow? Take a look at the symptoms...

Symptom: You work in a job you hate because "it's a job", and you need the paycheck.
Why it's hurting you: You're unhappy for 40+ hours a week, which is way unhealthy for you.
The treatment: Find something you love and get after it. Build a business around it - the internet is an amazing resource these days.
Why you won't do it: You think it's an unnecessary "risk". You have a family to provide for, after all.
Why you're wrong: What carries more risk: building a customer base or client base where you are receiving multiple streams of income that are easily replaceable, or hanging all your income on making sure the boss likes you and the company doesn't have a bad quarter? People get fired. Layoffs happen. They're destructive and a part of life. When you lose a client, you might have to tighten your belt while you get another one, but your whole financial life doesn't shatter. It mitigates risk - it doesn't create it. And you are working happier to boot.

Symptom: You bought a house before you could afford it. Now you're upside-down. But it's okay, "everybody" has a house with a 30-year mortgage that they refinance 4 times.
Why it's hurting you: You immediately have a poor relationship with your money. Money becomes a source of stress, and so does your home.
The treatment: Sell the house, pay off the balance of the sale (if you're upside down), get a rental, and save up some money. Then, when you have a 20% down payment, find a reasonable house you can afford to pay within 15 years.
Why you won't do it: You're "building equity"! It's the "adult thing to do"! Because you "should" have a house.
Why you're wrong: Basic teaching-kids-about-money lesson here - if you can't afford to buy something, then you shouldn't have it. You don't have the money for a house. That equity does you absolutely no good when all you do with it is get more debt. That's not the point of getting a house. Being house-poor is one of the lousiest decisions that impatient married couples make.

Symptom: You're a slave to brands and price tags - you must have this brand of paper towel, this type of cleaner, this type of dishwashing detergent, and so on. If the prices go up on these things, you are stuck paying the bill. You also find yourself saying, "I wish they still made [insert product name here], but I can't find it anywhere..."
Why it's hurting you: You're always buying more. It's exactly what companies want you to do. It's not about making a product that does a good job - it's about making a product that you think does a good job and you're willing to pay out the nose for it. Every other week, you have to pick up another bottle of whatever or another pack of stupid stuff just to use up in a couple weeks and throw out the container for more. It's wasteful and expensive.
The treatment: Start making your own cleaning supplies. Think it's expensive and time consuming? With about 4-5 different main materials (Borax, washing soda, vinegar, dish soap, and water - you can get all of this for less than $10) and 1.5 hours of my time, I made dishwashing detergent, rinse agent for the dishwasher, laundry detergent, a shower scrubber, reusable dryer sheets, a bleach gel pen, and an all-purpose surface cleaner. All of these will last us well over a month and beyond, and I have tons of leftover materials. And they work just as well as anything we've purchased.
Why you won't do it: It doesn't do as "good" of a job in your mind, because you can't smell the chemicals working. You "don't have time" to do that.
Why you're wrong: As you'll see, you can spare the time. Besides, the cost savings alone winds up being well worth your time in the long run, doesn't it? And vinegar does most general disinfecting work just fine. Want a little more protection? Throw a little bleach in there. Works just as well as any commercial stuff. And you'll waste a lot less with your reusable containers.

Symptom: You think the internet is a wasteland of your time, outside of Facebook.
Why it's hurting you: Because there is so much out there to learn, and the internet has given a voice to basically everyone. While that's not always a good thing, there are lots of great resources out there.
The treatment: I've banged this drum before - get a Google Reader account and start subscribing to a few blogs. Even Pinterest is great for learning a lot about cooking, repurposing stuff, and saving money.
Why you won't do it: Because blogs are "stupid", and you think everything online is a dumb YouTube video or an old LiveJournal account.
Why you're wrong: Because I've used the internet to build a business, learn to cook, cut expenses like crazy, make more money, and generally be a better human being.

Symptom: You spend way too much money on clothing.
Why it's hurting you: Because you're broke. Also, because the clothes you're buying fall apart faster than ever.
The treatment: Start looking at online sources. You'd be surprised. Many major brands are on Amazon these days (that's where I buy my jeans now - affiliate link). If you're a guy, I highly recommend Everlane and Frank & Oak. You'll spend a few bucks more, yes, but those pieces will last you ten years because they're made to be better. I also highly recommend The Tie Bar, because ties are a dime a dozen anyway. Save up a couple months and do your shopping there. Women have even more options than men.
Why you won't do it: Because you don't know what you're buying, and you're painfully worried about the sizing.
Why you're wrong: There are plenty of reviews of everything online, so just Google around to see other people's feedback. Also, most online stores have a size chart of some kind to give you a better idea. Plus, they'll usually have free size exchanges or something like that to help you take care of the problem without added expense. And in the long run, you'll look better and save money.

Symptom: You have "no time".
Why it's hurting you: You're exchanging your money for convenience instead. It's at the heart of all your problems - why you won't make stuff or cook or build something.
The treatment: Turn off the TV - even just once a week. My wife and I have instituted a policy in our house called "No TV Tuesdays". This means that, after dinner, the TV is off for the rest of the night. Instead, we'll play a game together or whatever to be productive and spend time together, instead of spending time next to each other. In your average night, you're probably watching 1-3 hours of television. Keep a log and pay attention. Even if you cut out one of those nights, you can be really productive.
Why you won't do it: I've "earned" that break! "I don't want to miss [insert stupid show name here]!"
Why you're wrong: Again, you'll save money. But besides that, who says it won't be fun to do something else? Building stuff is fun. For me, cooking is fun. Learning something new is fun. Lots of things are more fun than you think. You'll have more control over your time. Besides, you can DVR that show and watch it later, or on Hulu or whatever. It'll still be there.

Symptom: You won't pick up a book because reading is "boring".
Why it's hurting you: You're not growing, intellectually. That's an important part of being a contributing member of society.
The treatment: Get a Kindle. Join Goodreads. Join PaperbackSwap. Go to the library. Do something involving books, is what I'm saying. And get ones that you'll be interested in.
Why you won't do it: I "don't have time to read!" "Reading is boring!"
Why you're wrong: Yup, reading is boring, if you just read stuff that bores you. Pick genres you like. If you like that Twilight crap, there is literally a Paranormal Teen Romance section at Barnes & Noble now. History books are my thing - I love exciting, true stories of the human condition. Fiction is booming. There are tons of books to read. Flip off the TV (with the remote, not your finger) and pick up the book. Read for 15 minutes before you go to bed. Do anything.

Symptom: Your method of disagreeing with someone is to shout your opinion louder than them.
Why it's hurting you: People don't like you. You become expendable in certain circles (like work, remember?). Your social life takes a hit.
The treatment: Listen. Hear what somebody else is saying. Put yourself in their shoes. Learn how to disagree without preaching at somebody or getting angry. You're both entitled to your opinion.
Why you're wrong: a)Why not? So they're wrong. So what? b)You're not hearing them. I'm not saying you have to think that everybody is right all the time. Far from it. But what I am saying is that you want respect, so you need to dish it out too. It makes you a more agreeable person, which benefits you socially and professionally.

Symptom: You're depressed and stressed about the state of the world we live in.
Why it's hurting you: It leads to more arguments and more worrying.
The treatment: Turn off the freaking news. With 24-hour news cycles, both online and off, news sources aren't reporting news anymore. They're just taking mundane stories and sensationalizing them, or they're making it up just to have something to say. 99% of the time, they're just drawing attention to stuff that has been happening forever and, while often tragic and sad, is nothing new (Nancy Grace, I'm looking at you).
Why you won't do it: "I need to be informed!"
Why you're wrong: No, you really don't. Your life doesn't change because some kid was kidnapped walking to school the other day. Is that a horrible tragedy? You bet. But it's not your kid. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't care about the story or pray for the family members who are suffering. But that stuff doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to. Just because it happened once doesn't mean it's going to happen to everybody. An asteroid exploded over Russia and killed people. Terrible tragedy? Yup. But I'm not going to live in my basement for the rest of my life now. That's called "overreacting", kids.

Symptom: All your conversations revolve around your complaints about stuff - your health, politics, the economy, your job, your kids, your wife, etc.
Why it's hurting you: Um, who wants to listen to you bitch all the time?
The treatment: Look on the bright side of things, and take an active role in improving the stuff that bothers you. Let go of the rest of it.
Why you won't do it: Because it's your life, and everything sucks.
Why you're wrong: Everything doesn't suck. Your attitude does, though. There was a time when adults were faced with things that sucked and you know what they did? They rolled up their sleeves and fixed the problem. Then they moved on. If today, you are wearing clothes, are getting paid to do something, ate a meal, drove a car, have a family to come home to, and live in a country where you can openly criticize politicians without getting your legs broken, then be thankful. You're way ahead of a lot of people in this world.

Symptom: You're fat and unhealthy.
Why it's hurting you: Do I have to say it?
The treatment: Start eating healthier. Eat crappy foods in moderation. Get up and do something active a few times a week.
Why you won't do it: "I have bad genes/don't have time to exercise/can't afford to eat healthy."
Why you're wrong: You may or may not have bad genes, but you can beat them into submission by working at it. You do have the time, you just don't do it. Schedule a time to work out and stick to it. And eating healthy is amazingly affordable these days. Stick to the outer edges of your supermarket and avoid the inside aisles. If you know a thing or two about cooking, you can save a lot of money.

Symptom: You sit around, wishing you could travel more.
Why it's hurting you: There's a great, big world out there! Lots of people to meet, food to eat, and culture to discover!
The treatment: Start carving out a few bucks to do it. Draw a line in your budget to save $25 a month (or whatever) into a separate savings account for vacations and then don't touch it. Suddenly, it's going to build. With the dawn of travel hacking, there are plenty of ways to save money while traveling.
Why you won't do it: "We can't afford it and I can't get off of work!"
Why you're wrong: Basically, the bigger the trip, the more time you need to spend planning it. Living somewhere else for a few days generally won't cost you a whole lot more than where you live now. Great services like AirBNB allow you to find budget accommodations (we used this in Europe quite a bit). Our Europe trip was huge - 2.5 weeks away going from city to city and experiencing as much as possible. Some people looked at us and said, "Oh, it must be nice." What they didn't see is that we literally spent two years planning that trip. A lot of time and energy went into it, and it paid off.

Symptom: You're overspending on technology.
Why it's hurting you: Again, like the house, you're expected to have certain pieces of technology, and you keep having to replace it every other year.
The treatment: Learn more about your tech and how you use it. The vast majority of consumers are lured by marketing campaigns into thinking they need features that are completely overkill for what they actually need.
Why you won't do it: "Everybody has one! I'm a creative person so I need one too!"
Why you're wrong: Some people probably should have a Mac. But you probably don't. What most people need is a glorified web browser. Any basic computer can handle 90% of what you're planning on doing with it. You also probably don't need that unlimited cell phone plan either. Look at your last bill and see how much you used in minutes, texts, and data. You probably could switch to Ting Mobile and save about $300 a year or so (and yes, that includes the cost of the phone). Quit assuming that you need unlimited everything and the best machines and start looking closely at what exactly you are using. The savings here are astronomical.
Do you have any experience in living intentionally? When did you start, and what pushed you there? Any tips?

3 Overlooked Things Our Bodies Are Built to Do

Technology is great. It's awesome, actually. I love living in the world I live in. Tech has enabled me to do a billion different things that you couldn't do 10 years ago, including allowing me to build a business.

But it's not all fun and games. Because technology has developed to such an advanced degree, we've turned basic human functionality on its ear, relying too much on technology to accomplish things that we, as human beings, need to be doing on our own - at least from time to time.

What's happened? We've become largely out of shape, crabby, stressed, and whiny (i.e., the "we don't have time to [insert good thing here]" excuse).

So while you don't have to be old-fashioned about everything - even though I love being old-fashioned - there is merit to dialing back the technology and understanding what our bodies were actually built to do. Because ignoring centuries of functionality is damaging our systems to a dangerous degree.

We were built to run long distances.

Huh? Take off your shoe and your sock. Now look down at your foot (if you can see it). Pay attention to the shape of your foot. Look at all those little bones. Feel under your foot - notice where there is extra "meat" and where you just feel hardness.

Our feet are built to run, just not in the way we've been running for the past few decades. In the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall*, he wrestles with a problem: how did humans survive this long? In certain parts of the world, there's no way we could. Predatory animals are generally much faster than we are, or they are more powerful. So A) how did we get away from them and protect ourselves, and B) how did we hunt them down without weapons to kill them from a distance?

The answer? We ran them down.

As he discovered, and as was displayed in the story of a Russian family that has lived in the forest, away from society, for decades, humans can hunt without weapons by exhausting animals until they collapse. We chase them, because our intricate systems of cooling down our bodies (sweating), along with an advanced cardiovascular system and a pair of feet and legs that are specifically designed to handle it all work together to support long-distance running.


So What? The running shoe has destroyed the way we run. Not only do they empty our wallets, but the cushioning in running shoes forces us to run with our heels hitting the ground first. But remember when you felt your foot meat (that sounded dirty)? Our heels don't carry a whole lot of meat. But the front part of our feet, including our toes, are surprisingly cushiony. That's because our bodies were made to run in a way that the front part of our foot hits the ground first. The more you look at the physiology of it, the more it will make sense.

When our heel strikes, the shock of the run shoots up our leg and is absorbed by our knees, which are not meant to take it. That hurts. When the front of our foot strikes, the shock is absorbed by the foot muscles, which are set up to do so.

Plus, it doesn't matter if you have high arches, flat feet, or anything in between. All of that corrects itself over time as you develop your foot muscles again.

And What If I Don't? Well, you don't have to hunt anymore, but you do need to get off your butt and exercise. Humans need that, or our bodies become weak. If you already are running, you'll blow a lot of money on running shoes and replacing them constantly. Oh, and you'll stop hurting yourself when you run. Say bye-bye to ankle problems, knee problems, and plantar fasciitis.

How? Read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Then go run barefoot. Take your time, though. This is an ability that takes months to really develop, because you'll be using muscles you haven't used in a long time.

Our brains are wired to think and learn.

Huh? I know you probably feel that you think a lot, but you probably don't. The average person relies a lot on external stimulation - especially children today. There's a special power that you unlock when you stop to listen to the thoughts in your head, even allowing yourself to be bored. Plus, you can always increase your knowledge with continued learning.

So What? There is a lot of power in your subconscious mind. Problem is, we never listen to it. Sometimes, your brain can wrestle with a problem and figure out the answer on its own. But you have to let it. Along with that is continued learning, which will keep your brain sharper and smarter as you age. Life is rough, and you're always going to deal with problems. Your problem-solving skills will step up to the task if you keep learning and growing that muscle. You'll also increase your focus, which will help you out at work and whenever you are working on a big project.

And What If I Don't? Well, then we become a society that relies on emotional opinions and other people to tell you what to do. Is that what you really want? Because that's what we're becoming. We're making major societal decisions based on slick marketing campaigns, which makes me really uncomfortable.

In your personal life, you'll be overwhelmed when challenged by life, which will increase your stress levels tenfold, and the frustration could dominate your life and your relationships with the people around you.

How? There are several cool ways you can increase your brain power:

  • First, take up meditation. I know that sounds foofy, but hear me out. You don't have to chant or sit criss-cross-apple-sauce on a cushion. You can do it in any chair. Meditation is just sitting in a quiet space for a little while. You can start with 5-10 minutes. Just close your eyes, sit up straight, and listen to the thoughts and feelings that are in your head. Listen to your environment. Listen to your body. Not only will this let you release stress, it will increase your focus. If you want a more organized/directed way of doing it, check out Headspace. I just finished their free "Take10" program (10 minutes a day for 10 days), and I signed up for a year's worth, because I already see how this is helping me work.
  • Second, carry a pocket notebook. Sometimes a great idea comes to you while on the run. It really helps to jot it down so that you can act on it later. This is also useful when you are someplace where you can't be focusing on other stuff, like church, in a meeting, or when you are trying to sleep. Writing it down releases that thought from your conscious mind so you can return to the task at hand, and your subconscious mind will then work on it without you even realizing it. Seriously.
  • Third, start reading. Anything. Get a Kindle if you need a tech-y way of doing it. Get a library card if you need a free way of doing it. Expand your mind. Find a topic that interests you. I don't care what that topic is. If you say "reading is boring", then that's because you are choosing the wrong things. Write down 5 topics that interest you, then search on Amazon and find books related to that topic with 4 or more stars. It's that easy.
  • Fourth, sign up for a free account with Lumosity. This is how I start every day, and it's a nice warm-up for the day. Lumosity is a collection of "brain games" designed to help you develop different parts of your brain. It's fun and easy (except for that stupid Penguin Pursuit maze game - I hate those days).
  • Fifth, and finally, take up productive hobbies and activities. Watching TV and playing video games are not hobbies. They're fine to do, but you need to carve out some time to do something that stimulates you mentally and/or physically, while being productive at the same time. Start whittling. Learn to play the guitar - there are plenty of online sources to help you. Start writing. Instead of sitting on the couch watching shows, turn off the TV, turn on some music, and play a board game with your spouse and/or kids. Or get a cheap deck of cards. Get lost in conversation and enjoy people's company. These are productive uses of your time. That doesn't mean you can't watch TV - I love TV. But draw a line in the sand. Then don't cross it. Use your brain.

Your body is built to use pain as a warning sign.

Huh? Ever have a headache? Suffer from migraines? Does your back hurt all the time? Are you having problems in the bathroom? Heck, are you just feeling grumpy sometimes? Hey, these are signs of a bigger problem.

So What? We have a medical industry that runs on money. I'm not directly saying that doctors are keeping us sick so that they make money, but it might/could be an underlying factor. There's money in prescribing things to treat symptoms, not curing the problem.

Pain isn't just an annoying thing that goes away with a pill. It's actually your body trying to tell you something - ever listen to it? It means you're doing something wrong, 90% of the time. It means you're using your body in ways that is pushing it too far, or you're putting something into your body that is hurting it.

How often are you popping pills? I don't mean stuff for chemical imbalances, like bipolar disorder. I mean stuff like aspiring, ibuprofen, or migraine pills? Do you practically live on that stuff? That's a problem. That means you're shutting up your body when it is trying to scream something to you. You're hurting it, and you need to make some changes to your lifestyle.

And What If I Don't? Again, you're going to spend way too much money on medications. You'll spend more money on doctor visits for injuries. Your quality of life is going to tank. Stress will skyrocket. Your health will suffer, and in some cases, you'll die early.

Get the picture?

How? The best way to improve your mood, health, and quality of life is by paying closer attention to what you are doing. One of the easiest and most effective methods in doing so is by tracking virtually everything you do for a while. By doing this, you'll be able to pinpoint triggers in your diet and lifestyle that could be causing the problems.

So here's what you do: start writing down everything you eat and certain other lifestyle choices, like how often you exercise, how much sleep you're getting, and how much water you are drinking every day. Sounds tedious? Get used to it. Along with it, track those things you are trying to get rid of, like when you get migraines, when you have a bad visit to the bathroom, or when you are feeling grumpy.

Do this for a couple weeks so that you can start looking for patterns. Then, treat your body like a science experiment: test a hypothesis. This is a fancy way of saying "pick one thing to change and see what happens". Like, spend a week focusing on drinking more water and see how that affects the stuff you're dealing with. It's important to only change one thing at a time to test, so that you can be sure that's the cause.

It sounds like a lot of work, but once you get into the habit of doing it, it'll be fairly automatic. I'm doing this right now to fix some things about me, and I'm starting to get some great insights. You can fix a lot of your problems naturally - you just have to put the effort into it.

So what have we learned?

Your body, naturally, is a resilient and hard-working machine. It can do a lot, but like anything, it only works properly when you are treating it properly. Keep it running at peak condition, and you can greatly increase the quality of your life.

Got any tips on naturally solving problems with your body and/or your life? Share in the comments!

The Top Everything of 2012

It's review time for me today, which I think is one of those exercises that everybody would benefit from. I'll be going over how I did on my annual goals and setting myself up for 2013, but first I want to look at some of the good things that went on this year. What better way to do that than an insanely-cliche bunch of Top 10 lists?

So, if you'll let me, I'm going to channel my inner David Letterman (or my inner lazy blogger) and rattle off some really easy-to-digest, link-baity stuff that I liked in 2012.

Top 10 Apps of 2012

  1. Evernote. By far. I've upped the ante in my daily life's use of Evernote with more notebooks, “stacks” of notebooks for better personal use, and an increased use of tags for better organization. I use Evernote to manage my own recipe book (making meal planning a cinch), personal goals, blog post ideas, stuff I should act on later, business finances, notes for copywriting projects, and I even use IFTTT to keep an automatic timeline of blog posts, tweets, mobile photos, and Facebook posts – sort of an automatic journal of my daily life. Evernote is, and will likely remain for a long time, my #1 app.
  2. Pocket. This one was new to me this year, and it definitely has earned its spot as my second favorite app. For those unfamiliar, Pocket used to be called “Read It Later”, which does exactly what it says – it allows you to read stuff later. With the browser extension, I am able to send articles from Google Reader or any website to my Pocket, which will strip the article of its extraneous fluff (like ads and other site-specific garbage). That allows me to have a coherent, consistent reading experience either on the Pocket web site or on my phone when stuck waiting in line for a sub at Cousins. It allows me to batch my reading whenever I want, which saves me a load of time.
  3. XBMC and Plex. Second only to Evernote in daily usage, XBMC runs our family's living room experience. We keep and maintain a full library of movies and TV shows, along with integrated streaming from network websites and Hulu, and even a live HD DVR system. In other words, who needs cable TV? XBMC is free and really, really powerful. I'm in the process of putting together a second XBMC setup on our basement TV, which will be synced with our main TV as well for easy usage. I loved it so much, I put together guides on how to do it yourself for anybody. Plex works in tandem with XBMC (or can be used standalone if you'd like) to stream our giant library of shows and films to our tablet, phones, or my netbook on the go. So when we were in Rome, we could sit in our room on the Wi-Fi and watch The League instead of trying to decipher Italian-dubbed movies.
  4. Google Reader. It amazes me how many people still don't “get” what RSS feeds are all about. Nearly every website you visit has an RSS feed. You like a blog? How about 40 of them? Google Reader will pull the content from the site into its own list for you automatically and instantly. So I can check 40 websites for new content in one shot. Plus, the Pocket browser extension gives me a little button in Google Reader, so I can quickly look at headlines, click the Pocket button next to the ones I want to read, and mark them all as read so that I can read the ones I want later and clear out my Google Reader queue. I've been using Google Reader longer than any other app on this list.
  5. Google Maps. Yes, I do love me some Google. With Maps on my phone, I don't need a $100 GPS system. I've used Maps to quickly and easily find my way home, to other destinations in my hometown, and to find my way around Portland, Washington D.C., and even all over Europe. The driving and walking directions are invaluable, and with estimated travel times and public transportation options, I just don't get lost anymore.
  6. Buffer. I like to share links, but I don't want to barrage my Facebook friends or my Twitter followers with an overload of links that they can't process. Buffer lets me space them out automatically. I don't have to manually schedule them – I just add them to my Buffer and let the app do the heavy lifting.
  7. ClearCheckbook. Paper checkbooks suck. While I don't love ClearCheckbook's interface, it beats the others. I don't want automatic syncing – I need to be able to balance my checkbook manually, but without the need for doing the math. ClearCheckbook is simple and easy to use. Plus, it has the added benefit of being the “house” checkbook. So my wife and I can both hop into ClearCheckbook on our phones and enter receipts on the go, so there is no question how much money we have. Nobody monopolizes the checkbook, and there is no confusion. Our budget and spending limits are in there, along with everything that we need to balance and update our checkbooks as we want to.
  8. Dropbox. Easy, fast file syncing across devices for free. I use Dropbox to keep files synced up between my desktop, my netbook, and my phone. I also am part of a public file share through Dropbox and a mastermind group, I use it to easily share my portfolio with clients, share files with friends and family, and have the peace of mind that comes with having all my important documents and files backed up instantly.
  9. LastPass. Security is becoming increasingly important. LastPass helps me manage passwords on my phone and in my browser, so that I don't really have to remember them anymore. I have my main LastPass password, combined with the added security of two-factor authentication (so if someone hacks into my LastPass account, they can't get in without a code that I can only get from my phone), so that I am always using the strongest setup possible.
  10. Pandora. I like music. I like the radio. But Milwaukee radio is terrible. I don't want to listen to 10 minutes of commercials, nor do I want to listen to the same 20 songs on repeat all day. Pandora lets me customize my music how I want to listen to it. I bought Pandora One, and the added benefit of commercial-free radio is bliss.

Top 10 Sites of 2012

  1. One of my new favorites. I want to be educated about the political scene, but I don't want partisan bitching or the LOUD NOISES method of reporting that is all too common in today's media. Reason seems to “get it”, offering a balanced approach that gets to the heart of the issues. It's not truly bipartisan, because everybody has a bias, but it's a more, well, reasoned approach to political issues. I think it's important as an American to be educated about the issues, but it needs to be a proper education, not a slanted or insulting one.
  2. The Art of Manliness. This year, I've really rediscovered the desire to be a man. Not a macho guy, like those cartoonishly portrayed in sitcoms. But a man who has values. Honor. Character. One who is proud to be a man and recognizes that value. The Art of Manliness is a really wonderful site run by a husband and wife tandem and is a crash course in not only how to be a better man, but a better all-around human being.
  3. I love my Kindle, but I've wanted to use it for more reading than just books. gathers longer content (i.e., longer than a web article but shorter than a book) into one spot: comprehensive blog posts, newspaper articles, magazine features, etc., on a variety of subjects. With one click, I can send an article I am interested in to my Kindle for free, and I have a collection of content readily available at all times. It adds to the education of issues and personal interest studies without the melodramatic fluff you find on mainstream sources. Plus, I get to read it on my Kindle.
  4. Lifehacker. I get more useful content from Lifehacker than from anywhere else on the web. From tech tips to lifestyle hacks to just cool and useful stuff to build, Lifehacker has it all. It's my top feed in my Google Reader, and has been for years. Without Lifehacker, I wouldn't be running Ubuntu or XBMC, or Plex, or LastPass, or Pocket, or Evernote, or IFTTT. I wouldn't have a sweet mount for my phone in my car. I wouldn't have TV Without Limits. I wouldn't have found great deals on everything from apps to furniture to appliances. It's the best.
  5. By Ken Levine. I have a real appreciation for the behind the scenes goings-on of shows and movies, because I'm interested in the creative process, and I love to see where shows come up with their content, or why the ecosystem of a show works or fails. Ken Levine worked on some of the biggest shows around (including one of my favorites – Cheers). He has an experienced and educated opinion on the state of television nowadays, and it's one that I really like to read.
  6. Unitive. I'm a proud Christian man, but there is a fine line between “proud” and “Bible thumper”. The former doesn't mind sharing his faith to someone who's interested or who needs it, the latter shoves it in people's faces without recognizing that they are being overpowering and obnoxious about it, which isn't what Jesus or Paul or any of those guys asked us Christians to do. Christianity has a place in real life today, and Unitive brings together some great, entertaining, and “real world” views on the Christian life. Plus, it features the writings of Joshua Becker, who I met at WDS in Portland, and he is a super-nice guy.
  7. Inside the Magic. Not much to say about this one. Inside the Magic is a site that covers Disney Parks, specifically Walt Disney World. I would live at Walt Disney World if I could, so this site lets me keep tabs on the place between visits (every couple years).
  8. Amazon. Even though the shipping through FedEx caused some nightmares this Christmas, Amazon and its Prime membership continues to be our first place to go for our shopping needs. We get as much as we can out of the service, and we get it in two days. We've even used the $3.99 overnight shipping option once or twice, which worked flawlessly. We get books (both print and for Kindle), along with staples like paper towels and batteries from Amazon, and we couldn't be happier with it.
  9. Nerd Fitness. We all need inspiration and motivation to be healthier. Nerd Fitness fits that bill, with humorous commentary and really well-written stuff from Steve Kamb – also a great, friendly guy I had the honor of meeting at WDS – who helps you find that sweet spot of getting healthier with a touch of nerdy goodness. He's also realistic in his approach, understanding that not everybody has the time or money to work out in the “traditional” sense (i.e., spending hours every day at an expensive gym). He helps you maximize your time. I've purchased the Rebel Fitness series, and it's well worth the money.
  10. RELEVANT Magazine. Another Christian site, but even more “real world”. RELEVANT Magazine covers media news and pop culture developments with a fun, but conservative slant. No “IF YOU LISTEN TO THIS MUSIC YOU'RE GOING TO HELL”-type stuff. For example, they recently did a great interview with Rainn Wilson, who is of the Baha'i faith. And they introduced me to The Heavy, whose album does feature some hard cursing at times, but they have an excellent musical quality. They have great discussions about God mixed in with all of this, which is a really refreshing approach.

Top 10 Stuff I Learned in 2012

  1. I'm intimidated by certain crowds. Put me on stage in front of strangers, and I can perform really comfortably. Shove me in a crowd of 1,000 fellow business owners, especially big-time entrepreneurs that I look up to, and I will clam up and hug the sidelines for three days, as I did at WDS this year in Portland, sadly. I was really surprised by my reaction to it.
  2. My writing needs work. I came to the realization that my writing can be lazy and lousy very often (I originally came to the conclusion that I was a lousy writer, but my friends in my writing group scolded me for that assertion). I backed off all the blogging-type stuff and started this site, which helps me work through my writing and find my voice, whatever that will be.
  3. There is opportunity out there. After hammering away at it for years, I broke into the direct response copywriting scene this year. As a result, I was able to give myself a $16,000 raise over 2011's income. You have to work at it, and you have to do it longer than most are comfortable doing it, but that hard work really pays off. I'm still building up to something great, but 2012 was a huge step in that direction.
  4. Cynicism is getting old. I have family members and good friends who spend most of their time complaining about stuff: politics, how other people are spending their money, etc. We live in a world where blogs gain popularity by bashing celebrities and movies and TV shows, and talking heads on cable “news” programs complain about each other, politicians, sports, and whatever else they can fill time with. I'm bored with it all. There's a lot of good in the world, and the best way to tap into it is by doing good things yourself. Start creating something worthwhile. Give back a little. Enough complaining.
  5. Sometimes a risk pays off. I took some risks this year that I had never thought of, like signing up for a half marathon, or dedicating myself to direct response copywriting. But when you take that risk, you also leave yourself open for success. You have to jump off that cliff to fly.
  6. It's time to be a man. Like I said, I've rediscovered what being a man is all about. I'm hoping to be a father some day. I'm almost thirty years old. While men in this country seem to want to hang onto bad jokes, obnoxious partying, and stupid drinking, I'm realizing that I need to grow up. I need to invest in the quality of my possessions. I need to invest in the quality of my relationships. I need to ignore fads and start making decisions for myself. Men need to step up in this society more than ever.
  7. You just have to stick to it to make it work. That risk you take? You might not see results for a long time. I started heavily studying direct response copywriting in July 2011. I didn't cash my first check until February 2012. That's 7 months of hammering away at it for free. But this month, I'm managing four different well-paying copy projects. That's because I stuck with it.
  8. The mind can overpower the body. Five days before my half marathon, I couldn't complete a 6-mile run because my body was breaking down. Without ever actually running 13.1 miles before, I used the momentum of the race and my fellow runners to comfortably complete a half marathon in a quicker time than I expected. My mind carried me there. Once I believed I could do it, there was no stopping me.
  9. The world wants easy answers more than ever. From education to economy to gun violence, we all want to enact laws that will get rid of these problems. We all want to make a singular decision to make life better again. But there's one problem with searching for easy answers...
  10. ...there are none.

Top 10 Experiences of 2012

  1. Walking through the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
  2. Being stuck overnight in Beauvais, France and the subsequent panic of trying to get out of the country.
  3. Launching TV Without Limits.
  4. Finally becoming a direct response copywriter.
  5. Though intimidated, meeting and shaking hands with some wonderful people at WDS.
  6. Soaked to the bone, watching the Green Bay Packers beat the Detroit Lions as the snow fell at Lambeau Field.
  7. Crossing the finish line at the Wisconsin Half Marathon. Time: 2:02:51.
  8. Getting my eyes back with LASIK surgery.
  9. The rush of pride when I turned the key on my wife's car after replacing the alternator and hearing the engine roar back to life.
  10. Starting this site and reconnecting with myself as a writer.

Lots of bad things happened in 2012, and I failed a lot. But I'm really appreciative of all the great things that happened. Now, it's time to start looking ahead to making 2013 even better. What did you like about 2012?

5 Places to Get Book Ideas

It's a very proud week here for me as a writer. I'm pretty pleased with how Reading Week has gone, and maybe it's just because I'm happy I stuck with a topic for 5 days straight. It's the little things... Anyway, we've covered losing the desire to read, as well as getting back into it. We've talked about finding an outlet for your reading to keep you going, and when to get some reading done. Now, we're wrapping up with ideas for stuff to read!

So you know you want to do more reading. You've figured out where can carve out a little bit of time every day to do it - good for you! That's the first step towards healing. But if you sit down and go, "Okay... READING" without a book in your hand, you're kinda stuck.

And if you're new to the literary scene, you might get overwhelmed on what books to start with: do you pick something from the classics, or something more contemporary? Do you go with nonfiction or do you dive into fiction?

You can really pick whatever you want, but if you're new at picking books, you might not know how to browse for one.

Here are a few ideas:

Go mainstream

This is probably my least favorite of the ideas, but it's one that can help anybody get into reading for the first time: go with the trends. In the past decade or so, we've seen people and media talking about books. It's actually pretty incredible - for a society that doesn't place much value on being literary anymore, it's cool to see average Joes and Janes getting excited over something other than whether or not musicians are in dysfunctional relationships. These include stuff like Harry Potter, Twilight, and 50 Shades of Grey, among others.

Pro: It's easy. You'll get new ideas quickly, and generally the books are not intellectually challenging. You'll "get" them right away.

Con: The quality can vary. While I've heard plenty of people say that the Harry Potter books are very well-written, I've met few (outside of the crazies who will defend it with their lives for some reason) who actually claim that Twilight and 50 Shades are literary masterpieces. So you might run the risk of picking up a book that is just awful, unless you're into the story that much.

Head to the movies

Here's an interesting one: try to find the book version of a movie you like. A lot of great movies are based on novels, and you could find yourself reading some pretty cool stuff, like The Bourne Identity or The Green Mile. Just be sure you aren't going in reverse: reading books based on movies. Those are almost always terrible.

Pro: The books are almost universally better than the movies. With novels, characters and situations can breathe, and minor plot points can be included. Many movies cut a lot out of the book versions to make a good script, so there's a lot of material left over that you can enjoy.

Con: This might be a limited way to get started. However, it can inspire you to find a genre you like and explore it further.

Let somebody else tell you what to read

My reading list is almost entirely built off of this: blog post lists. I'm sure I'll make one in the future, but plenty of other people have done it for me. Just go to Google and type in "books you have to read" and you'll get page after page of lists. I went with the manly route, grabbing book ideas from this list and this one. But you can get creative: "books writers should read", "books women should read", "books Christians should read", "books bricklayers should read", and so on.

Pro: These lists tend to be comprehensive - often including anywhere from 20-100 books (one even has 1000!). And the quality also is usually pretty good. These are almost always great books.

Con: You have to share the views of the person making the list. If you want a book idea and you're a woman, a list dedicated to men probably won't entice you much. Make sure you've got the right list (or two).

Go online, son

This sounds like the same thing, but it's a little variation: there are a few good sites out there that focus on making the book browsing experience a pleasant one. Amazon is one of the best and most comprehensive - plus it will suggest books to you based on what you've read. Goodreads is another popular solution, and one that I keep thinking about going back to. Another smaller site is iDreamBooks, which is like the Rotten Tomatoes of books.

Pro: Heavily-trafficked sites mean you get to look at a lot of reviews. Algorithms are pretty good at matching you up with different books.

Con: Some game the system, and others don't get it at all. For example, Tim Ferriss recently released the book The Four-Hour Chef, which is his third book. So on the day it was released, a bunch of 5-star ratings went up, which led many to think that his comrades just posted 5-star ratings to help him out and make the book look good. I have his first two books, so I am positive that his new book is very detailed, well-researched, and controversial. But I'm not a fan of review-stuffing. On the other side, a handful of people gave the book a one-star review just because they didn't like the people giving 5-star reviews, despite the fact that they are doing exactly what they are complaining about: reviewing a book without reading it. So you have to look a little deeper at some of the reviews when checking out a new book on these places, but it can be well worth it.

Find a good, old fashioned bookstore

I love me some Barnes and Noble. Even though I'm almost purely a Kindle reader, I enjoy strolling through a brick-and-mortar bookstore. I love the atmosphere. I love sifting through the stacks and finding new books. It's a different world in there, and it's really open to people of all ages and levels.

Pro: It's old fashioned, and I like stuff that's old fashioned (new post series coming about that). You can find great variety: there are usually displays for staff picks, best sellers, different genres, new arrivals, etc. It's a positive experience, instead of just clicking a mouse, which I like.

Con: You have to, like, go there. I just moved and now a halfway decent bookstore is over 20 minutes away. And it's in a mall, which is probably the number one thing I hate in the world.

So you get the idea. Is there something I missed though? Where do you find inspiration to read a new book? Share in the comments!

Squeeze Reading into Any Part of Your Day

Reading Week continues today with a look at how to find time to read. We've already talked about when reading went south for us, making it easier to do, and finding an outlet to share our experience.

We've established the following, if you've come this far: you like to read. You know that it's important to do. There are possibly even books out there that you want to read right now.

But you've fallen into the victim-filled trap of: "I don't have time to read!"

Short answer: yes you do.

Long answer: the rest of this post.

Truth is, all kinds of time exists for you to read. You have 24 hours in a day. You know who else does? That person you know who reads all the time. Me. The people writing the books. The people reviewing the books. Theodore Roosevelt (arguably the most awesome person to ever grace this planet) only had 24 hours a day, and he was a President, cowboy, Rough Rider, author, researcher, father, husband, and the coolest man alive, straight-up.

We're all finding time to read with the same 24 hours you have. Now it's your turn. Here are a few different times throughout the day where I've found time to read. I don't necessarily use all of these times to read every day, but I have used them at some point.

Have your cereal with Stephen King

Plop that book or Kindle down next to your cereal bowl and eat your Froot Loops while diving into a crazy world of fantasy - or whatever it is you like to read.

You might think that you won't get much reading done at breakfast. Hey, that's fine - but it's a start. You certainly can read 10 minutes' worth of something at the breakfast table. Do that and you'll read over an hour a week. That's not a ton, but it's more than you were doing!

Take a break with Bill Bryson

Are you a working stiff? Don't let The Man tell you how to take your breaks. Instead of standing outside with a butt in your mouth, sit inside (or outside on a nice day) with a book in your face.

Again, mealtime works as a great option. Lunch is one of those optimal book-reading-type meals, because it's not like you're giving up watching TV or anything - unless you have an awesome job where you work from home like me.

Sit in the lunch room or at your desk with a book in one hand and a sandwich in the other. Block out the rest of the world for a little bit. In most cases, between lunch and breaks you'll have about an hour's worth of free time at your job - or half an hour. That's plenty of time to get some reading done, and it's another really easy way of squeezing it in.

Plus it beats putzing around, talking about how much money you wasted on lottery tickets with your coworkers.

Commute with Carol Higgins Clark

If you ride the bus, awesome - you already have plenty of built-in time to read! Get your work done at the office and let your commute be "you" time. You can even leave your headphones in.

If you are behind the wheel every day, no problem - but you are going to want to leave the book on the passenger's seat. No amount of reading is worth risking hitting that fire hydrant. Instead, get yourself a subscription to Audible, or get free audio books at Books Should Be Free. Load them up on your iPod, phone, or other mp3 player, and listen to the book on the way to work.

Think audiobooks are nerdy? It can't be any nerdier than singing terrible top 40 songs at the top of your lungs. You're in your car - nobody has to know. Your round-trip drive could mean up to an hour of reading a day!

Fall asleep with Faulkner (not literally)

Bedtime is one of my favorite times to read. You can ditch the screens and let your eyes relax, and you can zone out after a hectic day. It's quiet, you're comfortable, and the book practically reads itself.

I find that bedtime reading bridges the gap between being awake and falling asleep for my brain. Some nights, especially if I don't read, my brain is going a mile a minute and I can't sleep. Reading winds me down.

Again, even 10-15 minutes of nighttime reading goes a long way.

Substitute time with Sylvia Plath

Another cool trick to squeezing in more reading is to give up something else in return - especially stuff you don't need, such as:

  • Watching the news. Here's a great post I recently read on why we should all just stop checking out the news so much.
  • Watching TV. Don't want to give up TV? The average show is 20-25 minutes long. Give up one of those a night and you have some solid reading time available.
  • Surfing the Web. You do this more than you think. Turn off Facebook for 10 minutes and open a book.

Downtime with David McCullough

Think of the times when you are waiting - especially alone: doctor's offices, restaurants (in some cases), bus stops. These are great times to get some reading done.

You can carry a book with you everywhere, and that's fine. Or, you can grab a Kindle and put the Kindle app on your phone. Then when you want to read, you can just pull out your phone and go through a few pages. What's cool about the Kindle app is that it syncs with your Kindle, so when you turn on your Kindle or open your Kindle app, you go automatically to the last page you were reading. Slick business!

And to those that protest reading on a phone: you're staring at the darn thing all the time anyway. You're not reading the whole book on your phone. You're just knocking out a few pages here and there.

Time doesn't just come to you

You don't just wake up one morning with a bunch of free time on your hands. Whether it's reading or writing or building a business, you have to make time for it. Take an active approach to your reading and you'll find the time - you just may have to do less of something else in return, and that's a good thing.

Make the time.

Tomorrow: what to do when you don't know what to read.

What's your favorite time/place to get some reading done?

Make Reading Easy on Yourself

This week, I’m focusing on the act of reading, which is one of the major points of this blog for myself. Yesterday, I talked about how I fell out of love with reading (and why you probably did, too).

Today, I talk about falling back in love with reading. After losing the “fire” for reading, you need to get yourself back in the mindset that “Hey, reading is pretty cool and enjoyable”, and then you can dive in to the meatier stuff. There are a lot of different approaches to doing it, and this is how I went about it.

Start with a list

The first thing I did after deciding that I was going to start really getting into reading was build a list of books and pieces that I wanted to read. This was the easy part.

It can be as simple as going to Google and typing in “books you must read”. I chose to pore through lists like this one from Art of Manliness. Part of me being a reader involves me learning how to be a better man, so it fit perfectly.

Where to manage your list? You can do it just about anywhere - because the bulk of my reading exists on my Kindle, I chose to use Amazon Wish Lists of all the books I wanted. Now, when I want to grab a new book, it's as easy as one click.

But you can use other things too, like Evernote (one of my favorite apps ever), or just a plain ol’ pen and paper.

At the end of the day, choose something you are comfortable using. If you won’t use it, you’ll never look at it. You know what you like - use it.

“I’ve made a huge mistake.”

I had my list, and was looking around for a good book to start with. I randomly chose The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky as my first choice, simply because it looked interesting and was free.

Two factors I didn’t think about? A crazy number of pages and a heavy dose of Russian.

After 15 pages, I realized that this was a heavy piece, and I wasn’t ready for it. That’s not because I couldn’t comprehend what I was reading - it was written very well and fairly easy to follow.

On the contrary, my momentum was nonexistent. I did not build any up yet, and we are definitely creatures of momentum.

Think of it this way: if you decide to exercise for the first time in years, you don’t go out and run 5 miles. You might run 1/4 of a mile. Or a half mile. Your body hasn’t adjusted to working out yet. Even worse, your brain hasn’t.

Motivation lies in momentum. Make it easy on yourself for starters, and you’ll be able to go up to the more challenging aspects down the line.

So I put down The Brothers Karamazov for Manvotionals instead. I created a nice little collection of “Books to Finish” on my Kindle so I can return to it later - once I have some momentum on my side.

But while I am definitely going to return to that one, I’m also not afraid to...

Put a book down

How many times did you try to read a book in school, only to find out it bored you to tears? But you had to trudge through it because you had homework on it.

Those days are over, son.

Knee-deep in Catcher in the Rye and it’s not working for you? Trying really hard to “get” Confederacy of Dunces but it’s going over your head for some reason? On the second page of Twilight and it’s hurting your brain (just kidding, ladies - kinda)?

Put the book down. Then move on with your life.

See, we’re reading for two reasons: to become better people, and also for fun. Remember that second part: FUN. If you’re trying to read something and it’s not fun for you, then stop reading it.

That’s not to say everything will be enjoyable. “Fun” for me describes something that is interesting, historical, or thought-provoking. But if I don’t feel like I’m getting anything out of the book, I’m putting it down.

The simple fact remains: if you don’t want to read it, you won’t read it. You’ll lose your momentum, and you’ll go back to TV, where nobody judges you or makes you think.

Do not do this. Find another book and get back on the horse.

Read genres you like

Consequently, make it easy to find books you like. The internet can be used as a wonderful tool for finding new books in any genre. Amazon alone can let you explore for hours, but don’t underestimate the power of a good bookstore to walk through. Learn what interests you and tailor your reading list around that.

Check it out - there’s something for everybody:

This took me 30 seconds to find. Seriously - find a genre you like and wallow in it. I promise you will find something that totally enraptures you and keeps your attention.

Mix up the formats

If all you are currently reading is one book and you don’t know that you’ll stick with it, then let yourself read in shifts.

I keep two books going at all times, and I make sure they’re different. Right now, I’m reading Manvotionals and a book on what books writers should be reading. Two totally different genres, so I can open up either, depending on whatever mood I’m in.

Add to that the pieces from that I send to my Kindle. Now I have pieces of different lengths: a few thousand words per article in case I feel a short attention span coming on.

Need more? Maybe in another format? Subscribe to some magazines (my favorites are Inc., Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and RELEVANT Magazine).

Grab some blogs while you’re at it and put them in Google Reader.

Read voraciously - of different formats and lengths. You’ll keep your attention span sufficiently mixed up, and you’ll still be reading.

Think of it like TV: you don’t always watch movies. Sometimes you want shows. Sometimes you like hour-long dramas, and sometimes you just need a quick 20-minute sitcom. Regardless, you can find something. Treat reading the same way.

Get a Kindle.

Seriously. Just do it.

By making it easy on yourself, you listen to your gut and you start molding your own reading life apart from other people’s expectations. This is your routine - make it your own. Nobody has written a syllabus. You do not need to work on somebody else's schedule. Let your hair down (if you have hair).

Tomorrow: why finding an outlet for your reading can help you stick with it (and get more out of it).

What are your favorite reading tips? Share them in the comments.

Why the Kindle is the Only Way I Read

I do love my gadgets. When I hear about some new piece of technology, I start Googling around to look at specs, reviews, and all that nerdy stuff. I eat it up. If that makes me a geek, then I’m a proud geek.

However, I’m pretty particular when it comes to spending my money. I don’t have a tablet (I honestly see no need for one). My phone is not the latest and greatest thing in the world. I don’t buy new computers almost ever.

One gadget I do have and cherish shamelessly is my Kindle (currently known as the "Kindle Keyboard Wi-Fi").

Some people feel like their tablet is better because it can do whatever a Kindle can do, but “better”. I completely disagree. Some preach to me (and no lie, they literally spend 10 minutes on their soapboxes) that classic paper books are the only proper way to read, and that Kindles are “stupid”.

Hey, everybody’s entitled to their opinions. I think tablets can be cool (sometimes). And I understand the appeal of a paper book, to an extent.

But I’ve been using my Kindle almost exclusively for reading for almost two years now. Within one year, I converted my wife into a solid Kindle user and lover. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and here’s why.

My arms don’t get tired holding the Kindle.

The first time this point was driven home to me was when I was walking through a Barnes and Noble - still a fun place to browse books - and saw The 4-Hour Body sitting on the bookshelf. I had owned the book for several months, and it’s an interesting read.

What I never realized was how massive this thing was. It’s a giant, hardcover beast at almost 600 pages of material. I’ve seen encyclopedias with less mass than this thing. I spent many nights lying in bed reading this book on my Kindle comfortably, with no thought at all to how long it was. I can’t imagine holding the paper book in my lap and trying to read it every night.

The same goes for tablets. I find tablets, in general, to be somewhat heavy (especially your iPads) and clunky. Even the light, 7-inch Android tablet that my wife has is a bit much for me. When I’m sitting around reading my Kindle, I can hold it with a couple fingers if I want to. The buttons to turn the pages are right next to my thumb, so I don’t have to tap or swipe.

In fact, I don’t have to change positions at all if I don’t want to. I can find the most comfortable position I want and just stay there.

It allows me to get lost in the content I’m reading, and focus less on the physical nature of what’s in my hands. I like that.

My eyes don’t get tired, either.

If I sit on my phone before I go to bed, my eyes get super tired and sore. Or, I have to go into the settings and drop down the brightness so that I can stare at it longer.

That’s fine, if you don’t mind the extra step. But I’m not looking for an extra step. If I spend money on a gadget so that I can read on it, I want to be able to flip it on and start reading, not fumble around with the settings every time. When I switch from my phone to my Kindle, my eyes relax and I get a lot more comfortable.

I can take notes quickly, highlight easily, and not worry about my handwriting.

Hey, you know what’s fun? Looking at my note-taking from high school and college. It’s incredibly sloppy (especially if I’ve been dozing off), sometimes you can’t tell what I was writing, and it takes away from the clean look of the book.

With my Kindle, I can click and highlight interesting quotes, send them to Evernote if I want, or just highlight and leave them, because I can click on a book and see all my highlights in one place. I can attach notes to them if I want to as well, and they are all hidden. I can bring them up on demand if I wish. That lets me take all the notes I want without messing up the book.

Keeping a separate notebook would be the “paper” way to do it, but I don’t want to sit around with an extra book and a pen, and my handwriting would still be an issue.

I can carry a ton of books.

This was the selling point to my wife. We’ve done a lot of traveling, and she loves to read. With her Kindle, she can load a couple books on and be set. Or if she’s at work, she doesn’t have to carry an extra “backup” book. She can just start the next one.

A Kindle can hold thousands of books. You can even back them up to your Amazon account (or on your computer with a program like Calibre), so you always have them, even if you run out of space.

It has other distinct advantages over paper books.

These are all my preferences, really. But this post is all my opinion, so...

  • Some books can be awkward to hold, depending on size and shape.
  • I hate having to hold pages open, which always affects how I sit or lie.
  • If I spill a few drops of water or cereal milk on a book, I wrinkle the pages and ruin it, but a few drops on my Kindle can be wiped off with a cloth.

I can read anything on it.

The beauty of today’s Web is that there is a ton of great content out there to read. But many of us are tired of sitting at the computer after a long day at work. Instead of subscribing to a bunch of magazines, I can get the same amount of feature content from

With, I set up an account to send articles to my Kindle with one click. I subscribe to the site in my Google Reader, and every day I see article titles and short descriptions - if I see one that interests me, I click on it, and click “Send to Kindle”. The article is then formatted and sent straight to my Kindle for easy reading. I load up a bunch of these and then I can read them whenever I am looking for a little light reading - longer than a blog post, but shorter than a book. has really pumped up the value of my Kindle and its usefulness. Plus, you know, it’s free to use.

And speaking of free...

Free books.

Yeah, you can use the library, and that’s fine. But it’s an extra trip that I don’t always feel like making. Especially now that I am pushing myself to be more literary, I have free access to own a ton of classic pieces of literature through Amazon. All I have to do is go to their site and click to download it.

Right now, I’m reading The Brothers Karamazov. It was free. It’s like 800 pages, and I have it on my Kindle for nothing. I love that.

Do you use a Kindle? Do you like it? Do you prefer a tablet or paper books? Let’s hear it! State your case.

(And hey, now's the time to buy one if you haven't. The new ones are crazy slick and crazy cheap. Here's an affiliate link to buy a Kindle. If you don't want to use the affiliate link, just go to