I think my wife married me to compensate for her lack of a sense of direction.

I’ve always been able to navigate well without a map.

Years ago, in a time before GPS, I brought Elysha – who was still my girlfriend – to Rhode Island to visit my mother. When we arrived at my mother’s building, I suddenly remembered that she had moved across town just a week before. 

In the distance, I could see my mother’s new building, a tiny speck on the horizon. We climbed back into the car, and using nothing more than my sense of direction (mostly the position of the sun), I found my way to her new home.

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Elysha, who is directionally challenged, couldn’t believe that I had navigated across town without a map and had managed to find my mother’s home. This is a woman who once drove halfway across the state of Connecticut, stopped for a cup of coffee, and then drove almost all the way back home before realizing that she was heading in the wrong direction.

When she told me about this, I asked why she hadn’t noticed that the position of the sun was reversed as she drove in the wrong direction.

I think she wanted to punch me. 

But as we pulled into the parking lot at my mother’s building that day, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen her more impressed with me. I sometimes think that was the day she decided to marry me. My skills, in light of her deficiencies, were just too good to pass up.

It turns out that this disparity in our senses of direction is probably biological and therefore unavoidable. Scientists recently located the part of the human brain where our sense of direction is located and have determined that the strength and reliability of these ‘homing signals’ in the human brain vary among people and can predict navigational ability.

It turns out that my brain is just better than my wife’s brain.

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The best moment that I have ever spent at a football game. Maybe one of the best moments of my life. And it happened during a timeout.

My love of the New England Patriots doesn’t make a lot of sense.

A collection of men who I have never met take the field to play a game that I have never played professionally, and even though I have no tangible connection to a single person associated with the Patriots organization, my heart hangs on every play.  

And it doesn’t matter who is playing in the game. Last night, in Gillette Stadium, I cheered on running back LaGarrette Blount, who just weeks ago was playing for the Pittsburg Steelers before being released for disciplinary reasons. 

Had he returned to Foxboro in the brown and gold of the Steelers, I would’ve prayed for abject failure. Fumbles and missteps and bone crushing tackles to the ground.

But last night he wore the red, white, and blue of my team, so I cheered him on as he ran over the Indianapolis Colts and helped to bring the Patriots – my team – to another Super Bowl.

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As fan, we root for laundry. We are loyal to the uniform. Villains become heroes and heroes are made villains depending on the colors that they wear.

It’s almost religious. It makes no sense.

And yet I was standing in section 331, row 24, seat 5 last night, as the rain came down in sheets, euphoric as my team dismantled the Indianapolis Colts and punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.

Last week I watched the Patriots defeat the Baltimore Ravens in one of the best playoff games I have ever seen. In the end, the Patriots defeated the Ravens 38-34, but not before having to make up two 14 point deficits and pulling of some of the best and most unusual plays that I have ever seen. It was a frigid, dry night in Foxboro last week, but we forgot about the arctic temperatures. Ignored cold hands and frozen feet. There was too much  drama unfolding before us.

Yesterday was a different kind of game. Temperatures were near 50 for most of the night. Torrential downpours soaked is. The game was essentially over by midway through the third quarter. We were able to relax. Laugh. Celebrate. In my 10+ years as a season ticket holder, I have rarely laughed more than last night.

My favorite moment of the night, and perhaps one of my favorite moments ever spent in Gillette Stadium, was as the Patriots were driving to make the score 38-7. The rain was falling harder than it had all night. The wind was carrying it across the field in sheets. A timeout was called. The telecast went to commercial. Music began playing in the stadium:

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain.

In a downpour, almost 70,000 people rose and began to sing together. Our team was on the precipice of another Super Bowl, and we were fortunate enough to be there to watch it happen. In the driving rainstorm. On a dark and windy night. 

When the timeout ended and play resumed, the stadium stopped playing the music. Tom Brady stood under center, waiting for the ball to be snapped. Two teams were poised to resume battle. But the fans continued to sing.

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I have never felt such a collective feeling of joy as I did in that moment. Men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, sang a song that almost seemed to have been written for this moment. It was as if we had spent our lives listening to this song and learning the words by heart so that we could come together on this one night, in this singular moment, to sing in unison.

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When do you allow your child to quit an activity? Also, entering into contractual agreements with your child is insane.

In the Washington Post, Katherine Reynolds Lewis writes about when it’s acceptable to let your child quit an activity and how do you handle the anger that children express when forced to continue with something that they don’t like.

She and her his husband have used a  strategy that I will call contractual commitment:

We agree with our girls on the length of the commitment they want to undertake. Whether that’s an eight-week soccer season or 10-week dance class, they agree that they’re going to continue the experience to the end, even if they decide it’s not for them. We put this agreement in writing and everyone signs it. We hope this teaches the importance of follow through as well as the reality that activities cost money, which we’re not interested in wasting.

Once this system was in place, the first time our daughter claimed, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” we pulled out the agreement. Argument over.

May I suggest that rather than signing contracts with your children over the length of time that they will pursue an activity, perhaps your children should just listen to whatever you are saying and obey because you are the parent?

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This may sound like a novel approach, but if your eight year-old wants to quit the swim team or piano lessons or the Boy Scouts, maybe it should the parent who decides. Perhaps the adult, with years of wisdom and perspective and the well being of their child in mind, should choose how long an activity should be pursued.

Maybe a parent should just act like a parent.

Signing a contract with your child is insane. It’s a perfect way to undermine your authority and your child’s respect for it. It’s a weak-kneed, lily-livered, short-sighted, helicopter-parenting solution to avoiding difficult decisions, temper tantrums, and the measures sometimes necessary for enforcing  rules. 

It will also never work.   

Once this system was in place, the first time our daughter claimed, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” we pulled out the agreement. Argument over.

Seriously? An angry, outraged eight year-old child shouts, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” The parent extracts the signed contract and hands it to the child. He or she reviews the document, takes a deep breath, and says, “Right. I forgot this binding agreement that we drafted n the back on my spelling homework. Apologies. I will cease my argument immediately.

No. I don’t believe it.

Adults break contracts all the time, and these are legally binding documents. Breaking them results in lawsuits and financial damages, and still, adults break them all the time. Am I really expected to believe that a piece of paper will bring an end to a child’s anger or disillusionment or a temper tantrum?

How about instead of a contract, you say something like this:

“Mary-Sue, we think that swim class is important for both your future safety around water and your overall physical fitness. I understand that you don’t want to go, but we all have to do things that we don’t want to do. There are many days when I don’t want to go to work, but I must because we have to pay for our house and car and food. You’ve made your argument. We listened. We disagree. Stop arguing and get in the car or I will begin taking away toys from your bedroom, and I will not stop until you are doing what you have been told.”

Instead of acting like a lawyer, may I suggest that acting like a parent is the wiser course of action?

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A new definition for enthusiasm

I feel like one of these photographs could replace the words used to define “enthusiasm” in the OED.

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So much wrong with this photograph

My poor son, riding around in the awful Whole Food, munching on a bit of hateful broccoli, while trapped inside a bulky, uncomfortable winter coat.

It’s as if my wife is trying to raise the antithesis of me.   

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A perfect combination of glitter, revenge, and the US Postal Service: My kind of company

Have you heard about ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com? It’s brilliant.

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From the company’s FAQs:

We’ll vomit up a ton of glitter and put it in an envelope with your recipients address on the front of it. We’ll also include a note telling them how awful they are which will be folded within.

Not the best couple sentences, to be honest. Explaining where the recipient’s address will appear on the envelope (on the front of it) is a little ridiculous, and similarly, explaining where the note will be placed (folded within) seems fairly obvious. Still, these are my kind of people.

I only have two problems with this company:

  1. The amount of swearing on their website would seem to limit their customer base while providing little in return. Perhaps they hope that the language would enhance their image as bad ass nonconformists, but the company maliciously sends glitter on customers’ behalf. They are already bad ass nonconformists. The language wasn’t needed.
  2. The glitter, unless specified otherwise, is sent anonymously. Anonymous communication is the medium of the cowardly and the stupid. I would prefer that the company require customers to provide a name.   

Nevertheless, I plan on using this service, at least once and perhaps often, and I plan to send my glitter with the appropriate attribution.

The real question is this: Who first?

I suggested a name to my wife last night, and she said no. That doesn’t mean he or she (it’s a he) is out of the woods yet. I simply risk my wife’s admittedly powerful, disapproving stare if I move forward on this target.

But he kind of deserves it. And it’s only glitter…

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Productivity tip: Start your day ahead of everyone else.

It’s fairly simple.

If it takes me less time than you to shower, dress, and otherwise prepare for the day, I will have more free time than you. With that free time, I will have the opportunity to accomplish more, and over the long term, if this disparity persists, I will probably crush you.

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It’s that simple. The more minutes you have available in the day, the more productive you will be. And I guarantee that it takes me less time to shower, dress, and otherwise prepare for the day than you.

Some statistics:

  • The majority of Americans (56%) take between 20 and 30 minutes getting ready.
  • Only 2% take less than 5 minutes and 9% spend over an hour
  • More women than men take longer to get ready, with 21% men taking over 30 minutes and 48% women doing the same.

These statistics do not include the time it takes a person to shower or bathe.

I am in the 2% of people who take less than 5 minutes to get ready, and this often includes my shower. This is the result of a few things:

  1. A regimented, streamlined routine that I adhere to daily without exception. A decade working for McDonald’s taught me the value of establishing efficient routines and sticking to them. 
  2. The recognition that on my death bed, I won’t be wishing that that I had spent time in the shower, debating pants and shirt combinations, or luxuriating in front of a mirror. I won’t bemoan the time that could’ve been spent combing my hair or applying moisturizer. The 99 year-old version of me wants me to spend less time in the bathroom, and so that is what I do.   
  3. An understanding that no one pays as much attention to physical appearance as we all think.
  4. The belief that the gains made by spending more time getting ready in the morning are incremental at best. 

When I make this argument to people looking to improve their productivity and get more done, I’ve been told by some that the 30 or 60 minutes spent getting ready in the mornings are a welcomed respite from the rigors of the day. A time to relax. 

“A time for myself”.”

I would suggest that there are much better ways to relax. More productive, meaningful, and healthy ways to find respite. Activities that actually fit the definition of relaxation and respite and will ultimately prove much more beneficial to you. 

If you want to relax or have time for yourself, spend the time exercising. Meditating. Reading. Walking. Petting a dog. Knitting. Spending time in nature. Listening to music. Writing. Having sex. Dancing. Drawing. Talking to loved ones. 

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All of these activities can provide enormous health benefits to a person, much more so than the application of makeup, the coordinating of outfits, or the fussing with hair.

I promise that if you spend ten fewer minutes on your hair every morning, the only person who will notice it is you. Streamline your routine. Eliminate wasted steps and needless products. Strive to be the person in your circle of friends and colleagues who wears the least makeup, the smallest amount of hair product, and the least cologne or perfume.

Actually, eliminate these latter items entirely. You don’t need them. Ever.

Secretly, I love the fact that so many Americans spend so much time getting ready every day. It allows me to start the daily race ahead of so many people. Most people, in fact. While they are showering and primping and blow drying, I am already moving. Doing. Making.

And I don’t waste a moment of this advantage. I’m not watching television or scrolling through Facebook.

I’m doing stuff.

You could be, too. I guarantee that it what the 99 year-old version of yourself wishes you were doing.

Posted in Productivity Tip | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mystery behind this photograph solved, though the solution was fairly obvious.

Yesterday, I wished that I knew the story behind this photograph.

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Thanks to a kind reader, today I know. It was a librarian, of course. Those fanatical zealots of books, always looking for a way, however crazy it may seem, to get a story into your hands. 

Honestly, who else could it have been?

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The Kindle’s beta version, perhaps?

I really wish I knew the story behind this photograph.

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There’s nothing better than a little fire in your belly to keep you moving forward. Find something to hate.

“The rage you feel? Listen to me carefully. It’s a gift. Use it, but don’t let anyone see it.” – Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire

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Nucky may be a fictional character, but these are words of wisdom. I may not feel actual rage on a regular basis, but I’m also not a gangster and mob boss who traffics in violence like Nucky.

But whenever I’m feeling lazy or unfocused, I immediately redirect my attention on all the things that I I have spent my life working against:

  • The poverty that I have experienced many times in my life
  • The teachers and guidance counselors in high school who never spoke to me about college despite my excellent grades and laundry list of extracurricular activities
  • The former stepfather who did so much damage to my mother and my  siblings and cost us our childhood home
  • The long, cold, frightening nights spent living in my car in Somerville, Massachusetts when I was homeless
  • The police officer who arrested me for a crime I did not commit
  • The hours spent in a tiny jail cell, awaiting my arraignment
  • All the McDonald’s customers who treated me and my employees poorly over the years because of our place of employment
  • The prosecutor who railed against me at my trial – calling me me a thief and a liar – while trying to strip me of my freedom
  • The college professor who told me that I probably wasn’t talented enough to publish novels and should think about a different career
  • The people with so many advantages in life – supportive parents, stable homes, parents who paid for their college tuition, family businesses that accepted them with open arms – who fail to do great things with their lives and good fortune
  • The anonymous villains who tried to destroy my teaching career

When I am not doing my best, working my hardest, trying like hell to succeed, these are the people I think about. These are the things that get me moving again.

While I don’t want my children to be impoverished or homeless or jailed or told that they aren’t talented enough to succeed, my hope is that they have a little fire in their bellies when they get older. A reason to prove someone wrong. Something that has hardened them and sharpened them a bit. Maybe a little anger residing somewhere within, kept hidden as Nucky advises, but always there, pointing them forward and onward to greater things.

Success really is the best revenge.

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