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Insights From My Digital Sabbatical

Sorry for not replying to that passing comment on Facebook. Or reacting to your Instagram feed. Or responding to your requests on LinkedIn. I’ve been purposely delinquent in tending to my social networks, for a good reason: for the past month, I’ve been on parental leave.

As an independent Executive Coach, the choice to take a month off was mine and mine alone. Yes, I needed to plan appropriately to make sure my clients were not left in the lurch. However, the motivation for disconnecting for a month was to take advantage of one of these few times in adult life when being unreachable is acceptable, and dare I say, laudable.

For July, I’ve been mostly off the grid. This meant taking all social apps off my phone, removing all notifications (except for calls and texts) and opting for low-tech activities when possible (real books not eBooks for example). I even stopped sharing my runs and hikes on Strava (gasp!).

My digital sabbatical was yet another reminder of the dire toll that a constant digital connection takes on an already full life. In particular, I noticed a few things that I’d like to share:

Tech isn’t the problem. Socially charged tech is.

I love technology, and it’s clear to me that technology is not the problem when it comes to a sense of frenzy, anxiety, and rampant overwork I see many people suffering from. The problem is what socially-powered experiences do to the psyche, particular when the mind is already overloaded with the demands of life. Unless one is adept enough to transcend the grip of the ego, the impact of a stream of your friends carefully curated finest moments does not inspire you to be your best. Instead, it instigates one-upmanship, FOMO, and a sense of limited self-worth.

My experience is that social feeds trigger a dangerous palette of emotions, particularly high on that list are fear and outrage. After a month away from the occasional dip into my Facebook feed (and I wasn’t a Facebook addict either) I felt a palpable sense of OK-ness and acceptance with myself and my lot in life. I also felt naturally inspired to pursue my own interests, not chase what someone else is saying I should or shouldn’t do, or measure the value of my life experiences based on the number of likes that flow in. I also felt far calmer than I’ve been in ages, and I’m a pretty calm dude as it is.

No one in their right mind would opt-in to using something that’s guaranteed to create a panoply of negative emotion. Unfortunately, socially-oriented technology triggers enough of the addiction centers of the mind (not unlike gambling) that people are doing precisely that. A month away from it all made the impact clear as day for me.

Most news is not worth knowing.

What does it mean to be informed?

One of the harder things to pull away from is checking the news. My news drugs of choice are Google News (carefully curated to push my trigger buttons!), NPR, PBS, CNN, and Twitter. Over the month of my digital sabbatical, I significantly reduced my news consumption. Instead, opting for reading books or longer-form articles (I get the paper version of The New Yorker). Mostly, I just ignored what was going on.

Over the past few days, I’ve gone back to my old habit. Checking Google News in the morning and listening to the news on NPR. I’ve learned that there have been two mass shootings in the past few days. Multiple people have died tragic deaths for various reasons in the Denver area (where I live), and Ebola is making a comeback in parts of Africa. I also read all sorts of opinions (not facts) about the various Democratic presidential candidates and tweet-by-tweet tear-downs of Trump’s latest missives.

All this has left me agitated (with Trump), confused (with the bi-polar nature of political news coverage), fearful (hearing about various random crimes in Denver) and outraged (at the mass shootings). All of this happened on a Sunday afternoon. Instead of enjoying myself, I was swept away in a maelstrom of emotion turmoil (I’m a bit hyperbolic, you get my point).

Was this useful to me, or anyone?

The news did not trigger me to take decisive action. It just triggered me to get emotional and keep clicking more headlines. There are surely better ways to be informed, engaged, and inspired to be a positive agent on the issues that matter.

Shallow browsing makes the mind dull and anxious.

One reason I enjoy reading books (and listening to long-form podcasts and YouTube interviews) is that they make it easy to focus on a topic for an extended period of time. The opposite of this approach is the web surfing approach whereby the name of the game is to hop from topic to topic in a random-walk sort of way. I’ve been doing far less of this shallow browsing over the past month. The impact has been a palpable sense of calm, improved focus, and a desire to go deeper into topics.

For example, I’m now reading a 600+ page book on The Silk Road. I’m finding it easy to pick up the book and read, without feeling the impulse to check my phone or open my laptop. I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time. Suddenly, I now feel inspired to do so in an effortless sort of way. As a result, I’m having much deeper thoughts and inquiries about the material I’m reading. I notice the same thing happening with mundane activities around the house, where instead of just doing a quick and dirty job cleaning the house, for example, I’m more apt to re-organize and deeply scour things thoroughly.

I’ve been naturally going deeper into things, without feeling like I need to use willpower and effort to do so. I think this capacity to focus and concentrate, arising naturally, is an immensely valuable thing. I’m convinced that this is emerging since my brain is not constantly multitasking and bouncing around between various external stimuli. What’s even more interesting, is that I’ve considered myself to have a strong capacity to concentrate, and tend not to multitask. I now realize just how much hopping from topic to topic I’ve been doing lately!

Your business (or career) won’t die if you don’t respond to email.

As an independent business owner, and a service-oriented business at that (coaching), being responsive to customers (and potential customers) seems vitally important. What happened during my month away from email? Did my business tank? Did all my clients run for the hills?

First of all, I’ll admit to checking my email on two occasions and replying to a few messages. That said, I didn’t need even to do that. I had an “out of office” message sent to everyone who emailed saying I was out for the month. Yes, I had a handful of potential new clients reach out. Will they have found another coach since I didn’t respond to their inquiries? Perhaps, but perhaps not. I’m reaching out to them this week. Let’s see what happens.

Even if my business declines slightly by being less responsive on email, what I gain in increased focus and clarity is worth it. More likely, I’m thinking that the improved creativity and output I generate (which tends to happen when I’m taking in fewer inputs) will help my business in the long-run. My best example of this is the blog you are reading right now. My last blog post was over five months ago! Yet, for some reason, today I was inspired to share and started writing these words. It’s as if the space created by not filling my mind with external data allowed a natural desire to create something to arise.


So am I going low-tech and non-social for good?

I’m not sure. For now, I’ll be consuming nothing from my social feeds on my mobile device. The usual culprits – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn- are banished from my phone, and I have no plans to re-install them. All other app notifications are muted and will stay that way. As for email, I’m doubtful that I can keep it completely off my phone, but I’m going to give it a shot for as long as I can.

There are other scenarios I’m on the fence with. Aspects of LinkedIn are important for my business. I also occasionally use Twitter for product support and relevant local news (e.g., snow and trail reports for the Colorado mountains). I’ll save those scenarios for when I’m using my computer (not phone). Making things even more complicated, I’m on the board of directors for a non-profit, and responsible for marketing (which includes social media engagement). I need to sort out how to engage on social for the non-profit while not doing so for me personally. Then, there is this blog post…do I share it on my various social channels?

So there are a lot of open questions about how sustainable my digital sabbatical will be now that I’m back from parental leave. One thing, however, is for sure: it’s worth it to invest the effort to regain a healthier relationship to the onslaught of socially-charged tech. This isn’t just about getting back time. It’s also not just about being more calm and present. It’s about allowing for deeper insights and creative potential to emerge, born from a refreshed capacity to focus on what matters. In the raging torrent of a half-dozen social streams, how many brilliant ideas drown?

Beyond The Pareto Principle: The Simple Way To Get Much More Out Of Life

I want to share a simple idea that might change how you think about your business, your health, your relationships and living your life in general.

This idea will be tricky to implement, but the results will speak for themselves. Not to set expectations too high 🙂, but I believe that the idea I’m going to share with you really does have something to it. It’s all about getting more out of less.

It’s not a new idea. Some people have referred to it as The Pareto Principle, aka the “80/20 rule.” It states that most of the outputs in life are generated from a minority of inputs. This is generalized to imply that 80% of the results tend to come from 20% of the activities.

When you think about simplification and productivity, what do you think about? Most people think about trimming the fat, reducing the slack and doing just as good, with less effort/activity/input.

Achieving such an outcome would be a great result, wouldn’t it?

For example, if you work 40 hours a week and you get a certain result, imagine if you worked 30 hours a week and got the same result, or even a slightly lesser result, but saved a bunch of effort. That would be a good thing, right?

What if you could do even better?

What if you could, by doing less work, not only achieve the same outcome but a much better one, by doing far less than you thought? That’s the idea I want to talk about today. The idea of getting more out of less. Pareto’s Principle taken to an extreme.

To help get your mind around this concept, I would like to share a few examples of how this idea plays out in life already, from the worlds of finance, business and nature. Through these examples you will see that this idea has a lot of truth to it. If you look closely at any aspect of life: less is more!

Be wealthier by trading less

Let’s start by looking at wealth and finance. The game of wealth building is really set up to reward people who can figure out how to get a better return on their money.

The best and brightest people are spending tremendous energy figuring out ways to make more money by actively trading, taking bigger risks and even going as far as building computer systems from the ground up to shave microseconds off trade times.

So, what do the wealth building games people are playing show us?

There have been numerous studies, looking at the performance differences between actively and passively managed funds. The verdict is clear. Passively managed funds have higher returns, despite the lack of effort that goes into managing them. In any given year, 83 to 95% of active money managers fail to beat their benchmarks in any given year.

Think of all that wasted effort and money!

The passive index funds, on the other hand, just invest in a pre-defined selection of stocks. Rebalancing happens periodically, and that’s it. Simple and effective!

Sure, investing in funds isn’t the only way to build wealth, but it provides a striking example of how less is more. It’s worth paying attention to.

It’s how I invest my money.

Grow a business faster by working less

Next, let’s look at the world of business.

I recently got paddleboards for my family. With the boards, we got a free book by the company founder, Stephan Aarstol, called The Five Hour Workday. The premise of the book is NOT that we should be lazy. The founder of the company is a savvy entrepreneur who knows how to work hard.

Taking out our paddleboards in Dillon, CO.

However, Stephan Aarstol saw a better way to get results in business, and it had nothing to do with working harder. It had everything to do with working smarter. He saw that when his team members were happy and living great lives, they were more creative, productive and insightful at work.

He performed an experiment and for three months, switched his entire company to a 5-hour workday, 5 days a week, for the same pay as working a full 40 hours week. In fact, he increased their pay, by offering his staff a cut of company profits.

What happened?

Optimists would think that the experiment would have resulted in a consistent level of business growth, despite the fewer hours worked. This would equate to getting the same outputs from fewer inputs. Not a bad result.

Doubters would think that result was a drop in business, though perhaps not as much as one would expect. This would equate to getting fewer outputs for far fewer inputs. Again, not a bad result if you really care about giving employees back time in their days. However, this isn’t sustainable for a growth-oriented business.

However, what happened was that the business absolutely took off. Employees were super happy. That part should be obvious. What wasn’t obvious, was that customers were also incredibly satisfied with their purchases and customer service.

Customers told their friends about their awesome paddleboards and the great company behind them. The business was booming, in spite of the fewer hours worked! This would equate to getting vastly more output from fewer inputs.

Over the years since the book was published, the company changed their work schedule again, going back to an 8-hour workday during the off-season, and sticking to a 5-hour work day during the peak summer months. This is a far cry from the 60-plus hour weeks that are common at other growth-oriented companies.

Why the change back to a 40-hour workweek?

According to Aarstol:

A weird thing happened—productivity was fine and we actually grew revenues—but the five-hour workday failed us in a completely unexpected way. People were feeling less connected to the company. When you’re working only 25 hours a week, other parts of your life become bigger and more important.

Especially in the startup world, people actually like going to work and feeling attached to or even consumed by their jobs. So now we’ve switched back to an eight-hour day for most of the year. We do five-hour days in the summer, during our busiest time of year, from June through September. The time pressure makes us figure out how to be more productive.

Tower Paddleboards is not the only company changing the world of work. Basecamp, an innovative software company (formerly called 37 Signals) is famous for railing on the “work hard to get ahead” mentality of tech companies, proudly adopting a flexible work schedule capped at 40 hours a week, with Friday’s off all summer long.

The lazy person’s guide to bountiful gardening

Are you into gardening or permaculture?

I don’t have a green thumb, but my mom does!

I grew up working in our large garden on my most weekends and evenings during the growing season. For some reason, I’ve never picked up the skill, but one thing I’ve learned is that micromanaging plants is a surefire way to kill them!

I recall a conversation several years ago with my mom, after attempting to grow a vegetable garden in the backyard of my newly purchased home. I was complaining that my kale, carrots, and potatoes wouldn’t grow. My succulents were wilting. What was my issue? My mom gave me some great advice, water them occasionally and don’t do anything else. Let them be.

It turns out there was a lot of wisdom in that tip. I was over-watering and stepping all over the raised beds. I was getting in the way of nature doing what it does best, grow stuff.

Can we grow more by doing less?

In the world of permaculture, there is a movement of people taking up lazy gardening. Lazy gardening is all about getting more out of less. By being smart about positioning plants as part of a natural ecosystem; less watering, fertilizing, mulching and weeding is needed for a garden to thrive.

Don’t believe me? Look at what this guy is able to grow in a relatively small vacant lot in the middle of an urban area in the UK.


I don’t have time to talk about all aspects of life and how the principle of getting more out of less can apply.

However, it’s clear that there is something powerful about allowing a few vital inputs to do their magic, and not smothering a good thing with a ton of extra activity that will just get in the way of life doing what it does best, GROW!

I hope this topic has inspired you to think way beyond Pareto’s Principle. You don’t need to settle for just getting most of the benefits from a few inputs. You can aspire to get far more out of the few things you put into a project.

I also hope that you are inspired to think about how you can simplify some aspects of your life, for the sake of allowing growth to occur in a more natural and abundant way.

Here are a few questions to guide your journey to simplifying your life and embracing a “getting more from less” attitude:

  1. What area of your life would benefit from more abundance with less effort?
  2. What are you doing right now in this area of your life? Think about the inputs/actions taking place. Even if you aren’t doing anything in this area, doing “nothing” is still something!
  3. What few activities/inputs seem to be producing good results?
  4. What few activities/inputs are worth focusing more time and energy on?
  5. What other activities/inputs are not fruitful and worth letting go of? 

Please leave a comment down below this post with your answer to Question #1!

My 2017 Year In Review

Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good. - Plato

As 2017 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the year gone by. I don’t typically ruminate. Dwelling on the past gets me in trouble. But, I’m happy to reflect in-depth once a year.

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The Freedom Formula: Three Ways To Improve The Quality Of Your Life

freedom formula

In this article, I would like to talk about freedom. What is it? Why does it matter? How can we get more of it daily life?

I’m sharing these insights because it’s how I actually thought about designing my life after leaving my corporate career. I realized that time and mobility were huge factors in my happiness. This led me to sell most of what I owned (including my car and home), move cities and change careers.

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27 Upgrades To Your Morning Routine That Will Transform Your Day

The morning is a special time. It’s a time when the world seems to be in slumber. When the demands of the day are not yet fully born. It’s a chance to begin life anew and fresh.

Research is starting to show what countless successful (and happy) people already know: that taking advantage of the morning hours is a stepping stone to having a great day. Our willpower is deplated as the day wears on. The morning is the best time to get important things done. When we are productive, we feel better about our accomplishments and our self-satisfaction rises.

There are a lot of articles out there talking about how important it is to wake up early. However, waking up is just the start to a morning routine. We need to pay close attention to how best to spend the time after we rise from bed.

Treat this article like a menu of ways to radically improve your morning routine and in turn, your entire day. I’ve tried them all for extended periods, and they work! However, you do not (and probably shouldn’t!) do everything on this list at the same time. That will be overwhelming and self-defeating. Instead, pick a few things to focus on. Over time, you can refine your approach based on what works best for you.

Let’s dive into it…

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6 Things You Can Do Immediately To Design A Better Life

lifestyle design

If you had your choice, what sort of life would you live?

Would you live in a city and work hard to climb the corporate ladder? Would you live as an artist in a coastal enclave? Would you be semi-nomadic, making your way as a digital freelancer - a modern day tradesman of sorts?

We have, at least those of us living in a developed country, some degree of freedom about where we live, what we do and how we do it. We may not be able to have everything in our life that we wish for, but we can definitely come closer and closer over time.

Optimizing your life requires a set of decisions. Decisions about what you want. Decisions about what you don’t want. Decisions about trade-offs you are willing to make.

This post shares a few steps that you can apply to design your optimal life. I’m not trying to tell you what you should do. Instead, I’m sharing the steps that I actually took in my own life over the past few years. I’ve moved closer to a lifestyle that is fulfilling and rewarding for both my wife and I (and our dog Duke).

I know that since these steps have worked for me, that they might work for many others.

So here they are.

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Minimalism and Living Well with Less

minimalism living well with less

I watched The Minimalists recently. It sparked something in me that I hadn’t been thinking much about lately. After the documentary was over, I glanced around my spartan rental home and started to notice all kinds of old and useless (to me) stuff that was taking up space. Books I hadn’t touched in years. Clothes I hadn’t worn in ages. Food that we would never eat.

So began another round of purging.

I lugged three big ’ole trash bags of books I don’t need and clothes that don’t fit over to Goodwill last week. I posted a few things of value on eBay. It’s true, someone out there wants your junk! Case in point, the person who just paid $35 (+ shipping) for my 3-year old laptop messenger bag. Food-wise, we skipped going to Costco this week, opting to eat down our growing horde of staples (still working on that 20-pound bag of brown rice and pack of 20 apples).

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2016 Year in Review

year in review

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s the season to reflect. Now is the perfect time for a “year in review” blog post.

It’s nearly the second full year that Alison and I have been in one place, after leaving Seattle (home for 14 years) and wrapping up over a year of travel. If I had to pick a word that best represents 2016, it would be stability. We finally have reached a point where we have a stable home (albeit a rental), stable income (sorta, more on this later) and a stable and growing group of friends. All of this made us feel like Colorado was home.

I pushed my boundaries in a few areas, specifically when it comes to health and business, and hit a wall or two along the way. I frame this Year in Review against the backdrop of my wheel of life. I love the wheel of life model for setting goals since it necessitates a holistic view of one’s life. I’ve discovered that whenever progress occurs in one area, other areas are beneficially impacted. In this post are comments on what happened in each area of my personal wheel of life in 2016, and what I learned along the way.

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Meditation is the Ultimate Life Hack You Aren’t Using


Meditation is a hot topic.

It seems like everyone is doing it, or at least talking about wanting to do it.

Ellen, Oprah, Hugh Jackman and other famous folks praise the impact meditation has on their body and mind. Ray Dalio, widely regarded as the most successful hedge fund manner of all time, says this regarding the impact meditation has had on his life:

“When I look back at my life, I am happy to have had what most people would consider a successful life, not only regarding business but in my relationships and in lots of ways. More than anything else, I attribute it to meditation—partially because of the creativity, partly because of the centeredness. TM has given me an ability to put things in perspective, which has helped a lot. I think meditation has been the single biggest influence on my life.”

The appeal of meditation is that it is universally accessible, requires no formalized training, is free to practice and is said to alleviate many of the mysterious ills of society - including stress, anxiety, depression and a host of other disorders. People have been meditating for thousands of years, and with that kind of track record, it surely isn’t a fad.

In the modern “life hacking” era of everyone wanting a shortcut to success and happiness, meditation is the ultimate life hack.

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Why you shouldn’t quit your job to travel the world

Imagine walking into your office, meeting with your boss and telling him that you have had a good ride, but it’s time to go. You are leaving a perfectly good job on your own terms, as I did a few years ago, to live life intentionally and not unlike a vagabond.

Touring the state of Rajasthan in northern India. Thats a big fort off in the distance on the mountain top.
What sounds like kittens and rainbows, will be buttressed by the glorious stories of others who followed the same path. I’m guilty of perpetuating the one-sided story of the merits of extended travel myself.

I even went so far as to give a talk last year, to about 400 people, about why you should quit your job to travel the world.

This post is designed to be different. It’s way more enticing to tell people to “take the leap”, but few talk about the perils of doing so.

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A New Wealth Definition

a new wealth definition

Let's take a look at a new wealth definition. Money matters, but only to a point.

The research is clear that above $75,000 USD in household income, the marginal value of additional dollars diminishes quickly.

The $75K income threshold will be more or less correct depending on family size and where you live of course. A family of five residing in San Francisco could probably make good use of a few more bucks than a single person living in rural Pennsylvania.

The overall point remains sound, however. You can be plenty happy with less income than you think.

This blog post covers my personal definition of wealth that aligns with my values, and why everyone should examine their own definition for what wealth means for them.

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Being Healthy Is Underrated

Nothing matters as much in this life as health.

Without health and vitality, we can’t focus, get things done or help others. Creating becomes laborious and motivation wanes. Nothing is possible without health.

Not having health doesn’t have to mean you have an illness. It might just mean feeling blah. This morning, for no apparent reason, I had a case of the blahs.

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Become A Master At Work Life Balance

This blog post is all about the problem of work life balance, and what you can do to alleviate the problem. It is a problem not because I think it is a problem, it is a problem because I have personally experienced the issue during my years working in the technology industry, and studies show it is a critical factor in workplace unhappiness.

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Be Healthy By Living Naturally

Learn about the history of your body, a body that you share in common with me and over 7 billion other humans on this planet. Learn about what makes it tick, and what it designed to do (and not do). With this learning, you can identify ways to adjust your environment to be one you were designed to thrive in, not just survive in. In doing so, you will be healthy and happy.

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The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying Up

There are probably a million things you would rather do than tidy up your house or office. My personally, I'd much rather go out and run for an hour or play with my dog, Duke. However, I just finished reading a book that provides a few incredibly valuable distinctions in the realms of productivity and minimalism. It was a book that I didn’t expect to get much value from, but was very impressed with the impact. It actually made me want to start tidying up! There is a certain life changing magic of tidying up!

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Mark Twain’s 9 Tips For Living A Good Life

Mark Twain

All of us are quite familiar with the famous books Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Remember those elementary days when we read and discussed these depictions of mischievous boys growing up under an illusion that society with all its rules and expectations was to be avoided and being free of society’s rules was the greatest way to live?

Samuel Clemens under the pen name Mark Twain was the writer of these wonderful exploitations of youth. Mark Twain was especially interesting to me since he did a lot of his writing just a few miles from my home, in the town of Elmira, NY. When I was a kid, this made him stand out as an especially important author and figure. My teachers often spoke of him and I read many of his novels.

It wasn't until I was in college, however, that I realized how Twain was far more than just a novelist. Are you familiar with Mark Twain, the satirist, humorist, lecturer and above all great philosopher of life?

Read on to learn Mark Twain's top tips for living a good life.

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