In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Tiny Steps

You might’ve noticed, I’m a bit of a self-help junkie.
While I haven’t read any self-help books recently – so I can use the time spent “fixing” myself through exercises to write instead – I’m still getting emails from a few self-help guru-types, and well, they’re just emails so they don’t take that long to read. And they usually don’t include exercises. (I might’ve snuck in an audiobook or two, but shhhhhhhh don’t tell.)
Recently there was an email from Courtney at Be More with Less about toasting “tiny steps”. She discussed her own life experiences, the tiny steps she’s taken, and how long it took to transition from where she started to where she is today. I found the article particularly inspiring because so often it feels like we’re not doing enough. Like we’ll never get to wherever it is we want to be. Like you feel as though you’re getting nowhere, so why even bother? Particularly if your tiny steps are focused on transitioning to a lower energy lifestyle, consuming less, and eating more naturally. The overwhelming majority of your friends and neighbors aren’t bothering, and you find yourself wondering what’s the point.
Well, here is a list of tiny steps I’ve taken over the last year(ish). As I was trying to recall exactly how long it has been, I remembered … I have written about tiny steps before! It’s fascinating to see what I meant to do, compared to what I have actually done. This list may have to become an annual tradition!
Consuming stuff:
  • Using fewer single-use disposable items. We rarely use paper plates anymore; I reach for a sponge or cloth towel before a paper towel. Not always successful, but again, this is about tiny steps.
  • Not using plastic produce bags at the grocery store for fruits or veggies that have their own wrapping (sweet potatoes, lemons, limes, etc … although the cashiers hate finding that one extra lime in my order because they weren’t all bagged together)
  • Reusing single-use disposable items wherever feasible. For instance, when I do end up with plastic produce bags, I save them to store veggies I harvest from my garden. The plastic containers that hold deli meat get reused to pack lunches.
  • Compost what paper napkins and paper towels we do use, so at least they aren’t cluttering up landfills.
  • Started a ‘deep pantry’ so I can buy food staples when they are on sale, rather than when we run out.
  • Figuring out ways to use possessions we already have in new ways to solve problems, rather than immediately purchasing a solution.
  • Reading books through the library and free ebook services rather than purchasing books. Not always 100% successful … trying to buy used books when I simply can no longer resist.
  • Mending clothing, which says a lot because I hate mending.
  • Simplifying my wardrobe… I even tried Project 333, but it really didn’t work for me. (Sorry, Courtney!)
Still working on…
  • Phasing out paper napkins… even though they are teens, my kids are still really messy
  • Shopping less. I’ve tried, but the results are inconsistent at best.
  • Watching less TV.
  • Spending less time on my cell phone.
Eating:
  • Reducing food waste through ninja meal planning skillz.
  • Eating out less often, particularly at fast food restaurants.
  • Eating more produce from my own garden. I had wanted to join a CSA, but I can’t even properly use everything from my own garden before it rots. It didn’t seem responsible to buy even more produce I would struggle to use.
  • Incorporating more wild foods into our diet.
  • Eating more food in season and local to the area. I mean, there is nothing sadder than a grocery store tomato in Maryland in February!
  • Using more permaculture techniques (like intercropping and polyculture) in my garden to improve overall health and reduce the need for energy-intensive human interventions.
Still working on…
  • Preparing at least one vegetarian meal per week
  • Preserving or sharing garden produce rather than letting it go to waste
  • Finding innovative ways to feed my family whatever I can harvest yes, really, one more time. Ask my kids how sick they are of green beans!
  • Actually listening to my body and putting the fork down when I’m full even if it’s wasteful to stop, or so delicious I don’t want to.
Energy Consumption:
  • Sewed light-blocking curtains for the full-length windows flanking our front door. The summer sun streaming into the foyer made the whole house an oven, and the AC worked overtime. In the winter, cold radiated from them. The curtains let us control the temperature better on the main level of our house.
  • Installed a new attic fan and skylight. OK these were big steps, but we needed to redo our roof anyway so both attic fan and skylight got upgraded as well. The skylight has a remote control which allows you to open and close the curtain to allow or block the sun as needed, or open the skylight to allow hot air to escape. The attic fan has also kept the temperature upstairs more comfortable.
  • Trying to combine errands to use less gas… or better yet, just not go out!
Still working on…
  • Finding and completing more projects to insulate and weatherproof our home. For example, I bought foam to insulate hot water pipes after reading Green Wizardry last year, and they are still just piled all over our basement floor.
  • Line drying more clothing.
Friends and Family:
  • Making time to actually listen to the kids.
  • Spending time with friends and family, sharing a home-cooked meal rather than going out to a restaurant.
  • Sharing experiences instead of exchanging store-bought gifts.
Still working on…
  • Working to connect with other people locally who share my interests and values.
  • Learning to enjoy what the local environment has to offer rather than going on fancy vacations; there’s lots of local opportunities for hiking and camping, for instance.
I am sure to many people these tiny steps seem like self-deprivation and misery. (Although people who feel that way probably aren’t reading my blog in the first place.)
But putting one more plate in the dishwasher is no more work than throwing out the paper plate.
Cooking at home from scratch is more work, but allows my husband and I time together while we prep the meal; we enjoy the meal together as a family, and we’re all healthier as well.
Instead of shopping as a past-time with the kids, we’re actually having conversations and trying to cook together, while the money saved has helped us better cope with a few financial crises.
Hanging laundry up to dry is actually better for the clothes as well as the environment.
And even though I still abhor mending, it brings with it the quiet satisfaction of fixing a problem myself, and returning a loved garment to my wardrobe rather than scouring the malls or internet hoping I can find *and* afford its replacement.
Last but not least, I find joy in knowing that in even small ways I am cutting back on waste and reducing the degree of variation between my values and the life I’m actually living. And that’s worth more to me than any minor inconvenience which may be caused by these tiny steps.


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Ode to Self-Help Books

You may be wondering why my blog posts consist of a random mix of self-help / self-improvement / lifehacks and gardening / foraging. No, it’s not a symptom of multiple personality disorder, I promise! (Or is it?)

I am struggling to find (make) time to write. My weekly foraging series (while mostly unread) has created a firm commitment that I will post something, however short, at least once a week. But I have so much more to share.

I keep thinking… just one more technique from one more self-help book, and I will at last discover the ultimate trick to unlock my true gifts and unleash my creativity on the world. I will finally overcome (or embrace) the resistance, and be able to write.

Just as soon as I am done getting things done, papers filed, inbox to zero, boxes checked – then I will finally be have all the time I need to write.

Maybe I can change my life by tidying up, which will help me cultivate an uncluttered mind, and then I will finally be able to write.

You know, I need to manage my budget better, and when I am less concerned about finances, then I will have the spare brain cells to be able to write.

I must exercise, and eat healthy (including cooking meals from scratch), and take all the nutritional supplements because when I am at my peak, physically speaking, my mind will be as well and then I will be able to write.

If I could just lifehack a little more free time into my day, then, well … you know.

If I could only perfect my sleep so I could survive on less thanks to the amazing quality of the sleep I did get, then … sigh.

…are we noticing a theme here?

“Is there any chance that the healing you seek is just another form of resistance?”

–Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

My friend Kristen at The Sojourning Spinner recently suggest that for at least a month I try – get this – rather than spending time on lifehacks to free up time to write, I just (gasp!) write.

It’s a great idea. And I’m going to give it a serious try. But first, I need to find my “Flow Pattern” on the Flow Genome Project so I know I can really maximize those precious few moments to write.

…. oh wait. Oops.


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Resistance Is Utile

(No, that’s not a typo. Here, let me Google that for you.)

I recently finished listening to The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. His writing style is challenging for me to follow on audio, because each section is only loosely connected to its neighbors – like a sitcom where the episodes are only generally related the others, by the same characters and place setting. It was especially difficult for me to keep up since I was navigating my commute as well.

But I am glad I stuck with it, because he makes several excellent points throughout the book. The one which struck me most is that “resistance has meaning”. Which should have been a refresher for me rather than a revelation, because I did read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which was the foil for this particular idea.

To sum it up rather poorly: the most important work you have to do (“art” as Godin calls it) is what your lizard brain least wants you to do. Creating art makes you vulnerable. Opening up to connections with others through you art also opens you up to the possibility of rejection. Maybe as bad or worse: the possibility of realizing no one cares about your art.

So when you realize you are procrastinating on taking action, it’s helpful to inspect the underlying motives. Maybe it’s truly something you don’t want to do. (Me when I have to make phone calls. Always.) But maybe it’s the voice of the resistance, the lizard brain trying to protect you from the ultimate terror, a fate worse even than death: public humiliation. At least death (in this world) is final; shame hovers over you for the rest of your life, even if only in your own scarred, tattered memories.

If you listen intently, you’ll recognize the voice of the resistance trembles like a frightened child on the brink of tears.

Instead of resisting resistance, we should strive to recognize it and embrace it as a sign we are on the verge of creating art.

When I don’t have (make) the time to write… when my to-do list is SO LONG it even includes folding laundry… that is the voice of resistance. Rather than fight it, I should embrace it, maybe offer it a cup of tea, and go write, origami-folded laundry be damned. (I’m sorry, KonMari!)

When I stick to the safe topics – recipes, plant identification, garden updates – that is the voice of resistance.

When I have to read just a few more articles or blog posts or books, so I really know my stuff before I write – that is the voice of the resistance.

When I feel like there is no point because no one reads my blog anyway (except my three regulars – thank you!) – that is not only resistance, but evidence that I need to write more so I get better. Because as Godin explains, if your art isn’t connecting, you don’t give up – you make better art.

What art are you resisting?


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A Dream of One

Funny how sometimes you don’t realize you have a dream until someone else is living it.

This week, I learned that person is Daniel Markovitz.

OK, not literally.  I don’t actually know Mr. Markovitz is, or what his life is like. But I learned of his book, Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance, and I wanted to cry. With joy at finding such an awesome book, and with despair at realizing I wanted to write that book.

And it’s a good book so far. I can’t even pursue the “well I’ll do the same thing only better” angle.  Sigh.


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Playing Catch Up

I’m falling behind in my book reviews.  I’m consuming so much content lately, I’m having trouble making time to write up anything!

The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence, by Deepak Chopra.

This book had so. much. potential.  I have enjoyed other works by Chopra so I was excited to stumble on this one at my local library.  The premise is that the little (and big!) coincidences in life have meaning, and you should pay attention to coincidence, serendipity, and other events of synchronicity.  I wish the book had gone further into how to bring about or leverage these coincidences.  The book recommends 30 minutes of meditation twice a day with chanting, and getting in touch with your avatar(s), and paying attention to your dreams.  

…um, ok… I guess that works for some people, but I was looking for more!

Work Less, Make More: Stop Working So Hard and Create the Life You Really Want!,  by Jennifer White.  I listed to the unabridged audiobook – all eight hours!  This one impressed me very much, as it was very thorough.  However, I had two complaints.

1)  The original book came with worksheets, but the audiobook version did not include them.   I actually want to find a used copy of the book so I can go back and do the exercises.   This is one of those rare books where the exercises are actually useful and thought-provoking.

2)  The fundamental premise of this book is that you need to do more of “what you’re brilliant at” in your job / career.  By spending more of your time on your “brilliance”, you’ll maximize your income potential.  This is pretty powerful, especially in contrast with the gurus who assert you must do what you “love” to make money.  However, the author could have provided a little more guidance on how to find out what one’s brilliance is.  Which makes the rest of the book less useful.


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If it ain’t broke… I still want a shot at making it better!

I am a fixer.  I like having things to fix.  If I’m not fixing something, I become fidgety and anxious, and then I turn my need to tinker on myself.  I’m not broken, per se, but I’m sure I can always be better.

Thus, on my reading/listening list you’ll see a lot of books that are most easily classified as “self help” although a lot of them are “spiritual” and – especially lately – there is a smattering of business-related reading thrown in as well.

I’m done (or as done as I’m getting, anyway!) with my current “On Deck” titles, so before I get new ones let me say a word about the old ones.

Making a Difference by Being Yourself: Using Your Personality Type at Work and in Relationships

The book is based on using your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator preference to talk about how you can get increased job satisfaction by focusing on what types of difference you can make. I was drawn to this book because I’m constantly kvetching that I don’t feel like I make any difference on the job.  Any book that promises to help is worth a read.  And I did find it VERY satisfying.   This whole time, I have been defining “making a difference” in a very grand way.  Nurses make a difference.  Physical therapists make a difference.  People who work every day with people to make their lives better – those are the people who make a difference.  Those of us with IT careers are doomed to irrelevance, left hoping that our technological traces someday have some impact on the lives of an anonymous user we will never know.  When I saw the title of this book, I couldn’t pass it up!

Some people poo-poo MBTI and similar personality type frameworks as having as much basis in reality as astrology.  Personally, I found that knowing my type has helped enormously in understanding why I respond the way I do in various situations.  And _Make a Difference by Being Yourself_ was just as helpful.  It focuses on the middle two letters – the core of your personality – and then gives various scenarios on how people with that type can make a difference on the job (and in relationships, for that matter).  I am an “NT”, or “Visionary”, and we love being the expert, the advisor, the person who explains things in such a way that others “get it”, the forward thinker, the big picture promoter, the advocate for progress.  After reading the chapter on Visionaries, I understood what makes a “good day” for me on the job.  Whenever I help fix a problem or teach somebody something new, or demonstrate how a great new idea will help make things better, that is a good day.  Whenever someone doubts my competence, or whenever I think nothing I do will ever have a lasting impact – that progress is basically impossible – that’s when I come home from work frustrated and angry and looking for a new job.  Since I actually like what I do (most of the time), just this bit of insight alone was worth reading this book.  Now when I feel that anguish in the office, I’ll be better equipped to deal with it and move on.

I think anyone who knows they should enjoy their job, but somehow doesn’t, should read this book.

Lazy Man’s Guide to Riches (Audio Book)

I am glad I did not spend the money on this book.  I have to agree with several Amazon.com reviewers who despaired of the extent to which Richard G. Nixon drowned the original author’s content with his own.  Since I never read the original 70s version, I was left to speculate how much content was “original” and how much was “new”.  My personal guess is that most of it is new.  The only thing which sounded like it could be original was some of the “believe in yourself” type stuff, and the ultimate punch line: the “secret” to the lazy man’s guide to riches is Direct Response Marketing.  This apparently translates to “advertise EVERYWHERE about your product.”  Um, ok…you still have to have a product or service to sell first.

A particular beef I have about the eBook – which I accessed for free with my library card – is that it kept. on. referring. to. the. workbook.  I didn’t have a workbook, and on several occasions I found myself frustrated at what seemed like FINALLY getting to the good part when the narrator would say “See your workbook for more details.”  ACK! 

I didn’t finish listening to the whole thing… the last several chapters were specific to internet marketing (again, not part of the original content), and when I want to read up more on that I will find a book specific to the topic.  I’m moving on!