Productivity

Once I heard that three things cause depression: loss, injustice and uncertainty. Being uncertain of life, or of your consciousness, is with no doubt scary enough to qualify, but finding out that life is at hand is game changing as not many things can be. Monday night I went out with my church’s medical van to provide minimally invasive medical treatment to London’s homeless. I am not a doctor myself and my knowledge of the human body is pretty much limited to the names of our body parts, but, nonetheless, I play a part on the team. While doctors are taking care of people inside the van, some friends and I are talking to the ones waiting to be seen. My task is to ‘build relationships’. C’mon, I don’t give any medicine, don’t influence in diagnosis, I don’t sign any papers, I don’t even drive the van; I just walk around and talk to people about random stuff. Who are we fooling? I don’t really produce very much. It can be regarded as social work, but while I am there, productive would not be the most suitable adjective to describe me. At least that is what I honestly thought. Until this Monday.

homeless-man-with-a-tear

 A homeless family of about nine people was being seen, one by one, at the medical van. First a daughter, then the mother, the mother’s boyfriend and then the uncle. The uncle was taking quite long. After some time the van’s door opened and the doctor called the mother over. We could see through the door opening that the uncle had a very sad face and was on the edge of crying. The mother went in, the mother came out, a daughter went in, the daughter came out, the family became agitated, small arguments erupted and were rapidly contained, everyone begun to light their cigarettes. It didn’t take long and the ambulance arrived. They took him to the hospital.

What happened? He was having a heart attack. He went to the van because of a blood circulation problem in his leg due to his excess of weight. While waiting, he commented he had been feeling some chest pains. We asked if he was feeling it at that moment. He said no. He was a man of few words. We spoke a little more until he was called inside the van. By the time he went inside, he already felt confident enough and opened up to the doctors. They checked him, called the ambulance, and saved his life.

He would not have been honest with the doctors had he not felt secure. Being homeless you learn you are on your own and you can trust no one. However, while waiting he met David, Peter, Ajay, Ken and me, the unproductive relationship building team. We spoke to him, listened to him, paid attention to what he said, we did our job, showed him what we are there for. We are there to help; we are there because we care. If it wasn’t for that he would probably be dead by now.

Then that raises the question: were we being productive while doing our social work, or was it just a beautiful casualty worth blogging about that happened while we were doing something to calm our conscience and stroke our ego building up an image of benevolence? I think productivity is the doing things that improve our life. We try to improve our life by working so we get more money and eventually more comfort; we read and study a lot so we are more knowledgeable and cultured; we exercise! No one wants to be fat or ill. Then we spend all this time doing all that so we can live better and have others live better too. It reminds me of my brother when he was very little. He wanted to kick the ball the hardest possible, so he took some distance. Then he took more distance. Then if he could only take a bit more distance, the kick would be even harder. He is already quite far but he is sure that if he gets a little farther it would make a difference. He spent so much energy trying to get more distance he practically forgot about the kick.

We are always doing stuff so we can live better. Very often we forget the living part. Brian had his life saved because he felt we placed value on him. That is something no one had done for him for a long time. He felt like living again. He felt alive, and that saved his life. And there I was, trying to be productive. I forgot Brian was not a number (the fourth, third, fifth person to go on the van). I forgot living is about people. I got distracted taking the distance and forgot about the kick. . Brian was finally living, right there with me, but I wasn’t living along.

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Productivity

How To Be Happier, Work Less and Have More Extra Money At The Same Time in One Easy Step

And then he said, “If you work too much you won’t have time to make money”. My dad laughed but I kept thinking about that. A month later I doubled the number of people willing to read my book in one hour and my website hit a new record of views in a single day. But nothing of that matters because today I saw an adviser to help me with my curriculum and she said it was “too broad”. My life is written in there. Maybe my whole life is too broad. Am I doomed for that? Maybe I am, but it doesn’t matter either, because one year ago I was sitting at the edge of a fountain in front of the Buckingham Palace in a beautiful sunny day with my girlfriend, we were talking about our expectations for the future, and then I told her, “I feel that it doesn’t matter where I will go to. It doesn’t matter if I will be in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, or here in the UK, I feel that I will be successful wherever I go”. Then she kissed me and nothing else mattered any more.

In the film In Time people had watches in their arms. When they worked they gained time and things were priced in minutes, hours, days, etc. If they ran out of time they died. Awesome idea.

I don’t have a written book but I doubled the number of people willing to buy the book I’m thinking of writing. James Altucher said something pretty interesting. He said you should never work full-time, always part-time. Then you would have time to do other activities, and side activities always bring benefits to us. Actually, if these activities provide enough value to enough people you can make money with them. And this money has a potential to be much more than what you would get selling your work time to someone else. Because money comes in when you solve a problem, when you deliver value.

My book will be written in my free time (time I am not working or at University. There is no such thing as free time. Time is valuable), and I believe it will open a bunch of new doors for me. You see a lot of people who make their living with something that began as a hobby. Many of today’s huge companies started that way. Have you heard of Facebook, Digg, Youtube, Google, threadless, LinkedIn or eBay? Well, they all started as a hobby and then became a money machine. That happened because all of these hobbies created value to other people in some way.

We have this pre-conceived idea that we should get a job and work as much as we can so we can make more money and then we can buy more things. It looks like it’s all about buying more things, or better things. But it isn’t really about that, is it? If we stop for a minute and reflect on that, we will notice that the whole idea of it all is that, supposedly, if we have more, or better, things we will have more comfort, and then we will be happier. But look around you. Do you really need more? Aren’t you comfortable at your house? I have a proposal to you. Actually, it is a dare! Why don’t you try to live with less instead of with more?

Why don’t you throw away all these credit cards that only give you headaches? You always feel bad when you use them anyway. Why don’t you try spending less than what you make. Try spending only half what you get in a month. It won’t hurt if you try, you won’t lose any money if it doesn’t work. And if it works you will be saving a lot of money, and I bet that in the end you will, in fact, feel very good.

“Happiness is not having all you want. It is wanting what you have”. If you are trying to spend less, you will start to appreciate more the things you already have and stop thinking about the things stores have to sell you. In the end, you know you don’t really need most of them anyway. Liking the things you have is a big step towards a happier life. Not only material stuff, it is the same with friends, partners, etc.

When you spend less than you get, you start saving, and saving is never bad. Tell me, how often do you hear someone coming to you and saying “I shouldn’t have saved all this money, I really regret that” or “Saving money was the worst decision I ever made”? I bet you never, ever, heard anything close to that. But on the other hand it is quite common to hear people saying “Oh I spent too much”, “Ah I shouldn’t have bought it”. No one ever regrets having saved money, people regret spending it. Moreover, when you save money, you feel more secure, because you know that in an emergency you have money to back you up at the bank.

In the beginning it can be tough, but after some time you begin to notice that, as a matter of fact, you need much less than you thought you needed to live. In a post some months ago, when I was moving from Argentina to Brazil, I wrote “my books, my guitar, my Buzz Lightyear toy, the photos and songs in my hard drive and the picture frame my girlfriend gave me. If I can take that with me I will be satisfied”. These are the things I picked as must haves from everything I have ever had in all my life. In the end, I gave my Buzz Lightyear to my brother and left the picture frame with my dad in Brazil, so he doesn’t forget me. The reality is that I needed even less than I thought. And you too.

When you become unattached to things you become grateful and enjoy much more what you have. That makes you happier and attracts all kinds of good things. For instance, look at Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage. Bruce Willis is an unattached guy, he is confident and grateful for what he’s got. When he noticed he was going bald, he didn’t go crazy for that. He understood it was time and let his hair go. Now, Nicolas Cage is totally different. He is attached to his hair, he don’t want to lose it, he can’t accept the situation. As a result, Bruce Willis still looks pretty badass and Nicolas Cage looks, at the very least, weird with this chunk of hair coming out of the back of his head.

Bruce Nicolas
Nicolas Cage looks like the Red Queen of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

Once you get used to using less money you may be able to reduce the amount of hours you work every day. “But then I will get less money, and then I’ll be saving less money than before”. Yeah, that’s true. But although you will not be making as much money, you will have more time in exchange, and during this extra time you can do whatever you want. You can do things like: living. I believe people work for two reasons: 1) to make money 2) to accomplish something , to be useful to society. If you spend your whole day home you will soon be into some kind of depression. We like to conquer, to accomplish, to build, to feel needed and useful. Grandma wasn’t wrong when she said “Work ennobles the soul”. Three things give pleasure to people: birth, progress and accomplishment. When you work you have these things going on, each to a certain degree.

Now, back to working less hours, when you have more free time you can dedicate yourself to personal projects. These can be nice things that add value to people’s life in some way, or just something that makes you give birth, make progress or accomplish things. Writing a book, taking on a hobby, spending more time with your family, these are all things that can be done in your newly free time — which is not free, you are paying to have it, but just because isn’t free it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. Making these things, you are improving your life. You are more relaxed, which makes you more creative, which makes you more productive, which makes you give birth, make progress or accomplish things, which makes you happier.

But what if it doesn’t work with me? What if it goes wrong? Well, if it goes wrong you get the money you didn’t spend and do whatever you were used to doing when you used your whole salary. No side effects.

Know the book audience I doubled? It went from one person to two. Know the website visiting record I talked about? It was 20 people. It’s kind of pathetic. But these things didn’t look so bad when you didn’t know the numbers. Maybe I will never be widely known. But what is wrong with being anonymous?  A thousand visitors would be awesome, but the lack of them don’t make it bad. Writing relaxes me, makes me more creative, more productive, happier. And that’s the whole point of everything.

How To Be Happier, Work Less and Have More Extra Money At The Same Time in One Easy Step

How You Waste Time Every Time You Think You Are Making It Count

Have you ever wasted so much time on something that in the end you didn’t want to stop, because you didn’t want to waste the time you already wasted on that? Welcome to the 21st century, an era where time is more precious than ever, but still we waste a lot of it wondering how we will make it up for the time we are wasting.

My mum asked me to make the art of a banner for an event. After hours and hours of work, my mum comes and says “Take this picture out and use the other one you used in the brochures” while pointing to the main image in the banner. I couldn’t believe it, it had taken me so much time to put that photo there; I adjusted the colours, made sure it blended perfectly, put some cool stuff in it, why to take it off? “I don’t like it. And besides, it is out of focus” she said.

I couldn’t believe she wouldn’t use the pic. I tried to convince her in every possible way. It wasn’t because I would have any problem with the other picture, which was actually better, because the other one was already ready. The only thing I had to do was to substitute the pictures, it would hardly take 30 seconds. But I wasted so much time in this one. Why to use the other one?

There is little party happening tonight at city centre, and today is also the premiere of a film about the French revolution . A certain woman, who is very fond of French history, although inclined to going to the party because of the presence of a pretty interesting guy who is new in town, is heading to the premiere to accompany a friend, who got a free ticket to the film. The friend got just one free ticket, so the woman is buying her own ticket.

After 30 minutes it is pretty obvious that the film totally sucks. The friend decided to leave. She knew the party was much more fun. The woman stayed even though she knew the party was a better option, and she could probably talk to the new guy. But the ticket was expensive. She paid to be there, so she wouldn’t leave until the film was finished!

What does the story of this woman have in common with my indignation when my mum asked me to change the pictures? It is something called “The price of investment”. When we have done a significant investment in something and this investment turns out to be bad, we just can’t conceive it. In our mind there is something like “I’ve invested so much in this, I won’t give up now”. Sometimes it is because of our pride, sometimes it’s because we think that if we do something this worthless investment will be useful. If you stop and see, there was no advantage whatsoever in continuing the investment in the previous examples. If I changed the pictures the banner would be better than before, if I didn’t it would stay a little odd. But there was nothing that I could do that would give me back the time I spent preparing the image. In the case of the woman, she probably thought that staying in the theatre she was making her money count. But the reality was that she already spent the money, and there was nothing she could do to have it back. If she reasoned a bit, she would notice she had two alternatives. She could either go to the party and have fun meeting the guy she liked, or stay there and watch the bad film to the end. Hence, given that neither of the alternatives would make her money go back to her wallet, the best rational decision was obviously the party, independently of the previous investment. The friend who didn’t hesitate to leave the theatre in fact made this decision so easily because she certainly thought she was losing nothing, because her ticket was free.

Have you ever seen someone who has a problematic car? The car breaks again and again. and the owner is always spending more and more money to fix it. The car breaks, but the owner doesn’t want to sell it. He thinks the price he can get in the car is too low for the investment he has already made. The owner can’t see that there is no “get investment back” alternative. He can either get a little money on the car, or stay with a problematic car for a while more — this alternative would probably lead to more spending in fixes.

Many times, because we spent so much effort on something, we just can’t admit it was a bad choice and leave it. When you go to the theatre you do exactly as the woman of the example. It doesn’t matter how bad the film is, you don’t leave the room for anything on earth. You paid for the ticket and you think that if you stay, you are making it count. You buy clothes that are ugly as hell. But you paid for them, so you have to wear them at least some times before you give’em to someone else. The food is terrible, but you eat it all because in the end it was an expensive restaurant.

Yesterday I was writing a post about something I did when I was angry. I wrote a bit and went to sleep. Today I sat here and tried to continue it. I don’t like it, but I have already written a thousand words! It is almost done, I just have to finish and it’s ready to publish. And then it dawned on me. I gain nothing if I finish it. I won’t get my time back, but I can stop right now and don’t waste more on it. Then, I thought of writing about how I didn’t write about anger, which was much better.

Sometimes you waste so much time on something that in the end you don”t want to stop, because you don’t want to waste the time you already wasted on that. But remember, you can’t have your time or your money back, but you still can decide not to waste the time and money you have left.

How You Waste Time Every Time You Think You Are Making It Count