The Chaos Whisperer

Helping you tame the Chaos at Home & Work


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How To Tell If You’re (I’m) Wasting Your Time

Feedback – that’s how!

I’m taking a momentary pause from my weekly blogging regimen to check in with my readers (that’s you) and determine whether this blog has been a waste of my time – or more importantly, a waste of YOUR time.

You see, I’m not really much of a writer, and I never had dreams of becoming any kind of pro blogger. Plus, it’s just a good idea, as you are barreling along on your journey, to stop and have a reality check with yourself every now and then. Ask yourself, is this the path I want to be on?

In order to figure this out for myself, I’d like to ask you the following:

  • Have you found this blog interesting and insightful?
  • Do you find these posts measurably useful in managing your day-to-day Chaos?
  • Is this the best method of delivery for the advice I have to share on the subject?
  • Do you have recommendations for better ways you’d prefer to consume and utilize what I have to share?
  • And above all, is this the best use of our time, yours and mine?

If you feel compelled to respond to any or all of these questions above, please feel free to comment below and let me know! I am happy to receive any kind of feedback on any particular point you wish to make.

I figure I’d like to evaluate this now, before I spend too much of my time and potentially waste too much of yours. I need to make sure this is indeed the best path for me to be on right now and the best way for me to share my passion for managing Chaos and channeling it into your creativity. Most importantly, I need to make sure what I’m doing with this blog is actually measurable and actionable for you, my readers.

So please do tell, has this blog been a waste of our time?

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How To Set Boundaries

It’s a perilous quest to try and find balance between one’s work and one’s play, and many a brave soul have been lost to the beast of burning the candle at both ends.

If you can relate to this dilemma, then they key to your salvation is to learn how to set boundaries. Not all boundaries are created equal, and it can be unhealthy to have too many, but I do believe that a few are necessary to effectively manage your time and maintain order in your work-life balance.

In order to determine what those boundaries are that best suit YOU and your needs, I need you to answer this question first:

Which type of person are you – someone who works to live, or someone who lives to work?

If you work to live, then you believe your work is more a means to giving you the freedom and means to live the life you want to live. In this case, you will want to set boundaries that enable you to leave work completely behind when you finish for the day – a stronger separation of work and life.

If you live to work, then you believe your work is your greatest passion and purpose in life, and the most valuable use of your time and energy. In your case then, you will want to focus on setting boundaries that give you room to breathe and stay healthy, and help you keep your larger goals in mind even while you are happily getting lost in the weeds.

Now let me ask you another question, and this one may be harder to answer:

What are your Must Have’s?

What are the key things in your life that you absolutely cannot do without? What are your core principals, ideals, values that you want your life to stand for? (Avoid any short term visions or choices.)

To give you an idea, here are some of mine:

  1. I must have autonomy and flexibility in my schedule.
  2. I must have a sense of adventure and thrill of the unknown.
  3. I must have mutual respect, trust and loyalty in all my relationships.
  4. I must have some element of storytelling and performance I can share with others.
  5. I must have constant challenges that pushes my physical, mental and emotional limits.

Once you know these, you can start to get a sense of what boundaries you’ll need to set in order to protect these Must Have’s and give yourself room to enjoy them.

For example, I’ve realized that since I am a person who lives to work, and since I’m self-employed (which pretty much means I work all the time), I need to force myself to take 1 day off a week for endeavors other than my main work (such as writing this blog!). I also decided to give myself evenings off, so I can relax and eat dinner with my boyfriend instead of with my computer. And because I want to have a sense of adventure, and constantly push my limits, I have also committed to cutting out time for exercise and fun activities every other day.

So now you tell me – what are the boundaries you need to set in order to keep your sanity and lifestyle in check?

Once you know these, the final step is making sure you stick to them. Because if you’re anything like me, and a crazy workaholic live-to-work addict, you will need help doing this! And in my own journey, I found the following two tools to be extremely useful:

1. Google Calendar

I mean literally block off sections on your calendar for the time you decided to set aside for your personal Must Have’s, or non-work activities. I have scheduled weekly recurring blocks of time on my Calendar for the 1 day/week I want to work on other projects, as well as the times I’ve committed to working out and exercising.

2. Your Friends

This is the other extremely powerful tool that can help hold you accountable to your chosen boundaries. How about telling your closest trusted friends what your boundaries are so they can remind you of them when you start to slip. Putting your boundaries out there publicly will not only help you feel more committed and likely to follow them, but it can also help your friends and loved ones better understand you and help you where you need it most. I would include family in this category as well, but in my experience, I’ve found friends more reliable at being brutally honest with me about my boundaries – after all, they aren’t related to you, so they don’t HAVE to love you just the way you are.

So set smart boundaries, and then find people who are willing to challenge you to be a better person… and kid, you’ll go far.

The sky’s the limit… so long as it’s within your boundaries of course. 🙂


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How To Stick to a Daily Routine

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” -Aristotle

I frequently hear the same nugget of time-management advice repeated over and over, that we should all set a daily schedule and stick to it. But for many of us, especially those blessed with the creative gene, that is a task much easier said than done.

So being a creative mind myself, but also unusually obsessed with schedules and systems, I thought I’d offer my advice on how you can set a daily routine that works for YOU, and then actually stick to it!

The bottom line that you need to start teaching yourself is that if you want something to get done, you need to schedule it. Somehow, somewhere, in some format – if it isn’t scheduled, it isn’t real. However works best for you, you need to have time set aside to complete that task, or it will not get done. And if you’re finding that you don’t really want to schedule time to do it, then it’s probably not something you actually want to do. So be honest and use your schedule as a reality check for yourself. You can share it with someone else you trust too, so they can help hold you accountable!

Now the hard part, how to create that daily routine that works for YOU?

Solution A:

One popular method advocated by many I admire is to set a daily timetable, with non-negotiable windows of time for each set of activities or tasks you need to complete in your day.

For example, mine looks something like this:

8am-9am: Wake Up, Stretch & Light Breakfast
9am-11am: Workout, Shower & Dress
11am-1pm: Outline Day’s Agenda & Clear Email Inbox
1pm-2pm: Lunch Break
2pm-4pm: Work Time
4pm-5pm: Mid-Day Break
5pm-7pm: Work Time & Day’s Wrap-up
7pm-8pm: Dinner
8pm-10pm: Quality Time with Family & Friends
10pm-12am: Read, Relax & Regroup
12am: Bedtime!

This is just one example of how you could schedule out your day. The point is to consider these times non-negotiable, so you will actually stick to them. And if you ever absolutely HAVE to skip one of your scheduled windows (i.e. if an emergency comes up), my rule is that I will never delete that time window — I can only move it to another time when I can get it done. That way, I always complete everything I’ve committed to doing in my daily routine, even when it requires a little flexibility.

Also make sure some of these time windows are specifically for non-reactionary work, so you can be fully productive during those times. And remember, if you do choose this method, the key to success is to edit this to fit YOUR lifestyle! Your daily routine can look however you want it to, so that it works best for YOU and how you naturally operate.

Solution B:

Some people might find the daily timetable to be a bit too restricting, and would prefer a formula that still embodies the same idea of breaking down the time you spend on different activities, but with more day-to-day flexibility. So I came up with what I call my Priority Percentage breakdown. Basically, I take a full 24 hr day, or 168 hr week, and breakdown how much of that I will spend on each activity based on my priorities.

For example, my Priority % breakdown looks like this:

Sleep:                          8 hrs/day — 56 hrs/wk — 34%
Work (Film & Other):    6 hrs/day — 42 hrs/wk — 25%
Meals:                         3 hrs/day — 21 hrs/wk — 13%
Exercise & Training:     2 hrs/day — 14 hrs/wk — 8%
Relationships:              2 hrs/day — 14 hrs/wk — 8%
Reading, Writing & Self: 2 hrs/day — 14 hrs/wk — 8%
Relaxing & Fun:           1 hrs/day — 7 hrs/wk — 4%

This can provide a more flexible way of committing to a daily routine, without the guilt you might get from slipping up on a more rigid timetable schedule. I keep my breakdown handy at all times, so if I start to feel unproductive or uncertain what to do, I can check in on that and align myself with what most needs my attention.

I recommend this avenue for someone who is perhaps better at staying on task on their own, without the strict guidelines of a daily schedule. So if you are already a strong self-starter, but just need help keeping in mind what your priorities are and how to best allocate your time based on them, then this would be a good solution for you.

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OK now you’ve got 2 solid solutions for creating and sticking to your own unique daily routine. Whichever method you use, one of the above or something else, remember that the key to sticking to it is making it fit with how you already naturally think and tick. If you find it doesn’t suit you, make adjustments and keep trying until you find the right formula for YOU.

And as always, feel free to leave comments or questions below, and I’ll be happy to help you navigate whatever Chaos is holding you back.

Happy scheduling!


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Resolution Tactic #7: Imitate

My Apologies to all my loyal The Chaos Whisperer readers! Due to an error with the WordPress publishing timer, this post did not get auto-published yesterday and now must reach you a day late. Thanks for your patience!

As you continue charging through those nicely broken down, prioritized and deadline’d steps towards your goals, you will no doubt hit occasional and seemingly insurmountable roadblocks that can slow you down. At the same time, you will very certainly receive ample and unsolicited advice from well meaning observers that want to help you pick up the pace again.

Most people would tell you to ignore the peanut gallery. However, while I do encourage you to carve a path that is unique yours, I also don’t see any reason why you can’t take advantage of those nuggets of advice that are actually productive, or even (crazy as it sounds) seek the guidance of others on your own.

I already wrote about the benefits of outsourcing & automating, but what about the stuff you still need to do yourself?

Even then, when it’s a task that requires you to roll up your sleeves and get your own hands dirty (and they very often will), I don’t see why you can’t learn from others in order to help pave your road to success?

When we’re already up against so many obstacles, and the path to unique & independent success is such a rocky one, I have to ask: Why feel the need to reinvent the wheel?

Yes, it’s important to be original. And you absolutely should be bringing something new to the table. But it’s also important to use your time and resources wisely. Just because you want to create something new doesn’t mean you have to create it entirely from scratch.

One the key ingredients to efficiently developing your product, service, or even entire business, is to know how to effectively use the applicable information and resources already out there, and then improve upon them — take them a step further — to give them your own flavor. You don’t have to reinvent the entire wheel to be original, just reinvent the idea or the purpose of the wheel, or give it a new spin!

And if you are struggling to identify ways you can improve what’s out there, or even learn what’s out there to begin with, talk to your friends, your colleagues especially, and even (or possibly most importantly) your competitors. Look at what others in your field have done and how they fared for good examples of either what to do or what not to do.

I’m not saying you should copy exactly what they did! But their experience can prove a more helpful starting point than if you tried to start from nothing. You can still take what you learn from them and make it your own.

So get out there and learn from the best… and then make it even better!


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My Resolution #6: The Write Time

“Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.” -Henry Miller

It’s easy to get weighed down with all the hustle and bustle of work and daily to do lists. But it’s also important to remember to take out time for yourself and your self expression.

This year, I want to put extra focus on developing my voice as a writer and creator. So I decided to make good use of my Google Calendar as a time management tool (which it’s been extremely useful for) and schedule myself some specific time to spend on all this.

At the beginning of the year, I blocked off a few hours each week as a recurring event in my Google Calendar for what I call “Write Time”. Since then, I’ve been using that time to blog weekly here on The Chaos Whisperer, as well as flex my writing muscles for my personal blog The Writes of Passage, develop new story ideas, write poetry, or just scribble in my journal. And even if the placement of that time shifts around within its week, I never let myself skip or delete my weekly “Write Time”.

So if you’re like me and need an extra reminder to take time for yourself, or want to set aside some special time for something specific, I highly encourage you to use your own calendar (be it through Google or any other system) to set aside time to do the things you want to do, not just the things you have to do.


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Resolution Tactic #6: Outsource

Alright, so now you’ve got that list of your resolutions, broken down into bite-size steps, and organized in a nice spreadsheet (or other system) based on priority and the deadlines you’ve set for yourself, right? And now you’ve also realized how you can take full advantage of the time you have by not justifying busy work and procrastination.

But the problem remains that even if you maintain maximum productivity at all times (and let’s be honest, none of us can do that), you’ll probably still have more to do than time to do it.

So I’ve got another top secret tip for you: Outsource!

Look at your list of steps towards each resolution, and ask yourself if any of those can be automated or done by someone else?

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself to make sure it gets done, or done well. The key to being a good manager (of your time or anything else) is the ability to delegate.

Even when it comes to your personal list of goals and to do’s, there is nothing wrong with seeking additional resources to help you achieve them. In fact, handing over that task to someone (or something) else may even get it done faster and better than you could have on your own.

So don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember, the key to having more time is doing less.

Personally, I recommend doing this in either (or both) of two ways:

1. Empower others to make decisions for you and for your goals, which eliminates you as a bottleneck and helps the task get done faster. You may even find this allows problems and tasks to resolve themselves (or disappear altogether).

Here’s an example: One of my resolutions is to consolidate my finances and investments under one easily-managed roof – emphasis on easily-managed. So part of this is finding an investment advisor that I can trust and empower to help decide what my portfolio should look like. After several meetings with Chase Investment Services, and making the initial decisions with their help to get setup, I feel confident I can sit back and trust them with a lot of the ongoing monitoring and managing of my account.

2. Maintain control of your decision-making, but hire a virtual assistant or other service to help you execute (human or machine).

If you hire a human helper, there are a great many companies that specialize in offering virtual assistance for your every personal and business-related need. I recommend checking out Your Man In India, Elance, or Brickwork India for efficient and affordable help from the other side of the world. Sure you can hire an assistant right here in your own time zone, but the benefit of an assistant from India is that they work while you’re sleeping! So you can give them a task, then go to bed, and in the morning they’ll have it waiting for you in your inbox. You can’t beat that!

Of course you don’t have to turn to human assistance to get the job done. Depending on the task you need help with, there are a great many tools and software designed especially for taking the burden off your shoulders and doing the work for you. Some of my favorites for, say, managing your finances are QuickBooks Online (which I now use for my business finances) and the super-simple Mint.com (which evolved from Quicken Online). Both of these will automatically update and aggregate your financial and bank information, saving you the manual trouble.

Now I can understand the hesitation to ask for help, and I know it’s hard to let someone else do something for you. But remember you can still maintain as much of the control and final decision making as you want. And if you delegate well, it can save you mountains of time and stress.

So get out there and start outsourcing!

You’ll thank me later.


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Resolution Tactic #5: Don’t Justify

OK, so now you’re on the right path. You’ve got your simplified list of resolutions that you’ve broken down into bite-size steps. And you’ve begun tackling that list based on the priorities and deadlines you’ve set for yourself. Bravo!

Now comes the hard part – sticking to your plan.

Because no matter how motivated you were at the beginning, that initial excitement will fade and you may start to feel overwhelmed or uncertain that anything you’re doing is making any difference. So it’s important to continue checking back in on your progress and your path as you go along.

And as you do, I urge you to be mindful of one very tempting trap: Don’t Justify Your Time!

I know it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed and stressed out as the day-to-day minutiae builds up and takes over. So the best way I’ve found to keep myself in check is to stop, take a beat, and ask myself:

  • Am I being productive or just active?
  • Am I adding more work for myself just to feel busy?
  • Am I inventing things to do just to avoid the important?

Sometimes the things we least want to do are the things that most need to get done. But they can feel a bit daunting to take on. So it’s perfectly normal to find yourself filling your time with other menial tasks so that you can argue (to yourself of course) that you don’t have time to take on those bigger, more important ones.

But just because it’s normal, doesn’t make it healthy or productive.

So it’s important to stay self-aware and catch yourself when you get into that place. Because as good as it feels to keep putting off the big scary stuff, I promise it will feel even better to actually get those big scary things done and off your list.

So if you do find yourself facing this challenge, maybe this mantra will help:

“The sooner I do it, the sooner I don’t have to do it!”

So go out there and take procrastination head on.

And remember: Don’t justify.

Identify the hesitancy, falsify your justifications, and then vivify – just go for it!