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The Simplest Diet for Lean Fitness

Post written by Leo Babauta.

I’m in the best shape in my life.

I’m incredibly happy to say that. For years (as many of you know) I was in terrible health — I was overweight and sedentary and addicted to junk food and a smoker and overworked.

Today after more than five years of living healthy I am about 65 pounds lighter. I’m leaner than I’ve been since probably high school with the same pants size as I had in high school (32) — while being much stronger than I was back then. More importantly I am fitter: I can run and play sports and hike and do activities of all kinds better than ever before.

How have I achieved all of this? Slow change. I’ve done no fad diets or quick weight loss. I’ve done nothing extreme. Everything is about living healthier and eating whole foods and being active most days. And about enjoying the journey.

Today I thought I’d share a bit about how I eat. It’s not meant to be copied exactly but to inform others trying to make a similar journey. Next week I’ll talk about my exercise.

Overall philosophy

My general philosophy of eating:

  • I don’t go for anything extreme. I’ve made small changes to my diet over the years and have found this works best: if you try for drastic changes you’ll hate it and won’t stick to it for long. But add a few extra fruits and veggies and it’s not hard. Change soda to water next month and it’s not deprivation.
  • I eat slowly. OK … not always but most of the time. Eating slowly allows me to fully savor the taste of the healthy food I eat and at the same time eat less while still feeling satiated (not stuffed).
  • I eat real foods. I try for veggies and fruits and raw nuts and seeds and beans and some whole grains. Sometimes my food is processed but mostly it’s just the stuff you’ll find in the produce and bulk sections of a supermarket (or farmer’s market).
  • I eat plants. I do that mostly for reasons of compassion (killing animals for pleasure doesn’t feel right to me) but I’ve found it’s also an extremely healthy way to eat. Sure it’s possible to be vegan and unhealthy (eat processed fake meats and sweets) but if you’re a whole-food vegan it’s hard to go wrong. And yes it’s easy to get protein as a vegan.
  • I enjoy myself. I look for healthy foods I love — berries for example — and savor them. I’ll eat sweets now and then but in small portions and truly enjoy the few bites I have. I have red wine and love it. I drink beer sometimes and it’s wonderful. I have pizza about once a week and it’s delicious. Eating healthy isn’t about deprivation but about finding ways to enjoy yourself while living a healthy life.

My Diet

This month I’ve cut my less healthy choices down to Saturdays — as inspired by Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Body. That means I only eat pasta and pizza and sweets and beer and French fries on Saturdays. This has gotten me even leaner and I recommend this way of living.

The rest of the week I eat my own version of Tim’s Slow Carb Diet — the Leo version. That means I eat a little fruit and a few whole grains and I don’t eat the meat. I don’t eat fried foods or drink calories (other than red wine at dinner) or eat white carbs (pasta bread rice potatoes pizza).

What I eat:

  • Beans – lentils and black beans and kidney beans and pintos and soybeans.
  • Nuts and seeds – raw almonds and walnuts and seeds and olive oil and avocadoes.
  • Veggies – lots of greens like kale and spinach and chard and broccoli. Carrots and various bell peppers and sprouts and so on.
  • Fruits – berries and apples and oranges and a little dried fruits like raisins. In moderation.
  • Whole grains – steel-cut oats and Ezekiel flourless sprouted-grains bread and quinoa (not technically a grain). That’s about it — I don’t eat pastas or whole-grain muffins or the like.

My Meals

My typical day usually goes like this:

  • Breakfast: Every day I eat steel-cut oats for breakfast late in the morning (usually between 10:30 and 11:30). I cook it and then mix it with flaxseeds and cinnamon and blueberries and raw almonds and a few raisins and maybe a small amount of banana or raspberries.
  • Lunch: Typically a big-ass salad with kale and spinach and sprouts and avocados and beans and raw nuts and a little fruit with balsamic vinegar. Sometimes I’ll eat a tofu stir-fry with greens.
  • Snack: If I’m hungry in the afternoon I’ll eat some raw nuts and dried fruit or veggies and hummus.
  • Dinner: Beans and veggies or a tofu-stir fry or veggie chili with beans. This meal varies. Sometimes the beans will be Indian style or Mexican style. Usually the veggies will be greens like kale or broccoli or chard. Sometimes I’ll have quinoa. Red wine with dinner.

And that’s about it. Over time I’ve found I need less food than I used to. Eat slowly and you’ll find yourself full on less food.

The Results

I used to spread my “cheats” throughout the week — a whole-grain muffin here and some pizza there and beer more than I’d like to admit. But putting everything on Saturdays has helped me be honest the rest of the week.

I honestly enjoy eating whole foods. I enjoy being lighter and leaner. I’ve gained muscle eating these foods though I might focus on building more muscle later in the year.

I run faster than ever. I can do more intense workouts than ever before. I was tested for various health indicators recently and everything was perfect. Eating this way has absolutely changed my life.


A couple notes to answer potential questions:

  • Soy is not unhealthy. You might have read various scare articles on the Internet about soy (usually based on misleading articles from the Weston A. Price Foundation) but they’re misinterpretations of science. I eat soy in moderation and try for whole soy in natural forms (tofu, tempeh, edamame, some natural soy milk). I don’t have man boobs and I’m absolutely healthy. Instead of pointing to “scientific” explanations of why soy is unhealthy show me the actual peer-reviewed studies that show that moderate amounts of natural soy (not soy protein isolate) have caused health problems.
  • You can absolutely get enough protein and calcium and iron on a vegan diet if you eat whole foods and not junk.
  • Sugar is junk and that includes white flour pasta and breads and French fries. It’s worthless calories. Whole grains in moderation provide nutrients and fiber.
  • A little meat in moderation is not unhealthy — especially if you choose grass fed and free range. Most people eat unhealthy amounts of meat and eggs and dairy. Those foods in any amount are unethical in my opinion — even if they’re grass fed and free range. Exploitation of animals as objects and their suffering for our pleasure is not compassionate. We don’t need animal products to live healthy lives — as my example shows — so the only reason to eat them is for our pleasure (we like the taste).

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6 Ways For Teens to Avoid Distractions and Finish Homework

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by my eldest daughter, Chloe Babauta. She’s 17 and a junior in high school, and spent the day with me on Take Your Daughter to Work Day. You can follow her on Twitter.

With all the distractions we’re presented with from the Internet and other forms of media these days, it can be very difficult for teens to focus on schoolwork.

It is so convenient to tweet what you’re doing, text your friends, watch Davedays on YouTube, or to do an infinite number of things when you’re supposed to be researching for an essay.

I’ll admit that just during the time it took to write this post, I’ve taken several breaks just to go on Facebook to see what everyone’s up to. Don’t worry – everyone will still be there after you’re done doing your work, so close Firefox/Chrome/Safari and get down to business.

Here are a few ways to increase your productivity and try to break away from distractions:

1. Turn off your wireless/Internet connection.

I know, it sounds crazy to deliberately cut off your connection to the outside world, but just do it. It eliminates your ability to easily open up your Internet browser and will help you to focus on what you really should be doing.

2. Set aside a specific time for using social networking/other recreational websites.

I’ve allotted myself some time to use the computer from 5:30-6:30 in the evening. I know that if I don’t give myself any limits, I’m capable of staying on Facebook and “becoming a fan” of fifty more pages instead of writing an essay or doing my math homework. I’m sure many people experience this problem too, so make sure to set aside about an hour (or whatever works for you) for leisure time.

3. Take short breaks.

After reading my American History book for too long, I tend to waste about half an hour by taking a nap. So to save myself from becoming insanely bored, I take little breaks by checking MySpace for a few minutes or getting a snack. I suggest that you do your homework or read for about ten to fifteen minutes at a time, then take a two to five minute break to maintain your sanity.

4. Do your work NOW rather than later.

I am a seasoned procrastinator. I’m guilty of wasting hours on end watching or making YouTube videos, chatting on instant messengers, or just daydreaming. I’ve learned the hard way that procrastination is not very rewarding and almost always results in bags under your eyes and B minuses (though there are several cases in which I’ve gotten exceptionally good grades for papers I had written at midnight). Do yourself a favor in advance, and start your work ahead of time.

5. Prioritize!

Ten years from now, do you want to look back at your life and realize that you spent a greater portion of your teen years sitting down in front of a laptop, rather than doing things that actually matter? Spend some time with your family or go outside and take a walk. Read a book, or do something with yourself that doesn’t involve a computer. (This is something I really need to work on too.)

6. Spend less time reading blogs like these about how to help yourself and get right to work! NOW!

The only way to really live productively is to go out and start actually living! After you’ve read up on how to become more productive, put your newly obtained knowledge to use.

If you liked this article, please bookmark it on Delicious or share on Twitter. Thanks, my friends.

How I Became (Mostly) Google-free in About a Day

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on twitter or identica.

Are we too reliant on Google’s services? As long-time readers know, I love Google’s products and use them daily, as they’re absolutely the best I’ve tried in their categories: Google search, Gmail, Google Chrome browser, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Picasa, mostly.

But is it dangerous to give all our information and to rely so completely on one corporation? Should we be worried? Should we be looking for alternatives? Should we be moving our data out of Google as soon as possible?

Another thing that concerns me is the commercialization of every aspect of our lives. It’s bad enough that advertising is already so pervasive — in television, in newspapers and magazines and blogs, on billboards and in our mail. But if it’s also in our email, calendars, maps, search, and basically everything we do every day, then there’s no hiding from it. I’m not convinced that using amazing software is worth giving a corporation complete access to my life and my attention.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time. I don’t have answers.

However, last week, I decided to try an experiment: could I go (mostly) Google-free? How hard would it be? How much would I like the alternatives?

It took me one day.

Here’s how I did it, and how it’s turned out so far.

First, Overall Principles

Remember that my main reasons for doing this are that 1) I don’t want all my data in one corporation and 2) I don’t want everything I do to be pervaded by advertising.

So the main principles I chose when seeking good alternatives were to find services that:

  1. are not Google (whether it’s a corporation or not)
  2. are pretty good to use

And in an ideal world, those alternatives would also be:

  1. free, open-source, using open-standards
  2. free of advertising
  3. non-corporate (small businesses are OK)
  4. as good as or better than the Google services they’re replacing

These last few ideals are not necessary, but would be great. In most cases, I didn’t achieve them.

Google Search

The all-pervasive app that we can’t live without. There aren’t really good alternatives — there’s Google search, then there’s everyone else. Bing gets talked about a lot, but I don’t much like the results and Microsoft isn’t any better in my mind than Google. Same with Yahoo.

The alternative I chose: so far it’s a split between Clutsy, ixquick, and Scroogle.

A word on Scroogle — actually it uses Google’s search, but sets up an intermediary (Scroogle) that sits between your computer and Google’s servers. Google places its cookie on Scroogle’s computer, and then Scroogle deletes it, and also deletes any logs of your anonymous searches. So the results are as good as Googles, but ad-free, without Google’s tracking, and 100 results per page (instead of the frustrating 10 results that Google has).

Update: Be sure to go to, not, which is completely different and NSFW.
Still, it seems like cheating, so I’ve been alternatively trying Clutsy and ixquick. Both are decent, not the best, but also sometimes have ads.

The transition so far: I set up each of these as my browser’s default search engine for a little while. They all work fine, but I’ve been finding Scroogle finds the results I want more often.

Other alternatives I looked at: Ask, Cuil, Wolfram Alpha.


I absolutely love Gmail, so giving this up has been as hard as Google Search. It’s by far the best email program, period. And I’ve tried almost all. Luckily, I’m far less reliant on email these days — mostly it’s just for family and a few business partners.

The alternative I chose: Fastmail. It’s not as pretty as Gmail, but it’s fast and secure and has a lot of great features. Most importantly for me, it has great spam filters (as Gmail does) and keyboard shortcuts. If you pay a nominal fee ($5 for a year, or less than 10 cents per week), you also don’t get any ads.

The transition so far: It was easy to set up, and I forwarded all incoming Gmail emails to Fastmail. Eventually I’ll delete my Gmail, but for now I’ll leave it. I like Fastmail almost as much as Gmail, especially now that I’ve set up a few key folders (like Archive) and filters and learned the keyboard shortcuts. A couple things I really miss: Send & Archive (in one button or shortcut), automatic adding of email addresses to the address book (Fastmail does it but you have to confirm each time), and threaded conversations.

Other alternatives that look good: Roundcube, Zenbe, and Sup (self-hosted, but similar to Gmail but for command-line geeks). I may eventually use Sup once I get a better command of the command line.

Google Chrome

In the last few months, Chrome has been hands down my favorite browser, for its simplicity, speed, and beautiful features. I love it, and can’t do without it. Firefox, Safari, Camino, Opera all seem clunky next to Chrome.

The alternative I chose: Chromium, the open-source version of Chrome. This is almost cheating, as it’s practically the same browser. But after switching to other browsers for a little while, I couldn’t stand it, so I chose Chromium. It’s open-source, which is great, and doesn’t track your info like Google does.

The transition so far: absolutely painless. I had to migrate some of the keyword bookmarks I’d set up for Chrome, but that took a few minutes. Otherwise, it’s the same browsing experience, and just as stable.

Other alternatives: Firefox, Safari, Camino, Opera, and the beautiful Plainview.

Google Docs

I store almost everything in Google Docs (and Dropbox, for text files I draft on my computer). It’s absolutely great for sharing documents. Haven’t used Microsoft Office in years.

The alternative I chose: Zoho, an online document and productivity suite, actually more complete than Google Docs. I’d tried it in 2007 but concluded that Google Docs (or Writely, before that) was better. That hasn’t changed, but Zoho is a decent second.

The transition so far: Migrating is fairly painless. You can sign up for a free account, and you can even import your Google Docs (through a mis-labeled “Upload” button), though only 5 Google Docs at a time. Zoho works just as you’d hope, though it’s not quite as good or fast as Google Docs. Still a good alternative, although I’d love an open-source alternative that worked as well.

Other alternativesEtherpad looks great but was BOUGHT BY GOOGLE! It’s now open-sourced so you can try it Google-free at or PiratePad. While these are great for individual collaborative documents, unfortunately it isn’t a great replacement for Google Docs in managing a lot of documents. Others to check out include drop.ioFeng OfficePeepel.

Google Reader

By far the best RSS reader (for reading blogs & news), Google Reader is simple, fast, and always synced no matter what computer you’re using. It beats desktop RSS readers easily, and I’ve used them all.

The alternative I chose: Vienna, an open-source desktop app for Mac. I was using NetNewsWire for a little while and liked it but then realized there was no way to sync without Google Reader anymore, and as I don’t want to give my info to Google, I had to ditch it. So I tried Vienna, which doesn’t have sync at all, but is even better than NetNewsWire in every other way. And is open-sourced and ad-free, which is great.

The transition so far: As Vienna doesn’t sync (at least I haven’t figured out how), I just read on my Macbook Air, which is absolutely fine. It means my iMac is now just for working, and not reading, which is actually a great thing for my productivity and focus. I exported my subscriptions from Google Reader and imported into Vienna, which took like 30 seconds, and otherwise reading in Vienna is great.

Other alternatives: online readers such as Netvibes, Pageflakes, and Bloglines, or desktop readers such as Netnewswire, FeedDemon, RSS Owl, Thunderbird (not a great RSS reader in my view), or self-hosted varieties such as Gobble RSS or Fever, or browser plugins such as Sage.

Google Calendar

Absolutely my favorite calendar ever, I’ve been using Gcal for almost four years and love it. So much better than iCal or Outlook, it’s simple and fast and accessible everywhere.

The alternative I chose: 30 Boxes, another good online calendar that I can share with my wife and access from multiple computers. I tried this several years ago but liked Gcal better — still do, but they’re fairly close.

The transition so far: I probably could have found an easier way to export Gcal events and import into 30 Boxes, but I was testing out 30 Boxes and started entering the events manually. It’s pretty fast and painless, so I ended up doing all my events by hand. Took about 20-30 minutes. 30 Boxes works pretty much as you’d hope, and I haven’t had any problems so far.

Other alternatives to try: Monket (open-source, self-hosted), desktop apps like iCal or Sunbird (open-source), or online suites such as Zimbra or Feng Office.


Great photo management software that’s integrated on my desktop and online. Makes syncing your photos painless and works better than you’d expect if you’re used to clunkier alternatives such as iPhoto.

The alternative I chose: SmugMug, which is a beautiful online photo app but not cheap (if you do sign up, use my coupon to save $5: TlepT5Lpv1XmQ).

The transition so far: Honestly, I haven’t fully made this transition yet as I have thousands of photos in Picasa and haven’t had the time to move them all to SmugMug. I’ve uploaded some of the photos I have in iPhoto using a free plugin, and it works pretty well, but moving all the photos will take a little time. SmugMug is a nice service, though again, not cheap.

Other alternatives: Flickr (which is good but I’ve never been a fan), iPhoto, a few others I didn’t bother to look at.

Not Fully Google-free Yet

There are some things that I haven’t done yet, but plan to do in the future to get fully Google-free:

  • migrate all photos & other data from Google’s services
  • shut down my Gmail once my main contacts know my new address
  • move from Feedburner’s blog subscription service (I actually forgot about that until just now)
  • stop using minor services (minor to me as I hardly use them) such as Google Maps – haven’t researched alternatives for these yet

There might be others that I’ve forgotten about, so it’ll take a bit longer than a day. But in one day, I was able to move from the main Google services I’ve been using for years, to good alternatives.


Overall, I haven’t missed the Google services one bit. I really thought it would be harder to make the switch, but it was fast, fairly easy, and without glitches.

The services I’m using are almost as good, and once you get used to them you don’t feel like you’re making a sacrifice.

I need to be clear: I don’t hate Google, nor do I think they’re evil. They make great things, and in general have been more supportive of open standards and open source than other corporations like Microsoft or Apple. But it’s not wise to put everything you have into one corporation, nor do I like commercializing my entire life. It was time for a change.

I also believe that if you give someone power, eventually they’ll abuse it. It’s just a matter of time. How much power should we give one corporation?

I don’t know if I’ll stay (mostly) Google-free, or if I’ll eventually head back to Gmail or one of the other services. But I do know that I like using multiple services — putting my eggs in different baskets — and I like having fewer ads in my life. And I also know that it’s possible to get out of Google’s clutches.

Next up: Apple (see Linux). Twitter is in my sights as well (see identica).

Post inspired by Freemor.

If you liked this guide, please bookmark it on Delicious or share on Twitter. Thanks, my friends.

55 Ways to Get More Energy

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Greg Go, co-author of Wise Bread’s new book, 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget. Buy the book today (by Monday 11:59pm PDT) and get a $15 Ebates bonus and a chance to win a brand new Flip Cam.

If you’re tired all the time, a change in what you eat (diet) or what you do all day (activity pattern) may be all you need to turn things around 180°.

You won’t be able to do everything on this list all the time — you’d tire yourself out trying to get more energy — but do try them all to see which ones work for you and your schedule. Add a few of these tips to your regular routine. Or mix them up to keep things interesting.

1. Change your socks for refreshment.

It’s an amazing trick. Bring a change of socks to work, and change your socks midway through the day (say, after lunch). You’ll be amazed at how much fresher you’ll feel. This trick is especially handy on days with lots of walking — like during a hike or family outing to the amusement park.

2. Rock out loud.

Whether you work alone or in a room with coworkers, a quick one-song rock out loud session is an effective way to beat back exhaustion.

In a cube farm? Get everyone to sing along! The key is to choose a song that everyone can sing along with. (I like Kokomo.) The energy boosting effect comes from bobbing your head and singing out loud. One song, 3 minutes. That’s a quick boost of adrenaline that lasts for a bit. You’ll be singing to yourself the rest of the never ending project delivery night.

3. Get rid of the stuffy nose.

If allergies have your sinuses blocked, you may be feeling more tired and cranky. An over-the-counter allergy medication should clear up your sinuses (and your mind).

4. Work with your body’s clock.

There is a natural ebb and flow of energy throughout the day. We start off sluggish after waking up, even after a solid 8 hours of sleep. Our energy peaks mid-morning, and it’s natural to want a siesta in the afternoon. We get a second spike of energy in the early evening, followed by our lowest energy point just before bedtime. Once you understand this natural rhythm of energy throughout the day, you can work on the important tasks during your peak hours and avoid early afternoon snoozefests (meetings).

5. Have a piece of chocolate.

Not too much, but if you’re going to have some candy, it might as well be chocolate. We get an endorphin buzz from chocolate (not to mention the energy boost from the slight bit of caffeine chocolate contains). Dark chocolate has more caffeine than milk chocolate.

An afternoon snack of yogurt, berries, and nuts will provide the boost of energy to carry you through the day.  Photo by lepiaf.geo / Flickr)

An afternoon snack of yogurt, berries, and nuts will provide the boost of energy to carry you through the day. Photo by lepiaf.geo / Flickr

6. Have an afternoon power snack.

A small healthy snack that is low in sugar and has protein and/or fiber a couple hours after lunch helps you finish off the day strong. Some suggestions:

  • mixed nuts
  • nonfat yogurt
  • apple and peanut butter
  • frozen berrie smoothie
  • trail mix
  • granola bar

7. Hit up the water cooler for inconsequential banter.

A little midday gossip and random banter is a great pick-me-up for your tired mind. It works because it gets your mind on zero-stress thoughts for a while. The mental break for just a few minutes will revitalize you.

8. Eat lots of berries.

Especially berries that are blue, red, or purple. The color comes from anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant, that boosts energy. Any kind of berry will contain tons.

All types of berries help fight fatigue and are delicious to boot! Photo by Zabowski / Flickr

All types of berries help fight fatigue and are delicious to boot! Photo by Zabowski / Flickr

9. Wear brighter colors.

This trick is related to the mood you project to people, and the reciprocating mood they project towards you. If you wear dark, somber colors, you project a dark, somber attitude, and people will respond to you with a somber attitude. If you wear bright, happy colors, you’ll get that attitude projected towards you, which will boost your own mood and energy levels.

10. Take a power nap.

But do it in your chair. Don’t lie down on the sofa or you won’t get back up. Keep it short: 5-10 minutes max. Any longer and it will have the opposite effect of knocking you out for the rest of the day.

11. Flirt.

It’s fun, it’s harmless (keep it innocent), and it’s effective. Nothing quite gets the heart pumping like a little flirting.

Amore gets the blood flowing.

Amore gets the blood flowing. Flirt for more energy. Photo by Kjunstorm / Flickr

12. Aromatherapy with lavender.

Research has shown that the lavender scent increases alertness. Test subjects were given math tests before and after 3 minutes of lavender aromatherapy. The group completed the tests faster and more accurately after aromatherapy.

13. Wake up at the same time everyday.

Including weekends. This sets your body clock. Otherwise, you’ll be wide awake when you should be asleep. Or worse, asleep when you should be awake (dozing off in a meeting is embarrassing). The key is to go to bed at the same time every night. If you need to reset your sleep cycle in one day, stop eating for the 16 hours before the time you want to wake up.

14. Drink lots of water.

Dehydration is a sinister cause of fatigue because it slowly creeps up on you. If you consistently drink less than 8 cups of water a day, you may be sluggish all the time. Get a 32 oz (1 quart, 4 cups) water bottle. Your goal is to polish off 2 of those a day. Try it for a week and see if your general energy level increases.

15. Use caffeine wisely.

Coffee and caffeinated sodas can boost your alertness, but be careful about letting it be a habitual crutch. The temptation to drink more caffeine to get even more energy will be strong. Eventually you’ll be downing 5 double-shot espressos a day just to function. Drink coffee earlier in the day to avoid insomnia, which will make the next day worse.

Coffee in moderation. Caffeine can give you a quick boost of energy, but can also be a counterproductive crutch.

Use caffeine in moderation. Coffee provides a shot of energy, but can also become a counterproductive dependence. Photo by visualpanic / Flickr

16. Avoid energy drinks.

Energy drinks provide a near-instant hyperactivity boost, but they always result in a crash. Energy drinks are like energy credit cards — you’re spending future energy to get short-term energy. The resulting energy deficit gets worse until you hit energy bankruptcy.

17. Eat low glycemic (low or complex carb) foods.

Trade in good, complex carbohydrates (low glycemic index) for the bad, simple carbs (sugar). Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index means the sugar is more easily digested by your body. That results in a spike in energy followed by a low-sugar crash.

High glycemic index foods to avoid include white bread, potato, and high sugar foods (like sodas). Low glycemic foods (the good carb foods) include fruits and vegetables, grains (eg., whole wheat bread), low-carb foods (eg., meats), and pasta. Check this chart of foods and their glycemic index before your next trip to the grocery store.

18. Eat more soluble fiber.

Soluble fiber is the kind that slows down the rate of absorption of sugars. It evens out your energy levels by preventing a sugar high and crash. (By the way, insoluble fiber is the kind that prevents constipation.) Don’t worry too much about which kind of fiber you’re getting — they’re both good for you. Rotate more high soluble fiber foods like nuts, grains, fruits, plant matter (vegetables), beans, and oats into your diet.

Eat and sniff more citrus fruits for an energy boost.  Photo by Steven Fernandez / Flickr

Eat and sniff more citrus fruits for an energy boost. Photo by Steven Fernandez / Flickr

19. Get your Vitamin C.

Get a daily dose of citrus fruits (eg., orange juice in the morning) or a vitamin C tablet. Study after study shows the correlation between citric acid deficiency and chronic fatigue. Vitamin C also helps you absorb more nutrients from food.

20. Sniff some citrus.

In addition to the Vitamin C, citrus scents (like orange, lemon and lime) stimulate alertness. So lather on some of that lemon scented lotion.

21. Cover the B Vitamins.

B vitamins cover a range of bodily functions, but most B vitamins are involved in the process of converting blood sugar into usable energy. To ensure you get the proper amount of B vitamins, eat a balanced diet.

22. Quit smoking.

Ex-smokers frequently report an energy boost of 2-3x when they quit smoking. Nicotine affects your sleep, so you don’t get as good a night’s sleep. That makes you cranky, frustrated and tired the next day. Which leads to more smoking. It’s a vicious energy sapping cycle.

23. Play to relax.

Playing a game keeps your mind working (versus, say, watching TV), but doesn’t have any of the energy-sapping stresses of work. Go ahead and play that quick game of Scrabble on Facebook, but have a strict time limit if you don’t want your boss to say something.

Play a quick game to relax while keeping your mind active. Youll destress but still be ready to take on the next task.

Play a game to relax. It keeps your mind active without the debilitating stress. Photo by Sukanto Debnath / Flickr

24. Eat smaller, more frequent meals.

Snack throughout the day. By eating smaller but more frequent “meals”, you will maintain a steady dose of energy instead of experiencing food comas. Don’t snack on fatty and sugar laden junk food though. You may get a short 30 minute burst of hyperalertness, but it’ll be quickly followed by a debilitating crash.

25. Enjoy a cup of tea.

In a recent study, University College London researchers noted that drinking a cup of tea 4-6 time a day reduces stress hormone levels in your body. The study’s results suggest “drinking black tea may speed up our recovery from the daily stresses in life.”

26. Splash some water on your face.

Just letting the cool water hit your face washes off the grime and stresses of the day. You could also jump in the pool or take a shower for the same effect. Showers stimulates the circulatory system and metabolism. Get wet to feel more energetic.

Get wet to freshen up and get a shot of energy. Photo by Liz Noise / Flickr

Get wet to freshen up and get a shot of energy. Photo by Liz Noise / Flickr

27. Stand up, stretch and take a couple of deep breaths.

Stretch your arms, back, legs, and neck. Take a deep breath through your nose, hold it, and let it out slowly and forcefully. Repeat several times. This will take 30 seconds and will be an instant fix. When you sit back down, you’ll have the clear head and fresh feeling needed to power through the tough/boring task in front of you.

28. Get your world organized.

When your world is organized, you don’t have to expend mental energy keeping track of a million things. Here’s how to take back control of your time and productivity:

Zen desk = less stress = more energy. Photo by Laure Wayaffe / Flickr

Zen desk = less stress = more energy. Photo by Laure Wayaffe / Flickr

29. Look on the bright side.

A generally upbeat and optimistic outlook on life will keep your energy level up. Yes, the worst thing that can happen might actually happen, but giving it too much worry will only drain you. Look for the positive in every situation and you won’t be so tired.

30. Take a mini-vacation.

Take one day and just do whatever you want. No work, no chores, no errands. Enjoy your one full day of vacation, then come back to work more motivated and energetic.

31. Eat a satisfying breakfast but a light lunch.

A heavy lunch, especially one with lots of carbs or fat (like a burger combo) will hit you as soon as you get back to the office. And it’ll be a sluggishness that lasts to the end of the day. Eat a big breakfast instead. It provides the fuel you need for the day, at the time when your body needs it the most. Not only will you avoid the afternoon food coma, the big breakfast will make you more productive in the mornings. Double win.

Beautiful Breakfast on a Sunday Morning in Shanghai (Charles Chan / Flickr)

Start your day with a powerful breakfast that provides the fuel you need for the day. Photo by Charles Chan / Flickr

32. Choose protein over fat or carbs.

Foods with lean (low fat) protein help you feel fuller for longer. It also prevents blood sugar spikes, giving you more steady energy. Lean protein foods include fish and other seafood, lean pork, or chicken breasts (”white meat”).

33. Shed a few pounds.

The things you do to lose weight — exercise, drink water, avoid simple sugars — are actions that also have a positive effect on your energy level. Even better, the actual loss of excess fat provides an energy boost of its own. You’ll feel “lighter” and things that use to make you breathless will now seem much easier. Losing weight provides a double-impact to boosting your energy.

But be careful with fad and/or crash diets. Cutting out too many calories (ie., energy your body needs) too fast will cause you to be even more tired. Take small steps, and make it a lifestyle change so you shed the fat for life.

34. Listen to tunes while you work.

It’s well known that our brain’s pleasure centers light up when we hear music. Throwing on the headphones and listening to any music you like while working will give you a productivity boost.

35. Start exercising.

If you have a fairly sedentary life, just the idea of starting an intense exercise program is exhausting. But if you go slow, literally taking one step at a time, you can go from being sedentary to becoming a runner just like Leo.

Get moving! Getting some exercise will lift your energy levels all day. Photo by Hamed Saber / Flickr

Get moving! Getting some exercise will lift your energy levels all day. Photo by Hamed Saber / Flickr

36. Eliminate stress.

Stress is draining. Sometimes it’s worth it, like when you’re on a deadline to delivery a big project. Sometimes it’s just a waste of energy. Leo says,

Certain things in our life just cause us to be more exhausted than others, with less value. Identify them, and cut them out. You’ll have much more energy and much less stress. Happiness ensues.

Here’s how to eliminate stress from your life.

37. Have more sex.

Talk about an endorphin rush! If you keep those endorphins flowing regularly, you’ll have more natural energy. Literally, more bounce to your step.

38. Move gym time to the morning.

A lot of people go to the gym after work. Try going to the gym in the morning instead to get energy that lasts all day. Sure, you’ll have to wake up an hour or two earlier, but you get that time back at night. That exercise in the morning gets the endorphins flowing, which keeps you happy and productive the rest of the day. By exercising in the morning instead of at night, you spend the same amount of time at the gym, but get the added benefit of having more energy at work.

39. Purge low-value tasks from your todo list.

If you have a ridiculously long todo list that is impossible to get all the way through, you’ll feel tired just thinking about the todo list. If you want to actually cross off tasks from your todo list, you’ll need to throw out the crap tasks that you don’t want/need to deal with. Either delegate those tasks, move them into a second “nice but not critical” list, or just admit that they’re probably never going to get done and move them to the “maybe/someday” list. Shortening your todo list to just the most critical, must-do tasks will give you the “energy” to start knocking out those tasks.

40. Avoid the mid-day cocktail.

If you want to function in the afternoon, avoid alcohol at lunch. Even if it’s just one beer. Alcohol’s sedative effects will take hours to recover from, killing the rest of your afternoon.

Skip the alcohol at lunch if you want to make it to 5:00. Photo by ktylerconk / Flickr

Skip the alcohol at lunch if you want to make it to 5:00. Photo by ktylerconk / Flickr

41. Get a massage.

Loosen up those tight muscles and you’ll feel more relaxed. A more relaxed you means a happier and more productive you. Trade a quick shoulder rub with a coworker after lunch to perk both of you up for the rest of the afternoon.

42. Dress up.

Feeling better about yourself has a magical way of giving you more energy. Put just a tad more effort into looking your best for work, and you’ll get compliments from coworkers that will make you feel better — and make you a perkier, more energetic worker bee.

43. Don’t drink yourself to sleep.

Alcohol keeps your body from entering deep sleep, so even if you get the same hours of sleep, you won’t feel as rested. Limit alcohol the hours before bedtime to get the best night’s sleep.

44. Get a thyroid test from your doctor.

If you are chronically fatigued, it may be a symptom of hypothyroidism. That’s when not enough thyroid hormone is produced, with fatigue as one of its symptoms. Visit the doctor if you’ve been tired for a long time and haven’t had a checkup in a while.

45. Take a walk outside.

Getting outside for some fresh air, a change of scenery, and a quick walk to get your blood going will do wonders for your mood and motivation. Seeing the sun is a signal to your body that it’s not bedtime yet.

Photo by vshioshvili / Flickr

Take a walk outside to clear your head. Photo by vshioshvili / Flickr

46. Lower your blood pressure.

Besides being a risk factor for a heart attack, high blood pressure makes you fatigued. If you haven’t seen your doctor lately, go in and get your blood pressure checked.

47. Rotate yogurt into your diet.

Yogurt with live cultures keep your digestive system clean, which helps your body absorb all the nutrients from food. That makes you healthier and more energetic. Yogurt is also a good low-fat snack.

48. Have a laugh.

Laughter is great medicine for exhaustion. Make sure you laugh regularly to keep your mood up. Seek out funny people or subscribe to a daily email joke. I like the geeky comic xkcd for a quick smile. What’s your favorite quick funny pick-me-up?

49. Add more cardio to your gym time.

The aerobic exercise gets your blood pumping. It builds stamina and endurance, which is useful for both triathalons and neverending department meetings.

50. Take up yoga.

The stretching, slow controlled movements, and focus on breathing reduces tension (and stress). The benefits include better sleep, feeling more relaxed, and being mentally sharper.

51. Eat eggs.

When people have eggs (mostly protein) for breakfast, versus bagels (all carbs), they feel more energy and eat less at the next meal. Protein makes you feel fuller without feeling stuffed, and they provide a steady stream of energy for your body (versus the quick high and crash of carbohydrates). Eggs are a great for breakfast or as an addition to a lunch salad.

52. Get a good night’s sleep.

We need 7-8 hours of sleep to be fully rested. Consistently sleeping less than 6 hours a night builds up a “sleep debt” that is hard to recover from. If you’re getting enough sleep, it should take you up to 30 minutes to fall asleep. If you’re falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow (or while sitting at your desk), that’s a symptom of sleep deprivation.

53. Get more ginseng.

Ginseng is well-known to have energy boosting properties. It is an adaptogen, which means it build resistance to stress and boosts energy. A ginseng supplement or sipping tea with ginseng can help improve energy.

54. Socialize.

Turn off the Internet and go socialize with friends. Humans are social animals, and we need regular socializing to keep ourselves in peak health and energy.

Go out and play with your friends! Photo by Strocchi / Flickr

Go out and play with your friends! Photo by Strocchi / Flickr

55. Get on your toes.

Roll up and down on your toes. This stimulates your circulatory system, which will deliver much-needed oxygen and fuel (glucose) throughout your body. You’ll be more energized and sharper. You can do this right now.

What’s your secret for getting more energy? Share it in the comments!

For more terrific ways to improve your life without spending a fortune, check out Wise Bread’s new book 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget. The book includes guest contributions from Zen Habits, Get Rich Slowly, The Simple Dollar, Digerati Life, and the Frugal Duchess.

Buy the book today (by Monday 11:59pm PDT) and get a $15 Ebates bonus and a chance to win a Flip Cam.

How to Actually Execute Your To-Do List: or, Why Writing It Down Doesn’t Actually Get It Donezen habits

Every Monday is Productivity & Organization Day at Zen Habits.

Have you gotten good at organizing your tasks in a to-do list, but have trouble actually executing them? You’re not alone.

Getting things on your to-do list actually done is difficult because it’s really a collection of habits that most people don’t think about. Today, we’ll look at addressing those issues that stop you from doing things, and the habits needed to overcome those issues.

This post was prompted when reader BJ Thunderstone recently asked a great question:

A lot of productivity systems such as Getting Things Done by David Allen or Do It Tomorrow by Mark Forster concern themselves with writing lists of things to do. This skill is easy to learn.But what if the problem isn’t making lists, but executing your plan? What if you write “Get X, Y and Z done” and then you can’t make yourself do any of these things?

I think that many people have a problem not with making to-do lists – but with executing what is written on these lists.

B.J. went on to list some of the reasons he and others have a problem getting things done. Let’s address them one by one.

“I feel resistance when starting work on something.”
First of all, it’s good to analyze your resistance, which is something we don’t do often. Why don’t you want to start on something? Identifying the problem can help lead to the solution.

Having said that, there are a couple of suggestions that could help:

  • Tiny chunk. Tell yourself you only have to do 5 minutes of work on it. That small amount of work is less intimidating.
  • Just start. Once you get going, it’s much easier to keep going. So tell yourself that all you have to do is start. I like to compare this to my philosophy of running: instead of worrying about having to do the whole run, I tell myself that I just have to lace up my shoes and get out the door. After that, it’s really easy. Do the same thing with any task — just fire up your program, and do the first few actions (i.e. start typing). It gets easier after that point.
  • Reward yourself. Don’t let yourself check email (or whatever reward works for you — something that you need to do every day) until you do at least 10 minutes (or 15 or 20, it doesn’t matter) on the task. Set a timer. Once your 10 minutes is up, set another timer for 5 minutes and do email. Then repeat.
  • Get excited about it. This is actually a tip that helps with any of these points. If you are excited about doing something, you will not hesitate to do it. For example, I loved this topic suggestion, and I was excited about writing it. As soon as I had the chance, I sat down to write it and only took one break. But how do you get excited about a task? Try to find something exciting about it. Will it bring you revenue? What can you do with that revenue? Will it bring you new clients, new opportunities, new recognition? If you can’t find anything exciting about a task, consider whether it’s really important or not — and if not, find a way to not do it. Sometimes eliminating (or delegating or delaying) the task is the best option.

“I am terrified of certain tasks, or of working on certain projects.”
There are usually a few reasons those tasks or projects terrify you:

  1. They are too intimidating in size or scope. To combat this, break it down into tinier chunks — actually, just the first tiny chunk (as David Allen tells us to do in GTD). It’s intimidating to do a task like “Create report on X” or “Make a yearly plan for Z”. But if you just need to do the first physical action, which might be, “Call Frank for figures on X” or “Make a list of 10 things we should accomplish this year”, it’s much easier to tackle and less intimidating.
  2. You don’t really know how to do it. If you haven’t done something a million times before, it is unfamiliar and unknown to you. And we are all terrified of that. The solution? First, get more information — learn as much as you can about it. That might require some research on the Internet, or talking to someone who’s done it before, or reading a book, or taking a class. Whatever you need to do, make the unknown become the known. Second, practice it as much as possible. Once you’ve learned how to do something, you need to practice it to become good at it. Don’t practice the whole thing — practice individual skills required to do a task or project, one at a time, until you’re good at those skills. Once you’ve mastered them, it will no longer be terrifying.
  3. You are focusing on negative aspects. You might be focusing on how hard something is, or on all the obstacles. Try looking at the positive aspects instead. Focus on what a great opportunity this project represents … an opportunity to learn, to get better at something, to make more money, to work on a relationship, to gain some long-term recognition, to improve your advancement opportunities. This is similar to the “get excited about it” item in the previous section. If you look at the opportunities, not the problems, you will be less terrified and more likely to want to do it.

“I start, but I get distracted and never finish.”
If you start, you’ve already made a big step towards finishing. Now you just need to work on the distractions. My suggestions won’t be popular, but they work:

  • Small tasks. I mentioned this above, but it’s really important to repeat here. If you are getting distracted, it may be because you are working too long on a single task or project. To remain focused, do only a small task — you are more likely to stay on task. If the task takes a long time, focus on only doing 15-20 minutes of it.
  • Single-task. Don’t allow yourself to do multiple tasks at the same time. Just do the one task before you. If you tend to do email, IM, surf the web, read your RSS feeds, talk on the phone and all of that while doing a task, you will inevitably be distracted from a task. Do one task at a time. If you feel yourself being pulled from the task, stop yourself. And bring yourself back.
  • Unplug. The biggest distractions come from connectivity. Email, feeds, IM, Twitter, phones. Unplug from these connections while you’re working on your single task. This is always an unpopular suggestion, but before you reject it, give it a try. Turn everything off, and try to focus on one task. You’ll get a lot more done, I guarantee you. Right now, I’m writing this post while disconnected from the Internet. It’s much easier to concentrate.
  • Clear your desk. Distractions can come from visual clutter. It can be worth it to clear everything off your desk (see 3 Steps to a Permanently Clear Desk). Also clear your walls and your computer desktop, and only work on one program at a time if possible.
  • Focus. Once your desk is clear and you unplug, and you’re working on that single task, really put all of your concentration on it. Pour your energies into that task, and see if you can get it done quickly. You might even get lost in it, and achieve that highly touted (deservedly so) state of mind known as “flow”.
  • Take breaks. It can help you to focus for a short amount of time on a single task, and use a time to help you focus, and then to take a break. This allows you to reboot your brain. Then, get back to work and focus on the next task.

“I often don’t feel like doing any work at all. The idea of work seems horrible and I never start doing anything.”
I know this feeling well. It plagues us all, and there’s no one good answer. However, here are some suggestions:

  • Groom yourself. If you work from home, take a shower. Often the act of grooming ourselves can make us feel much better.
  • Take a walk. I find that a little walk can get my blood pumping, refresh my mind, and allow me to think about what I really want to do today. It might not be what you need, but it’s worth a shot.
  • Exercise. Similarly, exercise can make you feel great. A jog in the park, a short strength workout, some pilates, or meditation … these things get your mood up and get you feeling productive and happy. Try it out — you might feel more like doing stuff when you’re done.
  • Again, think of opportunities. Think about tomorrow — not tomorrow as in the distant future, but tomorrow as in the day after today. Imagine yourself looking back on today from tomorrow. Will you be glad you laid around? Or would you be happier if you did something, and took advantage of the opportunities in front of you today? It’s useful to think in terms of your future self — because what we do today will open up opportunities and new roads for tomorrow’s us.
  • Baby steps. Don’t think in terms of having to tackle an entire work day, or an entire list of stuff to do. That’s overwhelming. Just think of doing one thing. That’s all you have to do — just that one thing. Make it something small and easy, and ideally something fun and rewarding. Focus on that easy task. Once you get started, you might be more willing to do another thing. Then another.
  • Find fun stuff to do. If you just have boring or unpleasant things to do, you won’t feel like doing them. Instead, change your path for today — see if you can find something that’s fun or exciting, but still moves you forward on a project or goal. That might be what you need to get you jump-started to do other stuff — or you might instead only spend the day doing only fun stuff (as long as it moves you forward — don’t just play solitaire or WoW).
  • Commit thyself. If motivation is your problem, commit yourself to making some progress with a goal or project today, or every day this week — tell all your family and friends, write it in your blog, or join the Zen Habits forum — it’s a great motivator. Then hold yourself accountable by reporting to others what you did today.
  • Rewards. Tell yourself that if you just do that first task, you’ll get a nice ice cream sundae. Or that you can buy a book, or DVD. Whatever your reward, use it to motivate yourself to just get started. Then let the rest flow from there.

“I make a list of things to do the next day.. and on that day, I wake up looking forward to a bad day, full of unpleasant tasks, I don’t feel like doing anything from the list.”
Two things to say here:

  1. Overload. The most probable reason is that you’re overloading yourself. People tend to pile too much on themselves for a single day, overestimating how much they can actually do. Get into the habit of choosing only three Most Important Tasks to do for the day, and do them early in the day (at least two of them before email). If you only have three things to do, it’s not overwhelming. You’ll probably have some smaller things to do later, but write those down under a “batch process” heading, and do those small things all at once near the end of the day.
  2. Fun. The second thing is that you’re loading yourself up with unpleasant tasks. Who wants to face a day of that? Instead, put down tasks that you’ll look forward to doing. Create an exciting to-do list for tomorrow. If you really have nothing important to do that’s enjoyable, it’s possible you’re in the wrong job. Look instead for a job that you’ll actually enjoy. Yes, every job has unpleasant and difficult tasks, but they lead to something rewarding. They support something you get excited about. If you don’t have anything like that in your job, you need to take a closer look at your job — revamp it somehow, or look for another.

Have your own methods of getting your to-do list done? Have other problems? Discuss it in the Zen Habits forums.

See also:

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Distractions, Dreaded Projects, Signal-to-Noise, Water … Oh My!zen habits

This is just a big roundup of some of the posts I’ve written elsewhere in the last week that I thought you might be interested in reading:

Also, a few links to posts by friends of mine who are excellent bloggers:

20 Tricks to Nuke a Bad Habitzen habits

This guest post was written by Scott Young, you can check out his blog here.

Are you letting bad habits rule your life? I started learning how to change habits a few years ago. Since then I’ve switched to a vegan diet, began exercising every day, started writing new articles every day, began waking up earlier and trying some wacky experiments to improve my life. Here are some ideas I’ve found useful:

  1. Commit for a Month – Thirty days is all you need to make a habit change permanent. Less time than that and the new alternative might not be hardwired into your brain. More time and any failures to last are usually a failure of strategy, not duration.
  2. Replace What You Lose – Your habits fulfill needs. When you suddenly cause a change, you may inadvertently cut them out. Before you make a change, write down all the benefits you currently get from your bad habit and make sure they are retained going into the new habit.
  3. Start Small – Changing habits isn’’t a matter of willpower, but patience and strategy. Don’’t expect to overhaul your diet, exercise or thinking patterns in a day. Tackle one habit at a time.
  4. Know the Benefits – Get clear in your mind what the benefits are of making a change. If making a change rationally seems good but it doesn’t feel good, it won’t stick. Emotions have more power than many of us realize.
  5. Write it Down – Winston Churchill once said, “Plans are useless, planning is invaluable.” Writing out any commitments you make will give you clarity both to what you desire and how you intend to do it.
  6. Swish – A technique from NLP. Visualize yourself performing the bad habit. Next visualize yourself pushing aside the bad habit and performing an alternative. Finally, end that sequence with an image of yourself in a highly positive state. See yourself picking up the cigarette, see yourself putting it down and snapping your fingers, finally visualize yourself running and breathing free. Do it a few times until you automatically go through the pattern before executing the old habit.
  7. Tell a Friend – Get some leverage on yourself. Tell a friend your plan so you will be more likely to commit to the change.
  8. Make it an Experiment – Be a scientist. Just try the new habit to see what it will be like, rather than a great emotional struggle. This will help keep you focused on conditioning the trial and allow you to view results with less bias.
  9. If at First You Don’t Succeed… – Most big changes aren’’t going to happen the first time. It took me three attempts before I finally stuck on with exercising regularly. Now I love it. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail the first time, just tweak your approach and go again.
  10. Get Out of Hazard Zones – Get yourself out of situations that can trigger your old habit. Remove junk food from your house. Don’t go to places where you might break your budget. This isn’’t always possible, but do your best to avoid temptation.
  11. Use “But” – A prominent habit changing therapist once told me this great technique for changing bad thought patterns. When you start to think negative thoughts, use the word “but” to interrupt it. “I’m no good at this, but, if I work at it I might get better later.”
  12. Know the Pain – Feel what will happen to you if you don’t make a change. Use your imagination to enhance the image of your results should you do nothing.
  13. Add Role Models – Start spending more time with people who live the way you want to. Join groups and find mentors who have already adapted the habits you want to take on. They can be invaluable in giving you the positive reinforcement and guidance you need.
  14. Stay Consistent – Try to keep as many aspects of your habit in control when conditioning to make the associations stronger. For the first month don’t just exercise a few times a week, but every day. Do things at the same time and in the same pattern to ensure your results stick.
  15. Keep it Simple Stupid! – Habits should be one or two rules, not twenty. If your plan looks like a User License Agreement from Microsoft, it’s probably too long. Keep changes simple so they will be easier to adhere to.
  16. Remind Yourself – Put reminders of your habit around you. After spending a few years changing many habits I’’ve learned that one of the biggest ways I’ve failed is simply a poor memory. Forgetting to run a trial one day leads to two until your back where you started. Put up Post-It Notes, affirmations or whatever you need to stay consistent.
  17. Motivate Yourself – Get the motivation when things get tough. Check out this article for 20 Motivation Hacks to do it.
  18. Break Down Your Goals – Use habits to get your goals. Break down your goal to be wealthy into habits of investing, frugality and entrepreneurship.
  19. Don’t Strive for Perfection – Focus on the habits that are important and minimize those that aren’’t. I’’ve changed many major habits, but I’’ve also learned to let minor problems exist if they distract me from the bigger picture.
  20. Do it Now – Waiting for life? The best way to learn how to change those stubborn habits in your life is to practice. Make a change now and in a month you can have a completely new way of living.

Scott Young is a blogger at, where he writes about productivity, motivation and getting the most out of life. But wait! This article is just the beginning. Check out Scott’s latest book – How to Change a Habit.

20 Ways to Get Free or Cheap Books, and Give Away Your Old Oneszen habits

Every Wednesday is Simplicity Day on Zen Habits.

If you’re looking to declutter your home and simplify your life, if you’re like me, one of the hardest areas to deal with is books: getting rid of old ones and cutting back on the expense of buying new ones.

But there are plenty of ways to get free or cheap books, and for the true fan of simplicity, these are the only ways to go.

First, let’s address the issue of getting rid of books: you gotta let go. I know, it’s difficult. It’s like getting rid of your children. But as the father of six children, I can tell you, sometimes it’s better with fewer of them in the house. (I’m kidding! About the children. Not the books.)

The question to ask yourself is this: “Why do I want to keep this book?” If you’re really going to read it again, keep it. I have a couple dozen books I truly love and really do plan on reading again, once I’ve forgotten the details.

But often books are kept almost like trophies or mounted animal heads — they show how much we’ve read, and the big books we’ve tackled, and how smart we are. Be honest with yourself — you’re never going to read most of those books again. You have too many ahead of you to tackle.

Get rid of them.

What follows are some of the best ways to get rid of your books, and to get more great ones for very little.

This is one of the best ways to regularly get free books. Of course, you can do it for free with friends, family members, classmates, neighbors — I regularly swap books with people I know. But when you really want to get books you really want, online bookswapping services rock. They’re not free, as you usually have to pay for shipping, but they’re close.

  • Bookmooch. One of the more popular of the online bookswapping services. Give away books to get credits, and use those credits to get other books you find online. Pretty good selection. It’s a free service, although you pay the price of shipping the books you give away.
  • PaperBackSwap. Pretty much the same deal as Bookmooch — give away books to get credit, use credits to get other books. You pay for shipping (typically $2.13, according to the site). More than 1.3 million books available. No membership fee at this time.
  • Readers United. Again, get credits for giving away books, use them to get other books. Free service, but you pay for shipping to give others your books.
  • FrugalReader. Another book trading service. Free standard membership; the paid premium membership includes extra features.
  • Title Trader. This takes the same concepts as the other book swapping services above and extends them to not only books, but CDs and DVDs.
  • Bookins. Same kind of book swapping service, but with a $3.99 fee per book you receive. You don’t pay for shipping books out, however.
  • WhatsOnMyBookshelf. Book swapping service … receive points for listing books and sending them, use them to get books from others. You pay for shipping books to others.
  • Novel Action. This one works a bit differently than the others. First, there’s a membership fee of $25 a year (a little over $2 a month). No transaction fees, but you pay $4.80 for shipping up to 6 pounds of books. List books you want, and then send them an equal number of books. Once they’re received, you will get the books you want.
  • ReadItSwapIt. This is for readers in the UK — again, give away and get books, just pay for shipping them to others. It doesn’t use a credit system like the others, and you are free not to send a book that’s requested by others. Free service.

Similar to book swapping, bookhopping is a way to exchange books over the Internet. Basically, you list the books on your shelf, and agree to ship any of your books when they’re requested. In exchange, you can request any books you like. No points are earned or exchanged.

  • BookCrossing. An extremely unique system, it’s more like karma for books. A very basic explanation: read a book, label it with a unique book number, and then leave it somewhere. Anywhere. You can leave it in a coffeeshop, with a friend, on a park bench (”releasing it into the wild”). There are designated book crossing spots all over the world, but they’re not required. If someone picks up your book, by chance, they write a little review of it online, and you can read all the reviews of the particular book you “released into the wild”. Now, you can also look at book crossing spots in your area to see what books have been left there, and go pick it up if you want. Interestingly, there’s a map that shows where books are “released” or “caught” all over the world — in real time. Fascinating. It’s definitely a must-see.
  • America’s BookShelf. List your books online, and when one is requested, you’ll receive a postage-paid envelope in the mail — just drop it in the mailbox. To get books, you’ll need to buy book credits. Also charges a $12 annual membership fee ($1 a month).
  • BookHopper. Works very similar to book swapping sites, but it’s slightly different. First, you list books that you’re willing to ship to people, and when they’re requested, you ship them (at your cost). You can also request anyone’s books. The more books you list, the more you can request. There’s no credits, but there’s a sort of karma system that incorporates how many books you list, how many you send, and the feedback you leave for others.

Really free books

  • Library. The classic method, and it’s totally free. If you haven’t been to your local library recently, I’d recommend you give it a try. Many of them are surprisingly great.
  • Friends, family, neighbors, classmates. Set up a little exchange with people you know. It can be a formal book club, or just set up a place to leave books, and when you’re done reading a book, leave it and take another. Get creative — no shipping costs are involved, so you can exchange great books for free.
  • Free ebooks. If you don’t mind reading books on the computer, you can get thousands for free. There are a lot of sites for free ebooks, but a couple of the more popular include Project Gutenberg and

Other options

  • BooksFree. It’s like NetFlix, but for books. Fairly low monthly membership fee, and you can check out multiple books at the same time. When you’re done, send them back (you don’t pay for shipping) and get the next ones on your list. No late fees. Lowest price is $9.99 for 2 books at a time; plans go up to 12 at a time.
  • Zunafish. This is a trading site for anything, really. Not only books, but CDs, DVDs, games, computer stuff, anything. Just list the stuff you want to trade, and people will make trade offers. If you see an offer you like, agree to it, and then you each ship the stuff to each other. No membership fee, but there’s a $1 per transaction fee.
  • Thrift shops. I make a regular trip to a couple of charity thrift shops (help a good cause and get books for only cents), as well as a very cheap used book store — I give them my used books for credits, and then pay only a couple of dollars for a couple dozen used books.
  • Swapbooks. Despite its title, it’s really a way for students to sell used textbooks and buy them for cheap.
  • A branch of eBay, is a way to sell your used books and to get some good deals on other used books.
  • LibraryThing. Well, this isn’t really a way to get free or cheap books (hence it’s not counted in the “20 Ways”) but I would be remiss if I talked about all these book services and didn’t include LibraryThing. What it is: simply a way to list your books online, and allow others to see what books you’re reading, and to see what others are reading. A cool tool.

What about you? Have you tried any of these services? Have other favorites of your own? Let us know in the comments or discuss in the forum.

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The 12-Step Get-Out-of-Debt Programzen habits

Every Tuesday is Finance & Family Day at Zen Habits.

Debt is a major problem for a lot of people these days. The problem is, even if they know they want to get out of it, they have a hard time figuring out how to start.

If you fit this description, this 12-Step program spells it out for you.

Now, there isn’t one way to get out of debt, and the best program should be tailored to each person’s individual situation. But if you feel like you just don’t know how to begin, this program is designed to give you a sort of guide — one that should be adjusted to fit your financial situation.

It’s aimed not at people who have their finances together and are just trying to pay off a credit card or two. It’s aimed at those who have trouble finding any extra money to pay off debts, who seem to find themselves getting deeper and deeper into debt, and don’t know how to stop it. In other words, it’s a bit of an emergency program.

Disclaimer: I’m not a financial advisor, and if you are in need of one, I suggest you find a qualified advisor. My only qualification is that I’ve made great strides in getting my finances under control, in starting an emergency fund, in paying all my bills on time, in not getting further into debt, and in eliminating my debt (I should be done by the end of this year). This program is based on my experiences, and on the large number of books and websites I’ve read.

The Zen Habits 12-Step Get-Out-of-Debt Program

  1. Acknowledge the problem. The first step is admitting you have a problem. The first week, all you have to do is say to yourself, “I have a problem with debt. I got into this because I spend money I don’t have. But I believe that there’s a way out, and I can do this. I can control my spending, make a plan, and slowly get out of debt.” That’s a major step. Now set aside just 30-60 minutes a week to deal with your finances — make it a set day and time, and don’t let yourself miss this appointment.
  2. Stop digging. If you’re in a hole, the first step is to stop digging, and that’s what you’re going to do this second week. For 30 days, see if you can stop any non-essential spending. If you have a major problem with credit cards, cut them up. If you’re not so bad with credit cards, at least put them away and don’t buy stuff online for one month. What’s essential? Obviously your bills, housing, auto, gas, groceries … that kind of stuff. Non-essential? Clothing, CDs, DVDs, books, magazines, gadgets … you know what I mean. Just 30 days. After that, you can decide how much to spend on these things.
  3. Make small cutbacks. This third week, take a look at things you normally buy and see if you can cut out a few of them, or spend less on them. Groceries? See if you can buy house brands instead of name brands. Coffee? Make it yourself at home instead of buying out. Lunch? Try packing it to work instead of eating out. Add up what your cutbacks will save you this month.
  4. Start an emergency fund. This fourth week, set up a savings account, if you don’t have one already, for an emergency fund. Now take the amount you saved in Step 3 (and even in Step 2 if you think you can make them last for awhile) and set up a regular automatic deposit from your checking to this emergency fund savings account for this amount. It’s important that before you start paying off debt, you have at least a small emergency fund. Aim for $1,000 at first, and you can grow that later. The reason: if unexpected expenses come up, and you don’t have an emergency fund, you will skip your debt payments to pay for the unexpected expenses. The emergency fund protects your debt payments.
  5. Take inventory. OK, this is a step that we don’t like to take. But take a deep breath. You need to do this. Remember what you said in Step 1? You can do this. This fifth week, set up a simple spreadsheet. In one column, list all of your debts — credit cards, medical bills, auto loan, etc. You can leave out your mortgage, but put everything else. In the second column, put the amounts you owe for each debt. In the third, put the minimum monthly payment, and put the percentage interest in the fourth column. Total up the second and third columns to see your total debt owed and how much you have to pay, at a minimum, towards debt each month.
  6. Make a spending plan. We don’t like to do this step either. But it’s not going to be as painful as we think. This sixth week, set up another simple spreadsheet. In one column, list your monthly bills (rent or mortgage, auto payment, utilities, cable, etc.) — everything that is a regular monthly expense. Then list variable expenses (things that change every month) like groceries, gas, eating out, etc. Later you should add irregular expenses (stuff that comes up once in awhile — less than once a month) such as auto and house maintenance, clothing, insurance, etc. But we won’t get into that now, as we want to keep it simple. In the second column, put down the amounts for each. Be sure to put enough for things like gas and groceries, as you don’t want to be short. Be sure to also include your minimum debt payments and your emergency fund deposit. Now, list your income sources and monthly amounts. There. You’ve got a temporary spending plan (you’ll want to add the irregular expenses later). Now, if the expenses are greater than the income, you’ll need to make adjustments until the expenses are equal to or less than the income.
  7. Control spending. If you’re into your seventh week of this debt plan, you may find it hard to keep track of your spending and ensure that you’re sticking to your spending plan. Here’s the key: first do the emergency fund deposit. Then do the debt payments. Then do your monthly bills. Then withdraw the variable amounts in cash, and put them into separate envelopes. It’s old-fashioned, but it works, as you don’t have to worry about overspending. When your envelope is empty, you can’t spend anymore. Continue to cut back on non-essential spending as much as you can at this point, so you’re able to stick within your spending plan.
  8. Pay bills on time. This may be a problem for a lot of people. It’s important, if you want to get out of debt, to start paying all your bills on time. If you follow the payment plan outlined in Step 7, your bills should be paid before you get to any discretionary spending categories. At this point, you want to focus on getting those bills paid on time, and making it a habit. If you have trouble remembering, try one of these methods: 1) pay bills as soon as they come in — take them to the computer and pay them online, or write out a check and prepare the envelope to be mailed the next day; or 2) set up a reminder in your calendar program to tell you when bills are due.
  9. Start a snowball. Now that your finances are relatively under control, you can start a debt snowball. At this point, you should have the beginnings of an emergency fund, you should know how much you owe, you should have a temporary spending plan, you should be paying bills on time and controlling your spending. Now you can focus on paying your debt. Here’s what to do: If you can find at least $100 from your spending plan, use that to start your debt snowball. You may need to cut back on discretionary spending (as you did in Steps 2 and 3). Or, once your emergency fund is at $1,000, you can use the amount you were putting into that account for your debt snowball. If you have trouble finding $100 for a debt snowball, you need to look at what other expenses you can cut back on. OK, once you’ve found at least $100 for your debt snowball (and more would be better), take a look at your debt spreadsheet. First, order the debts from the smallest amount owed to the largest. Now, look at your smallest debt owed — you will start by paying $100 (your debt snowball) plus the minimum monthly payment on that debt each month, until the debt is paid off. When the debt is paid off, you will take the amount you were paying on it (let’s say $50 monthly payment plus the $100 debt snowball for a total of $150) and pay it to your next smallest debt, until it is paid off. Continue to pay off your debts, one at a time, until they are all paid off. Now you have a large sum you can put into growing your emergency fund, and funding your irregular expenses, and finally start investing.
  10. Find larger cuts. Once you’ve controlled your finances and started your debt snowball, there are ways to increase the snowball — and hence the speed with which you get out of debt. Look at your larger expenses — are there ways you can eliminate or cut back on them? Can you sell your car for a smaller, used model? Can you find a smaller house or apartment to rent? Can you sell your house and rent a cheaper one? Can you get by with one car? Can you eliminate some services you’ve been using? Whatever cuts you make, apply that amount to your debt snowball — don’t spend it.
  11. Grow your income. Another great way to get out of debt faster is to make more money. Look at ways you can make money on the side — or ask for a raise or get a better job. Take 30 minutes to brainstorm. Are there ways you can start a small business online? Sell your valuables on eBay? Start freelancing on the side? Get a part-time job? This only has to be temporary, but the more money you make, the faster you’ll get out of debt. Be sure to apply your new income to your debt snowball.
  12. Track your progress. On your debt spreadsheet, be sure to update it every payday (or however often you pay debt) so that you can see your shrinking debt amount. You should be able to calculate how many months you have left before you’re completely out of debt. It may be a long ways off, but it’s within sight!
  13. Bonus step: Celebrate! It’s important to celebrate, not only when you’re out of debt, but along the way as you eliminate each debt. Have fun! Make this an adventure. It can be amazingly satisfying to stop spending and gain control of your finances instead. Find free entertainment, make it a challenge to be frugal and save money and find cheap used stuff. Pat yourself on the back along the way.

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Simplifying David Allen’s Complicated GTD Setupzen habits

Every Monday is Productivity & Organization Day at Zen Habits.

Take a look at the setup on the right. It was published in a recent CNNMoney article on David Allen and GTD, and it outlines The David’s GTD setup.

It’s way too complicated.

That’s just my opinion, of course, but the master of GTD is a living example of how GTD is a great system that has great concepts, but can get way too tool-heavy and complicated when implemented.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s no reason GTD has to be so complicated. I’ve written about this topic before, of course, but I thought I’d use the graphic here as an illustration of complications, and how it can be simplified.

Let’s do a David Allen vs. Leo Babauta comparison:

David’s Tools

  • A five-tray desktop inbox
  • A laptop with USB hub for iPod, camera, cell phone, labeler, digital recorder, external hard drive
  • Palm Treo organizer and cell phone
  • Lotus Notes software for all GTD stuff and email; Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • Two-drawer file cabinet
  • Briefcase
  • 5 plastic travel file folders
  • Desktop organizer

Leo’s Tools

  • pocket Moleskine notebook & pen
  • single-tray desktop inbox
  • desktop computer
  • Firefox browser; Gmail, Google Docs, WordPress

That’s it. I don’t carry a briefcase, a cell phone, a Palm organizer, traveling file folders. I do have a single-drawer filing system, but I don’t use it anymore. Soon I will purge the files or put them in storage. I don’t need a desktop organizer because I don’t have a bunch of stuff to organize. I certainly don’t use PowerPoint.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that David Allen’s life and mine are completely different — he’s got a lot more going on than I do, most likely. But that’s my point — if you simplify your life, you don’t need all those tools.

Am I saying I’m better than David Allen, or that my setup is better? No. He uses what he needs to use, and so do I. But when you look at these setups, who do you think spends less time maintaining his system, and who do you think gets less stress from all of it? That’s debatable, of course, but I submit that it’s me.

The point of this exercise is to recommend that we all take a look at what setup we’re using, and see if it’s worth simplifying the setup. At the very least, give it some thought.

If you’re looking to simplify your system and tools, here are some suggestions:

  • Reduce your inboxes. How many different ways does stuff come into your life? Do you have 5 different places at home or work where paper comes in and gets placed? How about email, voicemail, RSS feeds, etc.? Reduce these to simplify the overall system.
  • Just have one list tool. Do you have one in your mobile device, a couple on your computer, one in your paper planner? That’s too many places to check and keep track of. Choose one and stick with it.
  • Consider paper. Paper is very portable, and very simple. It is easy to use and can be adapted to your needs. You can use it at your computer and on the road, at work and at home. To me, it’s the simplest setup possible.
  • Go online. I need to work on stuff from multiple locations, so a completely online setup is necessary for me. I don’t store my articles or working documents on my hard drive anymore. I use Gmail and Google Docs (and WordPress for publishing this blog), and the advantage is that it’s not only very accessible from anywhere, but easily searchable, so I don’t need to worry about filing and organizing.
  • Reduce before you organize. If you have fewer things to organize, then organizing is easy. I think David’s problem is that he has way too much stuff to organize. That’s why he needs a briefcase and traveling folders and a desktop organizer and a 5-tray inbox. First of all, if he’s got a Palm Treo and a laptop, why does he need to carry around all that paper? Keep stuff on the computer instead of printing it out. Tell people to email you stuff instead of giving it to you on paper. He’s the boss! But even if that’s not possible for him, it’s possible for the rest of us. We can cut back on the amount of stuff we have, and therefore never really need to organize.
  • Reduce your needs. This is related to the above point, but let me give you another example instead of just reducing your stuff: Why do people need a complicated and feature-rich program like Microsoft Word? Many different reasons, of course, but mostly because they need to format a document in a certain way, for various reasons. But the information in a document is just information — what if you could simplify how it needs to be formatted? That’s not possible for some people, but I found that it is for me, and it might be for you. Then, you wouldn’t need Word … you could use Google Docs or some other simple program. Think about your needs and see if they can be simplified — then the tools you use can be too.

What are your thoughts on this? Is your setup complicated or simple? Is there value in simplifying your setup? Let us know in the comments.
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