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The New Escapologist: An Interview with Robert Wringham

October 25, 2010

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Today I’m really pleased to publish an interview with Robert Wringham, editor of inspiring magazine The New Escapologist.

Rob recently quit his job as a librarian to embark on a new life of freedom and creativity at the head of his own one-man ‘cottage industry.’

Rob describes The New Escapologist as ‘a magazine for white-collar functionaries with escape on the brain.’  It offers exit strategies from demeaning day jobs.  Each issue is a compendium of funny and practical essays on the subject of escape, through the lenses of economics, travel, psychology, philosophy and the arts.  It promotes freedom, anarchy and the absurd. Rob also maintains a regularly updated companion blog and likes to run Escapological parties and events whenever he can.

Last week, I was lucky enough to catch up with Rob and ask him about the magazine, strategies for escaping the 9 to 5 and life as an escapologist.  His answers were genuinely insightful and make for some very interesting reading.

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Andrew: Imagine I’m the average reader of Rainy Day Wonder, why would I want to become an escapologist?

Rob: Given that you’re reading this blog or have found it by Googling “bored at work” or something, you are probably one already.  The only real difference between being an Escapologist and someone who simply hates their job is that the escapologist has begun to take deliberate measures toward actually changing things.  I think most people who hate their job don’t realise that escape is an option.

To answer your question more directly, you want to become an Escapologist because you’re unsatisfied by the conventional ways of working.  You wonder things like “given that the Internet exists, why do I have to commute to the office everyday?” and “why can’t I stay in bed until 10am if I want to?”  You want to stop being unhappy and demeaned and start fashioning the tools with which you can break out.

Andrew: You recently quit your job in order to strike out on your own. Why did you decide that working for other people wasn’t your thing?

Rob: Working for other people wasn’t exactly my problem.  As a freelancer, I still work for other people except I call them ‘clients’ rather than ‘employers’.  When I finally got sick of it all and struck out, it was because of things like an unproductive working environment, the early rises, the commute (I only had a twenty-minutes walk to my office but it was still too much for me), annoying managers who would change their mind about things after my team had put all the work in.

There was also the fact that I never felt like I was achieving anything of worth.  I think, as a librarian, I had pretty lofty ideas about public service that never came to fruition because nobody was really on my side: the managers were stupid and my colleagues were jaded.  It was just too much of a struggle, so I quit.  There’s a big stigma attached to being a quitter, but in nature we have to decide between fight or flight: it shouldn’t be seen as shameful to walk away from an unwinnable fight.

Those were the initial rumbles of dissatisfaction, but once I started reading the standard career advice books and the blogs and the personal finance materials, I began to learn that employment is pragmatism.  Employment keeps the wolf from the door for a little while but if you want to break the cycle of work-spend-work-spend, you have to take matters into your own hands.  Escape and start thinking about things like cottage industry, thrift and making money from things you either enjoy physically or respect intellectually.

Andrew: In the latest issue of New Escapologist you talk a lot about the idea of ‘Bad Faith’ – can you explain what this means?

Rob: This is tied up with the problem of personal resistance.  Resistance is the thing – the internal, negative voice – that prevents you from achieving anything of worth.  It’s the force that makes you quit just before the finish line or reach for the bag of potato chips when you’re trying to lose weight.  Bad Faith is a bit like that but it’s a little bit more complicated and has roots in Jean-Paul Sartre.  Basically, Bad Faith is to convince yourself that the reality of a situation is something else.  For example, an office employee might know in her heart of hearts that she’s wasting her youth and betraying her dreams for no reason, but she tells herself that it’s okay because she enjoys the social interaction or she’s somehow bettering herself by being there or simply because ‘this is what people do’.  She denies that there are other options and convinces herself – perhaps not even consciously – that there is no other option, when in fact there are many.

Andrew: How has living a minimalist lifestyle allowed you to focus on creating multiple income sources and escaping the rat race?

Rob: Minimalism is a big one and I love it, though I recognise that lots of people find my dedication to minimalism a little extreme.  Perhaps my view of the values of minimalism is tainted somewhat by the pleasure I personally take in the minimalist aesthetic. I still advocate the minimalist lifestyle though and the reasons are simple:

  • by consuming less, you don’t have to work so hard at paying for it all.
  • by reducing formerly-fixed overheads (big house, coffee consumption, mobile phone contract), you can retire from the rat race more quickly. Check out something called the Latte Factor if you get chance.
  • by consuming less, you are doing the environment a favour.  The Earth’s resources are finite and shouldn’t be dicked around with.  I find the idea of a Bart Simpson table lamp somewhat sickening.
  • by owning less, you increase your personal mobility. It is difficult to escape to another town or another country if you’re burdened by twelve grandfather clocks and a video collection.
  • by owning less, you have less information to process in a given day. Your productivity and general effectiveness will increase.
  • by purging (if you have lots of stuff), you can make money by selling it all off.  In business, this is called liquidation. Note that this is not a way of ‘making money’ since you own the objects already: you’re just converting them into a more useful form, like melting useless snow into drinkable water.
  • by losing low-priority stuff from the attic or the basement, you experience an offloading of psychological baggage in that you no longer have to keep that stuff in mind.

A note about multiple income sources: I don’t have a big portfolio of jobs or investments.  I consider myself a one-man cottage industry.  I’m a writer and stand-up comedian.  While it’s true that I diversify my output by running the magazine, writing for other people, doing gigs et cetera, I don’t really consider these things to be separate ‘sources’: they’re just different projects within my personal industry.

Andrew: What is the one action that our readers can take to moving towards quitting the rat race and becoming escapologists themselves?

Rob: If there’s one action, it lies in decision-making.  After wanting to escape and upon recognising its possibility, you have to decide to escape.  The will to freedom is the first and probably most important step.  After that will come the minimalism and the industriousness and the long, luxurious idle mornings.  But first, you have to want it.

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Simplicity in the Age of Distraction: An Interview with Leo Babauta

October 22, 2010

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I’m sure I don’t really need to say too much about Leo Babauta.

Over the last few years, he has written several best-selling books on simple living and creativity, including The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life and Zen to Done.  His latest work, Focus – A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction was released this week.

Leo is also the creator and writer of Zen Habits, an über popular blog about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives.  It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing and find happiness.

It also happens to be one of the Top 25 blogs in the world, with about 200,000 readers.

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to interview Leo about life as one of the leaders of the simple living movement and how the ideas in his books can be applied to help people escape the 9 to 5 and strike out on their own creative enterprise.

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Andrew: Can you briefly describe what The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life and Zen Habits are to the Rainy Day Wonder readers?

Leo: They’re guides (one in eBook format, the other a blog) to living a simpler life, to slowing down, to figuring out what’s essential and paring your life down to those essentials. In this world of constant connection and information overload, of clutter and busy-ness, I think we crave simplicity. I simply explore ways to find that simplicity.

Andrew: Imagine I’m a typical reader of Rainy Day Wonder, in what way would embracing minimalism enable me to realise my dream of escaping the 9 to 5 rat race?

Leo: Escaping the 9 to 5 rat race starts with the idea that the rat race isn’t as important as we once believed — that the dream of working long hours to make money to buy huge homes and cars and lots of luxury items … is just not what we want.  That’s what minimalism is: embracing the idea that we don’t need all that stuff, that if we let go of consumerism we can also let go of working long hours and being so incredibly busy that we don’t have time for what’s really important.

Andrew: Exactly how has living a simpler life enabled you to work smarter and reduce the need to work in one place?

Leo: Simplicity is choosing the essential, and paring away the rest. When you do this with work, you work on the important tasks, rather than the busy work, and your need to work decreases. When your needs decrease, you also have more flexibility — and so I’m able to work the hours I want, wherever I want. When something stops me from having that flexibility, I find ways to simplify so I can become more flexible.

Andrew: What would you say to someone who really wanted to strike out on their own but felt unable to ‘take the plunge,’ perhaps because of inertia, financial insecurity or a lack of confidence?

Leo: Start small. You don’t need to take the plunge right away — start by simplifying your life a bit so you can find the free time to create the business you want while still working the 9-5 job. If you have less to do, you can find the time to work early in the morning and in the evenings on the work you really love. This is much less scary than taking the plunge, and eventually you’ll have the confidence to dive into it full time.

Andrew: What is one positive action that our readers can take right now to move towards escaping the 9-5 rat race and realising their creative potential?

Leo: Start by doing. Find something that you love doing, and do it — even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day. By doing, you’ll connect to this life, and you’ll learn how to do it well, and eventually be able to do it full time.

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You can check out Leo’s inspiring eBooks The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life, Zen to Done and Focus – A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction here.

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10 Reasons Why Now is the Best Time Ever to Quit Your Job

October 20, 2010

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As I write this post I’m looking through my study window watching my children play noisily in the garden.  They’re building a castle out of old bits of wood.

I’ll probably go and join them in a minute.

However, if you’d asked me where I was working three years ago my answer would have been quite different.  Then, I would have been slumped wearily at a desk squinting at a computer screen in a fluorescently lit office.  I would’ve been looking at my watch.  A lot.

Then, at 5pm prompt, I would’ve battled my way through the evening rush hour to arrive home weary and ill-tempered.  The kids would’ve finished their castle long ago.  In fact they would probably already be in bed.

Looking back, I’m so glad I made the decision to turn my back on that all-pervasive mantra of school-college-9-5-mortgage-pension-retirement home.

I quit my job three years ago and never looked back.  It was the best thing I ever did.  Since then I’ve been reflecting a lot on why it is that more people don’t do the same.

So, if you’re stuck in a job or career you hate and are desperate to leave, but keep holding back, either because of inertia, financial insecurity, fear of the unknown or plain apathy, I hope these humble reflections might be of some use in your journey.

The idea of a ‘job for life’ is disappearing

Largely as a result of the need to bail out mindless risk-taking bankers, pension fund managers and various other odious gold-diggers, governments around the world are being forced to implement massive and unprecedented cuts in public spending – and set in train massive programmes of job cuts.

In the business world too, rapacious globalisation, eroded worker rights and the rise of temporary contracts have combined to ensure that, for many of us, a ‘job for life’ is no longer a viable prospect.

The net result is that millions of people around the world are now faced with a stark choice between a life of unstable, short-term contract-based employment or the welfare queue.

If this is the best that the ‘traditional’ world of work now has to offer I say that we are better off refusing to play the game.  Surely going it alone is better than subscribing to this dismal state of affairs and signing away the best years of our lives?

The pensions industry is going to hell in a handcart

Another result of the financial meltdown and plummeting stock markets is that many pension funds are now drastically out of pocket.  This has led many governments to lobby strongly for an increase in the retirement age.  Where I live in the UK, it’s quite possible that I could be working until I’m nearly 70 before I can claim a pension that I’ve paid into all my life – how much more do these f***’ers want?

This philosophy of worry now, live later is like a sort of state-sanctioned religion.  Except, instead of living like a puritan to ensure eternal life we must forego any sense of spontaneity and enjoyment of the here and now in favour of some hazy and ill-defined notion of ‘a good retirement.’

We need to stop worrying about our pensions and get a life – that means here and now, in front of our noses.  Besides, if you quit your job and start doing something that you love, who says you’ll want to retire anyway?

The gatekeepers are quaking in their boots

At the same time as this worldwide fudge has been unravelling, a new generation has emerged that is willing and able to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by technology and the internet in order to create their own reality.  A generation that simply refuses to accept the dish served up by the bloated baby-boomer establishment – choosing instead to invent a new game, with new rules.

This new game has opened up a whole world of creative freedom and possibility.  A world where it is easier than ever before to reach out to like-minded people wherever they live.

More than anything else, the digital revolution means that a whole range of creative people, from writers, artists and musicians to entrepreneurs and freelancers, can now bypass the gatekeepers of the old economy and reach out to their audience directly.  The upshot is that when you create a new product like a book or a piece of music there is no more need to spend years scrabbling around for deals with agents, publishers, record company A&R men.  No more swimming in a murky pool of distributors, marketing men and manufacturers.  No more need for middle-men period – just the joy of creating and communicating with your audience, market, readers (whatever you want to call them) direct.

Lots of fingers in lots of pies

When you jump ship and make the decision to work smarter you no longer have to rely on a single source of income but can instead develop multiple income streams from doing the things that you love.

Perhaps one week you could be writing articles for a glossy magazine, the next you could be finishing off your new eBook and selling it directly to a worldwide audience.  Next, you might decide to set up an online vintage clothes boutique or style consultancy.

The possibilities are limited only by the reach of your own imagination.

As well as allowing you to invent a completely new and fulfilling way of working this multiple income approach has the added benefit of leaving you much better equipped to escape the negative effects of the global financial crisis.

Passive income generation is better than wage slavery

When you work for someone else, if you don’t turn up for work you don’t get paid.  The reward system is inherently bound up with the idea of ‘serving your time.’

But what if you could make money while you sleep, or perhaps while you’re sipping mojitos on a palm fringed beach?  Sounds farfetched?  Well, for a growing number of people this ‘crazy’ idea has become a reality.  These people have been turned on to the notion of passive income generation.

It works like this – First, you produce a digital product, maybe an eBook or an album, or whatever else inspires you.  Then, taking advantage of the internet and the existing infrastructures within it, you market and sell the product.  Sound good?  Well, it gets even better.  The beauty of the system is that, if you set things up smartly, the entire system runs automatically – that’s right, once the system is set up you won’t have to lift a finger, just sit back and watch the money roll in.

Just take a look at sites like e-junkie and you’ll realise how easy it can be to set up a business like this.

If you’re interested in taking this idea further, one of the best books I ever read on the subject was Cloud Living by Glen Allsopp.  Other great resources for advice on steadily building a passive income stream are the Internet Business Mastery Academy and this excellent ‘Make Money Writing for eHow Guide.’

It saves money

Just for a minute think about all that money you spend travelling to and from work, the quick coffee before work, the business lunches and the meals out with clients, the smart work wear … the list goes on.  This phenomenon of seemingly small but, over time, increasingly expensive expenditure patterns has now been well documented as the latte effect.  So, if it’s money that’s stopping the big quit, it’s time to cross it off the list.

No more ‘Steve from accounts’

Working on projects and schemes of your own devising means that you no longer have to run things by Steve from accounts or Kelly in marketing before forging ahead.

The freedom of working for yourself allows you to work on all those projects that are close to your heart and, perhaps more importantly, create things of real value – both to yourself and others.  In essence, it lends you the ability to create your own little slice of immortality.

It enhances your flexibility and leaves you free to follow new and exciting paths without the need to secure permission from a vast and weighty bureaucracy.

In sum, you get the chance to invent your own reality rather than living someone else’s.

You won’t be stuck in one place

A new generation of smart entrepreneurs are embracing the possibilities that wireless technology offers to become location-independent and literally live and work from anywhere in the world they choose.

Here again, I’d highly recommend Glen Allsopp’s book Cloud Living, where you can find out how to harness the power of wireless technology to build a lifestyle where you can live and work anywhere.

You can work at your own pace

Many people in paid employment tend to fall into one of two groups.  The first, let’s call them the strivers, are the people that fill up their days (and often their nights too) in a state of constant busyness.  You can always tell a striver because they tend to be the loudest in the office.  They’re the ones who’re forever caressing their Blackberry’s, or hassling you to join in on some fruitless and unnecessary project, or organizing an endless series of meetings where they drone on enthusiastically about nebulous concepts like efficiency and productivity.

In his masterful essay Quitting the Paint Factory, journalist Mark Slouka described his exasperation with these characters:

“I distrust the perpetually busy; always have.  The frenetic ones spinning in tight little circles like poisoned rats.  The slower ones, grinding away their fourscore and ten in righteousness and pain.  They are the soul-eaters.”

Spot on Mark.  As far as I’m concerned, these types are a lost cause.

The other group, let’s call them the skivers, tend to do the bare minimum required of them and spend the rest of the day biding their time until 5 o’clock, (or whatever other time has been sanctioned by the management as the end of ‘office hours’).  Since they have to be physically based at the office for an unchangeable amount of time each day, regardless of the amount of work that needs doing, they perhaps inevitably start to devise elaborate strategies to avoid work.  In reality, what this tends to mean is that skivers spend huge swathes of their time indulging in what Tom Belsky calls insecurity work.

This group is much more interesting.  They are normally the people in your office that still retain some spark of life.  The ones who refuse to let their identity be subsumed into the corporate behemoth.  The resisters, the awkward ones.

Most importantly of all, they are almost always the ones with the genuine ideas, the creative flair.  If you’re a skiver (and if you’re reading this while you’re at work the probability is that you are) the great news is that when you work for yourself you actually need to work less hours.  By cutting out most of the pointless fluff that nowadays constitutes the typical work day it’s even possible to achieve a four, three or even two hour work day.  I know this is possible, because I’ve done it myself.  Everett Bogue has done it too, and shows you how to do it in his essential book Minimalist Business.  In some ways though, it doesn’t matter how many hours you work each day as long as you’re doing something you enjoy and over which you have total control.

Two weeks holiday a year is criminal

We want to reclaim our dignity and freedom – why get out of bed and travel across town to an airless and starkly lit office in the middle of winter?  We should be lords of our own destiny.  If we want to spend a delightful, absorbing morning writing 4,000 words on our latest book and do nothing but take a bath or go for a long walk in the afternoon – we should be free to do so.  Who are these people who control our lives to such a degree that we must submit to a measly and soul destroying two weeks off a year?

No, it’s time to resist.  We need to develop a way of working characterised by what Tom Hodgkinson calls ‘paroxysms of diligence followed by extended periods of idleness.’  In other words, we should work when we like and rest when we like – it’s more productive anyway.  Take a mini-retirement or spend a week locked in a study to write a book of poems – the important thing is that the choice is yours and no-one else’s.

Anyway, excuse me – I’ve got a castle to help build …

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Image Credit – tommy the pariah via flickr on a creative commons license.

Escape the 9 to 5 With Your Own Smalltopia: An Interview with Tammy Strobel

October 17, 2010

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Tammy Strobel runs the highly successful simple-living blog Rowdy Kittens – Social Change through Simple Living.

Her work has recently been featured in both the New York Times and the Today Show on MSNBC.com.

Five years ago, Tammy lived what she called the ‘normal middle class’ suburban lifestyle.

She and her husband were living in a two-bedroom apartment, driving two cars, commuting long distances to work and living well beyond their means.

Realising that there was ‘too much stuff and too much stress’ in her life she decided to reassess her values and priorities.  As a result, she decided to quit her job, rid her life of debt and clutter and strike out on a new minimalist path, becoming both happier and, in her own words ‘psychologically lighter’ in the process.

Tammy has just published an inspirational new e-book called Smalltopia: A Practical Guide to Working for Yourself.

Last week, I was lucky enough to interview Tammy about her new book and how her philosophy could inspire Rainy Day Wonder readers to realise their dream of escaping the rat race.

So, without further ado, here it is!

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Andrew: Can you briefly describe what a Smalltopia is to the Rainy Day Wonder Readers?

Tammy: Smalltopia is a practical guide to working for yourself. The guide reviews tips, tools, and strategies that will help folks leave a traditional 9-5 job and create personal freedom through a very small business. The guide is broken up into three sections: Smalltopia Philosophy, Smalltopia Essentials, and Smalltopia Case Studies.

The part I’m most excited about is the case study section. It features stories from more than a dozen folks that run the gamut of experience. From those who are just getting ready to break up with their day job, to crazy successful small business owners. The list of rockstar contributors include: Leo Babauta, Chris Guillebeau, Jessica Reeder, Chris O’Byrne, Russ Roca, Laura Crawford, Karol Gajda, Chloe Adeline, Victoria Vargas, Karen Yaeger, Jules Clancy, Heather Levin, Matt Cheuvront, Tyler Tervooren and Everett Bogue.

Andrew: Imagine I’m a typical reader of Rainy Day Wonder, why would I want to create a Smalltopia?

Tammy: Creating a Smalltopia will give you the freedom to pursue your dreams and the ability to live life on your own terms.

Andrew: You recently quit your job in order to strike out on your own.  Why did you decide that working for other people wasn’t your thing?

Tammy: I’ve been really lucky to work for a number of amazing organizations over the last 10 years. When I left college I started working in the investment management industry and decided to leave that field and start working with victims of crime. Helping people is my passion and that passion wasn’t being fulfilled in the investment world. So, I’ve spent the last 10 years doing everything from counselling victims of crime to public policy advocacy.

However, I was starting to feel burnt out and decided that it was time to make a big career change. Starting my own small business allowed me create a work environment where I had the freedom to set my own schedule and work when I feel creative. And that is very empowering.

Andrew: In Smalltopia you talk about the importance of diversifying your income sources – something that’s also very important to us here at Rainy Day Wonder.  How important is it to have multiple streams of income?

Tammy: I believe having multiple streams of income is essential to financial security. For example, my income streams currently come from freelance writing projects, books sales, consulting, and affiliate sales. For instance, if my freelance writing projects decrease one month, I can easily take on more consulting work.

Like life, the economy is always changing and it’s essential to be able to adapt.

Andrew: How has living a simpler life contributed towards building your successful Smalltopia?

Tammy: Living a simpler lifestyle caused me to rethink ‘normal.’  And that meant rethinking my relationship with work, stuff, and money.  As a result, I’ve been able to take on risks that wouldn’t have been possible in my past life (a life that was filled with too much stuff and debt).

Andrew: What is one action that our readers can take to move towards escaping the rat race and building a Smalltopia of their own?

Tammy: Get out of debt! This is the number 1 key to creating a freedom business. If you have a lot of debt, it’s going to be extremely hard to escape the rat race.

If you have debt here are a few money saving ideas to consider:

1. Sell your car.

2. Stop trying to impress other people.

3. Live within your means.

4. Read Your Money or Your Life.

5. And if you’re struggling ask for help!

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You can check out Tammy’s inspiring new e-book Smalltopia: A Practical Guide to Working for Yourself here.

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If you liked this interview, you might like to know that over the next week or so I’ll also be publishing an exclusive interview with Leo Babauta, creator of the Top 25 blog Zen Habits and author of the seminal book The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life.

Don’t miss out! Remember to subscribe to free RSS or email updates (by clicking on the button at the top of the page) or please send this post on to your friends – especially if they moan about their job a lot …  If you use Twitter or Facebook, ‘retweeting’ or ‘liking’ this would also be a great help – sharing is the only way for me to reach new readers – thanks!

How to Be Insanely Productive by Doing Nothing

October 15, 2010

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Facing the Brick Wall

Have you ever struggled to get going on something?  Ever stared for hours at the vast white emptiness of a blank screen thinking, ‘what on earth am I going to write?’  Or started on some new creative project only to stumble at the first hurdle and spend days going round and round in circles wondering what to do next?

Sound familiar?

Well, the next time you hit this wall just remember that the best thing to do is nothing.

What’s that you say?  I should just lie in bed all day or crash out into front of the TV?  Well, not exactly – what I really mean is that the best strategy is to develop the skill of ‘effortless action.’

Action Without Action

The ancient and beardy Chinese first hit upon the idea more than two thousand years ago when they invented the practice of Wei Wu Wei, literally ‘action without action.’

In his Tao Te Ching, Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu pretty much summed up the idea with the enigmatic phrase:

“The Tao does nothing yet leaves nothing undone.”

To Lao Tzu, effortless action occurs when you stop stressing out about the end result and just focus on the job in hand – the gentle scratch of the pen on paper or the tap of fingers on keyboards.

Wu Wei has also been translated as ‘creative quietude,’ or the art of letting-be – and in this way it’s very similar to the idea of flow that I talked about in my post on 10 foolproof ways to a two hour workday.

The Art of Do Easy

If all this seems a bit vague (and let’s face it, what wouldn’t after 2,000 years), a few other pioneers from the modern age have also mastered the art of doing nothing as a route to being creative.

One notable example is renowned space-cadet/beat-junkie William Burroughs who talked about the technique in his brief essay on the art of Do Easy, where he says:

“’Do easy’ is a way of doing.  It is a way of doing everything you do.  ‘Do easy’ simply means doing whatever you do in the easiest most relaxed way you can manage which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance in DE.”

It’s also summed up in this short Gus Van Sant film:

So, for all you people stressing out about what to write in your next blog post or even about what to cook for your next meal, just remember that the secret actually resides in just letting go and doing what you enjoy.

For two bang up to date takes on this ancient art, particularly on how to use it to find your niche and start making money out of what you enjoy doing, take a look at the brilliant The Power of Enjoyment by John Anyasor and the Zero Hour Work Week by Jonathan Mead.

A Peaceful Easy Feeling

I’ll leave you with perhaps the best modern interpretation of effortless action from the guys over at Dudeism, who have created an entire cult around the film The Big Lebowski.  In their spoof Dude De Ching they describe Wu Wei as follows:

“The dude does not act, yet leaves nothing undone.

Not greedy

All the Dude ever wanted was his rug back.

And to take it easy, man.

Listen, you might learn something:

A peaceful easy feeling.

It’s down there somewhere.

Let me take another look.”

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If you like what you’ve read here, remember to subscribe to free RSS or email updates (by clicking on the button at the top of the page) or please send this post on to your friends – especially if they moan about their job a lot …  If you use Twitter or Facebook, ‘retweeting’ or ‘liking’ this would also be a great help – sharing is the only way for me to reach new readers – thanks!

10 Foolproof Ways to a Two Hour Work Day

October 13, 2010

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One of the main benefits of quitting the rat race and starting to work independently is freeing up huge amounts of your time to do all the things you never got around to.  Things like writing your first novel, or taking a long meandering walk on a sunny afternoon or just enjoying watching your kids playing.

The only problem is that, for many of us, the moment we finally take the plunge and escape the 9 to 5 grind, we find it difficult to adapt to a different way of life and a changed working pattern.  We have become so conditioned to the necessity of being chained to a desk for eight hours that the idea of working for just four, three, or even two hours a day seems alien.

That’s why your first task as a fully signed-up freedom-seeker is to abandon outmoded notions of the ‘typical’ work day and strike out for a fresh new way of doing things – one where you work on the projects you love when and where you want.  Personally, I like to spend two or three hours writing in the morning before slamming the laptop shut and taking a long leisurely lunch.  The rest of my day is then free to spend exactly as I wish.

Some of you might choose to stay in bed all day and start work as the sun goes down.  That’s just the point – once you quit the rat race you become a master of your own time, free to construct your daily schedule according to your own whims.

Whatever pattern you decide on, here are ten valuable ways that you can start moving towards your dream work day right now.

1. Check email once a day

This is rule number one.  We’ve all done it, some days even I still can’t stop myself – but if you want to achieve a two hour work day, the first thing you need to do is stop checking your email twice every five minutes.  Instead of going completely cold turkey, maybe you could start by committing to opening your inbox three times a day and then quickly cutting that down to just twice.

A good strategy is to set a schedule and stick to it.  I started off by only checking my gmail at noon and then again at 4 o’clock.  This way I freed up the morning to work on the really important things, like writing, and still knew that I could respond to anything important that cropped up.  As time went by, I started checking just once a day.  Believe me, the world didn’t stop.  Once the people you work with get used to the idea that this is the way you do things a lot of the imagined ‘urgency’ of email just fades away.  In fact, it can be quite a liberating experience for others too as they open their eyes to a new more relaxed way of working.

2. Keep ‘em brief!

Another vital point is to keep the length of the emails you do send to a bare minimum.  Banish the temptation to write a thesis in response to a simple question or request for information.

3. Set a value on your time – and stick to it

A key strategy for drastically reducing your work time is to remember the 80/20 rule, which states that for many events roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  When applied to your own work time this means that 80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients.

So, if you’re determined to drive down work hours, your first step is to produce a simple list of all your ‘money-making’ projects alongside the total time spent and the total money earned.  This will allow you to calculate exactly how much you earn on each project for every hour or day that you work on it.   The chances are that some projects will tend to make vastly more money per hour than others.

The next task is to simply stop working on the projects at the wrong end of the list.  Be ruthless, and eventually you should end up with a core group of activities that between them bring in the bulk of the moolah – this should give you a fair indication of the true value of your time.  Now whenever you take on another project all you have to do is make sure that you stand to earn at least as much, preferably more than, these ‘top payers.’  Over time this strategy will result in you working less hours for more money.

Remember though, this doesn’t have to mean that you have to give up working on something that you genuinely love doing – monetary rewards are much less important here.  Instead, I’m talking about eradicating the time spent on things that you don’t much like doing that don’t earn much either – simply put, these are just a waste of time.  I say ditch then and never look back.

4. Say goodbye to useless meetings

When I first began working full-time I sometimes used to look forward to a meeting simply because it broke up the tedium of being chained to the desk all day.  But then, as the years wore on, I grew to know meetings for what they really are, a pointless and time consuming vanity.  Sure, you need to meet up with people from time to time to discuss projects – and there’s no beating the value of talking to someone face to face, but does it always have to be so damned formal?  What with all the agendas and minutes and (yawn) introductions, most meetings take up the best part of a day’s work just setting up.

Instead, as Colin Wright says in his inspiring book Networking Awesomely, we need to turn our back on the dry dusty world of the business meeting and work towards cultivating ‘much stronger bonds, better social habits, a more fulfilling approach to life and a more valuable network.’  Another great read on saying goodbye to the bonds of traditional work-practices is Cloud Living by Glen Allsopp.

Alternatively, just abandon the idea of ‘traditional’ meetings altogether – if you really need to have a proper chat with someone what’s wrong with the pub anyway?

5. Don’t answer the phone

You know as well as I do that, if you’re not careful, just one call on your cell phone can end up lasting at least half an hour – that’s a full quarter of your ideal working day!  On just one call!

This is a difficult one but, believe me, 99% of your calls are non-urgent.  Remember, the ultimate aim is to hammer down your work time to just two hours or less per day – do you really think the outside world can’t wait that long?

6. Go with the flow

Have you ever experienced that feeling when you’re totally immersed in the act of creation – when you’re totally ‘in the zone’ and completely unaware of time passing or things happening around you?  Well, it’s called flow and, if you plan on quitting the rat race, it’s one of the most important traits to nurture.

First coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, (a mouthful I know, but he himself jokingly adopts the phonetic ‘chicks sent me high’) flow is the name given to a mental state where people become ‘fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of an activity.’  When in a state of flow you become ‘positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.’  The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.

Sound good?  Even better, it’s a sure-fire way to enjoy yourself while simultaneously increasing your productivity … and reducing your work hours in the process.

So how do you achieve a state of flow?  Well the best way will be down to each individual.  Kids tend to get there almost instinctively when playing and perhaps that’s the key – treat the work you enjoy as a kind of play and it’ll stop even feeling like work at all.

One of the best books I’ve ever seen on this subject is Leo Babauta’s brand new eBook Focus – A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction.

Another good strategy to increase flow is to adopt the pomodoro technique.  Personally, I don’t tend to work well with this sort of thing, but for people really struggling to achieve a state of flow it can prove to be a pretty powerful method.

7. Stop reading the news

I’m sure you know the feeling – you’ve just settled at your desk, or in your garden (or wherever else you plan on working today) fully intending to get cracking on the latest project but, before you start, it’s time to take just a little peek at The Guardian or The New York Times … and before you know it you’ve spent more than an hour filling your mind with news of events that depress you and that you are in no position whatsoever to influence.

No, better to start shaping your own world rather than reading some editor’s second-hand and reduced version of what constitutes the ‘issues of the day.’

Like the rest of us, I browse through a newspaper every now and then but try to keep it to an absolute minimum.  Some people even advocate a total media blackout for a set period as an antidote to stress and anxiety.

Way back in the Nineteenth Century, Thoreau saw newspapers for what they really are when he said:

“I have no time to read newspapers.  If you chance to live and move and have your being in that thin stratum in which the events which make the news transpire, thinner than the paper on which it is printed, then those things will fill the world for you; but if you soar above or dive below that plane, you cannot remember nor be reminded of them.”

Well Henry, I’m with you on that one.

8. Set a strict limit on social networking

Social networks can be the ultimate time-sink.  Some people I know are signed up to more than ten of them and counting.  Sometimes, they’ve even been known to spend an entire work day doing nothing more than digging, stumbling and tweeting – that’s plain mad!

If you’re stuck in the social network vortex and don’t know how to get out here’s what to do:

  1. Slash the number of social networking sites you subscribe to.  I’d advise sticking with just two or three (maybe twitter, facebook and perhaps one other);
  2. Reduce the number of people you follow on each network down to a manageable number.  Remember Dunbar’s law, which states that it’s impossible to maintain a stable social relationship with more than around 150 people;
  3. Never spend more than around half an hour on social networking sites each day.
  4. Read up on strategies to maximize the benefits of the time you spend social networks.  One of the best I’ve ever read on the subject is Tribes by Seth Godin.

9. Do your chores

One of the simplest strategies I ever hit upon for drastically reducing my work day was to make sure that I’d dealt with all of my daily household and administrative tasks before I even sat down to write.  Nothing’s more guaranteed to prevent you getting into a creative frame of mind than the nagging feeling that you need to pay your electricity bill or wash the dishes.  For all the simple chores, the best thing is to batch them all together into a half hour or so and just work your way through each one as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If the chore is a little longer, say something like filing your tax return, the thing to do is divide it up into a series of smaller tasks, set a schedule for completing each task, and write it down.  You’re now free to start working without all the background chatter.

Remember, the ultimate aim is to free your mind from all the pointless clutter of everyday life so that you can concentrate on the things that really matter.

10. Turn the ‘to-do’ list on its head

Another powerful way to revolutionize your work schedule is to turn the ancient practice of writing a ‘to-do’ list on its head.  As Everett Bogue, author of inspiring book The Art of Minimalism says, we need to start creating ‘not to-do’ lists.  This is a simple and effective way of banishing the unimportant from your life once and for all.

Bogue’s strategy is to create a list of the four or five things that are most important in your life (he chooses, reading, writing, cooking and yoga) and working to stop doing all those activities which are not directly related to them.  In this way you start to focus you attention much more effectively on the things that really matter most to you, (like quitting the rat race) and free up much more time to spend doing them.  Another great book that I’ve read on this strategy recently is Leo Babauta’s The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life.

Hopefully, by the time you’ve implemented each of these simple tips you’ll be well on your way to a two-hour work day or, who knows, you might even get as effective as Tim Ferris and whittle it down to a Four Hour Work Week!

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Say Goodbye to the Monday Morning Meltdown

October 7, 2010

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Working for the rat race, you know you’re wasting your time.” The Specials

Picture the scene.  It’s a rainy Monday morning and you’ve just dragged yourself out of a warm bed to sit in the kitchen listening to some airhead radio DJ talking mindless gibberish.  You traipse gloomily to your car, turn on the engine and drive off … and join a mile-long tailback of cars full of more gloomy people wishing they were somewhere, anywhere, else.

You get to the office, fire up your computer and stare sullenly at the screen before settling in for eight hours of listless web-surfing and checking-up on your facebook account, broken up by the odd meeting full of bored-looking people in an airless room.

Never mind, you think, only five more days and I’ll be free.  But then, before you know it, it’s Monday again, and you’re back in that office staring at the same old screen.  Never mind, you think, only fifty more weeks and I’ll be ready for two weeks sipping margaritas in some poolside bar.  But then, (oh so soon!) you’re back in that same airless meeting room, with the same bored-looking people.

Only now you’re a year older.

Sound familiar?  Well you’re not alone.  All across the world, millions of people just like you face the same drudgery every single day.  Millions of people resigned to a lifetime chasing the corporate dollar in the vague pursuit of some marketing man’s wet dream of the ‘good life.’  You know, the one you see on the TV every day, where beautiful skinny people sit around in air-conditioned mansions or drive flash hundred thousand dollar cars around empty city streets – the same ‘good life’ that can be yours too, if you could just get that promotion, or just put in a little more overtime or, heck, maybe if you just signed up for that shiny new credit card or…

Stop right there.  There’s another way – one that you can take right now.  I’d like to help show you how.

Embrace your freedom – before it’s too late

I used to be that office drone.  Believe me, I served my time chained to that dead wood desk.  Devoted hour after hour and year after year to the endless monotony.  Until one day I turned off the computer, stood up and calmly walked out of the office – never to return.

It was the best thing I ever did.

Believe me, the world doesn’t stop the moment you close that door.  In fact, the door opens on a new world of opportunities and freedoms as soon as you make the switch.

Now my kids get to play with a happy dad every day rather than a frazzled irritable one on the weekends.  Now I get to spend a few hours each day planning and cooking my meals from scratch, instead of gulping down some processed gloop at my desk.

So, the next time you try to convince yourself that this won’t be forever, that one day you’ll stand up and tell your boss where to stick his lousy job, ask yourself one question –  do you really want to be stuck in the same old routine repeated on endless loop – until one day you turn around and you’re ready to retire?

Or this time do you want to join the growing band of brave souls prepared to make that leap, prepared to quit the same old routine and embrace a new life of creativity and freedom?  One where you escape the need to be in any particular place at any particular time, where you don’t have to take orders from corporate lifers and, here’s the clincher, where you can make enough money to live comfortably while still having the time to do all those important things you never thought you’d get around to?

Time to go sailing, spend more time with your family, pick up that book you never got around to reading or learn a new musical instrument?  Sounds like a good idea?

Thought so.

So, where do I start?

Every week in this blog I’ll be featuring:

  • Inspirational stories of like-minded people around the world who’ve escaped from the daily grind to embrace a new life of creative freedom.  People like Everett Bogue, who turned his back on the consumerist treadmill to start a new Minimalist Business that allows him to live and work from anywhere in the world.  Or Robert Wringham, who built a new location-independent life for himself that he writes about at the New Escapologist.
  • Concrete strategies that will motivate you to stop just dreaming about jumping ship and start moving towards turning your plans into reality.  Strategies like those suggested by Chris Guillebeau in his awesome Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself or Tammy Strobel in Smalltopia: A Practical Guide to Working for Yourself.
  • Ideas to help you streamline your finances and escape debt – the number one enemy of the freedom-seeker – so that you can devise your escape plan.
  • Brilliant, life-changing books, like The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life by Leo Babauta or How to Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson.

Until then, here are a few thoughts to help you move towards quitting the rat race right now.

Ignore the nay-sayers

I was sat at a party the other day chatting to a few guys when the conversation moved onto, horrors, the ‘economic climate.’

The one thing that really struck me was how completely everyone seemed to have swallowed the gloomy mantra, force-fed to us every day by TV and newspapers, that these are ‘tough times,’ that we’ve got no choice but to ‘tighten our belts’ and ‘tough it out.’

I got to explaining how I’d made a decision to ignore all that media-led whining and hand-wringing, and how I was far, far happier since I decided to quit my job and strike out on my own.

Silence.  Then one guy shifts in his chair and says, with a heavy look on his face, “As far as I see it, in this climate, (there’s that word again), you’d have to be mad to give up a permanent job.”

I sat back in my chair.  Maybe he’s right I thought, maybe this is just the way things are and you’ve just got to get on with it right?

Wrong.

In fact, now is the best time ever for switching off that computer and calmly walking out of the office never to return.  Here’s why –

Multiple income-streams are better than one.

Think about it, if you wake up one day and lose that precious ‘permanent job’ where does it leave you?  I’ll tell you, unemployed and keeping an anxious eye on your dwindling savings account (if you’ve got one that is).  Now think what would happen if, instead of relying on one 9 to 5 income source, you made money from doing three, four or five different things.

As well as writing this blog I also pick up the odd consultancy gig and work as a freelance environment journalist for five or six magazines.  If some day one of those clients pulls the plug on me I’ve still got another four or five on my books.  This means that I don’t have to hit the panic button every time I lose a little bit of work.  Instead, I can calmly work towards building up my client list to the previous level.  The main take-home point is that, if you plan things sensibly, working for yourself can be more secure than a full-time job.  If you put your eggs in lots of different baskets you greatly reduce the chances of finding yourself without an income.

Find Your Niche

Since the chances are that you probably haven’t got enough funds to support yourself independently you’ll need to figure out how to earn enough money to meet your needs once you quit.

That’s why if you’re serious about moving towards the free life one of your first tasks is to figure out what you’re good at.  I’m good at writing about green issues and alternative lifestyles but maybe you’ve got a burning passion for guerrilla gardening or vintage fashion?  Perhaps you’re a world expert on manga comics or building home-made telescopes?

Whatever it is, you need to sit down and make a detailed plan of how you can translate that passion into one, or preferably several, money-making schemes – hopefully that’s where this blog can help.  Most importantly, you’ll also need to ensure that the money you make is enough to cover your cost of living.

It might take a while but, when you get there, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that, no matter what happens, you can make money from something that genuinely excites you – that you can turn your back once and for all on the soul-destroying corporate life.  Remember, your ultimate aim is to make a living from something that is so enjoyable it can hardly be called work at all.

Stop Consuming Start Creating

Now that you’ve sailed away from the all the negativity and worked out that one thing you can offer to the world, your next step is to work on a financial escape plan.  More than anything else, going it alone is about cultivating a sense of fun, freedom and creativity in your life – but the reality is that one of the chief barriers preventing many people from quitting their job right now is badly managed finances.

Simply put, if you spend more that you earn you’ll never manage to quit the rat race.  With this in mind, one of the most important things you’ll need to do is (gulp) stop buying so much stuff.

As one wag once put it – ‘if they’ve got what you want then they’ve got you’ – meaning that if you can’t escape the prison of consumer desire you’re tied into devoting much of your precious time and life energy to earning enough money to buy junk.

Sure, it’s nice to have hot running water and somewhere to cook your food, but the plain fact is that, once you get past a certain basic level, things don’t make you happy.  Do you really think signing up to an extortionate contract for the latest smartphone is your path to contentment?  I’d argue not.

Rather, when the cumulative cost of all these monthly payments leaves you afraid to make a change in your life I’d argue that it’s definitely time to break free.

As a first step, if you’re serious about quitting the rat race I’d advise you to give top priority to sorting out your money-health and working to free yourself from debt.  To get you started, two of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject are Adam Baker’s Unautomate Your Finances and Sell Your Crap.  You can also access a host of awesome tips, strategies and other advice at Get Rich Slowly.

Rainy Day Wonder

So there you have it, a whole world of creativity and pleasure lies before you, if you can just stand up and take that vital first step.  Still unconvinced?  Then before I finish, I’d like you to take a few moments to read this passage from Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  As Dan Kieran said when he wrote about the story in inspirational magazine The Idler, ‘If you can read it without shuddering then you’ve made it.  If you can’t there’s still time, there’s always time …

“Old bureaucrat, my companion here present, no man ever opened an escape route for you, and you are not to blame.  You built peace for yourself by blocking up every chink of light, as termites do.  You rolled yourself into your ball of bourgeois security, your routines, the stifling rituals of your provincial existence; you built your humble rampart against winds, tides and stars.  You have no wish to ponder great questions; you had enough trouble suppressing awareness of your human condition.  You do not dwell on a wandering planet, you ask yourself no unanswerable questions; …No man ever grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time.  Now the clay that formed you has dried and hardened, and no man could now awaken in you the dormant musician, the poet or the astronomer who perhaps once dwelt within you.”

It’s time to cut loose.  Join me, quit the rat race today.

If you like what you’ve read here, please sign up for a free RSS or email subscription and send this post on to your friends – especially if they moan about their job a lot …  If you use Twitter or Facebook, ‘retweeting’ or ‘liking’ this would also be a great help – sharing is the only way for me to reach new readers.  See you next time!

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