A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
We all know how to waste time. We get bored, we don't feel like doing anything useful, we get side-tracked, and for a hundred and one other reasons we find ourselves piddling away the minutes, hours, and perhaps even days. Yet, we have a constant nagging conscience that keeps telling us, "Get up, get going, do something!"
In the hectic world that so many of us find ourselves in today, time becomes a precious commodity. Yet, we often go through the day losing some minutes here, some more minutes there, and a wasted hour or two somewhere else. Our electronic world is a champion time waster. Consider the amount of time you spend each day on the following activities:
Checking and pinning on Pinterest.
Posting photos and trivia in various places.
Reading actual mail.
Checking and reading non-work related material like sports scores.
Newspapers and magazines.
Minding someone else's business.
Making excuses for why you never got anything done today.
As is our custom here, making up your own list of time wasters is more productive than reading through mine. You probably have some wonderfully creative ways and means of whiling away the minutes of a day that I have never thought of.
If you haven't actually thought seriously about how you spend the hours in a day, try writing down a log for several days and see just how much time you actually are engaged in productive and useful activities and how much time you are blowing away in the wind. Of course, not all non-productive time is wasted. A few minutes to relax, some time to think about and plan your day and your work, discussing an idea about your job with your co-worker, all of these and many other similar activities are valuable in making progress in your daily activities. What matters is whether you are really getting somewhere, whether you are making progress inch by inch, or whether you are letting the days and hours go by with empty results and lagging progress.
If you think you are wasting too much time on the job, and if you are married and have a family, try changing places with your stay-at-home spouse for two or three days and see how much time you end up wasting during those days and still get everything done that your spouse typically accomplishes during any given day. Then you will feel guilty the next time you pause at the water cooler to dissect last night's sports event or while away the minutes entertaining yourself with your email.
The two classic excuses for not accomplishing anything are the following:
I don't have time.
I don't have money.
So get serious. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Busy people find a way to maximize their use of limited time to get the maximum benefits from each block of time throughout the day. And we all know that we feel better at the end of the day if we leave a short list of big accomplishments behind when we wind down the day and count our blessings.
Task Number 210: Cut out the time wasters. Doing something is more valuable than wasting time. Good luck, and keep going just a bit faster now that you are eliminating time wasters, one by one. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Most of the time we know what we need to do and why we need to do it. Then why is it so hard to start the changes we know we need to make and then keep working on the changes after we get started? If we all knew the answers and the solutions to these dilemmas, we would all be slim and trim, our health would be better, we would be more productive in our work, we would have everything fixed in our homes that needs to be fixed, we would be financially solvent, and we would go merrily on our way, on top of the world.
Unfortunately, we continually fight the enemies of our progress and our firm resolves to do better. We have discussed many of these enemies before, but we will review some of them and add a few new obstacles to the list:
Fear of the unknown.
Lack of self confidence.
Fear of failure.
Lack of focus.
Ignoring warning signs.
Uncertainty about how best to proceed.
Lack of knowledge or "know-how".
Bad advice and wrong information.
Listening to the wrong people.
Doubts that we need to make the change.
Lack of help and support.
Mental and emotional stress.
Pressures to continue current behavior.
Lack of time.
Lack of energy.
Lack of caring.
Addiction to current habits.
Feeling that we know better than those advising us to change.
Lack of money.
Perhaps you can add another dozen or more creative reasons that have kept you locked into a stupor of thought and a sure knowledge that you know what is best no matter what doctors, family, and others are telling you or warning you about. We may reach a stage in our lives where we can successfully ignore any and all advice and information about changes that would lengthen our lives, save us numerous doctor and pharmacy bills, and make our everyday lives more trouble free and happier.
One thing we may want to consider is the idea that we don't have to "go it alone." We can get help. We can seek supporting and clarifying information that outlines the paths we might follow to achieve a long-elusive goal. We can find a buddy, a friend, that we can work with and share exercise and diet information and personal burdens. We can find solace and inspiration in prayer. We can strengthen our lives with hobbies like photography. Our lives can be illuminated and our futures can be made clearer through writing journals and lists. Our boring lives can be made interesting and varied by making small but welcome changes in our routines.
If we remain under a cloud of worry or anger or frustration, our odds of proceeding in any positive ways to acknowledge the need for making changes in our lives and then following through and actually making these changes remain slim or nonexistent. Even a tiny bit of progress, following the rule of one that we continually discuss, can help us turn the corner and can light the way to making our lives happier and healthier.
Task Number 209: Be honest with yourself and consider the kinds of help that you need to fulfill your goals. Then take steps to get the help that you need. You will always be glad that you realized that you may not be a super man or super woman and that you can benefit by other sources of help. Good luck and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Life can be difficult and confusing at times. Having too much stuff around merely adds to the confusion. The solution is simple: Get rid of the stuff you don't need. Ask yourself the following questions about your stuff:
Do I really need this?
How long (days, months, years) has it been since I used this?
How likely is it that I will use this in the next (day, week, month, century)?
Am I too sentimentally attached to this stuff to throw it away?
Name five reasons why it is important to keep this stuff.
Name five reasons why you have never gotten rid of this stuff.
Write down five benefits from getting rid of this stuff.
Where and to whom can I give away this stuff?
How many garbage cans will it take to get rid of the stuff that no one on earth would ever want?
Can I help someone in need by giving away stuff I hate, don't use, haven't ever used (much), and do not intend ever, ever to use again, at least in this life?
Who in my family or among my friends would like keepsakes that would likely get thrown out if something happens to me? (Like if I die, for instance).
You might weep and wail over tossing stuff you haven't paid any attention to for decades, but you'll get over it quickly. When people realize that, after all, they didn't need a "dream home" with 27 bedrooms and 15 bathrooms and begin to downsize after Esmerelda and Junior finally moved out, the last of umpteen kids who populated your mansion heretofore, the first thing people have to do is get rid of most of their stuff. However traumatic that selling your house where you have 10 doorposts with the growth marks of 10 kids still marked on them turns out to be, I can promise you from experience and from talking to countless other people who have downsized that you will never miss your dream home or your stuff.
Here is the main advantage of getting rid of stuff: Life is simplified. Life is less complicated. You have less stuff to replace, wear out, fix, and insure. Your new house is easier to navigate in. You no longer have to be a professional heavy-duty janitor to keep thousands of square feet of unused space dusted, vacuumed, cleaned, and scrubbed in case someone comes to visit and would leave commenting about your dirty house. Plus you may not have room in case one, two, or three of your kids decide it would be cheaper to move back in with mom and dad for several years while they get their feet on the ground, so to speak.
While you are busy decluttering your house, you might declutter your mind of excess garbage. For example, here are some things you can toss and get rid of:
Excess worries. Worries are baggage that drag you down. Worries have never accomplished anything. Believe me, I am a veteran worrier and I speak from decades of experience. You can't make progress on achieving any of your goals or making any changes until you stomp out the worries. Substitute good and cheerful thoughts for gloomy and pessimistic thoughts.
Grudges. Grudges keep you locked in neutral. You spend too much time being angry at someone else instead of motivating yourself to actually (split infinitive!) do something about your long overdue plan to achieve a goal.
Habits. Dump all of your worthless habits in the garbage can.
Buying sprees. Avoid the mall. Avoid online infomercials. Avoid Amazon. You don't need new packages showing up on your doorstep daily, hourly. You don't need any more stuff.
Excuses. Name all of the excuses that have prevented you from losing weight, cutting down on spending, kept you from cleaning up clutter, mired you in difficult family relationships, and chuck each and every feeble and worthless excuse down the disposal, turn on the grinder, and watch them vanish.
There. You could have spent many dollars on a library of books that tell you how to solve all of your problems and declutter your house and brain. Think of the money you have saved just by reading the Curmudgeonly Professor's Task number 208. You haven't added one bit of clutter to your lives and you wouldn't have read past the first two or three paragraphs of any magic book you bought anyway. So set a goal and a time limit to get rid of stuff and enjoy your simplified and clutter-free life. Good luck, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
When we were little, Christmas eve and Christmas morning were among the most exciting and important times of the year. Our minds were full of wishes and impossible dreams. Our hopes always exceeded reality on Christmas morning but, nonetheless, we were always thrilled with the magic of Christmas stockings and whatever meager presents our parents were able to sacrifice to provide for us. One Christmas Santa forgot to come because Monkey Ward did not send a small package on time with Ezra, our faithful mailman. We children sat on the low barn roof and daily watched for Ezra to come up the road and deliver Santa's tardy gifts. Finally, Ezra delivered a small brown package that Santa had neglected to bring on Christmas eve.
Many of our wishes and hopes and dreams focus on acquiring stuff. People in small houses long for big houses. People with families dream of million dollar mansions with private bedrooms and private bathrooms for each precious child, overlooking the fact that children are soon gone from home. Once the dream home becomes reality, people look around the neighborhood and realize that they need a boat and some recreational vehicles to keep up with the Jones's.
Some women are unhappy unless they have an unlimited quantity of shoes and other items of clothing. Shopping for furniture is an endless challenge as styles and preferences change and the constant cycle of throwing out the old and replacing it with the new becomes a major preoccupation. Kitchen styles change and formica is replaced with granite and granite with cork and who knows what the next counter top requirement will be. Many of today's children are not happy unless they have every available toy they have seen advertised and every gadget that any of their friends have. The futility of giving kids more stuff was well illustrated one Christmas when our grandkids spent most of the day playing in a big cardboard box they put in the driveway.
Having a big house and a lot of stuff imposes a lot of financial burdens. Insurance, repairs, replacements, housekeeping, mortgage payments, protection, utilities, and countless unforeseen emergencies and unexpected expenses and time-consuming care taking responsibilities never seem to quit showing up. Many of today's Christmas toys and gifts end up in the broken and discard pile as children tire of them, break them, and move on to the next fad and must-have-toy or gadget.
The more stuff we have, the more stuff we must take care of. We have to find a place to put it. We have to throw it away when we no longer need it or realize we never needed it in the first place. We have to pay for all of the stuff we accumulate. Stuff can quickly become litter, and litter can clog our lives, frustrate our patience, and deplete our bank accounts. Wants are insatiable, according to economic analysis. People are never satisfied with what they have. The grass is always greener. The next new fashion, the next new gadget, the next new computer, the next new kitchen appliance, the next new anything is something we lust after, must absolutely have to make us happy. Or so we think.
The next task is to get rid of stuff. I have a half dozen kitchen appliances in my store room that need to be sent into oblivion. I have a couple of thousand books or so that need to be sorted and disposed of, along with the thousand or more I have already gotten rid of. Exactly how many books can I read at a time? I have another thousand or so ebooks on my iPad.
Gradually we learn, if we did not know at the beginning, that stuff does not make us happy. Stuff may entertain us and fulfill our dreams momentarily, but stuff does not last. Stuff breaks, falls apart, goes out of style, and gets in the way. Things we just absolutely had to have five or ten years ago show up today and we laugh at why we thought we had to have whatever it was that caught our attention at the time. Stuff does not substitute for love, for kindness, for seeking meaningful and important goals that are far more important than the last load of stuff we thought we just had to have to make us happy.
If you brought in a dump truck and hauled away all of the stuff you have never used, all of the stuff that is now in your way, the clutter that clogs and complicates your lives, do you think you would be unhappy to see all of these unnecessary things go out of your lives forever? Meanwhile, I am not sure how long I can resist the temptation to buy an Apple watch. I need just a bit more stuff. Maybe.
Our task today is to evaluate the importance of stuff in our lives. Stuff can be fun. Stuff can provide momentary enjoyment. Stuff can make us feel that we are spending our money on things that we may think are important to us. But stuff can never substitute for the most important things in our lives.
Task Number 207: Evaluate the importance of stuff in your lives. Good luck, weed out your useless stuff, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Great starter corral for new ranch operation. Many early farmers had nothing to work with and so they improvised with every piece of old wood or metal they could find. As the years went by, many early barnyard fixtures were never torn down. Small Utah rural towns abound with old tumble-down barns, broken corral fences, and ages old litter. Apparently people have a sentimental attachment to the past, including all of the junk accumulated over the years. I grew up in the country and learned early that we had to make do with whatever improvisation we could invent for corrals, outbuildings, fences, and barns. Our buildings and facilities may have looked primitive, but they served the purpose.
I told my wife a few weeks ago that I doubted that I could finish out the year and complete 365 tasks on my do list. She said, "I know you can do it." I asked, "How do you know that?" "Because," she said, "One thing leads to another." In other words, the thoughts that permeate writing one task lead to the inspiration for writing another task. Possibly I could run out of thoughts and draw a blank one day when I sit down at my computer to add another task to my 2015 Do List. Perhaps the ideas have run dry, my fingers may be frozen over the keyboard with nothing to say, and I have no words to write. So far, miraculously, that drought has not happened. The reason why I have not run out of words is simple: One thought begets another. The more we think about something, the more fertile our imagination becomes. We start out on a barren road devoid of scenery with one idea and, before we know it, the more we think about this idea, the more ideas and thoughts begin to materialize. The once-barren road becomes adorned with trees and flowers and mountains that symbolize the sprouting of ideas in our minds.
Think about the kinds of initial choices that have a ripple effect in your life. We may think, just this one time won't matter, we can control our appetites and our choices. But maybe we like what we may choose at a moment of time so well that we want to try it a second and a third time and, before we know it, we have adopted an excess and unwanted habit or addiction that we find it difficult to abandon. Or, on the positive side, we may have tried something new that, when repeated, enriches our lives and makes a difference for us.
We all know when we see or experience something that has a positive ripple effect on our lives and consciousness. If we see a small child smile and wave at us at the grocery store, we will soon forget everyone else we saw at the store that day but we will feel a bright moment each time we remember that little child. We never know what experiences we might have or the effects that people we meet each day might have on our own outlook. The other day I noticed a rather ungainly and carelessly dressed woman when she entered the store and I thought, "Oh my goodness." Later I met her in the same aisle where I was looking for something. This same woman made a friendly and cheerful comment and we engaged in a brief back-and-forth conversation. I told her that I was glad to meet at least one cheerful person in the store and she replied, "And isn't it nice to be cheerful?" Now, how long do you think I will remember this encounter in comparison with my encounter with the checker person at the register who had trouble adding one plus one?
The ripple effect works in a negative direction as well as a positive direction. Worries beget worries. I have always been a chronic worrier. I try not to worry, but some times my worries get the best of me, like in the night when I can't sleep for a couple of hours and I can't think of anything else to do except worry. And so I start working my way through my list of worries. Similarly, one submission to a temptation can easily lead to a ripple effect with further repeats of the initial step until we find ourselves mired in another swamp we have to struggle to extricate ourselves from. A word of discouragement, an insult, a bit of criticism, a negative thought: Any of these negative signals and countless others can send a ripple effect through our lives that leaves us feeling downtrodden and possibly even feeling worthless or hopeless.
The key to understanding the ripple effect appears to be just this: Watch the first step. Be careful in choosing the first step. And look every day for the positive influences, the smiling child, the friendly stranger, the uplifting idea or comment that will send your day into bright sunshine rather than into perpetual gloom. We want the ripple effect to brighten our lives, not darken them.
Task Number 206: Consider the ripple effects of your choices. Good luck, keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
In the study of economics, we separate long-run effects from short-run effects. The important distinction in cost analysis is to separate long-run average cost from short-run average cost. In the short run, some costs, like rent and other contracts, are fixed and we have little choice but to pay them. In the long-run, all costs become variable and we have the freedom to make new choices without being tied to fixed costs in the short run.
Similarly, in our day-to-day decision making and rounds of choices, we may be restricted in the short run by commitments that must be honored, including contracts that may involve freedom of job choice, bills that must be paid, and agreements and promises that may restrict our freedom of choice.
The distinction between freedom of choice in the long run and restrictions of choice in the short run illustrates the importance of doing both short-run and long-run planning. In the short-run, we may feel that we have little room for making new choices or for doing anything different than what we are already doing until we pay off our current round of bills and debts. But there is nothing wrong and a lot to be said for doing a bit of daydreaming about where we want to be five years, ten years, twenty years from now, depending on our age and personal circumstances.
As we think about the future, we may settle on a plan that meets our goals and fulfills our dreams. Too often, people become locked into their short-run fixed commitments and do not take advantage of the challenge of figuring out a better road to take, a different and more enjoyable job, a better place to live and raise their family, and some way to get out of the ruts that they have found ourselves in.
When we think about the changes we need and want to make in our lives, such as weight-loss, training for a better job, more education, or adopting better health-related habits, we often don't take the time or effort to sort out the short-run implications of what we decide to do from the long-run consequences of our choices. We may make short run decisions based on instant gratification. We eat something or do something because we have a difficult time resisting or foregoing a choice that may have negative repercussions as time goes by.
One of the difficulties of staying on track in trying to achieve a goal like weight loss is that we feel that we are not getting anywhere and that achieving our goal is a futile and hopeless waste of time. In these circumstances, making adequate allowance for the length of time that it takes to achieve a goal and having a greater respect for the long-run benefits of perseverance can make the difference between whether we succeed or fail in achieving our objective. If losing weight, for example, was an easy goal to achieve, we would not see obese and overweight people everywhere we go in our daily activities. The winners in achieving a goal are those who stick to their plans and do not give up or quit in the short run. We all know what it feels like to fail. We also know what it feels like to have a sense of accomplishment and self-control after we begin making progress toward achieving what may have seemed like an impossible goal for a long period of time.
In short, we need to take care of the short run if we want to avoid a deep sense of disappointment and failure in the long run. So many things are possible in the long run if we stay with the every day routines in the short run that will get us where we want to go. As we give greater respect to our short-run choices, we never know what new and wonderful opportunities can appear for us in the long run.
Task Number 205: Consider both the short-run and the long-run effects of your choices. Good luck, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
We go through life making countless and continuous choices. We try to make the best possible choice for each set of circumstances. For some choices, we have enough information to help us choose the best option among a variety of alternatives. For other choices, we proceed by trial and error, hoping that we have not made a mistake.
Beginning with our school days, we tried to choose the subjects and courses we wanted to study. Then we made an effort to seek out the best teachers available in the courses we selected. We choose how to spend our leisure time, what kind of physical activity and exercise routine we might follow. We select our friends and these selections can influence our futures. The food and beverage choices we make today determine what our weight will be tomorrow and how healthy we will be.
Then there all the all-important choices: Our dating choices ultimately lead to our choice of a marriage partner. Our choice of colleges and our major in college may determine our life career and the place we will live. The choices we make in spending our money determine our financial solvency and our long-run ability to manage our expenses. Leisure time choices can lead either to productive and enjoyable activities or to dangerous and regrettable choices.
What should I buy? What should I wear? Who should I go out with? What should I major in? What should I eat? Which television program should I watch? Which job offer should I accept? Where do I want to live? When should I repair the roof? When should I see the doctor? How can I find a job? What will happen if I make this choice or if I make an alternative choice?
Some times we have too much information and we drown in multiple facts and alternative choices. In other cases, we make choices too hastily, basing our decisions on hunches and spur-of-the moment choices and then live to regret our carelessness. We may get wrong but well-meaning advice from friends or family. Financial constraints, family pressures, health restrictions, and personal preferences both cloud and enlighten the choices we are continually faced with. Then, too often, we make choices without thinking by following old habits, including our old eating and exercise habits.
Some decisions are life-altering and long-lasting, others are trivial and transient. Yet, we never know when a small change or a new idea that suddenly pops up out of nowhere leads to choices that quickly become significant in our personal lives. The more significant the choice, the more effort is required to make an effective and satisfactory choice.
A large part of the study of economics is based on the study of rational and efficient choices. In other words, economics focuses on making the choices that are most effective in reaching an economic goal such as maximizing profits, increasing consumer satisfaction, making the most effective use of scarce resources, adopting the most effective tax system, and countless other examples in which making the best of something is the goal we are seeking to achieve.
Thus, whether we want to think like an economist or not, one of our most effective strategies to follow when making choices is to ask the question, "Is this the best choice for me?", or "What are the consequences if I make this choice?". We all know the fate that follows when we make hasty and ill-informed choices or when we make a choice based on our hopes and dreams and not on facts and reality. I have made my share of dumb mistakes in my life even though I should have been more careful and applied my knowledge of economic analysis more consistently and more thoroughly.
Task Number 204: Make the best possible choice. Get as much information as you can before you stumble blindly into making an ill-informed choice. Then be prepared to accept the consequences. Good luck, keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.