I am happy to announce that I have graduated to having a blog on my own domain name. Pleasantly surprised that NinetoDone.com was not taken! You will find this blog at its new and shiny address by clicking here.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I have many ideals, most of which consist of admired habits that I picked up on the road called life. I observe, I like, I try to adapt. The latter only sounds easy to your mom, who always gives you hell for drinking milk out of the carton. What she forgets it that habits have their own control mechanism, and it’s not your rational, conscious self.
A habit can be your best friend or your worst enemy. So how do you train your brain to unconsciously do what you want it to do? Clearly, the trick is to transition your desired behavior from being the product of willful effort into a knee jerk reaction. But how do you do it?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer to this question. I’ve been waging multiple wars with myself for years. I won some, I lost some; but I’m not giving up, because I’ve developed a habit of thinking that anything worth having will never come easily.
Here are some of my recent victories:
Beating the alarm
I realized the true value of this habit when I started my job. Coming to the office early allows me to catch up on the news and remind people of my existence through Twitter. And what would life be without Twitter?
Hitting the gym consistently
I used to be a couch potato and I hated myself for it. I am not like that anymore. The key is to have your workout in your calendar...with a reminder. It still sucks having to carry a gym bag around, but it’s so worth it.
Balancing cookies and salads
I like my cookies. But I also love looking and feeling great. However, I am still trying to figure out a way to trick myself into thinking that celery tastes AWESOME.
Updating my daily planner...daily
I noticed that I get a lot more done when I have my to-do list on paper. But that means that I will have to do more if I write it down. Battle in progress.
Remembering that the Floor of My Room is NOT My Closet
Hmm. But it’s so much easier to find stuff when it’s laid out in front of you!
- Battling caffeine addiction
Even though my list of bad habits is long (this is just the tip of the iceberg), I am still a strong believer in the power of my conscious self. If I can win once, I can certainly win again. It just takes effort and the realization that it will not come overnight. Going to bed thinking that you will start exercising everyday starting tomorrow never works out. Take it easy on yourself – start with jog.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
This post is kind of long, so here is the main point for the most impatient of you: considering just the dollar hourly return of an activity is not enough. Read on to learn how to properly assess the value of an activity.
The Last Straw
I am going to a concert of a Russian artist this weekend. I am going with a friend and the tickets cost $25 each. А few days ago, I logged into the concert hall's website to purchase tickets for the two of us, happily filled in all the fields and proceeded to checkout. The total was $63.50 with a total of $13.50 in service fees!
Um, what?! Are you serious?! I am not being stingy here or anything, but I was completely outraged by this website's (who shall remain nameless as I do not wish to give it the honor of advertisement) fees. So as an indignant consumer and avid advocate of financial responsibility, I made the trip to the concert hall and bought the tickets in person. Hours spent = 1.5. Dollars saved = $12.50 ($1.50 was spent on bus ride).
As I got home, I happily tweeted the news of my accomplishment out into the world. My new Twitter buddy @PaulTran92 quickly calculated that this project earned me $8.33 per hour. Not so great, is it?
Paul's tweet was exactly the impetus I needed to write this long-overdue post. Listen up, people, you have to learn about yourself to learn how much your time is worth.
How People Tend to Think About the Value of Their Time
I encounter people making this mistake all the time. When my dad deals with annoying things like health insurance reimbursements, fixing something around the house, etc. he always says "I have already spent too much of my time on this. My time is worth a lot of money. I could have just paid someone $200 to fix this and made more money in those two hours I just wasted."
This is flawed reasoning. Really, you can only use this reasoning if you are actually getting paid by the hour and you have a project that is just waiting for you to spend your time on that could generate you positive earnings. Then, yes, the trade-off is between the money you generate through cost saving and the money you could be generating by working on the project. Otherwise, you are comparing apples with oranges!
How People Should Think About the Value of Their Time
Let us face it - most of us do not get paid by the hour (neither does my dad). We are salaried employees. Therefore, we simply would not make more money during the time that we spend on time-consuming cost saving projects. So stop thinking of it in that way. That is not reality!
The good news is that you can think of it in the correct way by slightly adjusting the perception of the value of your time. But for this, you have to invest some time in getting to know yourself and learning what you value.
Let us review with a real example:
During my 1.5 hours spent saving $12.50, I spent:
- 15 minutes of it walking around San Francisco. This allowed me to breathe some fresh air and enjoy my "outside time" of the day.
- An hour on the bus, where I read up on a great explanation of the economic crisis by Robert Solow.
- The remaining 15 minutes I spent waiting for a bus. I called my mom, had a quick conversation and assured her that I was alive and well.
Now, I am not going to put monetary value on those things because I am a practical person and assigning dollars to intangibles has no place in my personal financial infrastructure. But what I will point out is that this is the real trade-off you should be considering; the trade-off between what you "earn" by engaging in cost saving and what would ACTUALLY be doing if you were not engaging in it. It is NOT the $8.33 per hour vs. the $30- or $50- or $80 per hour that you have mentally calculated you earn from your yearly salary and anticipated year-end 2009 bonus.
In my case, I got lucky since it was not a trade-off at all because I was able to save $12.50 and do all the things I would have been doing during that time anyway.
- Learn about what is truly valuable for you to spend your time on.
- Be real about the value of trade-off activities on your time. If you are not actually earning an hourly rate, do not make one up based on your salary and then compare that to the hourly rate you "get" by engaging in an activity that results in actual positive earnings (savings = earnings). Those are apples and oranges.
- Only then, weigh the trade-offs and make the right choice between activities. One that you will not regret because you were real about the value of each to you.
P.S. Please note that during that trip I made $8.33 per hour in after-tax earnings. In fact, it really was $10.42 per hour assuming a conservative 20% income tax rate.
Monday, May 4, 2009
A few days ago I wrote about a some of my tips and tricks to overcome my laziness in life. Well, I just came back from a workout, during which I thought of fifteen new ideas for a follow-up post. I forgot thirteen of them of my way back, so here are the remaining two before my brain stops working completely:
- The more I observe the people around me and monitor my own behavior, the more I realize that humans are creatures of habit. It is truly amazing how powerful habit is. Humans can adapt to pretty much anything, so the question for young people is really what they want to adapt to and what they want to make a habit of.
- You are who you spend your time around. That is, you will adopt the spending, eating, drinking, working, etc. habits of the people around you, especially if you are good friends with them. Therefore, you should surround yourself with people whose habits you like and admire because they will almost certainly pass on their habits to you.
- This is a not a third point, but a synthesis and conclusion: if there are people in your life whose habits you do not like and do not want to adapt, you should either limit the time you spend with them or explicitly voice your concerns so that they can curb those habits or behaviors when they are around you. For example, you can say something like this: "I am really trying to save money right now and you are buying $200 leather purses (for guys: cameras), so will you please not parade them around me because that will either make me really jealous and hate you or spend my hard-earned money on something I do not value? Thanks! I love you, girl! Cute shoes!"
The Habit I Adapted
In addition to general laziness, I am also very lazy with working out. Seriously, I hate working out. Exerting any kind of physical pressure with my body is usually very hard for me, so getting ready to go to the gym is a nightmare.
However, I have been adapting to the gym habits of a very good friend of mine, who is also a co-worker. She is gym-crazy and recently told me that she was not always like this. In high school, she felt the same horror towards working out as I do now. However, she persevered with it and made a habit out of working out. And by "made a habit", I mean it became one of her habits that is now hard to shake (how you frame it is important).
So by watching her go to the gym every day after work for two months, I could not help myself but start going to gym. And when I do not want to go (every time), I still do because it is becoming a regular habit. With each after-work gym trip, my brain learns the act of going to the gym and reinforces it as a habit (I just made this neurological process up, but that is how I feel it happen). The more I go, the more likely I am to continue going. Every trip counts.
My Habit That Was Adapted
Monday, April 27, 2009
I am a lazy person. Seriously. I am pretty lazy.The problem is that I am also a high achiever. I am very driven and have become even more driven in the last few years of college. The way I see it, the value of self-awareness is to:
- Figure out my goals – what I value in life, both professionally and personally.
- Become aware of my character flaws that stand in the way of reaching my goals.
- Come up with tricks and fixes to counteract those character flaws.
So I went lightning speed and in my last quarter at Stanford, I took a full graduate unit load, TA-ed a microeconomics course and wrote an undergraduate thesis. Good times.
In January 2009, I suddenly found myself on my first job, sitting in an office for 8 hours a day and performing magic tricks with Excel. I went from being busy with 100% control of my time to being busy with only 30% control of my time. How do you get any of your personal goals or life errands accomplished when you are working nine to done? Here was an opportunity to let my laziness take over.
But I did not let it. And I do not let it every day. I have been putting in operational life rules by which I live so that my laziness does not take over. So what are they?
1. Lunch breaks are not only for eating lunch, but running errands. Whether it is a quick trip to the shoe cobbler, Walgreens, Safeway or a quick call to the bank, doctor's, etc, I make it a rule to run at least one errand or take care of at least one thing during the weekday lunch hour. It does not matter how small it is. It is all about baby steps. Chipping away at my to-do list one errand per lunch makes a huge difference at the end of the week.
2. Why put something off for tomorrow if you can finish it in the next 15 minutes? This one I borrowed from my advisor who quoted my former office mate. If you can write up a quick note, quickly call the bank to take care of an issue, open a Roth IRA, etc. in the next 15 minutes, just do it. Seriously, stop reading and go do it right now (and then come back to finish the post). This rule works well for both work and personal projects.
3. If you are not feeling efficient and feel like you are wasting time, immediately take care of two tasks on your to-do list. Just like inspiration breeds more inspiration, productivity breeds more productivity. The more you accomplish and cross off your to-do list, the more inspiration you will feel to keep going. The 10th task will feel like a breeze and you will not be able to stop yourself from crossing off more and more tasks. Each task will become easier and easier.
4. When you get home at night, clean the room and the kitchen before your brain figures out what you're doing. I usually fly into the apartment, throw my jacket and purse on my bed, run into the kitchen and start furiously doing the dishes. Before I know it, the dishes are done. I'm still pumped up, so I clean up my room, put all my clothes in the closet and take out the trash. The routine takes 20 minutes, but by the time I realize how much cleaning sucks, everything is done! Simple as that.
5. Accomplish at least one thing a day that is just for your own personal development. I call these "personal projects." A personal project can be the smallest thing, such as writing an email that you have been putting off (like the one I wrote to Ramit Sethi last week...it was so funny, but he still blew me off...whatever). It can be a blog post. It can be sewing up a torn piece of clothing (yes, I do sew up my opaque tights...those suckers tear after like one wear and it would be too annoying to throw them away).
The importance of this one project per day is to feel that you are not only your work and that you are taking proactive steps to grow personally outside of it. The most important investment you will make is investing in yourself.
The common thread in all the rules? Be spontaneous, do before you have time to think of all the obstacles and just keep going.
By following these rules for the past three months, I have managed to set up a dynamic spreadsheet tracking all my spending, write some blog posts, connect in person with a few awesome bloggers like Penelope Trunk and Jenny Blake and become a personal finance mini-expert.
Many more projects are in store, but I have forgotten what it is like to be lazy. Because when I get home at night, I cannot wait to work on my personal project of the day.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
- The topic of personal finance is currently one of my biggest interests.
- It was a great opportunity to practice networking.
- I had a very productive week at work, which made me feel confident, which made me want to conquer the world.
Well, I failed. Completely.
In my journey of career self-discovery in the last few months, I have voraciously devoured any career-oriented blogs I could come across. Additionally, as I have been trying to get my finances in order, I attentively read blogs such as Get Rich Slowly, No Debt Plan and I Will Teach You to Be Rich.
I really enjoy Ramit's writing and his raw sense of humor (I had a great couple of days of reading when I discovered Things I Hate. I even went as far as buying Ramit's book, after many of my Twitter followees twot its praises.
Another thought on my mind for a few weeks now has been my desire and readiness to expand my network. I moved to the city and started working in January and only in the last few weeks started feeling my life settling down in a comforting routine. Now all I needed is more people around me who share my passions.
Naturally, when Facebook reminded me of Ramit's book launch in a Union Square bar in San Francisco, I printed out a few of business cards and off I went.
At 7 p.m. sharp, I excitedly pranced into the bar.
Happy Hour was still winding down, so there were a few people there who did not have anything to do with the book launch. I ordered a glass of wine and waited. I was all alone and knew no one there, so I started doing what every Gen Y-er does in a similar situation. I sat down on a bench in the hallway between the bar and the entrance, flipped through a magazine, texted my friend (who was spinning at the gym) about how awkward this is and pretended I was waiting to meet up with someone.
At 7:20, I had made no progress. I saw Ramit walking around, but he looked busy talking to people. Besides, I had absolutely no opening line and anything I could think of sounded too awkward in my head. So I sent for reinforcements.
At 7:45, I met my friend at a bus stop and we decided to return to the battlefield. The bar got fairly busy, so we ordered wine and pretended to be catching up with each other (side note: she works in the same company and on the same floor as I do). We still did not know anyone at the bar, while everyone seemed to know each other. I just could not think of a way to strike up a conversation, nor could I bring myself to do it cold turkey.
At 8 p.m. I gave up and we left.
Total failure. I was not proud of myself. Lessons?
If you are going to a professionally-minded event where you anticipate meeting people, shoot a quick email to someone who you might see there in advance to tell them that you want to chat. That way, when you approach them, it is definitely less awkward (i.e. not "Hi Ramit, remember that time I tweeted you and you tweeted back?").
It is always helpful to bring a friend to such an event. The advantages are numerous. One: it is for some reason easier to strike up a conversation with someone if there is two of you than if there is one. I think it just seems to be less intense. Two (selfish): it does not look as bad when the two of you are monopolizing someone's time as when there is one. You can always fight people off more easily together than by yourself. Three: if you find yourself in between conversations, you can talk to your friend and then you will not look like such a loser.
And finally, be gutsy. Networking is hard, but it is fun to learn. And the best networking experience is when you are genuinely interested in what people tell you. So go do it as much as you can. I know I will be trying.
P.S. Ramit, if you are reading this - your book better teach me how to be rich...
Posted by Irina at 7:00 AM
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
A few weeks back I wrote about how it is each consumer's responsibility to give constructive feedback to companies. It is also each customer's responsibility to demand good customer service from those companies. As an example, I give you a story in which I clawed my way to good customer service.
My purse, along with my wallet, were stolen in August 2008. Both my Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual credit cards were used fraudulently. After I canceled both and filed a claim with both banks, I waited. Wells Fargo (my darling) reimbursed me the money within two weeks. I waited on Washington Mutual...
Then I faxed in an affidavit, a copy of my police report and other supporting documents to Washington Mutual and waited...
Nothing. I faxed it in again. Waited. Nothing. I faxed in again. Waited. Nothing.
In December, I decided to call their customer service. They told me they did not receive my documents, so I faxed them in again. Nothing. The fax machine was not broken, by the way. And so then I started calling them bi-weekly. Great fun. After a few such frequent calls, when they would tell me different things each time (i.e. they do not have my affidavit, they do not have my police report) or just blatantly disconnecting me from the call, I had had enough.
So one evening I was at work at 8 p.m. and I was already pissed off about being there late. And I had spent half an hour waiting for a customer service representative (with annoying not-even-advertisement music playing in the background...I mean, if you are going to make your customers wait, why would you not give them the quiet to work on something else?!!) only to hear that they do not have my document and that I should call back when I send it in. I was fuming, so I finally mustered the courage and desperation to launch an executive email carpet bomb (EECB).
The basic idea of an EECB is to send an email with a plea for help to all the top executives of the company. By this time, Washington Mutual had become Chase. So I went to my favorite consumer blog The Consumerist, looked up Chase's executives email addresses and typed out the angry email. And then I went to Chase's SEC filings and found the names of all VP's and non-executive Directors and typed their email addresses into my Gmail address line.
Now, I am not completely unreasonable and I understand that Chase executives are important. So I took the time to address my letter to each individually (thank God for cut and paste). I wrote an angry email in which I told each man that I had had a very bad customer service experience with his bank, that Wells Fargo is awesome and that I would like Jamie Dimon and gang to "please read over carefully and see to it so that [my issue] gets resolved." I typed out the subject line of "PLEASE HELP" in all Caps, attached a PDF of all supporting documents and went home satisfied.
The next day, three women called me back from Chase Executive Customer Service, gave me their direct extensions and promised to personally follow up on this matter. They were all very nice. Two weeks later, my money was refunded. I am pretty sure that my email never got to any of the executives, but I did get what I want. But even though my money was refunded thanks to the work of very nice women, the bank wasted a lot of my time, so I will be canceling my credit card.
- When companies do not listen to you, which they will most likely not in our bad economy, you have to creatively take matter into your own hands.
- No one (really – no one) will take care of you. You have to take care of yourself.
- You have to act. I sat around doing nothing for half a year because I was too lazy or afraid to act and demand good customer service from a company. Once I acted, I got it.
- Vote on companies with your money. I will be canceling my WaMu/Chase card and transferring those purchases to my Wells Fargo card.
- EECB's are just awesome.
Next up – LabCorp. CEO David King got paid $8.2 million in 2008 (well, a lot of it is in out-of-the money options...but still), so surely they can afford to refund me the money that they grossly overcharged me. But that is a story for another time.