Using Technology with Intent

I recently spoke at a conference geared toward families, productive time and eternal values. Part of my message was that technology can be a very useful tool when used properly, but can quickly become idle time.

As a tool, I’ve heard of a cell phone being likened to a shovel. When we need a shovel: we get it,  we use it, we put it down. Then we go back to life.

We don’t take the shovel and hold it in one hand while we’re watching tv and eating dinner. We don’t bring it on every walk, run and outing “just in case we need it.” We don’t take it to bed and set it on the pillow next to us all night or hold it up in the air until we fall asleep and drop it on our head.

Phones and social media are very useful tools. Like many of you, I use  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook  to keep up with family, do business and other things.  However, we should use our phones as intended then set them down and get back to life. Instead we let every ping and pong pull our attention away from real life and back to the screen. Social media, games and other websites are designed to gain and keep your attention as long as possible.

It’s not just the risk of making a bad decision online. The much more common issue is that it leads us to make no decisions at all. All idle, no progress.

A few years ago, Youtube was still relying on recommendations on social media, links sent in emails and a home page of “popular” videos to get people to keep watching videos. They realized that it could be much more specific and created something called “Brain” that would use algorithms to recommend videos specific to used.

“Integrating Brain has had an immense impact: more than 70 percent of the time people spend watching videos on the site is now driven by YouTube’s algorithmic recommendations. Each day, YouTube recommends 200 million different videos to users, in 76 languages. And the aggregate time people spend watching videos on YouTube’s home page has grown 20 times larger than what it was three years ago.”

In many ways, we think we are in control when in fact ads, likes, and alerts “cheateth” our time “and leadeth (us) carefully down” the attention tube.

As a followup to my message, here are a few things that can be done with a phone to decrease the likeliness of idle use. While the bigger change comes from a commitment to finding and developing talents and principles, these small steps can be a start.

Manage your Notifications

Take some time to manage which notifications you get on your phone. When in doubt: disable.

On an iPhone these options can be found in Settings -> Notifications. Here are a few recommendations:

  • At a minimum, disable all games and news apps. Your day will go fine without a notification that tells you the traffic level at the Japan fish market.
  • Turn off all notifications for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter except direct messages as those are usually more personal. Also disable the little red notification circles. (As an extra step, take all those social apps and stick them in a folder so they’re not a default tap when you turn on your phone.)
  • Email can be important…sometimes. Turn off the sound notifications for email. I’ve been in conversation with a family member when we hear a ding and like Pavlov’s dog, the phone comes out and now we all know about a 10% coupon to Pottery Barn.

Enable Do Not Disturb

On an iPhone, you can schedule “Do Not Disturb” to turn on every night. Do it. When this is enabled, everything still happens on the phone but you don’t actively see or hear it. For some people, this can be a big step. They’re afraid of emergencies happenings in the middle of the night.

Emergencies may happen but on the other 364 days of the year you’re just hearing random sounds and alerts. Also, you can setup for “Favorite” contacts to ring through and also anyone that calls twice in a 3 minute span. This should cover most emergencies. In the mean time, you get a much better chance at sleeping through the night.

(On a related note: There is almost no good reason that kids or teenagers should need a phone in their room overnight. Buy an alarm clock if you need to. Put all chargers in the parents room where phones can be checked in. It’s not just bad choices this can avoid, but also much better sleep and a safety from the world always being able to connect to them.)

Find a good ad blocker

Phones will allow you to block ads on all websites. You just need to download an app and then enable it in settings. (On an iPhone it’s Settings -> Safari -> Content Blockers.)

I use Purify app though there are a number of good options out there. Firefox offers a free browser that includes a content blocker that can be enabled for the built-in Safari app. In addition to keeping your online time more focused, this will also save on your battery life. Two birds, one blocker.

Filter incoming calls

There are some great tools for filtering out telemarketer and other fraud phone calls. A popular one is Nomorobo which has a low monthly cost. However, if you are an AT&T customer, you have a free option with “Call Protect.” Once installed, these apps will flag potential fraud calls and send them straight to leave a message.

Remember, it’s not just about avoiding the phone call. It also helps you to avoid pulling out the phone at all. So often we’ll see a number we don’t recognize, not answer, but still check all the messages and notifications that we would have otherwise ignored.

Conclusion

These are four very basic and easy steps that you can do on your phone in about 15 minutes. (And these are not just for kids. I highly recommend these four steps for parents too.)

Even though it’s quick to implement, it could save quite a bit of idle time in the future. As usual, I’m happy to give you some pointers if needed. Just send me a message and I’ll get back to you…in time.

Informed Delivery: A sneak peek at incoming USPS mail

A little while ago I read a tweet that talked about USPS mail and it’s ratio of usefulness. It read:

Snail mail is the worst.

99% is spam. A waste of paper, delivery gas, and attention.

1% is IF YOU DIDN’T OPEN THIS YOU WILL GO TO PRISON.

While I’m not sure on the percentages, it did make me laugh.

Did you know you can sign up for a free service from USPS called Informed Delivery and it will scan each of your incoming mail pieces and will email it to you the night before delivery. That way, you know which pieces of mail will be arriving and how quickly you need to head to the mailbox.

If you don’t like emails, there is also an app specifically built for the service. 

To receive the emails, it’s a simple signup on the USPS site. Within a couple days, you’ll start receiving emails. If there are any pieces of email that can’t be scanned, the message will notify you of that as well.

Speaking of “go to prison” letters, did you notice that the screenshot in this post includes a jury summons for Candace? It came the first day we opted-in for the service. It was a slow walk to the mailbox the next day.

Being 100 Percent Responsible

Lynn G Robbins, who was a co-founder of Franklin Covey and now spends his full time in ecclesiastical service, recently gave a speech about being “100 percent responsible” for all parts of your life. He uses examples from scripture and also from his professional career to teach that being responsible “is to recognize ourselves as being the cause for the effects or results of our choices—good or bad.”

In the talk, he provides a list of nineteen things that people say or do when they are trying to avoid responsibility. (He also gives examples of each one.)

  1. Blame others
  2. Rationalize poor behavior
  3. Make excuses
  4. Minimize or Trivialize poor choices
  5. Hiding
  6. Covering up
  7. Flee from responsibility
  8. Abandon responsibility
  9. Deny or lie
  10. Rebel
  11. Complain or murmur
  12. Find fault and get angry
  13. Make demands and entitlements
  14. Doubt, lose hope and give up
  15. Indulge in Self pity
  16. Become indecisive
  17. Procrastinate
  18. Allow fear to rule
  19. Enable others to avoid responsibility

Once he has laid out some of the things to watch for in our life, he explains why it is we turn to this list of items:

If the anti-responsibility list is so dangerous, why do so many people frequently turn to it? Because the natural man is irresponsible by nature, he goes to the list as a defense mechanism to avoid shame and embarrassment, stress and anxiety, and the pain and negative consequences of mistakes and sin. Rather than repent to eliminate guilt, he sedates it with excuses.

I’ve seen some of these tendencies creep into my own life. I plan to do better.

He goes on to tell a story of his time as an executive at Franklin Covey. He mentions two men in charge of shipping items for seminars and how they had been mistake prone for some time in their work. Instead of firing them, he gave them an incentive plan on how they could earn monthly bonus money by being perfect in their shipments.

I enjoyed his management skill as he turns what could have been a poor experience into a real improvement for the lives of his employees. As he talked to them, and listened as they went through the excuses of the “Anti-Responsibility List,” he reminded them over and over again that they “are 100 percent responsible for that shipment’s success. Do you understand?”

The story ended well. After laying out all the ways that they improved, he concluded:

“What these two employees learned is that when they blamed someone else, they were surrendering control of the shipment’s success to ­others—such as the seminar division or the freight company. They learned that excuses keep you from taking control of your life. They learned that it is self-defeating to blame others, make excuses, or justify mistakes—even when you are right! The moment you do any of these self-defeating things, you lose control over the positive outcomes you are seeking in life.”

There is much more in this talk, including some application in his current assignment as a Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

If you’d like to find ways to improve responsibility in your own life, the talk is available free in text, audio and video form here.

A Template for a Simple Budget

How much do you spend a month?

Ok, now what’s the real answer?

Despite all the new technology and services that are available now, most people have no idea what they spend each month. In fact, recent studies show that sixty-one percent of US adults do not monitor their budget.

I think this comes down to lack of knowledge and probably just some fear of seeing what the number might be. There are a lot of finance apps that do a great job, though I think there is something even simpler just to be sure there is no delay.

A simple start to budgeting

I have a suggestion that can be done quick and free for most people.

If you have an iPhone, iPad or Mac than you have access to the spreadsheet app from Apple called Numbers.

Open up the app on any Apple device, scroll down and  and start a new document using the “Simple Budget” template.

When the template opens it will give you a place to put your income called “Money In” and a place for your expenses called “Money Out.”

As seen below, the spreadsheet will start with some default categories and numbers. Delete those numbers and put in your own.

Remember that if you pay a bill yearly (like car registration) to divide that number by twelve and enter it as a monthly expense.

The important step

One of the nice things about Numbers is that it’s easy to share a document with another person. You just need to tap the collaborate button. I think the sharing of this document is key, and something not easily done in apps.

 

If you are married, share it with your spouse and ask them to add any expenses and dollar amounts that they can remember. Once done, consider showing it to your kids for a teaching opportunity.

If you are single, consider sharing it with a friend or relative that you trust. They might be able to add categories that you’ve forgotten, or may even be able to recommend ways to save if they see high numbers.

If you have teenage kids, ask them to fill out the categories on what they think they’ll need in college or living on their own. It’s a great education tool.

Conclusion

I like this exercise because it’s simple and easy. You aren’t signing up for any services or wondering how your data will be sold. It’s just a real way to see where you are at financially, and offers some feedback from someone you trust.

And once you’ve seen the numbers, you might find that it influences your decisions day to day.

The Beauty of Brevity

I am in the middle of my triennial tradition of reading “On Writing Well“, the masterpiece by William Zinsser. I love his bidding for brevity:

Examine every word you put on paper. You’ll find a surprising number that don’t serve any purpose.

It reminds me of the same edict from Winston Churchill in 1940:

To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long.

And his followup document in 1951:

In 1940 I called for brevity. Evidently I must do so again.

I’m not sure if I like his consistency more or his shock that people would drift from his decree after a mere 11 years.

Either way, I approve.

 

A new bridge and an old story

There is a new flyover bridge opening in Las Vegas tomorrow, 12 July 2017. It’s set to open at 10:30AM after a small ceremony. It’s been a large undertaking and is predicted to be the second busiest intersection in the state of Nevada. We’re all looking forward to it, but having it open reminds me of a story.

In high school,  I read in the paper (What? You didn’t read the newspaper every morning before school?) that a new bridge was to open in downtown Las Vegas. It was a big deal because even today it stands as the busiest interchange in Nevada connecting Northbound I-15 to Northbound I-95. It’s the crowning noodle of the Las Vegas Spaghetti bowl.

The newspaper said that it would officially open at 3:15AM.

At 2AM the next morning, I woke my brother who I shared a room with and told him to get dressed. Without asking any questions, he hopped up and within a few minutes we were sliding out the basement window and out the sideyard. We started the truck up without any lights and headed downtown.

It was so early in the morning that it took only 15 minutes to get downtown. When we arrived, the bridge was still barricaded and they were doing some last minute cleanup. We drove in circles up the I-15 then back down Las Vegas Blvd just killing time and trying to time the opening.

After about ten passes, we finally just pulled over to the side of the road and waited. Of course, this was before cell phones so waiting was no easy task.

Finally at 3:30AM, some workers unceremoniously walked over to remove the last barricade blocking the new bridge from use. As soon as it was pulled to the side, we came flying through as the first civilians to use the bridge.

As we drove by, we rolled our window down and hollered “Thanks!” Sure we snuck out in the middle of the night but what can I say? We were well-mannered rebels. In fact, from the maiden bridge crossing we went to breakfast and then straight to seminary.

So from now on, as you exit the I-15 to head to Summerlin and beyond, you can remember that we were the first ones to test that bridge out and be sure it was safe for everyone. You might even call it the Brian Bridge. You don’t have to, but you might.

The Light of Truth

Note: This is a portion of a talk I gave at the Shadow Mountain Stake Conference held June 2017 in Las Vegas, NV.

I’ve learned a lot about mirrors in the last little while.  It’s my sons fault. We were reading a book together about how things work. We got to the part about mirrors and it really caught my attention. I want to share a couple mirror facts with you tonight.

So let’s talk about mirrors and reflect on them.

How was that for a dad joke?

As you know, most mirrors are smooth pieces of glass. One side of the glass is painted with a shiny metal. The smooth glass allows light in and the shiny metal bounces it back giving you a reflection.

But did you know, for instance, that mirrors do not work in the dark. Of course you know you can’t see yourself because it’s dark but it’s not just you. The mirror is off.

Think about that. If you were in a dark room, even with some superpower night goggles that gave you night vision, you would not see a reflection of you in the mirror because there is not light to be returned to you.

That just gets crazier the more I think about it.

One other more mirror lesson I recently read that will become the basis of what I want to talk about this evening.

Continue reading »

The Roaming Lines of Life

 

A friend described this graph as “Poetry, in data.” So much can be told from these six roaming lines. A few observations of my own.
 
1) enjoy your friends while you’re young, but don’t base your self-worth or life choices on them. Few of them will be there in the long run.
 
2) children grow, and eventually go. Remember to enjoy the high part of that appropriately slide-shaped blue line.
 
3) Remember the widows and the widowers. “The faith of widows is legendary in scripture….To the family and friends of widows, God knows of your service and He may judge your works by how well you assist the widow.” – Earl C. Tingey

Two Sides of Red Rock

I’ve been flying for work quite a bit lately. Each time as I return to Las Vegas, I’m happy to see the desert floor stretching out below because I’ll soon be returning to my home and family.

I’m not sure how many different pathways a plane can take to McCarran Airport, but I’ve noticed a few approaches.

I love coming in from the East because you can see Lake Mead and the many directions it reaches out into the desert.

I don’t like coming from the Northeast because usually you have to fly around the city and come in from a different direction. After a long flight, that extra fifteen minutes is like salt in a wound.

This last week, I flew in from a convention in San Jose and we came right near La Madre Mountain and the natural jewel of Las Vegas, Red Rock National Conservation Area.

I took this picture out of my window as we came in on the flight path:

Here was my thought: One side of that mountain is just a…mountain. It looks like all the rest. The other side is a beautiful and endeared natural wonder.

I’m not a geologist, but from what I understand, it was the Keystone Thrust Fault, and it’s movement during the Laramide orogeny period 66 million years ago that roughed up this part of the desert Southwest and exposed the vibrant, and young, red rocks. And now it shows a view like this:

As we continued our descent to the airport runway, I was thinking to myself “This is not unlike people. Sometimes it’s the jarring movement of change that will expose us, set us apart from others, and help us become our most beautiful self.”

We live in a great world. I wonder what is hiding inside each of us.

 

Real World Betterment Results

Just about one year ago, I sold my company. Because I believe in the product, and the future growth, I rolled a lot of the value over into the new company. To be wise, I did take some chips off the table as well.

A dad sleeps better at night when debt is gone, the rainy day account is funded, and you take an opportunity to help others.

When all of those items were checked off, I looked around for a new way to invest wisely.

I have been trading stocks in Robinhood for some time. I enjoy trading stocks, and I still think this is the easiest way to do that, but I needed something more automatic.

I had also been invested in The Lending Club for a few years by this time, but things have been changing there. The defaults are high, and the loans are riskier. I’ve slowly been removing all funds as loans are repaid. It looks like I’m not the only one who has seen those results.

After doing some research, I ended up going with Betterment. The app and service is a robo-investor. You commit money to the service, set your risk levels and goals, and the computer algorithms will do all the work of buying, selling, and holding. In many ways, it’s a modern take on an Index Fund where you ride the whole economy instead of living and dying on specific stocks

I also appreciate the Tax Loss Harvesting, which was useful at tax time this year.

Overall, I highly recommend the service to investors of all level. In addition to general investing, they also offer IRA accounts to save for retirement.

I also created a small investment account for each of my kids. They love to open the app and see how the investment has grown. I have a standing offer to them: for every dollar they invest, I will match it. It’s been a fun lesson in patience and waiting.

At the time I started with Betterment, I wondered about real world results. I wasn’t able to find much out there so I thought I’d chronicle my own experience here each year to help others.

Dark Blue is investment total, Light Blue is total value with earnings

April 2017 (One year): Earnings Percentage 12.2%

November 2017 (1.5 years): Earnings Percentage 17.4%