Saturday, January 23, 2010

Simple Steps to Stress-Free Productivity



The book this week was Getting Things Done The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen. A great book about how to... well... get things done. Personally, I believe two big portions of professional conduct are organization and producing results. This book will teach you how to change your lifestyle and get enormous results in each of those areas.

This book was incredibly detailed. I would be shocked if someone told me they couldn't get results after reading this because some of the baby-steps the author uses are almost excruciating. But to be fair, that is what it takes with some people to install life changing behavior. Now let's talk about a couple concepts from this book you can implement in your life to make you a better, more professional, and overall, a more promotable individual.

The BIG idea from this book is simple. Write 'stuff' down. Somehow, find a way to transcribe ideas to a device. This device can be a notepad, a cell phone notebook, a PDA, etc. (I have started using a memo pad, you can buy a set of three at Target for $1.97) This idea is so incredibly helpful, yet, I have been battling it for some time. It could be because I was stubborn or that I thought I could do without it. But regardless the reason, I was dead wrong. The brain cannot remember everything you need and at the same time release the information when it is needed. For those of you familiar with computers... The brain processes ideas a computer uses RAM, it's temporary storage. As amazing as the human mind is, it's kind of dumb, as the author points out... when you are at the store looking at the battery section you don't think of the flashlight you have a home with dead batteries. You know that the batteries have been dead, but your mind just doesn't use that memory when it's most effective for you to have it. Your brain will shoot out ideas all day long... "I need to take my dry cleaning"... "I need to get buns at the store"... "I need to take that package to the post office." Those ideas come into your RAM and unless you focus on them until they are done, they will leave you. You can conjure up that idea again, but the time to conjure takes time and depending on the task... unnecessary stress. If you immediately transcribe all the ideas you have as soon as they come in you won't be using up brain space for that task anymore, and you won't have a delay in you day trying to come up with the idea again. It is much more valuable to be thinking about different things than it is to think of different things. Use the power of your brain to make your action plan most effective instead of just sitting around thinking about things to do. It doesn't even matter what the idea is, if you transcribe it you will review it later and weed out the useless. The important part is that all ideas that come in are going out of your brain and onto something reviewable.

I started transcribing ideas earlier this week and have had tremendous results. I can't put an accurate percentage on my increased efficiency. But if I were to ballpark it, I would say I am around 60% more efficient. I know... pretty impressive.

The next step is to review. Weekly you should do a review of your notes and weed out information. If it is something that is not actionable then you can either: discard it, save it for a reference, or but it in a someday/maybe file. If it is actionable then you need to come up with an action plan. Your idea to get your car tuned up becomes actionable by breaking it down. You'll need to look for different mechanics' rates, make a decision, and make an appointment. When things are broken down you have a clear, concise road map. In addition to your weekly review, you will be referring to your transcription device very regularly. As soon as one task gets done you should have another task on there to work on. The time reviewing won't be extensive, just a few seconds here and a few there and maybe 15 to 30 minutes to create action plans for your larger projects. The author defines a project as anything that has more than one step to completion.

When your plan is actionable you have a few solutions for getting it done. Do it, Delegate it, or Defer it. I think each of those is pretty obvious so I am not going to Dr. Seuss this for you. But I will show you a work flow diagram that is used frequently in the book. It should give the big picture of what I'm talking about.




The other part of being stress-free while establishing your new lifestyle to know your limits. Your work flow is like a credit card. If you don't know the balance or limit of a credit card it is easier to be irresponsible. With your work flow you should now know your balance because you should have everything you need to do written down, but your limit is something you will have to decide for yourself. If your plate if full then you need to feel comfortable saying "No" to a new task asked of you. Overloading yourself will cause you to be less productive in the long term because it will weigh you down. But again, this is variable, everybody is going to have a different limit and as you become more effective you will increase your ability to do new task and in essence raise your limit.

There is a lot more to this book than what I have explained here. It goes far more in depth and gives a lot more neat tips on organization and effectively sorting your 'stuff.' I think this book is great for most executives that have information coming and going more than most people out there. Having an effective way to deal with all that information flow help in enormous ways. Lastly, don't be stubborn like me, write things down and review them regularly. You increased efficiency is sure to turn some heads! If you have any questions on the book don't hesitate to ask. I would be more than happy to help anyone that wants it.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Learn to Live Like the Rich and Other Tidbits...


The book of the week was 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. I love this book. I have been waiting for the expanded edition to come out so I could review it for this blog and now here it is. The ideas of this book are anything but traditional. Ferriss gives his readers the map to escape their 9-5 job and live anywhere and do anything. See... Anything but traditional...

There are two paths the reader can potentially go down to reach the aforementioned goal of the book. First, they could come up with a product such as a, herbal supplement, like the author did. After this product is made, you outsource everything. Production, Calls, Marketing, Sales.... Everything! This is done by using outsourced production companies, calling centers, using India-based virtual assistants, and website only sales. Ferriss does a tremendous job of laying out the "how-to," so keep your cynicism at bay until you have done the homework. It's not as crazy as it sounds. The second path the reader can go down is to negotiate a work-from-home career. He shows how most jobs can be done over skype, email, and conceptshare.com. I think that a lot of people think that it is impossible for them, but you may be surprised. After the reader negotiates to work from home, you may try to work from a trip and then before you know it... you are able to take mini-vacations and still work.

The focus of the book was not meant for me. I do not have a traditional 9-5 job and what I do have does not need escaping. But I know a lot of people that do not like their job or someone that is unemployed and would like something different. In that case, the focus of this book is something worth looking into.

The thing I like more than anything about this book is Ferriss has some of the most amazing ideas, not directly related to the main point of the book, that I have been able to incorporate into my life and make myself more efficient and happier. And these are the ideas I really want to focus on today...

Speed Reading- Yes, this is where I learned how. Since I read the "how-to" the first time I have gotten much much faster, but this is the book that gave me the foundation to increase my reading speed and gives me time to do this blog and everything else I have going on. I cannot tell you how advantageous this has been for me. The skills I have learned through the books I have read will be forever transferable.

The trick to speed reading is to think of reading like painting a picture. The mind is incredibly fast and you do not need to look at every single word to paint the picture. Just as when you look at a painting, you don't need to look at every single brush stroke to see what it is. When you read, just focus on every third word and you will naturally use peripheral vision to pick up the words in between. The whole sentence gets read with less eye movement. If you would like more information go to pages 89-90 within the book or Tim Ferriss' blog post on the subject http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/07/30/speed-reading-and-accelerated-learning/

Virtual Assistants- This would be very handy and it's very reasonably priced. You can get your own personal assistant and they will take care of everything you need them to... over in India. Make sure the tasks you give them are clearly defined and time intensive... you are paying for it after all. The rate is normally around $6.50/hr and the more specialized the task the more you will have to pay. What would you have them do? Well off the top of my head:

Make hotel reservations, book plane tickets, find a dealer to get your car fixed, schedule your appointments, screen your emails, pay your bills, chart a diet plan, get weather forecasts from 5 years ago for a specific area (Tim says this was used in a settlement case), send birthday flowers, pay tickets, post job vacancies of the web, or transcribe voice mails and email them to you.

It comes down to the value of your time, I love my time and I think I may get a VA (Virtual Assistant) within the next couple years. A good site to find one to work for you would be https://yourmaninindia.com/ (Hilarious web address)

Traveling- I have used a couple tips laid out in this book and it saved me hundreds of dollars. One tip I learned is when you are looking for a place to stay abroad don't look for hotels or hostels. Instead, look at apartments or houses. The cost of living in a foreign country isn't that much different from what we have in the US (the currency exchange is, but not the cost of living). So sign a month to month lease with a leasing agent and have an apartment overseas for $600-1000 for A MONTH instead of a hotel that would cost $200 A NIGHT or a hostel the would cost $100 A NIGHT.

Another tip that can be applied to your everyday routine is to wake up with a kitchen timer instead of a alarm clock. You can set it for the exact amount of sleep you want (6, 7 ,8 hours) and you get the rest you need and don't waste time. If you start this in your everyday routine then you can experiment with caffeine use and find what is the best practice to get you energized.

When you are looking for the cheapest airfare or hotels use http://www.kayak.com/ It searches a database of travel websites to give you the best rate and you can also opt to search other travel sites at the same time. Also, when purchasing your plane tickets, do it either months before or minutes before. Minutes before is preferred because you can get amazing deals. An empty seat on a plane brings in $0 for the airline, so this is your opportunity to get a great price.

Happiness- In our society it seems that people have a negative connotation with happiness techniques. I think that is ridiculous. Happiness something just as controllable as your personal finance and deserves your time. And if you want some incentive, companies are much more likely to promote a happy person than they are a continuously melancholy person. Ferriss recommends that every morning when you wake up to go for a brisk 30 minute walk and bounce a tennis ball. This will pump your endorphins, making you beam with happiness for the rest of the day.

Ferriss also recommends some helpful emailing habits... Batch your emails and never check them first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Batching them will make you more efficient because you won't be checking them every 20 minutes eating up all your time. I recommend checking them at 10am and 4pm. And also he recommends not checking them first thing when you wake up or last thing before you go to sleep because emails have a potential to give "bad news"... or at least something you have to "deal with." There is no reason to get yourself worked up about these things and potentially lose sleep or set your day off on the wrong foot. Real emergencies rarely happen and if they do, someone will be calling, not emailing.

This book is very good and Tim Ferriss has a lot of great information. He is a great role-model. And he isn't just a writer, he has done a lot with his life and continues to push himself to learn and do new things. He now speaks 6 languages (self-taught), runs a multinational firm wirelessly, he is a Princeton Lecturer, holds a Guinness World Record for the Tango, National Chinese Kickboxing Champion, he is a horseback archer, MTV breakdancer in Taiwan, Hurling Competitor in Ireland, and an Actor on a hit TV series in China and Hong Kong- Human Cargo. I have heard a lot of people be skeptical of this book for the last 2 and half years that it has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list, but I urge you to give it a chance. The thing I like most about this book is that it has so many great take-aways not directly related to the main focus of the book. If you have any questions on the book don't hesitate to ask. I would be more than happy to help anyone that wants it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Make Your Portfolio CRASH PROOF!


The first book for the first full week of 2010 was Crash Proof 2.0 by Peter Schiff. A very awesome book based around the most recent economic crash. Most fascinatingly, the book Crash Proof was written by Peter in 2006, predicting, at that time, the upcoming economic crash. Crash Proof 2.0 was released in 2009 with additions at the end of each chapter for the new threats facing our country's economic condition. Schiff is a very knowledgeable man on all things fiscal and if this book isn't proof (no pun intended) then I don't know what is.

What is going to happen now? Good Question. Well since America, and by America I mean Bernanke, has decided to run the Greenback Printing Press non-stop the country is producing lots and lots of dollars which increases the money supply and ultimately devalues the dollars already in existence. And our Fed has nearly doubled the money supply since 2008. This is sure to cause inflation and lots of it, but it is very hard to pinpoint the catalyst of this impending massive inflation.

I would say there are two major causes that can result in the inflation. One, the shift of our country from manufacturing to service coupled with trillions of dollars of debt to China and other nations. And two, the shear multitude of currency our country is producing on a daily basis that our Fed is unable to account for coupled with the fact we have no longer have a gold backed currency.

Manufacturing to Service

America has transitioned itself into a new country. From the 20th to the 21st century, we have rapidly transformed ourself from a manufacturing society to a service society. When we had manufacturing, we were a country rich in assembly lines and new products. We even had the worlds largest automobile manufacturing city, Detroit. Now, we are all service. We have marketing firms, worldwide restaurant headquarters, retail and more.

Since our country is no longer backed by the value of gold, the value of our currency is ultimately determined by the base value of what we can export to other nations. When we moved from manufacturing to service we lost a lot of our export value.... I picture societies and organizations as pyramids... The top are the CEOs or Presidents and the bottom are the majority of the population as the workforce. Where the base of our country's pyramid used to be cars, equipment, appliances, etc.... Now the base is the service of our working class... burger flippers and stockers. The only problem is that if the dollar's export value is based of the value of the bottom of our pyramid how are we going to trade? (I don't believe there is a large demand for a McDouble "made in the US" over in China) We can't and our dollars are increasingly becoming less valuable.

As the dollar becomes less and less valuable the countries that own all of our debt get wise. They will realize that our money is able to trade for less and less and it is becoming a useless IOU. Their only option is to get rid of them. They will most likely use the trillions of dollars they have and use them to buy what they can within our country. So that means real estate and the products that we still produce. Following the law of supply and demand, if trillions of dollars are cashed in on lots and lots of real estate (since we don't have any laws establishing all US property must be purchased by US residents) and products are bought and less quantity is available for the general population... prices will spike... huge! And we have Humongous Inflation!

A Currency Backed By Nothing

The second potential cause for this massive inflation I would like to discuss is that the US no longer backs its currency with gold. I already have given the history lesson on this but I will recap again real quick with a timeline provided by KWaves.com...

1880-1914 - The US dollar was hard pegged to gold resulting in domestic price stability and virtually no inflation. The financial needs of WW1 ended this.
1915-1925 -In order to "pay" for WW1 countries had to print a lot of paper currency which by necessity mandated a delinking from gold because there wasn't enough gold to support the paper.
1926-1931 - The gold exchange standard was established wherein each country pegged its currency to the US dollar and British pound which were then supposed to be backed by the dollar. When the depression began countries tried to cash in their pounds and dollars for gold. That "run" on gold forced the end of the gold exchange standard.
1931-1945 -Fiat currencies reign worldwide leading to huge economic imbalances from country to country and was of the major contributing factors to the beginning of WW2.
1945-1968 - 1944 Bretton Woods (similar to gold exchange standard of 1926-1931) Two main currencies again, the US dollar and British pound. A run to convert pounds to gold collapsed the pound and began the end of the Bretton woods accord. It took 3 years while governments tried to salvage the system and also to determine what to do next. Kind of like having one leg on the boat and the other on shore. 1963 - New Federal Reserve notes with no promise to pay in "lawful money" was released. No guarantees, no value. This is also the year of the disappearance of the $1 silver certificate. Once again, a subtle shift in plain view.
1973-?- August of 1971 President Nixon ended the international gold standard and for the first time no currency had a gold backing.

As you can see... the US has a currency only worth as much as they say it is... so we are playing pretend. And the pretend value of our currency is decreased when more of that money is made... and the Fed decided to make trillions of new dollars last year alone... and where did that money go? They have no idea. This video speaks louder than anything I could say... it is Alan Grayson asking the Inspector General of the Fed where all the money they created went... and she doesn't know...



What do we do now?

Now that you can see that there is a problem it is time to protect your investments. I can't tell you when this economic collapse is going to happen, but I know it will. And the safest thing to do long term is to get your money into anything but the dollar. The longer our country holds debt with other nations and keeps printing money, the faster we turn our currency into toxic waste. Schiff outlines areas for investing in Crash Proof and I would love to expand on his ideas. He says you should invest in gold, silver and foreign stocks. I also love real estate investing and I will go into that as well. Hold on, this is going to get fun!

Gold and Silver

If you are a regular reader then you know its no secret how much I love precious metal investing. It's a wonderful commodity that hedges inflation and is very undervalued in terms of the dollar currently. More specifically, I love silver investing. I believe that silver is going to jump leaps and bounds in future years for several reasons. Silver is a commodity used for the backing and production of currency in many countries, it has tons of industrial applications: microchips, phones, cameras, etc.) and the mines for silver are becoming less plentiful everyday. Additionally, Silver is only about $17 a troy ounce compared to $1100 for a troy ounce of gold... so it is much easier to get into as a investor without throwing a lot of money into one basket. I recommend going to http://www.apmex.com and buy Silver Eagles so you have a coin that is exactly an ounce and silver content is .999.

I wrote several months ago about Guide to Investing in Gold and Silver by Michael Maloney. Both authors, Maloney and Schiff, use the same techniques to come to their conclusions about the future of American economics. They are both members of the Austrian School, a specific school of economic thought. Other members of the Austrian School of thought include Lew Rockwell, Ludwig Von Mises, and Frank Fetter. I think it's a school of thought within economics that deserves more of my attention and you might just see a post in the future based solely on this subject.

Foreign Stocks

This is a great way to get yourself into a rising market and in two ways. When inflation hits the dollar the foreign stocks will be gaining in their respective currencies, so they will be making money against the dollar and if you have a good enough diversification you should be making money off the rising market too. I like index funds because they require a lot less work and the chances of beating the market longterm with stocks is nearly impossible. Foreign indexes can be purchased from a couple different sites... http://www.Vanguard.com and www.Fidelity.com both offer Foreign index funds with different minimum investments... Most likely around $10k.

Real Estate

My favorite investment... Real estate is a great way to get your money out of the dollar with the use of OPM (Other People's Money) and it's a debt-backed commodity. First, you use OPM through a bank. You put down 10-15% and they put down the rest and then you have your commodity. Meaning, it costs a relatively low amount of money to buy a lot of property. Additionally, you are backed by debt! I know sounds bad, but it's actually really good. The real estate investing I am most interested in is multifamily real estate. You find a property, and if the rents you earn are higher than the mortgage you will pay, expenses, property management, taxes, etc.... then you are making a positive cash flow. The great thing about being backed by debt in this case is that it is "good" debt meaning that you are making more money on the property than the bank is making in interest accumulation. Another huge benefit of being debt-backed is that when the US has huge inflation you will be paying off that mortgage with cheaper dollars. For example, you find a duplex for $300,000 and you put down $50K (for simplicity's sake). You have a $250,000 mortgage. Then when we have a huge amount of inflation, it may cost $10,000 for a loaf of bread because the dollar just isn't worth as much anymore. Well, where a lot of things will increase with inflation, your mortgage will not. That means that it won't cost much to pay off the remainder of your $250,000 mortgage because you will be paying it off in "less expensive dollars." Pretty nice huh?

I don't write these things to scare you, but to inform. There is plenty of time to change your current investing habits. Many people said that Peter Schiff was just preaching doom and gloom back in 2006, but they were clearly wrong. And now, when the same man who foresaw the last crash says that it's going to happen again, only worse... well... let's just say I am not going to be the one to criticize. Peter Schiff is currently running for the CT Senate spot and I hope for the sake of America's fiscal policies that he gets elected.

I recommend this book to anyone curious about what is to come of America's economy. If you have any questions on the book don't hesitate to ask. I would be more than happy to help anyone that wants it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

More on Tax Liens and Foreclosure Deeds...


This week I decided to learn a little more about tax liens and foreclosure deeds. I read the book The Complete Guide to Real Estate Tax Liens and Foreclosure Deeds by Don Sausa. This book in combination with The 16% Solution will give you all the information you will ever need on the subject.

The book is very short and is broken into 7 days, and the book is so short it would only take a slow reader about 4 hours to read it. The flow of chapters is really good. It works through the process from beginning to end, so if you were to use it as a reference it wouldn’t be hard at all to find what you are looking for at all.

The thing I liked most about this book was the shear amount of resources it opened my eyes to. It shows websites to find the liens and deeds and also shows websites that will offer support for selling or research. I even think this book’s resources would be great for the average real estate investor. There isn’t a lot of information that I could convey to you that I didn’t already mention in The 16% Solution blog. Although, if you are interested in tax liens and found they aren’t available in your state, consult this book because it has a full list of the states that offer foreclosure deeds. Minnesota, for example, does not offer liens, but does offer deeds. They are more expensive than liens, but you own the property directly after the sale. No one has to default on their payment for you to come into ownership of property because the state already owns the property and they just want to get rid of it. The deed is just a liability for the state, so they will give you a discounted price to take it off their hands.

Personally, I think that investing in tax liens is something that should just be done as a hobby because the return on investment does not justify the time it takes to go through the whole process. However, it is really fun to search out and go to auction. Foreclosure Deeds, on the other hand, can definitely be worth while. They require much more due diligence, but your return on investment can be incredible. With the current domestic stocks and bonds market many people are looking for alternative investments and if you analyze the current economic climate you realize the dollar is in for a real shock... I'm talking hyperinflation. So looking for alternative investments is a great idea and it's fun to do. Trading in your American Greenbacks for a commodity is a great plan and if you choose real estate as your commodity, more power to you! With the book I will be reading and posting on next week, I will discuss alternative investments for you to trade your dollars for.

As I said, this book would be great for anyone interested in real estate investing. I think it’s very clear and explained in very simple terms. If you have any questions on the book don't hesitate to ask. I would be more than happy to help anyone that wants it.