Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to Spend a Thousand Dollars

Monday I finally closed on the deal I thought was falling apart a month ago. Yesterday I picked up my check from the office. Finally, something substantial! The money is going into savings for taxes, into business checking for upcoming expenses, and on the credit card.

Next week, if all goes well, I close on a small deal which will net me a little over $1,000. I should put it on the card and toward business, but I talked to Kat and we're going to pick something from our long list of deferred household projects. Here's where things get tricky. We have a pretty long list, and with money (almost) in hand, it's more difficult to prioritize than I thought it would be.

Right now -- after much discussion -- the top two contenders are a sleeper sofa for the office or a new washer and dryer. We have a futon now in the office for company, and we have a LOT of overnight company. Our bed and breakfast lifestyle is due to living in the lovely city of San Antonio with our families nearby -- Austin, College Station, and near Houston. In fact a a sister and two nieces will be staying with us over Memorial Day weekend. How wonderful to simply pull out the bed and provide a nice mattress for them to sleep on.

BUT, we guesstimate our washer and dryer to be between 30 and 35 years old. They were old when my aunt and uncle got rid of them for spiffier models, and we've had them over 14 years. I'm sure we're committing crimes against the environment by using them, and in the last couple of months they've added a variety of noises to the cacophony they already produce.

Even as I write this, I see the better use of the money is in the washer and dryer. It seems more a need than the sleeper sofa, is something we use more often, and could actually save us money on our utility bill. But we both want the sleeper sofa more, and I know us well enough to know that we don't provide a good brake for the other when we're wanting the same thing. Hmmm. Perhaps we can find some bargains and make this a both/and instead of an either/or.

I have to say, this is the kind of dilemma I like to have.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

How To Make a Habit

My plan was to post much more frequently. Well, best laid plans and all that. Last weekend I took a client out and ended up in a bidding war over a nice, well-priced house. Fortunately my client's offer was accepted, but between the ensuing paperwork and the things I actually had planned for the week, my writing time was shot. But it doesn't have to be that way. I need new habits strong enough to stand up to the curve balls of life!

According to Charles Duhigg in his excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, habits are automatic routines that allow us to navigate daily life without burning our brains out making decisions at every turn. Duhigg ends with a nifty formula for changing a deeply-rooted habit. A key component of his formula is identifying the craving a habit satisfies.

Duhigg gives an example from his own life of going to the break room at work every afternoon to eat a cookie. Wanting to break the cookie habit, he figures out first what he's craving. The sugar? The social time with co-workers? The exercise? It takes trail and error, but he finally realizes that his true craving is socializing. He takes the cue that triggers the routine - the cue being a certain time in the afternoon - and has that cue direct him to a co-worker's desk for a chat instead of to the cookie room. (Couldn't help but wonder how his co-workers appreciated his new habit).

A habit I am working on changing is flipping on the TV when I sit down to eat supper. If I don't have showings, I'm eating most days around 6:00 or 6:30 pm, so it's the local news or House Hunters, respectively. My craving isn't the TV so much as the need to unplug from the stresses of the day, to go into non-thinking zombie mode. The problem is that I don't have a 9 to 5 job. Kat works an afternoon/evening shift, and unless I have an appointment in the morning, I spend the time with her. So 6:00 pm or so is right in the middle of my work day, much too soon to unplug completely. But once the TV is on, it's hard to turn off.

So here is the new habit:

Cues: Time - 6:00ish; Sitting down to eat
New Routine: Sit at table and read while eating (something light that's not a page-turner); wash up dishes; return to desk

The reading should satisfy my craving to unplug - to not think about work for a bit - but shouldn't present as big a temptation to vegetate and not return to work. Once I'm in my office in front of the computer, it's easy to get to the task at hand, and if I do this enough days in a row, then voila! New habit. No more thinking about it or struggling with will power to avoid the TV.

Part of me thinks that I should have the will power to return to my desk regardless of the kind of break I take, but what I tell myself I should be able to do and what I actually DO do are two different things. We'll see how well this approach works.