Category Archives: Lists

The Podcast Post

“Sounds boring.”
“Like the news?”
“I’ll just listen to music.”

These are just a few of the responses that I’ve gotten when I’ve mentioned that I listen to podcasts, or encouraged others to do so. For those of you out of the loop, a podcast by definition is “a multimedia digital file made available on the Internet for downloading to a portable media player, computer, etc..” Perhaps this boring definition is the very reason people avoid them. Among non-listeners, I’ve noticed some pretty major misconceptions about these audio gems! For one, they don’t have to be boring. There are so many different types of podcasts that I’m confident every single person could find one that engages and interests them. They are also not all news-related (though of course, some are). I actually do get most of my news fix from my podcasts, but they certainly don’t have to serve that purpose for everyone. I usually listen to my podcasts when I’m in the car or walking for a while (time that would otherwise be totally unproductive), and they’re perfect for just that. Think about all of the time you spend in your car each week. If you were enjoying a podcast or listening to an audiobook, think of how much more you could take away from that experience. I look forward to my commute every day because of the way I spend it. I’ve heard some of the most thought-provoking stories of my life on “This American Life,” laughed with “Wait… Wait… Don’t Tell Me,” and learned to understand the global economic crisis (in a fun way) with “NPR’s Planet Money.”  I highly recommend to any non-listeners, take a moment and think about when you are on the move and least productive, perhaps even bored. Now fill that time with one of the following podcasts (all available on iTunes) that I highly recommend. You’ll never look at travel time the same way again.

 

This American Life
Genre: Radio journalism.
Quote from website:
“So usually we just say what we’re not. We’re not a news show or a talk show or a call-in show. We’re not really formatted like other radio shows at all. Instead, we do these stories that are like movies for radio. There are people in dramatic situations. Things happen to them. There are funny moments and emotional moments and—hopefully—moments where the people in the story say interesting, surprising things about it all. It has to be surprising. It has to be fun.”
Why I listen: I’ve shared many moments with this show over the past three years, during which I’ve been a devout listener. I’ve learned a surprising amount of useful information, heard countless tales and true stories that have taught me lessons and some that have changed my perspective. This is my favorite podcast by far and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

The Moth
Genre: True Stories Told Live
Quote from website:
“Moth shows are renowned for the great range of human experience they showcase. Each show starts with a theme, and the storytellers explore it, often in unexpected ways. Since each story is true and every voice authentic, the shows dance between documentary and theater, creating a unique, intimate, and often enlightening experience for the audience.”
Why I listen: People have amazing stories tell. Period. If you don’t have the courage to make conversation with others about their lives, attend a Moth event or listen to the podcast, it may inspire you to start doing just that.

Stuff You Should Know
Genre: Informational
Quote from Wikipedia:
“The podcast, released every Tuesday and Thursday, educates listeners on a wide variety of topics, often using popular culture as a reference giving the podcast comedic value … The podcast covers a variety of odd questions and topics, like How Twinkies Work, Do Zombies Exist?, How Tickling works, and How Albert Einstein’s Brain Worked.”
Why I listen: Josh and Chuck are the funniest pair in the podcast world, as far as I’m concerned. They take you through the most mundane and obscure parts of our world, and make you laugh along the way. Before long you’ll find yourself pulling out random facts about everything mid-conversation.

NPR: Planet Money
Genre: Economics (it’s interesting and fun, I promise!)
Quote from website:
“Money makes the world go around, faster and faster every day. On NPR’s Planet Money, you’ll meet high rollers, brainy economists and regular folks — all trying to make sense of our rapidly changing global economy.”
Why I listen: The broadcasters that record and put together this show do a fantastic job at taking a topic that many assume is boring (economics) and making it extremely interesting and relevant to your immediate world and mine. Recent episode topic: Did Katy Perry’s record label make money off of her last year? The answer may surprise you.

Motley Fool Money
Genre: Investing & Finance
Quote from website:
“Discussions of topics related to recent news from Wall Street and Washington, DC that affects investors.”
Why I listen: Though I don’t have an exorbitant amount of money to invest, I like to listen to this podcast because they talk a lot about big corporations and tech companies. Listening has educated me on how good companies run, which ones are good and bad bets, and the way the business world functions.

So… which one will you listen to first?


New Year, New List!


Last year I posted about tools and web-apps that I use to stay productive. Among the list was 101in365.com, which has since changed its name to Accompl.sh and has established itself among the ranks of simple yet popular goal-tracking tools. While I appreciated the prior restriction of 101 goals (no more, no less), the limit has been taken away, leaving hordes of short lists with less creative or inspiring goals. When the rule of 101 was in place, I felt the site really challenged the list-maker to think about and rank the value of their goals, both big and small. The beauty of being forced to create such a long list is that you could set a long-term goal (“pay off student loans”) or a less significant but still important goal (“change my own oil”). Regardless, the website serves whatever purpose the user wants to make of it. My 2011-2012 list expired today (Day 365), and I have just locked my 2012-2013 list. My new list has 101 goals in spirit of the early incarnation of Accompl.sh and consists of goals I did not cross of my last list as well as new ones. Some of the goals I look forward to completing include…

 

14. Reach the 150 mark of IMDb’s Top 250
26. Go to The Moth
37. Finish reading the Millenium Trilogy (shout out to Teacher Girl)
60. Perfect the moonwalk
83. Vote in the 2012 General Election
98. Gain 100 Twitter followers (@eknud, help me get there!)
99. Write at least 24 blog posts

 

In the past 365 days I completed 68/101 goals and had 6 in progress when the list’s period ended today. I feel I accomplished a lot, but I moved all of my uncompleted goals to my new list because they are not to be forgotten! No goal will leave any of my lists until it is completed, no matter how many lists it takes. My goal this year is to complete at least 80 of the 101 goals. I believe this is realistic because in the process of reviewing my first list and making my second, I noticed which goals I tended to overlook. Primarily, I noticed goals which were not as easily defined, measured, or maintained were less likely to be crossed off. For example a goal like “floss every day” is technically a lost cause if I’m rigidly following the list (if I miss one day, I’ll have failed at it). However, if I establish clear minimums, I’m more likely to achieve my goals. For example, writing “Attend church 24 times” instead of “twice a month” allows for more flexibility; if there’s a month I only attend it once, I can make up for it in later months and still complete the goal. Through this and some other realizations, I feel I’ve made a much better list this year than last!

I listed just a few goals above, but there are many more! Check out my full list here. Then make your own and join the Accompl.sh revolution in 2012. Perhaps you’ll actually remember what you want to accomplish (pun intended) this year.


How I Stay Productive (while failing to blog)

About a month ago, in light of the recent rise of the popular GTD (Getting Things Done) movement, I carried out a massive overhaul of how I “get things done.” I’ve been pretty intrigued by the idea of becoming a more productive person ever since I knew I wanted to be in graduate school. I had, over time, become fully-aware that the habits that allowed me to coast as an undergraduate would just cause me to sink in grad school (e.g. cramming, partying, slacking, and the list goes on). I also didn’t want to wait until Day 1 of my program to decide to make changes to my work/play ethics (the balance is important)! I subscribed to and began reading productivity blogs like Zen Habits and LifeHack.org and learned of lots of ways to save time, money, and attention (not only in my work, but other ways as well). The following are a few techniques I’ve used or still do use to spare myself a life of procrastination and poor effort.

Pomodoro Technique – This time-management strategy involves working (really working) in 25-minute increments (called “pomodoros”), with 5-minute breaks after each pomodoro. After 4 pomodoros, you take a longer break (~20 minutes). I’ve found that this has really worked best with projects that I know will take several hours (a long paper, for example). Instead of writing a bit, pacing around, and writing a bit more, this technique adds structure to work. With a schedule like this, I’m more committed to do some hardcore work during those 25 minutes, using each 5-minute break as a motivator. There are several free web apps that are designed to time the various phases of the Pomodoro Technique, my favorite is Tomatoi.st.

To-Do List – I always keep 2 To-Do lists (hey, I never said I was a minimalist). I make the 1st list at the end of every day. Before I head to bed, I write down (on a Post-It note) the three most important things that need to be completed the following day. I carry it with me, and until these three things are done, I don’t even look at my 2nd list. The second list contains tasks that are less urgent or need to be completed over a period of time, and it’s constantly changing . Because it’s always being added to or crossed off, I find that online task managers work best for this type of list (GTasks, Remember the Milk, etc). I make the two lists because it highlights my priorities a bit better; rather than picking out three important things among a list of 15 tasks, the three important ones are the only ones I see until they’re complete. When working on multiple big projects, I find that it helps to use a more versatile task list, like Nirvana.

Long-term Goal Tracking -Every now and then I read or hear of something, and I think “I’d really like to do that one day.” A week later, the thought is lost in the abyss that is my memory (no, seriously, my memory is awful). Luckily, goal-tracking tools like 43things.com allow you to record these goals as you think of them, and you can look back on them to remind yourself of the trip to New Zealand you’re working so hard for, or the skydiving outing. Though I’ve used 43things, I find that because there’s no pressure to complete the goals, I do less to move towards them. For 2011, I made the switch to 101in365.com, which forces you to list 101 goals (however small or large) and gives you 365 days to complete them. Some examples from my list include memorizing a poem, paying off one of my student loans, and changing my own oil (you can see the rest of my list here). The time constraint makes me more excited about pursuing and completing these goals. Number 101 on my list? “Make another 101in365 list.”

Saving Money – While these do not quite help me pay off my loans, every little bit helps.

  • Pay for gas in cash. Gas stations, unless explicitly stating otherwise, often tack several cents onto the price of gas for credit card charges. Around me, the average is +10 cents, but I’ve seen as high as +12-15 cents. So when you complain about gas being $4.20 a gallon as you swipe your credit card, you could actually be paying between $4.30 and $4.35 per gallon. That certainly adds up over time! And don’t be fooled by rewards points, those 50 or so rewards points per tank amount to literally just $0.50 in most rewards programs (even 1% cashback doesn’t balance out the extra that you pay).
  • Use coupons. But only for things you needed anyway. I’ve saved a load of money using coupons properly (for example stacking manufacturer and store coupons). Research some serious coupon strategies (it may be worth it for you). If you’d rather watch couponing in action, turn the TV to TLC, they made a show out of it (“Extreme Couponing”).
  • Downgrade to a cheaper cable package. Nowadays, an internet-enabled computer can get virtually any TV show or movie, and with the right hook-up it can be connected directly to your TV. You’ll have all you need to see your shows, and you’ll never miss the channels you never watched anyway. Additionally, if it results in less TV-watching, well, I don’t need to explain how that’ll help your productivity and save you money.
How do you stay productive?

Tips for a Wealthy Gen-Y Retirement

Your future wealth is in your hands right now!At the tender age of 21, I began saving for retirement. If I was more financially-conscious years earlier, I would have started saving the day I was legally capable of opening an account. Since I began to think about my personal finances I’ve read dozens of articles, blogs, magazines, and books on the subject; I continue to read more every day. Thinking retrospectively, I wish the importance of saving and investing was stressed in my high school days. Though I’ve never been a big spender, at that age I never had a concept of how important growth is to accumulating wealth. Your money cannot simply sit in a savings account and subsequently provide a cushion of money for your later life. Accumulated wealth doesn’t unfold that way. Perhaps a simpler but more important concept that failed to be taught was the idea of compounding. I hope you are all educated on compounding, as I won’t get into details (if you aren’t familiar, check out The Simple Dollar’s explanation). Since opening this account, I have made a financial plan for my future, which I fully intend to accomplish (most likely once I begin a stable career post graduate school). Nevertheless, I’ve begun planning and handling my money to prepare a comfortable retirement (something that is grimly forecasted for Generation Y). If you haven’t begun already, it is never too late (but it definitely helps to start early)! Here are few (basic) tips to get you started:

1. Open a retirement account.

I’ve been amazed to hear how many people entered their 30’s, 40’s, and even 50’s without a dime towards retirement. For 20-somethings, you’re probably hoping that you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in retirement than you are now. If this is the case (although there are exceptions), a Roth IRA is right for you. In a Roth, you contribute after-tax income at your current tax rate, therefore avoiding your higher tax rate in retirement. There are several limitations on income and contributions, so before opening a Roth you should do more research to ensure it is a good fit for you.

Recommended Reading: Comparison Table from www.SavingtoInvest.com

2. Create a Budget.

What is the point of allocating your cash if you don’t know how much you need and for what? If your goal is never to touch your savings, you need to be aware of your living expenses. You should do a thorough assessment of all expenses and create a budget (a much less daunting task than many believe it to be). There are thousands of resources on the web to help you create a realistic budget that will get you on track for financial responsibility. Though budgeting is a regular responsibility, something that needs maintaining, it is a necessary part of your growth as a saver! With a budget, you can set aside enough of your income to cover expenses and any cash you want for pleasure (responsibly, of course). Anything else can be put towards your savings, retirement, or debt. There are various strategies about the order in which to contribute to these entities, and the situation varies for everyone; talk to a knowledgeable individual or a financial planner about what your best options are.

Recommended Reading: Four-Step Budget Template from Life After College

3. Read, read, read. Then adopt a plan a stick with it.

The more you read, the more you’ll be able to cater to your individual financial circumstances. Whether you start following Suze Orman, reading personal finance blogs, or listening to audiobooks, find a resource that you enjoy learning from and can effectively incorporate into your life. There is a wealth of knowledge (pun intended) out there, and the only way to absorb it is to reach out. Hopefully, if you’re like me, you’ll find that taking responsibility for your personal finances can be fun, interesting, and exciting! With time and effort you’ll see your debt (if you’ve got any) shrink, and your net worth grow. Why wait until you’re middle-aged to think about these things? Form your plan now!

Recommended Reading: Free Financial Freedom Blueprint courtesy Gen Y Wealth

These are three very basic jump-starts to your wealth-building. This list could go on and on, but there are plenty of resources out there for you to learn from. This process can be a thrilling one if you choose to make it so. You’ve got the power of your future in your hands, right now!

As there is much left to be said about this journey, please share your additional tips in the comments. We all need to learn from one another!


How to Bomb an Interview (in 3 easy steps)!

I spent the weekend in Buffalo, NY on my 2nd graduate program interview. I am confident it went well, though that is no guarantee of acceptance. After a very positive experience at this program, it got me thinking about my first interview for a grad school (which was just a week before this past one). It also became glaringly obvious how awful I did. This is no exaggeration. It was horrendous. I’m a very personable individual, and I’m also very confident in my ability to communicate my strengths, weaknesses, and any other information about myself. I was wonderful at this; perhaps a bit too wonderful. In retrospect, I spent very little time being friendly (or even smiling for that matter) because I was so preoccupied with portraying myself as a professional and work-oriented person. Following the interview, I realized how little the ‘real’ me actually participated in the conversation. I was interviewing for what I thought they wanted, not who I really was. As I said, this occurred to me shortly after the interview, and became really apparent after my Buffalo interview, during which I was committed to stop this “acting job.”

Regardless of the outcome, I have looked at that first interview as both a wake-up call and a learning experience. I believe it took these mistakes in round one to be successful in round two. But to help those of you out there who would prefer never to make a mistake at all, or perhaps to make the worst mistakes in the books, I present to you three easy steps to bombing your first interview:

1. Don’t even think about smiling.

By not smiling, you communicate to your interviewer that you’re neither friendly nor interested. This is the first, and perhaps one of the most important steps to bombing your interview. Employers want to see a mature yet personable individual. While they often take their power to hire extremely seriously, a program is usually looking for someone with a bit of spunk too. Someone who can smile has an immediate advantage. If you’re looking to bomb, this is an advantage you’re not interested in. So keep your happy thoughts and positive verbalizations to yourself. They won’t do you any good for this cause. [Bonus points for a frown.]

2. Don’t prepare.

The prospect of improvising your way through an interview sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Even if your people-skills are the best in your league, this is another great way to turn an interview into a disaster. If you wanted to ace the interview, you’d do your research on the program or workplace and prepare solid responses to typical questions. But since you’re looking to bomb, use it as an opportunity to work on your acting; pretend you know what the program does, and try even harder to explain why you’re wasting their time.

3. Appear disheveled.

If the company and/or program was worth being a part of, they’d accept you no matter what you dressed or appeared like! Professional attire is for the sucker, right? Wrong. Pat yourself on the back for being a fool (if that’s what you’re going for). Your attempt to stick it to the man will most likely assist in your journey towards the big ‘bomb.’ Employers want to see someone who takes themselves and the interview opportunity seriously. To them, your initial behavior during this interview is a direct reflection of both your attitude about your work and your maturity. By not showering for a week, waking up, throwing on sweats, and hopping in your car to the interview, you’re sure to screw up big time!

Congratulations! You’re well on your way to bombing your interview. The rest will come naturally if you’re foolish enough to follow the first three steps! Good luck, and never forget to stick it to the man (if you want to live in your mother’s basement for the next decade or two)!


How To Become A Millionaire (sort of)!

Million Dollar Club Join J.Money‘s Million Dollar Club, of course! Today I officially announce my membership in the club. The purpose of the club is to create a list of habits and plans you pledge to adopt in the pursuit of your first million. Though with my undergraduate and graduate student loans, I don’t anticipate being worth $1,000,000 any time soon, making a list of goals is always a good way to stay on track. My list is as follows:

1. I will spend less than I earn each year.

2. I will contribute a portion of each paycheck to my IRA, student loans, and savings account before I consider my spending money.

3. I will read more books on personal finance and implement the wealth-building strategies I learn.

4. I will take a few days to consider any purchase that is not a necessity.

5. I will never acquire any credit card debt.

6. I will stick to all of the budgets that I set for myself.

7. I will contribute as much as possible to any employer-matched retirement accounts.

8. I will develop a total financial plan at the beginning of each year.

Given this list, I’ll be using 101in365.com to keep me motivated and working towards my goals (not all of which are financial, but many of which are). While I’m not naïve (I know this list won’t be solely responsible for my first million), I would like to use it to check back every few months to make sure I am maintaining the promises I have made.

So what do you say? Are you ready to make your first million?

What would be on your list?


5 (Actually Useful) Tax Resources

2011 marks the first year I will independently file my taxes. As a college graduate, and gaining ground towards my financial independence every day, it seems appropriate for me to learn the ominous process of filing federal and state taxes for myself. Just days ago, I had no idea where to begin, what I had to do, or how to do it. I received my W-2 recently, and though the information seemed self-explanatory, it didn’t offer any information regarding what to do with it. I felt uninformed and ignorant, as if I had missed out on vital knowledge everyone else seemed to have. This, however, is certainly not the case, especially in my age group. I began to do a lot of research on both federal and state filing processes. I googled, asked more experienced adults, and ultimately accumulated a list of some resources I found to be valuable and informative. Here is a list of five of the most useful tax resources I found and used:

1. IRS Tax Assistance Hotline. (1-800-829-1040).

Believe it or not, the IRS actually makes an attempt to reach out to taxpayers with questions on virtually anything tax-related. This service is completely free, and after a very brief pre-recorded menu, you will actually be transferred to a real person. You may have to wait on hold for 10-15 minutes, but it’s worth the wait if you have several questions to ask. All phone assistants are trained IRS volunteers, and in my experience were very helpful!

2. H&R Block Free 1040EZ Federal Return Filing.

H&R Block is offering FREE filing for anyone with simple tax returns (1040EZ). This includes you if your filing status is Single, you claim no dependents, don’t itemize, have no mortgage, and have an annual income below $100,000. This opportunity is truly a great one if you generally pay a professional to file your return, and you meet the requirements above. Even better, you get to sit down with someone in person, in case that’s something that you’re more comfortable with.

3. Mint.

No doubt, you’ve seen Mint appear on almost every money-management and finance tool list you’ve ever seen. That’s because it is just that good. If you’re comfortable with Mint’s privacy policies and security measures, there’s no doubt it’s one of the best resources on the web. Even now during tax season, Mint has partnered with TurboTax to offer a few helpful widgets. You can estimate your tax refund by entering some basic information. It also allows you the option to file with TurboTax through Mint.

4. TaxHead: Which tax form is right for you?

1040? 1040A? 1040EZ? With three different 1040 forms, and many more to complete, I wasn’t sure which form was best for me! This tool proved useful as I tried to figure out which form was the most suitable for my filing needs. If you’re in the same boat, and filing for the first time this year, be sure to check out this handy tool.

5. Adults/Parents/Family

I am not including this because I lack a fifth resource (trust me, there are plenty more), but because some of the most important information I received while learning about filing came from these people. Many adults have been filing their tax returns for years, possibly decades. Though the process may not seem so transparent to a beginner’s eye, it is usually done like clockwork by older adults. They can possibly serve as the best and most personal guides as you learn about your tax responsibilities, so don’t forget that they’re there!

If you’ve filed on your own before, what tax tools have you used?