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Oct 31, 2018

A Bit of Daily Mindfulness: Becoming Your Best Self

Mindfulness Cover

Mindfulness. It's a buzz word, and we're all after it, even if we aren't totally sure what it is. But, the benefits are obvious — the ability to be wholly present, cognizant of where you are and what you’re doing, and not being concerned or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you, seems, well, kinda the whole point of  life, right?

Good news. This is something we are all capable of achieving, and like any craft or skill, we'll become better when we practice daily. Here's how to start:     

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Sep 25, 2018

That Dragon, Debt: How to Give Yourself a Break as You Conquer the Beast

Image: Rudall30/Shutterstock

I am a defeated knight––noble in my essence (or so I feel), but waylaid and shrunken down while fighting a beast that no man could possibly face undaunted. The beast spits fire, inundates me with dust from its mighty, flapping wings, and seems to pull the very ground from underneath me. I cower behind my shield and do what I can to battle the beast back, but at best I can manage a draw in any of our fights. And day by day, the beast gains more ground. Or that's how I feel. The beast is debt. Random sums of money are my outmatched weapons. And despite my lobbing those missiles as hard and direct as I can, I

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Sep 14, 2018

School Supplies: The Essential Tools You Need to Remain a Lifelong Learner

I spent solid twenty-five years of my life in school. It began in kindergarten and I then headed straight from high school into undergrad, a master's degree, and then a Ph.D (I know, I know...) One of the things I truly miss now that I'm no longer an enrolled student is the optimism and excitement that comes with shopping for school supplies. Nerd or not, there is something that is just exciting about having fresh notebooks, new pens and pencils, bags, folders––all the "stuff" of school. Adult life may entail the occasional new notebook, but there isn't a season for it in the Fall where everything is potential, and all the success and mistakes are in the future.

That we don't do this as adults is a shame. Because there is every reason for all of us to be ready for school. The longest project in a any maker's life is the constant, endless craft of oneself. And there is no way to make progress on this project without the proper tools. I think most people dedicated to craft have slid into a life of learning whether consciously or not. And there's no reason not to prepare ourselves with supplies to complete this project well. But, of course, a life of learning is not the same as preparing for a school year. It has a different set of requirements and it calls for some different kinds of supplies. 

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Aug 15, 2018

It's Never Too Late to Learn a New Language, and It's So Completely Worth It

"One does not inhabit a country; one inhabits a language. That is our country, our fatherland –– and no other."    –– Emile Cioran

We're living at a weird time when it comes to the question of learning a new language. On the one hand the world is becoming so globalized, so intercultural, and so communicative, that there has never been a more relevant time to learn Korean or Farsi or Finnish. On the other hand, digital tools for translation––both in written and spoken forms––are becoming so capable and intuitive that language is no longer the high water mark for understanding a culture. 

For centuries of especially European history, learning languages was a crucial part of being an educated and informed person. After all, in a world full of different languages, it was a necessity to be able to communicate. But in a bizarre way, global society has actually made us LESS dependent on learning a foreign language. English has become the internet's lingua franca, and tools like Google translate and other translation software has made navigating multi-lingual spaces easier. And tools like Duolingo give us exactly the amount of language access we need, which seems to be enough Spanish or French or Mandarin for our vacations. Language courses and requirements are disappearing from schools and unless you are born into a family that speaks a language different from the culture around you, its harder and harder to learn.  

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Jun 13, 2018

The Joy of Unpacking your Library

I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. I cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friendly audience. You need not fear any of that. Instead, I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the dust of wood, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood - it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation - which

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May 17, 2018

Put Your Social Life to Work: Join a Voluntary Association

There is a new phenomenon where lonely people have finally found a voice to express their loneliness. And wouldn't you know it - they found it on the internet. Of course, the internet is not the reason we are lonely and it is not the source of loneliness, but it certainly is the vehicle that allows people to talk about how lonely they are. But it is the internet that has turned it into something universal, something memetic. (Though I spare you examples here, the internet abounds with them. You've seen them.)

Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of Atlanta, a voluntary organization of civil rights workers in 1963

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May 10, 2018

It's Time to Clean Your Coffee Station. Here's What to Do.

As anyone who has worked in a high volume coffee establishment will tell you––and I am one of those people––keeping coffee equipment clean is a huge job. And while a professional shop has to maintain its equipment with a daily regimen of daily cleaning, descaling, urnexing and polishing, what I realized when I came home from my coffee shop was that my personal coffee equipment was some of the LEAST attended to items I had in my kitchen. I think for many people, coffee is such a utilitarian part of life, it is easy to lose track of how many brews your machine/grinder/kettle/aeropress may have gone through. And of course, coffee is not

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May 08, 2018

How I Finally Became a Morning Person

Let it be stated, for the record, that I'm naturally a night owl. I hate waking up in the morning.

I'm not one of those people who are wired to pop out of bed, to the tune of that Rossini piece that plays at sunrise in cartoons, with a spring in my step and a grin on my face. (Being a morning person is so out of my orbit that I don't know if that's how early birds actually feel, or if it's just my pre-coffee-grump perception.)

You know what I do love? The feeling of accomplishing so many of the day's to-dos, especially the things that are both short-term urgent and long-term important, and looking up at the clock to realize it's barely lunchtime. I love reaching the end of a work day with the relief that comes with giving the whole day my full effort. I love the feeling of being proactive, which means that, though being an early bird isn't my natural inclination, I love its effects.

So, how did I ditch the hoot owls and start rising to catch the proverbial worm? Read on for some tips that helped me.

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May 04, 2018

What You Need to Know Before Buying a House

Owning your own home has long been considered a big part of the “American Dream”, and there’s a reason for that…it’s a big deal to buy your first (or second) house.  It usually requires months of planning and years of saving money for what is likely the biggest purchase of your life.  In 2014, my wife and I started the process of buying our first house and quickly realized it’s not as easy as looking at houses online, finding a house you love, and getting your offer accepted.

Whether you’re buying your first house or your fourth house; a fixer upper or your dream home; a rental property or weekend getaway house, the steps are almost

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May 02, 2018

How To: Memorize Any Number Using Mnemonics

As if pens and Post-Its weren't enough, the smartphone era has provided a plethora of memory aids. Apps designed to store, sort, and spit out information whenever we want it seem to have rendered redundant the need for a good memory.

But I'm of the mind that tools work best when they augment our skills and strengths, and that when we start to allow machines to fully replace human work, we ourselves begin to atrophy. Since having begun the assembling my memorization toolkit and putting it to use in the last year, I've found that I think more clearly, remember things better, and rely on my physical and digital tools much less. (Not to mention, I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel awesome to perfectly recall a 12-digit number after less than 10 minutes' worth of work.)

We've covered one of those big tools, the memory palace, in a guide here at Man Made DIY. One of the main techniques incorporated in the article, specifically used to memorize numbers, is called the Major System; it's such a powerful in itself that it's worth its own guide. 

So, let's dig in to how you can custom-tailor your own major system to help you remember long strings of numbers!

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Apr 24, 2018

6 Tips for Minimizing Distractions from Your Smartphone

I'm a firm believer that tools are like personal strengths: the user's attitude determines the outcome. You can take a neutral tool and channel it for good or evil; a candlestick can class up a dining room table, or it can kill Professor Plum in the billiard room. Not only that, but the more power a tool holds, the more care you have to take with it. (It's like the main takeaway from Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility.)

The smartphone is a prime example. Sometimes when it's better to leave it off, like we suggested in our article on filling downtime without staring at your phone. But lest you label me a Luddite, let me admit that I use my phone all day: emailing, listening to music (currently: Spotify app, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers), shooting and editing photos, keeping in touch with overseas family on Facebook, professional networking on Instagram and LinkedIn, mobile banking, making note of future ManMadeDIY articles, and so much more.

In fact, I use my phone so much that I need to give myself guidelines to help keep me from staring into it all day. Here are some of those tips.

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Apr 12, 2018

New Years is Bad for Resolutions! Spring is the Season of Getting Your Act Together.

The beginning of the calendar year is a bizarre time to be making resolutions. But still... we do it. Every year. In early January, it has only been winter for a few weeks, and most people have just spent most of that time stuffing themselves with cookies, candies and rich meals. Whatever you may be willing to commit to on January 1 as you look at yourself through holiday goggles that are covered in ham glaze, egg nog and New Year's confetti, has a poor chance of coming to fruition. Despite the holiday, January does not feel much different than December, and it feels a lot like February. For most of us who live in parts of the country

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Mar 26, 2018

How To: Build a Memory Palace to Memorize Virtually Anything

If you've watched the recent four-season BBC Sherlock series, you may recall that the titular character expertly played by Benedict Cumberbatch goes spelunking deep into his "mind palace" for details to solve his cases. The idea of an eidetic memory (the ability to recall information after mere moments of passive exposure to it) is debated, but if you watch carefully, it seems that Holmes constantly, actively stores information in imaginary places in his mind.

This is a tool grounded in reality, it's older than dirt, and you can use it to memorize virtually any set of information, from bank account numbers, to anatomical terms for med school, to Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves.

Let's go diving!

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Mar 22, 2018

The (Still Existing) Power of a Handwritten Letter

When was the last time that you wrote a meaningful handwritten letter to your spouse, parents, siblings or friends?  Do you remember the last time you received a handwritten letter from someone significant in your life?  The odds are, you’re much more likely to remember the answer to the latter of those two questions because it felt like a special occasion.  Ever since the mid-1990s when “you’ve got mail” became a familiar tagline, handwritten letters have fallen by the waste side - being replaced with emails, texts, and tweets.  For so many reasons, putting down the phone and picking up the pen can be substantially more impactful.

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Feb 15, 2018

What to Do During Down Times Instead of Staring at Your Phone

Downtime. Or, in same cases, dead times: waiting rooms, lines, traffic, the moments in between appointments. Those places where you get nowhere quickly, but live in effective purgatory, embracing neither productivity or relaxation. To the overly ambitious (or those suffering from some form of adult ADHD), these are the times that try your soul in that special kind of slow-drip water torture way.

Sure, you could kill your dead time by scrolling through Instagram. You may even decide to do something useful with your phone, like one-liner email replies or clearing out your old voicemail. But what if you want to occasionally limit your exposure to the little blue screen that wasn’t a crucial part of human existence before 2007?

In lieu of time-killers, here are four suggestions for time-fillers that you can perform with absolutely no equipment other than your mind and your body (as well as one that requires a simple piece of string). These are especially helpful if you’re stuck in a situation where you really shouldn’t be using your phone, like stop-and-go traffic.

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Feb 12, 2018

How to: Start a Minimalist Bullet Journal and Get Better at Everything

Search “bullet journal” in Instagram or Pinterest and you’ll see a cornucopia of tricked-out notebooks. The Esteemed Society of Crafters on the Internet has truly created a thing of beauty. But if you’re one of the “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That” (ANGTFT) set, don’t be fooled by the washi tape, calligraphy, and rococo calendar ornaments: a minimalist bullet journal is, hands down, the most efficient and robust planning tool in your productivity kit.

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Jan 17, 2018

As a Grown Man, This Quote Scares Me More than Any Other

It happens. Going about your life, you come across memorable sayings. In movies.. books... pasted on top of inspirational images on your friends Facebook feed. And every once in a while, one of them sticks.

If forced to pick one, I suspect my greatest fear is regret. You know the image: an old man sitting in a chair, thinking back over all the the chances he never took. And that's why this quote hit me. It goes like this:   

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Jan 16, 2018

Fact: Writing Haiku Will Make You a Happier Person. Here's Why.

If you’ve attended elementary school in the last 30 years, you’ve heard of haiku: three-line poems with a 5-7-5 syllable pattern, usually about nature, often cutesy. I’m happy to report that despite some grains of truth, you’re wrong. Haiku is a lean, muscular form of thinking, and the discipline of writing haiku is a rich addition to a full life.

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Jan 05, 2018

17 Things You Should Probably Give Up This Year

The first week of January is often about adding things to our list. "This year, I'm going to do this every day, or execute a hundred of those..." Instead, perhaps 2018 is the year you drop some of the stuff that just isn't serving you well. We have a few ideas.    

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Jan 04, 2018

Use Benjamin Franklin's "13 Virtues" to Help You Be a Better Person in 2018

As far as the truly great characters from U.S. History to which we might look for timeless advice, it's hard to beat Benjamin Franklin. (We still love you, Mark Twain!) Franklin was born into a family of very modest means, but he manage to use his basic education (he stopped going to school at age ten) to become a successful author, scientist, statesman, printer, politician, inventor, humorist, civic activist, diplomat, and $100 dollar bill appearer.

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