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Surprise!

Surprise!

my snake surprise

    Yesterday after a reasonably productive morning, I jauntily packed my gym bag, went downstairs to the garage and reached in to hit the garage door opener, started walking to my car and nearly stepped on a three foot long coiled snake.

    I do not like snakes.

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    Cats are better than people, dogs are great, fish are fine. Snakes? Not fine. Definitely not fine in my garage. Definitely, positively, utterly not fine when I practically step on one wearing sandals and shorts. I didn’t know it was possible to jump backward three feet, open a door in mid air slam it and scream bloody murder all at the same time. Now I do.

    Now this is not a post about snakes. I’ve seen all I want of snakes to last me a very long time. It’s about surprise. And how well – or not well – you’re prepared to handle surprise because surprises are things that you don’t get to organize, process, plan, review, add to your master task list and prioritize. They just jump out (or in this case, to be fair, you walk into) at you.

    How prepared are you for both predictable and unpredictable bad surprises? Predictable surprises like earthquakes in California and hurricanes in Florida. Unpredictable bad things like getting mugged on your way to your car, or tripping and breaking your wrist.

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    There’s a long list of web sites for the former (starting with this one), and having a backup paper copy of your identity and at least a passing familiarity with voice recognition (Vista comes with it, and it works) will help you deal with the latter, but above all else dealing with potentially nasty surprises is a mindset, an emergency mode you get into when that first burst of adrenaline hits your nervous system.

    After my close encounter of a reptile kind, I came up with this acronym to remind myself of what to do next time I find myself in a one of life’s little unplanned dramas. JUMP.

    • Jettison your plans and your need to protect possessions. I had my whole rest of the day planned out – a plan that went straight out the garage window when Mr. Snake decided he liked it just fine between me and my car. People sometimes would rather lose their lives than lose their plans – witness the depressingly regular news stories of the person drowned because they just had to drive across that flooded intersection and the water couldn’t possibly be too deep – until it was.

      As for possessions, 99.9999 percent of the time, it’s perfectly right to want to keep what you have – but that .0001 percent of the time like when there’s some punk with a knife in your face is a different story.

    • Are YOU or your loved ones in danger- real, actual danger this exact minute? We live in a world where everything is a priority, a crisis, a danger – from screaming bosses to screaming headlines to no disaster however remote being as close as your TV or PC screen. We are adrenaline junkies looking for our next computer game, sports or political fix. But these are not in the same league as being in a major earthquake or finding yourself face to fang with a possibly venomous reptile in your own home. There is a difference.
    • Move out of danger. It’s just that simple and just that hard. Simple, because while you pondering for a whole second or two the above point, your body went from 0 to 100 in about 3 milliseconds – it’s knows what real danger is and has a billion year old solution that works: fight if you must, run if you can. Hard, because fear can paralyze you if you let it.
    • Plan of Action Now. After you are out of immediate danger, then make a plan. A simple plan. Sometimes, the difference between living and dying is whether you can get your brain back online and come up with a simple plan (Be respectful calming. Drop wallet and run.) or not.

    There are a hundred factors that can influence whether you can JUMP or not when and if the time comes. This is where spending a few dollars and a few hours on training available to anyone and everyone can make the difference. Basic disaster, first aid and self defense training can make a huge difference. Relying on the kindness of the universe is not a good survival plan.

    As for the snake, it turned out to be neither the deadly cobra of my imagination or a venomous rattlesnake quite common this time of year in Sonoma County, California. It was a King snake that eats rats and rattlers, a good snake to have around I was told by my local animal control hotline, a snake some people have as pets that they walk in the public with wrapped around their shoulders and necks (shudder).

    After some protracted territorial negotiation carried out with a walking stick and a mop, Mr. Good Snake went back to eating bad snakes outside my garage and I went on with the rest of my afternoon. I think we both got a reminder we both needed. :)

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    Bob Walsh sells MasterList Professional, a Windows task management application and writes, codes,
    podcasts and blogs about different aspects of the digital lifestyle at ToDoOrElse, MyMicroISV and Clear Blogging. His second book, Clear Blogging, is now available at Amazon and elsewhere.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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