Archive | Personal

The Perfect Yellowstone Vacation Plan

I grew up in southwestern Wyoming, only a few hours from Yellowstone but only visited a few times in my youth. I married a woman (also from southwestern Wyoming) whose family visited almost annually.

Thus, Yellowstone trips are now part of our family culture and our kids hold us accountable to keep our commitment of visiting every 4 years. We are not experts by any means but I really like our approach and plan we have followed when we've been the last 2 times and given the number of times I've shared it with others I decided it was time to put it in writing so it would be easier to share.

To give credit where it is due, my first Yellowstone trip as an adult was planned by my in-laws, who are Yellowstone experts and veterans. It was fantastic and since then I'm inclined to follow the plan the same way every time.

What follows is a helpful guide to anyone visiting Yellowstone but it caters to our 5-day trip which includes 2 days for travel and 3 in the park.

Jump to a Section:

Getting there – Airplanes, Cars, and which entrance

Yellowstone National Park is not close to any major airports. One could in theory fly into Jackson Hole but the cost is prohibitive for most. More likely you are going to fly into either Billings MT, Salt Lake City UT, or Denver CO.

Billings MT is the most expensive as it is the smallest of those three airports and finding a direct flight is near impossible.

Choosing between Salt Lake City and Denver is an easy choice as the drive from SLC to Yellowstone is appx 5 hours while the drive from DEN is 8 1/2 hours. Save the 3.5 hours in the car and fly into Salt Lake City.

If you rent a car get something with a little muscle. You likely won't be visiting during the winter so 4-wheel drive probably won't be necessary but you will be stuck behind your fair number of rented RVs and having a little muscle makes it easier to pass those vehicles, going uphill, on a 2-lane road.

I strongly discourage you from driving a RV or pulling a camper. Far too many places you visit are going to have PACKED FULL parking lots with limited spaces for oversized vehicles. You are going to hate parking.

This will also allow you to enter the park from the Southern entrance which is in my opinion preferable. There are several points of entrance to Yellowstone.

Image courtesy of this helpful page on the official park site that goes into more detail on each entrance. https://www.yellowstonepark.com/park/yellowstone-park-entrances

Coming from Montana you can enter at one of 2 northern entrances, or from Montana you can enter from “West Yellowstone” (which is almost Idaho), coming from Wyoming you can enter from the East coming from Cody WY, or lastly, you can enter from the south via Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole WY.

If you are driving from somewhere northwest or north perhaps one of the Montana entrances or the Idaho entrance will just be the most convenient for you but the Paulsen family comes via the south entrance primarily because visiting Yellowstone, but failing to visit Grand Teton National Park and/or Jackson Hole is a MAJOR Fail.

So trust me and come via Jackson Hole and enter the park from the south. If you fly in from Salt Lake City that will be the most convenient and direct route anyway. Coming from Denver it is equally as convenient as coming via Cody WY.

Where to Sleep – Camping VS “Lodges & Cabins”

Throughout the park there are many campsites, lodges, and cabins. Also immediately outside the park you can find lodging in Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, West Yellowstone, and Cody.

On the Paulsen Yellowstone trip we don't camp. We are campers generally speaking but it isn't part of our Yellowstone experience. That said you do you.

Where you decide to stay, camping vs a lodge may be in part due to availability on your selected travel dates. Yellowstone allows you to book campsites and hotels/cabins up to 1 year in advance… and if you want your choice of options you should book 1 year in advance.

If you are traveling to Yellowstone between June and September and don't want to sleep on the ground you better be booking at least 6 months in advance.

Resource: Book Here

On our Paulsen trip we stay in the lodges and cabins. We book as far in advance as possible. More detail below in the “Itinerary” section on where we stay but if you are lucky to happen to find any available room at the iconic Old Faithful Inn book it immediately.

Image Courtesy of the official Yellowstone website. – Grant Ordelheide. Use this link to learn more about Old Faithful Inn https://www.yellowstonepark.com/where-to-stay-camp-eat/historic-old-faithful-inn

The Inn is the largest log hotel on the planet and was built in 1904. It is amazing.

What Should I Expect For Food?

Eating is a complicated thing in my family. My wife is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and we are blessed with one extremely picky eater child. All the same, with some basic sacrifices that are required for any vacation the below generally works well for us.

Throughout the park there are a number of “Lodges” and each is generally equipped with a restaurant and a cafeteria.

For the Paulsens we just plan to eat at the cafeterias as they tend to offer a lot of options, don't require waiting to order and be served, don't require tipping wait staff, and generally serve our needs well.

Resource: Click here to see all the dining options in Yellowstone

We also generally have a large cooler that we stock with some fresh food items including everything we intend to eat for Breakfast each day. We pick stuff up from a grocery store before we enter the park and use a cooler that can be “plugged-in” in both the car and in the hotel rooms.

Note that there are a few small stores in the park with a few basic grocery items but it is the equivalent of shopping at a 7-Eleven convenience store so don't count on finding what you need.

More details on where we eat in the Itinerary section below.

The Loop

Yellowstone National park is huge but most of the best tourist sites are right off the main highway of the park. The main highway system of the park looks like a big number 8 with two connecting loops. There are 5 core highways that connect the number 8 to the outside world.

When we visit we enter from the south entrance and circle the bottom loop of the figure 8 as shown in my little photoshop map below.

Screenshot from Google Maps with some Photoshop rough editing by yours truly.

Most of the awesome stuff is on this loop and while one day we may venture north to Mammoth Hot Springs and the old arch entrance, for now, we are very content with our loop shown above.

The Paulsen Itinerary – Day by Day

A fun Yellowstone map from the National Park Service website that highlights some of the most popular attractions in the park. https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/kidsyouth/places.htm

Day 1 Arrive in Jackson Hole

Day 1 is a travel day. Our objective on this day is to get to Jackson in time for dinner. We eat dinner at Bubba's because my wife's childhood says we have to; and I am on board. Great BBQ and been a famous stop for over 40 years.

If budget and time allows and you want some excellent entertainment to go with that meal you should also consider the Bar J Chuckwagon.

After dinner we explore Jackson Hole downtown. Take the required picture at any of the four entrances to the town park and go in and out of all the fun tourist shops. Maybe buy some chocolate or laffy taffy just because.

2017

Stay that night at either the Antler Inn or the 49er Inn and Suites. Both are local, non-chain options that are affordable and come with plenty of local flavor.

Day 2 Explore Old Faithful & The Upper Geyser Basin

Day 2 wake up and head north toward the National Parks. Stop at most of the turn offs where tourists take pictures of the Teton Mountains. Yeah, you will never grow tired of the view and you can't take enough pictures.

My Son Is Awesome

Enter Grand Teton National Park and pay the $5 or whatever it is per vehicle entrance fee. Drive north to Yellowstone National Park. Pay another fee. Drive to Old Faithful and the Upper Geyer Basin. (Follow signs for Old Faithful).

We generally end up eating dinner at the Old Faithful cafeteria. We either packed in lunch or we eat lunch at the cafeteria as well.

Spend the rest of the day at Old Faithful. Things to do:

  • Watch Old Faithful erupt.
  • Explore the visitor's center. This is the best and most comprehensive visitor's center in the park by far. Our kids love it and we do too.
  • Walk down the hill, starting at Old Faithful and going roughly west and then north, past all the various geysers on that trail. Don't stop until you get to Morning Glory Pool.
  • Even if you aren't staying at Old Faithful Inn, go in after dusk and sit by the fire and admire the building and fireplace.
This picture was taken in June. Bring a jacket.

If you can stay at Old Faithful Inn you are lucky and I'm jealous. We've stayed at Snow Lodge before and it is very modern. We've also stayed in the Old Faithful Lodge Cabins and they are fun as well.

Day 3 Grand Prismatic, Paintpots, & Grand Canyon

Wake up and leave Old Faithful. Continue the loop to the west and north. Stop at all the larger parking lots where you see cars. Its probably worth stopping.

On Day 3 we drive all the way to Yellowstone Lake but on the way we are going to stop and see:

  • Grand Prismatic
  • The Paint Pots at “Fountain Paint Pot Trail”
  • Lunch at Canyon Village Cafeteria
  • Inspiration Point
  • Lower Lookout Point
  • Upper Falls of the Yellowstone (take Uncle Tom's Trail)

Finish the day at Lake Lodge. Eat dinner at the cafeteria and stay at the lodge or one of the Lake Lodge Cabins.

We love spending the evening on the porch/patio looking out at the lake and we love taking a short walk or hike along the lake.

Day 4 Enjoy the Lake and Finish At The Tetons

Wake up and take your last look at the lake as you drive on, now west and then south.

Stop at West Thumb Geyser Basin and walk those trails.

Then proceed south out of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park.

Depending on how quickly you are moving you could get lunch at Grant Village or in Grand Teton National Park.

On our last trip we stayed at Colter Bay on Day 4 and we loved it. I'm sure staying at Jackson Lake Lodge or Jenny Lake Lodge would be equally picturesque.

Image from Grand Teton NP official site. https://www.gtlc.com/lodges/

My wife remembers hikes to and around Jenny Lake from her childhood and we enjoyed it as a family as well. Spend the afternoon and evening of Day 4 staring at the mountains from various places in Grand Teton National Park.

Day 5 Go Home

Day 5 it all comes to a close and we go home.

A few closing helpful thoughts

  • Don't plan on cell phone coverage… anywhere in the park
  • A few lodges may have wifi you can pay for
  • There is going to be a lot of wildlife. Stop and take pictures but don't be those annoying people who cause a traffic jam every time there is a Bison off the road
  • On our last Yellowstone vacation, we saw a license plate from every state but Delaware. Yeah, we play the license plate game and this is one place where you can probably find them all
  • The person who isn't driving should be on the lookout for wildlife as you go through the park. Deer, Bison, and Elk should be easy. Coyotes are bonus points. Gold star if you spot a bear. Call me immediately if you see wolves. A decent pair of binoculars would be nice.
  • The lodges and hotels don't have air conditioning. Its cool in the mountains… open a window. And even if you are coming in the middle of the summer bring a jacket or sweatshirt.
  • August is the busiest month at Yellowstone but the entire summer is pretty packed. Coming in the Spring or the Fall helps avoid crowds
  • Leave your dog home. I love my dogs but they are prohibited in most parts of the park. It isn't worth the hassle.
  • Here are answers to other frequently asked questions
0

The Dumbest Mistakes When Returning A Product To An Online Vendor

My eCommerce business has now shipped over 100,000 orders since late 2015. We have a return rate of about 2.5% which means we've probably processed about 2500 returns and I personally received and processed every single one of them. For the most part, it is a simple and routine part of my workload but there are some patterns I see from our customers that DRIVE ME NUTS.

The returns from the last several days that I will be processing today

Below are some of those patterns distilled into some suggestions and advice that I wish my customers would read… but alas it would probably be a little rude to include the below in each package that goes out the door.

Um, You Just Returned The Thing You Said You Want

Yeah, this happens all the time. Someone ships something back to us claiming we shipped them the wrong one. Sometimes they want a refund and other times they would like an exchange. I open up the package, read the note, look at the product and say to myself “you just shipped me the thing you said you want.”

Before you ship back a product triple check that it isn't the right thing. Maybe the packaging looks a little different than what you saw online, maybe you are looking at the product wrong and falsely identifying it, or perhaps you just don't actually know how to use/recognize the thing you just bought.

Instead of jumping to conclusions contact customer service and ask clarifying questions. Include pictures of what they shipped you and ask if this is the correct product. Trust me its frustrating for the business and embarrassing and frustrating for you to find out you screwed up. When I call you on the phone and say, “if you wanted an X I can just ship you back the thing you just returned,” you are going to feel foolish.

Uh, You Shipped Your Return To The Wrong Place or Didn't Include The Thing We Need to Refund You

The big key here is ASK for return instructions and then follow those instructions.

For example, a lot of modern online retailers drop ship products from various different locations or manufacturers. The origin address on the package that you receive may NOT be the correct address to send the return. This is a common issue for us. We include a card inside every package that tells the customer to NOT return the package to the address on the label and we still get about 12 returns a month to that address.

Even more frustrating is when people don't include any identifying information in the package. Something shows up and when I open it I just find the product. No order number, customer name or information, or anything else that would be helpful. Sometimes I can find an order that has the same return address but this is more problematic when people take things to a UPS store or small shipping service retailer that will put their own address on the return label instead of the home address of the customer.

At very least if you do nothing else just include a piece of paper with a name, address, email address, and phone number. Then if we can't find your order at least we can call you and ask you for more information.

You Just Super Overpaid To Ship This Back to Me

Ok, this is no skin off my back but it still hurts a little when I see that my customer just overpaid to ship back a product. If the customer is paying for return shipping then that will leave a bigger sting than it needs to and if they are using a prepaid label provided by the company and they use the wrong packaging then the business may have to pay for the difference in postage when it arrives.

The most common issue is the use of flat-rate packaging. USPS flat rate boxes are generally the best deal in postage when you are shipping something that is heavy. The Flat Rate box is the same postage no matter the weight so putting a lightweight, small product in a box and filling it up with newspaper is almost guaranteed to cost you more than you need to pay.

Take a cue from the vendor. However they shipped it to you, that is probably the cheapest way to ship it back to them.

Here Is An Idea; Call Us Before You Call Your Credit Card Company

This is the worst. I get a notification from the merchant company (the guys that help us accept credit cards) notifying us that a customer has just disputed the credit card charge. I contact the customer to ask why they disputed the charge and they respond with, “It wasn't what I wanted” or “I want to return it.”

Disputing credit card charges when you did, in fact, authorize the charge is dishonest and painful for everyone involved. You may have to get a new credit card which is an inconvenience to you. On our end, we are charged a fee for every dispute and we have to put together a packet of evidence to prove we, in fact, did get a payment from YOU and we did in fact ship you a product.

Now if you have gone the rounds with a retailer and they are treating you like crap and not willing to enforce the return/refund policy they claim to have in place then sure, go ahead and call your card company. But if you need customer service, like wanting to return the product for a refund, call/email or otherwise contact the company before you go to the effort of disputing the charge on your card.

With a lot of card companies once you dispute it I cannot refund you even if I want to. It puts the transaction in a category of untouchable and if I can show them that the charge came from you and I shipped the product to your billing address you may never see that money back. Just contact us and tell us what you need.

Well, Did You Read Our Return Policy During Checkout?

I feel like a jerk when we get contacted by someone asking us to do something completely outside of our policy and I have to say no. We generally will go outside of the policy to make customers happy but sometimes we get requests that we cannot honor for one reason or another and if the customer had just read the policy before checking out they would have known about those restrictions.

When you buy something online that costs more than you think about 5 minutes of your time is worth; READ THE RETURN POLICY. I know this is a pain and nobody does it but before you drop $100 don't you think it is worth reading a policy that you can read in under 5 minutes?

Next Time Don't Throw Away The Paperwork & Packaging

A lot of companies have a policy that you can't return something if it shows clear signs of wear and use. One of the best ways to demonstrate that you didn't use it at all or very much is to carefully put it back in the original packaging the best you can. Not only does this at very least suggest minimum use but the company may appreciate that they don't have to spend money on more packaging to be able to repackage and resell the product you've returned.

When something arrives in the mail you don't know what all you may need in order to return it. Keep the packing slip (which has your order number on it) and all the product packaging at least until you are 100% confident you won't be returning it.

Actually, We Would Love For You To Review Us

There is a tendency among customers who have a positive return experience to think they are doing the company a favor by not writing an online review. Afterall we don't want potential customers to see that you didn't like the product enough to keep it right? WRONG.

Customers sometimes do not purchase a product because they are concerned about the potential work involved in returning it if they don't like it. If you have a positive experience in the return and refund of your order then write a positive review. Tell people the product wasn't for you but you were very happy with how easy it was to contact the business and get the return done. This will help customers who have reservations about a potential return to feeling comfortable enough to buy.

Keep The Tracking Number

When you ship that return package KEEP the receipt that has the tracking number on it. You never know what might happen. The package might be lost by the Post Office or you might have accidentally forgotten to include the return paperwork.

That tracking number is the only other proof you have that you returned the product to the vendor. Don't throw it out until the refund posts to your credit card.

Oh, and while not deserving of a full section of this article please also:

  • Do not write your credit card number on the return paperwork
  • Return the correct product to the correct company
  • Type and print the return letter/request if your handwriting sucks
  • If you smoke or someone in your home smokes try spraying the product with Fabreeze before you package it up and hope we'll refund you
  • If you have pets try a lint roller on the product so as to remove all the hair before you send it back for a refund
  • Avoid using packaging that isn't recyclable. When I open returns I have two piles… one for packaging that I can put in our recycle bin and one for packaging that will go in the garbage. If it isn't fragile, don't use a bubble mailer.

Hopefully, you found that advice helpful… and next time we are hanging out together ask me for my best return stories. I got some doozies that you wouldn't believe.

0

Taking the Personal Device Solar Challenge

The largest solar parks in the world are in China and India (The 7 largest)

I've been intrigued by solar power recently. I read a biography about Elon Musk and during that book, I heard a statistic that peeled my brain open.

In a single hour, the amount of power from the sun that strikes the Earth is more than the entire world consumes in a year. (Source and more details: Business Insider)

Solar Is Something We Can All Get Behind

There are a lot of politically polarizing issues in our country but solar power is something almost everyone can get behind. Unless your personal wealth or income is directly attached to the success of fossil fuels you probably at least agree that solar energy is a great idea. Today all renewable energy (wind, hydro, solar, etc) accounts for 13 percent of US electricity generation. Of that small sliver, solar accounts for 3% of the 13%, which ultimately means it represents 0.39% of the total. Less than 1%.

Personally, I wasn't ready 30 days ago to move to residential solar. I'm warming up to it quickly but I'm intrigued by Solar for the following reasons:

  1. Economics. If I can save money then I'm game.
  2. Environment. If using solar helps out the planet then I'll feel more warm and fuzzy about doing my part.
  3. Survival and Independence. If solar can help me become better prepared for natural disasters and ultimately help me get off the grid then that sounds like a good idea.
  4. Global dependency. I believe that at least in part, our country's dependence on fossil fuels has played a part in war and death. If I can be a part of that solution I'll feel more warm and fuzzy about doing my part.

The Personal Device Solar Challenge

I decided to create a challenge for myself. I decided to only use solar power to charge and use all my personal electronics. This includes my cell phone, my smartwatch, my headphones, my flashlights, and tablets. I am aware that relatively, charging these devices as often as I do doesn't really have any significant impact on my electric bill or the environment but it is a fun place to start AND it means that I could potentially power all these devices independently if the grid went down. Now obviously if the grid really went down my tablets are worthless without wifi but somewhere in my brain, this sounded like a fun way to test solar in my life.

Success or Fail?

I'm now 12 days in a row without using any power outside of solar to run any personal electronics, keyboard/mouse, or flashlights. During that time I went on one camping trip completely away from electricity. I call that a success. If I can do it I think you can too. I think you need about $180 worth of gear (more on that later) but it can be done. Here are some of the key lessons I learned that you might find helpful if you attempt this challenge.

  • Roughly speaking the strategy here is to charge up portable battery chargers (suggested gear below) with the portable solar panels during the day when the sun is high and you are using your devices. Then at night recharge your devices using the portable chargers that were recharged during the day via solar.
  • As it relates to the upfront costs it is the same with any solar panel decision. It doesn't make sense up front. It would take a very long time to get my money's worth out of the solar panels and batteries etc. Eventually, there will be a financial ROI but you have to justify this investment by the benefits of helping the environment and being better prepared for emergencies and the outdoors.
  • Cloudy days are not cool. I live in one of the sunniest states in the country (Colorado). If you live in Seattle and are reading this I suspect you are going to find this more challenging. That said, sun shining through clouds still does produce energy… just a lot less energy than direct sunlight. I learned to check the forecast for each day and plan accordingly. During my 12 days, I had a period of 3 days in a row that was cloudy and rainy. Not fun but doable.
  • You have to prioritize the energy you capture. Especially for the first 5-6 days, I had to learn the hard way to prioritize. I recharged my camping lantern and then didn't have enough power to fully recharge my cell phone. Oops. Pick your battles and in time you will learn what you can expect and then you can start to charge the secondary stuff as the power is available.
  • The sun moves and leaving the solar panels in one place all day may or may not work well. In my case, I don't have a solid South facing window or yard spot that will work all day. I start the panels in the backyard or in an East facing window in the morning and then move them to the front yard or West facing windows at night. If the weather is really good I'll set them outside for direct sunlight. If the weather isn't stellar or if I'm concerned about them sitting in the front yard where anyone could steal them I'll put the panels in a window that is facing the sun. I work from home so it isn't a big deal for me to move the panels a few times during the day. It is worth mentioning that you get less efficiency from the panels when the sun has to go through glass to hit the panels but still better than nothing.
  • If I didn't work from home I would have to consider alternatives. If you park outdoors at your place of work then putting the panels in the front or rear window of your car (whichever faces more south) is going to be a fairly effective “leave it and forget it” solution. If you park underground or in a place that is shaded then I hope you have an office window that faces south or have a good south facing window at home where you can leave your panels.

The Gear I Am Using / Loving (All links lead to Amazon.com)

PANELS: I have two different solar panels. They both are similar in design, folding into a compact package. The first ones I purchased have an output of 15 watts and have 3 panels. On a long sunny day they generate enough power to recharge a handful of things but quickly I discovered they wouldn't allow me to really complete this challenge. I upgraded to the RAVPower 24W Solar Panel w/ Triple USB Ports. I couldn't be happier. With 24 Watts of output and 3 USB ports these things make a big difference and still fold up into a compact package.

CHARGER: I have a handful of portable power charges I've collected over the years. They vary in quality and capacity. You will definitely need more than one but I quickly learned that having something with MASSIVE capacity and the ability to charge faster and be able to charge multiple devices was CRITICAL. So a few days in I ordered the Anker PowerCore 26800 Charger. It made a huge difference. It is big (I would rather be hit in the head with a real brick than this thing) but it gets the job done big time. It recharges twice as fast because it has 2 input ports. It also has 3 USB output ports, each one pushing out 5V. Just buy it and thank me later. I made the recharging of this my top priority and used my other chargers with my second set of panels or when the Anker was already full.

BATTERY CHARGER: A lot of my small electronics and flashlights run on AA and AAA batteries. There are a ton of chargers out there for rechargeable AA and AAA batteries but very few that can run on USB which is critical if I'm going to make it work directly off the solar panels or off the charger that was charged via the solar panels. This was the most difficult thing to research and find but I'm very satisfied with the Deruicent FLAT TOP Battery Charger. The digital display tells me where I'm at with the batteries and it runs fully on USB. Seems very efficient and comes with two 18650 batteries.

BATTERIES: I tested a few but haven't found anything as awesome as the Tenergy High Drain AA and AAA rechargeable batteries. $26 will get you 12 of each. The AA batteries have a capacity of 2600mAh and the AAA have a capacity of 1000mAh. They charge decently fast on the charger mentioned above and hold the charge much longer than most of the others I tested. They do sell them in other battery sizes as well. Alternatively, you can find AA and AAA batteries these days that have micro USB ports right on the battery. That might be even better.

Some other fun things I've using and enjoying include:
EFORCAR Portable Vacuum – USB recharging portable vacuum with accessories. Works great for the tent, car, and office and given the lack of USB charging vacuums available for sell I'm satisfied with this one.
Solar 11-in-1 Battery Charger – Has its own solar panels. Not nearly as efficient to recharge batteries as combining the RAVPower panels above with the Derucient FLAT TOP charger above, but it is an all in one system for solar recharging of batteries.
Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 Lantern – Camping lantern that is charged via hand crank or USB. Also can charge other USB devices.

Potential ways I'll expand my gear:
Cooluli Mini Electric Cooler and Warmer – USB operated portable cooler or warmer
KUNCAN 5V USB A Male to 12V Car Cigarette Lighter (for powering things designed for cars via USB)
YHOUSE Electric Mosquito Insect Zapper – USB powered bug zapper
USB Plasma ARC Lighter

The Conclusion of the Personal Solar Challenge?

So, you might be thinking… WHY? Why would one embark on something that has essentially no measurable impact on the electric bill or the environment, costs money up front, and is relatively inconvenient? Well, because I wanted to know if I could do it, and because I had to start my personal renewable energy journey somewhere. Buying thousands of dollars of residential panels seemed like a big step I wasn't yet ready for.

Maybe you are like me. You just don't know if you are ready to embrace this whole Solar Power thing. Give the Personal Solar Challenge a shot and let me know in the comments how it went for you!

0

Cheat Time – Get More Done and Enjoy Your Life

As you have heard repeated over the years, time is the most valuable resource any of us have. I've been told many times that I can't get more of it but that is a lie. I may suck at a lot of things but ask anyone who does any work with me and they will tell you I somehow magically get a lot done in a very little amount of time.

TRUTH: There are a lot of ways to get more time

Money can't buy happiness, but time does make happiness, and money can buy time.

With a few simple tips you can cheat time. I do.

Here Are 8 Ways to Make More Time & Happiness

Playback Control

We all consume media right? TV shows you watch, videos online, and for many of us audio-books. I consume all of these things faster than most people because I speed up playback.

For audio-books I use the Audible app where I can increase playback speed as much as needed. I can listen to most books at 2X speed without any trouble. That is half the time to read the book.

When I watch TV shows or online videos I try to do so in Google Chrome and I use this extension to speed up playback: Video Speed Controller

Trust me, the latest episode of Blacklist is just as good in 25 minutes as it is in 40 minutes. For you binge watchers just imagine getting through an entire season of your favorite show in 2/3 the time!

Outsource Everything

Outsourcing tasks costs money… but it makes time. If you can spend more time doing the things that you are best at then your bottom line revenue should increase exponentially. In order to make the time to do things that make you a lot of money; you need to spend a little money to pay others to do everything else.

RESOURCE: Guide to Outsourcing Stuff Worth Less than My Time

Batch Activities

There are things you probably end up doing every day that waste your time. The process of beginning and ending the task are the same regardless of how much volume there is. For example, consider listening to and returning voicemail. If you check 1 voicemail message per day it might take 5 minutes. Instead if once per week you check voicemail you will have 7 total messages but instead of taking 35 minutes it will take less than 30. (Think I'm crazy to only check voicemail once per week? Resource: Making Voicemail a Tool of Productivity [Script])

What else do you do frequently that could be batched into chunks less frequently? Checking email, processing returns (a big one for me), accounting, making phone calls, home DIY projects, errands, and much more.

Stop Reprocessing

What is reprocessing? Essentially wasting time looking at something multiple times before taking action on it. You probably have emails in your inbox right now that you have read 3+ times and still haven't dealt with. If you can create a process by which you don't give anything your time and attention until you are ready to tackle the task and complete it, delegate it, or delete it; then you will save a ton of reprocessing time.

Exploit Shortcuts and Move Faster

I spend a large amount of my day in front of a computer. A lot of that time is spent typing things. On average I bet I am just hitting keys on my keyboard about 90 minutes a day. I type 95 Words Per Minute (WPM) where the average adult types only 40 WPM. That means my 90 minutes of typing each day would take the average human adult 3+ hours. If you are in front of a computer as often as I you could probably save yourself about 5 hours a week if you invested 30 minutes a week into improving your typing speed.

In addition to just typing faster you can save a ton of time by becoming more expert in software you use. Knowing shortcuts and the best tricks to Outlook, Gmail, PowerPoint, or whatever your daily tools are can have a tremendous effect on your time.

Start Saying No

You have probably heard this before. People will ask you for a lot of things. Start saying no to those things that are less important than your family or whatever thing it is you are trying to make time for.

Bio-Hack & Buy Health

Each year you probably lose several days of productivity outright to being sick. In addition, there are probably many more days each year where you get substantially less done than you should because you don't feel as well as you should.

Time is lost when you aren't performing optimally. This is another instance where some better health related decisions can buy you time. Eating better, exercise and all the other things you already know about can dramatically increase your productivity and limit down time. In addition to the amount of time you “buy” right now, you are also literally adding years to your life which is another amazing consideration of making more time.

Resource: Eliminating the Common Cold From Life

Hack Travel Time

For work or for leisure travel is a part of your life. For some of us it is more frequent a part than for others. Travel is a perfect place to make more time in life in a few different ways.

  1. Don't travel in ways that will kill your energy and reduce your health. No point in getting there early if it is going to take me 12 hours to recover from the trip.
  2. Time in the car or time on the plane can be very productive with a little bit of planning. If you are going to be outside of WiFi then plan in advance tasks that can be worked on and completed without WiFi… or without a computer at all. I often batch my phone calls for days when I know I have some car time.
0

I’m Nothing Like Daredevil

Daredevil is an awesome Marvel superhero who was blinded as a child by some chemicals. In the process his sense of hearing was enhanced so significantly that it became a sort of radar that allowed him to essentially see even without traditional eyesight. 

At age 15 I lost hearing in my right ear. A nasty ear infection ate out my inner cochlea and at most pitches I'm about 90% deaf in that ear. 

Now, while my vision is very good, better than average, it isn't enhanced to superhero abilities. Instead, like Daredevil, my good ear has become more and more sensitive over the years as if to compensate for my bad ear. 

Now, unless you get the impression that my good ear has Daredevil like powers let me remind you of the title of this personal rant I call a blog post. I'm Nothing like Daredevil. My super power good ear is frankly nothing but a curse. 

It makes any loud environment physically painful to endure. I do not go to concerts. I avoid sporting events, festivals, and any places with big crowds but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

In recent years I've found I can't deal with church singing, movie theater speakers, some shower heads, anything at my children's school auditorium, the average bathroom fan, airplanes, or other things you just wouldn't think Daredevil would have had issues with. 

In addition to my car keys, wallet, and gun I also carry a single ear plug everywhere I go and I will pay a happy premium for good noise cancelling headphones. When I walk into a restaurant I request to be seated at the quietest table, and I've mastered the art of covertly blocking my ear canal with a finger while appearing to be leaning against my arm. I wear protective hearing protection when I mow the lawn or operate a vacuum cleaner. 

What is the point? No point really… Just wanted you to know that despite amazing increased sensitivity in 1 ear I'm nothing like Daredevil.

0

CapitalOne is the Best Credit Card Company Ever

This Picture is Fitting For My Below Rave About CapitalOne because the only thing better than being this happy on Splash Mountain is knowing that your credit card cash back rewards just paid for the trip to Disneyland

This Picture is Fitting For My Below Rave About CapitalOne because the only thing better than being this happy on Splash Mountain is knowing that your credit card cash back rewards just paid for the trip to Disneyland

I have a biz crush on CapitalOne. There are very few companies that I 100%, without any hesitation, endorse like I own them. CapitalOne is toward the top of that list.

My experience with CapitalOne has been flawless and awesome from day 1.

My first interaction with CapitalOne was many years ago when I was a broke college student who couldn't get qualified to buy a car with any lending institution… not even the credit unions who will take anyone with a pulse.

Capital One sent me a blank check and gave me a… decent… interest rate.

I've had various credit card accounts with them over the years and here are a few things I will share with anyone with is bored enough to listen to me rave about CapitalOne:

  • At one point I filed bankruptcy and I had a balance on a CapitalOne card that went into the bankruptcy. A lot of creditors hold a grudge and are hard to deal with in a bankruptcy. CapitalOne was as smooth as butter and welcomed me back with open arms.
  • CapitalOne has an awesome online interface and an even better mobile app. Love how easy it is to navigate and make payments.
  • CapitalOne lets me download all transactions from any date range I choose to a spreadsheet for various accounting purposes. *Awesome
  • CapitalOne has the very BEST cash back reward card I can find or get approved for. Their Quicksilver card is 1.5% cash back on EVERYTHING all the time. You can't beat that. My wife and I both have a Quicksilver card and we try to put everything on it. We feel like we are getting a 1.5% discount on everything we buy. (Of course that only works because we always pay it off in full and don't pay any interest fees ever).
  • CapitalOne's Spark card for businesses is equally awesome offering a flat 2% cash back on EVERYTHING. To get the 2% cash back you do have to pay a $59 annual fee but that is an absolute no brainer. If you don't want to pay $59 a year you can still get 1.5% cash back. (The math works out that if you charge more than $12,000 a year it is worth it to pay the $59 annual fee.)
  • CapitalOne is amazing at fraud prevention and fraud restoration. Its very common for me to get a text message and/or email from CapitalOne asking me to quickly verify purchases. I don't find this annoying… rather satisfying.
  • All the same, likely due to my own behavior and not the fault of CapitalOne, I have on more than a few occasions had card info stolen and unapproved charges appear on my card. I make a call that lasts no more than 4 minutes… identifying the charges that I didn't approve and then they… take care of it. All of it… with speed and awesomeness. Every charge is immediately credited back and the replacement card is in the mail.
  • The other day I called to request a new business card for an employee. Phone call lasted about 4 minutes. New card was at my front door the next day… FedEx Overnight at no expense to me.
  • When you call customer support, you get someone in the USA… or at least if they are off seas they must find English speakers that are really good!

Seriously get rid of any existing crappy card you have and go with CapitalOne.

And if any CapitalOne employees are reading this and want to thank me for this endorsement… how about 2.5% on the Spark Card???

0

Bug in the Ear… The Real Thing

Recently while I was on the phone Ami came rushing into the house from the backyard where she had been working screaming something about a bug climbing into her ear.

Yeah it was true. With my head light on… looking into the ear canal I finally caught a glimpse of the bug turning the corner. I tried calling our family… doctor. He is both family and doctor so take that how you wish but he didn't answer.

bug in earIn case this ever happens to you… we followed the instructions provided by the top Google search results… later confirmed by the doctor. Get a siringe and spray water into the ear canal. Apparently the ear drum is hard to get past if you are a bug and hard to damage or break if you are fast moving water. This worked to wash out the bug.

Moral of this story, next time you hear someone say something about having a bug in their ear you should believe them.

 

0

I Found Out My Kids Can’t Dial 9-1-1

It occurred to me all of the sudden. I was thinking about my own childhood and how I was taught when I should dial the universal emergency number.

I imagined in my own mind the house where I grew up, grabbing the phone from the wall in the kitchen and dialing three numbers; 9-1-1. That is when it occured to me. My kids don't have it so simple. My children's teachers, coaches, and parents (yeah me) have been teaching them the same thing we ourselves were taught… “pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1.”

The challenge is that there is no phone on my kitchen wall and dialing 9-1-1 on my cell phone takes a lot more tapping and dragging than just touching 3 numbers on a keypad.

So I decided to put it to a test…

I tried first with my 8 year old son. It went something like this:

“Simon, what should you do if one day mom falls down the stairs and hits her head and doesn't wake up?”

Simon: “I should call 9-1-1.”

“How would you do that?”

Simon: “With a phone.”

“What phone?”

Simon: “Mom's cell phone or your cell phone.”

“Here is my phone. Can you show me how to do it? Don't worry, I'll stop you before you actually dial it.”

Simon: Fiddles with the phone. Manages to unlock the screen and find the phone app. Can't figure out how to make a dial pad display. Gives up and says: “Dad where are the numbers?”

The experiment didn't go much better with my 5 year old daughter. I suspect they could have both successfully opened Netflix but dialing 9-1-1 was too difficult without me showing them the step by step process. Further, each time I get a new cell phone I'll have to re-teach it for awhile.

Can your kids dial 9-1-1?

0

How I Built My Business While Keeping My Day Job

When I quit my day job to start working on my own business full time people expressed a lot of concern. I suppose that most of them assumed that I was going to venture out and start something new… building from the ground up. That wasn't the case. The truth was that I had spent 8 plus years growing something steadily on the side.

Before I say anything else let me state how important it is that you truly give your employer all the time, energy, and passion they deserve for employing you. This is not an article about how you can do 40 hours of work in 20 hours so you can steal time from the company to build your thing. During the last five years I spent at my job I worked hard to not only give them the expected 40 hours a week but extra hours, my dedicated energy, and passion. When I started to feel too distracted to give them what they deserve I left. You should too.

If you are an employee of a company and also have a side business you are working on I can relate. Today I'm going to outline some of the key tools I used to manage my time in a way that I was able to grow the side business while still being true to my employer and the time I was morally and legally obligated to give them.

You Need Technology

I leveraged a lot of modern tools to allow me to keep my day job while growing my business. Some of these tools including file storage and sharing tools like Dropbox and Google Drive. Tools that made it easy to jot down quick notes or thoughts from anywhere I was like Evernote and Google Tasks. Identify the challenges in your work and business systems and find technology to solve the challenge for you.

You Need to Out Source

You don't have to do everything in your business. Identify the tasks that can be out-sourced. Stretch yourself here… it can be very difficult to let go of things that you somehow believe that only you can do but it would be necessary eventually any way if you ever hope to have a big business and it is certainly important now if you want to keep your day job. As an example, I hired someone to take all my business phone calls. That was anywhere from 30 to 100 phone calls a week that I decided I didn't need to answer anymore. Now that I quit my job do you think I want to answer those calls? NOPE. Happy to keep the arrangement working. I also started to hire people via Elance.com to do a lot of data entry and online research work for me. Things that really anyone with the time and limited expertise could do but that frankly I didn't have the time for. (more on outsourcing here)

You Need to Work More Hours

Inevitably during your 8 hour employed work day some things are going to come up from your side business that you are going to have to deal with. An email here and there… an emergency on occasion. The fair way to make this all work is to build in extra hours for your employer outside of the standard 8. I got to my day job 30 minutes early every day for 5 years. I also made it a point to look at and respond to emails during the evening. If my employer ever had any concern about an personal email that I took now and again they would have been reassured by the above and beyond work hours I was putting in. That is what it takes to deal honestly.

You Need to Batch Tasks

There are a lot of things both in your day job and almost certainly in your business that take up a lot of time. Can you batch these together to save time? Over the years I was able to find routine tasks that I used to do as they came in or daily etc… and change my system to doing them all at one time each week or month. Forcing myself to batch tasks saved a lot of time. For one example, I used to do daily accounting… entering in expenses and sales every day. Then one day I realized… I could do this monthly. Sure it may take 4 hours once a month but that would be better than 20 minutes almost every day all month long.

You Need to Focus on the One Thing

Above all else you need to learn to prioritize. To eliminate the minutia and focus on doing the most important things each day. I had a piece of paper taped to my office wall that read “What is the one thing that by doing now will make everything else easier or unnecessary?” I looked at that everyday. My employer and my business prospered because I was focused on getting the most important things done first. (The ONE Thing Book Review)

exit-sign-2

3

Examples of How A School Teacher Retired Wealthy

My parents are cheap thrifty. Have you ever read the book, The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley? This book makes me think of my Dad. My parents raised five children on the income of a school teacher. Today they are retired and sitting on a good sized nest egg… though my Dad isn't the kind of person to talk about his various investments and net worth and I'm not the guy to ask for details. Last night my Dad called to inform me they are buying the house next to their own as an investment. It has me thinking about how a school teacher become wealthy…

My parents understood that wealth accumulation isn't so much a factor of how much money you make but how much money you save. Living “within” your means was thought to be extravagant and seeing how much money could be socked away was more of an inner competition than a simple goal.

Now that I've given my parents some props I can get in the reminiscing part of this article by sharing a few examples of the cheapness ability to save money we experienced.

Cereal Timelines: At some point in my childhood it was determined that we, the children, were eating too much cereal each morning. At that point forward when a new cereal box was opened my Dad would write an “expected use date” on the box. If that cereal was consumed fully before the hand written date we went hungry. When the date arrived a new box could be opened.

Lunch Money: In younger years I packed a lunch or came home for lunch. I wasn't familiar with the concept of an allowance. When I got to Junior high it was no longer practical for me to return home for lunch so my Dad devised a new system. If I did my chores and was generally well behaved then I was given $0.50 per day in lunch money. At the time a “hot lunch” at school was running about $1.25 (a reminder here that my Dad worked in the school district and was intimately aware of the cost of lunch). The $.50 was enough to buy the leftover cheeseburger or hotdog from the previous day's lunch and thus it was deemed sufficient. This “lunch money” was paid out monthly by check which I had to deposit/cash in my own bank account.

Paying Rent: After high school I began to pay rent to live in my parents house. Over the years I've met other people who have had similar requirements… but if you also had to pay rent after graduation you and I are among a select group of “special” individuals.

Reusing Dryer Sheets: My mom had an algorithm by which she determined the number of uses any single dryer sheet was good for. One unused dryer sheet was good by itself for a load of clothes. Two dryer sheets having been used once could be used together for a load of clothes. Four dryer sheets that had been used twice could be used together for a load of clothes and etc.

Ziploc's and Tin Foil: Only in my adult life did I find out most people don't reuse Ziploc's and Tin Foil. After a dinner of baked potatoes we each carefully folded the tin foil that had wrapped our potato and put it in a designated drawer for reuse. Ziploc's were put in the sink to be washed along with the dishes for the next use.

You Only Need Two Squares: My mom operated under a belief that under any circumstance a person should only need two toilet tissue squares to fully cleanse oneself in the bathroom. To use more than two squares was considered wasteful and was against the rules.

Milk From the Store: As I grew older and started to have sleepovers at friends homes I wondered why their milk tasted infinitely better than the milk at my house. The reason? Because my mom made all our milk from powdered milk which was purchased via some mail-in catalog in 50 gallon drums. Each week a few cups of powder were mixed with water and presto… we had milk.

On the Street is Free: My dad was famous for picking up stuff in the street. He came home with a lot of broken and not so broken tools, clothing, appliances, and other unidentified objects. Mostly he picked up a lot of aluminum cans because they could be cashed in at the recycling center.

The Cold Water From the Shower: Recently my dad has a revelation. With a five gallon bucket on hand, he can capture the cold water that comes out of the shower in those few moments when you are waiting for the water to heat up. This water can be used later to flush the toilet. His regret is that he didn't figure this out years ago so his children could be forced to comply.

I was the youngest of five children and it is worth mentioning that my older siblings likely have much better examples to share! In my youth I likely complained about these and other things but now I'm grateful to have been taught frugality and money management.

Please share examples of your cheap parents in the comments below.

2