12 Small Things I’ve Started Doing Just a Little Better

This is Not a Life Hack List

There’s nothing here that will make you different. No hidden secrets to an existence fulfilled. Or accessing your inner strength. They’re only a few tweaks I’ve made over the last months that are worth noting. Because little victories are still victories.

So here are 12 small things I now do just a little better.

Choose as you like.

1. Pick up the Trash

That’s not a euphemism. I literally mean pick up trash. From the ground. Credit my daughter for this one—she points out every piece of litter she sees. I’m proud we both know better than to muck up our surroundings in the first place. But now we take an active part in cleaning it.

Same thing with stray socks or hair balls around the house. (Secondary credit to our Roomba, who used to choke on Shopkins and shoelaces on a bi-weekly basis.)

Side note: It will surprise you how much this gets noticed. I got called a “good Samaritan” at work for picking up a fallen post-it, then thanked by a Publix employee for grabbing a coffee cup in their parking lot.

1A. Walk to the Recycle Bin

OK, so this is kind of similar, but I’m giving it its own subcategory. Essentially what I mean is, recycle more—it’s insanely easy. But like most people, if there wasn’t a blue bin in the room, I’d toss bottles & cans in the trash. Now I carry them out with me. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s usually a recycling bin on the other side of the door. You’re welcome, Mother Nature.

2. Take the Thank You’s

When people thank you for something, don’t downplay it. “No problem” and “don’t mention it” are improper responses. Acknowledge your contribution. Say “You’re welcome” or “happy to help.” You did something. They’re thanking you. Don’t minimize it.

3. Stop Saving Things for Special Occasions

I’ve got a perfect pen. Brushed silver with a gold clip, hefty weight, and it glides smooth as Tennessee whiskey. It was a groomsmen gift from my friend’s wedding. And I only use it for big occasions. My marriage license, house contracts and job offers were all signed with this pen.

I came across it the other day. Damn thing is dry. Best I can tell, I used it 6 times.

What a waste.

4. Delegate

I don’t need to do all the things. It’s OK to pass sometimes. And just because I know how to do something, or “it might be faster” if I do it (you know you’ve said that), doesn’t mean I should do it. There are very-capable people around me that can handle the work. Plus, I’ve got blog posts to write. Also, learning opportunity.

And speaking of learning…

5. Less Learning, More Doing

I love to learn about certain topics. I’ll watch videos, trainings and tutorials about writing and goaltending all day long. But ENOUGH! I’ve found myself watching 40-minute webcasts about things I learned years ago. I’m beyond that. The doing is far more important. Do or do not. There is no more learn… (Sorry for butchering Yoda.)

To clarify, I don’t mean stop all learning. I mean be selective. Cut yourself free from mailing lists you’ve outgrown. Recognize when you level-up.

6. Say No to Meetings

I once sat through a meeting I was invited to by typo. Turns out there are 2 people with my last name at work. Never. Again.

If you’re the most senior person in the room, you don’t need to be in the room. And if you’re not sure why you’re invited, decline. Or ask. Request an email recap of what you need to know.

This one makes your life better so fast.

7. Accept Help

Ever had your arms full and someone offers to grab something? And you say “No, I got it.”

WHY?!

“Yes, please” from now on.

8. Embrace the Public Poop

You’re in the stall, humbly checking your twitter feed, trying to keep quiet. Then some gastro-demon bursts into the pod next to you like the Kool-Aid man. While they splatter and plop without care, you sit, tight-cheeked & wide-eyed, trying not to make a sound. Except for a faint foot shuffle to let them know you’re there.

Or you’re on the pot, and some reluctant soul takes the stall next to you and neither of you can go. Like some kind of keester cake stand-off. Who can be quieter?

Kill that noise. Be the Kool-Aid man. If it’s high-noon at the B.M. Coral, draw first. Release the hounds. Win that duel.

9. Teach

I’ve heard that reading 6 books on a topic makes you an expert. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes you more knowledgeable than most.

Remember how I sat through all those trainings in tip #5? I know a lot of stuff. And I know more than some instructors. May as well teach.

I’ve led a few conversion writing lessons at work recently. It’s tremendous fun and they were well received. I don’t think of myself as an expert per se, but I’ve made a name for myself as the go-to specialist.

Bonus fact: there’s always room for good teachers. Also, I spelled “knowledgeable” wrong 5 different ways.

10. Help with Un-Fun Tasks

Giving someone a hand with chores goes a long way—and it comes back to you tenfold. Be a team player. You wind up building your own roster in the process. (Yay, sports analogy!) So grab a shovel and help your neighbor dig. Take a task from your coworker’s to-do list. They’ll return the favor.

But…

11. Don’t Keep Score

Help because you want to. A good day’s work makes a great night’s sleep. So don’t track favors. Assist because you genuinely care.

12. Let it Go

I made a New Year’s resolution in 2007 to toss, recycle or donate at least 1 item per day. I started with outdated manuals and clothes. Next were old boxes and obsolete randoms. Then bigger things like furniture and “I-may-use-it-someday” items got chucked.

Best resolution I ever made.

Now I’m trying it with The Dark Side. Fear, anger, hate, suffering. Toss that shit. It clutters your life. Way more than those twin metal bed frames you’ve been storing. Just toss it. Cut it from your life. You’ll sleep better.

Literally (figuratively) pack it up, pack it in, let it begin.

So, What’s Changed?

Not a lot.

A lot of little?

I dunno, really…

None of these are big accomplishments. They’re small wins. But they make me feel better. So that’s kinda big…

…If not just a little.

And I’ll be awful sometimes
Weakened to my knees
And I’ll learn to get by
On the little victories
And if the world decides to catch up with me
Still little victories

— Matt Nathanson, Little Victories

 

 

Saying Goodbye To Ringling Bros. One Last Time

We went to the circus last week. Likely for the last time…

…Man, I hope I’m wrong about that.

After 133 years, Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus is packing its tents. That’s profoundly sad for a guy whose son is named after P.T. Barnum.

Barnum was a man who made wonders. More specifically, he made you wonder. You knew his oddities couldn’t possibly be true, right? But still, what if

What if the Fiji Mermaid was real? Or the Cardiff Giant? Or Jenny Lind really was the greatest singer in the world even though you had never heard of her?

He was The Greatest Showman on Earth and he could make you question everything. He was never in it to trick you. He just wanted to make you wonder. He believed his cast’s stories were genuine. Because if he believed, he could make you believe. He could conscionably tell their stories with confidence. And you never left a show feeling like you’d been had.

Barnum collected wonders. He had a menagerie of oddities and he was kind to his staff—never exploiting them. Only showcasing their talents for as long as they wanted him to. They were his family. They were his friends. He never showed anyone against their will.

I am an animal lover. I support and donate to animal charities and have 2 rescue dogs. I understand PETA and I know circus animals have been mistreated. I don’t hold ill will toward activists for pressuring Ringling Bros. to remove the elephants—the straw which broke the proverbial camel’s back for ticket sales. But I was sad to see them go.

Call me naive, but I believe the majority of the circus love what they do and the animals they work with. And while I have no doubt that abuses have occurred, I don’t believe they are a frequent manifestation on today’s tour.

Depending on your age, you may be thinking about that unicorn. It’s worth noting that Ringling Bros. purchased Lancelot. Did genetic manipulation occur? Almost definitely. But not by the circus. They gave him a good run, a happy home and better care than he had on his previous renaissance fair circuit.

Would the animals would be happier in their natural habitat? Of course. You can say the same about zoo creatures. But I also know the joy they bring people—and me. And I know people who have worked with animals and truly loved them. Plus, there’s no guarantee they’ll go to their natural habitat. Or be taken care of as well as they are now. So you can argue either way.

I’ll miss the circus. It’s been an institution for generations and I’ve never left feeling like I’ve witnessed an atrocity. I always felt I saw incredibly talented performers at the peak of their career, loving the joy they bring to the crowd.

Last year, we took a picture with a clown.

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When we saw him again this year, Finn (short for Phineas Taylor, P.T. Barnum’s full name) recognized him immediately. He asked me to open the photo on my phone and ran over to show him. The clown smiled as big as the paint on his face. He hugged my son, told him it was great to see him again, and we took another photo.

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You can’t tell me that clown isn’t sad we can’t do it again next year.

My 7-Day Breakup with Facebook & Why I Just Want to Be Friends

Dear Facebook:

Things were getting ugly. I guess we should have seen it coming, but the fact is, this wasn’t planned. It just sort of happened.

I missed the way things used to be between us. Bad kid photography & that sneezing panda video we all loved…

But you got a little crazy last year. And last Friday, Inauguration Day, I…I just needed a little space.

And here’s what I learned during our 7-day separation.

Day 1: Friday (Inauguration Day)

Avoiding you today was surprisingly easy. I was busy at work with an all-day meeting so I really didn’t have time to miss you. No midday check-in. Important things were happening, obviously, so I still kept up with some news on Twitter. Oh, don’t be jealous. I only follow a few brands & industry folks on there, so I knew I was in a safe place. Then I kept myself busy with a family dinner & a movie when I got home.

It was…nice.

Day 2: Saturday

Today was a fun day with the kids. I missed you a little and even caught myself reaching out to check on you while watching TV—but then I remembered… I wish I could have shared the funny things my son did with you, but it can wait.

I checked Twitter to read about the Women’s March. Overall I’m still happy with my decision.

Day 3: Sunday

Uh oh. You sent me a notification. Maybe it was just a butt dial. OK, I allowed myself to check it, but I did NOT check  your news feed. I even covered the screen with my hand so as not to see anything. Turns out it was a one of those “So-And-So Is Live” ones. NBD. (BTW, can we please stop with those?)

The hardest part was when we all went to the Center for Puppetry Arts. I wanted to share a super-cute pic of the kids with Sprocket from Fraggle Rock with you—but I didn’t. And the distraction-free time with everyone was a welcome change.

Day 4: Monday

I missed you a little today. The break definitely felt more real. You teased me with another notification. You said that the Star Wars page I follow changed it’s name to Episode 8 – The Last Jedi. You evil temptress, you. I really wanted to click that.

So I headed to Twitter…

You can blame yourself for that one, FB. You drove me straight into her arms.

Day 5: Tuesday

My wife asked if I had seen her post. She was surprised when I told her I was holding steady with the break-up.

She told me you two had spoken more than usual lately. But nothing dirty. Just some good-natured, non-political stuff.  She said she wanted to put some good in the world. And she gave me a few updates about our friends. Of course I wanted to see it, but if I had come this far, I could wait a few more days.

The whole thing  made me realize how disconnected from each other we all are. I knew I could reach out to people,  but we both know I probably won’t…

Day 6: Wednesday

Checked your notification and caught a glimpse of that “Memory” frame you know I like. I didn’t see what it was, because my hand was covering it—but having that open loop made me think about you for a few minutes. Cheap technique…

I started a mental list of whose pages I’d visit when I logged back on. Starting to feel pretty disconnected from my close friends. And wondering if they’ve even noticed I’ve left.

Probably not…

Also, I found out that I need to provide a link to my son’s fundraising project. It’s tough to justify delaying that, but it will give my wife’s post for my daughter a chance to gain some traction without an overlap.

Maybe that’s an excuse but it seems plausible.

Oh, and I saw Mary Tyler Moore passed away. Turns out Twitter is as good at providing news as you. Maybe better since I only saw it twice rather than 936 times..

I went old school internet and started checking more actual websites. But I guess it’s normal to reminisce about the past after a break-up.

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Day 7: Thursday

I had a question for a group I’m only connected to on you today. But it can wait until tomorrow…

At noon, I accidentally drove by your house. I clicked your bookmark instead of the one above you. Maybe it was subconscious. Maybe just an old habit. either way, I bounced before anything loaded.

Only one more day. Only one more day…

And Now We’re Done…

So it’s over. After I finish this post, I’m going to log in and see you for the first time in a week.

Honestly though, I just want us to be friends now. I don’t want us spending so much time together. This time apart has been good for me. It allowed me to focus more on my family. And I’m kind of starting to like your friend Twitter. She’s got more to offer than I initially gave her credit for.

I’m still not terribly fond of your buddies, Instagram & Snapchat though…

Please don’t be surprised if I disappear for stretches at a time. Now that I know I can do it, I’ll probably go away more often. But I see you for you now. You’ve got a lot to offer. I’m glad you’re in my life.

But seriously, please stop with those Live notifications.

Love, Your Friend,

JB-

When Writing Gets in the Way of Doing

I started this blog to keep myself accountable for becoming better. Doing more for me. And it’s been a wild ride. It’s also led to a few freelance opportunities—which have taught me a ton and I’ve loved (almost) every minute of…

…but it’s kept the “doing more for me” at bay. The Just a Little Better part.

I’ve failed at posting every week because I’ve spent so much time on client work. And my stories with the kids often get shelved due to severe mental drain by bedtime.

When you write all day, the last thing you want to do is write at night.

So now I wonder, is the dream to create, love & be passionate about what I do for others—or for myself? 

I love the work I’m doing. The extra income has eased the holiday bank pains quite a bit. And learning about new topics has helped me develop as a person and a writer.

I’ve become more confident for sure. No hesitation when I tell someone my rates. No negotiating with clients I don’t particularly want. And no more taking jobs just for the money. Now if my spidey-sense starts tingling, I walk away.

But I think I’ve misprioritized where I want to get better.

Time to focus on becoming a little better me at home

Even if it means a little less extra income. Because writing with my kids pays more than any freelance gig ever will.

 

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@helloquence

6-Year-Olds Make Terrible Editors

One of my favorite things in the world is reading with my daughter. We recently started writing together, too. And it’s been pretty awesome.

I love the 1-on-1 time and she comes up with some amazing characters. Nothing will drive your imagination further than letting a kid take the wheel. 

Because she’s 6, we have a lot of princess stories. But the rule is, we need to make up new ones. No Cinderella. No Elsa. No Merida (even though she’s a total badass).

No—any princess we write about has to be created from scratch.

And there’s no way I could ever come up with the nonsensical names this girl creates.  We’ve got:

  • Mr. Washington Monument – A living slab of concrete who runs the Royal Zoo.
  • Dreida – The princess’s favorite Fairy Whale
  • Crusher Bones – Our villain
  • Smoodle – One of Crusher’s henchmen
  • The Octopooper – Nobody’s quite sure what he does

They’re whimsy, silly and perfect. And that’s just from our current story. The list is endless.

I could go into an attack of the portrayal of weak women needing a man to rescue them—but she’s 6. And this isn’t that kind of post. Besides, I think the last few Disney movies have solidly addressed that issue.

…Here’s the thing though.

The girl is destroying my story lines.

I love her, but every time we start getting somewhere, she wants to add a new character. Usually a fairy. Sometimes an animal. Often a fruit. And we pivot. Now, I’m all for character development. But I’m trying to tell a story here! Someone’s got to teach this kid about structure. But no. All she wants to do is make an entire magical kingdom of fluffy characters and their friends.

Uggh. It’s like writing for a 5-year-old.

You’re better than that, kid. You’re this many now!

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Have you not learned anything from Dahl, Seuss & Gaiman yet? C’mon!

…Luckily, she’s cute.

I’ve secretly started editing some of our stories after she falls asleep. She gets mad when she notices, but I think she’ll love me for it when she’s older.

*Drops $15 in the “Therapy Money” jar*

Maybe we’ll try again tomorrow night.

 

Stealing Techniques From My Favorite Authors

I write a lot about brand loyalty and earning hotel points when you travel. I love it, but it can become a little formulaic. And I wanted a little adrenaline rush. So I started stealing.

…In a good way.

stealing_letters

I’ve mentioned that I love children’s books. I’ve got Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl tattooed on me. I literally wear my passion on my sleeve. But how does this relate to writing posts about hotels?

You gotta get crafty.

You use whatever you can use.

Clearly I can’t get away with putting in nonsensical phrases or silly words at work. But I can follow unconventional sentence structures.

I can write short. Like this. To make your eyes move. Then stop. Then fly fast. Woosh! Red light. Green light. Go! Across the page. And then I can randomly change it by putting in an unfittingly long sentence that carries more weight to it so maybe you’ll pay attention a little more and your brain notices some type of subconscious switch that makes you feel indecisive, or anxious, or even a wee bit panicked.

…But I only do that if I want to freak out my reader. Ya know, for funsies.

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I can’t steal the themes I love, but I can steal the cadence.

And alliteration. Oh, I love alliteration. I eat it up, like tiny teeth tearing into taffy. It’s not like I can hit Seussian levels—I just pepper it in where I can. Especially with headlines. As long as they’re clear. Clear doesn’t have to mean to boring. 

It’s the little things like this that make my job fun. Oftentimes I’ll get a comment from a stakeholder that they really liked a piece, but they can’t exactly figure out what’s different about it. That’s when I know I got it right. Just enough familiarity to make it not feel ripped off.

It’s taken me about 2 years to find the balance. And that’s on top of a lifetime honing my voice. I don’t know that I’ll ever perfect it. That’s what makes this whole thing fun.

Just a little better each time.

And our readers seem to like it, too. Open and conversion rates have taken a nice little bump.

Oh, the places we’ll go…

 

 

We Lost, Now It’s Time to Shake Hands.

After the game ends, you shake hands. First with your team, then with your opponent. You line up and you say, “Good game.” 

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The handshake line is the best tradition in sports and it’s what I reminded my kids this morning.

If you didn’t win, that’s OK. You feel the way the other team felt 4 years ago. You don’t love it, but you’re not supposed to. Because you care. And it’s never as bad as it feels right now.

We all taste victory. We all taste defeat.

That’s how it works.

If you won, congratulations. You fought hard. 

If you’re upset , that’s alright. Just remember that your entire team feels the same way. You are not alone. You played well. You played a respectable game and you did it together—and boy, did you make it close.

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We’ll play again in 4 years. 

Good game, everyone.

Embracing the Beautiful Awful

I just listened to a podcast. A heartbreaking one about loss. The speaker, an artist whose mother was battling cancer, described the experience as “The Beautiful Awful.” What an amazing phrase.

It was about being in the moment — and not being concerned about keeping up appearances. It was about embracing the unfinished and taking value in what simply is. Because life isn’t perfect. And it may never will be.

So embrace the ugly. Find beauty in the moment even if it’s not the moment you want it to be. Embrace it for what is and what might be. For the lasting impression it will leave on you and for the better person you’re about to become.

And don’t be afraid to publish your first draft.

 

You Guys, This Whole “Getting Better” Thing is Working.

There have been a few unexpected surprises with the whole “getting better” thing.

The big one being, I  really am becoming better at stuff. (“Stuff” being a very technical term )

I’m having more fun with who I am. I’m meeting people I admire and they’re helping me with projects. And I’m working on more tasks that I care about. Most importantly, I feel better about myself and the way I’m handling things.

My temperament with my kids is SO much better since I committed to the change. I can’t begin to express how much I owe to these lessons.  So many hugs. So very little yelling. It’s been a miracle maker for me. I can count on 1 hand the number of times I’ve raised my voice this month. Before I took action, I couldn’t even make it Tuesday without moving to my second thumb.

This has been so much fun! Just look at that kid. This is right after he won the game ball last week.

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Unexpectedly, I’ve even been eating better, too. (Do I really need that Ding Dong? Nah, I can do better.)

And I’ve been having a great time writing for this site. At first I was worried about building an audience, but now I truly don’t care. (No offense, reader, I’m thrilled that you’re here and hope this might help you, too.)  I’m happy with what I’m producing–and I’m not a fan of self promotion in the way that generates numbers. Even if nobody ever reads this, the people I’m writing for are seeing the change in me. 

So, how has his overlapped into my professional life? I’ve started tinkering at work. I drop personality into daily emails with co-workers and it lead to me being asked to manage a new project that they felt was lacking tone. And I started putting little flourishes of my favorite writers into things. (Stay tuned for elaboration on that next week).

I’ve been writing and reading more with my kids—which has always been something I’ve loved to do. More on that, and why my 6-year-old is a terrible editor, coming soon

Right now though, I’m super happy to be connecting on a deeper, healthier level. I found my smile. And I’ve hit publish way more than I’ve ever done before.

Yeah, better is definitely better.

 

 

Resurrecting the Lost Art of the Mixtape — And How to Make Playlists Better

(Originally written January 2009. Updated October 2016)

Somewhere in a drawer, I still have my tapes. Little 90-minute nuggets of emotions with “Maxell” stickers slapped on top. Happy-Fun-Time mixes, Breakup mixes, Road Trip mixes, Alt/Grunge mixes, Classic Rock mixes (esoterically named The Gen 13 Series), Girlfriend mixes (both from and for), 80’s and Oldies mixes… They are all there. Some made by me, dozens made by others. Each one has a story and a personality of its own. More importantly, it has the personality of its creator.

Tapes had 90-minutes to tell a story. Not even 90. Two 45-minute, strictly-regimented interludes. And there was a lot to fit in. It took planning—and as Nick Hornby wrote, there were rules.

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again […] A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick it off with a corker, to hold the attention […], and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, […] and . . . oh, there are loads of rules.

— Nick Hornby, High Fidelity (1995), pp. 88-89

Some may argue that MP3 playlists are the same thing. But it’s just not true.

ITunes changed the game. Now it’s all drag & drop. Sure it’s faster. Sure you can crank out one right after the other — and you can find any song ever recorded ever. But there isn’t any romance. You don’t listen to each song as it is being placed, giving you that one last chance to make sure that this is the perfect song to tell your story. You don’t get to think about the memory it invokes or the specific reason the listener will love that song. Gone is the emotional investment. Songs have been replaced with files.

It’s all so very mechanical.

When was the last time you listened to a tape? Don’t worry; I had to think about this one, too. The answer is probably sometime just before you traded in your last car with a tape deck.

With the advent of MP3’s, your playlist can be infinite. It’s literally a never ending story. This has cheapened the craft. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. Who wants to listen to something forever? No—two 45-minute sides were perfect. It may seem like a good thing, but infinity is overrated.

Just ask Nick and Norah.

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I remember hunting for songs. Calling friends and digging through my sister’s music collection. Or waiting by the radio with my hand on the Record button, hoping the DJ would read my mind and give me just enough break between songs to not get any banter at the end. It was awful and so very wonderful at the exact same time.

And playlists make it too easy to skip. How many times did someone make you a tape with a song you didn’t really like? Or with a band you didn’t know? And how many times did you grow to love that song? That’s the point! You learned new music. You created an emotional attachment with the lyrics, with the singer and with the person that gave you the tape. Because if you wanted to skip, you had to hit Fast Forward. Then you’d go too far. Then you’d hit Rewind. Then you’d Fast Forward again until you found the next song. It was a process. No, it was just easier to listen to it. Later you’d find that you didn’t even want to pass that song anymore. In fact, maybe you’d want to Fast Forward to that song.

Now you just skip.

My friends made great tapes. All for different reasons. Some came up with fantastic names for their mixes. The Mourning of The Death of Chivalry, The Great Philosophes and Ed McMahon comes to mind. Another friend never made labels or covers for his tapes—he could just tell which it was by holding it up to the sky. He had a connection to them. They spoke to him. They spoke to him because he spent 90 minutes creating each and every one.

You just can’t do that with a playlist.

I’m not saying we go back. I’m not telling you to step away from your computer and dig out your old boombox. The Mix-Tape is dead—and it has been for a while. It’s a thing of the past. But I still miss it.

So maybe I start editing more. Maybe I give myself a limit. And maybe, moving forward, I cut my lists to 90 minutes. I bet they’ll be stronger. Because with limits, you have to think–and you have to craft. You have to pay attention and you have to make choices. And ultimately, isn’t that better?

Got any perfect playlists? I’d love to hear ‘em. You tell me your favorite mixtape memory below and I’ll tell you mine.

*play*