Do You Have a Home Office? Would You Like to Have One?
February 27, 2008
In the early '90s, the New York Times recalls, the term home office meant the headquarters of a company. "Back then," the newspaper says, "the very idea of working at home had a certain stigma, except in a few vocations like freelance writing. In the popular imagination, people who worked at home were usually laid off or couldn't hold down a job or were peripheral to the work force.
"But by 2006, according to data collected by the Dieringer Research Group (Brookfield, Wis.) more than 28 million Americans were working from home at least part time." More startling, perhaps -- this was an increase of 10 percent from the year before.
According to the American Homes Furnishings Alliance, 7 in 10 Americans now have offices or designated workstations in their homes, a 112 percent increase since 2000. And a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that home office ranked as the fourth most important feature in a new upscale home.
Another article in the same issue profiled a New York couple who had to find a bigger apartment when they both decided to work from home. The apartment that they lived in was fine for one of them to work but not both at the same time. "He kept talking to me about his work, which is very interesting, but it was really taking time out of my workday," the young woman said. "And when I was alone there was a sense of loneliness and procrastination."
Do you have a home office? Have you thought about getting one?
I didn't used to. But I do now. In the old days I was happy getting to work two hours before anyone else and doing my important-but-not-urgent work in the quiet of an empty office. But since Early to Rise has grown up around my office, that has become impossible. Spurred by our constant "early to rise" preaching, half the company's employees are getting in at the crack of dawn. Which means that some of them were finding their way to my office.
The solution for me was to build a writing studio on top of my garage. It is a single room with a small bathroom, big enough for a writing table, two chairs, some bookshelves and a cigar box. That cigar box is a bonus that came with the room. Nowhere else on the Masterson premises am I allowed to smoke indoors.
Since that writing studio was completed, I've been climbing up to work there at 7:30 every morning. After sprinting and stretching on the beach, I take a big cup of coffee and turn on my computer. The first thing I do every morning is to start my journal. I document the state of my psychology: whether I'm motivated, depressed or hung over. And then I start writing.
Since I've been using a home office, my productivity has increased. The biggest change has been the amount of fiction and poetry I have been able to write. In the old days I felt guilty about writing personal stuff in the office. I have no such feelings about my little writing studio at home. It's there for my personal use. So that's what I'll do there!
My requirements for a good home office are simple and few:
- A good chair that is not too comfortable
- A window with a view that is not too great
- A docking station for my laptop computer
- Books for inspiration
- And the aforementioned cigar box
Those who have written me chastising me for smoking will be happy to hear that I seldom actually smoke there. (If I do smoke, it is usually a short cigar once a day after lunch.) Although I do believe it is better that I smoke less, I'm happy to know that there is a box of Nicaraguans waiting for me should I weaken my resolve.
I am writing this in the late afternoon at my office office. I have just completed two very productive meetings and a handful of phone calls. I will do my emails after I'm through writing this and then I'll do more work for the afternoon and evening. But tomorrow morning, after my run, I'll be up there again in my little hideaway chipping away at my dream of being a writer of fiction, one paragraph at a time.
posted by M. Masterson @ 2:03 PM, ,
Ready, Fire, Aim Hits #11 on the New York Times Bestseller List!
February 19, 2008
Any time you get an e-mail from a colleague with a subject line in all caps with three exclamation points it's got to be something good. When you open the message and you read, "Yuuhooooooo! NY Times Bestseller!" that's even better.
That's right. My new book, Ready, Fire, Aim: Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat, just hit #11 on the New York Times Business Best Sellers list. Even though the book hit #1 on Amazon right after the New Year and then #7 on the Wall Street Journal's list a month ago, I'm still very proud of this accomplishment. It means that many weeks after our biggest marketing efforts have faded, people are still buying the book, and in great numbers.
They're reading about it online, seeing reviews in print publications, hearing about it from friends and business partners, and then going out and buying a copy. If you are one of them, I thank you. And from the reviews I've seen on Amazon and the many we've received directly from readers at Early to Rise, very few people are disappointed with their purchase. Here is one of my favorites:
"Michael has written a power-packed book which will surely ignite both theI'm glad to read that Adam is benefiting so much from reading Ready, Fire, Aim. And that's what it's all about really. The prestige from being on all the best seller lists is great, but changing how people do business and teaching them how to be successful is much more rewarding.
aspiring entrepreneurs along with the seasoned entrepreneurs. I have been a
serial entrepreneur since high school and have learned a lot along the way and this book will now be part of my recommended required reading. To sum it up, Ready, Fire, Aim is an energy-filled book which shares some proven and
effective strategies on how to be a successful entrepreneur. This book is an
authentic, to-the-point guide that will surely be a helpful tool for all
posted by M. Masterson @ 9:32 AM, ,
Mountains Beyond Mountains
February 13, 2008
One of the benefits of participating in a book club is reading books you would not have selected on your own. Sometimes those books can be provocative and rewarding.
February's book club selection, Mountains Beyond Mountains, was both. A New York Times "Notable book" and Reader's Circle selection, this 304-page nonfiction narrative by Tracy Kidder is the kind of book that will have you thinking about its ideas for weeks or months after you finish it.
(CAUTION: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD)
It is a profile of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard trained tuberculosis specialist who has spent his life bringing first-world medical treatment to some of the earth's poorest people. Tracy Kidder does a good job presenting this story. Although he seems too smitten by the doctor at the book's beginning, he gains perspective as the narrative goes on. By the end of the book the reader has a nuanced view of this impressive and complicated healer. It is the view that Kidder seems to have. And that's okay. Because Kidder, we realize, is more like us than Dr. Farmer is.
Dr. Paul Farmer is a very unusual doctor. Completely dedicated to his patients, he is happy to travel miles and miles in rural Haiti to visit patients that can't come to him. He works tirelessly, lives frugally, writes books, makes speeches, argues his cause and travels more than 250,000 miles a year to raise money and public awareness for people who can't afford the kind of medical care that most first-world citizens consider normal.
Starting with nothing but a few thousand dollars and an indomitable will, he flew to Haiti as a young medical student. He established a small clinic in Cange, a rural area that had no access to doctors. From that meager beginning he went on to develop several other successful clinics in other parts of the world. He also developed a method of treating tuberculosis patients who were resistant to the most common forms of treatment. In pursuing his career, he attracted apostles - a wealthy man who was happy to "get rid" of his fortune by donating to the doctor's mission as well as dozens of doctors, nurses and volunteer workers who believed, as he did, that the poor deserve the same medical treatment as the rich.
This is particularly true, Dr. Farmer believes, when the patient is suffering from a life-threatening disease (such as tuberculosis) that can be cured. In an interesting passage about the concept of triage - the medical term for deciding which patients gets treated first and/or treated at all and which patients get treated later and/or ignored completely - the reader is presented with the fundamental moral issue that permeates the book:
A woman from the city of Hinche, "eschewing the dreadful public hospital there," brought her son John to Farmer's clinic. The boy had swelling in his neck and a high white cell count. One of Farmer's doctors decided he needed emergency treatment, but the kind that could only be given in a first-world hospital. She found an oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who agreed to diagnose the boy for free. She took tissue and blood samples and Farmer flew them with him to Boston. The diagnosis was bad. John had nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a very rare and deadly cancer. If caught early, however, it had a 60% to 70% cure rate.
At first Farmer thought the boy could be treated in Haiti, but as time passed he got quickly worse. The only chance to save his life was to fly him to Boston and have the procedure done there. Since commercial airlines would not carry someone looking as dreadful as John did, they decided to medieac him there - transportation that cost the clinic $20,000. The account of taking him to Port-au-Prince where the Lear jet waited was harrowing. A storm was raging. The ambulance broke down several times. And the machine that was keeping John breathing was hooked up to the cigarette lighter. By sheer force of will, they got John to the jet and from there everything went smoothly.
Everything except the outcome. His disease had spread too far. In a few short weeks, he was dead.
The $20,000 spent on John did not save his life. Yet it would have saved several lives - possibly dozens - if it had been used locally, to treat Haitians whose ailments were less advanced.
Thus the question of triage: given limited resources, what is the most humane way of helping the sick and the poor?
Does everybody have an equal right to the best medicine money can buy? Farmer thinks so. When there is a chance to cure someone, as there was with John, there is also a moral imperative to do everything you could. He has a term for this. He calls it an AMC - an area of moral clarity.
Other health practitioners - most health practitioners in fact - have a different idea. They advocate triage -- using what resources you have to help the most people you possibly can. It is morally better, they would argue, to let John die - even if he might have been cured - if the money spent on John could cure several Johns who didn't need to be medevaced to the United States.
Dr. Farmer spends a good deal of his time arguing this issue when he attends medical forums or meets with international aid groups or courts wealthy people and organizations for funds. His view is that everybody should do what he does: abandon the desire for personal gain and safety. Commit to the notion that we should treat everyone and anyone with the same care and giving that we would give ourselves or our own children.
Dr. Farmer doesn't have a good answer for the economic criticism of his mission: that what he is doing can't be done universally. By spending so much on one dying child, you deprive others of their right to live.
He doesn't have an answer but he is sure he is doing the right thing. He feels it most convincingly when he is hiking miles, mountain over mountain, to help his poor patients. He feels it as a moral certainty then. So he keeps pushing, even though he knows that at some level his mission (of eradicating unnecessary death among the poor) cannot succeed.
Kidder's depiction of Dr. Farmer shows him to be a complicated man: caring but myopic, intelligent but naive, idealistic and zealous, moral and arrogant. But despite his flaws, Dr. Farmer presents a challenge to the thoughtful reader: What is my moral responsibility? How much should I do?
The president of my book club was so inspired by this account that he decided to establish some sort of medical or anti-poverty program in Latin America. He didn't want to simply give money to existing programs. He wanted to get involved, like Dr. Farmer, and see what kind of difference he could make.
I would not have read this book if it had not been mandated by my book club. Yet I'm glad I did. It has already given me some interesting thoughts:
- My friend Ella, who believes that all "overly wealthy people" should give up their "extra" money to the poor. What is an "overly wealthy" person to Ella? Anyone who is wealthier than she. She considers her personal fortune, about $2 million as near as I can guess, to be adequate but also necessary. When she makes her point I can't help but think that the money she wants to give away is mine, not hers.
- Should a rich man stop working and spend his life administering to the poor? Or does it do more good to keep working and thus be able to contribute large sums of money to those, like Dr. Farmer, who need money to do their work?
- Are areas of moral clarity real? Or are they selfish, smug delusions? I have had moments when I was sure that what I was doing was good. Some of those moments involved giving large sums of money to people in need. About half of the time that money didn't help matters. That left me wondering whether I shouldn't have triaged it better by giving it out, in smaller doses, to people who might have used it better.
- At one point in the book Dr. Farmer finds himself crying over the fate of a young patient. He realizes that he got so emotional because he saw his own daughter in that little girl. To Dr. Farmer, this is a flaw in his character. He wants to care as much for "The least of his brethren" that he does for "the most." But nature mandates that we care more for our offspring than we do for anything else. That is an instinct that preserves our species. Can something so fundamental to our nature be wrong, as Dr. Farmer thinks? I am not sure. I do believe that civility, if not civilization, is advanced by expanding one's selfish instinct to preserve his lineage. But I also think that there is something healthy about that too.
- On the one hand, Dr. Farmer's strategy is obviously impossible to execute globally. There is simply not enough money in the world to do what he does. On the other hand, it seems to an outside observer (not just to him) that he is doing something good and should be admired for it. What, if anything, does this mean?
- Nothing works against poverty and disease. Despite all our efforts - including the efforts of the Dr. Farmers in the world, these human scourges persist.
- One of the reasons that it is impossible to eradicate poverty is because we don't really understand what it is. We see it as something fixed and static. We think, "There are a hundred trillion dollars worth of poverty in the world and two hundred trillion dollars of wealth." If we can redistribute that wealth then poverty would be gone. But what if poverty, like wealth, was not something fixed and static? What if poverty was a result or a product instead? What if poverty can be produced just as readily as wealth? Then it would be obvious that it can't be eliminated. Even if we got rid of whatever existed today, there would be more poverty tomorrow. (This last is a thought I think I should expand on.)
- Even if it is impossible to eliminate poverty, our instinct to fight it seems natural, even instinctive. The impulse to help the poor is just as fundamental as the impulse to make ourselves rich.
posted by M. Masterson @ 8:56 AM, ,
A Book You May Want to Add to Your Bookshelves
February 5, 2008
The last book we read for our book club was A General Theory of Love.
I've been recommending it strongly.
I had read a good review of it in The New York Review of Books. It was about neuroscience - something I had heard of but never really understood. I thought it would be a good chance to find out why this is such a hot subject.
It turns out that neuroscience is about how the brain works. A General Theory of Love is a book about the biology of emotion.
Despite a tendency toward ornate prose, the book was terrific. It was chock full of interesting facts, figures, stories, studies and conclusions. It clarified and advanced my thinking about many things, including:
- The anatomy and functionality of the brain
- Where emotion and thinking reside
- The causes of anxiety and depression
- How much motherly attachment is good
- Why Freud and psychotherapy are so bad
- Why dogs are better friends than cats
- When animals regress in evolutionary progress
- Why some people stand too close to you when they speak
- Why repressed memory syndrome is a hoax
- How false memories land innocent people in jail
- Why babies should be allowed to sleep with their parents
- The important difference between loving and being "in love"
Here are some of my notes on the book:
Problems and Questions:
Page 23: The authors don't want to locate love in the reptilian brain, but they will assign gang violence to it, even though they admit that reptiles display both aggression and courtship rituals.
Page 173: Feeling like you are being treated can help you recover because of the connectivity. The limbic brain is healed. Could this account for the placebo effect?
Page 190 - End: The last part of the book does two things: First it discusses the difference between loving...which happens in the limbic brain and is based on mutuality and involves reciprocal physiological connection...and being in love...which requires only a brief connection. This is very good. It harkens to F. Scott Peck's distinction between Romantic love and loving. The second major theme of the back of the book makes the argument that "some cultures encourage emotional health while others do not." The authors criticize America particularly. This was the weakest part of the book.
Differences between Mammals and Reptiles
- Mammals bear their young live. Reptiles lay eggs.
- Mammals nurse, defend and rear their offspring. Reptiles ignore and often abandon them after they hatch.
- Mammals form close-knit, mutually nurturing social groups (families). Reptiles live solitary lives.
- Mammals communicate with their children. Reptiles do not. (After limbic ablation adult hamsters ignored the calls and cries of their young, pups would stop over their mates)
- Mammals play with one another. (A man tugs a toy with a dog.) Reptiles do not.
Interesting Facts and/or Statements
- If the Wernicke part of the left brain is damaged you cannot understand what people are saying to you but you can speak perfectly well. (58)
- If the Broca part of the left brain is damaged you can comprehend but not express yourself. (58)
- Damage to the right brain can result in Aprosodia, an inability to either discern or to or deliver the emotional nuances (verbal inflections) of the spoken language. (58)
- Animals with little neocortical brains - dogs, cats, opossums - have emotions. (60)
- Babies look to the expression on their mother's faces to detect danger. (61)
- The limbic brain is very sophisticated at detecting the internal states of other mammals. (62)
- Because of the connectivity of the limbic brain, emotions are contagious whereas thoughts can easily be rejected. (64)
- Take a puppy away from his mother and he will bark and whine for a while.
Reunite it with his mother and he will quiet down. Separate him for a very long time and he will become ill tempered and despairing. (74)
- Prolonged detachment creates a host of somatic symptoms. (82)
- Detachment from individual motherly parts produces individual symptoms of despair. For example, detachment from the mother's bodily warmth slows bodily activity while detachment from the mother's milk produces sleep problems. (82)
- It used to be thought that the limbic system was determined entirely by the DNA. Now we know it is subject to crucial early growth experiences, such as those provided by the mother. (89)
- Sometimes animals abandon evolutionary traits to survive. Pandas, for example, don't need the attachment to the mother that other mammals do. This is probably because nature has forced them to live alone even from a young age. (90)
- When people have trouble with their emotions they often want science to pinpoint an offending neurotransmitter, but the brain doesn't work that way. (92)
- The limbic brain has neurotransmitters that produce pain and also assuage pain: opiates. (95)
- There are two types of memory: explicit memory and implicit memory. Explicit memory records perception: i.e., events. Recent scanning studies show that this part of the brain controls imagination as well. Thus explicit memory is totally fallible. The explicit memory function of the brain cannot distinguish between real and imagined events. (104)
- Implicit memory allows us to learn languages and skills. (108)
- Implicit memory is active at birth. Explicit memory begins after infancy. (112)
- Reasoning has little or no effect on the limbic brain and that is where all the perceptions and emotions are contained. (118)
- We learn by neural networks that are inscribed by experience, most especially the experience of early attachments. (120 - 140)
- A limbic connection can steady a person whose emotions are tumbling out of control. (172)
- Medications can sometimes steer emotions where attachment cannot. (172)
- Throughout history man has regulated his limbic brain with alcohol, opium, cocaine, etc. (176)
- You cannot control the limbic brain with the neocortical brain. You cannot easily control your perceptions by thinking about them. Self help gurus that say you can feel more positively by making statements in the mirror are probably mistaken. (177)
- Nothing kills therapy faster than a therapist who follows Freud's dictum to be "opaque to the patient." (184)
- Recent studies show that human babies are meant to sleep with their parents and that dying from sudden death syndrome is more likely to happen when they are alone than when they are with their parents. (196)
- Loving relationships are, by definition, based on mutual interest. This is how the limbic brain works. Selfish relationships cannot produce that loving feeling. (208)
These are just a small portion of the notes I took on this book. Check it out yourself and let me know what you think.
posted by M. Masterson @ 2:08 PM, ,