Sundance Vacations- Is There Really Value In Buying 30 Vacations Wholesale?

On Friday night my wife got an interesting call. Last month we took our kids to the Thomas and Friends Day at the Toy Train Emporium. They had a drawing for a grand prize of tickets to the Thomas Show at the Tweeter Center. I rarely if ever enter drawings for money anymore, but I do occasionally enter for things like that. We filled out cards for our kids, partly because the cards enrolled them in the Birthday Club that the store offered. Just after we got home, I got a call from the store saying that the card I filled out for Joshua won and we had 4 tickets to the show plus a special Meet and Greet with Sir Topham Hat. That sounded good. I ended up not being able to go because I had class that day but my wife took her sister along. While there, she filled out a card for another drawing (my wife is more likely to fill these things out than I am; I’ve gotten on too many junk marketing lists that way) and that drawing won. She was told on her call last night that she won a free vacation to Orlando or Las Vegas. We just had to come pick up the tickets and pay the taxes on them. The company, Sundance Vacations, from research I did is headquartered in Wilkes-Barre, PA and has six more offices in the PA-NJ area. The office in King of Prussia, PA is closest to us. They had an appointment for Friday night but we originally took one for 11 AM Saturday morning because we were supposed to have company over for dinner.

I thought it had to be a scam, or a time share presentation, which I partially consider to be a scam anyway. There isn’t very much in this world that you get for nothing, especially something like a vacation. These things cost money, and companies don’t just go giving them away because you were nice enough to fill out a card with your name, phone number, address, annual income, or whatever else they required. I really didn’t want to have to go Saturday, because I needed to go to work to make up for taking off on Monday to finish a flooring project that went horribly wrong last weekend. Also, due to other events, I needed time on Saturday to finish my weekly assignment for my current class at the University of Phoenix, and being at the office on Saturday provides me with a quiet environment to do that, once I get through my work that I went in to do, of course. When our dinner guests didn’t show up, my wife asked me to call them. It turns out that they were under the impression that she was going to call them during the week to confirm, and she didn’t. I told her to call the place that claimed we won a vacation and see if the 8 PM appointment was still open. After all, what’s a 40 mile drive to King of Prussia on Philadelphia’s poorly designed, patchworked, scenic and deadly Schukyll Expressway at the end of Philadelphia’s Friday night rush hour anyway? My sister in law, who lives with us, was willing to watch the kids for the evening, so we set out. Actually, if they hadn’t expressly forbidden children, I would have brought them. Bored and cranky children make an excellent excuse for leaving an uncomfortable situation. Fortunately, all of the traffic jams were in the eastbound lanes, and we made it in time for our 8:15 PM appointment. (I actually prefer military or 24 hour time, but I’m doing AM and PM for any readers who don’t know what I mean when I say we arrived at 2015.) 

I wish I’d had time to do an Internet search before we left, but the search I did while conducting research for this entry turned up little useful information. We arrived just about on time for our appointment. The office was in a corporate park. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured there would be a travel agency layout and decor to the office. There wasn’t. We walked into a lobby that seemed comfortable enough, The receptionist greeted us and gave us a form to fill out. The form, in addition to the basic questions about name, address, occupation, income, etc. also asked questions about where we vacation, who we go with, where we go, what we like to do, and the ever ominous question about whether we have been forced to sit through been to a time share presentation. That, to me, was a dead giveaway what we were being pulled into but we drove 40 miles so we figured we’d see what they had to offer. 

The woman assigned to our appointment came out to get us and walked us down a long hallway plastered from ceiling to floor on both sides with Polaroid pictures of people holding beach balls and smiling. She said it was their "Wall of Success" or something and she seemed highly confident that our picture would be on that wall shortly. I wasn’t so sure, but I kept that to myself. She took us back to a large room with inflatable beach balls all over the place and many tables with presentation folders on them. The outside of the room was lined with offices. It was just like cubeville but without the cubicles. The beach balls were a nice touch, and I should have taken some with me. They might liven up cubeville where I work. 

When we sat down at the table she explained what we already knew, to get our free vacation we just had to give her 20 minutes. Then she took the presentation folder and launched into the presentation. I was once in a multi-level marketing organization, and although I never did very well, I was highly trained in the "sales and marketing plan", which I was once able to do on a bar napkin. I was pretty good at it, actually. I recognize aspects of that method in situations like this one, and to be honest it really destroys any sense of legitimacy for me. She went through the pages in the presentation folder, and she also had a printed page with numbers and slogans on it that she kept circling and writing on, just like the sales and marketing plan form I once used. 

Here is the gist of the presentation for any who are interested. It actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea, and I’ll explain our thinking and what we did in a little bit. OK, you probably take vacations once in a while. What this place, Sundance Vacations does, is buy vacations wholesale. They don’t advertise, and they pass the savings along to their members (that’s the claim). You buy all of your vacations at once, sort of like the difference between, say, paying $3 a beer at a bar versus buying a case for $14.99. (They used soda in their presentation). You get 8 days of vacation a year in a nice vacation condo in locations all over the world, from the Jersey Shore (great place, really) to Las Vegas to the Caribbean. You make a call to them and pay $99 for them to book your vacation. As best as we were able to reconstruct the details in the car on our way home, it sounded like you had to pay airfare but they got you the best rate possible. You also had to pay for the condo, but it was much cheaper than if you went to the destination retail. They had a peak season cap. Also, somehow the plan was completely protected against inflation. If you buy now, in 20 years you’ll still pay the same price. I should have asked how they did that and what would happen if the economy tanked so badly that it would take $48 to get one Euro, but I didn’t. I honestly didn’t expect her to have an answer to that worst case scenario. This plan, which is as best I recall because they didn’t exactly offer to let us take any materials home, cost *only* $15,000. You just have to put down $2400 and finance the rest for several years at 16 3/4% interest. I laughed at that. Seriously, if I really wanted to finance $15,000 I can get a much better interest rate than that. 

Of course, that wasn’t all. For that day only, they had a really special package with 5 more vacations at a lower cost plus a few bonuses for $12,000. That required putting down less money. We told her it would be nice if we could have time to think about it. I’ve made some really stupid decisions over the years because companies like this force you to make a decision on the spot, so by this point in my life I refuse to do it. To my thinking, instant decision = scam. If they’re really afraid of losing a sale because they gave me time to think about it, and of course do some research on the Internet, then it cannot be legitimate and I will walk away. Of course, I’m not equating illegitimate with illegal. I’m sure this is perfectly legal, but I don’t consider it a legitimate place to put my money if I have to decide right now. Even in the multi-level marketing system I did, we would send people home with materials and tapes (which really told them nothing) and give them 48 hours to think about what they heard.

By this point, the woman had finished her presentation and we politely declined, but of course they can’t just let you walk away, so the heavy artillery or "bad cop" is brought in. She said she had to get her manager just to make sure that she did a good job and answered all of our questions. Now, of course the first person you deal with will be very pleasant, but there is a second tier of salesmanship. She brought back a man in a pin-stripe suit who seemed very authoritative and imposing. When I was younger, I might have folded under his pressure, but at the ripe age of 33 I’ve seen enough that I wasn’t intimidated by his act, nor was I impressed. He went through the formalities of asking how our presenter did, and of course we said she did fine. Then he asked if they could give us another package that would be more to our liking, but of course, this package was only good for today. We said we would probably be interested but of course would like to have some time to talk it over and think about it. We also explained that we are about to undertake a massive home renovation project and we’ve barely even started getting the details together, so we really need to keep our budget clear and our savings up. We remained pleasant. Finally, the man stood up and said "I’m sorry we couldn’t help you", like he was disappointed in us. It was at that point that I realized there was no way we would consider any offer from them, because somehow he made the deal seem much more personal in a not so nice way with that statement and tone of voice. I actually think it’s the other way around; we’re sorry we couldn’t help them. 

Finally, we were ushered into another office to pick up our free vacation. The woman in there was much less pleasant than the receptionist or our presenter. She seemed cold. She took out another plan page and drew out a package that was still less and offered it to us. Of course, like all of the others, this was good only for today (Friday, actually). 

I’d like to call at this point what we referred to in the Navy as a Training Time Out. I can’t help but wonder, and my wit wasn’t working fast enough Friday night to think of this until we were in the car on the way home, what their reaction would have been if I’d asked them "We originally had an appointment for tomorrow, but changed to tonight. What ‘1 day only’ offers would you have given us tomorrow? What ‘1 day only’ offers did you give to people yesterday? What’s on tap for Monday?" I actually love these high pressure sales tactics with their "1 day only" special offers. Think about this in the grand scheme of things. In all of history, there is only one day on the entire timeline during which you could possibly expect to get a special deal on a wholesale vacation package from Sundance Vacations, which has been in business since 1992 (1996 according to the BBB), has seven offices, and the office in King of Prussia seems equipped to handle many presentations at once. Never mind that you’re about to sell one house and build on another, no, you have to get that vacation package today or you’ll be staying at a Motel 6 for the rest of your life and your children will go on Oprah and tell the world what a horrible parent you were for missing that one day in time that could have changed all of your lives for the better! You family will be disgraced for generations to come! Think about it, anyway. Secure from Training Time Out (that means return to our regularly scheduled blog entry). 

We politely told the woman that again, we would consider the deal if they would only give us time to think and talk about it. Sadly, this final offer was only good for Friday night. It will never be offered to anybody again, apparently. I still wonder what they would have told us had we kept our original 11 AM appointment Saturday morning. We were asked to sign a paper saying that we received the vacation. We were then ushered out of the building to our car. When we got there at 2015 (8:15 PM) we were the only people in the lobby. When we left at 2038 (8:38 PM), the lobby was utterly packed. I asked my wife how many of those people would be pressured into that deal and regret it later. 

On the way home we talked about it, and we both believe that we did the right thing. Can you really plan out your next 30 years of vacations? What happens if one of you gets sick, or something happens to a family member? What if I lost my job, or the economy tanked, or something? What if I actually managed to succeed as an independent IT consultant and didn’t have time for a vacation? Heck, we don’t really take vacations anyway. I do manage to eat up several weeks of vacation a year, but most of that is for home improvement or taking care of the kids when my wife is sick or when I’m waiting for Window Wizards to show up for a service call. I can’t remember the last time I actually used my vacation balance to take a vacation. 

Now that I’ve laid out the story as best as I recall, I’ll give you some tips on how to survive a high pressure sales environment. 

Be Pleasant and polite

You have nothing to gain by growing impatient. Keep yourself calm and be polite. In these situations, I would love to grab these people by the collar and tell them "It’s because of people like you that I have to spend an hour every year sitting through ethics training". That would get me nowhere, and I’d probably have yet another yearly training session to sit through. Be kind. 

A Better Business Bureau Award Doesn’t Mean No Scam

During the presentation, our presenter made a big deal out of how many awards Sundance Vacations has from the BBB. To be honest, a BBB rating doesn’t mean a good value to you, the consumer. Don’t forget, the BBB represents Businesses, not consumers. They do attempt to enforce certain ethical standards, but businesses can maintain those ethical standards while providing no real value to their intended customers. Check out Sundance Vacation’s page on the Rip-off Report, a service of the Bad Business Bureau. According to Wikipedia, Sundance Vacations has BBB complaints against all of it’s offices. While I was still in the Navy, I went through a phase where I was getting constant calls claiming I had won sweepstakes and lotteries all over the world. Of course, I woudh have had to pay to get the funds released. Most of the phone calls came from businesses claiming to have high ratings and many awards from the BBB. Once again, a BBB rating and awards really don’t mean that you won’t get ripped off. Actually, I have stopped trusting any business which works like Sundance Vacations and makes a big deal out of their BBB affiliation. I consider it one thing to stop into a mom and pop restaurant to get a cheese steak and see a BBB plaque on the wall and another thing entirely to sit through a sales pitch for a product that I wasn’t even looking for that tries to use a BBB award to gain my confidence.

You are under no obligation

No matter how you find yourself brought into these situations, you have no obligation to anybody but yourself and your family and your existing creditors. Even if you win something, or they feed you, they still cannot legally obligate you to buy into their program. They’ll try to tell you "It’s only $90 a month", but I know we’ve had quite a few months in our lives where $90 in the budget would have made a huge difference. My wife and I try to keep our outgoing cash flow to a minimum, barring of course the mortgage payment and utilities and an occasional credit card. When we do finance things, we try to buy on a "12 months no interest" deal, which Lowe’s runs several times a year. We bought a stove and refrigerator one year and paid them off over the next 12 months with no interest. We bought our Sleep Number bed on a 16 month no interest deal and paid it off with our tax refund. When we absolutely must finance a car, we spend time researching our needs and we find a used car that meets those needs that we can finance for $200 a month or less. Financing can be a useful tool, but don’t turn it into a slave driver for yourself and your family no matter how good the deal sounds at the moment. 

Why can’t you think about it or take some literature home?

I immediately grow suspicious when I have to make a decision on the spot involving my budget and financial future. It took me a long time to learn that my wife hates it when I try to get her to tell me her opinion in front of a salesperson, and that’s gotten us in trouble in the past. My wife would rather let me browbeat her into agreement then be mad at me for the next few weeks than publicly discuss this kind of deal in front of a salesperson. I’ve learned that in order for us to make a good decision, we have to get away and do it in private. This also allows us to play our own game of "good cop, bad cop" for the salespeople. When they look at me and say "Can’t you come up with $2400 tonight?" I say "I don’t know. My wife handles the budget. All I know is when I stick my Check Card in the gas pump, gas comes out." 

All that aside, ask yourself what they could be so afraid of if they give you the chance to walk away and think about their program. I don’t know much about the psychology of sales tactics, but I do know that they lay heavy on the emotions and keep away from the rationalizations. When I used to present that sales and marketing plan, I was trained to focus on emotions. I had to get people to think that their lives were incredibly boring and routine and I what I was offering was wealth and excitement and adventure. The people who come up with these sales tactics probably know that most men are likely to make a rash decision and most women aren’t comfortable standing up and saying "What do you think you’re doing? We can’t afford this!" in front of a salesperson. If they’re so afraid to let you go home and think about it and research it, what is it that they’re worried about you’ll find? 

Keep it in perspective

Seriously, is this really that life altering decision that you have to make on the spot or your kids will hate you? Really, if you don’t buy this vacation package tonight, because you’ll never, ever see it again, what is the impact on your life? Does it really matter? Will you kick yourself in the butt later if you don’t do it? Most people I know who have bought into these things come to regret them later anyway. When my wife had preeclampsia and the doctors needed a decision that moment to perform a C-section, that is what I consider a life altering decision that must be done on the spot with lives hanging in the balance and the possibility of lasting ramifications for all of us. On the last day of my mom’s life, when the hospice nurse wanted to transport her to a respite care facility even though there was a high probability she wouldn’t survive the trip, that was a life altering decision which had to be made on the spot and may have been regretted for the rest of our lives. This is only a vacation package, and it really won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Trust me, another company, if not the same one, will call you later. Programs like this will always be around. 

And of course, for all I know, it’s a perfectly legitimate program and our lives could have been greatly enhanced by participating in it. Too bad they wouldn’t let us think about it overnight. 

Note: I originally wrote this entry with the wrong name. Somehow I remembered this place as Paradise Vacations, when in fact it is Sundance Vacations. 

Technorati tags: vacation, wholesale vacation, finances, family finances, scams, high pressure sales tactics, Sundance Vacations

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Using Thunderbird for University of Phoenix Newsgroups

Thanks to the folks at My Blog Log, I now have access to some very basic statistics about my blog. I can see the last ten searches or links that led visitors to my blog. I noticed that yesterday, somebody was searching for some keywords involving Thunderbird and the University of Phoenix’s newsgroups. I have some experience with this, so I thought I would write a brief post with advice.

I am no fan of Microsoft’s Outlook Express. I do use Outlook as my mail client, not so much because it’s the best out there, but because it is the best integrated PIM (Personal Information Manager) that will interface with my Pocket PC. Outlook Express was originally (as I recall) delivered under Windows 98 as a built-in mail client. At the time, I preferred Netscape’s mail client, which I used heavily for many years.

The University of Phoenix requires students to use Outlook Express, which is about the only product they officially support. Their tech support will also support Mozilla’s Thunderbird. Because I don’t like a lot of the UI and operation of Outlook Express, I have tried many other options, but I always end up back at Outlook Express. OE doesn’t do a good job, but it does what I want slightly better. I don’t like the fact that every time Outlook Express runs, it has to call up Windows Messenger no matter how hard I try to uninstall or disable that useless program. Microsoft may run a monopoly on operating systems and office suites, but they have a long way to go to write a decent IM client.

I have configured Thunderbird 1.5 for the University of Phoenix’s newsgroups on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. That is the biggest advantage to Thunderbird; cross-platform capability. That’s one of the things I love about Firefox as well. With Del.icio.us bookmarks and Google Notebook, I can work as effectively on any computer I happen to use. When I found that Thunderbird 2.0 is out, I decided to try it as well.

Two of the biggest problems that I have with Thunderbird involve my own workflow habits. Outlook Express allows the user to not have any message marked as read until the user is done with the message. I haven’t found a way to do this with Thunderbird, but I have found a decent workaround: I set the "Mark message as read after…" timeout to 10,000 seconds. This is an idiosyncrasy that I picked up from the influence of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, although it is not exactly orthodox GTD because I don’t always act on the message the first time I read it. I don’t mark a message as read in email or my UOP newsgroups until any action associated with that message is completed, whether that action is read, respond, or follow up on a comment or link contained in that message. If a message is marked as not read, that is my visual cue to do something with the message. This way, if the instructor asks a question deep in a thread or a student makes a post I want to follow up on, I can find it again because that is the message I haven’t marked as read. This morning I discovered another work around that was holding me back from Thunderbird: marking a message as read. In Outlook Express, you can right-click and select, "Mark as read" or press the k key. You can also hit the context menu key (right of the space bar between Alt and CTRL) and k. In Thunderbird, the context menu requires the user to go to one level deeper in the menu, as in Mark -> As Read. I just discovered this morning that pressing the m key with a message highlighted will mark the message as read.

Another nag I have with Thunderbird is that I constantly get a pop-up alert saying "An NNTP (News) error occurred: No Permission". It gets to be a pain, and I don’t get this with Outlook Express. I have no idea how to overcome this error. I’ve tried changing my time-out, but that doesn’t seem to help.

I also tried Windows Live Messenger Desktop Beta, which seems to be the replacement for Outlook Express on Windows XP. I found it to be too unstable for use. I liked the UI, however, and when the finished product is released I may use it. Windows Mail, which is included in Windows Vista, did a great job with my UOP newsgroups as well. I would recommend it for you Vista users. I have no idea if UOP supports Windows Mail yet. I don’t think they support Internet Explorer 7 either. As I wrote in a previous entry, the UOP seriously needs to  be brought into the 21st Century.

Thunderbird configures easily enough. I found it much easier to configure T-bird than to manually configure Outlook Express. UOP does offer an automatic newsgroup configuration script in their online classroom, but that script will only work in Internet Exploder 6. Once I upgraded to IE7 beta 2, I had to learn how to manually set up my newsgroups. If you already have Outlook Express set up, Thunderbird will automatically detect and import your IMAP email account from UOP.

Assuming that you have to configure Thunderbird for UOP access yourself, here is a brief procedure:

  1. 1. Open Tools =>; Account Settings
  2. 2. Name your account anything you wish. Put in your name and UOP email addresses in the appropriate fields.
  3. 3. Click Server Settings. Enter the server name as emailxx.phoenix.edu, xx being whatever server you happen to be on. Enter your username in this format: ols\username.
  4. 4. Select Add Account. This will be a newsgroup account. Fill in the requested information.
  5. 5. Under Server Settings, make sure that SSL is enabled and the server is set to port 563.
  6. 6. Outgoing server should be emailout.phoenix.edu, port 465.

When connecting, enter your ols\username and password, tell Thunderbird to remember, and go to town. Thunderbird 1.5 never seemed to remember my username and password, but it looks like Thunderbird 2.0 will, so I may be using this from now on.

Now to get newsgroups, click on File => Subscribe. Select whatever you named your UOP Newsgroup account from the drop down menu (mine is named Flexnet). Under "Show items that contain:", enter a search term for your class or program. I typically search under XBIT, which gives me the newsgroups for my program.

I wrote the subscribe procedure after several nights of my youngest not sleeping, so if it needs to be overhauled or clarified feel free to leave me constructive comments and I will revise it accordingly to make it easier for others to follow.

This procedure should work the same on Linux and Mac OS X.

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Where Have All The Careers Gone?

About two weeks ago, during a really bad rainstorm, our program manager came over the office intercom in a somber voice asking if everybody could come to the conference room in five minutes. He said that he had something important to put out.

My first thought was: who died? Bad rainstorm, something could have happened to somebody on the way to work, either in our office or our customer or the other company on our contract. We work in a large community. Or, could we be going through a layoff? All kinds of really bad images went through my mind that morning as I headed for the conference room.

The news was much, much better than I expected. What happened was a company Vice President resigned suddenly and unexpectedly. I barely knew the man, but during visits to our office, he always brought lunch and was very likable. He answered questions honestly and openly. Apparently, he had a dramatic influence on our program manager and department head, as well as other people who have been with this company for a while.

I’ve been out of work for three workdays dealing with a home improvement project that went wrong, but when I got back in today I discovered an email from somebody around the Vice President level explaining that many of them frequent meetings with people from other companies and they often get job offers from each other. That caused something to occur to me.

In my experience, modern companies really don’t provide a way to advance. You get hired to do a job, but there is no career path. Normally, when a management position opens up, companies go out of the way to hire somebody from outside to fill that position. I’m sure the same problem is faced at the Vice President level. After working with a company for a few years (or many years), you may feel ready to take on more responsibility or power, and certainly you want to make more money. A 3% pay increase every year does not keep you current with the new people a company hires at a higher pay rate.

On my previous job, when our first son was born, I realized that the only way to make more money was to leave. That organization would not work with me in any way. When I turned in my two week notice and was asked what my new salary would be, I learned that they could not match the salary. I left. On my current job, once again, there really is no place to go. I like this organization, but the day will eventually come when I will want more responsibility and a 3-4% raise each year is just not keeping up with the cost of living. I will eventually have to leave.

There was a time when a man (or woman) could begin a job with a company while young, and work for that company all the way to retirement. There was somewhat of a career path, and by retirement that person could have moved up to at least mid level management.

I wonder if companies will ever again provide a career path for employees. There really is no career development either. I hate job searching. I would love to know that my company was interested in helping me progress in my career. I guess this is not to be. From what I’ve managed to piece together, this company doesn’t have a career development program or career path for VPs either. Just as at my level, the only way to move up is to move out.

 

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Helpdesk for New Technology Roll-out

Have you ever worked a helpdesk? If not, have you ever had to help a friend or relative with a new computer? I came across this video through an email newsletter that I receive. This video sure brings back those days of trying to help people do simple tasks on a Windows 95 PC.

"Click the START Button. It’s in the bottom left corner of the screen. No, you’re moving to the top right. Move the mouse down and left. No, you’re still over to the right. OK, good keep coming down. Now go left… No, that’s right. Fine, let me do it."

 

I surely do not miss those days. Enjoy the video. Hopefully I will be able to write another post in a day or two. My wife and I were going to lay down laminate flooring, and the project sort of went another direction. I’m sure that will make for a series of posts.

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How To Form New Habits

Today’s TQ talks about habits. What are habits? Off the top of my head, I would say that a habit is a conditioned action. The action is conditioned because it is repeated over time until it becomes automatic, or at least requires little conscious thought. There are bad habits and there are good habits, and I’m sure that some habits are neither. A bad habit could be smoking. A good habit could be going for a run every morning.

Habits, whether good or bad, have one thing in common: they are formed over time. I smoked for eight years. I didn’t just pick up a cigarette, take a drag, and decide that was how I wanted to spend the next eight years. Likewise, I didn’t just put my smokes down and walk away. Developing the habit took time, and breaking the habit took a lot more time and effort; more than I ever could have imagined. Sometimes I wonder how I did develop the habit of smoking. When I was in my "A" school, or first technical school in the Navy, I would watch the smokers run outside during every break. It didn’t matter if the weather was nice, raining, snowing, too hot, whatever, they went out to smoke. One day I told one of the smokers that I wanted to try a cigarette because I had to know what was so great about those things that made them want to stand outside in a blizzard to get one. To be honest, it was horrible. I told them I could have licked tar off the road and had a better taste. However, somehow or other, within the next 2 years I developed the habit and became a regular smoker. How I finally broke the habit could be a series of blog entries. That was one of the most difficult challenges in my life, and one I do not fault others for not wanting to face.

Hyrum Smith, in his book The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management, makes the statement that "Successful people are willing to do that which unsuccessful people are not willing to do". On the surface, that sounds much like the bumper-sticker philosophy that seems to permeate our culture, but the statement is really profound. In order to break my smoking habit, I had to take steps that I was not willing to do for many years; steps that those are are not willing to quit smoking are not willing to take. I’m working on a post for this blog about success by hope of winning the lottery, which keeps getting longer and may eventually become an entire series.

In order to make or break a habit, you must be willing. If you’re not willing, then the good habit will not be formed and the bad habit will not be broken. I have been trying for years to form a habit of daily planning, yet so far I have not been willing to stick with this long enough to become a habit. I have not yet settled into a habit of weekly planning recommended by David Allen and other GTD practitioners. I’m sure that my success is suffering accordingly. I have not gotten into a habit of regular daily exercise, and my physique is suffering badly.

To form any new habit, you must dedicate a period of time from twenty one to thirty days. One day is never enough. I could plan today, get nowhere, give up, and truly get nowhere. If I were to dedicate the entire 21 day Franklin Planner challenge laid out by Hyrum Smith, I would probably begin to meet with success.

Most habits don’t really need that much time. I am getting into the habit of reading fifteen minutes  a day from a book or magazine. I have plenty of both piling up on me. Fifteen minutes is not much, but allows me to make steady progress through my books and magazines. This time allows me to sharpen my mind.

Give a try to a thirty day habit. You may have to break an old habit to make time for a new one. If, after thirty days, you aren’t happy with your new habit, you can always go back.

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How To Manage Yourself and Communicate With Your Boss

I spent six years in the Navy and three years in the Naval Reserve. My rating was Fire Controlman (the Army or USMC might call it an MOS), and the system I worked on was the Mark 15 Phalanx Close In Weapon System. I was young, naive, spoiled, and I had a lot of lessons to learn. As with any other life experience, I sometimes wish I could repeat those years with the lessons that I’ve learned since. The Navy taught me electronics, it taught me a work ethic, and it taught me the meaning of the words of my all time favorite movie quote, said by Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge: "Improvise, adapt, overcome".

Although my rate and training involved electronics and weapons, most of the lessons the Navy taught me really can’t be learned in school. I met some very interesting people, and I learned how to live and work alongside them in all kinds of conditions, both good and bad. We had our fights, we had our bad times, and we also had our drunken nights of bonding in strange places.

A post written by Michael Hyatt this morning brought back a lot of memories for me. Michael talked about bosses who won’t stay off of your back, and steps you can take to make sure they won’t be any more of a hassle than necessary. I learned several lessons during my final year on active duty about productivity and working with your boss. In 1997, my ship came out of the yards. During our six month yard period, we probably had a 50% crew changeover. The crew that came off the deployment the previous year, that was sharpened by months at sea, had changed. With that crew change went the other members of the six man work center I had belonged to. I was left with one man who had less than 90 days in the Navy. Because we came out of the yards, we were in a heavy workup cycle to make sure that the ship would be ready for action with the engineering, structural, and manpower changes made in the yards. This was a very intense time for us. I was in charge of a work center consisting of myself and one other person. I was mad after this experience when we finally got more people who were all senior to me and I was the "boot camp", or junior member, again.

One of the hardest lessons I learned during this period was that I am much more productive if I take a lunch. For a time, I tried to work straight through the day because I had a lot to do and only myself to do it. I found that I was more productive if I shut down for lunch. I would go for a run, take a shower, eat, spend some time "BS’ing", and then get back to work. I actually got more done this way than if I tried to work straight through lunch.

Another lesson I learned, which is the focus of this blog entry, had to do with planning and with involving my boss. At first, I would work all day, then if I wasn’t on duty that night I would report to my chief (E-7) to ask if I could go home. He would bring up several other tasks that needed to be done, which I hadn’t been told yet, and I would either need to do them or negotiate for time to do them another day. This got very frustrating, and I dreaded talking to my chief at the end of the day.

I had a Franklin Planner at the time. I was involved with one of those "network" or "multi-level" marketing organizations. Oh, yes, I was going to be rich and retire at 24. I decided to use my Franklin Planner for it’s intended purpose: to plan a day. At this point, I really only carried it to functions and contacting with that organization I have long since discontinued affiliation with. I got in the habit of taking my planner to what we called Quarters. Quarters was the first meeting for each division at the beginning of the day. This is when the "word" was put out regarding anything we had a need to know about. Sometimes we would be told the ship’s schedule. Sometimes we talked about inspections. Sometimes we were praised. Sometimes chief was just in a bad mood and chewed us out for a half hour. I would take my planner to Quarters and make sure to write down anything pertinent. After Quarters, I would go to my chief and tell him what I was planning to work on that day. I would then ask if he had any tasking or projects that he needed me to focus on. I would write that down in his presence. Then I would go to my shop and spend about 15 minutes reviewing the previous day and planning that day according to Franklin’s methodology. As the day went on, I would check off the completed tasks, reschedule tasks that couldn’t be done, and make notes on everything as I went along.

At the conclusion of the workday, I would find my chief, open my planner, and give him a rundown of my day. "I got this done. I couldn’t get this done because… This repair part isn’t available. I can’t check out HAZMAT because the coordinator is on leave." I finally managed to reach the point that chief would see me coming with my planner and tell me "see you later". That was a good feeling.

I can’t say I’ve always managed to keep that kind of level of self-management. I’m certainly not there now, considering the amount of devices and programs I have available to me. I did learn a lesson in those days, however; a good boss isn’t at war with you. He or she is interested in your work that he or she is responsible for being completed. Keep your boss in the loop and you will be respected for it.

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How Your Family Can Survive On A Single Income

My wife and I, by the grace of God, have gotten by for the last two years on only my income. This hasn’t been easy and my wife has been tempted several times to look for a job but so far things have worked out. Many families today either can’t or aren’t willing to get by without both parents working, but it is possible by making some sacrifices and planning. There are of course many situations where a family cannot or does not want to get by on a single income, and I’m obviously not writing to those situations. I’m actually going to keep this brief and focused on one thing that we do to keep an affordable lifestyle on a single income: free furniture. I’ll probably follow up with other posts as we go along.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Not all furniture comes cheap. We bought a Sleep Number bed last year on a 16 month no interest plan on the hopes that our tax refund this year would pay for the bed. Our gamble paid off. We’ve also bought most of the kids’ furniture from Ikea for a good price. When it comes to living room furniture, however, we seem to go through that very fast. Diapers leak, sippy cups spill, and of course the kids want to jump on the couch as much as they can. Our last couch and chair had those buttons that held the upholstery in place, and the kids pulled most of those buttons off. Needless to say, after about six months, our last couch wasn’t doing very well.

Our last couch came from Craig’s List. My wife scans through there at least once a week to see what interesting things she can find. I got my now non-functional iBook from Craig’s List for $100. I think the hard drive is dead, but I don’t have time right now to check it. Since Apple doesn’t ship their operating systems with a decent disk utility, I’m going to have to put that hard drive in another laptop and use Windows XP to examine the disk.

One day last week, my wife’s sister was driving and called to say that she saw a couch on the side of the road. My wife sent me back with her sister to pick the couch up in our Windstar. You can fit a lot in a Windstar. I took the couch and went back later for the chair. The couch is in really good shape and is much more comfortable than our last couch.

When children are young and budgets are short, consider getting your furniture cheap or free. You’d be amazed at how much money you can save that way.

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