Nilekani unique card project bill is Rs 3,000 crore

November 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Giving every Indian resident an identity number will cost Rs 3,000 crore. That’s the estimate made by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) led by the former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani. In a 40-page document on the unique ID project, leaked on the online portal wikileaks.org, the authority says enrolling each resident in the project will cost between Rs 20 and Rs 25, taking the cost of providing ID numbers to 1.2 billion people to over Rs 3,000 crore. Estimates in the media on the project have varied sharply between Rs 500 crore and Rs 1,50,000 crore.

Wikileaks calls itself the ‘uncensorable part of Wikipedia’, focusing on protecting internal dissidents, whistleblowers, journalists and bloggers. The UID document is the third Indian one this year on the site, which specialises in exposing documents marked secret or is beyond public purview.

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about the project gleaned from the UIDAI document.

The Unique ID Number: The authority will create a unique ID number for each resident in the country, linked to a person’s demographic and biometric information. It will have a person’s name, date of birth, place of birth, gender, father’s name, father’s UID number (optional for adult residents), mother’s name, mother’s UID number (optional for adults), address (permanent and present), expiry date; photograph and fingerprints (all ten fingers). No other information will be collected. The law on UID will specifically prohibit collection of any information regarding religion, race, ethnicity, caste and similar matters. It’s called ‘unique’ because a duplicate for the same person cannot be issued. It will remain valid for life with regular updating. Any attempt to enroll for a second UID elsewhere with the aim to defraud will attract penal action.

Purpose of UID: It will only guarantee identity and will not confer any rights, benefits or entitlements. It does not confer citizenship. The residents would however be spared the hassle of repeatedly providing supporting identity documents each time they open a bank account or apply for passport or a driving licence or any other similar service. It will be accepted as identity proof across service providers.

The Cost: Residents will not be charged for enrolling for the UID numbers.

Is it mandatory? No. The authority believes that getting the UID number will be demand-driven, where the benefits and services linked to the number will ensure demand for it. Even schools will demand a child’s UID before admission.

ID card & registrars: The authority will not issue any cards. However, registrars, which include state governments, or central government entities such as oil ministry or Life Insurance Corporation of India which would enroll residents would have the option to issue UID cards for a certain charge. The authority will decide the charge. Registrars may also be private sector participants such as banks and insurance firms. Rural development and panchayati raj department and municipalities would be sub-registrars to the state government registrars.

Enrolling agencies: Registrars will also establish resident touch points through enrolling agencies. For example, a hospital where a baby is born would be an enrolling agency for the baby’s ID, reporting to municipality sub-registrar. A baby would necessarily have to be given a name before enrolling. Birth certificates will carry the UID number. Enrolling agencies will take in a person’s information and verify the supporting documents on the basis of ‘know your resident’ standards. Document norms for the poor or marginalised groups may be relaxed or different.

ID repository: The authority will be the regulatory body for managing the central ID data repository. Once the enrolling agencies send the demographic and biometric information to the repository, a Unique ID number, randomly generated, would be sent to the enrolling agencies and given to the resident with details, including a 2D barcode.

Ensuring uniqueness: Each resident’s data will be checked on key fields and the fingerprints against the database to ensure that there is no duplication.

Updating information: The UID number will remain the same for a lifetime, but biometric information would have to be updated every five years for children and ten years for adults. Demographic information like change of address and name (after marriage) would also be updated.

Authentication & privacy: The authority will offer online authentication where agencies can compare the demographic and biometric information with the record in the central database. When authenticating data on a particular resident, it will not part with information, but only give a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer. Several levels of technology safeguards are being put in place to ensure that privacy of residents is maintained. Basic identity confirmation, say the UID number, name and one other parameter such as date of birth would be free. But address verification will cost Rs 5 and biometric confirmation on the photograph or fingerprint would be a charged at Rs 10. Biometric confirmation may largely be done by credit card and financial companies. The authority expects to earn Rs 288 crore a year from paid verification.

Two-language formula: All data entry by enrolling agencies will be done in English. However, this can be converted into the local language using transliteration software. The details sent to residents will have all demographic data in English and the local language.

Tracking enrolments: The authority will use a internet-based geographical information system (GIS) to visually track all enrolment trends and patterns down to the districts.

The Timeline: The authority will start issuing UIDs in 12-18 months and it aims to cover 600 million people within four years, and almost the whole population in another six.

Recording deaths: The UID system will not remove a record upon a person’s death; it will simply be marked as ‘deceased’ which will render it inactive for identification purposes.

The authority says eliminating duplication under various government schemes is expected to save the exchequer over Rs 20,000 crore a year. India is the first country to implement a biometric-based UID system on such a large scale.

Advertisements
Categories: Ethics

Secret Files on All Guantánamo Prisoners

November 27, 2011 Leave a comment

In thousands of pages of documents dating from 2002 to 2008 and never seen before by members of the public or the media, the cases of the majority of the prisoners held at Guantánamo — 765 out of 779 in total — are described in detail in memoranda from JTF-GTMO, the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo Bay, to US Southern Command in Miami, Florida.In its latest release of classified US documents, WikiLeaks is shining the light of truth on a notorious icon of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” — the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which opened on January 11, 2002, and remains open under President Obama, despite his promise to close the much-criticized facility within a year of taking office.

These memoranda, known as Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs), contain JTF-GTMO’s recommendations about whether the prisoners in question should continue to be held, or should be released (transferred to their home governments, or to other governments). They consist of a wealth of important and previously undisclosed information, including health assessments, for example, and, in the cases of the majority of the 172 prisoners who are still held, photos (mostly for the first time ever).

They also include information on the first 201 prisoners released from the prison, between 2002 and 2004, which, unlike information on the rest of the prisoners (summaries of evidence and tribunal transcripts, released as the result of a lawsuit filed by media groups in 2006), has never been made public before. Most of these documents reveal accounts of incompetence familiar to those who have studied Guantánamo closely, with innocent men detained by mistake (or because the US was offering substantial bounties to its allies for al-Qaeda or Taliban suspects), and numerous insignificant Taliban conscripts from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Beyond these previously unknown cases, the documents also reveal stories of the 399 other prisoners released from September 2004 to the present day, and of the seven men who have died at the prison.

The memos are signed by the commander of Guantánamo at the time, and describe whether the prisoners in question are regarded as low, medium or high risk. Although they were obviously not conclusive in and of themselves, as final decisions about the disposition of prisoners were taken at a higher level, they represent not only the opinions of JTF-GTMO, but also the Criminal Investigation Task Force, created by the Department of Defense to conduct interrogations in the “War on Terror,” and the BSCTs, the behavioral science teams consisting of psychologists who had a major say in the “exploitation” of prisoners in interrogation.

Crucially, the files also contain detailed explanations of the supposed intelligence used to justify the prisoners’ detention. For many readers, these will be the most fascinating sections of the documents, as they seem to offer an extraordinary insight into the workings of US intelligence, but although many of the documents appear to promise proof of prisoners’ association with al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, extreme caution is required.

The documents draw on the testimony of witnesses — in most cases, the prisoners’ fellow prisoners — whose words are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion (sometimes not in Guantánamo, but in secret prisons run by the CIA), or because they provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantánamo.

Regular appearances throughout these documents by witnesses whose words should be regarded as untrustworthy include the following “high-value detainees” or “ghost prisoners”. Please note that “ISN” and the numbers in brackets following the prisoners’ names refer to the short “Internment Serial Numbers” by which the prisoners are or were identified in US custody:

Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), the supposed “high-value detainee” seized in Pakistan in March 2002, who spent four and a half years in secret CIA prisons, including facilities in Thailand and Poland. Subjected to waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning, on 83 occasions in CIA custody August 2002, Abu Zubaydah was moved to Guantánamo with 13 other “high-value detainees” in September 2006.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (ISN 212), the emir of a military training camp for which Abu Zubaydah was the gatekeeper, who, despite having his camp closed by the Taliban in 2000, because he refused to allow it to be taken over by al-Qaeda, is described in these documents as Osama bin Laden’s military commander in Tora Bora. Soon after his capture in December 2001, al-Libi was rendered by the CIA to Egypt, where, under torture, he falsely confessed that al-Qaeda operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss obtaining chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi recanted this particular lie, but it was nevertheless used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Al-Libi was never sent to Guantánamo, although at some point, probably in 2006, the CIA sent him back to Libya, where he was imprisoned, and where he died, allegedly by committing suicide, in May 2009.

Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj (ISN 1457), a Yemeni, also known as Riyadh the Facilitator, who was seized in a house raid in Pakistan in February 2002, and is described as “an al-Qaeda facilitator.” After his capture, he was transferred to a torture prison in Jordan run on behalf of the CIA, where he was held for nearly two years, and was then held for six months in US facilities in Afghanistan. He was flown to Guantánamo in September 2004.

Sanad Yislam al-Kazimi (ISN 1453), a Yemeni, who was seized in the UAE in January 2003, and then held in three secret prisons, including the “Dark Prison” near Kabul and a secret facility within the US prison at Bagram airbase. In February 2010, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. granted the habeas corpus petition of a Yemeni prisoner, Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, largely because he refused to accept testimony produced by either Sharqawi al-Hajj or Sanad al-Kazimi. As he stated, “The Court will not rely on the statements of Hajj or Kazimi because there is unrebutted evidence in the record that, at the time of the interrogations at which they made the statements, both men had recently been tortured.”

Others include Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (ISN 10012) and Walid bin Attash (ISN 10014), two more of the “high-value detainees” transferred into Guantánamo in September 2006, after being held in secret CIA prisons.

Other unreliable witnesses, held at Guantánamo throughout their detention, include:

Yasim Basardah (ISN 252), a Yemeni known as a notorious liar. As the Washington Post reported in February 2009, he was given preferential treatment in Guantánamo after becoming what some officials regarded as a significant informant, although there were many reasons to be doubtful. As the Post noted, “military officials … expressed reservations about the credibility of their star witness since 2004,” and in 2006, in an article for the National Journal, Corine Hegland described how, after a Combatant Status Review Tribunal at which a prisoner had taken exception to information provided by Basardah, placing him at a training camp before he had even arrived in Afghanistan, his personal representative (a military official assigned instead of a lawyer) investigated Basardah’s file, and found that he had made similar claims against 60 other prisoners in total. In January 2009, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Richard Leon (an appointee of George W. Bush) excluded Basardah’s statements whilegranting the habeas corpus petition of Mohammed El-Gharani, a Chadian national who was just 14 years old when he was seized in a raid on a mosque in Pakistan. Judge Leon noted that the government had “specifically cautioned against relying on his statements without independent corroboration,” and in other habeas cases that followed, other judges relied on this precedent, discrediting the “star witness” still further.

Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 063), a Saudi regarded as the planned 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, wassubjected to a specific torture program at Guantánamo, approved by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. This consisted of 20-hour interrogations every day, over a period of several months, and various other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which severely endangered his health. Variations of these techniques then migrated to other prisoners in Guantánamo (and to Abu Ghraib), and in January 2009, just before George W. Bush left office, Susan Crawford, a retired judge and a close friend of Dick Cheney and David Addington, who was appointed to oversee the military commissions at Guantánamo as the convening authority, told Bob Woodward that she had refused to press charges against al-Qahtani, because, as she said, “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture.” As a result, his numerous statements about other prisoners must be regarded as worthless.

Abd al-Hakim Bukhari (ISN 493), a Saudi imprisoned by al-Qaeda as a spy, who was liberated by US forces from a Taliban jail before being sent, inexplicably, to Guantánamo (along with four other men liberated from the jail) is regarded in the files as a member of al-Qaeda, and a trustworthy witness.

Abd al-Rahim Janko (ISN 489), a Syrian Kurd, tortured by al-Qaeda as a spy and then imprisoned by the Taliban along with Abd al-Hakim Bukhari, above, is also used as a witness, even though he was mentally unstable. As his assessment in June 2008 stated, “Detainee is on a list of high-risk detainees from a health perspective … He has several chronic medical problems. He has a psychiatric history of substance abuse, depression, borderline personality disorder, and prior suicide attempt for which he is followed by behavioral health for treatment.”

These are just some of the most obvious cases, but alert readers will notice that they are cited repeatedly in what purports to be the government’s evidence, and it should, as a result, be difficult not to conclude that the entire edifice constructed by the government is fundamentally unsound, and that what the Guantánamo Files reveal, primarily, is that only a few dozen prisoners are genuinely accused of involvement in terrorism.

The rest, these documents reveal on close inspection, were either innocent men and boys, seized by mistake, or Taliban foot soldiers, unconnected to terrorism. Moreover, many of these prisoners were actually sold to US forces, who were offering bounty payments for al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects, by their Afghan and Pakistani allies — a policy that led ex-President Musharraf to state, in his 2006 memoir, In the Line of Fire, that, in return for handing over 369 terror suspects to the US, the Pakistani government “earned bounty payments totalling millions of dollars.”

Uncomfortable facts like these are not revealed in the deliberations of the Joint Task Force, but they are crucial to understanding why what can appear to be a collection of documents confirming the government’s scaremongering rhetoric about Guantánamo — the same rhetoric that has paralyzed President Obama, and revived the politics of fear in Congress — is actually the opposite: the anatomy of a colossal crime perpetrated by the US government on 779 prisoners who, for the most part, are not and never have been the terrorists the government would like us to believe they are.

(Andy Worthington)

How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files

The nearly 800 documents in WikiLeaks’ latest release of classified US documents are memoranda from Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO), the combined force in charge of the US “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to US Southern Command, in Miami, Florida, regarding the disposition of the prisoners.

Written between 2002 and 2008, the memoranda were all marked as “secret,” and their subject was whether to continue holding a prisoner, or whether to recommend his release (described as his “transfer” — to the custody of his own government, or that of some other government). They were obviously not conclusive in and of themselves, as final decisions about the disposition of prisoners were taken at a higher level, but they are very significant, as they represent not only the opinions of JTF-GTMO, but also the Criminal Investigation Task Force, created by the Department of Defense to conduct interrogations in the “War on Terror,” and the BSCTs, the behavioral science teams consisting of psychologists who had a major say in the “exploitation” of prisoners in interrogation.

Under the heading, “JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment,” the memos generally contain nine sections, describing the prisoners as follows, although the earlier examples, especially those dealing with prisoners released — or recommended for release — between 2002 and 2004, may have less detailed analyses than the following:

1. Personal information

Each prisoner is identified by name, by aliases, which the US claims to have identified, by place and date of birth, by citizenship, and by Internment Serial Number (ISN). These long lists of numbers and letters — e.g. US9YM-000027DP — are used to identify the prisoners in Guantánamo, helping to dehumanize them, as intended, by doing away with their names. The most significant section is the number towards the end, which is generally shortened, so that the example above would be known as ISN 027. In the files, the prisoners are identified by nationality, with 47 countries in total listed alphabetically, from “az” for Afghanistan to “ym” for Yemen.

2. Health

This section describes whether or not the prisoner in question has mental health issues and/or physical health issues. Many are judged to be in good health, but there are some shocking examples of prisoners with severe mental and/or physical problems.

3. JTF-GTMO Assessment

a. Under “Recommendation,” the Task Force explains whether a prisoner should continue to be held, or should be released. b. Under “Executive Summary,” the Task Force briefly explains its reasoning, and, in more recent cases, also explains whether the prisoner is a low, medium or high risk as a threat to the US and its allies and as a threat in detention (i.e. based on their behavior in Guantánamo), and also whether they are regarded as of low, medium or high intelligence value. c. Under “Summary of Changes,” the Task Force explains whether there has been any change in the information provided since the last appraisal (generally, the prisoners are appraised on an annual basis).

4. Detainee’s Account of Events

Based on the prisoners’ own testimony, this section puts together an account of their history, and how they came to be seized, in Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere, based on their own words.

5. Capture Information

This section explains how and where the prisoners were seized, and is followed by a description of their possessions at the time of capture, the date of their transfer to Guantánamo, and, spuriously, “Reasons for Transfer to JTF-GTMO,” which lists alleged reasons for the prisoners’ transfer, such as knowledge of certain topics for exploitation through interrogation. The reason that this is unconvincing is because, as former interrogator Chris Mackey (a pseudonym) explained in his book The Interrogators, the US high command, based in Camp Doha, Kuwait, stipulated that every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be transferred to Guantánamo — and that there were no exceptions; in other words, the “Reasons for transfer” were grafted on afterwards, as an attempt to justify the largely random rounding-up of prisoners.

6. Evaluation of Detainee’s Account

In this section, the Task Force analyzes whether or not they find the prisoners’ accounts convincing.

7. Detainee Threat

This section is the most significant from the point of view of the supposed intelligence used to justify the detention of prisoners. After “Assessment,” which reiterates the conclusion at 3b, the main section, “Reasons for Continued Detention,” may, at first glance, look convincing, but it must be stressed that, for the most part, it consists of little more than unreliable statements made by the prisoners’ fellow prisoners — either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by the CIA, where torture and other forms of coercion were widespread, or through more subtle means in Guantánamo, where compliant prisoners who were prepared to make statements about their fellow prisoners were rewarded with better treatment. Some examples are available on the homepage for the release of these documents: http://wikileaks.ch/gitmo/

With this in mind, it should be noted that there are good reasons why Obama administration officials, in the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by the President to review the cases of the 241 prisoners still held in Guantánamo when he took office, concluded that only 36 could be prosecuted.

The final part of this section, “Detainee’s Conduct,” analyzes in detail how the prisoners have behaved during their imprisonment, with exact figures cited for examples of “Disciplinary Infraction.”

8. Detainee Intelligence Value Assessment

After reiterating the intelligence assessment at 3b and recapping on the prisoners’ alleged status, this section primarily assesses which areas of intelligence remain to be “exploited,” according to the Task Force.

9. EC Status

The final section notes whether or not the prisoner in question is still regarded as an “enemy combatant,” based on the findings of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, held in 2004-05 to ascertain whether, on capture, the prisoners had been correctly labeled as “enemy combatants.” Out of 558 cases, just 38 prisoners were assessed as being “no longer enemy combatants,” and in some cases, when the result went in the prisoners’ favor, the military convened new panels until it got the desired result.

Categories: Ethics

The best goal is no goal

November 27, 2011 Leave a comment

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The idea of having concrete, achievable goals seem to be deeply ingrained in our culture. I know I lived with goals for many years, and in fact a big part of my writings here on Zen Habits are about how to set and achieve goals.

These days, however, I live without goals, for the most part. It’s absolutely liberating, and contrary to what you might have been taught, it absolutely doesn’t mean you stop achieving things.

It means you stop letting yourself be limited by goals.

Consider this common belief: “You’ll never get anywhere unless you know where you’re going.” This seems so common sensical, and yet it’s obviously not true if you stop to think about it. Conduct a simple experiment: go outside and walk in a random direction, and feel free to change directions randomly. After 20 minutes, an hour … you’ll be somewhere! It’s just that you didn’t know you were going to end up there.

And there’s the rub: you have to open your mind to going places you never expected to go. If you live without goals, you’ll explore new territory. You’ll learn some unexpected things. You’ll end up in surprising places. That’s the beauty of this philosophy, but it’s also a difficult transition.

Today, I live mostly without goals. Now and then I start coming up with a goal, but I’m letting them go. Living without goals hasn’t ever been an actual goal of mine … it’s just something I’m learning that I enjoy more, that is incredibly freeing, that works with the lifestyle of following my passion that I’ve developed.

The problem with goals

In the past, I’d set a goal or three for the year, and then sub-goals for each month. Then I’d figure out what action steps to take each week and each day, and try to focus my day on those steps.

Unfortunately, it never, ever works out this neatly. You all know this. You know you need to work on an action step, and you try to keep the end goal in mind to motivate yourself. But this action step might be something you dread, and so you procrastinate. You do other work, or you check email or Facebook, or you goof off.

And so your weekly goals and monthly goals get pushed back or side-tracked, and you get discouraged because you have no discipline. And goals are too hard to achieve. So now what? Well, you review your goals and reset them. You create a new set of sub-goals and action plans. You know where you’re going, because you have goals!

Of course, you don’t actually end up getting there. Sometimes you achieve the goal and then you feel amazing. But most of the time you don’t achieve them and you blame it on yourself.

Here’s the secret: the problem isn’t you, it’s the system! Goals as a system are set up for failure.

Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.

Some goal systems are more flexible, but nothing is as flexible as having no goals.

How it works

So what does a life without goals look like? In practice, it’s very different than one with goals.

You don’t set a goal for the year, nor for the month, nor for the week or day. You don’t obsess about tracking, or actionable steps. You don’t even need a to-do list, though it doesn’t hurt to write down reminders if you like.

What do you do, then? Lay around on the couch all day, sleeping and watching TV and eating Ho-Hos? No, you simply do. You find something you’re passionate about, and do it. Just because you don’t have goals doesn’t mean you do nothing — you can create, you can produce, you can follow your passion.

And in practice, this is a wonderful thing: you wake up and do what you’re passionate about. For me, that’s usually blogging, but it can be writing a novel or an ebook or my next book or creating a course to help others or connecting with incredible people or spending time with my wife or playing with my kids. There’s no limit, because I’m free.

In the end, I usually end up achieving more than if I had goals, because I’m always doing something I’m excited about. But whether I achieve or not isn’t the point at all: all that matters is that I’m doing what I love, always.

I end up in places that are wonderful, surprising, great. I just didn’t know I would get there when I started.

Quick questions

Question from a reader: Isn’t having no goals a goal?

Quick answer: It can be a goal, or you can learn to do it along the journey, by exploring new methods. I’m always learning new things (like having no goals) without setting out to learn them in the first place.

Another question from a reader: So how do you make a living?

Answer: Passionately! Again, not having goals doesn’t mean you stop doing things. In fact, I do many things, all the time, but I do them because I love doing them.

Tips for living without goals

I am not going to give you a how-to manual for living without goals — that would be absurd. I can’t teach you what to do — you need to find your own path.

But I can share some things I’ve learned, in hopes that it will help you:

  • Start small. You don’t need to drastically overhaul your life in order to learn to live without goals. Just go a few hours without predetermined goals or actions. Follow your passion for those hours. Even an hour will do.
  • Grow. As you get better at this, start allowing yourself to be free for longer periods — half a day or a whole day or several days. Eventually you’ll feel confident enough to give up on certain goals and just do what you love.
  • Not just work. Giving up goals works in any area of your life. Take health and fitness: I used to have specific fitness goals, from losing weight or bodyfat to running a marathon to increasing my squat. Not anymore: now I just do it because I love it, and I have no idea where that will take me. It works brilliantly, because I always enjoy myself.
  • Let go of plans. Plans are not really different than goals. They set you on a predetermined path. But it’s incredibly difficult to let go of living with plans, especially if you’re a meticulous planner like I am. So allow yourself to plan, when you feel you need to, but slowly feel free to let go of this habit.
  • Don’t worry about mistakes. If you start setting goals, that’s OK. There are no mistakes on this journey — it’s just a learning experience. If you live without goals and end up failing, ask yourself if it’s really a failure. You only fail if you don’t get to where you wanted to go — but if you don’t have a destination in mind, there’s no failure.
  • It’s all good. No matter what path you find, no matter where you end up, it’s beautiful. There is no bad path, no bad destination. It’s only different, and different is wonderful. Don’t judge, but experience.

And finally

Always remember: the journey is all. The destination is beside the point.

‘A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.’ ~Lao Tzu

Categories: Perfection

Create Time to Change Your Life

November 26, 2011 Leave a comment

When I decided to change my life a little over 5 years ago, I had a very common problem: I didn’t have the time.

I wanted to exercise and find time for my family and eat healthier (instead of the fast-food junk I’d been eating) and read more and write and be more productive and increase my income.

Unfortunately there are only 24 hours in a day, and we sleep for about 8 of them. Subtract the hours we spend eating (3), showering and dressing and fixing up (1), cleaning and running errands (1), driving (2), working (8) … and you’re left with an hour or two at most. Often less.

Eventually I figured out how to do all the things I wanted to do. I’veachieved all of that and more, and in fact I have more leisure time now than ever. But first I had to figure out the fundamental problem: how could I find the time to change my life?

I know many of you face the same problem — you’ve told me as much. So I thought I’d share some of what I did in the beginning, in hopes that it’ll help.

The First Step

You must make a commitment. You have to decide that you really want to make a change, and that it’s more important than almost anything else.

For me, only my family was more important — and in fact I was making these change for my family as well as for myself. So these changes I was making were really my top priority in life.

It has to be that urgent for you. Think of this not as “improving your life” but saving it. The changes I made saved my life — I am so much healthier, my marriage is better, my relationships with my kids have improved, I am happier rather than depressed.

If you don’t feel you’re saving your life then you won’t make the tough changes needed.

Next Steps

Once I made the mental commitment, I took small steps to give myself a little wiggle room to breathe and move:

  • Cut out TV. I watched less TV than ever before (eventually I watched none, though now I watch a few shows a week over the Internet). For many people this one change will free up a couple hours or more.
  • Read less junk. I used to read a lot of things on the Internet that were just entertainment. Same with magazines. I cut that stuff out early so I could focus on what was more important.
  • Go out less. I used to go to a lot of movies and to dinner and drinking. I cut that out (mostly) for awhile, to make time.
  • Wake earlier. Not everyone is going to do this but it was a good step for me. I found that I had more time exercising and working in the morning before anyone woke up — the world was quiet and at peace and without interruptions. (Read more.)

In general, find the things that eat up your time that are less important than the changes you want to make. That’s almost everything except the things you need to live — work and eating and stuff like that. Cut back on them where you can.

Simplify Commitments

I had a lot of commitments in my life — I coached soccer, was on the PTA board, served on a lot of committees at work, had social commitments as well, worked on a number of projects.

Slowly I cut them out. They seemed important but in truth none of them were as important as the life I wanted to create, the changes I wanted to make. Lots of things are important — but which are the absolute most important? Make a decision.

If you are having trouble making a decision, try an experiment. Cut out a commitment just for a little while. See whether you suffer from cutting it out, or whether you like the extra time.

If you’re worried about offending people, don’t. Send an email or make a phone call and explain that you’d love to keep doing the commitment but you just don’t have the time and don’t want to half-ass it. The person might try to talk you into staying but be firm — respect yourself and your time and the changes you’re trying to make.

Here’s a secret: the people and organizations you’ve been helping or working with will live. They will go on doing what they were doing without you, and (omg!) they will survive without you. Your departure will not cause the world to collapse. Let go of the guilt.

Streamline Your Life

Eventually I made many other changes, including:

  • Making bills and savings and debt payments automatic. I set everything up online so that I wouldn’t have to run errands or spend time making payments. This put my debt reduction on automatic, and I got out of debt. (Read more.)
  • Streamlining errands. I tried to cut as many errands out of my life as possible. Often that meant changing my life in some way but I adjusted and things became simpler. I cleaned as I went so I didn’t have a lot of cleaning to do on weekends. I did the few errands I had all at once to save running around.
  • Work less. I would set limits to how much I could work, forcing myself to pick the important tasks and to get those tasks done on time. I learned which tasks needed to be done and which could be dropped. I became much more effective and worked less.
  • Say no. When people asked me to do stuff that was important to them but not to me, I learned to politely decline. Instead I focused on what was important to me.

Slowly I learned to simplify. I simplified my daily routines, my work, my social life, my possessions, my chores, my wardrobe. It took time but it has been more than worth the effort: life is so much better now that I’ve created the time to do what I want to do.

Categories: Perfection

How to Start

November 26, 2011 Leave a comment

‘There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting.’ ~Buddha

How do you start something new?

Whether it’s beginning an exercise program, getting going with a task you want to complete, or creating a new business or product from scratch — how do you get started?

It’s one of the most intimidating things. It’s the lack of starting that kills most tasks and projects.

Procrastination is putting off the start. Your new venture gets put off because the start is too hard.

How I Started

When I started Zen Habits, I had no idea how to start. I looked at other blogs and it was intimidating what they’d accomplished: not only thousands of readers but hundreds of articles, a killer blog design, their own domain name, all kinds of services and ebooks and T-shirts and other things going on.

I couldn’t do all that — I had a job (two actually) and a family with six kids. So I skipped it all and did one thing: I chose a random name that felt right, and created a free account on blogger.

That was incredibly easy, and I felt great.

Then I did one more thing: I did a short post reflecting on some things I’d been doing. Basically just a journal entry. I was out in the world for the first time!

This was my start. It wasn’t hard — in fact, so easy I couldn’t refuse to start. Eventually I did all the things everyone else did, but that came later. At the start, I did just one thing, and then another.

Start a Task

If you read my Un-Procrastination ebook, you know how easy it was to read. Short chapters, easy reading, you could be done in a short amount of time. I purposely made it easy, so you wouldn’t procrastinate.

But then someone said, “It’s easier to read the book than implement it!”

Too true. Unless you make it even easier to get started.

How do you start on a task when you’re procrastinating because it’s too hard? You make it super easy.

First, pick a task. Is that too hard? Randomly choose one, to make it easy on yourself.

If you’ve picked a task and it seems too hard to get started, make it even easier: just do one minute. If that’s too hard, just do 20 seconds. That’s so easy you can’t say no.

Whatever the task, if you’re procrastinating, make it easier. The key is to just get started. If you want to go beyond the 20 seconds, keep going. If not, do another 20 seconds after you’ve taken a break and wiped the hard-earned sweat off your brow.

Start a Habit

How do you start a habit? Some people have no trouble starting — it’s the sticking-to-it that’s hard. But others have been wanting to do something for years and just can’t get into it.

Either way, you want to start as easy as possible.

Starting is the key to a habit. If you don’t start, you won’t ever make it a habit. So make it as easy as possible. Want to exercise? Just lace up your shoes and get out the door. Even just 5 minutes is all you need.

What if you want to do much more, because you’re excited? Don’t. Start as simply as possible. Why? Because the sticking-to-it is made much, much easier if you are doing a tiny habit. Try forming the habit of running for 30 minutes a day, and then try the habit of 5 minutes of running a day. Which do you stick with longer? I can already tell you the answer: the easy one.

If you want a habit to stick, start so incredibly simply that you can’t fail. Later, you can iterate on the habit until it’s at the level you really want. But start easy.

Start a New Venture

You’re finally ready to channel your powerful creative energy into a new project. Not just an ordinary work project, but one that will be a new venture for you — one that will start a new business, a new life, and make your mark upon this dense earth.

But you’re putting it off. There’s too much to be done, and you’re already busy. It’s intimidating to get started.

Start as simply as humanly possible. How simple can you make this new business? How simple can you make the product? Make it even simpler.

Let your new business or product do just one thing. And then make it do less of that one thing. Sure, later you can iterate and add a feature or two, but as you get started, do as little as possible.

You won’t be able to fail to start, and in the start is everything. It is where new worlds are created, new journeys begun, new lives born.

‘There are two kinds of people, those who finish what they start and so on.’ ~Robert Byrne

Categories: Perfection

How to Finish

November 26, 2011 Leave a comment

There are two kinds of people, those who finish what they start and so on.’ ~Robert Byrne

The early draft of this post sat in my system for about a week. How’s that for irony?

Many of us are good at starting things — it’s the finishing that we need help with.

The truth is, it might seem funny that my post on “How to Finish” sat unfinished for 7 days, but I’m actually decent at finishing. I start a whole bunch of articles and books, and let those ideas germinate. When I’m ready to focus on them, I get them to done pretty easily.

How? Many people wrote in to ask me to write a post called “How to Finish” after I wrote about How to Start. Reader Anthony Zullo, for example, asked:

“You know when you get to the middle of a project, like a novel and start to lose motivation. Well, how do you develop that motivation after you’re half way up the hill but not yet walking downhill yet?”

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll gladly share what works for me.

Motivation

For me, finishing is all about motivation. If you’re having a difficult time finishing, it’s best to look closely at why you want to finish in the first place.

If the task or project isn’t something you want to do, consider the consequences of dropping it. I’ve done this often and it’s a relief when I finally drop something I didn’t really want to do in the first place.

If you really do want to do the task/project, ask why. What do you get out of it? Do you love doing it? Is there some benefit you’ll get? Visualize that — it might get you going.

If you need more motivation, find a way to give yourself some public accountability. Set a deadline, do a blog post, tweet about finishing. A little positive public pressure can be a good thing.

Get Moving

Make it ridiculously easy to get started. Make the task so small, so easy, you can’t say no — make it just 1 minute long, for example, or even just 20 seconds.

Use the same tip for finishing: break your task into tiny little mini-steps, and just get started on each one by making them so easy you can’t *not* do it. And keep doing that, repeatedly, until you’re done.

It’s that simple. If you can’t write a whole chapter of your book or report, just write a paragraph or two. Take a walk around for a minute, then write another paragraph or two. Keep doing this until you’re done.

Then go out and tell the world you finished. It’s awesome.

Categories: Perfection

Tired of Being Tired

November 26, 2011 Leave a comment

‘A man grows most tired while standing still.’ ~Chinese proverb

It’s tough being tired all day. I’ve had days like this, when I’m struggling through the day and don’t have the energy to tackle anything that matters.

Hell, I’ve had years like this.

When you’re tired, not much seems appealing. Life is dulled, and you don’t get much accomplished. Worst, you don’t have the energy to change the situation.

These days I don’t have many days like this, but when I do, I rest. We have gotten good at ignoring our body’s signals — much of our lives is training our minds to pretend our bodies aren’t tired, so we can be more productive.

This is wrong. It ends up in burnout and less production, because we inevitably run out of energy. Listen to your body — your long-term health and sanity depend on it.

Why We’re Tired

Mostly we’re tired because we don’t rest enough. Yeah, I know: duh, Leo. But if it’s so obvious, why do we ignore it?

The Spanish famously have siestas. When I get tired, so do I. It’s a luxury not everyone can afford, but even when I had a day job I would find ways to sneak into a back room and take a power nap of 20 minutes.

We don’t rest enough. It’s not as important as other things: waking early, getting stuff done, attending to a thousand meetings, being sucked into the world of online connections and reading, god-forsaken television.

So we cut rest in favor of these other things that are much more important, and then wonder why our energy levels are low.

But there’s more. If you’re like me, you drink coffee in the morning. You might drink more later in the morning, to keep yourself energized. By the time afternoon rolls around, you’re in caffeine withdrawal. This is often why people are sapped by mid-afternoon.

We also run ourselves too fast, like a sprint, when life is much longer than a sprint. Try it: go outside and sprint all-out for two minutes. Stop, breathe for a sec, then sprint again. See how long you can keep that up — most can’t go very long. Our days are like a series of sprints.

Note: Sometimes chronic fatigue can be a sign of deeper problems. For athletes, it’s often a sign of overtraining. For others, it could be a sign of depression or other medical issues. If it’s a continuing problem, I’d recommend getting checked out, just in case.

How to Get Started When You’re Too Tired to Start

My first suggestion is to take a nap. If you’re too tired to take other steps, taking a nap is easy. If you can’t take a nap, at the very least disconnect from digital devices. Computers and smartphones are powerful tools, but being on them for too long tires us out.

Disconnect, get outside, take a walk. Cancel an appointment or two if you can. Stretch. Massage your shoulders. Close your eyes for a few minutes. Breathe.

These are small things you can do right away, and they will help you become more rested.

More Solutions

Once you’ve taken the first steps, you’ll be a bit more rested and can take a few more steps:

1. Sleep more at night. If you’re not getting at least 7 hours of sleep, you’re probably getting too little. Lots of people need a full 8 hours, and some need more. Go to bed earlier — the Internet will be fine without you. I like to read before bed (a book, not websites) as a ritual

that helps me sleep. It takes awhile before your sleeping patterns change. If you have insomnia.

2. Take stretch breaks. We sit for too long at the computer, sapping energy. Get up, stretch, every 20-25 minutes. Walk around for a minute or five. Move in any way you can — do pushups, squats, lunges, jump up and down, do a dance. Get the blood circulating.

3. Exercise regularly. You needed me to tell you to exercise, I’m sure. But it’s amazing how even a little exercise can help you to feel more energized throughout the day. A huge workout session can leave you exhausted — in which case you should rest — but shorter workouts leave you physically just a bit tired, but mentally you feel amazing.

4. Cut back the caffeine. If you go cold turkey with caffeine, you’ll really have no energy. But cutting back a little at a time, while doing some of the things mentioned here, won’t be bad. And you’ll skip the afternoon withdrawal, which can ruin half your day. If you feel tired from drinking less caffeine, take a short nap.

5. Be less busy. Seriously, we’re too busy these days. Cut back on commitments, put space between things, allow yourself to have a slower pace. Your energy levels will thank you.

6. Focus. While most people multitask, in truth that’s mental juggling. And there’s only so much you can do in a day. As most of you know, I advocate single-tasing — it’s basically doing one thing at a time, and being fully present while doing that task. This really transforms anything you do, from work tasks to conversations to chores like washing the dishes. It’s less tiring, mentally, and it can make anything you do more enjoyable. Life is less tiring when you single-task.

7. Hydrate. This is actually a huge factor that most people don’t realize is making them tired. Drink water throughout the day. You don’t really need 8 glasses of water (we get some in food and other drinks), but drinking more water doesn’t hurt. Your pee should be a light yellow if you’re well hydrated (not clear, definitely not dark yellow).

8. Freshen up. Sometimes a quick, cold shower in the afternoon or evening can be refreshing. Or change your socks. If you’re sweaty, a fresh outfit also helps. Wash your face. You’ll feel brand-new.

9. Work on something you’re excited about. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll feel energized. If you don’t really care about your work, you’ll be dragging.

10. Work with interesting people. If you work with other people who are passionate about something, you’ll feel more excited about the work you do. It’s incredible to work with a partner or group of people who care about what they’re doing, who are fired up. If you don’t have that, seek it out.

11. Learn what makes life effortless. We thrash about in the water all day, making the swim exhausting. Instead of working against the world, learn to glide. I write about this more in my new book, The Effortless Life, which comes out next week. More soon!

‘A lot of people are tired around here, but I’m not sure they’re ready to lie down, stretch out and fall asleep.’ ~Jim Jones

Categories: Perfection