Synergy

Many evenings, you’ll find me around my house reading a book or writing a short story or polishing a post for The Simple Dollar or working on a book of my own. I enjoy doing it – the act of writing, and even learning how to improve my writing, is very enjoyable to me. The real kicker, though, is that the more I write, the better I get. It gets easier to come up with ideas, find useful phrases, and put together a sequence of thoughts into something that others might enjoy reading. The better I get, the more enjoyable and pure it becomes – instead of struggling, I can usually turn those ideas in my head into words quite quickly and pretty effectively.

In other words, writing for fun is a synergistic activity for me – not only do I enjoy doing it, but the more I do it, the better I get at it (and thus the more I can potentially earn by doing it). For me, writing is “fun with a kicker” – it’s something I enjoy in the moment as a pastime, but it also builds into a useful skill – and sometimes a useful product.

One of my aunts does something similar. She doesn’t get around too well, but her hands are still steady and precise. In order to fill her hours with something that keeps her hands strong, is personally fulfilling to her, and turns a small profit, she knits and crochets for hours every day, producing blankets and sweaters by the ton. She gives many away as gifts and also sells some of them for pocket money. Her skill has grown to the point where her homemade items are highly prized.

Not too long ago, I also talked about my close friend John, who bought a piece of land to develop slowly entirely by himself. He gets to spend his free time outside doing things he enjoys, but it has a nice “kicker” in that the more he improves the land, the more value it has.

All of these examples are really examples of synergy – things that people enjoy in the now that also add value over the long term. I get to enjoy reading and writing now – but I build my skills as a writer and I sometimes produce things that can actually put cash in my pocket. My aunt enjoys knitting and crocheting – but she also produces gifts and a few things to sell for pocket money, too. John enjoys clearing brush and working outside – but he’s also improving the value of his land.

Over the last few years, I’ve found that the more synergy you add to your life, the easier it is to get ahead. Here are a few additional examples.

I started using a calendar (and carrying a pocket notebook). Until a few years ago, I didn’t really use a calendar at all – I didn’t believe I had enough things to remember. The end result is that I would often have lots of bits of info in my head, floating around, taking up space, and sometimes I’d still wind up slapping my forehead, realizing that I had forgotten something important. Starting a calendar (I use GCal) meant that I could quickly jot down any information that’s stuck in my mind right now (a current benefit, as it means I’m not wasting brain space on keeping things in the front of my mind) and also know what’s coming up on any given day (a future benefit, as I’m no longer forgetting important things). In short, I now believe everyone can really use a calendar. The same basic idea goes for a pocket notebook for writing down those things that aren’t associated with a particular date (ideas, etc.) – it helps me now by clearing out my brainspace and helps me later by allowing me to flawlessly retrieve information and ideas.

I started cooking at home. Cooking at home right now simply means that I get a meal on the table for my family to eat – an obvious short term benefit. Many people think that it ends there, though – you’re just saving a few bucks now compared to eating out. The truth, though, is that there’s a long-term benefit to cooking – you learn how to do it better, faster, and easier. I can now chop vegetables way faster than I used to (but still far slower than actual chefs). I can just throw together many basic dishes without glancing at a recipe, making them faster and more flexible. This makes meals prepared at home today cheaper and faster than meals prepared at home a few years ago – a skill that I’ve built myself that will stick with me forever. And there’s still tons of room for improvement, too – I’ll just keep getting better.

I spend undistracted time with my kids. The cell phone goes off. The iPod Touch stays in the house. The books remain on the shelf (unless I’m intentionally reading in front of them to show them that reading is a normal, healthy adult behavior). In the short term, the time playing with them is a lot of fun – lots of laughter, a bit of exercise, and pure enjoyment. In the long term, though, I’m building a trusting relationship there – one that might not hold up through everything, but is much more likely to sustain through both of our lives than a “relationship” where I do nothing with them.

I clean the house vigorously. About once a week, I’ll turn on the stereo on the main floor, pop in some up-tempo music, and clean like gangbusters for an hour or two. I rush around as fast as I can, getting myself out of breath in the process. I really enjoy this – I tend to get lost in the music and just rush around on a cloud of adrenaline. In the short term, it gets the house clean (or at least presentable) quickly. But there are several kickers to this. I’m quite happy to have guests pop in all the time because the house is almost always presentable, which helps with my social network. I’m also getting exercise (I always wind up really sweaty and out of breath after busting it for a good hour), which improves my long-term health.

Get the idea? I strive to fill my life with things I enjoy now that have long-term benefits down the road. The more activities with synergy that I choose today, the better my life is in the future.

Not sure how this can work in your life? Here are a few additional examples that you might be able to use yourself.

Enjoy hanging out with others? Start filling your social calendar with inexpensive activities, like dinner parties (even potluck ones), game nights, movie nights, and other such activities where you can invite people over to your house – and perhaps get invitations to others in return. Not only will you find yourself filling your evenings with inexpensive social activities (a big plus), you’ll also find that you’re building a lot of good relationships that will come through for you later (a big plus).

Enjoy sports? Get involved with the parks and recreation department in your town. Participate in as many activities as you can and volunteer to coach youth sports as well. This helps in the short term by giving you tons of activities to participate in, but it also helps in the long run because of the relationships you’ll be building with others – parents, teenagers, and so on. You’ll keep in shape, meet lots of new people, and grow as a person.

Enjoy watching television? Start a blog on those topics, throw a few ads on the site, and post every day. You can get started at Blogspot. Write episode summaries mixed in with your own commentary on your favorite shows. Having a keyboard in front of you typing your reactions to what you see takes something passive (just watching) into something that builds a skill (writing) and potentially turns a profit (the blog). No matter what, it’s better than sitting there just watching time pass.

What are you doing in your life today that’s both fun and synergistic? Are you simply burning through your hours – or are you engaged in enjoyable things that are also building skills, traits, and products that you can utilize in the long run?