Edmonton’s Gren Living Guide

June 6th, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

Green Living Guide cover page

There are many ways we can help lessen our impact on the environment.

The Green Living Guide is a companion book to the Green Home Guide and features lifestyle changes to help you green your everyday life at home, at work and in the community.
Whether you own or rent, and whether you live in a house or an apartment, you’ll find some great tips that you can use to help reduce your environmental impact and maybe even save some money.
Get the complete Green Living Guide, or check out the sections that interest you.
Want to know how your carbon footprint rates? Check out the  Global Footprint Network.

Reality check: Keep on truckin’ – but hire a mover

February 5th, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

ColumnistsFeb 3, 2016 0
By Larry Kruger

Back in the day you and your buddies would think nothing of moving your lava lamp and all your worldly goods on a weekend. At that time you mirrored the Bob Seger song playing in the background. You “felt like a million, felt like number one, in the height of summer you never felt so strong, like a rock.”

Moving was done in an afternoon, in between a few pints and a lot of laughs. Well, time keeps trucking on and although in your mind you are still living in the glory days, the old rock may be getting a little weathered.

Having been in the moving business for more than 30 years, I am still amazed at the number of folks my age or older who want to move their own stuff. When I hear that they are thinking of moving themselves I always feel it’s time for an intervention. The reality is, back then, you hadn’t yet amassed the stuff you have now and your back, knees and shoulders are not in the same condition they were 20 or 30 plus years ago.

Today, when you can finally afford a mover, it is just not worth doing it on your own.

Reality check #1: Your stuff is heavy

Go over and grab the end of the sofa and give it a controlled slow lift, using your legs, keeping your back straight and, oh yeah, I almost forgot, be sure to drop it before you hear a pop. Now take a look around your home. The average weight of household goods in a three-bedroom home weighs in the area of 8,000 to 10,000 lbs. Yes, four or five tons. Your stuff weighs about the same as an African bull elephant. If you’re reading this Jane, tell Tarzan there is more to this than he may remember.

Reality check #2: You wouldn’t do this at the gym

Still want to eat that elephant? Let’s break it down into bite-size pieces. That weekend move you are thinking about doing equates into 100 squats using 100 lbs. to load the truck then you have to offload, so take that to 200 reps. Think about it – 200 dead lift reps using 100 lbs. (Give that a go at the gym next Saturday just to get limbered up a little, pre-move.)

Reality check #3: It’s not just lifting

Add a little cardio. Add in a 20-yard carry taking the goods out to the truck (if you can get the truck to the door). Now double that to offload (let’s round it down) to around 5,000 plus yard carry, so call it two miles or 3.22 km. It’s not over yet. Add an incline – yes, there is a walk board at the end or beginning of every trip. To put it in perspective, strap on a 50 lb. weight and take a two mile walk going uphill and downhill every 15 yards. How are the old knees these days?

Reality check #4: Who’s going to drive the truck?

Can you drive the truck? If not, is a day with your brother-in-law or old buddy telling you how to lift things really worth it? (The guy driving the truck instantly graduates to resident expert.) You will also owe everyone who helps or who just shows up and drinks your beer and eats your pizza. Besides, what impression do you make with your new neighbours when you roll up to your new digs looking like the Beverly Hillbillies?

There is a time in your life when moving yourself was just fine and then there is now. When selling your home and right sizing I would suggest you do a reality check, get some moving estimates in advance and budget that service into the selling or buying cost.

Keep on trucking but get someone else to do the heavy lifting. It is well worth it.

Green Energy Futures

January 27th, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

Have you heard the one about how renewables are too expensive and that they always need subsidies? Well, both wind and solar now compete with fossil fuel electricity generation purely on price, without subsidies.

But wind and solar aren’t just competitive and affordable options for generating electricity — in Alberta they’re actually driving prices down for consumers.

A study by our colleagues at the Pembina Institute confirms a direct relationship between wind and solar production and lower prices for consumers. And it’s all due to a couple of quirks in how Alberta’s electricity market is designed.

Solar subsidy

* Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet.
Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet.
Alberta has the only deregulated electricity market in the country. In this market the wholesale price fluctuates hourly depending on supply and demand. Since the highest demand for power is during the day when people are working, the price for electricity is highest exactly when solar panels are producing electricity.

* The Landmark Group of Builders unveiled their 120-kilowatt solar PV array in Edmonton on Thursday, August 28. The 510 solar panels are on the roof and installed as awnings. Kyle Kasawski is the general manager of Landmark Power Solar and was key to getting this project done.
The Landmark Group of Builders unveiled their 120-kilowatt solar PV array in Edmonton on Thursday, August 28. The 510 solar panels are on the roof and installed as awnings. Kyle Kasawski is the general manager of Landmark Power Solar and was key to getting this project done.
But due to Alberta’s micro-generator regulation, small microgenerators (those producing less than 150 kilowatts) get the retail price for any electricity they produce. That retail price is lower than the daytime wholesale price and as a result small solar generators have to sell their electricity at a discounted price.

That imbalance means people with solar panels on their roof are selling their electricity with anywhere from a 1.5¢/kWh to a 6¢/kWh discount.

To learn more we talked to Kyle Kasawski, the general manager of Landmark Power Solar. Landmark is an innovative homebuilder that we’ve featured on our series before and Kyle has been selling solar systems since 2002. They’re figuring out how to mass-produce net-zero homes, and Landmark itself has installed solar panels on 137 different homes.

“Once you clue in you go, ‘that doesn’t sound right’ and you realize there’s a fundamental disconnect. I’m sure economists would get around this and say markets shouldn’t work like this. So the market in this way is a little dysfunctional,’ says Kasawski.

He also believes that if solar producers got the full value for the electricity their solar panels produce then the “economics for solar improve to the point where I think a lot more people would adopt it for purely economic reasons, because it’s not only saving them energy, but it would be earning them money for the electricity they produce.”

Solar energy in Alberta is still a tiny fraction of the total electricity mix, only five megawatts, but it’s growing. Higher prices for solar electricity would certainly accelerate the process and get more clean solar energy on the grid more quickly, also helping Alberta with one of the biggest challenges it faces — reducing emissions in our fossil fuel economy.

Windy days mean lower power prices

* Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet. Data is from Alberta’s Electric System Operator.
Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet. Data is from Alberta’s Electric System Operator.
Alberta was the first province to install commercial wind projects, and we’ve featured wind entrepreneurs who’ve done incredible things. More than 1,400 megawatts of wind energy is up and spinning here and it’s already lowering power prices.

* Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet. Data is from Alberta’s Electric System Operator.
Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet. Data is from Alberta’s Electric System Operator.
“The long and the short of it is, whenever it’s windy the price always comes down in Alberta, which is ultimately good for consumers, but it’s not so good for the guys operating the wind plant because they always get the lowest price,” says Tim Weis, policy director with the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

Wind energy producers end up selling to the grid at prices 30 per cent below the average grid price. Wind is the cheapest type of power produced in Alberta, with an average price of 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2013. The same per kilowatt-hour figure is 7.7 cents for coal and 8.3 cents for natural gas.

That fact sheet we referenced earlier found a direct relationship between high winds and lower electricity prices. With no fuel cost, wind farm operators bid into the system at zero as it doesn’t cost them anything to produce their power. But bidding in at zero drags the price of the whole system down. As you can see from the graph, when the wind blows electricity is cheap, and when it doesn’t the price goes up.

From the consumer’s point of view, the more renewable energy on the grid, the better. Renewables are cost competitive, they bring down electricity prices for the average Joe and they help Alberta with perhaps its biggest challenge, reducing emissions.

But both energy producers and the provincial government face a larger structural challenge — put enough clean energy on the grid and nobody makes any money.

The market also doesn’t recognize the value provided by the grid as an always-on source of backup power. Even if everyone had a net-zero home you’d still need the grid to turn the lights on after the sun went down.

But we take comfort in the fact that wind and solar are only getting cheaper, that more and more clean energy is being installed in Alberta and around the world, and that — in Alberta at least — wind and solar are putting a couple more dollars in your pocket.

Green Homes Getting Cheaper

January 14th, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

The highly entertaining documentary How William Shatner Changed the World is a must-watch for any Trekkie or technology geek. In it, William Shatner hosts and narrates two hours of exploring the real-life advancements that were inspired by Star Trek.

In case after case Shatner explores the rapid pace of technological development. Things like the cell phone or communicator that were mere fantasy in the ’60s became reality only a few short decades later.

When it comes to net-zero homes it too is an idea that seems more science fiction than anything, especially in the cold climes of Edmonton, Alberta. A home that produces as much energy as it consumes — well that’s just crazy.

It took a group of 45 people more than two years to build the first net-zero home in Edmonton. Simon Knight is the CEO of C3, a social enterprise that works on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Alberta and was there.

“The first prototype we built in Edmonton, when you went into the mechanical room it was similar to walking on the Starship Enterprise — it was very complex,” says Simon Knight who now is a director with the Net-Zero Energy Home Coalition.

Built back in 2007 the Riverdale net-zero home was a 5,000 square foot duplex. It also had a complex space heating system that depended on an over-built solar thermal set-up with a lot of extra engineering bells and whistles.

Since then several other builders have tried their hand at this particular challenge.

Keep it simple

Peter Amerongen of Habitat Studio and Workshop built that first net-zero home in 2007 and he built Bob Heath’s net-zero home in south Edmonton in 2011, his third net-zero build.

The main difference? Simplicity. The mechanical room in Bob Heath’s net-zero home has an electric hot water heater and a heat recovery ventilation system hanging on the wall and not much else. This is hardly the Starship Enterprise.

“One of the reasons this house has such a simple mechanical system is because it is getting over 50 per cent of its energy just from the sun coming through those south-facing windows,” says Amerongen. “So once you reduce your total heating load it’s small enough we can get all of the energy we need from those solar panels.”

By taking advantage of passive solar energy and using a thermally massive floor Amerongen erased half of the heating bill right off the bat — all for the cost of some high quality windows and a polished concrete floor.

And while the systems and techniques have become simpler and lower cost there are rules of thumb that apply to every net-zero build.

You have to drastically reduce the energy use of the house. You do that with high levels of insulation in the roof and walls and by making the building as airtight as possible.

Then you must pay “Careful attention to thermal bridging so we make sure there are no parts of the house, not even the basement floor slab that are in contact with the ground or exterior air — so there is a complete blanket of insulation around it,” says Amerongen.

And when you have done all that the home you top it off with a solar photovoltaic system. In Bob Heath’s case he only needs a 7.5 kilowatt solar system to provide all of the energy his home requires.

It turns out Heath, who lives alone in this 1,900 square foot two-storey home is a super energy conserver because he has exported 4,000 kWh of electricity to the grid for the last two years running.

Peter Amerongen: Net-zero builderNet-zero builder and net-zero home ownerThick wallsWindowsPassive solarBob HeathSimple mechanical roomHRVBob Heath and Simon KnightFront endNet-zero homeSolar angleShadingRiverdale Net-ZeroMeter

So when is a house net-zero ready?
“You’ve got to get to an EnerGuide rating above 86 before you can call your house net zero energy ready, 89 or 90 would be better, but at that point the remaining energy that you need tit’s possible to get that energy from the sun with some kind of solar collection system – solar electric or solar hot water,” says net-zero pioneer Amerongen.

On Bob Heath’s net-zero home they left space for a solar thermal system, but they didn’t install it because solar electric made more sense at this point in time.

In the evolution of the net-zero home custom builders like Habitat Studios have come a long way and are making excellent net-zero homes. But it’s larger builders like Landmark Homes who are poised to make every new home they build net-zero ready by 2015.

“That’s when you start talking about industry transformation,” says Knight who adds builders are already looking at building net-zero communities. “You are actually talking about the kind of transition you have been working towards for a very long time.”

These particular builders are way out in front of building codes and government. If you build a house to the minimum standard of the building code you get an EnerGuide 70 home. It is expected that national building code released later this year will mandate all new construction to be Energuide 80.

Amerongen sees a real urgency to get on with producing net-zero homes because of the massive carbon footprint our housing stock has. Even if we build all new homes as net-zero energy homes it will take generations to replace the old inefficient houses.

Houses are a durable good. Even a poorly constructed, energy inefficient house lasts a long time.

Reza Nasseri of Landmark Homes is pretty optimistic. He envisions half of North America’s homes being built to net-zero standards within 20 years.

We’re not dealing with Moore’s Law but the pace of innovation in the net-zero home world just in the past six years has been breathtaking. As more builders and customers embrace the idea of a slightly more expensive home for far lower operating costs the net-zero idea will only pick up more and more steam.

By making net-zero homes simpler and more affordable trailblazers like Amerongen and Landmark Homes have started something that I hope will only get bigger and bigger.

David Dodge – Huffinton Post

6 Things Everyone Should Do When Moving Into A New House

March 16th, 2015 by Chris Greidanus

Moving into your first home is exciting! But it also means you’ve got work to do.

1. Change the locks. You really don’t know who else has keys to your home, so change the locks. That ensures you’re the only person who has access. Install new deadbolts yourself for as little as $10 per lock, or call a locksmith — if you supply the new locks, they typically charge about $20-$30 per lock for labor.

2. Check for plumbing leaks. Your home inspector should do this for you before closing, but it never hurts to double-check. I didn’t have any leaks to fix, but when checking my kitchen sink, I did discover the sink sprayer was broken. I replaced it for under $20.

Keep an eye out for dripping faucets and running toilets, and check your water heater for signs of a leak.

Here’s a neat trick: Check your water meter at the beginning and end of a two-hour window in which no water is being used in your house. If the reading is different, you have a leak.

3. Steam clean carpets. Do this before you move your furniture in, and your new home life will be off to a fresh start. You can pay a professional carpet cleaning service — you’ll pay about $50 per room; most services require a minimum of about $100 before they’ll come out — or you can rent a steam cleaner for about $30 per day and do the work yourself. I was able to save some money by borrowing a steam cleaner from a friend.

4. Wipe out your cabinets. Another no-brainer before you move in your dishes and bathroom supplies. Make sure to wipe inside and out, preferably with a non-toxic cleaner, and replace contact paper if necessary.

5. Give critters the heave-ho. That includes mice, rats, bats, termites, roaches, and any other uninvited guests. There are any number of DIY ways to get rid of pests, but if you need to bring out the big guns, an initial visit from a pest removal service will run you $100-$300, followed by monthly or quarterly visits at about $50 each time.

6. Introduce yourself to your circuit breaker box and main water valve. My first experience with electrical wiring was replacing a broken light fixture in a bathroom. After locating the breaker box, which is in my garage, I turned off the power to that bathroom so I wouldn’t electrocute myself.

It’s a good idea to figure out which fuses control what parts of your house and label them accordingly. This will take two people: One to stand in the room where the power is supposed to go off, the other to trip the fuses and yell, “Did that work? How about now?”

You’ll want to know how to turn off your main water valve if you have a plumbing emergency, if a hurricane or tornado is headed your way, or if you’re going out of town. Just locate the valve — it could be inside or outside your house — and turn the knob until it’s off. Test it by turning on any faucet in the house; no water should come out.

Published: February 18, 2015
By: Courtney Craig

Hot Water Heating Questions?

November 12th, 2014 by Chris Greidanus

WATER HEATING & ENERGY USE
Given that as much as 25% of household energy costs are for water heating, it makes sense to evaluate various types of water heating systems with an eye toward saving both energy and money. Here we take a look at some of the options currently available for homeowners to consider.

Storage Water Heaters
These are the most common type of water heater. In these systems, cold water flows into a tank where it is heated by gas or electric power. Once the water in the tank reaches the desired temperature, the heater will cycle on and off to maintain the temperature of the water. As hot water gets used, more cold water will enter the tank to be heated. Most of us know the phenomenon of running out of hot water after family members take one shower after another; this will occur if the tank’s storage capacity is insufficient to meet the demand. At other times of the day when relatively little or even no hot water is being used, the heater must still fire on and off to keep the contents of the tank hot. Unfortunately, it is quite inefficient to keep a tank of water hot all day even when the water isn’t needed. Adding an insulated water heater wrap can boost efficiency and energy savings – these are inexpensive and can be installed by the homeowner.

Tankless (Demand) Water Heaters
Tankless or demand water heaters are just that. Water is not stored in a tank, but is rapidly heated by gas or electricity once the faucet is turned on. For many homes, a tankless heater can be located close to the sink or shower to heat water on the spot. Because it reaches the desired temperature so quickly, much less water is wasted while waiting for hot water to flow through the faucet. Tankless heaters powered by gas are usually much more efficient than electric heaters – in fact, electricity costs can sometimes negate much of the savings a tankless system might otherwise provide. Tankless systems normally cost more than a conventional storage water heater, so homeowners should research what type, size, and location makes the most sense for them.

Solar Water Heating
The basic concept of solar water heating is that the sun’s energy is used to pre-heat water for the home. The pre-heated water then flows into a solar tank that monitors temperature. Then it is piped into the regular hot water system, usually a storage water heater. If no water is turned on within a brief period of time, the water circulates through the system again, making it unnecessary to keep a large tank of water constantly hot. The pre-heating is done by one or two solar panels, usually installed on the roof. Solar water heating is becoming more and more popular as costs for the systems continue to decrease. By some accounts, including the California Energy Commission, a typical solar water heating system can pay for itself in as little as four to seven years.

No matter what type of water heating homeowners choose, it pays to do some research first to discover the ins and outs of various types for their specific situation. With efficiency and decreased energy use as a goal, the best choice of water heater depends on what pencils out in any given home.

The Future of Transportation

October 27th, 2014 by Chris Greidanus

Cities of all sizes are reorienting their transportation priorities toward people over cars. Rebranding streets as “complete,” “shared,” or “great” reflects a turn away from automobility as the only choice for urban travel. Local transportation officials and planners now place a larger focus on offering many modes of travel and consider quality-of-life rather than simply encouraging driving everywhere. Though cars are still dominant, the era of automobility seems to have peaked. Yet continued reductions in driving require true multi-modalism: rather than relying on one mode of transportation, or expecting that most driving trips can be substituted for transit trips, people need to be able to choose from a network of options, including not traveling at all.

SERIES

The Future of Transportation
GO
The promise of multi-modal streets hides the fact that such a dramatic shift away from the traditional American form of auto-oriented personal urban transportation is much more difficult than just accommodating drivers everywhere. Supporting many modes requires including multiple actors in the planning process, all with different priorities and preferences. More travel choices also means private entrepreneurs will take the lead on some services normally offered by the public sector: from taxi or bus services to parking management to goods movement. And with the benefits of redefining and reallocating street space in a multi-modal system come new political problems in terms of fighting for that space, too.

Here are three of the biggest challenges cities will face as they shift away from car-reliant transportation systems and toward multi-modal ones.

1. Moving Beyond Car Vs. Transit

As the cost of driving increases through higher gas prices, tolls, and parking charges, more people will look toward alternatives. Yet less driving does not necessarily mean more transit use. When people drive less they travel by all alternatives more; they also telecommute and use home deliveries. Greater use of alternative modes to driving adds bikes, pedestrians, trucks, transit, and taxis to already crowded streets. New thinking about the design and use of street space is needed as new modes, actors, technologies, and uses change the function of public roads.

For too long, transportation options have been debated and presented as a choice between autos and transit, as though these modes are perfect substitutes. Of course they are not, which is one reason our cities have such difficulty getting drivers to abandon their cars. An example of binary thinking about cars versus transit and how complementary multi-modalism is ignored is seen in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, where a new Silver Line Metro station recently opened. While it is nice that the area now has rail transit service, multi-modal concerns for reaching the station were ignored during design and construction. The usefulness and attractiveness of the Metro service is diminished through the challenge of getting to and from the station.

Pedestrians, cyclists, and other street users shouldn’t be an afterthought. Multi-modal planning should be the norm.
While these design errors may be fixed in the future, it shouldn’t be the case that pedestrians, cyclists, taxi passengers, and other street users are an afterthought to cars and public transit. Multi-modal planning should be the norm.

2. Accommodating Public and Private Modes

Whatever clear lines once existed between public and private transport have blurred. Start-up technology companies, large corporations, and informal operators offer meaningful alternatives to driving, but also subvert the traditional public monopoly for supplying transit services. Ultimately we don’t know if private transit and app-based taxi services will succeed or improve transit ridership—that remains to be seen—but the increase in private transit operators is certainly different and affects investment and regulatory decisions.

Private firms operating on public roads present similar issues as the shifting role of public space for private activities. Mass transit and taxi medallions are set up as regulated monopolies partly due to the fact that they use public assets for their operations. From a transportation perspective, we should welcome more taxis and buses and trucks if they can help minimize wasteful driving. The public does give up some control over how their public assets are managed, though, and confrontations between public transit and private operators will increase.

The commuter tech shuttles in San Francisco are a well-known example of unresolved tension between private and public transit, as both complete for scarce curb space to pick up and drop off passengers. While publicly operated transit has legal claim on bus stops, private transit service is growing rapidly across the country and needs access to curbs, too. In any city with taxi services or app-based ride-sharing services, curb space is critical for safe passenger access, but there are few examples of multi-modal curbside management in practice. In parts of dense cities, taxis, ride-sharing, and delivery trucks can cause far more traffic congestion and dangerous conditions for pedestrians than drivers cruising for parking spaces.

Redesigning streets to reduce reliance on cars and are big steps for cities, but these efforts will fall short if they don’t welcome all travel modes.
3. Balancing Transport Networks

Beyond new challenges for management and allocation of street space, multi-modalism makes travel patterns less predictable and more difficult to anticipate for investment and maintenance. How we travel around cities changes as available alternatives increase.

One feature of planning for automobility, or really any particular travel mode, is that there is a nice symmetry to travel. If you leave your house in the morning as a driver, you are almost certainly going to make all subsequent trips for the day by car, eventually driving back to your garage. With many choices, however, we might leave home on foot to the coffee shop, then take transit to work, then cycle to the store and lug our groceries home in a taxi. For this example, one car has been replaced by four separate modes of travel, all of which represent choosing a mode for each trip based on what works best for each person.

There are two takeaways from the multi-modal travel day. First, the choice between driving and transit isn’t one or the other. To reduce automobility, many alternatives must be provided, and not as a bonus. The second takeaway is that multi-modal cities have a lot of one-way travel. For shared-travel modes, this results in large imbalances of vehicles across the networks, leaving many without the options they expect when they want to use it. The rebalancing problem is hard enough for bike-share, let alone many different types of vehicles.

In the end, multi-modal transportation options reflect the abundance of choice that make cities great. But having many choices means balancing many interests. The issues facing cities as they expand alternatives to driving are complex and should be treated as such by local officials, advocates, and transport planners. Redesigning streets to reduce reliance on cars and are big steps for cities, but these efforts will fall short if they don’t welcome all travel modes—from walking and cycling to taxis and delivery trucks—as critical functions of our streets.

This article is part of ‘The Future of Transportation,’ a CityLab series made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

Down Payments for Lower-Priced Homes Double

August 18th, 2014 by Chris Greidanus

DAILY REAL ESTATE NEWS | MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 2014
Buyers looking at lower-priced homes are not only facing major inventory hurdles, they’re also finding that they have to bring more money to the closing table.

The median down payment for the cheapest 25 percent of homes was 7.5 percent of the sales price last year, up from a low of 3.1 percent in 2006. That also compares to an average of 4.2 percent from 2001 through 2007, according to research by the real estate brokerage Redfin Corp., which analyzed the 25 largest metros.

“The numbers tell the story of why we have millions of potential home owners who are renters or living with their parents,” Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate and finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia, told Bloomberg. “What has changed is the ability to become an owner. And that’s changed through a down payment that’s more than doubled.”

Part of the reason for the increase in down payments among lower-priced properties could be due to the smaller number of first-time home buyers applying for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration, which requires small down payments of usually 3.5 percent. FHA increased its mortgage-insurance premiums this year, which has raised FHA borrowing costs and tightened underwriting standards. It’s part of FHA’s effort to boost cash reserves lost in the aftermath of the housing crisis.

As such, some borrowers who may have applied for an FHA loan are instead using private lenders, who may be demanding higher down payments. In 2013, 39 percent of first-time buyers used FHA loans compared with 56 percent in 2010, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

“If higher down payments persist, we will have a millennial generation that’s missing in action in home ownership,” says Wachter.

Source: “More Money Down Adds to U.S. First-Time Buyer Blues: Economy,” Bloomberg News (Aug. 14, 2014)

The Science Behind Procrastinating

July 16th, 2014 by Chris Greidanus

I was wasting time on the internet when I found this

Cranking out a final paper hours before the deadline. Putting off that trip to the supermarket until the refrigerator shelves are completely barren. Watching one, two, even three more episodes of “Orange Is The New Black” before finally shutting down Netflix and calling it a night.

We all procrastinate in one way or another, choosing easy pleasures over more necessary or fulfilling tasks, telling ourselves “there’s always tomorrow” — and the day after that, and the day after that…

But there’s far more science behind procrastination than you might expect. In recent years, psychologists and researchers around the world have been asking: what is it about the human mind that drives us to put off the things that can actually matter a great deal to us? Here are five things science tells us about procrastination that may help you see your priorities more clearly.

Procrastination afflicts some more than others.

Some people are genetically predisposed to put things off until later.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder have found that some people are more predisposed than others to take the bait when a new temptation or distraction enters the picture. Likewise, some people are more likely to display impulsive tendencies. Those who act impulsively are easily distracted by things they believe they will enjoy more in the short term, ultimately leading them to put off their long-term goals for later. While it is not guaranteed that a procrastinator will also be an impulsive person, the researchers found a correlation between the two traits.

Procrastination feels good — until it doesn’t.

While we all know that the end result of procrastination — that feeling of panic, anxiety and utter exhaustion — is anything but desirable, the short-term boost it supplies keeps us coming back for more time and time again.

That boost is a small dose of dopamine coursing through the brain, a feel-good chemical reward inspired by that hilarious cat video or irrelevant-to-your-life-but-oh-so-entertaining personality quiz.

“Every time something enjoyable happens, you get a dose of dopamine, which modifies the neurons in your brain, making you more likely to repeat this behavior,” according to AsapSCIENCE’s video on procrastination. “Often times procrastination is a symptom, not a cause.” We know the end result will likely have detrimental effects, but that addictive, short-term fix wins us over more times than not.

The brain’s decision-making process is a constant tug-of-war.

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for taking in information and making decisions. “This is the part of the brain that really separates humans from animals, who are just controlled by stimulus,” Timothy A. Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University, told Real Simple.

But this decision-making process is voluntary. If we are not conscious of the moment or focused on the task at hand, our limbic system — one of the dominant parts of the brain in charge of what Pychyl calls “immediate mood repair” — begins to take over. The result: We give in to what feels better, which is usually that kick of dopamine that comes along with procrastination.

Procrastination is the breakdown of self-control.

A lack of self-control causes procrastinators to have problems when it comes to finishing tasks — even some of the most simple and basic ones. “A perfect storm of procrastination occurs when an unpleasant task meets a person who’s high in impulsivity and low in self-discipline,” Eric Jaffe reported in Psychological Science. “All told, these qualities have led researchers to call procrastination the ‘quintessential’ breakdown of self-control.”

A lack of self-control links with specific types of procrastination as well. Research from scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands recently coined the term “bedtime procrastination,” finding that “people who generally have trouble resisting temptations and adhering to their intentions are also more likely to delay going to bed.”

It’s entirely within your power to beat back the forces of procrastination.

Procrastination often stems from our mixed or negative feelings about a certain task — we may be experiencing intimidation, fear of failure, or a lack of passion. As a result, we may view tasks as things to be overcome rather than experienced or achieved.

“Increasingly, psychologists and time-management consultants are focusing on a new strategy: helping procrastinators see how attempts at mood repair are sabotaging their efforts and learn to regulate their emotions in more productive ways,” wrote Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. “[Dr. Pychyl] advises procrastinators to practice ‘time travel’– projecting themselves into the future to imagine the good feelings they will have after finishing a task, or the bad ones they will have if they don’t,” relieving the anxiety and worry they subconsciously feel about the future.

How to Go From Working 60 Hours a Week to 40 By Sending 2 Emails a Week

June 17th, 2014 by Chris Greidanus

This is an Article from Robbie Abed on Linkedin. I think its really relevant for any office environment.

I’m convinced 95% of cubicle workers who work over 60 hours a week constantly can cut it down to 40-45 hours by sending 2 emails a week to their boss:

Email #1: What you plan on getting done this week

Email #2: What you actually got done this week

That’s it. These 2 emails will prevent you from working 60 hours a week, while improving your relationship with your boss and getting the best work you’ve ever done.

Here’s what Email #1 looks like:

Subject: My plan for the week

Jane,

After reviewing my activities here is my plan for the week in order of priority. Let me know if you think I should re-prioritize:

Planned Major Activities for the week

1) Complete project charter for X Project

2) Finish the financial analysis report that was started last week

3) Kick off Project X – requires planning and prep documentation creation. Scheduled for Thursday.

Open items that I will look into, but won’t get finished this week

1) Coordinate activities for year-end financial close

2) Research Y product for our shared service team

Let me know if you have any comments. Thank you!

— Robbie

“But Robbie, my boss is the one that assigns me the work! He obviously knows what I’m working on! Why would I send him this email?”

You are so wrong you disgust me. Seriously I want to throw up. OK, not seriously but let me clue you in on a little secret. Your boss barely has an idea of what he is spending his time on let alone knows what YOU are working on. How self-centered of you to think he knows everything you’re spending your time on at work.

Tips for email #1:

Limit yourself to schedule 40 hours of planned work.

“But Robbie, I have at least 60 hours of work to do. How in the world am I going to do it in 40 hours now? That’s impossible; you have no idea how busy our group is right now.”

Take a look at my sample email #1. Did you break down your tasks into Must be done vs. Nice to be done or did you put everything into the must be done category?

Did you schedule yourself for 60 hours a week or did your boss schedule you for 60 hours of week? I want you to think about this.

Your boss’s responsibility is to assign you work that you should complete. It is not your boss’s responsibility to also help you manage your workload. That’s YOUR job!

Think again. Where did this thought of you have 60 hours of work to do come from? Did it come from your boss, or did it come from you?

I didn’t believe you had 60 hours of work to do, and neither should you.

“Robbie, I’m being honest with you. I have at least 60 hours of work to do. I work non-stop and I work through lunch. I’ve tried your stupid little categorization trick too, and it doesn’t work. My workload just isn’t going to get any lighter any time soon. I’m pretty sure you live in this fantasy world where you can tell your boss that you would only like to work 40 hours a week and he’ll be happy with it. I am THAT busy and my boss EXPECTS me to work non-stop.”

OK, OK. I believe you. I’ve been there. But before I accept that there is nothing you can do, let me ask you one question:

Let’s say on Wednesday afternoon, a family emergency pops up and it forces you to take the rest of the week off immediately until the upcoming Monday. Everything you were working on Wednesday came to a halt. Meetings were cancelled and deliverable dates were missed. The rest of your workweek was ruined.

What happens on Monday morning when you come back to the office?

Are your files still there? Do you still have a job? Are your co-workers still there?

What about the deliverables that were due on Thursday that you couldn’t complete and you were the only one that knew how to complete it?

Did the building burn down because you couldn’t complete them? I’m guessing none of this happened.

On Monday morning, you picked up exactly where you left off and guess what: Everything was OK. The deliverables are late, but it’s OK because everyone knew you had a family emergency to take care of. Expectations were set and because of your family emergency, you could not complete the deliverables. So, in reality the deliverables were never late because you set expectations that you couldn’t finish them. New expectations were set on when you could deliver them.

Take that same exact scenario and replace a family emergency with you just disappearing for 3 days without telling anyone where you went.

How does that change your Monday morning when you arrive?

It will probably end up something like this.

Because you didn’t complete your deliverables you messed up everyone’s schedule! They relied on you, and you just ruined it! They waited every day to get the files and you never sent it. Now you’re working extra hours because everyone is waiting on you. What a huge disappointment you are.

Expectations are powerful. Instead of a family emergency, set expectations on Monday morning and watch how everyone around you adapts to YOUR schedule. Watch how your 60-hour week turns into a 40-hour week and nobody will notice a thing.

The better you are setting expectations at Monday morning, the easier your life becomes. If you plan for 40 hours, you can get your planned work done in 40 hours and nobody will complain that you aren’t working 60 hours. In fact, you have made everyone else’s life easier because they can now plan around you!

Email #2 on Friday: What you got done this week.

It looks something like this:

Completed this week

Completed X Report
Started the planning for the big project
Finished the month-end analysis and sent to financial controller for review
Created a first draft of the project charter, which is currently being reviewed by Project Manager Z
Open items

I have some questions about the start date of Y Project, but should get confirmation by Tuesday morning
We need X Report signed off by EOD next Wednesday. Can you follow up with Jane to get this signed off?
That is all for now. Have a great weekend.

— Robbie

This Friday report is so simple and effective; it’s amazing that people just leave on Friday without sending this report.

This report does 2 things very well: It provides closure to the week and gives your manager an idea of what you can complete in a week. In other words, it sets expectations!

Tips for Email #2

Focus on what you completed first and open issues second.

Always end Friday on a good note. If you have issues bring that up on Monday morning. Don’t stress your boss out all week, and it will stress you out as well.

——-

I am the author of the book Fire Me I Beg You and an experienced independent IT Consultant. Use code linkedin for 50% off book.

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