What’s in My Bag? James Altucher

James Altucher is an entrepreneur, chess master, investor, and writer. His writing has appeared in major national media outlets and his blog has attracted more than 10 million readers since its launch in 2010. His latest book is called The Choose Yourself Stories.

james-altucher
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I don’t like to carry bags just in case I need my hands quickly for hand-to-hand combat or very quick mountain climbing.

When lives are at stake I don’t like to take chances.

Which is why I have found a 600% increase in my productivity by wearing a doctor’s lab coat including the items I put in the pockets of the lab coat.

Doctor’s coat. I wear a doctor’s lab coat whenever I’m outside the house and often when I’m inside. Like in airports, restaurants, walking around town.

The reason?

  1. It’s comfortable. Good for all weather. You can get one cheap on the “World Wide Web.” (“Triple dub” for those in the biz.)
  2. The big pockets let me put any electronic devices I might need (an iPad mini, for example, plus waiter’s pads <see below>)
  3. People actually do treat me like a doctor. If someone said, “I need a doctor” I would not be able to help unless it’s easy stuff in which case I can say, “I’m not a doctor” and then perform CPR or mouth-to-mouth or Heimlich, which are all easy to learn. But 99.9% requests for a doctor are usually things where you can just give placebic information and say “You’ll be OK” (I picture myself as Mathew Fox from the TV show Lost while I say it since it often worked for him on the show). But the reality is, people move out of the way if you are an airport and walking around in a doctor’s coat. Is this unfair? Well, I never claim to be a doctor. I’m just wearing a doctor’s coat because I like how it feels, looks, and the functionality of it. But if it has other benefits, which it does, I’ll take it.

What I carry in my doctor’s coat

As mentioned, a doctor’s coat has huge pockets. If I wanted to, the largest thing I can probably carry in a doctor’s coat is a baseball glove for a really huge hand. But I don’t need that. I don’t even play baseball.

Here’s what I need and what I think has helped me and even saved my life on numerous occasion. I have a new phrase to describe these types of items that are in my coat. I call them “Life” “Hacks”. Feel free to use that phrase since I don’t think I will trademark it.

2-bucks

$2 bills. I have thousands of $2 bills. I always tip with $2 bills. How come? Because then people remember me. They always say, “Whoah! I’ve never had one.” Sometimes they don’t know where to put the $2 bill in the cash register. There’s no slot for one. They might call over the manager. Everyone might say “What’s happening over there?” This is a side effect of the $2 bill. But the next time I come into an establishment, I’m remembered. This is good for restaurants, dates, poker night with friends, even for paying at the local deli.

I find whenever I move to a new town this is a quick way to make friends. I’m very shy and this gets people talking. This has been also very good on dates. Nobody ever forgets the guy with a roll of $2 bills.

How do you get 1000 $2 bills? Simple. Go to the bank, they order it from the Federal Reserve, it takes about 5 days and then they call you up and give you your money. By the way, then the bank never forgets you either.

Everytime I’ve ever moved since 1986 I’ve used this trick and it works. Quickly everyone remembers who I am.

I’ve even tried writing notes to waitresses on the $2 bills, complete with my phone number. This trick HAS NOT worked for me.

However, one trick for dates. Have a roll of $2 bills. Then have a single $100 bill on the outside. Pay the bill with the $100 bill, then from the back, tip with the $2 bills.

I hate to say it, but that trick works.

waiter-pad

Waiter’s pads. I have about 300 waiter’s pads. I order them for about 10 cents a pad in bulk on restaurant supplies websites.

How come?

  1. I like to write ideas on pads. I write down at least 10 ideas a day. The idea muscle is a muscle like any other. If it’s not exercised, it atrophies. If it’s exercised then within six months you’re an idea machine. Try it. It’s amazing what happens. Don’t keep track of the ideas. Just become an idea machine.
  2. Why a pad? A screen messes with your dopamine levels. I like the visceral experience of putting pen to pad.
  3. Why 10 ideas? Four or five ideas on any theme is easy. It’s the final five or six that makes the brain sweat. This is how you exercise the idea muscle.
  4. Why specifically a waiter’s pad?
  • It forces you to be concise. A waiter’s pad is small lines. You can’t write a novel there.
  • It’s a great conversation piece in meetings. Once I pull out the waiter’s pad someone always says, “I’ll take fries with my burger” and everyone laughs. Again, I’m shy so it’s a good way for me to break the ice.
  • In restaurants, when you pull out a waiter’s pad, guess what? Waiters treat you better.
  • Many waiter’s pads have the shapes of tables at the top of each page. I’m bad with names so if I’m at a meeting I pick the table that matches the one I am at and I write the names of the people around the table.
  • Most people at meetings have their expensive leather pads. I paid 10 cents for my pad. I come across as frugal when I use a waiter’s pad.
  • The other day in a cafe I was working and someone potentially violent came up and asked me for money. I held up my waiter’s pad and said, “I’m a waiter, do you want to order something?” and they sort of looked at me and grunted and then walked away.

ipad-mini

iPad MiniThe iPad mini covers my entire computing needs except in mornings when I’m writing.

I don’t really use the iPad Mini to do anything serious. When I’m outside there’s almost no reason for me to check email or social media. And I NEVER read news.

You are what you eat. And when you ingest media, it usually can’t be digested properly by the brain. (Although I read Boing Boing and jamesaltucher.com or a good book.)

BUT… the most important thing I do with my iPad Mini and the one thing which has helped me in a million situations is….

I watch standup comedy before every meeting, date, dinner, media appearance, conversation, public talk.

I watch Louis CK, Daniel Tosh, Anthony Jeselnik, Jim Norton, Andy Samberg, Seth Rogen, Marina Franklin, Ellen, Bo Burnham, and maybe a dozen others.

How come?

I have a lot of inhibitions when I meet people. I’m scared and somewhat introverted. Standup comedians are the best public speakers in the world and I think they are the most astute social commentators on the human condition.

So the reasons I watch them before most social encounters (personal, professional, media)

  1. It gives me a boost of energy. My “mirror neurons” are going to feed off of their boost of energy for at least 1-3 hours after I watch them.
  2. It gives me material. I won’t steal from a comedian. But the reality is: good artists plagiarize, great artists steal. And at the very least, I often improvise based on material I heard a comedian said. I’m not competing with them. I’m just on a date. Or a business meeeting.
  3. Studying the subtleties of how comedians get laughs: their timing, their voices, their silences, the way they look at the audience, the way they move across the stage, the way they benefits from the comedians who came before them, AND their actual commentary about life, helps me in my many interactions with people.

What I don’t carry in my doctor’s coat? A phone. I never talk on the phone. I have a hard time hearing people on the phone and then I don’t know what to say to them and feel very awkward. Plus, not carrying a phone helps me avoid email, etc.

All of the above may make it seem like I’m a loser in many respects. I don’t deny this. These are like crutches to me to help me survive in a world that’s increasingly hard to process.

But they work.

[OK, now it's your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]