Focus on Sleep

January 19, 2021 2:19pm
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I have a longstanding issue with sleep – namely, I don’t get it nearly as consistently as I think that I should.

Along with a handful of other habits, sleep is one that I’ve targeted to improve on in 2021, so for the last couple of weeks I’ve been keeping track of how much I get each night and … it ain’t pretty!

As you can see, I’m writing this after my worst night of sleep of the year.

For quick reference – red is anything less than 6 hours of sleep and green is anything 7 or greater.

And there is way too much red in the last 18 days, that’s for sure!

One of the best articles that I’ve read about sleep and its importance lately is this piece by James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits (which I loved!)…

How to Get Better Sleep: The Beginner’s Guide to Overcoming Sleep Deprivation

There’s a lot of stuff to digest in that article, but I think this is the line that sticks with me the most – “After two weeks, the six-hour group had performance deficits that were the same as if they had stayed up for two days straight.”

I say this because for most of my adult life, I’ve always just kind of figured that less sleep is what adults do and that six hours a night was a pretty good compromise. And that’s without even knowing how much I was actually averaging on a given night, particularly when I would stay up late crunching on a deadline for the next morning or more typically just screwing around on the computer.

And what’s interesting is that now that I’m tracking my sleep alongside other habits I’m trying to build like drinking more water and reading and especially writing more consistently, I can already see that there’s a direct correlation with having what I consider to be a productive day filled with these other things that I’m trying to improve and simply starting my day with having gotten a good night’s sleep in the first place…

…to the point where about a week ago I actually moved the column where I track sleep from the end of my spreadsheet to the beginning because it seemed like a symbolic move to help remind myself that sleep isn’t how I end my day, it’s what’s at the start of a good one.

Unfortunately, the only tried and true method for getting good sleep – at least for me – means getting to bed earlier because during the week I have to get up at a set time every day to get the kids off to school, so it’s not like I have a lot of opportunities to just sleep in to make up for a particularly late night. Which sucks because I’m very much a night owl and a lot of times I’ll find myself faced with a sudden bout of creativity at 12:30am when otherwise I should be calling it a night!

Luckily, I can say that falling asleep itself has gotten easier for me. Another habit I’ve been trying to form is including meditation into my day, so I’ll try to do five minutes of that before I head off to bed and between the sounds of waves or rain falling in the app that I use and making a conscious effort to clear my mind, I think it really does help. That and I’ve started dimming the lights in my office in the late hours, even if I’m still up writing or watching videos or whatever, because it seems to help set the mood that it’s time to start unwinding.

I’ve told myself many times that ultimately what I need to do is take a good two or three week period and just make good sleep my #1 priority – meaning that no matter what’s going on, at 11:30pm or whatever makes sense, I go to bed so that I can really aim for that 7-8 hours of sleep that my body needs. It’ll be a rough adjustment and I’m sure I’ll feel like I’m sacrificing other things I need to do for sleep, but pretty much all of the evidence shows that eventually I’ll be far more productive (and happier, too!) by allowing myself that time to recharge instead of perpetually trying to burn the candle at both ends until I eventually crash and lose a few days to complete and total burn out while I’m finally forced to recover!

Patience is a Virtue That I Do Not Have…

December 30, 2020 3:04pm
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I feel like a kid anxiously waiting to open presents under the tree on Christmas morning … except in my case, I’m anxiously waiting to sign paperwork for a bunch of adult stuff that kids would find boring as all hell!

Specifically, I’m waiting for the final approvals to refinance our mortgage and also separate paperwork to transfer our home phone number to another provider. I know that neither of these are what you would consider quick and speedy processes, particularly at the end of the year when other people want to take time off to spend with their friends and family like I have… 😛

And in the defense of both the mortgage and cell phone companies I’ve been working with, they’ve actually both been pretty great. It took me a while to plan out each of the two processes and find companies that I felt comfortable working with, and I know that it’s really only a matter of time before everything will have worked itself out successfully and the waiting is all behind me.

That’s a concept that I’d like to work into my brain a bit more in 2021 because I think I spend a lot of time fretting over things that just require a lot of time, and maybe sometimes they get further delayed by other things that also take a lot of time!

Granted, I still need to stay on top of things so that I don’t get to the end of the year with half a dozen things almost done, but at some point you have to accept that an awful lot of the deadlines that we make up in our heads are just that. Which is silly when at the end of the day, we’re talking about priorities that I only have to answer to myself for in the first place…

Next year I want to put less focus on deadlines and more effort into just getting the work done. I think it will make me a lot more productive, and maybe also just a little bit more sane to boot.

Last night I had about six hours of time that should’ve been productive, and yet … it wasn’t.

Instead of knocking out a couple of big things I had planned on working on, I ended up staying up way too late watching Try Guys videos.

…which don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed! I think the video about them starting their own company is really inspiring, and they just have so many videos that are really entertaining… 😀

This is a balancing act that I often struggle with creatively. I’m sure a lot of people have highs and lows – times when you’re super pumped and just firing on all cylinders, and other times when you think you’re super pumped, but then you actually sit down to do some work and … it ain’t happening.

Worse yet, you don’t necessarily know that it’s the latter until after you’ve spent an entire evening being unproductive!

And at the same time, you can’t always be working because that’s how people burn out. Plus, I did enjoy what I was doing instead of working.

I suppose that’s really the crux of it – I’d like to learn how to better manage work and fun in advance to make it more of an ebb and flow as opposed to a struggle from one extreme to the other.

Cleaning Day, iPhone Edition

January 28, 2019 5:34pm
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How many apps do you have on your phone right now?

Apparently I have over 130 apps, and honestly when I started going through my list, there were some that I haven’t used in years. And some that don’t even work with the version of iOS I’m on anymore.

And also a lot that I do still use, but not nearly enough to be where they were in my seven pages of apps.

So I decided to do a little digital housekeeping!

I did this with a few goals in mind…

  • To reprioritize my social media apps to make them less distracting.
  • To reorganize my apps so the ones I use more are closer to the front.
  • To finally delete stuff that I either never use or I can’t use anymore.

Step 1 – Inventory My Current Apps
The first thing I did was simply type up a list of every app I had on my phone. I did mine in a spreadsheet and grouped them by page so I could better visualize where I was and where I wanted to be. It was a little tedious to type everything out by hand, but the benefit was that afterwards I had a list that I could easily copy & paste from to shuffle apps around as I designed my new layout.

Step 2 – DELETE THE CLUTTER!!!
Now this is a pet peeve of mine because there are a handful of games and apps that I’ve downloaded over the ages where the developers either didn’t keep up with newer versions of iOS or just flat out went out of business altogether, so now I’m stuck with all of these games that I paid money for that are absolute garbage.

This was the time to finally let ’em go, I switched my auto insurance along with other apps that I’ll never use. Case in point – the other day , so no need to keep the old company’s app anymore.

Step 3 – What do I use the most???
This is how I determined my dock apps. You only get four, so make ’em good!

I ended up only making one change here – previously I had Phone, Mail, Safari, and Twitter, so in an effort to curtail my social media time I swapped out Todoist for Twitter.

Step 4 – What do I use on a regular basis?
This is where I determined my home page, or pages, really, because I had more than one page of apps that fell into this category.

My criteria for these pages was first and foremost general purpose apps – think Calendar, Contacts, Camera, Weather, Calculator. I also put my music apps here because they’re my go-to in the car. And then WordPress, Notes, and Analytics from a writing perspective.

My overflow home page then got other research apps like Wikipedia and Dictionary, the app and music stores, Settings, the My Disney Experience app for visit the theme parks along with its companion shopping app, and lastly, a couple of apps I’ve been using for meditation.

Step 5 – Where does everything else fall?!
To be honest, by the time I had the first two pages done, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest anyways. First I created pages for each of the major categories of apps that I had, then I sorted them into those categories (a lot of my apps were already sorted this way, so this was about 50/50 clean-up vs reorganization), and then lastly I sorted the pages themselves based again on what types of apps I use the most.

I ended up with something like this…

  • Home Page
  • Overflow Home Page
  • Social Media
  • Kids Stuff
  • Banks & Restaurants
  • Quick Games
  • Long Games
  • Miscellaneous

I honestly don’t play games much on my phone, so those went at the back, second only to those seldom used apps that I didn’t want to delete like FlightAware for tracking incoming flights or Speedtest for testing Internet connections or my web host’s app that I use to remotely reboot this server if I see that it’s having problems when I’m away from a computer.

I made a new page of just apps that I have for my kids to use … in hopes that maybe they’ll stay out of the rest of my stuff! 😉

And then the others are pretty self explanatory.

BEFORE

AFTER

One sort of tip that I can offer is that it is technically possible to move multiple apps from one page to another … the reason for my hesitation is that at least for me, it was really touchy and sometimes more of a pain than it was worth. I’d find myself with a few apps selected, then drop them all trying to get the next one, or there would be a few that I couldn’t select at all. Still, you can give it a try and see how it works for you…

Cleaning up my phone has been something that I’ve been putting off for a long time, but honestly it took maybe an hour once I finally sat down and just did it. don’t recommend skipping the list and just trying to reorganize right on the phone, namely because if you don’t plan out precisely how many pages you need, it’s easy to find yourself doing a lot of extra shuffling when you realize that you’re a page short in the very middle of your layout!

Here’s to hoping that this will make my phone a little less distracting and once again more of a useful tool in my effort to try and actually get things done this year!!!

Late Night Productivity Tips

January 20, 2019 12:38am
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I shared this link a couple of weeks ago during a bit of a productivity binge that I was on at the time, but now that a couple of weeks have passed, I wanted to circle back to it and go through some of my favorite ideas and add a few comments about how they’ve been working for me…

Why Focus Is Your Greatest Competitive Advantage at Work (Plus 19 Ways To Actually Do It)

7. Schedule your email time.
It’s taken me a long time to get into the mindset that I don’t have to respond to something the second it appears in my inbox, but it’s incredibly freeing and helps me to dive deeper into important tasks when I give myself permission to wait until later in the day. I’ve also found that surprisingly it can help your co-workers to become more self sufficient because if it’s important enough that they need an answer immediately, sometimes that’ll drive them to start looking for the answer themselves!

…and nothing’s more rewarding than getting that follow-up email, “Nevermind – I just found this on your team’s website…” 😉

8. Keep a to-do list with focused, actionable items.
I recommitted myself to using the Todoist app at the beginning of the year and so far, I think it’s really helping. I feel more productive and less overwhelmed, and I can look across my work to plainly see that I”m getting more of it done, even when there are days when I feel like I just postponed all of my tasks to the following day!

10. Schedule your daily to-do’s.
I find this is a good way to spend my commute in the car … which I otherwise despise, but at least I can feel like I’m being somewhat productive if I take the time to go over everything I want to get done today and figure out what I’m doing first, what I’m doing after lunch, and so forth.

15. Keep a “read later” list.
This actually has been helping me to keep less tabs open in my browser, which in theory should lead to less distractions! I just need to also remember to make time to check back on it so that it doesn’t just become a list of stuff that I never got around to reading.

16. Keep a “bright ideas” repository.
This is easy enough to do in Todoist – if I think of a blog or column idea that I want to work on, I just throw it into my Writing project without a specific deadline … unless it’s something I want to write in the near future, then it does get a date attached to it. Again, here I feel like my biggest challenge is going to be simply remembering to look back every once in a while so that all of my great ideas don’t get lost to the void!

19. Forgive yourself when your day doesn’t go as planned.
And this one, frankly, is huge for me because I have toddlers at home, and sometimes work flares up in unexpected ways, and I know that in the past I’ve lost a lot of time just being angry with myself for not working on something that I was trying to get done in that particular moment. In reality, I know that stuff is still getting done, even if it’s not exactly what I had planned, and at some point it’s important to give yourself credit for that because otherwise it’s really hard to be productive when you’re also beating yourself up.

I Need Better Sleep…

January 17, 2019 10:58am
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If I had to guess, I probably get 3-4 nights of “good sleep” a week. And honestly, sometimes it’s more just decent than good.

Because I always have so much do to after the kids go to bed, it’s a pretty regular thing for me to stay up really late one night and then pay for it by being super tired the next day and eventually crashing early when I get home. It’s a vicious cycle, and in the end I know that it’s more unproductive than, say, going to bed at a consistent time every night and then making due with the time that I have each day.

But I don’t know how to break the cycle…

Lately I’ve noticed bursts of energy, followed by lulls throughout the day. I’m good in the morning, then sluggish after lunch. Another burst late afternoon into the early evening, then slowly coasting downward as I go home and see the kids before bedtime. When they go down is when I really start to crash because Christopher likes to turn all of the lights out in the house before he goes to sleep, and in the event that I don’t fall asleep myself waiting for him to crash, I’m very tired at that point. Until around 11:30 pm when my night owl-ism tends to kick in and then I want to get to work!

Of course, if I start working on something just before midnight, that ends up leaving me with only a few hours of sleep because I have to get up between 8 and 9 am to take Christopher to school, and then I’ll be dragging the rest of the day until I can officially crash myself.

I’ve even gone so far as to map out what I think an ideal day with adequate sleep would look like for me, but I just can’t seem to execute on it and make it a reality. I can’t seem to find the discipline needed to implement a new schedule, so instead I’m doing this back and forth thing that can’t possibly be good for my general health and sanity!

As one often does at the beginning of a new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity and ways that I can get more things done to make this year my absolute best yet.

It started with returning to using a to-do list app – in this case, Todoist – and along with the tracking and accountability, it’s also lead me to change how I look at my work not only to keep myself more upbeat and positive in hopes that it shows through in the things that I do, but also in carrying that perspective through to work that I maybe didn’t get done or needed to postpone to avoid The Negative Cloud of Failure from holding me back even further…

My new strategy is something that I’m definitely piecing together a little bit at a time, but here’s where I’m at right now…

  1. Always remember that postponing a task isn’t failure. Work sometimes gets delayed for a variety of reasons, and it doesn’t do any good to dwell on them. Plus, sometimes a task scheduled for today gets bumped for something else that ended up being more important – life goes on!
  2. Start and end my day knowing my priorities. I’m trying to get in the habit of making Todoist my first stop online, even before social media or email, because it helps me to mentally plan my day. I like to end there, too, as it gives me a chance to review what tasks are leftover and reconsider their priorities as I reschedule them.
  3. Keep my number of tasks manageable. The last time I used Todoist, it eventually got backlogged with literally years worth of old tasks until it became daunting and frankly depressing to see my list of incomplete tasks growing more than shrinking. So instead, I try not to put every little thing there, and if a single day has more than about half a dozen tasks, I know that I need to trim it up to keep from getting overwhelmed.
  4. Have multiple kinds of work available. I’m not always in the mood for working on certain kinds of tasks, so instead of spinning my wheels all day, I’ve found it’s helpful to keep a variety in my pipeline so I can work on things that excite me as productivity fuel as much as possible!
  5. Look at work as smaller pieces instead of one big task. A great example – my home office has been the place to dump everything for almost a year, so it’s a real mess. I’m trying to clean it up, but it’s certainly not a task I can tackle in an evening. Instead, I’ll put something like Office Cleaning, part 4 as a task on my list and when I get to it, I’ll spend some time filing or cleaning up a portion – something I can do in an hour or two. And only when I get #4 completed do I add #5 to the list – that way I’m not constantly tripping over tasks.

One other thing I’m thinking of doing is setting up a dedicated monitor by my desk that just displays my current task list (I like the Next 7 Days option in Todoist because it gives me a glimpse of a week or so at a time).

I could either just have a browser with the Todoist website open directly, or I see that DAKboard now offers integration with Todoist as well and I’ve really come to like them for my digital calendar.

Right now I tend to keep it open in a browser tab at all times, but I think something more front and center might also help to keep me more accountable when I feel like killing time around Facebook or Twitter instead of knocking out a quick blog post or something! Especially when you’ve got tasks of various sizes, being able to look at your to-do list and think, “Hey – that will take me about 20 minutes and I’ve got half an hour right now, so why don’t I do it instead of watching videos on YouTube?!” is great for being able to feel more productive at the end of the day because you were more productive!

Over time I’d like to slowly expand my usage to be able to track more long term goals and ideas – for example, right now I’ve got a project in Todoist for things I want to read/watch/listen to but didn’t have time to when I stumbled across them. It’s easy enough to just copy & paste a website link, but for ideas I’d like to add more context and notes if I have them – kind of like what you might do in Evernote or a totally different app.

think you can do that in the paid version of Todoist, and if my newfound momentum keeps up for weeks and months, I can see how it could easily be worth the whopping $3/month … but again, baby steps right now as I just ease back into things and really try to feel out a system that works right for me! 😉

In my ongoing attempt to make 2019 my best and most productive year to date, one of the ideas that I’ve been exploring is how I should best spend my time.

I’ve already written about the downsides of social media, and that’s definitely something that I’m trying to curb in search of this new me.

But at the same time, sometimes I struggle because not everyone online is bad – in fact, that’s been a major concern whenever I distance myself from social media is that I’m going to lose track of the people who I really do want to follow in the process!

So one thing that’s helped is taking a look at each of my interests and thinking about whose insights and opinions I really value in those areas. And those are the people who I’m primarily following, on social media and elsewhere.

Because I figure if I’m going to spend time reading stuff on the Internet, why not steer clear of the random strangers and drama queens and instead devote my time to people who I actually care about?!

Here’s my list so far…

These are all people who inspire me, they make me laugh, and the things that they do make me happy, so if push comes to shove, I’d rather kill a few minutes checking out something new that one of them did than arguing with some random stranger on Facebook. 😉

I wanted to share a couple more links that I enjoyed while I was reading about productivity and best catering to your employees’ potential last night.

I’ve got to say that more and more, I’m finding myself becoming a real proponent of asynchronous communications – maybe it’s because it’s starting to feel like real time communications and this on-demand mentality are kind of, well, exhausting … to the point where it makes me wonder what kinds of changes an organization could see simply by moving away from the constant fire drills and everything is urgent mentality and instead allowed for the time needed for everyone on their teams not only to just breathe, but also to frankly put a little more thought into their decision making process that only not being rushed really allows.

I know that I can definitely think of some examples where I’ve been up super late working on code because I was in the zone, being super productive … only to have to deal with the fallout the next day when someone was looking for me first thing in the morning when they got in and didn’t care that I’d been kicking out some of my best work at 3am while they were long asleep!

Sure, it can be hard to break free from the mindset of “I have a question that’s holding me back and I need it answered now!”, but for me it’s really just a matter of remembering that everyone else has jobs, too, and they’re not typically waiting around for the phone to ring or an IM or email to pop up begging for on call assistance. 😉

It was only a few years ago when I finally decided that I wasn’t always going to answer my phone the moment that it rang, particularly if I was deep in the middle of something. And honestly that came from sitting back and realizing that pretty much 9 times out of 10, they were almost always calls that could either be answered via five minutes of research using tools that my team had already provided, or they were follow-ups to explain an email that they’d just sent to me minutes earlier!

Seriously!

Anywho – here’s some more food for thought on this topic that I found intriguing. Happy reading!

Why Focus Is Your Greatest Competitive Advantage at Work (Plus 19 Ways To Actually Do It)
https://blog.todoist.com/2015/09/01/how-to-focus-better-at-work/

Managing a Remote Team: Best Practices from Doist’s Head of Marketing
https://blog.doist.com/building-and-managing-a-remote-team-2cd0ee4ccb5f

Why We’re Betting Against Real-Time Team Messaging
https://blog.doist.com/why-were-betting-against-real-time-team-messaging-521804a3da09

I stumbled across this post this evening and it really got me thinking about the 40-hour work week that’s expected in America, along with other employment standards that are surprisingly unique to our country, and how businesses might be able to differentiate themselves from the pack by steering away from them…

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/busyness-modern-health-crisis-benjamin-cardullo/

Through working with colleagues from all over the world, I find it really interesting … albeit also a bit disappointing … to learn how much better their workplace customs are than the ones we’ve come to accept here in the States.

Maternity Leave – Because let’s be honest, FMLA isn’t maternity leave … at least not unless you’re able to survive on 60% of your income during it.

Paternity Leave – I really wish this had been a thing when my wife and I were struggling after pregnancy with kids in the NICU…

Vacation Rollover – Here in Florida I’m allowed to rollover 1 week of unused vacation time to the new year, yet my colleagues in India are legally allowed a month of time!

Vacation Days in General – Don’t even get me started on this, comparing US holidays to the rest of the world… 😛

It’s pretty obvious when you look across the board that most US companies subscribe to the mentality of toeing the line instead of really getting creative and offering environments that foster happier employees, and in turn better output, than just the same old, same old that every firm down the street is doing as well.

How would your work week change if you suddenly shifted to a 30-hour work week instead of 40?

Or what if you were allowed to pick whatever hours worked best for you, even if they weren’t necessarily all in a row?

Or what if instead of even having an office at all, you and your colleagues all worked remotely and got together in Paris or London or San Francisco or Australia once a year to get to know each other better and collaborate, like Automattic does?

In a lot of ways, I feel like we’ve become experts at working harder, but not necessarily smarter here, whereas I think an employer would be amazed at what their employees could do if they invested more of their efforts into making the American work culture the envy of the world instead of being those schlups who answer the phones all summer while everyone in Europe is off on holiday for a month at a time!

I know that where I’m at personally in my life, anything that can be done to save me time is a welcome force – whether it’s by shortening my time spent juggling meetings at the office or making sure that I get to actually both take and enjoy the vacation time that I earn each year.

And if we were to really drill down into productive vs unproductive time at work, I’d be willing to bet that giving everyone 10 hours a week back from their daily grind would make the rest of their time spent less burdened by distractions and errands and ultimately result in more output in the quality aspect instead of the current default of the quantity, anyways.

So what if an employer strived to get less hours out of their employees instead of more???

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