2 things I eliminated from my life that makes me more productive.

The title of this post could also read:

“2 things I eliminated from my life that made me happier”

In both cases, the thing that I eliminated took time away from my day, but more importantly they used up a significant amount of my emotional reserves.  Here are the two items and a little bit about my experience with each:

News from any source over radio or television:

It is funny to hear some of the responses when I tell people that I do not pay attention to the news.  A very common response is that people assume that I have chosen to be ignorant and uninformed, but I do not see it that way.  I feel like the decision was made because I was tired of letting people who say they are reporting the news fuck with my well being.  In 2008 / 2009, I became a very reflexive to the news story of the day.  Looking back on it, I believe that some of it had to do with the stories that were on the news each night about the financial collapse in housing and the following recession and some of my deeper worries I shared in the Scarcity versus Abundancy post.

The financial news, my fear’s associated with a scarcity mindset and trying to get a business established that allowed me some financial security all combined for a pretty big pot of anxious days.  I remember watching the news and spending time thinking about how the latest jobs report might impact the number of new clients I got, or how the foreclosure rate in Kentucky might impact my ability to sell our townhome and relocate if necessary.

That general response to the news continued to grow, until it started to dawn on me that all the time I am spending considering things that I have no control over – is lost time I have to spend on my work and with my clients.

I wish I could say that this observation happened in one enlightened moment, but the truth is that I found myself not turning on the news all day long (I literally listened to Bloomberg radio all day other than when I was with clients.. wtf) and gradually I did not crave their messages at all.

I hear people say that they haven’t drank a soda in years, then when they try it’s so repulsive because the sugar is just too much.  I am just about to that place with news, I even turn off NPR when I get in the car if Nikki has had it on.

It’s amazing how my attitude towards others has changed through this.  When you are no longer told daily that you should fear others, for one of many reasons, how easy it is to start noticing all the good that exists in the world too.  By in large, I believe the world is full of great and loving people, but you never know if you watch the news – they don’t want you to think that way.

Today, it’s music or podcasts that I’ve chosen as positive inputs to my life.

Facebook

Facebook is a little bit different, in that I’ve found that I am not using it on a daily basis.  We’ll see where this ends up over the next several months.  I wrote about giving up Facebook earlier in the year in the post “Facebook and Faith“.

I believe that one of the biggest negatives associated with facebook is when it creates a constant internal awareness or worry about what your friends are thinking about your latest status update.  Just yesterday I saw a friend who made a comment about something she saw, then shortly after she came back and explained herself and why she wrote the previous status update.

The constant mental chatter about what others are thinking is exactly why I had to give up Facebook for a period.  I started to think that maybe I would post something that offended someone, or would get me in trouble or ….

It was an unhealthy activity.  So as a challenge from our pastor, I gave up Facebook for lent (he didn’t suggest Facebook specifically, that was my choice).  I found that I liked it a lot and all those internal thoughts started to disappear, which allowed me to be happier, more productive and at ease.

Today, as I mentioned, I do use Facebook again.  The ability to socially connect with others is incredibly rewarding for me, especially because so many friends and family I rarely get to see anymore.  The one constant is that I have not put the Facebook app back on my phone and I won’t either – that at least requires me to sit at a computer and log in to the site.  When I use the service, it has to be intentional and not some passive experience.

So there you have it.  I gave up two things that gave me a decent amount of time back to my life.  It not only gave me time, but it allowed me to clear up my head from worry and fear that was also taking away from my productivity and creativity.

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24 hours without email on my iphone

I actually enjoy being connected, I like to have technology that instantly allows me to see what happening in the world, communicate with others and share my own thoughts.  The difficulty with being connected in a way where you can easily be interrupted is that it can become a steady flow of interruption, then before you know it – life is one constantly interrupted flow with moments of focus.

At work we have the following communications: email, hipchat, skype, google hangouts, phone, internal wiki and the client site.  There have been times that I’ve started to log out of all the different platforms, just so I don’t feel the internal pressure to check each one and see if I need to address something there.

This morning I woke up and laid in bed for about 15 minutes and the entire time had internal conversations:

— What if I missed “x’s” email and they are waiting on my reply?
— I didn’t tell everyone that my email was off for the day, what am I missing?
— I know I have that email from two days ago, I wonder if they wanted an immediate reply or it can wait another day?

You see, reading email is the absolute first thing I do every morning.  And I often do it on my phone and then head to the computer to respond to the messages that I feel need immediate attention.

(Funny note: my hipchat on my phone just dinged as I wrote this — I’ll share more about this in a second)

Yesterday I disabled email on my phone in an effort to try and step away from the feeling of being summoned.  What I found was that I have a pretty well established nervous tick regarding staying connected, especially with email.  I have to estimate, but I would guess that I pulled out my phone to check email at least once an hour if not a couple times an hour.  One big mistake I made was not disabling all of my email accounts, as I have three.  By not removing all of the accounts, I believe that the dopamine fix I get by keeping this nervous response was feed.

The fear of not having email for an entire day caused enough anxiety that I ended up downloading the hipchat app for my phone, with the expectation that if someone really needed me – they could message me.  (And why I was able to see the message that just came through?)

In the video I shared on this blog previously with Tim Ferris, he talks about not having an iphone because he doesn’t trust himself with email on his phone.  I need to step back and reflect on my own use of these services as I move forward in my five year planning, it is not a habit that leads me to being the productive, happy and successful person I aim to be.

I do have a friend that runs a successful business.  It requires a lot of hours, a lot of his attention and pretty much his decision making on all major decisions.  There was a long period that being around him was not very fun because his Blackberry was always out and he was always replying to the latest customer complaint, employee question or service provider response.  A year ago (I was actually there on my birthday) he shared with me how his life improved when he removed access to email from his phone.  I’m 100% certain his wife and son are happier because of it.  It allows him to be present when he’s home.

It was a little bit of jolt while I was there because he constantly made fun of me always checking my phone.  The tables had turned.

Here is that video again:

The lost art of sleep.

There is no doubt that with the ability to keep all the lights on, have a screen lite up in your face and mindless consumption of entertainment it can be very easy to lose sleep.  I would estimate that over 75% of the people I know discuss or admit that they probably don’t get enough sleep.  50% of those people complain that they can’t get enough sleep.  (Those %’s are made up and very loose estimates, not real polling I do with everyone I talk to).

The majority of excuses I hear about the lack of sleep relates to being too busy or working too much.  There are also a good portion of people that say they have difficulty finding ways to have better sleep.

I won’t say that all those people are not telling the truth or that they haven’t worked at making their sleep a priority, because I know people that work two jobs and others that have legitimate sleep issues.  But, the lack of sleep for many is directly related to the priority placed upon it.

A great example is me as I’m writing this post.  I’ve been thinking about writing it for an hour now, but get distracted with twitter posts, husker football blogs and now I’m just sleepy. I feel like I need to do something, as I have a lot of creativity and value to add in the next day – but the reality is I’m doing nothing much of value now.  And even what I am putting out is taking way too long because being focused is so difficult.

An interesting observation, that is not a new concept in the least, is that the most productive (and I might say successful) are those I know personally who get to bed every night at a decent time and wake up fairly early.

While I struggle at times getting to bed, I do know that because of Nikki we have a place that was built for sleeping and nothing else.  Here are some things about our bedroom that might be useful for you:

– There are no screens. I tried for a tv, but Nikki said no. I try and use my ipad and Nikki is quick to make it stop.  It’s a good thing because it makes sleeping so much easier.

– The windows are completely dark.  If needed, you could go into our bedroom and sleep at 3pm and never realize it was daylight outside, it’s a function of the location of the window, the blinds and the curtains.

– It’s cool.  The bedroom is in our basement, which is often a bit cooler than the rest of the house.  When I go to bed it often feels a little chilly, but it makes it much easier to sleep well.

– The bed is comfortable.  We probably need to replace the mattress in the near future, but I love going to sleep at home.  The mattress and the bedding seems to be the right combination for me.

If I could change one thing, I would try and limit all the extra things that are in our bedroom.  For example, we don’t have a laundry room so clean and dirty clothes sit in our bedroom.  It seems petty, but some nights it causes enough distress I go to bed frustrated I didn’t get it all done that day.

The ability to get adequate sleep is more often a matter of developing solid habits and creating a good environment.  I believe that it’s less about the outside situations we like to often blame.

5 productivity apps I’m using daily

In a world that is becoming more and more productive, I find that sometimes I waste a lot of time searching for tools to be more productive.  It is a weird paradox that can happen, right?

One of the concepts in the book, 4 Hour Work Week, there is a lot of talk on how to effectively outsource your tasks that you don’t need to be doing.  It is something that I really struggle with, as learning to appropriately delegate tasks is not my natural inclination.  I heard a discussion on the radio last weekend (very rare situation for me to be listening to my radio, but I didn’t have access to my iphone) that talked about how outsourcing jobs overseas was becoming less prominent.  The reason for this is that companies are just finding technology can replace people.  Production up, costs and payrolls are down.

So in the same sense, instead of outsourcing my work to a person – here are a few apps I’m using to be productive and limit tasks I shouldn’t be doing:

1. Evernote — I forward links, I collect notes, I write lists; I essentially use it as a collection tool for thoughts across my laptop, workstation and phone.  It replaces the need for an assistant to manage all these things.

2. Mint — I have used spreadsheets, Microsoft Money and Quicken, they all take a decent amount of time to keep up.  Mint takes the majority of that time away.

3. Shoeboxed — I once had a Neat Receipts scanner to try and deal with receipt management, it didn’t work because of the time it required.  Shoeboxed is a new app I found that has eliminated those issues for the most part, as I just use the phone app to take a picture and then manage online.  It’s a new addition to my process so we’ll see if I stick with it (this is one area where I’ve also decided to outsource to a person, as I have someone to do my books monthly now.. when I get the paperwork to her).

4. WordPress — I have used WordPress to manage my content online since 2008, but never really done much with it via mobile.  I now use the mobile app for my personal blog (this blog) and find it very useful.  I really like the idea of using Pressgram with the WordPress integration. I haven’t listed Pressgram as a separate app here because I literally just started using it this week, but think Instagram but you keep the photos and can publish to your blog.  (dot org is the software for self hosted sites, dot com is the source for hosted services… I use both).

5. Pogoplug — I use pogoplug to back up my iphone (videos and photos), Ipad (same as iphone) and laptop (documents, videos, music and photos).  It’s pretty neat to know it’s all working and backing up on a hard drive at my house, when everything is working.  I mention the last part because I feel that there are times that I just can’t get things to work as expected (or figure out why it’s not).  It creates a little anxiety when you have doubt in your back ups.  Also, this is a situation when you start to wonder if your saving time with this or creating more work to keep it working right?  That being said, today it’s firing on all cylinders and I’m 100’s of miles away from home.

3 things I have to do daily to guarantee my happiness.

Over the past ten years there has been three things that consistently come up that either, increase my happiness when I do them or decreases my happiness when I do it too much.  It does not take a lot of data or analysis to prove this to be true, it is just plainly obvious.

1. Exercise.  The ability to manage my mood along with remaining an understanding and patient person is directly related to my ability to regularly exercise.  I say exercise specifically because there have been periods over the past few years that I have been active (walking, training clients, etc) but not been consistent with my own running, lifting, swimming or biking.  The truth is that I have done pretty much zero swimming or cycling since February or March of 2011.

During those times where my workouts are the least consistent, I trend to being unhappy and quite sad.  There are likely physiological reasons for this, as the intensity provides some very positive benefits.  I also believe that it relates to an awareness that my personal desires of achievement are not being met.  I always have a deep desire to try and push myself to higher levels physically, when the workouts are not happening there is no hiding from the reality that I am not getting better.

I have at least begun to realize that there are seasons in life, which has allowed me to realize that currently I am just in a place of being happy I am healthy.  But… the desire to go out there and achieve is never lost.

2. Slow my mind down.  You can call it anything you want:  mindfulness, meditation, taking a few deep breathes, stopping to smell the roses.. etc.  The key is that at some point in the day, I have to take at least a few minutes and stop my mind from going deeper into worry, racing 100 miles an hour and projected what is going to happen in a week, a month or a year and getting worked up over that.

I’ve done this in many different ways.  The current behavior strategy that I use is a five minute relaxation / breathing practice with some meditation music on my iphone.  It is not incredibly consistent, but happens – when it does happen it makes a difference.  I actually start to see my faulty thinking and worry clearly, allowing me to manage or eliminate it.  Another thing I have been doing that also provides some of the same benefits is taking my dog (Kelty) for a walk and making sure I pay attention to what my surroundings are.  What neighbors are out, what color is the grass, what is Kelty smelling, etc.  Allowing myself to stop all the digital input and excess and feel something organic.

I was in Longmont, Colorado for a week back in June.  While I was there I went to Cloud 9 and did 3 separate session in a float tank.  I really wish that I had access to one regularly because I feel that could be an incredibly positive habit to use.

3. Limit alcohol.  This is not a new realization, I have always known that the more alcohol I drink the less happy in aggregate I am.  The interesting paradox here is that often alcohol is associated with a lot of social functions and time spent with friends, which also makes me a very happy person.  I have most recently developed this rule:

1 beer = good times
2 beers = in a fun social setting with friends, think about what you have going on.
3 beers = it’s time to realize that tomorrow is going to be a subpar day and not positive
more than 3 beers = bad decision, no other observation needed

Alcohol other than beer = in any amount will result in a bad day and tomorrow will not be any better, avoid at all costs

The other thing that I notice is that not only is the amount at one single event important, but observing the regularity of the consumption.  For example, if I have a drink once and maybe twice in a week, it would be ok.  If I find myself having a beer each night with dinner or to try and ‘wind down’ from the day – it is a sign that I need to figure out what’s going on during the day that needs so much ‘winding down’ from.  It is the consistency that I’ve seen most common the past couple years.  I hate the idea of a hangover so much that it is easy to not overdo a single setting, but having a beer with dinner is an easy habit to fall into.

One might ask, “Why not just stop all alcohol consumption?” That is a very good question, I would say that it is tied into my perceptions of social settings that I’m worried about ‘being left out’.  But the point is a great one I ponder often.

Therefore;

To have a great setup to be happy in a single day:  I would have an early morning run, spend 10 to 15 minutes in a breathing exercise and limit my alcohol consumption to 1 beer or less.  It seems like a simple enough process!

The top twitter accounts that I follow

Wow… ok, as I curate this list I realize that this will need to be done over time.  I need to rethink how I use twitter in general, this has been a very good exercise for me to go through as I look at ways to improve my next five years.

Husker Posters (not players media and analysts)

Sports

Business

  • Guy Kawasaki — the posts come fast and often, so be prepared

Health

Strength and Conditioning / Training Athletes

Entertainment

Jack Reacher, Audible and Me.

I love to read, but it seems that as I’ve got busier the last couple years – my rate of reading has declined dramatically.  While I still get a few non fiction books read, I almost never read a fiction book for fun.

As I listen to podcasts on my runs, it seems that I hear many advertisements to sign up for Audible.  I am not sure why I have never done this before, I enjoy listening to books when I travel in the car but have never thought about signing up for Audible and listening to them during  a workout.

Well, I just signed up for Audible and got the first book in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child: The Killing Floor

I listened to it while I traveled the other day, but then would listen as I ran or went for a walk.  It was a great way to listen to the story.  I could almost imagine that I was running from bad guys or training to take them on.  I am anxious to download the next book in the series, but now I need to decide to I pay for the download or wait until next month when I get the credits for another book.

There are a lot of Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, looks like I will have company for many miles ahead.

The Movie?

I should make a note about the movie that came out recently with Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.  I know that many individuals that read the series either did not like the movie or refuse to watch it, but I have to say that I’m thankful it came out.  The movie exposed me to the character and while I thought the movie was ok, it created enough interest that I wanted to know more.  So thank you to those who created the film, I’m grateful.