Productivity Archive

The Importance of Movement Breaks

I’m reading an excellent book that has inspired this post, Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World by Kelly Starrett.  It’s so good it might even make it to the list as one of my favorite books for the year.

A point that has strongly resonated with me has been the author’s emphasis on the importance of movement breaks. As both an office worker, trader and a writer, I spend a lot of time parked in front of a desk. The book has a strong emphasis on moving into a standing desk, which fortunately my employer has provided for my office. At my home office I still sit, though I do implement the method of movement breaks described below.

The main concept is that by shifting into different positions other than the static sitting one most of us spend the majority of our time in, can do wonders to keep our bodies healthy. It prevents achy joints and stiff muscles from limiting your range of motion. To remedy this you must move. Frequently. The movement itself doesn’t have to be something that greatly elevates your heart rate, not that it hurts to get the blood moving a bit.

It could be as simple as a stroll about your house or office. It could be rolling out your wrists, doing some neck circles, and some light stretching. Starett suggests your breaks should be at least 2 minutes long every twenty-thirty minutes. At first, this may seem like a lot of breaks, but you get used to it and can use the time to think about what you’re working on by stepping back and getting a more macro perspective.

According to the book, and certainly from my anecdotal experience, when the body is inactive the brain does not fully engage and it becomes increasing more difficult to stay focused. Have you ever noticed the insights you get to a problem when you walk away from it? I think this is due to the health benefit and brain activation that happens because of the movement itself.

You have to put a condition in place to take these breaks, otherwise you’ll easily let them slide. I use a lightweight break timer on my computer which you can find here Every thirty minutes a popup appears on my screen reminding me to move. It’s hard to obey it sometimes, especially when it rudely interrupts you when you’re deep in thought or in the midst of a flow state. 

In the book he offers a great list of options for routines you can implement during these breaks. The main idea is upon each break to focus on one area. The first break might be your neck, so you would do some neck rolls, stretches, and maybe some light massaging with a lacrosse ball. The next could be your wrists, so you would do some wrist rolls and wrist stretches. You get the idea.

Starettt has an awesome youtube channel as well 

Garbage In Garbage Out

Garbage in garbage out is a term from computer science relaying how bad input produces bad output. Since computers operate by a series of logical gates, they will process bad input (garbage) the same way they would process a “good” input. This often produces undesired and nonsensical results. More often than not you’ll get an error in modern day systems, but sometimes unpredictable results.

This same concept applies to everything you fill your mind with. If you feed your mind with junk expect your thoughts, and therefore your actions to reflect that. It’s important to feed your mind with good quality information.

You may have not given careful consideration to what you allow to enter your mind. Even your choices of entertainment should be carefully considered. If you’re watching reality TV rather than say reading a science fiction book, the inputs are drastically different regarding how they engage your mind.

Some examples of things I’ve cut from my life that I decided were not useful: daily news, reality TV, and endless hours on social media. I try to limit myself to no more than ten minutes a day on any social media site. Even video games are moderated to no more than a few hours a week these days.

Regarding writing, I make an attempt to read in a variety of genres from both fiction and non-fiction in order to stimulate new ideas.

This quote from Stephen King sums it up pretty well.

You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128239303

Time is naturally at a premium for everyone. I try to read for at least 30 minutes a day with a timer. There is something about reaching that accumulated thirty minutes that makes it reasonable to hit. There are lots of areas where we can squeeze this in: waiting in lines, time between meetings, etc. I find setting the bar low also makes me more likely to do it, plus it makes you feel good when you’ve gone beyond your desired goal.

I try to read books in the following areas:

  • Fantasy (naturally)
  • Books about writing
  • Personal development
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Business
  • Marketing
  • Science
  • Finance/Trading
  • Books outside my areas of interest or expertise (romance, feminism, republicans) This type of practice allows you to see the world with a new lens.

I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.

Charlie Munger

I can’t emphasize enough how filtering what goes into my brain and how consciously choosing what I read has affected my thinking. It’s helped me generate new ideas and has helped me to become more curious about the world. I try to always ask myself when spending a good chunk of time “what type of investment am I making now?” It could be an investment in my body via exercise or relationships with spending times with friends and family. That question helps you filter bad uses of your time. Remember: Garbage In = Garbage Out.

How To Not Be Lazy

How To Not Be Lazy

It can often feel like a sin when you’re doing the things you really enjoy doing. For me I typically most feel this way when playing video games, though I do get a lot of enjoyment (and writing ideas!) from them. It’s easy to think you’re not doing enough, but before you think that I’d suggest taking a hard, quantifiable look at how you use your time before you deem yourself as lazy.

One of my favorite ways to track how I use my time on the computer is RescueTime. Every week it sends me a chart to my inbox showing me how well I used my time.

You may feel like you’re lazy because you’re not getting things done that are most important to you. The way you do that is by doing the most important things first everyday. It sounds so simple, but it’s incredibly powerful and took me a long time to get my head around. You lose energy and willpower as the day progresses and your most important activities are shunted to the backseat if you don’t attack them early.

You may have a self-discipline problem. There are ways of increasing your self-discipline via training your willpower.  It is a common belief that willpower is fixed, but it has been shown that it can be trained and improved like any other muscle.  Check out the The Willpower Instinct for a deeper analysis on the subject. The way you grow your willpower is overcoming it with brute mental force. Don’t want to workout? Do it anyway. Want to eat that luscious donut sitting by the coffee station? Deny yourself the pleasure of having it. That’s the long and short of how to improve your willpower.

The other reason you may feel lazy is that you’re comparing yourself to hyper achievers. This is often my problem. I look at someone like Gary Vaynerchuk or Elon Musk and feel like a lazy bastard. These guys work 18-20 hours a day. With more time you can get more done, but I remind myself there is a biological cost to operating like this. Eventually biology catches up with you via disease.

I believe that a lack of direction, motivation and an empty schedule can make you feel lazy. If the vast majority of your time is spent on sleep and leisure activities, motivation or the lack of what you consider a worthy pursuit could be your problem. Find a hobby, try something new, broaden your horizons outside of your regular job. I personally find life far more satisfying while trying to hone the edge of multiple subjects simultaneously. Outside of regular full time job I have been focusing on writing novels, option trading, reading, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I know reading looks odd on there, but I do approach it like a job and read at least 30 minutes a day every day.

Be careful who you associate with at work. Most people don’t love their work and that’s fine. Avoid people at the office who spend the day complaining and spreading negativity. That shit is infectious. Even if the work you do is in itself not implicitly fulfilling, learn to like the process for its own sake is a skill that is tough to develop.

Change your habits. If the first thing you do when you get home from work is drop your bags and fire up Netflix, you’re setting yourself up for failure from the beginning.  Also if you check email or facebook/twitter/instagram as your first item everyday your wasting your best energy on shit that doesn’t matter.

Social media does not matter. Email can wait. Do something productive first, then “reward” yourself with the dopamine hit of checking facebook and email.

You need to know what you’re going to do with your time. You must have a plan for what you will do with your time. As good ole Ben Franklin says:

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Have a rough idea of what you want to accomplish for that day outside of work. I recommend no more than 2-3 items. E.g. Exercise, tweak facebook ads, watch video on book marketing. The cool thing is that once you’ve completed those “big” items you wanted to get done that day, the rest of the day is gravy. You’ll also feel good about your day when you lay down to rest, knowing you’re moving forward toward your big goals. The other cool thing I’ve found from having a plan as simple is this is that you’ll fly through those few items because you know exactly what you need to do. From anecdotal experience, I see a lot of people floundering around without a clear direction of what they need to get done.

You need specific tasks. For example, let’s say one day you think “The bathroom is gross, it should be cleaned.” Change that to: “Tomorrow after I get home from work I will scrub the toilet, bathroom mirror, and bleach the tub.” Then write it down for your plan the following day and follow the plan.

I believe that lethargy and lack of productivity are simply bad habits that have been carved in your daily routine over time. Habits can change and you just need to create new ones, then it requires very little effort to continue.

Why You Should Meditate

Learn Why You Should Meditate

I’ve made a consistent habit of meditating almost everyday for the past year and have found it to be awesome for a variety of reasons. I hope to be able to convince you to give it an honest shot and why you should meditate. It will feel weird and different at first, but you’ll get used to it. If you do meditate, I’d love to hear how it benefits you.

1 — You’ll get in touch with your body in ways most people never do. Once you allow yourself to stop focusing on a specific task and on shit that needs to be done, you’ll develop a new sense of bodily awareness. You’ll notice small pains you never knew were there. You’ll notice how the air smells, the temperature of the room. You’ll notice all of those things your brain typically shuts off so you can function and do what needs to be done. You’ll get a good sense of how truly hungry you are. It will help you to better evaluate if you’re eating solely for pleasure or for genuine hunger. Learn more about body scanning meditation.

2 — You’ll learn how to better focus your mind. It sounds counterintuitive, but by learning to let your thoughts go when you do need to focus on something you’ll find that you have a greater capacity for mental endurance. I’ve found I’m able to spend longer periods of time listening to audiobooks or reading history, and other subjects that require a good deal of focus.

3 — You will feel less stress. Stress is one of the biggest killers of neurons according to the book
Why Isn’t My Brain Working?: A Revolutionary Understanding of Brain Decline and Effective Strategies to Recover Your Brain’s Health (highly recommend!) When you meditate you’re just sitting there, not moving, letting your thoughts fade in an out of your mind like the waxing and waning of the ocean’s waves against the shore. Eventually you’ll end your meditation session and feel like a burden of stress that had been weighing and building on your back for the most of the day was lifted. It’s a fantastic feeling unlike no other.

4 — You’ll be present. You’ll notice things you never noticed before. You’ll hear the birds twittering, the breeze making the leaves flutter, the dog barking on the next block. We spend so much of our lives buried in minutia that we miss the world around us. It gives you a moment to just be the human animal that you are. Sometimes I feel so incredibly good during my meditation sessions I find myself laughing out the blue.

5 — You’ll discover that happiness comes from within. Sometimes you’ll feel so good from meditation that you’ll realize you don’t need anything else and nothing else matters. Its so good that it seems to me that it may be a slippery slope for some people. Someone might think something like “hey, why get a job? why go to work? why do anything when I can just feel good and meditate?” It can be a powerful drug. Sometimes I meditate when I travel and I realize the meditation was the best part of the trip. Kind of funny, maybe a little sad, but true.

How I meditate. There are thousands of ways that people can meditate. Here’s how I do it. I go to a quiet place where I will be undisturbed and put a timer on my phone for ten minutes. I sit in a cross-legged position and use the box breathing technique I learned from Mark Divine (video below). I let whatever thoughts come into my mind in, observe them, and let them go. Try not to grip tightly onto whatever random thoughts bubble up into your mind. Don’t dive into them. Just observe them from the surface and let them fade away. I do this with whatever thoughts enter my mind. I think of my mind as a beach and each thought is wave. The thoughts come in, crash, then melt away in the sands of time. Sometimes I do eyes open, typically I do eyes closed. Interestingly I sometimes have mild hallucinations with my eyes open such as seeing twisting colors or swimming shapes.

Box breathing how-to video:

Readers: Please let me know your thoughts in comments!

Avoid low leverage activities

Avoid Low Leverage Activities

Here are some things that I do that I feel like are a poor use of my time and would like to eventually hire someone else to do. It’s not that I think myself above doing these tasks, but I don’t think they add value to my life. You only have so much time and as I get older I’ve become more and more aware of that in order to thrive you must savagely cut things from your life that don’t make sense for you to do.  These are low leverage activities.

  1. Shoveling/blowing snow
  2. Mowing the lawn
  3. Car work of all forms
  4. Major house work
  5. Cleaning of all forms

The things I hate doing most are Sisyphean tasks, tasks that are never complete and must always be done again. Cleaning is always the first that comes to mind. I would rather do things that only need to be done once or rarely. For example: writing books, trading stocks, marketing, and other things that are highly leveraged.

Some other examples of highly leveraged activities that I think are a GREAT use of time:

  1. Reading books (acquiring new knowledge)
  2. Developing new skills
  3. Exercising because it gives more energy in all areas of life and SO MUCH more.
  4. Automating repetitive work
  5. Scaleable marketing E.g. Facebook ads are working with $5 a day, now you can spend $100 day on the advertisements for a greater return
  6. Sleeping
  7. Investing in relationships
  8. Developing mindfulness

I think most people spend far too much time doing low leverage activities, making sure the house is always spotless, etc. Let’s say you love the house to be super clean (I do too!) but I you want to write books too. You can learn to tolerate the house being less clean in order to work on something else that will eventually allow you to pay for someone to clean the house. Then the house will be clean AND you’ll have an income producing asset/skill etc. You get the best of both worlds, but it takes sacrifice initially.

Readers: I would love to hear your thoughts. What do you hate to do that you would love to hire someone else to do for you? What are some highly leveraged activities you want to work on?

 

How to Read More Books

How to Read More Books

I read 81 books last year. I had a goal of 100. I also wrote three novels (Books 2-4 of the Age of Dawn) while holding down a full-time job in IT.  I’m not saying this to pat my own back. I wish I could have read more, but I also don’t have kids. I know people who read 200+ books a year. I also know people who can hardly manage to read a book a quarter. This post is for those of you who want to read more, but aren’t sure how exactly to do it.

How did I manage to do it?

There are two things I do that have made a huge difference in the amount of reading(listening) I do every year.

1) The first is audiobooksThere are so many little spaces of time where you could either be reading or listening to an Audiobook. Cleaning, walking the dog, bike riding, working out, weeding the garden. If you’re serious about reading and educating yourself then you will make the “sacrifice” to listen to an audiobook rather than listening to music or anything else that you might consider more enjoyable. I am torn between having times of quiet contemplation and learning new stuff. That’s a decision you’ll have to make. During the weekend, I’ll keep my phone in my pocket with the headphones plugged in. Whenever I’m going to do something where there might be some time gaps, I’ll throw in my headphones and start downloading a book into my brain. It’s pretty damn to close to the Matrix.

2) Waiting in line at Starbucks/bus stop/cafeteria? Open your phone and read on your Kindle rather than checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. It’s amazing how much time people waste on social media when they could be reading. If you’re on Facebook for twenty minutes a day, that’s at least a full novel a month you could’ve read.

Just like writing my biggest tip for reading everyday is to TIME IT. Everyday when I set out to read I put a 30 minute timer on my phone and do nothing else but read until the buzzer goes off. This way I can guarantee I have carved out at least 30 minutes a day to read.

If you give these tips a shot, please let me know, I’d love to hear it. What do you do to read more books?

Playing with Racetams and Nootropics

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor nor do I play one on the internet. Use caution. Do your own research.

Racetams and Nootropics

In the past couple years I have dabbled with using various nootropics and have found that the racetams have always had the most profound effect.

From Wikipedia: “Nootropics are  smart drugs and cognitive enhancers—are drugs, supplements, or other substances that improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation.” Racetams are a class of nootropics. Unfortunately, the research is scant, however they do work well.

They’re good. Too good.

One of the principals of life is that there is no free lunch. (Also See: Law 40 of the 48 Laws of Power) It’s my belief that using them long term is probably not the best idea. I believe there is always some sort of biological cost. It’s certainly still fun and interesting to experiment.

I recently bought a sample pack from notropics depot and so far have found Phenylpiracetam to be my favorite. It seems to give me an awesome bump in my ability to focus. It also lends a feeling of lightness that I find hard to describe. Music sounds better and colors seem more vibrant. Some of the benefits purported from racetams are improved memory, better recall, increased learning capacity, and better concentration.

If you want to go down this road, you’ll also want to purchase a milligram scale to determine your doses if you buy powders. I would encourage giving the racetams a shot if you’re interested and feel like your brain needs a little tuning for cognitively demanding tasks.

Precautions: check out this reddit for other considerations and information. 

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Why You Need Daily Habits

The TL;DR version: without intentional daily habits it’s hard to accomplish big goals.

We all have daily habits we follow to get us through our daily BS in the most efficient way possible. Get out of bed, pee, fart, make coffee, water the dog, etc. But do you have intentional habits that are driving you forward to make you better in whatever it is you want to get better at?

Having intentional habits is critical because they empower you to use your time to drive towards your goals. I personally have found that by allocating my intentional habits into time blocks it makes them much more achievable. For each habit I do, I set a timer while I do it. There is something about having a timer running that seems to apply some pressure on my mind to keep me focused from running off and chasing mental butterflies.

That small tip: using a timer in my daily habits, has made a huge difference in my productivity.

For example, after work I write 1500 words. When I do this, I do it in 33m blocks (I know 33m is a weird time, but it works for me). I also time my breaks for 5m. If I feel the urge while writing to do something else, or if some idea pops up, I’ll simply jot it down on a notepad file, then resume working. When my break hits, I will feed my ADD urges by watching a funny youtube video, get out of my chair, and maybe some exercises like pushups or squats to get my heart rate pumping a bit. Then the timer is started again in that cycle for as many cycles as I need to get my word counts.

Then I exercise (un-timed), do some mobility work (stretching, foam rolling, etc) for 10m, read for 33m, and meditate for 10m.

The really cool thing about structuring your day like this is that once you’ve completed your habits/daily rituals, any other stuff you get done during the day is just extra. You can go to bed knowing you had a productive day and are moving towards your goals.

Most people go through life without any structure or intention in their days. Without structure, intention, and focus on a particular goal, ten years from now you will be in the same position you’re in today.

What are you some your daily habits that you feel have really added to your life? Let me know in the comments below.

Goals and why they matter

What are your goals for 2016? Did you write them down? Don’t worry, not going to get to all woo-woo self-helpy on you.

It sounds odd, but I’ve found writing down my goals seems to set some sort of strange magic in motion. I’m much more likely to achieve a goal I’ve written down vs. those nebulous goals which solely exist in the flesh between your skull.

It’s interesting to look at back at goals you’ve set in previous years. Often times I’m surprised to find goals I wrote down a long time ago had been achieved, though not in the year I initially sought out to achieve them.

There are a couple things I’ve found helpful to aid in hitting goals set for the year.

  1. Make a quarterly check in reminder. (You could try monthly, but I think it’s so frequent that you’ll just never do it.)Find out if you’re on track to hit a particular goal and if not ask yourself what you need to do differently to get on the right path.
  2. Rather than setting a new goal and forgetting it, I put conditions in place that start directing me towards success.

For example, I want to stop biting my nails. It’s something I’ve done forever. It makes me self-conscious because my nails look gross because they’re too short and it’s hard to properly clean the grit out of short nails without pain. Then there’s all the hygienic reasons. So, rather than just trying to use sheer willpower to stop, I bought some bitter nail polish (thankfully clear) that tastes horrible to break the pattern. The condition is the nail polish.

I want to have x$ in my bank account, so in order to do that I need to increase my savings by y$. The condition I put in place is that every month z$ will automatically get pulled into my savings account. It might even be a little painful.

For a writing goal this year, I’m trying to hit 1,500 words a day. Not always, but most of the time I won’t go to bed until I hit my word count. This may or may not be a great goal, but so far it’s been pushing me to write more than I typically would in a day.

What are your thoughts on goals and goal setting? What are your 2016 goals? Please let me know in the comments and what you do to help you hit your goals.

How to Stay Focused on a Task

I’ve experimented with a lot of different ways to dial in my focus to get the most done in the shortest amount of time. Why? Because that leaves more room/time for other things, like FUN for example. The context of this is for writing, but could apply for anything you can do on a computer or sitting at a desk. I like lists.

1. Using a timer. I typically set a timer on my iPhone for 33m. I know, it’s a weird time. Setting a timer seems to have a very powerful affect on my psychology. Once the timer is going I am working against the clock. The timer forces me to stay away from silly bullshit like facebook, twitter, youtube, email, and the other endless distractions available, thanks to the internet. When a mental butterfly takes flight, instead of running off to email to send that message I forgot about, I’ll keep a notepad file open. In that file I’ll simply jot down the thing that came up and return back to writing or whatever it is I’m doing. The timer also gives you a way to quantify what you did. To make the timer even more powerful, I’ll note down how many words I wrote in that time sort of as a performance guideline.

2. Keep going even if you’re stuck. If I don’t know what to write, I’ll write: “I don’t know what to write next. so a guy does a thing then so and so dies.” There seems to be something powerful about physically doing the thing that needs to be done even it’s coming out like crap. Eventually the crap will turn into polished crap, then flowers emerge.

3. Taking timed breaks. I like 5 minutes. Keep jotting down those ADD urges and bottle them up because once that timer goes off you can allow your ADD internet addicted-self free. Purge those demons. Go watch a youtube video, mindlessly scroll through twitter and facebook. Then once the break timer goes off, reset it and dive back in. Why user a timer for breaks? Well, as we all know the internet is black pit and it’s easy to get lost in there. The timer is your trail blaze out.

4. Move. Do pushups, situps, air-squats, lunges, stretch. Move your body during your breaks. It’s good for you and your brain. It really adds up too! 20 squats a few times a day can easily add up to over a 100 with minimal feelings of exertion.

5. Drink water while you work. Most people don’t drink nearly enough. Your urine should be about the color of straw. If it’s darker than that, you likely need more water. It makes a huge difference in your energy level.

6. Eventually you’re going to hit a point of diminishing returns in your cycle of breaks and working. At some point you’re going to need a longer break. Take the break, do something else for a bit before coming back to work. I suggest walking outside. Grinding through can work sometimes, but in the long run I’ve found it doesn’t pay off.

I hope this stuff helps you with staying focused. Please let me know by leaving a comment if you found this useful and what you do to enhance your focus and productivity.