Tag Archives: productivity project

20 for 2020: week 24

Week of 8 June

My 20 for 2020 list.

After a weekend where I put off doing any work on my uni course (thing 8) until Monday, which was a public holiday, I succeeded in not doing any work on it at all. Instead, I spent the day writing, thinking, editing photos, wrestling with my computer and doing some work on my home studio (thing 11).

I also learned that if you put a flash on a camera the wrong way round, it doesn’t work. Who knew.

After getting my 100 per cent habit score for reading last week (thing 14, which I am happy to report I am still doing and actually finished two books this week), I passed another milestone this week.

Tuesday was the 100th day since I’ve had a drink. If you’d told me back at the start of the year when I decided to go a month without alcohol (thing 5) that I’d still be alcohol-free more than two months after finishing that challenge, there’s no way I’d have believed you. Regular drinking had been firmly ingrained in my identity for many years and, although I knew it wasn’t where I wanted to be, I enjoyed drinking and I couldn’t imagine a time without alcohol.

I might write about my experience later or I might not. I don’t want to sound like the preachy ex-drinker, and I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up for. But what I can say right now is that I believe that being alcohol-free is the best thing I can do for myself and I have felt better this last three months than I had done for many years as a regular drinker. I don’t feel any need to go back to where I was.

20200613 Hinsby Beach 2

Subtle afternoon colours

This week, Kramstable went back to school, which I think he was happy about. I have been really impressed by the work the schools have done to transfer students’ learning online for this last couple of months. I know I’m lucky to have a young person who is very self-directed and who adapted well to the situation and who’s old enough to be trusted to work independently. I imagine my experience working from home and supervising online learning would have been very different with a younger child or someone who isn’t as driven as Kramstable is. I’ll miss having him around during the day but I’m glad he’s able to go back to face to face learning. It makes a big difference, as I’m discovering with my uni work (thing 8). Two-hour zoom sessions aren’t anywhere near the same as the intensive three-day workshop we were supposed to have. I’m really struggling to get engaged with the work in this unit and I miss the opportunities to have the deep discussions with my fellow students that we’d been able to have in the previous units.

20200610 Workking at the Picnic Basket-1

Studying at the coffee shop

However, everyone is in the same boat and it’s just something I have to adapt to. Complaining isn’t going to get my work done!

I (re)learned a valuable lesson this week from a podcast I used to listen to regularly. This is The Productivity Show by Asian Efficiency. In this episode, they discussed the importance of focusing on only one goal at a time to avoid having fragmented effort and not really achieving anything. I could immediately see that this was something I was trying to do. Right now, I can see the Photoshop course on my list (thing 7) and I can see my uni course, both big projects that will take a lot of time and commitment to complete. But instead of focusing on one of them really intensely and getting it done, I’m dabbling in the uni course, wishing I were doing the Photoshop work, feeling bad I’m not doing that and not really focusing on the uni work either because the Photoshop work is hovering in the back of my mind. So I’m getting stressed about not doing the uni work either. This podcast was a brilliant reminder that I need to stop scattering my focus on too many things, even though I want to do them all, and acknowledge that right now is not the right time for the Photoshop work. Once I have made that space, I can focus on the uni work without feeling guilty about not doing the other work. I’m not quitting. I’m pausing, and I need to do this without guilt. Photoshop will still be there in a month when this unit is completed and I’ll be able to spend time on it then, knowing that I put my best effort into my uni work and that now it’s time to refocus on my art.

It seems such a simple concept and I think I’d forgotten it and was stretching myself too thinly. But worse than that, I wasn’t doing any of the work I needed to do on anything. I was stressing out about having so much to do that I wasn’t doing any of it. That really isn’t the way to get anything done. It’s time to put some things on hold, refocus on one thing and get to work.

But . . . (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) what about my commitment to 15 minutes of creative work every day? I had been doing that in the mornings after my walk, but with my 30-minute mindfulness practice taking up that space, I didn’t want to get up even earlier to fit that in and it’s falling through the cracks. So I had a look at my afternoons. I go for a walk after I finish work every day before my afternoon mindfulness session. Then I have a period of about two to three hours, depending on the day and whether it’s my night to cook dinner, to do whatever I want. That might include sorting photos, deleting emails, writing, paying bills, scrolling social media, reading . . . or maybe . . . working on my uni assignment (yeah, right).

20200610 Waiting at the library

Clicking and collecting at the library

None of it is particularly well-directed, which is fair enough in a way after a day’s work. It’s not a super productive time of day but it’s a couple of hours. Sure, there are some things I need to do in that time, but there are other things I don’t have to do, so there is time to fit in things I really want to do. 15 minutes of space to work on photo projects? Look no further. Having already decided not to do the Photoshop work at this time, I still have plenty of other creative work to do and one project that jumped out at me was my Hobart Street Corners project, which I have neglected for several months. Editing those photos doesn’t take a huge amount of creative energy but it still allows me to dabble in my photo art. So that’s my new focus while I’m not fully engaged in the Photoshop work. It keeps me engaged but it’s familiar work so fear and resistance are less likely to put their hands up and try to stop me.

At least, that’s the plan.

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Summary for the week

  • Things completed this week: 0
  • Things completed to date: 10 (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16, 18)
  • Things I progressed: 2 (8, 11)
  • Things in progress I didn’t progress: 4 (7, 13, 17, 22)
  • Things not started: 6  (2, 9, 12, 19, 20, 21)
  • Days I stuck to my 15 minutes creative habit: 6
  • Days I read a book: 7
  • Days I did my yoga stretches: 7

Weekend wisdom 8

A weekly review of things that came through my inbox that I found interesting and want to remember.

This week, I stumbled on Dr Sarah McKay, a neuroscientist who studies women’s brains. She’s also an author and presents the ABC’s Catalyst program. On her blog Your Brain Health, Sarah outlines the seven habits of healthy brains, which she says are:

  1. Sleep—it needs to be a priority, not a luxury. It is essential for consolidating memories and draining waste products from our brain. We also under-consume natural light during the day and over-consume artificial light at night, disrupting our natural rhythms, hormones and immune systems.
  2. Move—physical exercise is the best exercise for your brain. It triggers the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes neurone growth and survival, reduced inflammation and supports the formation of long-term memories.
  3. Nourish—she says research favours a Mediterranean-style diet of mostly plants, fish, some meat, olive oil and nuts.
  4. Calm—chronic stress can change the wiring of our brains. Too much cortisol prevents the birth of new neurones and causes the hippocampus to shrink, reducing your powers of learning and memory. Meditate, walk or nap. Do something you’re good at that requires some degree of challenge.
  5. Connect—we are social animals and have a fundamental need for human warmth and connection. Loneliness and social isolation is as bad for us as smoking.
  6. Challenge—regularly challenge your mind and stay mentally active. Choose mentally challenging activities that you can practise regularly, that are reasonably complex and take you out of your cognitive comfort zone.
  7. Believe—seek out your purpose in life. People who score high in purpose live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives. Set fantastic, passionate goals and work like crazy to achieve them. Find your place of flow.

What struck me when I was reading this was that six of these seven things are the exact same things I am (or will be) working on in my wellbeing program. So this is good to know.

Another post I found useful was from the Insight timer blog, an app I used to use regularly but haven’t used for several months now. It talks about morning routines, which are supposed to be good for us in setting up our day, but which I have fallen out of lately. This post specifically talks about how to alleviate anxious feelings by establishing a healthy morning routine. I generally don’t have a problem with anxious thoughts in the morning but the routine is similar to what I used to do before it all fell apart.

This is their suggestion for such a routine:

  1. Examine your thoughts
  2. Get up and hydrate
  3. Practise gratitude
  4. Breathe
  5. Meditate (incidentally, Sarah McKay’s blog has a great article on what to do if meditation stresses you out, which I’m kind of glad to hear her say because when I was doing it I always felt like it wasn’t helping me and I guess that’s one reason why it was so easy for me to not resume when I broke my 500+ day streak last year, when I think I was doing it under a sense of obligation to maintain the streak than any actual benefit. Maybe that’s one to think about for another day.)
  6. Exercise

I found this great article from songwriter Christine Kane on another blog I read occasionally. It’s about how to overcome “attention splatter”.  Of all the articles and tips I’ve picked up over the years I’m finding this to be one of the simplest and clearest outlines of what to do when you “mindlessly and half-heartedly splatter your attention on non-activities, but you never fully engage”. This sounds like me.

Christine’s seven steps are:

  1. Have no more than three priorities for the day. Ask yourself, “If I only accomplish one thing today, which one thing would make me most happy?”
  2. Know the task before you sit down at the computer. Assign tasks. (i.e. “Clean out email folders”) Assign times. (“From 1pm to 2pm”) Stop as soon as the end time arrives.
  3. Put an end to activities that leak (like checking mails). Make a list of “leaky” activities, and stop the leaks by scheduling these activities—and stop when the time is up.
  4. Use your small slices of time. Learn to fit constructive things in to small slices of time. (Along the same lines, this week’s Asian Efficiency podcast has a heap of ideas for activities you can fit into small slices of time.)
  5. Use your intention. Before you begin any activity, set an intention for that activity. Focus on your desired outcome and how you want to feel during the activity.
  6. Get rid of anything that doesn’t feed you—emails, unread books, subscriptions . . .  if you subscribe to it, ask yourself why. Start letting go of stuff. Be ruthless about keeping the incoming stuff to a minimum.
  7. Be present in your down-time. When you take a nap, take a nap. When you take a Saturday off, really take it off. Don’t spend the day obsessing about the things you should be doing.

I think the last one is a really great thing to keep in mind. You aren’t going to recover and rejuvenate yourself if you keep working and don’t take a proper break.

And finally, two thoughts from James Clear. Or one thought and a question:

An imperfect start can always be improved, but obsessing over a perfect plan will never take you anywhere on its own.

I need to put this up in very large print above my desk.

How long will you put off what you are capable of doing just to continue what you are comfortable doing?

Indeed.

Water, water and more water

On Tuesday I wrote about how I was going to attempt Chris Bailey’s water experiment that he wrote about in The Productivity Project. Chris gave up coffee, alcohol and soft drink for a month and drank only water. A lot of water. He says he drank four litres of water a day and nothing else. As far as I can see, he doesn’t say specifically that drinking nothing but water (and a lot of it) gave him more energy; it was more that cutting out the other drinks did. He discovered that for him, four litres was what he needed. He suggests that if you drink three (women) or four (men) litres a day you will be “surprised at how much energy you have”.

My challenge was to increase my water intake to three litres a day for the last week of my no-alcohol challenge to see if Chris’ hypotheses that doubling my water intake would make me feel better.

It actually wasn’t hard to drink that much, and even more, water, especially when I wasn’t drinking anything else. I always drink 500 ml when I wake up and am usually thirsty when I get back from my walk, but don’t usually drink anything then. So it was easy enough to add in another 500 ml when I got home from my walk. One litre before 6 am. Easy.

I have a one-litre water bottle at work and most days last week it wasn’t difficult to fill it twice during the day, which made up the remaining two litres. At home, most days after work I also indulged in carbonated water with lemon juice. Yeah, I know. Not quite the same as a late afternoon cider but very refreshing.

I’m surprised at how easy it was to drink three to four litres a day when previously I often struggled with two. It was almost like the more water I drank the more I wanted to drink.

Interesting.

I’m not sure if I can say after a week that drinking more water increased my energy. I certainly didn’t have any more energy last week than I did in the previous two weeks when I started to notice an impact from the other things I was doing. I’m sure that drinking less alcohol has increased my energy, as has getting more sleep, and I think the two things are related.

However, I think there’s a point during the afternoon or early evening when you need to stop drinking water or you’ll find yourself waking up at stupid hours in the morning needing the bathroom and being unable to get back to sleep. And when that happens and you’re back to the five or six hours of sleep you were getting before the no-alcohol month, all the benefits of going to bed earlier are wiped out and you have a lot less energy the next two days until you get so tired you crash and eventually get a full night’s sleep.

Or maybe that’s just me?

I know there’s lots of ideas floating around on how much water you need, the potential side effects of drinking too much water, what happens if you don’t drink enough . . . it gets very overwhelming trying to work out what’s right! I think the key is to figure out what works for you and that might be different on different days depending on what you’ve been doing, the weather and a heap of other factors I can’t think of right now.

For me, I don’t think that drinking more than two litres of water a day (and nothing else) had any real benefits so I’m not going to make any real effort to continue to do it. If I want a herb tea or a brewed cacao drink I’ll have it. If I want water, I’ll have that. If I want a beer, well . . . stay tuned for more on that.

19 for 2019: more sleep, less booze

Quite some time ago, I don’t remember when, I heard about Chris Bailey’s Productivity Project, in which Chris set out to conduct a year-long series of productivity experiments on himself to find out how different strategies and tips affected his work. He wrote a blog about his experiences and followed that up with a book in 2016, which I’m currently reading.

20190302 Productivity Project edit

Who wouldn’t want to become more awesome?!

I’m a big fan of experiments like this and even tried it out myself in 2016, inspired by Kylie Dunn’s Year of TED project, though I wasn’t quite as successful as Kylie in sticking with it for a year and it all rather fizzled out in the end.

I’ve decided to try my own experiment in March that combines the idea of Kylie’s 30-day experiments; one of Chris’ experiments, my 19 for 2019 thing 13 (an alcohol-free month); my ongoing wellbeing work that will give me the energy to be able to do all the things on my list (thing 6), in particular getting more sleep; and an increased level of exercise.

I wrote in Wednesday’s post about my goal for March being to move my hours of sleep from six (probably less) closer to seven a night and how one of the main things that will help me do this is to quit drinking for the month.

The second thing I’m going to do is try and move my bedtime from after 11pm to somewhere closer to 10pm.

A key reason I want to get more sleep is to improve my energy levels throughout the day and to become more aware of when I naturally have more and less energy. I’ve been reading about ultradian rhythms, the gist of which is that our bodies have natural cycles of energy and rest (or high energy and low energy) that last about 90-120 minutes. The theory is that we have a period of about 90 minutes of high energy, which is followed by a period of low energy of about 20 minutes (similar to sleep cycles of 90 minutes of non-REM sleep and 20 minutes of REM sleep)  and that this continues throughout the day.

This is where Chris Bailey’s experiment comes in. In chapter 4 of The Productivity Project he writes about how, if you know the times when you have the most energy, you can schedule your day to work on the things that are most important to you at those times and take breaks and work on things that require less energy and focus at times when your energy levels are lower.

To get familiar with his natural cycle, Chris kept a log every hour of every day for three weeks of what he had been working on and how much energy he had during that hour. To make it as accurate as this kind of thing can be, Chris cut out all alcohol and coffee, ate as little sugar as possible and tried to wake up and fall asleep naturally, without setting an alarm.

I won’t be following Chris’ experiment to the letter. I’m already good with the no sugar thing, so I don’t have to worry about making any changes there, and am committed to the no alcohol month. But there is no way I am giving up my first coffee of the day, at least not at the start. (My second, I have plans for, but that can wait.) And I can’t sleep in on weekdays mornings and do all the things I want to do (and need to do) and still get to work on time. I know, I’ve done it a couple of times accidentally. So I have to set an alarm. But this is an experiment, not a regiment, so I’m just trying it out. The first week of March will be my adjustment period—Chris recommends cutting out the three stimulants (sugar alcohol and caffeine) a week before you start tracking.

The main thing I’ll be focusing on in the first week will be to have a shutdown for the evening routine that will make sure I’m in bed by 10.45. If I move this back by 15 minutes a week, I should achieve the goal of a 10pm bedtime before the end of the month.

Sounds easy, right?!

The final piece of the puzzle is increased exercise. I am taking part in the Cancer Council’s March Charge, and have committed to walking 300 km in March to raise funds for this very worthy cause, which is the equivalent of about 15,000 steps a day. My daily goal up to now has been 12,000 steps, which I’ve been meeting on most days but not every day. So I’ll have some extra work to do there.

Of course, I just made it all the more difficult for myself by falling down my front stairs on Tuesday and hurting my back, which has made walking (and moving in general) an uncomfortable exercise. Fortunately, it seems like nothing is seriously damaged. My doctor said that I’m still walking around is a good sign and I haven’t broken anything (since confirmed by the x-ray). I keep thinking how much worse it could have been if I’d tumbled rather than slid!