Last week, I stumbled onto the Time Tracking Challenge from Laura Vanderkam. I had recently enjoyed her wonderful TED talk on “How to gain control of your free time”, so I started following her on Twitter. Of course I’m always willing to try a new habit, especially on a Monday morning when I have all the positivity and promise of the week ahead. I signed up and immediately started tracking what I was doing, in 15-minute increments, for the 7 days.
Laura provided an Excel file you could use to start tracking. Being a Mac and iOS guy, I opened it up in Numbers and saved it to iCloud so I could update the file from either my Mac or my iPhone. It actually worked quite well, though I ended up a couple times with conflicts and had to figure out which file I wanted to keep.
As I got started, I found it was actually easier than I thought it would be. I was already used to tracking during my work day for billable reasons, so really the only thing new was tracking my off hours. I first downloaded an app that could do repeatable 15-minute timers so I could just get a notification on my Apple Watch to remind me to document my time, but I downloaded a trial that would only repeat 4 or 5 times. I stopped using it within a couple hours because I was doing fine remembering without it. I never really went any long stretches without updating my file. At most, maybe 2.5 hours or so passed while doing one or two tasks, and then I would update it with everything I did during that time.
I did notice some interesting things during the week. Similar to how tracking your food intake makes you more accountable for what you put in your mouth, often times I was more motivated to do something productive just because I wanted to write down that I was productive on my timesheet.
I think I also felt less guilty during my leisure times. My wife and I actually took the Tuesday off when Apple announced its latest products, and I felt at ease relaxing and watching the event as well as researching and exploring the new products because I knew I had been pretty productive earlier in the morning and was planning to get back to my to-do list later in the afternoon. It was easy because what I did was written down and viewable from a distance and I could reflect on it.
Laura instructed her participants to organize their time into some general categories. To do this I made a quick legend using colored boxes and decided on 6 categories:
I then went through my spreadsheet and assigned one of those 6 categories to every 15-minute block by color coding the cell. I then figured out the breakdown of just how I utilized my time by percentage as well as how many hours during that week I spent on that task.
So after tracking and analyzing 672 blocks of time spanning 168 hours, what exactly did I learn?
First of all, I was actually more productive than I felt I was in the moment! When you’re in the middle of a hectic week, it’s hard to really see exactly how you’re doing. Reflecting back, I had a higher percentage working on meaningful things than in leisure time, and I think that is a great place to start. This week included a day off of work, but during that day I actually spent a good amount of time on projects at home so it balanced itself out. I’d really need to track additional weeks to see what kind of trends I might see from week to week, but I feel I had a good balance. I got a lot of productive things done, but also had a lot of fun too.
I do feel I was more productive this week than a “normal” week just because I was tracking. If that’s the added bonus to tracking, it could be worth doing on a consistent basis. The following week I had some really unproductive days without tracking. Is it a coincidence? Is my gained productivity worth the expense and hassle of tracking my time? The answer could be yes, but I think I need more weeks under my belt to really decide on that answer.
Averaged out over the week, I really wasn’t stuck in email and organizational tasks that much. I like to keep a clean inbox, but sometimes I feel like it’s a never-ending battle that I just can’t win. Even though I spent more time earlier in the week on email to get it empty, I spent less time towards the end of the week keeping it up. Eight hours of dealing with email and organization tasks during a whole week I think is fairly acceptable.
Learning needs to take a more prominent space in my life. I consider myself a lifelong learner, but viewing this week’s snapshot, I only spent 2 hours learning. I’d like this number to be more like 10 to 15 hours per week. I have so many things I want to learn and do, I need to block off sections ahead of time to make these things happen. Laura advocates keeping a list of “100 Dreams”, which is pretty similar to David Allen’s “Someday/Maybe” list. I have no shortage of dreams I’d like to accomplish, I just need to schedule them in at specific times. Now that I’ve done this tracking for a week, I think it will help me plan ahead and create these windows of time to add in more learning.
I could stand to optimize my Day-to-Day time. I tend to be fairly lazy in the morning getting ready. If I tuned that a bit, I’d have more time to be productive or to do something that is actually fun instead of just browsing Facebook & Twitter. This also took into account time cooking and eating out. I’ve actually been fasting more lately which totally helps lower this section of time. It is nice on days when I’m fasting that I can just skip the trouble of cooking and cleaning and get onto things I really want to do that night. There are a few hours to be gained here, but not that many.
Next time I do this, I think I will break out social media into a separate category. All of us could stand to have less social media and more time playing some board games with friends and family. It was a great experiment that I’m probably going to do very soon, if not this coming week. I could probably use a better tracking system if I do this more often. I know there are some time tracking apps out there that get pretty good reviews, I’m not sure if they would be more or less of a hassle than a simple Excel spreadsheet. I could use what I’ve learned from this week and pre-plan in blocks of time for more of my someday/maybes. It will be easier now that I have experienced a week of it, and I have some baseline numbers to compare against. I think this exercise would be beneficial for anyone who is looking to get more meaningful things accomplished. Thank you to Laura Vanderkam for hosting it and I look forward to doing it again!
On January 1st of this year, my Wife and I brainstormed our goals for 2017. It included a decent number of items, one of the most important being to get healthy and lose weight. As any good productivity nut, my goal was specific: lose 80 pounds by December 31st. I’m a big guy, and losing that weight would be the absolute single biggest improvement I could make in my life. But as everyone knows, losing weight is hard. Really hard. Unfortunately, that is where the procrastinator in me kicked in, and pretty much no progress was made on this front for the first half of the year.
July came, and with my Wife listening to more and more audiobooks during her commute to work, she found a book that looked interesting called The Obesity Code, by Dr. Jason Fung. She started telling me about it and surprisingly I was instantly on board. It described an alternative idea to why we gain weight, and why it always seems to come back when we try to lose it. It was a radically different solution than anything we’ve ever been told. I started reading the book and doing research on the topic. As I learned more, it seemed like such simple common sense! It was like a light was switched on in our brains, and we started following the guidelines immediately. It was a complete lifestyle change and within a few weeks it became the new norm. The Ketogenic Diet, along with both intermittent and extending “fasting” became the solution I had been looking for.
The Ketogenic Diet, or Keto for short, is simply a diet with under 20 or so grams of carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and enough fat to make your body enter a state called “ketosis”, in which it burns fat instead of sugar. The “low carb” approach may remind you of the Atkin’s Diet from the early 2000’s, and while the early stages of the Atkin’s diet might get you into ketosis, the diet starts to differ further from there on out.
There isn’t any big scheming company behind the ketogenic diet. There are no special bars to buy, expensive shakes to drink, or pills that have to be taken at every meal. It’s simply a low carb, high fat diet, and with everything I’ve learned, it’s a diet I think I can easily stick to. When you’re in ketosis, your body has no choice but to burn fat instead of carbs to get energy. Well, what exactly do you think my body is overloaded with right now? FAT! Now I can put to good use all that stored body fat to use as energy. It’s like I have a super power!!
To outsiders, going Keto seems like a fairly impossible and unsustainable task, and I can understand that. “I can’t drink soda? Eat candy? French fries? Pasta? Bread? BEER?”. The answer is no. Well, not really. All of these starches and processed foods just turn into sugar in your body, keeping your insulin sky high. Insulin is what makes your body store fat, feel hungry, and gives you cravings for more of the same junk. When you stop giving the body sugar to process, insulin then drops down and lets your body start using that excess fat for energy. Being hungry all the time and having to snack constantly is now a thing of the past. Most importantly, it’s stops the cravings for more sugar laden foods. You simply stop wanting them!! So far, this has been the hardest thing to explain to people that ask what I’m doing. When I got rid of the carbs and started eating fat to fuel my body, the weight just started coming off almost effortlessly. You also get to eat amazing flavorful food. Why? Because fat tastes good! Cheese, bacon, eggs, heavy cream, macadamia nuts, and avocados are all keto staples I’ve been eating, and they’re delicious!
Getting your body into ketosis and becoming “fat adapted” (basically a state where its “good” at burning fat) opens the doors to your “fasting” ability. Yes, you heard me right, fasting. Essentially not eating any food. People throughout history, of all races, of all religions, have been fasting for thousands of years. For some reason, whether it’s big business or just the ease at which people are able to acquire food now, fasting has gone by the wayside. When you’re in ketosis and you haven’t eaten for 16 hours, or 2 days, or 14 days, your body is easily able to burn “that Krispy Kreme you ate a decade ago”, a common phrase from one of my favorite podcasts called 2 Keto Dudes. Fasting also helps readjust your body’s set weight, so you aren’t fighting it as you try to drop some poundage. Keto and fasting go hand in hand, and it is the one-two punch to start getting your weight under control. I know it sounds terrible, but as I practice fasting more and more, I’m beginning to like it just as much as my feasting periods! It’s just a great balance.
I’ve been interested in productivity and have long followed the practices of David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done”, but I knew my weight and my state of being was hindering me. So often I was tired and unable to focus. I’d come home from work during the week, wanting to make progress on a project around the house, or learn something new, or practice guitar, and that motivation was shot as soon as my butt hit the couch after dinner, sinking into an evening of TV and Internet surfing. I’d set out on a Saturday morning ready to be extremely productive which usually ended in a nap from about 11am till 3pm.
Besides the lack of focus and energy, there was also the constant nagging at my psyche that I really should be doing something about this. With all the misinformation out there today, it was easy to convince myself not to get started because I didn’t really have a good solid plan on what to do. It always felt wrong to me that a healthy weight required having to give up so much delicious food. I’d go hardcore and get up everyday and work out, but then fizzle out two weeks in. I’d try to avoid the lure of breakfast and lunch that my company provided one day a week, but easily failed when it was one of my favorites or if I tried to limit myself to just one helping. I’ve tried lots of things in the past and I could only keep them up for a week or two. I had lost all trust in myself to really do anything, so I did nothing.
Now, I’m pretty much bursting with energy. I started standing for part of the day at work. I bought a cheap Ikea coffee table to put on top of my desk to convert it to a standing desk, and I stand now usually for about half the day. I actually WANT to do things like walk around the block, or to a nearby park on my lunch break to do a lap or two. I couldn’t wait to go canoeing at a local park, just so I could get in the water and paddle. This urge to move and exercise is only growing, and I haven’t had to force myself at all.
I’m able to easily focus on any task I attempt. With my current productivity skills already at hand, I finally feel like I’m now able to put them to good use and follow through. Instead of my Omnifocus going dormant for a week or two at a time, I’ve been able to make progress and check off a few items every day. It’s been my missing piece of GTD.
Food is now so much less important. Lunch used to be a big focus every day at work, and I’d be starving for it by 10am. Now I barely need anything till 2pm. The “addictive” cravings for a lot of the foods I loved are gone. I do get excited experimenting with new keto recipes with my Wife because everything is still fairly new. It’s been really enjoyable trying new things. We even just got the Joule sous vide machine and have made some delicious perfectly cooked steak!
While Keto is amazing, it’s no quick fix. Each week there is still ups and downs, but for the first time ever, I’m really enjoying the journey and I truly feel I can do this for the rest of my life. I have no reason to stop doing this. I get to eat really delicious food that we’ve been told for decades is just not good for you, and I get to feel amazing AND lose weight during the process! Like I said, I have a “super power”!
We celebrated my birthday around the first week of us starting this new lifestyle, and while my niece and nephew hilariously called the low carb flourless chocolate cake my Wife made “disgusting”, I thought it tasted great and was the perfect start to thirty seven. I’ll keep you posted on how I’m doing periodically, and I’m sure you’ll occasionally see some keto blog posts in the future. We’ve been doing this for about 7 weeks now and I’m 40 pounds down. My 80 pound goal is totally in reach, and I can’t wait to get there!
I am no doctor and I’m not giving out any medical advice, but if you have struggled with the same things I have, I highly recommend you check out the following resources and learn more about Keto:
It’s been ages since my last post here at Productivity Tomorrow. Last time you heard from me, I was on top of my game. Having been two weeks into establishing some very positive rituals in my life, I felt very much in control. I was touting the joys of going to bed on time, planning out my day, journaling and taking vitamins. Unfortunately, I was completely oblivious to how each habit would slowly come unhitched shortly thereafter.
I was about 4 or 5 weeks into my habits and I was still doing well. I’m not sure exactly the point in which I got derailed, but I believe it was missing a daily guitar practice or getting sick of my breakfast smoothies. Reviewing my journal notes, I also thought I would be more productive and feel so much better than I actually did. Instead of adjusting slightly, I let those small items completely ruin everything.
At the time, I was also tracking my food intake. My Wife and I saved pictures of everything we ate in an app so we could hold each other accountable. I didn’t consider it part of my ritual, but when we quit using it, it too added to the feeling that I was coming unraveled.
It’s actually kind of funny. As I review my journal entries, I was actually doing pretty good. Heck, I was at least still journalling and setting daily goals. My mind was convinced that I was failing, which brought about even more negative change. It took just over 6 weeks for me to stop doing all my habits. I’ve tried once or twice to get back on the horse, but I couldn’t get any momentum started. That is, until the promise of a new year.
I’ve felt hopeless letting it all slip away, but at some point you need to pick yourself up and try again. As 2017 approached, I knew it would be the perfect time to reboot those rituals. New Years Day was the time to do some goal planning, regrouping, and getting those habits instilled once again. I downloaded the Productive iOS habit tracker app and started adding my rituals back.
So what am I doing differently to avoid running into the same problems? I’m just not doing quite as many of them, at least not right off the bat. I’ve left the easy ones in there like drinking water when I wake up and putting my clothes out the night before. I’ve also kept my nightly journal entry and setting up my 3 goals for the next day as well. While the last two do take a good amount of willpower, they are the two most important. I haven’t added any food related habits or my guitar practice back yet either. So in a nutshell, I’m starting smaller and taking it one step at a time.
In the coming weeks, I plan to ramp up and add other habits back in slowly. I’ll let it sink in for at least two or three weeks and then add another. The possibility of losing momentum is extremely high right now. I need to stick with the things that are working. If I get off track, I need to realize I’m off track and make a slight course correction so I don’t crash and burn again. It’s a New Year, and I plan to make it one filled with growth and productivity.
I’ve struggled with making my mornings healthy and productive for as long as I can remember. I don’t eat right. I don’t exercise. When you look at me, you can see it. When I try to get work done, I can feel it. But for the last 2 weeks I’ve kept an amazing set of habits that have put me on the right path and I’ve hardly had to use any willpower to do it.
It all began when I started browsing around the Asian Efficiency website after they gave us Macstock attendees access to the Omnifocus Premium Posts section of their website. I found many posts talking about creating a “morning ritual”, and the morning routines of some of the most productive people in history. I’ve tried many times to get into the morning groove, trying habit apps to check off each thing I needed to do every morning. Every single time, I fizzle out 2 or 3 days in. It just doesn’t stick.
While reading these posts, I started to get inspired again to give this a try. I purchased their Morning Rituals Starter Kit. The starter kit consisted mainly of a video which I watched immediately and began to create a plan of my own morning habits. Things were beginning to develop.
Coincidently during this time, I got an email about an upcoming “Evening Ritual Challenge” from AE. Since I was already in the “rituals” mindset, I signed right up. This is when things really started to happen.
Within the first 2 days of the challenge, I learned something so simple about morning habits I couldn’t believe it. To have a “good morning”, I really needed to have a “good night” beforehand. What does that mean exactly?
First I need to know when to go to bed. I wake up at 6:30am normally and I’ve read most people are best with 8 hours of sleep, so I need to be in bed by 10:30pm. The key for me, I learned, was to set an alarm for 1 hour before I needed to be in bed. That hour is to do my evening ritual to prep me for tomorrow morning. It rings my wrist at 9:30pm telling me to close up what I’m doing and get ready for bed. For me, that means I need to make my morning smoothie, plan my goals for tomorrow and a whole host of other tasks so that when I wake up tomorrow, everything is already laid out for me.
It’s like a super “cycle of productivity”. The things I do at night feed into how productive I am in the morning, which feeds into wanting to prep those same things again the following night. All of this, triggered by a simple alarm an hour before bed…
I currently use the the Productive habit tracker app for iOS and Apple Watch. It looks great, is easy to use, and quick to check off a completed item.
So what exactly am I doing? Here it is.
“It’s going to be a GREAT day!” - I learned this one from Mr. Tiny Habits, Dr. BJ Fogg. The first thing I do every morning, barely after my feet touch the ground is say “It’s going to be a GREAT day!”. This helps get my mind in a positive, anything is possible mindset. Yes I can see you through the computer screen shaking your head laughing. Don’t, it works. Just try it for 1 week, and mean it when you say it, and I guarantee you that you’ll feel better about your morning as you move through it.
Stretch - I’ve been lying in the same position for 8 hours. It’s time to stretch it out a little bit. It helps wake me up and get loose.
Use the Bathroom - I’m not sure if I need to explain this one… If I do, this blog probably can’t help you.
Weigh Myself - I’ve been focusing lately on being healthy, and you can’t see how far you are away from your goal unless you know where you are. I don’t get too hung up on the numbers, I just want them documented to use as a guide.
Drink 16oz of Water - I remember doing this before I heard that it was a good thing for your body. I chug about 16oz of water to get me rehydrated. It also helps wake me up and gives my stomach something to do.
Get Showered & Dressed - Again, plain and simple. This includes brushing my teeth, doing my hair, beard oil, deodorant, cologne, etc. I don’t need reminders for all these little tasks because I already do them. Having this as a habit though makes me get up and do it immediately on the weekends where previously I’d sit in my pajamas till the afternoon and not get anything done.
Drink Morning Smoothie - I had watched the episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown went through how he lost his weight. I wanted something fast and easy in the morning, and a smoothie, when prepared the night before, fits this bill perfectly. Here is a link to the episode if you want to learn more about it. On the weekend, this gets replaced with a healthy breakfast since I have the time to cook one.
Take Vitamins - I’ve taken a multivitamin more off than on over the past 10 years. Now I’m taking a multivitamin, extra vitamin D, and fish oil. I won’t go into the benefits here, but they do a body good. A few of them are giant and awful. I just take a big gulp of smoothie, drop the pill in and swallow. The smoothie hides almost all the nastiness.
Review Today’s Goals - I open up Day One and review the goals I set for myself today. Laid out is my most important task (MIT) as well as 2 other tasks, and I have separate sections for professional and personal. 6 tasks total unless it’s the weekend when I’m not at work.
Work on MIT - “Eat that Frog” as Brian Tracy says. Do your most important, hairy, scary task first thing and get it out of the way. If you ate a frog first thing in the morning, you would know that it is probably the worst thing you’ll experience all day.
I also love coffee in the morning with my Chemex and beans from a local roaster, and I make it most days during the week, but I don’t HAVE to have it everyday and don’t consider it one of my habits.
I’ve tried to do many of the above steps routinely before, but following my evening ritual is what has kept it together for the last 2 weeks with honestly not much willpower at all.
Prep Morning Smoothie - Alton Brown’s smoothie uses frozen fruit, and works best if you let it sit in the refrigerator overnight to thaw a little bit. So I prep everything that goes into the smoothie at night in a medium size Ninja container and in the morning, I just blend it up and pour it into a tumbler.
Prep Tomorrow’s Lunch - As I’m working on eating better, I need to be not eating out as much. Now I bring my lunch in a cooler bag with some ice packs. Obviously this needs prep so I can just grab it in the morning as I leave for work.
Set Tomorrow’s Goals - In Day One, I plan out what I want to get done tomorrow and what my most important task is for work and at home.
Reflect on Today - This also happens in Day One, only in seperate journal. I’ve really been liking Day One 2.0’s multi-journal feature. When I can, I keep a log during the day of how I’m doing. At night I use a TextExpander snippet to add prompts for what was good about today, what was bad, whats on my mind, etc. I also review the goals I set for the day and see how I did.
Brush my Teeth - Why do I have this listed at night and not in the morning, because I tend to forget to do it at night. I added this one so I can make sure my teeth stay healthy, and it’s great kissing my Wife goodnight with fresh breath.
Put Wallet & Glasses on the Night Stand - Previously, I was always looking for where I left my wallet or glasses the previous night. Now they are right there by my bedside waiting for me to leave my bedroom in the morning.
Lay Tomorrow’s Clothes Out - Laying out your clothes the night before is one of the most stupid simple tasks that for me reaps one of the highest benefits. When you wake up in the morning and your clothes are laid out, you immediately say to yourself, “I guess the maid set these out for me to wear, how nice!”. It just makes you feel good! There is no decision to make in the morning because it has already been done for you…just not by the maid.
Read/Listen to 10 Minutes of a Book - This I got from the book The Slight Edge. If you read just 10 pages, or 10 minutes of a book each night, you could read 2 to 6 decent sized books each year! Just think of what you could learn and the skills you could master. Many times I already have this checked off because I listen to books on Audible in my car on the way to and from work.
Read 1 Article in Pocket - “Read It Later” services are an addiction for me. I get so enthused by many of the article titles in my twitter feed and on podcasts I listen to that I just can’t help myself. I do want to read them, just not “now”, and usually not till much later, so it seems. I use the Pocket app at the moment, and right now I have 138 articles stored in there. To boot, I probably save 2 or 3 new articles per day. Going forward I think I’m going to make a plan just to decrease that amount by 10 every day until I get to a manageable number, either by reading or deleting.
Put Phone & Watch on Charger - My iPhone and Apple Watch need to be charged daily, but before, I’d usually fall asleep with my phone in my hand and it never got on the charger. Now it’s always charged because I want to check off this habit to complete my day.
I’ve had a few interesting insights in the 2 weeks I’ve been doing this.
I need surprisingly little will power to do all these habits. I just do them. I barely even think about it really. I want to check off each of the habits in Productive and as Seinfeld says, “Don’t break the chain”.
I really don’t have much time in the evening on weekdays. Previously, I would end up watching 2 or 3 hours of TV during and after dinner. Now since I know that bell is going to ring at 9:30pm, I need to get stuff done. I have 4 hours from the time I get home to the time I need to get prepped for the morning, including time to make and eat dinner. So at most I’ll watch 1 show and get to doing other things.
Getting in bed by 10:30pm is hard. I have so much I want to do. Cutting off whatever I’m doing at 9:30pm has been difficult. If we’re out doing something past 9:30pm, then I can’t get started on my morning prep until we get home. I know the prep MUST get done, so I end up going to bed later than I want. I’m thinking about making “Be in bed on time” as a habit to help force me to go to bed, but haven’t made a decision on it yet.
It feels really good. With every habit I check off, I feel like I inch that much closer to reaching my goals and being the person I want to be, building more and more momentum with each day that passes.
These habits are helping instill other positive habits in my life. For the last 2 weeks, I’ve practiced guitar for at least 15 minutes each day and I plan on adding 15 minutes spent working on this blog as a daily habit very soon.
So listen, I’m still only 2 weeks into this. I get it. The chance of all things going south are huge in reality with how many times I’ve failed in the past. In fact, I’m specifically not adding any exercise into the mix yet. If I’m not able to keep up with it, I’m worried I’ll let myself down and as a result, stop doing these other habits. But I really don’t feel like this could all be thrown out the window because of a misstep, though. The 2 rituals work in tandem to keep the cycle going. If I go another 2 to 4 weeks with out any hiccups, I think I’ll have enough momentum to add in the exercise. The BJ Fogg in me says I should add it in right now, but make it so tiny that I couldn’t help not doing it. Like “walk around my house for 3 minutes”. We’ll see.
I’ll post updates in the coming weeks on my status. If any of this sounds like something you want to do, just do it! Setup a morning ritual. Support it with an good evening ritual. Keep it simple. Keep moving forward!
For anyone that uses Jekyll, I found this really useful tidbit yesterday on codehive. I like Andi to proofread my posts before I upload them. By default, “jekyll serve” only binds to “localhost” which allows me to view the site in my own browser, but it doesn’t give her a way to easily see it on her own computer. By binding it to all available IPs, she can access it over our local network to proofread. It’s very handy!
…on the same machine, you can open up a browser and point your browser to http://127.0.0.1:4000 or http://localhost:4000 and access your Jekyll site. But what if you want to check browser compatibility, say on a mobile device or a different desktop?
You can do this by running this command jekyll serve –host=0.0.0.0…
Then on a different device that is connected to the same network as the Jekyll server, point your browser to http://192.168.1.X:4000 and your Jekyll site should load right up.
Hello, I'm Bobby; a web developer, designer and serial procrastinator from the suburbs of Chicago, IL.