Mental Agency / Productivity: Weekly Review #2

Since my first public weekly review was such as hit on Reddit, I thought I’d continue putting these up so that the readers can follow (and learn) from my progress.

So, how did I do this week?

This week’s average: 3.56.
Last week’s average: 3.27.

That’s a slight increase that totals to ~3.5 hours of extra focused work this week. But this was to be expected, as I made several changes that I expected would decrease effectiveness in the short term:

  • I started reading, listening to podcasts, attending workshops, etc. that I wasn’t sure how to track (and didn’t).
  • I cut carbs this week to less than half the week prior (losing weight already)! Had the carb flu (lethargy, dry mouth, etc.) for a few days.

What I’m Changing This Week

  • Roughly divided, I see my time spent in three areas (a) high quality, creative time, (b) neutral and/or slightly positive time, and (c) garbage, wasteful time.
    • Last week’s spreadsheet only tracked creative time. This week, I’d like to track the other times as well.
  • I want to see more clearly the interplay between physical training and creative work. This week I’m going to track them separately.
  • My “planned day” and “no screens” checkboxes had essentially zero adherence. I blame this on a lack of rigid rules for entering the process of turning off the screens. This week I will set more rigid, un-fudgeable rules.
  • I tracked morale this week, but (a) it was quite subjective and (b) I wasn’t sure what time of day to use as the metric.

Taking the above into consideration, here’s what this week’s spreadsheet looks like:

  • Moved morale to the top. Want to see how morale upon waking up affects the rest of my day. In the future I will be playing with ways to affect AM morale and keep it up throughout the day.
  • Added more specific rule for no screens (everything off by 8pm).
  • Added “Garbage”—a slot for tracking wasted time (time that neither adds to present nor future satisfaction).
  • Split “Training” and “Work” into separate categories to better see how both fluctuate.
  • Added a “First Carbs” slot for seeing how first carb intake affects output and total carb consumption for the day.

Tangible Goals for the Week

Last week we averaged 2.25 hours of focused work and 1.3 hours of training a day. This week we are aiming for 3.5 hours of focused work and 2 hours of training. That would put us at 5.5 hours per day, and add 14 hours of trackable “doing” for this week.

Review, make changes, test, repeat. That’s how change happens.

How I Spend My Day

However adventurous “traveling the world” may seem, my days generally aren’t filled with adventure. I’m a firm believer that success comes from the daily grind of not-so-sexy things done over and over for weeks, months and years.

Most people don’t know what their day will look like. Which is fine, if you’re chasing average results.

My eventual goal is 4-6 hours of movement-related training and 4-6 hours of intense, creative, focused work on a daily basis. What I’ve been doing is (a) creating a model day and (b) scaling up intensity as my body adjusts.

The current goal:

  • Average 4 hours of focused work per day.
  • Physical training for 3 hours per day.
  • Reduce garbage time (time spent on net negative activities) to less than 30m.

Once I hit a 70%+ success rate on the above, I can scale up to more hours.

Note that this isn’t just a workaholic grind, grind, grind. I do this because I love the process. I want each activity to be driving me closer to my personal goals (physical, social and financial freedom). At the end of every day, I’m always striving to be able to genuinely say, “There’s nothing I’d rather have done. There’s no place I’d rather have been.”

Without further ado, here’s what my days have been looking like:

Morning Ritual (~15m)

  • Wake up. Generally around 7-8am. Toilet. Meditation in the form of breathing exercises. Complete joint maintenance work.
  • Tea. Lately I’ve been experimenting with a morning cocktail of matcha tea, lime, and coconut oil.

Short Movement Block(~45m)

  • Lately this has been (1) handstand training and (2) flexibility work.
  • Follow with breakfast (high protein, no carbs) and standard AM hygiene.

Work Block I (90-120m)
First block of focused work and also the time of day when I am most productive. I try to my “most important task” here. These are high-priority, goal-oriented tasks that I most want to get done for the day.

Lately, this has been:

  • 30-60m of writing (my most important activity)
  • Freelance work for income generation

Core Movement Block (60-120 minutes)
The content of this will vary depending on goals, but typically contains some sort of strength training and whatever skill I am working on.

Currently, this is:

  • General strength. I alternate bent arm, straight arm and lower body days.
  • Mobility. Aiming to get the bridge, front splits and middle splits this year.

Afternoon Reset
Mental reset to recover from cognitive fatigue, refuel, and do a mental reset in the case the morning did not go well. Still experimenting, but recently I’ve been eating a good post-workout meal and then napping for 30 minutes.

Afternoon Work Block (60-120m)
Final work block before I am “satisfied” and call it a day. Typically less intense than the morning session, I will do more freelance work and work on meta things for the blog.

Evenings are more relaxing, focused on the “intangibles”—recovery, social life, spiritual things, etc. My goal is to get most productive work done in the first ~10 hours of the day, leaving freedom for more “irrational” things / activities that contribute to current life satisfaction.

Evening Movement Block (60-90m)
Some sort of relaxing, recovery-focused movement activity. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of yoga. It’s nice to turn the brain off for that 60-90 minutes.

Evening Unwind
Chill with friends. Or, as the introvert I am, this is tea plus a good book on many nights. Trying to stay away from smartphone and computer.

Even if it isn’t this detailed,  give planning a “model” day a try in your own life. I find it is an excellent self-diagnostic for how far I stray from my own goals.

Afternoon and Evening Productivity Resets: A Brainstorm

A reddit post I wrote hit the top of /r/productivity. In it, I mentioned I had some stuff cooking for combating evening productivity fallout, so here it is.

Even while traveling to 9+ countries, my morning routine has been pretty stable: meditate, water, movement, coffee. I’ve purposely chosen things that are available anywhere in the world to minimize derailing.

As a result, 75% of my daily productive work comes in the first 6-8 hours of my day. The other 8-10 hours, however, have been a sticking point.

I suspect several culprits:

Willpower Decline.
Our willpower level (a.k.a HP bar) declines throughout the day. Cognitive fatigue kicks in during the later hours, making it harder to take focused action.

Lack of Habit Chaining.
My morning habit works because it always starts the same way: waking up. Each habit is followed automatically by the next and naturally flows into focused work. In the afternoon, I don’t have the privilege of waking up.

Blood Sugar Control.
Fat adapted individuals don’t get the mid-afternoon tiredness that high-carb eaters do. It seems worth testing a lower-carb, higher-fat approach. (I’m actually already doing this with MCTs in the form of coconut oil in the AM).

Old Habits.
Old, ingrained habits naturally make me want to “relax” or “eat something sweet” in the late afternoon and evening. These have been reinforced through years and years of Pavlovian conditioning—not easy to reverse.

Potential Solutions

Now that we’ve identified some potential causes, we can test and retest with some possible solutions:

  • Afternoon naps. Heavily researched and recommended. This is a double-hitter for me because (a) it gives a platform for starting an afternoon habit chain and (b) it might replenish willpower stores.
  • Carb cycling. I’ve played around with this in the past, with good results. Idea is to eat much lower carb, replenishing your energy stores 1-2 times a week. Your body adapts to run much more on fat and has fewer energy swings throughout the day.
  • Habit Firewalling / Overriding In college, I froze my credit card in an ice block to keep myself from using it. I want to take a similar approach with “no screens” in the evening by “firewalling” the temptation and then “overriding” it with a better habit.
    • Firewall can be done by shutting off smartphone and computer and storing it in a difficult to access place. If you live with a friend, you can ask them to safeguard your stuff in the evening. Maybe make a wager with a friend and pay them $10 if you can’t control yourself.
    • Overriding tries to replace a negative “trigger” with a positive one. Instead of mindless internet browsing, when the desire to “Netflix and chill” comes, I’m going to (a) brew some tea and read a book or (b) go out for a walk. Not sure how well this will work as my willpower stores run low in the evening—just a tentative solution.

Going to be playing with these over the next few weeks in Tokyo. Then flying off to China! Don’t forget to subscribe if you like what you’re reading.

Mental Gear Switch: From External Validation to Internal Validation

As a bit of ninja training for my mind and writing skills, I like to answer questions on Quora. I’ve found directing my writing at a single, visualizable person to be much easier than a vaguely defined audience. I’ve included one below that has been a recurring theme of life (and many others, I suspect).

How do I stop basing my self-worth on how good I am at something?

You’re asking the wrong question.

What I think you want to ask: “How do I stop comparing myself to other people?”
Instead of “how good I am” in relation to others, look at “how good I am” in relation to yourself. Getting validation from your own progress (be that in school, work or some skill) is not a bad thing. What makes us suffer is comparison with other people.

Buddhism (and many other religions, philosophies) have been struggling with this problem for…forever. So don’t think there is an easy answer.

Still, you’ve made the first step. You recognize the problem. The next step is to rewire your brain from getting validation from others to getting validation from yourself.

I’m not so good at it yet, but here are a few things that have helped me:

  • Realize nobody is happy. Social media has made this worse, but all the smiling faces on the Internet make us falsely believe people are happy. Most people aren’t: they hate their jobs, they don’t think they make enough money, they are worried about being fat, they are lonely…and on and on and on.
    • Why look to others for validation if they aren’t happy anyway? That’s purposely throwing yourself into the fire. Instead, find a few, select role models than you can truly look up to and model yourself after them.
  • Think long and hard about what YOU want. I’ve done this for 10 years. And I do it still. Every. Damn. Day.
    • If you don’t know what you want, you will default to wanting what others “have,” suspicious that what they have is the answer to happiness. It’s not. 99% of people are sheep, following each other around because they believe somebody else will tell them the answer to happiness. THEY WON’T. Only hard work will tell you where you want to go.
    • When you’re old and dying, what can you look back on and smile at? What things can you do today so that, when you go to bed at night, you can sigh a sigh of satisfaction and say, “There is no place I’d rather be. There’s nothing else I’d rather have done. Let’s wake up and do it all again.” Don’t know the answer? Read. Talk to people. Ask questions. When I was lost, I read 200+ books in a single year.
  • Keep an internal scorecard. This comes straight from bazillionaire investor Warren Buffett. Measure progress by how much you improve on a day to day basis, not on how skilled you are in relation to others. That’s a never-ending circle.
    • You’ve already passed the first step: awareness. Now, like a meditator bringing his distracted mind back to a breath, every time you find yourself comparing yourself others, consciously bring your mind back to your internal self. Say to yourself, “That’s great, Sally makes 100k per year. But am I better today than I was yesterday?”
    • Once you make a habit of personal progress, it becomes an addiction. You want to improve every day. Satisfaction starts to come from inside, not outside.

I got all excited and wrote rapid-fire from my brain… Hope it helps. Just remember everyone has this problem, and you are way ahead of 99% of people by realizing that validation from comparison to others is not sustainable (there’s always somebody better than you at X).

Link to original post.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

How Does Seth Godin Write for His Blog?

Seth Godin is a serial entrepreneur, writer of an army of a bestsellers and a owner of a ridiculously popular blog. When he writes, people read.

Better writing is a goal of mine this year, so I’d thought I dig in to see what Seth has to say. Below are some nuggets of wisdom about how Seth approaches his writing practice:

  • Write like you talk AND write every day. Seth writes every day and writes like he talks. Writing is a discovery process. We don’t know ex ante what will resonate with an audience. Write. See the response. Reflect. Improve. Write again. Writing daily and writing naturally have natural synergy. You can choose to pretend to be something you’re not, but, assuming your audience is smart, intelligent, excellent people, they’re gonna catch your lie. Eventually, if you survive to the other end, perhaps you’ll find that (A) you have things to say and (B) people care about it.
  • Writing isn’t typing. Seth mentions that he spends ~15 minutes typing. I spend 15 minutes flicking to Facebook every day (a lot more sometimes). There is the type of writer that writes and rewrites and then rewrites again. Then there is the type of reader who thinks. If your ideas in your mind turn into things you want to say, the only time you need is the time to type out what you already want to say.
  • Work harder. Seth mentions (probably exaggerating slightly) he studies / does research for 16 hours a day. Most of us barely spend 3 (be honest, you read Reddit at work…).

This is what it comes down to: 16 hours a day of thinking and learning and only 15 minutes of writing.

There is this camp of writers that says: “You should sit in front of a page and just write.” But perhaps a better way to approach things is: “You should sit in front of yourself and just think.”

Think until you have something to say and then say it.