It’s been popular among the folks that I know to lament that 2016 was a sucker-punch of a year. Full of tragedy, disappointment, and the untimely deaths of more than a few people who we have looked to for inspiration, joy and laughter.
“May you live in interesting times”, goes the (not, actually) Chinese saying. Still, I’m guessing that few people throughout history thought of their era as banal, boring or uneventful on a wholesale level. And if they did, I’d wager as well that they lamented it thoroughly. We humans seem to be creatures of deep, natural discontent.
While we have scant control over the events driving the world around us, there is one area in which we can at least learn to exert more control: our responses to them. That feeling of control – even if it’s delusional – can greatly contribute to your sense of happiness. Particularly when it is habitual, rather than episodic.
One thing I’ve noticed this year – through running two business, launching a brand new product, and so many more changes big and small, is how difficult it can be in the course of a single day to remain focused on any one thing for very long.
And so, for 2017, my aim is to do a complete tear down: from the ground up, creating a daily routine that encourages, and even forces, long stretches of time where I’m focused on just one thing.
Though I don’t imagine that this is true for everyone, I know that I’m much more satisfied with a day if I’ve managed to bring one task to completion than if I’ve simply “touched” 10-20 different items on my To-Do list. Though there are definitely days where I have to play “traffic cop“, my goal is to have fewer of those.
With that in mind, here are five things I plan to do to better equip myself for the year ahead. If you want to call them resolutions, that’s fine – I prefer to think of them as habits-in-progress.
1) Sleep More Consistently
Depending on your physiology, diet, genetics and a host of other factors, you probably need between 6-10 hours of sleep each night. Personally, I know I do best with about 7, but I also know that I do better when I’m consistent. Catching up on sleep on the weekends? Doesn’t really work for me – I’m sluggish throughout the day anyway, and I miss out on my morning routine.
But that range – 6-10 hours, for adults 25-65 – is pretty big. And I know from personal experience that for a lot of people, it doesn’t have to be at a specific time of night, or even all at once. Think you’re an all-achieving go-getting short-sleeper who can get by on 3-4 hours a night, every night? You’re not.
Miss the mark on a given night? Grab a nap. 20 minutes, mid-afternoon, can be a huge help on a day when I’ve stayed up too late, or had to get up earlier than I would have normally. If you have 90 minutes during the day to doze off, that’ll get you a whole sleep cycle. But try to keep it to one or the other – an hour long nap will probably leave you groggy and disoriented.
Find what works for you – and that’s more than just a banal, “hey, do what feels right” off-hand remark. Setting a consistent routine that you can stick to is far more important than whether or not you check off all of the “must dos” on the “how to get the best sleep” lists.
Finally, if it helps, make sure that your employer knows that sleep deprivation is destroying value for their company. If they’re smart, they’ll install napping pods.
2) Ditch Email Before Breakfast, and After Dinner. And Most of the Time In Between.
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Here’s the idea: you open your email, and then relentlessly delete, file away or reply to everything that’s there, until your inbox is empty.
The next day, you do the same thing.
And the next day, and the next. And the next.
And lo and behold, within one short week, you are relentlessly obsessing about your empty email inbox, checking it hourly or even minute by minute. (Granted, if you’re hewing to the stated philosophy, you’re only supposed to be doing this for 20 minutes a day.)
The problem with these approaches – some of which are, frankly, not a bad idea at all, is that they merely apply band-aids to a gaping, gushing wound.
Email is like a gas: it will expand to fill whatever space and time you allot to it.
So, my new trick is a fairly simple one: timers. I have specific times during the day that I set aside to answer email. And they’re very small time slots, no more than 6-12 minutes at a time.
Also, never before breakfast or after dinner.
Most of us with corporate-type jobs, consulting gigs that depend on clients or businesses of our own feel absolutely tethered to the electronic chime of doom known as the “email notification.” But the fact is, you don’t have to be. First, you have to decide you’re not going to be.
In between writing the end of the last paragraph, and writing this one, I cleared out my email. In about 12 minutes.
Here’s my brand-new-for-2017 totally Patent-Pending method for handling email and all your digital communications. I call it, 36Box.
12 minutes, three times a day, max. If I’m spending much more than that dealing with email, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, I honestly need to take stock and ask, “why?”
I don’t hit “Inbox Zero”, but I get through everything there and either:
- Responded (3) with a quick note or a specific answer
- Forwarded the email to Evernote (6), if it had something attached or in it that I knew I would need sometime, like a document or a form
- Created a To Do in Habitica (2) if there were really things that needed to get done
- Unsubscribed (4) if it was a newsletter that I haven’t honestly, truly wanted to read in the last 2 days
- Deleted it (15) if it didn’t fall into the above three categories and was more than 4 weeks old
- Left it there (4) if it’s something I *know* I need to followup on in the next day
12 minutes. In the middle of writing a post.
If you use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to connect with other people in a meaningful way, make yourself more productive, or accomplish something you truly want to be doing, that’s awesome. For me… it’s soooooo easy for me to fall down a black hole of time and completely lose track of what I went there to do in the first place; so for this year, I’m focusing on getting that a lot more under control.
3) Spend a LOT More Time Saying No
With two businesses, a ton of side-projects (that I’m really interested in) and now two kids whom we’re homeschooling (whom I’m also really interested in), my plate’s getting a little full. Which is ok – I don’t really work well with a lot of free time on my hands.
The only thing I enjoy more than a full “to do” list is finding a new way to manage “to do” lists. (Habitica is one of my favorites, but I’m using paper more as well, too.)
There are already two items on my “Dailies” list that I expect to be checking off a lot more often:
It’s a basic truth of business that the more it grows, the less you do. That’s not an invitation to sit back and just let anything happen, but it is an exercise in letting go. One of the things I love most about Ninja Goat is getting to tinker with things. But if I want to have an hour to tweak something, I need to empower someone else to work on what’s already been figured out. Fortunately, I have a great team. Now all I need to go is get more into their pipelines (and, of course, keep track of how it’s going.)
There are lots of reasons to meditate: health, attention span and even athletic performance. But for me, the ability to notice when my focus has shifted has been one of the most important benefits of meditation. Mindfulness isn’t mystical: learning to pay attention to what your brain is doing requires every bit as much practice as learning to ride a bike, knit, paint, or code.
Practice is critical.
5) Intermittent Fasting
Last, but definitely not least, is something which I’ve been doing on and off for the past year: intermittent fasting.
They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. “They” are, mostly, people who sell breakfast foods. Now, I’m not going to disparage anyone selling a food product, particularly anyone who might be selling something that gets your day off to a rip-roaring productive and energy packed start.
But – you should be skeptical of anyone who points to any single thing and says “this is the. most. important. thing.” Because no one thing is. There are many roads to the top of the mountain, and if yours is lined with muffins, orange juice and corn flakes… well, more power to you.
But I know that my road is smoothest when the day starts with water, and nothing else until about noon or 1PM. I spent my mornings feeling more focused, I have a ton of energy, and I’m able to plough through my most challenging tasks.
Sometimes I start the day with a cup of fatCoffee, and sometimes I eat a full breakfast (though it’s likely to square more toward sardines and kale fried in bacon fat than anything grain-y.) This year, I’m paying much closer attention to what my days feel like when I fast, and when I don’t.
Here we are, just a couple of weeks into 2017, and I’ve already missed a few of my daily goals: but I’m not worried, because consistency isn’t something you start with, it’s something you build over time.