Day 745: Productivity and Habit Apps

I keep tryin’ them, but nothing seems to stick. Right now I’m giving Momentum a shot, and it’s… fine, I guess? It tracks habits!

What works for me? A physical checklist. Paper and pen, baby! I shared this a week or so ago, but I’ve got a full nightly thing printed out, and I even made a pretty box for it:

Incomplete checklists on the near side, finished on the far side: every evening I take a fresh one out, work through it, and put it in the far side, then close the box. It’s a ritual that really works for me.

The ritual of it is what kind of makes it work, at least in part. Sitting down, opening the box, going through the exercise of self-reflection and physically putting checkmarks in boxes (especially that “No Snacking” box. That feels good.).

Not to say I won’t find an app that works for me! My wife is digging HabitBull right now. I’ve gotten good mileage over Don’t Break The Chain!, possibly the simplest one I’ve ever tried, in the past.

The checklist is my jam, though. It just works well for me.

Day 740: Tough Morning, “The Path”

Long today! But good long. Very detailed.

I did NOT feel like doin’ it up this morning. No particular reason (except maybe 10 days of being good in a row). I just felt like I’d rather first, stay in bed, and second, sit down and have a read rather than do the exercise things.

I stayed on the path, however.

Since I’m a bit of a drama llama, I’ve taken to calling this whole deal “The Path” for the last 36 hours, which amuses my wife no end and makes it sound like I’ve joined a cult. With about 10 seconds of effort I’m sure I could discover that it’s a terrible name and associated with some horrible religious movement or new age fooferaw, but I’m kind of fond of it now, so I’m not going to look.

Here it is; what’s been working for me (despite being logey about it this morning) so far in 2019:

  • Get up and get clothes for day
  • Go downstairs and feed the cats, pack my lunch, and chug about 500 ml of water
  • Back up to exercise; 10 minutes AT LEAST but usually 25-30 of a few (very few for now!) pushups and situps, then rowing or spinning
  • Shower, shave, brush teeth
  • Jerkpod!
  • Other computer stuff: correspondence, site maintenance for the canoe club if needed, music for the next WAFFLES!, etc.
  • Downstairs for coffee, clean the litterboxes, finish getting ready for the day
  • Log food for the whole day
  • Leave for work (M-F)
  • Have a normal day. Eat only what I’ve packed and planned for in the morning.
  • Come home from work, have dinner (as planned in the morning). Have a normal evening. Then the checklist:

Then on with the rest of my evening, or off to bed, as time allows.

It’s… I guess it’s pretty regimented, as these things go. But the key thing is it’s working for me and as long as I don’t deviate, there’s no reason it should stop working. It’s a total time of 90 minutes in the morning (most of which are things I need to do anyway, I’m just strict about the order) and 30-40 minutes in the evening; far fewer things I HAVE to do there, but all things that add value to my life.

So yes. The Path. It’s silly to have a name for it, but I like things like that; I’m dramatic.

Day 652: Back to Business

Back to work! And back to exercise and modest eating — I’m doing the “back to bed” thing today, wife up at 4, so this is a quick check-in.

It hasn’t been a week of mad gluttony or anything, but there’s been an exercise break, and probably more food than was needed. Kind of returning to basics this week: modest exercise, reasonable food, and a mind on focusing myself on managing expectations and dialling down pressure at work.

 

Day 331: Fasting Deferred

I don’t know if I straight up said this yet, but fasting is now generally on Mondays — this week Tuesday, due to travel and my wife’s birthday yesterday.

And today was SUPPOSED to be the big get-back-to-everything. But I forgot to seal the grout on our shower yesterday, so I had to do that first thing this morning. Because it takes forever for the shower to completely dry, so doing it after being away for a few days was best. But now I can’t shower, because the grout sealant has to dry. So no exercise this morning.

As a result, I’m kind of falling sideways back into good habits… fasting today, exercise tomorrow. weighing myself in a few seconds. It’s weird, but I think I’m finally becoming that person who craves better habits. I felt aggravated this morning that I couldn’t exercise. I’m sort of excited by fasting today. The slow, slogging pace of transformation.

It’s not a decision you make and then something that happens after you make that decision. That’s the lesson I’m gradually absorbing. It’s decisions you make every day, and an internalizing process that takes a real long time. In my case, 332 days. So far.

 

Day 203: Minor Distractions

Doing the video game music show has been an interesting education. But I think I’ll be ready to let it go at the end of the summer. I’ve learned a bunch of stuff and met great people. At the end of the day, though, it’s not a core interest for me. I don’t make music, and I don’t have time to play a lot of games. In fact, games are qualifying more and more as minor distractions.

There’s an old saw that one in ten Americans read books, and one in ten Canadians write them. I don’t think that’s true, but I definitely sympathize with the “don’t just consume, create” mentality.

I keep getting caught up in minor distractions, though. It’s hard to separate what’s “necessary leisure” with what’s “wasting time”. If I kill 30 minutes playing an iPhone game, is that depressurization I need? Or just a pointless distraction?

One of the things about games is it, well, gamifies all this stuff. If I were playing the game of my life, there’d be gauges. I’d be able to Tamagotchi myself. When my stress gauge is at eighty percent, give myself two units of game. When my productivity gauge is at twenty percent, allocate eight work units.

But we obviously don’t work like that. It’s not easy to Tamagotchi your life when you yourself are the virtual pet.

Minor distractions and major needs often conflict.

I enjoy minor distractions while I’m being distracted, but finishing a day without feeling like I’ve moved something forward distresses me. So there’s a constant tension between “relax and live your life” and “you are going to die someday.” It makes minor relaxation hard.

A more disciplined person might be able to allocate things better. 1.2 hours of allocated fun from 8:12 to 9:26 a.m. this morning. But that’s just not how I’m wired. Should it be? Is this something I should be striving for?

Day 193: Retroactive Food Logging

Retroactive food logging is never as bad as I think it’s gonna be.

Here’s the sequence: I do the podcast, and I get distracted by stuff, and I just sort of post it. I get in that flow. Then I turn my computer off, get up, and THEN I realize I forgot to pre-log food. But turning my computer on is a Thing. And I don’t like Things. So I decide to catch up when I get to work.

That’s a fool’s errand.

So I’ll vaguely intend to catch up at work, on a break or lunch, but that never happens. By the time I get home, I’ve forgotten. Retroactive food logging has to happen in the evening or the next morning.

By that time, I’ve built up a resistance to doing it.

Retroactive food logging is almost always shame logging.

I use not-logging as an excuse to snack, y’see; so I’ll feel a bit off the chain and eat things I probably shouldn’t, then I don’t want to log them.

But when I do — I just did — it’s not that bad.

I ran 10km yesterday morning, for God’s sake. I’m doing well. It would take a lot of snacking to blow that calorie deficit.

Really, the key is to predict-log when I do the blog/podcast. But I’m going to slip up on that from time to time, and I need to be more mature about retro-logging when that happens.

 

Day 145: Habit-forming people (and others)

So I’ve forgotten — plain forgotten, not rebelling — to weigh myself the last couple of days. Which is annoying, because according to the habit-forming theory, it should be a habit by now.

I’ve been reading up on habits and habit-forming behaviour, and most of it is, well, goofy made-up bullcrap. Or really bad science. Or a bit of both. The old “21 days” thing, for instance, is not true. The article I just linked promptly descends into made-up bullcrap, of course.

I’m beginning to wonder if some people are just “habit people” and some people aren’t. Maybe I need to course correct periodically, and that’s just how I am.

Habit-forming for some, tiny correction flags for others!

Things like yesterday; not picking up my phone or otherwise going online before exercise in the morning _should_ be a no-brainer. It should be a habit. But I still need, despite knowing the benefits and doing it (well, not doing it) regularly, occasional “resets” when I drift back into the behaviour.

And maybe that’s just how I’m wired. Maybe I’ll be great about weighing myself for weeks, get distracted or stop for some reason, and it will take overt effort to get me back on it.

Now, there’s “habits” and there’s issues. I’m not saying I can “drift back into drinking for a while and then get back out of it.” That’s a commitment. Diet is kind of similar, and I think my course corrections aren’t staying on top of the drift sometimes. But habit-forming doesn’t seem to be in my readily accessible DNA.

So I’m going to keep doing the good things I do, but I’m not going to beat myself up over them not becoming “habits.” They’re actions. And aren’t actions better than habits, anyway? Intention, rather than reflex, as an indicator of commitment and success.

 

Day 109: Keepin’ On

It’s a feel-good day. A keepin’ on day. A sore leg after yesterday’s run seems to have resolved itself, my back is definitely adjusting to the rower. My volunteer responsibilities are still high, but manageable. Final exam for the course I’m taking tomorrow, and I’m not confident, but I don’t know if I could be much more prepared than I am.

So it’s a maintenance day.

A good day to really dig into the check-in and the check-out. Eating is still the big challenge. The mega-runs are great, but they are also giving Evening Me a license to snack. And food logging is going well, but really being ardent with the logging is showing me the consequences of the snacking.

Which is the point of the logging. So, good.

Keepin’ on means looking at the spiral

I’d like to try something graphical at some point for progress. I don’t know how I’d “score” this, when there are binary goals (like sobriety) and very granular goals (like exercise). Maybe I’m already achieving this with the weight spreadsheet and I just need to expand that concept at little. But on keepin’ on days like this, I like to think about how I can improve positive reinforcements.

The check-outs are still tough, largely because… hm. I guess I can sequence my morning in a different way than I can sequence my evening. I have to be out the door at eight(ish). I get up at five(ish). There are no other demands on my time. So mornings are easy to plug this into. Evenings are… weird. Social events, meeting friends, doing homework, playing games. Whether it’s fun stuff or volunteer stuff or work stuff, evenings happen instead of being planned, a lot of the time. Which makes the check-outs into intrusions as opposed to scheduled events.

Maybe I really do need a nightly checklist. It’ll make me feel like I’m senile,  but it might be really helpful.

Day 106: Sobriety Mechanisms for Eating

All right, so I haven’t made much time to look into stress eating tactics. Instead, I’ve gone a bit back in time to see if I need to revisit anything I was thinking about earlier in this process. And to see if I can adapt any sobriety mechanisms for the eating thing.

“Morning me and evening me” seems like something I picked up, then put down. The idea at the time was to have a post-work, pre-home check-in… basically, a second daily check-in. That was going to recalibrate my “evening me” to remind that guy of what morning me started out wanting.

This is something I’ve completely failed to do.

Sobriety mechanisms for other problems

The sobriety mechanism for me has been largely a very simple “well, that’s enough of that.” Being in the fortunate category of people that can go cold turkey with no physical effects. So I don’t know why I can’t “snap quit” snacking. I guess it’s partly because food is much more available to me than booze. If I worked in an airline booze bottle factory or an ad agency circa 1963, I might be in trouble. The sobriety mechanisms have been pretty easy because my regular life is not that “boozy”.

But I’m pretty much in a food environment a lot of the time. Not enough to get sick of it, like chocolate factory employees who can’t touch the stuff. But lots of events, social occasions, and both my wife and I love to cook.

So laddering “just don’t” sobriety mechanisms into food seems like it’s easy at first flush. But it’s surprisingly hard.

Before I get off onto another tangent, I think I need to take another look at the “morning me/evening me” situation. If I can get my evening self aligned with my day self, it’s just a matter of making it through two half days instead of one full day. Not much different than running 5k to run 10k, if that makes sense.

Day 101: The Improvement Spiral

With Day 100 yesterday, my question to myself is “…so why aren’t I finished?” It seems like 100 days is plenty of time to get something done. Drop weight, get an exercise routine down, figure out a good eating plan. When you frame it like that, it seems like 100 days is a load of time. And I start feeling kind of bleak. But I think this whole thing works like kind of an improvement spiral, not an improvement… line? ramp? Whatever.

I’m doing better, on the whole. No question. Alcohol intake is down across the board, exercise is more regular. I hit a new distance milestone in running today, at 12k. Diet is… well, that’s a work in progress. Sleep is a new area of focus. But I have to accept that it’s an ups and downs process.

I talk about the “trend line” a lot, and it’s a good model to follow… rather than freaking myself out with daily weight, I check general progress over time. On the whole, though, the ‘improvement spiral’ is how I mentally frame this whole deal.

The improvement spiral improves incrementally and inconsistently.

There’s a thing in game design called “variable rewards,” which is when you don’t always get the same reward for completing an action or task. It is meant to be kind of addictive and encouraging, not frustrating. And I find this is similar in some ways. I’m two steps forward, and one or two steps back, especially with the food stuff. Progress is being made, but it’s loopy, erratic, wobbly progress. And in my head, it’s a spiral that spins outward from bad behaviour to good behaviour, but in a non-linear way… the overall motion is outward, but it’s in all sorts of directions.

There’s also a certain amount of blind faith to this: I have to keep doing it because I’m doing it and trust that it will work. And that means I have to do it, not half-ass it like I’ve been doing with the food logging. If I don’t engage with the terms of the experiment, the experiment is pointless.

So: food logging ho! Time to start day 101.