The Mental WorkoutI spent a number of years in the military as a much younger me where I was very physically active. I competed in triathlons, cycled competitively at least at a club level and worked out generally around 12-14 hours a week. I kept a workout journal so I know this is pretty accurate. This matched my military role where I was a electronics technician. Keeping fit is expected and encouraged. I managed to maintain that for a number of years after leaving the service but over time it dwindled. Now I probably do somewhere in the range of 3 hours a week, not including walking for golf etc. Could I go back to 12 hours a week, probably. But it's not something I could do rapidly. It would take time to build up to that level especially with any intensity. (Funny side note at the time I followed a training program put together by disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong to build up to my 12 hours a week minus the performance enhancing substances. Ah memories.)
Why is this important? It is the same sort of buildup that I am realizing that I need for my mental work outs/focus/deep work (you choose the term). Short bursts of focus or long bursts of focus only provide marginal productivity if I slide back into my old habits which I find myself doing. Its a constant struggle of self-correction. I have been doing a lot of reading on various techniques to improve though and one which seems to be helping me is writing. Writing this blog, writing notes while reading material, writing down ideas etc. seems to be helping build focus. It is such a great creative outlet I really forgot what it can do for me.
Evolving Life Style ChallengesNo screen Sundays as I have termed it have been a great success. I am rededicating myself to activities I had pretty much halted like gardening. I really look forward to Sundays and planning what I am going to do now. Whereas before it was nothing special. I think it has helped me feel more refreshed as well for the upcoming week.
Using Alex to wake me, remind me of upcoming meetings and also track my focus period lengths has proven to be very useful. Right now 35 minutes is optimal for focus periods before giving in to the distractions. Who knew 35 minutes could be so long. While I celebrate the 35 minutes which is a 15- minute improvement from my original 20, it's still pathetic. This needs to be much higher with back to back focus sessions. I am incrementally moving the needle 5 minutes at a time and its working. I recently read an interesting post by Cal Newport's Study hacks blog on taking deep breaks, something else I am looking at incorporating into how I extend my focus.
Having a variety of reading material on hand has been very helpful. I have a pretty good selection of reading material and am reading around 4 different books at the same time. I slip focus sessions in between meetings on different material as often as I can. I find studying a broad set of topics is keeping me more motivated than just focusing on one. This may be in part because of how I have previously managed my time. I do find activities such as building a new bot where I can stay focused for hours which is great but that is not going to expand my base knowledge to enjoy greater success.
My mind still wonders but I am finding it easier to pull it back on track. Seems like this has been my whole existence throughout my life I just didn't realize it. I have read a lot of different material on why things bore us. I have come down to two reasons for myself. One which comes from my reading is not challenging the creative side of our minds, obvious. Secondly is my own theory of, am I really bored by the material or task or has a distracted life style persuaded me to think anything that takes extended concentration as boring. Classifying it as boring makes it easy for me to justify not doing it and continue the skimming the web lifestyle. Truly challenging your intellect becomes a tiresome task which is easy to classify as boring. Producing something worthwhile also takes time and focus. It would be easy for me not to triple read my blog post for errors but no one wants to read something carelessly put together (I really had to make sure that there were no errors in that last sentence, it could have been super embarrasing (yes the spelling mistake in embarrassing was on purpose, it is a joke (please don't point out other errors in this post I am a work in progress ( fuck, I am lost in all my brackets)))) .
I found the biggest hurdle to overcoming the boredom challenge is finding where to start. So many of us feel overwhelmed by the volume of a topic that it's so hard to find where to start you just don't start at all. Funny thing is its not until you engross yourself in the environment that you find the right paths to follow. It is okay to not know where to start. Its the acting of beginning the endeavor that will lead you along to find the right path. BTW the person that said follow your passion is full of horse shit. No one ever got their dream job because of passion. Most people don't even know what their dream job is untill they are in it and are experts at said job.
Things I Need to ChangePlanned focus time on the morning. Seems most people want to meet earlier rather than later. I just cannot escape that morning routine to clear my inbox either. I do not find this overwhelmingly tiresome but it is not a good habit either. Having filters on my email has certainly helped a great deal. Anything CC'd is in a separate folder and in my mind I have already categorized this as less important so therefor spend less time looking at it. I glance at it and move on typically rarely responding. Probably this is one of the best changes I have made. I spend less than 25% of my time responding to email and messages. This is down by at least 20%.
I have found my early evening time works best (note - I have no kids) for free time but it is also the lowest energy I have during the day. Afternoon naps are certainly not out of the question but then I find I lose to much time getting functional again after the nap if its to long. So I haven't found the right solution yet.
Realizations and Improvement -Thinking I could just become some mind ninja overnight - It is a constant struggle to do what is not easy.
Finding the right time to focus - Still working on this part. Is it early morning, late at night or a combo? I haven't found my rhythm yet.
Linking my success to lifestyle change - I have made all these changes when do I see the pay off.
Better planning - I started off doing a good job of this but it seems to have fallen off. I need to better plan my daily schedule. I have fallen back into some old habits of checking email etc. when I could be pursuing something more worthwhile.
Successes -Writing - I have a bunch of note pads around I am continually scratching in but I have a special note pad for ideas and planning. I just feel good writing. Side effect, my spelling and grammar is improving immensely in general correspondence.
Alexa time management - Now I understand why having a personal assistant is so cool. Thank you Amazon.
Email and messaging management - Getting this under control is key.
Screen free Sunday - Turning off all screens for a day is something to enjoy.
Blogging - Although related to writing, its helping me formalize my plan and ensure continued commitment. Hopefully you will see me add some interesting topics in upcoming posts, that is not to say you will read them but interesting to me at least.
Thanks for reading about my life hack.