Well, I’ve finished my last day at work. As a result of the fact that I’ve cleaned up all of my loose ends, I’m left with very little to do today – that will no doubt be a completely different story from my life a month from now.
The timeline for my last day was:
Last day of work:
8:00 Last day arriving at work
8:10 Pour last cup of coffee
8:30 Login and go through morning routine last time
9:30 Fill out timesheets for the last time ever
9:45 Last scrum at Refractions
10:00 Last coffee with Graham at work
1:15 Last JV lunch (while working at Refractions) downtown with Bay
3:30 Sent out goodbye e-mails to co-workers
3:45 Deleted archived e-mails from my computer
4:00 So long Refractions
While cleaning up my desk this week, I came across two of my logbooks that I had maintained when I first started.
I originally started maintaining a logbook when, during my first review, Paul Ramsey (the former president of Refractions, and someone for who I have a great deal of respect) mentioned that he noticed I worked better under pressure and when there was a lot on my plate. He recognized that that he too operated in this manner as well, but that something to work on would be to track what I was working on and to try and maintain a more consistent pace.
The logbook was my first attempt to do this, and really, my first attempt to begin any kind of system. About three years back, I realized that although I was now twenty-seven years old (thirty now!), with both a high-school and a university education, no one had ever taught me any kind of system for managing my tasks (really, for managing my life, both at work and at home). Before I even made this realization though, I knew that I wanted to pursue Paul’s advice.
The logbook was the first attempt to accomplish this. Looking through the book is a bit nostalgic: projects that I’ve long since forgotten, and that have long since died. Attempts at organization that I now recognize as convoluted and problematic. Lists of TODO items that remain unchecked to this day (did these ever actually get done?). Even with all of these flaws, I still recognize the value that these first attempts brought me. They provided me with a starting point. They set me down a path, and gave me a base from which I could start evolving my own system. You can never go for a run if you don’t take that first step, and that’s exactly what this book was.
I scanned in some representative pages from each month, along with an appendix that I had created at the back, so that you can see how I started progressing along the path towards a full-fledged system like GTD, and get a feel for the missteps that it’s okay to make as you attempt to get yourself organized (if you choose to). Let’s repeat that one more time – it’s okay to make mistakes. Take that first step!
The first two images are simply scans from the month of January and February. Although the domain and context of what I was working on isn’t relevant, you can see from the way I was taking notes that there was still much to be desired.
The first scan shows an action item at the bottom, but with nothing to differentiate it from the rest of my notes. How would I know at a glance that this is something that I have to act upon, versus something that I can just use as reference for later on? What about the state of this action item? Did I ever actually complete this task? Did I just neglect to complete this? Did it simply stop being necessary? There’s no way to tell what happened here. While I’m sure that I did in fact complete this item, you can see that it is important to create ways in your system that allow you to determine the answer to these questions quickly and at a glance. Otherwise we’re just taking up valuable mental cycles that could be devote to more valuable tasks.
Unfortunately, I only realized now that I scanned in the wrong pages from my appendix, so I no longer retain the code I used to mark up the pages. The main colour used were blue and green. Blue items indicated discussions I had with co-workers, while green items indicated useful information or knowledge to reference back to later. Orange indicated important TODO items. Whenever I had a page where I had created one of these items, I would colour the top or bottom corner (or both if I had multiple items on a page), allowing me to quickly determine if I had something that needed to be referenced on a given page.
This system quickly got out of hand, as it is impractical to flip through pages of a book trying to find the correct coloured corner that corresponds to a piece of information I need. There is no ability to categorize a given piece of reference information, as it sits forever on a page in the book. I have no folder that I can put the information in, and no ability to search through the book, other than sequentially flipping through each page. Obviously this system left a lot to be desired, but it was a starting point.
Once I started PMing projects, I moved away from a static book and to a system that was more focused on the GTD approach to managing tasks, using looseleaf paper, and folders to organize it.
That’s the end of my time spent PMing. Onwards to new challenges!
It’s been a decent while since I’ve blogged. Every time the spectre of a week passed without blogging raises its head, my mind goes to the many entries I’ve read stating that a good blog needs to be updated regularly. Unfortunately, I’m just not geared that way. I can appreciate that people that are paid to write professionally (even if only on a free-lance basis) need to be able to get the machine working and produce, but I don’t enjoy writing when I’m not inspired.
Well, apparently my recent post about hating the look and feel of this blog was enough to spur me onwards to make the changes I needed to. If you are reading this through an RSS reader, then you won’t be able to tell, but I devoted Sunday to making some small changes to the site layout, and then tackled the task full on once I got familiar with what I had available. Below I’ll detail the changes I’ve made, and what’s in store for the future.
- Top menu
I’d like to get the links in the top menu working, which, if you’ve tried clicking, you will notice do not currently work. This blog has been without an “About Me” page for far too long, and it’s time to update that and provide some insight into who I am and what I write about. Having the RSS link in an obvious place is also important, as that’s how I’d like to see most people reading this blog. RSS is good!
- Mobile updates
I’d really like to be able to send quick blog updates through my mobile phone. If I’m out, if I’m doing stuff. This is basically a similar concept to Twitter, but focused and radiating out from my blog, rather than from another system. Ultimately I want this web address to be the place to get at any information I am radiating, so that it is all consolidated in one spot.
- Run RSS
feed through Feedburner
In spite of the fact that Feedburner have had some negative publicity lately, I’d really like to start tracking some statistics related to the RSS feed that I am publishing. I rarely see commenting occur on this blog, and I’d like to find out why that is. If it’s simply that I have very few readers, that is cool, but I’d like to know that that is in fact the reason why. Also, since I want to see more and more people I’m friends with using RSS aggregators, I want to see how often that is happening for people that are reading my own blog.
- De-ugly the sidebar
Okay, so, this is only the first step, but I’m not a fan of how clunky and cluttered the sidebar feels right now. I think that with better fonts, and spacing, I can make that look much sharper and more intuitive.
That’s essentially where I’m at now. Now that I’ve overcome the initial inertia associated with updating the look and feel of the website, I’m excited to continue making tweaks. Approaching the problem the way I did today taught me that sometimes it’s a lot easier to start from something pre-made and adapt it to suit yourself, than to create anew. This is hardly a groundbreaking insight, but it’s good to remind myself that starting from an existing template really did help me overcome the massive mental barrier that was preventing this task from getting done originally.
It’s just shy of two weeks after the new year, so I think that it’s a good time to check in with myself after the goal I set towards the end of last year to focus heavily on fitness and healthy eating. As I mention in the blog post I’m planning to publish shortly after this one (just needs editing now), I’m not really a fan of New Year’s resolutions. However, I’m absolutely in favour of setting goals that are achievable, pursuing those goals, and treating failures or stumbles as an opportunity to re-evaluate your goals and determine if you need to set your immediate goal a little lower, or stay the course. So, that’s really what this is – a chance for me to check in, see how I’m doing, evaluate my progress, and then see if I need to change.
So, what were the goals? Nothing particularly specific, mostly that I wanted to be mindful of my calories, cut back on drinking, and though I hadn’t mentioned it explicitly, I wanted to make sure I was getting in exercise about six days a week and lifting weights five days a week. When I say exercise, I really mean something aerobic. Lifting weights burns calories, but nothing compared to squash, running or biking. I treat weightlifting as a cross-training exercise.
I was using livestrong.com for a while to keep track of the calories that I was eating on a daily basis. Livestrong is a great tool for this, and I highly recommend it. What did I learn? Well, I was eating about 20% more calories, on average, than I needed to. For those that are curious, this, for me, was roughly 400 calories a day. Cutting that many calories is not that difficult if you are aware of it and willing to make changes to do it. Just not eating is the worst approach, because it’s not sustainable. I made the changes I wanted to by making sure I had healthy snacks at work (fruitsource fruit bars and fresh apples, cheesestrings, low-fat whole grain crackers, and granola bars – make sure they aren’t dipped in chocolate or peanutbutter though) cutting back on drinking (more on that shortly), and snacking less late at night.
Now that I’ve got a general feel for how many calories I’m eating daily, what the number of calories that something contains is, and how many calories I need, based on my fitness regime, I haven’t been using livestrong very much. I think this is fine, since the website was only there as a tool to help me achieve my goal, not the goal itself. I may start using the website again if I feel that I’m starting to slip and eating gluttonously (note: this doesn’t mean drinking one extra beer, it means eating three chocolate bars in a day), but otherwise, I don’t feel like I need it anymore.
Did this change make a difference? Well, it’s tough to say. When I started, I weighed about 190 pounds. When I weighed myself at my parents, right before the start of the holidays, I was roughly the same weight. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a failure though, as I’ve been working out five times a week, and I (and Bay) can tell that I’ve been putting on muscle-mass. As a result, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shed unneeded fat, and replaced that with heavier muscle tissue. Sounds pretty good to me. I’m going to chalk this goal up as a success so far.
Am I going to continue on with this? Absolutely. I don’t set my goals as something that I achieve and then discard, and neither should you. This goal is intended as a lifestyle change, so now that I’ve determined where I want to be, I will keep at it. The benefit is that it only gets easier from here, since the habit is setting in.
How about cutting back drinking? Well, I approached this goal by initially cutting out all of my alcohol consumption, and then gradually re-introducing. This allowed me to re-calibrate myself, and gave me a fresh benchmark from which to determine how much drinking I felt comfortable (from the point of view of obtaining my goal) doing. I also bought, and continued to stock my fridge with, O’Douls non-alcoholic beers. They make a lager and an amber, and although I normally prefer medium to dark beers, I think their lager is the better of the two. Non-alcoholic beers aren’t great, but they’re not horrible. When I come home from a squash match, I feel better about myself cracking open a non-alcoholic beer with 60 calories than I do a regular beer with twice that. Plus, it has a small placebo effect on me that partially quenches my desire for alcohol.
Why don’t I just stop drinking completely? A couple of reasons. The most obvious one, to me, is that I enjoy it. I love the taste of beer, I love drinking with my friends, and I love some irish cream in my tea on a rainy day. Put simply, I don’t want to stop drinking completely, so trying to set this as a goal is just a way to set myself up for failure. I want to make sure I’m always setting goals for myself that are reasonable, and inline with my personality. Anything else is a waste of my time. The second reason, and this is similar to the first, is that it’s something I do with my friends, and is a part of the squash community. Having a beer with a friend after a tough squash match, or when working on their computer, or just hanging out – these are all things from which I derive great pleasure, and I don’t want to remove those from my life.
I think I was pretty successful in attaining my goal. As I mentioned above, I was successful reaching my caloric goal, and cutting back on drinking definitely helped towards this. I essentially cut out having more than one beer after a squash match, and stuck to drinking non-alcoholic beers at home on the weeknights. I’m pretty happy about this result, and I’m going to give myself a checkmark on this goal too.
Hey, how about those holidays? Well, I made a decision heading into the holidays. I decided that I would allow myself to open up the gates, cut loose for two weeks, and then tighten back up. I did this because I know that I possess a finite amount of willpower, and I know that the holidays are a time when there are a lot of opportunities to eat and drink. If I tried to restrict myself during this time, I would probably be miserable, annoyed, and severely stretching the limits of my willpower. Atheletes know that to train effectively, you need to spend time throughout the year where you give your body a rest and let it recuperate. The mind is no different, and if you’re exercising your willpower, you also need to make a point of giving it downtime where you don’t have to exercise it.
Incidentally, I read a study recently that had tested whether or not your willpower was affected in the long term each time you tested it, and this turned out to be true. This means that if you have a goal to not buy clothes at all this week, and you go window shopping once every day, you will be weakening your willpower each time you go window shopping. If you want to maintain your willpower, the best way to do it is to avoid situations where it will be tested altogether. (I’m not advocating that you should cut yourself off completely from something you enjoy doing. Just be mindful of the fact that you’re weakening your resolve each time, and keep this in mind before making the decision).
The last goal was to focus on fitness. Generally I try to avoid setting goals that aren’t measurable. I mean, how can you check in with yourself on a weekly basis and ask yourself if you’re really “focusing on fitness”? I actually had something more specific in mind when I decided on this approach though, as mentioned above. Weights five times a week, and no more than one or two days a week without any aerobic exercise.
So how did I do? Well, the first step was getting my bike back from being stored at my parents. It turns out I really like biking, so this made things a lot easier. If I didn’t have a squash game booked, I now had two options that I could pursue instead: jogging or biking.
Generally speaking, I think this goal is the one I am most proud of. I’ve managed to continue with my lifting regime for at least two months now (probably closer to three), and I don’t find that it is cutting into any other part of my life. This is a pretty ideal situation for a goal that involves establishing a change in your lifestyle. If, after pursuing it, you can look at your current daily routine and not feel dread or like you are going to have to make drastic changes to fit something in, you’ve achieved your goal. Like I mentioned before, I’ve noticed a visual difference, and I definitely feel stronger. But, looking any different was not my goal. Let’s check in with the rest of the goal.
To further this goal, I’ve been getting up early some mornings to go jogging with Bay. Bay is part robot and able to achieve her fitness goals based on seemingly impossible conditions, such as having five hours of sleep, but I’m not, so it’s been a challenege some times to get up. Jogging is a great way to condition your heart and lungs, and with a set of headphones and an iPod, it’s very enjoyable. I load up my iPhone with my favorite skeptically-themed podcasts and spend an hour learning while I’m jogging.
As far as being successful, I would say that this goal has been my most successful. I have been training hard on the court, and my game has improved thanks to my efforts, and the excellent coaching of Mike Johnson. However, on top of that, I have absolutely noticed that a higher level of fitness has made a huge difference. I can play in long grueling rallies with the confidence to know that I have the energy and the conditioning to make it through to the end. After a tough rally, I’m recovering my breath faster than before, and in rallies where I’m really chasing the ball to recover, I can make a good shot, settle in, and get back my wind to continue onwards.
All of that aside, the most significant change I’ve noticed has been mental. With a higher level of fitness, I have the confidence to play the best shots in a rally. The funny thing about squash is that the more tired you become, the more inclined you are to play low percentage shots. These are shots that will only be effective a low percentage of the time, but will outright win you the rally when they do win. Generally speaking, you should steer clear of these shots, especially when you’re locked in a difficult rally. However, when you start to get tired, your mind plays tricks on you, and tells you “End the rally now, don’t keep hitting the safe shot up and down the wall. Just put the ball away and win”. With a higher level of fitness, I can quash this voice and say “Sucks to your assmar Piggy, I’m playing safe shots up and down the wall until an opportunity to apply pressure to the opponent presents itself”.
So, definitely a checkmark goes to this goal. As an added benefit, coming back from holidays was much less brutal than I had expected, likely just because I had a fairly high level of fitness going into the ‘days, and so even given the excessive eating and drinking, I was still able to come back afterwards feeling relatively fit.
How about the process of getting back into the swing of things after the holidays? Well, by the end of two weeks, I was pretty much ready to get back into things. I’d had more than enough to drink, loads of junk food, and generally I was feeling pretty lazy. This is generally the way everyone feels when they make their new year’s resolution – fed up with their excess, and ready to get on the healthy wagon. The only difference is that I’m just returning to the same gradual process that I put into place earlier this year, rather than making a giant sweeping change.
So, that’s about it. Hopefully this is helpful for anyone reading that is trying to come up with a different way to set and achieve goals. In summary – set achievable goals, pursue them, check in, and revise as needed.