Category: Experiments

July Experiment: Low Information Diet

I have an addiction: I’m interested in about a million topics, and I could spend all day just reading about new technology, philosophical ideas, business, even history. New ideas are like crack to me. It’s a sickness.

When the kids are in bed and the wife flips on the TV, I dive into a book or — more and more frequently — I scroll through headlines in my favorite RSS reader (Feedly). If I have a few minutes to kill and I can’t be productive, it’s Feedly to the rescue again.

Basically I just point a firehose of information at myself, and continuously find interesting ideas to play with.

Why is This a Problem? 

On the surface it’s pretty harmless… but if I’m to be completely honest most of what I read — while interesting — is completely un-actionable. I’m entertaining myself, but not improving, not building, not achieving. And I want more from life than to be entertained.

A Book to the Rescue!

I was knocked upside the head about this while (re)reading The 4-Hour Workweek. If you’ve never checked it out I guarantee it is completely worth your time… Tim shares ideas that can actually make your life more fulfilling — even if you have no interest in the lifestyle he preaches.

Here’s a gem from the book:

“Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world are convinced that they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming. It is easier to raise $1,000,000 than it is $100,000.”

I can attest to the fundraising from personal experience. It also feels pretty good to think that aiming high is not crazy, in fact it may be the only sane thing to do!

You have perhaps 16,000 days Left… 

One of the basic tenets of Tim Ferriss’s work system is to optimize everything for time, so that you can spend your days doing whatever moves you. It’s the 80/20 rule applied more ruthlessly than you dared in the past… but dammit he makes some good points.

Time. It’s the one thing you can’t make more of.

With so many things on my must-do list (including building a new business — more on that soon), there are just more awesome things to do than skimming the headlines of what others are doing in the world.

Here Goes!

So here’s the experiment for the rest of July (I just decided this today):

  • Feedly is not to be opened. Period.
  • Unsubscribed from the ~10 emails I get regularly.
  • Stack of magazines: recycled.
  • Newspaper: just the Sunday crossword and the comics.
  • I already don’t watch TV news, so that’s easy.
  • Facebook, Twitter, etc: No browsing (I pretty much don’t, already).
  • Long-form reading is still OK. (Carefully selected books, of course!)

The goals?

  • Shift RSS time over to making progress on building a business and writing more.
  • See if my head feels any clearer, if my daughter notices me being less distracted, and if I miss the firehose.
  • After a month off, I expect to reconnect with a much more curated list of information sources.

While I love reading and learning, I suspect that at times I use this information firehose as an escape, and as an excuse to avoid “real work”. Thanks Tim for reminding me that you can build whatever life you want, but it won’t happen if you don’t take action.

Do you have the same reading addiction? Why not join me in a Low-Information July!

 

Here’s that book again… if you’re ready to work on your own dream life you should give it a read.

 


 

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May Experiment Recap (Ping Friends)

ice-creamJust a quickie to get back into the swing of writing publicly again… sometimes you just need to break the silence even if it’s dumb, and then you can have a real conversation. Know what I mean?

The May experiment this year was to reach out to a friend or colleague every weekday. How’d it go?

FAIL

Seriously… no way to even finesse this one.

I did ping a couple of friends that I hadn’t talked to in a while, but beyond that I just did not stick to the plan. I’m not entirely sure why, either.

Sure, it felt awkward to say “hey we haven’t talked in forever but let’s chat!” but I’ve worked with awkward before.

Yes, it was a rough month for other reasons, but still… I’ve climbed mountains, dammit.

For some reason this one just didn’t click, and after about two weeks I gave myself the rest of the month off. Perhaps it’s something I’ll revisit in a future month; maybe I’ll decide to work it into my schedule next time in another way (I’m thinking that a new Sunday habit would work well).

I suspect that when I’m stressed my introvert pattern becomes stronger than normal. Something to be aware of next time; when you’re aware of the tricks your mind is playing on you it’s generally possible to throw a head-fake and nudge your mind in the right direction.

On the Plus Side

My June experiment, about getting to inbox zero, is going great!

More on that soon… I have a few tips that you can use, and believe me that inbox zero feels fantastic.

May Experiment: Reach out and Touch Someone

sharingFirst of all, can I just say holy crap did we really blow through 1/3 of the year already? I hope you got your time’s worth. Not sure I did… hmm.

Anyhow, back to our regularly scheduled frivolity.

For the month of May I’m undertaking something that will sound trivial to many of you. Because most of you probably do this far better than me already… I’m going to reach out to a different acquaintance/friend daily. Well, Mon-Fri, anyway — I’m not superman.

They say the most important things in life are our relationships with others. And in a business context, most great things happen because of who you know not what you know. And while I agree with both of these theories, I find it almost impossible to keep in touch with folks… and I’m not entirely sure why.

Seriously — I don’t even say hi to folks on Facebook, which would be about as low-commitment as you can get.

I am an introvert in terms of me-energy-crowd-blah; but I’m not a hermit. But I seem to have fallen into a pattern of engaging only with concepts and ideas (I love learning!) and not with people. At all.

So this month let’s get out of the old comfort zone, and start some conversations.

My goals are pretty simple if somewhat vague on this one:

  • See what happens!
  • Learn why I am so bad at keeping up with people…
  • Reset my default to be more communicative.

For some reason I think this one will be a bit of a challenge for me. Any advice???

Experiment Wrap-up: Water-only April

For all three of you keeping score at home, my April experiment was to drink nothing* but water — with a couple of cheat allowances built in.

Was it a success? Hells yes.

Does that mean I didn’t sneak in a couple of extra cheats over the course of the month? Actually yes I did — but that doesn’t make the experiment a failure… in fact in this case those cheats were essential to the learning I hoped to gain from this experiment.

To recap, I wanted to find out:

  • Is it hard to give these up for a month? If so that’s worth some serious thought.
  • How does it affect my energy levels — morning, afternoon, evenings?
  • Am I more productive? Less? Both, at times?
  • Any effect on my waistline?

So What Did We Learn?

Was it hard: easier than I expected.

It’s so much better to try on a change for a month than it is to attempt to alter your life FOREVER with a new year’s resolution… c’mon, you can do anything for a few weeks, right?

In addition, I employed the mind hack of removing choice by going with “water only” rather than specifically saying “no caffeine or alcohol”. Even though in my life these two mean the same thing, it put liquids into the category of “don’t have to think about it for even a second”. If instead I let myself debate several times a day whether to have water, juice, caffeine-free soda OH MAN I REALLY WANT A DIET DEW — see how that happens? When you put it into the don’t-think-about-it category instead, it’s way easier to stick to a new habit. I’ll write more about that trick soon because it’s a powerful way to hack your life.

Energy: bit less afternoon lag, but not a world of difference. On one of my cheat days, though, I had a large soda at lunch time. I’ve read that caffeine leaves your body almost entirely within 8 hours, but that night was NOT a good one for sleeping. YMMV, of course; but through careful observation this month I’ve realized that I’m way more sensitive to caffeine than I had thought. If I had to guess, your sleep may be more affected by it than you think. Worth experimenting, I’d say.

Productivity: not much change, actually. I am a bit surprised by this; thought I would be able to squeeze in a couple extra hours of creative work this way, but it turns out that — currently — external forces are much more of a limit than my own energy levels. I only manage to get about 2 productive hours in a day right now, which is truly disheartening.

Waistline: yes, I think. I did just hit 161 lbs which is a total loss of just over 10% from my recent high of 180. But there are a lot of factors at play there; so I credit not-drinking (and the accompanying reduction in late night snacking) with perhaps 50% of the credit.

Now What?

As I said above, the experiment was a smashing success. I learned great stuff about myself, and more importantly I changed my internal default. Defaults are a huge thing. Perhaps the single most important life hack there is… which reminds me that I really must write about defaults at length soon.

Before, my default was to indulge in caffeine and alcohol more or less at random. If the mood struck and I didn’t feel too bad about it (wow; 2pm I really can’t risk another soda… or wow that’s been several days in a row maybe not today) I would fill and empty my glass with abandon.

Now my default is to just reach for water. There are definitely times where I go for something stronger in either direction — but it will be a conscious choice and thus easier to indulge with balance.

Your Homework

If you’ve read this far, thanks! What I would love for you to do, though, is to give this a try… pick something that you want to drop or add, and give yourself a month to try it on for size. Decide up front what cheats you will allow (I’d recommend giving yourself one day off per week, say on Saturdays, as a mental edge.) and really commit to it.

Don’t tell yourself “I can’t do this thing I want to do”… just smile and say “I’m not doing that this month” and see how much easier it is to demote that habit from a controlling force to a minor nag. After the month is up, if you decide to stick with it wholesale, fantastic! If you choose, thoughtfully, to go back to your prior habits, fine. But like me you may end up going for something in the middle; turning it back into an occasional treat rather than a salve… and no better way than to put it out in the cold for a month then welcome it back in on your own terms.

Now where’s that rum?

 

* Up front, I decided that if I was at a social event with drinking I’d have one. That happened a couple of times, and I found it very easy to stick with just one. I also specified that I might have soda water if desperate for something fizzy; that didn’t happen, but I did have a couple of sodas this month in times of “need some bubbles” which lead to increased learning — so not a bad thing, from an experimental point of view. On the “bad” side, I have had a few nightcaps in the past two weeks in moments of stress. While not what I was originally shooting for, it was still useful to see how going from almost-every-night to nothing to on-occasion worked in practice; would I slide down the proverbial slippery slope back to almost-every-night? Happily, the answer is no.

April Experiment: Water

water-90781_1280Not “mind like water“; this month I’m re-discovering how good plain old water can be.

First, though, a quick rundown of the March anti-experiment since I didn’t actually write about it at all yet… which was caused by:

The February That Kicked my Ass

Between the broken hand, Maddie’s issues, and a couple of other problems I coasted into March without much energy to try something new. I ended up basically saying: let’s take a month off. Totally. No experiment, no working on myself, and while we’re at it let’s kind of slack off on my other recent experiments.

An anti-experiment month, in a way: let’s see what happens if I don’t even try to care.

It sucked.

Poor diet, no exercise, and most importantly the lack of a positive focus made it a very low month: low productivity, low energy, low emotions.

Result of March anti-experiment: Let’s never do that again! Having a particular goal to work towards — and see progress towards — yields a domino-effect of positive action touching all aspects of life. Makes it easier to carry through with preexisting commitments, makes it easier to find the good in every day. I have re-started my recent mindfulness, diet, and writing habits and feel better already.

April Experiment: Water Only* (to drink)

I’ve been doing this since April 1st, actually. Occasionally I have started an experiment on the first Monday instead of the first of the month; but I’m realizing that it works much better for me to prepare ahead of time and actually start on the first. Do what works best for you.

Quick back-story:

I had fallen into a daily pattern of TeaTeaTeaTeaWaterWaterWaterRum/Beer/Wine… Copious amounts of unsweet tea or Diet Dew to power through the morning, switch to water after lunch to hopefully not screw up my sleep that night (I’m sensitive to caffeine), and then switching over to tasty adult beverages when I got to the point in the evening where I didn’t feel the need to be productive anymore. Not every night, but frankly most nights.

But why experiment with changing this?

Because this was not a pattern I decided to adopt. It just sort of snuck up on me over a few years… kind of like the time my left pinkie went totally numb for a few weeks.

The Pinky that Wasn’t There

My work and some of my play has always involved many hours at the keyboard. A few years ago I became aware that my left pinky (and part of my left ring finger) were moderately numb and tingly pretty much all the time. Huh.

Had that come one suddenly, it would have grabbed my full and undivided attention — what the hell happened to my finger??!?!?!!!? But just like the apocryphal frog in boiling water this one came on slowly enough that I mostly ignored it… until I happened to look closely and realized how absurd it was to walk around with a fully numb pinky. Finally it grabbed my attention and I easily fixed it. (Switched to a split keyboard. Much better.)

Just like the pinky, this caffeine/alcohol habit crept into my life without any real conscious thought. So is it really the best pattern for me? Unlikely.

Sometimes You Have to Hit Reset

I could certainly have just decided to scale back one or the other of these minor drugs, but sometimes it’s better to start with a clean slate and then introduce things thoughtfully and see what really works for me. Kind of like what Apple did with iOS7. So since 4/1 I’ve been drinking water only, 24/7. I’ll certainly add things back in later, but on my terms, and consciously.

Besides the clean slate, I want to find out:

  • Is it hard to give these up for a month? If so that’s worth some serious thought.
  • How does it affect my energy levels — morning, afternoon, evenings?
  • Am I more productive? Less? Both, at times?
  • Any effect on my waistline?

So far, it hasn’t been very hard at all, which is reassuring. Too soon to tell on the rest.

* Exceptions…

This isn’t a do-or-die thing. If I’m at a social event with beer/wine, I will have just one. That happened once already. If I decide I absolutely need something fizzy, I will fire up the soda stream. That hasn’t happened yet. It’s important to decide your dos and don’t in advance though, or there is a slippery slope just a’waiting.

Feb Experiment: Be Still

purple-castI’m behind in writing about this, but my February experiment was more or less thrust upon me when I broke my hand.

I had just put in my notice at trinket the day before to spend more time helping Maddie. We needed to double down on her therapies to try to get back on track after a recent weight drop; per Einstein we couldn’t just keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.

But even those therapies only take so many hours per day, so I was already facing the possibility of having some slack time — which is always a challenge for an engineer.

As you can probably guess, I had been compiling a mental list of projects I might tackle in bits and pieces whenever the girls didn’t need my help. Some things I want to build, some things I want to learn, and some things I’ll be writing about in future months…

Then the purple cast happened.

Go go go…

My first instinct, actually, was to press ahead with my projects, hand and all… anything to avoid that maddening feeling of being idle… but landscaping with one hand is a just not an efficient use of time. (Writing is far slower as well; but I still want to do as much of it as I can — I learned that much from my January Experiment.)

yoga-pose

But a nagging thought started to form around the fact that I was so opposed to having idle time. Why do I find it so challenging? I decided that I need to find out, so I reshuffled my monthly experiment plans and February, thus far, has been the month that I am doing my best to just be.

(Yes, those are my abs.)

I am no expert on meditation, and unlike most of the time I haven’t taken the time to read up on it at all thus far. This isn’t meditation, actually… this month’s experiment is far simpler… I’m merely trying to catch myself whenever I start to do something to “distract” my brain from the here and now.

First-world Distractions

I’ve never had any real interest in TV or Facebook; but I can easily while away hours reading up on science, technology, psychology, even history and politics… and while I’ve learned some interesting stuff, it has been totally without intention, and isn’t advancing the cause.

What cause? That’s part of what I’m trying to figure out, actually… and I’ve realized that this constant mental motion is hindering that quest.

The Goal

On the surface this might sound like I’m just trying to cull a few time-wasters from my week. But it’s much more than that, to me. Soon I will set about creating the next chapter of my life. I want it to be intentional, and crafted to maximize happiness on several different planes (me, family, community, perhaps world) as things go along. But I have always been fuzzy about my direction, and before I start down another path, I want a clearer picture of something. Not where I’m going, exactly, because that will change… rather I want to be clear on what happiness looks like — otherwise how can I be confident that I’m creating a life well-lived?

So this month whenever I find myself compelled to research some intriguing but non-essential fact on Google, I shut the computer and look outside instead. Whenever I enter a new room, I try to actually look around and see it. I’m trying to share more of what’s in my head, in order to be less inside my own skull and more present.

So by the end of February, I hope to get to the place where I can just be still and fully present for an entire hour. 

It has not been easy at all, so far — but already it’s been worthwhile.

—————————-

(Image credit MeditationMusic.net)

Jan ’14 Monthly Experiment Check-in

on-the-wagon

By my math it’s exactly half-way through January — perfect time to check in on this month’s Experiment of writing every day.

Looking back, I’ve written about 10 days out of the 18 that have ticked away. Not great, but since this is a Monthly Experiment and not a “New Year’s Resolution” I don’t see any reason to feel bad. The learning that comes from thoughtful experimentation is as much the point as the experimental habit itself…

So what have I learned so far?

1) Writing is great medicine

I knew this already, actually; but this month has been a great reminder. It’s amazing to me how much difference it makes just to get my thoughts  organized enough to jot down. Publishing them seems to lighten the load somehow, and walk straighter for the rest of the day.

This is the case whether writing about little personal victories or recent personal disasters. Or even just venting about craptastic customer service from a company like LegalZoom.

2) Ideas get log-jammed

Apparently there is a limit to the number of ideas I can keep in my head. (And it’s a frighteningly small number, too). When I started this experiment, I worried a bit about finding enough things to write about… but I find that every time I give an idea life by evicting it from my noodle, new ones pop in.

I’ve had more and better ideas coming to me, now that I’m writing and sharing the old ones. In fact I have a pretty cool concept for a novel now… maybe I’ll take an upcoming month and write up a treatment.

3) “Pay yourself first”

This phrase comes from the world of personal finance; but a similar effect applies here. Life is hectic; and no matter what you do the hours fall away fast. The days where I saved my writing for evening were very hit-or-miss; very often by the time the kids went to bed I was too mentally exhausted to even think about thinking.

By tackling the things that are important to you as early in the day as possible, you’ll set yourself up for greater success. That way, even if the rest of the day goes sideways on you, you’ve already made real progress on something that matters. In my case, I think I need to tweak my morning routine so that by noon I’m already ahead of the game. That’s a challenge given Maddie’s current needs, but it’s the key to getting back on the writing streak I want to create for the rest of the month.

4) Never 2 days off

Sometimes the world does not cooperate, and despite your best efforts a day will go by without being able to tick your Daily Experiment Done box.

It happens.

But I’ve realized that when that does happen, you absolutely positively must tick that box the next day. One day off is a stumble, easily recovered. Two days off is the beginning of anti-new-habit inertia… it gets exponentially harder to stay motivated on day 2, and especially day 3.

So if you miss a day of whatever daily habit you’re trying out, give yourself a bit of slack — but then kick your butt hard to get back on the horse the very next day.

Wrap-up…

It’s been great writing more. To get the most out of this month, I’ll move a couple of things around so I can end with a 10-day winning streak.

After that, I tentatively plan to cut back from daily to 3 blog posts per week — but to make that stick I know I’ll have to commit to a schedule. Not “when the mood strikes”, but specific days of the week that know I will write.

I would like to do more, actually, but I have so many things I want to do with my limited free time that I will probably have to strike a balance with writing.

2013 Experiment: Primal/Paleo(ish) Eating

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 8.23.19 PM

Quick thought tonight… just wanted to share an example of the kind of monthly experiments I’m talking about.

Last year around July, I felt the need to try a “reboot” of sorts. I buzzed my hair, started running, made some changes to my spending patterns, tried to cut way down on my evening beverages, and started eating more or less “Paleo / Primal”. All at once. Just like that.

What Didn’t Work

Changing lots of things at once… unless you are hitting bottom, this is a recipe for disaster — which, frankly, is why most New Years Resolutions fall apart around January 10th.

The “fresh new start” was invigorating, but when one of my new habits started wobbling, the rest were put in peril as well.

What Did Work

The hair, actually, helped me stick to a couple of my new experimental habits.

Every time I started to feel stressed out and tempted to go back to the cloud I was previously under, I would rub my head, take a deep breath, and look up and smile. Just having that one very real and tactile reminder of my fresh start was enough to lift my mood… and it did indeed help me stay the course on some of these spontaneous initiatives.

There is power in habits and triggers… set yourself up for success with any new challenge by setting up a trigger that reminds you of what you are hoping to achieve with your new direction… or if not that, set up a trigger that reminds you to take a deep breath and smile a few times a day.

You will be amazed at how much of a difference a deep breath can make!

Paleo / Primal

This will become at least post of it’s own, but I want to share just how effective this has been for me. Even though I only stick 75% to the strict letter of these regimens, I’ve dropped significant weight and feel better all over.

If you struggle with weight, energy, or are hungry all of the time — and if you are currently on the “OMG MUST AVOID FAT” train — I beseech you to give it a try. Just take a month and cut as much sugar (including bread) out of your diet as you can, and see how it feels.

Give it a month — you won’t regret it.

Preview: Monthly Experiments

experimentI documented this briefly on my old blog, but I want to bring the conversation here…

I’m a huge fan of Monthly Experiments.

Try on a habit for one month, like you are taking a new outfit for a thorough test-wear… try it on, live with it for long enough to understand how it fits (or doesn’t) into what you want your life to be.

At the end of the month, decide whether to keep the new habit, tweak it, or let it go. With just a little experiment every month you can create an entirely new life by the end of the year. Groovy.

I can’t recall exactly where I picked up this idea; but I’m all about borrowing what resonates and learning from greatness. I do recall it was from a blogger talking about his “12 for 2012” around January 2012, and the fine folks at Zen Habits do a good job of it as well. Since then I’ve tried it out sporadically (more on that later)… this time it’s on.

How it Works

To make this really change your reality requires a bit more than the monthly equivalent of a new year’s resolution.

These are experiments.

First, you need to have an idea of what you hope to accomplish… just trying to see what it feels like? Wonder whether you can do it for a whole month? Wonder if just doing this for a month will have some external effect Zen Archery style?

All of these are valid… just know what you want to experience, so that by the end of the month you can learn and grow.

These experiments don’t have to be “every day”, but you do need to be specific about what you are setting out for yourself. Note: avoid vague things like “3 times per week” — if that’s the idea, pick a schedule: I will exercise on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (for instance). It’s far too easy to let things slip to “tomorrow” when you are not specific on the front end.

Commit in public, if at all possible. State exactly what you plan to do, and how people can check up on you… and then hold yourself responsible for reporting on the results, whatever happens.

IF you bail partway through the month, that does not equate to failure — but reflect on why you dropped that month’s experiment.

Was is just not for you? Truly? Then do you know yourself a bit better now? Great now what’s next?

Was it just too hard? Why? Almost anything is possible if it is important enough… so have you learned something about your real priorities?

Live True

And finally, this is not supposed to be about trying to make yourself into something you think you’re supposed to be.

This is about learning how to become your true self, even if you don’t know exactly what that is right now. If after a month something does not ring true, then feel happy about setting it aside and saying “I am not a runner.” It’s also about learning to interpret the inner voices properly… if something keeps popping into your head, there is a reason for that — you will be more content when you find that reason.

My 12 for 2014

I have the beginnings of a list worked out… I only have to lay down the tracks one month ahead of the train, so this list will grow based on my first few experiments. Some may also move months as life dictates. In any case, here’s what I have so far:

Jan – Write every day (for public consumption)
Feb – Dedicate 3 hours/week to connecting with friends
Mar – Draw Every Day (and post online)
Apr – Short daily meditation
May – No TV or “random web reading” of any kind

Incomplete, I know… actually I have dozens I want to try out, and the hard part will be waiting until (for example) April to try out daily meditation… Still, I know it’s best to start with one and build momentum month on month.

So to be specific, I have 4 places at the moment for my daily writing to emerge. This is great for me, actually, as it lets me experiment with different styles throughout the week.

Here’s my current writing plan:

  • Personal growth experiments, inspirational ideas I come across, experiments in work-life balance, and projects I undertake (including thinking about a lifestyle business) will live here.
  • Everything I learn about startups as I try to help build Coursefork (my friend Brian‘s company) will be shared at SteveReaser.com. 
  • My work writing will appear on the (soon to be renamed) Coursefork blog; these will be me in a jacket and tie, but still very much me.
  • Personal bits and pieces that don’t fit into one of those broad themes will continue to land on screaser.blogspot.com, as I need to get them out of my head.

Final Thought

The reason this is so exciting to me is that it is, at it’s core, about creating the life that you want. Monthly Experiments are a great way to move, one step at a time, from the life that landed on you to a life you will be ecstatic leading.

Life has a way of being amazing when you focus on what you love.