Category Archives: Ponderings

Clutter and Redefining Yourself

Picture by Unnar Ýmir Björnsson - flickr Creative Commons

Picture by Unnar Ýmir Björnsson – flickr Creative Commons

I’ve been cleaning out old boxes that I’ve stored at my parent’s house recently. Thankfully, it’s not as bad as the picture above, but I’m still a bit surprised at how much stuff I still had over there. It’s truly amazing what I’ve been finding. The old mementos I’m turning up aren’t the most interesting discovery though – the most interesting thing is how good I’m feeling about getting rid of most of them.

In a weird way, the fact that I can part with a lot of largely meaningless things from my past is serving to reinforce who I’ve become today. I didn’t anticipate this, but it’s a nice little mental reward.

Not that all items from your past are bad, but all of them aren’t necessary. I have a host of trophies and medals from playing sports as a child. However, I’ve forgotten most of the seasons I played. The tournaments are almost all hazy memories of my past. However, a single trophy still stands out, because it’s the tournament in which I scored the winning goal in the final moments. It was a storybook win. I still have all of those trophies though, when only a single one has any meaning to me. It’s a but odd, but now I’m looking forward to getting rid of them all.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous experiments about busting clutter, getting rid of things you don’t need can become a bit of an addictive trend. Once you get started, it’s incredibly satisfying to see things you don’t need leaving the house. The free space left can be amazingly energizing.

My work clearing clutter over the weekend got me thinking though: could it be that clutter is an anchor to your past that keeps you from growing into the future?

Perhaps it’s a bit more profound than recycling old magazines, tourism brochures and letters might merit, but it’s an interesting thought.

Building my Portfolio

The Benefits of Journal Writing

I recently got called on the fact that I don’t have an online portfolio. It was a gentle slap upside the head, but a necessary one for me.

I know where my articles are posted online and I can supply links upon request. To be honest though, I’ve always been a bit shy about self-promotion.

I never really clued in though, that an online portfolio does the self-promotion work for me when I’m not there to talk. Lesson learned, I’m starting to put together a portfolio of my scattered writing across the web and I think it does a good job of representing me!

Do you have a place to showcase your work?

Admitting you’re Wrong

Image by Milestoned via Flickr Creative Commons

Image by Milestoned via Flickr Creative Commons

I think it was a byproduct of the long winter, but until quite recently I’ve been in what I call “survival mode”. Head down, soldiering on, not looking much further than the next few steps.

It’s not a bad thing, but it happens. Sometimes it’s necessary. Spring has come though, and I’m starting to perk up again.

I’ve also realized that I’ve been living the last month or under an assumption that I’ve now realized is incorrect. I don’t like being wrong, but in my life I’ve seen people who would rather die than admit they’re wrong. That kind of ego gets them in trouble again and again.

The picture at the top of this is titled “Lizards: They just don’t give a fuck”. I need to turn my ego into a lizard.

After all, I’d rather be the person still standing than the person who always has to win. Sometimes I need to get slapped upside the head with a bit of humble to remember that though.

Working with a Stand Up Desk

I, like far too many people in this world, sit too much.

Lately, the media has been saying things like “sitting is the new smoking” (yes, people actually did say this, check here). The list of negative health impacts that result from sitting too often is a long one, and you can find it elsewhere, so I won’t get into it too much. However, I do need to ask, if sitting is the new smoking, what does that make naps?

I’m not one to jump onto health fads. It seems they change on a regular basis. However, I will admit that the negative impacts of inactivity are obvious. When you combine this with the fact that my back gets sore and I get headaches occasionally from slouching over a computer, my answer was clear.

I needed to see what this stand up desk stuff was all about. This is how my experiment with a standing desk begins.

I can’t say that the list of great men who use standing desks is a long one, but it certainly includes some notable names – do the names Hemingway, Dickens, and Kierkegaard ring any bells?

I still sit at work – large scale furniture redesign isn’t something I want to explore in the office right now. However, I had a reasonable goal: I wanted to start standing while I used the computer at home. I hoped that this would help me be more productive and feel better. In addition, there is a minor increase in calorie burn when standing versus sitting. This means I would be burning slightly more calories while still living my life in virtually the same way – I like the sounds of this!

This seemed reasonable, but where to start? I didn’t want to go out and buy a desk immediately as I didn’t know if I would like it. Also, I wasn’t sure it would fit in my decor.

So, I needed to find some combination of things that would work as a makeshift substitute for a standing desk, while still letting me maintain the arrangement of the house I had grown to like. Here is what I came up with:

My makeshift standing desk

It’s not that pretty to look at, but in combination, the TV table and the coffee table put my laptop at the perfect height for standing use.

So far, I’ve been playing around with the standing desks for about a week. I find that I do move about a lot more than I would while sitting. My back gets less sore and I’m also more productive. I think that I can classify this as a win so far, but this little experiment is definitely not over. If the benefits continue like this though, I’ll definitely be exploring a more permanent desk!

A belated goals list for 2014

I normally don’t set aside a list of goals for the year. In the past, I’ve had mixed results, but I admit I was inspired by Casey Palmer and his ambitious list work at the end of 2013. So, in the spirit of accountability and keeping an open mind, here are some of the goals I want to accomplish in 2014 (in no particular order).

  1. Redesign this website: I’ve slacked on this design, but I recently got kicked up in Google Pagerank (as little as that means now), so I think I should give this site – and myself – the attention we both deserve
  2. Two events per month: I tried doing one event per month in 2013 and I was quite successful. I met lots of new people, learned quite a few things, and generally had a good time. In 2014, I’d like to move that up to 2 events per month on average. There are some amazing things to do in Toronto, why not take part? This week, I’m planning on going to a learning event at the Mars Discovery District.
  3. Finally get comfortable with resumes: I think everyone gets a bit intimidated by resumes. I don’t ever think I’ll love them, but I want to get to the point where I’m good at them even if I don’t love them. Practice and research is the only cure for this.
  4. Finish 3 Coursera courses: There are some amazing course offerings out there. I’ve started lots of them, but only completed one. I want to change that ratio around. I think continuing education is an important part of professional growth. Coursera offers courses for free, why should I waste that incredible opportunity?
  5. Google Certifications: I flirted with this last year but I never did it. I work in marketing and content writing – Google Adwords and Google Analytics are tools I access daily. Learning more, and being certified in them, is a definite benefit to my career. I need to nerd harder this year!
  6. That exercise thing: Let’s be honest, I’ve been sucking at it. I don’t know how to make this a goal. It needs to be a system. Right now I need to find a way to work regular exercise into my life on a daily basis. Daily. No exceptions.
  7. Diet: I have a sweet tooth and I indulge it far too frequently. I work in an area with unhealthy food options, and I tend to reach for them if I’m hungry. I need to plan my meals better and bring healthier snacks. I can’t continue to indulge myself at this level without it impacting my weight and health.
  8. Sleep: I’ve been taking my sleep and substituting it with caffeine. I don’t sleep a healthy amount each night on a regular basis. This impacts every aspect of my life. I need to target a regular 7-7.5 hours of sleep a night.
  9. Weight: I’m not happy with how my body moves, and the weight is the biggest manifestation of that. I believe that if I get the exercise, diet, and health goals in place, the weight one will follow. I suspect I need to drop 20lbs to be back to a range where my body is comfortable.
  10. Standing desk: I sit a lot. A LOT. I sit on the bus to work. I sit at work. I sit on the bus home from work. Then I come home and sit as I write at home. Wow. I feel my body prematurely aging just as I type that. I need to play around with work spaces that keep me standing. That might not be a realistic option in an office environment at work, but at home, it’s become a must.
  11. Declutter: We live in a townhouse right now. We want a condo with a better location. If we were to find the perfect condo today, we wouldn’t be able to move because we have too much stuff! I need to cut the clutter and focus on important things
  12. Freelancing: I did okay with this in 2013. It was a lot of fun actually. I need to keep doing this and balance it with the rest of life. No burnout.
  13. The next book: I finished a book. It was rattling around in my head for years, and I wrote it. It sucks. I accept that. I didn’t even submit it to an editor. I do have 2-3 other ideas in my head though. I want to get cracking and make the second book so much better than the first book. I don’t care if I don’t submit it to anyone, I just want to write for myself.
  14. Run: I don’t like running. I really don’t. That started as an adult. But I know a lot of adults who have fallen in love with it. I feel like I should give running one last fair chance. I’ll try a couch-to-5k program in the spring and see if I can make it work
  15. Make social activities more about play and exercise, less about food: As we grow older, getting together over dinner seems to happen far more than hiking, ice skating, or anything else. It’s time I flip this around a bit.

Wow, writing a list is harder than I’d thought. I don’t know how Casey manages a 100 item list. That must take a lot of thought to put together.

So, long rambling cut short, I want to be healthier, get out even more, learn more, face some of my fears, and feel better about myself. I think that this puts me about on par with every other member of the human race. I’m interested to see that amongst my list are the seeds of some systems, so that my goals won’t be one-shot things. They can become habits that change a lifetime.

What brings you Joy?

Joy

What brings you joy?

It’s a simple question I’ve been asking myself lately, as I’ve been replanning and restrategizing about a lot of my life.

However, just because a question is simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Let me explain.

Caffeine brings my joy – or so I think. However, when I dig down below the surface, I find that it’s not so simple. Yes, sipping caffeine when I’m tired is a wonderful sensation. The feeling of life flowing back into a tiring body. It’s remarkable how good it feels. Caffeine is the gasoline of much of the world’s day-to-day life, and I use it as rocket fuel for my creativity in writing.

However, the sensation caffeine brings to me is only brought because I’m frequently tired.

This is where the questions start to come up. I’m frequently tired because I don’t sleep well (or enough). I don’t sleep well (or enough) because I don’t spend my time doing the things that will help me sleep better and I don’t manage my time well.

What does this mean? It means that rather than bringing me joy, caffeine (in its many forms) simply helps prevent me from feeling the consequences of my own actions. Even worse, I can’t honestly say that staying up late gives me much joy either. On occasion, I stay up late to watch a movie, finish a great book, or to spend time with friends and loved ones. However, far too often I stay up late because I waste time after returning home, and then have to stay up late to catch up with what needs to be done. It turns out, I’m not pursuing joy, but rather avoiding the pain and consequences of my action.

Enough of my failings with sleep and time management though, back to joy.

If caffeine doesn’t bring me joy, and staying up late doesn’t bring me joy, then what does?

This has led to some serious thinking on my part. Here’s a partial list (in no particular order):

  • Reading a good book
  • Actual conversations with people about world issues
  • Playing fetch with my cat (yes, my cat will play fetch, and it still amuses me)
  • Helping people
  • Spending time with my wife
  • Adventures (of various sorts)
  • Feeling pleasure in the simple movement of my body (this has been more challenging lately unfortunately)
  • Feeling healthy in general
  • The occasional good movie
  • Learning new things
  • Chasing the feeling of amazement

This is far from a complete list, but when I compare this to a list showing how I spend my time in an average day, I find that the two lists don’t match nearly as well as I might like.

I have a feeling that I’ve only just begun the deep thoughts associated with this task, but this is definitely time well invested.

If you were to complete a task like this, how well do you think your two lists would match up?

Pushing your comfort zone

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

I’ve spoken in the past about my challenge with getting into ruts. They can be warm and comforting or cold and limiting, but a rut is a rut.

For the last week, I’ve been on some incredibly-needed holidays, and I took the chance to push my comfort zone.

In the past week, I’ve specifically gone into restaurants and ordered dishes I haven’t tried before. I went on two adventures that I would recommend.

Firstly, I went to the David Bowie Exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Pictures weren’t permitted, but it was a top notch example of story telling. It was more than just Bowie’s movies and music, they covered the art, the costumes, the cultural context and the history. I really enjoyed the entire thing and I learned a lot.

Secondly, I pushed my fears out of the way and tried a Spin-barre class at Barreworks. They were having an event for Movember, and I’m a sucker for a good cause, so I jumped in. It highlighted my lack of exercise in the recent past, but it was a really exciting class that pushed my limits and challenged me. I really recommend a class there as I found it both challenging and enjoyable.

Have I fundamentally changed who I am in my week off? I doubt it. It was a fun, and I think it prodded me out of my rut (or at least just slightly out of it). It’s not an end, but it is a start.

I hope you’ve all had a fantastic week. The holiday season is coming, and in between crowds, shopping, and questionable weather, it’s going to be a stressful time. If you still have any vacation days left that you can take, I highly recommend taking them now while there’s still time. Enjoy a few quiet days. Go challenge yourself (physically, mentally, or both) and then come back to your world refreshed.

Good luck!

Write a Classified Ad for Yourself

Classified Ads

For some people, it’s very easy to keep a running tally of accomplishments in their head. For others, while self-confidence might not be a problem, it stands apart from self-value.

Personally, I know I’m great. Quantifying that in 20 words or less can be a bit more challenging. I hit this obstacle a couple of weeks ago. I needed an elevator pitch

I gave myself a challenge a week ago to come up with an elevator pitch as to why I’m awesome.

This led to a rather extensive inventory of what I’ve accomplished over the last couple of years. The results were, quite frankly, fascinating. It was somewhat similar to my happy thoughts list project. When I changed my focus, it was like opening the floodgates.

The really surprising thing is that this is coming from someone who generally has no trouble with self-confidence.

Here’s what I came up with:

In the last two years, I became the head of the marketing department at my employer. In the intervening years I have cut the expenses of the department by over 6 figures while hitting record sales figures in 4 out of 5 product lines. I’ve read dozens of industry books on content, sales and marketing as well as attending over a dozen seminars and conferences to keep my skills current.

It’s only three lines long, but it sure does sound awesome, doesn’t it? There’s a lot more to say, but as a quick “classified ad” version to define myself, it does an incredibly job of describing my value. To be honest, I feel a bit warm and fuzzy just thinking about it. I was always confident in myself and my abilities, but now I have the words to convince someone in just a few moments that they should think I’m incredible as well.

In life, we are faced with a number of occasions where we need to define our value and we have only a few moments (or a few words) to do so. I challenge you to write a similar classified ad for yourself. Take your time, it might not come out exactly how you like it in the first draft, but once you complete it it can be very impressive. If you feel comfortable, share it here. I’d love to see your classified ad!

Productivity: It’s amazing what you accomplish when you’re not looking

To-do list book.

It turns out, my last post announcing my 42nd Happiness Experiment was also my 500th post on the site, making this my celebratory 501st post.

Wow, how did I manage 500 posts? Sometimes I’ve struggled to write, other times the posts flow from my fingers as fast as I can type. It’s amazing how accomplishments sneak up and surprise you.

I’ve spent the weekend at a conference in downtown. I won’t bore you with the details as it was an industry conference, but it was an amazing way to spend time and I really learned a lot. I had the chance to put my head together with a lot of smart people, which always leads to some fascinating and educational conversations.

So, at a conference for 8 hours each day, I wouldn’t be surprised if this weekend was a write-off when it comes to productivity, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It seems that, like my 500th post, being productive this weekend snuck up on me.

I finished off my first weekend of exercise in the 100 push up challenge and the 200 sit up challenge. I’m not going to lie and say they were easy. I’ve been slacking on my muscle-building exercise work, and it unfortunately shows. These challenges are much needed. I haven’t fallen in love with them yet, but I have started to once again embrace a schedule of regular exercise.

I have also managed to do some work on the weekend, getting ahead on my tasks for the week. A bit earlier this evening, I even prepared food for the next few days and cleaned the kitchen.

Essentially, on a weekend where I thought I would get nothing done, I managed to achieve an amazing amount. I got some exercise, learned a number of new things, got some work done, prepared healthy food for the next couple days, cleaned my kitchen and even spent a bit of time relaxing with my wife and catching up on some of our favorite television shows.

I wonder if the fact that I had no expectations left me open to accomplishing more. There’s a fine line between setting goals and setting expectations. I still had a to-do list for my time at home, but rather than expecting a certain number of tasks to be done withing a set time, I decided to just do what I could in the time that was available to me.

It’s very zen as a concept. Think less, have fewer expectations, and just do more.

Now, the question comes, how can I work that realization into my life more?

I think I need to start viewing to-do lists as guidelines, rather than as must-do lists. This prevents me from getting hung up tasks and instead puts me in a position where I can more easily achieve “flow“. I’ve experimented with to-do lists before, and I found that while the did help me be more productive, they prevented me from having the chaotic moments of unexpected growth that can only really happen what you have time open on your schedule.

Perhaps I’ll try to balance that now, so that I can still work hard on goals, but I leave things open enough that fascinating surprises can happen. This will be an interesting theory to experiment with.

Happiness Experiment 42: Holding Each Other to an Exercise Pledge

I had to start with a nod to the great Douglas Adams on my 42nd experiment.

As you might have seen in my past experiments, there is a lot of discussion about exercise. It helps you sleep better, it helps you lose weight, and it’s a generally good thing.

I have no problem starting to exercise and doing it for a week. I do have challenges making exercise part of my regular habits. That I’m not good at. And I know, in the long run, this stumbling block will be an obstacle for me.

In the past, my best success has been with karate. I started karate as an adult, and followed it until I received my black belt, but then I quit not long after. I’ve looked at Karate, and I can break down why I stuck with it into a few points.

  1. Definite time frame: We had timelines for belt tests and what not, you just needed to practice hard and stick with it to get your black belt. They weren’t handing them out easily, but if you were willing to put in the time and the work, it was something you could achieve.
  2. Definite progress: You start as a white belt, and if you succeed, you make it to a black belt. It’s a definite line of progress, and progress can be very motivating. You can’t always track health, but you can easily see the colour of your belt.
  3. Mutual accountability: I started karate with friends, and I made more as I went through the program. If you didn’t show, questions were asked. This kept you showing up.

So, what could I do for an experiment to see if I could both get healthy AND simultaneously make a longer-term change to my health?

Well, it came up in a conversation with a friend: The 100 push up challenge and the 200 sit up challenge. These are both 6 week programs, so that’s a fair stretch of time compared to my usual experiments. The individual investment of time is quite low though – about 10 minutes, 3 times a week.

I’m also doing this challenge with friends. Specifically, my wife and a good friend have joined me (though I also welcome random blog people as well). We’ll be holding each other accountable, and celebrating the results together. 100 push ups and 200 sit ups also offer definite goals to aim for, making it easier to see progress as you move through the program.

My goal for this is simple completion of both programs, hopefully celebrating the goal with my wife and out friend as they achieve it as well. I believe that sticking with a longer-term program like this and achieving the (not inconsiderable) health goals at the end will have a definite positive impact on my health and happiness.