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.

It’s okay not to be perfect

A little crooked, but we're still hanging on.

You might have noticed that my blogging frequency has slackened over the summer. I thought about feeling guilty about it, but then I decided it was okay not to feel guilty. I had a great summer. It wasn’t perfect, but I really hope you all enjoyed your summer as much as I did.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned while experimenting with this blog is that I don’t have to be perfect. Frankly, I make a lot of mistakes. It’s who I am. I continuously learn from my mistakes though, so I like to think I’m making progress on this journey of life. That said, I still do have a stubborn perfectionist streak that rears its head now and again.

While I’m not a fan of resting on my laurels, I believe that there are points when you need to remind yourself of all the things you accomplish in your life.

I may not yet be jogging, or biking the same amount of kilometers per week that I had hoped for 6 months ago, but I am still 20-30 pounds below my peak weight, and I’m succeeding in spending more time out and about with people who challenge me to learn more and grow.

No road runs straight, and it’s only when you hit hills and mountains that you can look back and see how far you’ve come. 41 happiness experiments in, I’m not perfect yet, and I never will be. I have learned a whole lot about who I am and the type of things that bring me happiness in life. This is influencing what I do with my spare time, how I’m planning on growing my career, who I spend time with, and what I plan for the future. When I take a step back and look at how far things have come, it is motivating to go further forward.

What’s in the next 41 experiments? Well, I was inspired by the Inukshuk. The idea of building something or volunteering with something. This has led me to doing more work with startups. It will be interesting to see how this goes. I might even take up a regular volunteer gig to see how that impacts feelings. I also plan on starting the 100 pushup challenge next week (there, I’ve said it, now I’m committed). The future holds more goals for the physical, mental and spiritual.

How do you fight perfectionism in your own life? Do you suffer from it as well on occasion?

Following up on old experiments: Meditation

Open up your mind

Way back in the early days of this blog, (my fourth experiment to be precise) I did a happiness experiment on meditation.

My results were mixed, and I largely attributed this to the fact that I was trying guided meditations when I was going to bed, so I was already tired. Basically, I fell asleep a lot.

Lately though, I’ve been attending restorative yoga classes. They move very slowly. You get into a supported pose and stay in it for 10-15 minutes. It is low impact, but you can still get a good stretch in. I love it because it provides the environment for meditation that I’ve always needed. I’m active enough that I don’t fall asleep, but I’m slow moving enough that I can really let my mind clear out.

I’m finding that it does a spectacular job of clearing out my brain and helping me to shift gears from work-mode into evening-mode. I let the thoughts drift pass me, and eventually all of my stressful thoughts resolve themselves and leave me at peace.

Active meditations aren’t unusual. Zen Buddhism has walking meditation exercises, yoga is all about mindfulness and awareness (key concepts of meditation) and there are many more examples.

Have you ever tried meditation? Do you find it easier to meditate while moving or while staying still?

A quick happy thoughts list for tonight

It’s a busy week, but I’m trying not to let that get in the way of my writing, so I wanted to pop on and write a quick happy thoughts list to focus on the things bringing me joy in my life.

1. Everyone who comments on this blog: It’s been a busy summer, and suffering from weather headaches has made it especially challenging, but knowing that people read this blog has got me coming back to writing after every break. Thank you all for your support!

2. Getting to bed at a reasonable time: It’s still not easy, but it’s starting to get easier with practice. Eventually, I might actually get a decent night’s sleep on a regular basis!

3. Options: Knowing you have choices in life, even if you decide against those alternate options, can really be freeing. It means that you live your life because you chose to live it that way. That’s true freedom, it’s both exciting and terrifying. I like it.

What’s putting a smile on your face today?

A Happy Thought for the Night

The view from the Isle of Skye

This is a picture my wife took while we were on our honeymoon in Scotland two years ago. That was a journey we went on together, and now with her going back to school full-time as an adult, we’re going on another journey together.

Travelling through life has its ups and downs, but the happy thought for tonight is that there’s often one heck of a view!

Be the Cheerleader for Everybody in your Life

If you haven’t checked out Kid President before, it’s a brilliant young kid and an ongoing show series from the SoulPancake YouTube channel. I can’t really recommend it highly enough.

It also makes the perfect way to introduce a new philosophy I’m working on: be the cheerleader.

We all spend a lot of time wrapped up in our own heads and in our own lives. It’s perfectly natural. However, I’ve noticed that it’s the people who take the time to cheer on others that really make a lot of the difference in this world.

Often, when you ask someone about a big influence in their lives, they mention someone who took the time to cheer them on and support them, even when they didn’t necessarily need to do so. Let’s face it, it feels really good to have someone in your corner cheering you on.

More and more, I’m trying to be that cheerleader for people I know. Rather than assuming that they know I think they’re awesome, I’m taking the time to mention it to them. Maybe I can connect them to a job opportunity, help them with a project, or something else entirely. I’m being careful not to overextend myself, but this is taking surprisingly little time.

Why should I do this? Yes, I want cheerleaders in my life too. I have some amazing people in my life who take that role for me, but I always welcome more. But I don’t do this out of pure self-interest. I don’t just want a world where I have more cheerleaders, I would like a world where everyone has more cheerleaders helping to motivate them on things that are important to them.

So, awesome readers, what can I cheer you on for? Or, alternatively, who do you cheerlead for?

Happiness Experiment 41: Sleep on your Guest Bed

This all started as a reaction to the dust level of cleaning our master closet.

We started cleaning, and our master bed quite quickly filled up with clothing that needed to be placed somewhere. Once we opened the pandora’s box that was our closet, we quickly realized it was more than a one-day job.

So, we went to the guest bedroom, and unintentionally started my 41st happiness experiment: sleeping on the guest bed.

We have a plush euro-top bed in our master bedroom. In the guest bedroom, we have a firm, utilitarian bed. While the plush bed seduced us with comfort when we bought it 4 years ago, the firm bed appears to be what we need now.

While I never feel quite so luxurious on the firmer bed, I woke up more easily each morning and seemed to have a better quality of sleep. My wife and I both had a similar result, we slept better on what we had considered to be our second-best bed. We continued sleeping on it for the entire week just to see if it was random chance or if we actually were sleeping better.

We’re in the process now of switching furniture between the two bedrooms.

This leads to my challenge for you. Often, buying a new mattress can be a bit pricey just to indulge a theory, but if you have two bedrooms, you likely have two beds. You can switch beds for a few days and see if it helps. Sometimes, we have the resources right at hand for experiments, and the solutions might be cheaper than you ever thought!

A little bit of elbow grease on our part is getting us a bed that lets us sleep better at night!

Have you ever slept on your guest bed?

Time flies when you’re eating ice cream!

If there’s no rest for the wicked, I have been the wickedest for the past 2 weeks! Wow!

Okay, catching up, the first thing I want to share is about the Magnum Ice Cream “Pleasure Store” pop up shop in downtown Toronto at 11 Bloor Street West.

I’ll tell you all about my experience, but firstly, it’s only open until the end of August 30, so go now, grab a bar. I’ll wait…..

You ready yet?

Okay, here we go.

I’ve loved chocolate dipped ice cream since I was a kid. It’s basically one of the most incredible ways to present ice cream. All kinds of awesome.

The Magnum Pleasure Store offers not just a taste sensation, they offer a system.

Step 1: Start with a vanilla or chocolate ice cream bar (interestingly enough, vanilla outsells chocolate about 2:1)

Step 2: Pick your coating – it can be white chocolate, milk chocolate or dark chocolate.

Step 3: Let the fun begin. You get to choose from a TON of ingredient options:

Magnum Pleasure Store Ingredients

As you can see, there are more than a few choices. From edible rose petals to bacon and chili flakes, or back to the normal kind you’d see on ice cream… Let’s just say that behind that glass is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Cam, the Magnum Pleasure Maker

This is Cam. He was my “Pleasure Maker” for the day. He took the ingredients I picked, shook them in the little mini martini shaker you see in his hand and then poured the ingredients onto my freshly coated ice cream bar.

Then, the next step is to drizzle more chocolate on top of the bar (as if it wasn’t decadent enough already).

The end result for me was this:

Magnum Ice Cream Bar

Suffice to say, I walked out of there with a huge smile on my face. I hope they make this a regular gig every summer, Toronto might get a bit heavier, but we all will be a lot happier!

I had the luck of going with a few friends who also reviewed their experience. Check out Casey Palmer (who takes ridiculously good pictures) and Christine Pantazis

[Disclaimer: Magnum Ice Cream Canada was kind enough to give myself and a group of friends access to the Pleasure Shop (prior to opening one morning) and free ice cream. We weren't asked to blog or tweet about the ice cream, but I did it anyway because the ice cream was that good, and now I'm blogging about it to make sure my friends go while they still have the chance!]

Life examined every 7 years

I recently had the chance to watch 56up, a fantastic documentary about an experiment that has been ongoing for quite sometime where, starting from age 7, people have been interviewed every 7 years to see how they are progressing in their lives, their beliefs, their fears and their hopes for the future. Now, they are 56 years old.

Wikipedia describes the Up Series as:

The Up Series is a series of documentary films produced by Granada Television that have followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old. So far the documentary has had eight episodes spanning 49 years (one episode every seven years) and the documentary has been broadcast on both ITV and BBC. In a 2005 Channel 4 programme, the series topped the list of The 50 Greatest Documentaries.[2] The children were selected to represent the range of socio-economic backgrounds in Britain at that time, with the explicit assumption that each child’s social class predetermines their future. Every seven years, the director, Michael Apted, films material from those of the fourteen who choose to participate. The aim of the series is stated at the beginning of 7 Up as: “Why do we bring these children together? Because we want to get a glimpse of England in the year 2000. The shop steward and the executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old.”

In addition, Wikipedia says:

The premise of the film was taken from the Jesuit motto “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”, which is based on a quotation by Francis Xavier.

Watching 56Up led to some fantastic discussions about growth, life, and what you would do if you knew you would be interviewed about your life every 7 years. Does knowing your life will be monitored change how you will live it?

I definitely recommend watching this film. It’s not all happiness and good things, it’s a fairly realistic perspective on how people change through their life when they are faced with challenges. It makes you think, and I like that about a documentary.

Check out the trailer and tell me what you think. Would you participate in something like this?