Positivity Counts

I read an interesting article the other day on how positivity impacts productivity.

The article suggests that consuming negative news in the morning (even just for a few minutes) hurts mood and well being.

Individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.

It also hurts performance. The writer theorizes that mood impacts our behavior. If we feel pessimistic, we can fall into “learned helplessness” and assume that nothing we do has an impact on the current circumstances.

Their suggestion?

Start your day with empowering, solutions-focused news. Seek out stories on your favorite news site that are transformative, which means that they empower people with actions steps and potential solutions instead of just focusing on the problems. Occasionally, skip clicking on stories that are hypothetical or about tragic one-time situations that you can do nothing about. Find solution-focused news like Huffington Post’s new What’s Working series or CNN’s new impact series. If you don’t like that there’s so much negative news, don’t forget: you vote with your fingers. Every time you click on a story, you’re telling the media you want to be consuming this.

Lately I have been drawn to those sensationalist, pearl-clutching kind of headlines and observed it had a pretty bleak impact on my day. I dislike both HP and CNN but I’ll look for an alternative way to open the day.

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Scheduling through Circadian Rhythms for Optimal Productivity

Every day after my baby lies down for his afternoon nap, I get to go work on my dissertation. That has not been working out at all. In theory, it kind of works. 5 hours of baby time, 5 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep and plenty of time left over to go to the gym, waste time online, and otherwise recharge. But those hours are not experienced in equal ways.

Current (ideal) Schedule:

7am – 12pm: Childcare (including running errands). Spouse helping on and off and may take the baby out for up to 2 hours in this time frame.

12pm – 5pm: Work. Baby naps until about 2pm. Then spouse watches baby until dinner time. I am lethargic and unproductive until about 2:30 pm-3:00 pm each afternoon.  Eat all the sugar.

5pm – 7pm: Family time and bedtime routine for baby.

7pm – 11pm: Personal time. While I feel pretty tired and lazy, I usually go for a run around 7:30 pm. By the time I come home and shower, I just want to watch a video or play games on my phone until lights out.

11pm – 7am: Sleep. Though, I almost always sleep well past 11.  Whenever the baby’s sleep is compromised from illness, teething, Wonder Weeks, that window of time gets fragmented and I always regret not sleeping earlier or keeping better sleep hygiene.

Trouble shooting…
Aside from tons of blog posts and news articles, there are a few accessible scientific articles detailing circadian rhythms and productivity. This one and this one stood out on Google Scholar so I skimmed them and learned:

The neural processes that control alertness and sleep produce an increased sleep tendency and diminished capacity to  function during the early morning hours (circa 2 to 7 AM) 12 and, to a lesser extent, during a period in the midafternoon (circa noon to 5 PM). This period during the very early morning hours corresponds to the period of minimum core body temperature and high levels of melatonin

FUCKING HELL, of course this is the only time of day when I get to work.

I knew this of course but there isn’t a lot of wiggle room with our schedule. Up until now, I had been trying to eliminate as many decision-making-scenarios as possible between 7am-12pm to avoid ego depletion. This may have helped stave off afternoon exhaustion but ultimately, all that morning activity and natural circadian rhythms will inevitably lead to tiredness. It doesn’t hurt to make mornings as efficient as possible but maybe the real trick is tweaking the afternoon routine.

I have been afraid to tamper with the 12pm-5pm for so long. If I go to the gym earlier in the day, will I make myself too physically tired to work later on? I also tend to “turn off” after dinner as I get closer to bedtime so working from home in the evening is a huge gamble. The question is, will I be more productive substituting 2 hours of evening work for 2 hours of afternoon work? The linked article on shift work for medical physicians suggest one idea: an afternoon nap that aligns with natural circadian rhythms. One side note was that people usually cannot fall asleep between 8-10pm. This makes sense considering this is “prime time” by entertainment industry planners, who have likely done the research to show that mental levels perk up right then.

Experimental Schedule

I am going to follow this experimental schedule for 2 weeks and note how things go.

7am – 12pm: Still childcare (including running errands). Spouse helping on and off and may take the baby out for up to 2 hours in this time frame. Try to eliminate as much mental stress as possible.

12pm – 5pm: Power nap + Work + Gym + shower.  I’m not sure if I’ll work after the nap or go to the gym after the nap. Either way, I will incorporate both nap + gym in this period and squeeze work to 3 hours.

5pm – 7pm: Family time and bedtime routine for baby.

7pm – 9pm: Work from home. I’ll have to be smart about this. It has to be legitimate work  with a clear goal – not just dinking around on my computer.

9pm – 11pm: Personal time. Watch a video or play games on my phone until lights out.

11pm – 7am: Sleep. Though, I almost always sleep well past 11.  Whenever the baby’s sleep is compromised from illness, teething, Wonder Weeks, that window of time gets fragmented and I always regret not sleeping earlier or keeping better sleep hygiene.

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Should –> Could

This is a tip I picked up from my yoga class. Make a list of all the things you “should” do.

  • I should call my mother more often.
  • I should clear out those old books on my desk.
  • I should prepare more vegetables for my son.
  • Etc.

Now, replace all of the “should”s with “could”s. Do you see how that completely changes the task in question. Now all of your tasks are presented as choices, as actions you can choose to take or not take.

  • I could call my mother more often. I will call her tomorrow afternoon.
  • I could clear out those books on my desk but it will take a few weeks at the shortest. Instead, I think it is better to focus on my writing project first and go through the books one by one.
  • I could prepare more vegetables for my son, but it will take a little bit of extra planning and experimentation. I could pencil that into my schedule for next Monday.
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The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity ~ Book Summary & Review (Part 2 of 2)

In my last blog post, I began summarizing a productivity book titled The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity (library)(Amazon) by Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne. Essentially, it is a book about efficient decision making. If we waste our energy on mindless tasks, we fall into decision-exhaustion (ego depletion) and don’t have the energy to pursue value-filled goals and projects. It is not as interesting as Jeremy Dean’s book Making Habits, Breaking Habits but this book still has a nice overview of some basic productivity lessons.

In the first part of the book, Continue reading

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The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity ~ Book Summary & Review (Part 1 of 2)

I picked up a new productivity book titled The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity (library)(Amazon). Co-written by Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne, the book claims to address the factors compromising our ability to make great accomplishments: the overwhelming flow of decisions we have to make day to day that drain our attention and mental energy.

 It is listed as a Franklin Covey book so it wasn’t surprising that the book’s advice all centered on their famous 4-box Time Matrix. While the book makes some lip service to brain chemistry and talks around concepts like ego depletion, it is not at all a science based book (which I found disappointing). Still, it is a quick read and anchors some long standing principles of productivity that are worth reiterating time to time.

Their #1 lesson seems to be

Train yourself to choose mindfully and not live reactively

As explained in Chapter 1, the “Reactive Brain” is the lower portion of the brain responsible for habitual, automatic reactions. Since it is where we house our immediate (simplest) emotions and our body’s reflexive stress response (fight or flight), it is the part of our brains that falls prey to advertising’s “low-resistance” appeals (wow! impulse buy! sounds! flashing lights! mmm hamburger! buy this! sex!). It also holds our unconscious patterns of behavior like driving on autopilot or continual habits, good or bad.

The “Thinking Brain” is how they characterize our upper portion of the brain responsible for executive function. It is where we consciously choose to direct our actions, overriding the other primitive impulses with planning, attention, self-control, and follow-through. Or as they say, “It is where we act rather than react. It is where we choose to pay attention to something in a deliberate, thoughtful way” (27). And most importantly, we can train our brain muscles to be more thoughtful and less impulsive, less primitive. While they never actually use the phrase “mindful,” they argue that conscious intention and planning can organize our lives, gain better habits, and put ourselves on the path to high productivity.

This is where the Time Matrix comes in. Continue reading

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February reflection, March planning

My monthly FutureMe email reminder came in. This was timely because the last 2 weeks were ROUGHHHHH.

Febuary goals were… Continue reading

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Overcoming the Distraction Habit – Test 1

Over at Zenhabits, Leo Babauta offers a simple method for overcoming a bad habit of being constantly distracted.

What I did when I wanted to develop an awareness of my smoking urges was carry around a pencil and small scrap of paper, and put a tally mark on it each time I had the urge to smoke. I could still smoke, but I’d have to put a tally mark first.

This built my awareness muscle, and it allowed me to insert a small space between the urge and my subsequent action. Into that space, however small, I could eventually make a choice. That was where the power came in.

this really struck a chord with me. I always read these absurd suggestions that say our inability to focus can be fixed by downsizing, returning to a dumb phone, using a pen and paper instead of a computer etc. None of these address the root cause of the problem: our easily distracted minds and sensitive temperaments.

Furthermore, no amount of self lecturing, motivational back patting, and visualizing is really going to stop the endless mental chatter. You know the type…”Okay time to sit down to work! Wow, I should google this…okaaaay I just spent a long time on wikipedia. God I’m so hungry, maybe I should…NO NO GET TO WORK….God, I am SO UNFOCUSED. Maybe I have late onset ADHD?? Google that. Ugh okay now…man, the lighting in here…So itchy…”

I am going to try this simple tally trick for 2 weeks.

Today, between 3pm and 5pm, I was distracted at

3:10 pm – went on facebok

3:22 pm – went on tumblr

3:43 pm – went back to work

4:30 pm – went back to work!

4:39 pm – went online, maybe Reddit?

4:55 pm – packed up and went home.

 

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