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Tracking Goals Like a Modern Caveman


2017-01-24

Okay, okay… So, maybe not a ‘caveman’ per se - but I don’t advocate using dozens of apps, Apple watches, or a Hololens for tracking goals. A bit of technology, and there is a whiteboard involved, which feels like carving stone paintings into a wall in 2017.

Before I get to that. Some background… What goals am I talking about tracking?

Health-First 2017

What does this even mean? Well, it means that I adhere to what Tim Ferriss talked about in his latest book. Summarizing drastically, you can only have one #1 priority. Anything below this can get bumped, moved, shifted, or forgotten about. Per his book:

Making health #1 50% of the time doesn’t work. It’s absolutely all-or-nothing. If it’s #1 50% of the time, you’ll compromise precisely when it’s most important not to.

He uses the example of having Lyme disease, and how critical keeping health #1 for him was at that time, but I’m just going to use the example of my overall health. For the last 5-6 years, my health was definitely not the number one priority. Typically, my number one has been related to my startup or work/business in general - I’d let my health languish for that one extra project, or that one extra client.

Well, no more.

My business has been very successful as a result of all the attention I’ve paid to it, but I need some level of homeostasis, otherwise things are going to completely go off the rails in both, the short term and the long term.

So, 2017. This year I focus on my health.

Examples?

You want examples? I’ll give you examples:

  • (Option A) Get an article out, or (Option B) hop on the elliptical? ( B )
  • (Option A) Lift weights for 30 minutes, or (Option B) finish writing that contract? ( A )
  • (Option A) Wake up for a 6am call with the overseas vendor, or (Option B) Sleep in until I get 7-8 hours? ( B )
  • (Option A) Walk around the block for 30 minutes, or (Option B) take that client’s phone call? ( A/B together )

Those are examples of things I’ve done in the past 3 weeks to focus on my health, over my business (or business ventures).

Aren’t You Losing Clients?

In my last article, I mentioned that I now officially start my business day after 12pm (because I’m not productive before noon). Before, this year, 95% of my meetings/work started after 10:30am, so I’ve only pushed back 1.5 hours of my day, which means most of my clients haven’t even noticed.

For the ones where I did need to have meetings before 12pm, I’ve informed them of the new plan and arrangements were worked out. It’s not like anything they could say would have really changed my mind, but it’s always important to keep people in the loop.

Also, it’s important to note that nothing here affects my deliverables, as before noon, I never coded or worked on hardware anyways (refer to “not productive before 12pm”) - it was only ever meetings. So, fewer meetings, and a healthier me - win, freakin’ win!

Health-First 80/20

I could read 200 books, 500 online articles, and 50 magazines on nutrition and fitness, and still not really have an actionable plan about what I should be doing to get healthy. I would have about 750 pages of ‘this is the best plan to lose weight’, but they would also be comprised of stuff like “Eat 1.4g protein per kg bodyweight, and don’t eat carbs, except 14 minutes before you do 12 bicep curls with 78% of your max rep weight”.

Basically, a bunch of gibberish that tries to optimize nutrition and workouts in one shot, before a lot of underlying problems are solved. It took me a long, long time to finally see through to realize that while those books, articles, and magazines have ‘good’ advice - they quite often just completely miss the point.

Are you eating McDonalds every day? Stop it for a month. After that, THEN you start working on better nutrition and cooking meals… Switching to black coffee from sweetened is good and will save you a bunch of calories, but 1500 calorie Big Mac combos render that moot.

Over the past month, have you been to the gym an average of 2-3x per week? If not, work on going to the gym more frequently, rather than worrying about your weight lifting plateaus and trying to ‘shock’ your system.

The point being, all of those recipes and workout plans complicate everything and risk your adherence to goals. Once some of those bad habits are broken, and good habits replace them - then go crazy optimizing your nutrition and fitness… Until then, it’s probably just going to add risk overall.

My Health-First plan is split into 3 sections: Nutrition, Fitness, Sleep. I don’t have calorie targets, nor do I have a workout schedule. Those will come later, AFTER I can successfully get my ass to the gym more often than not - and stop eating junk food. By that time, I’ll have good habits in place, so adding some more structure won’t risk my overall compliance to my plan.

Here are my ‘rules’ for my health-first plan, and they only actually apply to weekdays.

Nutrition

  • Remove chocolate
  • Replace processed sugar with alternatives
  • Cap fast food (1x per week)
  • No non-diet soft drinks

Fitness

  • Exercise before work
  • Tiny habits
  • Don’t Break the Chain

Sleep

  • Target 2am sleep time
  • Wake up for 10am
  • Sleep longer if tired

Preliminary Results

I really only started these after my New Year’s vacation, so everything started around January 5th - thus, I only have about 2 weeks of data, but I can still leap to some conclusions. In just 2-3 weeks, the following has occurred:

Weight is Down by 5.6lbs

This one is nice, but after the past 4 months + Christmas time, the first 10 lbs off are pretty easy. However, it makes for good motivation to keep going.

No More Grinding Teeth In My Sleep

I credit this to playing Tetris before bed. This was another Tim Ferriss trick, but here are some other notes on it.

I’ve found that when I play for 10-15 minutes before I go to bed, I go to sleep with a completely blank mind - even though before playing Tetris, I was continually thinking about on-going projects, next actions, etc. Makes for a more refreshing sleep.

Not waking up exhausted anymore

Because when I do still feel tired, I just go back to sleep until I’m refreshed. Simple.

Able to Restart Blogging

Using my pre-12pm, post-workout hours as freebie time to write. Not health related, just a nice perk of a morning routine.

Posture Slightly Improved

This comes as a result of weight lifting and exercising, and now based on a tweet from Tim Ferriss, I have a new Tiny Habit to try out to improve my posture.

.@SJoshi84 Seated meditation daily, strict front squats, and massage (or lacrosse ball) to open up pec minor. @mobilitywod may have others.

— Tim Ferriss (@tferriss) January 19, 2017

What Do I Use ?

My setup with tools is that I never want multiple for the same ‘role’, because then there are just too many apps/websites/etc to manage.

The following are some tools I’m using to develop and adhere to my habits and goals (again, centred around the Health-First 2017):

Required Reading

Only one book: Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss.

Thought-provoking, and results oriented. Lots of hidden gems, and just filled with questions you can ask yourself.

Digital Organization

OneNote:

I’m using OneNote as an overall organizational tool, in lieu of paper (which I lose), random text files on my computer (which I lose/delete). Also, I don’t need to be online to use it. I consider this to be step 1 in adhering to my goals, because a) I write them down, b) I can refer back, c) all the other mental garbage I have is now digitized in one place - which frees up my brain. I briefly asked for help setting one up, and I’m updating with how I’m using it on Reddit

Asana

Task tracking tool (wrote about it here)

  • again, using this alongside OneNote to make sure my brain is as void of upcoming tasks as possible. I find this makes it much easier to create habits/goals and stick to them because instead of remembering what I have to do for clients today, I can focus my brain-space on what -I- need to do today - and check Asana for everything else.

Harvest

Again, mentioned here

  • but I’m not just using it for business. I have a ‘project’ and ‘forecast’ related to my health - as well as a health budget. So, I can use this to see if I’m meeting my projected number of hours of fitness per week.

Why not use MapMyFitness, or similar apps? Because I want to minimize the number of tools I use, rather than have 50 different ones for hyper specific purposes. This makes it easier to adhere to my personal stuff, since I have Harvest open all day anyways for my business (ditto for OneNote and Asana)

Example of Harvest time-tracking weekly hours

Quartet Whiteboard

It’s a whiteboard, so it doesn’t matter too much which one you use. Whiteboards are pretty basic - but intentionally so. When I walk out of my room in the morning, this is right in front of me, so I can see how well my Chain is going, a snapshot at my morning routine, my current weight, etc…

I tried to replicate this with Apps and Laptops, but it’s just not the same - as on my computer, everything is so easy to ignore.

My whiteboard currently shows the progress of my morning routine chain, my monthly weight targets, a snapshot of my morning routine, and my weight today.

Fitness Products

While I love automating my life, I don’t think that works so well for health and fitness. Specifically automating trackers, because I use automation to put things into the background so I don’t need to think, worry, or focus on them.

Conversely, with my health - I want that front and center, and I WANT to focus on it. Even if it means filling out a sheet with the hours I’ve worked out today.

As a result, I’ve tried to not include too much automation in this part of my life. But, there are 2 tools which make my health goals easier:

FitBit Aria

My weight scale (bought one for each location that I might find myself on a given morning). While I can’t be sure of the absolute ‘accuracy’ of the scale (in fact, I doubt it a little - as each scale gives me a weight that varies by 2-3lbs), the precision seems to work well. The important part for me is that I’m consistent with using it, and all of that data is sent back up to the Fitbit website so I can see how I’m doing long term.

I used to do this manually with spreadsheets, but it is just far too tedious even for me.

Fitbit chart showing weight over 3-4 weeks

Mio Slice

A heart rate and activity tracker which collects your data and translates it into a “Personal Activity Intelligence (PAI)” score, which is a metric that basically describes your cardio-centric health (more/better information at the link provided, or on Mio’s website).

At the moment, I’m not doing heart-rate-based training - but having the Slice around is helping act as an anchor for exercising. I put it on after I put on my shoes, and it’s an added incentive to go workout.

Additionally, while I’m not training with any specific intention, having the Slice on - I can set myself a cardio micro-goal of “keep my HR above 150”. That’s it, 1 number to remember. No need to think about distance, steps, pace, walk/run, etc. Anything to simplify the experience.

PAI Health app screenshot

[Optional] C25K

A great app for people who want to start running. It’s week over week incremental buildup of your running chops, and the best part, there are voice commands - so you don’t need to check a timer or think. Just listen to when the voice says run/walk and do that until it changes.

I’m not currently using this, as I don’t want to add too many ‘things’ to my life at once, but once my fitness habits are more well ingrained, I will likely bring this app back into the mix.

Parting Words of Advice - Doing anything beats doing nothing

I can’t even recall how many times I’ve read or heard people state the following over the past year or so:

“I’m not going to go to the gym unless I can do it 3-5 times a week” "There’s no point walking - unless you’re running, you’re not losing weight’

While I see where these remarks come from, I find them to be quite asinine. I like to retort with spiritually similar lines such as:

“I’m not going to eat unless I can do it 3-5 times a day” “There’s no point in working - unless you’re the CEO, you’re not making money”

Validity aside, most people eat, most people work - but there’s no guarantee those same people eat 3-5 times a day, or are a CEO.

The overriding point is, actions taking you in an incrementally better direction is better than doing nothing at all.

I refer to this as Health Inertia, where getting into bad habits (skipping workouts, eating junk food) causes more of that behaviour to happen and makes it harder to turn the ship around. Whereas the opposite is true too… If you go a few days without junk food, you’ll stop craving it, and you’ll actually begin to feel bad when you have it again (I know this, because I had shawarma yesterday afternoon and I still feel horrific).

Anyways, enough of my soapbox. I might have periodic updates on how my Health-First initiatives are progressing, but now that I’ve gotten back into the writing rhythm (Writing Inertia?), I’ll start writing more of my tech-related posts again.