My Fitbit Quest to Eliminate Lazy Days

Isnake-oilf I told you I have two simple tips that will give you more energy on less sleep and might even help keep you from getting sick, would you be interested? What if I told you it is all free?

I bet most of you would think “Snake oil…”

Nope. Read on.

Turning Point: On February 14, 2014, I worked a regular day – most of the morning at my desk then four hours of meetings in the afternoon – and then I rushed home to take my wife and girls out for a Valentine’s dinner. After the kids were asleep we shared a great bottle of Californian wine and watched a sappy romantic comedy on Netflix.

At bedtime I had recorded a measly 5737 steps.

It was my second day in a row below 10,000 and after a week sick in late January I’d had a whack of recent days that had missed my target.

In that moment I realized I needed a bigger goal. Something interesting enough to warrant attention and more than a little ridiculous (because that’s how I prefer most everything), but still achievable given the time constraints of a full-time desk job and a busy life with two little girls.

I quickly settled on what I thought would be a fun year-long “mini-quest”.

Goal: 10,000 Fitbit steps a day, everyday for a year. Zero days under 10,000.Fitbit-10000-Steps

I’ve averaged over 10K steps per day since I started with Fitbit in March 2012, but my activity was quite variable. In true weekend warrior fashion I generally had a big 20-30K day on either Saturday or Sunday to make up for 2-3 low step days during the week.

My goal was to re-define the “lazy day” and really not to change anything at the upper end.

Result: Mission accomplished!

I am surprised to admit it actually doesn’t feel like it was much of a quest at all. It was exceptionally easy. There were no frantic late evening exercise sessions required. While aiming for 10,000 steps per day I found overshooting was inevitable. I actually had only a handful of days under 11,00 steps (16 to be exact).

Two Lessons Learned: I learned this goal could be easily accomplished with two simple adjustments, that I believe almost everyone can build into their life:

http://sheilarobinsonfitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/quick-morning-workout-morning.jpg

1. Build activity into your morning routine: I sit all day at work. If I do the minimum activity required – drop the kids at school, work, eat in my office and then drive home – I will be at about 1800-2000 steps at dinner. It’s daunting to try to fit in over 8000 steps in a few hours after work. Some evenings you are burnt out and just need to relax.

To avoid forcing myself into evening workouts, I committed to wake up a little earlier to exercise before breakfast (and before the kids get up). I’ll admit I have an advantage – I bought an exercise bike a couple years ago to rehab an ACL injury and it is very convenient to have something at home for dark winter days.

Most exercise bikes gather dust. I rode mine 274 times last year (stats tracked via RunKeeper), virtually always between 6:00-6:40am. This was less of an adjustment than it sounds. I just quit hitting snooze. Previously I would lay there trying to squeeze in just a few more minutes of sleep, waiting for my wife to clear the bathroom before I would shuffle to the shower. I cut that out and got moving. While my Fitbit One isn’t perfect for cycling (only 1 step per full revolution) it did kickstart my day. To mix things up sometimes I went for a run or to the local community centre gym instead.

I now generally arrive at work with 4500-5000 steps, about halfway to my goal by 8am.http://shontejtaylor.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/bigstock-Time-To-Plan-43334488.jpg

2. Plan your steps:  With a desk job I need find opportunities to add steps and this takes a bit of planning. Generally I tried to plan at least a day in advance. If I knew my evening would be jam packed I might get up a few minutes earlier to add to my morning activity. I also found I could generally get away for a few minutes for a quick walk. At my regular pace a 16 minute mid-day walk not only got me 2000 extra steps, but also kept me alert for the afternoon and was often all I needed to reach my goal.

By planning out where I would get my steps I had no trouble finding opportunities to squeeze in a few more.

Benefits: I haven’t been sick in over a year, despite intentionally sleeping less. Not a cough or sore throat. Everyone else in the house has been sick at least once and I’ve managed to avoid it every time. I compare that to an earlier period in life when I worked full-time, did an MBA, had a newborn and paid almost no attention to exercise. In that two years I felt like I was sick every month or two. I’m not trying to claim that if you exercise enough you’ll never get sick but it does feel like there is a correlation.

Despite less sleep I also feel far more awake in the morning and I generally have way more energy throughout the day. The increase in energy then makes me crave a little more activity in the evenings. It’s a positive multiplier: More exercise leads to more energy, which makes me want to exercise more.

I’ll admit to some tired/lazy days but I found I could still use the exercise bike in the morning and just lighten the workload a bit and then simultaneously use the time (and my iPad) to plan my day, clean out my email and read or watch the news.

Weight loss wasn’t my goal, but you might assume it was also a benefit. That was not the case. My Fitbit Aria wifi scale tells me I am essentially the same weight now as a year ago. I can track this to my diet. While I exercise more, I also logged more calories on my food tracking app (myfitnesspal) so the net impact on my weight was basically a wash.

Over the year I actually came to the conclusion that the bar was set too low and 10,000 steps everyday started to feel too easy. I decided to up the ante and move to something tougher: 100,000 step weeks. I’ve managed to keep up that goal since mid-September and have learned that as long as I can still find one big day a week it is fairly easy to achieve.

Downside: I’m now a step junky and I tend to skip exercises – fun exercises – that don’t increase my step count. I am less inclined to go swimming as my Fitbit is not waterproof and lengths get no steps. Same goes for the rowing machine at the gym. These are great exercises but I have become too obsessed with step count.

Summary Stats: I finished the year just shy of 6 million steps (5,968,887 to be exact) and my daily average increased from 12,363 to 16,353, a whopping 32.3% year over year increase. The big change was confined almost entirely to the complete elimination of inactive days. My lowest step days was 10,253 versus 1,785 in the previous year. In fact I had 127 days less than 10,000 in the year prior to setting my goal and I cut that down to zero.

The chart below captures step count in 1000 step buckets and shows my biggest days weren’t bigger or even much more frequent – the goal was to keep constantly moving to eliminate the low end of the scale.

Click Chart to Expand

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 8.50.39 PM


Smurf’ing Through Life plus An Epiphany in the Shower – Insights into Disability

Today I learned:

1. Smurf’ing Through Life: Since my initial Smurf-based post, I have been curious if other people speak “Smurf” as well as my four year-old. To test this out, and simultaneously amuse myself, I decided to try an experiment.

The plan: Casually replace a verb with the word “smurf” in a conversation and observe the reaction.

  • Test #1 – Starbucks: “Can you smurf me a grande non-fat latte please?”
  • Test #2 – indepedent sandwich shop: “I’ll have a turkey sandwich, and can you smurf me a chocolate chip cookie too please?”

The outcome: Other than getting exactly what I asked for, I noticed no reaction at all. People understood what I wanted, and were not phased by phrasing.

This raised a few questions: Were they even paying attention? Were the scenarios so routine they were only listening for key words? If yes to either of those, what does it say about how they are approaching their jobs and their lives?

This taught me a great lesson in being present and listening to what someone says rather than just listening for what I expect them to say. After all, what kind of life are you living if you just smurf your way through it?

2. An Epiphany in the Shower – Insights into Disability:

This section of the post requires a disclaimer. I am not disabled and in no way do I intend to offend anyone by trying to draw a parallel between my recovery from a relatively minor knee injury with related surgery and any permanent disability. It is simply that two weeks of dealing with limited function and mobility has taught me a few lessons about accessibility and treatment by others.

It hit me in the shower this morning.

I hate baths.

More specifically, I hate being forced to take baths. They are tolerable when you want one, but not when you need one. I’ve been taking baths for 2 weeks due to an inability to stand in the shower (and a restriction against getting incisions wet). As I enjoyed my first hot shower in what felt like forever it struck me that I simply didn’t want to get out.

This got me thinking about other things I have noticed in the last two weeks – things I would never notice if had no functional limitations. The lessons are interesting, and tell me a little about things I normally take for granted:

  • Few people hold the door. I am on crutches. You can see me and hear me coming. In many cases you just passed me on the way to the door or elevator because I am so damn slow. You can see I don’t have a free hand. Why then won’t you do me the courtesy of holding the door?  Obviously this is not true of everyone, but a lot of people – my guess is 15-20% – are either completely oblivious or just plain mean.
  • Driving is awesome. The bus is terrible. Walking to the bus is worse and trying to do so on crutches is worse still. Cabs waste money. Waiting for rides from family and friends sucks. Being in control of when I come and go from places is a simple pleasure that I look forward to enjoying again soon.
  • Carrying things kicks butt. If this was going to go on much longer I think I would invest in a jacket with about 100 flexible pockets that I could stuff full of everything I would need for the next 12 hours.
  • Rain is the enemy. It makes paths – particularly those made of marble – into a beautiful and gleaming death trap.  Plus, with crutches you can’t carry an umbrella.
  • Snow and ice are the enemy’s evil siblings.  A couple inches of snow and I was a prisoner in my own home. My neighbour – a very nice guy – did a great job clearing my path and sidewalk without being asked, but I was still not able to go out because a good chunk of the rest of the world doesn’t take the same care to make the walkways clear and safe. My guess is these are the same 15-20% of people referenced above.

My hat is off to both to those who need a bit of help to get by everyday, and those who selflessly help them. Two weeks of it was difficult to endure. A lifetime would be much harder to accept. Keep your head held high, and don’t worry I’ll get the door, even if the other guy won’t.


Wine: Crutches and as a Crutch

A wine-themed post today as I prepare to head to the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival tonight.

Today I learned:

1. Crutches: After much research I must conclude no one has invented a device that will allow me to simultaneously use crutches and carry a wine glass.

I had imagined someone would have come up with some sort of gryroscopic-like sippy cup device that I could hang around my neck, but alas I am out of luck.  The coolest thing I could find (pictured below and taken from a post at blog.winecollective.ca) looks good, but you still need a free hand.

In the end all I really learned is that my wife is going to be carrying my glass all night. That is all on her though, because she won’t let me go to the Wine Festival tasting event utilizing my original idea (via bonappetit.com):

2. Wine as a Crutch: 

“Wine is like a crutch – it supports me.”

Gianni di Gregorio

Wine is certainly present alongside many of the good times but hopefully it isn’t a necessary companion in the bad times.

This quote did teach me one lesson though, helping me avoid learning the same thing the hard way tonight. As I head out towards one of those good times in life, the quote reminds me that yes, wine is like a crutch, but do you know what else is like a crutch? An actual crutch.

If I want to ditch the kind of crutch helping me get around these days then I better go easy on the other kind tonight.


The Streaming Diet, plus Saved by the Pomodoro?

Today’s two things come via links courtesy of Daniel Pink. His book Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – has been sitting near my bed for months. Now that I see all the great content on his site and twitter account (@danielpink), I might just be motivated enough to move it up in the queue.

Today I learned:

1. The Streaming Diet:

“Personal Productivity is the new Dieting”

– Daniel Pink

The central concept proposed (linked below) is that information, much like our caloric options, has proliferated to such an extent than an entirely new industry has been created to help us manage the issue. Essentially, he suggests we pile too much information on our plates now, in the same way we started to pile too much food on our plates decades ago.

A useful analogy, in my opinion, and a concerning one.

Despite a multi-billion dollar diet industry, collectively we clearly haven’t figured out food. Obesity rates continue to climb, particularly in kids.

Does the similarity between food and information mean one day ADHD will be the new Diabetes?  It’s been 72 years since McDonald’s was founded and we haven’t yet figured out how to deal with the food in front of us. Certainly in the 6 years since Twitter launched the stream of cool stuff coming at us has simultaneously multiplied and become more difficult to say no to. I have never been great at turning down the chance to super-size my value meal. I am no better at avoiding the seduction of another glance at Twitter, email, RSS feeds…the list goes on.

That all said, I actually had some personal success with dieting through 2011.  My breakthrough came when I translated a trick that had helped me manage a family with two kids, full-time work and a part-time MBA program for 2.5 years. The solution was simple: meticulous planning, diarizing and recording of everything on my calendar.  In translating the idea to food this meant keeping a diary of all food intake via an app on my phone. I set no goals or dietary restrictions, but found the simple act of keeping track kept me honest and motivated. Personal drive immediately and drastically improved the quality and volume of what I consumed. In 9 months I lost about 20% of my body weight – a drastic improvement with almost zero effort.

It all makes me wonder: Could the same “diet” concept translate to managing a information overload?

This seems to me a worthy experiment. So, here is my plan:

For one week I will keep a simple but meticulous checklist recording every time I do the following things:

  • Check my work inbox
  • Check personal email
  • Review my Twitter feed
  • Navigate to Google Reader
  • Click into Google + (accidently of course, because why else would you visit a ghost town every day)
  • Check out my Facebook timeline

If, after a week, the idea seems manageable and promising I will continue my checklist in hopes of seeing if my behaviour changes over time. My working title is The Streaming Diet and March 1 (tomorrow) sounds like a natural place to start.

Link to Daniel Pink: How to Say No…Especially to Things you Want to Do

2. Saved by the Pomodoro? Keeping on task is a problem for just about everybody. If you don’t have issues with it, you probably quit reading this post somewhere in #1 above.

The question is, can a Pomodoro save us from ourselves?

Pomodoro is italian for Tomato, and apparently the shape of most simple timers in Italy, so in North America this idea might gain wider appeal as the Egg Technique (though it would not have the same marketing appeal).

The concept, via pomodorotechnique.com is simple:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

I find the concept appealing in its simplicity. I also find it appealing in that there is an app for it.

Screenshot from ITunes Canada

I’ve been an advocate of mini-breaks for years and I used them incessantly while studying to artificially “chunk” my progress.  I like the concept for work too, due to the natural tendency to allow interruptions – phone, email, open-door – to impact my ability to buckle down and keep me from critical tasks for the day.

This seems like another worthy experiment for me. I have a sense that the short time blocks might simultaneously make me more productive, and help me with The Streaming Diet that starts tomorrow.

Time to go shopping in the app store.

Link to the inspiration for this post, Daniel Pink: Can a tomato make you more productive?

Link to the “cheat sheet” on pomodortechnique.com


I am an Idiot, plus Inspiring Action with Why’s not What’s

Today I learned:

1. I am an idiot: Admittedly, some may tell me this should not be news or at least it should have been an assumption going in. Regardless, I didn’t make it past 7:15am before the label was applied this morning so at minimum this is earlier than usual.

As I prepared for work , 7 days post ACL-reconstruction, my wife looked at me like I was nuts.  This in itself is not unusual, but she is a physiotherapist so when rehab is concerned I need to listen (even more than I usually do, of course).  I continued to prepare until, as I struggled to pull my socks on, she muttered “you’re an idiot.

This helped snap me out of it, and we had a good discussion on surgeon recommendations, rehab principles and recovery.  Suffice it to say, another day at home for me. A good reminder that I don’t always know best, but at least my wife does.

2. Inspiring Action with Why’s not What’s:

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

– Simon Sinek

The goal is to sell people on why you do what you do. What you do is simply the proof of what you believe. Within Simon Sinek’s Ted video (linked below), he draws together this concept with several engaging examples – Apple, TiVo, and the Wright Brothers – but for a business leader or manager the most tangible example from my perspective relates to Martin Luther King Jr.

In jest, Mr. Sinek quips “He gave the I have a dream speech, not the I have a plan speech.”

This struck a cord and immediately made me consider how I have addressed my team in the recent past within activities like staff meetings, project planning sessions and 1:1’s.  It served as a good reminder that too often we emphasize what we are doing – what the plan is – not why we are doing things.  This is not to say we ignore the why, but rather we don’t always lead with it, and perhaps don’t give it the time and credence it deserves.

Importantly, in management the why must be tailored to individuals and the team.  For example, when I think about one large project I worked on in the past, our why messaging was at a corporate level, and it didn’t sell the goal at a personal level.  In the end, people follow for themselves – not solely for the money but for whatever else is intrinsically driving them. Selling your staff needs to get personal, in terms of why it is good for them. Get your Why right and you will have no trouble getting your team on board for the How and the What.

Link to Simon Sinek on Ted.com, plus graphic from guidedinnovation.com.


The Best Laid Plans, plus Why I Wouldn’t Succeed as an Addict

Today I learned:

1. The Best Laid Plans…often go awry.  In an earlier post on preparation to work from home post-ACL reconstruction,  I subtly (?)  bragged about how well prepared I was to remain effective during time out of the office. By day 2 it became clear, despite IT support and “successful” testing, all tools are not equally reliable.  The IP phone on my PC is a bust – it keeps cutting out.

Can you hear me now? Nope.

The good news is today I learned many of the free tools available are more reliable than those we pay for.  Google Talk and Skype have saved the day, and not added any cost to me or the company. No IT support either – plug and play, just like things should be.

2. Why I wouldn’t succeed as a drug addict:  It’s plain and simple. I just don’t have the stomach for it. For 2 1/2  days following surgery I was nauseous and dizzy. I felt weak and  couldn’t stand to be on my feet for long. Using the crutches to cross my house made me feel like vomiting. My mind was foggy and I couldn’t concentrate. I was feeling as though the recovery period was going to be much worse than I thought.

Today it finally occurred to me that maybe it was the pain medication, not the surgery, that was the problem. I decided to go cold turkey and kick the drugs to test the theory out.

It was a good decision.

Within 2-3 hours the fog lifted. I was immediately more functional, both physically and mentally. The knee pain, despite no pain medications, is exactly the same if not better, too. It was an interesting lesson. It turns out the surgery wasn’t as bad as I thought. I am just not very good at doing drugs.


Perpetuating One Stereotype and Disgusted by Another

Today I learned:

1. Perpetuating a Gender Stereotype: I hate to say it, but there is no denying it: Girls are natural caregivers.

Following surgery I was worried my little ones would be too rough on me or too demanding.

Two days in and nothing could be farther from the truth. In addition to an overwhelming desire to see my “owie”  every 5 minutes, they seem to possess an innate understanding of how to take care of people. There is no jumping, no rough play, no crying, no demanding. I am being showered with hugs and kisses, gifted with cards and artwork, and lent even the most treasured of stuffed animals if they might conceivably give me some level of comfort. Pillows are adjusted, paths cleared for crutches and snacks retrieved. Nothing but the best for daddy.

I have no set of boys to compare this behaviour too, so it is possible this would be true of all kids, but I don’t get the sense that would be the case. My only real knowledge of little boys comes from the fact I was one once, and I hate to say it, but I don’t think I possessed the same patience and understanding at their age.

2. Disgusted by Another Stereotype: “Linsanity” looks good on the NBA. Ever since the Grizzlies left town in 2001 I have sought out, and enjoyed, every new reason I can find to despise the National Basketball Association. I still hold quite a grudge.

2011 Lockout?  Petty greed, on both sides. I was sad it ended.

Lebron’s  prime-time signing?  The best of bad TV.

Ron Artest becomes Meta-World Peace?  That would never happen in hockey.

Out of all of it though, I haven’t enjoyed anything more than “Linsanity.”

For two straight weeks, media outlets have been tripping over stereotypes – firings, inappropriate headlines, embarrassing graphics, over-compensation, and just generally making fools of themselves. It appears just about everyone in or around the NBA doesn’t quite know how to act when an Asian male (born in L.A. for goodness sake!) finds success in the league.

The one exception in all this of course is Jeremy Lin himself who seems to be taking his sudden rise to fame with a sense of grace and humility. No embarrassing quotes. No off colour remarks. No over-the-top chest pumping. He just keeps showing up and proving his game night after night. This is one of the few opportunities I can think of – Steve Nash aside – where we can learn something about how to behave properly from an actual NBA player. The NBA finally has a good story to tell, and it seems they just can’t find anyone to appropriately tell it.