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

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Cookies vs. Cookie Dough: A Risk Tolerance Analogy

 Today I learned:

1. Everything I Know About Risk Tolerance I Learned in the Kitchen: I recently met with an investment advisor and to kick-off the meeting he walked me through a Risk Tolerance assessment. You know the test – it is the same one you are required to run through at the bank every time you change your RRSP portfolio. I assume this holds true for your 401K in the U.S. too.

Having done this quiz a number of times, it got me thinking: Is there a more creative way to tackle this subject?

http://thepinkpeppercorn.blogspot.com/2010/05/chocolate-chip-cookies-for-new-house.html

Without any immediate ideas I dropped it until the other day.

I arrived home from work to find my wife and four year-old daughter making chocolate chip cookies. I came in at the perfect time. The hard labour was done – all that was left was to lick the spoon and put the trays in the oven.

After a failed attempt to wrestle the spoon from my daughter I was faced with a simple decision.  I could wait 9 minutes for the cookies, or I could dig in to the uncooked dough immediately.

For me, that decision is simple: Eat the cookie dough.

After eating a couple cookies worth of dough I started to think about my decision. Other than the obvious – I have more than a bit of a sweet tooth – could I learn anything from my behaviour?

I realized that given the choice to eat chocolate chip cookie dough now, or wait 9 minutes for what will hopefully become the perfect combination of crispy chocolatey goodness, I will always go with the dough.

Why?  I know the cookie dough will be good, now. I also know that if executed properly the finished product will be better. The problem is that so, so, so many things can go wrong.  A kid might need to go pee. I might get distracted by an incoming email. Don’t even get me started on telemarketers.  Nine minutes could easily become twelve, and all will be lost.

It is about risk. And when it comes to cookies, my tolerance is pretty low.

2. Analyis of Risk – The Cookie Dough Method: The above baking-based self-assessment made me wonder, does my dough-first strategy translate to other aspects of my life? My investment strategy?

The Cookie Dough Method for Analysis of Risk Tolerance was born. Or, I guess, baked.

Do you think your approach to baking cookies can predict your risk tolerance in investing? Take a nibble on my quiz to find out…

Take the Survey

A. Your age is:

  1. Under 18 (If your mom does not let you use the oven alone please navigate to this page now.)
  2. 19- 64
  3. 65 or over (Cookies should not be a prominent part of your diet and will wreak havoc on your cholesterol. Navigate here.)

B. You are headed out to buy the ingredients for a batch of cookies. Do you:

  1. Methodically record all the requirements from a recipe card you got from your mom, which she got from her mom?
  2. Arrive at the store and then shop for what need based on the recipe they put on the bag of Chipits.
  3. Wing it. You can borrow from your neighbours if you forget eggs or sugar.

C. Your oven is:

  1. In tip-top shape. You have it serviced annually.
  2. A professional, model. You installed because it matches my fridge. You don’t really know how to use it.
  3. Oven? You prefer to cook over an open fire in your backyard.

D. You are responsible for:

  1. Providing cookies for yourself, and probably a husband/wife and kid or two one day.
  2. Providing cookies for yourself, your spouse, your ex-spouse, all the kids and three generations of elders.
  3. Responsible?

E. It is Sunday and you invest 2 hours making a batch of cookies for your kid’s birthday party. Your oven thermostat breaks and they are all ruined. You:

  1. Pay a weekend night service charge to get things fixed before you bake again.
.
  2. Go to the bakery and buy whatever is recommended.
  3. Take another kick at it.  You’ll guess right this time.

F. The timer is about to go off and the phone rings. You:

  1. How could it ring? You planned ahead and turned the ringer off.
  2. Call screen and answer if if sounds interesting.
  3. Answer it and agree to a survey that will take “about 5 minutes.”

G. How would you describe your overall cookie status?

  1. I already have a cupboard full in case we have visitors.
  2. I have been known to take all my cookies and invest them in one of those Christmas time cookie exchanges where people try to show up with raisin-based “cookies” and then trade up.
  3. I live cookie to cookie.

Results

http://cache.kotaku.com/assets/images/9/2011/04/scoring.jpg

Total the value of all responses:

Score 7-8: You are a lot like me. You have a low tolerance for risk and must consider this in both your baking and investment strategies. You should consider safe investments. Oreos for example. Start with the bulk of your portfolio in short to medium term bonds and pre-made Pillsbury dough. The rest of your portfolio should go into highly diversified, large cap stocks and Girl Guide Cookies.  Tinker with home made recipes but save some chipits for mom’s recipe.

Score 9-15: You have a moderate risk tolerance, and may want to consider learning more about investment strategies and recipe development. You might consider a portfolio that is anchored by an index fund, and something from a bake sale. You could probably handle a good chunk of cash invested in fruit (e.g. AAPL) or other natural resources. Every once in awhile you’ll burn your cookies, and your capital, but in the long run you should have enough around to at least enjoy the crumbs.

Score >15: You have a high tolerance for risk.  You have never even tasted cookie dough.  In this economy, if you want to retire with a full cupboard one day, you need to marry a rich chef.

Real-Life Application

I am working on a full online and interactive version that will allow you to take your results straight to the bank, to skip their annoying questions and save time in the investment process (Note: I am not really doing that, and if you thought I actually was, click here.)

Obviously (or at least I hope it is obvious) this was meant as a joke. That said, I do see some applications for this type of thought process. As my kids grow up, I foresee difficulty trying to teach lessons like planning for retirement and the time value of money. Trying to get kids to think about what they want in an investment strategy is tough, but with a bit of creativity maybe we can teach them the same lessons through real-life application.  ”Come on kids, Daddy wants to talk about RRSP’s. We’re going to bake a cake…

Comments?

So, what’s your risk tolerance?  Do you steal from the tray or wait patiently until they are done? Do you keep a close eye on the process (READ: stare eagerly through the window with mouth watering and the oven light on) or just trust that things will work out in the end? Do you ever open the door early just to check if they are done?

As well, any other ideas on how to apply this type of thinking to teaching kids or others about money?


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.


Pitching the e-Calendar, plus That Won’t Fit There!

Today I learned:

1. That won’t fit there! Earlier today our 2 year-old pooped on the potty – no small achievement in itself – and after an excited potty dance our 4 year-old examined the output from multiple angles and proclaimed, very seriously, “well…I think we’re going to need this…” She then went and pulled out the plunger from under the sink. Flushing proved her hypothesis correct.

What did I learn from all this?

  1. We need to buy the 2 year-old some prunes.
  2. The 4 year-old’s spatial reasoning is really improving. She already knew the square peg, round hole thing, but now she’s good to go with round peg, round hole too. Cool.

2. Pitching the e-Calendar: My wife won’t use an electronic calendar. I have my schedule online. We are forever destined not to know what the other is doing.  If things don’t improve we may need to actually talk to each other to ensure we are on the same page.

Taken from: http://oggsync.com/img/google.png

Ok, it’s not that bad. We do speak, but we certainly aren’t on the same page with our calendars. This was highlighted for me today when I missed an activity that was on her calendar, but wasn’t on mine.

The truth is, I couldn’t live without my online calendar – the reminders (via email and pop-up) keep me on track and it is a constant reference accessed via phone, laptop and iPad. I don’t do task lists. I do calendars. If there is a task to do and it’s not scheduled, it’s not going to get done.

My wife actually has one too. I created a google calendar for her and it syncs perfectly with mine. The only problem is she won’t look at it. I have been trying for months – years maybe – to get her to make the shift but I haven’t ever been successful at getting her to shift for more than a couple days.

Today, I realized why.

It’s Marketing 101. I’ve been trying to sell her on the features, not the benefits.

In a renewed effort to get her on the bandwagon I did some brainstorming into why an e-calendar will make life better for her. 

  • It’s like a purse for your schedule. Sure, it doesn’t have a nice little pocket to hold receipts, stickers and fruit bars like your Mom-Calendar, but it holds a crazy amount of stuff. Each entry will hold links, clipped articles, recipes and other information so you will have it in the right spot when the time arrives.
  • It will save you time. Synching events automatically will save copying between home and work. Recurrence settings will move birthdays etc. from year to year.
  • It will save your butt. Automated reminders by email, pop-up or text will mean next year you won’t forget your parent’s birthdays and anniversary.
  • It will always be accessible. Events come up when you are out and about, not when you are standing next to the fridge.
  • It will keep you in the loop locally. Schools, sports leagues, dance companies and all sorts of organizations we are involved with use online systems, so their calendars can be aligned with ours.

To summarize my new sales pitch:

How would you like a product that will save you time, carry everything you need, cover your butt when trouble crops up, help you keep tabs on the neighbourhood and always be at your side?

Now, if I could just find a pen I would be able to get myself an appointment on her calendar to deliver my new pitch!


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


Pain: Past, Present and Future

Today I learned:

1. Pain – Past and Present:  When it comes to my stance on crime, I don’t consider myself an eye for an eye type of guy. I talk tough at times, but in reality my views are relatively liberal. Knowing this, I was surprised at my own reaction today when I read about the first sentence handed down to a 2011 Stanley Cup rioter. 17 months for the offender.

My immediate emotions?

I was happy he received a lengthy punishment, and admittedly a bit disappointed he didn’t get more time. I immediately put myself in the judge’s shoes and concluded I would have been pleased to have a chance to throw the book at him.

This made me reflect back on my thoughts during the riot.  It was utterly painful to watch. After watching my favorite team suffer a tough loss, the sight of smoke over downtown made me feel even worse for my city. I was angry and embarrassed. I was hurt. While watching the events of the evening I tweeted this message:

The pain didn’t wear off for days. To a certain extent I am definitely still pissed off about it.

Reflecting on my emotions, past and present, and how they could impact my own decision-making actually helped teach me a valuable lesson. I may see myself one way, but emotions have a habit of clouding decision-making. Today’s announcement and a moment of placing myself in the judge’s shoes altered my own position to a place that is quite different than when a cooler head prevails.

All this is a perfect reminder for times when an important decision is required: Take a step back and recognize the emotion. Then set it aside. The correct decision must be based on what you believe is right and wrong, not how it makes you feel.

2. Pain – Future: With ACL reconstruction a few days away, today I picked up some crutches as I will be relying on them to get around for a few weeks. At that moment it hit me: A lot of pain is in my future.

It was indeed quite a disconcerting little lunch hour adventure. A pain-free walk (absent all jumping, running and pivoting mind you) to pick up crutches, knowing I will soon put myself through weeks of pain and months of rehab so I can enjoy those simple pleasures again.


Anticipation – Mickey’s Victory, plus Trust Your Team

Today I learned:

1. Anticipation – Mickey’s Victory: Little girls have a hard time falling asleep the night before they fly off to Disneyland.  What is interesting to me is this phenomenon, while expected, far exceeds the same problem on Christmas Eve. Despite having a thorough understanding of the concept of Santa and only a cursory knowledge of Mickey et al., Disney takes the cake as a cause of sleep deprivation.

Hopefully this does not foreshadow additional sleep issues in the coming days.

2. Trust your team: While preparing for a brief absence from work today I was bolting around the office like a chicken with my head cut-off through most of the morning. It took someone else to wake me up to it.

One of my reports said, “Well…somebody is trying to clear his desk for vacation.”

Unfortunately it took someone else to snap me out of it, but fortunately she was successful.

In that moment I realized the world doesn’t stop when you leave the office. If you have a good group around you, and they are competent and engaged, it really doesn’t matter what you fly around trying to accomplish in a few hours. Everything is covered. Any fires that come up will be put out. Everybody already knows exactly what they need to do, and they will do it.

Today I learned, thankfully, that I needed to get over myself.