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

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Twitter: Strategy vs. Spam

Today I learned:

1. Twitter Strategy: Following yesterday’s post on the failings of my initial twitter strategy for this blog, I spent some time reflecting on the experience and researching alternative approaches today.

My take away?

At the outset I described this blog as an “opportunity for introspection.” It strikes me that my personality is naturally pushing me to shift this goal towards an “opportunity for ego-stroking.”  There is a part of my brain that would love to know thousands of people are reading my work, but that strays decidedly from the point.  My intention with the blog was two-fold:

  • to shift my mindset to ensure I am constantly open to learning and experiencing new things
  • to dedicate a piece of my life to reflecting on the lessons learned in hopes it will help me grow

The result however is that about 5 weeks in I am already concerned with what other people are learning from me.

In the end this suggests to me that while I understand that developing a meaningful set of followers on Twitter will require a new strategy, this is not the task at hand.  That may one day become a goal for this blog. Today though, is not that day.

Instead for now I will stick to what I call “organic growth” – a small amount of self promotion via my own personal website, WordPress tags and the odd tweet. I don’t intend to employ “fertilizer” (e.g.tweet bots, meaningless direct messages) to draw in followers at this point.  One day, some day, not today.

And, speaking of tweet bots...

2. Twitter Spam:  I recently started following Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki) on Twitter after a friend recommended his book, Enchantment.  I actually already bought a copy of the book too, but I haven’t got to reading it yet. I was looking forward to it though as it seems right up my alley – it adresses “The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions” according to the cover.

I assumed, as one reasonably might, that his online content would follow a similar theme. Or any theme. Instead it seems that Mr. Kawsaki’s twitter strategy is all about spam.

Within minutes of following him my timeline was clogged with garbage. Post after post about things like predicting the future with asparagus.

The worst part?

He appears to use an automated mechanism that posts tweet after tweet to fill your timeline, and then after a few hours it deletes those tweets from his history and re-posts exactly the same thing. Good content or not, constant re-posts always keep him on top of my timeline.

The evidence?

Apparently Red Aurora (tweets pictured below) set the night on fire, and seemingly the day too. First at 11:16pm last night I find Red Aurora noted in my timeline from 10 min earlier:

Then this morning at 9:27am, posted 2 hours earlier, the exact same thing, although with a unique short-link (and the initial tweet deleted):

There are numerous other examples too, but I don’t want to risk being called a hypocrite for trying to get the same point across 7 or 8 times.

If exposure is the goal, regardless of the content, then this strategy works well. @GuyKawasaki hit the top of my timeline before bed, and he was also the first thing I saw when I checked Twitter in the morning. To me though, it comes across as an inauthentic approach that is beneath someone who has generated meaningful content. He has written several popular books and yet on Twitter he focusses on mindless spamming. Basically, it looks like he just keeps throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks. Especially interesting for a guy with a link on his blog to a post called “How to not be annoying on Twitter.”

So, today I learned that regardless of whether or not I have a successful Twitter strategy, I have now discovered at least one approach that turns off the consumer in me.  The 491K other people that follow @GuyKawasaki probably don’t agree with me, but for now my plan is simple. #Unfollow.


Book Take-Aways and a Google Privacy Policy #FAIL

Today I learned:

1. Take-aways: I was reading the materials provided for an upcoming leadership training program I am participating in and one of the stats given was intriguing: Only 1% of people who read a business book will actually implement any of the ideas.

There was no source provided so I can’t back this up (and for this reason I am not citing where I read it), but it does seem like a reasonable guesstimate.  It got me thinking. Am I part of the 99%…or the 1%?

It seems in this area I am not doing too bad, but I could be doing better. When I read I already do it pen in hand and I am forever circling, underlining and bending page corners to keep note of things that hit home for me.  That said, I rarely look back to recalibrate on the lessons learned. Tonight I decided to change that with a new strategy.

Whenever I finish a book, if I think there are things I need to implement, I am going to schedule a 30 minute reflection in my calendar about a month away to revisit it.  If I find that time helpful I will schedule another one a bit further down the road.

To experiment, I tried it tonight with Peter Legge’s The Power of a Dream which I finished in the fall of 2011. It turns out there were several lessons and anecdotes I have actually used, but the refresher reminded me of a few gems I had forgotten.  A worthy exercise it seems. My assumption is that with a powerful book after 2-3 reviews I should be able to ingrain the key points permanently. Will it take more? Maybe, but this plan is a start, and it seems a useful experiment. Why not invest another couple hours or so in a book you feel strongly about? Otherwise it just gathers dust.

I am interested to know if anyone else does something similar – any comments?

2. Google Age Restrictions? Privacy Policy #Fail: Google products are integrated deeply into my life and the way things are going I assume they will be weaved into the lives of my kids too. That’s why I am quite concerned with a piece of their new privacy policy.  I was reading up on the changes tonight and I found this link outlining a new age requirement of 13 years for a Google Account in Canada.

Presumably this was done to match the existing Google+ age-restriction policy, but I see a problem with it.

Gmail is email. It is not Google+, and not Facebook. It is social, but not a social network. Integrating all our accounts across platforms makes some sense, but not when it limits access to the most basic communication tool they have – email. That’s akin to telling me when I was growing up in the 1980’s that I wasn’t allowed to buy stamps.

This could actually create a problem for me – I already have accounts for my kids. In fact, they had them in the womb. They are not even close to 13, and while the kids don’t even know about them yet, my wife and I actually use them. We send them things like pictures and funny one liners as sort of e-diary which we hope they will one day enjoy reading.

Will we let the kids use the accounts prior to age 13?  That was certainly the plan.  From what I understand lots of local kids need email as early as grade 1 to manage homework and communicate with their teacher.  I would hate to think this policy could sent my kids flocking to Hotmail, or god forbid, Yahoo.


Is the Messenger killing us? Plus, Anchoring your Calendar

Today I learned:

1. The Messenger might be killing us: I was watching the news last night and eventually just had to turn it off.  I get it. The world sucks. It’s a dangerous place.

Or is it?

Watching another round of updates on the calamity in the world made me wonder why we see so few stories about the good things in life. With a bit of exploring, today I learned Karl Aquino from the Sauder School of Business at UBC – where I completed my MBA – completed some research on this and found that instead of freaking us all out the media could actually make the world a better place just by reporting good news.

The funny thing is that this is intuitive.  The Power of Positive Thinking. The Secret. The Leader Who Had No Title. All books that in one way or another subscribe to the general idea you can be a better person, and lead a more fulfilling life just by filling your mind with positive thoughts and adopting an optimistic, forward-looking perspective. It is not a stretch then to suggest that if we were all working together, helping fill each others minds with positive thoughts, then we might all be better off.  The media could certainly help with an initiative like that.

Yes, I know. I am living in a dream world.

Feel good stories don’t sell.

Or do they?

Imagine an hour of news without drugs, murder, accidents or the nightly Hollywood train wreck.  An hour where Mike McCardell gets the lead.  That’s an hour I would look forward too.  That would have also kept me tuned in last night, lending a couple more eyeballs to the commercials that are funding the broadcast.

2. Anchoring: One more lesson from The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma. (I am finished the book now, so I promise I will stop!)

A new addition to my weekly calendar: Anchoring. As in taking the time to “anchor” into my week the most important things in life – kids, family, personal and physical development, fun – the things that don’t get booked and that we assume will occur spontaneously or we will just fit in.

The concept works for me, because I spent the 28 months of my part-time MBA  program meticulously scheduling every moment of my day, just to fit everything in. I have gotten away from it recently, only really scheduling personal activities that seemed important like haircuts, doctor visits, and days off . A subtle shift in what I deem as important, and therefore what I book into my week, should make this new activity helpful and in turn make the behaviour stick.


Watch Re-sizing and A Wake-up Call Courtesy of Robin Sharma

Today I learned:

1. When you lose enough weight you need to adjust your watch strap:  This realization is motivating but also oddly disconcerting when it dawns on you that your wrists where once in a state that could actually be slimmed down.  Well, at least one part of my body is ready for the summer beach season!

2. 6am Wake-up call from Robin Sharma:  My wake-up call this morning wasn’t exactly courtesy of Robin Sharma, but it was inspired by him.  After yesterday’s post about a take-away from The Who Sold His Ferrari, I spent the evening consuming the book. Inspired and energized by the message I woke up at 6am to continue reading and ride the exercise bike before work. As I was cooling down from a 30 minute ride, just about ready to start the rest of my day, I read the page photographed below:

When you are looking for signs in life they are easy to find. Similarly, if you want to make excuses, they are easy to make.

In this case, I could not have found a better or more timely sign. As a result, today I learned very early on in the morning that I had started the day off on the right foot, and I am quite certain it will help me find the motivation to start tomorrow the same way.


Steve Jobs was an A–hole and Robin Sharma is a Genius

I can’t seem to read just one book at a time. Typically I have a few going and I switch back and forth depending on my mood. On the nightstand right now is the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, and The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma.

From these two amazing books, today I learned:

1. Steve Jobs was an A–hole (and a Genius): From the sounds of it the only thing you could predict about Steve Jobs was that an encounter with him would be entirely unpredictable.

A terrible boss. Demanding, demeaning, insanely detail focussed. I doubt I could have worked for him but I wish I could have.

A terrible customer. He would never hestitate to explain everything you had done wrong. There was no filter. No mute button. I would have hated dealing with him, but I wish I could have.

A terrible listener. Prepared slides be damned. No way would he sit quietly through your presentation. It would have been impossible to present to the man, but I would have loved to have tried.

An utter genius with an unrelenting drive for perfection. I own 6 products with his stamp on them. I can’t imagine life without them – they make my day easier and remarkably more fun. The more I learn about the man the more I find to both like and dislike, and the more I want to buy his stuff.

2. Robin Sharma is a genius:  I just picked up a copy of The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari, and only a few pages in I am fascinated. I already considered one of his other books, The Leader Who Had No Title, the most simple and simultaneously profound book I have ever read, so it is no surprise I am enthralled with this one too.

As a carryover from school I always read with pen in hand ready to circle things that impact me. This is the passage that hit me today:

What I love about Robin Sharma is the simplicity at the core of everything he writes. Stripped down messages not unlike Aesop’s fables. This passage presents such a simple concept in a way that is easy to action. After today I know that the next time I am presented with an idea I will be sure to ask myself, “Is my cup full or empty?”