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

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Parenting: Blueberry Yogurt and The Power of Suggestion

Today I learned:

1.  Blueberry Yogurt: My kids love yogurt. We have to buy in bulk to keep up with their appetites.  They go through strawberry, vanilla and raspberry at an insatiable pace.

The problem is bulk packs all come with 25% blueberry flavour.They love blueberries but they hate blueberry yogurt.

Faced with an ever growing stash of the stuff I have two options: Eat it or waste it.

I just can’t bring myself to throw it out, so day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt. I love blueberries and there was a time in my life that a nice bowl of blueberry yogurt was appealing. That time has passed. At this point I hate the stuff. Can’t stand it. But day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt.

It occurred to me today, as I choked down another spoonful at breakfast, that life as a dad can be summed up in a bowl of blueberry yogurt:  Ultimately what is in their bowls is more important to me than what is in mine. I know I am not alone in martyrdom.  At my brother’s place it’s the leftover food. I haven’t seen the guy eat an entire meal from his own plate in 8 years. I think he feeds himself entirely off leftover scraps on the plates of his 4 kids. That’s life. We’re dads. That just what we do.

2. The Power of Suggestion: As I peered into my daughter’s dresser this morning to help her pick out clothes I noticed something odd in the corner of the drawer. Odd but not unexpected. With two little kids you learn that something odd is always going to be there. I actually check spots like this frequently to reclaim items like the whisk, TV remote or one of my shoes.

With today’s find I just couldn’t resist the overwhelming desire to mess with the kid.

Casually I laid out her clothes – pink socks, monkey shirt, striped pants – all typical 4 year-old garb. On top of the pile I added the piece de resistance: Ski Goggles.

She looked at me a little funny, but she didn’t say anything. She certainly didn’t object. The goggles actually went on first, making it tough to execute the shirt phase in our daily dressing drama, and 2 minutes later she was at the table laughing, sucking back yogurt and just generally looking at life through rose-coloured goggles. When I left for work she was still wearing them.

My wife walked her to daycare and apparently she was pleased to have them on – they kept the rain out of her eyes. The kid was still wearing them when my wife left for work too.

8.5 hours later when we returned to pick her up? Still on.

It all got me thinking about the impact we can have on our kids, and potentially on just about anyone, with just a subtle suggestion. I didn’t ask her to wear the goggles. I just put the idea in her head and she ran with it. She got to be the centre of attention. People around her got a smile or two. Everybody is happy. Win-win.

The power of suggestion is huge with little ones. Kids run with whatever tools you give them. Leave a few sheets of paper and some crayons on the table and within minutes you will find them drawing. If we leave out cookies they will eat them. Put out grapes instead and they will be gone, no questions asked. We can get them to do pretty much anything. Except eat blueberry yogurt.


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

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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?


Fasting Goes Slowly plus Before and After

Just a brief, knee-themed, post today as I spent most of the afternoon under general anesthetic for ACL reconstruction. I consider it a moral victory that I made it in under the wire today by blogging on my phone from the recovery room! Pardon any spelling/grammar issues. I will clean it up post morphine induced stupor.

Today I learned:

1. Fasting Goes Slowly: Apparently a blanket rule applies. No matter what time your surgery is scheduled for the following day, they force feed you the same message: No food or drink after midnight.

This hardly seems fair. I am sure the guy with the 8am booking barely noticed he missed his first coffee of the day, and he would have been in post-op recovery room before his tummy even started to grumble. On the other hand, with my 1:45pm time slot, I had to suffer through the entire morning and into the afternoon void of anything at all.

The worst part of my painfully slow fast was a toss up. It might have been making my kids breakfast – the little ones dined on vanilla yogurt with fresh strawberries and mangos, while I wasn’t even supposed to lick my fingers. I think though, the worst part was the caffeine headache that kicked in at 10:17am when my body realized it was not going to receive the latte that it has grown so fond of. If it wasn’t that, then it was the man in the waiting room openly salivating over his plan for a Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast at 1:03pm.

That all said, the question for me is this: Why is there an across-the-board midnight rule on fasting before surgery?

I can’t find a reasonable resource that explains why my fast needed to be 14 hours when someone else gets off with only 8 hours. In fact, Wikipedia even suggests 6 hours is fine. Without a plausible explanation then, I am left to assume this rule exists because some hospital administrator assumes I can’t do math and count back 6 or 8 hours. Next time I am going to beg for the early spot and then order a take-out brunch delivery to the recovery room.

2. Before and After: A knee looks very different in the morning before a surgeon starts digging around in it than it does afterwards. I suppose I didn’t really learn this – it seems rather intuitive – but I was able to obtain the photographic evidence to back up the lesson.

Before – right knee with all the pieces, sans a ruptured ACL, where nature intended:

After – right knee with a piece of hamstring tendon now fixed in place where the ACL once was. I assume the old ACL (not pictured) is in a waste bin somewhere. The rest is on ice:

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The most gratifying purchase you can make and You can’t fool a 2 year-old

Today I learned:

1. The most gratifying purchase you can make…is a new belt one size smaller than your previous one.

2. You can’t fool at 2 year-old: About a month ago our daughter lost her prized stuffed bear at Costco. For 2 1/2 years it had been at her side for about 23 hours a day so this development was relatively problematic.

We immediately went into problem solving mode and within about 2 hours we were out $60, spent on 3 potential replacements. None exact, and each with some flaw that we were well aware of, but it was the best we could do. By bedtime she was somewhat satisfied.

I just didn’t feel right about it all though.

I understand the attachment kids have to these sorts of things. I actually still have the stuffed dog I had as a baby. I can’t even stand dogs now so it is about the only one dog I ever loved. And no, it is not immediately at my disposal. I don’t sleep with it, or keep it on my desk at work. It is in a box at my parents house. But, I know it is there, and there is something oddly comforting about that.

To solve the problem I looked to eBay.  The 21st century version of the “replacement hamster from the Pet Store.”  An exact replica was on it way, and another $30 was out the door. We even told her the people at Costco would mail the original bear to us if they found it, to buy some time.

Fast forward two weeks, and we found the original bear in the camera bag.

It was never lost.

When “eBay bear” showed up we noticed it looked a bit too new. Despite this, we tried to rotate it in to see if we could pass it off.

She was having none of “clean bear” and wouldn’t even let it in her bed.  She banished it to the toy box. It distressed her so much that we had to secretly switch in the original when she wasn’t looking.

Not wanting to let the issue die, my wife has spent the last 2 weeks staining “clean bear” with Ketchup, rubbing it with dirt from the garden and distressing the fabric. She even left it in the mud for almost a week. It looks like crap. We thought it was a pretty good match.

Last night we tried to switch it into the rotation again, sneaking it into bed with her in the middle of the night. At 2am this morning we awoke to a screaming 2 year-old sitting up in the the pitch dark yelling “it’s not right.”

You can’t fool a 2 year-old.


Disney Day 3: Down-sizing and Upselling

The third in a short series of posts that touch on Disneyland as I continue to blog my way through the process of learning two things a day for 66 straight days…

Today I learned:

1. Down-sizing: It took us 2 days, but we have now learned to down-size any food orders in the Park. We had forgotten we were ordering based on U. S. sizing.

How did we learn this lesson? While seated for a late morning kids snack we looked at the two tables next to us and simply observed what was going on.

Table 1: A family of 4 from Ohio (which I hold as a solid assumption based on the plethora of Ohio State garb), each gnawing on their own “Giant Turkey Leg,” which cost about $13 each, along with a Diet(!) Coke AND a cheese stuffed pretzel.

Table 2: A family of 4 people from Japan (which I hold as a solid assumption based on the fact they were speaking Japanese), each sharing pieces from single “Giant Turkey Leg,” and part of a large bottle of water.  They all had some Apple slices too.

From that moment on I realized the portion sizes were more likely to give me a heart attack than the Space Mountain Roller Coaster. Needless to say we all split a couple things for lunch.

2. Upselling: If there is one thing the fine people at Disney have figured out it’s upselling. As a patron of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver I can recall attending several events, mostly in the early days when organizing and queuing methods were suspect , where it was not possible to spend my money. Either horrendous lines or empty shelves empty actually prevented me from getting what I wanted. None of that is true at Disneyland

They seem to understand – better than any other example I can come up with – that the easiest sales to convert are to those people you can already count as customers. With that understanding they make sure to never miss an opportunity.  Once you are in the door they try to draw a little more cash from your pocket around every corner.

A few of the best examples I found today:

  • Food: There seems to be something new in every different “Land” and (at least in February) there is never more than a 3-5 minute wait to get what you need. Healthy? Got it. Horrendously unhealthy? See the Massive Turkey leg referenced above. Kids sizes? Yup, and toddler too. $12 R2-D2 shaped plastic souvenir container? They have for both popcorn and soft drinks.
  • Memorabilia: We all know Disney is famous for their animated franchises and characters, but the tie in to products and ability to find the perfect place for it is equally impressive. At the exit of every Character-themed ride you can buy related product. Perfect placement. Every product you can imagine, plus thousands you wouldn’t have dreamed of tying back to all the Disney and Pixar movies. They know as well as I do that kids will want the Snow White doll, even if the ride just scared the hell out of them.
  • Cross-Promotion: If there is a free moment where you might have otherwise noticed a bit of peace and quiet, they have filled it.  Audio ads on the Monorail. Posters for upcoming movies. If Disney has a stake in any other product, you will find it on display somewhere here.
  • Two-part pricing: Examples of this are everywhere. Admission to every ride is included with the ticket, but on each of the major attractions (typically at the exit), Disney has added secondary products targeted at enhancing the customer experience. Customized driver’s license at Autopia. Photos and t-shirts with your freaked-out face from Space Mountain.  They have consistently found ways to extract (or to convince your kids to try to extract) more cash to add-on to the experience throughout the day.

Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I expected it all and I am not bothered by the constant bombardment. I love marketing and I find it impressive when a company can get me to take my wallet out of my pocket when I wasn’t planning to. It’s like we are in a friendly 1 on 1 battle for my cash all day here.


Wasabi Gelato and Self-motivation

Today I learned:

1. I heart Wasabi Gelato: I took the kids to La Casa Gelato, the best spot in the city, this afternoon and decided to try only uncovential flavours. After sampling Purple Yam, Star Fruit, and Saffron, I settled on Wasabi. Surprisingly, I learned I liked it. The bite of the wasabi contrasted nicely with the icy gelato.  What do you know? It turns out there are other flavours beyond chocolate.

2. Self-motivation: When school was drawing to a close last year I knew job #1 upon completion would be to work on re-establishing balance in my life, including a focus on health and wellness. After 2.5 years sitting at a desk all day at work only to come home and sit at a desk all evening at home I was way out of shape and I had adopted a number of bad dietary habits.

So, what was the first thing I did?

I bought some new clothes two sizes too small, and then placed them at the front of the cupboard so I saw them everyday. Fast-forward 8 months and my purchases now fit like a glove.  Nothing like finding practical motivators to incent yourself towards a goal. How did I know this would work? I just knew I was way to cheap to left a bunch of new things go to waste. Today I learned I was right.

Note: Yes, I am aware my post today includes learnings about high-calorie gelato and weight loss. Everything in moderation…