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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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.


Bed Rest in the Digital Age plus Over-Prescribing Meds

Today I learned:

1. Bed Rest in a Digital Age: Prior to yesterday’s ACL reconstruction, I had two previous arthroscopies on the same knee in the early-1990’s. It was almost 20 years ago but I have two vivid recollections:

  • Dialling my own home phone number from downstairs to make it ring upstairs so I could ask my mom to bring down some ice cream, without getting off my lazy butt. I remember this, partially, because she reminds me of it every chance she gets.
  • Watching ALOT of crappy TV.

As a high-school student who actually attended all my classes, this was my first exposure to the Soap Opera genre. Try as I might I never took to Days of Our Lives and General Hospital, but there just weren’t many other options in those days.

The world is different this time.

I stacked months of reading by my bed in preparation for the down-time but one day out of a general anesthetic and still hooped up on pain meds, my head is not so much into books.  Instead I have watched a few shows recommended by friends on Netflix – The Hour and Justified are favourites so far – and watched a work-related webinar.

As I look at myself now, surrounded by my iPhone, iPad, and macBook Pro, as well as my work laptop and blackberry, I have a sense this round of bed rest will be very plugged in. This blog may in fact prove to be therapeutic as it forces some form of daily creation, rather than consumption.

All the technology comes in handy too – this time I have 4 separate devices that I can use to Skype my mom to see if she can drop by with a bowl if Ice Cream.

2. Over-prescribing Meds:  On discharge from hospital I assumed I would be sent off with a small script for T3’s, but in fact I was given a prescription for a fairly heavy narcotic.  Interestingly, I was prescribed 60 tablets which my close friend (a pharmacist) described as “an awful lot for knee surgery.”

Taken at the recommended dosage of 1-2 tablets every 4-6 hours, the 60 tablets would be depleted at a rate of between 4 and 12 per day. Essentially, worst case I have 5 days of meds, but best case I have 15 days (or more if I don’t need them frequently).

This made me wonder: Why prescribe so many tablets?

Surely if I am in so much pain that I run through these meds at the fastest pace then someone should see me before 5 days to assess the problem. Alternatively it could be that I will have so many tablets leftover when I am done that they end up sitting around in my medicine cabinet long after I need them. This invites abuse by me or someone else.

I trust my doctor – I think he’s great and I am sure he did a good job on my knee – but I wonder how much thought went into the follow-up medications.  It may be that he assessed me and felt a large prescription was safe and low risk. I hope that is the case.

It seems to me though that it is more likely the script size was just a convenience factor for both him and me – an attempt to reduce follow-up visits just to write a new script. If that is the case then I am not too impressed. A smaller prescription would potentially catch and save problems at both ends of the spectrum.


Locus of Control and Don’t Blame the Tech

Today I learned:

Locus of Control in Parenting: One of the most disconcerting times in life for a parent is knowing your child’s future will be impacted by factors beyond your control.

Our daughter – set to being kindergarten in the fall – has her name in a hat tonight with hundreds of other preschooler’s registered for French Immersion.  With more families interested than spots available, the method of schooling of our daughter is now left to chance.

Growing up I didn’t learn another language, and this remains a regret.  I would like to provide her with an opportunity I did not have, and it is quite bothersome to know I cannot control the outcome of the draw.  It is not a matter of money. I would gladly pay for it it that option was available.  It is simply a matter of which names come out of the hat.

So, today I learned for the first time, but certainly not for the last time, that not being able to control the path your child takes through life doesn’t feel good.

[Note @ 2013.02.01: After losing the draw she spent this year in English Kindergarten. It has been mostly great, with some annoyances…but we are now VERY pleased she won the lottery this year and she can switch to French for Gr. 1. Sad for all the other parents and kids that lose out to chance again.]

2. Don’t blame the tech: I participated in a webinar today which got off to a rocky start. Immediately after logging on we were all kicked out and told to wait five minutes then restart, giving the presenter time to deal with a technical issue.  The program eventually started 15 minutes late and in turn went 15 minutes long, impacting the rest of my day

Blaming the technology is a nice fallback option to have, but this excuse is starting to feel like crying wolf.  When a carpenter learns his trade, the rule #1 is “measure twice, cut once.” Other similar maxim’s include “success is 90% preparation,” and “practice makes perfect.” One of my favorites comes from from Abe Lincoln:

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spent six hours sharpening the axe”

How come then a similar lesson on preparation for presentations doesn’t seem to catch on? I wouldn’t wing it if I was renovating a bathroom.  I would make a plan, learn the tools and find a way to practice. Yet people seem just fine winging it in front of a crowd of people? Here’s hoping this quote, from Wayne Burghaff, one day becomes as popular as the rest:

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.”


Chick TV and Addiction to Gadgets

Today I learned:

1. I can’t watch a chick shows: Grey’s Anatomy, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars – they are all the same to me. Intolerable.

I simply can not watch these shows without constantly groaning about the problems I see and providing a sarcastic running commentary. At the same time I am happy to lose myself for a short time in sitcoms that are no more stimulating, like How I Met your Mother or The Big Bang Theory. This must drive my wife nuts.

2. My Addiction to (Useless?) Gadgets is Flourishing: The realization dawned on my today as I clicked “confirm” to finalize my online purchase of a Fitbit activity tracker that will help me monitor both my activities and sleep, syncing wirelessly to the web and – the kicker – allowing me to track the information obtained through an app on my phone.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not buyers remorse talking. I meticulously research these things and only buy stuff that I am convinced works well and I will use. It is just that I seem to have an addiction to these marginally useful products.

The evidence?

A few other things I own, and use everyday to make my life more enjoyable or easier, but I don’t really need:

  • Watch with a vibrating alarm, so that it wakes me up to exercise without stirring my wife.
  • TV remote app, so I can turn my TV on/off and change the volume when the kids lose the remote.
  • Bluetooth car speaker, solely to listen to the Economist from my phone will commuting to and from work.
  • Remote controlled light switches for all the bedrooms. Basically a glorified clapper, and a ridiculous luxury, but they look cool.

Ultimately I think it is good design that gets me. This is also why I have a love-in for most Apple products. If the gadget is simple, works flawlessly and looks good then I am an easy mark. Alternatively, if it doesn’t fit all those criteria and it somehow makes it into my home (e.g.this recent gift, which arguably fails all three tests), it is destined for the garage sale pile.


iPads, Apps & a 4 year old plus the Boy Scouts got it right

Today I learned:

1. iPads, Apps, and a 4 year old: My natural response to hearing a 4 year old say, “Daddy, can you plug in the iPad to the laptop and load the Dora app from iTunes again – I accidently deleted it,” is confusion, silence and obedient action. In that order.

2. Always be prepared: My boss and I met with a group from another organization today and I was reminded of a lesson from the Boy Scout handbook. She had put in several hours prep work for a brief meeting aimed at discussing a new project. The other group had put in zero prep, likely expecting to participate in exploratory discussions before really launching things in the next meeting.

Her work – basically a draft project charter – set the course for the meeting, helped bring everyone onside quickly, and put us off and running in the direction we want. The work will ultimately be a collaborative partnership so the time spent up front may or may not help us end up in a better place in the end, but there is no question that it will help us get there through a more efficient process.


Free Money and Virtual Punishment

Today I learned:

1. There is free money: I met someone today that told me (and I am closely paraphrasing here), “We are in a golden age. Money is essentially free.  The investment climate is such that we can guarantee returns in the future will be better than the returns we can obtain today. That means you need to spend your dollar today on (insert crazy idea), because the same dollar will be worth less tomorrow.”
I thought about arguing but I couldn’t quite decide where to start. Then I decided that the lesson from this was more easily learned: I now know one more place I will not invest my money.
2. Virtual Punishment feels good:  I spoke to a person that told me he was watching the movie I Don’t Know How She Does it, and it was so bad he stopped it, deleted it and then made sure to take the extra step and empty the Trash on his computer as some sort of punishment for the bits and bytes that made up the digital file. He said it made him feel better to know the cinematic atrocity was completely removed from his computer.
It occurred to me that while I agree with his sentiment – I have done exactly the same thing – it is completely illogical. Why bother emptying the Trash? And, why does it make you feel so good?
Assuming related animal research (link p. 159, paragraph 3) is transferrable, the desire to punish appears to be innate. I suppose it is the origin of “an eye for an eye.” But that only answers why an angry person might pick on something tangible, like kicking a flat tire or cursing a jammed printer. It doesn’t answer why virtual punishment makes any sense.
The only explanation I can come up with is that as our devices get “smarter” we also begin to attribute human characteristics to them.  There is some sense to this.  We’ve all seen Mad Max so we know how things turn out. I bet no one is Trashing that file, for fear of reprisal.