If 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.
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:
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.
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
In a TED-themed post, today I focus on learnings from a morning spent enthralled in the growing online library of Ideas Worth Spreading.
Today I learned:
1. Leading with Lollipops:
“Maybe the biggest impact I’ve ever had on anyone’s life…was a moment I don’t even remember.”
– Drew Dudley
This quote comes from a powerful video (linked below) in which Mr. Dudley describes a time when a young woman recalled an interaction with him that had changed her life, and he couldn’t even remember it.
Mr. Dudley speaks about the idea of everyday leadership. He proposes we re-frame the concept away from money and power, to a more tangible concept we can all own. He suggests leadership is “the moments we create, acknowledge, pay forward and say thank you for.”
This idea is somewhat similar to the theme of Robin Sharma’s book, The Leader Who Had No Title (and I have already made it clear I am a fan of this concept). I consider myself a believer in this approach to leadership, and over the past several months I have been trying to emphasize it in interactions with everyone I meet. It gives me tangible ideas I can use to make me a better parent, manager, and friend. It formed part of the motivation for this blog, and it has certainly impacted how I approach my relationships with others.
The video also led me to consider a “lollipop moment” in my own life – one I have never said thank-you for. Here it is:
In 2007 I was looking at options for what to do next and I was considering a number of different academic pursuits, in the hopes I could open some additional doors in my professional life. I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what, until I met professor Darren Dahl.
I decided to attend an information session on the part-time MBA program at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, and as it turns out Mr. Dahl was the presenter. The experienced floored me.
Instead of providing basic information on the program, he energetically launched into a pseudo-marketing class, conducting a discussion on the BMW film series. I said nothing. I was totally caught off-guard. I also knew I was home. I left the session and immediately got to work arranging my life so I could attend the program. Fast forward a few years and I graduated in 2011.
Would I have done it anyway? Maybe. Only one thing is for sure: In that moment, he handed me a lollipop that changed my life, and he probably didn’t even realize it. He certainly never asked for anything in return. That’s leadership.
Link to Drew Dudley @ TedxToronto: (Trust me, it is worth your 6 min 22s seconds.)
2. Sibling Bonds:
“They are with us for the entire ride.”
– Jeffrey Kluger
I have known for years that my brother just gets me. My humour is littered with 80’s sitcom jokes that only he seems to be able to pick-up. Often, I make a joke and we are the only two laughing. Most people are looking at me curiously, wondering what I could possibly find funny about Kale in a salad.
Understanding the impact of our relationship, makes me keenly examine the relationship between my own children – two young girls that are 20 months apart. The girls are the best of friends but admittedly emotions shift quickly. At times they fight with reckless abandon. Within Mr. Kluger’s Ted video (linked below), he suggests children in the 2-4 age group engage in one fight every 6.3 minutes. Frankly I think either he is low-balling the number, or my kids help bring down the average.
The most thought provoking piece to me is Mr. Kluger’s conclusion: “Life is short, finite and it plays for keeps. Siblings may be among the richest harvests of the time we have here.”
This raised one question for me – how can I ensure my daughters value their sibling relationship in the way I do mine?
At their age, I can say it, but it won’t hit home. I can try to control the fights, but it won’t change much. There will always be another doll to yell about.
Instead it hit me the best way to accomplish this goal is modelling. They learn so much from what they watch and experience. What is the best way to build my daughters’ relationship? It might just be calling up my brother and inviting him and his family for dinner.
Time to make a phone call…
Link to Jeffrey Kluger: The Sibling Bond on Ted.com.
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.
Today I learned:
1. Competence: The other day I took part in a leadership training seminar where we discussed the concept of competance. The facilitator showed a great video clip of a labourer carrying bricks off a boat:
This man is clearly good at his job, and he has spent whatever time was required to develop a true competence in the task at hand.
Reflecting back on the discussion today, this clip raises two questions:
a. Will his employer (apparently in Bangladesh) pay for the treatment of his future neck and/or back injuries?
b. How do you help your team members achieve this level of competence – or mastery really – in their jobs?
The second question is tougher.
The basic method proposed in my session was to “show them what to do, how to do it ,and why.”
No question it is good, clear advice. But a video like this suggests to me that is really part of step two in this problem. From my perspective the video tells as much a story about hiring practice as it does about competence and eventually mastery. I do believe there is some form of greatness or calling in everyone, but I don’t believe everyone is suited to do anything. To me this video is more about Jim Collin’s famous statement that you need to “get the right people on the bus,” or in this case the boat. Not every person is going to balance 20 bricks on their head. Most are going to fail miserably at this task. To me this is more a lesson in finding and then nurturing the development of the right people, than it is about taking who you have and helping them master the task at hand.
Am I right or have I had one too many bricks fall on my head on this on?
2. Preparation, Take 2: After yesterday’s post on presentation preparation and my perception that people are too often inclined to blame their lack of preparation on a technology fail, today I found myself involved in a 2 hour preparation session with representatives from my company and one of our vendors aimed at planning a series of three webinars for a customer group. Two hours, about 10 people online, bouncing ideas and working on a very rough run through. We had technology problems, poor narative, and incomplete explanations. At the start we weren’t on the same page with the message and we had differing views on the key issues to address. It was generally a weak product.
Is this a problem?
It was the first of 3 sessions, over which I expect we will iterate the presentation to a final product that I am sure will be polished and, most importantly, valuable to the customer. It certainly feels good to have a take away from personal involvement in a good process, just one day after learning a similar lesson while observing a bad one.
Today I learned:
1. Teachable moments: While lying on the couch with my two year old this evening she looked squarely up my nose and excitedly exclaimed, “Dad, what’s up your booger hole?”
As an early candidate for father of the year I wasn’t about to let the teachable moment slip past me, and I politely informed her that it is nostril and not, as she and her 4 year old sister so fondly refer to it, a booger hole. We then engaged in quite a lengthy conversation about the purpose of nostrils during which it occurred to me that the lesson had in fact taken. This made me interested in how we identify and properly execute the “teachable moment.”
The best K.I.S.S. summary I can come up with is this:
- The right moment must be laced with engagement and emotion. Teaching about seat belts after witnessing an accident is an easy example. With kids, once they engage and start asking about something they are sponges. At work it may be tougher to spot the moment, but engagement looks the same in a 4 year old as a 40 year old. It just sounds different.
- Be prepared. If you prep your message and stay ready to engage in conversation rather than command you’ll find your opportunity.
- Be patient. Outside school we have the opportunity to weave messages into the day. You don’t need to convey everything in one go. Learning occurs over time – take it.
2. The Rudest Guy at Work: I was reading an article on Manners in this week’s MacLean’s, not because I need it of course but rather to learn from the behaviour of others.
It got me thinking: who is the rudest person at work?
I work in a rather large office so there are quite a few candidates. People that leave their dishes in the sink for someone else to clean were the first to come to mind. The people that anonymously post sarcastic signs to condemn those people are close behind.
At my office it is hands down the guy that shaves in the bathroom then leaves hair all over the sink.
Over the last few weeks I am becoming increasingly frustrated with that guy. Unfortunately I can’t bring myself to post a sign, so the plan I have developed to deal it is this:
- Take a deep breath and suck it up. Life’s too short.
- Divert my attention – e.g. Use a different washroom
- Look for the lesson – e.g. Examine my own behavior to ensure everything I do at work is not having the same negative effect on other people.
- Politely address the issue – e.g. collect the shavings and sprinkle them on his keyboard after he leaves at night.