I feel like I grew leaps and bounds in 2018, both personally and professionally, thanks to a lot of time spent experimenting and building habits for better health, both physically and mentally.
I'd like to share some of these habits that worked well for me in 2018, and some of the ones I've been trying as part of late 2018 and early 2019! And of course, if you have your own habits that you'd like to share, hit me up on Twitter or LinkedIn and share your habits with me!
Fighting Procrastination - If It Can Be Done In 5-10 Minutes, Do It Now
I had (and still sometimes have) a pretty bad habit of slacking. I like to lounge around, doing nothing or idly surfing the web, even when there are chores or work to be done. It's a great way to relax, up until that moment where you realize you've now got less (or no) time to do that one thing, and some unnecessary stress or anxiety suddenly become present in your life.
I disliked that, a lot.
One small change I made: I told myself that if I could do something within 5-10 minutes, it was worth doing now.
It was something I've read from a few blogs and books, or heard from friends and family, but never really thought about doing until I realized I had a bit of a procrastination issue.
Let me tell you… it works like a charm!
I started small: I would immediately do the dishes after eating, or empty the dishwasher so new dishes can be put in, or run a load of laundry, or fold a load from the dryer.
These small little chores being done immediately had a tremendous effect, personally speaking. I was feeling more clean at home (I am neurotic about cleanliness, most times), I took care of some chores that I think neither my partner or I really consciously wanted to do, and I got more time to enjoy myself however I wanted to after getting a ton of chores done!
Another side effect that I didn't see coming: spending time away from my computer and phone while doing chores made me realize that I get a lot of thinking done while I'm washing the dishes or folding laundry. It sounds a little absurd, but I think I solved a good number of work or personal project challenges while I was washing the dishes.
Ramping Up Productivity - To-Do Lists For the Day
I spend a lot of time thinking about productivity, mostly my own, but I always felt like I never really get all that much done in a day.
…until I started a to-do list!
Again, this was probably super obvious, but I never really liked the idea of a to-do list when I was using them previously. It felt like my list would keep growing, and I started drowning in things that I hadn't done, and needed to do.
One small change to how I used to use to-do lists: I would create a list of things I needed to do for the day, and would only add as many as I reasonably thought I could do for the day, and then rank them in order of priority, and then move a few “easy peasy” items to the start.
This was mostly for work, as I spent most of my “productive” day there, but the effects were relatively immediate: I started rolling through a lot more work (or it felt that way), because I was feeling accomplished by the time lunch rolled around. I would keep these great feelings rolling all the way through the day, and by home time, I was looking at a bullet list of things that were crossed out.
At the end of the day, I would take my remaining list of things, if any, and move them to the next day. This is part of my experimentation for 2019, but part of my end of day routine is to take these incomplete tasks and create a plan for addressing it during the next day. This would allow my mind to completely transfer its thoughts and workflow down onto my task list, removing (hopefully) my subconscious’ desire to continue working on problems after hours.
I think how I've been using To-Do Lists has really removed a lot of cognitive overhead from my day, and really lets me ruthlessly prioritize and focus on the very next thing. This lets me focus and prevent multitasking, so that I can ship out the highest quality work possible. In addition, I now have a log of all of the things that I have accomplished, and that's been one of my biggest motivators because I want to keep adding to that list of accomplishments!
Winding Down For Sleep - Reading Before Bed
I will be the first person to tell you: I suck at sleeping.
I didn't think this was something people could suck at, but I am definitely terrible when it comes to sleeping. I will often snap awake after 7 hours of sleeping, or 7am, whichever comes first. And trying to get back to sleep once that happens? Forget about it.
It's still not perfect in 2019, but it's been rapidly improving thanks to some improvements I've made with my pre-sleep routine.
One of the biggest improvements: reading before bed!
I'm an avid reader, for the most part thanks to my commute and most recently my listening to audiobooks at the gym (shoutout Toronto Public Library for fuelling this!), and I have found that reading before bed has really helped with both relaxing the mind of unnecessary problem solving and disconnecting from connected devices.
Side note: My friends have recognized that I am probably an unofficial pitch man for the Toronto Public Library, but they offer so many great things (FOR FREE) that it would be a huge missed opportunity if others didn't learn about what they offered. I could fill a whole post of all of the amazing things that they offer, but in short: you can borrow e-books and audiobooks, you get free access to O'Reilly Safari and Lynda.com (learning and training!), you get some free credits on Kanopy (documentaries and movies!), an account on Mango (language learning!), and access to a ton of TPL-run classes and facilities like their 3D printers!
I love the Toronto Public Library, if you can't tell, and if you aren't from Toronto, I would suggest looking up what free resources you might be able to get through your local library!
To get back on topic, I personally enjoy reading fiction books on my Kindle Paperwhite, and try to timebox reading to 30-60 minutes before going to sleep. This is to guard against a book being way too interesting and sacrificing sleep, which I have done a little too often in the past!
Staying Healthy - Working Out Regularly
As a programmer, I spend much of my time sitting in front of a computer, probably for longer stretches than I should.
I've done quite a few sports over the years, but I've also noticed that it's taken me a lot longer to recover from games or new muscles and joints have started to hurt. Honestly, it's potentially from aging as well, but I was for sure not in great shape in 2018.
In December 2018, I had decided enough was enough, and I made a pledge to go to the gym three times a week before work, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. At least 30 minutes in the morning, working my way up through the routine I used to do with weights at the gym.
Since December 2, 2018, I have stuck to this, even managing to hit the gym on January 2. My workouts have started to become a lot more intense, as I ramp up weights and the types of exercises, and also since I have started going to a real gym across the street rather than the sad gym at my condo.
The effects have been pretty fantastic: I feel a lot more energetic and productive in the morning, I am more energetic throughout the day, and I think it's also contributed positively to my sleep. I also feel like I'm getting stronger, and most aches and pains have started decreasing or going away altogether.
Sometimes, and bear with me because this feels stupid to admit to, I forget that both physical and mental health are incredibly important, and are one of the greatest driving forces of my success. I also don't want to be 45 years old and having trouble walking or doing any sort of physical activity, so this is important for me to continue doing for the long term.
New Experiments / Habits For 2019
The above four habits I've listed are things I started (or re-started) in 2018, and plan to continue with for 2019 and onward.
However, as I continue reflecting and thinking about what works for me, I have a few experiments in flight that I'd also like to share.
Fighting Anxiety - Being Comfortable With No Action
Since I switched into programming a good 5 years after graduating with a business degree, it feels somewhat natural to constantly feel like I'm behind, or not as good, or actually horrible at what I do. It sucks, and I fight it all the time, but that's for another post altogether.
However, one of my really bad habits is that I constantly try to overcompensate by working more than I should, or working on things that seem like they would lead to improvement, but are really just constant sources of stress.
It's no good for anyone.
Something I've been thinking about at the end of 2018, and really starting to try in 2019, is being okay with Not Doing Anything™.
What I mean, is that I have a lot of moments of anxiety where I feel like I MUST do something to improve my skills and do something that lets me feel like I am a good programmer. I MUST do some programming challenges that showcase my understanding and grasp of fundamental knowledge, I MUST build an app that shows that I'm constantly programming, I MUST write some posts that show off how smart I am.
My realization is that… I really don't have to. It's bad for my mental health (and confidence!) to constantly think that I am behind, and that I MUST overcompensate by doing all these things.
It's not really a habit, per se, but in these moments where I catch myself doing this, I will mentally re-assure myself that I am not terrible, and remind myself that not working or not doing anything productive is OKAY! I will pick up a game that I've been recently playing, or I will continue reading a book, or I'll sit on the couch and watch a show or movie.
Relaxing and disconnecting are definitely valuable too, and it's let me really focus on spending my time at work towards building these skills and competencies that I so desire, which has allowed for much better work-life balance!
Fighting Anxiety - Disconnection
I recently made a public statement at work that I will be turning off notifications from Slack and my work email after work hours, and that I could be reached via the phone number in my Slack profile. I haven't completely stuck to it because of some urgent customer needs recently, but that's okay.
I think it's important to really disconnect from work or non-pressing things for extended periods of time. Part of the reason I created my end of day process for dumping my in-flight items into a text file for the next day is that it allowed me to move my thoughts onto a medium that I could pick up from the next time I was going to work. Removing notifications from Slack and emails also allowed me to complete the cycle, because now I could completely focus on non-work things when I got home, whether it's completing a bunch of chores, working on a personal project, or spending time with my partner, all of which could now be done distraction-free.
I also made the conscious decision in 2018 to spend less time surfing “feeds”. Feeds would be like Facebook news feeds, or Instagram feeds, or Twitter feeds, etc. This has been a valuable part of disconnection, because I stopped feeling like I was missing out on things because I wasn't participating, and instead felt my connections to close friends and family grow stronger because I could be much more present.
So far it's been a bit difficult to completely disconnect, but I think spending less time thinking about work-day challenges or looking at people's social media updates has really given my brain time to rest, and grow, and focus on all of the right things.
I'm really looking forward to continuing this experiment!
I think that habits, and the power of habits, are an incredible way to drive really positive movement in my personal and professional lives. The inertia and momentum created by good habits are what continue to push me forward and create these really positive growth opportunities for myself.
Do you have any good habits that you'd like to share?
Hit me up on Twitter or LinkedIn and let me know what they are! I would love to hear them!
Thank you for reading!