Always in Beta

Habits are things you get for free

By now I’ve probably over-shared this excellent Lifehacker interview with Cory Doctorow where he uses the throwaway line “habits are things you get for free”. What an excellent way to capture the benefit of engrained behaviours!

It got me thinking about the things that I do everyday to remain productive – and what I could do to increase that further.

What I do now

  • Wake up early. This is easy when you have young children. I have a sunrise alarm clock to wake me with light instead of noise.
  • Have a cold morning shower. It’s horrendous at first but you get used to it. The benefits? It properly wakes you up, and it’s supposed to be good for staving off depression and increasing testosterone production in men.
  • Do exercise. What kind I do depends on the time of year and my travel schedule, so it could be running 5k, interval training, swimming, weights or my kettlebell. It’s good to mix things up.
  • Eat protein for breakfast. Nothing but eggs keeps me full until lunchtime, so I vary between an omelette and scrambled/fried eggs on toast. If you mix a bit of chilli in there it kickstarts your metabolism, too.
  • Drink coffee. I’ve found that the optimum amount for me is a cup in the morning and then a cup early afternoon. Caffeine 3pm in the afternoon affects my sleep.
  • Listen to the right kinds of music. Since selling all my CDs in 2009 I use Spotify Premium and Hype Machine. I’ve got playlists that I put on at certain types of the day – for example ambient sounds (rainforest, ocean waves) first thing in the morning, electro house for processing email, slower bpm with no vocals for reading, etc.
  • Go for walks. I’ve lost 8lbs in in the last month and the only significant different is a conscious effort to walk more. I’ve got a Fitbit that tells me when I’ve done my 10,000 steps for the day. I use my phone to take voice notes.
  • Associate tasks with locations. I’m fortunate in that I can work from anywhere in the world. I’m writing this, for example, at a train station. I associate email processing with sitting with my laptop at my dining room table. Reading with sitting on the sofa in my study. Writing (i.e. typing) with sitting on the floor. Hour-long Skype calls with sitting on the armchair in our bedroom.
  • Write down how I feel. I’ve got a diary but, given that I type faster than I write, 750words.com is a handy resource. It also does sentiment analysis, which serves as another data point.
  • Change my screen temperature. Blue light isn’t good in the hours before bedtime as it can interfere with sleep patterns. Given the rest of my team is based in a timezone eight hours behind UK time I sometimes have no choice but to be looking at screens. To mitigate that, I use f.lux to automatically change the screen temperature of my MacBook and (jailbroken) iPhone.
  • Eat a yogurt before bed. Or a spoonful peanut butter. Both keep me full until morning so that I don’t wake up hungry.
  • Have a hot bedtime shower. This is a great way to decompress and also lowers your core body temperature ready for sleep.

What I could do

  • Schedule short breaks. I’ve experimented on and off with the Pomodoro technique but need to ‘chunk’ my day better. Ironically, I find this easier to do when I’m travelling than when I spend all day at home.
  • Take steps to improve my posture. It’s pretty bad. I used to have an iMac which was at the correct eye height but now I just use my laptop I could do better than I do now.
  • Do more exercise. I’m better than I was, but I do skip days and it has a noticeable hit on my productivity.
  • Eat less sugar. Although I eat way less than I used to, it’s like caffeine in producing a noticeable short-term ‘rush’ of productivity. It’s not sustainable, however, and significantly affects one’s long-term health. I’ve found a yogurt or a square of 70% chocolate works well if I’ve got a craving for something sweet.

I’d be fascinated to learn what productive habits YOU’VE got. I like to learn from others. 🙂

Image CC BY-NC russelldavies

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2 thoughts on “Habits are things you get for free

  1. Love these tips, Doug — thanks for sharing! I could do better with exercise, for sure, but like you I’ve developed food habits which help to sustain me, e.g. high protein snacks. Just about everyone who knows me knows that I have a small bag of almonds (home-roasted) on me at all times. This means I never (well, hardly ever) succumb to sugar/carb-bomb snacks when hunger hits. I always travel with water, too.

    Recently, reading “Sitting is the New Smoking” (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/01/sitting_is_the_smoking_of_our_generation.html) resonated with me. I’ve been making an effort to walk even more and have had several telephone meetings wearing earphones-with-mic while on a quiet walk near our house… the views of Galway Bay help immensely 🙂

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