Archive for category lifestyle
One issue many people working from home bring up is that it seems like the days are blending in. Nowadays, people perceive me as a very organized person. Well, let me tell you how it used to be 20 years ago.
Between 2000 and early 2002 I was a mess. I was on one of my cycles of working as an indepedent consultant, mostly working from home. I had no discipline of where work should start or end. I’d wake up mid-afternoon on a Monday, start working earlier that evening, go non-stop for 20 hours, eat a huge dish of lasagna at 4am on Wednesday, work for another 10 hours or so, and then collapse sometime Wednesday mid-afternoon. I’d sleep for 10 or 12 hours, and then start over. That would continue through the weekend.
In those days, my notion of time was really out of whack. I’m very glad that those days are gone, thanks to the lifestyle I chose to have (which I keep refining as we speak) and the productivity tips I’ve learned along the way.
Here’s one trick I’ve been using to prevent my days from blending in again:
Every morning, I sit down and meditate. Before I start, I ask myself: “what day of the week is today?”. If I’m comfortable with my answer, then I ask “What day of the month is it?”.
If I either don’t know the answer to those questions or if it takes me too long to answer, I take that as a sign that I’m not living in the moment, I’m not mindful, I may be overwhelmed in some way. If that’s the case, I take an even deeper breath and tell myself that I need to put myself back together.
Prior to doing this trick, I remember having days when I’d come into the office not quite knowing how I got there. Yes, I know I drove there, I know I got off bed at some point, etc., but all of that was a blur in my mind. Those days normally didn’t go well.
So, without looking at your phone or at the corner of your computer screen, can you say what day of the week and what day of the month it is today?
The Jar of Awesome is a practice keeps on going for me. I’ve mentioned several times about how I take the time to be mindful of gratitude. But only recognizing it and keeping it to myself as written notes isn’t enough, so here’s what I’m doing…
When I’ve emptied my jar with my gratitude notes for 2019, I’ve put the notes in a bag. Every morning, I grab 5 notes randomly, bring it to the office, and put it on one of my monitors (#1 on the image below).
As the day goes by, I pick a note, read it, and quickly relive the moment, bringing it to the present. At the end of the day, I scan all the notes and merge them into one note I have in Evernote (#2 on the image above).
If my gratitude was towards a specific person, I reach out to that person, thanking him or her for producing, enabling, or sharing the moment for which I’m grateful. When the person responds, I capture the response and add it to my notes (#3 on the image above). Why? So I can build great memories for my future-self.
Also, there are times when the people I reach out to are going through some kind of challenges, and they say my quick note came at a very good time. Win-win.
As I work on finding opportunity in adversity, I ask myself the following questions:
- What can I do?
- What else can I do?
- What will I do?
- Am I proud of what I’m choosing to do?
What Can I Do?
The situation may be challenging. The difficulties, plenty. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, drowing in the sea of racing thoughts. Asking myself “What can I do?” brings the focus to what’s in my control. Fighting over things outside of my control is pointless.
What Else Can I Do?
It’s important to ask “What else can I do?”. It’s easy to settle in the first idea or thought at times of distress. Depending on the emotional state and frame of mind, the immediate answer to what I can do may be “Give up!”. Asking what else I can do prompts the mind to look for alternatives.
What Will I Do?
Hopefullly armed with a list of possibilities, my next question is “What will I do?”. I have the power of choice. If I’ve given thought to the list I came up with answering the first two questions, I should have what I need to make a decision and then commit to it.
Deciding to “do nothing” can very well be the best choice. Deciding to “let it go”, too. To quote a thought I got from Headspace, “Is a problem still a problem if we don’t think of it as such?”. What if what we first perceived as a problem turns out to be an opportunity in disguise?
“But what kind of opportunity in disguise would be best taken by doing nothing?”, we may ask. Maybe I’m being presented with an opportunity to be patient, to be mindful, to wait and collect more information and wait for the last responsible moment to make a decision or take an action.
If options such as “do nothing”, “give up”, or “let it go” are on the list, I’ll double-check to make sure I’m not just considering taking the lazy route, though.
Am I Proud of What I’m Choosing to Do?
This question I got from James Clear’s “3-2-1” post a few weeks ago: “Am I proud of what I’m choosing to do?”. I’ve had it written on my whiteboard and keep checking it multiple times to make sure what I’m choosing to do in the moment is aligned with my answer to “what will I do?”.
I have been very proud during the times where many people are concerned with how to be productive while quarantined.
So, for short, “What can I do? What will I do?” (big focus on the latter). Those are the triggers to get me thinking about those four questions.
Challenges happen to everybody. Some look for challenges, others are faced with them. To be clear, I’m not talking about the challenge of setting a game to a harder level, when you can easily fall back to an easier mode if you give up after not succeeding at the hard one. I’m talking about real life challenges. If you’re reading this in early 2020, I’m sure you can relate.
Adversities can trigger a number of different feelings. They can be scary, annoying, unsettling. It is very important we develop ways to find opportunity(ies) in adversity. We can ask ourselves questions like these:
- What are the challenges, risks, dangers?
- What can be learned?
- Who may need help?
Those are only a few questions that can be asked in the search for opportunities.
If we hit a wall, let’s learn to take a step back to widen our perspective, assess the situation, and either see through the wall or around it.
And please, hoarding all TP and hand sanitiers when a pandemic start is NOT a good opportunity found in adversity; learning how to make facial masks and donating it to those who need is.
To close this post, I’ll share this image I saw online this week. I believe it provides a clear illustration to what inspired me to write this post (even though I’ve been wanting to write this post since last year when I was going through some adversities).
Note: I couldn’t find the source to give proper credits. Please drop me a note if you know who created it.
Tired of bad news yet? Well, maybe you should be aware of where you’re looking!
I was born and raised in Sao Paulo City, Brazil. There was a time in my life where my morning rituals involved watching the local news as I got ready to leave for work. Every single day, no exception, the core of the news centered around how many miles of traffic jams we had and what kind of records we’re breaking that day.
Starting the day off like that was a torture. I felt miserable even before leaving the house. I didn’t own a car at the time, so that wasn’t an option for my commute. I could take the bus, on a ride that could take anywhere between 1 to 2 hours (or more) on any given day, through a congested city, on a bus that was always crowded and many times I couldn’t even get in (I’d be hanging off the bus, nearly missing hitting trees and lightpoles on the way). I could ride my motorcycle, which would get me to work faster, but the stress level would still be higher due to the risks of riding in that chaotic city. But I had to make that choice at some point.
I’d then get to work and the co-workers would be complaining about traffic. Going back home, it was even worse (drivers’ skills certainly worsen by the end of such days).
Still, I tortured myself watching the news everyday. It felt like Groundhog Day. So why did I do that? No idea. All I know is that I’ve eventually realized I shouldn’t be doing that. I replaced that nonsense habit with something like listening to music that lifts my mood, and other activities of such type.
That was in the early 2000s. I remember thinking: “man, why do they only show bad news? Isn’t there anything good out there to be shown?”
What’s up in the air?
The air quality in Sao Paulo is pretty bad. But I didn’t quite know how bad, since that’s the only air I had known up to that point.
I then move to Houston, Texas, in 2002. While Houston is one of the biggest cities in the US, it feels small to me compared to Sao Paulo. So one of the first things I just had to noticed was the kind blue sky. The next thing, the quality of the air: so, but so much better than Sao Paulo’s! I could actually feel it as I took some deep breaths.
Know where to look!
But why am I saying that? Well…
- if all I eat is junk food, I may not be aware of what better foods taste like;
- If all I listen to is bad language, what should I expect to come out of my mouth when I talk?
- If all I watch is bad news, I’m probably doomed to think that life is really bad!
So I’ve been making a point to myself to check what’s good out there as often as I can. Seeing examples of good people doing good things out there is always inspiring and that’s why life should really be about.
Here are some resources I follow on a daily basis:
Please, drop in a comment to suggest any resource you might recommend so I can check it out!
Interruptions kill productivity in any work environment and it’s no different if you’re working from home or not. In this post I share some of the techniques I’ve been using for several years to help manage interruptions:
- The Pomodoro Technique
- Educate your environment
- Replay what happened prior to the interruption
The Pomodoro Technique
Check out The Pomodoro Technique website in case you’ve never heard of it. Besides working in focused 25-minute blocks, the main thing I got out of this technique has been tracking interruptions and classifying them as:
- Internal: have I stopped working on my task because I saw a social network or email notification? Or maybe because I opened the web browser to check one thing related to my task and ended up reading the news instead? Such interruptions are considered internal because I didn’t have self-control and focus to stay on target. That’s easily addressed by shutting off all notifications, at least during that focused time.
- External: have I stopped working on my task because somebody walked up to my desk and started talking to me? Or maybe because I got pulled into some unplanned meeting? These are external interruptions brought to me. They can be addressed by educating your environment. More on it further down…
I can’t stress enough the importance of taking note of the interruptions, classifying them as internal or external, and finding ways to prevent them from happening again.
Educate the Environment
Let your environment (physical or virtual) know whether it’s ok to interrupt you or not.
- Let people know that you’re in “do not disturb” mode: put up a flag, a post-it note, your headphones… whatever your token is, just let people know. Don’t forget to put it away when you are available (use the status feature if you’re working from home);
- Let them know why, if necessary: Depending on the situation, when others know why you’re not available, they are likely to help to keep others from interrupting you;
- Let them know what they should do if they need you: if they have an urgent situation, let them know to interrupt you by all means. If it’s not urgent, let them know to drop a note such as “I need 5 minutes of your time before 3pm today…”. They can leave a post-it note on your desk or a message in whatever communication channel has been clearly defined. Make sure to get back with them (this is essential for the system to work!).
This is what I have right outside my home-office…
Replay what happened prior to the interruption
A big problem with interruptions is that it takes us an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task. If my task is done on the computer, I’ve found ways to decrease the time it takes me to get back “in the zone”:
Take screenshots: I’ve been using TimeSnapper for a long time. I blogged about this 13 years ago! In nutshell, the tool takes screenshots every 5 seconds. If I get interrupted, I can use the tool to replay the screenshots and jumpstart my mind to put me back in the zone.
Git commits: I’ve also used my commits in Git to get back up to speed after an interruption. If I was heads-down working on a user story, implementing my tests, making them pass one by one, and committing after each step, I can then look at the commits to see the work I had done prior to the last interruption, which helps me get back in the right frame of mind.
If you take anything of this post, this should be it:
- Realize you’ve been interrupted;
- Determine whether it was an internal or external interruption;
- Isolate the source of the interruption;
- Put some system in place to prevent the same kind of interruption to happen again;
- Some interruptions can’t be prevented, so put a system in place to recover from it quickly.
Back in 2015, I used to have a morning routine that included working out at the gym. Since I get bored working out, I’d often be either listening to audiobooks and podcasts or watching TED talk videos on my iPad. Whenever there was something I wanted to either review or remember later, I’d take a quick note, such as this one: “Slow the #$@! down!“
I wrote that note when watching Carl Honore’s “In Praise of Slowness” TED talk. I’ve been since saying that sentence in my mind, deliberately, at times when I realize I’m rushing through things.
Did Michael Jordan really say that?
I’ve either read or heard someplace that somebody asked Michael Jordan how he was able to read a game so well and react so fast to it, and his answer was something along the lines of having an ability to see everything going on around him as if it were in slow motion.
I haven’t been able to fact-check that, but I don’t care, since the idea makes a lot of sense to me: if anything is fast-paced, the best way to succeed at it is to see it in slow motion. But how do we do that without acquiring the powers that only fictional characters such The Flash possess?
How does he make his guitar sound like that?!
I still remember my thoughts when I first listened to Yngwie J. Malmsteen (Swedish Guitarist) when I was a teenager. At the time, I was happy I could play some of my favorite guitar solos found in the music of bands such as Iron Maiden and Metallica. I could learn their songs simply by listening to it.
Then, I start listening to an album by Yngwie and my face is melt; I simply could not understand how he could make his guitar sound like that. I mean, I couldn’t visualize how he was playing that. Certain passages sounded so fast, yet so smooth. I’d pick up my guitar and not have a clue where to start trying to learn one of his licks or solos. I had to see it to believe it. After seeing it, my brain could start processing what was happening.
At one point I got a copy of a VHS tape with his video lessons (holy grail!), and when he slowed down playing some of his licks, only then I believed I could actually learn how to play that (and I did, as we can see in some of my own music).
Practicing playing a guitar has to start slow, regardless of your level.
Riding motorcycle at a race track can be daunting. Things come to you very fast when you’re going 150mph on a straight, or 100mph around a corner! When I started riding at the track in 2017, I did what most beginners do: looked down on the track, instead of further ahead. By the time I got to a corner, my brain didn’t have enough time to process the information and make quick decisions on all the things that I need to do in order to go through a corner properly.
“Go slow to go fast”, they say. And that’s true. I needed to slow down to be able to learn fundamentals of track riding. Give time to the mind and body to internalize the actions. As time goes by, muscle memory is built, besides developing better visual skills; instead of looking where I’m going, I learn to look where I want to go next. The better I do that, the more time I give the brain to process everything, so it’s almost like things are coming at me in slow-motion.
Putting the mind and body through the process of slowing things down before trying to go fast makes me a better rider, so I do it as much as I can, which includes riding mini-bikes:
Fast-Thinkers and Improv
I’ve been blogging about my recent experiences in improv. At first, I thought improv would teach me how to think fast. As I focus on thinking fast, I end up stumbling into my own thoughts. That’s similar to blowing up corners at the race track because of not “seeing ahead”, or blowing up several notes in a guitar solo simply because I’m focusing on playing fast.
But then, I found this short video a few days ago, which changed my perspective on it:
“Backing up” in a scene seems equivalent to seeing things in slow-motion.
What did that driver just do?
I guess this has happened to you several times: you’re driving, minding your own business, when all of sudden, another driver pulls up right in front of you (driving out of a parking lot or something like that), startling you really bad.
That does happen to me at times, usually, when my mind has drifted away, as I’m thinking about a million things, except for the one impostant task at hand, which is to safely drive my car. In such situation, it is easy for other drivers to catch me off-guard.
That type of situation can be avoided by using “slow-motion” again. In this case, that means to be in the moment, aware of my surroundings. When fully-aware, predicting what other drivers are about to do becomes easier. We predict when a driver is ready to jump the gun and make a last-minute right-turn, or when a driver will cut you and others off, jumping lanes without using the blinkers, or when a driver will speed up to prevent you from merging into his or her lane. “Slow-motion” here doesn’t mean slowing down the speed of the car; instead, it means our mind can better assess the situation because we’re giving it space to process the information.
I’d like to point out that I believe I’m usually way more aware in traffic than other drivers because I also ride motorcycles (the lack of a “cage” makes one aware in the middle of crazy traffic and drivers).
Software Development: Productivity Tools
I’ve been using productivity tools such as ReSharper and Code Rush for a long time. At first, it was just cool to see how quickly I was able to navigate code, write it, change it. I now see it differently.
To the outside (other people), it looks like I can do those things really fast. Internally, though, doing those things fast allows me to think slowly. Because of the muscle memory built after practicing all those shortcuts, I spent less time figuring what and how I’ll do something, and spend more time thinking why I’m doing it.
In the same vein of giving the brain some room to think, I often take the time to do things the slow way; for example, I may go the command line and type a command character by character, instead of recalling and changing a previous command, or using an alias of some sort. I fall back to this approach when I feel I’m either rushing or unsure as to whether I’m going in the right direction (“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.”).
Summing it up…