One Thing at a Time

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It's been pretty well established now that multitasking isn't really a thing. Answering emails while studying for your finals just means you're doing both of those things poorly. At best, you're at 50% productivity with each activity. It saves more time in the long run to only answer emails, then when you're done, only study for your finals. I guess you should probably do it in a different order though.

This runs directly counter to my wish to be doing everything at once. I like to think that my pursuits are noble enough; I'm trying to finish Susan Wise Bauer's The History of the Ancient World, while teaching myself Spanish, while learning how to code, while trying to stay fit despite a shoulder injury.

Tension comes most when I have a lot of free time. There is an effectively infinite number of cool things in the world for an aspiring dilettante—a Jack of Some Trades—to try, but since we can only do one thing at a time, it seems imperative that we do the "right thing", which leads to a lot of time wasted on flitting between one project and the next, afraid of committing too much to one thing because there will be (∞-1) things you are neglecting when you do it.

This is an emotional response, and one I have frequently. I know I am not alone in this. The important thing to do is to recognize that ultimately this desire to do everything is itself a form of inefficiency. If we really want to be productive, we must cultivate the skill of committing fully to the task at hand, and detaching fully from it once we are done with it.

Ultimately, this is the idea behind my Year of 12 Habits. Commit fully to the habit, and if it sticks after a month, great, and if not, there is something else for you to do. I'm happy to report that some of my habits have stuck since January. I'm certainly not 100% on any of them, but by focusing on one thing at a time (on a macro level) I've been able to literally change my life for the better.

All we can really do is adopt that process and refine it. But even if I didn't improve beyond today, I am still a better person than I was five months ago.

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Update: Reading is Easier than Writing

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I find I am very capable of setting aside 20 minutes to write.

Actually writing something in those 20 minutes is a separate challenge.

The projects that I should be focusing on (the ones that have some potential of making me money) prove the most difficult. The ones that are fun (D&D-related) are a lot easier to get lost in. What is the secret to (a) making necessary things fun, and/or (b) finding the willpower to sit down and write stuff that I don't immediately want to write? I don't know.

But that's kinda the point, write? It's one thing to consume information (e.g. reading a book), but it's another thing to create your own information, whatever it might be (e.g. writing a song). Even if you're reading the best book in the world, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that even that is not as important than creating "content", whatever it might be. The best book in the world might inform your creation in a way, and of course there is a spectrum of the quality of all possible content you might create, but it seems to me that producing is always better than consuming.

"Eat to live, don't live to eat", as it were.

I wonder if this is, quizás, a microcosm of life itself. There is a spectrum of quality of consumption and a spectrum of quality of production. It's certainly possible to create a stupid product that serves no real purpose, but simply the act of creating it already places the creator a notch higher on the hierarchy of needs (or what have you). I'd much rather have carved a shitty wooden spoon that have purchased a shitty wooden spoon.

So, my advice to myself (and anyone else who cares to borrow it) is to consume what is necessary and is of high quality, and to focus life energy on making things.

Hey, look, I just created a whole post!

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:-)

 

Time flies when you aren't blogging

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So, I haven't written here in two months.

Here's a quick summary:

I procrastinated choosing March's resolution for so long that I ended up not deciding on one. This pissed me off. However, the basic tenets of my previous two habits have seemed to stick, which is the whole idea.

I made up for it in April, choosing the habit of practicing Spanish on Duolingo (at least 50 XP) every day. This has gone smashingly well. Duolingo is an incredibly designed piece of software that makes it easy to stay on track (lots of checkable boxes available, which is my kryptonite).

Real quick Duolingo tip: look at the screen as little as possible. Most of the translation prompts are audio-based as well as text-based, and I figure whenever I do speak Spanish in real life, I'm going to be hearing it a lot more than I'll be reading it. Listening to the audio makes me have to reconstruct the sentence in my head which, I believe, leads to much greater comprehension and learning. And never cheat and hover over a word to get its English definition. Just guess, get the question wrong, and it'll stick way better up in your noggin.


So what's May's goal?

Well, like I mentioned, I took two whole months off from blogging. And so far we have only finished four months of 2018. This is a poor success/failure ratio. That, plus me having found myself in the middle of four different writing projects that aren't my blog, I need to get a little more serious. So May's habit is:

I will spend 20 minutes every day writing in one of my projects.

I've found that when I sit down to write for 20 minutes, I actually end up getting hooked with an idea and can end up writing for a lot longer, but I don't want the task to feel daunting. 20 minutes is all that is required for completion.

For those interested, my four projects are

  1. A Dungeons and Dragons campaign I am heading
  2. An educational TV show I am cowriting with some friends
  3. A movie about Nazis I am cowriting with a friend
  4. Children's music I am writing with my lovely womanfriend

The TV show and the movie are longer-form projects, so I will not be posting anything here any time soon, but the nature of the music and the D&D may provide manageable mouthfuls from time to time and I will be sure to share here.

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Peace and blessinz.

 

Lone Wolf Syndrome (latin: outofthe lupus)

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Man, talking to people is tough.

February didn't go nearly as well as January. It wasn't a complete bust, but I still have some serious work to do.

I really did try, but the habit of "Oh, I'll respond to that later" is so ingrained that I had to catch myself on many occasions. One thing I forgot to implement is to use the Send Read Receipts option on my iPhone that tells other iPhone users if and when I've read their texts. I've kept this off for my entire iPhone career specifically to do the opposite; I didn't want people to see I received their text and hadn't responded, but it turns out this accountability is the only way I will stay in touch with the civilized world. Facebook messages don't give you the option; they're always marked as read or not, and I'm much better at responding to Facebook messages than anything else.

So to all the friends and family I've maligned: I apologize for previous blow-offs, and for the future ones I'll likely commit. HOWEVER, even with all my failings I have been a lot better this month, and I've even been the one to initiate one or two phone calls. In a way, I like it when people don't pick up or call right back, because it makes me feel like I'm not the only one.

Less Stretchie, More Talkie

I did it!

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...pretty much!

I'm pleased with how January went. I did not have a 100% completion rate, and for that I'm almost glad. I still felt committed without feeling obsessed, which I think is a great line to ride. And really, there were only a couple days where I missed a thing or two, and no days where I completely failed at everything.

I need to have some way of publicly tracking this stuff. I'm thinking a calendar graphic on the blog where I put a check mark by every day that I do my habit fully and correctly.

For now you'll just have to read my typing.

I was surprised by how little my "8 AM wake time" really mattered. I began rehearsals for a play a few weeks ago, and between that and early morning clients, 8 AM is usually sleeping in these days. When we start doing late night shows, I'm sure this will be more of an issue.

Also, I never missed a meditation, but boy oh boy is it useless to meditate right when I wake up. I don't often fall asleep, but weirdly, my sleepy brain finds it even less easy to quiet my mind than my fully awake brain. It's like the mental muscles it takes to lasso all my thoughts and guide them to a standstill are still getting warmed up, and my thoughts have no accountability on their.

Good to know: Morning is a convenient time to meditate, but not an optimal one.

But I'm through. I celebrated by sleeping in on a day I actually could do so, and deliberately skipping meditation. The Headspace app I use has a counter in it to show how many days in a row you've meditated, and I wanted to break that streak, lest I get too fixated on the number and not the practice.

I'll probably maintain a lot of these habits for the rest of the year (secretly my plan all along). Not too difficult to pull off, even on busy days, and I feel a lot more in charge as I head out for the day.


I will answer texts, calls, and emails promptly. Like, when I get them, or at least within 24 hours.

This is my new habit!

...Yet another blisteringly easy task that is, in fact, extremely difficult for me.

I hate to admit it, but I am that guy who never gets back to you. I'm that guy you have to text three times to get a response. I'm that guy who never RSVPs.

So for this month (thankfully the shortest one of the year), I've decided to reverse that. When I get a text, I will do my absolute best to respond immediately. Calls will be answered and not relegated to voicemail (as is my wont).

Since I've procrastinated writing this post, I already have some insight into what it's like. (Protip: airplane mode may actually be the answer to world peace. Or at least chronic sanity.)

I see why I've fallen into the habit of radio silence. It's just easier. I find myself so afraid to answer a call or text, because then I've committed myself to being "available to talk". Which isn't really such a bad thing, but if you respond to one text, then you gotta respond to the next if it comes right away, then all of a sudden you're stuck in a text conversation when you mean to be doing other things! It cuts down on productivity, dammit!

Okay, let's be real; mostly I just get lazy. I do firmly believe in the above paragraph, but I could be a lot better at talking to the people I've labeled my "friends". If I'm not willing to talk to these people once in a while, can I really call them that?

I can't tell if this is sidestepping the rules, but I've begun to adopt a quasi-Tim Ferriss approach to communication; something he calls "batching". I'll make prodigious use of airplane mode when I'm doing anything that requires attention, but when I'm on a break, eating, hanging out, on the subway, I'll get off airplane mode to be available to talk, and when I'm available, I'm determined to be available.

For the last week I've done pretty well, although putting texts off till later is pretty ingrained into my system. I wish there were some sort of "Mark as Unread" option for texts.

But then maybe my texts would start to look like my email inbox, which isn't exactly a model of organization and promptness.

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Off to the races!

Two Weeks In

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My gift is my curse.

One attribute Im glad I have is an ability to stick to clearly defined specifications. I like rules a lot. I think this is why I like editing writing as much as I do. A missing apostrophe or misspelled word sticks out to me like a flashing neon light at a funeral.*

For example. Headspace, the meditation app, logs your "streak", how many days you've meditated in a row. It has this special little icon that gets highlighted once you hit 365 days. No-brainer. One year after I discovered that, I highlighted the damn thing. No problem.

I am not convinced my propensity for checking off boxes is an entirely good thing, though. In obeying the letter, I often ignore the spirit.

Sure, I may keep a daily journal if I've decided that to be my goal, but I'll have a creeping tendency of just scribbling down some nonsense to be able to say "I did this every day", instead of skipping a day if I forget, but committing when I actually do write.

And that's not to mention (since I mentioned in a previous post) such an all-or-nothing attitude is a treacherous thing at best. If I do slip up, there's a much higher chance of me saying "Welp, failed that one."

As with most things, I think the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. If I can harness my natural tendency to complete things and add a dose of being okay with mistakes, I think I can really tap into serious productivity. "Get knocked down, get back up, but try not to get knocked down in the first place." A nice, albeit cumbersome, mantra.


All this is to say that the first two weeks of my Morning Routine challenge have been a good success overall, but perhaps a little more spirit could be thrown in for the next two weeks.

To clarify, my challenge is to do five things in the morning:

  1. Wake up at 8 AM**
  2. Stretch my hip flexors
  3. Meditate
  4. Journal
  5. Drink a cup of water

I missed my cup of water on Friday the 12th (finished my first cup of coffee before realizing my folly), but other than that I've stuck very closely to the letter. This is mostly thanks to the leniency of my habit choices.

I think the spirit of the habit needs some work, almost exclusively in the implicit Going to Bed at a Reasonable Time part. I made a whole big thing in the last post about the importance of eight hours, and here I am, not getting to bed before midnight. It doesn't help to share a bedroom with a separate human who has different ideas about what constitutes "late night" and "good sleep" and "white noise", but I really don't blame Melissa for any lack of sleep on my part. And after all, no habit can be followed in a vacuum!

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It's 9:57 PM. I'm definitely getting my butt to bed on time tonight. Until next post!


*You didn't think I noticed that missing apostrophe in paragraph 2, did you? Just checking to see if if your paying attention.

**I actually set my alarm to 8:01 AM. I always set my alarms for odd times to break my tugging desire to have everything on even, pleasant digits, which I'm sure goes back to the whole "sticking to rules and rhythms" thing. But I've been doing the alarm thing for a while now. Never missed a day.

Win the Morning, Win the Day

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If you spend enough time in blog/self help book/podcast-osphere, you’ll learn two things.

1.     You’ve been doing everything wrong until now.

2.     A solid morning routine is the key to everything.

I already knew the first point inside and out, so I figured I’d focus on the second.

 

I’ve never had anything close to a 9 to 5 job in my life. I've rarely even had a consistent schedule for more than a month or two. Sounds pretty great, right? Little structure, lots of freedom, plenty of room for creativity and fostering a sense of childlike wonder?

These things are always better in theory than in practice. We yearn for vacations and dream of being self-employed, then feel like shit when we sit around and do nothing. This doesn't have to be the case, but it takes some serious self-awareness and discipline to avoid it.

The grass is always greener, right? I haven't had a 9-to-5 and am often in charge of planning my own schedule, which might sound like a dream. However, I think the value of a 9-to-5 (or a structured workweek/workyear/worklife) is HIGHLY underrated. Knowing exactly where you'll be at 3:45 PM on Thursday can be extremely helpful when you would like to plan other things. Having a job that begins at the same time every day means you always know when you have to hit the sack the night before for a good night's sleep. (It should, anyway.) 40-hour workweeks are probably not the most theoretically efficient use of one's time, but they ain't bad, and it takes a pretty motivated person to beat it.

So I guess that means I gotta get motivated!

 

So here's January's challenge:

Create and stick to a morning routine. This will include five things:

  1. A consistent wakeup time
  2. A couple minutes spent on physical mobility
  3. A mindfulness practice
  4. A nutrition practice
  5. A journaling practice

Of course, my instinct is to have twice as many items and do each of them twice as intensely, but we're going for longevity, right?

Here's what I picked:

  1. Wakeup time: 8 AM
  2. Mobility: active hip flexor stretch, 1 minute/side
  3. Mindfulness: 10 min of Headspace
  4. Nutrition: a mug full of water before I drink any coffee in the morning
  5. Journal: Five-minute journal

In total, this takes me about 20 minutes to accomplish.

Unimpressed yet?

 

  • Wakeup time: I chose 8 AM because among other things, I'm an actor, and shows usually let out between 10 and 11 PM. If I factor in a commute time, I'll be lucky to get to bed by midnight to get my 8 hours. And getting a full night's sleep is far more important than impressing anyone with an early start time. I'm not impressed by anyone consistently waking up at 4:30 AM unless they also consistently go to bed at 8:30 AM.

  • Mobility: Even though I have a standing desk, my hip flexors are pretty tight, and they like to let me know. I have a host of muscles I'd like to make more mobile, but loose hip flexors = happy back, and I think that takes precedence over other parts of my body.

  • Mindfulness: There's overwhelming research to support the benefits of meditation. Honestly, I don't really like meditating right after I wake up, because I'm usually still groggy and my mind isn't ready to focus up. But I'd rather do it half-focused and consistently than gamble on another part of the day. I use the Headspace app. I've heard people enjoy Calm as well.

  • Nutrition: I drink too much coffee and not enough water. It's easier to add something in than it is to take something away, so that's why I started with that. Later this year I may do a separate month challenge entirely dedicated no coffee!(!!!!) I'm still waiting to hear back from my sponsors if that's feasible, though.

  • Journal: The brand name Five-Minute Journal is actually pretty superfluous; you can just as easily write these things on a piece of paper. But it's nice to have everything in one place, with the prompts all written out. Check it out here if you're interested. (Don't worry, no affiliate links here. But it's not that I'm against them; I just don't know how to do them yet. I'm no hero.)

 

Your homework:

Fill in the five items of your own personalized morning routine and comment below. I will mail $3 to the first person who does this.

 

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There and Jack Again

Hello. I am Jack of Some Trades.

I like music, food, the outdoors, and a good, inky pen. I like Legos and squats.

I don't like when people use the word "nonplussed" incorrectly, and I don't like New Year's resolutions. That's actually why I'm starting this blog on January 4th.

I'm gonna be doing some stuff over the next year or so. Feel free to watch.

(But I'd prefer if you participate.)

*     *     *

I'm a jack of some trades. I find that a person who refers to himself as a "jack of all trades" is actually just a jack of some trades like me, and perhaps his assessment of jackery is not up to my standards. I like things and am good at some of them, but it would be foolish to say I'm good at all of them or a master at any of them.

This blog is an attempt to document a few trades I'm trying to be jacker at. I don't expect to be a consummate anything by the end of this year... but consummation is not my goal.

 

I remember reading somewhere that something like 92% of New Year's resolutions fail. I will not be one of them, because none of these are year-long resolutions. Interested? READ ON!

I've spent several years as a personal trainer, and one of the biggest problems people run into is the "all or nothing" attitude. Everyone writes down 47 well-intentioned resolutions, then watches helplessly as each of them fade into the anemic wishes they once were by February.

Not today, Satan!

Here's the plan:

Each month of 2018 will have a single challenge (usually a daily habit) I'll dedicate myself to. The challenges will range widely. At the end of every month, I'm off the hook; I can continue the habit if I want to, but I'm not obligated to do anything beyond a month of dedication. For instance, January's challenge is to follow a productive morning routine (I'll cover it in the next post). Among other things, it includes waking up by 8 AM every morning.* On February 1st, I can sleep in as late as I want!

I won't get too wordy in this first post, but please enjoy if you dare. Comment, like, retweet, subscribe, blah blah blah. Honestly I don't even yet know how to direct you to sign up for email notifications of new posts and stuff. I'll figure it out later. Honestly, if you know my mom, it would probably be better just to ask her. I'm half-joking.

 

See you in a day or two,

Jack

 

 

* If 8 AM seems extremely late for an early morning challenge, then I definitely encourage you to read the next post. I have my reasons, you jerk.