Behaviour change is difficult. It’s the reason why I’ve been doing the same habits for years and years. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve tried to change my behaviour on certain things – but the deeply ingrained thinking just can’t get rooted out.
So, I have a proposal. Let’s try a new strategy for changing our behaviour. One that requires a little bit of planning, learning, and execution. But it won’t be too painful.
The idea is simple: I’m going to read one personal or professional development book per month and write a summary for it on ActionableBooks.com.
If you haven’t heard of ActionableBooks.com before, it’s a website that hosts over 1000 business book summaries collected over 10+ years. It’s amazing resource for those looking for a quick hit of learning and insight.
After writing the summary, I’ll decide on one behaviour change that I want to make. Over the course of the next 30 days I’ll track my progress of a scale of 1 to 4 to see how well I did on it.
By the end of the 30 days, I’ll do a post-mortem and see if and how that behaviour change took place. I’ll debrief with a third party who’ll give me honest feedback on my progress.
The plan is to read and summarize my first book this month and begin my 30-days of behaviour tracking in September.
If you’d be interested in joining me on this quest, add a comment below along with your book choice and we can keep track of each other’s progress! I can also help you get setup with the ActionableBooks.com team so you can get started with your first summary.
Quarterly reviews are designed for me to take a moment to reflect on the past three months. I review the data that I collected from my sleep, morning routine, daily questions, health, and productivity to identify trends or insights. The awareness that I gain from reviewing the data allows me to make meaningful changes in my life.
So often we spend so much time “doing” that we gloss over a critical part of personal growth – review and reflection. This is my attempt to build in some reflection time so I can make the next quarter even more productive and fulfilling.
Sleep is the lead domino for my productivity during the day. Without proper sleep, it is difficult to stay focused throughout the work day and have enough energy for friends and loved ones at the end of the day.
I use my Fitbit Charge HR to track my sleep. While I didn’t track my sleep while I was on vacation in March/April, I collected enough data to pull some interesting insights. The two major components I’ll analyze from my sleep is time (quantity) and efficiency (quality).
Q1 average: 7.96 hours
Q2 average: 7.48 hours (-6.03% vs. Q1 average)
As the chart above shows, my sleep time fell across all three months of Q2. The Q1 average sleep time of 7.96, compared to the Q2 average of 7.48, equates to 0.48 hours less sleep which equates to about 29 minutes less sleep on average.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to sleep time but I think there were two major factors from Q2. First, starting in mid-April I began to wake-up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. to accommodate more time for my morning routine. Second, it’s possible that when daylight savings time shifted here in Toronto in mid-March, the greater amount of sunlight contributed to my body needing less sleep. I generally notice during the summer months that I don’t need to sleep as much.
Sleep efficiency = (100*Total Sleep Time)/(Total Sleep Time + Time Awake)
Q1 baseline: 95.52
February: 95.56 (+4 points vs. Q1 baseline)
March: 96.10 (+58 points vs. Q1 baseline)
April: 96.35 (+83 points vs. Q1 baseline)
Sleep efficiency took a significant leap in March and April. Compared to the baseline from Q1, March and April saw a 58 point and 83 point improvement, respectively.
While there’s a myriad of possible reasons for this improvement, one potential factor is the magnesium supplementation I started in early March. One study that examined the impact between magnesium and sleep quality showed a very high correlation between magnesium supplementation and increased sleep quality. It’s likely that I was somewhat deficient in magnesium and the supplementation of 450mg of magnesium citrate made a big difference in my sleep quality.
Important note: I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on the internet so please make sure to check with your physician to see if magnesium supplementation is right for you.
So far in Q3, I’ve seen this trend continue along with the same supplementation amount which suggests that it’s a sustainable change for my body. However, I’ll be monitoring carefully on how I feel in the morning to see if my body can sustain this level of sleep time and sleep efficiency.
My Q2 morning routine consisted of meditation, journaling, a quick workout, reading, and researching & writing for my blog. Below are the daily completion rates over Q2.
Aside from meditation, it’s pretty clear that my Q2 morning routine took a hit. Across the board, most of my habits decreased significantly in their completion rates. Particularly troubling is the reading habit that was down by 40% as reading is a critical component of my personal and professional growth.
There’s probably a couple of factors here that contributed to the dip in Q2. First, in March, I was pretty busy preparing for the trip to Japan and wrapping up my work in time. That likely contributed to the significant dip in my morning routine being completed. Second, after a really strong start to the year in January, my consistency took a hit in February and really cratered in March. That’s the thing about these types of routines: it’s not how strong you start – it’s how consistent you can be across a long period of time.
It makes me realize the importance of mixing things up in my morning and keeping things fun. I think that’s why April was such a big bounce-back month. I hadn’t been doing my morning routine for almost 3 weeks and it was fun to get back into it. I need to think about incorporating strategic routine breaks in the middle of each quarter so I can come back feeling refreshed to go back to my routine.
Daily Questions are five questions I ask myself at the end of the day to gauge the effort I put into my key priorities. I came across this idea in the book Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith which I highly recommend reading.
I rate myself on a scale of 1 to 4 on how much of an effort I put into fulfilling each question. The objective of the questions is to measure my effort (i.e. input) rather than the outcomes (i.e. output) because my effort is something I control. When I know I put in the investment and time into fulfilling each question, I can feel like I did what I can do. As such, each question begins with the phrase “Did I do my best to…?”
Here are the questions that I asked myself everyday over the past quarter:
Did I do my best to…
Make progress towards my objectives at Actionable today?
Invest in my friendships today?
Invest in my relationship with Carly today?
Invest in my physical health today?
Invest in my emotional health today?
It’s nice to see a steady rise in the month-by-month average of my daily question scores. A big change that I saw in Q2 was the increase in Question #1, “Did I do my best to make progress towards my objectives at Actionable today?”
Ever since I picked up the Productivity Planner by Intelligent Change it’s been a game-changer for me when it comes to my work productivity. The structure and process of the planner make it really easy to set my daily goals and track my progress. They’ve also done a great job of outlining the weekly reviews which make it easy to recalibrate projects for the following week. Honestly, I can’t go without it now and it’s a big reason Question #1 has significantly improved in Q2.
One area that I’d like to focus more closely in the coming months is Question #2 – “Did I do my best to invest in my friendships today?” I really enjoy company with friends but I also really enjoy my alone time. It’s an area that I could use some help finding the right balance. It could mean more catch ups over the phone instead of going out. It’s worth exploring because friendships are a priority in my life.
The Health section of my Quarterly Review is still a work in progress. At the moment, I’m collecting data on my average resting heart rate (RHR) and the number of capoeira classes I go to every month.
According to the National Institute of Health, the average resting heart rate (RHR) for adults is 60-100 beats per minute. For well-trained athletes, that range falls between 40-60 beats per minute. A lower RHR generally means that your heart is able to pump more blood with each beat with greater efficiency and is a sign of good health.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m using my Fitbit to track my RHR. By taking a look at my RHR on a monthly basis, I might be able to spot any potential issues that might be happening to my body early on.
Resting Heart Rate (bpm)
I’m not exactly sure why my heart rate dropped by over 2 beats per minute between February and March. It could be because of an increase in my fitness level or perhaps the better quality of sleep I started having in March. I’ve seen the average resting heart rate continue at the 60 bpm level into Q3 which suggests this is a sustainable change.
Another significant component of my physical health comes from practicing capoeira on a weekly basis. Below shows how many capoeira classes I attended in Q2.
Q2 wasn’t exactly where I wanted to get my capoeira class attendance level to. My objective is to make it to a minimum of 8 classes per month which is a goal I fell short of each month. That being said, being away for a few weeks in March and April definitely threw my rhythm off a little bit. And momentum matters in something like capoeira where techniques learned in one class need to be practiced in subsequent classes to be learned and perfected.
I collect my productivity data with RescueTime (RT). RT tracks my daily online and offline activity and categorizes them on a scale of very distracting to neutral to very productive. It also calculates a Productivity Pulse that indicates how productive my day was based on the ratio of productive hours to total hours worked.
Q1 baseline: 77.7
February: 79.0 (+1.67%)
March: 78.1 (+0.51%)
April: 87.1 (+12.10%)
As you can see, there were improvements across Q2 with my Productivity Pulse. February and March were both fairly consistent while April saw a significant increase. This was in part due to a change in the categorization of productive activity in RT. As you can see in the Productive Time vs. Total Time Logged below, the Productive Time for April increased by 0.7 hours compared to February and March.
The difference between Total Time Logged and Productive Time is very interesting. In an ideal world, the entire workday is “productive” but it’s a big challenge to maintain focus throughout the day. So seeing this gap helps me see how productive my day really is and areas that I can potentially improve.
For example, what do I do for the average of 1.3 hours a day that aren’t classified as Productive Time? How can I better understand my habits and unconscious routines so I can reduce that gap? Do I generally “max out” at ~5 hours of “productive time” each day?
Although I may work an average of 6.2 hours per day, my productive time is 4.57 hours per day. That means that there are certain activities or hours that really drive the productivity of my day. So making sure I take advantage of that time is crucial in making sure I get the most out of my day.
In Q2, I’ve been experimenting with a new tool called The Productivity Planner that helps me map out the most important task to get done everyday and use the Pomodoro Method to get it done. It’s already paid big dividends for me and I’m excited to see what the aggregate impact for Q2 will look like.
Learnings from Q2
All in all, here were some of my key learnings from Q2 that I plan to apply in Q3.
Begin to craft out a strategy for improving and expanding this blog to reach more people.
Continue to track consistently in Q3. Leverage the law of large numbers to identify baselines and trends.
Continue to supplement my diet with 450mg of magnesium citrate to ensure higher sleep quality.
Adjust my sleep schedule to fit my chronotype. Based on data collected over the past 6 months, my body naturally goes to sleep around 10:40 – 11 p.m. and wakes up around 6:30 – 7:00 a.m.
Find ways to keep my morning routine fresh. Add a different exercise to my morning workout, try a different type of coffee, switch up the order of the routine, etc.
Plan out a strategic break (e.g. a weekend away) from the morning routine in the middle of the next quarter.
Experiment with a morning routine that matches my sleep chronotype. Start the day with a quick workout and cool shower.
Don’t put so much pressure on my morning routine. Consider cutting it down a little bit and shifting some aspects to other parts of the day.
Experiment with a different time for my research/writing for my blog. Evening writing could work out better.
Create a strategy to make it to 8 capoeira classes each month and make that my baseline.
Visit my Family Doctor to do my yearly physical.
Visit a Naturopathic Doctor to gather more data about my health.
Invest in a smart scale to track data such as weight, body mass index, lean mass, and body fat percentage.
Ensure I still hit at least 7.5 hours of sleep each night. Even with a higher sleep efficiency, 7.5 hours is what my body still seems to need.
Continue to use the Productivity Planner to prioritize my most important tasks each day.
This conversation features Mary Meckley from Sip and Om. I was really happy and honoured to get Mary onto a call with me as she has been my meditation teacher for the last couple of years. I first started following Mary after we met at a productivity conference in New York City and learned about her Daily Meditation Podcast. Everyday she would record a brand new meditation to share with her listeners and her calm and soothing style of meditation really helped take my meditation habit to another level.
In this hour-long conversation, Mary and I talk about a variety of topics including how she got started with meditation, the benefits of meditation, recommendations for beginners, breakdown of various techniques, tips for consistency, and so much more. We even do an impromptu meditation from 41:00 to 44:45 into the conversation.
If you’re interested, Mary runs a membership community at Sip and Om with full guided meditations, monthly support calls, and a private Facebook for her meditation community. If you’re interested in meditating or are looking for support/help in improving your meditations, this might be a great resource. You can try a 2-week trial here. You can also access some of her free, unguided meditations on her Daily Meditation Podcast.
In this post, I get to share with you a conversation I had with Travis Hellstrom. Travis leads Advanced Humanity, a consultancy that works with everyday humanitarians, nonprofits, and businesses. After college, he decided to forgo medical school to travel to Mongolia as a Peace Corps volunteer. He spent a total of four years in Mongolia where he also met his wife. Travis is an author of multiple books including the Unofficial Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook and Questions for the Dalai Lama, and just an all-round good guy.
I wanted to interview Travis because of a course he created called Crafting Your Purpose. It’s a simple four-week program designed to help you understand your values, your major life roles, and ultimately helping you craft your purpose. We breakdown some of the exercises in the interview and I ask him what inspired him to create the course. If you’re interested in learning more, you can access the first exercise for free.
Travis and I have a wide-ranging conversation in which we also talk about his daily habits, favourite books, and so much more. He’s a fascinating guy with a lot of depth and soul. Hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I enjoyed it myself!