Cleaning up your procrastination

This may come of as a very unconventional tip for breaking procrastination or even hard to believe – I found it that way when I first read it somewhere – but again and again it somehow works for me, so it might work for you.

Even though I keep my productivity in close check and am very much aware of when it starts to drift, I still from time to time find myself struggling with procrastination or trying to fight my way through thick layers of “bran fog”. Sometimes work and creativity just comes easy. Getting in the zone and banging out several hours of creative work just comes as second nature – but then at other times this “zone” just seems to have disappeared altogether.

My usual ques to get into the zone, as for instance the same hour long mix played through earplugs, just do not seem to have any effect. And even the act of sitting down and put on the music is a feat in of itself. As though the body or the head somehow resists putting up the work. This is where this little tip more often than not have helped me tremendously.

Whenever I find myself in this deep hole, walls covered with brain-fog and with a heavy lid of procrastination on top, I clean my shit up.

Quite literally – whenever I end in this situation I will clean up my room/apartment. Whether it being putting everything back to its intended place, cleaning off dust or vacuuming – it just has to look mint again. The reason why this works for me might be that I make these small unconscious notes of where things are not in order or where in the apartment it needs cleaning. They are of themselves not that big of a deal, but they seems to pile up inside my head and at some point they tip over.

You need to clean up at some point anyway and if you are procrastinating you are not getting anything done anyways – so you might as well try cleaning your home.

As U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McCraven says in his commencement speech:

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed”

And then goes on to say:

“Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

The full commencement speech is here if it caught your interest:

Give it a shot – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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“Nailing” perfect sprint technique; high knee, quick recovery and toes up with one simple tip

I absolutely do not consider myself an expert on sprinting as it, at least by track & field terms, is not something I have done my entire life. But what I do consider myself quite an expert on is biomechanics and applying well researched concepts to actual sports specific training. And with the title of the blog containing “Keep It Simple Stupid” I am quite a sucker for simple tips and tricks, which is exactly what this is.

I have never been a particularly bad sprinter, meaning that I was always able to run rather fast and accelerate very quickly. Having always been fascinated by sprinters this ability has somewhat stuck with me through all my different sports and training methodologies. But starting track and field sprinting really opened my eyes to how much specific technique and applied methodologies that are to a great 100m race.

I can pinpoint numerous things I am working on to reduce my 100m times, but one of the things that I really found hard to comprehend was the notion of the high knee lift. How could lifting my knee higher in any way improve my speed? For all I could see it would take longer for me to lift the knee meaning a reduction in frequency – the knee lift in itself did not from my view yield any result. The high knee lift had to come from something else. Adding to my skepticism I think that I had read somewhere that the high knee lift came as a result of the force production on the ground – meaning more force production = higher knee lift and not that the knee lift in itself “did anything”. This sort of made sense to me until I read a piece that totally shattered that view.

Another common advice getting thrown around is to recover your leg quickly and keep your heel close to your butt when recovering your leg. What this advice ends up doing is mimicking “butt-kicks” which is actually not what we are looking for. We are not trying to recover the heel all the way up to the back of the butt, but we are trying to make the lever as short as possible to quickly recover the leg and have it ready for the next step. A better analogy is keeping the heel close to the hamstring which is actually closer to what we are trying to obtain.

Finally there is the “toes pointing up” that comes together with the high knee lift – this puts tension on the calves and enables for a more explosive force-development through the ankle by way of the “stretch reflex”. These three things along with numerous other techniques is what the new athlete has to think about while sprinting max effort – and oh – remember to relax while you’re doing it…

There is actually great debate as to exactly what makes for the perfect sprinting technique. All scientific papers seems to have a very hard time really pinpointing what the “right” technique is, but one thing that seems to stand out across all scientific papers is the fact that all great sprinters have very short ground contact in common. Thereby saying that they are able to produce tremendous amount of force in a very short timeframe and then quickly recover the leg.

What I was not able to comprehend was as said earlier how lifting my knees higher could help achieve any of this. But luckily someone explained it to me in a way that made biomechanical sense to me.

Getting your knees higher achieves a longer travel for your foot to enable it to punch the ground harder. This is the same analogy as if you were to punch a sandbag really hard, you would not start with your hand 1 inch away from it – you would pull it back and then punch. The same goes for high knee lift – what you are doing is pulling your knee higher in order to explosively and violently punch the ground harder.

When this was explained to me, it suddenly made sense. The reason for teaching high knee lift is that it has been found to be the way you can punch the ground hardest and produce the most amount of force. Now my brain was on track with why – then the next step was how?

Luckily there is a little tip that at least for me made everything just click. High knees, quick recovery close to the hamstring and toes pointing up. The very simple tip is to imagine that there is a long nail sticking out of your opposite knee that you need to step over each time you recover your leg. If you do this, even just walking slowly you will realize that in order to do so your toes will automatically point upwards to get over “the nail” and you automatically pull your heel close to your hamstring and not back up towards your butt and finally in order to get “all the way over” this imaginary nail you need to pull your knee high – in short everything that is taught as good sprinting technique. Try it out for yourself – for me i just sort of made everything click – so hopefully it can do the same for you.

How to do cold showers

Turn on the cold water – duh!

Nahh – this is not going to be some long explanation of why cold showers is a good idea and not some crazy way to make them easy. It’s just going to be a few easy points on how to make them more bearable and therefore enabling you to stay a bit longer under the cold fountain of iron forging hell that cold showers can feel like.

Optimally you would have a nice ice bath to lower yourself into, but if you are somewhat normal you probably do not have that option. The layman edition of cold showers include such advanced remedies as this long exhausting list:

  • Shower
  • Cold water

So I do not expect to have lost anyone so far.

As with anything that is labelled beneficial or optimal from food to training programs, it is not as much about finding the optimal food or program but what works optimal for exactly your situation. As this blogs mantra “keep it simple” underlines – we are looking to get as much bang for the buck as possible – not trying to coach elite Olympic athletes into shaving of hundreds of a second.

So how to approach the cold shower? First of; it is not supposed to be easy. You can ease into it by starting warm and gradually going colder, but eventually you should just find yourself standing under the cold water as it gently caresses, or as you would probably describe it; sharply stings and freezes your body.

Cold showers are as much an exercise in toughness and mental strength as a way to improve your health. Suck it up!

But there are a few key points to make them more bearable. If you keep your face and your hands outside of the water you will last way longer. This may be a problem if you have a very fancy shower that totally covers your body, but if you live somewhat ordinarily with the water coming either directly down from the top or at an angle from the wall, you will have options to try this out. I have a shower where the water comes at an angle and I usually switch between having it hit my chest and down and the upper part of my back and down. Not having my face and hands directly in the stream of cold water greatly increases the amount of time I am able to spend underneath it. And as the “goal” of cold showers is lowering body temperature, then this is not even “cheating” or taking anything away from that.

The other key point is keeping track of your breath and relaxing. If you tense up entirely and start almost hyperventilating even before hitting the water, you are not going to last many seconds underneath it. Take some deep breaths and try to relax. I really think meditation has helped me with this part, but I can help myself by focusing on some thought or maybe even just a point on the wall and then just sticking with it almost “ignoring” the cold water on my body.

Try to tell yourself that it is okay, rather than fill your body with fear of this all-conquering force trying to freeze you to death. You are going to be okay and you can anytime you want abort mission.

If you try these to little tricks I am sure that your cold showers will last longer. Not promising that they will be pleasant or that you will go from having hated them to loving them – but it should enhance the effect of them by enabling you to stay under for longer. Good luck!

Doing what you love, productivity, procrastination and social media

When you follow your dreams and work with what you love and feel really will do an impact, then you’re never hit by procrastination – right? I can’t recall how many times I have been met with that assumption. Hey it must be so awesome to work with what you love, then it probably never feels like work. You won’t ever do something that you don’t like doing or do boring tasks. Ehm – where to start…

I actually on a number of occasions, felt rather ashamed of the fact that; here I was working with what I love, going after a dream and still I found myself getting distracted by all sorts of unimportant rubbish – thereby failing to put in sufficient work on what really matters.

The most basic form of human stupidity is forgetting what we are trying to accomplish.

Procrastination. Oh yes – even though you work with what you love, the long term goal is totally in line with what you are working on, you can still be hit by procrastination. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You just need to take steps in the right direction to try and minimize it. I don’t think you can totally avoid it, since it is so deeply rooted in human nature. But if you become aware of signs as to when you’re really procrastinating instead of getting stuff done, then you can take action to move yourself in the right direction.

There are probably very few endeavors or long term goals which you can accomplish without a lot of time spent on things you really would have preferred to be without. Especially when you are starting from scratch. There will be times when the task ahead of you will have you checking e-mail compulsively, getting coffee 4 times in an hour, updating your twitter, facebook and instagram feed all just to look for some distraction that can pull you away from the task at hand. But this is where you can separate yourself from the crowd.

Lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it.

I recently had a rather bad streak of not really getting anything important accomplished. Just running around trying to look busy. The only thing I could really get my mind to concentrate on was reading. Having realized this, which is kind of the first step, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out a book that before has helped me regain my productivity: Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series)

This is a little short book, filled with tips and productivity hacks by 99U. If you have followed them on their website or youtube you will recognize a lot of the people and advice given in the book. It is basically just a lot of short chapters on productivity by some of the most knowing people on the topic. I dare you to read this book without going away with something really useful. Given the short chapters it is a very good go-to book if you just need a short reminder to keep your shit together or you can sit down and read the entire book in a day, without having to be an avid speed-reader.

I have made a lot of notes and will implement them the coming weeks to get me back on track productivity wise. Short term it sure has helped. My guess is that I have got more accomplished in the last two days, that the entire last week…

But I would like to end by sharing a few notes from the book on social media. It is a chapter focusing on all the distractions fighting for our attention. All the social media platforms that makes us feel good short term, but do not bring us any closer to our long term goals. The overall advice is that we set certain times for accessing social media and ask ourselves key questions once we feel drawn towards them outside these slots:

  • Is it necessary to share this? Will it add value to my life and for other people?
  • Can I share this experience later so I can focus on living right now?
  • Am I looking for validation? Is there something I could do to validate myself?
  • Am I avoiding something I need to do instead of adressing why I don’t want to do it?
  • Am I feeling bored? Is there something else I could do to feel more purposeful and engaged in my day?
  • Am I feeling lonely? Have I created opportunities for meaningful connection in my day?
  • Am I afraid of missing out? Is the gratification of giving in to that fear worth missing out on what’s in front of me?
  • Am I overwhelming myself, trying to catch up? Can I let go of yesterdays conversation and join today’s instead?
  • Can I use this time to simply be instead of looking for something to do to fill it?
  • Do I just want to have mindless fun for a while?

All are valid question, and all can be answered with a valid yes – but the mere awareness might keep you grinding at what you’re trying to avoid, instead of giving in to a quick fix.

As said earlier, this book is filled with good little productivity hacks, focusing on anything from energy to your surroundings. It is a very good book both for reading in entirety as well as browsing a few chapters every once in a while.

Taking notes while reading

This is just going to be a rather short post on reading or to be precise; note-keeping whilst reading. I have covered this a little bit before, but it seems to be an area where I keep refining my technique. Some techniques stay with me, others drift away – but these following points have stayed with me for some time, and seems to be a good mix of effort and reward.

To be clear; I only use these techniques for non-fiction books, or perhaps even more precisely; books I read in order to gain some knowledge or insight. This is not applied to leisure-reading. Of course you may use it as you please.

Photo 31-05-14 20.16.24First of; I mark paragraphs in the book as I am reading along. This is nothing new and I even think I have written about it before, but just to show an example(here from Ryan Holidays, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph)

This does a fine job of highlighting passages that I find valuable or things I would like to remember afterwards. The downside of this, is that in order to find all the marked passages afterwards, you have to go through the entire book.

What I started doing then, was every time I made a mark in the book, I would write the page-number in one of the last blank pages in the book. To simplify it a bit further I would only write the number of the left page, if I made marks on both sides and if I hadn’t made any notes on the left, I of course would write the page number of the right one, given that it had any content I marked.

This made me a personal index at the back of the book with everything that I found valuable from the content. But in some cases there might be content I found extra valuable. So I needed a way to distinguish “regular” notes from “extra important”.

Photo 31-05-14 20.21.55The simple solution to this was just to underline the page number in my personal index. Then what I end up with, is an index I can use if I have relatively good time to read through the valuable notes, or if I am in a hurry, I can just browse through the underlined page numbers, containing the extra valuable content. In practice this looks like the following(here from Marcus Aurelius’, Meditations: A New Translation)

In retrospect, I would have loved to have this technique a bit earlier. There are quite a few books I need to go back through – some only needing the index others does not even have marks in them. But to help others that might gain from these techniques, they are now shared.

Happy reading folks!

To-Do’s and Did-Do’s

Like probably a lot of you, I keep looking for tips and systems on how to increase my productivity. Some of them help, some are too complicated to be operational in a just mildly changing environment and others are downright foolish.

I have successfully incorporated a few, which helped me get more of the important things done. Tips like write the most important task of the day on a piece of paper, the one task that at the end of the day, will make you feel like you have accomplished a good days work – and then give this your full attention until it is finished. And as a lot of you know, these are often characterized by being the tasks we feel the most uncomfortable about.

But what I personally found missing from a lot of these systems, was the ever changing environment of running a start-up. If I kept the notes and looked at them by the end of the week, I would always end of thinking – was that all I accomplished during the week? How could I have spent so many hours on those?

Of course I hadn’t spent all my time on those tasks that were written down. I had been programming/writing/preparing something, that at the time was the most important task, but while doing so; something more important had come up; I had figured that this new feature led to a re-think and re-design of some existing components; or something of the like. I hadn’t been procrastinating or unproductive, the things I had on my to-do list at the start of the week just did not cover all the work they had brought me during the execution.

What I needed was a way to track not only what I wanted or needed to do, but also what I actually ended up doing.

The reason why this is important – at least for my part – is that when working on something like a start-up, writing a book or anything where the gratification(launch, release, etc.) is quite far into the horizon, you won’t receive any pads on the back or acknowledgements during everyday work. This means that your biggest critic – yourself – has to have a way of seeing results along the way, for it to get of your back and praise you for whatever small improvements you have made.

This is where TO-DO’s and DID-DO’s come into play. They are actually quite simple, as most of you probably already figured out, the basic premise, but I will nevertheless share my way of organizing them.

I personally use Evernote to store these and therefore the following screenshots will be from there. I have basically created a note which I call “Week template” – this is almost static. Almost in the sense, that if I have long-running tasks that are not top-priority, they can make their way to this template. This template is then each week copied and used to fill out the week. And example could be as follows:
Skærmbillede 2014-03-23 kl. 20.37.42

What I then do is each week, I make a rough sketch of what I want to accomplish, add those tasks to that week and I am ready to go. Then each day I can add things that spawned from doing other tasks, so that everything I do ends up being on that list as seen below:

Skærmbillede 2014-03-23 kl. 20.41.26This enables me to keep track of not only what I have to do, but also what I DID do, which for me makes work much more satisfying. The level of detail in these are totally up to you – just keep in mind that it should be operational and keep your productivity high – if you end up breaking each tasks into to small pieces, just to get more items checked, then you are certainly doing it wrong.

 

If you lack motivation and don’t feel like you are getting anything done, then try this system. The self rewarding effect of seeing how much you accomplished should not be underestimated!

Eggs boiled, scrambled, omelet, pancakes – a simple tip

You may know this tip already, but given how many years I had eggs, before I came across this tip; you may not.

I love eggs and use them frequently in my diet. As fried eggs on beefs of minced meat, in scrambled eggs with tuna, pancakes etc. They are an awesome source of protein and tastes wonderful.

But if you ever made any dish with eggs, apart from boiling them, you’ve probably experienced the joy of trying to get pieces of eggshell, back out of the bowl – unless of course – you are an absolute egg-ninja. It’s always a pain in the a**, and leaves you with fingers fully submerged in egg-fluid, after you have tried all other pieces of kitchen tools, within reach.

But not anymore. All you have to do, is use pieces of eggshell, to retrieve the pieces in the bowl. You will be amazed at how easy it is to get hold of those slippery little pieces once you do it this way.

Happy cooking!