Welcome to Week 1 of 2020. Happy new year! Here are some of the things I loved reading this week. The science stuff is below the fold. I’m excited that miRNA seems to be turning up everywhere. I am also a little glad that the holidays are over. They may be fun, but they exhaust me.
I have noticed that when I’m very tired, I find it easier to single-task on writing. Of course, that’s partially due to the lack of distractions late at night, but I think that there’s something else at work. Maybe I’m less tolerant of distractions? Maybe it’s the deadline pressure of wanting to go to bed? Or maybe it’s just easier to be creative. According to Cindi May, “… being at your best may be over-rated, at least for people seeking innovative ideas or creative solutions. To be sure, if your task requires strong focus and careful concentration – like balancing spreadsheets or reading a textbook – you are better off scheduling that task for your peak time of day. However, if you need to open your mind to alternative approaches and consider diverse options, it may be wise to do so when your filter is not so functional. You just may be able to see what you’ve been missing.”
I regularly use an app called Remember the Milk. Remember the Milk is a to-do list that syncs across my computer and smart phone. It has multiple lists so that I can categorize things a little bit. It has priorities so that I can sort things according to near-term and far term. It does due dates. It does notes. It saves URLs. It’s a pretty comprehensive little app.
Remember the Milk is my “bucket” for the Getting Things Done method. David Allen suggested in Getting Things Done that he needed to have some trusted, central location to put to-do items. By having such a trusted place to put all his to-do’s, he could put them out of his mind and focus on doing something. Trying to keep track of all the things he was afraid of forgetting in his head made him almost crazy. He calls this trusted to-do list his “bucket.”
I try to do the same. When I’m reading email or working on a project, I look for to-do’s. Even cleaning the house brings up to-do’s (like buying soap or ordering vacuum bags). Trying to hold those in my head would drive me crazy. My head is full. Instead, they all go in the app. If I have an idea for a blog, it goes in the app. If I remember that I need to change the oil in the car, it goes in the app. Then they get sorted out later.
How do I sort them? I find that Covey’s First Things First method is most appropriate for me. He divides things according to importance and urgency. Things that are important-and-urgent are Quadrant I. Things that are important-but-not-urgent are Quadrant II. The non-important are divided into Quadrants III and IV accordingly.
Everything goes in the bucket. The bucket get sorted into the quadrants. The to-do’s get done immediately, go on the calendar (if there’s a due date) or go on the scrum board (if they are Q2 – important but have no due date). Some things get thrown away. The shorter the list, the happier I am.
I have tried three different meditation apps and found all of them have very good points. The first app I tried was called Headspace. It is well organized, habit-forming, and I like Andy Puddicombe’s voice (he’s the founder of Headspace and does all the guided meditations). He also did a TED talk which I suspect increased his visibility and gave his app a big boost. The only complaint I have about headspace is that it is very expensive. It costs $13 per month (though they have discounts for longer-term subscriptions). Their lifetime membership cost is $400. For me, it was worth it for one year to learn the skill, but not worth it for multiple years.
Brain.FM is a browser/mobile app that plays binaural beats while you work so that you can focus better. Binaural beats are an odd perceptual phenomenon. If you play two sounds that have almost the same frequency, the interference between the two waveforms makes what is called a beat frequency (beat frequency youtube demo). Here’s the weird thing: if you play one tone into your left ear, and a second tone into your right ear, you perceive the beat frequencies despite the waves not physically interfering with each other. Our brain reconstructs the beat frequency from the difference between the two tones. Supposedly, if that beat frequency matches certain brainwave frequencies, it can induce certain moods and mental states.
I don’t know if that is going to work for everyone. There seems to be some evidence that binaural beats do affect brain waves. It does seem to help me: there are different binaural beats for sleep, focus, and meditation. All of them seem to perform as advertised for me. The brain.FM app also has several guided meditations that I find useful. I got the lifetime subscription to brain.FM with a discount code; that offer seems to have expired, but there do seem to be other discounts available from time to time.
The third app I tried for meditation is Calm.com. The app can act as a background noise generator. It can make the sound of splashing water or wind through the trees (and several other pleasant sounds). I liked those when I was working in a shared office and needed some background noise to help me tune out distractions. They now offer several guided meditations and “sleep stories.” I’m excited to try sleep stories. I guess it’s like a meditative bedtime story to help you go to sleep. I usually don’t fall asleep well if I can hear talking or music. Still, I have found that a relaxation exercise before bed does help me sleep.
Bonus: I have also tried the insight timer which has a simple timer with chimes at regular intervals. It also has community-uploaded guided meditations. A few of those are good but most of them have a lot of ambient music that I don’t like very much (think sitars, zithers and didgeridoos).
You remember your youth? Going to bed at 3AM after having a lot of fun? Maybe playing video games or drinking at a bar? It felt a little rebellious and irresponsible to be up that late (it’s almost early #LOL). Maybe if you had a late class or a flexible work schedule, you did these shenanigans on a weekday! Those were fun times. This is the exact opposite of that. Try to go to sleep at 7, but fail. Go to sleep at 9 instead and wake up barely able to function.
Step 2: Protein
Cereal over the age of thirty is a bad idea. Even bran cereal. That’s just sugar, and sugar wants to take up squatter’s residence on your belly. It’s harder to evict than your derelict former roommate, Martin, who ate your eggs, but doesn’t feel bad about it because they are not free range and factory farm cruelty excuses theft, apparently. Cook an egg for breakfast because you are a grownup.
Step 3: Coffee
Using a clean coffee maker, brew up 8 to 10 cups of Walmart’s Great Value Medium Roast. It’s a great value! There are no calories in a cup of black coffee but there are 100 milligrams of caffeine (It is by will alone I set my mind in motion). Drink a cup (or three!) to get you started and put the rest in an insulated container to nurse over the rest of the morning. Coffee kept hot on a hot plate will taste like death in less than an hour.
Step 4: Go to work
To start the day, read a nice think piece about your work. There’s no need to jump right in to the real work of the day. You’re in at 4AM. If you read for an hour to get your head on straight, you’re still ahead of the game. For God’s sake, don’t read the news. Not even as a joke. Block that on your own computer if you have to, like NetNanny for adults. Yes, there is an app for that.
Step 5: Panic at 6AM
Holy crap, have you been at work for 2 hours? What have you accomplished? It’s the equivalent of 11 AM for anyone on a non-insane schedule. Have you written anything? A blog post, at least? Part of a paper? Code? What’s the point of getting up before dawn? You could have “slept in” until 6AM. That’s a statement that is absurd on its face. Maybe you should meditate or something.
Do you prefer your morning routine parodies in video form? Here you go:
The Boomers had it uniquely good. If you worked in the United States from 1950 to 1980, you made especially good money. If you invested, you got especially good returns. This convinced people that working and saving at a modest rate was all it takes to have a comfortably affluent life.
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