Sunday, February 4, 2018

Habits - Entry 3 - Scaling back when needed


If you have found my articles interesting enough You may have tried to look at the other items I have written for this Blog and quickly found out that there are some significant gaps between articles.

How can this be? You might ask - isn't this the guy that writes about habits and task list and other things that should keep me on track churning out copy every week? And you would be correct to ask that question.

Hopefully, this will be a good segue into one of the most significant habit lessons I have learned:

How to scale back when life adds pressure to your time and energy resources

The answer is not complicated to figure out Evaluate, Prioritize, Execute.  But it is essential to go through the process.


The "Getting Things Done" crowd will be familiar with the weekly review.  This is where I often do my evaluation.  As I go through this process I usually try to sort my habits into groups:

  • Professional habits
  • Health habits
  • Mental habits
  • Social habits

and classify each habit within the group as

  • Positive -Foundation
  • Positive - Working
  • Negative - Foundation
  • Negative - Working
With this philosophy, I can sort the current habits (good and bad) into one of 16 groups.

It is critical that you are honest with your self as you build this list.  It may be easier if you use a habit app like Todoist, so you already know what habits you are tracking.  It may also be useful to listen to others to determine what habits you have that you don't even know about.

The major groups -Professional, Health, Mental, and Social - are not to hard to make out, but there are some clarifications I would like to put out there.  First, I use all four groups because they seem to balance out well.  One works well with the other three.  If you don't work on your Health, you won't have the energy for Social, Profesional, or Mental habits.  If you are not improving your Metal capabilities, you will be left behind in Social groups, passed up in your Professional life, and may execute your Helth strategies all wrong.  I could go on to all four, but I think you get the picture.

As for the sub-categories, they are just the realization that we have positive and negative habits, and we have habits that support all that we do (Foundation), and practices that we are working on (Working).  Some may call Foundation habits "Keystone habits".  These are habits that either allow other habits to be more beneficial or enable other habits to be formed.  For example, the Profesional habit of "getting up at 5:00 AM" provides the time for the Health habits of "working out" or "meditating."  Due to this even if I have to stop working out or meditating I might keep getting up at 5:00 AM for the many other benefits.


Though this process is going to be based on your own needs, it should be as simple as ranking your habits in most to least significant. Then, based on your time and energy budget, determining which practices you can keep, which you will do less frequently, and which you will 'let go' for the time being.

Due to an increase in opportunities at work at the end of 2017 I had to go deep into this process.  I found it easiest to drop most of the habits that were in a "working" group, both positive and negative. I had to be very careful with what I chose to keep.  Too much and I would not be able to get the work done to take advantage of the opportunities.  Too little and I would cause myself to burn out, unable to sustain the work pace and quality needs.

It was clear many of the things I would keep.  From Health - Diet, and Excercise.  From Social - My weekly ballroom dance get-together. This allowed me to keep both my wife and my friends happy.  Mental - I halved my reading load but increased the amount of fiction I was reading.  This was enough to keep me from feeling like I had abandoned my mind, by not stopping my reading, while giving me additional distractions to allow my mind to reset, by reading more fiction than I normally would.  As the goal was to take advantage of a Professional opportunity I dropped the least here - really only my working habit of improving my handwriting and working on adding "Sketchnoting" skills. I type all day so these are a vanity habits.


By far the easiest part to say had hardest to do.  You have to allow the things you said you will not work on this week to go by the wayside, you can work on them when your energy allows.  You have to stay disciplined in ensuring you perform all of the habits you said you would keep.

But it is not all discipline and sacrifice.  Hopefully, you will have marked your weekly review as a Profesional Postive Foundation Habit and will have chosen to keep it.  This means that in only a few days you can Evaluate and Prioritize again. Giving you the ability to adjust each week as demands change.


As I the challenges I accepted are coming to a close I am taking the habits I put on hold, such as writing in this blog, and adding them back into my weekly lists.  By ensuring that I kept the most important habits, I have come to the end of this opportunity with better health, a good mental feel, little to no damage to my social standing, and the professional respect of my company and coworkers.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Habits -The Healthy Habit Revolution - Book Review

I can be wrong

I don't remember how "The Healthy Habit Revolution: Create Better Habits in 5 Minutes A Day" by Derek Doepker ended up in my Kindle library, but I know my first impression was that this was another self-help/me-too kind of book.  I went to Audible to check a sample of the audio and found out it was read by the author.  The author is a fitness and life coach.  I could just hear the "bro"ness in his California accent. I was convinced this would be a bad read and that I would be able to poke holes in his methods and techniques.  I even thought I could make a game out of counting the "Dude" and "Bro" quotes in the book

Maybe I should not even take the time to read this book and move on to something more intellectually stimulating like "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies"  by Nick Bostrom.  That surely would make me smarter.

But I decided I was at the pool and my Kindle said the book would take me less than 3 hours to read. Why not risk it.  I am glad I did.

I was pleasantly surprised very quickly at Mr. Doepker's referencing of other books like "The Power of Habit" on how to make - and break - habits.

An Action Oriented Book

Many habit books I have read have been full of theory, biochemistry, and studies.  This book references several of those.  But this book is not about that.  It is about getting you moving.

The core of the book is a 21-day plan to get your first "micro-habits" going.  The book is intended to be read over 22 or 23 days (not the 3 hours I took). One chapter per day so that you can reflect on your journey to that point and educate your path going forward.

The breakdown 

Though not directly named by the author this book has three major sections.

  1. Background and Introduction to Micro-Habits
  2. Daily Chapters
  3. Review and Going Forward 

Background and Introduction to Micro-Habits 

After a quick yet concise history of how Mr. Doepker used the methods described in this book to improve his life and the life of his clients, he goes into a breakdown of the basics of creating a few small habits, micro-habits, that the reader would use during the 21-day exercise of this book. 

As someone that has built many good habits in my life, I found myself nodding in agreement with Mr. Doepker's definitions and methods. If you follow them, you will select good initial micro-habits to start with. 

Daily Chapters

The daily chapters are short.  Something you could read in less than 10 minutes per night.  So they would not be much of a burden on even the most hectic schedule. Chapters seem to include another small bit of advice that would be well timed for that portion of the habit building journey.

Each daily chapter builds off the one before it. Though direct in the advice given, there is a building set of sub-lessons, what the author calls "hidden lessons," that are pointed out in the final section of the book.

Review and Going Forward 

In the final segment of the book, Mr. Doepker directly covers the "hidden lessons" in the daily chapters. But more importantly, he gives good advice on how to take this start and build on it. There is a good preview of the mistakes one can make in the building process, like being too inflexible.

Finally, there is an excellent reference section so that ones newly formed habits can be taken even further by reading the biochemistry, philosophy, and lessons from others.


If you had to start with one book on habits to be able to find many other good books, I would have to recommend this one.  It has references to no less that 12 other books and authors in the habit building space. (There are actually 17 books and 9 recommended articles).  I can even forgive him that three of the books he recommends are his own books.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Life Jungle Gym Entry 1 - The Career Ladder vs The Life Jungle Gym.


In reading "Lean In" - by Sheryl Sandberg, she references Pattie Sellers metaphor: “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”  This got me thinking that maybe Pattie and Sheryl should expand this metaphor to all of life.

I will talk more about my thoughts on the life jungle gym later, but first, let me review the book so far.  I am only 50% of the way done with the book, and I am both saddened and happy that I have not found any new information.  As a male in a leadership role, I am always concerned that I am treating each of the people I work and interact with as individuals.  Just because someone falls into a particular group (male, female, engineer, sales, manager) does not mean they will all have the same needs, goals, or motivations.  This book has not changed my thought of that.  However it concerns me that even with the number of very successful women in society, many talked about in this book, it seems that women not only have the momentum of society to overcome but their own internal and peer group pressures.  I look forward to finishing the book to see what more can be, and has been, done.

The Life Jungle Gym

Getting back to the carrier ladder vs. the life jungle gym; there are just so many ways in which the latter is superior to the former. The metaphor of a ladder is apt, it can not stand on its own, it must be propped up against something.  When you climb a ladder you can only see 180°, but you are not even facing the view.  Someone focused on only climbing the career ladder is very one dimensional and, though they may have done interesting things, not very interesting as a human.

The jungle gym of life is much more engaging, you have more options. If someone is blocking your path you can go a different direction.  You can seem more, and your view is seldom blocked. You seldom have to wait for someone else to move up before you can advance. Nor do you have to remove them from above or watch that someone is looking to remove you from the ladder so they can move up.

I am not saying that a jungle gym life is a utopia.  You can still fall off.  Sideways is not up.  There will still be people above you. But it gives you options, choices, more control over your paths.


How do you make life more like a jungle gym? By taking risks, looking for opportunities, and going another way when the current path is blocked.  When a block happens, you can use the phrase "GOOD" by Jocko Willink.  Jocko is excellent at treating life like a jungle gym and seeing the opportunity in every "setback." To paraphrase him -

  • Get fired. Good. Now you can find a more challenging job.  
  • Don't get that promotion. Good. Now you can learn more in your current position
  • Spouse does not have dinner ready.  Good. You can learn more about sharing domestic responsibilities (Ok he never said this one, but having met him in person it seems to be line with his thought process)
Now Jocko is very different than Sheryl Sandberg, but they both are looking at different ways to be aggressive in your goals.  This does not mean pushing everyone over. This means "Leaning In" and "Getting After It." By being aggressive with your goals, not people, you will build strong legs on your jungle gym.

In contrast to a ladder that needs something to lean on.  A jungle gym can stand on its own due to the number of foundations and legs it has. Do you balance your love of your work with a vibrate home life? Do you even know where to start?  I am no expert, but  I always look at physical, mental, and mastery.


If you have a knowledge worker job that causes you to sit a lot, are you balancing that with regular exercise? Or better yet, an activity that you can talk about.  I am always fascinated by rock climbers, triathletes, other ballroom dancers, campers, hikers.  Basically, anyone that experiences a physical activity rather than just going to the local gym to do a physical activity.

Also, being in good shape makes people look at you more favorably.  It is not a pleasant fact, but it is true.  The more in shape you are, the better people assume you are at your job.

Finally, there are significant neurological benefits to working out regularly.  If you want to learn more about exercises impact on the brain, I recommend checking out the book "Spark" by John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman 


Do you spend your leisure time watching mindless TV or playing the same video games? You are not really growing your mind.  There is nothing wrong with this in moderation. But what are you doing to use the 18 million new brain cells that you current have that will be reabsorbed if you don't put them to work?  I am not saying that you need to learn four languages and read classic literature in its native language.  But you could try a new language a little at a time.  You could at least reread that novel you liked so much back in school.  You could improve your skills in the kitchen.  Nothing will help get you through the hard time of a carrier change than being able to make an impressive meal on a budget. You can't do that without some knowledge.

You could also prepare another carrier leg for your life jungle gym. Do you know how to code?  How is your business skills?  What about taking an online course.  It does not have to be a paid college course. iTunes U, MIT, Harvard, and other schools offer many free courses online.  Udamey, CloudGuru, and others offer low-cost domain specific courses that can help prepare you for a particular task or event. 

Both the leisure and professional mental improvements above make you better prepared to go up, down, sideways, or even diagonally on your growing jungle gym.  


It will be problematic to live a fulfilled life, or have a successful career, if you are only an expert at one thing.  This is not to say that expertise is overrated, it is not.  You should have a minimum of one marketable skill that is at a professional level.  If you are young, you should be building this skill. However, once you have reached a minimum degree of skill building, why would you stop there?  You are already used to being a learner.  Take advantage of that and start learning the next thing.  This will give you options in your career path.  

Have you ever noticed that your best leaders have always been people that have many skills at, or near, the expert level?  How do you think they got there.  They worked for mastery on their own.

In one's personal life mastery adds depth as well.  What if that coffee table your feet are on was built by you?  What if you could walk up to that piano in the bar and play a real song?  What if when you went to a black tie affair you could Tango and Foxtrot?  How much more interesting would you be?  How much more depth would someone think you had.  These are the type of people that other people want to know.  Knowing more people exposes you to more opportunities.  This means you have more opportunities to move around on your ever growing life jungle gym.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Habits - Entry 2: Habits vs Task Lists

So I was thinking about the difference between a task list and a habit.

To me, it really comes down to task lists are a tool and habits are an action.

Task list are great.  Whether you use your phone's built-in task list, a free app, or a paid app they can all be very powerful.  I use Todoist with an annual subscription. Many people I know use, or used Wunderlist.  My wife is the queen of bits of paper.  And I have seen others that still have 1990's style pocket notebooks. I, myself, used Franklin Covey products back in that day.

Regardless of what you use, and if you are just starting out you should probably use something, these items are just tools.  It is the action you put with them that starts to turn things into a habit.  As a matter of fact, if you want to use a tool to help you build habits the first habit you need is to use the tool.

Once you have established the seed habit of using the tool you can figure out what works best in that tool. For me David Allan's "Getting Things Done" method.  But just reading that book or his website did give me efficient habits. I needed to start the habit engine.

To "plant" the seed habit I looked at a few things and decided what would work best for me: Scheduled Reviews and Deliberate Thought.

Before even starting this process I knew I lived by my calendar. If it were not in my calendar it would not happen. So I schedule multiple times to review and reflect on what opportunities I had missed and taken to build my root habit of using my task list. I looked at what I added, evaluated it for quality and ensured that I would improve as time went along.

Reflection dovetailed nicely into the second part of my plan - Deliberate Thought. By doing these reviews, I was more likely to recognize an opportunity to use the tool and build the root habit.

Though it was easy to start this process, it was just as easy to skip it sometimes.  But my calendar appointments brought me back into track.  Your mileage may vary, but make sure that you have a means of getting back into it when life finally injects itself and you have to skip a few days or weeks.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Habits - Entry 1

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit" - Aristotle

As I look back on what has allowed me to be successful, it has been due to the painstaking efforts I have made to cultivate helpful habits.  Whether it has been:

  • Diet and lifestyle changes
  • Continuous learning practices
  • Getting a kick out of racing someone else to acquire the most in-depth knowledge of a subject. 
  • Practicing using that knowledge to execute a project.  
All of these things, which started out as one-time events, I continued until they became habits.

Lately, I have become fixated on how automatic patterns are formed, what habits I have, and how to replace my harmful, or unproductive, practices with productive practices.  I expect to post many entries as a kind of record as I go deeper and deeper into how to encourage healthy and productive habits.

In future entries I will talk about:
  • The brain and habits
  • The psychology of habits
  • Applications and Apps for habits
But first, let's talk about why habits are so important.  Energy conservation. We each only have so much mental and physical energy (though you can grow both through training).  When something is a habit it takes less of both.  Less mental energy and less physical energy.  This means we can use the energy we have to focus on important infrequent tasks.  We can give those tasks more attention to detail and produce a better result.

If you have thoughts on habits feel free to comment below

Sunday, April 30, 2017



Clever Sea Turtles is being incorporated a a Wisconsin LLC. This will allow me to publish my personally built software applications, provide consulting, and legally protect my interests.

Many ideas have been rolling around in my head over the years and have been captured in notebooks. Microsoft OneNote to be exact. With this LLC protection I intend to spend a few hours a week executing these ideas and releasing them to the public.

Habits - Entry 3 - Scaling back when needed

Overburdened  If you have found my articles interesting enough You may have tried to look at the other items I have written for this Blog...