In a (fortuitous) fluke of timing, I found myself with almost two months off between leaving my last job and starting my new one. It’s not often we adults find themselves with this much time off and not scrambling for a new job. While a plan to spend some time traveling was scuttled for a few reasons (new septic systems are expensive!), I was able to invest plenty of time experimenting with things that I believe could make my life better.
I had a somewhat similar experience three years ago and vowed that no matter how much time I had between jobs, I would emerge far better as a result of the time in between.
Here are a few of the things I dabbled in, and my unscientific results.
Moved my iPhone out of the bedroom
A common refrain from those worried about the pervasive nature of mobile devices and those who advocate the benefits of sleep both suggest removing your cell phone from your bedroom when sleeping. Not only does it lead to sleep problems, but even the mere presence of the phone can cause distraction and anxiety.
Often used as an alarm clock, research suggests that 71% of people sleep with their phone on the nightstand (or even more horrifyingly in their hands or in bed with them). I’ve recently begun wearing a Garman watch, which has a silent haptic vibration to wake me up and keep my iPhone on the dining room table.
It’s been an adjustment, but do not reach for it when I wake up, or when I awaken in the night, and am not tempted to lay in bed scrolling through my phone for distractions. The tracking of my sleep (via Garman and SleepTracker) don’t show a marked uptick in quantity or quality of sleep but I intend to continue with this habit.
Removed social apps from my phone
Similarly, I removed Twitter and Instagram from my phone. I had noticed myself scrolling and scrolling, sometimes for 20 or 30 minutes when I was just taking a ‘quick look’. It’s like eating snacks right out of the bag or tin, it’s very hard to stop once you’ve started.
I have often justified this kind of usage as the byproduct of a career in the digital space, but if I’m being honest with myself it was usually just a mindless distraction. I still check social networks on my laptop, but not having it on my phone has saved me considerable time that would be spent flicking through social posts. If I’m bored and on my phone, I’ve started opening the Pocket app to read articles I’ve flagged, Kindle to read a few pages of a book, or Blinkist or Scribd to grab a book summary. I find this digital diet much more satiating than social media.
Disconnected from the news
This is one that I think can be a little controversial, but bear with me. We’re going on 25 years of the “24 Hour News Cycle” and today - despite the fall of newspapers - have more ways to follow the news than was even conceivable a few decades ago.
Politics, international relations, climate change, these things are massively complicated. To be a truly “informed citizen” you might have to quit your day job to give them the consideration you’d need to really understand them. That’s not what we do. We pick and choose topics to follow, news organizations, and influencers to guide our opinions. Everyone says they seek out a variety of sources, but look around...does it really look like many actually do?
Today I see most news coverage to something akin to professional wrestling, especially with the rise of opinionated talking heads and those who will say anything on Twitter for attention. And news outlets have long understood the psychology around what content moves the needle. It’s what tugs at our emotions, and the easiest ones to conjure up are fear and anger.
So add it all up and you have a complicated tangle of issues being boiled down to the simplest and least nuanced levels jammed down our throat by outlets that rely on ratings (or clicks, engagement, etc.) to survive. I’m happy to let most of it run right by me, checking in occasionally. There’s a lot of truth to the idea that the real important news will get to you regardless, and the rest is just background noise.
Began reading summaries and ‘Blinks’
This is another one that took me out of my comfort zone. I’ve prided myself on reading between 70 and 100 books each of the last five years, dilligently tracked on Goodreads. I followed the status bar of my yearly challenge, always making sure I was on track to reach my goal. Similarly, I’d developed the unhealthy habit of trudging through any book I started to make sure I “finished” it, undoubtedly wasting hours of my time. Similarly, many of the books I’d read I felt were full of good ideas and takeaways that filled 200+ pages, but could essentially get the point apart in 20 or 25.
So I started ignoring my “count” and moving away from the idea of books as items to be finished and focused instead on grabbing the best information I could out of books in summaries or Blinkist recaps. I’ve written about my system for taking and keeping notes using Kindle and Evernote, and have taken this to keeping Evernotes of books, ‘Blinks’, summaries, and articles. I want to absorb the information I read, but also have it on file for future projects or to just reference in the future. My yearly totals of books read may dip, but I know my reading habit is not going anywhere and think this will help me make the best use of my time.
Removed meat (mostly) from my diet
My wife and I took an amazing trip to California this summer in which we started in San Francisco, went to the last round of the US Open at Pebble Beach and camped along the Pacific Coast Highway for a week. We ended our trip with a few days with my very health conscious aunt and uncle. After a weekend of eating clean and Vegan both Megan and I felt noticeably different and came back East feeling refreshed instead of rundown after a 12 day trip.
So we kept it up. Introduced to Purple Carrot, we began getting vegan meals sent to us weekly and mostly keeping away from animal products. There are plenty of other reasons to shy away from meat (animal welfare, climate impact, etc.), but quite simply we just feel better. More vegetables leave us feeling full but not fat and bloated. Not saying this will be a permanent thing, but are going to keep with it for the immediate future.
Set up an Exercise System
A friend told me to invest in my workouts during my last “time off”, but unfortunately I didn’t take it seriously and as a result have been carrying around a few more pounds than I wanted. Even more discouraging, this came after I lost over 60 pounds and had basically kept it off for five years.
I’ve always subscribed to the theory that “the best workout is the one you will do” and this year purchased a rowing machine. I was drawn to something that was cardiovascular but also worked the big muscles in the arms and legs. I also liked that I could do something else like watch TV or listen to music/podcasts/audiobooks while doing it at home.
I’m proud to say the rowing machine has gotten near daily use and I’ve avoided the cliche of it collecting dust in the garage. What changed? I wanted to set up a time to do it (in the morning) and get all the excuses out of the way the night before, when I had a reserve of willpower. I would roll out the machine and place it obtrusively in the middle of the living room, ready to go. I’d also grab my shoes and workout gear and put them on the machine. So I’d just have to roll out of bed, slip into the workout gear and jump on the machine. As with any workout, once you start, you tend to keep going. I found that watching a show on Netflix kept me engaged and resulted in a nice 45-50 minute workout.
The results to doing this daily are obvious. Have you ever felt worse after getting a workout in?
Worked with my hands
My entire career has involved building or creating digital products. While I love it and am very happy with my choice of career. I have always been jealous of those who made tangible items. I’d also read a bit about the advantages of having hobbies very different from your professional work. For example, Churchill carved out time to paint regularly and allowing his mind to drift to other things actually made him more effective at his real work.
So I invested in a small shop in my garage with a variety of hand and power tools to begin creating things on my own. I get in there a few times a week and do a lot of research on YouTube on technique and easy projects. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and have a LONG way to go, but I find it very fulfilling and am planning to keep at it. There is something profoundly satisfying about creating something from scratch.