Effectivity Habits

Notice: updates on this will be sparse and brief

I realized that I was burning a lot of mental CPU cycles thinking about updating this page, and not enough on actually becoming more effective. So I’m going to focus on that for now, and updates themselves will be brief. If I have more than a paragraph of stuff to say, I’ll make a full post about it or something.

Last year: try to install 47 random habits, win at ~14 of them. Log at malcolmocean.com/myhabits

This year: Brienne, inspired by me, makes her own habit installation project, focused on habits of thought. Her log is here: “Agenty Duck: Tortoise Skills“.

Also this year: my new habit installation project. Its log is this page. Rather than being general, it’s specifically focused on habits that will make me more effective at achieving my key goal for the next 4 months, which is to make Complice be fully ramen-profitable.

So while there are going to be a bunch of large concrete behaviours I’ll need to take to get there, this Effectivity Habits project will focus on the moment to moment habits that will make me most effective at these larger objectives. So these are largely still 5-second-level habits that I’m training. Aka “Reflexes”, not “Routines”. So the goal for this project is:

Design and install 10 new effectivity habits by June 1st.

For more background on this, check out the post announcing this project. In that post, I identified 4 Effectivity Habits I already have, although they’re all about process, which is productivity-flavored effectivity rather than strategy-flavored effectivity. I realized that these habits were fairly consistent, but could use some booster shots, which is what I’m focusing on for the first week or so of this Effectivity Habits project, while I decide on my first new habit. These four habits and my booster shot efforts will be described below.

Pre-existing Effectivity Habits

1. Pomodoro Technique: This goes back several years. The basic premise is to set a timer for 25 minutes and work for that time. No interruptions. Take a call or check your phone or your facebook in the middle, and you have to restart the timer. Then, when the timer goes off, you take a break for 5 minutes. What this structure does is it makes you less likely to leave off on something when things are hard (because the timer’s still running!) and more likely to take a break mid-sentence or halfway through implementing an algorithm, which is much more exciting to return to. I started doing this in 2012, and since I began tracking in mid-2013, have done an average of 2.23 daily.

2. Duration Calibration: (originally called Duration Tracking) I created a spreadsheet where on each row I enter a task and an upper and lower bound (used to be a single estimate) for how long I think it’s likely to take. Then I start a stopwatch. Then I work on the task. Time. How’d I do? Was I over? Why? This is a great example of the value of trying something for a limited period of time, because I seriously thought when I started this one that it would get really annoying after a few days, but it turned out to be fun! Suddenly I was working against the clock! I now do it intermittently, only when I’m at home and have both monitors.

3. Focus blocks: Setting arbitrary periods of time where I don’t engage in any divergent distractions. During these, even though I work with the pomodoro technique, I spend my breaks dancing or playing a song on my guitar or meditating or doing any centering distraction: the kind that restores your attention rather than sucking it. Extensive post on these distraction models on the complice blog.

4. Single-tasked writing:

This one kind of turns any act of composing text into a mini focus block. The idea is that the best way to write an email, or a blog post, or even a comment on a facebook post, is all at once. Sure, maybe going elsewhere to get information, or a link. But not interrupting the act writing by checking something—one’s inbox, in the case of email, for example. These browser hacks I made help make this easier to do.

First steps: The first thing I did when I started this project was to spend a few weeks strengthening the above habits… doing more focus blocks, more focused writing, stricter pomodoros, and starting to beemind my duration calibration. I made a Duration Calibration Template if you want to try it.

In-progress EHs

5. Winbox Hero (started 2015-02-22)

My playful name for Inbox Zero. This is maybe not the most general effective habit, but this project was getting kind of ughy and I figured it would be best to just start something. So now I only check my main inbox twice a day (around 1pm and 11pm EST usually) and try to deal with all of the emails in there both times. I’m trying to get out of the habit of opening an email and then leaving it around to decide what to do with it later.

Aside: routines & reflexes

I wrote a blog post last year distinguishing between two kinds of habits: routines and reflexes. Last year’s habit installation project was explicitly focused on reflexes, and this year’s was designed to be. But I’m starting to notice that it’s sometimes nice to have a new routine that supports the new reflex. With the email example above, it’s obvious: I have the routine of only checking email twice daily, and the reflex of responding to it right away rather than delaying indefinitely.

6. #showerthoughts (started 2015-03-01)

Routine: take a 5min+ shower 4+ times weekly
Reflex: talk out loud to myself more, in particular about my plans

This was inspired by the planning advice from my friend Oliver, where he suggested speaking things aloud. It’s also inspired by the old experience I’ve had (of myself and others) of having a thought that, once articulated, is clearly ridiculous or unfounded or oversimplified. But you can have the thought for hours, days, weeks, months, years… without ever noticing.

Aaand, by Elon Musk (from an AMA)
Q > What daily habit do you believe has the largest positive impact on your life?
A > Showering

So it’s not like I didn’t already shower. But most of my showers had been pretty rushed affairs, designed to wash my body as quick as possible. What I want is to give my brain more time for explorative, unstructured thought, and then to have a large chunk of that thought out loud so I can actually assess its quality.